Saturday, August 29, 2009

History. Or just His-story?

Who is to be blamed for partition - Jinnah, Nehru or Patel?
How much did LK Advani know about Kandahar action?
Was Pokharan-II successful or not?

Three cases of historical events becoming skeletons in the cupboard. All in one month. The irony is whether anything will ever come out of these (other than politicians getting their pound of flesh and news channels getting more 'breaking news, that is). More than 60 years have passed since the first event and all the three characters being spoken about are no more. The other two events will surely remain shrouded forever behind the doors of diplomacy, bureaucracy and defence. Allegations and counter-allegations will continue for few months and then it will all be put behind, till someone finds anther skeleton in the cupboard called History of India.
That brings up another point. Why is history so distorted in India? Or is it so everywhere? Why are events not documented as they have happened, without quickly adding our subjectivity to them, and promptly creating heroes and villains out of the event? Once the heroes have been honoured and villains castigated, it becomes the official record. Fifty years later, someone interprets it differently and all hell breaks loose.
Is there ever any such thing as an accurate description of an event? Is it possible - or does history as a concept always have to be subject to the state of mind of who documents it? Whose history does it then become, or does it only remain his-story.
Last week in Lucknow I saw giant monuments being erected, honouring Ambedkar, Kanshiram and of course Mayawati. I am not any history expert but I think Ambedkar's teachings have already been distorted and twisted and wrongly implemented by factions to gain their mileage. I believe Ambedkar never demanded reservation till posterity. So, fifty years from now, how will Mayawati be seen, with her statues adorning every other corner in Lucknow (and many other towns in UP)? Maybe she is smart enough to understand this aspect of Indians having a short term memory and is ensuring her place in history by skilfully writing her-story at the expense of taxpayer's money. So her megalomania might not find a place in our recorded history at all. The only thing that will stand out and be seen will be her statues. My friend commented on seeing the statues - "have you noticed? In all her statues she is carrying a purse....!" So will my friend's witty observation and the subtle interpretation therein be recognized by history? I doubt very much.
Another case - Prabhakaran and LTTE. How will he be referred to 50 years later? There are opposing views about him even in the present, so less said the better about what will happen in future.
Is history a reality of the past or simply a story of the past about which all we can say is - may or may not be true?
Just yesterday I was going through 'Horizons - The Tata-India Century 1904-2004.' The inside cover says that it is a "comprehensive and sparkling record of a hundred years of Tata in Indian history." Since it is a coffee table book, I was curious about how the not-so-sparkling events have been reported. I was glad to read the frank and clear account of three such events - the inglorious exits of Rusi Mody, Ajit Kerkar and Dilip Pendse.
So I suppose there are some people who are faithful to the reality. That's a welcome relief.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How are we different from other religious fundamentalists?

A 19-girl old girl from a Mangalore college was prevented from attending college because she wore a headscarf. I find this ridiculous to the point of it being revolting to my sensibilities.
What's more, the college officials kept saying on TV that it is a burqa, not a headscarf. Don't they know the difference between these? The girl gives interviews to TV with her face visible, looking straight into the camera, so obviously she is not wearing a burqa wherever she goes.

Actually, even if it IS burqa, so what?
I had heard of colleges banning dresses that they thought were provocative (although there can be endless arguements on who defines what is provocative.) But I had never heard of a college banning headscarves.
I think the college authorities are forgetting the basic reasons for their existence. Educational institutes are meant to impart knowledge and learning to the generation that would run our country in the next decades. What message is this college giving to the students?
I must be naive for not understanding this, so maybe some of the readers can help me out of my ignorance. But I really fail to understand how a headscarf becomes a religious symbol?
Some time back, there was this totally unnecessary controversy about the skirt length of Sania Mirza? Give me a break, please. What's more important - how she plays tennis or how long /short her skirt is? Same is true in this case. Would the college authorities look at the this girl as a student only and ignore that headscarf?

Mob sets fire to Vedic Village

Just heard this news about vandalism arising over a football match near Kolkata. The unruly mob entered the resort 'Vedic Village' and set fire to parts of it. One hears of such unpleasant acts every other day, but this one has saddened me most. Why should it bother me so much?
I have stayed in Vedic Village thrice in the recent past and have some very pleasant memories of the place. Its a beautiful little resort (also a very popular conference venue) and I have appreciated the excellent service and the cooperative staff there.

I think that when one stays at any place, it becomes a part of you and you leave a part of yourself there too. So as Vedic Village reels under the shock of this attack and attempts to come to terms with the burn marks, I actually feel the pain sitting miles away from Kolkata.
And that all this should happen simply because a group of people did not agree with the referee's decision in a football match! It's a shame.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

(Un)Fair and (Un)Lovely debate on NDTV

I saw a TV debate on We the people (NDTV 24 x 7) on this topic. I initially thought it would be interesting but eventually turned out to be same old mundane stuff which has been repeated in various forums. Advertising bigwigs (read the Kakkars and Pudumsees of the world) saying that it is a mindset and a reality, why should we say no if a client wants it. Manufacturing companies promptly pointing to matrimonial ads, saying that this is how Indian want women to look. If they want it, we will give it. (Thereby saying that two wrongs can make one right!) Then there is the usual dark, sorry dusky, Bollywood girl who says with moist eyes how she felt humiliated about the comments hurled at her and how she was very proud of her complexion (thunderous applause!) etc etc.
I find it completely pointless to involve screen actors in such debates. In any case, their true skin colours are only known to them and their make-up artist. Even if it was to be used a strategy to get more viewers for the program, it begs the question why NDTV couldn't find even ONE actress to come to the show? By actress, I mean someone who would command respect of the masses and whom people would look forward to listening to in a public forum. And they could only think of - Deepal Shaw ??

At no point in the debate did anyone take a clear stance that promoting fairness cream in this manner amounts to being racist. One gentleman came perilously close and created a minor uproar. He admitted that if he was interviewing two women candidates who were otherwise equal in their merit, then he would prefer to hire the fairer one. That sent Barkha 'Banshee' Dutt shrieking - this is not only sexist, this is also racist! Racist! RAAAACCCIIIISSSSTTT!
The possible uproar died in an amusing way when the gentleman's wife smiled and said, "actually, I know that he will do no such thing."

Among all this commotion, the debate never touched upon one fundamental issue. Whether the fairness cream really works or not? I think I can guess why. If it can be proved that the cream just creates a feel-good effect and is not actually effective in doing what it claims, then some very big FMCG companies will be in trouble. Calling their bluff will cause some major embarrassment for them. It would mean that not only have they been playing on the minds of a 'gullible Indian mindset' but they have also been selling a product that does not work. And - what if the claims of the cream are proved right? That would mean they are fuelling racist thoughts. So there is little surprise why this issue is skilfully avoided.
Eventually the debate turned out to be quite superficial. And that was not just because of avoidance of the key issues, but also because of a completely ineffective anchor. Barkha Dutt, who else. NDTV has not just one, but TWO people making a total hash of these programs. Barkha regularly does it on We the People and Vikram Chandra does an encore on The Big Fight. He was anchoring a debate on 'Mayawati's statues' and it was all mayhem.
I wish the powers-that-be at NDTV read this and consider letting Nidhi Razdan handle more of these shows. She did a commendable job anchoring the debate on the gay rights issue. It was a far more sensitive issue then fairness creams and ran the risk of turning into a chaotic shouting match, but she didn't let that happen. Good work.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Father and Son

There is much written, spoken and shown on the topic of generation gap and the disputes that arise from the same. Old values and norms, new meanings and defnitions. This gets debated even more with artists. Illustrious father's son trying to match up - haven't we heard that often before. What happens when the son doesn't really try and 'match up' but is anyway as brilliant as the father?
Kumar Gandharva and Mukul Shivputra. One has given infinite moments of joy and listening pleasure to millions across the globe. Other has puzzled and bewildered many people. A common thread that binds the two is the rebellious spirit in their singing. Both dared to challenge existing norms and refused to be trapped in the boundaries drawn by others.
I have listened to many disciples simply imitating their guru (won't comment on that topic more, that's besides the point) but Mukul does not stop at imitating. He has taken his father's style, no doubt. But also added his own bit to it and comes across a deep thinker when you listen to him. Just as his father was.
Here is the same bandish sung by both - listen for yourself and you will see the point. Don't try to figure out which one is better. It will be a futile exercise.
See how both of them treat the bandish itself. He is asking his beloved - 'Gori tore sajal naina, kahe re...' Why are your eyes moist my dear?
Kumarji deals with the nuances subtly, like an elder man would ask, gently - as if saying - What's wrong, dear? Did anyone say something? What has made you so upset? Why won't you tell me?
The way Mukul goes about is more like a younger impatient man - ok, enough. Are you only going to sit there and cry or are you going to tell me what's wrong? Look, if you want to talk, then talk. Don't just sit and sob, ok?
Kumarji is measured in his development of the raag, Mukul almost can't contain himself and seems to want to run ahead of himself! Maybe I am thinking too much into this - but even the choice of taal reflects this. Kumarji adopts a more stately Teentaal while Mukul chooses a more sprightly Addha teentaal. The former reminds me of a measured walk, while the Addha always brings to the mind a hop, step and jump!
Note - the bandish by Kumarji is from the album Surmanjiri and that by Mukul is from Nirala. The former mentions the raag as Patmanjiri while the latter says Marubihag! I don't worry about that much, but more learned readers out there can clarify.
I must thank Shubhangi Athalye for allowing me to publish her pictures of Mukul Shivputra - you can read her post about his concert here.
The pictures of Kumarji are from the 'Kumar Gandharva home page' by Sunil Mukhi. The brilliant sketches are by Vishnu Chinchalkar and I first saw them in Maharashtra Times about 35 years ago! You can see them here. Thanks are due to Sunil for preserving them for posterity.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Amazing khadtaal by Sabir

Here's another gem from the Jodhpur trip. After the soul-stirring rendition of 'Kesariya balma' by the young singer, Sabir enthralled us with a solo Khadtaal performance. For those who are unaware of what Khadtaal - these are wooden castanets. Simply two wooden pieces held in each palm, that's all!
Well, that's not all, exactly. I tried to hold them and at least manage one click, but the Khadtaal simply kept slipping from the hands.
As with the other video of Kesariya, this one suffers from poor quality too. The vigour and passion behind the performance has to be seen to be believed, so am posting the video nevertheless.

Hopefully the other pictures convey the total magic of this performance. Enjoy!

Swine flu in Pune

The outbreak of Swine Flu in Pune is all over the news and I am forced to think - has anything changed at all for me and my life in Pune so far? On an absolutely phenomonological level, the ansewr is NO. So then, what does it prove (if at all it does)

1. That I am an ignorant fool.
2. That swine flu is not really THE big danger that it is being made out to be
3. That one need not panic. There are realities about H1N1 virus and swine flu that one should calmly consider and take appropriate action.

Unfortunately, there is no one perfect answer. The sad and unfortunate death of a 14-year old girl in Pune due to this flu cannot be ignored and her family will no doubt agree with option no. 1 above.
So what is the danger, if I have to look at it objectively for myself? What is the risk that I will die in a road accident tomorrow compared to dying of swine flu? The former is clearly a higher risk.
Does that mean that I should simply ignore the risk posed by this flu and continue life as if nothing has happened? That would be foolish, going by the magnitude of the risk.
Consider this - Pune has been put under the 'epidemic act' - which is not something that happens every now and then. WHO has declared swine flu as a pandemic, which is also not something that WHO does every now and then. The largest proportion of cases is students. Which puts a very LARGE population at risk. How can I be sure that the kid next door has not contacted H1N1 from his friend who met his cousin who attended a birthday party of a friend who had played football with his friends where the kid that he bumped into has a younger sister who is in the same class as the girl who has had fever and a running nose for the past week, AND whose uncle came back from USA some time back?
A virus that measures a few microns in diameter has got an entire city in its grip. It exerts a power not just on our nasal cavities and mucosal membranes, but on the minds of a few million people. Very soon, it will be several million. (WHO estimates that in the next two years, there will two BILLION cases of swine flu worldwide.) It is time to wake up...
Some realities about this illness that I have learnt from the media

1. The symptoms of swine flu and our well-known 'usual' flu are very similar. So just the symptoms are not sufficient to give a warning.
2. The test can be done only at two govt. centers - namely, Aundh hospital and Naidu hosptial.
3. While there is no vaccine to get immunized against the virus, there is (thankfully) a medicine available. It is called Tamiflu.
4. It gets transmitted through contact.
5. Only 1% of the cases tested positive are fatal. (How does it matter for the family of the deceased? For them, it is 100%....)
6. Overall general hygiene and cleanliness can keep it away. But I don't think a face mask and a hand sanitizer kept in the pocket can really make you immune. They may contribute slightly towards the cause, nevertheless.....

All this does not answer one question. If I do wake up with fever and a running nose tomorrow morning, will I be clear about what steps to take?