What’s the connection?

This is my translation of a Marathi poem, brought to my attention by a good friend (with his translation) :

The land is all mine
Soil there, of course, mine
The sprung-up tree as well mine
Succulent fruits it bears, doubtless mine
The proceeds from its sale, pliantly mine


Avians in droves drop many a acorn
Sun suffuses light in avid abandon
Air rejuvenates its share of oxygen
Seas arise, clouds galore – vapour laden
Agile wind sweeps myriad clouds ashore
Sumptuous water from torrential pour
Acing nourishment from soil beneath
Sans connect to my inputs, in core or sheath

What alas, am I or mine ?

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All is well!

As we moved along in Amman airport’s passport control queue, to get our visa-on-arrival affixed, despite 5+ hrs of data starvation (flight!), I resisted, rather valiantly, to not succumb all waking minutes till my turn came, to the feast of free, fast WiFi the airport had thoughtfully laid out for visitors !

After a quick check to make sure the family hadn’t WhatsApped about carrying any key I wasn’t meant to or be reminded of not carrying a charger I was supposed to, I eased (?!) the battered kit into the trouser pocket that offered least resistance and looked around with just curiosity that any man of any age ought to have for a new place!

Young border police officers, two to a cubicle, working in tandem, with one man collecting the visa money politely and passing the receipt-plus-passport to the adjacent man to do “the needful” – getting a revenue stamp like sticker affixed in a blank space and rubber stamp in a way that straddles both the sticker and the substratum. At 00:05 hrs, all these involuntary role plays brought back memories of passbooks and the one too many sandwiched ‘challans’ (pink/white/yellow/ ..) passed about a myriad times in a typical nationalised Indian bank of yesteryear makeover, replete with metal cages and bespoke slits that would connect a cashier with a fellow teller and protruding wooden trays to the front, the contents of which would nonplus anyone but the peon who’d nonchalantly pick the proceeds in slow motion and reach the targeted hands, all sat within a space of 3 Sq.m. The purposefulness, the confidence in executing a preordained act and the brimful satisfaction of parsing a document that’s precious to the subject witnessing all these from front row, the physical joy of fixing something on it, decorating with manual symmetry where none was expected, the pleasure of divining over a blank piece of a submissive paper that was meant to blossom upon such trysts in fateful hands – there’s indeed so much joy that’s lost in our world of e-everything!

This ritual, however brisk in execution, still proved a perfect excuse to salvage to oneself many more minutes that are uniquely available to eyes not enslaved by a glowing mobile screen. As my attention roved past many signboards and their allusions, I noticed a bunch of women, in ill fitting, flowing black over robes but not covering their faces/heads, in age band ranging from late teen to wrong side of 40s, congregating at a counter in no particular queue formation in what appeared to be a special counter that dealt with large groups. They seemed a happy lot, with most women other than the few facing the officer, chatting, giggling, replying, swapping places with no anxiety about which way the officer’s predilection may go, perhaps in the knowledge that it was just a formality.

It was increasingly clear that all of them hailed from Indian subcontinent (most likely from North/East India or from Bangladesh). In as much as they had perhaps heeded to advise of wearing a black robe while entering a Muslim country (Jordan is relaxed though), inside the veil, they were quintessentially native, free souls – many in bright yellow churidars and dupattas, some flashing pink/yellow scarves, gold glossy strapped footwear and beamed with bright, earthy smiles. The contrast of their beautiful brown skin tones with a riot of colours interspersed between half-opted black gowns made for a curious, happy spectacle. A little further on, just behind the border police counter were a few women awaiting the contingent to emerge, with a company cap (perhaps a famed Construction/Engg firm, locally). As my gaze shifted back to the women, still in their self-absorbed banter and readiness to cross the gate, initial causeless happiness at seeing happy compatriots gave way to momentary anxiety – how long before they may see their family again? do they all travel as far as Amman now, with UAE and other destinations saturated? would they earn enough to make their sacrifices worth it?

As wandering thoughts got interrupted by my turn to cross the counter, a quick look at their happy faces felt reassuring – they seemed positive, the world at large is positive, future of human rights and labour welfare, everywhere ought to be positive, the host country is positive. What could possibly go wrong. Nothing. As I reclaimed bag at the carousel, hand was latched to the weight while mind felt lightened by surmising to itself ………. “all is well”!

सर्वे जना सुखिनो भवन्तु
எல்லோரும் இன்புற்றிருக்க நினைப்பதுவே அல்லாமல் வேறு ஒன்று அறியேன் பராபரமே.

PS: Written in second week of May, published later.

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Amman is a growing metropolis, can remind one of Delhi (and to some extent Hyderabad) – lots of cars, near absence of two wheelers, warm but without humidity, small hillocks with houses built up on slopes, a veneer of fine dust atop everything from car bonnets to billboards, good food, richness in dressing and a degree of ostentation. For a country that had to put up with quite a huge influx of refugees, for long years from Palestine and in past 8 years from Syria, it is remarkable how Jordan copes with the burden without crumbling on its knees and with a reasonable success in law enforcement.

Amman’s airport isn’t in any way comparable to Dubai – no glitters, no feeling of being overwhelmed by wealth – yet, in its own way – functional, spacious, ordered – serving an Arab nation of non-oil repertoire, it seemed a good pass. Wish the eye watering visa costs (‘import duty on men’ as a Brit colleague succinctly said ! 40 Jordanian Dinar for a single entry visa is not a way to entice more tourists, though combine visa + tourist entry fee covered 75 JOD is marginally better) could get better with time! It’s located well outside city limits and the drive to place of stay – during night/day time seemed orderly enough, with a pleasant absence of honking! Lanes are marked and most drivers don’t seen to use them as ‘axis-lines’ to dissect the car into two halves, from top view!

Hotel staff, even those in upmarket ones, show courtesy than servility and without awkward pause for tips, though accepting of it with grace, if presented. Hotel’s satellite TV caters for a 24 hour Arabic Bollywood Channel (not Star Plus/ Zee etc but Arab rendered MBC Bollywood) that plays movies in Hindi with Arabic subtitles or Hindi serials dubbed into Arabic! It’s quite an experience watching a familiar face praying poignantly at Lord Hanuman’s altar, with soulful listing of wants (‘mannat’) rendered in chaste Arabic ! 🙂

Food served in Mediterranean cuisine themed restaurants (e.g. Lebanese) will absolutely stun any vegetarian – what a rich variety of dishes and superb ingredients. The trendy/expensive ones among them may have water soaked almonds scattered across table in mid sized bowls, with ice, to have a fistful of, as casually as one would obliterate peanuts without a trace! This richness even before starters appear on the horizon – with Muhammara, Mtabbal, Moussaka, Wara Enab (called Dolma in some places) splashed across the table in delectable finesse. Meat dishes seem to be more a supplement for meat eaters than a complement, as if they’d be perfectly happy left to savour their myriad Egg Plant (Aubergine) dishes. In all my travels – from Japan to US and many in between (excluding India) – I’d easily say this cuisine is the richest with Turkish dessert mastery alone in competition. Arab colleagues were pretty relaxed about the origin/credits part – many were happy to concede that there’s a common thread across Turkish-Greek-Arab cuisine (different shades of Mediterranean) than get worked up!

As in Netherlands/ Scandinavia, nearly everyone speaks English – the proficiency may vary, perhaps based on their early years’ tryst with education (Palestinian refugee taxi driver able to make basic conversations while a native Hotel manager returns a British dry humour volley!). Gender ratio in office, even in manufacturing set up, is healthy, with women in senior roles as well. With good emphasis on academics (many choosing to pursue higher studies), workforce resembles what an equivalent, competitive one would appear in Mumbai, Chennai or Singapore.

While Amman citadel (Roman temple ruins + amphitheatre) makes for a dramatic backdrop, the cheek-by-jowl coexistence of this vintage part (continuously inhabited for 7000 years) with old city and its bustling streets of old mosque and shops selling everything from Bata shoes to Falafel balls, Kanofe (famed dessert item) and dress shops would make it appear a lift and shift of a place in Delhi or Hyderabad, just a couple of notches more conservative.

As flight takes off from Amman, the unrelenting swathes of sand and arid landscape would startle any window-seat-eyeful-passenger – how on earth can a place pull off such a rich encounter, from talents to taste buds, in such an unhelpful terrain. While the richness of tapestry may remind one of Delhi or Deccan richness, accomplishments of such non-oil-funded cities should actually be, if at all, compared with Jaisalmer.

Here’s three cheers to a city, country and her people who have as much dearth of oil as water, but who weave a template for Arab prosperity that’s as much at peace with itself as with rest of the world.

PS: Written in second week of May 2018

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Zomato – zappy to zapped via zillion forwards: zeitgeist of banal SM era

1 out  of 1,339,000,000 persons in India happened to do 1 unbecoming act, haplessly videographed by 1 other person with access to 1 smartphone and at least 1 social media outlet. Rest is what must have played out on your and tens of millions of mobile phones via countless memes and forwards in WhatsApp, Facebook and other channels.

What a disgrace. I mean us.

Some justify the spate of forwards and meme sarcasm as aimed at shaming the company and not the individual, whose act of skimming food, though repulsive and unhygienic, is forgivable (can’t but bow to such bountiful mercy!). It’s as if they know precisely how the company may go bust but the individual, even if he’s relentlessly pursued and made fun of, will, however, have the hide of rhinoceros and smile off the tirade as easily as flicking sweat from tip of his nose (and he’d rather hope none records that as well).

If it had to be reported as a genuine complaint, wouldn’t one submission to the company to take note and action suffice? Should each human foible be ‘exposed’ to millions? Where will the next scoop for info land us in ? It’s hoped that in this hyperactive era of breaking news all hours of the day, no reporter has taken it as national urgency to hunt that man, to publish his photo or anything as grotesque as that.

That there’s a Counter Divide in our midst is quite evident to us  –  in multiplexes , shopping malls, restaurants, airports, resorts and everywhere else. The ones standing behind the counter and those they serve, differ not just on income levels, which is the visible chasm (₹ 1000 for a popcorn+ice cream bill while the guy serving it may get ₹ 10,000 as monthly pay). It’s on many other fronts – the person behind counter is more likely to be of poor built (a rib cage that would reveal malnourishment at young age), bigger family, more direct dependants, very different spend priorities and with more debt to loan sharks than to banks.

Even in developed countries, with exemplary human rights, health & safety record etc., employers, especially in retail sector, do have cardinal rules – there was a case of  Tesco employee who was fired because he chose to pick a lone grape on a trolley and instead of throwing it into bin, popped into his mouth. The issue drew some flak in media but more a furore. But then, it happened in a country where, by default. a taxi driver is quite likely to reside in same neighbourhood and whose child goes to same primary school as the customer’s.

Whatever happened to our basic sense of empathy, proportion and decency ?

There’s a need for restraint, more empathy and sensitive handling of these, in a country of sharp economic and other divides. Ideally, food outlets or entertainment venues could provide coupons to employees, in addition to their pay. Employees can use such coupons to buy products for their own/ family use and have a go at the experience. It’s not reasonable to expect staff, especially the ones at the last end of the chain, delivering products (a rather thankless job on busy roads) on two wheelers, to earn enough to spend on such luxuries. Coupons can be included as  tips too, by customers, with a facility to include as an option, while paying the bill. 

While on long car journeys, though driver’s food expenses are covered by the inclusive rate, most customers extend the courtesy of at least asking if the driver would like to eat/drink as well, in pit stops. It’s with a simple understanding that while such expenses are technically included in the overall rate, it’s not easy for the driver to fork out as much money on food, the kind he’d ideally include for his remittance home. Similar courtesy is due for others too.

Pummelled by media, if the man took his own life or anything as drastic, would all those indulging in merciless forwards, not feel guilty?

Celebrities and others in public gaze have experience handling vile coverage; not ordinary people. Let’s imagine a stealth video recording of  proceedings in a men’s toilet in a popular software firm reveal that x% don’t wash their hands after relieving themselves, and if it goes viral, forget about the bad PR for company, would anyone even shake hands with anyone from the firm ?

This episode may as well go down in history as the sour moment when an ordinary man lost his job and honour thanks to (un)social media amplifying his mistake -one that would have just received a rebuke or a reprimand from his boss, in a closed room, in lesser complicated times.

Vijay Mallya can console himself that after all – he wasn’t the only one to be pilloried by SM.  He is in company of another man who differed from his lifestyle, earnings, culpability and damage inflicted on others by a factor of 0.0000000…1 ! In other words – Zilch.

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2.0 : 4 times potent with 0.5 panache !

Shankar, yet again, establishes himself as a preeminent film director from India and the most audacious, on the block. As credits flash in bottom third of the screen dwarfed by boisterous finale (song) in the top two thirds of the screen, for over 5 minutes, if one can stay focused on names and institutions that had a role to play in making of this visual extravaganza, it would seem as if Shankar was no less than a Mayor of a mini metropolis  – with different councils, boroughs, hamlets, suburbs, high streets, metro lines, buses, undergrounds, roads, ports and what not – and get them all to work in tandem delivering precisely their part, while it was all in his head that the aerial view would resemble a functional city that we can relate to! Spellbinding. He delivers where most may have difficulty even imagining!

Most Rajnikant fans  know that he is a director’s actor, never exceeding the brief, while maximising his impact with style, screen presence and crisp dialogue delivery. Somehow, this was the first movie in which his pace of dialogues comes a tad stretched; in some scenes it’s as if one is watching a dubbed movie with retrofitted Tamil dialogues that can’t keep with lip movements of a Hindi speaker given to long pauses! Disappointing also is the wardrobe department – dresses in many frames are a little oversized for his frame and frustrates as the last stale fruit piece one tastes in a medley.

Shankar, for all the razzmatazz and glitz of technology, hasn’t made this movie for technophiles. That he makes amply clear,  by refusing to expand the repertoire and by staying focused on a couple of simple messages, throughout. One must credit him for drawing the line where he has and not get carried away!  For erudite critics, the plot may seem too simplistic and less nuanced. But then, that’s another way of storytelling too. Spending 10x more on a coffee doesn’t have to make it more viscous!

And then, the usual Shankar-isms are on the palate too, for those who scratch the surface – a very out of place heroine (albeit, as an android) made Tamil enough just with the name (Nila – perhaps as a tribute to late Tamil writer Sujatha’s Nila character in his acclaimed “En Iniya Iynathira”) as much as the name Tamilselvi exonerated the Tamil quotient of the heroine Shriya Sharan in Shivaji, the boss. The carve out of the central characters as some sort of first among equals, in their cocoon (with vests  and motif that belong to different era/place) while the world they are burdened to save, carries on in a different milieu and often, in different skin tone too (e.g. the apartment mates of Aishwarya in Enthiran in sharp contrast to the people Chitti will save in different part of the city, including the ill fated girl). Well, one can’t blame Shankar for perpetuating the established stereotypes, especially as he has to hedge the bets of spending containers of money, in multi-lingual release. Sadly, scale deprives the space for ideologues.

The film rolls out real fast, swift and lethal as a flash flood in a parched plain. One is left gasping at the spectacle and pick the aftermath of the deluge, only after leaving the theatre, drenched and still in awe of the blitzkrieg.

While the first part lacked the oomph and fiscal muscle of 2.0, it had a soul that enlivened the screen – be it in witty, crisp stage introduction scene of Chitti or his rapid descent to his menacing persona. 2.0 is gifted with four times as much potency, rivalling any international movie in scale, grandeur and execution of similar budget. However, given Rajnikant’s advancing age and its visible toll in speed, a story that doesn’t attempt to unravel one piece at a time, the result is just ‘awe’ and not ‘shock and awe’ ! One just wishes it carried as much panache as potency.

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Kaala can be as black and successful, without blacking (out) Hinduism

A powerful movie on a topical issue of our times, dealt with very little distraction – one where all right thinking people would be able to empathise and agree with. However, one only wishes Pa.Ranjith was not as easily brainwashed in his life, to turn hostile to popular Hinduism likening it to Brahminism. He artistically articulates that Periyarism (anti-Hinduism of Tamilnadu kind, not rationalism as such) – Ambedkarism (Educate-Unite-Agitate) – Communism/Leftism (Empowerment of the underprivileged) combine is the only potent weapon to thwart thuggery unleashed by fascism.

The good:
1) Powerful story line and good contemporary direction – it’s tough to do a movie on a heavy topic such as this and yet avoid the weariness of a documentary. Credits to Pa Ranjith for his artistic and general talent as a passionate director
2) Excellent casting of Rajnikant – he has always been a director’s actor; with no need to play to the gallery of his fans, no punch dialogues, no surfeit of physics defying stunts, no 0.5 mm thick cream to hide his dark skin tone, he is a relieved man who can just focus on the job, which he does rather well, exuding excellent screen presence and fine understated acting (his forté)
3) Huma Qureshi, Nana Patekar and all supporting actors are cast superbly, with a degree of characterisation not common in Tamil cinema – reminds one of old K Balachander movies (he would, sometimes, make us remember a bus conductor’s face too, despite occurring in just a few frames)
4) At least 60-70% realism in showing Dharavi shots. Mani Ratnam had set the bar high in Nayagan – the first of its kind in Tamil/Indian cinema (one needs to undergo the torture of watching Dhayavaan, its Hindi remake, to realise difference Mani Ratnam brings to the table). It’s the kind of realism only directors familiar with pan-Indian knowledge, proficiency in Hindi (at least familiarity), a stint in North India (Mani Ratnam had done MBA in Jamnalal Bajaj institute, Mumbai) could bring along and hence hardly a few directors measured up. Pa Ranjith surpasses Mani Ratnam in many scenes but trails behind him in many others. With time, he will do it really well
5) Excellent, innovative use of cut-out art and other powerful use of colours to convey meanings beyond what meets the eye

Not so good:
1) Background score is atrocious on quite a few scenes – at times, interrupting dialogue audibility and at other times with irksome wailing (when old flames look at each other, in a haunted way)
2) Tamil accent in haphazard, jarring way: some do a great job of consistent Thirunelveli diction, few others use it sparingly with amateurish effect while the main man – Kaala himself – doesn’t bother at all with such prerequisites and speaks normal Doordarshan Tamil!
3) The Tamil Hip-Hop gang who loiter around, to reinforce the film’s non-conformity and ‘ uprooted ‘ nature, do add to the plot’s gravity in some scenes while utterly irritable in many others
4) Where the Dharavi set falls apart (e.g. the huge open space in front of Kaala’s house or some houses with lavish spaces that compete with a decent flat in Andheri) it dilutes the gravity and becomes a caricature that mediocre directors churn out. One wonders why Ranjith lets his guard down. Kaala, whatever early mover advantage he may have had to the area, is shown as first among equals, in a rather unnecessary way

Now, the troubling aspects of the film:
Feudalism is rife in Pakistan, a self-professed Islamic Republic than in Hindu majority India. As a matter of fact, worldwide, cutting across religions (Islam, Christianity), ethnicity/race (Arab, Turk, Caucasian, Black), feudalism has been curbed or tamed by gargantuan efforts of (welfare) state than by mind numbing iconoclasm of EVR kind. Yet, Pa Ranjith, indoctrinated in the staple diet of Dravidian hate politics before picking up Dalit activism (evidently) can’t resist throwing more Black than more Blue or Red.
Even if 80% audience may miss his strong and purposeful symbolism, it will register in their subconscious, and for this huge service to EVR cause, I won’t be surprised if K Veeramani holds a function and honours Ranjith as DK’s warrior sword. A look at some salvos he fires and the dangers they pose:

1) Hari dada, Vishnu, Perumal swamy (the traitor among them) – all Vishnu manifestations are shown foisted upon vulnerable people or in subjugation of them to misery. As a Ram (evil God’s) function is held, Raavana’s men (good, son-of-the-soil people) are slaughtered. It’s not a shown as if the person does injustice to Ram’s name (as a blot) but indeed it’s precisely because he is Ram’s devotee that he is disgusting, as a natural corollary. None in Tamil film have been as devious or pugnacious
2) Ayub (Zareena’s father), entire Muslim skull capped people are progressive and fine – to the point that they had agreed to their daughter marrying out of faith with no qualms; the only people bothered about religion are caste Hindus while Muslims are comrades who happen to be Muslim. In a scene, Kaala, the otherwise religious recluse who has no use of normal Tamil deities’ photos (including the usually ubiquitous Murugan) or lamp, incense sticks, camphor paraphernilia would be shown offering namaz alongside brethren – Pa Ranjith, the Dravidianist reprises his credentials in the long lineage of Karunanidhi, Stalin and other DK/DMK luminaries – anti-God means anti-Hindu-God only!
3) The unknown pastor (and perforce all Christians) are fine too – the pastor has connections to send Zareena to US for higher studies. Their kindness knows no bounds – money or geography
4) Tamil speaking non-Christian, non-Muslim people can wear their ‘pottu’ (bindi) as it’s just a cultural heritage not Hinduism as such; they can celebrate Pongal too so long as no deities are worshipped; they can have secular names such as Selvi, Selvan, Lenin, Vengaiyan, Vaalyappan etc. but even a brief association with Murugan, Ayyappan or Mariamman is a taboo as it would make them appear as tethered slaves of Brahminism, not worthy to include as Vishnu and other Brahmin Gods may gain legitimacy at the other end of the rope. They are however shown worshipping a Sudalai Madan art work, as if that’s their prime deity. Ranjith then, very generously, allows for Ganesha to make his rounds among Tamils; you see, it’s Mumbai, Dharavi etc. some imagery of Ganesh would just lend credibility to the soil if not augur the cause of Hindu faith. Ganesha, therefore, is also spared the misery of gracing evil doers while they unleash terror on secular people. Let’s thank Ranjith for sparing one deity.
5) Normally, in movies made by a non-Dalit upper caste Tamil Hindus (including Brahmins such as Kamal Haasan), villainy or the sidekicks who fill in villain’s ears are shown as a Iyer or Iyengar (e.g. Madan Bob as lawyer in Thevar Magan). Pa Ranjith, given his Blue politics, has dispensed with that perfunctory need. Just when a Tamil Brahmin may sigh relief, he’d realise Ranjith has trained guns on something even more potent – the deities that (he thinks) are exclusive preserve of Brahmins and hence Brahminism. This is not even done in a subtle way, but with brazen candour.
6) Ranjith has picked names, surnames rather scrupulously – Abhyankar is a Marathi Brahmin surname, not a Maratha surname. While it’s well known that in Maharashtra, the powered, especially political and land owning ones are typically Maratha (Manohar Joshi became the first Brahmin CM and was just about ‘tolerated’ by Maratha), Ranjith doesn’t have to go by local knowledge of how it works in Mumbai. Imported Tamil hatred for Brahmin first and Brahmin last is enough to navigate and see rest of the world with same prism. Somehow, however, he lets go of this scrutiny when a helpful police cop spells out his support for the cause as ‘Shivaji Rao Gaekwad’, the real name of Rajnikant. Perhaps he was tired of hunting for the right surnames and wanted it as a tribute to Rajni. That Gaekwads are, unfortunately, as Brahminist as Abhyankars is lost on Ranjith.
7) There’s immaculate care exercised in showing Ram worshippers as those who are colour obsessed racists and as a metaphor for their worldview that regards dark as ugly, dark people as inferior so on and so forth. Ranjith obviously sidesteps fundamental knowledge/awareness of Hindu beliefs for EVR acolytes are never meant to go by facts (as much as Hindutva ones don’t need it either). It would really help if Pa Ranjith could have a change of heart, learn Hinduism for what it is and not from EVR/DK writings. Krishna = Shyam = Vishnu = Rama = Kaala. In ancient Tamil poems Karuppuswamy actually meant Krishna and Vellaiyan was for Balaram. There’s no other prime deity in Hinduism who is explicitly described and celebrated as dark God. Much of the blame lies in tenets of Hinduism not reaching all at the right age and in right way and in popular media being racist all along.

So far, DK brainwashing (ably supported by vested interests) had vilified Brahmins as a community alone. Now, the game is raised up. Popular Hinduism is directly equated as Brahminism and disentangling from that is seen as prerequisite for Dalits being set free. The origins of this disenchantment is understandable. It is unfortunate too. It needs to be remedied. But, in the current climate of Hindutva politics, those carrying the Ram baton will peddle precisely the line of thought of Hari dada and only accentuate the divide than bridging it. That is a cause of anxiety and despair.

Pa Ranjith takes recourse to three colours – Blue (Ambedkar), Red (Empowerment of needy) and Black (as an anti-dote to Hinduism, in line of EVR/DK). While the first two can be co-opted by people of all religions, castes as they are universal, the Black as Ranjith uses it, is just as divisive as the saffron he tries to shame and confront.

For now, I seek comfort from Anoop Jalota’s superb bhajan:
वो काला एक बांसुरी वाला,
सुध बिसरा गया मोरी रे ।

Roughly translated as:
That handsome black one (Krishna), the one with flute
Is verily the cause I have lost myself in trance!

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Viswaroopam (Tamil version) – a review

Rating: 4 stars, out of 5

Verdict: A must see, once, on the big screen. Wish  it deserved repeat viewings

Best parts:
1) Empathetic portrayal of Afghan civilian plight, sandwiched between US and Taliban forces
2) Excellent capture of Afghan terrain, audacious attempt at action scenes to rival international movies
3) Thought provoking, than just drawing a black and white picture of Good Vs. Evil
4) Kamal Haasan’s superb acting and storytelling skills – especially, as a comrade warrior on Afghan soil
5) Exemplary acting of Rahul Bose, Jaideep Ahlawat – credits to them as well as Kamal for envisaging good, meaty roles for them, with superb screen presence potential.

Parts that could have been better:
1) Editing could have been lot more slicker. Either Mahesh Narayanan lost himself in appreciating parts he was enamoured with that he forgot to be objective, or perhaps out of his reverence for Kamal, didn’t antagonize ! In either case, he has let the audience down, especially the US parts of the movie.

2) Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s score is ok enough for songs but quite a letdown for war/vicious scenes.

3) Casting is a mixed baggage – while one set is exemplary, the other is either utterly unconvincing or unnecessarily trivialised.

As regards the Muslim protest angle in Tamilnadu and other parts of India:
1) This movie isn’t about Indian Muslims at all, at the first place. The whole setting is Taliban and the international(ised) terror spectre. In as much as an Indonesian or a South African Muslim doesn’t have to either carry the burden of ‘affairs of the region’ or have to feel overtly sensitive to even a discussion on the subject, Indian Muslims don’t have to feel a sense of outrage.

2) The overwhelming feeling any sane audience will have, as they leave cinema, WILL NOT BE one of viewing a nearby Muslim or the whole community as terrorist. Nor would they have a feeling of “Us vs. Them” reinforced. Instead, they’ll have a lot better appreciation of:

a) How savaged and ravaged hapless children, women and other gullible are, in war torn Afghanistan, who grossly outnumber those who supposedly fight on their behalf

b)The complex morality of what goes on, in either the name of religion or in the name of taming those who claim to have a ‘handle’ on this – it certainly does not trivialise the conflict as to show all as incurable radicals. It actually does present a very empathetic narration from ‘trenches’!

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Sad case of Jacintha Saldanha: Why media sensitivity is still important

Today, screening of Mel Brooks’ highly irreverent  History of the World: Part I  in the vicinity of Vatican is more feasible without any fuss than it would be to even attempt doing it (even after 3 decades since its release) in a theatre near Velankanni Church of Tamilnadu, India. The reasons are not far to seek. While Christians of all denominations in the West have either learnt to live with iconoclasm or genuinely don’t bother about God or religion in a major way, other than perfunctory rites on birth, wedding and death, Christian devout galore in developing countries like India, Philippines and many other Asian countries sharing common thread of religiosity of native faiths such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism etc.

Has this got to do anything with the tragic case of  Jacintha Saldanha ? Yes – there are reasons why it’s quite important for countries steeped in Western/Modern civilisations to acknowledge that even in this globalised world with ubiquitous MNCs, similar burgers and same iOS/ Android powering new age gadgets on palms across the world, there are still fundamental differences in what can cause (in a person) a sense of indignation or shame and what could pass for as innocuous trifle to shrug off.

In pre-WW II Britain, a person being caught stealing or worse still being named and shamed on even page 5 of a local newspaper would have been sufficient cause to be socially ostracised for life. Fast forward 70 yrs and what we have is a situation where a bunch of people who wouldn’t even mind posing for national television cameras, with unconcealed glee and a show of guiltless entitlement, on subverting a wrecked ship’s cargo to personal garages. What could possibly have changed in a span of only so many decades ?

Conditioning by media  is invisible but truly a potent force in shaping how a society ends up regarding itself. It’s the same conditioning effect which has also resulted in West abandoning its age old prejudices, one after the other,  to the point where, in a country such as USA, for instance, ravaged by race riots only in 1960s, could embrace and show an excellent black actor as God himself, in a 2003 release (Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty) ! Things obviously don’t happen overnight. It must have taken 40 odd years of conscious effort on the part of some samaritans, to drive home these thoughts into public acceptance. However, such conditioning has also brought with it, certain debatable certitudes. Insulation from recognising shame let alone feel the pangs of it is one such bye-product. Increasingly, everything seems sellable to media, in exchange for cash. That doesn’t have to be feats, accomplishments anymore. It may as well be about misdeeds, misgivings or misfortune. It’s an age where alpha males that presided over financial meltdown don’t lose any sleep at all in their plush villas or sun-kissed chateaus, regardless of whatever ‘earned’ slur media or social media heaps on them.

The two Aussies involved in this aren’t expected to know that it could be a non-native English speaker attending the phone or that even if he/she spoke good English, it’s  likely that the person in her, though working in a cosmopolitan city like London, could still have a heightened sense of self-consciousness that may seem more apt for Victorian times than Danny Boyle’s melting pot Britain beamed across the world, only recently. Tragically, it’s this ignorance that has cost us an innocent life. Coming, as it does, on the year of Leveson report, it’s a damning way to remember 2012 as the year of media excesses.

When Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand made that infamous and highly chastised prank call, they were at least sure of one thing – Andrew Sachs won’t complain of chest pain or heart attack. Thankfully, despite that call’s deplorable banality,  it didn’t cause any  unmitigatable grief. In some cultures, an old man can still develop real chest pain.

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Firefox Mobile OS on the horizon now – A news I’ve been waiting to hear

Last year, I expressed my unconcealed joy to my colleagues when Mozilla announced their Mobile OS was on its way. Many felt I must be mad at revelling on the news and questioned if it’s such a good news for the market to see yet another OS in Mobile space, as if Android, iOS, along with RIM’s and Microsoft’s not being enough variety.

I am a heavy user of Mozilla’s Firefox browser and besides performance being superb, I quite like the fact that here’s an organisation that has made this possible without any ‘shareholder’s wealth’, ‘quarterly profits’ and other pressing demands to address !

Like Oxygen, Water, a terra firma to prod on etc some of life’s essentials (of course, this keeps changing!) should be either freely available or at a reasonable cost with no further strings attached. One pays water bill without having to worry about whether or not my water consumption is being measured hour by hour and if some unknown party sat in another part of the globe would be betting on whether I flushed it twice every morning at 06:58 or 07:02 🙂  Things like Internet, Mobile being smart to get many things done on the move are indeed so essential that they be regarded as ‘utilities’ such as gas, electricity OR be available for free such as tap water in a pub. The idea that it will be clandestinely free while holding perilous amount of user data in some server and regard each user as a pawn in a Matrix like make-believe reality should scare the sh*t out of us all.

I long for the day when devices are available to buy for their HW specs in any given PC/Electronic shop, varying by the potential user requirements – AMOLED based, LCD based, single/dual/quad-core, 1/2 GB RAM, Screen size 2.7 – 4.8″ and all the other paraphernalia. People should buy any device as per their preference or budget and then  download/install Firefox OS, Android, Microsoft or whatever OS (webOS from HP led open source movement). Of course, this isn’t such a bad idea other than for device manufacturers since their differentiation will purely be down to HW specs and how well they have managed to perform with those OS in question.

Apple will of course, stand grandly isolated, making hay while the sun shines and till such time their doggedly loyal fan base dishes out premia they demand.

Despite the brouhaha about Apps, and the boringly masculine conversations on size of Marketplace, fact remains that most users – in developed or developing countries alike -benefit from handful of core functions in a smartphone. Good email client, a fast browser, a dependable voice guided GPS, good speakers, quality camera, open/latest connectivity options (Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, WiFi hotspot) etc. Then, of course, some basic Apps for the usual high volume social Apps such as Facebook, Twitter etc. Games will follow where money is.

I, for one, will happily attempt porting Firefox Mobile OS on to my Android flagship phone if that’s allowed for and am quite happy to compromise on certain functionality being compromised than let my buttery, silky OS experience channel all info into some character analysing servers, whether or not I have anything to hide !

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How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us by Gail Collins | The New York Review of Books


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