Monday, June 27, 2005

Naxalism - Is it actually violent ?

I just finished my lunch and the deccan herald news paper. The main news items in the news section screamed "Thousands arrive at village to attend Naxal’s last rites" . I saw a smart young fellow, saying in Kannada "These guys deserve it saar". "If one is violent and kill innocent people, the law will take you down. The police have done a good job"

I just paused and pondered ? Have they done a good job ? Thousands are mourning his loss. Sure there must be atleast 50 to 100 teens in the thousands, who share the same angst as this young guy when he joined the naxal movement. Sure there must be 50-100 youths who share the same determination as Umesh. Atleast there must be 100s of people who would be willing to support the naxals in their armed struggle. I carefully checked my words and thoughts so that I dont appear as endorsing their actions. Why do we so abhor the naxals ? Because they are violent ? Physically they are violent and nothing else.

Is it not violence, when a few corner all resources for propogating their economic machinary thus driving people in marginal existence further down the tube ? It is violence too.
Our sense of morality is shattered when the stuccato fire of the AK47 fells innocent people. Where is our sense when thousands silently die of starvation, disease and many among them with no way out, lose belief in this world and consume pesticide. Is that not violence ?

Is it not violence when non-tax paying IT companies, gobble up agricultural land and deprive a family of its only source of livelyhood ? All they do with the land is build golf courses, fountains and re-create switzerland literally. Is this not violence ?

Where is our sense of morality when we ask, protest and preasurise the government to build swanky flyovers and smooth roads worth thousands of crores so that we can reach our homes and offices faster, while a sick man in the village dies on the road to the city ? Is this not violence ?

Obviously, things havent changed, The same resource grabbing is being promoted by a few industrialists in the name of market economy and making bangalore a Shangai. If India were china, Bangalore would have been Shangai and poor people would have been driven out of the city because they are just too dirty to look at or unclean to touch.

It is not wrong to be profitable in what you do, gamble in the market. What is wrong is making a virtue of the same. In the name of professionailism all we are cultivating is an unsustainable model which seeks to marginalise the poor and make the rich, richer. The middleclass is a willing accomplice in this game so that some share of the spoils will reach them too.

As I finished reading the report, I just felt sad that Naxalism is going to increase in leaps and bounds. I knew instinctively that it is a flawed model because it is too fundementalistic and dictotorial to be of good to anyone except those on top of the revolutionairy structure. But What surprises me further is a total lack of response or sense of humanity from any of the so called civilised world. While reems and reems of newsprint (including the front pages) were devoted to debating "Metro Rail" or "Mono rail". No one cared about the hapless people staring death and facing bloodless violence every day.

If I were fifteen and from the villages, I would have had a gun in my hand. The appeal is so strong and the disparity so huge none of what is being done by the society, governmetn and all the rest of the jokers put to gather would provide me with a viable alternative.

Seriously, where is this going to lead ? or more importantly what is it going to lead to ?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What a way to start the thirtieth birthday !!!

It was an usual working day, with its own set of quirky and wierd ways.
There is always something that is more urgent than what is planned. There is always some fire and the fire fighter (yours truly) is called upon. There is always some ruffled feathers to be smoothened. There is always something that makes me postpone my lunch by just another 15 minutes. Luckily as the clock struck 6.30 p.m. I decided, I will call it a day, quietly sneak out (we all do that) and I would get to see my babies developed, mounted and proud (My slide filim from honnemaradu). As I twisted the accelerator, I could feel my heart pump and the tension inside me raising. The suspense was killing me. It was like checking the boards for my class 12 exams. "Damm, this kind of excitement isnt my cup of tea", I told myself.

I stepped into prabhu and gave him the slip. He looked at it and stared back at me. I felt he was mocking me with a look that said what-a-sucker-all-photographs-washed-out. He rummaged through the stacks of photos developed and picked up the phone to get my set from a nearby building. Dammm... a wait for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I busied myself looking at hemanth's scan and discussing mundane details. My mind was on the frames that would come mounted. If there was an apt hindi song for this situation, it would have been "Dhak Dhak"..

The slides came and I literally snatched it form his hands. Lunged for the big light box, flipped the switches on and spread the slides all over. Hemanth my bud, was there too... One by one, the pictures came to light. All fears and douts about my abilities vanished. I felt a couple of smiles creep onto my face. Vow... I felt good, on top of the world. The photographs were good.

But I realised that there are no scans to share it with my friends. I need to get them scanned now.. As I was transfixed by the results, I felt a nudge and there was Anita and Venky. Even she agreed that my photographs were brilliant, that I was a genius (Ok... I tend to exaggerate a little bit and indulge in self complements once too often. Thats hedonism. Persuit of pleasure.). Not brilliant and genius. But definitely my photographs were good. Phew... I had a face saver man, after all that heady gyan I gave on photogrpahy in Honnemardu.

It was 7.45 p.m. and I was late. Remember the training schedulde ? I rode like a maniac, owning the road. "I am the king, I am the master and the road is mine. Anyone else who is blocking the traffic and the path of the "vazu the terrible" should be shown his place", was my attitude. Totally cocky, self assured and so full of myself. I reached home, changed into my trunks and with just a Rs. 250 (no purse, just money in the loose), bike keys, I set off. Locked my house and I was in the gym working the iron.

I felt great, top of the world. Sweating it out in the gym, grunting my way through, I felt light and bubbly. I could feel my muscles groan in pain. Sweet pain. Excruciatingly sweat. I was totally done and my biceps were nearly torn. I couldnt do it anymore. My iron buddy, cajoled me to do just one more set and I set off. I maxed out the weights and put all I had. squeezing every inch into a complete range of motion and as I finished it, I just collapsed onto the sofa. My head went for a spin and I knew, I had achieved a milestone. "Nothing could go wrong today", I thought to myself or is it ??

Straight at 9.15 p.m. I sped to empire, had one shourma and lime juice. I was just thinking, now what would I do ? go home, listen to some music, light reading (10-15 pages) and sleep. The devil crept in. It kept reminding me that I hadnt watched a movie for quiet a while and "Anniyan" a tam movie is running. I dint want to go. I just wanted to call it a day. But neither did I banish the devil from my thoughts. I gave it a little more time (till I finished the shourma) and by then, the devil had worked its ways. I quickly checked and I found I had Rs. 200 (no need to drop by home) and half an hour to reach innovative in Marathhalli. Today was a wednesday, and I reasoned that tickets would be available. Quickly, I got another shourma to go, and whizzed past the empire at kammanahalli to ORR and was off.

I loved the freedom, the freedom to take off and do whatever one wants to do, whenever one wants to do. No parents to seek permission, no other commitments to fullfill. After 6.00 p.m. its my time baby. I have been like this since I was 16 (when I finished my 12th). What a way to live. Still on the high unaware of what is to follow and full of gloat, cocky sense of pride and totally full of myself, I stepped into the theatre and watched "Anniyan". The movie itself was ok. Not great or earth shaking, but entertaining in its own way mainly because of "Vivek". "Vivek" is the best comedian in India right now. Too good.

Anyway, the movie got over at 1.00 p.m. and I returned home at around 1.30. I just put my hand into the shorts pocket and I could feel a pit in my stomach. A hollow sense of feeling, one gets when taking a brutal fall right on the face. "I dint have my house keys". I checked, both my pockets, incessesently. So unsure of myself and irrationally hoping to find it in my pockets the eleventh time, where I couldnt find it the first ten times. I checked, checked and checked.
It was nowhere. Gone. I went below, checked my haphazardly parked bike from top to bottom. I couldnt find it atall. The roads were deserted. Nothing there except mosquitoes. Even the dogs had slept off. My mind suddenly ran amock, trying to fire fight this awful situation I found myself in. Trying to come to alternate ways to get myself to my warm cosy bed. My furry, wolly blanket (which I so proudly flouted on a recent trip to honnemardu).

The beat cops saw me, hanging out near the gate in a wafer thin t-shirt and shorts slightly longer than my undies. The wind was breaking out and it was extremely chilly. These guys must have thought "How wierd". They questioned me and wanted to find out what I was doing at this time of the hour. I told them, that I lived there and had lost my keys. They chuckled loudly and man it hurt my heart (small and black ... yeah yeah thats the one) . I then remembered in a flash (my subconcious mind was working all the while, desperately trying to contact other subconcious minds via telepathy. Apparently they were all asleep at 2.00 a.m.) that one of my spare keys is with Prashanth, Hemanth's brother and he lives in HRBR (just a little distance away). For some unknown yet godsend reason, I had given my cellphone and keys to prashanth before going to honnemardu. Anyway I decided to call him and requested the cops to give me their cellphone. There was a sheepish smile. no currency saar!!! I felt like hitting him smack across his face, swallowed my pride, cameflouged my looks and mumbled "Paravagilla saar" (Its alright sir).

The cops were gone, the opposite house iranians were chatting something in farsi and smoking. I approached them for a cellphone and finally rang Prashanth. The phone rang, rang and rang. It rang, rang and rang. It rang, rang and rang and rang for 10 minutes. No response. Damm such an irresponsible guy, prashanth is (I said to myself). I cant trust him in emergency (I again said to myself). Another voice spoke now for the first time (Dai Addakku da.., Stop the whining).

The cops were gone, the iranians decided to sleep and I was for the first time in my life homeless. So near to my bed, yet so far. And I was 30. What a way to celebrate your big birthday !!!... Yet my mind wouldnt give up. I conjured up other plans. What if I wake my cousin up ? But did not want to burn all goodwill for just a night's sleep. Prashanth has a big family, uncle, aunts, servants and subbu the dog. By now, you all would know how much I like dogs.. So his house was also out. I then decided to go to the terrace. The wind which was silent till now, kicked up and started howling... the dogs started howling and I found myself a cosy corner under the syntex tank. With mosquitoes for company, an aching body and chill winds I just lied there curled up like the beetle in Honnemardu.

The voice inside me which rarely speaks said "Give me pain", "Give me more pain". Someone (you know who) heard that and it started drizzling. I decided to face the shit. I said to myself. This is what makes a man. Lesser people would give up. Take the shit damm it.. Give me more. Give me hard rain. stinging rain, hail, meteors. Give me everything you got you sonnofabitch. It started raining harder. Somhow, I put cause and effect theory in action and realised, "Maybe there is a connection between what I utter and what is to happen". By now pain was maximum, discomfort intense, chill bone numbing and my whole body shivering like mad. I decided that it is prudent to stay alive to fight another day and not to be stupid and dead in the morning, however exciting it is to die on your birthday (how many people had this coincidence, I wondered).

I gave up, looked up at the dark and cloudy sky raining needles and said. God, why me... why... in true salman khan style (a.k.a Khamoshi, hum dil das baar de chuke sanam). Oops sorry, no cockiness pelase. I came down the stairs, defeated, broken down and totally humbled. Man david may be brave in challenging the goliath, but he would be stupid to stand there watching if he had broken his sling...

As I was coming down, I could hear surush (my friendly Iranian neighbour) put on the lights and open the door. I cried out to him and he was startled. I patiently explained what happend. Dropped all inhibition and requested him to give me a place (without fan) to crash. He smiled and let me in. Infact, he made me some hot black tea and we ended up chatting for another hour about internet, hacking and other things. He spoke about wife, family, chicks etc. I invited him to the party at my place promised to show him a couple of places in karnataka. I felt full of gratitude, whatever for him. I shudder to think spending another 3 hours in the goddammm place squeling like smeagol and gollum and talking like salman to the monsoon clouds. What an Idiot.

The terrace wont be the same place anymore...

I slept peacefully and woke up, drained of all cockiness, humbled, worldly wise, beaten, annealed and the most excruciating pain inflicted on me.

I woke up 30.

What a way to start your thirtyeth birthday !!!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Honnemaradu Blogout !!!

Actually, there is so much to say after this trip. So many new experiences and such varied set of people.

Firstly, I should thank Suman and Anita for getting this whole trip organised. There she was patiently, informing everyone what to do weeks before the trip actually began, making sure everyone had seats to sit and births to sleep, handled the Ticket checker, managed the finances and quaterbacked the whole team. Such dedication. We even did a hip hip for her at the end of the trip.

Suman apart from being a (errrhh) strong supporter of Anita also has doubled up as a perfect chronicler of this trip. No one else but him can with such lucidity describe all that happend. As for now, the best way to kow about our trip would be to read his blog. You can find it at Honnemardu: bLogout - Part 1 . As for me, I would wait to see all the parts published before offering my comments/adding onto this. Suman is a man of supreme integrity who would not forget to mention any part of the trip (even what happend inside the tents).

On a much serious note. Do kindly read the travelouge on suman's blogon Honnemardu. He is the best.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

What kind of a society are we becoming ??

I used to be very defensive whenever someone said, "You are a communist". This arose from the defeat of the soviet system of governance and the fall of communism. I was 15 then. The Iraq war happend I remember, and it was the first war. Everyone in my class and friends supported the US and there I was somehow feeling that what saddam did was correct. Afterall there is credence to his claim that Kuwait was stealing oil from him.

Ten years passed and I got educated and went after money. I tried figuring out the world and how it worked. Somewhere I was looking for a fair and equitable system of efforts and rewards, because I was sold onto this concept. Afterall is not life in school and college like that. Outside college, life was about opportunities and the one who has it. It seemed an unfair system, yet I played the game. Became cutthroat, jumped jobs, differentiated myself from the rest and got my rewards.

I attributed the rewards from the point of view of, "hey I deserve it". But did I ? truly ? I was there in the right place at the right time. I even came to think of it as a personal achievement of being in the right place at the right time. Its my effort and my achievement. I turned a true capitalist. Money brings money. justice is about who is more powerful. Fairplay is about who is smarter.

My return back to India was about money and making it big on my own. The keywords being "on my own". That was a struggle, which continues. The cause a selfish one, trying to get that elusive house, car, that elusive five crores. All the travel and excitement of going to a new place and doing new things. Anouncign my arrival loudly and voiceferously. The "travel and living" life. Afterall all these trapping are about making a statement "I can do it" and not about "I like it". I may not get there, or maybe I will get there. But the fact still remains I sought to get there.

Its a gamble and I realised, I am a gambler. I gamble more and better when the stakes are higher. I realised I am cautious and careful when I have something left to protect and gaurd. Take that away, I turn a gambler and a dangerous one at that.

One sunday morning as I was having a cup of coffee and just wandering in my thoguhts, I realised. The ultimate winner is not the gambler, but the "house". Because the house sets the rules and the gambler just challenges those rules. The rules are loaded against the gambler. It rewards him one time and eats him away the rest of the 9 times. The more the gambler there is , the richer the house. The house always wins. To win, one should change the rules by which the game is playes to ones advantage.

Learning # 1. Change the rules of the game.

The cause : Is winnign equivalent to acomplishing ? This thought sprang up like a ping pong ball... ? No they are not. Sometimes, winning is acomplishing like when Bangaladesh beat Australia. They won, they also aomplished something. They banished all doubts about their own ability. In some wierd ways, they were equals to australia. Winning is about overcoming your opponent. Acomplishing is battling your own inadequacies and overcoming those. A lost cause is therefore never without acomplishments. But it is important to win as winning itself is a habit and is infectious. IT is also important to acomplish something everytime.

Learning #2 Accomplish something bigger than your own material needs.

What is happening in India is we are changing the rules of the game and suddenly the causes are lost. Where are the poor. They are poorer. Where are the workers ? they are still struggling. Why is peenya broken down and desolate while electronic city is swanky. Where are the Dalits, they are still oppressed by a whole section of us, who are just hungry to consume and think morally superior of ourselves. I recently saw a series of movies on dalit oppression. What I saw totally revolted me. Oppression unkwon to human kind. Dalit woman forced out of economic blockade to clean human excreta with bare hands. Dalit women, abused by highercaste men young enough to be their sons.

Where is the logic, when within the same city people que for hours to get drinking water and a well known IT MNC waters its golf courses everyday? Where is the logic, when tons of food gets wasted in cafeterias and people go hungry. Where is the logic that we consume more and more and more when poor people dont even have enough to consume for themselves. Why should the governemtn continue to fund the IITs and IIMs when the poor dont even have toilets in schools. The priorities are all wrong.

The rules have changed and the causes have been lost. But like Anita's dad pointed out, the "Wheel always turns full circle". In places like chickmagalur, parts of andhra, bihar, jharkand where oppression is intense, a counter reaction in the form of Naxal violence has sprung up. The poor dont have a weapon to fight with. The rich fight unfair and donot share the benefits. A single Amalgamated bean coffee limited (A.K.A coffee day) destroys the government coffee board, acquires all processing capabilities in the coffee belt and constructs its own oligarchy.

Coffee plantation owners convert their unproductive fams into homestays. IT professionals and newly rich middle class from the cities drink the coffee in coffee day and stay in the home-stays of coorg. The poor migrant farmer unaware of the coffee collapse and changed rules, finds himself without a job and prey to loan sharks. There is no way out, he commits suicide. Not for his son thiough, he joins the People's War Group.

Whose fault is it ? Is it the IT professionals/middle class newly rich's fault ?. No. This is the leverage class. With very very little votebank, this is the class which has leveraged maximum benefits from the government post 1991. I belong to this class and I benefited from all the changes that happend. This class is actively supported by the cream class which has, its own vested interest to bring in more money. The leverage class in its eagerness to go up the wealth chain actively worked with the cream class. The leverage class provided the extra weight to tip political power from one side to another in a highly fractitious political scenario. They controled the money and they controled the votes.

With the onset of violent left wing movements, the breaking point has reached. The government has failed totally in its role of providing developement and succor to the backward sections. There is nothing that can explain why bangalore should get six lane highways and swanky flyovers, when bellary or bidar doesent even have mtorable roads. The army and the poliece are a private police force for the rich and the connected. Police turn extortionists helping a few rule over the rest. The poor fight on.

This form of developement is absolutely unsustainable and is a sure path to doom. Where are we heading ?

Its just something that tells me, that whats happening in terms of government spending for the rich and the urban elites at the expense of the poor is absolutely unaccceptable and unfair.

The cycle of socialist developement is not over yet. We need another 2-3 rounds of social eqality and justice before we can claim India to be an egalitarian and equal opportunity society. Till then it still "off the few", "by the few", "for the few".

I will just leave an open thought for people to muse over..

What is wrong with private sector reservation ? Should we not implement it to set some of the imbalances ?

Somehow one comment of bunty's on the way back from talguppa stuck in my mind. "We are doing the same things, that we did in the 80s before the internet". "We would be going back to the usenet era. I think we are just going in circles". I think so too... because the circle is the truth. We go round and round till the whole society progresses like a helix. The "spring model" of developement means. a verticle plane of wealth creation and a horizontle plane of "equitable wealth distribution". Both are needed. We need another round of intense political chaos like during the untied front days and massive re-organisation of public government investment from urban focused to rural focus.

point to ponder : Is it time the IT companies started paying Income taxes ? and became a truly responsible corporate citizen than just became a resource hungry industry ?

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Smell of Life - Trains

One of my most enduring memories was a train journey from Mumbai to Chennai. I have done this circuit an umpteen number of times and always by general compartment. Very rarely, I used to book tickets. Somehow the train journey seemed to represent a journey from one time zone to another and one way of life to another. I was coming to Chennai after a year of hard ass working in Mumbai. It was Diwali time and I could smell moms avial in my dreams. The train got delayed after Sholapur and was re-directed via Miraj and Bellary towards Guntakkal instead of Raichur. 2 stations before Bellary, the train entered a non-descript station and stopped for a few minutes. It was 12.00 noon and the sun was scorching the brown earth. It was like before the rains came in Lagaan. Cracked earth and all. None of us had anything to eat since the dinner at Sholapur and the whole train was voracious. What was supposed to be a 10-minute stop became a 2-hour stop as all passengers stopped the train and refused to let it go unless food was prepared for everyone.

I had a few bananas and took a small trip into the near by field. There was one small agriculture well and a tree. A few people were sitting there and smoking beedi. As I approached them, they instinctively stood up (my trousers of course). I asked the to sit down and lit my own “Rajas”. The simple peaceful smoke calmed my mind and for a moment I felt that the purpose of my vacation was fulfilled. I felt re-charged already. I sat there for a few more minutes chatting with the farmers and I observed they were very very humble. I am still extremely cocky and self assured. I take a bad fall right on my face once in a while.I just get up and go. I am an expert at getting up and going. The equanimity and serenity these farmers possessed was amazing. Its not something unique and maybe most village people possess that sense of quiet. I was wondering and thinking up my co-ordinates (latitude and longitude).

It amazed me a Mumbai mole like me, standing in a village well and chatting with folks who had absolutely nothing in common. They were chatting with me and I was with them. Perhaps that’s what was common. It was an epiphany. I will remember that particular day, all my life. Nothing spectacular and life altering, yet spectacular and life altering. Simply !!!

Trains represent the slow but steady movement of life. Rarely does life move fast like a jet air craft or Does it ? I don’t know. And definitely life isn’t as easy as catching a plane. Neither is it as pamperous (I will stick with this word even if my vocab sucks) as a plane journey, fresheners, juices, entertainment and pretty little things they call airhostess. Life mirrors a train journey in a general compartment. The hard board sleeping quarters and the scramble for a place to rest your ass in peace. Goodwill is everything here, if you dont build goodwill, you cant even pee in peace (without forgoing your seat). Shitting for 2 days is out of reckoning. Still as the train moves from one station to another, people who you knew well move on and strangers come in (suspicios eyes, cautious glances and all). You have to build the goodwill all over again.

I love the chance of meeting new people, chatting with unknown folks on subjects of their interests. I love introducing myself to normal folks and explaining to them what I do sitting in a cubicle in a corner of a city and traveling to another corner by train. I love hearing their stories of life, trials, and tribulations. I love learning a different sense of humor much different from the city slick sardar bashing funny bone of mine.

I love the sweat, the grime, the dirt, the greasy poori baaji at Raichur. The soggy dosas with salty chutnis at Renigunta. I love the wonderfully happy sight of basin bridge junction just two stops before Chennai. For a long time the broken chimneys symbolized homecoming for the weary traveler into Chennai. I love the earnestness and nimbleness with which folks board and occupy every inch of train space at Arrakkonam. I love the sight of mango trees laden with green and golden fruits in between Puthhur and Tirutani.

My uncle used to say, there is great sense of calm and peace if you do a mundane and simple chore (his e.g. of jadu pocha / washing dishes). Something as simple and humbling as mopping the floor and doing it intensely, so intensely that you sweat and feel tierd. A train journey symbolizes the same kind of labour while traveling. Right from getting into the station and boarding the train (while it is coming in to the station) for a seat. I always managed to get an upper birth for myself. I would then chose a deserving candidate and share it with him. The logic was simple, if you don’t share it with someone, soon more than one would occupy it (to your misery). Why not share it with just one more tierd traveler and build some goodwill so that you get to lie down and he will be glad to just sit.

I have long watched the gujaratis/marwaris travel and eat. From chivda, to roti, gur dal, thepla and paan every thing is neatly packed with a lot of care and love. The whole families don’t just have dinner. They celebrate dinner !!!

Soon the ticket checker became a good friend. One particular checker used to say “enna Vasu sir”. He used to pride by the fact, that he remembers my name. And almost immediately he would quip “where is your sapna”. Though I used to be sick of hearing this “ek-duje-ke-liye” take on my name, I would smile and humor the ticket checker. You know why ;)

For my love of trains, I am a true Mumbaiker. Trains are a great equalizer. A metaphor of a public space, that belongs equally to all and not just a few rich. It’s a market place where one could buy and sell stuff. It’s a puja room, where one could do bajhans. Its my dining table, where I have my half pack (err.. full pack) “hide and seek” for breakfast. Its my singing room, where I sing on top of my voice and the dude pressing his sweaty back onto mine in a crowded borivili fast, doesn’t care. You see the rush to get last into the train so that one can hang free and breathe the smell of salty Mumbai air. There are the regulars, who play rummy on the go. Sitting, standing, leaning. If you stare long enough, smile and pick up a conversation one would get a place to sit and play too. That’s confirmed ticket in a Mumbai local. It can be had only by building goodwill.

It’s the heartbeat that never stops (only when it floods the tracks). Once in every 3 minutes. It’s the Dadak Dadak, with a harmonic shake that incessantly takes it to my destination.

As I am reading the book “Why everyone loves a good drought” by Sai Nath, My eyes adjust themselves to the incessant to-and-fro motion of the train and. My mind is amazingly still and is focused on the book. I hear myself say “Nowhere else can I do this but on an upper birth of a general compartment”. There is so much peace. I just close my book and drift into a dreamless sleep.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Movies - Rajni and Shah Rukh Khan

Last week, I met an old classmate (of college days) of mine and we talked about almost everything under the sun, The years that went by, old flames, new friends, Past ego hassles, Movies et. al. It was an interesting time overall and we agreed both of us have changed quiet a bit. She has too, except when it came to some weird maniacal obsession with her matinee idol "King Khan". According to her, she and her whole family have never missed a single Shah Rukh khan movie first day first show. Never missed a show of his in Bangalore. I am not quiet surprised by the female fascination of Shah Rukh Khan. But guys? blowing French kisses when he sings "Thum Paas Aaye, youn muskuraye"... That kind of shit makes me squirm..

I decided, that there is a bit of soul searching that I have to do and also examine dispassionately this phenomenon so that I can better grapple with whats happening. What’s wrong, is it me ? or is it the world I live in. I desperately needed to solve this disconnect.

I hail from Chennai. Lived my life in alwarpet, mylapore and T.Nagar. Friends mainly from tondiarpet, mylpaore, ayodhya kuppam. Ever since my childhood, I have been a boy of the streets playing street cricket, kings, mudug puncture (for a detailed description of this game of raw power, accuracy and manliness please wait for the next post titled “The games we played”) , Seven stones etc. Women have always been restricted to a dry comment once in a while of "super figure machi". My closest friends had names such as Jayapal, Rames, sottai. The ramakrishnans and Sunderramans were classmates who I rarely hung out with. Bryan adams, mettalica etc. etc. were English music fundas the iyer boys used to give and so was Kambodhi, Thodi and Kalyyani (carnatic rags). I was not that dextrous. For me, it has always been thalaivar songs (thalaivar equates with leader. At times, it is Rajni, Ilayaraja, SPB, Jesudass and even Deva). The hero worship was immense and virulent, cos Rajni represented all our ambitions, aspirations, and he was always an underdog changing the world order. It was a carefully cultivated image by Rajni. All his songs right from "Annan yenna, thambi enna" had a deeper meaning of life and were mildly philosophical.

Movies have always been "Rajni" and always "Rajni". A trip to a Rajni movie used to be an affair to remember. It starts the day when thalaivar announces the name. Immediately all the manrams (clubs) would be buzz with activity and sub manrams used to vie for the biggest honour. It was a show of strength. Right from sticking posters to putting up banners. The responsibility was onerous. Thalaivars' movie should beat the record. The territories would be divided and every known person contacted and goaded to make a trip to the theatre. The watching experience itself was a challenge. Right from getting the ticket and getting into the theatre, setting out flyers when "Super Star Rajni" comes on the screen. Whistling, dancing, shouting, clapping, and lighting up a thousand wala (inside the theatres). It was a carnival. The whole experience from organising till making sure the movie is seen the mandated 10 times was simply mind blowing.

As I grew up, I grew out of rajni, drifted to Kamal and Barathi Raja, even ventured into adoor, Sathyajth Ray, Shyam benegal, Ram gopal Verma, John Mathew mattan. I started understanding Rajni movies and the values they stand for. It gives the poor common man, a sympathizer and a sense of identity. If he cannot challenge Amma, there is always Rajni who could.

The jewel of the crown was in 1993 elections. Rajni and amma live in the same street - Poes garden. Amma was used to traveling in an entourage of 50 cars and holding up the traffic sometimes for an hour or two. In one such occasion outside his own house, Rajni was caught in a jam and he decided enough was enough. In true style, he got out of his car and walked straight out on the road. The crowd mobbed him and swelled all over him. He continued walking and Amma's juggernaut came to a screeching halt. The police couldnt do a shit and Amma and her entourage had to wait till Rajni reached his house. All that culminated in Rajni giving a loaded statement "If jayalalitha came to power, no one can save tamilnadu". Amma lost power and her deposit in bargur. The message was clear and simple "Dont mess with rajni, he will stand for the poor and question injustice. He will stop Amma for you".

That was years back and now Rajnis movies seldom appeal to me except for nostalgia of the golden time. I moved onto Coimbatore, Pune and Mumbai. My dream of studying in Pachaiyappas (a college of ill-repute but super cool attitude) remained a dream. even Tamil movies changed to relationships and romances. I dont mind romantic turns, but should be a natural part of movie. I cant take too much sweet. I am diabetic. I moved on to English and voraciously saw movies of a different kind. I understood the world was larger and grew steadily and sometimes fast.

As I moved from town to town, then country-to-country, I made a lot of friends. Discussed movies, understood other cultures and values. I adapted a large part of my experiences and changed my outlook to life. My old friends laugh at me, If I say "lets go for an english movie". I am a changed man compared to the 90s. As I undertand there is a lot to life than just romance and when life is so balanced, I expect the movies to be balanced too. That’s where the Shah Rukh-Karan Johar movies bewilder me.

My first Shah Rukh movie was Bazzigarh and frankly I liked it. After that came a string of romantic movies of the sensitive kind, where the King Khan almost seemed to be a girl. To start with he wears lipstick, and is immaculately groomed – no sign of roughness. In almost all his movies he is international, lives out of london, has a super rich father and wears swanky suits in Mumbai. Now the only people who wore suits were the corporate honchos and the cuff parade waalas. And you need to have an AC car and a chauffer to carry a suit gracefully. Imagine getting into the borivili fast at Andheri with a Raymond suit on :D. Back to the topic, It looks to me as if the hero’s purpose in life was to bag the girl and nothing else. At least nothing else is shown. He rarely works somewhere and he cries profusely almost as immediately as a teen. Looks as though he was a hero created to satisfy the maternal instincts of a female. The heroes they wanted to connect with. It was not a hero without an identity of his own. There is a big disconnect between this world and myself. I can not understand this imagery and portrayal of a character. There is no one like that I know. Perhaps someone can throw some light.

All questions started when I found my 12 year old niece screaming for Shah Rukh Khan. All the mushy-mushy karva chauth, connecting with the heroine, her mother, her sister and her whole family, bearing of deep emotions out in the open is fine. But men, going ga ga over these phenomena stumped me totally. One of my friends was expressive in his narration of how Shah Rukh khan would connect with Kajol's mom in DDLJ. I was damm embarrassed hearing it narrated. The only comparison to this awestruck admiration was when Jayapal my friend years ago narrated how Rajni the underdog, tames telugu action queen Vijay Shanthi in Mannan. Just these two images side by side stressed me out totally. They were the total opposite ends of my movie experience. Is not all this bearing of innermost feelings unnatural? I even thought there is something wrong with me. I tried rehearsing it with my friend and changing my style. She just said "Vasu you look ridiculous".

Nowadays I walk out of theaters when a movie is lousy (English, Tamil or Hindi). After my old obsession with rajni died down, I watched and appreciated all good movies that make people think and those that focused on life. I walk out of movies that are bad and no chick flick unless there is a chick around. The only exception was Govinda and I am a great fan of comedy. All kinds - charlie chaplin, crazy mohan, Jim carrey. My all time favourite was and is Office space. Where does Shah Rukh - Karan Johar fit in all this is too difficult to fathom for my mind?

Maybe I am not mature enough to understand the subtle nature of those emotions and expressions. I dread the day when I start understanding these. Kindly dont be offended by my dislike of King Khan. I assure you, I tried my very best, but really cant come to like him or his chum buddy Karan Johar.

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