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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Musings Of An Angry Indian

26th November, 2008. This date will remain etched in the mind of every Indian now. The terror attacks which hit Mumbai have left a scar in the mind of every Indian. For three days, we saw terror in its most naked form revealed in the city of dreams. With 20 attacks, 183 dead and over 300 injured, India saw its version of 9/11 in Mumbai. The terror drama finally ended with ‘Operation Cyclone’ ending at Taj Mahal Hotel. The images which we saw on TV was simply heart-rending. It was a bloody game of AK-47s, grenades and death! The Mumbai police, NSG commandos and army fought to the teeth with the terrorists who took hostages at the Taj and Oberoi hotels. And every moment brought more gruesome news of death and misery with it. Surely, now the time has come when merely sitting and watching events unfold will not result in anything for us. It is now the time to just act.

As an Indian who hails from a terror-hit area of the country, I can relate very easily to this sort of incidents. Bomb blasts, gun battles and hostage situations are a rather common thing in our Assam. At this stage, I finally feel that we Assamese are no longer alone in our feelings as terror affected individuals in this country. Today, the rest of India as Assam has finally tasted what bitter fruit terrorism is! The terrorists who did the Mumbai attacks have shown that when it comes to bloodshed terrorism knows no mercy. They were trained professionals who were sent on a suicide mission to show India what the fear of death really is! The total lack of security and alertness on the part of the authorities and the government has only showed how vulnerable we are as a nation to these types of attacks. Yesterday as we saw on the news about the mission at Taj end up, I realized that we as a nation have faced the worst humiliation in the form of this attack. The attacks on the Parliament and Akshardham Temple a few years back are nothing compared to this. And this not something which we should sideline to any particular community. I am sure that among those killed and injured, there will be some Muslims as well. Their grief and sufferings will not be any different from the Hindus affected in this attack. Today what I see is a sort of unity among all people which I have not seen last since the Kargil War. Mumbai has come together to help all the ones in distress. And behind them are also the prayers of millions of Indians like us. Time and again, we Indians have stood together through the shockwaves that have hit our country. We have always proved that when it comes to our country, we are just one nation! No matter what our religion might be. No matter what our caste or community might be. We have always shown that we are the best example of unity in diversity.

Today, as I see the reactions of our politicians to this incident, I’m fueled up with anger. The Home Minister of Maharashtra, R.R. Patil has described this as a small incident which happens in a big city like Mumbai. Just how callous can anybody get than this! An incident which has shook the entire nation and made all the Indians feel humiliated has been described in this manner by the Home Minister of Maharashtra. I don’t know how to put it but all I want now is to have a revolver and gun down all these filthy political dogs! I’m rather glad that Shivraj Patil has resigned from his Home Ministership in the Centre. But now to see P. Chidambaram in his place is another awkward sight for me! It has shown that the Congress party has no strong leaders to fall back on! And when democracy is ruled by such spineless leaders, such acts of terror are bound to happen. I just wonder where will our relationship with Pakistan head to now. Considering that all the terrorists were Pakistani nationals, many including me, feel that we should attack the terror camps that are breeding in Pakistan. But then again I’m forced to think that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. And a war would mean more devastations than anyone can imagine at this moment. As Pakistan is committing hara-kiri in sending its ISI chief to India, we are now more than sure of the role of the Pakistani army and ISI in training these terrorists. Denial is a game that Pakistan has always played in its activities towards India. But then now we also should give up hopes of securing a good neighbor in the form of Pakistan. The very basis of the foundation of Pakistan was hatred towards India. And in this we should stop being the good Samaritan towards an ungrateful neighbor. I just pray that now we Indians wake up to the grim reality we are facing.

As I write this piece, I am seething with great anger from within. As a self-respecting Indian, I have every right to feel this way. We have already seen enough death and destruction. And we know that more might be coming our way. But we must stand strong because if we do, believe me we will become the super-power we aspire to be some day. This is a very rough phase for India. Nothing is going smoothly as of now. But I have great faith in myself and my fellow Indians. And I believe we shall overcome and win afterall. So I will end this piece with a prayer in my heart for the deceased and hope for my country to come out of this crisis as soon as possible. Vande Mataram.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A New Wave

Bollywood has come of age. It has finally transformed into a substance filled movie industry from a content filled one. Gone are the days when we used to be served masala potboilers which used to consist of rich girl-poor boy stint, running around the trees in songs, or a mindless action thriller where the hero beats up five to ten goons single-handedly! Can anyone remember those Mithun Chakroborty movies where some unspeakable action stunts were depicted! Audience today demands a more substance filled content in movies. This is evident in the type of movies that filmmakers are churning out nowadays. The multiplex culture has totally revolutionized the way the audience perceives a film to be made. The way a story is treated and the variety of subjects the Indian filmmakers are handling is definitely a good sign. And we really hope that this change is here for the better.

We were sure of a better change sweeping through Indian cinema when we saw Bollywood churn out movies like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in the 90s. Fortunately, I feel that we were not disappointed in this. Atleast we got a relief from those mindless action thrillers which dominated the 80s. A newfound wave of romance swept across tinsel town. And we got some great classics like Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. This time around music also reinvented itself and finally we got out of those horrid tuneless songs of the 80s and early 90s. The music created during this period was reminiscent of the musical jewels that were created in the 60s and 70s. It was like a renaissance sweeping across Bollywood. We also had during this period some coming of age movies like Salaam Bombay. Indian cinema, during this period, also delved into newer territories in terms of ideas and storytelling. We had films like The Bandit Queen, Fire, Bombay Boys and Monsoon Wedding. What was most encouraging was that the Indian audience known for its conservatism embraced most of them with open arms and they proved to be fairly successful. And with this emerged a new breed of filmmakers and storytellers who wanted to make films which the audience could identify with. Thus, among the mainstream commercial flicks too, we had movies like Satya, 1947 Earth and Company. What was now evident was that the audiences wanted films which were backed by a great script and involved some new ideas.

Over the last ten years, what we have seen is that Bollywood has churned out many films which have set landmarks in Indian cinema. The new breed of filmmakers that have come up have lived up to their expectations. Thus, we have Farhan Akhtar making a Dil Chahta Hai. Homi Adajania making a Being Cyrus. And Navdeep Singh making a Manorama Six Feet Under. Even established production houses have made some off-beat films like Yash Raj Films’ Salaam Namaste which dealt with the subject of live-in relationships. Or in the recent case of Karan Johar’s Dostana which dealt with gay men. The variety of topics that films are handling nowadays is really a signal that the audience along with the film industry has come of age. Even when some filmmakers have burned their fingers in their quest to explore other themes, it has not discouraged others from experimenting as well. Filmmakkers like Madhur Bhandarkar have redefined the way women are portrayed in films with flicks like Chandni Bar, Page 3 and the recent Fashion. Even existing genres have got a different treatment too . Patriotism assumed a new jingoism with flicks like Rang De Basanti, Chak De India and the recent Heroes. Horror saw a new style with flicks like Raaz and Bhooth. Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om gave a new meaning to the way the retro style is handled by Bollywood. The way infidelity was handled in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was something never seen in Indian cinema before. And romance, Indian audience’s favourite subject, is also getting newer treatments with each passing films. We have some off-beat romantic films like Cheeni Kum which delight us inspite of a different handling of the topic. And we can also hope for some more different treatment to romance in upcoming flicks like Aditya Chopra’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

I think in today’s multiplex culture scenario, the gap between mainstream commercial cinema and parallel cinema has diminished to a great extent. When we have films like Khosla Ka Ghosal and Mithya doing fine business, we can understand that all the audience wants now is a slice of difference in the films that are being served to them. Even flicks like Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear and Shyam Benegal’s Welcome To Sajjanpur have lessened the gap between the two streams of filmmaking. When we have a hardcore commercial filmmaker like Sanjay Leela Bhansali make different films like Black and Saawariya, and another formula following filmmaker like Subhash Ghai make a Black & White, it is time for us to realize that serious cinema has finally arrived in Bollywood. Even well-known actors are exploring the newer themes in Bollywood. Thus we have Aamir Khan doing a Taare Zameen Par, Shah Rukh Khan doing a Chak De India and Salman Khan doing a Phir Milenge. The change has arrived . And it is definitely here to stay.

As an avid movie-going Indian, I’m looking forward for this change to consolidate further in Indian cinema so that we may experience more variety in terms of themes and ideas. Cinema is a very powerful mode of expression and this mode has finally hit substance in our country. Three cheers for the new wave in Indian Cinema!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

For The Rock n The Roll

My memories goes back to my school days when I had my first brush with rock music. Started with rather classic stuff like Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and The Beatles. Those were the days when you could play a safe song by one of these folks which even your parents would hum with you. My father’s particular favourite was Elvis Presley. While my mother dotted more on the disco types like Abba and Boney M. Me and my brother grew up listening to the usual hindi ones like Kishore, Rafi and also ghazals most which were dominated by Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali. But when it comes to rock n roll, I remember it was probably in around 14, when my friend suggested me to listen to the Scorpions. I was a safe start, I believe. Soft rock was particularly soothing and I didn’t have to try too hard to understand the lyrics. I particularly remember humming to ‘Wind of Change’ and ‘White Doves’ which was perhaps the first time I remembered the entire lyrics of any English song. Classic rock n roll was just a timepass sort of music for me which I listened to impress upon the other western listening crowd of my school.

My first real serious experience with rock n roll happened one day when I chanced to see a documentary on TV about The Doors. There was this guy who was simply high on dope and the crowd was simply swinging with him totally mesmerized! The next day immediately bought a cassette of The Doors and instantly I fell in love with the haunting vocals of Doors frontman Jim Morrison. For the first time I thought rock n roll had a deeper meaning than I ever imagined. By that time I was reaching 18 and was taking my keyboard lessons. Listening to Ray Manzarek’s awesome keyboard parts in the songs was enough for me to take the keyboard seriously. I began to live The Doors day in and day out. For the first time my parents were baffled to hear me listen to a kind of music they were not familiar with. Morrison’s lyrics totally freaked out my psyche. For the first time I began to look at the things around me in a different way and went through the ‘confusion’ phase that most teens go through. Love, life, violence, sex. I felt I could understand these things in a clearer way than ever before. Songs like ‘Riders in The Storm’, ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Roadhouse Blues’ and ‘The End’ have become anthems with scores of people. But for me, one underrated song that particularly stands among these gems is ‘People are Strange.’ It connected with me especially in the period when I came to Delhi for the first time and felt like a complete stranger in the place. The Doors never failed to give me solace in my hours of depression and I almost worshipped Jim Morrison.

I began to venture to other rock n roll bands too. There were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Kiss, The Rolling Stones and the like. They made great stuff to listen. And I felt good because I was increasing my rock range. But then one day, my friend gave me a cassette called ‘The Dark Side of The Moon.’ It was by a band called Pink Floyd. Suddenly, I felt that I had reached a very extreme point of psychedelia! Rock, for me, was never the same again! It totally blew my mind. And I realized I had finally found the medium to vent out my frustrations. Pink Floyd’s songs helped me delve into the darker realms of the mind. I still get hysterical when I listen to their ‘Coming Back to Life.’ This song has become an anthem with me now. And for me, nothing can match the dark soothing beauty of this song. There is an ultimate rush of ecstasy and sadness in this song. All at the same time. Another song I fondly recall leaving a huge impression on me was ‘Wish You Were Here.’ Anybody would fell in love with this song recalling their first love. Pink Floyd’s effect started from the point where The Doors faded off. And not to forget their ever popular ‘Education’ song.

Now I sometimes wonder what is it that endears rock n roll so much to the youth? Maybe it is some sort of a medium to vent out their hidden frustrations. Or maybe it is something with which the teenager’s often troubled mind can identify with. I think more than the music it is the lyrics which form the real core of rock music. If you go through lyrics like “Remember when you were young, You shone like the sun,” you will realize that it connects more with the youth than anybody else. Though it’s timeless quality can appeal to any age group, it will be more appealing to the troubled teenaged mind as it will take back to the magical innocence of childhood. Or take this one for example. “I wish I die before I grow old.” Now how would a young mind react to it? Or even the ones who are in the prime of their youth? Really psychedelic!

Maybe I’m just goofing around trying to define what rock n roll is all about like most idiots before me have done. But here like most, I myself have felt its impact on my brains. But again, I really can’t do justice to it by trying to make an explanation out of it. A friend of mine, who unfortunately died of a drug overdose, summed up rock n roll in the best way possible. “You have to feel it to understand it.” I think I’m no authority to better that!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Ode for The Tiger.

Tigers are facing extinction. And with it also our chances of future survival. Over the years the number of tigers have dwindled down dramatically. Poaching has already erased it from some sanctuaries like Sariska and in the rest where they remain, they are fighting a constant battle to survive against the rampaging forces of man. What is most disheartening here is that a government initiative like the Project Tiger has done but little to save the tiger from facing a slow extinction. While the government continues to make tall claims about the achievements of the Project, statistics and naturalists have painted a different picture altogether. And this has raised the alarm among conservationists because poaching is on an all time rise. And along with it fears have risen that our coming generations might not get to see this magnificent beast.

The Project Tiger was the Indian government’s mammoth attempt to put tiger conservation under the official scanner of the government. Launched in 1973-74, the project aimed at tiger conservation in specially constituted ‘tiger reserves’, which are representatives of various bio-geographical regions falling within our country. Under the Project Tiger, various tiger reserves were created in the country on a ‘core-buffer’ strategy. The core areas were freed of all sorts of human activities and the buffer areas were subjected to ‘conservation oriented land use.’ Nine tiger reserves were established in different states during the period 1973-74, by pooling the resources available with the Central and State governments. The WWF also gave an assistance of US $1 million in the form of equipments, expertise and literature.

Over the years, the government has made long claims of huge success in this area. But recent statistics and suggestions by naturalists have formed a different picture altogether. Poaching has steadily risen with Sariska, one of the reserves under Project Tiger, being left with no tiger at all! The situation had become so bad that tigers had to be imported from the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve to Sariska. And the situation is still is not going well because out the three tigers (one male and two females) that had been brought to Sariska, the male has refused to adjust to its new surroundings. Now the situation has become such that one can only speculate if Sariska will ever see tigers flourish in its jungles again. Corruption in the beaurucratic system has infected the efficient functioning of the Project with the evidence of the rise in poaching in recent years. There have been several cases of poaching reported this year from sanctuaries like Manas and Kaziranga in Assam. And the brunt of poaching has fallen on other endangered species too like the One-horned Rhinoceros.

Ask tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar what he thinks about the prospects of the tiger’s survival in the near future, and he gives you a dismal picture. For him, it is the worst wildlife crisis that India had faced post-independence. And Sariska proved to be the national embarrassment in this case! Certainly, Thapar speaks from a position of authority. He has been tracking tigers for nearly three decades, keeping a keen eye on the cats, spending hours shooting them with his camera as well as watching them hunt, sleep and play. He has campaigned for their protection and fought to preserve their habitats. He insists that today the poachers have finally gained the upper hand and are mercilessly laying traps for the great cats. What’s more, the forest protection machinery seems to have collapsed completely.

Thapar heard the warning bells in early March when a census conducted in Sariska by the Forest Department, which was supervised by the empowered committee set up by the Supreme Court revealed that the park had been wiped clean of its tiger population by poachers. The tiger count in June 2004 stood at 16, but, according to the survey, the tigers had vanished entirely by October. One person who has responded swiftly to the conservationists is Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Soon after the Sariska report, he called a meeting of the National Board for Wildlife of which Thapar is a member and also agreed to create a National Wildlife Crime Prevention Bureau. The Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court is an administrative body which looks into environmental cases which come before the court. It also began an inquiry into the crisis. Thapar is also a member of the committee. Then, the CBI’s recently formed wildlife squad instituted an inquiry and backed the finding that Sariska’s tigers have vanished.

Today the beast is under grave threat in reserves across the country. According to Thapar, the solutions lie in setting institutions right. At the meeting of the National Board for Wildlife, Thapar pushed for the splitting up of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. He’s pushing for an environment ministry that deals only with issues like pollution, CNG and urban environmental problems. Then, he argues, there should be a separate forests and wildlife ministry. But only time will tell if any of these suggestions will ever be implemented. Plus, one is also forced to think how much of reforms in the institutions will give positive results after analysing the results of a government initiative like the Project Tiger. People like Thapar will continue to stand by the tiger in this testing time, but the fact is also that how much aware can the people get regarding the preservation of this magnificent beast. Poaching and trading in tiger parts are the biggest threats to the tiger today. Unitl the government comes up with some proper alternatives to quell them, there can be no hope for the tiger. Especially in countries like China, where officialisation of tiger trading has jeopardised the chances of the tiger’s survival there.

Therefore, it is now very essential that a ‘preservationist’ approach is taken towards the conservation of the tiger. Otherwise the day is not far when our coming generations will get to see the tiger only in pictures!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

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