Cry, the Beloved Humanity

First published in Countercurrents.org. Click here to read.

Some countries are in shambles.

Some countries are in a wreck — war torn, poverty-ridden, divided deeply from the world where such expressions are only hyperboles and not a reality. The major war in these fortunate parts of the world currently is mainly with the pandemic. These nations still have the bandwidth to explore how to make more money and flourish. When can flying be resumed? Tours? Holidays? Historically as we evolved, humans set limits. We mapped borders that cannot be transcended, having drawn them ourselves – boundaries of ‘isms’ – which disallow us from reaching out a helping hand to our neighbours in distress. As humans, how long will we keep absolving ourselves of responsibility for ignoring the pain faced by members of our own species?

In a humorous film called Baby’s Day Out (1994), a gorilla took charge of a human child and saved him from villainous men. Today, as some countries cry out in pain, we see the suffering of our own species and yet sit quietly waiting for the others to act. One month ago, a young Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Danish Siddiqui, died shooting a clash between Pakistan, Afghan security forces and the Taliban.  One month after his death — that seems a lifetime away– we watch the Taliban take over. What did the death do? What could Reuters do? Was Siddiqui a victim of his own choices or of circumstances? He said: “I shoot for the common man…” But do all common men want to know, know of the pain and the suffering? How does it help? What does it do for them? Does it mobilize help for the victims? Does it create an awareness of suffering and make us kinder, more considerate as a species?

Thirty years ago, I left journalism because we were taught “good news is no news”. I have always wondered if this is the favourite dictum of much of the media?…

(Click here to read the full essay.)

Let Chocolates Fall from the Sky

First published in Countercurrents.org. Click here to read.

Let us go there, you and I, hoping

chocolates fall from the sky.

 

Let us go into a hilly terrain, where

flows the ancient Amu Darya,

where Marco Polo watched sheep

graze on the grass of Pamirs. Do

they still browse or is it tamam shud

with a rat-a-tat-tat?

 

Has the river turned red?

Incarnadined, gaze ghosts

(Click here to read the full poem)

Thy Filmdom Come…

First published in Different Truths. Click here to read…

Photo courtesy: Different Truths by Anumita

I was watching a movie — a Bollywood take on the grand Mughal emperor, Akbar1. A romantic one I guess as it was a movie about how he found acceptance in the heart of his Rajput bride, Jodha. I am not going to go into the historicity or the non-historicity of the movie or the quality of acting or music or recommend or unrecommend it to my readers, but I am going to raise another issue. An issue that is unique and practical and would hold perhaps for all stars of Bollywood, Hollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and basically, all-wood named filmdom.

As the actor playing Akbar bent over the actress enacting Jodha to express an intense moment of meeting of hearts, as his face lowered on hers, inch by millimetre, a thought came to my mind, and I could not help but laugh out loud. If he had bad breath or body odour, what would the actress do? Would she continue for the sake of earning her daily bread or walk off the scene? Or it could be vice versa… what would the actor do if the actress had BO etc…?

You see I have this problem. When movies or serials become too long or emotional, I find my mind wander into other dimensions. As others discuss technical skills, acting and cinematography, I wander into the area of either somnolence or the ludicrous. My family gets upset for my conscious self leaves them watching the TV show or film. They grumble when after a refreshing nap on the sofa in front of the screen, while expressing my opinions in loud snores (a legacy inherited from my father), I wake up to ask them to fill me in. Or I am filled with a craving to re-watch the show. Sometimes, I have huge memory lapses and forget I have watched a film.

I am told — that is because I slept through most of it! What people do not understand is —my eyes close of their own volition! In any case…

Click here to read the full article.

Rumination of an Eve

First Published in Different Truths. Click here to read

Long ago, when I had a 
garden, flowers sang with 
children’s shouts, birds’
notes, quiet-pawed cats. 

Kois played in the pond 
under  mauve flowers on 
strange trees — I did not 
know their names. They

called one yue liang hua 
or moon flower from 
Shanghai —...

(Click here to read the full poem)

The Philosopher’s Stone

First published in The Thumb Print. Click here to read.

“…the destruction of what you people call evil, is less just and desirable than the conversion of this evil into what you call good…”

 — The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Is it possible to change evil to good? Are we the right people to judge what is evil or good and go on a witch hunt and start a riot that disrupts lives? The words above were mouthed by a humanoid robot at the end of the novel — in a society where differences among humans persist despite technological advances. Human nature then seems similar to what it is now, though in a futuristic setting.

Recently, reading Devaki Jain’s autobiography, The Brass Notebook, made one thing clear. If you really want something, you can get it. But the desire has to be strong enough to override the feeling of having lost out because one often needs to pay a price. The other thing that is noticeable is Jain’s ability to override societal values with their judgemental outlook of good or evil, of what is acceptable and what is not. A South Indian Brahmin, born in 1933, she cast aside the patriarchal norms surrounding her to reinvent her life in the way she wanted. In the process, she was touched by many great lives and she touched many lives with her own work. She was a woman who with her convictions helped many less privileged and went on to prove that economics needed to be redefined beyond the reaches of patriarchal and colonial thought processes. 

Jain was sexually harassed a couple of times — the kind of molestation which could well be fodder for the ‘me too’ movement or for a less vocal woman, the incident could result in a feeling of being abused and losing self-worth. But she treated them as events to be merely brushed aside and moved forward to live the life she wanted — a strong woman and an influencer. The most impressive thing is that she published her autobiography after having crossed her eighties, at a point when most are obsessed with geriatric issues. Would she have been judged evil by the patriarchal society whose norms she upended? Would she be judged good by the people whose lives she changed with her open outlook and daring theories?

A woman similar to her was created by Aruna Chakravarti in her novel Suralakshmi Villa. Suralakshmi found her own groom late in life — a married irresolute man who she dumps when she finds him sexually molesting and trying to rape her ward, a young Muslim girl. She goes on to open a thriving hospital in rural Bengal and helps the less privileged. Suralakshmi would probably be living in a time parallel to Jain. Again, a strong woman not given to regrets and with the ability to brush aside smaller issues. 

One of the features that is truly inspiring about Chakravarti’s women in novels like Suralakshmi Villa and Jorasanko, her story of the Tagore family, is the strength she portrays in her women, who despite being surrounded by patriarchal values are able to stand for themselves and hold on to their sense of self-worth and independence, as seen in the character of Jain in The Brass Notebook. This is a recurring theme in Chakravarti’s short stories too, like Through the Looking Glass, where the protagonist despite being a victim of patriarchal abuse lives a life of struggle but feels like a princess near the conclusion. The “old, ugly, unloved Pomo Dasi had vanished. Rajkumari Promoda Sundari, only daughter of  Sreel Sreejukta Raja Raghobendra Chandra Rai, seventeenth in line from the Chandra Rai dynasty of Garh Bishnupur, was sporting with her companions in the royal gardens.”  

What could be this philosopher’s stone that makes a human regain their self-worth? 

(Click here to read the full essay)

The Escape

First published in Gorkha Times. Click here to read the full story.

The first time I met Isa and Lisa was when I woke up from a dream at midnight. I could not see Isa much… She faded away from my vision, a wispy, silvery-white haired child with strange light eyes. But Lisa grew vivid. She was a dark girl sitting on my bed with her braided hair looped on the sides of her head and tied with bright orange ribbons. The ribbons were made into florets. She solidified into a dark young girl of about six, wearing a bright orange cotton blouse and a stiff white and rust skirt with big floral prints. She had tawny eyes and they were tear-filled as she vehemently cried to be sent home.

Home was Lahore.

She had been there more than seventy years ago. She should have been an old woman by now. But, no, absurdly, she was a child who insisted on being a part of the story I was trying to write. I could not see her fit in, but she cried — one, to return home and, two, to be allowed into my novel.

I asked her to tell me her story. Like a spoilt child, she shook her head and refused to cooperate. I offered her a candy. She took it but did not tell me her story. Then I struck upon an idea and told her that I would help her get to Lahore if she told me a little about herself and also gave me some details of her life. Finally, I think I managed to convince her.

Lisa stopped crying. She had a small bag with her. She took out a slate and a chalk from her bag, wiped the slate and drew a picture, the picture of a two-storey house. ‘Is that your home?’

She nodded vehemently.

‘So, that is your home. How do we get there if you don’t have the address?’ I asked.

Lisa took my hand and made me touch the door of the house.

(Click here to read the full story.)