Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
That’s how Safa knew his name. Every morning Areef would bring his modest herd of sheep for grazing to this patch of lush green pasture on the lee side of the hills. He never played around like the other boys, never tended his cattle. Every morning he would come and sit on this stone outcrop and gaze at the lovely valley below. The valley was indeed beautiful. The thin line of deep blue stream of River Banias sleazed though the green grass, meandering like the gymnastics’ body on the bar. The folds of the mountains cast a plethora of opulent shades of green, punctuated with the rhythmic movement of the red and yellow flowery trees. Small patches of wheat fields shook their golden heads in unison conceding to the wishes of this beautiful day. In the distance the sunflower fields were glowing in full bloom craning to look up to the setting sun. The crimson sky in the late afternoon, painted with streaks of white clouds created a perfect welcome for the majesty of the moonlit night.
Safa never realized when she fell in love with Areef, not even why she fell in love. Perhaps that is how all love stories begin. She had never spoken to him, never known how he was - only this sensation by providence. She remembered that day she looked at his eyes the first time. She picked up her hijab which had blown way towards Areef. Clutching her hijab in one hand she had one cursive look at Areef. His deep blue eyes met hers and she saw the angular features of his face, the curly dark golden locks spread carelessly over his broad forehead. He moved his eyes away perhaps more out of embarrassment and a bit of shyness. Areef must be more than ten years older than she was. Since then Safa had stole a few surreptitious glances from between the herds of cattle or the small trees that dotted this patch of land.
The war had changed the lives of many in the surrounding hamlets, some outrageous, some bloody, some torturous, some lost and forgotten, but every one with a tale of despair. Nobody, absolutely nobody got anything from this war. For Areef it had taken away his life, his words, and his ability to react or even cry. Time had frozen for him like a merciless monolith cluttered with bloody tales of oppression and carnage. He did not have a tale to tell anybody.
The tranquility of golden sunlit valley was suddenly filled with roars from the Hamas Rebels and clattering of gunfire. A smoke bomb landed just behind where Areef was sitting and dark white smoke enveloped the place around. Areef seemed oblivious of what was happening around him and Safa managed to see him through the transient cracks of this white smoky shroud. She could hear the screaming of the children, braying of the cattle, the confusion of scurrying footsteps interspersed with gunshots and screams of death, many voices she recognized even in this
She reached Areef, got hold of his hand and shook him vigorously, but still he did not move; only gave a stupefied look at Safa. She could hear more gunshots and could hear the footsteps advancing towards them. She put her arms around Areef and pulled him down to the ground. She could hear the clattering of bullets against the stone. With Areef wrapped around her they began to roll down away from the stone outcrop on which Areef used to sit. She remembered the edge where the cliff went down to a small step like recess a few meters below the edge. They reached the edge and dropped down. After dropping down, they disentangled, not aware of the discomfiture of the moment. The screaming voices and the footsteps began to wander away and recede. The smoke was still in the air, only graying into clarity at places. Darkness began to descend and Safa studied the wounds left in her hands and feet and fell into slumber. A lonely footstep could be heard above them with the metallic sound of a gun barrel searching for survivors. As the sound reached the edge above them, a barrel stuck out and Areef could see a covered face leaning down at Safa, with a despicable surprise smeared in his eyes. In the fading light the person could not see Areef, who was guarded by the stone projecting above him. The man leaned down a bit more and tried to wrench at Safa’s blouse with the barrel of his gun with obvious covetous desire. Areef moved a bit more inside and positioned him directly above the man. Unaware of Areef, he left his gun on the ground and lowered his legs to jump down. Areef caught both his legs and pulled him away from the cliff edge. The man slipped off the edge and was whirled into the air and he plunged down the cliff into the valley below, rolling and crashing his way down to the bottom. This noise shuddered Safa from her sleep and she saw the man rollicking down the edge. She noticed the metallic barrel sticking out above them and gauged what must have happened. She was horrified to believe what Areef had done just now and looked at him in gratitude. The fire in Areef’s eyes softened like a volcano subsiding in the deep blue sea. Tears rolled down Safa’s cheeks ripping though the dark layers of dust which had plastered her face beyond recognition. Areef took off his stroll and gave it to Safa. By then the place was engulfed in darkness and there was no chance of escape. They could hear the crackling noise of the fire of their village and the air was filled with the smell of burning wood and clothes scattered with the stink of burning corpses. They spent the night sitting on the stony refuge, catching intermittent bouts of sleep.
Safa was a strong lady and never let things slip off from her hands. For the last twelve years Areef had not said a single word, his stony eyes did shed a few tears from time to time. Safa could feel that he enjoyed staying with her. But that was all. During the travails of living a nomadic life, scuttling from place to place, crossing streams and borders innumerable times, Safa and Areef lost all vestiges of affinity with their nation, creed, custom, religion and livelihood. It seemed like a mad run from the claws of death and survival was of paramount and the only concern. Without any compulsion, any social bond they chose to stay together; a divine spiritual bond seemed to bind them or was it necessity and lack of alternative.
The civil war had its negotiated truce, not sure how long it would last. The dusty horizon was replaced by the blue skies once more. At least they could afford to breathe for a while without being afraid that somebody might hear them. They began living in some settlement, not knowing which side of the border it was in. Every evening after the usual chores, they would sit by the river bank, dipping their feet in the water.
That Juma evening was no different from any other day. Safa kept on saying things she had said a million times, not expecting any answer; only an occasional turning of the head and a deep intense look of loneliness in the eyes. Just then a thunderous sound shattered the serenity of their life and western sky was illuminated with the light of a rocket. Suddenly Areef turned and cuddled into Safa and she held him closely; never did she see this happening to Areef; not even when they had been through more torturous times. There were no more rocket fires that night. Areef loosened his embrace and looked into Safa’s eyes. He caressed Safa’s cheeks with the back of his hand and then took her face in his palms. Safa recalled the days in prison camps and the innumerable times she had been ravished and plundered, and violated, even in her tumultuous marriage with Abdul; but for the first time in her life she could feel somebody so close, a touch so intense………………………….She buried her face in Areef’s chest and began to cry inconsolably. Areef patted her head till she was drained of all tears.
They both looked up at the sky. Time is indeed the essence.
Sameer Singh, a Singapore based media executive, is 28, single and successful. His relationship with money is, well, ‘irreverent’, in his own words. “I never think about it”, he says. “I know I make a decent amount of it, so I don’t ever think about a worst case scenario. And I don’t have a fixed spending pattern as such either and generally spend as and when I like. Weekend getaways and the latest gadgets are particular focus areas. I absolutely hate living on a pre-drawn budget…I like a bit of flexibility.” And what of savings and the future? “Yes, when I blew up over a thousand dollars on a designer jacket last month, I did feel guilty about it later, but you only live once, right? In the end it’s simple math, isn’t it? Whatever’s left in the bank account at month end is the savings.” he grins. “I’ll think about a serious savings plan in a couple of years.”
This attitude towards money is quite symptomatic of the larger prevailing attitude to money amongst many of Sameer’s age-group. The ‘my cash, my way’ and ‘have money, will spend’ slogans are popular ones, and indeed we are no one to judge; after all, what one spends on is purely a case of ‘chacun-a-son-gout’. The glitch with this is an undercurrent of guilt and anxiety that builds up over time, aided by a gnawing realization of thoughtlessness and a search for a more considered approach to managing one’s finances, amidst the constant temptation to splurge, either for that fleeting fuzzy and comforting feeling after a purchase, or simply to keep up with the rest of the gang. The continuous acquisition of the latest gadgets and luxury items and a disregard to savings and the future, does give a short term rush, but in the long run, it can be devastating. With indiscriminate spending comes the precarious situation of being just one unexpected event away from financial Armageddon.
A way to rise above this constant tight-rope is to define for oneself a personal ‘money philosophy’. What is that, you ask? Well, according to Alla Sheptun, a well known Russian finance academic, "The philosophy of money is the mode of the intellectual inquiry of the essence of money as a social phenomenon and its influence on the world of things, the world of people and the inner world of the individual." To put it simply, having a money philosophy is to know the 'how' (much money is enough), the 'why' (is money important to you) and the 'where' (will you spend it). It should ideally work like this. We all have our goals, both short term and long term, and in most cases, we need money to realize them. In that sense, money is just a means to an end and not the end itself as a lot of us make it out to be. The money that we make, according to well known personal finance writer, Dave Ramsey, is only good for 3 things - creating wealth, having fun with and giving away. One would largely agree with him. Therefore, all we need to do is figure out what our goals are, and then allocate our spending patterns accordingly in the 3 categories above mentioned, the composite result being our money philosophy. For example, 29-year-old investment banker, Prashant Nichani’s long-term goals involve retiring from active corporate life by the age of 45 to pursue interests in the arts, a house in the suburbs of Chennai and a small independent business of his own. To achieve this over the next 15 years or so, he would therefore need to use most of his disposable income to create as much wealth as possible to take care of his and his family's future needs as well as to invest in his business idea. Using his money to have fun would therefore sadly have to occupy a much smaller piece of the pie. How this pans out is, of course, open to conjecture and only time will tell of its success or failure. But putting together the philosophy, and importantly, internalizing it, engenders a clear thinking and an internal peace. The benefit of thinking up a clear personal philosophy helps to articulate clearly what our money is going to do for us, and more importantly, helps to filter out all the money noise we hear all around us every day, both positive and negative, thereby eliminating a bit of the stress, fear and self-reproachful negativity that stems from financial mismanagement. Again, being mindful of the long term and being conservative with spending patterns comes highly recommended. “Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like", said actor Will Smith, very sagaciously, one might add. Having a money philosophy (more importantly, a positive one) in place, will help us take a step back from unproductive spending, purchases that will get us no further to our goals, and crucially, will help to keep us grounded.
It’s clearly hard not keeping up with the Banerjees, but a constructive philosophy of money can certainly help us remember that the measure of all things must in the end always more than just 'stuff'.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Springville, Utah, USA
Location: Raj Path, New Delhi
Time of day: Mid morning, sunshine and the cool Delhi winter breeze
My little brother and I sat awestruck by the wonders of the various tableaus that were a part of the Republic Day celebrations. While our parents sat at the back on chairs, Jayant and I were like 2 little eager beavers upfront, right next to the long ropes that cordoned the main road of the parade from mere mortals like us. The wonderful men and women of our armed forces, the glory and splendor of agriculture and industrialization in our nation, the showcasing of the geographical beauty of the country, all interspersed with beats that gave you goose bumps and made you feel proud of your country, your people, almost in a childish naive sort of way but was heady nonetheless. Then we saw her, as if a vision of an alabaster sculpture, strong, proud, dignified, the signature hand loom sari beautifully draped, a hint of the tuft of white hair showing from under her “ghunghat”, a small glimpse of the rudraksh around her neck…Mrs. Indira Gandhi – the Prime Minister of our nation at that time. We had read about her, written essays about her father, were waiting to see what her sons would do so that all our schools would have computers. It was a proud, poignant moment for me, something that I thought of often, wrote in my next “Republic Day Parade” essay in school.
Date: January 26th 2010
Location: Broadway Theater 5 – Salt Lake Film Society – Salt Lake City Utah
Time of day: Cold, wet, wintry evening, standing in a wait-listed line for tickets to Peepli Live ( India’s first entry in to the Sundance Film Festival) , getting in to the theater, and making to the only seats left there.. the VERY FIRST ROW.
My husband Indraneel and I decided, if we sat on the first row along the side section, we would see things LARGE but at least view the entire screen without having to play tennis with our eyeballs. Settled down to watch the movie and then interacted with the director and the producer and the cast of the film during the Q&A session of the movie. 2 hours later, I felt this was one Republic Day I will remember for a verylong time. This time I didn’t have to write an essay for my English teacher, but my blog demanded my attention and here I am obliging.
What was interesting for me in terms of yesterday was that it was the 60th Anniversary of the birth of the Indian Republic; it is evident in the world community of nations, the role India plays or is seen to have the potential to play. It was a matter of huge pride when we talk about the Indian technocrats who rule different disciplines of the sciences and arts at a world arena. At a very up close and personal level, on this momentous day, a phenomenal Indian movie was screened at one of the most prestigious Film Festivals of the world. The director Anusha Rizvi made her debut as the director with this movie. The producer Aamir Khan apart from being everything that he is, has also been nominated as the recipient of the Padma Bhushan. 30 years after that vision of Mrs. Gandhi, this Republic day will remain indelible for this haloed effect of being the company of a great people in a great setting. I was under the euphoria of the feeling all through our drive back and gradually the poignancy of the day dawned at a very different level.
Bypass the glamor of the day, and once you get to the movie Peepli Live, that was an eye opener at so many different levels. A lot of readers of this page (read my sad captive audience) may not have seen the movie yet and I would hate to ruin anything for them. So in the humble attempt of adding my 2 cents worth, I will not stray from what the Sundance website says about the movie. The film does tackle a very difficult subject rampant in rural India. The starkness of the characters and the reality of the situation are made even more gut wrenching by the satirical handling of the entire issue. The humor is simple, and spontaneous but the smile it leaves after the laughter has died down, will invariably turn into a thoughtful process of introspection for anyone who enjoys this film.
The director and the producer made no lofty claims of changing the world with this movie, but merely use this platform to bring an issue out into the open.
It was not one issue though; it was a plethora of political, bureaucratic, social-economic tentacles that form the quagmire of this tale. Watch for Natha, played by Onkar Nath, who made his debut in acting with this movie. There is nothing I could say to describe the superlative nature of his performance. Watch of Raghuvir Yadav in the role of Natha’s elder brother. Natha’s wife and mother will leave your spell bound as will various other entities in their film and the role they each play or don’t play. Watch Hari Mahato and you will question who is this movie really about. It is a seamless, effortless presentation of facts, of census statistics with a story; a story real, honest, and brutally relevant in a nation that celebrated 60 years of being a “sovereign democratic republic”
So am I at cross roads about whether I feel pride or dejection about India after the movie? Well there is no question there. How can you not feel proud about being a part of a nation that thrives on the paradoxes she does? How often do you get to be part of the world community both as an example of excellence and a source of inspiration?
That is what the evening was for me.
On a very, very, very personal note, getting several smiles up close from Aamir and getting to see those warm brown eyes.. does tickle the senses at a very different level too.
Signing off for now with the sincere wish that each of you find joy and inspiration from things around you and continue to be the same for those around you.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Well, it could have been a lot worse. Think women sobbing while continuing to look gorgeous in perfect costumes and make-up, and Shahrukh Khan running in slow motion, with loud temple bells ringing in the background. Karan Johar, or the all grown up KJo, in his latest attempt, thankfully, chucks out his usual film making manual, moves closer to reality and serves up a memorable, almost 'Forrest Gump'-ian character in Rizvan Khan, and well... thats about it.
After Rizvan Khan's step son is killed in a post 9/11 induced, racially motivated attack, his wife leaves him and in a fit of anger asks him to explain his religion to the president of the United States. Suffering from Aspergers Syndrome, Khan is wont to take this literally and sets out to meet the most powerful man in the world with his message, and in the process becomes an unlikely hero across the country. One gets the feeling that if the film had focussed entirely on the protagonist's journey to meet the President, with his message of peace, it could have been more powerful. But instead we are fed needless back stories in flashback after flashback, through numerous vignettes of Khan's life, his love story and his family life. And in doing so, we are introduced to several competent supporting actors who deserve more than the walk on roles they get. Jimmy Shergill, Vinay Pathak, Praveen Dabbas and the divine Sonya Jehan are wasted in the parts they get (which is a real pity). Perhaps only Zarina Wahab, playing Khan's compassionate mother and the 2 young actors playing the journos who take up Khan's case after his incarceration, register any sort of lasting impact on the viewer.
This is of course entirely Shahrukh Khan's film. And King Khan puts in a winning performance as the Aspergers afflicted Rizvan Khan. He is consistent in his portrayal and really gets stuck in to the part. Here's to more such experiments. Kajol, in another effortless turn, supports him well enough but SRK goes one better in this one. The film's music, however is a bit of let down. KJo's films generally have fine sound tracks and Shankar Ehsan Loy don't do justice to the film, apart from a couple of soothing numbers. The writing is mostly good, though inconsistent (watch out for a couple of signature KJo moments).The film, shot with an entirely international crew, is visually arresting, with Ravi K Chandran doing a bang up job with the cinematography. This is a welcome departure for KJo and the film should be seminal in SRK's filmography. Its heart is in the right place, but is let down
by execution. The film's opening sequences raise much hope, only to be belied soon after, as the viewer battles tedium. Kuch kuch hua Karan, but only just.