Sunday, December 28

Ajanta & Ellora caves- Remnants of enigmatic bygones

Ruins for me are the beginning. With the debris, you can construct new ideas. They are symbols of a beginning.”
Anselm Kiefer

A visit to the world heritage site “Ajanta and Ellora caves” at Aurangabad, Maharashtra was truly a beginning for me. A beginning to a search that led to a lot of other interesting findings/thought processes, leaving me more inquisitive than ever. 

Consisting of 30 rock cut caves, Ajanta was built over a period of 900 years (2 B.C to 6 A.D). Mammoth excavations were turned to fine carvings of exceptional Buddhist sculptures and what the Archaeological Survey of India states “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting”. It is believed that Buddhism flourished at the time Ajanta caves were built and hence the caves built during the reign of different Buddhist rulers showcase various stories of the ‘enlightened one’ and selected portions of Jataka tales. The unique paintings on the cave walls, some of which has the modern day “3D” effect, makes one ponder in utter amazement at the vast knowledge of craftsmanship and artistry that their creators possessed thousands of years ago.   
Dazzling in its glory on having depicted marvelous sculptures from three different religions viz. the Buddhism, the Hinduism and the Jainism, the Ellora caves too is a spectacular piece of art. 

These sculptures also bring forth a lot of facets of the bygone era that they portray. For instance, a sculpture of Ravana, the king of Srilanka whisking away Sita in the so called "Puskpak Vimana" which looks exactly like the present day 'jet pack'. Did Ravana have a jet pack in those times as well? (See video)

Did the artists of these caves know the real stories behind several myths, worn out versions of which are left for us today?  

With so many small little pathways within the caves having dead ends and spots of ventilation (big holes on the ground) all across, could there have been an underground habitation also? (See Video)

It’s said that many Muslim rulers including Aurangzeb had sent huge number of soldiers to destroy the sculptures of Ellora caves, trying as hard as they could, they could do little harm to certain structures, unable to make a dent on the rest. 

If humans couldn't destroy even half of what was built, were these structures created by humans at all?

For so many years, Indians as well as foreigners have been flocking the caves in search of answers. Many of them keep coming to these caves repeatedly, each time discovering something new. 

For me, I took leave from the city with the desire to visit these exceptional creations again for unravelling more truth.  

Under the clear blue sky of Aurangabad, too many questions remain unanswered as one stands in awe at one of the ancient hallmarks of artistic excellence.


Tuesday, January 28

Price rise was an issue then, its an issue today and continues to be a killing issue in our everyday lives- my small write up on HT

Another article of mine on the issue of price rise as published on Hindustan Times .

P.S- the Sunday edition of HT has an entire page (page 4 if I am not wrong) dedicated for its readers, wherein readers are asked to send small write ups on topics that does the round every day till Saturday on certain pages of the daily. The best amongst them eventually get published..


Monday, January 27

One of those sundays when my name had appeared on paper for the first time!!

My small feature on MNS (for the open letter written to Tendulkar)  was made even smaller by the editorial team of Hindustan Times and published. Nonetheless, I was extremely thrilled to see my name appear on paper!! the small write-up was chosen as the article of the week and I was the 'Reader of the week" :-)

Just realized that I have completely lost the HT link to the article and am left with only the jpg. file of the post. sharing it here...

Sunday, January 26

The harrowing ‘Partition’ experience and its reflections in Cinema and other arts…

In the half century since India was partitioned, more than twenty five million refugees have crossed the new frontiers mapped out by Radcliff between East Pakistan and the state of West Bengal in India. The migration out of east Bengal was very different from the rush of refugees into India from West Pakistan, which was immediate and immense as was the way the disposed were received by the country to which they fled. Unlike refugees from the west, the refugees from the east did not flood into India in one huge wave; they came sometimes in surges but often in barely perceptible trickles over five decades of independence. The element of violence in the Punjab explains why millions crossed its pain in 1947. By contrast the much larger migration out of east Bengal over a much longer time span is more complex.

There are several people from that generation who lived those days and are invaluable historical archive and so much that happened during partition needs to be cataloged.  I had the privilege of an interaction with such a person. An inhabitant of Jadavpur area that falls under the 24 Parganas of West Bengal spoke of his ordeal post crossing the border.

We chatted over cups of tea and the mood slowly turned from a lighthearted discussion to a somber and painfully nostalgic recount of an era long forgotten yet very much fresh in the minds of its victim. After crossing the borders he lived in a rented house along with 5 other families in the Southern fringes of Kolkata which then looked much different from what it is now. He says that he felt an utter vacuum all of a sudden and at times even resolved to go back, however responsibilities of looking after his younger fellows and concern for everybody’s security held him back. As I listen to him intently, his story continues. Mr. Choudhary had gone to his village in Chittagong after some years in 1964 in the hope of getting back the lost affection and loving touch of his motherland. But what surprised him was equally sad and cruel. He met with an old friend (Muslim) there and at seeing him, the friend cried with fury, “tora akhono benche achish?” (So you people are still alive?)

Such was the state of chaos and violence that people were supposed to be dead when they were quite alive.

Right from suffering the incessant taunts of being called a “bangaal” which invariably meant to be a derisive comment- a mockery on their accent quiet different from the people of West Bengal to have bored down the fact that the same lawns where they would play, the abundance in terms of food from their own fields, the love and the azure blue sky was forever gone. This man said emphatically, “I have left taking milk after leaving my place”- a strong rejection emerging out of extreme pain.  

Such severing of ties led to the formation of lot of organization by these East Bengalis - a way in a way in which their ruptured identities received some kind of assuage. As a result there was Dhaka kalibari, the East Bengal club, etc. Mr. Choudhary himself is part of an organization called “chattogram parishad”. As I asked what exactly the members do in such parishads, he replied with a lot of warmth that they talk about their food, folk songs, culture, etc. 

The harrowing times of partition speak volumes through Indian literature and cinema. In Bengali literature, partition is often seen in its metaphysical terms. The hurt is not in the body but in the soul. Madness is not a trope in Bangla stories and cinema, rather it is a nostalgia and a constant dazed search to know how and why and wherefore.

The pain comes out effusively through cinema and other creative arts and bear witness to the feelings of bewilderment, loss and dislocation.
The grim savagery of that tumultuous period where men were killed in huge numbers in communal riots is brought out quiet nonchalantly by Hasan Azizul Haque in his Bengali book “ekattor korotole chhinnomatha”. He writes, “It was not known to me that when human corpse is afloat in water, men’s bodies float facing the sky and women’s bodies float upside down”.

National award winning renowned director Ritwik Ghatak’s emotions and artistic self were more analytic than his reasons. They defied his piteous ideological repertoire to produce some of the finest psychological documentation of the Partition. His self-destruction through alcoholism, like that of Manto, could itself be read as a statement- as a trauma of partition violence and as introjections of the larger self destruction he had seen around him.

In Ghatak’s “komol Gandhar” one can recollect the poignancy of the sequence where Bhrigu points out to Anushuya the other side of river Ichamati (river connecting west and east Bengal) saying, “that was our land, our home”. The anguish embedded in these lines speaks profusely about the state of thousand others like Ghatak.

The pain and agony at leaving someone’s homeland coupled with a deep sense of abandonment led to immense hatred, so much so that one would imagine killing even strangers they have never met. In one of Ghatak’s the short stories, ‘Sarak’ (the road) Israel who is supposed to leave his home (in India) for Pakistan when asked by a friend, “who would stay at your place now?” replies seething in anger, “who knows? Whoever he may be I will find no peace until I can tear him to pieces. He is my enemy now; the whole country is my enemy”.

A small yet strange episode in one of Ghatak’s lesser known films made for children, “bari theke paliye” sums up the trauma of Partition as it haunted the creative minds who lived those times. Ghatak had extrapolated this episode into the original story by the famous children’s writer Shibram Chakraborty. It depicts the young hero’s encounter with a motherly, old, heavily myopic women wearing a plain dark bordered white sari who befriends a child in the streets of Calcutta and is mistaken for a child lifter and badly beaten up. While being beaten, she pathetically cries out that she was not trying to steal the child, that the young boy reminded her of someone else. No one listens. Her accent makes clear which part of Bengal she is from. Is she a refugee who has lost her own in the holocaust? Ghatak does not say. Nor does he in any of his writings later on explain why he had to introduce that scene in the midst of such a charming, innocent story of a young boy’s escapade in Calcutta.  

[This was a research paper written by me during my Under graduate days for a seminar i participated in, on the topic, “Border experience (in India) and its reflection on cinema and other arts” at Jadavpur University. ]

P.S- I had taken up the border experience of East Pakistan and the state of West Bengal and its effects on Bengali cinema and Bengali literature for my research.


Monday, September 2

Showcasing too much of reality made ‘Satyagraha’ banal and boring after a point- A film review

Almost two years back, there was this man who single handedly pioneered the cause for a social upheaval that made history in itself- Anna Hazare.

Anna ji with his strong appeal for the enactment of a ‘lokpal’ bill took the nation to storm. Every single individual was ignited with a vision of nation building and the fire in them shone in the form of mass protests on streets, in delhi Ramleela maidan, in facebook, twitter, etc., with man himself engineering the cause. He also pulled the trigger later by going into an indefinite hunger strike for his cause.

Two years have passed and all that has cooled down. The remnants are before us now in the form of a lesson. In a democracy, there is no ‘my way’. You can change it only by taking the job of a member of parliament (MP) and the minimum qualification for that would be to win elections.

Now, we know all of this and have watched every bit of it in television. Did we need a movie to just showcase what happened in 2011 scene by scene, episode by episode? PrakashJha’s ‘Satyagraha’ does exactly that and additionally adds commercial drama, romance and action to it. There is nothing new to the storyline except the love-romance created between the social media expert and the lead hero (Ajay Devgan) and the journalist (Kareena Kapoor).

Amitabh Bachchan, a retired principal of a school and an idealist, tortured and harrowed by the corrupt ways of the government, places a slap on the local collector’s face out of rage, the movie picks up from there. From here on Prakash Jha’s main motif of the film is revolt and anger. The movie slowly moves towards its culmination with Daduji, (Amitabh Bachchan respectably called by the locals in the film) taking up ‘amaran anshan’ (indefinite hunger strike) fuelling the same cause for which he had slapped the official-clear all the files and petitions by poor people of the area and stop corruption in every way.

The complete lack of anything new in the form of thought, opinion and story made the film banal and boring after a point. None of the conversations touched your heart as you have already read it in papers and watched it television before. Ramleela Maidan, tear gas, burger, music, national flags, debates on whether the people of the country should make their own rules or whether everything needs to be discussed in parliament, unrealistic deadlines by Team Anna to the Manmohan Singh government, all of it is seen, read and highly discussed. The fact that Aam aadmi Party was formed by Arvind Kejriwal because the ‘my way’ approach by team Anna was an utter failure is also known. What did Praksh Jha had to offer then is a question here.

‘Satya graha’ with no strong and genuine story to tell, fails to make a mark in your mind. It harps on the same issues that we all have seen two years back and ends up similarly. Further, the dramatic moments make the film even more forged.

None the less, the music of the film needs a mention as it was quiet fresh, specially the title track. ‘Rakse bhare’ was also quiet soulful with its beautiful lyrics.

Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai are the two actors who despite the banality of the whole film make their mark with their conviction in each frame.

After classic movies revolving around political subjects like Gangajal, Apaharan, Raajneeti and Aarakshan, perhaps a little more was expected from the very talented director who has in the recent years curved out his own way of entertaining people- by making film on social causes. Like his other films, “satyagraha’ perhaps could have made more impact had it not been a copy paste of what the nation witnessed in the year 2011.