Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tale of two directors

-By Swetha Amit
Often to present something on the pretext of novelty, the same product is utilized and painted with a different shade entirely. Yet the authenticity of its true flavor cannot be ignored especially with its roots carrying the original aroma. To make matters worse, extensive marketing is mixed to dilute this ‘new’ product leading to the ‘maker’ winning a reward and an award eventually. The standing ovations, accolades and ‘globe’ trotting become the price tags. It tends to make one wonder if the same would be attained when the product is unadulterated and presented with its original roots and ethnicity.

Such is the case of the movie with 10 Oscar nominations, leading to a mad rush of jubilation despite the fact of the sub continent portrayed as a land of poverty and snake charmers still. Strangely when progression rate is even faster than the space shuttles and the local trains of the maximum city. What is even stranger is that depiction of poverty is what leads to such films made in India get international acclaim, whether it is a Lagaan, Salaam Bombay or a Mother India. No doubt Slumdog Millionaire does possess good cinematography and pace. However it is hard to believe that over sixty years Indian cinema hasn’t made films on several other issues which were ‘up to the mark’. International honor certainly tends to come at a cost, a compromise which consists of defacing our nation. Not to mention the subtle streaks of racism prevailing in what seems like a casual exchange between the kid and the American lady in the movie.

It’s queer to note as well the absence of Indian Cinema Oscar nominees in the categories of Best Actor/Supporting Actor. While the flavor is Indian and the spice being Mumbai/Delhi, it is nevertheless being stirred by a British cook whose intense expertise cannot churn out the ‘real’ essence of ‘Hindustan’. It is quite similar to having ‘Chai’ on foreign soil.

It’s sad to realize that the ‘hard hitting reality’ element tends to get such recognition by one with white skin portraying brown skin as under dogs. And other films made by a certain Indian director of the same genre, find its entry barred by hostile gates of the west.

Madhur Bhandarkar’s Chandni Bar embarked the start of a new perspective on Indian films. It broke all conventional barriers and gave birth to a new trend of intelligent and offbeat cinema which also set the cash registers of the box office jingling. When earlier it was of the notion that such films catered only to a niche audience and are not commercially successful. Page 3 proved it wrong as national award found its rightful place in the hands of the director, with Traffic signal completing the hat trick. Thinking back to the latter, one cannot help but realize that it portrayed several similarities to Slumdog Millionaire if they eliminate the ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ show and the direction by a foreigner.

It’s disheartening to note that while one gruesome portrayal by Danny Boyle was met with standing ovation all over the world, the other chooses to get a cold shoulder from its own family members. A step motherly treatment is further seen when Bhandarkar’s Fashion was clearly omitted out of the nomination lists in the latest screen awards. While it managed to find its place amidst other categories like Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. One must duly note the fact that while the colors of a flowery garden look appealing to the naked eye, it wouldn’t have been feasible without the perseverance of a gardener on towing the soil rightly. Similarly without the Director’s skill and feat, the ingredients of a good film and its star cast performances would have not found their road to success.

In order to put India on the globe, it doesn’t cease for our own people to appreciate topics like poverty made by people like Boyle with such fervor. At least not at the cost of neglecting the brilliant expertise of our own directors. More than the attitude of the westerners towards us, it’s humiliating to realize our own hypocritical stance and attitude towards Indian films. In all probability this has what has led to international interference and us being taken advantage of for their selfish motives. While he walks away with the honors, what are we left with? Honor of being recognized as a third world nation still? Or honor of letting our own people down? Choosing outsiders at the price of treating our own race as an outcast?

What is it that leads to such an attitude?
It is written
Temptations of the west
Lack of national pride

Indeed it’s a million dollar question but doesn’t necessarily require only a ‘Chai wala’ to answer this one.

Just like in the movie where the American says: “This is the real America” while handing over the dollar depicting subtly the streak of racism. It is yet another hard hitting reality to hand over the discriminating attitude of our own kith and kin and say “This is the real India.”

Is this hard hitting reality even worse than the slum portrayal? Maybe this can be depicted in another Madhur Bhandarkar film. Hopefully this time one can pray that it doesn’t get an ‘ignore’ tag yet again.
Written for www.msn.co.in


Monday, January 26, 2009

Jai Hind

Its been two months since the massacre in Mumbai leading to terror and bloodshed. It is a tribute to the bravehearts who fought a valiant war and died a martyr's death. It is that valor which makes them well deserving of being recipients of the Ashok Chakra today. May their souls rest in peace.
Jai Hind!!!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

In a second....

-By Swetha Amit
It isn't every phone conversation usually on a casual basis that leaves one in contemplation about life. While one side of it portrays colors of vivacity, it certainly doesn't hesitate to show its shades of grey many a time. To an extent where its bonded souls ponder over the unfair treatment meted out to those who in the least deserve it.

It was on the way back home after an arduous day at work, that I punched the numbers furiously to catch up with my mom after ages. Our busy schedules often trespass our ability to communicate often. It was a quiet hello that greeted me which I assumed to be a result of a taxing corporate drone. On exchanging our usual banter, a sudden spurt of news jolted me out of my wits.

"Do you remember my friend?" As I carelessly stated a yes, glancing out of the window at the passer by folks, little did I realize that I would be met with a big blow with her next statement. "She's no more". For moment I thought I heard wrong but knew it couldn't be so with her repetition of the same. I gasped in shock as a flurry of questions was hurled at her. Wasn't it just a month ago my mother had mentioned about her visit back home for her birthday? And out of the blue, she had breathed her last. The worse was yet to come; my inner voice told me which I ignored profusely.

What she mentioned the next few minutes invoked several mixed feelings of anger, sorrow, and immense indignation. Apparently she was travelling on her bike along with one of her daughters to office, and it was a festival holiday. A honking van made her swerve which made her lose her balance. While her daughter fell to the left, death grabbed hold off the mother mercilessly as the latter's fall on the right side collided with the speeding van. What an irony that the right turned out to be the wrong one. The driver had no time to apply breaks as his wheel proved to be the zone to the other world and much to the horror of her daughter. Making matters worse the essential part of the human body that towers the rest was ripped off as the sight became gruesome with an unmistakable element of brutality.

One cannot imagine what the daughter would have gone through. Listening to the incident alone instigated a terrible feeling within me as I was at a complete loss for words. One moment she was riding high probably looking forward to going home for a cozy family dinner. And the next minute turned her world topsy-turvy orphaning her and her sibling out of their only parent. It may be appalling to know that their father was no more when they were little girls. Their mother seemed the world, the sole anchor who weathered severe storms to bring up her daughters who are now almost on the verge of settling down with their respective careers, though unmarried still. Nature had exhibited its cruelty during their innocent years, snatched them out of their laughter that childhood promises a great deal. It didn't cease for it to show streaks of ruthlessness that would leave their world in complete darkness. Was it fair?

My mother who had attended the funeral mentioned about their terrible state of being. Who could blame them? Despite the several relatives one tends to possess its true of the saying that nobody can replace a parent.

My mind reminisced of those times when the friend would often visit us with her daughters. She was nice lady who would never fail to visit mom on special occasions and has been there through thick and thin. Her daughters were quiet and well mannered. It's hard to believe a good hearted soul whom you have met on several occasions is no more. It was a hard living she was bestowed with and to make matters worse, her death beckoned her in such a gruesome manner that one wouldn't wish for even to a worst enemy.

While we enter this world, we cause someone else immense pain-the infamous labor pain only to get out of the darkness of the womb and witness the first glimpse of light. At times we are lucky to see rays in different shades while there are others who are destined to live only in darkness. Is it the law of karma playing its part dutifully where suffering takes a toll during the course of life and be flung away to the jaws of death? Why is it that those who indulge in vile acts are gifted a sunny life and the nice ones that of a black cloud? Is it the result of our past deeds that one continues to pay a price forever? Is life a joke that we need to learn to laugh at? In which case one needs to wear the veil of sadism.

As these thoughts occurred in my mind at a rapid pace, I looked out only to see an image of the Almighty imprinted on the glass of a Taxi. While the 'why' factor continued to pound heavily, it was a moment to close my eyes and pray that her soul rests in peace at least now sans any suffering.

As I picked up my husband on the way, a look at my face depicted that "something was wrong". As we reached home, it was a lesson that was taught to us but needed constant recurrence of its essence of not taking anything/anyone for granted. Such are the uncertainties that life teaches us lessons; in its strangest of fashion.
Written for www.msn.co.in


Friday, January 16, 2009

The art of letting go

-By Swetha Amit

He swam furiously through the unusually hazy waters looking frantically for Leonard-his one and only son. He flapped his fins, each which depicted an unmistakable anxiety as his search grew vigorous with every passing moment.

Never could he leave his little one alone, he thought as a puzzled octopus sleepily looked at him in bemusement. “Has anyone seen Leo”, he asked every passer-by as they shook their heads in amazement. Darcy will never learn they thought. Laughter and squeals were soon heard in the vicinity. It seemed to come from the amusement coral park nearby as he turned sharply in that direction. There he was-dear old Leo, his nine year old son who was found in the company of his fellow mates-the sea horse and the notorious turtle.

Embarrassment followed suit along with the pursuit of a sound scolding for wandering off carelessly as Leo hung his head. Partly due to being treated like a baby in front of his ‘mature’ pals and partly due to the severe reprimand by an overprotective parent. A rather subdued boy whale followed his father back home just in time for supper cooked by his liberal minded mother. The surly look didn’t cease to surprise her as she shook her head in exasperation at the staunchness of her obstinate husband. When will he learn to let go?

Leo was still accompanied with to school, when the rest of his counterparts were turning independent, ready to face the harsh realities in due course of time. Curfews were drawn as a heavy scowl implanted on Darcy’s broad forehead when the time permit was exceeded. Persistent on knowing his whereabouts, constant monitoring began to drive the young one almost in despair as he became the laughing stock in Reef town. Years rolled by as Leo grew up to be a fine whale that was confident of weathering storms. And yet his father’s voice kept echoing in his head telling him to watch out for those ‘human trap’. A careless shrug was all that was in response to parental pressure as conversations with the latter grew minimal much to his dad’s dismay.

Darcy often ruminated over those fond days when his little one fell sick miserably and how he nursed him back to health running helter-skelter for medicines. Was this really his son who seemed to want him no longer? His friends and the manly tryst seemed his new world altogether. Here he was aging quickly yet gracefully and his son showed no sign of affiliation. On the contrary, it was irritation and heated arguments that surmounted tension in those otherwise chill blue waters.

“Are you ok honey?” The sudden disruption to his thoughts startled him as he turned towards his wife holding a plate of grilled oysters. A deep conversation followed as thoughts and ideas were exchanged rapidly. His wife lent a sympathetic yet firm ear as he received a dressing down that he last remembered of having gotten it as a little lad in his school days. Where did he go wrong? Was it a crime to have been concerned for fear of losing his only child? True those streaks of possessiveness were displayed many a time. He failed to understand his wife’s casual attitude and yet it was that which won over her son ultimately. As a parent wasn’t he performing his rightful duty of protecting his young one? The more he moved closer to his son, the farther away he preferred to move with feeble excuses and a quick brush of ‘things to do’.

While being protective, it was essential to maintain the strict line so as not surpass the boundary which would land one into the territory of over protectiveness and a stifling zone. Keeping a moderate vigilance would enable the young ones to respect their parents more than resulting in fear and resentment. Relationships he realized were like fine sand dunes. The harder one tries to keep it in their palm, the more it tends to find loopholes to slip away. The free flowing stance of those slippery particles depicted that of ‘no expectations’ which enhanced and weaved relationships into a bundle of joy instead of a burden. Accepting growth and change in others proves to be essential to win over respect in the bargain. The failure of which will result in more distance being created and gradual loss of self respect. It was important to retain the moderate line as extremity would end up in bizarre conditions of frost bites or sun burns. Any rapport be it a parent-child, husband-wife, siblings, friends need space and time in order to grow in a healthy way. Confinement of space would only end up in soreness and a droopy state of the relationship.

‘Why didn’t he realize this sooner’, thought Darcy? Or had he in his subconscious level and refused to accept it? Had he being living in denial all the while even when his son was growing up? And here he was lying in regret of having lost his son.

“Oh no” It isn’t too late assured his wife. “Give it a chance and he will come around.”

That night when Leo came home it was a different ambience that greeted him. And it certainly wasn’t due to the aroma of oyster shells or those coral lights that were newly purchased. He was pleasantly surprised to see a ‘cool’ dad with a different approach who would soon find his way as a new found friend to have those ‘man to man’ talks occasionally.

The trick was slowly working as days flew by. Darcy was more than delighted as he felt a heavy weight off his shoulders during his evening swim around Reef town. Only this time there weren’t petrified pangs of a ruffled parent but that of an old wise whale getting his timely exercise and treasuring his new art-that of letting go.
Written for www.msn.co.in


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Retreat by the waves

By Swetha Amit

We have often wondered what life under the sea would be like and were always curious to find out. Our trip to Mauritius gave us an opportunity to find out and we headed out for what promised to be an adventurous trip.

Mauritius is known as the star of the Indian Ocean. When we set foot on this paradise island we realized that it more than lived up to its name.

Our exciting expedition began with a visit to the lle aux Cerfs (the Isla
nd of Deer) situated towards the east of Mauritius. As we drove down the smooth roads, we couldn’t help but admire the lush green sugar cane fields on either side. Before we realized it, we had reached the ocean bay from where we took a speed boat to the Miniature island.

On the way to the Miniature island we stopped for parasailing.
Riding on a high! This 20-minute flying high in the air is a must for those seeking a thrill. Gazing down at the ocean from high above enhances the serenity of the sea. The most exciting part was when we swooped down to dip our feet into the sea and were immediately transported back to flying high over the ocean. The experience was well worth the 50USD that we spent on it.

When we came back to the lle aux Cerfs, it was vibrant with activities. The beach itself was one of the most beautiful that we had ever seen. Some tourists bathed in the scorching sun of May hoping for a tan, other trying out the different water sports and yet others just enjoying the lively beach. The locals pointed us in the direction of the many water sports that Mauritius was famous for. Several options were available and all of them so attractive that made it impossible for us to choose.

Wrapped around the tube
This is a ride is a tamer version of water skiing but for couples. Two people have to sit on a tube that is attached to a speed boat. We placed ourselves hesitantly on the tube and started off on an aqua roller coaster ride on the bumpy waves. The alteration of the speed from a slow to a fast pace left us swinging side to side as we held on fiercely. Even a seconds distraction can mean that you are dunked into the water.

Water scooter
I avoided the water scooter ride that looked very tempting but appeared to require more skill and experience.

Banana boat
The banana boat ride is another thrilling experience and I am glad I didn’t miss it. Six people were taken to the middle of the ocean in a boat shaped a little like a canoe and more like a banana. This is why the name I guess. The boat and its screaming occupants are mercilessly pushed into the waters.

The cost of most of these sports ranges from 30 to 70 USD.
Under the sea
My first journey into the mystic world of corals and fish began in the Grand Baie, situation towards the north of Mauritius. We were taken to the middle of the sea in a motor boat. Our enthusiasm was only matched by nervousness and uncertainty. However, our inhibitions gradually disappeared due to the comforting reassurances of the trained professionals. We were given instructions on how to breathe under water with an oxygen mask. Then we were joined by our guide and a scuba diver who promised to introduce us to the treasures of the sea.

As we gradually dipped lower and lower, almost fifteen feet the surface of the water, we saw an effervescent world. Colorful shoal of fish swam past deftly and the corals were shone in colours we had never seen above the water. The allotted thirty minutes just flew while we gazed at this strange world and regretfully climbed back aboard. Photographs can be taken under water with a special camera that is provided at the cost of about 100 USD.

Quad biking and bird watching
Mauritius is not all water. A visit to the Casela bird park taught us about 150 different species of birds in Mauritius. We even had the delightful opportunity of feeding an ostrich!

Near the bird park is something called ‘quad biking’. We were taken for a two and a half hour drive on these heavy powerful bikes by professional guides. As we drove further into the ravines, we could see zebras lazily munching grass. Around were also a herd of spotted deer that scurried away at the sound of our bikes.

A tour of two cities
A tour of the capital city- Port Louis, gave us a glimpse of the life and culture of Mauritius. This largest city in Mauritius, Port Louis is cushioned between the mountains and the sea. The famous ‘Ganga Talao’ is located in this city. The Ganga Talao or the Grand Bassin is considered a tributary of the Ganges. Idols of Shiva, Laxmi and other gods and goddesses stood tall around the lake. We were told that Shivrathri was widely celebrated in Mauritius. It is the pilgrimage site for the Hindus, one of the most famous ones outside India.

Curepipe is the second largest city in Mauritius. This city is a great haunt for shopaholics and aesthetes. Shops and boutiques selling not only handicrafts and local products but also duty free international goods are in abundance in this city.

Other sites
The Paplemousses garden is a popular tourist spot and after all we had heard we had to go and see the famous giant water lilies. For plant lovers and photographers this garden has plenty to offer.

One evening we went to see the seven-colored earth of Chamaral (south east of Mauritius). The different colours of sand were almost unreal. It almost felt like a painter had just been playing around with his brush. Evening, especially just before sunset is the best time to see the glistening palette of Chamaral.

How to get to Mauritius
Air Mauritius offers direct flights from India, Maldives, Singapore, Europe, Australia and the United States of America to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, Mauritius. Visa can be obtained on arrival.

Mauritius is also accessible via ship, though takes about 9-10 days from Asia and 6 days from East Africa.

Within Mauritius
Being a tourist friendly place, a variety of transport facilities are available. Taxicabs are very comfortable but expensive. Though Creole is the official language, most transport personnel are quite in English and French.

Buses are a good travel option as one gets to see the island the local way.

When to visit
The best time to visit Mauritius is between July to September. January and April should be avoided as it may rain most of the time in these months.
Written for www.domain-b.com


Friday, January 09, 2009

A time traveler’s life

-By Swetha Amit
“Good job. I trust that this presentation will go well with the clients. Good luck in your venture Saahil.” The words acted as a stimulant like his morning cup of tea which would jolt him out of his lethargic mode of the morning daze. Nothing like your boss’s encouraging statement which feels like you have emerged as a winner even before the job is done.

The last five years since he moved to a new city spelt a different him as his growth spurt shot up like Jack’s beanstalk. As he packed his bags to go catch his flight to his hometown, thoughts reflected to and fro between his past and his present. After his graduation he migrated to a new city to start afresh. Indeed it had turned out to have been a lucky charm in terms of his career and his personal life as well. So much had happened that he viewed life in an entirely different light unlike the starry picture he had back then in his early twenties. It hadn’t been a bed of roses but didn’t have him harnessing bitterness unlike in his earlier residential forte.

He wasn’t looking forward to going back there even if it was for only two weeks, but didn’t dare to defy professional commitments. It was a place that consisted of his past he would rather forget. He had hardly visited the place in the last few years except for a day or two due to family compulsions. Everything about it disgusted him, its people, attitude, and especially his experiences which almost marred his self esteem. It was strange that a hometown which usually sends pangs of nostalgic memories seemed to evoke mental anguish.

As soon as he landed, he began to count the days when he would soon board the flight back to where he belonged. It was 14 days of perseverance which would make him move one step ahead in the curve of his career.

Work seemed to be progressing well as no signs of deviation occurred in the original plan that cropped up after hours of brainstorming. He began to find evenings relatively free accompanied with boredom on missing his usual social outings with his better half/friends. Parents seemed busy with their family business which landed them with a crunch on the time factor for him. Unable to take it any longer and after a lot of deliberation, he decided to revive his old contacts. What has he got to lose he thought as he punched the numbers furiously with his pounding heart acting as a background score.

Hesitation began to creep in as the ringing tone went on forever. Finally after a heavy sigh, he disconnected the line as he looked out into the darkness of the strangely still night. Would five years have changed anything? A sarcastic jibe/mocking response was the last thing he needed which was sure to cause a dent in his new found persona. The sudden vibration of his mobile jolted him out of his thoughts as an eager voice with an unbelievable note greeted him on the other end. After a fifteen minute conversation a reunion was finally decided upon in a few days with his college buddies.

He was relieved and anxious at the same time. After a lot of contemplation, he decided to tackle the bull by its horns. He had weathered severe storms in his professional life which wasn’t impossible in his social aspect especially when he would be away from it all in just a few days. As he entered the eating joint, he encountered a sudden rush of those days as immature brats hanging around with idealistic views on life. He met the same but this time little did he realize that he would be taken by surprise. Each one of them had matured drastically. What a change from the hyper and impish behaviour to that of a subdued and calm aura they depicted. However the expressions nevertheless portrayed that of a pleasing one on seeing their long lost friend.

A smooth flow of conversation followed about life in general, work and global issues. None of the skeletons from the closet were dug out and grudges were clearly left behind with a strong seal. He was reminded of the saying “too much water has flown under the bridge”. Sure it had in the past such that a construction of a dam would obviously be perceived only by those living in a fool’s paradise. Yet it appeared that impurities of the seven deadly sins had been washed away along with the dirty liquid mass only to be replaced with a crystal clear flow following a different course in direction. After an animated outing, he suddenly felt a burden off his shoulders as he realized on how glad he was for having made that call. As he glanced one last time at the city before boarding the plane, he fathomed that though the city hadn’t changed drastically, his experience sure had.

Often a sour experience can deter one from going to a certain place as a shield to protect them from reminders of a bitter past. That which keeps haunting their peace of mind on an eternal basis. However one fails to realize that there exists a possibility of recreating sweeter memories in the same place with a little amount of courage and determination which could put bitterness to shame. While traversing through time, one needs to realize that the past is a reflect of what not to do in the future and clinging on to it would mean embracing the garland of pain altogether. Deciding to let go eases the flight of the journey and enables one to look back after a few years at a past full of pleasant images instead of ugliness.

While time may be known to cause pain and confusion, one cannot ignore the clichéd saying of the same being the best healer and teacher.

Written for www.msn.co.in