Friday, February 19, 2010

Authority and Adulthood

"What do you want to do when you grow up?" -- a question that pops up on a regular basis in all our lives. The conviction with which I answered it is inversely proportional to the age at which I was asked that question. I still don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up but have a vague feeling it'll somehow deal with young adults, with students, with those who can't yet answer the question that starts this post. And so far, though for a brief period still, I have managed to do this.

And, my perennially heightened interest in the concept of youth and what constitutes childhood and innocence automatically means that wading through college applications brings with it the chance to see young people through a fresh pair of glasses, simply because of the educational system I am placed within.

The difference between higher education in India and America can be found in those few pages that are included in each application read by an admissions counselor in small American colleges: the college essay. For most Indians, including, till recently, me, it is unimaginable that someone actually takes the time to understand an applicant before deciding his or her fate. And the logic behind each system be as it may, I certainly side completely with the care taken to understand each application as the smarter choice.

This is not to say that every word is pored upon, that no aspect of an applicant is glossed over. But, never is a young boy or girl turned into only a number. The numbers matter, though, and it is here that I discover adulthood creeping upon me slowly.

Judging a young person is one of the hardest tasks I have ever faced. Each stiff folder passing through my hands carries a life in it, carries desires, despair, tragedy, and passion. The life in these pages is overwhelming. Occasionally I turn numb to their humanity and treat them as sheets of paper only to be jolted back to my past self, a dreaming, fighting, hopeful, unsure, lost boy, all of seventeen.

The files on which I cannot pass judgment lie collecting specks of dreams that shake off other files passing through my hands.

A wise friend told me today, "Remember, it is not about what you are doing -- it's what each student does. It's not you, it's them." Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to allow those words the title of truth.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


To blog is to unleash an inner desire to be exposed to the hordes, to voyeuristic eyes, sometimes to let words slip away from the self into a vortex of emptiness, like emitting beeps into outer space, never knowing where they go nor who, if anyone, receives them. Maybe some dedicated receivers keep detecting those beeps. And then let the current of thought slowly fade away.

A little like writing a note on a deserted island, rolling it up and letting a bottle carry it out to sea.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

this is not a movie review

For better or for worse, India has long been the centre of attention for the rest of the world’s fascination with the ‘exotic other’. From the Persian rulers to European sailors, Arabian traders to hippie travellers, imperialist mercenaries to beat poets, India seems to have played host to an innumerable range of enthusiasts, tyrants, and money-makers, amongst others. Now, it seems, is the turn of western moviemakers. And why shouldn’t it be so? Combine a history of the west’s fascination with India, the ‘booming’ economy of the country, a society as complex as (if not more than) any in the world, and you can tap into an audience and subjects, the likes of which have never been seen before.
So what’s all the fuss over Slumdog Millionaire taking home top honours at the Academy Awards? Why all the talk of a skewed perspective of life in India – voices speaking from within and without? It has everything going for it: a universally appealing rags-to-riches story, a gritty portrayal of a rising nation, elements of that vastly entertaining (and mystifying) entity known as Bollywood, a great cast and near-perfect cinematography and post-production. In fact the film has even proven to be a real-life rags-to-riches story for its young slum-dwelling actors, who now have access to fully-funded education, a monetary return that is (relatively) pretty big and a one-way ticket out of slum housing.
Could it be that India is ashamed of its poverty? Yes (and it should be), but it’s a little too na├»ve to imagine that over a quarter of a billion people living below the poverty line hasn’t been noticed by the world. Was the portrayal of poverty over the top? Probably not, since the movie was shot on location and is backed up by years of proof about living conditions for the poorest in India.
What is true, however, is that Slumdog Millionaire will provide widespread entertainment, food for thought, cringe-inducing emotions, Bollywood-tinted elation, and ‘cultural insight’ in coffee shops around the world; and it’ll just as easily whisk through the imaginations of millions of viewers without creating a positive impact.
The film unintentionally desensitises the audience to the plight of the poor in India and around the world. It brings to life the vivid colours and the melodious cacophony of the Indian slum but can’t possibly bring the audience the feeling of walking on rotting garbage or the stench that surrounds you constantly. Neither you nor I can know what it is to be in a Mumbai slum for more than a few minutes. Yet, we walk away from the film empathising with its characters. Neither you nor I can imagine the kinds of things that occur to the children of the slums. Yet we can’t stop talking about their lovability and indefatigable spirit. This, then, is the failure of the film. This is how it manages to negate all the wonderful characteristics about itself. It creeps up on us with its Bollywood charm and Hollywood panache and makes us forget that slumdogs can’t become millionaires. It makes us believe that things are getting better or somehow will because humans are resilient. Resilience is all one has when all else is lost. Things are getting better for a small minority but the rest continue to watch from the outside. But it’s okay, right? Eventually they’ll get lucky and things will turn out fine. In the mean time, why don’t we discuss how slick the movie looks?

Friday, January 2, 2009

a year full of mamata?

With each passing year new year's day seems a little older than in the past. I don't know whether it's because I keep trying to hold on to the way I've always celebrated new year's eve/day but it's slightly disconcerting either which way.

The only new thing to report from new year's day was being woken up by a singing loudspeaker installed by the Trinamool Congress on the street outside my friend's house. I don't know what was being sung but none other than God could have been listening without a grimace.

Today's been better though. I spent a bit of time with my parents at City Centre and two young guys (younger than me that is) ran up to me and enquired about my t-shirt. I had on my Waters concert shirt and told them it was from the concert itself. What was nice was that they thanked me and wished me a happy new year. Even Mom had something nice to say about it. I hope they have a good year too.

And then at PC the CR Park crew came equipped with musical instruments to set up a singing-jamming session. It was quite fabulous. Imagine being transported to a riverside cafe on a cool evening with an appreciative and enthusiastic crowd. It's something I haven't really seen in Calcutta. The room was smoky and dimly lit, shadows playing off the walls, dancing with each other. It was like a scene out of a documentary about a band's roots.

A nice second day if not the best first I'd say.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Hummer near New Market

A Hummer near New Market!

A Hummer near New Market?

Calcutta continues to throw up elements of a completely surreal nature. While riding an auto up Rafi Ahmad Kidwai Street I saw a goddamned Hummer jostling for space amongst the usual mix of autos, rickshaws, taxis and other cars. Why would anyone want to drive a Hummer in Calcutta.

Anyway, our auto overtook it soon enough.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

after a few pegs

I spent a day or so in Delhi before making it to Calcutta and it was as crazy as always. Much of Saturday night was spent at f-bar because my friends found a way to get everyone inside for nothing. Over the course of the night I found myself sitting alone in the parking lot, smoking and looking at everyone leaving the place through some serious beer goggles.

Somehow I managed to strike a conversation with a certain parking attendant by the name of Jal Singh. It was obvious that he was really busy but maybe I was a welcome distraction from the hundreds starting to make their way out of the hotel. We discussed the fact that most people around there were in their teens or early twenties and were blowing up some serious amounts of money. Jal Singh didn't mind though. He thought if people have money it should be spent. Never at the expense of one's honour and respect though. And never to let down the family's name.

"What's wrong with a few drinks?" he asked.
"I like a couple of pegs before work too."

I didn't quite know what to make of this burly man with a moustache like a genuine Rajput but we parted with a hug and the night left with a little more to think about than usual.

evolution of self-centredness

For the longest time I meant to hold on to this space for posting bits of writing that I had worked on with some care, with some patience and always with an eye on my environment. Discipline is one mountain high enough for me. And so this space is evolving/mutating into a place for echoing thoughts.

Plus, I've given up on trying to be profound with the written word. It's not quite my cup of tea.