Tuesday, January 29, 2013 8 comments


I have often heard my father say” I  can do nothing about relatives but thank god I can choose my friends”. 

Living as we did, so far away from our so called “extended family”, we could never really bank on those aunts , uncles and cousins in times of need. But help came to us, nevertheless from the large number of friends who were part of our lives! So  it was not really surprising to have friends become a very important part of one’s social support system. 

I have sometimes wondered during my more philosophical moments about  this thing called friendship? Like love , friendship is also a very difficult concept to define and put into words. We like different people for different reasons but everyone we like does not become our friend!  There are people who help us when we are in need and we are grateful to them. Sometimes we try to reciprocate their acts of kindness. But I do not think that qualifies as friendship either.

I think friendship has something to do with common interests and values  which in turn leads to sustained interactions ,strengthening and forging of a bond. We often make the mistake of attributing blanket qualities  of friendship to all  those we call as “friend” . But it is more than that. I think different friends fulfill different kinds of needs.

There are friends we turn to when we are in trouble and need help. These are solid individuals whose assistance can be counted upon. And then there are friends with whom we want to spend time just  because we enjoy being with them. They may be witty, brilliant conversationalists or have a great sense of humor. However it is quite possible that these people would actually fail us in our  moments of need.  

As we move on in life, we gather a lot of people around us who we call “friend” . Social media like  Face Book tells me that I have about four hundred friends. But I am not really sure that I can actually call all of them “friends”. Some are mere acquaintances. The interesting thing about social media is that one does not really have to be physically there with these people to sustain a relationship. So it is often rather intriguing to find that a person who is just vaguely known to us in some way develops through virtual interactions into what can be called a “close friend” . They comment on everything we post and like all  our  pictures. These virtual interactions give the impression of a strengthening bond which if we are lucky may actually develop into something solid and real.

But  the most special among friends are those with whom one can take up after a long period of time as though those years when we did not meet, never existed. I have been lucky enough to be part of such relationships too. Friends from school and college are like that and with them we discover our lost childhood and youth.

I have had a vast experience of all sorts of friendships –good, bad, real, virtual, next door, long distance etc but this bond never ceases to amaze me. Like I had mentioned earlier, it is so difficult to define. It is not bound by religion, nationality, gender or age.  Many of those who I call my “close friends” are not from my part of the country or my gender. I also find that few are really close to me in age. Many are older or much younger.

I sometimes wonder if the definition of friendship itself is changing in today’s world given the wide nature of our interactions? While the breadth of our interactions may be increasing the depth may or may not keep pace. But the question is whether we want it to?  I would say that it is humanly impossible to maintain similar  depth of interaction with all the 500 odd people in my life who I call “friend”.  But I think each relationship at a particular point offers a certain depth for interaction. It is for us to go deeper depending on interest and need. There is no formula for that

I think by virtue of just these interactions (at whatever depth I have been able to delve), I must be one of the luckiest persons in this world ! Each one of these people have touched my life in a way that only they can and left their mark in my heart. Their presence in this world of high speed communication is never too far away. There are some strangers like all of you - my regular blog visitors who are fast moving into that category that I call “friend” . We share points of view on certain topics and sometimes when there is an inordinately long lag between posts we do ask “What is the matter”?

I have had the most incredible experiences around friendship the last week while I was at Mumbai on work. In this town of impersonality I rediscovered the joy of friendship in a way that I am unable to express coherently. It took me back in time and made me look with eagerness at the future. It helped me connect dots and admire the picture that was forming… I am yet to come across any relationship defined by birth or marriage that can measure up to that..

So here’s to friendship and friends..!

Thursday, January 17, 2013 15 comments


The company’s famous trademark was made in 1898 by Francis Barraud, who painted his brother’s dog Nipper listening to a Berliner disc gramophone - His Master’s Voice has faded to a whisper
The picture of a dog peering into a speaker  searching for the master whose voice he is hearing, is something  that many people of my generation can relate to. I don’t know how many of you noticed this piece of  news –  HMV has been placed under “administration”, a terminology indicating its insolvent/debt ridden status.  Somehow, it seemed like a personal loss to me.
There are many people of my generation who would have grown up listening to vinyl records. I must have been about 7-8 years old when I first encountered these black colored discs. There was a very sophisticated music system with huge speakers at the club that we used to frequent. Those black discs used to be popped on to a turning base and out would ensue the divine sounds of music! A year later we had our own “record player”- a smaller version of the system at the club. A Philips model, where the cover of the player used to double as  a speaker.
The vinyl records used to come in cardboard casings with a thinner paper inside. One had to be very careful while handling them – no dirty fingers or long nails were permitted. Appa used to take them out carefully and pop them on before carefully placing the needle on them.  Each record came with a specified “rpm” or revolutions per minute. There were LPs or long play records which has a  33 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm records which were smaller and 78 rpm which were medium. Actually the 78 rpm records were becoming obsolete by the time we got our record player.
As the music played on, I used to turn over the cardboard  cover and gaze at the picture of the dog looking into the speaker. I used to imagine a  lot of stories in my mind about this dog-he was a very loyal fellow obviously. His master was this lonely old man who lived inside that huge speaker and one day disappeared leaving the dog alone and sad. My friend who had the knack of fooling me about most things once told me that she knew the name of this dog. After a lot of cajoling she revealed it – of course, it had to be Tommy!
Between myself and my friend we used to sometime change the rate of revolution of a record making a 45 rpm play at 331/3 or vice versa. This change used to produce sounds that we found hilarious- high pitched fast sounding ones or deep throated groaning noises. This would go on for a while until Amma would rush in and pinch me hard for being naughty while my friend whose idea it often was ( you see she was the more creative one when it came to mischief ) would watch the fun – her eyes dancing with  laughter.    
I still remember those records from my childhood. There were a few Carnatic music ones and some Kishore kumar ones. I think we also had a Ravi Shankar one. Records were expensive and one bought them carefully after a lot of planning. We used to go to a shop called “Melody” in Calcutta ( I don’t remember where exactly it used to be but I guess it was somewhere around Esplanade/ Dharamtala). “Melody” was filled with records and as my parents had serious discussions on what to buy, I used to dance around the shop picking up records and reading what was written on the cardboard case. The salesmen there I must say were rather tolerant.
As the years went by, the cassettes made their arrival on the music scene. The cassettes had an advantage- you could tape songs on them.   I think somewhere just before the arrival of cassettes  existed a strange entity called a tape- which was a plastic disc with tape running around it. It used to turn around like a record – I don’t remember it very well because its life was rather short.
Cassettes stayed right through my college days- they were cheaper ( or may be we had more money) and we had loads of them. We had empty ones on which we used to tape radio programs like “ Man Chahe Geet”. Sometimes we used to tape ourselves singing. .
The record player stayed on, gathering dust until my parents decided to get rid of it. I am not sure what happened to those vinyl records. I wish we had saved at least one of them.  My father had designed a glass case for the player and a teak wood box for the records. These things remain, albeit serving different uses. The box that used to house records was for a while serving the role of a side table at my sister’s flat at Ahmedabad.
When I first set my eyes on a CD I thought it was a “ baby record”.  Though CDs are still around, music today has taken a different form becoming digitalized. With ipods and mp3 players around, one can never imagine that there was a time when  people had to sit somewhere to enjoy good music. And in those days, we never imagined that one could carry music inside one’s ears as we went about doing things.
Like the music, the devices that played them changed and evolved. His master’s voice lived through the evolution adapting and changing itself. But the fact that it will now be silenced forever is difficult to accept. Guess it had to ultimately happen. That  little girl who made up stories about the loyal canine will turn forty five in a week’s time and the little girls of today relate more to images of apples on musical devices than of dogs
RIP – HMV ,  you will be missed…!

Monday, January 14, 2013 6 comments


Can you  visualize this scene-an amused looking, otherwise placid , cud chewing pink buffalo sitting on your bed baring its bovine teeth in a grin? Sounds crazy doesn’t  it?

Well this is the sight that keeps popping up before Harry Mandola once he quits drinking. Deeply troubled, he consults his doctor who tells him that it is nothing but withdrawal symptoms on account of  suddenly giving up liquor. The doctor’s overweight wife, dressed in pink T shirt and tights somehow assumes the discussion is about her! And that is how this whacky, crazy movie called “Matru Ki Bijili ka Mandola” progresses.

Hari Singh Mandola is an extremely rich man given to alcoholism  who dreams of converting the agriculture land in and around his village into a Special Economic Zone (SEZ)  in connivance with the Chief Minister of the state. He has a chauffeur, Hukum Singh Matru a JNU graduate from the village whose job description includes, along with driving , preventing his boss from over indulgence in alcohol. In his drunken state Mandola is an absolutely different chap who loves cavorting around the village with his driver and instigating the villagers against the creation of the Special Economic Zone while in his sober moments he is the hard headed millionaire dreaming of chimneys billowing smoke and industrial bull dozers turning over fertile land. The millionaire has a daughter Bijli  who is all set to marry the Chief Minister’s moron of a son. The marriage and the SEZ are all part of the deal that would bring the power of politics and money together.

In the midst of all this is an unknown activist who calls himself “Mao” and mobilizes the villagers into a resistance against the SEZ and giving away of their land.  

Set in Haryana, the film is a farcical comedy with a serious message – about farmers losing their land in the name of “progress”! Vishal Bhardwaj once again holds the audience riveted as he takes us through rural Haryana using dialect that requires subtitling. The language is extremely colorful with every sentence sprinkled with expletives ( the most decent ones being “idiot” and “fool”). Pankaj Kapoor as Mandola is a treat to watch as he tries to deal with the pink buffalo. Imran Khan as Matru looks very convincing as a Haryavi villager complete with a beard, pyjamas and earrings. And Shabana Azmi as the power hungry Chief Minister can almost pass off for a real life CM of any Indian State! Anoushka as the carefree and fun loving Bijili  swimming in shorts in a village pond or riding a bicycle in the village in her designer jeans looks crazily out of place but not out of character.

Vishal Bharadwaj takes some political digs when he gets Shabana as the CM to tell her son “ As a son I wish you would be more like Rahul, Varun or Jyotiraditya. Look at them they don’t give their parents any trouble” or when he gets her to organize a Yagna to get the rain gods send some rain to Haryana during the harvest season so that the wheat harvested would spoil, the farmers would be indebted to the banks and be forced to sell their land. “ I don’t want some Naxalite movement in my state” another quote made by the CM brings in shades of the Tata Nano Plant in West Bengal

The film takes on a theme that we no longer see these days  in mainstream cinema- class struggle between the rich and poor and how the poor garner their resources to resist.  This used to be a fairly common theme since the days of “Naya Daur” through “Namak Haram” . If “Naya Daur” had the race between the tonga and the bus with the tonga driven by Dilip Kumar winning over the machine, here we have the villagers mobilized by Imran Khan, using indigenous weapons like cow dung to attack a bunch of goons who come in the night with weedicide to kill their standing crop. Of course , this class struggle has a flavor unique to these times as Imran goes to meet his classmate from JNU who is the Managing Director of a big company that sells flour. He negotiates a deal on behalf of his friends in the village to get  the company to buy the wheat produced ( as the middle men refuse to buy the grains because of threat from the CMs men).  His friend closes the deal on his terms referring to  him fondly as “ You communist bastard”  while he in turn bids her good bye calling her equally fondly “ You bourgeois bitch”

I would not say that this is a great movie but certainly as far as entertainment  goes, it is time and money well spent.  A plot that is a bit impossible is made to appear convincing by the good acting and screen play. The rustic Haryanvi language adds to the flavor of realism. The climax in particular is very entertaining with a number of pink buffaloes entering and exiting the frame at various points. And ofcourse they did not use chemical paint on those poor animals. The director ensured that we all about knew it in the first scene itself through a public message that stated ,along with “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health”  that the bovines were probably painted with natural dyes!

So friends go see this movie and enjoy three hours of craziness-which I must say is better than spending watching  some soppy romance set in Switzerland!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 14 comments


The last few weeks have been very depressing in a way that I am unable to explain. Newspapers and television channels  have seen an outpouring of news about rape and protests against rape. There have been asinine comments made by politicos about how women “ invite rape” upon themselves- the need for a dress code, about “Indian culture” etc!  On one hand I feel outraged and angry when I read some of these comments and on the other hand I feel a sense of emptiness . I want to believe that this is the beginning of a social  change where citizens are actually speaking out against something that is the ultimate symbol of patriarchy and dominance. But on the other hand  the cynical part of me wonders whether with time this spirit will also die a natural death?

But what has been most encouraging is that there is now a public discussion about rape and its reality as a threat that is being faced by every woman in our country. And, most importantly, I found that the issue has crossed gender boundaries uniting both men and women . The cause is no longer restricted to “women’s activists” – there are as many men as women that I have seen taking to the streets in protest against rape! The debates and discussions have gone beyond rape and explored the whole arena of patriarchy like imposition of  dress codes, restriction of women’s mobility etc.  Yes, there are still people who believe that women invite rape upon themselves by their dress and behavior. But there are also significant number of people who have questioned this… It is refreshing to see the way the discussion around rape is emerging out of its “virtue/ virginity” shroud.

I read today an article written by a rape survivor . A powerful piece of writing, it spoke about her determination to survive and the way her family stood by her as her physical and emotional scars healed.

This brings to my mind a Hindi film made in the 1970s/80s that was way ahead of its times. The movie named “Ghar”  starring Rekha and Vinod Mehra dealt with the story of young and happily  married couple.  One night as they return from watching a movie, a group of men surround them, beat up the husband take the wife away in a car and rape her. The wife goes missing for a couple of days. The husband has to endure a lot of humiliating questions as he tries to file a missing persons report at  the local police station.  The wife finds her way home on the third day. The rest of the movie deals with how the couple try to deal with her trauma.  Actually, it goes much beyond her trauma. It also brings out nuances of a husband-wife relationship.  The husband, a very sensitive man tries to deal with his wife’s emotional scars by being caring and loving but for the wife, the rape is not just a nightmare that can be washed away with care and love. It makes her completely afraid of any form of physical contact including that with her husband. And there is the guilt that begins to play in her mind because of which she is unable to face the physical side of marriage. An absolutely brilliant movie with great acting and wonderful music, I am yet to see something as sensitive as this movie!

My only wish is that the  momentum that has being built up around this crime does not get lost once the media turns its attention to something else. We are at the brink of a sort of social change. Even if we are not able to change the legal system or the safety situation radically, I would be happy if it did change the way we think of and relate to each other as men and women…