Category Archives: India

Happy Birthday, India

Its been seventy years since India got its independence from the British. Its birth was accompanied by the traumatic cleaving into two of British India and the traumatic loss of the Father of the Nation, Gandhi only five months later. Yet, India under its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru embraced a democratic and inclusive vision for India. This vision is under serious threat right now, but that is a post for another day.

I am going to celebrate this milestone by blogging about India. The highs, the lows and everything in between, over the next two weeks. I plan to cover movies, science, history, geography of the original melting pot.

I leave you with  national anthem  written by Rabindranath Tagore, performed here by its preeminent and beloved artists, representing India’s tremendous linguistic and religious diversity. First there is an instrumental version, then a vocal one, both arranged by A. R. Rahman, an example of India’s many cultural strands come together to form  a unique whole.  This version is from  2000, many of the performers featured here are no longer with us, like Jagjit  Singh and Bhimsen Joshi.

Jana Gana Mana
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May Day and Maharashtra Day

Happy Birthday 67th Maharashtra. The Sanyukta Maharashtra* Samiti (United Maharashtra Organization) succeeded in their quest for the formation of the state of Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital. Because many of the leaders of SMS were labor leaders, they chose May 1 to commemorate their victory. It took  a bitter struggle of over five years and the blood of more than a hundred martyrs. The ruling party at the Center under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Bombay to be a centrally administered area.  Ramachandra Guha has a more detailed background of the struggle here.

 

Photo Credit: Sameer Markande

Maha== Great

Rashtra==Nation

Spring, The Season of Love

A Purrfect Love Story

By two_kittehs (Picture by: cvf)

Happy Gudi Padwa, the first day of spring and the New Year. Its time to welcome spring and  the new year by celebrating love. Starting the new year in spring makes much more sense than the dead of winter, isn’t it?

And now a celebration of love.

I heard this today, from the recently released Phillauri. I think I am in love. The very last lines, slay me.

 Tere bin saas be kaanch si kaate re,
Zindagi raakh si laage re


Translation: Without you , every breath cuts like glass
Life feels like ashes.

ETA: Check out Diljit Dosanjh, you won’t be sorry, Anushka Sharma, too looks radiant.

Happy 70th Independence Day, India

India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator.
-Winston Churchill

Despite Churchill’s pronouncement, independent India is seventy years old, while her old rulers struggle to hold onto their not so united kingdom. On August 15, 1947, India achieved its independence from the oh so benevolent British rule, whose legacy involved mass death by starvation. One of the worst famines to strike British India was the Bengal famine of 1943.  While volunteer army recruits from India were dying by the thousands for Winnie’s King and country, his decisions led to millions of avoidable Indian deaths.

Home to every religion in the world and twenty-two official languages; India’s amazing linguistic and religious diversity is its strength. This diversity is reflected in Indian art, be it Hindustani classical music or popular Hindi cinema. India’s struggles are many and it still has a long way to go before it reaches its full potential, but those are topics for another day.

But today I want to celebrate this milestone by celebrating India’s unity in diversity. First broadcast on 15 August 1988 on Doordarshan,

 

Mile sur mera tumhara, to sur bane hamara ( when my note (musical) melds with yours, it becomes our note)

Mile Sur Mera Tumhara

Bhimsen Joshi gets its started in Hindi, then we travel the length and breadth of India, from north to south and from east to west, ending in Hindi again. I counted fourteen languages including Hindi.

In the order they appear:

  • Bhimsen Joshi (Hindustani Classical music maestro) sings in Hindi
  • Boatman  in Kashmiri
  • People on the tractor in Punjabi
  • Shabana Azmi  (actor) in Urdu
  • Narendra Hirwani (cricketer) in Sindhi
  • Cast of Tamas, a Doordarshan miniseries on India’s partition  in Hindi/Punjabi
  • Balamurali Krishna (Carnatic music maestro) in Tamil (In his audience I could identify Kamal Hassan, Venkatraghavan and Meenakshi Seshadri)
  • Prakash Padukone (Badminton player) in Kannada
  • Couple in Telugu
  • Man on the elephant in Malayalam
  • Mrinal Sen (Film director), Arun lal(Cricketer)  etc getting out of a train in Bengali
  • Assamese singer
  • North eastern dancers (with no voiceovers)
  • Oriya couple
  • Mario Miranda (Cartoonist/illustrator)  in Goa (again no voiceovers)
  • Mallika Sarabhai (Dancer) in Gujarati
  • Tanuja (Actor)  in Marathi

Again we end in Hindi

we see

  • Waheeda Rehman (Actor)
  • Hema Malini (Actor)
  • Sharmila Tagore (Actor)
  • Lata Mangeshkar (Singer), then the voice behind the women
  • Amitabh, Jeetendra and Mithun  (all actors)

Ends in refrain of the Indian national anthem

  • I could only identify Syed Kirmani (cricketer)

If you can identify anyone else who I have missed, let me know in the comment section.

A New Low For the Rule of Law

Lawyers or people dressed as lawyers attacked the Jawaharlal Nehru University student  Kanhaiya Kumar in court and manhandled him before his court appearance.  First they tell you what to eat, then they tell you what to think, if you don’t comply they beat you up and jail you on spurious charges. This is happening in India’s capital Delhi. This is what Delhi’s police commissioner had to say about yesterday’s scuffle.

There are allegations that certain press reporters, and some students belonging to JNU, were roughed up. We are looking into it. Excesses were committed from all sides, but they have been extremely minor in nature. To my knowledge, nobody has received serious injuries. They are more in the shape of scuffles,”

Perhaps it is time to change India’s motto from Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone Wins)  to Ham Satya nahin Sahen Kar Sakte ( We can’t handle the truth).

This JNU fracas is the latest in ongoing effort by RSS-BJP combine to discredit the left leaning student organizations and its leaders in India’s institutes of higher learning and install its own stooges wherever possible. Its the latest in the trend that started at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras when a student organization critical of Mr. Modi was banned, or the overtly political appointment of  BJP stooge and a small time actor, Gajendra Chauhan to head India’s premier creative institute or the targeting of student leader Rohith Vemula, which lead to his suicide, earlier this year.

Has the Modi Sarkar (government) declared a war against it students?

 

Freedom of Speech Under Assault in India

Credit : Telegraph Calcutta

The campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University is roiled with protests. Protests against the arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who has been charged with sedition for  a speech in which he criticized Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,

They are the ones who burnt the Tricolour. They are followers of Savarkar who apologised to the British.

They were British stooges. I dare them to file a defamation case against me. I say that the RSS’s history is of siding with the British. These traitors today are distributing certificates of nationalism.

 

Full translated text of the speech here.

The photograph above is outside the court house complex of Patiala House, eye witness testimony by Telegraph’s journalist here. A BJP state legislator from Delhi,  has been caught on camera as one of the perpetrators in the assault photographed above. The person on the ground was later identified as  Ameeque Jamai of the Communist Party of India. Several journalists were also attacked.

O P Sharma, Patiala House Courts, JNU.

Credit: Indian Express

More photos here.

A Quick Review of Bajirao Mastani

  • The musical score is sublime (jukebox 1 and  jukebox 2)
  • Best Number: Gajanana (entire song)
  • Most Boring Number : Mohe Rang Do Lal, even Bajirao looks like he is going to fall asleep at any moment.
  • Most relatable character : It has to be Priyanka Chopra’s Kashibai.
  • Best Dressed : Kashibai, I loved her traditional Marathi outfits, from the nose-pins to the nine-yard sarees to the traditional khopa, or the braided bun.
  • Character that defies Credulity: Mastani, she was drowning in a sea of fabric and seemed weighed down by the jewelry, especially the nose rings. You would die in Pune in summer (90s in shade, if you are lucky)  if you wore all those layers.  Also, her pedantic lectures about Ishq (romantic love) to her parents, Bajirao’s terrifying mother and Chattrapati Shahu  defy both common sense and credulity.
  • Dialog seems at times overwrought and overdone, see the point above.
  • Hottest scene: Kashibai sneaking up on Bajirao in the bath. (around 0.56 in the Albela Sajan video)
  • A paragraph about where Bajirao fits in the history (chronologically and in terms of importance) of India would have been useful either at the beginning and/or the end of the movie. A  prologue and/or an epilogue, if you will.
  • All in all, despite some missteps Sanjay Leela Bhansali manages to hit many high notes.  The main love story is not as riveting as  it could have been, I found it hard to root for Bajirao and Mastani.   However the resulting  fallout and conflict with orthodox religious hierarchy of Pune and Bajirao’s own family is believable and depressing familiar. Even today an interfaith  match like Bajirao Mastani wouldn’t go down too well among most Indian families.

Musical Score : A

Dialog : B-

Overall : B +

I will expand on these points in my upcoming posts. Until then I leave you with a poster of Bajirao Mastani starring my kittehs. As always questions and comments are welcome.

By two_kittehs ( Picture by: two_kittehs)

Hosted by imgur.com

Pinga From the Upcoming Movie Bajirao Mastani is A Hot Mess

After the energetic Gajanana and the visually decadent Deewani Mastani, two songs from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming movie Bajirao Mastani, I was expecting a hat trick from SLB. However, the much hyped dance-off between the two female leads is a dud.  It didn’t float my boat. Here in no particular order is a list of my critiques.

1. If two women love the same man, the last thing they want to do is dance together. This premise stretched credulity even the first time Bhansali attempted it in Devdas.

2. Whatever this dance is, it is not pinga.  (pinga ghalene : to spin around)

3. Lame choreography is lame, mishmash of the dancing styles doesn’t quite gel.

6. Married Marathi women don’t put sindoor in the hair part. Research fail.

7. Where is the Gauri? Isn’t this supposed to be a Gauri celebration? Which is presumably why these women are dancing in the first place. This to me looks like a Gauri or Mangla-Gauri jagran or all nighter, which is primarily a huge sleepover party for women where they get together, gossip, sing songs, dance etc.  This is usually an female affair, by women and for women, and men are not welcome.

8. Plaigarism alert, Bhansali needs to credit V. Shantaram.

9. Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra have nothing on goddess Madhuri when it comes to dancing abilities.

10. Is it my imagination or does the pattern on this dance floor resemble the one in Chandramukhi’s parlor? SLB we expect better from you, stop being so repetitive.

 

Deepika Padukone

Deepika and Priyanka pretending to put sindoor in their hair part in a still from Pinga (Credit :NDTV)

Grade: C-

Bihar gives India a Diwali Gift: An In-Depth Analysis of the Assembly Elections

The results of the Bihar Assembly elections are in, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has received quite a drubbing. BJP led alliance has won less than one third (58) of the total seats (243).  Mr. Modi and his handpicked party chief Mr. Amit Shah in their infinite wisdom had made the election all about Mr. Modi. BJP had no  candidate for the chief minister’s post and they had also benched popular Bihari politicians from the BJP from active campaigning while BJP’s opposition coalesced into one group.

Fresh elections became necessary because the incumbent chief minister Mr. Nitish Kumar’s decided to withdraw from the coalition with BJP — he could not stomach Mr Modi as the candidate for PM. Nitish Kumar knew that he could not win the fight alone so he formed an alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress. Lalu as Mr. Prasad is affectionately known took the fight to Modi and his chamchas (rough translation: cronies). Yes, Lalu is  no saint and has a checkered past and few fans in the Indian English language media but he is a fighter and gave as good as he got. His Twitter feed is a hoot. He also had a home field advantage and rhetorically he can run rings around Mr. Modi in Hindi, which is not Mr. Modi’s first language.

Another inexplicable BJP campaign strategy was to berate Biharis and Bihar. If there is  one thing Indians can’t stand is a person from another state coming and giving them lectures and telling them to their face that they are stupid. The Bihari vs. Bahari (outsider) issue got lots of traction. This is BJP’s second loss in the Hindi heartland. BJP stalwarts from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet like Mr. Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha have been among the biggest critics of these tactics.

Mr. Modi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India just last year. His party won an outright majority to the lower House of the Indian Parliament. This was the first time in almost thirty years that any party had managed this feat. Mr. Modi ran on an agenda of economic reform and job growth.  BJP also won state assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana shortly after. So why did it all go south for Mr. Modi in such a short time?

The Backdrop to the Recent Elections

Was this drubbing inevitable and how does one explain this in light of the Modi wave of 2014? The answer is simple, the mandate was for economic development, more jobs better infrastructure etc not to enact Sangh hobby horses like banning beef consumption. However, instead of focusing on an agenda of economic development, BJP governments at the state level started enacting bans against consumption and sale of beef. These bans have given a license to bullies to harass those whose livelihood depends on beef. The lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh is the result same phenomena carried to its logical horrific end.

Then there was the assassination of Prof. M. M. Kalburgi in Karnataka, latest in the string of politically motivated assassinations of the outspoken critics of the version of Hinduism the Sangh champions. The modus operandi of the so called protectors of Hinduism is pretty simple. They try to silence the people who criticize them by calling them names and kill those who won’t be silenced. What do Modi and the BJP have to do with all this?

I blame them for enabling the ugliness and the prejudices that already exists to come to fore and be expressed without fear of any repercussions in  the public square. Just last week BJP spokesperson said this about the beloved and the most popular Indian actor of his generation, Shahrukh Khan

Shah Rukh Khan may live in India but his heart belongs to Pakistan. Although, his films make millions here but he dares call India intolerant.

He then went on to call him a traitor.  All this abuse because Shahrukh Khan added his voice to the chorus of other creative professionals who had expressed concern about the growing intolerance to opposing view points in Modi’s India. However, none else got called a traitor other than Shahrukh.

Amit Shah the head of the BJP had this to say at an election rally in Bihar, said that if his party lost in Bihar,

crackers will be burst in Pakistan.

The toxic ideology of Hindutva and divisive tactics give cover to the reactionaries who perpetrate acts like the assassinating Prof. Kalburgi and give rise to a chilling atmosphere meant to silence the critics of their radical agenda. Many eminent writers were dismayed by this trend that they started returning their Sahitya Akademi (Indian Academy of Arts and Letters) awards to register their protest against what they saw as a climate of rising intolerance. Prof. Kalburgi was a recipient of the prestigious award and the academy was silent about his death for weeks. Many other artists and scientists have also followed suit. So far 36 writers and poets have returned their awards.

The Long View

The only way a country as diverse as India can survive and thrive, is to live and let live.  India is not a monolith and never has been. India has tremendous linguistic (more than 20 major languages spoken) diversity and it has been home to almost every religion practiced in the world. Not just Hinduism and Islam but also Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, not to mention Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Also,  there is a lot of regional variation as to how Hinduism is practiced in India. It bears little resemblance to the Hindutva preached by the Sanghis (denizens of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh or the National Volunteer Corps). Narendra Modi has deep roots in the RSS, he was an RSS pracharak (pracharak: propagandist/evangelist).

The roots of the Hindutva can be traced to back to the days of the British rule. India’s diversity was seen by many as the one of the main reasons why a handful of British could rule a vast subcontinent.  According to this school of thought, the British gained a foothold in India exploiting the differences that already existed.

Indian nationalists in the British era could be broadly divided into two groups,  one that celebrated the diversity as a strength not a weakness, while the other that thought of it as a weakness to be overcome. This group blamed all of India’s erst while troubles on the other and idolized a distant past when their community held the sway. The Congress and India took the first route while the Muslim League took the second, as their respective paths to independence. The ideology of Hindutva which the Sangh subscribes to, is a mirror image of the Muslim League’s ideology.

The Hindutva movement has  more in common with the fascist movements of the early 20th century in Europe rather than ancient India. Starting with their uniform of brown pants, right down to their salute. If you don’t believe me you can read the Sangh’s founding fathers and make up your own mind. The Sangh may don the mantle of the protector of all Hindus, but it is little more than a fascist cult where indoctrination begins early. These self appointed soldiers of Hinduism who presume to speak for all Hindus, take basic tenets that most (but not all) Hindus abide by and then use them as a wedge issue to create division and hatred. Take the issue in the news, consumption of beef. While it is true that many  Hindus don’t eat beef, most don’t care if someone else does. The Sangh’s vision for India is narrow and poorly imagined. They want homogeneity  and have little appreciation of the mosaic that is India. There is more to India than the Sangh’s mantra of, Hindu good and Muslim bad. India’s rich legacy belongs to all Indians, not just these self proclaimed and self righteous appropriators.

So when BJP got its first outright majority at the center it was not surprising that Modi did not rein in the crazies in the party.  In Sangh circles their thinking is not crazy at all but  mainstream. That’s why the election in Bihar was so important because it is going to be extremely difficult for the BJP and RSS brass to dismiss all of Bihar as liberals, pseudo-secularists, Marxists or Pakistan lovers or whatever epithet du jour the Sangh uses to bully those who don’t agree with their outlook.

The Finale

The voters in Bihar have rejected the demagoguery  and for that I am thankful. It’s also a reminder to the Gujarati combine of Modi and Shah that rest of India is not as receptive as their home state of Gujarat to the cause of militant vegetarianism and the paranoid, Muslim baiting version of Hinduism. The mandate Mr. Modi received last year was for economic change, not a green signal to make India a Hindu theocracy based on the tenets cooked up by the Sangh.

This tale has a happy ending. The Modi-Shah combine lost Bihar and the voters of one of India’s poorest states took on the Narakasura* of religious bigotry and won.

Happy Diwali!

*Yesterday was the first day of Diwali, also known as Naraka Chaturdashi, which celebrates Krishna’s victory over the rakshas (demon) Narakasura.

Election in Bihar

The third phase of voting in the  Bihar, the thirteenth largest state in India and a part of the Hindi heartland, is coming to a close.  Although, right nowit is known for its intractable corruption and sleaze, even by Indian political standards, it  was once the heart of the Indian civilization. Buddha preached here and Patliputra, now Patna, was the seat of  the  Maurya empire which reached its zenith in Ashoka’s time.

This race hasn’t received much coverage in the major media outlets over here but is being followed with bated breath in India. The incumbent chief minister is Nitish Kumar from Janata Dal, one of the many socialist parties of India.  Many see this as a referendum on the Modi government. Last year Narendra Modi ‘s Bharatiya Janata Party won the national elections decisively and was able to form a government without the help of any other parties.  This was the  first time ever, that  a party other than the Congress had been able to do so at the Center*. Another important figure in Bihar politics is Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal. Laloo was the chief minister of Bihar in the nineties and more recently India’s railway minister.

After a year the shine has worn off Modi and his government. Despite all the talk of economic development, wherever BJP was elected at the state level they pushed through their hobby horse of banning beef and other such reactionary measures, which most voters could care less about.  The polls indicate a tight race. Stay tuned for an update.

Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad Yadav (from left to right)

* Janata Party  defeated the Congress at the hustings in 1977. Technically it was a single party, in reality it was an uneasy coming together of various socialist parties and BJP’s precursor, Jan Sangh.  The party broke-up under the weight of its own contradictions before completing an entire term in office.