Tuesday, January 27, 2009

India, This Past Fortnight

Recently, activists of the Sri Ram Sena attacked women who were at a pub in Mangalore, India. The chief of the Sri Ram Sena, Mr. Muthalik, had this to say, "We condemn the pub culture. In our culture, we respect and salute women and give them the status of mother".1 Muthalik's mother was unavailable for comment since in Muthalik's culture, women can only be seen and not heard.

Slumdog Millionaire is a huge success and so it was only natural that people started suing the producers of the film. The protests center around the title of the movie. 'Slumdog' apparently offends the sentiments of some slum dwellers and so they demand that it be changed. Rumors are abound that by a simple exchange of letters, a reasonable compromise can be achieved. Don't be surprised if you see 'Slumgod Millionaire' plastered about cinema halls in the coming weeks.

Following the success of Sinngh is Kinng and Chandni Chowk to China, Bollywood producers have agreed that they can save money and time by not hiring writers. Akshay Kumar had this to say about the success of his last two films, "When I saw the titles of these movies, I knew I had to act in them. In this industry, you've got to be quick to sign movies with good titles. Shahrukh is working with Karan Johar on 'My Name Is Khan'. If only I was a bit more alert, 'My Name Is Kumar' would be out in theaters now."

On January 26th, Indian President, Pratibha Patil made an appearance before the Indian public as she watched and occasionally saluted at the Republic Day celebrations at the Red Fort. It took a while for the troops marching to realize that the person saluting them was in fact the President of their country. "You see, I spend a lot of my time talking to the dead. So I cannot come out into the sun too often. But the Republic Day celebrations were nice. I was told to occasionally wave my hand in a horizontal manner by Sonia-ji and it was nice to see those young men do the exact same thing in my direction. To be completely honest, I felt bad for those men. To walk around in such poorly designed outfits must be gut-wrenching for them".

There have been a sudden spate of incidents involving young men slapping other young men. Ever since it was announced that Harbhajan Singh was being offered the Padmasri, India's fourth highest civilian honor, the youth of India are starting to follow in Harbhajan's footsteps. Sreesanth, Harbhajan's most famous slap victim, had this to say, "Sniff."

Indian Railway Minister and Parliamentary jester, Lalu Prasad Yadav, recently said, "When I can control buffalos, then managing Railways is not a big deal."2 It's good to know that he came to the job with prior expertise.

2- http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/002200901271920.htm

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Friday, January 02, 2009

Last Rites

It was a complete contrast to the previous time I was there. There were hardly any people walking about, it was mostly quiet (devotional songs occasionally blasting from stereos) and there was a calm to the place. It had been a long and tiring journey (7 hours on road, following a three hour flight), but my cousin, my sister and I had only one thing on mind. We followed our driver, who was doubling up as our guide, and walked in brisk steps to combat the cold.

I had never seen death before; I was in a coffee shop in Chennai on the 26th of December when I got the phone call. “Thatha… final moments… hurry”. I was two minutes too late when I reached home. People were crying and I saw my grandfather, my hero, lifeless. I had had that car ride home to understand what was happening and I guess that’s probably why I didn’t cry much. Or maybe it was because I wanted to stay strong for my mother and grandmother. The latter just sounds silly to me now - staying strong for the two strongest women I’ve known.

The water was flowing with a strong current and the cold in the air was making my ears go numb. I was not in the best shape, a fever and a sore throat causing trouble, but I had to step into the water and do what the whole trip was about. I took it out of my bag and struggled to remove the rope holding the cloth on top. My cousin offered to help, but with both feet shivering in the cold water, I was not willing to give up now.

I’ve never seriously thought about whether there is a God, and it’s because I’m happy living my life without wondering if there is a phenomenon that is in fact pulling the strings from above (or wherever). I think people think about a higher being when they feel helpless. I felt helpless when my grandfather passed away, but I wasn’t thinking about God. I wanted to do something, something to show to my grandfather that I loved him (even though he would never get to know of the act).

Four years ago, I had been to Haridwar on a school trip and I got the opportunity to bathe in the Ganges and also witness a puja that had me transfixed. Once again, I am not the religious type and so I was surprised as to why I was so taken by a puja. I had fallen in love with the place – the beautiful Ganges, staying pure despite man’s greatest attempts to pollute it, flowing without burden through a city that was built around it.

The rope eventually came off and so did the cloth on top. I moved closer to the water and my cousin held on to my shoulder, as I felt the strength of the Ganges. I closed my eyes and thought of my grandfather. I turned the pot upside down and the ashes became one with the great river. We had done what we had come for, and for a second all I could hear was the water flowing. Closure had never felt so real.