Friday, May 13, 2005

Oh G-d Help Me!

Hindered by a God-damnable virus (not the dreaded meningitis surfacing all over Delhi, you’ll be glad to know), sitting in a musty, dusty little room which in better days has seen brightness (can’t say the same about it ever having been non-dusty: in Delhi, dust is all-pervading at any time of the year – kind of like God), I am wondering what to do.

And why not write something about God?

Jews don’t like saying ‘God’ as in ‘God’. They call Him (or Her), “G-d”, or ‘Gd’. (When I was in school, ‘Gd’ was a short form for ‘good’, by the way. Teachers who had a stack of notebooks to correct often resorted to this, if I remember right) Anyway, the idea is that one shouldn’t invoke God’s name unnecessarily – it becomes a violation of one of the Ten Commandments . That is what a Jewish friend of mine said. I did further research on it and found here that:

“the basic concept is actually that Jews do not write the name G-d in full in disposable media such as pieces of paper or more recently, online. Books are OK as these are not regarded as disposable. This is to avoid the possibility of disrespect being given to G-d by throwing the paper in the garbage etc. In fact, when Jewish prayer books etc. are no longer serviceable, they are first stored until there is a sufficient number of them, and then they are respectfully buried (rather than burned, thrown in the garbage etc.).”

Interesting, huh?!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi

I’ve been wanting to write about Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi ever since I saw it, but dallied this long because I didn’t know quite what to say. I won’t gush about it, nor will I trash it. Readers of this blog may have observed that I prefer to stay in the safe grey area about most things rather than mark anything as outright black or white. The fact is, I don’t think it is possible in the case of art (this includes music, dance, theatre, and films) to label anything as ‘good’ or bad’. Because I didn’t go through the experience of being in it, and I don’t know what the director’s thought-process was at the time of making it. What I can say is whether I enjoyed a production or not. Having said all that, I would have loved to be a part of ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi’.

But ‘enjoyed’ is not the right term to use to describe ‘Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi’. It is, I think, not meant to be ‘enjoyed’. It is meant to wake you up. It is meant to make you think of what people in the early 70’s in India had to go through under the ruling government. It is meant to give you a ringside view of what it was like to be a student during the Emergency and pre-Emergency years of 1969-1975 in India. It is meant to touch you with its almost poetic presentation of emotions simultaneously so raw and pure – love, fear, hate, anger, evil.

And politics. This movie winds around politics in such a way that you hate what went on in the name of the government. Custodial deaths, police atrocities, political fixing. The Naxalite movement came up as a response to these, and it was an extremely idealistic and passionate group of students and people who had the courage to become Naxalites - that much I did take home. I wonder if I would have had the guts to be one of them, much as I identified with them.

New Delhi, 1969: Middle-class Vikram Malhotra loves Geeta Rao who loves rich kid Siddharth who is in love with his dream of a better India. After college, Siddharth becomes a Naxalite. Geeta marries Ram Kapoor, a British-educated IAS officer, but realizes her heart was always with Siddharth. She goes to join him in a village in Bihar. Vikram, determined to become rich, becomes a political fixer and never stops loving her, inspite of, for example, witnessing Geeta and Siddharth making love as a farewell party is in full swing in their last days of college.

I won’t say more than this because it wouldn’t be fair. There are scenes which are brilliant in their ability to touch your inner, most hidden emotions. There are performances which are near-perfect. Though some of the cast has come in for criticism, I found nearly all performances in the film above par, including the vile policemen and politicians, and the aging father of Siddharth. Kay Kay Menon, Chitrangada Singh and Shiny Ahuja as the principal characters have made considerable impact, essaying their roles with conviction. My only grouse was the last few frames of the film, where (and perhaps this is my own fault as a viewer) the seriousness of the story lapsed in front of the mirth that Shiny’s character exudes prior to that.

But watch the movie. To realize what kind of a country you live in. The political situation might have changed, but Indian politics is still much the same.

'Cleansing' sex in Africa in danger from AIDS

I don’t know which of the two is worse – women being raped in the biggest and richest cities of India in 2005 (different instances cited here, here and here) or the continuing practice of widows being forced to have sex with an in-law soon after their husbands die in Africa, again in this day and age.

On the first topic, though I have much to say (a police constable is the accused in one instance – welcome to law in India, though I am not generalizing here), I do not trust myself to elaborate without getting overly emotional. Perhaps I need more blogging/writing experience, so I will stick to voicing my opinions on the second topic. However Amit Varma’s views capture the issue well here and here.

The article on Africa in the New York Times profiles the backward tradition of widows having to have sex with an in-law, ostensibly to exorcise the evil spirits that will otherwise pervade the widow and the village. The rising incidence of HIV has now made political and tribal leaders sit up and take notice, citing this practice as a reason for 25 million sub-Saharan Africans being infected with the virus. Yet, change, as in any part of the world, will take time. In a village in Malawi, the headman still endorses the tradition, saying, “We cannot abandon this because it has been for generations.” In fact, some areas even use the services of one of several appointed village ‘cleansers’, selected by a headman as in one case, “ for his sexual prowess after he had impregnated three wives in quick succession”. Jokes are made about the ‘difficult’ job he has.

What then of the widows, who are made to go through the practice without their consent – practically describing them, as the New York Times reporter who investigated the issue says, as rape?