Book Review: This Unquiet Land by Barkha Dutt

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This Unquiet Land

Author: Barkha Dutt

Publisher: Aleph

Rating: Four and a half

You can buy the book on Amazon.

 

This Unquiet Land

You cannot observe India from a distance, our rich history, painful past, the caste system, cross-dressing politics, plight of women treated as second-class citizens, terror or Kargil war. India boasts of a rich history and legacy that no one can blithely claim to ignore. Unravelling skeletons in the cupboard is something many of us wouldn’t dare to do.

‘This Unquiet Land’ offers a subtext and narrative of journalism often aired live in recording studios about a country which is forever restless and provokes chaos entrenched in our lives as we wear the cloak of passive spectators. Barkha Dutt who is arguably one of the most talked journalists is never shy to explore the issues with depth and explore our contradiction as a nation.

Barkha Dutt remains for me a journalist of indomitable courage and someone whom I hold in the highest regard. One couldn’t stop smiling when she narrates anecdotes about her initial years in the profession.

The book starts with this anecdote that makes one smile on how a young Barkha Dutt leaped and sat on the bonnet of the car and obstinately refused to be buckled down. The brash brat TV kid, after all, started her career at a time when private TV has just seeped into our lives.

  1. War zone & conflict, terror, and peace

 ‘War is one thing but basic human right is another’

The Kargil war occupies a place of pride in our history, the Sachian glacier and of course, sons of our soil like Captain Vikram Batra and Vishal Sikka who gave a dose of realism and makes us shudder down the spine to think the soldiers walked past the barren and cold mountains. Barkha Dutt gives a first-hand account of negotiations between General Malik and PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee or the hard truth about the US’s colorable device who always jump the gun, albeit interference whenever it suits their vested interests.

It is very easy to succinctly give in to temptation on war zone not for the comfort offered but inherent fear of bombs and guns splintered. It commands respect and admiration when the journalist tells in an equivocal manner that she expects no special favor on the account of being a woman.  It is relevant in the present times where we debate at length on the place of woman in society.

The fear of terrorism is ingrained in our psychology.  Dutt reminds us of events that we have comfortably forgotten, be it the Coffingate scandal in the procurement of Kargil coffin and the security lapse when an Ambassador car hoodwinked security to find its way inside parliament. It simply blows the mind when we come with the lame excuse of being within striking distance. The lack of aggressiveness in our foreign policy and tackling terror is legendary.

Same echo during the 26/11 when we witnessed an entire collapse of the defense system, right from wireless communications to dearth of reinforcement and the support team. It’s blatant. It was an unequal battle where the bulletproof jackets failed to protect against 9 mm bullets.  The substandard protective gears show how corruption is deeply rooted in the system or the obsolete jacket worn by forces where a city was brought to its knee.

Dutt’s book portrays the shoddy state of affair and shows why blame game doesn’t amount to concrete action where Kasab and consorts were given a free rein. The lack of ambulance to ferry Salaskar or the missing jacket of Hemant Karkare raises questions that we haven’t been able to answer even nine years later. Headley, of course, is the missing link in one of the biggest terror attack considering that he was under surveillance for a year before the heinous crime that shook Mumbai and the why of the information that was failed to be passed to New Delhi by the FBI.

The disturbing scenes when Barkha Dutt reported 26/11 in front of Taj Hotel disappointed me for I felt she was swayed by the rhetoric mantra to garner TRP.  I am glad that she addressed the concerns of citizens and critics, alike. It was disturbing to see my favorite journalist hitting the wrong nail. There was a middle-class malaise that perpetuated since Mumbai was pretty much about us and was the first time this specific class complained about the scheme of things. Perhaps, the media wasn’t doing enough to give the people a voice. How I wished she spoke in a more expansive voice on what went wrong with the media on this day. The graphic of violence is something the urban community wanted to avoid and I agree with her. It disturbs but reflects reality.

  1. Poverty, women, and liberalization

 

If statistics could speak, we should have hung our head in shame when seven out of ten households in India remain rural and live on less than Rs 200 a day.  I think it is a human tragedy when we cannot fight poverty and let people die of hunger at a time we are speaking about Make in India campaign or furthering so-called development agenda in our quest to become a super economic power.

It hurts us as a country when a Pawan Malviya is stone pelted for taking his baraat on a horse. His only crime is being born a Dalit. Or, Maya Gautam shunned even by beggars and considered to be filthier than the washroom she mops. It’s a social malaise in an age of modernism which is not solely restricted to Dalits.  We cannot talk about growth or aspirations when half of the children in villages are dying due to malnutrition.  The stats in the book never lie: 1.4 million children die before they turn 5. Let’s not speak about India Shining. The food stock that gets lost or is pilfered and the remote distance to be covered to visit a doctor when the poor Kesar dies on his way should concern everyone, from the media to the policymakers, corporate and civil society.  It’s a criminal act. The poor boy’s nutrition was rabri made on atta chakki, ground maize thinned with water to last longer. No, a child cannot afford milk and his death is blame on fever.

We live in an ugly patriarchal world. The author taps into an important issue facing women the Triple Talaq where women up against it for a fair and just society were at the receiving end.  It’s something that the author spoke at length in the book on women fighting against it who were scorned upon and just now the cabinet cleared the bill to make it a criminal offense. The debate surrounding Uniform Civil Code for India makes for an interesting perspective on how the odds are stacked against gender equality. Triple Talaq or not, the prejudice that woman suffers remain in our society.

Unfortunately, like the author stresses out, India is still defined by cultural incongruities and the fight for women rights unrestricted to India remains the biggest battle.  Like Indra Nooyi the CEO of Pepsi Co once said, ‘No women can’t have it all’, it is something that should push us to reflect on one of the most important rights for women which legitimately belong to them. Freedom cannot be traded or compromised.

Barkha Dutt’s hits the right nail when she says the global rights of women that contains sexual violence and gender equality shouldn’t be treated as a marginal issue. “Feminism is about freedom.’ She calls for parity at home but at the same time, the sexy ads with taglines,  Superman, and Superwoman which are deemed by many of us as unfair balance mounted against women. How do we change our attitudes against women?’ remain the larger questions that call for a passionate debate much beyond social roles at home.

Of course, India is plagued by sexual violence with the rape of Jyoti Singh christened Nirbhaya or innocent children brutally raped push to ponder what has changed after the mass protest in Delhi. We continue to blame the victims but never the perpetrator. The author touches something personal when she faced an attempted sexual violence and the hypocrisy in the faculty telling her to be ‘practical’ in an age where the Vishakha Guideline was non-existent.

The chapter on ‘The Place of Women’ is treated with sensitivity for us to explore the issue in its entirety. There is not a woman who has been spared be it physical violence or groped in public.  We cannot remain as passive spectators and this chapter in the book provides fodder to us all on where to start and tackle the issue from its roots.

  1. Politics, rise of Modi, Moditva agenda and media relationship

Indian politics witnessed the frenzy of the Modi wave who thundered a massive election victory in 2014 that created history. It is important to go back to 2013 when the anointment of Narendra Modi as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate was met with opposition in the form of Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj or Advani. The power of balance was shifted within the BJP ranks and Dutt rightly drew a contrast when Rajnath Singh wore a skull cap offered by a Muslim leader when Modi refused. It was the start of Moditva agenda that shifted the power balance with the original Hindutva mascot L K Advani bowing out.

The relationship between RSS and Modi is an important facet that Barkha Dutt explored in the book with the meteoric rises of the BJP and voted swing in favor of the PM as RSS mascot. At the same time, pertinent questions are raised on the silence of the PM where provocative statements are made by his ministers, often lingering on insanity sapping the secular fabric of India as a nation. Dutt’s attempts to find an answer to that but it remains largely open to debate.

I think when we speak about the rise of Modi as PM, it is important to assess how Rahul Gandhi always makes the wrong comment at the right or wrong time. He is a personality that intrigues me. Dutt emphasized at Gandhi’s technicality, a rare trait that never makes leaders or wins elections fought at the grass root level.

Caste syndrome, rise of Hindu mob and dark era in history

Unfortunately, our rich history as a country also bears testimony to a painful past with the Gujarat riots, Janbhoomi issue or Ayodhya or riots that claimed the lives of Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.  Ugly politics were played both by the BJP and Congress over human lives at some point or the other in Indian history. We faced the darkest period in our history where bodies were charred and splattered where no FIR was filed and grisly murder or rape of minority women post Godhra. The chanting of Jai Bajrang Dal in the 2000s presaged the rise of Hindu mob in today’s times and mass conversion where humans are stripped of human dignity.  It sends us a chill down the spine where rape victims were ostracized in the name of religion and politics.

This Unquiet Land.

It can be argued with legitimate reason that today’s triumph of the BJP has a lot to do with the destruction of the Babri Mosque.  It led to the rise of the fringe elements and Hindu Mob who would not stop at anything. The Congress played the secularism card shamelessly as a political tool and case in point is the banning of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses or the Shah Bano case.

The topic of mass conversion makes us wonder on its relevance in modern India and the place it occupies with the proselytization of Muslims and Christians’ place of worship. The author raises pertinent questions on the issues where rather than empowering the poor, conversions is used as a false argument to damage the country’s secular fabric.

I feel a shudder down the spine when the author unveils the stark reality behind the curtain during the Tsunami that struck the country where the class syndrome of the rich and blurred cast lines serves as a reminder on how the Dalit community battered to death would get food only after being distributed to high caste fishermen. It is a chilling account that should incense us as humans.  There was silence on the part of the high-class which reveals apathy.  Barkha Dutt shares how she received a call or a complaint, “Do we really have to watch this depressing stuff on television right now?” It reveals a malaise in our society on the high-class entitlement or their sense of justice.

The fourth estate is a watchdog of democracy and the brutal assault or murder of journalists doesn’t augur well for our society. Time to stop this rhubarb by calling honest journalists as prostitutes or Lutyens for they often take huge risks at the cost of their lives. It’s one of the issues that I have with people labeling journalist with all kind of names, ‘presstitutes’ which showcases the prejudice we suffer as passive victims that turns into an overt aggressor.

Barkha Dutt’s This Unquiet Land offers a first-hand account in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir that serves as an eye-opener on the misfortune and pain endured by the people. A chronicle of pain, corpses, coffins and the valor of men in uniform or the disappearance of a family member or bullets pumped in children or innocent women which sadly doesn’t make the cut in the global media dehumanizes us. One is tempted to ask, ‘Are they children of lesser Gods or humans?’ No candle lit or marches of solidarity but yet Kashmir Chronicles hit us hard on the face.

Concluding Remarks:

Barkha Dutt’s The Unquiet Land is a holy book that should find its way in schools of journalism and the various issues should be discussed as case study. A book which doesn’t limit itself to the nitty-gritty of the author’s profession but serves as fodder be it in the way India has evolved over the years from a self-sufficient to a society of mass consumption. Right from foreign cars being a rarity, including Dutt’s ‘Benzy’ in the 80s to mobile India with Americanized food chains or single hall cinemas, the great divide between the rich and ‘chavanni’ ushering into multiplex, we are a country at the crossroad. Perhaps, there are lots of confusing as we battle an identity crisis, past achievements, and struggles. Or else, how do we explain the grisly murder of a Mohamed Aqlaf? Do we suffer from class inferiority forever ingrained in religion? There are questions that we perhaps should leave open-ended.

This Unquiet Land is not a book but a journey in the life of a country. It’s India. The author doesn’t content herself to give is peek but a rare insight into our identity and issues that never cease to prod us to reflect. If you want to study the country in its form and our knee-jerk reasoning often verging on the theory of irrationality, Barkha Dutt’s This Unquiet Land offers a subtle beginning and good base. A must read which no Indian or international observer can afford to stay away from.

 

Love

V

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Dance in wilderness

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Churning a miracle

vibes and bonding,

life has its own strange and intriguing ways,

a chain of liberated souls,

like the seamless ocean,

conspiracy of the divine,

magical are the relationships spurned,

words human speak,

connecting hearts and souls,

tapestry of dreams,

concocting a delicacy,

savored beyond life and death,

sweet and sour,

highs and lows,

for the elixir shall never be reached,

a limitless journey,

extraordinary waits behind the door,

we shall never know!

never abandon hope when there is none,

dance in wilderness.

On the trail of Behind Bars with Sunetra Choudhury

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I have a special guest on the blog today. A popularly affable face and someone who has an electrifying presence, she needs no introduction. It’s a rare privilege to host one of the biggest names in TV journalism in India, someone who is extremely down to earth and has no starry airs about herself. Sunetra Choudhury is one such name who redefines elegance, charm, intellect and poise on TV with the unique capability of holding her forte effortlessly against ‘theatrically difficult’ guests  but also someone who flits and gel easily with the youth of the country, tapping their voice and the relatability factor in telling the vibrant stories of India. Today, NDTV’s Sunetra Choudhury speaks to me about her book, ‘Behind Bars’ on what goes inside India jails after the compelling but fun ‘Braking News’ where she traveled the length and breadth of the country. Sit, enjoy and discover what led her to explore the world of jails and do not hesitate to get your copy of the Prison Tales of India’s most famous, ‘Behind Bars’ on Amazon . If you still haven’t read Braking News which is a compelling book and a bible for students of journalism or anyone who wants to discover the real India, click here to buy.

Author and NDTV journalist, Sunetra Choudhury

1. Hi Sunetra, thanks for accepting my request to grace the blog. Let’s begin with an atypical question: Behind Bars is quite a departure from the compelling and fun Braking News where you explored the world of jails. How fascinating is the ‘Saalakhen’ to a VIP, something we’ve heard and as part of research, did the encounters scared you as a journalist taking into account closure is just a mere word?

Sunetra:  It wasn’t scary, it was intriguing. As a journalist, we are always looking for new experiences and so it can’t get better than this. The story came to me and so I was compelled to write it

2. The Vishal Yadavs and Manu Sharmas hogged the limelight not just for the heinous crime allegedly committed but also the five-star privilege in jail. Journalism is about the passion of bringing an amazing story and the vivacious personality that you are known for-the love to explore down-to-earth stories, what were the leads that pushed you to explore this dark and gritty world in ‘Behind Bars’?

Sunetra: One of my characters is the reason. A chance encounter with a Romanian model who tells me about her fight to get her rights in jail was what made me write this book.

3. Certainly, that woman on the other side of the call triggered the trail that you went after and the book has touched almost every aspect, be it Subroto Roy, the Talwars, and Indrani Mukerjea.  Did the revelations in jail come as a shocker and how the incidents related to rapists or dehumanizing victims changed you as a person?  

Sunetra: I kept thinking- if I with 18 years of experience don’t know that these things happen in jail, well then nobody does. And so I felt the need to tell it. The story that changed me was the one about Wahid- who spent a decade in jail and was tortured even though it was so evident he was innocent. What moved me wasn’t so much the way he was tortured but his kindness even after, his ability to use the experience as a fuel for his mission to save other innocent people.

4. A journalist is a human being with emotions. How do you put aside your emotions as a person during the investigation for your book and pursued the voice of reason since rationality is desirable to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Sunetra: I think it is a lesson we learn very early on as a journalist. You can see or hear some very, very disturbing things but at that time you don’t have the luxury to feel. You are focussed on your deadline. So you learn to put it away but it catches up with you sometimes and some of us write books because it is a bit less transient and constructive too.

5. I want to go back to Braking News where you traveled the length and breadth of the country in the iconic red NDTV van. You were very candid as an author and not shying to publish the hate mails and the messy makeup that you were pointed at or your seniors patiently explaining stuff… Being a public figure, were you not wary at some point or the other to share behind the scenes details and what were you thinking before asking the ‘gun totting someone’, Are you from a daaku family? Also, what does Braking News means to you as a journalist and a writer coupled with the fact that being a TV journalist, how do you juggle time to write?

 Sunetra: You can’t write thinking what will people say?! You write because you can’t help but write sometimes. Braking News was like that. I had such an intense experience, I had to share it. I had to put it down. It gives me immense joy to hear that you or anyone else enjoyed my journey in that book. And yes, the compulsive story is written by staying up at night, or just writing all day. That’s how I did both books.

6. You have been both in print media and TV for years witnessing the birth of social media, digital and of course the juvenile trolls hounding journalists with name calling. Do you have apprehension on the future of traditional media such as print and TV? Do you see the need for media reinvention as well as the fact that how one challenges hateful fake news, from a citizen and journalist perspective? 

Sunetra: There are many challenges and yes, people think much less of journalists these days. But, I am an optimist and think of myself as a storyteller. People will never tire of listening to stories and that’s why our trade will survive and thrive.

Love

V

PS: The answers from Sunetra Choudhury are unedited and the interview was done on e-mail exchanges.

 

Tribute to the down-to-earth filmwallah Shashi Kapoor

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He was christened taxi by his legendary brother, the greatest showman, Raj Kapoor for hopping between different shots and dropping his co-stars before finally wrapping home production helped by the former in the last.  Shashi Kapoor belonged to the rare breed of actors who immortalized the pause in his dialogue delivery. There are very few actors who would go into pause mode and inject their own style to pack a punch.

Image credit: google.

It’s a real treat to watch Shashi Sir perform on screen. He was a heartthrob, an actor par excellence much ahead of his contemporaries who bridged the gap between what we call art house or meaningful cinema and entertaining flicks. It wouldn’t be wrong to call him the Thinking Actor who unpeeled the character layers in sketching what he was known for, donning simple and middle-class roles.  He lent so much credibility and gave rare depth to the roles that he played on-screen. There was a certain grace and suaveness in the way he trotted on celluloid.

Balbir Raj Kapoor, that’s his real name who belonged to the first family in the Hindi industry dared to go against the crowd in playing memorable roles, be it in Junoon, Shakespearewalla, Utsav, 36 Chowringee Lane, Kabhi Kabhi and his last appearance Jinnah. There is a considerable debate that rages over time whether an actor should act into mainstream cinema whose aim is to entertain or do realistic artsy cinema. Somebody of his stature has put all debates to rest not through value statements but the rich repertoire of work by striking a fine balance between films that entertain and educate. At the end of the day, it’s a tale of making two kinds of movies, either a good or bad one. There are no two ways about it.

He was debonair, charismatic and a legend in his own way. There was no starry air of arrogance on screen, no overbearing act or yelling at the top of his voice. Shashi Kapoor’s performance was natural, effortless and to the point. Remember the effective Mere Paas Maa Hai in the classic confrontation scene as Ravi with Vijay immortalized by Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar?

It is very rare to find an actor of the stature of Shashi Kapoor in today’s time of social media, Insta world and tweet at every second that seems to replace histrionic performance on-screen. Gone are the days when the mere presence of a Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Kumar would make us sit and watch in awe. I think it’s very tough to list the top performances of the first crossover actor who acted in several international projects much before the overpublicized Indian film stars testing the Hollywood waters since he was in competition with himself.

Deewar, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Utsav, Kala Pathar, Shakespearwala, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Junoon, Sharmili, Trishul and Aa Gale Lag Ja are some of the memorable movies that remain entrenched in our minds. He was underrated as an actor but unfazed by stardom in the film industry. One of the rare actors who believed more in playing a character than taking the entire screen time as showcased in Deewar. It is perhaps attributed to his training at the Royal Academy of Drama and Art (RADA), one of the rare if not the only Indian who become alumni of this prestigious institution. Shashi Kapoor was secure as an actor and no matter the length of the role, he not only stood tall but shone with his soul looming large throughout the film. One such film is Silsila, the bonding that he shared with Bachchan electrified the screen and one among my favorite is the drunk sequence where both sang, ‘Neeche paan ki dukan upar Gauri ka makaan. Zara Jhoom Jhoom ke.’

One of the most handsome and secure actors, his energy was unmatched, the zest and passion for his craft as an artist or filmmaker something he shared with Dev Anand where both invested every cent into films.

Today, he takes an immense chunk of cinema with him as he bows out and experimenting with roles that made his journey into filmdom memorable.  The death of Shashi Kapoor is a huge loss to actors and the industry as a whole but he also leaves a void which is almost impossible to fill. The charisma and sheer passion which made him a cut above the rest and set him apart, the vulnerability showcased that made the actor  far ahead of several of his film contemporaries. Film-making is a risky proposition but at the same time, is listening to the heart like love. He was way ahead of his time. The history of Hindi cinema cannot be written without an artist of Shashi Kapoor’s caliber and truly the first filmwallah who nurtured his dream and dared to go beyond the kind of cinema of what his family has always done.

There is an interesting anecdote that Amitabh Bachchan once narrated on his blog. There was a time when Bachchan was struggling as an actor and stood among a crowd of extra for a flick when Shashi Kapoor saw him. Kapoor immediately walked to him and asked not to do small parts since he was meant for bigger things. The thespian actor told Bachchan to never hesitate for any help and his door is always open. It speaks volume of Shashi Kapoor as a large-hearted man.

http://zeenews.india.com/entertainment/celebrity/amitabh-bachchan-shocked-at-shashi-kapoors-plight_55340.html

Shashi Kapoor shall be sorely missed. He was not just a versatile and charismatic actor but a true legend.  The down-to-earth and affordable personality, memorable screen presence and a smile that would warm the heart of the most ruthless person must be told to aspiring cinema artists in film schools to help them hone their craft. The theatrical pause shall always be a legion to Shashi Kapoor and the ease with which he injected theatre into films made his screen presence relatable that aspiring actors must take a cue from. Unfortunately, not many could understand his Ajooba as a director, a modern take on the Arabian Nights with Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor in the lead.

RIP Shashi Sir! You shall always stay in our hearts forever. Can’t believe that an era has come to an end with your death as you leave behind such a rich film legacy.

V

How Tamasha changed my life!

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Life is a Tamasha. We are social actors emulating our part and most of the times screwing our lines, afflicted by social conditioning since childhood but also largely afraid to change the established rules of the game to grow.  We are cowards. I was a big coward. I am a still one.

This week Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha celebrated 2 years since it hit the marquee at the Indian box office. A movie that changed my life and brought me face-to-face to challenge my inner and outer demons. We are conditioned and wrongly taught to behave in a certain fashion and reluctant to dare challenge the status quo. We are the products of a failed system. I am one. Time to accept it.

https://i2.wp.com/reveringthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Tamasha-movie-review.jpg

There is a little bit of Ved, the character effortlessly played by Ranbir Kapoor in all of us, men and women. We are cowards. We seek social validation from others and if a crystal ball could whisper our deep darkest fear, secrets, and future, we would respond accordingly.

The year 2015 was a horrible phase in my life and it was a repeat of the turmoil that I was facing since 2013 and 2014. I became cranky, negative, pessimist and frustrated for nothing was working. Failure was written all over my face. I was battling an identity, social and professional crisis with debt mounting large on my head. My approach was wrong. I never had it so tough and odds were stacked against me. There was simply no way out to overcome my troubles. In short, I lack (ed) the social skills to deal with things.

It was an unsatisfactory job where we were not paid our salary in time that pushed me to desperately take a low paying job in a factory that was much below my academic and professional achievements. To wake up in the morning was a pain and was counting every second, minute and hour.  I became a living corpse. But, I had debts to pay and the money came from that fucked up job. There was no way for me to afford to sit idle at home minus the fund.

Then, the universe conspired with each other for Imtiaz Ali to make Tamasha for me and millions across the world. There was something about the film. Remember Piyush Mishra telling Ved, ‘Kayar ho tum (You are coward). Ouch! It hurts. I was Ved. I may employ defense mechanism refusing to see reality but deep inside I know that risk tasking has never been my forte.  I have always dodged challenges in life and refused to face grief, pain, rejection, and failure in life. I ran away from Mumbai years ago when the last relationship didn’t work out for I know staying in the city would remind me of her.

Suddenly, everything that blocked my nerves and mental well-being cascaded on my head and emotions steam rolled to make me see things with a clearer mind. I had to carve out my own script. I was sitting in the theatre. Tears rolled down the cheek. It cannot continue in this way, I told myself. Then one day, I woke up in the morning and watched myself in the mirror. I couldn’t recognize that guy. It was not me. I lost the verve to live and asked where has my never-say-die attitude gone? I was always someone who would never accept defeat. But, in that stage, I lost my mojo. I was not real. I became fake. Something must be done. The Ved in me was convinced.

There was no point living a life replete with suffering and unhappiness. What was I doing to myself? Except carrying my coffin on an overburdened shoulder. So what? Yes! This Ved had to reclaim his mojo. It doesn’t matter that I will have no fund and swim against the tide. But, I promise not be carried away by the tide of unhappiness and growing frustration. It was time for me to experiment, go blank and tread in the present or future that bears no uncertainty.

The first thing that I did: Took the risk to resign. It was a huge gamble financially. I had pending loans and EMI bill to settle. But, there was a force within that told me that things would fall into place.  It felt like every possible force conspired for my well-being. I pulled my luggage stacked with memories of my college days in Pune and found a poster I bought in the year 2005 on the pavement on FC Road for 5 bucks.

‘Don’t quit…when things go wrong as they sometimes will…when the funds are low and the debts are high…rest if you must but don’t quit.’ I stick the poster on the wall. It emerged as a catalyst. My friends during the formative years at Fergusson College have always been my strength who keep defining my identity and something that I forgot but Tamasha served as a reminder that things will not be awry forever. After all, I studied in the best place in Pune, Fergusson College and had a successful stint as a journalist. If things have been good once, life ultimately gives a second or third chance.

If there was one thing I learned from Tamasha, it is be unafraid to fail, take risks or experiment with life, no matter what. Immediately after my resignation, I landed into a freelance contract and a second project as a survey consultant followed. It felt that my voice and pain never went unheard. Today, I am a consultant for a PR firm and Senior Special Correspondent for a business website, surrounded by the right kind of people where I can afford the luxury to work from home. I am a late bloomer. I may not be in the perfect stage of life but am today in a very happy space.

I am a work in progress. There will always be ups and downs in life. Thank you, Imtiaz Ali, for Tamasha has taught me a great deal about never shying to take risks, not be bogged down by social conditioning, experiment while on the edge of the cliff and accept the coward that I am. Being self-aware and living in the moment or never be shy of dreaming the life I always wanted to is my real Tamasha. Yes! I haven’t given the hope of making a short film or acting on the silver screen one day. There is no age to pursue one’s dreams and taking risks no matter what happens for life has a way to hold your fingers to carry you on this journey. Tamasha has been a game changer in my life and altered my destiny.

Love

V

Pune Memoirs (III): Dedicated to a friend and lifetime’s bond

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Pune Memoirs, Third Year (2005-06)

Savera/Namaskar, Pune, 2006:

The ceiling fan slowly whirred to life in BJ Wadia library at Fergusson college and hot air percolated to battle the flies in the British style architectural marvel as the head was buried not inside the boring notes but the wooden table. I was feeling sleepy. It was a tale of swimming against the tide. Exams were around a corner which looked like a marathon run to cover ground and cursing the self for not studying for the entire year.

I accepted defeat and strutted my feet in the sweltering heat to wade past FC gate, crossing the road to land at our mecca, Savera. Sweat dropped on my face and the sticky skin.  I ordered coffee and removed a classic mild fag to lit. The huge table was shared by a couple of usual suspects and a dude that I came across and exchanged fleeting Hi struck a random conversation to ask who is my favorite actor.  I said Amitabh Bachchan. I never know that the Bachchan tag would stay forever with me by the entire gang and everyone knew me by that name in college. I almost forgot that I am Vishal.

He was a rockstar incarnate with the long hair locks and always sporting an unkempt beard to give the Beatles dude a run for their money. Meet Sudhendu. He became a friend in the short span of time that I have known him in Savera and the gang that we became with Koko, Chanda, Beast, Regy, Ajitabh Bhaiya and so many of us, laughing over mundane stuff and of course, muttering fuck bhenchod, madarchod over every small thing that we fret about. One dude that waded leisurely on FC Road and sitting at Savera with a diary and pen. There was no pretension and he defined what easy meant to souls. I can still see him in the Monsoon wearing his jeans pulled till the knee and strutted as if trouble never existed.

The first monsoon shower hit Pune and in the flick of seconds, heavy rains lashed on the city. I was bored sitting in the flat since during the afternoon and came to Savera looking for people to chill out with. The rain plopped inside our tea glasses as we sat outside in the smoking zone.  It was the carefree days. An era to be cherished over tobacco stench and intoxicating spirit of rain, friendship and sprinkle of water. College was over and was just hanging around in the city.

I was sitting at Savera wearing a favorite white shirt tucked inside the jeans. The rain shooed everyone away from Savera but I sat inside enjoying the rain and the crowd. He hailed me from outside, “Bachchan daaru piyega?” I was humphed with an ‘abhi’ expression alluding to the heavy rain.  It was simple and casual, “Baarish mein hi daaru peene chahiye (Rain is a good time to booze). He hailed me with his hand to join the gang.

The apartment was 10 minutes walk away from Namaskar. I ran back home to take money and scampered back to Namaskar which was just behind Savera and the inside compartment housing Dewar inside which are all part of the same compound. The entire gang was sitting outside and sheltered by the umbrella under the table with alcohol and starters flowing. I ordered the favorite Imperial Blue whisky and lit a smoke every now and then. In those days, I was a chain smoker like most of us in the gang…carefree smokers and monsoon bhewre. It was a monsoon treat offered by Vasant bhaiya and later Ajitabh Bhaiya joined the fun, along with Sudhendu we were having so much fun. I poured a peg of whisky and mixed with soda and ice. Sudhendu remarked, “Yeh apne hi jaise pita hai.” The rain was not in a mood to be tamed and after fighting under the umbrella, we decided to shift base inside the warm comfort but we witnessed moment with Vasant Bhaiya sitting in the heavy rain outside and adjusting the umbrella to save his alcohol from the rain when everyone was taking shelter inside.

The fun continued inside Namaskar and we were joined later by Koko whom I have met in a blank and eye moment at Savera having chai. It was the start of a long and lasting friendship. I already downed a couple of pegs and found myself shifting from English to Hindi when Sudhendu remarked, “Daaru pee ke ab Hindi mein baat kar raha hai.’ Today, it feels like a life-long memory and a dream sequence as if those priceless moments just happened a few seconds away.

The bamboo thread separated Savera and Namaskar. One moment we were sipping chai, coffee and SPDP. The next, we were having alcohol inside Namaskar to beat the cold that engulfed our legs and warmed the throat after being drenched in the monsoon magic of 2006. I remember that Friday when I was sitting with Sudhendu along with someone else, drinking inside Namaskar when he saw a chick walking out of the college gate past 7 p.m. She happened to be a classmate. We were smoking outside when he saw her. She was quite a hot mulgi in college in those days. He ran in the rain and asked her out for beer. We waited and expected the girl to accompany him inside. Sudhendu came alone. What happened was hilarious. The girl declined the beer invite and came up with this lamest excuse, ‘I am in a hurry. I have to go home for my Mom is waiting for me.’ We all laughed. A sheepish smile flashed on Sudiya bhai’s face.

Our conversation always veered to films, spirituality and of course, chicks. There was not a time when Sudhendu never spoke about girls to me and something which someone remarked just after he left for his destination. You should introduce me to the girls…how do you know her…she’s hot yaar. We spoke about sex life and we were like how things not happening in our lives.

I knew that he has always held me in high regard and remember the day that I hopped to Mumbai for my admission since I was planning to move there when the train blast happened in July.  He scrapped me on Orkut with, ‘Bachchan! What’s happening in Mumbai?’ It was his way of checking if I was fine.

There was a book that I was reading in those days, ‘Maximum City’ by Suketu Mehta at a time my fascination for Mumbai grew in leaps and bounds. The days of dreams and nurtured the aspiration of making it big in the film industry the time I would shift base. No wonder Maximum City gave wings to the dreams and the book was passed to Sudhendhu as well as to a couple of friends. It was Diwali when I came back to Pune and we were boozing in the car with C, reminiscing of the times spent with Sudhendhu who told him, ‘bhenchod dhyand se rakhna yaad se dena yeh Bachchan ka kitaab hai. Genuine hai Bachchan.’

There was another anecdote that happened much before we hit it off and it was in the good old Namaskar when he was sitting and drinking with some friends. I said Hi and joined them for a while but sensed some discomfort. I don’t remember well but I think he told me that they are having some reunion. I left but was somehow awkward and felt bad. But a couple of days later, he explained emphatically to me in Savera, ‘Sorry for the last time. But, you know they are very old friends and they won’t understand.’ It touched my heart for not many people would explain things. It’s on very rare instance that you meet such pure souls.

Savera was always the first place I hopped and a second home for us in Pune. I couldn’t imagine spending a single day in Pune without sitting inside our favorite hangout which has now pulled its shutters due to some court dispute. A couple of flaneur days were spent in Mumbai and came back to Pune when I walked past the table when I saw him sitting in the non-smoking zone with some chicks. He was like where I’ve been and me being me said, amchi Mumbai. He was a bit flustered on hearing it from my mouth since I do not hail from there and conveyed to me. I don’t remember what I said but something along these lines that either the city has adopted me or showering love on Mumbai that already embraced me. He cheerfully said, ‘Hum Saab ka Mumbai’ and adding prose to it, I was like, ‘Aap ka Mumbai…Mera Mumbai.’ Such was our friendship with the gang.

Sudhendu was one guy who always gave me cool names and was the first person who christened me with Bachchan pseudonym. But, it was not the last one. Cut back to the final year in college with two new entrants in our gang, A and S, a newly married couple who shifted from Kerala to Pune.  It was a lazy afternoon. I took S around for a guided visit inside our huge campus at Fergusson College and when her husband came in the evening, she enthusiastically told him that I showed her around the campus. Sudhendu being him and gave me a name which didn’t stay, Raju Guide.

The last time we had a conversation in Savera was long after I moved to Mumbai in the same year and came back to Pune which has always been home to me. It was probably the last time we met over coffee and smoke. We spoke about the Osho ashram and he asked me what’s the plan post-Mumbai, to which I said it’s settling back to Pune.  I vividly remember him telling me, ‘Most welcome.’

Post script:

The time I moved to the hostel in Mumbai, I lost my brand new handset, the prized Nokia 3330 and was out of touch with everyone. But, Orkut was the grace and small mercies to keep in touch. I haven’t logged on Orkut for a very long time in the cybercafé since I was down with malaria. The rain continued unabated in the city and after I logged, I received a scrap. I couldn’t believe it. Koko sent me, You must have received the terrible news by now…Sudhendu was washed by the rain at Khadakwasla Dam. I didn’t know what hit me on the head. How I hope it wasn’t true at all. A friendship made in such a short span of time but didn’t stay for long. Sudhendu’s death took along with him an immense part of the memories. But, I know he is still here and last week made 11 years when he passed away but I know that some equations are too hard to find but stays forever. He cemented our bond again.

We shall meet my friend someday in the sky and I know you are smiling reading the post.

Love

Bachchan

Book Review: Love across a broken map is searing portrait of emotions

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Book Review: Love across a broken map

Genre: Short stories from The Whole Kahani/anthology across Asia

Copyright Dahlia publishing

Rating: Four stars

Introduction:

In the foreword, Susmita Bhattacharya describes Love across a broken map as a collection of short stories spanning across the South Asian diaspora.  It’s not just an anthology but a stream of human emotions expressed through the stroke of pens touching lives and imaginations. The various descriptions are vivid, be it portraying migrants nestled in a new home in London and craving for this staple diet called love or coming face-to-face with destiny.  In short, the anthology of short stories finds its earnest place in the reader’s heart on account of the honest and sensitive expressions.

Blurb:

From London to Goa, Manchester to Mumbai, tales that span start-ups, girl crushes, virtual gigolos, obsessive fans and astrological mishaps. This eclectic mix of short stories from The Whole Kahani explores love and loss across the dividing lines of culture, race, and ethnicity. Love is celebrated, broken and forgotten; is embraced and remembered in this collection of stories of heartbreak and resilience.

More can be read here.

Narration:

The collection unfurl with ‘Watermelon Seeds’ where writer CG Menon injects prose pocked with gentleness and playfulness at the same time in the engrossing tale through the believable characters.  Alex Caan’s ‘Rocky Romeo’ stirs the taste bud in this heart-pounding offering where the words flow in the vein in narrating the otherworldly life fleshed in the most humane possible manner. Love can strike in the hardest way in the virtual world in this terrible fable beautiful marrying the road for thrill and unexpected love.

The Nine Headed Ravan served by Radhika Kapur is a real cocktail about an unusual love story between two incomplete humans and afflicted by the chasm of emotions or destiny, for that matter. The author throws an emphatic look at the gap in our relationships or fate’s way of snatching our identity that deprives individuals of becoming a whole entity.  It’s one of my favorite stories for the author doesn’t take the run-of-the-mill route but touches the story with a dash of realism, human emotions running high and the engrossing end in the quest for love built with a strong message about the heart’s peculiar way of joining the dots.

‘Three Singers’ is about well, three singers where Kavita Jindal weaves a compelling tale through her riveting language and effortless narration. You just cannot afford to put down this tale. Jindal has a rich language and the detailing in her repertoire, thus making it unique about the twin sisters and the subdued jealousy vying for love. The end comes as surprise but sensational in this down-to-earth story and refreshing story that captures the mind.

The anthology boasts of several heartwarming stories, right from Mona Dash’s ‘To London’ that gently reminds us that love needing no reason or logic. This impossible love story can get intense, repulsive and soothing at the same time which leaves a searing impact on the soul. Iman Qureshi’s ‘Naz’ brings an edge and rare intensity in depicting the gamut of feelings that we hide on the fear of being judged.  The story expresses the shady and dark sides of life’s various facets while at the same time, lending a ubiquitous charm and sensitivity to same-sex attraction. There is Rohan Kar’s ‘We are all made of stars’ who touches the issue of stars and planets in relationships and its violent bearing or the place of an independent woman in our society as well as the fact of coming to terms with the unpleasantness.  Reshma Ruia’s ‘Soul Sisters’ deserves to be read to understand the various nuances of human emotions and the therapeutic approach that effectively deals with darkness and disappointment.

Shibani Lal’s ‘Entwined Destinies’ is about the father-daughter bond where the theme of sacrifice captures the heart. Our relationships are precious so are our dreams, aspirations, and destiny that spans across generations. The book ends with ‘By Hand’ penned by Farrah Yusuf where loneliness is showcased as painful and the end of everything is the only reality.  It’s a heart-wrenching tale that makes one wonder about the fallacy of human existence.

Final Words:

Love across Broken Maps is a collection of short stories and it gets tricky to pick faults in the individually penned stories spanning across continents. The authors have offered a bouquet of emotions and relationships set most in England where hearts are strummed together and bearing souls open.  A commendable effort on the part of the various authors in narrative sensitive tales about lives, and unpeeling the layers of expression, love which is unrequited at times,  pain, angst and dreams to conquer ourselves and the world we live in.

You can click on the Amazon link to buy the book and click here for more information.

Love

V