Monday, February 23, 2009
I do not have any illusions. This is a British film ( though on an Indian theme ) and because of that, I think, it got so much global media attention which made the awards possible - merits aside. I hope however that this leads to a better appraisal of Indian films ( the more serious ones I mean ) in the global arena in future .
There is a flip side though. We might soon be flooded with slum based clones sending messages of ' hope and optimism ' and having mostly irrelevant song and dance routines coupled with some never ending fight sequences.
As a postscript, I must add that I am happy for Rahman who has finally got global recognition. When he burst into the world of cinema in Roza and then in Bombay some years back, even someone like me who is not an afficionado of music got struck. He is a star in this country for quite sometime, the Oscar has only put an international stamp on his status.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
A Kathakali dance performance that the resort organised for the travellers at night.
We had a keen bird watcher , a young and charming girl with us on the motor boat. She was ecstatic when she spotted a kingfisher on our way. Having seen many kingfishers in my time and at very many places, I could not share her ecstacy. The sanctuary, which we finally reached, was a bit of disappointment. We did not come across many bird species apart from one or two woodpeckers and some common herons or egrets. I understand now that a cruise in the lake could have been much more promising. I recall my visit to Bharatpur bird sanctuary and the boat ride in the lake there where I had the opportunity of seeing hundreds of birds of many species including a lone eagle on a tree top. I am no birdwatcher but who does not like birds? When we were young, even the Calcutta zoo was a veritable paradise of birds. The lake inside in the winter would be full of migratory birds ducks,whistling tills, brahmi ducks of glorious plummage and so many more whose names I do not know. Once I saw a Siberian stork laying her egg on a small island in the lake. I went to the zoo recently and had the shock of my life. Not only were birds scarce, many of the animals have disappeared.The zoo which used to look so green, appeared grey.
My son and I went for cycling after returning from the cruise on the roads around. He got so apprehensive after some time about the safety of his father with his creaky joints in the speeding traffic on the road, that I found it prudent to return to the cosy resort and went for a swim instead in the excellent swimming pool that the resort had.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I have never been fond of dogs, stray or otherwise.
I am not really scared of them but a little wary and so, prefer to keep a safe distance . It is actually a family tradition. I grew up in a large family which neither had the space nor the money to afford the luxury of having a dog as a pet. This was true also of the middle class neighbourhood we grew up in. Love of dogs was reserved mostly for a bit wealthier people who lived in posher areas.
I know times have changed and dogs have entered middle class homes , as pets I mean. But in the fifties and early sixties (ah, of the last century !) middle class life was hard enough to sustain itself without the added distraction of looking after a pet dog. If at all, a bird or two, a parrot or a myna, was good enough to satisfy extra-familial love instincts. We had at our home a parrot on one occasion, kept in a cage in the verandah. Since we always forgot, Mother would feed it regularly. She belived that the parrot talked and responded to her queries. She would try to convince her children of this amazing feat of the parrot, but they were quite sceptical . We knew that some parrots could imitate human voices, but ours was surely not one of them. The sounds it made were only discernible to our mother, possibly because of her abundant motherly instincts, but not to us.
Much later, I stayed in a Bungalow in the northeast in one of my travels and came across a talking Myna - a Pahari (of the mountains) Myna -which greeted me in the morning with a distinct Hello. It could utter a few more words and even a sentence or two quite distinctly. I remembered our poor parrot which had flown away at the first opportunity when the cage door was left inadvertantly open and missed the opprtunity of a proper and and more rigorous training to improve its phonetic abilities.
Coming back to dogs, some people in the neighbourhood did display canine affections by offering surplus food to one or more of the many street dogs that roamed in our streets.These were days before the refrigerators were to make their appearances in city homes. The need to dispose of surplus food especially of fish bones could easily be combined with an urge to reach beyond the mere human species. It definitely helped some cats and dogs, but made the streets dirtier, but then who ever bothered about Calcutta streets ?
One of my younger brothers though was a bit of a genetic variation which is as it should be as Charles Darwin thought and pronounced . Otherwise, how would there be any progress in the process of evolution ? He was the one who would plant flower plants in pots and make them grow on our roof, would bring birds, love birds or otherwise, and look after them. He even started at one time to feed a street dog - a puppy at that time- which would hover near our house from then on. The puppy grew up soon enough to be a handsome young male with a shiny black coat. Even though most of us kept our usual distance, we could not but like it. But it contacted some disease which all street dogs are prone to and its coats disappeared revealing blisters on its skin. It died soon thereafter.
I don't know if this brother of mine experimented with puppy love again, but he has retained some of his habits despite many limitations.He continues to nurture flower plants and has an aquarium for goldfishes. In fact I maintained a small aquarium of my own with his help for some time. I had to abandon the project when I moved to smaller house after retirement. But I found having an aquarium and looking at the fishes gliding back and forth in the water in utmost serenity, effortlessly and without any sound, quite relaxing and to use a modern term, destressing. I might aquire a small one again.
When I was living in the tea areas of Assam and North Bengal, I did toy with the idea of having a dog as a pet to give my son some company. I had a spacious Bunglow and enough people to look after a dog but I never got around to having one despite persuasion from some of my Manager freinds.
Almost all tea garden Managers had a dog or two, mostly the big ones. Labrador,Alsatian,Dobberman, Golden Retriever and in one instance, a Pyrenees which was as big as a calf. Knowing my lack of any special fascination for dogs however brilliant their pedigree was, most Managers or their wives were polite enough to keep their dog or dogs in some other room when I visited them but some would not care. Invariably these dogs would snuggle close to me, a perfect stranger, with the idea perhaps of winning me over. A feat they never succeded in achieving. I was not going to be drawn so easily into their love nets ! I remember having almost skipped a heartbit when the Pyrenees came to me once, very unexpectedly and from behind. He sat by my side silently, possibly expecting a caress which he never got.
Well, it is not that I do not appreciate dogs . After all, your dog is the only one who recognises you instantly even when the whole world fails to do so and showers you with all the affection in the world on a hard and tiring day. After you got a firing from your boss,that is. Or your wife.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I was driving along the road when I saw a group of people in the adjacent field crowding around what looked like a huge steel grey mound from a distance. I stoped the car and went over. I saw a huge tusker lying on its side, very much dead. The forest officials examinning the animal told me the elephant had been eletrocuted. A herd crossed this field the previous night and this one must have raised its trunk and touched the HT lines that passed above. A silent,instant and tragic death for such a magnificent animal.
This was way back in 1974 during my first and short stint in the Dooars. When I returned to the Dooars in 1989, I stayed there for a much longer period and travelled extensively by road. This was when the Dooars with its neverending tea gardens and forest reserves,its abundant green cover and natural beauty charmed me. I came across wild elephants - single, in twos or in a small herd - on the road on number of occassions.I first met a leopard too this way, very much alive and bright in the headlight of the car I was in. It slunk away noiselessly into the roadside bushes.
Many of the leopards of the Dooars reside in the tea gardens, I was told once by a forest official. The gardens provide enough bush cover and nooks and corners for their shelter and possibly rabbits,goats and dogs provide them enough food. I have not heard of any special liking they have for men or women, but attacks occassionally do take place when any of them feel treatened or cornered by fortuitous circumstances.
I had spotted the leopard very near the campus we lived in. I saw it in fact on more than one occassion when a colleague told me that a leopard had been sighted inside the campus and some stray dogs were missing. I am no lover of dogs, more so stray dogs which disappear overnight and would not have been much concerned at such a development but my colleague had a dog of his own and two small children. He had reasons to be worried and felt we could not allow a leopard to have a free run inside our living area. However much we may like a wild animal, it should better be left in the wild and there only .
Good point. So we contacted the Forest department. It was quite prompt in arranging a large cage to be placed in a bamboo grove, actually a mini forest , on one side of our large campus. The cage had a partition of iron bars in it with two entrances on opposite sides. A goat was to be caged in one partiton as a bait while the other was left open for the leopard to enter, should it ever be so tempted.
A goat was accordingly arranged, kept in one of the partitions and provided enough grass and fodder to munch and sustain itself.
Days passed without any sign of the leopard. The goat continued to grow fatter and possibly become more juicy. After about ten days when we had almost given up, the leopard struck one night (or rather we struck gold ) at around 8 o'clock. We rushed to the spot with torches and found a young leopard growling and plunging again and again on the cage bars, its nose bruised and bleeding with the skin on its nose lacerated in its futile attempts to escape. The trap door on its side of the partition was shut unmercifully. On the other side, a short distance away stood the goat, like a statue, totally transfixed in mortal fear. A strange sight indeed, of the predator and the prey - almost within touching distances
It was difficult to pull the goat out, it had to be dragged out literally through the other door. Life came back to it when it was out of the cage and it fled with lightening speed without even stopping to say thank you.
We felt pretty bad for the leopard and contacted the forest people . They advised us to cover the cage with tarpaulin to make the inside totally dark .We were told that this would calm the animal down.That was how we left the leopard, inside the cage, to contemplate its fate which turned out fine eventually as the forest department took it away the next day and released it in the jungles where it belonged.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
We were in our office in the Doors one morning when a phone call came to my senior colleague from a Manager of a nearby tea garden. He informed us that a leopard had been killed by the workers in his garden.He sounded very worried and said he was sending one of his Assistants to discuss the problem with us.
He had reasons to be worried. Leopards were ( and are ) protected animals and killing one was a punishable offence. The forest officials might as well harrass the Manager of the garden rather than confront the unionised and sometimes volatile workers when they came to know of the incident. He was the easier prey.
Troubleshooting for tea gardens was our job, though handling leopard deaths was not generally on our agenda. We could not, however, avoid the issue and leave the Manager to his fate.
We were discussing what to do when the Assistant Manager arrived in a Jipsy. He hurried to the office and told us that the workers,mainly women, were plucking in one of the tea sections when a leopard which was lurking behind a bush, suddenly sprang on a woman and wounded her severly. As the animal was mauling the woman, others tried to shoo it away. The commotion alerted other workers in the nearby labour colony who rushed in with bows and arrows and managed to kill the leopard.
We asked where the animal was at the moment and he said he had brought it along.
Dumfounded, we went to the Jipsy and found sprawled in the dicky a magnificent young beast its skin and spots glistening in the sun, obviously dead but looking as if it were just asleep.
When you have a problem and you don't know how to solve it, shove it to somebody else - that seemed to be the Manger's motto. He had got rid of the dead leopard and thought,the problem too at one stroke.
My colleague had a fertile brain and had a penchant for dramatics. While I was pondering whether we should contact the forest department or not, he came up with an idea.What an idea it was ! He advised the Assistant to return to the garden with the dead leopard, talk to the garden union leaders and arrange with their help a mini gherao of the Manager in his office with the leopard kept in front. He did so. The local leaders cooperated knowing that one or other of their members might otherwise be arrested. My colleague contacted the forest Ranger when we came to know that stage was set and told him of the gherao and the agitated workers demanding compensation from the forest department for the injured worker. They were requested to visit the the garden, pacify the workers and take the dead animal away. The Ranger was a practical man. He did not want to take any chances. If a leopard could be a victim of mob frenzy, there was no guarantee others wouldn't be. He requested us to tackle the issue ourselves and send the dead animal to their office when peace returned.
This was dutifully done and the matter ended there.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Bandipur Wild Life Sanctuary and National Park is located on the highway from Mysore to Ooty nearabout the border between the States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is around 800 sq.kilometres and is a connecting link between Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and Wayand Sanctuary in Kerala.This is part of the area that the dreaded bandit Veerappan ruled for nearly twenty years smuggling ivory and sadalwood and killing scores of forest and police officials to evade arrest.
After a satisfactory lunch, we went on a safari into the forest in an open jeep and came across a plethora of wildlife.My camera was quite busy. The snaps I took lay hidden in my computer for a long time. I thought I would share some with anyone interested.
The herd on the left had one tusker barely visible.Some of the glamour and magnificence of the herd are missing as a result. I took a number of snaps of this herd but could not get a frontal image of the tusker.
I have had a long association with elephants.Having lived for a number of years in the tea regions of Doors, I have seen one or two wild elephants a number of times, mostly while driving down or rather being driven down long stretches of road at night.In fact, on more than one occassion, some have been been unexpected visitors to my Bunglow compound in the Doors or Terai.But this was the first time I was seeing a herd in its natural habitat.
We saw a herd of bisons also. They didn't like the approacing intruders and slowly retreated into the forest.I caught the herd in my camera too,but I preferred this one which was prepared to cast a long lingering look back.
We failed to meet royalty though.We were told one had to be a bit lucky to do so.Moreover, with overgrown bushes on all sides it would have been impossible to spot one,if a tiger was indeed moving about stealthily at a distance. But we did have a glimpse of his cousin having a lazy siesta on top of a watch tower.
The leopard was sprawled on the watch tower apparently sleeping. It took us fifteen to twenty minutes of wait to see it stirring to life. My camera did not have telephoto lens, its zoom was not good enough, but I could get its yawn. Sheer boredom I suppose ! Or irritation at these intruding eyes.
You could see a flock of deer even at the roadside.They were quite at ease with cars passing by, at some distance though.
While grazing, one looked up .. just in time.
We returned to the resort before darkness descended. At night as a prelude to dinner,the resort organised a campfire.We sat around and chatted . The Manager joined in and time passed by in the flickering light of the fire.
Next morning we went on a trek to the nearby hill accompanied by a young guide the resort provided. It was not a steep climb by any standard but not so easy either, but it was fun. On the way up ,we came across a ledge on the side of the road and lo, underneath were two nests of weaverbirds.I had never seen one before though seen its picture as a child.
The trek ended at the top of the hill from where one can have a grand and panoramic view of the country side.On one side, we could see the never ending forest cover of the Bandipur sanctuary.
On our way back after breakfast, we stopped at Ranganathittu, the bird sanctuary on the bank of the river Kavery ( Cauvery) one of the grand rivers of the south. It is an idyllic place, a place to walk around under the shades of giant trees and listen to the twittering birds .It is also a place which allows you to go for a cruise in the river and watch birds in the islands and an occassional crocodile sunbathing in isolation. But Kavery was in spate and the boats were not prepared to take any chance with an angry river. We had to remain content to sit by the riverside and contemplate nature before finally calling it a day.Oh, only after we had some lunch at the cafetaria.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Now, I have nothing against 28 year old Americans, particularly if they are women, but the name foxed me. Dwija is a Sanskrit word, very much Indian in sound and meaning, and as a name eminently masculine. I can never think of Dwija being a girl's name in Bengal or anywhere else in India. For that matter, it is not a very common name either and many people I know and who know me spell the name incorrectly( they miss the w ).I have given up correcting them long ago, except trying to make sure that it is spelt correctly on legal documents and finacial instruments.
One of my friends explained that the girl's father or mother might be an Indologist or involved in Asian studies. Pure conjecture on his part, but he cited the case of Uma Thurman whose father,as he said,is an Indologist. Uma, after all is an Indian name, in fact one of the many names of the Goddess Durga. However, this does not explain why the parents would choose a boy's name for their girl child. If it is her real name, of course.
Dwija means the 'twice born' and refers to the one who realises Brahman( The Infinite or God) or in more mundane terms, any brahmin who is born again spiritually after his Upanayan or the sacred thread ceremony. It also refers to any species coming out of eggs and includes birds and even snakes. In the latter aspect, the word is sex-independent. My mother was perhaps not that concerned with these meanings when she named me. She was reading Saratchandra's novel Bipradas when she was pregnant and the name of Bipradas's brother Dwijadas appealed to her. Thus, my name.
My mother was not unaware of the meaning though and did cherish high hopes for me,but that she did for all her children. All mothers do.
The name may have been adopted by the California girl to symbolise her birth in blog space. I can try and solve the puzzle by getting in touch with her or but then the mystery evaporates.
May be later.
Friday, February 13, 2009
If interested, anyone can have a look. I took the opportunity however of getting the third one of these videos from Youtube and is putting it up here. Ravi, a boy from one of the slums in Mumbai and a seller of fans made of peackock feathers has picked up not only English but many other languages that include French,Italian,Russian and Arabic from the streets.His English is not that sophisticated, but good enogh for communication. His fluency is amazing. It is not only his language skills but the smartness and ease with which he faces the camera that astonishes me. The boy, now a teenager, remains a seller of handmade fans on the streets of Mumbai. I only hope that these
video clips which are globally viewed will get for this talented boy some help that changes the course of his life. He does not have to be a millionaire, but he surely deserves a better life.
It is most unfortunate that we have failed to create a sysytem which nurtures, nourishes and develops such talents among the teeming millions in this country and its slums. Ravi has been spotted.The person who did so and followed it up deserves to be congratulated.But what about the others like him who trudge through life unnoticed and unsung ? Are they not born to blush unseen and fade away?Do they not get sucked into the underworld as Salim did in the film or try out a different path as in the case of Jamal. It was only a directorial twist that saved Latika from eventual prostitution but many other girls would not have been so lucky, would they?
With all its merits, Slumdog Millionaire suffers from the problem of trying to reach a global audience and please the Indian diaspora at the same time. The english used by the characters is too proper and sophisticated, not like Ravi's, not the street smart type. Though it sounds O.K in the game show, it sounds unreal in some other contexts. Hinglish - a mix of Hindi and English which Indians ( speaking Hindi) do use - would have perhaps done better and satisfied the glaobal audience.Finally, Danny Boyle could not escape the lure of Bollywood and in addition to a fairy tale ending, had to entertain us all with a song and dance routine!
Thursday, February 12, 2009
That it does not turn out to be my first blog is not of any consequence though.
Thanks to the net I had the opportunity of downloading the film and watching it on my computer much before it was released in the halls in Calcutta. I don't claim to be a connoisseur, but frankly I was impressed - the manner of telling the story,the back and forth movement between the past and present without losing continuity, the deft and fast editing, the excellent camera work and the brilliant sound effects kept me absorbed. The film has since got a number of Bafta awards which I think are well deserved. I am sure it will get a few oscars, at least in editng and sound.The sound and music,not so much the songs to my mind,seem to have been married to the sequences enhancing the viewing experience.
The audio-visual impact would undoubtedly be far greater and more intense if viewed on a large screen with Dolby surround system. I did miss that.
A lot has since been written about the Slumdog. Some valid criticism has also been made.Particularly about the main storyline. A friend of mine whose staple diet is cinema and good cinema, and who incidentally has been an inspiration behind my current craze of collecting and watching old classics, called the story preposterous. One cannot deny that the main story is bit of a fantasy. One wonders can it happen, can a slum boy answer all the questions that came up in the game show through his horrid experiences in life ? Were not the last answer, and also the last but one, which made him the winner pure shots in the dark? Was not the love story bit of a fairy tale ? Valid points. But did I care for these points when I watched the film ? Did I not on the other hand get engrossed by the way the story unfolded itself ? By the life of the children in the slum,the police chase,the gruesome riot, the underworld and its nefarious designs with the boys and with Latika - the girl ?Didn't it feel like hard hitting reality? Is not there a real possibility of a slum producing a Salim as well as a Jamal ? The film makes it believable through the childhood tendencies of the boys.In fact, that is the point.The film makes the whole thing
believable. That is cinema.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I often thought of maintaining a diary.I did start a number of times,but these efforts were shortlived.I was thinking why? and came to some conclusions.Firstly, perseverence has never been one of my strong points.I give up too easily. After all, giving up does not require much of an effort. This may not be true of our politicians though or for that matter Dhanjaya (in the story) who had to be kicked out when all efforts failed to get him out.
Secondly, my life and the events that shaped it were not interesting enough to be recorded. Or so I felt.I know this depends a lot on how you look at things. After all a daisy in the field or a skylark flapping its wings across the sky caused a lot of uproar in someone or others mind. We all know of the face that launched a thousand boats much earlier.And an enigmatic smile that artlovers all over the world still debate about. Nearer home, we have Bankimchandra,otherwise a very rational man, swooning over a cuckoo's 'pancham swar' -the fifth note in the musical scale or Jibananada,the natural poet,enamoured by the weeping Kite.Well, I tried but could not look at things the way they did.Something must be amiss in my DNA.
Thirdly,one needs to have an orderly thought process when you write. Mine shifts very fast from one direction to other, almost in Brownian Motion.So fast in fact that I often forget what I started with.
I have heard that writers often suffer from a mental block when inspite of best efforts they fail to produce anything. Something like what happened to the great orator Edmund Burke in his first speech in the British Parliament.He started with ' I conceive... I conceive...' and could not proceed further prompting another parliamentarian to intervene and say 'Mr.Burke conceives, but cannot produce'.Any way, great writers,why great - even small time writers come out of such block soon enough. But in my case, well , I conceive..but seem to suffer from a perpetual mental block.
After all, even if it is your diary, your own private space, you might be leaving it for posterity to browse through.Even if they don't erect a statue of yours for crows to do what they do best, you would like them to have an appreciative smile on their face.
That is how I thought.
I am maturing however.May be it has taken a bit too long to do so, nearly sixty five years.If I have not made any impact on the world all these years, I am not going to make one in the years left to me. Posterity can take care of itself. So why not experiment with your thoughts however random they are . Somewhere in Chaos Theory it says that one random act generates another and then another and finally a pattern emerges. Just as Brownian Motion can be defined in Physics by a mathetical equation.Well, so what if a pattern does not emerge.The World is chaotic enough as it is.I can not make it worse.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I was reading a news article on a current research finding that even short lasting experiences were likely to provide greater happiness than purchase of material goods.Watching a movie, visit to a coffee shop or a day-out could be more invigorating,make you feel more alive and above all add to the 'memory capital'- memories that could be cherished in tranquility.
I did'nt need researchers to tell me this. For me,this was quite obvious and,though such experiences also come at a cost,cheaper.I think this is true for most others ,except some having a pathologically acquisitive temperament.If one needs any confirmation,one just has to hop across to the nearest shopping mall and watch hundreds of young people , some not so young, moving around more for the experience or the possibility of one, than for buying anything.I am sure some do buy goods otherwise the malls would cease to exist,but I am just giving the general picture.
It has always been true for books.It is not only invigorating but more profitable to read one than buy it.I am sure this principle was known to book lovers much before Mark Twain announced it to the world.
I was however wondering about the scientists who were engaged in this momentous piece of research.Poor fellows obviously had nothing else to do.No movies to watch,no books to borrow.no picnics to go to. But they have indeed come out with a new word,at least for me,- 'memory capital'. When all other forms of capital are getting eroded in the worst ever recession in my lifetime - it is a pretty long one - memory capital remains in tact and in fact can be made to grow. Through short lasting experiences maybe.