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Mumbai Diaries: Roshni kii Sadaa

Yesterday was one of those lucky days, because I still can’t believe that I got the tickets for a premiere of a play at Prithvi Theatre despite buying at the last moment. Usually the plays are all sold out, unless you book in advance. So despite being a theatre lover, this was actually my first instance of watching a play at Prithvi, because somehow I have never been able to book a show in advance. But that’s how Mumbai is. Long queues everywhere, everything is overcrowded. While initially it bothered me, I have now learned to enjoy the chaos and the madness that defines Mumbai.

Now on to the play…

Roshni kii Sadaa is a play written and directed by Nadia Zaheer Babbar along with her daughter Juhi Babbar Soni. The mother-daughter duo have also acted in the play along with another young actress, whose name I can’t quite recall at the moment.

The play is a series of three stories about Muslim women from different walks of life. It highlights the challenges faced by women due to the intersection of religion, class and gender.

The first story is about Samman, a young college girl from a small town from a low class poor family. Samman is academically bright and her family encourages her to study in Mumbai when she gets a scholarship. However, despite the fact that there are no barriers from home, Samman suffers the consequences of the demands placed on her by her religion. Wearing a burqa in college, makes her an easy prey and she has to face severe harassment at the hands of her college mates. However, once she learns to deal with the criticism, she finds her self-confidence and makes her mark in society and world.

The second story is about Saayra. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Saayra belongs to the world of Mumbai’s elite. And despite the progressive upbringing, Saayra has to deal with the orthodox ways which define a woman’s place in society. She has to deal with the expectations that society places on a woman by default. Her hard work, talents and achievements have no value until she fulfills the expectations she is required to by being born as a woman.

The third story is about a middle-aged woman, Salima, who works in the local school. Salima is originally from Bihar but has been living and working in Mumbai with her husband for many years. A low-class working woman, Salima is not highly intellectual but speaks up for herself and her community when a situation presents itself.

The play celebrates how Muslim women achieve success by breaking the barriers posed by religion and gender in their growth. And despite the religious context, it is a relevant plot for all women, who face barriers in their growth. Because ultimately, the way to deal with the barriers is to find the strength within and give voice to those emotions that simmer beneath in a positive manner.

I loved the script and the way the play is enacted by the three women. There is a right amount of balance between the seriousness of the issues depicted and the humor lacing the stories. The dialogue delivery and the body language make the play come out alive.

November 16, 2014   No Comments

Rang Rasiya… a great subject… but an average film

It has been quite a few years since I visited the decrepit printing press in Lonavla, established by the 19th century Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma. Ever since then, I have been curious about the painter, his life and works but never got the time to learn more. So I was naturally excited to watch Rang Rasiya.

Rang Rasiya is made by the national award winning film director Ketan Mehta. The film essays the life of the 19th century Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma.

The film begins with Raja Ravi Varma fighting a court case against him by the Hindu priests, who think his paintings are tarnishing the religion by portraying common women as Goddesses. Also his semi-nude paintings depicting mythological tales are maligning the reputation of Hinduism. Further, by printing copies of his paintings he is commercializing religion and allowing the masses especially scheduled classes to have access to religion and Gods, which until they didn’t have.

Throughout the court case, the film goes in flashback, chronicling Varma’s life in Kerala where he was born and married into a royal family. After he is thrown out of Kerala, he goes to Madras, where the King appreciates his paintings. Upon the death of the King, he arrives in Mumbai and then later paints for the royal court of Baroda. Through this journey, Varma hones his talents and discovers his passion for portraying Indian mythological tales through his paintings. He falls in love twice once with a scheduled caste woman in Kerala, who becomes his muse and then with a prostitute in Mumbai, who he uses as a muse to paint Goddesses.

The film thus brings to light the issue of the censorship of freedom of expression in 19th century India. How the religious authorities didn’t want an artist to make religion accessible to the masses? How commercial interests take priority over artists’ expression? It also talks about the role and status of women. How a woman is reprimanded and shamed for being an artists’ muse and modeling nude for his paintings? The shame leads her to commit suicide.

The film is a good biographical piece on a great artist. The colors and the sets used create the mood and makes the film look authentic. I really liked Randeep Hooda’s performance as Raja Ravi Varma. The nude scenes are shot with taste and class and the film doesn’t appear vulgar. However, despite a great subject, the film appears average. The scenes where Ravi Varma tours India, don’t evoke much emotions and look like you have seen them before.

So while film narrates the story, it fails to evoke emotions…

November 9, 2014   No Comments

Dark but real. That is Haider.

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C. H. U. T. Z. P. A. H – chutzpah. “hamare saath chutzpah ho raha hai…” says Haider in Haider, the recent Bollywood film by Vishal Bharadwaj. Made as an adaptation of Hamlet, the film becomes a part of the series of movies he has adapted from Shakespearean plays. Omkara (2006) was based on Othello and Maqbool (2003) on Macbeth.

It is no doubt that Vishal Bharadwaj is an ace film director. The story, the settings, the characters are all etched out beautifully. They stay with you long after you have watched the film, something that rarely happens with a Bollywood film.

Haider is a story of a young boy Haider, who is instructed to take revenge for his father’s death by killing his uncle. Set in Kashmir, the film uses the widespread terrorism in the region. While it touches upon the important political issues in the region, the story is mainly about personal revenge.

While one can talk about how well the movie was adapted or the political backdrop which the movie uses, in this post I only want to talk about my experience of watching the movie.

Some of the best scenes in the movie were between Haider (Shahid Kapoor) and Gazala (Tabu), Haider’s mom. I think the film is as much about Gazala as Haider.

I also really liked the settings, the white backdrop of icy snow. Unlike a traditional Bollywood film, which is highly colorful, this movie uses muted colors, mostly black and white. Instead of glamorizing, the film portrays the fear which permeates the everyday lives of people living in the valley.

The film shows beautifully how the characters dealt with the conflicts and tragic situations they faced. I could feel the insanity and angst that the characters were going through. Most of us escape from conflicting situations, instead focusing on the positive. But what about those, for whom there is no escape like the people living in the valley. Sometimes these situations are so suffocating that there is no escape and everyone gets walled in in their own graves.

Dark but real. That is Haider.

 

October 12, 2014   No Comments

It only happens in Mumbai

It was a usual day. After a busy day in office, I was heading home. Mumbai roads were plied with cars and every possible mode of transportation. Each vehicle trying to claim their space on the busy roads. The sweltering heat making my clothes stick to my back. I had rolled up the windows in the cab to prevent myself from inhaling the fumes. After watching the cacophony on the road, I started reading the billboards above. My favorite pastime, when I am on the highway. I try to read each and everyone of them, to scan for the latest TV show, films and ads. I know, I may perhaps not watch any of them, but it’s fun to read about them. It’s also interesting to read about the ads for various housing societies, promising every possible luxury and a world away from Mumbai in the heart of Mumbai. I am not sure how is that possible, but for someone like me, sitting in the car, sweating and inhaling fumes, those billboards offer a moment of respite and kick in the dreamer within. So while I was lost in my thoughts, I heard the phone ring. And the few minutes of conversation took me to the realities of life and soon I was home.

I checked the time on my phone, it was 7 p.m. I casually slipped my phone in my office bag, paid the fare to the taxiwallah and rushed upstairs to my apartment. I was famished. The next day was a holiday, so I knew I had enough time to cook something appetizing, rather than my staple dinner of omelette or noodles with veggies. By the time, I was finished with my dinner, it was 9 p.m. and as I settled down to think about what to do – perhaps I should read or watch TV. Then I realized, I need to call the furniture wallah to repair my new sofa-bed. Why is it that everything needs to be constantly repaired? I just bought it and within one day, it needs repair!!!

So I looked for my phone in my bag, it was not there. I emptied the contents of my bag, it was not there. I was positive, I had put it there. Then I searched my laptop bag and my lunch bag, nope… it was not there. Then I looked for it in my tiny apartment, perhaps I left it in the kitchen while cooking, nope… my iPhone was nowhere to be found. By now, the fear had started building up inside me – I have left it in the taxi.

I called on my friendly neighbor and asked him to call my phone and after ringing twice, the phone went dead. The only message that we could hear now was that “this phone is switched off, please try again later.” Now my fears were confirmed. I have lost my iPhone and someone has found it.

Now my anxieties were at their highest, I ran downstairs to talk to the watchman. Perhaps someone gave it to him or may come by to return it. I knew it was futile, but I wanted to alert him about the lost phone.

Several questions were forming in my mind. Will I really get back my phone? I gave it a bleak 30% chance. Which phone should I buy now? After years of using iPhone, I wanted  to stick to iPhone, but was not sure if I really wanted to buy such an expensive phone, especially when the other phones offered similar services.  I called up the Vodafone customer care about the lost phone. Hoping they could track the SIM card, all the customer care guy offered was deactivating the SIM card, which I refused because that would have meant never finding my phone again.

I started airing my questions on my Facebook and Twitter page. Someone suggested I should file a police complaint, I should have IMEI number of my phone to file a complaint. I realized that I have the IMEI number and so decided to at least file a police complaint the next day. Social media rescues you from such unexpected situations, when you are struggling with hope and hopelessness. Someone sent a link to  https://www.icloud.com/ and track my phone through Find my iPhone.

So I tried that, I was happy that I could see my devices – iPad and iPhone – and could trace my iPad’s location to my apartment, but could not get the location for my iPhone. It was switched off and thus offline. However, I could put an emergency message, that this iPhone has been lost and please call on this number. Also I could lock my phone and put a beep sound when someone tried to operate it. It was already secured with a password, but I could further lock it. I spent a sleepless night and a restless morning, as the phone remained offline.

Finally, at 11 a.m. I decided to visit an I-store to see if there was another way to track it and then find a  police station to file a complaint. I have never been to a police station before, so was trying to picture, how it would all play out. A lone woman trying to file a complaint for a lost iPhone. Are they going to make fun of me? There are severe crimes reported every day. Is it really important to file a report for an iPhone?

I told my neighbor about my plan and asked him to keep a look out for any phones he may receive, because I had given his phone number as a number to call on for reporting the lost phone.

With heavy steps, I walked towards the lift. I boarded the lift and was just hitting the button for the ground floor, when my neighbor came running and said “STOP!!! I just received a call from your phone.” I was shocked, “What? Who called?” I came out of the lift and tried to talk to the person, who had called.

He said, that he is the owner of the taxi stand, from where the taxi wallah rents his taxi for the night. In the morning, he showed the phone to him, so he is calling me to pick up the phone. He told me that I should come at his taxi stand to get my phone back. I asked him for a phone number to call him, he was reluctant. He said, I will be there, you just collect the phone from me. You can call on your number.

So I took a taxi to the other part of the town to collect my phone. I was still skeptical. It took me almost an hour to reach there. Would he still be there?

I reached the taxi stand, it was almost deserted. There was a dance bar in front of me. The scene looked like from a Bollywood action flick. First, I counted all the money in my purse then decided how much money I should give them. I knew they were going to ask for some money.

I came out of the taxi, I was a bit scared because all I could see was taxis and trucks and a paan shop. I called up on my phone number and he said, he is reaching there shortly. I waited for 15 min and then saw another taxi arrive. Three men came out of the taxi, one youngish looking chap in khaki shirt and pant – he was the taxi driver, one middle-aged fat guy in white kurta pajama chewing paan – he was the taxi-stand owner and he had my phone. I don’t remember the other guy. They all walked towards me, the guy in white kurta-pajama told me, “I know no one could use this phone. It is locked.” I said, “yes, I have locked it.” Then, he said, “You should give some money to the taxi wallah. He is really scared, he thought police is tracking him. He couldn’t do his business properly last night.” I said, “sure, I will pay him.” He then handed me my phone and walked off.

The taxi wallah said, “Madam, I lost my phone because of this.” I looked at him, questioningly and took out some cash from my purse. I then handed it over to him, saying, that this is all the cash that is there in my purse at the moment. It was more than what he was asking for. So there were no more conversations. He went away.

I too went back to my taxi and headed home. I looked at my phone, it was still flashing – “This phone has been lost. Please call on ………, if you find this phone.” I entered the passcode and dialed a number. It was still intact, the way it was.

 

 

July 6, 2014   2 Comments

Queen – a refreshing story

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Yesterday, I watched a Bollywood film after a long time. And I am glad I chose “Queen”. Because the movie is quite different from the Bollywood I have known and grown up with and in a positive way.

Queen is a coming of age drama about a typical middle class girl from a neighborhood in Delhi. The girl poised to marry her boyfriend of many years with the blessings of her elders suddenly finds herself alone after her fiancé decides to call off the wedding, just two days prior to actual wedding date. Shocked, she cries her heart out but decides to go for her honeymoon all by herself to Paris and then to Amsterdam. I don’t want to reveal the entire film here, but the series of events which follow make her realize that there are different ways to live life and marriage is not the ultimate goal. That if she has confidence in herself, she can do almost anything and she doesn’t have to seek approval for every decision that she makes.

Queen, in my opinion, is a refreshing story which portrays a young woman standing up for herself and finding happiness despite being rejected on the eve of her marriage. This new narration of woman and her image in society seems more in line with the contemporary times where women are beginning to take charge of their own lives and happiness while still respecting the traditions. The film also conveys that while marriage may lead to happy times, it is not the only route to a life filled with happiness. On the other hand, film reaffirms faith in relationships which are based on mutual respect and understanding.

Besides this, I felt the comedy in the film was great and Kangana Ranaut has given a great performance – effortless and natural.

It’s a must watch film if you haven’t watched it yet.

March 17, 2014   4 Comments

Why ethnography matters to business?

I found these two posts on ethnography by Ken Anderson, really interesting. Ken Anderson, manages the Cultural Transformations Lab at Intel.

In his post on ethnography matters, Ken talks about the shifts in ethnography in business environment. According to Ken, the business environment is changing and becoming more complex and dynamic, therefore, the questions that ethnographers ask need to change. Ethnographers mainly provided understanding of people, cultures and systems to reduce the uncertainty associated with innovations. However, today, he says, ethnographers need to ask about how to format the world as corporations. Thus, the new question is about creating a temporary order, not about reducing uncertainty. Thus, innovations are likely to succeed when an orientation towards products and services is created. It is much easier for smaller companies to succeed because only a small segment of the market is needed to orient towards them. This is why he says Kickstarters projects are succeeding.

In another post in Harvard Business Review, he talks about how ethnography informs strategic decisions at Intel. People are not always able to articulate what they need. Hence, ethnographers uncover these needs using non-intrusive approaches and communicate these to creators. Thus, leading the path for innovation.

Thus, the role of ethnography to help businesses lead in new directions is immense, it not only provides ideas for innovation which germinate by understanding people in their contexts, it can also help provide clues to orient people towards new products and services.

March 16, 2014   No Comments

Indian politics raises more questions than providing answers

Now that the preparations for 16th Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014 are underway, the online media is heating up with news about politics. My Facebook feed and twitter feed are abuzz with news and opinion on politics.

Clearly the stage is set but the sentiment that is echoed is that there really is “no choice”. Who are the players?

1. Narendra Modi – he has become the obvious choice for those who feel that a change is needed in the country and the Congress offers no solid alternative. Hence, it is better to go with a leader who has proven his worth with his governance as Chief Minister in Gujarat. However, his strong religious leanings, his role in Godhra riots (although he has been acquitted by the court) leads to concerns. Is he really the right leader?

2. Rahul Gandhi – although its not declared as yet, he is clearly being seen as Congress party’s choice to lead the elections. Although the Gandhi name, which provides him instant recognition and a prominent space in Indian politics, he has failed to exude his charm and carve his own identity. While his youth gives him an edge, he comes across as an adolescent who is confused about the political issues that face the country. And his infamous interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now, killed any hope about his impending political career. He clearly doesn’t seem to be the right choice to lead a nation which requires hard decisions.

3. Arvind Kejriwal – an activist turned politician, who appears to be really concerned about the nation’s future. His is the story of giving up riches and adopting a life on the streets. His main concern is not to lead the nation but to right the wrongs. However, the concerns about him is that he is too new and not experienced enough to play politics. While he led his party to victory in the Delhi elections, his short tenure doesn’t give enough evidence of what he can do when in power. Although his strategy to relinquish the control that comes with power and be recognized as people’s leader, who acts in accordance with people’s wants shows his naivety. And obviously, just a couple of years old, his party doesn’t seem to have enough traction to form a national level party.

Who will be the next prime minister of India? The concerns will remain and hopefully one choice will emerge of the many choices that are in the fray. But what is really positive is that politics remains the center of public discourse as the nation finds its leader and there are questions for which we need answers.

March 16, 2014   No Comments

Book Review – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail- by Cheryl Strayed. I read this book a few months ago and it has left a memorable impression on me. The book is based on author’s own experience as young woman in her 20s. It tells the tale of how a young woman who after having lost everything at a young age, goes on a trekking trip in the wilderness. Her mission is to lose her pain in the wilderness. Perhaps that is where the answers will come.

In short, the story is about a young woman, who is the author herself, who decides to go on a long trek which runs into months and the trail crosses several states. Initially, the author feels that it is foolish of her to go on this arduous journey, without any preparation. However, she persists and eventually completes her journey. The whole story about trekking through the wilderness is written in first person and is interspersed with accounts of her life, events which she wants to forgets and want to come to terms with and the lessons she learns along the way.

It is these lessons and the way the story is woven, which makes it special. Because eventually the story is not about the challenges that she faces in the jungle but about the inner battles that she fights while on her way. Fighting these inner battles, strengthens her from within, allowing her to forgive and make peace with the harsh realities of life. It is these lessons which make the book universally relevant and revealing. Because our strength lies not only in completing seemingly arduous tasks, but the small challenges that show up in our  day to day life.

This is one of the most inspiring books that I have read in past few months. If you have any other suggestions, let me know. Or if you have read this book leave a comment to let me know how you liked it.

March 9, 2014   2 Comments

When technology comes to rescue

It is almost impossible to find time to read these days, so when I fell sick and was bed ridden, I thought that the best way to pass long hours lying on bed was to read. But how, I was not allowed to sit and read. It was almost impossible to hold a book or my kindle or iPad. Being on painkillers was helping me sleep but not long enough so I had to figure out a way to read. So I tried downloading a book from amazon.com and read on the kindle app on my iPhone. I was not sure, if I will enjoy reading on such a small screen, but I have to say that it was a good experience.

The next question was which book I should read because when you are lying in bed in pain, all you want to do is recover. So I knew that I wanted to read about hope and optimism and I found two such books on New York Times Bestsellers List – Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand Both these books were a wonderful read and I will post a short review of the two books in my next post.

Although I enjoyed reading on my iPhone, I couldn’t read all the time, so I had to find some other way to keep me occupied. So I searched for healing music on amazon and found binaural music by Steven Halpern. Listening to the soothing tunes was really relaxing and could put my restless mind into a peaceful mode.

Thus, while there were friends and family who gave me time and attention, being connected via my iPhone through social networking apps and reading and listening to music, helped ease the pain and probably speed up recovery.

This experience leads me to think that there is a need for  mobile apps that can help with the healing process. Apps which allow patients to keep track of their progress, apps which allow patients to network with others in similar conditions, apps which send a prayer everyday… there are countless ways in which such apps can help alleviate suffering and pain. I am sure such an app exists but I haven’t found one yet. If you know of any, please leave suggestions in the comment box. I don’t need it anymore, but it can probably help others.

March 8, 2014   3 Comments

Terror and technology – the human cost of violence at Boston Marathon

The Boston tragedy instantly reminded me of 9/11 terror attacks and 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and how my experience was different when it came to getting news about these incidents.

In 2001, when 9/11 happened, I was in a small town in UP which I call my home town. At that time, I remember that I kept sitting in front of the TV screen watching the twin towers fall. I felt shocked. The only source of news for me at that time was CNN’s news feed on Doordarshan (DD). While I could watch TV instantly, I had to wait for Times of India to arrive from New Delhi the next day. I subscribed to it because I wanted to remain updated with the national news and also because I liked reading my news in English language. As I kept watching the twin towers fall, I felt shocked, there was no one really to talk to so I recorded my emotions in a small diary, which I don’t think I even possess now. The human tragedy at that scale was too much to ignore, even if I was living in a remote small town in India.

In 2008, when terrorists struck the city of Mumbai on 26/11, I was in USA in the DC area. I learned about the news of the attacks while I was chatting with a friend on yahoo messenger. I had just joined Twitter and started following the news on twitter. My mother who was in a hospital in Mumbai near the site of the attacks led to far greater anxiety about the situation. I was struck by the power of social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook. I felt I was almost at the site. I followed the news online on various Indian TV channels site, I called my brother to make sure my mother was ok. I called up family to check if they are ok and I spent days and nights following the story on Twitter, listening to people’s reactions in Mumbai, checking out their photos of the tragedy. I read tweets of people trapped inside the hotel room, their rescue stories, how people helped each other. I connected with all family and friends via email to make sure they are ok. Social media not only brought news but brought alive the human aspect of the tragedy. It helped me made sense of the attacks.

Similarly, today when I woke up in the morning at 4:30 am, a habit I am still trying to fight off, ever since I moved to India last year, I said hi! to a friend in Boston on what’s app. He immediately mentioned about the blasts. I checked the news on my iPad and for an hour I kept reading the news, trying to grasp the tragedy. I read several accounts of the tragedy both on mainstream media and blogs. I don’t see much difference in reporting. Both of them have same pictures and similar articles. Most accounts that I had read are from people who were at the site, who were able to post live updates and pictures as the tragedy struck. I watched stories of rescue operations. I have read twitter feeds of people who were at the blast. I learned how technology is helping people to find information about their loved ones. I haven’t really watched TV or read newspaper, yet I feel that I have the latest updates. I have heard reactions of my friends who live around there. It’s as if the world is united in this moment of human tragedy.

What is common to all the three events is that it is about large scale human tragedy. These are stories about loss of lives of those who were innocent. While in the first two cases the perpetrators were known, in the Boston blasts, it’s still not clear who was behind the incident. What has really changed however, is how we receive news and in what manner. While in 2001, it was mainly mass media, in my case TV, in the other two cases, we didn’t have to depend on mass media and reporters to get news. The news was delivered by the real people who were at the center of the tragedy and that’s what makes the news more human and real. The fact that I can get news in real time from someone who is at the event and describes the scene as it plays out, makes the incident much more real and helps us grasp the human loss and tragedy.

The technology in the form of social media has not only changed how we share and receive news, but it also helps us connect with the loved ones in times of tragedy and offer emotional support, it helps us vent out our anger, it helps us make sense of the tragedy in human terms. While technology might not be able to change human nature and teach people not to carry out acts of violence, it certainly has brought the world closer and helps us see the human cost of such acts of violence.

April 16, 2013   5 Comments