Monday, January 19, 2009

The Human Face

I just came back from the Tri-continental Film Festival. “Human Rights in Frames” is what it is all about. Of the two days out of the four during which I managed to catch a few films, I was left with this deep sense of disgust. The films, naturally, captured gross human rights violations all around the world in a sincere effort to tell the stories of some very brave people. Most of these people are tired of being depicted as victims and just want their voices heard and want the world to realize that only collective efforts can bring about some kind of change. Many of the films that I watched just left me shuddering within – how can people be so inexplicably cruel? These stories stretched from India to Tibet to South Africa to Burma to America. At some level you like to believe that people turn cruel under strange circumstances – desperation, provocation, poverty… something. But these stories left me completely baffled – what one earth could the problem be? What can possibly make an individual so coldhearted that he/she inflicts such imaginable pain on others? Worse still, is this ‘tradition’ of cruelty being passed on from one generation to another?

The last film I watched today was one by Hana Makhmalbaf titled “Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame”. It is the heart wrenching story of a girl trying to find her way to school and all the obstacles that stand in her way. The brilliance of Iranian films, I feel at many times, is the way they use the simplest of situations and characters to tell the most amazing human stories. This one, like many other Iranian films I’ve loved, uses children to convey some very grim facts of our world. As a bunch of boys surround her on her way to school and start “playing war”, you can’t help wondering how in the first place these boys thought of a game like this. They ask her to raise her hands and stand within a designated circle as they dig a grave for her and prepare to stone her to death. The most chilling thing is that you never find out throughout the film if they really mean to stone her to death or if it’s just a game of pretentions.

As the end credits roll, I couldn’t help wondering if this is a bleak prediction of where our world is headed. Yes there are a lot of efforts around the world to change the way people think about each other but there are still children being born into hatred and unthinkable horrors. And the sad thing is, can you expect a child who has been born into unfair treatment to grow up and treat others differently?

What I realize is that there is such a huge task in front of us to be as human as possible. I know I am miles away from these horrific stories but I also see behavior around me that is disappointing enough; acts of disregard, selfishness, humiliation and prejudices that really make me wonder if we are headed in the right direction.
I know you cannot blame humankind for atrocities that are happening in certain parts of the world but then the fact that these things are happening and there are powerful people who are not doing anything about it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. So what needs to be done before governments and other agencies really stand up and say “we won’t let this happen”? I know at individual levels we can do our own best with whatever it is that we can do, but what else? How do we change fanatical minds that have no regard for human life?

I guess films like these is one starting point. Awareness of what is happening is so essential. At least it makes one feel that when the time comes one will stand up and fight against cruelty.

At least I pray I will.

Crab apples, Cornflakes and Questions of Homesickness

My mother picked crab apples
off the Glasgow apple tree
and pounded them with chillies
to change
her homesickness
into green chutney.

This poem by Imtiaz Dharker and Ashima (in The Namesake by Jumpa Lehari) adding chillies to cornflakes to have something that tastes like home are perhaps the two most touching moments of homesickness that I have come across.

It would be too simplistic to say that homesickness is about geographical boundaries. Having grown up almost entirely in a country that is not ‘mine’, I know that it is possible to transform ‘home’ and its subsets of culture, traditions, languages, emotions, values etc into cassette tapes, satellite television, cans, flight tickets, celebrations, concerts and tea parties. Believe it or not, I grew up playing gulli cricket in a country that has no idea that a game like this exists.
So let’s shed away this concept of countries and nationality when we speak of homesickness. But then what’does it really mean? I agree that the physical area that you are most comfortable in is a huge portion that makes up home. But I am pretty sure that this space can be moved around, perhaps not in entirety, but more or less. (Am not sure, I’d have to wait and watch if that statement really means anything)
Part of me wonders if homesickness is a human tendency to live in the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. I know many people who crave for a place they have left behind but I am sure when they do return they might not be as happy as they expect to be. (Again, let’s wait and watch)

Another thing I feel about homesickness (and this might be more of an individual case) is the element of guilt that comes along with admitting that you find another space more comfortable that the one you are in right now. But what I remind myself of is that (and this is a reason, not a justification) it takes time to get used to a place. And the concept of ‘home’ is not built overnight.

There has been a lot of discussions (mainstream media, academicians, individuals) about diasporas and their feeling of (un)belonging. Would it be too arrogant to say that those who have not experienced homelessness cannot understand the extent of this emotion? And again, if it was as simple as geographical boundaries, then it becomes as simple (though time consuming and expensive) as visas, permanent residencies and citizenships.

I worry if this is just a block in our heads. If we were more open about things, people and changes around us, would we feel ourselves to be less out of place? (I don’t know why I find myself speaking for ‘the collective’; I presume people other than me also feel this way). But another reality that stares blankly into my face is that acceptance of this new place is one thing but others acceptance of you is quite another. The unfortunate fact is that all of us, to some extent or another, have set parameters of how others should be and when an outsider comes in and doesn’t fit into that (I don’t want to say mould) notion, it is difficult to be non-judgmental about that.

So the idea of homesickness comes also from the fact that ‘home’ is a place where you were accepted for how you are, for the most part. Of maybe our definition of home is the place where we feel that we can be ourselves without sticking out like a sour thumb or without having to make to make efforts that are not natural.

Ah… this thought goes on. There is no end. And sometimes I feel all this really doesn’t mean anything at all. And sometimes I feel it’s the most essential thing. For now, I feel there is nowhere else to go with this though right now.

Good night.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

love in the time of romance

On our way back from watching “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”, we had a conversation about how believable the surinder/raj angle is. Those who have watched the film know that its got nothing to do with multiple personality or any other explanation, surinder simply decides to become raj to impress his wife.Convincing? Maybe… maybe not.

So the argument was: how can someone as shy and meek as surinder, transform overnight into boisterous raj? Does that mean surinder is only pretending to be this meek person? Though the do-ability of something like that (in real life) is questionable, isn’t it true that most romantic films come to us packaged in a set of “un-doable in real life”? Be it jai in “jaane tu ya jaane na” running into the airport or stealing a bike to impress the girl next door in ‘oye lucky, lucky oye’. Even going back to aditya chopra’s own film, “dilwale dulhaniya le jaayenge” where raj impresses simran’s whole family and by the climax convinces everyone about their love.

If its love that makes our world go round then it’s definitely these ‘un-do-ables’ that make us love our romantic films.And i think the only reason most of us tend to continue watching love stories on celluloid, even though we know exactly how it is going to end, is to see these unthinkables and impossibilities. to, perhaps, see these things that "can't" really happen to us.

but rab ne takes its anticipatory bail very cheekily. First through its title and then with the constant motif of the the golden temple and 'rab' overlooking everything these characters are doing . both, surinder and bobby constantly saying that everything that's happening is god's doing won't let you forget that you have to believe anything and everything thats coming next.

All of us might want surinder to get the girl without resorting to raj's gimmickry or like to believe that that is even possible. (and that may be, too). but that won't be a romantic story anymore. that would just be love. and of course one is more fun to watch than another.