Sunday, June 01, 2014

आजचा दिवस माझा

Most of the times we blame our Government. Sometimes we praise it. But almost never do we care to understand it. This movie provides an interesting insight into the functioning of the Chief Minister's office and the bureaucracy under it.

An organization moves in the resultant direction and speed of all its employees. Sometimes that means no movement at all when everyone is trying to force a different direction. But when these motions align, you can see a slumbering elephant suddenly transformed into a galloping stallion. This movie depicts such a day (or should I say night) when the stars aligned. Can the will of one man, even if he is the top office bearer in the State, cause such a transformation? Perhaps. But it is not easy.


There have been enough movies that have romanticized politics (like Nayak and the idiotically stupid Ranjhanna). But Chandrakant Kulkarni has managed to keep this movie well grounded. Sachin Khededar as CM Vishwasrao Mohite has given a powerhouse performance. He has never gone overboard and maintained perfect composure. He has been able to show the cunning politician as well as the kind-hearted leader with equal finesse. Since his character is what causes the whole plot in the first place, it was quiet critical that it was done right. And it has been. 

Mahesh Manjrekar has given a subdued but decent performance as a senior IAS officer. The feeling of superiority (we basically run this nation), the arrogance towards subordinates, the reluctant and false respect for superiors and the overall culture of mutual gain is brought out nicely through his character. Though in the end, when his daughter refuses to marry a 'boring' new IAS recruit, he realizes that he does not posses real power. And we realize that when it is time to do something good, such types are of no use.

But the best part for me was played out by Hrishikesh Joshi as the CMs private secretory. There is a phone call where he explains to his kid, who has just passed with flying colors, why he cannot come home till the job is done. That alone made it worth the while.

Now for the criticisms. First and foremost, the titles were horrible. A kid in 10th grade can come up with better graphics now-a-days. There was no creativity and no effort in it. It just puts you off right at the beginning (I was on a flight with nothing better to do so I carried on).



Second is the comedy. I am sick and tired of comedy in Marathi movies now. It is the same kind of physical, screaming and retake genre which the likes of Ashok Saraf, Lakshya and Sudhir Joshi had pioneered. Yes it was fun and they were good at it. But it is time to move on now. We need to find some real humor. Frankly, this movie would have been much better without all its comedy sequences. Also without scenes which were designed to bring out a particular message. Most of the time they feel childish. The expression should flow effortlessly from the conversation. If it does not then let it be. There is no point in engineering the dialog to achieve the desired result.

The third criticism is about plot itself. It is based on the allotment of flats to renowned artists from a quota. This is a legacy of the times when we were ruled by Kings who used to provide Rajashrya. It does not make sense in a democracy. And it is the exact type of arbitrary patronage that leads to corruption and dysfunctional use of government resources.


One of the final scenes has a somewhat direct confrontation between the CM and his IAS officer. It plays out well. The elected representatives should decide the priorities. What is important and what needs to be done now. The officers need to execute on those priorities in accordance with proper procedure. Khedekar quotes the late Maharashtra CM Yashwantrao Chavan's words that the ministers need to say 'No' more often and the bureaucrats need to say 'Yes' more often.

Given the current political climate there are bound to be a lot more movies with similar theme. But most will be hero worship style and would miss the point of being in governance completely.

[Photos courtesy: hdmovies-4u.blogspot.com indiannerve.com marathistars.com movies.buzzintown.com]

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Career

It is only recently that I realized that a career is not compulsory. It will take some time to sink in.

Unfortunately having fun and living your life to the fullest is also not compulsory. You don't need to do that. Many a human survive just fine without it. Most of us fail the Monday test (Do you look forward to it?). I read in a book that the opposite of happiness is not sadness. It's boredom. If you are not excited (every day) by what you do, you are perhaps in the wrong profession. How did I land up here? It is always a case of life happening to us while we are sleepwalking through it. Question is, how long do I continue to sleepwalk? It is certainly possible to do it forever.

The idea of a free life is grand. The practicalities are not. They are mighty confusing. Free is not relaxing. Free is not lolling. Free is hard work. And this is all speculation. Who knows what it is like to be free? I don't. I trade my vigor and energy for money. Every day. Till I will be no longer in possession of any. Is that free? I cannot decide the amount of work I am willing to do. I have numerous wishes which will die simply due to lack of time and energy on my part. Many have. Is that free?

How are we supposed to live? Is there a standard? In our 200,000 years of existence we have not figured it out? Why has no one ever mentioned it to me? Is the fear of having no money enough to block every other thought or possibility that can exist? I am pretty sure it is. And the more money I have the greater the fear of losing it. Economics tells us that money is fungible. That is can be interchanged easily for something else. But experience tells me that money can limit my mind like no other. The addiction is intense. The thought of going a single day without income will strike fear in the heart. The justifications will flow quickly. What will I do when I get old? What will I do now? What will she think? What will he think? What about my self worth? Am I worth nothing?

The people around you define your necessities. Couple of properties. Strong investment portfolio. Gold. Fixed Deposits to take care of emergencies. Some land somewhere hoping for long term appreciation. Plain old cash in the bank. And I define myself by my ability to attain these necessities. I measure my success by how much I went ahead of my friends in possessing them. All other measures of worth are for pansies.

These questions are many and are most important. Important than anything else in the world. But I have not checked my email in a while. And my phone is blinking too. I wish I had his strength of will. These questions will take no less. But who am I kidding?

इहासने शुष्यतु मे शरीरम्
त्वगस्थिमांसं विलयं च यातु । 
अप्राप्य बोधिं बहुकल्पदुर्लभाम् 
नैवासनात् कायामतः चलिष्यते ॥

Let my body wither away on this seat,
let, skin, bone, and flesh get dissolved;
Without getting enlightenment,
difficult to achieve in many eons,
Never shall this body move from this seat.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

पोस्टकार्ड


पत्र पाउसाच्या थेंबासारखं असतं. ते कुठलीना कुठलीतरी भावना रुजवतच.

म अशी पत्र रोज निर्व्याजपणे पोचवणारा पोस्टमन कधीतरी त्या शब्दांमध्ये हरवत असेल का? गजेंद्र अहिर्यांचा पोस्टकार्ड हा चित्रपट मला फार आवडला आणि त्याचा खूप कंटाळा पण आला. हे परस्पर विरोधी नाहीये. दोन तास हा मोठा कालावधी आहे. त्यात असंख्य वेळा तुमचे विचार आणि भावना बदलतात. चित्रपट बघून बाहेर पडताना, कसा वाटला? ह्या प्रश्णाचं उत्तर दुसरं कोणी नाही विचारलं तरी आपण स्वताचं स्वताला देतोच. ते कदाचित ह्या सगळ्या भावनांची बेरीज केल्या सारखं असावं. मला इथे बेरीज करायची नाहीये.

तीन गावं. तिथले तीन पत्ते (पत्ती नाही!). तिथे आपली आयुष्य मांडून बसलेली तीन माणसं. आपल्या सर्वात जवळच्या माणसापासून दूर गेलेली. वर्षानुवर्षं वाट बघत आणि भेटीची आस जागी ठेवत काढलेली. आणि ती भेट झालीच नाही तर? काय होत असेल? मरणानी तरी सुटका होते अश्यांची? का ती शेवटची झोप पण नीट लागणार नाही? आणि ह्या सगळ्या अतृप्त इच्छांमधून संथ गतीने वाट काढत चाललेला पोस्टमन. ज्याचा खर तर ह्या पात्रांची काहीच संबंध नाही. पण तरी त्यांच्या आर्त हाकेमुले खेचत गेलेला. 

सगळ्याच कथा मला भावल्या. डोळ्यात पाणी आणणाऱ्या होत्या. सई ताम्हणकरनी सहज आणि अतिशय उत्कृष्ठ अभिनय केलाय. "कष्ट करणाऱ्या म्हाताऱ्या माणसाची देवावरची श्रद्धा उडायला नको" ह्या तिच्या वाक्याला डोळ्यातले पाणी बाहेर येऊ का विचारत होते (मी त्याला गप बस म्हणालो). राधिका आपटे अप्रतिम कलाकार आहेच. ह्या चित्रपटात पण तिचं काम सुंदर झालं आहे. चित्रपट जसा पुढे पुढे जातो तसं त्याला नुसतं भावनिक सोडून गूढतेचं वळण मिळायला लागतं. नाव सांगणं टाळता जी. ए. च्या कुठल्याश्या कथेचा उल्लेख होतो (त्यावर आधारित असावी?). भारावून टाकणारं संगीत आणि हरिहरन, कविता कृष्णमुर्ती ह्यांचे आवाज. Cinematography तर सध्याच्या मराठी चित्रपटांची कमालच असते. म्हणून त्या विषयी बोलायलाच नको. Technically काही आवडलं नसेल तर वैभव मांगले ह्यांचे पात्र (उगीच एकांगी केलेले) आणि सुबोध भावे ह्यांची वाकडी टोपी (काहीही काय?).

मला कंटाळा आला तो परिस्थिती पुढे हताश झालेल्या मराठी माणसाचा. आणि बहुतेक वेळा परिस्थिती म्हणजे हवे तितके पैसे नसणे. म त्यासाठी त्याग, रडारड, दुःख्. एखादी गोष्ट आपल्याला मिळणं शक्य नाही हे समजून पुढे न जाता येण फारच क्लेषदाई असणार. मला कल्पना आहे की माझ्या सारखं सुखासीन आयुष्य जगणार्याला हे म्हणणं सोपं आहे. हुशार माणूस आपल्या इच्छा अपेक्षा आपल्याला पेलतील अश्याच निवडतो. पण एखाद्या असाध्य गोष्टीची अनावर आसक्ती निर्माण झाली तर? नरकाचा रस्ता मोकळा होत असावा.

[photo courtesy: rangmarathi.com]

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Agora

We dance round in a ring and suppose,But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
Robert Frost

This short but haunting verse kept creeping in my mind as I watched Agora. The story is set in 4th century Alexandria. That was the time when Christen hordes were sweeping into the predominantly pagan Egypt. And Christianity was trying to get a foothold.

In these discordant times there lived a mathematician and philosopher named Hypatia. Remember, those were the days when people believed that the earth is flat. Many thinkers had tried to explain the motion of the planets that they saw in the night sky (they called them - wanderers). But there were too many inconsistencies in each explanation. Some had suggested that the Earth might actually be a wanderer itself in a circular path around the Sun. But the thought that something as stable as the ground can move was widely considered hilarious. Plus there was the observation that the Sun gets smaller in winter and bigger in summer. How do you explain that with a circular orbit?


If I could just unravel this just a little bit more, and just get a little closer to the answer, then... Then I would go to my grave a happy woman.

Hypatia was not interested in religion. When ridiculed as a non-believer by a christen official, she plainly states that she believes in philosophy alone. She was not interested in men. She famously rejects one of her suitors by presenting him her menstrual rags. Indicating that not all is harmonious and beautiful about the human body. A fact often forgotten when you are sexually attracted to someone. We are not used to female characters who would rather talk philosophy than be interested in men (call me sexist). But it was played very convincingly by Rachel Weisz. And it was easy to take in once I realized that it is just a stupid stereotype like any other.

[Usual Disclaimer: Watch the movie if you can. Otherwise read on..]


Things come to a climactic finish when Hypatia realizes that the Earth is in fact moving in an elliptic orbit around the Sun (Agora). But by then, in a strategic move to grab absolute power, the Bishop of Alexandria has declared that Christianity prohibits any women for teaching or learning philosophy, of even talking in public. He declares Hypatia a witch, knowing that the prefect of Alexandria was in love with her. She is hunted and about to be tortured. But Davus (her erstwhile personal slave turned missionary) finds some kindness in him and gives her a quick death. The most he can do for her. Her greatest discovery dying a quick death along with her.

It is said that her death effectively put on end to the long tradition of logic, reason and analytic thinking in Alexandria (It took mankind 13 more centuries to rediscover the same fact when Johannes Kepler finally published the laws of planetary motion in the 17th century.) One quote from her sums it all.

Synesius, you don't question what you believe, or cannot. I must.
 [Photo courtesy: wikipedia.org, shawmovies.sg, il7ad.com]

Friday, October 18, 2013

सावंतकाका


हा माणूस अमेरिकेत गेला आणि अमेरिकेचा झाला. तो अमेरिकेत कसा पोचला ह्या कथेचे आम्हाला पारायण झाले आहे. बाबा ती कथा आम्हाला रामायण किव्हा सिंदबादच्या सुरस कथा असल्यासारखे सांगत असत. म्हणूनच कदाचित माझ्या मनात मी ते इतर पौराणिक महापुरुषांसारखे असतील असं गृहीत धरलं होतं. मुकुट ढाल तलवार घेर असलेला झब्बा वगैरे. पण त्याला ह्या वेषात मी कधीच पाहिलं नाही. कदाचित आम्ही घाबरू म्हणून शस्त्रास्त्र घरीच ठेऊन येत असेल. मी लहान असताना तो पुण्याला आमच्या घरी अनेकदा यायचा. आल्यासरशी एक दोन आठवडे रहायचा देखील. तो आला की घरात प्रचंड दंगा असायचा. मोठ्यामोठ्यांनी बोलायचा आणि खूप बोलायचा. बाबांना खूप कौतुक होतं त्याचं. रक्ताचं असं काहीच नातं नव्हतं खरं तर. राजूकाकाचा शाळेतला मित्र. उंची बेताचीच. खरं सांगायचं तर बुटकाच होता. पण एखाद्या खेळाडूसारखी मजबूत ठेवण. आमच्याशी बॉक्सिंग करायचा. मस्ती करण्यात एक नंबर. आम्हाला दुसरं काय हवं असायचं? लव आणि कुशला लक्ष्मण काकांकडून काय मिळायचं माहित नाही पण आम्हाला मात्र सावंत काकाकडून वर्षानुवर्षं 'Toblerone' आणि 'Hershey Kisses' (मोदकासारखी दिसणारी) चॉकलेट मिळायची. चवीला काही खास नसायची (हा मोठेपणी आलेला खतरुडपणा. लहानपणी सगळच भारी वाटायचं) पण दिसायला इतकी भारी असायची की मी ती गावभर दाखवत फिरायचो. अमेरिकेहून आलेली चॉकलेट! पाचवीच्या वार्षिक परीक्षेनंतर आला तेव्हा माझ्यासाठी एक छोटा विडिओगेम घेऊन आला. त्या प्रकारामुळे तर माझं 'social status' फारच वधारलं. लोणीविके दामले आळी ते खुन्या मुरलीधरा पर्यंत सगळ्या पोरांमध्ये माझं नाव झालं. उन्हाळ्याची सुट्टी नुकतीच सुरु झाली असल्यामुळे timing पण perfect होतं. तासंतास boundary वर उभं करणारी मोठी मुलं आता मला opening batting द्यायला लागली. ती तीन महिन्यांची सुट्टी पण मी सावंत काकानी दिलेल्या गोष्टींमध्ये धरतो. त्याला स्वतःचं मुलबाळ नव्हतं हे मला फार उशिरा कळलं. सावंत काकूही क्वचितच भेटल्या. म्हणून तो आमचं घर सोडून इतर जगात काय करतो कसं वागतो कोण असतो ह्याचा माला काहीच अंदाज नव्हता. त्या काळी इंजिनिअर होणाऱ्या फार कमी लोकांपैकी तो होता म्हणे.

गोष्टींव्यतिरिक्त त्यानी अनेक मोलाचे सल्ले सुद्धा दिले. माझ्या डोक्यात उच्चशिक्षण घ्यावं का नाही आणि घेतलं तर कुठलं कुठे वगेरे वारे वहात होते. सावंत काका घरी आलेला असताना बाबांनी विषय काढला. माझं काही ठरत नव्हतं. आयुष्यातली अजून दोन वर्ष शिक्षणात घालवायची? काही फायदा होईल का? तेव्हा सावंत काका आवर्जून म्हणाला. शिकायची इच्छा असेल तर शिकून घे. शिक्षण कुठलं का असेना कधीच वाया जात नाही. पुढे जाऊन कुठे ना कुठेतरी त्याचा नक्कीच फायदा होतो. 

मी धोपट मार्गांनी अमेरिकेत जाऊन थडकलो. इथे गोऱ्यालोकांपेक्षा देशी लोकच जास्तं भेटले. आई बाबांना खूप कौतुक आहे मी इथे आल्याचं. पण मला माहितीये ह्या देशात येणं इथे रहाणं संसार थाटणं एवढं काही अवघड राहिलं नाही आता. त्यापेक्षा दिल्ली किंवा चेन्नईला जाऊन राहणं जास्त जिकिरीचं काम आहे. पण तीस चाळीस वर्षांपूर्वी जेव्हा सावंतकाका आणि त्याच्या बरोबरची मंडळी अमेरिकेत पोचली तेव्हा चित्र खूपच वेगळं असणार. त्यांना हा देश नवीन. ह्या देशाला ही लोकं नवीन. कोण कसा वागवेल सांगता येत नाही. प्रथा वेगळ्या बोली कळायला अवघड. शाकाहारी खाणं कुठे मिळेल? दिवाळीला आकाशकंदील कसा बनवायचा? तो बाहेर लावलेला चालेल का? हजार कोडी. 'अमेरिकेत हे मिळत नाही च्यायला!' सावंतकाका हे वाक्य चहा पिताना आंबे खाताना पत्ते खेळताना सारखा म्हणायचा. आता अमेरिकेत कोपऱ्याकोपऱ्यावर 'Indian Store' असतात आणि 'Vegetarian Option' बहुदा सगळीकडेच मिळतो. तेव्हा तसं काहीच नव्हतं. रोज काहीतरी नवीन शोधायचं रोज काहीतरी नवीन समजून घ्यायचं. सावंतकाकू एकदा आईला सांगत होत्या की बॉस्टन मधल्या एका grocery store मध्ये त्यांनी अचानक मराठी बोलण्याचा आवाज ऐकला आणि हातातलं सगळं सोडून त्या कोण बोलतंय हे बघायला धावल्या. रोमहर्षक जगणं वगैरे म्हणतात ते असंच असावं कदाचित. मी इथे मराठी लोकं avoid करत फिरतोय. इतकी झालीयेत.

मध्ये अनेक वर्ष सावंतकाकाशी काहीच संपर्क राहिला नाही. शिक्षण नोकरी संसार पोरंबाळं ह्यात पुरता गुमून गेलो होतो. लहानपणी अतिशय महत्वाच्या असलेल्या व्यक्ती मोठेपणी irrelevant होऊन जातात. बाबांकडून खबरबात कळत रहायची. पण भेट नाही. मी पुण्यात तेव्हा तो अमेरिकेत. तो अमेरिकेत तेव्हा मी पुण्यात. दोघंही अमेरिकेत असलो तरी अमेरिका केवढा मोठ्ठा देश (म्हणायला). वगैरे वगैरे. म्हणून काल त्याला भेटायला जाताना थोडं guilty वाटत होतं. पण थोडंच. बहुतांशी excitement होती. ज्यानी आपल्याला इतकं दिलं त्याला आपण काय देणार? तरी जाताना pastry घेऊन गेलो. आणि आयुष्यातला सर्वात मोठा धक्का बसून परत आलो.

झालं तसं काहीच नाही. काकानी घराचं दार उघडलं स्वागत केलं आत ये म्हणाला. पूर्वी आमच्या घरी घुमणारा त्याचा तो दमदार आवाज आता थोडा नमला होता. पण वयोमानानी ते व्हायचंच. किंवा त्यानी स्वतःहून हळू बोलायची सवय करून घेतली असेल. अमेरिकेत मोठ्यानी बोलणं असंस्कृतपणाचं समजतात. घर मात्र मोठं होतं आणि छान ठेवलं होतं. मधल्या खोलीत मोठा टी. व्ही. त्याच्या समोर एक आरामखुर्ची आणि कोच वगैरे. काका जाऊन आरामखुर्चीवर बसला. काकू आत स्वयंपाक करत होती ती बाहेर आली. माझ्या चौकश्या झाल्या. त्यांच्या चौकश्या झाल्या. पुण्याचा विषय निघाला अमेरिकेविषयी गप्पा झाल्या. काहीच वावगं झालं नाही पण काहीतरी विचित्र वाटत होतं. सगळं घर सगळ्या चर्चा पोकळ वाटत होत्या. त्यातला जीव निघून गेल्यासारख्या. टी. व्ही. वर पूर्ण वेळ मराठी मालिका चालू होत्या. जेवण झालं आणि मी निघालो. काकाला अच्छा म्हणालो तर टी. व्ही. बघत बघत 'अच्छा.. परत ये कधीतरी' म्हणाला. काकू दारापर्यंत आली. माझा पडलेला चेहरा बघून जाताना म्हणाली 'थोडे senile झालेत'. तिचं दुखः ती जाणे.

नंतर अनेक दिवस काकूचं एकच वाक्य डोक्यात घुमत बसलं होतं. काहीतरी विषय काढायचा म्हणून मी अमेरिकेत किती south Indian हॉटेलं झालीयेत असं काहीतरी म्हणत होतो. त्यावर काकू एकदम म्हणाली होती 'काय उपयोग आहे? हे जिथे जातील तिथे फक्त एकच डिश खातात.. मसाला डोसा!'. बाबांच्या नजरेत आणि पर्यायानी आमच्या पण नजरेत सावंतकाका म्हणजे काहीतरी नवीन जगावेगळं धडाडीचं करणारा. तो असा नीरस निर्जीव आणि routine कसा झाला असेल? पण खरं सांगायचं तर मी थोडा घाबरलो होतो. माझं पण असंच होईल असं मला खूप दिवसांपासून वाटतंय. तरुणपणी तुम्ही अमेरिकेत येता तेव्हा तो खूप मोठा बदल असतो. मजा असते. पण जसे इथे स्थायिक होता तश्या गोष्टी खूप सहज आणि सोप्या होऊन जातात. भारतात जशा रोजच्या छोट्या छोट्या लढाया असता तशा इथे नाहीत. दूधवाल्याशी लढ रिक्षावाल्याशी लढ. ह्या काही कौतुकाच्या गोष्टी नाहीत. पण लढणं म्हणजे नेहमी कटकटीचं असतं असं नाही. कधी मजेत हसत खेळत देखील असतं. अळणी आयुष्यात काहीतरी खळबळ. इथे सगळं शांत आणि सुरळीत. हजार activity आहेत इथे करायला. पण मला ह्या सगळ्या activity नोकरी सारख्याच वाटतात. मूळ आयुष्यापासून तुटलेल्या. तिथे काहीही घडलं तरी परत घरी आल्यावर तीच शांतता तेच routine. जो माणूस तरुणपणी इतका कमालीचा जगलाय त्याची चाळीशी आणि पन्नाशी अशी जावी? मग मेंदू झडणार नाहीतर काय होणार?

सावंतकाकानी दिलेल्या गोष्टींमध्ये हा 'shock' पण जमा करतो. आणि परत आपल्या मायदेशाकडे जाणारी वाट पकडतो!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Ashadhatil ek diwas

It opens with a sound of thunder and lightning. Accompanied by deep sonorous plucking of the Veena. Yes, it is definitely Ashaadh. The play (directed by Atul Pethe) takes us back to 5th century India during the time of the Gupt Empire. It is the story of Kaviraj Kalidas himself. Through a minimal set, authentic looking costumes, beautiful stage lighting and some rich background music, the mood is set right for an epic performance. The play scores full marks as far as the technical aspects are concerned. And for the artistic expression, it scores much more. The actors move as if they are dancing, controlled and precise. Yet even the slightest movement is seeped in emotion. Almost every other frame is exquisitely choreographed. The language (originally written by Mohan Rakesh and translated in Marathi by Jyoti Subhash), especially specific words, are chosen from old Marathi which adds to the overall period effect. But the expressions and body language feels strikingly contemporary. This gives the story a timeless quality. The characters are few and layered. Each is given its own time and space to develop on stage. There is no rush (of course the impatient among the audience might think of this as boring, but then you don't go for such plays if you want cheap and fast entertainment).

[Spoiler Alert. If you can, watch the play. If not, read on.]

The main character Mallika (played sincerely by Parna Pethe) is one among us. Perhaps more virtuous but filled with all the same emotions. She is willing to nudge past orthodox traditions and live a happy and fun filled life with her love, Kalidas. He (played by Alok Rajwade) on the other hand is a poet to the core. Doesn't give a hoot about money, status, fame or what fellow villagers think of him.

Act I - He leaves...

A copy of Kalidas's Ritusamhar reaches the court of Emperor Chandragupta and he is awed by it. He offers the post of Rajkavi to Kalidas. After years of ridicule and being considered a general failure by all, suddenly, he gets the ultimate recognition. But being the person he is, Kalidas refuses the Emperor's offer. Mallika realizes that this can be a turning point in his career. He can go from being a local nature poet to a world renowned one, read by millions. She makes him promise that he will go to Ujjain. Even if that means leaving her, the village and all that he holds dear. Why does she do it? It is considered a magnanimous, self-sacrificing gesture by all. But is it really? Why do we want the people we love to achieve what we want? He almost begs to stay, but is made to leave. And so he does.

Act II - He returns...almost

Many years go by and Kalidas does not return. Mallika is left solitary, spending her life looking after her sick mother Ambika (played by Jyoti Subhash). Kalidas writes many great epics during this time and news of his work reaches Mallika through traders passing by. She worships every word he has written and secretly wishes that one day he will return. In the meanwhile Vilom (played in characteristic style by Om Bhutkar), starts courting Mallika and wins the confidence of her mother. He is kind of a anti-thesis of Kalidas. Always bitter, always inconsiderate, but seldom wrong. In another part of the world Kalidas has married into the royal family and has become a man of great power. Once, while travelling to take over the reigns of a distant land he stops in his old village. Mallika is thrilled, but for reasons then unknown. he leaves without meeting her. She is heart-broken and though she maintains her outward aloofness she now starts to lose hope.

Act III - He returns...but too late

The lust for power has taken its toll on Kalidas. A time comes when he can take it no more. He runs away from that life and wanders in the wilderness for many days. Weary and defeated he comes to Mallika to find solace. But time has forced her to move on. She has married [Update: I misunderstood this part in the play. Thanks Krutarth and Tushar for the correction] is immutably tied to Vilom now, having a child from him. Both are unhappy but the unhappiness has grown from the seeds of their own mistakes. If you wish to leave your small world to explore the vast world outside, you have to accept the fact that you may loose both. And to do this for the wish of someone else, even if that someone else is a person dear to you, is stupid if not criminal.

Overall I felt it was a wonderful experience. This kind of theater is not seen much. Perhaps because it takes a lot of effort on the part of the audience also to sink into the world that the director has created. But the show was packed and many more will be. It is heartening to known that such audience still exists.

[Photo courtesy http://www.mytheatrecafe.com]

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Inheritance of Loss


27 hours ago we were in our home-town celebrating Diwali with our family and friends. Pleasant Indian evening weather filled with brightly lit lanterns and tasty festive food. Now, we are driving down to an empty home in this cold and dark, frost filled night in Boston. Is this what it feels to be uprooted?

My sister had said something like this to me when we were travelling back to the US from India. I understood what she meant, but only slightly. My stint in the US didn't last very long. She stayed there for more than a decade. Understanding grows deeper with time.

This book opens with a retired judge living out the rest of his years in a secluded bungalow in Kalimpong. A bungalow with a spectacular view of the Kanchanjunga. His life slowly unfolds throughout the book.

The solitude became a habit, the habit became the man, and it crushed him into a shadow.

First i felt he was boring. That turned into interest. Then anger. Disgust. And finally into a helpless sadness. His thoughts are locked in a hell he himself created through stubborn denial of reality. He ends up creating logical supports for his actions which seem justifiable in theory but in fact, hide strong prejudices towards others.

This was why he had retired. India was too messy for justice; it ended only in humiliation for the person in authority. Give these people a bit and one could find oneself supporting the whole family forever after, a constantly multiplying family, no doubt, because they might have no food, the husband might be blind and with broken legs, and the woman might be anemic and bent, but they’d still pop out an infant every nine months. If you let such people get an inch, they’d take everything you had—the families yoked together because of guilt on one side, and an unending greed and capacity for dependance on the other—and if they knew you were susceptible, everyone handed their guilt along so as to augment yours: old guilt, new guilt, any passed-on guilt whatever.

We all have our insecurities, our complexes. But when we are cut from people we know and like for too long, these negatives grow on us. And they can turn a simple, average, common, person into a monster. And the victim of the monstrosities that average people commit are the people closest to them.

For crimes that took place in the monstrous dealings between nations, for crimes that took place in those intimate spaces between two people without a witness, for these crimes the guilty would never pay. There was no religion and no government that would relieve the hell.

Then there is Biju. Son of a cook living in a hut outside the judges's bungalow. Desperate to go to the US like the judge had been years ago, to go to England.

In this room it was a fact accepted by all that Indians were willing to undergo any kind of humiliation to get into the States. You could heap rubbish on their heads and yet they would be begging to come crawling in….

The son fighting for his survival as an illegal in the US. Working and sleeping in kitchens of Harlem. Underpaid, overworked. The father unhappy and longing for his son, yet proud of his achievement.

This way of leaving your family for work had condemned them over several generations to have their hearts always in other places, their minds thinking about people elsewhere; they could never be in a single existence at one time. How wonderful it was going to be to have things otherwise.

There are many other characters. Sai, granddaughter of the judge who arrives at his doorstep on day, orphaned. Their neighbours Noni and Lola, living in a colonial hangover, eating oyster mushrooms for breakfast. Gyan, Sai's maths tutor and many more. These diverse characters come from totally different backgrounds and living in totally separate worlds, yet they are next to each other every day. Class divide, religion divide, sex divide, every possible prejudice is laid bear by the author beautifully. Though it began slowly this book was a treat to read once i got involved in the story. The trick, i guess,  is to find something to relate to with every character.

“Time should move,” Noni had told her. “Don’t go in for a life where time doesn’t pass, the way I did. That is the single biggest bit of advice I can give you.”

“He was the real hero, Tenzing,” Gyan had said. “Hilary couldn’t have made it without sherpas carrying his bags.” Everyone around had agreed. Tenzing was certainly first, or else he was made to wait with the bags so Hilary could take the first step on behalf of that colonial enterprise of sticking your flag on what was not yours.

"He hated his tragic father, his mother who looked to him for direction, had always looked to him for direction, even when he was a little boy, simply for being male."

“You are sure you want to go back??” Mr. Kakkar said alarmed, eyes popping. “You’re making a big mistake. Thirty years in this country, hassle-free except for the bitch-witch, of course, and I have never gone back. Just even see the plumbing,” he indicated the sound of the gurgling toilet behind him. “They should put their plumbing on their flag, just like we have the spinning wheel—top-class facility in this country.
The universe wasn’t in the business of justice. That had simply been his own human conceit—until he learned better.