Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The phenomenon called 'Singur'

The phenomenon called 'Singur' that’s happening presently in West Bengal, as all sensible people (astonishingly, so many of them!) are saying, is truly grimacing. I hope this *Honourable Lady* will be saluted for ages for giving our state such a brilliant setback in economy. And, just see, what an intellect she is manifesting celebrating “ma-mati-manusher joy”/ “people’s victory” because Tata has bidden goodbyes to us all. Even Narendra Modi’s letters and the disparagement all over the world over this issue wouldn’t aggrieve her. Oh, yes, all the greatest of greatest Economists and their greatest of greatest theories are absolute trash and all of these have actually been formulated as a part of the Big Plot called the pro-CPM-fanaticism!

Well, the question is not about taking any one of the sides right now. Even our *Honourable ruling party*, with thousands of divisions and collisions of opinions amidst it's own members, isn’t on the side of a “pure” economic development. Why at all start the construction of the project when a section of the people were so much unwilling right from the beginning? How much an increase to the vote bank could they have gained from this single portion of the state? Or why not change the name of the party altogether to something like “People’s Welfare Party” or so? Which part of India is still following the ideologies of pure communism/socialism? Or, perhaps, defining themselves as “Communist Party of India”, they are emphasizing this is how exactly communism runs in India, are they??

The worst of all things is this that the old man on whose land the factory now stands, neither gets back his land nor a placement in the industry for his son. Sorry, whose victory is this? Did you say “people’s”?? Amidst the political jugglery, a wonderful boost to the State’s economy is held back. A brilliant prospect of Bengal’s industrial development and redemption of the vast magnitude of the state’s educated and disguised unemployment is pulled to a stop. I expect a long way has to be traveled before the people of West Bengal understand that industry is necessary for agriculture to become an industry – for farmers to live like entrepreneurs. That acres of picturesque farm-lands are also available (in abundance, at that) in Scotland and Wales, but a handful of manpower is complemented by sophisticated machinery and technology there. And, for that to happen here, labour from agriculture has to be absorbed in industries; industries are required in turn to produce equipments, infrastructure and national income; so that, ultimately, both efficiency and productivity in agriculture get a boost.

Contentment is a great virtue. But, where nescience, political exploitation and illiteracy are sewed in, it’s dangerous. (A simple example: coming here for the vacations to a remote town in Orissa, where my father is posted presently, I’ve tried a little deal to pursue the village children over here to come for learning the basic alphabets and the numerals. But, on asking repeatedly the few children in the near vicinity, most of them were aghast by the aspect that they’d have to cut short their playing and wandering hours. A little girl even asked me, “Aap shaadi nahin karengi, didi?”. They couldn’t really see the point in studying the basic alphabets and the numerals. So much so, that they’ve stopped visiting me now and I’m still not having any luck with them… To think that I had actually got enthusiastic students in Bihar and West Bengal! But, this is the condition in most of the rural and tribal areas of our country.) Indian rural people have become far too habituated and contented with the lack of electricity and amenities; paucity and kachcha roads; to understand what industries can bring them. Or as Andre Beteille says, in the 13th October issue of The Telegraph, that Bengalis are far too influenced by the Marxist ideas like the capitalist-worker conflict, the class war etc. as have been preached by the leftist government for the last 30 years, that any sort of logic supporting the LPG policy infuriates a large portion of the local population even now.

Dislodgment of people and occupation has also happened in the past whenever constructions of large-scale and medium-scale industries have been undertaken in several parts of India. Thousands of people have suffered even then – no elevation by any kind of development has reached the grass-root levels whatsoever. (In fact, as a child, I’ve myself witnessed the distress of the poor villagers due to the thermal power project at Kahalgaon, Bihar..) As to what really should be done to avoid such situations of chaos in people’s lives and in the state’s order, I’ll quote one of my dear old bondhu-dadas, Kaushik-da, who has reasoned brilliantly on a comprehensive land-mapping exercise where-by the administration and the authorities should:
“a) make a land inventory of the principal food /non-food/cash-crop producing areas
b) identify the areas, mouza wise or by any comparative index, which are very fertile/productive/value (commercial) –generating ,terming it as A** , 'very fertile' and gradually drilling down to lands of progressively lower value quotients, terming the least of such fertile land as say F**, (Fallow) and arriving at an updated on-line position of the same ,
c) inventorise areas having high rural incomes and categorizing them on the basis of their degree of marketability of produce
d) enumerate areas where large , contiguous land fronts are available and make a productivity-mapping of these areas
e) map out the demographic density of these various land parcels (with differing fertility/productivity) and gauge the socio-economic dispositions of its inhabitants (family -totally/partially- dependent on agriculture/or enjoying alternate source of income etc) ,
f) delineate the land areas which are located proximate to sources of water, power., communication etc and make a stratification of such areas in terms of high/medium/low productivity etc.”

Following this process, Kaushik-da (yes, given a chance, I’d have published his complete write-up, but for his protests) reasons:
“Then, of course, the process of land acquisition/leasing from Government/private hands, the issue of valuation of such land parcels, displacement/rehabilitation- social and economic/ options of gainful employment- (after adequate training or otherwise) ----and the options of profitability share etc – needs to be discussed threadbare and comprehensively. General Guidelines and Policy Principles may need to be sounded out regarding if the investor needs to negotiate with the landowner/tenant/associated user directly or allows the Government to function as the major intermediary and the detailed process there-of needs to be ideated and debated. This can be arrived at by the principal political parties, with agriculturists, economists, social planners, land-revenue experts, providing the much need technical/scientific/statistical/normative and empirical data base.

For instance, there have been a large number of project-evictees, 'ecological refugees', dispossessed and displaced, sequel to the slew of thermal and hydro power and other capital projects taken up in the past who have failed to receive any kind of worthwhile social and economic rehabilitation packages, despite lofty promises made by the project/government authorities. Can we have a detailed empirical data bank of such instances and factor into the legitimate expectations of these hapless dispossessed (who received paltry recompenses which were, in most cases frittered away in no time in absence of any worthwhile and commensurate employment packages!! ) Mohd Yunus can give us interesting leads here!”

I’ll add to Kaushik-da’s suggestions, that all these demarcations and discussions must be made known to the public by an impartial body in the media. Possibly, all the land-delineations have also been worked out by the agriculture and the industry departments (I mean, the efficient bureaucrats are always at work, see), but the data should be made known to the general public. Else, without the understanding of why a particular land is selected for the erection of an industry, or without simply the knowledge of the data, we can't help people in preparing themselves and making up their minds for the new development. Also, in that way, things will be transparent and administration will be easier.

Anyway, students of ICSE and CBSE boards have read enough of Civics, Economics and Geography to understand what’s happening in their country. What do our dear old ministers and leaders think they are doing out there? Did they believe Hirok Raja-r Mogojdholai-er jontro is applicable here??

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Judging oneself

Writing after long on my blog, so I think I will first beg pardon for not giving it much attention for a few months. I don't think reasons are quite necessary (this is my blog, after all :D), so I will avoid mentioning them too. What I will do now is write about a particular thing that has been on my mind all this while: myself. For the first time, I want to put the proverbial pen on paper (you get the proverbial bit, don't you?) and write about myself unabashedly, and honestly, for that matter. I wish I could write from a third-person perspective, like Sir did, but no, I think that will cut out my own views about myself, in a way perhaps inexplicable to the common reader. I cannot think of myself, about myself, through the eyes of somebody else; because that somebody does not understand why I do certain things the way I do, or why I think something the way I do, and you get the drift... (Though, that is not to say I completely understand myself. ah well, just read on, if I have not bored you yet!) However, I can assure a few things: (1) I am as virulent a critic of my own follies, as I am proud of my abilities/achievements (2) My opinion is as unbiased as possible, and (3) Sometimes, my views may border on insanity, so that should not come as unexpected! Another small thing, I won't write down in numbered points henceforth-- do not ask me why.

So, the first thing about me is that I am ordinary. Strange that I should begin this way (and all my previous self-descriptions begin in the same way too!). Matter of fact is that I don't say this just to be a bit modest before everybody, I believe in it. And somehow this is always the first thing that comes to mind when I ask myself for a self-description (those "then really, who am I?" moments). The funny/confusing bit about this point is that I sometimes inherently know that I am not acting the way ordinary people do! Now now, these self-realisations aren't really self-assured pats-on-the-back. They're more like "so okay, sometimes I can stand out from the crowd just because I feel like doing so". Those moments/incidents do not make me proud, they just give me some dollops of reason justifying my existence.

Second thing, I am a self-questioning, and quite often, self-doubting person. I often do not know how I am going to react to a particular situation, plainly because I have known myself acting differently in similar situations on different occasions. Sometimes, I don't even know if I am going to do something at all! Call it whim, if you will, disorder too, if you wish. Which is why I do not have a fixed routine in my day-to-day life, and in the bigger scheme of things. I am pretty sure that adherence to a strict routine would nearly kill my ever-so-volatile spirits-- which wants to do something only when it knows that the job is going to give it happiness/satisfaction. And I can say all this only because I have tried out the other side of the fence too. I have, on multiple occasions before (and at times, even in the present) done things just because they need to be done. The end result of such compulsive action has been almost uniformly the same: lifeless, unenthusiastic (even a few blogposts of mine bear witness to this fact: browse through them carefully, and you'll spot the ones with ease!). This ceaseless self-doubting and self-questioning does not end with action and reaction, though. It extends to the way I look at my own self. But, more on that at some later stage of this post. Let's move on now.

If the reader hasn't noticed it till now, let me spell it out: I have several inherent dualities (or ambiguities, if you want to call it that) in my character. So much so, that it is impossible for me to track down which particular facet of my character is active when (shades of Heisenberg's principle?!).

I have felt, though not completely understood, love. Love that is completely spontaneous, liberating, mesmerising, invigorating, a gush of emotions that flow through your self making it feel well, happy and exalted (maybe I can't describe it any better). Something like what Roger Daltrey sang about in The Who's cathartic Love Reign O'er Me. And yet, I have also felt so completely loveless at times-- just a void in me, nothing that I could feel. Love has given me both serenity and restlessness. Only one other person and the one above us all know how much I have searched for peace in the labyrinthine mazes of the all-encompassing emotion. That search hasn't yet ended, though it sometimes is put on hold indefinitely, and then resumed-- I believe soul-searching is one thing that will go on and on, anyway! So, I've put all my hope and belief in God, and wait for Time to tell me (ah, yes, borrowed this phrase from a favourite Nick Drake song :)).

Now that I have spoken about both love and myself being ordinary, let me say this: I find it sometimes strange and amazing, and often feel quite grateful that there has never been any dearth of people who have showered their blessings and affections on me, especially since the onset of self-consciousness. Even when I least expected love or care, I've had a few people who have unconditionally given me those treasured things (some teachers, a precious few cherished friends, and even some people who knew me for a rather short period of time). It sometimes makes me feel so happy, sometimes a bit ashamed of my own self-- do I really deserve all this? A friend keeps assuring me that I do, as for myself, actually do not yet know. The best part of it is that all this affection keeps reminding me that I need to fashion myself so that I can become deserving of it. *Did I make sense here?!*

Which brings me to one very important thing that needs to be written about: happiness, and its opposite. As with every other thing, I can't quite assure myself if I am inherently a happy or a sad person. Because, I am often quite melancholic and depressed (some think for no good reason!)-- little things I notice (and a lot of others can't, or don't) make me feel quite sad. On the other hand, I can get quite cheerful and happy suddenly (again, for no good reason, it seems to some!) on certain days just because I feel like being so. Yeah, I am mad, and I make no bones about that! Somewhat interconnected is the question of my temper, which is as volatile as my mood. With time and a lot of self-control (and because I have grown up more or less alone, without people to share my emotions with), I have successfully curbed my extreme anger (of which only I know). So even if I am not in the best of spirits, one sees me cool, quiet, and generally averse to speaking. Though, it is worth admitting that I have not been able to completely control my anger-- if disturbed while I am in that quiet stupor, I may just explode for a brief moment before calming down (I detest these moments, and without fail, I have begged pardon for being rude on every occasion these outbursts have taken place, that is, as far as I can hark back and remember).

More dualities coming up: intertwined with the question of happiness/sadness, and my temper, is my emotional strength (honestly, I don't find a better alternative for "strength" at the moment). Only a few people know this, but I am emotionally quite feeble. Those who know me, and know me quite well, can judge my mood by a single word I say or a single twitch of my eyebrows. I am that transparent! I cry, perhaps more than girls (yeah, have your laugh, if anyone of you is reading), though not in the "I can create a pool of tears" sense. Just a silent outflow until I feel quite light. Funny that at times, though not always, I don't myself have an idea of the reason for crying, just a inextinguishable urge somewhere to empty my mind of some disturbing thoughts. All of this is not without reason, though. Having grown accustomed to, perhaps even comfortable with, confiding the deepest of my thoughts only to myself (like several others who go through emotional crests and troughs, I do not maintain a regular diary-- for fear that someone may actually discover it some day, I don't know when. The mere idea of someone knowing my deepest thoughts without me directly selecting him/her for that purpose disturbs me, since I know that there is a dark shade to my self too, a dark shade I prefer to keep private, you could even say trapped inside me!), I am naturally more prone to emotional upheavals. Which does not mean that I actually leave all work aside and retreat to a dark corner of some room-- in fact, I am quite a master in being seemingly so happy and contented outside while something keeps on constantly gnawing away in me. I won't lie, I often wish I could just lay off the whole burden and tell someone I trust (there are people whom I deeply trust, that I can assure myself and you too!) everything I feel. But then, it dawns on me that if it would help me somewhat, it would be a whole load for the one who shares-- and hey, even my closest confidantes have their own lives to live. However, little bits and pieces of my heart, I do share now and then with those whom I care for, and who, I hope, care for me too. Funny I should say all this, and then add the next bit-- but someone else's (I mean anyone of my confidante's) emotions I am always glad to share, in fact, sometimes I positively hope that a few people open up and make themselves comfortable in confiding to me. Nope, not saying all this because it'll earn me a few brownie points for being deeply understanding and caring-- it is just that helping someone in any way makes me happy, very happy. So happy, in fact, that I can forget the troughs I sit in (that has happened on occasion, so I definitely know what I am saying).

Ah! Since I am talking about understanding, caring and loving, let me take the liberty of saying that I do care, love and understand, at the very least, those who I deem worthy of it. Thank God then, for I am not Severus Snape! :D I hope everyone who is reading takes note of this: being inherently shy and tongue-tied, I cannot, simply cannot, express to all the people I love and care how much they mean to me. I wish I could say something unabashedly admiring, lovely and appreciative about certain persons, but I always fear someone or the other may cynically misunderstand it to be flattery or thoughtless, meaningless exaggeration of one kind or the other. Yes, I give two hoots about what others think, but this is where "others" get the better of me.

A hostel room-mate often says that I am in the habit of judging people by my own standards, which may well be good or nasty, depending on what you think about me. I cannot pass any judgement on this aspect of mine, just thought I'd concede this point openly here.

I think, that is one thing I nearly always do. I wish, and certainly hope, that I break free from the shackles of laziness that so cripple me at times-- all my own fault too. I am just too whimsical at times, you see. By the way, this reminds me that my tastes and interests are as whimsical, if not more (I thought initially that I'd label them "eclectic", but eclecticism is not to be used lightly, especially when it is me who is the subject of discussion). Before I wind this up, just one more thing to say: I have tried out various things in life, and already have a fair idea of what I really enjoy doing. I have no concrete plans for the future (shades of caprice again, you see!) though I have rough sketches of what I would like to do-- and believe me, that is one long long list. Do not know if life will even afford me the time to do all I love to do, but hey, I at least know something a lot of my contemporaries don't-- the path to happiness! Following my heart through the myriad mazes that encompass it, playing around with light and darkness, solemnity and frolic, ecstasy and melancholy, work and leisure, everything and it's opposite. I embrace life as it comes-- with all the complexities and the quiet, simple joys of living.

Since duality is a running theme throughout this post, it is quite apt for me to end on a note that strikes that chord between opposites yet again-- remember how I mentioned my fear of baring my heart; lo and behold, I already have!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Secret Ballot

Amidst the semi-darkness of the early dawn, an aircraft zooms into sound and view, and drops a rope tied to a large box at its one end. As the reddish black slowly becomes blackish red with the advancement of the dawn, a soldier is seen carrying the large box, his figure dwarfed under the weight of the box. The landscape that we see silhouetted by the reddish yellow glow is one of rocks, shrubs and sands and beyond that a wide stretch of ocean.

The soldier places the box beside a tent on the ground. He opens the lid and stares inside. He draws out a letter, goes through it, puts it back in the box and closes the lid. He turns back now and walks towards a two-storied sleeping cot standing amidst the sands and rocks of the beach. He wakes his mate up from sleep and prepares to replace him (the upper bunk seems to be a storage place for cans of water and food and the lower bunk for sleeping. One of them stays on guard (dunno, guarding what though!) while the other one sleeps). He informs his friend of the arrival of the parcel box and that an agent would be coming to conduct the elections at 8 o'clock. His friend, the second soldier, complains that it's 8:15 already and that nobody has been there yet. The first soldier, annoyed at all the interrogations as he's trying to have his sleep, grunts back a few words of wisdom, "The agent will come sooner or later..." Time suits itself according to situation and people. He requests his friend to shut up and let him have his share of sleep after the long hour of duty. The second soldier makes a fire with a few log pieces and places a kettle of water over the poorly made chulha. He then sits over a nearby rocky bench and drinks his tea, with his gun between his legs, as he waits for the agent to arrive...

This is vaguely the opening scene of the short film 'Secret Ballot', directed by Iranian-Canadian fimmaker Babak Payami. Courtesies Dr. Vinayak Sen film festival organised by JU's Sfuran patrika and http://www.sanhati.com/. As it is, within the first few days of college itself , my favourite spots of hanging around (or better may be sulking around, or brooding... somehow I don't think I'm the sort of person whom you'll find "hanging around" with groups and friends all the time. I've two close friends here, but most of the time I wander about alone) within the JU campus had been marked as the Milanda's Canteen; the Worldview Bookstore, facing the canteen; the large courtyard in front of the Subarnajayanti Bhawan and the jhil paar facing the Arts department. The film was shown in the Vivekananda Hall which lies inside the Swarnajayanti Bhawan, though I entered it for the first time (and now that I've a really magnificent memory to attach with the Hall, I'll look forward to visiting it more often in future). The film ran in Farsi language and was a tale of some Irani village. I followed the film (and loved it actually) half because of the sub-titles and half because of the cinematic language it used. Having grown up watching a number of films in various languages ("variety" in languages of speech, art and style), I've known atleast that a film should be seen through it's own language. And, for that matter, 'Secret Ballot' did have an elegant language of it's own. I'll basically tell the story of 'Secret Ballot', which might be very monotonic for those who've seen this film (my apologies to them), but I'll try to capture certain moments from the film in words, which levels one up in artistic ecstasy.

The second soldier (played by Cyris Abidi), one of the main characters in the film (and whom I shall call 'the soldier' from now on. I shall also tell the rest of the story in past tense from here..) waited on the bench beside the beach. A steamer, from nowhere it seemed, drew up on the shore and a young lady (played by Nassim Abidi) landed over from the boat. She waved back to the others on the boat and asked them to come at five on the same spot. The soldier went over to her asking her what she was doing there. She said that she had come for the elections, that she was the election agent and, then, without waiting for a response, she went on (excited and tensed) to explain the election system, shaking the lists of voters and candidates, the ballot papers and the ballot box - "But I thought that the agent was supposed to be a man!", the soldier blurted out. The girl looked up, open-mouthed, at this unpredicted interruption in her plannings of the day's work. She patiently explained, " It doesn't matter if the agent is a man or a woman. The order is given to you that you'll accompany the agent across the desert. Since I'm the agent, you are to follow me." The soldier (possibly still searching for an unnoticed moustache perhaps) didn't get the logic. The whole phenomenon that a city woman, wearing a burqa drawn back from her face, is nothing but actually a government bureaucrat in charge of the local voting (a task that's so much male!), seemed totally indigestible. To add up, a girl who seemed to understand law and legality and seemed more intelligent than himself. The bickering continued for some time, but eventually the soldier ended up bringing the army jeep out of the tent and off the couple went with the ballot-box and the election lists on a very rare kind of an "election trip"...

Consequently, the soldier (and the audience) is pretty impressed by the determination of the girl in collecting votes and making sure that people "feel free on the election day" and that the country must be "democratic" true to the word. A lot of people despised the soldier because he carried a gun. Truly enough, actually, he had considered holding the first voter of the day at gunpoint necessary while he voted and had actually led the poor fellow run and cry in fear. It took a great deal of patience and voice from the girl to convince him that voting was a choice and that guns never could give people the essence of freedom. As the day advances on and as a parallel story runs about how a chord of attraction silently develops between the agent and the soldier, the viewers also come to glimpse into a pathetic world of darkness and negligence. People of this country are mostly illiterate and poverty-stricken. They are simple people and live primarily on orthodox notions of male-chauvinistic ideology. There comes an instance in the film when a twelve year old girl comes forward to vote. The agent has to explain that only people above the age of sixteen were allowed to vote. The girl's mother from behind the burqa says, "If she can marry at the age of twelve, why can't she vote??" The agent opened her mouth to reply, but not finding her voice, she shut her moth back. The bare fact that the little girl didn't marry on her own wish, that is, saying "she can marry at the age of twelve" is how vehemently incorrect lay open right in front of her. That, the child had a whole household to shoulder and give up her childhood wasn't a matter to be credited upon - explaining all of these seemed pointless at the moment. She looked at the young girl for one long moment and then said instead, "The order is as it is. I can't help it..." In this way, almost literally, the agent left no stone unturned in collecting votes from all possible corners of the region. At one point, the soldier asked the girl, "When will be the elections held next?"
"After four years, of course."
"Why after four years?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why can't the elections be held before that?"
The girl stared at the soldier. Noticing the stare, the soldier tried to make it sound if not more polite but pathetic, "I mean, why can't the elections be conducted twice or thrice a year?"

Another memorable incident: they went over near a beach, where electricity from solar energy was being generated. An old man, seemingly the only inhabitant of the region, came out of his hut. On being asked to vote, he shook his head vigorously and protested that he wasn't going to vote for anyone but Allah. His only representative was the Almighty. The girl explained, "But, Almighty isn't a candidate here. You'll have to choose two among the candidates given in the list." The old man didn't seem to understand. He went on, "The only one who has ever met with my needs and demands is Allah. I have sat here for months and years and have looked at the sun and have adjusted the panels to capture it's energy at different hours of the day. I know no human being, not you, nor I, can make sun move as I wish. Only Allah does it. I've known only Allah and he's my only candidate. I'm going to vote for him." Saying this, he wrote the name of his Allah on the ballot paper. The girl sighed and put it in the ballot-box.

It was after 5:00 pm. Dusk had fallen low. Time to go. After a few moments of silence, the girl said, "The boat has left without me."
The soldier replied, "It's just been five. They'll be coming soon. Don't worry."
Impatient, the girl said, "How could they do this?"
Straightening himself, the soldier said, "They'll come sooner or later... Time suits itself according to people and situation."
They parted. But before parting, the last vote that the agent collected was that of the soldier who accompanied her in her strange quest on the strange island: the soldier wrote the name of the agent girl on the ballot-paper. There was a buzzing sound in the background and the soldier's friend appeared running in the horizon shouting that it was an aircraft which had come to take the election agent back. The girl made a rush for the landing airplane and the bird flew off.

The friend informed the soldier that the bed was free for him now. But, the soldier refused. The friend insisted that he had had a long day, that he ought to have some rest. The soldier replied, "I can't sleep. Anyway, I'm not tired today. I'll stay on guard tonight..."Amazed and amused, the friend went off to bed.
The soldier took his seat on the rocky bench, with his gun between his legs, as the sun set down...


I'll limit my opinions in this part of the post to just one aspect of the film (the post is long enough anyway. I suppose, some readers will find this bit completely out of the context, but, may be, we can discuss the other aspects of the film in the 'comments' section). 'Secret Ballot' gives us a glimpse of a stage of our own lives - a wide span of time squeezed into 2 hours and 15 minutes. The meeting, the budding relationship and the parting - doesn't the sequence seem to be known? It does. I'm not considered if the agent and the soldier will ever meet again. But, the story ends here. And they part.

We meet people. We get acquainted. Some "meetings" remain to "acquaintances". Some go more than that. Some get so deep that their fragrance promises to live for a lifetime. Some do fulfill the promises ["promises" (??)]. And for some - the road forks into two and we take on different paths. Sometimes, our instincts give us a prior-indication of the parting that's coming on, of the painful end these once-upon-a-meetings arrive at. And, sometimes, the ends come in shocks and surprises. May be, it's the wish of the time. As time and life would have it, we think. And then? May be, "love fades away with time"...

Sometimes, it is awaiting. We wait for the right time to come and somehow, we know it'll come some day. We wait for the return of our friends, our loved ones. The roots that once bound us still remain in one of our hearts, with all it's elegance and beauty. We wait.

Sometimes, we choose to forget. We choose to move on. We bury our thoughts and tears deep under what we imagine to be a very heavy and huge boulder. Deep down, we promise to ourselves never to bring alive the memories of the past one's in words. We imagine to forget, but it's one of the few things that we seethe with the deepest profundity in our memories...

"... dine dine kothin holo kokhon buker tol -
Bhebechhilem jhorbe naa aar, aamaar chokher jol.
Hothat dekha pather maajhe, kanna tokhon thaame naa je -
Bholar tole tole chhilo oshrujoler khela..."

People come and they go. 'Secret Ballot' reminds us the rhythm of life. We make friends, we fall in love, we lose them... We meet new people, make new friends, lose them afresh. New smiles, new tears. New hellos and new good goodbyes...

"Shudhu jaaowa aasha, shudhu srote bhaasha,
shudhu aalo-aandhaare kaanda haansha..."

Saturday, 9 August 2008

There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Release date: 11 January 2008 (USA)
Loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. Screenplay written by Anderson himself.

There Will Be Blood
is a story of discovery, family, wealth, ego and the unending battle of principles between money and religion. Daniel Day-Lewis plays a silver prospector who, by sheer accident, discovers an oil field while digging for silver down in the narrow shaft of a deserted field somewhere in the US. He suffers a terrible fall and somehow drags himself by sheer power of will to a nearby town-- a piece of suspected petroleum ore tucked in the folds of his shirt for assay. The first twelve minutes or so of speechless acting marks the beginning of this film. Long periods of silence punctuated only by the clank of a spade hitting cold hard stone, and the forced breathing of Daniel Plainview in the narrow dark shaft are the first sketches of a portrait that eventually completes the character of this ambitious man with it's several remarkable traits, follies, faults, and idiosyncrasies. Those first few minutes are also testimony to one fact: Plainview is a man of painfully few words. Unless he really needs to speak, he prefers to keep his thoughts to himself.

Fast forward to 1902 and Plainview now leads a small group of men working on a primitive oil well. In the process of mining oil, a man is killed. But not before Plainview sees his well spurt out the first burst of black gold. Oblivious of a co-worker's death, Plainview is seen rejoicing and revelling in the first contact between him and the black gold he now owns. There's a visible expression of exultant triumph on his features as he smears his hand with the greasy black fluid. That handful of petroleum is more than a trophy to Plainview. It is as essential to him as the blood flowing in his veins. It forms a part of his being. Whether in a soiled pair of workers' overalls or a cleanly cut business suit, Plainview reeks of oil. It is on his face, in his attitude: oil is his only conscience.

Plainview adopts the orphaned child of the deceased co-worker and brings him up as his own son. Plainview names the child, HW, a partner in his oil business-- tugging him along to all business meetings, concluding new leases and contracts with good success (since a child partner gives more credibility to Plainview). A young man named Paul Sunday (played by Paul Dano) visits Plainview and alerts him about the presence of oil in their farm in Little Boston, California, for a rather princely sum of $500. Under the guise of a quail hunt, Plainview travels with his son to the farm and is warmly received by the Sunday family. Plainview discovers that oil is abundant in the area (and also just beneath the land surface) surrounding the Sunday farm and offers to buy the land from the family. Eli (also played by Paul Dano), Paul Sunday's twin, gets more than a whiff of the real reason behind Plainview's interest in the land and manages to get a clause obliging Plainview to pay the Church of the Third Revelation (where Eli is a preacher) a sum of $5000, conditional on the success of Plainview's business.

Plainview succeeds in leasing all the land around the Sunday ranch except a slice known as Bandy tract and owned by a certain old man named Bandy, who refuses to let Plainview have the land until he comes to meet him personally. Plainview's ego forbids him do something like that, and hence he begrudgingly spares the Bandy tract. Meanwhile, Eli personally requests Plainview that he be allowed to bless the rig at it's inauguration and Plainview agrees, only to later embarass Eli publicly when he denies him his request and says a short blessing himself. A worker is killed at the oil-well on the first day itself. The next day, a bigger tragedy follows. A sudden explosion at the well ruins HW's hearing capabilities forever (he was lying close when the explosion took place), and also causes immense losses to Plainview's company. Plainview's eyes burn with fury and pain as he sees gallons of oil, his own life-giving fluid, disappear into red flames and black smoke. It is notable how Plainview rushes to save HW from the accident; notable because we get to know that his concerns for the boy are not yet completely financially-dictated. There is still a morsel of care and geniune affection for the little boy in the oil magnate's heart.

Later, Eli comes to Plainview to have the promised $5000 for his church, only to be beaten and humiliated by Plainview for not being able to cure his son through "faith healing", a practice Eli conducts frequently at his church. Eli returns home thoroughly disturbed and hurt, and in a fit of rage, violently attacks his old father for foolishly selling off such a valuable piece of land for a pittance.

A man named Henry comes to meet Daniel and tells him that he is Plainview's half-brother, showing a diary as proof of his claim. Plainview takes the man into his confidence, even in so far as openly admitting that he despises all men (for he perceives them to be jealous of his power and wealth) and that he can't stand competitors anyhow. A suspecting HW sets fire around the bed where Henry is sleeping, but the man escapes the ordeal. The young boy is packed to a boarding school for the deaf by Daniel for his misbehaviour.

With Henry, Daniel sets out with a map and constructs an oil-pipeline eventually closing on an deal with Union Oil. But, Daniel suddenly grows suspicious of his companion, and one night, at gunpoint, Henry admits to being an impostor. Henry says that he was a friend of Plainview's real half-brother, who has died of tuberculosis and left his diary with the man. Daniel kills the man and buries him at night. The next morning, he is woken by Mr. Bandy who says that he has witnessed the burial. Mr. Bandy even agrees to leasing the land to Plainview, on the condition that he is baptized into the Church of the Third Revelation, of which Mr. Bandy is also a member. Daniel is reluctant to agree to that for two reasons: one, the only god that he believes in is his ego; and secondly, it is Eli who will baptize him. Plainview had earlier witnessed a confession and healing ceremony at the church and had thoroughly despised Eli's extreme leaning towards belief in a superhuman force, besides his flamboyance in showmanship, perhaps, in Plainview's eyes, bordering a bit too much on overdoing his role of a mere padre. But Daniel eventually agrees. On the day of his baptism, Plainview has to suffer the terrible humiliation of submitting before God, that too at the hands of a young boy dismissed and humiliated by him only some time back. For Eli, the ceremony is much more than just an elaborate religious protocol, it is an opportunity to get even with the man who had insulted him so.

The story rolls to 1927 when HW returns to his father with an interpreter and asks permission to resign his role as a partner in Plainview's firm, so that he can start an oil business in Mexico with his wife, Mary (Eli's sister). Plainview, with his strong hatred for all competitors (and everyone in general), disowns the boy on charges of "betrayal"; revealing to him the fact that he was an orphan who he (Daniel) picked up only to facilitate his business deals. HW is hurt, but he stoically only says, this one time, himself, that he is lucky not to have any part of Daniel's character in him.

Eli returns to the Sunday ranch and begs for some money from Plainview because he has wasted money in gambling and poor investments. He proposes a collaborative project with Plainview to set up wells in the Bandy tract (which apparently hasn't yet been exploited). In a last attempt to impose his will on Eli, Plainview makes Eli proclaim that he is a false prophet and that "God is a superstition". Then he reveals how he has tapped off all the oil from the Bandy tract from the wells surrounding the land. A sudden surge of extreme ego blinded from truth by power and money hits Plainview, who reacts violently and kills Eli off by beating him continuously in the head with a bowling pin. In the final shot, Plainview's servant is shown getting down from the staircase to find his master sitting aghast beside the corpse of the victim. When asked what happened, Plainview merely states: "I'm finished". The conquest of money, power, and above all else, oil over his conscience is over, and in a sudden torrent of realisation, Daniel sees the truth that had eluded him for so long.

The film is remarkable because if it is the story of a man who was ruined by extreme ambition and power, it is parallel-ly also a story of how USA became what it is today. People similar to Plainview took the initiative and created the greatest capitalist state of all times; and therefore this film is essential to understand the national psyche of the country that virtually rules our world now. On yet another level, it is a poignant study of the eternal debates between capitalists/economists and religious scholars on the money vs. religion issue. The film is worth special regard because it is neutral, even possibly nihilistic to some viewers: it takes no sides; but softly, if repeatedly, shouts out that blind excesses of either money or religion can be harmful to moral development. It is notable that no characters in this novel, maybe with the possible exception of HW, is shown in the extreme shades of white or black. Both the chief protagonists, Plainview and Eli are painted in shades of grey: the former leaning a bit more towards the dark side than the latter. Eli professes to be a true prophet and yet, he cannot escape the clutches of revenge, rage or avarice. So much so that he is ready to confess that "God is a superstition" just to retrieve himself from a phase of total financial (and moral, if I may add) bankruptcy. Which is actually true in a way, since God ultimately is superstition in Eli's own case-- he never knew or understood The Saviour deeply. The development of Plainview's character is also worth mention in this review: because the man was not always the extremely egoistic maniacal power-hungry beast he became. In fact, his care for HW is quite genuine in the early days. It is only with time that money begins to devour and mislead his conscience, making him suspect and hate all his fellow-men. If Plainview betrays supreme ego, he also betrays extreme loneliness, manifest in his open confession to Henry.

Radiohead's lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes a brilliant soundtrack for a period film like this. And lest I forget, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano are both excellent in the portrayals of their respective characters. Day-Lewis' Oscar is indeed well-deserved. Paul Thomas Anderson is perfect both in his direction and screenplay. This is one film that must be preserved well for posterity.

Finally, the meaning of the title of this film. A phrase from the first of the Ten Biblical Plagues, the film is also a warning bell for us, reminding why it absolutely essential to strike a fine balance in life, without indulging in any sort of excesses. It is as much a visual treat as it is a fine enunciation of the Buddha's Middle Path.

P.S.-- The original post has been edited on 22nd August, 2008 at around 10:00 PM (IST). The author pleads forgiveness for the several grammatical mistakes and instances of plain bad writing that crept into the original (hastily-scripted and blissfully unrevised!) review.

Friday, 20 June 2008

A Tale of the Lost

It all happened quite a long time ago. They were the residents of Gosainpara, Mukundapur. Her father, with a rotund belly and huge moustache (a typical iconic example representing the middle class male-dominated-society) worked in a small grocery store that stood at the end of the lane. Her mother, a homemaker, was the mistress of the kitchen, a kind and a meek personality adorned by the red-bordered white sari worn in the old Bengali style and a big round red Sun of the sindoor drawn on her forehead. The family scene can be completed by the presence of children (and sure enough, there was no dearth of it in her family): they were three sisters (including her) and a younger brother, she being the eldest of all.

She studied in the ninth standard then, in the neighbourhood Malati Girl’s High School. She remembers the small classroom, the small desks and chairs made out of rusted tin – she, solving Maths sums, sitting at her desk at her corner of the room… Two plaits done with red ribbons hung low on her shoulders, the blue blouse and the blue-bordered white sari neatly ironed and pleated – she remembers it was the year she had just started wearing saris… It was then that she met him, her Benimadhab.

The first time that she met him was at the house of her close pal Sulekha. He had just returned to the town from the city, completing his higher education. They used to say that he was a good student – yes, he must have been a very good student… She was just a mediocre student, she recalls, “poor at Arithmetic, but good at literature”. Oh, yes Benimadhab! She had completed the Sharat Rachanabali by then (from the neighbourhood library), but Bibhutibhushan was still her favourite…

Benimadhab came from the city, but heaven knows why that made her realise she wasn’t pretty! She was dark and thin. She also realised that her father was a mere grocery seller – “Would you mind that, Benimadhab??”… Ah, Benimadhab, nothing would stop the hues from blossoming in the spring! No, it did not. Everytime you looked at her, she ran to hide herself, her heart beating, her apprehension giving way to ecstasy… After all, it was her class nine; it was her “sweet sixteen”!

Did you know anything of her feelings, Benimadhab?? She was so sure that you understood her, that you read through her “unwritten saga”, that you also had fallen in love with her… She never uttered a word about it, never a word, never to anyone.

Do you still remember her, Benimadhab?? Ah, yes! You must have said all about those days to your girlfriend, your sweetheart… She saw her only once, beside you, beneath the moonlight – flash of a brighter light, a harder light of truth! Her eyes burned, her throat choked. She didn’t cry... That day, she took the other way to home.

She never said a word – never to anyone. Her tale remains untold, buried deep in a forgotten ally of her heart. The following year, her father died of a stroke. Her mother, a widow now, didn’t have the sun of sindoor anymore adorned on her pretty forehead – a life that was to be led san colour, san taste, san merriment for the rest of it’s time. She was the eldest of all her siblings – “Bordi”. After passing her Madhyamik exams, she started tutoring the girls of the locality the art of sewing: something at which she was very deft and for which nobody seemed to ask her a degree or a certificate. The income was really meager at first and for the first few years, the family of five was almost under starvation. She was insistent on the education of her younger sisters and brother, but the school fees remained unpaid for quite some time… Their mother passed away four years following their father’s decease.

She stirs back to the present, twenty years since she was sixteen – twenty years since “Benimadhab” happened… The sister after her has taken into the profession of a call girl. This sister doesn’t live with them anymore, neither does her brother. Her brother works as a motor mechanic in the city and now resides there. She has remained unmarried – the battle for existence has been so hard that she has never had a chance to brood over her “emptiness” – the strands of harsh reality have stifled down the sobs of a teenaged girl.

I’ve retold Joy Goswami’s poem in my own words, in my very own way (I hope readers will pardon my impudence). The story could have ended where her silent romance with Benimadhab was unintentionally betrayed. But, it didn’t. Probably, because that was simply the beginning of her tale – the journey that had to be hers and hers alone. The craving for a friend, for someone to love, for someone who would stay and walk the life with her, for someone who would be there to give her the littlest of the warmth and support that every person desires – all of it started there. Precisely, “Benimadhab” was the commencement of a barren life, won over with extraordinary blatancy.
Benimadhab, benimadhab, tomaar baari jaabo,
Benimadhab, tumi ki aar aamaar kotha bhaabo…”

At the end of the poem, a suppressed pain upsurges after all these years and suddenly, she wonders if the chastity of her faminity that she has preserved through all this time was enough a “sacrifice for nothing”; if that would ever be acknowledged by the world at large. She amuses at the stark cruelty of her fate and tests the world with a final question, “Kemon hobe aamio jodi noshto meye hoi?...” [“How would it be if I also took to prostitution?...”]


Hers isn’t a Cinderella story and she hasn’t been a Cinderella. Hers is a tale of an utterly ordinary woman (once a girl full of sensuality and perhaps, "possibility") – the Bangla tutor of the local primary school of a small town, the sewing mistress of the locality, the sales-woman at the mini-store, the type-machinist at the Xerox shop… She talks little; she is not pretty neither is she an intellectual; with a serious face but kind features, she is a person we all have met somewhere… Hers is a story of the lost – hers is a story which isn’t found in any of the world epics. Hers is a tale which is to be written yet…

Monday, 2 June 2008

Floating Lamp of Shadow Valley

"If there's paradise on Earth, it is this, it is this."

Kashmir. The closest thing to heaven on Earth. A valley sparkling in serene beauty-- snow capped mountains, moss-covered lakes, trees adorned in brilliant green, boathouses, and a little boy named Arif.

This is the story of a boat-"man". Of Arif. A nine-year old child who has the wondrous eyes to look at his world; who, at this tender age, knows what is duty and what is whim, what is right
and what is wrong. This is the story of Arif. And of a reason why I still want to live.

The sole earning member of a family of six, Arif gets up every morning and goes out with his boat for a day's work. He has to work every day; for if he doesn't, the whole family will have to go without food. With such a firm responsibility placed on his tender shoulders, Arif has accepted his fate with cheerful happiness. That is why the cold winter days cannot subdue his spirit-- he still manages to push his boat through the frozen Dal lake with firm determination. His thin arms have already developed the strength to push the oar through such a difficult terrain, which is no different from Arif's own life. And Arif knows that his arms have to push the oar forward so that he can reach the other bank-- for that is where his dreams lie.

Arif lives in a small shack built on the edge of the water with his mother and four other siblings:
two little brothers, an elder sister and a little one too! His father is a terrorist, who does not take care of the family but wastes his time swaying between gun and dope. Hence, Arif has been left with no other choice. On a good day, he gets about 50 rupees from ferrying passengers to and fro. And he hands all of the money to his mother, who is slowly saving up so that one day they can buy some land of their own and build a house.

When asked about his father, Arif says that he does not care for him. Arif knows that what his father is doing is not right, and he does not mince his words when expressing so. Even at the early age of nine, Arif has already learnt one of the greatest, and yet undeniably important lessons in life-- killing people is unpardonable and wrong. He could easily have chosen the gun to eradicate his misery. He picked up the oar at the age of seven instead. Rightly has Dumbledore said that it is choices that ultimately decide who we are.

The little boy has witnessed the burning face of terror himself-- once when he was in Srinagar, the tourist department was blown up by terrorists before Arif's own eyes. That was the day before the now (in)famous Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus started as a conciliatory gesture between India and Pakistan. The boy expresses how suddenly fear struck him that day-- fear not for his safety-- fear from apprehension and a terrible gut-feeling: what if one of the terrorists involved is his own father!

Arif's shack has got new holes in the tiled roof. So he sets off for the big city once more with his younger brother to buy a new sheet of plastic to stretch on the roof of hishouse. This time, he takes a different route than the previous time. What if terrorists attack again? Well, terrorists may attack anywhere, but then Arif will have to find another route then! At least, that is what the innocent child thinks.

The house is mended. But the Dal Lake belongs to none, and most certainly not Arif and his family. The authorities have notified Arif's mother that if they do not evacuate within a time bracket, the shack will be torn down. Arif has no answer this time. He does not know where he will go if his house is demolished. But he knows one thing-- that there is only one gateway to a bright future: education. And hence, Arif takes himself and his siblings school by himself on his dear old boat (which has gone through a repair already so that it does not fall apart from being worn down by water and weather). The image of a nine-year old child in school uniform rowing four other children in his own boat is heartening-- the boy is already performing a duty that elders do. A young boy shouldering the responsibility of grown-ups is something that is rare in our 'normal' world. Perhaps, only desperate times and situations rear mature men! Oh, how happy would I have been to see people my age become only half as mature and responsible as Arif!

And yet for all his maturity, Arif is a child. A child at heart, not one merely by age. It's raining hard, and Arif has a huge lotus leaf perched on his head to protect him from the downpour. And suddenly he notices a small pup playfully balancing itself in a small "island" of floating debris in the lake. A boy who has no friends because he has suddenly grown up so much has a new companion now. He takes the pup home with him, lovingly caressing it's fur in between bursts of rowing. The children rejoice in the arrival of a new friend back at home. But happiness abandons the family again. The little dog is run over by a car. And it is absolutely heartbreaking to see tears rolling down the cheeks of all the small children as they give their lamp of shortlived mirth a proper Muslim farewell.

It's good bye time for us too. Who knows what happens to Arif? No one. And yet, as a viewer, I am optimistic. Perhaps he is still ferrying passengers. Perhaps his family have finally succeeded in affording a plot of land of their own. But we do know one thing. We know that there is something to learn from this story. A few things from that little child. The school-shooting champions (if you know what I mean!) could learn a bit of right and wrong. The spoilt and pampered brat could learn a bit of responsibility. And, maybe, everyone of us could learn a whole lot of unaffected innocence.

Friday, 2 May 2008

In search of Peace...

What brings me to write this blog-post is really the time – the present that I’m living. Amidst a blur of super-fast actions and goings-on and a mind-boggling lull of loudness and noise, I stop a moment and look around me. In the stillness, I once again delve into the depths of my soul and engage in a conversation with my friend – my good old conscience…

The first thing that disturbs me is a brilliant wave of disturbance in itself and that’s impatience. Why are we so much restless?? Why so much of impatience?? We seem to have lost all our peace to some form of hallucination. In speech and action, we seem to jump into thoughtless conclusions, often violating all sources of history, humanity and logic. Most people either confuse sensibility and calm in speech with boredom and cowardice, or they regard the classic and the silence with something imitative and out-dated. Over and all, biased by what-not, we talk aggressively; contradicting, arguing and debating to prove our own individual points correct, yet all of the debaters lack an absolute quality of tolerance. We want our points to be seen and yet deny to bear patience to atleast hear what others are saying. Listening, a very important virtue, is on the verge of total extermination in today’s man, both young and old.

Impatience in love and relationships, impatience in work, impatience in mission and goals, impatience in music and art, impatience in system and government, impatience in post, power and glamour – impatience in total life and existence. Cause of impatience: discontentment and an utterly self-centered life. And, in the way, the terms ‘success’ and ‘happiness’ have been shortened in their definition to money, car, house, and spouse. And, then? More and more and more of everything. And all the affluence in the least possible time and scope, that is “as soon as possible”! Hence, my friend sits for about eight to nine joint entrance examinations, so that he can get a B.E. degree “as soon as possible”; get a job, a car and a flat “as soon as possible”; and get a girlfriend (or many girlfriends) too “as soon as possible”. That’s about my friends. And, my father’s friends? Their worlds seem to have zoomed into promotions, share markets, new car-models and as many housing apartments in as many cities as possible. Too much greed and too much hunger… Amidst all these, we are trying to find the heaven of serenity, are we??

“…Kaatlo bela haater dine
Loker kothar bojha kine.
Kothar shey bhaar nama re mon,
Neerob hoye shon dekhi shon,
Parer haaway gaan baaje kon,
Binar taare…”

About ninety years ago, Tagore had experienced the same agony of noise: too much speech and too many words. Heaven knows, if Tagore, Wordsworth, Neruda or Keats would have been able to maintain their sanity for long if they were born in this age. (Or perhaps the good and the evil have always been in the same balance through the ages… may be, simply my living in this age is making me long for the past…) Switch on the T.V. and you’ll find 82 channels (that’s on our T.V., it could be more on yours) barking at you all at once. So many news channels, so many soap-operas, so many commercials, so many KBCs and Indian Idols – everything too much and too many. So many chatrooms, so many Orkuts, so many Big Bazaars, so many Inoxes – all, all, all in excess. A blind following of a herd-driven culture and taste, all marked with a total absence of art – a false and fake mixed American culture heading nowhere but promoting some ape-like ways and styles.

Hang on, hang on! Silence and stop! And listen! Listen - there still is a world out there – a wordless world, a serene world of calm. That’s the nature talking to us… We need to come out of our narrowed selves for once and need to be quiet for once… Reflect, look and feel the ecstasy and the joy. Life isn’t as complex as we’ve made it, and to my respectable elders, the world (that is to say, the world at large) isn’t as crooked and hooked-up as it seems. Actually, it’s more beautiful if we ignore the artificiality that we ourselves have created, and all the more beautiful still if we ignore our human counterparts, and still more beautiful if we fall in love with these same counterparts. Peace and happiness don’t lie in some superficial crystal ball lying far ahead. The ball is broken into bits so that we pick them up while travelling the path of life. There’s limitless peace in the greenery, the vast blue infinite, the cool blissful breeze and most importantly in love. There’ll be no need of any speech or background music to experience these wonderful emotions and believe me, there’s no stupidity in this romanticism, friends. If not anything else, it simply helps us understand Science better.

Update: You could also read a lovely translation of the lines sent in by Kaushik at the 'comments' section of this post.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Orphaned Land - Mabool

Genre: I'd actually just write "grand great music", but on second thoughts, label it as progressive middle-eastern folk metal. The wrong thing about this tag is that it only describes half of the album's content. The other half is just, well, music!

Rating: 10 on 10. No doubts about that!

Commentary: To start with, let me state that I generally abstain from death metal, especially the brutal/technical death metal genre. Fine, they are very accomplished musicians, just that such extremely intense music is not my cup of tea exactly. Till this day, I've been able to appreciate only a select few death metal bands, and all of them are in my favourites list only because they are progressive in nature. So their kind of music is a mixture of fast and slow, intense highs and soothing lows-- basically, contrasting styles, and because these bands incorporate elements from various genres of music (folk, jazz, blues, classical et al); blending everything perfectly to give a nice enjoyable product. Opeth is one such band, and so is Cynic and Atheist. And well, if you didn't figure out, there's Orphaned Land. Also, the lyrics these bands write are a lot more meaningful in nature than the lyrics typical death metal bands write-- which almost always revolve around blood-and-gore, to my extreme distaste.

It took Kobi Farhi and Co. almost seven years to come out with Mabool in 2004 after their 1996 album, El Norra Alila (which, I must add, is also quite brilliant). Must say that the wait for old-time OL fans must've been quite fulfilling. The reason for this long production period is explained by the album itself-- the music unfolds itself in so many different layers that it's quite amazing how you hear something new everytime you give the album a listen. In the period between El Norra Alila and Mabool, OL got Eden Rabin on keyboards. This inclusion was crucial because Rabin gave the album the whole ambient/symphonic background with some very commendable keyboard-work.

The lyrical theme of Mabool centres around The Great Flood-- the Lord's wish to purge the Earth of it's sins with a sweep of divine retribution. The story revolves around how three brothers belonging to the three main Abrahamaic faiths (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) try to warn their own people of the coming flood, in vain.

The reasons for Mabool being a great album are many. Firstly, maybe this is the only album that mixes genuine middle-eastern and oriental jewish folk music with heavy metal riffs (okay, Melechesh does this too; but only upto this! Not the next part) as well as western classical music (no, not your neo-classical music; but proper classical music sans those "neo" influences!). This unique combination of very different musical styles often in the scope of a single song is a great advantage to the album. Then there are the vocals. Admittedly, I was never much of a fan of growly vocals. This was probably the first time when I became a fan of growled vocals. But umm, maybe, that's because vocalist Kobi Farhi's growls are never unbearable in the way, say, a Lord Worm or "Corpsegrinder" song is. But wait, not unbearable is not a reason good enough for one to actually love Farhi's growls. Truth is that there's a certain sweetness or grandiose (I am not quite sure which!) in the way he growls that makes me like him. Besides, his use of growled vocals is situational-- they are there only when the growls make sense in the context of the song. And on second thoughts, maybe his growls are more like him speaking in a somewhat hoarse way. Anyway, did I mention that the album has possibly the widest range of vocals ever seen in any album ever done! There's Farhi's brilliant clean vocals (actually, I am quite confused how one man can have such a nice low-end voice and also a brilliant high-register. And he uses these two vocal styles almost alternately in some songs. Wow!), and choir passages (both oriental and english), and spoken recitations from the Bible. Not to forget splendid female Yemenite vocals (wait, I'll get to her soon!) and some local chants too. Quite some range surely. Lest I forget, possibly this is the only album where you get to hear middle-eastern folk instruments (like the oud, saz and bouzouki) duelling with guitars! And the output is, quite simply, mindblowing.

Okay, enough in praise of the album. Let's get to the songs. I have so much to say about them, I'm afraid people may think that I have literally put the whole music translated to words-- that is, if that is quite possible. But believe me when I say that my review would seem incomplete to me if I don't explain why I love this album so much. So here's it. Please bear patiently with me.

The album starts with the song Birth Of The Three (The Unification) which is an out-and-out death/doom metal song with lots of prominent folk influence. Lyrically, it signifies the birth of the three brothers-- each one into a different Abrahamaic faith. The song starts with a middle-eastern female distantly chanting some oriental melody and the song suddenly (but not abruptly) changes into a dense metal riff playing in absolute sync with a middle-eastern folk instrument (don't know which one). The song flows rather smoothly with folk interludes between death/doom parts and midway through the song the whole riff takes the form of beautiful chug-beat rhythm which keeps on mesmerising me for reasons I am unaware of. Farhi's vocal variety on this song is absolutely mindblowing-- from his throaty growls to his highest vocal registers to mid-range crooning. First ball and I'm bowled out! Oops, I forgot to mention that this song has one of the catchiest guitar chord progressions ever. And there's also a choir singing to metal riffs somewhere in between. The best possible way the album could have started.

Next on, there's Ocean Land (The Revelation). Which starts with a folk instrument playing a very nice and instantly likeable riff. And then comes that duelling of folk stringed instruments and downtuned Sabbath-ish guitars. Also, this song has some of the best guitar solos on the album. By now, the lyrical context has switched to God wishing for divine intervention seeing that His hallowed land is marred by the sins of men-- and He chooses the three brothers to dictate his Holy decree. The song ends with it suddenly (again, but not abruptly) switching to a man plaintively crying out to the Lord in Hebrew to purge the land of it's sins-- along with, I must add, some really commendable oriental percussion adding to the pathos in the man's voice.

The Kiss Of Babylon (The Sins) is the lament of the three brothers as they walk through the land seeing the terrifying state it has been brought to. Inspite of their attachment to the land, they concur with the Lord that divine retribution is sadly required-- there's no other way that the earth can be purged of wrongdoing. Musically, this is one of the most interesting songs in the whole album. Probably, the most pure doom-metal offering here-- it has it's moments of superlative brilliance. Some rather nice folk-instrument-guitar duelling again; as well as backing arabic vocals. A complete mystic experience. Farhi and the backing choir abandon lyrics for a long stretch just doing vocal calisthenics with a simple "na-na-na" being chanted on and on. But strangely, that does not get boring. The best thing about the this song is it's ending though-- the chug-chug doom metal riff slowly fades away to the gradually rising voice of Shlomit Levi singing a plaintive hebrew folk tune.

A'salk is in complete continuation with the flow of The Kiss Of Babylon, and has the most amazing vocals in the whole album. Yes, Shlomit Levi is completely mindblowing. There's possibly no voice as divine as her (maybe, just maybe, she beats Lata Mangeshkar too!), at least from what I have heard till now (though Paula of the Brazilian folk metal band Ashtar comes a close second there!). This is the only out-and-out mid-eastern folk song in Mabool, accompanied by eastern percussion and strumming. One thing is guaranteed-- any, and I mean just any, music lover in this world will love this song. Lyrically, this song is a sad prayer repeated over and over again to God by a devotee who seeks forgiveness for all the sins of mankind.

Halo Dies (The Wrath Of God) is the most dense of all songs in this album and yet is enchanting in it's own way. Again, some beautiful folk strumming from Yossi Sharon. As well as Kobi Farhi at his growling best: a friend compared his vocal delivery aptly with a lion angrily roaring. There's his clean vocals too-- brilliant and other-worldly as they are! The story has advanced to the Lord showering his anger; hence the aptly growled curses... (remember something about situational vocals?). Some memorable downtuned riffing and blistering guitar solos are, of course, there for people who enjoy metal. And there's also Rabin adding his ambient keyboard work. All in all, a great track representing the metal half of the album's music.

Next up, A Call To Awake (The Quest) is the last song of the "heavy" first half of the album (save A'Salk). Starts with a nice memorable guitar solo. But to be frank, my least favourite song in the album. Not that it is bad-- it has it's moments (nice vocals, the by-now-common folk-instrument-guitar duelling, doom riffing, good solos, nice keyboard-simulated ambience et al), but just that I would have preferred a soothing song after the very heavy Halo Dies. Anyway, not a skippable track by any means. (Heck! Skipping even a single track on this whole album means losing out on a whole lot of great music.) One can call it the least among all the great songs on offer in this album. Meanwhile, the three brothers are roaming around the land warning the people of the coming flood. (a funny way to put it, I know! :D)

Whoa! Now the second soothing half of the album begins (which, though, has heavy parts too!). Building The Ark is a very easy-on-the-ears song, with a choir singing in Hebrew and English to the background of a superb acoustic/folk melody and keyboard/light percussion ambience. The classical influences show prominently here. The story has meanwhile proceeded to the Lord ordering how the Ark, for carrying the lone survivors of the storm, should be built.

Norra El Norra (Entering The Ark) is one of the best songs on this album. Starts with some acoustic strumming and gradually skips to metal mode with downtuned guitar riffing; but for a surprise, accompanied with fullblown choir vocals instead of Farhi crooning. And then, the song leaves metal mode and enters classical mode. Rabin's classical piano solo accompanied by acoustic guitar and light percussion is one of the watermarks of this whole album. The piano solo keeps playing on in my mind even when I am asleep these days-- yes, it's that enchanting and addictive! Oh yes, there's Shlomit Levi doing some soulful background vocals (yeah, I am smitten by her voice-- if you can't make that out till now). And well, you should be able to interpret the lyrical theme from the title of the song itself.

The Calm Before The Flood is, as the name suggests, a rather quiet song. No drumming or percussion. Just a minimalistic instrumental with a long acoustic guitar passage accompanied by, I suppose, a keyboard too! And oh, there's a strong gale flowing in between. In short, sets the mood for the upcoming disaster-- naa, not a musical one! :D Really love the sound of rain and splashing water at the end of the track.

And with that we move on to the title track, Mabool (The Flood)-- a brilliant song depicting the Great Flood. Starts with a burst of thunder, and violins playing an epic classical tune which has the essence of a catastrophe in the brewing. Love the way the violin riff slowly fades away giving way to the same riff played on guitars with the tempo rising by the second. The whole song depicts the storm in it's rage and magnitude-- the downtuned doom metal guitars do exceptional justice to the mood of the song. A storm could not have been signified by music in a better way, honestly. Ah, then there's the ever present voice of Kobi Farhi giving voice to the ferocity of the flood-- again a nice melee of his growls and clean vocals.

The Storm Still Rages essentially continues in the same way as the title track (by the way, the two songs are even musically connected-- The Storm Still Rages picks the cue up from where Mabool (The Flood) left off); just that it portrays the human side of the catastrophe while also describing the flood in detail. To accentuate the feeling of sadness and pathos, Yossi throws in the best guitar solos (there are at least five or six of them!) of the album-- all of which I will remember for a long time, I can assure you. "Moving" is the right word-- the guitar literally weeps in prayer to the Lord to take care of His orphaned child. The lyrics portray much the same. Quite some vocal variety in here too-- and, possibly, my most favourite choir passage of the whole album. The best track Orphaned Land have ever done, period.

It's Rainbow (The Resurrection) now-- a fitting last track to a classic album like this. Like The Calm Before The Flood, it is also a soothing instrumental. Just that while the former was a dark one signalling the advent of a disaster, this one is an uplifting one. With birds chirruping in the background, new life is seen again. The earth is on it's way to resurrection. The Flood is over. The wait begins yet again.

(And I patiently wait for the next OL album coming up in 2008. Yes, I am pretty excited!)

Last word: If you are an open-minded music lover even remotely accustomed to heavy metal music, this is the album to have. If you aren't, sigh!

P.S.-- First music album review. Hope it's not that bad! By the way, for the lyrics, visit this site. Quite some amazing poetry there... You'll be in for a pleasant surprise seeing that even metal musicians can write really commendable literature.

Friday, 28 March 2008

God, Religion and Belief

There have been times when I have written something because I felt the need to do so, and there have been times when I have written because I felt that if I didn't do so, something great would go terribly amiss from my life. The latter thing happens considerably less frequently with me, and it's occurring now.

The existence of God, and the merits of religion have long been debated and discussed. I am not trying to merely repeat all that. This time, I'll question my inner self for the answers that I need. There are a lot of questions in my mind regarding faith, and the sooner they are solved the better. I would consider myself lucky if some of my readers cared to help me in my search, for it's a long and arduous one, and has been going on and on for years no one can possibly count. If not in me, in the minds and hearts of those who pause to think why birth and death exist. For I believe that ultimately every odyssey on the path of religion and spiritualism ultimately leads to the two elementary and yet unquestionably important questions: birth and death.

Let me try to elaborate to the best of my abilities. Birth, I believe, is not wholly synonymous with the appearance of the first "living" being on the universe. When I use the word "birth" I take it in a wider sense-- the genesis of the universe. Yes the very same vast vessel which is home to everything that is known and unknown to us. The funny thing is that we aren't even unaware of life beyond our universe, if you do understand what I mean! But let's not stray from the topic at the core of this essay. Scientists have long accepted the Big Bang Theory as the most plausible explanation for the birth of the universe, which states that the whole of matter was condensed in a extremely small and highly heated volume and for some reason that matter suddenly expanded giving rise to galaxies, and constellations-- planets, stars, nebulae and every single celestial body we know.

Now, here's my question: what made that earliest "atom" expand all of a sudden? I am not much aware of any explanation about this particular question. Most research about the cosmological birth of the universe is about how it all happened. But my question is, why did it happen? Or rather, what made the big bang happen? Could not the theoretically assumed condensed mass of matter remain in the same way for eternity? And it's precisely at this point where I think that the existence of some otherworldly force becomes relevant. (As a parallel idea, think about this: the book of Genesis says, "God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light".) Some supposedly scientific-minded people have always steadfastly maintained that one cannot be scientific and religious at the same time-- that believing in God is ultimately rejecting the cold logic of science. How then could the authors of the Bible predict the same theory that 20th century scientists have formulated and proved long after the Bible was written? Does this small example not somehow convince one that religion and science ultimately do point to the same direction: and that it is ultimately a choice between what you like to believe you are following. The religiously inclined rational man knows that he is almost as much scientific in his thinking! No wonder that one of the foremost proponents of the Big Bang was a Roman Catholic priest named Georges LemaĆ®tre.

Now comes the most important question: what is God, and if at all he exists where can one find him? Frankly, I don't have definite answers to any of the two above questions, but I do know what I want to believe. Confusing, ain't it? Let me elaborate. I believe God is omnipresent and omniscient, like so many scholars before me have said. It's not in any specific place that God resides. He is everywhere. Basically, that would be calling every single atomic and sub-atomic particle in the whole universe a manifestation of God (though, I am not asking one to "reduce" the whole grand concept of God to such a dry scientific fact at all: given a choice, even I would refrain from doing so). God is hence present in all physical and chemical processes, and every single thing in our lives is therefore a direct wish of what God wants us to do. Again, let's go back to the Holy Book. It says that humans are made in the image of God. The simplicity in what I believe is therefore vastly useful-- it proves (one can exclaim, "very scientifically!") that we are indeed made of God, since we are after all a cluster of cells! If the remarkable conclusions of this simple belief is not enough, let's delve even deeper.

How does God affect our decisions? Or is He at all instrumental in deciding our actions? The answer is 'yes' again. I shall explain quite simply. If one is indeed so devoid of humour and charm to reduce the human thought and decision process to chemical reactions inside the brain, so be he. The very fact that every single process in the universe (including chemical reactions inside our brain!) is ultimately a series of changes between particles, their configurations and energy states simply shows that God (the aforementioned elementary particles) ultimately affects our decisions. Having said all this, let me say that I believe in a greater God! Oh no, I am not going into another foolish debate regarding whose God is better, and whose religion is more foolhardy (two recommendations in this regard: Tolstoy's short story The Coffee House of Surat and Narayan Gangopadhyay's comic masterpiece Tin Bidhata). When I say "greater God", I refer to a more complete representation of the Almighty: a representation not only limited to the basic physical state of Him, but also to the inner self of God himself. And this representation, I know, is conscience. If we were all created in the image of God, I believe we all have God trapped in our souls. And this God is our own inner voice: the guide that is omnipresent (got the connection now?!), always waiting for us to seek it's help. Even in the darkest of nights, there is but one who can guide us to light. For light is God, and God is light! And light is the ultimate realisation of life-- the enlightened one assimilates into the greater universal self leaving his worldly remains behind! Which brings me to the second part of the two all-important incidents: death.

And so here's a poser again: can anyone tell me what will finally happen to the universe, which is scientifically generally believed to be expanding ever since it's inception? Or as an afterthought, where do we go after we die? Now of course, religion has an answer ready for that: according to the righteousness of one's deeds, his soul enters one of the two gates of Heaven and Hell. I don't believe that physically either of the two exist. They are, as explained by countless philosophers before, merely two states of the mind. The guilty goes through living hell, and the righteous man knows mental peace a.k.a. Heaven. But beyond that, I am quite clueless. And I believe that so is everyone! For if we discover the secret behind our genesis and ending, the purpose in our lives will be lost. Here are my questions regarding the matter: where does that soul go after all, say after it's tenure is over in heaven or hell? Or does it come back as proposed by the karmic circle? And if it does, what exactly decides which body the soul will enter in it's next life? Yes yes, my questions almost border on childishness, but believe me when I say that I am not being facetious.

Just a final thing to say: is it necessary to believe in God? Even if God does not physically exist, which is a very safe assumption, after all? And I firmly answer, yes. Because one does need something to cheer him up during the darkest of times; because without belief, one may lose his identity when he has no one to help him. Only those who have known death and suffering closely will probably completely understand what I mean, and possibly better than me since I have myself never been through too much trauma. Take the Israelites during the Exodus for example, had they not believed in a greater power, they could not have won their land against all odds. (Thanks to Leon Uris and Exodus for this nugget!) God is the ultimate realisation, I believe. A realisation that permeates all worldliness. God is there in nature, in music, in poetry. Just open your eyes and feel Him. But do NOT for God's sake turn your belief into fanaticism. No God ever preached that he is greater than somebody's else's God. All humans are equal, as are their consciences. And so is their own God! I would prefer sane and hardworking atheists over religious fanatics anyday, said Suvro Sir. I second him.

And let me end this with a thoughtful line, that should hit one with a bang:"There is no believing in God, we either know him or we don't". (source: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts)

P.S.-- A relevant post on religion and spirituality by Sir.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Other Half of the World

Images: Two faces of womanhood

It’s 8th of March and I turned 18 last December; and having grown up and lived in the Indian society, I couldn’t help but wield up my pen to vent out my repulsion, part-remorse, yet part-happiness and pride in being a girl/woman on this Women’s Day. Firstly, let me make it clear to the readers that this is not coming from any ‘rational feminist’. No, I detest some people of my gender in a lot of aspects at that, and I’d rather say that women are bringing down the fate of other women, than blame the backwardness solely on men.

Female infanticide. That is, some are not allowed to born - not allowed to born because they are ‘girls’. The moment a female foetus is diagnosed, it is aborted. Or even if they are born, they are killed. Some grow up a little, grow up much to realise the vibrating life in them, but then are killed – rather their souls are killed the moment they are sold to the greedy ‘dalals’ because they are feminine physically and will consequently mature to please the hunger of some masculine beasts – the so-called ‘man’ of the society. (Now, again, this is another mystery of the universe! This is the same man – the same gender - who gives the feeling of security to a girl and comes in the form of an affectionate father or an inspiring teacher or a good friend. The latter kind is even worthy of worship!) Anyway, where birth itself is such a ridiculous tragedy, what to talk of life!

Some are clearly given the signal that they are to be married not after long, that they are to go to school, that they aren’t to think or feel, that they must stop dreaming about the nature and smelling the blissful breeze blowing, instead they should learn to fuel the charcoal ‘sigri’ and wiping the floor (from my own experiences in Bihar)… Coming to the much better-off section of the society, the general middle class mentality seems to go more orthodox as time passes by. Even if girls are sent to schools, they are preferably sent to traditional girls’ schools so that they may be kept well-apart from the opposite gender to avoid the obvious bubbling-over of ‘feelings’ in their adolescence. When they work hard to understand Physics or Chemistry or Maths, mothers insist that it’s no use and rather it’d be better to learn a bit of cooking and house-keeping (I must add that I find nothing inherently wrong in learning to do a bit of household chores: just that women must not be reduced to mere brainless housekeepers!)

To go one step higher, I see typical aunties busy with gossip-scandals of Mrs. This and Mrs. That day in and day out, or glued with their T.V.s watching the K-serials. To go a level still higher, there are models sporting in least possible piece of garments and making the world a more dangerous place for other women to live in-- therefore catalysing the dreadful process of commercialisation of the female body. That the beauty and chastity of a female human form is being used to sell cars and soap is a slap in the face of God-- something created aesthetically and beautifully is thus reduced to just a tool to boost sales figures.

What I ask is: are girls all about this??? Even asking this question poses a source of embarassment to women like Mahashweta Devi, Mother Teresa, Ashapurna Devi, Kiran Bedi, Sunita Williams, Kalpana Chowla and a lot more. To add to these well-known achievers, there are numerous unknown (rather ‘nameless’ in the world of fame) women I know who live their life with a greater mission – I’ve come across my mother, many Catholic Sisters and married and unmarried Ma’ams and Misses who have discovered joy and fulfillment in broader things of the world. But, day by day, it seems their count is falling low…

Now, again, a point on the contrary about the type I mentioned somewhere near the end of the fourth paragraph: I didn’t mean that section of my gender who so proudly claim to be focused on their 'careers' and have in their heads some aims to get an MBA or an engineering /medical degree, that subtle emotions lose importance for them. Most of them think looking at the sky and smiling (because it looks so beautiful today with white fluttering clouds) as damn silly and stupid. Ask these girls to read a novel, you’ll get a scowl in return. Ask them to see a classic black-and-white movie, again get a scowl. Ask them to listen to some Rabindrasangeet, welcome that lovely scowl the third time! Now, of course, they aren’t wrong – my liking or disliking really doesn’t grade people (absolutely NOT!). Just that I hope they were a bit less absorbed in such materialistic things, and certainly a bit more appreciative of philosophic brilliance.

I wonder why I hear so few girls yelling aloud, “Hey, I want to sing today! I want to go out in the rain and feel the storm today! I want to go out in the fields and stand on the grass in bare feet! I want to spend the day doing nothing – nothing at all. (Maybe, I do sound a bit hopelessly romantic here, but that's what I am; and I am happy that I am so!) I want to fall in love with the nature-- with the world!”

Of course, it’s not about escapism or laziness – it’s about opening the gates of mind and loving life most simply and being a human most naturally. It’s about rejuvenating our lost sensitivities and feelings. Women are treasured with enormous power to love selflessly and sustain pain endlessly – why not be a woman more truly? Why not make our inner selves purer, more selfless and ‘beautiful’ in the real sense? After all, we make the other half of the world and the world dearly needs more of goodness.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

E.T. - The Extra Terrestial

If I had to name one of those movies that I shall remember fondly all throughout my life, E.T. is a must on that list. Not because it's sweet: many films are just sweet. E.T. is much more than that-- it touches my heart everytime I watch it. Even yesterday, as I watched the film for the umpteenth time in two years, I felt tears swelling up in my eyes. But I don't rate the film so highly just for it's very emotional content: I am an ardent fan of it because the film so beautifully shows us that even the weakest of beings on earth, in fact the universe, have a huge power in them. A power that beats the darkest of thoughts: love! Simple as it may sound, I feel that no other emotion is as brutally tortured and profaned (as Shelley said) as love. But I won't go into how most of us have profaned the greatest of all emotions: there'll be a separate post for that coming up in a few days (since Valentine's day is just round the corner). And since the film is such an old one, I don't have any qualms in revealing spoilers. I shall talk about the film in detail, and hopefully in it's whole entirety.

The film begins with a group of alien botanists collecting bio-samples in a California forests. As US government agents arrive at the scene, the aliens hastily flee in their spaceship leaving one of their kind behind. Meanwhile, in a California suburb, a young boy named Elliott has to cater to the orders of his elder brother, Michael, who is having a round of games with his pals. As Elliott rushes out to fetch pizza, he notices a strange creature by the house. While Elliott is himself quite frightened to see the alien, the alien is also initially quite terrified to the boy, most probably because he (and his kind) has already been chased by humans (US government agents). Elliott's family doesn't believe when Elliott tells them how he had spotted something strange roaming around the house. Just to prove his suspicions right, he lures the alien into his house by leaving candies in the forest leading into his bedroom.

Elliott discovers that inspite of his initial fears, the alien is a friendly being. To amuse the young boy, E.T. imitates the movements of Elliott. The two strike a sudden kinship, and a very tired Elliott finally doses off to sleep on his sofa. Next day, to avoid school, Elliott feigns illness, and spends the day playing with his new friend. That day, Elliott also introduces E.T. to his elder brother, Mike, and very young (and very cute!) sister Gertie. The three siblings ask E.T. about his home, showing him their own location on the map and the globe. E.T. levitates some balls to show that he is from outer space and points to the representation of the solar system in the encyclopedia. E.T. also heals a withering plant to show his powers of healing the dying.

Elliott and E.T. now share a psychic link, which becomes apparent because Elliott begins referring to himself as "we". Because E.T. drinks quite an amount of beer, the psychic link to Elliott makes the boy feel extremely drowsy at the dissection class. Under a sudden impulse, Elliott decides to free the frog to be dissected by him-- an example soon followed by his classmates. As E.T. watches two lovers kiss each other on T.V., the psychic link works again-- this time leading Elliott to kiss his crush at school!

Meanwhile, E.T. learns to speak by watching Sesame Street on T.V., which amuses the little girl Gertie very much. She tries to tell mum several times that her friend E.T. has learnt to speak (though, mum is totally unaware even of the existence of E.T. in the house!), but mum is so busy that she can't even stop for a moment to listen to her daughter. A very fitting and notable portrayal of usual parental attitude towards children: that of negligence. Elliott and Michael arrive at home to see E.T. not present in Elliott's room, much to their worry. And then they discover their friend in the toy-store of their little sister. Gertie cheerfully tells them that she taught E.T. how to speak, and just to celebrate that occasion she has dressed E.T. in a brilliant women's attire (again, much to the dismay of the two brothers). Both Elliott and Mike are happy to see that E.T. has learnt to speak like humans: and they hope to have some free conversations with their friend. But E.T. only keeps on muttering 'E.T. phone home', by which Elliott understands (as a loner himself) that E.T. is feeling terribly homeseick by now and wants to go back to his own home. And so he and his elder brother decide to devise a 'phone' to contact E.T.'s own kind. They chance upon some trash in the garage, in the process also discovering an abandoned shirt left behind by their father, who recently has had a messy divorce with their mother. The shirt re-awakens some lost happy memories of early childhood in both Elliott and Mike. Elliott has his hand cut by a sharp-edged gearwheel, but E.T. heals that in an instant with the miraculous power of his glowing finger (while Elliott looks on disbelievingly).

On Halloween, Mike and Elliott dress E.T. up as a ghost, and lie to their mother that the ghost is actually Gertie (who separately leaves for the halloween party). With their crude model of the 'phone', Elliott leaves for the forest with E.T. on his bike, with the promise that he shall return home before the evening ends. Meanwhile, on the way to the forest E.T. uses his powers of telekinesis of make Elliott's cycle fly-- a stunt that the boy is initially afraid of (due to his fear of heights), but later ecstatically enjoys. The brilliant and historic scene of Elliott's cycle against the backdrop of the huge white moon remains on of my most favourite cinematic moments. But the call to E.T.'s home takes a lot of time, and Elliott can't help but break the promise he had given to his brother about returning home in time. Meanwhile at home, mum is worried about Elliott's absence, and she calls in the police for help. Mum thinks that Elliott must've fled due to the emotional turmoil he has undergone due to the recently concluded divorce. Elliott sleeps in the forest through the night, and wakes to find his dearest friend missing. He returns home a sad boy, much to the relief of mum. Mike meanwhile goes to the jungle in search of E.T., followed slyly by a government agent, and finds the alien in a very ill state. Back home, with both Elliott and E.T. very ill, the siblings decide that it's time to reveal the truth about E.T.'s identity to mum. Her reaction is that of panic-- she thinks that the presence of an alien is nothing but a danger to her children, inspite of their assurances that the creature is a friendly and harmless one (I vividly remember how E.T. smiled at mum, inspite of it's visibly impoverished state!).

But as she is about to flee with her children, government agents surround the house and enquire about E.T. A huge contingent of scientists arrive, with their frighteningly developed machinery; and they quarantine both Elliott and E.T. Elliott cries in vain for the scientists to leave him and his friend alone, but in vain. Elliott feels the psychic link between him and E.T. suddenly disappear as E.T. collapses into a condition of near-death. It further pains the boy when his friend is subjected to almost inhuman medication and treatment. But just as the scientists give up on E.T. declaring him dead, Elliott notices a withered flower suddenly regain its life. He visits E.T.'s 'coffin', only to find in surprise that E.T. has been able to establish contact with his own kind, and that he has miraculously healed. When E.T. is put in a van to be taken as a (dead) specimen of living beings from outer-space by the government- authorised scientists, Elliott and his brother Mike devise a plot to take E.T. to the waiting spaceship in the forest by 'hijacking' the very van the scientists use! Mike signals his friends to wait for them at the park with two extra bikes. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse chase-- Elliott and his friends on bikes competing with the agents in cars. And just as the boys near a capture, E.T.'s telekinesis saves thair day! They all fly to the forest on their bikes to find E.T.'s spaceship waiting for them. Meanwhile, mum also arrives with Gertie and a sympathetic agent, Keys, on the spot. E.T. bids a very emotional farewell to every one of the family, and especially to Elliott, saying 'I'll be right here' with his glowing finger pointing to the heart... A rather poignant, very emotional and brilliant cinematic moment: again, one of my eternal favourites. A subtle statement that all one needs to follow throughout his/her life is the heart: the epicentre of all emotions, thoughts and ideas. Above everything, a fitting tribute to universal love. And with that, E.T. leaves his dearest friends behind, which other than Elliott and his family, also includes the thoughtful and emotional viewer (like me)!

But still, you don't leave the cinematic journey with a heavy heart: at least, I never do. After all, there is so much to and be happy about in this superb film: firstly, that without love, life is nothing but a dull and dreary drag-on. Secondly, the film so brilliantly and simply shows the Christian concept of a messiah from another world arriving and pumping in a whole lot of happiness and love in our troubled lives. In fact, a lot of film critics still do equate E.T.'s character with Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the film also subtly (albeit minimally) shows what is wrong with parenting today: most parents don't even care to listen to what their children have to say, even if they mostly speak very childish and simple things.

I think it would be apt here to mention that some of my classmates have opined that the film is extremely childish, and rather boring. I can't figure out why: have the children in them already died? And have their imaginative capabilities gone so dry that they have trouble accepting the basic fact that a alien can exist in reality? As far as I know, even the greatest of scientists won't dare to oppose the theory that aliens do exist in some part of the universe we are yet unaware of. In fact, a lot of them would stress that rather strongly! Or should I take it this way: that every non-masala or non-action film is a waste of time for them? I am also quite unsure of the fact if they would have been appreciative of the movie had the alien been replaced by some human? In any case, it doesn't take away the fact that I like the movie, and so do the greatest of movie critics in the world.

P.S.-- I am aware of the fact that Satyajit Ray had penned a script called The Alien to be made into a Hollywood film: a project that finally never saw the light of the day. But that doesn't reduce the value of this Spielberg classic-- even if I assume that Spielberg had a copy of Ray's script to his aid, if it were not for his brilliant direction, this movie would not have been the classic it is.

And yes, I didn't like the Bollywood version of this film-- Koi Mil Gaya, simply because it had too many unnecessary scenes and sequences. The only positive factor I found in KMG was Hrithik Roshan's commendable act as a mentally-retarded boy. That's all for now!