Monday, February 23, 2009

Jai Ho

Gulzarism is again at it's best. Even before the Oscar, the song "Jai Ho", though not at the top of the chart busters, was a trend setter in its own way. Gulzar has always brought out new dimensions in words of a song. The poetry in his song is often sublime - the hard reality evaporates into a world of fantasy created by his mesmerizing words. He chooses the words in such a way that they were never heard of exactly in that form ever before. The same simple and mundane words when arranged in the Gulzar-way creates an aura and ambiance that transcends the literal meanings of the individual words. 

Many have criticized Gulzar for using expressions like "humne dekhi hai in aankhon ki mahekti hui khusboo" - which translates to "I've seen the emanating fragrance of her eyes". Some people have found this quite weird and an extreme exploitation of poetic license. Let's consider another lyrics written by someone else. It goes like this - "My song has put off her adornments. She has no pride of dress and decoration". 'Adornments of song' might sound as weird as the 'fragrance of eyes'. Let me remind that the 'adornments of song' is actually a song from Gitanjali written by Tagore. It's true that Tagore himself could not bring out the magic of his original Bengali words in English. But whatever he could bring out was indeed enough to mesmerize the world with something which I would call 'fantasy of words'. I believe that's a part of any good piece of poetry. 

If the words speak the same language as when I speak them, then what's the difference between me and a poet? There are so many other nuances that I fail to bring out through the same words when spoken casually by me. A poet or a novelist is actually a 'Kathaa Shilpi', a word-artist. When I use a canvas and a brush I can't paint the first rays of a morning Sun. But an artist does it so easily with the same brush and the same canvas. Gulzar is not a simple poet, but a 'Kathaa Shilpi'. If I'm allowed, I'd even take the liberty to call him 'Labzon ka Saudawi' - stealing from his own expression 'rang roop ka saudawi'. Ever since I started understanding the lyrics of Gulzar properly I felt that he plays with words in a very similar way as Tagore did in Bengali. I've learnt that Gulzar was highly influenced by Tagore's and other Bengali writings and it might not be just a coincidence that I find traces of Tagore in Gulzar in many places.

The biggest asset of Gulzar is the simplicity with which he sees everything. We often fail to be so simplistic and hence we have a much complex perception of a simple thing. Let's take the example of his latest song 'Jai Ho', making waves world-wide as the first Indian song to win an Oscar. The omnipresent essence of the entire movie is caught in just two words - Jai Ho. Perhaps the popularity of the movie is due to the fact that it speaks of the immense optimism, the hope against all hopes, the aspirations of a slum dog and finally the victory against all odds - everything captured just in two simple words - Jai Ho. It speaks of the life of someone who spends night on foot paths under the sky, someone who has to stay in filth and darkness. But in spite of whatever life has in store for him, he is always happy, and most importantly he never forgets to dream. So brilliantly Gulzar has expressed this in just a few lines - C'mon my life, come under the canopy - the canopy of the blue sky ornamented with stars. In bits and pieces I've spent my life under this sky, I've danced on the coal, I blew off the slumber from my eyes and counted the stars with my fingers till I burnt them. C'mon, drink this night - it's honey, it's like a heart that can endure anything. 

A very favorite expression of mine is 'gin gin taare maine ungli jwalaawi hai'. If I've to count million stars by tapping my finger million times I'd surely hurt my fingers.... Instead of saying 'I've counted million stars', he has used a very simple expression - that's what is Gulzar all about - simple things said in simple way. But then, in Tagore's words, simple things are not that simple to say!!

Here is the complete lyrics of Jai Ho and the English translation.


Jai Ho!

aajaa aajaa jind shaamiyaane ke taley

aajaa zaari-waale neele aasmaane ke taley

Jai Ho! 

ratti ratti sachchi maine jaan gawayi hai

nach nach koylon pe raat bitaayi hai

aankhiyon ki neend maine phoonkon se udaa di

gin gin taarey maine ungli jwalaayi hai

aajaa aajaa jind shaamiyaane ke taley

aajaa zari-waale neele aasmaane ke taley

Baila! Baila!
(Dance! Dance!)

Ahora conmigo, tu baila para hoy
(Now with me, you dance for today)

Por nuestro dia de movidas,
(For our day of moves,)

los problemas los que sean
(whatever problems may be)


Baila! Baila!
(Dance! Dance!)

Jai Ho!

chakh le, haan chakh le, yeh raat shahed hai

chakh le, haan rakh ledil hai, dil aakhri hadd hai!!

kaalaa kaalaa kaajal tera koi kaala jaadu hai na?

aajaa aajaa jind shaamiyaane ke taley

aajaa zari-waale neele aasmaane ke taley

Jai Ho! 

kab se haan kab se jo lab pe ruki hai

keh de, keh de, haan keh dea ab aankh jhuki hai

aisi aisi roshan aankhein roshan dono heerey hain kya?

aajaa aajaa jind shaamiyaane ke taley

aaja zari-waale neele aasmaane ke taley

Jai Ho! 

Let victory come.... Jai Ho

Come, come my Life, under the canopy,

Come under the blue brocade sky!

Really, iota by iota, I have spent my life,

I’ve passed this night dancing on coals,

I blew away the sleep that was in my eyes,

I counted the stars till my finger burned.

Come, come my Life, under the canopy

Come under the blue brocade sky!

Taste it, taste it, this night is honey -

Taste it, and keep it - it’s a heart, that's the final limit.

You dark black kohl - it’s some black magic, isn’t it?

Come, come my Life, under the canopy

Come under the blue brocade sky!

For how long, how very long it’s been on your lips?

Say it, now say it, the eye is downcast -

Such bright eyes, are they two bright dimaonds?

Come, come my Life, under the canopy

Come under the blue brocade sky!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Aryan Dravidian Rift - It's more of a political than historical concept

There has been too much of controversy with regards to the origin of the people of Indus Valley.  A common view, endorsed by likes of Jawaharlal Nehru in 'Discovery of India' and later acknowledged by Amartya Sen in 'The Argumentative India', is that they belonged to the dark skinned Dravidian people, the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.  By 1700s, when the Indus Valley civilization was on decline, might be due to drying up of rivers, floods or some other natural calamity, the fair skinned Indo-Aryans had already started migrating into India through the same regions where the Indus Valley had flourished. Though there is no evidence of any invasion by the Aryans but it’s not unlikely that the incoming Aryans had some confrontations with the native people. The Aryans had a different physique culture and gradually they might have overshadowed the natives to a great extent. Also those were the times when the erstwhile flourishing Indus Valley Civilization was declining fast. Cultivation and trade and commerce would have also declined. The incoming Aryans might have been stronger than the people of the declining Indus Valley Civilization. It's not unlikely that the incoming Aryans, belonging to a larger Indo-Aryan group of people who had already scattered across various parts of West Asia and East Europe, would have got a good hold of the land trade routes, like Silk Route, across Asia. There are references of Chinese silk in Mahabharata. Thus access to prosperous trade would have made the Aryans quite strong financially. On the contrary the native people of the declining Indus Valley might have become economically quite fragile due to the breakdown of their civilization due to natural calamities. Being vulnerable in front of the stronger Aryans, the natives might have gradually migrated away from the areas occupied by the Aryans and moved towards the South. The natives who stayed back were not thrown out or enslaved by the Aryans. They were eventually accommodated in the lowest stratum of the society as Shudras, doing agricultural and other household tasks for the upper three classes or Varnas – namely Brahmanas (the teachers and priests), Kshatriayas (the rulers or warriors) and Vaishyas (the traders). The present day Brahuilanguage spoken in some parts of Pakistan has striking similarities with Tamil, the mother of all Dravidian languages.  This is also perhaps evidence that some of the natives of the Indus Valley Civilization did stay back. The natives who moved to the south established prosperous civilizations and for quite some time didn’t have much of interactions with the Aryans of the north. 

This whole theory has been much exploited for being racist. The Tamil politicians of the 60s exploited the racial angle of this theory to create a divide between the North and South Indian people in South India, specially Tamil Nadu. But a closer look into the history would make it very clear that there's not much of the racism or discrimination based on the theory of the fair skinned Aryans gradually submerging the native dark-skinned Dravidians in North.

Some historians do accept the theory of Aryan migration but reject the Dravidian connection of Indus Valley Civilization on the ground that there's not much commonality between the subsequent Dravidian civilization in Southern India, which was predominantly rural, with the urbanized Indus Valley.

I don’t think the theory of Aryan migration is racist. In any other place any new and more powerful immigrant has always treated the natives very badly. In most cases they were enslaved or even executed, the most recent example being the handling of the Native Americans by the European settlers. But on the contrary the Aryans neither executed nor enslaved the natives. Off course they were not given the highest social status, but they were indeed accommodated in the Aryan society. I've mentioned earlier, that it's not unlikely that the native people might have become financially quite fragile during the period of decline of the Indus Valley Civilization and it's not irrational for the stronger Aryans to use them as labourers or workers. Similar things happen even now-a-days. The maid servant working at my house in Bangalore is a native where as I've migrated from outside. But still she has been put in a 'class' lower than me just because of the financial conditions. So accomodating the economically weaker natives in a lower class is not something unusual or vindictive. The issues of untouchability, which is a much later phenomenon in Indian society, can't be attributed completely to the Aryan class system, which was purely based on the division of labour. Though there was a gradation in the class system, but still all the four classes had their own importance in the society. There are enough references of people from the 'Shudra' class attaining very important positions in society. Mahabharata mentiones thatVeda Vyasa, the person to whom is attributed the authorship of Mahabharata and compilation of the Vedas, is dark skinned and belongs to a 'Shudra' fishermen class. Even the most popular of the personalities from Mahabharata, Krishna, is raised in a family of milkmen, Yadavas, which also belong to a lower class. Even Krishna is described to be dark skinned. So it’s not very correct to connote the theory of Aryan migration as racist. 

It took more than 1000 years for the Indus Valley Civilization to reach the rich Harappan phase and after that it survived for less than a millenium. The migration towards south would have started by 1700BC, the time when the Indus Valley Civilization started declining. From that time it took about 1000 years for the Dravidians to establish the prosperous Pandya, Chera and Chola Kingdoms in south India. Rich cities, prosperous kingdoms, flourishing trade and important ports came up in the south by 5th century BC. Those civilizations might not have been exact replicas of the Indus Valley, but then why should we assume that the same lot of people would replicate something of the past? The urbanization of the Indus Valley Civilization might have been the need of the time to remain economically prosperous. Some thousand years down the line, it's not neccessary that a similar establishment would serve the same purpose. Throughout the world the earliest forms of most of the ancient civilizations have been in the form of City States. The earliest form of civilization in Mesopotamia were the Sumerian States. The Greek and the Roman civilizations also started with City States. But with expansion of the civilization it's not feasible to have cities throughout a large kingdom or empire. The same is also true for the Indus Valley Civilization, which gradually evolved into later smaller and then bigger kingdoms both in the Aryan North and Dravidian South.

The Aryan and Dravidian, both are important components of Indian history and culture. It's nonsense to promote any theory of discrimination or superiority. Throughout the history there have been rise and decline of civilizations. No empire lasted for ever and no race could maintain their supremacy for ever. One kingdom declines and the other rises. One race starts something and someone else evolves it and takes it to a new dimension. That's what has happened throughout our history. The Dravidians started the earliest civilization in India in the north. Then came the Aryans and became prominent in the North. But the Dravidians continued with their civilizations in the south. And in between there was amalgamataion to such extent that it's really hard to say whether I, a Bengali, is more Aryan or Dravidian.

Friday, February 13, 2009

All for $0.00

This is a true story with an excellent outcome.
On Thursday, 24th January 2002, Derek Guille broadcast this story on his afternoon program on ABC radio. In March 1999 a man living in Kandos (near Mudgee in NSW) received a bill for his as yet unused gas line stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away. In April he received another bill and threw that one away too. The following month the gas company sent him a very nasty note stating that they were going to cancel his gas line if he didn't send them $0.00 by return mail. He called them, talked to them, and they said it was a computer error and they would take care of it. The following month he decided that it was about time that he tried out the troublesome gas line figuring that if there was usage on the account it would put an end to this ridiculous predicament. However, when he went to use the gas, it had been cut off. He called the gas company who apologised for the computer error once again and said that they would take care of it. The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue. Assuming that having spoken to them the previous day the latest bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as their word and sort the problem out. The next month he got a bill for $0.00. This bill also stated that he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt. Finally, giving in, he thought he would beat the gas company at their own game and mailed them a cheque for $0.00. The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the gas company nothing at all. A week later, the manager of the Mudgee branch of the Westpac Banking Corporation called our hapless friend and asked him what he was doing writing cheque for $0.00. After a lengthy explanation the bank manager replied that the $0.00 cheque had caused their cheque processing software to fail. The bank could therefore not process ANY cheques they had received from ANY of their customers that day because the cheque for $0.00 had caused the computer to crash. The following month the man received a letter from the gas company claiming that his cheque had bounced and that he now owed them $0.00 and unless he sent a cheque by return mail they would take immediate steps to recover the debt. At this point, the man decided to file a debt harassment claim against the gas company. It took him nearly two hours to convince the clerks at the local courthouse that he was not joking. They subsequently helped him in the drafting of statements which were considered substantive evidence of the aggravation and difficulties he had been forced to endure during this debacle. The matter was heard in the Magistrate's Court in Mudgee and the outcome was this:
The gas company was ordered to:
[1] Immediately rectify their computerized accounts system or Show Cause, within 10 days, why the matter should not be referred to a higher court for consideration under Company Law.
[2] Pay the bank dishonor fees incurred by the man.
[3] Pay the bank dishonor fees incurred by all the Westpac clients whose cheques had been bounced on the day our friend's had> been processed.
[4] Pay the claimant's court costs; and
[5] Pay the claimant a total of $1500 per month for the 5 month period March to July inclusive as compensation for the aggravation they had caused their client to suffer.

And all this over $0.00.