Thursday, December 24, 2009

Don't miss the Idiots

There used to be a time when we used to see Govinda's fims on the first day!! Perhaps Govinda had the highest standard deviation among his fans - at one side there are all of us in all the engineering and medical and management schools and at the other end there are the auto-walas!! After a very long time I again managed to see a film on the first day... well not even the first day but the premier show. No points for guessing, it's indeed another movie which would be liked by all IITians (I doubt though if the autowallas would like this that much).
It's just awesome. It will surely fill everyone with nostalgia - with all the typical legendary engineer jokes (like how does a DC machine start and many more). Though very loosely based on 5 Point Someone, but the essence is same. Few weeks back I read in a column, where Chetan Bhagat had mentioned about the screwed up education system of India with all the unreasonable pressures it puts on the students, the flimsy parameters to measure success and the total lack of any importance to creativity. This movie has just expressed each of these points so nicely!! You can call it a documentary on Indian education system, but at no point it bores you at all. It conveys some very good messages but never it sounds like Gyan!! And above all.... Amir Khan is just too good!!

Again Raju Hirani has proved that Indian cinemas can be serious stuff and not just hundred people with designer dresses dancing on the streets of New York or the exotic locales of Ladakh. Munnabhai MBBS and Lage Raho Munnabhai were also very made movies with every character well researched. I've read somewhere that the medical terms used in Munnabhai MBBS were all very authentic and truly depicted. Same here with the engineering terms and the various other things shown in the movie. I hope more and more people come forward and make meaningful and well researched movies like this.

Each and every character in 3 Idiots appear so real. Roughly the story line follows 5 Point Someone. Here also there are three friends who start feeling a spark between them from the very first day in engineering college. The ragging scenes are little different from what's there in the book. Nevertheless Raju Hirani has captured many of the common ragging practices across various engineering colleges - like dancing with undies, being asked to pee on an electric heater and getting electrified etc. IIT Delhi has become Imperial College of Engineering, which we all know is actually the IIMB. The director of the engineering college could have been no one other than Boman Irani. He has been given an Einsteinish look and he is just fabulous in the role of a ruthless and heartless professor who just judges one by the grades and nothing else. Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabbatein was also supposed to be a similar type of person, but you need to really see the difference in the way these two characters with similar shade have been treated. Mohabbatein was just a crap making a caricature of the principal, and here the director so neatly represents a typical crude face of the Indian education system which is nothing but a ghost of the clerk making system started by the British more than hundred years back. Amir Khan represents what the education should have been in reality - s0me thing that Rabindranath would have aspired of creating in his Shantiniketan or any educationist anywhere on earth would have talked about. Vivekananda defined education so simply as the manifestation of perfection already in man. The role of a school is to just bring out the perfection. The role of school is something like a gardener who nurtures a sapling to grow into a big tree. The gardener never makes a pine out of a rose plant. A rose plant will always grow into rose tree whatever you feed. The basic fault in our education system is, as mentioned in the movie, to force a Lata Mangeshkar to become a fast bowler and a Sachin a singer. Some of the dialogues are so nice. Like "don't go after success, just learn whatever you can and success will come running after you". In fact the last scene of the movie is exactly an enactment of this.

Those who have read 5 Point Someone will any way know the story. So there's no suspense. But still the creators of the movie have created some extra suspense and parallel story lines just to make sure that not everyone predicts everything that's happening. One major difference is that the main character of the movie is shown as the topper, who doesn't believe in the education system, but still manages to score high grades because he actually loves to learn engineering and doesn't always run after grades. Whatever he does, he does with passion. Apart from that there's not much of difference in the characterization of the three 'idiots'. Amir falls in love with Boman Irani's daughter, Samran Joshi's father is paralyzed and Madhavan's father has forced him to study engineering against his wishes to become a wild life photographer. Finally there's also the suicide attempt of Samran and stealing the question papers by the trio. The rooftop escapades are also retained so nicely in the movie. This is one of the very few cases where a successful book is converted into even a better movie.

The most entertaining thing about the movie is undoubtedly the dialogues - they are so humorous. Raju Hirani and his team has kept their signature prominently in this movie also with all the witty scenes and dialogues. Even the underlining pathos in some of the scenes have been given such a wonderful touch of humor!!

Overall - too good a movie!! Go and watch!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bonjour India Festivals: Bangalore

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where is my State

Just sometime back Pankaj-paaji and myself were discussing that we should fight for a statehood of Rainbow Drive, the place I stay!! Afterall all it takes to get a state is a threat of fasting by any asshole.... I do qualify for that asshole and I don't mind going for a mock fast. In fact I had an operation sometime back and didn't (rather couldn't) take food for 3 days. Pankaj was suggesting I should have launched the RBD statehood agitation at that time!!

BTW there are many other proposals that may crop up now:

  1. State for Bengali speaking people in Karnataka (I, being an asshole, can volunteer for fasting)
  2. State for sardar-gang (a group of close friends who share the a tremendous sense of humor and a penchant for wit - a group of friends and colleagues working in a company called Synopsys in Bangalore in mid ninetees) ..... this will look like what pakistan was in 1947, two parts one in Punjab and the other around Bangalore
  3. Some historical statehoods (after all Telengana is the erstwhile Telegu speaking Nizam's territory): like Vijaynagar, Chola, Chera, Pandya, Kakatiya, Mysore etc in South, one state for each of the erstwhile princely states in rajastan, then Awadh in the north and so on!!
  4. Some overlapping statehoods: The problem will arise if Indians start claiming states based on the kingdoms (or rather empires) of Aurangzeb or Shivaji or Ashoka!! That would really be an interesting thing - more than 80% of present India would be one state. But then if all three states have to exist simultaneously then it would be a case like Chandigarh where almost 100% of the areas of the three states would be common!!

Well, that's for now!! So volunteers needed to go on for fast.
Job description is something like this:

  • Should be an asshole (MUST)

That's all... no other requirement!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Identity and Violence

Just recently I've completed reading the book, 'Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny', by Amartya Sen. Off course it's not a kind of thriller that you'd read in a few days. I did take quite a good amount of time to complete the book - not because it's boring, but because it's a little heavy. Nevertheless, it's a very enlightening experience at the end. This is the second book of Amartya Sen that I've read. I read Argumentative Indian much faster, because that was entirely about the culture and history of India that I could relate so well. It also had one chapter on Tagore and one on Satyajit Ray. Identity and Violence is a truly global book with examples and scenarios taken from across the world. Many of the incidents and references are not something that I could relate to that well. But at the end reading the book was quite an enriching experience. Not only is the topic very relevant in today's world, but his treatment is also very contemporary. Though he has taken enough examples from history but still he never deviates from the present. The history is used only at places where he aims to make a point of recent relevance.

Throughout the book he maintains the theme that any individual or nation or entity can't be represented through a single identity. Everyone has multiple identities each of which is relevant and important at a particular scenario or forum. For example I can be a Bengali by birth but staying in Bangalore for the past thirteen years, an Indian, a violinist, a non vegetarian, an IITian, a professional in the domain of semiconductors designs, a Hindu by religion, a member of an amateur music band, an avid reader of history and literature, a great fan of Hemant Kumar and so on. Each of my identities is so much a part of me that you take out one of them and I no longer remain myself. But at the same time not all the identities are relevant or important always. When I'm going through the emigration check at San Francisco airport my only identity is that of an Indian. It doesn't matter which language I speak or where I live. But when I'm buying an agricultural land in Karnataka my Indian identity is not sufficient. My domiciliary status as a resident of Karnataka for the past thirteen years is what is important. When I'm entering the Puri Jagannath temple my Hindu identity is important. When I'm booking a flight ticket I've to say that I'm non-vegetarian so that I get the right meal in the flight. When I'm buying 10 CDs of Hemant Kumar my only identity is that I'm a great fan of Hemant Kumar. So it's really baseless to deny the existence of multiple identities and cling to one particular. Whenever there' a tendency of giving undue stress to one particular identity all hell breaks loose. When the Talibans highlight their Muslim identity above all, all hell breaks loose in Afghanistan. Though it's not mentioned in the book, but we can very well appreciate this point through so many instances. When Raj Thackeray gives more importance to his Maratha identity than anything else we see the hooliganism in Bombay. The integrity of a nation is of the utmost importance and for that the only identity that's relevant is that of an Indian. The point when the Rajs of Bombay and the Annas of Madras understand that their regional identity is not above their Indian identity for their own prosperity all the regional clashes will stop.

There's also the reference of Multi Culturalism or Cultural Pluralism versus Plural Monoculturalism. Though the writer has given examples from Britain, but the scenario is well understood even with Indian context. For example we always say that Indian is a multi cultural nation and we take great pride of it. But in reality what we have in India is not Cultural Pluralism, but Plural Monoculturalism. It's true that there are so many languages and cultures. But in reality do we've the freedom to choose from all these cultures? No one is Tamil by choice. On the contrary he seldom has a choice even to marry someone who is not a Tamil. Our identities are more often than not predecided and we seldom have any chance to change them or choose them. We stay in ghettos through out our lives. Our country is full of such ghettos all around. A Tamil will stay in Calcutta for forty years but still he may not prefer to marry a Bengali or even take a Bengali identity. His Tamil identity is thrust upon him. A much better scenario would be when I've the right to choose my identity from all that I see in front of me. This freedom to choose my own identity can only create a truly multi cultural country. This point is so well made and is so relevant in India when everyone wants to thrust his own culture on others. In Karnataka you've to write all sign boards in Kannada. In Bombay you have to say Mumbai and so on. Why shouldn't I have the right to write the signboards in any language of my choice anywhere in India?

Apart from many things that have come up in his book, one very informative thing is about the myth that Western civilization has done all the advancements in Science and technology. This myth, or rather attitude of the Western people, may be the reason for the present tension between them and the Muslim world. The West has ignored the identity of the Arabs and the Asians in areas of science and technology. Amartya Sen has provided some very interesting facts. The most interesting is the history how the trigonometrical concept and term 'sine' comes directly from Indian mathematician Aryabhatta via Arab. There are lot of such striking things about the contribution of China, India and Arab in the field of science and technology. These identities were tried to be forgotten by the West and that's one of the major mistakes that they might have done in creating the mess that the world is in now!!

Talibans of India

Whatever be the etymological meaning of the word Taliban, commonly it's used as a synonym for utter misinterpretation of religious texts, religious or cultural regression, and off course extreme social injustice meted out to hapless people. If that's the case then who tells that Talibans are only in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Statistically India may have more Talibans!!

Let's consider each of the points that I've mentioned above to define a Taliban.

First let's take up the first point: Misinterpretation of religions texts. The Talibans in Pakistan and Afghanistan want to justify everything they do in the name of religion. They claim that everything is written in Quran - though any learned Muslim would vehemently protest against it. And any sane person, who hasn't read even a page of Quran would never believe that Quran actually justifies public lashing of women if they listen to music or not wear burqa or fall in love. There's no doubt that the entire Talibanism is caused due to serious misinterpretation of the religious texts. Well, let's now turn towards India.

Let's take a very simple example. A big part of India is vegetarian and the vegetarianism is linked with religion. I do accept that Jainism and Buddhism, which were very popular in many parts of India for a good amount of time in ancient time, do put stress on not killing lives, but no way can anyone say the same about Hinduism. To go back a bit into history, Hinduism got its origin from the Vedas. Though the term Hinduism is quite new, but the religion that is now loosely accepted as Hinduism, can also be called more correctly as the Vedic religion, something which took shape over three millennia with the ideas and philosophies of the Aryans synthesized with the same of the indigenous pre-Vedic people of India. The people of Indus Valley civilization, which predates the Vedas, would have also had their own religion. But not much is known about that. Many people believe (including Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India) that the remnants of the Indus Valley religion may be found in the Vedic religion in many forms. Anyway, what so ever be it, there's no doubt that the Vedas are the earliest reference available for Hinduism and also the ancient history of the Indian people. No where it's found that the Vedic seers promoted vegetarianism. On the contrary beef was widely consumed. Not only that, even horse meats were consumed after the Ashva Medha Yajna (Horse Killing Ceremony). So when I find a Tamil Brahmin not renting his house to someone who takes meat, is it not a case of a gross misinterpretation of religious texts? The Rig Veda is considered to be the most sacred religious text for the Hindus and in that text there's absolutely no reference to vegetarianism. Well, you may say that equating this with Talibanism is ridiculous. That's true. Not renting a house to some one who eats meat is no match for the injustice meted out towards women in Afghanistan. But the point is indeed true - that a vast majority of Indians did misinterpret the religions text to justify something - vegetarianism in this case. In reality, no other religious book in any other religion is as pragmatic as the Vedas. There's absolutely no compulsion or restriction in the Vedas, especially the Rig Vedas - the earliest of the Vedas.

Well, there are several other cases of misinterpretation of religious texts in India. Let's take the example of the famous Puri Jagannath temple. Even Rabindranath Tagore was disallowed to enter the temple because he was actually a Brahmo, a sect started by the likes of Raja Rammohan Ray and Debendranath Tagore, based on the Vedas and the Upanishads. Even Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter because she had married a Parsi. Puri temple has a centuries old tradition of disallowing any non-Hindu. Well, here again it's a serious misinterpretation about who is a Hindu. If Hinduism is the Vedic religion, which I assume is never disputed, then how can a Brahmo be different from a Hindu - both are based on the Vedas and Upanishands. Also the Parsi religion was started by the same group of people who wrote the Vedas. Their earliest book Avesta has striking similarities with not only the language but also the content of the Rig Vedas. Even to this day the Parsis don't differ much from a present day Hindu. So if a believer of Vedas can be allowed into a temple, I find no reason why a Parsi won't be allowed.

Stretching my reasoning a bit more, etymologically, historically, geographically a Hindu is anyone who stays in India. So disallowing any Indian to any Hindu temple is anyway something that has no basis. Just because a non Muslim is not allowed to enter into the main shrine of Mecca, that doesn't mean that there has to be Hindu temples also disallowing a non Hindu. Bankim Chandra, the creator of Vande Mataram, had summed it up very well - Tumi adhom hoile ami uttam hoibo na keno - meaning if you're inferior then why can't I be superior?

Apart from Puri temple there's the famus Guruvayur Temple in Kerala. There also a non Hindu is disallowed to enter!! Again the same story of misinterpretation of the Vedas.

Now let's move to more serious stuff. The entire saga of untouchability is a matter of serious misinterpretation of the Vedas. It has nothing to do with the Chatura Varnas or the four Classes mentioned in the Vedas. It's understandable why Mahatma Gandhi fought so much against untouchability - because he was a staunch Hindu!!

Let's talk about social regression and injustice. Well, just do a google search on "caste killings in India" and see what you get. There's also an article in wikipedia about caste related violence. If you read through all those I don't think you'd anything more respectable from what you read about Talibanism.

I think the every tom-dick-harry has misinterpreted Hinduism in all possible ways and come up with really ridiculous traditions over the past one thousand years. Even now the practice of Sati is wrongly justified by some verses of the Vedas. More than 150 years ago people like Rammohan Ray and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had tried in all possible ways to point fingers to such misinterpretations of the Hindu texts. But still you find miserable misinterpretations and subsequent social regression and injustice in many places. And the most sad part is that after Mahatma Gandhi no one has put any effort to eradicate these!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

After The Empires of Indus, it's Ganesh of Delhi

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: About your book
From: "Alice Albinia" <>
Date: Tue, December 1, 2009 5:29 pm
To: "Sudipto Das" <>
Dear Sudipto,

Thank you for your nice mail. I'm really glad you enjoyed reading my book - and read it in record time! - and that it is inspiring your own writing. By the way, my next book is a novel set in Delhi, with the god Ganesh as a character, which you might find interesting. I'll let you know nearer the time when it's due out (around 2011).

Till then, all the best,

2009/11/20 Sudipto Das <>:

Hi Alice,

I believe by this time you'd been already flooded with tons of mails from your surprised readers. So I'm not sure if this mail of mine would attract your attention.

I'd seen your book quite sometime back at a bookstore in Bangalore. I'd browsed through a few pages while sipping tea at the store and decided to get back to it later. I already had a pile of books to be read and I didn't want to make me feel worse with a bigger backlog of books. But then I saw the book again at one of my friends' place and he spoke very highly about it. Next time I was at the same book store I again saw your book and while going through the later chapters I saw a whole chapter on Kalash people and that's when I just bought the book and completed reading in record time. I'm a slow reader and I've to fight to get time out of the grinding of my work, but still I completed your book in one night - while at hospital recuperating from an operation just after I'd bought the book!!

I've been always fascinated by history and literature and lately I've been reading a lot about the ancient history of Indian subcontinent. And you can expect very well why an avid reader with investigative mind - reading deeply about India's past shrouded with mysteries and myths - would get attracted to the Kalash people. For quite some time I've been struggling to find unbiased and authentic materials about the origin of the Aryan people and the myths around it. Interestingly few chapters in your book provided me exactly with the kind of stuff and reference I was looking for. The bibliography you provided has been also very helpful. I've been reading many of the books you've referred - but I was not sure if I'm reading the right type of books.

I'd like to thank you a lot for writing such a wonderful piece of travelogue. I don't think I have read a better travelogue!! Most interestingly if Western people read your book they may get a totally different perspective of Pakistan which is now midst of all wrong things. It's high time that people within and outside Pakistan take a different perspective of their own culture and history and get things on right track. Anyway, if you happen to read my mail - please accept my best wishes. I hope to see many more similar stuff from you!! Thanks again for your wonderful book!! I await for more from you!!