Tilak Rishi's weblog

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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Raksha Bandhan in Bollywood

Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, the Sister's Day, this year is on Tuesday August 24th. In Hindi cinema, the sister was the strong silent character in the background. The frail one for whom the hero played protector, wreaked vengeance. The one whose marriage or studies were on top of her brother’s mind when he entered a dubious deal. Mainstream Hindi cinema has, indeed, made a whole industry out of the brother-sister bonding.

The oldest historical reference to the festival of Rakhi goes back to 300 B.C. at the time when Alexander invaded India. It is said that when the great conquerer, king Alexander of Macedonia was shaken by the fury of the Indian king Puru, Alexander's wife, who had heard of the Rakhi festival, approached the mighty king Puru and sought assurance of her husband's life by tying the Rakhi on Puru's hand. The story goes that just as Puru raised his hand to deliver a mortal blow to Alexander, he saw the Rakhi on his wrist and refrained from striking at Alexander. The entire episode was well depicted in Sohrab Modi's great movie of epical dimentions, Sikandar (1941) in which Prithviraj Kapoor played Sikandar, Sohrab Modi Puru and Vanmala, Sikandar's beloved Rukhsana.

During the midieval era, Rajput kings were fighting Muslim invasions. When Rani Karnawati, the widowed queen of Chittor, realized that she could in no way defend the invasion of the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, she sent a Rakhi to the Mughal Emperor Humayun, enlisting his support against the onslaught of the Gujarat Sultan. Touched by the gesture, Humayun hastened to the rescue of his Rakhi sister. The Mughal Emperor Hamayun coming to the rescue of his Rakhi Rajput sister is convincingly portrayed and pictured in Mehboob Khan's Mughal historical Humayun (1945). Cecil B DeMille apparently wrote in a letter to Mehboob Khan that this film was “a masterpiece of lighting composition.” And It is. Ashok Kumar played Humayun and Veena his Rakhi sister. Nargis was only 16 when she acted in this movie as the Emperor's beloved.

In 1959, director and producer L.V. Prasad released "Chhoti Bahen", one of the industry´s memorable films for tackling the emotion behind blindness, sibling emotion and how different persons in a family can react to it. Chhoti Bahen is also well known for the song that recurs to this day on Raksha Bandhan, "Bhaiyya Mere Rakhi Ke Bandhan To Nibhana". Shankar-Jaikeshen´s music is memorable, but this title track is more than your trip down memory lane. The song practically explains what the holiday is all about and how siblings idolize each other, the sister to the brother. The film´s main leads, Balraj Sahani and Nanda do just that.

"Rakhi", "Bhai Bahen" -- Two of the most successful tearjerkers of the 1960s, both directed by the eminently saleable A. Bhim Singh -- were about brother and sister outdoing each other for the martyr's cup. In "Rakhi", Waheeda Rehman and Ashok Kumar played siblings who just could not be without each other. Six years later, Bhim Singh made "Bhai Bahen", a straight-off saga of sibling suffering with Sunil Dutt and Nutan in the lead.

Manoj Bajpai's passionate possessiveness for sister Antara Mali in Ram Gopal Varma's Telugu "Prem Gatha" verged on the incestuous. Shah Rukh Khan went completely ballistic trying to keep sister Aishwarya Rai from Chandrachur Singh's arms in Mansoor Khan's "Josh".

Mahesh Manjrekar wouldn't let little sister Bhoomika anywhere near Abhishek Bachchan in Jeeva's "Run", and in Bapu's "Pyari Behna", hyper-protective brother Mithun Chakraborty smothers poor Tanvi Azmi in brotherly affection while the love-interest Padmini Kolhapure fumes and frets.

In "Bandhan", sister Ashwini Bhawe takes kid-brother Salman Khan to her in-laws' as dowry. Understandably, brother-in-law Jackie Shroff feels sidelined and spends his nights at the nautch girl Shweta Reddy's place.

This is a favorite cliche where the sister is tortured, raped or murdered before Big Brother goes on a vendetta binge. In Suneel Darshan's "Talaash" the entire drama depended on the brother's search for his sister.

Bollywood's resident screen-sister Nazima played the central role in Rajshri productions' "Mere Bhaiyya". The actress' sisterly image was seldom showcased with such splendid sibling sentimentality.

Shabana Azmi in "Anokha Bandhan" and "Yeh Kaisa Insaaf" played a sister willing to sacrifice marital happiness for the sake of her kid brother. In "Tapasya", Raakhee was the long-suffering 'didi' (elder sister) who tells her lover to take a walk when his mom says she must let her siblings fend for themselves.

In K. Balachander's "Aaina", Mumtaz becomes a prostitute to support her impoverished siblings. And in "Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam", Madhuri Dixit is willing to suffer her husband Shah Rukh Khan's taunts to look after brother Atul Agnihotri in her marital home.

In Nitin Sethi's "Angaaray", sister Smita Patil becomes a nautch girl for her kid brother Alankar's financial security. Tapan Sinha's "Didi" portrayed the best Sacrificial Sister of the lot -- Deepti Naval was a prostitute trying desperately to hide her profession from her kid brother.

In Manmohan Desai's "Sachcha Jhootha", Rajesh Khanna takes off for the city to raise dowry for sister Naaz...but only after singing 'Meri pyari behaniya banegi dulhaniya'.

And come Raksha Bandhan, there would be the mandatory song celebrating the brother-sister bond. The old songs that steered away from the stereotype remain classics to this day. Here are a few of them:

Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka (1971)
Two siblings share a song and a moment before they will be cruelly separated by their parents’ divorce. This song from Hare Rama Hare Krishna is still the top request on Raksha Bandhan

Bhaiya Mere Rakhi Ke (1959)
Nanda plays the title role in Chhoti Behan, with Balraj Sahni as the doting brother.

Mere Bhaiyya Mere Chanda (1965)
The brother is a priceless gem for Meena Kumari’s character in Kaajal.

Chanda Re Mere Bhaiya (1980)
This soulful Lata Mangeshkar song is the only thing memorable about Chambal Ki Kasam

Behna Ne Bhai Ki (1974)
This Shankar-Jaikishan song from the Resham ki Dor has come to epitomise the festival of Raksha Bandhan

O Meri Laadli (1963)
And finally, we end with a Mohammed Rafi classic from Dil Ek Mandir

The portrayal of brother-sister in films has come a long way. Today, the sister’s image has changed in Bollywood from the demure, to-be-protected little one to a sexy, with-a-mind-of-her-own individual. From Nanda who played the sweet devoted sister to her three over protective brothers in Choti Behen to Neelam in Hum Saath Saath Hai, Bollywood has come a long way where the sibling relationship is concerned. New age films are reworking the dynamics shared by siblings. The sweet, patiently understanding sister of Gol Maal has been replaced by the sassy, girl-about-town in B-town.

In Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, the brother is concerned about his sister’s welfare, but in a more subtle tone. It's a departure from past movies where the brother screams and vows vengeance because of his sister’s rape/murder/distress. The film also explores the mind of the sister as she grows to learn about the goodness of her brother even, all the while maintaining her own identity.

A film that was markedly different from the stereotype brother sister film was Josh. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan played the sultry twin sister to a brash Shah Rukh Khan. However, the film entirely veered around Ash and SRK with their respective love lives almost as a sub plot in the film.

Look up My Brother Nikhil and one would realize that Bollywood has stepped into new terra firma. Director Onir portrayed a genuinely close and affectionate bond between brother Sanjay Suri and his sister Juhi Chawla. From sipping their first glasses of wine together, this adorable pair even secretly smoked their first cigarettes together in the film. Moreover, rather unusually, brother Sanjay depended on sister Juhi, more than she did on him. Juhi Chawla’s role in the film was one of a saviour where she campaigned for her HiV+ brother to give him the respect that he deserved.

Another film, which had the brother-sister relationship at its core was Khalid Mohamed’s Fiza. The film explores the 1993 Mumbai riots, and communal tensions, through the eyes of Fiza played by Karisma Kapoor who was in search of her brother, Amaan (Hrithik Roshan) who vanished during the riots. Mohamed depicted a deeply caring relationship between elder sister, Fiza, and younger brother, Amaan, without resorting to any honor-saving stereotypes.

Bollywood is slowly, but surely coming around and realizing the role of the sister in films. Today it's more about the characters and the script than about rehashing the same old formula of Raksha Bandhan in Bollywood.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Friend For Life!

My first memory of friendship takes me back to the Forties in Lahore. The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were from my school days, especially the quality time I spent with Bazal, my next door neighbor and my best friend. Though we were not studying in the same school, still we were so close that there was hardly a day when he was not at our place or vice-versa. Together we would implement very innovative ideas, which were appreciated by one and all, especially the boys of our age in the neighborhood. Founding a library of our own when we were still fourth graders was one such idea which attracted everyone's attention. My father's library in our large living, spread over a dozen glass-paned cabinets, was not only our inspiration but also the sole source of supply of books to our “Boys' Own Library”. My father, who was the Chief Representative of Oxford University Press for Northern India, would pass on to us the books that he knew were surplus and suitable for our library, mostly story books and novels for school-age children. Apart from operating the library, we also started “Boys' Own Club” at the spacious bungalow of Ravi, our common friend in the neighborhood. There we would play badminton and many indoor games. Bazal's father being a professor at the nearby Government College, we also obtained passes to use the college swimming pool with his help. Life, indeed, was beautiful with a friend like Bazal around.

Everyone in our family loved Bazal and treated him a part of the family, particularly my mother who pampered him to the hilt. All the more ever since the day he had a miraculous escape from what could have been a fatal fall from our terrace to the street, three stories down. It was the day when everyone in Lahore would be on the terrace, looking at the sky that was covered with colorful kites of all sorts and sizes. One and all, irrespective of any caste or creed, celebrated Basant as the festival of kite flying at the beginning of the spring season. As usual with all festivals, Bazal was celebrating Basant at our place by flying kites with us from our terrace. When he was totally engrossed in a match with a rival kite-flyer from another terrace, he suddenly slipped over the low fence and lost control. A split-second move by my brother when he was about to fall down saved his life.

Since that fateful day my mother always loved and treated Bazal like her own son, especially so after his father suddenly expired due to deadly heart attack. A movie buff, my mother would even make me and Bazal her constant companions to watch the latest movie on every Wednesday, when it was a “Ladies Only” show at half the normal rates. Boys under twelve were allowed if accompanied with a lady. This was her own way to divert Bazal's attention from the sad demise of his father. Bazal too reciprocated by spending more time at our house than at his own. His step mother did not mind this, though some in our neighborhood did. They, the orthodox Hindus, did not digest a Muslim boy mixing so freely with our family, and even allowed to enter our kitchen where my mother would be serving us steaming hot meals, making fresh 'rotis' while we ate. They belonged to that section of the Hindu society who believed that the Muslims were impure and must be kept at a distance, and drank water at public places from the separate taps especially installed for them with the sign “Hindu Water”.

One thing about Bazal's house I will ever remember as that remains a a mystery to me, many decades after we had left Lahore for ever in the aftermath of Partition. It had a locked room that would come alive late in the evenings with mysterious sounds of music and dance. Nobody in Bazal's family, not even his elder brother, a Captain in the army, would dare disturb the ghosts during that time, by knocking or unlocking the room. The ghosts too seemed to reciprocate their gesture by refraining from entering any other room or disturbing them in any other way. But this mutual understanding between the ghosts and Bazal's family members was far too spooky and scary for any visitor to spend the evening in their home. I too invariably avoided visiting him in the evening and would insist on returning home before the sunset if I happened to be at his home in the afternoon.

And one thing that Bazal could never forget till our last day in Lahore, besides, of course, my mother's affection beyond any imagination, was that he owed his life to my brother but for whose miraculous move he would have lost his life on that Basant day. The time to pay back to my brother had arrived. On August 15, 1947, when the rest of the family was vacationing in Srinagar, my father and brother were still staying in Lahore, and actually continued to stay there for quite sometime when most other Hindus had left Lahore, which was now a part of Pakistan. Father firmly believed that sooner or later the atmosphere of hate and violence would calm down and people would settle peacefully as before, well protected by the new Pakistan administration. But his belief belied him when mobs of fanatic Muslims were roaming on the roads, resolving not to let a single Hindu or Sikh live in Lahore. They were on a killing spree and it was a miraculous escape for my father and brother when they forced their entry into our house on learning that they were still living there. Bazal and his brother came to their rescue, helping them escape by crossing over to their house from the terrace and later escorting them to airport to take a flight to New Delhi. This daring rescue by Bazal and his brother, as also Bazal's earlier Basant day escape from death with my brother's help, truly make Bazal a friend for life.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Race To The Top"!

Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well – Aristotle

Aristotle's above quote cannot be appreciated enough unless we emphasize the urgency and importance of remarkably effective reforms in the education system. It is ironical that the U.S. academic achievement has stagnated or declined for almost a hundred years while virtually every other area of human endeavor has advanced tremendously. This year marks 25 years since the publication of the U.S. Department of Education's explosive report "A Nation at Risk." Its powerful indictment of American education launched the largest education-reform movement in the nation's history, paving the way for strategies as different as charter schools and the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. But even after a vast political and financial investment spanning two and a half decades, America is far from achieving the report's ambitious aims. In such a scenario, when students of the most developed country cannot compete with those from other developed countries of the West or even from the emerging economies like China and India, it will be worthwhile for the U.S. to emulate the example of Japan, the most developed country of the East, which did not find it below its dignity to learn a lesson or two from India's education system, considered amongst the best in the world.

India has the third largest higher secondary education system in the world. States control the school system, though the central government provides financial assistance and planning. Primary school is free and officially compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14. For women, education is free up to the undergraduate level. Schooling in India is considered amongst the best in the world. What better proof can be there than provided by the present elementary education scenario in Japan. Despite an improved economy, Japan is suffering a crisis of confidence these days about its ability to compete with its emerging Asian rivals, China and India. One result has been a growing craze for Indian education in this fad-obsessed nation. Many are looking for lessons from India, a country seen by many in Japan as the world's ascendant education superpower. Bookstores are filled with titles like "Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills" and "The Unknown Secrets of the Indians." Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard for young elementary students in Japan. And the few Indian international schools in Japan are reporting a surge in applications from Japanese families. Indian education is a frequent topic in public forums, from talk shows to conferences on education. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers.

Improving teacher quality is the educational mantra of the Indian education system. The well-established tradition of teaching and learning in India has retained its inherent strength ever since the Gurukul system of ancient India. The post-independence period was characterized by major efforts being made to nurture and transform teacher education, to adapt and up-date the teacher education curriculum to local needs, to make it more context based, responsive and dynamic with regard to best meeting the particular needs of India. The current system of teacher education is supported by a network of national, provincial and district level resource institutions working together to enhance the quality and effectiveness of teacher preparation programs at the pre-service level and also through in-service programs for serving teachers throughout the country. The current focus of researchers, policy makers and practitioners with regard to teacher education is on the development of professional competence, and on the most effective ways of achieving higher levels of commitment and motivation for performance on the part of teachers. The teacher performance pay program is highly effective in improving student learning. School-level group incentives and teacher-level individual incentives perform equally well. Performance-based bonus payments to teachers proved a significantly more cost effective way of increasing student test scores compared to spending a similar amount of money unconditionally on additional schooling inputs. The bottom line is, the teachers must be most qualified and best paid, to attract the best brains and retain them in the profession of teaching to turn out brilliant students, amongst the best in the world.

President Obama sure has shown he is a fast learner as far as adopting India's mantra for education reform to conditions in his country is considered. The Obama administration's "Race to the Top" initiative is the first shot fired by the administration in reforming public K-12 schools across the nation, with $4.35 billion in initial funds allocated from the 2009 stimulus package. "Race to the Top" was recently described in the Washington Post as "the crown jewel of the Obama administration's education reform agenda and the largest-ever discretionary federal grant program for public schools." And per his 2011 budget plan, the President wants to add $1.35 billion more for "Race to the Top" grant funding for the 2010-2011 school year. Briefly, "Race to the Top" pushes public school systems to improve by creating competition between states for school funding. Obama has advocated merit pay for teachers, and that states and school districts should take steps "to move bad teachers out of the classroom." Race to the Top (RttT) has affected more positive change in state and local education laws and policies than any other federal education program in history. It has mobilized policy-makers, principals and teachers to create the conditions that are needed to help schools meet high standards of excellence. Each state has taken its own unique route, yet the objective is common. Race to the Top has put wind in the sails of the education reform movement and, in just a year and a half, has accelerated the pace of change more than any other past federal effort and much more than most dreamed possible. The enthusiastic response of most states to President Obama's mantra for education reform clearly demonstrates the country is ready to break away from the status-quo and work to truly improve education for students – as envisioned by President Obama’s initiative - “Race to the Top”!