Tilak Rishi's weblog

Musings on writing, expression, world politics, journalism, movies, philosophy, life, humour...

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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.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wishful World Rediscovered!

It's always inspiring and enthralling to to see pictures of enthusiastic crowds from across the country gather at 'Jalsa' just to have a glance at their most respected and revered mega star, Amitabh Bachchan. Frankly speaking, sometimes the scene seems somewhat scary in the fearful environment of the times when media is full of most terrifying and gruesome stories of global terrorism. I'm sure Big B is well protected with adequate security provided for such occasions and pray is safe safe always, especially on such unforgettable Sundays for your fans and well wishers.

Talking of change in the times on account of terrorism, I'm reminded of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He made himself accessible to the people on a regular basis , when they came to meet him from across the country for redress of their grievances. The Sunday 'Janta Darbar' during Rajiv's regime sent across the message that the voiceless had a patron in their Prime Minister. Alas, this could not go on for long and he had to discontinue the 'Darbar' due to security pressures. The times continued to change for the worse from security point of view. I feel sad when I recollect the action of overzealous security of the Prime Minister of India, late Rajiv Gandhi, in the changed atmosphere.
The place was right on the picturesque road along the Aravali Hills leading to Alwar and further up the famous Tiger Sanctuary at Sariska. The wayside wooden shops at Nuh and other small towns displayed colorful items handcrafted by village craftsmen, and were a great attraction for tourists. Suddenly something happened that changed the entire scene. The Prime Minister called a conclave of Cabinet Ministers and their aides in the scenic surroundings of Sariska Tiger Sanctuary, on the lines of the US Presidents making news at Camp David or the presidential ranch. The plan promptly put the Prime Minister's security into action and all those wayside shops were literally lifted hundreds of yards to the interiors, not visible from the road, as long as the VVIPs were enjoying serious deliberations at the Tiger Den. The Ministrial meetings may have lasted for a few days, but the ordeal suffered by the people living along the way lasted much longer. In fact, the place never came back to its original lively form, the people having lost confidence, not knowing when another Prime Minister or President may decide to spend a day at Sariska.

Down my memory lane comes another time, of another Prime Minister and a President, and a set of shops which were also situated on the VIP route but had a different story to tell. The year was 1959. Pundit Nehru was the Prime Minister. He had just received President Eisenhower, on a state visit, the first US President to visit India. As their motorcade arrived near the downtown Connaught Place in the heart of New Delhi, it stopped in front of the flourishing fruit and vegetable market. Both, Pundit Nehru and President Eisenhower came out of their cars for the traditional welcome with flowers and garlands by the vegetable and fruit vendors, the common people. They got themselves photographed with them and some lucky ones even shaked hands with the world's two great leaders. This was the scene whenever a foreign dignitary, a President or a Prime Minister passed that point on their arrival. And this is the world I wish to rediscover, sans the threat of security that separates the peoples' leaders from their own people, and fans from their beloved film stars. God bless Big B for bringing back the world of my wish, which I have been wanting to rediscover for quite some time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bollywood Beliefs!

“... There are moments in our lives when we nurture thoughts that lead us to believe that a certain act or conduct fructified itself into a being reality because of a superstition belief”.
- Bachchan Bol (DAY 1985)

Such moments have been more visible amongst our moviemakers when finalizing the title of their films. In the early era, even the iconic director, Mehboob Khan, succumbed to such superstition when he was obsessed with alphabet 'A' as the first letter in his title – Aurat, Anmol Ghadi, Anokhi Ada, Andaz, Amar, Ailan, till he hit the jackpot with his mega hit Mother India, the title of which ended with 'A' instead of beginning with it.

In recent times K-obsession has been more prominent amongst producers. The man who initiated such a superstition is none other than the successful filmmaker Rakesh Roshan – Khudgarz, Koyla, Khoon Bhari Maang, Kahi Na Pyar Hai, Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish and the eagerly awaited Krrish-3.

Karan Johar followed suite and stuck to alphabet 'K' after the success of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and then came: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. The obsession ended with Dostana that turned out to be a super hit even without the lucky letter 'K'. And came My Name Is Khan, another hit without 'K'. Interestingly, Karan Johar had even named his TV talk show as Koffee With Karan – Coffee with 'K' instead of “C'!

TV queen Ekta Kapoor too was down with K-syndrome while naming her TV serials: Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Kahin Kisi Roz. K-obsession eventually ended with Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, her current TV hit. However, it came back when she entered the Bollywood arena with films titled Kyonki Main Jhoot Nahin Bolta, Kuch To Hai, Kya Kool Hain Hum, Kya Super Kool Hain Hum. But mediocre success of the movies at the box-office brought her out of the K-syndrome and came her super hit productions – The Dirty Picture and Once Upon A Time In Mumbai.

There are so many more such and other obsessions amongst moviemakers that if I was to go into each one of them then I would be taking too much of space of this precious platform which would not be advisable. Still, I cannot resist mentioning Subhash Ghai's a strange obsession with letter 'M' that got him to hire or rename her heroins starting with alphabet 'M'. Be it renaming Mahima and his latest discovery Mishti from Ritu and Indrani respectively or hiring heroins like Madhuri Dixit, Meenakshi Seshadri and Manisha Koirala. Isn't it interesting? He also believes in one more thing – the date October 24. It's not only his wife's birthday but also the day he got married. And ever since, he has made it a point to announce his new venture on this date.

Before concluding, here are beliefs of some of our super stars: Salman Khan has been hooked on a release of all his films around the festival of Eid after the success of 'Wanted' and 'Dabangg', released during Eid. Similarly, after success of Tare Zameen Par, Amir Khan has come to believe that Christamas is a lucky time for him and scheduled the release of Ghajini and 3Idiots during the December festival. Shah Rukh Khan did not believe in superstitions till his team Kolkata Knight Riders failed to win the first couple of matches earlier this IPL season. A 'Taviz' he started wearing seems to have worked to bring his Knights back in the limelight. Huge success of Chinnai Express must have further strengthened his belief in the 'Taviz' as he continues to wear it. Katrina Kaif too has imbibed the superstitious ways of her co-stars. Even though her skirt raised a controversy during the filming of Namaste London at the Ajmer Sharif Durgah, she makes it a point to visit the shrine before her every release.

Last but not the least, Amitabh Bachchan, whose quote in the beginning initiated this blog, believes in a particular chair he prefers to sit on during an important meeting with a moviemaker. This is how he explains it: “...So when you sit on a particular chair during a discussion and there emanates an idea or suggestion which completely bowls over your guest or prospective maker, it registers in the mind somewhat unconsciously that each time an idea needs discussion, it would and it should be that very chair, if we want acceptable suggestions to come about. Strange, funny, silly though it may sound, it does bear up in the mind”.

To end on a personal note: In the beginning of my career in a big company, I got a surprise opportunity to represent the company at an important meeting with a very important client, when my senior who was scheduled to attend it suddenly reported sick. Thankfully, I passed the tough test with flying colors and there was no looking back for me. But it made me superstitious of the timing of the successful meeting. It was Tuesday and I started believing that Tuesday was lucky for me. Thereafter, I tried my best to schedule all important meetings and presentations on Tuesdays only and most of the time it paid of. Since Tuesday is also considered as Hanumanji's day, I started feeling that my success on the day was due to blessing of Hanumanji and as many of my religion observe fast on the day, I too started doing so to thank Hanumanji, which I continue till date. I must admit, however, my Tuesday fast is more a result of superstition rather than religious belief.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Films For Peace!

21 September is International Day of Peace.

International Day of Peace, also unofficially known as World Peace Day, is observed annually on 21 September. It is dedicated to world peace and specifically the absence of war and violence. There has been no better medium than films for reminding us of pain, horror and destruction due to war. The best war movies rarely focus on the carnage or courage on the battlefield and instead the stories behind the front-lines of the families of the soldiers who have to undergo severe hardships and anxiety. Of the numerous anti-war films made in different countries and countless languages around the world, I have picked five of my most favorite films for posting on this  platform:

Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (V. Shantaram, 1946): The film recounts the real-life story of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis (Shantaram), a member of a medical team sent by India to fight alongside the Chinese during the Japanese invasion of China in the WWII. During his stay there, he meets and marries a Chinese girl, Ching Lan (Jayshree). Events take a terrible turn when Kotnis goes into the battlefield whilst developing a cure against an epidemic and dies treating the wounded. The film is remarkable for its absolute abandonment of any pretense at cinematic realism and its powerful nationalistic rhetoric. This is undercut with documentary footage of Pundit Nehru at a mass meeting. Shantaram gives one of his most powerful performances in the movie and Jayshree looks extremely charming as his Chinese wife.

Hum Dono (Vijay Anand, 1960): The film has a strong yet subtle anti-war message running through it, showing how the war can destroy the lives of innocent people. Written by Vijay Anand, Hum Dono features Dev Anand in the dual role of Captain Anand and Major Verma. They both become close friends at the war front. Verma goes missing and is presumed dead. Keeping a promise to his friend, Anand goes to Verma's home to inform the Major's ailing wife (Nanda) that her husband is missing in action. When Anand arrives, because of their striking resemblence, his family believes he is Verma, leading to a series of misunderstandings. The film has beautiful dialogues and brilliant songs composed by Jaidev and written by Sahir Ludhianvi. The song “Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar Ke Dil Abhi Bhara Nahin” remains among the most beautiful songs of Bollywood.

Haqeeqat (Chetan Anand, 1964): India's first and the finest war film to date, Haqeeqat became a yardstick for subsequent Hindi films based on war. The film is a heroic portrayal of India's 1962 war with China over the disputed Ladakh border. Haqeeqat is the only film that depicts this war in all its reality. The director has brilliantly woven drama and history together on his cinematic canvas. The movie not only involves a sense of pride but also brings a tear to the dry eye as one goes through the termoils of soldiers as they fight with abandon to save their motherland. Kaifi Azmi pens some of his best lyrics for this movie. Madan Mohan is in his elements as he composes some of the gems of his legendary repertoir. The film is also boosted by an extremely well written screenplay that engrosses the viewer. Films like Haqeeqat are made but once in a life time.

Border (J. P. Dutta, 1997): Rarely has an Indian movie depicted the personal traumas that confront soldiers and their families. J. P. Dutta's Border resurrects the glory of Haqeeqat as an extraordinary film on the subject. Border is much more than a war movie. It explores the lives, conditions, problems and aspirations of the soldiers of the armed forces, and pits their bonds to their loved ones against their bonds to their soil. The movie unfolds like a timeless epic - an inspiring story revolving around the Longewala post in West Rajasthan during the war of 1971 between India and Pakistan. A small Indian battalion, merely fifty in numbers, withstands the enemy's attack to capture it - a force of two thousand men with their tanks and other ammunition. A very well-researched script, the film is gripping in its narration. One of the most significant aspects of the film is that it was shot on actual locations amidst the vast deserts of Bikaner. The film won Filmfare (1998) Awards for: Best Director, Best New Comer (Akshay Khanna), Best Lyricist (Javed Akhtar), Best Sound Recording (Vinod Potdar) and Best Action (Bhiku Verma, Tinu Verma).

Refugee (J.P.Dutta, 2000): The film is a poetic rendering of how God just created humans and love and how mankind erected walls and boundaries, thus creating blocks, communities and nations in a baritone – and sets the pace of the film. It is essentially a love story set against backdrop of post-Partition ethos. The song “Panchi Nadiya Pawan Ke Jhonke, Koi Sarhad Na Inhen Roke” is a true representation of the film, which when translated is something like – 'Borders dividing nations don't confine birds, rivers, breez. Borders are meant for mankind. By virtue of being human beings that is all what we have got'. One aspect of the film that springs a surprise is the ease with which the debuntantes Abhishek and Kareena have performed. It does not look from anywhere that the two are acting for the first time.

“On this International Day of Peace let us pledge to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect. … “
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Grand Masti - Where Will It Stand?

Film: Grand Masti
Critics' verdict: Grand Masti is most offensive and a must be avoided movie.
Viewers' verdict: Grand Masti a grand success, grosses rupees 50 crores in four days.

Though a big fan of Hindi films, I have not seen Grand Masti, this week's biggest blockbuster. And saved myself from a free fall – from Satyagraha to Grand Masti – as it seems from the near unanimous opinion of film critics. Otherwise too, I have long passed the time when I used to watch almost every important release of the week and never regretted watching it. I recollect the golden era of great movies when Dilip Kumar would be seen playing an antique piano while wooing his ladylove with lines, somewhat like, "Tu kahe agar to jivan bhar mein geet sunata jaoon". In movies then the proverbial tree proved safe bet in courting scenes to keep the lovers at decent distance from each other. Still safer, lovers in some movies remained separated in much of the footage of the film, content to call from long distance, "Awaz de kahan hei, dunia meri jawan hei". And yet the movies celebrated silver and golden jubilees. Then came along Raj Kapoor's 'Bobby', along with it the new trend of youthful romance, with plenty of hugs between the lead pairs. From then on there was no stopping, especially after the liberalization in the Censor Board policy, and singing and dancing "Choli ke piche kya hei" and the sexier numbers that followed, the films have reached a stage where lead actors compete in the smooch game on the silver screen. Why not, the youth today is far more liberal and fun loving than in the bygone era to which my youth belongs and looks for a free life style of unrestricted entertainment in films. Taking no risks or rather playing to popular demand, producers fill their films with bold scenes and daring songs and dance sequences.

As time passes on, it is for sure that Grand Masti will be included amongst the biggest runaway blockbusters of Hindi cinema. The term 'runaway hit' was initially used in music world to describe a 'single' which was not formally released but became a hit on its own. The cine-world adopted the term for films which hit bull's eye at the box office although they remain unrecognized by the industry while in the making. By and large, these are low-budget movies made by new comers or comparatively lesser known filmmakers, who are catapulted to the league of the highest ranking on release of the film. The runaway hit is the 'dark horse' amongst the movies that race to win at the box-office. But compared to the most avoidable Grand Masti, my memory of runaway hits is of a different class of films, which were lapped up and loved by family audiences – Lal Haveli (K.B.Lal – 1944), Ek Thi Ladki (Roop K. Shorey – 1949), Albela (Bhagwan – 1951), Nagin (Nandlal Jaswantlal – 1954), Dil Deke Dekho (Nasir Hussain – 1959), Love in Simla (R. K. Nayyar – 1960), Victoria No. 203 (Brij – 1972), Jai Santoshi Maa (Vijay Sharma – 1975), Love Story (Rajendra Kumar – 1981) and Maine Pyar Kiya (Sooraj R. Barjatiya – 1989) – to name top ten such movies of earlier times.

Some historians of Hindi Cinema may be inclined to include Grand Masti amongst biggest Bollywood comedies. Cinematic comedy can be considered the oldest film genre and one of the most prolific and popular. Comedy films are designed to elicit laughter from the audience. These are light-hearted screenplays crafted to amuse, entertain and provide enjoyment. Comedies observe the deficiencies, foibles and frustrations of life, providing merriment and a momentary escape from day-to-day drudgery of life. Here too, my conscience would outright reject Grand Masti, which can only boast of being called a big comedy because of its double meaning bold and obscene dialogues and gestures, and allow it pollute my memory of the most enjoyable, yet innocent comedies stored there in – to name top the top ten: Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (Satyen Bose – 1958), Johar Mehmood in Goa (I. S. Johar – 1965), Pyar Kiye Ja (C. V. Sridhar – 1966), Padosan (Jyoti Swaroop – 1968), Aaj Ki Taza Khabar (Rajendra Bhatia – 1973), Chupke Chupke (Hrishikesh Mukherjee – 1975), Golmal (Hrishikesh Mukherjee – 1979), Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro – 1983), Hera Pheri (Priya Darshan – 2000) and Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. (Raajkumar Hirani – 2003).

There is absolutely no doubt that the unexpected and unprecedented success of Grand Masti will give rise to the trend of making movies such as this or even with dirtier dialogues. Hopefully, this trend of sex overtones in screenplay, songs and dialogues in films will be only a passing phase, which will end when the audience gets fed up with too much sex in films. And it won't be too long a wait, as the super success of films like "Black" and “Satyagraha” shows.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alwar - A Difficult Departure

It was in the late seventies, when I preferred the option of accepting a challenging job to manage the most modern foundry that was coming up in Alwar, Rajasthan, to being transferred from New Delhi to Bombay in my job of 20 years with a reputed company. Although only 100 miles from New Delhi, due to bad condition of the road, it was beyond daily commuting. I would spend weekends with my family in New Delhi and return to Alwar on Monday mornings, to manage the factory located in the newly developed industrial area, 10 miles from the city.

Alwar, I soon found , was too sleepy to have any life. A grand historic city of the times of Maharajas, its grandeur and glory were all gone. The majestic palace built in marble was turned into the Collector's office, over looking the over crowded district courts within its compound walls. The great fort on the hilltop, visible for miles around the city, was perhaps the most neglected of all the places that must have been once the pride of Alwar and its rulers. As for the city itself, the citizens regarded heaps of garbage and choked open drains with dirty stagnant water along the houses, as a way of life. They did not seem to care that they were living in perpetual danger of being afflicted by the dreaded decease of Malaria. There could be no better breeding facilities for mosquitoes than found here. The mosquito menace simply made their life hell. However, they felt solace from the saying that those who have lived in Alwar are assured of definite entry into heaven after death; they have already served their term in hell while living here and atoned for whatever sins they might have committed in their life.

Clearing of drains for free flow of rain water as well as removal of city garbage was the responsibility of a contractor, who passed on the duty to stray cattle and street pigs. Mosquitoes, in the meanwhile, had the best breeding time in the stagnant dirty water of the drains all over the city. I, along with most other engineers and professionals, who had come to Alwar to work in the upcoming factories in the industrial area, though dismayed, could hardly do much to improve the sanitation in the city. I did write a 'Letter to the Editor' in the Hindustan Times, concerning conditions in Alwar, which became talk of the town, as it was for the first time that Alwar was mentioned prominently in the national press. The letter also attracted the attention of the Collector, who immediately ordered civic officials to launch cleanliness drive in the city, before his bosses in the central government gave any directions based on the letter.

All its filth and faults aside, we found Alwar the most feasible option to have our home here, when my wife retired from her job and had to surrender the accommodation in New Delhi that was provided to her as Principal of a government school. Property prices in New Delhi were prohibitive for our reach and I had already booked a house under the State Housing Scheme, during my tenure in Alwar. The biggest advantage of living in Alwar vis-a-vis New Delhi was its special small town charm. Even the best city doctor was not only available without prior appointment, but ready to attend you at your home if needed. Interestingly, our doctor even went out of the way to introduce us to some of his friends, when we hinted that we were missing our friends in Delhi and feeling a sort of bored in Alwar. And they proved to be the best company one could ever have in a city.

Whatever the civic disadvantages be, the life of citizens in Alwar was very safe. Not to speak of big crime, even small incidents of burglary were hardly heard of. It was unimaginable in Delhi how another small piece published in the Hindustan Times brought big awards and promotions to the cops at the police station in our area. I had only appreciated their work in solving a small burglary (my imported shoes!) , which letter attracted the attention of their big boss, the Inspecter General in Jaipur, the state capital. Soon after knowing about their reward and how it came about, the Incharge of the area police station called on us with his subordinates to thank me for writing the letter. From that day onwards, the officer arranged to specially safeguard our house with a new police post opposite our house. The police protection could not have come at a better time, as soon afterwards we moved to USA to join our son, while our house in Alwar remains well guarded. It was indeed a difficult departure for us.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Commonman Loves Caring Leaders

15 September is the UN declared International Day of Democracy.

“On this International Day of Democracy, I call on leaders to hear, respect and respond appropriately to the voices of the people, whether expressed directly or through elected representatives”.
  • Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
On this day particularly, I wish to recall and record with pleasure and pride my personal experience with a political leader who with all the sincerity, solemnly put into practice what the Secretary-General preaches in the above message on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy:

Recently, I had a serious issue with a government office that greatly affected me financially on a regular month to month basis, as my benefits given to senior citizens under law were drastically reduced. I cannot say with certainty whether it arose because of routine beurocratic red tape or racial bias of a particular officer, but the fact is that in spite of my repeated requests and clearly proving my point from the rules of law concerning my complaint, the official was not ready to reconsider the case and I continued to bear the extra financial burden. It was then that I suddenly thought of seeking help from the elected Senator from my area – San Francisco – , though very certain that politicians, particularly a leader of the stature of Diane Feinstein, would hardly have the time to hear or look into personal matters that are of little importance from their perspective. And you know what, She not only responded to my letter by return mail from Washington DC but also directed an official of her San Francisco office to personally pursue my case with the concerned officer. In her reply she not only assured me that she would remain concerned with the issue till it finishes to my satisfaction but also thanked me for bringing it to her knowledge. It was no routine reply form an elected representative to his/her constituent but a sincere effort to help the sufferer, I can truly vouch for. After exchange of four letters with me and the the administration and personal followup by her staff, she ultimately succeeded to resolve the issue to my full satisfaction by restoring my financial benefits to the fullest as per rules. And I was just an ordinary citizen, and that too an immigrant, who hardly could raise his voice in this vast land, far away from his homeland.

Another unforgettable experience that I always cherish in the U.S. Is my exchange of letters with Former President Bill Clinton, During eight years of his presidency, I wrote several letters on varied subjects to President Clinton, and I am proud to possess his personal replies to each one of them. His replies were much more than mere acknowledgments of my letters; they reflected how much he valued the views of others, especially of the common people like me, whom he cared for and placed above others. President Clinton's second term in office ended the same year he visited India, and with that ended my most joyous moments of finding in my mailbox envelopes from the White House. However, the unique experience of corresponding with President Bill Clinton remains my most rewarding experience in life, and his letters my most valued possessions.

Here is an exceptional case of a caring leader from our own country where most leaders are come in contact with the common man only at the time of elections:

Alok, our son, had done all that he could do to go to the U.S. for studies – getting good scoring in SAT, acceptance at the University of San Francisco for undergraduate srudies majoring in computers. Now it was our turn to approach the government for permission to remit fees in foreign exchange. The concerned officer in Reserve Bank of India outright rejected our application, advising that we send our son to a college in India. It was a hopeless situation after so much of effort put in by our son, but we had not given up hope. In one of her repeated rounds of Parliament House reception restaurant to seek support for our cause from some caring MP, Inderjeet, my wife, had a chance meeting with one such MP from Mumbai, Ratansingh Rajda, absolutely unknown to us. Though from the Opposition, he happened to be very close to Pranab Mukherjee, the then Finance Minister. He personally pursued our case with the FM and got us government permission for payment of fees in foreign exchange.
Bill Clinton, Diane Feinstein and Ratansingh Rajda are amongst rarest of the rare elected leaders in any democracy. The world will be a better place for the common people when most political leaders follow the example in caring for the common man.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Replace Ragging With Welcome Party

Once again comes the sad season of ragging, hazing or whatever name you call it in different countries:

Andhra Pradesh: Seven engineering students have been arrested for murdering one of their junios and severely injuring his friend on suspected case of ragging.
Kalkata: A first year student of the Marine Engineering and Research Institute was allegedly slapped 40 times as part of ragging.
Uttar Pradesh: Four senior students of an Uttar Pradesh university have been booked for physically abusing their junior, forcing him to remove his clothes and consume liquor in a case of ragging.
Himanchal Pradesh: Four medical students accused of ragging a junior leading to his death were arrested and charged with culpable homicide as the Himachal Pradesh government ordered a magisterial probe into the shocking incident.
Guntur (AP): An agriculture engineering student was allegedly made to dance nude as part of ragging by her seniors following which the girl attempted to commit suicide.
In the U.S. hazing (ragging) has resulted in several deaths and serious injuries.
In Indonesia, 35 people died since 1993 as a result of ragging initiation rites in the Institute of Public Service (IPDN).

Hazing is considered a felony in several U.S. states, and anti-hazing legislation has been proposed in other states. There is anti-ragging legislation in several countries, e.g. in France (the French term is bizutage) imposing a punishment up to six months in prison or 7,500 euro. In the Philippines, ragging accompanied by any forms of temporary or permanent physical injuries (from light injuries to injuries resulting to death), sexual abuse (in any form) or any acts that lead to mental incapacity are punishable by law. Penalties vary depending on how serious the offense is. In India, ragging has been banned for the last few years . Recently, in a historical judgement, the Hon. Supreme Court of India directed the police to lodge criminal cases against those accused of ragging. State governments have also been ordered to deal with ragging strictly. But it is not enough that the law is after all catching up with ragging. Something else has to change: the mindset that considers ragging just part of college life. Ragging is not about harmless traditions or silly antics—ragging is about abuse of power and violation of human dignity. Ragging is simply a systemized form of abuse and exploitation. We are told that ragging can be fun. Yes, it can be — for the ragger. Just like Abu Ghraib was fun for the American soldiers in those pictures we saw. And we never saw pictures of similar abuse in India's college hostels, because no one took those pictures. Those who died or committed suicide are no longer there to tell their raggers how much fun ragging can be. We must fill that gap.

Ragging is a parent's nightmare and a nagging fear for the people who run colleges and universities. The system is carefully drilled into the fresher's mind. You will be told, ad nauseum, that 'ragging can be healthy within limits'. All such arguments in favour of ragging talk about the extent of ragging. The problem is not the extent but the idea of ragging: the idea that you must abuse and exploit just because you joined this college a year or two earlier. The problem is with even the mildest of ragging. Even the harshest ragging begins with mildly, and often the ragger loses self-control, and does things that he never thought he could do. A fresher is ragged not once, and not by a single senior: he is ragged again and again, by the same senior and by other seniors and by their friends from outside college. He is ragged day and night, and more in the night, throughout the night. Just when he thinks the worst is over, comes another ragger whose name he does not know. This goes on for months with no respite.

In order to make meaningful change, it is important to identify the key barriers to change and work on dismantling these. Common barriers to eliminating ragging include:

* Denial of the problem
* Dismissing ragging as harmless
* Silence
* Fear
* Insufficient support for victims of ragging
Cultural norms that promote acceptance of ragging as “normal”

In the context of eliminating the above barriers, especially the last one, here ia a heartening news from Chandigarh:
Chandigarh: The PUSU president Simranjit Singh Dhillon organised a peace rally at Panjab University from Gandhi Bhawan to Students’ Centre with a pledge to end a ragging menace in educational institutes of Chandigarh. According to information, the students’ have taken an oath to end ragging in each and every institute of Chandigarh.

If ragging has to go, it has to be replaced with a new system that brings freshers into the college mainstream. The system of responsible seniors being appointed student 'guides' or 'counsellors' for freshers is the only one that has worked so far. It is successfully followed by western universities, and in India, by IIT Kanpur. The best would be to replace ragging with welcome parties by the seniors, just as the the juniors organize farewell functions for the seniors at the end of their final year of studies.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Memories Of Teen Murti Bhavan

Mega star Amitabh Bachchan's impressive pictures in front of the famous black door of 10, Downing Street, London and behind it with the British Prime Minister David Cameron were seen splashed across the media worldwide recently.

10, Downing Street, the locale of British Prime Ministers since 1735 vies with the White House as being the most important political buildings anywhere in the world in the modern era. Behind its black door have been taken the most important decisions affecting Britain for the last 278 years. Big B's visit to this famous address as the guest of honor at a reception hosted by British Prim Minister David Cameron's wife Samantha Cameron, brings back nostalgic memories of another famous address, far more important for Indians, Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi, that housed the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The Bhavan was originally known as Flag Staff House and was the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in India. After Independence in 1947, the House was taken over as the official residence of the Prime Minister. On Nehru's death, it was converted into a national memorial in 1964, comprising a library and a museum. The library is one of the finest ones for information on modern Indian history.

There is a special significance in being reminded of Teen Murti Bhavan by Bachchan's visit to 10. Downing Street, because it takes us back to the memory lane of the time when Prime Minister Nehru's grand children, Rajiv and Sanjay were often spotted playing with him and his brother Abhijit in the lush lawns of Teen Murti Bhavan. The stories of that particular period of Bachchan sibling's younger days spent playing with Rajiv and Sanjay were often narrated with pride to us by our next door neighbor in New Delhi, who was at one time the Post Master at Teen Murti Bhavan post office. Those personal accounts of anecdotes told by our neighbor, which we then thought could be imaginary or made up stories by our neighbor to earn his hot cup of tea and tasty snacks made by my wife, were confirmed to be true when they found place on pages of many books and magazines on the topic of Bachchans' friendship with Nehru-Gandhi family. And this brings us to another famous house – Anand Bhavan, Allahabad.

It was the pre-independence era when Anand Bhavan was famous as the House of Nehru family and the Headquarters of freedom movement. One fine evening the famous poetess and political leader, Sarojini Naidu entered the Bhavan with another famous poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan and his wife Teji Bachchan and introduced them to Pandit Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi as the Poet and his Poem. That was the beginning of a long friendship between the two families. When Pandit Nehru moved to New Delhi's Teen Murti Bhavan as India's first Prime Ministe, Rajiv and his brother Sanjay turned the Bhavan into their playground along with Bachchan siblings Amitabh and Ajitabh. While Rajiv and Sanjay were studying at Doon School, Amitabh and Ajitabh were at Nainital's Sherwood. During the holidays which fell around the same time, the boys met at Teen Murti and went for swimming every day at the pool of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Rajiv and Sanjay also exposed Amitabh to avent garde cinema when European films were specially screened at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the Nehru-Gandhi family. Teen Murti Bhavan will ever retain sentimental significance for Big B because of the beautiful memories of the childhood days spent there in the company of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi.

On a personal note, I too have a very special emotional attachment to Teen Murti Bhavan on account of an unforgettable event:
As Chairman of the International Cultural Forum, India, I had the pleasure of taking a group of children to Prime Minister Nehru's residence for his blessings before the children were to leave for a Summer Camp in the then Soviet Union. Mrs. Indra Gandhi, the PM's daughter, received and rushed us to Mr. Nehru's study for a hurried audience with him as per appointment. However, Mr. Nehru was in no hurry and asked Mrs. Gandhi to arrange for some snacks and soft drinks for us. In the meanwhile he made us feel at home by shifting from the sofa to the carpet to show us on the atlas the summer camp site along the beautiful Black Sea where the children would be spending the summer months. When the 15-minutes allotted time for our appointment was over, Mr. Nehru was still absorbed in giving the children orientation lessons for their participation in the international camp. Mrs. Gandhi had a hard time engaging Ministers and other important persons who were waiting for their turn to meet the Prime Minister as per their respective appointments. Indeed, it is beyond imagination how extraordinary we all felt when we came out after spending the most wonderful time of our life with the great world leader, for full one hour. That visit to Teen Murti Bhavan I cherish for ever as the most precious moment of my life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lost "Labour of Love"

An Open Letter to Manoj Night Shyamalan, the renowned Hollywood director, writer and producer.

Dear Mr. Shyamalan,

I'm writing this letter to you assuming that as a die-hard fan of your films I have the right to do so, and as is the virtue with celebrities, specially from the world of films, you would not let a fan's letter go into the trash without going through it. My association with you as a fan goes back to the early 90s when I watched Praying With Anger, one of your early attempts at filmmaking while still a student. Wow, what a mesmerizing experience it was to see such a realistic movie, revisiting your roots while on a trip back home. That day onwards I never missed any movie made by you right from The Sixth Sense (1999) to After Earth (2013). A few of the films may not have gone well with the critics or the viewers, but for me they were amongst my most favorite – this is what being a big fan is all about, blind love for films made by your beloved filmmaker or the film star.

Back home in India, I have been a big fan of megastar Amitabh Bachchan since the 70s when his film Zanjeer was declared a super hit and he the 'angry young man' of Hindi cinema. There was no looking back for him thereafter and year after year he gave the greatest hits, acclaimed by critics and the audiences alike. After winning numerous 'Best Actor' awards at film award functions including the prestigious National Film Award, his crowning glory came when BBC declared him the greatest actor of the millennium after worldwide poll. You cannot imagine how greatly proud and happy I felt as a fan of his astounding achievements. But my dream was yet to come true – seeing my favorite star Amitabh Bachchan and my most admired director M. Night Shyamalan working together and combine their creative capabilities to make the most memorable Hollywood/Bollywood co-production, which makes the viewers worldwide wonderstruck by the two biggest film industries in the world. However, like your stories, famous for the twists that shock the viewers to no end, I found my dream shattered by a no less shocking twist, that turns my most favorite film celebrities stand on the opposite side of the fence.

This is how the happening is reported in media and reproduced on internet:
Shootjit Sirkar's Shoebite starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jimmy Shergill and Dia Mirza has been stuck in the canes for a long time. Reason : Shebite is a remake of a film called Labour of Love which was supposed to be made by Hollywood director Manoj Night Shyamalan way back in 1994. Shyamalan sold the rights of his story to Fox Star Studios for a hefty sum but the movie never got made. Later, UTV acquired the remake rights from Fox and started work o the film Shoebite. As the film neared completion, Shyamalan changed his mind all of a sudden and stated that he now plans to make his film Labour of Love. He along with Fox communicated to UTV that they should not release their film Shoebite till he makes and releases his own Hollywood version. However, Shyamalan got busy with another film altogether, After Earth, a sci-fi film starring Will Smith. This film has been completed and released this year, but one can only wait and watch when he makes Labour of Love. Meanwhile the never ending wait for the release of already completed Shoebite continues.

Obviously, Amitabh Bachchan is very upset with this delay:
“I do hope we get to see the light of day of that film. … A great amount of hard work and personal sweat has been put into that film … But such is life! Sometimes the most amount of energy spent on the accomplishment of an issue does not necessarily translate to better result.”

And so is Shootjit Sirkar, the director of Shoebite:
“I have seen my bad days with Shoebite .. I have seen pathetic days because of Shoebite, down to the point of being depressed. When a film does not release, I can't tell you what a director goes through. The actors, producers move on, but the director goes through what a mother goes through when a child is stillborn. Shoebite is very close to my heart, it's really close. I know it's a passionately done film. Had it released I would have said people who saw it would have walked out of the theater loving it”.

As a big fan of you both, I can only wish and pray that the issue is resolved at the earliest to fecilitate the release of the film – Shoebite – without further delay. May I make a very special and earnest request to you to help in the matter if it is in your hands. God bless you.

With lots of love and regards

Tilak Rishi
104 Hillcrest Blvd. Apt. 8
Millbrae, CA 94030 (USA)
September 10, 2013

Sunday, September 08, 2013

International Literacy Day - Bollywood!

Sep 8 is International Literacy Day. For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and foundation of all learning. This year the Day is dedicated to “Literacy for the 21st century”.
On this Day, I wish to specially applaud and salute Bollywood for its contribution to literate millions of its fans, particularly the lovers of Bollywood film songs. Mention Bollywood, today the first thing that comes to mind is the Bolly-dance and music. It is this phenomenon that makes Bollywood and cinema in India so very unique. 99% of the films Bollywood turns out are musicals full of incredibly imaginative, loud, vibrant and exciting scenes of song and dance. Bollywood song and dance numbers do not only provide the most popular entertainment to the people, they are also contributing in a big way to convert over 300 million people in India from weak-literacy to functional literacy through Same Language Subtitling (SLS). SLS simply suggests subtitling the lyrics of existing film songs and music-videos on TV, in the ‘same’ language as the audio. In other words, Bollywood film songs marry Karaoke to produce mass literacy. “Karaoke” approach to literacy provides automatic and regular reading practice to the early-literate in India. In addition, nearly 300 million illiterate people are motivated to become literate.

We don't always need shining new technology to do amazing things around the world. With some imagination everyday technology can be re-purposed to do extraordinary things. Let us see how it doubled the number of readers in Indian primary schools when Bollywood combined with Karaoke through same language subtitling – SLS. It is simply the idea of subtitling audio-visual content in the same language as the audio. What you hear is what you read. SLS suggests subtitling the lyrics of existing film songs and music-videos on television in the language they are sung in. The idea of SLS builds on some key observations:
  1. Indians have a life long passion for Bollywood film songs.
  2. Bollywood produces over 1000 films, and therefore, at least 5000 film songs a year.
  3. Over 800 million people already watch television where Bollywood content dominates.
How does SLS work? SLS switches on lifelong and inescapable reading practice for millions of television viewers. Early readers, when exposed to LSL, try to read along, and in the process, find their reading skills improving. As viewers like to sing along to popular songs and are curious to know the song lyrics, reading skills are practiced subconsciously. Independently collected data has shown that even 30 minutes of weekly SLS exposure over 3-5 years, as part of Bollywood film songs, more than doubles the number of functional readers in primary schools. Furthermore, SLS makes a meaningful contribution to female literacy because Bollywood on TV has a higher female viewership.

The information on SLS would be incomplete without special mention of the man who came up with the original idea. Brij Kothari, Faculty, Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad, co-founded PlanetRead and Book Box with the aim to spread literacy in India through Bollywood film song-videos with his imaginative idea SLS. None other than Bill Clinton calls SLS: “A small thing that has a staggering impact on peoples' lives”.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Happy Teachers' Day!

September 5, is the birthday of Shri Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher, statesman and above all a great teacher. When he became President of India (1962-1967), principals of some schools and colleges approached him to allow them to celebrate his birthday in educational institutions all over india, he replied: “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is celebrated as Teachers' Day”. Then onwards, the day is observed as Teachers' Day in India, when teachers are specially honored and remembered for their great contribution to the society and the country. On this day, traveling back to memory lane of Lahore days, I particularly remember and pay my regards to my Maths Teacher in high school:

On that fateful day, when the pre-partition communal riots flared up for the first time in Lahore, I was at our Maths-teacher's place, along with some other students, taking last minute coaching prior to the ensuing final exams, when we got the scary news that the city was in the grip of communal violence. Our teacher, though a Hindu, lived in Bhati Gate in the the old city, which was predominantly a Muslim area. Till then it did not matter at all, Muslims living in Hindu areas or vice-versa. But all of a sudden that Saturday it mattered a lot. For the first time we felt that we were insecure, being Hindus, in that Muslim area. Even our teacher, who had been living in that area all his life, got nervous when there was some unusual commotion outside his house. He was not sure how safe it was to escort us out of the area to our respective houses. As we were passing through those most anxious moments of our lives and praying for our safe return to our homes, Bazal, my next door neighbor and best friend, and his brother Aziz, an army officer, appeared, like angels came to save our lives. My mother had immediately contacted them on learning about the communal flare-up and sought their help to bring me back home from our teacher's house, whose address she knew. They had arranged police escort to take us all out from the area to our homes safely.

There was an unusual commotion and quietness at the school when we arrived there the next Monday. As soon as we assembled for the Morning Prayer, our Principal gave the shocking news of the tragic death of our Maths-teacher late in the evening on Saturday. The police believed the miscreants had bolted his house from outside before torching it and the teacher was brutally burnt in the house on fire. The school was closed for the day after many teachers paid tributes to their colleague and two minutes silence was observed to mourn the tragic loss, when we all prayed for peace to the departed soul. It was only then that we, the students, who were at our teacher's house that evening, realized that we really were facing a life and death situation last Saturday at his house, and might have met the same fate if we had not been rescued out of the area in time that evening.

Fast forward to over 10 years later:

Inderjeet and I both loved nature and headed for Nainital, the beautiful hill-station on the Himalayan mountains, for our honeymoon. We enjoyed boat ride in the big and lovely lake, but what we loved most was long walks on the trails in the mountainous terrain. It was during one such walk, when we were coming back after enjoying breathtaking views of the snow covered Himalayan peaks from a famous peak near Nainital, I was shocked to see a man whom I definitely knew to have died long back in Lahore. He was standing at the gate of his gorgeous looking log house and greeted us warmly when we came near him. He invited us inside for a cup of tea, and we accepted his invitation with great pleasure. Apart from giving us the much needed mid-way break, it would provide me the opportunity to know the man who was still a mystery to me.

On entering the house, he introduced us to his wife, a very pleasant and warm person, who insisted that we have breakfast with them, and without waiting for acceptance she ordered the servant to make something special for us. The man was equally warm and made us feel at home by engaging us into interesting conversation that mainly covered his and his wife's hobbies. He was a painter and spent much of his time painting, while his wife was good at growing vegetables, fruits and flowers in their backyard. But all the time, question on the man's identity kept troubling my mind, particularly after knowing that he was a painter. The dead man who came to my mind instantly on seeing that man, had not only the same face and figure, but also the same hobby, painting. As this mind boggling question kept bothering my mind, the man himself came to my help with the answer, when Inderjeet and his wife were in the backyard exchanging notes on their knowledge of gardening.

I know what must have been troubling your mind ever since you saw me here. I'm surprised you did not ask the obvious question that crossed your mind on seeing me alive. Yes, I'm your same Maths Teacher and still alive. I did not die in the fire in my house on that horrible evening in Lahore. Well, here is the true happening that had remained hidden from the rest of the world so far.

One of the social programs that I was pursuing relentlessly aimed at rescuing helpless women of Hira Mandi, the 'Red Light' area in my neighborhood, who had been forced into prostitution after having been kidnapped by bad characters and sold to the brothels there. My wife is one of the women I had rescued, and was in my house waiting to be taken to her village at the opportune time, when there was a knock at my door at dead of night. It was the pimp of the prostitute from whose place she had run away. He forcibly intruded into the house to take her back and attacked me with a knife on my refusal to hand her over to him. But before he could do me any harm, she pounced on him with a sharp edged garden tool she had grabbed from my backyard, and he succumbed to the serious wound she had inflicted on him. I was too shocked by the incident to know what to do. After weighing various options I thought the best would be to first take her out to a safer place, if possible to her parents, and then report to the police. However, she was not going to let me take the blame for the incident for which she was responsible. She came up with an idea that she had read in a novel.

The pimp, who was killed, had more or less the same physic as mine. We made his body look like mine by putting on it my clothes, slippers and glasses, and then torched the room so that the body was burnt beyond recognition. We escaped from the house with all my valuables and cash, after putting the house on fire too. We went straight to the railway station and took the earliest train to go to her native village in the hills near Nainital. After handing her over to parents, I stayed on in their house for some days when they insisted on it. Although I could have remained in that remote village indefinitely without anyone ever knowing my whereabouts, my conscience did not allow me to take that course. I decided that I must go back to Lahore and inform the police all about the incident, but leaving her out of the picture. But she was absolutely against my going to Lahore and admit to a crime that I had not committed. She was adamant on it and I had to postpone my return till she relented. In the meantime, Partition came making Lahore part of Pakistan and beyond my reach. While there, I found that her parents were extremely perturbed by the situation their daughter had put them in. They knew nobody would marry her after knowing that she had been rescued from the 'Red Light' area of Lahore. I offered to marry her, not so much to please her parents, which they were, as for our own happiness. We had fallen in love, right from the moment she ran into me in Lahore, requesting to rescue her. We did not say it in so many words, but all our actions thereafter reflected our deepest feelings of love for each other. After our marriage we shifted to this peaceful place for our permanent stay. Today I am feeling a great relief after revealing the truth to some one who knew me from Lahore. I did not want to die with the secret disturbing my soul”

We celebrated surprise meeting with my most respected and adored Maths Teacher with the excellent food his wife served us. On Teachers' Day every year, I cannot but commemorate survival of my Maths teacher on that fateful day in Lahore. 

Happy Teachers' Day!