Oh Christmas!

Santa Claus Christmas Cards (Photo courtesy : http://www.flickr.com/photos/snowflakesoneyelashes/4173288710/)

One more Christmas is over. Santa came with the Carol group from the local church. I was amused by Santa’s antics and watched him as he danced and swayed with his stick in his hand, while the carol group sang a carol song to the tune of a popular Hindi hit song. When he left, I remembered the childhood in which I waited for days for the Carol and the Santa. I tried to recollect when exactly I lost that innocence, wonder and excitement, when exactly did I grow up.

This time, I received a sole Christmas card. One of my uncles still continue the tradition of sending the greetings in form of the colourful printed paper. Even E-cards also seem to be waning in popularity. I received none this year.

I opened the Christmas card. Above the few printed lines wishing us a wonderful christmas was a list of my family members, and below was the list of his family members. I have a collection of christmas cards that I had received over the years lying somewhere in my home. If you check this uncle’s cards, you will find that in the initial years, it was addressed to my dad and my mom from my uncle and my aunt. Then, came the names of the children. Then, the names of their kid’s spouses. Now, grandchildren. The list has grown quite big. This year too, there has been addition of names. The card fills me with nostalgia.

Looking at the other christmas cards, I notice cards from some people who were dear friends once, but not even proper acquaintances now. There are cards from school friends and college friends of me and my siblings. There are cards from dad’s colleagues at different times. There are cards from people who we never ever think of or remember these days. The cards exist as a proof of the place they held in our lives once.

Sadly, no one sends cards anymore. They tweet, they sms, they update their facebook status. They send e-mails with a picture collected from google to a big mailing list of all the people they ever met or knew the mail ids of. They send smses one day ahead to save the higher charges on the festival day. Yes, these are good enough to convey the wishes, but I wish they could be stored for posterity like those paper cards of yore. I wish I could touch them, feel them and hang them in my Christmas tree, store them in a shoebox so that my kids could see them and babble to each other, ‘See that was a card Mamma got before she wed Pappa’. So that they remain for years, without getting erased from a hard disk or becoming inaccessible because of an obsolete format or technology.

All that will remain wishes. Christmas cards are part of a bygone era, just like printed photographs and handwritten letters. People will opt for convenience and economy and will never send them again. At least, they will never send so many that they used to send. That is so, yet I have made a new year resolution. To send Christmas cards to all my dear friends and family members next Christmas.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Mullaperiyar dam

All that is dear to me exists on the banks of river Periyar downstream the controversial Mullaperiyar dam.

If Kerala promises Tamil Nadu that water sharing will never be an issue, can the issue be solved? Can we have a new dam please, if we can agree that all the water sharing arrangements that exist at present will be continued? If it is so, why can’t Kerala make that clear once and for all?

Why is the old dam still allowed to stand if the stories of leakages are true? Why are some experts saying that the dam is safe while some others say it is not? Why don’t we allow more people to conduct the studies? Why should CRPF guard a dam to protect it from people conducting studies on whether it is a safe structures?

Why do we politicize the matters that need not be politicized? Why don’t we just engage in meaningful dialogue and come to honorable conclusions? Why do we allow our politicians to make political bounties out of inter-state contentions? Why do we allow the emotions of one state to be whipped up against that of another? Why do we let ourselves think that the people of Kerala does not concern themselves with the water shortage troubles of the people of Tamil Nadu and that the people of Tamil Nadu does not worry about the safety of the lives of their countrymen on the other side of Western Ghats? Why do our courts take many decades to decide on inter-state court cases, causing young generations to be raised on the stories of hatred? Why, why, why?

Why don’t we relieve the people who live downstream Periyar of all the torment and the tension that they suffer when the water level increases every year?

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Money Matters

Kalaidevi in front of her grocery shop. The 5000 Rs. loan enabled by Rang De helped her expand her shop and nearly doubled her earnings. Image Credit http://www.rangde.org/rangdeImages/p/345-276x182.gif

Sometime back, I celebrated completing a few years of my first (and my current) job. This day is really important – it is the anniversary of my financial independence. From this year onwards, I decided to celebrate this special day in a small, yet significant way. I gave a micro-loan to a woman entrepreneur from Maharashtra. She runs a computer centre, and needs this money to expand her business.

I helped this woman through Rang De, a not-for-profit microfinancing institution that assists mostly women entrepreneurs from rural India in getting small loans to enhance their businesses. Rang De, through this direct lending, saves poor rural entrepreneurs from the clutches of the feudal moneylenders who charge exorbitant interest rates. The idea of micro-loans appealed to me, and a little search in the web led me to the website of Kiva, world’s first online lending platform, which is the model for Rang De. Kiva is a huge success, and I wish Rang De a bigger success.

Lending through Rang De has two advantages – First, you are not losing your money. At the end of one year, your loan will be repaid with 8.5% interest. At the same time, you are supporting a person achieve his/her dream. You are helping some of the world’s worst poor to help themselves out of their wretched living conditions.

Thus have I done. I plan to invest more money in Rang De. I hope you also will.

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Is Cinderella that that bad for young girls?

They are the heroines of the fairy tales we all loved in our childhood. The original stories came from Brothers Grimm, folklore and Hans Christian Anderson. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, Little Mermaid, Beauty (and the Beast) and Cinderella. I do not buy the commentary added to the picture above, although I agree that all of the women are extremely beautiful according to the tales and their princes fall for their beauty in most cases. But then, be it cinema or book, the heroine is always beautiful, and the hero usually handsome (unless it be someone like Hunchback of Notre Dame), in addition to all their other great qualities and character.

But the point is, are we instilling some girlie girl notions in young girls by telling these stories to them at a very young age when they have extremely impressionable minds? Are we conditioning them to think that women should always suffer and wait rather than take charge of their lives? That there would be a charming prince coming out of nowhere to save you from the evil witch or the abusive step mom?

I know that there have been studies that precisely say these things and feminist supporters are generally against the morals hidden beneath the stories. I agree that these characters are not strong, bold or independent in their lives and that their happiness in all the stories are linked to their being united with their princes (except in the Beauty and the Beast). And once they get married, everything is happily ever after, so much unlike the real lives in the real world.

However, I am not sure whether we should deny our young girls the chance to enjoy these stories. Personally, I loved them when I was young, and I think the only moral I got at that age was that the good always win over the schemings of the wicked. I used to worry about the fate of the princesses locked up in towers without windows, and wondered how the pumpkin turned to a carriage. Yes, the prince charming effect was there, but I am sure that has nothing to do with the fairy tales. But, the other prejudices that these stories are supposed to instill on us has passed above my head, otherwise I would not be voicing this opinion.

My sibling’s three year old daughter loves the Cinderella story too. Sometimes I read to her the Cinderella story book she owns. She seems to be worried about only one thing in the story. She repeatedly asks me, “Will she lose her shoes?” while I am reading the story and when I say yes, she asks me if she gets her shoe back. She does not seem to be affected by anything else, and I cannot understand the kiddie psychology of being horrified at the thought of losing a shoe.

I think there should not be any harm in telling these delightful stories to children, although we should make sure that they do not get the idea that being passive about one’s own life is not being charming. Probably, we can teach them that through our actions.

PS. Did you know that the original Grimm versions of some of these stories were rather violent and not suited for children?

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Pazhassi Raja : Movie Review

Pazhassi Raja tells the story of a local ruler from Kerala who fought against the occupation by British East India Company in 1700's. He was a contemporary of Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

Pazhassi Raja tells the story of a local ruler from Kerala who fought against the occupation of his kingdom by British East India Company in 1700's. He was a contemporary of Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

The most expensive Malayalam movie to date. The most expensive historical movie shot in South Indian cinema world. Pazhassi Raja lives up to the hype it created, but still falls short from becoming a classic.

The movie tells the story of the guerilla war that Pazhassi Raja, the ruler of a small kingdom in North Kerala, launched against the British East India Company, when the company started imposing huge taxes upon the farmers of the kingdom. Mammootty portrays the king, whereas other actors like Sarath Kumar, Manoj K Jayan, Padma Priya and Suresh Krishna plays the warriors who support him in the war.

This movie is made in the style of history-folklore based Hollywood movies. Although Indian movies like Lagaan, Jodha Akbar and Asoka are historical movies, they have focussed on other themes – love or cricket. But this movie is a true period drama. Here is the story of a man who fought against the British with the means he had, and that makes a compelling story for this movie. No masala is added to that. There is not even an attempt to make Pazhassi Raja a superhero, or a bigger ruler than what he actually was. In my knowledge, this must be a first in Indian cinema.

The story unfolds with an understated elegance. There are no magnificent sets or to actors adorned with glittering costumes and jewels. Instead, there are British forts, small bungalows, kovilakams of the rulers, jungle camps made of bamboo sticks and actors dressed in traditional Kerala costumes. The king is cheated by his foolish uncle who wants to usurp him with the help of British, and who later discovers that the British had not helped him out of sympathy. His kovilakam is plundered by the British raiders and the treasury looted. The king escapes to the hills of Wayanad, where he enlists the support of tribals and endeavors to defeat the British through a sort of Guerilla-warfare. The rest of the movie shows the struggles that he had to face, the counterstrikes of the British and the inevitable end of the rebellion.

With a budget of 270 million Rupees, small compared to the ambitions of the project, the end product is technically sound. The sound recording is really brilliant, and outstanding compared to the usual fare in Malayalam cinema. Resul Pookutty lives up to the expectations. I wish the cinematography would have also been so. The indoor scenes were visual treats, but the fight scenes could have been better. But again, this is a first attempt, and can be pardoned because it is unfair to compare it with Hollywood movies, where computer graphics plays a great role in visual effects and this movie is devoid of that. Editing is also good, although the scissors could have been employed a little more to cut the duration of the movie.

Ok is the word for acting. Mammootty is definitely getting older, and does not possess the agility of a warrior. It would be too much to expect such a person to capture an army post on his own. But, alas, fans require their due. Sarath Kumar plays his part well and so does Padmapriya. On the whole, the cast should have been slightly younger. Malayalam cinema nowadays are run by older men, and unless a new generation of male actors come up, guys like Mammootty and Manoj K Jayan would have to continue bearing the burden of playing the roles intended for younger men. This is not to say that Mammootty has acted badly. Take away the fight scenes, and he has done a great job in playing the anguished ruler.

Kaniha, who plays Makkam, the wife of the ruler, has little to do. The British actors are not brilliant, but passable. The character who was entirely removable was that of Dora, the fiancee of the young British collector, Thomas Baber. It was a cliched character and the histrionics was unnecessary. However, more screen time to the British actors and a better description of their lives, one or two scenes of them playing cricket or engaged in a ball or tea party would have made the movie better. And a few more outdoor scenes of how the place was like in those times and such could have been added. It is as if the movie is shot in a macro mode, with a tight focus on Pazhassi Raja, without giving a background of what was it like to live in Kerala in 1700’s under the British. Though, these minor faults do not take away the brilliance of the movie.

There are many more such stories to be told, both in our history and in our folklore. Let’s hope we get to see more such stuff coming up in all Indian languages. Regional cinema cannot afford many such movies, given the constraints in which they operate. However, from Bollywood, it would not be too much to expect that. Only if they stop focusing exclusively on the love angle and start thinking more creatively.

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Unsafe journeys

On a night train journey from Kerala to Bangalore, a few months before. The girl who sleeps in the other upper berth of my compartment screams shortly after midnight, breaking the uneasy sleep that I always have during train journeys. Recovering from a momentary nightmare in which the train derails and falls from a bridge to the river, the one that I always get to see when the train jerks or when I hear unexpected sounds, I wake up, finds that the light is switched on, although the other passengers pretend to half-sleep. The girl shaking and shivering all over, points to a young man in the side upper berth and tells me that he climbed to her berth and tried to molest her and when she woke up, he jumped off her berth and switched on the lights and pretended to be innocent. It takes me almost half a minute to figure it out. I look at the guy who nods his head unconsciously at me as if he does not know what is happening. ‘What happened madam?’, he is asking, ‘Why did you scream?’ The other passengers are indifferent and one quite shamelessly shows his displeasure at being disturbed during his sleep when he asks, “Excuse me, can you switch off the lights please?”

That incident shook me a lot, being a frequent passenger in trains. For a long time after that incident, I tried to ward off sleep in my overnight train journeys, which was an unsuccessful attempt on most occasions. Today I happened to recollect the incident after this news article about a group of girls harassed by drunken goons in a train, incidentally, in Kerala. I have heard of similar stories of molestation attempts in trains, which seems to be quite frequent in their incidence. Worries me, obviously.

Whenever I narrate this incident to my male (and a few female) friends, I often get advice on why girls should avoid such ‘risky’ situations. As if we are not supposed to travel in trains alone. As if by doing that, we are somehow ‘asking for it’. Another disturbing aspect is the curiosity(?) regarding what the girl was wearing, again hinting that she is partly or wholly responsible for the criminal behaviour meted out to her. I mean, she might be wearing a bikini, but that does not mean she’s inviting people who go about seeking whom to molest to come and have it on her.

What affected me most in the creepy incident given above is not the actual harassment attempt itself, but the total indifference exhibited by the fellow passengers. They might have wanted to avoid trouble; this is a bizarre nature inherent to Indians, we go to any loony extents to avoid ourselves getting involved in anything inconvenient for us, as long as it directly does not affect us. Consider the contrast of our filthy public places and extra-neat houses. Or did those people think that the girl was also responsible? That there was some element in her actions or appearance that prompted the man to attack her? I do not discount this possibility, I need scarcely point out that many Indians hold such regressive views about sexual harassment victims.

The newspaper report speaks of policemen who jeered at the victims and chastised them for pulling the chain over such ‘frivolous’ matters. A typical attitude that the law-enforcers take, although we cannot specifically accuse them, as they are also part of this society.

You know, a woman is holding the reins of railway ministry. I hope she takes notice of this incident and does something, some small bit of a thing at least.

I am cross-posting a very silly and very thought-provoking compilation of tips to prevent sexual harassment. Thanks to femin-ally

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are commiting a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

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Mountain out of a molehill

Thanks, Shashi Tharoor. I have added one more word to my vocabulary. I did not know that the term ‘cattle class’ meant economy class, so it created a confusion in my mind when I was reading about Tharoor’s tweet in the newspaper. Of course, the newspaper omitted to give the minute detail that ‘cattle class’ was a term in common usage and that it was not coined by our new junior minister. What follows is a far-fetched imaginative account of what might have transpired in the editor’s room.

Highly endangered species journalist who still thinks of press as some democratic pillar: Sir, shouldn’t we clarify in our news report that ‘cattle class’ is not a derogatory term for Indians who travel economy? Isn’t that part of the journalist ethics? Otherwise, this report will present the facts in a false light.

Circulation-only-oriented Boss: Com’on, this is fodder enough for two whole days for our pulp medium and idiot box channel. Imagine our channel replaying the video clips of the screen shot of Tharoor’s twitter page infinite number of times while the newsreader talks with the experts on the whole cow-cattle-class issue? Why should we miss the fun?

So, here I was, reading the newspaper and wondering what could have gone inside Tharoor’s head while he typed those lines, trying to figure out this whole thing – If economy-class air-travelling rich and upper middle class Indians are equivalent to cattle, then what would be the appropriate term for sleeper-class travellers of Indian Railways (Shatabdi Express travellers not included) – goat class (This is a term I came up with, throw all your rotten tomatoes at me). Plenty of fauna still left so that we can coin separate terms for those Indians who still cannot afford even railways or roadways, those who haven’t seen a proper road in their whole lives, those for whom no roads exist at all and the likes. The Oxford guys can bring out a whole new Indian-English dictionary next year if we try to categorize our billion population in terms of similarities with the existence of animals.

Finally, after enlightening myself with the meaning of cattle-class, I have come to a conclusion. Pardonable mistake, dear minister. You embroiled yourself in this monkey business called politics, but you haven’t learnt its rules. What follows are some lessons that Tharoor should learn from the past two weeks’ experiences.Here are some lessons for Tharoor.

1) Do not ever spend the money you earned working like a dog for staying in five star hotels. You can convert your government bungalow to a five-star hotel if you wish. Taxpayers will gladly spend from their pockets.

2) Be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Do not wear expensive clothes or perfumes or the like. Present only a yours-duly-impoverished khadi-clad appearance in the public, even if you have millions of rupees stashed away in your Swiss/Indin bank accounts. That’s our national political uniform. You can wear all your Armanis for all your private parties.

3) Shed crocodile tears for the mango people occasionally. Understand that you must learn a trick or two to survive in the business. Occasional dog and pony shows like austerity drives will be enough. But never ever indulge in anything called proper governance. If there is no aam admi anymore, you have to find a new slogan for the next general election.

4) Do not speak and act and tweet like an educated and intelligent ‘elitist’. By doing this, you are doing a disservice to your fellow politicians by reminding them that they are not what you are, and you are actually encouraging them to rise against you in the right spirit of unity in diversity, to out from the Indian politics the deserving few odd men like you. By throwing you out, they can scare away all other young, smart, talented dudes who harbour similar hopes.

5) Stop tweeting altogether. Because the Indian politicians are expected to live in an ivory tower isolated from the rest of the country. Else, they might contract swine flu.

6) Above all else, run this country with the thumb rule – if it is good enough for cattle, it is good enough for our countrymen.

Leopards cannot change their spots, but who knows, maybe cattle can. You can give it a try, minister.

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