Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A trip to Gujarat - and some thoughts

As a part of my India trip, I went to Gujarat, first to Bhavnagar and then to a place called Palitana which is one of the holiest spots for Jains. For non-Jains, a brief background . Palitana is considered to be a place where a large number of Tirthankers attained Moksh (or Nirvana). It's a hill with about 3800 steps, and it is considered to be a good deed to climb up and down ( by yourself or in a 'doli' lifted by 2-4 people) once. The tougher things to do are to do this 7 times in 2 days without food , and also to do this 99 times in your lifetime ( Called 99 jatra).There are about 863 temples in Palitana. Every time I go there, there are always plans to build some more, or to build some 'upashrays' for Jain monks and nuns.

As I started the journey this time, I had something in my mind. I have always seen small children ( mostly under the age of 14) working as small time labourers here. Typically, their job is to carry a bottle of water, or a carry bag for all these 3800 steps. All this is for an extremely paltry sum. I started off with some money in my pocket, and kept handing over 50 Rupee notes to any such child I found on the hill. When I gave it to a girl for the very first time, I saw a twinkle in her eyes. She was very surprised, even thought I would ask her to carry some luggage, but she then smiled and looked so happy. The first thing, that came to my mind, was the Master Card commercial. It might sound funny, but this is precisely what i thought

Trip to Palitana: xx Rs.
Cost of staying there: yy Rs
The price the girl gets for carrying that bottle up 3800 steps: zz Rs.

The look in her eyes when she actually felt someone was doing good for her: Priceless :):)

And that's when it struck me. There's probably more 'punya' in helping people in need than to build a temple in an area which already has so many temples that no one ever manages to visit each one of them. Even more so, I am sure that if there is God, He would be more happy to see the betterment of living beings, rather than a blind following of religion. I would personally prefer that the next time I give a donation it goes towards building a school instead of a temple. Education, awareness, health facilities , is the key to a better society and a better world for all.

I am not an atheist. I do believe in God, because I feel that is something that propels me to do good, whose fear stops me from doing bad, and something on which my hope rests in a time of crisis. But then, I do not believe in following things blindly. Thanks to some very noble and educated people at Jain Centers in the US, I have known things about religion in the correct way. And the belief, that it does not make sense if you know every verse of every sutra by heart, unless you know the underlying meaning, and you understand and accept it. Like, how many of us know, that Jainism believes that the earth is not spherical ( as scientifically proved) but more close to a flat earth .

There are various teachings of Lord Mahavir which are quite correct, like non-killing of animals, non-violence etc. But, some teachings might not have been correct. The problem though is, that as a part of his teachings, it was almost a sin to change even the pronunciation of any line of any sutra [ For Jains, this is one of the things for which you beg forgiveness in Pratikaman], and the teachings were carried over for generations ( about 500 years) before people got together and documented them correctly. And hence, no one has ever tried to change or challenge it. And that's where we are not going correct. Maybe I'll get my elders to think on this :)

[A small disclaimer:I personally believe that good/social work should not be publicized. The only reason why I wrote about that girl is because I think that this might inspire more people to do good. If you believe that that deed was good, do it yourself the next time on]

One more thing is, when you give money to a disabled person/child , don't give a rupee or 2. Give the person 10 rupees. Why, you'll ask? Don't you complain to your boss about inflation/rising prices/bad economy ? That's why.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reflections of India

And again, it's been some days since I have been home, this time though in a more sombre mood than I expected.And yet again, there comes a time when I reflect my thoughts on what has changed. A view of a home from a son who's come here after a long hiatus.

The last week has been one of the most important weeks in the history of this city, second only to the 1992 riots ( this is about all the incidents I have seen in my lifetime). The mood has been one of anger, frustration, but most importantly, awareness.Hopefully, this awareness gives way to a more concerned Mumbaikar.

It was quite emotional a journey when I flew in to Bombay. I was going to leave Thursday morning, and it was Wednesday morning in the US when the whole series of events unfolded. As we passed through a day , which was difficult, news pouring in, images of VT station sending down chills, it was time to go home. Someone even asked me if I would want to go to Bombay in such a situation (Corporates sent out a travel warning to all their employees to avoid travel to India in these circumstances). To which the answer was, I am going home and that's it.

Finally, I reached Bombay, where I found that it was business as usual for most people. Except that there was a rush of public anger towards the politicians, and with media support, the politicians were brought down with a zeal that I have not seen in years.The only fear I have is that people should not forget these scars as soon as the next season if IPL begins.I strongly recommend people to read Greatbong's blog for quite a nice insight into the blasts, events surrounding it, and the way forward.

But again, coming into Bombay, things have changed so much ( as they always do, if you miss it for a year). The one change that is constant over the last few years, is the awareness and involvement of youth in activities conducive to the overall development of this city. Like the countless signs that have suddenly sprung up to keep the city clean. Or the movement to almost completely stop use of plastic bags. Somewhere, something is happening. Slow but steady progress. Go Mumbai!

Of course, some things are getting worse. The traffic situation is the perfect example. Fueled by an ever-growing richer class, and car prices dropping, coupled with the growing acceptance of people to Easy-Monthly-Installments and Credit-Card schemes only means more and more cars. And with space at a big premium, the traffic situation doesn't look to improve. Maybe you feel it more, if you come from the US, but again, a place where something needs to be done.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A video you have to watch

Just watch this video

And if you are as touched as I am, just obey the message at the end.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

How a superstition is born

Well, I tried to look this up on google, but did not find this. This whole story was told by a teacher who taught me history long time back in school. Shubha teacher, I hope you would be reading this :) Of course, I have added some American spice to it, but the main theme of the story is what I find most fascinating.

In a remote village somewhere in India, there lived a priest. He was very learned, and people respected him a lot. One day, he found a cat stray into his yard. He decides to pet it, and keeps it in his house.

Every morning, the priest performs a Pooja,lights a small diya, and chants his mantras with utmost concentration. The cat, unknowingly moves around in his setting, thus disturbing the priest. The priest tries to pacify the cat and move it away, but this thing keeps happening again and again, and the priest gets annoyed.

The priest decides that while doing the Pooja, he should tie the cat to a pole nearby, so that the cat does not interfere. It works, and the priest is happy. This thing goes on for years. The priest's son, who has seen this happening everyday, now grows up and becomes a priest himself.

One day, the priest dies, and his son takes over all his duties and responsibilities. Now, he too performs the Pooja, and exactly as his father did, he ties the cat to the pole while performing the Pooja. His son, now small, sees this and wonders why, but does not ask. He grows up too and becomes a priest, and takes over from his father after he dies.

What's interesting, is that the first priest's grandson, has really no idea why the cat needs to be tied, and the cat, now old, is still tied during the Pooja. One day, the cat dies.

Guess what?

The priest's grandson, now brings home another cat,and ties it to the same pole, and performs the Pooja. After all, you can't perform the Pooja without tying the cat, can you ?

Centuries later, at an Indian center somewhere in the United States, 2 students in their twenties discuss

"Man, everything done for the Pooja ? "

"Yeah, got everything, but couldn't manage the cat"

"Oh No! This is the tradition, man, this Pooja has never been performed without tying a cat to the pole.That's how it has been done ever since the beginning of time. We'll be committing a big sin if we don't follow this tradition, and of course, the community will not like it too. We absolutely have to get a cat from somewhere. The Pooja will not be complete without it. And I don't want someone to say, that just because we are in the US, we have forgotten our Indian traditions"

Indeed. Amen.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Wednesday to remember

Saw A Wednesday last week. I know that people have had different reviews about the movie, but as far as I am concerned, I found the movie very well made and interesting.

To start off with, I think the last 10 years, we have seen a lot of off beat movies, breaking the standard formula of a hindi movie, and violating the basic rules associated with every commercial hindi film , if you wanted it to be a hit. Basic rules , like that every Hindi film should have a hero and heroine, at least 5 songs ( including one around the trees), an emotional mother, an evil villian, and all that masala without which a film would be considered not-so-good for the commercial front.

Be it Black, Traffic Signal, Shwaas, Mr and Mrs Iyer, all these movies and plus their success speaks a lot about the change in attitude of movie makers and movie watchers, and I think is a very positive step.

Be warned, that reading further reveals the plot details of Wednesday, and it might not be very good to watch the movie if you already know the plot

The film looks like a typical ransom drama, with Naseruddin Shah chalking out a systematic plot of planting bombs in the city, monitoring police movements, and asking them to release prisoners, in exchange for the information about the bombs, looks similar like the plot to release Maulana Masood Azhar in exchange for IC-814 hijacking.

And, like you would expect, the police releases the terrorists, but in the most unexpected of twists, Naseeruddin shah blows up the terrorists, and it's revealed that he's just a common man, who wants to do his bit to reduce terrorism.

A simple yet powerful story. Bold and precise. No bakwaas, no masala. A film that makes you think. A film which reflects the thoughts of the common middle class educated Indian. About, what impacts his life, and the emotions that he goes through. And the difference that one man wants to make to society. Without a name, without a trace, he does his bit. A man who decided to do something other than the usual . A person who decided to risk his life and go one step forward. Would you be able to do the same?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mumbai Meri Jaan - the review

Saw Mumbai Meri Jaan last weekend with some friends. The movie is well made and has a good and fast paced story, but I guess why I liked the movie really was due to the fact it was about this city I have always loved, whose spirit I have always appreciated, and the events that are shown are some which are very close to my heart.

For those who don't know, the film covers the life of a few individuals from radically different walks of life, and how their life is suddenly affected by this fearsome and sudden event.Some good points about this movie, which I was noting on my phone as I was watching the movie

1. Powerful actors ( as opposed to mainstream film actors ) like Irfan Khan, Madhavan, Paresh rawal,Soha Ali Khan and Kay Kay. The film is so much about their individual performance as opposed to people dancing around trees and singing. In fact , this film looks like one in which the art of acting takes a front seat, and all the masala is left out. Quite a refreshing change, I must say

2. A take on the Indian media. Be it this post , or so many others, we know that the media will want to make a big story, sometimes not thinking that the people whom they are interviewing and showing are individuals who have lost their near and dear ones, and of course dramatizing everything beyond limits. The 'Rupali Bani Rudaali' episode in the film is more than a perfect example for what's going on.

3. A take on NRIs . One film that is honest but still manages to send this message out, that people living in America will complain about small things in India. And like many other films and articles, this does not over do it. Just about right.

4. A strong sense of Satire ( or Vyangya ) which is there in a lot of dialogues/acts. This gives the movie a feel of a drama as opposed to a mainstream movie. If you have been a fan of dramatics, you'll possibly appreciate this point in the movie

5. Paresh Rawal in yet another amazing performance. His act is of the normal Bombay policeman, good at heart, willing to walk with the system, and try to do the best for himself, and somewhere in the corner of his heart, he wants to see this city in peace. Also, with simple yet powerful comments ( about Hindu Muslim unity), he sends across the message in a much more effective fashion to the common man. He acts similar to the Sutradhar of this otherwise disconnected kind of storyline. And his performance, as always, was the icing on the cake.

6. Madhavan in yet another strong performance, both in terms of his role, and his acting. His love-hate relationship with the country, his dilemma whether to go to San Francisco or not ( :) ), and his beliefs and disbelief's are expressed very strongly.

7. The exceedingly popular mall culture in Bombay, and the change the city has undergone in the last decade or so.

But the best moments of the movie were towards the end, especially when the spirit of the city shows up, and the moist eyes of Madhavan, when he participates in the one minute silence in memory of the victims of the blasts, or when the song 'Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan' plays in the background, when Paresh Rawal explains his simple philosophy to Kay Kay, and his change of thinking, just makes you feel so close to the city I have always loved.

It's an amazing movie, you should watch it.

As an end note, I must say that about 2 years back, someone put a comment on my blog, incidentally to a post which was titled Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan

"Mumbaikars are somewhat pathetic. They can't even get the civic administration to fix their storm water drains. Every monsoon season it's the same story and the monsoons are far more predictable than terrorist attacks.

If Mumbaikars are hoping there would be no more terrorism they are soundly mistaken. Like a battered wife who'd rather commit suicide than stand up for her rights, they are the perfect victim."

A thought to think about. Maybe more about that coming in my next blog.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

5 years

Well, yes, like most of you who'll read this post, I am also just about to finish 5 years in this country. It's been an amazing journey of fun, courage, happy and sad moments, emotions, and above all, there are two things I would savor most out of the five years, one being the lessons in life I have learnt, and second being all the great friends and angels I have met in these 5 years.

I remember the last moment when I was about to leave my parents and cross the final line into immigration at Bombay Airport. There were a whole lot of thoughts in my mind. Will I be successful? Will I come back soon to this land? Should I just leave this flight and go back home? When will I see my parents again? Will I be able to live alone without them in a foreign land?

The only thing was, there was no one beside me to answer these questions and talk to me. No one whatsoever. And that's when it struck me. The time had come, to leave your parent's hand and go out into the world. It was time to come of age. It was time to be responsible. After a 22 hour flight ( which was full of hiccups), I landed at USC, and the feeling finally sunk in , of being in a new world.

The first few days, will be most memorable. Little things, like trying to install trillian/easymessage on the computers on Leavey to chat with your parents and friends. Like teaching Mom to use the computer while chatting on MSN, with things like 'There'll be an icon that looks like this to the left of the screen', like meeting new people like you who are roaming around in campus with a small plastic bag, a map, and the wish in everyone's eyes to 'make it'.

And then, all the firsts, the first time you got a job by yourself, the first paycheck, even if it was for 7 dollars an hour, the first raise( it was 25 cents per hour raise ;)),the first time you took a girl out for coffee (;)),the first time you celebrated a night out with friends, the first time you felt that your family hadn't called you for some days, and they are now probably used to your absence :), the first time I went to Artesia and got a taste of what good life in US might be like, the first time you borrowed a camera to take pictures of your University and send them back home.

Five years, seems unbelievable, it's the most amazing time I have had though. Thank God it happened. Thanks everyone who made my journey more memorable. All my angels, all my friends.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Whom do we support?

It was 1996. The BJP had come to power, albeit for a short time, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the PM. On the 12th day, he resigned before facing a vote of confidence, which would have forced him to resign anyway. But before that, he gave a speech, and a speech that made me a fan of this guy .

1998. In the middle of a coalition crisis, AB Vajpayee announces Pokharan 2. I am not sure if I am a supporter of nuclear weapons or not, but surely this was the most powerful political move I had seen till that point in my life. Finally, we had a leader who had a powerful answer to everything. The Kargil conflict, the IC-814 hijacking, and the negotiations of the nuclear weapons deal with the western world and the UN, all and all, we still supported this guy and his party. For some reason, there was something about them,maybe it was their powerful oratorship of these leaders, Vajpayee, Pramod Mahajan, Jasvant Singh or Brijesh Mishra, or maybe it was just the fact that we found these leaders to be wise and intelligent, and most importantly,they laid emphasis on things that needed it, not like . this (thanks Animesh for pointing the broken link),or maybe it was just the personna which would always make me a fan of the team which I thought would lead India into the 21st century.

But today, everyone looks useless. Be it the Congress wholesome support of reservations for SC/ST/OBC, or the BJP's vehement opposition to the nuclear deal( which I am sure they would have signed if they were in power, and the Congress would have opposed it),and of course the left, who seriously look to have no business than to threaten to bring down the government. And with events like these , the credibility of the the BJP keeps going down by the day.

Maybe it's time for some retrospection. Or to support someone like an political party started by educated people . Or maybe we need someone like this . I wish I was strong enough to do something like that. But that's what the problem is. Everyone knows that politics is a dirty gutter, but no one wants to clean it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Somewhere in between?

I realized today, while writing an email to someone, that I am now somewhere in between someone born and brought up in the US and somewhere who's come from India fresh? Oh, I know what comes to your mind after reading this. He's going NRIsh, he's going into the
x +1 syndrome, and he's going to stay in the US forever.

No. Not quite. In fact, I have found that most people who go back are the people who have understood the difference in depth . So what's the big change?

I think it's about getting the best of both. I remember a dialogue from Hyderabad Blues as also one from Swades, both of which give a common message, which is, if you have got a chance to compare two cultures and take the best of both, there's nothing wrong with it. There are some really good things that the US has taught me, some of which I found out during my last India visit , and I saw that people around me were so surprised that it worked in India. For example, I have developed a habit of addressing everyone in India, be it a govt official or the smallest peon as 'Aap'. I found that people feel good , and work gets done easily. Or maybe just greeting the next guy on the road with a 'Good Morning' or 'Have a Nice Day'. Similarly, sometimes you find that the Indian culture of offering someone sweets or good food from your plate sometimes leaves Americans surprised but happy.

I sometimes feel glad that I got this opportunity, and in my case, I got some really lovely people who taught me nice things , to be remembered for a lifetime. Thank you all!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What's happened to the Indian media?

This post is going to be less text and more pictures ( as they say, worth a thousand words)-

It's just that the last few weeks, I have been receiving quite a few emails on the kind of news coverage by television channels, and I have been no less than shocked. I remember an old post about the Times of India just trying to sensationalize news stories that was not really needed.

The new series however, is much more useless, and makes us think , what happened to the big media revolution in India, where are the Barkha Datts and the Rajdeep Sardesais

To start with, the picture above and to the left, how interestingly titled 'Commissioner ka Kutta'. Apparently, these people were tracking when and how he was lost, where he was found...Wow, too much of time.

Then of course, Ami sent me the following gems

When Teji Bacchan passed away, they showed some pictures where Aishwarya has her hand placed on Abhishek's shoulder. and the breaking news flash went "Aishwarya ne apna farz nibhaaya" !!!

When there were reports that Aamir Khan had an alleged love child Jaan with British writer Jessica Hines, the channel through the day, compared Aamir Khan's childhood pics from the movie 'Yaadon ki Baarat" with Jaan's pics in an attempt to prove it!

And no, it does not end here. In fact the best one of the lot was the 'Maa Tujhe Salaam' by Aaj Tak, which is by far the most stupid piece of television journalism I have ever seen

Monday, January 21, 2008

Looking Back or Moving Forward

It's always interesting which way you look at life. Half full or Half empty. In the past or into the future. Thank God for this wonderful existence He has given you or complain to him about all those things you did not get. Repent on your mistakes or learn to not make them again.

It's interesting how you always promise yourself to be optimistic, but ironically, you just wish you weren't pessimistic sometime back, thereby breaking your promise.In a discussion I had with my roommate, I realized that at every step of life, I looked for a newer horizon, but when I reached it, there was a new horizon in place, and I was again working hard towards it.

I remember a good advice that an old friend gave me, he was like, when you think that right now you don't have all the things you want in life, go back 10 years and remember those things , which you felt you abs wanted at that stage in your life. Suddenly, you'll feel those things were so trivial. Maybe, 10 years down the line , you'll think the same about today. The truth is that life goes on. As is said in castaway, whatever happens, the sun will rise the next day- and thats how I believe it has always been. Challenges, Victories, ups, downs all come and go, and they do affect your life, but maybe not as much as you think they would. The problem is , that this is what your brain says. The heart will always say something else :)

But then, one thing I have learnt, and will stand by , is to live every day and every moment. Ask yourself, if you made a difference today, if you didn't , it's time to make an effort tomorrow. Soon, you'll come to know that it counts.

I know what you are thinking. Yeh to senti/philo ho gaya hai. Not quite. But sometime it's good to give your emotions a vent .