Monday 30 May 2011

A Jar of Pickles

My grandmother passed away last year before the mango season started. It was the first death in my immediate family. One of the restrictions during this mourning period was that we could not cook food that day in our house. One hardly is in the spirit to eat , plus with all the people and hushed activity, dinner was a half hearted affair at 7.30pm and already a distant memory by nightfall.
At 1 am I cracked open my squeaky door as noiselessly as possible and tip toed into the kitchen only to bump into my Dad who looked as guilty rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. Kind friends and relatives had left an assortment of food and we hungry co-conspirators proceeded to compile a thoroughly Gujju midnight snack. Ever since Kareena Kapoor’s drunk cameo in 3 idiots disparaging Gujju food nomenclature, it pains me to justify my culinary heritage. After all, what is in a name, a ‘thepla’ will taste as satisfying if called thép- à- la.
As we hunted for the ideal accompaniment – ‘chunda’ ( tiny slivers of mango in a chutney that it sweet sour and spicy!) it dawned on us at the same time ‘she was the provider of pickles’ ! I don’t remember my grandmother ever cooking a meal but boy could she whip up scrumptious accompaniments to every meal! From tangy chutneys and jars of preserves to ghee dripping mithai and spicy snacks, but above all she was the provider of pickles. True to household tradition, every summer mangoes would be ordered, cut dried, salted,well pickled and bottled to last a whole year before the next mango season arrived.
Dad and I looked at each other and panicked, it was the end of a mango year. This time there would be no replenishing the stock. Smiling at the memories, we carefully spooned out a bit of the last pulpy layer of pickle from the jar.
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Sunday 29 May 2011

MATTAFIX

A dear friend Manavi Deopura wrote this a few years back for a student magazine that a couple of us had started called, THINKING LOUD. Like most such college endeavours once we graduated and moved to different cities the magazine died out. Along with it some wonderful articles on films, music, politics, news, travel and short stories. Manavi has always had a great taste in music and a pen that trips language over. This is one of those articles hidden in a dusty pile of old college memoribilia.

BREAKING BE

I did not think variation would come. I thought rap was rhythmic repetitive jingles. I disliked blues all along. The cloy catchiness, the overt gloominess and pointed doom of 'screwed-up lives', and 'how-ma-papa-left-me-n-mama-beat-me-n-girlfriend-ditched-me-n-wife-divorced-me' made my eyes glaze over with boredom. Metromaniacs 'spittin' fly n bustin' rhymes' had spat and busted enough.

But then, UK-based band Mattafix salvaged.

How much can an airport inspire you… or a road? Or buses or hotels, for that matter? Do they inspire a song in you? Or a melody? Do they inspire you to inspire? Itinerant lifestyles being the genesis of their generic music, Mattafix sing about people.

MATTAFIX

The duo( Marlon Roudette and Preetesh Hirji) explore mixing techniques and instruments, from steel drums to flutes. Raw and danceable, their song text and the oeuvre cover several different chambers of music – Reggae, Dancehall, Alternative Rock, Hip Hop/Rap, R&B, Soul, World, Jazz and Blues! Intelligent, thoughtful lyrics give voice their understated socio political commentary. As their official website says, “Mattafix have a unique ability to deliver important ideas with irresistible music.” Their music purges you of the commercial, the said and done, the trite and the sham.

With the wave of musicians turning war-protesters, they brewed up their share of the "war cinematography" too: the single "Living Darfur", taken from their second album, “Rhythm and Hymns”. With Mick Jagger furnishing the finances, the video, released on 7th September 2007. The video featured Matt Daemon and was available as a download only. The way they have chosen to rally support for peace in the region makes the video unique. It’s not about hopelessness or tortured souls trapped in those refuge camps.What with the dump heap of news channels overlapping news with scandal, laminating facts with emotions, and bloating up news by injecting their opinions in them – the band has just showed Darfur in all its truth. It's the status quo. It just is. It says, "These are the people. They are rolling under oppression, driven out of their homes, they are suffering. Yet they are smiling, playing ball, dancing, running. And then, full stop.

They are not struggling to break free. They are letting be.

I don't see them trying too hard. I don't see them trying to cash in on the miseries of a people; I don't see tears and the blood and thunder, a given accoutrement with any war-ridden video, born out of the director's need to buy the viewer's sympathies. It doesn't even mention sympathy. Their songs are about you. You. Me. Themselves. Yet detachment manages to seep in. Hoods and the caps are in place. But they don't rap the formulaic rap. Like a gloomy Kevin Little having a conversation with a Sean Paul on Valium, Marlon Roudette and Preetesh Hijri, (Mattafix) with riddims for pauses, using what they have to by way of acoustics, get cracking. No weeping lyrics, no wailing self pity. It just is what it is.

Just the way their music is what it is.

By Manavi Deopura

Monday 23 May 2011

HISTORY

Ocassionally one has to write essays/papers for undefined, unimportant reasons. These papers are long and winding and interesting only to the professor who corrects them, or maybe not. But having written them one needs outlets other than in the classroom. Hence the blog comes in handy, for every piece of writing banal or not that is ever written and to satiate the Id, Ego and Super Ego.

Not having any history is like having amnesia. If we did not know history we would have very little sense of identity, of our roots and origins and why we are the way we are. History helps us understand past circumstances that have created the present situation and more importantly how it might affect the future. One can understand cause and effect, of how important ideas and events played out and more. History is the key to understanding civilizations which is the key to understanding the society we live in today.

As Innis's erudite dissertation on Empires and Communications so clearly highlighted, the link between topography that gave rise to mediums of communication and how communication mediums in turn played a pivotal role in the development of societies, contributing to the rise and fall of empires in ancient civilizations. Each new medium, created a paradigm shift in the social conditions of the empires and gave birth to a new age of mankind, starting from papyrus to the present age of the printing press. This study makes it easier to speculate and predict the future of our society which is increasingly being defined by the internet. History gives us an anchor so we do not have to begin all over again.

Being a complex web of interacting events that took place in the past, by taking a step back and viewing history on a vast canvas we can identify patterns that have shaped our society. History therefore gives a point of reference to our existence. People can clearly understand how things are related to one another. We now know that while paper was invented by the Chinese in 104 AD the printing press was invented several centuries later in 1440 by John Gutenberg in Germany. The Bible being the first book that was mass printed and distributed would explain the quick spread of Christianity across different parts of the world as compared to the rest of religions, which in turn explains the Christian influences present in the laws and policies of today.

In the case of India a similar analogy would explain the influences of upper caste Hindus in the structuring of our society even today. The point is that unless we know the foundation of our society we cannot question or probe the accepted beliefs and social norms that we live within. To quote Gombrich, “you have to know what you are fighting against.” History helps us make the changes that need to be made.

Another important function of history is that it creates value. Without understanding the world we cannot understand the context in which we live. Every word written or article published, every creation of mankind relates to the past and aims at the future. So to appreciate what exists today one must know the conditions in which it was created. When I first saw an example of the paintings of the Impressionists, while admitting they were eye catching and beautiful it was still difficult to understand the exalted position that the Impressionist movement holds in history. It takes a look into the history of art for one to know that prior to the Impressionists, European painting was muted, conservative, conventional and covered in dusty browns and blacks, it is only then that one can appreciate the path-breaking technique of the Impressionists, the vibrancy and explosion of colour and movement in the paintings of Monet, Degas and Renoir. While originality does exist and is certainly a very important aspect of creation, even originality has meaning only within history. History helps in creating value and meaning in society.

History also gives us a sense of community as we share a common inheritance, be it linguistic, racial, national or with mankind as a whole. We can understand what it means to be in somebody else's shoes. We can better relate to the atmosphere and situation during the battle of Thermopylae to the World Wars, to understand the conditions of people during the slave trade and repression in history and then to be able to relate them to British colonization and the fear of persecution. We can get a better idea of what is was like to live in China during the Cultural Revolution or what it means to be an American. History defines people and places and enables them to understand one another through those definitions of culture, community ,language and race.

Lastly history is a question of curiosity and pleasure. L.P Hartley said that 'the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.' The past attracts us, we want to know of the time of Kings and Queens and how they lived, of great Statesman and priests and what they said and also of the common laborer and his life in ancient Egypt and what he endured. These stories fascinate us and unleash imagination. History inspires.

Considering that the uses and reasons of historical writings are manifold and have an impact on our thinking and actions it is crucial to understand the ways in which history is written and interpreted. The recorded version that we usually read is that of the survivor,the mightier, the one who was loud enough to be heard. What then happens to the lesser voices that lived through the same time? As a journalist especially it is extremely important to get a 360 degree view of any subject, including the past. Questions such as

-Who wrote the text?

-Who were they writing for?

-Why were they writing the text?

-When did they write it?

Hence social scientists try to see through the various methodologies by which history has been documented down the ages, so one may in future be able to record and analyze historical writing as objectively and truthfully as possible, free of manipulation and influence. Authors such as Joan Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob in their book 'Telling the Truth about History' point out three types of 'intellectual absolutism' that help better in understanding why the past is remembered the way it is.

The Age of Enlightenment , beginning in the early 18th century was a time when Religion gradually gave way to Science. An empirical method of collecting evidence and writing was favoured over narratives based on faith alone. The word of Scientists gained precedence over the word of religious heads. Historians using a value neutral methods acted as 'passionless investigators' and wrote history based on proven facts. The downside of this method was that it was a fragmented view of those times and conditions as it disregarded subjective viewpoints.

As the Age of Enlightenment gave way to a post modern society that focused on development, historians accepted that to objectively document history one must pay attention to the social circumstances that guide the actions of men and women. A study of this kind was more complex though as it meant that everything was viewed relatively, also, studying social conditions generated a huge amount of data to sift through. The post modernists also laid emphasis on words and the constraints of language which might create linguistic biases in historical writings. Many a times history is manipulated through the way the writer uses language and the true taste of that time is lost.

The last kind of absolutism that influenced historians is that of nationalism. History began to be recorded by keeping nation building in view. To give them a sense of identity historians wrote about present conditions while keeping in mind their place in comparison to the rest of the world. This breed of historians considered themselves to be 'practical realist' The authors also highlight natural science and human sciences, the verification of which come with similar challenges, except, in the case of human sciences the challenges are more as it is not a study that can be done in isolation, human nature being influenced by a myriad of circumstance.

In recent times we have alternate opinions and various people trying to rewrite history through their views and perspectives. We have the Revisionists who deny the Holocaust and proclaim it as a Zionist propaganda to gain sympathy, then there are the conspiracy theorists who have their own elaborate explanations about everything from the death of Princess Diana to Area 51, but history is not only based on perspectives and opinions but hard facts and such evidence that has survived the test of time. The survived evidence in itself may create a bias but in a much lesser degree than theories based on pure speculation.

In spite of all said and done, as the American historian Carl .L. Becker once said, “ All historians, even the most scientific have bias, if in no other sense than the determination not to have any.

Yet we try and persevere as each of us is part of history in the making.

Friday 20 May 2011

Gulaal

The Left may be out but it is not the Right that has won. As the nation awakens to the horror of the Congress Monarchy it's created, let's take heart in the forthcoming entertaintment this outcome will provide when the Congress grapples to keep 2 women in check. Welcome Amma and free mixer grinders and Didi with the promise of a gazillion Km of railway tracks ! The colour of Gulaal is Green.

Friday 6 May 2011

DUM MARO DUM

Why did so many people not like Dum Maro Dum?

The movie was refreshing, if the Dabaang kind of masala film works well because of its exaggerated, crude , over the top style that packs a punch, DMD works with the same masala in slick, stylish packaging and some brilliant editing. It takes a few minutes to get used to the pace of the film, just as in Bluffmaster and then not for a moment does the film lose its grip. It doesn’t keep you at the edge of your seat biting your nails; it keeps you entranced by the unfolding fatality of the actions of the characters. It keeps you mesmerized with it’s blue and red tinged scenes and Goa forever captured in the twilight zone. None of the garish drug overdose scenes, no cook , load, shoot and dilate sequences done to death. While most films dealing with drugs emphasize on the high, DMD personifies the drug itself. Into a stealthy, omnipresent and deadly seductress. It gives it a name.

Lori (Prateik) in a befuddled decision opts to smuggle drugs in his luggage just once with the promise of funded University education and a chance to be with his girlfriend in the U.S. Prateik’s acting is winsome as usual but one wishes his voice would break already.

ACP Vishnu Kamath( Abhishek) a reformed cop is the man on a mission to clean up Goa’s drug scene. He is haunted by a car crash caused by a junkie that killed his entire family. He is the weakest link acting wise lacking the intensity and emotion to carry what could have been a beautifully crafted role.

Zoey (Bipasha) is lured by ambition and opportunity to fly international skies if only she becomes a carrier for the first 5 times. Suffice to say, there never is a last high. This is the one film in which not only Bipasha’s diction but also acting is tolerable and she sure looks the part!

DJ Joki (Rana Duggbati )having already lost his girlfriend to drugs plays the noble crusader and takes upon himself the task of saving his friend entrapped by the drug mafia. Dugbatti is the icing on the cake. Slow to emerge in his role, he outshines every other performance in the film, cashing on the element of surprise that new actors provide.

Aditya Pancholi is like he always is, the annoyingly fair,tall bad guy.

Every character is given it’s swansong. One by one the drug trade picks it’s victims. It follows them, corners them , whispers to them, takes them in its heavy embrace and leaves them dead. Even fatality is alluring to the characters in the film.

Rohan Sippy always creates a lazy , easy intimacy between the couples, be it Abhishek and Priyanaka in Bluffmaster or Bipasha and Rana in DMD. The cinematography, like in Bluffmaster is clean and stylish spiralling from international hotspots of Goa, to it’s crowded markets and rave scenes. The music does not overpower the film and is almost forgettable but for a few haunting tracks like Jiye Kyun.

The story focuses not on the high of psychotropic substances but on the seductive, hazy drug world, of limitless opportunities. Sure some of the dialogues are clichéd, sure it is in no way a hard hitting investigation into the Goa drug mafia, yes the sequences of events are not credible. It is not stark like Requim for a Dream nor symbolic like Hare Rama Hare Krishna. But if you like the fiery Dabaang, you will like a masala of a different kind, a more subtle, cooling concoction.