I apologise...  

Posted by Praveen in , , ,

Over the last few years, I've written quite a few blogs which am not proud of right now on a second reading. Some of those blogs were written in a fit of anger, as reactions to some off incident. The lack of proper research shone through, as did the unwanted usage of expletives. There was lot of rhetoric and as much lack of substance. I would like to use this post to set some of those wrongs straight and apologise to some personalities who were subjected to unwarranted criticism due to lack of knowledge and proper research. And added to that, writing in the heat of the moment resulted in clouded judgement thus producing one sided articles. I would like to apologise to...(Not that any of these personalities gives a damn to what I write...Just that I thought its better to own up your mistakes)

1. Arundathi Roy
I've n't bashed anyone like I bashed her. From making noises about her supposedly pseudo-intellectual behaviour to calling her a bitch, I've done it all in this blog. Till sometime back, I was a firm believer in the unlimited goodness of the nation that is India that I failed to see the shades of grey or rather the total blackness on its part in several cases. And when she talked exactly about those greys and blacks, it made me uncomfortable. For me, anyone who questions the nation was equivalent to a terrorist and so it was easy for me to brand her as one. The idea of state sponsored terrorism was hard for me to swallow, until a certain Binayak Sen went to jail. That opened my eyes to a new world where the state was even worse than some of the so called terrorists or maoists. It was all there for me to see, just that I closed my eyes and shielded my ears to something which went against my beliefs, until a hard enough knock made me wake up. I used to view human rights activists as pests who were out to demean the nation and hog the international limelight. The idea that their presence is a necessity for a healthy democracy dawned on me much later. We need people who risk their lives and ask those hard questions. We need people who lays their reputation in line while expressing their views which might be mis constructed as anti national by vested interests and mis-informed bloggers! I still don't agree with many of Roy's views but now I know that atleast half of which she speaks is true as far as India is concerned. Sorry Ms. Roy, for all those harsh words. You didn't deserve any of those...

2. M.F.Hussain
Now, here comes a double flip. First, I started off as a flag waving member of the 'tolerance' club. I had seen only the 'bharatmata' painting and I found nothing wrong with it. Then I came across a site where some of his 'selected' works were featured. It consisted mainly of Hindu gods and godesses in compromising positions with titles which were formulated to stir up anger. There were one or two paintings of a fully clothed muslim lady(again titled). From that day, I been a strident critic of the man without ever caring to do a research on his body of work. I never had a problem with hindu gods painted in whatever positions he liked. It was the double standards that he supposedly displayed in portraying muslim ladies fully clothed which angered me. And then, recently he passed away. My first reaction was, 'good riddance'. Then, out of curiosity, I decided to dig a little and what it throwed up shocked me. His body of work was massive and the ones featured in the site were drawn sometime in the 60s. Most of those titles in the site(which were designed to stir up anger) were made up by the site owner. Until mid 90s, no one in India really bothered about these few paintings. That was when the Hindutva brigade came into limelight. Once the Ayodhya issue was milked to its capacity, they needed something new to latch on to. Someone digged up the old paintings and thus started an orchestrated campaign to kick Hussain out of India. Sadly, most of us fell prey to that game, hating the man till his death. A quick run through of his work will tell you how these few paintings were insignificant compared to his mammoth repertoire. The bigots never talked about the other beautiful paintings he made of Saraswathi, Gandhari or Mother Teresa. I am not an art connoisseur, but some of those paintings touched even a layman like me(although a large percent just flew over my head!). You can view some of those works here- http://www.mfhussain.com/paintings/ . I feel guilty as well as sad for inadvertently playing a part in drumming up hatred against a great artist. I am no different from those bigots of the Hindutva brigade!

3.V.S.Achuthanandan and the leftists
My criticism of Achuthanandan came with the package of being a staunch anti-leftist(for the first 24 years of my life). I could never empathise with the ideology of a party or a man who came with a red flag wherever some development was about to happen. I could never digest the fact that someone was making such a big fuss about a few huts being relocated for an IT park or some other mega development project. That was until words like corporate plunder, land grab etc entered my dictionary. Come 2008 and there was all the hullaballoo about Achuthanandan's 'dog' remark at late major Unnikrishnan's residence. The night I saw that, I sat down to write and all I could see was an old filthy useless politician making fun of India's slain hero. Once it was published, I got calls from many, including one lady from Mysore who was particularly emotional, asking me whether I've atleast heard of the land reforms that VS helmed. Truth be told, I didn't have an idea of the man's history in Kerala politics before the 90s. I didn't bother to read it up at that time too. It was after several months when I saw 'reason' and 'consistency' on the left side that I bothered to read some history. And boy, din't I repent! The anti-leftism is a thing of the past for me. The left and the few who still believe in that ideology(or atleast the watered down version of it) are an absolute necessity in the Indian political landscape, even if it is in a handful of states. The day the red flag bites the dust completely would surely upset the balance of our democracy.

Stop scrolling Barkha Dutt and everyone of that ilk....am not gonna apologise to you! My opinions on you still stands the same and I don't think I'll ever change it, because some more research did harden that opinion...

From today, I vow never to write anything without proper research. I vow never to use expletives in my writings, so that the message don't get lost in all the din. I vow never to write when I am angry. I vow, even after all this I won't hold it back in cases where it necessitate the presence of a raised finger...!

God Inc., Religion Ltd.  

Posted by Praveen in ,

I am not a regular visitor of places of worship. The only time I do visit is once an year on my birthday after several requests from amma. The past week, eventhough it was not my birthday, I accompanied my friends to a famous shrine associated with the 'krishna consciouness cult', here in Bangalore. I had faint memories of visiting the place as a school kid with my parents. But, over the years, it had changed a lot. What strikes as soon as you enter the compound is how well maintained the whole setup is. The feeling I got was similar to entering a corporate office rather than a temple. Later I were to learn that its not only the exterior that gives this feeling. Infact, most of the big temples fail to give me that feeling of devotion. Its those nondescript small temples in the countryside which evoke such feelings usually. No amount of huge buildings or gold plated deities manage to do that.

The entry point was the biggest example of the 'business of religion'. A guy sitting at a counter called out to us and offered us a pass. By buying that pass for Rs.250, we can go straight inside and have the 'darshan'. Else, you have to stand in a long queue, chant 'hare rama hare krishna' at every step till you reach the temple door. Its a process which takes 30 minutes. By paying some money, you can sidestep that and get a direct appointment with God. Now, is n't that something exciting? Am reminded of how some bollywood stars gets a direct darshan of Thirupathi Balaji using their VIP status. They might be having delusions about buying a place in heaven too.

And so, after a long wait in the queue, we walked inside for the 'darshan'. I could see some people clicking the deity with their mobile cameras. And one of them was promptly driven away by the security. The ropes to regulate the queue were arranged in such a way that once you get the darshan, you are forced to walk straight to a counter selling devotional books and cds in all languages. While I was wondering at the business mentality at play here, I never knew that this was just a start. What followed was shocking for me. The ropes and barricades lead the 'involuntary' you expertly through an array of shops spread over several huge rooms. There's no way you can get out without passing through each of these shops. The items ranged from pastries to household stuff. There were shops selling bags, toys, stationaries and even a vegetable market! Everything you need to setup a small temple at your home are also available here. It was nothing less than a supermarket, all inside the temple complex. The Gods probably occupied 5% of the total area of the complex.

When everything around us is commercialised, we can't expect religion alone to stay away. Infact, Religion Inc. makes much more profit than most of the big corporates. Donations continue to pour in. Sinner billionaires donate a part of their billions in the hope of cleansing the blood from their hands. No higher authority dare ask a religious establishment on the amount of donations that they recieve every year. No questions are asked on how all that amount is spent. Its a free ride for many. When Baba Ramdevs become billionaires overnight, we can be sure that there's something wrong with the way many among us see their relationship with God. Atleast some does think that God can be bought.

And its best to end with this song from motherjane, which I've quoted in some old posts too..'
motherjane- 'Soul corporations'

The cross maybe the ultimate metaphor
For religion sold as a brand
A sacrifice exchanged for the almighty dollar
with the tacit blessings of the Vatican

we all have guardians trading faith for power
businessmen by whom we swear
betraying everyone from eshwar to allah
with their holy wars for market share.

We're losing our religions, entrusting our gods
to corporates that prostrate before balance sheets
Unsuspecting pawns inititating brethren
into the oldest MLM to stalk our streets

Behold the soul corporations, the spiritual supermarts
dispensing salvation with a price tag
mocking the truth that resides in our hearts
Paralyzing the human conscience with practised art

And of the various hues of desecration
this makes them the hardest to beat
the unsure can't endure the liberation
the pious don't discern the need

for if there's a truth to be told
religion's just a shadow of god
illuminated by thought and understanding
sullied by the ambiguity of words.

[you can listen to the song at motherjane.in]

Alone in Old Hyderabad[Photoblog]  

Posted by Praveen in , ,

Till last month, my only experience of Hyderabad was during the 15 day all India trip from college, few years back. And so, when some strange circumstances required me to go to Hyderabad for a weekend, I decided to explore the sights and sounds of this historical city.

Hyderabad gave me a hot reception the 2nd time around too. I was sweating profusely right from early morning, when I landed at the place. The hot winds didn't make life any better. The plan for the first day was to visit the old hyderadbad area around the charminar, with a friend. The travel in the state transport bus took us halfway when an old lady asked my friend where we are heading to. When she heard the place name, she advised us against going there as the old city is in a tense situation due to some shoot out. We got down from the bus to rechart our plan. Later, we learned that an MLA was shot at by some goondas of a real estate king(read land grabber). Seems like the MLA led a crusade against the land grabbing activities of this businessman and they gave him some bullets in return. And, so the rest of the day was spent at the majestic Golconda fort(about which I'll write later).

Having got my day one plan spoiled, I decided to go back to the old city on the next day. I had enough time in the afternoon, all for myself. I hauled an auto and asked him to take me to the old city. He said its risky to go there as tensions are still running high. But I had decided that I'll go whatever happens. After a minute of convincing and an offer of extra 10 rupees from the metre charge, he agreed to take me there. During the journey, he kept on talking about how big a risk he was taking by taking me there. But, when we reached there I realised that life around charminar was back to normal, although the crowd was lesser than normal. I got down...I had 5 more hours.

Framed inside the huge entry gate was the charminar at a distance. The street teeming with thousands was a great invitation for any photographer. I perched myself at the end of the median right in front of the charminar, for a close shot of the monument. And then, I saw through the view finder, a biker coming at top speed right through the centre, towards me. It was a freeze frame moment, as I instinctively clicked and then froze myself at the prospect of getting hit. At the last moment, he swung away expertly with a non chalant expression. Folks, Welcome to Hyderabad and its legendary drivers.
A biker coming straight at me as I sat down at the end of the divider to click the charminar.

On a ride


The sun was beating down hard. I stood under the shade of the minars. Then, a middle aged man approached me and started enquiring about the camera. It turned out that he's a professional photographer who is still shooting with a film SLR camera. He spoke at length about how the advent of the digital camera spoilt his business. I felt a pang of guilt when he said that. He has plans to buy a digital for himself, but at the same time says he is not used to 'technology'. After bidding him goodbye, I walked all the way up the spiral steps inside the minar to the top of charminar. It provided a great view of the nearby mecca masjid and the hundreds of pigeons flying around it. I met a group of 3 guys who wanted their group pic taken, ofcourse with requests to mail the pics.
A view of mecca masjid from the top of the charminar

“Remember how the english teacher sat down on the bubble gum stuck on the chair?”
“yea, and then Mukul was thrown out of class…poor guy!”

I was slowly getting used to the friendly people around old Hyderabad. Nowhere else have I been approached by so many people wanting their pics to be taken. A drunk tender coconut seller wanted his portrait taken with the coconuts. A young boy selling biscuits wanted his portrait taken with his biscuits. When I offered to click another portrait of him alone, he shied away. Then, there was a group standing on top of a masjid calling out at me from the other side of the street. After the click, they wanted to know where I will put the pic. I said 'the internet' and saw their beaming faces. At another place, a scooter suddenly stopped beside me and the men on top of that smiled at me and gestured to click them. I clicked and showed it to them, when they happily rode off. Wherever I looked, I saw a hundred interesting faces. And each of them had a unique expression or unique mannerism. Human beings can amaze you no end, if only you look at the right places and at the right faces.
happy faces

clicking me?ehh?

iStand iPose

a view of the charminar from the other side


know why they keep the rear view mirror this way? To save space when riding fast through the crowded roads...

the biscuit boy

He stopped the scooter...and asked me to click...and then they left with a smile

Its been about 4 hours since I started walking in this old city. The weather was changing. Its almost nearing sunset, but dark rain clouds have obscured the sun. Gusty winds picked up the dust and whirled it around. It was one mean task to shield the eyes and the lens from the dust. Before long, the rain gods blessed old Hyderabad. A welcome rain after a long dry spell. People ran for cover, while some ran out to enjoy the rain. Burqa clad women took shelter under a temple. A man stopped in his tracks while he was running for cover and said 'Assalamu alaykum' to his friend. I took shelter in an old shop. A young boy came running outside and happily held his hands outside. Rainwater collected in his cupped hands, which he drank with zest. The simple pleasures of childhood...
and the rain arrives...after many weeks...and people take cover..

A man greeting his friend in the rain..”As-Salamu Alaykum”

A young boy came running outside and happily held his hands outside. Rainwater collected in his cupped hands, which he drank with zest. The simple pleasures of childhood..

The wait

And so, after 5 hours of walking and clicking, it was time for me to bid goodbye to the sights and sounds around Charminar. I felt bored not for a single minute of those 5 hours. Sometimes, travelling alone can help you to be yourself and soak in the spirit of the place and its people. You will end up taking in everything around you and get enriched in many ways. The encounters with strangers and being a listener to their stories can be a surreal experience. That high you get when those strangers leave you with a smile is untold, because smiles, especially from strangers are a rarity these days...