Cinema Paradiso

“Aal izz well!” I felt like humming this iconic ditty from “3 Idiots” when I learnt that the India International Centre was reviving physical programmes in September, 2021, with a selection of National Panorama films. I was unlucky to miss the screening of the inaugural film, ” Ek je Chhilo Raja“, which had the distinction of bagging the award for the Best Feature Film in Bengali in 2019 at the National Film Awards. I need not have worried. Because what was laid out was a smorgasbord of the best of regional cinema, many of them award-winning, sourced from across the country. A veritable feast for a connoisseur of cinema.

First up for me was the Gujarati film, “Hellaro” (2019; written and directed by Abhishek Shah), the worthy winner of the Golden Lotus Award for Best Feature Film, National Film Awards, 2019, the first Gujarati film to win the honour. Set in a small village in the Rann of Kutch in 1975, it captures the arid wastes and the culture of the place magnificently. Based on a local fable, the film is a searing examination of oppression at two levels: gender and caste. The colourful costumes, impeccable acting and swirling, near-delirious dance-choreography are the icing on the cake. A must-see!

From the west to the east coast, my cinematic journey continued with the Tamil movie, “House Owner” (2019, directed by Lakshmy Ramakrishnan). With the 2015 floods as the backdrop, this is the story of a couple, Vasu and Radha. Vasu is a retired militaryman and is suffering from Alzheimer’s, which makes Radha’s task that much more difficult. Fast and expert inter -cutting between the couple’s halcyon just-married days and their present crisis adds poignancy to the proceedings. Rain and water play a seminal role, and the tension keeps ratcheting. The denouement, when it comes, is as heart-rending as it is spine-chilling.

Though we have never got our hands on the Oscar for Best Foreign Feature Film–with only a meagre total of three nominations so far— Indian cinema has a rich history of bagging international awards, starting with the ‘Palme D’or'[Best Film] for “Neecha Nagar” in 1946. Adding to that glorious tradition is “lewduh” (Market, 2019; Khasi/Garo/Nepali, directed by Pradip Kurba). This film is the proud recipient of the prestigious Kim Ji Seok Award, Window on Asian Cinema, Busan International Film Festival, Korea, 2019.

“lewduh” is set in Shillong and takes its name from the large market in Meghalaya’s capital, which is also known as Bara Bazaar. It focuses on a thirty-something do-gooder, who looks after an aging man with mental-health issues and a boy in drug-rehab. The protagonist is purportedly based on a real-life character. The film touches on a range of issues, including domestic violence leading to a tragic suicide. It does air-brush the drug-taking in the ugly underbelly of the bazaar, but on balance paints a vibrant picture of a resilient and hopeful community.

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Next up was a Marathi film, “Mai Ghat: Crime no:103/2005”, a 2019 film directed by Ananth Narayan Mahadevan. It brings to the screen the thirteen-year struggle of Prabhavati Amma, whose son, Udayakumar, was killed in police custody on a trumped-up charge in 2005 at the Thiruvananthpuram Fort Police station in the State of Kerala, resulting in a historic death sentence for the guilty policemen.The refusal of the wronged mother, a poor laundrywoman, to give up in the face of overwhelming odds, her alliance with a feisty lady-lawyer, and the casual brutality of our police force all got their share of screen space. A nuanced and layered movie, it depicted with empathy and intelligence the impact of a single, horrific incident on the individuals and families concerned.

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From the State of Chhatisgarh came a rather bleak but topical film,“A Dog and His Man” {2019, Chattisgarhi, directed by Siddharth Tripathy}. Its subject was the large-scale displacement of villagers by coal-mining, told through the tale of Shoukie and his loyal dog, Kheru. Shoukie is served a final notice by his mining company for eviction. The horrors of deforestation, the lure of the city for youngsters and the gradual abandonment of a hitherto unpolluted village life, yielding to modernity, are well- depicted and thought-provoking.

The Manipuri offering “Eigi Kona” { “Stallone, My Pony”, 2019, Manipuri directed by by Bobby Wahengbam and Maipaksana Haorangbam} told the story of a young boy, Thawai, his love for polo and his beloved pony, Stallone , whom he lent to players playing in National Level polo tournaments. Thawai’s father, in dire need of money, sells off Stallone and Thawai , in shock, falls seriously sick. On the face of it a simple story, the film makes a strong point about the need for support systems and safety nets for sportspersons who devote their most productive years to single-minded pursuit of their sport leaving them no time to develop other skills needed for day- to- day sustenance in life. By the time they come face to face with the realities of living, it may be too late to make amends. The aging former polo star who has taken to boot-legging to support himself, and bought the pony for that trade, tries to discourage young Thawai from playing polo, telling him that medals and past glory are not enough to sustain a player in later years. In today’s India when the nation is encouraging a sporting culture, this is an important message that needs to be taken note of. The film ends with the buyer agreeing to return the pony to an ecstatic Thawai. No doubt the ending is too pat – possibly the director’s concession to audience happiness- but the message for an aspiring sporting nation is strong and clear.

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Much was expected from the last movie, “Kalira Atita”{“Yesterday’s Past”, Odia, 2021}. Directed by Nila Madhab Panda, who gave us the unforgettable “I Am Kalam”, the effort was to tackle the issue of climate change through the eyes of the protagonist, who is sandwiched between two cyclones–one which destroyed his family and village, and the other, which now threatens to takes his life. The film had its moments–as when the protagonist chases crabs and eats them after frying them–but they were too scattered to sustain interest. This was a strangely one-note film, repetitive and disappointing.

Kudos to the Delhi team of the India International Centre for leading us out of the dark Covid times. One looks forward to more such film festivals to titillate the taste-buds of movie-buffs. Respect! Salute!!

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What The Stars Foretold

I would like to thank my loyal readership for the amazing response given to my guest-blog, “Torture Test”, authored by my son, Abhinav. Encouraged, I requested my better half, Sangeeta Verma, to part with one of my favourite pieces, authored by her–a true incident, involving her–to which she graciously consented.It will make the hair at the nape of your neck stand on end! Goosebumps guaranteed. This article was first published in the Indian magazine “Femina’, in their issue dated March 23, 1995.

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“How come you are travelling three-tier when you are officially entitled to a higher class?” asked a co-passenger, unable to contain his curiosity any longer. Having travelled together for the better part of the day, exchanging ideas and views over endless rounds of pakoras [fried potato snacks], bananas and tea, all of us co-passengers in that crowded three-tier train bogie had become familiar enough for him to overlook the indelicacy of the question.

A slight shiver ran down my spine as I recollected the reasons for not travelling in an enclosed compartment.

Last winter, I had to travel on official duty from Lucknow to a small town called Dehri-on-Sone in Bihar at fairly short notice. Unable to get a reservation in Second AC, I settled for First Class, much against the advice of my father-in-law, who asked his young daughter-in -law to take a male member of the staff along. “What a blow to female independence,” I thought. “Daddy, that really would not be possible. It cannot be justified,” I answered politely. So off I went to the station, feeling very proud indeed at undertaking my first official trip into the country’s interior. I felt alone, but in command and excited. The weekly fortune column had forecast a long journey and meeting interesting people. I was looking forward to that.

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Less than two hours into the journey, the rush of the short-distance travellers emptied out at Faizabad station and I looked around to see who the bona fide passengers were. It was about 10.30 pm. There was just one other gentleman in the compartment. “Appears a decent sort,” I thought to myself, quite relaxed. I spread my sleeping bag on an upper berth, in the four- berther compartment, and prepared to turn in. On his own, my co-passenger opened the conversation. “Where are you headed?” “Dehri-on-Sone,” I replied. ” I would suggest you shift to another compartment. I shall also be getting down at Mughalsarai and you will be all alone there. It is not quite safe.” When a complete stranger offers unsolicited advice, one either dismisses it outright or takes it up earnestly. I did the latter.

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I toured the corridor, only to find the doors to all the compartments shut and bolted from inside. It did not seem proper for a lady to be knocking at a door and asking to be let in at that time of the night, so I started to return. Just then, one of the compartments opened. I seized my chance and barged in. There were three women and three men in that First Class compartment meant for four. I explained my predicament and requested to be accommodated in exchange for my reserved berth. No one looks very kindly on an unaccompanied lady making so bold as to barge into a room full of unknown people at night. Full of suspicion at my motives, the head of the family refused point-blank, saying, ” I am sorry. As you can see, we are already overcrowded. You may, however, request that gentleman to accompany you, since he is an outsider in our compartment.” He pointed to a man sitting in one corner. This latter ray of hope also diminished as the gentleman in question stood his ground. ” I have my reservation here and shall not shift till the ticket collector comes and allots me another berth.” I was too worried now to point out that considering we had not seen a TTE [Travelling Ticket Examiner] so far,his optimism about one arriving at this hour was entirely misplaced.

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Anyhow, reassuring myself that nothing could go wrong, I returned to my compartment, informed my well-wisher that I would just have to go it alone as all the other compartments were full, and prepared to turn in. Scarcely had I tucked into my sleeping bag when a well-dressed man with a scruffy looking servant entered the compartment. My woman’s sixth sense started tingling like crazy, sending frantic warning signals. “Calm down, ” I told myself, “You are over-reacting. Nothing is wrong with the fellow.” The man entered, took a good look at the otherwise empty compartment, assessed my co-passenger and then proceeded to size me up, looking me over from tip to toe very deliberately indeed. I pretended unconcern, but was acutely aware of every movement of his and felt like a goat being assessed before being slaughtered. “There you go again, ” I admonished myself, and tried desperately to relax. Having taken in everything and everybody, the man sat down and with the slightest flick of his head and eyes, bade his helper close the door from inside. Once comfortable, he took out a bottle of country-made liquor from his bag and told his side-kick to take out three glasses. “Three, ” I wondered, “There are just two of them,” keenly glued on to every movement of his, preparing to jump at the first false move.

Putting the three glasses on the small side-piece between the two lower berths, the man poured out three drinks. He proceeded to offer one to our co-passenger who, to my immense surprise and dismay, accepted it without even a token of protest. He then gave one glass to his helper and, lastly, picked up a glass himself. This was terrible. I had been drawing courage and strength from the presence of my first co-traveller, who had shown such gentlemanly concern. “You cannot stay on now, ” I told myself and fervently praying that some compartment might be open, I got up and left as though going to the toilet, leaving all my belongings as they were. Luckily for me, the earlier compartment was still open, waiting, perhaps, for the TTE to show up. I tried to be bold but the terror and helplessness I felt must have shown on my face, because this time my fervent appeal for refuge was granted. The gentleman waiting for the TTE too decided to take this opportunity for relaxed travel that had come his way a second time and agreed to change places with me in return for an assured berth. Extremely relieved, I walked back with him, picked up my luggage ever so casually and left my saviour behind. Did I notice a look of surprise on the man’s face or was it just my my imagination? I cannot say. Thanking my hosts profusely, I joined them for a night of relatively cramped travel. At five in the morning when the train chugged into my destination, I thanked the Lord that the ordeal was over, picked up my bags and disembarked.

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I was surprised to see the man who had exchanged places with me standing on the platform, shivering and forlorn, in just his night-pyjamas and shawl, and looking very, very distraught indeed.

“Madam,” He accosted me, “Where did you send me? I have been robbed of all my money and belongings. I am lost.” I was stunned. All I could think of at that moment was: what if I had not changed my compartment? I could even picture the small news item tucked away on the inside page of a newspaper, ‘Unidentified body of a woman found beside the railway track on the Lucknow- Mughalsarai route. Motive….’

I am still wondering whose stars had changed course that fateful night.

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Torture Test

After twenty of my blog-posts, I think the time is ripe for a new voice–which is none other than that of my son–Dr. Abhinav Verma, newly minted doctor in Computer Science. Both he and his mathematician- wife,Dr. Amita Malik, are set to join tenure-track positions next year in Penn State University. While wishing them all the best, let me share Abhinav’s contribution to the “Brief Case” section of “The Times Of India”, which appeared in their issue of September 9, 2005, when Abhinav was studying in Delhi University. I am sure it will resonate with many candidates–and their parents!– even today. To say nothing of teachers!

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“Lord! What fools these mortals be,” is arguably the most insightful of Shakespeare’s lines. This deep philosophical truth dawned on me only recently. I was taking an exam which was supposed to be the turning point in my life. The all-important IIT-JEE. I had better chances of sprouting wings than I had of cracking that monster of an entrance test. Why was I taking the JEE? Simply because everyone I knew was doing the same. For two years teachers and parents had relentlessly lectured me on the greatness of the IITs. Stories of how people had studied for 12 hours daily to secure a rank in the top 100 had poured in from relatives across the country. Instead of inspiring me these horrific tales of obsessive -compulsive studying did just the opposite.

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They instilled in me a fear so great that I never studied a word for the exam. So here I was in the examination hall, wondering how to pass the next three hours.

When the exam was finally over, I came out in a good mood, free from forced confinement. But the scene outside wiped the smile off my face. There was mass hysteria. Doting parents were desperately trying to console their wards. The pressure had got to most students and the thought that they might not be selected was filling them with fear and self-loathing. Even those who had done well were roaming around with long faces, for they knew that the road to an IIT was far from over.

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You do not require an Einstein to deduce that there is a flaw in the system. Is there any surprise that those coaching classes that make you study 12 hours a day and give up everything else in life are the ones with the highest success rate? I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but I feel that it is the moral obligation of the nation to ensure that this changes. It might not be analogous to child labour, but it is not much less cruel. And I am glad that some thought is going into it now.

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Mahabub Mere

I was on election duty to Mahabubnagar quite a while back, and still carry the taste of its tangy cuisine on my tongue! Memories of another day…..

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The second-largest district of erstwhile, undivided Andhra Pradesh–after Ananthapur–Mahabubnagar was formerly known as “Rukmammapeta” and “Palamooru”. The name was changed to Mahabubnagar on 4th December,1890, in honour of Mir Mahbub Ali Khan Asaf Jah VI, the Nizam of Hyderabad [1869-1911 A. D.]. The name is apt. It is easy to fall in love with Mahabubnagar’s laid-back lifestyle, its rugged terrain and its serene ambience, which seems untouched by the march of centuries. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn that the area had acquired notoriety for being a hot-bed of extremist activities. In subdued tones, people recall how the then Superintendent of Police, Mr. Pardeshi Naidu, was killed in a land-mine attack in 1993. Policemen prefer to move around in “mufti”[plainclothes] and try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Violence lingers under the deceptively calm surface. Luckily, during my visit, the district shows us its happy and carefree face. Hakuna Matata!

Mahabubnagar yields its charms reluctantly. “But there is nothing to see here”, is the general, almost plaintive, refrain. Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt. For a mere three kilometres from the town centre lies the sylvan retreat of Pilalla Marri. Pillala, the locals inform us, stands both for branches and children, while Marri means banyan.

At this scenic locale sprawls a seven-hundred -year old majestic banyan tree, which has spread with joyous abandon. How many lovers’ trysts it must have witnessed! How much it must have enjoyed the chatter of naughty children! History’s companion now stands silent. Sombre and brooding, it guards its secrets well. The silence is punctuated by birdsong; the green, in a myriad shades, soothes the eye; and the dappled sunlight and pure air rest and refresh the senses.

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It is time to venture further afield. Sixty kilometres, to be precise. Here the Jurala dam strives to contain the swiftly -flowing and turbulent waters of the river Krishna. With some trepidation, we board a coracle, having heard of four schoolchildren who were swept to their deaths when their fragile and rickety craft overturned. This basket-shaped boat, constructed of leather and bamboo, proves to be sturdier than it looks and no mishap occurs. A-sailing do we go!

We next turn our attention to that most alluring and frustrating of sports: fishing. The scene is idyllic but there is one major snag: the fish are in no mood to bite! In desperation, we ask the local fishermen to pull in their nets and loan us their catch– that we may strike fake poses for the camera!

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Our angling expedition having ended on a decidedly fishy note, we put that disappointment behind us and head for the hills.

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The road unwinds straight as a ribbon through fields of gently-swaying cotton before it reaches the quaintly-named town of Achampet. Scarcely ten kilometers later, it veers sharply to the right and climbs steeply to a wooden retreat which houses the temple of Uma-Maheshwara. The “aarti,” or prayer service, amidst the peal of temple bells, offers moments of peace, serenity and reflection.

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We move outside, where a group of excited, chattering monkeys compete for the gram which we offer them. They keep a wary eye on the two Alsatians, belonging to the tea-stall owner, whose sudden, sharp attacks on the fleet-footed apes has all the makings of an enjoyable comic opera.

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By now my hosts, who had begun with a ‘nothing to see here’ sentiment, had also warmed up to the idea of showcasing their region. They enthusiastically whisked me off to Gadwal, about 15 kilometres from the Jurala Dam project site. Little could I have imagined the treasures this dusty town held. It is home to the weavers of the Gadwal saree. I am awestruck by the beauty of their craft. I learn that the speciality of a traditional Gadwal saree is that the body is woven in cotton threads, while the border and ‘pallu’ are in vibrant contrasting coloured silk with ‘zari’ designs, woven separately and then attached to the saree using the traditional ‘Kuttu’ technique. Unable to stop myself, I indulge my shopaholic instincts and buy a gift for my wife–a beautiful, rust-coloured cotton saree with a purple silk border glittering with its intricate “zari’ pattern. Significantly lighter in the pocket but happy and satisfied, I decide to head home. The smile on my wife’s face on receiving the gift– priceless!

A gorgeous Gadwal saree.

A week has flown by. All too soon, it is time to leave. But something in my heart whispers, not “goodbye”, but “au revoir”. Till we meet again!

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Kuta Beach, Bali

After a long hiatus, a short and sweet poem which takes you to Bali in these housebound times!

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The surf, sandy beach, mild breeze and the sun,

The ocean yields its treasures, one by one,

I am a child once again , who can still,

From picking coral and shells, get a thrill,

Like a mother’s bosom, the sea swells and,

Embracing me tenderly, takes my hand.

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I feel young, and in love with everything ,

I have seen, with pleasure my heart does sing,

The sun takes an orange dive into the sea,

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Where children tame the surf with water-ski,

On the moonlit beach, in each other’s ears,

Lovers whisper, as they have done for years,

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Under coconut palms and wide blue skies,

I found my soul in this paradise!

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IF IT IS MARCH, IT MUST BE MARRAKECH

Could not resist recycling this article, which first appeared in March, 1997, in the Lucknow edition of “The Times Of India”.

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If it is March, it must be Marrakech [also spelt as Marrakesh]. For Morocco, in 1997, played host in the second week of the month to the first World Maternal Mortality Conference. A ten-member Indian delegation, comprising administrators, doctors and representatives of NGOs, arrived to find the walls of the town splattered with blood! Not literally, of course. The big red blotches appear on posters for the Congress, with the caption: “1,000, 000 lives a year! No.” It is time to break the culture of silence and push the issue of maternal mortality centre-stage.

Marrakech itself is a bundle of contradictions. Imagine an oasis–if you can–at the base of the majestic , snow-capped Atlas mountains. Where beggars rub shoulders with the super-rich.Where conservatively clad and even veiled Arab women stroll the streets in the company of hep and stylish teenagers. Where the neatness and order of the New Town contrasts with the wild exuberance of souks, or bazaars. Marrakech is a meeting-ground–where East meets West, to the benefit of both.

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We have two clear days for sightseeing. First on the agenda is a visit to ‘Le Menara’, one of the city’s famous gardens. It turns out to be a tranquil little lake in a grove of olive trees, with a small monument in the foreground. We move on to the exquisite Bahia palace, constructed between 1894 and 1904 by the then Prime Minister. Our articulate and knowledgeable guide tells us that it is named after the Prime Minister’s first and favourite wife. Each room has three well-marked features–tiles on the floor, stucco work on the walls, and painted woodwork on the ceilings. The work and decorations become progressively more intricate and dazzling as one proceeds inside the palace. The crowning glory is the Prime Minister’s living room, where stained glass creates brilliant effects on the walls. There is also the “riad”, or courtyard, with orange and palm trees, flowering bushes and a fountain to quench the thirst of birds.

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The next day is devoted to sampling the pleasures of the Ourika valley. The rugged landscape appears to be a straight lift from “The Ten Commandments”.

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Impromptu shops have sprung up by the roadside, selling quaint souvenirs from fossils to stone-masks. There is an enormous amount of haggling to be done, a pastime at which the Moroccan is quite adept and from which he derives a great deal of pleasure. Without batting an eyelid, he will inflate his selling price [the actual price remains a matter of speculation] by as much as five or six times and then cheerfully haggle with you for a”good price”. Today a young lad of barely ten summers offers a Berber tribal knife for a thousand dirhams. After a frenetic round of bargaining, lasting a good fifteen minutes, I clinch the deal at 280 dirhams, not knowing whether I am the victor or vanquished! Subsequently, we motor down to Tahanoute, where a gurgling brook at the foothills of the Atlas quite fills our cup of happiness.

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That evening we have an appointment to keep at the casino. It is interesting to learn that Moroccans of Muslim faith are debarred from trying their luck at the casino. Located in a plush hotel, the casino is divided into two sections. One has pinball machines, and then there is an inner sanctum, where formal dress is required. Here, games of roulette, poker and other forms of “serious” gambling are in progress. With much trepidation, I insert a few coins in a pinball machine. Beginner’s luck–I hit the jackpot!! With an investment of six dirhams, I am able to rake in a hundred dirhams. They say that nobody walks out of a casino a winner. Resisting the temptation to play on, I swagger out, feeling thrilled at having cocked a snook at a hoary adage!

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No mention of our trip can be complete without a reference to Girish Babu, a polymer engineer from Karnataka, and the sole Indian resident of Marrakech. His family consists of his charming wife, Gayatri, precocious daughter, Meghana {mistress of three languages} and one-year-old son, Manjunath. We bump into each other in a supermarket. Girish Babu’s jaw drops. “I have been three years in Morocco without seeing a single Indian. This is a festival for us!” And, without further ado, the family opens its home and hearts to us. They are disappointed at having met us late–only two days of our stay remain. But those two days are made memorable by the sincerity of their welcome and the warmth of their hospitality.

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All too soon, the week has flown by and it is time to bid adieu to Marrakech. But in my heart, I feel that I will revisit this city–of palaces and gardens, haggling shopkeepers and one warm-hearted Indian family –quite often, even if only in my dreams!

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CRYSTAL BALL GAZING

This book review first appeared in an online exclusive of the “Open” magazine, dated March 08, 2021.

BOOK REVIEW–India 2030—The Rise of a Rajasic Nation- Edited by Gautam Chikermane

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  In his article on “Futurology”, Max Saunders, Professor at Birmingham University, writes, “From shamanic ritual to horoscopes, humans have always tried to predict the future. From the weather forecast to the time the sat-nav [satellite-navigation] says we will reach our destination, our lives are built around futuristic fictions.” Scientific forecasting really started in the 1920s, with the over hundred “Today and Tomorrow” books. Indeed, as early as 1924, Archibald Low had predicted the mobile phone! It is entirely apposite, therefore, that nearly hundred years later, Gautam Chikermane gathers twenty thought leaders to put together a 360-degree forecast of India’s trajectory in the 2020s– a “hazardous and embarrassing task”, as Devdip Ganguli, one of the contributors, puts it. Let us put the book–“India 2030: The Rise of a Rajasic Nation”-under the lens of a SWOT analysis. 

STRENGTHS: The core strength of the book lies in the number of important subjects it covers and the depth of the intellectual fare it has to offer. One need not agree with everything which is being said–indeed, there is scope for violent disagreement. But there is plenty of food for thought here. And there is something for everybody–from the academically heavy [Economy, Foreign Policy, Defense] to the relatively lighter pieces [Friendships, Soft Power, Spying]. The blurb positions the book  as “a handbook for citizens, a road map for policy makers and a guide for scholars”. That may be pitching it a bit too far, but there is a kernel of truth there. Undoubtedly.

  Another plus factor of the book is knowledge value-addition! The article on health, by Rajesh Parikh, [Health:Looking beyond a Cultural Extinction Event]–brings the reader  up-to-date with cutting-edge developments in virotherapy, bioweapons and antimicrobial resistance. Bibek Debroy weighs in on the economy and elaborates on the journey from wealth redistribution to wealth creation. But for me, the jewel in the crown is Prof. Mashelkar’s “Science and Technology: India Will be a Producer of Knowledge, Not Just a Consumer.” It focuses on three dominant drivers–digitalization, decentralization and decarbonisation, expatiates on fifteen exponential technologies and their impact, especially on education, health and energy, and explores the post-COVID science and technology landscape of India. Simply brilliant! 

WEAKNESSES: Ironically, what its editor touts as the book’s Unique Selling Point turns out to be its Achilles heel. In his “Preface”, Chikermane avers that this is not a prescriptive book but a predictive one. That is to say, it tells us what will happen, not what to do or how to get there. This leads to some sweeping statements  and some spectacular leaps of faith: that India will, by decade-end, become the third largest economy in the world and a regional power. Optimistic, surely? Also, objectivity is a casualty in some of the pieces.  OPPORTUNITIES: There is a renewed interest in India world-wide and the trajectory it is likely to follow in the decade of the 20s. To bring twenty “thought excavators”, as the editor terms them, to the table, with their differing perspectives, is no mean achievement. And an opportunity to cash in!   THREATS: This particular bandwagon is starting to become a bit too crowded for comfort. From the well-known Nandini Nilekani [“Imagining India” ] to the newbie Pramod Sharma [ “India Tomorrow: The Next Superpower”], there seems to be a race to generate suggestions to make India great again. Fatigue is likely to set in soon, if it has not already!   Chikermane explains that rajasic means a ‘guna’ or mode of energy that is associated with action, force and passion. This is a labour of love and a work of passion, which bears reading now and a decade later.

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BRUCE

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A baby spider on the edge,

Of a steep ledge,

Took one look and then shook with fear,

A single tear,

Rolled down his cheek as he declared,

“I’m not prepared,

At my tender age to risk all,

What if I fall,

To the earth and shatter my head,

Ending up dead?

The risks are too great, and so,

I will not go!”

His mother and his brother looked on,

“He’s a gone,

Case!” Exclaimed his mother, “He’s scared!

Son, those who’ve dared,

To set out and conquer the world,

Have always hurled,

Defiance at odds in their way,

Come, make my day!”

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On the mother’s face a wry smile,

Lingered awhile,

Then she became stern and her brown,

Eyes wore a frown.

It was brother’s turn and in low,

Tones, he said, “Go!

From you I learn, you set the trend,

Though it does rend,

My heart to see you suffering,

You cannot bring,

The spider clan to disrepute,

Do execute,

Your jump without a care in mind,

Don’t look behind!”

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Goaded, the spider said a prayer,

Then brushed his hair,

Closed his eyes, took a giant leap,

Into the deep,

Miracle! A thin rope of silk,

As white as milk,

Emerged from his behind and held,

Him up, propelled,

Him to swing in an arc while he,

Shouted with glee,

Then a web took shape and that morn,

A hero was born!

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Flibbertigibbet’s Exploits

Sorry for the delay! Did anyone even notice? Packing up February with a fun poem carrying a message!

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Flibbertigibbet–in short, Flib,

Blessed with a tongue that was quite glib,

For his seventeenth birthday, begged,

His Ma for a pair of skates, egged,

On by his kid brother, who knew

That he would get to use them too!

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“Else our allowance be doubled,”

They said, feeling if they troubled,

Her enough, she would surely yield,

And her fate would be truly sealed.

The two finally got their way,

The pair of skates quite made their day,

Skating is not easy to learn,

Every move, each twist and turn,

Demands concentration immense,

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To persevere, Flib had the sense,

Despite stumbles, falls, broken bones,

Spills and tumbles, moans and groans,

The two brothers learnt how to skate,

Having conquered fear, they felt great!

It seemed they were floating on air,

Leaping and gliding without care,

Next year, Flib’s brother, Harry Ford,

Wanted–what else?–a big skate-board,

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The brothers set pavements afire,

Earning the pedestrians’ ire,

Who quickly chased them off the roads,

Terming them a pair of fat toads,

Flib and Harry sat down to mope,

With this setback they could not cope.

Pa stuck his head inside the door,

His sons’ forlorn looks touched his core,

To the neighboorhood shop he went,

And his hard-earned money he spent,

On a surf-board, shiny and bright,

Made of fibreglass, very light.

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The expense, though, was justified,

Because the children, who had cried,

Buckets of tears in the meanwhile,

Now had reason to cheer and smile.

“We two really must get our act,

Together,” They said; and a pact,

Aiming at excellence was signed,

With victory were they aligned.

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Champion surfers they became,

Bringing their parents glory, fame,

Humble acorns oaks skywards send,

In triumphs small beginnings end.

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