Monthly Archives: October 2012

The-Story-of-Bhasmasura-and-Lord-Shiva-2

My Favourite Rakshasa

This Dasara, all the talk about Ravana, and how he has been misunderstood, took me back to the rakshashas I grew up with.

Through stories, films, comics, and books, rakshashas were a part of our growing up. They were the Jokers to the Batman, the necessary evil for the good to prevail over.

Sadly, however, like our Bollywood villains, rakshashas were stereotyped too. They all had to be dark, ugly, and menacing. Compared to the perfect jawlines and photogenic smiles of the gods, the rakshashas had huge eyes, and teeth protruding out of their mouths.

In such a scenario, you had to have some outstanding qualities to stand out as a rakshasa. You couldn’t just be your neighbourhood rakshasha who eats up goats and terrorises villagers. You will die in anonymity, like Taraka, whose death was outsourced to Karthikeya. I mean, Vishnu and Shiva didn’t even find it necessary to stoop down to earth to eliminate him.

Also, finding embodiments of pure evil is difficult since all the rakshasas are shown to be forgiven after their deaths. Your average rakshasha story will involve a god killing the demon, only for his soul to step out of the body and fold hands in prayer to god. We are then told that it was actually a curse that the demon was living. At heart, he was a nice fellow only.

The importance of standing out, thereby, becomes crucial if you are a rakshasa.

I now present my list of top rakshasas. Men of evil who transcended the normal levels of evilness to walk into the corridors of immortality.

 

BALI CHAKRAVARTHI: 

Though he was an Asura king, Bali was not your average goat-chewing, big-eyes-making, HOOHOO-HAAHAA laughing rakshasa. A benevolent king, an able administrator, and a generous host, Bali was done in by the scheming Devas, who could not tolerate his success of winning the Earth, Heaven and Underworld.

In one manipulative and shameful stroke of genius, Bali is tricked into death by Vamana, the fifth avatar of Vishnu. So, Bali is organising the Ashwamedha Yagna, and a Brahmin boy visits him and asks for three paces of land. Even though he is warned by Guru Shukracharya, Bali goes ahead with his promise. He loses his life, his kingdom, and everything else.

 

ILVALA AND VATAPI

In the murky demonic world of rakshasas, Ilvala and Vatapi were masterminds of gastronomic levels. Ilvala had a boon which let him call out to dead people and bring them back to life. The two brothers hated rishis, and would invite them over to lunch.

At lunch, Vatapi would transform into a goat, which Ilvala would cook and serve to the rishis. After the rishis have eaten, Ilvala would call out, “Vatape athragacha” (Come out, Vatapi!). Vatapi would tear open the stomach of the rishi and come out.

Now, I would lay half the blame on the rishis too. I mean, you are supposed to be leading an ascetic life, wouldn’t you know when you are served mutton? Didn’t you smell something fishy when there were bones in your curry?

So this went on for long, till one day Agasthya the great rishi, went to their kingdom. They did the same thing again, inviting Agasthya for lunch. Agasthya, was one of the seven super rishis (saptarishis) and possesses great power. Once, when the devas complained about asuras hiding in the ocean, Agasthya drank the whole sea and brought victory to the devas.

So Agasthya visits their house, consumes the curry, and before Vatapi can call out to his brother, rubs his own stomach and says, “Vatapi Jeerno Bhava” (May Vatapi be digested). Vatapi cannot come out from the stomach, and Ilvala is turned into dust by Agasthya. Even though they had tragic ends, through their sheer innovation and ingenuity, the two brothers win a place on the list. And Agasthya, a possible endorsement campaign.

 

SHISHUPAL: 

Again, not your typical asura, Shishupal is on my list for his bravery. I have already posted about him in an earlier blog (read here), so I shall simply paraphrase myself.

Shishupal makes it to the list on the basis of sheer guts. Born as Krishna’s cousin, apparently, this Shishupal fellow was a chronic pain in the ass for everyone around him. Krishna, as the reason for his birth was to get rid of all evil, had made up his mind to kill him. But knowing her son’s track record, Shishupal’s mother asks Krishna to promise that she would forgive him a hundred sins.

Shishupal grows up and on the day of his wedding, Krishna crashes into the wedding and kidnaps Shishupal’s bride to be, Rukmini and leaves. Shishupal is infuriated, and remember, Krishna has promised to pardon hundred of his sins. Think about it. If you were given a chance to commit a hundred sins, what would you do? I would visit a few banks, and then go to some Hollywood studios. But no, our guy Shishupal is the kind of guy about whom it is said, “He has guts in his butts and dum in his bum.” What does he do?

He walks straight into Krishna’s court, and starts abusing him. Krishna being the king, does not react. He keeps his calm and says nothing. Mentally, he is going, “97, 98, 99…100, “ And then, he gets up, and raises the finger.

Not the middle finger, come on, he is god. He raises his index finger, out comes the Sudarshan Chakra, and Shishupal gets beheaded on the spot. Shishupal is among the colourful villanous characters who tried to take on Gods in their own game, and realised it’s of no use.

 

HIRANYAKASHIPU:

For most rakshashas, the key to graduating to the big league is by asking for a boon. Vishnu is said to be the hardest to please, so most Rakshasas pray to Brahma and Shiva for boons. Among boons, research has shown that the most coveted wish was for immortality.

Immortality, however, like the 2G spectrum, is given only to selected people. There have seven recipients of immortality – Bali, Parshuram, Vibhishana, Hanuman, Vyasa, Ashwatthama, and Kripacharya.

Since immortality is denied, most rakshasas settled for other powers they thought would help them attain power and greatness. This is where Hiranyakashipu scores for originality.

A clear violent streak ran in his family, as evidenced by his elder brother Hiranyaksha, who was killed by Varaha. Denied immortality, Hiranyakashipu, sought a boon that would make him nearly impossible to kill.

But you can’t act smart with God.

 

BHASMASURA: 

Perhaps my favourite among the entire list is Bhasmasura.

Another rakshasa who did a penance and pleased Shiva, Bhasmasura asked for immortality. Upon being denied immortality, Bhasmasura opted for Option 2.

Armed with the boon, Bhasmasura started chasing Shiva himself.

Jolted out of his senses, Shiva ran for help. And kept running, till he reached Vishnu. When he pleaded for help, Vishnu used magic to trap Bhasmasura.

He transformed into a beautiful young woman, Mohini (enchantress) and caught the attention of Bhasmasura. Smitten by her beauty, Bhasmasura quickly forgot Shiva and started chasing Mohini. When he approached her, and ‘proposed’, Mohini said that she’d only marry the person who can dance like her.

Bhasmasura takes her up on the challenge, and what follows next could be better explained with the following video.

Among all the rakshashas mentioned, Bhasmasura is my favourite. Why? Two reasons.

1. Guts: Most rakshasas took their boons and played havoc with them behind the god’s back. This guy, instantly started chasing Shiva around.

2. Inspiration to most Bollywood villains: Most Hindi films of the 80s and 90s had references to rakshashas. They were all evil looking, or flashy.

While Ravana was depicted by Amrish Puri in Mr. India and many other films (where he has a kingdom of his own which is finally destroyed by the hero), the archetypal Bollywood villain was more the Bhasmasura type.

Every film will have a villain, who is powerful and wealthy. But with that one weakness that ruined many a rakshasha – lust.

So the actress would get him drunk, and then go to his room, bolt the door, and dance in front of him. And right then, in those five minutes, the villain will be duped. All his life’s hard work will be lost in that one moment.



(Featured Image Source)

Chakravyuh – Quick Review

You know a film is going to suck when Arjun Rampal says, Maine tere fees apne scholarship ke paison se bhar diye. – Anonymous

In Chakravyuh, Prakash Jha plays Madhur Bhandarkar.

Resorting to clichés in a style that is reminiscent of the National Award Winning Cliché King, Prakash Jha sets off on a journey and then goes round in circles, much like the military formation that the film gets its name from.

Supposed to be the story of two friends, who were friends from college (sepia shots and clean shaven looks are used to fool us to believe they are actually younger) and then go separate ways.

Arjun Rampal is a cop who has a hot wife who is also a cop. This ‘cople’ have a friend (Abhay Deol) who is an impulsive manufacturer of cell phones. He names his company ‘RAK’ (Rhea, Adil, Kabir). Obviously, the company’s phones don’t rak, and he suffers huge losses.

Arjun Rampal, meanwhile, is struggling with Maoists when Kabir suggests that he will go into the forests, win their affection, and be an insider for them. Just like that.

Soon, the Monk Who Sold His Phone Company becomes so involved in the struggles of the people that there is a change of heart, and he joins them.

Now, the film would have been a lot more believable if there was someone apart from Arjun Rampal in it. Rampal brings in such single-minded focus to the role, that he carries a single expression throughout the film.

In fact, Arjun Rampal is the only actor in the world to remain in the business for a decade with only one expression on his face. The guy should seriously give up acting and take up poker. His opponents would go nuts trying to figure out what’s going on in his mind.

Rampal is ably supported by Esha Gupta, who plays a police officer. She clearly is less burdened than her husband, considering her perfect eyebrows, her carefully manicured fingers, and her svelte figure. By the time they realise that the enemy is their friend, Abhay Deol has transformed into one of ‘them’ – bloodthirsty Maoists who shoot people recklessly and scream ‘Laal Salaam’.

The problem with the film is the over-simplification of the issue. And the less than subtle hints at real people and organisations. For eg, Posco is called Cosmo, Vedanta is Mahanta, Nandigram is Nandighat. After a point, you feel like screaming out to the director, “Chill, dude. We get it.”

And then there are the cardboard cut-out characters – the rapist policemen, the power-hungry politicians, the greedy multinationals, the ‘Laal-Salaam’ screaming Maoists, they are all there in the film. In one stunning scene, Rampal wins over the tribals by treating a man’s wounds with ointment – without washing the wound, applying a sanitizer, or even washing his own hands. Fuck hygiene man, these are tribals! The people are won over.

The film rambles on for a while, and the ending epitomises the entire film and its frivolousness.

Abhay Deol is lying 20 feet away and Arjun Rampal is pointing a gun at him. Abhay’s hands are slowly heading towards the rifle next to him. Esha Gupta is standing behind Abhay (and has a sniper rifle with a binocular lens and all that). Instead of shooting his hand, she puts a bullet right through his heart.

Seconds later, she walks up to a dying Abhay Deol and says, “Sorry, Kabir.” I was half expecting him to take out a Friendship Band and give it to her.

It didn’t happen.

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After a series of gripping political films, Prakash Jha gets lazy with this one. Imagine Sehwag playing Sri Lanka at Vadodara and edging one to the slips. It’s like that.

Ultimately, like Abhimanyu, Prakash Jha takes a complex subject and jumps into the film, but has no idea how to come out of it.

Baigan ki Biodiversity !!

Dear Participants of the Conference of Parties (CoP) in Hyderabad,

You wouldn’t know this, but about a month before you guys landed here, the government was working its ass off trying to impress you. The roads were cleaned up, beggars were driven away so that you don’t think we are a poor nation, and small shops that sell paan and cigarettes (for loose, unlike in your countries) were sent packing.

But don’t fall for all that. That’s not the real Hyderabad.

I am assuming you guys were put up at Novotel in Hitec City. Do something.

Take an auto-rickshaw. Begin by slashing in half whatever price he quotes. Then ask him to take you to the parallel road next to the Hitec City Road – from Kondapur to Mehdipatnam. That’s the real Hyderabad.

You’ll find the city is not just another metropolitan city with white and grey shades. Its got a lot of colour – the yellow of the autos, the green from the mosques, the brown from the roads, and a myriad of other colours that make up Hyderabad.

Since you guys are interested in Biodiversity, you should watch the roads carefully. You’ll find lots of cows on the road, the cliché of Indian roads that films love to show. But in fact, look down for a bit, and you’ll see they are bulls. You see, cows are considered sacred in India, but bulls have no special place. So they are left on the roads to fend for themselves and die.

You won’t find many birds in the city, even sparrows have more or less vanished. There will be, of course, lots of crows. And stray dogs too. It is estimated that there are about 12 lakh stray dogs in the city, and they feed off open garbage bins and the generally weak sewage and waste disposal system. But instead of having more dust bins, the government every now and then kills many of these strays. Come on, surely it’s not our fault that those dirty little things aren’t as evolved as we are?

You’ll also find an amazing number of rocks and hills along the roads. But these are mere remnants.

Hyderabad has rock formations that date back to 2,500 million years ago. However, all the swanky malls and roads that you see today were built after destroying most of these rocks. The same seems to be happening with trees in the city. The more the buildings in the area, the lesser the trees.

And lakes! Hyderabad once had about 3000 lakes. Can you believe that? 3000 lakes in a single city. Today, there are about 150 of them, and they face a serious threat too. Illegal buildings, encroachments, flouting of rules by real estate developers, have all led to this problem. You see, we all want ‘Lake View Apartments’, and that makes areas near lakes prime property.

Of course, the government must have shown you the seemingly beautiful Husain Sagar with Buddha standing serenely in the middle. But don’t be surprised if in a few years you find Buddha covering his nose! The Hussain Sagar is a mucky, dirty lake. Till a few years ago, all the shit, sewage and waste went into the lake. Plus, we have this festival called Ganesh Chaturthi, where we create huge idols of Ganesha and dump them into the lake. Only someone with the calmness of Buddha can take all the dirt and stench.

As you move into the older parts of the city, you will find that the cars and the office buildings and swanky malls belonged to a different Hyderabad. This is the invisible half, the one that doesn’t show in brochures or websites describing the city. Here, the roads are dirtier, and the people are poorer. But of course, you wouldn’t know that. The ‘Hyderabad Darshini’ bus takes a detour so that you don’t have to go through the trauma of seeing the real city.

As evening sets in, you will find people lining in front of liquor stores, and the city starting to smell heavenly. Have some biriyani or shawarma (Remember in the final scene of Avengers, when Iron Man says he wants to eat some shawarma? That’s the one!).

When you return to your room, you will feel dusty and tired. But rest assured, you have seen the real Hyderabad.

Don’t go by the bullshit the government gives you guys. That’s not the real Hyderabad, that’s Hyperabad. Hyderabad is in the Old City, in the smell of food and scent of ittar. In crowds in front of booze shops at ten in the morning, and in Irani cafes sipping chai. That’s the real Hyderabad.

Yours Truly,

A frustrated smoker looking for cigarettes in Hitec City.

Supermen of Malegaon Review : Men of Steel

We all have that one friend who wants to make films.

That one friend who, when we sit down to drink, tells us concepts, and story ideas, and then longingly wishes that he had the resources to make his film. That one film that will give him his break. We all nodded in agreement, thinking ‘Itna talent hai bande mein, isko ek mauka milna chahiye’.

And then we order another large.

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Malegaon is a small village situated about 300 kilometers from Mumbai. There isn’t anything especially special about the place – largely dependent on textile looms and suffering from long power cuts, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Malegaon and any other small town in India.

Till a film releases, that is.

Malegaon is crazy about films. And Nazir Sheikh is its most popular filmmaker.

Having taught himself to make two earlier films, local rip offs of Sholay and Shaan, Sheikh sets out to make his magnum opus – Superman. Sheikh writes his scripts, does the screenplay, works on the costumes, sets, and produces his films.

He is ably supported by Lex Luthor who edits the films, adds the music, and writes the dialogues.

And then there is the Superman himself – Shaikh Shafique – a loom worker who takes leave from work to act in the film. A Superman who dances with the kids, shoots with the village, and saves the village from the dangers of tobacco. The man who has to get married in the middle of the shoot, disrupting the whole process.

Supermen of Malegaon is a kick in the balls to everybody who complains about funds.

What Malegaon lacks in funds and expertise, they make up with sheer ingenuity and passion. The localisation of the story – how Superman is suffering from cough because he flies in the polluted air, his fears while jumping into a pond to save a child, and the songs he dances to with his lady love in a garden –  there are moments of sheer brilliance.

Like when the tiny handycam they shoot with, falls into a gutter. And Superman is stranded on a tyre in a lake, and paddles himself to the coast. Or when the local daily publishes his paper, calling him ‘Spiderman’.

In spite of being a charming story in itself, Supermen of Malegaon is also the personal story of all the people involved. People who come together to make something for the village. And the whole village helps them shoot the film, which they will all watch.

I found Martin Scorsese’s Hugo underwhelming. Of all the films made on films, there is Cinema Paradiso, Burton’s Ed Wood, and Truffaut’s Day for Night made an impact on me. But they were all foreign films – about films of a different culture.

If there was a tribute to filmmaking in India, it has to be Supermen of Malegaon.

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We all have that friend who wants to be a filmmaker.

Next time, ask him to shut the fuck up, and watch this film on YouTube.

Rohit Sharma – Bad, ‘Bad Boy’

If there was one thing that reaffirmed people’s beliefs during the World T20 tournament, it was the fact that Rohit Sharma is the Kumar Gaurav of Indian cricket.

For someone who burst into the scene with applause from the Two Wise Men of Indian cricket – Shastri and Gavaskar, Rohit Sharma also had Sachin Tendulkar say this about him, “Rohit Sharma will score 10,000 Test runs in his career.

Five years down the line, Sharma is just 10,000 runs away from his goal. Just the minor issue of actually debuting stands between him and the target.

Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma has managed to stay relevant and in the thick of things in many ways. Drunken brawl on tour, telling a fan that he’ll fuck his life, crashing into an IPL party – Sharma has followed the consistent pattern of ‘In The News, Out of the Team’ for a long time now.

After a few comebacks, he finally got his moment at the WorldT20. And he stood up to the occasion in trademark Sharma style; scoring 23 runs off 28 balls and giving 12 runs in his only over.

Now, the fear is that Rohit Sharma may go the Bad Boy Down the Drain way.

You see, fans love Bad Boys.

Since ages, it has always been exciting to watch cricketers who don’t give a damn about rules and regulations, and go about their lives kicking ass and breaking rules.

The only difference is that these guys actually performed where it mattered. On the field.

Virat Kohli

Just a few years into the team, Kohli had no one endorsing him, and yet, has become the most valuable batsman in the team today. This is not to say that he is a good boy. He talks back to sledging bowlers, and screams out the choicest words, after scoring a century. Even if nobody sledged him in the match. You know, just for fun.

So Kohli was fielding at the boundary last year when India was getting butchered by the Australian batsmen. Some of the Aussie spectators, who have not known to be the friendliest crowds around the world, said something to Kohli.

He did not raise a word. He raised a finger.

 

Andrew Symonds

For years, Symonds epitomised Aussie aggression. Menacing with the bat, handy with the ball, and a Shaktimaan on the field, Symonds fielded close to the batsman and loved chatting them up once in a while.

Apart from numerous run-ins with batsmen, Symonds also once appeared drunk on the pitch in a domestic match. And once in the commentary box, Symonds displayed a penchant for choosing his swearwords carefully, once calling Brendon McCullum a ‘lump of shit’. He also said that he loved having dinner at Hayden’s house so that he could ‘glance at his wife’.

Of course, he later acted in a Hindi film and appeared in Bigg Boss. But when he got onto the field, you had to deal with Symonds the cricketer. Fierce, and supremely talented.

Shane Warne

Nicknamed ‘Hollywood’, Shane Warne has been there and done that. Linked with bookies, caught with drugs a day before the World Cup, and caught posing in his underwear with female models, Shane Warne has consisted contributed to gossip columns and Times of India’s supplement edition with his antics.

But give him the cricket ball and watch the magic. Making the ball spin like it’s high on LSD, Shane Warne tormented batsmen the world over, wherever he went. (Of course, except in India, where he had about the same status as Venkatpathy Raju, but that’s another story). Hailed among the greatest bowlers ever, Warne carefully balanced a Bad Boy image with winning performances throughout his career.

And oh, he also married Liz Hurley.

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And then there are those who have lots of attitude, but fail to show results. A kind of aggression that is, in common parlance, called Chutiya Aggression.

Sreesanth

Way before Sreesanth became the Asshole of the Nation, I remember reading about him in a news report of a domestic match in India:

Now, after doing that, you gotta have something backing you up. Unfortunately, Sreesanth continued his magic run with bad luck, spraying wides, pissing off people, and making a face when hit for boundaries.

To the extent that, Dhoni said ‘It’s difficult to control Sreesanth’. Harbhajan went one step ahead and slapped him.

Asif, Ameer and Butt

The three of them got together to commit the most audacious and hilarious scandal in the history of the game.

Pakistan is playing England, and are being led by a young pace attack of Mohammad Asif and Amir. Meanwhile, a bookie called Mazhar Majeed, has negotiated with them to bowl no-balls for £150,000.

When the time comes, captain Salman butts in to remind his bowlers of their duty. The bowlers bowl atrocious no-balls, and then look at the pitch and cover it with hay, indicating that their feet had slipped. The three got banned for match-fixing, adding to the long list of controversies that Pakistan cricket offers to the world on a yearly basis.

Shoaib Akhtar

The Granddaddy of Bad Boys in cricket, Shoaib Akhtar’s ascent to the top was meteoric. By far the fastest bowler in the world, Akhtar supplemented his pace with aggression. Of course, the other supplements, the dietary ones, were part of his armour too.

Shoaib Akhtar’s Report Card over his career is stellar.

Shoaib Akhtar could have been Iron Man, attitude and talent rolled into a powerhouse combination. But what he ended up being is an overweight, has-been bowler who has some good videos on YouTube.

Sudhir Naik:

Even though this has nothing to do with ‘attitude’ as such, I thought I should add this name to the list too. Simply because I love showing off my knowledge of cricket.

Sudhir Naik was a Masters in Organic Chemistry who also opened the innings for India in England. On the tour however, Naik was accused of stealing a pair of socks from a Marks & Spencers store.

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So you see, the point is that being a Bad Boy is effective when you are a Good Player.

And with Rohit Sharma, he certainly needs a lot of Lady Luck.

civics text book

HOW CIVICS BECAME HISTORY

Back in school, every subject would have its own set of ardent followers. Students who loved the subject, did the home work, and went about their roles as students dutifully.

Maths and Science was lapped up by the brilliant, the rankers – the ‘Ramu is a Good Boy’ prototypes who studied well and made parents proud and neighbours envious. The arty-farty group of the class would read English and languages. The geeks in class would love Computer Science.

Amidst all this, if there was one subject that no one truly gave a fuck about, it was Social Science.

If all the subjects were houses in Hogwarts, Social Sciences would be the Hufflepuff among them. There, but unnoticeable.

I think it also had a lot to do with the teachers who taught Social Studies. Maths teachers were strict, English teachers were sweet. Science teachers were Dr. Jekyll at times and Mr. Hyde at others. Social Studies teachers had nothing distinct about them. They would walk into class, do their work, and step out, all the while carrying an air of detached enlightenment.

And that’s really sad. Because Social Studies could easily be the most interesting subject taught at school. The sheer range that could be brought into it is vast, and could sensitise children to so many ideas at an early age.

But then, there is the NCERT. The National Council for Educational Research and Training, the body in charge of publishing stunningly boring books that reduce the most exciting years of a country’s history into dreary, brown pages of text, accompanied by a barely visible, grainy image.

It didn’t help, either, that the subject in itself was fragmented into three bits – each with their own set of weird teachers.

HISTORY:

If one were to make a history text book, there couldn’t be a better country than India to do it on. Home to the oldest inhabited city in the world, India has been the home to many civilisations, trades, wars, kings, queens, and their tombs.

There were gory wars, triumphant monuments, philosophical inscriptions, and so much more. The people friendly measures by Akbar, the brave wars by Shivaji, and the brutality of Alauddin Khilji could have been the stuff of exciting novels. Instead, they were reduced to mere pages of a book. Taught by a teacher who seemed to walking in her sleep and talking in her sleep.

In the later years, there were the World Wars, and India’s Nationalist movement. Again, apart from glorification of a few of our leaders, there wasn’t much context to put the facts into. No wonder then that these facts were merely reduced to something you mugged up for the exam.

GEOGRAPHY:

Now, with geography, we don’t have much choice. I mean, there is only one earth, and there are seven continents, and some 30 odd states in our country.

Working within these barriers, the NCERT came out with another outstandingly mind-numbing book. If we want to avoid alien invasion, all we need to do is release a Class 6 Geography Text Book into outer space. If an alien ship comes across the book, they’ll realise there is no point in attacking this planet.

Surprisingly, I remember only two words from all the Geography I learnt at school – Black Soil and Alluvial Soil. I can’t remember anything else that I learnt in Geography. Also, the fact that we had a teacher who would often mistake us for yaks and bring out his cane and whack the hell out of us, didn’t help my learning process.

CIVICS:

In my opinion the most important of all the three subjects, but it was given the least importance in our curriculum.

The amount of footage that Civics got was laughable. 10 marks out of 100, and 4 out of 25 in Unit Tests.

Seriously, who is going to study for a subject that counts for 10 marks at the end of the year?

Even if you skipped all the classes, did none of the assignments, didn’t attend any Unit Tests, and knew absolutely zilch about the subject, what do you lose? 10 marks. Big Fucking Deal.

I felt sorry for the Civics teachers sometimes. I always imagined that the Physics and Maths teachers must be sniggering at the Civics teachers behind their backs.

So, at the end of it, Social Studies became a subject to display your mugging skills. How much raw data you could swallow, and then how much of it you could spew on the paper. There was no analytical skills involved, no new skills taught, no real world connections to make. Nothing.

Zilch. Shunya. Nil.

Which is not to say that we fared badly at these subjects. Oh no, sir. We mugged up, stuffing ourselves with information of all sorts. And we puked it out magnificently, out surpassing each other, adding another 90 marks to our Final Percentage – that cruel determinant of everything our lives would be after that.

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Now, when I look at myself, and others from my generation, I realise how wrong it all was.

I don’t speak in Sankrit these days. I don’t count more than three digit numbers. I know nothing of the Periodic Table and show my little finger and leave the room when Science is being talked about. I do use English though, for my writing.

We have distorted notions of history, know practically nothing about other states and cultures, leave alone other countries and continents. We know very little about the electoral system, or what our roles as citizens are, and how we could make use of civic resources available to us.

If only Social Studies was taught better, it would have made my life so much richer.

Review Sheview – English Vinglish

Gauri Shinde’s theme for the film is something anybody can relate to.

For, as a nation, we all suffer from an English complex. A huge fucking English complex.

The 1961 Census had reported that there were about 1652 languages spoken in India. In a country with 30 official languages, English, a Wild Card Entry into the long, overflowing list, has somehow emerged the clear winner and united the country like an adhesive, holding on to some portions tightly, and peeling off in other areas.

English is a result of socio-economic circumstances, and as a result, is often worn on one’s sleeve. It has also created a divide. Of the Cans and the Can Nots.

If you can speak English, your status goes up just that one notch higher. Those who can not speak it are considered just not literate enough. It is taught best at urban areas, and since rural areas have a weak primary education system itself, the fluency with English is negligible.

I have personally benefited from my English fluency, at times. Since the way I dress is not exactly what you would call ‘suave’, I have often been mistaken to be the waiter, driver, or the shopping mall assistant.

Which means that when I enter what you would normally call a ‘posh’ place, I get stopped by the guards. But I know that all I have to do is begin talking in English.

The more accented, complicated, and incomprehensible it is, the more they will bend over to open the door and welcome me in.

Somewhere along the line, proficiency in one’s mother tongue is cool no more. After you have taken the pains of learning at least two Indian languages through your friends, family and television, there is this new foreign thing, with its own grammar, usage and word play. You have to take this alien bull by its horns and master it.

Oh yes, sire! We suffer from a huge English complex.

And I’m surprised nobody took up this theme earlier as the central plot point. Gauri Shinde unravels this obsession and pride over the English language, and the shame without it. And English Vinglish gets off on the right foot with the sheer originality in its theme. And plus, of course, there is Sridevi.

Die hard fans of Sridevi, relax! There is a slow-motion running scene in a semi-transparent blue saree.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      There is still hope for us guys in today’s world.

Sridevi plays a wife whose family keeps taking digs at her for her lack of English. Frankly, parts of it seem stretched, and the film runs a risk of going the Baghban Guilt-Sob route. The film begins shakily, there were moments I nearly cringed. But thankfully, the film managed to hold its own.

The director’s love for her lead actor shows, as she takes her own sweet time to establish her character, and her situation. A healthy number of stereotypes are thrown in, and some of the scenes even seem emotionally manipulative. And I was afraid that the wet, green saree Sridevi of my childhood was now transformed into a pale yellow doormat.

Right then, the director shifts gears, and how!

Unlike most Hindi films that begin promisingly and taper off in the second, English Vinglish manages to keep your attention levels intact, raising it a few notches in the second half, in fact. A special mention for some of the cast – Mehdi Nebbou as the French chef smitten by our own Sridevi, and Sumit Vyas as the Pakistani cabbie. They manage to hold their own in the film that is peppered with quite a few characters.

It is not the kind of film that people will demand should go to the Oscars. Neither is it the kind of film that will guarantee awards to the actors.

If I could describe the film, I would do it this way.

Imagine there is a drunk friend riding a bike, and you’re sitting behind him. He has had four beers, and you are scared he might fall, or bump into vehicles and cows. You keep looking out for him, warning him, closing your eyes, or raising your voice.

But the friend, somehow, manages to clear the hurdles and reach your room safely. So that you can lie down comfortably, and watch the roof as it spins around.

English Vinglish is like that.