India’s Daughter: Leslee Udwin’s Documentary on BBC

I SAW the video. Not in totality. Skipped and rushed through parts. Watched 59 minutes long video in about 20 minutes. Why did I not watch the whole thing? Two reasons – Usual dearth of time to watch a one hour long video which restates most of what I already know (shallow, but true), and it was a deeply disturbing video (deep, and equally true).

Putting my gripes with the documentary aside, it is disturbing to relive the case, to try and understand how the perpetrators of that crime think about their actions, to understand that they are not alone in thinking so, to realize that the lawyers defending them (people who value an explicitly taken weak argument) have no qualms going on record saying things like Indian culture has no place for a woman, to realize that an entire mass of educated bureaucracy, empowered legislative body, elected political system, and the similarly effected population of this country – failed Nirbhaya.

We fail the women of our country every day. Every time we step out on the street. Over and over again. By not standing up for them. By believing that standing up for them is like extending a favour. Or an act of heroism or bravado. And by “we”, I am including the women around me as well. But then, we don’t just fail the women. We fail the entire bloody community that we are a part of.

The documentary spends an inordinate amount of time projecting Nirbhaya as a good person, and the criminals as rotten to the core. A documentary about the subject need not have spent as much time profiling one woman. It needed to stand up for all women. Irrespective of them being virtuous, noble, humble or otherwise. Not all women who are raped and killed are Nirbhaya. They don’t need to be. They have their own identities. And their own freedom to protect. In this documentary of Nirbhaya vs. the society, somewhere, the brutality of the incident and the shamelessness of these criminals is all that is left. The issue, though, is much bigger. Nirbhaya is not India’s only daughter.

Way more disturbing, and probably a subject that needs a bigger debate, is the set of statements made by the lawyers. Is a “man” whose explicit biases include considering women as flower, precious gemstones, or fruit on the street, fit enough to be a lawyer? Was this a lawyer provided to the criminals by the state? Or, did these lawyers come to the fore on their own, given the popularity the case would’ve got them? Or, could these criminals really afford a lawyer on their own? There is a point in “Better Call Saul” (a TV Series) where a person, who while being guilty doesn’t really consider herself guilty of anything”, tells Saul that “you look like a lawyer that guilty people would have”. If these are state provided lawyers who have such “beliefs”, what chance do women approaching the state machinery for justice and fairness have? There is another one who is willing to put petrol on her daughter and burn her alive if she is found out and about with a boy. Now here is a thought – lets see if we can convince his daughter(s) or wife or mother to take this challenge head on. And then file a case of domestic violence and rape against these lawyers. And lets see if the judiciary will be able to stand up for what is right.

More often than not, and its my belief, a society at large behaves well out of fear. Not because of education or awareness or culture or something like that. Over a period of time, fear is forgotten and conditioning takes over. The conditioned behavior then becomes the benchmark behavior that differentiates right and wrong civil societies. Like eating beef. Or, drinking. India does not fear its law. It can be bought and sold for a 50 rupee note at times. On the other hand, people don’t jump lights in US because they are afraid of the law. Now, assuming that there were no penalties for jumping lights, would the average American still be standing at the traffic light, waiting for it to turn green?  My hypotheses, after witnessing NYC traffic, is that s/he won’t.

What do I want? Decisive, fast action. If established, a rape convict gets death sentence. If established, a dude jumping lights more than twice gets his license revoked. Hit and Run (like the Housing.com story (not sure if it’s true) or the Ambani story) – definitely license revoked, significant financial penalty, and a jail term. Why, after so many years, are we still debating about the punishments for these people? Why after so many years do people still have a doubt about Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s corruption and subsequent punishment/ debarment from Indian politics? The failure of the judiciary, law and order and politics cannot be the reason why the whole Indian society can be called “sick” by someone who’s spent a couple of years in India. That it might actually be sick is another and a very important issue.

And this is where my problems with the documentary begin – If I were to evaluate the video purely on the merits of a documentary, I don’t think it’s the smartest or even that its one of the better documentaries that I have seen. Its research is shallow, the narrative manipulative, and there is a level of continuous unrest at the back of your head because it doesn’t seem real quite often. A lot of the footage seems a little too edited and doctored (and not just in a documentary-ish way). There seems to be a little too much of prepping the people for their dialogues. Like when Jyoti’s tutor narrates events from the past, it does not come naturally. Sometimes, the anguish comes through, but often, it seems scripted. It capitalizes on strong emotions, not the quality of probing and gruesome research I was expecting to come across. It is so high on emotions that you cannot follow the logical train. I am not doubting the intentions, but when you’re putting a documentary on BBC, I believe the research also needs to be more comprehensive.

Of the 6 convicts, there is only who’s interviewed (probably an issue with the permissions, though it does make you wonder what the other 5 inherently believed in) – Mukesh Singh. Mukesh was the driver of that bus. The one expert on India is someone who’s brought from outside – Maria. There is but one psychoanalyst who gets airteime, and two defence lawyers get a lot of airtime because of their controversial statements. Amod Kanth of Prayas (NGO) is roped in to provide some input on juvenile cases.

There isn’t much in the story that is new. There aren’t conflicting viewpoints from a legal or psychoanalytical point of view. What leads to this? How are people so comfortable with themselves after doing something as heinous as this? Even after realizing that there life has come to a premature end because of this extremely inhuman act of theirs?

Did you, like me, at some point feel that the “rapists will kill rape victims from now on” is more an argument that is fed to the convict? Considering that this research would have been done through several conversations and interviews, do you think prompting has a role to play in how people respond to questions? Like – “people outside are saying that a your being sentenced to death will lead to more… “.

A big shout out and hugs to Nirbhaya’s parents for being able to not let rage take them over completely. The fact that they still are able to have a sane conversation about all this tells you what strength they have. If only people could learn some of that.

The documentary starts narrow, stays narrow, but generalizes everything to “India”. There isn’t much that is new. Nirbhaya case was one that brought a large populace to the streets demanding justice. Before and after that, there have been many more rape cases, maybe none so brutal (I don’t agree that an outright murder of a raped woman is any less of an eventuality than what happened with Jyoti). Those cases have not been talked about. And hence, while in spirit, you may want to take a stand that Nirbhaya Case = India, there isn’t enough evidence in this documentary that supports it.

It is a decent containerization of an event that shook the nation and some of the socio-cultural aspects around that particular incident. The fact that it shook the nation at large should tell you that India is not “sick”. That there is no need to give up hope. There will be moments of despair. Bad things happen. They happen everywhere. What is shameful is the way we act and the way some agencies try to sweep it under the carpet.

And that brings me to the ban. I am somewhat speechless. To debate this ban in parliament seems such a pointless waste of state time. I am sure the government concerns are not about the glorification of criminals (apparently). Rather, they must be worried about the poor portrayal of India. Sir! Humble request Sir! There are other bigger problems to worry about. Like bringing this damn bloody case to its conclusion. One of my managers used to tell me – if you have time to complain about something, you have time to go do it. The inaction of years and decades cannot be shoved under the carpet by imposing bans on documentaries, even if you think they are one sided. Something that is not true here. Acknowledge your damn failures and fix them. Put safety measures in place, and not just for women. Do an overhaul of the legal system. Work towards creating opportunities for everyone. Ensure high quality public transport that does not stop working because its 11 in the night. Come down upon police that won’t take a case because “bekaar ke lafde mein kya padoge saab”.

Stop wasting precious parliament time on debating stupid bans for heaven’s sake. You’re not a twitter celebrity looking for attention and retweets. You are the bloody government. Stop acting like a teenager who can’t take criticism. Stop acting like a gully ka goonda shouting “mera bat hai, mere rules honge”. Maybe you don’t realize this. But a big change that has happened in the last few years – there is a new country called Internet and its identity is very similar to that mythical demon Raktabeej. For every voice that you suppress, a hundred new pop up. And you are neither its prime minister, nor its constitution. Stop sulking and suit up.

 

Should you watch it? Your choice. Do you want to? Would you have watched it otherwise? But don’t watch it just because it has been banned. Don’t watch it to find your moral high ground. There is nothing sensational and path-breaking about watching this documentary. Its not a thriller, edge of the seat variety. Neither is it boring. It’s only 60 minutes. It ticks off all the check-boxes. Its a reminder of one of the most often discussed events in the recent Indian history. At the end of it, it is a given that you will come out feeling extremely disturbed, that much is a guarantee. But still, it is like any other and many other documentaries. The subject it touches is a raw nerve. Unlike education, poverty, juvenile crimes, state of infrastructure, mafia control, etc. Banning it was idiotic though.

Just by banning it, government is telling you to go find ways of watching it. So, Leslee Udwin can thank Indian Government for popularizing a documentary which would have been otherwise watched by a few thousand people.

Advertisements

Social. Anti-Social. Happy 2015

About a few years back, I loved social media and the possibilities it created. It gave people a chance to say that they care about issues that were otherwise not getting picked up by mainstream media. There were the great crowdsourced help groups that were helping people during floods and terrorist attacks and tsunamis. There were candlelight vigils against blatant miscarriages of justice. There were hashtags that organized the chaotic voice of the masses.

Today, I get worried. We live in a very angry world. For every voice of reason, there are many many more that are just angry, intolerant, venomous and vicious.

The world that we live in is not a black and white world. There are few issues out there that are just perfectly black and white. Like rape. Or murder. Everything else, is a matter of opinion and perspective and vantage points. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter or victim. The terror in the valley had two sides.. Iraq war – a few. Islamophobia has a few ore. Hitler does as well.

Yet, every day, my social media feed is increasingly becoming an assault on the senses. The opinions are absolute. Debate is not possible. Insults and slurs (that seemed to be a popular feature on rediff discussion boards in the earlier years) have become all pervasive. Patience is no longer a virtue. Not for the masses, it would seem.

Yet, every now and then, like a whiff of freshly brewed coffee, you come across a deep-web link or a near-perfectly researched piece that sparks off a debate amongst the people who still have the patience to understand and analyse and not react to the “headlines”.

The headlines are increasingly sensational. The reactions increasingly alarmist. But its not all lost. You can grab that cup of coffee a little tighter, press it against your face, feel its warmth.

 

So, here’s to an year gone by. And to a momentous year coming up ahead. That the anger around me doesn’t take me over. And that the cup of coffee stays warm. That there be more debates and less altercations that are worthy of a life so short. That there be learning that stay with me on this long journey.

थी गर्म हवाएं, तूफाँ का था अंदेशा
ये वक़्त गुज़र जाए, दे सब्र मुझे ऐसा

Names, Urdu, Religion and Us

The other day, I was thinking about the strong religious connotations a name has. Or, a regional connotation. Almost everyone I meet, thinks of me as a bengali, because of my supremely common name combined with a supremely common bengali surname. It’s a different matter that Das can be a bengali, bihari, oriya, assamese (and others?). Now, imagine the confusion someone who would be in if I had an urdu first name and my original surname. Or, my original first name and an otherwise urdu surname. Amit Shah Zafar, or Justjoo Das.

Which leads me to the conundrum I faced several months back. As me and the missus were going through names for laddoo, we were stuck on Guthli (the seed) as his or her pet name. But the formal name was a challenge. My love for urdu language in general, and ghazals as a a genre of poetry meant that I would often come up with (beautiful) names that would be immediately considered muslim. Not that me and the Missus have a problem with that, but this would have meant a lifetime of questions for the poor laddoo/ guthli. Imagine being asked five times a day, “you aren’t going for your namaaz? You are a non believer, eh?” or, “your parents are hindus, but you are a muslim! how?”. Imagine him repeating many more times in a day – My surname is Das and I am not a Bengali.

Just imagine the possibilities of beautiful names if such forced observations could be done away with. Instead of the Aaravs and Aanyas who have replaced Amits and Nehas these days, we could experiment with Arsh, Nihaa, Soz, Ghazal, Ashaar, Rehbar… Irrespective of the irreparable damage a boring surname like Das would have done to a Ghazal, an Ashaar Das would probably still sound beautiful. Imagine a Gurumurthy down south being called Soz Ramakrishnan – the firy Ramakrishnan. Or, Jatinder up north being called Sabr Singh- the patient lion. Such joy. Lost.

I just think that when you (can) bring other languages to your own, in an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it has the possibility to make it so much more beautiful. Alas, the only accepted confluence is english. So, David Patel or Arlene Mehrotra might be ok, but we will have to wait some more for a  Naaz Tendulkar or a Shoorveer Ahmad.

*It’s odd to be posting this at the fading end of a political debate where one gentleman is an extremist Hindu with a reasonably well documented hatred towards Muslims, another whose party has a long history of promoting religious/regional divide and rule, and a rookie whose name has been lent to an egg based delicacy at a place which claims to serve the food of the Greek gods.

A New Year Post (Customary Thing To Do As A Blogger)

First up, a very happy new year to you all. Thank you for being so faithful, using random search terms to land here, appreciating some of the cock-a-meme offline, and every now and then, asking me to write more. Its a short life, and one must be thankful for the gifts that one gets – deservedly or undeservedly.

funny-new-years-day_1388107407I hope all of you continue to make resolutions, keep up the spirit for a week or so (or maybe longer), plan out the gory details of your life, and then, live it up like only you can. I hope there are no regrets about the unfulfilled plans, and there is some joy still left in accidental discoveries.

I hope all of you continue to be who you are, or a better version thereof.

As for myself, I have decided that I will try and rediscover my forgotten maxims –
1. Be happy. Given who I am, and what I have to offer to the world, the world has been very kind to me.
2. Do everything with a lot of love. I was never the guy who did everything, or anything for that matter, with a lot of passion. But I get by with a fair bit of love.
3. Meet people, say hello, smile a lot, think a little less. Be interested. In myself. And others. Rekindle the forgotten relationships, let go of the biases that creep in, give myself another chance. And then another.
4. Try and be better than myself. Of today. Every day.
5. Not have a plan, but have many goals.

And one of the goals is more than 313 posts this year. Which amounts to less than one off-blog day per week. The only way to improve your writing is by writing. A lot. And I think the half baked stories need to be completed. And the yet to be fleshed out script. The last year started off OK, but I dropped the ball somewhere. And never really picked it up. But the good news is – I am a father. The better news is – much as I find Aaroh the most adorable thing in my life, I am not turning this into a daddy blog. Daddysan does it better. Hop over to that site.

Have you guys seen “The Wonder Years”? One of the most amazing things about the TV series was the closing thought that the older Kevin would often end an episode with. And it often started with – And the funny thing is/was…

But the funny thing is – I have no idea what I am going to write.

Aaroh

This one was penned on the morning of 9th September, the day my little one, Aaroh, was born. The delay? Well…

कहीं अपनी नज़र ना लग जाए,
अपनी आवाज भी पर्दों में छुपा दी मैंने।

******************

तुमने आने की खबर यूँ दी है…
जैसे शाम के धुंधलके में
कमरे के कोने में खड़ा वो गिटार
हवा के झोंके से हिलते पर्दों से टकरा कर
एक नयी सरगम बना गया हो।

एक तूफ़ान था बिखरा सा झरोखे के परे
एक ख़ामोशी थी सहमी हुई सिरहाने में
ये नाखून ख़त्म हो से गए थे
पसीने से लथपथ एक साया
और तीन जोड़ी आँखें इंतज़ार में
और न जाने कितने कान जो फ़ोन की घंटी
में तुम्हारा ज़िक्र ढूंढते थे

और जब पर्दा खुला
नेपथ्य से इक आवाज़ आयी
बाअदब बमुलायाज़ा होशियार
शहंशाह ए हुकूमत
ताजीरात ए दास परिवार
सिंघासन पर ‘आरोह’ कर रहे हैं।

साज़ के सुर की तरह
सुबह के नूर की तरह
शाम की अज़ान के मानिन्द
इक नए दस्तूर की तरह

हवा का इल्म हो तुम
होठों की आवाज़ हो तुम
इक हसीं ख्वाब हो तुम
एक नया आगाज़ हो तुम

इक दरख़्त का साया
इक आम की गुठली हो तुम
मेरे लड़खड़ाते कदमो को थाम ले
वो ऊँगली हो तुम

तुम मेरा कल हो
तुम्हारा आज हूँ मैं
तुम्हारी अनकही कहानी का
अंदाज़ हूँ मैं

मेरी जन्नत मेरा इल्हाम हो तुम
मेरे चेहरे में मेरी रूह का पैगाम हो तुम
तुम ही आरोह हो अवरोह तुम ही हो मेरा
तुम ही मेरा राग हो, संगीत हो, मेरी ताल हो तुम

Update your feed settings please

This blog is moving to a new domain http://amitdas.me and the updated feed is here. If you’re an old worlder like me and still add everything to a feed reader, use the revised link.

cropped-banner91.jpg

Thank you for your love and support.

Rudeness Pays?

In 1995, Gajendra Chauhan came up with (or repurposed) a musical talent show called Saregama. TVS Saregama, I think was the first season. It seems like it happened a lifetime back. Talent shows were about talent, and people on these shows generally seemed nice and humble. Sonu Nigam came across as a guy who couldn’t stop learning. This was also around the same time that Meri Awaaz Suno went live on doordarshan. Meri Awaaz Suno’s final was judged by Lata Mangeshkar, and Sunidhi Chauhan was a discovery of that show. Before this, most musical talent shows (like the one that discovered the voice of Mahendra Kapoor) were on radio.

 

A deeply etched memory from Saregama is of late-Rajkumari ji singing “guard babu guard babu seeti na baja” and “ghabra ke jo hum sar ko, takraye to acha”. The megafinal had ensemble judges like Anil Biswas, Khayyam, O P Nayyar, Naushaad, Parveen Sultana, Kalyanji-Anandji, Pandit Jasraj, etc. Jagjit Singh once performed a medley of songs as a tribute to the other judges – including “Seene Mein Sulagte Hain ArmaaN” and “Mitti Da Baawa”. Another memory is that of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia asking one of the participants (Sanjeev, I think, who had come from US) to sing without music, and then telling him where he dropped a note. In the same episode, he asked Mohd. Vakil to sing the aaroh and avaroh of Raag Bhoopkali, not before the confusion between Raag Bhoopkali and Rag Bhoopali. And through all this, Sonu Nigam planted himself on the Indian music scene, never to look back again on his days of coming up with 25 rupee cover version of Mohd. Rafi songs for T-series.

 

The earlier years had Sanjeevani (who sang Chura lo na dil mera in Kareeb), Shreya Ghoshal (what do I need to tell you about her, except that her first break was “Isshhhh” for Devdas, after Bhansali spotted her in the show), Kunal Ganjawala (Bheege Hoth Tere), Parthiv Gohil (Saawariya), Pandit Jasraj, etc. The general humility and reverence that the participants had, was well supplemented by the purely musical format of the show, and the focus of the judges on singing.  I don’t remember a moment of bickering, complaining, fighting, or melodrama on the show. The only emotional element was when someone was not able to move to the next round. In the video of Rajkumariji (link above), Sonu Nigam starts with how they were not able to show all this footage because airing the show left them little time.

 

Back in the days, the judges were the judges(1). Public votes were not the deciding factor. Participants had to come and sing, and not plead for audience mercy. Even boogie woogie was squarely judged by Javed, Naved and Ravi Behl. Usually, there would be just one judge for a particular episode. And for the finals, and semifinals there would be more judges. The Mahafinal of Saregama featured their earlier winners, and I think Mohd. Vakil went on to win the Mahafinal, along with Bela Shende. Sanjeevani and Sudeshna missed it by a whisker.

 

 

I was totally and absolutely in love with the show. And I read this article on OPEN (Rudeness Pays) that prompted this post. I don’t follow the musical talent shows  as much these days. Most of them have 20 minutes of real stuff and 30 minutes of idiocy. The article rightly points out that Raghu (of Roadies) has made

a career out of abuses. That there is too much riding on idiots like Dolly Bindra in Big Boss. Rationale – TRP. But if that were true, no one should watch Kaun Banega Crorepati, right? Amitabh Bachchan still handles the show with extreme affability and humility. There is a general air of bonhomie on the show. And that probably explains why the only reality show I can tolerate these days is Dance Indian Dance. There is a lot of peripheral time wastage, but thankfully the judges don’t bicker, and Mithunda is happily drunk most of the days.

 

Does this bother you?

**********

 

(1) By the way, one of my earliest memories of an audience based decision is a sequence from the movie Bhoot Bangla, where Tanuja sings “O Mere Pyaar Aaja”, followed by “Aao Twist Karein”. The performance is measured through a Taali-meter, and compered by Amin Sayani. Absolutely wonderful songs, both of them.  The movie has some wonderful songs by the way – “Jaago Sone Walon”, being one of my favorites.

 

(2) A big thank you to the good folks who keep sharing these videos on youtube. I had no hope of finding these, but here they are.

 

%d bloggers like this: