Saturday, May 24, 2014

It AAPened again... In Tihar jail.

Normally I never post on political issues in my blog; the one exceptional case was when Arvind Kejriwal became CM of Delhi. In that post, I tried to reason the tremendous performance by a political party that was very young and not with any substantial ideological backing. After some months this is another post on the same person.
Now situation has changed drastically from the time of my last post. AAP quit from governing Delhi in just 49 days and contested in Loksabha elections opposing Modi and his party BJP. They failed miserably and proved that they have lost the goodwill throughout the nation and particularly in Delhi. They tried to get back the abandoned Government in Delhi, but no one backed them. Delhi elections are impending. With their performance in the seats in Delhi in the Loksabha elections, there is minimal hope.
Two days back Kejriwal got arrested. He was send to Tihar jail by the Metropolitan magistrate. AAP cadre has started agitations against arresting their beloved leader who as per their claim is not a criminal. The case was a defamation suit filed by Nitin Gadkari, BJP leader. Kejriwal had made a list of most corrupt politicians in which Gadkari was named and announced it publically. Gadkari claims that he was insulted and went to court.
Court summoned Kejriwal and directed to sign a personal bond of Rs. 10,000, which he refused, reasoning that signing bond is against his party policy and many poor people who are not wealthy enough to sign bond are languishing in jails all over the country. The next alternative of the court was to send him to jail, which it did. This has caused AAP to agitate.
This is the whole background of the happenings. Why Arvind Kejriwal, who has not done any crime, is jailed? For this we have to know a bit about the legality of the issue.
India has a system that ensures its citizens’ freedom of speech. But there may be someone who misuses this freedom by baselessly insulting others. If I feel someone insulted me publically, I can sue them for defamation. When I file a defamation suit, it becomes the responsibility of the person who insulted me to prove either the comment was not insulting or what he commented was based on truth with facts and figures.
The first step the court takes after receiving a criminal suit is to summon the other party (defendant) and fix a date to hear his side of the argument. If the defendant does not come it is forcefully done by arrest. Serious crimes like murder are non - bailable offenses and the defendant has to live in custody till the hearing day and police is responsible to bring them to court. For other crimes that are not that serious, a bond is required to avoid judicial custody.
For many criminal cases a bail bond has to be signed by a reputed citizen who owns taxable property in India. They have to appear with the tax receipt and sign the bond, taking the responsibility of the defendant appearing in court for hearing. If the crime is not serious and the defendant is a person of repute, judge can insist for a personal bond. i.e the defendant agrees that he will appear before the court on the date of hearing. The court will require defendant to sign the bond for an amount, say 5000 or 10,000 which is the surety that he will do so. If he fails to appear on the day, only then this money will be encashed.
Criminal procedure of our country is such that, the defendant can avoid custody by signing a bond if the court approves.  In case of Kejriwal, he proclaimed that Gadkari is corrupt in public. Gadkari filed a defamation suit. Court summoned Kejriwal and he appeared. Next step is judicial custody and court gave an option to opt for a personal bond of 10,000 considering him a man of repute. But Kejriwal decided not to sign the bond. If he does not chose that option, the law of the land states that he has to be in judicial custody till the day of hearing.
Now my doubt is whether Kejriwal is so ignorant of this simple criminal procedure. It seems he is in dire need of some news space as his opponent in Varanasi is holding the limelight for now. Also impending elections in Delhi is also a reason for all this drama.
PS: Another defamation suit was filed by Gadkari on Manesh Tewari of Congress party for some of his remarks in 2010, regarding Adarsh scam. Last month Tewari had to issue an unconditional apology to Gadkari as he was unable to substantially prove any of his allegations. Following the apology Gadkari decided to withdraw his complaint.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 30

L. Ron Hubbard was a pioneer in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, with many trendsetting novels to his credit. Though scientology, that he co-discovered, discredited him severely, it is evident that the man deserves a space with stalwarts like Asimov. One major contribution of Hubbard to science fiction and fantasy writing is his establishing a yearly contest titled Writers of the Future and a parallel, Illustrators of the Future contest for illustrators which has launched the careers of several successful writers and artists. This is the thirtieth year of the contests.

Next month a compilation of thirteen winning stories with illustrations by the winners of the contest for illustrators is being released, titled ‘L Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future Volume 30’. It is edited by Dave Wolverton, Art Directed by Stephen Hickman and published by Galaxy press. The volume also contains three bonus stories by popular writers Hubbard, Orson Scot Card and Mike Resnik.  Three articles on writing and illustrating is also included.

Writing a Science fiction or fantasy novel may be an easy job for someone with good imagination. But it requires much more to write an excellent short story in the same genre. To build new concepts or even new worlds, establish them to the reader convincingly and structure a good story around it in the format of a short story is a task that needs imagination, mastery with words, talent and lot of discipline. These qualities are displayed abundantly and make the stories in this book an excellent read.

Each story is a unique piece, happening in a world of its own. Their ultimate success is in the fact that each of these stories connects with us and makes us appreciate our present. The emotional resonance that some of them generate is incredible. After reading the thirteen stories and three bonus stories by the veterans, I feel the participants’ work stands a notch above the others. May be, the reason is their firm footing in our present. It also helps that the stories came from different parts of the English speaking world giving much diversity to the collection.

I loved the science fiction works better than the fantasy stories. I felt science fiction stories were capable to stir me more with their dystopian predictions. Among the fantasy stories, the best one is the first story of the book- Another Range of Mountains by Megan E. O’Keefe. What I liked about this one is its total unpredictability. It tells the story of a lady who can unlock the memories of mirrors and draw them into paintings. What started as a kind of a detective story turns into a love story of sacrifice. A bit of ambiguity about the background of the lead character adds to the fun.

Among science fiction, my pick will be The Shaadi Exile by Amanda Forrest. In this story, traditional arranged marriage among Indians gets an inter galaxical placement. It is a deeply moving story about sacrifice and love for the family. Other notable stories are Animal by Terry Madden, a story about the last zoo in the world of future and its closure, with a great twist in the end, Rainbows for Other Days about a cyborg forest ranger in an apocalyptic, polluted world and Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask which is about memory transplant of an old judge.

Each story is accompanied by wonderful illustrations by artists selected from the illustrator’s contest. It adds value to the book. I am not overtly impressed by the essays about writing and illustrating, as they do not seem to offer any substantial or lifesaving advice to the upcoming artists.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Stephen Downing Is Dead

It is 1905 and Owen Bartlett has just arrived in Arizona from Boston, thanks to his father’s (who fathered him out of wedlock) insistence of him not practicing law in Boston. A man is killed just near the window of the hotel room in which he stays. Next day he comes to know that the diseased is Stephen Downing and the mysterious lady whom he saw that night is Eva, the dead man’s wife. He is perplexed when Eva wants him, a lawyer with no experience in criminal cases, to defend her husband’s alleged killer, a Mexican. Owen is pulled into a whirlpool of lies, secrets and deceit. What follows is a court room drama that intrigues the reader.

Stephen Downing is Dead is a novel written by Dan Goss Anderson. Much of the story takes place in Tucson, Arizona. The undercurrent of the story is the distrust between whites and Mexicans living there in the turn of Twentieth century. The story is told in a nonlinear narrative pattern. It flips between 1905 and 1955. The court case, in which Owen gets involved on bequest of Eva, forms the arc of the story in 1905. In 1955, Eva has just succumbed to her death, but just before dying, she confesses to Owen, now her husband, a secret that she kept hidden from him. Novel narrates Owen trying to come in terms with it. This plotting technique has made the construction of the story more robust.

The novel is an emotionally satisfying read. The characters are believable and multilayered. Even minor characters are given pivotal place in the story. I would like to specially mention the character of Eva. Writer succeeds in keeping the mystery surrounding her alive till the end. At the same time this mystery does not alienate the reader and makes us care for her. She is one of the liveliest of the characters that I have read about recently. In the initial pages we find a lot of descriptions of atmosphere, but in later parts, writer emphasizes on characters instead. I also loved the fact that the novel never tries to complicate the plot by filling it with too much of personal drama. The reader is made to know of the emotional state of the characters in a subtle manner.

One flip side of the novel, which I felt, is its predictability. There are many plot twists that the careful reader can deduce much before revelation. If the novelist could make the suspense tighter, as the book is billed as a court room thriller, it would have enhanced the appeal of his novel. Still Stephen Downing is Dead is a good novel, that can be read quite quickly (I finished it in a day, in two sittings) and I felt satisfied with it as per my expectations.

Book Source: Publisher

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Free Book Giveaway: Rise of The Sun Prince by Shubha Vilas

Dear Readers,

 Enter the contest by answering two questions below and stand a chance to win the fabulous retelling of Ramayana, Rise of The Sun Prince by Shubh Vilas, my review of which can be read here. Also you will have to like the facebook page of the book here.

 You will have to enter your name and email id to participate, which will be confidential with me. If you win the contest you will be asked for your address so that the book can reach you. :) The contest is valid only for participants with their mailing address in India.

The contest will be on for a week from today, you can participate till 22 May 2014 midnight to be considered for the contest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bombay Talkies: Peddling Bollywood

When Bombay Talkies released last year, I had a very strong urge to watch it. It sounded very promising. But I don't know how I forgot all about the movie later on and remembered about it only last week when I got hold of its DVD. It was alluring to watch four short movies directed by very strong directors of Hindi cinema- Karan Johar, Dibakar Banarjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap made for commemorating 100th anniversary of Indian cinema. Backdrop of all the shorts is Indian infatuation on cinema. Movies are life for most of us, providing rhythm and symphony for a monotonous existence. I thought I would just write a quick note on the four movies that are thankfully not interconnected in anyway.  

The first movie by Karan Johar is for me, the best one among the lot. I never expected I would give such a statement when another movie in the anthology is directed by Anurag Kashyap. But credit should go to Johar for making a deeply sincere, intellectually engaging, emotionally exploring piece, with a magical background of old Hindi songs. It is about a disturbed husband who comes out of the closet, thanks to the gay friend of his wife. Unlike others, this is the only movie that doesn’t overtly depend on a filmy setting to convey its point. It is not on the face too.

The second one by Dibakar Banarjee is about a failed ‘business man’ who discovers the genius actor inside him who wants to get out, when he unexpectedly gets a chance to act in a bit part in a Ranbir Kapoor movie. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the lead actor on whom the burden of conveying the entire plot is bestowed. He delivers in style. Watching him act is a pleasure. He makes us a part of him when he goes through the conflicts his character undergoes. Each shot is an underlined statement about his talent.

Third short by Zoya Akhtar reminded me of the half an hour TV advertisements of Tele-brands and such companies. I feel it contains just shameless peddling of Bollywood. It shows a very shallow and regressive picture far from reality, which can be potentially dangerous. Using kids for this purpose makes it all the more deplorable.  I am confused which is more ridiculous- deifying Katrina Kaif or trying to find motivation from item songs. A boy, whose father wants him to be an athlete, trying to put on his sister’s dress and dancing to Sheila Ki Jawani song, looks as ridiculous as it sounds here. It is a tragedy as the movie was well shot and the actors, especially the kids had done some great work.

Anurag Kashyap’s work too started off the same way and I had a bad feeling about it. But with the comic ending he succeeded in spinning it to something better. This short is about a villager camping infront of Amitabh Bachchan’s home so that he can offer him the Murabba send by his ailing father, who thinks eating the Murabba that is half-eaten by the superstar can increase his survival chance.  Anurag tries to show off the Bachchan euphoria and his larger than life image. There was scope of some serious introspection, but nothing materializes, finally making it another try to glorify Bollywood and its effects on society. The humor laced narrative and some superb acting saves the movie from becoming propaganda material for Bollywood.

Book Review: The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong

One recent phenomenon that shook the world was the sudden emergence of singer Psy with his viral hit song Gangnam Style into the much crowded international pop scene, changing the rules of the game overnight. The crazy song and its video became the most watched one in YouTube. It exposed the world to South Korea. If we carefully think back, we can realize that the entry of Korea into our lives was very recent. A few years back there opened a couple of Korean restaurants in cities; all of us started buying Samsung smart phones, Korean movies were a staple in Film Festivals and slowly we Indians are coming to know about Korean culture. But all this is just the tip of the iceberg and there is more, or so says Euny Hong, who wrote the book The Birth of Korean Cool, which tries to dig out more on Korean pop or K-pop as they term it.

Euny Hong, who was born and spent her childhood in US, doesn't have any great memories about South Korea. She had a difficult time adjusting to the country, its culture and traditions when her family returned back. Korea was not at all cool for her. Then, suddenly, within a decade, things changed. Korea became a cool place to be. It became the tastemaker of Asia. It influenced the sensibilities of many developing nations in Middle East and Africa. Now Korea is on its way to make its mark on Europe and America. All these it achieved by exporting its pop culture, which was almost nonexistent till then. Hong tries to find out how the transition happened and what the future holds for Korea and the world, with the unbiased eyes of an outsider in this remarkable book, The Birth of Korean Cool.

After the Korean War, South Korea was bankrupt and was surviving with the monetary help from the IMF. There was no much scope for a quick revival because the manufacturing sector was in tatters. The Government decided on a unique plan- exporting its national culture to the outside world. Like US manufactured a feel of desirability around its products, South Korean Government decided to make and export products for international entertainment market. Their target was developing nations which have the potential to be rich, so that when they reach there, they will be loyal to Korean products.  Korean Government and industry aligned themselves to this goal and gradually developed a network which made products- video games, movies, music, videos and junk food, appealing to international markets and distribute them. Thus K-pop came into prominence.

The Birth of Korean Cool is an amazing read. It describes a fairy tale economic rags- to- riches story of how a small nation with enough will power and ingenious thought process could develop itself into a formidable soft power in entertainment sector. It tells us how a small paradigm shift can trigger a movement that can alter the world history. Its sincere and matter of fact narration laced with occasional self-deprecating wit makes the book all the more appealing. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Trailer Review: Kya Dilli Kya Lahore

It felt great when I received the email inviting me to participate in the blogger’s contest by Picture Thought Productions. The contest was to review the trailer or song of their new movie Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. I was excited of the invitation for two reasons. One the movie was presented by Gulzar. Now who doesn’t respect the stalwart…! Writer, director, poet, song writer… Gulzar Saab is a master in every sense. Second reason is Vijay Raaz, who is the director and one of the main actors. He is an actor who excels in any kind of movie- be it an art house movie, a parallel one or a commercial cinema. There are very few actors who can juggle effortlessly between comic, tragic and tragicomic roles.

I chose to review the trailer of the movie because I am not well versed with music. Of course I love hearing music, but to describe it or assess it- it is beyond me. One more reason is the use of Punjabi language in the lyrics. I don’t know Punjabi much, and to comment on the lines written by a veteran poet like Gulzar without comprehending the meaning is nothing short of sacrilege. Let us move on to the trailer.

The trailer starts (of course after a hurried mention about the support of Gulzar Saab and the customary display of the logo of Picture Thoughts Productions) with distant sounds of gun fire that suddenly gets ear splittingly near and a glimpse of a soldier with a gun. Appears on the screen a text that mentions the time frame in which the story happens- “Once upon a time in 1947” and slowly 7 changes to 8. This is a good move. The viewer, when he sees the year 1947, connects it to Independence Day and the transformation of the year to 1948 makes him prepared for what is to come. In a split second, he connects the gunshots and image of the soldier to 1948 and knows the movie is about the disturbed time after Partition.

Next we see a Pakistani Captain played by Vishwajeet Pradhan, ordering a trembling, hapless soldier, the only surviving one among his friends (Vijay Raaz) to invade the Indian post and get a secret file. Scene shifts to the Indian post, a battered hut where a tired Indian soldier (Manu Rishi) is explaining to his superior that he is alone there as all others are dead. Then they meet. The scene is hilarious and that was an understatement. Some gun shots follow and then start the verbal assault. The argument starts with jingoism and then moves onto the state after partition. Background score slowly gets sad and argument gets heated. We come to know that the Indian soldier is originally from Lahore. Shots are fired and he gets injured. Gulzar’s melodious poetry fills the atmosphere- about borders, about someone angry creating them and a suggestion to make them boundaries of a field and play kabaddi in it.

We see the Indian soldier holding a big bundle and led by the Pakistani on gun point through a wheat field. Enter the Indian Captain scolding the soldier for betraying the nation. He is suspected of treachery. The Pakistani soldier reveals that he lived in Purani Dilli. This is a very interesting situation. Indian soldier spent his entire life in Lahore and Pakistani in Dilli. Yet they are made to change sides fight against each other. The trailer ends in a sad atmosphere of brotherhood torn by manmade situations and manmade borders with the song Kisse Lambe sung by Sukhvinder Singh.

The trailer gives a feeling that the movie is about the absurdness of neighbors, friends and brothers fighting each other in the name of borders that are drawn to satiate the ego of someone else. The plot looks a bit similar to the Bosnian war movie No Man’s Land, but the setting of Partition era and the presence of talented cast will give this movie an edge in India. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Accidental Prime Minister by Sanjaya Baru

The Accidental Prime Minister is a book bomb that fell on United Progressive Alliance headed by Indian National Congress (INC) last week, while contesting the country wide election for Parliamentary seats. Written by Sanjaya Baru, the former Media Advisor of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the book claims that the Party President Sonia Gandhi was the one who really headed the government and Dr. Singh did not had much say in taking important decisions. The book further declined the position of already allegations-hit INC in the elections by giving the opposing parties a good weapon to further poke them. Though everyone was aware of the position of Dr. Singh, the writer’s status as an insider in the Government and his close proximity to the PM confirmed the doubts.

The book deals with the happenings in the ten years of UPA rule with Dr. Singh as the PM, when Baru was in the PMO for first five years and an observer from outside privy to inside info thanks to his contacts in PMO. BJP, who were ruling previously, were the favorites to win the election, but finally were unable to secure the majority to form Government. Congress wanted Sonia Gandhi to take charge, but she couldn’t due to her foreign nationality. The only option in front of her was to install a Prime Minister who is ready to abide by her till her son Rahul becomes mature enough for the post. Manmohan Singh, a former Economist was chosen for the role. He had achieved the unthinkable ten years back.

In 1990s, under the Prime Minister-ship of Rao, who did everything possible to undermine the dynasty politics of Gandhi’s, Dr. Singh, then the Minister of Finance started the process of opening the Indian market to globalization, the benefits of which we taste even after decades. The cost paid for not bending his backbone in front of Gandhi clan and throwing License Raj started by Indira Gandhi into trash bin was very dear for Rao. After coming out of Prime Minister-ship, plagued by accusations, rest of the life he had to spend in courts and prison. He was acquitted finally from all the allegations against him. But even after his death, Congress and Gandhi’s denied him any privilege of a former PM. Even his achievements are not mentioned anywhere in Delhi Durbar.

I believe it was the ill-fate met by Rao that made Dr. Singh the way he was. As per Baru, during UPA-1, all his achievements were rewritten under the credit of Sonia and Rahul, except the clinching of nuclear deal from US. But then Rahul was not ready to enter the arena and Sonia had to appoint Singh as PM once more for the next term. But this time all the major scams hit the Government along with severe recessions. Finances of the country hit rock bottom. Though Dr. Singh himself was never corrupt, he was unable to take any action on the ministers whose loyalty was only towards Sonia. He was blamed for all the failures and these blames paved the way for Rahul to be announced as the successor.

The book is quite an easy read and there are hardly any new revelations in it. There are no exposures of any political secrets or scandals. It is a bit bland. Curious thing is that though the book gives out a negative feeling about Singh, the author actually tries to give Manmohan Singh more credit and appreciation than he was unable to receive from any quarters till date. There is no hatred or animosity and on the contrary we can sense deep respect in the narration. Baru gives his reasons for the failure of Singh in UPA-2 and tries to prove that UPA-1 was a success thanks to the talent of Singh. But his statement that UPA-1 government was able to start many populist schemes due to the good fiscal results that were due to the good work by previous Government gives away the built up. Also curiously missing is a proper insight into the relation shared by the PM and Sonia. That was essential for the reader to comprehend much of the later happenings.

If you are interested in Indian politics, you can get a copy of this book. It may not be insightful but gives some insight to the working of PMO and also narrates the tragedy of a genius economist (George W Bush once claimed Dr. Singh to be the best.) who will unfortunately be remembered as the man who missed the bus for India to the big leagues. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Defending Rama

In my previous post, the book review of Rise of the Sun Prince, I had mentioned that the purpose of the writing of Ramayana was to demonstrate the life of an ideal man (Purushothama). It is meant to educate and inspire people to lead a perfect life. Each incident in the Epic showcases one or a combination of good qualities Rama uses to overcome obstacles. He never ever deviates from the path of righteousness and observes his dharma, whatever it is at the moment.

That is, till he returns back from Lanka with his wife Sita and assume the mantle of the King of Ayodhya. This is where the official canon ends and what a beautiful story it is till then! Our heart fills with respect and awe for the hero who chose to tread the path of righteousness in spite of the chance that even a deviation from it anywhere would have given him more comfort and quick victory against odds. 

But then we come to know that the story is far from over. We learn that Valmiki has written an Uthara Kanda and in that, after a mere one year of living together with his wife, Rama decide to abandon her in forest, even after knowing that she is pregnant. That, after hearing a rumor about her from the mouth of an illiterate drunkard..! Even when Sita had proved herself pure by doing the test of fire in Lanka, before uniting with him!

This sudden transformation of Rama, who was portrayed as an incarnation of all virtues in human form, was a riddle for generations. Several theories have been put forward by pundits in this regard. Some of them even tried to prove that Uthara Kanda was not written by Valmiki and was an added epilogue by some poet centuries after Ramayana was written. This twist in tale has caused a much serious dent in Rama’s repertoire. Several factions condemn Rama for being insensitive and for residing in an ivory tower.

I used to think about the purpose of adding a seemingly black spot on a character that was supposed to be an unblemished model. But I feel now, after reading that book and reflecting on Ramayana once again after years, there may be one answer for this riddle. If we go through the epic, from Bala Kanda to Yuddha Kanda, as I mentioned before, we will find many instances of self-less acts by Rama. He travels with Viswamithra into the forest, killing demons that disturb the fellow- saints. His devotion to his father causes him fourteen years of existence in jungle. His love to his wife makes him cross an ocean and fight the most powerful man with the vastest of military power, with help from just some monkeys. He gives shelter to Vibheeshana who is also a demon.

These are all great deeds, but ultimately they are all based on personal motives- respect to father, love to the wife, and kindness to an enemy. The scope of these acts are limited, but these are all the built up to a final sacrifice that is far more valuable to the world. After doing puthra dharma, sishya dharma, bhrathru dharma and bhartru dharma, he is ready to perform Raja Dharma, duty of a king.

Rama Rajya is a common phrase denoting a nation that is prosperous in every aspect- peace, wealth, health and culture. It shows that as a king, Rama was extremely successful. It is told that he knew each of his country’s citizens personally, like his family. As a king, he wanted his people to be as good as him. Once when he hears that some of his people have doubt on his personal life, instantly he takes decision to abandon her. It was a bad and unjust decision as far as Sita is concerned, but to his countrymen, it demonstrated that he kept them more than anything, even his family and his life. As a leader, Rama has done the supreme sacrifice, his raja dharma. He had to pay the price with extreme grief for this.

In modern times, when the norms are to put the near and dear- son, daughter and in laws before everything- nation or world or ecology, Rama’s abandoning of his family for his citizens may sound ridiculous and atrocious. But I feel Valmiki was trying to demonstrate the extend of spotlessness the people in public life should possess.