Friday, November 28, 2008

Dark Days Ahead

Saare jahaan se acchaa Hindostan hamaara...
Hum bulbule hain iski yeh gulistan humaara...

The last 48 hours have been a living nightmare for many. Many lives have been lost, many more to be lost. This week in Novemeber 2008 could change the course of times to come in this land of a million mutinies and counting. Once the gunfire stops and the smoke dies down, mud slinging and exploitation of the incidents will begin (rather than introspection and a measured but necessary retaliation), parties will blame each other, certain elements in the media will downplay the role of our holier-than-thou neighbors and religious fundamentalists will only add fuel to the fire. The entire country is sitting on an ever ticking time bomb - nobody knows when the clock goes silent and the bomb explodes.
The Optimist in me is trying hard to imagine a scene when a leader emerges out of this crisis who guides my home to safety - not hoping for prosperity just yet, just a safe home....Too much to ask I suppose!
Dark days.......very dark days ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Richmond Half Marathon

I had signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon right after I came home after finishing the Harrisburg Half Marathon. I was on a high of finishing my first half marathon and signed up in an adrenaline rush. Little did I know that I will have little time to continue with my practice from then until 11/15/2008. I was in India for the entire month of Ocotober and did not have many opportunities to run long distances. predicted a rainy, wet and windy day in downtown Richmond. Thankfully, the temperature hovered around the low 60s and the rain was reduced to a drizzle by 7 AM. Getting to the event was an ordeal, the traffic was backed up getting into downtown and we (me and friend A who was also running) abandoned the car and our respective wives in it on Interstate 95 and walked/light-jogged about a mile to the start line to arrive there within a minute of the starting gun going off. No stretching, no pre-race regimens, nothing - it was the last thing I had expected how I would start this race.

Anyway, the race started and so did Sindbad Sailor on my mp3 player. All through the race I was hoping to finish gracefully and within two hours fifteen minutes. Somewhere around mile 6, I saw my timing - it was only 57 minutes and I was pleasantly surprised -a two hour finish time seemed like a possibility. I swallowed a pack of Gu and decided to make a go for it. Somewhere around mile eleven my legs started giving up and keeping the pace was becoming increasingly difficult, I realized I was slowing down and eventually crossed the finish line at a chip time of 2:03:39.

It was still a good 20 seconds faster than my time in Harrisburg. I was slightly disappointed that I did not make the two hours time I aimed for at mile six, but then realized that without practice, the above time was still respectable. I was 1275 amongst a total of 3516 runners who finished, 760th amongst all the males and 112th amongst the 227 males in my age group. As always, it was an incredible feeling crossing that finish line amongst cheering crowds. Aiming for a sub 2 hours time next time. Until then - RUN.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dwarka-Somnath: Part 1

In my recent trip to India I visited the coastal region of the Western Indian State of Gujarat. The primary reason of the trip was to take my parents to the religious sites of Dwarka and Somnath. Before I proceed with the travelogue, I will have to confess my religious beliefs to you all - I am a non-believer when it comes to any religion. If one has to put me in a conceptual religious bucket, yes I am a Hindu by the only coincidence that I was born to a Hindu set of parents. Do I identify myself with being a Hindu? NO. The primary reason probably is because religion was pretty much shoved down my throat (just like most of us who grew up in the middle class Indian families). Anytime when I asked the validity of the religious rituals that I was being asked to perform they were met with the same answer – “Because you should”. A seed of disdain was sown and watered by the continuous “you must” attitude by the religious folks around me. It was intensely frustrating that I should spend my valuable childhood fun-time doing unfathomable archaic pujas and other rituals. All my rebellions were squashed with alarming alacrity by all the adults around me. As far as I can remember many of the family trips we took were centered on a religious site. In most cases I was dragged along by force rather than by choice. So while some of my friends took trips to such exotic sites as Mount Abu, Goa and Kashmir I was visiting another temple in some nondescript village. Guess what - the seed that was sown above, started to get rich nutrients to sprout into a healthy sapling.

As I grew older, this sapling thrived into a gigantic, strong tree. During my teenage and college years my rebellion took the shape of complete non-participation as I preferred watching pimples form on my face and then dry out, than join my God-smitten family to these temples. Now that the hormones of youth have stopped messing with my brain I regret not going on these trips - not because I have accepted the religious part of it – but because I could have visited these places and kept myself away from the “religious” aspect of it and could have explored the town/city/village. So this time when opportunity knocked, I opened the “let me be an explorer” door of my mind and dove right in. Before I go any further I would like to warn my religiously inclined readers that some of my comments might offend you and your beliefs.
Day 1 - Bombay Central Station
In order to get to Dwarka from Bombay (MNS be damned – Mumbai just doesn’t do to me what Bombay does), we boarded the Saurashtra Mail from the Bombay Central station. Train stations in India open a floodgate of sensations which cause your mind and body to react in ways that are beyond your control. The Bombay Central station was lit up for the ongoing Durga festival. There was a local band setting up a mini-stage for some kind of a performance scheduled for later that night. People from all walks of life were scurrying around in all possible directions. A unique smell that can be felt only on large train stations crowded my nostrils as I was looking for the platform number of our train. We boarded the ‘Mail’ and settled in our assigned seats. The term ‘Mail’ for a train is a leftover legacy from the Colonial years. The English introduced the rail system to India (for which I am much thankful). Back in the days, certain trains were designated to carry postal mail across the length and breadth of the country. These trains were named as mails for obvious reasons. (Incidentally, the mail has its named carved in Hindi film music history via the chartbusting hit song of 1942 Toofan Mail sung by Kanan Devi.).

Once aboard the train, my father got in his element of what fathers of my generation do – check if the seats are really our own, adjust and readjust the luggage such that it is not easily visible to thieves, lock the luggage using long windy shiny steel chains with miniature padlocks which can be opened by a simple hairclip (these chains are then looped through many hooks and joints - it’s a sight to see him retrieve his bag out of that tangle when it’s time to deboard), ensure that we have enough water to last through the journey and the list goes on. It was a good refresher for me since I had not travelled with him in ages now. Anyway, the train got on its way and people started filling up the rest of the seats at Dadar and Borivali. Pleasantries were exchanged, utterly useless information was passed amongst all parties in the coupe, such as – “I will be getting down in Rajkot since my sister-in-law lives there. Its’ her son’s Pinku’s first birthday you see. Bahut shaana deekra che.” Needless to say, I was completely enjoying myself. This was an experience that I had completely taken for granted 12 years ago when train travel was quite regular for me. Today, it was immensely entertaining and on some level comforting. Comforting to see that at the core we are all still the same – still eager to share our lives with complete strangers, still sociable, still so naïve that we don’t know that some of this information could be used maliciously against us. I have yet to see a people who are as naïve and simple as the middle class Indians. I bow to you all. We found out about everyone’s sons and daughters and in laws, and schools and jobs.

Amusing as all of this was, hunger beckoned, it was 9 PM and nobody showed any signs of getting ready for dinner. My mother understood my restlessness (aren’t mothers just great – it’s like there is an unattached umbilical cord between a mother and her offspring) and unpacked the food that she had brought with her. The rest of the folks in the coupe took the inspiration and opened their respective food packets. A thought crossed my mind – these folks just boarded the train from Borivali at 8:00 PM, they could have had their dinner prior to getting on board – why go through the hassle of packing and unpacking and eating in the train? But then I answered my own question – right from the primitive Stone Age human beings, our race has been a fan of communal eating. So, puris, aloo bhajis, parathas, dhoklas, laddoos exchanged many hands and collectively ended up in many bellies. It was an immensely satisfying meal. Believe it or not I was mildly intoxicated by the tasty food touched by many unwashed hands, the rhythmic motion and sounds of the train and the collective odor of food and people. I had not slept for the last 48 hours at a stretch and I was about to crash. I set my berth, spread a clean white sheet, placed the pillow and wrapped myself in the blanket provided by Lalu’s people and slept like a 2 year old.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Different Silent Deol

The Deol family, if not as high profile as the Chopras or the Bachchans, has been part of the Indian cinema for nearly 5 decades now - Dharamendra, Sunny, Bobby and most recently, Abhay Deol.
Dharamendra probably is one of the few actors who changed his on screen persona with the changing times - be it the socialist, thinker, soft-spoken gentleman of Anupama or the dashing and smart spy of Aankhen to the Jat Yamala Pagala Deewana of Aaye Din Bahaar Ke or the good hearted Raka of Seeta Aur Geeta or the extremely funny and witty Shudh Hindi speaking Parimal Tripathi of Chupke Chupke (the same year when he played Veeru in Sholay) or the terrible 80s phase of the 'Kutte-Kamine' spewing-corrupt system fighting-hero of such gems as Hukumat and Mardonwali Baat etc. I personally think his comedic skills have been criminally under-utilized by the industry.
Sunny Deol was the first of the Jr. Deols to arrive on the scene in the mid 80s with Betaab and carved his own place as the ultra-macho sleazy cop bashing (eventually Pakistani terrorists) bashing hero in Hindi Cinema with movies such as Ghayal, Damini and Gadar. He continues to cash on this very image even today and makes the producers of his movies a decent profit on the investments they make on his movies.
Bobby Deol, Sunny's younger brother was launched amongst a lot of fanfare with Barsaat and his career has never really seen a sunny day since. He is one actor who the Hindi film industry has never quite been able to figure out what to do with. He has done nothing of any significance in the last 15 years that he has been around.
The newest Deol to appear on the Hindi scene is the cousin brother of Sunny and Bobby Deol - Abhay Deol. The first time I saw this gawky, tall, unconventional looking actor in the promos of his first film 'Socha na tha', I went - Ohh no! here we go again, another product of a filmy family who has no talent and looks but has a big family name to promote him down the throats of the Indian audience (sample these - Kamal Sadanah, Akshaye Khanna, Armaan Kohli). Little did I expect this Deol to change my opinion about him altogether. He has shown an interesting and an unusual taste in the choice of roles. For a newcomer with a weighty last name he has done roles which are the polar opposites of what the Jr. Roshan, Jr. Bachchan and the rest of the filmy offspring gang has played. He plays the everyday guy in most of his movies, characters who you will meet at bus stops, shops, local trains or Government offices. He has shown incredible maturity in depicting these characters - check him out as the court-wedding-witness-for-hire in "Aahista Aashista" or the PWD engineer in "Manorama - Six Feet Under" (IMO - his best work so far). His portrayal of Satyaveer Singh in Manorama is a very careful observation of the daily life of an ordinary working man living in small town India (watch his body language, his dialogue delivery and his eyes). In his forthcoming film "Oye Lucky Lucky Oye", he plays the character of a charming swindler/con-man allegedly inspired by a real life character.
As Hindi cinema is gradually breaking new grounds in the type of movies that are made these days, Abhay Deol belongs in the very small list of actors who are branded as "thinking actors" but in my opinion are just silent heroes who do their jobs of playing everyday characters with a simple and straightforward honesty. Believe me, playing these characters is a lot harder than playing superheroes or the lovey-dovey Rahuls and Prems. Looking forward to more of this Deol's movies.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


What happened in the late hours of November 4th 2008 only cemented the fact that anything is possible in this country built on the philosophy of - "You will be given every opportunity to be whatever you want to be". More power to Democracy and People's Will and Faith in Dreams.