08
Jun
13

Breaking the inertia – A tale of two weekends

Sometimes life becomes so facile and placid that this placidity starts hurting. So much so that your mind and body aches and asks for a shock, a jerk that would break the inertia. For those, like me, who are immersed in inactivity, the likelihood of this shock to be a positive one is a rarity. The best we can do is to let ourselves loose, get out of control for some time. The risks are high, the repercussions can be anywhere from dangerous to life threatening. But, in the end we get what we were asking for – a life shattering experience which reestablishes our willingness to live and appreciate the beauty of things that surround us.

A week before the Memorial Day I was at my friend’s place, which is 8.2 KM from my home. It was beautiful and warm Friday evening and I went there running. I usually don’t like to carry things while running. But, as I was going to run on a highway that day, I thought it would be wise keep my cell phone with me.  **** The first weekend’s (this) story has been hidden intentionally. Please leave a comment, if you are really interested to read it**** DSCN9562

The next day while returning back, a friend took me to his newly bought car and asked me for a ride. I got inside without giving a thought, knowing that he had taken only a few classes and still months away from getting a driver’s license. The next minute we were in the middle of the parking lot. Two cars were hit. The owners shouted at us. No one was injured. The police came. The case was settled. I came back to my place, walking 8.2 KM. I slept for over 16 hours and I ended my weekend with a Swedish film La dentellière featuring Isabelle Huppert.

If at any point in your life you feel a change in yourself or the world around you, just enter a corporate office and spend a few days. The constipated work environment will absorb you like an undigested lump of cheese inside its bowel and make you feel that you are sitting there unmoved, untouched for centuries and that you will continue to be there forever. The days pass like a linear equation in one variable, any weekday = Monday + 24x. It was Friday, when I realized that I need to get the necessary accessories for the Memorial Day hike in White Mountains. I had already ordered hiking poles and microspikes online but I did not get a chance to buy hiking shoes, or rather I didn’t care much about it.  Based on my experience in Niyamgiri, I was under an assumption that I would just have to walk up the hill on some uneven terrain for something about 25 KM. I considered it just as a test of stamina and endurance and as I was already running over 8 KM almost daily, I thought it would be a cakewalk. I had grossly oversimplified the whole program and it resulted in an extremely difficult learning experience. Saturday, May 25. Sid and Jay picked me up in the afternoon and we were headed towards the White Mountain highway, New Hampshire. It was raining cats and dogs and the temperature had dipped below 5ºC from earlier day’s high of 21ºC. We had our dinner on the way and I picked up a packet of peanuts, cashews, chocolates, 2 bananas and 2 liters of water before reaching the motel. We slept at around 12:30 AM, woke up at 5:30 AM the next day and got ready for the hike. Sid offered me egg sandwiches but I was having peanuts instead. I was least concerned about my energy requirements at that time. We waited for around 15 min at Pinkham Notch, when Stacey, Garett, Sean and Tanya arrived in another car. The first sense of scare struck when I saw all the hikers gearing up. They had everything I can’t imagine of and most of the things I never knew existed. Patchy clouds, cold winds and showers were all there when we started out on the trail. There were predictions of blizzard on the top of the mountain. But none of them were worried and in fact they sounded pretty excited about it.  It was 8:45 AM. We started out at a pretty fast pace than what I had expected. In the very first 10-15 min all my pre-conceptions about the hike were broken. It was a trail full of mud, large stones, and steep slopes, quite unlike the smooth path uphill that I had imagined. I struggled initially to protect my white sneakers to get wet. When I saw everyone at least 2 floors above than me I tried to speed up a fell miserably in the mud between the rocks. I was not hurt but when I saw a deep trench running just a foot away from our trail, all my confidence was shattered. I saw Stacy and asked her in shaken voice, should I put on my microspikes. She said those will help in ice not on rocks. My pants and shoes were already wet and after 30 min of climbing steep slopes, I got a feeling that I am going to be in deep trouble, but there was nothing I could do. I was not prepared to return alone from that point, as I thought I could get lost or can get in danger. So, I kept on moving. I let myself loose a bit, prepared myself to be ready for falling again and again in the chilling mud water. I knew that there was no turning back and so I just boosted myself up with the thought that a human body can do a lot lot more than what we expect it to do. After 90 min or so we took our first break and Jay offered me his hiking boots in exchange of my sneakers. This came as boon for me, as I was slipping constantly on the wet rocks. I felt bad at first but accepted his offer as I knew he was an advanced hiker and he would be able to manage. At that point I just took it as a very big favor, but now I realize that it was a lifesaving gift from someone whom I met only a day before. Jay also gave me the extra pair of warm socks which he had brought with him. I could feel the difference almost immediately. These boots would stick to the rocks like a chameleon. I started taking large and confident steps and left Stacey behind me. After around 6 KM, I saw Garett and Tanya standing on the side and pulling things out of their backpack. I wanted to wait for them, but they asked me to keep going. Jay informed me that Tanya fell in the narrow stream that we just crossed and she was cold, so she was going to change into warm clothes. It reminded me of a similar scene from the movie The Loneliest Planet that I saw with Sid in New York last year. I was thinking how different it is to see things on cinema and actually experiencing it. I had nothing in my backpack except a leather jacket, a short, a T shirt, underwear, food and the bottles of water that I bought the other night. I was thinking that if I would have slipped into that stream I would have no warm clothes to change. But, at that point my primary concern was to move ahead so that at least I am not the last person. No one except Sid was aware that this was my first hiking experience. This was an advanced hike and all of them were under an impression that I was an intermediate hiker at the minimum, so they were not particularly concerned about me. I knew this and that is why I tried my best not to be at the last.

My first rock climbing experience

My first rock climbing experience

After almost 3 hours of constant climbing up, we went past the treeline and it was all rocks. Initially there were small rocks which I was able to climb using my poles, although with some difficulty. But soon there were large rocks with rough edges. The wind was blowing at a speed above 50 MPH. If anyone of my weight would have attempted to stand without any support, he would have been easily blown away. The temperature at that point must have been around 0ºC. I found a place to rest on the rocks for few minutes and I looked around. I could see snow covered Mount Washington on one side and down below a beautiful river was flowing through the valley. It was all green and white. The sight was amazing, the sun also showed up at that time. For a brief moment I felt like I am dreaming. But then I saw Garett crossing me. The speed at which he was climbing would compel you to believe that he must have born in the mountains. I looked down and I could see Tanya coming along and Stacey behind her. It was steep and a single wrong step would have taken us to the bottom of the mountain. I had seen this only in movies. I was terrified like hell and just hoped that we were not going to return down the same trail. If that would have been the case I was ready to take road from somewhere on the top and walk down. Garett was advising Tanya not lean back at any time and to be as close as possible to the rocks. I followed his advice like a sermon from a prophet and moved ahead. I was so cautious and alert that I was not able to carry my poles and just left it behind. Tracy was quick and she took my poles and signaled me to keep going. I had no gloves and I was using my bare hand on the ice cold rocks. My hands had become insensitive to feel any pain.  I was ready to sacrifice a layer of skin but I just wanted to get through it safely. At last I was on the top and everyone was waiting for us. I went into the bushes for a piss for the first time since we started. It was a divine feeling. I had some of the cashews and peanuts and drank some water. For the first and the last time I took out my camera and took some photos. I remember when I started out I had my camera hanging out separately, as if I was going for a photoshoot. But, in 10 min when I first fell, it was back in my backpack. We stayed and relaxed there for over 5 mins. This was the longest time in the entire 12 hours hike that we rested. I was happy and overjoyed about the fact that we would be going down through a different trail and it won’t be rock climbing again. I had regained energy and was feeling over the top to have come thus far without any major issues. I had no idea of what was about to come.

Jay, Sid, Tanya, Garett and I (L-R)

Jay, Sid, Tanya, Garett and I (L-R)

We were on the Glenn Boulder trail and were heading towards Gulf Peak (5200 ft). It was windy madness. The shrubs were covered with snow flakes and we were in the midst of a blizzard. The wind speed must have been over 60 MPH. I had no cap and no gloves. I was the only one in that condition. Particles of snow were directly hitting my eardrums without any obstruction. My nose was running like a tap left open. I could feel nothing with my hands, which were already damaged by the rocks. I couldn’t even twist my fingers. But when it comes to the question of survival you find out ways. I took out my vest and shorts from the backpack. I put my shorts as a cap and used my vest for wiping my nose. That was good enough relief at that time. I knew that I am not going to get sick. I can get myself hurt but I am not going to get sick. This was a test of my body’s resistance and I was pretty confident that I would get through it. Jay came again as a savior and pulled out a spare cotton cap from his backpack and put it on my head. The cap was very small. It could hardly cover the top of my ears. But even that was a relief. At least I could feel my head protected. Sid had his extra pair of wet gloves that he suggested me to put on. I tried very hard but I could put on only the left one, that too only half way down. My right hand was not at all working. It was like pushing a bunch of sticks up the gloves. Finally the treeline appeared and we were saved by the killing blizzard.

Crossing Glen Boulder, White Mountains

Crossing Glen Boulder 5200ft. White Mountains. Sun 26, May 2013.

There was over 2 ft. of snow as we started on the trail to Mount Isolation (4,003 ft.). The trail was rocky and felt like a narrow stream was running underneath the snow cover. Various voids were created by the stream all along the trail and the surface collapsed several times. The good thing was that it was a known trail and so the voids were not very deep and even if I fell it didn’t hurt much on snow. I was using my poles with dexterity to check the voids. It was fun for some time as we were just out of the blizzard and so I was feeling a bit warm. After a couple of miles, the thick snow cover started to disappear and it was more scattered and thin spots of snow. Jay and I were now trailing, so Jay waited for me whenever I was left behind. I was not at all scared now, because I knew if have made thus far with all the adversities of nature put together, I am going to finish it respectfully. We were now bombarded by a number of fallen trees, probably as a result of the Irene or superstorm Sandy. They were studded every 80-100 meters. It felt like someone has strategically planted them. We had to crawl from under or to go over the top, every 5 min or so.  It was like taking a commando training. I was thinking of the guerillas who walk several days in jungles under similar conditions. At least I got a glimpse of what people have to go through in those situations. We moved further ahead and it would be around 3:00 PM (almost 6 hours past when we started), when I saw all the folks standing at a point. From this point Mt. Isolation was about 60 ft. above. Garett, Stacey Sean and Tanya has just returned from there and all of them except Stacey were now going to Mt. Davis (3,819 ft.). It was another 5 KM up and down. We could see a 360º panoramic view from there. But it was cloudy and so Stacey preferred not to go and she was going to return from there. I almost immediately decided to join her. Sid and jay gave some thought and decided for Mt. Davis. So, I quickly went up to Mt. Isolation while Stacey waited for me. It was a steep climb with huge rocks but not as difficult as the earlier one. Up there it was cold and windy again but nothing as compared to Glen Boulder. I relived my bladder of the heat, ate some cashews and peanuts again and drank some water. I climbed down very carefully and was crawling at times. It must have been 10-15 min. that Stacey waited for me. I am grateful to her that she waited otherwise I may not be sitting here writing this piece.

Stacey crossing a stream

Stacey crossing a stream

I had no idea when we were going to return. Sid and Jay told me the other day that we should be able to return by around 6:00 – 7:00 PM. It was already 3:00 PM, so I thought it would be another 3 hours and we would be back to the ground. I was feeling good that we were on the return trail but from the way I was walking and slipping every now and then, Stacey figured out that I was exhausted.  She asked me if I have eaten anything.  I told her about the cashews and the peanuts. She didn’t comment on that at that time and offered me some caffeine shots. She said you will feel better. I took two of them. They were red jelly like lumps which tasted like fruit jam mixed with coffee. Within 30 min I felt supercharged and fresh. I have never experienced such a phenomenon and till now I thought all energy shots or other such things are hoax. I thanked Stacey for that and then she suggested that we should take nuts or other protein rich diet during hikes as they consume more energy in getting digested rather than providing energy. I realized my mistake and it was a good learning for me. I decided then and there that I am going to use it in the Marathon in October. We walked together for sometime before we crossed all the fallen trees. She was very swift on the rocks and I was closely following how she was using her poles and putting her steps. She had a map with her and tried to figure out the directions using it whenever she got confused. After walking about an hour or so with her we came across a river which was flowing down the mountain. It looked like another challenge to cross it. There were big rocks on which we had to hop on in order to cross it without getting knee deep into the water. I tried my best to stay away from water but at times I had to get my foot inside the water. The water was freezing cold and current was very strong. I was afraid to fall into it as it looked like I could be easily carried away by the stream if I fell. After crossing the river we met a couple with a dog who were going up. They looked fresh and relaxed, but of them were overweight. They informed us that we would have to cross the river five times and the last crossing would be the most difficult one. We got to know that they had adopted the Mt. Isolation trail and were camping near the last river crossing. Before meeting them I had a different image of hikers, as having an athletic body and certainly not obese, fortunately that image broke. I kept on following Stacey as we crossed the river another three times. She was leading me but she used to wait everytime I was left behind. There were moments when after climbing up the hill after the river crossings, I used to get lost. I used to call Stacey by shouting aloud her name whenever I felt I was not able to see her and was not sure of the direction. She suggested to put on my glasses again as the rain had stopped so that I could follow her more clearly without getting lost. The last river crossing was really dangerous. There was a narrow bridge created by putting two long tree trunks together. But neither of us had the courage to cross the river walking on that. So, we decided to go the over the rocks. But this time the width of the river was huge and rocks were scattered. I was really tensed on seeing it. But Stacey boosted me up by saying that if that couple were able to pass through it with their dog, we are also going to pass. Stacey started out with the most convenient path but she had got knee deep into the river in the middle of it before hopping on the rocks and getting to the other side. The rocks were so scattered that I didn’t even attempt to hop on them. I crossed most of the river walking across the stream, knee deep. I took cover of the rocks and used poles to prevent myself from losing control while in the midst of the stream. When I reached the other side I was shivering with cold. But, right after that there was a steep slope that I had to climb to get on the trail. That heated me up a bit and I started walking again by pace. I had no idea what time it must have been. The sun came up for a brief period, I asked Stacey how much more we would have to walk, she said 2-3 hours, depending on our speed. She had said the same I guess an hour ago. It felt like a never ending ordeal. I was astonished to see that instead of going down we were now going a bit upwards. But Stacey confirmed that this is how the trail was, it goes up for a while then there is a steep descent. The trail was a narrow stream full of thick mud. I was just hoping that this should come to an end soon. I was wondering about the other guys who were supposed to come by the same trail we were on. When we just started on the steep downward trail, Sean crossed us with great speed, he talked to Stacey who was ahead of me for couple of minutes and then went past like a kangaroo. He had just floaters on and no hiking poles, but the speed at which he was going it looked like he was born to walk on rocks. That was the point where my toenails started to hurt. The boots were soaked with water and had been wet all through the hike. The downhill terrain was so steep that knees would feel the jerk on every step. And, with every jerk on the knees my toenails used to hit hard against the boot. I realized that I did a big mistake by not clipping my toenails. But I had no options now and I was ready to sacrifice my toenails as long as I was getting to the ground safely. Stacey showed me a different way climbing down steep rocks. She would put her feet sideways instead of upfront in order to reduce the knee jerks. It really helped and with this technique toenails would also hit the boots with lesser force. But, my primary focus was not be lag far behind Stacey as I was seeing that she had to stop a lot for me. It started to get dark, I wanted to know the time but I didn’t have the patience or energy to take out the mobile from my backpack. Stacey didn’t have a watch or mobile handy either. But, it was certainly past 6:30 PM and Stacey told me there would be at least another 2 hours before we get there, given the pace at which I was going. I was really slow and now Stacey was getting a bit concerned as it was getting darker. Fortunately, Garett and Tanya arrived and pulled out the flash lights and mounted them on their head. Stacey increased her speed now and within minutes she was out of sight. Tanya was ahead of me and was showing lights every minute and Garett was showing light from behind. So I was completely in cover. I was now totally drained out. My toenails were hurting like anything and I could feel the pain of my backpack on my shoulders. I was dragging myself. My shoelaces were open, but I didn’t care. I kept on walking. I was not even looking down, just kept on moving like a rolling stone. I knew that I would not be able to run for at least a couple of weeks and I was going to have a major issue with my toes. But, nothing bothered me much as I knew I am at last, after all this, going to reach the ground and back to life. It was a level terrain for sometime and I almost started running and then after a while Tanya turned back with her flashlight and exclaimed “we have finally done it!!”. Seeing the road, I felt like I have got a new lease in life. That was the first imprint of civilization that I saw after hours of struggle with nature. I was walking very slowly on the road now. I sat down on the road near the car, it was 9:30 PM. Almost after 13 hours I was finally taking a seat on a level surface. I took off the boots and the socks slowly. My feet were swollen and toenails bleeding. I looked inside the backpack, everything was wet.  Only my leather jacket was dry from inside. It was windy and I started shivering badly. So, I got inside the car with my wet clothes and leather jacket. Sean and Stacey were sitting on the front seats. Tanya and Garett were still outside unpacking and packing things and winding up. Sid and Jay were yet to arrive. After around 30 min. we got a call from Jay that their flashlight was discharged and they were not able to find the way down. They were using the cell phones for light, but the battery was dying down. It appeared they were around 5-6 KM away. They tried to call the emergency services but they said that they will not send the rescue team unless they were not in danger. Everyone was worried. It was cold and they were wet so they could easily be get hypothermia if they rested. Tanya suggested that some of should go and help them. Tension was building up and then finally Garett and Sean got ready to go up again. I was sitting there for sometime just thinking over the horror of the situation. I came out of the car after sometime and took off my wet sweatshirt and vest to put on the warm leather jacket. I was still shivering. Stacey switched on the car heating for sometime and all three of us – Stacey, Tanya and me – were discussing on the possibilities. They were calm and not blaming anyone for the situation, they just talked about what we would do now. When I informed them that this was my first hike, they said that I was brave enough to do that, but they would not have approved of it they knew about it. Stacey appreciated me for not doubting her at any point and keeping faith in her. She said that it was quite unusual of men to have so much faith on women especially in situations like this. I was smiling, she didn’t know how obliged I was for getting so much help and support from a stranger. We saw lights at distance, Garett and Sean returned, but they returned alone. It was 11:45 PM, they couldn’t find Sid and Jay and they thought they went in the wrong direction. All came inside the car and they called 911 again. I learnt that the emergency services people send helicopters for rescue if the danger is confirmed and the entire cost has to bear by the individuals being rescued. The cops on 911 said that they will reach out to the emergency services and call back. But they never called. We decided to get a hotel for Sid, Jay and me so that whenever they return they will have a place to take a good rest. Garett, Stacey, Sean and Tanya were camping so they didn’t need any hotel. Most of the hotels were closed but after much struggle we were able to find a hotel. Tanya noted down the hotel room and phone number and I took Stacey and Sean’s number. Sid and Jay were informed about the hotel through SMS and it was decided that Sean would sleep in the car just at the end of the trail so that whenever Sid and jay return he would bring them to the hotel. I took my stuff and bid goodbye to all. That was the last time I saw them. I wish to meet them again sometime on a bright sunny day. With great difficulty I walked down to my room which was at the other side of the road. I was walking barefoot. I was still shivering. It was 12:45 AM. I got inside the room, switched on the heat to the maximum, went to the loo, dropped all my clothes and went to the bed with only the towel on. I kept my feet outside the blanket so that toenails do not get hurt. I don’t know when I slept. I was woken up by the call bell but I was not able to get up. I pulled all my strength and dragged myself to the door. It was Jay and finally I was relieved to know that both Sid and Jay were safe just that Sid fell in the river and was in a very bad condition. Sid was not able to walk alone. Jay brought him inside. It was 3:00 PM. Sid told his story and how Jay helped him all the way down. It was really something to learn from. Sid took shower and slept on the floor in his sleeping bag. We woke up 11:00 AM in the morning and started packing up to leave. I was not able to walk straight and my sneakers which I exchanged with Jay were wet and covered with mud. I did not have an extra pair of footwear with me. So I had to walk barefoot to the car with my toes pointing up. It was bright sunny day. The temperature was 22 ºC. There was not much traffic and we were at my home by 4:00 PM. I thanked Jay and Sid for all their help and bid them goodbye. I was not able to get down to bed without support. It took a lot of effort to standup from ground or to sit up from a sleeping position. There was pain in almost all of my joints and muscles. I wiped my toenails with hydrogen peroxide and left it open. My right hand had become over sensitive as a layer of skin was gone. I was working from home or the entire week. It took me 3 days to walk straight. Initially I was depressed at the thought that I may not be able to run for at least a couple of weeks. But, on Saturday, which was the 6th day from the hike, I could not control myself and went for running. I completed 4 KM with some difficulty and felt strong pain in the toes. I took rest on Sunday. But from Monday I started running again. Last two days (Tue/Wed) I completed 8 KM. Today it was raining so I took rest. I have experienced that more you pamper the pain, the more it hurts. I must have fallen 50 times during the hike and some of the bones hurt even today while I run. But, I guess you need to take it to the level that all the pain burns away along with the calories.

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10
Sep
12

Burn revisited : Unmasking colonialism

Burn is by far the most honest film made on liberation struggles and the history of colonialism. The film was made as an expression of resistance to the Vietnam War by the Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo (1919–2006), most famous for his earlier film The Battle of Algiers (1966). Through the story of struggle of a slave population in a fictional sugar cane-producing small Caribbean island named Queimada, the film provides a powerful critique of Capitalism and it various facets. “Queimada” means “burnt” in Portuguese and it is mentioned at the beginning of the film that the island got its name from the fact that the entire island was burnt by the Portuguese colonizers to put down the resistance of the native Indians when they took it, and since the natives were all killed slaves were brought in from Africa to work on the plantation.

burn-movie-poster-1969-1010463589

The film beings in 1840s when Sir William Walker (played by Marlon Brando), an agent of the British Admiralty, arrives in Queimada with a mission to instigate a rebellion by the oppressed peasantry against Portugal with a view to overthrow the Portuguese control for British imperialist interests. Walker is a shrewd character who knows how to get things done. Right from the opening scene of the film Walker is shown as a keen observer who notices every minute detail about the history, culture and social relations of the people of the island. His initial attempts to get into the grove leaves him disappointed as he gets cold response from the people, who are either unwilling to share their pain with him or lack the necessary consciousness or courage to fight.  While portraying the suffering of the people at large, Pontecorvo provides sufficient time and space to characterize the helpless innocence of the people in contrast to the sharp, tenacious and uncompromising mission of Walker. In one of the scenes where Walker puts José Dolores – who later becomes the leader of the rebels – to test, he asks Dolores “…anything a white man says is right, isn’t it?”, and Dolores replies “Yes, senhor”. With a series of calculated plots, Walker succeeds in putting up militant uprising under the leadership of Dolores. The first half of the film brilliantly depicts the transformation of an oppressed peasantry (mostly slaves) into a militant rebel force which succeeds in getting independence for Queimada from the Portuguese rule. However, as per the plan and despite resentment of Dolores, Walker facilitates the formation of a comprador government which would serve the interests of the foreign capitalists. When Dolores is invited to discuss the proposals for a constitution, he enters the scene along with his men, overwhelmed with anguish and hatred towards the members of the provisional government. At one point he orders his bodyguards to clear the whites out, upon which Walker poses questions to Dolores, “Who’ll govern your island, José?”, “Who’ll run your industries?”, “Who’ll handle your commerce?”, “Who’ll cure the sick?, Teach in your schools?”, and then pointing contemptuously to Dolores’ bodyguards, he asks “…This man? … Or that man? … Or the other?” concluding that “Civilization is not a simple matter, José. You cannot learn its secrets overnight”.  Pontecorvo gets into the details of the situation and provides a wonderful analysis of the after-effects colonialism and the impact it has on the people of the colonized country. Walker leaves for his next assignment in Indochina after the successful completion of his mission only to return ten years later as a warlord on the request of the Britain based Antilles Royal Sugar Company.

It’s interesting how Pontecorvo has used Walker’s character to put forward the theoretical ideas which explain the economic and political situation of Queimada. Marlon Brando invests all his effort in providing satirical ambiguity to the character, in the sense that even though no one can doubt his conviction to his mission, its sounds quite ironical when he quite often uses the dialectical analysis of socio-economic situation in Queimada to support his plan of action. For example, there is sequence wherein while trying to explain the benefits of replacing the Portuguese rule with an independent government, Walker provides a striking allegory between the economic advantages of having a whore over a wife and an independent nation over a foreign direct rule. There are various other instances like this throughout the film which not only provides deeper insights into the real motives of the foreign imperialists but also helps in building up Walker’s character as an ideological embodiment of the bourgeoisie. Despite this, the portrayal of Walker’s character has been a topic of discussion among the critics. Pontecorvo has done away with showing the inner contradictions in Walker’s individuality. Even though the character seems quite alienated and empty of any ideals, the driving force in Walker’s actions remains a question unanswered.

The film presents a very clear analysis on neo-colonialism, on how the newly independent third world counties which haven’t seen a proletarian revolution come into the fold of foreign imperialist countries and become their satellite. Soon after getting independence from Portugal, José Dolores dissolves the rebel army and Queimada is proclaimed a republic. Two years later the government of Queimada provides the rights of exploitation sugar plantation to the Antilles Royal Sugar Company for 99 years, renewable. The Royal Sugar Company controls the entire economy of Queimada. Three years after the independence the uprisings break out in different parts of Queimada to resist the exploitation of the Royal Sugar Company. It takes form of a revolution under the leadership of José Dolores and in order to put down the revolution Walker is brought as a military advisor to the government of Queimada by the Royal Sugar Company with the authorization of British admiralty. Walker continues to fascinate with his sharp and witty dialogues upon his re-arrival. In one of the sequences upon his re-arrival, when he is meeting with the government officials and the advisors from the sugar company, while explaining the difference in situation ten years ago and the current situation, he says “…that, very often, between one historical period and another, ten years certainly might be enough to reveal the contradictions of a whole century”.  Dialogues like this, builds up Walker into a character that has the same or even better understanding of a situation as a Marxist theoretician would have. This can be seen as an attempt by Pontecorvo to present Walker as someone who is consciously carrying out his actions even though he is fully aware of the various ways in which people being exploited over the years throughout the history and how it gives rise to an uprising. When seen in contrast to the character of Teddy Sanchez, the president of Queimada after its independence, who is portrayed as a social democrat, Walker has no false ideas of having a peaceful solution to the problem, and is fully aware of the fact that the interests of the sugar company and the British admiralty can be served only by putting down the revolution in a violent manner.

On his re-arrival Walker finds out that a lot has changed in Queimada and he could see that the same people have now become conscious of their exploitation and the revolutionary army under the leadership of Dolores has now clear goals. Walker comes out with an agenda to step by step evacuate the people and burn down the villages which he sees as the roots on which the guerrillas survive. President Teddy is moved by the horrific situation in which the people were brought in and he decides to call back the action and send Walker back to England. However, he is soon sacked and executed. The military government takes over and furthers war against the people under the guidance of Walker. Pontecorvo has made every attempt not to villainise Walker in the typical sense but instead to present him as a more human character having admirable intelligence and confidence in himself. This is strengthened by the sequences throughout the film where is often shows little or no respect to the officials around him and takes more interest, pays more attention to Dolore’s ideas, even though for an entirely contradictory motive. When an official of the sugar company, after the most of the plantations are bunt, asks Walker “Your contract specifies that you are to defend our interests. Instead, you’re destroying them”, Walker replies “Well, that’s the logic of profit, isn’t it, my dear Shelton? …One builds to make money …And to go on making it … or to make more, sometimes it’s necessary to destroy”.

José Dolores is taken under custody after most of the guerrillas of the revolutionary army are killed. As like most of the actors, besides Brando and Rento Salvatori, who plays Teddy Sanchez, Dolores is also played by a non-professional actor, Evaristo Márquez, an illiterate peasant from Columbia, whom Pontecorvo discovered while searching for locations in that country and who had never seen a movie in his life. While the first part of the movie works all too well with Marquez playing an immature and instinctive Dolores, in the second part the difficulty that Marquez faces while delivering the much needed gravity to Dolore’s character, who has transformed over the years and become a leader with a political goal, becomes quite visible. However, with wonderful camera techniques and background score Pontecorvo has successfully reduced the impact. Also, as most of film is shot in Columbia, the landscape and surroundings provide authenticity to the settings. The entire mood of the film is so strong that it is difficult to take note of these minor weaknesses. While Dolores, upon custody, is being taken to the military base, powerful imagery of burnt houses, dead bodies, flying vultures supported by excellent music fills the screen. This sets up the atmosphere so well that when during the conversations with the soldiers, Dolores put forwards his thoughts, it has a profound effect. When a soldier during a conversation with Dolores says “…But then, after a while, maybe they will free you”, Dolores replies “…No, little soldier. It doesn’t work like that, friend …If a man gives you freedom, it is not freedom … Freedom is something you, you alone, must take …Do you understand? … Well, you will one day, because you’ve already started to think about it”.

Burn is an ambitious film. Unlike the films which are centered on colonialism and independence struggles, Burn goes beyond it and shows the new forms of imperialist control. This provides contemporary relevance to the film and even today, after 43 years when the film was first released, the conditions portrayed in the film are true for most of the third world countries which got free from the direct colonial rule in the in the last century. It certainly requires courage to attempt making a film like Burn. It is a known fact that Pontecorvo had to struggle a lot to get this film through. As per the original script Queimada was supposed to be a Spanish colony, which would have been more accurate as Spain, rather than Portugal, was the dominant power in the Caribbean. But due to pressure by the Spanish government of that time, United Artists, who produced the film, made Pontecorvo change it to a Portuguese colony, in order to protect its Spanish market which had a much higher share in the international box office receipts than the Portuguese market. United Artists was also against casting Evaristo Márquez as Dolores, but Pontecorvo somehow managed to retain him. Then there were serious problems in publicity and distribution of the film due to reluctance on the part of United Artists. The film never got released in UK even on video. The film ran into distribution problems in United States as well, because whole through the film it showed the inter-relation between imperialism and racism quite audaciously, more visible in one of the scenes where Walker, in a display of anger, calls Dolores a black ape. But despite all this hurdles, Burn remains one of the few big budget films having a clear political propaganda. This is a no mean achievement for a film made on such a scale. Besides everything, Burn, with its excellent script, cinematography, music and powerful performances, especially by Marlon Brando, is an invigorating cinematic experience which will continue to inspire film enthusiasts all over the world.

12
Sep
10

Export Quality

I usually don’t sleep during the afternoon. But I have observed that whenever I force myself to read something in which I’m not interested in, at that point of time, I tend to sleep due to unexplainable fatigue. This time it was Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, which I was reading for the second time. I don’t remember exactly when I started reading and when I slept. I observed a strange phenomenon while I was sleeping this afternoon. It was a bright afternoon and my windows were open, as always, so that I could overhear the people going up and down the narrow dirt road in front of the window. This road connects the outskirts of the city with one of the nearby villages. This is normally a silent road spared by sound of motor vehicles. You can hear sounds – which are never intruding in whatsoever way – of bicycles, roosters, goats, people chatting in low voices, etc., etc. It has happened to me quite a few times that while I am having a bad dream, I somehow become aware that I am in a dream, and therefore I use immense force to wake myself up, and I succeed only after a few back-to-back unsuccessful attempts. This afternoon it was a bit different. I was again having a bad dream which I don’t remember. The first time I forced myself to wake up, I found myself in the apartment in my hometown where we lived while I was in school. I looked at the walls of my room it had the same chalk white paint. I soon realized that I was still in a dream and made the second attempt. This time I woke up in my college hostel. I lifted my head and wanted to touch the wall beside my bed to ascertain whether I was still in a dream or was it a reality. But before I could do so, I was asleep again, until I was finally woken up by an advertising phone call.

This is my third year since I graduated and joined the global labor pool. Weeks before joining the company, for which I am working for, I was travelling in the villages of Bengal. It was the month of August. It used to rain a lot. If you would have traveled Jharkhand, Bengal or northern Orissa during this period, you would know how it feels like when you pass through the lush green forests dipped in rain and covered with dark clouds. The entire landscape looks so fresh as if somebody has cleaned up and revitalized the whole environment. I felt the same greenery within me. I had borrowed a bicycle from the caretaker of the place where I stayed and everyday in the evening raced through the small hamlets, contemplating over various things. When your heart breathes more than it normally does, you see solutions and possibilities coming up from all directions. I was thinking of ways to escape my destiny. I use the word destiny not in the mystical sense but in the pure materialistic sense. Even before joining the job I was planning to quit. I had figured out various exit gates. I was ripe with all sorts of alternatives, I wanted to do filmmaking, I wanted to do journalism, I wanted to do research in Politics, I wanted to do anything but what I am doing now. It took me almost two years to realize the fact that you can escape everything but it’s very difficult to escape the economics of your situation, and this is what shapes your destiny. I was running away from everything. Everything seemed incorrect to me. I ran in all directions but whenever I was about to reach the place I was headed for I turned back and returned to the place from where I started. Most of the happy people with happy thoughts would find this incomprehensible and would call it a useless rant organized to disguise my failure, my inability or lack of determination to achieve whatever I wanted. I would not entirely reject this accusation but over the years I have made it a habit to refrain from getting involved in arguments with the spiritually uplifted men of action, the saviors of the lost conscience. This is also a part of my inactivity. The important thing that I realize now is that you can switch jobs, you can switch professions but the same economics apply everywhere and you can’t switch that, you alone can’t change that.

Is it difficult to find your place in the society? No its not, because you can’t find it. It’s the market that finds it for you. For over two years into this profession, I kept myself detached from my work. I looked down upon it. I derided it. I was least involved in anything that went on in the office. I used to read, watch films, in the hope that I could still break away from this nauseating atmosphere. I kept away from the crowd and looked down upon people who worked hard, were happy with their jobs and enjoyed their lives. It may be difficult to believe, but its true that over my three years stint in this profession, I have met people who didn’t know where Patna – which happens to be my hometown – is, who presumed that Kolkata is only an hour away from Bhubaneswar by train, who use the words communism and communalism interchangeably (although it was heartening to know that they are at least aware that these words exist in English), who feel sorry when they ask me how many CCDs, McDonalds, malls, multiplexes are there in Patna and I say there are none. This I’m talking about graduates from universities in India that claim to provide world class education. Of course, there are people here who are quite knowledgeable and aware of things happening around them, but from the examples I have given you can get an idea of the average mass that surrounds me day in and day out. Anyway, after the initial few months I got used to it, my expectations were set. I had found out places to kill whatever minimal time I spent in office. It was not at all difficult for me to sustain in this manner because it’s quite easy to fool the people you are working for, at least in my profession. This is what I thought at that time. But I was wrong. I was not able to understand the mechanics on which this system works. It gives you enough time sit idle without any work until you are bored with your idleness and take up your work as compromise with your situation. There is a human instinct that forces you to be productive, that forces you to work, even if you can’t find any sense in what you working on and for whom you are working for. You can’t suppress this instinct for a long time.

I still remember the first time I arrived in Bhubaneswar, around two and a half years ago after my five months training in Mysore got over. It was love at first sight. There was a sultry sadness in the air that filled the city. Like me she was also afraid of the future. The locality where I used to live during the initial two years was an industrial area in the suburbs of the city. My office was a five minutes walk from my residence. Everyday while walking up to my office in the morning I could see trucks full of laborers going in different directions. These are mostly tribal people from the neighboring districts of Bhubaneswar. If you happen to come to Bhubaneswar, the first thing you’ll notice as soon as you step out of the airport or the Railway station is a massive billboard carrying Vedanta Aluminum’s CSR campaign with a smiling tribal face in an elegant black & white and the slogan “Mining Happiness. For the people of Orissa.” Many such hoardings are studded at strategic locations in Bhubaneswar as a testimony to the fact that our lives, our happiness, the reason for our happiness, our thoughts, everything, is designed and controlled by an all powerful force. I used to spend the weekends, and most of the free time everyday, in my room. I had a good collection of books and movies. I buried myself in them. Sometimes during the twilight, I went up to the terrace and looked around. I could see small huts in green fields with smoke rising up from the mud stoves on one side, laborers working at a construction site on another side, a primary school on another side, and my office campus on yet another side. This city gave me the much needed time and space, at least for a few years, to think, ruminate and retrospect. It was a state of coercive tranquility. We slept together arm in arm, lip-locked turning our face away from the reality. But, you can’t sleep forever.

Since last two or three months I feel like as if I have become a different person, a stranger to myself. People who have known me over the years are astonished by my behavior. I am astonished too. I have started spending time in office. The last month, for a couple of weeks, I worked for over fourteen hours, at a stretch, every day. The worst thing, I have started taking personal interest in my work. I no longer find it repulsive. I have even started to take clandestine pleasure from it. I have started to respect my colleagues. I laugh at their silly jokes. When they join together to discuss the measurements of the girls around them, I also sit there smiling. I no longer spend time with my old friends, most of whom have already forsaken me because of my sick behavior and those who are still there don’t care much about it. I have almost stopped reading and writing. However, I still watch films. This is something which will not be easy for me to give up. My new friends find me lazy. I don’t know what they think of me, but certainly for them I am someone who has nothing to say on anything, who prefers to rest his head rather than opening his mouth. They wonder what I do when I am not in office. They assume that I sleep out the entire day. But really, what do I do when I am not in office? I get overwhelmed by a tremendous feeling of estrangement. When I am not sleeping, I watch movies, documentaries, conversations, listen to interviews, read from here and there, and I keep on asking myself why I am doing so. Why do I watch Monsieur Verdoux, why do I watch The Seventeenth Parallel, why do I watch Subarnarekha? Why should I read Dostoevsky, why should I read Pablo Neruda, why should I read the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844? How does it matters to me what is happening in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Bastar, Dantewada, Lalgarh, Jagatsinghpur, Kalahandi, Adilabad, etc. etc.? Or, how does it matters to me what has happened in France, Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Bengal, Bihar, Telangana, etc. etc.? I have no answers. Then why do I force myself to do things that are of no use, no application. I sometimes feel like a dustbin carrying useless information, useless thoughts, useless ideas.

Although I’ll always deny it, nowadays I prefer to spend more time in office and keep myself buried in work. That way I feel as if I have put my head in a freezer so that it remains inactive and is prevented from any further decay. I don’t know what will become out of me in the years to come. I am not worried. I am not terrified. But yes, I am certainly not prepared for it. The processing that started three years ago seems to be successful. I have become a useful commodity which seems to have a good market value. For the Indian economy, I am now an export quality product.

28
Feb
10

The Squatting Position

I am not going to educate you about the health benefits of the natural squatting position. But, I really wonder why as Indians when we take pride in our kings, kingdoms, palaces, temples, gods, sachin… we never attach nationalistic pride to our significant contributions to the human civilization. I also wonder what went wrong with the western world when they came up with this unnatural idea of seated position at the start of the nineteenth century that, quite naturally, people across the globe had to follow. I am not sure whether Osteoarthritis was a prevalent problem in the west at that time.
At this point, it is not related to the problem I am facing. My problem here is a bit different:  Every time I come out of my toilet, there are strings of cobwebs hanging out from the various exposed parts of my body. I try hard by strategically adjusting my posture in the little asymmetrical space – still left unoccupied by the mighty spiders – but I rarely escape untouched by the delicate silvery fibers. In a couple of months it will be almost a year since I first thought of cleaning up my toilet. But as it happens, it never happened. I kept on ruminating and the spiders kept on reproducing.
There is another problem distantly similar to the last one:  when I was not so old and lived with my parents, we used to sleep under mosquito nets during nights. That was a fool proof, economical and environment friendly protection against all sorts of insects. But as I moved away from my parents, it felt like an arduous task to go to a market to buy a mosquito net and then putting it up every night, even if I somehow get it. Besides it looks way too old fashioned in a technocratic world. So, there is the modern day alternative to the old fashioned mosquito net – a mosquito repellent.  This appliance comes with a liquid refill which exhausts after a certain period of use. But, until there is a visible layer of liquid in the refill, it guarantees a total protection from the deadly mosquitoes. Since last three days I am having sleepless nights. On all these nights whenever the snake bites of the mosquitoes made me sit up on the bed, I seriously thought of making all possible arrangements to have a pleasant sleep the next night. Today I checked the refill. It is still half-filled. Now, I am thinking about what (and when) to do.
There is yet another situation – not exactly a problem – which may have some interconnections with the last two problems: One of the walls of my room holds a printed copy of a caricature depicting Darwin’s evolution which was published in Punch’s almanac (a London based magazine), shortly before Darwin’s death in the year 1882. The title of the caricature reads “MAN . IS . BVT . A . WORM”. I posted it on this wall sometime during the last summer, using transparent sellotapes to hold the corners. It is positioned in such a way that it appears just above my head when I sleep. Then within a few weeks, monsoon arrived and it rained almost continuously, with short breaks, for almost next two months. As it rained, the wall got damper and damper, because the terrace drain pipe is defective and therefore it allows all the accumulated rain water on the terrace to seep through the wall. Anyhow, the monsoon passed and finally the wall started to dry up. But as it began to dry, I saw a greenish-black film of mold growing up at the corners of the caricature. At first I thought of doing something to prevent its decay, but then after sometime I thought it looked lively and more real. So I left it as it was. Winters came and passed. Now it is again the same time of the year when I posted this caricature on the wall. As I turned on the fan in full speed for the first time after the fall of winter, the sellotapes from three of the corners broke away from the wall and the caricature is now hanging with the support of only one of its corners. I am waiting for it to fall, and then I will post it again, (maybe) after doing some renovation.
[Sorry for breaking the coherency, but let me share with you a personal thought. Our problems are not plastic. They are organic in nature. Like organic substances, they decay. And, they decay at a much faster rate than shit. They smell for sometime and then the smell goes off… and after some time the problem ceases to exist. Two things are needed – time and inertia.]
I lie on my bed staring morbidly at light coming in from the half open door, when I hear call bell. It has a unique sound. I don’t know from where they get these ideas: the sound is quite similar to the wailing of the pariah dog who roams around in front of my house during nights. I am still lying there like a corpse, when the delivery man who delivers drinking water to us, leaves after his repeated attempts and shouts. When something like this happens to you, you need to be worried. At least, this is what people with a healthy mind would expect from you. The other day I was watching TV at my friend’s house when I came across an incredible scientific invention. Based on thousands of years of research, some enlightened swamis have finally developed an instrument that can solve all your problems. Most of our problems, as they claim, are due to the adverse spells of Saturn. This instrument, in the form of a beautiful pendant, contains a hidden energy that reflects the malefic cosmic rays coming from Saturn. It also guarantees to protect you from the evil eyes of the people jealous of you. As I was trying to learn more about its benefits, my friend switched off the TV, and trashed away all my hopes by calling it fake. I can’t go against him because he is a learned person, highly religious and spiritual. He advised me to do meditation and yoga everyday before sunrise. He said that the spiritual energy that comes from within is the only solution to all your troubles and that it leads to betterment of all the creatures on this planet. But, I still think the pendant wan an easier and lucrative option. And, I seriously want to know the logic behind his calling it fake.
A few days ago while I was at my elder brother’s place, I met one of his friends who was on a vacation in India. He works for a big management consulting firm in the US. I had met him a few times earlier also and based on my past experiences I tried my best to avoid any interaction with him. But as I am having a bad time, I was caught up with him at the dinner table. After talking to me for few minutes and intermittently clarifying things to my brother, he arrived at the conclusion that I have developed a negative attitude towards everything. This, he said, was visible in my every act and word. This is going to hamper my relationship with everyone and most importantly, it’s going to ruin my career. I was threatened by his words. I felt as if was I under panic attack. I could see darkness before my eyes. He looked at me gravely for a few seconds and then recommended a few books on how to develop a positive thinking. He also gave me his personal copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist which he always carries with him. I took the book to my bed and after going through the first few pages, I kept the book aside and wondered… how is my thinking positive going to help him?
One of the things I don’t like about the modern cosmopolitan buildings, are the toilets, like the one at my brother’s place.
03
Aug
09

Sagdid*

It is stupefying, how quickly things become a part of history. Not long ago this four-eyed dog (one with two spots on its forehead) came into our locality. As an outsider, he remained mostly secluded, presumably out of fear and apprehension, from the coterie of dogs based in the area. If you would have closely observed him, you would easily make out that this was a completely different world he was into. There was an arrogant aloofness that he carried all along during those days. He was to be found at the most unusual places doing the most unusual things. Its not that he despised the new world he was into. Only, there was a hint of discontent always there on his face as if he was, by some providential pact, forcibly put into this world. But, like most of the dogs in our area, he had to be here. This is a fact – a predestinate fact.  You see, where I live, is a community of riches, settled by people who are kind at heart and who love to feed dogs… all kinds of dogs… without any disparity, provided they adhere to the principles of dogdom. This an ideal place for civilized dogs who know how to respect their masters and keep them happy. There are no dogfights. Everyone has food and all live in peace.  So, over the years it has become almost a rule within the dog community, which appears to be on the verge of civilization, to push the most suitable among them to this place, through a proper channel; so that they can become ambassadors in spreading civilization to the other areas. Now, how our poor dog fitted for this honor is a question that still remains unanswered to me.

In civilized societies socialization is an underlying process. It superimposes the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture over the basic nature of the individual. The individual, most of time unconsciously and sometimes consciously to escape the isolationist regime of his non existence, participates in this process. He starts loving things that he always looked down upon. He hates this transformation, but he can’t help it. Its like being split into two parts with both the parts constantly rebelling against each other. This or something similar to this has to be the case with our poor dog. As the days passed, I saw him strolling around in a newly found group of benevolent yet sophisticated dogs and bitches whose styles and mannerisms could not be called hip but certainly a product of something fresh and appealing. Now this is a group behavior I’m referring to. The individuals in this group were quite different from each other in all respects. They looked like disenchanted members of corps de ballet. All of them seemed largely uninterested in whatever they did. But they cared for each other. They sniffed for food and when they used to find it, they would have it together. To remind you, these are no ordinary dogs. These are civilized dogs. They strolled together, partied together and cared for each other joys and sorrows. On fast paced highways they would soak together in stormy rains without any fear of getting crushed. They had a life.

But life is a bitch. It gives you things that you least expect or even disdain and as you start loving it and start craving for more, it takes away everything. Our poor dog was a loner but was not sad. I would not say that he was happy, because happiness is a misconception that is devised to justify the worthiness of life, however worthless it may be. Our poor dog was a dog: an uncivilized, discourteous and utterly selfish dog with an unpalatable behavior. He was of the type that can never be in a company. But it is the ever increasing entropy of the universe that puts irony into people’s lives… or dogs’ lives. Our poor dog tried hard to mask his basic nature once he got exposed to the beauty of companionship. This was a totally new experience for him and he wanted to get the feel of it. You feel like a new born child when you do things that you have never done. Its like stepping into a new life. All his arrogance and discontent with which he entered this new world took a backseat as he started spending time with his new found companions. But, you cannot be somebody else for a long time. As he got deeper into it, he found some terrible transformations in himself. The contradictions that had appeared in him due to these transformations were clearly visible to all and he desperately tried to hide everything. It was the split in his personality that started bothering him and it came out as reprehensible sulkiness. They noticed it but liked to ignore it as it was too disgusting and unintelligible. It was obvious and everybody concluded that the dog was not able to cope up with narcissism and the fashionable cynicism that had become a part of his character and that nobody could help it. Life, especially a dog’s life, is too short to bother about such things.

During the nights the dog walked alone in deserted lanes, going nowhere. He used to walk alone earlier too. But see the difference: his haughty indifference is now replaced by a painful longing. There are certain things in life, you can’t struggle for and these are the things that cause you maximum pain. The relationships that develop as a part of socialization, creates a lot of space for pain. In the initial days, when I used to see him with his corps de ballet, I thought that the dog has finally got inducted into the new environment. He had started learning their mannerisms – the way they ate, the way they talked, the places where they would spend their nights, their empathy towards others and how to let others know that you care for them, etc., etc. Then one rainy day I saw him running nonchalantly along the long road, with a chirpy bitch having a freakishly scintillating smile. He looked more spirited and ebullient than any of the dogs I have ever seen. It was the same bitch who had introduced him to the corps de ballet. He seemed to like her company the most. The color of his eyes used to change when she was around. Anyhow, good things don’t remain forever. It had to end. How it ended is a mystery and it would be highly uninteresting if we sit down to solve this mystery. Corps de ballet no longer exists. And, our poor dog was out of it much before it started breaking apart.

Sometimes despair provides the reason for your existence. As I heard from an aging tramp, it is a narcotic which lulls your mind into indifference. Its the ‘take away’ from a significant part of your life, which you always like to carry even though you deny it. But as he further says, nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles. Forgetfulness is a characteristic common to all animals, dogs included. It feels like being forced to capitulate when you tend to forget something that you inherently don’t want to forget. You become a helpless witness to this oppressive process where a sad yet beautiful part of your life becomes a part of history. And then, there is nothing left. You get submerged into a sea of nothingness. The dog still lives here, but it has been a long time since I last saw him. Yesterday he met me in my dreams. I asked him, “How are you?” He didn’t reply. Then, after a while, before leaving he whispered into my ears, “The bitch smelt like a doggess”.

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* sagdid (phl.) lit. ‘a dog’s gaze’, this term refers to the practice of exposing a corpse to the gaze of a dog, which is believed to drive away some of the power of the druj. [Babylon Dictionary]

Sagdid, meaning ‘a dogs gaze’ in Avestan (an eastern Iranian language in which Zoroastrian scriptures are written), is a ritual in Zoroastrian funeral ceremony in which a dog is brought into the room where the dead body is lying so that it can look on it. There are various spiritual benefits thought to be obtained by the ceremony. It is believed that the original purpose was to make certain that the person was really dead, since the dog’s more acute senses would be able to detect signs of life that a human might miss. A “four-eyed” dog, that is one with two spots on its forehead, is preferred for sagdid. [Source: Wikipedia]

23
Mar
09

S(h)aturday

It was more dreadful than any of the oppressive incubi that attack me, often, in the wee hours of the morning, arresting my costal cartilages and deluging my alimentary canal with hideous fluids and semi-solid stuff, causing a burning sensation originating from the belly towards the chest. The phenomena is frequent that when on this inauspicious Saturday morning as I left the hydraulic pressure in my urinary bladder, I didn’t gave a thought before deciding to get up and free myself from this coercive burden. As I came to know a few hours later, it was indeed a bad decision which – as one of the positive outcomes of mishaps – told me that some times it’s much safer to be under undesirable pressure and that freedom makes you more prone to accidents. I could hear the distant cries of nocturnal birds mourning over the inevitability of the unwelcomed dawn, when I got up reluctantly and strolled towards the toilet. After feeling the divine pleasure of getting instant relief, I came back staggering towards the half-open window adjoining my bed, to block off the cold waves that had become drastically discomforting overnight, in the final attempt to get a short but consoling nap.

I don’t know how I reached there. It was a sea shore and I was sitting on the top of a large rock with my knees held together and stuck up to the chest, my chin resting on the hollow between the knees and my hands encircling and clubbing together the thighs and legs, just as an old crow sits on the top of a dead animal. There was no one, no creature apart from some of the known, or to be apt, better known faces that I come across almost everyday. The weather seemed to be what they call pleasing. A bright sunny afternoon filled with the delicate breeze coming fro, the sea. Two or three boys and probably a girl, in easy vestures, were resting on tilted couches at some distance towards my left in such a manner that I could see their faces. But despite I know them very well, now I cannot distinguish quite clearly who they were. Just in front of me, at a little distance, X was sitting with his face facing me and his back facing the sea, on a large thick linen sheet spread on the sand. X was wearing a white kurta-pajama and was looking more lean and thin than he actually is. His long black hairs, as always were covering his temples, with a few strands falling over one of the lenses of his worn out spectacles. He was sitting alone in his well practiced austerely posture, enjoying or rather pretending to enjoy his silent musings compatibly supported by the serenity of the surroundings and the pleasant weather.  I was gazing pensively at him.

I’ve known X for quite some time. It’s difficult to diagnose the mechanism which connects individuals to one another, because probably there is no mechanism as such. I like talking to him. I share some of my most honest thoughts with him which I’m often fearful sharing with anybody else. It’s not that I spend a lot of time with him. On the contrary, he may be one of the many persons here with whom I talk very occasionally. In general terms, I can call him a friend. But to share a fact, I really don’t understand the intricate meaning of friendship and the delicate strings attached to it. The commonality and fundamental uniformity of the notion of friendship sounds deceptive to me. It may be because I put a lot of emphasis on the individuality of a person and so, as it happens, every individual who comes close to me holds a distinct position for me. And, the necessity of different type of individuals playing different roles in your life is what makes their importance much higher than what it may seem from another person’s perspective. In this sense, there is a distinct necessity of X for me which can be incomprehensible for others.

I am not sure what went inside me, as I gazed at X, constantly without a blink, deeply engrossed in some grave thoughts. Suddenly, after some time, I felt within me an unbearable agitation. Though I can’t figure out the exact origin of it, it was a kind of feeling, sans the intensity, that I’m quite familiar with. In an inexplicable fury I got up and leaped towards X. As I came closer, I saw the whole portion of X’s body below his head, reduced to the size of his head, while the head maintaining its original size and features. I stood there, for a few seconds unmoved by this animated cataclysm, as if there was nothing unnatural about it. Then I saw, in a fraction of second the deformed X was trapped in a net with wide spaces between the strings, so that I could clearly see him from outside. I went ahead and caught hold of the joint where the net was tied and in a sudden outburst, I threw X, enveloped in the net, on the bare sand without loosing the hold of the joint. In the next second, in a perfect to and fro motion, I threw him back on the white linen. I don’t remember what happened immediately after that.

After the blackout, as I remember, I was sitting in front of X on the white linen. The net was gone and he had regained his original shape. His face was covered with grey sand, his spectacles were not there and his long hairs, dusted with sand, were tangled in a doleful manner. I felt my heart pounding so fast and hard that I felt as if it will break the rib cage and come out in my hands. I came closer to him and tried to wipe out the dust from the damp area below his left eye with my right hand. Just at that moment he started sobbing, with sparkling tears falling along his long, beaked-out nose. I brought back my hand and sat there staring at him. While still sobbing, he recounted of his labors to bring everyone together to share some light and endearing moments which, as he meant to say and I agree, is a much difficult thing to do. The rage that filled me a few minutes earlier was now replaced by a feeling of horrendous guilt. As I lifted my head to escape the torments of the guilt amplified by the sulkiness of his face soaked in tears, I saw A standing at a little distance on our right. As I turned my head a little more towards the right, I could see B and C sitting on a small rock at a certain distance. And then, in a haste, as I recoiled my head towards the extreme left, I saw D standing just a few yards away from us and as I looked further in the same direction, I could see the boys and the girl were now sitting up on their couches. Everyone was looking at us – with deafening silence – from all directions. For sometime, nobody took a step further or behind. All remained fixed to their positions without uttering a word. I looked up in the sky. There were dark clouds and probably it was late evening. The birds were winging toward the trees in different arrays. After a while, A and D came to X and helped him in shaking off the dust from his clothes and body. While D remained silent, A spoke to him a couple of comforting sentences which had no connections with the recent event. With a certain urgency, A wiped cleaned his spectacles (which retained its shape with glasses intact) and helped him wearing it, before she stood up and left together with D towards the sea, leaving behind both of us. As they left, X twisted his body a little to his left and turned his head in the direction of the sea. In effect of the pale redness of the dusk, there was a distinct glow on his spectacled face. His long hairs, now free of dust, were floating in the thick wind coming from the sea. I sat there, not knowing what to do. I looked towards the left; the boys and the girl were now sitting together on the sand, a little away – towards the sea – from their couches, and as it appeared, they were probably discussing some serious topic. Then I looked down, incessantly following a crab that was approaching X. As it almost touched X’s left feet, he got up with some difficulty and moved, in short uncertain steps, towards the sea where A and D were standing. After a little break, I again fixed my eyes on the crab which crossed over the white linen and went towards my right into a thorny bush. I lifted my head and could see B and C still sitting on the small rock and talking, presumably in low voices, with an apparent sadness over their faces. I lifted my head high up in the sky. I was dark. There were no stars, no moon.

I felt a tremendous pain in my chest, something that I had never experienced before. I found myself in the abyss of darkness. I could see nothing. When I woke up I was unable to open my eyes for some time. Then after much struggle I could finally see the light. I was breathing heavily. As I got up, I could feel my nerves revolting against my body. For a long time I sat there on my bed, slowly experiencing a deep sense of relief and contemplating over the misfortune that had been averted. It took me some more time to get hold of the fact that this horrifying even did not occurred in reality. This is probably how it feels when reality becomes so grim that it takes the shape of a demon and attacks you in unreal situations. Or, probably this is the way how it wants to tell us that it can be more cruel than you can anticipate with open eyes. I stood in front of the stained mirror above the wash-basin in my living room. I looked straight into my eyes. I felt pity.

04
Dec
08

Faux Pas

So, how was the day? Good? Bad? Ugly? Another dark streak along the asymptotic monotone? Who cares. Without giving much stress on my feeble mind, let me make a few assumptions outrightly. I don’t know you. I’m not aware of your sex, age, class, religion, caste, ethnicity, language, etc., etc. Well, living in a country like India, you know I can’t take into account all the classifications. There may be hundreds or thousands of them. But let me pick up a couple of them to satisfy the prerequisites of our dialogue. I’ll call you Ms. X. I could have called you Mr. X or Mrs. X. But no, I’ll call you Ms. X. Reasons? You’ll get to know. I’ve analyzed the underlying risks of talking to a member of opposite sex through the medium of alphabets when you don’t have any perceptible material purpose. The risk is somewhat intricate and enigmatic. It will have no direct effect on you. However, it may raise some uncomfortable questions to you, whose answers you can not provide, because they will be never asked. An obvious question for anyone, unaware of what the hell I’m talking about, would be that why did I have to do this analysis in the first place. I’ll tell you. You know Ms. X, the social stratum in which I live has a self-deceptive pseudo-liberal lifestyle gaining strength from the stiff foundations of conventionalism. This is a society where your every act has some pre-defined meaning. Especially, when it comes to expressing your feelings and emotions, there are some well machinated road maps that will not only protect you from falling into a socially awkward situation, but also help you in accomplishing your purpose. Yes, Ms. X, “purpose”. In this goal oriented world of ours, there is always a purpose behind everything. If I say that you are beautiful, there is a purpose. If I say that your smile plays with the electrochemical signals of my nervous cells, there is a purpose. If I say that your smoky kohl-lined eyes induce a collateral damage to my lungs, there is a purpose. Without purpose, you can not even share your feelings with anybody, no matter how heavy it is for you to bear it alone. This is how things go on here. Now, don’t give me that grave look. This is not so serious matter. There is a humor quotient to it too. The fun part is that, as you come to realize that you have unknowingly ventured into some chartered territory, failing to recognize some age old convention, there will be a conflux of apprehensions and assertions about your mental, emotional, and social characteristics, followed by a self confirming delight and supportive humor that will owe its pedigree to your assassinated character. Soon you will come to know that you have become the pivotal element of a serious joke. Anyhow, Ms. X, I’m still willing to take this risk, because I’m in love with this medium. And, how does it matter whether you are inside or outside a joke when life in itself turns out to be a dark comedy. Let the custodians of dignity, integrity and sanity strengthen their spines. We’ll talk.

I feel guilty, Ms. X. I have developed this sinful habit of picking up personal instances, baking it in the black fumes of my sordid imagination, and then sharing it with strangers. Sincere apologies to my friends. I know they will forgive me. They are generous and big-hearted, not petty in character and mind like you and me. Oh! Sorry for dragging you into my order. But I know, we lie on the same plane, otherwise you won’t be sitting through and taking interest in this futile piffle dipped in ounces of pessimism. I have a few doubts about you, Ms. X. Let me clarify them first. Do you get overwhelmed by a criminal guilt after mercilessly killing time, like most of the healthy minds? Or are you one of those resolute souls, who cannot stand people with dispirited eccentricity? I hope not. Because that will put subconscious hurdles to our, otherwise, smooth conversation. Yes, Ms. X, I need a simpatico partner to talk with. Pretend even if you are not. You see, Ms. X, I’ve crossed the limit of egocentrism. I’ve become voracious in demanding everything I don’t deserve. Someone would like to say that the only thing I deserve is solitude… sempiternal solitude, because I irritate people by my behavior and conduct. True. This is a perfectly sane world, Ms. X. A little bit of insanity on your part can make you a subject of disgust and mockery. People here always carry with them some ready-made labels. It takes only a few quick assumptions based on some second hand information to pick out a label for you – a label that will be plastered over your head without a notice or a warning. There is a positive aspect of this labeling too. Suppose, Ms. X, you got the label “honest” and I got the label “hypocrite”. Now, if both of us do or say the same things at different times in the same context, there are high chances that you will be praised and I will be ridiculed. The dexterity with which real life individuals are characterized here would put Dickens to shame. This flat characterization, followed by labeling is the first step. In the next and the final step, they devise algorithms and mental flow charts equipped with those diamond-shaped decision boxes to decide, effortlessly and almost flawlessly, how to treat you or how to deal with you in a particular situation. This is probably the greatest gift of machine age which we have failed to acknowledge. Anyway, Ms. X, lets not brood over this. We are here to share some light moments. Let’s talk something else.

Would you like to have a cigarette, Ms. X? I’d be happy to light it up for you, but this time you’d have to help yourself. I know you might be looking for the ground of our discussion. Please don’t waste your energy, you will not find it, because it doesn’t exist. There was a time when I used to discuss debate and argue on sensible issues related to various subjects like nationalism, films, politics, revolution, love, sex, etc. endlessly throughout the night. Please don’t expect that from me now because, that person is long dead. I’m sitting on his grave. You know Ms. X, there is a common misbelief disseminating through the ages of human civilization, that “we die only once”. Believe me, this is the greatest fallacy that has been indoctrinated in to our psyche. Sometimes, I remorse over his death and try to resurrect him, but most of the times I’m happy that he is dead. After all, how long can you keep a person in palliative care? Passing through various lives and intermitting deaths, the person talking to you has seen many worlds through different eyes. Through my wicked observation I’ve inferred that there are basically two sets of people who dominate this country, one possessing authentic orthodoxy and another possessing conservative modernity. While the former – constituting more than ninety percent of the country’s population – dominates the hinterlands, the later – constituting mostly of the young, “modern”, and “educated” India – dominates the big cities. As like everybody, Ms. X, you might be fully aware of the first set. These are the hopeless creatures who have adapted to survive in stinking filth leaving no scope for development, you would say. Fine, I won’t like to object. But, let me share with you some facts about the second set. Their idea of modernity is superficial, something that can be showcased and projected, while conservatism resides in the core. They have strategically restricted modernity entering their thoughts, if there are any, keeping the feudal values intact. This is the knowledge based society, Ms. X, everybody talks about, where gods and animals demand more care and respect than one billion living creatures who look and behave like human beings; where they still lick up the charanamrit of self-established human gods sitting in air-conditioned temples; where they still respect the fundamental doctrines which differentiates the social behavior of a male and a female; where they still want their toilets to be cleaned by lesser humans; where engineers, doctors, managers, and “scientists” still sell themselves to marry a “well educated and good looking” girl; where a girl who likes to call herself modern and independent, still looks out for a sense of security – social, existential and parental – that comes from a boy-friend; where worshipping the false is considered healthy and trashing the toxic rot is called profanity. Yes, Ms. X, this is the reality of the modern knowledge based super-power that our super-intelligent prime minister has envisioned for us. Somebody please tell him that people working for multinationals, communicating in English, shopping in huge air-conditioned malls, eating pizza, drinking coke, does not makes a modern society.

Okay, Ms. X. Enough of bullshit. Time to say goodbye. Meet me sometime. We’ll sit together at a remote place on a moonless night and talk. I’ll bring along a full bottle of Old Monk XXX Rum, if you like. I hope I’ve not bored you much. Next time we’ll not talk about dirty things. We’ll talk about good things. We’ll play music. Do you listen to Hemant Kumar, Ms. X? I’ll sing his songs for you. We’ll play Bob Dylan’s Hard Times. We’ll read out, loudly, the poems of Faiz and Dinkar… and yes, Bachchan’s Madhushala. Sometimes I tend to get romantic, Ms. X, another thing that I need to bottle up. But don’t worry. Unlike my expressions, my senses never betray me. You can trust me. You see Ms. X, I live in a godless world. There is no spiritual entity I can talk to. After endless nights of painful soliloquies, I need somebody to talk with me. See you.




close your eyes

In God We Trust

In God We Trust

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