a little fifthness.

this poem was written in telugu by a dalit poet, satish chander, around nine years ago. the poem, a response to the riots in los angeles, was his way of adding fuel to the fire of black anger in america, the poet said.

his words : 'american blacks aagraha jvaalalaku svadESee aajyamidi'.

i tried to translate it to see whether i understood it correctly, fully..the poet evokes varied images..in controlled anger. he gave the poem an english title 'lost angels'. that's the only part of the poem which remains true to its original spirit, i think.

here goes :

it's not just milk
but crores of sins are white too
only, adulterated by a few tears

glass-eyed swans
tell me about the color of tears, not the portion of water
you're the angels
who slipped off a tipsy heaven
reveling in the waters, you must have slurped the oceans
tell me about the taste of tears
in god's deep embrace
you must have perspired a little
tell me about the scent of tears

i, like the dark cloud
could rain down a flood
on how tears feel

it's not just jasmines
hand-gloves are white too
only, stained by a little blood

having washed your hands, emperors
before you crown me with thorns
show me a thimbleful of dark blood
you are the the serpent kings of the primeval jungle
you must have bitten the dust, where man got hurt
tell me about the taste of the blood that spilled
when you caressed the warrior's back as a whip
the sandalwood trees must have swooned
tell me about the scent of blood

having ascended the cross
like a throne, i, on the other hand
when asked about the blood
will guide your fingers through the holes in my palms

not just the seven colors
the four varnas mixed are white too
only, darkened by a little fifthness

raised by the crumbs of angarajya to a finer varna, o arch sudras
tell me about the color of power
from god's feet to his shoulders
you've climbed, oppressors
manu's dharma in your moneypurses
hoarded, of course,
tell me about the taste of power

in the scum-laden lake
what springs forth doesn't reflect your face
tell me about the scent of power

i, who you have never considered human
if asked about the feel of power
shall unpeel its skin, with illustration.


hammer and tongs ?

'Buddhadeb’s scramble for FDI in Bengal is indeed providing the Congress with its most persuasive justification for neo-liberal policies at the Centre. In a bid to deny any contradiction between CPI (M)’s protest against FDI in the Centre and its passionate embrace of FDI in Bengal, Comrade Karat and Yechury have declared that FDI in Bengal, as opposed to that proposed by the UPA, fulfils the three criteria of ‘promoting productivity, upgrading technology and generating employment’. Yet, they are at a loss to explain how 100% FDI in airports (as promised by Buddha) can promote productivity, technology and employment in Bengal , but not in Hyderabad or Delhi ! '

i found that not in indianeconomy.org but at the cpiml (liberation) site.


buses, not armored trucks ?

tells you how pakistan can match india bus for bus, apart from bomb for bomb.

guns, drugs and above all sex.

what an american finds out bothers the pakistanis more on a bus to peshawar.

the pictures : pakistani defence forum.

conductor bas ?

and the men retain the driver's seat.

(if the site has been updated, you have to go to the archives for the story on women conductors in pakistan).


parrotspeak 2 : control is good.

macroscan calls itself a network of 'professional economists seeking to provide an alternative to conservative and mainstream positions....' meaning those who disagree with their views are either a.'conservative' or worse still, b.'mainstream'.

isn't the term 'conservative' supposed to indicate a person/idea/institution who/which seeks to cling to tradition and established norms ? i don't think we should apply the term conservative, as it is understood elsewhere in the world, when we seek to categorize persons/ideas/institutions who/which seek to dismantle an excessively regulated 'command economy' - it wouldn't be accurate because those who held the 'mainstream' position that india should follow the 'socialistic' path until yesterday now 'conservatively' cling to their old trenches. i say trenches because the limited, but definite successes in certain partially deregulated sectors in the last fifteen years in india has driven these 'conservatives' into, understandably, a feeling of being under siege.

i don't think one needs to be a 'professional economist' to recognize a conservative position when you see one. you only require common sense to spot that.

what's this all about ? well, this train of thought started off yesterday when i spotted the jayati ghosh article, which i referred to in my last post, in macroscan. jayati ghosh has been a key votary of the nrega - does that make her a 'heterodox economist' (another label i found on the site) who's neither mainstream nor conservative ? the nrega falls into exactly the same category of 'noble' 'pro-poor' schemes that have been the norm in indian policy-making, as far as i can recall, since my schooldays in the indira gandhi era, and long before that. no, that doesn't make her heterodox, because she pursues a very mainstream, very conservative style of thinking. please ms.ghosh, if you ever read this, don't try to wear the mantle of an objective 'professional' offering 'alternative' ideas.

the lack of objectivity in the article i referred to is what troubles me more than the very real differences in growth between the indian and the chinese economies that she points out. though she doesn't draw any prescriptive conclusions, she definitely does point us in that direction. and what are the conclusions we must draw from her non-thesis ?

that control is good. that china's growth was entirely fuelled by internal resources wisely 'allocated' by the state. that india didn't control its banks enough. deregulation of the banks was foolish.

please read the second significant difference between the indian and chinese economies according to her :
'The control over the domestic economic in China has been most significant in terms of the financial sector, which describes the second big difference between the two economies. In India, the financial sector was typical of the ''mixed economy'' and even bank nationalisation did not lead to comprehensive government control over the financial system; in any case, financial liberalisation over the 1990s has involved a progressive deregulation and further loss of control over financial allocations by the state in India. But the financial system in China still remains heavily under the control of the state, despite recent liberalisation. Four major public sector banks handle the bulk of the transactions in the economy, and the Chinese authorities have essentially used control over the consequent financial flows to regulate the volume of credit (and therefore mange the economic cycle) as well as to direct credit to priority sectors. Off-budget official finance (called ''fund-raising'' by firms) has accounted for more than half of capital formation in China even in recent years, and that together with direct budgetary appropriations have determined nearly two thirds of the level of aggregate investment. This means that there has been less need for more conventional fiscal and monetary policies, although the Chinese economy is now in the process of transition to the more standard pattern.'

i have some questions : how much of the financial 'system' in india was controlled by private banks before deregulation ? was there any room left for private players after nationalisation ?

if it's control that helped china grow faster, why is it now ' in the process of transition to the more standard pattern' ?

let's listen to what an investment analyst says:

Rahul Saraogi of Atyant Capital - 'One out of two loans in China is probably bad. India, on the other hand, has net NPLs [non-performing loans] in its banking system of 3.5%. China's bad loan problem is a legacy of its state-directed lending practices. Interest rates are completely controlled by the PboC, and the big four banks that control over 95% of banking assets have no credit scoring or credit risk based pricing mechanisms in place. It's unbelievable.

China's asset markets are very similar to the Japanese. They are very heavily leveraged and are primarily fueled by property speculation. The Chinese property market coupled with its leveraged and insolvent banking system is a very big accident waiting to happen. India has no such issues.'

if you are interested in the full interview, read it here. and read this businessweek article on the chinese banks here. and here. and more.

ms.ghosh feels the chinese wisely regulated the flow of credit. that's the crux of her argument explaining the third 'significant' difference between india and china. or was it, as saraogi says, mal-invested ?

parrotspeak 1: licensing stimulates demand.

jayati ghosh in macroscan delineating the first of ten 'significant differences' between the chinese and indian economies:'The first relates to the nature of the economy itself, the institutional conditions within which policies are formulated and implemented. India could be described until recently as a traditional ''mixed economy'' with a large private sector, so it was and remains a capitalist market economy with the associated tendency to involuntary unemployment. So the need for macroeconomic policies to stimulate demand, as common in capitalist economies, operated in addition to the usual ''developmental'' role of the state'.
a question : is a licence-permit regime a 'macroeconomic policy' to stimulate demand ? are rationing and quotas demand-stimulating mechanisms ? agricultural output constituted half of the indian gdp - was that the 'large private sector' ?

policy thrust area 19.8

'19.8 Closely monitor the tackling of Naxalism / Left Wing Extremism with a view to improving the situation over the next six months.'
that's a 'thrust area' for 'policy implementation', based on 'the commitments made in the ncmp', identified by the pmo, for the ministry of home affairs for the year 2005.
actually, there is no mention of 'naxalism/leftwing extremism' in the ncmp. the pm's office considers it a home affair - something to be settled in every policeman's home in thirteen states perhaps ? if you heard somebody call it a 'socio-economic issue' during the 2004 elections, you heard wrong.


cherabanda raju

he died a few years ago. many, including his associate varavara rao, suspect it wasn't a brain tumour that killed him. perhaps it was too muted an exit for a firebreathing revolutionary? ideally, he should have been killed encountering a surprised police party. surreptitiously leaving a secret conclave deep in the jungle, picking his way through dirt tracks made fresh by every passing tyrant, skirting shrines guarded by the untiring hag yellamma and skipping over heaps of sleepless ants raiding mounds of sugar left at this peer's grave or that. he should have paused and scratched himself, weary from the relentless probing of the thumma shrubs, tugged at his trouser buttons and then stopped. he should have stepped aside a little, thinking the other dalams couldn't possibly have been at this spot just half a century ago : the scorpions have this thing for warm rebellious blood. and then picking up a rapid pace, for he should have neared the village by now, he should have quickly looked around, crossed the little dirt road, and stepped down into the fields. that's when his arrival should have been noticed. he should have started trying to regain his pace on the raised, narrow path between the beds, slipped and fallen. the sharp edges of the cut, dried stalks should have made him feel a little disoriented, and then a little foolish. he should have understood then someone else had been there before him. he should have looked up and gaped right into the big dark-blue eye of the sky, speckled with bold white dots, staring back, unblinking. embarassed, he should have lowered his eyes and then slowly raised them : to the furrowed maktha bavi where the razakars had tossed in the communists, to the pit, marked by the tamarind tree, where the communists had buried the razakars...and onward to the barha darwaza of the garhi, to its top, to the giant hook where the severed head of the butcher malli mian had been hung, as a kind of trophy, and still upward to the terrace above the darwaza where the naqqara drums had stopped keeping time, fifty years ago. and then his eyes should have followed the huge walls of the garhi, the ramparts, the saw-teethed battlements... and thought about what decayed, but refused to die inside. the sheesh mahal, its walls still as smooth as the eggs that were used in its plastering, the glass-paned windows still reflecting the blues and greens of europe. and the scented fountains and the baths and the deodi and the orchards and other transplanted splendors. and the chiselled ugly rock, on a raised platform abutting a bastion, where the intransigent would be decapitated. the cherabanda.
and then he should have thought about the village outside the walls, which had been razed once, twice, thrice by the razakars as they went mad and invaded their absent neighbours... and then one errant neighbour had gone mad and refused to run away...perched atop the roof of his home, his infant son clinging to his side, he had maintained a night-long vigil with his unwieldy gun and his shouts and .....the madness had then spread..and more neighbours had come back, and the dalams..and everything had been fine for a while..the garhi had been looted..the desmukh had been chased away..the razakars lynched..and everyone was having a one fine revolution..and it had to end. the red flags had withered in the fields because the dalams went back to the hills and then the real battle began..
he should have then turned his gaze away from the village and made up his mind. he should have turned towards the hills and the river, and started walking towards them. it should have been the season when everyone is deluded into wealth..white, blue, yellow, red flowers bloom and even the grasses raise their spines tall and sprout pinkish white, mock flowers- ready to be offered to bathukamma. he should have carried the wild, living scents to the hills where the policemen waited. poet that he was, he couldn't have resisted the temptation.
then he should have been 'shot, after having refused to surrender ' . his long-dead, bearded accomplices, strewn around him, should have backed up the report.
and the river, the only witness, should have just chugged along...like it did when pothana refused to yield to the king, like a passer-by at a traffic 'mishap'. or should it have been the other river from the north-west, flowing much further south, where nagarjuna had built a university for the word ?

Song of Justice
-Cherabanda Raju

We battered the mountains
and crushed the rocks
With our muscle stones
built barrages
But who got the riches
and whose was the labour?

We cleared the stones
and tilled the wastelands
With our sweat streams
watered the crops
But who got the food
and whose was the seed?

We built our looms
and spun each thread
With our nerve yarns
wove many a cloth
But who donned it in fashion
and whose was the effort?

We worked the machines
and produced plentiful
With our blood current
ran the factories
But who built the mansion
and who lived in the hut?

Knowing the reason
we’ve taken to arms
We’ll rise up as one
for an unceasing fight
Victory will be ours
and death yours.

Translated from Telugu by Dr. V. Rama Murthy.



government is the landlord with the largest surplus landholding. goverment is the tycoon who owns ships, planes, buses, trains, trucks and cars. government is the businessman who runs factories, mills, mines, quarries and souvenir stores. government is the investor with interests in healthcare, hospitality, travel & leisure, financial services, energy, food processing, warehousing, insurance, armaments, telecom, construction and housing, infrastructure and information technology.

would you like to do business with him ? (who wouldn't, right ?)

you can meet him at any of his offices all over the country. he is the the man with the unctuous smile and the outstretched hand. if he's not in, you might run into him at any street corner, dressed in a uniform, waving a lathi or a gun or, once again, an outstretched hand. or if you're lucky he might call on you at your home or your workplace. that'd be the hectoring stranger with a lathi or a gun or an outstretched hand. he might be waving a bill, a notice, a warrant, an order or none of the aforementioned.

you should start worrying when it's none of the aforementioned.

you'd be well advised to meet him on his own ground. say, on the piece of his land that you've occupied. he is a tough negotiator: if you don't like any of his rules, break them in his full view so that he'd respect you more. he doesn't like dishonesty and crookedness. if you plan to steal from him, tell him beforehand so that he'd know when to look the other way. he is obsessed with quality. if you build a bridge for him, and it's washed away, say, after five years, he'd expect you to build another of the same quality. he likes risktakers- if you succeed in duping him to the tune of a major fortune, he'd provide you with top class security at his own cost. the courts are his favorite playground. he'd like all his vendors to play a game or two of 'dispute' with him every once in a while.

those who refuse to play ball encounter more than a little misfortune.

he knows everyone. you'd encounter his name, and his various aliases, listed in the books, diaries and other records of a wide range of professionals - pimps, power brokers, smugglers, gunrunners, hawala operators, counterfeiters and others. you'll never find their names in his good books, because he is not a name-dropper. but he is their loyal friend - any offer they make him, he accepts.

if you'd like to know more about him, call on him tomorrow...

today is his 58th birthday and if you don't wish to encounter any stray bullet or bomb, stay away from the celebrations


the leftovers

the left holds poverty in a vice-like grip. it has long let go of the poor, but it won't release poverty from its stranglehold. it's a magnificient obsession : this fascination with an idea that, paradoxically, it wishes to exterminate. it sits quite comfortably with other diametrically opposite ideas in the left's collective consciousness. ideas like a social security net for india's babus who probably lead a more protected existence than the gold in fort knox. like protecting the public sector, whose employees collectively have more sons and daughters living abroad than any other privileged class of people in india, from foreign predators.

for a class which vehemently opposed the acceptance of product patents by the indian government, the left doesn't think twice about smiting anyone who so much as toys with the idea of cashing in politically on the product that is poverty. the left wouldn't share with anyone even the patent on their unique theory on the process of poverty alleviation ( nobody else understands the dialectics, you see).

for the left it is essential that poverty thrive in order that it be heroically challenged and killed. in other words, poverty should be protected from those others who harbour any suspicious designs on its existence or nurse any ambitions of eliminating it through any means other than the ones the left endorses.

the fig leaf of poverty, which covers nothing but itself, is the raison d'etre of what's left over of the left in india. the self-righteousness, the self-proclaimed selflessness, the theatrical austerity, the never-slipping mask of seriousness which has become an armour to protect them from being thought of as less than serious,....these are the qualities one would normally associate with the indian left......no wonder, the poor take them very seriously, and look elsewhere for answers.

like the party that stands for the rights of x left-handed caste, for instance. or to other parties that at least acknowledge their existence and don't impersonally slot them into a catchall category called 'class x'.

consider this scenario : the right-handed representative of the left-left party strikes, on his party's behalf, a strategic alliance with the aforementioned left-handed party citing the historical necessity of defeating the right-right party headed by the right-handed imperialist stooge. the left-left party's right-handed candidate wins and goes to parliament. as soon as he gets there, he starts bullying the party in power to pass the bill reserving seats for women in parliament. so what does the leader of the left-handedwallahs do? his only agenda in getting to parliament was to get there. so now, what's this? seats for women? he looks around at his own brood, his brothers-in-left arms, his other kith and kin, and then he looks at his associates from other left-handed communities. and then he realizes that his election to parliament was no less a miracle than moses crossing the red sea. and that now the chances of any of his associates from the less privileged ( than his own) left-handed communities making it to parliament are as bright as pushing toothpaste back into a tube. and they wouldn't improve much even if all the men in those communities decided to become women ( members of only 150 of the 3000 major communities have ever made it to any elected assembly or parliament in independent india) . has he been done in by the left?

that's the feeling the poor get whenever they trust the left. like they did after the mills started closing down in mumbai and the seths never returned.

that's a feeling a lot of other unfortunate people get whenever they make the mistake of thinking that the left has their interests at heart.

poverty is the left's agenda, not the poor. for them it has crumbs of sympathy. to preempt the poverty that might strike the babus in the government and the public sector, it has plans.


the suave swordsmen

(swordplay part 5)
why were many of the first films ever made in india, hollywood and elsewhere, swashbucklers?
because they were already there : in storytelling traditions and in literature. Swashbucklers were ready to go as soon as there was film, says mathew foster, because the makers didn't have to wait till the mood was right and the techniques were developed. the mood had already been prepared by the original storytellers and the technique had to be only slightly altered to suit film. according to foster, a swashbuckler has three essential elements : movement, a period, and speed. the story moves : from one dramatic scene to another and hence the swings, up and down, in the main character's fortunes. it is set in a period different from ours : 'the morals, heroics, and witticisms are of a different world than ours, and it needs to look that way'. it is fast : the plot doesn't wait to linger and record such subtle details as what's going on in the characters' minds.
the requirements of the crisp recipe outlined above makes the casting director's job easy. what he would obviously look for in a lead actor is energy, and oodles of it. and apart from that, good looks, and not much else. because 'the hero is often less important than the adventures themselves'. is that the reason why popular swashbuckler stars, once stripped of their tights and swords, slip so very fast into oblivion?
one can think of a long list of these suave swordsmen, in all indian and other languages, whose popularity faded faster than the artificial moonlight they serenaded their heroines in, as soon as they attempted to try their hand at more serious cinema. they weren't equipped for it and, quite often, it was too late to start training for it. there were exceptions of course.
jairaj was the first telangani to make a mark in hindi cinema and he did it when it was still in its infancy. and he was one of the first to define the swahbuckler hero in indian cinema. from 'jagmugti jawani' in 1929 to 'hatim tai' almost two decades later, he proved to be an enduring star in this genre. he was able to make a smooth transition from lead roles to character parts only because of the discipline and tenacity he had acquired during his early years as a struggler. many others weren't so lucky.


the unseeing eye

on a mountain pass
i saw this man on an ass
simple he was
simpler his aims -
he wanted
to blow up the buddha's ass.
why, i asked
there is no god but god,
he explained,
and we do his little chores
like branding barefaced women whores,
containing music, stopping sports
(and no chin should bear bare spots!)
but why the buddha - a statue rare?
i repeated my question.
like hillary he said, because it's there
an abomination
that's blocking my nation
from true salvation,
and going down on his knees
he prayed to god, please
my people
from temptations powerful :
letters are fetters,
culture is a conspiracy,
a woman's every footfall,
echoes the devil's call,
and the infidels all
lurk behind every football,
so saying, he picked up his gun
and fired one
into the sky,
and before god could reply
off rode the man with one eye.


alam era

(swordplay part 4).
'Under the category of adventure films, we can include traditional swashbucklers, serialized films, and historical spectacles (similar to the epics film genre), searches or expeditions for lost continents, "jungle" and "desert" epics, treasure hunts and quests, disaster films,and heroic journeys or searches for the unknown. Adventure films are often set in an historical period, and may include adapted stories of historical or literary adventure heroes (Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Zorro for example), kings, battles, rebellion, or piracy.' the pundit again.

that's a comprehensive categorization of the swashbuckler-action-adventure genre of movies made in hollywood in the fairbanks-flynn era. well almost - disaster films were a category which evolved much later, unless you consider 'the last days of pompeii' to be one. which, strictly speaking, it wasn't.

in india, the first talkie 'alam ara' was based on a persian tale, suitably indianised by a veteran parsi theatre-wallah and directed by a parsi, ardeshir irani. the producer, the director, the cast, the crew, the trade, the cinemas, the critics and the audiences- none of them was ready for it. working with the most rudimentary kind of knowledge of sound and its processing, with equally unprepared actors, ardeshir irani had embarked on an adventure as spectacular as the subject of the film he was making. in an era when the producer, director and the lead actor(quite often, one idealist performed all the three functions!) took the prints and the projecting equipment and the crew providing the live musical support and the promotional material, on bullock carts to the audiences in villages and towns, it, probably, didn't seem such a foolhardy enterprise to him. because there were others,equally obsessed, who were undertaking similar ventures in bombay itself, in calcutta, in nasik, in kolhapur, in vizagapatnam, in madras, in mysore and in lahore. looking back, one might conclude that it was sheer good fortune that 'alam ara' hit the screen first. because it was followed by a series of talkies in several indian languages the very same year(1931). and this was just three years after 'the jazz singer', the first hollywood talkie. can we produce that kind of a competitive performance now? in any field? that was the spirit of the era.

what fuelled that widespread drive to pioneer? or, to be more exact, to be the first? ask microsoft. it is the power that every new watershed technology promises the earliest convert. the power to colonise the largest territory, negotiate the best of terms with the trade, capture the widest market, preempt the toughest competition. the power to dominate.

and the pioneers had readymade content, in the form of the vast repository of indian mythology, folklore and legend and literature. it was a time when everyone, whether in the field of cinema or literature or politics or industry, seemed undaunted by the challenges that a hopelessly underdeveloped india posed- they were ready to make the best use of whatever resources they had. and for the cinema folks, the mother lode of indian lore provided the richest source of quality material.

so the swashbucklers and other movies of the 'folk' genre they made had a defined context, a certain recognizable source and an identifiable time-age frame. do the later movies, made after independence, reveal a growing tendency to deny heritage, roots and ideals? specially, the telugu folk movies made in the sixties appear to do so. their indifference to time- isn't that a sure sign of regression? of a people slowly going back to a time of fantasy - when millennia were callously bunched together as vaguely classified 'yugs'? isn't that a sign of denial of the immediate past, specially the eventful battles waged for freedom? of history and of aspirations of redemption and development?

take the taj mahal out of agra and it ceases to tell a story. the filmmakers of the sixties, it would seem, were breaking one of the cardinal rules of storytelling: one that no grandmother ever forgets. to begin every story with a reference to time...long, long ago.

this violation was indicative of the denial of not just the past but, more importantly, the present ( the time the films were made). it was a pointer towards the growing disillusionment in the country, the disappointment with the state and its performance, the slow descent into pessimism & resignation. the lost wars, the famines, the shortages and the queues, the growing corruption and joblessness were taking their toll. india had changed three prime ministers- but the people had very little say in this regard. were they slowly realizing that they were not in charge- just as they weren't all through history?

young india was growing too old, too early.


an odyssey

an odyssey
is a journey
that begins in a hurry
and ends as a story
told and retold
printed and sold
praised and admired
filmed and criticized
as all the while
you grow old
your teeth gold
and your sons pray
that you start
on another odyssey
and this time,
stay away.
sounds neat, right? javed akhtar does too. just as all cleverly packaged nonsense does.

the swashbucklers !

(swordplay part 3) douglas fairbanks sr., 'the king of hollywood', was the first real star of this genre- call it costume epics, adventure movies, period dramas or as in telugu cinema- folk movies. from 1916 till the end of the 1920s, his meticulously crafted image of the dashing, sword-wielding do-gooder held american and other audiences' unstinted attention. a few years into the thirties and his name steadily slipped off the marquee. when he rose, his climb was swift, and when he fell, no one really missed him. you could find a few parallels in indian cinema too: particularly in the careers of stars of this genre.
in the thirties, errol flynn became the reigning sabre-rattler. douglas fairbanks jr. too tried his hand- but tasted little success. but the genre hung on and never really died. it changed, shifted shapes and wormed its way into various other forms.
'Adventure Films are exciting stories, with new experiences or exotic locales. Adventure films are very similar to the action film genre, in that they are designed to provide an action-filled, energetic experience for the film viewer. Rather than the predominant emphasis on violence and fighting that is found in action films, however, the viewer of adventure films can live vicariously through the travels, conquests, explorations, creation of empires, struggles and situations that confront the main characters, actual historical figures or protagonists.' this from a pundit.
i'll pick on the last line- ' actual historical figures or protagonists'. folk movies in telugu never attempted to situate their plots in any particular age or period of history. as i said earlier, the time element never really bothered the makers- delivering vicarious pleasure to the audiences did. this is the point where hollywood and desi cinema part company and go their separate ways. most hollywood period adventures were set in some actual periods or based on works of fiction of authors of those periods. in telugu, the film that comes closest to being classified as a period drama set in a particular age was 'malleswari' and it can hardly be called an adventure flick. 'ekaveera' was based on a work of fiction set in a particular age, but that was the rare exception. the earliest telugu folk movies drew their themes from folk tales which had been passed down through generations and generally revolved around metamorphosing legends loosely connected with various village deities. the later films mimicked the format but generally evolved their own content. and the content, in my view, reflected the time they were made in more than the time they were supposedly set in.
(the picture shows c.h.narayan rao, one of the earliest telugu stars.)


on and on

does a tv drone
on and on,
lying in wait
for a catastrophe to happen,
and then wail
on and on?

an everyday zalzala

roz ba.Dhataa huu.N jahaa.N se aage/
phir vahii.n lauT ke aa jaataa huu.N /
baarahaa to.D chukaa huu.N jin ko/
i.nhii.n diivaaro.n se Takaraataa huu.N/
roz basate hai.n ka_ii shahar naye/
roz dharatii me.n samaa jaate hai.n /
zal-zalo.n me.n thii zaraa sii girah/
vo bhii ab roz hii aa jaate hai.n
my crude translation of the kaifi azmi poem above::
i venture out, everyday, ahead of the world
and find myself at the same place everyday
the walls which i had brought down
i bump into them, everyday.
many cities spring up everyday
and sink into the ground
the tremors faltered a little
but they return everyday now.
i'm thinking of the mumbai slums - will they return too after the havoc of the very recent past?


aara huun main

raad huu.N barq huu.N bechain huu.N paaraa huu.N mai.n
Khud-parastaar, Khud-aagaah, Khud-aaraa huu.N mai.n
gardan-e-zulm kaTe jis se vo aaraa huu.N mai.n
Khirman-e-jaur jalaade vah sharaaraa huu.N mai.n

here's my vain translation:
i'm thunder, i'm lightning, i'm the poison that kills
i know, i act, i stand up
i'm the saw that'd severe the oppressor's neck
i'm the spark that'd set his world on fire!
that was a poem by maqdoom mohiuddin. i can't set the world on fire but, perhaps, somebody out there can.
the picture shows the falaknuma palace: an oppressor's lair once.


cut and thrust.

(swordplay part 2) the rapier is a slender double-edged sword that can be used to both cut and thrust. it is often accompanied by its sidekick, the dagger. just as our rapier-wielding hero is often accompanied by the character providing the comic relief in the movie. the sidekick is a vital tool- measured against his clumsiness the hero would always look more efficient. his rough, rustic simplicity makes the hero look suave and polished. his ungainly physique makes the hero look strong and athletic.
this is a cinematic ploy, employed even today, to bolster the hero's persona. except, the hero has more than one sidekick now. these additional props are, perhaps, a sign of the times. of our growing incapacity to believe in heroes. and conversely, they also reflect on the inadequacy of the lead actors entering, or being thrust upon, the world of telugu cinema today. one can derive some minor consolation from the fact that tamil flicks , and telugu movies based on them, often use dozens of such props. consider, for instance, the horde of sideys crowding most of the scenes in basha.
coming back to the sidekick in the 'folk' movies: he also performs another crucial function in the movie. his unflinching loyalty and support make all the hero's exploits seem, somehow, right and justifiable. the hero's irresponsible philandering, his overreaching ambition, his unstated aversion to a normal vocation and his problems with authority are all pushed into the background by the sidekick's presence. in a way it's the sidekick who makes the hero!
let's consider the sidekick's personality: as characterization has never been one of telugu cinema's strong points, we have to build the character ourselves from whatever rudimentary details we can glean from the movie itself. let's look at his home and family- it is often left very vague and undefined. he's a hanger-on, his station in life is to hang around the hero and his home, why does the director need to dwell on his home and hearth? his roots, his growing years and the experiences that moulded him are all unimportant. in contrast, though placed in a workingman's family, the audience is never left in any doubt about the hero's noble antecedents. and his eventful infancy and childhood. and his family, stepmothers and brothers. and his guru... and other details of his life and and times.
what does this mean?
it means the filmmaker knows his pecking order. the hero's armed rebellion is not for any radical redistribution of power but to effect a transfer of authority from a reigning tyrant to a potential tyrant. the sidekick's role, as a member of the great unwashed, was to lend legitimacy to the hero's claim and not to put forth his own point of view. just as indian voters are expected to endorse one clan's claims over another and not to stake their own claim. therefore, the sidekick's roots are irrelevant, just as the roots of a majority of indian voters. is that also the reason why the 'period' any 'folk' movie is set in, always remains unstated? because the director is making a film on his own times? the sidekick is a mere rubber stamp. a cheering supporter (just as any indian voter) and not a partner. his stake in the fruits of the campaign the hero leads is nonexistent. revolution is a tea party, according to the director, but that does not mean everyone drinks from the same cups as you!
ten years after independence, that was the director's view on indian democracy.
i'll take a break here. before that, let me try to answer the question: why does the hero prefer the rapier? is it because he needs to flaunt it, frequently, in front of the heroine and her other suitors, to reinforce his claim? with its seeming suppleness and easy swing, the rapier is , perhaps, the best weapon to publicize his virility.
on the sidekick and other tools, later.


on swordplay !!!

picture this: a young man, slightly fat, always dressed in tights. he's a commoner, but largehearted and a skilled swordsman. a happy-go-lucky fellow whose favorite pastime is playing the fool with his friends and standing up for the villagers' rights. it is this latter avocation of his that pits him against the king's cruel brother-in-law and his men. he confronts and chases them away with his deft swordsmanship (swordplay is perhaps a more appropriate term). from here on chasing them away becomes one more of his favorite pastimes. scaling up the palace walls to woo the princess, becomes another. he has bumped into her during one of his numerous adventures and decided she's it. planning an insurrection with the dhoti-clad peasantry in a cave-like hideout, befriending wizards and holy men, outwitting the evil tantrik, uniting his estranged parents etc., are some of the feats he accomplishes before winning the crown and the princess.... play around with any permutation or combination of the above elements and what you'd come up with is a 'folk movie' or what can be better described as a fictional, period drama. except, the period any movie 'x' of this genre purportedly refers to is never properly defined, in the tradition of all folk lore, and the drama part of the
movie is always hopelessly melodramatic.
movies of that genre of telugu cinema has few takers now, the pundits say. adventure, romance and rebellion- out of fashion?
now, a confession: i like those movies. and the more i see of today's fare the more i like those old flicks. their approach to storytelling was breathtakingly simple. and so were the stories, or, should i say story? the devil, like always, lies in the details. for instance, why does the hero wield the french rapier most often when he could have chosen from a wide variety of indian swords? more questions in the next post...

a fool and his ministry...

how do you come to terms with a situation wherein someone you trust your future bread, butter and cable tv with
goes and deposits the same trust in a speculating cheat? the least you expect of a minister is that he should have a little more sense than a semi-literate housewife who would perhaps, in understandable circumstances, be tempted to part with her prized jewellery in the expectation of doubling it, to a charlatan masquerading as a tantrik. those minor incidents of deception evoke, among other emotions, a feeling of sympathy for the victim. should we sympathise with a public official who gave away the equivalent of, roughly, the average yearly earnings of around 5500 indian families?
what's being paid, not returned , is damages. by a company which has a long history of covering up, burying, or simply refusing to acknowledge the questionable actions of authorities at the very top of its echelons. a sizeable portion of volkswagen's dark record of slave labour in nazi germany has not been disclosed until now. so the company, a pastmaster at this game, is moving quickly to sort out the misdeeds of a mere representative to pre-empt the minor embarassment of legal proceedings in india, in order that it can concentrate on defusing the major embarassment caused by much bigger fry at home.
the minister has the sympathies of his boss. after the initial euphoria over the news of damages being paid, the minister would perhaps sit down and calculate how much he has lost: i'm not implying any kind of brokerage. only the investment in acreage that seemed a sure thing until yesterday. boy, does he need sympathy!
a fool and his money are easily parted, they say. a fool and his ministry? well, the minister can check in next door.. and wait for the next schustler-hustler to come around on an even more alluring special purpose vehicle to take him for a rollicking new ride.
an afterthought: shouldn't it be our government which decides the extent of damages it has suffered?


the manmohini act

finally, we have a shadow prime minister. or more correctly, a prime minister who prefers to be a shadow. or is that a shadow as a prime minister? we hear from the left, and from the right..but the prime minister? if he does speak, he does it into his beard or to the congress. no, i don't mean his party- they'd rather hear from the person in the shadows, behind the shadow. a gap, as large as the country, exists between him and the country. he doesn't have the messianic persona of nehru, indira's catchwords and schemes... he doesn't even have a complacent snore like deve gowda's.. how's the hoi polloi supposed to pick him out from behind the dark veil of shadows and get to know him? to know what he plans to do about them? they might not be as smart as the people they voted for, or the people who voted in their name, but they are the ones who picked the shadows who picked him to do this manmohini act to strike the objecting middle classes dumb. until now, he's done precious little to impress either the fawning middle classes or the meddling classes representing the left. every member of the supporting cast pontificates on policy except for the prime minister..and we hear sickeningly familiar rhetoric about strengthening the public sector. in my view, every step in this direction would punch one more hole in the sinking ship that's rural india where these precious resources should rightfully, and at least now in the face of mass suicides, go. isn't that another major plank of yours pm, reviving the rural economy?
to end, he doesn't seem to be a prime minister who is fully engaged- definitely not enough for a person touted to be a formidable egghead. there are more than four million young people out on the streets and fields and other work and loafing places of andhra pradesh alone, when they are supposed to be in school, and the fact that twenty or thirty years from now these citizens would be just as hazardous a material to use or dispose of as the plutonium the pm has gone looking for in america should give wannabe-superpower india some food for thought.
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