Posted in Politics - General

The sunsetting of a “Sunrise Legacy”

Three “K”s defined my childhood.  To be specific, I used to famously refer to them as my three favorite “க”s. Given Tamil’s unique ability (or handicap) to handle multiple sounds from the Ka (Ka, Kha, Ga, Gha) family, through a single letter, it’s a coincidence that my three favorite “க”s were also three favorite “K”s.

Karunanidhi.
Kamal Haasan.
Kapil Dev.

MK4

Out of the above three, my liking for both Kamal Haasan and Kapil Dev came truly out of my following their work in their fields. Not surprising given that Cricket and Movies were very much an integral part of my childhood. But as for my liking for Karunanidhi ….I guess it was largely circumstantial. Technically, he was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu when I was born, but that didn’t really mean much. By the time, I was old enough to know who he was, and when I really got introduced to him, a phenomenon called MGR had already arrived in the Tamil Nadu political scene and the force of that phenomenon was indomitable. So much so that by the time, Karunanidhi became the CM of Tamil Nadu again, it was literally after MGR’s death. So Karunanidhi was actually the fierce opposition leader during these formative years of mine, when I developed a liking for him. Looking back, I do not know why this man appealed to my boyhood political interests. But he did. And growing up in a small town in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s meant, you had only three political choices – MGR or Karunanidhi or None (no interest in politics).

My father had a huge collection of tapes with Karunanidhi’s speeches. These were mostly speeches from his political rallies. But boy..how much I loved listening to his speeches even as a young boy. A young boy whose knowledge of politics didn’t extend beyond being able to identify party names, symbols, and their flag colors. Looking back, I could recall how his speeches acted as the background score for my many cricket evenings or many indoor game days, that I used to play with my brother, as my father was completely absorbed by perhaps the last best orators to have come out of the Tamil Nadu political scene. If you do not understand Tamil and if you haven’t followed at least a couple of Karunanidhi speeches, you have no idea what you are missing. I cannot in any honesty equate his oratorial skills and his wit, elan, and mastery of the language, with any other politician from any part of the world.

Muthuvel Karunandhi aka M.K. Karunanidhi, better known as Kalaignar Karunanidhi was not just an orator par excellence. He was a literary stalwart. A playwright. A movie screenwriter. A true lover of the language, who pushed for Tamil Renaissance. He started as a journalist/editor at the age of 16, publishing his own handwritten magazine. One of the first essays he wrote at the age of 17, that made the Tamil literary world look at him was on “Widow Remarriage”, a true rebel of a thought in those days, leave alone what it meant for a 17 year old to pen a very well coherent argument in favor of  letting a widowed woman lead a free life, by quashing centuries old  traditions and superstitions.

He concluded thus in that essay.

“ஆகவே,செந்தமிழ்ச்செல்வா! மங்கையர்தான் நம் நாட்டின் பொக்கிஷம் என்பதை மறவேதே! அவர்கள் வாழ்வைக் கெடுக்காதே! மறுமணத்தை மறுத்து அவர்கள் இளமையைப் பலியிடாதே!”.

Loose Translation:

“My Dear son of the rich Tamil soil,
Hence, please note that women are the only treasure of this country. 
Do not ruin their lives. 
Do not kill their youthhood by denying them their right to remarry!!”

Now, political opponents of the 21 century, especially those who seemed to have gained all their political knowledge through WhatsApp forwards and twitter, have a very narrow view of Kalaignar Karunanidhi. They know Kalaignar merely as this senile politician who sided with P. Chidambaram and encouraged his daughter to collude with a few prominent names in Delhi to make the most out of the now infamous 2G scam. This post is not about that shady side of Karunanidhi’s legacy and in my opinion, this doesn’t even begin to define Karunanidhi, the leader, the politician, the administrator, and the literary star he was. That shady sub-plot of his long career is a blotch, no doubt, but his contribution to Tamil Nadu is so huge that I would call you an ignorant student of Indian politics, if you insist on talking only about that to define him. Besides, I am writing this blog post only to highlight how his legacy impacted Tamil Nadu and in the process, attempting to outline my own understanding of his legacy.

When Karunanidhi first became the chief minister of TN in 1969, he had a strong Tamil identity platform to step on, well laid out by his mentor C.N. Annadurai. In combination with Anna’s platform and Periyar’s rational movement ideologies, Karunanidhi was able to create his own and unique voice in the TN political scene. A very different one from Kamaraj’s and a much stronger one than Anna’s.

In a long political career that followed, Karunanidhi established himself arguably as the most efficient administrator that Tamil Nadu has ever seen till now. He was efficient because his leadership style involved long deliberations, and not relying on instincts. He was ok to waver on his platform, if people around him felt that something was not the best decision. He was very different from MGR in that MGR ran a populist administration, very successfully. On the other hand,  Karunanidhi tried to mix populism with his Dravidian ideologies while drafting his policies, keeping the need for Tamil Nadu to stand independent in his mind. Independent from the barrage of attacks coming from the “Hindi Nationalist” leaders from the center. His Tamil identity took front seat at all times.

Here is Karunanidhi after MGR’s death. Even an eulogy of a political rival sounded like a poetry when he spoke.

J. Jayalaitha, who became his arch nemesis for almost the next three decades or so after the death of MGR, proved to be a bigger challenge for Kalaignar to tackle, than what he may have anticipated in 1987 immediately after MGR’s death. Strangely, many political pundits dismissed Jayalaitha’s political stamina then, because she was sort of viewed as a misfit to the Dravidian movement as conceptualized by the likes of Anna and Karunanidhi. She was a movie star, who rode on her charisma and ego. Her close association with MGR helped her launch her career.

Everyone in Tamil Nadu was surprised to see that in no time, what an ambitious leader she turned out to be. So, Kalaignar was completely unprepared to handle someone like Jaya. He was used to handling  someone like MGR, a peer, a respectable colleague, and someone who grew in his era of Dravidian movement. But Jaya didn’t have any of that background. She was a convent educated woman, who grew up in a tight shell with very little exposure to the real world. The battle was on. And these two established a sort of political rivalry for 20 odd years that probably no other Indian state may have seen and/or may ever see.

Till June 2001. When the world got to see how revengeful and vindictive Jayalalitha could be.

The midnight arrest of Karunanidhi, an ex-chief minster, along with two central cabinet ministers, in somewhat of an inhuman way was, notwithstanding the circumstances that led to the charges, completely authoritarian by any democratic standards. This incident definitely redefined the rivalry between KK and JJ.  Since then, Jayalaitha continued to win more elections than Karunanidhi as long as she was alive. But purely in terms of the manner in which Karunanidhi continued to keep his political statesmanlike aura around him intact, all the way till he became physically immobile in 2016 or so, it was remarkable that only a handful of world..yes world…political leaders could have even dreamt of having.

Karunanidhi was a master politician. Not only at the local and state level, but most importantly in knowing how to work with the center. Barring once or twice, Karunanidhi always managed to come out as a winner in his negotiations with the ruling party in the center. This, in spite of his staunch anti-Hindi stance was something to be admired. Even though Jayalalitha showed how she could get her way with the center using more aggressive tactics, she didn’t earn the same kind of diplomatic respect that Karunanidhi earned over a period of time. Contrary to what people may believe, Karunanidhi was one of the least vindictive leaders I have seen in Tamil Nadu politics. I am not saying this with any bias. This was simply the case. Some people may call his non-vindictive style, political opportunism, but I think he understood the value of keeping his political enemies close enough so that he could make them his friends when the time came, which it often did.

As many superfluous and heartfelt tributes flood the pages of print, pixels of TV & internet, and  every footstep & decibel of stage, his critics, of whom there is no dearth, will hurl insults on his lifestyle that openly included living with two wives, one of whom, he sometimes referred to as the “mother of my daughter”. The truth though, is that not many could have had the courage and the openness with which he embraced living with two families, leave alone breaking the societal taboo associated with it all.

With a potential leadership battle awaiting to disrupt the stability of the party, Karunanidhi’s legacy alone may not be enough to anchor the political future of DMK.
Five decades of party leadership is a unique feat that no other political leader in India could claim to have achieved.

All roads end somewhere. And this is where Karunanidhi’s ends.

When the sun rises tomorrow without the last of the pillars that held Tamil Nadu upright till now, Karunanidhi’s legacy would have become that of the past.
A legacy like none other’s.

And many will continue to hear echoes of him saying என் உயிரினும் மேலான அன்பு உடன்பிறப்புக்களே.” in his unique scratchy voice.

எப்போதும் சிரித்திடும் முகம் –
எதிர்ப்புகளை எரித்திடும் நெஞ்சம்!

இளமை இளமை இதயமோ
இமயத்தின் வலிமை! வலிமை!

தமிழர் வாழும் நிலமெலாம் அவர்தம் மனையெலாம்
தன்புகழ் செதுக்கிய செல்வா – எங்கு சென்றாய்?

Loose Translation of the above lines:

An ever smiling face
A chest to withstand adversities

Young at heart
With a strength of the mightiest of the mountains

Where is that man who carved his fame in
Every household and every land inhabited by Tamilians..?
Where did you go?

(Above lines are Karunanidhi’s. Written after the death of Tamilselvan. How apt that I get to use these lines now!)

Posted in Movies - General

Here, there, and Beyond the Clouds…

beyond-the-clouds
Take that chase scene in Slumdog Millionaire.  In two minutes, Danny Boyle managed to capture so many details of Mumbai slums without making them look too dramatic on screen, while being ably aided by AR Rahman’s synthetic upbeat score. Majidi on the other hand takes a visually dramatic approach in ‘Beyond the Clouds’ to a chase scene that he too shot for approximately the same length of time. Here too cops are chasing. Not young children, but two spunky adult/teenage boys.

Before you go watch ‘Beyond the Clouds’,  I am sure there is an uncomfortable parallel running in your mind. A foreign director, making a movie based out of Mumbai slums, etc. etc. The unavoidable comparison with Slumdog Millionaire even before you watch this movie. Majid Majidi, the master director who excels in making sensitive stories of kids and in weaving poverty tales through the lens of social injustices, puts you at rest within the first 5 minutes that this movie is nothing like SDM. In fact, he also convinces the movie audience who are familiar with his previous works, that even though this too is a sibling story (just like Children of Heaven), he has a completely different turf he is playing with.

Amir (Ishaan Khatter), a vibrant boy, who has grown up seeing the struggles of poverty, is a drug peddler among other things. He is not afraid of vocally seeking his place in the criminal food chain and has a heart that is vulnerable. Tara (Malavika Mohanan), his elder sister has a slightly deeper side to her. She has been abused, thrown out, and has been pushed to the darkest corners of the slum life, as a woman.

Beyond the Clouds, in simple terms, is really a story about the psychological struggle between these two siblings as they battle their own good and evil sides, their own light and dark sides, and their place in this insane society,  a society that has no structure for people at the deep end of the economic spectrum, so that they can at least accept life as it is being offered to them.

Amir, a criminal (by law) ends up outside, while he watches the mental spiraling down of his innocent sister who, as circumstance would have it, ends up in jail for a crime that she may have committed only to save herself. Tara ends up forming an unusual bond with a little boy inside the prison. While Amir ends up forming an unusual bond with the family of the man Tara attacked. The interconnectivity of how each character tries to redeem itself by latching onto the relationships that life offers and the individual victory of each character’s own good over its own evil has been beautifully portrayed through Majidi’s signature visuals all the way to the last shot of the movie – one which symbolizes the very title of the movie.

With a powerful sibling psychological story and a wonderful setting like Mumbai, Majidi had many things going for him in this movie. Yet, he may have been caught in his zest to adapt the melodrama cloud that Indian cinema is used to being hovered over by or he may have simply been pushed by his co-screenwriter to write a screenplay that is soaked with scenes that are perhaps uncharacteristically Majidi when it comes to sentimentalizing and visual choreography. Either way, I felt that Majidi may have lost out an opportunity to make a completely authentic Majidi Indian film, even though the last 30 minutes of the movie more than makes up for the rest of the movie, in terms of leaving the Majidi stamp.

The OST of the film has been playing in my car for the past 2 weeks. And yet, when the thematic musical pice of the movie – “Beyond the Clouds” played towards the end, it was so haunting when superimposed with the last frame, that my eyes were moist as I was left thinking about the happy tragedies of all these characters, now redeemed, and their acceptance of everything, here, there and beyond the clouds.

Posted in Poem, Thamizh (தமிழ்)

மகளிர் தின கிறுக்கல்

நீ நீயுமாய்
நான் நானுமாய் 
புதிரிகளைத் தீர்த்துமாய்
புரியாததைப்  பகிர்ந்துமாய்

சிரித்தும் அழுதும்
அடித்தும் அணைத்தும் 
தனித்தும் கூடியும்
தனித்துவத்தை மதித்தும்

இன்றுபோல் இல்லாத 
நாளை நோக்கி நம்பிக்கையுடன்


Posted in Kamal Haasan, Politics - General, Uncategorized

Kamal Haasan – A Changing Story

“Life is a beautiful story, your story, and the best part of that story is when it changes.”

kamal-hassan2-04-1509793215
Kamal Haasan

And who better knows how to write good stories than Kamal Haasan?

Six months ago, if someone had asked me if I would be writing a blog post on Kamal Haasan’s politics and his political entry in February 2018, I would have not only laughed it off, but also ridiculed the person for fabricating such a scenario.

Looking back, to be specific, looking back at the past two to three years of Kamal’s life, both on screen and off screen, mostly off screen (since he hasn’t been doing much work on screen anyways), I am not surprised that we are at this transition point on February 21, 2018, the day he officially starts his political journey as a ‘practicing politician’.  As I string together the missing pages & connect the missing links, it is clear that after all, this is not such an emotional, sudden, and a path breaking transition for him. If you notice the transition now for the first time, you realize that the change has been going on for a while. Like the breaking of sunlight in the morning or boiling of water on a stove.

There have been enough hints in the past six months or so about his eventual political entry. But like many, I had chosen not to take them seriously or perhaps was blinded by my primary pinhole through which I have always been used to viewing Kamal Haasan, the influential movie star, the actor, the director, the literary connoisseur, the poet, the rationalist, the social commentator, and the passionate humanist. When it became very clear that the transition is for real, the rooted Kamal Haasan movie fan in me was very disappointed.

I was worried for the man and his eventual failure in politics.

True. I didn’t want someone I consider as a pragmatic intellectual and someone I have lot of respect for, being dragged into the kind of political dialogues and tricks that I am familiar with as the norm in Tamil Nadu. I wanted to protect the man from the operational rules of the political game and in general, how things work in Tamil Nadu politics.

Then I decided to give up on my selfish possessiveness as a fan. I didn’t quite accept the transition yet. But I was hoping that this would be more of a political commentary & social critic avatar that he would take, but in a structured way, much like the Voltaires of the world.  All the while, keeping his cinematic connections very much alive. A bit more political than a hardcore activist, but a little less bounded by the rules of the game than an electoral politician. I was fascinated by the thought of how he could pull off social vigilantism using simple tools, effecting micro changes which all could add up. I was dreaming and I even imagined a few mechanisms using which he could pull that off.

That dream bubble burst in November 2017, when it seemed very clear that he was actually serious about a more direct political route. One that involved building a party ground up and eventually contesting in elections. The exact kind of politics that I didn’t want him to get into.

Fast Forward to January, 2018.

I began to feel that may be my uncertainty around embracing Kamal Haasan’s political entry was completely uncalled for. It had become abundantly clear to me that Kamal has in fact been chalking out this path for a while. All the signs of him merging with mainstream politics were always there. But I just didn’t want to look at them. These signs were in fact all the more evident in the past two-three years or so, when I try to look at his life closely.

The man is 62 now. He has gone through a very challenging and an absolutely tragic two-three years. Separating from a partner, losing his professional mentor, losing his personal mentor & brother, surviving an almost life paralyzing injury, battling with the government politically for the release of his movie, etc.

These are enough to drain a man out or enough to make a man analyze his life.

“What have I achieved till now?”

“What is left that I want to achieve?”

“And what in it is possible to achieve in my lifetime?”

It makes complete sense to me that for a man like Kamal Haasan, someone who has never been shy of voicing his opinion on societal issues, what those questions may have meant when he asked these to himself during the past 2-3 years.

Fast Forward to February 21, 2018.

Even though I am leaning towards Kamal Haasan picking February 21, 2018 purely as a matter of convenience considering all other logistical details, knowing the kind of writer & movie maker who likes to play with metaphors and symbols, that he is, I can’t help but wonder, why choose February 21 for the launch?

February 21, 1953 –  It was on this day that Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA-molecule. The Watson-Crick model is the basis for understanding human genome. (They went ahead with sharing this information officially in a public manner only on Feb 28).

February 21, 1848 – It was on this day that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published “The Communist Manifesto” in London.

These are the two historic events that may symbolize Kamal Haasan choosing this day for his launch. Kamal being a staunch rationalist, and a strong proponent of science, there is every reason to believe that the DNA structure has a significant evolutionary symbolism as far as he forming a party & giving it a structure goes. And as for the communist manifesto, it’s quite obvious to correlate the significance.

But beyond the symbolism that the day brings, for me what is truly refreshing is to see his distinct approach to the launch of his political journey thus far. I can list many things to differentiate his approach thus far, but the one thing that has been acting as a huge inspiration and the one thing that has brought Kamal Haasan’s political journey closer to my heart, is his attempt to adopt villages and model them for future. I am sure I will have many things to say about that attempt, as that concept evolves into action.

For now, the very fact that a Tamil Nadu politician has dared himself to show results of his social consciousness and concern, without contesting in an election is reason enough for me to wish him well. Not as a fan. But as a keen political observer & as a social justice seeker.

And yes, I am no longer worried for the man and the man’s eventual failure in politics. Because I now understand that he wants to rewrite the definition of “failure” in politics. 

Posted in My Music, Poem

Pilani Slam (A Slam Poem)

So, a friend posted this poem on his FB wall and the moment I read it, I visualized it in a slam poetry format. Of course, this being about BITS PIlani, I connected with it right away.

The result is this experimental slam poem attempt.

(Soundcloud link below the lyrics)

Slam Poet: Vivek Misra
Programmed/Arranged by: Ganpy
Vocals: Ganpy

white hot yellow sands
dance, myriad mirages
green
peacocks strut
colour riots
tribes encoded saffron
pink red orange
turbaned hardened warriors
gaze from grey eyes
at grey skies
rain of life
pitter patter pitter patter
mops grey-blue
lustfilled suns heat
clouds burst
sheet the land
with water cool
life anew
smell of earth
anklets tinkle 
and muddy feet 
arouse passions…
chillums smoke
rings that dissipate
the smoker thinks
thinker smokes
camels snort, spit
spittle tourists
gaze disparaging
at minoltas clicking
the oohing the aahing
high heels
and fair skin
versus smouldering dark eyes
battle won
the mirrors reflect
on life outside
the red-orange veil…
cows the sentinels
of nighttime bus-stand
asleep standing
circling drunken
reveling boys
tested and sure
or unsure
no matter
tonight alcohol
decimates minds
while watchers watch
and smoke, their thoughts
chaotic….
a refrain floats
on chill air
and musky breath
“…a brilliant red
barchetta,….”
floats away
air guitaring
gesticulating
hop skip jumping
to samosas and tea
“aah …giri!,
goldflake! thanda! moda!…
chai!…”
5 am high….

Posted in Pictures, Poem, Thamizh (தமிழ்)

புது விதி

பாரதியின் 96வது நினைவு நாள்…

IMG_1660

புது விதி

விட்டுக் கொடார்
தொட்டுந் தொடார்
இட்டும் சட்டென
மட்டுப் போட்டார்.

விதிதனை புதிதாய்
இனி செய்ய
தெளியட்டும்
முதலில் இவரவரும்.