SOCIAL DILEMMA – JEFF ORLOWSKI

The Social Dilemma, Director Jeff Orlowski | Film School Radio hosted by  Mike Kaspar

If you are wondering how to keep yourself occupied over the coming weekend, fret no more! Netflix might be the solution. Before you exasperatingly throw your hands up and resentfully complain that there is no series or movie remaining to be viewed, and moreover you are experiencing “streaming fatigue”, let me assure you that we are talking about a potential transformation here. A potential personal transformation. The documentary “Social Dilemma” by Director Jeff Orlowski, is arguably one of the best ever offerings of its oeuvre. Lasting just over an hour and a half, the documentary highlights in chilling detail, the unintended consequences of an addiction to social media, on the common individual. An addiction, which unlike say that relating to opioid, pornography, or other hard narcotics, is not self-inflicted. The social media addiction is an ‘induced’ obsession that has at the centre of its philosophy, the very machinery of greed and avarice. The grease that lubricates this perpetual motion machine is the human populace. Me and you, and the dog named Boo. The new Emperors of capitalism, the Big Tech are doing everything to get into our hearts, heads and minds, from where they can wreak havoc and bring about wanton damage.

Ingenuously framed against the backdrop of a fictional family that has two smart phone addicts, the documentary takes its viewer along a journey of techno-psychological deceit that has the whole world eating out from the hands of a few oligarchs. We are all puppets on a string manipulated every second, minute and hour, to dance to preset tunes and lend our voices to prerecorded music. A macabre dance of deceit and doubt. Taking us all through this journey are some of the greatest ever minds in the world of Information Technology and Advanced Computing. Hell! Some of these chaps, in a phase, that is now representative of their past lives, were also the progenitors behind our addiction. Yes, we are taking about some of the biggest names from the domain of Big Tech, who now are serving as the closest thing Silicon Valley can come to a conscience.

As Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google and founder of the Centre for Humane Technology, says there are three kinds of drivers/goals which an organisation like Facebook thirsts for: “engagement, growth and advertisement”. These goals fueled by complicated algorithms ensure to keep the user hooked perpetually to his “timeline”, “feeds”, and “likes.” As Harris illustrates there is also a growing scientific concept imaginatively titled” Growth hacking.” This is a method by which organisations keep ‘hacking’ away at the psychology of the user in search of more engagement.

Guillaume Chaslot was a former engineer at You Tube,  before being the CEO of Intuitive AI and founder of Algotransparency. Reminiscing on his experience of working at Google, Chaslot, chillingly explains, “An algorithm that I worked on increased polarization in society. But from the view of watch time, this polarization is extremely efficient at keeping people online.”

A polarization that was unearthed in all its ghastly detail when a team of researchers at Northeastern University, the University of Southern California, and the progressive nonprofit Upturn released a study. Moonlighting as political advertisers, they discovered that Facebook’s algorithms make it tougher and more expensive for a campaign to get its message to users who disagree with them even if they’re trying to.

As the great recluse of the tech world and the father of Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier, gravely emphasizes in the documentary, “It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.” Adds, Aza Raskin, former employee at Firefox and Mozilla, inventor of the infinite scroll and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technology “Advertisers are the customers. Users are the things being sold.” In fact, even a person of the enviable capabilities of Raskin had to struggle to overcome social media addiction. In a startling confession, he admits to having had to write a software to break his addiction to Reddit!

It is this very addiction that has birthed a quandary to many a plastic surgeon across the world. “Snapchat Dysmorphia” is a deadly affliction where young patients desire surgery so that they can look more like they do in those filtered selfies. According to 2017 data from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55 percent of fascial plastic surgeons said that patients requested cosmetic procedures to look better on social media — an increase of 13 percent from the year before.

American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author, Jonathan Haidt, informs us that social media has been the cause of an increasing tendency among teens to harm themselves. This is on account of a dopamine release in the reward pathway of the brain. This consistent, continuous and catastrophic craving for rewards further pushes users towards and into rabbit holes which would have amazed even Lewis Carroll!

The documentary is embellished by the powerful presence of a league of extraordinary gentlemen who are striving to bring hapless and helpless human beings out of the vice like grip of social media addiction. Hoping to hell that they achieve in their bold and ambitious endeavour, else the world is toast!

(Cast of Primary Characters in the Documentary):

Enduring Jingles of Indian Advertising: Ten Adorable Culprits – PART 2 MONDELEZ INDIA FOODS LIMITED (FORMERLY CADBURY INDIA)

In Part 1 of the series, the focus was on the zest and zeal with which Nerolac India regaled the Indian television viewer with their innovative commercial jingles. Part 2 pays tribute to Cadbury India and their slobber knocker jingle that formed part of the “Shubh Aarambh” (“auspicious beginning”) campaign. Before diving into the jingle, which even after a decade of its initial appearance, continues to remain memorably fresh, a clarificatory note on the name “Cadbury India” would be in order.

Cadbury India Limited, a subsidiary of Mondelēz International Inc., changed its name to Mondelez India Foods Limited, vide a Press Release issued on the 21st of April 2014. However, for the purposes of this piece the name Cadbury would be employed throughout since during the launch of the Shubh Aarambh campaign, the company was not renamed, and more importantly, even now, the word “Cadbury” is used in a manner fond and spontaneous, by young and old alike in addition to being carried on the product labels.

SHUBH AARAMBH COMMERCIALS

Cadbury India has always been on the ball in so far as commercials are concerned. Selecting endearing themes with a precision that can be termed surgical, the brand has symbolically and literally permeated and penetrated millions of households and taste buds! The hallmark of a Cadbury commercial is the accompanying jingle. Whether it be an ecstatic lady invading a cricket pitch, or a pair of young lovers manipulating puppets on a string whilst at the same time devouring Cadbury chocolates in a messy manner, the attendant jingle is what makes the commercial tick. Cadbury seems to know where and when exactly the rubber meets the road.

But Cadbury India, in my personal opinion bested their own high standards when they unleashed the Shubh Aarambh series of commercials. Conceptualised and created by Ogilvy India, Cadbury India took the simple and prosaic Indian tradition of partaking something sweet before embarking on any endeavour, to heights hitherto scaled. The messaging was powerful, profound and poignant. If the messages made for profundity, the jingle, in synchronized lockstep, served as the handmaiden of nostalgia. The beauty of the jingle lay in the fact that it looked designed for posterity, with a deliberation that was calculated and prescient. To be savoured not in the here and now, but ever after. The singularly fascinating feature of the jingle in the Shubh Aarambh series is its impeccable surprise. The timing is so delectably wicked! As the protagonists carry on their conversation a gentle and barely perceptible melody wafts in the background almost like a benevolent apparition. The viewer knows that there would be a stronger follow-up but has no clue where it might be lurking. Stealthily creeping up on the unsuspecting watcher, it makes a grand appearance. And by jove, doesn’t it pack a punch! Hitting the uninitiated like a ton of bricks, the damned ditty not just makes an impression but remains permanently imprinted in memory.

Since the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, here’s paying obeisance to my all-time favourite 3 “Shubh Aarambh” specials”

THE ELOPEMENT

To a muted and haunting tune in the background, an anguished young girl is seen collecting her meagre belongings (that includes a tiny teddy bear soft toy) in a rush, fleetingly pausing in front of framed photographs of her father, before rushing down the stairs trying to wipe her eyes dry. We know that she is planning to elope with her boyfriend, when she gets into the car and exclaims to the man at the wheel, “Chalo.” (“lets go”). Her boyfriend in response, nods at the back seat, switches on the interior lights before remarking, “Yeh kuch kehna chahte hain” (“they want to say something”). To the girl’s utter bewilderment, the back seat is occupied by her family made up of a benevolent looking father, a slightly distraught mother, and a sprightly younger brother. The father looking at his daughter advises, “Shubh kaam karne jaa rahi ho. Kuch Meetha nahin khaoge? Kaam Accha hoga” (“you are embarking on an auspicious deed. Won’t you eat something sweet? The deed would be done”). The music picks up momentum when the small boy breaks away a small bit from a slab of Cadbury Diary Milk and offers it to his sister. She girl takes a bite of the chocolate and bursts into tears of joy!”

AN ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE!

JEANS

A commercial that is jaw dropping in its originality and lasting in its impact. The middle-class shades to the advert is unmissable! The commercial begins with an elderly woman hiding behind an open door. It’s very apparent that she is planning to go out with her husband. “Jeans pehenke nahin aa sakthi” (“I cannot come wearing jeans”) she whispers in a voice filled with trepidation and apprehension. A calm and collected husband responds, “Arre kal tak to tum badi badi baaten kar rahi thi” (“But until yesterday you were waxing eloquent about this!”). “Padosi kya kahenge? Aur tumhari maa kya kahegi?” (“What will the neighbours think; what will your mum say?”). The lady by now is visibly aghast. With a fantastic spontaneity, the man casts a glance at the interior of the house digs into his satchel, brings out a Cadbury Diary Milk chocolate, and breaking a tiny slab offers it to his wife before explaining, “Maa? Maa to kahegi, shubh kaam karne se pehle meetha khalo, kaam accha hoga” (Mother! Mother says, “Before embarking on an auspicious deed, have something sweet. The deed would be successfully accomplished”). With a smile the lady bites into the chocolate and steps out with her husband. The lilting tone hits the reader in full force as a neighbor conveys his appreciation and surprise at the woman in jeans.

AN ETERNAL CLASSIC!  

CHILD’S PLAY

‘Child’s Play’ shows a soon-to-be-mother practicing hard in front of the mirror trying out various ways of breaking the news to her husband. When the husband catches her in the act, she blurts out to him that she feels like eating something sour. With a nod the man gets a Cadbury Diary Milk Chocolate, breaks away a slab and tells his wife to first eat something sweet before taking her in his arms. Again, the jingle in the background serves as a powerful medium and conveyance that carries the message through.

ENDEARING!

BONUS FOOTAGE

Enduring Jingles of Indian Advertising: Ten Adorable Culprits – PART 1 KANSAI NEROLAC PAINTS INDIA (NEROLAC)

Every one of us has been held hostage, albeit willingly, at some point in time, by that one mesmerizing jingle that keeps playing on loop within the confines of our heads. The damned ditty just refuses to fade away, clinging on to us with the obduracy of a leech. While hanging on to the handrails of an overcrowded bus, crushed between an impatient and sweaty mass of humanity, or when showcasing an eager employer’s offerings to a demanding client, the mulish tune keeps wafting in with a severe purpose. Whether, while in a state of contemplation, or bracing to face a ball about to be delivered by a sprightly bowler, a consistent hum assails our auditory faculties. The world of Indian advertising has over the years bestowed upon its enthusiastic viewers many such jingles. Unforgettable musical achievements that have threatened to even overshadow the brand they are invested with showcasing, thereby paradoxically making the product/service cherished. From chocolate to bathing soap, these jingles have captured the imagination of a populace transcending age, and gender, colour and creed. Paraphrasing Brandy Miller of Creative Technology, a communications firm, “The motor center is activated in order to process the rhythm, the auditory center is activated in order to process the sound, the language center processes the lyrics and the limbic system processes the overall emotional core of the song. It’s a powerful recipe.”

So here goes the first installment in my personal “top ten adorable culprits”, whose mellifluousness has never left my mind and for which I am more than just delighted.

NEROLAC

Razzmatazz, Clutter, Colour, Effervescence, Mischief, Hope, Laughter, Boisterousness, Innocence, Gratitude and Empathy are some of the words that instantly come to mind when one hears the immortal Nerolac jingle. Whilst multiple versions, short and extended have graced our television sets over many a year, Nerolac Paints India has, to a significant degree, never veered away from the original tune “Jab Ghar Ki Raunak Badani Ho” (roughly translated as “When the lustre/shine of the house needs to be embellished”), and this is exactly what has made this jingle so indelible and enduring. The leitmotif of a happy effusion of colours coalescing with a happy family tugs at the deepest chords of sentiment and emotion. An innovative medley of music proceeds in perfect lockstep with the clash of colours, that understandably forms the heart of the commercial.

It would be a challenge to identify any one Nerolac Commercial as being the best, since the viewer is spoilt for choice. Hence, I have chosen the following 3 variants as my personal favourites. So, go ahead, shake a leg, wield a brush, wear a smile, shed a tear and enter a world of unbridled happiness! “Kuch Change Karo; Kuch Paint Karo!” (Change something; Paint something”)

(Note: Even though the alluring commercial has been dubbed in multiple languages, my review is restricted to the Hindi version, even though the tune is equally catchy in all the dubbed languages. )

  • The Original

It is but logical to begin at the very beginning. Premiering during the early nineties, the original and iconic Nerolac jingle was mellow in stark contrast to the contemporary version. The commercial has a trio of friendly and cheerful painters giving the walls of a house an alluring coat of paint. While they are at their job, a young girl and her brother engage in some mild mischief. Lasting all of 30 seconds, the commercial ends with a splash of red framing the “Nerolac Tiger.”! I personally felt it was sheer genius to give the viewers such a delightful piece of music and abruptly terminate it just when they were lolling on the couch immersed into it. A perfect case of Oliver asking for more!

 
  • The Paint gets a Song!

A case of Oliver getting what he demanded, the popular jingle got an extension. Almost a full two minutes lengthier than its original predecessor, Nerolac Paints was no longer a condensed and concise jingle but a “hummable” tune approximately half the length of an average song. The Company again demonstrated how it could pull off the extraordinary with the least degree of fuss and furore. A group of young men and women celebrate the sanctity of relationships. Clad in white they represent an unsullied purity as they vibrantly dance, and drum away while in the background the Nerolac song plays on. The only complaint that one can perceivably harbour about this commercial is that although the background at the outset has a dazzling profusion of a brilliant array of colours, the rest of the song is enveloped in a white background thereby taking a bit of the deserved shine from the dancers who are also clad in white. Watch out for the lady drumming on barrels of Nerolac Paints as the song climaxes to an energetic finish!

  • King Khan and Kids

Nerolac India and their advertisement agency captured the pulse, mood and fervor of a nation by getting one of India’s biggest actors to shake a leg and wag a brush in the company of a bunch of egregious kids. This was nothing short of a coup by Nerolac. The “festival” series of commercials where Shahrukh Khan in the company of his child brigade brings colour to an otherwise dull and drab household which is none too eager to welcome either the festival of lights, Diwali or the biggest Muslim celebration of Eid, warms the very cockles of the heart. Who ever thought that a man wielding a roller brush could induce such a surge of electric vitality, vivacity and verve! Beginning with a whistle before climaxing into a crescendo of drums, guitars and a medley of other instruments, the jingle induces the viewer to almost experience the camaraderie and an almost telepathic sync between Shahrukh Khan and the children. This is a joyous case of a seasoned professional and a set of innocuous and adorable brats living  and celebrating the reel role given to them. The iconic jingle was thus given a transformational face-lift. Have a look!

  • Bonus Footage

A Fleeting Disappearance but never gone

Chittappa

There could be detected a mischievous gleam in his eye when he described how Erapalli Prasanna deceived a vaunted Australian batting line up. You could also feel his pain when he described how Simpson and Lawry collared the Indian attack. When he spoke about cricket, you listened. The man knew his stuff. He better. For he was a nippy left armer who took 6 wickets for just 1 run in a Universities game. T.V.Viswanathan might not be Curtly Ambrose but his 6 for 1 for me is no less than Curtly’s feat of 7 for 1 at Perth. Even though I was deprived of viewing the former since the event took place even before I was born. Perhaps now we know the source of the Ambrose inspiration!

Today after an indefatigable battle with the insidious beast that is cancer, my Uncle T.V. Viswanathan breathed his last. But not before showing his finger to the disease. That was his character. Adversity just made him stronger. He just did not possess a weak bone in his constitution. Cancer might have got him, but only by resorting to means insidious and unfair.

My memories of Chittappa (the Tamil vernacular for uncle) revolve around cricket, cigarettes and culinary delights. A connoisseur of the game, he distinguished himself as a player. A left arm medium fast bowler (a rarity in itself in India), he devoured 6 hapless batsmen in a University game played in Chennai while conceding just one run. But considering the fact that it was the 1960s where a professional career meant a degree in either Engineering or Medicine, and sans either money or muscle one had no hopes of purveying one’s chosen ambitions, Chittappa had to relinquish his hopes of being a fast bowler and instead concentrate on an engineering degree as his future.

However, the cricketing bug never left the man. A fanatic of the game, he read its every nuance and perfected its last intricacy. From Shane Warne’s flipper to Andy Roberts’ Yorker to G.R.Viswanath’s delectable wristwork, cricket ran in his DNA. Every Indian victory for him was a euphoria and every defeat, an elegy. The man exuded passion. A passion that was raw, unhinged and inveterate.

Chittappa was also my surreptitious nicotine source. Even though I was in Bangalore and Chittappa in Chennai, the vagaries of his  profession ensured that he was in the town of Bidadi most of the time. Which meant, a trip to Bangalore on weekends. These were the days I looked forward with an anticipation that was unbridled. Over copious swigs of Old Monk Rum (Chittappa knew class) and Wills cigarettes, Chittappa used to regale me with seminal games to which he was a witness at Chepauk. Chittappa was also a chef par excellence. In so far as gastronomic delights went, he could pull not just rabbits but elephants out of his formidable hat! Vegetable Nilgriri Kurma was his one specialty that sent me into raptures of delight! Monumental testimony to his culinary prowess was one instance whereby he cooked scrumptious Mutton Biriyani and got it by bus in a cooker! Yes you read that right a bloody cooker!

Chittappa was, rather is, for I can never concede that he is no longer in flesh and blood, a father figure to me. A man, whose needs were so limited so as to make the word frugal sound affluent. Selfless to the core, he was never tainted by the lure of either fame or fortune. He took unbridled delight in making people around him feel happy and contended. I for one, never knew what he desired, for he never expressed his wants.

IMG-20200516-WA0075-1

Yes, he wanted to come and spend some time with me and my parents in Kuala Lumpur. After coaxing, coercing and cajoling him for 8 years, he finally got his passport done. But the bloody bastard of a disease got him before he could get his air tickets. Moreover, the raging pandemic that is COVID-19 put paid to my dreams of hosting Chittappa and being regaled by his explanations of outswingers gone wrong and inswingers beguiling batsmen.

He lead a life that was pure, simple and fundamental. He was almost elemental in his material possessions. He never blamed anyone nor wallowed in self-pity. He knew neither mirth nor materialism.

Today he is gone. Just like that. Like a candle in the wind. A gentle rustle that does not even invoke reactions. But he is not gone. He never will be. He cannot. He has no conceivable right to. He cannot bid goodbye unless and until we order him to. And none of us will. So long as we are living, breathing and existing, Chittappa has to give us company. He does not possess a right to refuse. In cricket speak, he does not have the liberty of a DRS. There is no umpire’s call. He has to be here. He cannot abdicate us and leave us in the lurch. There are still bottles of Old Monks to finish, plethora of chickens to make biriyani from and thousands of leg breaks to scalp hapless batsmen.

Chittappa, I just cannot believe that you left us all and decided to go. Maybe you deemed this was the most appropriate time and maybe you felt the game of cricket could offer you nothing more. But you are wrong. You will continue to be with us so long as we are alive and well. Even though I am in no hurry to meet you and demand an explanation, be assured that when the time comes your grilling will put to shame the ones that are the sole prerogative of the CBI  & RAW!

Till such time sleep well Chittappa and words cannot describe the gratitude that I nurse towards you. If I can be even a fraction of a man that you were, my life would be one well lived. Every time hereon in I happen to nurse a bottle of Scotch, it would be in honour of your legacy, memory and life. I will never ever mourn you but celebrate you. Celebration of a life that is pure, poignant, passionate and profound.

Love You dearest Chittappa! Sleep well. Till such time we meet again. By the way when you meet Harold Larwood just ask him whether Sir Don Bradman was the greatest batsman he had ever bowled to.

To Take or Not To Take – The Hotel Conundrum

Image result for Resort + Creative Common

(Image Credit: Creative Commons)

Over the past two days, social media has been set alight by an incident involving an Indian family on vacation in Bali. Twitter timelines are flooded with a video approximately two and a half minutes in length depicting hotel staff removing objects (including hair driers & hangers) that were apparently ‘pilfered’ by the family. The chastised family can been seen pleading with the Indonesian hotel staff, who in turn are threatening to call the police. In the midst of this unpleasant haranguing, the guests can be heard repeatedly offering to ‘pay’ for the stuff taken from the hotels, and more.

This video, which makes for some obviously unpleasant viewing has triggered a vociferous debate where the revered and the reviled have pitchforked themselves into the fray offering their own take on the incident. The very fact that a deliberation has been spawned to discuss, debate and decide upon whether the family in question and the hoteliers – the two sparring protagonists in the unsavoury fracas – were in the right or wrong, bears monument to the diverging mindsets possessed by society on framing what constitutes right and the defining what is wrong.

On the one spectrum we have the likes of Ms. Sai Swaroopa, noted author and content writer who posted the following emotional tweet:

Sai

While the above logic is flawed on multiple counts, even assuming for the sake of argument, that Ms. Swaroopa is correct, it behooves the question as to why steal something which is to begin with “stupid” and of neither consequence nor worth. Further, boycotting a country or the hotel situated within its territorial jurisdiction is not a solution for preventing this kind of unfortunate episodes. Moreover it is not that the hotel in Bali is going to be rendered bankrupt without an influx of visitors from India.

Against those batting for the family, stand a section that is baying for the offender’s blood. According to the more aggressive opinion, the “shame”, and “disgrace” foisted upon the image of an entire nation requires punishment of a stringent nature.  While television host and actor Mini Mathur found the escapade of the family nauseating, yet another Twitterati called for a public naming and shaming of those involved:

Mini

Priya

Some extremely inventive people also chose to bring into the whole picture a racial angle arguing that if the pilferage was to have been either attempted or pulled off by a non-Indian or even a non Asian family, the hotel staff would not even have deemed it a utilitarian use of their time bothering to check! This interesting although arguable view was given further teeth by a tweet shared by Mr. Harsh Goenka, Chairman of the RPG Group of enterprises. The tweet made reference to an extremely racist notice addressed by a Swiss hotel in Gstaad “specifically to guests from India” on the rules of etiquette to be followed at the buffet tables:

Goenka

Gstaad

At the time of this writing, it is reliably learnt that the Hotel has tendered an apology – as it should rightfully have done a long time back. In an article published by the web site travelskills.com and titled “Which Nationality Steals Most From Hotels”, it is comforting for an Indian to note that India does not make the list of the top 10 usual suspects. Even though the article is dated 8th June, 2015, there is no need to suspect that India would have made an astonishing ascent leaping over the rungs of this ladder of infamy!

In the defense of the service providers it would be an injustice if it is not mentioned that most of the times, it is the servicing personnel who bear the brunt of the rants and raves of ‘unsatisfied’ and ‘disgruntled’ customers. Social media becomes a platform of convenience for highlighting in an unsparing manner the inadequacies, intransigence and insouciance of the hosts towards their guests. Hence when a guest becomes either abusive or engages in an inappropriate act such as the one in question here, it is “payback” time!

All of which brings us to this most important and urgent question of what can be done to ameliorate or even reverse this regressive practice of impulsive pocketing of seemingly trivial stuff, although in the current instance, some of the materials stuffed into briefcases ranged beyond toiletries alone. It is not that the people who engage in such practices come from deprived or under privileged backgrounds. Spending significant sums of money to fly, sail or drive across countries and even continents, incurring -or even splurging – material sums on accommodation, recreation and entertainment, the tourists cannot scour for sympathy that has at its spine monetary constraints. In fact, a man in the video in question can be heard loudly proclaiming possessing or owning a sum of Rs.50 lakhs. If this was to be the case then where was the need to indulge in such a shameful and totally avoidable act?

Irrespective of nationality or background, it is qualitative traits and attributes such as perception and upbringing that matter. Unless the concept of “whatever is rightfully not ours should not remain with us and should never be our preserve” gets drummed into collective brains from a young age, such incidents would continue to recur. More over measures such as counselling for travelers prior to their embarkation to a new geography and imparting of particular codes of conduct that are more a necessity than de riguer by authorities such as the visa processing staff at airports, ports and land clearing stations would greatly assist as well. While all these may sound like fundamental tenets of common sense, one would be surprised to note how uncommon common sense can be at times! Best of all, curricula in schools and colleges should include a segment on global etiquette and behaviour. While this measure should not be construed as ad implemented in a fashion neither regimental nor canonical, it should serve the basic purpose of equipping travelers to fully assimilate the philosophy of thinking global but acting local.

Finally coming back to the current issue under discussion, the last thing we ought to be doing as responsible citizens is circulating the inglorious video without discretion, thereby making it go viral. Naming and Shaming is not the solution at all and in fact such an act may have tragic and unimaginable consequences. The video also has two young girls looking on in a bemused fashion. The trauma which they would be (if they have not already) undergoing as a result of the societal stigma associated with the entire episode should not also be discounted. The stain of humiliation might lead the humiliated to undertake measures that are impulsive, spontaneous, unthinking and quite often tragic.

Hence let us just stop debating over this entire incident and move on. There are a thousand other more pressing issues that require our collective imagination and concerted action.

Vande Mataram: To Sing Or Not to Sing


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Will Launch 'New Look' Vande Mataram, Says Kamal Nath, Slammed For Move

The ludicrous decision by the newly elected Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Kamal Nath to break away from a time bound tradition, of singing “Vande Mataram” in the Madhya Pradesh Secretariat smacks of grandstanding and reeks of petty politics. While trying to unravel the figments of imagination, constituting the preserve of either the Chief Minister or his Party would be an exercise in futility, there is no doubt that by resorting to this knee jerk initiative, the Congress Party has eroded its credibility to a significant extent. The singing of “Vande Mataram” neither constitutes a political ideology nor party propaganda. In fact, while the practice of singing this wonderful creation of the legendary Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in the secretariat on the first working day of every month, in Madhya Pradesh, might have been instituted by the BJP, the egregious Mr. Kamal Nath seems to have been completely oblivious of the fact that the first two verses of the song were adopted as the National Song of India in October 1937 by the Congress Working Committee. So in the process of vainly trying to obfuscate the legacy of the BJP, Mr. Kamal Nath has firmly shot himself in the foot.

Mr. Kamal Nath has been quoted as saying, “It is wrong to do politics on Vande Mataram. They do politics on everything from Ram temple to Vande Mataram. I condemn this. I will give a new ‘roop’ (look) to Vande Mataram.” At the outset by preferring to part from tradition, it is Mr. Kamal Nath who has courted controversy and ignited an unwarranted and a totally avoidable debate. To ascribe the singing of a National Song to the convenience and expediency of a rival party bears monumental testimony to an attitude that is immature and a mindset that is prejudicial. Further, a song which has been embellished by its creator in a form in which it was intended to be conceptualized does not require a resurrection. Hence India is not looking for a brash, unthinking and insensitive Chief Minister to lend a new “roop” to its national song which its populace has whole heartedly embraced with pride, dignity and patriotism.

Yes Mr. Kamal Nath is absolutely right when he acclaims that a mere singing of “Vande Mataram” on the first day of each month does not infuse a citizen with patriotism. Going by this logic, does it require the hoisting of the national flag twice a year accompanied by a reverberating and passionate singing of “Jana Gana Mana” to invest in every Indian the tenet of patriotism? Do we inculcate a frenzied love for our nation only on Independence and Republic Days? For sixty years various Prime Ministers from Mr. Kamal Nath’s own party have been embracing this tradition. So how about stopping the practice of singing the National Anthem on Independence Day and perhaps even imposing a ban on hoisting the tri-colour? That would really be providing some “roop” to culture and national tradition!

In the avant garde cult horror movie Dr. Caligari (1989), a doctor experiments with her patients at the C.I.A (Caligari Insane Asylum), where she transfers glandular brain fluids from one patient to another. By the end of the film the patient becomes the doctor, the doctor becomes the patient and the inmates are left running the asylum.

Before Madhya Pradesh becomes a basket case for irrational experiments, hope its Chief Minister sees the light of the day.

I am Scared

I feel scared. Every single moment I spend in her company makes time irrelevant and space insignificant. The future becomes reducible and the past a forgettable inevitability. Seconds coalesce into minutes, which in turn melt into hours. Yet time stands still. The hands of the clock might tick away bowing to the pressures of Physics and logic, yet the elemental aspects of time do not observe neither Science nor Standards. It is just serendipity. That is what scares me.

Untouched by Janus and blessed by Dike, she is a symbol of fascinating truth and fecund transparency. Shouting out her views yet subservient to reason, she both shocks and soothes. I feel scared. She is the Portia of dogged resolve, and the delightful Elizabeth Bennet of immortal fame. As insecure as Scarlett O’ Hara yet possessing the steely nerves of Sonya Marmeladova, she is a delightful paradox. This is what both inspires and scares me.

Bringing out the child in me and yet making me aware of my hesitant and insecure conscience, she conflates my triumphs and tribulations into one moment of surreal peace. It is this very peace that makes me scared. Oblivious to pain and ignorant of pleasure, I am transported to a realm that is so pure that no conflicting emotions are allowed entry into that sacred domain. This is precisely why time stands still and space loses significance. It is this purity that scares me. It is this very domain across whose threshold I am wary of stepping. Yet with hands spread apart she beckons. With eyes brimming with meaning she reckons. But I feel scared.

She is so near yet so distant. I know not whether to fear the proximity or the aloofness. While the remoteness makes me crave, the immediacy produces a chill that runs right down my spine. What is it that I am afraid of? The fact that I will never be able to possess her or the possibility that she would invariably be mine? Hell is when she moves away from my vicinity, but is it heaven when she beseeches me to spend a wee bit more time with her drinking and not head home in a haste? It is this conundrum that scares me. With sparkling eyes speaking a thousand words, having for punctuations a luscious cascade of wavy hair, she is an epic of indelible meaning and irrepressible form. It is this very form that makes me vulnerable and this very meaning that has me in a bind. Yes, I feel scared.

More intoxicating than any brew, yet possessing an influence that is sobering, she leads me into territories unchartered yet traversed from time immemorial. Bestowing me with the license to dream, she also reigns me in when those dreams take on proportions unrealistic and dimensions unconstrained. It is this very balance that scares me. In her presence I am an eagle that soars uninhibited with regal wings spread apart; In her closeness, I am an idea whose time has certainly come; I see my future in her smile and chart out my destiny in her laugh. Each time she throws back her head and loses herself in her peal of uninhibited, unrestricted and unshackled laughter, it is as if I am holding a mirror to my very conscience. And it is this conscience that has me all scared.

I think; I conjure; I ponder; I speculate; I surmise; I despair; I pine; I judge; I deign; I decide; I wander; I shirk; I expand; I wither; I blossom. More than anything else I HOPE. It is this very hope that drives and demands; propels and pleads; enthuses and enervates; motivates and mars. But ultimately it this very hope that keeps me going and makes me live.

I feel scared.

A Night at the Cinema – A Blunder unforgettable & a mayhem to savour

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After what seemed to be an interminable wait following a never ending sequence of advertisements irritable (a KFC ad showing in obnoxious detail 8 different ways in which a chicken could be bit into), and trailers insipid (gangsters and ghosts contended so much for the bragging rights for the next release that at times the distinguishing lines between the two were blurred), the lights finally dimmed and the screen adjusted itself to the usual size befitting a cinemascope. The determined crunching of popcorn and the contended slurping of carbonated drinks served as appetizers of anticipation. However, the fact that Ashita and I were seated in unenviable seats occupying the second row from the screen did not make for a setting that could be termed comfortable. Craning our necks and looking straight up, we were like a pair of excited storks gawking at the launch of Apollo 13! Only the launch time of Apollo 13 was approximately 2 hours shorter than our positional inevitability.

Ashita

When the movie finally started, there was virtual mayhem and a comical melee in the cinema hall. An absent minded professor and/or a dimwit (and everything in between) had projected the WRONG movie (yes you read it right!). Instead of the originally scheduled Varun Dhawan-Anushka Sharma starrer ‘Sui Dhaga – Made In India’, Cinema Hall No.1 belonging to Golden Screen Cinemas in Nu Sentral Mall, Kuala Lumpur decided on an unpopular whim that the audience deserved to watch a Tamil movie titled “Ekantham” (Loneliness) instead! Imagine the consternation of a packed and hollering crowd at the Eden Gardens, when after winning the toss and electing to bat, India sends in Venkatesh Prasad striding out to open the batting instead of Sachin Tendulkar!

However, the ill timed attempt to inculcate a sense of ‘loneliness’ amongst a band of tired homo sapiens backfired as a miffed mob hurtled its way out the exit doors to find, explain and educate the culprit. Hopefully, a forceful massage and a couple of discounted bones were not on the menu! Extremely keen to both participate in the action and vent her frustration, Ashita sprung out of her seat a la Jack In The Box and turning her gaze in a direction which she had decided was where the projector was located, commenced shrieking “It’s the wrong movie” over and over again. Although no credible or tangible purpose was accomplished by this hollering, she sure gained ample attention and more than succeeded in triggering a herd mentality. “It’s the wrong movie” became such a vociferous and addictive chant that for a few fleeting seconds, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” was in danger of experiencing unfortunate and spontaneous oblivion!

Before proceeding to highlight the manner in which (if at all) the linguistic predicament of a hundred confused souls was resolved, it is apposite to write a few lines about Ashita. If at all anyone deserves to be feted by Bollywood for nursing an unshakable faith in their production lines, it has to be Ashita. Since the time she has been capable of possessing a memory and the faculty of speech, there has not been a single Hindi movie that has escaped either her prying eyes or her prodigious memory. In fact, she can hold forth and wax eloquent over movies the nuances of which even the actors have either forgotten (conveniently) or ended up wishing that they had forgotten (regrettably)! For a person like me who occasionally visits the cinema, motivated more by the prospects of collecting a superhero water bottle (that comes along with a ridiculously expensive and vile tasting popcorn combo) than by the on screen antiques, Ashita is an unparalleled wonder to behold!

Captain

The pandemonium was now taking on comical proportions. While one half of the crowd was jeering yet keeping their eyes locked on the patterns that “Loneliness” was taking on the screen, (after all who does not want to see a cinema for free, even if the actors are rattling about in Swahili), the rest were, with their backs to the cinema waving arms, clenching fists, standing upon chairs and generally yelling whatever were the first words that came to them. I would not have been one bit surprised if I had heard cries of “Sachin Sachin” punctuated with “Inqlaab Zindabad!” The confusion finally came to a merciful conclusion when the by now chastised and hopefully all-bones-in-piece personnel manning the projector took off the Tamil movie and projected the Yash Raj films banner on the silver screen. It was 30 minutes beyond the originally stipulated show time.

But it was thirty minutes the likes of which I had never ever experienced in my lifetime. It was thirty minutes of gathering uncertainties, gallivanting human emotions and more than anything else, gloriously gregarious Ashita!

Even ‘Sui Dhaga’ could not have been tailored to accord such imperfect perfections!

Jay Gatsby with all his frailties

Gatsby

If ever I am given the choice to be transformed into a literary character, it would sans a semblance of any doubt, be Jay Gatsby. Yes, you read that right! Not the morally upright Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or the immortal Holden Caufield of “Catcher In The Rye“. With all the raised eyebrows, rankled emotions and reverberating objections, it would still be Jay Gatsby of “The Great Gatsby“.

F Scott Fitzgerald’s controversial albeit vulnerable character excites and exasperates his readers while being the very epitome of human emotions and paradoxes.  “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” When professing his undying love for Daisy, Gatsby in spite of realising that there is no way out for his venture into the deepest recession of human emotions, still elects to pursue his chosen course of action. The recalcitrant heart prevails over the rational head.

Gatsby is a pack of pernicious lies; Gatsby is a charade of false assurances; Gatsby is a walking machine of deception, but more than anything else, Gatsby is a helpless prisoner of destiny and a child of inevitable fate. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.” This almost naive belief of Gatsby at once makes him a consummate liar as well as a confused (confounded even) child.

Gatsby’s outward portrayal of affluence and effervescence is but an innocent and deliberate charade for acceptance. An acceptance that has as its edifice the dangerous element of love, an undying love for Daisy Buchanan, his muse,  his aspiration and his very objective for living.  Gatsby shows a dangerous willingness to go to any lengths and indulge in any activity to further his insatiable love for Daisy. It is this mindless and at the same time perfectly understandable paradox that lends Gatsby his rightful place in the Hall of Immortal Literary Fame.

Gatsby’s external masochistic presence grapples with his true and inner frailty and miserably fails in the ultimate conflict. A man who is the epitome of manliness, massacre and mayhem is in actuality a gullible bundle of apprehension, fear and failure. It is this bewildering paradox of gullible human emotions that endears Gatsby to me. The true Jay Gatsby is a totally and unfortunately misunderstood character rather than an affluent brat showing his finger to the world.

Gatsby is not so much fixated with repeating the past as reclaiming it. He desires to make the journey to that ethereal, magical moment when he welded all of his aspirations and dreams to Daisy in Louisville, and also to make that past moment his present . It also means redeeming his wrongs by possessing Daisy once again and forever!

Hence given an opportunity to metamorphose into a literary character, I will choose Jay Gatsby without even batting an eyelid. I may as well be the grist for the mill of human emotion rather than be an artificial and confirming relic of stereotypes and lethargic conventions. To paraphrase the mercurial Kurt Cobain, “It is better to burn out than to fade away.”

(WORD COUNT: 582)

THIS POST IS WRITTEN FOR NOVEMBERSCHILD IN ASSOCIATION WITH KALAMPEDIA – QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE”.