If a movie
is made based on a book you have read, watching the movie is a must. But if you
have seen a movie based on a novel you haven’t read, it’s unlikely that you
would read the novel. We somehow tend to believe it’s always a novel to a movie
and the reverse journey doesn’t excite us a much. But with The Flight of
Pigeons by Ruskin Bond I did make that reverse journey.
watched Junoon (based on the novel The Flight of Pigeons) many years ago and
liked it, the story of a passionate one-sided love of a Pathan for an English
girl in the wake of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. A few years ago I chanced upon
the book the movie was based on. A few months ago, after wanting to read it for
many years since I saw it the first time, I finally read it.
In a foreword Ruskin Bond informs that as a
kid he had heard the story from his father, who, in turn, had heard it from Bond’s grandfather,
a soldier those days, several times. The incident which took place in a small
town in UP (Sharanpur) during the Mutiny had captivated a young Bond.
Many years later, when Bond
decided to write a novella based on the incident, he visited Sharanpur and found many of its parts,
especially those the British families occupied in the days of the Mutiny, unchanged from how his father had
starts with a church where a mass is underway being attacked by rebels inspired
by the hate wave that’s blowing across swathes of the country against the
British. Among others, the narrator’s (a British teenage girl) father is killed.
Following the death the family takes shelter in a Hindu merchant’s house who
has braved the consequences of sympathizing with a British family amidst the
anti-British frenzy which has gripped the town.
In the meantime,
a Pathan, a married man with a reputation for his dare devilry and cruelty, who
is wreaking havoc in and outside the town by killing and looting the British
and wealthy Hindus and setting their establishments ablaze, has taken a shine to
the British girl and coaxes the Lala to let the family go with him and stay in
bringing them to haveli the Pathan does what was not expected of him. Instead
of forcibly marrying the British girl or dishonoring her, he asks her mother
for her daughter’s hand and the mother says the Pathan could marry her daughter
if the rebel side won the war. Finally, the British win the war.
time the British reenter the town of Sharanpur to the relief of its British
inhabitants and those who had persecuted the British families following the
outbreak of the Mutiny and the reverses the British had suffered, flee the town
to escape British retribution. However, after knowing that the lover Pathan has fled the town and gone beyond any possibility of return or been seen again, the
British girl, in a silent acknowledgement of her softness for the handsome and chivalrous
man, wishes him a safe passage.
the outline of Flight you would expect it to be a romantic thriller, but it is
not. After the initial burst of action it settles into a slow pace and shows
reveals different layers of the story.
The reaction of the people to what the
Pathan wants to do, the transformation of the Pathan from a reckless troublemaker
to a lovesick man patiently awaiting the matrimonial permission of his muse’s
mother, the grit of the girl’s mother, who, despite the fact that she and her
family are at the mercy of the testy Pathan, manages to keep her wit and composure
And then you
have the magic touch of Ruskin Bond to savour.
This month my car – a Maruti 800
– completes one year with me and nine years since it rolled out of a showroom.
Yes, when I purchased it last March, it was eight years old. And as is expected
of a car that old, it did give me some troubles and caused me minor expenses
for the first eight months or so. But after the first burst of repairs, it
seems to have stabilized and functions smoothly without being an irritant.
This one year with the car has
been a series of discoveries.
One of the reasons for buying the
car was learning how to drive, which I had tried many, many years ago with a
cousin’s second hand Premier Padmini and had not been able to get the clutch
and brake coordination correct resulting in the car starting and then stopping
without moving an inch.
I was booed at. Frustrated, I left trying. After that unsuccessful
attempt, I never tried my hand at driving again until I joined a training school
The first thing I learnt was -
driving is not easy. It is an applied art - where how good you are at it is
determined not by how well you know the theories but how deftly you apply them
when behind the wheels. You are told a few things at the school and many more
you discover on your own.
It requires a mix of many skills.
You have to take quick decisions, you have to have quick impulses to react to
situations, you need what I would call space-ial intelligence, and as you are
doing all this, you have to remain calm and relaxed.
That I am able to successfully
drive came to my mother as a surprise. A year ago, when I started learning, I
would be surprised to know that a year later I would be able to drive. My personality traits run contrary to the prerequisites of driving.
I am slow to react to situations.
I am a slow thinker. I am confusion-prone. And generally I place a chair or table right the second or third time.
It took me two months of training (10 hours) and six months
of practice to overcome my natural deficiencies. Probably it would be a little
longer had it not been for the fact that I had a Maruti 800 to learn with.
These six to eight months were not without pain. Once, while
trying to complete a 60 degree turn, I hit the bumper of an SUV and had to pay
heavily to get it repaired. The driver
of the SUV informed me, while we were returning from the service center, that there
was a new driver who had hit the car bumper against a pole while backing it. “Sale
ko chalana nehi ata.” I would be thankful to him if he had not told me.
The other mishaps were minor but enough to dent my
confidence for a while. Along the way, I also learnt a few life lessons.
One of my friends, who learnt driving about four years ago,
told me the guy who shouts first in an accident and shouts the other guy out
generally gets mob support and prevails: “Yaar, a second later no one knows
whose the fault was.”
Seeing me appreciating his point, he shared a deeper human
insight: Following a crisis, we pretend to look for the actual culprit, but
actually we look for a fall guy - enough to quell our anger!
I learnt another thing: driving doesn’t get the credit it
deserves because it’s a poor man’s job.
When a new arrival – a book or a
movie - is based on a piece of history you are familiar with, it does not leave
you with too many options – you have to devour it. So when in promo pics of
Silence, the latest movie by Martin Scorsese, I saw two guys with scrubby
beard looking like coming from another time in an exotic mountainous locale, it
piqued my curiosity. (I was not familiar with Scorsese‘s reputation and repertoire.) Upon digging deeper, I came to know Silence deals
with a piece of Japan’s past I had read about many years ago.
The time is 16th
century and Japan is going through a period of extreme religious persecution
aimed at those who have embraced Christianity and Jesuits operating in the
country. Amidst this, two Portuguese jesuits visit Japan to find out about
their mentor jesuit – father Ferrero - who is said to have abandoned his faith in Christianity publicly, and also to help Christians facing persecution in the
This is the period which has a
parallel with post Nagasaki Hiroshima Japan: when the nuclear attack forced the
country into a shell – to rebuild a nation maimed by a war and nuke. Many say
these two incidents and their aftermath left Japan with a permanent paranoia
for the foreigner (much like what the Opium War did for China) which still
informs its public policies. However,
people familiar with the bit of Japan’s history Silence deals with will trace
the source of that paranoia a little further back in time.
An edge-of-the seat suspense takes
you through the first half an hour or so of the film and then it slowly
dissipates and the film gradually settles into an easier pace but a certain tension
continues to characterize the narrative throughout, thanks to the subject, but
also how the director has brought that element to bear upon the narrative.
Given the nature of the subject Scorsese
has chosen for Silence, a plaintiveness running across the film is
understandable. But the scenes depicting the dehumanizing treatment meted out by
Japanese officers to those who have moved to Christianity, mostly poor
villagers, leave you with a sour mood. And this I feel helps the evangelist side get sympathy with the viewer and win the
argument obscuring the viewer to the fact that
the colonial powers often hid sinister intent behind the guise of faith (many
advocates of the Opium War on China had used faith as their justification), a
point that Scorsese’s movie overlooks.
In fact, many would say Silence
is a passionate argument for Christianity - one of the travelling Portuguese
padres dies but the other lives and goes through a forced public denial of his
faith in Catholicism following which he becomes a Buddhist and never
acknowledges his faith in Christianity in his lifetime only to be shown with a
cross in his rolled palm when he is being cremated as per Japanese customs - in
an apparent show of trump of his Christian beliefs.
Be that as it may, I
wholeheartedly rooted for the characters undergoing persecution and the torture
scenes left me downcast for a long time.
Silence is easily a classic,
something which will stand the test of time and be remembered respectfully many
years later for several things – great cinematography (some of the scenes are
simply breathtaking), authentic recreation of a period in history (the
monasteries, the wooden structures, everything looks so much like they have
leapt out of the period) and above everything else a film which powerfully tells a
story showing the two sides of religion – devotion and intolerance.
It’s been sometime since I wrote the earlier blog on
demonetization – and the situation has changed since then. We have got used to
the new normal – that ATMs will not be the same again, that some visits to ATMs
will be disappointing, some fruitful, that 2000 rupee notes will be in greater
use than 1000 rupee denomination ever was and therefore getting it changed will
always be a concern, that although a complete cashlessness may still be some
years away, more and more number of small shops, the most formidable bastions
of cashbased transactions, will offer digital options for payment. In sum, liquid
cash will become less and less part of our day to day lives.
Well, all this is good news, but is it the whole picture or
just an urban snapshot? From the reports that are emerging, rural India is
still smarting under the effects of demo. A few days ago a news portal solely
reporting on the effects of demonetization on rural India reported that in
Maharashtra prices of some vegetables have dropped substantially due to over
supply resulting from the inability of middle men to buy them due to lack of cash
availability (these transactions are
almost always cashbased). Some rural regions are not receiving enough cash
supply in their banks – and it’s a bigger concern in rural areas than in urban
And even in urban areas, even by the standard of the new
normal, order has not completely returned. Most ATMs are still out of cash.
Most of those that are working are mostly dispensing Rs 2000 notes. Many have concluded that visits to banks to
draw cash via cheques is a better option than depending on ATMs; but then if
that is so, then does it not defeat the whole purpose of demonetization?
By now it is undeniable that the implementation has been a
disaster. How the government and various financial institutions have reacted to
situations suggests they were not foreseen and planned for earlier.
Surprisingly though, as it appears, demo hasn’t hurt the government
politically, although many would suspend their judgement about it until UP
delivers its verdict.
Apart from Modi’s thunderous speeches, what has helped the
government is that the opposition continues to be hopeless. To start with,
there is hardly any opposition unity. Some parties are ambiguous about their
stand on demo, some are half-heartedly supporting it by maintaining silence, some
are mindlessly hurling accusations none of which is sticking.
Amidst this chaos, though, one thing is becoming clear:
emergence of a new order of payment methods, networks etc. The problem is how
fast people can get used to the emerging order. The lightning speed with which
demo was brought by the government will keep people on their toes, causing them
to rush to the new transaction practices, in terms of learning them and making
them an integral part of their day-to-day financial transactions.
Good or bad, this attitude towards government-brought
changes is another bequest of demonetization. In the past, whenever it came to
matters relating the government, people felt things would largely remain the
same and they would be able to bypass the minor changes and survive the
effects. Such comforting assurances have become a thing of the past.
In the meantime, stories will keep emerging, some funny,
some tragic. Let us look at this one from Karnataka. To raise funds, to help a
depleted exchequer, the government is invoking an old law where pubs will have
to achieve a minimum target of liquor sale set by the government, falling short
of the target will attract penalties.
It’s been sometime I have been at the receiving end of the
effects of demonetization. I still am confused whether what the government is
telling is right, that it’s today’s pain and tomorrow’s gain. Or what the
opposition parties are claiming is true, that it’s not going to serve the
intended purpose of eliminating black money, that it’s legalized loot, that
nothing will prevent counterfeiters from counterfeiting the newly introduced
notes and so on.
Whichever side of the argument you are on, a few things are very clear. It’s almost a month since
demonetization and the situation on ground is still not back to normal.
Most ATMs are not functioning, barring a few located in prominent places per
area. The load on these few functioning ATMs is so high, as a result, that they
are running out of cash within a few hours of refill. I stood in long queues of
several such ATMs and the cash ran out when my turn was two to three people
away. The luckiest ones walked away with 100 rupee notes, the luckier with
2000, some (including me) had to return emptyhanded. Even if you are lucky to
get some cash, there is restriction to how much you can draw. Until some time
ago ATMs cards from banks other than the host bank were not working. Now they
Like many of you, I am tracking this development closely and
have read several articles and heard some interviews. Posthumously, they say a
range of things which could have prevented or at least brought down the scale
of the crisis. Instead of banning both 500 and 1000 rupee notes, they say, the
government could have banned one – preferably 1000 – and left the other, which would
have given them time to replenish the banned notes and also the option of
targeting the 500 rupee denomination later. If they had taken some time to make
all the notes the same size, which is how it is in many countries, the ATM
machines would not require recalibration, they say.
These ‘should have beens’ may not bother us much now that
it’s too late, but at a national and personal level there are a few possible
outcomes of them. The happy political consensus over GST seems to have
dissipated and reorganized itself as a pan India opposition against the
government over demonetization. No one seems to mind the purported goals – end
of black money, cashless economy etc - of demonetization; given their lofty
nature, they are slightly unchallengeable. The opposition parties seem to smell
a political opportunity in how demonetization has been carried out. And that
seems to be the bone of contention for the amm janta too…who may think, if the
mainstream media reports are to go by, that little bit of pain is worth the
long term gains. But as each day goes by without the situation coming under
control, the concern that’s becoming bigger and bigger is: how long the patience
will hold out?
The answer to that lies in several things. How long will the
government take to pull the situation under control? How soon, in what forms
and how tangibly will people see the benefits of the pain they are undergoing?
How long the government will be able to prevent the growing voice of a uniting
opposition into becoming a nationwide roar (something like the G scams)?
A lot of this will require perception handling. Also, as the government
works towards getting things in order, care has to be taken to make sure that nothing undermines the ground which is being covered on the way to normalcy. The
system has countless holes through which illegal money can travel back and
forth having a termite-like effect. And there
is enough evidence that this is happening. New notes worth over Rs 4 crore have
been seized in income tax raids in Bengaluru. Similar incidents have been reported from other parts of the country. And there are inherent challenges.
One of them is the unorganized economy in India is intricately entwined with
the mainstream economy and the former is mostly (unless it is illegal) cash
On ground a few things need to be made smooth so that after I
get a 2000 rupee note it’s easy for me to find change or there are enough 100
notes in ATMs. The number of functioning ATMs should start growing so that I
don’t have to stand in queues for too long. If the problem is to linger for a
few more months, then special arrangements should be made on payment days,
either by pumping in more currencies or devising ways to identify and move as
many as possible to crediting their stuff salary into their accounts. None is easy. And what makes it difficult is
this hydraheaded monster has to be tamed FAST.
very few books that fill you with a sense of urgency to write something on them
before it’s too late. Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, which marks the
author’s return to nonfiction after a long while, is one such book. The Great
Derangement…delves into history (literary and political), analyses contemporary
practices, our choices and preferences...and tells us how they are collectively
responsible for forcing the nature to unleash destructive forces - like earth
swallowing floods, monstrous earth quakes, gales with never-heard-of speed and
ferocity – and have brought us to the edge from where a return journey is not
possible unless we immediately stop the ‘march of modernity’.
blames several things for the climate challenges we are faced with – one is
history, another is indifference of serious fiction towards climactic matters,
another is the apathy of governments to climactic concerns, still another is
our lack of awareness about the havoc climate change can wreak in our lives
although there is no dearth of evidence around us.
most morbid about the middle class when it comes to suffering from impact of
climate change. He says the rich will fly away in airplanes, the poor will go
away to their villages, but where will the middle class go given the fact that
they have built their lives in cities? In other words, Ghosh says cities are
most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
particularly those that are close to sea or other forms of water bodies, like
Mumbai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Calcutta. Most of these cities were built in
colonial period to act as good trade and commerce centers because of their
proximity to water. And somehow this preference for proximity with water has
crept into the elites of these cities, who tend to build their settlements
close to water. The richer the closer.
This love of
the rich for staying close to water makes the sea-facing locations most coveted
real estate pieces. And, Ghosh observes, this desirability of these locations as
real estate properties, anywhere around the world, makes it difficult for
governments (or municipal bodies) to create awareness about the perils of
staying close to water bodies, thanks to the political clout the real estate
practitioners enjoy everywhere.
For Ghosh the
peril of this proximity was best exemplified when he travelled to Andaman and
Nicobar islands to report on the impact of tsunami. He visited an army settlement located close
to the sea. He noticed two things: a) the higher the rank of the occupant, the
closer his dwelling was to the sea leading to the highest rank holder staying
closest to the sea (and vice versa); b) those closest to the sea were affected
the most by tsunami.
observes that in the pre-colonial period people lived away from water, but with
the city-building projects the colonial masters took up, the preference slowly
One of the most original points Ghosh makes in Derangement is
the indifference of literary fiction to the concerns of climate change.
According to Ghosh, some of the practitioners of serious fiction in the 19th
century consciously moved away from using fantastical elements – like flying
carpets or a rising sea gulping a landscape – as a means to tell stories, in
order to focus on more prosaic day-to-day affairs of life. This prosaic-ity
fulfilled the requirements of serious fiction. So describing minor details of
landscape and how people lived their lives became fashionable. Amitav Ghosh
says this shift from writing about fantastical occurrences to more mundane
motions of life had to do with the emphasis of the Industrial Revolution on
betterment of human lives.
This shift made the fury of nature, like floods, cyclones
etc., an untouchable terrain for serous fiction – because, as Ghosh observes,
the gigantic scale of these furies of nature lends them a fantasy-like
incredulity not to be dealt with in the type of fiction which swears by
Writing on furies of nature fell to less-respected a form of
fiction, genre fiction. And, Ghosh rues, it continues to this day. That is why
thrillers and science fiction have addressed climactic concerns; but sadly, the
author says, because genre fictions hardly receive any serious literary award,
the issues they address don’t receive the attention they deserve.
One of the things responsible for pushing us to the brink is
replacement of coal with petrol as a fuel. Petrol is a more versatile fuel than
coal but that is not the only thing which explains why petrol usurped coal’s position
as a primary fuel: the reason is petrol is a politically safer fuel than coal –
and what makes coal a politically volatile fuel is the highly visible mining
process involved in it unlike the refinement process of petrol which is very
Remember the blackened face of the 20th century coal
miner melancholically looking at you from a black and white photo? This
visibility of the plight of coal miners is responsible for the revolutions that
coal mining has led to unlike the plight of petroleum refinery workers which
suffers in obscurity. And the political elite of the Anglosphere the Churchills
and Roosevelts of this world knew about this disadvantage of coal mining, Europe
having experienced many of the coal-triggered revolutions, and ensured that
coal was replaced by petroleum as a primary fuel.
always Ghosh’s favorite whipping horse is once again colonialism. He says
Britain made sure that the benefits of the industrial revolution were denied to
its colonies – and that’s the kind of development that took place in the
Western world didn’t take start in Asia until the 1950s when the colonies
started getting independence. But, according to the author, the earth can’t
withstand the rigor of another round of Western-style development.
in climate negotiations taking place among nations, the Western nations insist
the poorer nations to take a different route to development.
Ghosh says governments
across the world, particularly the democratic ones, come to power on the
promise of fulfilling people’s aspirations – and therefore are ill-placed to
ask their citizenry to view their actions in the light of their moral
responsibility towards saving the earth from going over the edge. It’s only
religious groups that can do that. And Ghosh praises the book Laudato Si
written by pope Francis in this regard and does a comparative study between the
papal book on climate and another important treatise concerning the same
subject, The Paris Agreement - and concludes that Laudato Si is much more lucid
and readable of the two.
You can take The Great Derangement in many ways – as a book
which preaches, prophesises, disparages - by asking us to happily forgo the
type of modern development the Western nations have taken for granted. And I am
afraid seeing the book in any of these ways will obscure you to its merit as a
well-researched book which forcefully holds a brief for climate and makes some
unique points along the way. But it does so not without occasionally sliding into ideological
slots avoiding which would have ensured a wider acceptability of its views which are certainly worthy of attention.