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.