Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Talibanization of Pakistan-I

Read my take on the past and the present of the Talibanization of Pakistan published here. The next article in this series will explore what future may mean for the country.

Book Update : Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell). I had always wanted to read this one. A wonderfully written love story against the backdrop of the old south, the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. A tale of survival and determination. The perspective is slightly tainted, through the eyes of rich white landlords. Nevertheless, it does capture the pain and hardships war caused in the Southern states of America. Having read it my only regret is why didn't I read it earlier. Imminently inspiring & re-readable over and over again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Are Sri Lankan Tamilians children of a lesser God Pakistanis?

Maybe they are. Sri Lankan Tamilians are children of a lesser God because their country does not share a border with Afganistan. The discrimination and the quiet are horrifying. UN wants greater aid for Pakistan's refugees where the military offtensive against the Taliban is less than a few week old and it ignores what has been happening in Sri Lanka for months now. Thousands, probably millions of civilians trapped in a narrow belt which the government has been shelling to oust the rebels. The Lankan government has banned international media while an unabated genocide continues. The best UN could do there was to express a sentinent over the high number of civilians killed. As if offering speeches over the matter will solve the problem. Countries like UK and Norway seem to have done better than the UN.

Though I am for humanitarian relief whereever there be a need, why such discrimination against Sri Lankans ? And why are Pakistani refugees get a better treatment ? Isn't it a reflection of the motivation of the money that the agency is giving out ?

The coverage : Sri Lanka warned on 'war crimes'
UN calls for massive Pakistani aid

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: When the movie is better than the book

Last November (2008), I watched Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t think I can express how I  felt. Maybe it was one of those bad days when things are not going too well in your world. The movie was heavy with the harsh realities of the life of more than a third of the Indian population. I left the theatre with a strong desire to do something to make a difference and a desire to read the book on which the movie is based. This post reviews the book and the movie (maybe I will post an update on what I have done since then if it does end up making a difference in some one's life).
Slumdog Millionaire is based on the novel, Q&A written by Vikad Swarup, an Indian diplomat. Vikas Swarup, in an interview, mentioned that when Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire, told him that he would preserve the body of his book, Swarup should have realized that Danny would kill the soul. This heightened my expectations of the book. Such a dramatic and powerful movie can only be based on really well written-book, or so I thought. Maybe I should mention that I belong to the old school where books are better than movies, even if the movie has won six Oscars.

Anyway I got a chance to lay my hand on Q&A, now republished as Slumdog Millionaire last week, and I have the following comparison to offer. The movie is indeed based on book’s content and follows the structure of the book, as a series of questions on the popular show -Who wants to be a billionaire? That’s where the similarity ends. The book is no more than a collection of loosely bound short stories while the movie is solid commentary on Indian society with a focus on urban Indian poor. Unfortunately the book does not develop its characters, focusing instead on a series of disparate events, some of them unbelievable. While the movie floors you not only with its characters, but also by vividly capturing the life of Dharavi, believed to be Asia’s biggest slum, in the heart in India's financial capital Mumbai. If the purpose of the author was to make a generic commentary on India, he needed even more meat on the bones, which the book does not have. The author’s way of capturing the role religion plays in Indian society, through a protagonist with the name ‘Ram Mohammed Thomas’ (RMT) is far more unrealistic & ineffective than the movie’s depiction of a mob.

There are lots of other changes that the movie’s screenplay makes, small big and other small. It omits stories of RMT aka Jamal Khan (the name of the movie’s protagonist) as a bartender and his adventures in Delhi at an Australian Diplomats house. It also twists the story line, introducing an under world don while omitting a contract killer. Overall, the screenplay effectively makes a collection of short stories into a coherent movie, one that rises above its individual characters while reflecting the reality of life of the urban Indian poor. It however does this while ensuring that the characters are well developed. In this case the movie is far better than the book.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Both Democracies - Yet Poles Apart

Last year I spent a lot of time following the US Presidential election. The Indian elections this year have made me compare notes: How do elections in the world's largest democracy compare with elections in world's largest economy.?

For a start, I was really intrigued by the involvement of the ordinary American into the political process and the fact the campaign was fought on real issues. Yes, there were diversions about Bill Ayers and the religion of present President of the US but the majority of the campaign was on matters that affected the life of an ordinary American - healthcare, economy, pro-choice or pro-life (can't understand why this should be a election issue), Iraq , Afganistan and such. Turn the globe about 180 degrees to India and you fail to spot a single national issue in this election. A string of regional parties splitting, resplitting, aligning to the point where your head spins with confusion.

The two men contesting the king's chair aka Presidency of the World's largest economy, even at their most bitter, treated each other with respect. Incontrast, the two old men at the helm of two of India's largest parties have hurled insults and abuses at each other. And once you move a little lower in the ranks of the parties you are shocked at hatred and virulous remarks that you hear.

Last but probably the most important, because it explains some of the above, is the apathy of the middle class Indian towards the elections. Infact a majority of Indians think what they can achieve in their lives is despite the government rather than because of it. They can not relate to the politicians who them. On top of that is the age and generation gap. 40% of India's billion plus population is young but unfortunately young political parties have old and middle age people at the helm of affairs and in their 2nd line of command. Manmohan Singh & L K Advani and both more than 70 years old.
This article from the New York Times offers a perspective (requires a free signup)

Movie Update : The Fast and the Furious - IV . Some really great action sequences and car chases. Keeps you at the edge of that seat
State of the Play : Average to Interesting.