Kashmiri Pandits: 27 years of Exile

I was in Class Five when the word Kashmir made its way into my little vocabulary. My Drawing teacher Mrs. Kaul was from the valley. Though she was not a Kashmiri herself, she had married a Kashmiri. She used to wear ‘Dejaharoo‘ (Earrings which cling on a long silk or golden string) and come to school. As someone who grew in Jaipur, I had never seen my mother or other women wear it so I was of course curious. My mother used to teach Hindi in the same school and through her I got to know she was a Kashmiri and these are ornaments specific to the people who come from the state. She also told me that her house was attacked by terrorists during the late 80’s and they moved out of the valley post that. I was neither mature enough to understand about the situation nor was I interested to know why her house was attacked. However, that was my first brush with the story of Kashmiri Pandits.

If I ignore this little encounter during my childhood, then it would be fair to say that I had not even heard about the Kashmiri Pandits till 2010. It was only after I joined twitter and interacted with Kashmiris over there, I got to know about their story. A story that moved and shook me to the core and has stayed with me over the years. I was sad and shocked that something like this could happen in our country. I was angry and hurt that how very little is known about them and none of our history books mention their exodus. I have had Kashmiri Pandits in my class while I was growing up but I never bothered to ask them because I did not know their story and even they never shared their side because most of them were born after the exodus or were too tired to revisit their exodus.

For a long time, Kashmir has been all about separatists, their call for Azadi and Indian Army in a daily battle with militants. However, there is another side which is forgotten which is of the Pandits. This has changed to an extent with the advent of social media as a lot of people have started talking about them too. A young breed of Kashmiri Pandit writers (Rahul Pandita, Siddharth Gigoo, Varad Sharma) has risen up and they are now taking the help of pen to tell their story. In spite of this there are a lot of people who still don’t know about the exodus. This is my attempt to reach out to the people who are my friends and relatives on social media. Even if one of my friends or followers reads it on Facebook and gets to know about the story of Kashmiri Pandits then I would be satisfied.

A lot of us cannot even sleep properly if we change the side of the bed. My wife hates travelling as she cannot sleep in the claustrophobic train berths. Most of us miss the comfort of our home when we visit a relative’s house for a wedding & stay in a dharamshala or hotel. Now, imagine sleeping on the wrong side of the bed for your entire life or sleeping in that claustrophobic train compartment for a lifetime or being in a dharamshala forever. We cannot. The thought of it makes us uncomfortable. But here we have a community who is out of their homes for more than two decades now. As I write this, they enter their 27th year in exile and it all happened on that fateful winter night of 19th January 1990. A community was threatened, their women were raped, their men were killed, their children were orphaned and they were forced out of their homes forever. Why? Because they were Hindus.

In the late 80’s, Kashmir was simmering with tension and the seeds of this were sown when the then Congress government at centre rigged the elections in 1987. Muslim United Front (MUF) was expected to win a good number of seats but it ended up winning just four and they did not take it lightly. To make matters worse, Sayeed Salahudeen of MUF was jailed. Today, he heads the dreaded Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The rigged elections created distrust and a lot of Kashmiris lost the faith in democracy. I consider this as the turning point of the insurgency in the valley.

However, was it only this that led to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits? NO! How can people who take great pride in talking about ‘Kashmiriyat’ turn their backs on their Pandit brothers so quickly? If it was the anger against rigged elections, then why did this anger find its release on Kashmiri Pandits and not others? There was of course something sinister in all this. It was an attempt to get rid of the minorities from the valley and a step closer to the Islamization of Kashmir which more or less has been achieved.

The murder of Pandit Tika Lal Taploo who was a noted lawyer & member of BJP by JKLF was the first of the many killings that took place in the valley. The killings that followed were brutal and harrowing. Sarla Bhat, a nurse was abducted from her hostel, gang raped and killed. Girja Tikoo, a teacher was kidnapped, raped & shredded to pieces in a saw mill. Pandit Sarwanand was hanged to death and his eyes were gauged out. As many as 300 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by the terrorists. Every day there was news about a Kashmiri Pandit being attacked, kidnapped and killed. The failure of the administration to take any action against the terrorists only added to the fear among the Pandits.

If this was not enough, local Urdu newspapers Aftab and Al Safa published a press release by Hizb-ul-Mujhaideen asking the Hindus to leave Kashmir. Hundreds of posters were pasted on shops, walls, electric poles asking the Pandits to leave. There were orders asking Kashmiris to follow the Islamic dress code and a ban on cinemas and alcohol came into place. The clocks were set in accordance with the Pakistan Standard Time. Mosques in the valley reverberated with slogans like ‘Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-O-Akbar); Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (What will work here? Rule of Shariah); Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batao roas te Batanev san‘ (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men), Islam hamara maqsad hai, Quran hamara dastur hai, jehad hamara Rasta hai” (Islam is our objective, Quran is our constitution and Jehad is our way), Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (Cinvert, Leave or Die)

The Hindu places of worship were looted and destroyed subsequently. Shailputri and Bhairon Nath Temple in Baramulla, Wanpoh temple in Anantnag, temples in Lukh Bhawan were some of the temples that were attacked by the terrorists. The idols in various temples were broken and the temple walls were defaced. The growing Islamization slowly gripped the valley and Anantnag was named Islamabad. The famous Shankaracharya Temple became Takht-e-Suleiman while Hari Parbat where the famous Sharda Peeth lies is now called Kohr-e-Maraan.

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Defaced Temple Walls

The daily threats, killings, humiliation and the failure of government to protect them was enough to force the Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley. Close to 3.0 Lakh Kashmiri Pandits left the valley only to never return. The journey which started from the pristine and beautiful Kashmir ended in the hot and ugly migrant camps of Jammu. The tales from the migrant camps are full of pain. Elderly people were not used to the scorching heat of Jammu and found it extremely difficult to cope. Young married couples found no privacy in the tents which led to decline in the birth rates. Depression, paranoia and other mental diseases became a common occurrence. Here is an excerpt from ‘A Long Dream of Home’ describing the life in exile!

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From ‘A Long Dream of Home’ by Siddhartha Gigoo & Varad Sharma

Today, we have an entire generation of Kashmiri Pandits who have grown outside their home. The rich heritage, culture, traditions and language of the community is in danger. As the young breed of Kashmiri Pandits make great strides in their career in the metro cities, they remain detached from their roots and it’s a big challenge for both the parents and children to preserve it. A lot of young Kashmiri Pandits I know don’t even care about the exodus because it is something that they have not experienced. Kashmir for them is a fairy tale land because no one has been there. They have only listened to the stories by their parents and grandparents and that’s about it. They don’t share the same emotion. I have spoken to a lot of them but not many of them want to talk about it. They are Jammuites now. While it’s a good thing that they don’t want to cling on to the past but to forget is to forgive and they should not be given this luxury.

Likewise, there is an entire generation of Kashmiri Muslims who have grown without the presence of Pandits around them and don’t understand their pain and anger. Even though the facts speak otherwise, for a lot of Kashmiri Muslims, the exodus of Pandits was ‘migration’ which was an act of Governor Jagmohan. When I read and interact with them on social media, I sense little regret or pain. The argument always ends up blaming the ‘Indian government’ or the Pandits.

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Migrant Camp at Muthi, Jammu

Every year there is a lot of debate around the return of Kashmiri Pandits but it’s a FARCE. Politicians across parties make claims to rehabilitate Pandits but it remains an election rhetoric. Even Narendra Modi who is often hailed as the poster boy of Hindu cause has failed to address the issue. The apathy of political class towards the Pandits is also due to the fact that they don’t make a sizable vote bank. It doesn’t matter if they vote or not because they cannot make or break the elections unlike their counterpart. It is ironic that Omar Abdullah talks about the return of Pandits because his father Farooq Abdullah did nothing to control the radical elements when he was the Chief Minister. Likewise, Mehbooba Mufti might speak about how important Pandits are but who can forget that her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was involved in the anti Pandit riots in 1986?

The Kashmiri Pandit exodus also exposes the hypocrisy of liberal class in our country. It’s a grim reminder that none of the people responsible for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits have been punished. No commission or committee has been set up to inquire and identify the perpetrators. No attempt has been made by successive governments to bring closure. It shows us a mirror that how much selective we have become in our outrage that humanity has taken a backseat and agenda seems to be driving us. We outrage so much when minorities in other parts of the country are attacked but we remain silent when the same happens in Kashmir.

Some time back, there was a lot of discussion around separate housing societies for the Pandits in Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims along with the separatists opposed it citing that this will alienate the community further. Though I agree that ghettos might not be a great idea and it offers little for the young blood of both communities to mingle. However, another voice in me asks ‘What other option they have’? Their homes are destroyed so where do they live after coming back? The same neighbors who refused to help during 89-90 can be trusted all over again? The youth of Kashmir has abandoned books and taken up to stone pelting. It won’t take long for Kalshnikovs to replace stones. An all Kashmiri woman band was forced to disband itself few years ago. Recently, Zaira Wasim was threatened by separatists. Do the Pandits want to raise their children in this environment? With ISIS flags being waved during protests, radicalism seems to be the order of the day in the valley.

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Pandits are Cancer (Source: OpIndia)

Kashmir is rotten and I don’t see any hope of it improving. I am an optimist but at the same time I am pragmatic. I don’t see the exile of Kashmiri Pandits ending ever. 27 years have gone. 27 more will go but nothing will change. Sadly, that’s the harsh reality. But we need to revisit the pain, suffering and longing that our fellow Indians went through every year so that we don’t let this happen again! 

 

10 Trends we should bid farewell to in 2017

1. Show Middle Finger to Middle Name.

Dear Ladies, I know it’s your choice but I have to say it’s a horrible one. Adding your husband’s name in the middle on Facebook seems to be the new fad in 2016. Every other person I know (friends, relatives) seems to be doing it post marriage. On one hand, we have women keeping their surnames same even after marriage and on the other we have women who go one step ahead and add their husband’s name too. Personally, I find it regressive and patriarchal. Have you asked your husbands to do the same? Or has the thought of adding wife’s name to theirs even come across to husbands? I guess, No and that explains it all. I seriously don’t understand the joy behind doing this exercise. Hope to see the trend fading away in 2017 or at least husband’s catching up with it too.

2. Arvind Kejriwal should stop being a troll

I know it is wishful thinking and may be even God cannot help me in this but can we please have a well behaved Arvind Kejriwal? In other words, can he start behaving as a Chief Minister and stop blaming the Prime Minister for every damn thing in this universe?  From calling the PM a psychopath to supporting a convict like Lalu Prasad Yadav, he has become nauseating now. There have been times when I had to read his tweets twice just to check if it is him or his troll account (which by the way makes more sense).  Arvind, even Najeeb Jung has resigned now, please be a little tolerable!

3. It’s not about loving our Soldiers

I am no ‘liberal’ but the growing use of bringing in the country’s soldier for justifying everything silly done in the country should just stop RIGHT NOW! Lecturing people to boycott or ban films that star Pakistani actors because our soldiers are protecting us at the border or telling people that they should not crib about standing in bank and ATM lines because soldiers stand at the border for days without complaining is plain stupidity. Can we please stop this false equivalence and let the soldiers be out of the politics? We can love our soldiers & at the same time criticize demonetization or enjoy watching Ae Dil Hai Muskhil. May better sense prevail!

4. Muslim kids & Fancy Dress

Even Lord Krishna and Jesus would have been fed up by the ‘secularism’ shown by Indians. This is an annual ritual when pictures of Muslim parents carrying their kids dressed up as Krishna or Jesus start floating on WhatsApp, Facebook and every damn place you can find. In fact it isn’t Janmasthami or Christmas till we have seen the picture. While I appreciate the multi culturalism and pluralism of our country; we need not be reminded of it every year. Let the kids dress up and leave them. Please don’t shove it in our face. Just chill. BTW, idea courtesy @NameFieldmt

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5. Close the Open Letters 

While I have written some of them myself, I think it’s high time we stop this drama of Open Letters. I say that because let’s be frank, no one is reading them; especially, the one to whom we are addressing it. I don’t have a problem with the format but of late there have been a bombardment of open letters (most of which make no sense) for every little thing that happens around us. Also, let’s face it that most of us are not aiming towards staring a dialogue but it’s just a bitch fest to get more hits on our blog and get some publicity. We should rather write a letter to our loved ones which they might actually read & may be make them happy because nothing beats the old world charm that hand written letters carry. BTW, this was suggested by KarnikaKohli

6. Ramzan vs Ramadan

Again, I have been party to the crime but if I reflect back, I feel this is one of the most pointless debates of which I have been a part of. Ramzan is one of the most important festivals of Muslims and it is called ‘Ramadan’ in Arabic. In India, as Urdu & Hindi have been the language of communication, it is called ‘Ramzan’. Most of us grew up learning it. I of course had issues (still have) with the growing Arabization as Indians started using ‘Ramadan’ but many say that I am over reacting & it’s just going back to using the ‘authentic’ name which is in Quran. So, let’s just close this debate and enjoy Haleem & Sheer Korma without getting into the spelling.

7. ‘Recreating’ old songs

As if remaking old Hindi films was not enough, we now have film makers ruining the old classic songs by ‘recreating’ them. Some of them like Kaala Chasma (Baar Baar Dekho) or Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le (Dear Zindagi) were not that bad but most of them have been a let down. The recent recreation of Rahman’s Humma Humma (OK Janu) was the final nail in the coffin. Can we just compose some original music in 2017? @ThePuccaCritic did a good piece on the same.

8. Who is the best Khan?

Let’s just settle it this year and agree that Shah Rukh Khan is the BEST Khan. We must stop this annual ranting of telling SRK that he should do more films like Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Swades & Chak De India. He is a brilliant actor and he was bloody good even when he did DDLJ, KKHH, Veer Zaara and Fan. No one can do a Raj or Rahul like he does and even now when he opens his arms, he creates magic on screen. Yes, even with that hamming. He has style, class and substance. He is THE KING. PERIOD!

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9. The Coke Studio Debate

With a heavy heart, I have to say that Coke Studio Pakistan is a notch above ours. Let’s just accept it guys that ours is still very commercial, Bollywoodish and to an extent wannabish also and we haven’t come up with something that is even close to the magic of Coke Studio Pakistan. So let’s just enjoy the music and keep the who is better debate aside because I just told you who is better!

10. Year End Posts! 

So tired of these year end posts telling us the top moments, the top films, the best shows, the worst actors and all that. Oh wait! Okay. It is still 2016 and I can write one  🙂

On that note, Happy New Year!

Piriya Vidai, Amma!

Tuesday, 6th December 2016. I remember waking up in the morning and switching on the Television with bated breath. Jayalalitha was battling for her life and I had slept hoping for a miracle. I was still hoping for one when I pressed the button on the remote but there she was; wrapped in the National Flag. She was no more. I had to rush to office so I took my towel and moved towards the bathroom but I stopped. Instead, I went to my room, switched off the light, hid my face in the towel and started crying. Wife came and consoled but I wanted to cry. I was quite surprised about me breaking down because I am someone who had mocked my cousin years ago when he had dropped tears when Bala Saheb Thackeray had passed away. But the death of Jayalalithaa felt like personal loss.

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Since I come from the Northern part of India, a lot of people have (shockingly) asked me about my fascination with the Southern leader. More so, when I don’t even understand the language of politics in Tamil Nadu. I was 11 when I first read (rather saw) about Jayalalitha as she was all over the place after withdrawing support from the Vajpayee government in 1999 but I was probably not big enough to take interest and mature enough to understand politics.  Cut to 2006, the 18 year old me had started taking an interest in politics and much of this was because I could now vote.

I remember watching one of the episodes of the show ‘Follow the Leader’ with Jayalalitha on Star News in 2006. It was an intriguing show where a journalist covered a political leader and his/her election rallies for 24 hours giving us great insights into their daily lifestyle and routine. As Jayalalithaa’s van moved on the streets, I saw women standing in long queues with coconut, deepak and kumkum adorned on the thali and welcoming ‘Amma’. There were images of men wearing ugly huge rings with Amma’s face, Amma tattoos on their arms and their hair cut in the symbol of two leaves which is the election symbol of her party AIADMK. Not to miss, the huge cut outs of hers, some of them were quite literally taller than the buildings surrounding them.

I was of course amused but at the same time surprised to see the sheer hysteria and devotion among the people because I had never seen this in North. I couldn’t help but notice her impeccable English, panache, sophistication and style. Or as people say it was probably her ‘charisma’ that left me mighty impressed. I was intrigued by this lady who had men falling on her feet so I decided to read her story and the more I read, the more I started loving her.  10 years now that I have been following the leader. I seldom miss an article, news or a video on Jayalalitha. I often go to You Tube and see her old interviews (everyone should) and my admiration for the woman keeps increasing.

Amma’s life has been a battle, full of struggles and hardships but like a warrior she fought with dexterity and won. Her story inspires, motivates and uplifts. Every time she was written off, she rose from the ashes just like the Phoenix would. In fact, hers is a story which seems straight out of a film and there are moments in her life when you just want to stand and applaud her for the sheer grit, determination and bravery shown by her.

The Fighter

She has fought and won many elections in her life but that is what every politician does and she was no different. However, I call her a fighter because these were different fights; fights with a society that was deeply patriarchal & misogynistic – Jayalalitha was not allowed to enter her mentor MGR’s house when he passed away. Women pinched her, dug their nails into her skin and stomped on her feet while the men (who were jealous of her rise in the party) attacked her and called her a Prostitute when she rushed to see his body. But she didn’t move. She stood there for two continuous days without shedding a tear. She was portrayed as the ‘other woman’ by the workers of AIADMK but she fought hard and after 2 years was elected as the leader of AIADMK and the same men who attacked her were now reporting to her. This was her first of the many wins in her life. In the same year (1989), in an infamous incident, her saree was pulled in the TN assembly by DMK leaders. This was an incident which shook the entire state as it was the first time when the Police had entered the Assembly. A teary eyed Jayalalitha with unkempt hair came out of the assembly & in a dramatic move, compared herself to Draupadi and took a vow to defeat Karunanidhi. She did and became the Chief Minister of the state in 1991. These two incidents made a strong impact on me and I couldn’t help but admire the sheer courage and fighting spirit of this woman;

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A teary eyed Jayalalitha coming out of the Assembly where her saree was pulled

fight against the party ideals and beliefs. Dravidian movement in the state was essentially anti Brahmin and believed in rationality i.e. atheism. But here we had a god fearing Brahmin woman who went on to take hold of the party and did that unopposed for 27 years. An Iyengar Brahmin, Jayalalitha has often thanked God post her wins in elections and whether it was sending the party manifesto in a temple first, performing special Pujas or her belief in numerology. She has proudly flaunted her beliefs in public. In spite of this, she headed a party which was in principal against this. Sadly, her beliefs were ignored and she was buried on her death;

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At Tirumala Devsthanam

fight against oneself. As a child she wanted to become a lawyer but she was pushed into the film world because of the worrying financial conditions of her home. May be her inner self would have asked her to pursue her dreams instead of sacrificing her desires. Like any other girl, she fell in love and wanted to settle down but that love was never reciprocated and she remained single forever. When she was humiliated or when she was sent to jail for the innumerable cases of corruption, somewhere a voice inside her would have asked her to quit because she never wanted to be in politics anyway. But her will power over powered everything else.

The Able Administrator

In spite of the controversies of corruption surrounding her, there is one thing on which even her critics would agree i.e. she was an able administrator who governed the state with an iron fist. When she took over as CM in 1991, LTTE had spread its wings in TN and the previous government of Karunanidhi was seen as supporter. She went after them relentlessly and drove them out of the state. In 2001, under the POTA she got many pro LTTE leaders in the state detained.  While Gujarat was always known as one of the best governed states because of the excellent marketing, Tamil Nadu wasn’t far either. The industrial growth, crime rate, education and other social indicators of Tamil Nadu are one of the best in the country. Tamil Nadu has the maximum number of women police stations; an initiative started by Jayalalitha when she became CM for the first time. Though people have criticized the schemes for creating a financial burden on the state, her welfare politics has won many hearts. Amma canteens offering food at a nominal price were a runaway hit. Amma Baby Kit, Amma Cement, Amma Seeds and Amma pharmacies also served as an icing on the cake. A lot of these schemes were targeted at the women who constitute about 2.1 crore of the population.

The Proud but Sensible Hindu

In a country where religion is intertwined with politics, Jayalalitha was like a breath of fresh air. She was neither a champion of Hindutva (like the BJP) nor was she a minority appeaser (like the Congress, Left and other parties). I admire her for some of the stance she took as a politician. When the unfortunate 2002 riots hit Gujarat, she was one of the few politicians to speak for the violence in Godhra and said that minorities alone don’t enjoy rights under the constitution and when majority community is attacked no one speaks up. In 2002, amid protests by DMK & Congres, she passed the anti-conversion law in the state which has seen a lot of conversions to Christianity. When told that Pope has raised concerns over the law, she said he has ‘no businesses in the affairs of the state. Likewise, when her opponent questioned the existence of Lord Rama, she called for declaring the ‘Ram Sethu’ as a national monument.

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A lot of you might wonder why I don’t speak about the corruption allegations against her. She was acquitted in most of the cases which were filed against her as most of them were political vendetta. The disproportionate case was pending and had she lived we would have known the result. But as they say, innocent till proven guilty and I rest my case.

As she makes her final journey towards heaven, I hope she finds peace, love and companionship up there; something which she could never get when she was alive. It would have been great if we could have met but it was not destined. I would probably come to Marina Beach some time and see you there.

Ae Dil Maange More

‘Pyar Dosti Hai’ – Karan Johar defined love for us in 1998 when he made the blockbuster Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Almost two decades later, he revisits the theme of friendship, heart break and one sided love with Ae Dil Hai Muskil. Of course, the characters here are more mature and situations more real. Heck! You don’t even see Triumphal Arch or London Eye.

The film starts off very well and Karan builds on the friendship between Ayan (Terrific Ranbir) and Anushka (Brilliant Anushka) beautifully. Ayan is a rich billionaire who is studying MBA (he wants to be a singer though) while Alizeh is recovering from a broken relationship. They bond over cheesy Bollywood songs from the 80’s, dance on Baby Doll in Yoga classes, do a Yash Chopra film song in the mountains and even sing a Hindi Karaoke in a pub in Paris. Basically, they are mad people and you cannot help but enjoy their madness. While these evoke moments of joy, fun and laughter; there are some genuine heartfelt moments between the two protagonists. Alizeh ‘explaining’ Ayan what heartbreak actually feels like (Keeping a mortal-pestle on his heart) as she has experienced one or Ayan & Alizeh wrapped in a quilt on a cold winter night, discussing their relationship where the former expresses his ‘attraction’ to latter but she believes it’s only friendship are pure gems. I was particularly moved when Ayan pleads Alizeh to marry him at her wedding by keeping a flower pot on his chest to demonstrate the pain. This is Johar at his best. He knows how to manipulate with the emotions and he does that unabashedly, making you reach out to your tissues.

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Second half of the film sees a heartbroken Ayan meeting Saba (Gorgeous Aishwarya) who is a shayara. She writes, he sings and their wounded hearts find solace in each other. However, this is not permanent because first love in a Karan Johar film is not easy to forget and though Ayan is physically involved with Saba, he remains emotionally attached to Alizeh. Even though her part comes with clumsy Urdu lines, she does justice to her role and leaves an impact in a short role. Shah Rukh in a cameo does well and when he says ‘Ek Tarfa Pyar Ki Taakat’ line you know no one does this better than him and how you wish he was young once again.

Johar is a master story teller and he is one of the best we have when it comes to portraying the complexity of relationships but post Aishwarya’s exit the film didn’t work for me.

I am a sucker for Karan Johar dramas and I have never been bothered about the length of his films but how I wish this was a bit shorter. Some of the scenes seemed forced making no sense and I was eventually tired of Ayan’s broken heart act. So much that I stopped feeling for Ayan and Alizeh. I was neither moved when Ayan slept for 2 says in freezing cold on a terrace waiting for Alizeh nor did I feel bad when Ayan cries like a child outside her hotel. I was also bothered about excessive use of Urdu because this is not Karan Johar’s forte and this was him trying to be someone else.

Even though she had a blink & miss appearance in Student of the Year, when Farida Jalal dies in the film, I cried a lot. In fact I still drop a tear whenever I watch it. This is the power of Karan Johar. But he seems to have lost that in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Even after investing more than 2 hours in the characters, I didn’t cry when one of them dies.

It’s not a bad film at all but the Karan Johar magic is missing. May be he should get back to doing what he does best and stop being so real. Meanwhile, I shall probably revisit Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna which remains my favorite Johar film 🙂

 

 

Misplaced Nationalism

Main nahin kehta ki deewar gira di jaa sakti hai par kyun na ek do eentein khiska di jaayein, taank jhaank ho’

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said this in a function held for Pakistani poet Hafeez Jullundhri in Delhi. The entire crowd including Hafeez who wrote the National anthem of Pakistan was moved. What’s interesting is that this was said by one of the tallest leaders of the Indian right and what’s even more interesting is that he would have been abused and called an anti-national had he said this today.

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is making a lot of noise of late. While many like me are appreciating the music, the excellent chemistry between Ranbir-Aishwarya and eagerly looking forward to the film, there is another lot which is demanding a boycott/ban of the film and the regional party of Maharashtra, MNS is threatening to break the multiplexes if it is released (As I write this, there has been a truce). The reason being a ‘cameo’ by Fawad Khan in the film who is a Pakistani and this comes under the wake of Uri attack by Pakistan where more than 17 Indian soldiers were martyred.

There has been a lot of debate going on and I have had heated discussions on Twitter and Facebook where many support the boycott/ban while many agree with me and are against the same. People are now giving certificates of patriotism and nationalism depending upon which side you are on. I have serious ideological issues with this and I couldn’t help but write this post.

Silence doesn’t mean we don’t love our soldiers

I read a dramatic post recently, where the author argued that Bollywood had remained silent on the Uri attacks. I was frankly quite amused when I read this argument. Terrorism is one of the gravest issues that we face as human beings and we often read about our soldiers getting martyred in sensitive areas like Kashmir and the North East. We also read about the riots that happen in various parts of the country and there is never a day when we don’t read about rape of girls. Precisely, there is a lot of wrong that’s happening around us. But when did it become a norm that we HAVE to tweet or talk about it to earn our certificate of patriotism and if we don’t then it means we don’t love our country and army? A quick introspection would tell us that we haven’t criticized or condemned every attack that took away the life of our soldiers but that does NOT mean we don’t care for them or are not patriotic enough. The same people sometime back argued that the PM cannot speak on all issues (Dadri or Gau Rakshaks) but that doesn’t mean he approves them. How times change! Every Indian irrespective of the political ideology, feels bad at the sight of dead bodies of soldiers wrapped in tricolor and every Indian acknowledges the immense contribution and sacrifice they make to keep us safe. No one, I repeat, no one should question that. We all love India. PERIOD!

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Banning Pak Artists is silly!

Many jingoists have made the argument of ‘economic isolation’ while trying to justify the banning of Pak artists but as they make this argument, India continues its exports and imports with Pak and the Indian businesses continue to trade with Pakistan. India has neither sent back the Pak High Commissioner and nor has it called its Commissioner back. So, why should only artists bear the brunt? As artists rightly say, they are easier targets. I would have happily supported the ban if it helped us in controlling terrorism but we all know that this makes absolutely NO difference. More so, when trade and commerce is going on as usual! I also cannot fathom what on earth means keeping ‘India first’. Because if a Pakistani actor acts in a film, your country becomes second? Who peddles this non sense?

A boycott/ban will hurt Indians     

Though people have made noises about banning the film, thankfully there hasn’t been a ban on the film and while boycotting a film is well within the rights of every individual and everyone is free to do it but it makes little sense. Barring an actor or two from Pakistan, majority of the cast & crew of the film is Indian. If the film doesn’t do well because of the boycott then it affects only Indians who have put in their heart, soul and money in the film. The producers, exhibitors, studio all lose money because of this. Why would any ‘patriotic’ Indian want to do this to fellow Indians? The movie is backed by Fox Star which is a joint venture between 20th century Fox and Star. At a time, when our government is trying to get foreign investments what message do we want to convey to a studio like 20th Century Fox who is investing in India and other potential investors? Doesn’t this hurt the country?

Karan Johar is not a hypocrite

I was deeply disappointed when Karan Johar came up with that video justifying his patriotism and saluting the armed forces. No one should be asked to prove his patriotism and it’s a pity that he had to do so. People who till now had been asking for him to speak up brushed this aside as drama but they were happy that they had ‘won’. As someone who has crores riding on a film and with goons threatening to stop the release of your film, what other option you have but to bow down? It’s easy to sound idealistic and say that he shouldn’t have done this but practically speaking, maybe I would have done that too. When you know that the state cannot protect you, what other option you have? And yes, he is a businessman at the end and he has to save his film!

Banana republic

The Chief Minister of Maharashtra recently arranged a meeting between Karan and MNS. It was agreed that producers will not cast any actor from Pakistan in future, producers who already have Pak actors in their films will pay 5 crores to Army Welfare Fund and Karan Johar will have a disclaimer before the film that pays homage to the martyrs of Uri. More than angry one feels sad about the state of affairs in this country and it sets a dangerous precedent. Tomorrow, any Tom, Dick and Harry under the garb of nationalism will threaten anyone and will even get away with the non-sense because it’s a new fad now. It is still not a crime to work with Pak actors in India. MHA has not denied visas or issued any advisory that prohibits anyone to work with them. MNS with zero authority in the state of Maharashtra acts like a Goonda extorting money from the producers and what’s pathetic is that the producers association even agrees to this crap. Running a disclaimer before the film honoring the martyrs is also good but I have a problem here because this is FORCED nationalism. Why on earth should anyone be doing this? I am no expert here but I believe that this could have been totally avoided had government taken a strict stand.

I strongly believe that people should be free to work with anyone they want to work with and ADHM and all other films which have Pakistani artists should be released peacefully. But this doesn’t make me any less Indian than the hyper nationalists and it’s high time we stop this stupidity.

India is one of the world’s largest democracy. This was achieved after a lot of sacrifice and our freedom fighters have laid their lives to ensure that we live in a ‘free country’. Though we are not a perfect country when it comes to freedom of speech and expression but we are in a much better space when we compare ourselves to China, Pakistan, Korea and many other countries where the rights are hampered. We should value the freedom that the architects of this nation gave us and we should strive to strengthen them with each passing day.

What better way to end the post by quoting Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action;

Into that heaven of freedom, My Father, let my country awake

On that note, #BoycottADHM #BanADHM #ADHMFDFS

Culture vs Religion: Whose festival is it?

I am not a Malayali but as someone who has studied in Christ University, Bangalore (We often called it Mini Kerala), I got an opportunity to know and understand Malayalis closely. I even happened to share my hostel room with Malayalis for 2 years. Before the liberals brand me as a conservative Sanghi, I must share that I am a Brahmin who enjoyed his dinner in a small Kerala Mess (Run by Christian where they served beef also) for 2 years while I was in Bangalore.  I am not a Bengali either but I am fortunate to have many Bengalis as my friends close friends and I absolutely adore them and their culture. I started hopping the Durga Pujo pandals with them sometime in 2011. Post College, we all moved to different places but I always make it a point to visit a pandal every year during the Pujo; something which has stayed with me.

Now, there is never a dull day on twitter. Today, someone who is a Bengali tweeted that Durga Puja isn’t about religion. It’s cultural. More than amused, I was angry and I wrote that it’s very much a Hindu festival and liberals should not try to hijack it as a “cultural” festival like they have done with Onam. Within minutes, I had people attacking me, calling me a ‘Cockroach’ who has come out only post 2014 (They have to somehow get Modi in between), ‘Sanghi bastard’ and I was told to shove my opinion in my non-Bong ass. None of the liberals who otherwise play victim when abused came to my rescue but that’s not the point here because we know how hypocritical liberals are. Immediately, a Malayali also jumped in and took offence, saying a ‘North Indian’ should not preach us and that’s why you got only one seat (Again, BJP has to come in from somewhere. Referring to the one seat it won in Kerala recently). I was also told that I should be appreciating that people from all religions are celebrating a festival. The 140 word limit often limits us to express so I thought why not write about it hoping it will knock some sense in the liberal minds.

Historically, India has been a country which has been quite tolerant and I believe in spite of the aberrations (riots, beef lynching) we have a multi religious, multi cultural, multi lingual, multi ethnic society and our rich diversity along with inherent pluralism are our greatest strengths. We call it ‘Ganga Jamuni’ tehzeeb in the North and I am sure it is called something in other parts of India also. So, people who wanted me to feel good about it should know that I am very proud of it. Now, coming to the point of festivals.

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I am Hindu but I enjoy my Sheer Korma on Eid. My land lady in Hyderabad was a Muslim and she always made it a point to send across some seviyan every year. I have often gone to the Church with my Christian friends on Easter and I grew up with my parents keeping chocolates under the pillow saying Santa Claus has gifted them. I also love the Kada prashad in Gurudwaras and the Chabeel which the Sikhs serve on roadside. And it’s not just me, I know many non-Hindus who play Holi and burst crackers on Diwali, Sikhs fasting during Navratra etcetera etcetera. But, does that make all of these ‘cultural’ festivals? Hell, NO! These remain Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Hindu festivals. As I said earlier, because of our all-encompassing culture, we see that many non-believers become a part of the festivities but let’s not be factually incorrect and take away the historical significance of the festival. What’s worrying is that this is done only to Hindu festivals and not any other. Any reason why Eid or Christmas are not called ‘cultural festivals’? I await the answers!

I also wonder what does ‘celebration’ of a festival mean. Just because I eat sheer korma on Eid or believed in Santa Claus as a kid can I say that I ‘celebrate’ these festivals? Just because some folks enjoy the food at various Durga Pujo pandals, apply some color on Holi and make lavish Onam Sadya at their homes, can we say they ‘celebrate’ these festivals? I believe we cannot because these festivals have a deeper religious context and belief which should be respected and should not be ignored. Holi is not just about playing colors because it’s also about Holika Dahan, Diwali is not just about bursting crackers, it’s about Laxmi Pujan too. Similarly, Durga Pujo is about having Maa in your homes, worshipping her, offering her flowers (Anjali on Ashtami), Sindoor khela and not just about having a great time like visiting a mela. Likewise, Eid is not just about having Sewiyan or Biryani and Christmas not just about having a Turkey. So, let’s just say that we enjoy, eat and take part in the festivals but we DON’T ‘celebrate’ them.

I was snubbed some time back by a Malayali friend when I said that Onam is a Hindu festival & he with great pride said ‘You don’t know about our culture’. Yes, I might not know but I definitely know that King Mahabali and Vamana are not characters from the Bible or Quran.  ‘Thrikkaran Appan‘ refers to the statue which the Malayalis make during Onam and it represents the ‘Vamana’ avtar of Lord Vishnu. Do Christians make this? Do churches allow this to be worshipped in churches on Onam? Do mosques hold special prayers during Onam? The answer is NO. On the contrary an imam recently asked the Muslims to not celebrate Onam as it’s unislamic. Similarly, the Abrahamic religions don’t even have the concept of idol worship so what are we even talking? Durga is a Hindu Goddess! And I find it absolutely preposterous that someone can dare to say that Durga Puja is not about religion. If it’s really not about religion then why are we reading reports of 300 Hindu families unable to perform Durga puja anticipating backlash from Muslims?  Or why don’t we see Bengali Christians or Muslims worshiping and bowing before Durga in Pandals and singing the aarti?

What’s interesting is that the two festivals (Onam, Durga Puja) which are now being re-branded are celebrated in states which have long been under the governance of Left which has pathological hate for anything Hindu. So, this shouldn’t come as a surprise that we have a generation of brain washed Hindus who now find it cool and feel proud that these festivals are more cultural than religious. It’s a dangerous trend because these festivals are part of the our culture, ethos and our existence. While Holi asks us to burn the inner evils; Dusshera marks the victory of good over evil. These festivals come with small life lessons which are instilled in us since childhood and they eventually make up the culture which we all should happily embrace and not shun or feel ashamed about it.

On that note, Shubho Pujo!

P.S.: Onam and Durga Puja do have a cultural context. Former represents the culture of Kerala while the latter of Bengal just like Garbha belongs to Gujarat and Pongal to Tamil Nadu BUT they have religious significance also and they are essentially Hindu.

 

How I met THE Shabana Azmi

I am an unabashed and insane fan of Shabana Azmi. The first film of hers that I saw was Vishal Bhardwaj’s Makdee and the 14 year old me had loved the film; especially her character of witch. However, it was her movie Arth that made me notice the brilliance of ‘actor’ Shabana Azmi and since then there has been no looking back. I have revisited almost all her films right from her debut film Ankur (which till date remains one of my favorite Shabana Azmi films) and I can safely say that she is one of the finest actors that Indian cinema has seen.

So while I was exploring twitter sometime in 2010, one fine day, I saw Shabana Azmi’s handle (@AzmiShabana) on my timeline. Back then it was not verified and I have had my fair share of instances where I had got myself into some intense discussions with people (Democracy with Arundhati Roy) only to realize later that they were imposters or parody accounts. So, my first tweet to her was actually a question asking ‘Hello, Is that really you?’ I managed to get a reply from her and since quite a few celebrities were following her I was assured about the authenticity part. Icing on the cake was that she started following me (I have no idea even now why she did so because I was just one of the many fans she has). Initially, I used to think she pressed the follow button by mistake and I used to visit her twitter page regularly for months to ‘check’ if she is still following me (Back then there was no ‘Follows You’ feature). And that was the beginning of my beautiful virtual relationship with one of the finest actors of the Indian cinema.

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Pehli Mulaqat:

My first meeting with her was quite filmy actually. In 2011, I got a Direct Message from Shabana Ma’am that she was coming to Bangalore with her play ‘Broken Images’ for Standard Chartered Bank at ITC Gardenia and asked if I would like to come. I nearly jumped out of my bed and I of course said yes. The super excited me was about 1 hour before schedule and I was supposed to meet ‘Richa’ with whom she had left a message. When I enquired, the folks said they don’t know anyone by the name Richa. My heart sank. I ran from pillar to post but nothing came out of it. I did not have the contact details so I was writing tweets continuously in the hope she will read it but I got no reply. I had lost all hopes and I thought may be she forgot to leave a message.  I kept praying to God. Thankfully, she hadn’t forgotten. Richa came just before the show and made sure I got a seat in the front. After the play (which was fantastic), I waited to meet her. I touched her feet and she said ‘Jeete Raho’ and she introduced me as her ‘Twitter Friend’ to the people standing out there. She said I was an ‘Encyclopedia’ and whatever information she needs, I tweet about it immediately. I was literally shivering, when I took out the CD of her film Mandi (My favorite Shabana Azmi film) and asked for her autograph. I was a college student back then and with whatever pocket money I used to get, I managed to get a Photo-frame and few chocolates for her as a gift. Those 5 minutes were one of the most special moments and in all this I forgot to even take a photograph! Sigh!

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Autographed CD of Mandi

Dusri Mulaqat aur Photograph:

I had to wait for 4 years to get that photograph. In 2015, she came to Hyderabad where I was working now for an event organized by COVA. There was a discussion on ‘Role of Women in Films’ and I was seated in the front. After the session, when the Q&A session started, Shabana Ma’am announced that ‘Rahul Sharma will ask the first question’. Everyone in the auditorium turned to me and I quite felt like a celebrity.  After the session, I met her and gifted her two books (One was by Amartya Sen whom she greatly admires). I took a photograph and I was planning to leave but she said ‘Jao, plate le kar aao’ and have dinner with me. I was on cloud nine. I rushed and came back but I was little interested in the food. She introduced me to some of her family members also.  We discussed a lot of things from politics to society. She asked me my views on GST Bill, MNREGA etc. Once we were done, I realized that I don’t really look good in the picture I had taken. I requested Ma’am for another photograph and she happily obliged.

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The books I gifted

Tohfa Tohfa, Aaya Aaya

I have often tweeted about my love for Shah Rukh Khan and except the man, the whole world knows that I am his ‘Jabra’ fan. One fine day, I got a Direct Message from Shabana Ma’am asking me to share my address so that she can send a gift. It took me some time to believe and I read it twice but here it was – A five time National Award winner and a Padma Bhushan asking the address of a fan so that she can send across a gift. I shared the address and what I got touched me. I got a special edition of the book ‘Aditya Chopra relives DDLJ’ which was released when the film had completed 1000 weeks of running. The book was sent by Aditya Chopra to her and knowing that I am a fan of the actor and this film in particular, she sent me the book. The SMS (By now she had shared her number) which she sent made me feel on top of the world.

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Recently, Shabana Ma’am sent me another book on Veer Zaara with a hand written message. I need not mention that this makes me feel very special.

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Agree to Disagree

What’s interesting is that we both don’t really agree on politics and share the same ideology. She is an Amartya Sen fan, I am not. She is not really a Narendra Modi fan, I am. She believes in socialism, I don’t. I am a rightist while she leans towards the left. We often share articles/WhatsApp messages on these. But this has never affected our interactions and we agree to disagree on these.

I have often wondered why anyone of her stature would do all this for someone like me who is just a fan of hers? Why does she take so much efforts to send me gifts? Why did she invite me to have dinner with her when she could have just said a Good Bye post the event in Hyderabad? Why does she make it a point to write a Happy Birthday tweet to me which is just 4 days before hers (though I sometimes remind her a couple of days before)? Why did she share her personal mobile number with a stranger like me? And most importantly, why did she follow me on twitter? Guess, some of us are just born lucky!

And twitter, you beauty! If you were not there, all this wouldn’t have been possible!