Raise a toast, to Margarita!

Margarita with a straw opens up with Revathy driving a Matador on the streets of Delhi with her husband sitting beside her. Her daughter Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is confined to a wheel chair because of cerebral palsy and is bisexual. Shonali Bose gives us two women who have been unheard and unseen of in our Indian films.

The film through its protagonist Laila talks about the sexual desires of the disabled (I hate the word differently-abled). Like everyone else, they also have feelings and it is actually quite “normal” that they desire someone. So, Laila has a crush on one of the boys in her college, she watches porn, openly lusts and also masturbates. She is a free-spirited girl who has not let her condition define her. She is an uninhibited soul who shows middle finger to a judge in a music competition because she awarded Laila due to the sympathy factor. The film effortlessly talks about Laila’s journey of self-discovery, her endeavour to come to terms with her bisexuality and her angst in ‘coming out’ to her mother. Shonali Bose is unafraid of showing sex between Laila and Khanum (Superb Sayani Gupta) & she does it beautifully without any titillation.


However, the heart of Margarita with a Straw is the relationship which Laila shares with her Aai (Revathy). Aai’s relationship is filled with warmth, love and understanding. She teaches Laila music, bathes her, combs her hair, helps her put on the clothes, approves her decision to go abroad and study even though her husband opposes and like every mother she is frustrated when she finds out her daughter watches porn and is bisexual. Revathy is absolutely brilliant and spontaneous in her role that we all can see our mother in her.

Director Shonali Bose lost her son few years back and she has often talked about it on her Facebook page and one can feel the personal loss in the film when Laila loses her mother. The death of Aai is one of the most poignant and heart warming scenes which I have seen in a film of late. Watch out for the scene when Laila sits next to her Aai’s dead body with her poem playing in the background. I sobbed, I cried and I howled.

As the film ended, I wasn’t feeling pity or sympathetic for Laila and that is exactly what Shonali Bose wanted from us. She doesn’t create a martyr out of Laila. She is like one of us with flaws. Kalki Koechlin literally breathes the character of Laila. From movements to speech; she gets it all correct. This is undoubtedly her best performance till date and probably the strongest by any female actor in recent times. There are very few film which have heart at the right place; this is definitely one of those. Dear Shonali Bose, take a bow!

7 Reasons why you should not vote for AAP!

As Delhi goes to polls on 7th February 2015, I give you 7 reasons why you should NOT vote for the Aam Aadmi Party!

  1. 49 and Retired Hurt!

As somebody who earns his daily bread and butter from Recruitments; let me explain this in HR terms. There is a candidate who desperately needs a job & is after me (begging) to consider him. I accept his candidature, find him good for the job & hire him. He works for 49 days and then absconds from the organization. After one year he comes back to me asking for the job. Will I give him the job? The answer is NO!

Here, ‘Delhi’ is the organization, ‘Arvind Kejriwal’ is the candidate and ‘Delhiites’ are the HR.

  1. Economic Policies

AAP’s economic vision is best explained by Arvind Kejriwal, who hates the private sector for ‘looting’ the country & its resources that belong to Indians. This is much in tandem with what Nehru & Indira believed in. They tried to nationalize most sectors of enterprise and pushed in the people’s money into the public sector.  It was only after these companies failed to record any profits; doors to the private sector were slightly opened.

As the capital of the country Delhi is not even close to the standards set by world class capital cities. Delhi needs investments; Delhi needs infrastructure; Delhi needs employment; Delhi needs development.  And this will come with the help of corporate whom Arvind Kejriwal and his left leaning socialist colleagues like Prashant Bhushan hate.

AAP’s economic vision is to oppose privatization, increase subsidy on electricity and fuel and take away the exemptions thereby increasing the effective taxes.  While the BJP is promising 24 hour electricity; populist and subsidy loving AAP is offering cheaper electricity. Decision is yours!

  1. Regionalism

Delhi is probably the only city in the country that can boast off of being ‘cosmopolitan’ in true sense. While every state and Union territories have a native population/ethnic groups; Delhi’s ethnic groups are diverse.  Historically speaking, the original natives of Delhi were folks who resided somewhere in the Yamuna basin which stretched several kilometres beyond what is today’s Delhi. Yes, it is an ancient city which was once called ‘Indraprastha’ under the rule of Pandavas but Pandavas were also ‘outsiders’.

Today Delhi comprises of Punjabis who migrated from Pakistan after partition, Bengalis who moved when the British capital shifted from Calcutta to Delhi and many other ethnic groups ranging from the ‘Jats’ of Haryana to the ‘Tamilians’ of Tamil Nadu. There are no concrete statistics that trace the descent of Delhiites.

In its 49 day stint, AAP wanted to reserve 90% seats in the Delhi University colleges for the locals and a proposal was sent to the Central Government by the Education Minister Mr. Manish Sisodia. Apart from the fact that many students from different cities and towns come to Delhi for studies; this proposal also gives rise to regionalism. How different is this from Shiv Sena and MNS in the Maharashtra who want to send the immigrants back to where they belong?

Hence, if not for anything else, just for the spirit of Delhi you should not vote for AAP.


  1. Arvind KejrUwal: Nothing is permanent in politics; friends turn foes and foes become friends. So, ideally one shouldn’t make much hue and cry about few statements which are made while campaigning. But, Arvind Kejriwal is GOD -Honest, truthful, divine & God is not allowed to make mistakes. Here are some of the U-Turns of Mr. Kejriwal:
  • From ‘I don’t want to join politics’ to becoming the Chief Minister of Delhi
  • ‘I swear on my children that I will not take support of Congress’ to taking support of Congress
  • Shiela Dikshit is corrupt to where is the proof that she is corrupt when in power

The list can go on; in fact there is a Facebook page dedicated to the ‘U-Turns’ by Aam Aadmi Party. Might help to decide as to why NOT to vote for AAP!

  1. Vigilantism: Prashant Bhushan had asked for a referendum in Kashmir over the deployment of Army in the valley. So what if Jihadi’s from the border infiltrate on a daily basis and kill our soldiers? He also wanted the ‘extra police’ to be removed from Maoist areas. So what if these Naxals blow up CRPF Jawans? AAP also did a silly ‘SMS’ poll about forming government in Delhi. This vigilantism endorsed and adopted by the party scares me and is definitely not the solution in a country which is run by ‘law’. God forbid, if tomorrow people want a rapist to be ‘stoned to death’; will AAP agree?

As someone said ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’. So, respect the system, laws, constitution and protect your liberty!

  1. Anarchist Aadmi Party: The last thing Delhi needs is a CM sleeping on roads and staging a dharna every other day. Enough said!
  1. Kiran Bedi: Last but not the least, KIRAN BEDI! Though it’s not announced yet, she is most likely to be the Chief Minister candidate of the BJP. As Ms. Kiran Bedi rightly said in her press conference while joining the BJP “Mere pass 40 saal ka administrative experience hai”. So, what will you choose? 49 Days of anarchy & dharnas or 40 years of solid administrative experience?

1000 Weeks of DDLJ: Come Fall in Love!

I was in Standard Fourth when Aditya Chopra’s ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge’ had released. Most of my cousins and friends in the school had seen it and they couldn’t stop raving about it. I remember coaxing and nagging my father (who isn’t a movie enthusiast) for the tickets and he obliged after a couple of weeks. Those days we didn’t have any vehicle, so mounting on a cycle-rickshaw with me sitting on my mother’s lap in the chilling winters of Jaipur we went to ‘Rajmandir’ for the night show. I saw the film again in Bombay with my cousins in the 1996 summer vacations. I saw it yet again in 2006 in Noida when the multiplexes re-released it for some reason. And I see it again every time it is aired on the television. Such was the euphoria of the film that more than our school lessons we grew up by hearting the famous dialogues from the film and even today we have this silly competition of ‘Who remembers the exact dialogues before the actors in the film speak’ every time it is played on the cable.

Most love stories made in those times often saw the hero & heroine defying their parents and running away, either to get married or to get killed by the parents. DDLJ came with a breath of fresh air where neither the lovers fought against the entire world nor did they succumb to the bullets in slow motion; here the lovers submitted to the older generations’ authority and made a strong moral case which they eventually won!  DDLJ was also the ‘coolest’ ever film to be made and that too at a time when India was at the cusp of globalization and liberalization. From Shah Rukh’s leather jackets to Kajol’s halter neck gowns; from Tang to Strauh’s beer; from Yamaha bike to bullet trains – everything about the film was trendy and cool.


The brilliance of DDLJ lies in the fact that it blended tradition with modernity till one could hardly distinguish between the two. Here, we had a wife who fasts for her husband on Karwa Chauth (traditional) but she is also a mother who is strong (modern?) enough to go against her husband’s diktat and ask her daughter to elope. We had a Simran who is engaged but she dares and falls in love with someone on a trip (modern); however, the thought that she had sex with him freaks her out (traditional?). We also had the lover boy Raj who falls in love with Simran but is not game towards the idea of eloping without the blessings of his lover’s parents (traditional). The film depicts this battle between the past and the present, and between individual desire and societal customs. Hence, I respectfully disagree with folks who argue that the film was ‘regressive’.

One of the many reasons I love the film is because of the old world charm it has. Had it been made today, Raj & Simran would have had sex the moment Simran knocked off after sipping Cognac. But, here we had a couple who never even say the ‘3 magical words’ to each other but love each other unabashedly and passionately. In fact, Raj & Simran singing ‘Tujhe Dekha Toh’ in mustard field is greater than an bloody sex scene in movies. Aah! The magic of Shah Rukh and Kajol who became the eternally romantic onscreen couple after this and even today there is no one who can match their chemistry both on screen and off screen.

I wouldn’t be wrong if I say that it taught an entire generation to fall in love. Shah Rukh of course made it difficult for boys like us as every girl expected us to be ‘Raj’. However, it gave us hope.  If a girl in college made an eye-contact with us then we all would turn to God and say ‘Palat’ because if she did then it somewhere meant that she liked us. We all wanted to impress the mothers just like Raj helped Simran’s mother because it clearly meant that half your battle is won. “What if you have fallen in love, with someone like me?” The hypothetical situation was many times enacted whenever we wanted to test our chances with someone. Oh! And how can I forget keeping ‘Karwa Chauth’ fast just like Raj did for Simran?

DDLJ is a film which has heart at the right place. Even after watching the film umpteenth number of times, I still can’t hold my tears when Farida Jalal talks about the sacrifices of women with her daughter and I can’t stop smilling when Simran finally hold Raj’s hand and boards the train.

DDLJ is the bible of onscreen romance in films. It is like an old wine whose taste has only become better with each passing year. 1000 weeks? Give me 1000 more!

My favorite moments from the film:

Letter to Sagarika Ghose: All Rightists aren’t ‘communal’ or ‘Sanghi’

Dear Sagarika Ghose,

Hope this letter finds you in the pink green of your health. I happened to read your piece Letter to India’s Right last week where you had written a letter addressing the right wingers and have lectured them on dissent & freedom of speech. As a right winger, I believe that the letter was addressed to me too and since etiquette says that one should respond to letters; here I shoot!

First things first, you accuse us of making social media a propaganda arm of the government & compare us to a “ferocious army”. LOLJK! I was quite amused when I read it because it was coming from the (ex) deputy editor of a channel which chose to edit the infamous ‘Cash for Votes’ scandal video after receiving a call from Mr. Prithviraj Chavan. So, what propaganda are we talking about? Also, for your kind information, social media can be used by any one Sagarika. I repeat anyone; like you use it for your ‘propaganda’ of maligning the entire right wing. And given the fact that we support the government of the day; what else do you expect us to do? You also say that to be pro-government and pro-establishment is now de rigeur on social media. How I wish it was true. At least we would have escaped from the zero IQ tweets where you rant so much about the government.

On Saturday, 1st November 2014, twitter suspended a couple of accounts and most of these were the soldiers of the “ferocious army”. Poor us! We soldiers can’t protect our own accounts on twitter & you ask why we are seeking to shut down all our critics & opposition? On the contrary, I would like to remind you that it was the “Left Liberal” Congress which tried to stifle the voices of dissent when it was in power. Remember how Kapil Sibal instructed Google & Facebook to ‘screen’ content? I hope you at least remember the suspension of twitter accounts of your fraternity folks – Kanchan Gupta, Shashi Shekhar et al. Did you write a letter to the secular government? No? Okay!

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Also, since you feel we are shutting down voices of dissent, I must give you a quick revision of history.  India has a long standing record of banning books and films. Yes, the BJP & other right wing parties have done it but the “left-liberal” Congress & CPM governments don’t have a good track record too. Nehru: A Political Biography by Michael Edwards, was banned in 1975 because the author made sweeping comments about Nehru such as that his life was a “series of dependences (sic) on stronger characters than his own”. India Independent by French historian Charles Bettelheim was banned in 1976 because it was critical of the government policies. The True Furqan: The 21st century Quran, originally written in Arabic as al-Furqan al-Haqq, was banned in 2005 following claims that it mocked Islam and was the work of American evangelists as part of a US-Israeli conspiracy. The left front in Bengal promoted a ban on Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja which talked about the atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh following the Babri Masjid demolition. The smart, charming & suave Rajiv Gandhi banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses because it offended his vote bank of Muslims. Last but not the least, Javier Moro’s The Red Sari which was supposedly based on the life of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was banned in 2005. The list can go on but you are an intelligent & well read journalist so I am sure you got the point!

It is also heartening to see you talk about debate & dissent. After all, you believe in the right to dissent so much that you blocked me on twitter for reasons best known to you. Why is satire not acceptable? Why is dissent not to be tolerated?  For you, any critic of the media or the Congress is an “Internet Hindu”; any hint of disagreement and one becomes a “Sanghi”; any small critique means one is a “minority-hater”, “communal”, “Khakhi knicker wallah”, who must instantly take up membership with the RSS or Bajrang Dal.

I have always condemned the demolition of Babri Masjid and I regard it as a blot on India’s democracy. My heart went out to the crying widows and children who lost their loved ones in the Godhra riots. I believe that the attack on Christians in Kandhmal was shameful. And guess what? I know a hell LOT of rightists who share the same emotions because though you paint all rightists as ‘blood thirsty-minority hating’ species, we are human beings at the end and are made of same blood & flesh like you.

Having said that, I don’t suffer from selective amnesia like you. I castigate the Sikh pogrom in Delhi & the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits also. My heart bleeds equally for the Hindus who died in Godhra riots & in the Sabarmati express in 2002. I also feel strongly for your fellow Bengalis in Deganga who were tortured by mobs from minority community in 2010.  It was good when you visited the Muzzafarnagar riot victims in the camps but I would have loved if you had visited the refugee camps where Kashmiri Pandits are living since last two decades; just like you wanted Mr. Narendra Modi to visit the Gyanvyapi mosque after visiting the Ganga ghat.  As a nationalist, I felt outraged when a group of Muslims in Azad Maidan vandalised the ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti’.I also feel angry when my fellow countrymen show disrespect to the national song, anthem & refuse to sing it and no ‘freedom of speech’ crap justifies it.  If I question the media for selective outrage & coverage and if that makes me communal then so be it!

Lastly, you question us on our economic policies. Now it’s kinda cute that somebody who never questioned the ‘economist’ PM for the falling economy is asking questions within 5 months of the government formation. The fact that inflation today is at a 3 year low, World Bank predicting a healthy 5.6 % GDP growth & Moody predicting a rating ‘upgrade’ for India speak a lot about the economic policies of the government. Of course, government deregulating diesel prices, increasing the FDI cap in defence, aviation & real estate, raising the income tax exemption limit by Rs 50,000 for all taxpayers below 80 years of age, reducing the excise duty on food & footwear industries mean nothing to you.

Just to give you a perspective, India when last had the right-wing government at the centre saw huge economic growth. Vajpayee in his tenure showed true commitment to liberalizing reforms. For example, Life and general insurance were opened to the private sector with foreign investment permitted up to 26 per cent. The small-scale industries reservation was substantially ended. In the area of macroeconomics, the government had freed administered interest rates on many government savings instruments, which had held the rate above market rates. The inflation rate below 5 per cent reflected on the government’s success in streamlining the monetary policy. The current account deficit had remained low during the NDA rule showing a modest current account surplus. The rupee had remained stable with foreign exchange reserves rising from $29.4 billion at the end of March 1998 to $113 billion at the end of March 2004.

Over the past few years, you have created a mainstream thinking that it is almost a taboo to carry the right wing label which conjures up to images of Trishul holding fanatics who are out to slaughter minorities or anyone who disagrees with them. Historically, cultural nationalism or brute majoritarianism have been associated with the extreme right. But, extreme left has been equally destructive. If Adolf Hitler committed innumerable crimes in the garb of right wing politics; so did Joseph Stalin in the name of left wing politics. Fortunately, in India there is little or no room for the either extremes so we can either lean to the left or to the right while standing at the centre.

Yours truly

Rahul Sharma


In defense of Haider

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” — Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider has been in news for more than one reason. On one hand people (like me) are talking about the brilliance of the film, the excellent screenplay, the soothing music and the powerful performances. But, on the other hand there are voices of dissent calling for a ‘Boycott’ of Haider claiming the film is anti India and disrespects the army.

With my leanings towards the right and being a staunch supporter of the Indian Army I expected to be offended when I entered the movie hall but surprisingly I wasn’t.  On the contrary I loved it. However, I was not very convinced of the criticism thrown at Haider; so I decided to pen my thoughts on the film. I am neither a film critic nor an expert on Kashmir; but I love films. So, let’s call this a piece in defense of the ‘film’.


It tells only one aspect of the Kashmir problem

First things first, Haider is NOT a documentary on Kashmir & its problems. It is a film on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and that’s about it! Yes, the backdrop is Kashmir. Now, there are several narratives to the story of Kashmir. There is a Kashmiri Pandit perspective, another is a Kashmiri Muslim one and last but not the least the army perspective. However, what is common in all the three is the suffering, pain and loss. Haider chooses to tell one of them.  So, what is the problem in that?

Director Onir’s 2011 film ‘I am’ had a short story on Kashmir where a Kashmiri Pandit (Juhi Chawla) returns to the valley to sell her ancestral home. Though the film never made any sweeping political statement but it did put the story of Kashmiri Pandits on-screen. The character was loosely inspired from actor Sanjay Suri’s mother who lost her husband in the insurgency of 1990. Similarly, Ashoke Pandits’ 2004 film ‘Sheen’ was based on a Kashmiri Pandit family and their exodus. Interestingly, no body accused Onir and Ashoke Pandit of putting their ‘agenda’ on screen and ignoring the plight of civilians and telling a one-sided story. I doubt if most even know about these films.

It is anti-India and anti-Indian Army.

Now, we all would be stupid to believe that our Kashmiri brothers love India and take as much pride in saying ‘Jai Hind’ as we do.  Also, we would be naive if we deny the fact that Army crackdowns and interrogations never happened (Happens?) or that there were no detention centers or that there are no half-widows .

The infamous ‘Papa II’ (Mama II in the film) detention centre was our very own Guantanamo Bay. I read about it few years back in Basharat Peer’s book and it made the ‘Indian’ in me uncomfortable. Of course these centres were supposed to detain ‘militants’ but on more than one occasion they detained ‘suspected’ militants (read civilians) and they were subjected to third degree torture. Those who did not die or mysteriously ‘disappeared’ and were lucky to come out alive have narrated harrowing tales – electric shocks to their genitals, being thrashed naked with bamboo sticks, their nails being pulled out and much more. Today, Papa II is the  official residence of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti of PDP, another detention centre ‘Cargo’ serves as a cyber police station while ‘Harinawas’ is converted to a guesthouse.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is the one involving gravediggers. The song ‘Aao Na’ playing in the background matches the tempo set by gravedigger’s shovel sends shivers down the spine. As a matter of fact, the ‘real’ is not very different from ‘reel’. Mass graves of disappeared people were found in the valley years ago and till date it’s a blot on India. According to the Human Rights Report 2,900 unmarked bodies were found and unlike the claims by Army; not all were militants.

Barkha Dutt did an excellent story on the ‘half-widows’ of the valley. Many of the Kashmir’s missing people are believed to have been killed in custody. Official estimates put the number at more than a thousand. Unofficial estimates say the number could be three times higher! Watch it here Half Widows

It ignores the plight of Kashmiri Pandits

Hell No! The exodus was unfortunate and it’s a shame that Indians are living like refugees in their own country. But, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits happened way back in 1989-90 whereas the film is set in 1995. How can they be a part of a film which is set in a different time period? Just because the film doesn’t talk about one issue; doesn’t mean that the makers approve of the killings of Pandits. Moreover, even if Vishal has ignored it as some are saying, then it is HIS CHOICE! Why not make a film and counter Haider.

Haider is one of the finest films to have come out this year. It is also one of the most political film to be made with Kashmir as its backdrop. Beyond the beauty of Dal Lake, Chinar & Gulmarg; there is more to Kashmir and Haider shows you that. It is disturbing but a must watch; if not for the politics, then for the brilliant cinema!


Shabana Azmi @ 40 : 4 Favorite Performances

As a self-confessed Shabana Azmi devotee; it’s next to impossible to pick up 4 best performances from her body of work because she is just brilliant in every film. However, as she completes 40 years in the Indian film industry, I share four characters/performances which I loved the most.

1. Ankur

Shyam Benegal’s Ankur is one of my favorite films of all times. Interestingly, this was the first film of Shyam Benegal and Shabana Azmi who created the path for parallel or off-beat cinema as it is called now. Based on a true story, Ankur is a film that mirrors the brutal feudal system which prevailed in India and the evil social customs that had (still have) chained India. The beauty of Ankur is that it addresses various social issues from alcoholism and casteism to inequality and dowry; yet it is more about the underlying human relationships.

However, if I have to pick one reason as to why I love this film then it is because of Shabana Azmi who shines in the character of Lakshmi. She excels as a coy yet strong house servant who submits to her master who is attracted to her. We don’t know whether Lakshmi also loved her master or approved of the affair or whether she used him to get the child she had been yearning for. Her eyes speak of the emotions which churn within her. Ankur is truly class apart!


2. Mandi

Another Benegal film and it is probably one of the most enjoyable characters played by Shabana Azmi on-screen. At an age of 33, Shabana played the character of ‘Rukmini’ who was a woman much ahead of her years and she delivered an incredibe performance. I remember Shabana Azmi sharing in an interview that how she had to put on weight & chew paan continuously to look the part.   leads the film as Rukmini, the domineering but caring madame of the house. Her unusually loud tone with the ‘Hyderabadi’ accent and crudely unrefined mannerisms are brilliantly done, and it’s great to see her switching moods from angry to happy to suffering to motherly and loving. This is one of her most amazing performances.


3. Morning Raga

This happens to be one of the most challenging roles played by Shabana Azmi her career and unfortunately this remains her most under-rated performance. Playing a Carnatic singer is no mean feat but Shabana Azmi gets into the skin of the character and excels. She had undergone a great deal of training for this part in order to understand how Carnatic singers sing, their body language and mannerisms when they sing. She did not sing the songs but the lip-sync is done exceptionally well that one seldom realizes that someone else is singing.


4. Godmother

Godmother was stated to be inspired by the life of Santokben Jadeja,  who ran the Mafia operations in Gujarat in the late 1980s and later turned politician. Shabana Azmi got her fifth national award for the portrayal of ‘Rambhi’. Right from the accent to the body language, she gets it all correct. Shabana Azmi essays the ruthless confidence with great elan. I would be at a shortage of adjectives if I start writing about how much I loved her in the film.

The Idea of India – By Shabana Azmi

In this political season of slugfest where our netas are outdoing each other in dividing us on the basis of our differences (caste, creed, language, religion) ; it’s good to come across a piece that talks beautifully about the ‘Idea of India’ and how these differences unify us.

I would thank Shabana Ma’am for sharing the script of her speech which she delivered at an event for Rahul Bose’s NGO ‘The Foundation’ on 22nd February 2014. And with due permission, posting it here because it’s a must read! 

Speech – The Foundation’s – The Idea of India 

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

Rahul Bose’s commitment to the Foundation is that of a missionary. I have watched him from the beginning of this journey and feel privileged that he has included me in ‘this path less traveled by’.

For today’s event I have watched him become a one man army. It has taken him two years to put this together – involving people of such repute as are present this evening. He has been both the Chairman of the Foundation and its Peon. More power to you Rahul and thank you for including me.

I’ve been asked to speak on ‘The Idea of India’. I’d like to begin with a sher of my father-in-law the noted Urdu poet Jan Nisar Akhtar.

 Tu is qadar mujhe apne qareeb lagta hai.

Tujhe alag sey jo sochoon ajeeb lagta hai

India is in the air I breathe. India is in the fragrance of the mogra, India is in the poetry of Kabir, Ghalib and Tagore, in the strains of Pt. Ravi Shankar’s sitar. India is the silence of meditation in the muted serenity of the Himalayas. India is also a cacophony – loud weddings, louder prayers, honking horns and shouting TV anchors.

India is a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously – She lives back to back in the 17th , 18th, 19th , 20th and 21st centuries and her people at any given time and place encapsulate all the contradictions that come from being a multi religious, multi cultural, multi lingual and multi ethnic society. Her rich diversity, her inherent pluralism is both her strength and her weakness. Her diversity makes her unique but it also makes her seemingly impossible to govern.

India exudes beauty: the white symmetry of the Taj Mahal, the vibrancy of Madhubani, the colors of Kutch, the carvings of Konarak. Yet India is a visual sore: garbage mounds, discarded plastic bags and open gutters.

India is an olfactory assault: smoky air, putrid drains, and burning cow dung. Yet India floats the fragrance of agarbatti, the smell of coconut and the seduction of Itr.

India is a story of lost opportunities, unresponsive governance; the abode of illiterate, poor, blind and the sick. But India is dreams and soaring aspirations of the young the energy of entrepreneurs, and feisty spirit of voluntary organizations.

India assaults sensibility with its women abusers walking with impunity amongst the goddess worshippers; with starving children living next to warehouses with rotting food. But India offers hope with Democracy a Constitution and a Justice System.

To me the idea of India is simple. She is a Secular Democratic Republic and her greatest strength is her composite culture – her ganga- jamuni tehzeeb.

I was raised in a commune like flat of the Communist party which was called not surprisingly The Red Flag Hall. Comrades like the great Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri, my father Kaifi Azmi and eight other families had just one small 280 sq. ft. room each with a strip of a balcony that was converted into the kitchen. Eight families lived together with just one bathroom and one toilet. My father was a whole timer and would get only 40 rupees to look after my mother, my brother and me. So there was never any money but it didn’t seem to matter at all because the residents of Red Flag Hall were tuned to the sound of a different drummer, they were committed to a larger goal. They were determined to struggle for social justice, gender sensitivity and celebration of India’s composite culture. All festivals were celebrated with much fanfare – Holi, Diwali, Eid, Christmas. As kids we were taken to the Sarvajanik Ganesh Pandals. On 26th January we would be put in a truck and taken to see the lights at Chowpatty – we imbibed India’s pluralism almost by a process of osmosis.

Today however that pluralism seems to be under threat. Communalism is raising its ugly head and permeating into all stratas of society. Religion is being used by Fundamentalists of all hues to divide people for vote bank political mobilization. Mobocracy is threatening the very tenets of Democracy and much more needs to be done to stem the rot. We need to recognize the signs of danger around us. It is said that if you put a frog in a cauldron of boiling water it jumps out and saves itself. But if you put it in tepid water and gradually turn the temperature on the frog doesn’t realize it till it is too late and dies. We are like the frogs who do not realize that the temperature around us is being heated up and very soon it might become too late.

If you ask me who I am I will say I am a woman, an Indian, a daughter, wife, actor, Muslim, Mumbaikar etc… my being Muslim is only one aspect of my identity and yet in India today it seems as though a concerted effort is being made to compress identity only into the narrow confines of the religion one was born into at the cost of all other identities! But this is a construct; it is not the truth of India – India’s greatest identity is her composite culture. If you look at a Kashmiri Hindu and a Kashmiri Muslim they have much more in common with each other because of their cultural identity their Kashmiriyat – than a Kashmiri Muslim and a Muslim from Tamil Nadu inspite of the fact that they share a common religion.

There is much that needs our attention if we want the Idea of India to flourish. As India seeks to become a global power we must also pause to ask which model of development needs to be pursued. Who’s development and at who’s cost is a question that begs to be answered. It cannot be the progress of a few at the cost of many. One of India’s greatest challenges to me is that large infrastructure projects need to be put in place to drive the engine of growth but this will necessarily lead to displacement of large numbers of people. Unless the principle of social justice is applied to resettling the displaced no genuine development will be possible; in fact there will be social unrest and chaos as has been witnessed in Nandigram and other places. The project affected person asks “If I am displaced from the land of my birth for ‘the greater common good’ then surely I have a right to demand that I am the first beneficiary of that project or at least one of the beneficiaries”. Alas! such is not the case as experience shows. We need economic progress without doubt but the benefits also need to reach those sections of India where ‘the sun is not shining’.

The vision of Rahul Bose’s The Foundation is to see a world free of discrimination of all forms. We know that in India all kinds of discrimination exist but what is heartening is that a robust civil society and hundreds of NGOs are putting up stiff resistance to work against discrimination of all kinds particularly discrimination against women. Women are breaking their silence, women are speaking the language of rights. Women are saying don’t call us Goddesses, treat us as equal human beings and the change is perceptible. In Mijwan a tiny village in UP Azamgarh where I work, girls as young as 8 and women as old as 80 are saying girls are equal to boys. Girls are refusing to be pushed into marriage before the age of 18 and are aspiring to work and become self sufficient.

There are also our artists, some of them present here today who are fighting for the right to freedom of expression and through their work have demonstrated that Art knows no boundaries; Art soothes, Art excites, Art provokes. I believe Art has the possibility of creating a climate of sensivity in which it is possible for change to occur.

The major idea of India is inclusion – men and women, poor and rich, old and young, tribal and urban all must become active participants in the polity who strive for Equity, Justice, Agency and Empowerment.

India is not a melting pot in which individual identities are submerged. Instead India is a colourful mosaic in which individual identities are retained whilst contributing to a larger whole. India will always remain more than the sum of its parts.

The long and the short of it is simply this – I am proud to be an Indian.

Thank you.


The fall of a Leader

I still remember watching Sushma Swaraj’s campaign trail in Delhi on news channels in 1998; her fiery speeches attacking the Congress, reaching out to the refugees in transit camps, the tongue in cheek statements drawing thunderous applause from the audience and being thronged by women as she campaigned through the bylanes of the capital. She was the star campaigner of the party and had enormous mass appeal. Taking a jibe towards the ‘Italian’ Sonia Gandhi, she once told NDTV that ” Ordinary women connect with me because I dress and speak like they do”; which was indeed the truth.

When she took over as the Leader of Opposition in 2009, it was almost certain that she would be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We all saw a mellow and mature Sushma Swaraj compared to the feisty Swaraj of the 1990’s. Though she never talked about it but it wouldn’t be wrong to say that she was preparing herself for the larger role. However, Narendra Modi led BJP’s victory in 2012 Gujarat polls altered the situation. The entire BJP cadre saw Narendra Modi as the BJP’s PM candidate and given his Sangh background he was also the RSS’s blue-eyed boy. Fighting all the internal tussles and differences, he was finally declared as the Prime Minister candidate.

Sushma Swaraj has had a remarkable career. She has many firsts to her credits as being the youngest ever Cabinet Minister in the history of India, first woman Chief Minister of the capital, first woman spokesperson of any political party and of course BJP’s first woman Leader of Opposition. She has won elections in Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh with remarkable margins. Though she lost the 1999 Bellary elections to Sonia Gandhi, nobody can deny the fact that she had put up a great fight and secured massive 3,58,000 votes in just 12 days of campaign.


As a Union Minister in the NDA government she handled various portfolios and brought radical and important changes in the ministries. She can be credited with establishing six All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) across India; an initiative she took as the Health Minister aimed towards providing economical yet efficient health services to people. As the minister of I&B and Telecommunications declaring Films as an industry was a milestone step as it made the industry eligible to get loans and be financed by banks which was otherwise funded by underworld. She freed the industry from the control of underworld and ironically the same industry now takes out petitions against her party. She can also be credited for much of the ‘radio boom’ in the country as she encouraged community radio services which enabled colleges and universities to start their own FM stations.  In a span of over 3 years she brought the radio and cable services to a large population in the country. Her popularity can be assessed by the fact that Multiple System Operator (MSO) wanted Sushma Swaraj back as I&B Minister when she was moved to another portfolio.

Though her party has produced many women netas but it is Sushma Swaraj who is a feminist in true sense. It was due to her efforts that two thirds of the seats in BJP were reserved for women. Smriti Irani who is often touted as the next ‘Sushma Swaraj’ acknowledges this and thanks Swaraj for pushing through the reservation. She has been quite vocal about women equality & security. I still remember her Lok Sabha speech on International Women’s Day where she talked about increasing crime against women and urged that irrespective of political ideologies, the political class should ensure that women are safe in the country. She is also one of the few BJP netas to have come out strongly against the moral policing by organizations like the Sri Ram Sene. She has stated that her daughter who studies in Britain often visits pubs and it is up to her to decide whether she wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day or not. However, it’s unfortunate that her critics still view her as a traditional (may be orthodox) Bhartiya Nari who vowed to shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became India’s Prime Minister.

As the leader of the opposition, Swaraj has been brilliant in the Lok  Sabha. An articulate and forceful speaker, she managed to keep the ruling party on its toes and successfully brought the agenda of the opposition on the table. Some of the outstanding debates in the parliament saw speeches by Sushma Swaraj; especially on price rise, LokPal Bill, Coalgate , Cash for Votes and the FDI. Whether it is the ‘sher-o-shayri’  with the PM or advising the young Manish Tiwari to learn ‘vinamrata; she has been one of the finest Lok Sabha speakers that the country has seen.


However,  it would be wrong to blame the party entirely for this fall of hers. As a senior leader and a seasoned politician, Sushma Swaraj (after her initial sulk) should have come to terms with the fact that Narendra Modi enjoys immense support from the party cadre. She should have accepted him like her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha who might be the Deputy PM if NDA comes to power. Instead, she chose to rebel and brought out the differences out in open. She took to twitter to talk about her reservations on the inclusion of Sriramulu in the party who is a close associate of the Reddy Brothers whom she was once closely associated with. Her rift with Nirmala Sitharaman on the Telangana issue was also out when she retweeted a tweet that criticized Nirmala. Today, the usually vocal Sushma Swaraj is silent. She hasn’t campaigned much beyond Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. An active twitter user who tweeted even when she was detained by J&K CM has gone offline. She looked lonely when the BJP released its manifesto and hasn’t given any interviews of late.

Today, she is often ridiculed on the many satirical websites in the internet space and many even accuse her of being a part of fictional ‘Club 160’ in BJP  that is working against Narendra Modi. Without any backing from a God-father, she emerged as a top BJP leader solely because of her hard work and capabilities. It is indeed sad that one of the tallest woman leader of the country and her party has been pushed into oblivion. A leader of her stature deserves more!



A rejoinder to Arvind Kejriwal on his 17 questions to Narendra Modi

Now a days, it’s difficult to ignore Mr. Arvind Kejriwal as he is all over the news channels, newspapers and social media. I happened to read the 17 questions which he asked Mr. Narendra Modi and argued that his claims of development are nothing but a farce. Frankly, a person who couldn’t run a government for 49 days questions a CM who is in power for 13 years seems more farcical though. Khair!

As a young voter of this country, I see Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister and would definitely want him to be one. So, I try to answer the questions to the best of my ability as a ‘Aam Aadmi’.

Q1. Why does your government buy solar power at Rs 13 per unit? Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are buying it at Rs 7.50 and Rs 5 per unit, respectively?

A1. Gujarat is the pioneer Indian state in solar energy. When they started, the Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd had signed 88 agreements to buy 971.5 Mw of solar power for 25 years at a blended price of Rs 12.54 a unit. It’s a DAMN AGREEMENT! Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam is pushing for a 25 per cent rate cut from what was agreed in the original power purchase agreements. You should also know, that Gujarat is NOT Madhya Pradesh. The land prices have shot up in the last few years and hence the investors are demanding higher rates. This is plain business. Thought being born into a Bania family, I am sure you would understand.

Also, the prices are fixed by the regulators and NOT by the government.  In this case Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC) just like prices in Delhi are fixed by DERC.

Gujarat wants solar power tariff reduced

Q2. You claim 11% agriculture growth in state while your government’s data says production has shrunk at 1.18% annually and revenue declined from Rs 27,815 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 25,908 crore in 2012-13. Why?

A2. I thought you would have done some reading on this Mr. Kejriwal before raising the question. Narendra Modi’s claim of 11% growth is echoed by the ASSOCHAM report (2011) which says that Gujarat recorded the highest decadal growth from 2001-2010; the time Modi took over as CM. So, for heaven’s sake, read this:

Gujarat records highest decadal agricultural growth rate of 10.97%

Also, the Gujarat government was presented the Krishi Karman Commendation Award for higher production of food grains in 2013. Of course you will say that all these are corrupt institutions and awards are bought by Modi.

A decade of agricultural revolution

As far as the decline in production you point out, what’s the big deal in that? In a year there might be several reasons ranging from low rainfall, high rainfall, pest attack etc. that can affect the agricultural production. The production might increase in one year and can decrease in another. Understood? Of course, Yes. You are an IITian!


Q3. In the past 10 years, two-thirds of all SMEs have shut down in Gujarat, especially in your home town Mehsana where 140 units out of 187 died away. Do you want to concentrate all power in the hands of a few big industrial houses?

A3.  ‘Humne suna hai’ – Seriously Mr. Kejriwal? You must have heard some awesome things about Gujarat also, why not believe them too? Reminded of this popular saying in Hindi ‘Hawa mein Teer Chodna’. You “found out” that 140 off industrial units had closed down. Proof? Anything that supports your claim? If yes, we will talk.

Q4.  You claim to have eradicated corruption in Gujarat. People here claim that up to Rs 10 lakh bribe is demanded for appointment of a ‘talati’ (revenue official).

A4. I will make you meet people in towns and villages who say Arvind Kejriwal is stupid. Will you believe them?

On a serious note, LET’S BE REAL Mr. Kejriwal. There are thousands of employees who work for any state government and it would be indeed foolish to believe that all of them would be honest and won’t take any bribe or gifts. If some of them do, then it is for the people to report the issue to the authorities. Did they report? Of course you didn’t ask them. Did you? If they reported and still no action was taken, then you blame the government.

Q5. Your ministry has people like Babu Bokhiria, convicted for three years in a mining case, and Purshottam Solanki, accused in a Rs 450 crore fishing scandal. Why?

A5. Your minister Somnath Bharti is racist who told women from another country to pee in public and Kumar Vishwas is a male chauvinist who calls the nurses from Kerala ‘Kaali-Peeli’. Couldn’t you find sane-thinking people for your ministry among 9.8 million Delhiites?

Coming to the question, the ministers you mentioned are “accused” and as far as I know being an accused is not the same as being guilty. So, let the law take its own course. If the charges are proven, they will be expelled.

Q6. Why have you inducted in your cabinet a minister who is the son-in-law of the Ambani family?

A6. Is there a law that prohibits induction of a minister who is a relative of any businessman? To my knowledge, NO!

Q7. About 13 lakh people applied for 1,500 posts of ‘talati’ recently. How can you claim to have solved the problem of unemployment?

 A7. Err… when did Mr. Modi “claim” that there is NO unemployment in Gujarat? I am told you can find everything on Google, so I did try to search but couldn’t find any such statement. Even the most developed nations suffer from unemployment and it would be idiotic to even expect that a state government can solve the problem of unemployment completely!

Also, there are thousands of people who apply for government post every year but how on earth is this a measure of unemployability? I have a job but if I apply for a government job, then according to you I am unemployed. Don’t you think it’s a VERY BAD measure to analyze the unemployment rate? Meanwhile, you can read this report which says Gujarat has the lowest urban unemployment rate in India.

Gujarat records lowest urban unemployment rate in India

Q8. Why is your government exploiting young graduates by paying them only Rs 5,300 per month for five years on contract basis?

A8. You say why would any ‘educated & self-respected’ individual work for Rs. 5,300. There are lakhs of youths in Indian states who are educated and yet are out of jobs. Sitting at home without job hurts the self-respect most and many even end up their lives.

Whereas, here the Gujarat government is providing the people employment. Is Rs. 5,300 less? Yes; for you and me. But for a person who is sitting idle at home and has the burden of running a family, it is not less. Also, I happen to be a Human Resources professional and whatever little Labor Law I have read, the Gujarat government is no where at fault and is not flouting any of the labor laws laid in the country.

Q9. The state of government schools can be gauged by the fact that only three teachers teach 600 students at some places. What is your comment?

A9. Dear Arvind Kejriwal, before I answer the question let me just throw light on few of the achievements of Gujarat government in education. The concept of ‘smart classrooms’ which is often heard in city schools has made its way to the smallest of villages in Gujarat. The Vataman village of Ahmedabad district & the Ajab village of Junagadh district  are live examples where students get to learn through computers and other audio-visual aids. The Punsari village has schools with CCTV Cameras, 24 hour Wi-Fi and solar powered lamps.

With such education system, the country can surely progress. No?

As far as your claims of “finding” colleges with 3 teachers, why don’t you name the colleges? Where are they located? Why don’t you support your claims with proof?

Q10. Medical and health services in Gujarat are in a shambles and in grip of corruption.

A10. In just four days, you came to the conclusion that health care services are crippled in the “entire” state. You can give these superheroes a run for their money yaar!

Coming to the question, again you just vomit out some statements which are not supported by facts or figures. But I will give you facts about the efforts taken by Gujarat government towards improving the health care facilities.

Gujarat government rolls out healthcare scheme for poor

Healthcare boom in Gujarat

Q11. At least 800 farmers have committed suicide in Gujarat in recent years as the government has stopped subsidies and not paying support prices. What is your reaction?

A11. Again, you just throw figures without quoting any credible source. Though I don’t deny that farmer suicides have occurred in Gujarat like all other states but I have a problem with you blaming the Gujarat government for it.

While replying to an RTI application, the Gujarat government stated that between January 1, 2008 and August 20, 2012, 115 farmers had committed suicide. And most of them had ended their lives because of growing debts caused by crop failure. 115 deaths in the last few years and you say 800. WOW!

By the way, read this How did Gujarat Become a Farming Paradise?

 Four lakh farmers are waiting for years to get electricity connection. How can you claim 24×7 electricity availability? 

A12. 4 Lakh farmers without electricity. WOAH! That’s news to me. So, in four days you visited the villages in Gujarat and even got a count of farmers who don’t have electricity? Nice. Why don’t you name these villages?
While you continue to nit-pick, read this story about the scientists in Gujarat working on a novel concept of providing electricity to villagers

Power to farmers: Gujarat scientists float novel concept

Q13.Farmers have not been paid adequately for acquisition of their land for industry while the Ambanis and Adanis have got it for just one rupee per square meter. Some farmers have not been paid any compensation at all.

A13. May be you didn’t know or may be you chose to ignore but  the Gujarat government in 2011 revised its compensation figures and introduced a new ‘jantri rate’. which gave the farmers much higher compensation whose land was being acquired. Farmers whose land was specifically acquired for the Narmada canal network benefitted from it. The new janri was three times the old one and the farmers received a 30% hike in the prices. Where is the injustice?

Q14. Despite raising the Sardar Sarovar dam’s height in 2005, the Kutch people have not been provided water but industries have been. Why?  

A14. Oh dude! An NGO (AAPke bhai-bandhu) raised this issue few years back and the SUpreme Court REJECTED the plea to increase the quotas of water for Kutch region. You love anarchy and I am sure you will now brand the Supreme Court corrupt but sadly we respect the law of the land.

Supreme Court rejects plea for more Narmada water to Kutch

 Despite assuring Punjab that the Sikh farmers of Kutch will not be deprived of land allotted to them, the Gujarat Government has not withdrawn court cases. Why?

A15. Narendra Modi “assured” that no Sikh farmer will leave Gujarat; he did not assure that their land will be given back. Last I read, farms of 52 farmers have been defreezed and rest cannot be defreezed as they are not farmers or Santhani land-holders as per official records.

As the matter is subjudice, why do you want the government to withdraw the case? What if they win? Will you still hold the same opinion? Why not wait for the judgement?

 How many aircraft and helicopters do you have? And who owns these? How much do you pay or someone else pays? Why don’t you make public these air expenses?

A16. I would have loved had you asked the same question to all the Chief Ministers but you seem to have a personal grudge against Modi. Next, you will ask him how many underwear you have? Jockey or VIP?

A person who overstays in the government bungalow even after resigning as the Chief Minister, gives his ministers brand new Toyota cars, takes a Religare private jet sponsored by India Today doesn’t deserve an answer on this.

Q17.  If you become the PM, will you raise the price of the KG Basin gas, which has already been doubled by the UPA government to $8 per unit?

A17. Hypothetical Question. Yawn! Why should he talk about his policies even before he has become the Prime Minister.  One thing is for sure but that it won’t be and should not be free like the water in Delhi.

Highway – In bondage she found freedom!

Imtiaz Ali is easily one of the best storytellers of our times and he narrates his stories with great passion. With Highway he takes the road less travelled and makes a film that is braver and more risky than his previous outings. Does he succeed? Let’s just say Highway is his best film till date.

Like all his films the characters in Highway also traverse long distances and transcend geographical boundaries. In this case, Mahabir and Veera travel from the arid tracts of Rajasthan to the snow-capped mountains in Kashmir (Which Anil Mehta captures beautifully). Interestingly, Imtiaz had already told this story when he directed an episode for Zee TV’s Rishtey but Ali felt that there was more to the story and thank god for that! 

I have always loved the way Imtiaz Ali develops the characters in his films; especially the female protagonist.  Mahabir and Veera’s relationship is ambiguous and that is the beauty of the film. They can be lovers or they can’t be but they are definitely in love. Love that cannot be outlined by the conventional definitions.  Mahabir sees his mother in Veera and the way she embraces and caresses him when he cries, he probably finds his mother in Veera. However, the way Mahabir looks at Veera when she breaks into a spontaneous dance somewhere hints at Mahabir being attracted to her. Similarly, Veera feels protected with Mahabir and finds the father in him which she has never had. But, whether she saw a lover in Mahabir is something we don’t really know as the film doesn’t give any clear answers. I believe she didn’t.


Mahabir and Veera are two characters that are hurting as hell. They are stooges of destiny whose childhood is obscured. They are fighting an inner battle with themselves which they eventually win as they confide in each other; whether it is Veera’s painful secret from her childhood or Mahabir’s guilt of killing three people.

Highway is about discovering oneself. It is about attaining freedom. It is about achieving salvation. It is about self-discovery. Like most Indians, I love happy endings and would have liked to see Mahabir live but his life wouldn’t have served the purpose of the film. His death sets Veera free. Veera unearths herself on the journey with Mahabir and experiences freedom. I also loved the way film subtly mocks the ‘tameezdar’ society and leaves us with a message. It talks (doesn’t preach) about child molestation and how the ‘well behaved’ society remains a mute spectator to it. It strips our hypocritical society and makes us ask ourselves ‘Kya hum bhi inhi mein se ek hain?’

Talking about the leads, Randeep Hooda is brilliant as the abductor and plays his part with great ease. He is one of the good actors we have today and is much more than what the Bhatts make him do. But Highway belongs hands down to Alia Bhatt who inhabits Veera’s world and infuses it with childlike honesty. This girl can act and how! Watch her in the scene when she is talking to herself as she mounts on a rock in the Kashmir valley or when she confronts  the man who abuses her or when she breaks into a spontaneous dance. Brilliant!

Imtiaz-Irshad-Rahman are Tridev (God). Highway wouldn’t have been what it is had it not been for them who instill soul into the film. Whether it is Veera’s run in the Sambhar lake with ‘Tu Kuja’ playing in the background or their journey to the mountains with Jonita’s haunting vocals; ek रूहानियत hai; a sufi feel to it.

In one of the scenes in the film Veera says to Mahabir;

“जहाँ से तुम मुझे लाए हो, में वहाँ वापस नही जाना चाहती.
जहाँ भी ले जा रहे हो, वहाँ पहुँचना नही चाहती.
पर यह रास्ता, यह बहुत अच्छा है.
में चाहती हूँ की यह रास्ता कभी ख़तम ना हो.”

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey quite like what Lord Krishna says कर्म करो, फल की चिंता मत करो. Go, take this journey!