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Love

When I came to you, wandering through

The difficult streets of my conflicts

And sought refuge in your brown eyes

And sought love in them

I did not come so that the love I had to give to you

Would not be only yours to love

But be given away to a lover more subtle

Or to be put aside when more relevant

And, determinable love came along.

Love like so many other objects

Is strangely sharable and I

Seem to be the only lover

Not in the possession of this knowledge

But you, my innocent one, of brown eyes and black hair

Knew it all, knowing how to be the woman to others’ love

And how to put my love aside, to be re used later

Like other reusable things

Other objects, of similar mundane origins

All that is wrong

The exact science of human desires

All of it, in the final analysis

Would be the same, as if copied from

The other in infancy, through exchanges

Of radical and mysterious forcefulness

Copied, page to page, word by word

In a way in which only men can be copied

What else would be invoked, provoked

To explain the copying of violence, word by word

In imaginary wars,

Soldiers, bayonets slung across broad chests

And the green of battle

Hungry and insatiable,

resting pretty on uneven heads,

Huddle close with the madness of war

And the fumes of toxic histories in their nostrils

With unpublished poetry

And purposes and peoples

All at once dissolved

And appropriated by the requirement of a greater good

And a greater control

And what else would be called upon

To assist the silence of the dark and

That dreary shape of evil

That only in evil would survive otherwise

But here, lives in the desires

Of manufactured battles, where each man, woman and child would be

Turned in to the violence of a mob

Of that bedazzled, intoxicated, human persistence

Of an elusive idea of reality

And men and women

Anguished over their incompetence,

Would search for answers and closures

Outside them

As a million cries, put together through time

Judged by the contents of their discontentment

In the vaguest of all ordinary struggles against the vagueness of it all,

The vagueness of it all

Of definitions that put chains and barbed wires

And built walls where there was laughter once

And of brave lands of desires that desire recognition

And rejects the absolution of shape and form

Of love shared by the stars, by closed doors and an insanely

Sexual night which never ceased

And of the molten waters, muddied and dirty

Leaking through concrete cracks

And costly, grotesque vehicles that pass

Underneath them, shaded and closed

And then I realised that it was all wrong

All wrong and all wrong and could never be put right

And lay wishing that it would all end

In a way that when it ends, it can never begin again

Like the beginning before that and the beginning before that

The Revolution

A million men and women,

old,young and middle aged,

all stood in attention

in colours of various uniforms

in the corner of the column,

naval soldiers in white and blue

stood disciplined by wars

in rapt attention, with unwavering faith

women stood at the front

an eternity of strength

dancing in their eyes

and a history of pain,heavy in their breasts

there were children too

looking upwards and forward

the confidence of tommorrow

and of questions resting in their eyes

the peasents, in their dull clothes

stood at the rear

with sickles armoured against their chests

and tiny, cloth bundled food on their shoulders

and in the centre

bearing the burdens of man

hammers and irons in their hands

stood the glorious proletariat

holding the other’s hand

a column of flashing swords

the classless class

the men and woman of toil

stood in the centre

the dark of the red flags in their hands

darkening the shadows

and flowing alongside the currents of time

and sung the songs

that only the poor know how to sing

and danced like madmen

in mad dances that only they know

they stood all,

together, bound by intangible time

holding bright red flags and with new eyes

staring at the yesterday again.

Restoration Of Order

A few jobless men

looked at the setting sun

packed up and went back

to their respective childhoods

leaving a void behind in the present

and over populating the past

The God frowned and said

“but it’s impossible, you must go back to the future”

the jobless men

proletariat, erstwhile workers,

erstwhile peasents, erstwhile women,

erstwhile children all

smiled through their disfigured mouths

and went back to their childhood.

The God frowned more

until their was drought in deep Africa

and the war got worst in Afghanistan

and Everyone blamed it on the jobless

for making The God frown

and for bringing despair to millions

but for them who had disfigured mouths and bent backs

the sun shined andthey were children again.

And they played in the waters

and they built castles by the sea

while their ancestors worked hard

in factories and fields and

tended to the wishes of different mortals

and looked after their coffers

and suddenly, as if to mock their joblessness

they discovered that

their misery went behind centuries

and extended backwards into yesterday

that their misery went back to the New

and that by providence divine

they must toil,

they must work and be jobless therefore

so they meekly, repacked their bags

and made a quick exit from their past

and made it swiftly to the present

to queue up for the next job on offer

The God smirked quietly

and was delighted at the restoration of order

and Everyone, thankful of his role

went back to his job

Walking backwards

In the strangeness of the night

a column of men march backwards

through busy markets,through overcrowded streets

their backbones bent at odd angles

from their sickly legs

skeletons, zombies

millions of such men marched on dazed

in the silence of the night.

A sole woman, naked ,with a dead child

trailed them, walking on a single leg

backwards, into the market and beyond

backwards, into time and beyond

backwards into history.

A mercedes, stuck in the inhuman jam

stuck out its horn in full glory

noone moved, millions of men and the one woman

filed past the car in silence,walking backwards

they walked past date shaped milestones

twenty sixth november, ninth september

fifteenth august, twenty sixth january

unperturbed,they filed past temples and mosques

and of all human holiness

we held a cloth on our noses

and turned our eyes away

unable to see the ghastliness

unable to bear the smell of rotting flesh

they walked past emergencies

walked past wars, walked past Iraq

walked past Vietnam and Afghanistan

they walked past oceans and mountains

they walked past presidents and prime ministers

past dictators and generals

they walked past kings and queens and majestic emperors

they walked past Jesus and Mohammed

walked past parting seas and the glory of Pharaoes

walked past the sun gods, past ruined, ancient battlefields

a TV reporter mustered courage and asked them something

“no food, no land, no mills, no factories  we are all walking to the Begining,

then perhaps we can begin afresh!”

a million men and a naked woman answered in unison

and went back to walking backwards

Peepli Live

In a poignant scene towards the very end of Peepli Live, as the camera zooms out of the remote village and heaves itself onto the busy streets of Delhi and Gurgaon, spanning metal and glass structures, eight lane roads and wide toll booths, it slows down momentarily on a huge billboard reading ‘more space, more luxury’. For me, that interlude captures the essence of this wonderful film. The immense divide between our cities, our lives and theirs. Peepli live is not a hit, it will never be one and I seriously doubt whether Anusha Rizvi even wanted it to be one. There are no big names in the film, no stereotypes and no item numbers. There is no Ranbir Kapoor or an unrequited love story here.

It is, however, a dark, satirical re-telling of an oft repeated and widely known story about the ‘other’ India. The characters are living entities. The characters are perhaps seventy percent of our nation, ones primarily constructed of a mixture of earthly smells and clay. Like a soulful Chattisgarhi folk song which comes on when the credits roll, singing – chola maate ke raam, ekar ka bharosa, chola matee ke raam, (the body is of clay, how do we expect eternity) celebrating death as the greatest equalizer. Equalizing finally the kinds of Drona and Karna, of Rama and Ravana, of all who are made of clay. Of the poverty of our ability to ignore, of Nattha and of Peepli.

The film could very well have been an on-screen adaptation of P Sainath’s ‘Everyone loves a Good Drought’. The story is the same, the tragedy as unsettling as ever. The characters are straight out of a Greek tragedy, comprehensively undoing their own lives while trying to make it better. The settings could easily have been a Habib Tanveer or an IPTA play and the music a heady mixture of folk, fusion and rural melodies.

Caught between having to sell off their land to pay for the loans they took, and to survive thereafter, two brothers, Budhiya and Nattha contemplate committing suicide in order to receive compensation from the Government. In the end Nattha, the younger one agrees to be the fall guy. The brothers get merrily drunk and gloat over the fact at a local store where a local scribe picks up the story. The unusual and seemingly harmless story subsequently carries to the National news agencies and all hell suddenly breaks loose. In the ensuing media tamasha, poor Nattha and the entire village are reduced to a sideshow while politicians, large and small, take up the field and the media houses, keen on upstaging the other at getting the latest and perhaps a more outrageous story.

The media gets the lion’s share of the satire. The director elicits equal derision for both the kinds – the holier-than-thou English media and the invariably sensationalized Hindi media. The uptown, suave prime time English newsreader is a cruel mockery of what we all love to see at 9 pm on various news channels. She is cold, patronizing and makes her discomfort at covering the rural setting very clear. She is shrewd, manipulative, stays away and more importantly, appears higher, than the earthly matter at hand. In a particularly memorable scene, the reporter asks an acquaintance to spell Jan Morcha for her. She speaks with an unmistakable accent and is condescending to even the local reporter (who is obviously smitten with her and subsequently becomes disillusioned with the frenzy). The Hindi news reporter on the other hand is more blatant and unperturbed about sensationalising non-issues and often manufacturing them. In an apparent drawback however, the film decides to take the media story to an extent where the reporters hog the limelight and the audiences often and intermittently so get distracted from the original story.

The humour of the story is however also is in the Tughlakian way the government functions when it comes to the poorest of the nation. Rizvi aptly captures the absurdity of the social sector schemes, the knee jerk reactions, the covering up of troubled spots, and the collusion of convenience when required and in effect paints a grim picture of reality. There is an underlying current however in the entire story; an anger, a desperation, captured brilliantly in the character of the lonely digger who sells barren soil to survive. The anger is also captured in the final song, Zindagi se darte ho, which unfortunately comes at a time when the audience has already walked out. Indian Ocean comes up with yet another masterpiece, closer to ‘Bandeh’ perhaps in its raw warning tone and content. That such a song is included in a supposedly lighthearted movie is an indication that the humour is perhaps a subtle camouflage for a greater purpose or motive.

The derision is absolute however whenever the scene moves to Delhi. Naseeruddin Shah is at his best playing the disaffected Agriculture minister who advocates industrialisation as solution to farmer suicides (fiction, anyone) and comes up with a Nattha card when cornered (which anyhow the states must implement). The agricultural secretary is seated comfortably in his elite office and sips away Darjeeling tea, dismissing nonchalantly the lives of the millions his decision would include or perhaps, exclude. In one of the scenes, a lower caste leader, empathising with Nattha, gifts him a television, which the poor man holds up, almost numb and suddenly along with Nattha and the residents of Peepli, we wonder what a man is supposed to do with a television in a place that knows no electricity!  In another hilarious scene the CM , to hush up matters orders the DM to gift Nattha with any of the social schemes (the names themselves are used extraordinarily- Indira Awaas, Laal Bahadur, Jawaharlal) each of which the DM innocently lists  and relates how none is applicable to Nattha or his family. It is also therefore a brilliant satire on a slew of social sector schemes that myopic governments roll out each year, excluding most and including none.  The characters are so real that they are almost unbelievable. The editors, the bureaucrats, the obese policemen, all playing along with the powers that be, allude perhaps to the concreteness in which we have enshrined complacency and corruption in our system.

The audience however disappoints. The screening at a popular single screen in Juhu was lively, with people catching up with the jokes and almost, well almost grasping the absurdity of the events being shown, by being silent at the opportune moments. The motley crowd at a multiplex in Versova was however insular, as expected, and one gets the feeling that the laughs were not originating in the jokes but more in the predicament that the characters were facing, in the distinct lack of urbanity in the characters and their dialogues. The expletives, the infirmities of the old mother, the nagging wife and the simplicity of a rural lifestyle evoked more joy than the underlying satire and humour, in this audience. Rizvi perhaps aims this film more at this insular crowd than at the types of Nattha and Budhiya who would perhaps never see this film. The marketing of the film can share a little of the blame, effectively portraying the film as an out and out rural comedy. Hence a little of the emptiness one feels in the audience is maybe due to a feeling of being let down by the unhappy ending or a comic finale.

The music is refreshing and very relevant. Indian Ocean’s melodious Des Mera placed well and captures the mood very well. Nageen Tanveer’s haunting Chola Maate Ke Naam completes the sombre mood in which the film ends. The show stealer is however Mehengai Dayan, coming from none other than Raghuveer Yadav, a contemporary and hard hitting take on the current price rise. Peepli live therefore is not only a good film, it is also an important social statement, a beautiful allusion to the days of socially relevant films like Ankur and Garam Hawa. It falters in places and almost always manages to pick itself back on its feet.

If only truth were not so real, this film could have been one of the most hilarious accounts of rural India. But the fact is that it is not fictitious. It is real, almost tangible. The greatest achievement of the film is therefore not that it is hilarious in parts but in the fact that the reality it presents and the society it mirrors, is in itself so absurd that it is comical. When relevant social satires catch up with mainstream mediums and is watched in drones by the middle and upper class, democracies must sit up and take note. There is something sinister in which the apathy and failure of this country’s system is catching up with its citizens. The hungry have become too visible to ignore and too many to not feed. Peepli live examines the desperation of a populace living in absolute penury with amazing precision. It avoids clichés and generalisations and presents their case with as much honesty and clarity as is perhaps enough but not redundant. Go watch it for its acting, music, cinematography and most importantly its message. Peepli live will not disappoint you.

The pimp

The deal was sealed within ten minutes.

Even by Kamathipura standards, the deal had taken longer than it should have. Ratan heaved a sigh of undisguised relief as the scrawny fellow walked off with Sujata. He clutched the money like a child and started crossing the busy street.

Bespectacled Ratan was never pimpesque enough. Not that he imagined himself to be a pimp. He had always imagined himself to be better than his bretheren in the industry,as he sometimes self-indulgently called it. He had a BA degree, and was much more educated than his peers. As he walked past a crowd of  tired Bombay men and women, his mind wandered off to the new story he was writing.

Ratan, the pimp, was a story teller by the night.

He wrote stories, most of which remained unpublished, stacked along with dust and newspapers in one corner of his single room shack downtown. One of his book,however, had been published. It was a book of  long drawn detective stories, wrote in simple Hindi. He had not recieved any money for the book, the publisher had been one of his customers, but the fact that a printed manuscript bore his name made him unmeasurably proud. The book had even, briefly, made him contemplate quitting his job.

He hated his job. He detested the dark lanes of Kamathipura. He detested the girls and their persuasive customers. He was definitely not one of them.

“Would Archana understand?” he suddenly thought.

The first letter had arrived within a week of his book being published. A strongly flirtatious, feminine, hand written script, signed ‘Archana’. The letter had praised his story, and him both, and although it was the only fan mail he had ever recieved, Ratan recognised genuine appreciation. He wrote back immediately. Over the months he recieved more letters, each more flattering and more audacious than the previous.

Ratan was slowly drawn into the mysterious, charming world that only an artist and his audience can conjure, a world of mutual praise and denial, of admiration and distance. And before he knew it, Ratan was in love. Her appreciation of him and his literature spurred him on. He inherently disliked his friend’s wives, most of whom could neither read or write. He would do better than them, he always knew.

He disliked marriage. “A story teller”, he would tell his friends, after a couple of drinks, “is never satisfied with one woman. The moment he gets one, he creates a better one with his words”.He despised the married men who came to him with their insatiable lust. He never liked the girls, whose bodies he pimped .  He was a loner in the trade, the odd man out. A pimp who disliked whores and wrote stories.

For months now he had wanted to walk upto the address scribbled on the envelopes but could never muster enough courage. Today however, he had gathered everything he could and set out towards her building to meet his secret admirer and perhaps, a future mate.

“Her parents would definitely like me”, he thought as he reached the chawl and slowly climbed the uneven stairs that led to the first floor. He knocked on the second door. An old woman opened the door. He looked at the envelope he held in his hands and looked around to make sure he was at the right door. He took his chance.

Archana hain?” he asked.

The woman repeated the name loudly and went back in, leaving the door ajar. A few minutes later, a thin, dark girl emerged from the shadows.

Ratan recognised the girl.

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