Gurvinder Singh’s great gift to Punjabi Cinema Part I

Waryam Singh Sandhu is a foremost Punjabi short story writer. These are his views on the film ‘Anhey Ghorey da Daan’. The author’s picture is by Gurvinder Singh.

by Waryam Singh Sandhu

A film based on Gurdial Singh’s novel ‘Alms for the Blind Horse’ (‘Anhey Ghorey da daan)’ is in the news. It has won a number of national and international awards. For the first time, Punjabi cinema has earned such honours. It has also won the national award for direction and cinematography. The film has come first among all languages in the national awards, and at the Abu Dhabi national awards, it has bagged the $50,000 award for direction and cinematography.

Recently, the film was shown at on the last day of the PIFF film festival at Rose Theatre in Brampton, near Toronto, Canada.

There is a big crowd at the theatre. I am told that the crowds were not so big for any of the previously shown films at the festival. When I enter the hall, the film has just started. The film is moving very slowly.There are no fast-changing scenes that rush through the film. The story is about the dalit community. In their everyday lives, there is nothing that is very dramatic that happens. So how could it happen in the story? Like the stagnant and stopped lives of those people, the story in the film too seems to move hesitantly.

Continue reading “Gurvinder Singh’s great gift to Punjabi Cinema Part I”

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review

It takes some time for the film to sink in, but when it does, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) has mastery written all over it.

That Anhey Ghorey belongs to niche contemporary cinema is not insignificant, even more striking is that the film is in Punjabi. This is a dissonance- the film in every way is far removed from what one expects from a Punjabi movie, or even the Hindi movies that Punjabis make.

Isn’t any movie in Punjabi about a Jatt on a revenge spree? Isn’t every Hindi movie with Punjab in the background about lush green fields swaying with bright mustard crops? If not about the big fat Punjabi weddings, isn’t it supposed to be about the valour of militant patriots like Bhagat Singh?

Based on a novel of the same name by Gurdial Singh, Anhey Ghorey presents a contrarian perspective- something that isn’t found in the Bollywoodized versions of Punjab. The story is not about the revenge of the Jatts, it is not about a militant valour either. It is a life that at best is stoic, and at its worst is impassive in the face of hardships. It shows one day in the life of a Mazhabi Sikh family that lives on the fringes. The characters don’t jump into a frenzy of song and dance every few minutes- instead they eek out a  precarious existence against a a volley of brutal attacks on their daily existence.

Continue reading “Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review”

The Year Gone By- 2011

There is a sense of deja vu as I write this 7th annual year- end digest. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, I decided to put my then primary interest in astronomy and astrophysics on the backburner. A short stay at the Department of Physics at Punjab University combined with a pragmatic look at the job market soon weaned me towards engineering. In those impressionable years, sensitivities towards the life around me turned me to Marxism and literature- as it did for a number of generations of sensitive young men and women in India and other countries. I continued, mysteriously, to pass my engineering exams too, finishing with a degree in 1991.

Since then I have traversed history, sociology, philosophy, aesthetics and literature- anything except astronomy. I cannot but take a long view look at the past 25 years or so spent pursuing fields with with I had no professional relation, as I took up The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene last week. I was invigorated and rejuvenated as my otherwise waning interest in reading seems to have returned. Besides the fact that the book is very well written, explaining recent developments in particle physics and cosmology easily for a layman, I find it interesting the author’s journey proceeded directly opposite to mine. In his teenage years, he read Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus, and rejected Camus answer to what he considers to be the most fundamental question- whether to commit suicide or not. Though I read Camus much later, the answer to similar questions in my mind led me away from astronomy. Greene opted for the opposite direction and sought a career in astrophysics.

I am convinced, though, if he had also been subjected to the manner in which I was taught at the department of Physics at the Punjab University, he too would have changed his course of study.

On a different note, my experiment with an e- reader earlier in the year, was short lived, though I will have to return to it at some point or another.

Continue reading “The Year Gone By- 2011”

The Agenda of the Gita

Left liberals are likely to denounce the BJP’s support for the Karnataka government’s introduction of Gita classes in schools as an attempt at stifling minority rights and invoke on the separation of the state and the church. The BJP’s agenda, however, goes far beyond just a communal agenda. To decipher that, one has to trace the agenda behind the Gita itself.

The Gita has, in popular belief, symbolized the rejuvenation of Hinduism after a thousand years of Buddhist domination. It was the book that apparently struck the last nail on Buddhist thought by a thirty-something Adi Sankracharya. Sankara advocated the advaita–in other words, a form of subjective idealism. In simple words, what it means is that there is only one entity in the universe, the Brahma. The rest is an illusion. Thus, he reconciled all the contradictions in the world by proclaiming that everything is an illusion, or Maya. A person needs to realize this supposed unity and unless one is able to do so, one remains entangled in the web of illusions, or mayajaal.

The Gita attempted to do the same–reconcile contradictions. It attempted to justify violence in the name of morality. It ordained the caste system, and showed women “their place.” In other words, The Gita is the chariot of Brahmanism and what can be called the ideology of racism ensconced within Brahmanism.

Continue reading “The Agenda of the Gita”

Knowing the Turf

During the last twenty years, there has been a parallel discourse on the economic and social developments in India. On one hand, the votaries of economic ‘reform’ do not tire of singing paeans to what they perceive to be an economic miracle that has transformed India into an economic power. This hunky dory narrative has been consistently challenged by numerous counter narratives, in the shape of numerous studies and in a more accessible manner, by journalists, activists and writers who have reported heart wrenching stories from the ground- P. Sainath’s Everyone Loves a Good Drought (1996), Siddhartha Dube’s Words without Freedom (1998), my friend Rahul Banerjee’s ‘A Romantic among the Bhils‘ (2009) readily come to mind.  To this literature Annie Zaidi’s Known Turfis a welcome addition.The book has seven sections, dealing with bandits in Chambal, chai, poverty in Madhya Pradesh and UP, contemporary Punjab, Sufism, the writer’s ruminations on what it means to be a Muslim in contemporary India and ending with the writer’s activism with an urban feminist group and an understanding of what feminism means for her. It is interesting that the the book should begin with fiction- the story of the Chambal dacoits, take the readers from fiction to fact as it were and end with the author’s discovery of her what she calls her turf.
Continue reading “Knowing the Turf”

Jangalnama- Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone- a review

Jangalnama- Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone by Satnam, translated by Vishav Bharti- a review.

‘In the light of a candle, drinking maté (a local drink) and eating a piece of bread and cheese, the man’s shrunken features stuck a mysterious, tragic note. In simple but expressive language, he told us about his three months in prison, his starving wife, and his children left in the care of a kindly neighbor, his fruitless pilgrimage in search of work and his comrades, who had mysteriously disappeared and were said to somewhere at the bottom of the sea’. These copper mines – ‘ spiced with the lives of poor unsung heroes of this battle, who die miserable deaths, when all they want is to earn is their daily bread’

– Che Guevara, describing the life of a working class couple in the copper mines of Chuquicamata. (The Motorcycle Diaries)

At the age of 23, Che undertook a journey on a motorcycle across South America and wrote a journal based on it. The journal was published in a book form titled The Motorcycle Diaries a decade or so back. Satnam’s Jangalnama could well be a sequel to that book, written in the context of the Red India, as the Maoist controlled belt has come to be known.

There are differences, of course. Che was young, fresh out of medical college. He rode a motorcycle and was essentially on an adventure tour during the course of which he got to see the underbelly of South America and about which he wrote so eloquently. This journey was part of his education in becoming a revolutionary soon after.
Continue reading “Jangalnama- Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone- a review”

Why Capitalism has, and survives crisis

Benjamin Kunkle has a fine review of David Harvey‘s recent book the Enigma of Capital, in which he also broadly reviews related literature by classical Marxist authors, including John Bellamy Foster’s Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on Earth.

LRB · Benjamin Kunkel · How Much Is Too Much?

The trouble is already there to see. Imagine an economy consisting of a single firm which has bought means of production and labour power for a total of $100, in order to produce a mass of commodities it intends to sell for $110, i.e. at a profit of 10 per cent. The problem is that the firm’s suppliers of constant and variable capital are also its only potential customers. Even if the would-be buyers pool their funds, they have only their $100 to spend, and no more. Production of the total supply of commodities exceeds the monetarily effective demand in the system. As Harvey explains in The Limits to Capital, effective demand ‘is at any one point equal to C+V, whereas the value of the total output is C+V+S. Under conditions of equilibrium, this still leaves us with the problem of where the demand for S, the surplus value produced but not yet realised through exchange, comes from.’ An extra $10 in value must be found somewhere, to be exchanged with the firm if it is to realise its desired profit.

Continue reading “Why Capitalism has, and survives crisis”

Reading Ambedkar: Buddhism as Optimism

Buddhism has been accused of being pessimistic in its approach towards life because of its recognition of suffering being part of human existence. This, of course, is not true- one just has to look at the great developments in art and culture during Buddhist times and at the countries that practice Buddhism (South East Asia, China) to see that people that are influenced by Buddhism is anything but that, as Jawaharlal Nehru points out in his The Discovery of India.

Dr Ambedkar in The Buddha and his Dhamma, underlines how, contrary to being pessimistic, Buddhism is a religion of a dynamic middle path. He asks in the Introduction (page 19):

If life is sorrow, death is sorrow and rebirth is sorrow, then there is an end of everything. Neither religion nor philosophy can help a man to achieve happiness in the world. If there is no escape from sorrow, then what can religion do, what can Buddha do to relieve man from such sorrow which is ever there in birth itself? The four Aryan Truths are a great stumbling block in the way of non-Buddhists accepting the gospel of Buddhism. For the four Aryan Truths deny hope to man. The four Aryan Truths make the gospel of the Buddha a gospel of pessimism. Do they form part of the original gospel or are they a later accretion by the monks ?

He addresses this question in the later part of the book (page 428):
Continue reading “Reading Ambedkar: Buddhism as Optimism”

When Faiz and Mahfouz walked together

Three months ago, I had a strange dream.

I am in Cairo, walking with an Egyptian man (his face wasn’t revealed to me). We are walking along a bridge that connects two buildings. The two of us discuss Faiz, and suddenly, we see a misty figure in a gray suit. I point out to my friend, ‘See, there goes Faiz”. Both of us look at him, wonder-struck. We keep walking.

I mention to my friend that Naguib Mahfouz also wrote poetry. My friend looks up at dark clouds in the sky and recites a couple of lines, implying that these are by Mahfouz:

The skies wear

A widow’s shroud

The dream returned to my memory today as I watched the surcharged demonstrations on the streets of Cairo. Not even in my dreams, though, could I have imagined the Egyptian people would be out on the streets, trying to rip apart the dark shrouds from the country’s skies. It seems Faiz and Mahfouz are really together on the streets today.

Switching to an ereader

Having prevaricated about using an e- book reader, I switched over to one recently, albeit with an initial skepticism which was soon belied. The Barnes and Noble’s Nook turned out to be quite a charmer.

For one, the Nook enables one to read the numerous books available as pdf files, particularly the ones that are out of print or those for which copyrights have expired. Even the ebooks that are available for purchase are cheaper than the printed ones- a random check at Amazon and BN.com shows that the average price tends to be around $10. Using the calibre e-book management software, converting different formats to the ePub standard is a breeze. Given that a number of newspapers are also available for download, one can read the news without the distracting advertisements.
Continue reading “Switching to an ereader”

Why did the Buddha renounce the world?

Popular versions of the reasons why the Buddha renounced the world to seek enlightenment hover around the story that the prince Siddhartha Gautam was pained to see the suffering of a sick, a dead and an old man while on a tour. Dr Ambedkar, in his own interpretation of the Buddha’s story and the Dhamma (The Buddha and His Dhamma), provides an altogether different version. 

According to Ambedkar, Siddhartha had opposed the declaration of war by the Sakya Sangh on the neighbouring Koliyas. Since his was a minority view, he had to bow to the majority and had to take recourse to one of the options left with him.

Siddharth realised the consequences that would follow if he continued his opposition to the Sangh in its plan of war against the Koliyas. He had three alternatives to considerto join the forces and participate in the war ; to consent to being hanged or exiled ; and to allow the members of his family to be condemned to a social boycott and confiscation of property. (page 49) 

Siddhartha opted for the second option and went into exile. His subsequent conversation with his wife Yashodhara reveal that his renunciation had her support.

In the Introduction to the work Ambedkar gives a pointer to his the re-telling of this story.
Continue reading “Why did the Buddha renounce the world?”

The Year Gone by- 2010

By far the most important book I read this year was Harish Damodaran’s India’s New Capitalists. In a world where there is less and less of what can be called original, Damodaran’s book builds on quite a novel space. He has studied 100 of the largest Indian companies and mapped their owners to caste groups. The result is a confirmation of what anyone in India knows- that caste is a determining factor in almost all spheres of life.

Damodaran’s study confirms that it is a handful of castes that form India’s capitalists. More significantly, he points out some of the changes that have taken place in the last 2 decades. In the South and Western India, there has been the rise of newer caste groups while the North and East have not seen a similar change in the nature of the controlling castes. Particularly in the North, the old networks of the marwaris and banias (which historically made up the ‘national bourgeoisie’, with a sprinkling of a few others like the Parsis) continue to hold sway. Very noteworthy is the rise of Brahmins and farming communities like the Kammas. Eight of the ten chapters deal with individual or a group of related castes from different regions in the country.

Continue reading “The Year Gone by- 2010”

Mario Vargas Llosa’s Exasperatingly Long Wait

Five years ago, when the Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa was asked his opinion on the possibility of his winning the Nobel prize were, he replied:

“Let us not even think of it…”

Indeed, Mario Vargas Llosa’s turn at the Nobel has come in exasperatingly late, when not only him, but many of his admirers had given up on the honour coming his way.

In the words of Carlos Fuentes, when Garcia Marquez (Gabo) won the award in 1982, he won it ‘on behalf of all writers of his generation from Latin America.’ Twenty-eight years later, the Nobel to MVL is a restatement of the recognition that the Amazonian flow of literature from Latin America- during and after Gabo’s generation so richly deserves.

Llosa’s relative lack of recognition in the English-speaking world is probably the reason that I came so late to his writings, a decade after discovering and relishing Gabo’s writings.

A few years ago, while on a short visit to the US, I came across a book on the Zapatistas. In an interview given to Gabriel Garcia Marquez sometime after the Zapatista peasant rebellion in Mexico in 1995, the masked Marxist leader Subcommandante Marco explained that after Cervantes and Shakespeare it were the contemporary Latin American writers who moulded the minds of his generation. Besides Garcia himself and others, he named Mario Vargas Llosa, quickly adding that he influenced, despite his ideas.

This last observation flummoxed me. How can an author influence one’s mind despite his ideas?
Continue reading “Mario Vargas Llosa’s Exasperatingly Long Wait”

A treasure trove of poems by Paash

A treasure trove of 80 poems by Paash, rendered superbly into English by poet and translator Hari Singh Mohi is now available online. Here is one short poem from the collection.

THROUGH SELF-INSECURITY
If security of the country means only this
That conscientiousness should become
A condition for life,
The presence of any other word than ‘yes’ in the
Pupil of the eye should be obscene,
And mind should keep prostrate before evil moments,
Then the security of the country is a danger to us.

read more poems from PAASH: AN ANTHOLOGY

When falcons turned pigeons

    In your whole life will not get repaid
    Loan on sister’s marriage incurred,
    Every drop of blood
    Sprinkled in the fields
    Will not provide colour
    Enough to paint the face
    Of a serene smiling person.
    To add to it further
    All the nights of life put together
    Will not count down the stars of the sky;
    Then, friends, let us, indeed,
    In pursuit of the flying eagles proceed.

– an excerpt from Uddian Baaja Magar,a poem by Paash,  translated by Tejwant Singh Gill

(The original word in Punjabi translated above as as eagles is “baaj”. I prefer the translation as “falcon”, for various reasons, though technically eagles is correct.)

Paash would have turned 60 later this year. When the Naxalite spring thunder roared 42 years ago, he was just 18. He went on, along with others like Lal Singh Dil, Sant Ram Udassi, Harbhajan Halvarvi, Darshan Khatkar and Amarjit Chandan to found what came to be known as the era of “jhujaru” (literally “fighting” or struggle) poetry in Punjabi. This was in sharp  contrast to the romantic oeuvre of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. In Punjab, divided on language throughout the 20th century, similar poetry was evident earlier in the Urdu revolutionary poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi.  Paash was briefly imprisoned during the Naxalite surge, and he moved to the United States in the 1980s where his family lived and still does.

It is remarkable that Paash’s poetry caught on only after his death in 1988, when he fell victim to  Khalistani terrorism. The Left-inclined activists came in for sharp attack; indeed Jarnail Singh Bhinderawale had termed the communists in the state to be even more dangerous than the Central government, headed then by what he called the “daughter of the brahamans” (“Bamana di dhee”), Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is not the place to go in for a discussion on the politics of the1980s. However, it does form the backdrop to Paash’s untimely and brutal death as well as the resurgence for his poetry. In contrast, Lal Singh Dil (who converted to Islam and migrated to Uttar Pradesh, unlike the Jatt Sikh Paash), came into brief prominence just before his death only a couple of years ago in the backdrop of Dalit assertion in Indian politics.
Continue reading “When falcons turned pigeons”

Everything Changes

For no reason at all, I was reminded of this poem by Bertolt Brecht. After so many years.

EVERYTHING CHANGES

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.

Hopefully, this blog will be activer soon. Meanwhile, read some more poems by Brecht.

End of the road for Orlando Figes

It’s a pretty tragic end for Orlando Figes. I was quite impressed with his first major work on the Russian Revolution- A People’s Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution, even though I later felt that his work was little more than a well narrated compendium of many extant works on the Russian Revolution. I do not agree  with his blanket statement that the Russian Revolution was a “people’s tragedy”. At that time, however,  in my own little, dilettantish manner I had ended the review of his book with these words:

… The brashness of his youth shows clearly in the rather eclectic treatment of the subject throughout the text. But the sheer volume of the information makes up for any slackness in analysis.

There cannot be any doubt that Figes’ book marks the start of a brilliant career for the author and is central to the debate that he has brought into sharp focus.

By owning up to writing negative reviews of the books of his rivals, of all places at the Amazon.com book reviews, I am afraid the brashness of his no-longer-youth (the review was written over a decade back), has brought his brilliant career to a grinding halt.

Emergence of Social Reading

National Book Critics Circle: Adventures in E-Reading: Guest Post from Martin Riker – Critical Mass Blog

A different but related issue is the apparent movement of reading itself from a primarily solitary to a largely social activity, a change that is not inherent in the new technologies but one that the internet and e-books certainly facilitates. I do think it’s true that the historical moment we live in is experiencing a major shift in intellectual production and distribution on par with the invention of the printing press, but the technology is not the most important element of that shift. More than technological changes, more even than changes in how we write, I think the possibility of fundamental changes in how we read is the biggest issue on the table. And here I’m more conservative, because I feel strongly that the gradual loss of the contemplative space of solitary reading—if it ever comes to that, and whether or not the e-book plays some role in it—would be an enormous loss to the experience of being human.

A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

Continue reading “A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links”