Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nuisance, who?

It brings immense relief to learn that the Supreme Court has given a stay in appeal against the ill-considered ruling of the Bench of the Bombay High Court to kill all “nuisance” dogs in Bombay (23/Jan 09). It is unfortunate that the High Court did not acknowledge a central legislation. The Supreme Court guidelines decree that if and only a dog is found rabid or mortally wounded or incurably ill, can it be taken and euthanized as per the rules and guidelines.

Nuisance dogs have been defined by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) as dogs that “bark” and “chase” motorists. While both characteristics are true of dogs, I fail to see how that becomes a reason to exterminate the dogs. Just like human beings, no dog is same – each has a distinct personality. Some are reticent; some aggressive. There are many dogs of both kinds in the locality where I live. On some days, in the dead of the night, they start to bark. Their barks have often woken me up and I have wondered what they are howling at. I tell myself that they must have good reasons to howl and I am able to sleep peacefully. They have never harmed any resident in this area. All of them appear healthy and some lucky ones are regularly fed by the resident families. When young children in the house cry and throw tantrums, their families do not consider snuffing out their lives do they...., humans do and say a number of things that can be termed as “nuisance”, but we do not talk of putting them to sleep, do we? People! You are not the only ones living on this planet and you are not the central point of Creation either, where have you dumped the humanly virtues of tolerance, compassion, and humility? Why make a big issue out of dogs that bark?!

A few days ago, I saw a group of four dogs barking and chasing a car. The car was moving pretty dangerously and on looking closely I found it jam packed with hooligan-type men. I am proud of the dogs that barked and chased them out of the locality!

The issue in this case is perhaps of the large number of street dogs in Bombay. But, have we ever considered why? Studies have revealed that the population of street dogs is directly proportional to the volume of unattended garbage in the city. These studies are an outcome of the perseverance of animal lovers; especially in the city of Chennai. The city Corporation in Chennai had been pursuing the policy of mass killing of street dogs since the time of Independence. Ironically, the population of the street dogs never reduced! After consistent lobbying with the Corporation of Chennai, the animal activists were successful in pursuing it to drop the killer methods and instead resort to systematic sterilization and anti-rabies vaccination programmes to control the street dog population. Since the time the two programmes have started in Chennai, there has been a sharp decline in the cases of rabies in the city. The cities of Bangalore, Jaipur, and Hyderabad also run similar programmes for street dogs. As a result, all these cities haven’t seen any rabies-related deaths over the past five years.

Why does the BMC that has a municipal budget of more than some small countries in the world hesitate to sterilize and vaccinate the 70,000 dogs it claims to have? Why should the dogs have to die because of redtapism? With lofty examples in the country, why is the BMC inclined on going the Shanghai way, what is wrong with them – why have they dumped their brains and locked their hearts in the closet! What kind of heroism is involved in launching an offensive on a defenseless population? Surely, Indians should know better – who have suffered in the hands of oppressors since ages. I cannot help but draw a parallel between the Bombay HC order with the scourge that caused women to be forcefully burnt on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands in this very country more than a century back. It is the same mindset at work – the mindset of the dominant class (now mixed with capitalist thought) to wipe out anything or anyone they consider as the "other".

People; please focus on who the real nuisance is! Rest assured, whoever it is, we will not move a PIL to kill them!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hoping Audaciously

Today, on the twentieth day of the year two thousand and nine, one prominent thought will emanate from the bosom of the earth and envelope all its beings in a warm, assuring embrace: Hope. The reason for the thought will take the Presidential oath for the highest office in the nucleus of world power: America. The reason: Mr. Barak Obama.

Hope. America. Obama. Can this combination change the world? Today is the day to hope daringly and to flaunt that we can hope! And why not, we have good reasons to! What a historic victory that was—the first colored man chosen as the head of the state in a land that abolished slavery not very long ago!

In his last address to the nation, Mr. George Bush said that he did what his “conscience” told him is right. I’m afraid that in saying so, Mr. Bush hasn’t at the slightest got the real meaning of the word, “conscience”. Conscience—simply translated into having a sense of right and wrong comes from a deep voice within—that one hears only when one listens to the heart. The (His) heart couldn’t have told Mr. Bush to launch an assault against Iraq and Afghanistan killing thousands of its civilian population, loot the world’s natural resources by exploiting the less powerful nations, militarize the world with deadly nuclear weapons, bully countries to become partners in committing global crimes, ravage old civilizations, obstruct free media, promote economies that makes people hapless consumers without scruples, and many more! Sorry Mr. Bush, beg to defer there, it wasn’t your conscience that led you, it was simply your greed for power—a deathly sickness of the mind that you must really consider looking deeply into. Therefore, Mr. Bush, if you think its your “conscience” which guided you to drop illegal weapons on innocent civilian populations and make their lives miserable for generations to come, then it is not difficult to see what kind of people you had envisioned (hardly the right word for your scary designs) would inhabit the Universe.

Finally, I want to ask Mr. Bush when he said in the same address to his nation that he had to take some “tough decisions”. If that were so, then why do we hear that the Taliban has spread its fangs and its militants are a few kilometers away from our closest border with Pakistan? Mr. Bush, you tried to strangle the spirit of Sufi Islam, your policies have given rise to Jihadi Islam and made Muslims all over the world insecure than they ever were before! Why weren’t some real “tough decisions” taken to dissipate the Taliban movement? I’m afraid Mr. Bush has got it wrong again; I don’t mean “tough decisions” are equated with “mindless violence”!!

Hope. America. Obama: Can the past be redeemed…. today, as Mr. Obama takes oath, I’m sure many of us will listen to him with a lump in our throats and we will believe every word he utters. Today, we will hope audaciously.

Footnote: The title of this post is inspired from the title of the bestseller, “The Audacity of Hope” by Barak Obama, published in 2006.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Angels in the City

On some evenings when I pass by the main Thiruvanmimur bus stop in Chennai, a blessed sight greets me—a fleeting view of the top of a head with snow-white hair, surrounded by more than a dozen wagging tails. I consider those days as lucky. The head belongs to Mrs. B and the tails to none other than the street dogs of the area. The dogs stand huddled around Mrs. B to receive their daily meal of rice and eggs. Each day, many people witness this act of kindness. People say that Mrs. B has been feeding street dogs for more than 40 years! Moved by the initiative, one day, I decide to donate to Mrs. B's charity. But local people warn me against it. Mrs. B does not accept donations. Each time I pass her by, I am seized by a fervent question, "O Mrs. B, the chosen one, where comes your motivation from?" But, I cannot speak Tamil and Tamil is what she is conversant with.

There is a dog that looks at me with expressive eyes as I board my office bus. Each time I turn back from inside the bus, I find her gazing at me until either of us disappears from sight. I have often wondered what she may be thinking. One day, inspired by Mrs. B, I purchase a bun for the dog and just before getting into my bus, I offer it to her. She gazes at me some more before accepting the bun. As I look back from inside the bus, I see her chomping away, never for once unlocking her eyes with me, until we both are out of sight. Thus, feeding the dog becomes a daily ritual. Some more join in! I thank Mrs. B for the joy she brought me.

One evening as I am shopping for provisions, I am approached by a distinguished looking lady, "I have seen you feeding dogs. I am a dog lover…. would you like to come home for a cup of coffee?" Impulsively, I agree, my heart doing a little somersault with joy. Her house is around the corner—a duplex with a big garden. As she opens the entrance door, I gasp at the sight inside! At least six pairs of doggy eyes stare at me from bodies comfortably nestled on cushions. The lady laughs and invites me to come inside. Over coffee, she tells me that she has twelve dogs in her house—all rescued from various life and health threatening situations. Some are pedigree dogs abandoned on the streets by the owners while some are simply streets dogs brought in for a loving home. Suddenly, four young dogs come scampering into the room, bestowing the lady with their lavish kisses. I am told they are siblings. My eyes well up when I am further told that they were found inside a gunny bag thrown by the sea-side when they were pups—pups small enough to be held in the palm of the hand.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Five Movies

In 2008 I watched a large number of movies – mostly Bollywood and very few foreign ones. From those I saw, I thought I want to make a list of the ones I liked most and ones that would be at the tip of my tongue if I were to recommend. Here I present my list which is in no particular order of priority. I am not describing the storylines because I don’t intend to present a review – I only want to record what it was in each of the movies that touched me. Some of the films may not have been released in 2008 but I had the opportunity of watching them in 2008 – this is my basis of including them in my list. Also, my list is irrespective of how each fared at the box office or how it appealed to the larger mass of movie goers.

This movie made me cry. No, not because the main protagonist dies in the end. Sometimes when you see too much of beauty and aesthetics around you – you cry. The movie is based on a very simple story told in an extraordinarily simple manner – that’s where its beauty lies, I think. The character of Amar, the main protagonist is marked by goodness – such people are rare. I felt like holding death’s hand to prevent Amar from getting consumed by it so that I can get the chance to see more of him in action! I watched this movie in a theatre and remember feeling the involvement of the rest of the people gathered there. The feeling was quite palpable. In fact it was interesting to note that after the film got over and as the credits came along, for a few minutes people were still seated – were they mentally chalking their “to do” list before they die? Likely, coz I was doing the same.

A Wednesday
This is a terrific thriller with a social message. When I had seen it in October last, a part of me had wanted to shower the “common man” with accolades knowing too well that in real life such drama is far from possible. Now after ten heavily armed men walked into the country through the sea route wrecking havoc for nearly three days thereafter, the same part of me wants to believe that the common man can do it! Strange na, there is still a part of me that screams – “kill ‘em all!!!!”, knowing very well that violence is not the solution neither becoming of the human race. Anyway, coming back to the movie, it is one hell of a must watch. I felt that Naseeruddin Shah or the common man’s dialogues towards the end of the movie binds and seals the plot like a fevicol ka jode. The movie left me spell bound.

Khuda key Liyae
This is a Pakistani production directed by Shoaib Mansoor – his debut film. Once again, Naseeruddin Shah as Moulana Wali dazzles with this speech in the court of law. The story weaves and presents some stark realities in Pakistani society – of gender-based biases, of gender-based violence, of youngsters becoming Kasab-like, of the post 9/11 western biases against practitioners of Islam, etc. How these factors affect the lives of the protagonists is poignantly told. Despite the melancholy, I could not stop watching the film. You just want to “get to the bottom of it!” Moulana Wali’s speech makes you wish that you knew more than the basic Urdu [:-)]. Yet, you get the crux and you wish he’d not stop talking. This film also makes you want to reach out to the people of Pakistan – so torn by destructive influences in their society – some influences from outside and most from within – in the form of regressive fundamentalists, customs, and politicians. At the end of the movie, you too join everybody else in saying a silent prayer for Shaan played by Mansoor and earnestly hope that he gets well soon.

Welcome to Sajjanpur
This is one movie that left me with a smile. Well, it’s categorized as a comedy film; it ought to make you smile. Well, I am talking of the lingering smile – when you think about something long after it’s over and it still makes you feel amused. But this is not a comedy film, strictly speaking. It is not mindless comedy, how can it be with Shyam Benegal having directed it. With great storytelling, various social issues from widow remarriage to forceful land acquisition are woven into the narrative with wonderful humor. Some turns in the movie are poignant – something that I believe strums a chord in your heart and makes the experience of watching this movie wholesome. Here, the main protagonist, Mahadev played by Shreyas Talpade is an immensely talented guy who has a way with both the spoken and written word. Mahadev comes across as such a darling.

Rock On
I simply loved the maturity with which this film has been presented. And I simply loved Farhan Akhtar crooning. If the film is about relationships, their portrayal and depth is commendable. Each performance I felt is brilliant. All the characters seem to have got into the skin of their roles. Newcomer Prachi Desai who played the role of Sakshi Shroff is so very fine – she has lived up to the depth demanded by her character. If the film is about a rock band, then they look like a real time rock band! I wish that Luke Kenny's character did not have to die in the end. Is it because he did not have a partner? Bollywood still has to answer that.

Slum Dog Millionaire
“What a plot!!” this was my first reaction to the movie. After seeing this masterpiece of a movie, I couldn’t help feeling proud that I watched it. But wait, I was not involved in its making in any manner, so why was I feeling so overwhelmed and proud!?! It is the same “Dasvidanya effect”!! What is so beautiful about the movie is its compelling storytelling. I saw the movie with a friend brought up in Germany and found myself explaining the meaning and implication of “riots” and of the significance of “Ram” in this land! We were so involved, we wanted Jamal (the main protagonist) to get all the answers right! At the same time I was thinking, you don’t need formal education to win contests, you need intelligence – the intelligence to assimilate the inputs from the environment around you. Most of the life events of little Jamal that helped him answer the questions were unfortunate – so I also wonder about the many people in this country for whom daily life is a struggle against so many odds. This is the last movie of 2008 that I saw. With this level of storytelling, I earnestly look forward to the releases of 2009.