Saturday, October 31, 2009

Did It Happen?

In the film 'Watchmen' and the graphic novel, Rorschach comments about the Comedian, "Blake understood humans are savage in nature. No matter how much you try to dress it up, to disguise it."

India is supposed to be a secular nation. But the videos below show it's true, savage nature. Just because it does not happen in places that media reports, does not mean it never happened.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Little Tale From Kashmir (a story from The Indian Express)

Muzamil Jaleel, a writer whose reportage of Kashmir I have often admired in The Indian Express, for which he writes, has filed this sad, sad, sad story today in the same paper. Two lines that I'd like to highlight are: "the group Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) say 10,000 men have disappeared since a counter-insurgent assault began in the Valley in 1990. Though the government disagrees with the APDP statistics, it has promised an inquiry several times but nothing has come of it." 

And yet, it is the same country where 80,000 Tibetans found refuge as they fled Tibet.

When the mothers of the Valley’s missing gather for their monthly mourning assembly this time, they will also be mourning a mother, who died waiting for her son to come back. Mughli — the elderly mother whose relentless fight to trace her only son had become the epitome of the struggle of the parents of disappeared in Kashmir — died on Sunday without closure.

“Maine Nazira, aave kha (My Nazir, have you come), she said and closed her eyes,” said Parveena Ahangar, the president of the mothers’ union. “For the last 19 years, she had been craving to see her son, to know of his fate. She was always full of hope.” Ahangar said Mughli’s death was especially tragic for the group. “We feel that we will die one by one, looking for our children,” she said. “Over the years, we had developed such a strong attachment with each other. This bond of mutual pain and hope has turned us into a large family. Now we are losing hope.”

Mughli’s son — Nazir Ahmad Teli — was a school teacher, who disappeared in 1990 after he was picked up by security forces, never to return. For years, Mughli lived alone in her large family house deep inside Srinagar’s Habba Kadal where narrow streets snake through a cluster of housing blocks. Old age had turned her nearly deaf but the hope that her son may return saw her spending days at the window, looking out at the door. Today, the rusty chain link that would shut the mite-eaten door of her house is locked.

One morning — she once told this correspondent — in the first September of the first tehreek (militant struggle in 1990) her teacher son Nazir Ahmad Teli left for school. She never saw him again — and Mughli became one of the first members of a tragic club of several thousand women whose young sons or husbands have disappeared, the majority of them picked up by police or security forces. Bound together by mutual pain and a shared tale, the group Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) say 10,000 men have disappeared since a counter-insurgent assault began in the Valley in 1990. Though the government disagrees with the APDP statistics, it has promised an inquiry several times but nothing has come of it.

In an interview to The Indian Express while she was still able to move around, Mughli — who didn’t remember her age — had said that the shock broke her back. “He was born after my husband divorced me. I had no one. I didn’t marry again and raised him. He was the only reason for my life,” she had said. “He had never stayed away from home — not even for a single night. Each day he would return from school and give me a hug. I am still waiting. I wish to hug him once. If they tell me he is dead, I would hug his grave. I don’t know what happened to him and this pain, this uncertainty is unbearable.”

She then took off her thick glasses and wiped her tears with the corner of her shawl. “Every time I tell this story I feel as if I rind my wounds — as if a sharp knife is dipped in my wound again,” she had said. “These walls are my only companion and they don’t ask anything.” She wailed in murmurs, her words inaudible. Where did you search for him? “I waited and waited for him that evening. When the sun went down and it was dark, I knew something was wrong. He would always come straight home after his work,” she had recalled. “I felt my heart sink and called my neighbours. They came and tried to console me till late in the night. I spent that night sitting at the window looking at the door. He didn’t return.”

Mughli had approached police officers and politicians and even visited every jail in Kashmir hoping to find her son. But nothing helped. The APDP had helped her file a petition in the court which is still going on. Mughli, meanwhile, had taken refuge in faith and every Thursday, she would visit the shrines in the city, seeking divine help.

Mughli had never opened her son’s room ever since he went missing and had even tried to commit suicide. She had said that her son comes in her dreams. “He (her son) calls me in the dream. He tells me he is alive,” she had said.

Over the years, the APDP has been reduced to a forum for group catharsis — where the families of the disappeared meet, share their stories and help each other cope. With her death, one story of pain has come to a sudden end. But it has also left a gaping wound. The mothers of Kashmir’s missing need closure and only the government can ensure that. And if Chief minister Omar Abdullah turns the poll promise of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission into a reality, there will be some hope of that.

Friday, October 2, 2009


It is customary on birth and death anniversaries of great men, to remember them. Here is an attempt to remember what inspired the greatness in that man. For a man is but his beliefs, ideals, principles, faiths and convictions.

Mahatma Gandhi, whose relevance to the world today keep increasing by the day (contrary to what most believe of this man and his thought and revel in painting him either as a hero to be worshipped or a villain to be whipped without ever getting to know what he said or did), did not become what he became overnight. He was inspired by the life and works of many great men before him. The most important were the literature of Leo Tolstoy (his later works as a seer), Ralph Waldo Emerson and most specifically, Henry David Thoreau.

It was one simple essay written by H D Thoreau that inspired Gandhi to launch a silent attack on an empire, rather a system of subjugation, whose result, this so called freedom, we so conveniently enjoy for our pleasurable pursuits. This essay was called, 'Civil Disobedience'.

H D Thoreau was a seer, for the simple reason that his writings, especially this essay, has not lost its power. Indeed, it has gained more power and relevance in a world where individual freedom is blindly being sacrificed for a weird notion of collective security. And while for Gandhi, and India then, the 'enemy' was visible to the naked eye, he had white skin, and was British (prejudiced, yes, for many whites did do greater things for India then, then most Indians do even today) and his sole purpose was capitalistic interest, it is not so today. Though the notion of capitalistic interest remain. We are being plunged into a slavery a subjugation of the mind right before our eyes by giant corporations ruled by men whose only interest is them and their kin, and politicians who tow their lines for the same reason, and us - whom they have brought over to their side by materialistic toys, most of which we can easily live without, as so easily demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi, and of course, Thoreau (read 'Walden', another of Gandhi's favourite).

Today governments across the world, especially those that are more materialistic and capitalistic than ours e.g. North America and Europe, are run by men and women with no interest or even patience to really work for the good of their people, but who borrow clichés common with the masses and use it for their own selfish interests. Some of those clichés are industry, education, luxury, security, terrorism, religion, capital increase, employment generation etc.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, read this essay and try to see what is happening around you. Go beyond the clichés in your own head and you'll probably see that the fight for true independence the world over has only just begun. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the rare breed of men in this world, who fought not just for freedom, but true independence of the human mind and spirit, where - like Tagore said - 'The mind is without fear, and the head is held high...'

This essay, though many would consider it impractical today, is still the first touch that drives men and women across the world, to become activists, lovers of justice and simply someone who merely wants to better the world they have inherited.

You can read the essay by simply typing 'Thoreau Civil Disobedience' on Google. I will however, present a few excerpts. Or you can click here.


I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe--"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop a hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office to his dust at least:

"I am too high born to be propertied,
                To be a second at control,
                Or useful serving-man and instrument
                To any sovereign state throughout the world."

The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it. (Think NAZI Germany)

Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divided States and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.  

Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. (Think Dr. Binayak Sen)

"If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame

Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.

I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man a musket to shoot one with--the dollar is innocent--but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make use and get what advantages of her I can, as is usual in such cases.

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire.

I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


It is too soon to write Luc Besson off.

Cinema, as goes the cliché, is a visual medium. Yet few masters have achieved cinematic nirvana of making a film with the least dialogues (ideally dreaming of none). For a first time director to even aspire to do that, takes courage. For him to succeed and hold the audience's attention for an hour and a half without one word uttered and the bare minimum music, takes tremendous skill. If you see Luc Besson's 'The Last Combat' (TLC) (made when he was all of 24), you'll realize with delight that he does not lack either.
A 24 year Luc Besson broke through the barriers to make perhaps his best film ever, 'The Last Combat'.

Yet in the rooster of World Cinema greats, you will rarely find this films mention. The problem lies in the basic premise and setting, which it borrows from 'Mad Max 2' (The Road Warrior). And though there are similarities, the lawless post-apocalyptic world, the glider, the barren desert landscape, 'The Last Combat' pushes filmmaking into horizons least explored previously, or hence. While Mad Max 2 exults in grand landscapes and panoramic shots, TLC's world is a closed space, a city with broken buildings and a ruthless villain. Thankfully, this overlooked masterpiece by critics, has been rescued by audiences and has acquired cult status.

In the underbelly of human civilization, its subway.
Besson's love of closed spaces brings us to his next, 'Subway'. This time he gets into the underbelly of civilisation, its subway, and brings together characters that live in the fringes of society diving deep down into their world. A thief on the run with documents after breaking into the safe of a rich man, takes refuge with weird characters that inhabit the subway in this bizzare comic caper where he falls in love with the rich man's wife.

In 'Le Grand Blue' he is “falling without slipping” as a character describes diving, yet this film about deep sea divers, does not live up to the promise of its predecessors, perhaps because the subject was too close to his heart (his parents were scuba diving instructors; but for an accident at age 18, he'd have become a marine biologist) for him to film objectively.

A trigger-happy, beautiful woman with a license to kill, what else could scintillate a man's fantasy more. Yet, 'Nikita' is much more.

He corrects this mistake in 'Nikita', which brings back his mad-cap flair for stylistic violence. A convict sentenced to death is kept alive and trained for three years to be a government assassin. Though Besson opens up in the film, roaming the streets of Paris and Venice freely, his confinement this time is the mind and mixed emotions of his femme fatale. The film became a sensation, resulting in a hit American TV series (which he wrote) and more importantly, opening up his doors to America aka Hollywood.

His first American film 'Leon', besides some stunning cinematography of violence, is a study of a strange relationship between a hitman (played by his regular Jean Reno) and a 12 year old girl (Mathilda, played by 11 year old Natalie Portman) he has rescued. The girl wants to become a hitman like him out of vengeance. Their relation is absurd and uneasy as on one side it is paternal, and on the other side the under-aged girl professes her love for the cold-blooded, calculative, yet slightly retarded hitman. The landscape is New York, the man behind directing the camera, unmistakably Besson.

This time the female fatale is again a woman, only a much younger one. Natalie Portman aged 11.

Ironically, 'Leon', meant to be a filler to utilize his team because the shooting of 'The Fifth Element' was delayed due to unavailability of dates from Bruce Wills, is today more popular than the later, which is often seen as the beginning of the decline of Besson. Hollywood had taken a liking for this French stylist (many like Tarantino borrow elements from his absurdist violence and its corresponding style), and perhaps this adulation did not do him good. Aside some grand visions of the future (flying cars, spaceship as hotel etc.), 'The Fifth Element' lacked the depth of character and story that were a hallmark of his previous films. The pleasurable confinement of enclosed spaces (physically and of the mind) had given way to some blank open spaces and spectacular special effects.

Scream all you want, but all effects and no substance... do not a good film make. 'The Fifth Element' began the decline of Besson.

The rest of his career, both in Hollywood and France, with the exception of 'Angel-A' so far has been given way to too much style and action (the Transporter series) and mindless comedy (the 'Taxi' series), than the substance of his earlier films.

Besson's main theme, in almost all his previous stories, is the individual. He is not interested in the grand plot, or the grand sweep surrounding the main characters. All that he is interested in are the protagonists, usually one, two, or three and he paints their portrait like a painter paints his masterpieces, delicately and intimately. It is as if his voyeuristic camera is making intimate love to their characters.

He has hence been a disappointment to his true fans. Considered a pivotal figure in the Cinéma du look movement, a specific style of film being made in the '80s and early 1990s- Luc Besson's commercial success, cult following and critical controversies – has seen his films being positioned at two extremes by critics: on one hand: générationnel, a defining moment in the culture and on the other hand: Hollywood trash. Yet, at age 50, it is too early to write him off as the latter. Indeed, the last combat of Besson, may have just begun.
Blog Information Profile for satyenkb