Sunday, January 30, 2005


The problem with Swades is that it represents good intentions gone off track.
I saw the movie right after I went to India, and by the time the end approached, I was squirming in my seat, waiting to get out. Of course, the experience would have been exacerbated, had the Khan been himself, which he thankfully was not, and one of the saving graces of the movie was his genuine attempt at being the character Mohan Bhargava, the NASA scientist who returns to India in search of his roots.

Mohan Bhargava comes to India, initially with a view to take back his childhood nanny to America. He finds her in a small village, and while spending time there, realises the appalling complacency and self-satisfaction that everyone has resigned themselves to. Deeply affected by this and the poverty that he witnesses, Bhargava builds a small hydroelectric station to provide electricity in times of power shortage, (something that the citizens of Atlanta should definitely think about...), falls in love with a girl who has devoted her life to the education of village children, and finally decides to come back to his roots, exemplified in the end with a wrestling match with the local postmaster. The problem with all of this is that it is highly predictable, even if acceptable, and denotes exactly the kind of story that any sensible film director making a film about brain-drain would think of bringing to screen. It says nothing that we don't already know. Apart from a slightly stimulating discourse that Bhargava gives to the village people, the film has no other words of wisdom.

In my opinion, Swades could have been made into a way much better movie, had the director and the lead character gone to the simple lengths of asking Indians who live in the US but who are proud to be Indians, what they feel and what they miss about their country. Gowariker should have done more research for the film, and echoed the true sentiments of sensible Indians living abroad. That perspective could have come even if he had interviewed students like us who have been there for even a year or two. As far as I know, he did no such thing. And therein lies the problem with the film. It's all too easy to imagine the kind of Indian values and roots that people like us would miss. And it is also easy to inculcate those emotions into cliche dialogues and portrayals on film.

I think that what is challenging and not so apparent, is the subtlety of emotions and angst that people like us feel, when we are away from home. My first trip home was a minor revelation. I learnt that the reason that I miss home when I am here is not simply an effect of obvious homesickness. It is a result of missing those small things, those punctillios and small and sundry details of our Indian life, that uniquely contribute to us being that hard to define, but distinct character called an 'Indian'. I think, and I realised this after being away for some time, that what makes our country unique is that inseparable blend of culture, religion, and human relations. The catch word here is inseparable. For an Indian, every activity that he has indulged since childhood, especially relating to family, is linked to the greater picture of being an Indian. Every true Indian is affected by this mix, irrespective of whether he is a theist or not. I have met people from many nationalities here, and at the risk of sounding like an overzealous patriot which I am certainly not, I can say that Indian culture offers a unique ethos of values and empathy, which if rightly used, has every potential to mould a wise and compassionate personality and make our nation truly great. Our real problem is that we seldom convert those traits into action. We become smug with these values, and have a conviction in them only in theory, never demonstrated in action. Anyway, I am getting ahead of the topic, and this actually warrants a detailed post which I am planning to post soon.

The point is that Gowariker has made a film which unfortunately has many cliche and all too obvious dialogues in it. Like I said before, it is easy to make a film about brain drain, that would tout the advantages of Indian 'sanskaar', human concerns and relations, and the exalted happenings of ancient Indian history. Such an approach quickly becomes cliche. It is another thing to actually live abroad, and realise the complex and subtle interactions that these things have, and the hard to deconvolute, but deeply ingrained effects that they have on our psyche. Indian inculturation is a unique and complicated affair, exemplified by its effect on human relations in our country. We ourselves have to still come to terms with it, even if we know its advantages, and this is easily seen in the form of divisive elements that constantly weaken the structure of our society, inspite of these immovable pillars of indoctrination. If that's the case even with 'true' Indians, it would take a film director much much more than what Gowariker has done to portray the real meaning of being Indian.
I am still waiting for the real Swades...

Saturday, January 29, 2005


My first icy adventure in the U.S. was interesting, though not the happiest day of my life. As if providence had either planned a cruel reception for me but then defered it, or had in fact been generous to me, a 'freezing rain' day was announced the day immediately after I arrived. Now Atlanta is known to average one snowy day per season. So snow is not only an unwanted guest for Southerners, but it's also something that presents a challenge to their professed politeness. The day before the freezing rain day, many people were talking in alarm about the impending day as if there was a hurricane coming. 'My god, are you prepared for the dreaded FREEZING RAIN DAY tomorrow?!' was the general tone of people around. I am sure any remote northerner in America would have laughed his heart out at this exclamation. Be as it may, the day finally arrived. I was mildly elated, to put it on an optimistic footing, as someone whose roots go back to the sunny Konkan region. However, it was not until evening that I first truly realized the behemoth difference between SNOW and ICE, something which my second grade textbooks should have taught me well.
Noon came and went. I ventured out for getting lunch, devoid as my part of the refrigerator is due to a month of inactivity. To my disdain, all the restaurants were closed, confirming the alarmist tendencies experienced earlier. The only grub offering joint with its lights on was the vile McDonald's. As I walked to the place, I marveled at the strange and interesting shapes made by the collected ice on the tree branches. Grass shot out like glass needles, and bushes were essentially tesselated blocks of ice. You had to be careful about every step, as ice has an ominous tencency of disguising itself as the thinnest of invisible sheets on the road. Walk on a slope and slip the slightest, and Sir Isaac's first law takes over, sending you into an inevitable spiral of fear and pain. However, I somehow dodged all these mishaps and got home, promising myself to stay in the warmth and comfort of home, hot coffee, and Bach's Brandenburg concerts.
First, however, the heating broke down a bit. The temperature just would not go above 68 F, a far cry from the 75 F that we usually need. Since it was not that low, I decided that properly bundling myself would definitely obviate the need for profanity against the landlady and/or the maintanance people. As I settled in quietly, the power went out. This is the fourth time that it has happened, and now I have finally, after due experimentation with no input on my part, have decided that the MSEB is WAY much better. At least they get somewhere sometime. Here, with all the bad weather, power restoration needs to be put on the same priority basis as burying nuclear waste-both of which incidentally are low priorities. In the US, no matter who you are, if you live in an area which has cold weather (essentially more than 50% of the country), and if power goes out, you HAVE to get out of the house. Anyway, so out went the power. My roommate duly woke me up after an hour and we started to discuss a plan of action before we froze. The best thing to do would be to call my friend, ask him to pick us up, and spend the night at his place. I called him. His car was not starting. Could we get a taxi? Sure. I also called Georgia Power, the power company, and got the perpetual recorded message (Ah! the joy of automation) saying that the power outage has been reported and they are trying to 'determine the cause'. In India, usually we always know the cause; water causing short circuits in faulty lines, birds getting electrocuted, or the transformer blowing up (as it happens in our colony). I realized something: it is better to have a faulty system and know where the faults are, rather than having a near perfect system and not knowing where potential faults may arise. Last time, there was a hurricane and a tree fell on our power lines. Many people had lost their power at that times, and it took Georgia Power three days to get here. How much would it take this time? Not having to put ourselves at the mercy of these wielders of power, we decided to get the taxi. After 15 minutes of staying on the phone line and listening to one entire symphony, I was still talking to a machine. My roommate suggested that we quit that and get a room in the Holiday Inn right next to our place. So on we put on our layers of multiple clothing and got out. My roommate had put on the wrong shoes, sneakers, and so had to walk as slowly as if he was climbing Mt. Everest. Outside, it was black, with not a sign of life. One day of freezing rain and everything closes in Atlanta. Next time, don't laugh when those New Yorkers laugh at you Southerners. Painfully slowly, we got to the Inn. 'I am sorry Sir, all rooms are full. In fact, a few guests have even extended their stay because of the weather'. What do we do? I again called my friend, and in tones of true desperation, told him to come and pick us up. After 10 mins, we went out and stood at the entrance for him. I was again spellbound by the abstract world that ice creates in various shapes and textures. 20 minutes passed and no sign of my friend. Suddenly, I gave a whoop of delight when I saw the power light up all the shops and also our apartment complex, visible at the back. Again, we trudged back to our place, joyfully got in, and I phoned my friend. He had had an adventure of his own. His car had so much ice on it, that the door simply wouldn't open. While walking to his car, needle-sharp icicles had suddenly fallen from a tree moving in the wind above his head, and he had closely escaped getting hit by them and becoming a martyr in the service of power-challenged humans. He had called up the Inn to try to give us the message that he would be late. The lady had told him that we had been 'picked up' (by the Mafia?). He assumed that some other friend had picked us up and went back to his place, which, because the power came on in our apartment, had turned out to be the right thing to do.
This ended an icy experience. Jet lagged and groggy, I climbed into my bed, enlightened of one thing; as far as public services are concerned, overpopulation in India is a boon. Here, with all the services and machines and customer service, there are simply not enough personnel to lend their hand in many kinds of emergencies. Human beings, after all, seem to hold the key to bliss. Another thing is that here, many people have become so dependent on power and a high standard of living, that they become alarmist and despondent if the the slightest thing goes wrong with this way of life.
Next time, could the MSEB have a branch in Atlanta please?

Friday, January 28, 2005

After a whirlwind time in amche Pune, I am back. There is much to write about; piyush, vaishali, friends, somans and countrymen (in that order of importance...!). I did miss blogging for all that time, although it was somewhat compensated by the real time blogging that I got to do. So off i go now (with a nice Restyl to battle it out with jet-lag...hopefully it wouldn't be as bad as what it was when I reached India) so that tomorrow I may resume contact with my fellow bloggers of the delightful kind...I missed your writings!