Sunday, February 27, 2011

The chapters of procrastination

I will listen to one song, drink one cup of tea, light one candle, clean up my room, wash my dishes,
read one magazine article, brood about some autumnal song, try on one top, check facebook once,
say hi to C, install antivirus and then I promise, I'll get to doing what I must. Maybe I can wake up in the morning to do it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sees,Shoots and Leaves

A narrow road by Delhi’s Mehrauli jungle will lead you up the stairs into Raghu Rai’s haphazard office. Haphazard, till you enter the serenity of his room where white window panes frame an endless expanse of green. Uninterrupted by billboards, artificiality and performance. Much like his photographs, you think. Rai ,69, is dressed in a black t-shirt over which he wears a red woollen kaftan. Behind his desk hang some of the old portraits he has included in his new book The Indians- Portraits From My Album that explores the history of portraiture in India and includes iconic portraits by Rai and photographers like Raja Deen Dayal.
Rai had been a full time photo journalist for 12 years in the sixties and seventies. He documented the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, photographed Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa among other people. There is no residue of the mad rush of journalism about him today. There is a gentleness and stillness to him which is perhaps what allows for his frame to be real and his subject free.

Talking to Rai will convince you that portraiture is half internal process, the photographer’s attitude and half the sharpening of intuition. (“You allow the supreme and the supernatural to enter you.” The digital revolution or the romantic magic of film are a mere backdrop to this relationship.
“Intutive moments come and disappear like a nudge People don’t notice,” he says, nudging the air gently, suddenly and beaming. To Rai, the portrait should capture the physical , mental and spiritual entirety of the person.“You have to be patient, you have to be sensitive, quick and yet gentle enough for the person to reveal.”
His image of Faiz Ahmed Faiz has that hazy poetic quality to it; his image of MS Subbulakshmi is infused with an other worldly intensity having caught her at an opportune musical crescendo. The photograph of former Pakistani president Zia Ul Haq is almost caricature like in its portrayal of tyranny. Now Zia was a man who intensely believed in himself and could enrapture anyone with his speeches. “Unlike a writer, As a photographer, you don’t listen at all; you just connect to the person’s energy.”
And sometimes even Raghu Rai uses tricks. Notice the stern look on Satyajit Ray’s face. It was taken when Rai told Ray he was leaving. As soon as the film maker turned around with that strong expression in his eyes, Rai was ready with camera to capture that moment.
Rai allows the subject to have a direct relationship with the camera, to be in his element. Photographer Dayanita Singh once said “photography is not the truth.” Suggest this to Rai and he bursts out laughing, dismissing it, insisting that it is too dramatic a statement for him. “I am nobody to make a truthful statement about somebody let them make their own statement,” he offers.
By now, the green outside glimmers in the cool February rain that will soon end winter. Peacocks and parakeets compete for stage space in the sky. Rai insists we stop talking about him and shifts attention to the first half of the book- portraits from 1855 to 1965.
“People say these old portraits or like other old portraits but that is not true”, he says, marvelling at the technical brilliance despite the pre digital age
This section , with a preface by Rai reveal the coloniser’s gaze on the early portraits that gradually transforming into subject’s revealing a self confidence and an aspiration for grandiosity over the years. The cold gaze of the men and women in Bourne and Sheperd’s pictures melts steadily into a warm presence in front of an Indian photographer.
The studio tricks- Raja Sawai Man Singh being blessed by gods, smoke denoting a family tree, individual portraits of the Maharajas of various Indian states superimposed against a palace in Jaipur with a digital precision, the works. One can also trace the strong influence of painting in the early works.

The long exposure time required at the time determined the mood of those photographs. “Everybody is like this (demonstrating an uptight look) with riveted eyes you know. You can hold your breath but all those emotions coming and going in your eyes intensifies your look,” says Rai. Rai’s new work picks up from there, to play with the past and expand it into the present, quite literally. The new series he is working on (the two colour pictures that are included are a “teaser”) plays with backdrops placed in the centre of the frame and “life” occupying its sides. He walks over to the window and picks up a print where women are posing in front of a scenic backdrop and outside it , there are various energies floating around, women at a handpump for example. It’s his way of including contemporary India into the template of the past.
Rai who uses digital as well as film is not one to be nostalgic about the past but to him the modern portrait is “fluent, quick but not so deep”. A fraction of a second is too little time to accommodate intensity and truth.
Photography has imbued a silence into Rai, an alertness and a seeking, not an intrusive seeking but a subtle, even playful one that will catch you unawares till you realise a picture is taken and a moment captured. His daughter calls and he says to her “baby, bacchu please don’t go out, you are still weak, but he is convinced by the end of the conversation to let her.

Rai is a follower of Guruji Maharaj but doesn’t call himself a spiritual person. It is like this, he tells you.
“Satyajit Ray’s early films had everything in them. When he started working out of his intellect, his films were better than ten others in Bombay but it didn’t have that extra spiritual magic, it had become planned. Unless the supernatural comes and plays a part and reveals itself, it is good and nice and informative. It is like the difference between making love and an intellectual orgasm.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The police arrested a 25-year-old man on Tuesday for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman. The police said that the accused barged into the house of the victim while she was asleep and raped her. The incident took place in south Delhi's Dhaula Kuan area on February 19. This is the third such case i 
n the area in the last four months.

According to the police, the victim - who works as a caretaker at a house in the area - was sleeping alone when the accused, Sanjay Kumar, barged into her room. The accused is the victim's neighbour.

In November 2010, a 30-year-old call centre employee from Mizoram was allegedly abducted by five men, when she alighted at Dhaula Kuan. The woman was raped in a pick-up truck and then dumped in Mangolpuri. The police have arrested all five accused.

In February this year, a drunkard in the Dhaula Kuan area allegedly molested a 25-year-old woman who works at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the wee hours.

Meanwhile, the police said that in the present case, the woman had been living with her elder sister for the last few years. "The accused accosted the woman and then tried to be friends with her. When she refused, he wanted to take revenge," said a police officer on condition of anonymity.

The police said that on the night of November 19, the accused sneaked into the house of the victim and allegedly first threatened her and then raped her. On hearing the commotion, the victim's elder sister came out of her room. After that, the accused tried to flee the spot.

The police said they have nabbed the accused.

In a similar incident, a jilted lover has been found harassing a woman in the Satya Niketan area. The accused Rahul, 22, went to the office of the 20-year-old woman who works as a receptionist and threatened her.

"On February 17, the accused went to her office and tried to forcibly take her along with him," said a police officer. "A police constable nearby saw the whole incident and came to the rescue of the woman."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The census came home today really early in the morning, had to groggily scream answers from my room as my room mate took over the proceedings.
We had to call ourselves Hindu because she said there is no section for 'Not practicing'. Also, she asked who is the head of the family. I don't  know how to measure that. When the milk runs out whoever is more desperate for morning tea replaces it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where ever you go , an analysis follows

I interviewed Raghu Rai the other day in his gorgeous office that has the view of the endless Mehrauli jungle.We talked about how photography is about capturing a moment. 
It is about being intuitive, aware in a way that situations reveal themselves to you. In a way, it is to suspend the intellect, suspend conditioning and to be still. 
I walked out of my house today and a monkey was sitting down with its trainer holding a plate in his hand. He looked so much like a naughty little child. And behind, one of the Nepali domestic helps (there are many on this road) was walking a black pug. The leashed pug was trying to get close to the monkey. This was the first sight I saw in the morning and it seemed like such a photograph. That was my first thought, the desire to capture it. Later, I questioned myself. Was it a gora impulse? Was I seeking drama?
Then I thought it was so bizarre, the need to analyze this perfectly innocuous and yet dramatic (!) sight.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Sanctuary for Good Men

Forest official Sanjiv Chaturvedi has been transferred 12 times in the last five years. He has been threatened, booked under false cases, illegally suspended and charge sheeted by the Congress government in Haryana. His personal life has been destroyed. Chaturvedi lives all alone in a house with bare shelves and walls. The next transfer is always imminent.

In April 2007, Chaturvedi was the Divisional Forest Officer in Kurukshetra. He exposed officials who without required permissions from the Supreme Court violated the Forest Conservation Act and The Wildlife Protection Act in constructing the Hisar Kurukshetra Canal through the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary. At the time, the warden RD Jakati overruled him. Jakati is now the Director of the National Forest Academy. Chaturvedi however was warned by the Haryana government and subsequently transferred.

By the time the Wildlife Trust of India filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court's Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), the court had no grounds of charging the accused because the forest had been denotified by then. The Haryana Government was let off with a Rs.4.5 crore fine that included private litigation fees.

In one of his postings at Fatehabad, the forest department was spending crores buying rare trees for a herbal park owned by the relatives of MLA Prahlad Singh Gillakhera, a powerful independent candidate close to Haryana's then forest minister Kiran Chaudhary. Chaturvedi halted the work only to receive a letter from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest JK Rawat that stated Chaudhary's objections.

Someone from Gillakhera's office called Chaturvedi and threatened to "eliminate" him. Chaturvedi was suspended for indiscipline. He filed an RTI seeking reasons for suspension. The department refused stating that it will hamper investigation. The chief job description and the ticket to success in Haryana's forest department is to be blind to the gross environmental violations and to collectively cash in on the spoils. Chaturvedi consistently failed on both counts.

Chaturvedi appealed to the central government and finally his suspension was revoked. However, a fake FIR had been registered against him accusing him of criminal intimidation and stealing a Kachnar plant. Since then, to cover the illegality of the herbal park, it has been declared a protected forest. No one was punished except the man who exposed the crime.

Chaturvedi was kept without a posting for six months. In January 2008, he was finally posted as DFO at Jhajjar where he exposed a five crore rupees scam for fake plantations. He suspended nine forest officials and fired 40. Transfers and harassment followed.


Chaturvedi is an unassuming jovial man with no airs about him. His family says that he refused protection because it sends a signal out to the world that he is scared. He is matter of fact when he tells you that he cannot talk to the media because of his position in the government. He is today the Divisional Forest Officer for production in Haryana.

"What can I say on the phone, madam, I believe in karma. Whatever I have done, I have to pay the price for it and so does everyone else. My fight is an issue based one and it is futile if the process is not initiated against the guilty. Conviction is of course far away," he ends unwilling to continue the conversation.

The most important thing to him is "self accountability". He understands that external motivations are short lived. Yet, it is this awareness of self that drives him to fulfil his external obligation, to live up to what his role in the world expects of him.

To preserve the sanctity of Haryana's power corridors, its leaders decided to destroy Chaturvedi's personal life. His wife was convinced by unknown persons that he constantly sought transfers because he didn't want her staying with him. His in-laws were paid to slap a dowry

Since it is a non bailable offence, they thought they had hit a jackpot – one that could silence their only enemy.

In the next three years till the case reached closure and Chaturvedi won, his aged parents were traumatized by the legal battle. Simultaneously their son was moving from one obscure posting to another. For him, personally and professionally life was proving to be a nightmare. He divorced his wife and appealed to the central government.

 Initially the central government wanted the state to respond on its own. Officials in the Haryana Forest Department would tell you that Haryana and Delhi are close especially when it comes to their shared vested interests. There is no explicit rule as to how the centre can intervene in this situation. As of January this year, President Pratibha Patil has called for the charge sheet against him to be quashed. This is the first such intervention by a president in independent India.

A two member probe panel investigated his case and recommended a CBI investigation. The Committee found strong evidence again former forest minister Kiran Chaudhary who recommended Chaturvedi's suspension.

The world we are living in is satisfied celebrating the quashing of the charge street. We triumph in having successfully protected the whistle blower even as the criminals he exposed are rapidly extracting more power and wealth from very crimes they committed.

Kiran Chaudhury has since been given the plush posting as the Cabinet Secretary of taxing and excise. Prahalad Singh Gillakhera has become the Chief Parliamentary Secretary. Chaturvedi plans to file a petition in the high court and Supreme Court. The battle isn't over anytime soon. The price is still being paid. 

Part of this appeared in Tehelka magazine. 






Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Javed Akhtar

(An as told to interview with Javed Akhtar)

Do you dare snuff out the moon?

A hundred years after his birth, revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz is still a pebble creating ever-widening ripples



Faiz Ahmed Faiz

GROWING up in a family of poets, I was surrounded by poetry. But to me, it is Faiz who was the brightest star of the brightest literary movements in undivided India. My first memory of Faiz is a package that came in the mail. It was an autographed copy of his first collection of poems — Dast-e-Sabha. I was nine years old at the time and staying with my maternal uncle, the poet Majaz Lakhnavi, who like Faiz was part of the Progressive Writer's Association. By the time I was in school in Aligarh, Faiz's words were very much a part of my life.

There was something extraordinary about Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He was more than a big poet. He was a big man with a tremendous amount of humility.

The word mein, me, never made an appearance in his poems. Poetry was to create awareness, to create the desire for dreams, social justice, gender equality and to stand up for the downtrodden. To be a poet is not to be didactic and dry in order to make a large statement at the expense of beauty. To be a poet is not to be holier than thou. Faiz understood this. To him art was for life and not just for art's sake.

Loud and clear Faiz addresses trade union workers. He was president of the Postal Workers Union in 1949

There have been other poets who wrote about politics but somehow they were prosaic and violent in a way that Faiz never was. His work is an unbelievable synthesis of art with social and political values. Of course, Faiz also was phenomenally popular. In this age, artists can cater to the lowest common denominator and be assured that they will become a celebrity. Faiz maintained a standard and still was so hugely followed.

Faiz was like a pebble tied to a string and thrown in the water to create larger and larger circles. Faiz kept tradition intact but he pulled it to modernity. He didn't break from poetic conventions and maintained an extreme literary aesthetic, a painterly one. Faiz could infuse an evening in prison with a heady beauty. Take these images, (from a version of Zindan Ki Ek Shaam translated by Agha Shahid Ali) where he describes each star as a rung in the spiral staircase of a descending night. The poem continues...

Dil se paiham khayal kahta hai/ Itni shireen hai zindagi is pal/ Zulm ka zahar gholnewale/ Kamran ho sakenge aaj na kal/Jalvagahevisaal ki shamayein / Vo bujha bhi chuke agar to kya/ Chand ko gul karen, to hum jaane.

To be a poet is not to be didactic or dry to make a large statement at the expense of beauty. To be a poet is not to be holier than thou. Faiz understood this

(This thought keeps consoling me/though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed/in rooms where lovers are destined to meet/they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,/nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed/ no poison of torture make me bitter/ if just one evening in prison/can be so strangely sweet/if just one moment anywhere on this earth.)

Talking heads Faiz with journalist Asaf Jilani and thespian Zia Mohyiuddin during an interview with BBC Urdu Service, London

I first met Faiz in the 1960s when he had come to India after a long absence. He read in our house to a gathering of poets and Bollywood stars. Amitabh Bachchan was there as were many major poets of the time. When people read their poetry, they usually read it with energy. They take care of the intonation, rhythm, of the whole performance. Not Faiz. He read his poems with no special enthusiasm; as if it was a mildly tedious duty he had to perform. That day, a cheeky poet asked why he didn't read his poetry as well as he wrote. Faiz replied that he couldn't possibly do everything well and asked the poet to read instead.

Faiz has definitely influenced an entire generation. He has added to the aesthetics of Urdu poetry. Today, Urdu is in a strange situation. The language has been politicised for the past 100 years and sacrificed at the altar of the two-nation theory. In India, it is constantly given step-motherly treatment. On one hand, there are a growing number of people who appreciate Urdu poetry but the language is also becoming nostalgia. By its very nature, it is secular, anti-fundamentalist and embraces anti-archaic values but we are denying it its place in our heritage. The birth centenary of one of its greatest poets is occasion to reflect on this. I want to end with quoting my favourite lines of Faiz.

Dil na umeed toh nahin , nakaam hi toh hain/ Lambi hain gham ki sham magar sham hi to hain. (I haven't lost hope, but just a fight, that is all/ The night of suffering lengthens, but just a night, that is all).

Chuma types

At the Persistence Resistance Film Festival, Arun Khopkar wondered why his film, his life's work should be playing on loop in some vague booth where people could casually walk in and out. The festival has been trying to explore formats which make the documentary more viewer friendly. Tough choice you make if you want random people watching your films I guess.

Winter is sadly ending . The good thing is that you can wear colours again and not feel like a stuffed pigeon.

Friend of many years V and I had a three hour conversation at the comfortably slick and clinical Oxford Book store about how we were just 18 but it suddenly feels like time has slipped by so fast. I mean it is surreal.Like a jump cut bang into the middle of being adult.

I don't have a plan of action for this post clearly but I haven't posted for so long and felt I had to check if the blog still functions without my er. profound thoughts.

Also, I am in love with Prateik Babbar. Yeh Saali Zindagi was just not my type of film at all. C Singh is too sophisticated for that role but is yummy so who cares.