Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From A.R to A.R

One of my all-time favorite musicians is A.R Rahman. And as I was surfing through his latest releases today, I came across an awe-inspiring freedom story!

The big international 'star' that Rahman is now (though he retains his trademark humility, or so it seems from afar) it wasn't much news when I read he's performing at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. The more amazing news about his latest music was that he's given the sound score for Danny Boyle's movie, 127 hours.

127 hours? Quite an odd time figure. But that's about the same time, mountaineer Aron Ralston took to come out of the Utah canyon alive after getting trapped in it for days. Ralston endured the pain for five days and then finally freed himself by cutting off his right arm, which had got stuck under a boulder. The movie is a biopic of his life.

Aron and Rahman
It's like a Man vs Wild episode gone wrong. Wonder what Bear has to say about this. I salute you Ralston, for your strength and endurance! You are truly an inspiration. I can't imagine what I'd have done in such a situation.

I eagerly await for the movie to hit theatres (another movie based on a true story!). After the much-hyped Slumdog Millionaire (direction being the saving grace of the movie), I hope this one's going to do more justice to Boyle's talent.

Here's one great man paying tribute to another -

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reliving history

There is a rare exhibition of letters and documents on display in Chandigarh, since Sunday. A collection of original letters, manuscripts and books belonging to the pre-independence era of India's freedom struggle.

On display is the death warrant of freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh, a letter written by the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab prohibiting Mahatma Gandhi from entering Punjab, a confidential letter about breaking the Salt Law at Bhiwani and lots more.

Now you might question the relevance of displaying documents that don't matter anymore. After all, Wikileaks is definitely more exciting than history! But just the idea of being able to see original records and tangibles used at a time you weren't even born in, is fascinating to me. It's like using a time machine.

The period of the freedom movement is an era gone by, but an era that is dearly cherished by the older generation (especially my grandma) and an era that holds a certain fascination for my generation. It's sometimes difficult to understand the passion with which septuagenarians speak of India and its freedom struggle. And that's mainly because we are quite detached and distant from the incidents that happened at the time.

Now, I don't have a time machine and I don't see another H.G. Wells in the making, so perhaps this is the best way to experience it. A great opportunity for history enthusiasts, or for others just fascinated, like I :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trying my hand at photography

This was my first attempt with a DSLR camera. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! It's addictive once you start using it. Would love to get my hands on one, again. Anyone gifting me one, anytime soon?

All of them have been shot in my garden. Dad's hard work with his blossoms finally pays off :)


A step-to-step guide on how to become a novice photographer -

Step 1. Find a cousin/friend/generous soul who owns a DSLR camera. If you already own one,  you most likely are a good photographer.

Step 2. Bribe them, patronize them or beg them to lend you their camera for a while.

Step 3. Wear the long strap around your neck and let the camera hang loose from your neck.

Step 4. Look into the mirror for a confidence boost and imagine yourself to be a professional shooting for NatGeo/Discovery.

Step 5. Once you're ready for the shoot, go straight to the macro mode.

Step 6. Start clicking pictures of anything you think would make a good subject, because how hard you may try, the macro mode almost never lets you go wrong.

Step 7. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty (and I mean literally), sit or stand or lie down to get those interesting angles.

Step 8. Finally, when you see the photographs you clicked, you'd learn you didn't have to do much. The camera managed most of it on its own.

Step 9. You gradually realize good cameras make good photographers.

Step 10. You bribe, patronize and beg your cousin/friend/generous soul to let you keep it.

(Step 10 didn't work out for me. But you should keep trying! Tell them how much photography means to you and that you can't dream of a life without it :P)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Freedom Writers Diary

I am a movie-buff and I particularly like movies that are based on true stories. They reaffirm my faith in real life happy endings :)

One movie from that genre that is really close to my heart is "Freedom Writers".

A shot from the movie starring Hilary Swank - enjoying with her students

It's an amazing story of a first-time teacher, Erin Gruwell, who through her unconventional methods of teaching, manages to inspire and teach a class of rebels.

Gruwell has been well played by veteran actress, Hilary Swank. A fiery, determined character who turns into a rebel to fight the uncooperative school system and help a freshman English class come to terms with itself and the world around it.

Most of the students in her class face violence and racial wars everyday and consider survival, a big achievement. Education doesn't matter to them and they think they don't matter to anybody. But Gruwell tries to understand their pain and change all that.

On the lines of Anne Frank's Diary, the first book her students were ever able to relate to, she gets them to write their own journals. The journals are later published as a book called "The Freedom Writers Diary".

Apart from Swank, there are not many known actors (except Patrick Dempsey and Scott Glenn, who have rather minor roles) in the movie. Yet, there are some great performances by the cast. And good direction and bits of humor sprinkled through out the film, makes for a great watch.

It may seem like another makeover story of a-bunch-of-rebels-meet-fairy-Godmother-who-changes-them for-life-as-they-come-out-winners-in-the-end. But it isn't all that hunky-dory. For fairy Godmother is very much human who has to make sacrifices and work a lot, to first make her rebels accept her as their teacher and then to make them see the positive side of life.

But the bigger reason the movie leaves an impact on you is because Erin managed to do all that in real life. All her students (who are now referred to as the Freedom Writers) are graduates.

Erin Gruwell in the pink top in the front row, with her students

They, along with her, founded the Freedom Writers Foundation that educates others about innovative techniques of teaching to repeat the success of Room 203 (their classroom). So it really is a fairy-tale ending ;)

Now, if you haven't already left to watch the movie, I highly recommend that you do. It's a must watch!

Bonus read (don't read if you plan to watch the movie):

A few lines from the movie that stood out for me -
  • Ms G, on why she chose to become a teacher, instead of a lawyer : "By the time you are defending a kid in the courtroom, the battle's already lost. I think the real fighting should happen here in the classroom."
  • On her being a first-time teacher, Gruwell says : "I know I have a lot to learn as a teacher, but I am a really good student."
  • One of her students on parole describes her school: "Schools are like the city, the city is like a prison, all of them divided into separate sections, depending on tribes. There's little Cambodia. The Ghetto. Wonder Bread Land. And us, South of the Border or Little Tijuana." 
  • Ms G, when a student says they seek respect by dying for their race: "To get respect, you have to give it."
And few of my favorite scenes -
  • Ms G: "Raise your hands if you know what the holocaust is." No one in the class raises his/her hand, except the only white boy. "Raise your hand if anyone in this classroom has ever been shot at." Everyone raises his/her hand, except the white boy.
  • Ms G: "Stand on the line if you have lost a friend in gang violence." Everyone in the classroom is standing on the line facing each other. And that's when they realize they are doing that to each other.
  • There is a moment when no parent of Ms G's students turns up for the parents night. Erin is very disappointed after putting in so much effort in her classes. But then, she gets reminded of the journals she'd asked her students to write and keep in the class cupboard if they wanted her to read them. To her pleasant surprise, when she opens the cabinet, ALL the journals are sitting right there. And her smile comes back :)
  • The climax...that I don't plan to divulge ;)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stop strangling Wikileaks!

(Caution: This post is longer than usual, so please bear with me :))

Should Wikleaks be stopped from spreading leaked confidential U.S documents?

I wish to bring to notice other perspectives on the issue, before I go on to answer that.
  • A fellow blogger and a die-hard Hillary Clinton fan, has reiterated Sarah Palin's comparison of Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder) with Osama Bin Laden (Al-Qaeda terrorist), in her blogpost. To her mind, Wikileaks is a form of terrorism. "Both attack multiple nations, yet neither is a nation or (sic) truly affiliated with one," reads her blog, and hence, she says, it should be banned. 
  • British reporter Sam Leith attempts to break "the myth"of freedom of speech associated with Wikileaks, by equating the Wikileaks leaks to "rifling through your neighbor's bins and publishing his bank statements on the internet'.

First, the Clinton fan. Hillary is doing a great job as the U.S. Secretary of State. In a recent speech, she said she was a "big believer" in internet freedom and added "we have to be very careful that governments don't overreact to information [that they do not like being aired in public]. It is always better to err on the side of more expression, more information, and then try to counter it with other information." 

All this, when the U.S. State department looks for ways to prosecute Assange, has Amazon remove Wikileaks from its servers, gets Paypal and Mastercard to dump Wikileaks donations and asks its employees not to read Wikileaks. What hypocrisy! Or should I say, what diplomacy!

Also, as Luis Anderson points out in his blog, "Assange has no allegiance to the U.S, same as 96% of the world's population." So he cannot be accused of treason and the cables should continue to be leaked. 

Had Assange obtained the documents legally (that is to say, they were not leaked, but handed over by the government), there would have been no need to raise the above question. For the rule in journalism is - If it is in PUBLIC INTEREST, it makes a news story. (This is not to say, Wikileaks is journalism. That would have to be another post).

Which makes Leith's argument weak as our neighbors' bank statements are of no public interest, whatsoever. 

But, it is important to realize that in NO WAY could Julian have obtained this information legally, for every report would have been censored to market a "transparent" government that sportingly obliges to the right to information. So perhaps in this case, the end justifies the means. Otherwise, the public would have been deprived of this knowledge. 

Also, according to the German magazine (and partner leaker with Wikileaks), Der Spiegel, "Even documents that are classified at the highest level of "top secret" are still accessible to around 850,000 Americans. The leak of the diplomatic cables is an accident that was bound to happen sooner or later."

Moreover, as blogger Emmanuel writes, "When other countries (especially those unfriendly to America) [read: China and the Google saga] perform cyber-censure by claiming to apply law, it's a violation of free speech. When the U.S. attempts to do the same, it's an illegal act that must be brought to justice."

So to answer the question I posed - No, Wikileaks should not be stopped from making its revelations. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Twitter Gag Order

Cartoon: Ira Swasti. Illustrations: Google Images
This is in reference to the arrest of a U.K citizen, Paul Chambers, who was arrested for tweeting he'd "blow [the] Robin Hood airport sky-high", earlier this year. 

Twitter is a harmless, little bird. Will the British police cut the crap and focus on more immediate cases of rape and homicide? 

Chambers was not a terrorist, but a frustrated traveler who was fed up with incessant flight delays at the airport. The police obviously missed the joke and booked him for communicating a bomb hoax. Though I think they chose to overlook it, simply to send the signal to the masses : We're monitoring your tweets. Internet freedom is just an old wives' tale. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Are we headed towards another Partition?

In light of the sedition charges registered against Arundhati Roy for her speeches in Kashmir, I was forced to reconsider my position on the issue. The one statement she made that had the country's (including mine) eyebrows raising, probably had some truth to it.

In 1947, when the country was being partitioned, princely states (which included Jammu and Kashmir) had been given the option to accede to India or Pakistan, or to choose to remain independent. The basis of Partition was religion. So predominant Muslim states were given to Pakistan and predominant Hindu regions became a part of India.

Now Kashmir was an interesting case. It had a predominant Muslim population, but a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. Given the dominant religion, Pakistan wanted the state to join its territory. So tribals backed by Pakistan invaded J&K on the 20th of October, 1947, to gain control. The Maharaja fought back for seven days, but finally gave up and appealed to the Indian government for help.

The Indian government agreed to send aid, only if Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India and that was that. Since then, India considers Kashmir "an integral part of India".

But according to Roy, the people of Kashmir do not consider it so. Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah pointed out that Kashmir had only acceded, and not merged with the Indian Union.

I am a patriot Indian who would never want an Indian state to secede from it. But I also advocate democracy and consider people's voice paramount. So if the people of an Indian state prefer independence from the Indian Union, given the unique circumstances of the case , they should be entitled to it.

However, I see several problems with that - a) I don't know if secession is what the majority wants in Kashmir, perhaps it is only the separatists promoting their agenda, b) Even if the majority wants it, is it right to have the minority go through a repeat of the Partition? and c) If Kashmir secedes, it will pave way for rebels in every state to ask for secession from the Indian Union and there will be no India left anymore.

So perhaps Roy is right in saying that Kashmir was never an integral part of India (historically speaking), but inciting people to demand its freedom in this manner is not a solution to the problem either.