Sunday, February 17, 2013

The world would be a lesser place without these books and movies.

Iranian movie: Border Cafe
If you want to understand how 'benign' masculine protection turns into insidious control of the feminine, how social structures ultimately protect the economic interests of the patriarchy, why women's issues have no boundaries, how dry, difficult and dense political science can be conveyed effectively through cinematic art, why Iranian movies occupy a special place in my heart, then you have to see this (not-so-recent) movie, 'Border Cafe'. Story-telling at its best.

'The Wandering Falcon' by Jamil Ahmad.
This book is a precious gift to this world!  I wasn't aware that I could find common grounds and identify with some of the simple yet richly complex characters from the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran border region, but I do.  I don't think anyone could have resisted being in the shoes of any of Ahmad's characters.  Such is the power of his stories and story-telling ability. 

The language--lyrical; the writing style--beautifully brief; the writer's heart--always tangible.

Please pick it up if you haven't read it, but don't look for reviews online.  All the ones I found give away too much of the book' structure and details of the story.  Reviewers who cannot write reviews without spoilers in every sentence need to be left wandering in the desolate lands of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  You need to enter the world depicted in this book without knowing anything about it.    

The story of Ahmad's book seeing the light of day is a story in its own right.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif
What a stark and audaciously biting novel about human strengths vs. vulnerabilities. This book is testament to Hanif's ability to turn tragedy into comedy for just as long as it takes you to swallow the bitter truth about nations and humanity. The deeper message about the limitations of all semblance of order in this universe (especially the hospital universe), however, lingers on long past you put down the book. I respect that he bravely took digs at stingy Caucasian nuns willing to let brown people starve. I love that his absentee fathers can write soulful petitions when necessary. I agree that tender love lasts only as long as viciousness, with or without reason, stays away. I am not quite sure why we rushed through the last scene abruptly or the timeline of what exactly happened above the hospital roof, but, perhaps, short, swift novel ending is metaphor for how quickly everything comes to a close if you are an Alice Bhatti in this world.

There are numerous themes in this book -- class, caste, religion, misogyny, poverty, marginalization, sickness, hospital management, physicians, professionalism or lack thereof among physicians, police power -- but the ones I picked out in the previous paragraph are not necessarily in order of importance or coverage in the book. Above all, the book is about how unconnected women learn to survive, live, thrive in a patriarchal society. If they make it past survival, that is.

The book is not all raw and stark; there are layers of nuance. And you will come to know a bit more about a little known demographic -- Pakistani Christians from the sweeper class/caste.

'In This World' directed by Michael Winterbottom
Last but not the least, watch this docudrama that will leave you with an idea of the tenacity and maturity that some children have as a result of being born on the other side of the fence.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Selective Outrage

There was so much outrage last week when a certain made-for-entertainment Tamil movie by a certain actor was in danger of being snuffed out (or at least shortened).  A man's life was snuffed out this week, even though the facts leading up to that decision were, at best only circumstantial, and, at worst prejudicial, troubling and not untainted for judicial purposes. Enough questions were raised to make even those of us not trained in law feel uncomfortable about verdicts carrying terminal consequences.  Yet, there is utter silence from us everyday people, from us convenient cogs in the wheel, who have the luxury and power to withhold outrage.

As a common person, I am aware of feeling intimidated when the State is the entity about whom I ask uncomfortable, even scary, questions. I am afraid of exposing any ignorance from my side about details and facts that make a conversation appear intelligent; of losing face if at all I mistakenly take the wrong stance.  But when enough doubt is raised by those who have done their research, risk their safety and write to raise our consciousness (or prick our conscience, as the case may be), it seems wrong to not pause, take time from our relatively uncomplicated, untroubled, apolitical-on-the-surface lives, and wonder why a man -- a father, a husband -- was hanged in relative secrecy by the world's largest democracy.  It seems wrong to uncritically accept the words, '... and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender'.

This page is my attempt to keep a small lamp burning in my corner in place of the life taken from Mohammed Afzal Guru, "a man who was hanged who was not guilty beyond reasonable doubt".

Unanswered questions are the remains of the day by Anjali Mody
A perfect day for democracy by Arundhati Roy.
Four statements on the execution of Afzal Guru. Compilation at
And His Life Should Become Extinct by Arundhati Roy.
A Collaborator in Kashmir by Amitava Kumar.
Afzal Guru is dead, whose conscience is satisfied? by Jay N. Jayaram.
In Tihar, officials feel 'tinge of sorrow' by Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar
Unlocking the secrets of a secret execution by Nitya Ramakrishnan
The day India sullied itself again by Rajiv Kumar.
Citizens statement on the execution of Afzal Guru on India Resists.
Secret hanging a major setback: Human Rights Watch on the execution of Afzal Guru on
Afzal Guru's story in his own words at
We haven't even heard Afzal's story by Nandita Haksar at