About Me

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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Music and I

People who know me a bit know that one of the most irritating things about me is that, at any given point in time the chance that they will catch me in singing mode is, unfortunately for them, very high. :-)

I say “unfortunately” because I have absolutely no illusions about my capability in this arena. Which, you will admit, makes me still one notch better than the singer who inflicts himself on you under the misguided impression that the only thing that prevented him from achieving singing fame was his lack of ambition or opportunity to thrust himself on a bigger stage. :-)

No, I have no illusions whatsoever that anything even remotely or passably melodious results from the exercising of my vocal chords, infinitely sad though such a realization is to me. And, while retaining the highest regard for classical music and ragas, I have no pretensions to possessing any knowledge of either of these.

Added to this lack of knowledge and skill is the problem that I am usually completely oblivious of the fact that I am actually singing. So much so that I was once rudely reminded by the invigilator during a very important exam that I was disturbing the entire room with my singing. It was a long time ago and I cannot recall with any certainty what particular song was causing such a stir but I think it was “ye duniya ye mehfil mere kaam ki nahin”. Which, I will admit, would have been entirely appropriate for the occasion given my state of mind while answering that paper. :-) I was completely unaware of my singing – and it was only in a low voice - but it did get the invigilator quickly onto my case. I was extremely embarrassed and had to apologize profusely. If, at a later stage during the test I broke out again into song I do not know (for I do not have control over my singing impulses) but for the rest of the session I passed through unscathed. That is, if you do not count the damage done by the test itself. :-)

There have been many more occasions when I have suddenly got out of my trance and realized that I have been singing – often only because of staring eyes, disapproval written large in them, making me squirm uncomfortably. I distinctly remember the occasion at Mumbai airport, not so long ago, waiting to board the Finnair flight and suddenly realizing that I was singing, rather audibly, “chhoo lene do naazuk honthon ko” and having a young Finnish lady sitting next to me. Boy, was I thankful that she did not understand Hindi !

Enough – I am not going to embarrass myself any further with a narration of my singing experiences. The point is that I do sing a lot to myself, usually being blissfully unaware of it – and so anybody who is in the vicinity at that time is likely to have to bear the brunt of the shelling. And it is not as if it is an iPod or some such gadget causing this - I need no such trigger to burst into song. :-)

So, WHAT do I sing ?

It is almost always a Hindi song. And almost always an old one at that. Old, meaning pre-1980. Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Mahendra Kapoor. All of them. Sometimes even Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum. It all depends on my mood and what is on my mind at that time.

Occasionally – very occasionally – it may be an English number. But then I know very few English songs (and even fewer songs if I need to go beyond four words) so at least I don’t often mess with this, even in my sub-conscious. Not that I do not like English songs – I really do – but I just do not know many of them. When I was growing up all I knew were a few songs of the Beatles, ABBA, Boney M (I said I knew, I did not say I liked), the Carpenters, Police, Queen, Pink Floyd and the like. Just a few songs – that too a few lines of each song. Compare that with the number of Hindi songs I picked up from all around me – “full” songs, first word to last – and there is no contest.

Any specific songs ?

Hmm…to be honest, it is a very wide variety of songs.

I will be humble in stating that there are thousands of songs out there that I am sure I still do not know (and am learning about every day, mainly on the net and following wonderful sites like http://atulsongaday.wordpress.com/).

At the same time there are still very many old songs that I do know – and my pick at any given moment could be any of these.

I do seem to realize though that there are a few “favourites” that I end up falling back on every now and then. One common thread in almost all of them is that they are soft melodies, the type that reside somewhere in your sub-consious quite easily. The music is often subdued, effectively accentuating the voice of the singer. Many of them have excellent lyrics too. A sample of them :
- tumhari zulf ke saaye mein (Rafi saab – Naunihaal)
- itni haseen itni jawaan raat (Rafi saab – Aaj Aur Kal)
- suhani raat dhal chuki (Rafi saab – Dulari)
- ye reshmi zulfen (Rafi saab – Do Raaste)
- jaane kya dhoondhti rehti hain (Rafi saab – Shola Aur Shabnam)
- teri duniya se hoke majboor chala (Kishore – Pavitra Papi)
- jeevan se bhari teri aankhen (Kishore – Safar)
- khizan ke phool se (Kishore – Do Raaste)
- wo shaam kuchh ajeeb thi (Kishore – Khamoshi)
- pal pal dil ke paas (Kishore - Blackmail)
- tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo (Mahendra Kapoor – Humraaz)
- hum chhod chale hain mehfil ko (Mukesh – Jee Chahta Hai)
- zubaan pe dard bhari dastaan (Mukesh – Maryada)
- jo tum ko ho pasand (Mukesh – Safar)
- laaga chunri mein daag (Manna Dey – Dil Hi To Hai)
- ya dil ki suno duniya waalon (Hemant Kumar – Anupama)
- ye hawa ye raat ye chandni (Talat Mehmood – Sangdil)
- nainon mein badra chhaye (Lata Mangeshkar – Mere Saaya)
- in aankhon ki masti ke (Asha Bhonsle - Umrao Jaan)
- jab koi baat bigad jaaye (Kumar Sanu & Sadhana Sargam – Jurm)

Of course this is just a sample of the songs that I am aware that I end up singing quite often – to myself. Often I pick up the song somewhere in the middle. For example, “ye phool chaman mein kaisa khila” (ya dil ki suno duniya waalon) or “jeevan ke safar mein tanhai” (hum chhod chale hain) or “tujhe kya khabar hai o bekhabar” (ye hawa ye raat ye chandni).

Anyway, whatever it is, I am convinced that my madness for old Hindi songs keeps me going to a large extent. I can listen to them any time of day or night. There are songs for every mood and I never ever get bored of them. Like my other passion, cricket, I can discuss old Hindi songs (and films) for hours together.

But old Hindi songs easily beat even cricket - there is something magical about them. When I think about the impact they have had and continue to have in my life, I cannot thank enough those who have played their part in bringing this music to me. The singers, the composers, the lyricists and all those arrangers and musicians (who nobody knows about) who have over the years enriched the lives of millions with their contribution to music. Long after they are gone (and many of the oldtimers are now gone), their music will live on. It is their legacy for future generations to enjoy. I do consider myself fortunate to be in a position to enjoy their music.

I plan to discuss more about my musical interests in future posts – I cannot have enough of it – but if anybody wants to check out old Hindi songs (including many obscure ones) , he could do worse than visit the site of my friend Atul at http://atulsongaday.wordpress.com/. Like me, he shares a passion for old songs and has painstakingly built up his site, song by song, over the last 14 months or so to now have a library of almost 2000 songs (and continuing to add as many songs as possible every day). Complete with an often-interesting intro, a video of the song and full lyrics. It is a labour of love for him - he is doing his bit to preserve songs for posterity. We need more of this and I am thankful to him too for unearthing many gems for me that I would never have heard if it had not been for him.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Me and my stupid sentimentality

Sometimes I can be a sentimental fool.

Some will knit their brows at this, insisting on a rather charitable use of the adverb “sometimes” but, with the arrogance that comes with the realization that this is my blog and I can say what I like, I will choose to ignore them completely.

So I often lose myself in Shamshad Begum and Mohammad Rafi’s songs of the 1940s/1950s, totally losing track of time. It is my firm belief that 3.00 a.m is not particularly late when you are listening to “suhani raat dhal chuki” or “leke pehla pehla pyar”.

And I can repeatedly watch Bogey and Bergman in Casablanca without getting bored. Just watching them together and yet not together has to pull at the strains of even the hardest of hearts.

But, other than these concessions I make to sentimentality, I would like to think that I am above such signs of mental weakness.

Or am I ?

I will admit that the story is a bit dated. It goes back about three months – a period that I have, for a variety of reasons, stayed away from blogging. But, now that I am back, it is still fresh enough in my mind for a reasonably accurate narrative.

I was at the Indian Embassy at The Hague for some work.

Now, I have always had interesting experiences at the Embassy. Sometimes not very positive - but always interesting. I like being there – it is my small piece of India here in Holland. And not just that – there are different types of situations that develop in the Embassy.

If it were not for a bad feeling that my car is probably getting a parking ticket any minute, I would love to just spend a lot more time at the Embassy than I end up spending. The area near the Embassy is a traffic cop’s delight – there is practically no parking available, so you end up either parking a fair distance away – even then not sure it is in an acceptable parking area – or just next to the Embassy, put on the hazard lights and hope your work gets done in five minutes. Yeah, right ! – like that’s going to happen !

Of course even the hazard lights do not legitimize your parking (many mistakenly believe otherwise), so you are more likely than not to get a ticket. Over the years I have paid plenty of 50 euro fines for parking and have just shrugged them off, taking them as part of the experience of visiting little India in Holland.

Or maybe there is some parking area in the vicinity but I have just been too lazy to find out. Anyway this is not about parking so I better get to the point.

The point is – here I was at the Embassy, on a rather busy day. After quite some time I managed to get to second in the queue, with just one lady in front of me. Unfortunately it is a rather cramped place, so there is not much privacy for each individual. For some reason, this does not seem to be a problem at all for the Embassy.

But this meant that I could listen in on the conversation that was taking place at that moment. Yes, I know I should not have but it was rather difficult not to listen in, given the physical proximity of various persons lined up in the queue.

The lady in front of me looked Indian. Punjabi or Kashmiri. She was very fair with very sharp features. She had a very cute-looking baby in a pram next to her. Sparkling eyes. The baby’s, I mean. Must have been not more than a year old. I smiled at the baby and I swear she smiled back at me.

The mother was completely oblivious to all this as she was busy at the counter.

“I need a visa for India.”

“Can I see your passport please ?”

“I don’t have it with me at the moment”.

“And you are…”

“A Pakistani national”.

The lady behind the counter winced. She may not have wanted it to appear too obvious but even to an eye of not particularly high discerning ability such as yours truly possesses, the grimace was visible, the twitch, even if momentary, was inescapable - yes, there was wincing all right.

The lady (now established as a Pakistani national) continued, sensing that further explanation was required.

“My husband works for <a well-known multinational> and is travelling to India on business. I want to just go with him as a tourist. With my child of course”.

The lady behind the counter continued to look uncomfortable. She did not make eye-contact but seemed a bit fidgety.

The Pakistani lady continued “He will get the required letters and papers from his company”.

“And your husband is…..Dutch ?”

“No, he is also Pakistani”. Was it a genuinely soft tone or was I imagining things ?

That seemed to be enough.

The definitiveness of the reaction was as startling as it was emphatic.

“Sorry Madam, we cannot issue visa for you”.

“But I just want to visit as tourist. I can get all the papers you need”.

“Sorry Madam…”


There was a movement. The lady at the counter next to the one where this conversation was taking place suddenly stood up. I remember seeing her at the embassy for years. She now chose to impose her authority on the situation.

Taking charge, she arrived on the spot and, in a booming voice, underlining the definitiveness of the judgment, said : “You heard her. We have a policy not to issue visas to Pakistani nationals”.

The Pakistani lady’s face fell. She had already been steadily losing hope as the conversation had been progressing (if that is the right word) but now she knew, in no uncertain terms. that the door was being slammed in her face.

I looked at her – and looked away quickly. I am not sure but I think I must have felt some guilt.

I looked at the baby – and she continued to smile at me.

She wheeled her baby out of the embassy. That was the last I saw of her.

I finished my work in a few minutes and headed back to my car. No parking ticket this time. All the way back I kept thinking about her and her baby.

All she had wanted was to visit India as a tourist. India – which, once upon a time, must have been home for her ancestors. Why had it become so difficult ?

But then, was the Embassy wrong ? Not really, I reasoned. If they were just following the rules, they could hardly be blamed.

So nobody was in the wrong, right ? . And yet somehow it just did not feel right.

I kept thinking about it. For days. The picture of that smiling sweet baby kept appearing in front of my eyes. And that of her mother’s pained face.

It kept bothering me. Finally I managed to shrug it off. Collateral damage, that’s what they would have called it in political parlance. And that’s all it was.

Me and my stupid sentimentality.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gulzar's Koshish ("An Attempt")

I have just finished watching what I can safely say, without the slightest hesitation, is one of the best movies I have seen in my life.

When this movie was released in 1972, I was a very young boy. I remember the film being talked about a lot at that time. The universal opinion was that it was a very moving story about a deaf-and-dumb couple and their experiences in life. That the performances of the couple in the film were just outstanding and that this was a landmark movie in Indian cinema.

You know what ? I am a bit ashamed now but at that time none of this excited me. My eldest sister, who had seen the film and liked it a lot, narrated the story to the rest of us siblings who had not seen it. I understood it in bits – having switched off for a large part. It sounded quite depressing – not exactly my cup of tea.

To be fair, I was not even ten then. I was used to Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh and Mumtaz movies – with loads of masala, songs and action. Kati Patang types. You come and tell me that there is an excellent movie made about a deaf-and-dumb couple and their experiences in life – and you cannot even come up with one song of the movie – sorry, you haven’t the slightest chance of getting me interested.

But that was the early 70s and I was still a young boy.

The movie somehow remained in my mind as a good movie of its time. And I know that I have wanted to see it for a while now – if only to judge for myself what it is all about and, quite importantly, whether I have it in me to appreciate a film of this type.

Today I finally got to see the film. It was quite by accident actually. I was on youtube looking for songs (as usual !). And then I saw this clip Koshish 01/12. I immediately clicked on it – and worked my way all the way to 12/12 without once losing interest.

One of the nicest things about the clips was that the film was also sub-titled. Not that I needed it – but that means that it is a film that can be enjoyed by non-Hindi viewers also. Which is just brilliant – because a film like this deserves to have an international audience. The subject-matter is universal.

The film is simple. No exotic sets or grandeur about it. Maybe it is its simplicity that is one of its most appealing features.

Apart from this, I liked the film for a number of other reasons.

Firstly, the film was not half as slow as I had resigned myself to expecting at the start of the movie. I thought it would be a typical “art” movie of the 70s – where a pot of rice would be shown boiling for 10 minutes. The rice would then spill over – symbolizing that a situation had got out of control.

No, this film had a reasonable pace about it.

Secondly, it is a very down-to-earth film. I like such movies – I can easily relate to them. And though the story is about a deaf-and-dumb couple, it is not presented in a pitiful, “preachy” manner.

Thirdly, the performances are absolutely top-notch. Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri are two of the finest actors ever to grace a Hindi film – and they do a fantastic job here. The other actors too have put in a very good, soft performance. This is a very welcome departure from the average Hindi film of the time which contained a fair amount of hamming and over-acting.

Fourthly, there are no unnecessary songs to dilute the flow and impact of the film. There is only one song in this series (I believe there is another song by Sushma Shreshta that is not in this version).

Fifthly, and probably similar to the fourth point above, there are no comic side plots to dilute the flow and impact of the film. Also quite unusual for the times.

I can go on and on. There are many other reasons why I like this film. Maybe I will mention just one more. And that is a very personal one.

Many scenes in the movie reminded me of my father. His hearing was severely impaired in the late 1950s (side-effect of an illness). So, from the time I got my senses, I only remember him as being hard of hearing. Later on in life, it got worse. Much of our communication to him would be in writing or sometimes in sign language. We were all used to it in the family, so it was no big deal.

In all this, he never ever let his hearing impairment or disability come in the way of what he wanted to achieve in life. And I do not ever recall him wallowing in self-pity or anything of the sort. If anything he would laugh it off, joking sometimes that he was probably better off not hearing what his children had to say about him.

Of course, in his case, unlike that of Sanjeev Kumar in Koshish, it was thankfully only hearing impairment and not speech-impairment. It makes the whole situation very different, of course.

But there are some scenes that hit me really close to home. Like the scene where Sanjeev Kumar rushes to the doctor when he thinks his son could be deaf. It reminded me of the time when I was about seven and had a lot of pain in my ears.

My father rushed me to the hospital and insisted that the doctor check both my ears thoroughly. Perform every possible test. I remember him repeatedly saying to the doctor “Is he alright ? Is he OK ? I don’t want my son to become like me”. The doctor kept re-assuring him that there was nothing to worry about but my father was quite worried that evening.

Anyway, I could not help remembering this incident when I saw a somewhat similar scene in Koshish today.

I do not expect others to quite like this movie as much as I did. At the very end, there is a bit of a debatable twist but we need to keep in mind that this was 1972 and, whether one agrees with the end or not, it does not take anything away from what is otherwise, in my opinion, an excellent film, very well-made.

I am mentioning here just the link for the first part. If you are interested, you can continue to see the rest. I think it is worth watching.

Let me know what you think of the movie. I think it is Oscar material. Or at least nomination-worthy.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

When the thought of dying can lend purpose to living

I find the thought of dying a very motivating thought.

Don't get me wrong but I do feel that the thought of dying seems to give life much more meaning than it would otherwise have.

It is the phenomenon of darkness that accentuates the splendour of light. It is the sameness of black-and-white that throws into focus the beauty of the diversity and vividness of colour.

Similarly the undeniable endgame of dying brings with it a sense of purpose and even urgency to the process of living.

I am not discussing here subjects like “life after death”. That belongs in a realm that I am neither particularly knowledgeable about nor exactly interested in at the moment.

My thoughts about dying are more in the context of what it means to life.

Imagine this. You could live for a thousand years. And let us assume for the moment that you could be fairly healthy for a large part of this lifespan.

So how would you live your life ? Chances are that you would spend a large part of this rather casually. Without too much thought about what you are doing, what you should do, what you could do and so on.

Why ? Because you have so much life to look forward to that there is a tendency for the mind to slip into “sleep mode”.

Now imagine that you have just five years to live. You are still healthy, still capable of doing a lot with your life – but you have just five years.

Chances are that you will not sit on your bum, letting the inevitable passage of time just carry you to your end without your doing something with the time you do have available to you.

So it all comes down to the most elementary of principles. When something is available in plenty, it loses its value. The price of a product decreases if its supply increases.

And THAT is the reason I consider the thought of dying a very motivating thought. Motivating in the sense that it puts living, and its value, in perspective.

So what does this mean for living ?

It actually depends on one’s perspective.

If you don’t really care about what you actually do over your lifetime, then it does not necessarily mean much. Whether that lifetime is 30 or 50 or 70 or 90 years, it is just a number of minutes that you go through while you can. To use a cricket analogy, if you are playing a five-day Test match that looks like it is going to be a draw in the end anyway, you just play out the match till it is officially called off on the last day.

On the other hand, if you do care about what you would like to see as having achieved in your life when you are reaching the end of it, then you become rather conscious about what you do. You begin to measure yourself against the goals you would like to achieve.

So should you care or not ?

In the true spirit of not being judgemental, I will not attempt to moralise on “right” and “wrong”.

If you don’t care, fair enough. It does mean your life is probably a bit “easier” because you are not chasing a dream, you do not have expectations from goals that you still need to achieve. You just live each day as it comes, day after day. Sure, you have daily demands on you - but they are more sustenance-related, not lifetime-dream-related.

But the flip side of this is that, when you look back on your life towards the end of it, you may not find something that you feel particularly satisfied about. You lived your life – but did you actually DO anything with it ?

Am not suggesting anything. Remember, I am non-judgemental. “To each his own” I always say.

Even for those who care about a sense of having achieved something in their lives, it is a very varied landscape out there.

Most people do not have lofty ambitions of “changing the world” or “making a difference”. They are quite happy to scope their ambitions around their own personal well-being and that of their families.

Fair enough.

If your life’s ambition is to educate your children as well as possible in order to give them an opportunity to lead comfortable lives, then THAT is your ambition. If you look back at your life and feel you have achieved this, you have every right to feel contented.

Then there are those who do have ambitious ambitions. Of, perhaps, bringing about change in society.

Like Mahatma Gandhi. It may not have been a conscious ambition when he started out in his career, it may have been triggered by one incident in Pietermaritzburg, but it did result in him setting out on a path to bring about change in society.

So it is something that may just develop one fine day and may become a purpose that you wish to pursue in your life.

Whatever it is, remember, it is YOUR personal ambition for YOUR life. You are not leading somebody else’s life. And it is also something YOU set for yourself – that is, if at all you want to, in the first place.

People may – and probably will - judge you. All your life.

Society loves to judge individuals based on its own yardsticks of success and failure. Often these are based around manifestations of material well-being. The prize is “respect” and “status” in society for the “successful”.

Nothing wrong at all with that – if you are comfortable with this. After all, each one of us lives in this society. It is not always convenient or practical to be a non-conformist. It is much easier to “go with the flow”.

At the same time, if you are not comfortable, it does make sense to think about what YOU really want to do.

Remember, you can fool the entire world but you can never fool your inner self. If your sense of achievement or purpose comes from something that is very close to your heart – whether society respects it or not – and if you belong to the “I want to do something with my life” category - you would be well-advised to avoid regret later in life by just following your heart and giiving it your everything.
Remember, Mahatma Gandhi was not comfortable with society in his time. So he chose to define his own rules of the game. In his case, not just for himself but for millions of others who came under the influence of his thoughts.

Not all of us have these world-changing ambitions. Not all of us are in a position to even do this sort of thing. There are many practical constraints (some imposed by society) that dictate our behaviour on a day-to-day basis. And while it is wonderful to have lofty ambitions, it is probably good to keep them at a realistically achievable level.

But, coming to the point of my whole article, do we even know whether we have ambitions for our lifetime ?

And if so, what they are.

And whether we are making progress towards achieving them.

In the hustle-bustle of day-to-day life, it is very easy to just get caught up with all things mundane. After all, survival on a daily basis also often seems to be a challenge.

But I believe, whatever be the daily challenges we face, it is important – for the long-term - to take a distance from them and introspect for a while. On whether we want to have a purpose in our lives and if so, what it should be.

We owe it to ourselves. I refuse to believe that in our entire lifetime we cannot find the time for this bit of introspection. We will be hugely doing our own selves an injustice if we do not take the trouble to do this.

For, there is nothing more regrettable in a person's life than regret itself.

Ask a person who does not have many days to live. He will be able to explain this to you much better than I am able to do here.

Yes, indeed, I find the thought of dying a very motivating thought.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Life is a melody of love - "Ek pyaar ka nagmaa hai"

Today evening, while heading home on the motorway, back on my way from Amsterdam, I had an interesting experience.

Well, about as interesting as one can have alone in a car. :-)

It was not rush-hour – I had consciously ensured that I would not hit rush-hour traffic.

So here I am, listening to BBC4 on the radio and comfortably hitting 120+ km, as is quite normal for me at that time of evening.

And getting overtaken by cars doing way more than that . The speed limit is 120 but seriously, you can hardly be blamed for doing more than 120 on a five-lane highway if the traffic – and the absence of (or disregard for) radar / cameras - allows you to step on it.

So I pass the exit for Schiphol Airport – and screeeeech !!!

I am rudely awakened from my semi-attentive mode as I notice that the traffic all around me has come to a sudden halt.

In a few meters, the 5-lane drive is becoming a 4-lane one. The rightmost lane is being closed.

Obviously this results in some slowing down of traffic.

But there is “slowing down” , there is “bumper-to-bumper inching” - and there is a “grinding halt”. Regular long-distance drivers on highways (I must confess I am not one) recognize all these situations, the last one obviously being the most dreaded one.

I found myself in this last category – NOTHING moved in my lane.

For a brief period, I toyed with the idea of trying to move to another lane – but then decided to drop it. Yes, it looked like the other lane was moving a bit – but if my experience in queues (whether immigration or check-in queues at airports or any other type of queues) was anything to go by, any energy expended in this direction would only be futile.

So I stayed in my lane – and just waited for the traffic to move.

It took a while – actually much longer than I expected. Which sort of surprised me because we still had four active lanes. And this was non-peak. So what was the big deal ?

Well, the big deal – which I got to know only a bit later – was that further on, the 4-lane had become 3-lane.

And even further on, the now-3 lane had become 2-lane. So yet another lane had been shut off.

I still do not know why all these lanes had been progressively shut off. There was absolutely no sign of any accident or road repair work. But it did make sense to me that if you convert a 5-lane motorway to a 2-lane one (that too not very far from the airport), the chance that traffic will build up is not entirely unrealistic.

The only saving grace is that the weather was very good. Had it been snowing or icy, it would have been a mega-drama.

As it turned out, the traffic came to a standstill.

Not being very much used to these situations (like I said, I don’t spend very much time on a daily basis on the roads), I just had to sit and twiddle my thumbs. Well, not literally of course.

In this situation BBC4 was beginning to get to me. It was all very nice and there was this conversation going on which, for once, had nothing to do with the financial crisis (thank God for that !).

But I wanted something relaxing, something soothing. Something that, even if I had got stuck for another 30 minutes, I would still have been cool about.

I switched from radio to CD.

Now it has been a while since I have last listened to CDs in my car. The default has always been radio.

I did not even remember what CDs I had in the car.

So I switch from radio to CD – and then this song plays.

My mood completely changes.

I listen to it. And then go back to play it again. I listen to it. And then go back to play it again.

For somebody who does not have any “intentionally soothing” songs in his CD collection, I cannot think of a more random soothing song. At least amongst Hindi film songs – which is pretty much what I have in my car.

So here, ladies and gentlemen, I present you the song that played in my car today. It is a lovely, lovely song.

In fact, the song itself literally translates to “life is a melody of love”.

Ek pyaar ka nagma hai

I have tried to translate it below for those who do not understand the lyrics. It is such a beautiful song, this is the least I could do.

(My translation is not a literal translation – it is a contextual translation. I think some of the originality will be lost in translation anyway but if anything is incorrect (or somebody can come up with a better translation), please do let me know. I will be happy to be corrected).

First the transliteration :
Ek pyaar ka nagmaa hai
Maujon ki ravaani hai
Zindagi aur kuchh bhi nahin
Teri meri kahaani hai

Kuchh paakar khonaa hai
Kuchh khokar paanaa hai
Jeevan ka matlab to
Aanaa aur jaanaa hai

Do pal ke jeevan se
Ek umr churaani hai
Zindagi aur kuchh bhi nahin
Teri meri kahaani hai
Ek pyaar ka nagmaa hai

Tu dhaar hai nadiyaa ki
Main teraa kinaaraa hoon
Tu meraa sahaara hai
Main teraa sahaara hoon

Aankhon mein samundar hai
Aashaaon ka paani hai
Zindagi aur kuchh bhi nahin
Teri meri kahaani hai
Ek pyaar ka nagmaa hai

Toofaan ko aanaa hai
Aakar chale jaanaa hai
Baadal hai ye kuchh pal kaa
Chhaakar dhal jaana hai

Parchhaiyaan reh jaateen
Reh jaati nishaani hai
Zindagi aur kuchh bhi nahin
Teri meri kahaani hai
Ek pyaar ka nagma hai

Then my rather feeble attempt at translation into English :

Life is a melody of love
It is the flow of waves
Life is nothing more than your and my story

Life is about finding and then losing
It is about losing and then finding
It is about coming and going

From the few moments called life, we need to steal a lifetime

Life is nothing more than your and my story

Life is a melody of love

You are the current of the river
I am your (river)bank
You are my support
I am your support

There is an ocean in our eyes
Brimming with hope

Life is nothing more than your and my story

Life is a melody of love

The storm HAS to come
But after coming, it has to go too
These are but transient clouds
They have to fade away after hanging over us briefly
Only shadows remain
Only marks (signs) remain

Life is nothing more than your and my story

Life is a melody of love

That's it. Simple - yet profound.

The traffic clears after a while – but I have long since not bothered to keep track of time.

For I am lost in this most timeless of melodies. Admiring the music, admiring the simple yet absolutely meaningful lyrics. What is a few moments of waiting in traffic when you are confronted with such profound wisdom !

(Those who understand the sensitivity of the song in the context of the film will also appreciate its picturisation. This is no ordinary love-song.)

Anyway, I hope you listen to it and enjoy it as much as I did today.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Israel-Palestine war : Two weeks...and counting

In my previous post, I had talked about my not getting “involved” in the Palestine situation. For my own sake. And in the belief that my views do not make a difference anyway.

Now, over a week later, I find that this was not right on my part. For many reasons.

Firstly, I am unable not to get “involved”. By nature, I am very much interested in politics and current affairs. Have always been. Especially in stories that involve the human side of things. So I just cannot shut myself off from all that is happening in the world. And I do see the pictures of this war on TV, I see pictures of the wounded and the dead, the hospitals, the statements made by various leaders, reporters and members of the public. So how can I not get "involved" ?

Secondly, the war is still raging on. It is now two weeks since Israel first launched its offensive into Gaza – and, despite a UN resolution passed last week, there seems to be no let-up in the intensity of the fighting.

Lastly, and most importantly (and very honestly), I am somewhat ashamed at myself.

For even suggesting that I did not want to get “involved”.

Let’s get things in perspective.

I am sitting in the comfort of my home, with the heating switched on (it is way below minus) and blogging.

Those out there in Palestine have no heating, no lighting, no food, they have lost loved ones, have others injured but have no medical facilities to treat them, they do not know how their next hour or day will look, if at all they live to survive that day.

And these are the ones I do not want to discuss about because I want to be in a “positive frame of mind” ? What if everybody thought the same way ? These people, who already have close to nothing, would then really have nothing to hope for.

My writing may not make the slightest difference. I have no illusions about it. But I have decided that, whether anybody reads what I write or not, I will continue to write. I will continue to talk about the war and Israel-Palestine – from my personal perspective. This is MY blog, so I am entitled to express my opinion, whether others agree with me or not.

In the last week, we just saw the fighting go to a different level altogether. After the initial air-strikes, Israel decided to launch ground operations. These were always going to be higher-risk, at least from Israel’s point of view. But, if they wanted to weed out “militants” from civilian locations, air-strikes were not going to help, without causing considerable civilian damage. So it was a combined air-strike and ground operations offensive that we saw in the last week.

While Israel has claimed considerable success in attacking rocket-launching sites, weapon-storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, it has not come without considerable civilian cost. Although Israel claims to have made tremendous effort to minimize loss of civilian lives (including pre-announcements of attacks and requests to evacuate target areas), in a densely populated war zone as Palestine, it was always going to be unrealistic to expect civilians to escape unscathed.

One incident earlier in the week, where an attack on a school saw children casualties, saw the whole world horrified although Israel claimed that the facility was being used as a cover to protect “militants”.

Every format of news from aid agencies and humanitarian work groups in the Gaza has just one message – that it is a humanitarian crisis, that the numbers of dead and injured are mounting, that the number of civilians affected is increasing, that medical and food supplies are not enough and are not reaching in time, that doctors, working 24/7 are not able to cope with the number of cases flooding in, that aid agencies are being hampered in their aim to distribute food and medicine due to the fighting on the streets.

So, if anybody ever had to see the ugly face of war – and its consequences for the common man - he or she could not have a better illustration of all that war results in. It is not just the loss of lives – which is horrible in itself – it is also the numbing casualties in terms of injuries and destruction of infrastructure. It takes years to rebuild something that it takes seconds to destroy.

The UN Security Council, after considerable debate about the “wording” of its resolution, finally managed to come up with one on Thursday. Not that either side in the fighting cared. Israel, never one to allow anybody or anything to come in the way of its military objectives, just continued on its mission to go after Hamas. Which, inspite of the concerted Israeli offensive, continues to manage to launch rockets into Israeli territory, more as a show of defiance than anything else.

In the meantime, in fact before the UN finally managed to come up with a resolution, a joint proposal to end the fighting was formulated by Egypt and France. This proposal of an immediate ceasefire was accepted by Hamas but Israel, wary of a ceasefire that it fears would only allow Hamas to regroup, seems to show no interest in this proposal.

All in all, the war continues - and, while the world can keep screaming, Israel is on a mission here and does not appear to want to entertain any discussions that may derail its mission. And that mission would seem to be to, once and for all, disarm Hamas.

And herein lies one of the fallacies of this whole story and one that convinces me that this was just an election-winning ploy by the current party in power in Israel.

Let’s say, for one moment, that Israel succeeds.
That Hamas is disarmed.
Will this really solve the problem once and for all ?
Surely Israel itself does not believe this.
All it will get is that, temporarily, just temporarily, there may not be any attacks on Israeli soil – at least not through rockets fired from Palestine.
But then, for how long will Israel enjoy this “peace” ?
How long before Hamas, or another outfit, regroup and launch their revenge attack on Israel ? Even forgetting about the fact that Hamas was the popular choice of the people, surely it has even got more ground support now after these recent offensives by Israel ?
So, if Hamas or another outfit attacks Israel, what then ?
I expect Israel then to retaliate with full force – and for another war to be kicked off as a result.
With more casualties, more destruction.
And the saga will go on.
As it has been going on for as long as I can remember.

All this because none of the powers-that-be makes enough effort to address the root cause of the conflict.

For once, the holier-than-thou West should see things from a Palestinian perspective. The Palestinians live in their own country like second or third-class citizens. They have restrictions on their movement, they have scarcity of supplies, of jobs, of basic amenities like electricity and water. And, to add to all this, they also have to contend with their land taken away from them.

In the wake of this, they have elected a party which they believe will espouse their cause, will win them back some of their rights. That such a party adopts violence in its methods to make its case may make it a “terrorist” organization in many eyes but it is more a reflection of the hopelessness and helplessness felt by the Palestinian community than anything else.

Had the world listened and cared, had the world been fairer in allocation of resources and treatment of Palestine, I doubt if we would have seen all this fighting in all these years. Like I have said in an earlier post, the seeds of this conflict were sown decades ago. What we are seeing now is only the effect.

I know Israel believes that they will always be insecure, surrounded as they are by Arab neighbours and Islamic countries. That is one of their basic premises for having a strong military, for always being “ready to go to war”.

But if you don’t give peace a chance, you will never know whether it will work or not. And every such war as the one we are seeing now only further distances neighbours, it certainly does not bring them closer. And therefore gives peace even less of a chance. And, as a result, only increases mistrust and tension. Sort of a catch-22.

No, the solution is to address the structural issues of land and emphasise the equality of rights of all living in that region. Whether Jew or Muslim.

The UN, after sowing the initial seeds of discontent, has been hopeless so far in extinguishing the flames of hatred and violence. Like I said in an earlier post, the best solution is probably one from the region itself. These are the countries closest to the situation, they are the ones most affected. They will also be the most direct beneficiaries of any peace talks and attempts to improve understanding between the countries.

But for that, the parties involved should be open to discussion with each other. They should be interested in peace. They should be willing to compromise on some of their demands, in the interests of peace.

We are a long way from this. And, by the looks of it, not getting any closer with all that is happening.

Having said that, and despite not having much of history to give me any assurances to back my optimism, I am hopeful that the times are a-changing.

Relationships are changing. There is or will soon be new leadership at the helm of affairs in some countries. This will hopefully herald a new, more compassionate view on matters Middle-Eastern.

One can only hope. For there is nothing else for most in Palestine to live for.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

On Israel-Palestine again..and need for "pyar bant-te chalo"

It has only been a couple of days since my last entry on this blog about Israel-Palestine. But since then, a lot has happened.

Israel has dropped a one tonne bomb on a Hamas leader’s home, killing not only him but 20 persons in all, including three of his wives and 11 of his children.

No prizes for guessing the Hamas response. I quote :
"The Palestinian resistance will not forget and will not forgive," said Hamas lawmaker Mushir Masri. "The resistance's response will be very painful."

No prizes either for guessing the US response. President Bush called the Hamas attacks “acts of terror”. Both he and Condoleeza Rice have their position that it was Hamas that instigated the attacks by first launching rockets into Israeli territory.

Sorry, but no prizes either for guessing the UN response. I know I am not being very generous here but I need to see some sign of effort :-). For the UN response, I quote :

Maxwell Gaylard, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinians Territories, said some 2,000 people have been wounded in the past week and a "significant number" of the dead were women and children. "There is a critical emergency right now in the Gaza Strip," he said.

Oh, really ? A critical emergency ? Thank you for informing us. We did not know that.

President Bush’s weekly radio address – included the following excerpt "The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected," Bush said. "Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end."

Brilliant. And, I will be optimistic here. There is every chance that this will work – in the short-run. But what thereafter ?

For how long can this be sustained ? Till a peace deal is struck ?

And when will that happen, if at all it does ? You think with the events of the last week, it will happen anytime soon ?

Not unless the deal is obtained at diplomatic gunpoint (but this time US or Israeli gunpoint, so that’s Ok).

And don’t worry, the peace deal will definitely be respected. That part of the world is not yet used to toilet paper out of recyled material.

And oh, I forgot ! My congratulations to Israel for killing one Hamas leader. Don’t worry about the other 19 (including women and children) who died in the process. We will just put that down to collateral damage, shall we ? Those lives were not worth living anyway.

And btw, I would just like to inform Israel that another couple of hundred jihadis have just enlisted, in Syria, to join Hamas today. Sorry, it is not “GAME OVER” time yet. Not by a long way.

In case anybody thinks I am swaying towards Hamas, he or she would have me completely wrong.

I am not swaying towards either side. I am just disgusted with the déjà vu aspect of this entire saga. Because I know it is only a matter of time before it will erupt again.

Anyway, I have decided not to work myself up into a frenzy on this subject. So this will be my last piece on this.

In fact, in my agitated state of mind when I wrote the last piece, I even joined a Facebook group to support Palestine. Which I did entirely because I believe in it – in supporting the people who are living under oppression.

What I discovered in the group however was vitriol, in huge quantities and of the highest quality. It should not have surprised me. The anger in the streets of Gaza has naturally spilled over, very effectively, onto the discussion forums on the net.

As for me, I don’t need this. It is the start of a new year – and I would like to be in a positive frame of mind. So while the subject will still be close to my heart – and I will be following developments like I have been all these years – I will not get “involved” in it. I am not able to make a difference anyway so there is no point getting worked up about it.

At such times, I tend to take recourse in music or reading. I have found Everyday Gyaan, a blog on my blogroll, to be an excellent stop for an inspirational read and feed.

Or else, I play for myself some songs that transport me into a different frame of mind. The one below is one of my favourites – it is certainly my favourite song on unity and brotherhood of man.

I am sure there are similar songs in their own languages, otherwise somebody needs to translate this for the Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine.

Pyar baant-te chalo (Spread love)…

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Israel-Palestine...shame on the world !!!

Strange though it may seem, the saddest thing to me about the recent Israeli offensive in Palestine is not the bombing itself.

It is, yet again, proof to me that this world is shameless. And selfish to the core. I use strong language here but I cannot help it.

But at least the world is consistent.

Consistently indecisive – and entirely predictable. And I might add, consistently ineffective (assuming there is at least an iota of interest in resolving the conflict).

Oh, how much longer do I have to see this charade ?

I have been following this for over 30 years. From the time that I was just into my teens and beginning to understand a bit about world affairs.

Through the mid-late 70s, the Khmer Rouge (with Pol Pot as its leader) created front-page news. By the late 70s, the news began dying down.

As if on cue, the Iran-Iraq war, started in September 1980, took over the front pages. Then there was the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the first Iraq war as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

More recently, in events following 9/11, war and terror have almost always been a regular front-page feature in some part of the world or the other.

All this while, the war in Palestine has been going on. And, unlike other wars, since this was such a long-running war, it had its dedicated space on front-pages.

I remember, as a boy in India, I would actually be surprised if there was no mention of Gaza or West Bank on any given day’s news. Everytime there would be some escalation or some other big news (like the Sadat-Begin deal in Camp David in 1978), it would be headline news. Then, after a few days, the Israel-Arab conflict would again become side-column news.

At that time I was too young to understand the details, the background. All I knew was that Israel and the rest of the Middle East, primarily Arabs, were fighting a war. And that Israel was one of two countries that were explicitly “blacklisted’’ for Indians (the other was South Africa, due to apartheid). This gave me the impression then that India, without being involved as such, was sympathetic to the Arab cause.

As I grew older, I tried to understand more about the conflict. Maybe it was the daily dose of human suffering that I had been following for years in Indian newspapers – I just wanted to know more. So I began reading up on it. Read articles, news items, even watched TV programs on the subject. In those pre-Internet days, it was not all that easy to get information, especially if you wanted different points of view. These days of course there is so much information (some would say mis-information) out there, one can sift and analyse to one’s heart’s content.

But that is not the point here. The point I am trying to highlight is that this conflict has been going on and on. I still would not claim to know very much about it but it does seem to me to be at the root of many flashpoints of tension around the world in at least the last 30-40 years. (I am sure this was the case even before this but I can definitely speak for the last 30 years).

So what has the United Nations done ?

Effectively nothing.

Yes, there are some resolutions that have been passed. And which have had absolutely no effect.

The United States has made an effort. The closest I have seen a peace deal was when Clinton got Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak together at Camp David in 2000. It looked then that there might, just might, be a deal. Barak went far, farther than any other Israeli leader I can remember.

But the deal fell through on that thorniest of issues - Jerusalem. So, in a huge anti-climax, the discussions ended – and it was back to the familiar square one.

Since then, there has only been mistrust and further tensions. The players have changed but the animosity seems to remain just as strong as ever.

Arafat is dead, his Fatah Party has not been able to win elections in Palestine. Instead Hamas, much-dreaded by the Western world and hated by Israel is in charge in Palestine.

In Israel, Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party have toughened their stance in the light of elections coming up in February next year. But if they appear a bit hawkish now, this is nothing in comparison to the opposition Likud party, whose rightist leader Benjamin Netanyahu seems to me to be the last person to be willing to negotiate anything with any Arab party.

So the situation, purely from a bilateral negotiating standpoint, looks very grim. A ceasefire, even if it is agreed upon, is hardly likely to address anything structurally.

For any structural solution, the best option, in my opinion, is for the UN to step in.

I know it sounds laughable – given the UN’s track record in resolving any conflict around the world.

But while the UN may have credibility question-marks on its leadership ability, the United States, Europe and the Arab states have all got credibility question-marks on their integrity.

And that is a far more difficult bridge to cross.

Maybe, just maybe, with the new leadership in the US things change, but, at the moment, the US is still seen as too biased towards the Israelis to have much support from the Arab community. Besides, the US has enough problems of its own and may want to focus on them rather than engage in international conflict resolution at this point in time.

Europe has always had a wishy-washy standing in the Middle-East, though personally I believe Europe has probably a better integrity rating in the region than the US. But Europe has shown itself poor on taking a leadership role in past conflict resolution, conveniently leaving that role to the US and happy to play a support role.

The Arab states, closest to the heat, could bring both parties to the negotiating table – and if Israel is comfortable with this, this could actually be the best thing to happen for the conflict.

And, it would appear that Egypt, which often plays the lead role in mobilizing actions in the region on this matter, is beginning to establish some sort of rapport, however tenuous, with Israel.

But then, there is the other issue of the Arab world itself. It is too simplistic to talk of ONE Arab world, given the power struggles and constantly changing equations in the region.

Let’s look at this a bit.

Egypt, no doubt, has its influence - but Syria, the other neighbour in the conflict region, has its own issues with Israel. And though there are signs that the new Syrian leadership may even be willing to engage with Israel, there is the other big influence in the region, Iran, that cannot be under-estimated.

Iran sees itself as THE power in the region, especially after the Iraq war. It is very unlikely to allow any deal to be brokered in the region without its own stamp on it. And that stamp will ensure that Israel is left as much out in the cold as possible – which will be a non-starter for the deal itself. For a meaningful, and importantly sustainable deal, it has to have elements for both parties.

No, much as I would like the deal to be brokered from within - and this would be my first preference - I have doubts about this working out.

So I go back to the United Nations.

If, the UN, doing, for once in its 60+ years of existence, something that it was set up for in the first place, if it brings the parties together and works out a “bottoms-up” structural solution, it would appear to be a non-partisan solution and hopefully seen as fair by both parties.

But for this, the UN has to really go back to the basics and understand the root issues of the conflict. Which, in my opinion, are to do with land allocation, economic deprivation, human rights violations and oppression in general. Yes, religion too to some extent, but I believe that is used as a cover for these bigger day-to-day issues. When people are dying of hunger and have no water to drink, that is where the focus of the UN effort needs to be - in finding a political solution to the conflict.

After all, Arabs and Jews did live side-by-side for years (and still do). And there is every reason to believe that they can and will continue to do so.

But for this to happen, the world has to do more than just “condemn” violence.
Those perpetrating the violence – on both sides of the conflict - do not really care anymore about words – they are way beyond all that. They have real issues to deal with at ground-level. Since the world has chosen not to do anything for them, they have taken it upon themselves to fight their own battles.

No, the UN has to step in now and do something to address this once and for all.

After all it was the UN that threw the first stone, symbolically speaking, all of 61 years ago.

In November of 1947, a decision to separate the land of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state was taken through UN Resolution 181. Details can be found in
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_181 .

Reading through it again today, I found it interesting to note that the names of the countries that were involved in the voting process.

When countries like Bolivia, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic can have a say in influencing geographic boundaries and decisions of the Middle-East, one has to wonder about the quality of the decision.

To me there is no doubt that it was a decision forced upon the Arab community (the Arab league obviously voted against it) – and, to this day, we are seeing the fall-out of that decision. And the parties suffering are not Bolivia or Costa Rica or Dominican Republic. Or even Liberia, Haiti and Philippines, who, pressured by the US, voted for the decision.

No, it is the people of Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and, consequently, Israel itself.

So much for group decision-making and for a neutral, objective body. The extent of my disgust cannot be quantified.

Anyway that was November 1947.

Sixty-one years on, and we have only seen wars and casualties since (and counting). Not unexpected, when you have such a sham of a deal. Arabs have not rested since – and Israel has not been quiet either. Rather, the six-day war in 1967 was just Israel flexing its muscle and taking the conflict to a different level. Whether it was pre-emptive or a reaction to Arab offensives, the fact is that it was a slap on the face of the United Nations.

I am not taking sides here. I can see very much why the Arabs feel so aggrieved. At the same time I can see why Israel feels threatened. If anything, I am more disgusted with the way the seeds of this conflict were sown than anything else.

If the UN could make that magnificent “leadership” move then, how about another one now ? But this time, involving maybe the parties directly affected a little bit more ? Guatemala may not be the best country to ask for its opinion on this subject.

It is a different world now compared to 1947. The UN needs to recognize this – and be bold enough to engage the region directly in a dialogue and not by proxy. It needs to show that it cares and genuinely wants to help. If it means re-drawing some lines, then so be it. If it means excluding some big names from the dialogue, so be it. Those affected directly are the ones who need to be actively engaged.

I know it is not going to happen.

There are too many vested interests today. Even more so than in 1947. Today’s politics is played in a much more subtle style than in 1947.

So we cannot realistically expect the UN to do anything.

Other than of course "condemning violence".

And in the meantime, people will continue to die and live a dog’s life. Children (what have they done wrong to be born in that region ?) will be deprived of their childhood. Instead of learning about life and how to enjoy it, they will be learning about death and how to escape it every day.

And the world will continue to see these pictures on TV, express their outrage, debate on websites.

And I will continue to write on my blog.

Like I have written before in
http://rajaswaminathan.blogspot.com/2007/07/children-of-lesser-god.html and in my piece about war in general here http://rajaswaminathan.blogspot.com/2007/07/genesis-of-war_14.html .

Like I said, I do not claim to know much about the conflict. About who is right, who is wrong. Whether anybody is right or anybody is wrong. Sometimes these things are not about right or wrong, they are about compromise and making things work for all.

What I do know is that, by the UN doing nothing meaningful in the thirty years that I have been following this conflict, something is very wrong.

And oh yes, Happy New Year to all readers. Hope at least your lives are safe and peaceful.