Monday, June 23, 2008

Teardrops & War

This was the first time I saw two Japanese movies during the weekend. One was animation called “Omohide Poroporo” ("Memories of Falling Teardrops") and the other, “Iwo-Jima Kara No Tegami” (Letters from Iwo Jima) – both were superb in completely different ways.

When you think of animation, the first thought tat crosses your mind is Walt Disney. It brings forth memories of children’s films, and of the great productions from Pixar – Finding Nemo, Shrek, Monster’s Inc. Animation and cartoons are so strongly associated with children’s entertainment that it is difficult to imagine it any other way – until you see some Japanese classics. Omohide Poroporo is one of them.

Memories of Falling Teardrops is the story of a young woman in the 1960’s travels back to her village accompanied by memories of her childhood.. The world of a ten-year-old in school – lunchboxes with yuk onions, craving things that belong to elder siblings, being punished for throwing tantrums, being teased for childhood crushes – coming of age, periods, napkins and snitches. I loved the Hungarian folk music that Toshio plays for Taeko. Wonder where I could get a copy of that score…

Letters from Iwo Jima, on the other hand, is far away from the world of pastel colors, innocent giggles,and teardrops of nostalgia. It is a gut wrenching story of 21,000 soldiers holed on a tiny (21, barren, volcanic island, defending it against an invasion of 110,000 US troops at the fag end of WW2. Over 20,000 Japanese were killed and only 216 taken prisoner. Ken Watanabe brilliantly portrays the role of General Tadamichi Kuribiyashi.

The dogged defense of this island came at a terrible cost. It convinced the Americans that it was better to drop the N-bombs than risk the cost of invading the main islands of Japan – a move that resulted in an unconditional surrender after two cities were wiped out leaving over 220,000 civilians dead.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sabotaging the Right to Education

Anil Sadgopal came up with an interesting piece in Tehelka (14 June 2008) titled "C For Commerce". It clearly showed how a high-minded initiative by the Judiciary is being methodically sabotaged by the Executive.

The key events -

  • 1993 - Supreme Court's historic Unnikrishnan judgment gave all children up to 14 years of age a Fundamental Right to Education. The judgment linked Fundamental Right to Life (Article 21) of the Constitution with the Directive in Article 45 to provide Free and Compulsory Education to children 0-14.
  • 2002 - After dilly-dallying and procrastinating for ten years the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act is introduced. This introduced a new Article (21A) which said that "compulsory education shall be provided in such manner as the State may, by law, determine".
Having taken the steam out of the SC judgment, the current Draft Right to Education (RTE) Bill, 2008, is destines to become another toothless Act.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nagas of Sanchi

Dr. Yoichi Yamagata has now published a new collection of his illustrations (Sketches from India, Vol.3). This time the focus is on "The Nagas of Sanchi".

I have been to Sanchi a few times but my visits had always been touristy in a shallow sort of way. I loved the sense of mystery, timelessness and serenity that surrounds the ancient Stupas and empty monastries; I remember watching trains snaking silently through the plains while resting under a tree, wondering about the rich ivory merchants from Vidisha who had 'sponsored' the intricately carved gateways, and about the thousands of monks who walked to nearby towns to beg for food.

It is only when you talk to people like Dr. Yamagata that you catch a glimpse of the big picture. For the past three years he has been spending many weekends exploring the area around the Great Stupa's. Until he told me about it, I did not know that river Betwa flowed just a mile away, or that this river was once an important tributary of the Ganga-Jamuna system, and a route for those who wanted to cut across peninsular India.

Apparently, the whole region was once dominated by the Naga's who are often depicted in a half-human, half-serpent form. Nagouri hill has life-size statue which is worshiped these days as "Nag-Baba" and down the river, you still have places like Tarachand Baba Rock whose original significance has been lost in the mists of time.

Wonder how many Indian historians have investigated the socio-economic significance of Sanchi at the turn of the previous millennium (200 BC-100AD)...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Street Children

At the Habitat Centre this week, I was drawn to some amazing photographs. In the main courtyard the face of a Nepali boy squinted from foyer, at the entrance to Eatopia, the face of little girl with large, soulful eyes gazed at plump kids as they trooped into for their chocolate donuts and video-games.

When was the last time that I was touched by random pictures? I don't remember...

This was an exhibition organized by Salaam Balak Trust, Youthreach and Tarun Chhabra, an executive-turned-photographer who works with street-kids. It was a clever idea to have the displays in the lift-lobby's and foyers rather than one of those self-contained exhibition spaces at IHC. The regular halls are not very different from the cars from which we nonchalantly watch the world of street children.

In an exhibition hall you observe the paintings or sculptures, wonder what the artist was trying to convey with his abstract forms, and the moment you walk out of the hall the images are fade away in some recess of your mind.

Sitting in a car we watch the kids hawking magazines; holding out toys, balloons or flowers; somersaulting or squeezing through hoops to catch your attention, and pretend that these are abstract forms of a greater artist. We feel a vague sense of guilt and a half-hearted indignation at the usual scapegoats (lazy bureaucrats! corrupt politicians!) for not doing something about them.

There is no escaping the photos in the lift lobbies. You can turn your face way from pictures of the policeman thrashing a child who sits cowering on a railway platform; you could ignore the little girl injecting drugs to kill hunger, but they have a way of creeping into your mind, gnawing at delusions and mocking our pretense.

A poem on the above photo by Snehadasan (or is it from the namesake?)-
I was hungry
and you set up commissions

I was without work
and you said God helps those...

I was homeless
and you strutted around in care

I was naked and cold
and you discussed my modesty

I was thirsty
and you downed a couple of beers

I was without love
and you stroked your dog

I was without a sense of direction
and you looked away

I was poor and you said
the poor are always with us

I without care and attention
and you had high priorities...

Will anybody give us a hearing?