Monday, December 30, 2013

Down the musical memories lane

This post has been stimulated by the book “How music works” by David Byrne of the Talking Heads music group. It is about my musical memories as well as, presentation of some of my music related images.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013
David Byrne’s book has been a revelation – bringing an understanding about an area about which I had never thought before. Most persons like or even love music. Yet, we have no idea about how music is made and appreciated today. In the book, Byrne writes:
Just as theater is an actor and a writer’s medium, and cinema is a director’s medium, recorded music often came to be a producer’s medium, in which they could sometimes out-auteur the artists they were recording.”
This surprised me very much - would you have thought that recorded music is a producer's medium and not the medium of the artist singing or playing that music?

When films had changed from the silent era to the talkies, there was a big change and suddenly actors who had dominated the silent movie era, were left without work. Similarly, each technical change related to the music recording and distribution – from radios to gramophones to tape recorders to CD players to MP3 players, affected and changed the way the music was played, recorded and understood, Byrne explains in his book. Where you played the music, from a jukebox in a noisy bar or in a concert hall, also influenced it. For example, why does an average song’s duration is around three and a half minutes all over the world and across different languages and cultures? Read Byrne’s book if you like music, it gives you an insight into things about music that today we take for granted.

My musical memories

My first memories of music are linked to the Bush transistor my parents had bought in 1963. It was the time when Laxmikant Pyarelal had come out with Parasmani and were dominating all music charts. It was the time of Amin Sayani presenting the Binaca geetmala on radio Ceylon. Listening to radio Ceylon was not easy, finding the station on SW2 was tough, but there was no choice because at that time there were no sponsored programmes on Vividh Bharati. Guide had come out in 1965 and I remember the first time I had heard Kishore Kumar singing “Gaata rahe mera dil”.

Amin Sayani also did 15 minutes long film-trailor programmes that presented the main story, actors, some dialogues and songs from new films. I remember listening to one such programme about “Phool aur patthar” and Meena Kumari’s voice from that film.

Around 1966-67 I had first seen the gramophone with the handle on the side, that you had to crank up to listen to the LPs. One day I will also have a gramophone, I had promised myself.

Late 1960s had introduced me to the English pop music at my cousin’s home, when I had listened to "Delialah" by Tom Jones and the "Sunshine girl" by the Herman's Hermits.

Around that time I had discovered Forces’ Request on Delhi B on Friday evenings and thus found out Cliff Richards and Jim Reeves. Songs like “Outsider”, “The lemon tree” and “To sir with love”, had become my favourites.

During the 1970s, I had discovered the Hindustani classical music. My uncle had introduced me to “Nirguna bhajans” by Kumar Gandharav. Going to night concerts on Rafi Marg, and listening to giants like Vilayat Khan had suddenly made me appreciate Indian Ragas.

During 1970s, I still remember the first time I had heard Prabha Atre sing “Tan man dhan tope varun” and Mehdi Hassan sing “Awaraghi”. And I remember my first concert of Kishori Amonkar.

In the 1970s, my aunt had shifted to the staff quarters of Janaki Devi college in Rajendra Nagar and that had given opportunities to listen to maestros like Bhimsen Joshi and Pandit Jasraj.

I had come to the European symphonic music and the opera music only after I had come to Italy in 1980. Dvorak’s “In the new world” was the first symphony that I had liked and slowly it had opened the doors to appreciation of other composers, from Verdi to Beethoven. On the other hand, though I loved watching the operas like Aida and Madam Butterfly, I could not appreciate listening to them for a very long time. It is relatively recently that I have started enjoying listening to operas.

Over the last three decades, my work took me to different countries of the world and I started appreciating music from other languages, like Arabic music from Egypt and traditional polyphonic singing from Mongolia.

A visual music tour

Once I started searching for images related to music in my archives, I found that I have hundreds of them. Selecting a few for presenting here was not easy and I had to discard many images that I liked very much. Any way here is my selection.

Let me start with images of music from India - India has such a rich tradition of folk-music, Hindustani and Carnatak music and of course the film music. I like all the different kinds of Indian music.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Today where ever in the world you may live, you can usually listen to music from your country through the internet. However in the 1980s and most of 1990s, it was not so - finding Indian music in Italy was not easy. However, Hare Krishna groups had Indian bhajans and I remember buying a Hari Om Saran music cassette from them once. The image below of the Hare Krishna persons singing and dancing is from Prague.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Prague is also where I saw the wonderful sculptures of blindfolded musicians and dancers by Anna Chromy.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The next image is from London underground, that has a rich tradition of buskers playing music at tube stations and in the metro train. Acoustics of some of the tube stations is marvellous and some of the music I have heard in the tube station sounded absolutely amazing. Like I remember once listening to a busker playing Ravel's "Bolero" on a saxophone at the Piccadilly station, it was the most beautiful rendering of this music that I had ever heard.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

London also has the long-standing musical show on Queen's Eddie Mercury - do you remember him singing "I want to break free"? Listening to him, made my blood pulse.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The next two images are from Vienna (Austria) - folk musicians from Slovenia and the statue of Mozart.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The next two images are from Brazil, from a school that teaches Amerindian and Afro music traditions to children to create awareness and respect for these two cultures that are often looked down in contemporary Brazil.

In different parts of the world the dominating cultures mean that the traditions of the indigenous people are seen as "inferior" - music can help us in changing perceptions and helping people to appreciate the value of other cultures. When I had visited the school in Brazil, I had asked myself if in India, the songs and music of Dalits and tribal groups have specific cultural characteristics in different states of India and are similarly ignored? Perhaps someone who knows more about this, can answer my question?

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The next two images are from Mongolia. Mongolian traditional singing uses polyphonic sounds to create a special kind of music. I love these ancient melodies, usually sung by men, that seem to come from somewhere deep inside them. The second image has chanting of Buddhist prayers by the monks, an ancient tradition of sacred music that has the power to touch me deeply.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

During my journeys in China, I had the opportunity to listen to both traditional music as well as the pop Chinese music. While ancient Chinese traditions received a blow during the cultural revolution and were ruthlessly crushed, in the last twenty years, many of those traditions have re-emerged. The next image presents a guy singing a modern song.


Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The next two images are from the annual buskers' festival held in Ferrara (Italy) in August. I love the street artists and thus I like visiting Ferrara to listening to them from different parts of the world.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The last images of this post are all from Bologna, the Italian city where I live. Bologna is culturally very active city and every visit to the city centre presents some new opportunity for listening to live music.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The next image is from the music museum of Bologna, one of the most interesting museums that I have seen, presenting notations, music books and instruments from different parts of the world.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

The last image of this post is of Dr Ashwini Bhide, a Hindustani classical singer from India, during her performance in Bologna. I like her singing very much and one of her bhajans, "Ganapati vighnaharan" is my favourite. During her concert in Bologna, she had sung that bhajan for me and it remains one of my most cherished musical memories.

Music memories photoessay - images by Sunil Deepak, 2013

I hope that this post has stimulated your musical memories! Wish you all an enjoyful walk down your musical memories lane.

***

Saturday, December 28, 2013

God loves Uganda! Unfortunately.

The documentary film “God loves Uganda” by director Roger Ross Williams is about American christian groups who feel that they have a special mission for Uganda and about the impact of their work on different aspects of human rights in the African country. The film provides a glimpse into one of the forces that has shaped large parts of humanity in the last five hundred years – the force of cultural colonization.

Stills from the documentary film God Loves Uganda

“God loves Uganda” is part of the international documentary film festival called Mondovisioni, that will be held at Kinodromo cinema in Bologna (Italy) in January-April 2014.

Introduction

About five hundred years ago, the colonization era saw Europeans spreading out towards American, African and Asian lands. Exploiting the natural resources of the conquered lands was the most important goal of this colonization. It also resulted in actions that shaped millions of lives, including the decimation of indigenous populations and the slave trade. The conquering armies were accompanied by missionaries, who were supposed to take the word of “the only true God” to the heathen "to civilise them".

Thus colonization took cultural ideas from the old world and established their hegemony in the conquered lands. After the end of the second world war, as the colonies became free countries, they usually carried the legacies of the colonial rules in their national constitutions and laws. It has been difficult to shake off those colonial legacies. For example, even today, the laws made by the British in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, continue to be the laws of independent India, including the infamous art. 377 of the Indian penal code that classifies homosexual relationships as a criminal offence.

The ideas of “the only true religion”, “the only true God”, “the only true prophet” and “the only true God’s book” are common to many religions but have been especially true for certain Christian and Muslim groups. Therefore, saving the souls of those who do not know about or believe in "the true God", has motivated many persons to dedicate their lives in spreading the word of God among the “non-believers”, including to persons of their own religions but who had slightly different beliefs.

“God loves Uganda” is about an evangelical American group who believe that all the answers of life are in the Bible. They have identified Uganda as the "God's land". About 84% of the population of Uganda is Christian, while another 12% is Muslim.

Film

Groups of American young men and women are influenced by charismatic church leaders like Lou Engle and Rev. Jo Anna Watson, to spend parts of their lives in spreading the words of love, brotherhood, peace and the true teachings of Bible to Uganda. “One million missionaries, one billion converts and one trillion dollars of funds” is the dream goal of one of the groups’ leaders from a church based on an ecstatic trance kind of religious ceremonies.

The American evangelicals have opened their centres in Uganda where they recruit and train young Ugandans to spread their ideas among others. The Ugandan acolytes are accompanied by the young missionaries from America. They are relentless and aggressive, standing on street sides and shouting to people about the dangers of sinning and the urgency of coming to the path of the true religion.

Stills from the documentary film God Loves Uganda

Persons like Rev. Kapya Kaoma and bishop Christopher Senyonjo, from Anglican church and traditional Ugandan church explain how the conservative ideas promoted by the American groups have taken hold among the general population, politicians and leaders of Uganda. These ideas touch on subjects like abstinence, adultery, use of condoms, abortions and homosexuality.

The film focuses especially on the conservative evangelical ideas about homosexuality and how those ideas have influenced the parliament debate in Uganda and resulted in the approval of a new national law that foresees a death penalty for homosexuals. At the same time, it has stoked growing intolerance in the public opinion towards gay, lesbian and transgender persons.

A sequence of the film shows a public meeting where evangelical pastor Martin Ssempa, through graphic images explains that homosexuality is all about licking assholes and eating shit, and thus needs to be punished by death. “The world, the U.N., all the countries have been taken over homosexuals. They will come and make your sons and daughters become perverts and homosexuals. Only we can stop them, it is our duty to stop them”, he thunders in the meeting.

Another episode of the film shows the funeral of a GLBT rights activist, during which the pastor criticises and asks the friends and companions of the activist, to give up being gay and lesbian, followed by attacks of goons on the persons who do not agree with his sermon.

Stills from the documentary film God Loves Uganda

Comments

The film is a frightening look at how good intentions, firm beliefs in God, peace and love, can become instruments of madness, murder and intolerance. That persons promoting and condoning these things are no scary zombies but rather next-door kind of clean-cut American and Ugandan young men and women, makes it even more frightening.

The American evangelical missionaries have actively collaborated with making of this film – they are very open in sharing their ideas and their activities. They are convinced that what they are doing is good and are willing to share everything about it. Their certainties in their religious beliefs makes any kind of dialogue and questioning difficult if not impossible. The strategy of American evangelical conservatives is to start by working with orphanages, schools and education system - by influencing and converting young people to their way of thinking.

Stills from the documentary film God Loves Uganda

The world knows much more about the impact of Wahabi ideas on the promotion of a fundamentalist and traditional view of Islam in different parts of the world. Similar knowledge about impact of conservative evangelical groups is much less, though their role in promoting American wars around the world and the American government's resistance to use of condoms and family planning measures (especially under the Bush administration) have been talked about. "God loves Uganda" shows that they are not very different from their Wahabi brothers.

I had read about the strong views against homosexuality in countries like Uganda and Malawi, but I had imagined that these were due to “traditional African beliefs”! “God loves Uganda” shows that there is nothing "traditional African" about them - ideas of conservative evangelicals from USA have played an active role in arriving at this kind of public opinion and the intolerant laws.

Conclusions

God loves Uganda” is a close look at how the desire of "helping others", promoted by persons with strong beliefs and lot of money, can influence and change a society's beliefs, and reinforce certain kind of ideas.

Wahabi islamists and evangelicals like IHOP (International house of prayer, Kansas, USA) are not the only ones who want to mould the world to their ideas. Other hardliners including conservative groups among Jews, Buddhist, Hindus and Sikhs, have been inspired by them and have similar ambitions, though usually their activities are focused in their own countries.

How these conservative religious views and processes are shaping our world and what kind of world will be there tomorrow? What role is played by the new technologies in the globalized world in spreading of such views? In the war between the ideas embodied in the United Nations’ declaration of human rights and the ideas of conservative religious groups, which ideas will dominate humanity in the coming decades? The film left me troubled, pondering on such questions.

***

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blood on fire in a cynical world

Dylan Mohan Gray's film "Fire in the blood" moves you and makes you despair for the future of world. It tells the story of more than 10 million people who died due to the uncontrolled greed of Big Pharma. It forces you to think of those other countless millions, who continue to die around the world because of the way the Big Pharma operates. Yet, "Fire in the blood" is a film filled with hope - it inspires you to stand up for your rights and fight for a better world.

Still of Fire in the blood by Dylan Mohan Gray

"Fire in the blood" will be part of the Mondovisioni, the international documentary film festival, that will be held at Kinodromo, Via Pietralata of Bologna between January and April 2014. You can check the reviews of other films in programme at Mondovisioni festival by clicking here.

Introduction

"Fire in the blood" is the story of persons with AIDS and their fight for medicines. This story illustrates how Big Pharma (ab)used international laws and manipulated governments in ruthless endeavour to increase their profits. This is the same way that big tobacco companies, armaments industry, big oil companies, international mining and petroleum companies, big food and seeds companies, etc. work. Ownership of most of these companies are interlinked.

Any discussions or questions about the modus operandi of these big multi-national corporations are immediately attacked as "communists", "anti-capitalists", "anarchists" and "radicals". Persons who raise these issues are called "against development" and "they want to maintain poverty". In reality the corporations of the Big Pharma are "monopolies disguised as free-market campaigners", they refuse any kind of middle ground and are as extreme as any communist regime they criticise.

Vandana Shiva in a recent article in Guardian had written about this convoluted idea of "development" characterized by the Big Pharma and other corporations as: "A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine. ..Water available as a commons shared freely and protected by all provides for all. However, it does not create growth. But when Coca-Cola sets up a plant, mines the water and fills plastic bottles with it, the economy grows. But this growth is based on creating poverty – both for nature and local communities."

"Big Pharma" towards which "Fire in the blood" points an accusing finger, include companies that sell brand name "blockbuster" medicines such as Pfizer, Roche, Glaxo Smith Kline, Novartis, Merck and Bayer. "The top ten big pharma companies in "Fortune 500" list earn more than the remaining 490 companies combined together, but their greed for money is endless", says Fire in the Blood, "only 5 cents per dollar of what they earn goes back to the research of new medicines."

The film

When the AIDS epidemic broke out in the 1980s, soon Africa became the continent where it affected the most persons. In the initial years, when there were no medicines to control AIDS, millions of persons died all over the world. The first successful treatment of AIDS came out in 1996 but it was very costly - around 15,000 dollars/person/per year - a cost that was not accessible to millions of AIDS patients in the developing world. The new AIDS treatment made of a mixture of drugs, dramatically changed the lives of people in the developed countries, giving them back near normal lives, but only a tiny minority of persons in the developing world had the resources to get these medicines.

Still of Fire in the blood by Dylan Mohan Gray

Countries like Thailand and Brazil started producing these medicines but these could not be imported to Africa because of patent laws and pressure of countries like USA and European Union. In 2000, Dr Hamied, CEO of an Indian drug company called CIPLA, told a high level meeting of U.N., governments and big Pharma that he can supply those medicines for 350 USD/person/year but his offer was ignored. Activists launched a campaign, but the decision of South African government to import these medicines was blocked with a lawsuit by the big Pharma.

CIPLA made another proposal of reducing costs, offering treatment for 200 USD/person/year. Initially generic medicines from India were attacked as "counterfeit, illegal and low quality". Though Africa provided less than 1% of the income of the big Pharma, it opposed the import of low cost medicines in Africa fearing that such practices will undermine their long term incomes from rapidly developing countries like China and India, and that they might put pressure on companies in US and Europe to reduce the costs in domestic markets.

In 2003 big Pharma and countries like USA and EU bowed to the mounting international pressure and negative public opinion, and stopped their opposition to import of life-saving AIDS drugs in Africa. In the mean time, between 1996 and 2003, when people could have been treated, more than 10 million persons had died needlessly in the developing world.

Still of Fire in the blood by Dylan Mohan Gray

To avoid similar challenges to its control in future, since 2003 Big Pharma has launched other measures with the support of World Trade Organization and governments of USA and EU  - an international trade agreement called TRIPS, and other bilateral trade agreements. India's patent laws have also been changed so that it can not challenge the Big Pharma.

Comments

I remember participating in different initiatives around the end of 1990s and the beginning of 2000s to talk about the situation of HIV positive persons especially in Africa and their lack of access to the anti-AIDS treatment. I also remember the joy when the Big Pharma had been forced to withdraw its court fight against the import of generic anti-AIDS drugs in South Africa. Still Dylan's film has managed to surprise me by providing new insights in the complex issue of access to medicines and human rights.

Access to medicines has different aspects and point of views. "Fire in the blood" manages to present them in an easy to understand manner by focusing on the stories of the people. It uses a lot of historical footage. It has many well known personalities like former US president Bill Clinton, archbishop Desmond Tutu and the south African icon Nelson Mandela, talking about the issue of medicines. It also presents interviews with different persons who had played a key role in the fight against the Big Pharma like Jackie Achmat and Jamie Love. Photography, music and editing of the film are wonderful.

At the end of the film, it is easy to feel disgusted by the behaviour of the Big Pharma and the support they still manage to get from US and EU Governments. The film makes the point that in spite of all their talks about human rights and high principles, Big Pharma with support from willing governments was responsible for millions of deaths due to lack of access to affordable medicines.

It is also discouraging to understand that though that particular fight was won by ordinary persons, similar fights about other issues such as medicines and life-saving technologies, tobacco, food, seeds and nature are still going on with little attention from the rest of the world.

The ownership of corporations controlling Big Pharma has links with big media companies - they have big institutions, famous names of experts and academics, they use and manipulate concepts like free choice, liberty of expression and free markets through popular and specialized media. They create philanthropy foundations, run beautiful advertisements of the good work they are doing, they "donate" free medicines for the "diseases of the poor" - all the while consolidating their control on lives and deaths of people!

Personally I am not a pessimistic person. I believe that change will come. None of the worst tyrannies of the world has lasted for ever. History shows that when the despots and dictators feel strong, the seeds of their destruction are growing in their bellies. So the reign of the corporations will also end. The question is, while we wait for the change, who is going to pay the price of their reign with their lives?

Do not miss on "Fire in the blood", it is worth watching!

***


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Powerless - The Ironman and the Goddess

" Powerless" is an engaging documentary film around the theme of electricity in India. It explores the lives of the urban poor and the impact of electricity shortage. It also looks at how the system makes it so difficult, if not impossible, to bring any kind of reform. It tells the stories of two persons - Ritu Maheshwari, an officer who wishes to bring reform; and Loha Singh, an electricity thief, who looks at himself as a kind of Robinhood. "Powerless" is a powerful film, forcing you to reflect on your ideas of right and wrong.


A still from documentry film Powerless


Ironman and the Goddess

When I saw "Powerless", I was immediately struck by the names of its two key figures - Loha Singh and Ritu Maheshwari. Loha Singh, literally means "Iron Lion" and Maheshwari, the wife of Shiva, is the goddess Shakti in Hinduism. With an anti-hero playing with fire and the lady official, using her power in the hierarchy to bring a change, can be seen as the story of the Ironman and the Goddess.

In the initial part of the film, the two start on the opposite sides - Maheshwari wants to reduce the financial losses caused by the electricity theft and Loha Singh wants to ensure that small entrepreneurs and their workshops can continue to run, even if that means that he steals electricity. As the film proceeds, you realize that both have their hands tied and that both will be used and then abandoned by the system.

Maheshwari is an IAS officer, part of the Indian National Administrative service. To become an IAS officer, you need to go through a tough entrance exam and a selection process. Every year, hundreds of thousands of young graduates from the small towns of India try this entrance test and only a small minority manages to get in. Some of them, like Maheshwari, come with idealism and dreams of reforming the system.

Loha Singh is a barely literate nobody, who has come through a life of informal, low paying exploitative jobs since his early childhood. Circumstances have made him a "katiyabaaz", someone who splices the electric wires. His life is still one of poverty and a daily game of roulette that can end with his death.

Kanpur, the city where Maheshwari and Loha Singh come across each other, with 3 million population is an industrial town on the banks of the river Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in north India.

Story

Kanpur faces chronic electricity (power) shortage, with long power-cuts that last up to 10-15 hours every day. The electrical infrastructure of the city is grossly outdated with loss of electricity and frequent burnouts. Personnel of the electric supply company ask for bribes from the consumers - bribes are needed for everything, including for manipulating electric bills and supply.

Loha Singh knows how to connect you to the electric lines passing on the streets and if needed, he can steal electricity from your neighbours. He has grown up in the city, starting as a child worker. His clients call him Robinhood - it costs less to pay him than to bribe the personnel of electric company and he responds faster to their needs.

Ritu Maheshwari, an idealistic IAS officer is the new CEO of the electric company, she has just arrived in Kanpur. She wants to reform by mobilizing the personnel, answering the needs of clients, and stopping the electrical losses through theft. Persons with long experience in the company and set in their ways (mostly men), tolerate her with smirks and barely masked contempt, but Maheshwari is persistent, and she refuses to back down.

Many persons in the city and the personnel both are unhappy with Maheshwari's reforms. She is disturbing the status quo without any improvement in electric supply. The summer has arrived and the electricity need is increased. People who have the means, use their own generators increasing the pollution.

Loha Singh does not care about Maheshwari. He knows that officials can come and go, but the city is not going to change.

Election time arrives. Irfan Solanki, a local politician, intervenes, asking Maheshwari to back off. However Maheshwari does not understand the rules of political patronage, and refuses to bend. Solanki thunders about the "arrogant woman who wants to command" in his election campaign and gains public support to win the election. Maheshwari is transferred to another city and the life goes back to the old ways.

A still from documentry film Powerless

Comments

Usually such films are made when such stories are already over and have created some news for some reason. The film-makers collect testimonies, share documents and stage some of the key events for making their documentaries. Some times, on some drammatic real-life events, commercial films can also be made. In "Powerless" it is remarkable that the real-life drammaticity of the whole arc of events has been captured with actual protagonists without staging or fictionalizing anything.

The film has three main characters - the city of Kanpur, Loha Singh and Ritu Maheshwari. It gives us an intimate glimpse into some of the complex issues facing the individuals who need to negotiate their lives in the context of local social, cultural and economic systems. "Powerless" does not explain the complexity, you can glimpse the complexity through the lives of Loha Singh and Maheshwari.

The city of Kanpur in the film is a part of the old city. It is not presented in the kitsch magic realism of Bollywood - rather it is a dystopic post-modern scenario where the city is like a dark urban jungle of decaying houses, dirty spaces of garbage and open drains, with hundreds of electric wires criss-crossing the screen like spiderwebs. The usual joie de vivre between the people in India that usually dominates its congested life spaces, is hardly visible in this film. Rather the spaces are dominated by moments of anger, angst and despair. Large parts of the film have been shot at night, sometimes during power blackouts, that deepens the dark mood of the film.

The continuing feudal mentality of the people, after 60 years of independence of India, comes out when the middle aged man pleading his case and asking for leniency, sits down on his knees and calls the officials "Mai baap" (mother and father). It comes out when the local politician Solanki, shouts at Maheshwari in her office, "Lower that finger, don't you dare, I am the representative of the people."

Loha Singh has the biting carelessness and wistfulness of a man living on the edge. He knows the system and understands that idealistic officers trying to achieve legality are without any hope of success and that his life will continue. He is also aware of his own fragility when he acknowledges that he does not know any other work and has no other options for survival. His hands carry the scars of his daily duels with the naked live electrical wires. He also knows that sooner or later his luck is going to run out and he is going to end with an accident that will kill or disable him.

Ritu Maheshwari has the look of a small town woman. She has a house with a garden and a marble floor. Compared to the dark world of Loha Singh, her life is luxurious (though in comparison with the booming entrepreneur and professional classes of the upworldly mobile India, it would be considered very modest - in fact, few persons from well-off families in India, dream of being part of IAS). She has already been transferred many times but has not yet lost her idealism. In the patriarchal society, women like Maheshwari can be venerated like goddesses at some levels, especially in the media, but at more personal levels and especially with their male colleagues, they are often bitched about as being arrogant or dominating. At the end of the film, she knows that she has lost her fight. Unless she can forget her idealism and learn some of the rules of the game, a life of transfers from one place to another awaits her.

Editing and music are used very well in the film, adding to its quasi-commercial film drammaticity. In fact watching "Powerless" reminded me of a recent commercial film, "Shanghai" (by Dipankar Banerjee, 2012), that had some common elements with it - it was also based in an UP town and had an upright IAS officer. "Shanghai" was about the murder of an idealistic politician who is unwanted because he questions the dominant notions of development and globalization. In that film, the IAS officer manages to extract his revenge from the subservient bureaucracy and the corrupt politicians. Compared to most of the commercial films coming out of Bollywood, "Shanghai" was not bad.

However I prefer "Powerless" because it made me reflect on how each of us, and our interests, influence the system and how that makes it so difficult to change that system! The film's title "Powerless" is about lack of electrical power, but it is also about lack of power in the persons to change the system.

Credits

Directed by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar
Assistant director: Jamal Mustafa
Production assistant: Ahsan Iqbal
Associate producer: Leopold Koegler
Cinematographer/editor: Maria Trieb
Editor: Namrata Rao
Music composers: Amit Kilam, Rahul  Ram and Nora Kroll Rosenbaum
Sound designer: Kunal Sharma
Production: Globistan Films along with ITVS and others
Website: http://www.powerless-film.com/ (film stills used above are from this website)

***

Friday, December 13, 2013

In solidarity

On 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court of India overturned the earlier High Court judgement that had blocked art. 377 of Indian Penal Code. I think that it is a sad moment for all of us - for the GLBTIQ community, their families and friends as well as for all those persons who believe in equality and dignity of all human beings. I write this post in solidarity with all of us and present some of my pictures from the GLBTIQ Pride Parade held in Delhi in June 2009.

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

I think that the decision of the two judges to overturn an earlier verdict of high court, saying that it is the duty of the legislators to change the laws, is not in line with the active and progressive role played by the Supreme Court through a series of public interest litigations over the past decades.

The charge of "homosexuality is against nature" is perhaps an issue of insecurity and religious orthodoxy. In Frontpage, Jay Mazoomdaar has written a very interesting article about same sex relationships in nature while Krishna Udayasankar has written about same sex relationships in Indian mythology and sacred literature. However, I do not feel that rational arguments like in these two articles can change the opinions of those who do not wish to understand. Some of us can change only through personal experiences, may be when our children, friends or colleagues open our eyes to their suffering because of the discrimination and unjust laws.

I remember my march with the GLBTIQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersexual and Queer) pride parade in Delhi in June 2009, before the High Court judgement. The growing list of alphabets in the "GLBTIQ" is itself a sign of how many diversities are part of human nature, and how difficult it is to divide the world into narrow boundaries of heterosexuals and homosexuals. Do they really think that this diversity can be swept under the carpet or hidden inside a closet by this judgement?

I hope that this judgement will become a stimulus for more persons to join the struggle for a change. Here are a few of my images from the 2009 GLBTIQ pride parade:

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

I wish for an India that respects human rights, where we empathise with other human beings and where we all fight for the human rights of everyone. In any case, art. 377 is only about sex and about criminalisation of the same sex relationships. There are so many other ways in which our societies discriminate and exclude the persons who dare to come out about their sexuality. So let our struggles continue, not just for changing art 377 but also for all other discriminations and injustices.

GLBTIQ pride parade, Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak, 2009

***

Friday, December 6, 2013

An evening on a Delhi street

We were in Connaught Place in Delhi, on the road that has the emporiums selling handicrafts and clothes from different parts of India. That afternoon gave me an opportunity to inadvertently experience being a "homeless old man" for a few hours, surrounded by people who spend large parts of their lives on the street. This post is about that experience.

My sister and nieces were going to visit some of those state emporiums, looking for new clothes for a family wedding. Shopping, especially of clothes, means looking at tens or even hundreds of things, discussing about the colours, textures and other details, comparing them with hundred of similar things you saw in the previous store, and in the end telling the sales-person, "Yes, we like these, keep them separately for us, so that we can go to the next store and repeat the whole thing once again and at the end, we may come back here to buy these!"

Street life Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak

I am not very fond of shopping. I told my sister that while they did their shopping, I would prefer to find some good place to sit and read on my ebook reader.

Soon I found myself looking around for a place to sit. I saw many other persons sitting around, some even trying to sleep. Finally, I took the underground passage and walked to the Hanuman temple across the road.

Street life Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak

On the stairs that went towards the temple, I brought out my camera from the bag, to click a picture of the temple. An old woman was sitting there with a yellow chunni wrapped around her head. That parapet looked like the right height for my legs, for sitting down and holding my ebook reader. So I decided to sit there, in front of the woman. As I went closer, the old lady raised up her hand to ask for alms. I smiled at her and sat on the other side, putting my bag between my legs. The woman smiled back at me and nodded, accepting my right to sit there.

Street life Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak

I had yet not taken out my ebook reader and was looking around, when two men arrived near us, holding between them a big vessel. In a few seconds, a queue formed in front of them. The men queueing were unshaven with hollow cheeks, wearing dirty clothes, some of them in tattered clothes. The two men were distributing food for the poor - puris and aloo bhaji.

"Lo baba!" (Take it grandfather), I suddenly found two puris with the potato mix heaped on them, thrust in my hand. Before I could recover from my surprise, the man had already turned towards the old lady.

I was shocked - Those men had thought that I was some homeless beggar waiting for alms like the woman sitting across me?

I tried to look at myself through their eyes - a well fed man with a mop of white hair and white beard, wearing jeans and a kurta. I don't think that I was looking dirty or poor, but probably they had not stopped to look at me properly. May be all the persons sitting there were supposed to be homeless and poor?

People from middle class homes facing bad times, or those living on meagre pensions or those who were turned out by their children, could have been like me - ashamed to acknowledge that they were homeless and hungry, but forced by the circumstances to come out and sit there! Like the woman sitting across from me.

No one took any notice of me. I watched her eating puris and suddenly I felt like crying.

As the food finished, the two men walked away with the empty vessel and the hollow-cheeked men in dirty clothes disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

As I sat there with those puris in my hand, life went on without any pause. A woman came, rolled out a durrie in front of us and sat down there. People going to the temple, left their shoes and sandals on her durrie and when they came out, they gave her some coins.

Another woman was sitting on the ground on one side, asking for alms from the visitors. A dog came cautiously near her. The woman smiled slowly and gave part of her puris to the dog. He gulped it down and then settled near her, his tail touching her legs.

On one side, some disabled persons were sitting there, their crutches and deformed limbs on exhibition. Some were with signs of leprosy, they were sitting a little away from the rest of the group.

Every now and then, some persons arrived with food or prasad for distribution, and those dirty looking men with hollow cheeks and tattered clothes, came out from where ever they had been hiding and quickly formed the queues.

Finally tired of sitting there, I walked around, stopping to give my puris to the woman with the dog.

Going up the stairs behind the group of disabled persons, there was another square with a few trees. Part of this area was occupied by some persons, mainly women, with low tables and chairs - these were temporary shops for getting henna-tattoo designs on hands and forearms.

After some time, I sat down on a low wall near those henna and tattoo artists.

Street life Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak

Three palm-readers had their tables and chairs in front of another temple in the left corner. One of them wore the saffron colours of a sadhu. Behind them, on one side a shop advertised horoscopes and future predictions made with a computer. While the palm readers had an occasional client, the computer horoscope shop seemed to have more work.

Street life Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak

There were many more persons in that space, most of them simply sitting around. Some were next to me on the low wall, others were sitting under the trees. Slowly the evening fell and the lights came on. It became colder. A chaiwala sitting down on the ground and making tea on a stove, was doing brisk business, continuously surrounded by clients.

Suddenly a fight broke out between one of the woman henna-tattoo designers and a young guy. Apparently, the woman was  a veteran, while the young guy had just set up his henna-tattoo business. The woman had glasses with  bright blue and yellow frame, she started shouting, spewing out violent cuss-words, usually used by men. Then she brought out a blade and slashed the guy's shop signboard, cutting it to pieces. The guy sat there cowering with fright, unable to say anything. After some time, the woman went back to her own table and the crowd that had gathered to watch the fight dispersed.

It was as if different parts of that open space were different ecological zones, each with its group of regulars and visitors, each controlled by its own laws. Around them moved the homeless persons, of which I had become a part, persons waiting for something, persons passing time. Finally I got up, feeling old, tired and cold.

As I walked back towards the emporiums, in the underground passage, an evening school had started. Two persons, a guy and a woman, were sitting on stools, with a group of street children in front of them. I sat down at the top of the stairs, watching their class for some time, till the cellphone in my pocket started vibrating. My sister had finished her shopping.

Street life Delhi, India - images by Sunil Deepak

Finally it was time to go home.

I did not take many pictures that day. Looking at them, brings a node to my throat, and I feel old, tired and cold.

***

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Essential Venice for Dummies

If you have just one day in Venice, which places should you visit? How do you make sure that you do not miss some important tourist hot-spot? Is it better to walk or to take a boat for sight-seeing in Venice? Often friends coming to Italy for a few days and hoping to visit all their favourite places in those few days, ask me such questions. If you have similar questions, please read on - this post is written for you. It is a result of innumerable trips that I have made to Venice over the past 30 years, to accompany friends and relatives.

Venice walking tour, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

I have been to Venice a lot of times, some times to accompany friends and relatives for a day tour and much more often, for my own pleasure - to discover new and unseen places in the wonderful water-world of Venice. Even after so many visits, Venice continues to be a magical place. It is considered as the ultimate romantic city, the city for the honeymooners. However, don't worry if you are alone - the city will still take your breath away - you will only wish that you can come back to visit it with your loved one!

Usually when you have heard so much about some place, finally when you get the chance to visit it, you may end up feeling a little disappointed! All the hyperbole creates some unrealistic expectations. But no hyperbole is really exaggerated for Venice - I have yet to meet someone who feels let down by it! So, fasten your seat belts and lets start.

Travelling to Venice

Venice is a group of islands, the main ones are connected to the city of Mestre on the mainland by a bridge. Mestre has an international airport connected to the major cities of Europe by daily flights.

You can also reach Venice by car. As you cross the bridge to Venice, you will be asked to park your car in one of the islands that is used as a multi-storey car park. In Venice, cars are not allowed, and all travel inside the city has to be on foot or by boats. You may also park your car in Mestre and then take the train for the 5 minutes journey to Venice.

The most common and convenient way to visit Venice is by train. The only problem is that there are no trains between 8 PM and early morning. Thus, if your dream is look at Venice in the romantic light of the night, you need to spend the night in Venice.

Once, I had missed the last evening train in Venice, and spent the night sitting on the stairs outside the railway station. I remember that night as a special experience. How ever, that was more than thirty years ago when I was considerably younger. If that happens today, I am sure that I will need to look for a hotel - Venice is full of hotels, though they cost a lot!

Starting a day tour in Venice

OK, so you have reached Venice by a taxi, car or a train, where do you go? Car and taxi will drop you at Piazzale Roma, from where you can walk to the railway station. If you are wise and have taken a train, you will reach Santa Lucia railway station. So I will start my day-tour from this station.

Venice is an end-station - this means that trains do not go any further, but they need to go back the way they have come. As you come out of the railway station, the steps will lead you down to a big canal - Canale Grande, the biggest canal of Venice. Across the canal you can see a church (image below) - that must be one of the most photographed churches in Venice because it is the first sight of magical Venice for most persons.

Venice walking tour, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

If you stand on the stairs of the railway station, on your left you will see a bridge, Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of the shoeless). To the left of the bridge, you will see a yellow sign board on the building, showing an arrow with the words "A San Marco" (To  San Marco square) as shown in the image below.  San Marco square, the most important landmark of Venice, is our destination for this one day visit.

Venice walking tour, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

All the way from the railway station to the San Marco square, keep looking up for these sign boards as you go up and down the pathways along the canals and bridges of Venice. This will ensure that you will not get lost. On this walk, hidden behind the buildings on your right side is the Grand Canal. So if curiosity takes you away from the main path into small calle (streets) and you get lost, ask persons for "Canale Grande" and soon you will be back on the right path.

Another easy way to reach San Marco square is to follow the crowds - Venice is usually so full of tourists, that you only need to follow them and they will lead you along my tour itinerary.

Take a look at the map below to see the general route of our walking tour (click on the image to open a bigger map). We start from Railway station (number 1), go  along the Grand Canal through Rialo bridge (number 2) and then turn left to our destintion San Marco square, marked as number 3 on this map.

Venice walking tour map, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak
(click on the image for a bigger view)

Daily life in Venice

The walk from the railway station to San Marco square is the most touristy part of Venice. Still along the way, you can get a few glimpses of the daily lives of people who live here, such as the fruit and vegetable stalls.

Venice walking tour, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

However, most shops and restaurants on this route are targeted at tourists. Remember to look up to see the Venetian style of renaissance architecture and old houses of Venice.

Venice walking tour, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

For a better look at the daily life of people who live in Venice, walk down any of the narrow pathways along the lateral canals near the bridges and you will find yourself in a calmer and a different world compared to the crowded paths used by the tourists.

Rialto bridge

Half-way to the San Marco square, you will find some sign boards pointing towards the Rialto bridge, the most famous bridge on the Grand Canal. If you walk towards Rialto bridge you will reach the rectangular San Bartolomeo square. From this square, on your right side will be Rialto bridge and on your left, different small streets going towards San Marco square. I suggest that you visit the Rialto bridge.

Like Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Rialto bridge also has shops selling gold and jewellery. However, the most important thing about this bridge is to look at the wonderful noble houses lining the two sides of the canals and the different boats including the narrow gondolas crossing the canal.

Venice walking tour, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Rialto bridge is the place where Shylock, the Jew money-lender of William Shakespeare's celebrated play "Merchant of Venice", has his shop. It is an example of the usual stereo-typing of the Jews in the antisemitic Europe, how ever it is little late to make Mr. Shakespeare change his play now.

Among the boats, you will easily recognise the narrow black boats with boatmen (gondolieri) wearing striped t-shirts and hats with matching ribbons - these are the famous gondolas of Venice.

Venice walking tour, Gondolas, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

If you have time, you can cross the Rialto bridge and go down on the other side to visit the fish market area.

After spending some time admiring the grand canal and Rialto bridge, come back to the square (Campiello San Bartolomeo). Any of the side streets on the other side of this square, will take you through a maze of narrow streets to the San Marco square.

A Gondola Ride

Along the path from the railway station to the San Marco square, there are different places, usually near the bridges, for renting a Gondola for a short (and costly) romantic ride on the canal. You can easily see the gondolieri boatmen in their striped t-shirts waiting for the passengers for the gondola ride.

San Marco Square

As you come out in the San Marco square from one of the narrow winding side-streets, it is an "Ah-ha" moment. The large open space of the square, the richly decorated buildings, the sight of the sea and the islands, the carved columns with sculptures and hundreds of pigeons, together create an the unforgettable view of one of the most famous squares in the world.

The "L" shaped square has San Marco church with bronze horses, the bell-tower, the clock tower with two clock-men (Mori), the Doge's palace and the twin columns. Here you can visit the church for one of the most beautiful mosaics in the world (and many other wonderful paintings and sculptures), go up the bell tower and visit the Doge's (Prime minister of ancient Republic of Venice) Palace. You can also buy corn and feed the pigeons, making them sit on your hands and your head. Or you can just walk around, dazed with so much beauty surrounding you.

Venice walking tour, San Marco square, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, San Marco square, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, San Marco square, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, San Marco square, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, San Marco square, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Finally do not forget to walk towards the twin columns and the sea, and turn left. From the first bridge, if you look at the canal passing behind the Doge's palace, you will see the famous Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners were taken to the jails in the underground cellars. Usually this place has groups of tourists huddling together to click pictures, so it is easy to identify.

Venice walking tour, Bridge of sighs, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Going back to the railway station

If you walk quickly and do not stop on the way, you can do the walk from the railway station to the San Marco square in about 30-40 minutes. If you wish to stop and admire the different buildings, click pictures, visit the Rialto bridge and the fish market on the other side, the same walk to San Marco may take up to 2-3 hours.

In San Marco square, if you do not visit the church, bell tower and the Doge's palace, but simply walk around, then you will still have lot of time. However, if wish to visit these places, another 3-4 hours can go away quickly. I personally recommend, the climb up the bell tower for beautiful views of the city from the top and at least a quick visit inside the church.

For going back to the railway station from the San Marco square, I suggest that you take the public transport - boats called Vaporetto. There is a Vaporetto line doing all the Grand Canal - it goes zig-zag, touching the two sides of the Grand Canal and stopping at every 200 metres.

Venice walking tour, Vaporetto, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Try to get a seat with a good view and you can have a close view of the beautiful palaces of Venice like the famous palace of Desdemona or the building of the Venice Casino. Journey from San Marco square to the Santa Lucia railway station on the Grand Canal vaporetto takes more than 1 hour, so remember to start in time for your train.

Venice walking tour, Grand canal buildings, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Shopping and curiosities

Most houses in Venice have a canal in the front or in the back. Thus, many residents of Venice have their own boats. From postmen to ambulances to the police and the fire brigade, everyone moves on boats. If you keep your eyes open, you can recognise many of them. I love looking for these kinds of boats in Venice.

Venice walking tour, fire brigade boat, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

For shopping, Venice is known for Venetian glass, masks and corals. I especially like buying souvenirs such as clocks and flowers made of Venetian glass.

Venice walking tour, Shopping, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, Shopping, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Other places to see in Venice

If you have time, there are many other places to visit in Venice. Here is  brief list of things to do:

(1) Take a longer route to San Marco from Rialto bridge: Instead of taking one of the side-streets in San Bartolomeo square, go to the end of the square and take a round about route that comes back to San Marco square from the opposite end. This gives you an opportunity to see another less touristy (relatively) part of Venice and the San Moisè church.

Venice walking tour, San Marco square back entrance, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Remember however to keep a map of Venice with you. It is easy to get lost and walk around in circles. It happens to me all the time since I think that I know the place and never carry maps with me, and do not like to ask people for directions! Outside the main tourist paths, signboards are few.

(2) Academia bridge and Sant Maria della Salute church: From Rialto bridge, you can follow the indications for Academia, cross this bridge and go on the other side of Canale Grande to visit the university area, Guggenheim museum and the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (with beautiful paintings by Tintoretto). Santa Maria dell Salute also gives you a different view of San Marco square across the Grand Canal (area 6 on the map).

Venice walking tour, Academia bridge, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, Santa Maria, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

(3) The Jewish Ghetto: Though Jews had lived in Venice since very old times, during different periods of history they were forced to live inside the "Ghetto". As you start your walk towards San Marco from the railway station, after crossing the first bridge, you can take any path going towards the left (towards San Leonardo or Cannaregio), and you will reach the ancient Jewish ghetto part of Venice (area 4 on the map).


Venice walking tour, Jews ghetto, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak
(4) San Pietro island and Giardini: From the Bridge of Sighs, continue on the Riva (bank) to the public gardens and then turn left on Via Garibaldi, go along the canal called "Fondamenta Sant'Anna" and cross the bridge into San Pietro island for visiting the San Pietro church (area 5 on the map).

Venice walking tour, for San Pietro, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

(5) Visit other islands - there are two islands famous for the Venetian glass - Murano and Burano. Visiting each of these requires, an additional 2-3 hours. You can get the public transport (vaporetti) to visit these from the San Marco square.

However, even with limited time, you can visit San Giorgio and Giudeca islands (areas 7 and 8 on the map), that you can see from San Marco square. You can also get vaporetti for any of these islands from San Marco.

Venice walking tour, Giudeca, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Venice walking tour, San Giorgio, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Conclusions

The beauty of Venice lies in the unusual combination of canals and the beautiful buildings, rich in architecture, art and culture. Apart from visiting the famous sites like the Rialto bridge and the San Marco square, the joy of Venice lies in going around without a fixed plan, getting lost in the warren of pathways and canals, visiting local churches for architecture and art, and admiring the unexpected squares surrounded by old houses.

Venice walking tour, Gondolas, Italy - images by Sunil Deepak

Summer is the tourist season in Venice, but I also love visiting it in winter, when tourists are few (except during the Christmas-New Year period) and especially with the snow. Another special period to visit Venice is during the carnival - but that will require a separate post.

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