Saturday, May 30, 2009

Angels and Demons - Review

There are 10,000 books written every day but only 10,000 movies made in a year. It’s difficult to write books but the task of making that book into a movie is that compared to climbing the mount Everest. First, you have the die-hard fans of reading – like me, who pledge at first that the book is way better and the movie will not do justice, then you have the other kind of people who don’t read the book and end up watching the movie and not understanding it and writing it off, so the risk taken is huge.

After having coaxed my friends into going and watching the film with me, I had mentally prepared myself for some “Are you crazy looks !” But “Angels and Demons” holds a niche position in one kind of movie watching FIESTA. I could not let my mind wander while watching it and still follow the tangled intricacies of Robert Langdon’s fascinating professors tour of Rome and simultaneously, I really wanted my mind to wander to think of all those beautiful real life sets.. Ancient Rome, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel. It was a feast to the eyes to see all these live on screen in a teeth wrenching story line so crisply defined. So “Angels And Demons”, as directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks definitely has some interesting things to offer. It obviously has Tom Hanks, who is always a pleasure to watch.
Dan Brown is a writer of great success who can really write a synopsis. Dan Brown has to be given credit for bringing together some fascinating real and probably unreal legends and lore. Brown’s plot required that the Director jams in a lot of chatty detail into Angels and Demons. Much of the detail is interesting.

Modern movie goers like my friends who I sat with and maybe even me have lost the ability to listen to a movie these days. So every time I decided to explain the on-goings to my friend someone cried SHHHHHH .... We want to watch but not to concentrate. While Angels and Demons moves along better than the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code did, there is a minimum of detail required to understand the history and story. Tom Hanks talks pretty fast but this is not a narrative you can skim through.

Center to the intrigue in Angels is the ancient battle between the Catholic Church and the maybe mythical organization called the Illuminati. The Illuminati was formed from scientists and scholars who were driven underground hundreds of years ago when science wasn’t nearly as cool as it is today. Science and progress is always a threat to institutions that run on ritual and so many scientists, including the astronomer Galileo, were either forced to rethink their views or were outright murdered.

So the Illuminati are pretty unhappy and bring their grudge to modern day Rome where they apparently want to get even quick with a bomb made of really geeky antimater, stolen from the Large Hadron Collider.The Vatican and the city of Rome are really fascinating places. They are jammed packed with unbelievably beautiful churches and castles and also of dark and hidden places, secret passages, skull lined floors and thousands of years of real mystery. Rome and the Vatican are so over the top magnificent and creepy that the secret society of the Illuminati and their ancient beef with the Church seem no less plausible than that man could build a city so full of images and structures of beauty and death.

Robert Langdon has a trail of clues to follow and very little time to follow them. We get to know a ton of Vatican rules and regulations. Latin is thrown around as if by itself it can fill the holes in the plot.

Angels and Demons commits the gross movie sin of having the plot and characters ultimately not honestly landing where they were aimed. There’s twist for twists sake. While watching Angels and Demons, I could feel that there was a twist coming. It was plainly apparent. Because of this, I could not take the characters in the movie at face value as they were portrayed, with the exception of Tom Hank’s Robert Langdon, who must remain a pillar of truth for anything to work. Angels and Demons – THE MOVIE finished telling the more than interesting story that it had set out to tell and joined the league of A Beautiful Mind, The Kite Runner, The Namesake in my list of brilliantly adapted books in modern times.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Child Sexual Abuse

“I asked you for help, and you told me you would
If I told you the things he did to me.
You asked me to trust you, and you made me
Repeat them to fourteen different strangers
I asked you for help and you gave me
A doctor with cold hands
Who spread my legs and stared at me
Just like my father.
I asked you for protection
And you gave me a social worker.
Do you know what it is like
Ihave more social workers than friends?
I asked you for help
And you forced my mother to choose between us.
She chose him, of course.
She was scared, she had a lot to lose.
I had a lot to lose too.
The difference is, you never told me how much.
I asked you to put an end to the abuse
You put an end to my whole family.
You took away my nights of hell
And gave me days of hell instead.
You have changed my private nightmare
Into a very public one.”
This is a poem written by a 12 year old girl ! Which girl has written it hardly matters, what is written moved me to tears. I came across a book called BITTER CHOCOLATE by Pinky Virani a few years ago. I was only a little child back then, but the fear of something like that happening to me looms over me each day, even today. I can’t even begin to imagine what the Victims of such a heinous crime would have to go through, living with someone their own, each day.

The book talks about the Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), and how it is so very common in India. Mira Nair portrayed it so subtly in her movie – MONSOON WEDDING. More recently we heard about the Austrian case and then about the astrologer – dad-child-mother quadrilateral case in India about incest’s ! It sends shudders down my spine. It is so prevalent, time and again I have heard stories, until I saw it for myself ... SHOCKING , but TRUE !

Each morning I pass this 1 street to get to work. The routine included the looking at the over-crowded bus-stop, the magazine vendor, the Unch with a tattoo of a scorpion on one side of the stomach, the beggar woman with a bad limp, the pandu directing the rush hour traffic and a little girl sitting on the side bench. She was not a beggar child. She wore new clothes each day, sat only when there was space on the bench, else stood there waiting her turn. Her eyes were deep, but revealed only how deep the hollow within it was. They talked about the pain and anguish on her life. One cannot forget these sights of their everyday life. It’s only a routine.
But my routine got disrupted the day my car broke down. From the comfort of my air conditioned car, I had to now look for an Auto-Rickshaw to get into. But Bombay being Bombay I didn’t find one coming my way. I then tried getting into the Bus ! I tried once, I let another one go. And then my friend called – she offered to give me a lift if I waited there for 15 mins. Beggars can’t be choosers and so I waited there for her.

Now I am the kind of individual who will strike conversation at a drop of a hat. So I the little girl on the bench something. She didn’t say anything. She just stared into my face and then looked away. I asked her again, “ Whats your name ? You know, I see you sitting on this bench everyday...” She looked back at me, this time tears started rolling down her eyes. I told her, oh I am sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I got scared and walked away, and stood below the shade on the bus-stop. My friend came after 25 minutes, but I hopped into her car without complaining.
The next day I passed that place again. This time I rolled down my window and waved at her. She just stared in my face and let me pass by. A few days into the routine of waving, she finally waved back. I was content with this acknowledgement and that at least I didn’t scare this little being anymore. A few months passed by, she was growing into a more beautiful girl than I had imaged her to be when I first took notice of her. The seasons changed and then came monsoon.

On days that it rained I saw her sitting below the bus-stop. Days when the sun came out it seemed as though it was all on her... Until that day when I saw her crying in the rain. I felt as though I owed it to our routine to stop and ask her if what was wrong. Maybe she was hungry? Maybe she was hurt? Maybe she saw a new stranger like me, who scared her? The car stopped a little ahead and I walked back to the bench. I held my umbrella above her head. For a minute or 2 she just thought the rain had stopped pouring, until I snapped her out of it. I asked her what had happened?
And she told me the most shocking story ever. Here is what she had to say ...

“My first memory of abuse was at a very early age, with my father abusing my mum or should I say bashing with closed fists, it seemed to be a regular event in my life. My father works at a beddi factory earning daily wages. He is a big solid man and demanded and expected everything to be done his way and if wasn't there was hell to pay. My poor mum's life consisted of being a housemaid and wife. There was nothing more to her life other than this routine. She was not allowed friends except for the neighbours. But the neighbours kept their distance for my mother’s sake in fear that my father would torture her till the end of the night, when he would collapse on the floor from all the drinking. Meals had to be at a certain time and that included a hot meal at 12pm as father would come home for lunch and dinner at 9pm on the dot. Dinner was only for him, for the rest of us it was daal and rice only.

My worst memory of mum’s abuse was one night my dad had gotten into a fight with his boss and was thrown out of his job. We were pushed into the neighbour’s house for the rest of the night. In the morning when I went into the house to see how my mum was, the memory of which is still with me today, my mum’s face was black and blue swollen beyond belief and dried blood not only on her face but up the bedroom walls. Even as a young child I tried to defend my mum only to receive a smack across my head.

My mum’s world was our world too, my brother and I knew no different and even though my mum endured all this she still idolised my dad. A few days after this episode my mother collapsed. With the help of a neighbour we rushed her to Cooper Hospital. The doctor pronounced her dead. He said that the beating has caused internal bleeding and today she bled out. That night my father came home drunk once more. This time it was my brother’s turn. He bashed my brother up for not taking care of my mother while he was away. I urged father to sit down and eat. I served him daal and vegetable with rice that had been cooked by my mother that very morning before she collapsed.

What was surprising was that my father was not grieving. He ate the food like a scavenger and left nothing for my brother or I. On the pre-text of going and getting some food my brother left the house never to come back. A neighbours’ boy told me that he was sorry for my state, and that my brother promised he would come back for me, but he needed to get away and had apologised. I understood him, and was happy that at least he would find a solution.

Days turned into weeks and then my agony started. My father came back home one night sober. He asked me to come and sit on his lap. For a moment I thought I was living a dream. I ran into his arms and hugged him really tight. He started stroking my head, and then my back and was now slowly getting down to his dirty business. I was ranting about how I missed my mother, while he went down and further down. I was now slowly feeling his hand under my frock on my thigh. I looked at him in disbelief. I didn’t want him to touch me there. But he was, he put his hands into my underwear. At first he stroked me gently, but then it was hurting. He fingered me so hard, and then he rubbed his hands against my breasts. I tried to get up and walk across the room, or run out of the house but he held me very tight. I couldn’t break free from his grip. I started crying. He shouted and screamt and ordered me not to cry, but I couldn’t help anything that was happening. He slapped me. The blow was so hard that I fell against the floor. I felt as though my ribs has crashed against the floor. I could hardly get up. I crawled into the next room and sat in one corner. I was scared. I just hugged myself and listened to some activity in the other room for a while and then he fell asleep. From the small window overlooking the nalla I could see the night turn into day.

The next morning, it was almost as though everything was k. He asked me if I had slept alright. He said he would be back for lunch and left for his factory. In the next few days he found a new job. His new job took a toll on him. The long hours gave him just enough energy to trudge back home, eat and sleep to renew his energy for the next day. I didn’t know who I could speak to, cause father forbade me to have any contact with the outside world. He said if I did he would throw me out of the house. The memory of that hell-braking-loose night was fading. But such a happy arrangement didn’t last long. He started drinking more, and went to work with a hangover. After several warnings he was fired again. This was 2 weeks ago. He now started drinking in the house. We had more empty alcohol bottles in the house than the other things put together. Hewould drink and drop and in between his drinking he abusse me, sometimes 3 – 4 times a day. He would insert all sorts of things in me, some even sharp that have left scars. I cannot move as the pain in between my legs is so intense that I just want to die. I have lost control over my urine. I drip all day long. The dripping is causing a foul smell. If I wash myself with soap it burns... and .... and .... and”

OH MY GOD !!! I didn’t have the heart to listen to this little girl anymore... I was shocked, I was horrified... It caused some acute pain within me. I said to myself I had to do something about this. The first thing that I thought was of a Police Complain and Social Service Organisations who know how to control these things. I wanted to take her to the hospital. I had a 1000 thoughts in my mind running at the same point in time. My heart went out to this little girl. I told her if she wanted me to help her I would. She said this has happened before. People take on a cause like hers, and then forget all about it. The momentum was lost somewhere. She didn’t want to lose hope one more time. She asked me to get going with my day. I urged her to let me help her. She said she could do with some money to buy some medication. MONEY!!! You want money!!!

When she asked for MONEY, it ticked me off. An urban INDIAN is so used to beggars and CON men , that I thought this was some ploy to get some money out of me. I asked her how much, she said Rs 1000. So now, this was it really! A 1000 bucks once every year v/s the 10 rupees everyday!!! Was my sympathy to take her to the hospital not enough? I insisted that I pay it myself. She said she wouldn’t go with me. I thought this was a foul play. I said to her I didn’t have the money, knowing full well I did. She insisted only on the money.

I left the bench in a fury !! This girl had wasted so much of my time on a Wednesday morning!!! I went through the day. I was so upset. I didn’t understand why beggars were becoming CON-MEN. I ranted about this episode to my family and kin throughout the day. What is the world coming to,??? said my mother. My grandmother screamt – KALYUG !!!

The next day I passed by the same bench, only to find her still there. But this time she was in her same clothes from the previous day and she was not sitting but she was sleeping on the bench. Some passersby looked at her for a moment and turned away. Most people covered their face with their handkerchief indicating foul smell. Then someone screamt and a huge crowd formed around her. I was looking at this scene from my rare-view mirror now. I felt inquisitive, I pulled up. I walked back to the bench only to find her dead. I called for the ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. The doctor recognized her from a few days ago. He has suggested her a Gynac. The Gynac at this government hospital has asked her for a minor surgery to be performed on her. It would cost her Rs 1000.

Maybe she couldn’t move when I offered to take her to the hospital ! Maybe I didn’t give her a chance to end her story ! Maybe she was scared I would inform her father. Maybe we are so pre-judgemental in our daily lives that an apple cannot be an apple always. I feel partly responsible now for not looking out for her. I feel as though I didn’t fulfil my purpose. I ask the universe for forgiveness today ! May her soul rest in peace. But her story needs to be told, so that we can break out of our mansions and beautiful lives to commit to a cause !!

I have found my cause – People against CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE ... !!

Friday, May 1, 2009


SHUT UP AND VOTE !!! This seemed to be the song of the month, just about anywhere and everywhere that I went. In my college campus, the cafe’s and the bars, on TV, facebook status ! Even my favourite celebrities were trying to preach to me to VOTE. VOTE VOTE VOTE.Look what happened when America voted ! The black inedible ink looks horrendous on my middle finger, but somehow the entire feeling of VOTING made me feel responsible. It gave me the power to legitimize all those times I grumbled about a non-functional government. It’s a slow afternoon on a national Holiday – V Day as they like to call it. I switched on the live coverage of the campaign. The numbers were coming in – only 47 % of the complaining, whining, angry post any national terror calamity of the population turned up to vote. 10 crore rupees of the “Jagore” campaign gone down the drain !

For the sake of this blog I would like to discuss what was going through my mind when I chose to vote. I believe I represent the young Indian voter ! And if any politician had to read my blog today, he could use this to formulate his future action plans for the next 4 years ! The best I have seen anyone describe India is Shashi Tharoor. “India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast.” So there may be different views by different people, but this is MY BLOG !! So SHUT UP AND READ !

Who I voted for, I wouldn’t tell It’s a criminal offense. Who you should vote for is not my prerogative. I only wish to outline my though process while I was voting.

The 1st debate in my mind : The bread versus freedom debate.
Can democracy deliver us the goods ? to alleviate desperate poverty, or do its inbuilt inefficiencies only slower the rapid growth? Is the instability of makeshift coalitions a luxury that developing country cannot afford? So while most of the 57 % of people not turn to vote – were they considering political freedom a dispensable distraction?

2nd debate : The centralization versus federalism debate.
Does tomorrow’s India need to be run by a strong central government to be able to transcend the superficial tendencies of language , caste, and region, or is it that government best which centralizes least? Can other states not pull a MODI ? Can’t strong ethical organisations like the TATA’s launch more campaigns to move the rest of the 53 % to vote ?

3rd debate : Pluralism versus fundamentalism debate.
Is the secularism established in India’s constitution and now increasingly attacked as a westernized affection, essential in a pluralist society, or should India, like many other 3rd world countries, find refuge in the assertion of its own religious identity? Look what it did to Pakistan ! One cannot tell when it is going to topple over. Now i am not one to follow Politics so widely, but I am always uncertain... I only hear different names of the RULERS each day.

And the last debate – The coca-colonization debate , or globalisation versus self reliance.
Should political parties make globalisation their agenda or non-agenda, and sing praises of India, where economic self sufficiency has been a mantra for more than 6 decades. Is there a reason for them to even debate if India should open itself FURTHER to the world economy, or worry if the entry of western consumer goods bring in alien influences that threaten to disrupt Indian society in ways too vital to be allowed? I am a girl, I want to receive cards and gifts all in RED HEART SHAPES each day of my living life without having to think who is waiting at the corner to bash me up. Should they even think of raising the barriers to shield the youth from the pernicious seduction of MTV and McDOnalds? Being nationalistic is my thing, doesn’t matter which language I express it in ! Why can I not express myself in English? I want to boast about India to all my friends living abroad, how will I ever be able to communicate if I don’t speak English ?

Is this the India I want my children to inherit? After having discussed this with my father, he seemed to be of the same opinion about 25 years ago, when he set out to vote! The only difference is that now he votes for the lesser evil of the lot rather that rationalizing his decision making. Maybe I didn’t vote for any party, because none of the parties agenda’s matched my agenda – to see where MY INDIA stands ! Maybe I put in a blank vote ! You will never know... I wish everyone knew their part and they had SHUT UP and VOTED !!!


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