Books of January

The first one for 2013 was The Postmaster by Rabindranath Tagore. This is a short story collection written while he was still in his youth, mostly from his experiences as a landlord when he had to travel around to collect the rent from tenents. As it says in the introduction, it was the young Tagore all the way, yet those stories seem to extend to eternity, like the wait of that girl in Postmaster, or the presumed meeting of Kabuliwalah with his daughter, and similarly, the people left to themselves in their dilemma. I suppose it was the beginning of his sagely transformation. One could sense some faint hints of disenchantments and detachment brooding in dark corners. The book also packed some poetry as well as fascinating letters he wrote to his niece and friends, brimming with compassionate and wise words. I felt his narrative to be very simplistic and straightforward. I was thinking how apt Tagore's stories are for children for its simplicity.


The second book was The Stranger by Albert Camus. It is a dispassionate first person narrative of a seemingly simple person. He is kind of an outsider to the society and even himself. One might be tempted to call him cold. For instance, he goes to a comedy movie with his girlfriend a day after his mother's funeral. Does that sound odd? Does he not have sorrow? he does. Is it necessary behave so as to show that to the public?, it might appear as misplaced. But here, he loved his mother. Yet, that is what he is. The story takes tragic turns and at each turn we cringe as to why he yield to a prescribed social conduct, even when it is judging him on their misplaced unreason. One might even get annoyed at his complacency. In the afterward, the author tries correlate the protagonist of this story with Christ. But here I didn't feel like he was deliberately acting out that way. I was hoping that author would say that it is perhaps a neural abnormality. A very valid point the story puts through is how someone who doesn't fit into the shoes of the society may be treated with hostility. Rather, it creates panic in the people who follows a certain order, for they know better of its fragility. V (of vendetta) says something interesting as well while tipping off his dominoes.


The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human. Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran is a popular neurologist whose studies on brain and various neural abnormalities have shed light on possible several interesting things that perhaps gives hope in explaining a lot about humanity, and human behavioral and cultural evolution. It also explains several little known aspects of brain. In this book he tries to find how human nature developed in humans, basically through his study on mirror neurons. Also have several interesting writings on Autism, synesthesia, creativity etc. Not only that, he also dwells into things like self-awareness, language, syntax etc, and tries to explain how they all workout in the brain. The book is written in a very humorous way, and I felt non-medical people as well can understand it.


V for Vendetta. "Behind this mask there is more than just flesh and blood. Beneath this mask there is an idea... and ideas are bulletproof." Don't have anything much to say about this book. It was just awesome. Story is by Alan Moore and graphics by David Lloyd. Whatever the words couldn’t express, Lloyd has filled with images. The masked man had created a rave after the book was published, and got more popularity with the movie by Watchowski brothers. What I like about V the most is he is masked; he is anonymous, his thoughts are not corrupted by what he maybe. Like he says, he is merely an idea. He doesn’t have an identity, he is thus free. Although I have watched movie umpteen times, I had the same exciting experience reading it. I might as well buy one for my shelf.


റവന്യുസ്റ്റാമ്പ്‌ Revenue Stamp. This is the autobiography of famous Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam. I haven't read any other works of hers. Besides, from what I have read and heard, her life story is perhaps the best place to start. Incidentally I came across this Malayalam version and picked it up. What is so inspiring is her broad mindedness, and a lively outlook towards life, love, friendship and literature. Her recollection of those love affairs and friendships that fueled her creativity, nonetheless were very inspiring. She also recollects the kind of attitude she had to confront from many other contemporary writers. Perhaps a woman writing openly of her thoughts terrified them, made them insecure. One would wish how beautiful it would be to be in company of people who could only speak in the language of art and literature.


Shadow lines by Amitav Ghosh. I liked this purely because of its introspective narrative. I felt genuineness in the concerns, fears and this whole narration of his life singled around the political violence. Loved each character in this book and the way narrator presented them. A self-styled Intellectual and mentor, his Hermione Granger kind of cousin whom he adore, a towering grandmotherly granny and many other family members makes this a very domestic story of families placed in Kolkata and London.  The narratives shift spaces and time erratically, it was consistently narrated as a memoir of this wide eyed boy who isn’t able to emotionally catch up with the families disintegrating and tragedies that they are all trying to come in terms with.


This is the fictionalized account of real story of two young men who, of disappointment in not finding money they expected to steal, brutally murders everyone of a family. But when their story is told, it turns the whole thing awkwardly revolting. Capote's masterpiece shows establishes what fragile society we live in, which is reluctant to accept the responsibilities of the monsters it creates every now and then. At the end, although trial and execution is over, something still lingers on, like a disappointment at how people could have otherwise nothing wrong, tumble senselessly into the abyss of crime.

This book had created a lot of controversy, on capital punishment, on mindless gun usage and also on giving false hopes to the accused from whom Capote had extracted a big part of the story. In the movie 'Capote', this incident is depicted.


Shoulders of the Giants

What do I know about Robert Hook?. I surely have heard that surname before. It comes in one of those chapters that are kept for the last, called elasticity. Hooke's law. y = -kx where k is spring constant. This law was put forth after his experiments on spring, where he figured out that the pull of the spring is proportional to the displacement, obviously. The interesting thing is that it was used to put forth the idea of force for the first time that was before Newton put forth his laws of motion. That was not just one thing. Hooke was more of an experimenter and inventor. He had built several prototypes of microscopes, respirator, spring balances, clocks etc. One of the main funding for Royal society came through entertaining the elites using science. So they had to have a curator and Hooke was the most popular one.

Royal society in a way was Noah’s ark for science in Medieval Europe. Till Royal society had taken shape science was a hush hush word in selected, politically protected circle. It was a time when church was very powerful in Europe, particularly France, Italy, Germany etc where newer scientific fraternity was struggling to get a blanket or anonymity, often finding refuge under several secret societies. Several scientists were killed or silenced over heresy. Copernicus was burned at stake. Galileo Galilee was able to buy life in exchange for house arrest and it was when scientific renaissance was heading for a premature death, the protestant England was wholeheartedly looking to challenge the Roman Catholic rest of Europe by promoting anything that Catholics were against. Fortunately science was one of them. And a period of superstition, plague and civil war was paving its way to a new age of science.

Formation of Royal Society was not abrupt. It started with a group of philosophers and scientific enthusiasts meeting at Gresham College. Royal Society came to being in early 17th century with King Charles II giving the go and formulating the diploma for the Royal Society for study and promotion of science and philosophy . The new scientific revolution took Baconian scientific approach. Francis Bacon was one of the important non-scientists of the lot, but he realized and promoted scientific thinking through his philosophical lectures. His three stage process of starting with hypothesis first, followed by theoretical articulation and finally experimental confirmation, would still be pursued as the best scientific approach. Royal society has had several illustrious fellows, who would keep lighting up the scientific temper till the rise of modern scientific advancements.

The book by John Gribbin was a very enlightening read. It took me to the minds of some of the finest personalities in science. It also revealed a lot more about them and their personality. Some popular figures like Christopher Wren, an architect and a fine engineer who along with the other fellows of the society took up the task of rebuilding London after the great fire of 1660, Robert Boyle, an Irish chemist and physics got his assistant Robert Hooke to design him an air pump with which he demonstrated the Boyle’s law, Isaac Newton, Edmund Halley and their interactions and conflicts that would only build an incredible establishment for scientific fellowship. If there is a revolution, there would be rivalries. Perhaps they were the tipping points of several discoveries.

Rivalry between Newton and Hooke is the most popular of the Royal society ones. Newton was more of mathematician, while Hooke was more of experimenter. Hooke couldn’t become a fellow for a long for he was not a gentleman (whatever meant at that time), Newton was extremely introvert and doubtable schizophrenic. Their personalities had a common link, a sense of insecurity. It was not just around the concept of force did they lock horns. Hooke had predicted the planetary motion, made several thesis on optics, all which later got published in Newton’s papers without giving due credit. When Newton became the president of society he got all the portraits of Hooke dismantled from the hall. In popular science while Newton became a giant, Hooke diminished.

Perhaps we are not reading thing the way it should be. I feel we tend to idolize someone, and build myths and superman stories around them and betray an array of contemporary minds. What was Isaac Newton was he a physicist or a mathematician? What was Boyle, a chemist or physicist? Was Charles Darwin a geologist, biologist or a naturalist? Ernst Rutherford appears in Chemistry school textbooks, while he was a physics guy. Yet several of them, William Gilbert, William Harvey and several others. These are people who have never allowed themselves in any box. That is one fabulous thing about classical scientists. They are more of philosophers, guess that is why they are scientists too.

More interesting things: Originality of Species


War that couldn't end all the wars

In 1914, when the biggest and most horrible of wars that they have witnessed swept across Europe, H.G.Wells remarked that this will be the "War that will end all the wars", perhaps thinking that people would learn something from this war and work towards more peace. This was perhaps the last of the wars that were fought in many aspects. One, the use of military for imperial expansion started getting criticized. The wars to protect "humanity" started becoming more pronounced. The need for reasons to war became more necessary. Second world war had points to justify, it was fought to save humanity and the victims of holocaust still remind us about that.  But for the first world war, they didn't have any answer to those questions. First world war happened at a time when the world was turning itself around. The voiceless started getting voice, the people who were otherwise suppressed were getting empowered to let them be heard in the annals of history. In other words, the usual elites interpretation of wars and its cultural symbols started changing. People started asking why was this war being fought? Soldiers who otherwise never seem to have any significance in any literature or news started getting more importance. So such questions started moulding the nature of wars. League of nations were formed since the great war, which then became the United nations. But, most prominent of all the changes were the de-culturalisation of war. Pulling down all those glossy, heroic stories that inspired countries and kingdoms to war. In other words, the anti-war movements, which were in their nappies, started coming to age.

I was reading few books that incidentally sets itself around the First world war. The first one was a non-fiction called, 'Missing of the Somme'. This was the book that spoke of the aftermath of the Great war. The author travelled through the European cities exploring how the memorials are built and what message does the 'memorialisation' of the war, as projected to the later generations. It was since First world war the anti-war literature started becoming very popular. There were many war-poets and war-writers who wrote of the futility of wars and its brutal consequences and better options. Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves etc. are some well-known war poets, they wrote poems from trenches in Belgium, France borders.  The book heavily criticized the way the war is represented, which often being in the custody of warmongers, has only tried to justify their stance. A dead soldier is always a martyr for good cause. I remember a poem from school days where a soldier who was decorated for killing an enemy soldier consciously was awarded death sentence for killing another civilian in a drunken brawl. When you make someone martyr you are actually glorifying the purpose for which he died. A soldier who dies is always given a honour of one who tried to protect the people and safeguard the country thereby justifying the war, whatever be the original reason. 
The above mentioned book explored all the aspects of the Great war that is represented through paintings, sculpture, memorials, literature etc. It talked about sculptures that were commissioned by the governments, which gave a heroic representation of the soldier, then there are other sculptures that shows the other side of the war, of the faceless soldiers, soldiers crying over the body of his best mate, of soldier holding  his dead horse against his chest. The memorials were designed by many well-known architects e.g.. Luyten who had built New Delhi. One of the war memorial built in London is called 'Unknown soldier'. As a post war activity the governements had to ensure proper burial of all soldiers. But the war fronts were sprewn with countless un-identified bodies that it started getting difficult. So they picked whatever they could, the mortal remains of an unknown soldier, and was cremated in the capital city on which the memorial was commissioned. Siegfried Sassoon's and Robert Grave's poems spoke of bloody atmosphere of the war front where the supply is scant, so is ammunitions, poor communication devices, slow yet dedicated medical services and of strange state of humanity that people learn only after they experience hell in person. During the war, the punishment for deserters were death and thousands of youngsters were killed by their own nation because they flee from the war front, from a war that wouldn’t serve any better purpose. It was only recently the governments apologized to their families and gave them honours for volunteering for the war. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A very long engagement tells the story of a girl trying to find her lover who was sentenced to death for trying to escape.
Another book was the last book of 'Regeneration' trilogy of Pat Barker. That was when the war was described with a bitterness, with a nonchalance that may sound suicidal. It was about a young soldier who was brought from the war front with shell shock, who after his treatment, has to report back at the front. The other character is the doctor of the hospital who has to witness countless causalities and broken down soldiers and try to recuperate them. Another book from the same writer was 'Life Class'. A tale of two youngsters and how a massive force like war impact the idea of love, art and freedom.  It retells the horror of the war through the eyes of one of the protagonist who volunteers as nurse in war front.  Both the novels emphasized on the brutality of the war and its vanity as opposed to the excitement and chivalry that normal war literature give. It was a pointless war, where  people went and died in scores. There wasn't a definite answer to the question as to why was that war fought? Was that the vestiges of imperial strength show that it had to prolong unnecessarily.  In  the narratives, we could feel the hopelessness of a soldier who might very well be walking into his death. That book had received Booker prize in 1995
'Penguin book of First world war stories' was the last one. It was a meticulously arranged collection of short stories told in the backdrop of First world war. It had stories written by Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield, Conan Doyle, Julian Barnes etc. It is arranged into 4 sections  - Stories from the front of which a story called 'Blind' by Mary Borden and A. W. Well's 'Chanson Triste' were incredible, second one was on spies and intelligence used during the first world war - Sherlock Holmes appear in one of them penned by Conan Doyle, At home - this section had stories of people back home, of mothers  waiting for their sons, Hugh Walpole's 'Nobody' was a heart breaking tale of a 16 yr old boy who faked his age to enter the army and was sentenced to death for deserting, and In Retrospect, it was about the impact of war in the future generation. Julian Barnes' 'Evermore' was the best amongst that. The story was an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of un-redeemed soldiers and their stories that got buried under the bigger second world war that eclipsed the first. Christian Caron's movie Joyeux Noel is based on a story from this book, the incident was real though, where on the Christmas days the soldiers from British, French and German fronts defied the higher commands and celebrated the festival together.
In the movie 'Troy' Odysseus tells Achilles "This war will never be forgotten, nor will the heroes who fought in it", but do anyone remember anyone other than Achilles or Odysseus or Hector? , in Baghavad Gita the war was a righteous move to get back what was rightfully theirs, to protect dharma (whatever that means). Is it a dharma of a poor foot soldier to die unnecessary for a feudal war between two arrogant clans of co-brothers over who will own the kingdom? Had those soldiers been given a voice they would have called Mahabharata an epic blunder. If you look at the gods and heroes and legends that people follow or worship there is this war or their violent nature associated with it. There is an embedded heroism in war that still hasn't lost its seductive charm. It shows off patriotism, manliness, heroism etc.  People hate Gandhi for his unmanly non-violence philosophy. And on the contrary adore authoritarians inspired over their megalomaniac tendencies. 

Around 1000+ American soldier died in the last Iraq war, and they were honoured for protecting humanity. That is just like legitimizing the war which was fought for oil companies as something fought for humanity, waged to safeguard the world against mass murdering despotic country. And every dead American was made a martyr, like he died trying to protect his country or even the world. A 100 years ago a country never had to give an excuse to fight wars, but now they have to. So it is the duty of the governments to demonise a country before attacking it. If you read the amount of propaganda materials against Iran, however true or false, one cannot escape a thought on the need of such necessity. In the naxal hinterlands, the brutality of naxalities are measured in terms of number of CRPF jawans or policemen killed. Higher the number more brutal they become. Though they are deployed there to protect the interests of some mining company, their martyrdom makes an impression that they are there to fighting for people. The people back here loves it. To many war is the first step of negotiations. "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug" said Chris Hedges in "War is a force that gives us meaning" .  For that reason there is an overt inclination to such violence of huge proportions. The thrill of some poor soldier killing another can always be an incredibly good entertainment for the public, like getting a chance to view their frustrations getting redeemed.  In all the wars perpetrated in democratic nations, the culpability of the public can never be underplayed.  H.G.Wells may have been wrong,  what couldn’t end all the wars started the fire at least.


Writer's Block 3

Writer’s bloc is an annual play writing workshop sponsored by the British council. The idea behind writer’s bloc is to appreciate and promote the writers in an age where the actors or directors try to don the centre space. After the successful completion of the workshop 12 plays were finally born. Writers are all young and energetic. They all portray the contemporary society and its greyness. Rage theatre group, headed by Rajit Kapoor and Shehnaz Patel, organised the Writers Bloc – 3 theatre festival in Mumbai in January this year. Following its success, they are were in Bangalore with 3 of the 12 plays which was showed on 17th, 18th and 19th Feb. They were
As the name suggested it was an adult play, humorous and concerning the gender. The synopsis is like, there is a guy who is a wannabe actor in the day and a sperm donor by night. He, as per the experiments and experience, has magical sperm that has only ‘Y’ chromosomes. Which means, he can only give boy child. Next is his business partner – A broke single mother working in a gynaecologists clinic running lucrative male-chromosome business which is actually her main source of income. She doesn’t have to try too hard, most of the couples buckles when they are given a choice of a male child.  They have been running this business smoothly until this chap mistakenly spills his secret during an audition following which the lady who was directing the audition starts stalking him, and needless to say he falls for her and to the first lady’s dismay that impacts their business drastically. Things soon goes out of control as we see the darker side of all fantasies leading to a tragic ending. This pokes at the latent weakness when it comes to gender when they are given a choice. And how, the smell of money can drive people to the boundaries where something harmless whilst illegal start become vulgar and uncontrollable. Apart from this bit there had been several scenes that just adds to the humour and flow of the play and nothing more. Like the story of the second girl was rubbish, like she is unhappy and consults a spiritual guru who points her to this chap with a prediction that only he can make her happy. They were hilarious and as a story they all gelled well and was hilarious and entertaining. But there wasn’t anything take away idea from them. Needless to say all the crew were exceptional. The play was written by Siddharth Kumar and was directed by Akarsh Khurana
Pereira's Bakery on 76 Chapel Road
This is the story of a street in Bandra and the people living there and how their life is affected when they are served eviction notice to allow a multi layer parking lot for the new shopping mall , by demolishing their house. Story revolves around Pereira, his family and friends and his bakery that was started by his grandfather and is now part of his family legacy. The story initially resembled the Malayalam movie ‘Vietnam Colony’, an employee from the construction company befriending Pereira’s daughter and influence them to comply with the company’s wishes. But play didn’t take the route of fantasy that movie imagined. The reality is bleaker than what we would expect. The unending piling and demolition, harassment from the land owner and construction company, betrayal of friends and communities strain the bonds of friendship and tests the endurance of humanity before the weak finally succumbing to the onslaught of the powerful ones. The play wasn’t that bleak, it was humorous. The characters were very lively and witty. Even till the last minute there were enough stuff to tickle the funny bone, even when we see them bearing and battling all that with their little vanity and heroism. People can relocate, but legacies cannot. They simply get buried under the rubbles. This subject, though had been written about, movies made, plays enacted, there is always a gap. A gap which a person who really get uprooted from their homes and the reader or viewer who tries to get into their shoes and feel it. This play too fails to give the proper impact. The bigot society needs a much stronger pinch to feel how it is to bear someone arguing why they should give up their existence for an ill-quantified economic development of unknown people. The set was the key thing in this play, they had built a two storey scaffolding to put the play and that was incredible. This play was written by Ayesha Menon and was directed by Zafar Karachiwala.
A tribal joke goes like this “Heaven is a forest full of Mahua trees, and hell is a forest full of Mahua trees with a forest guard”. Mahua in its positive and negative impacts are shown as a central symbol to the tribal traditions of Orissa. It says Mahua trees make them feel like home. For gents, Mahua means liquor. The story takes us into the life of few tribals and their struggle to live in the world where they are not sure when they would be evicted for minerals, or be bombed by the army testing camps in one of their testing mistakes or be rounded up for being a maoist sympathiser. The play was in Hindi, raw with ample use of expletives. The story goes like this, Birsa, an ordinary chap from the village of Bihabund is caught for shooting arrow onto an old man from the adjacent village. The punishment the panchayat pronounce is to marry Birsa to Gilli, that old man’s unmarried daughter who is 12 years elder than Birsa!. Mahua flows and the marriage woes and other funny moments takes us into their life. But the cement companies have now got the rights to mine and the villagers have to relocate. Their struggle to oppose the move,  is suppressed with state sponsored violence. One friend joins the company seeking comfort while the other gets recruited by Maoists. Birsa and Gilli relocates to the new unknown corrosive terrain into the devilish toxic testing grounds that shakes their hut and life. As life gets more difficult, they get into smuggling unexploded arms. When one night a test bomb finds their already dilapidated hut as target, Gilli is wounded and bedridden.  Their misery worsened and death was the only thing they wished for. The writer of the play, Akash Mohimen drew his inspiration from the article from P.Sainath’s ‘Everybody loves a good drought’. It was about the tribals who were evicted for a limestone mine from their villages and rehabilitated in a wasteland in the middle of Army’s arsenal testing camps. The issue is a big question mark to the ideals boasted by the nation, and to disfigured face of humanity in this country that has made it a habit to view everything through the concept of development. The play ends with a soul stirring folk song of Kheria tribe which translates to this:
In the region of Hamko-Simko,
There came together the tribals of the forest.
Against the king and queen,
Against the taxes, they did protest.
There was no fight, there was no war,
As the queen ordered the soldiers to fire into the crowd.
Red blood flowed over, across the soil;
As the gunshots and cries, grew equally aloud.
They brought in motor trucks in large numbers,
And in them the bodies were loaded.
They took them to seeming,
And to Riaboda they were carried.
Until in Baamana a grave was dug,
And back into their beloved earth they were buried.
It was great. The plays were all original. It shows the emergence of new wave of Indian playwrights who are concerned with the social and political state of events. These writers are all youngsters, doing theatre as part time. The idea of promoting writers through such festivals makes this even better. I guess they would be bringing the remaining 9 plays too to Bangalore in instalments.


Remembering Misha

Does this name invoke anything to anyone? Like it does tickle little nostalgia to me?.
Misha(also known as Mishka) was the mascot of 1980 Moscow Olympics and the cute brown bear was an instant favourite that Disney brought Misha into Mickey Mouse comics as a guest from Russia. MIR, the Soviet Union's publication house started a children's magazine called 'Misha' soon. They used to have folk stories, science fiction, some make it yourself stuffs, science and cultural tid-bits and Chess tutorials, the national game of USSR.
My grandfather used to subscribe for 'Sovietland' magazines long back. Maybe that is how, when Misha came through, he subscribed for that as well. My father says those magazines used to be very cheap at that time. I guess it was Prabhat Books, that took the subscriptions for the MIR publications books and magazines. I don't recollect reading Sovietland, but definitely yes, the memory of indulging in children's magazine 'Misha', lies just like that in mind, maybe little tattered.
Sometime before we grew up to realise the novelty of such magazines, USSR was gone, Misha and Sovietland had stopped, and whatever that was left at home was given away to bottle-paper collectors. I had been searching for that in internet for a while, that is when I came across this! 
PS. Does anyone still hold any old copies of Misha? or Sovietland? Just curious!


Born into Brothels

Sonaguchi is a notorious red light area of Kolkata. Prostitution, abuse, drugs and many other evils had been thriving in the dark alleys of that slum. The most unfortunate ones of that slum are the innocent children on whom society have stamped the seal of outcasts. This is the story of eight children from this brothel, their lives, their fears, their likes, their dislikes and how through the efforts of two documentary photographers, for the first time, they starts to dream of a freedom from a curse that has been tagged on them from birth.

Zana Briski is a professional photographer and a social activist mainly working for towards empowering women and creating awareness of the condition and exploitation faced by women throughout the world. That is how she learns about the infamous red-light area of Kolkata. She travels to Kolkata to work with the local NGOs and take the photographs of the lives of people particularly women and children in these areas. But as a photographer it never worked out as she cannot go inside the slums and their homes to capture the very day to day life, most of them would shy away from an outsider who has come to photograph them.

During her stay she had to interact with many children of the prostitutes, from that interaction she thinks of teaching them some photography in return for the pictures that they take inside the slums. They  wouldn’t have any inhibitions to go to any dark corner of the slums, nor does the people bother some kids having time pass. Many drops out and finally the group closes to a bunch of eight children who were completely smitten over the art of photography. They would come to her house daily and there she would teach them the basics of photography, composition tips, post processing etc, then she would give them a camera and assignments to go into the brothels and come back with pictures. Soon she comes very close to these kids and there starts her mission to find out some way to save these kids from the brothels, particularly the girls whose destiny is otherwise the brothels of Sonaguchi. She and her friend Ross Kaufmann chronicle their experiences in Slums, the lives of the children, and their struggles to find a rehabilitation for these children as documentary.

The documentary is mainly in Bengali with English subtitles. The sight of the slum and the living condition of the people are sickening, yet the enthusiasm of the children over small small happiness could give heart aches. The first half of the documentary shows the lives of the children and their family. It follows the children as they run around taking snaps of the unawares, and showcasing some of the classic pieces of street photography captures by their eyes. They interviews the children, who talks about the kind of lewd questions the people ask them and their fear of falling into the profession the society have already thought for them.

Most of the families have been involved in pimping and prostitutions for generations and in such a tied up world apparently breaking away is a very difficult task. One of the girl Suchitra’s aunt had already received advance for transporting her to Mumbai. The boys don’t have that much fear as girls. One of the boy Gaur is determined to break out, as he says the future of the girls born there are in the worst waters. Now Zana and Ross have a task at their hands. Later part is mainly around how Zana and few friends try to rehabilitate these children through photo exhibitions and giving them recognitions in a wider society. Amnesty, UNICEF etc are few of the NGOs who have bought their pictures for calendars and awareness. They struggle in getting the parents convinced about the future of the children and few of them react positively, then she gets formalities sorted out of the labrynths of govt public service departments, speaks to various rehabilitation centers.

The documentary ends with the successful rehabilitation of few children and with a hope to continue this forward to other children.  One of the boys, Avijith, gets invited to attend the World press photography workshop in Amsterdam (only 9 children are chosen from across the globe!). They have opened an organisaton called Kids with Camera in Kolkata and couple of other places. The struggle for saving the children are still going on. This documentary can be viewed in various perspectives, from a child welfare, child empowerment, social isolations even street photography. A child is a raw gold, highly malleable, breakable, but pure, innocent. Our ears should hear every child’s cry, but they don’t!
This feature won the Academy award for the best documentary in 2004
More details:


Boy with a Suitcase

Rangashankara from Bangalore and Schnawwl theatre group from Germany has come up with a very beautiful play Boy With a Suitcase, about the journey of a boy with a red suitcase from his war ravaged home seeking an asylum in London. The play is based on the story by Mike Kenny and was directed by Andrea Gronemeyer. The cast includes a mixture of German and Indian actors. The play completed a successful run in Germany and reached Rangashankara last August where it ran successfully for a week .

The story starts with Naz, a 12 year old Asian boy, along with his mother and father fleeing their home following a devastating war and ending up in a refugee camp. But from here Naz has to travel alone through treacherous world of bandits, wild animals, human traffickers, sex traffickers & smugglers, to London where his sister lives. His mother arranges for Naz’s escapade through a human trafficker by selling everything that she has, including herself. All that he has to accompany him is a red suitcase filled with memories of his home, and the treasure trove of stories that his mother had told him.
Leaving behind his mother and father, the heartbroken Naz finds company - an east European girl who too has reasons to flee, along with whom he escapes the bandits who try to rob them on the way, and the wolves as they try to cross the dangerous mountains. Their journey takes them to a city where an illegal immigrant meant easy target for sex trade or bonded labour . While escaping a pimp, the two ends up under the doorsteps of a crony clothes factory owner who threatens them to be sent back to their homes if they do not oblige and work in the factory. Trapped for over two years, they finally manage to escape with his money and flee to their destination. But would they find heaven, ultimately?

A very well executed play, with beautiful technical side to back especially the music dept which is covered by the co-actors themselves.  I felt the music, which ranged from guitars to very crude flapping aluminium sheets, recreated the environment and situations very aptly. The play interleaves several tiny beautiful stories with the situation. Often inspiring an adventure while sometimes sober to sit and think or humorous to make things light, Naz always has some story to tell. This story itself is partially narrated by the adult Naz as a memoir, like a children’s fairy tale, underplaying the misery of immigrants’ and refugees’ lives. And all the while, as Naz imagines his voyage as Sinbad’s and all the adverse situations as challenge, we discover more poignant meaning of the endurance of humanity.