I’ve just put off recording another excerpt from this excellent book. The pre-Christmas period is always busy at the GP/family doctor. It is like more people want to see their doctor before the holidays when you are confronted with being at home with family/relatives/friends and do things together for more time than what they can bear. Human nature. Our half day sessions between Christmas and NYE are the busiest because people suddenly realise they have put off seeing the doctor and now is good. So those that need to actually have longer discussions about their health turn up hoping for those longer discussions but they never happen. We all work in a transactional world and dedicated time to assuage the anxieties of everyone is near impossible. It is not ideal but for that we have to dismantle and rebuild our approach to health.
Anyway, I came across this tweet today that I quote tweeted and although the original writer have deleted their tweet, the conversation reminded me of these words from रेत समाधि, Tomb Of Sand.
Geetanjali Shree writes about habits, rituals, traditions, memory and culture. Anxieties, inter-generational behaviours. I don’t want to translate from Hindi because that Daisy Rockwell has already done; that is the translation that won the International Booker Prize!
So here is my recording. I have not edited it and kept my little stumbles because they are natural. Like I am reading to my child, which I do, but not Marathi or Hindi. Which I should.
The first time I heard of Ret Samadhi (रेत समाधि) was somewhere in my Twitter timeline where I read it had won the International Booker Prize. I never knew such a prize existed! So many wonderful authors of languages other than English that we never know of simply because they are not visible in our small, limited worlds. But when different worlds collide we discover things of beauty that enrich our lives.
I was a voracious reader in my childhood. I still am, albeit with much less time to devour books at speed. Of course all these are books in English. Apart from the chapters in Hindi and Marathi texts at school, I’ve never specifically bothered to read a book outside of that.
No actually, I did. In my thirties. Because I decided I wanted to, needed to, know the literature of India and, while I could not read all the languages, I should attempt books in the languages I was fluent in. So I read Premchand Ki Shresht Kanahiya (प्रेमचंद की श्रेष्ठ कहानियाँ), a collection of short stories, the first of which in that very old edition was Shatranj Ke Khiladi (शतरंज के खिलाड़ी) that Satyajit Ray adapted for his only Hindi film. It is one of my top ten films and better than the original short story.
But I really put effort in reading Marathi books. The first one was Mrutyunjaya (मृत्युंजय) by Shivaji Sawant [not Mrityunjaya, that is the Hindi pronunciation). It was hard at first. My brain had to get used to reading several pages at one time, pause over pronunciations, and learn new ways of thinking. Once I got the hang of it though, I could not put down the book. A masterpiece, it is.
Then I discovered Bhau Padhye. His Vasunaka (वासूनाका) resonated with me because it was like I knew those characters. The chawl, चाळ and the inhabitants were familiar to me because I grew up in Girgaon, the old Mumbai heartland of the Marathi manoos surrounded by chawls, the migrant workers from the Konkan, the bored eve-teasing boys, the secret affairs that everyone knows about, and the brawls. It was simple and deep writing. A reflection of the native Mumbaikar. After that I read Rada (राडा) about an industrialist’s spoilt son who challenges a Shiv Sena shakha pramookh (chapter chief). Balasaheb Thakeray, Shiv Sena chief, tried to block the publication notwithstanding it was a Marathi book by a Marathi writer. So much for the Sena’s nativist roots.
Which brings me to Ret Samadhi. When I came to know it has won the International Booker Prize I decided to read the original Hindi book first and then the English translation. I am lucky to be fluent in both. I started just like I had Mrutyunjaya. Slowy, word by word, page by page. My Hindi is a bit rusty but it is like riding a bicycle innit. And I am hooked. Stylistically it is unlike any other Indian book I have read (except perhaps The God Of Small Things). Sharp, incisive and very observant. It cuts down the patriarchal, the neoliberal aspirational, conservative upper middle class Hindu India that has forgotten history. And I am just 50 pages into it. The prose feels like poetry such that I felt as deep urge to record myself and share bits from the book.
So acknowledging Geetanjali Shree, the author, and her gift to the world, here is a paragraph about Reebok shoes. I’ll keep posting as I read only because I want to share how the book impacts me.
It is alert level 3 in Aotearoa New Zealand and it’s been more tiring than I thought. Of course I have worked through this period. Not at a COVID-19 testing centre but keeping the wheels of primary care moving. Repeat scripts, ‘flu shots, phone consults, the anxious and the ill. Then there was/is the homeschooling. Utterly, utterly exhausting! I don’t know how parents with more than one child cope but I didn’t even have the energy to read a book. The child can now go to school but we still have homework.
We watched Mr India on YouTube. I thought a classic Hindi film about an invisible man, lots of kids and a comedy would be fun for the child. I first watched it when it came out in 1987. I was in junior college in Bombay. From my middle class, upper caste Hindu, dominant culture perspective it was an innocent time for us teens in India. For our parents, who had been born just before or after independence, building a new nation was top priority. That meant being upright citizens, focused on education and economic mobility, being modern but maintaining traditions and community. India had just come out of The Emergency. The anger was subsiding. Rajiv Gandhi had become the Prime Minister after his mother Indira, the one who declared The Emergency, had been assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards in 1984. (Why she was assassinated and the aftermath of that requires an in-depth discussion but suffice to say some Sikhs affected by the progrom after arrived in New Zealand as refugees.)
In 1987 Rajiv Gandhi was still popular and perceived as progressive. Someone who would take India into the modern era. I remember a speech he gave invoking Martin Luther King Jr. He seemed to be surrounded by fresh thinkers. Of course at 19 you have different priorities and ‘politics’ was separate from life. Mr India was released that year in May.
If my memory serves me right (because in those days I was an avid reader of Stardust and other filmi gossip magazines, this herewith can be a bit unreliable), Salim-Javed shopped around their script of Mr India for a long time. Popular Hindi male stars refused to take on the role of the invisible protagonist because the idea did not gel with their image. Shekhar Kapur came on board pretty late. It was his second film as director. Sridevi‘s most famous song ever, Kaate Nahin Kat Te Yeh Din Yeh Raat, came about when Feroz Khan told Shekhar Kapur to see her number Har Kisi Ko in his film Janbaaz just to understand how sexy she was in a saree. So we have Mr India. A film about an ordinary music teacher who raises orphans and finds a device that makes him invisible and gives him the power to fight against the powerful villain.
Now looking at it from a grown up, diasporic Indian, film student, filmmaker, writer, enrolled in an M.A. to direct drama and a slightly decolonised lens, I see a not just a fun film but a pertinent film.The Western world largely dismisses mainstream Hindi cinema as tedious and illogical (until now of course calling it Bollywood and whatnot = ‘$$$$’). How can a film industry that started pretty much after the Lumiere brothers brought their magic to Bombay be irrational and meaningless? The template is different from the Western model but we know that storytelling differs across the world. So does cinema.
I will argue that Mr India is a modern, urban ‘native’ story that captures the desires of Indians and the spirit of India across political climes. So I looked for articles and analyses but stopped myself from going down the rabbit hole of academic readings because this is not an assignment for a university paper. 🙂
None of the scanty essays on Hindi science fiction cinema mention Mr India but there is plenty about Koi…Mil Gaya, the most well known Hindi film from that genre. (I’ll give some references at the end of this long post, and not in an academic biblio format.) Mainstream sci-fi Hindi films can be counted on your fingers and I’ll categorise into two periods. Before 1991 and after.This cut off point is crucial because Indian society changed significantly after 1991 when Manmohan Singh opened the Indian economy. The free market benefited the rich and middle classes but nothing trickled down, entrenching successive generations in poverty. The money allowed the Indian to be upwardly mobile, aspirational, travel easily. Materialistic consumption became easy. India prospered but India got more divided along class lines, urban-rural lines and religious lines. She was not prepared for the neoliberal existential anxiety that would settle in like the dust on her roads, ailing and eroding her insides. Much has been written about this that can be found easily online. I blogged about it years ago after I read Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat and Anand Giridhardas’ book India Calling. There is a documentary John and Jane on Indian call centres that mushroomed in India. Anyway. Before 1991 there were only two Hindi sci-fi films. Mr X In Bombaycame out in 1964. It is a love story and has an invisible man, a flying car and a mad scientist in a small, straightforward, linear universe. Although there are two scenes that can be considered a comment on Brahman greed when the invisible hero stops four overweight Hindu priests from taking expensive gifts after his fake death rituals. Mr India came out twenty-three years later.
Now cut to 2003. Koi…Mil Gay, starring Hrithik Roshan, is the story of a young man with a mental diasbility who makes friends with a blue alien. Jadoo, the alien has come to earth in response to the sound Aum that has been sent out multiple times by the young man’s scientist father before he dies. Jadoo also ‘cures’ his earth friend’s mental disability plus gives his ‘superpowers. It is now welve years since India became a free market. Neoliberal anxiety has made a home in her psyche. There is deep fear of losing the Indian ethos, tradition and culture (=the Hindu way of life), the apparent outcome of material consumption and Western influence. It is also the time mainstream Hindi cinema travels easily, beyond its traditional overseas markets of the Middle East, South-East Asia and smaller places like the West Indies, Fiji, South Africa. Or the erstwhile USSR. Hindi films can now reach the Western consumer, the affluent Indians who will readily replicate popular cinema as culture(=Hindu culture) to assuage their own diasporic anxieties. Kaching! The few readings I did describe the ‘Hinduised visual regime’ of Koi…Mil Gaya. Jadoo is blue, like the god Krishna. He can use the powers of the sun to heal, like Krishna had multiple powers. And reshaping the ancient Aum’s syllables as a sonic signal when sound cannot travel in outer space! (You know, just like the claim that the sounds of the sun are like an ancient Hindu mantra!) Of course you could argue that Avatar has blue creatures too. But those creatures and the universe they inhabit is informed by various indigenous cultures. It is a story about colonisation and destruction not a religion resurgent as extremist ideology and supremacy. Another reading on Koi…Mil Gaya talks about how the film “re-inscribes the hierarchical systems of oppression that are associated with colonialism”.
All non-Western cultures reference their mythologies while telling stories. So does Indian cinema. Raja Harishchandra is the first film made in India. He was a noble king and his story is told across various ancient texts with slight variations. We all want to see ourselves represented but does India only have a Hindu past and Hindu mythology? Or does Hindi cinema erase India’s indigenous mythology? That is another topic.
The way I read it, Mr India does not reference Hindu mythology, a Hindu past or Hindu nationalism. There was no tension between telling a story about an ordinary Indian man who can become invisible aimed at local audiences and producing a film to entice foreign markets. Thus there are no flash digital effects done in overseas post-production facilities to compete with big budget Hollywood blockbusters. It is not imitative or derivative. The only anxieties are about everyday issues like being able to pay rent or afford food. Of course it is full of classic tropes such as the corrupt and ruthless rich businessmen and the white foreigner who exchanges ammunition in return for gold deities stolen from temples that he can smuggle out. (Bless Bob Christo!) Yet. Mogambo, the second most famous Hindi film villain after Gabbar Singh, who wears a blonde wig and decorative army dress, addressing himself in third person could be anyone. He is stripped of caste, race, nationality and religion. Seema, the spunky journalist, is a single, independent woman whose only aim is a good story. She moves between the traditional saree (used here as a dress of desire rather than submission) and Western clothes with ease. She does not bow to the patriarchy disavowing her self after she finds love. Calendar is gay, his homosexuality is normalised even though the speech and gestures are stereotyped he is not subject to ridicule. The orphan children are not scolded into respecting their elders or told never ask questions. Arun could have been invisible in real life. He is not a typical Hindi film ‘hero’. To make him even more every-man his attire harks back to Raj Kapoor in Shree 420. The invisibility is a salute to the dormant democratic power that Indians have (but rarely use). It is about looking internally to find the ability to resist and fight again our own corruption and an external power. These enemies lurk around at all times and can be anything or anybody because anyone can desire ultimate power and be corrupt at any time.
That is why, to me, Mr India stands out as a modern, urban ‘native’ story that captures the desires of Indians and the spirit of India across political climes.
Nationalism and Postcolonialism in Indian Science Fiction. Bollywood’s Koi…Mil Gaya. 2003. In multiple journals.
Science Fiction, Hindu Nationalism and Modernity. In Sci-Fi, Imperalism and Third World Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film, 2010. Both articles by Jessica Langer and Dominic Alessio.
Liverpool Companion to World Sci-Fi Film, chapter on Indian sci-fi. 2014.
Cultural Imaginaries of Science: A brief history of Indian sci-fi cinema. 2015. AV Lakkad.
Democracy is when you keep the people in the loop. Not some people but an entire country.
Democracy is not just voting.
Democracy died today.
Now for the land grabs, Hinduisation and further homogenisation of a vast, deep and diverse mass.
But Krishna, she will be born. Maybe she already is.
The charioteer will paint a new universe
Where wars are not about killing your own and winning
Democracy died today
She will rise. From death only will come new life.
I have never written so many posts so soon one after the other but here I am. My last post Musings On Suburbia on Saturday night and now this one. Nothing in particular. Just doing some work and listening to the podcast Moon Landing Memories on Spotify. A friend of mine sent me some other links on Apple Podcast commemorating 50 years of the landing but I have not yet listened to them. I am not an Apple consumer and only use my Mac Book if I am editing audio or video. Which is not much these days. I writing more than filming. Lots of still photography. Especially travel photography. Not fancy landscape but mundane things that take my fancy. They are all on this blog on the the right side bar. Via Flickr. I have quite a few others that I have not yet uploaded.
Anyway. The point is that I am writing more than I have in a long time. Looking at my old scripts, writing one-pagers, putting pen to paper. I am even attempting an experimental piece for theatre. Now this post.
I lived in Hobsonville for almost a year when I moved to Aotearoa in Decmber 2001. It was a small suburb with Whenuapai airport and army homes towards the north and Massey towards the south. Westgate was a collection of Countdown, The Warehouse, some cafés, Burger King and Event Cinemas. A gaming pub. I sat my driving test at the Automobile Association there. It was hard to get to Westgate from where my sister’s house. You needed a car or waited aeons for a bus. I took a bus into town when I started my PG Diploma in film, television and media studies the University of Auckland. You took it from the back roads of Hobsonville and it went down Don Buck Rd towards Massey, came out somewhere Triangle Rd before it got on the motorway. The last bus back from town was at 11pm and too bad if you missed it.
I went to Hobsonville after many years today and the Westgate area is a mess. Rather a superb example of very poor urban planning. Of course the roads have been widened and the fields opposite of the old Westgate, along the old road to Helensville, where Garelja Strawberries used to be are now fancy shops. Beyond that more parking lots and new developments. Another Countdown.
And lots of cars. But no sign of public transport.
I did not see a single bus go by; I did not spot a bus stop.
I was in Melbourne last week. I love that city, I love taking the train, the trams, the buses, walking the laneways. Public transport is smooth and easy. Of course Melbournians will disagree with this LOL. The two days I went into town, the Frankston line was closed beyond Caulfield. We had buses take us from that station to Flinders St. It was cold, raining, my son was with me and it was completely painless.
Here in Hobsonville, Auckland we have car upon car and a supposedly unending supply of parking space but no thought to public transport. Whoever planned this development did not seem have given a thought to adding in public transport. For now or in the future. So many people out there on the weekend. I am sure they would have taken public transport if there was any. With good frequency too. Not every 30 minutes. I drove. From Epsom. My bad too. I would have taken a train if it was there.
3 months since we moved back to Auckland and I got straight back into work, pretty much before I had unpacked. I still have a few paintings to hang, a few bits and pieces of furniture to get but I have mostly settled in. Physically. The mind is restless. Because I am not writing. Not writing what I want to write, when I want to write and how I want to write. I’ve written on my ‘tasks’ list that I have to write. I look at it, remind myself and then get busy with the mundane.
Then I hate myself because I have not written anything. Not even a line.
Of course procrastination is the norm for all writers. I have even blogged about it making it a virtue. LOL. I mean, how many excuses can I have? Studies, have to finish an assignment, have to cook, put the son to bed, send off emails. Do my taxes. I am tired. Not tonight, I have a headache.
Write, I tell myself but I don’t want it to be a chore. I have to enjoy the words, the energy, the flow. Even the lack of words, the inability to express myself and think about ways to do, however frustrating it might be.
I bought myself a notebook at the beginning of the year and have been writing words and thoughts. Shitty poetry. Angry prose turned poetry. No one else reads that but me. This is different. This is out there in the world. I never found that daunting, now I do. A bit.
But hey, look I have written a post about not writing! And it feels good. Maybe I’ll put some other things in here next time. Maybe force myself to write 100 words three times a week. How hard will that be? I tweet more!
I noticed that there has been an outbreak of mumps among students in the Dublin area (including a case in Maynooth). I had mumps when I was a kid and I can tell you it was no fun at all. I had thought mumps had been virtually eradicated by vaccination; the MMR vaccine was brought into use in the UK in 1988, and I had mumps long before that. I suppose one can lay the blame for the current outbreak at the door of the anti-vaxxers.
That brings me to one of my favourite words – yet another that I found out while doing a crossword – mumpsimus. Here is (part of) the OED entry:
Wikipedia gives “traditional custom obstinately adhered to however unreasonable it may be”, which is in the OED further down the page.
It seems to me that belief in idea that one’s children should not…
Three weeks ago I attended the Diwali function at Parliament. I am always surprised when I receive invitations for events organised by government or related agencies or even political parties. Who could’ve invited me? Why have they invited me?
Some years ago, I received one for a meet and greet with Don Brash when he was the leader of the National Party. Those days of snail mail. I was a bit shocked when I opened the envelope. Me?! For a National Party event?! (Or a Labour/other Party event.) I went along. I mostly do. It is usually out of academic curiosity; as an observer of human behaviour. What do Indian migrants want? Why do they do what they do? Why do politicians say what they say? That is what drives me. Don Brash spoke the usual stuff. Numbers, immigration, law and order. Strong subtext perpetuating the model minority myth versus dole bludging tangata whenua. The Indians, mostly men all suited, talked about immigration, visas, direct flights to India, law and order. Some I knew, others I did not. All Very Important People. They didn’t see or did not want to see, that even if supposedly better than iwi, they were not quite Kiwi.
There were hardly any women and no youth; there was an early iteration of Paula Bennett. As is my wont, I stood in the middle and asked Don Brash why there were no women and youth. Then I asked him what the National Party was doing about the health sector and the creative sector. The TVNZ Charter was going to be scrapped and arts funding was iffy if National won the election. A senior, a pillar of the Indian community who edits an Indian newspaper, his eyes popped out of their sockets. Ah, there she goes again. Who does she think she is! It was a fun Sunday afternoon.
That was my intention when I attended Diwali in Parliament on 28/11/18. To observe. Besides I love to dress up.
I live tweeted. So much easier to rant.
The dear Pakeha lady sitting next to me, who told me I was entitled to my opinion is the wife of a very important, senior Indian New Zealander. She was perhaps not used to a brown woman opining about numbers being problematic. Or asking questions. According to Statistics NZ Indians were the fasting growing ethnic group in Aotearoa. There were 155, 178 of us here in 2013. What could our needs be exactly? Direct flights to India? Better law and order? Better education? Better visa conditions perhaps? Jenny Salesa said, I paraphrase, we were doctors, engineers, accountants, all sort of highly educated, high earning types. We should also go into public service. Priyanca Radhakrishnan said we should make submissions to the select committees and she praised the honorary consul general to India Bhav Dhillon for looking after migrants.
Priyanca might become a minister one day, she is ambitious, makes all the right noises although the korero is empty but Jenny, Jenny should know better. What would she have said at a festive gathering of Pasifika peoples? Praised leaders and shining stars across the spectrum but also addressed the acute needs around health, social support, education, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing? Encouraged the community to engage in finding solutions? Talked about the wonderful Pasifika creatives telling amazing stories about the communities and sought more? Acknowledge the racism, the resistance, the self-reflection. Yet also be fully aware of the intra-community beliefs and perspectives, the rebels, the feminists, the patriarchs.
I mean, it was a Diwali celebration. Good versus evil, illuminating light, happiness, good versus evil. That singular myth about a triumphant Rama returning to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana. Best time to re-iterate the model minority myth so why shatter it?. That four days of celebrating different traditions and myths coming out of an ancient agrarian society to mark harvest and new beginnings is also a time for introspection and reflection. Most opportune to look beyond the facade of high education and silk sarees. The issues, Jenny would find, are the same. Health, social support, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing…exploited migrants…
Priyanca worked for Shakti and the Ministry of Women. Shakti’s Wellington Refuge has been struggling to get funding for some time now yet not a peep about domestic violence. Not before she became an MP, not now. Guess that sort of activism to create awareness and push for empowerment of her coloured sisters does not fit with her political goals. Then about Bhav helping migrants. I have young Indian migrant patients who are exploited by their employers and whom I have directed to unions. I suppose this does not happen in Auckland and north of then? Or maybe these young migrants with immense financial burden have been helped by the office of the honorary CG?No harm in mentioning that evil exploitation then?
There is now enough research to show gaps in health requirements, accessibility and outcome of the pan-Asian diaspora in America. That the model minority migrant is wealthy, generally healthy, can access health providers and services and have their supposedly fewer health needs met has been proved to be wrong. The Asian-American Health Initiative, the U.S. Office of Minority Health and this NCBI article are just some simple examples. It is not much different from Aotearoa and there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant academic research and maybe those Very Important Indians could potentially fund it in partnership with various ministries themselves. So when for Diwali, one wishes happiness, long life and prosperity is it just related to material wealth? Maybe no one gave Jenny the memo even though Jenny should intuitively know. Because that is the problem with numbers. 150,000+ Indians in New Zealand will tell us their superficial needs and what governments can do. Such as organise Diwali to make them feel Important. Join the public service but who will weed out the casteist right-wing Hindus, the patriarchal men, the misogynists, that get into the public service? The numbers will not tell you such outlook and ideology exists amongst the Indian here will they? Because you will only see, for example, ten Indians pat yourself on the back for being inclusive.
I don’t expect invitations to any political party/government/parliament events because, you know, the ‘angry brown woman’ mars subservient, grateful gatherings of Very Important Indians. And that’s alright. It is not like you need to be seen by and known to ministers and MPs to make change.