New Wanderings. Part 2, Amazing Things That Happen

Amazing things that happen when you travel. A golden sunset over the French countryside turns it into a dreamlike landscape. The green of the trees and the grass reflecting multiple hues of this universe. Seems unreal.

Two days ago, back in Strasbourg, I had to pass some time as I waited for my ride back to Gerstheim. I had noticed an art house theatre near Homme De Fer, the big tram station, whenever I was in that part of Strasbourg and since that day too I was browsing through the shops around I thought it might be a good idea to watch a movie. I inquired at the box office, are you showing any movies with English subtitles. Non, she said, but we have a movie in L’Anglais. (Or so I deduced from her French.) Well then, may I have a ticket please.

I had no idea what the title meant. It was time to be surprised. And that I was. I spent one of the most magical one hour and fifty minutes watching a classic in one of the most beautiful art house cinemas I have ever seen.

Cinema L’Odyssée was built in 1914. It is owned by the city of Strasbourg who outsources the operations to private enterprise. It must have been grand in the old days and still has that air about it. Red velvet seats, carvings on the wall, an old projector, old film posters hung nonchalantly, and art house films. A real hang out place for snooty French cinema geeks discussing auteur cinema. There is an underground library dedicated to cinema and you can buy film posters. To me this was paradise, one version of it anyway.

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And then the film I watched, that I came upon by chance. Who knew. Grand Prix Special du Jury and FIPRESCI Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Johnny Got His Gun is a brilliant watch. Donald Sutherland plays Jesus Christ and is so cool 🙂

But another amazing experience awaited me. Reiterating the vast and myriad connections of humanity and culture.

As I entered the gates to the grounds of the Strasbourg mosque (see my photos here), two men and a young woman stepped out. My friend asked in French if we could go in and they welcomed us. Somehow the conversation continued in English, they asked me where I am from. I always say New Zealand but this time, I think it was their brown skin that made me do it, I said I am originally from India. One man started talking to me in Hindi. Namaste, kaise ho? The other said, ah Shammi Kapoor. I said, yeah. He died last year. The man replied that he was visiting London that time when he came to know. Then he broke into a song. Dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho jiyu to humne lakh haseen dekhe hai, (I joined in here) tumsa nahi dekha, ho tumsa nahi dekha. We all laughed, hi-fived and went our way. Strange how human beings connect. Not strange that commercial Hindi cinema, before it was exoticised by the Western world and became Bollywood, had a massive audience from North Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, even old Soviet Russia. This man was from Morocco. The young girl with them was amazed at the conversation. My young friend Laura, a local and Alsace, was amused. Just before that I had been telling her that she should persuade her teachers at Strasbourg University where she is doing film studies, to include Indian cinema in the course. 🙂



What I learnt in Melbourne

This blog is long overdue. I know the elections of the world are around the corner and the elections of this little country called New Zealand are on 8th November…there is much happening everywhere. The ‘ethnics’ in South Auckland are unhappy with the way their problems are being handled. Deliberate ghettoisation and fragementation of communitites, pitting one against the other…as a friend mentioned. Hmmm…now where have we heard it before? Divide and rule? Anyway, there is much to write about if I want to. Elections are always exciting times but really I leave it to the experts. I know I will vote and for whom I am going to vote. Then maybe I shall make noise another day. This blog is about my trip top Melbourne almost a month ago. What with crashing hard drives and looming deadlines it has been tough to find time to blog. I want to discpline myself and blog at least once in fifteen days…maybe after the elections?

Right now it is all about what I learnt in Melbourne. I love Melbourne. This was my fourth trip to the city. I love hanging out at Federation Square, taking the local public transport-bus/train/tram to different parts of the city and just walking in CBD. I love sitting by the Yarra on South Bank and see the world go by. Yeah I love Melbourne. This time I encountered a very interesting person with a very interesting family history that is deeply connected to the world of Indian cinema. It is not a story that I can tell-yet. All I can say is that I was privileged to see the private collection of a person that brought out fond childhood memories for me. Those days of watching ChhayaGeet/Chitrahaar on Doordarshan and Sunday evening Hindi films when that was the only entertainment in good old India. Might sound boring now but looking back I think it gave us (or at least me) a sense of history. That is why when I saw this collection of pictures, photographs and movies I knew how important this story is and why it needs to be told. A story that spans continents and is full of high drama. A story that is like a typical masala Hindi film with action, emotion, drama, comedy, tragedy, romance, colonialism…get the gist? A story that has affected the lives of the most unlikely people. I know, intriguing. But in today’s time when the meaning of ‘Bollywood’ is usurped by capitalists and those-that-want-us-to-be-exotic or those-that-want-us-to-consume only, when you don’t know where you come from this identity-defining story can give the shivers. I then looked up Youtube for old Hindi film videos and-thanks to those passionate people out there who have uploaded absolute gems. Remember this song from ACCHUT KANYA? Did we get bored of this on ChhayaGeet or what? Now I taught it to my nieces. This story also has the strangest connection to a British music composer of Indian origin. To digress a bit there is this generation of musicians in the UK who have been inspired by Indian film music. Stuff that teens today may not know that comes from way back. Just one example. This song from the film YAHUDI made by Sohrab Modi (Minerva Movietone) was remixed by Nitin Sawhney for THE NAMESAKE into a completely different context and it worked!

I also saw an amazing exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. This place never fails to surprise me. Last time I visited Melbourne I saw the Guggenheim Collection and this trip I got a glimpse of Art Deco from all over Europe, from America and also Australia and New Zealand. I love Art Deco. There are many buildings in Bombay inspired by the concept. Heritage structures that might not survive if Raj Thakeray and other forces have their rule over the city. Anyway I did not know that Art Deco had a nationalist basis and in spite of being called only decorative, I could see the colonialism in the concept too. The Egyption inspired Cartier jewels and the Japanese inspired furniture, the African inspired clothes…then France had a major Art Deco exhibtion in Paris in 1925. This confirmed France’s place in the world as a premier ‘arts’ nation.

The streets of Melbourne are so vibrant and multicultural that it sort of belies the ‘White Australia’ that is portrayed in the Australian media. It may not be officially so now but television in Australia is all about blokes and big haired blondes that speak and behave ‘Stralian’. There is no place for other migrants that may have built the nation. Apparently Melbourne has the highest number of Greeks outside of Greece. But do we see them on the telly?  Or so many Italians that live in Melbourne? The culture on television is all ‘Anglo’ and ‘Stralian’. In Auckland, on a daily basis, I see Maori every where. I see them on television too. On the ‘white’ channels and on Maori Televivion but I saw maybe two aborigines just once on my first trip to Melbourne. Shuffling through the streets, in rags and smelling of alcohol; a defeated attitude to them. This is what Australia has done to her natives. I saw them and was struck with guilt for my middle class, post-colonial existence that allows me an education and mobility across the world. I wonder if third world migrants to Australia ever think of the aborigines or how systematic suppression, racism and colonialism has destroyed one of the oldest peoples in the world?

I try and learn something new everyday. I learnt on my various trips to Melbourne how all the people of the world are connected to each other and to the past. What happens in one part of the world affects people somewhere else maybe decades later. What the Western world does to stay in power, what parochial politics does to local people has resonance somewhere else. We may have our cultures, religions and languages; we may have our countries but we have this world, this universe and sisterhood first.