Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Gift.

Pop culture has an entire mystical edifice built around 'giving’. The Biblical-sounding admonition, “’Tis better to give than receive” sums it up. Christmas is the season of giving. It’s the Christmas spirit, see? Santa Claus is also a part of it, I guess. What’s his role in the whole season-of-giving rigmarole? Frankly, he’s the guy who sits in a mall to act as a conduit of children’s wish lists. The marketing suits hire him. So, he owes them one. Things got murkier when ol’ O.Henry from good ol’ Greensboro hopped on the giving wagon with his The Gift of the Magi. This short story ranks with the best in the genre. O.Henry − William Sidney Porter in real life − was the son of Algernon Sidney, a physician, and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter. His great-uncle, Jonathan Worth, was governor of North Carolina from 1865 to 1868. Dogged by bad luck, he was incarcerated between 1897 and 1901 for alleged embezzlement of bank funds. In1910, O.Henry died of diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver in New York. Five years earlier, he wrote The Gift of the Magi in the bar of Pete’s Tavern, extant even now, in the Gramercy area of Manhattan. Giving is a sign of love was his message. But a sign to whom? In Della and Jim’s case, there was no need to prove their love for each other. In buying the gifts they could scarcely afford they were merely conforming to a pop-culture ‘tradition’ fuelled chiefly by commerce. Were the Magi’s "gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh" to the new-born in the manger a wise and thoughtful choice? Frankincense and myrrh were probably for the baby’s body rub. What about gold, though? Was it a tribute to the perceived royalty and divinity of Jesus perhaps? P.S.: This morning, purely by accident, I happened to watch on the MGM Channel a 1988 movie called Masquerade. It’s about Olivia, a recently orphaned heiress swept off her feet by a dashing yacht racing skipper (Tim). To start with, his courtship is a part of a conspiracy to wed and kill her and share her wealth with his co-conspirators. But as their relationship grows, he begins to love her in right earnest so much so that, after marriage, he voluntarily gets his name removed from her will without her knowledge. He wants nothing from her, in short. He even sacrifices his life to save hers. How about that? (I know. I know. It's only a movie.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Babes in the woods? Tiger lurking!

If what Jamie Jungers says is not an experiment with truth, Tiger has walked willy-nilly into the Mahatma league. He is now on par with MK Gandhi no less. (AN AUTOBIGRAPHY OR The story of my experiments with truth, Chapter 8: My Father’s Death and My Double Shame, p.16). How come nobody noticed it?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Amar Akbar Anthony, anyone?

Recently, one morning, I was listening on my iPod to Mohamed Rafi singing the qawali ‘Pardah Hai Pardah’ from Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony. It suddenly occurred to me what an ass I had been not to have made friends with Desai when I had the chance. I used to bump into him in the late fifties in our mutual friend’s (Vinay’s) den in the Bhagini Samaj building virtually next door to 233 Khetwadi Main Road We somehow never hit it off. By all accounts, he was a gem of a guy whereas I used to be, in those days, an opinionated oaf who took himself too seriously. I remember thinking of him as a wastrel because he had quit college and was doing nothing. He used to borrow comics books from Vinay because he did not have money to pay the circulating library fees by his own admission. Then he disappeared from the scene. Vinay told me that he was probably assisting his brother in film production. In 1960, MD directed the Raj Kapoor and Nutan starrer Chhalia. It had hit songs and did quite well at the box office. His magnum opus unarguably was Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). I enjoyed it when I saw it in Apsara Talkies in spite of the innumerable cinematic clich├ęs he peppered it with. For instance, in the opening scene under the credits, blood from the three long-separated sons of different religions flowed into the veins of the mother (Mother India?). Then, in the unabashedly exploitative ‘Shirdiwale Sai Baba’ sequence, the son’s prayer triggered a miraculous recovery of the mother from the jaws of death. There was nevertheless an infectious joie de vivre he managed to inject in the movie that made it a fabulous fun flick. The story, by the way, was credited to Desai’s wife who was from the Khetwadi Main Road neighbourhood. Even after MD’s success, the couple continued to live in the same neighbourhood. What was incredible in the Manmohan Desai saga was the ending totally out of synch with his persona. He jumped to his death from the terrace of his building abutting the Bhagini Samaj building. Inexplicable!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Alternative History: freedom or transfer of power?

Come to think of it, the Congress Party at the outset was almost a non-starter. It debuted, on 28 December 1885, somewhat anemically under the baton of Allan Octavian Hume, Esq., formerly of the Indian Civil Service, a decorated veteran of the 1857 rebellion and coincidentally also a noted ornithologist, with the aim of keeping a watch over native civil unrest and collaborating with the British Imperialist administration. The idea was perhaps to act as a facilitator for the Indian accommodation to the powers that happened to be.

I just finished reading Freedom Struggle Betrayed: India 1885- 1947 (originally entitled Indian National Congress: How Indian? How National?). Described by its publisher as a search for answers to basic political and economic questions, it tells a story about how India won freedom and what role the Indian National Congress played, quite different from what we read in school history and other popular narratives. The thrust of the argument here is that what we learned about what happened is a huge and horrendous lie.

The Indian National Congress was always a collaborator or comprador of the British Raj right from the beginning with a program of lukewarm petition politics. It was so when Dadabhai Nowroji, Gokhale, Sir Phirozeshah Mehta and like-minded moderates − closely linked with the Indian businessmen, financiers and landed gentry − were running it in the early days. It remained so even when Mahatma Gandhi took over the reins of the Party and steered it right till 1947. The book cites evidence, chapter and verse, from various published sources to make a case for the betrayal of the freedom struggle by the Congress Party at every step of the way. It points a finger at Gandhi as the principal villain. Among his many trespasses cited in the narrative are the famous Champaran campaign, his intervention in the Ahmedabad textile strike and the Kheda episode. In all these instances, Gandhi persuaded the victims of injustice − the working class and the peasantry − to settle for less than what they had fought for. The beneficiaries of his intervention were the exploiters who got away with having to pay less than the rightful penalty. Similarly, in other instances where Gandhi claimed to be agitating against the British Raj, he would stop the movement when it had gained momentum but before it had really started to hurt the Raj. The famous example was the Chauri Chaura incidence. All these are seen by the authors of the book as an abject continuation of petition politics at the cost especially of the downtrodden masses, i.e., the working class and the peasantry. Gandhi is also accused of manipulating the Congress Party to suit his will and whims. There is a long list of transgressions in the book to his debit. The book is sharply critical of Nehru as well for his socialist “pretensions” and his claim that he was a champion of the rural masses. But once again the blame is shifted to the puppet master or Svengali aka as the Mahatma for manipulating Nehru on many policy issues favouring the other side. The trouble with Nehru was that he was a fairly decent writer with probably a writer’s ability to deceive himself and others.

My own take on reading the alternative history of the Indian freedom movement and thinking about it in the light of what little I’ve managed to learn on my own about Gandhi is that there could be quite a bit of truth in what it says. Reading Girja Kumar's BRAHMACHARYA Gandhi & His Women Associates is a big eye opener. One of the grossest instances of his interference in the lives of his associates is how he punished an adopted daughter Jeki for her sexual transgression involving his own son Manilal. and In one of my earlier posts, I had written, inter alia, as follows: “This [Girja Kumar’s] narrative is based mostly on Gandhi's own writings. In it, the so-called Mahatma comes out as manipulative, pathologically obsessive about sex and sin as well as power-crazed. His logic sounds circuitous, serpentine and often self-contradictory and specious, at times even inane. He apparently played God with the lives of those close to him. He was too intrusive and interfering.” He could have lived up to the image the report in question accords him, in short.

Did India wake up to freedom at midnight on 15 August 1947? Or, was there simply a transfer of power from the British Imperialists to their equally ruthless Indian compradors?

Take your pick or toss a coin.