Sick Minds

This horrid story had happened around 2005-06.

It has been quite some time since plastic bags containing tender skeletons were discovered in Nithari, a village near Noida, UP. The bags were thrown around in Nallahs and garbage heaps. The news numbed me so badly that I thought I will never be able to write about this horrifying incidence. In my entire long life I have never come across a more hideous act of crime, in my own country. I was completely shocked and disgusted!

I may be getting cynical, but basically I believe that majority of people in our society fall into the category of, ‘not nice’. Although nobody seems so on the surface, but given a chance of doing something on the quiet; we will lose our moral strength. We are insecure and scheming. We have no respect for women. We are always beating them, burning them or killing them; sometime even in their fetal position. Ironically this has been reported especially from the land of the bravery and heroism. We enjoy easy victory over weaker sex, because they are weaker and give-in in silence since they have to take care of home, children and us, men. We are the discoverers of how to rape vulnerable young girls in running cars.

But I had no idea that we had degenerated to this horrible extent.

There are many countries where the life has practically no value and no guarantee, like Iraq, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Somalia and perhaps many more. But there is a difference. These places are going through basic survival and political struggles. For people there, there is no guarantee when they will get a chance to sit down and eat a square meal and from where will it come? There is also lack of education. Idi Amin did a lot of plunder and rape in Uganda; but that is how dictators in such places are supposed to be. Innovators of ‘how to kill efficiently and cheaply’ did away millions of poor and week. It was the ego of a short, complexed and power hungry man against the week and meek. It was also the occasion of WW-2, so eliminating 6 million as cleanup operation was considered fair. But why does a well-educated millionaire who owns land, villas and businesses needs to do such atrocities on helpless poor children? It does not even make business sense, since it is so full of risk and may not be as well paying too. Plus how much sexual gratification the criminals may have got from those poor souls (that is what they are now)? I am at a loss.

This episode reminds me of some scary part of Ramayan when Ram, Seeta and Lakshman are sent to live in forest. This chapter is about the Asuras who are out to disturb the meditation and sacred life style of hermits and saints. Asuras do it by throwing human and animal parts into their holy fire of Havan and killing the sages. The two people who are arrested for this ghastly act, remind me of those Asuras.

I know lower and middle class everywhere is very defensive and wishes to lead a safe, hassle-free life. Many parents of these children either did not file the FIRs or did not pursued it. They did not want to pressurize the cops too much fearing a backlash. Many must have thought that it would be impossible to make the system work (be of help), because if anyone pursued hard, an enquiry against the complainant himself may start.

Some law keepers think, kidnapping young children, their unlawful confinement, violating their modesty (rape), murder, selling their organs and destroying the evidence in an organized way (+ more), is small matter.

Pt. Nehru is supposed to have sighed sadly once, ‘I know there is an India, but where are the Indians’? Well, it has been half a century since this observation was made in self-pity. Do not worry Panditji we are still doing it. Sigh!

Tidbits

I have been involved with nearly 30 feature films and about the same number of documentaries, in various capacities. I have worked mainly as sound recordist, production manager, script writer and director. I feel like sharing 35 years of my first hand professional experiences and information with as many like-minded people as, I possibly can. For this I will choose a few features and a few documentaries. I have already started writing and ultimately I would love it, if I am able to find a publisher to present it in the form of a book for masses to read. Film making is a very thrilling process to go through. It is a bit slow in parts but can move at break-neck speed at times. It may look a bit boring and mechanical at times, but is artistically very gratifying otherwise. There are loud explosions and tender words are whispered in ears. There is violence of ‘Loot Maar’ and deep emotional conflicts of ‘Kamla’.

I feel an honest and interesting form of writing down real stories of few productions will make good reading. After all this field has the most popular and sought after ingredients of the world – actors, writers, directors, location shootings, dances, tantrums, ego clashes, bloopers and of course goof-ups. I feel today there are not many people who have seen Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram or Kidar Sharma working on the sets, or during song recordings, during dubbings, sound effects, mixing… How did these legends gave instructions, how did they speak, were they soft or had foul language? Were they funny or dead serious? How did they dress while directing? All this personal information may be getting lost slowly and surely, because we can not find such people. And if there may be some one, he/she may not find worth the trouble, putting those memory gems on paper.

I agree I am not that ancient to be talking about nostalgic experiences. But I have been around since 1972 and have seen real film life quarrels (real not filmy), developing and cracking relationships, drinking binges and flaring tempers. I do understand that it would be my version and some may think of it as my colored opinion. But if some one is getting to read and know about what was it like in Nepal during one of Dev Anand’s film shooting 30 years back or how the documentary on ‘Knit-India-March’ of Baba Amte was shot 20 years back; I recon it can provide some value to a reader. But as the time passes (it always does- take it from me), I am certain the value of this text will only grow, due to its historic values. I am certainly not claiming that film makers may get some production ideas from such compilations. In any case the movies are not made the same way as two or more decades back.

In today’s world there is so much to read, hear and see. Market leaders use expert writers, columnists, painters and film makers. Experts are of less value today than popular writers. You need to be good to be an expert; but you need to have a personality or charisma to be popular. I guess it is like the difference between a ‘performer’ and a ‘star’, like the difference between Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan, Ashok Kumar and Govinda, Nutan and just anyone else. If you act well or write well you are in the same league as other experts. But to be popular, you need to have an aura, a personality or someone’s name behind you, for people to identify you. Om Puri may be working extra hard on his role in a film with Tom Hanks. He would be working to match his abilities with the best in the world. While other stars may be strategizing to improve box office collections; some may hire a team to help them propel upwards and outwards.

We are in the business of putting a smile across people’s faces. Some movies or books make X smile, while others make Y happy. Whose smile is more gratifying for us, is our target audience.

(From archive April 24, 2008)

Ever Pink Mumbai Flamingos

Recently one of my very old wish, got fulfilled. I don’t remember when, I had read in a news paper that Mumbai gets migratory birds every year. Since I have also been a keen amateur photographer, I was very excited. But I was a little puzzled too. I thought this city seems far from a sanctuary for delicate migratory birds. I could not imagine where would they perch, what would they feed on and where would they lay their eggs? If it happens by the seaside, then where? Or is it in the forest area of Mumbai like the National Park? Of course Mumbai was not like this always, but presently entire sea coast of the city is polluted and the forest has so much encroachment and other disturbances. Much later I came to know that birds are Flamingos and they land near Sewri. Sewri? I thought! It is so industrialized and there must be so much oil spilled around due to the refineries…

Well just a few days back a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to Sewri to watch the Flamingos with him. I immediately said yes, of course! He suggested that it was better if I stayed the previous night at his house, in Bandra since we were to leave home at 5.30am. I agreed, no hassle. If a dream was coming true after so many years, anything was ok. It was important to be there before the sun rise. All was done as required and as planned. Our car rolled out of the gate at 5.30am and we were at Sewri area by 6.00am. It was our first visit to the area, so we had to ask for directions and proceed slowly. Gradually we rrealised that the mud on the edges of the road was getting blacker. The smell too changed. And the air felt a little heavier. Driving slowly and looking around we finally reached near the landmark that was told to us, the blue ‘Colgate’ building. We parked right at the edge of the slushy sea and got off. There were four security guards sleeping on a platform under a tree. I am a little wary of security guys. I had no idea whether it was allowed to be so close to sea or if we can click pictures with oil refinery in the background.

It was still dark. We were carrying a pair of binoculars. Looking through them my friend suddenly said excitedly, ‘there they are! My god, there are thousands of them!’ With my old bare eyes I too concentrated but could notice only thousands of out of focus pink dots scattered over the sea bed. As the light was still very low, I could not see them very well. So I put my specks on and then, saw them very clearly. All of them were walking about by themselves, looking down and constantly picking up something from their beaks. Obviously they were picking up food. I can only think it might be either small shells, baby crabs or fish stuck in the shallow due to low tide. I took the binoculars and realized the view was absolutely fabulous! As now I could see them very clearly and in group of 4-5. Most of them were entirely pink in color. Some were white and some had geometrical designs on white feathers. Their beaks were large with the tip turned in.

The clouds hanging over the silhouetted refinery structure in the distance were beginning to get hit by patches of flaming red color. In a while a part of the sun peeped out from behind a hill. I kept clicking away with my digital camera. Sometimes I was using full zoom to get a small patch of shimmering pink on the sea bed. We soon realized that there was no way of us walking closer to these great birds as entire sea bed was very soft to walk on. What a pity, we thought and started thinking of finding another place to get a little closer. I hid my camera as we reversed the car and drove off leaving the soundly sleeping watchmen without even a stir. Now I noticed a fleet of oil tanker trucks parked all along the road side. We moved slowly and found a tea stall from where we could watch the end of the road into the sea. I asked the Chaiwala if we could go to the end of the road to see the birds. Of course, he said.

It was a good cup of Mumbai’s famous ‘cutting Chai’. We parked the car well before the end of the road. Ships were berthed on both sides of the road that was actually a jetty. It was a strange site. So many people were exercising and doing Yoga right on the edge of the jetty, overlooking the distant sea and the Flamingos! I thought what a difference in life.
Here I am who has struggled so hard and waited for many years to watch these birds and here are some people who are engrossed in themselves right in front of these amazing birds.

By this time the light had come up and I could see their activity more clearly. I took a lot of pictures until I was happy. I am very fond of the ambiance of ships and shipyards and also trains and their associated atmosphere. I shot pictures of those ships tied to the huge pillars with giant sized ropes. Due to low tide ships had no life in them. They were totally still. I sometimes wonder, why visuals and sounds of trains and ships excite me so much. Last but not the least, there is (actually was) this little known ‘Sewri Fort’, right there. It is not a very large fort, and it is certainly breathing its last. Nothing is right about it. Its walls have crumbled down. Trees have grown on walls that have not yet broken. There is a lot of garbage dumped all around. The fort has been encroached upon from all sides. Slums have come up everywhere. Worst of all, all those slum dwellers use the fort as a toilet. From top of the roofless fort I could watch the sea, the Flamingos and the drab blue structure of Colgate factory.

Flashback

As I kept my eyes glued on the birds I got lost in thoughts. Slowly, I noticed that distant structure of Hindustan Petroleum refinery, started fading away. The ships and the jetty were gone. As I turned my eyes away from sea, I realized blue Colgate building too had vanished and entire area looked bare but green. I had no idea where I was. Suddenly I heard stern male voices in typical British accent.

As I looked in their direction, I saw many British soldiers adjusting canons through the peepholes of the fort. Some of them were watching the sea through large binoculars. I am very scared of security guards, so I was worried in case someone noticed me. And one guy in red uniform did! I froze. He started moving towards me. I nearly wetted my pants. I shut my eyes. Crisp sounds of his metallic soles passed me and went away behind. I tried to wipe the sweat off my brow. I could not feel it. I looked at my hand, there was nothing. There was no me any where. For miles there was only green earth and blue sea with thousands of shimmering pink dots.

2 Drinks 2 Much!

I don’t drink alcohol any more. I started in 1971, as trial or experiment, then more tasting, enjoying, offering friends, on the verge of addiction, and finally to 2 drinks of social drinking… but after 27 years I gave it up suddenly in January of 1998. Jan 25, 1998 to be precise. I have a great will power, so I did not have to reduce it gradually. On Jan 26, I announced loudly, ‘cut’ and the role of liquor in my life was over. ‘I have had enough of it – for life’, I said. I had enjoyed it, hated it and suffered it too. Some thought I was a fun chap after a few drinks, but I know after booze, if someone tripped on my toes, it made me mad and following scenes would be ugly. One fine day I felt responsible for one of those ugly scenes and decided to give it up for ever. That day, I think I was going to earn the ugly tag of ‘not a nice chap’. So in spite of really loving my drink, it was far from painful for me to call it a day. Interestingly raising of my first glass of alcohol too had not been without serious pains…

Background of this lies in the fact that for generations nobody had ever consumed alcohol or ate non-vegetarian food (including eggs) in my family. Some time even ‘Tamasic’ garlic was not allowed in our house. I had never seen a bottle of booze even in a shop nor had I seen anyone carrying it or drinking. I had seen only villains in movies ripping the chicken legs. Many years back as kids, we would slyly point to a house from far and say ‘you know they cook non-veg or one old man in that house, drinks!’

First time I saw someone drunk was when I was 11 years old. We were in a small town called, Bhagwanpur. My father had taken me on his bicycle for shopping. In the market he met an acquaintance, also with a cycle in the market. They both stopped and started chatting. I noticed that man’s face was red and he was not steady on his feet. I found him looking like a dangerous criminal; perhaps like a dacoit. I was trying to hide myself behind my father. Just as they finished talking the man bent towards me unsteadily saying, ‘so this is your son’ and my breath got filled with an unbearable and unknown stench. He almost dropped his bicycle, while bending towards me. I freaked. My father was holding my hand tight, in case I run away…

Ten years later when I was 21, I found myself picking up my own first glass of an alcoholic drink. I was studying in Poona, far away from my family. I remember it was in the hostel room of an editing student, Madhu Sinha. There were 4-5 students huddled in a dark moodily lit and smoke filled room. I don’t think in that group anyone was well off. So it was very difficult for them to offer some of the precious black rum to me. I saw their faces; they were clearly giving me dirty looks, because I was over staying in their room with a definite purpose of bumming a drink, my first drink. Finally I was given 1mm of rum in a glass and it was topped up with tap water. After glasses stopped clinking and everyone finished whispering customary ‘cheers’, I brought the glass rim to my lips and… sipped it. I knew it was not going to be pleasant; but I had no idea that it will be so horrible. I looked away to hide my disgust. Slowly I kept sipping it and kept eating lot of salted stuff right under their dirty looks. I was happy that I got a chance to experience this horrible tasting stuff. It helped me reach an important decision right there- ‘I was not going to drink again’. Another thing that I was working on was, to find its effect on me. I could not discover anything, then. But soon I realized that I had stopped talking. I would answer everyone with a nod and sat there with a smug smile pasted on my face through out. After others finished their much larger drinks, my glass too got empty. We all split for dinner.

I watched their body language. They all had turned much louder and aggressive. It was a way of telling the rest that they have had the privilege of having a drink. So don’t mess. I did not want be a part of that group. I don’t like aggression that might get physical. I came out of the hostel and decided to take a walk on the path. I was concentrating hard on studying the effect of that tiny drink on me. I was delibearately conscious, too conscious. My arms in place of swinging normally; were fixed by my side. Anybody would understand that I was trying to be steady by mentally shackling myself.

Next morning I got up and headed for the bathroom with a towel wrapped around me- a dress code for students going to bathe. Someone passed by me giving a strange look. Then a friend stopped in front and said what has happened, your whole body is red! I looked down at my stomach… legs, my arms. They were all deep red. I was shaken up to the core! I went back to my room, picked up the small mirror and did detailed checkup. I was red all over, on my back, behind the neck, except my palms, soles and face. My heart was beating hard. I had no idea if this was permanent or what. I might have to go to a doctor and will have to admit that I had a drink. I thought that horrible ‘rum’ was the biggest mistake I had made. That was my life’s most disturbing day. I am supposed to be here for educational purpose, on my father’s hard earned money and I have committed a sin. That is how I have been brought up.

Well, I picked up courage, wore an old shirt and went for bath. As I poured water on me, I got a shock. The feeling of flowing water over my body had changed drastically. I felt as if my skin had thickened with some rash and the sensation of any touch had changed totally. It was strange kind of a pain. Enduring the pain I soaped myself and used as little water as possible. Worst was yet to come. As I used the towel to wipe my hair and neck, I felt my skin was getting peeled off. I just sat down in pain and shock. Slowly I touched the back of my neck to check for the blood. It wasn’t there. I started dabbing myself softly to dry and gingerly come out. Wearing clothes also was a pain and then while walking to my class, trousers and shirt rubbing against skin too was horrible. I knew that I was in deep shit. I had to tell my friends that it is the reaction of a drink and I was never going to drink again. It does not suit me…

I did not go to any doctor and took no medicine. I couldn’t. It took ten full days for the rash to subside on its own. Few months later I entered my final year. I was very tense and had been studying real hard. I friend of mine asked me to share some beer with him. I said no way. He said don’t worry; beer is not a hard liquor. I had that beer and next morning my skin again erupted with the same violent reaction. I cursed myself for having to face all that discomfort all over again. But I noticed this time the skin condition got cured in 6 days.

In my heart I was encouraged, but I thought it was not worth it. My studies-schedule was very tight, but I friends cajoled me to have a small drink, on and off. I too was checking if my body was getting accustomed to alcohol. If it was, I thought it would be a good sign. The skin reaction time kept falling from 10 to 6 to 4 to 2 days and finally it was all over. It took almost a year to achieve this…

I remained a faithful friend to alcohol for 26 years and then respectfully parted company; for good. Now sometimes I would sniff an open bottle of a good whiskey or a red wine for an appreciation purpose only. I have a lot of respect for a good drink and for people who respect their drink. Even the doctors say that having 2 drinks is healthy at my age. But since I have totally detoxed myself, I would not like to complicate matters once again. So I feel I will be fine without those 2 drinks, even if doctors are fine with it.

Insignificant Encounter

There is so much to write about when you are back home after being exposed to a new environment, new colleagues, new culture or even a new location. It is easy to get excited and fill pages with the stories of important people, places and heartwarming incidences. But this incidence in 2007 that I am writing about falls in the category of an ‘encounter of the insignificant kind’.
While shooting in Mcleod Ganj, we were staying in a hotel called ‘Spring Valley Resort’ at Bhagsu Nag, though we spent the first night in Hotel Triund. Triund is the name of a snow capped peak visible from our hotel. One can trek to this peak in 4 hours. On the off day I decide to be rebellious against the weather. I wore my shorts, T-shirt with a short sleeve sweater and went for a walk, up hill towards the Triund. The sun was good and so was the gentle breeze. After half an hour I came across an open-air restaurant called ‘Haifa’. I came to know later that Haifa is an Israeli name. Place was totally empty. Maybe it was too early. I took a table in the sun and noticed that the soft music being played was actually Indian Bhajans sung by foreigners. I was the first customer there and the kitchen perhaps hadn’t warmed up yet. A Nepali waiter very politely took my order. While waiting I fell ‘in like’ with the Bhajans’ CD that was playing. I asked the boy about the music. He said it is Kirtans by Krishna Das. Next I asked him if I could borrow the CD to make a copy. He apologized and said that the lady who owns the place is not here yet. Understandably he could not give anything to a total stranger without his masters’ permission. It was fair. So I told him that I will come back sometime when she is around. The breakfast was a massive meal with a large bowl of corn flakes with fruits and cold milk, 2 eggs omelet, 4 toasts and a large glass of tea – not to forget Kirtan sound waves floating in the air. I left after struggling to stomach the last sip of the tea.
After a few days my room-mate Pinaki and I walked to Haifa to try my luck with the music CD. I met the small made Nepali lady and asked her about borrowing the music. She went to the counter, picked up the CD and handed it to me. Just like that! I was nonplused. I told her hurriedly that I will try my best to make a copy right away and get it back within an hour; if not definitely by tomorrow evening. She said ‘no problem, but don’t forget to get it back as many people keep asking for it’.
If I was in her place and a tourist asked me the same… well, let us not talk about that. I did make a copy in less than 30 min and Pinaki went to return it. After that I decided to make another copy of it to give it to her as a spare; just in case if someone is not able to return it. Pay it forward.
I am able to extract a lot of wisdom from ordinary incidences and ordinary people. This practical demonstration of trust may be more useful to me in my life than the blessed Khata I received from HH Dalai Lama. As the distant future turns into present, I don’t know who all I will talk about and how much; but the Haifa lady’s story titled ‘Trust’ will remain a good one to narrate for a long time. In fact just like her I too find it much better to trust people in my dealings and loose something small; rather than stay tense in mistrust and later realize that it was a wrong to do so.