Monday, January 23, 2017

Jottings : Slice of life - 90 ( “Pink” is just another color not a gender-connotation)

Jottings : Slice of life - 90 ( “Pink” is just another color not a gender-connotation)
The sexual objectification of women, looking upon them as unequals not capable of walking shoulder to shoulder with Men has a very long biological and social history - pretty much extending to beginnings of Human species. Anthropologically, female sex was only a child bearing and domesticated member of the human group, and it has continued in various forms, shapes, ideologies and subtleties throughout the march of human civilization. It is surprising when you come to think of it that only 125 years have passed since women got the power to vote, to stand on equal terms “politically” alongside men. New Zealand was the first to adopt woman suffrage in 1893, followed by New south wales, then Finland followed by USA and Great Britain and rest. Saudi Arabia granted suffrage only few years ago ( 2011). It is still an evolving process in some remote corners of the globe. Democracy is great experiment of living together, but it also, like any great idea , unleashed new powers and forces into society. Every Man (I use the word in its neutral gender here) is free to work, participate, contribute and live as independent and equal members of community , and they are free to pursue their own life styles without reservations and hesitancy. In such a milieu, it is important that basic psychological changes in gender relationships must also occur in parallel. While it is relatively easy to change outward circumstances, create new laws, make new penalties, enforce physical compliance, thunder political speeches on equality, provide unbiased opportunities at work and elsewhere; but, for transformatory change in the inner recesses of human heart and mind, for Male members of society to accept deep down that the old order of gender disparity practiced over millennia has irrevocably changed, and their male feelings of superiority, sexual omnipotence and status of primary care takers, keepers of morals and values -is no more valid or their sole prerogative and is equally shared, participated and contributed to by Women as well . We may have achieved physical emancipation of women in the last century, but it is a blatant fact - borne out by circumstances each day in every democratic country - that we are far behind in achieving psychological emancipation and genuine platform of equality amongst us. Women are still , at every available opportunity belittled, humiliated, sexually tormented, ,molested and verbally assaulted. Instead of merely being physical and outward, the war has been become vastly internalized. No more do men openly proclaim their superiority in public, but they find ways and means to subtly communicate that message to the opposite gender in a million different ways. In language, through art, through dress, through commonplace social acts - in short in day to day life. The female sex is under an odd predicament. One hand, they do believe or want to believe they live in an emancipated, equal society; but, and on the other hand, they are subjected to vicious psychological and physical innuendoes which are more difficult to handle and process than direct assault. Physical danger is perceivable and one can plan for it, but how does one plan for psychological brutality, which can all of a sudden can turn physical, at moments notice.
Modern society reels under this tremendous pressure. Girls and boys, Men and women are constantly having to be on their guards. Under the guise of politeness and decency lies a brutish self, which is kept in abeyance, until an opportunity presents itself. Rapes, groping, molestation, verbal shaming are manifesting themselves with increasing regularity everywhere, more so in those nations who have a hoary past of feudalism and female subjugation. We want our girls to be outgoing, strong and self made; but then we pull them side to another room and caution them to be careful with whom they move and mix. We tell our girls the world is a significantly better place than it was in an earlier generation, but the girls know they have to keep themselves safe and pretend not to be afraid on the streets. We tell our girls to reach for the sun, but whisper into their ears that their destiny lies on earth. We want them to be independent, but we are still afraid to let go of our protective hold completely, lest they be consumed by the hypocritical double standards outside. This is the psychological battle of modern times. A battle still being fought, and whose end is not in sight. It is only when this tussle consummates in equality, can we truly claim of female emancipation. Otherwise its hypocrisy.
That I wrote the above two paragraphs at one go is testimony to the powerful effect a movie, its story and the magnificent performances in it - had on me and my artistic sensibilities. In the annals of Indian cinematic history, “Pink” will stand as a landmark film. Three young girls find themselves molested by three young boys whom they take to be friends. The result is an eruption of sexual and physical violence that leads to the court steps for resolution. This is the story of Pink. This is not a story of rape. It is a story of gender relationship, and what is assumed in those relationships. The stereotypes, the primeval mindset, the feeling of financial and social superiority, all of them coalesce into one fiery ball of sexual impertinence in their male friends throwing the lives of three independent middle class working women into hell, agony and humiliation. The story captures a double bind. On one hand, the girls actions point to “loose” morals, but on the other hand they have a right to behave and act as they deem fit without having to define themselves and their boundaries. After all, this is the promise of democracy. Is it not? If yes, who draws that line, where and when? It is a blurry line, if we see it though colored eyes, but the line is crystal clear if we know what we are looking at. Pink brings our that clarity with astounding veracity and force. Amitabh Bachchan, at the age of 70 plus who seems to be evolving into a better actor with each movie, in the last moments of the memorable film as Lawyer Deepak sehgal stands up and sardonically points out “ NO, YOUR HONOR”. The word is “NO”. That is the defining line for anybody, any relationship whatsoever. The ability to say “No” and the equal ability accept “No” as a valid response, especially to an act of sexual nature, is the corner stone of gender equality and enlightened democracy. It is not an argumentative negative, but an existential positive. The only way to control and curb opportunities for sexual abuse is when we learn to respond affirmatively to a “NO”. This “No” cannot be legislated, coerced, or pushed down ones throat. Its an inner call that rises, when Men and women truly understand what democracy with all its significance means. The point when “ your liberty ends and the others nose begins..” is the point to withdraw and part as friends. That is the message Pink gloriously brings out.
Almost everyone in this movie have played their part to perfection. Taapsee, Kirti, Andrea as the three girls have understood their roles well enough. Not a moment of exaggeration or forced melodrama. Of course, acting alongside the master helped. What can I write about Mr Bachchan. His very presence is enough. Choosing roles with care, studying them with assiduity and performing with commitment, integrity and passion that makes us forget we are looking at a man who has been doing this for 50 odd years with unrelenting energy. His baritone voice, fabulous diction, well crafted dialogues majestically delivered, engaging bodily movements of Bi-polar patient, piercing and sympathetic eyes - all of them bring the core tale to life touching deep chords with every passing moment. I cannot think of this film without Amitabh. After a very long time, a Hindi film left with me with parched lips and moist eyes. I like to be emotionally moved and intellectually stimulated when I experience art. “Pink” gave me that benediction. Thanks Surjit Sorcar!!
God bless….
yours in mortality,
Bala

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Jottings - slice of life - 89 ( Gandhi behind the charka , and Modi’s identity)

Jottings - slice of life - 89 ( Gandhi behind the charka , and Modi’s identity)
It is dangerous to tamper with deep rooted symbols, especially , if those symbols are emblematic of man's attachment and veneration of an ideal beyond himself. More so ,if millions look up to that symbol as an expression of something deep and transformatory, or is reminder of an historical event that forever changed the way they lived. Why is the cross so very special to Christians, or the linga to the Hindus, or the swastika was to the germans?. Those are portent symbols which evoked powerful responses from people.
Swami Vivekananda was once asked by a king why he encouraged idol worship when he was a committed advaitin ( non- duality) himself. Vivekananda looked at him with his beautiful lotus shaped eyes and took the king by his hand to a huge portrait of the king’s father hanging in his lavish hall. Pointing his finger towards it he asked
“ Who is this on the wall ?”.
The king said “ My father Swami, who passed away a few years ago”
“Can you spit on this picture?”
The king was alarmed. “How can I Swami?, it is my father’s memory”
Vivekananda smiled and said “ Similarly idols are memories or remembrances of something divine and deep within man. As long as the symbol serves the purpose, there is no need to discard or change it..”
The symbolic picture then of a contemplative Gandhi behind the charka (hand loom), spinning Khadi is an iconic one. It represents the angst, the glory, the calm repose, poise and the message of non-violence - all rolled into one - of one of the greatest philosopher-politicians of the twentieth century, or perhaps in record human history. There are only few names which are instantly recognizable almost anywhere in the globe, and Gandhi is certainly one among them. His political ideals, vision of Independent India and choice of leadership during its formative years may be argued and debated, but none can question his personal integrity and the kind of reverence he holds in peoples minds and hearts. To most Indians, he is the man who bought them independence; he is the man who singlehandedly broke the high-chinned arrogance of the British, he is the man with feet firmly on Indian soil and defiantly represented the inner resilience of Indian civilization against the exploiting imperialism of the west. Khadi was his tool to attach himself to the common man. His symbolic picture in cross legged pose weaving Khadi as a daily ritual in Sabarmati ashram between 4 AM each day was his prayer, consecration and commitment to the cause of ancient Indian psyche, its indigenous culture and material welfare. He himself wore the simplest of khadi attire, a cloth wound around his puny legs, and a shawl that casually draped his shoulders. In this threadbare attire, he walked not only the length and breadth of India, but the chilly corridors of Westmininster hall and England. “Who is the this half naked Fakir ? “ was how Winston Churchill could describe the man who was rocking British rule to its very foundations. Khadi was his weapon - both Material, spiritual and pure. And After independence, the image of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi behind the charka was etched into Indian psyche as an integral part of its collective consciousness symbolizing its identity, struggle and triumphs despite the vicissitudes that tore at its body social, political, moral and cultural over the centuries of successive foreign dominions . Generations of great leaders sought inspiration , solace and vision from that one iconic picture. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr grafted the fire lighted by Gandhi to their nations and struggles in their own way, and both of them had a picture of Gandhi behind the charka in the corner of their study rooms, silently emulating and receiving his benediction.
in 1946, Margaret white Bourke, the acclaimed British photographer journalist spent some weeks in Sabarmati ashram understanding and profiling Gandhi. She took this iconic picture during her stay. When Life magazine, published it in 1948, after Gandhi’s assassination, it became one of the most striking images ever taken of a political leader, at the the height of civil disobedience, reading with mystic composure a herbal magazine with the Khadi charka in the foreground. It epitomized the man, his struggle and his tremendous inner conviction.
It is this symbol that Prime minister Narendra Modi has attempted to replace in the annual calendar that Khadi Gramudyog bhawan releases each year. By itself, it is an innocuous act of childish self identity, but when you think of it as manipulating a national symbol then it begins to assume different connotations. In the flurry of activity surrounding Jallikattu ( bull fighting) , many seem to have ignored this transgression or else not paid enough attention to it. Hardcore supporters of Modi may argue that Modi is more than competent to replace Gandhi’s traditional presence in an annual calendar event, because he wears Khadi himself, and is a genuine representative of Hindutva. But, a little thought will explain how hollow and misplaced that explanation will sound to their own ears. To issue a separate calendar with prime minister Modi clad in finest Khadi is fine, but to change or replace what is symbolic and existing for decades is not in good taste or principle. That calendar with Gandhi on it has a meaning, a relevance that goes beyond the days and months it captures. To change that is to violate a sacred place within. Perhaps, Modi is good at what he is doing. One of the fears when he came to power was his incessant hankering after self image, especially that of Hindu India, and how he could go any distance to make sure that his persona reflects what he believes to be true India. These pictures in the calendar may be his way of slowly making that happen. The last few months have been particularly hard on him. His demonization program has not been a smooth sail. Riddled with administrative problems, it is a miracle (largely due to the generous and patient cooperation of an entire nation) that his reform even managed to go through without a bloody civil war. If such a shoddy implementation was ever attempted in the west, the President or the man in charge would have been impeached and made accountable for bringing the economic wheels almost to a standstill.
Dont get me wrong. I like Modi’s approach to prime minister-ship. He has bought dynamism, energy and authority to that chair. But it is very important, that he stays focussed on things that are important for the nation, and not allow his own personal identity to usurp national priorities. The replacement of Gandhi’s pictures may be forgotten in the din and roar of time. but the intention of such acts throws up few questions, the answers to which may hold a key to something deeper, wider and sectarian - which does not augur well for the nation as a whole.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jottings : Slice of life -86 - part 2 ( Obama's farewell)

Jottings : Slice of life -86 - part 2
Obama’s farewell speech bought tears to many eyes. Why Not? Eight years of leadership, grace and dignity comes to very pleasant end, and America will be left relatively better than what it was when this young dynamic, black American President ascended the podium of Capitol hill to announce his arrival in thunderous, mellifluous and visionary prose in the winter of 2009. It was a momentous moment for this country. A promise, a covenant that the founding fathers of this great nation made 250 years ago to themselves and to its people to provide an equal land, opportunity to all those who seek its shores. And when Barack Obama became the 44th President, that promise was redeemed in full and equal measure.
History is often a harsh judge. It tends to reflect the past through the prism of the present. The social and economic conditions Obama inherited were not easy, and the initial rhetoric of his Presidency probably did not match up with promises made over the years, and changes suggested. But it would be unfair to blame him or his presidency for it. He did the best he could with what he had in hand, and helped the steer the country away from impending, catastrophic economic disaster. After all, when a captain is steadying his ship in inclement weather, he cannot be blamed for not chartering new courses and conquer territories. The question is? Decades later, when young men and women learn their history afresh will Barack Obama be considered one the the best president of 20th and early 21st century? Thats a tough question. There is no doubt he will be among the top five Presidents, but I guess, the honor of being the best will go to FD Roosevelt, who steered the country during its most crucial time during 1940’s and ushered in the new deal. The deal that made America prosperous and progressive. Will JFK feature next? I think so. Though a short tenure, he infused his spirit of youth into aging political process and bought a flair to the chair which was fast disappearing. And then Barack Obama name would figure as a symbol of poise and grace. Rising from below, working his way through the system, learning the art of political pedagogy, educating himself well, marrying with love, thought and foresight, he worked his way towards living the dream of being an American in America. In no other political system in the world would you find a man with absolutely no political history or Institutional backing , coming out of the shadows to become its leader by sheer force of personality, intellect and calibre. It is indeed a blessing that the soil of this country still has manure enough to grow such men and women.
His farewell speech then was as spontaneous as it was studied. He struck all the right notes and pulled the right strings in people’s hearts. He was relaxed, contented and there was definitely a sense of relief on his face. Modern America is not easy to govern. The political pressures of a globalized community creates a whole new paradigm of management and leadership. And often, the balancing act of maintaining a country's identity alongside emergence of many other separates identities is an extremely arduous task. Obama succeeded phenomenally well in holding all its people together. A few weeks ago, in the gym, a Black American told me “ Obama has failed us. We gave him our vote hoping we would benefit. But thats not happened..”. Though i did not respond to his comment, in my mind I was proud of Obama. In an age where politicians attempt to pander to their localized groups to hold on to power, here is a President who committed himself to a global agenda. It is a lesson for all other leaders across the globe.
We will miss the beautiful first family. Next week, by this time, the Trumps would wave out of the white house balcony, ushering in a whole new era in American Politics. The Obamas will silently pursue their own lives in downtown Washington, trying to live as normal American citizens, cycling down George town with gay abandon and joy. They sure will enjoy every moment of it. They deserve to.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Monday, January 9, 2017

Jottings : Slice of life -85 ( Yet again .. a molestation, a violation)

Jottings : Slice of life -85 ( Yet again .. a molestation, a violation)
In 2012, it needed the tragic, horrendous rape and subsequent death of a young medical student in Delhi to awaken the Indian legal system to a real menace threatening the fabric of our fragile democratic structure. For the first time, it came to light for the world to see, that four young, uneducated men, including a minor, not only groped a defenseless girl, but violated her privacy, mutilated her physical integrity and shamed her in a manner using means and methods that far exceeds the imagination of a normal sexually inebriated male. The sheer violence and defamation of the female body displayed in this case shook a nation - that claims thousands of years of modesty and female worship - to it very roots. Cultural pundits, social anthropologists, legal luminaries very left pondering wherefrom did these boys inherit so much of violence and disregard for the opposite sex? How did they muster the courage to do something so dastardly and hope to get away with it? What disease is ailing our cultural and social body that can give rise to such virulent behavior? And lastly, how do we amend law defining rape and sexual offenses to deter males members from attempting anything even remotely close to what happened on the fateful night in suburbs of Delhi?
Four years later, we are no closer to an answer than we were in 2012. Yes, the definition of rape has been extended after numerous debates on something which is self evident and clear to all of us, the punishment has gone up a little, Women have been empowered to take action in self defense, and generally there seems to be greater awareness and acknowledgment of sexual deviation in Indian society than in the past. But , will all these tackle the root cause of this malady?
Sex is a fundamental human need, genetically wired into our system. Man is born polygamous, but reared for monogamy. Nothing wrong with that. By and large, a Human child grows the best in a monogamous relationship. But given Man’s voracious sexual appetite, it is not always possible to strictly remain monogamous. The most fastidious and law confirming husband will have intentions of mating with another woman in the privacy of his thoughts. None can prevent, dispute or argue against it. But if he can maintain and give vent to those aspirations without violating the rights, privacy and dignity of any other female member, he should be allowed to pursue that course without a sense of taboo or shame or embarrassment. You cannot restrict water on all sides. It will one day burst out through the faintest of crevices into potentially devastating course. However, If society need to bear semblance of sanity, rationality and progress in a democratic environment, what we cannot have is indiscriminate, ambivalent indeterminate sexual codes prevailing all around, especially for male members. He must know what he can legally and socially do, and what he cannot, no matter what his compulsion or drive may be. His testosterone levels needs to be channelized to move along certain pathways, with dire consequences if breached . In other words, we have to be very clear on what constitutes molestation and rape. And the definition has to be very simple and self evident even to a child. In Norway, for example, which has the lowest crime rate anywhere in the world, the definition of rape is “ any act done without the female partner’s consent” . Period. Now, there are no caveats or fine print to this. There are no categories and gradations of rape in Norway law. But it is also important to remember that Norway treats its violators with great care, and their sentences and prison terms are conducive to rehabilitate offenders and not shame and embarrass them for life. But the moment we simplify definitions, the argument would be that now it becomes easy for any female member to cast unsubstantiated aspersions, accuse undeserving men and abuse the system. Nope, thats a wrong way of reasoning. Any law will have its loop holes, and there will be always be misrepresentations. But the success of a judicial system lies in ensuring that such loop holes are only exceptions and not a norm. Why else is there need for such an elaborate system of law and judiciary?
Given his evolutionary urge to procreate, a male will be constantly on the prowl. It is genetically coded. And genes dont mutate as fast as thought systems do. While we have organized ourselves as a species based on verbal systems developed about 10,000 years ago, the human body lives its own life following its own rules. Most of our problems is this inevitable conflict between what the body wants, and what the intellect dictates. Ask any molester, if he knew what he was doing was inappropriate. He will nod. Then why did he brush himself against a girl in a crowd feeling her skin. He wouldn't be able to answer, because his body was aroused, and it temporarily won the battle. Here lies our dichotomy and our root problem.
India is now reaching a point of democratic maturity. Both sexes, at least in the middle and upper middle classes have now broken free of many restricting traditions, and look at life and opportunities on equal terms. But on the other hand, we are yet to free ourselves from some deep taboos, do's and don'ts which we have mechanically inherited from the past. Do we have enough safety valves to let out steam in private. Rape and molestation happen everywhere in the world. From the most advanced and mature societies to the most primitive, the question is, where do we see India now in that scale of measure. When I see those CCTV camera footages floating around in social media, I feel sad for those misguided youngsters. If all all they wanted was a sexual release, that could done it in the comfort of their homes , or bathrooms, instead of embarrassing themselves, violating the dignity of young girl and making a spectacle of themselves.
Here is the bottom line : We need our women to walk the streets alone without fear lurking behind their outwardly confident facades. We need our women to make the same choices as Men have traditionally made. And we need both the sexes to live in biologically harmony as we were intended to. This is underlying crux of democracy, its constitution and liberty.
( As I about to finish this article , my eyes fell upon a news item. A 40 year old Indian educated male aboard an IA flight from Mumbai to New jersey was found groping a female passenger in the economy class. He claimed innocence. When confronted, he broke down, and pleaded with the lady not to lodge a formal complaint. He broke down saying “ My family will disgraced, and chances of my immigration would be next to impossible..”)..
Now what do you do with such a Male member of society. Lock him him in a psychiatric facility for few years, I guess, and teach him how to vent his sexual urges without disturbing anybody else’s peace, dignity or privacy.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Jottings : Slice of life -83 ( The Obamas- Presidential third term, and a heart felt adieu to a wonderful First family )

Jottings : Slice of life -83 ( The Obamas- Presidential third term, and a heart felt adieu to a wonderful First family )
On December 26th, in an interview with David AxelRod, President Obama made a very curious comment. He said “I'm 'confident' I could have won a third term as president”. His answer was a studied response to Donald trump’s overwhelming win in this election, and his defense that if he had campaigned, Americans would have probably re-elected him. A confident comment from a confident Man. I for one would have liked Obama to continue, but there is a curious history as to why he cannot and should not. In couple of weeks from now, the Obamas will welcome a new Presidential family into the white house, and they will quietly slip away into history books. In the following paragraphs, I touch upon historic reasons for restricting a president to only two terms, and will also take this opportunity to pay my heartfelt tribute to the one of the most beautiful and respected first families ever to reside in the white house in a long time. Please be prepared for a long read.
It was an unwritten rule in American governance that no President would stand for third term. The constitution itself was amended only in 1951, at the behest of Harry Truman restricting a president from not holding office for more than two terms. Until then, It is simply a matter of principle, moral and conscientious statesmanship more than anything else that kept others from aspiring for an additional term. Like many other glorious ideals in America, this precedence also goes back to its founding fathers, and more specifically to the magnificent personality and integrity of George Washington - the nations first President. The great man had steered America to victory in the revolution, helped form its charter, and served as President for two terms ( 1789 - 97), and retired from public life. In his inimitable words, he wrote back to Governor Trumbull, who wanted him back for a third term “ It is my ardent wishes to pass through the vale of life in retiremt, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn here.” Justifiably so!. None deserved his rest and leisure better than him. His mansion at Mt. Vernon was built only for this very purpose.
When we teach history to our kids, we give them the above mentioned reason. But hidden in the copious correspondence of Washington lies a stronger reason to decline an offer for a third term. I wish to present it here. Washington knew his history well enough to understand that the seat of presidency can very quickly become dynastic, and would breed the same set of political, social and ethical problems early Americans had sought freedom from. He believed politicians who wish to continue in office often had “ concealed ambition..” even though they may justify it in the name of public will and desire. He also understood how easy it is to explain away ones political decisions, however good or bad it is, as people’s will and establish rigid laws which can quickly become dictatorial and inflexible.
The other reason for him to decline the offer was Washington realized as early as 1799 that his new nation was already riddled with dissensions and political mud slinging in the name of democrats and republicans. In the same series of correspondence with Connecticut Governor Trumbull I quoted above, he explains further on why he was reluctant to accept his nomination again for Presidency. He writes : “The line between Parties are so clearly drawn that politicians would regard neither truth nor decency; attacking every character, without respect to persons – Public or Private, – who happen to differ from themselves in Politics.” . How true these words resonate after 250 years across America, and across democracies around the world. Again, In his farewell address in 1798, he sounded the clarion call , which all nations dabbling with democracy would do well to take heed. “If a country is led by a single man for long duration..” He said “ unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government…” further , he wrote “…Let a party set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty, a Democrat, or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose, and it will command their votes in toto!”
I quoted good deal from Washington’s letters only to illustrate the thoughts at the very beginning of America’s nationhood, from its founding architect. Its worth remembering the civil war was still 75 years away, and even before that the political boundaries were clearly marked the familiar rhetoric of politcal class of how “things are not as good as it should be” is clearly visible. Anyway, Washington's decision not to run for third time was held as moral principle by all succeeding presidents, till Roosevelt (FDR) broke that impasse by becoming President 4 times in continuous succession. Between the war period and great depression years of 1933 and 1945, Roosevelt was unanimously elected. Those were unique circumstances in world history, and America needed stability at the top and was unwilling to gamble with anyone new during turbulent times. FDR luckily, was a colossus among Presidents. His nearly four terms as President year reestablished USA as the one most powerful and dependable countries in the world. In 1945, he died one year into his fourth term, and shortly thereafter constitution was amended to prevent any further extensions to an outgoing President.
So Barack Obama’s off hand comment to David on this third term was wishful at best, but certainly not lacking in little political ambition. Having said that, in another two weeks, the Obamas will leave the white house which they have so graciously occupied for last eight years. When Obama won in 2008, it was historic in many ways. But the most important quality he bought to the chair was charisma. Both Husband and wife were raw, full of dreams and aspirations. They were filled with pride to have to made it to the highest office in the country. A Nobel prize, followed by an autobiography telling the story of a man who lived the American dream and realized his hope; impassioned speeches on important issues peppered with audacious linguistic flourishes never seen after the days of JFK - all of them pointed to a Modern American era of hope, opportunity, liberty and financial revival. But unfortunately , he inherited a sinking economy and quickly his first term was occupied salvaging its health. However the momentum gathered during his four years carried him to his second term, and he used it to push his original agenda as much as possible. In a jiffy eight years have passed, and in that time it is fair to say America has reasonably recovered, and is now on its feet back again. I am not a political commentator, and wouldn't want to venture into the nitty gritty of Obama’s policies. But, suffice it to say that I am admirer of the man and his family for what they have done with themselves and the nation.
For me, the Obama’s will always remain as the epitome of manners, grace and style a presidential family should possess. Especially Michelle, who has endured herself to millions around the world. Over the years, one could sense the evolution of her vibrant public persona, and emergence of strong individual views on important matters of state and welfare. Her tenure as first lady has helped the colorful butterfly in her break free of its chrysalis. She now walks shoulder to shoulder with her husband. In her final commencement speech in Newyork during June last year, she addressed a diverse audience of youngsters on threshold of college education, the value of history, the need to dream and the courage to achieve. One could feel during that speech that she spoke as one who lived those ideals, and not merely paying lip service to them on a formal occasion. There is no doubt in my mind her presence in Barack’s life gave him the personal stability he required to face his enormous political challenges. The Obamas as President and first lady stand inseparable.
I wonder how it must be for them not to be in limelight. They have decided to live in Washington until their daughter finishes college, and then move out, if need be. Unlike George Washington's age, in whose time media was virtually absent, the Obamas may not be that lucky. They will be hounded, probed, and asked uncomfortable questions about their future ( its already started), but knowing them , they may not succumb to its allure or insinuations. They would like enjoy well deserved anonymity for few years, breathe freely, walk around hand in hand, shop at Macy’s, watch a movie build their Presidential library, attend the annual President’s club meeting to shake hands with all living Presidents and their spouses; watch their girls grow up, date, marry and hold their Grandchildren aloft; and finally, but most importantly watch their beloved America flower, prosper and lead.
It is with a heavy heart we will bid them goodbye in couple of weeks. They have done their best, and now they move on leaving the field to new players, newer rules and a future that hold tons of promise.
All the very best Mr President and First-lady.
God bless..
yours in mortality,
Bala



Monday, January 2, 2017

Jottings: Slice of life - 82 ( A musical caricature - Mariah Carey at times Square)

Jottings: Slice of life - 82 ( A musical caricature - Mariah Carey at times Square)
It is a matter of shame what happened at Times square on New Years eve. Mariah Carey, one of the finest voices to bloom in American music industry during the late eighties, decked in feathers and furs on a cold Newyork night , fumbled, stumbled, looking surprised and confused at the same moment, wandered around the stage completely lost, unable to bring out a single note of quality , and more importantly stood musically exposed and naked in front of millions watching the farce, the artificiality and the utter delusion that goes in the name of public performances in mainstream western music.
Last week, when I wrote about George Michael, and how in my scale he wasn't the great singer many make him out to be, the underlying current of my thinking was this utter inability of these so called musical superstars to maintain the purity of their art or sanctity of a gift bequeathed to them, over reasonable periods of time. They all seem to twinkling stars for a couple of years with one or two good songs or albums, and when fame and money overtakes their fragile psyche, they lose control of their lives. Profligate life styles, drugs, divorces and undending visits to plastic surgeons to keep them youthful , takes away the discipline, commitment or the desire to nurture and refine their skills. Its not that they are not talented. They definitely are. But of what use is talent and genius if one cannot hold it sacrosanct and have the dedication to explore its full potential.
It is characteristic of the kind of world we live in that true art doesn't matter any more. All we need is our icons to appear all manicured and pedicured, perform ,yell, sweat and allow technology to do the rest. The Mariah Carey I glimpsed in the video this New years eve was not even a patch of that young girl ,who sat cross legged on a bar stool couple of decades ago on MTV unplugged, with a mike firmly held in her hands, only a single guitar note giving her the lead, and her beautiful, caressing voice travelling from low to high octaves with effortless ease and precision singing songs from her beautiful album “Emotions”. When I close my eyes, I can still visualize the young curly haired girl with a natural smile enjoying every note that came out her throat, and singing with consummate skill.
It is coincidental , for some reason, I was listening to Lata Mangeskar’s collection of songs recorded during her historic performance in Royal Albert hall in 1974. She was the first artist of Indian origin to sing on that hallowed stage. The floors of the stage at that time were made of finest hard wood, and the temperatures within the auditorium very kept very low, further accentuating the stinging chillness of the wooden floors. Nobody ventured up the podium without foot wear or adequate woolens. It was considered impossible without protective clothing to stand and perform at ones peak without numbing cold creeping into ones bones rather quickly. But Lata Mangeskar, as a principle never wore any footwear while performing on stage. It is more out of mark of respect for the art that has given her sustenance and life, than anything else. Despite numerous entreaties from organizers, fellow travelers and musicians, she politely refused to change her mind. At the appointed time, she ascended the stage with resounding applause from a packed audience , draped gracefully in her trademark cotton saree with light border, bare footed, looked down and stood transfixed in deep prayer for few moments in front of the mike, bowed and began singing. She sang continuously for a hour and half without a note slipping even the slightest of octaves, barely moving a limb by way of inconvenience. The only bodily activity apart from her golden throat effortlessly scaling musical improbabilities was her hand occasionally readjusting her saree over her small cherubic face, and nothing more. The world stood up in awe after the last note faded into space and immortality. The recording engineers stood in disbelief when they reviewed the vocal graphs their computer programs had generated. There was hardly a flaw, they had in hand the most perfect specimen of singing voice ever recorded by them.

The reason I mentioned Lata’s performance was only to illustrate the discipline required to stay high up in any art, or for that matter in any walk of life. Somehow many of mainstream western musicians, with the exception of Country and Jazz artists, seem to have lost that quality of sustaining themselves over length of time. Caught in the gloss and rich life style music affords, their art takes a back seat. And the worst thing is that they end up embarrassing and humiliating themselves like Mariah Carey did few nights ago.
Lets not forget : being artistic is a gift, not given to all. To those who possess it, they must try hard to keep that flame intact. While it is not possible that everyone who is talented will live up to their potential, all that we are saying is do not go our of your way to spoil it. Now, thats not a difficult ask for anyone with little intelligence and common sense.
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala