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Monday, August 15, 2011

Independence Day musings

It requires some distance and a fairly long separation for one to realise the significance and the importance of a milieu.

I’m in India on August 15 (India’s Independence Day) after a three years

And it feels good!

August 15 is when India remembers Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, khadi 
The following are some impressions of the day.
  • The early morning speech by the Prime Minister from Delhi’s Red Fort (no prime minister has ever equalled Indira Gandhi’s soul stirring Jai Hind!)
  • Doordarshan remains firm in the depiction of the official version of Indian nationhood. I find it exasperatingly irrelevant, especially now, when India has the confidence to straddle the global stage (although AR Rehman singing Vande Matram is guaranteed to give gooseflesh, always; and the full version of the national anthem, shown for the first time, is interesting only because of the stanzas are sung by stalwarts) 
  • The Times of India has its annual review of the Indian nation on the editorial page (Patrick French today), and glowing tributes to Shammi Kapoor, the legendary actor who passed away yesterday; sadly none of these mentions his Govinda Ala Re (from Bluff Master, I think) which is a quintessential Bombay song, shot in the city’s chawls)
  • A listless parade and flag hoisting by the young merchant navy cadets of the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) outside my window. The cooperative where I live used to hold a flag hoisting till some year ago; it’s been abandoned, I guess
  • Patriotic songs wafting in from a Sarvajanik Satyanarayan Mahapuja pandal (a pandal is a makeshift platform) in a slum nearby (heard Jai Jai Maharashtra Maazaa! after a long time; to me, a Maharashtrain is a combination of Shivaji Maharaj and Sant Dnyaneshwar)
  • The Satyanarayan Mahapuja could well be Bombay’s second most popular all-inclusive publicly observed religious festival. The first is – without question – the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav (unfortunately, I’ll be back in Toronto by the time that festival begins)
  • Independence Day is also when the truly secular and multicultural ethos of the Indian nation really sinks in. A woman in a black burqa is as much a part of the urban landscape as a man with his forehead pasted with sandalwood and a large red tilak (religious mark) – both impatiently awaiting their turn at the ticket window at Ghatkopar station along with some 500 other Indians; I’m awaiting my turn, too. India teaches patience
In the evening I attended a book launch event in Thane.
Sharada Sathe is an activist with a lifetime of work for the underprivileged and the underrepresented millions in India. She has translated Ramchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi into Marathi

The large hall in Thane is overflowing with people. Guha is present and so are filmmakers Amol Palekar and Ashutosh Gowarikar.
Kumar Ketkar, free spirit advocate and intellectual, is the master of ceremonies, sets the tone for the evening by speaking in English and Marathi.

In his introductory remarks makes a telling point that India is both a democracy and a republic, which has a few parallels.  
Sharada Sathe, the book’s translator, believe the present seemingly terminal decay in the Indian society is perhaps because her generation preferred to follow instructions instead of asking questions

Amol Palekar, actor and filmmaker, is an erudite speaker in both English and Marathi.
He asks why only theatre and cinema are pre-censored in India. But clarifies that once the censors clear a film for release nobody has any right to prevent or disrupt it.

Palekar quotes Ambedkar (from the book) who had said that extra-constitutional measures such as satyagrah, used effectively against the British, should have no place in a newly independent republic.
Ashutosh Gowarikar, filmmaker, take a quick poll of the audience – is media in India good or bad. Nobody raises their hand to say it’s good; many do to say it’s bad.

Gowarikar observes that 1992 shattered the belief of the post-independence era generation that the excesses of the Partition wouldn’t be repeated in independent India.
But clearly, the evening belonged to Ramchandra Guha – who called himself a Nehruvian Indian; which, he said, meant a confused Indian. The Nehruvian Indian believes he can belong to any part of India, but his enemies are convinced that he doesn’t belong to India.

Paying fulsome tributes to the Maharashtraian intellectual traditions, Guha said a meeting such as this one wasn’t possible anywhere except in Maharashtra, where a social activist, two filmmakers, an urban planner and a journalist along with an historian are releasing a book.  
He said while he had lived and worked in all parts of India, somehow, he hadn’t in western India. However, his three passions – cricket, Hindustani classical music and history – were intricately linked with western India.

Guha observed that every visit to Maharashtra is a triple pilgrimage for him because of “Tendulkar, Tendulkar and Tendulkar – cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, playwright Vijay Tendulkar and the Mahatma’s biographer DG Tendulkar.”
An enthralling evening, where I briefly met a couple of friends from my journalism days.

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