Friday, September 30, 2011

Manipur's Iron Maiden

On a balmy Thursday evening on November 2nd , the year of the new millennium, ten civilians waiting for their daily bus to arrive were shot down before they could even board by a group run by the Indian Parliamentary Forces called the Assam Rifles in Imphal, Manipur. The ten victims included those of a senior citizen and a 18 year old young woman, who also ironically happens to be a National Child Bravery Award Winner.
The news which flashed bright on the next day’s newspaper’s didn’t seem to stir much provocation or outrage amongst the public. Nobody, but one 28 year old woman was deeply affected by this madness.
Irom Chanu Sharmila, until the unfateful day of November 2nd was just like any young girl who had hopes and aspirations to make it big in life and loved gorging on cakes and pastries. But that was her last time she’d indulge her sweet tooth.
In protest to the unlawful killings which was considered legitimate by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, Sharmila decided to fast until the act gets repealed by the Indian Government. She hasn’t touched water or food for the last ten years.

Ms. Sharmila who considers Mahatma Gandhi her role model began her fast unto death but has lead to a decade long of being incarcerated by the Police. The Act which she is banally against is one which allows Police forces to detain local residents on mere suspicision on being rebels and without any sort of a warrant. Reports of torture, disappearances and deaths were common, with women often being caught in the cross-fire between insurgents and the military. Long criticized by human rights groups, the act grants expanded powers to the armed forces to search, arrest and, under some circumstances, use lethal force against, civilians.
Her steely resolve stems from the greater love for humanity and the step-motherly treatment of her fellow Manipuris by the Government. For the last decade, the Police forces have been arresting her time and again, once every year on charges of “an attempt to suicide”. But this hasn’t deterred her will one bit. She’s got her mother’s blessings and her elder brother’s complete support to continue the fast.
She has been currently detained at the Jawarharlal Nehru’s Institute of Medical science where she is forcefully fed a diet of complex carbohydrates and proteins through a tube three times a day. She spends the rest of the time reading Manipuri literature and poetry, all presented to her by her various supporters from across the world. Sharmila believes that Yoga for three hours a day keeps her body as strong as the mightest and healthiest of human beings. Food and drink is considered a luxury she cannot afford at this hour of time.
Sharmila’s resoluteness has been set as an example amongst her people.
In July 2004, Thangjama Manorama was allegedly raped and killed by the Security Forces. The discovery of her bullet-ridden body provoked a dozen Manipuri women to strip completely and protest with banners saying “Indian Army, Rape Us!”
One of the women, L. Gyaneshori, was quoted as saying, “The women of Manipur have been disrobed by the A.F.S.P.A.,” using the initials for the special powers act. “We are still naked.”
Innocent women end up paying the brunt of the heated crossfire between the Security Forces and Rebel leaders. In 2007, The Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network was to assist victims of the violence against women.
The most recent development has been Sharmila finding love. And that love happens to be a Britisher who is now based in Nepal who recently sent her a brand new laptop, among other books. The books have been sent to her mostly by her admirers, among who is someone very special. Sharmila says with a smile that lights up her face, “Most of the books come from the man I love.”

Out of determination that water does not enter her body, Irom Sharmila cleans her teeth with cotton wool. She has stopped mensurating, her skin is pale, hair thinning, but the sparkle in her eyes never seems to fade away.

A Train Journey…

I see my destination coming slowly untoward me...the only path available...a track that leads me to one way and one way alone. The music my companion sings with clarity…voicing my thoughts without me voicing them myself. The question I want the track to lead me to where I'm going…or am I just following as it pulls me towards its direction. Is that why I chose the slow pathway rather than the fast track? Is that why I still ponder where my impulsiveness leads me? Is that why I see an individual seat herself on a broken seat while that was my source of comfort and relaxation. Am I stringing sentences for the hope of finding my way...or am I looking for recluse in the inner thoughts of these words? Looks like my destination will answer it all…answer the questions which were never asked. I see her getting off the train…leaving her child behind, leaving a part of her in the care of a hundred strangers. The child screams and bursts into tears as she realizes that she is now alone against the world. The frenzy of a compartment full of women try their soothing voices. Strange…the voices tell her to stop her crying if she wants her mother back. I try to push myself through, try to hold her and take her into my wing. Reassure her that her mother will be found, she will be safe in her arms…at this moment I try to reassure myself too. The train halts, she’s taken off. I stand as a silent spectator not wanting to add to her panic. I can’t get myself to leave. A train arrives on the next platform, I stand with bated breath hoping I can see her mother’s face. Surely, there she is…face streaming with tears, regretful, frightened, and grateful, all emotions washing over her and her child at once, reunion set upon them. I begin to breathe again…this time walking away…with tears streaming down my face.

What the hell is Blaxploitation?

By : Sharanya Ramesh

Picture a wah wah guitar, tight hi hat rhythms, glamourized black heroes and a funk theme to go along. What you have in front of you was the basic plot line of movies that fell into the genre called blaxploitation which basically was a word created that combined two words, black and exploitation that was coined in the early 1970s by the Los Angeles NAACP head, and ex-film publicist, Junius Griffin.
Heard of Shaft? The Oscar award winning movie of the much too suave black detective called John Shaft is one of the major examples of blaxploitation. Starring Richard Roundtree, this movie had a gross revenue of over 13 million dollars and a soundtrack that lasted decades after the audience had finished applauding. Or Sparkle, the musical that also fell under this theme? The movie that inspired characters for the Oscar award winning movie Dreamgirls, hit its home run in this genre too.
What makes this genre so exclusive is the sheer use of stereotypic characters that string together a story or a song that manages to capture audience’s worldwide. However this genre no longer reigns in the world of cinema or theatre. After many conflicts and clashing of ideas and themes, this category of cinema and creativity died down and now lives as only as a witness to many great movies that ran at its inception from 1971 onwards.
What interests me most about this genre however are some of the titles given to movies and their adaptations from originals to fit into this genre. Let me give you a few examples i.e. Blackenstein (no prizes for guessing which movie this was an adaptation of), Dr.Black, Mr.Hyde (The names just keep on getting more creative) and ofcourse one of my favourites, Blacula, starring William H. Marshall.
Blaxploitation might have come and gone, but the role it played in movies is definitely worth mentioning for the simple reason that everyone can identify with it because invariably everyone has seen it.
The notoriety of the genre has led to a number of parodies, some of them humorous, others satirical. The earliest attempts to mock the genre, Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin and Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite, were both made during the heyday of the genre, in 1975. The satirical film Coonskin was intended to deconstruct racial stereotypes ranging from early minstrel show stereotypes to more recent stereotypes found in Blaxploitation films of the era. However, the work encountered a large amount of controversy before its release when it was challenged by the Congress of Racial Equality, and its distribution was handed to a smaller distributor who then advertised it as an exploitation film. However, it developed a cult followinng with black viewers. Dolemite was less serious in tone and produced as a spoof. Dolemite centered around a sexually active black pimp played by Moore, who based the film on his stand-up comedy act. The film was followed by a sequel, The Human Tornado.
Blaxploitation as a term and as a genre was one of the most creative and interesting phenomena's in Hollywood cinema and music, and will continue to be so for all movie buffs and fanatics. In recent times however, this phenomena has died out for obvious reasons. However, to me, this phenomena was very interesting and even though it has died down, it still fascinates me how such a concept grew so highly in terms of its popularity and style.

CROC DIARIES- An ode to bravery named Steve Irwin

“Crikey, mate. You're far safer dealing with crocodiles and western diamondback rattlesnakes than the executives and the producers, all those sharks in the big MGM building.” -Said the ever enthusiastic, ever passionate, ever humorous, and unanimously loved, Stephen Robert Irwin, more popularly known as Steve Irwin- The Crocodile Hunter.

Steve Irwin, Born on 22 February, 1962, in upper Fern Tree Gully, Victoria, moved with his parents and two sisters to Beerwah, Queensland, where his folks opened the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park in 1970. By the time he was nine-years-old, he was helping his dad catch small problem crocodiles hanging around boat ramps by plunging into the water, and wrestling them back into the dinghy. His sixth-sense with regard to animals never failed him, his death, a tragic mishap.

In 1991 Steve took over managing the wildlife park, turned it into one of the world’s best zoo, the famous Australia zoo. There he met Terri Rains, a visiting tourist, their marriage a bond of passion with regard to their tireless love for animals. Instead of a honeymoon, the couple embarked on filming a wildlife documentary with John Stainton from the ‘Best Picture Show’ company. The show broke through with amazing results and was later turned into the epic series, The Crocodile Hunter.

The name seems ironic, since Steve’s chances of harming an animal were as good as the sun rising in the west. However his fans, who knew him and loved him, thought this name was apt, as he was daring and truly a hunter of zeal.

Watching his shows was like watching a man plunge towards his death, wrestling with crocodiles, catching venomous snakes, holding up insects, lying in the wild with tigers, the things I could only dream of…the person I’d want to be.

He claimed that even if you’d take off all his clothes, drop him nude in the Amazon river, or in the deserts of Australia, he would survive just fine. He was born to live with animals, care for them, and speak the words they could only think.

He cried furiously when his crocodiles died, or if an animal was injured. Describing any individual he met, who according to him looked very much like a certain species of a reptile, or monkey, was a compliment of the highest regard. His world the world of the animals, the ones he valued more than his human counterparts.

Historically speaking, conversation or preaching about the wrong of killing animals aired on television left a God like repetitive feel. Steve broke that trend. He brought us to the action, made us feel present at the time, and showed us the beauty and excitement of the wilderness. He would not lecture individuals on the importance of these living beasts, instead he would show us their beauty, and make us not want to harm them out if respect for life. His passion was contagious, the depth of his emotion towards them, indescribable.

On 4 September 2006, The Crocodile Hunter was fatally pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef . Steve was in the area filming his own documentary,Ocean's Deadliest , but weather had stalled filming. He decided to take the opportunity to film some shallow water shots for a segment in the television program.His daughter Bindi Irwin was hosting when, according to his friend and colleague, John Stainton,, he swam too close to one of the stingrays. An individual, who dared to tread with the most dangerous animals in the world, was ironically killed by one of the mildest.

The Crocodile Hunter taught the world that conservation was not about being boring, but about having fun. It was a simple method of loving the land you live in, live and let live, protect and be protected. With my role models death I see the world as a larger spectrum of hope, a place where you live your life to the fullest without fear, and eventually encounter the time you have to leave, leaving behind a strong legacy…one etched in which made the world different. Stephen Robert Irwin, as he always said "Born a wildlife warrior, die a wildlife warrior."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My one hour journey with Eve Ensler

By: Sharanya Ramesh

“Good is towing the line, being behaved, being quiet, being passive, fitting in, being liked, and great is being messy, having a belly, speaking your mind, standing up for what you believe in, fighting for another paradigm, not letting people talk you out of what you know to be true,”

Eve Ensler inspires. She has the ability to grab your attention and keep it and leave you wanting more. Much more. She had that effect on me, and on many others the day she visited us in college to talk about her world wide known play “The Vagina Monologues” and her experiences as she travelled around the globe spreading awareness.
Eve Ensler is more than just a writer. She is an American playwright, performer, feminist and an activist. Her words create an immediate impact on anyone who is listening to her.Her play “The vagina Monologues” was written in 1996. First performed in the basement of the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, The Vagina Monologues has been translated into 45 languages and performed in over 119 countries. Celebrities who have starred in the play include: Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Idina Menzel, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, Marin Mazzie, Cyndi Lauper and Oprah Winfrey.
She came to Sophia college and spent a few hours talking about her plays and experiences with us. She spoke with passion and with such honesty that we were transported to another world. She told us why women of many cultures and backgrounds perceive pressure to change the way they look in order to be accepted in the eyes of society. She spoke with conviction and belief and I believe that element of her’s, to be able to connect with everyone girls, boys, men and woman alike is what makes her such a popular icon. She spoke to us about various issues ranging from self esteem, being comfortable with our own body and her experiences with women all over the world. Her own incidents, whether it is her traumatic childhood, or her experiences with the women of Congo, left me quite frankly speechless. What struck almost everyone who listened to her stories was the sheer magnitude of awareness she created. Not many of us knew about the various issues in Congo and her speech made us all wake up and take notice. As she spoke I felt a sense of overwhelming sadness and strength. Sadness at the thought of all those she had met who suffer more than many of us could ever fathom. And a feeling of strength as she spoke with so much positivity and hope that it made me believe that women all over the world would soon see themselves in the same light that she saw them in. Her words created an impact with everyone in the hall that day. When I entered the hall that day, I did not know I would come out feeling empowered and proud. She was a wonderful speaker and it was a golden opportunity for those who heard her words that day to take something away when they left. After all, it isn’t everyday that we hear such hard hitting truth from someone who has seen the worst, and come out a stronger and better person. I don’t think there were many people who came out and didn’t wonder or think about all that she said. She created an impact on each one of us that day. To an audience that was a majority of young girls, she reached in and answered questions about ourselves that we shunned away because we thought it would be embarrassing or wrong to ask. Eve Ensler is loud, inspiring and refreshingly honest. My one hour journey with her was one that left with a whole new perspective into life and it's way of working. She opened up rooms of thinking and views. Her stories and her books are an inspiration for all those who dare to open their minds.

The war that is not Theirs

By: Sharanya Ramesh

12 year old Joseph had big dreams. He lived in a rural area in sierra Leone in Africa and he lived with his father who was dying of a dangerous disease. He wanted to grow up and become a doctor and cure the disease which had handicapped his father. But one day an armed group came and took him away to become a child solider in the government armed force. He was made to shoot people and carry guns and when he tried to say no they killed his father. So he killed and on one fateful day he was killed in a clash between armed forces. This is the fate of more than a million children around the globe who are becoming what is known as a child solider. In over 20 countries of the world children are direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence an estimated two hundred to three hundred thousand children are serving as soldiers in both rebel groups and government armed forces in current armed conflicts. These child sliders often participate in all aspects of contemporary warfare. They wield AK47S and M16 on the front lines of combat, serve as human mine detectors, participate in suicide missions and carry supplies and work as lookouts spies or messengers. With new weapons that are light weight and easy to fire children are more easily armed with less traing than before. Worldwide more than half a million children under the age of 18 are taken as these child soliders. Often recruited or abducted to join these armies many of these children, some less than the age of 10 are subjected to horror that some of us cannot even imagine. They have taken part in acts of unbelievable violence, often against their own families or community. Some children are subjected to horrific acts both psychologically and physically. What is more they are often encouraged to commit grievous acts which they are often unable to comprehend. Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated children typically make obedient child soliders. Many others who show their defiance are often compelled to follow actions under the threat of death. Others join armed forces out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict and the children are left with no access to school and who are often separated from their family members believe that armed forces are their best chances at survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.
Children are killed and wounded at far higher rates than their adult comrades. Those who survive often suffer trauma, injury abuse and psychological scarring from the violence and brutality they experience. Some are rejected by their families and communities. most lose the opportunity to acquire an education, job skills or any hope for the future.
The use of children to fight adult’s wars is not limited to a single country or continent but has become a worldwide problem. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia though children are also used as soldiers by government and armed forces in many countries in America, Europe and the Middle East. However the problem is not limited to developing countries. Industrialized countries facing personal shortfalls have also increased efforts to attract young recruits. Many children maybe between the ages of say 8 to 10 are made to guard godowns with weapons and are ordered to kill at first sight. What is more horrific is that many of the children involved in this believe that what they are doing is right. They feel no sadness in shooting their own family members because the leaders of these organizations brainwash these children in to believing that what they are doing is right.
All of us talk about terrorists who cause havoc to this world. But we fail to see these small children who are forced into believing that violence is the only way out. These children grow up not knowing the joy of learning or the fun of playing. They grow up in a world filled with fear and bombs and the certainty of knowing that they may not see tomorrow because they fight cold wars in their todays. These children are those who are supposed to contribute to our world in a better way. Instead they fight cold wars for someone else some not even knowing that what they are doing is wrong. Is this what we call a developed world? The answers to my question are all there in front of us. We can choose to ignore it. But then what is the point in calling ourselves the blessed and the fortunate. The world has now started to take notice of this global issue and has already started to solve this problem. Let us hope that in the years to come fewer children are affected by this global menace and have thus a chance to live a life worthy of them.

Racism in black and white terms.

By: Sharanya Ramesh

Racism. It’s a very strong word. A word that is usually associated to the apartheid regime in Africa, or the treatment of native Americans in America. The colloquial word for a black person of African origin is ‘habshi’, an term as offensive as the American ‘nigger’, both terms derived from the days of the slave trade.What people do not see, or what has been overlooked, is that racism is present right here, in our country, India. Let me first define Racism for you. Racism in many texts have been defined as “the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races in terms of color, culture and other factors” India as a race has always been racist, whether it come to “wanting a fair wife” in matrimonial advertisements, to being considered “south Indian” just because you are dark skinned or the opposite for a north Indian.
Let us first take the attacks on Indians in Australia. Once again India is caught up in the midst of a racist storm. A while ago, the Big Brother controversy launched Shilpa Shetty as an international anti-racism icon from India. This is entirely appropriate as Indians are arguably the biggest targets of racism in the world. And they are targeted not just by unlettered British or Australian thugs but, first and foremost, by their own compatriots. It’s because we are so racist ourselves that we are so quick to react to a racist slur: it takes a racist to catch a racist. And our racism is colour-coded in black-and-white terms: white is intrinsically superior and desirable; black is inferior and undesirable.
Why is being dark, considered to be a negative thing? Is it a throwback to the supposed superiority of ‘white’ Aryans vis-a-vis the ‘non-white’ original inhabitants of the subcontinent? Is it the result of 250 years of white rule under the British? Is a pale skin, as against a deep tan, a testimonial to social rank, segregating those who don’t have to toil under the sun from those who do? Is it a mixture of all of these factors?
Racism in India however does not stick only to the differences in color. The caste system is India’s unique contribution to the racial discrimination ladder. After all, as only too many horror stories testify, the average rural Dalit fares worse on the human-rights scale than her ‘kafir’ counterpart in the worst days of South African apartheid.
Caste apart, real or imagined ethnic traits compound our racism. People from the north-east are said to have ‘Chinky’ eyes and are routinely asked if they eat dogs. Even in so-called ‘mainstream’ India we sub-divide ourselves with specific terms: ‘Panjus’, whose only culture is agriculture; stingy ‘Marrus’; ‘Gujjus’ who eat only food stuffs dripping in sugar for every meal; lazy, shiftless ‘Bongs’; ‘Madrasis’, who all live south of the belong to one state and speak a funny ‘Illay-po’ language. In minds these terms are ingrained as well, as facts of day to day life.
India as a race is racist, whether we want to accept it or not. The fact is, we have been for a very long time, and most of us, don’t know how to be otherwise. We have accustomed ourselves into little tiny boxes with perfectly labeled names and skin color and caste systems. We just never really learn to look at what’s inside that box. Because if we did, you would see a country with a lot more that just labeled terms of people who consider themselves superior just because they were born with a different skin colour or a caste background. But the truth is we don’t, probably never will. India is racist, not only to those who enter our country but to those who live here, right next to you and me. No wonder we can’t stand racism. It reminds us almost uncomfortably of the face we see in our own mirror.


Our universe is a diverse and vast space where we live as mere entities. The lifestyles, cultures, languages, likes and dislikes, define and categorize different people into different sections. The way we perceive and label these individuals is determined by these categorizations.

The adherence of certain personality traits or concepts to define something on a constant basis is known as stereotyping. Filmmakers often rely heavily on stereotypes, because they're a quick and simple way to establish a movie character's traits. In India, we have the constant need to identify and relate to certain aspects. Thinking out-of-the-box is something that doesn’t work too well with the majority. This is one of the major reasons as to why ‘hit’ Bollywood films usually subscribe to a pre-defined formula that can guarantee them instant success.

One such Bollywood film that gained momentous popularity is Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hain. Released in 1998, the film has the same impact it does today as it did back then. This is due to the fact that it was identifiable, entertaining, and contained just the right amount of melodrama to gain it stardom.

The first scene opens with Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) at his wife Tina's (Rani Mukherjee) funeral. Tina has died during childbirth, leaving eight letters to be given to their daughter Anjali (Sana Saeed) on each of her first eight birthdays. In the eighth letter, Tina reveals to her daughter the story of Rahul and his best friend in college, also named Anjali (Kajol). Via flashback, we learn that though Rahul and Anjali were very close, Rahul fell for the sexy Tina, while Anjali was left with a broken heart. Anjali then dropped out of school, but not before Tina was able to discern Anjali's true feelings. Through the eighth letter, the deceased Tina then asks her daughter, little Anjali, to re-unite the old college friends. Anjali is now however engaged to Aman (Salman Khan), and it is upto Rahul’s daughter to strengthen the love which was once lost and complete her mother’s dream.

The opening scene itself is a stereotypical one in which the woman is giving up her life to give birth to her baby, while dying in the arms of her lover. While dying, the dialogues are words you hear over and over again in a whole bunch of Bollywood movies. “Tum rote waqt bilkul ache nahin dikhte” says Tina to Rahul, a dialogue used practically in every Bollywood movie.

The main idea of the film is that of best friends realizing they are one another’s first love. This is a superhit concept which will never fail to please the majority. Tina is scared at first to come between Rahul and Anjali as she feels that behind this deep friendship, there is bound to be a deep bond of love present.

The concept of the topic ‘Ma’ been given to Anjali who is Mother-less, in an ex-tempo competition, and her father, Rahul, coming up on stage and speaking on her behalf, denotes the ‘hero saves the day’ concept, that people thrive on. During the ex-tempo there is a Sardarji in the audience who is shown to be a typical Sikh, hyperactive, jolly, and whose daughters name is Jassi. The name itself gives away her religion and caste since we tend to have typical notions of certain names belonging to certain castes.

The characters of the movie are basically stereotypical. We have the Dadi, who is extremely religious, believes in ‘Pooja Paath’ even during a Summer Camp, and wishes to have a daughter-in-law of whom she can complain about with her friends. She persuades Rahul to marry again as she feels Anjali cannot grow up happily with just a single parent. The image of the Dadi is that of a typical Indian Grandmother whose values are deeply imbibed within her.

However, at first, Rahul is reluctant to re-marry as he feels that “ Hum ek baar jeeta hain, ek baar marte hain, shaadi bhi ek baar hoti hain, aur pyaar bhi ek hi baar hota hain”. This is the general mindset of an Indian which is surprisingly still pre-dominant. In contrast to his older, more mature character, Rahul’s younger character is shown to be the typical ‘stud’ of the college. Self-obsessed, arrogant, and quite the ladies man, he is in search of the ‘one.’ He is embarrassed that he visits the temple every Tuesday, as it is seen as an uncommon ritual for men, followed mostly by the Indian woman.

Rahul’s best friend Anjali, is the perfect tomboy, playing basketball, wearing loose t-shirts, no sense of make-up or any ‘girly’ attributes, the works. Therefore, Rahul sees her more as his ‘guy’ pal rather than a prospective lover. In the earlier half she is this fun loving, free spirited, open girl, however towards the end of the movie, as soon Rahul falls for her, she is this vision in a saree, petite, coy and submissive. As soon as she dresses up and starts to look like an Indian vision of a perfect girl, he realises his love for her.

Tina in her younger days is the college ‘hottie.’ The girl who everyone follows, apes, and longs for. It is but obvious for the hero to fall in love with this kind of teenage girl as opposed to the tomboy, and this is exactly what happens.

During a scene portraying an English literature lecture, the teacher teaches the students Romeo and Juliet, the most clichéd love story. The book is referred to with the sole intention of passing subliminal messages which read- love conquers all. Two elements which are widely used in Bollywood movies are that of shooting stars making your dreams come true, and rain signifying heartbreak. Both these elements are very clearly present in the movie.

The ending is typical Bollywood melodrama, where the hero sweeps the heroine off her feet even as she is going towards her ‘shahdi ka mandap’.

All these stereotypes make us realize that we take in whatever we are fed with, and perceive everything the way we see it perceived by others. It would take a lot of in-depth analysis to actually notice the nitty-gritty stereotypes we encounter on an everyday basis. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Kuch Kuch Hota hain, but well, that’s just the hopeless romantic in me talking.