Saturday, August 23, 2008

In Dependence

Much to my dismay and displeasure I was recently made a building representative (our housing complex has 30 buildings, each building has its own building committee, there is a central committee made up of building representatives). My main complain was that no one single person should have more than one portfolio (I am already joint treasurer, a job which has its own demands). All these jobs are even more demanding because all these jobs are honorary. Being a building representative means that you have to attend a meeting of the central committee on the last Sunday of each month, and attend all the other incidental events as they come.

Such an event was Independence Day. At 9:30 a.m. the flag hoisting ceremony was supposed to take place, followed by a football tournament. What better way to ‘celebrate’ our independence! The flag hoisting occurred amid a drizzle with about 20 people gathered, and about 25 kids looking patiently at the toffee packets to be opened soon. Our complex has about a 1000 residents.

This is the first flag-hoisting I have attended since I was a kid in school. I would not have attended it if I did not have a portfolio sort of a thing. The national anthem was sung. People looked serious and attentive and patriotic. Then everyone shouted Vande Mataram – Hail Mother. Then everyone was busy with the football match. I came home because I had loads of script checking to do and it was drizzling harder anyway.

After a decent amount of script-checking I got a call from my friends, arrangements are made to pay tribute to the Indian Spirit. Going to a friend’s place I found that arrangements indeed were made – made rather well as a matter of fact. There was chicken, there were fruits, there was salad, and there was something from Vijay Mallya’s cellar as well. As promised by the scenes in front of all Foreign Liquor Off Shops (why Off I never have found out!) the last evening, I was certain that we were celebrating the day just like majority of Indians. What better way to celebrate democracy!

As a matter of fact democracy is in Indian blood. The other day I had an argument with a student. He was saying since everyone takes bribe why should it not be turned into a rule! I did not know what to say. Majority wins.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The Batman is an all-time favourite Superhero. Mind you, he is not a Hero, but a Superhero. Although he has no super-power, being a mere mortal, yet Batman lore has always presented him as extra-human. This is so because his strength, perseverance, apparent oblivion to physical pain and his abilities spring from a scarred psyche, a scar in his mind so deep that does make him a psychopath, a maniac. He is not to be loved, but to be feared. Apart from his abnormal sense of justice – again manically enhanced – there is nothing to stop him from doing bad. He is a terror to criminals because he is more terrible, because he is unpredictable, because he relies on rumors and darkness. Through his psychosis he has cultivated an aura, a mystique which covers him, turns him into a shadow. He is not a man, he is the Batman. And when he appears, he makes things right, or he does not stop.

Bruce Wayne is the mask he wears. Repeatedly in graphic representations it has been shown that Alfred had had to teach him how to be normal. He has not succeeded. Bruce Wayne is abnormal. It is an act put up by the Batman. He does not call himself Bruce, he called himself Batman. That is all. This is a mind you should not disturb, it is already disturbed.

Neither the awesome, at the same time awful, nor the mysterious bit did I find in the latest movie. It is true that the Batman cannot do everything alone. He needs help. Alfred also cannot do everything alone. Expecting that would be idiotic. But even after all the help, in urban folk, the Batman remains the Batman. In this movie, sadly, he is no more than the people who pretended to be the Batman. He is just an ill-tempered, impatient but honest do-gooder who can only use brute force. The Joker-beating scene is fit for a mafia movie, not a Superhero one. It brings the Batman down to such mundane levels. The psychological edge, the fear, the intelligence are entirely missing. Nobody really is bothered about him – though we are told repeatedly that crime has become less in Gotham. Joker’s henchmen are unafraid; Moroni and his moronic mob remain unaffected. If the Batman is just a name to scare pick-pockets and muggers, then I think it is a sad state of affairs.
Joker, on the other hand, is everything one may expect. He is the epitome of what we are afraid of. Evil is too clich├ęd a term. He is unpredictable, he is homicidal, and he is sharper than a chainsaw. Against him this Batman is nothing. When against him you can take away the Bat part from our hero at any point of time. He can play the Batman like a homeless guy’s guitar. Heath Ledger, all my salutations. I am a great fan of Mr. Nicholson. He was scary. But so was the Bat. Here, you take the cake away. And regrettably, the Bat can but help. The White Knight of Gotham is also passable. He is not wimpy, he is not unwilling to look the other way for the greater cause, and he is the great American hero of now. He is also vain. He is also in love. Comic-book legend tells us that he could not tolerate his defacement, his defeat, and like the Batman became an extreme. Unlike the Batman, he became injustice. Here too he becomes that. He is a monster with a perverted sense of justice – a justice left to a coin. And as long he is human, not a super-villain, he is good. The moment he has the CGI-face, you feel the strain. Talk to the face – that becomes his attitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s a wonderful film. Mr. Nolan had commented somewhere that he was inspired by ‘Heat’. I respect that. It was a gritty, very human, very hard-hitting film, as is Nolan’s. But – strictly my opinion of course – that’s exactly where the film fails. It’s a cop-versus mob film, and everything that you expect and do not expect happens. It’s a film where the mob is using the ultra-villain, a trump card they themselves cannot control. The Joker who does not bother blowing up hospitals, who tells different stories of how his face became thus, is an extension of the already hyper-villain terrorists we see everyday. But the hyper-hero, let alone the Superhero, is nowhere to be found. This Batman is extremely inadequate. Perhaps this is what Mr. Nolan wanted to represent. That such mystique, such illusions are no longer valid. But I object. The entire idea about the Batman is that he is a symbol, a symbol against all the evil, all the corrupt, and all the terrible that there is. He is not simply a fall-guy, a Christ-like taker of sin in a black suit. The Batman is the inspiration we all need to go on. In the present world that inspiration is more than necessary – it’s almost the lifeline with people being killed without rhyme or reason Right and Left. If Joel Schumacher lost it because he thought the Batman has been taking himself too seriously, because he wanted to give the guy a break, then Mr. Nolan should also think again. In all his sincerity is he killing the superhero and creating just a hero out of him? I am not asking for the Justice League, but I still want to believe that some of us can be more than human; some of us can be Super.

Michael Keaton was the best Bruce Wayne ever. I am sorry, but I feel that Christian Bale was a better Bat in ‘Batman Begins’. In this one, towering presences like Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine has overshadowed the Bat. The Batman is respected, trusted and distrusted, but always kept at a distance by all others – he cannot be a pretty regular guy who tries. The feeling in this film was that just anybody with enough guts, goodwill and enough money could have been in that suit. It is not the suit that makes the Batman, the Batman is always, and that is why he is what he is. That is why he was not what he should have been in ‘The Dark Knight’.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Crumbling Cookie

There was a time when two cookies were there every night on top of my mailbox. This created a lot of curiosity and confusion among my neighbours. As a matter of fact one of them, albeit a young one, mustered enough courage and asked me who sends me these nocturnal biscuits! He had not been able to take any more of the variety of speculations that were going around – whether it was a prank, whether it was symbolic, religious, whether it was a new form of terrorism, and so on and so forth. I realized it was time that ended all the hypotheses and told him plainly that it was I who was the deliverer as well as receiver.

I am not crazy. Nor am I insane. Not even slightly on the edge. At that point of time we had a thriving friend circle. I was living in my old neighbourhood. About ten of us used to hang around a little sitting place next to the football field at night. It was a post-dinner meeting for me. I take my dinner at 9:30. I was punctually at my adda at 10. It was the best of times for all of us. Still young, still students, the world were full of possibilities. None of us were married, some of us were going through courtships, some through broken hearts, and others waiting for someone to make or break their respective hearts.

There were many dogs in the neighbourhood. Stray ones – as you find all over India. This particular species (Roadasians – “dogs which roam the roads of Asia”) is very friendly, most of the time harmless, all bark practically no bite. Until one goes mad, but that holds true for Homo sapiens also. Every season these dogs would embarrassingly breed. One such dog had its litter of six puppies just next to our building. They were all taken care of by most of our neighbours. Among the six one was run over by a car. Two died of diseases. One died of malnutrition. Another one went away in search of fortune to some far-away locality.

One was left. This one became everyone’s favourite. He had several names. My mother called him Y because he had a Y shaped design on his head. We used to call him Bhootoo (bhoot is the Bengali word for ‘ghost’, bhootoo is the affectionate version: though I sincerely doubt if a real bhoot would inspire any affection at all). Bhootoo was a singularly stupid dog. When walking he would bump into people. As a puppy he used to think that pallu ends (however do you describe an aanchal in the language of England?) of Saris and dupattas were designed for him to grab with his mouth and swing around, causing quite a bit of havoc I must add.

My friendship with him started the day I found him sitting in a garden on top of a very small flower-tub. He was just a couple of months old then, all alone, his brothers and sisters all gone, his mother (the bitch!) busy with another dog. I gestured and he scampered towards me, still wobbly and still very enthusiastic. The way he stretched his neck to look at my face turned me into an aficionado. Then every time he saw me he would follow me to a certain invisible fence, over which dangers lurked for him I suppose. From that point he would keep looking at me with a curious expression on his face. I don’t know what it meant. Then began the cookie episode. Bhootoo was well fed. The ground-floor residents of our apartment building once had their own dog, and they loved all canines. So young Bhootoo ate better than many Indians. But what my sister and I decided was that he was not getting enough dessert. Chocolates are deadly for dogs, ice-cream too problematic, so we settled on cookies. At the beginning we took it from our own home. That came under parental scrutiny, so we began buying the stuff especially for him.

My sister is scared stiff whenever, wherever a canine is concerned. She felt kindly to Bhootoo, but her love was only from a distance. Feeding the cookies was my job. I had no objections. The only problem was that everyday I would have to push the cookies into his mouth, because he was too dumb to find the pieces on the ground. The other problem was when I went down at 10 o’clock Bhootoo was nowhere to be seen. This was the time of his dinner. And dogs are very jealous of their food – so I am told. Bhootoo made it a habit to take his food elsewhere. Somewhere beyond the ken of other dogs. And I could not carry the cookies to the adda. Simply because they would be eaten. It did not matter that they were for a dog, they were delicious, ones I myself liked. So human need being greater than the dogly, the cookies would be devoured without wastage of temporal space.

So I ended up with the solution of keeping the cookies on top of the letterbox. Ants could not reach them, humans would not touch them, no other animal could think of such a place. When I returned from my adda I would give them to my four-legged friend. So I believe my case for my sanity is sound.

Bhootoo died when I was in UK. He had met with an accident. Some car had gone over his left-hind-leg. He was taken to a hospital, treated, medicated and everything. But he never did heal. I was not there when he died. The people who used to feed him, and take care of him, gave me this tragic news. There have been many litters since, many dogs, a few of them still swing from pallu ends, but we have not had another one like Bhootoo. I am no longer there. I guess some other kid will have some other stray yet pet dog who will give him/her as much love.
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