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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Train to Pakistan

There was a couple of blasts aboard the Samjhauta Express that left nearly 70 people dead, the day before. The train had left the Old Delhi railway station, for Lahore in Pakistan. Most of the dead were Pakistanis, who belonged to families separated during the partition of India in 1947, returning home after visiting their relatives in present-day India.

As the great Sufi poet, Waris Shah, once said:

ChhaaN badlaaN di, umar bandyaaN di

(The lives of human beings are as transitory as the shadows that clouds cast upon land.)

Philosophy apart, the death and destruction that has been caused by the act of terrorism appears to have been highly avoidable. The television news channels have been presenting details of all the security lapses that made it easier for the terrorists to succeed in their nefarious designs. Apparently, there were only about half a dozen policemen guarding the 14 bogies and the luggage of the passengers was not checked before they boarded the train.

I can not help comparing this against the kind of security that was provided by the government of the Pakistani province of Punjab to the 'Sikh Pilgrim Special' train, aboard which I travelled across the border in April 2006. Each bogie had at least two policemen armed with automatic weapons, guarding the train night and day. Armed policemen had also been posted along the tracks, at various places where the train was likely to slow down. Additionally, there were several security men in plain clothes, on the train.

The passports of all passengers had been checked and their luggage passed through an X-Ray machine, before being allowed on the train, by Pakistani authorities.

I sincerely hope that the government of India will tighten the security for the Samjhauta Express, along with all other buses and trains plying between India and Pakistan, and that such a tragic incident shall not recur.

Meanwhile, if the extremists are going to such lengths to disrupt the peace-process, I am sure that it must be on the right track!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The most intensely romantic Bollywood scene in recent history

I thought I should do a piece on the occasion of St. Valentine's day. So, I am going to describe in this blog entry, the most romantic scene in a Bollywood movie, according to me, in recent history. It is not that romance and I have had much to do with each other at any point of time, but I decided to go ahead and write about this anyway.

The scene is from a movie called Lakshya. It stars Hrithik Roshan in the lead role and Preity Zinta plays his love-interest. The protagonist is an aimless young student at the beginning of the movie and goes on to join the military as an officer and take part, successfully, in the Indian army's Kargil operations. His on-and-off lady-love, in the movie, is a fellow student who becomes a television journalist, as the movie progresses, and covers the war.

In this particular scene, Hrithik's character (Karan) comes across the character played by Preity (Romi), while being driven, along with his unit, to a location on the frontier, from where they are to launch a surprise attack on the following day. He has recently come to know through an old friend's letter that Romi, whom he had known to have become engaged to another man after she had broken up with him, had, in fact, become disengaged (to use military parlance!) soon after the engagement. He has, of course, been in love with her all the time.

When he sees her, by the roadside, along with her camera crew, as the convoy he is travelling with comes to a halt at a crossing, he goes to speak to her for a few moments, after obtaining permission from a superior officer of his.

The following is a rough translation of their brief conversation:

Karan: I miss you a lot!
Romi: Me too!
Karan: I am leaving on an important mission tomorrow.
Romi: I shall wait for you.
Karan: I may not return.
Romi: I shall wait for the rest of my life.

The actor and the actress convey all of the intense emotion through words and, even more so, through facial expressions and body language, without making physical contact at all. This is the reason for which, to my mind, this scene stands out in this day and age, when most romantic scenes in Bollywood movies are meant to titillate the viewers, more than anything else.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Lost Art and a Tag

The tag, this time, is about hand-writing. Most of the writing I do these days (and it has been that way for several years now) is, in fact, typing that I do on a computer. The only times I put pen to paper are when I have to sign my name somewhere or to note down an address or telephone number and, in rare instances, to scribble down something of importance. The keyword here is 'scribble', as against 'write'.

It was not always like that, of course, and has been the case for the past 6-7 years only.

When I started going to school, at the age of four, I learnt to write the English and Hindi alphabet. This was because we lived, at that time, at Hardwar in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Punjabi, which I spoke at home with my family, was not taught at school. A few years later, my father bought me a Punjabi qaida i.e. a book containing the Gurmukhi alphabet along with pictures of objects that I could associate with the various letters. Thus, I learnt to read most of and to write a little bit of my native language. This came in handy when we moved to Chandigarh, while I was in the ninth standard, where I had to take up Punjabi as one of the subjects at school. The alphabet of the fourth language that I know (and which, once again, I can read most of, but write and speak only a little bit of) i.e. Urdu, was learnt from the Maulvi saaheb of a nearby mosque (in the National Capital Region of India, where I now live), who very kindly consented to give me lessons at home, while I was unemployed for an extended period of time, after completing my post-graduation.

By virtue of having learnt the Urdu alphabet, I can also manage to read Punjabi written in Shahmukhi, though I can hardly write anything in that script.

My hand-writing in all four languages has always been poor. The foremost reason for this, I believe, is inborn talent!

My father did get me a few join-the-dots kind of exercise-books, while I was quite young, in order to teach me cursive writing in English. However, the cursive writing had deteriorated to a scrawl within a few years, as the pressure for completing assignments and examination papers within specific periods of time continued to increase. Even then, more often than not, I could not manage to attempt all questions in examinations, simply because I could not manage to write all the answers down within the stipulated time limits. I would give full marks to the examiners though, who managed to decipher my almost illegible hand and to award grades quite judiciously!

During the three years that I was an undergraduate, I would hardly put pen to paper for the first ten months of an academic year, apart from the few words here and there that I would jot down in the name of taking notes in class. By the end of it, it would usually turn out that I could not make any sense of any of those and would get photocopies made of others' notes. During the next two months, I could be seen writing those down over and over again, besides what I had learnt from my text books, in order to be able to memorise it all, so that I could regurgitate sufficient amounts during the examination.

For the two years that I was pursuing my post-graduate degree, I had to submit a lot of hand-written assignments and case-studies. I tried to write as clearly as I could and even used inks of different colours to write important portions of text, so as to highlight those. I have not preserved any of the material, or else I would definitely have posted some samples here. I have probably never put in so much effort at writing by hand at any other point of time in my life, as I did while writing those papers.

Since then, it has mostly been typing rather than writing that I have been doing.