Monday, 14 November 2011

The March To Utopia

The March To Utopia
Should school vacations be regimented?

Come March, the build up of examination pressure ahead of the annual feature and its subsequent exodus at the submission of the last answer sheet brings forth a kaleidoscope of visions in a student’s mind. Hours of unhindered playtime, a family vacation, or an annual visit to grandparents at their hometown are just some of them.

Many moons ago, children chugging into this station of Utopia were a common sight. Throwing all caution to the wind, they lived the good life, their worries and troubles a distant two months away. Friends ganged up, games were created, teams were made, rules were tweaked and heroes of the day decided on the itinerary for the next. Breakfast happened at eleven in the morning instead of nine, lunch at four in the afternoon instead of two and cell phones- they were blissfully non existent. All mom knew, or bothered to ask, was your whereabouts and expected time of return, which she knew would stretch by at least an hour. The scene was no different at granny’s or at the holiday resort. The odd film or a visit to the circus and the annual fair, were but add-ons to the jolly good times. After months of restrictions, regimentation and rigour these were days of gay abandon well earned, giving the little minds sufficient time to reboot for the vagaries of another demanding year ahead.

Children, then, having a cursory interest in any field sometimes used these holidays to develop the interest into a hobby. This was only a small feature of the holidays and there was no compulsion to take part or pressure to perform. Cut to the turn of the millennium and slowly but surely, the way economic progress brought in the mall culture, so has it the corporatisation and commercialisation of the summer vacation. Different companies with varied areas of interest now put in their might to give children a ‘structured and purposeful’ vacation with their holiday programmes. Their quick fix assurances and projected turnarounds by the end of the vacation are the crowd pullers. They are attractively packaged, aggressively marketed and priced fashionably high. In exactly the way a walk around a mall and a survey of all that is on sale can give one a sense of inadequacy even after an expensive purchase, the media bombardment of the innumerable ‘avenues’ now available for children can give parents the feeling of not doing enough for their child or worse still, the belief that the child does not want to get exposed to more streams. This feeling of inadequacy is further fuelled by the competitive streak in people, who want to be one up on the Jones’s and the Joshi’s in this race to nowhere. Busy or working parents justify their child’s inclusion in these camps because of their disposition and still other’s because of a herd mentality. Then there are those, who, with the inability to spend quality time with their children, find gratification in big spends as compensation.

Whatever reasoning they adapt, it’s from the children they extract their pound of flesh. Disciplinary orders, cosy mornings deprived of sleep, long hours away from visiting relatives, missed games with friends, unending hours in schools which come in the garb of holiday camps, the pressure to excel and become a trophy the parents can proudly display, all these come at a time originally meant to be the child’s own.

The picture though is not all black. One cannot grudge the organisers of these programmes as most of them do a pretty decent job of creating modules for children and ensuring the children get the best out of it. Learning a craft, picking a hobby, exposure to a sport or an art form like dance are definitely not harmful indulgences. What does mar the prospects of these trials are pressures of over ambitious coaches or over zealous parents probably expecting every such outing of their ward to be a milestone en route the ulterior motive of being a coach or parents of a reality show child prodigy.

According to Mrs. Maitreyi Satyadev, Principal of Sindhi High School, Kumara Krupa Road, Bangalore, one cannot discount the benefits of summer camps and holiday courses as they are a safe haven for children whose parents are indisposed. With play areas shrinking and playgrounds vanishing there are not too many places where children are safe outdoors. These are also avenues for meeting peers and making friends. But it is also true that with these structured holiday programmes there is a definite loss of randomness and spontaneity. Kids then begin to behave like teenagers and teenagers like adults. The victim here is the kid, the child, and innocence seems to be the casualty.

Her views are seconded by Dr. Mythili. M. Sarma, a child psychologist, practicing at Aadhihara Clinic in Bangalore. She is of the strong opinion that it is better to let the child bloom on its own and that creativity blooms when the child is ‘doing’ nothing. One cannot justify gunning a summer camp down a child’s throat just because of one’s disposition. Time management here is the key. Parents wanting to feel good about themselves or those with a competitive streak, in the process, tend to forget the child in their son or daughter, making him see much ahead of his age. What is of prime importance is to show that you are interested in your child, paying close attention to see what the child shows a desire to learn. It is here that the true benefits of these camps can be felt. Lonely children may be prone to maladaptive behaviours, so meeting their peers in a pressure free and genial atmosphere will definitely aid their growth. A holistic approach is the need of the hour. Treks and nature camps, where children are close to nature and with a lot of adventure, give them a booster dose of self esteem and a sense of achievement. So these are definitely advisable.

Restrictions, regimentation and rigour. These words come into play when the child feels he is being made to do what is expected of him and not what he believes in or expects. Let us not get blinded and understand that the child and his interests are paramount.

The ides of March have come and gone and the train to Utopia awaits its little passengers. We need to quickly take a pick. The organised chaos of a structured vacation or the disorganised harmony of a vacation of self discovery.
(Word Count-1081)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

No Pain, No Gain

“Rockstar” is the tale of the birth of a rock star, his inspiration, need, nemesis and saviour being love. It’s about his transformation to Jordan a superstar, from Janardhan, a gullible wannabe singer-musician who is made to believe he can attain his potential only if he falls in love, feels its pangs and has his heart broken. It’s this pain that will lead him to the depth of his inner self and bring out the true music, he is told. What starts out as a comical effort to woo the most coveted Eve in college to ensure she will break his heart by her refusal slowly develops into a friendship, music his priority no more. So how does he become a “Rockstar” and what price does he pay for it? Director Imtiaz Ali`s body of work is a string of love stories woven around diverse themes in different milieus .He chooses to helm a musical this time. A strikingly common thread in all his films is that the protagonists at the outset are friends in denial, not reading too much into their attraction for each other but unbeknownst to them are actually in love, the film culminating with their acceptance.
Imtiaz Ali`s choice of a musical had to be backed up with outstanding music and that he ensures with the maestro A.R.Rehman. Call him the Mozart of Madras or the Bach of Bharat. Call him what you will and it would still be short of a befitting description. The music of Rockstar is quite simply avante garde and of a quality and depth not heard in some time, with no less support from Irshad Kamil`s words. The rock ballad, the anthem, the ode to Kashmir, A.R.Rehman`s customary Sufiana ode to the Almighty, Selvamani`s percussion in the climax concert and the piece de resistance, the instrumental jugalbandi of the shehenai and the guitar. Pick any .The sheer variety and class is sure to benumb you. The songs and music pieces are seamlessly woven into the narrative augmenting more than hampering the flow of the film. One approached Mohit Chauhan`s choice as playback singer for Ranbir Kapoor with trepidation but the film puts to rest any lingering doubts. On the flip side, the overdose of songs in the attempt to move the film forward, especially post interval does rankle a bit.

The supporting cast has a slew of hitherto unknown faces that do an admirable job of bringing alive the milieu and Delhiite-Jat persona. Kumud Mishra as Kathna, the catalyst to Janardhan`s love story, in particular is a superb find.

Shammi Kapoor`s last cinematic appearance is not the huge bonus it could have been, but is still memorable enough as a posthumous release.

Nargis Fakhri, well, like the old catchline goes, ‘she’s just too good a looker but not too good an actor’ (…so I guess she’s just right for …chocolate!). For a film that rested so on its` protagonists shoulders, it’s her looks and chemistry with Ranbir that sails her ashore. She performs very model like with a stiffness reminiscent of them.

At the end “Rockstar” is Ranbir Kapoor`s film all the way, be it as the gullible wannabe, the unpredictable star or the brash lover. This is a performance where he’s let himself go, with no restraints but yet a well measured consistency, being in character throughout the film. This is such a  strongperformance where even a special mention of Akki Narula`s eccentric wardrobe for him seems too minuscule.

Rockstar is crackling in the first half and a little tedious in the second. Imtiaz Ali narrowly misses out on that fourth ace from his sleeve to complete his quartet after his earlier three. But what the hell, a king’s no less a winner, and we now wait with bated breadth for that fourth ace.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bhandardara- A bounty(bhandar) of little delights

Bhandardara is situated in the Sahyadri Hills, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. The hundred kilometre drive from Shirdi to Bhandardara felt longer than the three and a half hours it took us to reach. The drive along the sometimes florescent green fields and sometimes dark, black soil expanses formed a nice contrast to the bright blue sky above and could have signalled unbridled joy, except that the tar on the road (or the lack of it) had decided not to extend us that courtesy. Thankfully as the Western Ghats got closer and we began our ascent, the hills started bombarding us with a slideshow of panoramic views as if in compensation.

The Western Ghats are a sight to behold during, or fresh from, the monsoons. Lush green here explains itself needing no help from either Webster’s or Oxford. The vistas got our sleepy eyes awakened and battered bones rejuvenated and we soon pulled over at the parking bay of MTDC`s resort at Bhandardara. At first instance it is easy to feel let down looking at the slightly unkempt property especially after being pampered by our regular holiday time sharer ,Club Mahindra’s quality and attention to detail. This was a downsizing we had prepared for but didn’t want to accept. But one look at the view awaiting us in front of our cottages and every thought of possible discomfort vanished. The Bhandardara Lake and its backwaters silently screamed for our attention. And we were only too glad to oblige. Our choice of resort was also vindicated when we realised that Anandvan, a star resort in the vicinity, in spite of its premium tag and Yash Resorts another,in spite of it swimming pool had nothing even close to offer in comparison. MTDC, located on a hillock is at a vantage point and offers the best possible view from anywhere in this area.

Mount Kalsubai near here is the highest peak in Maharashtra. The Wilson dam built in 1910 is one of the oldest dams in the country with the Arthur Hill Lake being one of the largest lakes. The lake is so vast, the MTDC resort is at a pick up point meant to ferry people across to their villages. Little bands of people waiting to be ferried to some obscure village somewhere along the stretches of this beauteous lake make for a charming, even mysterious sight. Still waters, as the say, run deep. The placid waters of Arthur Hill Lake go down a 110ft. Bhandardara`s reputation had more than just trivia riding on it.

The first evening was a boat ride to the ancient Amruteshwar Temple at Ratanwadi. Said to be built in 1100 A.D., this was a 1000 year old temple built in a style called the Hemadpanti architecture. A small but intricately carved temple, its peculiarity is a Shiva Ling (representative statue of Lord Shiva) which is perennially under water. The temple’s inconspicuous size is compensated by the absolute beauty of its location. The forty minute ride on the lake to the temple, the long winding backwaters and the hills all around gave its tiny size a more than perfect setting for focus and devotion.  There are Vedanta classes held here, organised by a priest who is surprisingly an MBA degree holder and has made it his mission to propagate the merits of the Vedas. The temple precincts are an ideal setting for his tutelage. Prayers done and the intricate carvings digitised in our cameras, we headed back. The temple started disappearing from sight and we realised it was fading light and not distance that caused this. The boatman, worried, was now in a hurry to get us back because it would soon be dark and navigating the functional motor-boat back to the resort in the dark would be difficult. Fortunately old Hindi songs in the form of Antakshari (a spoken/sung parlor game of Bollywood songs) calmed our nerves-and his, and we arrived at the shore as soon as visibility became zero. A vivid memory here is that of a clear, star spangled sky, giving us a visual representation of what a billion could look like all at once.

Food options at the resort were rudimentary. Thankfully, the food was tasty and being a government set up, it was not priced high either. Other options for food were a good five kilometres away. With a trek scheduled for the next morning, we moved to our cottages after a quick dinner. Flies and scores of unfamiliar insects, attracted by the lights, emblazoned the cottage walls and made for a sight more eerie than unpleasant.

Early next morning, fully charged from a good nights rest and a refreshing cup of tea, we proceeded for our trek aided by our guide. One of the trekking options was to Mt.Kalsubai. But preferring something less taxing for our untried feet we opt for a shorter, easier trek. We would now trek across a few villages to a hill behind our resort and back. On your way up the hill, the reach of the backwaters comes into view. They stretch almost beyond sight into the horizon. The guide then points to a small speck in the distance. It is the Amruteshwar Temple we had visited earlier. This spellbinding view of the dam’s catchment made us wish we had taken the Mt.Kalsubai trek. Another point we didn’t visit was the Ratangadh Fort, which has many myths and legends.

 Once back from the trek we decided to make good use of thecottage lawns and that spectacular add-on, the panorama in front. Out came the pack of cards, the bed spreads on the grass and along with it the customary game of Antakshari. This was bliss; in one of the many avatars it had paid us a visit with on this sojourn.
 “Save the best for the last”, goes an old refrain. We had unknowingly done so for an experience on this trip that would make it one of our most memorable. During one of our casual conversations with the locals, we gathered that many of the villagers came to the lake every morning to bathe. The water was potable and the lake was not known to have any undercurrents. It was presumed safe to swim in and was in fact a routine with most of the people who came to bathe. There was a small temple across the lake on the opposite shore. Some regularly swam across to pay their obeisance.

 The next morning, our last there, we took a dip near the shore to test the waters. Clear,cold and crisp. And invigorating. And to think that this was only the “beta version” of a swim we now believed would be etched in our memories for a long, long time if we decided to do it. We were going to swim across the lake to the opposite shore, visit the temple and return by boat. A distance of a little more than a kilometre, we would swim the entire length with the boat alongside us as a precaution. The boat would be carrying the rest of the group (just the two of us were adventurous enough).
The sheer joy and ecstasy of being surrounded by hills in such a vast expanse of water, for me, nay, us, had no equal. We swam ashore to the temple and thanked the lord for an experience which could be called one. This swim was one of the best I could ever have imagined.

The beauty of Bhandardara and the unexpected delight it gave us is something we will always regale acquaintances with.