Monday, February 27, 2006

The Great "Tick"tator-- Chaplin

Of the movies that I watched lately, "The Great dictator" left an indelible mark on my memory. Featuring the incomparable Charlie Chaplin, playing a double role, the movie is one of the fewest of Chaplin's which is not "silent".

The Great Dictator is "tightly" based on who else, but Adolf Hitler. Chaplin plays Hitler with a lot of verve, trying to get into the dictator's shoes and trying to own his misgivings, his fears, his megalomania and of course, the result is that, Chaplin succeeds! I wouldn't want to go on a review of this movie, you can find ample info from My endeavor would be to try to link up Chaplin's efforts in this movie with his political views.

I always thought that Joseph McCarthy was a loony who saw red everywhere, where he saw his hate. And thats why when I first read about Chaplin's boycott in the US, I thought he merely was one more of McCarthy's "red herrings" set for a "red" judicial hearing. But when I see Chaplin's movies, be it, "The Modern Times" or "The Great Dictator", I sense the reason why McCarthy saw red in Chaplin's motives.

Chaplin was after all making a statement. A statement against the Fordist mode of production in Capitalism in "The Modern Times". He makes a burlesque of fascism in the Great Dictator, and I am told (I am yet to see the movie), he waxes philosophic in "Monsieur Verdaux" too. Of course, how?

In most of the movies, Chaplin plays the Tramp, a happy go lucky bum who endears all with his antics, and who appears nameless throughout, even silent, full of gaucherie and clumsiness. He is after all, in my opinion, representing the proletariat, the working class of yesteryear, earning bread by the day and living the life of a unnamed, unpropertied individual.

Chaplin in "The Great Dictator" plays the same role as the Jewish Barber. He seems silly, yet he has a heart, he has no desires, except to enjoy the fruits of his work and the work of his dint, he in essence represents the common European man. Chaplin as Hynckel (Hitler) is the denouement of the vagaries of the capitalist establishment. His megalomania is fuelled by his un-stirred belief of his racial superiority. He is supported by the capitalists of his time, who see great scope for expanding profits through disciplined industry, expanded work force and zero liberties. Notice how Chaplin tries to transgress his racism by trying to get funds from a Jewish capitalist in this movie.

In Modern Times, Chaplin attacks the system of the Fordist Assembly Line mode of production and the alienation it begets onto the ordinary worker. He combines pathos and comedy in a nuantic mixture, which tastes comical but when chewed on longer, attracts the grey cell to think about the system.

In essence, Chaplin was not merely among the greatest movie stalwarts ever, but also one of the leading intellectuals of the movie world. In his movies, lay a criticism of capitalism, of course, deep within peals of laughter and mirth, but a steady critique indeed.

Hats off to the Tramp!

Friday, February 24, 2006

How I saved Indo-Pak relations by finding a shoe!

The day before yesterday, we had an outrageously hilarious experience, something that I wouldn't forget for a while to come.

We had invited two singers and a troupe from Lahore on a cultural visit to the campus, and who had come to enthrall us with some Qawallis and other classical music. We had planned this as part of a campaign to showcase third world friendship against imperialism. Funnily the entire programme was planned in a day and the singers were invited the very next day!The problem was that despite the quick arrangements, we couldnt' get a proper auditorium in the campus booked and hence, we went in for an outdoor show in front of the Students' Union Office.

The singers were rather upset with the arrangements when they landed, but they brushed their disappointment after glancing at the healthy crowd to listen to the performance, and after a bit of mollification that we provided them. Soon the performance started and the audience were quite enthralled. What however happened suddenly was something super-funny!

(Aside: There is a rule in our campus that says that any kind of violence against dogs is a punishable offence. This perhaps has given leeway for dogs to trespass their supposed environs. ) Coming to the story again. When the singers had embarked upon the stage, they had left their traditional expensive footwear at the base of the open audi-stage. While we were engrossed with the show, in the meantime, suddenly one of my friends sitting beside me ran frantically behind the stage chasing two slightly grown up puppies. I was surprised seeing him do it when he called for me to join him. I ran ahead, followed by another friend and when we met him, asked him what was the fuss all about? My pal tells me that one mongrel dog had picked up an expensive shoe and had ran away!.

Behind the stage, there is a wilderness full of untrammeled bushes and woods and the dogs had seemingly ventured this way. While unable to control our laughter, we went on a frantic search for the missing shoe and the bloody dog. The show was going on of course in the meantime, with the singers least aware of what was happening back stage. In a while, the entire organizing committee, myself and other student union representatives were searching the woods with flashlights for the errant dog and the missing shoe. Half the time, we were trying hard to control the laughter, while at the same time, greatly worried about the fallout of this incident. There was even no backup pair of shoes that we could have brought.

After about half an hour of futile search, I decided to apply a "scientific approach" to the process. I thought that puppies generally go along in groups and stay together. So we went off to a particular place where we had seen hordes of dog families before. As we reached that point (KC Complex), we realized that the dogs we were searching for, didn't belong to that particular family. Off we came back through the wilderness looking for another "family". This eventually led us to a spot where a group of dogs were resting.. Backing up a hunch that the shoe was somewhere over there, we went on searching and at last, serendipitously, found the missing shoe, just about the time the show was getting over:)

I guess, in a way, I contributed to Indo-Pak relations continuing on the Confidence Building path:), or else it could have withered away to a point reaching dog's death! Lesson learnt: No more shows organized on "Shoe-string" budgets!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ambush Bush's plans before his Iran Putsch!

George Bush, head of the mighty Pax Americana, lynchpin of Neo-Conservatism and chief peddler of US Imperia, comes visiting to sovereign India. Anyone who has seen the miseries of the prisoners of Abu Ghraib, the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the unrequited victims of Hurricane Katrina, the tribals of Baluchistan, the common targets of Afghanistan would squirm at the thought of Bush receiving a red carpet welcome in sovereign India, my country, which was born out of a struggle against imperialism, the kind peddled by Pax Britannica.

Soon, Manmohan Singh, the so called scholarly economist, who happens to be the only un-elected Prime Minister of my country, and who has still to be represented in the Lok Sabha, the person who went about the clandestine process of voting against Iran in the Vienna IAEA meeting, without consulting his cabinet, his allies or fellow legistlators, the man who called British rule benign (shaming the memory of the millions of victims of man-made famines in my country), would be holding his hands forth to receive the mass murderer George Bush.

It makes my blood boil. Every word of history, I read, I see the contradictions of capitalism bursting out in its attempt to look for newer markets for profits and bringing forth forms of colonialism. Colonialism was explicit in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was implicit for a great time, faced it was by a challenge, flawed in its own ways it might be, from Socialism. Today the Soviet Union is gone, because of a myriad reasons and you have neo-colonialism ravaging Iraq and Afghanistan, an impending invasion of Iran and Syria, simmering anger and growing fundamentalist responses in a handful of third world countries as well as tragic suicides and rising hunger in countries affected by the brunt of neoliberal policies. The fact that George Bush represents the worst face of this imperialism, which I now sincerely believe, still exists, is reason enough that we oppose, resist and protest him when he comes over to India.

US Imperialism today goes about threatening sovereignty of nations in the name of spreading democracy. Little do we remember that it was the US which killed Mossadeh and brought down his democratically elected government in Iran, it was the US which sponsored a coup and brought down Salvador Allende in Chile, later on subjugating Chile into living hell under the dictator, Augusto Pinochet. It was the US's policies through the Washington Consensus (the IMF-WB) which brought Argentina to a financial crisis, Malaysia and Indonesia to currency crisis and it was after all American Imperialism which lost the War against the valiant Vietnamese, but which devastated the lives of lakhs of Vietnamese. It was the Americans who dropped the deadly atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We cannot erase these memories. George Bush is doing the same ills to Iraq and Afghanistan and plans to do the same to Iran, Syria and North Korea.

In the memory of the great anti-imperialists, may it be the leaders of the domestic bourgeosie, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, or the voices of the working classes, legendary Communists and Revolutionary leaders, I hold forth my own little light to add to the incandescent glow of anti-imperialism. Let us protest Bush and his policies, show our wrath by shouting slogans against him when he comes over to New Delhi. Join "us" at Ram Lila Maidan in the march to Parliament in protest against Bush and the policies of Imperia.

An Alternative World is possible, but first for that to happen, Imperium must hear the voices of dissent, the voices of protest and the anger of the marginalized.

"Fire Bush, Not Missiles"!!!
"Imperialism, Down, Down"!!!
When Bush comes to Shove, Resist !!!
Samrajyawaad ka ek jawab, Inquilaab Zindabaad!!!
Socialism is the Future!!!
Protest, Resist and Oppose American Imperialism!!!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Science Movements

Somewhere during my engineering days, I lost my scientific temper. Why, I dont know, but I blame no one but myself for it. It might be difficult to regain it now, but certainly I can work toward it.

This week, I had the privilege of visiting Guwahati to attend "All India People's Science Congress" as a delegate who was supposed to understand and let others understand the business and working of "Free Software", a concept pioneered by Richard Stallman.

During the course of the conference, I also was privileged enough to see how, Science and Rationality was being percolated into the masses by a set of dedicated activists across the country. One interesting anecdote was narrated by T. Ramesh, a science volunteer belonging to Jan Vigyan Vedika (JVV), which is a People's Science forum that works in rural areas in South India.

Ramesh, along with his other friends, went on a motorcycle trip "blindfolded" to popularize rationality. They encountered a village, where a "babaji" had held sway and tried to open up a workshop in the village to showcase their knowledge. The "babaji" refused to let him and others enter the village and asked the villagemen to throw them out. Ramesh and his friends hired mikes and shouted in full volume their thoughts from outside the village, knowing fully well that the villagers could hear them. They then, invited the villagers to their camped site to show some of the fallacies that the Babas were heaping upon them.

The villagers asked them first to walk across a heap of burnt coal barefooted to prove that they were right and every volunteer, including Ramesh went about doing this! Ramesh later on explained to me that walking on burnt coal was not dangerous at all, because of some moisture that remains on the burning coal which could cushion the heat from within. Ramesh and his friends were then allowed to showcase their exhibits by the villagers.

I have to link this up with the furor created by the unruly elements of the Hindu Right over Brinda Karat calling foul over the Ayurveda medicine preparations done by Divya Yog Pharmacy owned by Baba Ramdev in Haridwar. Instead of extolling Ms Karat's compliants, the pliant bourgeois media went about caricaturing, and taking obnoxious positions on such a vital issue.

The fact that labour issues were involved were lost on these mediapersons, is telling as to how, empathy for labour has vanished from public discourse in urban media these days. I have to stop before I go on, on yet another harangue about the changing role of the media... Speaking of which, P.Sainath, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu is speaking on "Mass Media vs Mass Reality", the Changing Role of the Media, in a talk organized at Rajendra Bhavan, near Gandhi Peace Foundation at 5:30 PM, January 17th.