Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Great Mutiny; India 1857: a Book Review

“Throughout the night the work continued, but as dawn approached not a single gun had been dragged into its allotted position.” (299)

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Christopher Hibbert’s non-fiction narrative The Great Mutiny; India 1857, deals entirely with the Rebellion that sparked among the so-called sepoys in the Indian army, set up by the British. Those soldiers recruited from among the native population were the ‘sepoys’. The Great Mutiny; India 1857 although is not a typical history book with its monotonous description of political reforms and causes for this move or that change of throne. Instead, one could call The Great Mutiny; India 1857 an entertaining vista of a part in Indian history, written with amazing clarity and sincerity.

Christopher Hibbert was born in Leicestershire, England in 1924. A British writer writing on an episode in Indian history is problematic, on plain sight. However, on a closer analysis, The Great Mutiny; India 1857 proves otherwise. The book does not valorize the British; neither does it denigrate the First War of Indian Independence.

“But the Age of Reason had been followed by an age in which the Englishman assumed—as Brigadier-General John Jacob, a famous leader of Indian Cavalry, assumed—that the British were masters of India because they were ‘superior beings by nature to the Asiatic.’” (37)

The formative years of the First War of Independence, what was known previously as The Sepoy Mutiny, takes the reader into the heart of British and native Indian life during the late 18th and early 19th century. Unlike many other Indian versions of the Mutiny or the First War of Independence, The Great Mutiny; India 1857 never takes sides with any one party. Romanticized versions of history often tend to distort historical facts and create altered versions of realities in accordance with the political standpoints of the author. No doubt, history is authored, much like the descriptions in a museum.
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I remember, once visiting the Arakkal Museum, Kannur. There is nothing much to see in the museum, except a few bedsteads of the king, some silver platters, paintings and ornaments. The descriptions on the exhibits are the funny part. They read like a petty sentimental romance. There is no mention of facts or logical explanation of what occurred, really. It is in such attempts to sentimentalize history, the British appear ‘cruel demons’ and ‘merciless slaughterers’. The political or cultural element in the British conquest of India seems to have been forgotten, the roots of which still survives in the genetics of the country’s’ political system.

To take an instance, the crucial strategy of the British to maintain their power over a nation of “well over a hundred million people” was a weak but ostentatious attempt to make things appear just. “Without respect and a general feeling that their rule was not unjust, it would have been impossible for the relatively few British in India to control an empire.” (38)               
Apart from being just to a history book’s seriousness, The Great Mutiny; India 1857 often presents situations from the daily life of the British and Indian soldiers, humorously. Trooper Charles Quevillart of the 7th Dragoon Guards writes, “The trouble was there was not enough to occupy the men in their long leisure hours.” (43)
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However, on the other side of this joke one could also find the story of a great discrimination, betrayal, and oppression. The Great Mutiny; India 1857 is not just a book for researchers, but an entertaining volume on how it all happened, for every book-loving person, who is in search of a change, for the time being.  

The Great Mutiny; India 1857 is available through this website: 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

William Shakespeare, Tussi Great Ho!

William Shakespeare’s name in the title is equally misleading about certain things you are soon to come across, as the anger the main character in this fictional narrative experienced surging inside himself.

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“I beseech you!” One of the characters from one of the plays written by William Shakespeare said to another. He did not remember who exactly the character was. Neither was it a significant quote to which he needed to produce a proper source. In any of those magnificent plays written by William Shakespeare, any of those characters might have said this to anyone else. It’s such a common way of making a request in Elizabethan English.

A poorly cordoned off class room, adjacent to the National Highway 17 would sure to be a hard task for the teacher to manage. The noise from the Highway often rises above levels of compromise, and students often find it hard to focus on their subjects. But in an otherwise neat and efficient college, the young teacher taught English contentedly. The young man mentioned here, was not particularly a fan of William Shakespeare, the Swan of Avon. However he had often felt that the indelible influence William Shakespeare has upon his times is unquestionable.

One day, he was teaching in an afternoon hour. His class was about critical thinking and its uses. Shouting at the top of his voice, he felt he would almost faint and fall down, if a break hasn’t been awarded to oneself, quite soon. He moved left and then right, tried to work the MW pattern of eye-contact strategy. Before long, he realised that every bit of energy left in him was slowly dripping away. His throat felt like he had gobbled a handful of splinters.

Suddenly, a noise outside the classroom grabbed his attention. He was pulled into a conundrum of laughter and shout. They were the senior students, making themselves at home outside his classroom, on chairs near the partition that separated the class with the verandah. The young teacher showed a gesture at them, to  make less noise.

He awaited result. The camaraderie soon resumed and this time, it was unbearable for him. A hot nerve on his forehead gave a push. He felt he would surely lose ground. He ran towards the entrance of the classroom, and shouted at them; “Didn’t I tell you to quiet down. Your noise is all inside the classroom.”

The young man wanted to say; “I am doing a job here,” as well. However, he refrained from that comment. An awkward sense of insecurity overwhelmed him. He realized that he was angry, and being angry meant that he was vulnerable. The thought prevented him from uttering anything further.

He went inside the classroom and resumed teaching. The noise continued. Once again, the young teacher thought of making a confrontation with the gang of orderless brats. He came outside. There was no point in raising his voice or exhibiting extreme irritation towards them, he thought. This enabled him to settle down with plan B. He played the mysterious stranger, by just staring at them. It was a technique he often used in order to control situations that included student delinquency, on previous occasions.

Find out what you may, certain situations would never bend when you desperately want them to. The shouters kept shouting and merrymaking in their group. He stared at them through five long minutes. When, finally, he realised this would not work, the young man came inside again. Right then, for some reason, a lady-teacher passed through the corridor and the troublemakers followed her, imploring for marks and asking questions.

The young man thanked the teacher inwardly and continued with his teaching. He thought of filing a complaint letter against the students to the Head of the Department as well as the Dean of the college. Meanwhile, all of a sudden, as if a bird had found a tree to perch on, a thought settled in his mind. That’s when he thought about William Shakespeare’s quote. It was an insignificant quote to remember, although within the play it may have carried tremendous influence. 

“I beseech you!”

The young man stood silent for some time, then smiled to himself. His body relaxed and countenance elated with a beaming peace. ‘Why did I ignored this before?’ He thought. He had clearly missed a possibility that could have been useful immensely.

He could have used the strategy of solicitation, a request. The unruly guys could have been thwarted through a request. 

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Note: This story is told by Subhashin, a friend of mine and a mysterious being, on a rainy Wednesday evening, sipping a strong tea near one of Kannur’s famous monuments. I asked him, what is the assurance that a request instead of an imposition could have made things work. He replied that he was among those students, who were sitting outside the classroom. It happened when he was a student himself. He also told me that he was trying to hone his storytelling skills, by trying get inside the head of the teacher.

“You have the skill,” I told him. “Keep telling stories.” 

Post Postum: Call it a weird story, for the sake of a genre.

Monday, July 29, 2013

3 Reasons People Go for Blogs (Locally)

The Gritty Part: Locally speaking, I am a global citizen, and globally, I am a local.

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Pretend you are the layman who has always been counted into numerous statistics about such topics as media rating, social influence of mass media, blogging, Is Facebook eating Google, etc. Now try to think on the reasons about why you would go for a blog rather than a newspaper or a television channel for the information on any particular data, scene, event, movement, and the like.

You see, this ordinary person’s mind that you have got is a really useful property. Some even exchange it for other propositions and material advantage. Rating is one such thing. Most of the news channels and print papers are gluttonous for audience rating on their programmes. Open a media rating service, distribute stars, and you will be a millionaire in days. Not that being the lord of millions of rupees is a bad job. You are not getting my point. Harmless as it is, my article, does not valorize Communism at all. Not that Communism is all about wealth, alone. It is simply that you did not get the point. But you are not alone in this state of confusion; a lot of people are with you, especially people from the news media, who proclaim themselves as ‘the mainstream’.

Here come the end-days of mainstream media in Kerala. Speaking globally, local media is slowly gliding towards its own demise. When I said local media, do not misunderstand it as only pertaining to Telly-talkers or newspapers. Include online mainstream too. The problem, however, is not in the idea that these guys work mainstream. The problem is in the collective blindness they have grown towards real issues that concern ‘you’. (Remember, you pretended being a common man.)

This grand tragedy is the result of a blind quest to achieve your (Common man’s) rating. In order to sustain a stable and shining media ranking or page view statistics, some of them are stuffing their valuable time slots with morally, socially and psychologically worthless contents. The common man, you, feels the need for a reliable media replacement. Blogs are thus, a very impressive option. Three reasons blogs are favoured by the common person are;


Although individually managed and written, the content in blogs are much more reliable than any newspaper or television channel working in Kerala, especially in issues that involve a major political party or community. Most of the main stream news media in Kerala, work for one or the other political party or casteist organization. This makes them greatly vulnerable against scams and other issues involving their own leaders and members. Social justice, in such cases is compromised for organizational gain and image building. In blogs, however, one can find a better inclination towards reliability. In some cases, if one published unreliable matter, the individual behind the blog has to face the consequences oneself. In a news channel or a newspaper, though, even if a news item qualifies to be wrong or an outright lie, the organization and its highly paid lawyers can save them from any charges of misleading the population or libel. Direct individual risks prevent bloggers from publishing wrong information or content that misleads other individuals.  

Personal Connections. 

In newspapers or television channels, one is listening to the plastic faces of those news readers or the invisible writer, who churns out stock sentences and expressions in order to feed the user with ‘information’. The reliability of the information that appears in the main stream mass media types is already doubtful, because of their need to create and own information. The personal connection you can experience with bloggers is a remarkable and touching experience while reading blogs. This adds to the reliability of the content. (Oops, did it sound like lifted from a school essay?)

You are Valued.

Try this; put a word or group of words in the comment box you see below any of the blogs you read. You will, in return, receive a heartwarming reply or thanksgiving. Whatever, you get back from the blogger, you won’t regret. They value your words and support individually. The mainstream media no longer care for user comments on their sites. The proof for this lies in the fact that none of the comments one posts in those super-stream media outlets would be noticed by their editors. We never find a reply for our comment from the editorial staff. (Unless, when you get exceptionally lucky.) Valued customer is a cliché that has little or no value any more among the established media. They always ask for reader or viewer feedback, but how many of you received a response back from them?
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The main stream media in Kerala has transformed into a kinky joke. They always need big stories, so every day, they find one. When they cannot find one, they cook one up. Regardless of the source or credibility, lately, most of the news items that appear in mass media in Kerala involve sex, politics and money. In order to exhibit proof they transmit copulation scenes involving political leaders.

Whether political leaders are having sex or ordinary men, watching it in TV with your family, in the regular news bulletin, disturbs your ethical and moral sense. It is not just with you, the individual, but also with the common man, you. Since I have been with you in pretending a common man, the revulsion is watching it with family is worse with me too. I have already abandoned Malayalam news channels. The newspapers in Kerala were already out of my regular reading list. What next? Today it’s me who abandoned them, tomorrow you, the day after tomorrow?   

Speaking locally, the media degradation is a global phenomenon. Therefore, the three reasons people go for blogs too is internationally valid. This is an alarm call for the big brothers in news media. Indie-media may be taking its first baby walk, but soon, they will gain a firm ground. (Ayyo, I sound like a geek in his class-essay!)        

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Killing Season: Thank you Mark Steven Johnson!

Saturday Flick

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“We are both killers. We are the same, you and I.”— Emil Kovac to Benjamin Ford.

“A young cowboy named Billy Joe grew restless on the farm
A boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm
He changed his clothes and shined his boots
And combed his dark hair down
And his mother cried as he walked out.”
[“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” by Johnny Cash]

Killing Season is released in 2013 under the label action thriller. However, this movie is a search into the heart of war and peace. The binary of the hunter and the hunted fixes an existential angel on this movie. Through its storytelling, Killing Season raises pointers towards the dilemma in the line of separation between the victim and the victimizer.

The story is etched through the journey of a revenge, sought by a Bosnian ex-terrorist, Emil Kovac, played by John Travolta, who comes to the US to ‘hunt’ the army officer responsible for the killing of his friends as well as his own physical paralysis. Emil Kovac’s paralysis signifies not just a physical one, which he undergoes after being shot in the neck by Ford, in the post-war shooting of war prisoners. Emil is also paralyzed emotionally and seeks for redemption in his act of seeking vengeance.

“He laughed and kissed his mom
And said your Billy Joe's a man
I can shoot as quick and straight as anybody can
But I wouldn't shoot without a cause
I'd gun nobody down
But she cried again as he rode away.”

The start of the movie is with a bloody and ferocious battle scene. This prologue ends with the scene in which war prisoners, known by the name ‘scorpions’ are being shot at the head. This is a particularly disturbing part.  
Image Courtesy: Google

All Emil Kovac wants from Benjamin Ford is a confession before he kills Benjamin Ford. Killing Season is full of religious and existential symbolism. When cinematography supports such a fine artistic attempt from the part the writer, alchemy is set in motion. All we see until the end is the wonderful result of this alchemy. The movie is written by Evan Daugherty, and every dialogue is pearl and rubies. This aspect raises the movie above the usual good Vs bad and pro-American Vs anti-American movies.  

“He sang a song as on he rode
His guns hung at his hips
He rode into a cattle town
A smile upon his lips
He stopped and walked into a bar
And laid his money down
But his mother's words echoed again.”

Along with the wonderful story line, thematic excellence, and directorial majesty, what hooked me through to the end was the music of the movie. The melodious songs tear a muscle fiber from your heart and leave you pained until the end. The southern accent of De Niro and the background country music makes it all the more a matter close to heart.

Violence and revenge are the two motifs that carry the story forward, with the two powerful and original characters. The movie gives enough time in developing Benjamin Ford’s character, but it never lags or bores. I have come across negative reviews on this movie, though; many criticizing for the lack of motive in the blatant attempts by Kovac’s to help Ford and later coming after him for taking the revenge. It is clear that the underlying discourse of hunter and the hunted is mistaken to be the bleak side of the story.  

“He drank his first strong liquor then to calm his shaking hand
And tried to tell himself he had become a man
A dusty cowpoke at his side began to laugh him down
And he heard again his mothers words.”

Do you remember Midnight Run, the 1988 film by De Niro? Killing Season is one among his best. It is a quality movie with Midnight Run running in its veins, no question, even if it is not so for some viewers. I watched a very good movie, after a long time. Killing Season is produced by Twentieth Century Fox and directed by Mark Steven Johnson.

“Filled with rage then
Billy Joe reached for his gun to draw
But the stranger drew his gun and fired
Before he even saw
As Billy Joe fell to the floor
The crowd all gathered 'round
And wondered at his final words.”
                                  Johnny Cash - Don't Take Your Guns To Town
  Song Courtesy: Johnny Cash.

About Anu Lal
If you liked this article, you might like my book too. Take a look.

Anu Lal is the author of Wall of Colors and Other Stories. He lives in Kerala, South India. He blogs at The Indian Commentator 
You can catch up with him in Facebook too.      

Friday, July 26, 2013

Grim Routes

I still could not figure out if I am being judgmental. Forgive such attempt, if this article reflects it in any form.

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“After a particularly long day at college, I took my bus back home in the evening”...This is nonsense, I thought. I knew the start was not up to the mark. I lacked my usual fire. The article had to be published at any cost too. It was a commitment that kept me going. It ‘is’, i must say. Blogging ‘is’.

I did not have anything particular to write about. There was no idea, no issue that came calling for my pen, on that fateful evening. I stood in the New Bus Stand, Kannur. The noise from the buses, entering and leaving the bus stand tortured my ears along with the suffocating sound of the announcer over a screeching, edgy microphone, from some invisible place, somewhere inside the bus stand complex. It was a newly constructed building, and had better facilities compared to any other bus stand complexes in the whole of Kerala.

Something made me feel irritated. It was perhaps, my fatigue. I was tired to bones, and was waiting to get inside a bus and get going. A tea and a bite of snacks might cost Rs. 14, together. I did not have the good sense of forgetting my meagre savings, either. The options available for me were two-either I have to spend from my meagre savings on minor expenses, or add minor savings to a meagre sum I managed to save at the end of the previous month.

I tried to tap away the keys on my Nokia X2-01 with the dull flap of words that came to my mind. This irritated me more. The void I felt between my desire to write and the accomplishment of that desire burnt me from the inside. Due to a measure that could help nature survive the harmful carbon monoxide, I do not own a car. This is the whole reason I stood there, at this point damned with fatigue, in the private bus stand, waiting for a door to open.

There were several buses going the Iritty route, and one of them could take me home too. However none of them had their passenger doors open, except one, which was already filled with people. Other buses waited for this one to leave the stand. Their employees, thugs, passed out from the institute of goondaism and crookedness, stood on guard near the passenger doors with their gluttonous eyes prowling over the nearby eateries and their half covered legs under a lungi wrap swinging at the tune of a distant song from a lottery stall.

Finally, the bus we all were waiting to leave left. All its seats were full, yet there was standing space, which was what they were waiting to pack with people. However, the time schedule of the bus had arrived, and the workers from other private buses slowly rolled up their sleeves. That was an indication that if the bus stayed after its schedule, they are going to deliver a strong message, sooner. Things often happen this way, here. No one wonders why and how far could this go. The bus had left and everyone was happy. The door of the bus nearby opened, and a bunch of people fought with each other for a chance to get in.

Each one nudged each other for space, and then grabbed for an iron bar to spare themselves falling down on the blacktop. Getting a chance to see the insides of the bus, in itself, was a tough task, let alone getting a seat. I managed to find a seat, on the arc over the back tire.

I was desperate to find a voice and stuff it into the article I was working on. “After a particularly long day at college, I took my bus back home in the evening”. I grabbed onto the adjectives in the sentence, and started working out something on the line of sketching the dull and murky routines of Guest Lecturers in Kerala. It sounded nice to me, and I felt I found a voice.

I heard the double bell, and my bus left the bus stand. To home, at last. Just like the character I was writing about, I felt tired, spent and betrayed. I wished I could sue the government, the justice system, the universities, and the educationists, for betraying the young Graduates by misleading them into the labyrinth of hopefulness. It seemed a good line for me to work on. I tapped away on my Nokia.

A hand tapped on my shoulder. I raised my face to see a growling dog-like face fixed on me. It asked me with a fury that could melt even the iron bar onto which the creature stood against, which world I came from. It also called me a indignant bum. I just stared into the void I noticed in its two bulging eyes. A larger part of my body sat there, paralyzed. Only my eyes could move. The creature had bag clutched in its armpits, and a ticketing machine in its left hand. It was the conductor of the private bus, in a Khaki uniform. He murmured at the disgust of me not offering enough attention to his calls, and said that it was no place for playing with sms.

I managed to say that I was busy in an emergency, and not typing sms. I felt embarrassed. Why should I let this creature know what I had been doing with my cell phone? Isn’t that an entirely personal affair? I paid the money, 15 rupees, and took the ticket. I could not keep peace with myself. Therefore, I uttered bluntly that I was not there on his mercy, and had paid my fare.

The conductor stood there for some time, and turned towards me. I only wished he could not spare more time to use his learning in goondaism against me, now. He said with utmost haught that he did not want my money; he does not care about money at all.

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I thought for the next two or three seconds and decided against my urge to speak out to him. I wondered how on earth this man and his family could survive, if all the passengers, simple people like me, decided not to take this bus anymore. Would this man be doing this job just for the pleasure of it? I could hardly bring myself to think that way.

One thing was sure, though, the possibility with all these people avoiding this bus, would never happen. There just are so many people and they all want to get back home.