Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review of the latest Cadbury Ad

Its 2 in the night… the girl was coiled up in the bed, fast asleep… it was all silent and dull…until the door bell rings. The girl wakes up and looks around…everything seemed fine and she thinks that she must have been only dreaming. She decides to go back but the bell rings again… she looks at the table clock and wonders who can come at this hour...she gets a little scared. She then musters a lot of courage and proceeds towards the door… meanwhile the bell keeps ringing mad... she then takes a deep breath and opens the door…and…and… There comes the break!

The viewers were also at the edge of their seats but the story has been disrupted but do not think that the Ads do not get their share of attention. The 30 second documentary is not just a technique of increasing the curiosity of the viewers…its not even just a promotion of a brand…its much much more. Advertisements reflect and contribute to the popular mentalities. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing us softly tell us about the impact of advertisements on our sub-conscious. Advertisements, thus, can be used as an important social tool. But interestingly, Advertisements are also a part of our memories. I often watch the advertisements of the 90s on Youtube and feel nostalgic. One of my favorite Advertisement brand has been Cadbury. Cadbury came in India in the 90s with the liberalization. I was born around the same time and so I and Cadbury India have actually started our journey together. I have grown up watching all the Ads and needless to say, but I still sing their jingle “kuch khaas hai zindagi mei…”. The Cadbury Ads have always tried to capture the “Indian-ness” – they have always revolved around and celebrated relationships. Some of them have been beautiful...they used to leave us with a smile on our face or having us do an “awwwww”. Some Ads,infact, have been really special to me. But then with Amitabh Bachchan, there came a break. The “kuch meetha ho jaaye” series was not that appealing…Cadbury was losing its touch. But the latest Ads, I am afraid, have been even more disappointing.

The latest Ad still shows a joint family. They are having their dinner and this little girl is making faces as it’s not her favourite dish. Her grandmother then tries to cheer her up by asking her mother what’s in the sweet dish. The girl immediately hides the Cadbury chocolate. Her grandmother starts teasing her by claiming the chocolate, making her cry. The mother then brings in another chocolate bar and the atmosphere becomes light and happy again.

Most of the people didn’t like the ad, and I am one of them. Some find the ad to be very illogical, others think the girl is ill-mannered. But I feel that this is the death of the Cadbury appeal. Cadbury Ads, as I stated above, celebrates the beauty and selflessness of relationships. Our society is based on a network of relationships. Though in the confused capitalist transition, relationships are taking a backseat. But the Indian society still credits relationships over money. Our society is trying to struggle with this social ‘crisis’ and in this regard, respect for elders, mutual respect in all relationships is still considered essential. This ad has actually captured this undesirable and unfortunate reality where relationships are breaking down. The little girl is shown to be this stubborn, self-centered kid. The girl is not very good to her grandmother but she is not corrected by anyone. Infact, her grandmother apologized! They had all give in to her demand. The ending is pathetic. It kills all hopes. An ideal ending could have been to have the girl share her chocolate with everyone or atleast apologise to her grandmother! Earlier, the Chocolate bar was just ‘in the scene’...they would celebrate their joy through the bar. But now the bar would create the peace and lead to happiness. The brand that had once touched our hearts has become just too commercialized. It has lost its magic…

The agony of an auto-rickshaw wala

They are a notorious bunch… known for demanding arbitrary prices (50 rupees for south-ex from LSR), having a faulty meter (if they agree to use it) or finding excuses to charge extra. These little tanashahis(dictators) on wheels are a part of the everyday lives of the middle class. Yet, the middle class know (and care) so little of their grievances. Auto-hartals yields attention but not sympathy.

I had also belonged to the same “it’s his problem” attitude, until yesterday when I had an unusual auto ride yesterday where I was turned a mute listener. I had been advised to hire an auto from the prepaid system. It is easy and hassle-free but the auto drivers are not in favour of it (afterall, it kills their hope to ‘loot’ the ‘poor’ customers) so they try to convince you against it. But I had it my way. The traffic policeman then helped me find an auto. The auto driver that he had chosen tried to refuse as he had to go in the opposite direction for some work. But the traffic policeman did not listen. I felt a little bad for him but I couldn’t do anything (you don’t really argue with a policeman in Delhi).

Since I was coming from the station, he thought I was new to delhi so he started telling me the important places. He then told me how he had to report to his owner immediately. I told him that he should have told the policeman the same. I think that had pinched him. He then started off telling me how everyone- the policeman, the prepaid system, the government and even the trade union members are betrayers (he used “Harami” for each group).

The prepaid system has an in-built commission in the name of service tax. He told me the importance of that 5 rupees per ride. He argued that the policeman chooses the passing-by autos rather than the ones which are standing there as he takes money from the latter (they still have the hope to ‘loot’).

The government is a pain for everyone. But with the recent law, it has stung the auto drivers most bitterly. According to the new law, the autos will have a GPRS system and will have a machine which would calculate the fare and give a receipt. It will help exercise a lot of check on the drivers-turned-monsters and make the rides safe. It seems to be pro-customers (I don’t know if it means an increase in the fare). But one’s boon always turns out to be bane for another. The government expects the auto drivers to pay for this new facility. The original demand was of 50,000. After a hartal, it was pushed down to 14,000. But this is unacceptable and illogical. Why do they have to incur the cost? They will not be getting anything out of this unprofitable investment.

Auto driving is also not a very lucrative career option. How much can an auto wala earn each day? They also have to pay 250 or 300 rupees to the owner every day. CNG cost is also incurred by them. They work day and night to earn a few hundreds. Like their customers, they also have a family to support. I asked him about his family. He had two kids and a sister for whose marriage he had to save 5 lakhs.

I enquired about the auto trade union. I realized I had touched another nerve. He told me how they were all betrayers. Some would see the hartal as an opportunity for earning more. He had idealized the auto trade union of Maharashtra. The Delhi auto union, in contrast, is not well-organised and is divided on the lines of regional identities (He considered people from a certain state the worst of the betrayers).

This auto driver, whom I happened to meet, was not extraordinary. He was a simple man who just spoke his heart out. And by doing that, I saw the real face of an auto-wala…Another victim of this oppressive Govt. I am not justifying the harassment by most auto drivers. Cheating is unfair but they are also helpless, to a large extent. The new GPRS law is even more unfair. In their struggle against the Government, we can atleast sympathise with them, if nothing more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

This post has been written for nextGen India’s blog contest (
India is known as the ‘land of the miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of this “incredible india” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands the revoke of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA). The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting the law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958(enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. But its AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of the women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one of the thousands of the victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army rape us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things...they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still don’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina’s kaif new boyfriend is apparently more important a news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’ has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?
In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…thats another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The north-east people are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India. But interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peaceful at night”, they argue. So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced..but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on the roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

Also published @

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

M.F. Hussain - An artist misunderstood

M.F. Hussain has passed away at the age of 95. Within minutes of the reporting, Facebook and twitter was flooded with condolence for the most-famous and also the most-controversial artist. The news had come as a shock for many. I, myself, took some time to accept this news. I wasn’t his fan but his struggle which continued until his last breath earned him deep reverence from thousands like me. I am not a student of art nor have I ever made serious attempts to study art so for me, Hussain Sahab was the ‘man in great controversies’.
The first time I heard of M. F. Hussain was when he was barred from entering a hotel as he was barefoot. I was fascinated by his sense of ‘style’. Then he became for the little girl, the ‘notorious’ artist. But not that I cared about it! Last year, following a lecture by an eminent Historian, M.F. Hussain re-entered my domain of thinking. I then got a different version of him. When I heard of his demise, I was remorseful. But what added to my grief were some tweets and comments. Some continued to label him as “Anti-hindu”, “obscene” and “anti-Indian”…and even swore. I found that disgusting. But more than that, I thought that M.F. Hussain died without being given justice.
M.F. Hussain was a proverbial figure in the Indian contemporary, modernist art. He had bagged the highest National awards in India and was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Being an Art illiterate, I don’t think I can discuss his contributions but the title of “Picasso of India” accorded to him is suffice..isint it? So what had went wrong? Hussain’s controversial paintings revolve around nude Hindu deities, naked picture of Mother Goddess and caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. Religious fanatic groups had opposed these paintings and had threatened the life of the artist. Hindu fanatic Organisations accused him of hurting the sentiments of the Hindu community and labeled him as “Anti-Hindu”, “Anti-Indian”. Seeing the extremism grow, M. F. Hussain went into self-imposed exiles.
But was he really a communalist? Had he really degraded Hinduism and Hindu deities? The art community has a ‘different’ take. The celebration of nudity explicit in Hussain’s art was not new, they argue. The Ancient and Medieval past is full of it. One bicycle round around Khajuraho will be enough to prove his innocence. Hussain, any art student will tell you, in these controversial paintings had only combined mythical imagery with modernist techniques. It was his visual translations of Ramayana and Mahabharata. And I said “translations” not interpretations! Hussain’s “Mother India” is another unlucky painting. This painting depicts a naked woman representing India. Art Historians like Sumathi Ramaswamy have pointed out historical parellals for this inconography. So again, Hussain was just following the legacy. But yes, she was potrayed naked…sparking a more fierce protest. Nudity in Art is seen as a symbol of purity and has a long history. Besides, Hussain’s “Mother India” cannot hurt the hindu sentiments as she was a national deity…not their jagir!
The artist community sees the transformation of Hussain as a symbol of secularism into “a muslim sexual predator who’s act of painting nude is seen as an act tantamount to rape” (Art Historian Tapati G. Thakurta), in the background of emerging fascist forces. The paintings were released in 1970s but the petitions began post-babri in 1996.
M.F. Hussain has been seen as an “Anti-Indian”, an “Anti-Hindu”. But he is seen as a post-colonial, nationalist artist. His work has been seen as national in content and international in form. His gesture of being barefoot is dubbed as “nationalist”. Through this, he sympathized with the impoverished masses who were also barefoot. His act is also seen as symbolizing him being in direct contact with the “soil” of India. Historians such as David Gilmartin and Barbara Metcalfe refer to him as the “civilizational” artist. He considered the Hindu deities to be Indian deities. M.F. Hussain could not have hurted “hindu” sentiments also because he was an agnostic. He was, thus, not under any “religious” obligation to proclaim the superiority of Islam.
He is described as a “simple and great man” by his contemporaries. His only misfortune was his family religion. It made him a good target. He became the victim of the dirty politics in this country. He was an “artist misunderstood”.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Aruna Shanbaug's case - Is there no god?

The movie “Guzaarish” unleashed a new ray of hope for some. It renewed the debates revolving around euthanasia. Aruna Shanbaug’s case re-entered the public sphere for discussion. I got to know about the case and the issue of Euthanasia after watching the movie but I tried to avoid it… the ‘story’ was too tragic…unbearable for me.
But few days back, I watched a documentary on her on a news channel. I won’t say how it moved me to tears because that seems too underestimating. I just could’nt hold myself…I was silent...staring in blankness. What she went through and is still going through every passing moment of her ‘life’…I don’t think I or anyone can understand it. But the image of her lying paralysed in the hospital bed…blind and screaming haunts me.
I don’t think I can pen down what had happened to the once young and vibrant Aruna…No, I cannot recount how inhuman her assaulter could become. Inhuman is again an overtly-underestimated term. Aruna, the doctors say, “is neither in our world nor in the world unknown. She is somewhere in the middle”. Aruna has been in this state for the last 38 years.
As about her accused, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, any Indian can guess his fate. He was in jail for 7 years. And now he is out to live a normal life…a life of dignity and honour. 7 years for the devil…the haivan but 38 years of his haivaniyat.
But why should Aruna suffer? What was her fault? And till when should she suffer?
Aruna deserved to live with honour and dignity. But she was not allowed to do so. But now she should be allowed to die in peace. She should suffer no more. Her soul should be freed of these sufferings.
But the legal system in India has a different take. The law has literally become blind as it can’t see her sufferings- she has been in the same hospital for almost 40 years, she is paralyzed, blind and deaf and is still under the trauma. Giving a 7 year imprisonment to the demon seemed harsh-enough. Aruna has been fighting for her ‘life’ for the last 38 years but the court cannot see it. Why? Because they think that only God has the right to take away life. Well, does the court consider what Aruna is trying to live, a ‘life’? Aruna doesn’t deserve this torture. The court holds that patients like her should await the advancement of technology which will someday ‘treat’ them. Can the doctors ever treat her back to normalcy? Can they ever bring back the 40 years of her life? Aruna could not live on free will but now she should die on it. She has suffered immensely and deserves to die in order to end the sufferings. But the court, by prohibiting mercy killing, is now acting ‘inhuman’.
I kept thinking about it all evening. Why couldn’t the doctors just do it one day? They could have said anything! Or why couldn’t any of her relatives liberate her. It’s just a matter of 7 years(of imprisonment). I wish I could do it. I know I’ll be taking ‘law’ in my hands but then what do we do when the law itself is so inhuman?
I am an agnostic so I don’t know if there is any hell or heaven…good or evil. But now I hope there is. I hope justice is done. Her accused gets the burning hell. And I hope she rests soon…