Slumdog Millionaire and the brouhaha

Posted by Anantha | Posted in , , , , , , | Posted on Friday, January 30, 2009


There has been plethora of debates, interviews, blog posts by celebs, comments and counter comments about the way Indian underbelly is depicted in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Before jumping into the debate, let me give you a fictitious analogy. Assume an acquaintance of yours drops into your home unexpectedly. The moment he enters the house, he observes nook and corner of your house with sheer curiosity of a newly arrived guest. He notices a huge cobweb in the corner of walls underneath your attic. Then in few other corners of your house too. Not only he notices, but also utters a word about untidiness of the house. What would be your reaction?
  • A. “It is my house; I can keep however dirty I wish it to be. If you have a problem with it, GET LOST! ”
  • B. “Oh come on! You visitors always point out such things in the house. Do u ever see beautiful antique furniture, the exotic vase with fresh flowers on the teapoy etc..?”
  • C. “Aah.. I cud not clean it as I can not reach there”
  • D. “You are saying it as if cobwebs do not get formed in your house!”
I hope you got the relevance of the analogy (quite lame though). Our reactions to Slumdog Millionaire or to any foreign filmmaker making a movie on the hard realities of India (that we are not so proud of) would fall into at least one of options A, B, C or D, mentioned above. Certainly there is an element of embarrassment when an ‘outsider’ points at the filth in our house.

Would our reactions be different if the movie had been directed by our own desi filmmaker?
Would our reactions be different if the movie had not hogged the limelight as it has done now with winning 4 Golden globes and earning 10 Oscar nominations?
Are we expressing the anger only because we are worried about the projection of India to the so called First World?
Why don’t we talk about Smile Pinky or The Final Inch [which are Oscar nominations for this year’s best short documentary films], which deal with similar themes?

In my opinion, after all Slumdog Millionaire is a fiction movie which deals with the hard realities of India. The movie might have exaggerated the slums and poverty in few places, but we can not deny the fact that Dharavi is the 2nd biggest slum in Asia (after Orangi Town in Karachi, Pakistan) and close to 1 million poor people of India live there in Dharavi. There have been movies in the past by Indian film makers which have dealt with similar subjects. Why should we treat Danny Boyle differently from Madhur Bhandarkar, Govind Nihalani and Mira Nair? 

If our concern is projection of India and the notions First World derives out of this, I say it is also India but not India in its entirety. Also how just it is to set our notions about a country watching the movies made on it? Or does any one ever refer to the movies or television series of a country to study the geography or history or politics or progress of that country for that matter? If yes, then it is as fair as presuming US as a land of teenage pregnancies after watching Juno, calling it a land of troubled families and pervert fathers after seeing American Beauty, To presume China as a land only about Martial Arts after watching innumerable famous Chinese movies, to presume Iran as the country where children wear torn shoes after watching Children of Heaven, to presume Brazil as the land of drug dealers after watching City of God and at last UK as land of racists after watching Big Brother! When firangs called India is a country of snake charmers, I laughed at their ignorance. My reaction would be no different if they now think Dharavi is India. 

You can only capture or understand a zilch of India in a fiction movie or a documentary. India is not only culturally and demographically diverse but also economically diverse. 
Forbes lists 4 Indians in the roster of top 10 richest men on earth, at the same time 300 million people leave below poverty line in India.
India can design PSLVs to reach Moon indigenously, but in rural areas there is no adequate transportation for kids to go to their schools.
Indian Pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest exporters in the world with US$ 7.2 Billion (in 2007-08) but India is also known as Diabetes capital of World, It has close to 2.5 million HIV infected people, a source says the estimate of new cancer cases every year is 8 millions in India, which is one of the highest in the world.
IITs and IIMs are one of the best educational institutes in the world but the same country has innumerous Govt schools with no teachers and no proper facilities for children.
India is estimated to surpass China in population in 2030, but also India accounts for more than 20% of the global maternal and child deaths.
India has a varied caste system from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and boasts of unity in diversity but also accounts to thousands of barbaric deaths in the caste riots every year.

These are just few examples depicting poles-apart facts coexisting in this glorious country. There are things to be really proud of, there are also things that make us Indians cringe. So when there is an honest attempt of making a movie on hard to chew facts of India, do not banish the director or the movie. But when First World thinks India is a nation of slums and poverty, just laugh at their ignorance.

TOI columnist Santhosh Desai says very rightly in his last column of ‘Citi Citi Bang Bang’, “It was perhaps more understandable why we were touchy about the representation of Indian poverty 20 years ago. At that time, we feared that to be our unchanging reality and it made us deeply ashamed. Today, when we believe that India is on its way up, why do we still respond negatively?” These lines quite sum up my thoughts too.

Kumara Parvatha conquered - Part 2

Posted by Anantha | Posted in , , | Posted on Friday, January 16, 2009


‘Hay!’ We are coming.. [bhattara mane to Mantap]
Just few meters away from the toll gate we decided to rest for some time there. This was to compensate for leaving Bhattara Mane in hush after the lunch. We rested under the shadow of a tree. We sat there almost for half an Hr and started trekking after Ethapay and I reminded the rest it might get dark before we reach the peak otherwise.

The evening sun provided our cameras just-perfect light. Kumara Parvatha started revealing its beauty as we kept ascending. There were hillocks covered with hay every where. We blindly followed the trail that was penetrating through the hay. We were taking pit stops more often than ever now. Kumara Parvatha was testing our stamina. The guys who had left just before us from Bhattara Mane were visible now at least a km ahead of us. The long pit stop we had taken near Girigadde had clearly widened the gap between us.

After trekking nearly for three hours we sighted another mile stone, Kallina Mantapa [Stone Mantap]. I remembered Mantap’s mention in many of the blogs and websites when I was gathering info about Kumara Parvatha. Sun was calling it a day and it looked impossible to reach the peak before the Sun sets. After taking few snaps of setting Sun we ascended ahead. We were searching for a plain land to set up our tent. We got down from another mile stone called Shesha Parvatha and found a plain land there.

Men vs Wilderness [night in the tent]
While setting up the tent I observed a drastic change in the weather. What was Sunny and humid had suddenly turned to windy and chilling. The tent was easy to set up. It was dark by that time. There were three torches with us. But we decided to set up a camp fire. Byre showed he is better equipped to leave in jungle by breaking few dry twigs from the bushes around. Byre even cut a bundle of hay. We tried lighting the twigs with a lighter I had carried. Even the camphor did not help. Just the hay burnt bright, but a single twig. It was so windy we gave up the idea of camp fire.

We crouched into the tent. Spread our sleeping bags and circled around the three torches that were serving as artificial camp fire inside the tent. We soon realized the tent would be a bit congested for 4 of us. But sleeping in a congested tent was lot better than dying in the cold out side. Few apples, biscuits and some other snacks were in the menu list for the dinner. While having our food Ethapay and I were alerted by a sudden scary noise out side the tent as if some animal is trying to tear the tents with its paws! It sent chill down my spine. We did not speak for a moment. The sound vanished; Byre took his knife in hand and said, “come lets all go out, if it is any wolf or some thing it will run away seeing people”. I agreed hesitantly. We all peeped out of the tent to see no animal around. Later we realized it was flap of our tent which made that noise. We all sighed in relief. We sat out side the tent for a long time discussing crappy topics. I shared some tips by Bear Grylls to others which I had learned from his TV Series Man vs Wild. I adore that guy for his guts, Im a great fan of Bear Grylls. Pujar and Byre added their share of info in the conversations.

We screamed at the top of our voices when the clock ticked 12 AM. Wished every mountain around and billions of stars above in the sky. There were no echoes for our screams, I think it got frozen in the cold. We all thought a New Year celebration can not get better than this. After chatting this and that for some more time we crouched back in our tent.

Foot on peak
I set the alarm to wake up @ 5:45 in the morning. I was expecting to see some clouds around. The plan was to trek to the peak getting up ASAP in the morning. The congested tent helped in a way to keep the warmth inside. We all zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags. Our bags served as pillows. The tired bodies caught sleep in fraction of a second.

I woke up before the alarm rang. It was few minutes to 5:45. I woke the guys up and told it was time to resume our trek. Byre unzipped the zip of the tent door and noticed it was still dark outside. So we decided to sleep for 15 more minutes. I did not get sleep. I woke them up again @ 6:00. Ethapay was hesitant to wake up and trek further. He said he will continue sleeping in the tent and did not wanna join us for trek further. We did not pester him much; as he had already been to this place once and he looked liked he needs some rest.

Sun had not yet shown up. Byre, Pujar and I were trekking in the direction of the peak. After trekking for about half an hour, the magnificent peak of Kumara Parvatha was visible, at last after a whole day of trek… I sighed. But to reach it, we had to cross a patch of a Shola forest. In the Shola forest we met the guys who were trekking ahead of us the previous evening. It was evident seeing the half burnt logs that the guys had successfully lighted the camp fire the previous night. I think that place mustn’t have been as windy as our place. We uttered New Year wishes to them and they did it in return. That was much of a gesture of solidarity. We met another group of 4 further down in the forest. After crossing the forest, we were challenged by a steep boulder-y climb in front of us. That hinted us that we were now climbing the ultimate tip of Kumara Parvatha.

After few minutes of trekking we were more than happy to land our feet on the second highest peak of Karnataka. We felt we were on top of the world. We gave hi-fives to each other. The view from the top was mind boggling. Sun was casting his bright rays on our elated faces. We clicked few snaps. All the three of us found a slope-y rock on one of the edges of the peak and rested there for a while. The view from there was worth the total ten hours of trekking.

Painful descent
We returned to the spot where we had set up our tent last night. Ethapay had woken up and folded all our sleeping bags and kept it ready to carry. Ethapay turned out to be less lazy than we had thought about him ;) We munched few apples and folded the tent back in a bag meant for it. It was 10 AM, by the time we started trekking down from that place. Trekking down did not turn out to be as easy as expected. It needed constant care not to step on a rolling stone and firmly gripping on each of the stones our foot was kept on. We took far less pit stops. Reached Bhattara Mane around 12:30. Bhat said it will take few more minutes to prepare lunch. We lied down on the mats and polythene bags laid out on the floor of verandah.

After finishing the lunch [menu was same, Malabar Spinach sambar, white rice, pickle and buttermilk] we decided to take a good siesta again. This time we were woken up by the commotion around by the new group of guys who had stopped for lunch on the way up to Kumara Parvatha. In fact there were more people that day to trek than the previous day. We carried our backpacks and headed back on the path to Kukke.

At last the whining calf muscles and thigh muscles got the much needed rest in the lodge when we reached the lodge @ 5:30. We all had a sense of accomplishment of trekking the 2nd highest peak in Karnataka.

Kumara Parvatha conquered - Part 1

Posted by Anantha | Posted in , , | Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2009


The plan of welcoming 2009 on the peak of Kumara Parvatha at last seemed to come true. Bhai had backed out from trip; we also had cut short our long trip which otherwise was of 4 days , because of some unavoidable reasons. At last Byre, Pujar, Ethapay and I, all were standing in the mist coated Kukke KSRTC bus stand on 31st morning.

It took no time for us to find a lodge near the bus stand. Though we all tried our best to finish the morning rituals and the breakfast ASAP, it was already few minutes past 10 in the morning. Then Ethapay made sure we all stuffed our bags with at least 3 big water bottles each, along with few small bottles of soft drinks, apples and Glucose packets. The sleeping bags for each and a tent contributed its share of weight in our back packs. Each of our back packs were already weighing close to 10 Kgs. Amongst us Ethapay was the only one who had trekked Kumara Parvatha before.

Get set, Trek!
Ok.. there we were on the road adjacent to Kukke Subramanya temple which leads to our destination, Kumara Parvatha. It was 10:30 in the morning with Sun all set to roast us alive. There we read a board welcoming the trekkers, pointing to the direction of route to Kumara Parvatha. The board read the height of Kumara Parvatha as 5615 feet above the sea level. It also mentioned about the mile stones for trekkers. That said, to have our lunch in Bhattara Mane we had to trek for 6 Kms. We started trekking.

Walk in the woods [from Kukke to Bhattara Mane]
The initial stretch of trek to Kumara Parvatha is all along the trails in the woods, with bare roots of trees paving the natural stairs up the hill. Thick canopy protected us getting exposed to the sun light. Ethapay kept warning us that it is going to get steeper and steeper as we proceeded in the woods. Few chocolate wrappers and empty water bottles thrown along the way signed us we are not going to be the only crazy gang who is gonna celebrate new year on the tip of Kumara Parvatha.

When we were all wiping our first drops of sweat on the side burns, we got to hear some people speaking. We were surprised to see a couple resting on the rocks there. The guy looked more tired carrying their only back pack and his huge belly. We also pit stopped there enquiring the whereabouts of the couple. We came to know the couple is not actually planning to trek till the top, but only till Bhattara Mane. Their plan was to return down after having lunch in Bhattara Mane. Even otherwise the couple did not look fit enough to trek to the peak of Kumara Parvatha for me.

We left the couple behind and trekked ahead. We were amazed see a shirt and kaavi dhoti clad Tarzan overtake us carrying a 25 kilos sack of rice on his head! On enquiring him, he said he is from Bhattara Mane [must be Bhat’s son]. We were stunned to see his climbing pace and wiped our sweating faces. It reminded me of the saying ‘Udara nimithham..’. When we asked him he said we still have to climb 3+ kms to reach Bhattara Mane.

We kept mixing Glucose in the water bottles and kept emptying the bottles. Soon we realized the water were carrying would almost be finished by the time we reach Bhattara Mane.

Bhattara Mane
The last stretch (say, of 1 km) to Bhattara Mane is off the thick woods. There was no canopy to protect our beautiful skin here after ;) Now we could see the town of Kukke, which seemed like a blot on a green canvas from that altitude. Our calf muscles had started whining already. Ethapay said to reach the peak of Kumara Parvatha we have to trek almost the same distance we trekked from the foot of it to Bhattara Mane. That info almost killed our enthu. Byre started blaming Ethapay for demotivating the boys.

Around 1:30, we got the sight of a red tiled roof and few Aracnut trees. All of us sighed seeing Bhattara Mane. Dozens of pairs of shoes outside his house said we are not going the only gang that is going to celebrate New Year atop Kumara Parvatha. We splashed the cold water from the tap all over the face, took some snaps and rushed in for the tasty food that was awaiting us. Ethapay had already called up Mr Bhat and booked our share in the huge containers kept on the compound of the Verandah. We joined the queue with a thali in hand.

I don’t know whether the basale soppu sambar [Malabar spinach] was that tasty or it tasted so well because we were hungry and tired and half dead. While chatting with Bhat, the man himself he said walking 200 mts from his house we get a place called Girigadde. It is basically like a toll where we have to pay Rs. 115/- per head to trek ahead towards the peak of Kumara Parvatha. I was surprised that Govt does not spare to loot people even in a spot like this. I quipped ‘Why?’ my voice quoted with rebelliousness. Bhat said it is for the Govt, just like paying at toll. He even agreed that is quite too much to pay.
Bhat even warned us that toll keeper does not let people after 3:00. I did not understand this rule too. It was already 2:35 and we hurried up swallowing the last morsels left in our Thali. The other gang had already left when we were having our lunch. We paid Bhat for the delicious lunch, filled empty water bottles and walked towards Girigadde toll.

It takes just 10 minutes walk from Bhattara Mane to Girigadde. The toll keeper there instructed us not to litter around while trekking Kumara Parvatha, to put off the camp fire before descending down. We nodded our heads. Toll keeper asked us how much time we took to reach Bhattara Mane, we said 3 hrs. He said, ‘then it will take you guys 4 Hrs to reach the peak’. We thanked him and left the toll gate.

[to be continued...]