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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Killing - people or films!

The land stretches for miles, deserted. You can smell your skin burn under the sun. The nature is timidly dry. The baked air crushes on the blades of a wind mill. The camera picks up a police car. The policeman makes an arrest. Puts the handcuffed arrested man – back shot of a moderately-built tall man with bowl-cut neck-length hair in the backseat of the police car. A gas cylinder attached to a captive bolt pistol finds its place in the front seat of the car. A voiceover narrates the deterioration of the crime scene in the locality. It is Texas, 1980.

The hot Texan landscape melts into the interiors of a police station. The camera freezes on the policeman now on a phone. The bowl-cut walks himself to the policeman from behind his back, grabs his neck under his handcuffs and pulls him down. The shoes struggle for breath and scratch the floor leaving marks, the marks grow thicker and deeper and then they stop. The bowl-cut has finished his job. Camera follows him outside the police station, taking the police car and driving off with the cylinder.

10 minutes after the opening scene, a killer begins walking his time in Texas.

“Would he be caught? Who else would he kill?” I shift my weight on the chair. “The heavy southern accent is killing me,” I frown. “So what is it leading to?” “It has to be good." I assure myself.

Back to the desolate landscapes…this time the camera picks up a hunter. He doesn’t get his game but he sure gets some money. As he sifts through the bloody scene of corpses and guns - a drug deal gone horribly wrong in the desert, he comes across two million dollars – the money for the deal. The true southerner walks back home with the booty.

But two million dollars that too looted can hardly give anyone peace! So begins the cat and mouse chase where the bowl-cut, as it turns out is actually a hit man, chases the hunter to retrieve the booty across motels in Texas and Mexico. The hunter puts up a brave fight. The 1980s Chevrolet chases and cowboy hats falling – the bowl-cut brings death wherever he goes in search of the booty. Very rarely does he give any innocent bystander a chance to choose their life or death!

“Too much of blood and gore.” I complain. “But the bowl-cut has the nerve of steel.” “So it is indeed a crime story.” “Is there an inner meaning?” I keep my thoughts busy.

He is limping and bleeding.He runs himself a bath. Pulls out a knife. Cuts off the trouser he is wearing, injects himself an antibiotic and the knife goes into his thigh. The bath tub goes red. His face doesn’t quiver…neither does his hand. In one quick motion he takes out a bullet. He lets some more blood flow. Washes the wound down with alcohol and gets up from the bath.

The bowl-cut just took care of the hunter’s bullet during one of the chases.

More characters keep adding to the film reels. They all sport the 80s look and clothes. One more bounty hunter. The hunter’s wife and mother-in-law. More motel owners. A local sheriff. His assistant. Sheriff’s wife. They come, some stay, many die.

And I desperately try to solve all the murders, trace the DNA in my mind and know that the bowl-cut would be caught if only Horatio and his team (CSI: MIAMI) were here. Most of my television watching in crime-infested America revolves around crime scenes and nailing the ***.

But it is 1980s. The Sheriff fails, the hunter gets killed, the bowl-cut gets his booty and walks away. The voice-over rants of a dream. A dream that suggests that there is ‘No Country for Old Men’ anymore.

Probably this year’s OSCAR was less of an ode to a good film (like it almost always is) but one to the criminal activities of present day America. “One burglary in every 15 minutes,” the stats say.

Javier Bardem, the Spanish actor in his late 30’s as the bowl-cut killer Anton Chigurh is the saving grace of the film.

to your comments and tagging

I'll take the comments from "You are a racist pig." and "You have a giving heart" together. In my mind I tried to link the two.

@Karthikk...yes with growth u get unwanted baggages. we wud get a frown once in a while in this land. hopefully if we are able to criticise our history and learn the good things from it, it wud help all.
@deeps and abhay, yes racism comes in some form or the other. in a discussion, the other day, we felt that 'groupism' is a part of all our lives...some take the form of regionalism, some racism...and it goes on. humans thrive in groups...animal instinct. :)
@anirban...i'll try and put in more experiences as I pass my days here and will try to keep them informative...at least my take on those ;)
@arghya, kemon achhish? tor payer dhulo porlo. ekta screenplay writing-er free course nichhi. let's do something.
@Nishant...yeah it is brave. hope brave people don't forget that bravery is a positive quality and do not associate it with negativity.
@shridhar, thnx man. how r u? long time no see. tried to weave history and present in the same write-up in this one...hehehe
@dhriti...thnx dhriti. yes of course we must learn from their carefree demeanour and channel it in the right direction. i very strongly feel that we r offered choices every step of our lives. what we make out of it...whether we at all want to recognise it as a choice or not is our decision.
@utsav,tanaya,thnx for visiting
@henmen nope not a guilt-trip actually...more of subtle sarcasm at situations where few work hard to be where they are and few take offense at that!!

I've been tagged by Deepti and after many futile hours I've cracked the mystery of it. As I told Deepti..."I am hiding under the table if anyone needs me." because it really is so simple. So here it goes...

Quirky facts about me:
1. I have what a friend calls a 'hook'. It gets stuck to something and I harp on it forever. You can say I get 'obsessed' by certain things.
2. I have a strong imagination power. You tell me something and I'll immediately imagine it. Believe me it is not a great thing...particularly when you are told graphic details of unsavoury facts.
3. I can't sit idle. I have to do something. As of now faced with months long wait for work authorization, I'm unleashing my opinion to unsuspecting souls.
4. I run in 'slow motion'.
5. I can't walk in a straight line. I almost always fumble and fall everywhere.

I now tag
Deepti, Nishant, Abhay, Swati, Sanjay and Navoneil

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

“You have a giving heart.”

“You have a giving heart” said Mr. Maceio. We were standing in the queue to collect our coats. It was a long day. A long day of learning and knowing new things for me. A day of probably reaffirming his belief and pride for Mr. Maceio. Mr. Maceio is a frequent visitor here. It was my first visit.

We were at the DuSable museum
of African-American history. It was Martinmas day. The museum was celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. A day-long event depicting the struggle of African-Americans in the 1960s against segregation. There were a number of documentaries, skits, shows and films.

One that struck me the most was ‘The Children’s March’ where thousands of African-American children marched to the streets of Birmingham to challenge segregation. The kids tuned into underground radio frequency for the D-Day announcement and they packed their toothbrushes to use in jail. They planned in hiding, bluffed their teachers and parents, assembled underground and did all that not to go to a film but to the prison! Dodging the Police, they flew from their classes in thousands, faced police dogs and fire hoses and courted arrest. It was an amazing story of solidarity and oneness seen in children from age six till fifteen.

Birmingham in 1960s was ruled by the notorious Bull Connor
who never stopped short of anything to uphold the segregation laws. How did these young minds get the courage to face that? What makes children so mature as to brave the authority so boldly?

I do not remember a single incident in the history where children of this age protested against the authority in such huge number for purely political reasons. Could I have done that? Would our parents have let us go to face inevitable violence?

I doubt that. I doubt that because of our upbringing. It is widely different from the African-American upbringing. I believe the African-American community faced with centuries of oppression till as recent as 1960s has taken a different approach to deal with their odds. They have probably learnt and taught their children to be defensive. To fight and to protect themselves always. We on the other hand have probably learnt that when we are young we need to let our parents teach us what is right and wrong, what to do and what not to.

Is it this cultural difference also a contributing factor that even in our late teens we take scolding from our parents on our semester results while I see so many teenagers homeless roaming the streets of Chicago doped and lost? An unwanted outcome of the choices that they thought they were mature enough to take from a very young age?

Although it sounds deeply clich├ęd, everything has its good and bad. The children’s march was a great step in the African-American struggle for equality, an incident unparallel in history and I am personally deeply moved by the perseverance that those children showed in the face of powerful water hoses (infact some of them broke into dances), reminiscent of our own independence struggle. However I cannot help but wonder if that courage and conviction has always been channelled in the right direction for the African-American community in the late 20th century!

Power to take decisions in the hands of young minds…hmmm! Call me old-school but am a bit sceptical. There were very few teenage African-American in the museum that day.

Mr. Maceio is in his early forties. A light shade of grey touched his hair. He had a pair of inquisitive eyes. A bit short built compared to an average African-American. He said, “I like to come here often, in search of my roots and my history.”

“I came to learn about your history,” I answered. “But now I am considering becoming a member and volunteer for the museum,” I added.

I wanted to be close, as close as possible to know a culture and of course express my thoughts.

“That is great Durba! You have a giving heart.” He seemed pleased.

I politely denied. The conversation drifted towards India, he seemed informed. We talked about culture and the clashes within it. Mr. Maceio was concerned about the future too. Time to take our coats and we bade goodbye to each other.

On our way back in the bus, me and the husband talked about our day and discussed our opinion – animated of course. The bus stopped.

“Have a good evening.” Someone said.
“Have a good evening.” Someone said again.

We turned back. It was Mr. Maceio. He smiled at us and got down.

I have saved some money Mr. Maceio. It’s time to get the membership. I will see you around soon I believe.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

“You are a racist pig”

“You are a racist pig” said the young African American man. To me. Outside the amc theatres, Riverside. “You guys don’t help no body”, he added.

Not ‘selfish’, not ‘dumb’, not ‘dork’, not ‘looser’ but ‘racist’.

I murmured “Thanks man!” with a sarcastic smile. It didn't infuriate me.

He was trying to sell a newspaper that was available for free to pay for his shelter.

I looked around. He approached few other movie goers. No one had the time. He however kept his opinion about them to himself.

I took a cab and as it pulled off I started thinking. My overwhelming gratitude towards him, whether it reached him or not, came from my weird position in the complex American social stratum.

Where are we actually placed in the American society? We-the H1, L1, H4, L2 or business visa holders. We are not students. We come here to earn in dollars and hope that we can save enough to buy that coveted car or pay off the home loan. When the sons of the soil seem homeless (for whatever reasons), we the brown skinned seem to have enough money to pay for movies or take a cab. Does it not sting them? Isn’t there an underlying stream of displeasure towards this group?

I believe there is. And it comes to surface when such opinions are expressed. Coming from a land of racial discrimination under British rule that our forefathers so vigorously fought and being labelled as ‘racist’ by another race that had the worst history of racial segregation across the world I thanked him again, albeit sarcastically, in my mind.

I always felt that the ‘racists’ have the power – economical, political and/or societal and then the ability to misuse that power over the subjugated race. So that day in front of amc theatres, did that African American man just give me – a ‘desi’ trying hard to save some dime, living at the mercy of the US immigration office, the acknowledgement of the power that I have over him? Power because I am probably more educated than he is or that I have a shelter?

But then in all probability even if he heard my ‘thanks’ he would not have understood where it came from. Simply because he had learnt since he was a child that labelling someone ‘racist’ is probably the worst swear word that can be used in post-apartheid America. And he just used that.

This, I feel is the root to why the African-American population although has come a long way fighting so many odds still has a higher probability statistically of going to prison (16.2%) than a Hispanic (9.4%) or a white (2.5%) in
America. Can education uplift people from its slumber just as I wish for the majority of my countrymen? Or should I just go back to amc theatres and tell him how the Indian community distributed free food to homeless people this Pongal and was attended mostly by African-Americans?

Or should I just let it go? Since I am here for a short-term do I just close my eyes and ears and let it pass by? Or do I try and do something? The bigger question probably is how do you fight ignorance?

So next to next evening, in the Laundromat when the middle-aged African-American lady shouted at my friend over a laundry basket and said “Who do you think you are?” I looked into her eyes and said politely “A fellow human being just like you.”

She stopped immediately.

I think it’s time to pay a visit to the DuSable museum of African-American history…and learn more.

History has always interested me. And I always wanted to learn more about what people make of their sufferings.

Believe me brother, I despise 'racism' just as you probably do too!

to your comments

@ deeps...thanx gal...howz it goin'?
@ Anup...oye that's a little bit too much of a comparison ;) but when i read the book I did feel a strange 'darkness'...quite similar to what i felt when i read 'God of small things'. I used "I" to make it personal...to cover the distance that a story-telling creates between the writer and the reader...will try and be subtle may be next time ;)
@ Brandy...gal u've got an eye for details...the two do speak of a similar state of mind...as u said once 'an alien' in chicago city!
@ akron...thanx ya...let's see how u feel abt the next one ;) terror i tell ya!
@sap...i guess the key is not to let it turn from a pebble to a boulder and yes joy, victory and sadness all have and must have their respective places.
@ Karthikk...yes it is finding that 'positive' i hope what 'moving on' actually refers to and not ignoring the loss or the pain