Monday, November 27, 2017

Hopes And Worries

At the inaugural exhibition, at the Onyx Art Gallery at Mattancherry, 31 artistes are displaying an intriguing variety of moods and thought processes

Photos:  Jagesh Edakkad’s graphite pencil drawing, 'A Glance To The Past'; Varghese Kalathil’s ‘Self-portrait with burning memories’, work by Sunil Asokapuram

By Shevlin Sebastian

A glance at artist Jagesh Edakkad’s graphite pencil drawing, 'A Glance To The Past', brings a smile to one’s face. It is a drone-like view of a village: the typical tiled houses of Kerala, with smoke billowing from chimneys. The narrow roads have very little traffic. There are numerous coconut trees, apart from paddy fields, dotting the landscape. There is the familiar bakery shop, a hotel and not, to forget, the ubiquitous toddy shop. And a train in the middle bifurcates the canvas neatly.

It is a moment of nostalgia for me,” says the Kochi-based Jagesh. “This is an image of my village in Kannur. Nowadays, all the places are crowded and polluted. I wanted to show a village that was neat and environmentally-clean.”

He has memories of going to the bakery shop as well as the toddy shop as a child. “I would go and get fresh toddy so that my mother could make appams,” he says.

In complete contrast is Varghese Kalathil’s ‘Self-portrait with burning memories’. It shows two portraits side by side of the pony-tailed Varghese. In one he is looking downwards. Right in the middle of the chest, there is an image of a lifeless child in a red sweater. This is the world-famous image of the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a beach in the Greek island of Kos. Along with his parents, they were trying to escape to Europe on a boat from Syria when the boy drowned.

In the second portrait, Varghese has drawn the back of his body. This time, there is an image of a thin girl, with protruding limbs, with face bent, almost pressing into the mud, but looking in a state of agony. A vulture stands close by. This was a Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph, which was taken by the South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter, while on assignment to Sudan in 1993, where a civil war was taking place. 

There was a famine in the area,” says Varghese. “People were dying. The vulture was also waiting for the child to die so that it could eat her.” Unfortunately, Kevin was deeply affected by what he had seen in Sudan. The 33-year-old committed suicide a year later because of depression.

I want to tell the truths of life,” says Varghese. “I am not very much bothered if the work does not sell. As for this particular work, I don't think anybody would like to put up in their homes. But I am okay with it.”

Another sombre work is that of Sreeja Pallam’s ‘Dirge of a Soil’ Through a broken wall, you can see a semi-naked woman clutching the dark brown mud. Next to her are the openings of two empty canisters pressed into the mud.

The woman is a representative of Mother Nature,” says Sreeja. “I wanted to show that nature is being shattered. We are reaching a stage where the water cannot even penetrate the mud. We seem to have no address on this earth.”

Sunil Asokapuram is equally worried. In his acrylic on canvas, there is a person at the back of the painting with his arms upraised. “This is to reflect the crucified Jesus Christ to show the state of mankind,” he says. “We are being crucified by all sorts of problems.”

In the middle of the painting, there is a broken down pillar. “Again this is a metaphor to show the broken state of our society, politics, and the loss of belief worldwide in ideology and human beings,” says Sunil.

However, he has not lost all hope. At the side, there is an image of a man whose opened chest reveals a lamp burning. “This painting can elevate life for the viewer, and so can music, books and films,” he says. “There is always a space for good things to happen.”

A total of 31 artists are taking part in this inaugural exhibition of the Onyx Art Gallery at Mattancherry, which has been started by artists Onyx Paulose and Sara Hussein.
Almost all the works are impressive including those by OC Martin, Babitha Rajive, Robert Lopez, Baby KG, Devadas, Sajith Puthukkalavattom, Tom Vattakkuzhiy, Suresh Koothuparambau, Sreelal and Manoj Narayanan.

Curator O. Sundar said that he did not suggest any theme to the artists. “I wanted them to feel free,” he says. The artists have been invited from the districts of Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Allapuzha, Kollam and Thrissur. “Many of them are unable to get a space to display their works at Kochi, the art capital,” says Sundar. “So I wanted to give them an opportunity.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Falling Into A Deep Lake


Mollywood actor Hareesh Peradi talks about his experiences in the films, 'Sir CP', 'Mersal', and the television serial, 'Guruvayurappan'

Photo by K. Shijith 

By Shevlin Sebastian

It was 12 noon at the Marthandam Kayal, Allapuzha. Actor Hareesh Peradi was standing atop a boat. The shoot was for the film, 'Sir CP' (2015) by director Shajoon Kariyal. Dressed in a brown kurta, he plays a villain. Jayaram as the hero is supposed to violently push him away. And Hareesh had to fall backwards into the water.

“This could not be done through a stunt-man since there was a close-up of my face,” says Hareesh. “So the crew located an area where it was shallow so that when I fell into the water, I would be able to come up quickly.”

It took some time to set up the shoot. Then Jayaram pushed Hareesh and he fell. And that was when he got a shock. Hareesh went right down. It was not a shallow area at all. “Even though I knew how to swim, I was panicking, because there was a strong undercurrent,” says Hareesh.

Somehow, he managed to stop the downward movement. Slowly, he moved up. And then suddenly, he saw a rope, which was dangling from the boat. He grabbed at it and pulled himself up and reached the surface, where he was rescued by the crew members.

It had been a puzzle about what had happened till locals said that the delay in shooting resulted in the boat moving ever so slightly from its designated place, thanks to the moving waters and a strong wind. “None of us had noticed this,” says Hareesh.

Lessons from Mersal

In the recent Tamil blockbuster, 'Mersal', which stars Vijay, Hareesh plays a villain doctor by the name of Arjun Zachariah. In a flashback, he is at a new hospital in a small village near Madurai. A patient, played by Nithya Menon, is about to give birth. And Hareesh had to act as a male gynaecologist.

“I knew that the stomach was an artificial one, and it had been made by the art director,” says Hareesh. “I also knew that the baby was a fake.” Nevertheless, he had to cut up the stomach and take the baby out. “Then I had to upturn the baby, and hit his buttocks a couple of times so that it starts crying,” says Hareesh.

Earlier, the actor had been present outside the labour room for the birth of his two children, Vishnu and Vaidi. But he had no idea about what took place inside. It was only when acting in 'Mersal' that he realised giving birth is such a difficult thing.

“My respect for my wife and all women increased tremendously,” says Hareesh. “I must thank 'Mersal' for that.”

Hareesh is also thankful for the extraordinary experience in the TV serial 'Guruvayurappan'. He played the character of Kimvadhan, another version of Lord Shiva. The shoot was in Thiruvananthapuram.

There was a scene when he arrives at a house, and the family gives him food to eat. He sits on the steps and a crow is supposed to come up. Then he had to tell the family, “Do you know who this is?”

When they plead ignorance, Hareesh says, “This is not an ordinary crow. This crow has seen seven Rama-Ravana fights, as well as nine Mahabaratha battles.”

The shoot was at 7 p.m. So there was no chance for a crow to be spotted at so late an hour. “What we were planning to do was that I would say my dialogues, look up as if to see a crow, and then we would shoot a crow the next day,” says Hareesh.

When the shoot began through the corner of his eye, Hareesh saw a crow flying onto a branch of a tree nearby. Soon, it flew down right next to Hareesh. The crew was stunned. Then when Hareesh said the dialogues, the crow ate quietly and flew away.

After its departure, all the crew members shouted loudly, as one, “Krishna, Guruvayurappa.”

Says Hareesh: “This is an experience which I will never forget. Before this event, I was an atheist. But thereafter, I have become a firm believer in God.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Kozhide and Thiruvananthapuiram)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Reliving The Past

Malayali Jew Menahem Pallivathukal, who lives in Israel, talks about his experiences during the former students' reunion at the College of Agriculture, Vellayani

Photos: (From left): S. Jayaraj, Menahem Pallivathukal, and KN Sasi; the people gathered for the function 

By Shevlin Sebastian

K.N. Sasi hugged Menahem Pallivathukal and said, “Hi James Bond.” Another friend S. Jayaraj also embraced Menahem and said, “Hello, Mr Bond.”

All three of them – hostel mates at the College of Agriculture, Vellayani (1971-74) – met on November 11, at the college campus where they held a reunion.

In college, Menahem was a big fan of the Bond movie franchise. Whenever he would have a friendly argument, he would use his fingers like a pistol. That was how he got the nickname of Bond.

Meanwhile, the reunion was not with the students only, but there was a meeting with the teachers, as well – a Guruvandanam. While the teachers were in their late seventies, the students were all in their sixties.

Not surprisingly, everybody had retired except for Menahem. A Malayali, of Jewish origin, he works as a Chief Agronomist and Forest Officer at the Agricultural Department, at Netanya, 30 kms from Tel Aviv. “In Israel, the retirement age is 67,” says Menahem, who migrated to the Jewish country in 1975.

But all of those who came for the function had been gainfully employed. “They were mostly state government agricultural officers,” says Menahem. “A few worked in the agriculture department of banks. All worked until retirement. There were no job losses like it is there now.”

Interestingly, in the college, Menahem was the only Jew. And a humorous moment would occur often because teachers found it difficult to pronounce his full name: Menahem Pallivathukal Rufeldhor. “The teachers would try to pronounce it. Then they would say, ‘Please stand up and tell your name’,” says Menahem, who smiled at the memory.

Otherwise, he faced no problems whatsoever. “In the hostel, all of us, belonging to different faiths, came from places like Kozhikode, Kottayam, Thrissur, Kasaragod, Kollam, Kottayam, and Ernakulam,” says Menahem. “And we learned to live with each other in a harmonious manner. We were like brothers and sisters.”

But, like all college students, they were always up to mischief. “When classes became boring, some of us, after getting our attendance marked, would jump out of the window and make our escape,” says Menahem. “Thankfully, our classes were on the ground floor. And because there were 50 students in a class, the teacher also did not notice the one or two students who went missing.”

In the evenings, they would raid the farms within the campus and steal pineapples, bananas and mangoes. Sometimes, they would get on a boat and travel down the canal behind the college. “We would sing songs and have a good time,” says Menahem.

They would also go for evening film shows, and inevitably miss the 10 p.m. deadline. “When the warden would come inspecting our rooms, he would not see us and our parents would be informed,” says Menahem. “Then we had to do a lot of explaining to our own families.”

All these joyful memories were exchanged among the former students and teachers.
But there were sombre moments too. Quite a few of the teachers had died. And Menahem’s closest friend in college, O.V.A. Fuad, who was from Tellicherry, died because of some problem with his nerves. “I miss him very much,” says Menahem. In total, seven classmates have died so far.

For the function, 37 people attended, out of which eight were women. “We have plans to hold the next reunion a year later at Kochi,” says Menahem. “Hopefully, I will be able to attend.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Aiming To Hit The Bull's Eye All The Time

Shooter Elizabeth Koshy, who has won gold medals at the World Police Games recently, talks about her dreams and hopes

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

As Elizabeth Koshy prepared to lift the rifle at the start of the 50m event at the World Police Games in Los Angeles, in August, she was told of a rule change. “The organisers said that I had to remove the butt, which is the main support,” says Elizabeth. The Kerala lass was taken aback. Then the organisers explained their rationale: the Indian team consisted of professional award-winning shooters. But the competitors from other countries worked as policemen and did shooting as a pastime.

Elizabeth accepted the argument. “But I found it a bit difficult to adjust,” she says. Nevertheless, Elizabeth ended up winning the gold in the 50m rifle prone and three-position events.

On the day she returned, to her home at Kochi, there was a surprise visitor. It was Loknath Behra, the Thiruvananthapuram-based Director-General of the Kerala Police who came to offer congratulations. Soon, there was an avid discussion and it was decided that a state police team would be set up. “Six air rifles will be imported,” says Elizabeth. And because of her busy schedule, she will only be a part-time coach as well as a mentor.

So far, she's had a fairly successful career. Elizabeth is the first Malayali to win a shooting medal; this was achieved at the National Games at Thiruvananthapuram in 2015. Earlier, she had won a few junior titles and still holds the 50m prone junior national record. At the international level, Elizabeth has taken part in World Cups, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Championships, as well as the South Asian Federation Games, in which she has won two individual gold medals.

But it all began by accident. When she was twelve years old, her father took her to a pre-national event at the Muttom Rifle Club at Thodupuzha.

There was a 20-year-old lady who was shooting,” says Elizabeth. “I was immediately attracted by what she was doing.”

Seeing her interest, her father enrolled her at the club. It helped that Elizabeth's school, the Village International was nearby. Within a week, the coach Suresh told her parents, “I see some talent in her. She can do well.”

This turned out to be true. Within a year, Elizabeth qualified for the district, state and national championships.

One reason for her skill could be that shooting is in her genes. Her grandfather, Punnoose Abraham, who owned a large rubber estate, would go hunting regularly. She remembers seeing double-barrel guns and air rifles at his house.

Of course, the unique thing about shooting is that it is an individual sport. “It is always about you and your weapon,” says Elizabeth. “You rise and fall by yourself.”

She gives an example. Some time ago, she began to feel frustrated as she was missing the bull's eye regularly. She blamed the ammunition and the weapon. However, soon, Elizabeth noticed that there was a difference in her breathing pattern from shot to shot. “I also observed that there was a change in the way I held the rifle,” she says. “So I decided to concentrate on my body movements, and ensured that I had the same style for every shot that I took.”

As she goes about perfecting her technique, Elizabeth is also concentrating on qualifying for the Indian team, so that she can take part in the Commonwealth Games in April, 2018, at Queensland, Australia. There will be a trial in November, the nationals in December and two trials in January. Based on the aggregate result, the top two will be selected.

Women's shooting is very competitive,” says Elizabeth. “So, I am training very hard.”  

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Crown Of Rope And Sticks


Photo of SB Satheeshan by K. Shijith; Manju Warrier and Jayaram in the song, 'Confusion Theerkaname'

Costume designer SB Satheeshan talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Kathapurushan’, 'Guru', 'Black' and 'Summer in Bethlehem'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In his first film – Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Kathapurushan’ (1995) – costume designer SB Satheeshan was told to make a uniform of a Kerala policeman of the 1940s. But when Satheeshan came across the cloth, he realised that it was of a very thick material, almost like a canvas.

It was very difficult to stitch that cloth,” he says. “I used an old Singer machine, with a thick needle, which was provided by Adoor Sir, but still could not do it.”

So, he went to Adoor and told him that when he tried to stitch the uniform, 15 needles broke. “This was an exaggeration,” says Satheeshan. “But I wanted to show how difficult it was. Adoor Sir replied, ‘No problem, break about 25 needles, but I need this material only’. 

This gives you an idea of his dedication and desire for authenticity.”

In his next film, ‘Guru’ (1997), Satheeshan was asked to make a crown for Suresh Gopi who played a blind king named Samanthaka Rajavu. To suit the story, Satheeshan made a crown and costume of coir and bamboo.

But when Suresh saw it, he wasnot sure whether it would be suitable for his character.

I felt a great tension within myself,” says Satheeshan.

Actor Mohanlal, who was nearby said, “Wearing such a costume is a rare opportunity. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.”

But Suresh remained unconvinced.

Then Mohanlal asked Satheeshan’s help to put on the costume. “When I did so, all the crew at the location looked amazed at how good Mohanlal looked,” says Satheeshan. “That was when Suresh was convinced.”

The shooting resumed. “The next day, a grateful Suresh gave Satheeshan Rs 1000 to show his appreciation. “I shared it with my assistants,” he says. “It was a happy moment.”

But Satheeshan went through moments of deep tension on the sets of 'Black' (2004). At the climax, there is a conflict between Mammootty and Lal. A bottle of brandy falls to the floor. Mammootty throws a matchstick and Lal's white dhoti catches fire.

This shot was taking place at night in a house at Thevara, Kochi. Satheeshan was at home a few kilometres away. At 12.30 a.m. he got a call from the set. Three dhotis with a black border had been burnt but director Renjith was not happy with the shot. Satheeshan was asked to get another dhoti. But as he was being driven to the set, he wondered, 'At this time of the night, how am I going to get another dhoti, with a black border?'

If the production stopped, the producer would lose lakhs of rupees because it would have to continue the next day. But when Satheeshan arrived at the set and saw the burnt dhotis he suddenly got a brainwave. He cut away the non-burnt black border, and stitched them together on a white dhoti and got the border again. “So, the continuity in the scenes could be maintained,” says Satheeshan. “I was so relieved.”

Lal, who was producing the film, was also relieved. He shook the costume designer's hand and said, “This is the reason why we hire SB Satheeshan.”

The designer smiled happily.

However, there was similar tension on the sets of 'Summer in Bethlehem' (1998). For the song, 'Confusion Theerkaname', Satheeshan made Jayaram wear a white juba, dark sunglasses, and a white headgear. One day, Jayaram’s wife Parvathy came to the location at Chennai. When she saw Jayaram, she said that this is the type of headgear that women wore when they worked in the paddy fields. “I agreed, but had wanted to give a different look to Jayaram,” says Satheeshan. “I said the costume was aimed at matching the zany mood in the song. But Parvathy suggested that it should be changed.”

At that time director Renjith was looking after the costumes. Satheeshan asked Renjith to have a look. And when the latter did so, he liked it. So it was retained.

The song became a big hit,” says Satheeshan. “Thereafter, in many reality show competitions on TV, I had to give marks to participants who wore the same costume as Jayaram. In fact, Jayaram said the same thing happened when he was a judge.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram)  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Man Who Triggered the war for Independence

(These articles appeared in the 'Letters to Indira' supplement of The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Mangal Pandey: The Man who triggered the war for Indian Independence

On the afternoon of March 29, 1857, Lieutenant Baugh, Adjutant of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry was told that several men of his regiment were in an excited state.

Baugh did not have to go far to seek the source of the anger. At that time, a new Enfield rifle was introduced in India. A soldier had to bite off the ends of greased cartridges to load the weapon. There was a rumour that the lubricant used was either cow or pig lard; this was repugnant to Hindus and Muslims respectively. Soon, there was a belief that the British had deliberately done it.

Baugh was then given new information that one soldier, Mangal Pandey, was pacing in front of the regiment's guard room with a loaded musket.

So, he immediately set out to confront Pandey. When he came near, Pandey took aim and fired. But he missed. Instead, the bullet struck the horse, and horse and rider were brought down.

Baugh quickly got up and fired himself. But he also missed. Thereafter, Pandey attacked Baugh with a sword, and slashed his shoulder and neck and brought him to the ground.

In the end, Pandey was overpowered by other British officers but not before he shot his musket at his chest. But the wound was not fatal. Pandey recovered and within a week he was brought to trial.

There were suggestions that Pandey was under the influence of drugs – possibly cannabis or opium – and hence was not fully aware of his actions. But the judge remained unmoved and sentenced Pandey to death. He was hanged on April 8.

Following this, there were many similar mutinies all over India. Without realising it, Pandey had triggered the first war of Indian Independence.

As a result, he has been remembered in many ways. A film called 'Mangal Pandey: The Rising', starring actor Aamir Khan, and directed by Ketan Mehta was released in 2005. The life of Pandey was the subject of a stage play titled, 'The Roti Rebellion', which was written and directed by Supriya Karunakaran.

On October 5, 1984, the Government of India issued a postage stamp bearing his image. There is also a park called Shaheed Mangal Pandey Maha Udyan at the place where Pandey attacked the British officers in Barrackpore.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: He united the country

In 1918, the farmers in the Kheda region of Gujarat suffered from plague and crop failure. Despite that, the British insisted that taxes should be paid. When the farmers were not able to do this, the British rulers responding by confiscating the lands. In stepped Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who stood tall amongst the agitating farmers and spearheaded the 'No Tax Campaign'. He united all the castes and creeds of the region. When the protests snowballed, the British quickly came to an agreement to suspend their tax collection and the lands were returned to the agitating farmers.

This showed the early leadership qualities of Patel. And thereafter, he made a steady march upwards in the hierarchy of the Congress party. Patel, who was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, worked closely with him during the Quit India Movement.

Once India gained independence in 1947, Patel became the country's first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. He showed his heart was in the right place when he organised relief camps for refugees fleeing from the communal riots in the Punjab and East Bengal.

He was also a man of decisive action. When the Partition of India resulted in huge bloodshed and realising that Delhi and Punjab policemen were personally affected by tragedy, Patel immediately arranged for the South Indian regiments of the Indian Army to restore order, impose curfew and shoot-at-sight orders.

But his major achievement was when he convinced 565 self-governing princely states to merge with the Indian Union. He did this by using diplomacy and the threat of military action. As a result of this achievement, he earned the title of 'Iron Man Of India'.

He was also the one to set up the structure of the Indian Administrative Services. This includes the Indian Police Service as well as the Forest Service. So, it is no surprise that he is known as the patron saint of the Services.

Patel also played a major role in the shaping of the Indian Constitution. It was he who ensured the appointment of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as the chairman of the drafting committee and called in leaders from different political streams. In the end, India has one of the most comprehensive constitutions in the world.

His career came to an end when he died on December 15, 1950, at the age of 75. Patel was posthumously awarded India's highest civilian honour the Bharat Ratna in 1991. And in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared his birthday, October 31, as the Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day).

Gopal Krishna Gokhale: the gentle face of the Congress

On February 27, 1914, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale, 'I propose to leave for India in April. I am entirely in your hands. I want to learn at your feet and gain the necessary experience. My present ambition is to be by your side as your nurse and attendant. I want to have the real discipline of obeying someone whom I love and look up to. I propose to use the funds you have sent for our passages'.

Gokhale and Gandhi had met for the first time in 1896. But it was only when they spent a month together at the Calcutta Congress of 1901 that they got close. Gokhale asked Gandhi to return from South Africa and serve the people of India. He then wrote recommendation letters for Gandhi to several lawyers in Bombay to secure an opening. But Gandhi who was preoccupied with fighting for the rights of Indians in South Africa decided not to take up the offer at that time.

Gokhale was always regarded as the moderate face of the Indian National Congress. He always believed in dialogue and accommodation with the British government to achieve the goal of self-rule. Not everybody, especially his fellow Chitpavan Brahmin Bal Gangadhar Tilak, agreed to this approach.

In fact, they had a confrontation over the Age of Consent bill. This was introduced by the British Government, in 1891. It raised the age of consent of marriage for a girl from 10 to 12.

Gokhale and other liberal reformers supported the bill to curb child marriage abuses. As for Tilak, he said that the British should not interfere with Hindu traditions. He wanted such bills to be introduced only after Independence. The bill, however, became law in the Bombay Presidency.

In 1905, Gokhale was elected the president of the Indian National Congress. It was at this time that he founded the Servants of India Society. Its aim was to expand education. Gokhale felt that if India had to gain political change, then a new generation has to be educated regarding their civil and patriotic duties.

The Society soon organised mobile libraries, founded schools, and provided night classes for factory workers. Although the Society lost much of its vigour following Gokhale’s death, it still exists to this day, though its membership is small.

In his autobiography, 'The Story Of My Experiments With Truth', Gandhi described Gokhale as being 'pure as crystal, gentle as a lamb, brave as a lion and chivalrous to a fault and the most perfect man in the political field'.

Gokhale died on February 19, 1915, at the age of 48.

Madam Cama: the fiery woman who fought for India's cause abroad

On August 22, 1907, a fair-faced woman wearing a white saree with a blue veil stood up among the thousand delegates of the International Socialist Conference at Stuttgart, Germany. She unfurled a flag.

It had three colour bands on it: green, saffron and red. On the green band, there were eight lotuses which represented eight provinces of India before independence. In the middle of the saffron brand, the words, 'Vande Mataram' was written in Hindi. On the red band, there is the rising sun, to represent the Hindu faith and a half moon to represent Islam.
Then Bhikaji Cama said, “This is the flag of independent India. I appeal to all gentlemen to stand and salute the flag.”

The delegates were taken by surprise. Nevertheless, they all stood up and saluted the first flag of independent India. Bhikaji had a clear aim behind the unfurling. She wanted to highlight the poverty, starvation and oppression of the Indian people under the British Raj, and also to make aware that Indians wanted freedom.

And that drive for freedom was brutally being suppressed by the British authorities through ordinances, bans on public meetings and imprisoning revolutionaries for life.

At the conference, many people wondered who Bhikaji was.

This is her background: She was born on September 24, 1861, into a wealthy family. Her father, Sorabji Framji Patel, was a famous businessman who was known for his philanthropic work in Mumbai.

Thanks to the ferment in the country, Bhikaji was drawn to the freedom movement. In 1885, she married a well-known lawyer by the name of Rustomji Cama. But there were problems between the couple. While Rustomji loved the British and their way of life, his wife was opposed to them.

Meanwhile, in this unhappy situation, in 1896, the bubonic plague broke out in Mumbai. Bhikaji became one of the volunteers helping the victims. Unfortunately, she too caught the disease. Although she recovered, she remained in poor health.

So, the doctors advised her to go to Europe for rest and recuperation. In 1902, Bhikaji left India for London.

It was in Europe that she continued with her political activities. She met up with Dadabhai Naoroji, the founder of the Indian National Congress and joined the party. She also came in contact with other Indian nationalists and addressed several meetings in London’s Hyde Park, apart from meetings in Europe.

Bhagat Singh: India's First Revolutionary

(Articles appeared in the 'Letters to Indira' supplement of The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Photos: Bhagat Singh; Khuidram Bose; Chandrasekhar Azad and Bagha Jatin 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the Simon Commission came to India in 1928, to discuss constitutional reform, there were black-flag protests all over because there was not a single Indian member. One such response, on October 30, 1928, was by nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai. He led an all-party delegation towards the Lahore railway station to protest the arrival of the Commission. However, there was a lathi charge by the police. Lajpat Rai received was critically injured and died on November 17.

This inflamed a young man named Bhagat Singh. He, along with fellow associates Shivaram Rajguru and Chandra Sekhar Azad decided to take revenge. They decided to kill James A Scott, the superintendent of police, who had ordered the lathi charge. However, in a case of mistaken identity, the group ended up killing John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, as he was leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore on December 17, 1928.

Thereafter, the trio went on the run and managed to evade capture for several months.

Then on April 8, 1929, Singh, accompanied by another revolutionary Batukeshwar Dutt, entered the Central Legislative Assembly at New Delhi and threw two bombs from the public gallery when it was in session. Nobody died, but a few legislators were injured. There was smoke all around and confusion reigned. Singh and Dutt could have easily escaped. But they remained where they were and kept shouting 'Inquilab Zindabad' before they were arrested by the police.

Later Singh released a statement: 'We hold human life sacred beyond words. We are neither perpetrators of dastardly outrages, nor are we 'lunatics' as some others would have it believed. Force when aggressively applied is 'violence' and is, therefore, morally unjustifiable, but when it is used in the furtherance of a legitimate cause, it has its moral justification.'
In the subsequent trial, Singh was found guilty and hanged in March 1931. He was only 23. 

Following his death, Singh became a folk hero and is now regarded as the first revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement.

Said Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: "Bhagat Singh did not become popular, because of his act of terrorism but because he seemed to vindicate, for the moment, the honour of Lala Lajpat Rai, and through him of the nation. He became a symbol; the act was forgotten, the symbol remained, and within a few months each town and village of the Punjab, and, to a lesser extent, in the rest of northern India, resounded with his name."

Khudiram Bose: He gave up his life for the nation

Douglas Kingsford was the Chief Magistrate of the Presidency court of Alipore, Bengal. He presided over the trial of a few editors of the Bengali newspaper, 'Jugantar', in which fiery articles against the British were published. Kingsford found them guilty of sedition and sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment.

There were widespread protests against the ruling. Several people were arrested including a young Bengali youth by the name of Sushil Sen. Kingsford ordered a whipping of Sushil. This made Kingsford Enemy No. 1 among the nationalists. They decided to kill him. By this time, Kingsford had been transferred to Muzzafarpur.

So, two young revolutionaries by the name of Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki were assigned the task. They spent three weeks monitoring the movements of Kingsford.

On the evening of April 30, 1908, they waited within the branches of a tree outside the Kingsford residence, with a couple of home-made bombs with them. Meanwhile, Kingsford was playing bridge at the British Club, some distance away, with his wife and the wife and daughter of Pringle Kennedy, a leading pleader of the Muzaffarpur Bar.

At 8.30 p.m., the group left in two identical single-horse carriages. When one of the carriages appeared near the Kingsford residence, Khudiram and Prafulla ran up and threw the bombs. 

Unfortunately, that particular carriage contained the wife and daughter of Pringle. While Miss Pringle died within an hour, Mrs Kennedy passed away two days later.
Khudiram and Prafulla escaped on foot. They walked all through the night. However, the next day, both were apprehended. While Prafulla shot himself, Khudiram was taken into custody.

When he was brought to Muzzafarpur, the people gathered to have a look at the young revolutionary who was now surrounded by armed policemen.

As a report in Kolkata's The Statesman stated: 'A mere boy of 18 or 19 years old, who looked quite determined. He came out of a first-class compartment and walked all the way to the phaeton, kept for him outside, like a cheerful boy who knows no anxiety.....on taking his seat the boy lustily cried 'Vandemataram'.

Meanwhile, in the ensuing trial, in May, 1908 he was found guilty and was sentenced to die by hanging on August 11. Khudiram was thereafter taken to Kolkata.

On that day, a huge crowd gathered in front of the prison at 6 a.m., the scheduled time for the execution. Many people held garlands. Following the hanging, the funeral procession went through the city, and crowds of people threw garlands on the funeral cortege.

At 18, Khudiram was one of the youngest revolutionaries of India. Today, a railway station, a metro rail station and a stadium are named after him in West Bengal.

Chandra Shekhar Azad: The man who refused to surrender

In the tiny village of Bhavra in Madhya Pradesh, a mother gave birth to a boy. The moment she held the baby in her arms, she had a wish: her son Sukhdev should become a great Sanskrit scholar.

So Jagran Devi Tiwari, the third wife of Sitaram Tiwari, persuaded her husband to send Sukhdev to the Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi. The years passed. When Sukhdev was 15 years old, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement. Sukhdev joined the protests. Subsequently, he was arrested.

When he was produced before a magistrate, he gave his name as 'Azad' (The Free), his father's name as 'Swatantrata' (Independence) and his residence as 'Jail'. It was from that day that he came to be known as Chandra Shekhar Azad.

In 1922, Gandhiji suspended the Non-Cooperation Movement. During this time Azad met another freedom fighter Pranvesh Chatterji, who introduced him to Ram Prasad Bismil.

Bismil had founded the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a revolutionary organisation. Asked whether he had the strength to fight for India's Independence, Azad put his hand over a lamp and did not remove it till his skin burnt. An impressed Bismil invited him to become a member. He began collecting funds for the HRA, but this was done through robberies of government property.

One was the famous Kakori Train Robbery. On August 9, 1925, a train was travelling from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow. But when it approached the town of Kakori one of Azad's associates pulled the chain to stop the train and overpowered the guard. They managed to collect bags containing Rs 8000 but in the process, a passenger was killed by an accidental shot. Thus, it became a murder case. The British administration launched a massive manhunt, and

Bismil was captured along with a few others. But Azad escaped detection. Later, Bismil was hanged. Thereafter, Azad took control of the HRA and it was renamed as the Hindusthan Socialist Republican Association.

But the police were constantly on the lookout for him. On February 27, 1931, thanks to a tip-off that he was at the Alfred Park at Allahabad, they surrounded the area. There was an exchange of fire and Azad was wounded. But he managed to kill three policemen. Earlier, he had pledged that he would never be captured alive. So, with the last bullet of his Colt pistol, he shot himself dead.

When the incident came to light, the people surrounded the park and raised slogans against the British.

The park was renamed as the Chandrashekhar Azad Park. Many schools, colleges, roads and other public institutions are also named after him.

Bagha Jatin: The man who killed a tiger

One day, in March, Jatin Banerjee heard that there was a leopard wandering about in his native village of Koya. He went in search of it and came across a Royal Bengal tiger. They had a fight. The tiger managed to claw Jatin many times, but somehow, the latter managed to plunge a Gorkha dagger on the tiger's neck and killed it.

He was immediately taken to Kolkata. One of the city's well-known surgeons Lt-Colonel Suresh Prasad Sarbadhikari operated on Jatin. In the end, Jatin survived. But impressed by his bravery Dr Sarbadhikari wrote an article in the English press. Later, the Government of Bengal awarded Jatin a silver shield with the scene of him killing the tiger engraved on it. Thereafter, Jatin got the title of 'Bagha', which means 'Tiger' in both Bengali and Hindi, and that was how his name became 'Bagha Jatin'.

Jatin was well known for his physical prowess. Once when he was travelling on a train, he noticed four British officers were harassing a young woman and her grandfather in a neighbouring compartment. Jatin barged in and attacked all the officers. He was arrested a few days later. However, the judge felt that the publicity about his actions would inspire other young Indians. So Jatin was released.

However, Jatin continued with his opposition to the British. He felt the use of violence would enable India to gain freedom. So he taught other young revolutionaries on the way to use bombs and firearms.

All this work was done at night. During the day, he worked as a stenographer for the Governor's secretary. The police commissioner, Tegart, was puzzled by the continued spate of deadly assaults on British officers. He did suspect Jatin to be the mastermind, but he had no proof. However, a young revolutionary finally revealed the identity of their leader. Based on this confession, Jatin was arrested and was held for 15 months. But he was released for lack of proof. 

When his fellow revolutionary Arabinda Gosh left for Pondicherry, Jatin took over the leadership. Soon, a plan was hatched by Jatin, Rash Behari Bose and other revolutionaries to launch an armed conflict against the British army on February 21, 1915, in Punjab and the rest of North India. Unfortunately, an informant relayed this to the British. Immediately, the revolutionaries were arrested. But Jatin escaped.

He was located at Kaptipada. He, along with four other revolutionaries, were cornered on a small hill and managed to hold off the British officers for hours. But, in the end, when the troops reached the top, one revolutionary was dead and the other four were severely wounded.

As Jatin was being taken to the hospital he insisted that he himself was entirely responsible for the day's events. Jatin's undying devotion and single-minded devotion to India's freedom commanded the respect of those who worked with him.
Jatin passed away on September 15, 1915. Officer Tegart said, “Bhaga Jatin was one of the bravest Indians I had ever seen.” 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Scripting A Success Story

One of the leading scriptwriters in Mollywood, Sachi, talks about his latest, the hit film, 'Ramaleela'

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, around six years ago, the bell rang at scriptwriter Sachi’s house in Tripunithara, a suburb of Kochi. When Sachi opened the door, a young man stood there. He said, “My name is Arun Gopy. I have been working for a few years in the Malayalam film industry as an assistant director.”

Sachi invited him in. They began chatting. And then Arun made his request, “Sir, I want to direct my first film based on a script by you.”

Sachi immediately said, “I am tied up in many projects. It would be better for you to look for somebody else.”

But Arun said he would wait. Over the next few years, they would chat regularly on the phone. And then Sachi realized that Arun and he shared the same wavelength when it came to movies.

So, when there was a gap between projects, and Sachi had a story ready, he decided to give it to Arun. That script was called ‘Ramaleela’.

The film, which was released recently, has now become a blockbuster hit. So the wait was well worth it for Arun. But there were a lot of anxious moments. The hero, Dileep, had been arrested for allegedly being the mastermind behind the abduction and rape of a Mollywood actress. The fate of the film became uncertain. But, after a three-month incarceration, public opinion turned in favour of Dileep. That was when the producer released the movie.

The positive attitude towards Dileep was one of the reasons why 'Ramaleela' did well,” says Sachi. “But it also had to be a good movie for it to get an audience. I believe it is a fast-paced film. The viewer is always moving forward, from one crisis to an even bigger one.”

What helped was the stunning and unexpected climax. “At that time, I had only one climax in my mind,” he says. “Dileep, accused of a political murder, has proved his innocence.”

But to write the last portion of the script, Sachi went to an area near the Mookambika Temple (the place of worship for many Mollywood artists) in Karnataka. “One morning, I got up and had a brainwave: 'why not another climax',” says Sachi. “It was a memorable moment for me. I would describe it as a divine intervention.”

Today, Sachi is regarded as one of the leading scriptwriters in Mollywood. His previous film, 'Anarkali', which he wrote and directed did well at the box office.

He also wrote the scripts for 'Chettayees' and 'Run Baby Run'.

Writing is never easy,” he says. “Sometimes, I do get a creative block. But it is all worth it when the script is finally ready.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)