Tag Archives: war

India’s Military Campaigns Beyond Her Boundaries

We often hear that Indian rulers throughout history never invaded other countries – never established colonies in foreign lands.  The above statements are made, no doubt, to extol the virtues of our Hindu/Buddhist civilization – its emphasis on high philosophy, a penchant for peace, and deep-rooted spiritual (as opposed to materialistic) values. History generally bears out the validity of these statements. There are, however, some very notable exceptions.

The earliest example of foreign invasion (to Lanka) comes from Ramayana, whose historicity is, at best, questionable. But we cannot deny that the ethos for foreign invasions clearly finds favor in Ramayana. Of course, gods like Rama are judged differently from mere mortals like us. Then, there is in a famous Bengali poem, the legend of Vijaysingha, a prince from Bengal, subjugating the same Lanka (a favorite whipping boy, it seems) and rechristened it Simhala. A similar legend, I am told, exists in Sri Lanka that Prince Vijay came from somewhere in India and conquered Lanka. The historicity of this conquest, I gather, has not gotten universal approval from established historians. However, reverence for his exploits have withstood the test of time, thereby indicating our support for such endeavors, quite at variance with the ethos of non-aggression outside our borders.

Moving down in time, and based on firmer historical evidence, we find the great Maurya Empire of Chandragupta, Bindusara, and Asoka (322 BCE to 232 BCE) extending in the northwest into what is now Afghanistan and Balochistan and into the borders of Persia (Iran). In 305 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya led a series of campaigns to capture the satrapies left behind by Alexander the Great when he returned westwards. Seleucus I Nicator fought to defend these territories. Both sides made peace in 303 BCE with a treaty that gave Chandragupta control of the regions he sought, while Seleucus was given 500 highly valued war elephants in exchange. A map of Chandragupta’s empire in 320 BC (Figure 1) indicates that it included the entire present-day Balochistan under Pakistan and extending up to the southeastern end of present-day Afghanistan, including Gandhara, Kandahar, and Kabul Valley.  

Chandragupta Empire (Figure 1) from mapsofindia.com

King Asoka the Great made further additions to his empire in the northwest. A map of Asoka’s empire in 265 BCE (Figure 2) shows it to include entire present-day Afghanistan encroaching into the southeastern reaches of present-day Turkmenistan. Also, his empire expanded further across the Pakistani border in Balochistan into the eastern reaches of present-day Iran.  

Ashoka’s Empire (Figure 2) from mapsofindia.com

Thereafter, there is a mention of Hindu Shahis as rulers of Gandhara and Kabul Valley from 850 to 1026 CE.  There is little mention of Hindu Shahis in Indian history about their origins. It appears that the dynasty was set up by a minister of the Kabul Shahi dynasty by usurping its existing ruler. The Hindu Shahis had a tenuous existence with the local Saffarids and Samanids.  The Samanids captured Kabul around 900 CE, but the Hindu Shahis continued in the Gandhara till they were conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni.  

Probably the most stunning examples of campaigns outside the traditional borders of India are the naval exploits of the Chola kings of South India, Raja Raja Chola (reigned 985-1014), and his son Rajendra Chola (reigned 1014-1044). Raja Raja Chola’s naval forces captured the northern part of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and also subjugated the Maldive Islands. His son Rajendra’s naval campaigns were even more impressive.  He captured the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and brought the whole island of Ceylon under his control by imprisoning their king, Mahinda.  In 1025 CE, Rajendra led Chola forces across the Indian Ocean and invaded the Srivijaya kingdom, attacking several places in Malaysia and Indonesia.  This was surely a unique event in the annals of Indian history. The Cholas sacked Kadaram (the capital) and Pannai in Sumatra and Malaiyur in Indonesia. Rajendra also invaded Tambralinga, the Langkasuka Kingdom in modern Malaysia, and south Thailand. The Chola forces captured the last ruler of the Sailendra Dynasty, Sangrama Vijayatunggavarman. The Chola invasion engendered the end of the Srivajaya empire, whose maritime power declined under Chola attack. After this, the Cholas conquered large portions of Srivijaya Kingdom, including its ports of LigorKedah, and Tumask (now Singapore).  For the next century, Tamil trading companies from southern India dominated Southeast Asia. A map showing the Chola kingdom in 1030 CE is presented in Figure 3.

Chola Empire (Figure 3) from Wikimedia Commons

The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s disastrous encounters with the Uzbeks in 1645-1647 should perhaps be mentioned. The Emperor was possibly driven by his dreams of recapturing the Mughals’ ancestral homelands in those parts. It was the only time in recorded history that an India-based power ventured across the Hindu Kush to annex a Central Asian territory. Shah Jahan himself moved to Kabul to oversee the operations and two of his sons, Murad and Aurungzeb were involved in various phases. The war ended in a status quo with the Hindu Kush remaining as the western border of the Mughal empire. The Mughals suffered heavy losses in the campaigns, both financially and in manpower, a lot of it due to severe weather conditions.

Finally, there was the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839 CE), which extended from Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east.  Ranjit Singh had several encounters with the Afghans in the borders, starting from 1823 with the defeat of a large army of Yusufzai north of the Kabul River. The Battle of Jamrud and his march through Kabul in 1838, in cooperation with the colonial British army stationed in Sindh, became the last confrontation between the Sikhs led by him and the Afghans. It helped extend and establish the western boundaries of the Sikh Empire. In 1838, Ranjit Singh with his troops marched into Kabul to take part in the victory parade along with the British after restoring Shah Shoja to the Afghan throne at Kabul. The Maharaja’s general, Zorowar Singh, after successful campaigns to Ladakh, Gilgit, and Baltistan, marched into Tibet in 1841 at the head of a large army and fought successfully with the Chinese Qing forces. Within six months, he had conquered territory to the northwest of the Mayyum Pass.  But then a strong Tibetan army descended down from Lhasa. He fought many a pitched action in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar and was killed in the last one of these on December 12, 1841. A map showing the Sikh Empire from 1799 to 1849 is presented in Figure 4.

Sikh Empire (Figure 4) from mapsofindia.com

I contend that there are many more reasons for the relatively small number of incidences of Indian invasions beyond traditional borders other than our Hindu/Buddhist ethos. One principal reason could be that over the years, India, unlike China, has had few very powerful kings with large empires. It is self-evident that unless one’s kingdom reached the borders of India, the intervening territory had to be subjugated before venturing across the borders. Besides, the kings were kept busy fighting their neighboring kings as well as usurpers in their own kingdoms.

India’s geography – the high mountains in the north and seas around the peninsular south – there was a further deterrent to potential ambitions of Indian kings regarding campaigns beyond the borders. The high altitudes of the Himalayas and the very cold climates for much of the year were always formidable obstacles to overcome. And campaigns across the seas required significant development of naval technologies yet to come. It is perhaps no accident that the great European colonies of Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, and Spain in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, all sprouted after the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with the advent of newer naval developments.


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.  He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years.  He loves to write.

IC Live: A Vibrant Community of Desi Poets

IC held its third Desi Poetry Reading, in collaboration with Matwaala, on December 3, 2020, which was moderated by Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik. The topic was certainly timely – Uncertainty and Change.

After a quick introduction by Pramila Venkatewaran, the co-founder of Matwaala, the Desi Poetry Reading was kicked off by a prolific and accomplished high school poet.

Sara Garg started the evening with a reading of an experiential poem called 2020, that captured the universal feeling of waiting, waiting for the count to go to zero. Another tender poem was about the mini sparks of light that are the front-line workers who face darkness, terror, and monsters while just having each other while they cope with uncertainty. Blood Questions was hard-hitting, speaking dramatically about BLM and our common humanity as it took on the voice of blood as it poured out of the chest of a Black young man as he is killed by blue and brass. In Sunset Sunrise, she gives eloquent voice to the uncertainty we live with during the pandemic, finally admitting she cannot see if the sun is rising or setting, whether hope is ascendent or not. In an answer to a question, Sara attributed her sense of rhythm to the early influence of Usha Akella (co-founder of Matwaala) when she was in 4th grade, as she learned to write a poem about a banana. This was a story of affection that Sara shared with the listeners, a sweet moment of connection, one that most of us can engage with, and that lifted the weight of uncertainty to one of positive change.

R. Cheran, a poet and professor, writes creatively in Tamil. He shared four parts of a powerful translated piece called On the Street, Anytime. His poem had vivid images, of jackfruits, leaves, and bodies run over by tanks on the street, blood seeping into paddy fields, and leaves being the only witnesses to bodies getting together anytime. Repetitions of Anytime, built into a crescendo as he conjured images of extreme contrast – blood, sperm, and poems written on colored pieces of paper, on the street, anytime. He sets the stage in memories of experiencing and witnessing slices of the genocide in Sri Lanka. The poet shifts to potholes in snowy weather, covered in ice, that refill with the blood of 2 boys who could be his sons, shot by the white policeman. Black brave boys whose blood fills the pothole, not once, but twice. In the final fourth part of the poem, Cheran speaks of poverty of the soul, of being left by a lover, one who takes almost everything away with her, but the poem refuses to go with her, the one whose first line is, On the Street, Anytime.

R. Cheran shared another short poem that was equally evocative of remembered trauma as he sketched out the scene of Indian soldiers, a woman held down, a child thrown into a well, and the well that is now without a voice to even say Aiyyo. Cheran’s poems are certainly not “easy listening” but instead pull the listener into a well of traumatic memories and images, the work of a master story-teller, craftsman, and poet. In response to a question by Srishti Prabha about how he balances violence and beauty, Cheran said that the genocide he witnessed and survived cannot be written in words or taught through a lens of sociology or anthropology, that he has portrayed but the tip of an iceberg and such horror can only be begun to be experienced through an art form such as poetry.

I have to take a break in writing this now, and walk around, as I try to shake off and metabolize the intensity of revisiting and closely listening to this part of the reading.

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, a poet, writer, and film-maker, continued the evening. In a poem about the pandemic, one of the stark images she drew was of the Faceless One stealing all the faces that have disappeared behind masks, likening it to Kabuki dancers magically stealing faces and tucking them away in their kimonos. In a hard-hitting poem titled E.R., she speaks of holding the ground like a tree in a storm, not collapsing or vomiting, but holding in her internal injuries, and dying inside without being noticed. In The Salt of a Woman, anger and outrage jump off the words, her story older than civilization, questioned, blamed, conquered, gifted, dismissed, shamed. In IF, she writes of the only power a survivor of sexual assault may have, in telling others what not to do if she is killed, do not hang the perpetrators, she says – they will be born again and do it again. Hopelessness permeates the poem but ends with dignity. Tell your sons about me, she asks of women, preach me as a sermon, she asks of the preachers, write me as an epic, she asks of the writer.

I believe the BLM movement’s rise in the summer of 2020, empowered many of us in the desi community to finally speak openly of our own experiences of racial discrimination in the United States. Microaggressions are carried in the body, held on to for years, taken out every now and then, and re-examined through various lenses such as – why did the teacher not speak up, why did I not speak up, as if it would have been easy, as if it would have found validation at the time. I think many will identify with the process, the self-doubt, the worry of being heard, being believed, and the fear of having our experiences being discounted

Singh-Chitnis bravely shares a poem 25 years in the making and birthing. In this final poem, Kalpna addresses these excoriations – I am sitting there like the stump of a tree, still sitting there like the stump of a tree, still sitting there in that classroom. The lectures begin and end, she says, but the question remains. She is still waiting for the professor to speak up for her – she was voiceless and powerless at the time.

As these wounds get more light and air, as more people hear our experiences, as more speak up, as more poetry and art is used to communicate, the more hope there can be. I fully understand how it took 25 years to write that poem.

Indran Amirthanayagam, an author and poet read from his recently published book, Uncivil War, continuing the theme of trauma, displacement, war, and unbelonging. In Fire Department asks displaced refugee peoples from all over the world – Where is your Village Burning even if your home is not in the list. Ready to Move was a poignant ode to those who are witnesses to the only truth worth repeating – ready to move with a toothbrush, a fresh set of clothes. In Father, Indran eloquently mourns his father, moving from speaking of personal loss (watching geese honking on their way to the other side of the sky, poems to survive the fires, he has left us his name we wear it today) to the theme of universal experiences of the death of a father. Indran moved on to poems of upliftment as he hoped that the world would be inspired by the outcome of the American elections, in spite of something rotten in America, life pressed out of George Floyd, there is still hope he said – ordinary decent Joe has my vote – ending by saying he is an American optimist, and that the next war needs to be one that can unite humanity – saving our planet.

Varsha Saraiya-Shah continued the evening with a reading of I Speak from Towers of Silence in which she likens 6 feet of social distancing as a coffin length apart, observing that babies pop out like flowers, and being moved in different ways by the reality of bodies piling up in refrigerated trucks in New York. In Neither Hope nor Miracle, she speaks of science being necessary, that it needs to be unfenced with countless windows, that climate will throw earthly tantrums, warning, exhorting, and pleading with people to heed science. In When the Wind Blows, Varsha goes back to music, drawing inspiration from Miles Davis, saying, listen to what you can leave out. In Headlines, she playfully alludes to hair at different life stages, bound, unbound, and finally to a time to reshape the wildness even if Broadway will be closed till June 2021.

Saleem Peeradina’s poems submitted for this event were read by Pramila Venkateswararan. In The Body in Question Saleem Peeradina examines the world through striking images of different bodies and their symbolizing the various states of humanity, power and inhumanity –the bud of infancy to maternal bloom, migrating bodies washed ashore, body behind bars in solitary, body in whose soil is grown cotton, cane or tobacco, bodies from which coal is mined, in genocide, counted in numbers. In Song of the Makeover, he embodies the split he experiences as someone who never fits in where he is, always travelling, seeking himself or what appears to be himself through vivid phrases like full circle renewing the past, most at ease in a state of passage, two tongues, over there another face goes by my name, and, whose shadow doubles behind me.

In The View from 70, Saleem Peeradina draws playful and delightful images for us of interlopers who take over our bodies and are finally successful. The interloper enters stealthily with unmarked baggage, practice(s) hit and run arts, is the seducer who played for years on the swings slides and seesaws of my heart, a seventh sense, even with a no-vacancy sign. Finally, he concedes that it is best to befriend them, learn about them and co-exist until they (armed and dangerous) eventually win.

I am so glad I made the time for this new (to me) listening experience. It opened my eyes to a whole new vibrant community of poets and lovers of poetry, as well as those who enjoy hearing about the desi experience that we bring to the world of poetry. It seemed generally agreed upon that there has been more poetry written and made available to people all over the world, and that more people turned to poetry during the pandemic. Whether people had more time, needed poetry to make sense of the world, or whether technology brought poetry to more people, the increased interest has been one of the more welcome outcomes of the pandemic.

Desi Poets

Here are all these people

 

Who look like me Sound like me

And they read, and they love

Carry their hearts outside

Like me

speak the same languages

 

Languages

Of love and poetry

Of loss and separation

Of longing and dreams

Old homes and new

Old words renewed

 

Speak the language

Of Jack fruit, mango piquant as

Cilantro and green Chilis

Chai and samosas, sweet as

Jasmine with Thulasi leaves

 

Dusty tropical heat

Musty corner memories

Uncles, aunts, cousins

Clammy hands of first loves

Awkward fumbling kisses

 

Drenching thunderous monsoons

Umbrellas collapse in submission

 

Veins singing 

Gathering with hope

Hearts together 

rising in affection

 

Speaking old tongues in these newer lands

Using our Indlish to praise, protest, love

Finding connection in skin, language, country

 

Are these new cousins I see here?

Watch the Desi Poetry reading below!


Kalpana Asok is the author of ‘Whose Baby Is It, Anyway? Inside the Indian Heart’ and ‘Everyday Flowers’.

Houston Doctor is The Boy Refugee

The Boy Refugee is a seminal work, a one of a kind book by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin, a well-known gastrointestinal surgeon from Houston, Texas. One could ask why this fact is important to mention in a book review, but the answer is clearly within its pages.

This book is non-fiction, one which details a segment of a journey, that of a young boy of about 8 who spends over two years of his life as a Pakistani prisoner of war (POW) along with his family in the town of Roorkee, India. This saga started in the year 1972 following the birth of a new country called Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) in December 1971.

During the year 1947, when the British hurriedly left their partitioned empire, lines were drawn on the basis of religion and two countries namely India and Pakistan came into being. It turned out to be a bloodbath. History repeated itself in 1971 but these timelines were drawn on the basis of language while another country was born out of Pakistan named Bangladesh. Many perished during this time as revenge often overtook reason well into the year 1972.

Khawaja Azimuddin’s minority Urdu-speaking family was on the losing side of the resulting historical events. The regional and global chess players were also in the picture as the movement by the Bengali majority, which gave many sacrifices, achieved its goal of independence with India’s direct military action. And the Urdu speakers in the area, many who preferred a united Pakistan, suddenly became unwanted refugees like Author Azimuddin, in the land of their birth.

“This book is dedicated to refugees all around the world,” states the writer right from the onset.

Sometimes the biggest challenge for non-fiction writers is how to make their book interesting enough for readers. The fact of the matter is that very few books have been written on Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and its aftermath by those that lost (or from those who were not in any position of influence at that time). And none have been written from this particular viewpoint that of a 10-year-old boy (at the time) who was caught up in one of the furious funnel clouds of history.

This is where the reader will discover a truly unique book. Dr. Azimuddin today is accomplished in many ways and has helped many of his patients in fighting cancer in Houston, Texas. But in this book, he is an innocent kid taking us on a journey from Dhaka (Dacca then) though most of northern India to Roorkee. Through his childhood lens of wonder, we get a look at war, camp life, human relationships, and survival. His parents, siblings, and friends all have a major role in The Boy Refugee, but one cannot forget his “Little Green Suitcase” of notes and memories which one can describe as equally fascinating.

He lets us share his observations through such sentences here: “The Abduls, our house helps, were among the Bengalis. I was quite sad that they had left and without them, I felt very alone in our huge house. I went out to the backyard to play with my pet pigeon, Kabooter. I’d had six pigeons but a few weeks ago, all but one of them had flown away. Perhaps they too had sensed a need to return to their families. Kabooter was the youngest and had stayed behind, he was very attached to me.”

The innocence of youth reveals many truths in the book. The role of the Indian troops in safeguarding some of the Urdu speaking community after the birth of Bangladesh gets some mention: “The Indians knew that if they abandoned them, the Biharis would be killed in masses, and fearing international condemnation, they felt obligated to protect us, at least for the time being. And so, by a twist of fate, our enemy became our savior and protector.”

On the creation of a new country and its aftermath, its real impact on the Biharis can be felt through this work too: “During these days of confusion, no one knew exactly what to do or what would happen next. We knew that East Pakistan was no more and that, we Biharis were not welcome in Bangladesh. But West Pakistan was far away. Essentially, we were stateless.” (A reminder here to our readers that many of these Biharis are still living in refugee camps today in Bangladesh).

There are competing narratives on what really happened in the years 1971-72 in former East Pakistan. There was considerable loss of life as a new country, known today as Bangladesh was born. Parts of this book will not please some large groups, depending on which narrative they adhere to. But we all know that a 10-year-old boy can be as frightfully honest as he wants to be on sharing his observations. Dr. Azimuddin has not written this book from the perspective of any one country. His lens throughout its pages is overtly human and in parts really absorbing.


Ras H. Siddiqui is a South Asian writer and journalist based in Sacramento.

Why This Republican Indian-American Veteran Turned Democrat

I immigrated to the United States of America in 1992. I was a young man, under 21 years old. Shortly after my arrival, I found myself working at TEXACO to earn money, not realizing that I had just then personified the American cliché of a brown man from India working at a gas station.

As my family became situated, I joined the United States Army Reserves. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I put my studies on hold and volunteered for active duty and was sent into the active war zone in Afghanistan. I wanted to do my duty, and fight back in the face of the massive terrorist attack that we had all experienced. This drive was inspired by Lord Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad Gita, where he instructed me to do my duty, since action (karma) is superior to inaction.

I suppose you could say I was a staunch “Rush Limbaugh Republican”  from the moment I arrived in 1992. Looking back, I believe my Republican identity was due to the very fact that I was an immigrant: I came through the proper legal channels and had worked extremely hard for what I had. It felt natural to align with conservatives living in my community in Georgia.

After I moved to Arizona, I became active in my local Republican party and nearly ran for political office. At that time, I was virulently anti-illegal immigration, owned many guns, and supported all of America’s military engagements overseas. Even as I was deployed multiple times into combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had no second thoughts about any of my deployments. I completely trusted President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld and did not see any reason to doubt any decisions they took to send me to fight other brown people.

I did not realize then, in the manner I do today, that throughout my deployments, I was in subconscious conflict with people who shared a culture that was quite similar to my own. They even resembled me physically much more than my white compatriots did. Though there were horrible people on the battlefield who would have readily killed me, my family, and other Americans if presented the opportunity, the majority of the people caught up in the conflict, had no such terrorist credentials.

I failed to realize after my deployments that I was suffering from combat-related Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) No amount of cost-benefit analysis could justify my involvement in these unjust U.S. led wars, which made my PTSD suffering even worse. My war buddies and I belong to a generation of war veterans who absolutely detest being “thanked” for their service. Most people who have not served in the military do not realize that this country’s Republican leadership at that time, in waging the war in Iraq, had subjected their own military forces and their families to absolute hell without a clear endgame in sight. 

I hadn’t realized that while fighting in barren combat zones, my erstwhile Republican utopia had had a tiny seed of reality planted in it for the first time. Fast forward a few years past both my daughters’ births, and I fully realized that I could no longer ignore reality in my search for arbitrary acceptance into American society. I could no longer afford the false belief and luxury of thinking that as a successful and well-off Indian American, I was “white enough” in a society that was getting more virulently anti-minority by the minute. Around the time President Obama’s second term in office ended, and Trump ripped apart Hillary Clinton’s dreams of a Presidency, I finally accepted my truth and became a Democrat.

As November approaches, I realize that as a Hindu, I must take action. Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad Gita 3.8, “niyataṁ kuru karma tvaṁ karma jyāyo hyakarmaṇaḥ śharīra-yātrāpi cha te na prasiddhyed akarmaṇaḥ” (action is better than inaction).  If I refuse to fight against the injustices I see, I will sin (pāpam). Lord Krishna says as much to Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita, 2.33. It is for these reasons that blind acceptance of all the destructive and racist policies of the Trump administration, simply because he appears to have a friendly relationship with Indian Prime Minister Modi, is morally wrong for Hindus. Excusing the Trump administration’s criminal actions in Washington, D.C., or Portland, Oregon, or the deliberate separation and imprisonment of little kids in cages away from their parents at the border would make me a deserter of my Dharma. 

As Indians and Hindus, we must remember that it is the Democrats, and not the Republicans, who are fighting for the poor, the weak, the minorities, and for social equity and justice. Vice President Joe Biden is a man of conviction who has suffered unimaginable losses in his personal life, which in turn have honed him to be laser-focused (what we refer to as “एकाग्रता,” or concentration) on what he feels is vital for social good. Biden has been and always will be a friend to India. More importantly, he will support us immigrants who willingly chose to leave India behind and voluntarily became citizens of our new home, the U.S.

On this auspicious occasion of the 73rd Indian Independence Day, it would be a fitting tribute to our former home to stay true to our culture, our traditions, and our compassion for others. We represent India in the best light possible in our new home through our actions. I hope that you join me in voting for Joe Biden for President on November 3, 2020. 

In the words of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: “Take to the path of Dharma – the path of truth and justice. Don’t misuse your valor. Remain united. March forward in all humility, but fully awake to the situation you face, demanding your rights and firmness.”


Ruchir Bakshi is a U.S. Army combat veteran with deployments to locations in South Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Ruchir has a MA degree in Management, and he is a highly experienced Instructional Systems Design professional and has worked on both unclassified and classified projects within the federal government. He is a national board member of South Asians for Biden.

After 370: Glimmers of Hope

Amrita Kar who was only four years when she became a refugee, now lives in Philadelphia and carries vivid memories of flying a kite with her sister and vignettes of her lost house. Ruchi Kolla from the Bay Area still remembers her childhood, the dolls she left behind in their mad flight in 1990 and nurtures a dream to take her children back to their home. Shakun Mallik, who lost her childhood home when her family was forced to leave Kashmir, now lives in Washington DC but wishes to go back. 

Since being forcefully evicted 30 years ago, the Kashmiri Hindu community has had to make a new life for itself. Today they can be found scattered in towns and cities all over India and the world. Thousands live in USA and Canada. While many years have elapsed, the pain for some is as raw today, as it was in those dark times three decades ago, when they witnessed their long time neighbors and friends turn on them.

For Kashmiri Hindus who have been exiled from their homes for decades, the one-year anniversary of the nullification of Article 370, is a poignantly political and personal milestone.

Women carry especially painful memories of those nights that echoed with slogans demanding Kashmiri Hindus leave the valley but leave their women behind. I caught up with three Kashmiri women who had been forced to leave their homes, now living in USA, to find out how the repeal of Article 370 has influenced their hopes for the future.

Last few remaining Hindu temples in Kashmir.

During their 30-year exile, Kashmiri Hindus have seen two generations of senior family members pass away with unfulfilled desires to return home. A new generation of kids has grown up cut off from their roots. Yet hope persists and got a fresh boost as they watched the Indian government finally abolish article 370 and take steps to redress some basic inequities.

The ladies interviewed were delighted at the change in J&K’s residency laws which are already showing results – just a few months in. With the grant of domicile certificates to long-time residents of the state, Dalits in Kashmir (also known as Valmikis) now have a chance to get access to better education and employment instead of being held as semi-bonded labor in janitorial jobs.

Homosexuality is not illegal anymore, removing a Damocles sword that hung over the LGBTQ community. They are also seeing Kashmiri citizens now finally protected by the many progressive laws that had been kept in abeyance by Article 370—everything from restrictions on child marriage and instant divorce to labor protections, affirmative action, and anti-corruption laws.

Part of the Kashmir Overseas Association’s executive team, Shakun and Amrita visited Kashmir in February 2020 and spent a week traveling through the state including Srinagar, Tulmul, Gulmarg and more. Shakun has been a regular visitor to the state since 2012, even when terrorism was rampant, because she felt that it was her right. It was, however, Amrita’s first time in Kashmir since she had fled. Growing up, Amrita had evinced little desire to visit her former home as a tourist – the memories would have been just too painful.

Shakun and Amrita in Kashmir Feb 2020.

“When I got out of the airport, I was really scared,” Amrita said. To make things worse, the women had chosen to visit right around the time the state was more than normally tense, observing the anniversary of both Afzal Guru’s execution and Burhan Wani’s death. Despite warnings, they pressed ahead. “While shops on the main thoroughfares were shuttered, life seemed normal on the smaller streets. Folks we talked to were tired of the turmoil they had lived through. There seemed to be a strong craving for peace-for more tourists and a chance to make a better living for their families.”

According to Shakun, “while it’s too soon to expect too much change, repealing Article 370 was important to integrating Kashmir more fully into India.  Really no place should have special rights purely due to religion to begin with, especially in a secular country,” she said.  “I feel the emotional pull of my homeland. I want to go back. I hope more steps are taken so I can feel safe 

ID card only valid till marriage for women in Kashmir.

“As women we now feel more empowered,” said Ruchi, celebrating the demise of the unequal laws that stripped Kashmiri women (but not men) of their rights to residency or property in the state if they married outside the community. “I have heard of girls who are struggling financially after divorce, but since they had married outside the community, they could not return to live or work in Kashmir, or even claim their parental property.” Kashmiri men, of course, were always allowed to marry as they pleased, without consequence.  

“As someone who has married a non-Kashmiri, abrogation of 370 impacts me very personally. It’s a restoration of my rights and my very identity,’’ added Ruchi. She is also heartened to see family members, who have found new jobs in the past year and now live and work in Kashmir.

Aside from positive changes on the ground, the repeal of Article 370 has led to structural change, giving a new lease of life and renewal to the dispossessed refugees who have languished in silence for 30 years. There is a glimmer of hope – it is now possible to envision a path to going back home.

It’s also been a cathartic experience for the community. “I think many people who were forced out, had suppressed their pain and not shared their stories – even with their own children,” said Amrita.  “Speaking for myself, it was only after August 5, 2019, that for the first time, I heard my parents open up about their harrowing experiences at length. I cried. We talked at length with a psychiatrist who said it was a critical step to coping with our grief and loss.”

The future has hope. “I want to visit again. I want to live there. I want to maybe even die in Kashmir,” says Shakun.

Pushpita Prasad has a passion for storytelling and Indic causes. She lives and works in the Bay Area.

Kashmir in Pain Before Article 370

Featured Image: Wailing mother of Faizan Fayaz hugs the best friend of her slain son. Faizan was killed in a firing by security forces on a polling day for Srinagar Lok Sabha Constituency in  Budgam district on April 9, 2017. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Bilal Ahmad, a freelance photojournalist from Kashmir, scrolls down the screen full of images he has clicked so far as part of his work. In his fourth-floor flat in Delhi’s Noor Nagar, he opens an image and looks at it for quite a while, as if reminded of the scene and the story behind it.

Taking his eyes off the screen, the 24-year-old photojournalist from Kashmir says, “My aim is to acquaint people around the world with the ground realities of Kashmir, most importantly, the hopelessness of a common man.”

However, Bilal’s aim hit a dead end when Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi imposed a blanket ban on Internet and telecom services in Kashmir a night before it revoked its special status on August 5, 2019, one year ago. The state was divided into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Article 370, which the central government scrapped on August 5, granted the state some autonomy. The erstwhile state had its own constitution, flag, and could make its own laws.

“I lower my head in disappointment when I see the people whose stories I had captured with my camera but couldn’t publish,” Bilal laments.  

Out of thousands of pictures on his laptop, Bilal has kept six of them in a separate folder named ‘Best’. He agrees to share these pictures, how he clicked them, the stories in them.

“It was after Faizan’s funeral I clicked this picture,” Bilal tells me. “There was a huge crowd of people gathered outside slain Faizan’s house. I saw women and children crying and sobbing. Amid those mourning voices, one particular voice was louder and longer,” he pauses. “It was that of Faizan’s mother in the house. I made my way into the room, though with difficulty, and found her surrounded by other women weeping and trying to console the bereaved mother. She felt suffocated and was escorted out in the open. A couple of women held her and helped her walk round in the garden. But she was still sighing and sobbing. Soon, she saw her son’s best friend coming in. She rushed to him, hugged him tightly, and cried even louder. She kept repeatedly asking him, ‘Bring back my son. You left together in the morning after coming back from Madrassa. Why have you returned alone?’ I was already in tears and did not want to click any pictures. However, I ended up channelizing my emotions into bringing her pain in my frame and do my job,” concluded the photojournalist about the picture.

The next click brings us to a group of people attending the funeral prayers of Adil Ahmad at Eidgah, Srinagar. Adil was an eighteen-year-old boy, who was mowed down by an armed forces vehicle in Chattabal area of Srinagar during intense clashes between protesters and government forces on May 5, 2018.

“It is very intriguing,” says Bilal, “to see children take part in the funerals, which sometimes erupt in fierce clashes with the government forces. They easily become targets of tear gas canisters, pellets and sometimes even get killed by bullets fired by the men in uniform. This isn’t what a child should experience. These things have a long-lasting effect on one’s psyche and take shape of nightmares as you come of age.”

C:\Users\Bilal Ahmad\Desktop\Best\3.jpeg
Funeral prayers of Adil Ahmad. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Amongst the turmoil, Bilal tried to capture moments of calm in Kashmir.

“It was getting chaotic after Friday prayers in Srinagar’s Soura area as youth and paramilitary forces were about to clash with each other,” recalls Bilal.

“The man in the photo was playing with his son inside his shop until he heard a loud bang of tear-gas canister fired at the protesting youth a few hundred meters away. He started panicking, grabbed his son, and came outside.”

C:\Users\Bilal Ahmad\Desktop\Best\5.jpeg
A father fixedly looks at his son, who enjoys a packet of snacks outside a shuttered shop in Soura on the outskirts of Srinagar. PC: Bilal Ahmad

“His son, however, proved to be stubborn and was refusing to leave the shop. The father hurriedly tore off a packet of snacks from a rope of many hanging inside the shop and brought down the shutter. The clashes were yet to turn violent and the shopkeeper let go his son sit on the other end of the shop, while he kept a close eye on him and around.”

C:\Users\Bilal Ahmad\Desktop\Best\6.JPG
Nusrat reflecting on losing her eyesight. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Nusrat Jan, a 32-year-old mother of a two-year-old daughter lost her sight in the right eye after she was hit by pellets fired by government forces during intense clashes October 17, 2018 near Srinagar.

The pellet injury left a void in my heart. Now, I can see my daughter only with my left eye,” recants Nusrat.

“It seemed a tough battle for the two-year-old baby girl to see glasses on her mother’s eyes,” Bilal tells me with a heavy heart. “She tried repeatedly to remove them, probably, to see her eyes, but her mother would not let her as she kept feeding her,” he says and is reminded of what the woman in the picture told him then.

Present Day

Here in Kashmir, I caught up with Bilal again after almost 8 months since our meeting in Delhi. During this time, Bilal says, Journalists in Kashmir have been through a lot. “One is scared to work under these circumstances, especially when you see your colleagues being questioned, beaten, detained, and booked under draconian laws such as UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act). See, what happened with photojournalist Masarat Zahra,” says Bilal.

Masrat, a Kashmir-based freelance photojournalist was booked under UAPA by J and K Police for allegedly sharing “anti-national posts”. Masrat, however, denied such charges and said that these posts were part of her professional work, some of which had already been published.

Bilal is also worried about the new Media Policy which the Jammu and Kashmir administration unveiled on June 2. “It has added to the difficulties that we as journalists were already facing,” informs Bilal, resigned to his circumstance. He hopes change will come soon…

Younis Ahmad Kaloo is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. Previously, he was a correspondent at Force Newsmagazine, a monthly magazine on national security and aerospace.

Heroes of War

Heroes of War 

Bracing themselves 

heavy armor

coat after coat

danger is principal.

 

They enter war

an invisible enemy 

the fiercest predator

with an unidentifiable weakness.

 

Their compassionate hearts

drive a noble sacrifice 

for the protection of lives 

they never knew.

 

Heroes they stand

knowing and holding 

the fear of 

surrendering themselves to defeat.

*****

Rashmika Manu is a freshman in high school. She enjoys writing poems, playing volleyball, and traveling. She visits India often and has a desire to help the poor and needy in the future.

Our Planet To Save: Teens Educate

Many say that we have seen three wars in our lifetime: 9/11, the housing crisis, and the most current one, Coronavirus.

In the background, looming like an avatar for death, are cities covered in billowing smog from factories, blackened skies, and people gasping for the last bit of fresh air.  

Let us not forget the ongoing battle for clean air, fuel, and water….

In the race for power among competing foreign nations, many have pushed for industrialization to develop economic and social prowess. Toys, weaponry, and clothes all became commodities as a result of mass production, delighting many. 

It has been about 250 years since the industrial revolution and not much has changed in the fight to mitigate what we now call the climate crisis. Profits have been prioritized over well-being, as safety has taken a back seat to ease of life.

Climate change is something that is often overlooked by many who view the phenomenon as a “hoax” and question its existence due to lack of awareness and miseducation.

Is what we have done to our planet acceptable given the benefits of industries? What more can we do? Was this a problem waiting to happen?

These are questions we must ask ourselves daily, and frankly there isn’t a straightforward answer. Every individual, however, can make a change, and that’s what The Incentive, a climate change news publication built by a team of bay area high schoolers, is tackling head-on.

Founded by – Arun Balaji, Kaushal Kumar, and Sudhit Rao – juniors at Monta Vista High School, The Incentive joins the climate change movement and shakes things up.

The Incentive’s goal is to create a platform where people can receive reliable information regarding the implications of climate change. They are moving away from the average, uninspired, and repetitive news site that only reports on how climate change is impacting the environment. The Incentive’s angles on climate change are novel, as they take a look at the economy, societal culture, and local policy to frame their narratives. 

Imaged pulled from The Incentive website.

Part of their mission is to raise local awareness on the more subtle impacts of climate change by involving the next generation. In order to accomplish this, they have worked with middle school teachers in their community to increase the environmental literacy of their students by engaging with articles on The Incentive.

The organization strives to expand across the United States and turn their non-profit into a global institution. Currently, they have two affiliated chapters – one in New York and the other in Virginia – that are working to make an impact in their respective communities. They encourage their chapters to attend city council meetings, reach out to schools in their area to incorporate our website, attend climate change rallies, or create a club at their school. 

Due to collective efforts, the publication has managed to garner thousands of monthly viewers. Next steps include creating more chapters of The Incentive across several states and countries. If you are interested, here is a link to learn more about their outreach program.

The Incentive team hopes that through their publication and outreach, they will be able to make a significant impact on mitigating climate change and are strong believers that any individual, no matter their background or power can make an impact on mitigating climate change. All it takes is focus and dedication for any individual to make an impact.

Sudhit speaks on behalf of his organization, “We encourage all readers to get on social media and post ways they are mitigating climate change, whether it is planting a tree, telling your friends to do so, or being a full-on activist. It is our planet to save, and we are its last lifeline.”

For more information on The Incentive, follow their Instagram.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Was Krishna The First Psychotherapist?

I was ten or twelve years old when I first heard of the “Bhagavad Gita.” We lived in Bengaluru, and once a week, my spiritually-inclined, civil engineer father would explain its concepts – meditation and other virtues – to my siblings and me. He loved these sessions.

He told us the essence of the Bhagavad Gita was that “Krishna asks everyone to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.” And yet, I still could not make any sense of it. I just felt overwhelmed.

A few years ago, my father passed away and my life came to a standstill. It took days afterwards, filled with sadness, for me to start a transformation that helped me appreciate the Bhagavad Gita’s wisdom and the love and kindness in my surroundings.

The Bhagavad Gita is a profound dialogue between two friends on a battlefield nearly 5000 years ago. When the war begins in the great battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna declines to fight. Krishna, the mystic, patiently explains a psychological battleplan that navigates a pathway from confusion to knowledge, virtuosity and happiness in the midst of war and chaos.

The mind today is a similar battleground between thoughts and emotions. We face challenges and confusion every day from childhood through adulthood, but there are answers to be found in the Bhagavad Gita.

Swami Chinmayananda calls the Bhagavad Gita “a piece of art of strange beauty and it stands apart from everything else, in a class all by itself.”

Its eighteenth chapter contains a philosophy of living which resonated with me when I moved to the US twenty years ago.

My son was enrolled in the Chinmaya Mission and I became intrigued by their discourses on the Gita. I began reading chapters from a Bhagavad Gita my husband had bought at a temple and which we kept at our prayer altar. The scriptures began to influence me in my daily life.

One idea that I found particularly useful said, “You have the right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the results of your actions. ”

It taught me how to perform my duties to the best of my abilities but not stress about the outcomes.

It was one of many profound lessons the Gita has taught me.

I have learnt from the Gita to adjust and accept situations and people. I have realized that each person is uniquely gifted with different emotions and virtues. And the Gita helps me make better decisions that give me happiness.

A few years ago, tragic life events – death, accidents, illness, would depress me for days. Somehow today I’ve developed a better understanding of Karma, the concept of ‘law of action’ related to fear, life and death.

My reaction now is quite different. While I still feel some sadness for a while, I regain my sense of balance far more quickly.

Individuals who intellectually absorb and assimilate the knowledge the Gita offers, become “liberated from confusion and sorrows, and reach a state of inner tranquility and happiness,” says Swami Chinmayananda. I do believe he’s right.

I’m trying to integrate the principles of Bhakti (Devotional)Yoga, Jnana (Knowledge) Yoga and Karma (Work)Yoga into my own life.

Quite simply, this means channelling my emotions in order to discipline my mind (devotional or Bhakti yoga), discipline my body and its actions to help control my mind (work or Karma yoga), and practice meditation, reflection and detachment to ‘lift the mind to silence’, and reach a place of serenity, peace and calm (knowledge or Jnana yoga).

Every day, I attempt to apply the Divine – positivity – in my work and life . When my mind brims with positivity, I’ve noticed that negative emotions don’t invade my thinking! My mother-in-law is a great example of this practice. She works with utmost care and patience and is mindful in all her tasks, whether drawing a rangoli or chopping vegetables. The motto “Work is Worship” is apt for folks like her who are inclined towards Karma Yoga.

Was Krishna the first psychotherapist? Perhaps!

When I read the Gita it often feels as though I’m being personally guided by a psychotherapist friend to make stress-free decisions. And yet, it contains concepts that transcend religions and borders. These ideas have helped reinforce positivity, love and hope in my own life – but I also believe there are lessons to be found in the old teachings to navigate the crises of our present times. As the world battles the stress and anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic, the Gita can offer peace, hope and answers that humanity seeks to fight an invisible enemy in a different kind of war.

Kumudha Venkatesan is based in Atlanta and loves to read the Bhagavad Gita and often writes about the vegan lifestyle and spirituality.


Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor, India Currents.

Image 2: By Mahavir Prasad Mishra – https://archive.org/details/MahabharataTejKumarBookDepotMahavirPrasadMishra, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66704373

Top 10 Hindi Movies of 2019

It was a year for the creative and the restless in Hindi cinema as filmmakers told inspirational stories which balanced reality and fantasy in equal measure. Innovation won and we had some brilliant winners in the process.  Here are my top 10 picks for 2019.

1. Soni

This Netflix movie quietly and softly won hearts. Ivan Ayr spent significant time watching female police officials go about their jobs, the result shines in every frame of Soni. He also hired Kimsi Singh, his own producer to get a female perspective on the first draft of his story. It shows. It is a compelling glimpse into why India is unable to free itself from its pervading rape culture, without even showing a rape.

Rating: 5 out of 5

2. Gully Boy

A giant response from director Zoya Akhtar to her critics. She does slums as funky as the high-brow movies. Gully Boy soared sky high.  The movie paid an ode to real-life Indian street rappers Divine and Naezy and was filled with textured, crackling characters to the brim.  The writing, direction and music shone bright. The angst and aspiration speak loud with a deft rhythm and foot-tapping emotions. Dive in and be dazzled. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

3. Article 15

You can’t go wrong with Anubhav Sinha’s crime drama Article 15. Laalgaon, a small village, operates eerily in an oppressive, caste-dominated political setup. New ACP Ayan ( golden boy Ayushmann Khurrana) faces resistance as he attempts to investigate the rape and disappearance of two Dalit girls, taking on the caste system as he tries to trace the clues. Although grim and gritty, it’s also heartening and reaffirming.

Rating: 5 out of 5

4. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota 

Director Vasan Bala creates a wonderful fantasy world inspired by his childhood of karate classes, tributes to various movies including Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan et al, and a real life story. The lead character has Congenital insensitivity to pain and goes on a mission to conquer his foes. Giving him a fight on an equal footing is his childhood friend and girlfriend. If you adore movies, this is a rockstar of a movie that you do not want to miss.

Rating: 5 out of 5

5. Laal Kaptaan

Navdeep Singh unites Saif Ali Khan and Deepak Dobriyal to satisfying results, with the historical Battle of Buxar as the backdrop. A ferocious Naga Sadhu is hungry for mukti aka salvation by exacting revenge while Deepak Dobriyal guides him with an acute sense of smell. The movie burns slowly and surely to create a fascinating human tale filled with adventure, sorrow and a sense of loss. It didn’t get the success it deserved but that doesn’t take away from its genius.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6. Sonchiriya

Set in 1970, Sonchiriya captures the ravines of Chambal with assured confidence as it captures a group of dacoits and their anguish with grit and determination – they fight to exist with caste, gender, masculinity and patriarchal issues. Abhishek Chaubey’s taut, tense and masterly narrative shines, aided by a superb cast and crackling performances.

Rating: 4 out of 5

7. Judgementall Hai Kya

Prakash Kovelamudi’s  Judgementall Hai Kya tackles complex themes of domestic violence and mental illness aided by black humour at every jump and turn in the dark narrative. The fact that Kanika Dhillon pens this quirky whodunit with a conscience makes it all the more delicious. Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao don’t play one false note and hold the movie together with panache. The film deserves applause for its quirkiness and over delivering on its thriller template.

Rating: 4 out of 5

8. Section 375

Like it or loathe it, Ajay Bahl’s Section 375 is one for the watch list. A filmmaker is arrested when a costume assistant accuses him of rape. The movie plays out in a courtroom, setting the stage for defense lawyer Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) and Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chaddha) who fights for the survivor. Both points of view are represented well until the final tilt and twist, which divides the audience. Talks about law vs justice appear futile when one thinks about the responsibility of the makers towards a society that is unfair to a majority of women. Does presenting the oppressed gender as oppressor work for or against the rape problem? You decide.

Rating: 4 out of 5

9. Bala

With Bala, Amar Kaushik delivered a superb take on how the concept of beauty affects a man who lives with alopecia (baldness). It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s empathetic. Although, it’s mainly Ayushmann Khurana’s story and he is excellent, Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam make their presence felt and heard with strong turns.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

10. War 

War is a slick and sassy masala action entertainer. Hrithik Roshan hangs from the sky, breathtaking, suspending our jaws in disbelief. Tiger Shroff conquers the ground with his moves and strikes. Watching them in tandem kicking, dancing and firing guns is a lesson in balance and coordination. When a Hindi movie delivers on action, entertainment and superstars, the question about story and authenticity is automatically moot. Siddharth Anand directed this box office bonanza.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

Kabir Singh too Misogynistic? Instead, Watch…

Tired of misogynistic portrayals in Bollywood?  Kabir Singh gets a thumbs down. Dream Girl has some problems. War wins.

Kabir Singh: Consent is a tricky, fuzzy area as it is. Kabir Singh sh*ts all over it by showing a hyper masculine male character against a super submissive female character. Basically serving rape and domestic violence to Indian men on a platter.

Shahid (Kapoor) sweetie, you do have a cute ass, now climb into it and stay there.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga, what you tell Indian men is “order” your girlfriend around, while treating other women with disrespect including your own mother. I guess, the amount of times you used the mother gaali shows your own (narrow) expertise you have when it comes to women. Go fu*k yourself, is all I will say. I am guessing that is the worse thing you can do, pretty much like your retrograde character.

12th highest grosser. Wow. Just. Wow.

It’s just a movie. Yah.

A movie in India. Where rape and domestic violence is rampant and Bollywood is the biggest influencer of how men and women treat each other.

Well done, a**holes.

***

Dream Girls: Right off the cuff, let me say that Ayushmann Khurana sizzles in “dil ka telephone” like never before. It won’t be surprising if he starts the trend of husbands cross-dressing to their wives’ fantasies, and swaying hips to seduce them.

Dream Girls connects to the heart in many parts, and drops the line big time in some. Khurana plays Karamveer Singh, aka Pooja, with a golden voice, who poses as a girl on a silky ‘hot’line, drawing men to her ringing voice.

Among the negatives were jokes with sexist tones, mocking of an older male looking for companionship, susheel sundar, khana banayegi kind of dialogue in parts, and preachy tones towards the end. One single mattress rape innuendo mouthed by Khurana is not cool and irresponsible. Its many parallel tracks are confusing. As a result, it loses focus and tempo in parts. The superb supporting cast, Annu Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Nidhi Bisht, Abhishek Banerji, saves the day. Sadly, Nushrat Bharucha‘s contribution is limited to feeding Ayushmann soup and redeeming his character Pooja in the end.

Khurana proves yet again he can pull in the crowd and entertain them with the snap of his fingers. He is flawless.

3.5 it is.

***

 

War: Moby’s Extreme Ways (Bourne film series) background hangover apart, which was distracting as I hoped Matt Damon would show up, War is a slick and sassy masala action entertainer. You have Hrithik Roshan instead, wrinkled, pepper-haired, and deliciously wicked as Kabir, a role he devours with relish. Tiger Shroff is no less, scrubbed, sincere and pumped, the kiddo has the good looks of his Dad and acting skills of his own. Hrithik indulges Tiger and keeps his shirt on, letting the young actor shed his.

The action is spectacular. Who would go wrong with Goldilocks Roshan and Hulky Tiger? Hrithik hangs from the sky, breathtaking, suspending our jaws in disbelief. Tiger conquers the ground with his moves and strikes. Watching them in tandem kicking, dancing and firing guns is a lesson in balance and coordination. Tiger matches Hrithik eye to eye, stunt by stunt, muscle on muscle. They are a match made in heaven. Pity this marriage won’t last.

When a Hindi movie delivers on entertainment and superstars, the question about story and authenticity is automatically moot. Siddharth Anand directs this box office bonanza, sharing his story and screenplay credits with Aditya Chopra and Shridhar Raghavan. Abbas Tyrewala pens the snazzy dialogue.

War is a theatre watch, miss at your own peril specially if you are a Hrithik or Tiger fan. You don’t want be restraining this twin package on your tiny TV screens. It would be criminal.

As for J2S2, it delivers, and how. The colors, the bustle and movement bedazzle as Hrithik and Tiger explode on screen. Thy breath is taken and tossed around and you only hope to crawl out and make it alive.

3.5 on 5.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

Photo credit: Facebook

From Karachi to Houston on the Black Wings of Secrets

A mother travels from Karachi, Pakistan, to visit her adult daughter living in Houston. Laila has made this difficult journey to the U.S., in the months following 9/11, because her estranged daughter, Yasmeen, is divorcing her American husband and she has yet to meet her two grandchildren. So begins writer Sehba Sarwar’s novel Black Wings.

Yasmeen watches her mother emerge from the airport terminal wearing her traditional sari and speaking Urdu at a time when dark-skinned foreigners entering the United States are treated with suspicion and anger. But Yasmeen has other reasons for her nervous apprehension at the arrival of her mother and Laila, likewise, moves with unease through her daughter’s suburban household. There’s an elephant in the room and we soon learn it’s the ghost of Yasmeen’s beloved twin brother, Yasir, who tragically died at seventeen. Laila’s whereabouts on that fateful night remain shrouded in mystery, but Yasmeen is ready for some answers, and finally, for closure.

Sarwar uses a shifting point of view between the two female protagonists to explore the issues at the center of this fraught mother-daughter relationship. While Laila voices dismay at her daughter and grandchildren’s Americanized ways, Yasmeen resents her mother’s intrusion into their lives, even though she had issued the invitation.

The novel’s strength lies in Sarwar’s use of lush visual language to convey intimate feelings and her skill in merging the day-to-day with political on-goings to drop the reader into a point in history. Laila remembers a time with her husband: “At his insistence, we continue going out at night, reveling in Karachi’s party atmosphere under Ayub Khan, at a time when nightclubs and bars abound. The seventies have not started yet: the genocide in East Pakistan, the banning of alcohol, the closing of clubs, or the military coup and repression under General Zia’s martial law.”

As the reader moves between Laila and Yasmeen’s thoughts, feelings and memories, we are pulled deeper into a well of dark family secrets that unspool in a Pakistan that Sarwar knows and describes well. Sarwar also makes great use of storytelling as a means for both, Yasmeen and Laila, to share narratives of happier times with the children. We understand through a complex backstory that memories are subjective and stories can be rewritten at will. 

Sarwar, also a poet and performance artist, has an ability to convey heartfelt emotion through descriptive and strong visual language. The story’s pacing quickens when Yasmeen returns to Karachi with her children to find answers and confront the pain that initially drove her away. In the end, as secrets are revealed and final plot twist unfolds new drama. Black Wings is determinedly a story about mothers and daughters and what happens when a woman’s need to follow her heart into new love may be judged by her family as betrayal.

Black Wings by Sehba Sarwar. 2019. 212 pages. Published by Veliz Books.

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a writer and journalist who lives in Pasadena, California, and Oaxaca, Mexico. She is the award-winning author of the novel The Wild Chihuahuas of Mexico.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.