Sep 29, 2008

The Thief Of Bhopal

What Jain or Advani call “election time”, Bhopal’s pickpockets call “season”. The city’s famed finger artists have been second to none in their eager participation in the electioneering that kicked off last week in the run-up to the November Assembly polls. Their attention didn’t flag when Rajnath Singh toyed with the idea of shooting anyone waving the Pakistani flag in Kashmir. And by the time Advani had finished counting the 2.38 lakh rallyists at Jamboree Park on Thursday, they were counting the money from a dozen wallets equally happily. When Jain went to a nearby police station, he was told he was lucky to still have his fancy cellphone. Soon after Advani left, Sriniwas Pandey, who had come from Barkheda Pathani, was heard cursing loudly — but not the terrorists. Pandey had been cleaned out of Rs 11,200 and three bank cards.

While L.K. Advani was thundering against terror here last week, “infiltrators” at his rally reached out to his flock in a way his oratory could not. The BJP councillor from Neemach, Yashwant Jain, was feeling a tug at his heartstrings every time Advani sounded off about the security of the motherland — so the little tug at his hip escaped him. As the shadow Prime Minister demanded the return of terror law Pota, Jain, getting goose pimples by now, slid his hand into his kurta pocket. Seconds later he had completely lost track of what Advani was saying. Jain’s wallet was gone, along with Rs 3,000 in cash and three ATM cards.

Unconfirmed reports said Bhopal boasted a pickpockets’ academy where ustads trained youngsters, mostly drug peddlers. “It’s easier to pick pockets in crowded places, so election rallies are ideal,” said Pawan Mishra, former officer-in-charge of Jahangirabad police station. With more rallies slated from next week, sources said, the ustads were recruiting fresh batches of trainees. The “season” had a brisk start on Monday, when Uma Bharti stunned the Congress and the BJP with a mammoth show of strength. The police said 10 people were left equally stunned when they reached into their pockets. Mishra suggested the numbers could be higher, saying many political activists were too embarrassed or resigned to lodge complaints. A senior officer estimated pickpockets’ business at rallies could be worth at least Rs 20 lakh in cash and an equal amount in mobile phones till November. He added that pickpockets were the “pampered” princes among Bhopal’s thieves. “That many are drug addicts serves as a blessing. Officers don’t want to detain or beat them, fearing their poor health could lead to death.”

That might also be the cause of increasing incidences of chain snatching from ladies across the city of Bhopal. Inspite of repeated attempts of Police to stop the menace, the incidents have proved unstoppable. Unofficially, the incidents are blamed largely on the immigrant students community of Bhopal. With incresing number of private colleges opening in Bhopal, policing the immigrant students have become a headache for the local government. A gang caught recently was headed by a state level wrestler of Madhya Pradesh state. This guy apparently used to slip out of his daily practise sessions from the T.T. Nagar stadium, to gather some gold chains and then continue from where he left! The incident happened within a few days of Sushil Kumar winning Bronze medal in the same event at Olympics 2008. Why go for Bronze, while you can get your gold (chains)? With more prominent educational institutes lining up at Bhopal () the rumored pickpocket academy can definately go in for a major expansion drive in near future.

Photo courtesy - Shehla Masood

Sep 17, 2008

Three Stories From Bhopal

Story one: On the right track

Railway station’s are awesome. They are 24×7 entertainment channels for all. You find all sorts of people in here…serious people,not so serious people, funny people, serious people acting funny and so on and so forth.
Anup and me fell in a category of people who were not so serious but were trying to look serious. Every night after our dinner, we used to go for a bike trip round the city. On an old diesel bullet, we used to thunder around talking about everything across the globe. We used to reach the railway station at around 9:30 at the night, on reaching the station, we’d walk upto our trusted bench on Platform number 1 and take our positions, to watch life pass by leisurely.
Its an unsaid rule somewhere, that at the station you have to look busy and harried. The funniest part would be to see relatives of passengers accidentally leave on trains instead of the real passengers. The relatives would be the do-gooders who would mount the train to check if the seat was okay and all and by the time the real passenger could get on the train ,it would have already left with the poor relative still checking the seat and tying up the luggage. Then there would be the problem of people trying to carry anything and everything in the train.
It is at the platform that the slum dwelling kids usually move around carrying huge bags double their size. They try to collect plastic, old bags, magazines, papers etc. One fine evening, staring at the life all around, Anup and i noticed one such child collecting plastic bottles. He was not more than 6 years of age. On seeing him we felt sorry and walked upto him.
Anup got hold of him and asked, “Whats your name ??”
“Tukuna” he replied without even bothering to look at us. He was being kept busy by all the collecting that he was upto.
“Do you want to eat ??”
He stopped and looked at us with suspicious eyes…..and then he broke off into a toothy grin.
Anup asked him,” What do you want to eat ???”
“Bhai…there is a cheap place outside the station…with vadas and idli”
“Lets go then”
On reaching the small shop, we asked the vendor to give the little one whatever he asks for. ”Eat all that you want to” I said.
“Really !!!!!!!!”
“Yaa…Go on eat” Anup continued.
“Bhai can i take the food back to my home and eat ???? It is very close by ?? “
On hearing this , the tiny one grabbed on the food and ran back in a small lane close to the shop where we were standing.
As we were about to pay the money, he came back and asked for some more.
“Sure, Take more” Anup said. He grabbed the food again and rushed back into the lane and before a minute , he was out asking for just a little bit more food for the third time. Curious as to what was happening, we looked at the vendor hoping that he could explain it to us. The vendor gave us an all knowing smile and took us to the lane, where the kid had ran off. We were surprised to see four small kids of different sizes and a dog sitting on the stairs of the temple. Tukuna was standing there administering food to the smallest child in the lot. The rest of them were busy having small portions of the food that Tukuna had just carried over.
We turned back to the vendor, who kept smiling as he went on “These are his little brothers and sisters. Every day, he earns just enough money to feed all of them. The dog too is a member of their family and has a share”
The vendor continued “His father was dead long back, and his mother was a daily wage worker who died on the railway tracks a month ago in an accident”
“He does this everyday, going hungry himself at times if he is not able to earn enough in a day” the vendor said.
It was perhaps the first time that Anup and me experienced something of this sort.
Responsibility is not something which you inherit. Its either there or it is not. Parents also are not there to do all our bidding and their responsibility towards us also comes with an expiry date. You cannot go on blaming your environment, parents ,peers for all that you are not doing. That was a wake up call for us. If a six year old can own up the responsibility of his siblings and a dog, we also needed to move out of our comfort zones. Life is only as simple as we make it to be, its always better to wake up before any sort of shock treatment. A lesson worth much more than 20 bucks of idli’s and vada’s.

Story two: The old man and the new leaf

IIFM is one place, which gave me so much. If i think of a life before IIFM and the one after IIFM, i know that i have changed a lot. A great place to be at, great guides plus a unique batch. Every batch at IIFM will always feel that theirs was a great batch, so i am no different. Ours was a great batch and given a chance to repeat those 2 years with the same set of people, i dont think anyone will have any hesitaion in reliving those amazing moments. All the laughs that we shared bring a wry smile to our faces and for all the great meetings and fights we had, we have a hearty laugh about them now.
IIFM had a M.Phil program, which was known as the MRM program. During my first internship, Sunil, Kalpu and me stayed at IIFM cause we were working for the MP tourism board. Life was simple …. movies, meetings, trips, novels and sleep….and this cycle went on and on and on. One fine evening, Sunil and I came down on to the lawn in front of the boys hostel. We saw an old gentleman sitting there staring at passerby’s. We walked upto him and greeted him.
“Uncle, are you accompanying some new student for the MRM program interviews???” we asked.
He looked up gave us a smile and said, ” Yes…as a matter of fact i am. “
“So who is the student, your son or daughter ???”
“Its me. I am accompanying myself for these interviews”
Not sure that we had heard correctly, we quietened down for a minute.
“Surprised !!!!!! ??? I am just 76 years old.” he added with a wink and smile “So a year in here for the program wont hurt me” he kept smiling as he continued ” I was a shepherd till the age of 11, so i lost 11 precious years of my life shepherding cows and buffaloes. I am trying to make up for all those years i missed out on”
“Ohhh…Okk…Do you have any children ??” we curious Tom’s persisted.
“Yes, I have a son, who is happily married and lives in Mumbai along with his wife. In fact can you please do me a favour.. I am giving you his number , can you please tell him that i have reached Bhopal safely ???”
After calling up his son and informing him, we got back to the gentleman. He had thick rimmed specs and wore a gandhian hat along with a crumpled kurta and kept on humming songs and looking around leisurely as we talked to him.
“You see ….. more than anything, i am doing this for my beloved late wife. She was the most wonderful inspiration that i could ever have had in my life. She always kept on egging to to follow my dreams. So i worked as a government servant for 35 years and after that, i completed my Masters program and studied law as well. I worked at a disctrict sessions court as a lawyer for 2 years before arthritis caught up on me. But then i decided to complete another masters in sociology and now i am here for the MRM program”
“…… but……????” we were way too short of words.
He smiled kindly at us, “I know getting into this IIFM program is difficult for me, but then again whats the harm in trying. If i do not make it here, i’ll try to get into the Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Tamil Nadu”
“Its amazing…..”
“See children, when my wife died, i was left around doing nothing at my place for sometime, I kept on listening to my son, his wife and his children. It was great but only to an extent. I wanted to see places and learn things. So i did. I have pursued my dreams the way i always wanted to….. I just don’t want to have any regrets when i die” Then he pointed towards a tree and said ” This tree has many new leaves and as many old ones. I am one of those old leaves. I know my time is up and i will die away sometime soon, but before passing on, i want to be proud of all my years up on the tree……”
Its not just about the old leaf…. the new leaves also need to push and prove their worth soon…..cause one storm later every leaf is on the ground and if i need to be proud of myself, then as the great man said “I need to proud about all my years up there”
Learning to do my work and enjoying it as much as i could was something that the man taught us. I had a habit of getting repulsed by all the new work that was thrust upon me, but the man taught me to to learn and enjoy what i am doing. Life is only too short to learn new things, so why not make best use of it. If he was never to old to learn anything new, then i guess we all are not too old to be stop learning things. So keep learning and enjoying.

Story 3:The ice candy man

Summers at Bhopal can either kill you or they can bring you on the verge of death. The best antidote when you are out is an ice cream and any cool drink. There is a pretty famous top n town ice cream outlet in the New market area of Bhopal.
So one fine summer noon, Sunil n I were here in front of the ice cream parlour, trying to out do each other in the competition we were having (The ice cream eating competition). There are many street vendors, who try to sell you all sorts of stuff, that particular day, there was a poor lame salesman supported by a pair of crutches limping around to people trying to sell them mosquito squatter and nets. As a general attitude that people carry towards salesmen, more so poor salesmen, he too was being brushed and shunted aside by all. Nobody cared about him or his products, but he kept on limping around trying his best.
Then there was a young kid, who too was trying to sell ropes. He was dressed pretty shabbily and kept on trying to sell people ropes near the ice cream counter. He tried to request a couple of men to help him get an ice cream, but the people whom he asked found satisfaction in yelling at him and scaring him off. He kept on gazing wistfully at the ice creams. Sunil n I decided to buy him an ice cream and as we were moving towards him, we saw the poor limping salesman with the squatter and the nets walk upto the kid. The salesman held the child’s hand and took him to the ice cream counter n said,” Have whatever you want to have. I’ll pay”
The look on the faces of the people who had shouted at the kid and brushed aside the salesman was a sight to behold. People were turning pink out of shame. The kid got himself a ice candy for which this man paid. The two of them stood there proudly while the kid finished the ice candy and then walked off amidst applause from the rest of public standing in there.
I guess all of us at any point of our lives are better off than the poor limping salesman or the poor kid. We must be if we are able to read this blog sitting in the comfort of our room or maybe our office. Still we have so much to complain about and crib about. We are way too busy with ourselves to actually spare a thought for others. The poor limping man showed us how to care about another when it matters the most.
Lessons for me…I hope some work for you as well. There are many such stories all around us that we can draw something from. I needed to write these cause i felt like it. Three stories which i think have given me a lot. The least i can do is share them with all…….

(Thanks Shrey for these wonderful stories)

Sep 14, 2008

Ticket To Bollywood

In his book "In The Afternoon Of Time" Haribansh Rai Bachhcan recalls that on completion of wedding of Amitabh Bacchan and Jaya Bhaduri, Hari Bansh Rai Bachchan embraced Tarun Bhaduri (Jaya's father) and congratulated him on getting a son-in-law like Amit, expecting him to say the same in respect of Jaya. But he said, ‘My family is utterly ruined.’ Did Jaya recall it during  Abhishek Aishwarya marriage? Meanwhile the association with Bombay Film Industry continues.

amitabh-weddingBefore Mukesh Tiwari, Ashutosh Rana and Shawar Ali headed to Bollywood in the 90s to try their luck as actors, it were Jaya Bachchan, villain-turned-comic Sharad Saxena, Raza Murad and Zeenat Aman through the 70s and 80s who kept the Madhya Pradesh connection with the tinsel town alive. The famed duo of Saleem-Javed has its roots in Indore and Bhopal respectively. In fact Saleem Khan's all three sons-Salman, Arbaaz and Sohail were born in Indore though they relocated to the then Bombay at an early age. And an entire generation grew up on the stories of Ashok and Kishore Kumar's roots in Khandwa, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosale's in Indore, Raj Kapoor's in-laws in Rewa and Premnath's ownership of Empire Talkies in Jabalpur. Sagar-based Vitthal Bhai Patel's lyrics for Rishi Kapoor-Dimple starrer 'Bobby' are the stuff of local lore. And who can forget Saif Ali Khan and Soha Ali Khan's Bhopal link.

But these are faces seen on celluloid or voices heard on the background track. What about the invisible or unheard men and women who bring the entire production of a movie together, direct it from behind the camera and write its story, scripts and dialogues? Erstwhile Madhya Pradesh that included Chhattisgarh had some notable exports to Bollywood in these fields as well. Now, Rumi Jafry keeps that proud track record going. "God Tussi Great Ho' starring Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra released in August might have had a mixed record at the box office. It might have even been dismissed by the critics as a crude Indian take on the hit Hollywood movie 'Bruce Almighty' starring comedy superstar Jim Carey and Morgan Freeman. But it doesn't take away the fact that Jafry has established himself as a top writer-director in Bollywood. Jafry left his modest government quarter accommodation in Tulsi Nagar of Bhopal almost two decades back and has worked his way up the hard way even as part of his family continues to live in its modest home near the lower lake in the walled city.

Directing a star-studded cast that includes Big B and Salman Khan apart from Priyanka Chopra signals his arrival as a serious player near the top of the pile in the cut-throat world of Bollywood. Starting out as story, screenplay and dialogue writer, he was firmly entrenched in the David Dhawan camp, doing a dozen projects with the most successful purveyor of tamasha movies throughout the 90s. Jafry says, "It's been a mixture of hard work and luck. I am grateful for everything that I have today."

JP Chouksey, a noted film critic and himself a film writer and producer, most remarkably of Naseeruddin Shah-starrer `Shayad' and `Katl' Starring Sanjeev Kumar, says,"While Rumi has achieved commercial success as a director, his forte remains dialogue. His best perhaps came in Chalte Chalte, the Aziz Mirza film for which he wrote dialogues." The only other serious name from Madhya Pradesh currently in Bollywood as far as film direction goes is Sudhir Mishra, who spent his formative years in the university town of Sagar. While Jafry's and Mishra's vocations might be same, they inhabit different worlds altogether. Mishra is a critically-acclaimed director known for his alternative and arthouse cinema like 'Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin'. His latest venture was 'Khoya Khoya Chand' starring Soha Ali Khan. Mishra is the grandson of former chief minister, the late DP Mishra. It is a little known fact that DP Mishra was himself a serious player in the business and once owned his own production house Dhuandhar Productions.

Around the same time as Mishra's in the 60s, Chhattisgarh also had some serious players venturing out in Bombay. One of the most notable among them was Kishore Sahu, a producer-director and an actor most remembered for his performance as the cussed, jealous husband of Wahida Rehman in Dev Anand's immortal mega-hit `Guide'. However, the State's Bollywood connection dates much further back. In 1949, Gopikrishna Vijayvargiya, a native of Guna who later settled down in Indore, made a black and white movie `Preet Ka Geet' starring the vamp of yesteryear, 'Shashikala'.
The State's commercial hub Indore, in fact, has been an assembly line of movie producers. Even Lata Mangeshkar, the most phenomenal female voice ever in Bollywood, has produced a few films, the most successful being `Lekin' directed by noted writer, lyricist and director Gulzaar as also 'Jait Re Ja', directed by Dr. Jabbar Patel. Painter MF Hussain, who hails from Indore, has also tried his hand at movie production and direction with Madhuri Dixit starrer `Gajgamini' in the 90s that was nevertheless panned by critics and bombed at the box office.

The Nasaria family of Indore had produced a movie `Majboor Mashooq' during the silent era. The Williamson camera of 1917 make that was used to shoot the film is still preserved in working order by the family in Indore. Likewise, Chouksey points out, even the then ruling family of Indore, the Holkars, one of whose descendents is actor Vijayendra Ghatage, had tried their hand at movie finance as far back as 1922. The erstwhile Maharaja's sister was married to Indore businessman Boliya Sarcar, who produced Jehan Ara starring Meena Kumari and Pradeep Kumar and directed by Jaan Nisar Akhtar, father of Javed Akhtar. At the peak of Indore's connections with Bombay, there were many business and industrial families from the city financing movie projects. However, the trend declined once corporate finance became the order of the day around a decade years back.
Gwalior's connection to Bollywood may be limited but no less significant. Lyricist Javed Akhtar spent some of his childhood years in Gwalior before completing his graduation in Bhopal. One of the most stunning beauties to have appeared in a Bollywood film was Vanmala, the daughter of a high-ranking official in the erstwhile Gwalior state. Starring in Sohrab Modi's Sikandar, she also produced Marathi movie Shamchi Aai which won the first President's gold medal. However, she gave it all up to tend to her ailing parents and after their death, shifted to Vrindavan to take care of the diseased and the elderly.

From the days when such formidable lyricists as Kavi Pradeep, Sadanand Kirkire, Rahat Indori and Nida Fazli made their invaluable contribution to traditional movie-making, the movie business has seen directors exploring different themes. As a result, the likes of Mir Ranjan Negi, the hockey goalie from the doomed 1982 Asiad, have been able to provide technical inputs for superhits like Shah Rukh Khan starrer 'Chak De India' last year. As the business of infotainment expands with films at the top, the State could well see more of its names pop up on the marquee.
Earlier refrence to Bombay Film Industry.

Pic No 1 - Amitabh Bachchan at the wedding. 
Pic No 2 - Her classmate Mr. Javed Saeed Khan son of famous Bhopal poet and lawer Janab Akhtar Saeed Khan.

Pic No 3 - St Joseph's Convent she is sitting first row extreme right.
Pic No 4 - Jaya with her friends at Bhopal 
Pic No.5 - Her autographs to a classmate at SJC.
Received with thanks from Mr. Javed Chishti

Sep 1, 2008

The Unsafe Saif

In some of the country's Muslim pockets, the appointing of a woman as the custodian of a large religious trust would probably provoke not just raised eyebrows but loud disapproval. For a woman to oversee, even if in a strictly administrative sense, the doings of imams, muezzins and dargah-keepers and to supervise the upkeep of mosques and communal graveyards is far from common. The striking fact about Muslim Bhopal, traditional though it is in many ways, is how little unease there is at the idea of a woman becoming the naib mutawalli (deputy custodian) of the Auqaf-e-Shahi, which manages Bhopal's princely waqf properties, scattered in and around the city.

The trust, set up by the former royals of Bhopal - the family's current head, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, is its mutawalli (custodian) - is no hole-in-the-wall outfit. Under its umbrella are the city's main mosque, the impressive Jama Masjid, at least a dozen other mosques, a dargah, graveyards, agricultural land, shops and commercial spaces, and acres of prime land in the city centre. The trust also matters to Bhopal's Muslims for its role in facilitating the free stay of the city's Haj pilgrims in rest houses built by the Bhopal state's rulers in Mecca and Medina. For public tolerance and acceptance of her appointment, the woman in question, Pataudi's 31-year old daughter Saba Ali Khan, probably has to thank her ancestors, the formidable Begums of Bhopal. Sadly, they do not occupy much public wall space, or even, perhaps, mind space in a saffron city full of large hoardings of leaders of Madhya Pradesh's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. But the four Begums, Qudsia, Sikandar , Shahjehan and Sultan Jahan, who ruled between 1819 and 1926, in the face of staunch opposition from male claimants and powerful neighbours, have indelibly altered perceptions of what a Muslim woman can or cannot do, in this city. "Saba's appointment is not an issue. The present mutawalli is legally entitled to depute her as the naib mutawalli, and the Madhya Pradesh Waqf Act states that a woman can be a mutawalli. So we will permit it," says Ghufran Azam, president of Madhya Pradesh's Waqf Board. "Jab hukumat auraton ki thi, to waqf chalane mein kya dhikkat hai?" (When women ruled, what is the problem with them running waqf trusts?) asks BJP leader Anwar Mohammed Khan, chairman of the MP Minorities Commission.
The Begums are not the only reason why Saba's new role is not, in principle, objectionable to Bhopal's Muslims. The other B-factor is Bollywood. Saba's elder brother, actor Saif, would have been the obvious candidate for the job, but as a family acquaintance here put it, "Saif mian ghair auraton ke sath nachte hai, voh mutawalli kaise ban sakte hai." (You can't make a man who dances with strange women the custodian of a religious trust.) Saif's dad, chatting, in his laconic way, in his Delhi drawing room, put it differently: "My son is too busy and has no desire to leave Mumbai. My daughter is suitable for the job, and inclined to take it up.". Pressed to explain "suitable", the former cricketing hero tossed off a few phrases: "reasonably educated", "inclined towards religion", "fasts during Ramzan", and prays, even if "not five times a day". He was not looking for a successor in Saba, he added carefully, only a helper (though others suggest, that at nearly 70, he is clearly grooming her to inherit his ancestral obligations). Will she have to change herself for the job? "I didn't change," replied Pataudi, "why should she?" She would, he conceded, need to keep form. For example, wearing jeans in Delhi's Khan Market is alright, but not in Bhopal, where, he says, Saba would be expected to dress decorously, and perhaps even cover her head.

Stories of Saba's head-covered piety might surprise avid consumers of page three, who only know the jewellery designer as an adjunct to her glamorous parents and siblings, but they go down well in Bhopal. "She seems like a sweet, simple girl, and more religious-minded than her brother and sister; we expect her to do a good job," says Rifat Khan, a descendant of Bhopal's nobility who lives in a sprawling haveli in the old city; and who met Saba on one of her brief visits to the city.But it's a little more complex than that. When it comes to Bhopal, the Pataudis are insider-outsiders. They are insiders by virtue of their lineage (Pataudi's mother, Sajida Sultan, was the heir of the last nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan), but are largely perceived as outsiders because of a lack of engagement with the place. Rather than trying to preserve the best of their vast inheritance, they allowed it to fall into the hands of encroachers or sold it off, bit by bit, Bhopalis point out. (All the family owns now is a vaguely colonial-looking house, and that too is under litigation.)The religious trust is the family's only solid connection with a Bhopali past, but, say Pataudi's critics, he has largely preferred to run it by committee, rather than get involved in a tangible, hands-on way. The Pataudi children are strangers, even to remnants of the Bhopal nobility. "I have had a longer conversation with you today than I've ever had with any of them," said a relative of the former ruling family."Saba," observes Arif Hasan, executive editor of the city's respected Urdu paper, Daily Nadeem, "is a non-resident Bhopali". Running a trust that is currently besieged by encroachments, litigation and other controversies is a full-time job, he points out. "We are happy that she wants to do it, but she has to prove her credibility." Adds his wife, Rana Wali, who hails from the Muslim aristocracy, "When Nawab Pataudi took over from his mother as mutawalli, no choice was given, no questions were raised about how he should perform his role. But in a media age, questions will be asked. People have expectations."

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