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Armenia Turkey and Genocide

I am receiving many responses on my blog to the news that I intend to make a film on the Armenian Genocide.  Many different points of views. Many wanting to share experiences of their family members that told them stories of those times that  have been etched in their minds. Many different interpretations of history too.  So I am creating a stream on my blog for everyone to be able to respond to each other in series of what hopefully will turn out to be a a very very constructive conversation. Please feel free to respond to each other.

I start with a letter from Phillip Hagopian

Hi,
I am writing in response to an article about Mr. Kapur’s upcoming project concerning the Armenian Genocide. First one must consider that modern day Armenia is located in a strategic region ( borders Iran and close enough to Russian border to be of importance ) , furthermore it is a region imbued with controversy due to several influences attempting to monopolize academia and revise the long known facts of history. The article mentions that the Ottoman Turks victimized Armenians who had lived in Anatolia for “generations” after immigrating from the northeast ( incidentally that northeast region which is now modern day Armenia geo-political borders is a mere tiny fraction of what comprized Armenians very , VERY ancient motherland {13,500 B.C. oldest permanant settlement ever uncovered – Gobecki Tepe – built by Armenians ). Talaat pasha ( along with Djemal and Envers Pasha ) who spearheaded the official genocide in 1915 stated , “We will erase all trace and memory of Armenians from their ancient motherland”. My point is , we did NOT immigrate to Anatolia AFTER the Ottoman Empire began decimating our population 700 years ago. WE WERE ALWAYS THERE. Yes, we were indigenous to the region since before recorded history. The facts become slightly murky prior to 15,000 years ago but the most widely accepted version of our history( prior to the social-political-academic shifts after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. ) was that Armenians may have migrated from the Indus River valley between sixty and twenty thousand years ago however some archeologists and historians asserted that Armenoids had “always” been in the fertile crescent and trade and migration occured between India and Arratta ( Armenia’s older name ) back and forth over thousands of years ( there is a distinct linguistic connection between Sanskrit and Armenian language ) . My point is Armenia is now the subject of heated and controversial debate. Clearly there are motives for the propagandists to revise this history. This occurs mostly from Turkey and it’s allies but oddly enough the propagandists have now surfaced WITHIN ARMENIA in effect carrying out and fiinishing Talaat’s initiative to erase us from our motherland. We have suffered and still do suffer greatly from not only physical genocide and war but also cultural genocide from the misinformation and “sell-out” historians who betray a history which until very recently was firmly established. It is the same as claiming Native Americans sailed to America a few years AFTER the English landed in Plymouth harbor on the American coast. After all we have endured let the record PLEASE be set straight. We are the indigenous people not only of ALL of ancient Turkey , the fertile crescent , and the western part of the Persian gulf but also Northern Iran and Iraq. Later our kingdom expanded from the Meditteranean Sea to the Caspian ( 2000B.C. ) but never , NEVER were our people limited to the tiny northern region which is now the geo-political borders of modern tiny Armenia.I pray the principles of truth will prevail. Thankyou and good wishes on your very fine productions.”
Kindness .. by Eshla

It’s time to be nice.  Loosen those grumpy pants.  No need for them right now.  You can put them back on after January 1st.

It’s time to be jolly, a friend jokingly says to me.  “I love this time of the year.  You know why?  Because everyone is happy, finally!  They’re finally out of their cranky moods and are nice to strangers even.  Just think.”

Christmas has that effect.  At the holidays we have an epiphany and realize that we really should be nice to each other.  Shocking.

I wonder though why year round we don’t have that desire, why we don’t notice those around us, why we don’t say hello to the stranger, and most of all why we don’t even share those small acts of kindness with our loved ones.  But once a year, we plow through packed parking lots and a thicket of shoppers to get a trinket that will embody our kindness and love for a dear friend or family member.

“My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness,” is what the Dalai Lama famously uttered.  And he said, “Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.”  Now he has been quoted endlessly for this simple thought.  But it’s true.  It’s always possible – not just every December.  Above the other paths we follow, be it religion, profession, vocation, we should consider kindness.

Even ancient thinkers such as Aristotle wrote of a selfless kindness that supersedes your needs for other’s needs.  Nietzsche referred to kindness, which is the premise of love, as one of the “most curative herbs and agents in human intercourse.”  But, really this is not rocket science.  As we know kindness begets kindness.

And no, this is no hokey pokey Miss World speech.  But as many philosophical and spiritual texts tell us, the thoughts that we have form who we are: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”  So kind thoughts form a more empathetic soul.

That’s why it’s imperative: for us to be happy spirits and live in a community that works, that’s interlinked.  Those kind souls then look at the world with a different lens: they are more gentle towards the earth, towards their bodies, and towards those around them.

The grudges that we hold year-round, the frustrations that eat us and fray our hairs into gray strands, the disputes that we refuse to compromise on, the situations that we resist to look at from another angle –  they all eat away that kindness.  Yet, the only thing that can diffuse them is kindness.

As I smacked golf balls on the range last week for the first time (an exercise largely to amuse myself and my instructor), my instructor said something simple but kind: “We’re all fragile.”  Hence, a dose of kindness is essential, not just the polite thing to do it.  Or as Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

After the horrific incident in Newton earlier this week, NBC journalist Ann Curry threw out this idea – why not we counter the sad and ruthless event with acts ofkindness.   Quickly the message spread on Twitter and a new hashtag was eating up the Twitter feed: #26Acts.    And folks on Twitter began sharing kind ideas.   Since Sunday, almost 200,000 messages about this wave of goodwill have appeared on social media, coming from places far as Afghanistan, Russia, and Finland.  Words translated into action, smacking down barriers.

 

Kindness echoes, unites, forgives, pacifies, and nurtures.  It’s a rather universal medicine not just for others but for ourselves.  It reminds us that we’re part of something bigger.  The key is to be kind at the core, not just on the surface.  Empty words of kindness are about as nice as stale fruitcake.

 

So, consider retiring those grumpy pants this year.

To love till it hurts ? : By Eshla

LOVE:

It’s that time of the year when everyone remembers their so-called “loved ones.” They equip them with mementos, gifts, christmas parties – all in celebration of their love for one another. But, it’s only fleeting. Just a few weeks of joy, mirth, and gaiety.

But isn’t love a bit more?

Love is to let go, I’ve been told. Love is to let be, I’ve been told. Love is to endure hardships, I’ve been told. But, if there is so much angst and heartache, then why do we choose to love? Or is that so few love to this extent?

There is the famous saying by Mother Theresa that if you love until it hurts, it doesn’t hurt anymore, for it’s there only that you find more love.

But do we really retain the capacity to love to that depth? We’re a generation and a world clogged by the daily clutter of life, the daily “busyiness” of life, that our love only seems to surface when we can accommodate it or when an emergency strikes. If we are such rational creatures, driven by schedules, real-world demands, and the practicalities of life, do we have space for such raw emotion?

Is it naive to think that love of such a nature still exists?

Love has been captured in great epic novels, in larger-than-life cinema, in the intensity of celebrated paintings, but is it still there, lingering somewhere in the mundane corners of life now? Do we still have the patience to wait, like the great heroes of these stories, to endure – for the one we love?

But what is the reward in loving to this extent? An old chinese saying says that it’s in being deeply loved that we find strength, and it’s in loving someone deeply you find courage. It’s a paradox in many ways -you love to find comfort and support, but to love is to take a leap of faith.

Perhaps it’s idealistic, immature, romantic, escapist to believe that love of such grandeur still exists. But, then I wonder, if it doesn’t, is our purpose in life merely to fulfil a series of endless tasks, that too on a daily basis. Then what satisfaction do we get? Maybe I’m flawed. Maybe I don’t find that satisfaction anymore in the rationality of life, maybe I crave for emotions that are too risque to find in our modern, conservative society.

And yet, the hunger for love seems to be greater than the hunger for bread. I’m told repeatedly that are many unhappy wealthy people in the world – they found riches, but never unconditional love.

So does it still exist? That pure, simple love – the one that dwells in a man’s heart, deep in his soul, the one that makes him yearn for his loved one when she’s not there, the one that makes him stop in his day, and say something meaningful to her, the one that is celebrated everyday, not just on a holiday, the one that is not about convenience or comfort but a raw desire?

For me, I became passionate about writing because it was a means to express, a means to share with humanity your angers, frustrations, and galvanize change. It is a career built on love – it’s foolish to believe that you can ever fill your belly with that kind of writing. Words that are free, honest, brutal, and humble do not have a price. It’s only the words that are tailored, adjusted, accommodated for by other opinions that have a price. But then, they are no longer pure, raw, or unconditional.

Love is similar, for me. As I look ahead, I find myself at a crossroads – do I invest myself and my time in my so-called “work” or in love, in relationships with people that have depth? To answer the question, “So what do you want to do when you grow up?”

I want to love. I don’t know if I have the capacity to do so. I don’t know if I have the patience to do so. But I want to try.

For it’s only the few fleeting moments of love that have made me feel alive, have made me feel worthwhile, have helped me find peace. No check, no podium, no laurel, no honor has given me that feeling.

That’s why I’d like to believe, deep within my being, that life is designed to feel the complexities of love. Even if it’s old-fashioned. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s not the norm today.

Because love is built on two, not one. And that’s what life is about – us, not me.

Eshla : Can we imagine a world not dictated by money?

Can we imagine a world that is not dictated by money? Money makes the world go ’round, that’s what we’re told repeatedly.

Every story I find myself covering, I find the root cause goes back to money. Follow the money trail, I’ve been taught, and the picture will become clearer.

For a company to become more “social,” we must identify ways that it can help the poor, but also make money. A government can become accountable, transparent and efficient, but to do so it will have to forgo bribes and corruption — not possible given the fat wallets that corporate executives and government officials carry.

The traditional philanthropists, who are often so revered, are those who reap loads, and then give loads. They must accrue too much, excess, so much that they feel the need to return it.

Today, the emphasis is on using business for social impact. There are endless conferences, where CEOs, heads of marketing, heads of sustainability discuss how their companies are trying to do some good in the world. Perhaps. But I’m a bit skeptical.

I don’t understand one thing. A company must sell sugar-laden water to make millions, or billions, before feeling the need to address water woes in the developing world? Wouldn’t the more sustainable option be — don’t drink sugary water to begin with and save all that water, plastic and waste?

But wait, then the company wouldn’t exist, right? Because the most sustainable option is not have it to begin with. In business speak, what is the “value added” of that company? While some do have that function, offering a useful service or a quality product to society, more and more companies seem to be offering us unhealthy things to eat.

Yet, the same companies are pursuing new “social” agendas, driving “change” and “innovation” in business. Really?

The most innovative idea might be to scrap certain institutions that plague the environment and our bodies. But, money is stopping us.

Why do we have such rigid divisions between the sectors — the public, the private and the not-for-profit? If the private is destroying our public space, if the not-for-profit is doing the job of the public, and the public is relying on the private to finance itself — then are they really so divided? Wouldn’t it be better to have a world that works in unison, in sync with each other, not in endless competition with each other.

A not-for-profit is told that it’s not contributing to the economy. Why? Because it doesn’t generate money. But, it wouldn’t need to exist if the economy worked properly, if the institutions that were created to service our “needs” truly did so.

And yet, often, it’s the not-for-profits that are truly adding to the economy — they’re the ones helping the disabled, the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, making them not just a part of society, but also the economy.

Essentially, the money trail reveals a very interconnected world — but sometimes not in the best kind of interconnectedness.

For instance, we have recognized as a society that we have some serious health issues. Simply put, we are a bit chubby. And we see that now. The media have told us repeatedly. And yet, barring the work of the third sector and civil society, what changes are we making to build a healthier society?

The White House has a lovely little garden — a nice symbol of a more earthy nation. But the inner workings of the Capitol are a bit more complex than the vegetable patch. That patch is not going to fix the country’s obesity problem. It’s merely a gesture, a model for others to pursue.

But the halls of the Capitol are endless money chains, feeding obesity by fueling segments of our agriculture. That (unhealthy) agriculture is then feeding us — and often with overly processed foods. (Food for thought: Why are wheat berries more expensive than plain, white, enriched, bleached flour? They don’t require any processing.)

Massive distribution networks are corroding our food supply with unnecessary additives, preservatives and processes. The most sustainable (and common sense) option would be to source from local purveyors, farms and food artisans.

But that would end corporate agriculture. It would entail choking the money supply, feeding corporate ag. Is that possible? Because our representatives are connected to these money trails? Would they challenge it if it meant choking their own source of finance?

At one point the money trail used to be shorter, with fewer twists and turns. Buy from the mom-and-pop shop, the small businesses that dotted American towns, and the money would go from the customer to the vendor and perhaps, back into the community.

Today’s money trail is more complex. And even the so-called brilliant economists can’t seem to wrap their heads around it. But that money trail, be it virtual or tangible, is at the core of many social issues (not just political and economic).

The question now is, as a friend put it, “The question of money is a question of ethics. Are we ever going to say, ‘That’s enough money for me. I don’t need more. Rather I need to share it with others’?”

Because, even to do some good in the world today, you need money. It’s not a dirty thing. But can it be sullied. And it is being sullied given the stark inequalities that face our society and the global society. Can we end this? No, probably not. Can we improve it? Absolutely.

Gandhi, Gandhiji or Mahatma Gandhi ?

So what does Gandhi mean to the world, to India and specially to us, who are born in India and brought up to almost worship him. We tagged him with the prefix ‘Mahatma’ with has mythic and religious symbolism.

And there lies the problem. We have such a wonderful way to consign a life to a figure to be worshipped on the mantle piece and thereby distancing ourselves from him . No longer do we feel the pangs of guilt of not being able to imbibe values of another human being simply because, after all,  he/she are no longer human beings but Gods to be worshipped, aren’t they ?

After all, just think of the massive corrupt deals being made in rooms and offices where a huge picture of Gandhiji hangs from the wall.

I have struggled a lot to distance myself from the word Mahatma. Not easy when the greatest heroes in my eductaion system were Bapuji and Chacha Nehru.  I have got over Chacha Nehru as I have grown up. Recognizing the incongruity of Panchsheel and Bandung Conference by studying the dictatorial lives of his comrades like Sukarno of Indonesia and Nasser of Egypt. And wondered on what basis Nehru chose his non – aligned friends.

The more I learn about the Partition of India, the more I realize that Chacha Nehru too, was as complicit in that horrendous event as was Jinnah. It was after all, the battle to be the first Prime Minister of India that laid the tragedy of partition at the feet of personal ambition.  The huge public sector projects that ultimately were doomed to be hot beds of inefficiency and corruption. The tragedy of the War with China that Chacha Nehru refused to face up to, despite repeated warnings form his military chiefs. Refusing to believe that his charisma and diplomatic skills were not enough to prevent China from dealing a devastating blow to India’s ill equipped armed forces at the cost of thousand of lives.  Of soldiers sent directly to battle to a terrain and weather that would need months of training to exist in.

So many soldiers just froze to death in their bunkers.

Yet Chacha Nehru did have vision. And used the force of his personality to get his way.  He did see India in its modern traditions long before anyone else did.  He did foresee the need for education and formed the IIT’s that gave rise to the beginnings of pride in being Indian in the modern world and made the world suddenly wake up to modern India.  India and the world saw Nehru as India, and India as Nehru.

The problem was Chacha Nehru too, saw Nehru as India and India as Nehru.  Something his daughter inherited to devastating effect.

It has been less easy for me to drop the mantle of hero worshipping Gandhiji. Yes there are rumors of him sleeping naked with his nieces to prove himself celibate, Stories I think are exaggerations. Yes he was a mule of man. Obstinate to a fault. Like all men like him, including Nelson Mandela, who’s obstinacy destroyed their immediate family.

Yet it was this obstinacy that that brought the British down to their knees. Of course the British were wounded and limping after the war and could no longer hold on to a huge colony like India if it rebelled. But Gandhi used yet unknown tools of political warfare to ferment one of the most famous freedom struggles in the world.

It is said that no one understood the roots of India more than Gandhi.  That’s absolutely true. But no one understood the roots of the great British Empire and world politics more than Gandhi. I will never forget the picture of Gandhi entering the British Parliament in his white Dhoti in a sea of black suits and very British dresses. Being applauded by the very people he was causing Indians to rebel against.

Gandhi has the sharpest political mind of the modern history because he understood the value of myth. He created a mythology that was Gandhi in the world of politics that was mysterious, unfathomable and unshakable. In his own lifetime. That in itself was amazing.

To Indians he created a figure that came right out of the roots of India’s culture. The worship of sacrifice. Of ‘Tyag’. He became the epitome of ‘Tyag’, the giving up of all worldly addictions, material or personal. Whether he deliberately created himself into that myth, or he deeply believed in those values will always be a mystery. Thats what Myths are.

Yes. Gandhi was once a bit of a Anglophile. You can tell by the way he dressed before he gave up Western clothes. He aspired to be at the bar at London. You can tell by the way he wrote his letters, even signing himself off as ‘your sincere friend’ to Hitler!  I will never work out why he did that.

Yes there is a really amazing picture of a very young Gandhi, proudly posing in the clothes of a British soldier as he serves in the British army in the medical corps during the Boer War. Yes, it is possible that the Gandhi the world knows was born of a personal feeling of insult and humiliation by the British in South Africa, that ultimately led to a wider national and international perspective. But that’s the story of all great revolutionaries and freedom fighters.

But try as hard as I can I cannot easily shake of Gandhiji as one the greatest human beings that lived in the 20th century. And a man (not the picture on the mantlepiece) that needs to be studied, understood and learnt from. His perspective and knowledge on India economics are now abundantly clear to us from the mistakes we have made in the last 65 years. Gandhiji always insisted that true India lived in its villages and that economic prosperity and wealth should grow from grass roots by encouraging enterprise and innovation in those grass roots levels.

And today, six decades after independence,  as India struggles to come to terms with its vast inequalities and the world writes reams of books on ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and economic planners struggle with how to encompass a billion people into the new economic order, it will be well worth today, the day of Gandiji’s birth, or Gandhiji Jayanti, to stand up and say :

Gandhiji warned us so.

 

Sanctity of Silence by Eshla

So many of us revel when it rains so we can enjoy the scent of the earth.  So many of us like to rest our soles on wet blades of grass.  So many of us enjoy the beauty of the morning fog.  So many of us like to shop from the earth, not from fluorescent- lit supermarkets.

We are not new-age hippies.  Nor are we Greenpeace volunteers.  We’re simply enjoying a life void of advertisements, marketing, and white noise.  Silence – in its many forms- is a religion.  And a growing one from what I gather.

This week, I was asked by a friend, “Are we saturated?”  And he wasn’t referring to torrential rains.  Yet, I wasn’t sure what to answer.  Personally, yes, I feel that we’re saturated in marketing.  (For others, that may not hold true.)

But markets thrive on marketing.  Sounds ridiculously obvious.  But in some form or another, marketing is essential to growth – be it on nifty little “smart” tablets or by word of mouth.  We must publicize ourselves, our work, our companies, our ideas, our “brand” to stir some interest.  We must do so with ingenuity, creativity, and vigor.  The better we market, the more growth we’re expected to see, the more customers that will trickle, the more inquiries that we will receive.  It’s a rather exponential exercise, if done correctly.

Yet, the question came up again, “Is it possible that we’ve marketed the heck out of everything –  even the so-called “good” deeds that we do in the world”?

As I’ve become more and more involved in development projects over the years, I’ve seen the same need to pronounce one’s self in places of social service.  It may be the certificate you receive, the medal that you’re bestowed, or the placard that’s placed on your behalf at a hospital ward, school, religious site, etc.

There is this need to make a mark – in a very literal sense.  For those who come later, they should know who was kind enough to bestow this school to the needy, who was generous enough to finance these surgeries…you get the idea.  It is a different arm of marketing – not to increase sales, but to build a “brand” of charity, generosity, and service.

As a writer who focuses on stories around social impact, I often find that when I speak with some young social entrepreneurs, I hear more about them and less about the work that they do.  There is a selling of the brand, as much as it is about the good work being done.

That’s why I was delighted to meet a friend who recently said – let’s do this project but I don’t want any proof that I was behind it.  It’s a rather old-fashioned expression of anonymity in a world of hyper-tweeting, facebooking, social media-ed charities.

He was a young man, as well, one who had recently seen success with a business venture.  He had means to spread that wealth.  He had a desire to do it for the rest of his life.  But he really didn’t want anyone to know.  He wanted to see results; he wanted transparency and assurance, just like any other donor.   But he wanted to be silent, literally invisible.

It was a refreshing voice to hear, a reminder for me of how I was raised- do what’s needed but don’t speak of it unless necessary.  To discuss social issues is another matter, and a vital one to propel change.

But, pins, placards, proofs of good citizenry are a nice gesture; yet, I’ve always wondered, “Why?”

For those in the for-profit world, it’s critical to make noise.  That’s how one builds an income.  (Even that I feel has hit new heights these days with the endless surveys, mobile advertising, emails, and in your face ads).

But when it comes to good citizenship, be it local or global, can we do it in silence?  Can we not avoid the ceremonial dinners, the patting on the back, the formalities?  Can we not use those funds to help more folks, support more causes?  Can we not raise more funds without the “wining and dining?”  Can we not leave the “rewards” programs to the cafes, shops, and movies?

Perhaps, I’m wrong.  But I’ve grown to revere those who can remain quiet in a very noisy world.

Truth behind filming of ‘Innocence of Muslims’ from duped supporting actress

Everyone who wishes to find out the truth about the movie now known as the Innocence of Muslims, please read the letter below. I, Anna Gurji, as one of the supporting actresses in the film will share with you what really happened.

A year ago, in the summer of 2011, I submitted my materials to various projects on the Explore Talent web-site. I received a call from the casting director of the movie “Desert Warrior”, and my audition date was scheduled. I auditioned for the role of Hilary. Several days later, I was informed that I got a callback. I did the callback. Several days later, I was informed that I landed the role of Hilary in the movie called “Desert Warrior”.

The filming of the movie was done in August of 2011. We were filming the movie in a studio warehouse with a green screen in Duarte, CA. The project was a low budget, independent feature movie.

The filming of the movie was beginning soon after the day I was told I got a role. The script was not sent to me. When I got to the set, I was merely provided with the scenes my character was in.

I did not consider this to be an unusual thing, seeing as I have had an experience with something like this before. I did a movie once where the script was written in a foreign language and only my parts were translated into English and accordingly, I was provided with my scenes only. Having experienced that, I thought the same thing was happening with “Desert Warrior”. Aware of the fact that the supposed producer and the script-writer of the movie (known as Sam Bassil) was a foreigner (thanks to his accent), I thought that the original script was written in his native tongue and that not all scenes were translated into English. Also, the filming dates of the movie had to be rescheduled last minute to fit my schedule (I had other films to do right after the “Desert Warrior” outside CA). Because of this rushed rearrangements, I thought that the production first forgot and then did not consider it necessary to send me the script, and again – I did not find this unusual, since I knew what role I had, I knew about my character and I knew about the story of the film.

My character Hilary was a young girl who is sold (against her own free will) by her parents to a tribe leader known as GEORGE. She is one of his (most likely, the youngest) brides in the movie.

The film was about a comet falling into a desert and different tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it for they deemed that the comet possessed some supernatural powers.

The movie that we were doing in Duarte was called “Desert Warrior” and it was a fictional adventure drama. The character GEORGE was a leader of one of those tribes fighting for the comet.

There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set. I am hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the US artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this “Desert Warrior”.

The atmosphere at the set was as friendly as possible. We all knew that we were doing an adventure drama for a very low budget financing. The director Alan Roberts even had plans that with this low budget product he would be able to get some more money to make a good quality version (by shooting it in the real desert and having better product in every category) of the “Desert Warrior”.

I had interactions with the man known as Sam Bassil on the set. He was very amiable, respectful, soft-spoken, always making sure that the filming was running smoothly and everyone was satisfied. He even told me the premiere of the movie was going to happen sometime soon and I would get a good amount of tickets to invite my friends and family.

I have never been informed about the premiere after that (if it ever happened) and have not seen the final product (if there is any, except for the short one that is uploaded online).

People ask what’s my reaction after seeing that.

Shock.

Two hours after I found out everything that had happened I gave Inside Edition an interview, the duration of which I could not stop crying.

I feel shattered.

People who were tricked into believing that we were making an adventure drama about a comet falling into a desert did nothing but take part in a low budget indie feature film called the “Desert Warrior” that WAS about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it.

It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all. It’s painful to see people being offended with the movie that used our faces to deliver lines (it’s obvious the movie was dubbed) that we were never informed of, it is painful to see people getting killed for this same movie, it is painful to hear people blame us when we did nothing but perform our art in the fictional adventure movie that was about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it, it’s painful to be thought to be someone else when you are a completely different person.

Like I explained to Inside Edition, I feel awful.. I did not do anything but I feel awful.

I feel awful that a human being is capable of such evil. I feel awful about the lies, about the injustice, about the cruelty, about the violence, about the death of innocent people, about the pain of offended people, about the false accusations.

I don’t know what else to do but speak the truth. I will not go into hiding (when I have nothing to hide), because if we don’t speak the truth, there is no world worth living for.

grew up in Georgia Republic (ex-Soviet Union), I have witnessed the strikes, protests, demonstrations, injustice, cruelty, violence in my life. I was there during the war between Russia and Georgia, sleeping in outdoor clothes and packed backpacks waiting to be bombed. And I left my country, knowing that there was no future for a film actress there (seeing as the film industry is still in the process of recovery after the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Why did I want to pursue acting? I had a role in a short film when I was thirteen. There was a scene in the movie, where my beggar character and my character’s blind father were thrown off the bridge by police officers. During the filming of the scene, I was attacked by a huge lump in my throat, witnessing what the police were doing to my blind father. I wanted to cry, but knowing that my blind father would worry about me if he heard me cry, I swallowed the lump and stayed strong and did my best to defend him against the injustice. Experiencing the magic of acting (losing yourself into the character) was what had me fall in love with the craft. After a long journey and fighting to somehow get to the States, I managed to come here with my mother.

It’s so difficult for an actor (especially the one from a foreign country) to begin a career. People think that once you are in the States, you have all the doors opened before you. It’s not so. It’s very difficult to join the union, to get an agent, to lose your accent and to land roles if you don’t have connections. For four years I have been struggling to slowly move ahead and not give up. A year ago, when I got the supporting role in this indie feature film “Desert Warrior”, I was so excited.

I don’t understand why was this happened to me, when all I wanted to do was pursue my acting career.

I have to admit I wanted to pursue my acting career because I loved the process of transformation into a different character – a selfish reason.

A few months ago, I just finished writing a script with my father about world peace, which helped me understand something – forgive and care for your enemy. Then, I understood that there is a bigger reason for acting. When we act, we help people see all different characters that exist. When people see about all these different characters, they start to understand them. When they understand all these different characters, they come close to accepting them. When they come close to accepting them, they come close to being united. And when they come close to being united, they come close to loving and helping each other.

I was thinking about something a week ago. We are like cells in the body of Earth. Why won’t we work together and support each other instead of killing and destroying each other. If cells kill each other, eventually the body will die. By always speaking the truth and supporting the world peace, I hope we will be able to save the Earth from dying.. someday.

Growing up in a family that was extremely open-minded and respectful to all the differences in the world (all the religions) and growing up peacefully with people with so many different religions around me, it is devastating for me to have my face put into something that is completely opposite of what I believe in.

I want to send my condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Everything happens for a reason, they say. I believe this is a trap of evil to separate us from our humanity. We must stray strong and not forget that violence has not been able to get us anywhere spiritually and has not been able to make the world a better place. Understanding and love will.

 

 

 

The Wallah’s in my life

I saw my fisherwoman (machchiwali)  first 25 years ago.

Early in the morning she was running on the Juhu beach in Mumbai, sari and all, balancing the basket of fresh fish on her head that was tilted at a slightly awkward angle – probably the best way to balance the uncertain load on her head. I was told by her later (as she would deliver fish to my doorstep), that she ran to be able to get the fish to her customer in the freshest state possible. But I guess also to beat the competition. Over the years every time I got to the beach in the morning at the right time – I would see her run with the catch that just came off the fishing boats. How does she keep that fit, I thought ? And then a couple of years ago, I would never see her again. I wondered if she now had a different beat. Or something had happened to her.

Then today I saw her again. I asked her why she did not run on the beach any more and she showed me her swollen foot and leg. I asked her what was wrong, and she laughed and said “Age, Baba” something you would not know about yet (as if !). The she introduced me to her daughter who now does the same run. Anyway I wished her well and left. Later this evening she and her daughter turned up at my apartment in Juhu fully dressed up. They had cooked for me ! The most delicious Soorma Fish Curry you could have. And enough to feed me and many of my friends in an impromptu dinner party I quickly arranged.

Pity that we are losing these friends to the Super markets and soon to Foreign Retail Brands.  Over the 20 years I have visited Mumbai off and on, I have had the same Milkman ( who beat me at football on the beach and would drag me to his house every festival for his mother to feed me to extinction), the son of the same fruit seller who’s charming negotiating skills taught me a thing or two of how to negotiate with Studio heads in Hollywood. And the family of the same sabzi wallah. I even have the same Bai who comes searching for me always to see if I am back. She has a bad back so I tell her to stay at home and I pay her salary in any case. But she insists on coming and supervising the cleaning of the house by a new, younger Bai. “This is my house”, she says proudly” Your mother employed me and only she can ask me to stop”. Well, my mother passed away many years ago, so I guess the Bai is here to stay.

And then I have Suresh who follows me around the world insisting that I need someone to look after me. he has been doing that for almost 15 years now. When in London, his cooking skills made me the most popular person in London. Friday nights in my house in London would be famous as Fish Curry nights – where Suresh would cook up the most amazing food for 30/40 people. If you want Suresh to go into deep colours of red, ask him to show you his picture with ‘Cate Memsahib’, where Cate Blanchet has her arms around Suresh and planting a firm kiss on his cheek. As a thank you for all the meals he fed her during the Golden Age shoot.

The other day the son of the Fruit Seller heard I was in town and came to say hello. He told me his story of woe. The police will not let them put out stalls in the street anymore, the shops are too expensive and the supermarkets are eating into their business. But they are now hitting back back with technology. Mobile phones !
Now I have everyone’s mobile phones. And if I am flying back from New York, I can phone my Fish seller, My fruit seller, my Vegetable vendor and my Bai – all of them a day ahead and tell them exactly what I need delivered to my doorstep as I arrive.

I hope the supermarkets and FDI in retail do not drive these people out of business. I grew up with them, as I am sure many of you did.

I am just so middle class

I am just so middle class.

Middle class is not always is a monetary judgement. Middle class is  how you think, feel and make judgements about other people, but mostly about yourself.  Middle class in India is a mindset. A mindset that looks for stability over enterprise. Continuity over change. A fear of that which could cause society to change.

Middle class is a fear of borrowing money. An arrogance of being debt free. Middle Class mindsets is what banks survive on. Taking low interest interest deposits from middle class mindsets, offerring them a false sense of security, and lending to those not imprisoned by the middle class mind set. Never mind that they would never pay it back.

I have always been Middle Class and struggled with it. For a while after the success of my films I flirted with the elite. I felt like the ball in the Pin Ball machine, bounced by one elitist group to another , unable to settle, and finally thrown back to where I belong. Mostly because inside me I felt I did not deserve it. Middle Class meant that you did not deserve to be extraordinary.

That was certainly true in my generation. We still meet and talk about how the nation has changed for the worse. Moralizing at those who, rightly or wrongly, morally or otherwise, proved to be game changers.  In houses priced so far out of the range of anything we could afford now. For our parents built those houses when land was cheap and the speculators and real estate companies had not stepped in.  At that time having house simply meant that. I cannot remember talk about increase in property value and assets.

The middle class. It meant knowing you were consigned to a high moral ground but otherwise to ordinariness. That you would forever be a job seeker than a job creator.  That job creators in India were those that has thrown caution and morality to the winds. And actually turned out to be your employers !  Yet middle class meant seeking jobs in foreign multinationals, for their sins were unknown to you. They happened so far away that you assumed those sins did not exist.

 Middle Class also meant a certain frugality. The Mochi came to repair your shoes, and you did not own more than a couple of pairs a year. You were not expected to. Too many clothes were considered flashy and consigned to the so called business community.  In fact the business community was not even allowed to join the Delhi Gymkhana Club. Not till they became so rich that they bought their way in and pushed the Middle Class out !  The middle classes that rose in protest with Anna Hazare, were finally responding to the frustration of the nation changing beyond their comprehension.

I still struggle against my own middle class mindset.

Creativity to me is always a struggle to break my middle class boundaries and barriers.  When I look back at Masoom, I realize that I was looking at my middle class moralities. I did not even realize it then.

And I am writing this from Venice, where I am the Chairman of one of the Juries of the film festival. See how strong the middle class mind set is ? For I am not sure I deserve being here.

I am sure hundreds will disagree with me, as they should. For I hope they are right. But I do ask them.  Why is it that middle class boys and girls that went overseas were more prone to become entrepreneurs  and game changers than those that never left the shores of India ? Would I ever have had the courage to break the shackles of being middle class if I had not gone to London to study ?  Would I never have become a director if I stayed back in India ?

Who knows, but its a question I always ask myself

My carcass in the Holy Ganges

You dont have to read this one, but I had to record it as I felt it.

On my twitter someone directed me to pics that churned my senses, but also caused me to question myself. I was going to retweet them. But stopped myself. Why am I damming others to spend a night awake trying to push those images out of your mind ?

The pictures were on a Chinese blog and talked about what a dirty country India was. My shackles were up immediately. Its fine for us to criticize our own, but when others do so, you throw a protective blanket around yourself and all that you consider yours.

The pics were horrendous. Most of them of dead human carcasses floating in the Ganges at various states of decay. I spent a some time wondering what word to use here. First I wrote ‘bodies’. But that is still a human term. Its almost what is left behind whole when we die. Or life leaves us. It is still in a state of preservation. Something to be revered in its last rites, before we bury, burn, throw to the vultures etc.

Or in this case just float way in India’s holiest river.  The Ganga.

I then wrote the word corpse. Yet a corpse too is something respectful. Usually used in wartime. Or in urban warfare. Or in police files in cases of murder. These were just rotting human carcasses. Some in such states of decay that even the most terrifying images in horror films would be no match for these.

All floating by people on boats.  By children swimming. By people bathing and even drinking from the holy waters of the Ganga. As the bloated carcasses drifted slowly by. Often with crows and other birds of prey pecking at the flesh that remained. Often with the intestines out being dragged along. Mostly with eyes and a lot of flesh ripped out or simply rotted away.  Sorry to be so explicit but I promise you words mean nothing if I showed you the pictures.

My first reaction was disgust. The whole psyche revolted. The words came screaming up. Unhygienic. Uncivilized. Followed very closely by extreme anger.

What is wrong with us ? How can we let this happen ? Why are we so uncivilized and dirty. How can people, my people,  even swim, bathe, drink from the waters with these …. these … things go by. I looked again and again. Getting angrier and angrier. More and more disgusted.

Till I questioned myself. What revolted me more ? Yes matters of hygiene, cleanliness, civilization, pollution, respect for the human body etc etc. But was there something deeper ?

Was I looking at true images of the reality of  my own mortality ?  I always imagine my mortality as event. Funeral pyre. Chanting priests etc etc, but often take it further into spiritual ethereality. Ideas encompassing Vedantic philosophies of the body being just an appendage. Of all of life being a mere illusion. Of ‘Time’ never beginning and never ending. Of consciousness being eternal and the true self.

Yes. I have indulged. I have believed. I still do.

But what my whole being was screaming at was me looking at these rotting carcasses , intestines splayed out, half the face missing, bloated out of shape, and visualizing myself. This was ultimately my body/carcass. May just as well be.  Casually floating by as life goes on. People praying, swimming, traveling on boats, laughing, bathing as my body/carcass floated by unnoticed.  The casualness of it was unacceptable.

But then Death is casual. These were not bodies of people caught in a war zone, or in concentration camp. These were bodies/carcasses of people trapped in the ordinariness of life. And of Death. And that overwhelming feeling of panic is what I wanted to always remember. So I put it down in all honesty.

And then I realized. I , who speak about life and death in so many philosophical terms. Have written words and poems about them. I have yet not been able to come to terms with the ordinariness of Mortality.

That my perception of the carcass/body should be no different from that of a leaf that is drying and about to be crushed back into the earth. Why do I see one as beauty and the other with disgust, other than for reasons of my addiction to my body ?

I will still fight for the Ganga to be cleaned. For bodies not to be thrown into the river. For pollution to be stopped. For standards of hygiene to be raised. Even as I know that the people that are throwing the body into the Holy River are doing so because they are unable to afford firewood for the funeral.

I will fight, but knowing that in its most confrontational avatar, the Holy Ganges gave me lesson. About my addiction to my body, and the fear of its decay,