The ‘Wallah’s’ in my life or when Cate Blanchet kissed Suresh

machichi wali.jpg
I saw the woman in glasses (on the left) 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 (in the picture) 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. 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 do not drive these people out of business. I grew up with them, as I am sure many of you did.

Water : It’s the new Power

Watch this video , and guess what the story of Paani is ? The last statement in the video is a hint. It’s not the money – it’s the Power. That’s where we are heading – a world where Water is power – and Power corrupts. Of course.

President Obama sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan

.. and what are they going to achieve that the existing 70,000 foreign troops did not ? President Obama is giving into the hawks within the US armed forces. The promise of withdrawal in 2011 is merely a way of softening the blow by a man that is about to get a Nobel Price for peace, and one of the most promising Messiah’s of international politics in recent times, who is in affect ramping up the war levels in a foreign country.
Problem with fighting in Afghanistan is that there are no goal posts that could define either victory or achievement. Over two centuries of warfare and imperialists games in Afghanistan has left a people unable to create a comprehensive and consolidated Nation state. To impose a centralized government where both loyalties and power actually lie with Tribal leaders is bound to lead to what looks like a corrupt government to us. Government by who’s authority ? For without the support of the tribal leaders no government in Afghanistan can function, and their support has to bought or fought for.
Al Qaeda (if there is a central organizations by that name any more) would actually welcome the additional force. For their target is not Afghanistan but Pakistan. They see both countries as one territory for them to control. And the greater the number of US forces in Afghanistan, the greater their ’cause’ and the ability to recruit in Pakistan.
It’s Pakistan that needs to be protected now. Their army has ambivalent attitudes, many privately supporting the fundamentalist. And the greater the number of US troops, the greater their support. The fall of Pakistan to fundamental forces has huge implications for India, yes. But also to the whole world. A Pakistan with a democratic state and a healthy economy is the biggest bulwark against fundamentalist threats both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.
As I have said often in this blog. Pakistan could be turning into President Obama’s Vietnam. And e should take a leaf from the post war history of Vietnam. What ultimately led to conflict resolution is trade and economic growth.


raging mixed feelings,
giving in
to the schizophrenia of the contradictions
of existence,
of reality, desire, fulfilment and non fulfillment,
of confusion, desperation, and joy,
give into all intellectual and emotional sensation
and then try like hell not to drown
those desperate strokes of survival sometimes –
and then only sometimes
have a pattern
which, if you can
through all this,
and discipline
in to cogent cohesive thought
is creativity

‘Mental illness” and Conciousness : a personal study

This is a letter from Hugh, please read when you have time :
My short answer to your question about consciousness: Listening to various visionaries and business executives talk about technology and the Internet a few weeks ago reminded me of my earlier – and very different – trip to India when I was looking at the different ways people in India and my own country view mental illness.
We can talk about cultural differences, religious differences, different approaches to science or technology but at the heart there is a fundamental difference in how people view consciousness. In fact, I think it is the fundamental difference shaping our lives and our world.
I want to be careful to avoid broadbrush caricatures: but in the so-called “West” (see my (longer) description below, if you’re so inclined) consciousness seems to be a means to an end, that is: out of consciousness we strive to derive meaning. But in my limited experience in India, contradictions crowd in and jostle side-by-side because consciousness is the end; consciousness is the experience itself. (Joseph Campbell makes an interesting distinction between this sense of (and search for) “meaning” and that of “experience.”)
A theologian here in Chicago talks about pre-Modern thinking before the intellectual rush of (and addiction to) “knowing” was dissected from the sweet savor of “being”. So many in the West seem to fear existing in the chaos that your own email address refers to – and for them it’s a state of profound fear. (And yes, “state” is an intended pun.) To have being and knowing be one-in-the-same seems not only inconceivable, but frightening.
Which leads to my second apology: I know you’re a very busy man but to further explain my own, earlier experience:
My last visit to India was part of my personal research into a program I was working on regarding the stigma of mental illness: The director of the program and I captured the work done in 20 countries in book form for psychiatrists:
But as I say, my trip to India was personal. During the course of my research, I had met a truly remarkable man from Chandigarh. His name is Dr. Narendra Wig and he has done some astonishing work in helping those with mental illness in many countries. I noticed that during the meeting with doctors from other countries he would speak to issues about the need to address spiritual concerns for some patients.
At one of the meals, I asked him about his take on the connection between mental health and spirituality. A broad smile crossed his face: “Oh, I am so glad you asked that question.” And for the next hour, he discussed issues of the human mind in ways I did not hear “Western” doctors speak of. (Even the distinction between “brain” and “mind” is so often glossed over as incidental when in fact I think it’s a critical, fundamental touchstone for understanding.)
At one point he said: “You see, in India even an atheist can be a spiritual person.” While intellectually, I understood what he meant, it wasn’t until I accepted his invitation to come to India on my own that I came to learn a bit more. I visited him in Chandigarh and he took me on a tour of the psychiatric ward of the local hospital where he is revered and his work continues to inspire others…..

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how do you define an event ?

how do you define an event ?
after the moment in which it seemed to have an existence ?
for beyond that it exists only in the imperfect ego as shards of memory
prejudiced by the ego’s need to quantify, define and moralize
did it ever occur ?
for it to occur
all of time and space would have to come to a standstill
to define it’s occurence
how do you define an event
did it ever occur ?
except as an impression
a possibility
of the imagination ?

Incredible Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy. Art that has no meaning but is not meaningless

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The Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy in London is stunning. Forced into you are altered realities and perspectives that you either accept or do what a lot of the (huge) crowd was doing to protect itself. Laughing and passing so called ‘witty comments’. Or some one was lecturing loudly on the meaning behind Anish Kapoor’s sculptures are. That when at the very front Anish has said categorically that they do not mean anything. But to not mean anything is not to say they are meaningless. It means that the artist is asking you NOT to search for meaning, but simply stop protecting yourself by being an observer. And allow the art to overwhelm you.
And that is what it did to me. I was thrown into a schizophrenic middle between feelings of infinity and yet struggling because I knew what I was looking at was finite. But when the observer in me dissolved, there was only the overwhelming desire to merge with the sculpture !! And how do you that without throwing yourself at the installation and destroying it ?? No wonder the guards were looking at me so suspiciously. I must have had that wild look in my eyes – without the dispassionate and gentle demeanor of the very British people. I had to leave before I became a wild child,
Anish said something I have always followed and said again and again. The most creative words I know are ” I don’t know” . If you know, then there is no yearning and no art. Because knowing is finite and false. Not knowing and yearning is infinite and the truth.
Yearning is Art.

A film of less doubt and more courage : Bandit Queen

From Deepak :”You know Shekhar, today I watched Bandit Queen. I was in early school when it was released and it was out of bounds then. I can’t understand how something made so way back seems to grab me NOW from the first moment. You know this is your most honest attempt. You – simply are not there in the movie, neither is there technique. Nothing..nothing at all sat between me and the murk and dust of chambal. This movie ironically is more ‘masoom’ than any of your other movies including ‘masoom’ itself. Phew..a blast from the past..still so raw and tough and so bloody gritty..
where is that rawness and fearlessness these days(this is not directed so much at you..but at all filmmakers today)..does the passing of time,weathering at the hands of emotions and knowledge cripple the ability of an artist to express instinctively ?”
Thank you Deepak. I always say Bandit Queen is my most honest film in that I just did not allow anything to come between the ‘moment’ and the film. It took courage and sheer obstinacy too. For holding on to my instinct for dear life and shooting so fast that no one had time for doubt. Not even myself. Often thinking too much will cause more doubt and less courage. Partly it was the actors complete faith in what I asked them to do and also in their ability to invent their roles in their own identity. The ravines of Chambal spoke to me constantly and being and living in the harsh environment itself forced an act of adventure that became both challenging and exciting. It was guerrilla film making at it’s most adventurous.
And last not least – this as an ode to the greatest and the most underestimated Director of Photography I know – Ashok Mehta, who’s courage and energy was boundless and from whom I learned much of my visual instincts from. The very same visual style that I adapted for the Elizabeth films


These are times for new beginnings. Beginnings are not events that can be taken for granted. They are offerings to us for our past Karma’s and we are then held responsible to seize the offering, nurture it, worship it, and see in them immensity that we are, not letting the petty ups and downs blind us to the dazzling potential of what the universe offers provide we set out sights higher.
With the rising dawn, I see a new beginning.

AR Rahman and I at Ajmer Dargah Shariff of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti

I want to thank A R Rahman for taking me to Ajmer to visit The Dargah Sherriff of Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti. It was my first visit and going with AR Rahman made the visit even more amazing. It is very difficult and perhaps not right to write or express the feelings unless one has had time to live with them for a while.
Rahman and I were working in the music of Paani when on the way back to Mumbai I found myself sitting next to him on the flight when I had just said bye to him ! He was going to Ajmer and asked if I would come and of course I went. I saw that as a sign for the beginings of Paani.
My only regret is that I was not there for the early morning Qwaali.