A Cake Called India

India Independence

India celebrated its 67 years of Independence from British colonialism on 15th August, 2014

Fresh out of the oven, my country India always leaves an aroma of stories that can be discussed and reflected upon forever. It is the most eclectically flavoured cake, with 1.2 billion candles poised on it with their part of the story. But alas, this cake is not the sweetest to bite into. Especially not in areas where 180 million candles  prop up, weak, and their flames dimmed to virtual darkness. It’s a cake wherein the cream carries the strongest flame, often dwarfing what remains of the weaker ones. Their clout gets them to re-ignite their wick in times of momentary despair, distracting the decorator from the others who live with flimsily for ages. It’s a cake, the crumbs of which are never picked up from the floor. Instead, birthday hats and ribbons join it to fight against the science of decomposition.

It’s a cake on which the candles multiply at a rate that rings ominous with the limited ingredients in it. Sadly, not all candles are placed to equal height. Some claim to have been from an elite packet and are entitled to a bigger space on the cake, not realising that their greed has been witnessed by other confectionery shops. It’s a cake which witnesses, from time to time, the extinguishing of many flames – just as they had been prolifically born. The reasons are too many to cite – some could not yield enough from the batter, some had accidentally tripped over the surface due to the chef’s carelessness.

The mantle of melancholy is borne by one certain group of candles who have known to the be producers of fresh candles. They are subservient to the whims of the chef, often losing their shine & dignity to stray pieces of wax in areas not well lit.  It’s a cake that carries a stigma of not being able to handle tiffs between two groups of candles for centuries. A certain group complains of the other carrying a shade of green in their flame, while they themselves have been accused of imposing their tinge of saffron on the rest. It’s a tussle that follows into the mouth of the consumer, often leaving a bad taste and needless to say – memories. History has seen some portions of the cake burnt, leaving a narrative of exclusion and intolerance.

But there’s a reason why the many candles have drawn the attention of every other confectionery delight to this one cake. It is a cake that has been baked with tender hands, fighting the oppression of imported ingredients that did not blend well with the cake mix. The light that some candles emanate with their skill and diligence is a topic hotly discussed in kitchens, restaurants and plates around the globe. Often, the signature dish of chefs is marked by candles from this cake – their positions high in the rank of importance. Despite the hypocrisy of many, there are stories of candles being united only by the belief in their ability to banish darkness and overlook trivial differences.

The candles that constitute the middle portion of the cake and also its core struggle to make ends meet, but their philosophies are often sweetened with emphasis on honesty, integrity, humility and wisdom. They remind the ones around them never to forget the first humble slice of cake they feasted on, the efforts that went into baking that part and the forks that felt short on the table. It is this middle portion that often reminds others not to be lured by the fluffiness on other sides, and be content with the chef decided for them. When pursuing their dream to immigrate to other cakes, the candles carry the crumbs of their parents and teachers and strive to shine brighter on cakes that host them.

The lives of some carry perpetual sacrifice, selflessly dedicating their years of shine for a sparkling future of the young ones. The candles enjoy some freedoms that others yearn to achieve, the ability to elect their chef lies in their genesis while others melt away dreaming of it.  This cake can also easily be regarded as the most celebratory one, offering itself to hundreds of festivals and moments of joy.

It’s a cake, the recipe of which is too convoluted for a passive observer, and too commanding for a cynic. It’s a recipe that stands as a special contribution to literature itself. It is a cake that has stood the test of time, temperature and the impulse of the mouths to feed.

It’s a cake where a few may get to be the cream, but every candle is an icing in one way or the other.

A very happy birthday, India. And let’s not cut this cake, for we have been splitting it in pieces for far too many years.

How To Do An ISIS in 10 Easy Steps

1 – Leave your job, family, society and civilization to put on the most heinous avatar for yourself. It is said that a man’s sincerity appears on his face and so does his dishonesty. If you’re ISIS, you need to go an extra mile to make Shakti Kapoor look like a sevak for women empowerment and Amrish Puri an advocate of human rights. You can look upto Lady Gaga for hideous outfits but everything needs to be black.

2 – Pick out each and every individual around you who isn’t like you, that includes birthmarks on the linings of one’s throat.

3 – Pick out anyone who belongs to a minority group. Doing a quick survey of Liverpool fans in India may help.

4 – Ask the minority to change their sides, or pay tax or die – as simple as that sounds. The side you represent seems like the terrorist group in Counter Strike, not a religion. The tax they could have paid has already been ransacked by you. Dying is not an option anymore because you must have already killed them by the time  I finish this sentence.

5 – Be on a hunt for areas of power-vacuum in the region. Observe areas where people have stopped listening to Rahul Dravid and are excited about the Sri Lankan Cricket team. Verily, those are the ones who have gone astray and it is your duty to stop their transgression.

6 – Raise a flag with a religious inscription on it that shows your mojo and not necessarily your belief. Gun down anyone who doesn’t wave at you while you’re touring the new land that you have captured.

7 – Involve your children in massacre and instead of them holding candies with #IsntaCute, #InstaBaby, #Adowable as their digital memory, immortalize their end of childhood with severed heads in their hands and sign off with ‘That’s my boy! #ISISocute!’

8 – Eliminate everyone who believes in something that you don’t. Because that’s what you did with sanity anyway.

9 – Release your frustration of lowliness, childhood sexual abuse and bickering from boss on people you have never interacted with, save for when they were pleading for you to not sever their heads.

10 – Revive a centuries old phenomenon as a straitjacket solution to all current problems of people similar to you. As your head, have someone who looks like a creepy antagonist right out of an Agatha Christie book. Burn that book because there is no other book is to be read than the one you do.

Honestly, after all this, it’s clear that you’ve either not read the book, or you’ve understood it as well as Rebecca Black understood music.

How One TV Show from Pakistan Trumps Its Indian Counterparts

Sanam Saeed and Fawad Khan play Kashaf and Zaroon in Zindagi Gulzar Hai

Disclaimers :

1 – This post is not to fan any Indo-Pak rivalry. Our politicians do a fine job at it, so let’s keep that task to them. Also, cricket. (I’m an Indian, by the way)

2 – This post is not to be belittle any art form. It is just my humble opinion on how this TV show from Pakistan is like fresh air amidst the stale offerings on TV

3 – I have watched quite a few TV drama shows, both from the sets of Pakistan and India. I watched Pakistani shows before the one I write about in this post

Zindagi Gulzar Hai is a soap opera from Pakistan. The story, though carries various narratives running simultaneously, revolves around an ambitious girl from the lower-middle class economic strata of Pakistani society – Kashaf Murtaza. Her struggle in a patriarchal society driven by capitalist elites is a recurrent motif of the show.

While the show (the description of which I have withheld to avoid spoilers) could draw similarities to some Indian TV shows, here are some reasons why Zindagi Gulzar Hai trumps all Indian drama shows :

1. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is 26 odd episodes long with each  episode running for a little over 40 minutes each. The reasons for such a short-lived show could be many – budget constraints could be one of them. But this means that the directors and writers have little time to dilly-dally with and have to come up with the best art of story telling within the short span. Indian TV shows have a tendency to stretch for years and in some hazardous cases, generations. This leads to the shows going on tangents that contribute nothing to the soul of the story and frustrate the audience.

2.   It is possible that Pakistan Television industry lacks technology and editing know-how to add visual impact. If that’s the case, there couldn’t be a better blessing in disguise. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is devoid of flashy editing, abnormal use of zoom-in lens and other such production and post-production treatment of scenes that exists in Indian television to give obscure outputs to the viewers (like a word echoing 3 times, a face flashed 4 times or the camera zeroing on an actor from 5  different angles.) This show relies heavily on story, script, dialogues, acting, scene environment, and other tools to communicate effectively with its audience and deliver a compelling story. This is what an average audience look for, and Indian television has rendered them confused at best, and visually impaired at worst.

3. Being a girl in a patriarchal society in this show gives us a more holistic understanding of the challenges. Unlike Indian shows, the perils that come with being a girl child are not reserved to dowry, marriage and some stray incidences of perverts creating mischief in the neighborhood. This show will teach you that it’s also about making the difficult choice of investing limited money in a girl child’s education, the uncertainty of one’s future, the extra-pressure faced without a father’s protection,  and then, of course, the challenges of trusting men after having gone through bad experiences.

4.  Kashaf reminds the Indian audience that falling in love is not a cost-less and a compulsively rosy affair. When you belong to a family struggling to buy ingredients for the next meal, cooking romance is not easy to consider. Indian shows, on the other hand, have a knack for propagating love stories that begin and flourish as easy as spreading a rumour on Whatsapp.

5. Expression of love in Zindagi Gulzar Hai does not involve featuring newly released Bollywood songs in its full length. It looks like demonstration of love in a TV serial in a conservative society like that of Pakistan makes it more exciting and genuine. There is heavy reliance on dialogues that try to poetically communicate  love, and it seems to embrace the characters and audience in a comforting manner and much less a cliche’d one. Expression of love in Indian TV shows these days falls flat due to an identity crisis – it’s not a cartoon show that can be devoid of it, nor is it a feature film that ought to give love & romance prominent screen time. What we get in between is a soup that leaves the taster confused.

6. Expression of poverty and economic struggle in the house of Kashaf Murtaza is not just arranging money to celebrate a festival or for dowry. Getting peeved over electricity bills, increasing prices of vegetables, making the difficult choice of when to prepare non-veg food are things that most middle class citizens of both Pakistan and India can relate to very well. Economically, there’s a lot that bothers a middle-class individual that Indian TV shows have failed to capture. The set up of a chawl with women lined up to collect water in buckets is just one aspect.  

7. Weddings in Indian TV shows go on for weeks as the central theme for all those episodes, much to a viewer’s irritation for utter wastage of time. In a show like Zindagi Gulzar Hai, weddings barely get screen time. This shows that the purpose for ‘weddings’ as a medium for sub-plot and story is not ‘how the wedding is’, rather – “what the weddings MEANS to the plot and characters.” Sometimes it is this crucial difference that helps a viewer continue watching the show or divorce from it.

8. The clash between Kashaf Murtaza and Zaroon Junaid gives a near realistic portrayal of the friction between lower and higher economic classes respectively. Unlike Indian TV shows, it isn’t just about a glittering Mercedes or Ray Ban shades from chor bazaar or the lack of it, it’s about apathetic attitudes towards each other’s socio-economic contexts and the lives that two seemingly different individuals live  – both in their minds and homes. Seldom does Zaroon Junaid’s wealth take the form of excess material display and the audience still manages to receive this comment on Pakistan society.

9. This show does not introduce a plethora of characters and roles, unlike Indian TV shows who have introductions, re-introductions, and re-re-introduction of unnecessary and irrelevant characters. The few characters in Zindagi Gulzar hai all have an important role to play in the wider scheme of the story which results in a capsule of 26 episodes with great acting.

10. It’s rare for the mother of a protagonist to give a performance as compelling as the protagonist, if not more. The mother of Kashaf in Zindagi Gulzar Hai makes the audience cringe when she sighs and laments at the difficulties she goes through in making ends meet. At the same time, like most ‘realistic’ mothers raising children, she tries her best (through acting and dialogues, not editing or background sound) to hide her emotions from their daughters lest she distressed them with her grief.

11. Lastly, since the show ends on a brief yet powerful run, the viewer who started watching the show ends with consuming the message from the programme in its full. Zindagi Gulzar Hai, in particular, is dotted with melancholic narratives of people struggling with money, family, society, and often with their own-selves. It’s conclusion, however, is marked with optimism and replaces the air of uncertainty and doubt that started with the show and followed throughout with that of  positive spirit and content.