Garry Wills author of “Why Priests?” and “What Jesus Meant “ is considered by the Chicago Tribune as “America’s greatest public intellectual.” So when I found he had written a book “What the Qur’an Meant “subtitled,” And Why It Matters “, I was curious to know more about and decided to read it.

For those who have not read the books by Garry Wills – Here is a brief intro:

Gary Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and the author of the New York Times Bestsellers, What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, Why I am a Catholic and Why priests? He studied Priesthood- which explains his interest in Jesus and Priests as well as his qualification to write on those subjects. He lives in Evanston, Illinois and is presently  Professor of history emeritus at North Western University.

But why did he think of writing on the Qur’an?   Was his interest inspired by what Pope Francis wrote: “Authentic Islam and a proper reading of the Koran  are opposed  to every form of violence .”  I am sure most intellectuals and even the general public who have been subjected to Islam phobia, and have seen the atrocities committed by Al Qaeda and  ISIS would be amazed to  hear,  that” Authentic Islam is opposed to every form of Violence.” And how does one learn about Authentic Islam  – the Pope states by ‘proper reading of the Quran .’ And that is what   Garry Wills ventured to do so as not only to understand Islam but also inform those- the general American public-  who were ignorant of true Islam. He feels that it is imperative for the American public to know about Islam, the reasons being  :

America has blundered into the longest pre-emptive war in American history without knowing the basic facts about the Islamic civilization they were dealing with.

There is much misinformation about Islam especially regarding the claims that it is essentially a religion of violence, that its sacred book is a handbook for terrorist.

But reading the Qur’an is not easy. Initially, he finds it difficult to follow – it does not have a  proper organizing principle – it is not a gripping read. The titles given to chapters are not helpful.

He finds certain things in the book off-putting – slavery, patriarchal attitude towards women, religious militarism- which he feels has its own parallels in biblical Torah. But as he dutifully plods on he notices other things like “the book’s pervasive sense of dessert culture, or the voicing of a dialogue with nature that is the way Allah communicates with his creatures or the way every prophet’s message is linked to every other prophet’s message, or the casting of spiritual transactions in commercial imagery, or the various ways some women found to oppose patriarchal oppression…” He realizes the spiritual sustenance that people derived from the book and it is these areas he decides to explore in the book.

While doing so he also finds and clears some of the misrepresentations of Islam and the Qur’an. These are:

Did the Quran tell the Muslim about the duty to kill infidels?

No, he says he didn’t find any such instruction.

The  other is  that the Quran  is   Sharia Law

Sharia he finds is mentioned  only once in the Quran  Surah 45.18  and it is not used as a legal term . It means ,”clear path” shown to the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran is not law but the source of law or guidelines which were formed through a compilation of Sunna – the way of the Prophet, The Hadith- which is the sayings of the Prophet and Ijma- discussion and decision of the scholars. He discusses different schools of law in Sunnis and the different sects in Shia and therefore concludes that there is no one Sharia.

As for Jihad or Holy War –  he discovers that there is no such word as Holy war in the Quran and Jihad means striving .

Besides clearing the common doubts non-believers have of Islam, he also explores the parallels between the three Semitic religions – the people of the Book and underlines the importance given to Jesus and Moses in the Qur’an while describing the ways in which the Biblical stories differ from the stories of the same prophets in the Qur’an.

What I really found very engaging in Gary Hill’s exploration of the Quran  is  the way he  depicts  the following :

the pervasive nature of dessert and the presence of life-giving water in the Qur’an which is inventive in the different ways it describes heaven as anti-desert. It contrasts so vividly with the description of Hell which is desert heat and thirst to the nth degree.

In the chapter,titled’The Conversing with the Cosmos ‘he describes how the Qur’an is abuzz with conversation.  For Allah the real meaning of creating is conversation . He writes,”  God speaks a special language, in which mountain and winds and spring s are the syllables. Everything is a sign. Even the light is just a pointer to a light beyond light. God’s light shines through everything, including every lower light :

“God is the light of the heavens and earth. His light is like this {parable} :there  is a niche , and in it a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, a glass like a glittering star, fuelled from a blessed olive tree from neither east, nor west, whose oil almost gives light even when no fire touches it – light upon light – God guides whoever He will to His light .(24.35)

All creatures speak in sign language about their maker

“The seven heavens and the earth and everyone in them glorify Him. There is not a single thing that does not celebrate His praise. (17.44)

It is these aspects of the Quranic  verses which I found has the power to lift you to spiritual heights , provide succor during harsh times , as also the message of Peace which resonates time and again, which Gary Wills emphasis while analyzing the more complex verses of the Quran which are read out of context by some militant Muslims and many Non- Muslims.  He also explores the Quranic verses on women and the veil The book is, therefore, a must read to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

An engrossing read, the slim book of 226 pages is published by Viking and available on Amazon for $12.







TRAVEL MEMOIRS of TWO BENGALI’S- Nearly A century Apart

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Last month I read two Travel Memoir. Both by Bengalis, one as far back as 1927 and the other of 2010-11 –nearly a century apart.  The 1927 Travel Memoir   titled In a Land Far  From Home, by Syed Mujtaba Ali  was  written in Bengali, and was   published in 1948 as Deshe Bideshe  sub titled A Bengali in Afghanistan .The present  one is a  translation  in English by Nazej Afroz   and is  published by  Speaking Tiger.

The other one is by  the Bangladeshi journalist  Zeeshan Khan’s Rights to Passage- Travels through India, Pakistan and Iran published by Sage and Yoda Press.

Both writers, intrepid  travelers ,truly cosmopolitan in their world view , present an  unbiased perspective of the countries   in a riveting and compelling narrative .

When  I  picked up,  In a Land Far from Home and read the Blurb  stating , “ A vivid new translation of the Bengali Classic Deshe Bideshe , Syed Mujtaba Ali’s riveting and delightful account of travels in Afghanistan in the1920’s”,I was skeptical .Afghanistan in the 1920’s: what could be so exciting about  a place  with no proper roads or transport ?No entertainment, no cinema, no plays. None of  the facilities available in Calcutta.  And was it safe? Perhaps more than it is now. But what I under estimated was  Mujtaba Ali’s power of description  of  a   cast of fascinating characters across the spectrum of society in Kabul  and of  the  Europeans and    Russians  with whom he interacted, with  compassion and rib tickling humor   ; of the landscape ,life and culture ,the gossip and rumors circulating in the  bazaars .  I was fascinated by   his language, his rich repertoire of anecdotes and familiarity with  religious texts and lore of almost all religions  and felicity with Bengali, Urdu and English prose and poetry. Mujtaba. a polyglot who knew 15 languages, besides Bengali,  his mother tongue  had mastery in Urdu, Arabic , Persian French  and Germen, which enabled easy access to various embassies in Kabul.

Further the time in which he was present, (1927-1929) as a teacher in Kabul, was  a critical moment in the history of Afghanistan and   his account  gives  an absorbing and first hand insight into events during that period.  It was the period when King Amanullah having won independence from the British tried to steer his country into modernity by introducing girls education ,adoption of western attire and giving women a choice to decide  on wearing a the burqua .For his modernity measures, he was branded  a Kafir and the Mullahs supported and blessed the bandit Bacha-e Saqao in ousting him and  plunging the country in chaos and anarchy . The mayhem in the town of Kabul and the sufferings of the people including his and his   Afghan servant Abdur Rehman’s as also  of  his colleague the  Maulana and the Frenchman Benoit  are poignantly  graphic. But he is scathing  in his criticism  of the indifference and hypocrisy of the English who live and luxuriate on Indian money but offer no benefits to the Indians in Kabul,  when they are stranded and suffering .    Mujtaba Ali’s Memoir is  so  liberally peppered with  derision of the English and their exploitation of the country,  that one can understand the reason for publishing  the book in 1948 .

But what was most painful to me was reading about   the plight of women-who having breathed some fresh air, had to return to their claustrophobic lives and girls were  forbidden to attend school. The Bandit King   Bacha  in his proclamation declared Amanullah as a Kafir  and decreed that “… all the foreign teachers and professors who helped Amanullah in his efforts are hereby dismissed .Schools and colleges are being closed down.”

But what stands out in the narrative  is the   resilience of the Afghan people , in the face of so much hardship and the endearing loyalty of  Mujtaba’s servant Abdur Rehman and of course MujtabaAli’s delightful anecdotal style which made him a path breaker in Bengali Literature .

Mujtaba Ali ( 1904-1974) Had an interesting trajectory. He graduated from Vishwa Bharati University , and did his PhD from Bonn. When East Pakistan was formed he became Principal of Azizul Haq College  and an activist for Bengali language resisting the imposition of Urdu and wrote an Essay advocating Bengali as state language of East Pakistan for which his explanation was called by the Pakistan government .Mujtaba Ali resigned and returned to India where he worked in various capacities: as Secretary in ICCR , as Director in AIR in New Delhi, Cuttack and Patna and as Professor in Vishwa Bharati  from 1956 -64.After the formation of Bangladesh he  joined his family in  Dacca .

Zeeshan Khan, born in UK,  raised in Bangladesh, lived for some time in Mauritius ,studied  in Canada and Australia and worked in America before returning to  Bangladesh. He is  currently  working  in communications with the International Organization for Migrations  carries no colonial or linguistic baggage .Though based in Bangladesh, and proud of his Bengali lineage , he is curious of other cultures , religions and world views . In Rights to passage Zeeshan Khan gives Afghanistan a miss .Maybe it is untravelable now. But his journey through Pakistan and Iran is an eye opener though he spends only 45 days in these two countries

The book traces his journey of 60 days from Dacca , through India ,Pakistan and to   Iran . It’s a journey  both in time and place, and  his keen observation and eye for detail as well as his  interest in a variety of  subjects ranging from history, languages , religions ,cultures imbue  the travels   with a depth and  astonishing complexity, making it highly enriching experience for an armchair traveler.

The first halt from commencement of his journey from Dacca is Patna. Here he searches for the ruins of the ancient city of Pataliputra on route to Bodh Gaya ,Rajgir  and Nalanda to experience Buddhism in the land of its birth. While describing these cities, he recreates their past depicting their   religion’s  trajectory ,  their  rise and decline, their  contribution to art ,philosophy , spiritualism etc.  But despite great appreciation of Buddha’s spiritual legacy and having felt his living presence in Bodh Gaya , he is “ put off by  the level of veneration on to Siddhartha’s physical form.”

His next  halt is  Amritsar where he visits the  Golden Temple, the Holy Seat of the   Sikh religion   and the Jallian wallah Bagh which changed the dynamics of India’s freedom struggle  and Wagah –the Indo Pak border where he attends the Closing ceremony and finds the theatrics quite charming, reminding  him of the complex mating ritual of certain birds.

Though he mingles freely and doesn’t experience any prejudice as a Muslim, he  isn’t permitted to travel by   train  via Wagah to Lahore and has to return to Delhi to catch a flight to Lahore  .

As a Bangladeshi, he is apprehensive of  his reception in Pakistan  and is surprised to hear  a young  Pakistani army guy  tell him “Bohot badi ghalti  ho gayi aap logon ke saath, bhai .”

As he travels, he starts feeling sorry for Pakistan – a country fighting for its survival.   He finds  military presence, tension and  security concerns as  the Pakistanis battle the Taliban  in Peshawar and North West Frontier Province, sectarian tensions and  insurgency in Baluchistan and   rogue fiefdoms within its borders , a Saudi funded Wahhabi movement  leading to increasing fanaticism and violence  ,uneasiness of India’s growing power and clout, the violence ,drug trafficking and refugee problems -a fallout of the Al Qaeda American political imbroglio; besides , corruption ,nepotism, illiteracy- the bane of most South Asian  countries .  But he finds the people hospitable and friendly and the countryside and cities quite clean.  Their train services however are awful and   one travels at ones risk specially on the route to Quetta in Baluchistan where murders and killing of   Hazara Shia’s or Punjabi travelers   is a regular occurrence.  Pakistan is a hard country to travel. Yet there are wonderful sites   –bringing to mind the glorious past of undivided India.There is Taxila  dating back 3000 years back- when settlements arose between the Kabul  and Indus rivers -stone age implements and some bones   have been found .  Taxila’s also had an  ancient university   –known as  the Oxford of India specializing in Buddhist studies the ruins of which are well preserved ,so also the artifacts ,coins ,sculpture dating to the Greek  and Persian period ,in the  Taxila Museum.

Islamabad , the capital , he finds ,well developed  with perfect tree lined freeways ,neat , clean and well planed buildings , but  soulless – a veritable Clerkistan  .  But on Day 16 he is in Peshawar which also figures prominently in Mujtaba Ali’s Travel Memoir,   which  he finds  fascinating  but is saddened by the violence  and their reaction to it. He writes “I can’t decide which  is sadder –  the fact that this charming  city ,with its beautiful, smiling faces  and cheerful energy  should have to suffer violent tears in its otherwise harmonious tapestry, or the fact that it happens frequently  enough for them  to have accepted it as a part of life ,like blackouts and load shedding.”

On Day 18 in Multan, the Manager of the hotel says on learning that he is from Bangladesh, “Ah, but so cultured the Bengalis are, we lost a lot of intellectual substance when we lost Bengal.” Amused at the remark , Zeeshan has a dig  at his countrymen, stating:  “This rumor is very popular in Pakistan it seems. I don’t think they’ve met too many of us lately.”

After Multan he moves to Quetta, the troubled town in Baluchistan where his experience and observations on the insurgency give the reader an insight into that troubled land .  On Day 25  he  flies from Quetta  to Zahedan in Iran  as the land route is closed after the massacre of 12  Hazara pilgrims on route to Mashhad.

It is his months sojourn in Iran which opens up a fascinating land before the reader. He visits ancient sites of Kerman  ,Elam, Shush and  Persepolis; the Zoroastrian city of Yazd ; the holy city of Mashad  where Imam Reza is buried ; Neyshapur  ,Omar Khayams city; Tus where lies Firdausi ; Shiraz ,the city of Hafiz Shirazi ,and the wonderful medieval city  of Ishfahan and finally to Tehran , the modern capital of Iran  on Day 50   .

And he is impressed by the country’s infrastructure, such as the trains, freeways, taxis–all are world class and places are neat, clean, well maintained. But most important are the people who are exceedingly cultured, hospitable and friendly –perhaps an intrinsic nature of Iranian society with their Persian sense of tameez tor decency which governs their public behavior. Of course they have occasional fault lines such as their pathological dislike and contempt for the Arabs.  He is relieved to find none of the stereotypes he had heard about Iran, apart from the fact that the women covered their heads and there’s a tendency towards propaganda.

But what gladdened me was  the confidence  with which women conducted  themselves  unlike their counterparts  in many  Muslim countries  ,where there is  low presence of women in public space. They are bold and assertive and seem to be able to command the sort of respect they need and quite a few of them drive and run independent establishments.

50 films which need viewing

 Film Critic Deepa Gahlot’s     50 Films That Deserve a New Audience


Take -2–   is the title of the book published by Hay House Publishers India an Imprint of Penguin Books

Criteria in choosing the films: Films from the past –from 1933 to 1990 -First of their kind, or obscure films of well known Directors, some by Directors whose contribution to Indian Cinema is forgotten.

Besides a synopsis of the films there are also Thumbnail sketches of the directors, actors, writers, composers, cinematographers who worked on the projects. Unfortunately quite a number of them have disappeared and there is very little info about them in the archives . A must read for any film buff.

A list of the 50 films is given below with the names of Directors,lead characters and noted features:


  • Karma-1933- By Himanshu Rai-Devika Rani’s first as an actor and Himanshu’s last after which he concentrated on movie making .It was known for the longest screen Kiss which forms the cover page of the book.
  • Amar Jyoti-1936 By Shantaram-starred Durga Khote as a rebellious justice-seeking pirate Saudamini. The composer was Bal Gandharva.
  • Dushman-1939 By Nitin Bose-Starring KL Saigal and Najmul Hasan(the actor with whom Devika Rani eloped creating a scandal and Leela Desai with music composed by Pankaj Mullick.
  • Roti -1942 By Mehboob Khan -. A montage of starving poor with music from AnilBiswas. It was Begum Akhtar’s only film and also introduced Sitara Devi. Both made their mark, outside films.
  • Muqabla 1942By Baruk Bhat or NanuBhai Bhat, the father of Mahesh Bhatt. First film with twin sister role and introduced Nadia or Mary Evans, the Australian trapeze artist, best known for her role as stunt queen Hunterwali.
  • Prithvi Vallabh-1943 By Sohrab Modi an unusual romance between two very different protagonist. Durga Khote as Mrinalvati an aging princess against marriage as loss of independence and Sohrab Modi as Prithvi Vallabh- the king defeated by Mrinalvati. The movie introduced KN Singh who became one of Hindi Films topmost villain.
  • Rattan -1944 By M Sadiq was musical hit and attained stardom for Music director Naushad.
  • Hum Ek Hain 1946 By P.L Santoshi .It is known as Dev Anand’s debut film as also for introducing Rehman, Rehana and Kamla Kotnis  and is a message for unity and communal harmony. It has an item dance by Cuckoo and music by the composer duo Husnlal-Bhgatram which brought a Punjabi feel into their music.
  • Ek Thi Larki– 1949 –By Roop Shori written by I.S Johar, a hilarious comedy much ahead of its time with music score of Vinod and lyrics by Aziz Kashmiri was a hit
  • Dillagi-1949 –By R.Kardar starring Shyam, one of the handsomest heroes of Hollywood who died aged 30 during a shoot in1951 and the singing star Surely.
  • Jogan -1950 By Kadar Sharma had a dreamy looking Deli Kumar and an exquisite Margi’s with the melodious  sung by Geeta Roy later Gaeta Dutt.
  • Jaal -1952 By Guru Dutt  with Dev Anand and Geeta Bali  a hit with some hummable songs sung by Hemant Kumar .
  • Shikast-1953 by Ramesh Saigal with Nalini Jaywant giving a stellar performance opposite Dilip Kumar.
  • Patita- 1954 directed by Amiya Chatterjee,deat with a sensitive subject of  depicting rape and its  acceptance – starring Dev Anand and Usha Kiron.
  • Chandni Chowk-1954 by BR Chopra depicts a Nawab background starring Meena Kumari.
  • Bandish-1955-By Satyen Bose a comedy starring Ashok Kumar and Roop Kumar the earlier screen name  of Daisy Irani and Meena Kumari .Daisy Irani  is called Tomato – an orphan who is  able to get a family by forging a relationship between Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari.
  • Miss Mary-1957 -by L.V Prasad starring Meena Kumari and Sivaji Ganesan –A bold plot for its ties in which an unmarried young woman pretended to be the wife of a stranger ,for the sake of a job.
  • Paying Guest -1957-by Subodh Mukherjee starring Dev Anand and Nutan and Shoba Khote –a delightful film with wonderful musical scores by SD Burman.
  • Gateway of India -1957-by Om Prakash with the beautiful and vivacious Madhubala playing a role of a runaway heroine with gumption and élan  ,with Pradeep Kumar in a negative role and Bharat Bhushan, who plays the poet and her love interest.
  • Solva Saal-1958 by Raj Khosla inspired by Frank Capra’s It happened One Night starring Waheeda Rehman and DevAnand . An entertaining movie in which the chemistry between the leadpai was obvious.
  • Sone Ki Chidya -1958 directed by Shahed Latif and written by his wife Ismat Chugtai.Starring Nutan depicts how young woman from under privileged backgrounds were pushed into show business to be exploited by both men and relatives .It introduced Talat Mehmood  as a manupalative lover and Balraj Sahni as the redeemer with wonderful  songs  the lyrics written by Sahir.
  • Char Dil Char Rahen -1959 by KA Abbas in which three distinctive stories connect to deliver Abbas’s message of social reform. -The first omnibus film made in which RajKappor and Meena Kumari are paired.
  • Chhalia- 1960- A partition drama by Manmohan Desai starring RajKapoor and Nutan with Rehman. Music composed b Kalyanji Anand and lyrics by QamarJalalbadi are wonderful.
  • Parakh -1960 by Bimal Roy starring Sadhna, Nasir Hussain, Motilal and Vasant Chowdhry with dialogues by Shailendra and some gt songs sung by MannaDey.
  • Apna Haath Jaganaath-1960 by Mohan Sehgal starring Kishore Kumar, Sayeeda Khan,Nasir Hussein and Leela Chitnis, a delightful film with  the social mess sage of dignity of labor. Music by S DBurman.
  • Dharmputra-1961 by Yash Chopra in which he take up the issue of communalism in which a child of one religion is reared by a foster parent of another faith.It was ShashiKapoor’s first film as an adult in which Mala Sinha playing his mother. The film won the National Award.
  • China Town-1962 by Shakti Samata, a crime  thriller starring Shammi Kapoor in a double role, who  steals the audience hearts ,so do the musical numbers penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri and composed by Ravi and a lively night club item number  by Helen as Suzy.
  • Godaan 1963 –Munshi Premchand’s novel was made into a film in 1963Trilok Jetley with RajKumar, Kamani Kaushal and Mehmood depicted the plight of the Indian farmer.
  • Mujhe Jeene Do– 1963 directed by Moni Bhatacharya starring Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman was a hit and the official selection for the Cannes Festival. The songs by Jaidev were brilliant.
  • Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein 1964 by Kishore Kumar was inspired by Satyajeet Roy’s Pather Pancheli centers on the story of a childRamu played by Kishor Kumar’s son Amit who loses his voice in a traumatic incident.
  • Mr X in Bombay -1964 by Shantilal Soni stars Kishore Kumar in the lead role as a Kavi with KumKum his love interest ,a dancer.  Entertaining and with excellent music by Lakshmiikant Pyarelal was a hit.
  • Johar Mehmood in Goa-1965 directed by IS Johar was a crazy comedy by IS Johar with Simmi- a one of its genre.
  • Choti Choti Baten -1965- the only film produced and directed by Motilal which depicts the contrast between the greed of sophisticated city   and kind simplicity of ruralfolk ,flopped at the box office but won a number of awards for Motilal.
  • Oonche Log-1965 a complex film based on a Tamil play called Major Chandrakant by Tamil writer director K .Balachander and directed by Phani Mazumdar. It starred Ashok Kumar ,RajKumar and Feroz Khan an won a National Award.

35) Teesri Kasam 1965 by Basu Bhattacharya starring RajKapoor and Waheeda Rehman was hailed    as a masterpiece.

36)   Akhri Khat-1966 by Chetan Anand which introduced  Rajesh Khana and centered around a 15month toddler Master Bunty wondering in Bombay  had great musicby Khayyam and lyrics by KaifiAzmi

37)   Amarpali 1966 – by Director Lekh Tandon is an epic drama of the famous courtesan Amarpali played by Vijaynathimala and the great Prince Ajaatashatru by Sunil Dutt. The period costumes were by Bhanu Athaiya and the music by Shanker-Jaikishan. Amarpali was India’s entry for the Oscars.

38)  Anupama-1966- by Hrishikesh Mukherjee was an artistic film in the mainstream cinema, starring Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra and Shashikala. The dialogues were by Rajindra Singh Bedi and the haunting timeless songs written by Kaifi Azmi were set to musicby Hemant Kumar.

39) Baharon Ke Sapne-1967 , a film scripted by Rajendra Singh Bedi directed by Nasir Hussein starring Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh depicts the  bleak and harsh life of workers .Though it had a strong social message and a realistic depiction of their life ,it bombed  at the box office.

40) Anokhi Raat -1968 –by Asit Sen starring Zaheda and Sanjeev Kumar had drama and suspense and an unusual love story and great songs written by Kaifi Azmi and composed by Roshan. It fetched Hrishikesh Mukherjee the film fare award for the best screenplay.

41)Sadhu Aur Shaitan -1969- A hilarious  comedy directed by  A Bhimsingh(Tamil Film Director) with Mehmood ,Pran and OmPrakash and Bharati.

42)Tere Mere Sapne– 1971 –directed by Goldie Anand starring Dev Anand ,Mumtaz, Goldie Anand with Hemamalani. The film was a huge success as Mumtaz was then at the height of her popularity.

43) Parwana-1971 directed by Jyoti Swaroop, was one of the best thrillers made starring Amitabh Bachchan, Yogeeta Bali, Navin Nishchol and Shatrugan Sinha. But despite Agha Jan Kashmiri’s brilliant dialogues , lyrics by Kaifi Azmi and composed by Madan Mohan ,an item number by Helen ,the film didn’t do well at the box office.

44) Reshma Aur Shera -1971 directed by Sunil Dutt, is a story of star crossed lovers starring  him with Waheeda Rehman ,Vinod  Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, shot in the picturesque locations of Rajasthan depicting its life and culture .Sensitively portrayed with stellar performances. Iit did not do well at the box office.

45)Piya Ka Ghar-1972-directed by Basu Bhatacharaya, it brought out humorously and gently without grit and glamour ,the life of the  lower middle classes in Bombay ,in the tenemants and chawls.Starring Jaya Bahduri and Anil Dhawan-the film was quite a hit.

46) 27 Down -1974, the only film directed by AK Kaul and it was considered a cinematic masterpiece. Starring M.KRaina and Rakhee it was shot in black and white and examined a characters inner life and depicted a changing India.

47) Chakra -1981 Directed by Rabindra Dharmraj, it is an iconic film which depicted Bombay’s underbelly with all its warts and sores. Smita Patel, Nasiruddin Shah and a host of stars from theatre and parallel cinema gave wonderful performances. Scripted by Javed Siddiqi and Shama Zaidi and based on a famous Marathi novel by Jaywant Dalvi- the film was brilliant.

48) Namkeen -1982 .Directed by Gulzar, it stars Sanjeev Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi and Kiran Vairale  and is set in a remote village in Himachal Pradesh. The story centering around four women portrays the hardships. poor women without men in their life, have to undergo in rural areas.

49) New Delhi Times -1986The only film directed by Romesh Sharma, starring Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore ,the film explores the politician-media crime nexus .The film won three National Awards.

50) Disha -1990 Directed by Sai Paranjpe is about Mumbai’s mill culture and the poverty of Mahrashtra’s villages and stars Om Puri Nana Pateka,r  Raghuvir Yadav and Rajshree Sawant.














The Republic of Imagination

The Republic of Imagination – A world without borders.
Just finished reading, a fascinating book, The Republic of Imagination by the Iranian émigré Azar Nafisi. And I am simply overwhelmed. Nafisi wrote her bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran in which she weaves memoir with teaching Lolita and Gatsby and underlines the importance of fiction in totalitarian regimes as it enables an individual to escape into an alternative reality .In The Republic of Imagination she emphasizes the importance of literature through review , and literary criticism of three books : Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter with an epilogue on James Baldwin with a number of other greats like Salinger, Faulkner interspersed in it to demonstrate that the idea of America cannot be separated from its fiction. But what is most engaging is the way in which fiction ,personal narrative, the political and social life ( the period from 2007 to 2012 –the Obama election and first term ) ,the education system, science, technology, seamlessly blend and the reader senses and empathizes with the poignancy and loss the writer feels in a world where the power of humanities ,arts and literature is declining as libraries and museums become irrelevant in a techno savvy materialistic world with its obsession of the state of the art I-pods and I-phones.
Both Mark Twain and James Baldwin would never have dreamt that America would one day have an African American president, nor envisaged the reaction to it in the 2016 election just as Nafisi didn’t at the time of publication of the book in 2014 by Windmill Books. She bemoans the lack of importance to teaching of the liberal arts in the universities of America and her dissatisfaction with the Common Core Curriculum. She states: “we should be teaching our students that there is a difference between individualism that encourages self-confidence and independence , and narcissism, in which everything and everyone becomes a reflection of ourselves ,preventing us from growing……”
SoThe Republic of Imagination is a “true homeland without borders and few restrictions….The only requirement for entry is an open mind, a restless desire to know and an indefinable urge to escape the mundane..”


TO SAVE OUR LIVES is the title of a chapter of A.L Kennedy’s On Writing -a book I borrowed from the Asiatic Library. I had never heard about A.L Kennedy, but her book was there when I searched under the subject – On Writing.I flipped through it. And what do I find.Surprise.Surprise. She is a celebrated writer: she has written 8 Novels,7 short story collections and quite a few non- fiction books and won several prestigious writing awards. And an ignoramus like me hadn’t heard of her, leave alone read any of her books. I also pondered on the question :why none of the literary festivals I attended in India had invited her –or at least none did in 2016-2017. She is as per her blogs, in and out of literary festivals in great Britain.
Alison Kennedy who is also part time lecturer in Creative Writing at Warwick University spends her time when not writing, talking, at various festivals and taking writing workshops and of course blogging her activities. The book contains a compilation of various such blogs. I flipped through 250 pages – describing her writing life ,against the back drop of the social and political life of UK(she stays in Glasgow) in hotels ,on train journeys in America( she has a phobia of flying ) and didn’t make much sense . Her writings –blog style -are supposed to be funny but didn’t draw any laughs from me at least.I decided to give up. And then just by chance,thought that let me read this chapter, the title of which had caught my attention –“To Save Our Lives”..perchance it may provide a clue to why Vintage Books had published this book and the Sunday Times had praised it .
The chapter was really enlightening.It gave rare insight into a writers or to use a larger phrase an artist’s world and tried to make sense to a layman what does an artist do when he /she creates. She writes :“We offer something of ourselves ,to others.We allow and encourage a miracle –one human being can enter the thoughts of another.We can be the other: the king,the foreigner, the wino,the superstar, the debutante,the murderer, we can experience a little of the large, strange,wonderful, horrible thing which is human experience.”
I am over whelmed by reading it ,but then a tiny voice nags: and what is the result of these experiences? I had been to the Jaipur festival.Great writers , thinkers political analysts all debated, discussed,condemned- all that had happened in Iraq: they squarely blamed the Western powers for the mayhem –the chaos. But this blame game may have served the purpose of making people aware, making them understand, but has it mitigated the suffering of the people of Iraq?
This is exactly what a friend remarked when I recounted the list of literary festivals I had attended : “What affirmative action do literature festivals take except to make one think ?Is that enough?” I thought she was right.Kennedy however did have some answer to it.She mentioned an incredible writer, the lawyer Raphael Lemkin who changed the world by inventing a word: genocide. Lemkin defined genocide –which is now in the Webster’s dictionary.But he didn’t stop at it –he thought of the different aspects of genocide which are not confined to just ‘murder’ but also include cultural annihilation.She puts his ideas cogently in the following words :”…..before I can oppress you ,hurt you, kill you ,I have to silence you. I have to silence your dreams,I have to destroy them in order to weaken and demoralise you, make you deaf and invisible to yourself, and to let myself forget your humanity ,to rehearse the silence into which you’ll disappear.”
Therefore she surmises that the writer has to use imagination to enter into the suffering of strangers. She adds :”And producing art in which humans are shown to be human keeps us all safe.It steers a panicky,self obsessed,easily led,fearful and fragile species towards light.”
And I would also like to reproduce her view of Good Journalism. It is worth consideration and debating upon .
“Good journalism,good nonfiction writing ,the proper and fastidious presentation of fact can help us to understand what is incomprehensible: 100 dead ,1,000 dead,100,000 dead,200,000 . I believe that to understand many deaths we have to understand one, the absence of one life …. We do not need to have known the dead to mourn them, to mourn a life turned to silence, a loss of our shared delights.”
Well I thought, burrowing through 250 pages to reach such a gem had been worth the effort.

Celebrating Uttarayan

Memories on Ahmadabad Kite Festival







It’s Uttarayan celebration  time in Gujarat .Uttarayan is  equivalent of  Makar Sankaranti or Pongal , the time when winter begins to change to summer.

Uttarayan has a special place in Gujarati festivities .It means flying kites , gorging on food which consists of special preparations such as Undhiyo, Jalebi  and o of course til chikki .Preparations for Uttarayan commence days before-the shops are stacked with  a variety of kites of different shapes and colors and whorls  of  Manja (the glass coated  kite flying string ).Special Menu is worked out  and the whole neighborhood is agog with excitement .The Pols of Ahmadabad- that unique housing system which dates back to the 18thcentury comparable to the modern gated communities- are all  festively decorated.

In the recent past –many of the Pols have joined Gujarat Tourism in  opening up their havelis  and houses to visitors during the International  Kite festival  so as to enable them to participate in the celebration and experience the Gujarati culture and Pol lifestyle  .

Some years back I  was fortunate to visit the Pols during the Kite Festival –to see   this unique life style  and experience the zest with which the festival is celebrated as well to enjoy the mouthwatering dishes.  I have  tried to capture the wonderful sights  in my camera It’s  a memorable experience,




Amdavad  ke bheed bhaad

Shor sharable sey kuchi duri

Per hai prachin Lothal

Veeran Sunsaan jiskey

Agosh mein  dafn  hai

Aik khadeem sabhayata

Jeeski markaz thi ek bandargah

Jahan atey they door daraaz sey  kishtiyan

Samandar  aur  nadi se bandargah

Le kar heerey, moti aur kya kya


Ab  yahan  hai sirf dhanchey

Insaano key aur ujdey ghar  key bartan


Kyon ujda yeh shaher

Kyon viraan hiu  yeh zameen

Kyon ruthi  nadi

Kyon kinarash  kiya samandar


Mein dekhti hoon idhar udhar

Lothal key viraney sey aati hai cheeq


Sambhal jao ai  duniya wasi

Sabaq seekho mujsey

Qadar karo, mehfooz rakho  apni daroghar

Der nahin lagti Gulshan ko  banney  Viraan





Be Happy for this moment .This moment is your life

Omar Khayyam


As a ritual , on the eve of New Year , with  a  few friends, I  walked down Linking Road from Santa Cruz to Bandra Shoppers Stop , viewing the festivities – the sparkle,  gaiety and lights- culminating in an early dinner at one of the eateries  .But this year   the mood  was somber –there were fewer lights and lesser crowds .

I ruminated : What could be the reason  Perhaps  it was the uncertainty  ahead .The world seemed to be eager  for change , for a new order   a new world .2016 had thrown up so many surprises and challenges  –that an air of uncertainty prevailed .But why did one feel so :had there   not been  in the distant past , greater  upheavals and  revolutions ?But globalization and media had started playing out every tragedy in our drawing room or bedroom and now in our mobiles  :terrorism , natural disasters were reported  minute by minute

But as I mulled  , strangely enough , I started remembering  some lines from Amin Malouf’s novel Samarkand which I had just finished reading  while  travelling  to the heart of India –Nagpur and Jabalpur

.Samarkand is a historical  novel which tells the story of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat  .Khayyam as well known was  the 11th century  Sufi Mystic ,Poet ,Philosopher  and Astronomer – a free thinker whose poetry of wine , women  and worldly pleasures  was considered  a  violation of the  codes of Islam . In Samarkand , Malouf conjures the  11th and 12th century world of Bukhara ,Samarkand  the two greatest cities of the world at that time  and the  creation of the Samarkand  Manuscript with the Rubaiyats of Omar Khayyam and its demise in the Titanic . It also brings alive , the courts , bazaars,  fountains , intrigues , religious debates , barbaric killings   of that period as well as the lives and times of three personalities :Omar Khayyam  ;Hasan Sabbah , the founder of  a Shia sect   and the order of the Assassins  at Alamut from where   Islamic terror ism originated;  and Nizam ul Mulk  the Vizier of the Seljuk Turks who was the Muslim Machiavelli of his times .In the back drop of these tortuous times Omar writes his poems imbued with  his philosophy of life  and  love for the Poetess Jehan  in a leather bound book presented to him by the Qadi of Samarkand , which is later stolen by Hasan Sabbah and taken to his mountain fortress in Alamut  .From here it   disappears  when the place is attacked and the library burnt down by the Mongols.

The scene than shifts to year 1896  Persia where an American Benjamin O Lesage arrives in search of the Manuscript  and  gets involved in the movement for democracy after the Shah is assassinated. He falls in love with Shirin a princess who is able to get the Manuscript .The passionate love between Benjamin who also has a middle name Omar as his parents were  influenced by the Rubaiyat translated by Edward  FitzGerald ,is the 20th century replication of the love of Omar and the Poetess Jehan.

Malouf  uses the revolution to philosophize on the dilemma of the Middle East: choosing between democracy and Mullahs and  search for identity versus the influence of the west .The first dilemma is expressed by Shirin  when she states “If the revolution triumphs, the Mullahs will have to turn themselves into democrats :if it fail the democrats will have to turn themselves into mullahs .”

The second is expressed in the words of a young American teacher .

“When I arrived in the country I could not understand  how grown and bearded me could sob and work themselves  up over a murder  committed twelve hundred years  ago .Now  I have understood .If the Persians live in the past  it is because  the past is their homeland and the present is a foreign country  where nothing belongs to them .Everything which is a symbol of modern life is a symbol of foreign domination :the roads -Russia ;the railways , telegraph and banking system –England ;the postal service –Austria –Hungary…”

United by the manuscript ,Benjamin and Shirin leave for America in the fatal Titanic and once the manuscript is lost, Shirin leaves her lover and vanishes  and the book ends .But for me it was a beginning to re-read the Rubaiyats  .The verses gave new hope in life : to live in the moment .And some of the happy moments were spent boating  in the Narbada at the Beda Ghat   or viewing the Dhuandhar falls from a cable car   and not thinking of threats of Hell and Heaven .  According  to OmarKhayam  Hell and Heaven are within one’s self .He writes

I sent my soul through the Invisible

Some letter of the After –life to Spell:

And by and by  my soul returned to me

And answered :’I myself am Heav’n and Hell.’


A Few lines on Shimla

Is this the tiny hamlet?
Whose lush green meadows,
Hills of stately cedar and towering pines
Cool, soothing pine scented breeze
Beckoned the British from Kolkata?
Is this Shimla? Summer Capital
Of Imperial India christened Simla
Transformed by architecture, lifestyle
To A glorious English County
Ball dances, picnics and pageants.
Is this the resplendent Simla?
Where resided rulers of India
Took earth shaking decisions
For Freedom and Partition
Impacting millions for generations