Monday, November 23, 2015

A History of the Sikhs, Volume 1: 1469-1839 by Khushwant Singh

Being a Punjabi I have always been curious about the history of the Punjab. The political history of Punjab is intermingled with the history of the dominant religion in those parts, Sikhism. Also, one often hears phrases like Sikhs made many sacrifices for us, the Sikh Gurus gave their lives for us etc. So, I was naturally curious about their History; I got myself this book written by Mr. Khushwant Singh.

 In the beginning the author familiarizes us with the topography and climate of the Punjab. Then, Mr Singh, himself a Sikh, dwells into ancient history about the Mohenjo Daro, Indus valley civilizations, whose cradle was the Punjab. Singh, claims that this ancient civilization was later wiped out by the Aryans invaders. The Aryans, bought the Vedic religion to the fore in India and till date are the dominant force in India. The aboriginals were marginalized and the tribals in India today are decedents of the aboriginals. Although after almost 2600 years, anyone claiming that Aryans are still outsiders, and trying to drive political mileage out of it is are just being plain silly. Hinduism, while a great religion has had too many problems, the major one being the caste system, the social hierarchy in which the Brahmins take the top spot(incidentally the same people who came up with the caste system) and Shudhras at the bottom, who were not only given menial jobs but were discriminated and persecuted for centuries. Even in modern day India, this rigid and evil structure persists which the upper casts still exploit.

15th April 1469, Guru Nanak, born into a middle class, hindu, Bedi family was spiritually inclined from an early age. The young Guru could hold his own against erudite theologians. He was married at an early age, 12, child marriage was common in those days. Nanak even had two sons and was later convinced by his sister to find regular employment. Soon, He had his epiphany, and announced to the world his encompassing philosophy where he repeated several times he was "neither a Hindu nor a Muslim". Thus, a new monotheist religion was born. Inspired from the Sufi and Bhakti movements. Nanak used the local language, Punjabi, to spread his word. Guru Nanak, also traveled the world to spread his religion. An anecdote from one of his travels goes something like this: Nanak was travelling in the middle east and was somewhere near mecca, when he got tired and fell asleep. A zealous Muslim started shouting at him; pointing out that his feet were pointing towards Mecca, on hearing this Nanak went back to sleep, the Muslim enraged moved Guru Nanak's feet to a different direction, to his astonishment Mecca moved to where the Guru's feet were, wherever the zealot tried to move the Guru's feet mecca also moved. The Guru pointed out that God was everywhere.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Top 10 Hindi Mystery Movies

hello readers of my blog. In this age of instant gratification, infinite distractions and instantaneous means of entertainment, books have lost their sheen, we are hardly able to focus on one topic before something else comes up to distract us. Reading books has become a chore and that too an arduous one, compared to TV and films where you don't need to be patient or invest mentally or financially.

Some people now even find films to be boring, long and uninteresting. This blog is definitely not for those folks. Some years back I did a post on my favorite English mystery movies, now I'm back with part two(after almost 37 months, insert awkward smile here).

10. Gumnaam - Based on "And then there were none" by Agatha Christie. 10 people are trapped on an island and they get murdered one by one. Manoj Kumar must find the killer before they are all murdered. Great theme music, good ending and atmospheric, the movie was spoiled by some very bad acting and ridiculous/illogical moments. Director should have stuck to the original plot.

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9. 404: Error not found - This obscure gem which was released in 2011, is one of those rare pieces of superlative cinema but with a plot which crumbles on scrutiny. A brilliant student starts hallucinating after moving into a room that was occupied by another who committed suicide. Boasting of no star power this one is atmospheric, slow and very much watchable.
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8.  Gupt -  In 1997, Bobby Deol, the dashing son of the legendary actor Dharmendra was at his prime and during that period one of his best movies was released filled with cheesy dialogues, fantastic songs , music and typical Bollywood action sequences. The Movie is a murder mystery where Bobby Deol's step dad is killed and of course he is pinned for the murder. The protagonist then goes out on a hunt to find out and catch the real killer, aided by Manisha Koirala and Kajol who were also in their prime, the movie is a Bollywood masala with a genuine murder mystery with a huge cast of suspects and lots of red herrings. Oh and it also has Om Puri!

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7.  Woh Kaun Thi? - released way back in 1964, starring the enigmatic Manoj Kumar and directed by the brilliant Raj Khosla. The opening scene of the movie shot through the POV of a driver navigating his car through torrential rains is something that I'm yet to come across again. This movie is a must for msytery and movie buffs in general alike. The brilliant direction transforms even a simple scene of a person driving through rain with no music and only the sound of the wiper into an atmosphere of suspense. The movies keeps on piling impossible situations but in the end screws up everything. Had the ending been better handled, this movie would have been much higher on this list.
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Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Pope and Mussolini by David Kertzer

Image result for the pope and mussoliniThe period between 1930's to mid 1940's was one of histories darkest yet richest. In it we saw the rise of a galaxy of political and military leaders like Adolf Hitler, Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Churchill, Stalin, FDR etc. One figure out of these galaxy of leaders was Mussolini, for me Mussolini had always remained an intriguing and enigmatic figure. The media has been bullheadedly focused on Hilter for the past several decades thus for us non-Europeans Mussolini and his fascist band has remained in the shadows of their Nazi counterparts. This tome by Mr Kertzer brings to light not only the rise and fall of Mussolini, along with his fascist party but also the rise and fall of Pope Pius XI. During this tumultuous time the Roman Catholic Church had one of its best leaders at its helm, Pius XI was tenacious, iron willed and aggressive.

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The book explores the journey of the two men, Pius and Mussolini. Both, had humble origins, both Italians rose to the top of their respective domains. Although the two headed very different institutions, one being the head of an extreme right political party and other, head of the biggest religion in the world, still the two had ample similarities.

The Church and the Fascist were initially opposed to each other. The two representing completely different ideologies, Mussolini was in fact, a self confessed agnostic and looked at the clergy with contempt. Mussolini soon realized in order to capture power in the catholic dominated Italy he would have to ally with the Pope and the institution that he found most odious.