Praise for My Books


"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes


Monday, 13 October 2014

Haider, and gulon mein rang ...

So, I watched Haider. In a movie hall in Connecticut with ten other folks. In time, gulon mein rang bhare streamed through the hall, hummed by a father in the still innocent days of Kashmir, next ringing forth in flashback from a prison - literally, the qafas of the shayr - then hovering like mist over the shikara paddling over Dal as a son searches for his 'disappeared' father, reeling off his mouth incomprehensibly as he tries to grapple with the meaning of his missing father. 

And the seemingly cavernous hall filled up with Faiz's gem.

In an early scene in the movie, Haider's (Shahid Kapoor) father hums the ghazal as the teenage boy hovers around the father asking for pocket money. Jumla complete karo, he demands with a smile, and the son rattles off: chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobaar chale.

'Chale bhi aao' sums up Haider's journey thereafter, the elusive search for a father which morphs into a search for identity, a slow descent into a spiral of contradictions, conflict, machinations, madness, until what seemingly is, isn't. Hamletian.

In Haider, the director and co-scriptwriter Vishal Bhardwaj has adapted Shakespeare's Hamlet to the story of Kashmir. It is indeed a bravura adapatation, complete with gravedigger fools, who, in the Shakespearean tradition, are no fools at all. However, to me, the leitmotif of Haider, indeed the work of art that imbues the soul of the film and weaves its narrative is Faiz's gem:

Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar chale
Chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobaar chale

The flowers abound with colours, the breeze of new spring blows,
Come, so that the garden transacts its daily business...

The garden of Kashmir stopped transacting its business in the mid 1990s, the time of Haider's setting. A time when the chinar - the majestic trees that define the valley, which derive their name from when the invading Persians first sighted their glorious red, and excalimed, Chinar, meaning, What a fire! - literally and figuratively burst into flames with routine exchange of gunfire between militants and the Indian Army.

Qafas udaas hai yaaron sabaa se kuch to kaho
Kaheen to bahr-e-Khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale

The cage is sad, my friends, say something to the breeze,
For God's sake, let's talk about the beloved today...

Poora Kashmir qaid khana hai mere dost, a bitter Haider reflects at a point in the film. As the spiral of violence nosedives, Ghazala, Haider's mother, appeals to her son to surrender, to see reason. For God's sake, let go of the vengeance, let's talk about the beloved... I am so happy to see that a film maker has started this conversation, that a Censor Board - despite the rumoured forty cuts - has passed a film that does not shy from dealing boldly with its troubled and troubling topic. From the reported 50 crore collection, despite a 'Boycott Haider' movement being promoted by some disgruntled right-wingers, the rest of India is joining in the debate. Let's talk about the beloved.

It was inevitable that Haider should take me me back to Maachis, Gulzar saab's film on Sikh militancy in Punjab. Vishal Bhardwaj counts the senior director as his mentor, and it was in Maachis that he got his break as a film director. Besides the music, which for both films is deeply rooted in the folkloric tradition of the respective states, both films are an attempt to unravel the contrarian threads that run through the militant-state conflict narrative. Punjab got over its days of militancy, Kashmir is struggling with it. Is Punjab the better for it? Will Kashmir get to a state of normalcy?

Jo hum pe guzri so guzri magar shab-e-hijraan
Humaare ashq teri aaqbat sanwaar chale

What happened to me, happened, but on the night of separation,
Did my tears make your future better...

If you haven't watched it yet, do yourself a favour, go. Haider deserves you in conversation. And with Faiz and Shakespeare for company, who would quibble? And I am not even bringing up the stellar performances by the cast, Tabu and Shahid Kapoor truly bringing the colours of flowers to life. Gulon mein rang bhare...

Friday, 20 June 2014

Hindi kaise ich bolne ka yaaro?! Or How is Hindi To be Spoken?

Sindhu - Hindu - Hindustan : Aryan - Persian - Mughal 
Ye India hai jalfrezi: thoda global, thoda local.

India gets its name from the river Indus, which the Indians knew as the river Sindhu, which the Persians, struggling with the initial ‘s’, called Hindu. From Persia, the word spread to Greece and thereupon the whole of India became known by the name of the river. The Mughals made it Hindustan. The ancient Indians, however, knew their sub-continent as Jambudvipa (the land of the jambu tree). - Source: AL Basham

Today, the river Indus/Sindhu is mainly in Pakistan. Which begs the question, in tune with the current Indian government’s note to ‘give priority to Hindi’: should we change the name of India to Jambudvipa, and Hindi to Jambudvipi/dvipani/ ... 

And some clarity from the PMO on the exact form of this ‘Jambudvipi Hindi’ will be helpful: will it have the salt of Bhojpuri Hindi? the masti of Mumbaiyya Hindi? the hybrid riot of Hyderabadi Hindi? the vowel-snuffing of Punjabi Hindi? ... 

Hindi kaise ich bolne ka yaaro?!