Friday, May 30, 2008

Bollywood nugget: three interviews

Transcript of CNN-IBN interview (full text here):

Mumbai: A journalist who never thought that he will become a lyricist and this year, he is writing songs for some of the biggest films. This week on the Next Big Thing, it’s lyricist Neelesh Misra whose songs always has a soulful touch to it that works almost every time.

“Bollywood seemed out of reach. I grew up in Naintal. My only attempt to reach out to this world has been a letter that I wrote to Jagjit Singh with a song of mine which I don’t know if it reached him or not. But he rejected it. And I recently met Jagjit Singh at Lucknow airport and told him that I was in Bollywood because you rejected my song and because that was the same song that I sang to Mahesh Bhatt when I first met him and that set the ball rolling,” he says.

Excerpts of Indiainfoline interview (read full text here):

"Any benchmark that you have set for yourself as a lyricist?

I think I am really just an outsider in Bollywood as of now, and that is the way I would like it to remain. I am keen to get the opportunity to write everything from hopelessly romantic songs to item numbers to songs of urban angst to those of heartbreak.

I have been fortunate that I have already got the opportunity to do some of those, and I am doing a greater range now. But at the heart of everything, there has to be poetry and good storytelling -- simple, universal and the type that does not talk down to listeners. That has been the core of the work of the great masters of songwriting and if I can achieve even a piece of that jigsaw, it would be something I can truly be proud of. "

Excerpts of interview (read full text here):

"Neelesh laments on the dire situation of lyricists in the country. He believes apart from the likes of Javed Akhtar and Gulzar, songwriters country over are not getting their due. Lyricists are doing a thankless job. "They are treated as backroom boys and things need to change soon. FM channels, radio and television are popularizing songs without giving them any credit," states Misra."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Postcard from Kashmir

Ten minutes after he landed at Srinagar airport, Chris Terry felt he was in a Will Smith action flick. The Canada-born musician who lives in New York was dazzled by the sight of the guns, the armoured cars, the camouflage, the nervous organiser shouting to the driver, “Go! Go! Go!”

The next day was better. Terry, bassist of the Pakistani band Junoon, was on the stage and he had a familiar sight before him: thousands of youngsters screaming and cheering, singing along and swaying to popular Urdu numbers. What was unusual was the setting.

In the heart of a ‘war zone’, the rat-tat-tat of the AK-47 was replaced by the thump of percussions on Sunday evening as something unimaginable until now played out: a Pakistani band playing in Kashmir by the Dal Lake in the presence of a frenzied audience. In the crowd there were also people from outside Kashmir who have experienced conflict — and worse: former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Afghan Minister H.B. Ghazanfar.

There were schoolgirls in headscarves; young women in jeans and designer glasses. There were students in school uniforms. Behind them, the Dal Lake looked dreamy in a film of mist, flanked by the lofty Zabarwan range. It was as picture postcard as it could get in the Kashmir Valley.

One young man laughed and said, “Why didn’t these guys come 20 years ago? We wouldn’t have had had to take up guns!”

It was a joke many in the front row would take very seriously, of course.
Was this part of the peace process? Nope.
It was just an enjoyable concert for youngsters craving for popular culture in Kashmir. Did people on ‘both sides’ — and Junoon itself — try to wrap the event up in the complex politics of the region? Oh, of course. Everything is not politics in Kashmir, but everything becomes politics here.

Read the rest of the piece, which appeared first in the Hindustan Times.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bollywood nugget: Network 18 story

"Travelling in an auto rickshaw, Neelesh tells one over the phone just what it takes to survive in a scenario where sound and picturisation scores over melody and lyrics.

"I have to elbow my way in," he says, "Today there is always a fight between the word and the (musical) note. So there is a need to find a mid way."

Read the full story by Abhishek Mande here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Myanmar deja vu and India's false pride

Myanmar’s military dictatorship won’t allow international aid to come into the country that has been left devastated by Cyclone Nargis. The world is rightly outraged. Even junta-friendly India has urged the Myanmarese government to accept global aid.

But then, look who’s talking.

India had also famously refused international aid and access to foreign aid groups in the Andamans after the devastating tsunami hit its coastlines in 2004. New Delhi had then stated with a confident voice that it could and would manage its own affairs, thank you very much. But three-and-a-half years after the tsunami, permanent shelters for the homeless in the Andamans have still not been built. Tender notices for the reconstruction projects are still appearing in local newspapers.

One might be tempted to question the comparison made between India, a democratic, regional superpower, and Myanmar, a secretive military-ruled State. But the comparison, which should have been impossible to make, is there for all to see — especially for those suffering, who don’t quite care whether a democratic government or a tin-pot dictatorship is denying them food and shelter. A confident India, with a rising economic prowess, has all the right to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to outside help.

But shouldn’t we be eating at least a slice of the humble pie if thousands are left to suffer for years because of national pride?

The tsunami was not the first time that India was hit by a natural disaster of such proportions. More importantly, it also won’t be the last time. India needs to firm up its ‘rising power’ pride by actions that signify that it can ‘do it alone’.

In the Andamans, almost 10,000 permanent shelters were to be built in the archipelago where 7,450 people died. A total of 16,400 people were killed across Indian coastlines. Construction has not even begun on more than 80 per cent of the houses. In the rest, the basic structure is yet to be built — and this according to the government’s own project report that was made public at the end of February.

Read the full article here in the Hindustan Times, where it first appeared today on the editorial page).

Please also read this piece I wrote about the Andamans in the Span magazine.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kashmir Homecoming

Raka Khashu -- whose first name means the moon -- lives in New Delhi. She is a young lady in her late twenties, having already charted a very promising career path to become a senior executive with an international company. She is one of the most wonderful people I know.

Raka is the daughter of Mr. Upendra Khashu and Mrs. Girija Khashu, two of Kashmir's celebrated cultural personalities. They are, and have been, popular radio presenters and theatre and television artistes -- though as you will read in the story here that I wrote two years ago, one got death threats from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and the other marriage proposals.

In March 1990, the Khashus -- Kashmiri Pandits -- had to rush out of their home after death threats, even as food was hot on the oven.

Raka's younger sister Nipunta, now a successful public relations executive but then just a three-year-old, had one simple question from her mother's arms as they scrambled out of their home into a paramilitary truck to take them to the airport -- to be thrown into an uncertain future.

"Where we are going, will I get batta (rice)?" the three-year-old asked.

Kashmiri Pandits love their rice.

They also love their homeland as much as their fellow Kashmiri Muslims who have gone through crushing oppression over the past two decades.

Raka went back to Kashmir recently for the first time, spending a week in Srinagar. She wrote me an account.

"This the story of my life..story of a home coming..YES..after nearly twenty years..
I belong to Kashmir..was born and brought up destiny would have it, I was kicked out of my nest – with just one threat call..left my home within one hour..not knowing where for..

Now after twenty years, I got an opportunity to "visit" my homeland..I am using the word visit – because that's what I have been reduced to being a 'visitor'.

The moment I touched the ground..I knew I was 'home' in the true sense of the word. Wading through a series of security checks, I managed to reach my locality – the place where I was born and brought up..Due to unavoidable circumstances, we had to sell our house..and here I was in front of the gate..didnt know if I would be a welcome..nevetheless decided to march ahead.

The warmth was still there. "Leela Cottage" as we had named it – was still the same..nothing had changed..

Fortunately, the lady remembered my family and I was ushered into the house with a hug..I was speechless with tears flowing down my cheeks.. I don't know why I was crying..crying because of being forced to leave my house..or because of seeing it again after so many years or because I knew that it was just a short visit and the moment I step will be over..

I climbed the stairs and there I was, a small five-year-old girl running up the stairs and then stumbling and falling ... a few cries and my grandmom running to help me and there -- my granddad coming out of the room to save his little one..guess what..these were all memories…all this had happened 23 years back..

Came out to the garden..and there I was running and playing in mud, playing..all in my thoughts…not to forget – I was helping my granddad clear up the driveway to help him park his car..all in my memories..which I had nurtured all these years and they will always be fresh in my mind..

And then, it was time to leave..yet again..I could not even relive my old days in entirety.

I wept and wept on the way back. Just could not stop myself.
The driver looked me in the rear view mirror, paused and then said: "Sorry, we made a mistake".
It is not only me who has suffered... its them as well (the Muslims)... I could see that in the eyes of my driver who was a local. Nothing will erase the pain. But this remark made me believe that there is some hope for my birth place and some day we will live in harmony again."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

हूजी, सूजी और इमोशनल पत्रकार

हिंदुस्तान का एक सरफिरा पत्रकार, मेरा दोस्त रवीश कुमार, हूजी और सूजी को पढ़ कर कुछ यूं कहता है:
टीवी बीमार हो गया है। इसका एक ही काम है दिल्ली में रोज़गार गारंटी योजना के तहत कुछ बेरोज़गारों को पत्रकार कार्ड देना।
ल्यूटियन ने नई दिल्ली वायसरायों के लिए बनाई लेकिन आजादी के बाद नेताओं और पत्रकारों ने कब्जा कर लिया। नेताओं को घर मिला और पत्रकारों को नहीं। लिहाज़ा पत्रकारों ने ल्यूटियन दिल्ली में घूमते रहने का फैसला किया। इसी ज़ोन की पत्रकारिता करने वाले दिल्ली स्थित राष्ट्रीय मीडिया में संपादक हुए।
ज़्यादा हो गए तो एक मेन संपादक बना दूसरा राजनीतिक संपादक।
इसी में एक दूसरा वर्ग है जो आगे चलकर इंवेस्टिगटिव संपादक बनता है। यह ल्यूटियन पत्रकारिता का बचा खुचा अंश है। आंतकवादी घटनाओं के प्रसार लेकिन सूचनाओं के केंद्रीकरण के कारण ऐसे पत्रकारों की अहमियत बढ़ी। फीचर वालों को ल्यूटियन ज़ोन में कुछ नहीं मिला तो गांवों का रूख ar गए।
स्माल टाउन की अवधारणा पत्रकारों की इसी जमात की देन है।
मैं कई बार कहता हूं अशोक रोड( बीजेपी दफ्तर) और अकबर रोड(कांग्रेस दफ्तर) से दो बाइट लेकर विजय चौक के बीच में खड़े होकर पीटूसी कर दीजिए, स्टोरी बन जाएगी। बयानधर्मी स्टोरी जनकल्याण के लिए ही तो होती है।बहरहाल संघीय ढांचे और गठबंधन की मजबूरी के कारण गृहमंत्रालय की भूमिका कम हुई है। लिहाज़ा इसके अफसर सूत्र बन गए हैं। इनके संपर्क में आए पत्रकार हूजी सूजी का हलवा बनाने लगे।
सबसे पहले यही खबर देते हैं कि धमाके में आर डी एक्स का इस्तमाल हुआ। शिवकाशी से लाया गया बारूद नहीं था। फटे हुए और बचे हुए बम के भीतर अणु से लेकर परमाणु तक की जानकारी यही पत्रकार देते हैं।

आप अखबार वाले इनसे जलते हैं। इस श्रेणी के पत्रकार आपके भीतर भी हैं। जब आप मुख्य पृष्ठ पर द्विखंडीत यानी टू-पीस बिकनी वाली लड़की का फोटो छाप देते हैं तब कुछ नहीं।
ख़ैर मीडिया को लेकर पत्रकारों को इमोशनल नहीं होना चाहिए। सूत्र पत्रकारिता प्रिंट की देन है। प्रिंट से आए लोगों ने जब टीवी में इसके लिए धक्का मुक्की की तब से यह सूत्र के नाम पर गुप्तचर विभाग की रिपोर्ट आम होने लगी है।
वैसे आइये हम सब मिल कर घोर निराशा के इस दौर में तमाम सूत्रों के प्रति सम्मान व्यक्त करें जिनके भरोसे लोकतंत्र का चौथा खंभा खड़ा हुआ है।
सूत्र तुम बढ़े चलो। वीर तुम बढ़े चलो!

हूजी, सूजी और थोड़ा नमक मिर्च

ये है मेरी दो क्षण की दो मैगी नूडल टिप्पणियां.

नम्बर एक. मुझे लगता है रक्षा व सुरक्षा मामलों को कवर कर रहे सारे पत्रकारों को गुप्तचर बन जाना चाहिए.
नम्बर दो. मुझे लगता है कि सारे गुप्तचर ब्यूरो वगैरह के मित्रों को पत्रकार बन जाना चाहिए.
जैसा कि रिसर्च एंड अनालिसिस विंग के एक प्रमुख ने एक बार चलते चलते मुझसे कहा था -- "मैं और आप सच कहूँ तो एक ही काम करते हैं. बस मुझे अपने काम करने के कई तरीकों पर गर्व नहीं है."
कुछ पत्रकार साथियों की अदभुत प्रतिभा को मैं अक्सर देखता हूँ. भगवान न करे कोई आतंकी घटना हो जाए, चाहे सुबह के सात बजे हों, झट से पतलून पहन कर माइक के पीछे लपक कर खड़े हो जाएंगे, और घटना के दस मिनट के अन्दर अपना फ़ैसला सुना देंगे. बम्बई हो या दिल्ली या अजमेर या जम्मू या जयपुर. गहरी नींद में अब ये शब्द कह सकते हैं वो.
"इसमें लश्कर का हाथ है! इसमें सिमी का हाथ है! इसमें हूजी का हाथ है!"
(मेरे मन में बचपन का सुना माँ की झुंझलाहट गूँज गई: " बेटा दरवाज़े पे देखो कौन है, हमारा सूजी का हाथ है!"

हाथ हूजी का हो या सूजी का, हलवा वही पकना है. पत्रकार साथी आज कल नींद में भी अपना पी-टू-सी (यही कहते हैं न?) या समाचार विश्लेषण कर सकते हैं. इस पर हूजी कि छाप है. कोई नया मॉड्यूल है हिजबुल मुजाहिदीन का. महिला आतंकवादी. अमा मियां कोई ऐसी वैसी बात है क्या? सूत्रों ने बताया है. कश्मीर में घुसपैठ बढ़ रही है. पाकिस्तान के खतरनाक मनसूबे हैं. इन्टेलीजेन्स फेलियर है.

हो सकता है कि ये सब सही हो. लेकिन सुरक्षा मामलो को कवर कर रहे अधिकांश साथी इन सुरक्षा अधिकारियों के प्रवक्ता क्यों बन गए हैं? क्यों पहला धमाका होते ही ये प्रहसन शुरू हो जाता है? आपको धमाका होते ही दस मिनट में कैसे पता चल जाता है कि इसमें हूजी का हाथ है या लश्कर का?
दर्शक उल्लू है क्या?
हर तीसरे दिन आप सुनेंगे, कश्मीर में घुसपैठ बढ़ गयी है या घट गयी है. क्या आपको पता है कि कश्मीर का ये सीमा रेखा का सेंसेक्स कैसे चलता है? दिल्ली के नार्थ ब्लाक में एक मेज़ के चारों ओर बैठ कर छः सात अधिकारी "इन्टेलीजेंट गेस" (बुद्धिमत्ता पूर्ण अटकलें) लगाते हैं. और थोडी मोल भाव होती है. फिर फ़ैसला हो जाता है. फिर ब्रेकिंग न्यूज़ हो जाती है. इस साल बहत्तर नहीं, सतत्तर घुसपैठी कश्मीर में चोरी से आए. साथीगन हांफ हांफ के बताने लग जाते हैं लाइव न्यूज़ पर.

अरे नार्थ ब्लाक में गणित कर रहे सज्जनों! इत्ता पता है तो पकड़ क्यों नहीं लेते भइया? बेकार में इत्ता टी वी देखना पड़ता है ...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hope and a Little Dynamite

My parents could not sleep yesterday. There were blasts all day and night a few hundred metres from their home.

They do not live in Jammu, where a new terror attack killed civilians, security forces and militants. They live in Lucknow, where officials mounted a warlike operation to destroy a sports stadium and a huge and beautifully built guest house -- with dynamite.

That was quite apt -- in a state where the mafia is given government protection, where crime has long been the highest in India (do not believe what Mr. Amitabh Bachhan tells you), it is quite apt that state power will be used somewhere -- after all they have to do their duty. So on a Sunday, officials showed amazing efficiency and blasted out a sports facility for children and youth, watched by helpless sportsmen and women. India will surely win a gold medal in bad governance -- if not sport.
Why on a Sunday? Because the Supreme Court had been told that the petitioner who had opposed the destruction of the sports complex had "withdrawn" his petition in faraway Allahabad. So the Supreme Court said: "Oh, that simplifies things -- why don't you go ahead and blast the damn thing?"

The Supreme Court can be so innocently child-like sometimes. I hope in the coming years, politicians do not fancy the land where the Taj Mahal is located -- and borrow gunpowder from MLAs to blow it up. OOps -- did I just give them an idea?

In a state where few things surprise anyone anymore, I am pretty sure that several people would have had tears in their eyes yesterday watching the monstrous misuse of power. My mother certainly did. She was driving past the complex, watching the guest house -- where I had also had my wedding reception -- being razed to the ground.

It is hard not to be a citizen of U.P. and not feel pained every single day.

After the current government came to power, I had sent an SMS to one of Chief Minister Mayawati's top aides, congratulating him and saying that I hoped governance would see a change.

I take back that SMS.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Letter for Tenzin

Dear Tenzin,

I felt miserable after reading your letter. I really apologise that my harsh words caused you personal anguish, and I in no way meant to do that to anyone. I wrote that post on a really angry afternoon and should not have used some of the tough words I used there. I am not a bigot or xenophobe; I apologise, again. It was very uncharacteristic of me and thanks for writing in with such eloquence. I have, you will notice, edited my post to try and make it less offensive.

I do, of course, stand by my views.

Our personal experiences often shape our larger world view. That is perhaps true for both you and me on this issue. You told me of your grandfather; I also know of the pain of a young Kashmiri Pandit woman whose grandfather was brutally killed by people in Kashmir who are now public figures. Then she and her family had to leave their home at a few minutes' notice.

Truth has many faces, and they are often equally true in some measure for all of us. That is how the world works, and that is why people disagree. So even as I completely respect your angst and anguish, I feel the Tibetan community needs to engage and connect more with the people of the country that welcomed it. You say I do not know about the community -- and perhaps you are right -- but could the community have done more at its end to let an Indian citizen understand them better?

I also feel that India needs to get its convoluted policy on Tibet a bit more straightened out, and to look with greater empathy at displaced people within the country who are bearing the brunt of someone else's madnesses.

I was disappointed that you wrote that you are "as much Indian" as I am. You mentioned how you cheer for the cricket team etc. As an Indian citizen, I do not urge your loyalty to India. If you feel Indian, I am honoured that you do. But that is really not my business -- you don't have to prove anything to anybody. Loyalty is not my concern at all -- I am not one of those who will say that a Hindu is very sporting when he cheers for Pakistan but a Muslim is a traitor.

And I hope that the next time the Kashmiri Pandits or Gujarat riot survivors or SEZ victims protest their displacement, the Tibetan Youth Congress and the young generation of Tibetans will lend a chorus of support -- to others who have lost homes and homelands just like they have.

Letter from Tenzin

I got an anguished response last night from a reader to an angry post I had written last month on the Tibetan issue. I would like to reproduce what she wrote:


I am one of what you call "India's most ungrateful and arrogant refugees". Yes I am a Tibetan and I must say I experienced a lot of emotions while reading your blog - emotions ranging from anger to surprise and many in between. India is a free country and we all have freedom to speak our minds, something you and I would'nt have had had we been Chinese citizens. I agree with most of the things you said but I think your knowledge of the Tibetan refugees is very limited.

I can't talk on behalf on all Tibetans but I feel I must say some things. I agree most Tibetans have underpaid Indian help, at some places the shopkeepers would only talk to foreigners and yes, the Indian govt has been helping us since the time of my grandparents. But how many Tibetan places have you visited personally?

I am a Tibetan. I am not a hustler as you mentioned. I pay taxes to the Indian govt and I feel as much Indian as you do. I have raised my voice against the quota system and I cheer equally hard when India wins a cricket match. We Tibetans may not have contributed much to India but I am sure you know the total population of Tibetans in India.

I don't know if you know, but in the Bangladesh war, many Tibetans died fighting for India. Yes hundreds of these very ungrateful Tibetans died. My grandfather, like many, died making roads in India. My ungrateful grandfather! I think maybe one day we should sit and chat, if you have time.

(Images: Courtsey and

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Postcard from a shopping mall

I have a quick question: why can I not ask my wife for an external hard disk as a birthday gift?

(Actually I have three other questions: why do men have to stand embarassed outside women's bathrooms at shopping malls holding the wife's bags as other women pass by, smiling? And why do women's stores, where women love to spend half their lives, not have places for the husbands with swollen feet to sit? And WHY OH WHY can men not swear at bad drivers on the road who zigzag through the roads like impudent rats?)

Anyway, back to the first. I think birthdays are a very over-rated concept, Still, I bear it. So we were at this swank shopping mall in New Delhi today, where my wife Nidhi had hijacked me to buy me a birthday gift.

I am bad at choosing or suggesting gifts for myself, but I said yes, in the spirit of the birthday, and walked down the row of "stores" (seems they get insulted if you call them shops), like a fat model (do not laugh, they will soon be considered icons in anti-skinny France, and hence everywhere else).

Like the multiple choice questions I loved doing in my childhood exams, my wife paraded ideas: a new mobile phone? an Ipod Nano? A watch?

I ducked and swayed, somehow inventing a reason why every single one of those was not what I wanted. "The problem with you, my dear," I told her with some trepidation as we glided into a gizmo shop, "is that while I am trying to faithfully FIGURE OUT what I want, you seem to KNOW what I want."

It was a rhetorical question, of course. Wives made this decision centuries ago that they know what men want. We, of course, had to make and watch a Hollywood movie to try and figure out What Women Want.

Anyway, that is the EXACT moment when the idea hit me. Like Archimedes, I mentally jumped out of the bathtub, mentally shouting "Eureka! Eureka!" and physically rushed towards one counter (without the mental towel). The gift I wanted was right here.

It was a hard disk.

It was 160 GBs of external memory on which I could save the hundreds of pictures I take on trips, my scripts, and the books I download (legally).

"A HARD DISK?" my wife said in a loud, exasperated whisper. "That's what you want for your birthday, a hard disk?" She literally kept her elbow on the counter and held her head in frustration. It was as if I had asked for a broom for my birthday (not that I find that unreasonable in any way, to each his own).

For the next two hours, I pleaded with her as we sauntered around: "Why cann't I buy a hard disk? Isn't the birthday mine? Shouldn't the gift be something I want?"

As I understood it, her main fear was: when her best friends at NDTV would ask her what she bought her husband for his birthday, what would she say? "A HARD DISK!!!!!" What if I asked for a set of Crabtree switches or a cooking gas cylinder next year?

It was indeed a tough dilemma. I dropped her at her parents', and she has just informed me that a brand new mobile phone is on its way as my birthday gift.

I like her gesture. It was very sweet of her. But I intend to keep up the fight for the hard disk.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bollywood nugget: The Hindu on lyricists

"He doesn’t mind reading out his creation on the phone। He comes from a small town but prefers receiving the melody on e-mail. Poetry is not his full-time occupation. He can write about romance while covering militancy."

Anuj Kumar of The Hindu has written a story today on me and my fellow Bollywood lyric writers. You can read it here.
(All photos by the author, except when credit mentioned otherwise)