Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Below is another article published on on-line entertainment site, Rangmunch TV, on 9 April 2012.

What can be highest aspiration for a human being? Wealth, fame, glory, happiness or love? Think beyond that, take your mind and imagination to a higher plane. It may not be the first thing one thinks of when asked the question I raised, but surely there can be no more lofty achievement on any level, than ultimate union – that with the divine or Almighty, whatever form or manifestation you worship Him/ Her in?
An aspiration to achieve God is the central tenet of possibly all spiritual learning and longing alike. If we take Hinduism for example, the four pillars underpinning life’s goals are those of “dharma” (duty or righteousness), “artha” (wealth), “kama” (desire) and finally, “moksha” (liberation). It is clear that the final objective automatically implies an eventual absorption within,or submission to, a higher power, as to be liberated not just from your physical body, but to fully free your entire spirit, you must be “released” from all mortal boundaries. The other three may also necessitate submission to God in one form or another to achieve, as many will seek to do their duty, obtain material riches or fulfil worldly desires by relying on prayer, religion or even simply by following some form of “karmic” (deeds oriented) ideology, all of which rely on some form or other of a belief system in a superior power.
What does this have to do with Devon ke Dev Mahadev, you may ask? To answer this, ask yourself what the show is really about. Yes, we can see that it is an epic love story, it is about mythology and some will say, even fiction; it teaches us moral lessons, it warns us not to be arrogant and to have faith. Indeed, it does all that and more, but its most subliminal symbolism lies in seeing beyond Sati’s love and desire to attain Mahadev, and to equate it to the potential for EVERY human to attain God.
After all, is that not what Sati is trying to do? She is human, she is limited by her mortality and spiritual constraints. That is why there is a lot of focus on the recent track about her “yogyata” or suitability to be a bride to the most powerful of all Gods. This can, and possibly has been, misunderstood by some.
That was not a male diety being patronising to his (now) human but destined consort. It is simply a stark realisation that a human being, even one who was once “divine”, such as Sati was, can be hemmed in by her mortal limitations. Sati is often described as being possessed of all qualities one can aspire to – she is righteous, dutiful, kind, beautiful, multi-talented, and loving. How can she be unsuitable? We are told she can, as her love is still egocentric, in the sense that she struggles due to her humanity to extend that to the level of universal love that Mahadev as God can dispense.
Mahadev himself understands that and knows that an attempt to unite with Sati whilst she is still trapped within those inevitable human desires and limitations, will lead to catastrophe for Sati herself.
We have here our epic love story as a more seemingly insurmountable obstacle is harder to imagine. If it was only opposition from Sati’s father, no matter how vehement, that would be an external hardship to overcome, but again we are reminded that it is the internal battles one must fight and win, that stand between us and God more stoutly than extrinsic factors. We also have here, the hope that there is potential for a human (Sati here but it could be anyone?) to shed their impediments through challenging but yet achievable, tests or exertions.
I draw the parallel here for the potential for each of us to therefore be able to aspire to what appears almost unachievable – union with the divinity, whence we all come from and back to which we must aspire to return to, if we are to be free for once and all from all pain, suffering and to be able to merge back to the cosmos and its creator. Think also on the suggestion that it is not only through the desire for God that you can be finally released of all “desire” or attachment in itself, thereby paving the way for your own“moksha” or true liberation. Such liberation does not necessarily have to be through death- you can attain this state whilst being part of the living macrocosm.
Thank you once again to Life OK, Nikhil Sinha and the entire team of Devon ke Dev Mahadev for bringing us this important message of spirituality and ultimate hope through their wonderful show, which masquerades as a mythological drama, but is far more than just that. Also, thank you to our wonderful on-screen Shiv and Sati, Mohit Rainaand Mouni Roy, for making us fall in love with them, and thus inspiring each of us in some way to try to seek our own God or divinity.

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I had to write this, so that I can hopefully rid myself of the annoyance I felt and yes, also the disappointment experienced, at seeing/ hearing what I am about to write about.

It frustrates me that in the same weekend I watch the Sports Relief programme and feel so overwhelmed by stories like that of John Bishop and consequently feel proud to be British(part British but still), I watch an episode of Britain’s Got Talent and watch a significant proportion of the audience loudly boo a contestant when he simply announces that he is from Germany!

Seriously people? Do we live in a society so ignorant that we would do something like this? Beyond pathetic,is what I call it. Before anyone jumps down my throat with the excuse that not everyone would have done that, please take note that it was still enough of a number that enabled the jeering to be so loud that it was clearly audible. Simon Cowell, from the judge’s panel, had to actually intervene with his comment about we are all past that and it was all a long time ago (or words to that effect). To me, that audience arguably consists of a representative sample of the British public, and that reaction is simply unpardonable.

I also give no quarter to the excuse that it may have been tongue in cheek and possibly intended to be funny. Well, it is not funny, I do not buy that for a second and people need to understand the difference between a joke and discrimination. I will have to curb myself from expressing detailed views on the institutional racism/discrimination prevalent in this “modern”, “advanced” world we live in as I fear this post will go of for too many pages, so I shall have to revisit that issue another day. For now, as I cannot unfortunately round up those ignorant people myself and tell them how ridiculous they sound, I need to be content with writing it here.

I know a lot of people are not ignorant or discriminatory but this is aimed at those who are. It is a shame to know that there are people who only have to look a relatively short while back in their own history to remind themselves that their nation arbitrarily ruled over various countries under the guise of trade and colonisation, who do not think there is anything wrong in mocking someone for simply being German! Wake up Britain- let us leave aside the fact that the talent often depicted in that show is often questionable, you need to practise more of your preaching on tolerance and multi-cultural living. Look to fix what is wrong in your own backyard first My experience of Germany ironically suggests that they have, whereas after that offensive display during that show, I somehow suspect we have not, and that there may be some work to do on this front.

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This is a slightly edited version of an article recently penned and published on www.Rangmunch.tv, an entertainment site with a varied and wide audience:

Falling for Shiva- Devon Ke Dev Mahadev

In the proclaimed new age of Indian television, where the general trend currently favours mainly suit wearing business tycoons, trendy collegiates or the quintessential Indian gent, how can a mythological God make a universal impact? By universal, I refer to challenge that must face the makers of any mythological show for Indian audiences, of ensuring that their offering is not simply delegated to the slot viewed only by those the south side of middle age. In short, it strikes me as incredibly difficult to make a mythological series that can capture the imaginations of not just our parents and grandparents but also of a more youthful audience.  A concern even more compounded surely, when the subject of your show is one of the most famous Indian deities of all times- the towering mythical figure of Lord Shiva, a third of the triumvirate that is believed responsible for the formation, sustenance and destruction of all creation through the ages, in a never ending cycle throughout eternity.

Nikhil Sinha, through his ground breaking series, Devon ke Dev- Mahadev, was clearly up to the challenge and seems to have gone about it all the right way. You have incredibly visually appealing sets, a beautiful heroine who could be argued to be an original feminist, an actual God for a hero, a villainous father and a love story so overwrought with obstacles that it defines epic- all in all, the perfect recipe for a fare fit for the Gods themselves. You may argue that there have been various shows dealing with not only religious or mythological figures, but even the re-telling of the story of Shiva himself in the past. Ah yes- but to me, most of those still left one conscious that the God(s) in question were distant from the mortal realm and somewhat remote from the constant ills that inevitably plague its inhabitants.

This is where Mahadev starts to come into its own as its Shiva, despite being a God, is someone that forces you to relate to him. You feel his loneliness as he tries to distance himself from the cosmos he shares total responsibility for (with Brahma and Vishnu) by living a hermit’s life, having given up his literal other half- his “Shakti” and his consort for the sake of the  macrocosm. You feel his pain as he repeatedly rejects Sati, the human incarnation of his very Shakti he has sacrificed in the past, as he is fearful of the consequences of such union on her. You cheer for him and cannot help sigh with pleasure when he arrives every time to save his lady, planting himself as strong as any mountain in the path of whatever danger faces her. Not only is he astoundingly handsome and charismatic but also kind and innocent, he truly respects women, he wants to allow Sati freedom of choice, is selfless in his love and yet masculine enough to set most female hearts aflutter.

Who can play such a personality and do him justice? This is where the show clinches the deal, as Mohit Raina, our on-screen Shiva, does more than breathe life into the challenging role, he owns it and works his way into your imagination in a way that most are in danger of imagining only him whenever they try to visualise Shiva.  It is not just the incredible physique Mohit has built up for the role, neither is it the chiselled features and the sheer force of the very character of the Lord of the Gods, although all these do undoubtedly play a big part. It is his mastery of every expression, from sublime peace to Rudra’s famous all-consuming anger, the pleasure when faced with genuine worship and the turmoil caused by feeling that he cannot risk Sati herself by accepting her as his wife, that the actor manages to command and wield against his audience with as much accuracy as his deadly on-screen “trishul”. Not only that, in his on-going quest to give it his all, this model turned actor has recently taken up classical dancing lessons (in “Kathak”) as dance is such an integral part of Shiva and the show. This is preceded by the stupendous work he has already undergone with respects to having to build up his body in accordance with the challenging dictates of the role.

No wonder then that a lot of us forget we are watching a famous God being presented, we see the sublime man, and young or old, I challenge anyone who finds themselves able to resist this versatile actor’s magnetism.  Testament to his heart-touching characterisation is the messages that pour in for him on social networking or internet sites, particularly on his twitter account. We see girls drooling over him, telling him they are in love with him, others sending heart-felt appreciation for his work, even viewers messaging on behalf of their mothers and others not of the Facebook generation, with messages, all sending him love and best wishes. That in itself is not unique as of course there are many that can lay claim to being Indian television heartthrobs, but what sets this man apart is that he frequently takes the time to personally respond and each response is just like him, modest, unassuming and personable. One of my favourite examples is that of Mohit’s recent tweets to a young fan, a student, who has been tweeting him in between studies, requesting he respond and also that she would love it if he followed her on twitter. Most actors would never respond to what they must find a common place occurrence, but Mohit responded personally twice, each time urging his young fan to study and even dangling the carrot stick that if she did very well, he would follow her twitter account.  His tweets to each person resonate with personal concern- young school going fans are gently reminded to study, respect is shown to mothers of fans who like the show and jokes are returned with witty humour.

I have umpteen examples of how much his fans love Mohit. We have recently seen twin brothers spend eight hours creating a beautiful painting of Mohit as Shiva, which our hero not only praised to the high heavens and thanked the creators for (though the fan club that posted the painting), but also displayed as his twitter photo for a day. It seems that many have succumbed to the Mahadev mania. It is however, no trouble as when the object of your admiration is so deserving and yet so humble, you cannot help but try to give them credit, confident in the knowledge that they are too modest to self promote. If you do not believe me, just watch any interview with Mohit- he is so reticent about himself and his considerable skills, he always downplays his excellent performances but is always so complimentary about co-stars and the team (and rightly complimentary at that too).

I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you did and enjoy Mahadev and particularly the sterling work done by Mohit, please do follow him on twitter on @mohituraina and on his fan club on @Mohit_FC.

Har Har Mahadev in the meantime!


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I think I must start this post by clarifying that it is not intended to patronise anyone, but is rather a response to numerous comments over the years by people who have claimed to get very confused by my somewhat admittedly varied background.

I am of Indian origin, I was born and brought up in Africa and have lived in the UK (give or take a year) since I was 18. I speak a number of Indian and other languages fluently (but am totally bilingual where English is concerned). I have a lot of family in India and I am a “practising” Hindu but have never lived in India. I look Indian, I believe (although I do often get asked if I am Persian or Lebanese, particularly by US Custom officials!,) but a lot of people tell me that they wouldn’t guess I am Gujarati (from the state of Gujarat in Western India). I am often mistaken to be North Indian or Gujarati Muslim. Yes, Gujarat is predominantly a Hindu state but there are a lot of Gujarati Muslims too. Anyone getting confused yet?

Now take the above factors, plonk one in England, and then try to get them to explain this during “party talk” to people mainly guzzling huge quantities of alcohol, which one does not drink (no I am not Muslim, I am Hindu but I still don’t drink and it is a grey area whether Hindus are “allowed” to drink or not, it depends on your family, was probably originally caste dictated but is now very much dictated by individual circumstances), and you have a fairly difficult time of it. Welcome to my world!

I am surprised I am not confused myself when I describe it like that but I promise you, it is all very clear in my head and heart both. I am that product of the new multicultural society we live in where the world is indeed a much smaller place and the boundaries of race, culture, background, very much blurred. I like to think it has made me more tolerant and well rounded and despite the confusion it seems to cause, leads to some interesting conversations (at least with those who are in a state to remember it the next morning). However, sadly, as much as I like to think that a lot of people are very informed in terms of diversity and that ignorance is confined to the minority, I must acknowledge that it may not be that simple and we may have a long way to go before people can easily grasp the concepts I have only vaguely summarised above.

And before anyone attacks me for alleging that I am implying that there is an issue with this in England, I happily accept that this is an affliction not restricted to any specific country, it spans continents, the educated or otherwise, and is also not dictated by the gender divide. In short, millions of people from various countries, varied backgrounds and races can, and do, suffer from not having a clue when it comes to being aware of cultural overlap. All in all, those pundits who spout about diversity and how multi-cultural a lot of the world has now become, please note that we have only just begun to scratch the surface of embracing a genuinely global society.

I will sign off by mentioning that I am about to marry an Englishman (of part Maltese origin) but will be keeping my Indian surname, which often gets mistaken for Italian. God bless (and help) any children we may have! We shall talk about whether I think of God as Krishna or the father of Jesus Christ another time.

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