Revolution 2020

4 back to back bestsellers have made Chetan Bhagat a demigod in the Indian literary circles and the world too has been lavish in its praise with Time Magazine, The Guardian and The New York Times hailing Bhagat as ‘India’s Paperback King’ and best-selling author. It was no surprise therefore, that as soon as ‘R2020’ (as Aarti calls it) hit the shelves earlier this year, it was eagerly lapped up by faithful fans all across the country. One of my students let me borrow the book and I’ve enjoyed savoring it page by page over the Christmas holidays.

Revolution 2020 – Love. Corruption. Ambition. – With its suggestive title and silhouettey (I just coined a word there) cover, surely grabs ones attention at the very onset. The image of the three characters and the jagged sketch of Varanasi are indicative of an intense love story set in the most unusual of settings.

The reason I refer to Varanasi as an unusual setting is because Bhagat’s last four books have had a very urban feel and appeal. They are about cool kids, living the good life and having the benefits of a city upbringing. (Generally speaking) The setting of R2020 is refreshingly different and I give Bhagat full props for bringing alive a city that I have not had the chance to visit. The descriptive passages with their detailed images of the Ghats, the flickering diyas floating along the Holy river, the alley ways, the boat rides, the burning pyres, the pilgrims washing away their sins and probably a whole lot of other things –make Varanasi as important as any of the story’s three protagonists. In fact, when Gopal moves to Kota to pursue his studies, the narrative feels like it is missing something integral to the plot. I was so relieved that the action returns to Varanasi soon after and I’m positive that if any Bollywood director chooses to adapt this story, the camerawork and images will be simply spectacular.

Another thing I loved about this book was the way Bhagat has portrayed what I believe are his three best characters till date. Yes! Aamir Khan has immortalized Bhagat’s earlier cult character, but Gopal, Aarti and Raghav are a cut above. They are so real, so well etched and so beautifully rounded and yet they never lose touch with the ragged edges of reality. There are moments in the book where they spout dialogue that I could imagine my best friends telling me – their silly jokes and playful banter, phrases that are grammatically incorrect and sometimes even the most profound and thought provoking musings – all this and much more can be found in equal measure. Their journeys are so real – they evolve, they mature and they grow – The childhood squabble over half a piece of chocolate cake and the irony of the chocolate cake discarded at the very end are a small and poignant examples of how beautifully Bhagat is able to map their lives and loves.

Bhagat even touches on and throws light on corruption in education and politics. Like Ragahv, it is clearly evident that the author too has carried out some very in-depth research. The book is bound to make people sit up and realize that sadly, these practices are alive and thriving in our nation.

As you can see, I’ve quite enjoyed reading R2020. It sort of took me back to my teenage days when us friends would sit around some steaming coffee and swap personal stories. While reading the story, I felt like I knew these three people – I could understand what they were going through, I could see the cogs in their brains turning, I got what made them tick and why they did what they did.

But it was the end that left me a little uncomfortable. The dramatic lead up to and Gopal’s sudden change of heart, his sacrifice and his pulling away from his childhood sweet heart after a brief encounter with a farmer’s son- the pieces just didn’t fit properly for me. I’m not saying I don’t think people can change – I’m just saying it was a little forced, predictable and a bit of an anti-climax. I still need to mull over the various things the concluding pages could imply but frankly speaking, it didn’t leave me with a sense of closure that I long for at the end of a good book. Besides, a thorough romantic would never let go of his true love – never! There is always another way or another option to explore.

All said and done, I officially have a new Chetan Bhagat favorite. This story will stay with me long after. The ending is sensational enough for me to keep playing it over in my mind and I’m sure will make for some great scenes when it eventually but inevitably hits the theatres. But it’s the idea of a youth led Revolution that has got me hooked. Herein I feel, lies Bhagat’s major strength – he appeals to the youth of India. He pulls at our heart-strings. His voice resonates with us and echoes long after the last page has been turned.

Just look at the last year – there is clear evidence that the youth in India, have had enough and are ready to affect unprecedented change. It’s happening already. Young people today, are unafraid of challenging the status quo and demanding what is right and just. Change may take time but it will come eventually. We need more Ragahv’s in our nation and I think R2020 will go a long way in ensuring that. I give full marks to Bhagat for having the guts to tell this particular story at this poignant time in the history of our country. I’m sure he had a million other ideas for his next outpouring but the fact that he chose to tell this one makes him, like Raghav– a bold, fearless and passionate young Indian. Just what our nation needs.

I’m writing this review as we stand on the threshold of a new year and I believe in my heart that 2012 would be the perfect time to begin the revolution! Afterall, the revolution must start with us. With You. With me.
Happy New Year, everyone!

‘Sometimes life isn’t about what you want to do, but what you ought to do.’ – Revolution 2020

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A Bag Of Potatoes, Really?

“There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who will do the small things.”
– Mother Teresa

This morning, I did something I have not done in quite a while. I volunteered to help out at the Missionaries of Charity. I think the last time I did something like this was back in 2008 when I spent a week with friends working in an old age home in Calcutta. Scores of foreigners and locals alike flock here to the – World Headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, each morning to volunteer and help out with the goings on at this little but world Famous heaven in Calcutta.

It so happens that a friend from the U.K is visiting Calcutta and it was his enthusiasm that convinced me to sign up as well. Though we got off to a late start, the experience was humbling, to say the least.

At first I was disappointed, I was asked to simply carry potatoes from the courtyard to the kitchen! What a major let down. I was looking forward to doing some major life altering work and all they wanted me to do was carry bags of potatoes back and forth.

I don’t know if my disappointment was visible on my face or not, but a frail little nun pulled me aside and said something to me that I will always remember.

She said ‘the littlest acts of kindness and spirit can make the largest difference.’ I was left speechless for a couple of seconds, I simply smiled at her beaming, wrinkled face and continued to do what i had been asked to.

She didn’t say anything too profound, I know, but it just made me realize that there is so much I can do, so much…to make a small difference in the world around me. Even if it means carrying bags my favorite vegetable back and forth in a little courtyard in Calcutta.

Christmas Warmth

It’s ten degrees outside. Calcutta as I remember it, has never been this cold. Everywhere I look, people are wrapped in thick woolen over-coats, colorful caps and scarves, boots, jackets and a host of other winter paraphernalia.

It’s ten degrees outside. Calcutta as I remember it, has never been this cold and yet, I feel such a tremendous warmth within. As I sit here typing this post on my laptop, I can hear my mother’s voice, I can see my dad scurrying around the house getting things ready for Christmas morning, my brother is catching up with his chores and trying to sneak in regular T.V breaks just so that he doesn’t miss Terranova! And I can hear them all lavishing my dog Skippy with affection every five minutes! Occasionally I hear my name being called…I feign disgust…do a little drama and then happily carry out my chores…for at home nothing changes!

Christmas in my home has always been like this. You will not hear any wild revelry here, nor Christmas parties that go into the early hours of the morning and no lavish celebrations that leave one broke at the end of it all. Christmas is about the five of us and the love we share – the faith we have and the Christ we celebrate.

At this very moment I am HAPPY. This is what happiness feels like. Yes the house is dressed up in Christmas finery but that isn’t what makes the festival special. To me, Christmas has always been about family, home and celebrating our faith.

Yes it is freezing outside…they say it’s a cold wave…but in our quirky little home there’s enough warmth to keep us happy and smiling, today and always and you all are most welcome to join.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Red-Eye Ramblings

It is past midnight and I am sitting in the departure lounge of the Dubai International Airport. An arresting building, this modern marvel is an avant-garde, opulent and very large superstructure that I have come to love. Yes Love. The commingled noises of one of the busiest airports in the world i.e. Dubai, have always fascinated me. They are the sounds of the airport staff trying their best to please irate travelers, the gentle sounds of recorded announcements, the mild humdrum of conversation, the high pitched voices of friends or family members who have been re-united after a long separation, the muffled voices of those exchanging their last goodbyes and the drone of the metallic wheels of trolley’s grating against the granite floors, crying out in rebellion as they are burdened with the spoils of many a shopping spree that have made Dubai famous.

Suddenly it struck me; over a period of four years, every one of these sounds has grown familiar to me. They are sounds that I look forward to, the little reminders that announce to me that soon I’ll be home or that in a few hours I will be some place that I have only imagined or read about in books.

They say that the world is a book and that those who do not travel read only a page. How true the old adage is. This world we live in, this planet we call home is a remarkable place, to say the least. Yet, how narrow our understanding of it sometimes is. We live in our match-box homes, playing out the roles we have been allotted – wife, husband, father, mother, son, daughter etc. with much enthusiasm and in some cases only because we have to.

Some of us, who are lucky enough, venture out. We cross the precincts of our ordinary lives to explore new frontiers, to take up jobs in foreign lands, to vacation in exotic locales and for a brief and fleeting moment our eyes are opened. Others make their homes abroad, choosing to live differently, independently, to have more opportunities and to experience new things. Some people continue to live their lives, oblivious to the anything other than what is familiar to them, happy in their own familial spaces.

Right now I’m just extremely grateful for the year that has whizzed by. I’m officially 27 years old now. What a year it has been! So much has happened, I’ve traveled to new countries, had so many memorable experiences, braved struggles that have toughened me, taught me and helped me learn and grow and now I’m finally going home to the people that matter most, to the place I love most.

In the end, no matter where I go, what I do and who I meet, there will never be any place as inviting, heart-warming and loved as home!

So farewell friends there may be a few days of silence…

Good luck, God bless and Season’s Greetings!

Sydney

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Sydney Atkins is now friends with Sheikh Mohammed

I just discovered that Sheikh Mohammed has a Facebook page! Everybody else seems to have known all along but I just discovered it. He seems to be quite a tech savvy ruler, doesn’t he? Of course it’s more than likely that the page is being run on his behalf, by a group of dedicated minions who want to make the ruler seem approachable and with the times. But what a cool idea. The visionary that he is – Sheikh Mohammad has his finger of the pulse of everything modern…everything now!

I am not quite sure what to make of all this , but I’m certainly amused by the notion of the ruler of Dubai, opening up a facebook page, especially when the rumour mill is always abuzz telling us that facebook might be banned just like the host of other websites and that we’ll be forced to use proxy’s with funny names all over again.

I like his page now and even comment on his pictures and like his statuses, but I’m not so sure of the entire thing. I don’t doubt for a second that the page will be watched carefully with eagle eyes. Also the last thing I want is a group of officials reading MY facebook page and my silly updates and notifications – ‘Sydney Atkins just checked into Paradise with…’ can you imagine how that could be misinterpreted? Sheesh….the next thing I know…I’ll be loaded onto a cargo plane deported to India as a criminal!

But kudos to him for putting himself out there and allowing an entire country and people from all over the world the opportunity to poke him…albeit virtually of course!

The Road Not Taken

Often times, we wonder about the paths that we have taken in our lives. I have done it so many times over and I am sure, each one of us must question or imagine how different life would have been had we done things differently. We do wonder about the road not taken.

I enjoyed this poem when I first read it in college, even with my limited knowledge of life and worldly experiences at that point of time; I found this poem by Robert Frost to be thought provoking and moving. I guess life and the experience it offers each of us at various points in time makes one wise and makes our thoughts mellow. In the end I believe this is a poem that celebrates the individual. It celebrates the idea of courage in one’s convictions and teaches us to take risks and live life on our own terms and conditions without compromise.

I’ve been teaching this poem to my students this week and it led to some very interesting conversations. As usual, the kids continue to amaze me with their insight and thoughtfulness. I decided to share this with you, hoping it would make you pause even if momentarily, just to think and luxuriate in the joy of knowing you chose to live your life, your way!

 

 

The Protester

It’s nearing the end of the year and before you know it, you’ll be hearing of all sorts of lists. The best dressed, the worst dressed, the most influential, the most Googled personality and the list is simply endless. One of the end-of-year acknowledgements I look forward to is the, Time Magazine – person of the year. Last year it was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and there was a special mention of ,WikiLeaks master mind Julian Assange.

Today, I casually Googled to find out if this year’s selection had been made and was pleasantly surprised that it had been but it was definitely not any of the personalities I had predicted. This year the magazine chose The Protester as the most dominant person in the passing 12 months.

Last year, the social media websites where inundated by angry voices who disagreed with the choice of the Facebook founder. This year however there seems to be unanimous praise for the unusual choice.

I am so glad that the editors chose to acknowledge the nameless and faceless millions who have made 2011 such a significant year. These people risked their lives and their livelihoods to go out there and together bring about change that nobody had expected – unprecedented change that would alter the course of nations and would go down in annals of history. World over from the U.S.A to the masses of middle class Indians, from Moscow to the Middle East, the men and women around the world but particularly in the Middle East, toppled governments, brought democracy and restored dignity to countless people who needed it the most.

Looking back at 2011, I don’t think any other individual would have been a rightful pick for the Time Magazine honour. These countless millions are after all the real agents of change. They have already affected phenomenal change in the past twelve months and will undoubtedly mould the future of their nations.

Who would you pick if you didn’t agree with Time Magazine’s choice of person of the year?