Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lobbying for Bharat Ratna, an insult to Dilip Kumar

By Raza Elahi
Recently some members of Indian film industry have urged the government to award Bharat Ratna to Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar. A community titled “Dilip Kumar for Bharat Ratna” on Facebook, which is started by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, is seeking 100,000 solidarity comments for the actor.

Is there really any need for such campaign for a man widely believed to be the finest actor Indian film industry has ever produced? Isn’t lobbying for the award an insult to this icon of film industry?

It is true no celebrity deserves a Bharat Ratna better than Dilip Kumar, who dominated the film industry for decades. He became known for playing tragic roles in Dedar (1951), Amar (1954) and Devdas (1955), which gave him the title of “tragedy king”.
His other landmark performances in films like Andaaz (1949), Naya Daur (1957), Madhumati (1958), Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Leader (1964), Aadmi (1968), Gopi (1970) and Shakti (1982) show how versatile actor he is. Perhaps, someone rightly said, Dilip Kumar is not an actor but an institution of acting. His charitable and social services are also quiet known. On many occasions, he was in the forefront to generate funds for drought and flood hit people. In 1980, he was also appointed Sheriff of Mumbai, an honorary position.

His vast contribution to the film industry is unmatched. Those who disagree are not being honest. For such a towering personality, there is absolutely no need for any campaign. What Mahesh Bhatt & co. is doing is nothing short of being called sycophancy. The whole exercise demeans the man who always has a high moral value. Dilip Kumar never appeared on advertisements on TV. He has a set of principle, “I am an actor not a salesman to sell the products on TV.” Can these true foot soldiers justify convassing for the thespian on the social networking website?

They must also not forget that there are legends in other fields too, who have done great services to the nation, but so far have been deprived of the honour. M S Swaminathan, E Sreedharan, Ratan Tata and Sam Pitroda are just a few examples. No one can also undermine the achievements of Kalpana Chawla. She was one of the seven crewmembers killed in the space shuttle Columbia disaster. These people are a few among others who hold a great respect for their contributions in the nation’s progress. Will it be just if their fans also start such campaigns? Will the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour, not loose the sheen when canvassing for it starts from every fora and platforms?

It is an irony that not only Mahesh Bhatt & co, but our political parties too, have completely lost the essence of this award. Their lobbying for the Bharat Ratna has touched a new low. Last year, LK Advani sparked the controversy by writing to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the government should confer the Bharat Ratna on former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in recognition of his sincerity, dedication and matchless service to the nation. After that letter, a tsunami of names -- Kanshi Ram, Biju Patnaik, Simranjeet Singh Maan, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav, Chawdhury Charan Singh, Babu Jagjivan Ram, M Karunanidhi, Mahatma Phule, Chander Shekhar, Kapoori Thakur – cropped up for the award. Every political party wanted the award for their respective icons.

The manner our so-called responsible people are hoarding their demands for the Bharat Ratna to be conferred on their icons and idols, it seems they think every thing in the world is open for auction. They can buy it and in this case, perhaps, through solidarity comments, letters and petitions etc.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Adding Value To Humanity

This article was published in Times of India's Edit Page on August 1, 2009

By Raza Elahi

US president Barack Obama's historic speech in Cairo, which called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims, had references to Islam's contribution to civilisation. It is a befitting reply to Islam bashers, who have boxed Islamic culture, particularly Arab culture, into crude stereotypes. Post-9/11 Islam-bashing has almost become fashionable among western scholars. A whole bunch of intellectuals has sprung up in the West, linking Arab culture to violence, hate and fanaticism. Any violence committed by any group, or any unrest in Palestine or Iraq, is a specific response to a specific pathological, political circumstance, not an endemic variable of Arab culture as Samuel Huntingdon's ''clash of civilisations'' and other western theories describe such face-offs.

Since time immemorial the essence of Arab culture has been trade, not war or suicide bombings. The region gave birth to civilisations such as the Assyrian and Babylonian in Iraq, Phoenician and Canaan in Syria and the Pharaonic in Egypt. After the advent of Islam, each of these cities was a major capital of huge empires through various stages of history that presented the world with sciences, art, culture, philosophical thought and civilisations that form the basis of study in all major modern universities.

Islam was an extraordinary gift to the world of business with its pragmatic, tolerant, humane, logical and international ethos at a time when other cultures were busy burning witches and widows in other parts of the so-called civilised world. The evolution of market hubs such as Baghdad and Cairo, the emergence of Arabic as the business lingua franca from Spain to Sindh, the missionary activities of Arab merchants in South East Asia were all legacies of the advent of Islam.

Seven centuries ago, Baghdad and Damascus were world financial hubs. The Arab world, under the Abbasid caliphs, had trade relations with all major nations from China to Italy. The Assyrians mapped out a road network to enable them to transport African ivory, Caspian furs and Indian spices across their empire. Two millennia before the advent of the dollar and pound sterling, the gold coin, Persian daric, introduced by Darius the Great, was the currency of choice from Greece to the kingdoms of India. The financiers of Mecca and Damascus set up letters of credit, bills of exchange, foreign agencies, primitive contract laws and custom duties centuries before the bankers of Renaissance Florence and Tudor London.

Empires came and went, kingdoms were established and fell, but trade remains one of the institutions that truly defines Arab culture. The earliest civilisations of the Middle East evolved on the banks of the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Their trading links with Mohenjadaro on the Indus, Dilmun in the Arabian Gulf and the Hellenic ports of the Aegean islands demonstrate that international markets existed centuries before Christ.

The Silk Road to China, the Amber Route to the Baltic, the evolution of trade-linked cities such as Petra, Baghdad, Mecca, Sidon and Damascus were the centres of Arab power politics for centuries. From ancient times till modern days trade activities have always flourished in the region.

The modern example is the rapid progress of the ancient trading and pearling settlement of Dubai, which was on the trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilisation. In 1830, it was taken over by a sect of the Bani Yas clan led by the Maktoum family that still rules Dubai. The elders of this family decided to build on the expertise of the inhabitants of Dubai and concentrate on trade. This policy powers the economic miracle of Dubai.

The ruling family recognised the value of international trade as an engine for wealth creation decades before the petrodollar era. When oil was discovered in 1960, the bulk of its revenue was invested in creating the world's biggest man-made harbour in Dubai's Jebal Ali. Today, some estimates peg Dubai's non-oil revenues at over 90 per cent of its GDP, and the average per capita income in excess of $19,000.

Excellent infrastructure coupled with business acumen has helped the nationals to expand their trading horizons. Dubai encouraged Indian, Yemeni, Lebanese and Persian traders to settle. At a time when socialism and command economies were prevalent in other parts of the world, Dubai was unique in its preference for an open economy and regional trade. At no time, however, has the Dubai government forgotten its Islamic roots. It is the government's endeavour to ensure that no Muslim will need to travel more than 500 metres to pray in a mosque. Dubai is certainly a winning mix of trade and religion.

Commentators who have concluded the Islamic world is a 'failed and violent' society are wrong as religion and trade walk hand in hand in Islamic culture. Obama's approach to the Islamic world is a positive shift in official US policy, and some compensation for the hostile environment created by Islam bashers.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The majesty and splendour of Kandy

By Raza Elahi
As my vehicle was negotiating numerous hairpin bends and winds upward through increasingly steep hill country — where cinnamon plantations scent the breeze — I was literally on top of the world. Nestling among the misty hills in the central region of Sri Lanka, the emerald teardrop in the Indian Ocean, Kandy gives one the feeling of entering into the lap of nature.
Surrounded by cool, lush mountain scenery, Kandy is the gateway to a very different aspect of Sri Lanka.

The journey of 115km (73 miles) from Colombo takes up to three hours by rail or road. At 500m (1640ft) above sea level, Kandy — the most visited city in Sri Lanka — has a climate that comes as a pleasantly cool contrast to hot and humid Colombo. Amid lush green fields and plantations, the city stands within a loop of the Mahaweli Ganga, one of Sri Lanka's most substantial rivers, on the north shore of Kandy Lake — an artificial reservoir which was completed in 1807 during the reign of the last king of Kandy Sri Wickrama Rajasinha. With its waterfalls, caves and lush woodland sheltering unique animal, bird and butterfly species, Kandy and its surroundings are a delight for walkers and explorers.

The city is a reflection of the variety, harmony and diversity of the people and cultures that make Sri Lanka a great nation. It was once the capital of the Kandyan kingdom, the last bastion of resistance to the colonial domination of the nation. This royal city fell to the British in 1815 sealing the fate of Sri Lanka's long cherished independence. This last seat of the Sinhalese kings, who ceded power to the British in 1815 after many a battle with the western colonial forces, still retains much of the old charm and tradition of the truly Sri Lankan life style.

Among the most picturesque cities in the island, the importance of Kandy is mainly due to it being the home of the Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth - which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Here visitors can observe the ancient traditions of drumming and sacred chanting in honour of the Tooth Relic, being performed several times each day. The city is a monastic centre of Buddhism with the two biggest monasteries - the Malwatte and Asgiriya temples located here. Around the city are several other Buddhist temples with special attractions for visitors looking for the cultural traditions of Sri Lanka. The rock temple at Degaldoruwa, has beautiful Buddhist frescoes of the 17th century, while the Lankatilleke and
Gadaladeniya temples are unique examples of the Buddhist construction in brick and stone during the same period.

Kandy is also the venue of the Esala Perahera, easily the most colourful pageant of Asia, held in July/August each year, in honour of the tooth Relic. As the pagentry of the Esala Perahera unfolds through ten nights each year, the city takes on the air of a torch-lit dreamland, complete with a hundred or more colourful caparisoned elephants, drummers, dancers, and chieftains in the rare trappings of the old kingdom. The streets are packed to capacity with spectators during the ten days of the festival. Foreign tourists do not fail to witness the annual pageant, which makes their visit to Sri Lanka a memorable one.

The numerous smaller temples that dot the Kandyan landscape are places of unusual calm and peace, where one could still discover the close link between the temple and the village, which was the mainstay of Sinhalese social organisation. The Kandyan areas are where the crafts of the Sinhalese have been kept alive. From the art of mat weaving at Dumbara, to the silver craftsmen of Nattaranpotha, and wood carvers of Embekke, the Kandyan craftsmen produce the exquisite material which makes up the most sought after souvenirs of Sri Lanka. The Kandy Market is a great bazaar full of the sounds of exciting trade and bargaining. Plenty of gem shops offer good quality gems, while the silver craftmanship is of the highest quality.

Nearby Kandy, at Peradeniya is the Royal Botanical Gardens, part of which was the pleasure garden of the last Queen of Kandy. Later, the Botanic Garden was the operational headquarters of Lord Mountbatten, who was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces of the South East Asia Command, during the Second World War. The Peradeniya Gardens is easily one of the best of its kind in the world. The many beautiful avenues will lead one to sections, which provide a burst of tropical colour. The great lawns highlight huge tropical trees, while you will be surprised at the variety of bamboo that can be found in one place. The best known attraction of the Gardens is the Orchid House, which house more than 300 varieties of exquisite orchids from the rare indigenous Foxtail and Vesak orchids, to many natural
and hybrid species which have made this one of the best known orchid centres of the world.
A visit to the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage near Kegalla, 20km (12 miles) west of Kandy on the Colombo highway, where young orphaned or abandoned elephants are cared for, is a must. The herd usually numbers about 50, from tiny infants to hefty adolescents and young adults. Most have lost their parents either to poachers or road accidents, but some have simply become separated from their parental herd. The best time to visit is between 10am and 12 noon, and 2pm and 4pm, when the keepers bring their charges down to the river to bathe and play. On the road from the highway to the orphanage, look out for the scores of flying foxes (fruit bats) hanging high in the treetops beside the river or, at sunset, spreading their wings.

There are several good hotels and guest houses located in and around the city. Stand in the balcony of a room in the landmark Le Kandyan, which has the distinction of the highest point 5-star hotel, and look out to splendour of Kandy, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. Because of the history, pageantry and veneration associated with this exquisite city, Kandy is rightly classed as a World Heritage City by Unesco.