Officer down: Will PDS claim the powerful?

With the latest court judgement awarding a strong punishment to an Arunachal Pradesh government official in a disproportionate assets case, the infamous PDS scandal has once again come to the limelight.

In 2004, a PIL filed by former Arunachal Citizens’ Right chairperson Bamang Anthony and former student leader Domin Loya kick-started investigations into the Public Distribution System in the state that unearthed a scandal of over Rs 1,000 crore. The scam relates to losses incurred by the state exchequer that were incurred due to false hill transport subsidy bills that were cleared without financial concurrence.

Among those who were accused in the scandal include prolific businessmen, high-ranking officials and politicians including former chief minister Gegong Apang, who was arrested in 2010 but has since been out on bail.

On June 15, the court awarded a state government official, Dr Ngangin Lego, five years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs two crore.

The court order noted that the official had deposited Rs 2,89,43,072 in his personal account in the United Commercial Bank between October 2002 to July 2004 which “goes to indicate that the said Officer was habitually accepting bribe by abusing his official position as a public servant”.

It also said that the officer “maintained a number of properties in Arunachal Pradesh in his and his family/ children’s name, which is disproportionate to his known source of income and which he cannot give satisfactory account, and this obviously points to the ill-gotten wealth, which has been made from the money amassed by him illegally during his tenure as Director of Civil Supplies”.

During the course of the proceedings, which began in 2011, the state government prosecutors questioned a total of 22 witnesses, including the wife of the accused.

Incidentally, among the 22 witnesses that the prosecution cross-examined were Jarkar Gamlin and Takam Pario, both of whom also stand accused in the scandal and are MLAs in the People’s Party of Arunachal government in the state.

In his deposition, Gamlin said that he knew the accused since 1986 when Lego was an extra additional commissioner of Yongsha in West Siang district and that he later “made close contact with him”.

Gamlin said that the two often helped each other financially and that in 2003, he issued a cheque to Lego for Rs 14,21,000 which was repaid within a month’s time.

Pario, who was a minister in the previous Nabam Tuki-led Congress government, told the court that he had borrowed money from Lego’s wife- Poonam Osik- on two occasions totalling Rs 70 lakh but that he did not remember the year.

While both Gamlin and Pario were called in as witnesses for the case, the three-time MLAs will be on the other side of the fence when court proceedings related to their involvement in the scam comes up.

The two, however, are not the only MLAs in the present legislative assembly who have been named in the scandal.

Several former and serving ministers, including parliament MPs and their relatives, have been named as accused in the multi-crore scandal that had rocked the state when it first came to light. The list of accused reads as a who’s who of the state’s political power wielders and is not limited to any one political party.

When the court awarded Lego a five-year jail term, it noted in its order that “corruption can occur on various level, which affects the Government in large scale and corruption is very much prevalent which is a part of the everyday structure of the society”.

It said that “ends of justice would meet if the accused is sentenced to rigorous imprisonment… keeping in view the fact that he had amassed ill-gotten money to the tune of crores”.

While the court’s judgement would be welcomed by those seeking to see an end to rampant corruption in the state, it remains to be seen if the same kind of punishment would be awarded to political higher ups.

A version of this article first appeared in The Dawnlit Post.

Yoga Day: Test of body or faith

A version of this article first appeared in The Dawnlit Post on 21 June 2015.

Rajaque Rahman has been a yoga practitioner with The Art of Living centre here in the Arunachal Pradesh capital since 2008. He is also a Muslim.

While some Christian groups in Mizoram and Nagaland oppose the idea of International Yoga Day, the mood here in Itanagar, and indeed in most parts of the state, seems to be positively gung-ho.

The Art of Living, along with six other organisations will be hosting a yoga camp here at the Indira Gandhi Park beginning 7 AM on Sunday, apart from various other smaller camps all over the state in conjunction with the state Ayush department. Rahman says he expects around 2000 people to participate in the main camp alone which will be attended by governor JP Rajkhowa. The state governor today issued a press statement saying that “Yoga is the only ray of hope when stress and health related problems are increasing”.

Aside from his enthusiasm, Rahman also sees no irony in him being a Muslim who practices yoga.

Rahman calls criticism by some groups “a clear case of prejudice”. He says that yoga is a “life skill that has no conflicts but compliments all religions”.

The former journalist who turned to yoga after battling migraine for several years says that there has been a shift in the demographic of yoga practitioners since the organisation first began operating here.

“Back then”, he says “90 percent of attendees were people from outside the state living here and now it is the reverse”.

Gichik Taaza, vice-president of the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh which is one of the seven organisations hosting tomorrow’s event, though is unsure about Rahman’s claim.

“Participation of tribal people is limited to students and those who have learnt of the benefits of yoga by attending Art of Living courses here”, he says.

Whether the event will witness the participation of a large number of indigenous tribal people will only become clear tomorrow but for now, even Taaza says that yoga is “not part of any religion”.

Birendra Dubey of the Arunachal Vikas Parishad, another one of the organisers, says that yoga has “gained popularity in the state due to Baba Ramdev’s televised sessions and the Art of Living’s regular courses”.

Dubey says that it is “wrong to make a connection with religion alone”. He also adds that “there is no compulsion on anyone to be part of it”. However, he is critical of calls for modified yoga asanas stating that “doing the Surya namaskar facing west may not be beneficial”.

Unlike in Mizoram and Nagaland, the biggest Christian organisation here, the Arunachal Christian Forum, has not voiced its opinion on the matter yet.

Toko Teki, the ACF secretary-general informed that no meetings were held to discuss the matter and that he does not expect Christians to partake in it either. He is, however, critical of what he calls the “control of yoga by religious groups”.

“Yoga should be maintained as a form of physical exercise and be universal like kung-fu or taekwondo”, he dryly adds.

Rahaman tries to douse doubts by quoting the Art of Living’s founder Ravi Shankar: By eating pizza one does not become Italian, neither does eating chow mien make one Chinese. So how can yoga change someone’s religion?

Ziro to 22 kilometres: A trek to Talle Valley

Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place surrounded by lush green forests with the rays of the sun breaking free from the branches of the trees, miles away from civilization and the only sounds you can hear are the chirping of birds and the gurgling of the stream that flows gently below. That’s Talle Valley for you.

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Talle Valley offers a certain serenity, one that needs to be experienced.

Located at an altitude of 2,400 metres, around 30km from the town of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s remote north-east, Talle Valley offers the perfect escape from the everyday hustle of the urban life. Far from the maddening crowd, it is perhaps one of the last few places that offers a truly secluded experience to those willing to make the 22km uphill trek (starting from Monipolyang), gaining more than a thousand metres in altitude along the way. And while there are many places in the state and indeed the Northeast where one can cut off from the trappings of modern life, Talle Valley is unique in the sense that it is well and truly cut-off from a life that we have become used to. The trade-off? It’s not an easy trek.

 

Bobby Hano, one of the people behind the annual Ziro Festival of Music, organised a hike to Talle Valley in May as a launch-pad for his new travel company, Tour de Himalaya. Having never done the trek himself, Hano brought with him his friends, most of who either run their own travel companies or work as tour guides… and me.

Having heard a lot about the rich biodiversity of the valley for years, I jumped at the opportunity when the offer was made.

The first day of the trek would be spent on the trail from Monipolyang town in Ziro valley to Pange, 7km away. A steady climb, this section of the trek is not a difficult one. What does compound the issue is the unpredictable weather.

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This happened on more than one occasion.

It had been raining for the past few days and as a result, trees had broken off of the face of the hills and blocked the path on several locations. Fortunately, we were equipped with daos to chop off the smaller branches and clear the path. Even so, riding the one motorcycle carrying our food supplies proved to be a bigger ask than anticipated. Again, we were lucky to have in our team Mobing, the loud gregarious one (isn’t there always one?) who was more than apt with the dao.

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Mobing doing his thing.

Another problem that we faced was the motorcycle kept getting stuck in the mud on the trail. Overall though, it is an easy trek and didn’t throw up many challenges along the way. After about five hours of slow trek, we reached Pange where the state forest department has an office, a guesthouse, and accommodation for the staff. There is also a traditional house of the Apatani tribe made from bamboo which serves as the kitchen, where we settled in after freshening up.

The view from the camp at Pange

The ‘Pange view’.

Having gobbled up a simple but tasty dinner, we retreated for the night to collect our energy for the 15km trek to Talle Valley the next day.

Unlike the first day’s trek, the walk to Talle Valley was much more arduous. Not only is the distance doubled, the surface of the path is often muddy and almost completely uphill.

The first section of the trek is when we had to be extra careful, watching each step carefully to not step into the leech-infested mud. We had to constantly scrape away the slimy devils that were out for our blood. It is only after crossing the first four km does the true wealth of the valley begin to unfold.

Enemies of the trek- leeches

Enemies of the trek- leeches.

Our destination is actually part of the Talle Valley Wildlife Sanctuary which is spread across an area of 337 square km and lies roughly between the Subansiri, Sipu and Pange rivers. The sanctuary itself is again part of the Talle Reserved Forest (515.875 square km).

The path

The path.

Although the state government has declared these forests as protected areas, as in other tribal areas, they are actually community-owned forests. All along the trek to Talle, boards declaring the ownership of the forests were clearly visible. And while we did not meet any other people on the way, we did encounter mithuns (the semi-domesticated bovine that is highly valued by most tribes in the state) which indicated that people did occasionally visit the place. We were told that villagers from Ziro Valley do in fact trek up to gather their mithuns during the Myoko festival that is held annually in March.

Its a scary thing suddenly seeing one of these

Mithun, a gentle animal but it is scary suddenly seeing one of them.

The path to Talle certainly isn’t an easy one. A steady climb combined with the distance and the change in temperature begins to slowly creep in on you. Adding to the difficulty is the many ‘shortcuts’ that are marked along the way. These ‘shortcuts’ however, are not easy to tackle and the sheer steepness of some will leave many gasping for air. What is encouraging is the chance to catch a glimpse of the many birds that call the place home.

Binoculars help and having a good camera at hand is certainly handy to capture the beautiful birds. Even so, just the sounds of chirps and hoots can be an exhilarating experience.

Along the way, the rains had shown effect again with large fallen trees blocking the path. Since we had ditched the motorcycle in Pange, we did not need to clear much of the path this time around.

Benches that have been built with locally available products along the way allowed us to grab some rest as we rose higher in elevation. It is at the higher reaches that the true richness of the forests begins to unfold as various species of rhododendron flowers coyly show themselves and the birds begin to sound closer. While records about the exact number of species of birds and animals and rhododendron flowers found in the area remain unclear, it’s not difficult to guess the ecological importance of the place. But not all may be well with the valley.

Bengia Mrinal aka Bully, a travel agent and birding enthusiast who was with us, was coming to the valley after two years. Having visited the valley before on many occasions, he noted that the birds had “become shy”.

“Earlier it was easier to snap a picture of the birds since they used to be out in the open branches,” he told me and speculated that perhaps logging activities on the edges of the forest had led to a change in their behaviour.

Bully doing his thing

Bully doing his thing.

There could also be greater changes taking place in the valley due to human interference that could adversely affect the sensitive ecology of the place.

Logging aside, illegal extraction of various medicinal plants such as the Paris polyphylla, used extensively in traditional Chinese medicines, is said to be taking place in the valley.

Before heading out to Talle Valley, at our camp in Pange, we met three young researchers from the Bangalore-based National Centre for Biodiversity who had been there for three months. They told us that they were collecting data on how climate change is affecting the vegetation of the area which in turn is affecting the population of prey animals on which small wild cats are dependent for their food.

Currently, there are four species of wild cats found in the valley including the clouded leopard that is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. If human interference of nature does not stop, these animals may not have a place to call home soon. Now is when one should visit Talle Valley before time runs out.

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The view from top.

For trekking queries, contact Bobby Hano at +91-89740-52594

 

Gunda- A life altering experience.

 

Gunda poster

A cult film that should be made mandatory viewing by law.

 

Gunda is a 1998 Hindi movie starring the legendary Mithun Chakraborty. Usually, that should be reason enough to watch this movie but aside from being a kickass film like every other Mithun Chakraborty film, Gunda is on a different plane.
You see, I had heard about this epic film a long time ago but was unable to find a copy anywhere until now. Ten minutes into the film, I knew this was going to be my new favourite film. I wrote this as soon as I finished watching it.
The film opens at an airport runway when a goon named Lambu Aatta rendezvous with a ‘home minister’ who arrives by what I assume is his own personal helicopter. Aatta drives what looks like a Maruti 1000 (remember, this is 1998). Together they hatch a plan to kill an accomplice of Bulla, the primary antagonist in the film (and believe me there are quite a few antagonists in this one). With the plan hatched, Aatta announces how the victim of his atrocity will go to Bulla screaming his name out loud. Sure enough, that is exactly what happens in the following scene to which it abruptly cuts to.
This is important because the film is riddled with such instances where you can be sure that the next scene that appears on screen will play out just like it was described in the previous one.
In my opinion, this is one of the brilliant qualities of the film. It just cuts to the chase without lengthy explanations of why some of the things that are happening on the screen are happening. In fact, much of the movie cannot be explained, for it defies logic. But then again that is not to say that there aren’t flashes of metaphorical genius.
When Bulla’s accomplice goes looking for him with a big bloody sword sticking out of his stomach (which you can tell he is simply holding with his hands), he does so first at a seaport, then at a coal mine, and then at a shipping dock. I am hypothesising here but this must be director Kanti Shah’s not-so-subtle way telling the audience that Bulla is essentially a smuggler of some sorts. Anyway, with the aforementioned sword sticking from his stomach, the accomplice dies after stating the warning issued by his killer. This is where we meet the villains of the film, all of whom have catchphrases to go along with their names.
For example, Bulla (portrayed brilliantly by Mukesh Rishi of Sarfarosh fame) has this to say after his accomplice dies in front of him, EVERYTIME: Mera naam hain Bulla, rakhta hoon khulla. Go on, take some time out to soak that piece of information in because you will need your breath for what’s about to hit you.
After Bulla, we meet the other villains. First off is Bulla’s effeminate (possibly gay?) brother Chuttia. Yes, you read that correct but before you go OMG, his name is actually a reference to the way he ties his hair. I suppose. You know, like a choti. Here’s how he introduces himself by breaking the fourth wall: Mera naam hain Chuttia, achho-achho ki khadi karta hoon mein khatiya. Oh and he is played by Shakti Kapoor.

 

Khulla

Bulla telling his brother, Chuttia, how he likes to keep it khulla.

Continuing this mandatory rhyming introduction sequence is Potey who says “mera naam hain Potey, joh apne baap ke bhi nahi hotey”, before popping a chana into his mouth. Next is Ibu Hattela who begins his intro with the words, you guessed it, “mera naam hain Ibu Hattela, maa meri churail ki beti, baap mera shaitan ka chaila. (Pointing at his dick) Khaiga kela?”
The film is replete with sexist, homophobic remarks and does not shy away from showing women as nothing more than creatures to be sexually assaulted and murdered to satisfy men’s needs. In fact, most of the female characters in the film spend most of the time lying down being raped and/or murdered. The director obviously took the big book of political correctness and threw it out from the window of a 2784th floor apartment. And then he sat down to write prose in poetry.
Throughout the entire film, the characters hardly seem to speak in anything other than simple A-B rhythmic meters. Sample this. In one scene, one of the villains says: Zyada berber karke apne zindagi mein maut ki garbar mat kar. Or this: Tu mar gayi? Lambu ne tujhe lamba kar diya? Maachis ki tilli se khamba kar diya?
So now the villains plan their next move and Bulla kills Lambu Aatta’s brother who then rapes Bulla’s sister and then ends up getting killed himself. A few minutes later the ‘home minister’ from the first scene is murdered in front of around 50 policemen. There is so much death already happening that you realise that it’s pointless keeping count. What is important is that crime is running rampant and humanity appears to be dying a quick death with each passing day. What hope does mankind have? Enter Shankar!
Shankar is our hero, our saviour and works as a coolie in a shipping dock (owned by Bulla?). He enters the scene to stop the man who killed the minister from boarding a helicopter. What the hell is he doing at an airport in his work clothes is anyone’s guess.
Soon after his first act of heroism, Shankar (still in his work clothes) meets the four antagonists and a topless muscleman. They are not alone for Bulla has brought along his pet cheetah for some reason. Now, I don’t know if the director was trying to be clever but this seemed like some sort of in-house joke considering that Mithun was in a film called ‘Cheetah’.

 

 

Mithun

Shankar.

After Shankar and the villains exchange pleasantries, we are introduced to Shankar’s sister Geeta who is friends with Ganga. They are G-mates.
This is where the romantic side story kicks in for Ganga is in love with Shankar who refuses her not-so-subtle advances. Here we also learn that while Shankar has taken the task of cleaning the streets upon his shoulders, he is no saint. Shankar is a flawed character and appears to be quite a drunk as he begins to jive with his coolie colleagues, all of whom are still in their work clothes. At this bar(?) where he’s enjoying some good old brown, Ganga begins singing a song telling Shankar to get drunk on her instead of the booze all the while gyrating obscenely and promoting Deepika Padukone’s ‘My Choice’ video.
After the song-and-dance, Shankar heads home and we are introduced to his pet monkey, Tinchu. At this point I am wondering if Shankar has a second job as a madari.
Some more hatching and plotting happens, a distasteful sex scene follows and then an unlicensed mixed martial fight to the death match at the dock and another song where Shankar’s wearing a yellow jumpsuit with a white turtleneck and the women are dressed as Arabian belly dancers. I already mentioned before that much of the movie defies logic. Now with the story finally moving forward, what sets Shankar on his road to rampage and vengeance that would make Beatrice Kiddo from Kill Bill proud is when his father, a police constable is beaten up in the middle of the city (Ooty?) centre. Shankar arrives on time to save his father and what follows next is the most awesome fight sequence in film history.
After beating his way through a dozen hired goons, Shankar takes on the big, bad, bad guy who is, I suppose, trained in Muay Thai as he elbows Shankar causing him to bleed a little. Thus proving that contrary to what may have preceded in the film, Shankar is an ordinary man, just like you and me, who has resolved to be extraordinary. I think, therefore I am.
But obviously Shankar beats the crap out of this guy too but not before briefly engaging in an arm-wrestling match. News of the assault reaches Bulla who is mad pissed at the unfolding of the events and he directs his muscleman Nata to kidnap (and possibly rape) Shankar’s sister Geeta. And that is exactly what happens in the next scene.
Break: This film may seem like it’s getting too predictable but that is where its brilliance lies. It’s not pretending to be something it isn’t and in my opinion, films should be like that. You feel safe knowing what you are getting into. I mean, what the hell were those extremely long periods of blackness in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey about anyway?
I digress. So we have Shankar’s sister getting sexually assaulted when a doe-eyed boy by the name of Gulshan comes to her rescue. They exchange names and she leaves. And just as abruptly as she leaves, a song breaks out. Now you would think considering the earlier scene that this song would be between Geeta and Gulshan, but it isn’t. This song has Shankar and Ganga dancing at a park in the daytime and a hill in the evening in god-awful garish clothes.
The next scene is at Bulla’s mansion where the aforementioned doe-eyed Gulshan is with Bulla and his brother Chuttia. You see, Gulshan is no hero and is actually a rat bastard who lures women with his boyish charms and sends them to brothels to prostitute the shit out of them. In fact, the entire ‘rescue Geeta act’ was just that- an act. The plan is to get Gulshan married to Geeta and let Chuttia have his way with her on the night of the wedding itself. But Chuttia has a problem.
In normal everyday language we would probably term Chuttia’s problem as suffering from low libido. But in the world of Hindi cinema, and more specifically in Gunda, Chuttia lacks aag. Fire. With a name like Chuttia you would think that’s the last thing he would be suffering from. And while it may not be a perfect world, Bulla does have help at hand.
When Chuttia expresses doubts about whether he would be able to (ahem) perform or not, Bulla hands him what is presumably a Viagra pill and says: Tere andar aag bhar degi yeh goli, phir tu phaar dega uski choli. Do ‘face palm’ now.
This is just 40-something minutes into the film and already a large number of people have died. And there’s more to come by the way. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who haven’t watched it yet but in short Shankar issues a warning to all the villains, he adopts a baby, thrashes a brothel which has beds hanging from the ceiling, there’s even a suggestion of necrophilia at one point of time. It’s just too much to explain. But I will describe one more scene.
Towards the later part of the film when Shankar is chasing after one of the villains, he finds himself in a large open field. At the field, the villain has managed to give Shankar the slip and Shankar finds his path being blocked by a sea of white HM Ambassador cars with their doors open. Looking for the corrupt policeman who works with Bulla, Shankar begins to close all the doors of the cars. What’s so great about this scene? Metaphor.
Since the Ambassadors have always been a symbol of India’s bureaucracy and VIP culture, by closing the doors of those cars, Shankar’s closing the door on the evils of those who wield their powers recklessly. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thankfully in the world of make-believe there is Shankar to act as a durbaan.
My suggestion to all of you reading this would be to see this film. It’s on YouTube and I can give it to you if you would want it. Actually scrap that. You MUST watch this film. Gunda should be made mandatory viewing by law for all citizens and become part of college curriculum. My outlook towards life has changed after watching Gunda. I suggest you do the same for Gunda is not a film. It’s sausage.

 


 

This “review” was first written on 17 April 2015. The day my life changed.

Gunda is available for viewing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTZgFw8sExQ