In medias res



Last Saturday, I had gone to watch the screening of the Hindi film, “Shahid,” at a private gathering in Chennai. The event was organised by Chaplin Films, an organisation run by youngsters, which organises screenings of films that have strong political and social messaging. I had missed seeing “Shahid” in theatres and liked the natural acting style of Rajkumar Rao, the protagonist of the film.

The screening was organised at a party hall in a nondescript shopping complex, tucked away in a remote corner in Indira Nagar, Adyar. When I reached the place at 4 pm, the scheduled start time, I found an old watchman in the hall who looked at me curiously, when I enquired about the screening. This was my first at anything like this and since I had no other plans for the evening, so I stayed put. Slowly people trickled in and the movie screening began after an hour. Normally I would bump into friends at public events, but here, I did not know anyone.

Shahid is a biopic about Shahid Azmi, an advocate who was assassinated in 2010. The story begins with the Bombay riots of 1992-93, that left 900 people dead. Young Shahid gets infuriated by the injustice meted out to his fellow Muslims; joins a jehadi outfit in Kashmir. Disillusioned by the illogical brainwashing during the training, he runs away from the training camp only to be arrested by police under the controversial TADA act. He gets trashed in police custody for many months with no legal recourse and finally lands in Tihar Jail. He becomes a graduate in jail. He is released after many years with no evidence against him.

He returns to Mumbai to fight the cases of innocent poor Muslims who were arrested under the POTA act. Under the law a suspect could be detained for up to 180 days without the filing of chargesheet in court. It also allowed law enforcement agencies to withhold the identities of witnesses, and to treat a confession made to the police as an admission of guilt.

Shahid was killed in 2010.

Rajkumar Rao who played Shahid was brilliant and went on to win the National Award for the best actor for this film.

The hall was full by the end of the screening. Film director Bramma and activist Sathish led the discussions later that stretched for another hour.

Sathish, incidentally was arrested under the same POTA act when he was just 19. He along with his friends were protesting against custodial torture of poor innocent villagers during the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan days. He spoke about the torture and abuse that were meted out to him during the five years he was inside jail. He was released only when he was 26. He recounted even minute details of his ordeals with the same enthusiasm of how an aspiring film maker would narrate his script. All with a smile.

He ended his speech with a scary statistic; in the three years when POTA was in force, along with him there were 7 cases in Tamil Nadu; while at the same time in Gujarat, with Modi as the chief minister, 3000 people were arrested in Gujarat under POTA.

1 person was a Sikh and 2999 were Muslims.

In medias res



While cycling around this morning in Chennai, I witnessed tens of street corner condolence prayer meetings, hundreds of shops closed for business voluntarily, thousands of posters outside individual homes and shops. All in homage to Kalam. This man was special indeed. This also gives hope that even in the midst of cynicism, pettiness and hatred; we are capable of showing such abundant and unconditional love.

In medias res

NalandaWay – 10 years

NalandaWay Foundation is ten years old. Yes, you heard it right, 10 years…10 very eventful and fruitful years.

This journey has led us to children from the most exploitative situations in India, to help them using the creative power of arts, to create a life that they truly aspire. The combined efforts of Nalandaway, its mentors, trainers, volunteers and each and every one of you have helped these children become creative, learn life-skills, build self-confidence and succeed in their schools. And, we truly believe it has helped the children be happier!

To celebrate our 10th year anniversary we aspired to do something less self-involved. We recognised the need to thank someone who has been long discriminated for centuries, but continue to provide their services day-in and day-out…the human scavenger.

It took us nearly two months to identify Selvi. She, along with her son, two daughters and a granddaughter lives in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu. Her husband had passed away many years back and she has single-handedly raised her family facing innumerable hurdles that life hurled her way. To make a living, she cleans open sewage drains, sweeps the roads and washes utensils at homes.

Nalandaway’s children, who have been trained in fine arts, after looking at Selvi’s house decided to paint the walls of her house with beautiful murals. NalandaWay also contributed towards building a toilet and flooring for the house. Needless to say, Selvi’s gentle smile and gratitude filled eyes said it all!

This short film is our attempt to thank Selvi and many more like her for their contribution to keep our cities and homes beautiful.

And, we celebrated our beautiful 10 year journey with Selvi and our children.

Join our celebrations by sharing this video on your Facebook and Twitter pages with the hash-tag #AchieveThroughArts.

Lots of love,

Sriram V Ayer

Pay it forward

Nine Lives

Pay it forward

This week, while waiting to meet a friend, I ventured into a small bookshop at the Defence colony market in Delhi. As soon as I entered, a bright red book fell on the floor right next to me. It was “Nine Lives” by William Darlymple. The book sensitively profiles the lives of nine mystics from different parts of the country. The story of a Jain nun who undertakes “Sallekhana,” a Jain practice of undertaking voluntary death at the end of one’s life, had made a big impression on me.

I bought this copy and decided to gift it to someone. Why not a stranger? Maybe.

So the impulsive idea was quickly put into action when I returned to Chennai. The plan was to write a brief note inside the book, gift wrap it and leave it silently at a café, so that someone would pick it up. After writing a brief note, to my utter surprise, I found that the book had been autographed by the author William Darlymple himself.

Earlier this evening, I dropped into one of my favourite cafes in Chennai, Ashvita Nirvana in Besant Nagar and left the book on a table, informed the staff about my idea and silently walked out.

I hope that the person, who picks up this book, reads it and feels inspired, like I do.

I am praying that this book continues its magical streak in the life of one more person.

In medias res

Never ever judge a book by its cover

Last evening, I gave an interview to a local FM radio station, Chennai Live 104.8. When I entered their office, I was greeted by the show producer and she introduced me to the RJ. He shook my hands and gave me a formal nod. He said that he had seen Nalandaway Foundation‘s website and liked the work that we do. But I had already made up my mind, “oh what do these silly RJs with over-sized egos know?”

The recording went well. He was warm and courteous. So I said to myself, “he is not as bad as other wannabes.”

I was in for a mighty surprise when he handed over his business card. “Dr. Tausif Ahmed, M.D. Head, Acute Services, Sundaram Medical Foundation Hospital.” He smiled at my surprised body language. He is a busy surgeon and has been moonlighting as an RJ for the past 7 years. How cool is that?

A big lesson learnt. Never ever judge a book by its cover. I hated myself for being conceited.

Before I forget, if you live in Chennai, do tune into Chennai Live 104.8, between 8 and 9 pm, Thursday, 16th of July.

In medias res

Rainbow Pride

I see so many profile pictures in rainbow colours on my Facebook news feed, celebrating pride and extending solidarity to the LGBT community. I wonder how they might react if they learnt that their son was gay, colleague a transgender or a friend a lesbian. All of us are champions of causes as long as it doesn’t hit our homes. As a first step, can we stop raising our eyebrows and making suggestive smirks in public spaces? Can we read about the lives of young people who suffer in silence because they are gay? Can we initiate conversations with our friends who are homophobic? The road to change always starts with a change of heart and not just a mere profile picture.