Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is This The End Of Ethnic Strife In Sri Lanka??

With the LTTE finally silencing its guns, the Sri Lankan Army has stormed what for long appeared an impregnable bastion of an armed rebellion. Every time they basked in vainglory of having wiped out the vestiges of LTTE’s armoury, there used to be another cavalcade of strikes, which used to catch the nation once again in the tentacles of fear and agony. LTTE proved as much a bete-noire as the Taliban in the N-E frontiers of Pakistan, in rising like the proverbial phoenix from an ashen wanderlust and mushrooming with such ferocious rapidity after every combat as though, just a grain had been picked from a landslide. This also was a culmination of a 3-decade chronology that has witnessed the final decimation of LTTE as a force, who, for long projected themselves as the sole benefactors of the 12% population of Sri Lankan Tamils.

More than a century ago, with the dominant Sinhalese’s ethnic control of the state system, a degree of suppression of the minority Tamil community began to take root, which further intensified due to the hardliner elements that infiltrated the national hierarchy. A fallout of the intransigent stance adopted by the majority Sinhalese towards the Tamil community was the eruption of civil and later armed conflicts. In gradual course, whether at war or during peace-talks, the Tamils espoused their cause for a community-based separate state while the Sinhalese argued for a unitary state that is multi-ethnic. Ethnicity, religion and language are important factors in the articulation of Sinhala & Tamil ideologies and one would imagine, the idealist state of Tamil Eelam was a natural offshoot of the conflict between two ideologically segregated ethnic communities.

What kind of scenario is likely to emerge now? Can LTTE’s requiem be sounded out? Not as yet, for there is a possibility that it would regroup in splinters and continue to remain an insurgency threat to the Sri Lankan Government. Whatever be it, the possibility of a structured Eelam movement by ethnic Tamils is now remote and regardless of the rights of the Tamil people for democratic self-determination, a separate Tamil state would be intangible as it would only bring about a diminution of social & economic circumstances in Sri Lanka.

The fact however, remains that the rights of all ethnic groups are to enjoy cultural, religious and linguistic rights in peace & harmony. In the current scenario, some form of ethnic reconciliation is the only means for peace to return in a strife-ridden country. Thus, a revamp of the country’s political system to ensure equitable representation of the people and making the minority Tamils more representative in all major organs of administration viz. the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the armed forces, would be the need of the hour.

The ‘Pearl In The East’ is bound to glisten again so long as the wellsprings of time & destiny do not reduce it once again to a teardrop.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A.R. Rahman - One up on his illustrious predecessors

After sweeping a litany of awards, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ managed a most eclectic slice of an a la carte spread at the Oscar feast - zipping off an enviable 08 trophies in a treasure chest of honorifics. Even as the nation erupted, the channels were choc-a-bloc with the images of Danny Boyle and his effusive band cavorting in style, one of whom was an unassuming character who did a quiet promenade across the red carpet to collect his ‘twin tango delights’, to the wonder of the boisterous Hollywood glitterati. Allah Rakha Rahman, as Indian cinema’s true-blue composer created history of epic proportions as he stormed the international music bastion like none before.

If one looks back at the history of Indian film composers, there have been sporadic instances of a euphonic cross-over without anyone quite managing to leave a strong imprimatur. The legendary Shanker-Jaikishan recorded the first ever English number for the film, ‘Sangam’ in 1964 that went, ‘Eich Leibdisch, I Love You’ sung by Vivin Lobo that made considerable waves. In the years ahead, the duo performed a daring feat of coming up with an album, entitled, ‘Raga Jazz Style’ where different Indian ragas were strung together, embellished in Western Orchestra to create a unique ensemble of sound, beat and rhythm. This was one of the first attempts at creating a hybrid style of the West and the East. Another credit to the duo was when one of their funk and garage rock numbers was used in a Terri Zwigoff’s film, ‘Ghost World’. Yet, in the 1960s in India, such sporadic instances just about skimmed the surface of the boundless creativity of Indian composers in an international perspective. We also had instances of Salil Chowdhury creating something out of Mozart’s G-Minor symphony or employing innovations of scale progression based on Western classical music principles. RD Burman’s rise in the 1970s was quite phenomenal and it could so easily be concluded that as a composer he was way ahead of his times. He was often compared to Dave Brubeck for his innovative methods and a penchant for breaking the traditional boundaries of composition. It was in the latter stage of his career that he did an international album called ‘Pantera’, his private collaboration with Jose Flores for an out and out heavy metal album, which sadly did not create any musical ripples back home. For all his genius, RDB never quite managed to break the chain of Bollywood fetters to go blazingly international, something he was quite capable of doing. In the 90s, we had Illaiyaraja, of the ‘Cheeni Kum’ fame, recording his first major work in Western classical music, named Symphony No.1, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London under the baton of John Scott; the first Asian to do so. But again, back home, his achievement went unsung and the album is yet to be released in the Indian market.

All of these instances, make Rahman’s achievement all the more noteworthy for here is one composer who has made world critics and jury members to sit up and take note of the unbridled magic that Indian composers can weave for an international audience. The man who had his basic grounding in the Trinity College of Music, started off as a keyboard player and arranger in a band called ‘Roots’ before graduating to jingles, until Mani Ratnam and ‘Roja’ catapulted him to instant fame. As his film career galloped along, Rahman had begun to measure his strides across global frontiers, first with the film ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ followed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s neo-opera, ‘Bombay Dreams’. This was followed by ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in association with a Finnish folk-music band ‘Vartinna’ and Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Elizabeth’ before his melismatic sounds struck a precise note in mainstream Hollywood, even as a ‘slumdog’ managed to rake in a ‘millionaire’s’ shekels, so to speak. The hallowed fortress has finally been breached and how! Rahman has succeeded where all his predecessors somehow proved unsuccessful – to become the global face of Indian cine-music.