Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer: love and compassion across religious differences

At least once in your lifetime, many of you must have experienced what I experienced last night. A dear friend of mine lent me a DVD 1-2 months ago, and I have not the chance to see it (shame on me!). And when she asked me of the movie, I went, shit! I have not seen it yet! So, last night I put Mr. and Mrs. Iyer into my DVD player and watched it while making myself a fish curry.

And I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the movie. The curry almost forgotten, I immersed myself in the beautiful story of Meenakshi Iyer, an orthodox Hindu married woman (played by Konkona Sen Sharma) and Raja Chowdhary (played by the gorgeous Rahul Bose), a Moslem Bengali wildlife photographer. Both were trapped in a bus that traveled through a chaotic part of Himalayan India when the Hindus were very much in favour of killing the Moslems, and vice versa.

Being an orthodox, Meenakshi was shocked to learn that the man who had helped her nursing her child Santhanam (or ‘Santa’ as Raja called the baby boy) was actually a Moslem. Initially, she was disgusted (and I wanted to slap her for that!), but when the fanatic Hindus barged into the bus to look for Moslems, she protected Raja by claiming him as Mani Iyer, her husband. As the result, throughout the journey to get out of the conflict area, Meenakshi and Raja had to play husband and wife (sans the sleeping together, duh!), and consequently developed an understanding and bond they never had thought to share before.

The ending was beautifully painful, for of course Mrs. Iyer needed to go back to her true Mr. Iyer, an okay guy but so pale in comparison to Raja’s silent charm. In the end, Raja walked away from Meenakshi, Santa and her husband, but not before giving her a roll of film containing pictures of them together he had taken during the journey.

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer is in my DVD purchase list, and the fact that the movie had been nominated for ten awards and won oh God nine of them made me busy blaming myself for not watching the DVD sooner!

To close the post, I would like to give you gentle readers a poem by Devara Dasimayya, a 10th century Indian poet and saint. The poem was made into a song that was beautifully performed in the movie as Raja took photographs of people in the conflict zone. The song was titled Gustakh Ankhiyan; and perhaps the poem as well. Though I know zilch Hindi, Tamil or Bengali, after listening to the song and paying attention to the translation, I suspect that the title means 'Sinful Eyes'. The poem was so powerful, I shed myself some tears.

Sinful Eyes

Where, O where are You, O merciful Lord
Where is Your abode?
These my sinful eyes
When my sinful eyes
Cast their beseeching gaze

Where, O where are You, O merciful Lord
Where is Your abode?
For what shall I wield this dagger O Lord?
What can I pluck it out of
Or plunge it into
When You are all the world?

To behold You
I will give up my life, my whole world
Your glory illumines everything with light
When my sinful eyes
Cast their beseeching gaze

And this is the Indonesian translation for my fellow Indonesians, for we need to contemplate the real meaning of Unity in Diversity, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

Mata yang penuh dosa

Di manakah Engkau, Tuhanku
Di manakah rumahMu?
Saat mataku yang penuh dosa
Menatap dan memohon

Di manakah Engkau, Tuhanku
Di manakah rumahMu?
Untuk apa kutikamkan belati ini Tuhanku?
Dari mana harus kutarik belati ini,
Ke mana harus kutikam dia

Saat kusadar Engkaulah seluruh dunia ini?

Untuk memelukMu
Ku akan berikan seluruh hidupku, seluruh duniaku
Cahaya terangMu menyinari seluruh dunia
Saat mataku yang penuh dosa
Menatap dan memohon padaMu

Pic 1: DVD cover to Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, from Wikipedia

Pic 2: Raja and Meenakhsi photographing the deer, from

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

A bottlenose dolphin carrying a dead calf

I was again reminded of my passion towards marine mammals, particularly whales and dolphins (though I also adore dugongs and seals &c) when I read this article by Giovanni Bearzi and Joan Gonzalvo Villegas from the Tethys Research Institute in Italy:

Bottlenose dolphin interactions with a dead calf in the Amvrakikos Gulf, Greece

On the 3rd and 4th of July, 2007, a bottlenose dolphin was observed interacting with a dead newborn for several hours in the semi-closed waters of the Amvrakikos Gulf, Greece.

The observations were documented by 532 digital photos taken on the first day, and 138 photos taken on the second day. A selection of 48 photos has been posted HERE.

We are considering writing a note to report this event, and would be interested in receiving information and comments from those of you who have had similar experiences.

We are aware of the following scientific articles published on the subject (see below). We would be grateful if you could help us make this literature list as comprehensive as possible.

Anyway, I dare only attach one photograph taken by Joan Gonzalvo (I have reduced the resolution) from the Tethys website, which of course belongs to the Tethys Research Institute (so please don’t sue me, Tethys)… I long to read those papers they mentioned, for I am again reminded of one of the main factors for my admirations towards the marine mammals: their strong social ties. I think we humankind should learn more from other species, particularly in these dire years of the Earth (what with global climate change &c…).

Friday, 17 August 2007

I salute Thee, my dearest Motherland

Dear friends,

Today is the 62th Independence Day of Indonesia, celebrated annually every 17th of August, since the year 1945 when we the Indonesians declared ourselves as a free nation, the Republic of Indonesia. I miss my country so much, the colours, the fragrance, the songs... the legends, the people. Granted, it's not a perfect country to live in, with lots of problems going on now. But I still miss her, and I promise to go back home for her when the time comes.

Hence, to commemorate the efforts of our Founding Fathers (who, no doubt, had our Founding Mothers standing next to them) in liberating the nation, here's a song from the deceased Gombloh, one of our pop singers.

Bende Mataram, Vande Mataram, I salute Thee, my dearest Motherland.

Gebyar-gebyar, by Gombloh

Merah darahku, putih tulangku (the red of my blood, the white of my bones)
Bersatu dalam semangatmu (united in your spirit)

Debar jantungku, getar nadiku (the flutter of my heart, the tremble of my vein)
Berbaur dalam angan-anganmu (merged in your dreams)

Gebyar-gebyar, pelangi jingga (Shine, oh shine, the orange rainbow!)

Biarpun bumi bergoncang (Even though the earth shatters)
Kau tetap Indonesiaku (You are still my Indonesia)
Andaikan matahari terbit dari barat (Even though the sun shines from the west)
Kaupun tetap indonesiaku (You are still my Indonesia)
Tak sebilah pedang yang tajam (No sharp swords)
Dapat palingkan daku darimu (can take me away from you)
Kusingsingkan lengan (I raise my arms)
Rawe-rawe rantas
Malang-malang tuntas
Denganmu … (for you)

Merah darahku, putih tulangku (the red of my blood, the white of my bones)
Bersatu dalam semangatmu (united in your spirit)

Debar jantungku, getar nadiku (the flutter of my heart, the tremble of my vein)
Berbaur dalam angan-anganmu (merged in your dreams)

Gebyar-gebyar, pelangi jingga (Shine, oh shine, the orange rainbow!)

Merah darahku, putih tulangku (the red of my blood, the white of my bones)
Bersatu dalam semangatmu (united in your spirit)

Nada laguku, symphoni perteguh (the rhythm of my song, the symphony)
Selaras dengan symphonimu (is in line with your symphony)

Gebyar-gebyar, pelangi jingga (Shine, oh shine, the orange rainbow!)

Picture of Merah Putih is taken from the photobucket here.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Amazing Grace, Amazing Movie!

If I have to vote for my movie of the year, I would be torn between Becoming Jane and Amazing Grace (and if Elizabeth: the Golden Age comes, I might be torn as well. Or maybe not, for Amazing Grace is officially a 2006 movie). Hence, to sort it out, my romantic movie of the year is Becoming Jane. My historic movie of the year so far is Amazing Grace. And, as BJ is loaded with many evidence of her grandeur of pure love, so is Amazing Grace, which is loaded with concerns and hopes for a better humanity.

Amazing Grace is actually the title of a famous song written by British Evangelist John Newton circa 1772. It’s such a soulful song that you can shed your tears just listening to it. And it was more moving because Newton himself was once a captain of a slave ship as written by the U.S. Official Site:

John Newton (played by Albert Finney in Amazing Grace) wrote the words to one of the most beloved hymns of all time between 1760 and 1770, while working as an evangelical pastor. Son of the commander of a merchant ship, Newton was captain of a slave ship for many years, until he underwent a dramatic religious conversion while steering his vessel through a storm.

Repenting and regretting the misery he had inflicted on the thousands of human cargo he had transported across the Middle Passage for many years, he devoted his life to the Church, and wrote the lyrics to many hymns which are still popular today.

In 1780 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Mary Woolchurch, in London. There he drew large congregations and influenced many, among them William Wilberforce. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807.

Thank God that Newton still lived to see the efforts to abolish the slave trade in England finally produced the 1807 Slave Trade Act on 25 March 1807, after twenty years of struggles. I am sure he died peacefully.

The movie Amazing Grace focuses on the efforts of one of John Newton’s friends, i.e. William Wilberforce. Played exquisitely by Ioan Gruffudd, Wilberforce was indeed the symbol of freedom and liberty in Great Britain, one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon men that had worked relentlessly to free African slaves and to stop slavery in England. I’m proud to know this great man, albeit a bit late. I’m also glad to see Ioan at his best. Well, I cannot say that, for I only saw him as Mr. Fantastic in Fantastic Four, and I think he completely wasted his fantastic talent by doing such a mundane movie like FF (not to mention pairing up with Jessica Alba, who – with all due respect – cannot make me feel for Invisible Woman). But anyway, Ioan was the great William Wilberforce. His acting was superb, I feared that he would have a heart attack during the Parliamentary hearing sessions; the stupid old blokes were so stubborn and heartless, and he was so passionate. Attempts to make other Amazing Grace movies will have to find a better Wilberforce, which will be hard to do, for it’s rather hard to see other Wilberforces other than Ioan’s Wilberforce.

The movie had many excellent actors/actresses, e.g. Albert Finney as John Newton, Youssou N'Dour as Olaudah Equiano, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in Harry Potter series) as Lord Charles Fox, Benedict Cumberbath (Stephen Hawking in Hawking, Patrick Watts in Starter for Ten) as Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (the William Pitt as said), Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson, and the 1995 Persuasion’s Ciaran Hinds as the pro-slavery Sir Banastre Tarleton.

The beautiful Romola Garai (Vanity Fair, Inside I’m Dancing, Atonement) played as Barbara Ann Spooner, Wilberforce’s wife; a lovely smart young lady, about the same age as Jane Austen, but with much more money – no offense. It is interesting to note that William Wilberforce and Barbara were married in Bath on May 30th, 1797, only a fortnight after their first meeting (I should really visit Bath, eh?). Having scouring down many Austen facts these few months, I have learned that Jane Austen visited Bath in November/December 1797. Would Jane know of Barbara? She definitely heard of Wilberforce, and I am sure that Jane admired his work (Austen’s Mansfield Park is a critique to slavery in plantation). If Jane Austen knew about Barbara Wilberforce, I bet she would envy her freedom and opportunities, in a good way.

The movie has such a profound effect on me; I’ve decided to watch it for the second time, this time dragging my female friends (they were a bit afraid the movie would be gruesome). I regret to report that the major cinema in my city fails to screen this amazing movie. Instead, they focus on more mundane movies that I would rather not elaborate; movies that do not inspire you to do things for greater good.

Here’s the powerful lyric of Amazing Grace (listen with a capella or bagpipe and let the tears fall down…)

Amazing Grace (How sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' many dangers, toils and snare,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the vail,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be for ever mine.

Read this for a great interview of with Ioan Gruffudd. Click this for a YouTube music video of Amazing Grace with the same song.

Pic 1: movie poster of Amazing Grace

Pic 2: the real William Wilberforce, from Wikipedia

Pic 3: Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce during a rough Parliamentary hearing, from Hollywood Jesus

Pic 4: Wilberforce (Gruffudd) and Barbara (Romola Garai), from

Pic 5: Wilberforce contemplating, from Amazing Grace