Somebody asked me the other day: "How come you write about food and so does senior journalist Vir Sanghvi; but while he is published widely and travels in style dining at some of the most expensive hotels all over the word, gets to drink some of the finest wines, and is the darling of the bold and beautiful, you continue to slog, struggle and survive."
I just looked at him, and smiled. But he continued: "You have been writing about the politics of food for as long as I remember, and yet your voice is drowned in ignominy and contempt. You write about the millions who produce food, and even these millions don't appreciate your efforts, they don't stand by you, they don't swear by you" and asked: "How long will you continue to think that you are the voice of the voiceless? How long will you go on thinking that you are moving mountains, that your voice is making an impact, bringing in the change that you so desire?"
I must say that while I ignored the statement and moved on, the question did haunt me, at times it still continues to do so. Even now sometimes I wake up at night and the face of that person comes in front of my swollen eyes. I ponder over his question, the cursory remark he made. I am not even sure whether he made that statement in jest or in all seriousness. I do try my best to analyse what he said, what he implied and before I find an answer I drift back into sleep.
What has happened to India's soul? Why people have become indifferent to human suffering being encountered by fellow human beings?
It's not only in India. It is happening everywhere. Sometimes back, I remember Al Gore writing something like this in his book Earth in the balance, that being an environmentally conscious politician, he always tried to talk about the destruction we are doing to the environment, how the Earth was heating up, and he writes that not many people would stand to listen to his full speech. Most of them would probably find it boring and walk away half way through. He could never draw crowds. Realising that it was not cutting through, he shifted to stupid and useless political issues, and the crowds would throng and applaud. And we all know that he nearly made it to the Presidency.
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was also asked a similar question several times while we were launching the film Poison on the Platter in different cities. People asked him why was he not making good feature films with such important and sensitive themes like genetically modified foods. Bhatt's reply was that while you all feel that good cinema is the need of the day, but when it comes to buy a Rs 100 ticket for a film that you want to see you invest that money in films like Raaz and Murder. Both were hits. He tells me that while he is remembered for his film Saransh, a very sensitive film, the fact remains that Saransh was a flop at the box-office.
So when I read a small snippet in Indian Express yesterday (April 24,2009), I was reminded again of what Mahesh Bhatt had told me. You may have missed seeing the small report tucked in one of the corners, so let me share it first:
Suicides don't sell, he learnt the hardway
After a profit-making Marathi film on Goddess Kalubai, filmmaker Arun Kachare produced a feature film on farmers' suicides with a message that they should stop taking their lives. The film Balirajache Rajya Yevu De (Let the kingdom of farmer arrive), flopped at the box office, landing Kachare in heavy debts. He rushed to ruling politicians for help asking them to buy out the film and show it to farmers. He contemplated suicide as his debts piled up and no help was in sight. Now, he has returned to his tried and trusted theme, religion.
Well, what do you say? Arun Kachare is not the only filmmakers whose film on suicides has flopped. The tragedy is that even farmers refused to see his film. I know of several other filmmakers who made such beautiful films on such serious subjects, many brilliant writers who make you sit back and think on such reality themes, and many journalists who reported from the countryside about the dark underbelly of the society. I know must of them are grappling, struggling to surive, trying to make people know the truth, forget about seeking appreciation.
Not everyone is as lucky as Satyajit Ray. Not everyone is smart enough like Al Gore to adopt the political ways, and still not give up on environment. Not everyone is as practical as Mahesh Bhatt to make films like Murder aimed at the box-office, and then make documentaries like Poison on the Platter to sensitise the society to the impending dangers from genetically modified foods.
No, I am not turning a la Vir Sanghvi. While I like reading him, I will still coninue with the struggle that I have undertaken for myself. I know the path is hard and long, and reclaiming India's soul is not easy but certainly not impossible.