Friday, November 28, 2008

Amphibious Mumbai Terror Attack



Tagged India's 9/11 the Mumbai terror attack lay siege to the city on the evening of 26th November. Having started off in Chatrapati Sivaji Terminus at 21:21 hrs it spread across the city targetting Leopold cafe-an iconic tourist spot that finds ample mention in Shantaram-that saw indiscriminate firing by terrorists. Soon the gun wielders hijacked a cop's car and went on a rampage blowing up a petrol bunk. This was followed by attacks on The Oberoi and The Taj, both seafront star hotels . The Taj's heritage wing and roof caught fire once explosions went off and as for the Oberoi, it's lobby was burning. A hostage situation ensued with American and British nationals being targeted. Apart from these sites two hospitals and grenade attacks at several other locations occurred across the city.
It's been more than 24 hours now and current reports state that guests at the Taj have been evacuated and the National Security Guard is ploughing its way through various floors to flush out terrorists. The Oberoi however still has a hostage situation with 30-40 people being held by a reported 15 terrorists. For update on this latest attack by an all new militant outfit, the Deccan Mujahideen, do take a look at http://sify.com/news/specials/mumbaiterrorattack/

The terrorists are reported to have sailed in from Karachi using the Rann of Kutch as a base. Apparently they hijacked a cargo vessel, the MV Alpha. This vessel has been intercepted by the Indian navy. Its claimed route is to have been from Saudi Arabia and its return destination as Kuwait. The MV Alpha seems to have escorted the terrorists to Mumbai's coast from where they used three inflatable Zodiac Gemini boats to reach their targets. An eyewitness previously reported that the terrorists had docked at Sasoon dock, 1km from the Taj were seen unloading crates, possibly filled with ammunition. The navy has been put on alert and has blocked of entry into Pakistan's waters in case the terrorists returned by sea and that route.


The Indian navy is the fifth largest navy in the world and plies the only Aircraft carrier, INS Viraat in Asian waters. In a couple of years it is set to include 3 aircraft carriers and 3 nuclear submarines. It currently has 8 Destroyers, 13 Frigates, 24 Corvettes, 6 Offshore patrol vessels, 12 Minesweepers, 10 Landing Ships, 2 Missile Boats, 3 Training Ships, 8 Fleet Auxillaries, 9 Survey & Research Ships, 6 Seaward Defence Forces and 16 Diesel-powered submarines. All this apart from the Navy aircraft. This list is not to say that by any means that our Indian Navy is incapable of intercepting terror attacks. It is only to say three things:
- History tends to repeat itself
- Intelligence plays a key role in gaining the maximum potential out of the service offered by the navy
- 'When you make a net for the big fish, the small one's slip out'

It's not the first time that a terror attack has come in by sea or launched from the sea. World War I & II were fought as much from sea as on land. The Indian navy battered Karachi in the 1971 war in the notorious Operation Trident. It maybe no surprise that the terrorist chose to target Oberoi, the Trident after the above successful mission. But speculations apart, the sea has been the most favoured route/method to launch a surprise attack that's not necessarily successful but nerve-wracking at the least.

Be it the Battle of the Delta that Rameses III faced from the Sea Peoples in ancient time, the Siege of Constantinople in the middle age, the Siege of Malta by the Ottoman empire, the Falklands war in 1982, the Korean War, all employed amphibious assault.

India's coastline is vast, flanked on three sides by sea and not so friendly neighbours on the other. The Bay of Bengal is the weak coastline which is probably why it is well patrolled also considering the LTTE conflict in Sri Lanka. The Arabian sea on the other hand too is patrolled but as a friend who had served with the coastguard said: "the only thing that's holding those vessels together is bird crap."

Let's forget the well-meaning coast guards for a while. Cruise liners today can't be messed with. As much as they come padded up in luxury, they come equipped with Sonar and radar equipment with a 50-mile radius and with something more bombastic - the LRAD or Long Range Acoustic Device that gives out a wall of deafening high-decibel noise. With this they are more than capable of deterring pirates. And in cases when they aren't the Indian Navy has pitched in to support anti-piracy measures in Somalian waters. The INS Tabar brought down the mother ship of Pirates on the coast of Oman in Novemeber 2008.

While the Indian navy is capable of intercepting the vessel that brought the terrorists to Mumbai's coast, tailing it, stalling it and preventing it from going any further, it is not possible to have prevented them from leaving for land on Zodiacs. Cause the lapse doesn't lie in the lack. It lies in the lack of awareness. As Nelson said, 'a ship's a fool to fight a fort.' In this case there was no fort but just to 'soft' targets, an easy access on to land, and intelligence that fell short or went unheeded.

The clutter of boats need to be cleared away from the Gateway of India and land must be fortified apart from investing in sonar equipment for the coast guard vessels to ensure that the 'tiny fish' don't get away easy. well if nothing, at least it'd give the coast guards a chance to exclaim, "Sir, it's the Orlando. Someone just dropped 45 cents."

Update: It's 29 hours now. The operation may go on till morning at The Taj and The Commandoes are yet to flush out the terrorist from The Oberoi. 7 hostages have been rescued from Nariman house.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Playing it safe - Dark tourism for gawkers






Gawped? What's as gripping as porn? What peeks curiosity? Apart from human anatomy that boils down to boobs, butts and other fetishes, what else could make us go wide-eyed? Natural disasters, trauma, torture, tribulations. Porn and pain don't necessarily inspire the same emotions. But they do more or less incite the same reactions - stop and stare. Why else were we all glued to the live telecast of the World Trade Centre crashing down on 9/11? Whey else did folks in Tamil Nadu watch replays of Karunanidhi being dragged out by cops on Sun TV? Why do Holocaust documentaries still have an avid audience who cringe at the monstrosity of the genocide yet watch it right through till the finish? Why do we crowd around an accident site? There's a morbid side to us that wants to be purged off its vile interest. Maybe. But when this translates itself into propagation of that dark vile side even though unintentionally, then it's no more purgation. It's a fetish. It might not be recognized to be so because of various aspects of sanctity, righteousness and political correctness couching it. But it exists in dark tourism.

The evils must be publicized, a record must live as a lesson in empathy but visiting a site where lives were lost or meeting people who are in the thick of depravity and creating a tourist industry around it will eventually drown out the essence of what happened there or is happening there. Dark tourism brings crowds to places, narrates the atrocities/misery stripped of any emotion. It points out to the onlooker. And in pointing out lies a distance. And what needs to be conveyed could be lost out in traversing that distance.

A place like Auschwitz stands to lose out on its history and the need to educate people on equality and empathy in the long run. One, because it's a place of tribute to the spirits of the survivors and those who were incarcerated in there. Tribute over the years will turn itself into sanctity and when that happens, the genocide will be a myth. When the survivors are gone, what will people know Auschwitz for? The reality of what happened stands to be lost over the years when they're gone. This could be a site just like the Colosseum where gladiators lost their lives. Or it could be like Kurukshetra, the land of dharma, when in fact it was a battlefield where thousands of lives were lost.


What Kurukshetra is known today is as a spot where Lord Krishna (above right) expounded the Baghavad Geetha to an Arjuna with cold feet. But what about Draupadi's (left) story of pain on losing her sons? What about Kunti's (below) story on how she lost a 100 sons and relatives in one battle? Those aren't the stories that are popular. The one's that make it into every household are the ones of heroism and worship. The carnage is nowhere in focus. The relevance of the genocide is nowhere to be seen. An entire clan was wiped out. Yet it's known as a fight for justice.



Auschwitz, Cambodia and other sites of genocide are treading the line of myth and heroism on one side and reality and human pain on the other. Worse, it stands to numb the impact of its history on the future. It will just turn out to be a spot like Jallianwala Bagh where people go for a stroll with a vague story of cornered Indians being shot to death by the British, streaming past their minds. It does not convey the impact it had, it does not evoke any empathy for that part of history. It's just a tourist spot on an itinerary.

Dark tourism doesn't extend just to the past. It also feeds off the present. Apparently there are packages where you can visit child soldiers in Sierra Leone . So as long as people are interested in the trauma of a child soldier, the tourism sector will boom. And that's ethical? There's an article in the Guardian that focuses on slum tourism in Delhi. Foreigners come, take a peek at the kids high on whiteners, sleeping in rat-infested nooks & crannies, get their fill of 'third-world India' and leave. Apparently the money raised goes to a local charity that rehabilitates these children. Then why are they still out in the open on subways and pavements? Does it honestly promise them a better life? Does this sort of tourism entice anyone from the audience to do anything about the situation? Does it jerk the government into embarrassment? Nope. Dark tourism refuses to take a stance. Dark tourism is devoid of humanity.

A new spin must be given to these places. Take for instance, Epic Arts Cafe in Cambodia. It promotes Cambodian culture with music, poetry, theatre and local art. While your chomping on cakes and have a story told the people there, it becomes a personal experience as opposed to that of a gawker with a tour guide trailing you along marked pathways. It's only with active interaction can the nuances of what happened surface. Only then will people know the importance of what happened and a message of empathy be passed on. History was never kept alive by text books as much as art and literature that captured way more than numbers or dates. This has got to be way more interesting and a way of knowing what the people feel and their history than staring at skulls racked up at Choeung Ek. The money generated by this initiative goes to the disabled community to whom it provides employment . There is a point to this sort of tourism. It helps. It's not stagnant. It's not retired to photo albums of folks who'd probably flip through it when they grow nostalgic for any other reason but for the lives lost.

Similarly, Step Up Travel promotes microfinance tourism. Instead of child soldiers it takes you to people striving to make a difference. Locals who are struggling to get away from poverty and the war. It promises a more personal experience, where you get to meet the people affected by an ongoing situation but who are the real one's fighting it. It does not focus on the victimised. It focuses on those striving to be victorious. That's a positive spin. And that's socially responsible tourism.

Dark tourism the onlooker at bay from fully understanding as to what went on there. It works exactly like a house of horrors. It moves from one object to another and gives such an overdose of the morbid that the minute one steps out, they want to get it out of their system and it becomes a memory. Dark tourism is not proactive nor productive.

Tourism to tsunami-hit spots does nothing for the people affected there. One needs to go a step ahead. What does the mayor of a Sicilian town, Salemi, hit by an earthquake do? He sells land and and tipsy homes @ one euro to persons who have the capacity to restore them with the native architectural traits and local labour within two years on the scenic spot with history. Now that's sheer genious! With celebrities like Peter Gabriel and Anna Wintour lapping it up, it could become something like the Mayfair - "best address in London" walk that treks past homes of the rich and famous. Dhanushkodi (above) could do with something like that.

Well, the bad guys do have a charm of their own. Especially the mafia in slick suits. But Palermo (below) refuses to buckle to tourists who come looking for the excitement in a mob driven town. Instead, we have Addiopizzo, an NGO that asks to support non-pizzo or non-bribe initiatives. Visitors are asked patronize shops and restaurants and activities that don't pay protection money to the mafia. It supports clean tourism.

It seems like there are three types of tourists. One, who does the tried and tested, absolutely cliched tour guide plan. Two, the one who wants a taste of the unknown and exciting. Three, the one who wants to 'experience' a place no matter if it's a commercial tourist spot or something out of line. And the third kind of tourist is the one who is most likely to be the socially responsible traveler. And there are several of them around. The tourism industry by itself needs to grow a spine. Instead of doling out boring pamphlets and done-to-death faff, it needs to offer an experience. And maybe tourism like any self-respecting industry sector promises to do, should promote change and growth for the better too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The evolution of the 'Freak'

A chandala asked Adi Shankara, "Is it my body that is fed by the same rice you feed on or my soul that's the same as yours, that you want to move away from?" And not till the chandala revealed himself to be Lord Siva did Adi Shankara acknowledge the unifying traits of being human - we all breathe, eat, sleep and do more the same way. This incident or the ensuing Manisha Panchakam however, didn't stop race, colour or class rooting itself in the Hindu community or entrench itself in Indian culture. It didn't help that Lord Krishna is dark. It didn't help that Siva chose Kannapa Nayanar, a hunter over the supposedly supreme brahmin. It didn't help that Tamizh, the language of Dravidians, is as ancient and steeped in spirituality as Sanskrit, the language of the fair-skinned Aryans. The need to classify, the need to distinguish, the need to build a hierarchy, create uniformity, seems to be as old as creation of the world itself. And it continues to grow unhampered by geography or time.

The need to distinguish hinges on the creation of a majority and the propagation of a herden mentality. The classifications arise from what constitutes not fitting in. And hierarchy arises when not fitting in is aligned with being a social aberration i.e. anything deviant from the normal, regular and the usual. And today, this could mean anything.

Initially, not fitting-in was restricted to the surface i.e. complexion. And colour is the most wide-spread aberration that reaches way back into time. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, the founder of scientific racism theories, built on Bernier's classification by complexion and body structure that had four components (European, Far Easterner, Lapps, Blacks), and added a fifth, namely Malay, which included Polynesians, Melanesians and Aborigines. He colour tagged them for quick identification - white, yellow, black, brown, red. And these in turn implied hierarchy, intelligence, strength and capabilities. But it was just easier to club white and non-white and neatly tie-off any questions on supremacy as it didn't make a difference cause no matter which way you looked at it, white headed the list. This easy-way-out is evident in Jean-Joseph Virey's claim. It is reported by Bruce Baum in A Political History of Racial Identity, that Virey found it easier to divide the human race by those who are fair or white and those who are dark or black. This seems to have laid the foundation for the usage of "people of colour" today.

But racism and racist theories were beginning to be chipped, proved wrong. The path soon turned to exploring what it meant to be of a particular ethnicity in terms of conditioning and what it enabled them to do or be medically as opposed to defining opportunities and benefits by those traits. The need to question racial notions was propelled by the Abolitionist movement, marked by UNESCO's The Race Question, the burgeoning Anti-racism outfits and even Naomi Campbell's big break on the cover of Vogue enabled by Yves Saint Laurent.
But with this aberration threatening to go out fashion and facing widespread, well-covered opposition, a need for other reasons cropped up.

Where as complexion was applied to a mass, an ethnic group, it still entitled them to a communal feeling. The distinction led the aberrants to bond greater, give rise to art and literature. But where do folks with one-off congenital disorders turn to? There's no sense of oneness or belonging except in a circus with beasts. Almost all of them join show business but the effects on them are determined by sympathy and luck.

The first recorded conjoined twins Christina & Ritta fell prey to medical curiosity and popularity. The bearded lady, Annie Jones (left), got lucky that her parents identified her potential as a show-stealer and money-minter instead of seeing her as a bane in patriarchal 19th century. With her success and support of her mother, Annie went on to be a person with self-esteem and even found love twice. The Mummy or Dominique Castagna wasn't so lucky. He withdrew into himself, was rejected by his family, found fame and fortune at a circus even though he did it grudgingly and hated being paraded. And when he lost his one friend who saw him for who he is, he shot himself. Literature and music have immortalised the emotions of these aberrants, condemned to being only about the way the look and denied an identity, opportunity or a hand in friendship. The most memorable one being The Phantom of the Opera.

There are instances when people with deformities surpass fame and fortune to garner status and social acceptance even though it did grow out of curiosity. Take for instance, General Tom Thumb. On his wedding day he was received by Abraham Lincoln himself. The Elephant Man got half lucky. He was embraced by British high society but craved love which he was never destined to receive.

Though these 'freaks of nature' are one-off genetically determined creations, there have been instances when external influences have caused physical abnormalities. For instance, the Thalidomide babies that caused a huge uproar in the 60s. They were seen more as mutants than freaks of nature. Only 5000 of the estimated 12000 Thalidomide babies made it past childhood. And with widespread media publicity, awareness that this was a mass accident across the world, there was empathy and more focus on how to work with these children than sympathy or a spotlight on their 'queerness'.

Ignorance can either harm or sometimes protect and the latter is possible in the case of deformities in India, where there is a chance of the abnormality being sanctified. With Ganesh, the god with the elephant head; Muruga with six heads, Vishnu's avatars Vamana (dwarf), Kurma (half man-half boar) and Narasimha (part man-part lion); Siva with a third-eye on his forehead; Ardhanarishwar (part-woman, part-man - left) and Vishnu as Mohini (transgender), chances are that a physical abnormality can find sanctuary in religion and mythology. It affords a certain amount of security from persecution and instills awe instead of revulsion. For instance, the girl with four arms and four legs who is worshiped as Devi. No one would dare insult her. This niche needs to be navigated into by those around her, her family. And this capacity or assurance that they will be able to cosy into the corner and protect the child from harsh treatment, totally depends on the individual's luck. Or else it could be the case of the werewolf-boy, shunned by villagers, feared and friendless.

And then it wasn't just about the freak show anymore when the rights and dignity of the 'freak' were beginning to be clamoured for. So the focus was turned to other not-monstrous disorders. For instance cerebral palsy. You're a 'spaz' if you trip or are a klutz. Joey Deacon were one of the few who made it and got lucky with friends and support, who brought to light that cerebral palsy though affects motor functions doesn't affect intelligence levels. I studied with a girl who has cerebral-palsy. She's talented, writes poetry, got good grades, dresses snazzily and even had a cameo in a movie and made several television appearances. And no one saw her as an aberrant.

Soon lesser defects came into the spotlight of the bully - thick glasses, braces, pimply-faces, obesity. It's one thing to be shunned and it's another to be hunted down just because one doesn't fit in. When people go out of the way to mock, taunt and hurt an individual with a supposed abnormality, loneliness seems to be a safer option. Reena Virk (below), a 14-year-old, who would've been as old as me if allowed to live, was cruelly cornered, battered, chased and killed. There was nothing wrong with her. She had no facial abnormality. She wasn't physically or mentally challenged. She was obese and an Indian in a white Canadian community.This incident is a frightening example of how deep the sense of symmetry has entrenched itself in us. Not a single student in her school revealed what had happened to her. Not one of the gang who beat her up owned up. And the girl who killed her had no real reason to do so except that she felt Reena's complexion and obesity visually disrupted the sameness of the white community. The body had to be found by the cops under the bridge for Reena's story to surface. When the two sides of our faces aren't the same, why is symmetry such an issue?

The need to be fair is an obsession with women in South India. The need to have perfect skin is a must to be considered eligible. That is why the threat hollered by unruly men, 'eve' teasers, battering husbands to hurl acid at their faces evokes such shock, revulsion and fear, that they cower under it, not knowing what to do. The face is where it will hurt the most. Anything but a cruel deformity. Anything but dark skin. A friend of mine went to a store to get a moisturiser. The attendant handed over Fair & Lovely (watch ad).

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It was assumed if she wanted mosituriser or a face cream, it had to be to grow fair. But with the expansion of media and it's reach and the likes of the dusky Bipasha Basu making it big, gradually dark complexions are growing to be in. But the racial supremacy assertion seems to be working overtime to maintain its importance. With fairness creams not being such a big deal with women anymore, they seem to be targeting men! And I thought we liked the bronzed man who's not conscientiously applying a fairness cream to his face.

There are however certain individuals who are fair but aren't white and are non-white but fair - albinos. There's no sense of belonging on either side. They walk the no-man's land. In Africa especially, considering apartheid and where colour is so distinct, to be fair-skinned is blasphemy. The lines from Frost's Mending Wall reveals the story on the other side:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in o
r walling out

Differences and deprivation in the long run cause a sense of rebelling against what one doesn't have and builds a sense of pride in acceptance of what one is, especially in the black community where jazz, hiphop, black literature is also about celebrating being black. And when this acceptance has been made, cutting slack towards what doesn't fit their mould is hard to come by.

It wasn't enough to tie-down an aberration to not fitting sameness visually. So it jumped to behaviour. If a guy wanted to be a ballet dancer, he's queer. Homosexuality is an aberrant. Being goth is an aberrant. If you're a book worm and introverted and not hanging out with the 'in' crowd, you're an aberrant. A friend referred me to a scene from the movie Midnight Express and the novel Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. In Midnight Express, there's a scene where Billy Hayes, the protagonist, steps in with the zombie-state of the institution-like Turkish prison. There's an everyday circular walk that the inmates take. One fine day, the inanity of the walk hits Billy - why on earth was he following the person in front of him in a clockwise motion without even wanting to be there. Having snapped out of the imposed mind-dead state, Billy chooses to go anti-clockwise. But instead of snapping the rest out of their mind-dead state by doing so, it disgruntles them that their routine is being thwarted.

This poignant scene along with Picoult's protagonist Peter, a regular guy, who has a hard time fitting in with the popular kids, is picked on time and again till he can't take anymore and seeks revenge, reveals that the need to fit in is begging for an excuse to be made worthwhile.

The notion of social aberration has seeped past the skin, personality and is now in the bloodstream. Rebati from Orissa, India, who has a rare genetic disorder is now in the spotlight because her blood has been stolen and is being treated like a guinea pig instead of being treated. Virumandi from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, who has the M130 DNA marker found in man who crossed over from Africa to India 70,0000 years ago, makes him the 'missing link'. But popular notion is that 'missing link' means what connects ape man to man and not a pinpointer to roots. And therefore Virumandi is being ostracised by his own village folks and has to face constant digs at his "monkey blood".

Numbers = power therefore the need to consciously set oneself apart from the minority, exert superiority and power is growing more and more complicated. It's pretty much on the lines of the movie Hostel - LSD's done, ecstasy's done and so the next high must be in torturing. Similarly man's need to fit in and create a majority has moved from complexion, genetic disorders, physical appearances, non-homogenous behaviour to blood. And it seems to be getting out of hand like a hysterical Nero about to set Rome on fire, so that he can build Rome in grandeur as he sees fit. Wonder what's in line next.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Where's JLO by the Cooum?


Ranjitha Gunasekaran's article in The New Indian Express on life by the Cooum was read more out of curiosity (read article). Weirdly, it excited me more than enticing sympathy. From the rubble of utter despondency has come the world's most stunning revolutions or breakthroughs. Apart from the French Revolution that rose from the 'let them eat cake' ignominy, it's the more spiritually uplifting movements such as jazz in New Orleans and rap from the Bronx.

Forget karma, forget the soul, forget a higher power. The most evident sign of life, as we know it, is water. The two are immutable. Everything from Mars space expeditions to WALL-E's girlfriend Eve have their eye on this tie. It is not for nothing that rivers and water bodies are known to be the cradle of civilizations. In fact when the world was Pangaea, the floating mass was in a cradle of water. There 's a lovely line from the Upanishad that talks of a river's unconditional love and giving nature - Nee elavatraiyum thuppavaki vittu, nee aaviaagi maraindhu vidugirai - meaning you give so much, you cleanse us and it's you who vanishes without a trace (it doesn't sound half as good in English but it's poignant in Tamizh). But with the vanishing comes the invisible; the masses who get left behind by the banks to create a community out of squalor and poverty. This is one constant in a river's history, be it the Cooum of Madras or the Bronx of New York.

Much like the Bronx, the Cooum too was the site of industrialisation and the hub of a settlement. Francis Day and Andrew Cogan strolled past looking for an ideal port after failed attempts on the East coast. And they spotted a large piece of land by a meandering river that flowed past cotton-rich Chintadripet or Chinna-dhurrie-pet and they knew that they had struck gold. And so on August 23 1639, the Nayak of Poonamalee handed over the land where Fort St George (a view of the Western entrance above) was to be built a few hundred yards north of the mouth of the river leading out to sea. Soon villages around the Fort cropped up, industries came up, the waterway began to play a key role in trading and in the creation of Madras.

But again like the Bronx the Cooum has a history that reaches way past the arrival of Europeans. The Bronx was the Aquehung for the Mohecan Indians and the Cooum was the site of two sacred Sivan temples (Ilambaiyankottur temple [R]) whose beauty has been immortalized in Thirugnanasambandhar's Tevaram. Both rivers sustained a past culture that fell to industrialisation that left in it's wake effluents, sewage and slums. As always the uneducated, the manual labourers get left behind in the wake of success.

Ranjitha let the teenage boys tell their stories, their favourite spots by the stench, their ambitions "fashioned" around the bottle and dope much like their fathers. It's the same set of experiences that the young boys who turn into hustlers on the streets of the Bronx and the one's by the Cooum face - school drop outs, drugs, booze, violence. And as for the girls - early motherhood and drunks for husbands (if at all they stay), are the norm.

It was the apathy, the borders, the palpable difference that gave rise to rap in South Bronx. It was a tool to express their frustration, the way it felt to be ignored, to be black or Hispanic, to vent what they want even if it was just a fuck with the most bodacious black woman on the block. It ranged from social activism to gangster rap. And it spread from East Coast to the West. It was a way out, an option like no other to get close to all the bling in the world that they only saw from afar and got killed trying to get there much like 50 Cents' Get rich or die tryin'.
There's Fat Joe, Grandmaster Flash, Mary J Blige and the diva JLo who cleaned up and got out of the Bronx. But as many new talents come out, there are several more queuing up or not knowing how to get out.

Projects like the Art-Start's Hip-Hop Project cater to the one's lagging behind or the one's hustling, dropping out of school, or stepping out of prison to find a route. The Hip-Hop Project was kick-started by Chris "Kazi" Rolle, a student who discovered Art-Start in 1999 as his last option to a regular life. He brought together several kids with talent and those without any to pick up rapping and make something out of it for themselves even if it's only their pain they can talk about. After four years of working on their skills they produced an album and had their experience documented and showcased around the world. Bruce Willis set up a studio for these kids and also produced the docu along with Queen Latifah. The docu's won several awards across the world. (Drop by the Hip Hop Project)

Much like rap, we in India have gaana or koothu paatu. The rhythms are pretty much the same and it focuses on the same issues of poverty, lack, desires and more. Unfortunately though, the music industry here is primarily dependent on the movie industry. But it has picked up koothu on and off in the past. But of late it's taken it and turned into a dance routine with elements from the west. And usually it goes the way of gangster rap or the cheesy hip-hop where it's all about curves and who wants to lay who. Gaana paatu is not yet a mainstream art form, it's not even respectable poetry to many. People listen to Amiri Baraka. Who's going to listen to the guy on the steep side of Spurtank Road? One of the most brilliant things about rapping is, it's not entirely about the voice. DMX was known for his barking tones. And so it is with koothu. Content is right here. Rhythm can be picked up. What the folks by the Cooum need is the door to the option.


With music directors like Yuvan Shankar Raja picking up kooothu and infusing it into the storyline of movies such as Pudhupettai, not only authenticates the experience but has gotten us to acknowledge it as well. It's songs like Variya and Yenga Area Ulla Varadhey (watch video below) that bring out the experiences of the invisible folk and their territorial markings more than Yogi B & Natchathra from Malaysia.
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Hip-hop's going through its whole commodification phase. One's trying to figure out who has real talent and who has the producers backing them up. Though not to that extent, here too it's a case of what's authentic. A friend was disillusioned when he found out that Blazee was a Tamizh brahmin. He felt that to be a true hip-hop artist you've got to serve time or at least have a single police record.

But like the Hip-Hop Project proved it's not about reveling in one's misery. What the youth by the Cooum need more than its beautification plans which is as stagnant as the filth in it, is a project that would get them to talk about their experiences, see it for it what is, see what's more to life and show them a way out of the rut. And maybe all they need is just one Gill Scott-Heron to step out, speak up, cut an album and then it's up to them.