Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cinco Esquinas - the latest novel of Mario Vargas Llosa

Cinco Esquinas (five corners) is the latest novel of my favorite Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa. It is a story about the times of Peru during the worst authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori, the criminal and corrupt activities of his Intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, the intimidation of political opponents by slander through yellow journalism, the terrorism, kidnappings and extortions of Sendero Luminoso (Shining light), Tupac Amaro and other extremist groups.



Llosa has contrasted the struggle of the poor people to survive in the violent neighborhood of of Cinco Esquinas with the hedonistic lives of the elites from the affluent Miraflores area of Lima, the capital city. While the poor face violence, crime and drug trafficking in their streets every day, the rich take off during weekend to Miami for shopping and vacation. Cinco Esquinas is part of the historic and colonial Barrio Alto section of the capital which had seen glory, decadence and revival epitomising the ups and downs of Peru.

Here is the picture of Cinco Esquinas..


Rolando Garro, the editor of a tabloid blackmails Enrique Cardenas, a mining baron with the photos of the latter's orgy. When Cardenas refuses to give in, Garro publishes the photos but is killed afterwards. Cardenas is accused of the murder and is detained briefly. La Retaquita, the editorial assistant of Garro is summoned by El Doctor, the chief of the intelligence agency. El Doctor is none other than the real Vladimiro Montesinos who was Director of Intelligence during the Alberto Fujimori regime. The chief tells Retaquita that it was he who got Garro killed after the latter went beyond his control.  He asks her to continue to run the tabloid and be part of his campaign to slander and discredit the opponents of Fujimori government. El Doctor gets Juan Peineta, an innocent reciter of poems, blamed and forces him to confess as the killer of Garro.  But La Retaquita gathers courage and exposes the intelligence chief as the real culprit and brings him down. 


There are some steamy erotic scenes in the Llosa's signature style. The story starts with the discovery of Lesbian love between Marisa, the wife of Cardenas and Chabela, the wife of Luciano, the lawyer and ends with a threesome at the end of the novel when the ladies get Cardenas to join them. In his interview at the launching event of the book, Llosa says that "sex and exploration of variety in sex had become provocation and consequence of the tensions caused by the uncertain, insecure and curfew times of the country"

In his novel "La fiesta del chivo"(The feast of the goat) Llosa has given a poignant portrayal of the Trujillo dictatorship of Dominican Republic. I had been expecting a similar Llosa novel about the Fujimori dictatorship and the excesses of Montesinos both of whom are in jail for their crimes. Llosa has also a personal agenda against the Fujimoris after he lost to Alberto Fujimori in the presidential elections of 1990. Llosa had campaigned strongly against Keiko's (the daughter of Fujimori) candidature in the 2016 elections. With these experience, Llosa has much to tell about the Fujimori period. But I was disappointed that Llosa has not done so in Cinco Esquinas. He has given only a superficial sketch of the use and manipulation of yellow journalism by Montesinos and has not mentioned Fujimori at all. The actual story of Fujimori is adequate material for several novels. He started off as an agricultural engineer,became a Maths professor and turned a politician. He won the presidential elections unexpectedly as a last minute dark horse. In his first term as President, he put an end to the guerrilla violence with a strong hand and turned around the economy. But later he became autocratic and messed up the country. He is the first President in world history to resign by fax while he was on an official visit to another country. He got asylum in Japan on the basis of his Japanese nationality. He could have continued the rest of his life peacefully in Japan but he came back to Peru with bravado. The peruvian authorities simply tried him in the court  and punished him with long imprisonment. The story of Fujimori is distinctly colorful even for Latin America which has seen all kinds of politicians and dictators. It is remarkable that his daughter Keiko who functioned as First Lady in the Presidential house of her father, has got over the legacy and is now the leader of the party which has majority in the Peruvian Congress. She lost the Presidential elections narrowly in 2016. 

Cinco Esquinas, like other Llosa's novels, has interesting characters such as La Retaquita and Juan Peineta (with his cat Serrafin) among others. But Llosa has not developed them as memorable as he has done in his other novels. I am even more disappointed that Llosa has not gone the full length in portraying El Doctor, the evil director of intelligence. 

Cinco Esquinas has the usual formula of Llosa with ingredients of special characters, suspenseful storyline and eroticism. But these are cursory and underdeveloped and without depth and elaboration. Could my disappointment be attributed the fact that Llosa wrote Cinco Esquinas close to his eightieth birthday in 2016?  Has senility set in? No.. No.. Look at his smile in the picture below…



Llosa has been rejuvenated by his latest love seen in the picture. Age has not reduced the flow of testosterone in the Latino Macho. In 2015, he announced his relationship with Isabel Preysler, a Phillippino celebrity and has sought divorce from his second wife. Isabel is the ex-wife of Julo Iglesias and the mother of Enrique Iglesias. She was married three times earlier.

This is the second book of Llosa, I have read in Spanish. The English translation of this book has not been published yet. I had read in Spanish  El sueño del Celta ( The dream of the Celt) but it took too long a time to complete. Because of this reason, I have read all the other books of Llosa in English translation. But I was able to finish Cinco Esquinas within three days, thanks to the embedded Spanish-English dictionary in the kindle version. Encouraged by this experience, I plan to read more books in Spanish in future. English is inadequate and no match for the distinctive and colorful Latino Spanish to express Latin American emotions, excitement and effervescence. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From Brahma beer to Prem Baba

Brahma, the Indian god of creation is not a popularly worshipped deity unlike Shiva and Vishnu the other two gods of the trinity. But Brahma is popular among the Brazilians. Hmm..Not as a god but as a brand of beer. Brahma is advertised in posters, bill boards and media all over Brazil. The company which produces this beer was established in 1888 with the name Companhia Cervejaria  Brahma (Brahma beer company). Brahma beer is an essential ingredient for the spirit of Brazilians, known as 'happy go lucky', 'beach-loving', 'football-crazy', 'samba-singing' and 'carnival-parading' colorful, cheerful and playful people.

Most Brazilians who imbibe Brahma beer do not know that Brahma is the name of an Indian God. It was also true of Janderson Fernandes de Oliveira from Sao Paulo. After the age of thirty three years, Janderson has stopped drinking Brahma beer and opted for Ganga Jal (Ganges water) chanting the name of Brahma and other gods. He came to India for honeymoon but ended up embracing celibacy. He has taken to Indian spiritualism and become a Guru in the spiritual capital Rishikesh with the name Sri Prem Baba. He says, "One does not choose to become a Guru. One is chosen". He was, indeed, chosen as the successor by Hans Raj Maharajji Sachcha Baba, head of the Sachcha Dham ashram in Rishikesh in 2011. Maharajji declared," A new saint brings a new message". Prem Baba is proud to be a son of the Sachcha lineage.

Janderson visited India for the first time in 1999 with his wife for honeymoon. They travelled to many touristic and spiritual places. But the young couple got a cultural shock, like most other western tourists. The poverty, unhygienic conditions, dust, noise and crowds made India as an uncomfortable and strange world for the newly married couple. They even thought of cutting short the trip and getting back to Brazil. But someone suggested a visit to Rishikesh. While travelling from Haridwar to Rishikesh in an old Ambassador car, Janderson got a new sensation. A wave of divine love and light flooded him. Filled with an intense happiness, he began singing. He had a premonition that he was finally in the right road to fulfill the mission of his life. He had audience with Sri Hans Raj Maharajji of the Sachcha Dam ashram in Rishikesh. He realized that the old man with the white beard who had invited him to Rishikesh in his recurrent dreams since adolescence was none other than Maharajji himself.  He fell on the Indian Guru's feet and surrendered himself.  Maharajji smiled and said that he was expecting this moment. Janderson wanted to ask him many questions but the questions disappeared overcome by a profound silence and a new energy. He felt as though his search was over and had received answers to all his questions about life. After three years of learning and apprenticeship in the ashram, he reached ' self-realisation about his purpose in life', got 'illumination' and had experienced 'communion with God'.  He went to Ganges river, dipped his feet in the water, meditated and prayed. He heard Mother Ganges saying to him, "See how free I am and unattached to anything ". He felt an ecstasy again. When he went back,  Maharajji told him, ' Now you are a Guru. You are free to teach as you like" and named him Prem Baba. Just before his death in October 2011, Hans Raj Maharajji nominated Prem Baba as his successor in the line of the Sachcha ashram tradition and passed on the 'Gurumantra' to him.

Prem Baba has given a Brazilian touch to Indian spiritualism with emphasis on 'love' to resonate with his name Prem which means love. The Brazilians are curious and excited with the 'Brasileiro que virou Guru' (the Brazilian who has turned into a Guru) and who can teach the Indian wisdom through their own language and with a Brazilian perspective. In his lectures in Brazil, Prem Baba goes beyond the spiritual and refers to the political, economic, environmental and social issues and the recent crisis of Brazil. He has established two large Sachcha mission ashrams in Brazil. One is located in Nazare Paulista, a small town about 80 km from Sao Paulo city. The other one is near Alto Paraiso, 200 km from Brasilia. There are other centres in Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and other parts of Brazil. The Baba has many celebrity followers in Brazil. Prem Baba's rise as a Guru has taken Brazilian interest in Indian spiritualism to a new level. Thanks to him, Rishikesh is receiving more Brazilian and Latin American visitors. 

Prem Baba spends two or three months every year during winter months in India mainly in Rishikesh. In 2017, he will be there from 2 February to 15 March. His daily programme includes meditation, chanting of mantras, yoga and sat sang. Many Indians throng to Prem Baba, curious about the Brazilian way of interpreting Indian Sachcha (truth).


The Baba has gone global and joined the jet-set Guru circuit, supported by wealthy people around the world. His Awaken Love Movement and Path of the Heart Institutes have centres in fourteen countries which include US, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Argentina and Spain.  It is a new experience for non-Brazilian foreigners to be taught Indian spiritualism through Portuguese language spoken by a Brazilian Baba. He speaks only in Portuguese and his speeches are translated into English and other languages. 

Prem Baba's teachings include 'may love awaken in everyone', 'reconnecting with yourself', 'ABC of spirituality' and 'experiencing your truth'. He has his own brand 'Path of the Heart' method of self-knowledge, in which he gives courses. He combines Indian spiritualism with western psychology. Besides explaining the mysteries of existence, he gives advice for day to day life such as how to control anger and envy, how to develop one's talents and maintain relationships. He supports the Clean Ganga project and Clean Rio Tiete ( Tiete river going through Sao paulo city also needs cleaning up) and other environmental and educational projects.

He has authored three books: 'Love and be free', ' From suffering to joy', 'purpose: the courage to be who we are'. He has a blog, twitter account, facebook page, youtube, Instagram and websites sriprembaba.org and pathheart.org. 

Janderson was born in 1965 in Sao Paulo city in a lower middle class family. Even as a child, he started having visions and profound thoughts. At the age of fourteen, he went to yoga classes where he heard Indian prayer songs in Sanskrit. He used to get dreams in which a wise old white bearded man from the Himalayas telling him,' when you reach the age of thirty three, come to India, to Rishikesh'. He took up a job as office boy in a slaughter house from the age of 14 to 19. Therafter he started a yoga school and practiced alternative therapies. In 2003, he got a degree in clinical psychology from the University of Sao Paulo. At this time he had many students and followers but still felt as though he was a blind person guiding other blind people. He had studied many spiritual schools of thought including shamanism from the Brazilian jungles but did not get the answers to his questions. When he was 33, he went through an existential crisis. In 1999, he married Mara Regina Caccia from Sao Paulo city. He changed her name to Prem Mukti Mayi and named his daughter as Nuyth Ananda. Prem Baba is now separated from his wife and is a celibate.

Brazil, the largest catholic country in the world, has several thousands of followers of Sai Baba, Art of Living, Hare Krishna, Brahma Kumaris and other major and minor Indian spiritual groups. There is an active Ramakrishna vedanta mission centre in Sao Paulo city (with branches in other parts of Brazil) which is headed by a Tamil-speaking Swami Nirmalatmananda, who gives discourses in fluent Portuguese. The Hare Krishna temple in the Novo Gokula community near Pindamonhangaba ( 150 km from Sao Paulo city towards Rio de Janeiro) has one of the most beautiful settings  in the world,  similar to the pastoral scenery depicted in the Krishna tales of India. It is located in the midst of a forest and on the side of a stream with hills around. It is a perfect spot for meditation; serene and quiet except for the sounds of water rushing through the pebbles, the chirping of birds and the rustling of the leaves in the breeze. Yoga and meditation have become mainstream activities even among young Brazilians. Ayurveda is also becoming popular in Brazil as an alternative medical treatment. Palas Atena, a reputed NGO in Sao Paulo offers courses in Indian philosophy besides propagating Gandhian thoughts and methods of non-violence. There are a few Brazilians who perform and teach Indian music and dance. There is a Catholic priest (of Indian origin) Father Joachim Andrade who dances and teaches Bharatha Natyam in Curitiba city.

Prem Baba is the first Brazilian and Latin American to become an Indian Guru. Although many Latin Americans have become teachers of Indian spiritualism, no one has reached the highest level as Sri Prem Baba who is building a fascinating bridge between the spiritual Rishikesh and the sensual Rio de Janeiro.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Magical Realism meets Asian Culture in the novel " Night Prayers"

Night Prayers is the story of three Colombian characters and their encounter with four Asian cultures. The Colombian protagonists are: Manuel, the philosophy student; his adventurous sister Juana ; and  a diplomat posted in New Delhi. India, Thailand, Japan and Iran are the countries where destinies take the Colombians. The author of this novel is Colombian writer Santiago Gamboa. 

The lower middle class family of Juana and Manuel are ardent supporters of Alavaro Uribe who comes to power promising to put an end to the FARC guerrilla war. They are frustrated with the bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and drug trafficking by the guerrillas who had deviated from their original ideological agenda and become a criminal terrorist organization, pushing the country to the brink of 'a failed state'. President Uribe manages to break the back of FARC with an iron hand. But the liberals and intellectuals including Juana are critical of the excesses of government and the military as well as the paramilitary atrocities in the name of the war against the guerillas. 

Manuel, a shy philosophy student and dreamer, does not understand the challenging world around him . His sister is the only person to understand and support him. When his sister goes missing to Japan, he wants to go and find her. In order to finance the expensive trip, he agrees to carry drugs for the traffickers. He gets caught in Bangkok and put in prison there.

Juana, the rebellious and audacious sociology student, is an angry critic of Uribe's methods.  When she wants to run away from the violent Colombia to a 'civilized place like Europe' a French man settled in Bogota tells her, 'you have to give time for Colombia, a young country still looking for a language.  Europe which has peace today, cost two thousand years of war, blood, torture and cruelty. The last European war left fifty four million ( more than the entire population of Colombia at present ) dead'. Juana wants to take revenge on the Uribe government and infiltrates the secret service by becoming an escort to the officials. But when she is about to be caught, she slips away  to Japan and  joins the escort service there. Later, she escapes from the Japanese mafia by running away with an Iranian bodyguard to his country. She is rescued from the Ayatollah tyranny of Iran  by the Colombian diplomat who takes her to reunite with her brother in the Bangkok jail. But the brother commits suicide just before the meeting with the sister. 
Santiago Gamboa has given a vivid portrayal of the Colombian society which has paid a huge price in blood in the deadly feud between the revolutionaries, liberals and conservatives in the last seventy years. In the Colombian history, the ten years between 1948 and 1958 is known as the period of ' La Violencia'. It is not over yet. Uribe's supporters defeated the referendum held in october last year on the government's peace agreement with FARC. Naturally, this internal conflict and violence is the typical and inevitable theme of Colombian writers just as many writers in South and Central America cannot get over from the sufferings caused by military dictatorships. The author, a product of the Colombian culture of violence, says, ' violence and wars are always part of the history and culture of mankind. Force is the argument most often used by man in history'. It is interesting in this context that a Gujarati has set up a Gandhi Foundation in Medellin to propagate non-violence. More on this in http://latinamericanaffairs.blogspot.in/2011/07/message-of-gandhi-in-medellin.html#links

The Colombian diplomat in the novel finds New Delhi as 'unconventional to a Latin American, requiring a somewhat adventurous frame of mind' to survive. He lives in Jangpura Extension, unable to afford the expensive areas like Vasant Vihar. He gets used to the dust, rickshaws and fly-infested fried food stands 'that are like factories for typhoid or dysentry'. From his second floor window of the embassy in Vasant Vihar he observes women in saris carrying bricks for construction while their children play amid the rubble. He finds the Sai baba temple in Delhi as the place where the fragrance of the saffron flowers and smell of incense mix with the intolerable odor of the decomposing matter. As a consular officer, he deals with all kinds of problems and people, especially Colombian visitors who get into troubles caused by the gap between their romantic and distorted image of India and the realities on the ground. Rich ladies from Colombia who come seeking spiritual enlightenment end up offering not only their soul but some times their body also to Indian Gurus. 
The diplomat pays homage to the neem tree under which the Mexican poet diplomat Octavio Paz married Marie Jose in 1964 in the Prithvi Raj road residence where Mexican ambassadors used to stay. It was Paz who introduced the Indian culture to Latin America through Latin American eyes based on his personal experience of long stay of over six years in India. Paz's book 'Vislumbres de la India' ( in the light of India ) was an eye opener to Latin Americans.  He was also the first one to give a comparative perspective in Indo-Latin American cultural history. His poem " Tale of two gardens- poems from India 1952-1995" compares his Indian inspiration with his Mexican roots. Like Paz, the Colombian goes for walk in the Lodhi Garden ' a park that reconciles you to the city'.
The Colombian diplomat describes his travels to Thailand, Japan and Iran,  in his pursuit to reunite Juana and Manuel. In Bangkok, he is struck by the the smells of canals of stagnant water, the ubiquitous massage parlors and bordellos, traffic jams and the deafening din of the tuk-tuks in the ' land of smiles'. The Thai prosecutor gives the Colombian diplomat an outraged lecture on the evil consequences of sex tourism to the Thai society and takes pride on the fact that Thailand is one of the very few countries which has remained uncolonized by others. He gives a bit of  magical realism back to the Colombian, saying" Ten years ago, there was a traffic jam that lasted for eleven days. We had to lift the cars out by helicopters". This is like the story  of the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in which it rains continuously for five years. 

The " Night Prayers" reminds me of the book of short stories " Lotus flower-stories from Asia" in which another Colombian, Juan Alfredo Pinto (and another writer diplomat) in which the magical realism of Latin America meets the cultures of Asia. Each story in this book takes place in a different Asian country such as India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Kazhakstan to which the Colombian characters travel. Pinto's book has been translated into Hindi and English by the Sahitya Academy.

This the first novel of the Colombian writer Santiago Gamboa, I have read. He has joined my list of favorite Colombian authors which includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez ( whose book ' love at the time of cholera' initiated my Latin American literary journey ) Laura Restrepo and Juan Gabriel Vasquez.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Indian hero in Latin American movie

Prabhakar Sharan from Motihari, a sleepy small town in Bihar has become the lively hero in the Costa Rican film "Enredados: la confusion" (entangled: the confusion).  He is the first Indian to act as hero in a Latin American movie. This is also the first Latin American film made with the typical Bollywood recipe of songs and dance. 

Prabhakar is settled in Costa Rica since 1997. The heroine in the film is Nancy Dobles a popular Costa Rican TV hostess. Famous local actors Mario Chacon and José Castro also appear in the film. The film cast includes a World wrestling champion and Hollywood actor, Scott Steiner. Panamanians, Colombians and Argentines had also collaborated in this film project.The director of the movie is Ashish Mohan who has directed block buster films such as Khiladi 786. The dance, music and action have been choreographed by Bollywood experts.  Teresa Rodrigues of Costa Rica has produced the film, which has been shot entirely within the country.
The film is being released on 9 February in Costa Rica with the President of the country as chief guest. It will also be shown in the rest of Latin America. The film is being dubbed in Hindi and English for the audience in India and US. The Costa Rican and Latin American media have given a lot of exciting coverage to this pioneering film and raised the expectations. 

The film is a romantic and action-filled comedy of Bollywood stereotype. Leo, the hero carries out a big robbery. But his life changes when he meets Ana who becomes the love of his life. But it turns out later that he has to choose between money and love. He chooses love and decides to return the money. But confusion starts with an accident which is followed by a series of risky and funny situations leaving the viewer with suspense and confusion about the whereabouts of the money. 

More information on the film project in the website www.enredadoslaconfusion.com



The life story of Prabhakar is also like a Bollywood film script. Born in Bihar, Prabhakar did his studies in Haryana and tried Bollywood for acting but did not succeed. He then wanted to go to US but somehow ended up in Costa Rica. He fell in love with a local girl and married her. He ventured into textiles business and later shifted to trading, film distribution and Monster Truck Jam shows. His ventures failed and he lost money. He came back to India and lived in Chandigarh for two years from 2010. During this time, his marriage broke and his wife went back to Costa Rica taking back their daughter. Prabhakar was down in depression after the failures in business and marriage. But he did not give up. He went back to Costa Rica and this time fell in love with another woman and lives with her.




The film is the dream project of Sharan who has struggled and worked hard. His biggest challenge was to convince the Big Bollywood to take seriously the little Costa Rica with a tiny population of just five million and insignificant film industry. 


Many Indians do not know that the chiquitica (little in spanish) Costa Rica has got a big place in the history of Latin America and the world. It had abolished the armed forces in December 1948 and has been peacefully and democratically governed in the last seventy years while many countries of Latin America had suffered military dictatorships. This is even more remarkable in view of the fact that Costa Rica is right in the middle of Central America which has gone through devastating civil wars even upto the eighties. The Costa Ricans are not just content with passive peace within the frontiers of their country. Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica successfully mediated to end the Central American wars with the signature of a peace agreement in 1987. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he said ¨ We are a people without arms and we are fighting to continue to be a people without hunger. Our children walk with books under their arms rather than guns on their shoulders. We are a symbol of peace for America.¨ Not a rhetoric. Preaching based on practice. Costa Rica has established a University for Peace (UPEACE) in 1980 which has attracted students from around the world.
In 1869, the country became one of the first in the world to make education both free and obligatory, funded by the state’s share of the great coffee wealth. The literacy rate of Costa Rica is one of the highest in Latin America. With this, Costa Rica has positioned itself as the silicon valley of Latin America, attracting investment by American and even six IT Indian companies. Infosys, the biggest, employs about 300 Costa Ricans. 

Costa Rica is one of the first in the world which combined its ministries of energy and the environment back in the 1970s and generates an impressive 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources. In 1997, it introduced a carbon tax on emissions and used the funds to pay indigenous communities for their protection of forests. The country is a global pioneer in ecotourism. The Muthoot Group from Kerala has invested in the Xandari resort hotel in Costa Rica. In this resort, they invite the guests to plant native trees in the hotel's botanical garden.


The Costa Ricans, known as Ticos, have a distinct  spirit too. They do not say " bien" (well)  when asked, Como esta ( how are you ). They say "Pura vida" which literally means pure life. But what the Ticos mean is ¨full of life¨ and "great". No wonder, Costa Ricans come on top of the Happy Planet Index with the the highest life satisfaction in the world. The title song of the film is about this " Pura Vida" philosophy of the country.
In recent years, Bollywood has reached out to Latin America for location shooting, inclusion of Latinas in Indian films and coproductions. Pablo Cesar, the famous Argentine director, is currently making a film on Tagore's romantic encounter with Victoria Ocampo, his muse from Buenos Aires. Mathew Kodath from Kerala, settled in Honduras, has produced two films in Spanish. Bollywood music and dance are the latest craze in dance clubs and gyms across Latin America. The staff of the Indian IT company Cognizant in Buenos Aires have formed a 'Chak De India Ballet Group' which performs Bollywood dance shows.
Prabhakar's film will be shown in the Costa Rican multiplexes of Cinepolis, the Mexican company which is one of the leading owners of film screens globally. It is the fourth largest largest in India with 280 screens and is targeting 400 with an investment of 150 million dollars. 




The Bollywood crew which stayed in Costa Rica for the shooting did not miss Indian food thanks to the three authentic and popular Indian restaurants 'Tajmahal' and 'Naan and Curry' owned by Kapil Gulati from Gurgaon who is settled there, bitten by the Pura Vida bug. The favorite dishes of Ticos, according to Gulati are: Garlic Naan, Rohan Josh, Samosa and Gulab Jamun. The Ticos enjoy the Bollywood music and the Henna Tattoo evenings in the restaurant. Costa Rica has a small Indian community of about two hundred.  

For Prabhakar, this venture is only the beginning of his Latino movie 'entanglement'. He plans to produce more films and include in his next one Barbara Mori, the Mexican actress who was the heroine to Hritik Roshan in the Bollywood film "Kites". His next film might have a story connecting Indian and Latin American characters with shooting in India as well as in Latin America. Prabhakar's film initiative, which has taken the Bollywood formula to Latin America, will also contribute to enrichment of the Indian cinema with the 'Pura Vida' spirit of Costa Rica and the 'Celebra la Vida' (celebrate life) spirit of Latin America.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wild Tales (relatos selvajes) - Argentine movie

The Argentine movie "wild tales" (Relatos Selvajes), which I saw last week, was a new and different experience from all the other Latin American films I have seen. It has had the most powerful impact on me with its vivid portrayal of human character. The film has six different and unrelated stories but have a common theme of people going out of control with violence and vengeance. Some people contain their emotions at the frustrations faced in the daily life situations but others especially the Argentines tend to explode and go berserk. This movie is about such Argentine characters and their 'pleasures of losing control' in a funny and scary manner.

The six stories of the film are: "Pasternak", "Las Ratas" ("The Rats"), "El más fuerte" ("The Strongest"), "La Bombita" ("Little Bomb"), "La Propuesta" ("The Proposal") and "Hasta que la muerte nos separe" ("Till Death Do Us Part"). While the characters and themes of each story is fascinating and memorable, the ones I enjoyed the most are the following:

-The cook in the "Rats" story, who explains coolly, logically and clinically her suggestion to kill with rat poison the loan shark client in the restaurant. 
-The explosives expert (Ricardo Darin) in La Bombita, who explodes in anger at the traffic fine collectors and bombs their office. Ricardo Darin, my favorite Argentine actor, is a master in portraying the typical Argentine character.

-The unscrupulous lawyer in the story "La propuesta" who negotiates the deal to save the boy whose drunken driving kills a pregnant woman and her baby. 
- Romina, the bride who goes berserk during the wedding celebration when she finds out about the affair between her husband and his coworker. 

The film, released in 2014, has been directed by Damian Szifron, the director who wrote twelve short stories of which he has included six in the film. I hope he will make another film with the other six stories. In an interview to New York Times, Damian said,  “Society is full of people who repress themselves, and thereby become depressed. We fantasize about what we could have done, what we should have said, and we argue to ourselves with an imaginary enemy who is no longer there. But some people explode. This is a movie about those who explode, and we can all understand why they explode.” Some of his stories have been based on his own experience ( his car was towed away many times for parking in places not clearly marked as No Parking area) and those of his friends.

The Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar, known for his off-beat films, is a coproducer of this film. The themes and characters in the film are natural fits to Almovadar's own signature style.

The music, composed by the Argentine music director Gustavo Santaolalla, enhances the sensation of following the roller coaster ride of the stories and the suspense of building up of the momentum before the ride.  Gustavo (who has won two Oscars) has composed music for Aamir Khan's film" Dhobi Ghatbesides Hollywood hits such as ' Brokeback mountain' and 'Babel'.

The film brought back memories of my experience of living in Buenos Aires for over four years. What I like specially about my Argentine friends is their character to be perfectly natural and spontaneous without trying to hide or block their emotions. The Argentine character is unique and distinct from that of other Latinos. They are far more intense and loud in complaining, criticizing, and analyzing everything. While articulating their feelings, the Argentines are satiric, cynical and  inventive with sophisticated black humour. There are many jokes about the famous 'Argentine ego' in Latin America. The Argentines themselves admit it with a sense of humor and even Pope Francis has joked about it. They are the Champions in swearing with the richest and most colorful vocabulary. I had seen so much of it during golf games in Argentina. They cannot complete a sentence without cursing  'Boludo'. (asshole) and 'Pelotudo'(stupid). I have, in my collection, a book titled " El Pelotudo Argentino – manual para identification e uso" ( Stupid Argentine- manual for identification and use). 

This book contains hilarious classifications and descriptions of pelotudos Argentinos, such as pelotudos Portenos (residents of Buenos Aires city) and provincial kind, bureaucratic, romantic and Peronist types and New Age pelotudos wearing traditional Hindu dress sitting in yoga position pretending to be like Gurus. There is a mirror in the front cover of the book to help the reader to be introduced to the pelotudo !!!The Argentine film " me case con Boludo" ( I have married an asshole) portrays a typical Argentine with a huge ego who admits at the end, " yo no soy un persona..soy un personaje" ( I am not a person..I am a charater). It is, therefore, no surprise that Buenos Aires has one of the highest number of psychiatrics per capita in the world.

The Argentines complicate even the simplest things by too much complex and critical analysis. Once when I explained how India is a complicated country due to people speaking different languages and unable to understand each other, an Argentine commented, " In Argentina we speak only one language but we still don't understand each other. In India you know at least the reason for not understanding each other but here we don't know why. That’s why Argentina is more complicated than India". For Argentines, every little thing is like the Aleph ( a point in space that contains all other points and reveals everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously) in the famous story of Borges. 

I have seen a number of Latin American films. I would dare to say that the Argentines are the best film makers in the region. They are more profound than their Mexican, Brazilian and Colombian counterparts. The Argentine movies are thought provoking besides offering entertainment.  The Indians will have a taste of this in the forthcoming Argentine film " Thinking of him", directed and produced by Pablo Cesar with the story of the romance between Tagore and Victoria Ocampo, an Argentine literary socialite. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Narcos - a serial deception in the name of the War on Drugs

I have watched the twenty episodes of the Netflix serial " Narcos " and enjoyed it thoroughly. I found it absorbing and hmm.. addictive too. The story of Pablo Escobar is colorful and has all the ingredients for entertainment. I liked the dialogues in Colombian Spanish, the best in Latin America. 

The story of Escobar is part of the larger story involving the politics of Colombia; the social divide between the oligarchic ruling establishment in Bogota and the poor people in the interior; the leftist guerrilla wars; corruption and violence in the Colombian society; the interference in the internal affairs of Colombia by US in the name of the war on drugs and the war on communism; and the US military-industry-intelligence complex which plunged into Colombia, looking for a new playing field after the end of the 'cold war'. 

Interestingly, there are some Brazilian elements in this Colombian serial. Brazilian actor Wagnor Mora has done justice to Escobar's character by his superb acting. He had learnt Spanish specially for acting in the serial. Jose Padilha, the Brazilian who was famous for his film 'Elite Squad" directed the Narcos serial in the beginning. The title song of the serial is composed and sung by Rodrigo Amarante, another Brazilian.

Narcos is based on the real life story of Pablo Escobar, the Medellin drug king and the hunt for him by Colombian and American forces.  Escobar, who starts life as a small time smuggler of cigarettes and electronics, discovers the Big Business of cocaine supply to US and goes up in the value chain. With the power of money, he starts buying, fighting and bullying politicians, media,security forces and rivals with his 'plata o plomo' (money or bullets) approach. The Colombian politicians did not care much initially about the drug business which they considered  an easy way for some enterprising Colombians to make quick dollars from the decadent Yankee drug addicts. But the Colombian government is forced by the heavy hand of American administration to act against drug production and trafficking. Caught between the Devils of the Empires of Consumption and Supply, the Colombian administration and security forces get into enforcement reluctantly. Escobar retaliates with bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. When the public opinion and government pressure become overwhelming, Escobar makes an incredible deal with the government under which he self-imprisons himself in his custom made jail cum resort 'La catedral'. Unable to tolerate his continuation of business of drugs and killings from the jail, the government sends special forces to transfer him to another jail. But Escobar escapes and is on the run. Realizing that the security forces are not a match to Escobar, the American and the Colombian security agencies conspire and create Los Pepes, a right wing militia which kills Escobar's associates and destroys his businesses one after another, in collusion with the rival Cali cartel. Escobar tries to send his family abroad to a safe place but the government stops it and makes his family a hostage. Escobar's phone conversations with his captive family provides the opportunity for the security forces to trace his calls and kill him.

After watching Narcos, I read the book " Killing Pablo- the true story behind the hit series Narcos" written by Mark Bowden.  The author has interviewed  the main American and Colombian officials and political leaders involved in the hunt for Escobar and has had access to a number of US documents. He has given a detailed account of the 'turf war' between the US spying and enforcement agencies who compete with each other for one upmanship, resources and credit.

According to Bowden, Escobar became an ideal trophy target for the CIA, NSA, FBI, Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, and special forces, who were looking for a new role in the world after the end of the cold war. They  jumped joyfully into the 'war on drugs' with their spy equipments, budget and Rambo confidence. At one time there were about 17 spy planes flying over Medellin to track Escobar and they had to assign an AWACS (airborne warning and control centre), to keep track of the planes.  

While I enjoyed watching the serial and reading the book, I ended up feeling sad and angry, like my Colombian and Latin American friends. The Narcos story has been narrated narrowly from an American point of view distorting the facts with false and misleading propaganda.  Colombians are portrayed as the bad guys while the DEA agents come out as 'good guys'. But the truth is that the real villains are the American consumers of drugs. Colombia had to bear the extreme pain and shed blood for the sake of those Americans who enjoy the pleasure of illegal drugs. The drug business is basically demand-driven and consumer-driven from US. The drugs are continuing to be consumed even now by Hollywood actors, politicians and pop stars besides the students and other sections of the American society. So long as this continues and the US consumers are willing to pay top dollars, there will always be suppliers. Even President Nixon, who declared the war on drugs, admitted in his June 1971 address to the Congress, “as long as there is a demand, there will be those willing to take the risks of meeting the demand.”  In this statement, he publicly proclaimed that all efforts of interdiction and eradication are destined to fail. But the Narcos serial as well as the American media and administration have succeeded in demonizing Pablo Escobar as 'the most powerful criminal in history' and giving a bad name to Colombia while covering up the real consumer culprits in US and and misleading and distorting the global discourse on drugs. The killing of Escobar has not stopped or reduced drug consumption in US. The Cali cartel took over where it was left by the Medellin gangs and is now run by Mexican cartels. 

The US market for illegal drugs was over 100 billion dollars in 2012 , according to a Rand Corporation report (file://localhost/Users/rengaraj-viswanathan/Documents/RAND_RB9770.pdf)  which included 40 billion dollars of Marijuana, 28 billion of Cocaine, 27 billion of Heroine and 13 bn of Meth. According to a 2012 study by the Organisation of American States ( http://www.cicad.oas.org/drogas/elinforme/informeDrogas2013/laEconomicaNarcotrafico_ENG.pdf ) the Andean cocoa leaf producers get only 1% of the retail value of cocaine in US, while the traffickers get 20-25% and the remaining stays within the US retail businessSo, the illegal drugs are just a business in which the US "Customer is the King". The Colombians and Mexicans simply serve the King and receive just the crumb. 


The business of 'war on drugs' is also equally huge. It is said that US spends around 50 billion dollars a year. DEA has its own fleet of planes, boats and secret cash. No wonder that the DEA chief is called as the Drug Czar. The corporations, contractors and equipment suppliers to DEA want the continuation of this profitable war and successfully lobby the Congress and administration for its perpetuation.

In the name of the 'war on drugs', the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other intelligence agencies of the US have infiltrated the security forces of many countries of Latin America. The US forces these countries to militarize their anti drug operations as a priority and devote more of their resources to the drug war at the expense of all other law and order issues. Through such interference the US creates and cultivates future military dictators. The classic case was Manuel Noriega who became the Panamanian president. CIA had used him for their covert operations and helped him with drug trafficking and money laundering.  But when he became too hot to handle, the US invaded Panama and took him away as prisoner.  There is evidence that CIA itself had got into the drug business to generate money to aid the 'contras' against the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. This has been brought out in the Hollywood fim "Kill the messenger", based on the true story of an American journalist who uncovered the scam.

The US had tried very hard to prevent the election of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia by branding him as a coca-leaf producer. US has airsprayed harmful chemicals in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia to destroy coca fields, damaging agricultural land and the ecosystem. The US needs to respect the Andean tradition of using coca leaves for religious, food and medicinal purposes and separate the sacred leaf issue from the profane cocaine snorting in US for recreation.

Drug trafficking is not just one way business. Drug goes into US for which the American dollars and illegal guns are smuggled to Latin America. This reverse trafficking is even more dangerous than the drug flow  since guns kill instantly and takes many victims at one go unlike the drugs which kill only the consumer and that too slowly . According to a US report (The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border.” study by University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute http://catcher.sandiego.edu/items/peacestudies/way_of_the_gun.pdf )over 200,000 guns are smuggled from US to Mexico every year. On average, there are more than three US gun dealers for every mile of the 1,970-mile border between the countries. Mexico has just one gun shop for the whole country while there are 51300 retail gun sellers in US. A significant proportion of the US gun sellers depend on the illegal demand from Mexico. It has been reported that over three fourth of the guns used in the fights between the gangs in El Salvador are of US origin. Thousands of people die in Mexico, Central America and Colombia from the illegal guns smuggled from US, the largest manufacturer and supplier of fire arms in the world. If we use the American logic that eradication of production is the solution for drug problem, isn't it logical to extend this argument and say that the gun production in US needs to be eradicated to prevent the killings in Mexico and Central America? Probably more people in Latin America have been killed with American guns than the number of Americans killed by Latin American drugs.

According to a 2010 Homeland Security study ( https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cne-criminalproceedsstudy.pdf), between $19 billion and $29 billion dollars of cash had been smuggled from the United States to drug trafficking organizations and other organized criminal groups in Mexico each year. Western Banks like HSBC have been caught for drug money laundering in Mexico. But HSBC got away with payment of simple fine to US justice Department. 

Many even in the US admit the failure of the American drug war. Clearly, illegal drug consumption is a social problem within the US which needs domestic solutions such as legalization. The drug wars in Latin America is just a ploy to blame others and mislead the world  to cover up a purely domestic problem. US could learn from Uruguay which has shown the way to legalize production, distribution and consumption of marijuana. The US states of Washington and Colorado have already taken the lead to liberalize sale and consumption in a limited way. Many Latin American presidents have called for drug legalization but the US would not let them.  

Like the Netflix serials, the military-industrial-intelligence complex of US has been inventing its own versions of real life serial wars for profit as well as to destabilize and interfere in the affairs of Latin American countries. They started off with the "war on communism"during which they overthrew many democracies and propped up military dictatorships. Then they moved on to "War on Drugs" and messed up Colombia. The US sent hundreds of agents, soldiers and contractors to Colombia with diplomatic passports and made the embassy in Bogota as the largest in the world. The Americans were interfering freely in the Colombian police, armed forces, judiciary, Congress and administration ordering them what to do and what not to do.  They corrupted the Colombians with 'visa and asylum for collusion and collaboration'. The Americans are now vitiating Mexico and Central America with the same drug wars. The third serial was the "War on Terrorism" since 9/11. But this did not find much traction in the region, although 'terrorists' were invented before the Rio Olympics and spotted earlier in Paragauay and Mexico in the same way as nuclear weapons were 'found' in Iraq. Fortunately Latin America did not suffer in the terrorism war since the neocons have had their hands full in the Middle East. 

The fourth and the latest serial is the "war on corruption". The US intelligence has spied on Petrobras, the Brazilian firm which is now at the centre of the ongoing corruption investigation in Brazil as well as President Dilma Rouseff, among others, as revealed by the papers leaked by Snowden. The Brazilians suspect that the US had passed on information against selected targets to a Brazilian judge who had been to Harvard and participated in exchange programmes with US agencies. The judge, according to some Brazilians, started a selective crusade against the Workers Party, President Dilma and ex-President Lula who had stood against the hemispheric hegemony of US and successfully killed the US initiative to sign a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Outraged by the US espionage, President Dilma cancelled her state visit to Washington DC in 2013. President Lula had directly challenged US by his audacious rescue of President Chavez when he was briefly overthrown in a coup in 2002 and his attempt (unsuccessful) to undo the US-supported coup in Honduras in 2009. So the US wants to teach a lesson to Lula. The corruption war has already yielded commercial dividends to US. The unelected right wing Brazilian President Michel Temer has put an end to the "Resource Nationalism policy" by cutting down the monopoly of Petrobras in the pre-salt oil production and breaking the company into pieces which are being picked up by US corporations at rock bottom prices. 

Another Latin American victim of the 'war on corruption' is the Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who seemed to have got on the wrong side of the Big Brother, like Noriega. The Latin Americans believe that the leakage of Panama Papers with information on selected targets and the aggressive investigation into Latin American FIFA officials  are also part of the destabilization of the region in the name of the 'war on corruption'. It is no surprise to find from recent US media reports that many Venezuelans have been named as corrupt or alleged to be involved in narco trafficking. This is just preparation for the 'regime change' in Venezuela. The war on corruption could claim more Latin American leaders who dare to disobey the Washington Consensus. 

While I am looking forward to see more episodes of 'Narcos' in the forthcoming third and fourth seasons, the Latin Americans fear that the Warlords of Washington DC might also be planning their own next real war serials in the name of something or other.