Gandhi: the movie

For those of you who loved the movie Gandhi — or those of you who have never seen it — there is a 25th anniversary special edition DVD. it came out in 2007 but I just found out about it! the 2-disc set has interviews about filming in India, about finding the right actors, along with archival footage, plus the picture and sound have been digitally remastered.

from the reviewing website:

Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, a labor of love that took nearly 20 years to make it to the screen, is one of the last true epics that spans decades yet keeps you tied to an emotional, human anchor. That anchor would be Gandhi himself, Mohandas Gandhi or Mahatma “Great soul” Gandhi as he was referred to later on in his life by the people of India.

Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture (1982), Best Director (Attenborough) and Best Actor (Ben Kingsley as Gandhi), Gandhi has been released for a second time on DVD, this time however as a glorious 2 disc set celebrating its 25th anniversary that has to be one of the best DVDs released in 2007.

The film chronicles the leader of the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India during the first half of the 20th century. It opens with an appropriate statement from Attenborough stating, “No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling…least of all Gandhi’s….”

I have never been to north India where Gandhi spent most of his life. but what many people don’t know is that he also spent time in Tamil Nadu, the state that I travel to in India. I have been to Madurai twice, the last time just this past January, and I always make time for the Gandhi Museum. It is a place where I find peace in the riotous city of Madurai. the exhibits tell the story of Gandhi’s life in south India and how important Tamil Nadu was in the India’s struggle for independence. the last exhibit is in a room that is painted black — it is a glass case that contains the dhoti that Gandhi was wearing when he was assassinated and it still contains his blood stains.

I can not describe how much I love spending time at the museum, just walking around the grounds, visiting the bookstore, buying chai from the chai seller, who can’t speak English but always has a big smile for me when he gives me free pictures of Gandhi.

During my 2006 trip, on the train ride back to Chennai from Rameswaram (a 17 hour ride), my compartment mate was a businessman who started a conversation with me when he saw me reading Gandhi’s autobiography that I had bought in Madurai. It was the first time that I heard about how some Indians hate Gandhi. It really surprised me. I asked him why and he said that many Indians blame Gandhi for the Partition: “The partition of India left both India and Pakistan devastated. The process of partition had claimed many lives in the riots. Many others were raped and looted. Women, especially, were used as instruments of power by the Hindus and the Muslims; “ghost trains” full of severed breasts of women would arrive in each of the newly-born countries from across the borders.”

The Partition is still a very sensitive subject for many Indians. my compartment mate told me that many Indians hate Gandhi the same way that many Americans hate George Bush. those of us who know how much Martin Luther King, Jr. admired Gandhi will find this sentiment shocking.

some photos of the Gandhi Museum, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India….






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it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad Madurai


I arrived in Madurai and was instantly accosted by rickshaw drivers, so much so a train station security guard told them to leave me alone.

After a 9 hour train ride, sweaty and hungry, I was not about to put up with any crap. I chose one driver and as we walked toward his rickshaw, he yakked it up with his fellow drivers along the way. More drivers started yelling, “here madam, here madam, you want ride, madam?” “That’s it,” I said as I threw down my bag. I stopped and yelled loud enough to make all the stray dogs howl within a five mile radius…”ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT!”, together with a few more choice words in south-side Chicago vernacular. Not very yogic, but I had had it. Needless to say, that immediately got everyone’s attention, I never saw a gaggle of drivers shut up so quickly. The wrath of Kali! “No tension, madam, no tension, come with me….” That’s more like it, and when I got to the place I thought I was going to stay in, I paid him more than what we agreed to.

I stayed exactly 90 minutes at Sri Devi, a guesthouse close to the great temple. I took the recommendation of the Rough Guide, and all I can say is that the writer must have been hallucinating when he/she wrote the review, smoking too many chillums.

I don’t mind staying in a cheap hotel in India, but I draw the line at a “bath towel” that looked like it was just used to wash a car, and at greasy hair stains on the pillows. The place was disgusting. And this was the “deluxe AC room” as described in Rough Guide — uh, yeah, the AC that had its guts hanging out.

The room was considered “deluxe” because you could walk out of the long window to the roof of the floor below me, and sit there and have a fab view of the temple. Unfortunately, the window did not lock, so anyone on that roof could crawl into your room. There was also a frosted glass door to this room — the entire door was glass, so not very safe for a solo female traveler. When a guy tried to get into my room about a hour after I was there, I asked for another room but it was no better than the first….

So I got out of there and switched to the Hotel Supreme that has ceiling fans where you can actually control the speed! If you’ve ever stayed in an Indian hotel you know that your two choices for a ceiling fan are “off” and a 747 taking off. I stayed in their cheapest room (about 500-600 Rs) which was heaven compared to the Sri Garbage.

now off to explore…

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Day One…

I’m in a town where the touts are worse than in Mahabalipuram. Now I know why so many westerners walk around India with a glazed “dead man walking” look in their eyes, no reactions, no smiles. It’s a defense mechanism, act like your deaf, dumb, and blind and maybe you’ll be spared…but I really did not want to morph into that animal.

I walked around the temple area and if I had a rupee for every time I heard “no buy, madam, just look”, I’d be able to pay for my plane fare home. I’m tired of looking like a walking $$$$ sign. I know everyone has to make a buck, but I did not come to India to support every shop keeper in town.

I was “befriended” at least three times by nice old men who told me their life stories, how America is a great country, and oh, by the way, my brother/uncle/son/cousin/sister’s husband has this clothes/jewelery/art/silver shop that has a great roof top view of the temples, “just look, madam, no buy.” The unfortunate thing is that I am beginning to not trust anyone’s friendliness because my first thought is “what do they want from me”, and I don’t want to react that way.

There is a market across from the great temple that is filled with little stalls of all types of merchandise — a great place to see dead men walking because the calls to buy are incessant — so much so that I walked out totally drained and physically ill with my first migraine in years. However I was not THAT drained that it kept me from ordering two custom made skirts for $10, which will look fabulous! What finally got to me was that not even inside the temple is one left alone in peace…time to go before I get totally disgusted…

I finally ended up using one of these lines for shop keepers and touts: 1. I’m a poor yoga teacher, no money; 2. YOU buy ME something?; and 3. it’s against my religion. The last one usually works…..

Honestly though, I don’t consider anything I have experienced so far on this trip as a “hardship” or something that I can’t handle. I take everything and everyone I encounter with a huge grain of salt and just chalk it up, go with the flow. However, I don’t like the assumption that I am a walking bank account, pull my arm and rupees come pouring out of my mouth! And tell me why if I ask to look at one salwar kameez, I am shown 25 more in different colors?? AARGH!! I have run screaming from more than one store!

Day Two…

I highly recommend the Gandhi museum in Madurai! It’s very interesting and inspiring, but when I was there, there were about 100 school girls who were more interested in me than in reading about their own history!

A large group of school girls were sitting on the floor listening to the curator, as I walked into the museum. He immediately stopped talking and all the girls turned around to look at me, the only westerner. Silence. I smile and put my hands into “namaste” and bow. Then everyone says hello in unison to me, in English, and I respond with a loud vanakkam, which is Tamil for “hello” — this causes a huge explosion of laughter. The curator asks loudly, “what country, madam? America or UK?” “America” “Ah….America!” Big smiles all around. Their poor teachers have their hands full trying to keep order all because of me!

As I walk around the exhibits, followed by a crowd of school girls, I feel eyes on me. I turn around, and a few start giggling. “Shhhh,” I said, “read your history, don’t look at me,”, I told them with a wink. Occasionally I would feel a light touch on my back or arms and I would turn around and a hand would suddenly cover a mouth and a giggle is unsuccessfully suppressed….

The cloth that Gandhi was wearing when he was shot is there, blood-stained, in a room painted all in black. His sandals, his glasses…one is in awe…

There is also a government museum on the grounds — admission Indians, 5Rs, foreigners, 100Rs. I was “invited” in but when I saw the price I said to the guard, “hmmmm……I thought Gandhi was in favor of equality?” No comment in response……

I loved the museum and the surrounding grounds, but was disheartened, once again, to see garbage all over the place. A center for transcendental meditation is also there — tried to find my piece of quiet — but sitting outside amongst garbage did not appeal to me.

to be continued…