Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions
History, India, Lists, Newspapers, Religion

Did Vivekananda say ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’? Fact checking a fact check

Swami Vivekananda’s famous address at the 1893 Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago was back in the news again with Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking the opportunity of the 124th anniversary (not 125th as it has been widely reported) of the speech on September 11, 2017, to address students around the country.

Swami Vivekananda poster

Abroad in America – Swami Vivekananda, a lithographic poster by Goes Lithograph Company.

And before we start, let me set the record straight that there is no audio recording of Vivekananda’s speech. That audio clip that someone forwarded you is most likely the voice of Subir Ghosh.

Now on the point of this particular post.

We all have grown up reading that Swami Vivekananda began his Chicago address with the salutation “Sisters and brothers of America,” followed by a long applause.

But then a few days ago, Pathikrit Sanyal, in a comment to a Facebook post, bought to my notice this January 2015 post in the DailyO that claims that “Vivekananda never said, ‘Sisters and brothers of America'” and attempts to bust the “myth”.

The post also chides the then US President Barack Obama for repeating the “myth” during his January 27, 2005 address at New Delhi’s Siri Fort.

The author’s conclusion is based on his/her reading of an 1893 book A Chorus of Faith that recounts the speeches at the Parliament of Religions. Because the book doesn’t make any mention of “Sisters and brothers of America,” the author arrives at the conclusion that it was a falsehood and wonders, “who first started this myth that Vivekananda said those lines.

Swami Vivekananda with other delegates at the Parliament of World's Religions, Chicago

Swami Vivekananda with other delegates at the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago in September 1893. To his left is Anagarika Dharmapala, the Buddhist revivalist representing the Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta.

As I had been reading and posting about the famous speech as the Prime Minister was talking on live television, this got me redirecting my research a little.

The book A Chorus of Faith, mentioned in the DailyO article, is based on the reports published in The Chicago Daily Tribune and I was digging out relevant portions from the Tribune‘s archives for a a different (but related) purpose.

It occurred to me that the Tribune in its reporting of the addresses at the Parliament of Religions generally didn’t usually include salutations at the start of the addresses (though they did emphasise on the applause). And therefore this omission of “Sisters and brothers of America” doesn’t mean that Vivekananda didn’t start that way.

Chicago Daily Tribune, September 12, 1893

Clipping from ‘The Chicago Daily Tribune’ from September 12, 1893 reporting on Swami Vivekananda’s address to the Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago on September 11, 1893.

I then went back to my original post debunking the audio recording of the speech and found that MS Nanjundiah in his research on Swami Vivekananda’s voice recording had referred to a letter from Vivekananda to Alasinga Perumal.

A quick search led me to the letter and the answer to the question about “who first started this myth that Vivekananda said those lines.”

It was Vivekananda himself. And therefore, we have a first-hand source here.

“I addressed the assembly as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, a deafening applause of two minutes followed, and then I proceeded…” Vivekananda wrote in that letter from Chicago dated November 2, 1893.

Vivekananda's letter to Perumal

A copy of Swami Vivekananda’s letter from Chicago to Alasinga Perumal dated November 2, 1893

The DailyO post, goes through the introduction of A Chorus of Faith to find no mention of Vivekanda. “The reader will notice that no mention of Vivekananda has been made, though in India it is believed that he made such great an impact,” it observes.

However, reports in The Chicago Tribune suggest that he did make some impact. Vivekananda’s famous speech was punctuated by more than one applause (unlike most of the other speeches reported).

Vivekananda with other delegates from India at Chicago

Swami Vivekananda with other delegates from India at the the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago in September 1893. To his right is Anagarika Dharmapala, the Buddhist revivalist representing the Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta.

The September 23, 1893 edition of the newspaper described one of Vivekananda’s speeches at the Parliament as such (the report identifies him as a Brahmin):

“In the scientific section yesterday morning Swami Vivekananda spoke on ‘orthodox Hindooism.’ Hall 8 was crowded to overflowing, and hundreds of questions were asked by auditors and answered by the great Brahmin Sannyasi with wonderful skill and lucidity. At the close of the session he was met by eager questioners who begged him to give a semi-public lecture somewhere on the subject of his religion. He said he already had the project under consideration.”

Clipping from Chicago Daily Tribune dated September 23, 1893

Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya in his book Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography does mention that none of the three New York newspapers he looked at – The New York Times, The New York Hearld, and The New York Daily Tribune – reported on Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of World’s Religions, though some other Indians got appreciative mentions.

Vivekananda’s letter to Alasinga Perumal, though, paints a different picture.

“The next day all the papers announced that my speech was the hit of the day, and I became known to the whole of America. Truly has it been said by the great commentator Shridhara — “मूकं करोति वाचालं — Who maketh the dumb a fluent speaker.” His name be praised! From that day I became a celebrity, and the day I read my paper on Hinduism, the hall was packed as it had never been before. I quote to you from one of the papers: ‘Ladies, ladies, ladies packing every place — filling every corner, they patiently waited and waited while the papers that separated them from Vivekananda were read’, etc. You would be astonished if I sent over to you the newspaper cuttings, but you already know that I am a hater of celebrity. Suffice it to say, that whenever I went on the platform, a deafening applause would be raised for me. Nearly all the papers paid high tributes to me, and even the most bigoted had to admit that “This man with his handsome face and magnetic presence and wonderful oratory is the most prominent figure in the Parliament”, etc., etc. Sufficient for you to know that never before did an Oriental make such an impression on American society.”

Vivekananda, as many would know, wasn’t the only representative from India that the gathering. Though I am not sure of the actual number, I could count 15 from all the reports that I came across. At least nine of them were present on the platform at the opening of the first Parliament of World’s Religions on September 11, 1893.

List of delegates from India at the First Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago

(The names and descriptions may differ from the actual as there are inconsistencies in the reports, for example Swami Vivekananda is also mentioned as Suani Vive Kananda at some places.)

  1. Nara Sima Chari (Representing the Sri Vaishmara sect and Visistawaiti philosophy)
  2. Lakshmi Natain/Narain (Representing the Kayastha community)
  3. Birchand Raghavji Gandhi (Honorary Secretary to the Jain Association of India, Bombay)
  4. Siddhu Ram (appeal writer, Mooltau, Punjab)
  5. Swami Vivekananda (a monk of the orthodox Brahminical religion)
  6. BB Nagarkar (Minister, Brahmo Samaj of Bombay)
  7. Protap Chunder Mazoomdar (Minister and leader of the Brahmo Samaj of India)
  8. Jinda Ram (Lawyer, President of the Temperance Society: Vedic, Muzaffargarh)
  9. Anagarika Dharmapala (General Secretary, Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta)
  10. Prof. CN Chakravarti (Allahabad)
  11. Jeanne Sorabji (A Parsee lady from Bombay)
  12. Jinanji Jamshedji Modi (Parsee)
  13. Manilal Dvivedi (Bombay)
  14. Justice Amir Ali (Calcutta)
  15. Maurice Phillips (Madras)
PC Mazoomdar and BB Nagarkar

Illustrations of PC Mazoomdar and BB Nagarkar printed in the ‘Chicago Daily Tribune’.

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New WhatsApp Status is going to be big
Internet, Media, Technology

New WhatsApp Status: This is going to be *BIG!*

New features in popular services often rake up rancour. I have also grumbled a lot against certain changes. But then with time and familiarity that resentment reduces and we start to dig the very feature that we detested at launch.

The same is true for the just-released updated WhatsApp Status, WhatsApp’s return gift to us on its 8th birthday.

For a change, I am not complaining and instead see an immense potential in this.

WhatsApp Status is going to be bigMy second-ever visual WhatsApp Status is a GIF boldly announcing my feeling towards it, “This WhatsApp Status thing is going to be BIG. I mean REALLY BIG. A lot of one-to-many communication will shift there.” I also tweeted this and posted on Facebook. Two services that are likely to be impacted to a certain extent by this new addition.

“Oh! Not another Snapchat clone!” is a common complaint I have been hearing. Also, “Snapchat is so kewl. And this WhatsApp Status so wannabe.”

There is no denying about where WhatsApp Status has been inspired from. Instagram did it, so WhatsApp following suit is no big surprise.

But on WhatsApp this is going to change the way users distribute content and therefore also how they consume it. The ephemerality (though I am an archivist) is encouragement to share more. On the first day itself, tens of my contacts have updated their multimedia Statuses. As previously mentioned, I myself have done that twice.

WhatsApp has been primarily built as a one-to-one communication tool, then it also became many-to-many (groups). The one-to-many ability, though it exists in the form of broadcast messages, doesn’t appear to be used as frequently.

With the new Status, WhatsApp treads into the territory of its new parent – Facebook and to some extent Twitter. By removing the old text-only status feature, WhatsApp did Facebook and Twitter a service. I hope WhatsApp brings back the ability to post text statuses.

And Snapchat. Most of WhatsApp users are perhaps not even aware of the app’s existence, let alone having used it. I don’t have Snapchat on my phone or for that matter Instagram (some say it is because of my age).

WhatsApp has a captive audience of a billion-plus users for its Status feature. Also unlike Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram, your Statuses will be visible to those who have your number in their contacts. So this is not limited by followers or friends, the lack of which any new user on a social site has to deal with.

Snapchat users might scoff at WhatsApp Status, but the 900 million (or more) who are not on Snapchat, wouldn’t even care.

While the range of the frills that WhatsApp is offering on launch is limited, it is likely to be expanded as it evolves, like so many other WhatsApp features. And if you ask me, those lenses and other gimmicks on the likes of Snapchat, are precisely that, gimmicks.

The WhatsApp community is strong and ever growing. Status will only increase WhatsApp’s status. Also that it is there as a separate tab, it doesn’t fight for the user’s attention. Those who wish to ignore that, easily can. But they won’t for long.

Some on social media are already celebrating that this will reduce the number of inane forwards that arrive as messages, as they would now find a new place as Status. I doubt. Groups will continue to thrive on forwards and that irritating cousin isn’t going to stop irritating you any time soon, just because WhatsApp has added a new feature.

This also expands the possibility of WhatsApp’s use by businesses and brands. While WhatsApp had promised business features quite some time ago, we are yet to see any of that.

I have used WhatsApp for both content sourcing and dissemination at my workplace and know that even though the returns are appealing, the effort needed is way too much. Status appears to be much easier to handle, for businesses as well as the news media.

Over the next few weeks, WhatsApp Status will be a much used (and of course, misused) tool to let the world (limited by the number of people who have you in their contacts) know “what’s up.”

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History, India, Media, Newspapers, Politics

40th anniversary of Emergency: The unofficial Google doodle

(This post is a part of a series on the 40th anniversary of the imposition of Emergency in India)

This unofficial Google doodle pays tribute to the Indians who put in their best to uphold the principles of democracy in the dark days of the Emergency. The doodle draws its obvious inspiration from the iconic edit page of The Indian Express dated Saturday, June 28, 1975, in which the legendary editor Ram Nath Goenka published a bank editorial as a mark of protest against press censorship imposed during the emergency.

40-years-of-emergency-unofficial-google-doodle

Emergency was imposed on the country on the night of June 25, 1975 through a proclamation signed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

You can see other unofficial Google doodles on events and anniversaries that Google wouldn’t doodle about here.

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RK Laxman - the unofficial Google doodle
Humour, Media, Newspapers

RK Laxman – the unofficial Google doodle

RK Laxman, India’s best-known cartoonist, died on January 26, 2015. He was 93. I had the opportunity to meet the legendary cartoonist once, as a student in Bhopal, but I (and we all) knew him best through his cartoons.

Cutting the Chai pays tribute to the man, in the form of an unofficial Google doodle.

RK Laxman - the unofficial Google doodle

Another, social-media-friendly version of the unofficial RK Laxman Google doodle.

RK Laxman - the unofficial Google doodle

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India, Media, Newspapers, Politics

25 world newspaper front pages with Narendra Modi and BJP’s victory headlines

The elections in the world’s largest democracy (that is also a prominent emerging economy) is obviously an item of importance in the world media. Here’s a snapshot of how newspapers around the world covered the news of Narendra Modi and BJP’s emphatic victory in the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha.

Modi might have won these elections promising development and making a deliberate shift away from BJP’s Hindutva politics, but he is still identified as a Hindu nationalist in many of the headlines and news reports.

New York Times, New York, USA

New York Times, New York, USA

Wall Street Journal, New York, USA

Wall Street Journal, New York, USA

Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan

Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan

The Independent, Dhaa, Bangladesh

The Independent, Dhaa, Bangladesh

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt, Germany

Lidove Noviny, Prague, Czech Republic

Lidove Noviny, Prague, Czech Republic

de Volkskrant, Amsterdam, Netherlands

de Volkskrant, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Buenos Aires Herald, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires Herald, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon

The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon

Gazeta do Povo, Curitiba, Brazil

Gazeta do Povo, Curitiba, Brazil

Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

El Mercurio, Santiago, Chile

El Mercurio, Santiago, Chile

Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Arab Times, Shuwaikh, Kuwait

Arab Times, Shuwaikh, Kuwait

Borneo Bulletin, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Borneo Bulletin, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Gulf News, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Gulf News, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Kuwait Times, Kuwait

Kuwait Times, Kuwait

La Stampa, Torino, Italy

La Stampa, Torino, Italy

Le Matinal, Port Louis, Mauritius

Le Matinal, Port Louis, Mauritius

Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Australian Financial Review, Sydney, Australia

The Australian Financial Review, Sydney, Australia

The Himalayan Times, Kathmandu, Nepal

The Himalayan Times, Kathmandu, Nepal

The National, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The National, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The Straits Times, Singapore

The Straits Times, Singapore

Virgin Islands Daily News, Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands Daily News, Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands

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Filmfare magazine cover dated April 2, 1954 featuring the first Filmfare Award winners
Bollywood, Bollywood Trivia, Magazines, Movies

Filmfare magazine cover dated April 2, 1954 featuring the first Filmfare Award winners

60 years ago on Sunday, March 31, 1954 the first Filmfare Awards ceremony (for films released in 1952-53) was held at Bombay’s Metro Cinema and the subsequent issue of the fortnightly film magazine (dated April 2, 1954) had on its cover three of the winners from the night posing with their trophies.

Filmfare magazine cover dated April 2, 1954 featuring the first Filmfare Award winners

On the cover (Best Actress) Meena Kumari is flanked by Bimal Roy (Best Director and Producer of the Best Picture) and Naushad Ali (Best Music Director).

Bits of trivia from that momentous evening.

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Ashok Kumar with Suraiya
Bollywood, Books

Et tu, Dadamoni? How Ashok Kumar fell from grace in Suraiya’s eyes

Ashok Kumar with Suraiya

There are a lot of distractions while reading eBooks on the phone and Twitter is one. As I was swiping through the pages of Raju Bharatan’s A Journey Down Melody Lane: The Making of a Hindi Film Song on my phone, I occasionally switched to the Twitter app to follow what’s tweeting. In a strange coincidence, as the first tweet about the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case appeared on my stream, I was simultaneously reading the singer-actress Suraiya’s account of Ashok Kumar’s un-Dadamoni-like behaviour with her.

Here’s what Suraiya is quoted as saying in Raju Bharatan’s fascinating book about Hindi film music (and much more):

I found Dev to be the perfect gentleman compared to Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Why, once, even the highly respected Ashok Kumar shocked me out of my wits by studiedly letting his evidently adroit hand, ever so lightly, graze… I just can’t bring myself to utter the word! It was some time in 1950, I think, while we were shooting for Khiladi. Some Khiladi I discovered Ashok Kumar to be at his age! Instinctively I said: “et tu, Dadamoni?” Whereupon Ashok Kumar just smiled knowingly, almost suggesting that, in films, I should be taking such things in my stride. Well, I was one heroine who would take it only in my decent stride. How Ashok Kumar fell from grace in my eyes that day!

I was taken a little aback by this account (no too much though). The legendary short story writer Saadat Hassan Manto was a good friend of Ashok Kumar and in his unabashed style described Ashok Kumar as someone certainly lacking in courage when it came to women but noted that that didn’t stop the revered actor from staring.

An excerpt from the Ashok Kumar chapter in Saadat Hasan Manto’s Stars from Another Sky:

Ashok was not a professional lover but he liked to watch women, as most men do. He was not even averse to staring at them, especially at those areas of their anatomy that men find attractive. Off and on, he would even discuss these things with friends. Sometimes he would experience a strong urge to make love to a woman but he would never step forward. Instead he would say something like, ‘Yaar Manto… I just do not have the courage.’ Courage he certainly lacked, which was a good thing for his marriage. I am sure his wife, Shobha, was happy about her husband’s timidity, praying that he would never lose it. I always found it odd that Ashok should be scared of women when hundreds of them were willing to jump if he told them to jump.

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At Rs 100/issue buy e-versions of Filmfare magazine from 60 years ago
Bollywood, Magazines, Media, Movies

At Rs 100/issue buy e-versions of Filmfare magazine from 60 years ago

Update: Filmfare seems to have removed its magazines from sale on Magzter.

At Rs 100/issue buy e-versions of Filmfare magazine from 60 years ago

As regular readers of this blog (if there are any) would know, I have a thing for vintage magazines and I just discovered that vintage Filmfare issues from 1954 onwards are now available for purchase in a digital format online. At Rs 100 an issue, some people, with whom I shared the news, thought that it is a little too expensive but I am purchasing a few.

Filmfare, as you would already know, is an iconic Indian film magazine first published in 1952 and has been a record-keeper of the world’s largest film industry through its rise, fall and rise.

Only a fraction of the Filmfare archives is currently available for purchase and I expect them to add more. The catch is that you will only be able to view the magazine within the Magster app that is available for multiple platforms.

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India Shopping Search Engine
Announcements, Technology, Websites

Announcing India Shopping Search: A custom search engine for online shopaholics

I do a lot of my shopping online and always have an eye open to catch the best diaper deals (We have a 22-month-old son). A big gap in online shopping in India is that there isn’t one search engine to fulfil my online shopping search needs. Google India doesn’t have a shopping option (which is anyway limited to their partners) and neither does Bing. And the ones that exist are too limiting in their selection of websites.

A plain vanilla search on the regular search engines will flood you with mostly useless results from not-what-we-want-but-SEO-optimised websites. To fill in the gap arrives India Shopping Searchhttp://iss.cut.tc

india-shopping-search

This isn’t anything fancy, but I believe it fulfils my online product search needs well. India Shopping Search is a Google Custom Search Engine, that to begin with, searches across 34 leading Indian online ecommerce websites and also let you filter results by store, relevance and recency.

I have, for now, only included the websites I have experienced myself and are appear to be credible (This doesn’t of course include results from websites where I had to face horrendous online shopping experiences). If you have a website to add, do let me know.

Happy searching. Happy shopping.

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Download for free: 39 HarperCollins India ebooks on Google Play
Bollywood, Books, Consumer Awareness, Downloads, Movies, Music, Sports

Download for free: 40 HarperCollins India ebooks on Google Play

Disclosure: I am an ebook evangelist.

Update 2: As expected, Google and HarperCollins India seems to have been alerted of the leak and the free fest is now over. I hope the early birds got their worms.

Update 1: The free ebook count is now 40 (up from 39). Thanks Amit! Also URL structure changed to point to Google Play instead of Google Books.

There are tons of free ebooks available on the online bookstores, but much of them are books that are out of copyright (and also quite a lot of erotica), but very little of quality contemporary fiction and non-fiction. Once in a while an Amazon India will give away a free ebook a day for a couple of weeks, and that’s all. Therefore when I stumbled upon this stash of free ebooks on Google Play I couldn’t hide my excitement and immediately announced the discovery in a series of tweets [1] [2] [3] [4].

Download for free: 40 HarperCollins India ebooks on Google Play

Though the custodian-of-Bollywood-trivia Diptakirti Chaudhuri pointed out that the entire HarperCollins film books catalogue seemed to be up for free, but the sceptical journalist part of me took over and after the initial denial that was followed by further investigation the conclusion is the not only the film books, but almost the entire HarperCollins India ebook collection on Google Play seems to be available for free and I could dig out 39 of them (so what if 39 40 doesn’t seem to be a big number, when it is all for free it is). Interestingly, these books don’t seem to appear under the free tab on Google Play.

Not sure if this is by desire, deceit or just a benevolent bug, but whatever it is download your copy now, lest amendments are made. I checked the other websites, and these books were selling at their usual prices.

Google may ask for your credit/debit card details in case you haven’t already signed up for Google Wallet and also make an temporary authorisation charge of Rs 50, that according to Google should “automatically expire from your statement in a few days.”

List of HarperCollins India free ebooks on Google Play
(In alphabetical order)

  1. Amul’s India [Read my review of the book here]
  2. Arzee The Dwarf, Chandrahas Choudhary
  3. Best Indian Short Stories – Vol. I, Khushwant Singh
  4. Best Indian Short Stories – Vol. II, Khushwant Singh
  5. Black Ice, Mahmudul Haque
  6. Bobby: The Complete Story, KA Abbas
  7. Calcutta Exile, Bunny Suraiya
  8. Chinese Whiskers, Pallavi Aiyar
  9. Controversially Yours, Shoaib Akhtar
  10. Deewar, Vinay Lal
  11. Delhi Noir, Hirsh Sawhney
  12. Gods and Godmen of India, Khushwant Singh
  13. Headley And I, S Hussain Zaidi
  14. I, Steve – Steve Jobs In His Own Words, Steve Jobs
  15. India – A Traveller’s Literary Companion, Chandrahas Choudhury
  16. India An Introduction, Khushwant Singh
  17. Jaane Bhee Do Yaaro, Jai Arjun Singh
  18. Keep The Change, Nirupama Subramaniam
  19. May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, Arnab Ray
  20. Mediocre But Arrogant, Abhijit Bhaduri
  21. More Salt Than Pepper: Dropping Anchor with Karan Thapar, Karan Thapar
  22. Mother Maiden Mistress, Bhawana Sommya
  23. Olympics – The India Story, Boria Majumdar
  24. Potato Chips, Anushman Mohan
  25. Ravan And Eddie, Kiran Nagarkar
  26. RD Burman: The Man, The Music, Balaji Vittal
  27. Sex, Scotch & Scholarship, Khushwant Singh
  28. Tanzeem, Mukul Deva
  29. The Best Advice I Ever Got, The Business Today Team
  30. The Double Life of Ramalinga Raju: The Story of India’s Biggest Corporate Fraud, Kingshuk Nag
  31. The Householder, Amitabh Bagchi
  32. The Impatient Optimist – Bill Gates In His Words, Bill Gates
  33. The Intolerant Indian – Why We Must Rediscover A Liberal Space, Gautam Adhikari
  34. The Maruti Story, R C Bhargava (Link courtesy: Amit Agarwal
  35. The Moslems Are Coming, Azad Essa
  36. The Other Indians: A Political And Cultural History of South Asians In America, Vinay Lal
  37. The Sacred Grove, Daman Singh
  38. The Sikhs, Khushwant Singh
  39. The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs Of Delhi, Sadia Dehlvi
  40. Women And Men In My Life, Khushwant Singh
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Milkha misses bronze medal by split second
Bollywood, Media, Movies, Newspapers, Reviews

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: The actual newspaper headlines in September 1960 were quite different

Indians would have surely been disappointed by Milkha Singh’s legendary defeat in the 400 metres final at the 1960 Rome Olympics, but did the disappointment turn into actual anger as depicted at the start of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Milkha Singh biopic – Bhaag Milkha Bhaag? I had my doubts. One, the tone of the headlines is of today’s loud and attention craving journalism, newspapers half-a-century ago appeared more objective and restrained in their writing. Two, reaching the Olympic finals and coming fourth in itself was a great achievement for Indian athletics, therefore it couldn’t possibly be headlined as a “Black Day for Indian Sports.” (If such a headline was actually published, would want to know, which newspaper?).

Out of my usual curiosity, checked newspaper pages from 53 years ago and concluded that Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra appears to be exaggerating. Haven’t yet read Milkha Singh’s autobiography The Race of My Life, so am not sure if the same also appears in there.

In The Indian Express, the news of Milkha’s defeat (or even that of the hockey team’s defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the finals a few days later) didn’t find any mention in the front pages or were there any editorials written around it. Had it been such a momentous defeat, it should ave found some mention there. Reproducing headlines from The Indian Express from September 6, 7 and 8, 1960 that appeared more sympathetic to the athlete than Mehra would want us to believe (The men’s 400 metres final happened on September 6, 1960).

Milkha equals old Olympic record: In 400m final

Rome Sept 5. The crack Indian sprinter, Milkha Singh, qualified for the final of the men’s 400 metres at the Olympic Games today, finishing second in his semifinal.
Milkha in finishing second, equalled the previous Olympic record of 45.9 seconds.

Milkha misses bronze medal by split second

Rome Sept 6. Only one-tenth of a second robbed the great Indian sprinter, Milkha Singh, of a bronze medal in the Olympic Games here today. His time was 45.6 seconds.

Milkha Singh made a valiant attempt to bring India her first media in te Olympic track and field events. But he failed.

Milkha Singh made a valiant attempt to bring India her first media in te Olympic track and field events. But he failed, finishing fourth despite returning the best timing of his career (45.6 seconds) in the final. Otis Davis (second from left), who won the semi-final heat on Monday, claimed the gold medal in a new world and Olympic time of 44.9 seconds in the final on Tuesday. Others in the picture are Germany’s Manfred Kinder (left) who finished sixth in the final, and Britain’s Brightwell.

Now on to my opinion about the rest of the movie.

Many are applauding Farhan Akhtar in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag but I think ROMP (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra) should have picked a better actor. Farhan may have made much physical effort but the toned physique cannot hide the inability to emote. The only consolation is that they didn’t let Farhan sing.

Go back to direction Akhtar, that’s where your strength is and leave the other stuff you love dabbling in to the more capable. To me acting something that can make the audiences experience the emotions that the character is experiencing and Farhan, all through his acting career hasn’t ever been able to acheive this and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is no different. Just look at his eyes, it is almost always a blank stare. They don’t support the lines he mouths or even what is happening inside and around him in the character he plays. I find it indeed sad that mediocre performances are applauded as great. The bar is only lowered.

After the assault of the Kala Bandar in Delhi 6, I was wary of venturing into a ROMP movie but the Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy’s appreciable music played the pied piper. A weary Bhaag Milkha Bhaag isn’t of course ROMP’s best and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s lesser-hyped Paan Singh Tomar remains by far the best Bollywod biopic on an athlete.

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