Intense yet sensitive
Mita Kapur
September 28, 2008

My art is an extension of myself and vice versa,’ says author-journalist-filmmaker Ruzbeh Bharucha whose book My God Is A Juvenile Delinquent was released recently.

Struggling with social malaises: Ruzbeh Bharucha

Ruzbeh Bharucha calls himself a voyager and a traveller. He has seen the innards of India and when you ask: “There is so much talk of India becoming a global power. What does the reality tell you?”

“Global power! Rubbish! Seventy per cent of our population still lives below poverty line. Farmers commit suicide; poor innocent kids are sodomised by cops and thrown into observation homes; prison cells where inmates have to stand and sleep for all can’t sleep at one time, children thrown into prison where they are raped and used as slaves; poor families, who have worked to build the infrastructure of the city, now treated as vermin and their homes demolished. Where the rich can bribe everybody and the poor have no say. Where politicians are more dangerous than thugs and thugs more dangers than virus. Where social workers and activists are killed and nobody cares a damn…”

The sensitivity that becomes inherent from such experiences comes through in Ruzbeh’s writing. “When you deal with children living with their mothers in prison till they are six and then sent off to some shady orphanage or see thousands of families thrown on the streets like garbage, or children rotting away in lock ups under the fancy name of observation homes, one cannot help feel a strange sense of impotency, sadness and, in a very selfish way, a sense of gratitude that we aren’t in such a situation.”

Indepth view
Each of Ruzbeh’s books is an in-depth and intense dealing with an issue that ails our country and society. Have they made an impact? “A year after Shadows in Cages was released, the Supreme Court passed an order that prisons that housed children with their mothers had to have a creche and a nursery. I do not take full credit for this but the book must have made a small impression. I got a call from the Assistant Superintendent of the Haridwar prison. He was very keen on adapting various activities and suggestions from the book. An inmate had sent him the Hindi translation with a note ‘You must read this book. It will change your life and those of us inmates.’ The inmate died four months later. The documentary on slum demolitions has been screened in universities all over the world. Even now I get letters on how the book and film helped formulate plans for those living in slums.”

A journalist, a filmmaker, a writer, he fuses the many identities with a desire to use art and communication to make a difference. “My art is an extension of myself and vice versa. I don’t identify myself as just a journalist, film maker or an author. I love writing. It’s private. You have the opportunity of editing, incorporating at will as you go through the creative process, without weeping at the costs involved; usually there are no costs, just time. Filmmaking forces you to interact with the world, adapt to other people’s schedules and moods, work on time frames… But the visual medium is so bloody powerful that it overshadows the written word. One good picture is worth a few thousand words and it’s a sad fact.”

Emotional fatigue
Struggling with such social malaises can leave one emotionally fatigued. “I haven’t learnt to deal with the emotional baggage. I fall ill during my research. It’s not easy seeing so much of suffering first hand and not be affected. I usually write a book on a social subject and then take a solemn vow never to touch another social subject and then a year or so down the line find myself back to square one. Am daft. Just don’t learn.”

Then why take up such subjects? The larger concern is obviously to do with human rights, but the “question I’ve asked myself is, ‘how come nobody else has written on these subjects before?’ What kind of people and society have we become? A film star farts and the media analyses and diagnoses cause and effect. Here you have thousands of children and lakhs of families just withering away and nobody cares.”

Rest in Peace is the only fiction he’s written. “My book, The Fakir, is now in its fourth edition. I have begun a book of fiction for kids that adults will also like. I’m also working on a movie script: part fiction, part fact. But, trust me, in India you don’t need fiction. Our reality is stranger and weirder than the fiction the mind can cook up.”

Despite the battles that rage within and without, “I believe our country is still worth living in. Our artists, certain sections of the media, our youth, our bloggers, certain movie makers are contributing positively towards surviving the mayhem caused by politicians, petty goons, land mafia, brokers, political whores. Inherently, our common man is a decent person. The poor sod is so caught up in just trying to survive that he/she has no time to fight for what is right and what is needed. But the youth of today are more aware; let’s hope they take up from where a few of the more responsible socially evolved people have left of. The problem is we are now left with dwarfs. All the giants have become portraits on walls.”

Copyright 2014 Ruzbeh N. Bharucha.