On Nepal vs Gorkhaland: An Attempt to Explain How Nations Exploit Differences

Last night, after a heart-wrenching conversation with a childhood friend regarding an anti-Gorkhaland signature campaign, I tweeted: New Delhi needs to understand its supremacist attitude towards its neighbors takes an intellectual and emotional toll on genuinely simple, good-hearted people.

I didn’t fully realize what was actually happening until I saw some new threads on my timeline. Sadly, Nepali people are now fighting “Nepali” people outside their border. Secretly they are still mourning the loss of their Greater Nepal after losing the Gurkha war (1814-1816), and there has been a deep-seated resentment against people living in these territories since: “How could they? Traitors!” It’s a tragedy to see how fragile and touchy Nepali nationalism is, how their corrupt and self-centered body politic is so easily threatened by the demands for dignity, equality and freedom, be it within their own country or beyond.

When I went to Kangra recently, I saw how briefly the Gurkhas had captured the fort among the successions of Indian lords and royalties. It helped put in perspective how vain and dangerous nationalist mythmaking is, especially at times like these. There is a strong belief that Nepal hasn’t lost a war—”कुन शक्तिको सामुमा कहिले हामी झुकेथ्यौं?”—it actually lost to the British. Time and again, it had to succumb to Indian authorities. Nepal didn’t even put up a fight with Middle Eastern countries where its people are forced into slavery, raped and killed. “Victory” is never clean or complete; history is never so black and white.

When I wrote about the quest for Nepal’s dignity and sovereignty as a young journalist for The Kathmandu Post in 2006/7, I think people were ready to talk about the nature of genuine pride or freedom in a more philosophical, spiritual, even political sense. These days, I’m afraid that kind of openness is missing. I don’t expect people so vain and insecure to make an effort to actually read history or philosophy, even if the times and circumstances are to blamed for making them so.

There is a sense of safety and security in their closed community and ignorance, and people need that sense of belonging. The tragedy is nothing unites people like hatred for the other. The USA needs its “terrorists” to unite people under a banner of false “safety”—fear doctrine?— and Nepal needs its Big Bad Brother to create a culture, identity, or a sense of community which is distinct, even superior than the other.

No one will make the hard effort to unite these communities built to exploit differences whether in Nepal or India—for India has its own mobs, and its own problems. Everyone will make every effort to be the hero of their small communities i.e. make the efforts to destroy, derail, rule and humiliate—even absorb and assimilate—the other minorities that present an alternative, often seen as a threat (which they could be).


So, where does my loyalty lie? As a former citizen journalist, I serve truth, and truth isn’t the property of a nation or a group. Truth doesn’t take sides. As a writer and an artist, I serve the citizens of the earth. I do not belong to one nation, nor do I have the safety or community of a group. I do not hate you, my friend, even though you probably hate me already because that’s how you can prove your loyalty, and continue to be part of your group. Yet, I sincerely hope that one day you will overcome your fears of the other, and our billion differences and reasons to hate and suffer. You know me: I’ll continue to work and pray for that day. Will you?

PS. For those who are genuinely interested to find out about my complicated relationship with Nepal, Nepali language and its people, I recommend KHAS PIDGIN, a Nepali-English poetry anthology, with videos: http://salikshah.com/khas-pidgin/. If you cannot purchase the book online for any reason, please write to me for a review copy: salik.shah[@]gmail.com. I will be more than happy to send you one. Thank you!

Note to self: I was so tempted to end this post with “जय हो!” rather than a thank you. Then I wondered how would people receive it? Is it Nepali, Gurkhali or Indian expression? Or is it a Sanskrit expression when these nations as we understand today didn’t even exist. Do such expressions and knowledge belong to individuals or a nation, or nations? How many people have time, inclination or education to think at such a profound, philosophical or historical level? Forget it, I told myself. Don’t tease! We are quick to take offence, no?

10 Lessons from the Success of S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali for Indian Filmmakers

S.S. Rajamouli’s epic blockbuster Baahubali has energized and inspired a whole new generation of young, emerging and established filmmakers in India and beyond. These are ten lessons for those of you who want to think big and strong, and make your own Baahubali:

1. Make your film in your own language.

You don’t need to make a film in Hindi to win big. Yes, you can make your film in your own language, for your own people. We can always dub later or deploy subtitles, and still reach the maximum number of audiences not only in India but around the world.

2. Work on your visuals. Minimize dialog.

Baahubali relies on memorable visual spectacles – not witty or punchy dialogs. And it makes sense. If you are making a film in your own language, please do us, who don’t speak your language a favor, by telling the story through moving pictures i.e. visual storytelling.

3. Spill blood. Build suspense, and end with an intrigue.

In one of his interviews, the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman said that he builds his films with a mood—whether happiness, sadness, a sense of defeat or loneliness—which he wants to capture. The whole movie then is an exercise to arrive to the exact emotional state where the audience could experience that mood again.

In an epic movie like Baahubali, we see different moods for different scenes, but the overall theme of the hero’s quest overwhelms them all. We want to know why the hero’s family is facing a crisis. We want to know whether, when and how the hero returns to face his enemies. The first film starts with killings, and ends with the same—the hero kills people without a moment of hesitation or regret. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Don’t overthink your story or narrative arc.

Keep it simple. Follow the simple three-act structure: beginning, middle and end, with some lazy flash backs thrown in between. That’s it.

You can’t make a movie like Baahubali if you start bothering about how to reinvent the wheel or breaking new ground, or lose your sleep over deep, philosophical or academic questions or issues like whether this is the hero that people deserve. Is this hero a man of conscience, or a man so blinded by love or lust that he will do anything for the wants and needs of his woman?

5. Make sure people can count on you to deliver.

Go out of the box, each time, to create a massive blockbuster. Even though I hadn’t seen S. S. Rajamouli films before Baahubali—I don’t get to see many movies these days—I had heard about him from many friends.

If you dream to make a movie that’s big and global, your work begins now! Every film, whether short or long, every script, is a step toward that most-anticipated event in the history of cinema which you dream to create. Be professional and careful in how you handle your career. Rome wasn’t built in a day; your brand, and reputation is no different. If people can count on you to deliver, you can get your Baahubali made.

6. Focus on your story—don’t focus on the market trends.

Be aware of the trend, but slave for your story and vision. Pursue a great story, not money or celebrity. That’s what S.S. Rajamouli always did: he has always been a good storyteller.

7. Show business sense and economic maturity. Filmmaking is fucking expensive.

The total budget for Baahubali, the beginning and conclusion, was above 400 crores. The producers said they didn’t make enough money on the first film, and are hoping to cash in on the success of the second movie, and the Baahubali franchise.

Think about the high stakes, how many people’s livelihoods depend on you, and on  this project that will keep you and them employed for years, and for the producers you will keep in business. If you want to make a Baahubali, you gotta man up and embrace the realities and limitations of working in the film industry—you can’t do it alone. Don’t fuck it up in the name of god of art or something, or whosoever the fuck is your idea of the ultimate filmmaker.

8. Find friends; connect with people.

Get your name out there now by finding and connecting with the right people. So how do you find the right people? It’s very simple. Don’t waste time around people who have neither time, nor a word of advice or encouragement for you or your projects; find people who inspire you, who fuel your energy, and help you move forward whether by their words of encouragement, free lunch or freelance gigs. And the same rule applies to you: hone your skills, collaborate, contribute to other people’s projects. Help them turn their vision into reality, and hopefully they will see you as a reliable comrade, and come to your rescue in your times of need.

9. Don’t forget movie making is a slow and arduous process.

Baahubali took five years, probably more, to materialize from concept to execution. I’ve known really talented people who have given years to a project. To survive the long period of isolation, where now and then you feel like you are wasting your life, where absolutely nothing happens, to manage and control the pain, the angst and anxieties of the creative business, you need close family and friends. So don’t push them way. It’s time to leave your cave, join a healthy collective, make comrades, and go for that big hunt of your life that people are going to remember till the end of our times.

10. Become a great person, and not just a great or successful filmmaker.

You watch S.S. Rajamouli’s film like Eega or Baahubali, and you know it’d be an honor to meet him in person! The way he handles his characters’ emotions and conflicts with care and patience, tells us a lot about him, I think, as a person. You watch his interviews and you cannot not like him.

I’ll be honest—I can complain about many technical and story aspects of Baahubali  and his other films. But I don’t think it’ll do us any good. I like his stories—there was a time when I couldn’t stop complaining about every story. These days, I judge films from the standard the filmmakers have set for themselves than my own.

I hope Baahubali will do some good in the world—it’s already done a lot of good by inspiring a whole new generation to think big and epic. But it’s only when we start working toward becoming a better person, I think, that we start finally contributing to the society, country or the world in meaningful ways, and the universe conspires to assist you.

I have always believed in the luck of hard work. And the hardest work is to keep working on yourself, your thinking and actions; unlearning what you’ve learnt, and be willing to learn again. Don’t forget a great movie is the result of your never-ending creative tussles, memorable experiences, and hard-earned, life-affirming insights.

That’s it from me. What are other lessons or insights that you could think of from S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below, here or on Youtube, or tweet them to me @salik.

Need help with your short, ad, corporate, feature films or web series? I’m available for consulting, planning and development, screenwriting, production, editing and direction: salik.shah@gmail[dot]com.

All the best!

Violent Delights: “Which species of bird is a drone?” 

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Field Notes: A photograph from my debut poetry reading at the Partition Museum project – Oxford Bookstore in Delhi / August 2016

War deadens you; street hardens you. I’ve seen boys beaten to pulp, and could do nothing to help them. I’ve come this close to getting smashed, cut or shot, and during those darkest moments of rage, considered violence, its violent delights. Art saved me. Somehow I would end up pouring all that vengefulness and anger, fear and blood, into whatever I was doing at the moment: drawing, journaling, poetry, screenwriting. And find peace. A kind of solace. Continue…

HT Interview

I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to introduce Mithila Review to the wonderful readers of Hindustan Times!

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We just launched our first quarterly issue for 2017, and I hope you’ll love it!

Apart from excellent poetry, fiction and essays, Issue 7 of Mithila Review features my interview with Hugo-winning Chinese author Cixin Liu (translated by Shaoyan Hu), roundtable discussions on the state of speculative fiction in Czech Republic and Latin America!

Please subscribe or donate to support Mithila Review and our contributors. We cannot become a paying market without your support.

On the Challenges of Reading, Writing & Publishing Science Fiction & Fantasy in South Asia

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Cover Illustration: “Enclosed” by Ashim Shakya, from Issue 4 of Mithila Review.

In my new Strange Horizons column, I talk about Geoff Ryman’s story that inspired the Mithila Review / Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy project and my earliest forays into SF as a reader. My childhood revolved around comics and other things but none as vital and transfixing as some of the stories in “Perilous Journey,” a high school textbook edited by Northrop Frye and W. T. Jewkes in 1973. It was a miracle of a book for me. Then there were McLuhan and Gibson, the two towering influences in my life even before I knew it.

I plugged into a mind-space that couldn’t exist in the real world ever since I coded my first website as a pre-teen in the late 90s. The “cyberspace” offered me an escape from the hard truth of reality and violence that was going on all around me. I remain t/here even as I’m still confined, physically, to the fringes of the “empire” that is Anglo-American. That’s why, I think, Ryman’s work means so much to me. But I didn’t know yet which “genre” I belonged to when I thought and pitched my films during my early 20s. Now that I know there is a language in which I exist, I’m truly grateful.

Strange Horizons: 2015 In Review

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My relationship with speculative fiction took a serious turn in 2015. Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979) and Seo-Young Chu’s Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? (2010) captivated me as much as critical notes and essays on the craft of writing and storytelling by Samuel R Delany, Damon Knight and Ursula Le K Guin.

My current reading strategy seems inadequate to tackle the growing field of SF. I found myself reading and rereading stories from the excellent oeuvres of Kelly Link, Geoff Ryman, Catherynne M Valente, Kij Johnson and Karin Tidbeck, among others. Apart from World SF, I developed a special taste and critical eye for a small but fantastic body of speculative work from South Asian writers living and working outside the Indian subcontinent: Usman T Malik, Vandana Singh, Indra Das, among others.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina proved that live action science fiction films could be more than hero worship in 2015. Vincenzo Natali’s Cypher (2002) and Splice (2009) also blew my mind. Together, they have convinced me that SF film could match the genius of the best of contemporary SF prose. Now I can’t wait to see Natali’s adaption of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). (I hope that he finally gets ‘lucky’ in 2016.)

This year, I couldn’t stop recommending Drabblecast to close friends. And I finally joined a long list of amazing people who have fallen utterly in love with Uncanny Magazine.

PS: A shortened version of this review first appeared in Strange Horizons with excellent recommendations from a host of amazing SF writers and readers.

Annie-Ted Complex

Ted Cgiang

Photograph by José Mandojana / The California Sunday Magazine

I’ve reached a phase where my fast-food approach to creative writing simply doesn’t work. It’s not enough to get printed. Now I’m asking editors to hold a piece because I think it could be better, which means I’m making no new submissions for a while. And that’s okay for the slow thinker and writer in me.

I am going to call this approach or state of being Annie-Ted complex:

“It makes more sense to write one big book—a novel or nonfiction narrative—than to write many stories or essays.”

Thanks for spoiling me, Usman.  When I first discovered Ted Chiang’s work and interviews many years ago, I knew his approach made sense. But it took longer than I had hoped to break out of my old habits.

For nearly a decade, I welcomed and flirted with tight deadlines whether I was in media or advertising. The deadline to produce new work would be a few hours or days. I don’t remember ever working on a single piece of writing, design, video or presentation for a week except on one pet project which eventually trended on SlideShare. That one took two-three years in the making with a considerable gap in between where I did nothing about it. And I wasn’t even planning to trend.

Understand: The most amazing thing about the SlideShare trend wasn’t views, shares or downloads. A Turkish girl said that she wanted to become a ‘content architect’ just like me someday, which meant a lot. And then when I saw the presentation translated into French, it was simply incredible!