28.12.06

Dry day

A whole city without water. The prime-time news on CNN-IBN decided to check on how Mumbai’s citizens were coping.

We were shown a shock of curly locks. The guy was really pissed off, maan…he said his hair required careful washing and lots of serum to keep it in place. Yes. This is what they got. Or is this what they wanted to go looking for? They found a little kid who said in her lisping voice, “I dident bruuush my teeth” while another boy moaned that he had not bathed and then he showed us the large ball he was playing with caked with mud. “Even my ball is dirty,” he said.

As a concession to the ‘other side’ the channel’s reporters went to dhobi ghat, a typical touristy hangout, where a washman mouthed a rehearsed script, “Aaj hum kapde nahin dhoyenge, paani nahin hai. Aaj hamari chhutti hai.” (We won’t wash clothes today, there is no water. It is a holiday for us.)

I won’t go into the stories of people who suffer from water shortage every day of their lives. We have heard about it and can do nothing. The so-called improvement that the water department is planning may not benefit them at all.

And here we were filling buckets and every available vessel. Today I look with sadness at all the water that will be thrown away because the taps will be gushing forth again. The water we stored has gathered dust and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. We cannot keep it for long.

If it were dreadfully cold weather it may have turned to ice, like some hearts do; if it were hot and sultry, the water might hiss like steam and fly away…

Like all things, liquid too, must one day evaporate…

8.12.06

The great Bengali bogs

I just have to plan to visit Kolkata early next year since I don’t think I can manage a trip to the Sydney Opera. The connection is simple.

As a report says, “Kolkata’s public loos will never be the same after a designer toilet with its facade emulating the Sydney Opera comes up at Southern Avenue…"

Please don’t be such killjoys and scream, “Tchhah, raabish, chara…”

Given the penchant of the residents for kaalchur (culture), I envisage the stuff operas are made of. Purists they are, so they might stick to authentic music, a Cavally crescendo and a Debussy dip orchestrating the blabber of the bladder. There may be the occasional deliberate lapse into Robindro shongeet on special days like Durga poojo or on one more sudden reappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose.

They will celebrate his being alive by synchronised flushing. Frantic invitations will be sent out to each one’s bari (home) for maccher jhol and mishti doi.

The men may decide to hold their evening addas within the hallowed precincts and, the inauguration being in still-nippy weather, they will enter wearing their monkey caps and rubber chappals and discuss weighty issues like the doctoral work of Binod babu on ‘Darwin and the theory of excretion’. They’ll carry little packets of jhal moodi to maanch (munch).

The ladies will have their special soirées here to prepare for the next poojo; marriages may be made here as match-making boudis and pishimas smile at the young lass sitting with her legs crossed. “Shusheel konya,” they will tell each other not realising what she is holding back is a little more basic than waywardness.

I can’t wait to get there. Who knows how they will herald this event. Perhaps take out a rally with the cries of “Joi mutra” renting the air?

6.12.06

The Legacy Of Babri Masjid

The Legacy Of Babri Masjid
By Farzana Versey
06 December, 2006, Countercurrents


I have got a new father. He died before I was born. He died before my mother was born. He died before my grandmother was born. He died generations ago. But Zahir ud-Din Mohammad is Papa. Yes, I am Babar ki aulad.

The progeny of a tyrant. A face I do not recognise. A mosque I would never have known about. A legacy I carry as a mortuary dumped with an unclaimed corpse.
* * *
“I am from a minority community.” My words circled the compressed air in the plane.

“What did you just say?” asked the gentleman sitting next to me.

“I am from a minority community.”

“Is that how you introduce yourself?” he shrugged. A wonderful conversation that had begun about the media, Naxals, politicians, industrialists had ended.

He was candid: “This comment has left me disturbed. It has taken away from all the ideas we talked about.”

So many thousands of feet above sea-level, at the mercy of technology and nature, we became Hindu and Muslim. This was the first time in spoken communication that I had uttered the phrase ‘minority community’ for myself. Was this not a statement of fact? Should I feel ashamed of it? Why was I limiting the expanse of my sky?

That morning there had been a newspaper report that had filled me with trepidation as I read it on the way to the airport. It talked about how certain frequent travellers in Mumbai were being hauled up for questioning by the police. Your crime? Being a Muslim.

In the lounge, I curled up the paper and tucked it away. I did not want to show them what had become of us. No one watched me suspiciously, but I looked around with suspicion. Antenna and armour were both in place.

I wasn’t afraid for myself, but I was afraid about my reaction. What if I lost my temper? What if I made scathing comments and asked them to prove their loyalty, their credentials. Worse, my destination was Dubai, where they say all my ‘brothers’ are in hiding after committing terrorist acts in the new corporatised Bharat, where history is being hawked on saffron bandanas.

It does not matter what political party is in power. Today, power rests on the mighty prongs of the trishul.

We are a non-violent nation; we hate guns; we distress over road rage. But we go on raths, simulate the archaic, our ennui satiated with impotent anger over spectres shrouded in lies.

Why do I remember December 6 at all? Because they remind me about it.

Look at this report of December 4: “Uttar Pradesh government has sounded an alert across the state and asked district authorities to take measures to maintain communal harmony on December 6 anniversary of Babri mosque demolition.”

They have anyway barricaded the make-shift temple. It is high-security area. God does not live there; god has been trapped there. Is the cradle of Ram lalla the cradle of civilisation? Does this civilisation make you demolish a mosque in six hours? Can you imagine the planning and effort that must have gone into this quickie attempt, how well-synchronised it was?

You ask, did not the Muslims destroy a temple that was there? I shall quote the words of a Sufi singer from Sindh, Allan Fakir, who on a visit to Delhi a few years ago had said, “Yes, Babar must have come to Ayodhya, he must have stumbled on a ruined structure and asked what it was. He must have been told that it is the birthplace of Ram and Lakshman – ‘then it is pavitra bhoomi. There should be ibaadat in such a place. Prayers and devotion. Raise a mosque here’. And thus a Babri Masjid must have come to be.”

100 people have been pronounced guilty in the 1993 bomb blasts case. Now tell us who are the guilty for the riots that preceded it?

A little over nine years later, when Gujarat happened, we realised that a Hindu life was worth Rs. 2 lakh, a Muslim’s one lakh.

This is the legacy of Babri.

They say their resentment is over things like Article 370 for Kashmir and the Muslim Personal Law. While the former was formulated as an administrative necessity, the latter, though undesirable, seems to be causing problems only for the Brahmin-Rajput sections, minorities themselves. (The rath yatra as a response to Mandal makes its own ironic statement.) Why did no one think about a Uniform Civil Code in 1947? Why did no one shout slogans of “Jai Sri Ram” then?

I do want to know how those going to Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 could be called pilgrims when they had a specific agenda. Do people go on Haj carrying weapons?

There are several other questions one asks. I have still not got adequate answers.

How many Muslims have been traitors to the country?
Haven’t riots put them back by a few years?
Have they progressed economically?
What have they gained?
Has there been no contribution at all from the community?
Have they really tainted the purity of the ancient civilisation?

Why do 800 million Indians find us a threat? The Muslim is an abstraction now. S/he would be forced to ask: Who am I? And the response would be…I am the AK-47 rifle, I am the detonated bomb, I am the dynamite that has blown up cars, trains, bodies, I am the beard, the burqa, I am the voice that shouts out loud in the streets to support dictators who look like thieves, I am the bent over figure taking up public space for my prayers, I am the loudspeaker that beckons believers and is a nuisance to the ears, I am the butcher with the knife over a poor goat’s neck, I am the one that the metal detector detects faster than anyone else. I am not like you anymore.

This is the legacy of Babri.


14 years ago, a BBC reporter had hesitantly asked me, “Would you still wear a bindi after all this?”

What was ‘this’? Just an onion-domed structure in a town I knew little about? No, it was the blood on the walls in my city. I do not revisit those areas, for when I had done so they were washing the stains and those would not go away.

Remembrance comes in other garbs: The pregnant woman who was kicked in the stomach repeatedly to tell her, and us and everyone who did not go along with their narrow beliefs, that nothing new should be born.

She did give birth. Another Babar ki aulad was here. Prematurely. This is what happens when you hit so hard.

3.12.06

She said ‘hi!’ to disability?

Today is World Disability Day and I remember her most. I thought I had lost what I had written, but it is impossible to lose her…

She looked like a child. “Hiiiiii!” I could hear her greet the doctor when he went to meet her outside. The door to his consulting room was ajar. I could see her, a toothless smile and sparkling eyes. I had to wait until I got some reports, so I sat on the sofa near her. A cheery “Hiiii” greeted me too. I responded. Her mother helped the girl get up and walk towards the room. I could hear her screams, the doctor and her mother pacifying her. When she was done, she came out and greeted me with another “Hi!!” Her mother bent down to help her wear her shoes.

The assistant was asked to escort them to the door. The doc looked quite shaken. This was no child. She was in her late teens. He was an old family friend. He said, “She was a beautiful girl at one time, completely normal, lovely long hair, at all our functions she sang and performed the Bharat Natyam…this was one person I was keen to watch, to see what she would grow to be, such talent.”

Then one day high fever struck followed by convulsions. She lost her teeth, her sight and most of her neurological functions. She has regressed.

I did feel sorry for her. Not because she has regressed (I have seen worse sorts of regression), but because she has to start anew. She was not born this way; she has to take those tiny steps, utter words with care and live looking like a child. But guess what? She is coping. I could hear her stop the doctor with a, “One minute”, if he was hurting her. She could not see anyone, but she could sense human presence and acknowledge it. How many of us have the grace to do that?

And despite it all, no one could take away her smile. Just writing this makes my lips curve upwards. I feel like saying “Hi!”…hi to those reading this, hi to people I have hurt, hi to anyone I have not understood or who has not understood me, hi to those who are willing to wait, hi to those who want to go, hi to the painful memories, hi to precious moments that have come and will come again…and a silly giggly-wiggly hi to me.