31.12.07

Imran-e-insaaf


Imran Khan left his country in these turbulent times to holiday in Mumbai at socialite Parmeshwar Godrej’s bungalow.

India should back our democratic process.”

Sure, and it is the right to be where you want to be when you want to be.

Other earlier quotes of Imran that are pertinent in the given circumstances of his country and his version of democracy.

“If your house is burning, wouldn't you try and put out the fire?”

The hose-pipe is in my city?

“It's more important to try to do something for the crores of poor people of my country.”

Yes…later, honey. No rush.



28.12.07

Benazir and Indira as Papa's Puppets

Benazir and Indira as Papa's Puppets

The Complex Electra
By
Farzana Versey
December 28, 2007, Counterpunch


Brave and courageous. These words have not yet been applied to Nawaz Sharif who returned to a turbulent Pakistan, but Benazir Bhutto was honoured with such terms. She died on what people will now see as those terms. As the first Muslim woman to become head of state, she came with a readymade bonafide of martyr-rebel.

“Despite threats of death, I will not acquiesce to tyranny, but rather lead the fight against it,” she had said recently. If she would have got the opportunity, it would have been the third time. Politics is about erring often enough to be human.

Benazir may have identified with India’s Rajiv Gandhi, but those were superficial similarities. Her real mirror, if it may be called so, was Indira Gandhi.

Aside from the fact that both were ambitious women, they shared complete devotion to and obsession with their fathers. While Ms. Gandhi was India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s only child, it is rather interesting that despite the politics of the subcontinent, as indeed the world, being heavily patriarchal Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto chose his daughter over his sons as his political heir.

The two male parents became Svengali and nemesis, their ghosts continued to not merely haunt but hypnotise their daughters. When Indira first came into politics, she was called “goongi gudiya” (the dumb doll). Her whole political credo was therefore designed to hit back.

She was Papa’s puppet. Naturally, in that small stage she had to move according to a pre-set rhythm. Katherine Frank’s biography talks about her paranoia regarding those she considered Nehru’s enemies. She felt that they were “out to trap her father and bring him down”. What was happening is that she was fearful for herself. Even as puppet she wanted to be on centre-stage. Perhaps, by getting her father to move away from the clique, she was subconsciously trying to claim complete ownership.

Psychology would describe this as the Electra Complex that combines penis envy with castration fear. Symbolically, the desire for impregnation would manifest itself in being able to internalise the father’s ideology.

Neither Benazir nor Indira managed to strike out on their own in terms of policy or altering the role of the family as ‘monarchy’. Benazir, had she lived longer, would have brought her children into the political arena just as Indira Gandhi did.

Dynastic rule in democracies or quasi democracies has been about perpetuating the name of the father. (The widow as successor is essentially legitimised only as ‘carrier’ of the husband’s progeny.) The spouse is a prop, often a convenient one to act as buffer and even bear the brunt of blame. Indira’s marriage to Feroze Gandhi was a façade that went through moments of turmoil to keep it alive. In all likelihood, she took his name to try and be her own person and not merely the offspring of Nehru.

Feroze was known to be a womaniser. Indira was aware of it. Her humiliation would be avenged only if he felt that while he had proved his manhood, he had lost out as the “nation’s son-in-law”.

Asif Ali Zardari came with similar credentials. Benazir settled into arranged matrimony and baby-producing to give Pakistan the sort of woman who did regular things and had descendants to perpetuate the royal pure blood.

With such delusions, these women till the very last posed a threat only to themselves.

Indira Gandhi saw imaginary demons. The result: The Emergency. Like all frightened people, she camouflaged her baseless theories about others trying to plot against her government and stall its functioning beneath self-righteousness, declaring that democracy was not more important than the nation. She could not even tolerate a peaceful resistance movement. She was found guilty of corrupt electoral practices by the High Court.

Benazir Bhutto was exiled to escape corruption charges. The pretence of being the people’s princess had to wear off once it was realised her father had been the emperor with no clothes. The veneer of statesman was wearing thin.

Is it any surprise that Ms. Bhutto blatantly supported the Taliban regime in its initial years to make certain that the Afghans did not breathe down her neck?

This was similar in manner to Indira Gandhi propping up Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as a leader in Punjab, when he was a non-entity. She and her younger son Sanjay used him till it was convenient.

The mistake we make is to confuse populism for popularity. There is no doubt that both these women had their ears to the ground; as opposed to the sons of the soil, they were the mothers of the earth. This again works well in the Electra Complex where the daughters aspire to replace the mother. In villages and remote towns it can have tremendous appeal. The poor and illiterate in our subcontinent like to be seen as loyal subjects being the benefactors of largesse. Political coquetry is a trait that comes with the territory.

To make the situation even better, both these women had the benefit of a western education and an urbane lifestyle. This seems a bit ironical for they insisted on holding steadfastly to the dying socialist principles of their fathers. These principles were for the most part straw pillars meant for the masses; these families remained committed to feudalism in their own lives. They had the luxury of encouraging coteries without seeming to court anyone.

In India, Ms. Gandhi took away the privy purses, but kept the princes. She spoke about rationality, but had a hedonistic ‘godman’ as a close confidante. She was suave and sophisticated, but she encouraged greasy middlemen. She spoke about “social democracy” but blatantly gave a fillip to underhand financial dealings that came to be known as ‘the license permit raj’. And she thrived on strife. This is how she came to support the Mukti Bahini in what was then East Pakistan and became Bangladesh.

A goddess was born. A few years later, she had internalised the spook and revelled in the praise, “Indira is India, and India is Indira.”

Benazir did not have to deal with such a coinage, perhaps because heading an Islamic country meant no idol worship. Instead, she deftly marketed herself as the broadminded, non-jihadi face of Pakistan. Her version of social democracy too was embedded in the old-fashioned ideals of dignity of other people’s labour while she sat back as her husband made the money and got to keep the change.

It takes some sleight of mind to master the act of playing both distressed damsel and the dominatrix-matriarch fiercely protective of everything around them and, as a consequence, their own position.

While most women in ‘tough’ roles are accused of mimicking men, as the ‘Only Man in the Cabinet’ and ‘Ms. Virgin Ironpants’, Indira and Benazir demasculinised themselves. Talking about woman power, what they really did was to build a cottage industry of being wronged. Politics became not just a playground for suppressed emotions but a serious arena for catharsis.

Both women were elected to office twice. Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her most trusted bodyguard. No one has as yet suggested that it could well have been a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) sympathiser who did Benazir in. She was the visible face of the party, but the ideology was dictated by the spectre of Zulfiqar Ali. Some say that her niece Fatima Bhutto, who has made serious allegations against her aunt for the murder of her father Murtaza, could possibly play an important role.

If that were to happen, we would have one more “mind-controlled victim” avenging her father’s death and dreaming his dreams. Individual voices in Pakistan are being muffled by echoes of old thoughts.

27.12.07

Benazir Bhutto: The final exile...

Benazir Bhutto has been killed. The news was she was injured, but the television channels confirm she is dead. 15 others have died in the suicide attack.

Having maintained that she was wrong on several counts, I feel that politics requires different voices and it might have been an interesting fight to see where Pakistan would go from here.

This is not to be, with one important player gone. It is unfortunate what this country is going through, and I am sorry but I do blame the United States of America for using it for its proxy wars and its leaders as convenient puppets to send messages to other nations.

Update at 7.45 IST: Called up a friend in Islamabad. Karachi has broken out into violent reactions; Islamabad is tense. Martial Law again predicted and elections likely to be on hold.

As always, the common people will suffer the most. I do hope everyone is well and safe.

A tumultuous way for the year to end.


fariyaad katghare mein
ro ro ke tadapti thi
qaanoon ke rakhavaale
kal le ke gaye jis ko
ab us ko yahaan laayein
vo naash to dikhalaayein

-Fehmida Riyaz

Please excuse my basic translation:

The plea that cried in the witness box
Was taken away by the keepers of law
Bring it back to us
At least show us the corpse

25.12.07

Hello woman! This one's for you...

....forget the paunchy, white-bearded bloke with a sack trying to give you something. The one who matters is the one who gives of himself. He may not drive a Ferrari or a Porsche, he may not gift you solitaires or take you on holidays to sun-kissed beaches, he may not quote poems, but he stays by your side when you need him the most. As for filling your stockings, honey, nothing looks better in them than your own legs.

Tony Blair and the Hawking of Religion

Where's Dante?

Tony Blair and the Hawking of Religion
By Farzana Versey
December 24, 2007, Counterpunch

Tony Blair has become a Catholic. Had it been seen as a personal decision, it would be fine. However, it already sounds like political canonization. According to a report, Blair, now a Middle East peace envoy, said he had prayed to God when deciding whether or not to send British troops into Iraq.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, who led the service, said, “…in another sense it’s a beginning, because when you become a Catholic, as so many people who have become Catholics have said to me, it’s like coming home.”

What is worrying is this: A Vatican spokesman said such an “authoritative personality” choosing to join the Catholic Church “could only give rise to joy and respect”.

It brings us to the dilemma religion has always faced – how does it sell itself? The moment god images are used in consumer advertising there is a hue and cry for abusing religious symbols. What about the marketing of whole belief systems?

Years ago, the Church of England decided to sell Christianity like “beans and the banks”. Seven thousand pounds sterling were to be spent on 10 TV slots. One ad showed a suited smiling man holding the Bible in one hand while an angel – female – dangled on his other arm; the copy promised: “An hour this Sunday will leave you feeling good all week.”

One is not sure whether the gods were amused or not, but can advertising make religion more palatable? According to one agency head, “The Church has to make itself a more interesting, relevant and even a more entertaining product.”

Does all this bode well for our concept of religion? Is faith not a matter of personal belief? Or are we only fooling ourselves? After all, we believe because we have been brought up in a certain faith, or as in Blair’s case it seems to be a gift to his wife and children who are all Catholic, or because we have seen devotees throng to places of worship and, like with everything else, the herd mentality prevails: if everyone does it, then it must be right.

In that sense religion does not need advertising. It is advertising. It follows all the marketing rules. The brand comparisons regarding which religion scores over which other, whose product has greater appeal, which market can be captured.

In fact, many of our superficial concepts have been sold to us by constructed faith. Temptation, for example. Were it not for Eve, the serpent, the apple, and the Garden of Eden, we might have all succumbed to the worst and not been held sinners for our trespasses.

Monotheistic religions come with an inbuilt mechanism that is the super-ego. To those who often accuse outsiders of misinterpreting Islam, I think greater injustice is done to it by the so-called believers, who take every legend literally and use it as their Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Recently, the Islamic world celebrated Eid-al-adha to understand the greatness of sacrifice, of how you must be willing to give of your own. When Prophet Ibrahim willingly agreed to sacrifice his son, the goat was replaced by a holy injunction seeing the selflessness. It ought to be taken as symbolism.

Today, it is just another occasion for a feast, for I do not know what a Muslim can learn while watching an animal bleed to death. Does touching the knife to the neck gingerly teach about the virtue of readily parting with something personally precious?

No. Quite the contrary. It is an event that is reminiscent of early Islam. According to Alfred Guillaume, “Sacrifices, which were for the most part communal feasts, were popular; but at heart the Arab cared little for these things. He was, as he still is, fundamentally an individualist, and if a heathen god did not or could not help him to get what he wanted in life, so much the worse for the god.”

Among the five Pillars of Islam - prayer, fasting, alms-giving, faith in Allah and the Prophet and pilgrimage - animal sacrifice figures nowhere except in certain cases when on Haj at Mina, where the ‘stoning of the devil’ ceremony takes place animal sacrifices are made, though not compulsory.

In this light it would be interesting to note that in the original ritual of kissing the black stone, pilgrims were required to be nude, but the Prophet ordered that two plain sheets be used instead.

This itself proves that religion must perforce be amenable to adaptation. The Quran, which is seen as an occurrence to meet the various crises/occasions in the Prophet’s life, was in its entirety perhaps apt in the 7th century AD, but was it destined to govern millions of lives so many centuries later? Guillaume gives one example to highlight the difficulty of following rules steadfastly, “How could a Muslim keep the fast of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset in the Arctic Circle where in the summer the sun never sets?”

In fact, many of the Quranic verses have been changed. Of special note is one which refers to those who accept a religion other than Islam as being the lost ones when Prophet Mohammed himself believed that uncorrupted Judaism and Christianity were early manifestations of Islam.

The problem is that devotion in contemporary society has become a means of displaying status; the fatter the goat, the more you can show off. Many of the early Muslims practised asceticism, contrary to the image of Islam as an indulgent religion. The Prophet himself belonged to an impoverished family, which is why it is said that “his subsequent success must be accounted the greater in that he converted his opponents without help which prestige and a high social position would have given him.”

As the poet-philosopher Iqbal interpreted the story of the fall of Adam as “man’s rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self capable of doubt and disobedience and the emergence of a finite ego which has the power to choose.”

The point then is why does religion need to sell itself when its task is to further sell other things? Is it only about making a leap of faith? How different would this be from converting people through missionaries and other old-fashioned avenues? Would not the same subtle forces be at work? Would not the hidden persuaders be upto the same dirty tricks trying to reach the innermost recesses of our consciousness to find areas of darkness deliberately in order to lead us unto light? Would the Church truly find its feet with so many lost souls that have drifted in perchance, like in a shopping mall where you end up buying things only because they are displayed so attractively and strategically?

The Church of England is falling prey to celebrity endorsement. Can you do so for selling a god whose omnipotence and omniscience you believe in?

These things did not worry the Reverend Robert Ellis years ago: “Our aim was to keep alive the rumour of god. It is not about bums on pews.” This does not speak too well about god or his staunch advocates. If a rumour is all there is to it, then why not sell Satan, or fairytales and myths?

Religion already has us by the collar. What more does it need to sell? If advertising faith is to be a huge thing, then one must pose the query applied to marketing principles:

Would there be censorship code and how would it be operative? Can the advertising council accept complaints about people that have tried the ‘product’ but are unsatisfied and feel cheated by the hype? And what about issues like exploitation? In the advertisement mentioned earlier, a female angel is dangling from the arm of a devotee. Is this abuse of the female form? Why is the male not shown to be seeking salvation and getting it? And what about the copy: “An hour this Sunday will leave you feeling good all week?” How different is it from a quick-fix or an exercise regimen where you are urged to spend 30 minutes a day to knock off a few pounds?

Even if one stops nitpicking, the crucial query remains. How can the very home of god be sold as a product, which it is not? Can you sell the Almighty as the Complete Man? Or as Superman who drives away evil? These are not products but the sentiments they wish to convey.

Religion is well and truly on its way on the billboards, hoardings and shelves. There will be more brand wars and consumer surveys. The soul has no choice but to wait to play its role as the confused consumer.

23.12.07

Ifs (about X'mas) and buts (about butt)

Barf: “Happy Holidays”…If you are getting gooey about Santa, shopping for X’mas presents and getting the tree and the mistletoe ready, then stop this baloney about non-religious specific terminology. You are celebrating Christmas, so stop all the ooh, I don’t believe in all this…

The same applies to any other festival. At least in our subcontinent we don’t have these pretensions. This whole Happy Holidays thing started to keep the Jews happy, and the Jews decide what Santa and the Republican candidate in America looks, sounds and feels like. So, have a good one.

- - -

Barf: Saving the environment…Will Smith is very concerned about cleaning his butt and the environment. No, he is not letting it out in the open - hey, who would get excited at the sight of someone doing it out?. It makes me feel really sad when I think that in my country there are several poor people who have to do so…and the women come out after dark, some bring along umbrellas to cover their faces…

Mr. Smith has got a fancy Japanese loo which not only disposes of bodily waste but also cleans the waste-carrier. Said Will, “They're paper free. Wherever you sit on the toilet, somehow it hits the bull's eye perfectly. It cleans and then dries you. It is just water and then air."

So he is saving paper but wasting water. And what happens when he travels? Does he carry it with him?

How much more does the West have to learn from us…what we have been doing for centuries, these guys make it sound like Columbus on a discovery trail. Piss off.

22.12.07

Modi Blues

Does anyone doubt that Narendra Modi will win the Gujarat Assembly elections?

I would like to quote from Swapan Dasgupta’s column in the TOI. Let me respond to some of his points.

To the average Indian, Narendra Modi inspires tremendous curiosity. It is not every day that a chief minister is called a ‘‘mass murderer’’ or described as a ‘‘merchant of death’’ in stilted Hindi. Is Modi the monster he is made out to be? Or does he represent a new phenomenon?

Yes, monsterism.

When it comes to Modi, it is hazardous to swim against the tide of liberal consensus. Yet, there is a big divergence between how Modi is perceived in Gujarat and how he is painted by the intellectual and editorial classes. In Gujarat, Modi is not just a politician; he is a combination of folk hero and superstar. Many of his election rallies are akin to rock concerts, marked by spectacular exhibitions of mass frenzy.

That is true of all demagogues. The intellectual elite (and I don’t mean the academic-types who write papers) does have the courage of go against the established norms. People have not seen the frenzy during Bal Thackeray’s rallies, and his party ruled several times at the heart of the commercial capital.

Narendra Modi is the creation of an India that is fed up with sloth, inefficiency and the missed opportunities of the past 50 years. This is an India that found its voice after socialism was junked in 1991 and has steadily grown in confidence with every percentage rise in the growth rate. Gujarat is one of the principal citadels of this explosion of suppressed energy.

Oh yes? Then why does he need to bring in all the elements of Hindutva in his speeches? If he is so confident about progress, then why resort to such low tactics? If Gujarat is in the financial forefront it is despite Modi and not because of him. It always had the best entrepreneurs and traders. Modi in fact tried to botch it all up by trying to mesh religiosity with money, but then money is religion for many and the difference between the two is rather slim. “Show me the money” and “Show me your faith” work in tandem.

And then the writer comes up with this really lame sexist comment:

In addition, Modi invites aesthetic disdain. When beautiful people like Mallika Sarabhai and Aditi Mangaldas sneer at the Modi dispensation, they do so with all the condescension that Old Money reserves for the nouveau.

Hello? How many of our politicians are attractive? Do these two ladies command a fan following in political terms? Are they just good-looking? Old money is classy, but all of India respects those who make it. Dhirubhai Ambani is a prime example. Hate him as much as we wish, but he was a pioneer, and he did not need Modi for that.

If, as the writer states, Modi is the voice of the future, it is not because India is reaching the global market – please tell us what this global market is first? Call centres? Guys joining multi-nationals? People getting admitted to Ivy League colleges because their papas have made a killing in the stock market?

Modi is the future, according to some misguided folks, because he and his ilk have messed up the political scenario and made it into something horrible and vile. This man ought to be behind bars in any civilised society. But he rules. Hail Indian democracy….this is our idea of free expression.

One day we will pay the price for it.

21.12.07

Suicide attacks, cows and other animals

54 people have been killed in a suicide attack on a mosque in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan while they had gone to perform Eid prayers.

Why are people surprised?

If terrorists want to make a point they always choose an auspicious day. That brings them attention. Everybody knows Muslims kill Muslims, and Pakistan is no exception. This isn’t the first attack on a mosque in that country.

And what are we in India doing? The Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh asked Muslims not to sacrifice cows as it would disturb peace and harmony. According to a report, this has been welcomed by not just clerics but common Muslims as well.

Am sure, the cows too.

In the year 1999, when Bakr Eid and Mahavir Jayanti were to fall on the same day I had written well in advance that why were Muslims not being asked to be large-hearted and refrain from slaughter on that particular day?

But I am not a cleric, not even a really common Muslim. No one gives a damn. Well, they did and said I did not know anything about Islam. Or Hinduism. Or anything.

Good. I don’t want to know.

We are animal enough and get sacrificed all the time at some altar or the other – emotional, intellectual, physical.

Santa's little Muslim helper?

Today is Eid-ul-Adha. Most of the newspapers in India wish the readers for all festivals. Today's issue of The Times of India had a token crescent-star in the masthead.

This is the picture they had on the front page titled 'SANTA GETS HIS LITTLE HELPER' with the caption: "CLAUS AND EFFECT: A young girl shops with her mother for a Santa Claus figure for her school’s pre-Christmas party in Powai".

I love the idea of cultures meshing, but I am sorry I found this utterly devoid of any sense, forget sensitivity. A woman in a veil, her face completely covered, is with her little kid, also wearing a hijab.

Several messages go out here:



1. Eid is of no consequence and poor Muslims need to be
helpers.

2. Muslim women cannot be shown without the veil or else they won't be recognised.


3. For Muslims to be seen as part of the mainstream they have to do all these lovely things; no one shows people of other communities doing one damn thing on Eid. (And I say this because in India we do go on and on about how we have so many religions, castes and ethnic types and yet remain a thriving democracy.)


4. Powai is a newly-developed area (where this picture is purportedly taken) and hardly a ghetto, so the veiled women do stand out.


5. I went to a Christian school and we had a Christmas party a day before the festival, so this pre-Christmas shopping thing is only a ruse.

I have said this before. Only because newspapers occasionally bash up Modi it does not make them secular. Do not forget that the TOI had stopped covering the hearings of the Srikrishna Commission regarding the Bombay riots in its early days and had not wished its readers for Eid on an earlier occasion.


Time to wake up and smell the stink of fake gestures.

9.12.07

The day I turned my mother into an atheist

It had been a few months of what one may refer to, with some underplaying, as bad times. I was falling ill and feeling drained in every way.

The fan’s blades were providing me with unlimited entertainment. One chasing the other, merging, cutting through the stillness to create breeze. I don’t know when the gust of wind entered my eyes, with a little dust, and my cheeks got wet. I bit my lower lip; it was too late. Before I could rush to the bathroom, my mother had come in.

“What happened?” she asked, even as she knew the geography and history of the emotions. Her query was a redundancy, so she asked me to let it out.

We talked about the things that had happened, happened while I sat doing nothing to cause them to. She knows more than anybody else because she knows where I am…

In an uncharacteristic way she said, “Yeh God bhi na…”

“You think there is a god? Talk to him then.”

“I do, but it does not make a difference.”

“So, stop believing. Stop it. See this…and I pointed out the strips of medicines, the lacerating unseen wounds. Are we on trial?”

She shook her head, “Bohat testing ho gaya.”

“From today no god, okay?”

“Theek hai…”

“You are an atheist now.”

“Hmm, okay.”

“No more of that ayatal kursi, no more of these things. Nothing.”

“All right,” she said, as she held my hand.

We watched some TV and shut off for the night.

Next day began as days usually do – sun up, traffic sounds, door bells, phone rings, shower, breakfast, writing, reading…it turned to afternoon. I remembered last night.

“Now you are an atheist?” I asked her to confirm.

“Yes, yes,” she said.

Evening was drawing towards night. She came to my room as I was typing. “How does it feel?” I asked her.

“Feel what?”

“To be without all this god stuff?”

She smiled.

“What happened? You still believe?”

“I believe in what makes me feel good.”

“You have not got rid of all those religious things?” (I might add, we don’t have too many symbols around.)

“Have you?” she asked.

“Me?”

And she showed me a tasbeeh (prayer beads) that hangs from a knob on my shelf door, a miniature Quran on a string and a wooden plaque with an ayat (religious verse) all within touching distance from where I sit.

“That does not make me religious,” I said, and meant it.

“I know. Just as you did not remove these to prove you don’t believe, I don’t have to keep these or remove these to prove I believe.”

“Then what happens to our talk last night? I am still the same, things are still the same.”

“They will change, whatever you believe in.”

“So if you believe in me, do I become god?”

“You don’t have to be god for me to believe in you. You are yourself, and not many people are.”

6.12.07

Aftershocks from the Demolition of the Babri Mosque

The Death of Minorityism

Aftershocks from the Demolition of the Babri Mosque
By Farzana Versey

December 6, 2007, Counterpunch

It looked like baby puke. The glass of milk with a tinge of rose syrup, globules of congealed white floating in it. The man’s shop had been destroyed, the wooden slats of his roof had caved in, but he had tottered outside in the dark corridor and brought this for his guests. The window panes had broken and through a pointed shard he showed us the ruins.

I drank up the milk. Had I refused, it would have been an insult to his poverty, a mockery of the self-respect he was hanging on to.

It was days after the demolition of the Babri Mosque.

December 6 is a day I remember every year. 15 years have passed. Justice is still blind. Those who helped bring down the structure came to rule at the Centre of one of the most thriving democracies in the world; those who incited violence held positions of power.

Today, there is news about the Gujarat elections and its communalization. Gujarat’s history goes back to Ayodhya. Ayodhya goes back to centuries. Those centuries regurgitated began the death knell of minorityism, as we understand it.

“Are you a conservative?” she asked, as she gave me the once-over and shook her head. My clothes did not fit into her version.

“Are you a moderate?” I don’t look like I’d do anything in moderation, so that option was ruled out too.

“Are you a liberal?”

Why were these questions being asked?

Why must December 6 constitute my personal history?

Why do I write about it? Because I don’t want to forget, I don’t want anyone to forget.

Oh, it isn’t quite the Holocaust, they have told me. I know that. I have seen the skeletons of bunks in Dachau and felt like I was walking through the museum it was. I felt no pain.

This isn’t even the Partition of India, they say. Again, they are right. I wasn’t around then and I feel no link with that time.

December 6 I know because it grabbed me, wrenching an identity out of the lump in my throat. In the eyes of the objective world, it became a drama queen moment. Female hysteria, they said each time I wet the pages with tears.

“You don’t even pray,” they said. “So how does that mosque’s demolition bother you?”

It wasn’t the mosque.

What was then called Bombay still tried valiantly to be the intellectual slut; you could get what you wanted for a price. People held hands for peace, they collected clothes, they carped. I got grilles fixed on the outside door. Animals in a zoo.

The papers are silent now. The day is not significant unless a bomb blast takes place or elections are held in some part of the country.

My city had turned into a mortuary. The first day I had walked down the road, unaware of anything. Then someone said the phone lines were down. My pace quickened. As I was rushing past, the lady waddling beside me said, “Can you please walk with me? I have to get my grandson back from school. I am scared about what will happen.”

I was trapped. She was a Hindu. Why was she scared? I wanted to say something, but her face lined with creases stopped me. I slowed down, every step I took making me aware that things had changed. Her destination arrived. I could not even fake a smile. I nodded and went my way.

Her people had done it.

Today, December 6, 2007, my friend is leaving for ‘home’. She lives in America. 15 years ago we had gone together to those places. She was shooting a video film. I was asking the questions. In one particular area, a group of rich traders from the majority community told us how their businesses were destroyed. They found no mention in her video; my article gave them equal say. Not because what they said was important but because I was forced by my minority status to give both sides. I wanted to hit them in their starched clothes and shiny gold watches. I wanted to hit them because I had folded my hands in greeting.

Namaste,” I had said, which is not unusual for us as Indians.

They said they could not offer us anything as one fellow chewed his beetle-nut leaf spiked with the colour of death. Deaths he had not seen. He asked me my name. I did not lie. “Oh,” is all he said.

Then, as though describing a far-away place in a matter-of-fact manner, he showed us a roundabout which acted as a demarcation. “Beyond that we call the place mini-Pakistan,” as he spit out crimson juice.

That is where the houses had been shattered and glasses of milk with rose petals were offered to us. There was silence in the voices, numbness in the eyes there.

Today I remembered the face of the father, aged more than his age. His young daughter sat in a corner. She would not go to school again. “English medium,” he had said with pride. They did not ask me my name. They did not ask me my religion. While leaving I impulsively said, “Khuda Hafiz”. I was like them. I had to stop pretending that the hazelnut-tinged cappuccino the white-gloved waiters brought me would make any difference.

My windows had not shattered; my cocoon did.

Today, I wanted to remind my friend. I hesitated. She told me about her other projects. She was headed home. I was home. I was living the reminder. I kept quiet, my voice as still as the old man’s 15 years ago.

Did I become a communalist? A rabid leader had said then, “If you have the guts, then deprive the Muslims of their voting rights, all these ‘communalists’ will become Hindutvawadis in no time.” Every sensible person who got angry about it was seen as a sane voice. Even the person who uttered these words was not considered insane simply because he, and they, were speaking from a position of authority.

The minute I opened my mouth I became “that Muslim woman using the minority card”. Terms like “paranoia” and “persecution complex” were used regularly.

Yes, I had become paranoid. I am not used to seeing blood stains and bullets and hearing stories about cops standing on the roofs of houses shooting young boys in the bylanes. I am not used to having people I know being asked to drop their pants to show whether they had a foreskin and if they did not they were bundled into jeeps. They became a threat. Circumcision was a threat.

Then came 9/11.

In The Black Pages, George Berglund landed in a city strewn with ashes and felt like a tourist “who had stumbled upon some ghastly truth”, which made him feel it was “a mythical encounter between the third eye of the western tourist with the third eye of Lord Shiva”. Of course, he was told to stay in his room. If he were one of us, he’d fret – for life, limb, and sanity.

As a former American officer who controlled the nuclear weapons for a NATO unit, his stint having “convinced me that the world was insane”, he was able to see street power. “Their violence keeps them entirely social, for it’s a counter-violence they practise as an avenue to group identity, a process of the bonding of the dispossessed. Their use of violence is another way to lay claim to socially produced wealth. The riots thus constitute the decriminalization of crime.”

But for Berglund it became a larger question, “Can we distinguish a riot from a pogrom, a pogrom from a holy war, and that from a holocaust?”

Bombay is a city known to get back on its feet. No one notices the cracked soles. The battleground was in Uttar Pradesh but the tremors were felt in the moolah-metro.

Excavations have taken place since to ascertain whether Lord Rama was born there. People were told not to damage the makeshift temple. It is a known fact that Hindus install pandals (tents) at will anywhere and they can be moved at any given time. And who were these worshippers? Where had they sprung from? Since 1993? In that case, the argument against the Muslims that they need not have got so agitated about the demolition of the Babri Masjid since no one prayed there would not hold. Does anyone remember Justice P. K. Bahri who had stated then that in a democracy such things happen, that it was an emotional issue and even if the Centre had produced evidence that it was pre-planned, the good judge felt such evidence would show, “that some sincere efforts were made by the leaders present on the dais that day, requesting such ‘kar sevaks’ not to cause damage to the disputed structure at all”?

It was a lie. The leaders on the dais were shouting in Hindi, “Dhakka maaro (break it)”; they expressed their happiness openly when the task was accomplished and some leaders even admitted there were more mandir votes than masjid votes.

In fact, no Muslim will vote on the strength of an assurance that the Babri Masjid will be restored, but many Hindus will whenever they are reminded about bricks and restoration of the temple.

15 years later Narendra Modi is reaping the benefits on that moment.

It is important to remember this date because it heralded the second Partition of India where geographical maps were carved in minds.

“Are you proud of being a Muslim?” I am asked.

It was not soaring ambition with me and I have not contributed to acquiring it, so there is no pride. I can see the flaws. But, I do not shy away from admitting that I do not eat pork. I do not hesitate to say that I belong to a minority community.

“You are hardly the type to represent Muslims,” they

tell me.

Perhaps, they are right. I am only representing a muffled voice. A voice in the dark corridor carrying a glass of milk and a hand waving from a broken window. I represent the elite minds caged behind grilles. I represent my own helplessness. I represent a byline that makes them uncomfortable because it is a ‘Mossie’ name talking ‘Mossie’ things while not being ‘Mossie’ enough to pin against a wall. I woke up to those pinned against walls.

December 6 made me a political animal. It taught me about animus. Animus that cleaved through souls.

1.12.07

Two actors and their 'blind' powergames

Michelle, her body twisted with helpless longing, asks her teacher, “Will you kiss me, please?” His age does not matter to her. He is the only man who she has known at such proximity, the one who has taught her – a blind, deaf, mute girl – to understand words by feeling them on her hands and through those tortured breaths that throw up disjointed sounds when fingers touch her mouth.

Her life may be the colour of a moonless night, as Sanjay Leela Bhansali has shown so brilliantly in the film Black, but within her the storms have shades and layers that she is trying to grope with. “Will you kiss me, please?” she pleads with the one man who understands her suffocation. He turns his face away only to return his gaze and see her bundled up in the chair, knowing that no man will give her physical love ever. He holds her and gently brushes his lips against hers. Next morning he disappears. As she says later, “He gave me the respect of a woman, but felt too ashamed of his act…”

She internalises her gratitude, tapping away on a Braille typewriter, a sound she does not hear, and smiles with lips that she herself cannot see. She can only feel the denial, the weight of holding back…

This was my opinion on the film that I had written about. My views were based on hands-on experience with people with disability. As I wrote then…

During a demonstration on one White Cane Day, I had joined the group. The local corporator and another politician asked some of us to come along to Jogger’s park. It was around 8 pm and dark. While the rest of the lot were huddled in conversation, Arpan Singh and I decided to take a stroll on the mud-track. I was wearing heels so I had to tread carefully. To Arpan all walking places were the same, and darkness and light made no difference.

Suddenly, he stretched out his arm and touched a leaf. “There is so much greenery here,” he said. In the dark I, the sighted, could not see any greens. “It is wet,” his voice trailed off as he ran his hands over the foliage. We reached the low wall and sat for a while. He was swaying gently as one would to the music of the swelling tides as he inhaled the scent of flowers of the night. I did not wish to interrupt his reverie, but when his face broke into a smile, I told him that the waves and the fragrance were indeed overpowering and soothing.

“No,” he said. “I have been thinking about those wet leaves.”

The touch of night-dew had not left him.

- - -

It is disturbing to see Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan battling it out about the sensitivities of such cellulouid portrayal. Both are smart businessmen, and Aamir has a film based on children and their needs due for release, his first directorial venture. It is disgusting to rake this issue up now only to tell us that he is sensitive. And just in case they don’t know most people with disabilities are treated in a horrible manner.

Here is what the two actors have to say about the film…

Aamir Khan: “I didn't like the film. I found it very insensitive, it sends out very wrong signals. It was extremely manipulative…Most importantly, it was about a child who had these problems, an alcoholic person comes and says you have to leave her alone with me for forty days, and he slaps her around. I don't know of any parent who'd agree to that. Black reminded me of The Taming Of The Shrew, and I found that very disturbing. It was a film about 'I can teach a bear how to dance’.''

Amitabh Bachchan, who won a National Award for his work in Black:''If Aamir is unhappy with this, let him demonstrate otherwise. I would be keen and anxious to educate myself on any prospective change that he might introduce to cinema. With due respect, all the films that he features in and that I have had the great pleasure in watching, have all adhered to the very qualities that he dislikes in Black. From using the distinct handicap, or to be politically correct, challenged condition, of a crippled human in his cricket team in Lagaan, to the 'sensitivities' of a blind girl in Fanaa.”

Taslima, ho-hum and Husain

"I am withdrawing the controversial lines from my book Dwikhandita. I had written it in 2002 and had no intention of hurting anybody’s sentiments," she added. She pointed out that since some people in India were upset with these lines, she had decided to drop them.

Rubbish.

I am so tired of this woman, and she has gone and proved me right. (Read my earlier blogpost and article, if you wish.) If she is so convinced about her position, then why the cop-out? People talk about freedom of expression. What about the duty to stand by your convictions? "After these portions are removed, I hope there will be no more scope for controversy and I will be able to live peacefully," she said. She just wants the licence to live in our country because no one in the West will bother about her substandard literature.

What is worse is that even some so-called Muslim leaders (who has given them the right to be leaders of the community?) have been saying that we must have M.F.Husain back and then we will discuss Taslima. These same blokes do not care about Husain and violently disagree with him; now when it suits their agenda he becomes a ’Muslim’. I don’t like MF either. But the two situations cannot be compared.

Husain is an Indian citizen and by drawing semi-nude portraits of Hindu goddesses he is not hitting out at the religion. As a matter of fact Islamists have accused him of pandering to the Hindu religion, especially his paintings of Lord Ganesha. Before pointing fingers at him his opponents should take a tour of the temples and see the sculptures for themselves. Will they want those to be wiped out? If anything, I would accuse Husain of being not an artist but an illustrator.

Let us please re-visit the work of Taslima. She had got into trouble not only for her Islam-bashing, but because in her memoirs she had mentioned some big names from Kolkata’s literary and academic circles and her liaisons with them.

The only thing common between the lady and the painter is probably their obsession with studs. I have nothing to go by to comment on Taslima’s variety, but Husain’s are indeed gorgeous.

29.11.07

Wat men?

While I am completely besotted by 'my area', the stretch between Chowpatty and Marine Drive is great fun.

I was at the Catholic Gymkhana after ages. I imagined a conversation that might have taken place between one of the regulars and me...Betty spots me and waves out. I make my way towards her table.

"What men, where da hell you are? Went Dubai or wot?"

"No, just been lazy."

"Ah, having fun haan. Gud-gud. Dis weder no, jus terrible. Was telling Rodney yesterday only to put AC in all da rooms, but dat Ambani fellow now wants to save power. Like wot hippocrit. Dey have ten-ten car, full blasting AC, also helicopter and we poor peepals suffer."

"You are not poor."

"Come yaa, for dem I am like chillar only. Poor peepals live in open so deer system used to all dis."

"Did you have problems getting here? The traffic..."

"Donn even ask. One ting is dis stupid old car. Told Rodney to buy new car, he sez no wait we will go to Emrica or sumting. I told him first take me to Panjim den we will talk of Emrica."

"You know the traffic was because..."

"I know, I know. Doze peepal are taking out morcha. Wot use? Bush is not coming to Bombay. And even if he came he would be coming in helicopter and going straight to Taj or Obroy. Deez fools jus want to waste time of poor peepal like us. Anyway for-get all dis politics. Tell me what are you doing dees dez?"

(Friend interjects, "Writing.”)

“You are crazy men. Get life and start using kompitter."

"I am.."

"Gud. You mus go fast with time. Deez days on internet you can find recipes, and for my Maggie I told Rodney der are nice boys. I showed him one foto, he sez boy's name is Orlando Bloom. I told wot is wrong, rose by any name will smell sweet only. He sed no we can't...imagine rejecting boy widout even meeting or talking."

"Ah well.."

"So I tell you kompitter is best ting. For you recipe and boy no use, so you can do shopping."

"I prefer feeling the stuff before I buy it."

"Damn, why you need to have feeling for everiting? Real pucca emoshnal fool. In dis weder who want to go out and buy? You start swetting like pig. Did you try ham sandwich?"

"Er...no.."

"Forgot, you don't eat pork. You must be starving den. No pork, even chicken dangerous. Doze birds also get bledy flu. Instead dey should get diariah and everiting from system will be out."

"It's okay. I can survive on vegetables."

"I know dis place. Dey make wedge kebabs, it look like real ting, I swear."

"It is real thing."

"Ah, I knew der mus be some michif. I must tell Rodney to try...dey surely put lamb in it. He was saying who wants to eat doll and baaji."

"It is...never mind. I must leave."

"Okay, dear. Donn mind my asking, but why Muslims donn like salami?"

"I guess they prefer salaami"

- - -

Had written it when Bush was visiting India a couple of years ago. The language is very Bombay-Catholic, though it may spill over into other areas of the country. Reproducing it here because I think this blog is getting a bit morose these past few days.

27.11.07

Bombs and Nabobs

Maverick: Bombs and Nabobs
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Nov. 27, 2007

Wajid Ali Shah in an angarkha, his one nipple exposed, is a painted image that would have stayed with me. Until I walked into the airport lounge.

A petty government official entered, followed by someone carrying his tiny 11”x17” attaché case. Every few seconds he consulted his golden watch. Two minions sat across him. He ordered some water. A green plastic jug was brought out. He held the glass aloft and deposited some liquid into his mouth, gargled and drank it. Precisely two sips.

One of his lackeys excused himself. Our man waved his hand indicating assent. Then he asked the other chap, “Ooka kaam-dhaam ka hai?” (What does that fellow do?)” Some mumbles later, our Babu seemed satisfied. “Haan idhar-udhar ka!” Suddenly, he lifted up a buttock, let out a swift fart, and tucked one leg under the other in a shaky bucket seat and started to grind some tobacco in his palm.

He had declared his presence, authority and culture in one fell swoop. This is Uttar Pradesh.

The recent bomb blasts outside the civil courts in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad merely give India’s largest state a reason to pontificate.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a state bandh, its chief Ashok Singhal declaring, “The manner in which terrorists have struck on Friday simply reflects the gross impotence of both the state and the central governments in containing terror.”

It is another matter that the saffron parties had done their cake-walk there in 1993. The reason I am mentioning it is because terrorism expert B Raman informs us, “I believe these blasts have the stamp of jihadi terrorism…These blasts have been carried out just a few days before the 15th anniversary of the Babri Masjid (demolition).”

Apparently, people who know about these things are saying that the main motive was to disturb “communal harmony”. This is indeed gratifying. One thought it might be to make sure that the cases against terrorists going on inside the courts would get some rest. But communal harmony is the only way to get a reaction.

The last time blasts took place at the Sankat Mochan temple I got into trouble for saying I did not see dead bodies and instead saw what looked like a huge boulder in the middle of the Ganges. This was a real past occurrence to underline a metaphor. How did it end up in the river, was it a natural formation?

Nahin, nahin,” the boatmen had laughed. “Murdaa hai…” It was the bloated carcass of an animal.

The meaning of mortality rose as smoke from distant pyres. Corpses lay waiting to be cremated. Sometimes relatives of those who could not afford it or just could not wait threw the bodies in the river. They turned blue and unrecognisable.

Yeh to roz ki baat hai,” I was told.

Outside the area of the ghats too this has become a regular occurrence; the only difference is that it has politics riding on its waves.

Since such democracy has led to blatant openness even the common man knows what is happening. Maqbool Hussein, a tourist guide, with his knowledge of history, would have been able to put feudalism in its proper perspective. “You don’t know much about Wajid Ali Shah except for the British propaganda against him. True Lucknavis revere him because for every prayer he missed, he laid a stone which would build an edifice.”

The nawaabs are dead. Feudalism is alive. Bureaucrats are made to sit on the floor. Even peons desirous of getting a job in the money-raking excise department have had to cough up thousands of rupees; for higher IAS postings the rates could go beyond Rs. 10 lakh.

No one can miss the smiling face of Mayawati. Huge colour hoardings show her as fair with a pink blush on her prosperously plump cheeks.

Illusion is more than the name of the chief minister. The UP culture wallows in ignorance and delusion.

The hookah, Lucknow’s very own symbol of refinement, looks lost as its soft, snaky pipe comes in the most garish shades of pink, green and turquoise. The delicate chikan embroidery has to jostle for attention with synthetic garbs flowing sensuously. The Urdu zubaan has been out-talked not only by cuss words in Hindi but also Haryanvi. The galauti kebabs meant for toothless nawaabs now cater to the sharp incisors of those with more plebeian hungers.

As Mayawati had observed several years ago, “Bahujan Party ke andar satta ki bhookh jagne ki zaroorat hai.

That hunger for power has been satiated. What external factors can be blamed when in the busy chowk area shops selling sweets are outnumbered by those offering guns? There are illicit factories manufacturing cartridges. How many of these get arrested? Anyone can get ammunition by talking about “safety of life and property”. ‘Jihadi terrorism’ as a blanket term is a bit facetious when you think about what the Advani-Sadhvi Rithambara-Kalyan Singh caucus managed to do. The totem ‘Maulana’ type politicians were no better.

If the party official at the beginning of the column represented in a nutshell all that is UP, then today it is merely a playground for power politics of the worst kind.

A more eloquent summation would be difficult to find for a place that has a granite past, a Statue of Liberty wannabe Udyan for its future and rotates its present on a fragile axis.