29.6.07

Look, watch me cook!

The general impression is that I don’t cook. The general impression is right. But when I do so, I think I transform the mundanity of an everyday activity. I enjoy the drama of the whole act. These days if ever I get into the kitchen it is to make one of those quickie meals. It works well if you innovate and add something unusual or combine unlikely ingredients.

There is one really simple dish and it is my recipe. What I like is how I wrote about it to a friend who wanted to make it. Here goes:

Boil potatoes, large ones. Poke a fork in to see if they are done and a little of the creamy goo sticks to the steel. Skin it with a blunt knife; a sharp one will do if you like a bit of your finger with it. Chop into little pieces, the potatoes not your finger. If you get technical, then the bits will look neater, like you have planned it all. Add some emotion, turn your face away, let them appear asymmetrical…some rounded, others with a flake hanging to it.

Heat some oil in a pan. Extra virgin olive. Make sure it is extra. Just a virgin won’t do. We need to be sure it has not been deflowered at all, not even while riding a horse. Now when it is beginning to feel the heat and arches its back, it will cry out in pain and start spluttering. Take a few pepper corns, cloves and aniseed and add to it. Then run for your life at a safe distance.

Once you see smoke curling towards the ceiling, gently lower the flame. Put in the roughly chopped spring onions. You did it roughly, right? Then move the ladle in as it soaks in the now begging-for-more oil. As it turns a blushing pink and then a hot brown, drop the potatoes in. Let the whole lot rush at one go.

In a separate pan dry roast some dill, rosemary and mint. Add soya sauce. Put this mix into the main dish. It will now be cream and brown, a beautiful combination of skin tones.

Cover and let cook for a couple of minutes.

Do not garnish and place in some fancy container. Just scoop as much as you want on your plate. Fork one and take it to your mouth. Let it stay on your tongue as the taste of the sauce registers, salty and smoky. Then bite into the potato and let its creaminess spread inside you.

I understand you will have some toasted garlic bread around. Don’t touch it. The garlic will kill this taste. Get some hard bread roll, break it and alternate between three or four bites.

When you are done, there will be traces of sauce on the plate, slivers of brown. Let them be. They are just stains of an enjoyable meal.

- - -

Okay, so what did my friend say?

“F, you are such a cannibal. I will never look at potatoes the same way.”

You are not meant to. When you are with me, then nothing is quite how it is meant to be. It tastes really good. Trust me. And my fingers are still with my hands.

25.6.07

Salman Rushdie and the ground beneath his feet

Salman Rushdie is being 'harassed' again. I was asked to write a piece a few days ago...I have written enough, but if somebody hits me on the head, and many do, then I might. For now, posted elsewhere too...

A few very ordinary queries:


1. Has Rushdie read the Quran and am not talking about just the parts where Gabriel Farishta comes and does his thing? Has he been able to check out its binary positions that bifurcate it into the dystopian-utopian dichotomous Valhalla wherein cranberry sauce works just as well as maple syrup or whatever the eff it is supposed to mean?



2. The "beard" who was responsible for getting 'Satanic Verses' banned in India was a Sikh, Khushwant Singh. He thought there would be riots. Muslims usually do what is expected of them...so since they are expected to do things like fly planes into buildings, strap themselves with bombs, acquire a bump on their forehead and aspire for heaven, they get out of their madrassas and learn engineering only so that their deaths can be celebrated in the madrassas. Lesson to be learned from Rushdie. Go to Manhattan and live in hiding.



3. Should people protest because Rushdie is being knighted? Yes, for they have been protesting against him for years and why should they not only because the reigning monarch confers some 'royal' title like in those days of patronage where such honours were conferred upon obedient subjects. The timing bothers me. It should bother Rushdie more than anyone else.



Btw, he had famously called British society that provided him security "bitchy". Bending before the bitch is upward mobility? He does not need that. He writes like a dream, that should suffice.

20.6.07

The condom and the lady president

Right. So before Crezendo, the condom, could reach its climax and play its role of providing “ultimate pleasure” the Madhya Pradesh government has decided that Indians can only use the rubber for family planning and not for pleasure. And has ordered an investigation! Wonder who will be on the investigating team and how they will judge....

The product has got a vibrating ring and therefore qualifies as a sex toy which is supposedly banned in India. I say supposedly because everything is available.

Isn’t a condom a personal choice? Why should the government care whether a baby is not conceived by means of a staid simple sheath or one that vibrates? Who is the government to interfere in the business of what two adults choose to do with parts of their bodies and their desires?

If this is what they call wrong, then ban cellphones that have the vibrating mode function…they can provide pleasure. Ban those little massagers that send a shiver down your spine.

This is so silly. They ban a product by an Indian company whereas such imported stuff can be easily bought. Instead of encouraging local initiative they want to just force their version of morality. I suppose they can then blame the foreign hand for those shaky moments when couples are just protecting themselves, not just to prevent babies from being born but as a safety measure against diseases.

Immature little people.

- - -

Pratibha Patil has gone and messed up her chances. At a meeting in Rajasthan she said the purdah was used to protect women from the Mughals during the era when they ruled. Of course she is wrong to say it, not because of what is getting everyone hot and bothered: Oh, how can you say this, the veil existed way before during the Mauryan period, yadda, yadda…

I’d say she is wrong because what were all those hot-blooded Rajputs doing if they could not protect their women from lascivious Mughals? And what about those brave Rajput women?

Come on, Pratibha tai…don’t let me down. I almost broke the TV screen when the editor-anchor of this news channel said something about you catering to the lowest common denominator. Boo! I shouted. I still think you should be there and I don’t care if Sonia Gandhi held you by the hand. If you will allow me, I too shall hold you hand.

Just don’t start those veil thingies. I don’t care, but people will use it – the mullahs, the politicians, the liberals.

17.6.07

Remembering Arafat as Palestinians fight their own demons

To think that Palestine, which had stood up boldly against Israel and the United States, is now a fractured ‘nation’ clearly reveals that much as we dislike centrist power, that is what societies need.

Hamas has taken over control of the Gaza Strip. Fatah is pinning its hopes on the West bank and people are talking about a "three state solution" ­that includes Israel that has no business to be there.

All I can do is to bring alive Yasser Arafat once again. This is my personal account of the man, his people and my encounter with them…It was first published in The Friday Times.


Brick in the wall

“Are you mad?” exclaimed Elias Freij, the mayor of Bethlehem, a non-PLO man, when he was told about the idea of replacing Yasser Arafat. Today, it is more than an idea.

Little boys are terrorists? Terrorists throw stones? This is how limited my knowledge of Palestine was. Till I got to know Dr. A. Sabri. He was a medical practitioner, who was kicked out of the hospital he was working in Palestine. “The more you inflict casualties, there is bound to be extremism. How much injustice can a people bear?” he asked. Can a child comprehend injustice? “A ten-year-old may not know what Palestine is, yet he will throw a stone. Why? You call this terrorism, when the Israelis bomb our camps everyday? Anyone who raises their voice on our behalf is better than those who commit treachery or stay quiet.”

Laxmi Hotel, a crummy little restaurant in a bylane of Colaba, Mumbai, was hardly the place to discuss the Palestinian struggle. But we were doing just that. Trust had built up over the months and he finally told me he was a member of the PLO. “Arafat’s trips are such a well-guarded secret that until the last minute even we do not know - he often changes his itinerary because he can sense danger.”

One day he told me, “Arafat is getting married.”

“Oh no!” I said. He looked surprised.

To me, the leader of the PLO represented the sort of romance you reserve for soppy Hindi films, the underdog, a Robin Hood, a lone ranger. Marriage seemed like a let-down. Had he not said he was in love once but, “For me the decision not to marry was very hard. I am a normal man and I would like to have a wife and children; but I did not think it was fair that any woman should be asked to share the troubles I knew I would be facing in my long struggle”?

Initially, Arafat himself was unaware of what struggle entailed. Born in Cairo, he did not even know that a place called Palestine existed. Later, he grasped the message when three-fourths of his people became refugees in their own land. But, like any other young man, he got disillusioned and applied for an American visa! The steaks-and-fries dream was short-lived. When the so-called leaders of Israel called his people “primitive beings” and said, “the Palestinians do not exist”, he decided to show them. Al Fatah was formed with seven trained fighters, five rifles and a cheque for 1000 pounds. Amazingly, he got respectability for an organisation that was created for guerrilla warfare. Are such men born or made?

Ismail Hassani, whose father was expelled from Palestine when he was a child, spent most of his early years in Jordan, then moved to Calcutta and later Mumbai. “I can’t go back to my country, they won’t let me in, but one day I will get back my land. Palestine will become a superpower, even if it takes a thousand years.”

Dr. Sabri explained, “The PLO is like an umbrella, and every child born understands it. From a distance the younger people can see it more clearly. They have to believe in the leadership.”

But how could they feel so strongly about a land whose history was wiped out? As Moshe Dayan had said, “There is not a single Jewish village in this country that has not been built on the site of an Arab village.”

Displacement can be recognised in small ways. In Delhi I had met the Palestinian ambassador to India, Dr. Khalid el Sheikh. There were no armed security guards at the gate. His office was spartan, housed in a dilapidated building that seemed to have aged prematurely. This was a most potent metaphor for what the movement represented.

The ambassador was polite but cautious, steering clear of personal views. What did he think of the attempts to justify the existence of Israel by harking back to Biblical times? “The Jews of today are mostly converts to Judaism and had no racial links with the Israelites or Hebrews who lived in Palestine at or before the time of Christ… how then these conglomerations of people from different races could form a nation?”

Yet, Jews from any part of the world can get instant citizenship in Palestine; they are occupying over 73 per cent of the land. As Dr Sabri stated, “And we get uprooted from our own land. This is the only country created by the UN defying the UN. The West finds it tough to deal with us because we have the highest number of graduates and professionals in the region. And the Palestinians never talk of a jihad.” Arafat was also let down by the Arab League, and at one time President Nasser wanted the PLO to become a puppet of America.

The ironies are many: The first Al Fatah cell was established in Kuwait, now a US stooge; Arafat’s closest confidant was a Catholic priest; he hated the sight of blood; he often recruited a person because, “I feel I can trust him”; he had the task of selling to his people the idea of getting back 30 per cent of their land when they had a claim to all of it; he left instructions with his bodyguards that if he was ever captured by Israelis, he should be shot dead – the Israelis kept him under house arrest in Ramallah.

Nothing could break him. Abu Jihad had described him as, “not just a political symbol… he is living all our fears, all of our dreams and all of our sufferings.”

He once told the UN Under-Secretary General, “Please tell those stupid people in Jerusalem they will be sorry when I am gone. I am the only one who can deliver the compromise to make the peace.” No one listened.

For Arafat the room at the top was destined to be a dark attic.

16.6.07

Why India must have a woman president

Pratibha Patil is the front-runner for the President’s post. I don’t give a damn for SMS polls, but those supporting her are in a minority. ‘Feminists’ have come on TV discussions to say it is a symbolic gesture.

I just got a call from one of the channels to be a part of their panel. This is the third time in a couple of months they have asked. I give them my opinion and then say no. Tease!

So, what was my opinion on Ms. Patil? Do I think it is only a symbolic gesture?

If it is a symbolic gesture, then it is high time we had such symbolism. 60 years since independence and yet no woman in that post. The Presidential post itself is symbolic, for heaven’s sake. And what have been the credentials of most people who occupied this high office? Abdul Kalam Azad was a scientist; he was responsible for our nuclear power. It is not something I approve of. And he was symbolic too. Nice Muslim who reads Hindu scriptures, grows his hair long, blah, blah…

Let us not forget that even in the US, which claims to be the most developed of the developed world, there has been no woman. Yet. That president is of course different, but why has it not yet happened? Hillary Clinton is there, but she is playing the Sita maiyya. So if Pratibha Patil is not your ‘real feminist’ who has done nothing for women, then honey it’s time you checked your blinkers.

Most women in politics are referred to as ‘men’, including Indira Gandhi. Except for once when she was referred to as “goongi gudiya”. (Dumb doll. How I wish she had been!) So what do we want as a record of “work done in the field of women”, as though they are some disease?

Pratibha Patil has been a minister with varied portfolios. And she is married outside her community and retained her maiden name. For me this is important. And she is flaunting the “my husband is a Shekhawat” card to taunt the other Shekhawat in the running. Yo! to that. Isn’t that what men do…use their wives to get mileage, to convey their liberalism and other such stuff?

There isn’t much in Indian politics that is not symbolic. Manmohan Singh started as a symbol, found his feet, then his feet became a symbol of “Lookie here, am mah own man”. Sonia Gandhi too is a symbol of dynasty and desperation of Indian politics to hold on to contemporary heritage.

Who are the people questioning Pratibha Patil’s credentials? What have these feminists done for Indian women except bringing out papers, going on foreign junkets for seminars and being completely removed from what the woman in local trains, in offices, in various other fields do? Their token symbolism of the rural woman is exploitative.

Ms. Patil may not get to do much, but I would be happy, not as a woman, but as a citizen of this country, to see that we beat the Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese at it. And let those sweet old men not keep harping about, “It is good to have a lady”. Good lord, let her just be a woman. And treat her like a lady when you are required to. Like opening the door, and saying things like “After you”. Yes, I like this. Most sensitive, confident women like it because they do not feel so threatened that they cannot stand the idea of being treated well.

If our Presidential nominee does look like a home-maker, then good for her. Millions of women all over the world do. She is in good company.

News meeows - 4

“Tirupati will be India’s first slum-free city”

Rs. 57 crore will be spent on this. Where are the bigger slums? In metros. Why does the Centre not spend the money on a city like Mumbai that pays the highest in taxes? Because Tirupati has pilgrims, Mumbai has dreamers and wannabes. Tirupati has a temple that thousands visit and look for peace. God likes peace. Devotees like peace. Slums are not about peace. Slums are about shit. God does not like shit.

Mumbai can tolerate shit. It has so many people living in those slums that it can produce more manure than belief. You have to treat these slums like the filth they are. Even temples are filthy here. No one cares. Celebrities donate huge sums of money to Tirupati temple.

It is the pampered and favoured one among our elite lot. Therefore it must look good.

Mumbai, don’t cry. We are with you.

- - -

“TV channel snubbed for lifting reality idea”

CNN-IBN has plagiarised the concept plan and execution format put forth to it by a scriptwriter. She had approached them for trailing the life across metros on civic issues. The channel says these issues are common and anyone can do it. The judge says the project report and their programme are way too similar. I am glad Urmi Juvekar took the step ahead. She was helped greatly by the fact that she had her project registered.

This sort of filching is common. We do it with foreign programmes (not the ones that are franchised), we do it with people who innocently talk about things and use it. One particular activist film-star had in fact once presented a paper based entirely on a research project. It was brought to light, but because she is a “concerned” person, and the place it was taken from not too well-known, no one pursued it.

It is sad. Really sad. I have been at the receiving end of such enthusiastic ‘borrowing’ often. Researchers come to interview you, you tell them your views and then they pass it off as theirs. I discovered it much later when a poet friend refused to talk to one such researcher from the US. He said, “Why should I give my ideas when that bloke will use it for his purposes. Ask him to sit in a library.”

True. There they are forced to credit the material to vintage writers/academicians.

We who freely share our opinions become ‘useful’ without being credited with it. An ex-colleague in fact had boasted once, “F, I have tried to use your style and lines because I hugely admire you.”

I couldn’t do a thing. I was just starting out in my career. Someone told me it is great, I should feel flattered. Oh dear. If you want to flatter me just send me carnations, or sing to me, or…well….

- - -

Wasim Akram is in India and he is asked whether he thinks Pakistani women are more beautiful or Indian women.

I find this sick and irritating. The guy said we are one…

No wonder he has diabetes. There is so much treacle around.

But seriously, he is talking about an issue and all we want to know is women from which country look better. If I were him, I’d say Malawi or something.

Why the hell is it so important? There are good-looking women and not so good-looking women. Let us talk about the men. Who looks better? Have we asked any Pakistani woman this?

- - -

Amitabh Bachchan wants his wardrobe and hairstyle changed on his wax-work at Madame Tussaud’s because he says he does not dress and look like that. Anyone who has seen pictures of THE shaadi could see what he was wearing. (And looking like one of those overdressed Maganlal Dresswalla trussed up characters in some serialised epic.) A sherwani. And he has never worn a sherwani socially, so why wake up now?

The wax-work anyway looks waxy, and his hair looks like it has always done. The big fat ego should be able to look like anything. Or is the bahu’s wax-work making him a bit insecure? Aishwariya looks like cheese next to his chalk. So no worries, sir.

14.6.07

Caught in the Net

There has been a complaint. I am told I am being unfair for deleting those posts.

How fair is it to post nasty stuff on what is most often one’s personal journey?

How fair is it to go through extreme reactions, all about one blog post?

How fair is it to taunt other commentators?

How fair is it to go on another forum and rubbish me and those who respond to me as my “suitors” who pick up my handkerchief that I have been blowing my nose into? (This rubbishing is not restricted to one person, incidentally.)

How fair is it to not follow basic norms of decent behaviour towards one who has nothing to do with you and is not infringing on your territory?

How fair is it to let yourself become a part of the most juvenile canard being spread when you know nothing?

How fair is it to abuse trust and then hit out because public visibility is more important than a private assurance?

How fair is it to talk about respect and then use the foulest insults against that same person?

If anyone has the answers and thinks I am being unfair after all this, do let me know.

I have faced enough and more of my share of criticism for my views, and have dealt with them with utmost dignity, without compromising on my position. Yes, I am proud of that. But please do not start such futile and puerile ‘discussions’ here.

This isn’t such a forum. This is my home. If you knock on my door I do not expect chocolates and flowers, though they are lovely, but I will not accept anyone walking in with muddied shoes and then trying to throw that muck on me.

And all this for what?

I might add, it isn't against the male gender. I am much amused by a certain female who has been talking about taking abusive men to school. She is being applauded for it. She, who has been amongst the worst possible abusers of men and women. She, who posted personal details about another woman now mentions that woman as one of the people she would like to meet in real life! Ho-hum...

Such is the way things work in this cyber world. But there is hope. There are those who have been working and watching. When I put an acquaintance in touch with some of the stuff on desi websites (she is English), she was shocked. Even more shocked when I mentioned the 'professional' qualifications of some such people.

Let me make it clear: those of you who are sneaking in here with praise and doing your backbiting bit elsewhere have been noticed and marked.

Bob Woolmer dies - or does he?

Bob Woolmer died of natural causes. And? The tamasha begins all over again – who ought to apologise to whom, should the Pakistan Cricket Board demand one from the Jamaican police or should it be the ICC doing the demanding? Must the hosts be dragged in?

This isn’t the first time the police in any country have goofed up. If anyone needs to be taken to the launderers it is the media. They sensationalised every moment, put everyone they thought could be a suspect on the couch and then ran kangaroo courts.

The cops were working on evidence; the media on conjecture. Had it been a political or social issue that did not involve such hardcore facts, it might have been okay. Not this time.

One might like to reiterate that this in no way means that there was no match-mixing, that the cricketers did not play like idiots or that it has not become a game of who is in favour with which group of the deciding authorities.

I would particularly like to point out the absolutely disgusting way in which some so-called liberals went into overdrive about how the Pakistan team had got so much into Allah-mode that they were concentrating more on religion than running between wickets. Had that been the case, they should have donated all the money they earned as zakat.

Almost all players and others tend to be superstitious. Why does no one blink an eye over those foibles? They wear talismans, their favourite tee-shirts, rings; they pad up on one particular leg first, tie shoe laces on one special foot first, look up at the sky…so if a few want to go down on their knees and get some neck, hands and torso exercises in the bargain, why is it such a bother?

As for the Woolmer episode, the media should stop their disgusting clips of his tightly-wrapped body being taken into an ambulance over and over and over again…and they should shut up and let the Pakistani authorities and the Jamaican police and the ICC sort this out. Then they can step in and tell us the results.

They give us the figures about runs scored and fielding positions; they don’t go out and play the game. So follow the same principle here.

13.6.07

Looking for the president

If India wants a President who eats his soup instead of drinking it, then Shivraj Patil is the right choice. He won’t be reciting poetry to young students. He won’t applaud an entrepreneur. He won’t do many things. But he is quite posh.

It is surprising the amount of politicking that has been going on for the post. There are leaps of affiliation and imagination taking place. Poor Dr. Karan Singh, former maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, continues to be called an ‘erudite scholar’, but he is still waiting.

They have talked of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. He is the Vice president, so he could be pushed up.

I have my Shivraj Patil story. A few years ago when he was out of favour, as they say, he was seated next to me on a Mumbai-Bangalore late evening flight. I did not recognise him although he looked familiar. I immersed myself in my book. When dinner was being served I showed the disdain one is supposed to towards such minor details of life. He smiled.

“You look familiar…” I said, almost in an accusatory tone.

“Oh, well…” Nice accent. Polished.

“You are Gulzar!”

“No.”

“Uh…”

“My name is Shivraj Patil,” he said. He did not feel affronted. I did not need to apologise.

At that time I had a major problem with Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar and a host of others, and he listened. I said everyone is corrupt. He kept quiet.

The soup was brought. Nice table manners, as much as is possible on an aircraft.

He was wearing a safari suit but he seemed to carry it off rather well.

Just when the plane was to land he made sure to ask if I had transport to take me to my destination. In the inky darkness he was gone. I did not hear about him for long till he resurfaced.

From that one encounter, I think he will be okay. They are saying he is a lightweight and fluffy. So is soufflé.

1.6.07

Art attack

A laugh at myself:

My first assignment was to cover an exhibition. Being still in college and wearing the pretensions that go with it, I had stood before a large canvas. There was a sea and a boat. I stood there for what seemed like hours. A man joined me.

“You artist?” he asked in heavily-accented English.

“No,” I said with becoming modesty.

“You interestd in art very much.”

“Yes,” I said (and an art commoisseur was born,I thought).

He asked me what I found so interesting. At that point in time Descartes must have sent me some huge vibes for I deconstructed it for him, shred the canvas into little pieces of sheer nonsense that sounded amazingly good.

“It si a sea and there is a boat,” he said blandly.

I looked at him with pity. “Surely you realise it cannot be just that?”

“Maybe, maybe, but it is.”

I shrugged and challenged him, “So you are interested in art?”

“Yes," he said. "And I have painted this.”

The art connoisseur died the day she was just taking birth. Sigh....
- - -
Sorry about making this not permissible for anonymous posting. I shall work around it soon. Updating things. Perhaps life....and yes on the road again...