31.7.07

Sanjay Dutt sentenced...

...but Judge Kode should be made accountable.

Sanjay Dutt has been given six years’ rigorous imprisonment. What will the Shiv Sena MLAs be rewarded with?

Do you think I am saying this because Sanjay is a celebrity? No. I have been harping on justice for the riot victims and for cases against those criminals to be tried for years. The Sena’s Madhukar Sarpotdar did not possess one AK-47, but several arms. And if any of you had visited those areas you would know what devastation was caused by the way he incited not only the public and his henchmen but also the police.

Sanjay Dutt has already spent 15 months in prison in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. Who is culpable for this? The State? The Judiciary? They say that these months will be counted as part of the six-year jail term. I want to know how being put in an ‘anda cell’ is the same as this? He was exonerated from terrorism charges, then how does the state compensate for that? Let us use this example to show the complete arrogance with which the government and justice system operates. Let us raise these questions about the thousands of under-trials in our prisons, about those who are arrested for ‘terrorism’, about encounter deaths. Let us make someone accountable.

And that someone is the Government of India. The Judiciary. The Police. Don’t tell me I am “sympathising” with criminals, because a criminal is not answerable to me or you. The government, the judiciary, the police are. They are our servants. They call themselves public servants.

As usual the language of this verdict by the special TADA court Judge, P D Kode, needs to be examined. Here are a few gems and my reaction:

* Kode also observed it was an "eminently dangerous act" as the weapon possessed by Dutt was capable of mass destruction though the accused had not used the weapons.

This is like saying that because men possess a penis rape is possible.

* Dutt acquired the weapons to "protect" his family in the aftermath of sectarian violence that erupted in Mumbai following the demolition of the Babri mosque in late 1992.

Yes. A lot of people did. The poor in the bastis could not get guns so they learned to make petrol bombs or wanted to. Ask me. I know. And I am saying it. They were bloody scared. You would be if everytime you stepped out you were asked to drop your pants and show that you had a foreskin cut, what the great Shiv Sena chief called “katuas”.

And for that, 15 years later, a Muslim still has difficulty getting an apartment in this metropolis. This too is mass destruction of a community’s identity, self-esteem and the basic right to accommodation. Read Ghettoes reserved for Muslims.

* Kode said the character of the accused is very important while considering if they deserved relief under the POA (Probation of Offenders) Act. He pointed out that apart from possessing the weapons, Dutt was a close acquaintance of Anees Ibrahim and attended a party hosted by Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai.

Just one party? Go through the archives of newspapers and TV news in good old national Doordarshan. Does the judge want a list of film stars who attended parties, danced at his parties, enjoyed his hospitality?

* Regarding the nature of the crime, Kode said generally, crime happens at the hands of any one man but Dutt drew another person to commit a crime which showed "high element of criminality."

He asked somebody to keep arms. Was the person forced into it? What was the motivation for the other person to follow Dutt’s diktat?

* Kode, however, said the crimes committed by Dutt and his friends Adajania and Nulwalla were not "anti-social, ghastly, inhuman, immoral or pre-planned" and did not cause any harm to the general public.

Great. Thank you. Terms like “mass destruction”, “high level of criminality”, “dangerous act”, bad character…where did they all disappear, Your Honour?

When you keep weapons as protection it is pre-planned.

If, according to law, you possess weapons, it is anti-social.

How do you define “ghastly”? When the barrel of the gun looks ominously into a face? The judge is watching too may Hindi films and those “Shhh…Koi hai” type TV series.

Not inhuman? Good heavens. It cannot be…humans are the worst animals every way you look at it.

Not immoral? But did you not say, My Lord, that the character is very important?

This whole judgment has been a soap opera. I am not going to plead Dutt’s case. But, following the words of the judgment, I would like the same ones applied to the Bombay riots cases, as and when they are brought before the courts.

They will be, won’t they? I would love to see the verdict passed along the lines of anti-social, ghastly, inhuman, immoral, pre-planned.
- - -

Update on a couple of ‘serious’ points on a TV panel discussion:

“This will send out a message that all are equal before the law.”

How many politicians and their family members are given such sentences, if they are arrested at all? How many bureaucrats? How many industrialists?

“He acted in films playing the role of the don or criminal. Then suddenly he changed into this Munnabhai.”

This is such a weak accusation. Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Hritik Roshan have all enacted such roles at different points in time. And our nice guy Govinda was one of the stars photographed with Dawood Ibrahim. He became a Member of Parliament.

26.7.07

Should I laugh....

or must I crack up with laughter?


“Indian Muslims and Pakistanis need to apply their god-given intelligence to whether they really want Indian Hindus to believe in the two nation theory or not - keeping in mind that if an Indian Hindu believes in two-nation theory that means that Indian Hindu believes Muslims have no place in India.”
(From a comment posted below)

Oh my, my. A person who says Pakistan has no business to interfere in Indian affairs – and that is true – is giving them the opportunity to use their god-given intelligence to see whether Indian Hindus (IHs) want a two-nation theory. Leave Pakistan out of this. Indian Muslims have an identity of their own and are the ones who will use their intelligence, god-given or acquired from simians like the rest of the world or through questioning, analysing or while poking out their lard-filled butts five times a day.

Here is what I want to say:

  1. IHs cannot believe in any such two-nation theory. It isn’t their job to decide in a secular republic.
  2. The IH cannot decide that Muslims have no place in India because we form a substantial part of the population.
  3. Should the Indian Constitution be changed, then IHs will have to leave out several areas within states that have a large Muslim population, and that includes some great places in Mumbai, half of the Hindi film industry, all of the slaughter-houses, tanneries, the sea-front where the Haji Ali dargah is and the Taj Mahal too…now that you have made it into one of the Wonders of the World, it will be a tough call to take.
  4. On what basis will the two-nation theory be floated? Since the idea is a Hindu’s, however hypothetical it may be, then they will have to find a state, right? Just as Jinnah did. So, if you want to fantasise, then start working really hard on how to realise that fantasy. Because the only time I move my ass is when I rock-and-roll (wherever) and travel to lands carrying little Indian knick-knacks. And then I return home. Geddit?

PS: Will someone wipe the smile off my face? I feel like a cat that has licked all the cream. Yes, I belong to the creamy layer, honey. And if you have a problem with an Indian Muslim who isn’t curdled milk that you can throw away, then just too bad.

Those who really want to froth some more at the mouth, and missed it, might try to see what I had to say about Black Friday.

25.7.07

The Hindu-Muslim reaction

I did expect some reaction to the piece below, but not like this. In all fairness and to give a sample of how India thinks, I reproduce 3 letters. (I have left out names, locations and specific organisations; the rest remains.)


Two very differing Hindu perspectives, and a real incident about what an educated Muslim faces.

Letter 1

So you are saying Dawood is like any of our next door neighbors and we
should be missing him. This article is them most eloquently written
peiece of garbage supporting the killers.

You want the Jihadis to be free so they can blow more people untill
there is some kind of stone age muslim rule in india. Why dont you
say it out loud..may be you are saving it for another day.

How long is it before you advise us to make some Imam as supreme
leader of the country. You are nothing but a disgrace for muslims if
not for humanity. Try to find something positive and advocate it not
killing innocents.

I wish you and all your family gets blown up in oneof those trains so
I dont have to burn you in the same train. Thats the only language you
people understand. Dont worry thats the only thing you will get from
now on. Godhra is the begining, 60 year vacation is over.

Letter 2

Dear Ms. Farzana Versey:

I am X from Y, and I think your ‘The noose around our neck’ justifies your self-description as a 'maverick'.

While your dissection of Kade’s judgment portrays your brilliant analytical ability, I find the reasoning in matters of religious reform and terrorism is stymied as is the case with most of the intellectuals who happen to earn space in our media. Well, it is nobody’s case that one should deride his, or her, religion but an articulation or two about the incongruities of one’s religion by even a few would insensibly set the trend in any given community to think differently.

About your question - When was the last Hindu reform movement? The Brahmo Samaj? One must see the Brahmo Samaj as but a catalyst in the Hindu reformation process which is sustained by the ever weakening grip of Brahmanism on the communal ethos. This is brought about by the modernity of the Brahmin community that is slowly but surely making a difference to the Hindu society bedeviled by many an ill. Likewise, unless and until the Mullah-Moulvi sway is weakened on their community, there can never be any meaningful change in the way Muslims are conditioned to think about themselves and those around them.

I had applied my mind to the role religions play in fomenting as well as cementing communal strife, and the result of the exercise is (name of research paper) that I first self-published in 2003. I am attaching the revised e-edition and I hope you would find it interesting to peruse the same in your spare time.

Hope you would take my remarks in the right spirit.

Letter 3:

Hello, Farzana Versey,

I just read your piece God Acquitted. It came as a breath of fresh air.

I am a retired professor of philosophy but even in my academic days I
was active as an investor in the stock market, as a sort of hobby which
incidentally made a lot of money. With some of my earnings there I had
financed a technology company. When we needed to raise some more capital along the way we applied for funding from an arm of the Science and Technology Ministry. One of the experts the Ministry called was a
Professor X. It was not a good choice as he happened to be the founder and owner of a company that was our potential competitor. He turned up at three in the afternoon, long after the substantial part of the meeting, with the rest of the experts, had concluded, and as we were wrapping things up after a leisurely lunch. He asked for a few minutes in private with the other experts. I learned later that his sole comment was, How do we know Dr Y (the writer of this note) didn't get his funds from Dawood? That was his only intervention, but it served his purpose. By the time, months later, I finished establishing my bona fides with the Ministry, the whole thing had gone cold.

i wonder if government funding for Hindu businessmen will ever get held
up while they prove they have not been trafficking in the body parts of
Muslims killed in fake encounters.

Anyway, thanks for the article.

24.7.07

God acquitted!

Maverick: God acquitted!
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, July 24, 2007


Haji Mastan looked at my fingernails that were at the time rather long, neatly filed and painted with toffee-coloured varnish. He asked me, his gaze still fixed on my talons, “Mussalman?”

Since my nails professed no religion, I assumed the query was directed at me. I nodded. What followed was a short lecture on Islamic nails. 9/11 was years away and America had not discovered the Muslim version of Dirty Harry. If that were so, then I would have been accused of sitting with a terrorist (though he called himself a social worker), just as Dawood Ibrahim has been branded one by the United States.

You may wonder why I am bringing up his name now. The 1993 bomb blasts’ judgement is out. Nowhere has Dawood been held responsible for it; he was not even a mastermind.

To come to the verdict, Judge P. D. Kode said: “A criminal has no religion, criminality is the only religion. It was a heinous terrorist act to kill totally innocent Mumbaikars who had no role to play in the Babri Masjid demolition and who had not hurt the accused in the riots that followed. They have unnecessarily brought disgrace to the Muslim community which has, among other communities, played a pioneer role in nation building.”

This is like saying Paris Hilton has brought disgrace upon Chihuahuas. I don’t feel disgraced at all and can we stop being pressurised into becoming pioneers? Why can we not just be zardozi embroiderers, butchers, smugglers, doctors, SIM card owners? Okay, skip the last two. As for nation-building, that is the job of those who are our elected representatives. Everytime there is one of those ‘Muslim moments’, we are asked to list out reform movements in Islam. When was the last Hindu reform movement? The Brahmo Samaj? We have to listen to nice examples, like how Azim Premji makes computers and Shahrukh Khan makes faces before the camera. These people do us proud, we are told to say. Have you heard a Hindu say he is proud of Narayana Murthy who, incidentally, has nothing to do with Hindu terrorism?

However, it is wrong to state that criminals have no religion. How many have claimed to be atheists?

Criminals do what they do by taking the cover of religion. And governments play to that. Remember how a ceasefire was declared during the month of Ramzan? Did the state imagine that militants in Kashmir would have no energy left to hold a gun only because they were not swallowing saliva?

If religion gets debased by criminals then why are holy books popular reading material in prisons? Why are priests called in before the person is to hang? And if the judge is saying that the blasts killed those who had no part to play in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, then is one to venture the dangerous theory that had the victims been those responsible for the demolition it would have been kosher?

Dawood Ibrahim was at that time busy giving interviews from Dubai about patriotism. “How do you think one feels about the country of his birth, where his family and mother still live?”

Why are criminals expected to mouth clichés? Realising that he had to take a stand he spoke lovingly about the Muslim League, as though he were a modern-day Jinnah. He was seeking a certain purity for his deeds.

Seen in a broader perspective even the devil is pure, untainted as he is by any virtue. A single-mindedness may limit a person but it also keeps him away from other diversions. The Dawood who courted the rich and famous is no more. At that time his agenda was large enough to encompass a lot of others and even have some of their fame rub off on him.

Today, he is a hunted and haunted man, hiding in a mansion with walls that have ears. His very power has made him powerless. He cannot even call himself a don, so he calls himself a businessman. He is not the first big criminal and certainly not the last. He lacks the suave intelligence of a Charles Sobhraj, the rustic charisma of a Haji Mastan or the obvious religiosity of a Varadarjan. Yet, in the Indian psyche he has surpassed them all because we have created this behemoth and never paused to think what he might have been.

A small-time actor who would one day turn producer? A pani-puri stall owner who would expand his business and open a flashy resto-bar? A mechanic who would ultimately own a garage?

The tragedy of Dawood is that he is inexorably bound to a ‘motherland’ by ties of delusion. As he had stated, “Not only was I born in India but also innumerable people in that country know that I am their ‘Bhai’.”

Had we left him to do his job he would not have become a hero. He lacks the commitment of a militant and let us accept one thing: Terrorism is a form of dissent; people do get killed, but if you like reading up trivia then it shows that the number is way fewer than those killed by donkeys. These are the only people who oppose fully, unlike civil society that continues to enjoy the handouts dished out by the System.

You can hang as many people as you wish, but all of us have a noose around our necks. We suffocate on the stereotypes we form.

22.7.07

Madam President!

Finally, Pratibha Patil made it. I watched as the brigade went on and on about how unfit she is. I have written enough if you scroll down...right now I can only say that it is great to have a woman and I hope she concentrates on many issues and not just those of women. It is anyway the men that need to be enlightened in my country.


I reproduce below my letter the The Asian Age on this offensive cartoon that had appeared around a month ago...

July 22, 07 Pallu vs Jeans

Sir:

Sudhir Tailang’s cartoon (Here and Now, June 20) taking a swipe at Pratibha Patil, presidential nominee, was offensive. It showed her with her head covered and the pallu reaching down her forehead while a TV anchor in trendy westernised clothes shoves a mike at her. She is shown saying, “After 60 years of independence, we must end the purdah system.” If the idea was to highlight the irony of the situation, then it does not work. Ms. Patil covers her head as do many women in several parts of the country. Her so-called remarks about the veil notwithstanding, the cartoon polarises women like her against the jeans-clad rookie reporters who seem to sit in judgment these days on important national issues. Are we to completely ignore the contribution of the ‘saathins’ in Rajasthan who cover their heads but fight against sati? What about the milk co-operative movement in Gujarat that has many women and they do cover their heads? The problem with us urbanites is that we look at things in such a narrow fashion. Dr. Zakir Hussein always wore his fez cap, so did Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. Many male politicians use the Gandhi cap. Covering the head is a part of cultural attuning in some parts of the country and world and does not necessarily reveal a lack of enlightenment. Scrape the clinging garments of some of these lycra ladies and you will find a conservative as deep as their cleavage.

<--Another one from around the same time.

20.7.07

If I were...wanna make friendship....

Like many people in ‘visible’ professions, I get letters from strangers. Here is one received a couple of days ago in response to my column on the environment. How the contents prompted the following beats me. Of course, it could be someone trying to pull one on me…

I do not wish to demean the person in any manner. I just found it inspiring enough for me to figure out how different people might respond…

The letter

Hi Farzana,

ASAK,

I had read ur article in the Deccan Chronicle. I liked ur language and off course ur pic which was there. So got interested in u. I too am an intellectual person and would be interested in making friendship with a sweet lady like you.

So kindly let me know ur interest. By the way i am X years Muslim Male, fromY, India

Waiting for your reply.

Thanks and Allah Hafiz

Z

The possible replies

If I were a government official

Dear Z:

I am in receipt of the blueprint of your proposal for extending hand of friendship. I will need to call a meeting, form a committee and present a feasibility report regarding co-ordination of intellectual level. After perusal of the same, similar interests, if any, will be communicated to you to which you shall revert back within a period of 7 days. Thank you for taking an interest and for liking the language and the pic thereof.

Yours sincerely,

Sd…This is a computerised note; no signature required.

If I were a committed Muslim

Wassalam

Bohat shukria, badee meherbani…only a Muslim can understand a Muslim’s pain. All Muslim languages are the same, all Muslims look the same, all Muslims are intellectual in a hadith way and all Muslims are sweet. We must be like brothers and sisters. I am glad you are interested in my jihad for friendship.

Allah aapko khush rakhe,

F bibi

If I were a rightwing Hindutva type

Mossie rat:

Keep your Allah to yourself. Typical behaviour getting excited about language. You even know how to read with all that madrassa training? You call yourself intellectual only because your buddies know how to make bombs? Don’t talk sweet-sweet. All you Mossies only know one sweet, which is some sevaiyan crap. Go stuff it in your bearded mouth.

Jai Sri Ram!

If I were young and very with-it in cyber terms

Hey Zuzu:

Dats like awesome. Sure sure wud luv friendship. I find intellectuals soooo exciting, maan. They can talk about nuttin. Rite now im wid dis bloke and like he is real kewl. But u sound like a dude. I will add you to my hi-fi friends list, k? den we can chat like for hrs. Wanna know sumting? U sound so damn fun & ur sweet also. Btw, am eatin choc chip cookies rite now. Mmmm…

C ya sooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Ur fifi

If I were a feminist on a hot tin roof

Z:

This is an insult to the sistahood. First talk about your pic, then comment on mine. You want to make it seem like this is all I am. And you mention the language as an afterthought that you put first only to express a fake interest in my mind. We wimmin are not going to take it lying down and don’t you sweet-talk me. You cussed piece of stupidity.

F hyphen X

(Signed by 20 other sistahs)

If I were…ahem-ahem….me…

Hello Z:

While I do appreciate feedback, I prefer it remains within the realm of the subject. Besides, I do not see myself as an intellectual or sweet. What is an intellectual? How does your intellectualism and another’s mean the same? And sweet – are there not degrees of sweetness? What does it really mean? Is bitter the opposite or is it just an extension of a taste?

Thanks for writing in but I am afraid friendship is an indefinable term.

Best,

FV

19.7.07

Damn, I cussed!

I avoid using foul language in personal communication. (Voice in background: Such a nutcase. Does it mean she uses it in official communication? Other voice: No, no, she sometimes writes stuff like that, you know…) Except for damn, shit, hell, bitch (usually for myself) which I am afraid have become a part of punctuating.

Yes, it makes me feel good that I don’t use abusive words. I do it for myself, for my self-esteem. Perhaps in very close intimate company I might utter an expletive.

When I say fuck, I mean it…as in ‘fetch’. Okay?

So, I surprised myself the other day when I used a fairly horrendous word in Urdu/Hindi. “You are such a chootiya,” I told him. It wasn’t meant to be literal, but even then it was not something I would condone. I don’t even know what it really means, although I have a fair idea.

This was the second time I used the word. The first time was with an Egyptian friend. He was dropping me off somewhere at Jumeirah in Dubai; the traffic was bad and he was edgy. A SUV did what SUVs do…overtake. He lost his cool. “Indians, Indians, everywhere!”

“Hello,” I said. “I am Indian.”

“You are different.”

Well, I am…at least I was nowhere like that bloke who moved his vehicle like a bulldozer.

“Come on, come on, tell me some baad wordh thu give him…”

Chootiya…” my tongue whipped it out like a magic wand.

Wallah! What it means?”

“Very bad,” I said.

I thought I was inculcating subcontinental values in the Arab mind.

Next thing I know is he had rolled down the glass and was yelling out, “Ay, ay, shoot-ya.

“Wait,” I restrained him. “If you have to, then at least say it right.”

Oh, the driver of that offending vehicle mattered no more. My friend was on a roll.

Till we reached Jumeirah I had to listen to his rendition of the different ways of saying ‘shoot-ya’… It was slightly better than his version of Bob Marley, though.

Yup, there he was humming and asked me, “You know Boob Marlee?”

“Yes…I like him a lot…”

“Gooth…listen…Woy, yoy, yoy…” he began tapping the steering wheel…

“Boofellow soljur, dhreadhlock raster
There was a boofellow soljur in the harth of Amerikha,
Stholan from Aafrica, broughth to Amerikha,
Farthing on arrawal, farthing for surwawul…”

Oh, it was soon my destination. He opened the door for me and as I waved out, he called back, “Habibi, shoot-ya!”

PS: For those who want the real words of Bob Marley:

“Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta:
There was a Buffalo Soldier in the heart of America,
Stolen from Africa, brought to America,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.”

News meeows - 6

A building collapsed in Mumbai. A most touching and helpless moment was when some rescue workers mentioned how they got calls from those trapped beneath the debris. They could do nothing, they said, until the huge blocks of concrete are removed. I dread to think what those people must be thinking, feeling…what a thin line there really is between life and death.

- - -

Having already written my wry views on the ‘green’ issue, it came as no surprise to discover that 15 Whole Foods stores in the New York area were selling $15 cotton bags by Anya Hindmarch, a London designer. She said, “To create awareness you have to create scarcity by producing a limited edition. I hate the idea of making the environment trendy, but you need to make it cool and then it becomes a habit.”

Yeah, so you carry a bag that says “I’m not a plastic bag.”

Go on, wear shoes that say, “I am not leather”, or lipstick marked, “I have not been tested on your favourite pet”, or flaunt a cleavage with a tattoo saying, “I am not silicon.”

If you are not something, then you don’t have to announce it. But who is to tell them?

- - -

In India, more specially the metros and Page 3 circuit, there is this character called Bobby Darling who gets invited to all the hip parties. The reason? He wants to be a she and has been cross-dressing and collecting money for a sex-change operation. She is in the news now for molesting a male model by asking him to strip. Bobby says the guy, Surjit Jagdish Singh, an unknown aspirant wants to use her to get ahead.

Whatever. The entertainment world is murky, especially the high society. What surprises me is that this guy goes around wearing bizarre clothes and behaving like a silly girl and everyone is indulgent towards the sensitive issue of transsexuals. These same people will turn up their noses at the very mention of hijras (eunuchs). Why? Aren’t some of them also trapped in men’s bodies?

I am sure Bobby has had to face social ostracism, but where are those wonderful ladies when it comes to the less fortunate? Or is this one more of their little playthings – call a different person and amuse yourselves?

- - -

Now, this really got my goat. Why? It was the caption. “Foreign students who have come to the country to study Indian culture interact with streetchildren in Bangalore on Wednesday”. Imagine if Indian students, and there are many in the US, went around looking for hoboes and punks and the dregs of American society to study their culture?

18.7.07

Stumped


Taken as part of series of pictures in Ibaadat India, today I see this as a symbol of me. What I wrote then was: This is in the middle of the Periyar Bird Sanctuary, but could be anywhere. To see the bare remains of a tree in the middle of the sea when there is foliage in the background is a rather humbling experience. Shorn of its identity, its faith in where it belongs remains intact. It also symbolises the common citizen who stands out despite having nothing.

13.7.07

You think I can save Islam?

There is this discussion on and, as happens always, Muslims are being asked to reform Islam. For some reason I am mentioned among those who will bring light to the dungeon that is the religion. My questions remain: Why do we have to feel defensive about being westernised or secular? Who the heck cares if someone from another belief system has to wait for years for the so-called reform in Islam, when there are dozens of interpretations already in existence?

I don't know why Islam needs to be reformed. If you have some element of intellect, then you choose what floats your boat; if not, then you sink with it or swim with whatever tide takes you wherever. Islam is more a way of life than Hinduism; it tells you how to wash your elbows, for god's sake...how much more can an instruction manual do?

Religion is a belief system and therefore in the public domain. You visit places of worship, sing hymns, and become part of a community. What you do in private is take this public learning and transport it in your homes - whether it is a puja room, a picture of Christ or Quranic sayings and then you pray. It is akin to a closed-door meeting about the declaration of a mutual fund's progress.

Westernisation is consumerist progress. So if you have call centres where people speak in American accents rather than madrassas where they shake their heads, they call it progress. But, the call centre employee can be a fanatic and the madrassa student need not be. Secularism is not a rejection of religion. Secularism is an acceptance of various religious streams of thought, whether one practises any one or not. And secularism does allow you to be able to say that the works of Neruda or Shakespeare have equal validity and sanctity in your life as any holy book might. It does not reduce the latter in any way, unless one is heavily into reductionism.

This whole ‘moderate’ behemoth puts me off. Once again, two nights ago, I was invited for another such TV panel discussion and I told the person that if I chose to appear in purdah would she still think of me as a 'liberal'? She kept quiet. Then she said, "What sort of subject should I approach you for?" I told her, "Sex." Silence again.

My Muslimness is one part of my identity, just one. If some people wish to fall in this trap of playing to the stereotype of ‘people on the mend’, then please do so. Leave me out of this.

I won’t even deny that the basis of Islam is violence as it is of all religions. Islam has just polished its sword to look shinier. It does not mean that the others are playing chess…heck, if you read some of the epics even chess has a violent and devious motive.

So, I am not interested in reforming Islam at all. Besides being ill-equipped to do so, it just does not make logical sense to me. If Islam says live by the sword, and I think it works for me, I shall sleep with one by my side. It does not mean we cleave whatever comes in the line of the sharp edge. Some of us are very picky.

10.7.07

Green with Ennui

Maverick: Green with Ennui
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, July 10, 2007

How would placing a few cabbage leaves on my breasts communicate any message to the world other than the fact that I do have a bosom? Or how does putting someone painted with tiger stripes (they don’t ever simulate less attractive animals like the one-horned rhino) behind a cage convey the pain of trapped beasts? To be honest, I find it rather erotic. Environmentalists and animal rightists bring in celebrity endorsements and turn what might be a genuine cause into a farce. Rats! Did not the Great Pestilence occur before global warming was even heard of and “man-made changes” had not wreaked havoc?

Environment consciousness confuses me completely. Merely talking about the virtues of human manure is senseless unless the external factors are controlled and there are fewer conflicts. Many beach resorts nonchalantly have the remnants of their guests' digested culinary indulgences floating in the sea. The fish, in the course of their hunger pangs, may imbibe more than the prescribed diet. Therefore, this is supposed to be bad for us. I don’t understand. Why is something that gets into our system through trout bad and through spinach good?

They tell us not to use plastic/polythene. So we have little bags made from newspaper. More confusion: How many trees are cut to produce paper? The squishy vegetables soak in the newsprint in an attempt at upward mobility. We may wash them as much as we want but have you been to a sabzi mandi? The precious greens are in good company. The handlers are sleeping over them and mongrels are even taking a nip and spitting them out.

Then they want us to promote greenery. But we have to wet the soil just so, never mind that each plant type, like humans, has specific needs. It is to save water. This makes me squirm again. I am the regular sort who needs to flush the loo after use and if 13 litres of water go down the drain what the hell am I supposed to do?

They tell us not to use air-conditioners. However, if we don’t, then in big cities there will be an estimated release of air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, lean metals and carbon monoxide assailing us.

I know this is not much help to people who are working hard at doing something about the ozone layer, deforestation, poaching, and wastes. I do have a nice side to me. I recycle paper, never keep the tap running while brushing and use water from boiled vegetables to cook, switch off the lights when not required.

One can do one’s bit when one can control the environment. But do not ask me to use a tea cup instead of Styrofoam glass for my chai in a public place. Don’t expect me to go around closing all taps in airport toilets.

Environmentalists, like politicians, target the group they know they can get the most out of. They tell us about regular emission checks while taxis, auto rickshaws and buses spew noxious fumes and the traffic cop suddenly wears blinkers.

They give us stickers about water wastage to educate us but the Sulabh Shauchalyas are spared.

They tell us about natural insect repellents when the farmers are using chemicals.

Even though less than half the available land is put to use – the other being wasteland – rural areas are spared environmental spiel. The villagers are seen as natural protectors even though they chop trees for firewood, enter forest areas for grazing cattle, waste water for new-fangled irrigation. For every tribe that worships the black buck instead of Salman Khan, there are ten others for whom a feast is relentless killing of several species.

In urban areas there are too many practical needs and problems to surmount. How can we insist that a lower middle-class person use cotton fabrics when it is expensive and difficult to maintain? How can we insist that people segregate their garbage in small flats when there is not enough space for a garbage bin? Recycling requires macro level handling.

This rash attitude without adequate knowledge can be exceedingly harmful. For example, if we are not to use pesticides and instead burn dry neem leaves in a closed room, the least that can be done is to inform us about the precautions to be taken. Some over-enthusiastic idiot may start a small fire. And without proper guidance there is the danger of asphyxiation. And all so that we can save ourselves from malaria?

Of course we are happy to note that mosquitoes and other such wonderful creatures of god are a boon to our environment. If someone up there decided to create these pests as a matter of creative expression, then s/he better let them roam in the Garden of Eden. I also suspect there is a lobby that is making handmade paper and natural fibre into a marketing gimmick. They are pricey and difficult to rid of as they gather dust and insects. We don't need these constant reminders. When I get my lovely Fab India kurtas in a paper bag only to find sneaky creepy crawlies on them, I really don’t care about their valuable contribution to the top soil.

The best way to do something for the environment is to let Nature do the balancing act. The fact that the cockroach has been around longer than us and will survive us should tell you something about how right I am to preserve my ‘mortal remains’.

8.7.07

In the eye of the Taj

I was surprised to see this picture of blind students holding replicas of the Taj Mahal as part of the campaign for it to be voted among the Seven Wonders of the World. This was highly insensitive and to think that it was credited as ‘An Asian Age photograph' and not some agency handout.

A few days ago Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam in his enthusiasm as part of the campaign asked, “Why not the Taj Mahal? It symbolises the huge strides our country is making. It is the symbol of our economic prosperity.”

Is there an explanation for such a silly statement? How has the Taj Mahal contributed to economic prosperity? It is an ancient monument and has little to do with the strides India is making, unless we wish to see the ‘yellowing’ as an example of pollution and therefore rapid industrialisation. In which case, the appeal is rather circuitous.

Perhaps our political leaders will have such SMS appeals for eye donations the next time and the media will give it equal if not more coverage?

7.7.07

The Taj Mahal: Wonder of the World?

Does the Taj Mahal Deserve to be a Wonder of the World?
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, July 7


The campaign to send a text message to vote for the Taj Mahal as one of the wonders of the world is extremely juvenile. You are supposed to take part in this farce because it is about someone’s version of patriotism.

My own Taj memories take me back to the night when I fell asleep on a stone slab. It wasn’t just any old stone slab. It was the spot where everyone who matters and everyone who doesn’t had been seated and photographed. Hillary and Bill Clinton, Begum Sehba and Pervez Musharraf, and the lonely Princess Diana supposedly making a profound point by showing up immortal fairytales for what they are: cold.

This is what Emperor Shahjehan would have seen and might have had second thoughts about chopping the limbs of those who spent years to create the homage to his wife who died in childbirth. The cruel mockery of his ostentation is that the person in the position of imam, who was paid 15 gold coins to act as caretaker of the mosque within its precincts 350 years ago, was until recently entitled to only Rs. 15 a month. Time is not supposed to stand so still.

The Taj is a monument to death, and looks it. However, it has not been mummified and embalmed with preservatives. It is getting to be a little less fair and lovely. The culprit is not a sun tan, but the Mathura Refinery in the neighbourhood.

Over a decade ago, there was a minor revolt between the propagators of chemicals versus those of marble. The battle lines had been drawn and, as often happens in our subcontinent, an outsider jumped into the fray.
Tariq Ali, ageing enfant terrible of anarchism, had reportedly written a cute little note to the then Indian prime minister asking him to auction the Taj.
As he stated, “The Agra Chamber of Commerce has said that it would rather see the Taj taken away stone by stone than see the Mathura Refinery go.”

He even pointed out helpful hints as to who might bid for it: “Who knows, an eccentric Texan billionaire might transport it to Dallas, or the Sultan of Brunei might pay for it to be specially flown to a chosen site on his island. Then again your neighbouring government in Pakistan might put in an offer you couldn’t refuse. This would be a tragedy for India, but at least the Taj would be preserved.”

I do not think it would have been a tragedy at all if we had one less marble-façade open toilet. Or we did away with a picnic site. Or photo-sessions on mosaic tiles. Imagine the myriad possibilities an auction might have brought.
Or better still, the government could have moved the capital there and let the politicians continue with their shenanigans with black-sooted faces. Or it could have been handed over to the Opposition who would meet with the same fate unless they discovered that even the refinery was a temple once.

There was still the Texan billionaire. They are no more about cowboys circling in their steeds; there might be the possibility of legitimate Bush men plundering the innards pretending to look for a cave within.

Of course, this is facile fantasy. Yet, there are people who throw away money for things of far lesser value than this trussed-up mannequin suffering from a bad hair day, but possessing perfect symmetry, great inscriptions and filigree work and an awesome reputation.

It isn’t anymore about history. It is also about a Greek called Yanni who fiddled near the tomb, about TV producers organising music programmes there, and Japanese tourists taking digitalised pictures with cameras the size of slit eyes, and Americans shouting into their camcorders, “This is where she’s got laid!” It is about the Friday crowds carrying shiny steel tiffins, making hay on the grass by stuffing their mouths.
The most charitable thing I can say about the Taj Mahal is that it could pass for a frozen wedding cake.
That is perhaps the reason everyone wants a piece of it.
There have been little-known ‘princes’ like Prince Yakub Habeeuddin Tucy claiming that it was built by their ancestors. There was another petition filed by Taimur Sultan and her sons claiming that they were the legal heirs of Shahjehan. They sought compensation from the government for using the Taj Mahal and the land around it.

It is really about money.

Over 80 years after the Central government had been looking after the 17th century property, a Muslim Trust woke up to sponge off a dead woman’s mausoleum. Since the Indian government gave it the right to all Muslim graveyards in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the Sunni Waqf Board said that the Taj Mahal fell under its jurisdiction. It also wanted 7 per cent of the earnings from ticket sales that amount to crores of rupees.

There has also been a public interest litigation filed by the ‘Institute of Rewriting Indian History’ which alleged that the Taj was an ancient Shiv Mandir and not a monument built by Shahjehan. An important query has been posed: Why has a grave been called a palace – mahal? If it was in memory of Mumtaz, then why was it not named after her?

Would she have appreciated the quirks of creative minds? How would she have reacted to the analysis by historian James Fergusson, who believed that there had been a drastic departure from the style of Akbar by his grandson, what he referred to as a, “contrast so great as that between the manly vigour and exuberant originality of the first, as compared with the extreme but almost effeminate elegance of the second”?

As the paragon of sublime love and the recipient of a most romantic epic, would she have approved of the many lives and limbs that were sacrificed?
Shahjehan took years to pay this tribute, but like men who buy their women lingerie for their own pleasure, the dear old emperor did it for himself, his glory. She had to pay for it with her life. The world remembers him, not her.
Memories, too, can desecrate.

Don't get me, okay?

More on not being understood…Here follows my response to one such denizen who always goes “duh?” when poetry is mentioned.


1.A truck driver just approached me...

"Behenji, you will do vadaa kaam by writing angrezi shair-o-shayari on my backside. Request hai ji..."

"But Paaji," I tell him, "My poetry is so confusing, no Rabba-shabba, no Horn Ok please, no Kake da Dhaba, no Maa da Ashirwaad, no Mera munda Pintoo...so why you are asking for this ulta-pulta thing from naacheez me?"

"Oye, simple ji...peoples reading from back, getting into deep soch ke kya hai ji, kuchh samajh nahin aata, then they not overtaking or jaan boojh ke honking, so I can listen to "Yamla pagla deewana" in peace."

2. I was approached by the Municipal Corporation for their public toilets for the greater good of mankind project.

"Madam, very kindly I make humble suggestion to you to pliss write your versification on wall of mutralaya (urinal)."

I was stunned, "But sir, you are a government servant, you should not encourage any writing on the walls. Besides, no one would read my poems anyway."

Shaking his head up-down, side-side, he grinned, "You know what madam, people looking at words, not understand, look carefully again with eyes becoming small and eyebrows going up...in this position they will also look down still concentrating."

"So?"

"So what madam...you are ladies style, how to tell you...but you know mens not aiming properly always, so now with eyes in that position everything will fall in place. This is public service, pliss."

"I am honoured, sir. Should I continue to do this on a public forum too?"

"Ah, I know men pee-ing even in open…you think they will aim better with poetry? There it is not mattering, little drops here and there...there your writing won't help concentration. But surely if it is on every wall, then they will have to hide behind bush...so it will help fertilisation and irrigation. Madam, you are true public spirited lady. You must get nighthood."