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.


23.11.07

Sanjay brings Gandhi alive!

ALLAHABAD: Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt may be in jail in the 1993 Mumbai bombings case, but a Gandhian institution here has decided to honour him for promoting the Mahatma's ideals through his role in Lage Raho Munnabhai.

Damn. You know when we write anything that questions the judgement against Sanjay or the tone of it, then we get termed jihadis. Now, 93-year-old freedom fighter Mewa Lal Gupta, head of the Gandhi Vichar Andolan, will honour the actor at Yerawada Jail for his “unparalleled contribution” to promote Gandhian values.

Said the gentleman, "We have taken note of the fact that what the entire nation could not do in independent India has been achieved by Sanjay Dutt through his role as Munna Bhai. The extent to which the message of Mahatma Gandhi could be spread through the film was incredible. I am really impressed by the overwhelming impact the film made on the minds of common people."

I am sick of the film, sick of Gandhian values and sick of how we are becoming a nation of sycophants of some philosophy we rarely practise and know precious little about.

The common man or woman only knows that this character called Munna Bhai talks to the spirit of Gandhiji and instead of using violence tries to win over people. However, there is this rather telling scene when someone keeps slapping him, then Sanjay’s Munna hits him back and tells his buddy Circuit that Gandhi has said if someone slaps you on one cheek offer him the other, but he hadn’t told them what to do when someone hits you on both.

That is the essence of the farce: A limited understanding.

21.11.07

If it ain't me, babe, then it ain't anyone...

I got this gorgeous Thanksgiving e- card. It was addressed to “My dearest adorable F!” Feels good, even though I know it is a lie. It is a lie because I sent it to myself. I do that. One cannot wait for others to do something for you.

What would I want to be grateful to myself for? I would say:

Thank you for sitting on a high horse, but that makes me realise you can ride…for walking with your nose in the air, so I can see its sharp contours more clearly…for not asking people to come to you because if they cannot see you they never will…for getting the hell out so that they can sleep well…for not feeling the compulsion for nice gestures because you have internalised every feeling…for the laughter, clear as crisp air, and the tears that drop on parched earth…for learning to walk the razor’s edge and enjoying the trail of blood…for touching me in places no one knows about…for leaving parts untouched so that there is something always to discover…for seeing yourself in the cracked mirror for you know where the distortion lies…for not aging but growing up everyday, even if it is in the wild!…for still looking wide-eyed at the sky…for writing things that just ‘hit you’…for leaving always with a spring in your stride for you do not wish to touch the earth…for entering my being and making a home in my life…for living with me always and promising to die together…for the self-obsession that makes you look deep…for finding your way in the dark…for learning to light up your own life…for building a home with matchsticks…for running your finger through flames…for sounding like a Hallmark card now but not trying to cash in on it!

Some of you may think this is crazy. It probably isn’t a sane thing to do.

Since I am talking, here… I also record voice messages for myself, mostly songs…and when I listen to them, although I know where they emanate from, they feel different. Like something superimposed on me or something wrenched away.

- - -

No words of thanks for others?

Those who came and waited
I hope you did not get tainted
By the dark shades
The sharp blades
But then this place wasn’t meant to get sainted

Those who left for good
I still think it was a swing of mood
Though you took the right decision
To avoid the friction
And chose abstinence over food

To those who might later enter
And circle around to find the centre

This is what life is about
A li’l bit of in and a li’l bit of out
For that you don't need a mentor

17.11.07

La-la-land

Despite having travelled overseas quite extensively, I find some American aspects truly hard to digest.

You enter a restaurant and just when you are half-way through the humongous portions, or merely pausing for breath or to contemplate your fingernails, you will hear a rather chirpy voice asking you, “Are you done?” When your eyes meet his or hers, there will be another salvo, “You still workin’ on it?”

Done? Working on it? I am surprised they don’t tell you, “Righto, enjoy masticating!”

Jaahils! This is food. This is ‘peit puja’. Only we understand the sheer devotion towards a culinary experience. Mind you, I am not talking about some fast-food joint. These were proper places.

At one, the girl waiting tables wore her cap backwards. It was a sushi bar, for god’s sake.

At a restaurant in the genteel Los Gatos, there was a cocktail named Tsunami Relief…Malibu Rum, hypnotiq, pineapple juice. Talk of insensitivity.

A ‘tall’ coffee is a small one. Why? Nobody knows.

If someone asks you, “So, how you doin; today?” you just cannot respond with a tepid, “Fine, thanks.” You have to sound like you have returned from a massage parlour…”Grrreeeaaatt…”

And then there is the other exclamation, more like punctuations.

“Hi there. What can I do fer ya?”

“I need a …”

“Un huh..”

“The names of a few home delivery places…

“Un-huh…”

“So, do you have them?”

“Un huh, jussamoment... Un huh, hey-you-ah”

Names are rattled off.

“Thanks…”

“Un huh…”

“I’ll call them now…”

“Aaan haanh!”

Finally, a climax is reached.

Dis n dat

Someone sent me a link to some excerpts of an interview of ‘Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’ in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. It is a known fact that most interviewers don’t bother to counter-question. After reading those bits, I don’t think “The lady's like a sailor!” She is just vocabulary-ly challenged.

Here are some of her replies. There are a few counter-queries I would pose, if I were the one conducting the interview.

PL: On the Top Chef Emmy nomination: "[It] was a big fucking deal.”

Me: Erm…was that the deal?

PL: On life without her ex-husband, Salman Rushdie: "I'm really fucking sad."

Me: Bad for the guy you are with. It means you are sorrowful while at it, right?

PL: On her new cookbook: "Finishing the fucking book was like being in labor for two years!”

Me: Shouldn’t you have worn a condom?

PL: On hosting dinner party: "I pulled this out of my ass."

Me: Is that why the guests called it shit?

PL: On an AIDS charity she supports: "…we’re doing a campaign and an event and you should buy a fucking table.”

Me: Are you trying to say if you do it on the table, then you ain’t get no AIDS, but AIDS gets aid?

PL: On telling the press if she had a boyfriend: "My husband would call fucking Reuters."

Me: So, everytime you and Salman were at it, he said “Let’s Reuters”?

PL: On a tabloid's coverage of her bra size: "…they said it was 36C. I said, 34C, motherfucker!”

Me: Does it not mean that mamma-obsessed tabloid fellows like it bigger?

PL: On her current living situation: "Now I’m staying in a fucking hotel with all my shit in storage."

Me: Are you saying you live like a stowaway in your own room?

- - -

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt plan to buy an Ethiopia-shaped house in Dubai. For those who don’t know, these are private islands with an exclusive beach and strip of sea where you can live in ultimate luxury. The mansion and surroundings will have the concept of particular country. Many Hollywood biggies have already bought such homes. I find the Jolie-Pitt move insensitive.

This is like making a spectacle of a country that has suffered politically, economically and socially. What is the point adopting children when you are going to treat this as some farce? Ooh, we will take Ethiopia so baby Zahara can romp in the silken sands and we can sun-bathe?

- - - -

End Quote

“ Philanthropy seems to me to have become simply the refuge of people who wish to annoy their fellow-creatures.”

- Oscar Wilde

13.11.07

Leave Lakshmi Alone

Maverick: Leave Lakshmi Alone
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Nov. 13, 2007

Who is Lakshmi? No. The right question would be: What is Lakshmi? She is an item number. Born with eight limbs, the two-year-old has just undergone a successful surgery that has given her two legs and two arms, like normal people.

We are noticing our doctors with newfound respect, as we must. This is a time to celebrate.

It is also a time to ask whether Lakshmi’s miracle surgery will cure our society of looking at physical disability differently.

I am scared that this little girl will become a mere 'case study'.

With Lakshmi getting prime-time space, Indians will adopt her, pray for her health and we will be transformed into this wonderful village of sentimental people. Where are our emotions and sentiments when children walk around like zombies with bloated hungry stomachs, who die before they are born, who have their limbs cut off, incidentally by helpful doctors to facilitate the beggar racket?

There is a tele-serial on air now called Amber Dhara. It is about conjoined twins and is a heart-warming story about their trials. The problem is the pressure on triumph. Why do we put such a premium on success? One is not suggesting that those who are not born with their body parts in a certain way ought not to dream. But does not success for them turn into a pantomime, playing to the gallery? Aren’t they too seen as animals in a zoo when they go about transforming mud into gold? Do we realise that forget respect, even acceptance for them comes only after they realise those dreams when millions of so-called normal people can go about as failures?

Let us not see isolated examples as the norm. It is Lakshmi’s good fortune she could make the journey to a reputed hospital. How many of our wonderful doctors would go to the villages and tend to many such children who die from ordinary diseases? Isn’t there a romanticisation regarding the strangeness of this child’s body? Isn’t her display against basic norms of decency?

If it is to applaud our skilled surgeons, then can we not do so whenever they perform a difficult operation on a less unusual case? For, how many hydra-limbed kids are there in our country or even the world?

Lakshmi may end up being given a cheque by the government, blessings will be sent by politicians. When will they do something basic like have proper railings, special traffic signals and ramps for the disabled?

I cringe when I see Lakshmi’s old clips on TV, laughing, unaware that she is as good or bad as a circus artiste. Don’t drown us with images of X-Rays and the delicate nature of the surgery. Of how 36 doctors worked on her. These feel-good stories push all the dirt under the carpet.

For a while I used to teach at an institute for the blind. Yes, the institute uses the word blind, so let us not get silly about political correctness. I realised how ignorant I was. The first day I tried playing 'concerned citizen'. Adjusting the microphone I started talking. I heard a voice loud and clear, "Ma’am, we are blind, not deaf!"

I got the message. Slowly, I was brought down to earth. "What are your qualifications?" one asked. And he was right. He was more educated. His disadvantage was that he was not educated in English, and he could not see.

They also made me realise that a chi-chi non-regional accent was not going to help them. "Ma’am, you speak like English lady. This won’t help us, we will become telephone operators in some government office."

I dropped the idea of telling them how to enunciate and where to emphasise syllables. I felt no pity, but it hurt me to think that if they could argue and discuss major world events and have opinions, then why were they denied what I got as a matter of course?

These are fairly self-sufficient people. There is the larger world where I have seen moments of despair. K was a music teacher whose services were suspended because he was alleged to be homosexual and was exploiting the other blind students at the hostel.

A former colleague of his was shocked, "They discovered his homosexuality after 22 years?" I was told that this accusation is often used as a trump card to harass them if they do not toe the official line, which might include little things like not touching the walls and soiling them. They argue, "We cannot see, so sometimes we do take the support of walls. What can we do about it?"

Compare this with the attitude towards the famous disabled. Firdaus Kanga, who suffers from a debilitating neurological condition that has paralysed most of his body, is gay. He wrote about his experiences in his first book and his second. I had sounded a note of caution at the time, saying that of all those who were praising his work how many were doing it out of sympathy and how many due to its literary merit? And would he himself be able to come out of the trap and go beyond his handicap?

Not everyone has that choice. Lakshmi is not public property. She will have a private life and not as charmed a one as she is now getting. Therefore, must we use a personal tribulation as "time-pass" and in turn transform an unlikely candidate into a heroine? We are just vultures trying to satiate our miracle mania.

12.11.07

Mailer's Miasma

Siding with the Outsiders

Mailer's Miasma
By Farzana Versey
November 12, 2007, Counterpunch

Norman Mailer felt flaky as I ran my fingers over his sunburnt cheek. Something singed right then.

You would not expect an Indian woman to identify with an old American man getting off on his own words. It is not just about déjà vu. The realization suddenly dawns that what we don't even notice or choose to ignore in fact hides within its façade a number of complicated layers. Put self-denial in the context of the social unit and you will see how universal Mailer is. While talking about individual angst, the dysfunctional nature of society and even larger political issues, what he really wanted to say was that beauty hurts. Things get too perfect only when it is time to die.

He was constantly perfecting the art of immortality, such was his penchant for flaws. That afternoon when sweat was melting my body and I found him lying on a stained cloth spread out in the dusty street, I knew what the demon within me looked like. It was those years in our 'anglicized' lives when as students of English Literature we veered madly from Shakespeare to Chaucer and then, for a reason I still cannot fathom, American Literature. While e.e.cummings and Langston Hughes did not harm us with their verse, prose writers gave us a peek into life in the 'melting pot' with huge doses of xenophobic poison lacing it. America was a ghetto soliciting intellectual sluts.

Saul Bellow was a gentle version of Woody Allen and Woody Allen a crooked take on Manhattan. Ernest Hemingway gave us the Yankee version of bullfighting and old men's treacle that held itself back to congeal. Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee took us through the journey of 'ornery' people doing absurd things.

Norman Mailer was not among the books we had to read and dissect. Advertisements for Myself was the perfect beginning for one who was seeking to sell a virgin soul, to get spoilt by worldly desires. The book was dirt cheap, the binding almost giving way; I held it together with a rubber band. This man was making me feel good about myself by just hitting out at everything not because he wanted to hit but because he wished to feel the steel of the knife in his hand, the thrill of it and the thought that maybe he might bleed a bit, just enough for red to blotch his world of black and white.

He was The White Negro long before Bill Clinton became the "first Black President". In the latter there was political marketing; the former was internalization. Mailer for all his strong opinions never sought to belong. He wasn't ever of a piece. He would throw in our faces the hipster, faking even the fakery. Mailer's subliminal influence seethes through the fire-spitting at empty egos that bring out repressed instincts by subverting them. He chose shock value partly to scandalize and partly to wake people up. He did not want to show the mirror; he wanted to show the excess and the vomit.

He knew that the American dream was a failed one and even likened it to the Roman Empire. The failure lay not due to the likeness but in its inability to strike a balance between morality and ideological promiscuity. He stood in the middle, as an essayist and journalist, but he never quite got a bird's eye-view. One of his rather unusually facile statements is, "I decided the only explanation is that God and the Devil are very attentive to people at the summit. I don't know if they stir much in the average man's daily stew, no great sport for spooks, I would suppose, in a ranch house, but do you expect God or the Devil left Lenin and Hitler and Churchill alone? No. They bid for favors and exact revenge. That's why men with power sometimes act so silly."

He was himself a product of and the buffer for this failed dream. It was part of his strength to take an event and work on it quietly till it became a piece of contemporary history to be brandished as impotency. Decades later, rapster Eminem's words would fit his modus operandi like a glove, "Bitch I'ma kill you! Like a murder weapon, I'ma conceal you in a closet with mildew, sheets, pillows and film you Buck with me, I been through hell".

Mailer's fame began with The Naked and Dead. He said rather unnecessarily, "Its success rips away my former identity". He had none. Or, he hated what he had, remnants of being a prisoner of sex and simulation. The book was to assimilate him into an almost perfect alienation.

For those of us who experienced World War 11 as parchment history, that too as a British colony, it gave us war on the battleground and the war within. The cadres cussing snaked through our minds like Edenesque's temptations.

It was based on his experiences in the army but critics called it a lashing out, an anger that he nursed. It is often the minutiae in a writer's life that form the terrain on which he pitches his stories. In such cases, the soil gives away under the pressure of myth.

That Mailer used reality is precious irony. He was whetting the appetite for events and managing his discontent. His love for Communism was like smoke from cheap cigars, a rancid sweetness in the air. He threw around terms of endearment towards it. Hope was Marx. Marx was cheap. Mailer was cheap. He used a rusting filthy little pen-knife to stab his second wife. Perhaps his conscience would not have permitted something more ominous. Had she been fatally wounded, it might have been a huge insult.

The provocation was that she called him a faggot. Not a shirker where insults were concerned, Mailer tended to be graphic, as when he told William Styron, "I will invite you to a fight in which I expect to stomp out of you a fat amount of your yellow and treacherous shit."

In the machismo there is an element of voyeurism rather than exhibitionism. The war between Truman Capote and Mailer is far too well-recounted, but accusing him of "failure of the imagination" was completely wrong. If anything, the Mailer reality was a suspicion. He did not linger long enough to be called a story-teller, but his prose chopped through the skin and reached the bone. Over it, he created his own edifice.

His biographical sketches are master-strokes of cutting through the person to create his own version of the persona. Picasso, Henry Miller, Muhammad Ali, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jesus and what I see as a retelling of Marilyn Monroe as a Biblical Madonna.

He did this with the women, making their ennui of feeling rooted seem like a caricature. A careerist who aches to be a woman. He caused a tumult when he wrote The Prisoner of Sex, where he propounded the theory that perception of the world is predetermined by gender. Germaine Greer denounced him as the "masculine artist in our society", which must have made him feel quite happy and prove with precision the very thesis they were debunking.

Years later as I watched the film American Beauty, my mind flew out to Mailer, the man, the writer, traces of his characters. In the movie the idea of displacement within the comfort zone is what struck me. Why is the man not happy? When he says that the daily masturbation is the highpoint of his day, it would be easy to classify it as frustration. However, it is a metaphor for getting it out of his system to experience the unbearable lightness of being.

Why does he hate so much? He has no answers as to what went wrong, and how and why. You want to weep for him not because it is a terribly poignant moment, but you can see that he has at last discovered that he is best as a good-for-nothing. This was the America we saw through Mailer, the puerile fantasy of a nubile body covered with rose petals, almost telling him that the silken touch and momentary fragrance cannot be rooted to anything.

Psychos and freaks reveal something about the way society is structured. Does one have to remain an outsider to be truly contented? Does being snubbed act as a spur to freedom? America in the form of a seductress, ostensibly so confident that anyone who does not look at her is dysfunctional, tries too hard not to be ordinary, and in that becomes it. It is these insecurities that make Mailer's every work seem like the first time. He convinces us that nothing is what it appears to be.

Everyday things were the moral issues of the time for him. The bubble may burst, but the plastic bag, indestructible, will continue blowing in the wind.

8.11.07

First day, first show?

Okay, so two films are being released tomorrow and there is already so much noise that I don’t know whether I want to watch them.

But, I would like to give my two-bits even before they ‘hit the screen’.

Saawariya
is irritating me for only two reasons – one is that ghost-blue backrgound in all the promos; the other is the title song that is usually played along with the scene. “Saawaariya, aa, aa, aa…” It reminds me of someone beckoning hens that have escaped from the coop. Aa..aa…aaa…

Om Shanti Om has the irritating Shahrukh Khan striking an irritating Rajesh Khanna pose and looking like Vinod Mehra. Only RK could get away with being irritating.

Now for my puff prophecy:

Saawariya will do well because of curiosity value and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s haveli hangup. The news kids: Sonam seems immensely likeable in a ‘Let me help aunty cross the street’ way. She will be a sure-fire one-film hit. Much like that tepid Vidya Balan who scored because of a great Parineeta role and then realised she could not even say, “Good Morning Mumbai” in Lage Raho Munnabhai with aplomb. Sonam will get nice girl roles and will be praised by critics for her warm presence.

Ranbir Kapoor is going to strike gold. He looks like he is trying really hard (watch those moves with the towel) and effort pays, especially if you are backed with a great name and look like Mamma’s wholesome laadla. Fine. Ranbir is big for the next few years.

Coming to Om Shanti Om, Shahrukh’s new abs are disgusting to anyone with respect for stomachs. Yet, there is gloss in the film, because it has cinema as its theme, that too the wonderful 70s. If Farah Khan has not messed it up with caricatures, then this will be a bigger hit. Deepika Padukone is going to be a star. She is no star material, but she seems to have that extra thing that will transform mundane to very subtle masala.

One day, when she is older, I would like to see her enact Waheeda Rehman's role in Guide.

I haven’t seen a single ‘scene’ from either of these films, yet…

If I turn out to be right, then this post will be paisa vasool. If not, heck, you haven’t paid for it, anyway!

5.11.07

How can Indians usher in democracy in Pakistan?

I don’t understand why the Indian person in the street should be demonstrating for democracy in Pakistan. I have got this email to join the “Demonstration in Mumbai against emergency in Pakistan and in Solidarity with the people of Pakistan in their Democratic struggle”. The organisations that are arranging this are the andolan types. The location was this evening, 5 pm, outside Churchgate station.

They want to express “solidarity with the struggling pro-democracy people of Pakistan and hope soon their struggle will bring true democracy in Pakistan”. So why don’t they just get together in some hall or even maidan? Why are they impeding the movement of commuters who would want to return home after a hard day’s work?

If you have travelled in Mumbai’s local trains you will know what it is like. There is a swarm moving towards the station and then a rush at the platform, finally shoving and pushing to get into the train and hanging on for life. This is true even if you travel first class during peak time. Now, as this swarm descends, you will have a group shouting slogans about democracy in Pakistan.

This would be in close proximity to the stinking Sulabh Shauchalya (public urinal) that has been painted an aesthetic pinkish-brickish colour. Democracy for the common people is basic right to life, to opportunity, to amenities for which they pay taxes.

I am afraid I do not believe these morchas have any value whatsoever. The only reason I go along with some petition-signing is because they at least don’t create a public nuisance. Are these people trying to educate the commuters about the emergency in another country? Who the hell are this bunch of people to say, “He (Musharraf) has dismissed the Supreme Court which today has emerged as the protector of the democratic aspirations of a beleaguered nation”?

Feeling sorry or superior, eh? Only till yesterday the guy was cool because he liked Dhoni’s hairstyle. Yup. That’s what the common wo/man is interested in. The TRPs of news channels go up only when they get all hot and bothered, otherwise they’d be left by the wayside watching the saas-bahu struggle for democracy.

I was quite shocked the night the Emergency was declared to listen to a senior editor of CNN-IBN tell us, as images of Islamabad streets and security vehicles flashed on the screen, that the roads in Islamabad are anyway deserted because it is mostly government offices and the diplomatic enclave. That guy should have been told to go take a walk on Margalla Hill. Why the hell did it take me so long to get from Islamabad to Pindi when I was there? Why were there so many cars? Were they all cops in disguise? Why are restaurants fairly full even on weekdays? Are these army guys at Hotspot?

This is not to say that things will be the same during the period of Emergency. Human rights activists will be arrested; dissenting voices will be silenced. Heck, the Emergency wasn’t imposed to help the smooth movement of traffic. Unless the arrival-departure-arrival of Madame BB constitutes traffic. That woman’s needle of suspicion regarding the bomb blasts during her rally keeps changing. Yesterday I read she thought it was Osama Bin Laden’s son. (Wonder if it is the same guy who likes older women…). Today, I get to know that she has penned a commentary for the CNN where she stated, “the terrorists used a 'small child' as a ploy to get to me”.

Hmm…they are getting younger, aren’t they?

But Indians should just lay off, unless they want to contribute op-ed pieces!!

By the way, and pardon the cynicism, have you seen the face of protest in Pakistan? Where are their ordinary people? Or do they all look like the one in the picture? Some of us know better…

3.11.07

Martial law in Pakistan

Just called a friend in Islamabad on her cellphone. Got through easily. Time 7.26 pm IST.

The Left is active and she was in fact in a political meeting right when I called.

A state of Emergency is always bad, but why has it come as a surprise? Just as some of us outsiders were not at all surprised at BB's callousness, this is not really news, however disheartening it is. Some really thought this would be a return to democracy, by getting Pinky back?

Sorry about indulging in pop-analysis, but her return and its resultant mayhem is what pushed the Emergency. All politicians, even militiamen, are insecure.

And the papers had already quoted PPP leaders warning Benazir about returning to Pakistan because an Emergency would be declared.

This could not have been ESP.

PS: Hope my friends in Pakistan are well and the country survives one more crisis.

1.11.07

1984

Two images. October 31, 1984: Former Mrs. Indian Airlines pilot rushing out in a nightgown on hearing the gunshots that killed her mother-in-law.

November 1, 1984: Riots break out against the Sikhs. A woman in khaki wielding a lathi is trying to control a mob.

Today, Sonia Gandhi rules what has become tantamount to Indian monarchy. Kiran Bedi has been denied the top-cop post that she richly deserved.

Over 3000 Sikhs were killed and it was not restricted to New Delhi but spilled over into almost 80 localities. This is on par with Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, since the ministers who were responsible continued holding top posts and Rajiv Gandhi, despite making the infamous comment “When a big tree falls, the earth will shake”, became prime minister.

I can only quote Harbans Singh, a taxi driver, on a visit a couple of years ago. One evening, as we were passing by Indira Gandhi’s house, where her bloodstains have been marked out, he said, “Inki wajah se hum hero ban gaye.” I did not understand, so he pointed to his turbanless head and trimmed hair. Was that a smile of cynicism or helpless acceptance? How can you accept yourself as part of a criminal conspiracy, which most Sikhs were looked upon as? “No, you can’t. Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, so were all Maharashtrians seen as killers? I will not let anybody point a finger at me. I refuse to take the blame upon myself.”

He should not. They should not. But someone has to answer the questions. In these days of fast-track justice, there are still 1984 widows living in refugee camps.

Aware that the Hindu-Muslim conflict gets people more interested – and having concentrated on the Muslim problem myself – one cannot ignore this longer standing one. I can only say that I have written on the subject a few times and that is where Harbans Singh came in.

Many like him are still around. Waiting…lest we forget