30.1.08

Antea and Madonna

I have an iffy attitude towards Renaissance painting. I find it too ‘heavy’ and often ritualistic. On the other hand, there is a sense of timelessness, an ornate delicacy that age does not seem to have tarnished.

Faces fascinate me. I do not quite recall when I first set my eyes on Antea by Parmigianino. They say it is his best work and compared with the Mona Lisa. “Due to the naturalistic presentation and the gaze of the model, historians believe that the artist knew the young woman, yet her identity remains a mystery. But her real name is but one of the mysteries which surround the paintings,” I read somewhere.

As far as mysteries go, there always seems to be that hint of it added to what already appears enigmatic. However, I do not agree that the gaze and presentation should assume that the artist knew the model. Art can take liberties with these aspects. And I do not see any hint of the Mona Lisa. This is an almost full-length portrait, Mona Lisa isn’t. This one’s expression is still, almost freezing. Mona Lisa has the hint of a smile and even the eyes are not stony.

So what makes Antea special? Her arrogance. Her deportment. I love the way her left hand is poised, almost suggesting “It’s got to be me”. Some say that she was either a courtesan or from an aristocratic family. I go along with the first view, for I think women of royalty might have liked to sit for their portraits. And woe to anyone who might ask them to stand…well, I would not have stood that long!

Now comes the courtesan theory. She does look innocent, but that is the true art of coquetry. It is the defiance in the small tender lips, ready to purse into a sulk. She is accustomed to attention and is demanding it. The clothes she is wearing seem to fit her but are not a part of her regalia. Her skill and appeal lie elsewhere and that is how her right hand turns inward rather subconsciously.

Interestingly, it is said that this same face is akin to one of the angels in Parmigianino’s Madonna of the Long Neck. I reckon she is the one on the right of the Madonna; her hair is golden here.

This painting is amazing. There is no religiosity here at all. Look at how everyone is so distant. No one except the mother is looking at the child, who is certainly no infant. Even the Madonna is not holding the child closer; it is like watching a piece of art. Her fingers are almost tentacle-like. You can see her belly and navel and breast and nipple through her clothes, which are not sheer. There is a reluctant softness to her expression.

The child, even in sleep, is reaching out; the right knee is curved as though ready to get back into a foetal position.

The Romanesque backdrop makes is appear like a painting within a painting.

The experts may have expert things to say. I guess I am not all that iffy about Renaissance art, after all.
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Exhibiting from 29th of January 2008 at the Frick Collection in New York

29.1.08

Hip hypocrites

It is fine to take out protest rallies against dictators. But is public memory so short that people will forget the sheer double standards on blatant display here? Do Jemima and her ex-husband Imran Khan need to ‘use’ Benazir? Read the caption…she is pointing to BB’s picture. To tell the world what? That she even gives a damn? Not everyone is going to buy it lady, and her lord.

These are their not-so-old quotes. In fact, a little before Benazir’s death. Hypocrisy ki bhi koi hadd hoti hai…

Jemima:

“She has only been able to return because Musharraf, that megalomaniac, knows that his future depends on the grassroots diehard supporters inherited from her father's party, the PPP…As a result, Musharraf, who in his first months in power declared it his express intention to wipe out corruption, has dropped all charges against her and granted her immunity from prosecution. Forever…Benazir is a pro at playing to the West. And that's what counts. She talks about women and extremism and the West applauds. And then conspires.”

Imran:

“She alone among Pakistan's political party leaders has given public support to the massacre of women and children that Musharraf caused when he ordered his troops to attack the Red Mosque in Islamabad… She also backed his attacks on civilians in the tribal regions.”

27.1.08

What is this?

Fatima Bhutto is attending the Jaipur Literary Festival. Naturally, she has got a lot of attention, and not much for anything literary. So, she has been giving a detailed description of her father’s assassination. It is painful to read. I also understand she was inconsolable on TV after Benazir’s death despite being critical of her. Only natural, for family ties do not just snap like that even if you do not agree politically.

However, her one quote at the Fest has really put me off. And there is no scope for ‘context’ here. She was asked if she regretted being so harsh on her aunt’s past record. This is what she said:

“No, I have no regrets about what I said about my aunt. If she had continued to live, she would have given me only more material to write.” (The audience at the back is reported to have guffawed) “Come to think of it, of all the Bhuttos, she lived the longest. She lived until 55, my grandfather died at 50, my father died at 42, and my uncle Shahnawaz died at only 26. As a Bhutto, she had a pretty long run.”

I suppose the mourning period is well and truly over. God bless America.

26.1.08

January 26

On any national holiday, one gets to hear the same old songs...most are good. For me, Saathi haath badhana from Naya Daur remains a favourite because it does not merely wallow in patriotism...it asks us, the people of India, to work and claim what we deserve. I like the following lines best...


maaTii se ham laal nikaale.n motii laae.n jal se
jo kuchh is duniyaa me.n banaa hai banaa hamaare bal se
kab tak mehanat ke pairo.n me.n ye daulat kii za.nziire.n
haath ba.Dhaakar chhiin lo apane sapano.n kii tasvIre.n


Saathi haath badhana






For those who want the more conventional, there is Vande Mataram: The following are two versions, both not the original.



Lata Mangeshkar







A R Rehman



25.1.08

Surveying the Indian woman? Rubbish!

Last night I was watching a ‘serious’ discussion as part of the ‘State of the Nation’ surveys conducted by CNN-IBN on women across the country regarding different issues. The topic was ‘Morality and the Indian woman's mind’.

Let me quote one of the participants:

“This agenda of liberation that women have—which has come with financial freedom and changing roles—has made them prisoners of war in confines of morality. They want to free out of that. A prisoner of war is good only when he is free. I am not sure if the survey indicates that (women believe) marriage is a freer of women and live-in relationship enslaves them.”

Good. Except for that huh comment…like when a POW is free s/he ceases to be a POW. And how smart is it to call women prisoners of war…who is at war? No one knows. It just sounded so smashing tough that it made the grade.

This is a so-called ‘modern’ woman. Now let me get to the bottom of it. The survey showed that 48 % of Indians women want a ban on inter-caste marriages and 50 % want a ban on inter-religious marriages.

I would like to know how anyone can ask such a question in a survey at all. Who has given the media groups the right to butt their noses in what would amount to a legal provision? You might say this is hypothetical. Fine. Then, hypothetically the query ought to have been: do you believe in such and such marriages? We are not living in a dictatorship where we can have banning on certain kinds of alliances.

Now comes the ‘let us scrape the surface’ scenario. The above-mentioned modern woman, wearing two strings of pearls with a black outfit, who spoke openly about live-in relationships, about pre-marital sex, said that she would not be comfortable as a Hindu to be married to…uh-huh…a Muslim. Yes, she said it. She also added that she was being politically incorrect, which immediately made her feel veryyyy brave. This is not political incorrectness; it is prejudice. Her reason: The two religions are completely different ideologically. Yeah, sure. Like Hindusim is ideologically the same as Catholicism and Zoroastrianism. Come on now, we can see through this…

So would a Hindu be comfy marrying a Hindu from a ‘backward’ community? Or with less education? Or whose financial status was not good? Or who did not socially fit into one’s idea of an asset? All this because the gods are pretty much in agreement?

Worse, the anchor, known to be liberal who usually baits right-wing politicians, did not counter-question the lady. She just accepted it.

And this sort of nonsensical acceptance is what is passing for debate on television and numbing people’s thoughts.

24.1.08

On and off - 1

Not on…

One kid dies in India every 15 seconds

25% of children dying worldwide before the 20th day after their birth are from India

33% of the world’s underweight children under age five live in India

India accounts for 43% of the world’s infants born with a low birth weight

These are the latest statistics from ‘The State of the World’s Children-2008’ report by UNICEF.

You can bet that none of these will be considered issues to be dealt with. Our government and political parties are still thinking of what we should do with Taslima Nasreen, spy satellites, and the Left wondering how Left it ought to be.

In 15 seconds I could not even type this, and to think a baby died already?

On…

She was bent over. The moment she came out of the dentist’s room she gave me her new-denture smile. “Today I went in first!” she said in Gujarati.

“Ah, you remember?” I replied in the same language hesitantly.

I had been there a week ago and was taken in first.

She pointed to her head, “This still works well.”

“And I thought there was something special about me that you could still recall.”

Haan, te bhi…that too!”

It was the most marvellous cackle I had heard in a while, and from a 93-year-old, I later discovered.

My dentist said, “Look, she has made your day.”

Yes, a brief glimpse, a remembrance, a reconnection…enough of life to sink your teeth into.

Hillary’s Harem

The Politics of Prissiness
Hillary’s Harem
By Farzana Versey
January 23, 2008, Counterpunch
Just suppose Jane Felix-Browne was famous or head of state and she decided to take her partner along on an official visit, would that be acceptable? No. Even the French would not permit it. Jane is the wife of Omar, son of Osama bin Laden. He has a pretty clean record, yet there would be some awkwardness.
I bring in this analogy simply because there has been a huge discussion regarding whether Carla Bruni, the model-singer girlfriend of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, should accompany him to India, where he is to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. Protocol guardians were concerned about how they ought to treat this partnership, how she must be addressed, the kind of accommodation to be provided, and whether she ought to get prime space.
Apparently, Sarko is upset that she has opted out, giving reasons of health and other commitments. They will miss their photo-op at the Taj Mahal.
Is this merely a question of morality? The most amazing reaction was from the rightwing parties in India saying it is fine and as a guest he can bring whoever he wishes. I am sure if his lady friend was an Arab the standards would have been different. Every society has its prejudices and levels of prissiness.
Did Bill Clinton even acknowledge Monica Lewinsky? He became the reigning sex symbol due to her – he began to be considered a risk-taker (oral sex at the Oval, wow!), a true democrat (she was but an intern), and a man who was yet committed to his work (he was on the phone when she went down on him, wasn’t he?).
Paula Jones, another one of his trophies, later tried to cash in on the liaison by posing for a centrefold; she said she did it for her kids. The moral brigade was out with their “tsk, tsk”, quite forgetting that Linda Tripp squealed, the lawyers got a good deal, books were written, and Bill continued to be president.
Hillary may well become President. She owes one to these women. Today, she is happily using those episodes. She said on the Tyra Banks Show: “I never doubted Bill’s love for me, ever, and I never doubted my faith and my commitment to our daughter and our extended family. But I had to decide what I ought to do, I think it is so important to be able to hear yourself at a moment when it is hard ... there are so many times when you really have to listen to yourself.”
If Paula says she dropped her clothes to keep the home (and other) fires burning, then Ms. Clinton put up with her man for the sake of media-created family values. It would, however, make sense if she desisted from saying things like, “I’m not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man”, when that is precisely what she is doing. And she is rewarded for it when the Wee Willy says, “I would do anything I could to make her the next President.” Sure, he can. After all, can we forget his famous line after his ‘internship’, “I did because I could”?
Way back in 1965 as a student Hillary was preserving her correspondence with a classmate hoping to make a million. “Don’t begrudge me my mercenary interest,” she wrote to him.
It is the same mercenary interest, and mercenary morality, that makes her declare, “In the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times 7. Well, I want you all to know that I’m keeping a chart.”
That got her $26 million in the first quarter of the year, reportedly almost three times as much as any politician has previously raised at that point in a presidential election. The Hillary harem of fake rectitude is a survival tactic observed in the kingdom of kinks.
Obviously, a moral position is a big thing for a politician. Ever wondered why, then, morality on its own is never an election issue? Corruption, sex, inefficiency, power-play, religion, nepotism are all lined up for a cursory inspection and a game of one-upmanship during polls, but the rod that is supposed to give a whack to these vices invariably goes limp. Some sensibly anonymous chap described morality as, “The residue left after our cravings are satisfied.” But what happens in a world where gluttons thrive?
In India we believe that, like parents, politicians don’t do it. Of course we do know about political homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, adultery, molestation, child abuse, incest, mistresses posing as wives in documents on official tours, the patronage given to dancing-eyed, twinkle-toed cultural ambassadors.
There has always been a tendency to whitewash these transgressions. This is the legacy we have inherited: giving our politicians the benefit of doubt or, more likely, our indulgence. As long as they do their jobs, we reason, it does not matter. But when a boss gets cozy with his secretary we do not give a thought to the rising turnover or when a film producer and starlet jump into a couch we do not consider the potential of a well-made film.
Our standards are different for politicians. Surprisingly, for a society that talks so much about moral prudence, has any Indian politician resigned because he was caught with his pants down? Why is the media mum when it claims to exercise so much pressure on what it considers larger issues? Is this really a private matter when we know that sex makes a politician vulnerable to blackmail? So, is morality in politics all about sex? When a politician, now dead, got young boys and girls to do his bidding, was it only about sex? When a chief minister of a state flaunts his three wives, is it only about sex? When the head of a unit of a political party got into a scandal because of his reported alliance with a folk dancer, for whom he had allegedly purchased a house, was it only about sex? These were gross examples of abuse of power, and that is most certainty a moral issue.
While power makes people blind, it also opens their eyes to a whole wide world where everything is for the asking. And it comes with an inbuilt fear of loss. Politics does not attract the best of people. A peon who is in the habit of having his palms greased, or a spoilt brat who runs over people in his fast cars, or widows suffering from nostalgia, find themselves in fancy positions. The humble farmer begins to feel he has earned his arrogance. Morality goes underground when survival rears whims and fancies of a celluloid star; someone raises a valid bogey of foreign versus Indian not so much due to conviction as his own desperate need to be seen as the powerful son of the soil; in this endeavour he is willing to go digging for bones.
In their enthusiasm to guard their personal positions, do they ever think in terms of morality, the custodians of which they purport to be? Does it make sense for us to say that it is all right for them to covet power so long as they do nothing to jeopardise national security? Is it valid to believe that a vulnerable politician is an inefficient one? Then, is inefficiency a moral issue?
What if a politician’s personal values clash with party diktats? We keep hearing about how certain politicians are nice human beings; these same nice human beings are responsible for sneaking in religion and demoralising society. It is assumed that godliness can camouflage all evil. But as H L Mencken wrote, “The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.” The sad thing is the middle-class that hitherto kept a hawk’s eyed vigil has begun to declare that corruption is no longer an issue. ‘Getting things done’ is the new anthem. Does anybody think of nepotism in politics as a moral issue, especially since it is public money that is siphoned off?
For the politician morality is only a garb. In fact, they can sell us nudity as a garment, knowing that we will buy it. In this devious manner they put the onus of shame on us.
Hillary Clinton is doing a neat job of it. The Erin Brockovich prototype, using babies and blackmail (she ain’t talking boobs, though) to open her own family’s can of worms, gaining brownie points by default. It is called getting two for the price of one.

22.1.08

New meeows - 13

It’s yet another son-rise on the horizon! Aditya Thackeray, scion of the illustrious political family of the Thackerays, who was known to have cultural and artistic leanings, finally revealed them to the world through his debut album titled ‘Ummeed’, the launch of which took place in a glittering ceremony on Friday. The occasion became all the more memorable due to the presence of Balasaheb Thackeray, grandfather of Aditya, and Amitabh Bachchan, who was present to unveil the album. At the launch, the evening began with a showreel showing luminaries from the entertainment world blessing Aditya.

This is pretty disgusting and tells us what metro India has transformed into. I don’t know of any 17/18 year-old who does not have some creative spark. How many are fortunate enough to have a music album with some famous singers belting out the songs set to tune by a famous music director and released by a big label (Times) with “luminaries” in attendance?

Amitabh Bachchan, of course, in characteristic humble style called it a family affair…the number of families he has around makes one wonder. He also spoke about the “creative heritage” of the young chap.

When we talk of dynasties we tend to only mention the Gandhi family. This one has to be taken into account. The father, the son, the nephew, the grandson, and of course the daughter-in-law producing films…and I do not know of anyone who would refuse to act in her films. Would anyone dare? And then they talk about dadagiri tactics by the underworld.

- - -

Another kid who gets undeserved attention is cricketer Sreesanth. He poses for the cameras, parties hard, is seen with starlets and is called an ‘aggressive cricketer’ in tones which would suggest he has just won a one-on-one boxing match and got his nose bloodied. Okay, he shows his finger, does a jig on the field and makes angry faces…so? What does he have to show? He has done just about okay in the few matches, but why is he being touted as some sort of celeb?

He is getting film offers, and he has even stated that he is handsome. Fine, I don’t care what he thinks of himself and perhaps a few others do as well…fame does a better job than Photoshop, for sure. So let him do films; at least we don’t need one more buffoon on the cricket field who gets adulation off it for being a buffoon.

- - -


Tata’s Nano could face stiff competition from "Nanhi," an indigenously produced two-seater car built by Chandan Kumar a schoolboy from Azamgarh district. The open air car weighs about 160 kgs, has a 150 cc engine, four gears and runs up to a speed of 80 km/hr. It is extremely fuel-efficient and can give a mileage of 40-45 kms per litre at top speed. was unveiled at the "Young Innovators Exhibition" of the Benares Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi over the weekend.

This is inside page news. He is the son of a car mechanic who owns a garage. His ‘people’s car’ will cost Rs. 25,000; he had called it ‘Fame’ but because of the Tata gaddi making news, some people have started referring to it as ‘Nanhi’. Chandan is not worried about competition: “My car is better suited for small towns where the roads are narrow. Even cities like Varanasi have such narrow roads that a normal car cannot travel through it. But my two-seater car can easily pass through such lanes.”

I am not saying this is the best thing and he may not have the resources or backing to see it on the roads as a regular vehicle. But one must applaud the enterprise, the hard work, and the vision. He isn’t selling it quietly to unsuspecting people or calling “luminaries” to the launch. Just wondering, though. What does the people’s chief minister Mayawati have to say about this when she is not rooting for the Bharat Ratna for her mentor, the late Kanshi Ram?

- - -

Talking of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award…

My vote goes to Balasaheb Thackeray. Surprised? For only one reason. For saying this:

“I don’t know what is happening to this Bharat Ratna. This award has been cheapened so much that it has lost its sheen. I will never accept it. Of course, this is bound to generate questions as to who is going to give me. But nevertheless I am clear that I will never accept it.”

- - -

End note: I could not help chortling when I read about socialite Parmeshwar Godrej being made out to be some sort of Mother Teresa. Why? Because she stood up against the might of those who were trying to suppress freedom of speech? What had she done? She had hosted Imran Khan and Salman Rushdie. And what happened? The latter always gets into trouble, which is why god created him and which is why he makes good use of his creator, na? So, some people protested outside her plush bungalow. But the lady did not let herself have a bad hair day even for a moment. Nah. She stood her ground, perhaps instructed her servants and her security guys to make sure the crystal and china were well-protected.

Heck, I wish people would not go so treacly about this. But, then, they do attend the lady’s parties and it isn’t nice to say bad things about her…besides, would these people bother to ask whether she would have shown the same “courage” had it been Taslima Nasreen. I don’t like Taslima, but to begin with, would she have even hosted her? No. She is not international, except among those who can say fatwa-jihad without much effort. Taslima speaks English with a Bangla accent. She does not do glam-sham things. No one has heard about her liaisons with famous people…I mean, she sticks to Bong academics, that too local….she hasn’t got within miles of Amartya Sen yet, and the Sen is sooo snotty, he will make sure of Shenshe and Shenshibility and the shensheksh…which is how Taslima would pronounce Sense and Sensibility and the sensex.

So, yes, the socialite has shielded the rich and famous who are being tortured but had a great time wrapped among chiffons.

Watch this space and you will never hear about her ever settling for less than that. So cut out the crap all you brown-nosers. And just wait for the next invite where the “mix” is just right.

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Cartoon by Sudhir Tailang in The Asian Age

20.1.08

Can mourning be a celebration?

I have never claimed expert knowledge of Islam or any religion, but I do think I have a fair idea about how faith affects worshippers and vice versa.

Having stated several times that in my family different versions of Islam are practised even within nuclear groups, my experience of Muharram is the tenth day of Ashura, the first month of the Islamic calendar.

What I remember as a child is that in one particular lane they would take out the Tazia. We would go to Maama’s (my mother’s maternal uncle) house. It was an elaborate procession, and I recall the colours of silver and green. There would be dancing. The Tazia became an object of worship and, although I have not witnessed it, I am told that in some parts of the world they also put up petitions on these tableaux.

I have only one question: Does Islam, as practised today (if you forget the paganism of the early Arabs), believe in idol worship? Does this not amount to such idolatry, and this issue has been raised in the Quran: "Worship ye that which ye have (yourselves) carved?" (Quran: Saffat, 3)

This topic has become of some added interest to me these past few days because I hear that a Hindu on a website wished some people “Happy Muharram”; someone also talked about “celebrating Muharram”. This was considered unpalatable. It is another matter that during this solemn period some Muslims were using foul language and addressing people as Haramzaadon (bastards)” and “achhoot (untouchable)” and far worse. This is the language being used to defend religion. I think Islam can do without it. Anger when it arises out of genuine hurt (as in someone posting pictures of the Quran being flushed down the loo) has a reason.

But do those who are berating ‘outsiders’ for ignorance not realise that their own do in fact celebrate Muharram, and it is considered a “celebration of martyrdom”. Just as Christ’s death on the Cross is a period of mourning, but it returns as a celebration on Easter.

Does one imagine that today, in January of 2008, people are weeping real tears for the martyrdom of Imam Husain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, who was killed during the battle of Karbala? Mourning is catharsis, and in that it does serve a purpose. Though, it is often that the mourners too become glorified. A young relative would join in the maatam (ritual mourning, often violent) and beat himself with zanjeers (chains). I know him well, and many young men like him had wanted to become a part of something larger. It is a question of identity.

I would say every version of Islam or any religion has a right to exist and how ‘true’ it is is not for believers to decide because belief too is personal. I have said critical things about Hindu gods, as in questioned the role of say Lord Rama versus Sita, and it was done as a purely academic exercise and to question how the faithful could use what happened years ago to justify the aggressiveness of today. By the same token, I do not understand how someone referring to Muharram as a celebration makes it a topic to discuss the “Hindu bhindi”, which isn’t okra but a derogatory reference to a more intimate part of the male anatomy. What Islam are these people talking about? What Muharram? What mourning?

If one needs to fight someone who has hurt your religion, then fight her/him with facts. And there are facts, which may be disputed, but they do have some currency.

Before pointing fingers at others, Muslims need to look at their own brothers and sisters. Were the Shia Iranians not fighting the Sunni Iraqis with the slogan, “Every day is Ashura, every place is Karbala, every month is Muharram”?

At that time there was turmoil and they felt they could relate to events that took place centuries ago.

Muslims who are always critical about polytheists end up doing things that are prohibited in Islam, including how they embellish graves…and this is true in Islamic societies too. No walls are supposed to enclose the grave, no cement or concrete over it, no marble or decorative material, no inscriptions, even from the Quran, no flowers…

How many Muslims adhere to these?

And have not many made the Prophet into a god-like figure? Let me end with the Prophet’s own words:

"Do not utter such exaggerated words of praise for me as the Christians do for the Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary. I am nothing more than a servant of Allah and His Apostle. So, call me only that."

19.1.08

Foot in the mouth....

...or..."hum bhi moonh mein zubaan rakhte hai"?

Often I listen to songs and I listen to words the way I am perhaps attuned to, not just aurally but emotionally, mentally…It is only natural then that I murder the words, but I occasionally feel that the change gives it a different twist which may not be too bad.

Some years ago I had posted these lines by the poet Daag wrongly:

Zeest se tang ho ae Daag tau jeetey kyon ho
Jaan jaatee hai magar jaan se jaatey bhi nahin

I was corrected:

Zeest se tang ho aye Daag tau jeetey kyon ho
Jaan pyari bhi nahi jaan se jaate bhi nahi

The poet is saying:

If life tires you so then why do you live
A life you do not love is also a life you do not leave

What this humble writer has done…

If life tires you so then why do you live
Life leaves you but you want to still breathe

It’s an all time favourite sung by Fareeda Khanum in her inimitable style.

There are people who will think I am arrogant. Although this was indeed a slip, on re-looking I find it interpretative of a different state of being.

Yes, yes, aficionados will do wah-wah for Daag, magar humpar kuchch daag chhod dijiye…leave some stains on me, too!

I had done a similar thing with a contemporary poet Farhat Shehzad’s verse which is:

Woh jo mere lahu mein dubou ke guzra hai
Woh koi ghair nahin yaar eik purana tha

My hearing:

Woh jo mere lahu mein dubou ke guzra hai
Woh koi ghair nahin yaad eik purana tha

It is just a matter of one word.

Shehzad says:

The one who has soaked in my blood and left
Was no stranger but an old friend

I was using memory instead of friend.

Memory encapsulates a lot, including friends, and it is closer to oneself to be transposed with ghair (stranger). Memories cannot ever be strangers, although they might be strange.

PS: Am only sharing with you the ‘mistakes’ I make and some of which I am not ashamed. Feel free to slaughter me.

18.1.08

Kabhi tanhaiyon mein yun...

...hamari yaad aayegi?


Like many people who enjoy old film songs, the name Mubarak Begum will not be unfamiliar.

What is familiar is the story of people who are not smart enough being left by the roadside. A Mirror report says that she is living on Rs 700 a month pension she gets from the government; her two sons drive taxis and have their own families to look after.

It is also the story of the caucus that has always existed in most so-called glamorous professions. It is mentioned that she was a far better singer than Suraiyya. I have no doubt it. Suraiyya was just about okay for the kind of songs you hum when you are either falling asleep or trying to get someone to sleep…and do not throw the numbers from Mirza Ghalib at me. Here the words were enough and I should imagine the intent was to read out the verses in tarannum. I hope so…there were no high octaves, no mudkis. Suraiyya's was a dull voice.

But she was a sharp businesswoman. She lived well and continued until the end to stay in her large house at Marine Drive, and is said to have left behind lots of wealth and jewellery which became the cause of dispute.

Mubarak Begum did not know how to manage these things, perhaps. Besides, she did not have the advantage of being a singer-actress.

Also, the report does quote her as saying, “I was a victim of politics. There were a couple of singers who appropriated all singing contracts for themselves and ruined not only my career but of several others like Vani Jairam and Suman Kalyanpur. I refused to bootlick as I had a lot of self-respect. That's what cost me my career.”

This is true and, not just these seniors, even those who came in later had to face these problems. Sulakshana Pandit who wanted to sing songs filmed on her had to beg for it; Hemlata had to be content with some songs for Ravindra Jain; and Anuradha Paudwal managed to survive because of Gulshan Kumar and his music label.

In fact, had it not been for the new music directors, the caucus would have remained. However brilliant some singers are, there is always room for experimentation. After all, the divas stated by emulating those who were there before them. I am glad that A. R. Rehman does not fall prey to names, although he does get excited about the stars. Fine, as long as we get to hear a Chitra or a Mahalakshmi Iyer, I can live with it.

Mubarak Begum’s situation makes one wonder why nothing is done to protect the interests of these people. We have trade unions for mill workers, canteen employees, unskilled labour, doctors, teachers…what about those who are still giving us joy with their lilting voices?

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Picture shows Mubarak Begum on the left with her daughter Shafaque Bano: Mirror

17.1.08

My Amazon moment?

The last thing I want is credit for a book I have not written. But Amazon.com has listed a yet-to-be-released book, which is a compilation of articles, and they mention me as the author. Worse, in the one-line (one line for an almost 80,000 word manuscript??) synopsis, they describe my book. I don’t like this. When my thing will be out, its name shall be what it is: A Journey Interrupted: An Indian Muslim Woman in Pakistan. If I have waited all these years to get down to even writing a book, I can wait a bit more for it to be published.

My publishers have written to Amazon to rectify the error. How on earth something like this can happen beats me. In the catalogue each book had a separate page, so where was the confusion?…or have I seeped into their bones as well?

I know I have not been talking about the book, but when it is about to be launched I shall keep you updated here.

PS: Thanks Gum, for searching so much for me that you found this!

- - -

Why don’t I talk about the book? I have not even written a column or article about how to write a book, and how it has eaten into me. I like reading that kind of stuff, but I cannot get myself to do it. I should hope the written words are eloquent enough.

Also, since it is not fiction, it would amount to discussing current affairs. And am so inundated/satiated with the stuff, there is little I can add.

There are some people who wonder why I did not write one earlier. I have no regrets. It happened when it had to. I did not plan it…and yes, I have had to work under a great deal of stress, not to speak of illness. But, no complaints. It just feels good that I will be a part of it till the very end. I am not the type to say, “Now it is out of my hands”.

I thought one’s destiny is written in one’s hands and whatever one does is a part of that destiny.

- - -

Updated: Jan 18, 7.45 pm IST

Heck, that thing is still on and is on other sites as well. I therefore think it is probably not the fault of Amazon but perhaps whoever is marketing these. Don't outsource me, please. Am quite disturbed.

Atheist's Paradise

Yes, there are several things I cannot get right...it takes me long...simple things...like how to upload videos...now that I have managed it, I don't even know how 'right' it is. But, hope you enjoy it.


16.1.08

When Britney met Ghalib

Britney Spears’ new love for photographer Adnan Ghalib is apparently a hot topic in Pakistan where she said she plans to move. This ought to be seen as sentiments expressed by a woman who is undergoing emotional upheaval in the mad world of pop stardom and quick pills.

However, at a time when the country is going through turbulent times, this piece of gossip is an attention-diverter for high society. People who are not concerned about the shortage of flour and oil, find in this relationship a good time to discuss why glamorous women from the West find their men so attractive.

What men? And which women? By bringing out examples of Princess Diana and Jemima Khan, the score isn’t that high. But it is quite disgusting that these people say Britney is “bad news”. What was so good about the other two? They had money? They had power? They belonged to “good” families?

This isn’t restricted to Pakistanis. Do recall Elizabeth Hurley, the model-actress. Years after being with Hugh Grant, she moved on to Indian businessman Arun Nayyar. Although he was routinely described as a millionaire, a bit of irony was made public when she created a scene at Heathrow airport when she insisted that he be upgraded from Business Class to First Class. Here was the woman flaunting her fame and position. Where was all his money then? The same scene took place at their wedding ceremony in India a few months ago. It worked as the exotica she was seeking, but she was calling the shots. There was no chariness when the media spoke about how many rooms she had booked, how much money she had spent.

One should be happy about these developments. The men are being trained, aren't they? They are not. Even those who have lived and studied overseas suffer from a superiority complex they have acquired.

It isn’t merely glamorous women; any White woman would do. For the women the cultural barrier is not a big issue due to the subtle subservience the men are willing to accept. In public, they may appear to be like great brown arm-candy; privately, there is snootiness. Within months the guys get the hang of a foreign accent, they learn to cook and are ready to wait tables for the woman as she watches flickering candles. While they get a social advantage among their peers if they are seen with white women, psychologically they become slaves.

Their social circle remains the western friends they have acquired; they rarely socialise with people from their home countries and, if they do, their partners do not participate. These same guys would be playing feudals in their country of origin.

A Pakistani homemaker, quoted in a report, said, “Look at the way they treat our women. I think they are so chauvinistic and full of themselves. I wonder what these women find attractive in them? Maybe they should launch their charm offensive on Pakistani women.”

Forget it. They won’t even try. Jemima Khan and Princess Diana could have ‘interesting’ lives (the latter with men who in Asia would be considered really downmarket) and the subcontinent male would be fine with it. But would they accept this in a woman from their world? No!

Peel the layer of this studied westernisation and you will find that the entrenched attitudes of the past remain when they deal with women from ‘back home’. A desi woman who has strong opinions has “attitude problems”; a gori who has attitude problems and no attitude has “strong opinions”. Go figure.

"'Ghalib' buraa na maan jo vaaiz buraa kahe
aisaa bhii koii hai ke sab achchhaa kahe.n jise"

Faith....

Long years ago, on a particular day, I was wearing black. I did not realise it was Muharram till I saw an acquaintance dressed in the same colour.

In our house, when I was growing up, black was not the colour to wear, especially during Muharram. I remember once I wore a black tee; it had a dash of white in it. Ammi wanted to know why I was wearing it.

N was my best friend. She observed the full 40 days of Muharram. On that one day I wanted to ‘feel’ like her; of course, I could not. I would wonder what she was mourning for and why she was not mourning the way I understood it – a deep grief that took over one’s entire being.

It was a ritual and she would come and tell me about the delicious khichda (haleem) she had. I disliked khichda anyway in those days.

But our friendship endured (in fact, has endured) through all the years. I would wait for her to return from the majlis and then we’d go for our stroll or to the library or just sit around.

She is now in the US. She wrote to me about being busy with work and having to attend majlis, and I send her silly forwards. She writes back for more “khabar about amchi Mumbai”.

We never felt the need to question each other’s faith or lack of it.

15.1.08

The world according to Nano

Maverick: The world according to Nano
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Jan. 15, 2008

I am not people. Sitting in the lobby of the Taj Mahal Hotel after a light lunch of a bunch of things stuffed between two slices of organic bread, I read about Nano, the Tata group’s new ‘people’s car’ that was unveiled at an auto exhibition. There were no luscious models posing like serpents curled over its hood; that was for cars meant for not-people.

If you drive a BMW, then it makes you not-people. You have read enough about the car, so let me tell you about people.

One commentator has said that the elite do not want the less privileged to aspire for the good things in life and are, therefore, complaining about such cars clogging the roads. I think it is quite the opposite.

It is a way of pointing fingers and saying, look, there goes the Nano, there goes the poor guy. Nothing can be more dehumanising. It isn’t the car; the person buying it has become the product.

Short memories work well in relationships but can have a rather disastrous effect on social understanding. The old Maruti 800 was in fact designed as a people’s car, but it was born at a time when you were not sold seven-day miracles in 30 second ad slots, Indian leaders weren’t made on television by votes of those who use satellite dishes, and you could still call each other monkeys because Darwin had not yet begun to pose a threat to god.

The human as product is a commercialised entity. We have tabloid front page pictures of young farmers playing with onions because a stock-broker has bailed them out of debts when they wrote to the President asking for permission to commit suicide. I am sorry, the newspaper may gloat about ‘impact’ but there is something vicious about such ‘stories’ churned out by the urban fabulist. It transforms the Dalal Street man from a mutual fund dalal into a philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous. There will be the usual round of hurrahs about how this blighted city has a heart.

Take this scene. A girl trots playfully with her mother towards a large house in the outskirts of a village. There is something in her hand that she hides behind her. While her domestic help mother gets busy with work, she goes into a room and stands before the airconditioner.

Then she brings out her hidden trick – a bottle. She opens the lid and places it before the AC and quickly covers it after capturing the cool air.

The camera pans as she runs along the road towards the fields. A man is toiling, sweating. She drags him beneath the shade of a tree. He sits down, wipes his face with the edge of the turban. She opens the bottle. A blast of air wafts towards him.

It is an advertisement for an air-conditioner and it speaks about “dil India ka”.

When I first saw it I found it beautiful, emotional and simple. It hit me later that this was in fact an insult to the poor. The little girl is seeing her mother slog, her father work hard; she does not have good clothes, probably does not go to school. She sees this big house, the room with antique-looking furniture. And she takes away bottled air.

Does it mean that the needy need the munificence of the rich even for the basics of life that nature has provided?

The flipside is that the privileged class too has become a product. The electronic media thrives on this. Debates are not about individual sentiments but prototypes. You are the creation of the ‘manufacturing company’; we politely call it ethos. It may include the calendar with beach babes, the yacht parties, the cocktail sarees.

It isn’t people who are passing judgements. It is again the ‘not-people’ reaching this conclusive fact. Facts have a limited and limiting framework and deter both fluidity and rigidity.

I am sick of the selling of India as a pluralistic society. Mythifying inclusiveness beyond the bounds of disparate perceptions would be excluding. Anyone can be a part of the closed as well as the open normal social discourse. A ghetto is inclusive because it is an identity support system. Its exclusivity arises from others giving it that identity, and therefore those others become a part of the idea of that ghetto.

The protests at Singur where the Tata car plant is located were not merely about violence but a result of the desperate attempts to make it a mirror version of the Establishment. Dissent was sought to be co-opted.

We need a people’s tractor, a people’s movement that is not dictated by elitist diktats that romanticise the 70 per cent who live in the villages. Rural India is about poverty but it is also about a specific regional culture; it is urban India that has to deal with streams of religious or parochial realities. I can say this because I have lived all my life in urban India, seen disturbances and been fairly acquainted with Indian villages. There is, no doubt, an element of superciliousness regarding rural superstitions, and that gulf cannot be bridged with the arrival of chic tarot card readers and quick-fix cures.

Regarding the free market, it can hardly be construed as breaking the barriers. If anything, it is most elitist. It is a thoroughly ‘Show me the money’ scenario and individualism prevails. Two brothers from a business family separate to realise their individual dreams and their success levels increase.

It is a nano world where the insatiability of not-people keeps the wheels lubricated.

14.1.08

News Meeows - 12

Aamir Khan organised a special screening of his latest film Taare Zameen Pe for the leader of Opposition, LK Advani, who was in tears watching it.

The subject on a dyslexic child has been sensitively handled, I am told. I have yet to watch it, but how does Advani crying become news? Worse, watch the picture, Najma Heptullah, who happens to be Aamir’s aunt, looks decidedly shaken and Advani's daughter seems to be condoling.

Now, let us recall: Aamir has often been targeted by the BJP and his films were not screened in Gujarat after he took part in the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Anyone with some self-respect would not run to Delhi to be a part of this tamasha, unless you need to market your film. As for Ms Heptullah, my knowledge of her is of a warm person; the only aspect that rankled was her complete faith in the Gandhi family. What rankled even more was when she switched to the BJP.

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In what is yet another exposé of the sordid side of the glamour world, the crime branch police on Sunday arrested a Belgian national who allegedly sexually abused male models in the city under the pretext of giving them modelling assignments. He allegedly targeted young men from other states who were in the city looking for modelling jobs. Then, seeing that the victim began trusting him completely, he would slowly begin sexually exploiting him. Apparently, he even filmed his rendezvous with the models and would circulate the CDs overseas.

=

It is time the cops took action. Foreigners are given kid-glove treatment and while the women who are exploited rightly complain and there is need for stringent action against the locals who misbehave with them, we have to keep in mind that at almost all holiday destinations tourists take advantage of locals, especially the poor and illiterate. These models at least can voice their protest. Hundreds of cases get buried beneath the hot sands of beach resorts.

Also, the social circuit puffs up every white skin that comes here to work for some multi-national company; they are feted at the best parties. Back home no one would have bothered about them.

- - -

A few members of Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha, led by its zonal leader Farukh Ghosi, held a protest on Sunday against controversial Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdie outside the residence of Parmeshwar Godrej in Juhu. The protesters, carrying flags of the Samajwadi Party, raised slogans against the writer and the Indian government. “Salman Rushdie waapas jao,” shouted a protester.

=

Rushdie was here on a private visit for some charity work organised by Ms. Godrej. I do not know how and why Indian charities continually need some famous outsider to further their cause. Also, if it was a private visit, how did it become public?

One more intriguing twist here: It was the Samajwadi Party wing that protested. Its supporters include Anil Ambani who

is quite thick with the Godrej family.

- - -

Osama bin Laden’s 26-year-old son has sought a British visa so that he and his granny bride can live in the country and have a surrogate child. British Embassy officials in Cairo have interviewed Omar bin Laden who plans to settle down with his 52-year-old wife Jane Felix-Browne at her home in Cheshire, have a child through a surrogate mother and work as “peace activists”.

May I know why she is constantly referred to as ‘granny bride’? Doddering old men in their 80s marry women in their 20s and no one refers to them as ‘grandpa groom’.

I can understand this being news because of the Osama connection. It is a sensitive topic and perhaps cause for concern among some sections of society. But let the officials do their investigations and let these two get on with their life together. They got married in September 2006, so it is not a flash in the pan. Not yet. And whatever it is at the personal level, it is their business.

- - -

The man, whom Princess Diana described as “Mr Wonderful” and “the greatest love of her life”, has broken his silence for the first time, admitting that he’s still “haunted by the Princess’ memory.” Di’s former lover and heart specialist Dr Hasnat Khan confessed that he has still not recovered from the princess’ death, and feels like screaming at times.

He paid homage to Diana by discussing the respect in which he holds the late princess, and criticising her memorial fountain in the process. “Creating a fountain is not how you should remember a great person. You put great people up as high as possible. Look at Nelson,” he said

Where was he all these years when all manner of memorials were erected in the memory of the woman who continues to haunt him? She may have been a great partner to him, a great human being, but she was not a great person as in those who change the way society thinks or bring about a renaissance or make a difference in public life. She was a social asset, not a national asset.

I think he was better off quiet.

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Two of a kind


Baba Ramdev had become notorious when the CPI discovered
skulls in his ashram. Here he is blessing who else but Narendra Modi. No comments!