28.2.08

Ask the vexpert - 2

I am a 24-year-old woman. My boyfriend and I are planning to have intercourse. We aren’t going to marry each other though, because of religious differences. Are there any chances that my future husband can come to know of my sexual past?

Sexpert: Once your hymen is ruptured after intercourse, the future husband has reason to doubt you if he wishes. About safety, there is no safe day without a condom. The days during which conception is likely to occur are from the 10th day till the 15th day counting from the first day of the period.

Me: It sounds like a plan! I am glad you have realised that the below the waist area has no religion, but take care not to involve any body parts that might have any affiliation to some faith. If your future husband belongs to the same religion, and is religious, then put the fear of god in him by saying “Oh god, oh god” several times. It will work by boosting his ego and confirming your devout nature.

- - -

I got married a few months ago and was having a healthy sexual relation with my wife. However, after moving to US a month ago, I am not getting an erection. I have tried oral sex but nothing has happened. I have the desire for sex but no proper erection. What can I do to remedy this?

Sexpert: Have your blood sugar (diabetes) checked. If it is normal, identify tensions, etc., that can temporarily lead to the problem. Take a few days off and relax. If you don't feel better see a sexologist.

Me: Get yourself a good lawyer. You are well within your rights to sue the US government. However, considering your wife does not have erection problems, her having no such function to perform, your case could be weakened. You will need to ask her to fake a problem or pretend to have a penis. Regarding oral activity, I suggest you start campaigning for one of the candidates; you could also try dressing up as a Somali war chief. The best remedy though is to leave America and move to China. As you know their population is not the result of immaculate conception. It is very likely that following the herd mentality you will succeed, for they have‘elections’ lound the clock.

Barack O Bollywood

26.2.08

Twist in the Terror Trail

Maverick: Twist in the Terror Trail
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Feb 26, 2008

No Monday blues for the Darul Uloom at Deoband. The Ulema from over 6,000 madrasas got together to discuss how “Islam does not sanction terrorism”.

It is commendable that the organisation has taken time out from issuing fatwas, whether it was against the rape victim Imrana, who was declared “haraam”, or Salman Khan for becoming a waxwork at Madame Tussauds or Muslim women contesting panchayat elections in UP who did not cover their faces.

The irony of their psychological terrorism escapes them.

The Deoband discussions were planned partly because groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been arguing that violence against non-believers, including innocent bystanders, was part of their religious duty.

We do not need a religious body to tell us how to look at militant groups, for the emphasis only sanctifies the prevalent view about Islamic terror.

I wonder what they will have to say about Yahya Khan, a software engineer based in Bangalore, arrested for suspected terrorist links. We have already been inundated with opinion pieces about ‘the new face of terror’, which essentially takes the mickey out of madrasas.

Now they are saying that the time has come for Muslim thought leaders to appear. I believe the problem here is that the community has too many thought leaders and few doers. Every mullah can claim to be a leader, putting his thoughts on the mat, as the Deoband is doing.

This is a contemporary western modus operandi. Why must Muslims have to conduct a dialogue merely on the basis of their religious identity when the idea of pan-Islamism is so hollow? Where the West is concerned, what would be the agenda for a Muslim dialogue with, say, the US from the Iraqi, Iranian, Palestinian, Afghan, East European points of view?

Will they, as a decimated people, be given the dignity of a dialogue at all?

Whether it is calling himself a “prisoner of war” or appealing to groups to seek self-respect, there is complete subservience to the larger premise. Said one terrorist, “I will never give up my weapon. It is the only path open to us. With elections we will never win. I am ready to die for my people”.

All revolutionaries – and the term is legitimate for anyone protesting – have a price to pay. Did not Radio Beijing brand the Dalai Lama a “political corpse, bandit and traitor”? Gunter Grass on a visit to Kolkata had raised the question about Subhas Chandra Bose and his covert support of Nazism. Bose, by taking the help of a dictator, was really using one Establishment against another.

That is the reason no government in the world can contain separatist aspirations.

Simone Weil had once stated, “The great error of nearly all studies of war... has been to consider war as an episode in foreign policies, when it is an act of interior politics.” By this definition, one could include the war on Afghanistan and

Iraq as terrorism. Was the US not trying to wage an internal ideological battle and therefore qualified as dissent against dissension? Even the ‘Islamic sympathiser’ (yes, we have that category too!), Robert Fisk, compared the 1917 invasion of Mesopotamia (quoting British Lt. Gen. Sir Stanley Maude who said, “We have come here not as conquerors but as liberators to free you from generations of tyranny”) with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Clearly, his sympathies were with the conquerors.

Terms like “Muslims” and “the West” are often used as two very disparate but individually congealed wholes in themselves, maintaining the status quo of stereotypes. But, then, even respected international organisations like the United Nations strike discordant notes. Besides, we must ask whose definition of status quoism we are following. Is there any uniformity? Must there be?

Democracies by their very nature are about free expression and not compromise. I do wonder whether mainstream opinion in most societies is really a manifestation of independent thought or much of it is accepting the establishment viewpoint. Is it good? Yes, if that society is fairly uniform (perhaps the Scandinavian countries), but in our subcontinent we have divides along regional, language, economic, educational, and religious lines.

Minorityism does not as a natural course lead to terrorism, and is invariably a matter of perspective. For example, the Sri Lankans as well as the Tamils in Sri Lanka think they are minorities. The Tamils look around and find 70 per cent of the people Sri Lankan; the Sri Lankans see the sizable Tamil minority and start thinking of the larger numbers of them back in South India.

Right from Telugu pride which got legitimised in a party (Telugu Desam) to the Tamil Nadu political parties that flaunt Dravidian antecedents, to the sons of the soil in Maharashtra (wasn’t there a move to make Mumbai a separate state?) to the North East such movements have existed. Somebody had even termed Manipur as “India’s Intifada”. Recently, there was the nauseating sight of child artistes performing the “Krishna Leela” during the Bundelkhand Mukti Morcha’s demonstration demanding statehood for Bundelkhand.

When Iran decided to lift the fatwa the first time against Salman Rushdie, many small groups had come forward with their own rewards for the author’s head, from the Association of Hezbollah students at Tehran University, to a small village on the Caspian coast that had given the bait of tracts of land, an orchard, a house and carpets. Most amazing of all was a fundraising drive by 500 Iranians pledging to sell their kidneys to use the money for a just cause: the murder of Rushdie.

These were not militants. Isn’t it prudent, therefore, to see such movements through a prism and not a microscope?

24.2.08

Some news...

It's not our duty to expedite Afzal's execution, says SC

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to entertain a PIL seeking directions to the Government to expedite execution of the death sentence of Mohammad Afzal, convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case.

"It is not our duty. It is for the executive to decide how to consider the matter. We cannot pass such a direction," observed a Bench presided by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan.

"This court cannot give such directions. We already passed the final order. You go to the executive," the Bench told the petitioner, Lashkar-e-Hind, an NGO.

I have already held forth at length on the case in two blogposts:

Parliament attack: Why should Mohammed Afzal be hanged?

Mohammed Afzal ko ghussa kyon nahin aata?

23.2.08

Am I 'fraustrated'?

Received this letter. Reproduced as it is:

Hello Farzana

Greetings from
B a n g l a d e s h.
Fraustration, too much
Farzana, really. You should
enlight to your reader, not fraustration.
I some time go through with your writings.
I want introduce you to Bangali reader here.
I can translate some of them for our newspaper.
In that case you need to send a straight photograph.

Regards,

AH

- - -

I have a feeling someone is pulling a fast one on me. A Bengali may pronounce something differently but not spell it phonetically. Yet, thought it was rather nice!

Without seeming to reduce the person, should he be genuine, I might have replied as follows:

Bhelcomb! And thank you for going through with my writings, that is why I was whaandaring why my writing always having kaampani, saamtimes pulling, saamtimes phushing. I hope my fraustrations has not made you less bhalo. Ami ki korbe? I was thinking of Jaarman Frau so fraustration became too much, hain? Not phinding it phunny? I promise to enlight reader once I start thinking of French Madame, then tumake komplaint hobe na. Shotti.

I also want introduction to Bangali reader in Bangladesh, but how you will translate my fraustration? Bherry diphicult tashk. Phull dukho-dukho.

Also, am whaandering about the word ‘straight’ for the picture. Is mine ‘gay’, no, dada, not like haapy, but ooman liking ooman? If you think so, then is there problems? Will gentlemens say whatphor this raabish nhonsense like eating mishti doi and plain doi together, tchah-tchah? I don’t want traabal phor you. Kindly enlight me pliss.

With all fraustrations I say nomoshkar,

~FV

- - -

Some words/phrases that might not register

Bhelcomb! - Welcome

Kaampani - company

Bhalo- good

Ami ki korbe? – What can I do?

Jaarman - German

tumake komplaint hobe na. Shotti - you won’t have any complaint, I promise.

Bherry diphicult tashk. Phull dukho-dukho - Very difficult task. Full of sorrow

Ooman - woman

traabal phor – trouble for

mishti doi – sweet curd

22.2.08

Open letter to Asma Jehangir

Hello Ms Jehangir:

As always, welcome to India. I hear you are in Delhi already and have asked for the involvement of India in the "democratic process" so that both the countries can move forward towards a "common future."

Would you please be more explicit? Should we send troops to ensure democracy in your country? After all, in your lecture at the Jamia Millia you have asked us to distance ourselves from President Musharraf, the "mischief-making machine".

You say, reminiscing about the Agra Summit debacle:

If Musharraf can deceive India once, he will do it again. We expect logistic support from our neighbours so that Pakistan can become a truly democratic country.

Excuse me? Who exactly do you think we are that we were deceived? This sounds like some bad Bollywood film where the villain takes revenge again and again. Just to jog your memory, it was India that let down Musharraf during that Summit. You were on television singing Hindi film songs and clapping about how we could all be one; however you did emphasise that we were two different societies; you pointed out the different salwaar cuts too. Remember?

There was an agreement that was about to be signed, and because of some horribly devious moves by certain people within the BJP, the then ruling party, it was botched up and Musharraf had to take the flight back home at midnight, a humiliation that even our Laloo Prasad Yadav commented on.

Therefore, by logistic support, do you mean we should not invite him or let him pose with his wife on that bench in the foreground of the Taj Mahal in Agra? If he is not to be head of government, then we will not be doing business with him. However, as long as he is President, we will have to treat him as such. That is protocol. Do you have the courage to tell this to the United States? To any western power?

We (Pakistan) have seen only bloodshed in the last two years. With the efforts of lawyers’ movement and civil society in Pakistan, the verdict has been pronounced. We want Pervez Musharraf to quit honourably. We don’t want to get him out thrashed because that will affect the image of Pakistan globally. But we want the cooperation of our neighbours for the process so that Pakistan can truly become a democratic nation.

You have seen bloodshed in 1971 more than ever, and India was not really helping in the democratic process. Of course, we have all grown up and become big girls and boys now. If you want him to quit honourably, then you ask him. And what image are you talking about? In India we keep reading Western press releases about dictatorship and Pakistan being the most corrupt nation etc. This isn’t new. It’s been there for a while.

We are looking for a joint harmonious future with our neighbours and the first step towards this process is the elimination of Musharraf. The people of Pakistan have matured after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and there is a major shift in how people of Pakistan view India.

Really? Tell me more. Have not heard a single comment by any of your ‘democratic’ leaders about India and what relations they will have with us. Show us the money; we will take maturity later. And what do you have to say when the main winning party is called The late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party? You like it? If not, why don’t you voice your protest over this too? Be an equal opportunity offender.

You call President Musharraf a "double crosser" – did you read reports that have now come out about how the deal was that once corruption charges were dropped against Benazir she would return after the elections? The moment all those charges were dropped, she decided to return. This is what power does.

The fact is that elections were held because of Musharraf and not despite him. His party has lost. Now it is upto the new powers to decide how to do things “honourably”. Lawyers wearing their black coats throwing stones at the police in the streets are not a very good sign of it. Don’t forget, these cops will be around irrespective of which government is in power.

Getting rid of Musharraf is like getting rid of glue. It sticks. We have faced growing inflation rates because of the mismanagement of the government. There was an amazing amount of pre-poll rigging; even money was offered to people to not vote. But after the election results were out, it was confirmed that the era of moving Pakistan towards democracy has ultimately ushered.

Right. In India we know all about glue and kissa kursi ka. And we know about inflation and we know about pre-poll rigging. And horse trading. Boy, we do know that. But we are a democracy because our Constitution says so. You get your lawyers to start some work, formulate policies, and then we can talk.

For now, have a nice stay in India (isn’t this where your room was ransacked in your absence during your last trip?) and tell us a bit more about democracy. Not by standing on a podium at the Jamia Millia but by going to small towns and villages where they are not allowed to get to the polling stations.

PS: Together with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the PPP will, according to latest reports, form the new government in Pakistan.

The plan is that the PPP will lead the federal government in Islamabad while the PML (N) will head the provincial government in Punjab, with its chief minister being supported by the PPP.

Asked if they had agreed to form a coalition, Mr Zardari sidestepped the question by saying: "We have consensus on all these points because we had been together in our long-drawn struggle."

Now, Ms. Jehangir, first let us know who we will have to speak to. I can bet, even you do not know that.

PPS: You will be hailed as a democrat for rubbishing dictators in your country. I will be rubbished as a jihadi for rubbishing a Modi in mine. See how different the two countries are?

Jiye-jiye, etc,

~FV

Update February 24, 6.40 PM IST:

“I think there is no need to impeach Musharraf at the moment.”

– PPP Vice-chairman Makhdoom Fahim, frontrunner for the post of Prime Minister.

Well? Well!

21.2.08

On and off - 3

Not on…

The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai turned away an 82-year-old woman because she was wearing slippers. The report says:

“Manjamma who lives in Davangere in Karnataka is in Mumbai visiting her grand daughter who is an engineer and lives in Vashi. On an excursion to Gateway of India Manjamma, who was accompanied by her daughter, her doctor son-in-law and another grand daughter who is also a doctor, expressed a desire to visit the Taj. Manjamma told her family of how her own mother had sipped coffee at the Taj and described to her the beauty of the hotel.”

I am really angry and am glad that Mumbai Mirror took this up. Usually only when the fancy unshod by choice M.F.Husain is refused entry into a club it becomes news. These are two different things. A club can by right make any rules it so desires. Hotels cannot. As long as a patron is paying, there ought to be no problem.

Foreigners enter the hotel wearing soiled sandals and dirty shorts and no one stops them. And trust me, quite a few are only sitting in the lobby. Or using the facilities. This applies to well-dressed locals who make use of the loo or just to get the cool air-conditioning air as respite from their walk or shopping.

I am afraid the hotel cannot make rules where it will not allow people to walk in with slippers. Slippers qualify as footwear. Yes, if it is a formal restaurant, then I would understand. But please, how many wearing Jimmy Choos (and yes, we do have those) know how to conduct themselves?

It is disappointing that the family is straining to emphasise they are educated. Education has nothing to do with it. Unlettered film stars and underworld dons get into these places quite easily. As do politicians. Imagine what a heart-warming story it would have been had Manjamma gone to the coffee shop and recreated her experience and her mother’s and compared them.

On…

A news item from Japan:

“Welcome to Butlers Cafe, princess,” says a Western man in a trim suit as he places a sparkling tiara on a woman’s head.

In a nation where many girls grow up on Western fairy tales, Tokyo’s Butlers Cafe is tapping into the popular fantasy that they will grow up to meet their Prince Charming.

Just stepping over the threshold, Japanese woman can forget for a few hours that they are in Shibuya, one of the capital’s most crowded areas, and enter a world where a handsome man rushes to the tinkle of her bell, goes down one knee and asks "Yes, my princess?"

I don’t agree with the Western fairytale part, but let us be realistic. Many women do not have these luxuries and having travelled to Japan I do know about their Western obsession. We all read fairytales; some of us start believing in them. A little fantasy does not hurt.

We all know that when women grow up the Prince becomes an Emperor without clothes. That ain’t too bad, but where is the titillation?

20.2.08

Musharraf: The Great Dictator?

Musharraf, Peace and the Autumn of the Patriarch

The Great Dictator?
By Farzana Versey

February 20, 2008, Counterpunch

The jubilation in the streets of Pakistan is understandable. That is what streets are for. But when downright corrupt politicians begin talking about democracy and the downfall of a dictator, then they do take hallucination to great heights.

Pakistan cannot be a democracy, for there is nothing like an Islamic democracy, however egalitarian the believers are convinced their religion is. A religious construct cannot subsume a social ideology.

It is imperative to see how President Pervez Musharraf has worked within the confines of such a stringent ethos to make Pakistan a modern theocracy. There will be many a naysayer, but we need to think of the barriers he had to face. Merely running down army rule in a country that has lived with it several times is a narrow vision.

Today, the people of Pakistan are rejoicing over the defeat of some fanatic elements. They ought to realise that it was Musharraf who had stuck his neck out against them. While Jemima Khan is busy trying out her role as Robert Fisk behind a lattice screen, she conveniently forgets that her ex-husband had the strong backing of the Islamists, being a born-again Islamist himself. His was a politically-driven reinvention. Musharraf did not fall prey to that. Like all politicians, he only suffered from delusions of grandeur and the occasional bout of amnesia.

I have often been asked why Indians like Musharraf. It certainly is not his public relations skills or the much-touted breakfast in 2002 at Agra. A man who refers to the former chief justice, an issue that did and still can cause trouble for him, as a “scumbag” is not a particularly good candidate for diplomacy.

Here is one man who lacks charisma, but look closely and there is the familiar austerity camouflaging a smooth shrewdness. While pushing his opponents to defensive positions, he is being defensive as well.

He is the statesman without a state. An immigrant from Delhi who moved to Turkey where he found some inspiration from Kemal Ataturk, he probably represents the rootlessness of several people who do not have tribal loyalties. To his credit, he has never banked on his mohajir identity.

Musharraf’s biggest problem was how to cope with the religious zealots, not because America told him so but because he had to acclimatise himself to mores that did not appear intrinsic to his personality. In some ways he was like a new convert – he tried too hard. And that effort occasionally came across as sincerity which, as Oscar Wilde said, is the greatest vice of the fanatic.

Being an armyman his attachment to the land hinged on a permanent war-like situation. It was akin to living out of a mental suitcase. There are very many reasons provided for his reluctance to give up his uniform. One of them was his undoubted insecurity.

Therefore, there has been a tendency to think out of the box a bit too much. His “bombshell” a few years ago that New Delhi should withdraw its armed forces from three Kashmir cities – Srinagar, Kupwara, and Baramullah – and the two countries should jointly ensure that there was no terrorism in the Valley had met with cynicism. India has always maintained that Pakistan is responsible for terrorist infiltration.

Given this, we would still have to take into account that even the local Kashmiri militant organisations in India insist on tripartite talks. Pakistan can ensure peace because it has been dealing with what it calls Azad Kashmir and we call Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Incidentally, Musharraf had gone on record to say that he had banned many such organisations and those that have come up under different guises were on the ‘watch list’. He also stated that although he could not give a certificate, he would ensure that if any such incident occurred he would himself bring the organisation or person to book.

He made these comments on a public forum before the cameras. If anything, he would be in trouble.

In India we do tend to gloat over the regular military coups that take place and how Pakistan is nothing but a puppet regime, its strings pulled by western powers. Do we truly believe that the West is sparing us because we do not have problems? No. The simple reason is that we are a bigger marketplace and the ‘civil war’ within our boundaries is too diverse and unlikely to make any radical difference to the West.

Interestingly, it is the West that has buffered dictators and strife within nations, the latter giving rise to terrorism that it is now purportedly fighting against. Worst of all, it encourages disputes.

Pakistan is being looked at for the second possibility, but with some element of caution. Which is why in a ridiculous manner, the dictator was sometimes ticked off for abetting terrorism. A dictator ought to squash dissent. So, how did President Musharraf qualify as a dictator? Only because some magazine in the US stated, “Two years after seizing power in a military coup that overthrew an elected government, Musharraf appointed himself president. He recently agreed to step down as head of the military, then reversed his decision”?

The idea behind the double whammy was devious. If Musharraf was somebody who forcibly came to power to restore order in his country, then as head of a ‘terrorist state’ he would be out of bounds with a license to kill. It would work well in the Texan brawl fantasy.

Musharraf is the underdog. What the US might have liked is for him to toe its idea of the Arab line. In this context, Pakistan is snug in its Islamic identity and anytime it decides to get atop a camel, it will be coitus interruptus for the Occidental orgasm.

Was Musharraf merely a hard-nosed dictator? Joseph Nye has demarcated between a “soft power”, which has the ability of the state to get “other countries to want what it wants”, and a “hard power” that is based on economic and military strength. If we look at it in this context, then his peace proposal with India did not require any constitutional amendment. This was thinking on the feet, rather than being trapped beneath the debris of bureaucracy.

He was asked whether the internal turmoil would come in the way of the peace process. He had an apt response, “18 insurgency movements going on in India – does it stop the peace process? …I am not bogged down.”

The confusion has been entirely India’s. Pakistan, on the other hand, is pretty accustomed to the routine. It has to cope with what Huntington called the revival of non-western cultures, a military regime that is always strong and a democracy that has not done much for peace.

It is time for Pakistanis to accept that their elected governments have not produced the best leaders. Merely going to the polls is not fortification enough. The real enemies have always lived in hiding in foreign lands. Ironically, it takes a dictator to say, even as his power could turn to puff, “This is not an ideal society.”

By projecting himself as the kingmaker, Musharraf has now got the whispering gallery agog. A fitting denouement for a man whose boots are made for talking.

19.2.08

Jemima does Mush

Since I am not a Pakistani journalist, I need not worry about Jemima Khan’s oh-oh lookie here, what I got…so here is an attempt at deconstructing THE interview…

“Much to the justifiable fury of every journalist in Islamabad, he has now granted me an exclusive half-hour interview despite or perhaps because of the fact that I have recently described him as one of the most repressive dictators Pakistan has ever known.”

Dear me, she thinks he is into masochism. Sweet.

After an hour I am shown into a huge sitting room, divided in the middle by a latticed wood screen to segregate ladies from men at more formal functions.

Really? This lattice screen thing is there also at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, and ladies are sitting with men…the screen is to facilitate keeping an eye from the other side.

Musharraf enters. The last time I saw him in the flesh he was in his full army regalia. Somehow his civilian clothes have diminished him. I find his brown business suit and dainty penny loafers which have replaced the sturdy army boots almost unsettling. He seems to have lost both height and swagger. And his body language seems just a touch defensive.

So, she is playing the stereotype…army swagger, civilian clothes diminish him, blah and blah…but then she likes the swagger type.

The immaculate hair also troubles me. Boot-polish black, artfully grey at the temples, it shows signs of some work.

Yes, some men work at it, others on it, still others with it…ask the “ex”, who she mentions like a punctuation mark throughout.

Often he fails to see the irony in his own words, which can be unintentionally comic. Several times I have to suppress a smile. When confronted with the suggestion, for example, that he will have to work with a coalition government consisting of some the most infamous crooks in Pakistan, he responds with great sincerity, “I’m not running a martial law here. What can I do?” He adds, “My role as a president is simply the checks and balances – the seatbelts … a sort of father figure to the Prime Minister but I won’t have to see him for weeks.”

I am afraid the lady does not see the irony of his delicious last line.

A uniformed bearer offers fruit juice and warm roasted almonds. I down my juice in one gulp, then worry it may have looked unseemly. In the past four years I'd forgotten that Pakistani women are expected to overplay their femininity. I'm lounging like a bloke and downing pomegranate juice like lager.

Oh, cut out the act. As though you down lager at Annabel’s like a bloke. Honestly, the readers in the UK may get awfully charmed by this, but we know that the only ones who overplay their femininity are the ones who are dying to play to the gallery. Have you met the Red Bull mixed with rum ‘bibis’ in Lahore? They’d drink you under the table.

The President, it turns out, is very disappointed in me. For a moment I think I have been called to his office for a sound ticking-off. “I was disappointed. Very disappointed,” he says. “I was disappointed because you ought to be knowing our environment … what Pakistanis are like … what is our society. Well, it’s acceptable if a person has never visited Pakistan and doesn’t know Pakistan to have ideal views [presumably, he means idealistic views]. But I thought you ought to be knowing what Pakistan is … This is not an ideal society.”

Presumably, ideal also means archetype or idyllic…Also, I don’t think any head of government or state has had the courage in recent times to openly say this about his country.

As I leave he presents me with a clock inscribed "from the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan". It seems an inauspicious gift from a man whose time may be up.

I wish she was more graceful about it. Is it inauspicious for him? What if he still believes in himself? Is it inauspicious for her? Like, she would want the swaggering, powerful one to present it to her and not someone on the way out? Then, a clock is just a clock. It shows the time. It isn’t quite Cartier, but Ms. Jemima you may write for The Independent but how independent are you?

18.2.08

So, Pakistan goes to the polls?

Today Pakistan went to the polls. We in India do that so often that it might have been a yawn. Except that this is momentous. Last night they had a special show on NDTV where a group of women discussed the elections. It was held in a Lahore haveli and they had a small fire (oh puhleeze…). The two Urdu-speaking women hardly got to say anything.

I am sorry, but I got no new insights. This is crucial…we need democracy…people are afraid…polls will be rigged…one is expecting change…and so on…

If polls are going to be rigged, what change are people expecting?

Now, I read a few reports. Let me deconstruct some of the arguments in bold:

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People's Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari have decided to launch a movement if the Monday's election is rigged.

Should they not have launched a movement before to show their commitment to the country and not merely to the polls?

Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif said that if free, fair and impartial election is held their parties would defeat the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) candidates in both national and Punjab Assemblies.

This is of course possible, because in almost all societies people like change. So, what is new?

Meanwhile, Mr Zardari is 100 per cent confident of garnering a majority but warned President Pervez Musharraf-led government not to rig the election which will force him to launch massive street protests leading to the break-up of the nation.

The bloody gall of the man. If he is 100 per cent certain (and not 10 per cent), what is the warning about? And what does he mean by launching street protests and breaking up of the nation? He is sounding like a terrorist. He is no revolutionary. If he is talking about people being on the warpath, they have been doing so for a while, ever since the Chief Justice issue and Jamia Hafsa movements happened.

“We've taken part in the elections rather than boycotting them. Now it's up to them to give us a free run. People are angry, they are on the breadline, despite the $60 billion windfall Musharraf has enjoyed over the past eight years.”

He better recall that the PPP wanted to boycott the elections. Then, when his wife was killed, he started to jump about. I am sorry, but his going on the “Bibi, Bibi” track is his only calling card. Yes, it is sad that there is shortage of essentials, but the windfall that Musharraf or anyone gets is used for what our stupid countries think is more important: arms.

By the way, what about the windfall he had made?

You don’t need great analytical skills to predict the results.

Puff prophecy:

The polls will be rigged, but selectively. The PPP will win in Sindh, to drive home the point about sympathy votes. Nawaz Sharif will get a few crucial Punjab votes.

Musharraf is in deep trouble, anyway.

Whoever finally sits in office, the Pakistani people are a long way from democracy.

News meeows - 13

Ex-armyman held in Pune for ISI links

The Pune police on Friday arrested ex-armyman Shailesh Anantrao Jadhav (29), a native of Satara district, for his alleged links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

“Jadhav was carrying classified documents related to the Indian Army. He was planning to give these documents to another ISI agent, Mohammed Syed Desai, who fled from police surveillance in Pune on January 23,’’ ACP (Crime) Rajendra Singh said on Saturday.

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Fantastic! Catch the small fry, talk about “alleged links with ISI” and we begin to look so good. Why has the report not quoted the designation of this ex-armyman, Jadhav? He is only 29; he either quit or was thrown out of his job. How did he have access to classified documents related to the Indian Army?

Who is this Mohammed Syed Desai, purportedly an ISI agent? Why don’t the police publish his photograph and the armyman’s? Let us see what these agents look like. Maybe the public might help in capturing the bloke. I like the way the ACP announces with a straight face that he fled from police surveillance. How? Did someone help him? How?

Tell us.

* * *

SC acquits ‘killer’ after 15 yrs in jail

Indraj, a cobbler, carried the murder charge on his head for 15 years, most of them behind bars. He was convicted by a Ferozepur court and the Punjab and Haryana HC did not find anything amiss in his conviction and screntence. Both the trial court and the HC believed the police’s story to be true.

But the truth unfolded in the SC, which suspected that the prosecution story was cooked up as the police had not explained the injury marks on Indraj and his wife Maya. The SC examined the evidence on record and questioned the prosecution, which led to the unfolding of the true story. A man, after an altercation with Indraj, assaulted him with a sharp weapon. Maya intervened to save her husband and was injured. Cornered, Indraj delivered a blow to the assaulter with a sharp tool to save himself and his wife. The blow proved fatal.

An SC bench concluded that the blow delivered by Indraj was more in self-defence than with the intention of causing the assaulter’s death.

=

How many such cases are there? We have lost count. We don’t care. We are more interested in whether Maanyata is a resident of Goa and entitled to be married to Sanjay Dutt. Yes, even I know about it, but I did not know about Indraj. I don’t have great interest in cobblers beyond the point that they occasionally eye my shoes with a little more than added interest.

Why does it take ‘truth’ to be out after 15 years? What prompted the SC to suddenly wake up? On the one hand we have fast-track justice for the pampered sons and daughters of the soirees, and then we have this. The evidence was already on record, so why did it examine it now?

* * *

Comedienne Manorama dies at 80

Yesteryear actor Manorama died at a local hospital on Friday. She was known for her comic and vampish roles in superhits like Seeta Aur Geeta, Mere Mehboob, Bachpan, Laawaris, Kundan, Main Awara Hoon, Raj Kumar, Jaanwar, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Post Box 999 and Half Ticket. She was 80.

Manorama acted in over 145 films and her last film was Deepa Mehta’s Water. “She did not even have a house to stay and Mehta got her a house in Charkop where she stayed till the end. She has one daughter but one does not know where she is now.’’

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To be honest, I might never have written about her. It was only that when I saw the film Water and spotted a familiar face that memories came back. Manorama was a terrible actress, over-the-top, but then that was the style of acting that probably made villainy seem truly demonic.

She was gross, made funny faces and rolled her eyes grotesquely and had a grating voice. She really did not seem as evil as Lalita Pawar, but I liked her in Water, as the exploitative old widow supplying young girls to the zamindars and subsisting on hash. She was truly good. I am glad that was her last film and one got to see a more subtle aspect.

And then there is the tragedy of her being alone; even her daughter is untraceable. Life isn’t much different from celluloid.

* * *

I like the caption!

...AND THE MEN ARE DUMMIES: A woman soldier displays a multi-purpose aiming reflex sight (MARS) rifle during the inauguration of the International DefExpo 2008 in New Delhi on Saturday. About 450 weapons companies from 30 countries are offering their latest hardware at the four-day show.


* * *

End Uh-huh:

British men spend a year ogling women

An average Brit bloke spends a year of his life glancing at women, says a new research. The research stated that the guy ogles at eleven girls every day for a full two minutes each first looking at her breasts, then bum and legs. This adds up to 134 hours a year, amounting to 350 days over a lifetime, reports The Sun. A third of the total men admitted that sneaking a peek at another woman had landed them in trouble with their wife or girlfriend. However, girls are a bit behind in this scenario. They check out a couple of blokes every day, sizing them up in just 90 seconds. Almost half said they were first attracted to a man’s eyes, followed by a glance at his bum and then a whiff of his aftershave.

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This is hilarious. How can it be guaranteed that the woman who is the centre of attention will be around for those two minutes? And if the guys look at breasts first and then the bum, how do they go round? What if she is standing against a wall? And her legs – what if they are covered?

Now come the girls, and I shall include women here. We take half a minute less, though how we manage it by looking at the eyes, then the butt and then “a whiff of his aftershave”? What does this mean? Where has the guy applied the aftershave?

Anyway, this probably applies to British women. I think this guy’s bum thing is over-rated. Unless it is a bit too sumptuous, no woman cares. Okay, a good cologne is nice, especially if you want to filch it. I think eyes are by far the most important and the voice. And do glance at the crotch, ladies. No, not for it, but because that particular area tells you a lot about the kind of trousers the man wears and how he sits and stands. It shows whether he is a class act or a slob.

Really!

13.2.08

Bambai, meri jaan

Will there be trouble in Mumbai? That was the query being asked around. I did not know. I can only recall moments that are trouble-free…

One evening we were trying to find a spot to park near Shanmukhananda Hall where we were attending a Jagjit Singh concert. There just wasn’t any space. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this kid, about 13 years old, appeared and raced ahead guiding us. He made us take a loop, but finally managed to get a slot, held back the cars behind with tact and charm. I realised that I had no change. My cousin said she had chillar. (We had dropped the others who were with us at the entrance to save them the trudge.) He deserved at least ten bucks. She managed to find enough. But the lad protested.

Bees rupaiya rate hai (The rate is 20 rupees),” he said with complete confidence.

“Rate? Yeh pay-and-park nahin hai…udhar se idhar hi tau laaye ho…(What rate? This isn't a pay-and-park slot, you just brought us from there)...” I said without much conviction.

Nahin, eik kaam karo…aate time mein de dena…(No, but you can give me the money on your return)...”

Haan, haan theek hai…(All right)...” I said, feeling a mix of guilt and irritation.

After the show, we were walking to the car and, hoisted at the split level, we heard a voice, “Main idhar hoon.(I am here.)” Ah, he sounded so chirpy at almost 11 pm. How did he keep track of the cars he helped to park? There were other boys – how did they divide their work? It seemed that they had fine-tuned the operation. I began thinking about him… Had he had his meal? Where would he sleep? I told him how congested the place had become and impossible to park.

He said nonchalantly, “Fikar nahin karne ka, apun hai na yeh fit karne ka waastey.(Don't worry, I am here to fit everything)”

I gave him the money.

And like a chivalrous gentleman he opened the door for me.

Do you still want to know why I love Mumbai?

12.2.08

Ask the vexpert - 1

I do glance at the columns about emotional and sexual problems. Sometimes they are a hoot. Here is one example, the 'sexpert' answer and mine, the vexpert...

Whenever I dream about sex my underwear gets wet with sperm. Is there any chance of shortage of sperm in my future?

Sexpert: No. In fact you will have to control their activity to ensure they do not create unwanted babies.

Me: First, I would like to tell you that when you are dreaming you should stop wearing undergarments. Sperms are attracted to them, especially since in India even male ones have names like Roopa etc. It is entirely possible that it might result in pregnancy of the said garment. If you take the precautionary step of not wearing it, then the sperm might fall. Usually fallen sperm do not survive if they are falling from a height. Since I do not know how tall you are, I am assuming there will be some height to take into account. These dead sperm should then be given a decent funeral, depending on your cultural or religious customs.

Regarding your query about future shortage, I suggest you store these before the fall. It might be a bit of a long drawn-out operation but you do not want to stand in the ration line later in life, do you?

Of course, we are again assuming that there are considerable numbers of potent sperms in whatever is being ejected. Since there is no way of returning them to their rightful place, you might want to freeze them. They might produce hardened generations of leaders who could probably withstand extreme climates on the Siachen Border, which will still be under dispute, or take the cold vibes produced by the socio-political-economic environment.

At the end, I can only ask you to stop dreaming about sex. Maybe if you think about the sensex your ardour will dip.

Migratory Burdens

Maverick: Migratory Burdens
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Feb 12, 2008

At passport control, he looked up from the document and asked in Marathi, “Mumbai kasa aahe? (How is Mumbai?)”. He was a Maharashtrian working in a sensitive job in an Arab country. He wore the loose flowing white robe with a chequered head-dress because it was the uniform. Did he feel ridiculous? “No,” he laughed. “It looks funny to you because I spoke in Marathi, but when I speak in Arabic no one bothers.”

The past few days Mumbai has seen the goonda raj manifest itself against the ‘outside’ North Indians, the gall of addressing the country’s citizens as immigrants. Yet, India has been demanding with some justification and a great deal of audacity that our unskilled labour in Bahrain be paid a minimum wage of Rs. 10,000 per month.

Most of us who visit the United Arab Emirates do not peek beyond the malls, the sand dunes, the hotels with helipads and the islands shaped like palm fronds. We are beguiled by the Las Vegas-like caricature of a caricature.

It was a Friday evening in Deira, Dubai. There was some fair. The lights were bright. Loud music from blaring tape-decks made scraping sounds that were drowned in the voices haggling for good bargains. Hands plundered through the cheap stacked stuff.

As the sky turned dark, people rushed towards white buses, jostling for a foothold. I could see their faces pressed against the window grilles, making them look like prisoners behind bars.

Shishir used to arrive at 9 am at my door and ask if I’d like the room cleaned. He was from Ghatkopar in Mumbai. He said, “I paid an agent Rs. 75,000, my brother and I had got some family land which we sold off.”

He works for 12 hours and gets a holiday once a fortnight. That evening he had big plans for his break. It was heartbreaking when he said, “I am going out of station, to Sharjah.” Sharjah, one of the seven emirates, is a 40-minute drive by bus. He could not contain his excitement when I asked him what he would do there. “I will go to my brother’s house and we will have fun.”

His brother shares his living quarters with six other men. Fun would be opening a bottle of alcohol and remembering a home they had left. His reason was a “better life”. It wasn’t the suffocation of a village that lured him; he would qualify as a son-of-the-soil in Mumbai. “But madam, I cannot do this kind of work there. What will people say?”

Sadly, the better life they sought was often far worse than the cities they had come from. A sweeper at the Sharjah University earns just 350 dirhams a month. One of the teachers told me, “Some of us ask him to do odd jobs. In this way he can supplement his income.”

We drove along a busy route and spotted squat sand-coloured structures behind some buildings. They are homes for these workers. Eight to ten people live in a single room. There is no hygiene and it can get dangerous when they cook in those cramped environs.

The UAE boasts of an 80 per cent expatriate population, the majority from South Asia. If you tip a waiter or a porter, it is quite likely that this is all he has earned in the past few months. Not being given salaries has become fairly common. Many of them do not even have money to return home.

Of course, these are the truly deprived. But behind the knotted ties of the tourist guide there are equally sad tales. Omar learned on the job and knew little. Thankfully, history is not big here. You can dwell at length on the newness of everything and the visitor will look impressed. That many of the construction workers at the fancy new villas and apartments that look like grand pianos have no medical, social or financial security does not bother him.

He has none of this himself. Everyday, as he drives in an air-conditioned coach and puts on a fake Arabic accent, he transforms into Alibaba with treasures. He forgets his own cave he will return to at night where he will put the small change he has earned into a wooden box, mockingly ornate with engravings.

Besides such physical isolation, there is the emotional one. Asian maids avert their eyes if they hear familiar voices or see faces they recognise as those from their country. Many come from respectable lower-middle class families and have lied about their jobs at home.

Raisa works at a small travel agency. She shares her living quarters with three girls. It was safe because if she complained about any misbehaviour on the part of men, they would be punished. “But I won’t say girls are not exploited. Silence can be bought. From a simple girl from a conservative family I have become self-sufficient and aggressive. I don’t know if there are any savings, but at least my family can eat and my brothers can go to school.”

My most poignant memory is of Wilson, a Keralite, cleaning the table near the fridge “Madam, this?” he queried about the chunk of cheese that had gone mouldy.

“Throw it away,” I said.

“I take?” he asked hesitantly. I told him it had gone bad.

“No problem. I will cut out top part.” Holding the rancid piece of cheddar in its frayed golden wrapper like a precious trophy, he bid me goodbye.

As I saw his retreating back, I bit my lip. The gloss on it cost as much as ten days of his toil would earn him.

11.2.08

Today morning

Sitting with my back to the sun, I liked the shaft of light on the floor.

A song that may seem unconnected but which I hummed...

jalate hai.n jisake liye, terii aa.Nkho.n ke diye
Dhuu.NDh laayaa huu.N vahii, giit mai.n tere liye
jalate hai.n jisake liye

dard banake jo mere dil me.n rahaa Dhal naa sakaa
jaaduu banake terii aa.Nkho.n me.n rukaa chal naa sakaa
aaj laayaa huu.N vahii giit mai.n tere liye
jalate hai.n jisake liye

dil me.n rakh lenaa ise haatho.n se ye chhuuTe na kahii.n
giit naazuk hai meraa shiishe se bhii TuuTe na kahii.n
gunagunaauu.ngaa yahii giit mai.n tere liye
jalate hai.n jisake liye

jab talak naa ye tere ras ke bhare ho.nTho.n se mile
yuu.N hii aavaaraa phiregaa ye terii zulfo.n ke tale
gaaye jaauu.ngaa yahii giit mai.n tere liye
jalate hai.n jisake liye

Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri; Music: S.D.Burman; Singer: Talat Mehmood; Film: Sujata

7.2.08

Saeed Mirza Haazir Ho...

Saeed Mirza has written a novel, Ammi: Letter To A Democratic Mother. One day I will read it. As a film-maker, I used to consider him one of the finest we had. He did not quite make the leap that Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani managed in parallel cinema, but his works left a huge impact.

Arvind Desai ki Ajeeb Dastaan, Albert Pinto Ko Ghussa Kyon Aata Hai, Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro…the titles were more or less representing the stories.

While my memory of Arvind…is a bit hazy, I can never forget Albert…the anger, the helplessness of coping with unemployment, the trade unions, personal relationships. Mirza did have a way with both the city of Mumbai and the minorities, religious or economic. Mohan Joshi is fighting a battle in the courts against his landlord…it turns into a Kafkaesque drama, although the darkness is farcical. Salim deals with the Muslim issue without really emphasising communalism. His physical handicap is metaphor enough.

Why did Mirza remain on the fringe? Was he too preachy? I think that he did not use emotions very effectively. There was something that held him back. That is a failing when you are trying to reach out. He was also not a canny craftsman…no jerky hand-held camera movements to convey disorientation, no sudden light switch on-off tactics (oh, how tired I am of this ‘device’ whenever they want to show confusion; now even Ekta Kapoor uses it in her saas-bahu serials!).

Mirza used a clean wall and then he wrote out messages that he might himself want to wipe out. He took clear sides but it was like watching from a distance. I suppose this is what appealed. His cinema is what I am not. I liked the ‘otherness’ of it. The low lighting, which is not candlelight, just something close to darkness.

The novel is based on his mother, and I like what he said about her, that she “symbolised possibilities”. What a potent phrase.

It all got mucked up when a report mentioned that Rahul Bose who was reading out passages said that people like Mirza were the “chewing gum that held society together’’. I wish he would shut up instead of trying to get smart. Since when has chewing gum ever held anything together? Whenever the word chewing gum and bubble gum are used they have a negative connotation. Remember “chewing gum for the eyes” for television? It is about something jaw-aching, cud-chewing, perhaps boredom.

Bose probably did not want to use an ordinary word like glue. And yet in my city it is said his sex appeal works for the intelligent woman. Bah! I shall remain a dullard for life…Read what I think if you wish…

6.2.08

The brittle Raj

Jaya Bachchan, as expected, said, “I don’t know who Raj Thackeray is.” She emphasised that she only knows Bal Thackeray and his son Udhhav. Smart woman, as always the sharp guddi. There is some substance to what Raj said about Amitabh; everyone knows that Uttar Pradesh is run by this close-knit mafia of Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh and the Bachchans, with Anil Ambani and Subroto Roy making guest appearances.

She said with a deadpan expression that if the Maharashtra government gave them land they would build a school named after daughter-in-law Aishwariya. No one has bothered to question how they are getting land in UP. But then, a lot has been happening there…

By hitting out at Raj she forgets that his animosity towards the North Indians has been learned from his uncle, Balasaheb, whose grandson’s book launch her husband attended and showered treacly praise on the ‘heritage’.

Now live with it.

Coming to the main protagonist, Raj Thackeray, I had written about him a while ago and reproduce it here:

The one time I saw him has remained etched in memory. I was waiting to get out of the car at an office building in Nariman Point. A monster SUV blocked the entrance. Two gun-toting bodyguards jumped out and stood at attention. A man wearing a starched shirt that would look better in a laundry than on a human body stepped out. He flicked his hair, which was blow-dried and very likely sprayed to stay in place, for that motion of the head moving did not seem to affect it; it flopped back in a neat fall. He went in, leaving the place reeking of an indecipherable strong fragrance.

It did not smell of power. It had the scent of obsessiveness about it. Even desperation.

Raj Thackeray, it was said, walked, talked and even thought like his uncle, the Shiv Sena leader. The man I saw that day seemed more like a small-time struggler faking it in a Bollywood blockbuster.

In some ways, that has been Raj’s story.

Little man tries to emulate marquee man. Realises with time that cloning does not work. Not in the long run.

In the short run it worked like a dream which turned into a nightmare for many.

Raj became the Sena’s ‘hitman’. In Hindi film terminology, he was the spot boy, the makeup man, the stunt artiste. The problem is, he started living those parts. He went around carrying a mirror to look at himself, he worked on his gestures, he took part in the street fights.

As sidekick he got a few brownie points and a place next to that ridiculous Maharaja chair that Balasaheb occupies. But he was no Birbal or Chanakya. He was just another loyal soldier with the right name.

During the Mumbai riots it was Raj who was known for his pugnaciousness (much as Sanjay Gandhi was during the Emergency). At the shakhas, Raj groomed the lumpens. He fit in perfectly in the Shiv Sena scheme of things.

He may have quit the party and started his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, but nothing much has changed...