28.5.08

A memory and Munni Begum

Umm..ummm…ummm..aaa….aaa….thodasa muskurake nigaahein milaiye…mujhko meri hayaat ka maqsad bataaiye...

“Munni Begum hai na?” I could hear S maamu say.

Ammi came into the room. It was me. Even when I was an adolescent, I had a full-bodied voice. Those young days, as I have said so often, were filled with eclectic music. My uncle mistaking me for Munni Begum was a huge kick. I am aware that most people rate her lower than Iqbal Bano or Mallika Pukhraj, but she was a singer and she sang the songs I liked…and it made me different. No high-pitched trill. I did not want to be a nightingale; I wanted to be a vulture with its kill, the heavy sound of breathing as it heralded life and death in one breath.

A few years later an older acquaintance told me about the similarity again. He said I laughed like her. “Where did you hear her laugh?” I asked.

“I did not…when she sings certain ghazals, it seems like laughter.”

No one makes such comparisons anymore, alas. But Munni Begum is memory, mazaak, mehek

If I become objective, then I find tremendous madhoshi, the sufi meets seductress:

niyyat-e-shauq bhar na jaa'ye kaheen - Munni Begum



27.5.08

My Net worth?

They say people in Mumbai like to say, “You don’t know who I am?”

Am wondering whether I should try it with my internet guy…would go something like this…

Maalum nahin kya apun kaun hai? Yeh kya lagayela hai, aisa vaat lagaa dega ke bheja fry ho jaayega. Saala, itna speed ka paisa bhara aur bail gaadi maafak neeche aata maal…matlab download hota. Awaaz nahin mangta…seedha fast track par aaja… Log apun ka waaste roklela hai ke kya mast item daalega blog mein. Blog bole toh…ghar jaisach, kuchch bhi bak ne ka. Tere ko kaiku itna poochh-taach karneka. Tu kaam par lag ja… maalum nahin kaun hai apun?

But what does FV say? Hello, Mr X, can you please do something…this is so terrible. You know I just cannot connect and I work from here…I understand, of course….oh, all right…I shall wait.

And then they say I am a toughie….

News meeows - 15

Madrasa student cracks UPSC

At a time when eyebrows are being raised on the kind of education being imparted in madrasas across the country, a maulana from the Darul-Uloom-Deoband in Uttar Pradesh has passed the country’s most elite examination, the Civil Services exam, in his fourth attempt. Maulana Waseem-ur-Rehman, 31, is the first madrasa product who has cleared the civil services exams in the country. Moreover, for his interview, the maulana took training from the RSS-run institute Samkalp at Paharganj in New Delhi.

Oh wow, what would poor madrassa students do without the RSS? I tell you what – they make some neat weapons, learn to fly planes…UPSC exams are a piece of truffle. And what does this fellow do with it now? Where will he get employment? He already has a Bachelor’s degree in Unani medicine and surgery, so what was wrong with that? How many non-Muslims who attend religious schools need to prove that they can also do it in the civil services?

-- -

The BJP wins in Karnataka

The BJP’s triumphant chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa met Karnataka governor Rameshwar Thakur on Monday to stake his claim to form the government, stating, “We have the numbers’’. His said this after two independent MLAs attended the legislative party meeting earlier in the day. Late reports said three more independents had pledged their support to the BJP, taking the party well past the magic number of 113—over the halfway mark in the 224-member assembly.

Okay. I want to do something drastic, mainly because this is only the beginning. The first state in the South goes to the hardcore Hindutva party. Who is to blame? The Congress and the JD(S). Deve Gowda, who made sleeping on the job a part of his PMship, couldn’t sleep with the ‘enemy’. Now we are left with this sorry state, and Narendra Modi who was crowing before will be really happy. The saffronites have got the tech city in their pocket.

As always the media is talking about L.K.Advani as the PM in waiting. He has begun to smile a lot and now even resembles Dr. Manmohan Singh without the turban. Lord Ram save Bharat, and I mean not just your brother.

- - -

Omar Abdullah, National Conference Chief, has criticised pictures of President Pratibha Patil holding an AK-47 during her ongoing visit to Jammu and Kashmir

The former Union Minister has said he would have wanted to see her photographs with children in some far-flung hamlet rather than "brandishing" the "object that has caused so much death and destruction over the last 18 years."

"The photograph was of President Patil brandishing an AK-47 and smiling... Somehow the two things didn't seem to go together…They say a picture speaks a thousand words and I would have been thrilled to see a photograph of the President talking to kids, as a grandmother would, in some far flung hamlet about the promise of a better future…I know she's the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, but the photograph reminded me of a rather forgettable Sylvester Stallone movie - `Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot'".

Dear, dear Omar…did you tell the little Kashmiris while Farooque was busy playing golf ‘Stop or my Pa will get a hole in one’? Take a look at the picture instead of trying to be this smart-ass son of a gun. Does it look like she is brandishing anything? If you want the locals to have grandmothers, then make sure the political parties and terrorist outfits and army guys behave. You want to see pictures of her in some hamlet, then take her on a tour, invite her to a waazwaan, and then watch her lounging in a shikara on the Dal Lake sipping kahwa. You want feel-good, you get feel-good. Nothing more. Life in Kashmir won’t change because the President behaves like a grandma. Would you say the same had the president been a man? How many of our old men act like grandpas or are expected to? What is this rishtedari business, anyway? Your dad was busy taking filmstars (the activist actress Shabana Azmi, no less) pillion riding on a motorcycle.

Trust me the children of Kashmir are not going around screaming, “Oye, humko bandook do, madamji waala”.


Ask the vexpert - 6

Question: I am suffering from a problem of very early ejaculation. When I enter my wife's vagina, I can hold for just about a minute before I ejaculate. What could be the reason for this? A friend recalls reading about a cream you had suggested in this column. Could you tell me which cream is it? Also, I find it extremely hot when I am inside her. Once when withdrew, I even saw steam coming out. What could be wrong? Kindly help us, we are worried.

Sexpert: The temperature will certainly not fry your penis! It happens due to the congestion of blood in your wife's vagina. About your PE, try to learn how to stop and start. Use Climax Spray if you want.

Me: You need to get rid of the stopwatch. Think 61 seconds and keep increasing the duration. I would suggest you use compact powder instead of a cream…any woman will tell you how the makeup stays in place with this magic powder. Regarding the heat, I suggest you first insert a couple of ice-cubes (club variety, the kind you can prod with a straw or stirrer). Another way out is to use a small battery-operated fan at intervals…it might also prolong your stay. You say you saw steam coming out? Does your wife run a sauna? Some career women do take their jobs very seriously. Did the steam curl up or did it make a hissing sound like in a pressure cooker? These are not minor problems. My worry is that due to the excess heat and steam your penis might evaporate. Why don’t you build an igloo over your penis? It will also add weight as well as keep you cool.

26.5.08

What after hello

…and your book is out?

If you are me, you say things like “I want a quiet launch”. In fact, months before the arrival I had told a few people the ideal book launch is me in the Bahamas, the book in the stores, standing with dignity, and a few words about what others think. The Bahamas hasn’t quite worked out, not even Goa…so I am tanning myself in the Mumbai sun…

The book is available in Bangalore and Hyderabad; I know because people have told me. It has been despatched from Delhi, so I assume it will be in the Delhi stores. Some did ask me why there was no launch. One is the reason I have given. I do not like the idea of finger food and drinks or chai-paani doing the rounds while some stentorian voice reads out excerpts and people become exceedingly polite.

I am not used to polite.

There is also another reason. The end reader should chance upon it where it matters. I am not looking after the publicity and no media person has got a copy from me. In fact, no one has.

However, the publishers do plan to have some sort of interactive thing later in a few cities…preferably after some people have read the book. This makes sense to me.

Since this is the only place I can update people, I shall do so…

- - -

About updating, as some of the readers of this blog know, it had become quite cumbersome. What you do not know is how I have even updated personal stories. Someone made a sensational comment about his personal life; with time I realised things had changed. Was it fair to retain it? No. Out it went.

Another one was more amusing. This woman was to get married. Suddenly discovered she had decided against it. She wanted to wait. Fine. As long as she would. I casually asked about her. “Haan ab shaadi ho gayi (Now she is married),” I was told. Great. “The miyan must have been so jittery?” I asked. “Kaun? Who? Arre nahin…shaadi ho gayi, dulha badal gaya! (She has got married, but the groom has changed)” This is worse than Nawaz Sharif getting a hair job or Asif Zardari discovering a spine.

Note to self: Next time write a novel or short stories. But next time is already non-fiction again.

- - -

The first trip to Pakistan was in 2001, pre 9/11. The last May 2007. Just to let you know about my past!

- - -

The best thing I heard (and all ye armymen who have been on my case…this is straight from the mess…so don’t mess with me)...

“All the best and it feels great even here in sub-zero temperatures at 10,600 feet above mean sea level.

Can I send you a cheque and give you the postal address to send me an autographed copy. I am probably, the only reader of FV's writings at this altitude. But one never knows. Maybe, even the yetis at Mount Everest might be part of the FV fan club :-)”

The worst thing by someone who has read the book: Hmm…million apologies. I cannot mention it yet because it will give away some very important details. But, yes, the criticism is in…and I am not the kind to whitewash it.

- - -

And hello, hello…people this is a first book, not my first piece of writing. I have said this many times. Being here writing about my walls and ceilings is as important to me. Trust me on this. And don’t forget all those years I have been writing and getting the rough end of the stick.

24.5.08

Revisiting the callousness towards the Bombay riots

35 ’93 ‘rioters’ walk free (News report)

On the night of January 11, 1993, a mob of around 100 men ran riot in Lower Parel, pelting stones at buildings, looting and burning shops in the vicinity. The police had arrested 49 men, for offences ranging from rioting, housebreaking to theft, but since some of them absconded or died, the trial took place against 35 men (All of them hindus). Although the police assessed a total loss of approximately Rs 85 lakh, only about Rs 10,000 were recovered from the men. Even the investigating officer of the case died during the trial.

Defence lawyer J K Tandulekar said that the prosecution’s case failed miserably when all 13 witnesses failed to identify the accused, and no evidence was gathered to prove the accused had committed the offences. “After 15 years, no witness could recognise three dozen men from a frenzied mob which went on a rampage that night. Sadly, the huge monetary damages suffered during the incident will be foregone and unaccounted for, as the real culprits haven’t been nailed,” Tandulekar added. The prosecution had also alleged that a part of the mob pelted stones specifically on homes of-Muslim families. However, no witness could substantiate these claims nor could any or evidence be put before the court. With the recent acquittal, the number of those acquitted in the 1992-93 riots cases has gone up to 79 from 81 who have been tried (only two have been convicted). Of the 18 policemen examined, 11 turned hostile.

If any of you were around in those days, your blood would be boiling once again. Why is the onus always on the victims? I had seen those shops, houses burning. However, unlike the judge I think we ought to think beyond the money. In 15 years those people would have either managed to put their lives back together again or been out in the streets. Please do look carefully at the portions marked in bold.

How the hell are people to identify those from a mob? And if they had pointed out randomly to some, what would have happened? They would have to provide evidence? Of what? Did they take goddamn photographs while their shops and homes were looted? What does the judge want?

What does this mean: “The prosecution had also alleged that a part of the mob pelted stones specifically on homes of-Muslim families. However, no witness could substantiate these claims nor could any or evidence be put before the court”?

Isn’t this stupid? If those accused were rounded up, then did not the legal system already know who they were? Do they expect the victims to check just the way they were in those days in the good old “Drop your pants and show is who you are” manner?

Please let us know what evidence is required. Why is it so easy to start talking about Islamic terrorists and jihadis but difficult to point fingers at others? They were arrested, they were a mob, and they did commit a crime. What more do you want? Do you think they saved the money in little piggy banks at home after selling the loot to leave as traces of evidence?

Why don’t we just say: No justice is required in this case and be done with it? Well, you be done with it. Because I am going to keep at it.

- - -

In the course of researching an old article of mine, I found this gem by someone, which essentially gets connected with what has been stated above:

Frankly this is what I think. FV doesn’t believe in the middle or moderate majority and the sooner it disappears the happier she is to be `vindicated`. It has been a constant implicit or explicit theme in all her writings on Hindu-Muslim affairs (according to me) that there are no Hindus who are not genocidal and no Hindus who are not hard core Hindutva-vadis pretending to be something else. This could be the general Indian Muslim belief or not, I have no way of knowing. Pakistanis are certainly 100% behind her on this as it is their national ideology.

Now if Hindus in turn believe that there are no moderate Muslims, that they are all genocidal, that of course is also welcome to FV since then she gets to be a victim twice over. It is an ideology one wields, leaving all responsibility for the complexities of real world to everyone else. It is labelled patriotism by some.

Great!

I have often said and will continue to say it: The moderate majority speaking on behalf of the minority is doing a disservice because it only shows up their ‘concern and magnanimity’. Yes, I believe it is patronising. So? Does it mean I do not believe they exist? It is because they exist I am asking them to lay off. It isn’t a question of vindication but letting us speak for ourselves. Am really tired of these “there are no Muslim leaders” whining from the other side…as though there are any good Hindu leaders.

It is convenient for people to accuse me of branding all Hindus when I very specifically use the terms Hindutvawadis, saffron brigade, Hindu fundamentalist. The fact that someone has to state that Pakistanis are behind me is very revealing. It just shows that without my having to believe in it, the Hindutva ideology has seeped into mainstream thought and any Indian Muslim who says something that is ‘Muslim’ in nature is immediately branded along with Pakistan. So, the problem lies with them, not with me.

Of course the last bit had me smiling. FV as victim twice over? FV takes full responsibility for what she believes in but not for what others expect or think she believes in. So, if someone says I think all Hindus are genocidal, that I should be nice to Taslima, then please go fly a kite. The complexities of the real world are as much mine…it is the fantasies of these cyber warriors who have not been to the places I have that makes them talk about the real world. Some of us just live in the real world. We write short stories and poems and musings when we want to fantasise and we call it fantasy or the labels mentioned.

As for patriotism. I really do not need anyone or their cyber chelas to tell me whether they think I am a patriot or not. I don’t need a certificate from anyone, Indian or NRI for that. Branding me with a victim complex is a ploy because many people cannot deal with someone who dishes it out to them in their language and refuses to be cowed down. Only a fool (or a wily mind) would call such a person a victim. There are indeed many so-called secular and liberal Muslims who have these hand-holding sessions with citizens groups and talk about how we are all one…and they feel good because of the concerned Hindus.

I am glad that I am not one with many Muslims either. And the Hindus who know me don’t need to support me. They know what I mean and I know what they mean and we both have our nice little fireside chats and have a good laugh at those who stand and stare.

We have travelled miles…and slept a peaceful sleep…

21.5.08

India and the Dalai Lama’s Middling Path

The Dalai Lama's famous 'middle path' is the biggest cop-out. It works only at the level of Hollywood art-house cinema and to make sure that Richard Gere remains the certified American gigolo of the movement.
India and the Dalai Lama’s Middling Path
by Farzana Versey
State of Nature

India is trapped. “This will be a ‘Tom and Jerry’ show. The cat may have powerful fangs but the mouse will ultimately win,” said Tibetan leader Tensin Tsunde.
- - -
The Tibetan Refugee Camp in Delhi was quiet. The stalls where they sold carvings, trinkets, and shawls and woolens in winter, were empty. They stood like cages, iron meshes separating one from the other.
Some monks were sitting on the wooden platforms. Young people in trendy clothes were walking about aimlessly. I spotted two young men in their late teens. For a month in March all shops were closed in protest. Wangchuk stayed here. The lodgings are very basic, but certainly better constructed than the hovels of the poor. Both these boys were attending college. One lived here; the other in a mainstream locality. The latter was far more forthcoming. What was Wangchuk afraid of?
“Not afraid. I just don’t want too much prominence. We are going through conflict.”
“With the Chinese?”
“Yes, but also amongst ourselves.”
At the centre of the discord is the Dalai Lama. At the time I was there last month he was sitting in an air-conditioned suite of a five-star hotel. The protesters had been shouting slogans. These two teenagers are tired. “For four days we sat there, it won’t achieve anything. People are going on and on about boycotting the Olympics. We don’t care about all that. We want complete independence.”
The Dalai Lama’s famous ‘middle path’ is the biggest cop-out.
It works only at the level of Hollywood art-house cinema and to make sure that Richard Gere remains the certified American gigolo of the movement. The Dalai Lama says that the recent aggression and riots that took place did not involve Tibetan monks at all. “They (Chinese soldiers) dressed like monks. So, for a lay person, they will look like monks. But the swords they had were not Tibetan, they were Chinese swords.”
Yet, he does not want a separate state but autonomy within China. It is time for him to visit his people as a political leader and drop the His Holiness garb. But that won’t sell. He has got a nice little resort to himself in India, a horde of celebrity endorsements and a typical Occidental support system. Steve Tsang, a China politics expert at Oxford University rightly asked, “How many people watching these images in the West will buy China's story? Instead, what you see are these heroic monks who are risking a lot for their cause. That is something your average Westerner is very sympathetic with.”
The average Westerner makes Chicken Soup for the Soul a bestseller. Monks are cute, and the Dalai Lama really enchants everyone. An Indian editor just could not rein in his excitement when the Tibetan leader slapped his wrist after every joke. Here is one such ‘joke’: “The Chinese accuse me of orchestrating the protests. I call for a thorough investigation. Let them investigate if I am responsible. Let them investigate any and everything—except my lungs, my stomach, my urine and my stool.”
I had once attended one of his lectures at an auditorium in Mumbai. Standing in the queue to enter the hall was quite a lesson. There were foreigners with backpacks, the usual activist brigade, a few chic ladies in summer wear, some were into the holistic healing fad, and there were the Tibetans in their orange-maroon robes.
When the gates opened there was a predictable rush. You could have been to a rock concert, but there was a silence punctuated by laughter that was echoing the Dalai Lama’s giggles. He laughed because he goofed up on his English and everyone laughed because he did. Charming, but that’s about it. He said India was their guru; he was only stating the obvious. He was barely audible let alone intelligible.
Besides, when the West is busy bashing up ‘Islamists’ for making a hue and cry about faith, why is their poster boy publicly airing his religious views?
He vacillates between international intervention and then insisting that “the real solution to the Tibet issue can only be found between the Han Chinese and the Tibetans and no one else”. Almost immediately he avers, “I appeal to the world to save the Tibetan nation, which has a unique cultural heritage and is facing extinction as a result of the cultural genocide taking place in Tibet.”
In one of those supremely confusing moments, he has said that culturally Tibetans were closer to India and politically to China.
To start with, the problem is political. Tibet was established over 2100 years ago by Raja Nathi Chenpo, the first king. Around the middle of the 20th century, October 1949 to be precise, Chinese aggression began. With the advent of Communism, the attempts became bolder, resulting in forcible entry into Tibet, the butchering and massacre of 1959 which finally made the Dalai Lama and millions of others seek refuge in India.
Very soon the refugees realised they shared many similarities with the people of the Himalayan regions. What the Indian government does not realise is that joining forces with Tibet is detrimental to India because China has laid claims to Arunachal Pradesh, did not recognize Sikkim as a part of India and has supported many separatist movements in the North East and continues to occupy Aksai Chin in Ladakh.
Some of us who are considered ‘concerned citizens’ got an invitation to join in the parallel torch relay two days before the Olympics torch arrived; it was sent by some Indian Opposition leaders. That we are still struggling with our own separatist issues does not seem to drive home a discordant note. Also, since the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama have been crying themselves hoarse that they do not have a problem with China hosting the Olympics, why is India falling into the rat-trap?
People like Wangchuk have begun to question the concept of the very culture they are fighting to save. “We are not blaming the older generation but how long can we wait? We believe in democracy that is the reason we quietly protest. It is unfortunately mistaken for being soft. So far we have not thought of arming ourselves because that would not be good for us either. Yet when people keep telling us that we are Buddhist and must therefore follow the path of peaceful appeals, we find it a little unnerving. Recent experience has shown us quite clearly that the sound of bombs resonates very loudly but not our voices.”
An elderly administrator, Teng Pasang, is worried about this call for complete independence. “That is why the Chinese should speak to the Dalai Lama. After he is gone it will be difficult. If the Tibetans want they can become terrorists overnight. They could have become like Kashmir.”
Did it not strike him as a bit unusual that for a people who live in refugee camps they have given up their means of livelihood for a month? “This is a small price to pay for the sacrifice of the Tibetans. Besides, most have made enough money and saved up.”
He is happy with how the international community is responding. “It is good, UK, France, America, all coming and supporting.”
They have never shown such support for Kashmir, Afghanistan or Iraq, I tell him. “See, I told you Tibetans are non-violent. They are not terrorists.”
The Dalai Lama’s own position regarding terrorism is rather interesting. He had told the Daily Telegraph some years ago that terrorists must be treated humanely or terrorism will spread, “If there is one Bin Laden killed today, soon there will be 10 Bin Ladens…The new terrorism has been brewing for many years. Much of it is caused by jealousy and frustration at the West because it looks so highly developed and successful on television.”
Clearly he watches a lot of television. Perhaps he is unaware that it was the West that made the Gulf war into the first reality soap opera. It is rather surprising that for someone who fled because of atrocities he does not understand the depth of dissent. Osama bin Laden was a highly successful ‘Harry’, much admired in the teakwood-paneled clubs of London. No terrorist movement is even remotely trying to ape the West or showing any evidence of materialistic aspirations.
Today, the walls at the camp are plastered more with announcements of music programmes rather than political slogans. What do they want? Their voices are asking to support the proposal to demilitarize and denuclearize Tibet and put a stop to Chinese aggression. They want India to raise the issue of Tibet’s independence. And finally they cannot see why His Holiness cannot be accorded the status of Head of State-in-exile. That will be a truly political statement.
As Wangchuk says, “We will not compromise.”
How long are they willing to wait? “Till the end, till we get what is our right. We have seen many difficulties in the past, so it is time for looking towards a good future.”
I am given a “Free Tibet” badge with some diffidence. I put it away in my bag. One of these should reach the Dalai Lama.

20.5.08

Vijay Tendulkar: Khamosh...

I saw him coming out of the gate of Sahitya Sahwas, the complex for littérateurs in Bandra east where he lived. He was wearing very dark glasses and for a moment looked like one of those dark characters that he created so well.
Vijay Tendulkar would just have easily been relegated to the small world of ‘art cinema’, but going by the films he scripted, the plays he wrote, it is clear that there weren’t many like him around at the time to sustain the avante garde movement. But Tendulkar was not experimenting; he was giving it to us as real as it was, mostly a hard slap ...with the sharpness of a whip.
He was groping the underbelly of society – tribal, rural and urban.
He exposed hyprocrisy – political, social, gender. The last I am a bit iffy about. His men may have been victims but they were pretty much in charge. However, it is when he showed them as vulnerable and helpless did they become human and not the off-beat version of machismo.
I suppose of all his work I do rate Manthan the best, precisely because it was a subtler film; the intent was less oblivious…perhaps the subject lent itself to that sort of pace.
In theatre, Tendulkar will forever be known for Sakharam Binder and the pathbreaking Ghashiram Kotwal. In the latter he coalesced folk theatre, music and dance to make a hugely political point using history.
I shall always remember this play fondly because it was the main actor who enacted Nana Phadnavis, Dr. Mohan Agashe (he is a practising psychiatrist) who drove me to the hall after feeding me laddus and then went and sat at the ticket counter minutes before the powerhouse performance. This is commitment.
This is how people like Tendulkar woke us up to several realities. In some ways, even his own death...yesterday, May 19.
- - -
A list of some of his works:

# Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The Court Is in Session) (1972)
# Nishant (End of Night) (1975)
# Saamna (Confrontation) (1975)
# Manthan (Churning) (1976)
# Simhasan (Throne) (1979)
# Gehrayee (The Depth) (1980)
# Aakrosh (Cry of the Wounded) (1980)
# Akriet (Unimaginable) (1981)
# Umbartha (The Threshold) (1981)
# Ardh Satya (Half Truth) (1983)
# Kamala (1984)
# Sardar (1993)

19.5.08

A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan

I tore open the yellowish envelope in my hotel room. It carried the advance copies of my book. I just kept staring, as though it was about someone else, about something else. I ran my fingers over the cover…it is in the colours I like. How many times had I already seen it – while it was still being designed, when it was done, when it was modified a bit…yet, it looked new.

The publisher from Harper Collins called and said, “Happy reading.”

“I don’t want to read it,” I said with some nonchalance.

But I did…started looking for typos! But…as night fell and I read through I knew it was me. My ghost of those days haunting…

It should be out at the bookstores within a week. Here are a few glimpses of a bit of a bit…for those who have shared so many moments with me here…

The cover

The back-jacket blurb

'You need to be deported,' said the retired army general. What follows is not deportation but the beginning of an exploration. An exploration that is nuanced by the identity of the narrator: an Indian Muslim woman travelling alone in a space notoriously difficult to negotiate, vis-a-vis its history and politics.

From travelling in the cockpit of the PIA aircraft to having the door shut in her face by a born-again nationalist to attending parties in perfumed salons to examining the minorities; from being treated as a philistine to engaging in enlivening conversations with those who had to pay the price for dissent, the author attempts to understand what it means to live in Pakistan today.

In the course of her journey, at times interrupted, through the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar, Farzana Versey finds herself struggling with her own identity 'When I was on the soil of the land of the pure, my impurity struck me. I was the emotional mulatto,' she writes.

A Journey Interrupted is not your conventional travelogue. In the vignettes the author weaves together, of living and travelling in a complex society, the personal becomes the political. And the picture that emerges is of a changing nation with a unique mix of religious tradition and barely-in-check liberalism. In these times of political and social unrest in Pakistan, this is a timely book – one that delves into the Pakistani mind and traces the chasms in its recent history.

- - -

Contents

Acknowledgements

Prologue

The Indian Question – A Beginning

Section A: Cities, ruins, resurrection

1. Vestiges of Valhalla

2. Where phantoms walk

3. The haunted, the hunted

4. The First Frontier

Section B: Inside Outside

5. The Kafir Mussalman and the Confused Muslim

6. The Marginals

7. Changing faces, Static Masks

8. Dissent and Defence

9. Birth of a nationalist mullah

10. Soliloquists in a swarm

11. Falcons in the desert

Section C: The Pakistani Question

12. Jinnah to Jihad

13. Requiem

Epilogue

- - -

I think most of the chapter titles are self-explanatory, yet…

Section A: Deals with Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar respectively. Not a tourist brochure guide, okay? I wish I could say more…how about my encounter with a djinn? And why was I in the cockpit of the aircraft on my first trip? And the cops in my room…what happened?

Section B: It talks with the minorities – socio-economic, sexual, intellectual…essentially outsiders. There are also longish interviews with Ahmed Faraz, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Sheema Kermani, Pervez Hoodbhoy and a few others…we discussed the whole question of the Pakistani identity and not being Indian.

Section C: The primarily political chapters, but with some short interviews and quite a bit on Kashmir from both sides.

There are lots of conversations, and where Urdu is used I have retained it (with translations).

This is not an academic treatise although I have woven in several details. It does not read different from anything else I write, perhaps there is just more space, more time to ruminate: 299 pages, but readable font.

It is primarily from an Indian Muslim perspective and I should hope in however subtle a manner I have managed to debunk a few stereotypes that exist about both Pakistanis and the Indian Muslim 'affiliation'. This is about Pakistan, but it is also about India. It is about Them and Us. About Her/Him and Me. The Prologue, Introduction, and Epilogue are intensity personal and, yes, I have cried here too…

What more can I say? If you do pick up a copy, I would like honest feedback.

O, cruel world...

It is a new steel glass. The label refuses to come out. Apply oil. It slips and falls. See what I mean? Even new things come with tags, some so well-glued that they refuse to come off. We try to get them to drop those labels and they slip and fall. Right from our hands that have held them.

- - -

Many people see the following song as morose. I don’t. The wail, "Haae, haae yeh zaalim zamaana" (Oh, cruel world) is quite metaphysical and not just about a particular sorrow…I am completely besotted by K. L. Saigal and many wonder why I don’t think the same about Mukesh. Saigal never sang from just his throat and his voice was not nasal as those imitating him tried to mimic. He had a naturally zukhaam hua (suffering from a slight nasal congestion) voice just as he had a zakhmi tone…as though an arrow was threatening to pierce him and all he had was tears as shield.

Listen to Gham diye mustqil… and you will know what I mean…




16.5.08

Jaipur blasts

Jaipur has happened. I do not wish to rush into kneejerk analysis. It is about over 60 lives lost, over two hundred injured. This picture conveys a lot.

The two things that have disappointed me most about the media coverage:

1. The emphasis on the cricketers and their safety. Out of the 3000 policemen, 500 were already on duty at the field before the blasts. What the hell…

2. How will it affect tourism? they ask. Those who have stayed on are seen as brave creatures. What will the world think of us? What the hell…

What do we think of ourselves?

Have I joined the tamasha?

Resistance finally gave way. After two years of being intermittently invited, I agreed. Sunday I was in the television studio at Delhi. Subject: Is politics a men’s club? The real discussion was on the Women’s Reservations Bill.

The panel was high-powered. And I say this because you realise that it does not matter. A couple of the high-powered had hardly any say because what you need is to be pushy. As Lord Meghnad Desai, sitting next to me, advised during the break, “You will have to interrupt.”

I cannot. It is uncouth. Anyhow, I feel only two people were really qualified to speak – Dr. Najma Heptulla, the former deputy chairperson of the Lok Sabha, and Amrit Brar, a police officer from Punjab. They were in professions where the hierarchy is most manifest. The former is soft-spoken; the latter barely got a chance to say much.

Television is a medium of sound bytes and clichés. Just in case anyone is interested, my points – some that got past, some edited out, some remained unsaid…

I am against these 33 per cent reservations for women in parliament and got to comment at the point when a gentleman said that women are the most backward and oppressed caste. Is this what these women want to be considered? Do they want such patronising sops? Yes, I did mutter, “Oh god” under my breath… because…

Women tend to get the soft portfolios …just to give it a facetious though pertinent angle I said since these are kickbacks-potential portfolios, women too should be entitled to their share.

The argument against was full of clichés. Children’s development is not a soft portfolio; these are important issues. No one discusses them in Parliament. And we are living in a patriarchal society where female foetuses are aborted.

(As though I bloody don't know.)

* Shabana Azmi who is pro-reservations talked most about all the ‘right’ things. Throughout she kept mentioning how we need this group of women, and then she said women are not a monolith. I immediately said that she was contradicting herself.

The moment you have a set-up where you say you need these many women you are clubbing them into a hole. This is a monolith. Of course, she did not like it and said she did not know what I was talking about.

Too bad.

The good Lord MD said that gender is a fact and, because he was such a sweetheart (no airs etc), I gracefully accepted the statement as something I had just discovered with a smile. Okay, I said if it is a fact then why have certain things not happened, what has prevented it.

* The final round was about the timeframe for this Bill to see fruition. A century, said someone…as much time as it takes, said another…This only proves my point that you only want to have something on paper.


- - -

The show was telecast on the same day. I got a message from a friend: “You are on TV, which means you are in Delhi, which means you have not informed me.”

So I called. He was with a colleague from Mumbai at the India International Centre.

As soon as I walked into the lounge, he said, “Ah, you look the same as you did on TV”. Dilliwallahs will always be Dilliwallahs. The lady at the next sofa asked me what it was about; I gave the blah in short…and she said she had worked on several projects for “women’s empowerment”.

“What have you got to do with the subject?” she asked.

Rather charmingly I replied, “Nothing, except that I am a woman.”

Strange, strange. I was there despite not knowing anyone on the channel, being completely out of the media eye, being myself.

- - -

It just so happened that M.J.Akbar's Covert was being launched the day I was returning. A call. I turned back from the airport. My first media party. Amazing. Absolutely wonderful to be there because I met some really nice people. Different groups, different conversations. From Pakistan to politics to Urdu and Farsi to the paranormal.

Someone said rather helpfully, “Oh, she does not spare anyone.”

People were leafing through copies. “So, what have you written on?”

I hmm-ed a bit. Here is a hardcore political fortnightly. When I was asked to get my column Maverick on board, I did not know what the magazine would look like…the emphasis, the stories. I decided to steer clear of anything political. I wrote about pornography. The title is: “Civilise society, add a dash of porn”.

There is no e-edition of the magazine yet. Have fun!

10.5.08

Opening lives

What do you hold back? How much do you reveal?

In my early days in journalism I remember I had done this interview and after it had gone to press, sitting with some colleagues, I started talking about that individual. The editor happened to pass by and almost shrieked: “What? You have not put all this in the piece…”

“How could I? It was personal…”

“Personal? For your diary?”

I realised later that when someone agrees to speak to you for public consumption then the person ought to be aware that anything said will be public.

There are times, though, when you realise that the person is talking and suddenly the defences are down. There is an element of vulnerability. The ones who are seasoned tell you some things are off-record; I wonder what the game is here. If it is off-record why are you telling a stranger? I do not encourage that at all, unless I need some information which can be used without direct attribution.

Another rule I follow is not to befriend the subject (unless I already know the person or am working on a major enterprise where you do spend considerable time with the person, as biographers do); one particular lady in the arts got very friendly; we really hit it off. I never wrote about her after that. Simple. She had become a friend and I am no groupie; there is also the trepidation that one may become privy to information that could perhaps inadvertently get into print.

What happens to information one has? I can only say it is tempting to reveal, but even my closest friends do not know the names of people, though they may know about incidents I have mentioned. It could be fun, even ego-boosting to say “Hey you know X, that one said to me…blah, blah”.

- - -

These thoughts have come to me following the current controversy over poet Nida Fazli who is facing a defamation case for penning an article about film-maker Kamal Amrohi.

He has written as quoted by newspaper reports:

• Dharmendra was made to don black grease-paint in Razia Sultan because Amrohi could never stomach that Dharmendra had had an affair with his wife, actress Meena Kumari.

• Amrohi was fond of women and pretty faces and insisted on seeing a pretty face every time he woke up after taking a nap in his office.

• Amrohi called for a mirror when he was on his death bed and seeing himself, said, "Yeh kaun hain? Yeh kaun kehta hain Kamal Amrohi hain? (Who is this? Who says this is Kamal Amrohi?) He then called for a barber and after getting himself a shave and a haircut, said, "Haan ab nazar aatein hain Kamal Amrohi" (Yes, now you can see Kamal Amrohi).

Amrohi’s daughter Rukhsar is livid:

“Who has given Mr Fazli the right to use his pen to tarnish the image of my father, that too by saying things that are just a figment of his imagination? I am shocked that a man who owes everything to my Baba is doing this to him. It was Baba who gave him his first break in a big film.”

I tend to agree with Fazli that all this is “common Bollywood folklore”. And I am a bit surprised that Rukhsar is using Meena Kumari, who was married to her father. As she said:

“He refers to Chhoti Ammi (Meena Kumari) as someone who had become promiscuous after Baba’s death. He talks about her relationship with other actors. I want to know how he takes this liberty to write such things about people who are no longer around to defend themselves or to even correct him.”

We don't seem to have a genre of writing about celebrities that is non-hagiographic. A lot of what Fazli has written might appear to be gossipy and trivial, which is what most readers have got accustomed to. This was in an Urdu newspaper and one wonders how those readers have reacted.

Amrohi's eldest son is supporting Fazli, and these things were already written when the filmmaker was alive as well. I am not sure whether we must spare the dead only because they are not there to defend themselves. We would then not have much material to go by.

- - -

The questions to ask at the end of it are:

Is the information given relevant? (Fazli writes regularly on a personality.) I used to do a profile column every week in which I pretty much took on a famous person, preferably someone in the news; most of them were alive. I do not know if there was any pressure, but, yes, I made the 'mistake' of writing about Satya Sai Baba. It wasn’t the Baba who would have had a problem but the publisher was a devotee!

What about the defence of celebrities? Most newspapers will happily publish their version. If they are dead, they have their supporters. And if they are alive but don’t wish to come to the forefront then we have their coteries. I had several Rajnikant fan clubs spamming my inbox; the most ridiculous accusation was that I had criticised him because he was dark-skinned and I was fair! The Sachin fans said I had a problem because he had got a Ferrari…

How harsh is harsh? I cannot speak about others, but trust me when I say that unless it is a person being discussed because of an issue and her/his role, I do follow a good deal of self-censorship. Besides, information without perspective does not work. How do you buffer the information, why is it there, do you have an analysis for it?

People, especially those in the public eye, are like archaeological sites. It is only after digging that you find that precious piece of historical evidence. While getting there you will have to deal with lots of mud – do you just brush it off or do you wipe it to get a clear picture and learn to value it for what it is? Or do you soil what you have found?

7.5.08

yahi armaan lekar aaj apne ghar se ham nikale

Am sure Naushad saab had no such desires when he left this world – to see his beloved Carter road named after him. But it is now Sangeet Samrat Naushad Ali Marg. Indeed, a well-deserved posthumous honour. This is not the first time it has happened and not the last, therefore we will have to stop cribbing about the changing of road names. If there is one thing about this one, it is that it is not a political act.

My little memories have been penned here, but today I am thinking about the film Babul and Dilip Kumar at the piano and Munnawar Sultana joining him intoning Shakeel Badayuni’s words. Talat Mehmood of the quiver in the voice and Shamshad Begum with that nasal tone singing in low notes sounding like she always did – frisky and feverish. I liked the contrast in the two sounds.

Milte hi aankhein dil hua deewana kisi ka
Afsaana mera ban gaya afsaana kisi ka



I have often talked about subsuming in love…this is one more example when two stories merge and become one.

The same applies to Man Tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj(Baiju Bawra)




Here it is oneness with god, a god-figure, a unifying force, even the higher self that seeks a path (guru)…

This song is in Raag Malkauns, an evening raag supposed to possess supernatural powers. I have watched Baiju Bawra four times, and even in black and white the sense of dusk, dust settling, sun setting is so palpable. I choke just listening to the alaap“Hari om, hariiiiiii…om”…imagine starting at the pit of the stomach and stretching every syllable in the body of the words…am eternally grateful to a childhood that was filled with these sounds…

I will be repeating what has been stated several times, if this is seen as a bhajan (a devotional song sung for Lord Krishna), then it is almost entirely a Muslim creation…

Music: Naushad; Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni; Singer: Mohammed Rafi

These things are immaterial in the larger scheme. Just as Shanker-Shambhu took singing at dargahs and in praise of Allah and the paighambars to great heights, devotion is about belief in oneself to become better.

“sun more vyaakul man ki baat”

A mind that is constantly in search will always find.

Ask the vexpert - 5

Question: How are we supposed to go through the process of intercourse? Is there any particular position that we must follow? Our knowledge of sex is very meagre. I got married 15 days back and need authenticate information regarding intercourse. I know I have to insert my penis inside her vagina. Then for how long should I keep it in? How long does the intercourse last? How do I understand the ongoing process? Is this enough for pregnancy? Both of us prefer a baby boy only.

Sexpert: Wiser people would have learnt before the event. It is not too late for you to take advice from a sexpert.

Me: It is very easy. You need to follow basic management principles. Call a meeting with your wife. The following would be on the agenda:

Goal – intercourse, start-up venture

Strategy – I assume for 15 days you only had the goal in mind but did not venture into unchartered territory, therefore there is single-mindedness to your purpose. It does appear that you wish to follow conventional wisdom applicable to any enterprise, therefore the position to be followed would indeed be the one you mentioned. It would be akin to penetrating the market. For that you need to be excited about the possibility of reaching out and there must be a demand. The demand will make your arrival rather welcome.

Duration of first consignment – “Then for how long should I keep it in?”

If it is a test product then you should not keep it for long; build anticipation and renewed demand. The buyer can be a tough customer, therefore you will have to make sure your product meets the requirement of which you will now how a fair idea.

“How long does the intercourse last?”

If you are good at marketing, it depends on whether you like making sure the product is well-received or you just wish to sell it. The duration will depend entirely on that.

“How do I understand the ongoing process?”

On the job. And there isn’t much to understand. Just enjoy the act that you have a satisfied customer and have been made happy in the bargain.

Future target"Is this enough for pregnancy?"

Was your goal to sell the product or to get immediate returns? As a start-up, you ought to experiment with the said product before diversifying and multiplying your investments. However, to answer your query, this may or may not result in pregnancy. There is no sure-fire method.

“Both of us prefer a baby boy only.”

I understand that now you and the buyer are partners. Your aspirations are the same. The buyer has realised that trial-and-error with you has worked and wishes to produce more of the same. I suggest you should not be so limited in your aspirations. If you do have a baby boy then he will inherit your ignorance. Also girls are better at management, which seems to be your way of doing things.

6.5.08

The write way?

Two writers who have made it have come up with rather naïve statements.

Jhumpa Lahiri:

“I do not write to please reviewers. Writing to me is fundamentally a private act and a form of meditation in words. I think about the characters that I make up and their lives. Nobody is listening, but me. When the book comes out and people read it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”


I would like to know whether these writers would be content to sit and meditate on words, create characters, listen to them and then go back to sleep. Why do they have agents? Why do they get publishers? Why do they do the rounds of book readings and marketing their product?

A writer who is on the bestseller list must not even feel the need to say she is not writing to please reviewers. No one does. Some may ‘buy’ reviewers (and please don’t tell me it does not happen). But the writing is done alone.

It would be foolish to assume that this is where it will end for a professional writer.

Even people who have just begun wish to be read or heard.

Arundhati Roy:

“I am not an activist...A writer hones his or her language, makes it clear and private and individual as possible. And then you look around and see what’s happening to millions of people. You find yourself in the heart of the crowd, saying things that millions of people are saying and it’s not private and individual any more.”


No, it is not. It was never meant to be.

If it is the label that is bothersome, then ‘writer’ too is a label. Junk it. Call yourself something else –a language shaper, a thought artist…

- - -

On another note…

Am reminded of that episode some years ago when an academician had said he liked my perspective.

“When you visit Bombay I shall take you to the places that honed my perspective,” I wrote back.

Several weeks later he did arrive and I took him around. Upon returning I got a note from him: “Thank you for the wonderful time. It seems that food has honed your perspective; you took me to all the restaurants in town!”

On another occasion at the lawn of an institute in Delhi, the professor leafed through some of my writings that he had with him.

“I don’t know. You are angry, you are sad, you are thoughtful, you are precocious…where do I place you?”

“Nowhere. I don’t have a speciality, a niche.”

And that is how it shall always be. The process of others reading is not “a tip of the iceberg” for me. I may confine myself to a vast expanse where it is difficult to find me, but I do know that some cold hearts do get thawed when they read me. Some need to unread, re-read…and weed out…but I am not writing for myself alone. I am writing with myself in it. The words and I soaking each other. Squish the sponge and you will get both of us.

Advani in space

This is where I'd like to send him!


BJP leader L K Advani stands behind an astronaut cutout after inaugurating the Hall of Space and the Hall of Science with in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

5.5.08

Frida, I and fractured lives

I will have to stop this. Peeling my skin and finding other people’s skins…a patch here, a patch there.

Saw snatches of Frida. Then found more of her. They say her self-portraits were unsparing. Frida was a woman who let that trace of a moustache stay, the fuzz resonant of an adolescent boy’s. But she is so woman, so perfectly formed in her tragedy, so bloody self-destructive…when I look her in the eye, I want to poke into the retina, go behind it and see through her eyes. I know I will see what she sees.


Now go beyond Frida the person and look at her as an objective artist doing other paintings. She was once commissioned to do a portrait of the actress Dorothy Hale that was to be gifted to her mother; Hale had jumped from her high-rise apartment wearing a black dress and a corsage of small yellow roses.

Frida did something extremely literal. In The Suicide of Dorothy Hale she recreated that scene, which has been described thus:

Freda’s painting documents the various stages of Dorothy's fall, placing the corpse at the bottom on a stage-like platform in the foreground. At the bottom, blood red lettering details the tragic event:

"In New York City on the 21st of October 1938, at 6:00 in the morning, Dorothy Hale committed suicide by throwing herself from a very high window in the Hampshire House. In her memory [...], this retablo was executed by Frida Kahlo."


I have often said I do not like in your face kind of art. Would this qualify? And if it does, why am I then fascinated? Because I think of this as beyond art. It is capturing human history.

And yes, tall buildings, standing at the edge, I do imagine a fall…a free fall…and cloud-like images, feathery, surrounding me. Once, some years ago, driving through a busy residential area in Delhi the traffic was moving slowly…my eyes looked at the building and suddenly I spotted a woman on the terrace…that one portion did not seem to have any wall. She was at the very edge, her white kurta fluttering. I gasped. I tried to roll down the window, but what would I do? If I shouted maybe she would fall. I just kept watching for what seemed an eternity; she was laughing and talking, perhaps someone was behind her; she was checking the water tank. And then she was gone, not down but away.

How different is it from falling? How different is it when things disappear, people disappear? Did she, a water-tank checker, deserve a story? If I were an artist I might have shown her falling, laughter pasted on her face, teeth reflecting the sky. But that white kurta was so me, that standing at the edge and laughing was so me…so when I gasped and looked, was I seeing myself?

When will I stop peeling other people’s skins and finding my skin …a patch here, a patch there?

When Frida painted Hale it is said she was separated from her partner and was thinking about suicide. Was it reflective of her? The term “male desertion” is mentioned in some analysis.

I think she would be deserting herself. Each time I go through my reclusive phase, I am doing that.

Death is a technicality. Dying everyday most days or a little bit is that fractured life I often speak about.

Would my mosaic be as colourful? Would it be a mosaic at all? I think it would be just drops of water reflecting whatever surface they fall on.

Imagine if one such drop reflects a tear? Would it be possible to see it?

Invisibility. I mentioned disappearance, did I not?

- - -

Paintings by Frida Kahlo: A Fractured Life (self portrait) and The Suicide of Dorothy Hale