25.6.08

What are they reading???

I have added a separate blog for the book. The reviews are now trickling in…

Just as I perceive things in my way, others do so too. No quarrels with that. But one review had me wondering when the reader is told portions of the book are “along the lines of what Indians have come to expect from the ‘gee-whiz-they’re-just-like-us’”. Or that I have trotted out “Pakistani prostitutes and whisky-quaffing army men, high society bashes, gay designers, liberals-turned-jehadis, and the mandatory heart-warming scene at a Sufi shrine”.

This is not an opinion, it is a falsehood. I am at pains most times to point out the difference (which incidentally one perceptive reader criticised me for). There is no single prostitute, the way you understand her; no whiskey quaffing army men at all…sure the others are there, but they are not trotted out – they are a part of that culture and there are detailed interviews with such people. The scene at the Sufi shrine…ah, I haven’t talked about something life-altering. It is about someone no one would even notice.

At one point there is a reference to the ‘drama’…nothing about the intervening aspect of the indepth interview with Sheema and the other rebels.

And to think my friend in Australia wrote saying, “But you know what you have to do now don't you to make a mint? The fictional account with lots of sex and blood and beautiful people :-)”

I replied: “And what made you think there isn't any sex, blood and beautiful people in my humble offering?!Don't miss out what is between the lines...”

22.6.08

I got mail

When I wrote about Gorkhaland, I was aware that I did not belong and my views would be different. Therefore, to get immediate reactions is important. Here are two ways of seeing:

Dear Farzana.... I read your article in counterpunch.com..... "Will Gorkhaland Be A Reality?"... being a Gorkhali myself and coming from Darjeeling, I cannot express how much your article means to all of us. Thank you so much for writing unbiased and objectively....

Especially your last paragraph was so fitting that it brought tears to my eyes... "However, for a mountain people they ought to know that echoes resound only in your own valley."...... Our troubles and frustrations... only we can see and feel... for others... we don't even exist....


My reply:

It is letters such as these that make writing about issues such as these seem worth the space we deign to occupy. When an insider can relate to how an outsider has 'sensed' her/his anguish it makes one's life, even if momentarily and captured in stark print, seem not quite so useless.

The criticism that comes with the territory seems like so much noise then.

Thank you and hope the voices do carry where it matters.

Another perspective:
Now I understand why you are NOT AN iNDIAN IN PAKISTAN RAHTER YOU REALLY ARE A PAKISTANI IN iNDIA.
YOUW WISHFUL THINKING OF WEAKENEING iNDIA THROUGH SEPERATISM WILL NEVER HAPPEN.
DREAM ON YOU TRAITOR .(NO NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE TRAITOR -BUT YOU ARE AS ARE MANY HINDUS AND SiKHS INCLUDING THE PRESENT PRIME MINSTER manmohan singh THE MOST TREAHCEROUS OF ALL)>
My reply:
You got to be kidding if I’d reply to this.

19.6.08

Will Gorkhaland Become a Reality?

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Fury

Will Gorkhaland Become a Reality?
By Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, June 19, 2008

"Indefinite shutdown" said the latest headlines and the hill region of Darjeeling becomes another political pawn.

Ten years ago when I had last visited, stepping out of the cocoon of the teakwood panelled clubby interiors of the hotel meant long walks along curvaceous streets, milky coffee from aluminium buckets on early morning visits to the snowy hills and returning to dinner that was announced with a gong and served by white-gloved bearers who whispered gentility as lace curtains reflected the candlelight.

The insulation was complete.

Little did one realise that another kind of insulation was gnawing at the entrails of the whole region. Peace is a mask Darjeeling has always worn for tourist consumption. Yak safaris provide an interesting diversion – a tourist is said to have described the animal as a buffalo wearing a petticoat. At a trade fair they had to recreate traditional houses because no one lived in those anymore. Except for their taste for meat, butter tea and home-brewed alcohol made with millet and sipped through a bamboo straw, many of the simple activities are often exaggerated exotically for vacationers. The pre-dawn sight of Mount Khang Chendongza – Kanchenjunga – the third highest peak in the world is like the tip of an iceberg touching heaven.

As the sun rises you notice the walls. Red-splattered paint that talks of a separate Gorkhaland. You sit in one of the roadside tea-stalls. Young eyes look suspiciously. Whispers are exchanged.

The blood-soaked cry has not gone away. Today it is reasserting itself with even greater vehemence. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung is speaking a new voice, a voice that refuses to play footsie or be content with sops. In the 1980s the government had managed to muffle opposition by co-opting the Subhas Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) by forming the Gorkha Darjeeling Hill Council and appointing him the titular head. It was a thorny crown, but the wearer was too enamoured of its purported glitter to care. He took the scraps as long as he could rule. He let down the movement. Self-governance and limited autonomy don't work, in any case.

It is difficult to believe that Darjeeling was gifted by the Raja of Sikkim to the East India Company for "enabling servants of the government suffering from sickness to avail of its advantage". That the king could be so generous is a bit of a surprise considering that parts of Sikkim were at various times conquered by Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. Sikkim became a part of India only in 1975.

Yet the Centre grants the state Rs 5,400 billion in aid; Darjeeling with five times the number of voters gets only Rs 100 billion.

The establishment has been playing games. The demand for a separate state was initiated during the early part of the century when the British ruled the country.

Indian democracy has often been a compromise formula; elections work as soft options. Almost every part of the country has separatist aspirations. It isn't about terrorism. This is a crisis of identity that has been building up. The neo-fascists in power refuse to understand that we have always had principalities. Independent states were ruled by independent kings and princes. The privy purses have gone but the basic seed of regionalism remains. Is that not the reason why even metropolitan cities like Mumbai have an anti-immigrant stance?

Why does Darjeeling, which is a part of West Bengal, not feel Bengali?

It is a question of selfhood. There may be cultural incest with the border areas of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet but Darjeeling has been looking for a distinct political identity. Here a war memorial is considered a sacred place and politicians are heroes. Subhash Ghising was deified because "he made these roads". The Hill Cart Road connecting the plains to the hills was in fact built by the British in 1839.

Looking at the awesome ruggedness of the mountains one cannot help but think of Tensing Norgay, the Sherpa who conquered Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary. A forest official had been dismissive: "The Indian government has given him too much importance. He is a Nepali."

Bhushan, our guide at the Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, had a different story to tell. "Once at an institute Norgay was asked his nationality. After achieving so much he felt hurt by the question. So, in anger, he replied that he was a Nepali. Why was it so difficult to accept him as an Indian? He has been one of a kind, known as a snow leopard. And his house still stands here."

The Nepalis and those from the North East were seen as outsiders though there is considerable admiration for the Pashupati border area which is packed with foreign goods.

If the Nepali initiative for smuggling is appreciated, then the Tibetans, who started making inroads in the 17th century, are not. Their refugee camp perched atop a hillock in Darjeeling is a complete village boasting of a school, college, housing and myriad self-supporting activities. It is sponsored by the Americans.

Darjeeling has been a migrant haven. While the Biharis came as sweepers, barbers, grocers and later teachers, the Marwaris came to trade from 1888 under the Raj, only too ready to express its fondness for any shopkeeper class. But due to their considerable contribution to the economy, resentment against them grew.

As one politician had told me then, "Maintaining the social balance is important. We therefore need to monitor our economic growth in a manner that guards us from a sudden impact of any kind."

The locals had found their own way towards creating harmony within. They stopped wearing traditional attire so that you could not differentiate amongst one other. Intermarriages became commonplace so even if there was simmering resentment, they kept quiet.

The Communist government of West Bengal does not take cognisance of social mores and needs. Its workers recently ransacked the homes of the dissenters and beat them up. Indian democracy will have to learn to accept that we are not a cohesive whole and unless the government provides the people with basic facilities and respects their identity, it will have to put up with such separatist aspirations.

The Leftists are happily supping with industrialists and creating havoc in villages to accommodate 'progress'. What have they done for their own people? Nothing. Except send honeymooners to chuck snowballs at each other and legally seal their fate.

The call for a Gorkhaland wakes us up to these hidden realities. However, for a mountain people they ought to know that echoes resound only in your own valley.

17.6.08

To Kill a Mocking Herd

Maverick: To Kill a Mocking Herd
By Farzana Versey
Covert column, June 16-30

The phone rang. I was asked for my valued opinion. Even after all these years of flinging views in the wind, I feel obliged. It becomes a quickie quote, a scratch sound on a record. All thoughts of individualism as a metaphysical phenomenon die. I am a mere lubricating agent that keeps the ‘thought industry’ well-oiled.

Should I complain? As a citizen, a consumer and a member of a family, a peer group, a community, I am anyway an institutionalised puppet. It has become even more pronounced ever since something I have lived through stands in bookstores waiting for buyers. “You are now a product,” I am told blandly.

The herd mentality has always been prevalent when an individual chooses to behave in a fashion set by a particular group, but institutionalisation is different. You don’t merely behave like the herd occasionally; you are the herd.

How can you hold up a mirror to society when sponsorship breathes down your neck? We do have a bunch of legitimised rebels who talk about sticking their necks out in literary/artistic salons called nirvana and moksha that have become trademarks themselves.

In the Big Bazaar, under the guise of buyer’s rights, consumerism is being canonised. Food malls sell organic health only because the veggies are polished with spit and wrapped in cellophane and are bone-dry.

A charitable view would be to see this mass production as egalitarianism since everything is of uniform quality. It helps in a situation where travel agencies, for example, hawk what you want. Is that really true? No. They are selling you what they want you to want. You may never dream of a chef cooking home food while you take pictures outside the Eiffel Tower, but they give it to you. They are making individuals into prisoners of familiarity. They do not want you to get out of your comfort zone because then they will have to innovate. If you stop acknowledging them, they’ll get someone else.

Strangely, in a situation that calls for so much interdependence, the individual is sidelined. George Santayana had concluded: “The working of great institutions is mainly the result of a vast mass of routine, petty malice, self interest, callousness and sheer mistake. Only a residual fraction is thought.”

Even such thought as does exist comes from a think-tank and brainstorming sessions. “Is an institution always a man’s shadow shortened in the sun, the lowest common denominator of everybody in it?” asked Randall Jarnell. There is some truth here in cases where a person becomes a public face with whom the organisation is completely identified. The projection may be that of its personality, but the tale it tells is of being part or creator of a group. The individualist becomes the brand.

The same has happened in sports. You have to reveal a bit of underwear or head-band as much as a brilliant shot. No player today, whether in a solo or team game, can afford to be without such support. In cricket negative practices like betting and match-fixing are now organised institutions. Skill is the chattel of commerce.

A similar thing is happening with film stars. From the studio setup days to the star system, it has been irony all the way. While the former was institutionalisation it resulted in some pioneering individual efforts whereas the star system that shows up glowing comets has resulted in mass produced acting and emotions. Even Shahrukh Khan as bumbling ‘unhero’ is a retailing ploy of the difference, his USP being the stutter.

Where is the experimentation? Parallel cinema today produces offbeat films that liberally borrow from Iranian, Korean or Trinidadian cinema rather than Hollywood. This is the sneakiest pulling the wool over our eyes act, marketing middle-class ennui as a ready-to-eat bheja fry.

Those who resist compromise become part of a resistance and counter culture that seeks or is offered its own pedestal. I once got a letter which said, “Why don’t you start an organisation of mavericks?” It was time to get off my high horse and wave at the stands. Now if only I could get myself that feathered derby hat.

- - -

The link to the column is showing up something else therefore have not posted it...will do so once it is rectified.

16.6.08

Can Aamir Khan play Guru Dutt?

Not impressed. Can Aamir Khan enact the role of Guru Dutt in a film to be made on the actor/director?

What was Guru Dutt about? Desire, destruction, sublimation, angst, a wry sense of humour, romance, sensuality, intellect that was more curiosity than canny knowledge; Guru Dutt was spontaneity, darkness but never stark, lightness but never froth.

Aamir Khan is a fine actor, excellent at times, and never lets you down. He is reliable.

Guru Dutt you could not rely on. He would surprise you, shock you, irritate you, want to make you tear your hair, weep with a pathos he insisted you make your own. He stood for the tragic kink that makes some people (and I vainly include myself in this category) become our own worst enemies. We need no opponents.

Aamir Khan may be insulated from the regular hype (I have my doubts about this) but he is not isolationist, not reclusive, not an outsider.

If he has any sense then he will refuse to do the film.

There is no one. Not one actor today could do justice. The closest anyone could get to it would be Ajay Devgan, but not really...

Should such a film be made? I don’t know how good Shivindra Singh Dungarpur is but his ad films for Titan were quite good. However, this is not about selling a product. You are recreating the very epitome of agony as ecstasy. You have to find someone who can smoke cigarettes with such panache that the lips sizzle; you have to find someone who can express loneliness that you only notice him; you have to find someone who can smile and melt wax; you have to find someone whose eyes look at you with indulgence and through you like a needle; you have to find someone who makes you feel special through a shaft of light.

I really do not wish to see Aamir Khan growing his moustache like Guru Dutt’s and going around with it to “feel the character” and then endorsing products with that “look”. It works for historical or other characters but not a real person who is a bigger fantasy than many fantasies.

- - -

Updated on June 17, 5.40 PM IST:

I forgot to mention one very crucial factor - voice modulation. If you have heard Guru Dutt, you will know he does not have a standard great voice, but his inflections were as good as Dilip Kumar's (and not affectations). Now listen to Aamir in various roles, whether as the villager Bhuvan in Lagaan or the suave Aakash in Dil Chahta Hai or as Mangal Pandey or any of the characters, he gets the accent right, not the voice modulation. It is almost standardised.

Have you heard a tremor in his voice? A whisper?

I have thought of another actor who could pull it off: Akshaye Khanna...mainly because of how he uses his voice, his eyes, his smile and his body language. Think Taal, think Dil Chahta Hai, think Gandhi My Father... completely different roles and you recall the characters, not the actor.

To be Guru Dutt the actor will need the courage and lack of vanity to be invisible.

I am entitled not to let anyone mess around with my fantasy, right?

Ask the vexpert - 7

Question: I am 35 years old. When having oral sex with my wife, I ejaculated on my towel. It was kept like that for two days, after which, by mistake it went into the washing machine with other clothes. We live in a joint family. Are there chances of anyone in my family getting pregnant because their undergarments were washed with my towel? What’s the lifespan of a sperm when it’s outside the body? Do sperms get destroyed when washed with detergents?

Sexpert: There’s no need to panic. The sperms were long dead even before entering the washing machine. If not the detergent, the long hours after ejaculation must have made sure that the sperms become lifeless.

Me: I am assuming you kept it unwashed for two days as a mark of respect for what you had lost. This sentimental attachment is understandable as is your concern. The experts will say that sperms have a short lifespan but if you believe in rebirth chances of your sperm having similar beliefs are likely. In which case, those sperms might be friskier than the aging ones you had extricated from your system. Will any of your family members get impregnated because their undergarments were washed with the same towel? It depends on a couple of factors:

- How many women are there in your family of child-bearing age? (I can say with some certainty that men do not get pregnant.)

- Do they wear undergarments when they are still wet? (I ask this because sun-dried sperms (like sun-dried tomatoes) tend to shrink.)

I would caution you against using a towel for such activities in future and to also not dump it in the washing machine with other clothes. This is a private matter and you are indulging in what comes close to an orgy by proxy.

15.6.08

Deducing reducing

This is how we reduce people…

Toilet cleaners to walk NY ramp

New Delhi: A year ago, Vimla Atwal eked a living by cleaning outdoor pits used as toilets in a village. Next month, she will sashay down a New York ramp with top Indian models.

29 other female toilet cleaners who now have other jobs thanks to a rehabilitation programme run by a local firm, will participate in a series of events by the UN to mark the International Year of Sanitation. During their stay in New York, the 30 women will present a short film on their lives as well as take part in a fashion show.

For 12 months these women have been working in other jobs. Not everyone is so lucky. So why are they participating in anything to do with sanitation? Why are they being made to regurgitate their past? I am sick of these UN-sponsored events that make a mockery of people and the hard work they put in to make a decent living.

“A year ago I was looked down upon as an outcast in my village, but now I am ready to fly in a plane and take part in a fashion show,” said Atwal.

See, this is what happens. Embroidery, making pickles and noodles are not good enough for respectability. Has the UN invited people who do chikankari, who are part of the milk co-operatives, the group that has made a success of a papad company?

And I am emphasising people. Why are only women toilet cleaners being invited? There are thousands of men who are also in this job.

This is one more gimmick.

- - -

Sikh model the new rage in US

New York: One of the key attractions at New York’s Rockefeller Centre is a life-size picture of a turban-clad young Sikh. It has the Sikh community buzzing, with messages pouring in from across the globe praising him for turning his religious identity into a fashion statement.

An ad by fashion designer Kenneth Cole solicited, “A Sikh male, about 25 to 35 years old, who is ‘attractive’” for a worldwide campaign titled ‘Non-Uniform Thinkers’ to mark the brand’s 25th anniversary, with the focus being: “We all walk in different shoes.”

Caberwal was honoured for this achievement during the fifth annual Capitol Hill Dinner organized by the US-based Sikh Council on Religion & Education (SCORE) on June 11. Sikhs from across the world are all praise for Caberwal, especially at a time when the community feels it is being increasingly racially profiled in the US post 9/11 and elsewhere in the world as it struggles to maintain its religious identity.

I agree there is racism. But is being a goddamn mute picture because you are attractive or of a certain age sending out any special message? The fashion house specified Sikh male; they wanted a bloody turban to sell their “different shoes” idea. They were using him, his religious identity.

This is simply outrageous. And to think that he is being feted for it.

We as a society have begun to believe that getting scraps from the West is enough. If they are racist, then they have to solve the issues in their heads. Let us not get carried away by these token gestures. What the hell does “non-uniform thinkers” mean here? Are fashionistas thinkers (except perhaps when they have to think about what to wear and what to team up with which pair of shoes, belts, and accessories)? And non-uniform means different, as in not one kind. So the Sikh is being put up in a cardboard form but he sure as daylight is not a part of the mainstream.

Now go hang yourselves with that long rope you have been given…

- - -

And…

Sharif wants Musharraf hanged

The crowds have been chanting this. The same crowds that voted for democracy and civil society. The same society is even listening to Nawaz Sharif and Zardari, whose histories are not quite without blemish?

Yes, hang Musharraf. But before that do something about the Constitution.

12.6.08

The tailor of Peshawar

...and the case of the measuring tape

I was going through the pictures I had taken in Pakistan and it is really funny…some of the clothes I got stitched there. The reason was that I had not expected the summers to be so hot.

One particular episode comes to mind. I had picked up these salwaar-kameez suit lengths in Peshawar. Nice lawn cloth. And not the kind of bedsheets favoured by some expat Pakistani women who go ooh-aah over gaudy floral designs by a ‘name’. Khair, I got a few delicate prints in beautiful shades of light green, turquoise and magenta. I needed them stitched urgently. They said their tailor would get it ready within a day.

I got all set to be measured – stomach pulled in, chest puffed out, ass tightened…it was the reputation of my country, right? Well, the man handed me the tape. I took it. Held it at my waist and let it fall – he took over from there, hovering near the ankle. Then I held it at the shoulder and he managed to get the length of the kameez. Finally we got to the crucial one. I wrapped the tape round my chest and to retain the modesty of the moment held it loose.

Kitna? (How much)? He asked.

Pachaas (50).”

Yeh zyaada hai…”

Haan, aisa hi hai…” Darn, if I was going to measure it as though I was going to hatch eggs in it, then it better be loose.

Same with the waist and hip sizes. I figured he would have an eye and work accordingly. Well, nothing of the sort happened. The salwaar reached the ankles even when I wore it real low and it had these immense pleats which gathered at the waist. That was not such a problem. The kameez was so large I could have happily suffered from schizophrenia and managed both of us in it. The shoulder became an off-shoulder, which would have been rather tantalising had it not been that kind of dress…and the sleeves reached my hands and I had to pull them up.

It gave me an edginess as I did my rolling the sleeve act while the kameez fluttered halfway down the road and my legs were ready for flooded streets at the height of summer.

Seasons have never mattered much…

11.6.08

Why the yankees must stay away from India - huh?

So after terrorist attacks and epidemics, the United States of Xenophobia has found one more warning for its citizens visiting our shores.
This time around it’s the monsoon in Mumbai and the BMC’s handling of it that have got Uncle Sam worked up.

A warning issued on Monday and posted on the website of the US consulate in Mumbai tells its citizens that the “monsoon has arrived in western India and Mumbai is experiencing the season’s storms’’. They are also reminded of the 26/7 (2005) deluge and told that it had led to a “heavy loss of life’’.


Why don’t they just stay at home? Does any country issue warnings against visiting the US due to cyclones and earthquakes and the possibility of some Arab flying planes into its most famous sites?

They are talking about open manholes…crib, crib…

How many people die in car accidents in the US?

- - -


And now we have the pretty Omar Abdullah suggesting that the government of India and the state government should work with some insurance companies to provide a cover to those foreign tourists who visit J&K.

What about Indian tourists? He mentions “some of the high-spending foreign tourists to return to Kashmir”. Not many are; most are backpackers. And Indian tourists have been travelling for some years now.

The government must indeed take care of the economy, but then it should see to it that the locals have jobs. Not everyone owns a shikara or weaves carpets.

- - -


And while we are on Kashmir, this is what a friend from the media in Srinagar wrote to me about the Afzal Guru post below:

Wonderful piece! Am trying to gather courage to reproduce it. It may invite death sentence for me by likes of Geelani, but I will try to use.


This is a Kashmiri and he is afraid of writing about someone who thinks he will be a Kashmiri shaheed. And who is he afraid of? Another Kashmiri who thinks he is a potential shaheed. And lollypop Omar can only think about the goras and their dollahs. What a pathetic state.

Aashiyaan jal gaya – Habib Wali Mohamed

Recall a funny episode related to this song. We were driving to a village, not too far from Mumbai. I was working on a short film. The cameraman ditched, so I was also going to shoot. I was driving with the people who were involved with the project. Met them for the first time. One of them started talking about Urdu poetry; he thought I was one of those angrez ki aulad. He said he wrote poetry. And he started quoting,

“Ae naseem-e-seh’r tujhko unki qasam
Unse jaakar na kehna mera haal-e-gham”

I did not know how to react. He really thought I would not know? Habib Wali Mohamed was so much a part of our everyday life. I had to politely smile because if I said anything he would come across as foolish…and his colleague was there. Yet, I couldn’t let him get away with it. So I quoted from “Kab mera nasheman ahle chaman”. Yes, I was being wicked!

Aashiyaan jal gaya – Habib Wali Mohamed



Obama's Hanuman, Hillary's hanky, McCain's nickel

I don’t know how the US presidential candidate would have reacted to a headline like Barack Obama seeks Hanuman’s blessings in race for White House!

It is gratifying to know that it isn’t only the ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ countries that are mired in superstition. Here is a list of the luck liaisons the various Amercian candidates carry or wear and my attempt to deconstruct what they could possibly mean:

Barack Obama

The bracelet belonging to an American soldier deployed in Iraq = I support the war in Iraq and this is at least in part my version of patriotism.

Gambler’s lucky chit = Trying to convey that he will take big risks based on past wins; nothing new.

Tiny monkey god (said to be Hanuman) = Will be a loyalist to those he considers his own, believes in saving a woman’s honour and is to be trusted; would have worked better as second-in-command.

Madonna and child = Besides religious connotations, might be a moralist, and believes that the baby and bathwater are a woman’s domain. The male is only a part of an immaculate conception.

John McCain

A lucky penny = Every penny counts, so prudent in terms of wealth management.

A lucky nickel = No macro outlook; it is the economy, stupid.

A lucky sweater = Likes things to be close to him; believes in staying warm and prefers to stick to things that have already been knitted. He won’t run after wool balls.

A lucky hotel room in New Hampshire = Would visit new things and places only if there is an assurance of steadfastness and familiarity.

Hillary Clinton (tends to keep things others have given her - no, not a stained dress)

A lucky coin = heads or tails, she don’t know.

A lucky handkerchief that a woman in Texas gave to her that she sometimes keeps in her pocket = No tissues needed for those well-timed tears.

A lucky bracelet = Conveying femininity; would be hands-on but with embellishment.

9.6.08

Why is Afzal Guru rooting for Advani?

Afzal Guru is under pressure. Psychological and of some other kind. Yes, go ahead and accuse me of harbouring one more conspiracy theory. The man who has been convicted for the attack on Parliament (although he was not part of the actual act) now wants L.K.Advani to become prime minister so that he can get a death sentence in peace!

Hum kya ghaas kha rahe hai? Who the hell is fooling whom? I am no fan of the Congress party but clemency decisions are not taken with great speed – and not by the PM but the President. There are several factors that have to be taken into account. Afzal is cribbing about three years – what about the undertrials, little kids, old men, who have been arrested on fake charges (sometimes not even that courtesy was extended; they were just hauled up) who are waiting for justice for years?

“I really wish LK Advani becomes India's next prime minister as he is the only one who can take a decision and hang me. At least my pain and daily suffering would ease then.”

Yes, and what about those of us who will not be hanged? What about the possibility of India finally giving up the pretence of being a democracy, which it has been steadfastly before the early 90s? A man who watches a mosque being demolished as though he is a spectator of some epic film (he love movies, does he not?) will be in power. Give his speech at the Red Fort. What will he tell us? Does he have any manifesto other than building a temple?

“I have also requested that till the time they (government) take a decision, they shift me to a Kashmir jail.”

Why? A prison is a prison. And he has himself noted, “I only asked for pardon to stop millions of Kashmiri people hitting the streets. If I am hanged, I would take it as a sacrifice towards the people of Kashmir.”

Being in Kashmir would only exacerbate the issue and there is still time for Advani to become PM.

Now let me elaborate a bit on what I imagine are the undercurrents (how I love the word).

Afzal asks to be shifted to Kashmir. There is pressure on Ghulam Nabi Azad. Congress gets even more jittery. The National Conference which happily slept with the NDA will start making noises, like the Omar boy did when the lady Prez held a gun and smiled. NC will start preparing for an alliance with the BJP. Position on top.

Now if Afzal does get the death penalty, then he asked for it and in fact Advani was the right man to convey him towards that ‘release’.

If his mercy petition is heeded to, then it will be a coup for the saffron brigade. Look, how large-hearted we are.

Afzal will then sit in some prison and pen songs for them. He will become an example of the reformed jihadi.

Afzal is reading India wins freedom by Maulana Azad about the country's independence movement. Sweet. Ironical too. The Kashmiris would not quite get it, the Kashmiris who he is fighting for.

Human rights activists have been really pursuing his case and I personally feel this is a big blow to their work. Some of us played a lesser role, but we did raise our voices to bring to light various aspects of the case.

There is too much politics going on now, and even terrorists are learning to play it. Sad.

Afzal Guru’s son has been named Ghalib. I assume it is after the poet who said:

nuktaacheen hai gham-e-dil usako sunaaye na bane
kya bane baat jahaan baat banaaye na bane

7.6.08

Birgit beyond the Prelude

Wagner wanted to convey the motifs of longing, yearning, the gaze, Tristan, Tristan’s suffering, grief, sorrow, love potion, desire, magic, anguish of Tristan, death potion, Tristan and Isolde.

As the music starts and the story unfolds you will find that it is all about men and the trophies they collect.


Tristan and Isolde






A short transcript of the opera:

A young sailor’s voice is heard, singing about an Irish girl he has left ashore. Isolde hears the words and feels insulted, thinking that the sailor is mocking her. She is being conveyed from Ireland to marry the King of Cornwall on the ship of Tristan, the king’s nephew. She begins to rage and her maid Brangaene tries to comfort her without success. When Isolde cries out for fresh air Brangaene opens the curtains enclosing her pavilion. Tristan can be seen deep in thought, looking out to sea. Watching him, Isolde mutters the words, “Chosen for me and lost to me.” She instructs her maid to summon Tristan to her.

Brangaene attempts to do as her mistress wishes but is courteously rebuffed by Tristan. He will not go before Isolde. He is merely conducting her to Cornwall to become the bride of his uncle. His companion, Kurwenal interjects with information that makes clear that Tristan and Isolde have had previous dealings. Kurwenal tells the crew the story of Tristan’s combat with Lord Morold of Ireland over the issue of tribute between Cornwall and Ireland. Morold was Isolde’s intended husband. Tristan killed him and sent Morold’s head back to Ireland, to Isolde, in place of the tribute he had demanded in Ireland’s name.

Brangaene returns to informs her of Tristan’s words. Isolde, who has heard Kurwenal, bitterly states that she has now become the tribute sent from Ireland to Cornwall. With a furious rush upward in the orchestra, Isolde begins a long monologue, giving more information about the past and why her state of mind is so turbulent. This monologue is occasionally presented in the concert hall entitled, “Isolde’s Narration to Brangaene,” or, “Isolde’s Narrative and Curse.” The narration begins using a fragment of a motif from the Prelude. Isolde relates how a small boat carrying a very sick man called Tantris drifted onto the Irish coast seeking the healing arts of the Princess Isolde. After healing the man she realized that he was the one who had killed Morold and his name was not Tantris, but Tristan! She wanted to kill him, to avenge Morold’s death, but when she held the sword over him she could not strike. He had looked into her eyes and it stayed her hand. She nursed him, she protected him, and now how does he repay her? He takes her from Ireland as a token, as a price to be paid to Cornwall, as a wife to his uncle, the old king! Her narration becomes more frenzied as she relates the story, the music reflecting a motif called “Isolde’s anger.” The narration culminates with Isolde’s wild curse on Tristan and a call for vengeance and death - death for them both!

Singer: Birgit Nilson, Swedish soprano

5.6.08

Allah in an Islamic Society?

Why the Need to Spread the Message of Allah in an Islamic Society?
The Tablighi Jamaat Movement
By FARZANA VERSEY
Counterpunch, June 4, 2008

(The following is an extract from the recently-released book A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins-India.)

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I cannot publish the excerpt here, but it is available at the CP website (click title of article).

Will not be able to respond to any posts on the specific contents of the extract or book and would not encourage them here, if you don't mind. However, I felt the need to share them...do remember that an extract is about one aspect; I had a limit of 1000-word permitted by the publishers.

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For the readers in the US who have been inquiring, it does not look proper for me to give links, but there are a couple of online portals shipping. My friends in San Jose got the copies within a week of ordering from one of them.

4.6.08

Dis n Dat

There is a stupid ad being aired these days for Surf washing powder.

The scene is a wedding. A white kid is eating like the rest with his hands from a banana leaf, balling the rice and then wiping his hands on his white kurta. His parents arrive and look shocked. The South Indian lady sitting next him convinces them, “Indian eating with hand, washing with hand…”

But even Indian kids do not go spreading the curry with those hands on their clothes. I find it demeaning. One, it is targeting a community, two, a country. If foreign kids are so adept at using cutlery, then they would have the sense not to rub their hands on clothes. But do not forget that firang kids – and adults – do not remove their shoes and place their shod feet on tables and sofas without a care.

So stop making us look stupid. This ad is an Indian one for an Indian product. Whoever is in charge of it must be given some lessons as to how to respect ourselves. If we don’t, then no one will.

We only seem to complain about sexually explicit or regressive ads. What is more regressive than to make a society look like something from the back of beyond? You want to treat the guest like god, at least don’t make us look like buffoons.

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Actor Sanjay Dutt wants to enter politics, contest elections...

From the constituency that his father represented; his sister Priya won from there the last time. Priya had been involved with their father Sunil Dutt’s official work and did accompany him on his padayatras. Is that qualification enough? In politics, it would seem so. However, at least she had some convictions and that came through.

Sanjay Dutt, irrespective of his innocence or otherwise in the bomb blasts case, still has to appear in court. One would say there are countless criminals who contest elections. They do. They are big-time guys who are there because they are the mai-baap of several people, much as we’d like to deny it. Sanjay should stay out of this.

I am surprised he wants to jump in now. His reason? “My father has done social work all his life. Why shouldn’t I too do the same as a social servant? Why should I be deprived of an opportunity?’’

The problem is that most ‘servants’ in power end up becoming the bosses. And philanthropy, for which both his parents were known, does not need a political designation.

He has said that the Congress would give both his sister and him tickets. By now the Samajwadi Party has already offered him one. I won’t be surprised if the Shiv Sena does so too. After all, Bal Thackeray did call him a good boy or some such thing.

Isn’t it time these laat sahibs just stopped behaving like constituencies in a democracy are their baap ki jaagir?

PS: Even Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari (or however she writes her name) wants to carry forward her mother’s good work; she said so from Dubai.

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Have been inundated with promos of the new game show Dus Ka Dum with Salman Khan as host.

It is looking absolutely disgusting. I know that teasers tend to use sensational shots, but questions about suhaag raat don’t quite wash. Then Salman is coming up with crudities like “Maa ka doodh piya hai…aur jo baap ka doodh..” He also performs that vulgar dance with the dupatta between the legs.

I had been critical of Shahrukh Khan’s Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain? I have subsequently watched a few episodes and I must say that he has kept it on an even keel. There is ad-libbing, but I suppose nothing works these days without it.

This is not a comparison just yet. But I felt I must revisit my words and since my opinion has altered a bit convey so.

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End note: Inmates at a Queensland prison in Australia have been using condoms to flavour milk.

Nazia Hasan or Begum Akhtar - who is a legend?

Does a tragic and untimely death make a person a legend? Why do we use words so carelessly? I clearly recall Nazia Hassan and her voice. She died young and it is truly nice to know that her parents have set up a foundation in her memory to promote causes that were dear to her. In the report she is referred to as a “singing legend”.

She had a fan following and was most certainly talented, but we need to keep in mind that beyond the skills, she did not reach the core of hearts. Perhaps it was the songs – they were more of the Boom Boom variety…but like any pop diva her shelf life would have been restricted. Death unfortunately has catapulted her into a hall of fame.

Here she is in a mellower mood:

Sun, mere mehboob sun - Nazia Hassan



Comparisons, as everyone tells us, are odious. So, I shall refrain. But if you want legend, then watch this:


Aaye kuchch abr kuchch charaag aaye -
Begum Akhtar

3.6.08

The police state in a stalemate

Maverick: The police state in a stalemate
By Farzana Versey
Covert column, June 1-15

A slum-dweller bent with age watched as the cop poked the lathi into the course cloth of his hut. Looking at the torn shreds later, he told me, “Every policeman must be shot dead.”

Next day there was a picture in the papers. A profile shot of a cop. The belly in khaki hung over the waist belt. The caption read: ‘Policemen ordered to keep fit’.

For what? To beat up that little man? To torture an innocent they have arrested only because of his caste or religious label and they need to fill their achievement registers?

Policemen too die in the course of duty; sometimes they commit suicide. Instead of examining the reasons, they are ordered to do yoga and stress management to reduce risk of mortality. But hard work kills no one; it is the petty politicking, the demands on the conscience that can take a toll. The honest few feel claustrophobic.

The policemen’s lobby comes out with explanations. The weapons are substandard. The force is inadequate to deal with mobs. Yet, the top guys use guest houses to relax in while riots rage a few kilometres away. Does anyone want us to believe that those who were shooting innocents in bylanes by standing on the roofs of houses, who provided no help to victims taking their own family members and friends to hospitals in carts, who demanded to watch television while they were ‘protecting’ the citizens, who joined forces with the goons are victims of misrepresentation?

They say the media fans disputes. It is this same media that is invited to turn up for a pre-planned reality TV version of encounter killings. Even as the cult of the supercop as a national asset, while being convicted for a misdemeanour himself, is given a pedestal from where he can twirl his silvery moustache, underworld gangsters rule in jail. They conduct their businesses on mobile phones and manage to procure women within the precincts where ‘justice has prevailed’? Arun Gawli quite relished his prison years and was more afraid of rival gangs.

A top cop had then told me, “I ask young criminals how many people they have killed and they say, ‘Saab kaun yaad rakhta hai?’”

Since the real lawbreakers are not afraid of them, the only way the police can assert itself is by arresting innocents. How many have an understanding of the common citizen’s needs? Most of them are deployed for security duty to look after the saabs and memsaabs.

Salman Khan’s police bodyguard went missing at the time of his deposition in court for the case where one person was killed and four injured when they came under his Land Cruiser. The cop was dismissed from the police force for his disappearance. Shockingly, no move was made to trace him. Isn’t it the duty of the cops not to lose such important evidence? What kind of system is this where a key witness, a cop at that, can vanish and reappear at will? The police knew where his family lived and in fact they had admitted him into a hospital earlier. How many such eyewitnesses get away because the cops are busy looking the other way?

Is it because private security agencies have now become the norm? Do they “complement and supplement the police force” as the cop told me? The private guys are better paid; the police don’t like that. The cops have a position; the private personnel feel insecure.

When it comes to the crunch, the crime has to be registered at a police station. We cannot encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

We are not looking for a user-friendly constabulary. We want people we can respect because they respect our rights – to property, to life, to self-esteem.

It is demeaning to see many of them being feted in the glossies for attending parties. It is even worse to watch a tough man in uniform walking behind a starlet known for her cleavage, which he is presumably in charge of protecting.

2.6.08

News hounds...and a sliver of hope...

Reading the newspapers has been depressing. I am tired and sounding tired when I go on about how news is portrayed. 
I have desisted from commenting on the two murder cases. One a ‘crime of passion’. Maria Monica Susairaj and her boyfriend J M Mathew killed Neeraj Grover. Maria went shopping for knives, bedsheets etc to cover up the crime and then Mathew chopped Neeraj into bits, burnt them and buried them somewhere.
This is gruesome. What is worse is that these two had sex twice after committing the crime and went out to restaurants for dinner. 
The fact is that Neeraj was found naked in Maria’s bed. So, where is the passion? Whose passion? If Mathew was possessive, why did he spare Maria?
The vultures are already swooping in on the story. Film makers want to capitalise on the real-life incident. Why do they have to announce it? A lot of films are indeed made on real subjects. The noise is to get some pre-publicity and free publicity. It is sick. 
I won’t say anything more. 
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The other is the murder of a teenager Aarushi. Her father Dr. Rajesh Talwar is under suspicion for having killed her and their servant because he found them in a compromising position; other reports suggest that the girl knew about her father’s extra-marital affair. Whatever it is, I do find it surprising that the mother, Nupur, is appearing on several television channels to save her husband. 
She should be in the lawyer’s offices, with the police. Not giving sound bytes to the cameras. I am afraid I feel no sympathy for her when I watch her. Besides, they say she was in the house when the murders took place. 
Now comes the part about the media. Aaj Tak channel had a story in the initial days titled, “Papa yeh tu ne kya kiya?” (Papa, what have you done?) What is this? Some soap opera? And when the mother was mentioned they played the track of the song “Maa…tu sab jaanti hai…” from the film Tare Zameen Par
Is it any wonder I prefer watching game shows?
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Even the Gujjar protests have begun to look like some old feudal filmi stuff when the issue is so frightening. City clickers are sitting and judging the village voice.

I got an invite for a special screening of a film that makes me feel there is hope. I am not sure how the movie will turn out to be but Summer 2007 is at least trying to examine the “sharp schism between an Urban India which believes it is “SHINING” and a rural India which is in the grip of one of the worst economic crises of all time”.
The story revolves around a gang of well to do Medical Students who are studying in a capitation fee college. Due to some circumstances of their own making they land up in Vidharbha right in the midst of the pathetic economic and medical service scenario. The film studies the disconnect that urban India has with rural India, and the coming of age of our protagonists when confronted with the dismal and bleak situation in the villages.

The only thing that often worries me (and I felt the same with Rang De Basanti) is that coming of age often results in too much cynicism or too much of a disconnect. I would be interested in finding out what happens a few years down the line.

I too had this dream of working in a village. Was I equipped – physically, emotionally and even intellectually? Was it merely my idea of ‘doing something’? I don’t know.

And in this lack of ‘knowledge’ lie several answers to many unasked questions. In cinema. In social mores. In life.