29.8.08

Ahh...men!

Look, this whole metrosexual vs. retrosexual thing is getting boring. Most women do not give a damn what men look like as long as they know what to do with what they have.

Now there was another survey by the British Yorkshire Building Society. Some nuggets from the report in italics:

The fairer sex may have all but abandoned the struggle for equality, for a new survey suggests that most men want a traditional wife and women are often only too happy to oblige.

One moment. Why does a woman playing the traditional role cease to be equal to men who also play their traditional roles? If women prefer these so-called retro men, then aren’t these guys too happy to play that role?

The survey suggested that most women desire “retrosexual” men, who are more hunter gatherer than a “metrosexual” stay-at-home father.

Hunter-gatherer? Someone is going Barbara Cartland on us. I wish these surveys examined the reasons.

“A lot of women used to think they wanted a metrosexual man. But then they realised they were fed up with a man who spent longer in the bathroom than they did,” Tanya Jackson, corporate affairs manager at the building society said. “Many women now feel they actually want a huntergatherer and they will look after their man in return.”

Why is it so difficult to understand that what glossies and ad agencies tell us is manufactured? A man is not a machine (well, working on auto-pilot does not make you a machine). Nor a fad. Men are human (ahem). And women make those choices based on the kind of people they themselves are.

This is not like going to a showroom and picking out retro or metro. And whoever gave these people the idea that the guy who spends a lot of time in the bathroom does not expect to be looked after? And isn’t the job of the hunter-gatherer to hunt, get the stuff and then go grrr…hrrmph? Why would he want to be pampered? Would that not turn him into a metro then?

And isn’t the ‘tweeze my eyebrows and do my facial’ guy getting ready to face the world and go hunting anyway?

We all have our little yes-yes, no-no list…This is mine…

Hawaiian shirts only at the beach.

Clean feet, hands and other things in between.

Not pretty to watch you licking on ice-cream cones.

A stubble only if you have smooth hair.

A beard that does not look like a bush.

Polite in public and private.

Rough when the occasion arises.

White shirt, not white shoes.

Don’t try to work on a sense of humour; men are meant to be funny as a species.

Cook, but don’t make it sound like a Cecil B de Mille production.

Do not assume all women like getting the lingerie you like. Try wearing a G-string and then you’ll know.

Don’t challenge a woman with, “Hah, you don’t have the balls”. She’ll show you what you don’t have.

Just because you read somewhere that women look at butts don’t walk ahead of her. Unless you have something to hide by facing her.

Even if she has initiated something don’t keep mentioning it; it is so déclassé and it also reveals how slow you are.

Flattering her in public might work only if she is insecure, or you are about her.

And finally, don’t ask for directions to her erogenous zones. You aren’t stuck on some highway, are you?

Dis n dat

Making fresh efforts to win back the estranged ally, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari requested PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to rejoin Pakistan's ruling coalition, but the former premier said it is not possible in the “near future”.

Zardari had apologised to Sharif on Monday itself for hurting his feelings and hinted that certain powers within and outside Pakistan, which had played a role in the ouster of Musharraf, were opposed to the restoration of the deposed judges.

The puppetry continues. And do note that Zardari is accusing the powers that were responsible for Musharraf’s removal for not restoring the judges. Wasn’t it Musharraf who threw out the judges?

I suspect that Nawaz Sharif is going all lawyer love because he knows this will be his trump card, not to be in power but to create problems for Zardari. He joined forces only to get Musharraf out. An effective Opposition is always good, but this will most likely be a disruptive one.

- - -

Barack Hussein Obama, a freshman senator who defeated the first family of Democratic Party politics with a call for a fundamentally new course in politics, was nominated by his party on Wednesday to be the 44th president of the United States.

Huh? I thought it was all decided. These Americans have a really long foreplay. Hillary was out of the running, so what was left? And “first family”? And these fools dance and do high-fives as though they are hearing this for the first time? And why is the Hussein name being reported so prominently? And does not the United States of America feel one bit of shame when it is announced that Obama is the “first African-American to become a major party nominee for president”?

And on what grounds does Bill Clinton declare, “I say to you: Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world”? You fight your elections, run your country. Do NOT try to lead the world. Whether your candidate is Black, White, Yellow or Green.

- - -

End note:


I was wrong.

When I wrote supporting the use of Marathi for McDonald’s outlet in Mumbai, it had a narrow and limited reason.

I realise now that it comes with a package that is reprehensible. Raj Thackeray and the rest have been forcing this down people's throats and it does not stop at signboards. They are trying to bulldoze immigrants by targeting hawkers, cable operators and even educational institutions.

This is not on at all.

However, this sign board law exists in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

The BMC has the power to prosecute shopowners who do not display their shops’ names in Marathi also; they can be hauled to a magistrate’s court and can be fined between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000.

Ironically, one of the restaurants targeted by the MNS was Cross Café. Some of you will recall how it had to be renamed. Here is part of what I had written then:

“Have you been to Hitler’s Cross?”

This text message flashed on my cellphone. What surprised me is that it came from Pakistan. What the heck was the big deal? The restaurant was tucked away in Navi Mumbai but it was making waves all across the globe.

I had not thought it important enough till I got that SMS. I would not patronise the eatery only because it is too darned way out for me to travel to. The name, the symbol of the swastika (which incidentally is almost identical to the Hindu symbol, Om – it is reversed) or a poster of Adolf would not have any bearing on my decision.

Fine, the restaurant owners wanted to be gimmicky…so what? Only some half-wit would imagine that people would go there for their Italian muttar-paneer or Punjabi hakka noodles because they were hungry Indian Nazis. Oh come on, we need to get a life.

I understand political correctness, but there are a few real political undercurrents going on here. Browbeating seems to have become the order of the day and our so-called tolerance is showing chinks, more obviously now. The eatery was not a hotspot and yet it resulted in international protests with the Mumbai-based consulates of both Israel and Germany joining in. The owners have now been forced to change the name of the restaurant.

This is ludicrous because no one had protested when Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi openly expressed their admiration for the Fuhrer’s ideology, which is far more dangerous coming as it does from our leaders.

If this name-changing has to set a precedent, then perhaps the Jewish community might like to approach the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s son Stalin, named after the Russian dictator who too was responsible for the persecution of Jews.

Some of us might like to change the names of places commemorating our own leaders for excesses like the Emergency, riots and complete disregard for law and order.

Different angles - 5

28.8.08

The Marathi Big Mac


The caption states:
AAMCHI BURGER: The McDonald’s outlet at CST sports a Marathi signboard in keeping with the MNS diktat.


Aware of how the Marathi maanus parties have been beh
aving towards immigrants, one ought to be put off.

But I also feel that we s
hould be proud of where we belong - and I know that Biharis, UPites, people from the North East and the South who have made Mumbai their home are contributing a great deal. Therefore, I am all for the Marathi signboard.

After all, the Indian version of the
Big Mac is different and caters to local tastes, so why not the name in the local language too?

Incidentally, I believe some
countries do use the logo keeping their culture and heritage in mind. I clearly recall the one in Salzburg:



Ask the vexpert - 9

Question: My husband insists on using tooth paste for lubrication while having sex. Can this prove to be harmful?

Sexpert: If it can clean your teeth, it could help your vagina as well. Why not present him with a tube of KY Jelly for better lubrication? Also, ask him to prolong the foreplay so that you are better lubricated.

Me: If he is a dentist, then he probably thinks anything that can be held is a toothbrush. Do check if he has added bristles for effect. Or he has taken courses in time management and thinks he can brush with pleasure. It is not harmful just as yet; if he starts getting into dental floss and mouth wash and toothpicks, then you might have to deal with him differently.

- - -

Question: I am 26 years old and my girlfriend is 18. She wants us to have anal sex since she doesn’t want her hymen to split till she gets married. Even when we tried anal sex, I couldn’t enter as the anal opening was too small. Also, she experienced a lot of pain. My girlfriend says that she will leave me if I am unable to enter her the next time. Please help.

Sexpert: I cannot advise you on anal sex since it is illegal. Tell her that it may cause side effects to both of you. Is it only for sex that you both are together?

Me: Ask her to go and first shit a watermelon and then you’ll get back to her. Seriously, when you get married you will have to sign a pre-nuptial agreement stating that you are an upfront fellow and have not got anywhere in life through backdoor entry. Use the high moral ground. And after all these demands why is she coy about her hymen splitting? I assume she will also go horse-riding only after marriage.

27.8.08

Cats and dogs


It is just a cartoon. But in a dog-eat-cat world, it really does not matter how big the cat is.

Taking it further, it can mean so many things…

The dog rides on the cat and shoots from its ‘shoulders’.

The dog wants to just assert itself.

The dog is just playing games.

The cat looks confused but why? Isn’t the dog so light?

If cats have nine lives, and the dog knows it, why worry?

- - -

Okay, on to other non four-legged matters. If interested, do go to the book blog for reader feedback and to hear my podcast...

Who Says You Can’t Write About Muhammad?

"Apparently, Ms. Jones for all her two years of research has managed a version of chick lit."

Who Says You Can’t Write About Muhammad?

How Liberal Fiction Dictators Play With History
by Farzana Versey
State of Nature

“Married at nine to the much-older Muhammad, Aisha uses her wits, her courage, and her sword to defend her first-wife status even as Muhammad marries again and again, taking 12 wives and concubines in all,” the summary reads.

It is not an issue of freedom of speech or of literature. Sherry Jones’ book The Jewel of Medina is not a lot of things it is made out to be.

Random House decided against publishing it because it feared an Islamic backlash. The source at the publishing house said that it had information “from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

The problem is with Islam, they say. There is no tolerance. The point here is not about tolerance, but about perspective. It is unnecessary needling of a community by starting with the premise of a terror attack. This is based merely on what some blogger has posted and an email asking for the publishing house to apologize to all Muslims.

With the agility of an intellectual acrobat, Asra Nomani came to the rescue of the writer without for a moment taking into account that the book was accepted, advance copies sent out. Surely, Ms. Jones did not convey the impression that she was writing one of those cute coffee table books on the gemstones of Medina?

Nomani starts her Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal with the wrong thesis and headline “You Still Can’t Write About Muhammad”; it is a catchier title than putting his wife, the protagonist, up in the blinking neon lights of pulp liberalism and neophyte history. Curiously enough, she describes the book as a “tale of lust, love and intrigue in the prophet’s harem” and then goes on to say, “This saga upsets me as a Muslim – and as a writer who believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanizing way.”

Let us get one thing straight: We are not talking history here. Religion cannot be history if it is still practised with the ease, and the siege, of the devil. We believe, or do not believe, as per the dictates of a god-ungod situation. Of course, the writer will be martyred at the altar of the mullahs. They will say those blokes have not even read the book. Neither have many others who are supporting its publication.

This business about humanizing Islam is getting to be a bit tiresome. Nomani ends her piece with a rather pious offering. “Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception…And, for all those who believe the life of the prophet Muhammad can’t include stories of lust, anger and doubt, we need only read the Quran (18:110) where, it’s said, God instructed Muhammad to tell others: ‘I am only a mortal like you’.”

Mortality is different from being human. It perhaps only meant that he too would die, or that as a prophet he ought to be a lesson in humility. Even if it were to imply what may be called human foibles and desires, these are not the fulcrum from which arise the connotations of piety. No one deifies the prophet because of those qualities but despite them. The idea of belief is to not question. The moment you question you are a doubter, not a devotee.

Even the so-called liberal cult of Sufism rests on sublimation of oneself into a superior being. Therefore, to expect monotheistic belief systems to accept flaws is unrealistic. Islam, in fact, is rather open about sexuality and its believers for the most part practise it. Over a period of time, interpreters completely destroyed the element of joy and chose to mimic the Victorian model and corseted women behind veils and darkness. Yet, on paper a woman does have many rights, including the right to divorce should she be unsatisfied with the level of conjugal bliss she desires.

It suited patriarchal culture to paint a dour picture of the religion. Now, the mullah interpreters are being replaced by the liberal interpreters who try to save Islam from the clutches of ignorance. They use contemporary and often westernised standards to judge. If Muhammad was to be “mortal” like us, then the idea of god’s messenger would fall flat on its face.

Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, who has written Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr, said about Jones’ book, “I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”

Jones defended herself in the Guardian: “It’s ridiculous. I must be a heck of a writer to produce a pornographic book without sex scenes. My book is as realistic a portrayal as I could muster of the prophet Muhammad’s harem and his domestic life. Of course it has sexuality, but there is no sex.”

Just a little definition of pornography might help Ms. Jones brush up with more than Arabic. It also conveys titillation, an effort to sexually stimulate. If this is a work of fiction, then the writer ought not to bring in references to realistic portrayal. Therefore, I completely differ with critics who have said that Sherry might be another Salman. Rushdie, for all his hallucinations, stuck to fabulist theories. He did not set out to promote a feministic or even humanistic ideal. Sherry Jones has said, “I wanted to honor Aisha and all the wives of Muhammad by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored – silenced – by historians.”

One supposes her research did not throw up the small detail that before uttering the name of any of the prophet’s wives Muslims are expected to prefix with the words, “Umm-al-Momineen” (Mother of the Believers) as a mark of respect.

The feministic utopia in Jones’ imagination starts with an account of Aisha’s suspected adultery. It would have been a rather contemporary move, but the Prologue is so full of extensive metaphors that one wonders what the crux is. “I let my eyelids fall shut, avoiding my reflection in the stares of my umma, my community. I licked my cracked lips, tasting salt and the tang of my wretchedness. Pain wrung my stomach like strong hands squeezing water from laundry, only I was already dry. My tongue lolled like a sun baked lizard. I rested my cheek against Safwan’s shoulder, but the horse’s trot struck bone against bone. ‘Al-zaniya!’ someone cried. ‘Adulteress!’”

It would be unfair to tar the whole book based on the Prologue, but it gives a credible peek into the language and lack of nuance the author employs. After being harangued for spending the night with Safwan, Aisha recounts that she finally fell, “Into my husband’s control once more and sighing with relief. Trying to forge my own destiny had nearly destroyed me, but his love held the power to heal.”

Apparently, Ms. Jones for all her two years of research has managed a version of chick lit, where Aisha gets in confessional mode and in a Mills and Boon fashion “leans on her husband”, “falls into his arms”, and in a rather treacly account relates that “the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life.”

At age nine or eleven, the “all my life” seems rather a stretch. If Jones wanted to portray a Lolita, then the purpose has been served. The West and critics of Islam seem rather obsessed with the sexual element. They perhaps are the inheritors of a construct where chastity belts were common. Rarely will you see enlightened Muslims or even rabble-rousers discuss these issues.

What the prophet did or did not do does not constitute Islam. If his personal life is to be an example, then Muslims should be living on dates. Besides, why is there rarely any mention of the fact that he married a woman much older than him and that too a widow?

I have heard comments that he did it for money. So, would it be apt to say that Khadijah broke through the glass ceiling long before our power-dressing women got there?

This does not have dramatic potential. A pre-pubescent discovering her sexuality is enticing.

It would be educative to look at other faiths to get a better perspective. Instances of young women with older men abound and child marriage is fairly common in the subcontinent even today. Are those kids ready for sexual intimacy? And girls are sold to the highest bidder. Virginity is a prized commodity, which is what happens in Devadasi temples in South India. Young girls are sacrificed to the Goddess Yellama. Do you imagine they spend the rest of their lives as celibates? No. The priests decide who gets the girl first. Sometimes she is offered to a rich bloke from the village.

In 2004, Madame Tussaud’s got into trouble for its portrayal of the Nativity scene, the tableau was destroyed and the Church leaders got very upset because the wax works of David Beckham and Posh Spice delineated the roles of Joseph and Mary and Kylie Minogue fluttered around as the angel. If the people featured in the tableau are suspect because of what they stand for, then is there a way to vouch for the integrity of the ordinary people who enact the Crucifixion during Easter in many parts of the world?

The Church has often raised its voice against such depictions. I find this strange. Films and theatrical productions have been staged with famous people portraying religious characters; Italian masters gained a great deal of celebrity for artistically interpreting Christian iconography.

Here I might add that I would use the same rules for Islam. The Muslim world had objected to the model Claudia Schiffer walking down the ramp with some calligraphy embroidered on her blouse. Most Muslim households have some Quranic verses scrawled somewhere. Are the people in those homes living up to whatever it is that it written there? Are they near-perfect individuals?

In Jones’ book Ali appears as an almost Judas-like character who, by denigrating Aisha, is in fact trying to show the prophet’s feet of clay. The possessiveness is possibly because, like Judas, Ali too looked on the prophet as a friend and hero. Yet, his self-esteem wanted him to rebel.

I wonder if Jones has touched upon these psychological dimensions. Would a human ‘divinity’ by its very accessibility cease to rise above our pettiness? There is a huge problem in dealing with the human and the fallible. The human in religion is not fallible.

If people do believe in a certain faith, then let them decide on how to define their belief. That too constitutes freedom of speech. Fictional accounts of this nature only serve as trashy one-upmanship. They do not humanize or, alas, even demonize religion.

26.8.08

Ab ke hum bichchde tau shaayad kabhi khwaabon mein mile: Faraz Lives

There are some things you cannot pack in during interviews. (Read the full version here.) The same happened with Ahmed Faraz. Little things: I called and said, “I am Farzana” as though he was supposed to know. He did not ask “Kaun?” He gave me the directions to where he was. When? “Ab…” Now. I liked the sense of nowness, the urgency. 

He flattered, he cajoled, he looked amused as my tape-recorder went quiet and laughed aloud as I kept banging it on his table to get it started. There was curiosity. I began to see the blue of my kameez differently. It became not just an electric blue; it became something that he called luminescent. 

He got several calls. All from women. I can tell these things. His voice dropped, not as in a secret, but a whisper. Then a group of government types came in. The interview was done and I thought I should leave. He said, “I thought you will join me for lunch.”

I had to miss it, but I know what he meant when he told me, “Sometimes new people too give you the feeling that you have met them before, which makes you wonder about reincarnation.”

Some people are just reborn again and again because they never leave. He was what I have called the conscience of Pakistan. He loved it enough to criticise it and question it. His words in his own voice keep challenging…the heavens can wait…

Shabana Azmi and the Moderate Muslim Agenda

Shabana Azmi and the Moderate Muslim Agenda
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, 26 August, 2008

Shabana Azmi believes the moderate Muslim voice is never heard. Ever since she spoke out about not being able to get a flat in Mumbai, she has been in the news. A simple Google search on Shabana Azmi’s apartment problem gave 6350 results. Looking for ‘Delhi’s Imam Bukhari on jihad’ threw up only 3010 results. A rather telling statement.

Azmi and the Imam belong to the same club in many ways. They both become Muslims when it suits their purpose. The only difference is that the Imam has a little bump on his forehead and Ms. Azmi wears a bindi often. That, we are to understand, makes her stand out as a secular person. How an embellishment can qualify you for this position beats me.

Recently, Shabana Azmi has been consecrated as a Muslim messiah. The reason? She said she could not buy an apartment in Mumbai. “I mean if Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi cannot get a flat in Mumbai because they are Muslims, then what are we talking about?”

We are talking about how superficial she makes these concerns sound. This is as bad as Sharukh Khan saying that his success is evidence of how secular India is. Shabana Azmi has complained, “You can't only make token gestures and actually let them be in the state that they are as the Rajinder Sachar Committee report shows. So what happened is token gestures are made but real issues are never addressed."

This makes one wonder at her sense of timing. The Sachar Report is old hat; Muslims being denied accommodation is old hat and I have written about the issue in Countercurrents. Seema Mustafa reported in The Asian Age about how Muslims travelling abroad were being probed. Both these were in 2006. Ms. Azmi was silent then.

Today, if you are looking for some power, the time is just right. Omar Abdullah’s three-minute bluster has paved the way for the moderate Muslim to flash it like never before. The reason is that Kashmir has become the hotbed of renewed strife. Indian democracy is fighting its biggest internal battle. This time the enemy is not Pakistan. A whole state is in rebellion, and it is the people, not the extremists.

Kashmir has become a Muslim problem.

Every political party will now try to woo the Muslim; no one can afford to lose votes. In fact, following the bomb blasts in Ahmedabad, and those red herrings in Surat, we hardly have any anti-Muslim sentiment among the major political parties. Therefore, if you say the right things, claim your Muslim identity, are fairly well-known, then you will be offered quite a bit on a platter.

When asked about the Kashmir violence and its fallout in the rest of the country, Azmi said, "That's why I am so distressed over what is happening in Kashmir. For heaven's sake it should be brought to a stop and it should have been brought to a stop right when they started that nonsense."

Does this sound like a responsible statement with any degree of understanding of what this “nonsense” is? Has she bothered to explain? Has anyone asked her to? It is important to know what she means by nonsense. That the Amarnath land was given or that it was taken back? Or whether the trucks should have made their way to Muzaffarabad? Or whether there should be protests in Jammu or the Valley?

How can anyone dismiss an important rebellion in a state as nonsense and yet get a whole lot of media mileage because she is denied a new house?

And what has this cribbing about accommodation done? The Times of India, in one of its now patently naïve moments, decided to ask its reporters to pose as Muslims (an interesting thought – could they not send real Muslim reporters, were they not trustworthy enough?) and call up builders. Most of them sounded “enthusiastic” and said religion was no issue.

Shabana Azmi has made a real problem that afflicts lesser people into a joke. What did the Times expect? After all this noise, would the builders outright refuse? In any event, they do not do so directly. The process is subtle. It might have helped if they had done a sting operation with Shabana Azmi as a participant. Then we would know what is really going on.

Would Ms Azmi be game for it? No. She would repeat those precious words, "I think there is not enough understanding of the fact that in a democracy how you treat the security of the minority must be a very important part for the success of a democracy.”

Do note the careful usage of the term democracy. She is not rubbishing the government. Why? Because one never knows who comes to power and who offers the Rajya Sabha seat.

That she emphasised her celebrity status points clearly to the fact that had she got the flat then she would never have spoken out. And rather smartly she has also made the Muslim leadership answerable. "I don't think that the Muslim leadership has bothered to clear the air about what Islam actually is."

Why should it? If this is a democracy, and she has agreed it is, then there is no reason for any religion to be explained. The Muslim leadership can explain Islam to its believers who have questions. Did she ask the Hindu leadership to explain Hinduism after the Bombay and Gujarat riots? Why does a secular country need lessons in religion? If she is so concerned, then why does she not start quoting para and verse and flaunt herself as a part of some Muslim leadership?

Has she ever hit out at those who constantly ask about reform movements in Islam? Have we got a list of reform movements in Hinduism? Why do we have to feel defensive about being westernised or secular? Who cares if someone from another belief system has to wait for years for the so-called reform in Islam when there are dozens of interpretations already in existence?

It has become a bait. When there was a discussion on the veil a couple of years ago, Ms. Azmi made bombastic statements and said that if someone asked her to wear a veil here she would never do so, but if Jack Straw asked her not to wear a veil in England, then she would wear three veils. This is sheer playing to the gallery. I have yet to hear of such a simplistic analysis.

For this she is being lauded as someone who challenges the clergy. Asking Imam Bukhari to go to Kandahar to fight there and solve the problems only because he had said at the time that it was every Muslim’s jihad is mere intellectual titillation. In a democracy he has as much of a right to say what he wishes. Has he asked her to house the slum-dwellers whose cause she espouses?

For liberals, as for maulvis, every group they claim to represent is just a potential constituency -- political, social or religious.

Javed Akhtar came on a TV show and talked about how he went to Behrampada post-riots, after the Shahi Imam had issued a fatwa to boycott the Republic Day function, and got 9000 signatures of Muslims saying they were not with the Imam. His grouse was that no newspaper carried this path-breaking piece of news; they only like sensational pronouncements by the fanatics, he felt.

It did not strike him that it was most insensitive to go around collecting signatures from a suffering people (Behrampada was among the worst-affected areas) only to suit their narrow agenda. What did they expect? That people would refuse?

Besides, what does boycotting Republic Day celebrations mean anyway? How many people ‘celebrate’ it? Would beleaguered widows, homes without any earning member left, hoist the tricolour only to prove that they could be called moderate Muslims? For the record, the majority of Muslim women in these slums do not wear burqas, the men do not have the time or space to offer their namaaz regularly and many do not even know what the shariat is and perhaps not even what a jihad is. And many more people there will recognise Shabana Azmi rather than a Syed Shahabuddin or Salahuddin Owaisi, who are the ‘ugly face’ of Islam.

I don’t think Indian Muslims are looking for someone to represent their case. It is the others who are constantly on the lookout for the right sound-bytes.

Did Ms. Azmi protest against the media exploitation of Gudiya and Zahira Sheikh? Did she raise her voice against the displacement of Muslim villagers in West Bengal? When she addressed the House of Commons on being awarded the Gandhi Foundation’s International Peace Prize in 2006, she “dwelt on one of the most troubled issues of our times—the unthinking manner in which Islam and terror are being linked”.

Those who do not win such awards and lead fairly invisible lives would of course be pulled up for "whining" about debunking the Islam and terror link.

In these times only a 'role-playing' model is what passes for a role model.

* * *

On another note: You might like to see a review of my book by M.V.Kamath, the RSS ideologue! Surprises never cease...)



24.8.08

Urban India is going to decide Kashmir’s fate?

The Times of India conducted a survey by Synovate India, a market research agency, among men and women in the 18 to 35 age group in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Jammu.

Here are some ‘findings’:

Should India let go of Kashmir?

No: 68%

Has Kashmir been pampered by the Centre?

Neglected: 41%

Can it ever be integrated into the mainstream?

Yes: 77%

Should India hold on to it whatever the cost?

Yes: 59%

If Kashmir secedes, it would it be…

Under greater threat: 50%

Do you see how disjointed it is?


Or just a case of “Dil ko behlaane ke liye khayal achcha hai”?

22.8.08

Hot!

There are people who just love piping hot food. I don’t. Sizzlers I anyway do not like, but on occasion have fanned it with whatever was handy and even gone delicately psoo-psoo as the smoke hurt the eyes.


This Japanese invention would be great.

21.8.08

Shabana Azmi ...and the drama goes on...

I have loads to say, but for now...yawn...

She is just talking because ... (more later, IF someone publishes it). The 'liberal' media is not so liberal...

And why is everyone making a noise about it and making tut-tut sounds?

Meanwhile, read about it written two years ago and reproduced right here in Ghettoes Reserved for Muslims.

And before there is the silly query, "Oh she is just jealous of her, isn't it?" let me answer.

Yes. I wish I were as good an actress as her... she is a great actress...great on screen and even better off-screen....

18.8.08

Khuda Hafiz, Musharraf...

...Pakistan will not be the same without you


To those Pakistanis who are happy that President Pervez Musharraf has quit, I do hope their hopes are kept alive by the current regime.

Call him arrogant. Call him pig-headed. call him what you will. My views, as an outsider, remain unchanged.

Therefore, I am re-posting an article written after the 'democrats' won.

Musharraf, Peace and the Autumn of the Patriarch

by Farzana Versey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16.8.08

Jammu and Kashmir - celebrate freedom separately

Update: There is a note of appeal on the humanitarian crisis in J&K. Please read it my other blog. It gives a detailed picture.

Here is the news for you – different takes...

“Tricolour at 8 am, flags of separatists at 4 pm,” shouted the front page headline in The Times of India.

At exactly 8 am on Independence Day,the CRPF hoisted the tricolour at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar.At 3.45 pm, Lal Chowk wore a totally different look. Hundreds of sloganshouting protesters swarmed the area and at 4 pm they planted flags of the Jamaat-e-Islami (which looks like the Pakistani flag) and those of terrorist outfit Hizb-ul Mujahideen on top of the same tower where the Indian flag had been hoisted.

If one were to go by the symbolism of the spectacle at Lal Chowk, the Valley’s alienation from the Indian Union seemed complete. One of the slogans of the protesters—“Jiyo, jiyo Pakistan, hum hain Pakistani’’—drove home the message. Among other slogans that rent the air were “Islam zindabad’’, “Lad ke lenge azadi’’ and “Allah-u-Akbar’’.

The report went on to state:

“They were aggressive in their gestures, but did not resort to violence.”

What do you expect protesters to do? Smile?

So, what happened to the Indian national flag at Lal Chowk? CRPF PRO Prabhakar Tripathi said the tricolour was taken down at about 10 am to protect it from rain.

Do flags at various building get removed during the monsoons to protect them? Did or did not the CRPF and intelligence sources expect some such thing to happen?

Now let us see what happened in Jammu. I had to look at another paper for that.

“Tens of thousands attend parallel I-Day celebrations in Jammu,” said the Hindustan Times.

Mubarak Mandi, the seat of the government during Dogra rule in Jammu and Kashmir, on Friday became the centre of India's 62nd Independence Day celebrations in Jammu, with tens of thousands converging there to mark the occassion.

Amid cheers and chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Bamb Bamb Bhole, thousands of Jammuities gathered with the national tricolour, waving the flags as the celebrations began.

Right. Please note the location and the religious sloganeering.

The moment the tricolour was hoisted by Sangarsh Samiti convenor Leela Karan Sharma, the masses jostled to get closer to the podium. Some saluted while others stood at attention. The atmosphere turned emotional when the national anthem "Jana Gana Mana" was recited.

Sharma exhorted the people to remain peaceful and maintained that the government should take note of the "sea of humanity" and accept the group's demand.

Obviously, there were no aggressive gestures here.

Now let us look a little further…

“Unique Protest: SIMITI boycott Independence Day celebrations in Jammu,” said News Agency of Kashmir.

In a unique protest of pressing demands members of SASS today boycotted all the official functions organized on eve of I-Day celebrations and hoisted Tri-Colour at various places in Jammu Division.

Addressing the gathering SIMITI convener, Leela Karan Sharma, Brig (Retd) Suchet Singh and others in their speeches expressed their anguish that while the government is not giving any punishment to Afzal Guru who masterminded the attack on parliament and those who burn the national flag publically, there is a suppression of the nationalistic people who are raising their genuine grievances.

The Samiti also informed that the Samiti will organize a jail bharo andolan from 18th to 20th August 2008 The Samiti also informed that the Samiti will organize a jail bharo andolan from 18th to 20th August 2008, in which people thousands of people will court arrest in the various police stations in support of their demands of restoration of land, in the entire Jammu region.

So, it is all right for these people to boycott. Why? Only by hoisting the national flag they become patriots? Are they too not seeking ‘azadi’?

At least in Srinagar they chose the same venue as the official one.

As for the rest, let the pictures speak. And the reality.

15.8.08

What is your good name?

A friend is writing a novel. She is stuck. Not with the plot, not with the characters, not with finding a publisher. She does not know what to name them.

“You are lucky, you wrote non-fiction,” she told me.

Although mine is non-fiction, due to the sensitive nature of some political aspects, I could not disclose the identities of some people...so it was finding names. Fortunately, there weren’t many such ‘characters’. But it was really a task...someone’s real face would stare at me and I had no idea what to do about it.

Imagine if you were writing about a bald character and named him Samson? As the familiar faces came to haunt me, I tried to fit in what would sound right. I had to also keep the Sunni-Shia-Mohajir thing in mind. Whoever said non-fiction does not require creativity?

One of these hidden people got a copy of the book. Now, quite naturally, he wanted to know if he was a certain person. I said, no…but I had forgotten what I had named him. Off I rushed to my Press copy, clicked on ‘find’ and typed out one item of his clothing (yes, I like these details) and found him. Needless to say he has only read his portions! Another person did not like the name I gave her: “It is the name of one of my relatives and she is quite ugly.” Oh, well…

Strangely enough, I suspect that if I were to write fiction I’d use names of people I know. And make them into real ghoulish characters…that would be fun. (Incidentally, that is just a needling strategy, with the hope that someone somewhere names someone somewhere Farzana, with little horns, knotted hair, frothing at the mouth…here is an idea for free.)

PS: Okay, so one has written non-fiction. Now you know what the problem is? Some people who should be doing things have said, “Yeah, it is, but it is so personal.”

People want realistic characters even in novels and here when they get the real, and some really weird, they call this personal. Arre, eik-eik museum piece hai…so why do you want museums and stuff?