30.12.08

Ashes to ashes: Harold Pinter

What is real and what is unreal?

In a state of delirium, pumped up with medication, laid up in bed, swathed in white from a lightbulb that hurts the eyes, I can see clearly. I can see the reality of the unreal, the unreality of the real. A cliché would refer to it as truth being stranger than fiction.

You said in art there was no difference between the true and the false. Both could co-exist. But, you emphasised, as a citizen one must ask what is true and what is false.

How many times have we seen truth falsified and how often has falsehood been repeated to let each layer get calcified as truth?

I am lying down here and reading. Weapons are ready in little minds more lethal than guns. They are talking; they can only talk.

As you once pointed out, we too will have a Tony Blair moment with a child that survives and a caption that says 'grateful'. What are we grateful for?

We are grateful when those wielding arms declare a ceasefire. We are grateful when war-mongers decide it's time for peace. We are grateful for being alive among the dead. We don't even know we have gone through death in the mortuaries that our souls have become.

I am tired and dizzy. You are gone. It feels the same.

Let me switch off the white light and utter the words that will make me feel I am not alone: Talk to me, Harry.

24.12.08

The emperor has no clothes...

Look who’s giving

Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh donated a huge chunk of his assets - anywhere between Rs 4.6 crore and Rs 23 crore, 20% of his declared assets - to the Clinton Foundation.

He is keeping mum for the most part, except to say, that the “payment could have been made by someone else on his behalf ’’.

A report in The New York Times stated:


“Mr Singh visited the US in September to lobby for a deal allowing India to obtain civil nuclear technology even though it never signed the NPT. He met with Mrs Clinton who he said assured him that the Democrats would not block the deal. Congress approved it weeks later.”

What intrigues me is that until not very long ago Amar Singh and company were opposed to the Congress. Why was getting this nuclear deal signed so important to them? Is he going to use it to buy more tickets for the SP if they have an electoral alliance with the Congress? Is there is tacit agreement to prop up Hillary, who anyway collects loads of money, to get a prime position for herself in the Obama government? Is there a future possibility of kickbacks?

Why has one never heard about Amar Singh contributing such huge sums to Indian charities?

- - -


Talking of which, here is a rather interesting report. Highlighting such news is also important:

Foreign contributions to Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) rose by a whopping 56% from Rs 7,878 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 12,290 crore in 2006-07, according to statistics released by the home ministry on “foreign funds to NGOs’’.

Indian NGOs have not only been getting money from big donors like the US, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Italy, but are also receiving contributions from Pakistan which contributed Rs 43.28 lakh in 2004-05, Rs 71.70 lakh in 2005-06 and Rs 21.99 lakh in 2006-07.

What is even more important is that the home ministry gave a written reply in the Lok Sabha saying:


“There are no specific inputs to indicate misuse of foreign contribution by the registered associations (under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) for terrorist activities.’’

The ministry pointed out that no association having a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme could accept foreign contributions without registration or prior permission under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976. “However, as and when complaints relating to the violation of the provisions of the FCRA against associations come to the notice of the government, appropriate action is taken,’’ it said.


23.12.08

War against War

I am a mix of angry, very angry… Where are we heading with this? How does it help anyone?


We are manufacturing a state of tension. Who benefits from it we all know. The war hoopla cannot be dismissed. It is time to make these people who are promoting it answerable.


Those of you who are talking about war must pledge to:


  1. Send a member of your family to the war front.
  2. All casualties that might occur become your responsibility – which includes war widows, orphans.
  3. NRIs will vow to return to India and participate in the effort directly or indirectly, not merely with donations.
  4. Those who live and work in countries favourable to the government opposing us will pressurise that government to change its position. If they are not in a state to do so, they will leave their jobs and return to join the army to prove their loyalty to India and the war they are supporting.
  5. No Indian or person of Indian origin will work or live in a country that has an Islamic Constitution – therefore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan will be struck out immediately. They will have to do that also if they indulge in Islamic bashing or referring to these societies as jihadis.
  6. I am assuming that you are serious about fighting terrorism and will therefore do so irrespective of the ideology the terrorists follow. You will have to give written assurances of your intent.
  7. Those of us who are opposed to any war will be compensated by the war proponents in the event of damage to person or property.


This is not a casual post. It is time we became pro-active and stemmed the rot of hyperbole and hot air. Let us make these people responsible for their rash war-mongering.

Scenes from Hysteria

Scene 1


“This is the third Farzana we have had since morning,” she said.


I gave the polite smile one manages at beauty salons. This was at the reception counter and I was hoping to get myself some quick-fix solutions for the world problem during these trying times –a moisturiser to prevent the skin from drying.


She hesitated, “Parsi or Muslim?”


Ah, they had such brand names now?


She gave me the details of the other two.


Okay, so I was a Muslim. She then said her brother had been honoured “for fighting the Pakistanis”.

Right. Kargil?

“I don’t know. Indira Gandhi was there.”


“No, can’t be Kargil. Must be the Bangladesh War.”


“No, no, when India fought Pakistan.”


I wanted to say forever, but by now we had become an item. She was attending to others, but she would glance at me. The expression was a mix of indulgence and confusion. She is a Parsi. I have no idea where she fished it out from, but she brought out an old clipping of her brother being decorated.


“You know I want to join one of these citizens’ movements.”


“Why?”


“Do you know all these CEOs came out in the streets?”


I went full-throttle about what I have written. It was time to go to the inner chambers…the wax seemed hotter.


Scene 2


The lounge at the airport. No announcement about delays. The television is blasting news about how we should deal with Pakistan. The channel is Headlines Today. Some punk who is referred to as ‘our defence correspondent’ is taking on Defence Minister A.K.Antony for saying that we had no immediate plans for military action against Pakistan.


The punk is screeching, because the lady in the studio is asking him to give his expert view from some strip of road he is standing in. He is screeching that this is not how the Defence Minister of the country should talk. His comments are “False and needless.” What?


This fellow knows more? These studio jerks are going to decide on such important decisions when some of us question even the powers-that-be? What is false about it? And why is it needless? Because these people won’t have anything to keep them busy and away from murders in our country, ordinary murders?


Mr. Antony has goofed up as Defence Minister on occasion, but the Government of India had not made any firm decision. He was merely reiterating the position he had expressed. It was needed because going to war is not like barking comments into a mike. Or sitting in on panel discussions. Or even writing. Yes. I am saying it.


Immediately after this they were showing Yousuf Raza Gilani saying that Pakistan does not want a war but if they were pushed in a situation they would fight back. This they thought was a pugnacious stand. What was he expected to say?


Then they had one more major reason to promote this nonsense. It happened to be Vijay Divas. I don’t know of many channels that make an issue of this day on other occasions, but now it was huge.


Does a person travelling from one point to the other on some work or whatever wallow in such sponsored bitterness?


I added lots of sugar to my coffee.


Scene 3


The checks at the airport are not as stringent as made out to be. They merely look at your photo ID before you enter.


After security check, my handbag stood on a counter. I waited. The security person waved me off. I kept standing. Don’t they want to see again what’s inside? My name, read my name, I wanted to tell them.


The guy smiled, “Theek hai.


Ah, well, I had a new lipgloss. And I can use it as a weapon.

12.12.08

Charge of the blinkered brigade

December 5. My article 1992 vs. 2008: Mumbai's charge of the lightweight brigade appears in Counterpunch, a US-based publication/portal. I am inundated with emails - reasoned responses.

December 12. The same article is reproduced in The News (Jang group) Pakistan. How do I get to know? When I open my mail and see a burst of abuses. "You have written for a Pakistani newspaper! Go there, live there!!" Nothing new. When words fail you, use exclamation marks...the more the merrier. And hello? What are they doing reading Pakistani newspapers at all hours of the day and night?

People who wear blinkers are not expected to read; they scroll; they see a byline. A name they think is suitable for target practice. They miss it by miles. If I had patience, I'd weep for them. They don't have eyes to scroll to the bottom where it clearly mentions the source where it was originally published.

I was not asked. But then this article would have been picked up by anyone, anywhere. And I stand by every word I have written and will write. Anywhere I want.

- - -

This brings me to the naive belief some people have that these attacks have united India. Which India? A bunch of politicians who got together and declaimed in parliament that they will fight terror? What were they doing all these years?

Groups formulating petitions? Who are they and where will they be a few weeks down the line?

The Mumbai of Malabar Hill or Mankhurd? When did you see them together?

I am not wearing blinkers simply because I am not a horse running somebody else's race.

Nice try, folks, but you will have to work harder to still my voice. I am sure in the din you create you cannot even hear it, to begin with.

Thanks for promoting this blog and getting a peek into my multi-talented personality. Yes, I can write poetry and paint as well...no enough is enough for me.

Have a good weekend. The weather in my city is getting better...wish you were here...and hope it was good for you...

9.12.08

What have Dawood and Afzal Guru got to do with the Mumbai carnage?

“War clouds are gathering”.


I detest the phrase. But both countries have been going on about these clouds. Since 1989 Jammu and Kashmir has been suffering, so where were these war clouds then? Our little Kargil encounter was a result of the Pokhran blasts; Pakistan had to show it could retaliate.


Aryabhatas and Ghaznavis act like our ego-boosters.


Why is India demanding that Dawood Ibrahim be handed over? Are we trying to mislead investigations or saving our skin because our intelligence agencies and government fiddled?


Pakistan has refused to also hand over Tiger Memon and JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar too because we do not have an extradition treaty or evidence against them. If we provide it, then Pakistan will try these criminals.


I think this is fair, at least as far as protocol goes.


Now, there is a Pakistani view. I spoke with X who believes that this can be done. There are many such Pakistanis who believe that the government does not need to sit on ceremony or split hairs over legal issues. They are gathering groups and trying to make them see that a pugnacious attitude won’t help.


I agree with the theory that we don’t have to flex muscles. But why does India not provide evidence? Why did India not do anything when Dawood was in Dubai after the March 1993 blasts? Why did Chhota Rajan continue to hold his Ganesh pandals and become a ‘Hindu hero’ and patriot at the time? Why did they not get him, Dawood’s special man, to give the dirt on the D-Company?


India is in a precarious situation because we do not have enough information except that these attacks were done by those trained by the LeT based on the account of one captured terrorist. What does Pakistan do?


From a report:


A day after Pakistani security forces raided a terror camp in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and arrested a senior LeT commander believed to have been one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attack, the government on Monday vowed not to allow its soil to be used for terrorism.


Just like that they find someone who they tout as a mastermind? This report is strange and has little knowledge about where PoK figures in the Pakistani political scheme.



Asif Ali Zardari is a dithering man – he has been vacillating from the moment he became President. I don’t understand why we are speaking to the President of Pakistan when it is the Prime Minister who should be our man there. Zardari’s dream of being the Sonia Gandhi of Pakistan seems to have come true. The problem is he would not wish to get his son Bilawal to be the mascot, like Sonia has got Rahul, yet. He needs to taste real power for himself.


Before there is another coup. Yes. The Army is always prepared to occupy the political citadel. The ISI is doing pretty much what it wants. The grand display of removing its political interference was a cosmetic exercise. What is there to spy on local politicians, anyway?


This is how they react:


“The raid was carried out to get details about the activities of the group in Kashmir following allegations by India that the LeT was using Pakistani territory for training,’’ an intelligence official said.


Fantastic. It sounds like ‘mummy asked me to clean the room’ stuff. And if we are talking LeT then I do not understand why everytime there is a terror attack, we either ask for Dawood or demand the execution of Afzal Guru. Both are Indians. So we are at war with ourselves.


Let us just end this by announcing a general ceasefire with Pakistan and declare a civil war. We can fight with each other.

8.12.08

Author! Author!

I dislike the word author. Not for itself, but when applied to those who use their skill with words. Author is a larger term. According to some rumours, god is the author or the world.


Am I an author?


I was told a few months ago that I ought to change my profile on this blog. Heck, I was told to stop blogging “like that” and posting pictures of hair, nose, eyes, bits of clothing…I was told to behave like I mattered. I said all the parts of me mattered; without them I’d be handicapped, especially the bits of clothing…


Therefore, with the confidence that comes with dotage (stop right there before you hand me the walking stick; dotage also refers to second childhood), I decided to let things be as they are. They are still true, perhaps truer.


People continue to ask me, “What do you do?” I swallow. No, I don’t tell them that. I swallow my pride - is pride liquid that it can be swallowed? Why don’t we chew pride into little morsels? - and tell them that I am hot, cold, frigid, old, young, over-the-top, under-the-weather, between a hard rock and the waves…I give them this gibberish, which really isn’t because I am all of these and some.


If they are nice, then they nod the sort of nod stewards give when a diner tries to pronounce some unmentionable part of an unmentionable animal they are about to order from the menu. Then, they ask, “And what else? Like what do work as?”


Right. I mumble that I write.


Now, writers can be village postmen penning letters to a beloved spouse in a distant city… “Chunnu ke pitaji, hiyaan gai-bhains sab kusal-mangal hai. Jagdisva ka pairan ma moch huvai, sasura peid par chadayee gaya. Aur haan, bahut laaj aave bolna ka, par aapai ki marji se huva…hamra paaon bhaari hai. Jab gaon aavo to peepermeint lana na bhulvo. Chunnu ko bahut pasand hai. Hiyaan sab yaad karat hai…”


Or writers can be researchers working on dissertations with big fat Greek wedding type sounding names like ‘An Intestinal and Infinitesimal Analysis of Anal Retentiveness in Constipated Minds from the Perspective of Dysenteric Verbosity in the Colon’.


Or writers can be time-pass keyboardists…or part-time poets…or…you get the drift.


So, the person asking me waits and wonders which category I could belong to.


Suddenly, it strikes that maybe I could be writing those mystery novels…like ‘Shhh… koi hai’ on TV where there is a murder, rape, robbery, and the culprit is never that character whose eyes bulge out of the socket and tongue hangs out and hair looks electrified. The questioner may look at my eyes, tongue, hair to ascertain the possibility, though.


Someone even asked if I wrote like Mills & Boon stuff. Oh, I so wanted to say yes. Imagine spending your life writing about women with perky breasts that are definitely more interesting than the women, and men who are very good at inheriting money to keep perky breasts forever perky.


Finally, the inquisitor stifles a yawn and says, okay, nice meeting you…do you know Salman Rushdie? Everybody knows Salman Rushdie. Even the paanwalla, especially the paanwalla.


Now I have begun to say author. It sounds authoritative. Like I am the author of this idea. I wasn’t sure. So I looked up the contract with my publisher. It says, “This deed has been signed by the hip and happening (arrite, poetic license this) FV, henceforth referred to as the author, and Harper Collins, henceforth referred to as the publisher”.


I guess that makes me an author because someone who does authors is saying I am one.


Then comes the next step. Which is deadly, “What do you write on?” I wish I could say food, mocktails, wine, fashion, how to make hay during an eclipse…stuff like that…I stutter, “Well, my first book is on Pakistan.”


“Oh…” (face falls), or “Oh!” (face lights up because s/he has visited there for cricket matches and been in love with Imran Khan who has the bitters/Wasim Akram who has diabetes/Shoaib Akhtar who has ..ne’er mind). Last month, and this is real, I met an educated lady. She was all about how the launch went and how wonderful it is that am on the shelf (hah). She paused and asked, “So you actually went to Pakistan?”


To mess up an old saying, Poori Ramayana padh li ab poochte hai ke Hanuman Lanka gaye ya nahin.


It’s been funny moments. I don’t mind. I like introducing myself again and again. What am I?


A character…I have been written and erased several times.



- - -

I have been delayed, and some people who were supposed to post queries on my book (here) have not done so…you have some time. Or else I will use the email ones.

Open letters to Mumbai police, Muslims in peace rallies and myself

These are disparate thoughts based on current events. The best way is to address them to the people concerned. Although they are meant to convey a serious purpose, the tenor might not be so.



To the Mumbai Police Commissioner


Sir:


I understand that the lone terrorist you have in your custody has been given his last name by your department. You have made him talk about other things – even their psychological training where they make sure the terrorists have no emotional ties. You insist he refused to give out any name. So, you called him Kasab or Kasav. Reports say it means butcher. In which language, sir?


I remember as a child accompanying my mother to one of those mohallas where the zariwalla worked…they had this golden coil-like thread. It was called kasab, and embroidered on dupattas or any other clothing.


As far as I know a butcher is a Kasai. On behalf of these professionals I think it is unfair to use such a term. Butchers slaughter animals that are consumed by people who pay for it; there is a market for the meat. You take away the butchers and most people will wonder what to do with the ghaas-puss. Look, everyone is not into this organic lifestyle. At the most, the style divas will have their meat lightly cooked with healthy herbs. And let me remind you that except for three states in – Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan – the rest of India happily allows kasai-khanas. Even in these states, meat is available.


Therefore, I urge you to kindly rename Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab. Please choose a shuddh Hindi name. How about Julmi? Nah, not zulmi…it has to be Julmi; the recordings crackle with the mispronunciation.

I hope you understand that I am an ordinary citizen and I represent bakras, that too kishtoun pe.


Your shubh chintak



To Muslims at peace rallies


Salam alaikum dear fellowmen and women:


Firstly, stop signing off notes with ‘your brother in Islam’ unless you mean it quite literally. I am a literal person. Besides, to be my brother you need certain qualifications, so just go slow on this, okay?


Now tell me what did you get by walking from CST to the sea-face outside Oberoi-Trident? What did you do? Stand there and shout slogans like “killers of innocents were enemies of Islam’’ and the “enemies of India were enemies of Muslims too’’.


You lifted your hands in prayer. Right? The cameras captured you looking like good Mussalmans, just the way they like it. It looks like you are all out for Eid ki namaaz.


Did any of you insist that the celebrities come dressed like that? Why not? If this is to be seen as standard Islamic dress then why did Javed Akhtar, who was screaming “enough is enough” on the Indian Idol show and then giggling about love-struck stories, not wear the skull cap and join his hands in prayer and ask Allah’s blessings?


Had you even heard about Alyque Padamsee before he decided to start his fatwa nautanki? You sat there and quietly listened as this man started on his nonsense:


“Terrorists are fake Muslims while peace-loving tolerant Muslims are the real Muslims. 99.9% of Indian Muslims believe the Quran, which says the killing of innocents is wrong. Those who don’t believe it are ‘nakli (fake)’ Muslims. Committing suicide is a sin in Islam, so how can a suicide bomber believe he will go to ‘jannat (paradise)’?’’


See, he sat with some maulana in a nice room, had badaam doodh and learned two-three lines which everyone knows. Gosh, even Mr. Advani can say these things. Has anyone ever talked about fake Hindus, fake Christians, fake Jews? Now you have to put up with this item number…he says it is a sin to commit suicide in Islam. You should have hit back with, “It is illegal to commit suicide according to the Indian Constitution.”


That would show him his place and make you rise above this Muslims-are-not-bad trip that you are forced to take.


I know that as per your idea of religion I am not a good Muslim. I agree; if you call me naqli, I will say, to an extent I am. That is the difference. I accept it.


I don’t lecture you on Islam or ask you to join these rallies and herd you like sheep to the kasai-khana where these people hang their consciences.


Your ‘sees’-tah


To myself


Dear FV:


I wish to tell you that you are right about these things, but I want to share with the readers a part from one of the letters I have received. It has shaken me up.


The person has a Hindu name, but the contents seem to reveal deep knowledge about Islam; the tone is of a true secularist. He wrote:


“Please don't make statements like – ‘They are irritated because I do not quote anything from the Quran, but can bring up Shakespeare and Neruda and revel in Urdu poets like Faiz and Faraz.’ So, my question is why are Muslims so defensive about their religion. You really don't have to quote Shakespeare and Neruda - you can go ahead and quote The Holy Quran.


You write in paper and you are a public face (I am not sure whether you are Muslim. Please forgive if it is not the case). Why do you make such apologetic statements?”


If I don’t expose myself now or how I am viewed, I won’t be true to anything. This person is right. In some ways I do sound apologetic to a person who does not know that I really cannot quote from the Quran because of lack of knowledge. I also feel that in a secular democracy religion should be in the private domain. I was taunting those who want me to fall into a set style; I truly don’t. However, I can see how it can be perceived.


I just had to say it here and come clean. I hope the mirror does not crack.


Your shadow…and light…


End note:


CNN-IBN had a show last night commemorating many of those dead. Rajdeep Sardesai was at St. Xavier's College; young people were voicing their views. Rajdeep came up with a shocker of a last line: "So this is the Obama generation saying we want change".


Obama is twice their age. And change, whether somoene asks for it or not, will happen. Like Rajiv Gandhi talked about taking us into the 21st century. It had to happen.


Let us stop bringing the West and America into this. At least learn to have some self-respect and use our own models to get the spine we are now flaunting.

6.12.08

1992 vs. 2008: Mumbai’s Charge of the Lightweight Brigade

1992 vs. 2008

by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, December 5 / 7, 2008

If you believe for a moment that the residents of Mumbai are angry about the recent terror attacks, then they have succeeded in fooling you. There is no anger; there is irritation. Their daily routines have been mucked up.

For those 60 hours when terrorists took hold of what have been constantly referred to as 'landmarks' of the city, they sat glued before their television sets. They saw the image of Indian wealth and power being destroyed by invisible men. They were not interested in those men. They were not interested in anything beyond the fact that these men– men who ate dry fruits, for pete's sake – had held five star hotels hostage.

No one was talking about the 58 people who died at the local train station or the 10 others who died at the hospital or the taxi driver whose vehicle was burnt and so was he. Or even the cops who took the bullets.

They may cry themselves hoarse at peace marches, they may cry themselves hoarse on panel discussions, they may cry themselves hoarse in petitions that sound like school essays, but their sensitivity is like froth on lager; it will settle down after a few sips.

They are basking in their newfound role as conscience keepers; the international press is watching global India in all its glory as they stand dressed as global citizens near the Gateway of India with black smoke rising over the dome of the Taj Mahal Hotel in the background. It is both symbol and saviour of their pathetic attempts at downward mobility. It is a counter-reaction. After all, the terrorist wore Versace, until now the uniform of their kind.

They audaciously claim that there is no time for resilience anymore; they won't take it. Resilience? They have been spitting it out, a sardonic sneer being the new expression. It is a sad sight, for the chauffeurs of the cars they drove up in, the person who ironed their clothes and the valet who waited on them till they were all set for their date with the candle-light dinner of sound bytes, all those minions had to show resilience. They had to travel by the local train to bring these people to the streets. This is resilience.

They can shudder as much as they want before that dome wrapped in smoke. Do they recall another dome? The one that was broken down with hammers by our own people, egged on by senior leaders?

Soon after December 6, 1992, and the demolition of the Babri Masjid, there was no such spontaneous expression of grief or anger. 900 people were killed in cold blood, hunted down because of the faith they were born in. Reports gave figures of more than 200,000 people, most of them Muslim, fleeing the city during the riots. Cops who took part in the death dance were promoted; no politician was asked to resign. In the subsequent revenge bomb blasts, orchestrated by an underworld don and not by the local Muslim population, unlike what happened in Gujarat in 2002, 250 people died.

Those who are railing against the government today had kept quiet then. Quiet at a time when the government and the police had backed the local lumpens, our very own citizens.

They were not bothered because the areas targeted did not house their cocktail party circuit. Some did express disgust when they heard stories about the Muslim driver asked to remove his pants in the street to confirm his religion. They were disgusted by the sheer indelicacy but they had an ace up their sleeve – he was a mere driver.

Today, the people who would run down the elite are speaking up for them; they are all into rubbing shoulders and back-scratching. It is a limited edition utopia: our elite vs. their elite.

If you don't play their game, you are as bad as the terrorists. 'Condemn' is the catchword. I have refused to do so. One mainstream newspaper journalist wanted my opinion and said the same thing. He mentioned some liberals who were condemning. I said I condemn those liberals and I condemn the government of India. My views were not carried. I did not expect them to. I can hit out at the government only if I belong to one elite group. They are going to decide. They will constitute the citizens movement. Men and women who had never heard about such groups are now parroting the names of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

One aging film star even said that this time India has become exposed to international terrorism. His utter ignorance did not strike anyone, for we have been blaming the outside hand, mainly Pakistan, for years. In effect, only because this time his people were the targets he has discovered such a phenomenon.

In 16 years nothing has changed. A week after this carnage, a flight attendant serving on a private airline was pointedly asked by a passenger what religion she belonged to. He spewed out, "Why the bloody hell are you Muslims doing this to our country?"

She calmly replied, "Sir, this is my country too."

He shot back, "I don't think so, because people from your community are behind these attacks."

She was on the verge of tears but said bravely, "Sorry Sir, they don't belong to India. They are not Indians."

I have had 16 years of practice, yet sometimes the tears flow; sometimes I am taken aback. We are being pushed into a corner unless we play the game of 'we are all one'. I call it a game because ever since that December there has been suspicion. My superficial elitism, an elitism I have fortunately never internalised, makes it easy for them to hit out differently. There is irritation that I am not the poor, illiterate Muslim that fits into their pigeonhole. There is disapproval that I don't dress up in standard Muslim clothes, or speak in a standard Muslim way.

I don't have a big business enterprise where I can flash secularism if I employ Hindus like Azim Premji does. I am not a film star like Shahrukh Khan who can happily claim a Pathan allegiance and will still be considered acceptable because he says cute things like he is a monkey entertaining people. I don't even have the good sense to join in token gestures of sympathy and denounce terrorism and talk about Islam as a religion of peace.

They are irritated because I do not quote anything from the Quran, but can bring up Shakespeare and Neruda and revel in Urdu poets like Faiz and Faraz.

In 1992-93, there were a few who had told me, "As truly secular people it is our duty to protect you Muslims."

I don't buy into their protection business. Therefore, the minute I open my mouth I become "that Muslim woman using the minority card". It does not strike them that I may not be safe myself, and it is rather dismissive to say I am having fun flaunting the minority status.

No paranoia here, yet I will be accused of it.

India's big legend, superstar Amitabh Bachchan, can show how disturbed he is and how afraid by saying that he has loaded his licensed pistol and keeps it under his pillow now. No prominent Muslim would be able to say that, so there is no question of someone like me even dreaming about a scenario of possessing a licensed gun.

Suketu Mehta wrote in The New York Times, "This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart." It is interesting that he uses a term like nativists at a time when he is hailing the wealthy 'outsiders' for the rich dreams they have sponsored.

He is buffering an exclusivist notion by showing concern about the cream of society. He is concerned about how the terrorists want people to keep out of Mumbai, which contradicts his nativist theory. He is concerned that cricket matches won't happen for a while. Does he remember that a local political party had dug the pitches and prevented any cricket match with Pakistan in the city?

He comes up with a rather insensitive analysis when he states, "In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai…Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad."

For being a much-touted global citizen and an expatriate he seems to believe that it is kosher to make the Hindu-Muslim divide clear. (Incidentally, what is the connection between tourists and Hindus?) He ought to know there is a difference between Hindus and Hindutva groups and Muslims and Islamist goons. Somewhere it bothers him too, like it does the elite, that these goons were not bearded or wearing skull caps; they drank and made merry. They were so much like the young men in pubs in any part of the world.

Mumbai is a city of transaction but the free market can hardly be construed as breaking the barriers. If anything, it is most elitist. It is a thoroughly 'Show me the money' scenario and individualism prevails.

The privileged class is also a product, the creation of the 'manufacturing company'; we politely call it ethos.

Today's dissent is peripheral, not feral. It is cultivated in the factory of prototypes, assembly-line ideas that subsist on amnesia.

I shall always remember November 2008 and never forget December 1992. Surface scratches irritate, but don't last. I still have the anger from old wounds.

4.12.08

Empty slogans and the charade of concern



What was supposed to be a day of reckoning turned out to reveal what a sick society can stoop down to. These were the slogans at the peace march at the Gateway of India.

‘Chief minister, you should have shown the terrorists Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag. They would have died automatically.’

Not only is this facetious, but by blaming him for taking the film director with him we are in fact making it seem that we have no other grouse against him. But how would these poor people at the rally even know?
‘There are some more terrorists in India. They’re called politicians.’


‘Vande Mataram, Neta Besharam’


‘Our government: Mumbai’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.’



Have you ever heard this after Gujarat or Malegaon? And going by this picture, since terrorists are often referred to as dogs, would this lady let one of them enter her house?

‘Call back the bar girls, maybe they can protect us.’

Cheap shot. These women are earning an honest living. Will these blokes openly acknowledge them at any other time, especially about their hush-hush visits to some seedy bar?

‘Gali, gali mein shor hain, Pakistan chor hai’

Chor hai? Get your slogans right, if you can’t get the facts.

Three housewives from Napean Sea Road stood by the divider hurling the choicest of abuses. “They’ve raped our motherland. We want war.’’

The army is looking for recruits. Send your sons and daughters.


A group of St Xavier’s college students moved around with T-shirts that screamed: ‘No Vote, No taxes!’

You vote? You pay taxes? On what? The Mercedes your Papa gave you on your 18th birthday that you rammed into some innocent in the street?

Media personality Alyque Padamsee said he had three ideas that he was going to work on after the peace march. “If the Prime Minister appoints ministers and they don’t perform within 100 days, we people should get them sacked.”


This is not an ad agency where if your model coordinator who does not get the right gel-filled bikini top can be sacked, okay, Mr. Ignoramus? Let us not forget that this was the same man who I wrote this about:

He got hold of all the right-sounding secularists and roped in the general secretary of the Jamiat-ul Ulema-I-Hind, Maulana Mahmood Madani. The ad man and the mullah sat in the plush environs of his house. He told Madani, “…a fatwa carried weight, and created a buzz. I recalled how Imam Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie hit the headlines. I wanted similar publicity for the anti-terrorism fatwa”.




I strongly protest against this picture. We have no business using children. And why are they shown with religious symbols? What are we teaching them - that they have no choice but to uphold their faith?


The smaller news item:

The incident took place on board the Jet Airways Aurangabad-Mumbai flight 9W-114 on Sunday. A passenger asked the flight attendant her name when she was serving him. Recounted a passenger, “We heard him ask and found it strange since flight attendants have name tags on their uniform.’’


The next question was: Are you Muslim?


“She said yes, and this man, who was about 35-years-old, started shouting at her. The man said, ‘Why the bloody hell are you Muslims doing this to our country?’ She calmly replied, ‘Sir, this is my country too.’ He shot back, ‘I don’t think so, because people from your community are behind these attacks.’ She was on the verge of tears, but said bravely, ‘Sorry Sir, they don’t belong to India. They are not Indians.’ After that she quietly moved away, avoiding further conversation. We could see that she did not go towards the cockpit to complain to the commander about it. It was very embarrassing for the rest of us. We felt like apologising to her, but were too taken aback by the incident.”

For me this is the bigger story. A brave flight attendant and a bunch of sensitive passengers. No need for a peace march. Your feelings are adequate, thank you. It is people like this unnamed passenger who will be the real citizen’s movement.

Style kosher of the natty neta

Maverick: Style kosher of the natty neta

By Farzana Versey

Covert, December 1-15


Elections are not about braving the cold, heat, dust, old age, ennui to cast your vote. They are about politician-watching.


The young must give way to the old, we wail. We have no new names to pull out. All are the babalog of big men, and the occasional woman. Our attitude towards the young turks, a term that ought to make us smile at the irony when applied to these novices, is superficial. Look at them, we say, they at least look presentable in international conferences.


The flapping, translucent dhoti has given us many a moment of suspense, unless it swayed round the legs of a well-spoken ‘old boy’ from a touted alma mater who knew how to work his way with expensive toys that squeak and squawk.


Today’s politicians are chic, well-to-do, educated, or at least have some pretence to it, and seem to prefer Bordeaux to battle.


This is not a sudden development. We have had stylish people in public office, and even during the Independence Movement. Then came a period of couture drought. Netas decided that if they had to hide so much loot they had better not look as though they were hiding it. So they dressed down as kisans, chaprasis, the kind of people they pack into trucks. Some did tog themselves up as local goons, but that is because they were local goons.


When did the change take place? And why? Is it visible to the naked eye? Who benefits most from it?


This so-called style has been the unique contribution of those who can stay in power irrespective of who is in power. They represent the ‘cashy’ face of society that the respectable business communities feel safe about.

“Fund-raisers” are not renowned for political merit and their purpose is to play goodwill ambassadors. However, the moment the money dries up, their power too dwindles. Fortunately, the concept of allegiance is as dry as their martinis.


Besides, the new breed of ‘public servants’ are bosses in their personal business ventures, or successful professionals. It can be safely assumed that being well-heeled such a person could be trusted with party funds. However, the game is quite different. Rich they may be, but 60 per cent of the amount that is collected for party or election purposes goes in the dear MP’s pocket.


Of course, they won’t give you that impression. Élan is something they can project with ease since they know the business of surviving in pimp land. Touch feet, open doors, be part of the exclusive club where sycophancy pays, and no one complains.


The paraphernalia is important. Earlier going around in an Ambassador car was looked on as a necessity. Now, your humble leader will get into a BMW, even talk knowledgeably about its merits, and flaunt his assets – nifty suit, pricey haircut, and things that constitute the good life. Fundamentalist leaders too talk about their love for cigars and champagne. Golf is their sport, and vacationing abroad a regular occurrence.


Is hypocrisy finally dead? That is one way of looking at it. But why do they suddenly change track when it is election time? In the rarefied circles that they move in they continue to talk about globalisation and the liberal economy, yet they do know that life does not begin and end at Malabar Hill and Golf Links. There are Malegaon and Karol Bagh to be dealt with as well. So, they become ‘accessible’. Huge hoardings and full-page ads appear where they flaunt their own sincerity. If they are lucky, then a bunch of their friends will laud their efforts, not only regarding stray dogs that made life miserable when they went for their evening constitutional, but also how the sincere gentleman provided clean drinking water to the residents of Chinchpokli or Muzzafarpur. They have probably never heard of these places; it just sounds good.


I don’t know whether it conveys arrogance or plain ignorance. For those of us who can afford nonchalance, it surely makes life seem beautiful if you don’t have to hear a politician talk and let him flaunt his baubles instead. As for the unwashed millions, even the hick-town politician does not care about them. He is too busy getting his dhoti starched.