31.7.09

Two men and a flight

I had been delayed, or so I thought. Spent too much time at the counter buying chocolates; I had gone to pick up a packet of face tissues. I thought I heard the flight announcement. I was carrying little. Turned out that there was still time. Bought a Diet Coke. I hate cans. Got a Styrofoam glass. Took small sips. And watched. Nothing.

Was snapped out by a voice saying, “Madam, madam…”

He smiled and showed me a piece of paper. He wants a donation? No. He was showing me his name. Then he said, “I want to use your phone.”

He lived in China. In this sea of people he could only find me? I am often stupid enough to permit such usage. This time, since I had been watching nothing, I was blank and fresh. So, I said, “Ask the men.”

“Oh, nothing like that. I wanted to give a missed call to my wife.”

Fine. Ask the men.

As happens almost always, I began thinking about the scenarios. The call could be made to a drug dealer, some gangster. Or the wife. The deadliest scenario.

Wife calls back. Asks, who are you? I tell her who I am. Where are you? I tell her where I am. Do you know who called me? I would tell her who called her. Then why is he with you? I would tell her we are flying the same flight. And why are you flying together?

Bloody hell. Because there are over a hundred others doing the same and we are all planning an orgy in the air.

Mr. Shanghai shrugged when I said no and went on his way…

Another fellow sitting across with a thick book was smiling. More to himself. We said nothing, got into the van to take us to the aircraft. I heard a voice, “Madam, madam…”

It was Mr Thick Book. “I think I have seen you somewhere? Where you from?”

“Here.”

“Oh…but I have seen you…”

“Maybe…”

After the flight on the van at our destination, he stood near me. He had a nice watch. “Nice flight,” he said.

“Maybe.”

“So, where are you putting up?”

“Don’t know.”

I looked at his book. It appeared like something on art. He turned the pages. There were women draped in all kinds of dressy clothes.

“I am into fashion,” he said.

Instinctively I looked at my crushed cotton kurta, stretch churidar and crumpled dupatta.

“You are doing business?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Export-import?”

“Only export. I write.”

“Oh, we are so same field. Fashion and writing!”

“Indeed.”

I think I write quite stylishly, I told myself, as I swung my dupatta and walked towards the exit.

Why can't Emraan Hashmi get a house?
Why do Muslims have to recite the bhojan mantra?

Emraan Hashmi has been denied a flat in Pali Hill because he is a Muslim. We have gone through this before, and I mean before the Shabana Azmi tamasha. Why do I call the latter a tamasha and not what is happening to Hashmi, who I know little about? Because he has filed a complaint with the State Minorities Commission (SMC), demanding action against the society members.

Now, this is a real case with details. It is an old building, Nibbana Cooperative Society, and at least in the past many actors lived there. The seller of the apartment has no problem; he is a Hindu. The broker is a Hindu. What shocked me was what the secretary, a certain J P Chetry, said:

We know all Muslims are not terrorists.


Oh, sure. No one asked or brought this up. The talk was about discrimination based on faith; it could have been based on gender or profession. This has to stop. I do not want to repeat my own example. But here is another quote from a person who is clearly not a Muslim (isn’t it a shame that I have to resort to this?):

Vinod Bachchan, a broker from Juhu, said he knew of such instances in his area as well. A big star living in Bandra wanted to buy a bungalow in Juhu, but we found it difficult to get one for him as he was a Muslim, he said. There are societies which take an undertaking from non-vegetarians that they will not eat non-veg food, he added.


This is a very smart tactic. Once the building comes up, the society will permit you to do anything. Muslims will, of course, not sign any such undertaking.

I am aware there are societies and colonies where different communities choose to live – be it Parsis, Christians, Jains, Sikhs. This usually happens because certain businesses are concentrated in particular areas or because some places are deliberately bought to keep the area exclusive.

However, for those who have always lived in and wish to lead cosmopolitan lives in a city that claims to be all of this, it is a shame. I will not buy any of the reasons dished out because I have had first-hand experience mentioned before.

There will some who will term this a publicity stunt. If Hashmi wants that, he only has to announce one more kissing scene in a film.

Now, will someone come up with the argument that this is the reason they are not allotting him the flat?

- - -

On another note:

Muslim leaders in Madhya Pradesh have decided to ignore the state governments directive to teachers to recite the bhojan mantra before meals.

The bhojan mantra is in Sanskrit and generally thanks Brahma for sustenance. It is like saying Grace or Bismillah. However, the MP government is giving it a specific identity. In the posts below we have discussed these things at length. These are not religious institutions; they are secular schools and if you feel that children and teachers should say some prayers, then let them choose their manner of thanking god for the stuff on their plates. Isn’t there any hymn that can be recited by everyone? I mean, we can thank farmers and the cooks as well…

I know this is facetious, but I don’t think any god will be appeased by these gestures. Does anyone stop believing in god because there is a drought or a famine anywhere and crops are destroyed?

29.7.09

The Pope and the Prophet

Two bits of religious news and let us see the reactions…

A Scottish art exhibition invited visitors to deface a copy of the Bible. The exhibit, Untitled 2009, is part of the ‘Made In Gods Image’ exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow and was thought up by local artist Anthony Schrag. The intention was for gays and transsexuals who felt left out of religion to write their way back in to the holy book. But visitors offered pens by gallery staff had other ideas, and have scrawled a series of obscene remarks.


Is art beyond the realm of social discourse? Would one consider it as a political commentary that seeks to exclude certain segments of people because of their other beliefs and actions? Have we not heard about incidents of homosexuality within the Church?

The flip side is this: Why does the gay community wish to belong to a faith system that is mainstream when they are not? Does writing obscene remarks lessen their feeling of being left out?

Apparently, after the Pope’s objection, the Bible has been placed in a locked case and visitors can write their comments on blank sheets of paper. They may as well have a meeting or seminar. Incidentally, copies of the Bible, as I am sure other scriptures, are distributed freely. At least, I got several copies from back in my school days to a couple of years ago. How would anyone know whether or not I would treat it with any respect? Do those with evangelical fervour think for a moment that what they deem holy could mean nothing to another and that itself is a sort of defilement?

I don’t find such art particularly interesting or enlightening or even a potent commentary. However, the Church could just have taken up the issue for what it is. Instead, this is what a report states:

The adviser to the head of the Catholic Church said the project was disgusting and offensive. They would not think of doing it to the Koran, he added.


Who are the ‘they’? Who flushed the Koran down the toilet? Who published those Danish cartoons? If people did react, they were immediately termed Islamists, jihadis and intolerant. Some of us who took a view that a religion for its believers must be large enough to withstand such onslaughts were also called jihadis!

So, let us deal with an issue closer to home.

The Prophet’s picture has found its way in a Hindi book chapter in Uttar Pradesh on different religious figures who have contributed to humanity (Manav Uthaan ke Liye Vibhinn Dharmo ka Yogdaan). Islam does not permit publication of the pictures of the Prophet, according to a report. A clarification. There are no pictures available or even ancient artistic impressions. And, yes, the religion does not allow such depictions because it does not believe in iconography. That is the reason I have often mentioned tombs being unIslamic.

Yuvraj Dutt, the writer, said the Prophet’s picture was available on the internet and was downloaded from there. Incidentally, the picture was added in the third edition of the book in 2009.


It begs the question: why now? Obviously, they knew it was not exactly the done thing. What is the motive? Why this desperate urge to give a face to the Prophet? Because politics needs something.

Ex-state minister and SP leader Ujjawal Raman Singh threatened that the party would take to the streets and also raise the issue in the assembly if the photograph was not removed.


Please note the name of this gentleman. He is not a Muslim protecting his faith. Just as the first person to call for a ban on Satanic Verses was Khushwant Singh, a Sikh.

And this is my beef. I may well say that it is no big deal, but once it is made an issue of then do not expect silence. The Pope makes a noise; the maulvis will too. And the saffron guys do it as well when their god images, which are used artistically often, are distorted in any manner.

Oh, we speak about madrassas and how only religion is taught there. Here are students in a Mumbai school praying to the snake god:

Charlie's ass

Camilla Parker-Bowles gives Prince Charles a helping hand as he checks a helicopter in Wattisham Airfield, in England.

I love this couple.

There is intimacy, friendliness, naughtiness and togetherness evident here.

28.7.09

The great depression?

This is a party in Berlin. They are indulging themselves. The theme is the Great Depression. It is supposed to mock at a time in history when people had little to eat and little to hope.

Today, this mockery seems like nervousness. To grab the momentary. To look at history through wine glasses. To mimick misery and therefore feel less miserable.

It is a sad way to be happy.

27.7.09

India's Underwater Adventure

Okay. We now have our own indigenous nuclear powered submarine. At 110 metres long and 11 metres wide, it does seem like something you wouldn't take home to mother if you were of a certain age.

This is our big moment. The self-made slayer. Arihant is its name, which in Sanskrit means destroyer of enemies. Every Indian must be proud, but just about. I am sure submarines with such staying power are the stuff that would make anyone trying to mess with us via the water route quake in their knees.

We are now part of the USA, Russia, France, UK, China league.

The difference is these countries get their war thingies and get on with life. It makes them feel superior and it conveys to the citizens a sense of safety, however cynical some of us might be.

Instead, we had our President Pratibha Patil break a coconut; Vedic chants were recited. And, of course, in this case too religious sentiments have been hurt.

Some Jain monks have objected to the word Arihant because according to their faith, which is non-violent, it means destroying the enemies within us, like greed, lies and stuff.

Why pick on a name? Why don't they protest against wars and skirmishes that take place every other day? Heck, they should not go anywhere near pesticides.

Would they object to anyone from their community in the armed forces?

Is it just the name or what it stands for? If violence is a problem, then they ought to take issue with the violence they cause to themselves when they choose the path of abstinence.

Meanwhile, Arihant will be a sleeping whale in the waters. A few elitist types will talk about how we are moving ahead. There will be only a handful who will understand and appreciate the ramifications and dynamics of being one of the biggies without gloating about it.

I am not an authority or knowledgeable about these things. I'd much rather watch our Prez snorkelling.

- - -

A big thumbs up to the Akal Takht for asking the Sikhs to build water bodies rather than gurdwaras. Other religions should follow suit and do something concrete. You can pray anywhere...even in a submarine...

22.7.09

News meeows - 22

Airborne 1

A massive flap erupted on Tuesday in parliament over reports that the former people-friendly president of India A P J Abdul Kalam was frisked by officials of the US airline Continental in an undignified contravention of protocol.
Aviation authorities have sought an FIR against Continental for making Kalam take off his shoes and undergo a humiliating security check at Delhi airport before being allowed to board flight CO 083 to Newark on April 21. Indian laws exempt dignitaries like former presidents, ex-PMs, the Chief Justice of India and even Robert Vadra from being frisked at airports.


I shall not comment on the silliness of emphasising that we are talking about a “people-friendly president”! Some queries:

How do Indian laws apply to foreign airlines? What is so humiliating about the check-up? American airlines expect people to remove their shoes, and from all accounts the former Prez was not offended. If he was, he would have issued a statement.

This is being used as a political bait. The matter was raised in Parliament. Aviation minister Praful Patel went to brief Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the incident and the action being taken by him.

Some party said that this was copping out to “US’s muscle-flexing over the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA)”.

The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said A P J Abdul Kalam had to suffer the humiliation because of his name in what was seen as a reference to the practice of US airlines scanning members of a particular faith post-9/11.
If that is the case, have these leaders ever stood up for lesser mortals?

Arun Jaitley pointed out that India allows vehicles to go up to the tarmac for foreign dignitaries.
If it is without any security check, then it ought to be stopped. We must remember that Mr. Kalam was not going in an official capacity, so there was no breach of protocol by the airline.

It is only our laws that make such exemptions. PIA has its own staff after the Indian security check, just before boarding as does Sri Lankan.

Guard of honour

Following are some of the VIPs and their accompanying spouses who are exempted from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports in the country:
President, Vice President, PM Governors, Former Presidents Former VPs, CJI, LS Speaker Union ministers of cabinet rank CMs & Deputy CMs Deputy Chairman, Planning commission, Bharat Ratna awardees Leader of opposition in LS & RS Ambassadors of foreign countries, Charge d' Affairs; high commissioners and their spouses
Judges of SC, CEC
Comptroller & Auditor General
Deputy chairman RS & Dy Speaker of LS Among others CJs of HCs, CMs & Dy CMs of UTs, Cabinet secretary, Lt Governors of UTs, Dalai Lama, SPG protectees and Robert Vadra


Why does anyone have to be exempt? How does Robert Vadra qualify? In fact, since many of these people are constantly have X, Y, Z security because they are under threat, then the onus is on them and other passengers should be on guard with these people on their flights because they are targeted and by default the other non “guard of honour” passengers.

Airborne 2

Praful Patel seems to have become a busy man. He revealed that as many as 29 pilots had failed pre-flight breath tests conducted to detect alcohol consumption.

Kingfisher topped the list with eight pilots failing the breath test. Low-cost carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet were close on its heels with six pilots each caught in ‘high spirits’. Three pilots each of JetLite, Paramount and Jet Airways were also caught. “Any pilot found to be alcohol positive is immediately grounded for a period of up to six weeks,” Patel said in parliament.


This is by far more important from the point of view of the majority of travellers. Guess which one will stay in the news longer?

Modi’s Muslims

“Cong Wins Civic Poll As Gujarat CM’s Muslim Experiment Flops,” said the headline.

Don’t blame Narendra Modi. The loss of his party in the Junagadh civic elections should make it clear that Gujarat will remain communally divisive. He called upon BJP cadres to woo “nationalist Muslims” into the party fold. This is rather sweet because he isn’t a nationalist Hindu or anything. Some found five Muslims to contest and they lost. Others did too, but it is now being said that he has messed up his base by getting these fellows and the “Gujarat ka sher” must not eat halal crow or whatever.

I don’t think it will bother him too much. Now he has a reason to not field any Muslims because some of them lost. Good going.

He will watch the Congress MLAs fumble in his stomping ground. Don’t be surprised if some small skirmishes take place there which will only prove that this does not happen where Modi rules.

Rakhi ka swayamvar and Hindus

Last night’s episode must have been high on drama but I wonder how people who revere the Ganga are taking it. This contestant is from Rishikesh and he took her to the temple and she made him swear to speak the truth. There was constant mention of the pavitra Ganga (the holy river). It turned out to be all lies.

What are we talking about then? Is it not an insult to use a place that is considered holy in such a manner only to grab eyeballs? That character could have been exposed (if it has not been managed already) just for being a liar and a wannabe star. Why bring in religious symbols and stereotypes into all of this as they had done earlier too?

21.7.09

Kasab's Confession: Where do Manmohan, Gilani and Hillary figure?

No fast track justice here. Ajmal Kasab, it would seem, has been attending acting classes rather than learning some terrorist tricks.

Watch how everyone has reacted to his confession. His lawyer does not know how it happened. The judge does not know. The media is left hanging out its tongue wondering what kind of panel discussions to have. India is too busy wondering what to do with our PM about what he has been doing with the Pakistani PM and Pakistan is thinking about what will happen to Zardari now that Gilani has managed to get the upper hand. One headline in our newspaper said Manmohan Singh goes the extra mile…they have merely cropped the picture to show more of his hand when he did the shakey-shakey-shakey with Gilani.

Of course, like everyone else I would also want to get onto the conspiracy theory bandwagon. Except that there is no conspiracy. It is so clear.

Manmohan Singh leaves out terrorism in the deal with Yousuf Reza Gilani and says the dialogue must go on. What is so surprising about it? Did not Atal Behari Vajpayee start that bus service like a good transport operator? These are things leaders have to say. Had he made tough talk then would it have necessarily resulted in action? Are we so foolish? And now the Congress is embarrassed. Stop the pretence. Manmohanji won’t do anything without Sonia Gandhi being aware of it.

Of course, partly it was to placate US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. See, she is making us so happy by going to schools, sitting and chatting with Aamir Khan about how to educate India and then she has the gall to say:

“Our countries have experienced searing terrorist attacks. We both seek a more secure world for our citizens. We should intensify our defense and law enforcement cooperation to that end. And we should encourage Pakistan as that nation confronts the challenge of violent extremism.”


Excuse me. What searing terrorist attacks has the US faced? 9/11? Yes. And then? What has the US done after that? What is its record about going ballistic in other countries and interfering in other people’s affairs only because it suffers from xenophobia? Seeking a secure world is any nation’s hope, but most nations and rulers decide to save themselves instead and create war-like situations to serve their ulterior motives. Citizens are the last priority. Don’t you understand what defence and law enforcement priorities convey? Get more arms for yourself and make stupid legal provisions where innocents can be rounded up in the name of terrorism. What does she mean by “encourage Pakistan”? To deal with its terrorists? Of course! How else will America get a foothold there?

So while Manmohan Singh was playing cool daddy with Gilani, Madam Hillary was giving tips to India on terrorism.

In court, Kasab did what was stage-managed by the Singh-Gilani-Clinton clique.

Please read this absolutely ridiculous portion of the transcript:

(M L Tahaliyani) Judge: Aaj achanak aapne kyun confess kiya Jab pehle charges frame hue toh tab kyun nahi kiya (Why are you suddenly confessing Why did you not confess when the charges were framed earlier)


Kasab: Pehle Pakistan ne yeh nahi mana tha ki main unka hoon. Aaj maan liya hai. Isiliye main bayan de raha hoon. (Initially, Pakistan had not accepted my nationality. Now that they have, Im confessing)

Judge: Aapko kaise pata chala ki Pakistan ne maan liya hai (How do you know that Pakistan has admitted it)

Kasab: Bas mujhe pata chala. Maine suna ki Pakistan ne kaha ki Kasab yahan ka hai. (I just happen to know. I heard that Pakistan has said that Kasab is from there)

Judge: Kya tum kisi tarah ke dabav main ho bayan dene ke liye. (Are you under any kind of pressure to confess)


Kasab: Nahi (No)


The judge indulges one who they have evidence against by asking him why he suddenly decided to confess. Is this the first time people have changed their statements?

The fact that Pakistan was sent dossiers and was asking questions shows that they had no choice but to admit it. However, is this the reason for Kasab’s confession? Is he doing a patriotic act by being a true Pakistani and saying that since my country has accepted me then I should honour them by saying I did such an act? Does not stupidity have limits?

How did Kasab know that Pakistan has accepted him? Please. He has a lawyer.

He has mentioned an Indian. Now that is a masterstroke by his masters. There is a search alert for the Indian. Story has a twist. Pakistani confesses to terrorist attacks because his country says he is ours, but he has learned Hindi from an Indian, Abu Jundal. Now we need to catch the tutor. I mean, if Kasab did not know Hindi then he would not have been able to shoot, right?

Our man says he has confessed, so a judgment can be pronounced soon. A newspaper report states:

There is, however, one catch: Kasabs trial cannot be separated from that of his co-accused , Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed. Once the trial is separated, Kasabs confession against them will not hold water


Kasab has been the fall guy. Now the stakes are higher. Ms. Clinton has pointedly decided not to visit Pakistan. She does not need to. They are on the phone all the time telling their leaders what to do while trying to curb terrorism within that country. India is their covert operation to mislead the Pakistani populace and the Indians.

Kasab will be like Kashmir. You will hear cries of ‘Hang him’. Here are some scenarios:

1. He endorses the report of his confession. But, because his case is tied up with others, nothing can be done. It will keep simmering.

2. He does not endorse, says he was pressurised (which he most certainly is) and it is back to square one and simmering.

3. He signs. Pakistan says he is our guy, we will punish him. The US says that is the best way to show how tough Pakistan is on terrorists. Once there, he will be let off because someone else masterminded it and he was only the foot soldier. They cannot find the real big guys because as America knows it is so difficult to find these guys. As a sop, Sarabjeet Singh’s mercy petition will be adhered to and he will return to India and crow about how well he was treated there.

4. Kasab is hanged. Every high society damsel is on a panel discussing the issue. Ratan Tata will make a special appearance and mention the Nano in passing…Pakistan hangs Sarabjeet. Win-win? Nah. The US asks who are the real terrorists? And we are back running at each others’ throats.

Manmohan Singh sits with his glass of lassi and heaves a sigh of relief that at least Faridkot is not in Balochistan!

18.7.09

Nida’s Eyes and a Revolution

Maverick: A Revolution Seen Through Nida's Eyes
By Farzana Versey
Covert July 15-31

One floor below our flat in Mumbai, an Iranian revolution was taking place. As I flashback to those years, I clearly recall the face of the woman. She was plump and beautiful, a Madhubala on steroids.

I do not remember her name, but I distinctly recall that she seemed to be forever in the balcony. She lived with her parents and brother, Mohammed, a reckless fellow who thought he was Superman. Her father ran a small Iranian restaurant, which is quite distinct from the ones run by Zoroastrian Iranis. The mother was a quiet woman, mainly because she spoke no language other than Farsi.

Her husband lived in Iran and visited once a year. He ran a business and wore ill-fitting shirts and the bottoms of his trousers fell like squashed bags at his feet. They occasionally went out, she waddling ahead. She had refused to go live with him.

Whatever the family had escaped from, they returned to a home when it was well-entrenched as an Islamic state. Was it economics that prompted the move? Did they truly feel it might be safer in the comfort of religion? Was it to make it easier for their daughter?

I have been thinking about her for the past few days because of Nida, the 26-year-old who was shot dead as she stood silently witnessing the protests in Tehran. Nida’s revolution was by default, an onlooker who was killed. The lady I speak about would most likely never have attended a rally.

Is it right to label Nida a martyr, the face of the recent revolution, only because her death has been captured in the quick fix mode of visual communication and her name, by sheer co-incidence, means “the call” or “the voice”?

The problem with the wars within is that the voices are echoing foreign thoughts. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, no one protested.

There is a website for Nida. It states: “20 years ago the youth of Iran were completely unaware of life outside their country. And likewise, the youth of the West had no idea what it was like to live in Iran. There was no Internet. There was no Facebook or Twitter.”

Over 20 years ago, the lady who lived below our house had made a decision. About five years ago, in a conservative city of India, I met another Iranian family. They showed me pictures from back home where large tables were laden with all signs of excess and indulgence. People were clinking glasses – of wine, vodka, and the red liquid was not rose sherbet but Campari. I asked P about the restrictions and she shrugged; almost no get-together was without alcohol. They weren’t elitist wealthy. She worked and wore a scarf with pants and a tunic that just about covered her hips. In India, she dressed in jeans and T-shirts. She could out-drink her husband.

S was a quiet man who talked about Rumi, his conversation becoming more subtle and philosophical as the drink warmed him up. He was a highly-qualified professional and held a government job.

Their children studied in India, which is not unusual. They would return home one day. The older son had once accompanied me to a Zakir Naik lecture; it was his reaction that made me aware that the glass of beer he would guzzle down in ten minutes an hour later had not dimmed his allegiance to his Shia roots. He got up to question the speaker’s comments. It was a learning moment for me. Would Ahmadinejad’s so-called anti-Semitism possibly have such a deep impact on Iranians who still battle with issues about Sunnis?

Would this young man have attended a protest march? He had access to the internet and the world. He was open to knowledge but not brainwashing. He had friends from many countries and would find it demeaning if someone told him how he should rebel, least of all people downloading videos of a dead woman.

He would see through the limited vision of those asking him to look into Nida’s eyes. They are the ones who made a killing from her death and hoped for collective catharsis to tweet about.

16.7.09

What are you like?

A friend had put up this Proust Questionnaire from Vanity Fair. I found it fun and thought I'd share my humble offerings here to my humble cross-connectors...

What is your most marked characteristic?
Indecisiveness and over-sensitivity

What is the quality you most like in a man?
The ability to take risks (that would be me!), can cook, politically and socially observant and pro-active. A good voice will help make me listen a bit more…

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
The ability to take risks, feminity, tenacity, politically and socially observant and pro-active. And a great sense of aesthetics.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their friendship.

What is your principle defect?
A short temper and blind trust.

What is your favorite occupation?
Doodling, humming, taking pictures, sitting in the dark and meditating…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’d be too afraid if it were perfect, but watching the sunset by the sea and not wanting anything more would be close.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The misery of those who do not have basic essentials and the dignity of a decent life and livelihood

What would you like to be?
Ambitious!

In what country would you like to live?
Where I am, but would love to take temporary residence anywhere near the sea or a tea estate.

What is your favorite color?
Blue

What is your favorite flower?
Magnolia

What is your favorite bird?
The crow

Who are your favorite prose writers?
Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, Norman Mailer, Chekhov, Saadat Hassan Manto, Ismat Chugtai

Who are your favorite poets?
Ahmed Faraz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Bahadurshah Zafar, Neruda, Shelley, Sylvia Plath

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Meursault in Camus’ ‘The Outsider’

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Madame Bovary, Blanche DuBois

Who are your favorite composers?
More into Indian music, so… Salil Chaudhary, Anil Biswas, Madan Mohan, S.D. Burman…

Who are your favorite painters?
Jamini Roy, Amrita Shergil, Picasso, Modigliani, Degas, Frida Kahlo, Dali, Titian

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mother is and her mother was, and people who make every obstacle into an opportunity and transform every sorrow into resolve

What are your favorite names?
Anything that sounds musical

What is it you most dislike?
High society parties, double standards and people flashing brands, back-biting, back-stabbing, turncoats…

What historical figures do you most despise?
They are history, so I won’t waste my hate on them

What event in military history do you most admire?
I do not like wars

What reform do you most admire?
On paper, in India it was widow remarriage.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
To fly and keep my mouth shut

How would you like to die?
Don’t get me going on this…

What is your present state of mind?
Confused

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
The inability to be able to say the good things I feel about people…I am always so held back and now I have resigned myself to it

What is your motto?
All illusions are real

15.7.09

The Saudi Genie and Goddess Lakshmi

I am not sure if djinns have a nationality but this is hilarious. No rubbing of lamp or anything here. No friendly little smoky figure leaping out and granting three wishes. This one is quite a demon.

A family in Saudi Arabia has taken a genie to court, alleging theft and harassment. The lawsuit filed in a Shariah court accuses the genie of leaving them threatening voicemails, stealing their cell phones and hurling rocks at them when they leave their house at night.


What can the Shariah court do? Theft brings upon the robber a punishment of limbs being chopped off. How will they catch the culprit and see that justice is done? Has the genie been named? What can genies do with cell phones? Sell them in the grey market? But won’t Saudi Arabia have some laws against that as well? And the whole family goes out that late? Whoa. Did not know they had such a rocking night life.

Now if only those rocks were solitaires.

- - -

Goddess Lakshmi prefers gold, but she sure as hell would not like to be shown sitting atop a stacked bun, even if it is by Burger King. Such royal nomenclatures do not carry much weight, only calories.

A report tells us that the food chain ran a print advertisement in Spain depicting “Lakshmi seated atop a meat sandwich and other foodstuffs with a catch phrase, ‘A snack that’s sacred’, written in Spanish.”

It is such poor copywriting skills besides, of course, not even possessing basic knowledge about eating habits. This is fast food. People go there for a quick bite; this is not some offering at a place of worship. I know, I know, it is said that the stomach should be treated like a temple, but then one would go for some seven-course little French itsy-bitsies that make you feel chaste and starved and think you are close to nirvana because you automatically transform into a ‘seeker’.

Here we are talking about humongous portions with mayo dripping down and lettuce and onion and tomatoes fighting for space with the patty. It is one big act of jugglery to stuff the thing into the mouth as it opens up in indelicate and primal ecstasy.

These guys have lost it. However, the sagely opposition is off-the-mark when it states, “An advertisement knowingly and intentionally using sacred symbols, especially those of another religious tradition, for purely commercial purposes can be offensive.”

An advertisement is used only for commercial purposes. Goddess Lakshmi represents wealth and people do worship her for precisely that. So, if we cut out the hypocrisy and talk practical stuff, this ad is offensive because it makes no sense.

Honestly, the genies and the burgers keep me occupied. What would I do without some religious and superstition-induced stimulus?

14.7.09

Dis n Dat

Modi and Mallya – hooch hooch hota hai

Dramatic statements are part of political speak, but I wish some thought went into ascertaining the meaning of what is being said. Calling Narendra Modi a “maut ka saudagar (merchant of death)” is stupid. It was first uttered during the election campaign by Sonia Gandhi to convey the Gujarat chief minister’s part in communal riots.

This time it has been repeated because 150 people have died in a hooch tragedy. The Congress says that such trade is flourishing under political patronage. In places where there is prohibition an illegal trade always flourishes, but so does it in areas where alcohol is permitted. The demand for cheap bootlegged liquor is huge. If anything, this would have been a natural blow to the Modi government because it would convey that his so-called economically powerful state is not all that wealthy and there are poor people who want such daaru. The rich can stock their bars in other ways. I can imagine all those Patels hanging torans over their Kutchi embroidery upholstered stools drinking their whiskey or beer and munching chevda and having large bites of dhokla.

Why is prohibition a moral issue at all, then? I can understand a Morarji Desai who wanted to mimic Mahatma Gandhi attempting it, but Modi? Is he trying to appease – hai Ram! – the Muslims?

Predictably, the savvy Vijay Mallya has jumped in to state that “blanket prohibition has never worked in this free world”. As though Modi has ever talked about a free world. He has offered his – more appropriately his liquor company’s – services:

“The UB (United Breweries) group stands ready to work with the government of Gujarat to introduce a responsible beverage consumption policy with appropriate warning and restraint.”


We already know that these deaths are not because of prohibition. I find Mallya’s attitude opportunistic in the extreme. What does he mean by a responsible beverage consumption policy? If prohibition is a dictatorial measure, then the state deciding how much is equally fascist. It also assumes that the lettered must have access to such alcohol, for the warnings would not be read by those who are illiterate. And, of course, those who do not care to read.

The fact is that he is aware of every brand being available at a larger mark-up and reveals his intentions when he states:

This means that the government of Gujarat is losing thousands of crores in potential revenue.


He is not interested in the dead or the illegal trade. Only in the money. It is fine since he is a businessman, but the timing and the intent are all wrong.

One is not sure what Modi will do. Is he making money from this illegal racket? I don’t think so. He has got worse on his platter and this somehow does not fit in. What about small-time politicians and bureaucrats? That is possible, not only in Gujarat but almost in every state.

I am afraid legalising anything is no guarantee that you won’t have underhand dealings. Many legal businesses manage to get an extra quota through corrupt means or start side operations to sign off their losses.

What Modi owes the families of the dead is justice to see that the culprits are tried and sentenced. Perhaps, Mallya would like to join in the effort for this too constitutes “responsible beverage consumption policy”?

If Jackson was killed for cash…

His sister LaToya has made the allegation. If she knows the reason and the people behind it, then why did she give a regular speech at the memorial? There did not appear to any anger. Are we dealing with performers here?

“I feel it was all about money,” she was quoted as saying by the News of the World. “Michael was worth well over a billion in music publishing assets and somebody killed him for that. He was worth more dead than alive.”


So the lady has been keeping count of her brother’s wealth?

She also claimed, the newspapers reported, that roughly $2 million worth of cash and jewellery was taken from Michael Jackson’s rented mansion and has not been accounted for.


How does she know?

It is true that prescription drugs can kill, and it is possible that someone was administering these to keep Michael “submissive and under control” but he had other reasons to keep “him away from his family”. Everyone assumed that his ex-wife Debbie Rowe is the gold-digger and she was pretty much kept out of the proceedings.

Incidentally, people, especially celebrities and those in high-anxiety professions, can get addicted to prescription and other drugs without any assistance from others who want their money.

If LaToya wants to make allegations, it should be to the cops and not the media. She waited to have her moment at the service and then came out with this.

10.7.09

The Bad Bed and Open Letter to Indian Manhood

The Americans did it with their phonetic spellings. India gobbled their burgers and even the Oxford-educated returned with American accents, forget those on a vacation rolling their tongues going khurrie while aching for a spicy curry.

I am in no hurry, but Kolkata schools have decided that the Oxford English dictionary can go take a walk and S can comfortably be replaced with a Z. But, then, why is His still spelled with S in the US? Why is it not ‘hiz’? And the Americans still Cough; they don’t Coff. And, when they do go round the corner, it is to the lavatory and not the lav-a-tory, which would make the last bit very British, innit? And they invent and work on scientific endeavours (they drop the O…which conveys they aren’t orgasmic about it, but that’s okay) in a laboratory and not a lab-ra-tory even if their Pavlov’s dog is a Labrador.

Back to the Indian schools, one principal said that the world has shrunk and there are more people shrinking into each other - well, he didn’t say this, but it means the same thing – we need to accept change. This means we have to accept words spelled the way they are pronounced.

This can have hilarious consequences in India. Now, we are talking about Bengalis who have a peculiar manner of transforming S into Sh and Sh into S. So Subhash is pronounced as Shubhas. The broad spectrum of the South is quite something else when the Tamilian states. “I yam underrstaanding”, would you understand what he has understood? And the Gujarati who has already got fame for merely having some snakes in the mole (snacks in the mall) and enjoyed rape in the hole (rap in the hall) would elicit more than phonetic censure. Up north, the Punjabi likes the Bad more than anything else; it isn’t just candid admission of wickedness…all he desires is a Bed. And when he remembers the Dad, it is more often than not the Dead.

I dread to think what could possibly happen if you let these pronunciations – mostly pronounced as pronounciations – into the American linguistic trail. It would result in chaos as consonants run over vowels that are trying to escape each other.

I am a bit finicky about spelling and the moment a Z sneaks into S territory, I organise it in a manner almost evangelical. It is my cosmic (there, I got you, we are the same) connecshun.

- - -

Yet, I do so love some good Indianisms, especially if they are not deliberate and smart attempts at pidgin. Since there has been some anger over my earlier blog on the Indian male and the foreign woman, I thought of formulating a letter in the language that is spoken by many and has a charm all its own…

My dearest Indian manhood…

I am only saying to you with utmost sincerity and openness of heart that I was not wanting to hurt you with tall tales of our mens and their likeness for white skin and light eyes. Whatfor you getting angry and angrier. I knowing that you are sometimes pavitra paapi, that is pure sinner, but you are inside like Amul butter and underwear banyaan (vest).

I know you are treating all womans with respect and consideration and showing Taj Mahal to say how big king made big monument where big queen Mumtaz ji is laid. You are sentimental and kind. Cash also, but you are nice. You like ma ka halwa, no, no, not making halwa out of mother but what mother makes for you, even if wife or daughter making, you say ma ka. For you all womans are like mothers only.

You are misunderstanding my motioning about foreign woman having trouble with Indian man. Some mens are like that only, some are not. What to do, not all fingers in hand are equal, some are long, some short, like other parts of bodies and other peoples parts of bodies. You getting me? No, no, I am not saying you must get me. You don’t want, say no straight. I not minding. I not even wanting your wanting. I am ok, you are ok. Live and let live. Wah, wah, what line.

You like line? Not queue for waiting for latest iPhone addition. Why addition and not subtraction or multiplication or division. I sound like mathematical genius, no? Hehe. I also feeling like that sometimes when I give grocer five rupees extra by mistake, I say with moving of hand, keep change. He say it is not change, it is rupees. Stupid illiterate fellow not knowing English.

So cutting long story short and making it dwarf, I want to say to you with full sincere wishes that I am only liking Indian manhood more than anything. I am swearing on Indian Constipation that I am not liking conspiracy theories and no foreign hand.

Happy? Ismail pliss… Good-good.

Jest like that

Brazil’s President Luiz Lula Da Silva presents a soccer shirt signed by the Brazilian national team to PM Manmohan Singh in Italy


Why does our PM’s expression convey that ‘man mein laddu photo rahe hai’? Chak de phattey!

- - -

Malayalam superstar Mohan Lal with defence minister A K Antony after he was conferred the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel in the Territorial Army


If mascot is what the Indian Army wants, Mohan Lal can be like Bheema instead of this Lt.Curl-null business. What happened to Kapil Paaji and his army stint that I had talked about? And that Viveik Oberoi?

9.7.09

Can Indian Men Handle Foreign Women?

Heads turned, she was luscious. Men anywhere in the world would have given her a second look. Her auburn hair, grey eyes, lightly-freckled Caucasian complexion and that throaty laugh being just the sort of invitation for a wide stare.

She was reckless, a lady with the mind of a backpacker. India was her dream country -- the colourful mirror-work skirt swirling to reveal silver anklets, the junk jewellery, the carvings, the very grand feeling of experiencing somebody else's world in your own currency that would go very, very far indeed.

She felt safe in the second-class compartments. She got used to the water and the oglers. Life was to be enjoyed and she was going to make the best of it.

No, the real India, the much-maligned India, did not leave her crestfallen.

There is something else which she does not even know about. About the champagne clique that twirled around her on the powdered floor, about the dizziness of wine mixed with the delectable high that strangers experience on dark nights, about the dim lights, the hands moving lower down the back, the jive turning into a close embrace, someone groping into her blouse and then that deep soul kiss.

She was too engrossed in the momentary bliss to notice that she had become an item. Her partner of the moment, who had initiated the proceedings, was let off with a, "Mazaa aaya kya (had fun)?"

But the young woman became the 'floozy'. And the explanation the hot-blooded youngsters of the party-till-you-get-a-headache set had for it was a sharp, "These foreign women are so available."

And the guy – surely, he wasn't dragged to the guillotine? "Oh no," they said in his defence. "He was just feeling sentimental, his girlfriend was not in town and he was missing her!"

Some sentiment this. You miss a loved one, transfer your pent-up lust to another, use the latter who may no doubt be a willing accomplice, but instead of making a graceful exit or perhaps even a genuinely affectionate farewell, you end up bad-mouthing her.

This chap was heard telling friends, "Come on. She came on strong and wanted it."

Not only do we have a budding social worker on hand, but someone who is extremely finicky. Asked how far he went, he replied sagely, "Just the oral stuff. No further, who knows what diseases she suffered from?"

If this guy came near me I'd probably throttle him, but he seems to be quite popular in his group. Since this girlfriend is away quite a bit, his friends understand his biological needs and his temporary sentiments. They also envy him his fleeting forays. He keeps them happy by recounting his tales and making them laugh. It gives the men in his coterie a chance to fantasise and the women in their crotch-snuggling jeans an opportunity to feel terribly respectable.

We just can't handle foreign women -- we don't know how to treat them or what to think about them. Indian men abroad go completely bonkers -- from the ones who describe the strong vaginal muscles, to the ones who think every western woman finds them exotic, to those who think that an invitation to dance means that he is irresistible.

And then, there is this incident about an old professor in Delhi who visited a close colleague. There he cornered a male foreigner, who was chatting with a lot of Westerners who patronised the place, and pleaded with him, "You seem to know everyone. Can you please arrange one white woman for me? I am willing to spend my whole salary for the night!"

He could be an uncle of our young 'sentimental' friend. They are all alike. If only they knew that Western women may be open, but they are not free with their bodies and emotions. And if they do share a healthy relationship, however brief, they don't hold you responsible for "tainting" them.

They too get married, have kids, help run a home, have a career, have feelings.

It is extremely insensitive and unfeeling of the Indian man, and woman, to sit on a high horse and pass judgement only because, often, the Western woman can ride better and fall freer.
- - -
(This is an old column of mine from 1998. The people mentioned were all known to me.)

8.7.09

Coffins and Cultures

'Drop in when you drop dead' was the line at the Undertaker’s outlet on my regular route. I imagined stone cold corpses walk in for a cuppa and a casket. It invariably made me smile.

I thought about the smiles I saw at the Michael Jackson memorial service. They were not celebrating death, but life. Brought up in a culture where this is unusual and loud weeping is common and acceptable, it made me see the cultural differences clearly.

This empty hearse touched me more than anything else.


Someone called A Body, just a body, would be driven in it to his final resting place. Such finality. Moving through the grounds of Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks and Mortuaries, there was desolation in the person of the hearse. It was a lonely carriage without even a passenger who could see nothing, speak nothing, sing nothing.

The other details are there: A $25,000, solid bronze, 14-karat gold-plated coffin, described as a rare Promethean casket, had a blue velvet interior and mirror finish. This was a celebrity and these minutiae perhaps become immensely important for the public.

But, what is the death industry all about?

All my childhood and college days I was surrounded with Christian friends, yet I did not know the bodies had to be embalmed. What I did know is that the kind of coffin chosen had a great deal to do with how much money could be spent. The area where I live is very cosmopolitan and we have people from all communities living either in the same apartment block or down the road. One would often stop out of courtesy and respect as the hearse with the mourners and priests passed; the music was a dirge if the dead person was young and a bit less sombre if the person had lived life long enough. I still hear the sound of this music as a funeral procession makes it way to the churches close to where I live. Instinctively, I pause doing what I am doing.

I recently read a report from Denver about the ‘Green way to go’ in biodegradable coffins made from recycled newspapers or cardboard or banana sheaves or bamboo. One funeral director said, “I guess you can go to hell in a handbasket now.”

An exhibition in Poland of biodegradable coffins

In natural burials, bodies aren’t embalmed and eventually decompose into the earth.


Muslims
have always buried their dead this way, with only a white sheet covering the person as s/he is released into the earth and handfuls of mud are thrown over it by close family and friends and shovelled back to ‘seal’ the place. Flowers are allowed to be placed there but no permanent tomb or even a mark is permitted. It is believed that the soul lives on. Even a grave is not seen as permanent and someone or the other will replace that space in time. The caretakers of the graveyard seem to know all the dead in the locality and the moment they see a family member they know where to direct her/him.

My mother used to visit my grandma’s grave. She had sown some seeds and a plant had sprouted. I thought she had created a beautiful memorial. On a later occasion she saw a huge chaadar – a thick sheet of flowers – over it. Some relative in the enthusiasm to offer prayers had killed the plant. Sometimes, I accompanied her. We would sprinkle water over the grave, light agarbattis and say a prayer. I would just look intently and in that gaze of intensity memories came alive.

That is the reason I do not like to see tombs, that too ones that are ostentatious. Muslims who do not believe in idol worship end up doing that when they bow down before a dead saint at one of the many dargahs that exist even in Islamic societies.

In India there are other ways to go as well.

Hindus are cremated. The bodies are either burned over piles of wood, the quality of the wood and the grease denoting the status of the family. When the body is devoured by flames and the skull is cracked, the ashes are put in an urn and given to the family. Many take them to be dropped in the holy rivers or a place which they consider important. These days there are electric crematoriums and quite a few people opt for it.

Parsis are a dwindling minority. They do not follow any of the other ways to go since they do not wish to pollute the earth or the air and believe that even in the end a person must be useful. So, in their Tower of Silence vultures descend and peck on the corpse. A peculiar problem has arisen in a city like Mumbai. The vultures have almost disappeared and the bodies decompose and spread a stench. Since the resting place is in the urban hub with tall buildings around, earlier too there was a problem when the birds would sometimes carry bits of flesh and deposit them anywhere at all. Bits of a life?

“I believe that this life is not all; neither the beginning nor the end. I believe while I tremble; I trust while I weep”
- Charlotte Bronte

7.7.09

The Muslim Factor in Rakhi ka Swayamvar

...and sophomoric feminism

Mainstream liberal privately-owned Indian television slapped the Muslim community. I was expecting it, but not the way it finally happened.

Rakhi with her gift of love

A short background. The reality show Rakhi ka Swayamvar is currently NDTV Imagine’s best-selling prime-time money maker. Rakhi Sawant has to choose from 16 suitors, mimicking the swayamvar of the old days.

There were two Muslim contestants. The first one was booted out on Day One; someone had to be and he was probably not all that good. Fair enough. The other contestant was a police officer from Kashmir. Athar Pervez did not come across as the smartest bloke but he was quiet and fairly dignified.

Last night, they got the TV host’s wife as the bhabhi, a sort of support system for the bride-to-be. Athar met her and said he wanted to confess something. He was already married and had three kids! What the heck is going on? The channel screened the applicants. Did he lie to them? Why was that question not raised?

Instead, there was an attempt to buffer the stereotype of Islam and four wives. The bhabhi looked shocked when he said that his wife and parents knew that he was participating and his wife only wanted him to be happy. When Rakhi was told about it she sniffled and said he was one person she had begun to respect and was thinking of as a potential partner. In a conversation, he repeated what he had said and Rakhi asked him how it was possible for a man to have more than one wife. He told her his religion permitted it but he would not leave his family. She looked at him angrily and shot back, “How can any religion allow it?”…and then went on to give him a lecture on Islam and what the Quran in fact says. (Her version is not completely right.) Pervez Athar may be married, but this was no way to make a point.

Rakhi welcomes Pervez

The point being made here is that now the protagonist of the show can turn around and say that these contestants may all have skeletons in their cupboards or something to hide so, nope, she won’t marry anyone. This bit will come at the end. In all likelihood it is an eyewash, to begin with.

Why do I watch the programme at all? For several reasons. I do watch TV, including soaps. Long before she was legitimised by the posh set of coffee spelled with a K and togged up in designer wear, I had expressed some admiration for her position; I felt there was a hierarchy followed regarding who could strip more and, because she spoke little English and did not belong to the charmed set, she was doomed to be referred to as an item girl. I thought that after her makeover she would still come across as honest even if melodramatic. She is. Pretty much.

I also liked the idea of a swayamvar. This was a practice prevalent in ancient times and some of our epic characters chose their husbands in this manner – be it Sita in Ramayana or Draupadi in Mahabharata. True, these were from royal families and the suitors were naturally from similar backgrounds. In a contemporary setting, it would be an interesting concept and perhaps convey that women have the right to ask questions and be in command.

The first episode had Rakhi welcoming her suitors; each carried a gift. Then there were episodes where she tested them at various levels, and perhaps that will continue. Unfortunately, even though she is the one in charge, she has talked about wanting to live in a joint family. When a buffoon said if he had to choose between a plasma TV and a washing machine he would opt for the latter because he would not want her to wash clothes, she was impressed. Puhleeze…he could bloody well wash them. She also talks about the importance of dal-chaawal over lipstick – now this woman cannot hold her breasts till they are filled with silicone gel, has had every part either pumped up or tucked in, so what is going on? Why can a woman not want the best if she has earned it? Why is she playing this simple girl? Is simplicity only about superficials?

Some of the contestants were students or barely earned any money; she herself implied that a couple of them were looking for fame. Of course, they are.

When the channel announced the show, they reportedly received 15,000 applications. There is one contestant from Toronto. The channel is attempting pop psychology with little games, but this is not anywhere close to a feminist statement. I mean, she dresses in low-cut gowns to convey that this is what she wears and then simpers and asks whether some guy’s family will accept her. She fed a Brahmin vegetarian some meat and he ate it. I know many pure vegetarians and they would throw up. This guy just made a face and then gobbled it up.

As drama, this works at a sophomore level because most of the boys/men are stupid and only want to show themselves on TV. It is obvious. Or they could be besotted by Rakhi.

Pervez Athar said he was. Besides the Islam factor, she also said that she would not want to break up anyone’s home. The fellow is telling her in front of the world that he loves his wife and will not leave his family. Where is the question, then, of breaking up a home?

Pervez Athar

He lives in Srinagar and if his seniors really gave him permission to participate in this, then one must find out what exactly are the rules. Did he show the channel any such report? Before an audience of millions he has been made out to be a liar and a cheat. If the police force wishes to take action against him, it would only be right that the channel is also made culpable. If all this was only for effect, I should hope no organisation issues a fatwa or something. That is precisely what some of these people want. The fact is that Athar said that he loved Rakhi and not her religion so he would not ask her to convert. Therefore, it isn’t a bearded Muslim issue, okay?

It does not take too much intelligence to realise that many of the contestants will have hidden stories and agendas, too. The channel wants the show to be in the limelight. It was Rakhi’s idea and a husband is the last thing she is looking for. This is her spunky attempt at becoming ‘respectable’ or maybe even a naughty take on the bahus in our serials and, who knows, a big kick to her ex-boyfriend. Interestingly, his friend is a contestant; she knew him from before the show. How did the channel permit it?

Meanwhile, I hope today’s episode that will most definitely touch upon the married guy sent packing scene of last night does not repeat the stupid stereotypes. In fact, there ought to be an attempt to apologise, even if all this was stage-managed, which seems very likely. So is the possibility of a fake marriage taking place to save face of the purported motive.

As for the contemporary woman outside TV channels, I think they are doing fine in their offices and homes without dreaming about washing machines and a guy cleaning his dirty linen in it.

2.7.09

Of Walkmans and Bulky Players

I do not have an iPod. I have a Walkman, a DVD/CD player and an old cassette player. The Walkman is 30 now. I resisted it, as I have resisted several new innovations. I like the comfort of things I am used to – smells, sounds, images. It is as though wrinkles tell so many tales and I like hearing the stories of a time gone by.

When the Walkman walked into my world it was already an established entity. It relieved people of the tedium of heavy music systems. It made music mobile. In buses, in the streets, at the jogger’s park, by the promenade, everyone was swaying to music. Sometimes, if it was played too loud, one could hear strains, as though their ears were blasting sounds that were getting trapped. It became a young hip thing to do.

Music for me had meant something else. Days when we sat listening to the radio and old Hindi film song cassettes in those large players. I loved the cassette. If the reel came off we tried using our little finger or a pencil to turn it back. There was concern that it might not work.


I recall once putting in a blank one and recording a song, a ghazal…Qateel Shifai’s “Pareishan raat saari hai sitaron tum tau so jao” (The night is worried/At least the stars must sleep) made famous by Jagjit-Chitra. This became my claim to family fame.

I often took this player to the bathroom, since I had long baths. It sat on the window sill and I would stop mid-soap or mid-water or mid-whatever just to soak in the voice, the instrument playing…I had always been interested in classical and semi-classical so the idea of raga malhar dedicated to rain seemed like such a potent idea, so much sensual potential…


Someone or the other would bang on the door and ask me to hurry. The day passed and at night before retiring to sleep I’d take that player to bed, hug it close to me and again listen to music. A cousin had gifted me some real nice ones by Frank Sinatra, Boney M, ABBA. I often shut my eyes to “Strangers in the night” or “Fernando”.

The CD looked like a flying saucer to me. I did not know how to hold it, there was nothing to unspool. It looked like the records of old, but I had not much exposure to those records, except at Chor Bazaar, the old market area where real and fake antiques mingle to create an atmosphere of the new trying to be old, a reverse Botox.

I used the Walkman only when I was on the treadmill. No fast-paced music. I must be the rare one who managed to increase my speed and heart rate listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the classical music maestro, or the soft strains of Mohammed Rafi’s silken voice or Tracy Chapman singing “Sorry, I'm sorry, all that you can say”. Oh, this one really got me going, thinking of all those I could hit with this number. She was da woman and I was sweating it out, with the workout and the anger building up. “If I had a hammer…”

Beyond that, I did not like music right in my ears…ears are for whispers. I like the sounds to seem as though they are coming from someplace else. How else will I reach out and go towards it unless it beckons me?

Awards Knights and Knaves

Maverick: Some reflections on genuflection to the West
By Farzana Versey

Covert July 1-15


She was the dark horse. Yet, she made it. She won by some 47 per cent. The mainstream newspaper decided they wanted to know a bit about the Indian woman. Not the whole of her. Just her butt.

The benchmark is not our temple sculptures, but Jennifer Lopez. Why? Because those mute sculptures are not selling you anything; a Hollywood star is. The perfect bahu who dresses like one at home suddenly begins to show off cleavage and back and biceps sweeping along the red carpet. Our saree is not considered chic enough until a foreign model walks it in with an ungainly stride. I won’t even get into our designers and their Fall collections.

We play along with the Western archetype of beauty and brains and pop nationalism, too. Had an ‘authority figure’ been pontificating about poverty in one of our academic institutions, he would be considered just another jholawalla; the tweed jacket makes for a brilliant contrast and, strangely enough, additional clout.

A serious academic analysis is not the same as making it to one of the lists. We have these lists of most beautiful, the sexiest, the hottest, with no room for cultural differences. Dictators make it to the Time magazine list as do peaceniks. Sometimes, a homely girl from Sunday Mass manages to catch the eye of a maverick international director.

One would think that the underdog is having her day. It is quite something else – about how achievement is measured today. There was a time not too long ago when you had to do something in your field, maybe even sleep with the enemy, but that too was counted as occupational hazard. These days, you can just use your fingers. Whether it is to make the right phone calls or send text messages.

For all those who get into patriotic paroxysms over cricketers not being around to receive their Padma Awards, and they ought to be there, it certainly does not qualify as an insult. The insult is when these awards are given to special people with special strings being pulled. It is the sarkari mentality.

Actress Rekha refused a Lifetime Achievement award because she said it conveyed that all her work was behind her and she wasn’t quite done yet. This ought to have been seen as a tantrum. Instead, the organisation changed the name of the award to accommodate her whims.

Can anyone respect such accolades?

The other strategy, exceedingly wicked in intent, is when encomiums are showered with dollops of magnanimity, the sort that conveys the little people are being given their crumbs of the pie.

Nujood Ali was one of the recipients last year of the annual Women of the Year Awards, sponsored by Glamour magazine and L’Oreal, that pays tribute to women who have made major contributions to entertainment, business, sport, fashion, science and politics.

What was her achievement? Being a Yemeni child bride who refused to marry a man thrice her age. It is a bit dicey to accept at face value that a kid who was abused went to court. The people responsible for handing these awards ought to know that a 10-year-old is not a woman. Why don’t they pick up some Hollywood teen star who has been abused and fought back, and there are numerous examples? She is from none of the fields mentioned. What if the media had not made her into a celebrity?

It is a source of discomfort to watch such unabashed exploitation, that too under the garb of honouring the person. Does she represent true woman power? Would she influence people? Or become just another puppet touted by the fashion industry? Is there a catch – show me your hair?

Unlike the other prominent award winners like Tyra Banks for charity, Hillary Clinton for inspiring generations of women and actress Nicole Kidman for her work with the UN Development Fund for Women, Nujood Ali was a mere totem of the veiled young girl.

And with Barack Obama’s patronising acceptance of the hijaab there will be several more such honours flashily telling the world who is boss. For every knight, there has got to be a knave.

1.7.09

Thanks, Justice Liberhan, but no thanks

I understand these things take time. That is not my grouse against the M. S. Liberhan Report into the 1992-93 riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid that has finally been handed over to the Prime Minister. I dislike the attitude of secrecy. Some of us had already questioned the lies of these leaders as recently as two months ago. (Those who are waiting for the report to be made public, please do take a look at the link.)

The report is not public and there are only titbits being shared with the people – people who are still waiting for justice for what happened 17 years ago, people who lost homes, families, dignity. People who became ‘others’. If it is being kept under wraps, then how are newspapers mentioning who has been indicted and for what? Here is the rogue’s gallery:

  • L K Advani: For the rath yatra he took out to mobilise support to build a Ram temple where the masjid stood, and, on the fateful day, for failing to control the crowds he had helped mobilise
  • Murli Manohar Joshi: Was present on the platform near Babri with Advani
  • Uma Bharti: At the site, had reportedly expressed joy when the mosque was pulled down
  • Sadhvi Rithambara: Allegedly incited mob
  • Ashok Singhal: Was present, allegedly incited the frenzied mob
  • Kalyan Singh: Was CM of UP, failed to control BJP’s kar sevaks
  • Faizabad district officials: Severely indicted for their role during the demolition.
  • P V Narasimha Rao: The PM of the Congress government at the Centre who allegedly failed to act in time and prevent demolition

It took 17 years, 399 sittings, 100 witnesses, 48 extensions and Rs 9 crore, most of this money was spent on staff salaries.

I am also angry that newspapers are making it into a Muslim issue. It is a Muslim issue in as much as the community was targeted during the riots, but the onus of justice is on the government, the judiciary, and the country. Indians, every Indian, must be involved in the process.

There were several people affected and many activists who worked to get justice. Now one of the reports in the TOI has a headline that has the gall to state: “Delay robs Liberhan report of fizz”. This is not some cola we are talking about. Did they talk about losing the fizz when the saffron fellows went hammering at the mosque? Did they mention that raking up an old Mughal era ‘wrong’ took away the fizz? No. In those days TOI had stopped covering the Srikrishna Committee hearings. This is a matter of national interest and national justice. You want your Response Department to get cola ads, try some other trick.

The judge says he is now free.

No, he is not. He has a responsibility since he has mentioned that the report got delayed due to the non-cooperation of some people. He will have to see it through. That is what the judiciary is about. It is not there to warm some benches in court. Should the government fail to act or act selectively, then he must be in the forefront to question it. This is not some private gupshup session where you can allege things but not give a damn about making those alleged culpable.

Has anyone noticed how the Times of India that flashes “Let truth prevail” on its masthead has started writing alleged in every report?

Worse, the 'alleged' is in italics. Is a newspaper not supposed to have the courage when it reports something? Does it only want to save itself from legal action should the situation arise? It alleges even for civic cases. I wonder how the reporters feel about their hard work and investigative skills going to waste. This is doubting your own women and men doing the legwork and making you the big newspaper you claim you are.

I have also seen columns with this execrable word. Don’t the columnists have any convictions? Aren’t their opinions important enough to them? Of course, there are some lightweights who become turncoats all too easily, but even so after all claims to be frank and fearless I cannot understand why they don’t protest.

A Times of India gem from the main front page report: “Incidentally, half of India’s T-20 squad was in primary school when Justice Liberhan was tasked with the probe.” What has it got to do with the Commission? Was any member of their families affected or part of the brigade that engineered the riots? There were several young people in this country who were children then, most have never been to primary school.

Another TOI nugget: Its Times Global page has a little homily over it: ‘Love all nations alike’! I think Karan Johar is their subconscious guest editor…

Ironies of India

Caption in TOI: ALL GEARED UP: A dog wears a custom-made windcheater at Marine Drive