31.8.09

Did I just get a fatwa?

A thrill ran down my spine. I had got what would have been called a fatwa. I am not sure whether there was prize money offered for my head or something else but it sure sounded like an edict. It came from Blogger, which gave it international appeal and made me feel like I had crossed all barriers. As some of you might be aware, I have a special affinity towards this fatwa thingie.

At first I thought it was fake but the fatwa-hungry part of me took it seriously. I awaited the time when I’d be martyred. Salman Rushdie would pen The Boor’s Last Sigh; Taslima Nasreen would finally discover a Bengali ghetto in Sweden and live happily ever after in that free country. No one would care about those drawing Danish cartoons or doing things to holy books. All the world’s attention would be on me and my rantings about holes in ceilings and skies with feelings. My poems would be deconstructed even as it is known that they were never constructed in the first place.

Media houses would have debates on the freedom to express sexual desires towards oneself. I’d have mikes thrust near my mouth to emphasise the point just made.

The mullahs, sadhus, priests and transvestites would come on one forum to agree. Some literary giants would join in the chants because I was assaulting their idea of prosaic prosody and had transformed the iambic pentameter into an octometer only because I like things big.

Blogger was going to make me big. Next day I looked suitably rebellious and ready for e-martyrdom. The dashboard had a few lines written in red (I think. Yes, dammit, sometimes I do.) It said, “Your blog will be deleted in 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and your readers will see a warning page during this time. After we receive your request, we'll review your blog and unlock it within two business days.”

Business days? Readers? They knew I had readers? I did? It gave me other details which are not suitable for people planning families. Isn’t stuff that is unsuitable that goes into Spam? I wanted to cry my heart out and give a little speech about how I had given my blood (A+), toil (never mind), sweat (with expensive unisex deodorant), tears (the real McCoy and not crocodile) to this little space.

This could not be happening to me. I had not reproduced salacious pictures, and I cannot help it if Modigliani and company did nudes. I had not written anything that adults under 30 have not experienced and those over that age might desire. I did write about politics, but who does not? I wrote about religion, but everyone prays. I even exposed my soul because our culture talks of the atman/rooh as though it is something tangible. I did it without any expectations or benefit to self.

I have suffered, uff, I have! Yet, I put on a brave face and sallied forth, thinking that those few people who Blogger assumes read me would take me for what I am.

Those words in red stared at me as though I were a common criminal. And, mind you, the red was ordinary font, not even embossed or engraved. I smiled the shaheed smile, the one which looks like you are carrying cyanide pellets in your head. I would be in hiding and imagined being exiled in some country where the temperature dips to an inelegant low; how would I look in faux fur and mannequin mink? And why should I not alliterate, after all it would be F’s Fatwa? I started thinking about the bodyguards who would one day pen a book about what all I did not do.

It must have taken 15 minutes of my useless time for such cogitations. By then I had read all the dos and don’ts of the Blogger Das Kapital, and nothing that I had written crossed any limits.

Yes, do what you want, I muttered. I did a cocky head nod and my mouth curled into a sneer. I was mid-way into my ‘hah’ when my test post went through. I had entered the den as a tigress and ended up chasing a ball of wool. I clicked on request to unlock. Okay, it was 20 days away before I was told to clean up and move the hell out. Then I checked the dashboard and those red words had disappeared. Did they do their checking already? Was it some Ku Klux Klan doing its underground research and waiting for me to bite the bait? Or did they believe that I wasn’t worth the fatwa spewed from the mouths of greater believers?

I knew it. This fatwa desire shall remain unfulfilled. It is entirely possible that in this holy month, it is god’s idea of doing zakat towards me.

So, friends, desperate housewives, gigolos and whoever else I have offended, do remember to keep up the vigil and all. Meanwhile, I am assuming this may just fizzle out. But if you see a note that does not let you access this blog and you really want to access it, then remember to write a nice little obit.

In my next birth I will be a blog.

PS: My other blogs here have no writing in red. Yet.

How holy!

I just got a box of modak. I wrote to a friend saying that these days they have fancy ones with cranberry, apricot, figs and chocolate to cater to cosmopolitan tastes, and I so want to be cosmo. They don’t look like the real thing with coconut flakes dripping grease or going squishy with steam. But, not many things look the same anymore.

Like this deity being taken for immersion.


I can imagine Ganesha telling the chauffeur, “Hawaa aane de (let the breeze come in).” Or insisting that the car have a wireless connection so that he can figure out how the poor ones are doing it and send some blessing their way while his ‘owner’ talks to Facebook friends about the awesome puja they had and the planned evening with brie on rye bread and a Chantilly. Laterz, honey, muaah, muaah…
- - -
So, the iftaar tamasha is going on strong. Don’t have to tell you what Ramzan is about, but it has to do with Islam that does not believe in idolatry. Look at this picture:


Sonia and Rahul Gandhi dominate. I am sure the minister knows that new and renewable energy does not possibly mean a change in the way the religion is practised?

28.8.09

Wrong number?

Dialled one? Do you expect to get beaten up for it, have your hair shaved off, and then be paraded through the streets?

In Bhiwani, a village in Haryana, a Dalit youth had to go through this. Dalits belong to the lower caste. It does not matter whether they are educated or have made some money. They are stigmatised only because they are born in what is still the backward caste. It is there in the scriptures. Perhaps, it was valid then as it pointed to certain professions, although there were clear rules about how to treat the shudras. These people, even four decades after independence, carried night soil (that is, shit) on their heads in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai. And even today in some parts of the country they have to tie a broom behind them to clean the road on which the higher caste folks will later walk. Their shadow cannot fall on these people, and they are still not permitted to enter temples.

Legally and politically they are termed Scheduled Castes/Tribes, and the term Dalit was given to lend them an identity. It is way better than being called Harijans (children of god) that Mahatma Gandhi patronisingly anointed them with.

This is what Suresh, the young man, said, “I was trying the telephone number of one of my acquaintances on Monday when I inadvertently dialled the number of Dharam Singh (another villager). The moment I realized my mistake, I apologized immediately and disconnected the phone.’’

That is what we all do. And the person either tells us it is okay or bangs down the phone. But not for him. The next day the person who received the call brought six of his friends. They tonsured him, tied him to a motorcycle and dragged him through the streets, hitting him all the while. He could not go to the cops because they threatened him.

The police have yet to register a case and are, like old Indian bureaucracy, “looking into the matter” and that too because the Dalits have demanded action.

Will they get justice? No. I am going by precedent.

And here the papers are screaming out kitschy ads about the best Ganesh pandals for which there are prizes. The deity is fed, the devotees are fed. This is the god of prosperity. Prosperity for the few. The sculptor still lives in poverty. The guys who fix those neon lights will not prosper. The fat cats will become fatter cats. The ones in the middle will think they will get something out of all this. Make a statement. The Elephant God made from different materials.

Is prosperity about this? We should be ashamed about instances such as the one I mentioned, and it is really insensitive to say, oh, what is new? No. It is not new. And it has to be restated. That is the tragedy. So, feeding gods is not going to make your home a better place and priests dunking themselves in buckets of water are not going to bring rain.

We are ethically becoming poor. Damn all the exotica. I guess, I have got the wrong number…

27.8.09

Indian Actor, American Character

Indian Actor, American Character
The Psychology of Security Measures
By Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, August 26, 2009

August 2009, Phoenix: A man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle over his shoulder is among the many gun-toting protestors outside the convention centre where President Barack Obama gives a speech.

August 2009, Newark Airport: Indian actor Shahrukh Khan is detained at the airport and there are questions asked, mainly the wrong ones.

February 2002, Mumbai Airport: I am standing at the counter and the man at Immigration reads out my name aloud as though it is alien. He goes through all the pages of the passport without looking at me and then bangs down the document that declares me a citizen of the Republic of India on the table.

In the taxi on the way home the driver says in Hindi, his mouth stuffed with paan, “You know, they killed our people.” He does not know I am one of Them. He makes no mention of the Gujarat riots; he only talks about the burning train of Godhra. He keeps up the rant. I wish to say something, speak out, argue. My throat is locked, my hands with nail marks of unsaid words.

After the incident of Sharukh Khan, we have had a slew of reports and opinion pieces that have held forth on how icons must be treated and are treated. Some ‘balanced’ commentators have stated that it does not have to do with his being a Muslim and having a Muslim name. These could well be valid trains of thought. However, there is a more dire script lurking beneath. It has little to do with physical security and all to do with psychological security. One would have called it xenophobia, but here safety is sought on the basis of not necessarily what is foreign but what is ingrained.

If security measures are all that important, then why did the US administration ask the actor if he would accept an apology for his two-hour detention? The culture of fawning that the Americans have pointed out to is indeed more prevalent in India. We are given examples of celebrity Americans who did time in jail for crimes committed. This denotes a modicum of equitable justice, not a lack of deification. Paris Hilton and Mike Tyson are not shunned socially. They become even more saleable and keep the media machinery well-oiled. The Indian judiciary, too, has arrested famous people for keeping arms, rash driving resulting in death, poaching, rape. Sanjay Dutt spent years in an isolated cell meant for hardened terrorists only because he had a gun at home whereas a local minister who used it during the Bombay riots was not even called to the police station.

Therefore, the point is not whether a simple internet search would show up the actor’s name. The Americans have now said that they wanted to know the names of his sponsors because there are instances of many supposedly being involved in illegal trade and having underworld links.

Is this a cop-out? If so, then one wonders why. The elitist attitude starts here. The actor calls a Congress minister who speaks to the Indian Consulate and the US authorities. He brags, “Post-9/11, one could understand and one did not complain. But this time it was a bit too much. I have travelled to other countries. I never faced any problem in the UK where I am treated like a state guest. They escort me to the car.’’

Perhaps, he ought to run a search and find out how many people with certain names are detained and have no access to MPs. They are not escorted and treated like state guests. And these are not people who make 9/11 the yardstick for terrorism for we in India, among several other countries, have been there years before.

This sort of amateurish political empathy conveys scant regard for those lower down the rung in the hierarchy. In what amounts to another sort of fawning, there have been analyses putting forth the argument that such stringent security measures have prevented any further attacks from taking place in the US. It is not security measures that have stalled such attacks. It is the political machinery that makes sure to nuke other territories that are considered a security risk. Everytime an American politician visits another country, s/he will indicate how that country and “We in the United States” are fighting terrorism. The US wants to be a part of every package deal to ensure greater intrusion.

The Cold War is over so it prods icebergs and, sure enough, there are conflicts. The saviour prepares. Marines are sent off. NATO sets up shop.

The film Khans and their ilk will not fathom the complexity of the 9/11 factory of hallucination that produces hatred. When the man with the big gun at the Obama convention said, in Bill Clinton fashion, that he carried the weapon because he could, he was unmasking the culture of pugilism. Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, finds the trend disturbing: “It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication.”

The security-conscious society has had several instances of trigger-happy people. The issue is beyond the legality of such choice. What is more important is that unlike the ‘subjects’ of US imperialism where weapons are used by lesser folks, in America campuses become the battle-ground. For a society that talks about freedom, it has given us the concept of road rage where people cannot even tolerate traffic.

These are games at the larger social level where the stampedes occur in the mind and alter mindsets. The skirmish for individual space results in each one venerating the cult of collectivism. Those who do not follow the rules of such aggro are sidelined from the arena.

I have not been detained or questioned at American airports
despite an obvious Muslim name before or after 9/11. But, the time I forgot to remove my shoes at the security check, it was another passenger who wagged her finger at me. I still remember that woman’s face. She did not know me or my name or my beliefs, if any. Her fear was internalised and naturally directed at a foreigner.

India has imported this bogey, except the foreigner here is one of us. I was one to the taxi driver and the man at the immigration counter. I am one when they see Pakistani visas on my passport.

In what is a bizarre move, I know of Americans of Pakistani origin who are asked to produce their Pakistani passports and national identity cards if they wish to visit India as tourists. It does not matter that they are naturalised US citizens and not permitted to have any other passport. It does not matter that years have passed.

As Indians we have a history of being colonised, so it is not difficult for us to accept the outside system, especially if it buffers the divisions that have been written into our scriptures.

Shahrukh Khan declared with cockiness, “I don’t want an apology. I just want to go back to my country.”

He said this in the US, character in place as targeted Muslim. When he returns to India he will play the Muslim who knows Hindu mythology and is therefore legitimate. This is the puerile panacea sought by those who know that cocoons make for safe places.

The little people herded in little cells
for just belonging to a religion or a community are conscripted as totem criminals to support the thesis of security.

Muslims in India today are as much suspects as they are in the United States. When the Mumbai attacks took place someone had suggested that since I visited the Sea Lounge at the Taj hotel often it is possible that I had provided a map to the terrorists. This was an Indian. The humour is so dark that it makes sure no light seeps in to call the bluff.

These are the anonymous terrorists who have learned their psychological warfare from a picture of Rudy Giuliani wearing a protective helmet when it is all over. Nothing makes people more afraid than rubble, it would seem.

26.8.09

Open Letter to Arun Shourie

Dear Mr. Shourie:

Very impressive performance. But I am disappointed. There was a time when you would quote Faiz and Faraz and not Hickery Dickery Dock…these days you have started quoting damned angrezi fairytales. Where is your swadeshi tongue, sirji? You call the BJP leadership ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘Alice in Blunderland’, the latter is such an overused pun by sophomores. Just thought I’d let you know. You use the term “kati patang” (a free floating kite).

You have taken on the onerous task of becoming notorious. I saw a bit of you on TV last night walking on the green, green grass of Rome, oops, home, in a red shirt. Very fitting, for you have quoted the Chinese chilman, no, no, not the iron curtain but Chairman Mao and said it was time for “bombarding the headquarters. Clean up everybody from top. Bring 10-15 people from the states who are competent and honest and dedicated and reconstruct immediately’’.

I have always maintained that the RSS is the madari (juggler) of the BJP monkey. You have only confirmed it.

A report mentions that you have asked the backstage organisation to take charge, saying that it had been “too democratic’’ and had given too much leeway to the party. You reminded the Sangh that the BJP was its most visible face, its “biggest instrument’’ and could not be left to its own devices. “It should keep an eye on the moral conduct of the party like an eagle.” Then, you challenged the party: “Do what you can.” You have come to believe that there is no space for dissent in the BJP which is being treated like a private property, and no criticism is tolerated or discussed.

This, unfortunately, is double talk. As you know, the instrument, whatever be its size, works on the signals the brain sends out. There is a contradiction when you talk about lack of dissent and at the same time ask the RSS to take charge and do an Operation Expunge. “My prescription is jhatka (one swift execution), not halal (slow execution). Saare, saare (lock, stock and barrel). There should be a transformation.’’

This seems to be your token anti-Islamism. Anyone with some knowledge of biology and slaughter will tell you that in such deaths, the blood congeals and the fright of imminent death poisons the system. You have been a part of it all along.

You talk about “mutual protection and projection’’ within the BJP. Yet, you propped up Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Now, because he has banned the Jinnah book, you are on the “it is a scholarly exercise and needs to be seen in that light” trip. For your information, Mr. Modi’s government has banned a few films recently that tackled communal issues; some were art-house types. Did you raise your voice then? It is not as though people were not thrown out of the party before or forced to leave. Remember Govindacharya? Or even Uma Bharti?

In fact, you did not quote any fairytales all these years, and it is not as though the party has overnight had a great fall or blundered through Wonderland. The BJP for most of its life has been in the Opposition. And when it was in power, you supported it with gusto.

If it is the party’s attitude towards Jinnah and why poor Jaswant Singh is being hounded while Advaniji got to sit and play leader-leader, then let me assure you that you can continue to quote Faiz and no one will accuse you of blasphemy. You can even quote Iqbal and it won’t matter.

The current rebellion is also like the mutual protection/projection you are getting ethical about. Watch how the drama is unfolding. Former RSS chief K S Sudarshan has now come to your rescue for handing the organisation the big baton publicly. He said that Jinnah was “a true (Indian) nationalist”. Is this news anymore? But, all those who made these subtle differences between hardline and moderate in the saffron Parivar have been finally outed. The BJP has been soft on you because you have the blessings of the Big Boss. This same RSS and its cohorts treat the Indian Muslims with suspicion. I want to know where is our certificate of nationalism? Not that we need it from anyone, but the blatant hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

You have been a hero. When you exposed that big cement scandal everyone who had never looked at cement beyond what is used for buildings suddenly began to think of it as something very important. A. R. Antulay fell from grace, whatever he had of it. Indira Gandhi, it is widely understood, got a good deal from those deals. You got the smaller bakra. The question is: how much of it was you and your reportage and idealism? You were with the Indian Express, its owner Ramnath Goenka was your guru. He had an axe to grind with Mrs. Gandhi. He had a lot of dope. You got it, did your thing and became history.

Well, these idealistic feeds can be cruel. Goenka was known to not like heroes, especially those he had created. As he had said about you, “But this racehorse will destroy my tonga.”

You were shown the door. It was seen as a huge tragedy. You got to write columns. That is when you became an authority on Faiz etc. Well, your columns were very, very long, so many of us just read the beginning and the end. Some of us discovered Urdu and Pakistani poets because of you. You did this for a while. Then you moved to the Times of India. Imagine that nice little place where every Establishment is ‘mutually protected and projected’. In those days it wasn’t so much about Page 3. It was all Page 1 and editorials. So we still read you because of aforementioned verses, instead of seeing your pictures holding a glass of spiked rooh-afza.

Later you joined the BJP and because you were clean and looked it, we stayed with you. Yet, you never said anything. Now you are doing so. It is difficult to understand. As Alice would say, “I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir, because I'm not myself you see.”

Perhaps a fitting tribute to what you were would best be expressed in the words of the Mughal Emperor, Bahadurshah Zafar:

ya mujhe afsar-e-shahaa na banaya hota
ya mera taj gadayaa na banaya hota

khaak_saari ke liye garache banaya tha mujhe

kaash khaak-e-dar-e-jaanaan na banaya hota


Yours with hope,
Mad Hatter (“No wonder you're late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.”)
---
(c) Farzana Versey

25.8.09

Oops, I did it, did I?

Sometimes, one gets the weirdest feedback. This one does not deserve to be reproduced, but I feel like a bit of pop psychology.

"Sheesh! Just three words can describe you completely---'obsessed with sex'."

I was also called a pseudo intellectual, and I don't know whether it is due to my obsession with sex.

I don't know when it started, but the term pseudo intellectual has gained more currency than the euro.

People who are called pseudo intellectuals...Pop proponents, classical divas, liberals, secularists, mavericks, communists, old hippies, new punks, protestors, abdicators, sitting-on-their-ass-and smoking-hashers...

Funny thing is, almost all these categories of people do not give a damn about labels. And to fake intellectualism is like so duh...especially if you rock as just what you are.

This brings me to the three words that are supposed to describe me: Obsessed with sex. What I find intriguing is that someone says "sheesh" to that. It means that the person is...

a. Averse to sex
b. Thinks a lot about it
c. Guilty about thinking a lot
d. Does a lot of it and projects shame on others
e. Is obsessive about other things
f. Is afraid of women who speak their minds
g. Is afraid of women and their needs
h. Is afraid of not being able to meet those needs
i. Is afraid of himself, and so calls her names

More importantly, the person does not know me and has not read enough of my work.

Perhaps, the person just had to say something that would make me feel horrible. Sorry, I feel nothing of the kind. To me the human body and intimacy are Nature's gift to make me going...And I love gifts!

80 per cent of what I have written here or elsewhere would constitute sex, religion and politics. Even what I write about the sky or eyes or balloons would boil down to sexing them up or they can become a political statement in the larger context.

And why is only sex seen as such a huge thing to be 'open' about. Hey, religion is a bigger turn-on for many and politics, my gott, the kiss of Kissinger got that right about its power...the ultimate aphrodisiac.

24.8.09

The RSS is Islamist?

The mailbox is a hugely interesting place. Yesterday, I got an email from a self-styled Hindulogy Foundation. The recipients were mostly movers and shakers; I was, I suppose, the shaker.

I shall reproduce most of this note, without changing anything, including capitals. It is addressed to Sudheendra Kulkarni who has quit the BJP:

Dear Shri Kulkarnni,

Congratulations for liberating yourself from the Slavery of RSS led Shakuni Parivar.

I knew that you, Jaswant Singh & my Guru Shri Arun Shourie can't opt for lifelong Slavery of this criminal organisation which has given birth to the criminals like Godse, Purohit, Pragya etc etc.

Let's work together to expose the real ISLAMIC IDEOLOGY & CHARACTER of RSS, so that gullible Hindus do not fall into their Pseudo -Hindutva trap.

Divine was graceful on me when I saw the demise of RSS led Shakuni Parivar in 2002 itself just after famous GUJARAT EXPERIMENT of RSS.

RSS is not an iota of Hindutva. Hindutva apeal can't be confined in the tiny brains of people like Sudarshan & Mohan Bhagwat. I have made following two imminent forecasts:

1. ISLAM will not see the SUN-RISE of next century.

2. US will become a HINDU NATION by 2100 AD.

Anyway I am very grateful to you & Jaswant Singh for displaying courage, which is missing in most of the Hindus throughout the Globe.

- - -

Wah, bhai, wah. When the RSS does the dirty it becomes Islamic.

For someone who is berating the RSS, which is largely responsible for the Hindutva resurgence, I wonder why the writer is so enthusiastic that Islam dies in the next century (very convenient, Mr. pseudo Nostradamus, since none of us will be around). And why this eagerness to see the US as a Hindu nation?

The internet has spawned a whole bunch of people who find sustenance in these theories.

Now, we come to Sudheendra Kulkarni. I can vouch for one thing – he is willing to listen and talk even if you are not on the same page as he is. The problem is that I knew him when he was a Marxist and I was trying to be one. You know how it is…I did not know he was a card-holding member of the CPI (M), though.

It is believed that the L.K.Advani speech about Jinnah was his work. Therefore, his taking up for Jaswant Singh is not unusual.

He has explained his reason for quitting:

“I have concluded that I cannot make any meaningful contribution to the party any more as I have ideological differences with it as it stands today…I want to have the freedom to express my views and be sincere to my convictions. At the same time, I respect the discipline of the party and, therefore, I have stepped out.”


How can one respect the discipline and have ideological differences? This discipline is a part of the saffron ideology. Everytime anyone raised protests, they would come out with this discipline thing. Oh, we are so disciplined. We have in-house elections, we follow rules, we manage to gather people to collect bricks and stones.

Now, what I would like is to read a book by Sudheendra Kulkarni. A man who has worked closely with both Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani and in his early life with the Commies will have very interesting things to say.

As for the JS book, I repeat what I had written. What has he said about Savarkar, Golvalkar, Godse? Why is everyone cashing in on the cash-cow leaders and forgetting those who continue to be a part of the saffron ideology to which Jaswant Singh belonged until just the other day?

And, please, all these experts should just take a deep breath before they pronounce the death of the BJP. With all these departures, and its blaming Varun Gandhi of all the little people in the world for part of the debacle, and the post-mortem they will only conclude that they need the elders to guide and the second rung to go forth and conquer. Narendra Modi is considered young. And he is only going to get stronger.

22.8.09

Can you hear me, Mona Lisa?

Mona Lisa waves out?

I am not sure I’d like to have a little chat with Mona Lisa or want her to wave out to me like some movie star. This is not about purity in art but about purity in ways of seeing. Rather than humanising, it becomes robotic.

Beijing’s Alive Gallery is doing just that. It has got a whole series of famous art works that move and talk. The Mona Lisa, for example, answers questions. In a video clip when asked if she was married, she says, yes, and her husband loves her very much. What next? “I just finished chopping onions” and the Chinese wizards will show a few tears? Or, will she explain her smile with an, “Oh, I was stifling a yawn”?

How is this interference in art any different from the Russian woman who hurled a ceramic cup at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum? Here was real frustration because she had failed to obtain French nationality. Her rejection was what made her hit out at a truly prized work of art. Interestingly, the artist Leonardo da Vinci is not French, nor do any versions mention the model being one.

I see this as a wonderful clash of identities – Russian, French, Italian – and the attempt to be one. The sense of seeking a space. What is more valid? A mute work of art that earns billions of euros? Or a woman escaping a life she does not want?

The painting is behind a bullet-proof screen. How accessible is it, then? For all its peasant appeal, it has indeed become a distant figure of admiration. That was in all probability not the intention. While many works of art are analysed on the basis of skill, historical relevance and the ability to make a statement of sorts, the Mona Lisa – ‘la Gioconda’, the laughing one – has been personalised. The backdrop, her past, her relationship with the artist, her stance, her look, her smile. It is she who has become a benchmark for this sort of ‘seeing’.

She has survived so many interpretations and infringements that she has become A Thing. Of beauty? A joy forever?

Perhaps that Russian woman’s ceramic cup must one day be able to move and talk and speak of its experience at hitting her. Forever and beauty both hurt. Yet, I wouldn’t want her to move for a fraction of a second even to hear an anguished sigh or the swish of silk or wind in her face.

Bringing Mona Lisa 'alive'

Two brothers and a lot of gas

It is quite unfortunate that the prime minister of India has to intervene in a business rivalry, that too between two brothers. Mukesh and Anil Ambani are fighting over the Krishna-Godavari gas case. I understand that due to this quarrel, the price of gas will be affected, the output has been kept limited, claims made of more expenditure, therefore denying the government its share.

There is a family Memorandum of Understanding which Mukesh is not willing to concede to. Anil has brought out the dirt in the open, including allegations against petroleum minister Murli Deora.

That’s the short story. A report states:

It is felt that the nature of the dispute is such that it could well spill over to other arenas where the two face off as competitors. “The PM’s views on the subject are quite well known,’’ said sources.


There has always been lobbying in the corporate sector. Their father, Dhirubhai, was a master at it. However, he did manage to not rock the boat because he was alone and could afford to keep certain people happy. With the two brothers’ parting of ways, there will naturally be different lobbies, and at the political level those will demand their pound of flesh. It can and will get dirty. Manmohan Singh has been finance minister and knows just how these things can work and even work against governments. Political parties thrive on business interests and not the small shareholders.

It is also a matter of image in a world claiming its slice of globalisation:

Comment in foreign newspapers that the dispute had put a focus on how business was done in India and the ability of “Indian oligarchs’’ to capture policy has been enough to make the government squirm.


The level of such economic incest is not to be chuffed at. It exists to a mind-boggling degree. The Ambanis are the visible face. Every FICCI meeting is about how to get the government in your pocket.

However, we should not worry too much about what the foreign media thinks. They can be reminded about how they appoint Lords and how the US works business deals. It is more transparent. But then we are getting there.

21.8.09

Ramzan is more than looking for the moon

Why are Indians saying Ramadan? It was always Ramzan for me. If I don’t do a thing in this month, why do I mind at all by what name it is called? Because it infringes on a cultural attuning.

Those who have been around long enough know that I do not fast. It isn’t for 'unreligious' reasons. It is a personal choice. If I feel like doing it, then I will. No shoo-shaa over it.

However, the build-up does bother me. I do not like to be inundated with emails from strangers sending long posts on various religious verses and what they mean and how we can be saved by them. I suggest they send them to the embassies of several nations that believe it is their birthright to rule and subjugate people. Send them to those who create havoc in the name of faith. Send them to characters who taint the religion.

These people, in their enthusiasm to be carriers of the religion, end up as irritants and as a result those verses that might have been beautiful and conveyed a lot are sent straight to my junk box. We all have our values and there is no way for me to ascertain that the people sending me those precious words fit into any ethical belief system that I hold dear.

This month is to replenish your inner resources and abstain, so please stop spamming. I don’t have a handy hadith for that, but am sure you get the drift.

- - -

The new Islamists may abhor music, but the qawwali can be an uplifting experience irrespective of anything else. I remember visiting the Nizamuddin dargah only to listen to the qawwals. Of course, I refer here to the ones that convey oneness with a Being outside oneself. Or perhaps deep within.

The music is structured, its repetitive enunciation like the drones of bees near a honeycomb waiting to taste what they have created. That is the essence. Look inside and feel before you can go outside and seek. You could feel a tremor or a touch. I do not buy the ‘unfeeling’ state.

You may deny your body food and water, but the hunger and thirst for reaching bliss has got to be there.

And bliss is when you hear words like:

Piye jo sharaab-e-ishq–e-Nabi
Marta ho tau jeena aa jaaye

(The one who is drunk on the love of the Prophet
Learns to live even as he is dying)

Whatever you believe in and whatever figure/idea/thought you replace, there is a sense of rejuvenation. Religion is incidental; it is a ritual of your belonging. How sublime it is to hear two people, not of the faith, singing to be one with the Nabi of another.

It is not literal and that is how it should be. We stuff our faces with what we think is religiosity and never fathom the reasons why.

It is like crushing roses. You will get your fragrance, but the flowers will be dead.

Live, instead:

Piye jo sharaab-e-ishq–e-Nabi - Qawwali by Shankar-Shambhu

20.8.09

Pinky and the Beefcake


Does it matter whether Imran Khan had a roaring or a purring affair with Benazir Bhutto? Does it say anything about how it affected their psyches and, therefore, Pakistani politics? It could…

Christopher Sandford has written a biography of Imran Khan and it will probably have a lot of stuff on the cricketer-playboy-politician. The author has been called ‘respected’, which means we are to be suitably impressed. The respected Sandford has come up with gems about how Benazir might even have been the first to call Imran the ‘Lion of Lahore’. Quite a revelation, eh?

Our own Times of India, however, indulged in a rather cheap title for the report: ‘Loin of Lahore?’ Adding a question mark is irrelevant. You do not do a front page story and use a term such as this, even if it is about an affair. This is not some stupid Ajit joke; it amounts to juvenile smarts. But, then, must we be surprised at all?

What I find truly funny is this quote from the author in an interview to the Telegraph:

“In any event, it seems fairly clear that for at least some time the couple was close. There was a lot of giggling and blushing whenever they appeared together in public. It also seems fair to say that the relationship was ‘sexual’, in the sense that it could only have existed between a man and a woman. The reason some supposed it went further was because, to quote one Oxford friend, ‘Imran slept with everyone’.”


Make of the portions I have italicised what you will. And if he slept with everyone, then it is rather slanderous that Benazir would have been merely one of his conquests. I was strangely touched by Imran’s assertion that they were “only friends”. It reminded me so much of Bollywood.

Having said all this, I do think they would have made for a great couple. Both with feudal mentalities, arrogance and the ability to pass of dictatorial tendencies as democratic.

Asif Zardari has all those qualities, except that his appeal could never have been so international. He manages to dazzle a few Sindh belt types or the Lahore halwa-puri (attempting to pronounce it as puree) set. Isn’t that why he was so overwhelmed with Sarah Palin?

One only hopes this man does not try and make political capital out of it. He is anyway willing and able to inherit anything.

J+J=Ho-ho

Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah (JJ) saga is pathetic simply because he is being equated with some of the greatest leaders of pre-partition times, irrespective of how invalid their positions may seem now. Today’s papers have given pages and pages to a book which everyone believes is saying nothing new. Then why are they carrying excerpts?

And what is so different that they are saying? Here are some media quotes of today the 20th; then there are mine of 17th and 18th!

It surprises me that a section of the Pakistani media is jumping around with joy.

They say:

"It is the writer's personal viewpoint and has nothing to do with party matters. Such acts show the BJP's severe hatred towards Pakistan. The BJP never wants good ties with the neighboring country," say Pakistan-based experts.

The only times there have been good ties or attempts at some bus, train services have been when the NDA was in power, whatever be the motives.

I told you so:

Pakistan will want to deal with these lost sons, not the Aruns. These are old-timers with history written on their faces. And Jaswant Singh would fit in right with the elite Lahore crowd, his safari suit notwithstanding.

He says:

I am being treated like Ravana…I am sad…they told me on the phone…


I told you so:

The RSS makes Jaswant a martyr…Don’t feel sorry for him. Saint Jaswant Singh will be okay.


He says:

I will do what I have always done —work for my constituency in parliament. At the end of the day, it’s honour that’s most important.


I told you so:

Jaswant Singh, good Rajput that he is, will surely bring out a sword to defend his honour. He will talk like those maharajahs of old who served in Mughal armies and project himself as a balanced person who can see an honourable enemy.


So, these experts, many still groping with the Lahore Declaration, are going, “hrmph, aargh….lookie, those people have not even read it.”

Yeah. Not read it. Don’t intend to. But the Jaswant Singh PR machinery is active and kicking. It isn’t unusual for the clarificatory details to be passed on and then for the reviewers to quote it and post those clarifications as their own hard work. If one accepts and applauds the ability to speed-read such a book, then too finding out that he has not been such a bad boy isn’t all that tough. There is something called the Index at the end of books. You must look for the relevant words, go to the pages where he has not said anything nasty about the nice guys of un-independent India and, hey, you have it there. Then you flash it around.

Great. Take a bow and stay there.

19.8.09

Is this pride?

At the Sunday gay parade in Mumbai:

Shobha Doshi, a housewife in her 50s, stood out among the colourful wigs with a banner that read “Proud Mother of a Gay Son’’.


Proud of what? His preference for boys over girls? I would understand “Supportive Mother”. There is nothing to be proud about any kind of sexual choices except between the two people (or, ahem, more) involved in the act and the prowess they manage to display. Although that too is a bit déclassé for it stands in opposition to system failure…that is failure to perform, which can be truly traumatic.

Let us rethink this pride business. It is about achievement and talent and has nothing to do with being gay or heterosexual.

Imagine if Kasturba Gandhi had taken part in a parade to say she is a “Proud Wife of a Celibate”. Going by how these ‘movements’ are being propagated, why not?

It's not the BJP, stupid!
The RSS makes Jaswant a martyr

Don’t feel sorry for him. Saint Jaswant Singh will be okay. The BJP has expelled him. Party president Rajnath Singh is sounding all important when he says:

"I had issued a statement yesterday that the party fully dissociates itself from the contents of the book. Today I put up the matter before the Parliamentary Board which decided to end his primary membership. So he has been expelled. From now onwards he will not be a member of any body of the party or be an office bearer."

If the party had dissociated with his views in the book, then why was he not invited for the 'chintan baithak' in Shimla? To spare him.

Do not be surprised if he already knew about this decision and was in fact a party to it. This baloney about “his uneasy relationship with the party ever since he circulated a note demanding a discussion on the debacle in the Lok Sabha elections” is only to colour him with some errant boy status.

The moot point is: Has he been expelled in spirit from the party? The answer would be No. The Sangh Parivar makes sure that the BJP works like a second rung to the RSS. It is a mutual understanding that one will play the hardliner role and the other will be statesman-like, in as much as it is possible for Modi types to be.

It is no coincidence that early in today’s papers the RSS chief Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat had talked about how the age limit for people in positions of power should be lowered, 60 being the oldest. These moves had already started with Arun Jaitley and Arun Shourie propping up Modi against Advani. The fact is that they are still in the party and having fun at Shimla.

Jaswant Singh is the middle ground and can usually swing both ways. Right now, he has been given this golden mean path on a platter. And it isn’t by the BJP, but the RSS. As the mai-baap of the BJP, it has to rap the knuckles of anyone who acts a bit different. That he is 71 and their leader said nothing beyond 60 is a message not just for him but to others who are being pickled within the party.

The Modi caucus will imagine they have got ahead. The oldies will cackle, maybe even share some chapli kebabs and think about how secular they are and the Indian subcontinent could well do with their wisdom. Pakistan will want to deal with these lost sons, not the Aruns. These are old-timers with history written on their faces. And Jaswant Singh would fit in right with the elite Lahore crowd, his safari suit notwithstanding.

Just remember one thing. The BJP is waiting to forgive him. He will stand his course till the book is in its second edition. And the JS family has nothing to worry about. His son is in the party after winning an election.

What the BJP and the rest of the political parties and public ought to be interested in is to find out what he has to say about Golwalkar and Savarkar and Godse. Jinnah is only a bahana...

(More on this in the earlier post)

18.8.09

The Spirit of Sprint


Before yesterday, I did not know who Usain Bolt was. Among the sports I have watched avidly are cricket, to some extent tennis and football and for the big events gymnastics and athletics. The first is for cultural reasons, the other two due to the fact that they had stars, always. And style. I knew the name of the tournaments and the players.

I also knew the big gymnasts and athletes. After cricket, my closest association could have been with athletics. I had what someone once said the legs of an athlete. At that time, it was meant as an insult to an awkward adolescence that was trying to hide a growing womanhood. I never did make it although I could run pretty fast. The reason being dizzy spells and blackouts that bothered me most of my school years. After the initial burst of energy I’d slump down with exhaustion as the sun would spin around me. I felt like arid earth denied the sprint to the finish.

I was a bookworm and a recluse. Sports do not make you an extrovert. It, in fact, forces you to delve deep into your inner reserves. Today, I have been watching clips of the record-breaking event where Bolt completed his 100 metres in 9.58 seconds in Berlin. As he gets closer to his goal, there is a moment when he looks at the side; it is precious because it expresses his oneness with the track and his co-runners. I loved what he said, “My body is like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don't think about it, I just have it.”

Make no mistake. The confidence comes from internalising the strenuous routine as a part of his persona. Think about it. What do 100 metres really mean? Nothing. It is just a length of space – we walk that much to run errands, thieves escape that distance, cops chase, and many people even rush after buses. But for the athlete it is like blinking so fast that you don’t miss anything. If this is turning logic on its head, then that is precisely the idea. You have to cover space, time and competition. And in doing so, you have to conquer your limitations.

As Bolt said, “My start is not perfect, but it's good, and I've got power. I've got a lot of things working for me, so I think if I get my start right it's going to be hard to beat me. It's all about putting the perfect race together.”

Starts are rarely perfect; it is the hesitation that acts as a prompter and pushes one leg ahead of the other.

Bolt is not from a wealthy background. He had to sweat it out. Is that what is the driving force – the naturalisation of stretching the limits of one’s circumstantial limitations? Now Puma is claiming him. He ran with minimal fuss.

It reminds me of the athletes I used to see at the Mahalakshmi Race Course grounds here, practising barefoot. That is how P.T.Usha ran in her village to reach where she did.


We in India continue to pamper our cricketers and tennis stars. We lost out on hockey due to such callousness. Our athletes still win medals despite not being treated as the heroes they are. We hear stories about how they are dumped in hostel rooms, have to travel in less than perfect conditions for their meets. For a few days they are heralded by the media. I will never forget how India Today did a makeover on P.T. Usha for a feature story to make her look glamorous. And this was a news magazine. I wonder why none of these sportspersons sought to move out of the country and find sponsors. I wonder what stopped them. Or did no one care to invite them?

A Jamaican minister might exult, “We are the sprint factory of the world”, but individual achievement, even if it represents a nation, is not an assembly-line product. It arises out of a person’s circumstances and desperation to reach the finishing line.

Usain Bolt says he cannot live outside his country. That country needs him. What drives his need? A sense of fidelity, I think. Not merely to the concept of nationalism. It is the soil he learnt to run on.

Usain Bolt New World Record: 9.58



For those who want a longer version it is here

17.8.09

How Jaswant Singh is using Jinnah as a genie

This is fun. Jaswant Singh has come out of the closet to tell us that Jinnah is great. No problem. When L.K.Advani did it, they said he was quoting from some speech and that is all. Jaswant Singh, good Rajput that he is, will surely bring out a sword to defend his honour. He will talk like those maharajahs of old who served in Mughal armies and project himself as a balanced person who can see an honourable enemy. This is one more marketing gimmick. We assume that Pakistan needs a certificate from us.

What did he really say that is so significant? And why is it important to emphasise that it is divergent from the Sangh Parivar view? Because, it needs to be marketed that way. Forget historians, even some sharp hacks have written that Jinnah was not the architect of Partition alone; it was the megalomania of all the so-called freedom fighters.

As always, the Congress only thinks it is about their hero, Nehru. And even worse is to bring the Gujarat carnage and the Muslims into this. Their party spokesperson, Abhishek Singhvi, said:

“The BJP and Jaswant Singh can condone the Gujarat carnage and give homilies as Muslims being treated as ‘aliens’ in the same breath.”


How dare they do it. Jaswant Singh has written about Jinnah; Jinnah was a Pakistani, a nationality he chose. Indian Muslims have chosen an Indian nationality. Just don’t confuse the issues. We will handle the BJP and RSS on our terms and not based on what Jinnah did.

If Bal Thackeray says he admires Hitler, does anyone believe that the Sainiks should be judged by German standards?

I would, however, like to know what exactly Jaswant Singh means when he says:

“I think we have misunderstood him because we needed to create a demon... we needed a demon because in the 20th century, the most telling event in the subcontinent was the partition of the country.”


Glad that he has woken up to give us this path-breaking news. Is he implying that by demonising him we have demonised a whole country that he created? Is he then saying that any acts that have occurred on the part of Pakistan are therefore a result of this demonisation? For, whether we like it or not, the residue of the Partition remains with us.

I know we will be told to read the book to know what exactly he means. As I said, this isn’t about Jinnah. This is about selling Jinnah.

- - -

As I mentioned, you don’t need to be a historian; you can just be someone like me. I wrote this on August 25, 1997, and this is merely a peek into a larger piece done a couple of years before that.

The other side of Jinnah
by Farzana Versey
Rediff

The life of the man largely held responsible for the partition of the country has a touch of tragedy to it.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah almost appears like a naive knight in shining armor, blinded by the glitter of his position, rather than a visionary convinced of the soundness of his stand. His major flaw lay in the fact that he was the brash other voice while everyone else was the chorus.

It would be easy to say he was making political capital of the situation by using the minority issue as a shoulder from which to fire the gun, but that would an appalling generalisation.

Like many people in power who portray themselves as saviours, Jinnah was a pawn in the hands of those he promised to free from the majority clutches.The distribution of leaflets bearing pictures of a sword-bearing, sherwani-clad Jinnah was clearly the handwork of a marketing genius. Jinnah, in a spirit of parody, played along, probably for a good laugh and certainly for a pat on the back.

It would, therefore, be unfair to hold him solely responsible for 600,000 deaths and the uprooting of 14 million people.

Even without referring to his taste in Scotch and sausages, one has to admit he was not Islamist. The concept of jihad was totally alien to him and, as Sardar Patel said, he was not a votary of mass movements. H M Seervai, in his book on the Partition, has raised in important issue: "It is a little unfortunate that those who assail Jinnah for destroying the unity of India do not ask how it was that a man who wanted a nationalist solution till as late as 1938, when he was 61 years of age, suddenly become a 'communalist'."

Why were over a hundred million Muslims willing to eat out of his palm? Because Jinnah reflected their fears, even as he spoke of intermarriage to promote communal harmony. Jinnah learned, as does every other politician, that human beings are easily excitable because they are inherently prejudiced.

Jinnah has been accused of being a megalomaniac, but so were most of the leaders of the time. They could not forget they were participants in an epoch-making event.

If he could maintain grace under pressure, at the height of the battle, he would have dealt with many other issues in a similar fashion. If fact, in 1946 he talked of having a metaphorical pistol in a world full of AK-47s and nuclear arsenal. The statement may have seemed terribly outdated and stupid, but it gave a glimpse into an essentially principled man. That we may not agree with his principles is another matter.

16.8.09

15.8.09

Despicable Dogs and Independence

We are free today? Rubbish. Slaves walk, talk, mock. Kuttey-kaminey, a curse made famous by Bollywood, is a reality. The strays are left to fend for themselves. Base instincts prevail.

We threw out the British 62 years ago on August 15 and internalised colonialism.


Yes, they unfurled flags today. Yes, they sang patriotic songs. Yes, the PM made a speech from a derelict monument created by the Mughals, who we hate the most. Yes, we are so happening. We proudly export talent and kids of Indian origin win Spelling Bee contests and land up among the top few in American Idol. We applaud.

I know there are parties held in the big cities where the martinis will be as frozen as the stares in high storey apartments where the menu will be “specially Indian” as though they are talking about another world. The ‘pilaf’ will be a cute three-coloured one to represent the national flag and women and men in scarves and shawls will throw orange, green and white in faces lightened by chemical peels. Lightening creams are for those who don’t matter. Dogs.


One quarter of the country is suffering from drought. Yeah, baby. India is dry. You will need a lot of time with her.

I can still hear the words, “Kuttey Kaminey” as a celluloid hero thrashes a villain. It is always the muscular hero who utters those words. Weird.


Today, the underbelly is the belly – lean, mean and weaned on crime and cruelty. This is the face we want to hide as Sacred Spaces lecture us on how to give our souls a high-five. Enlightenment is borrowed. Search is not seeking but a website engine. Google moksha. But you can't deny this: Dogs are barking and biting. And man does bite dog because that dog is someone like him. The dirty streets are not only full of faeces but people we call Nobodies.

They aren’t slaves because they are trysting with destinies the hard way. Strays with meanness in their marrows. Films are recognising them. A recent movie is called Kaminey. One review ended hilariously with the line: “Tarantino, take a bow. Brave new Bollywood is here”!

How can we be new and brave when we are asking Them to take a bow for what one of Us has created? Here are the real slaves. Walking, talking, mocking others when they want to be these smart shits. It isn’t pulp fiction. It is real and vicious. It is also independent India. See it before someone from Hollywood decides to seep through the sore pores of my country. Let us use ourselves. A hero who says, "Read my lisp”.

India is free because it can look down on him. He lets us do it because he knows he is needed. We are free. We shoot strays, don’t we?

Kaminey - Dhan Te Nan




- - -


(The image of the flag on top is of the first stamp of independent India)

The Indian Colonisers of India

Maverick: The Indian Colonisers of India
By Farzana Versey
Covert, Aug 15-31

I miss those days. They would exclaim, “Oh, Indian!” and all you had to do was blush and give them some spiel about the Taj Mahal, rickshaw pullers, Tanjore paintings, the Kama Sutra. If you dressed the part, with hippie beads and prints dyed in colours designed to fade, then you had it made. You were just the sort of stuff George Harrison would pull strings with.

I miss those days. Today, India at 62 has become a cosmetic surgery miracle. Now when they exclaim, “Oh, Indian!” you must sound world-weary because jet lag is a part of your life. The princess-pauper act won’t wash anymore. You are seen as a triumph because of amnesia. Look, they say, she has gone through so much and yet come out trumps.

Talking of which, Fareed Zakaria had informed them that when he used to visit home in the 80s Indians did not show much interest in “the important power players in Washington or the great intellectuals in Cambridge. People would often ask me about Donald Trump…He symbolized the feeling that if you wanted to find the biggest and largest anything, you had to look to America.”

This is hyperbole, a trait that westerners find so charming, especially in the new improved India. It is another matter that Donald Trump represented nothing more than an apartment tower, a few good women and a toupee. We continue to be mentally colonised by the US, mainly because of the franchisee deals, but it was the British Virgin king who managed to get in and became worthy enough for a Vijay Mallya to emulate.

However, to pass the test of the nouveau Indian you need more than allegiance to a pint of beer and a frequent flyer card. In fact, you don’t need to announce who you know, but how much you know about who you don't know. A mouse click is your key to education.

When Nandan Nilekani quits Infosys to join the government, he announces, “I will be going to lead a programme to give identity to every Indian. But today I am losing my identity.” With this self-effacing comment he is no different from those who claim to do something for the country. In martyr-deadpan tone, he says, “I’m supposed to work with 600 government departments knowing fully well that no two government departments get along with one another.”

This is the mature brash, fired in the kiln of hubris. It has to be accepted. Our prime minister concurs: “I sincerely hope that in due course we can enlarge the involvement of intellectuals in governance.”

While it is true that some of our bumpkin type ministers were counter-productive, is there any guarantee that those with education and resources will truly make a difference? For being a co-founder and co-chairperson of a company for 28 years, the new India is expected to blindly accept the sagacity of such intellectuals.

When Rajiv Gandhi brought in Sam Pitroda, the results were evident in small towns where PCOs sprung up. It may not have been a revolution but it was something that people in those places needed. This same man will now probably head the Vedanta University, spread across 6000 acres of land, that will have research wings and Olympic style sports complexes. Who is this for? We are getting more and more elitist and brushing the dirt under nuclear submarines.

The public figure patriot is one who knows how to shrug with panache. Shashi Tharoor stands with hand on heart while the national anthem is being played because that is what he did in America. He forgets he is contesting an Indian election, but his goof-up is forgiven. He now represents the external affairs ministry. However, those buying plastic flags will be taken to task because it is an insult.

The airlines are losing money, yet Narendra Modi spends Rs 90,000 a day on flights.

It isn’t that all was well earlier. We had the ‘India is Indira’ times, but we also had an alternative. These days even dissent has become upwardly mobile. People throw shoes at ministers and not slippers. The minister smiles beatifically because, as they say in the west, s**t happens. This time the “Oh, Indian!” isn’t a smirk directed at the literal. Freedom’s just another blurb designed for the Oscars.

14.8.09

Krishna and some innocence...


I can hear the drums. A bunch of young people will form a human pyramid and break a clay pot filled with curd and lots of money. Gods don’t come cheap anymore. The stakes are up. Because devotees are full of greed.

Today is Janmashtmi, the birth of Lord Krishna. As a young boy he survived attempts to kill him because of divine intervention. He was like most boys and was raised by a cowherd and his wife. That surrogate mother, in fact, was the principal influence on his life. Yashodha. He would rob the churned milk and return to her, his mouth speckled with white residue.

That made him human.

He was surrounded by gopis and would steal their clothes as they bathed in the river and demand more butter to return their garments. That butter did not add any cholesterol to his system nor lard to his girth. Krishna has always been pictorially depicted as lean, often playing the flute.

On Janmashtmi day, that human pyramid forming takes place. As a child I recall there used to be one right outside our building, in the lane. They used the window bars of an apartment to tie the rope from one end and the other end was secured in the building across. At the centre would be the pot. The fellows who climbed up were children of the labourers, tailors, maids, cooks, drivers in the locality. We would egg them on as they tripped. Finally, the smallest one would reach the top, break the handi and they’d share the money. It wasn’t much. Sometimes, they would come round offering us prasad (holy offerings). We took it without a care about how it was made and where.

Childhood hungers are different.

I would still look wide-eyed if everything had remained the same. But they don’t. Things change. We change. One transforming the other in a cycle that spins out of shape. Now those soiled and creased currency notes are replaced by money that can be in hundreds of thousands. The celebrations are held in designated areas sponsored by companies and attended by celebrities.

The pot is higher, many more tiers of people climbing and breaking limbs to reach it.

Yet, I keep my queries aside. For, it is only during these festivals that the poor become important. They are needed to fracture bones. To dance shamelessly in the streets. To stuff their faces with unhygienic colours. To get indelicately drunk. To snivel before the gods of today, Mammons in their limousines throwing big moolah to feel they have earned their place in heaven.

The gods have given up. Their myths that spoke of sagacity have been sold to the highest bidders. Their images come in forms that are ostentatious. Oh, I said, I would not raise a quizzical eyebrow, I said I won’t…

So, this morning I added an extra dollop of butter on toast in memory of the lord. The grease that stayed on my lips reflected a childhood I was born to lose.

- - -

Pop secularism?


Images:
Top - painting of Krishna and Mother by Raja Ravi Verma
Bottom - photograph in TOI

13.8.09

H1N1? Try Tulsi?

I wish I did not have to mention him again. It isn’t really about him, anyway.

What is the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) upto?

With yoga guru Baba Ramdev suggesting that tulsi and could help prevent swine flu, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has decided to act on his advice seriously. The civic agency has decided to provide these plants to Delhiites ‘free of cost’ to safeguard them from swine flu. Giloi branches and tulsi leaves will be given to councillors to distribute them among residents of their area.


Many people in this country use ayurveda and home remedies and these can indeed be effective. But at a time when people are going berserk and the job of a government institution is to ensure the safety of its citizens, this amounts to negligence.

How can they say that tulsi will safeguard people against the flu? Have they got any assurance or scientific data to prove it? Distributing it free of cost will divert the attention of many and it will act as a placebo. At one level it might be a good thing, but what if there is a serious case and people are not treated on time?

How different is this from faith-healing? Have we not had examples of some evangelist priest holding court and lame people walking off the stage without a limp? Or of instances where the polio vaccine is resisted because some maulvi said so?

Swami Ramdev’s ashram was found to have skulls and bones and it was widely reported. Did anything come of the enquiries?

Are these religious figures now going to decide on medical issues that are considered epidemics? He has said he has a cure for cancer. Why does the Swami not tell people about how to deal with malnutrition?

At least, food is not something that requires great effort to procure in a country that exports grains and often lets it rot.

Heil, Musharraf!
Singing his song and more

Rise…


Former President Pervez Musharraf may well be accused of treason, but it seems this is his season. He put all those lawyers behind bars and the Zardari group, all innocence, does not think it is right. It is another matter that Zardari’s own skin needs to be saved from those very lawyers. Therefore, we have the following:

Contacts between top Pakistani leaders and a British diplomat, Mark Lyall Grant, a former high commissioner to Pakistan who is currently Director General for political affairs in the British Foreign Office who was previously involved in back-channel parleys to resolve political issues here, have triggered speculation that the UK is engaged in efforts to ward off the possible trial of ex-president Musharraf on charges of treason.

(The above image is only for metaphorical purposes. The blogger takes no responsibility for the moral reactions or the contrary or any other emotions that may arise due to its display. It has done the rounds of the Net and was received as a forward; it is reproduced on an as-is-where-is basis. We do not know whether it has been doctored or nursed.)

…and Shine

He plays the tabla and he also manages a few in-sync notes.

The emergence of an old video, showing Pervez Musharraf performing a duet with Ustad Hamid Ali Khan at a private gathering, has garnered the former president a lot of wah-wah from Pakistani music lovers. He is flanked by his wife Sehba and former PM Shaukat Aziz.


There are a few, however, who think he is being un-Islamic! Watch this:

Ustaad Hamid Ali Khan and Pervez Musharraf
-“Laagee re tosee laagee najar sayyain laagee”


10.8.09

Conjugal Rights – Civil and Military

What are the courts upto?

In a rare order that would make men think twice before trying to mislead the court to protect his second marriage, the Bombay high court recently reversed a divorce and imposed an exemplary cost of Rs 50,000 on a Pune resident. He has to pay his wife for his deliberate efforts to keep the wife deprived of her conjugal rights and make it impossible for her to resume cohabitation.

If the husband, by his own acts, made cohabitation with his wife impossible by living with another woman, his behaviour amounts to being wrong and disentitles him from seeking a divorce on the grounds that he had no physical relationship with the first wife, the HC stated. (full report)


Is this about morality? The wife was denied conjugal rights and because, technically, the man was still married to her his remarriage was considered bigamous. However, he was granted divorce later. Now, the High Court has rapped the family court for granting him a divorce.

What I do not understand is that a certain amount of time – one year that is the mandatory period, by the courts and according to the Hindu Marriage Act – had passed.The wife says it is because he was living with another woman that she could not have conjugal relations with him. I am surprised that if she had to battle it out, why was there no talk about the children, who were minors when he left?

The court has reversed the divorce. There is no mention of the second wife who he has been living with since 1992. Even if her position stands legally nullified, how about bringing her into the picture since the courts are making moral pronouncements? Was that marriage registered? If so, how do things stand? What about her social status, as she must have been seen as his wife? Did she know he had not got the divorce when they were together? Did she know when he did get it? Was she kept informed by him?

The man has spent more of his life with her (almost 17 years) than with his first wife (11 years).

Regarding the one-year period of not cohabiting, nowhere does it say either of the spouses cannot cohabit outside. And is there any way to ascertain whether such affairs and sexual encounters take place if they are random? What if the man had fled to some other country and did not visit and therefore did not cohabit?

Would the court deem it as denial of conjugal rights?

The worst aspect of this case is how the courts are fighting against each other. This just shows that we are ill-equipped to deal even at the level of family cases. Where will this go? The wife will be happy that she managed to give him a tough time? The children will be happy that their father has been made to eat crow and return? The second wife will be happy that the man whose wife she was considered is now no more his wife, just like that? The man will be happy that he is returning to his old legally-wedded status?

Will he remain loyal? Will the wife take him to court if he has an affair but leaves no traces behind? Is this about morality or proprietary rights?

Fidelity is extremely important but there is legalistic fidelity where you are bound and there is emotional fidelity where you want to be bound.

A court cannot pronounce judgement on these delicate issues.

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An issue related in a different way is about our Border Security Force (BSF) jawans along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab:

Last few years have seen an alarming rise in AIDS cases in the border force, said Shalinder Kaur, medical officer, BSF, Ferozepur sector. A couple of jawans in each of the seven BSF units in the area have contracted the deadly virus and are undergoing treatment, she added.


There are the usual half-denials. But the report quotes a jawan who is being treated as saying:

We should be granted leave and allowed to stay with our families on BSF campuses.


Instead of the conference being planned “to chalk out strategies for combating the disease”, the soldiers must be granted adequate leave and it is ridiculous that families are not permitted to stay with them on campus when sex workers can find their way there. Apparently, they come in as members of orchestra troupes. If this is known, then obviously someone is looking the other way.

Besides the aspect of the disease spreading, where are the security concerns? After all, this is the border area. If such a masquerade can pass muster then what is the guarantee that other kinds won’t?

Espionage is probably sexier than sex itself.

8.8.09

Mehsud, two Afghan women and the West


I often find the Western media’s hurry in pronouncing the end of a movement when one of their leaders is dead rather juvenile. Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack, but it is not the end of the Taliban. He became a prominent figure only a few years ago.

It is another matter that he had become one of the most dangerous terrorists. He did kill people, mostly his own. But he managed to organise a large enough contingent to be threatening to the US, to Pakistan and to Afghanistan.

He was a visible villain because he was using religion.

4000 troops American were killed and 35,000 injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The United States has decorated only six officers. If its own soldiers do not matter much, would it really bother them that many many civilians in those countries were killed in their drone attacks and far fewer terrorists than they had gone to take care of?

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We know that Mehsud would most certainly not appreciate the fact that two women are running for the post of Afghanistan’s President in the elections to be held on August 20. That they announced their decision and plastered the walls with their pictures when he was alive is quite telling, and Waziristan is not too far from Afghanistan.

It will be interesting to see how Barack Obama handles this. Besides the sound bytes that will come from trained mouths and a few statements about ‘women’s empowerment’, the US will make sure that Hamid Karzai continues to wear the gilded crown of thorns.

Frozan Fana is an orthopaedic surgeon.



Shahla Ata is a lawyer.


She talks about “male cronyism and corruption” and says, “The people of Afghanistan are sick of this. Billions of dollars have been wasted. My grandchildren will get old before Karzai changes this, so the women should bring change.”

Interestingly, although both do not cover their face, which is considered mandatory, they have not mentioned religion as a constricting force.

An Associated Press report states that not all women support them:

The Movement of Afghan Sisters, a voting bloc of 16,000 women, backs Ashraf Ghani, a man who is also a long-shot but seems stronger on women’s rights, said Homaira Haqmal, the group’s founder. “Many of the female MPs today came through warlords or the political machine. They aren’t free to speak and they aren’t decision makers.”


Before we jump in to mutter, “Ah, I told you so,” think about all those more developed societies where women are merely flaunted as trophies and much effort is expended on what they wear and how they conduct themselves rather than any active part they take in the political process. Think about how Sarah Palin was ridiculed. Think about Aung San Suu Ki’s dilemma. Think about the cop-out of Hillary Clinton. Think about just how many women in decision-making posts are there among the big countries – US, UK, Germany, France, China, even Russia...

And if the report wants to get florid about Ms. Ata by informing the reader that she “wears bright pink nail polish, highlights her eyes with glitter”, then think about Madeleine Albright who said there was always makeup to fix high-powered exhaustion.

The Parsi Controversies:
Two sides of the coin

There is every reason to respect a community that contributes to society. However, blind belief in the whole community’s abilities and unquestioning attitude towards it makes absolutely no sense.

The Parsis have managed to be seen as the good guys irrespective of anything. The fact that they choose to lead exceedingly ghettoised lives does not seem to concern anyone.

Today’s papers say that they have demanded an apology from actor Arjun Rampal, who is married to Mehr Jessia, a former model, for certain statements he made in an interview about walking into a fire temple pretending to be a Parsi. Rampal clarified that he had walked into the garden of a fire temple when he was eight.

That is not enough. The Parsi Panchayat is livid. They are reacting…Non-Parsis are not allowed inside fire temples. If he was eight, why is he bragging about it now? Yes, they think it is bragging.

Even worse is this:

Everybody in Mumbai knows that non-Parsis are not allowed to enter the fire temple, said Firoza Mistree, a researcher of Zoroastrian studies. Mistree says that the actor should apologise and identify the temple so that it can be purified.


This incident must have occurred at least three decades ago. How many devotees must have prayed there and been born or died in the course of this happening. What purification ritual is possible?

While it is true that a religion must be respected, how do people ascertain who is a Parsi and who is not? There are many people marrying across religions and I do know of the Parsis in such marriages who want their children to be aware of their side of the culture as well.

That too has created problems.

Khushroo Madon, a Zoroastrian priest, has been banned from praying at the Towers of Silence and fire temples for conducting Navjotes (initiation ceremonies) for children from mixed marriages and offering after-death prayers for cremated Parsis. He has been doing it for ten years and said:

“I will continue to offer these services. I am not bothered by the ban. I do not practice at the Towers of Silence or at fire temples. I do not want anything from there. Those who call me for prayers usually decide the place.”


Increasingly, people are opting for cremation. And as I already mentioned, people do wish their children to become Parsi, at least to some extent, since Zoroastrianism forbids conversion to its faith. The report mentions that 40 per cent marry outside.

The priest’s actions do go against the basic tenets, but for those who are using his services outside how legitimate do they think it is? Is this merely a feel-good thing for them? Does he charge more money? Is there a confidentiality clause involved wherein he would not reveal the identity of those who approach them? If so, then what are these believers seeking if they wish to be hidden? Just one more ceremonial religious identity?

These are questions that those indulging in it must ask. Just as the real Parsis must know that no religion is blemish-free and scandals beset even the pure ones. They do know about some priests and their activities at the Tower of Silence, don’t they?

Now, we have a whole bunch of people questioning the newspaper report where the priest himself has been quoted. Will anyone raise a voice and refer to it as ‘backward’ and ‘intolerant’ as they do with other religions? No. Will anyone from outside dare to tell these community leaders it is time to reinterpret their scriptures? No.

Muslims, Hindus, Jains, all have restrictions on outsiders being participants. And their faith is always put to test, which it should be when it goes beyond reasonable limits. The same standards must apply to Parsis.

After all, when they came to India they said they would be like sugar in milk.

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Image of Khushroo Madon from Mumbai Mirror