30.9.09

Toilet Paper Tigers


My most memorable loo story is at Madame Tussaud’s. A Canadian woman accosted me after I came out of the facility with, “Are you Indian?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, I am surprised. I did not know Indians flushed…”

“What?” I gasped as I stood near the wash basin.

“I hear that Indians do it in the street.”

“Who told you?”

“My brother – he is a professor and has travelled to India.”

“It seems there is a lot left to his education.”

On the way down (she insisted on not letting go off me), she tried to tell me about yoga and other such exotic stuff and then she took me to a group of people – her family and friends. I was beginning to feel like an exhibit. She introduced me to her father. “You know dad she is from India…”

My anger was simmering, so I addressed the gentleman: “Sir, are you not surprised that I do not pee in the streets?”

There was a group of Sikhs at the next table and one sardarji gave me the most beautiful balley-balley smile.

A few years ago, there was a report of an Indian who wrote to the municipal corporation in Mumbai demanding that licences of five-star hotels be revoked because commodes in their washrooms have only tissue paper and no water.

In his letter of complaint, he said: “The absence of water jets and bidets is unhygienic and also against the Indian lifestyle. Even in foreign countries and at international airports, they have Indian-style toilets to suit Indian tourists. However, shockingly, in Indian five-stars we don't get such a facility even though we pay high prices…If you need to clean up, you either have to get into the bath tub or climb on to the wash-basin, which, as you will appreciate, is quite inconvenient. We are Indians. We prefer water over tissue. So we should be given the option by these hotels.”

While I find the idea of anyone getting into the bathtub or the wash basin to clean up after ablutions disgusting, I know that it is a major scatological issue that can divide the world. Who will tell you this aspect of Indian culture? The jug is a huge obsession. Increasingly, handy sprays are used. In Pakistan they call them ‘Muslim shower’, and I wonder what religious significance it can have. It spurts out water just as anything else.

I confess to being a diehard ‘water baby’. My earlier travels overseas used to be filled with dread. The first time I boarded an international aircraft, I sat cross-legged for most of the nine-hour journey. But thirst and hunger cannot be kept at bay…so I could not continue to pretend I was Sharon Stone for long. I stood in that tiny cubicle that planes think are conducive to bowel and bladder movement and discovered the power of invention.

Sight-seeing trips, especially at sites like museums, usually have long queues in the ‘ladies’. I always believed women were cleaner, but seeing sanitary towels carelessly dumped outside bins and tissue rolls on the floor, I am not too sure.

Indians, however, can be quite terrible themselves. The use of water does not necessarily mean that everyone is hygienic. At Indian airports, there is a bucket overflowing, the taps are open and the floor is a mix of urine and water. The seat is often muddy, the reason being that those fools squat on that with their dirty footwear. How they manage the feat is beyond me.

A friend told me that one should not sit on the seat. “Just pretend to, a few inches off the seat and finish it off.”

If you look the ‘westernised’ type then the attendant – oh, we have those here too – will hand over a bit of toilet roll to you, and when I say bit I mean a bit: it is exactly a six-incher. And then when you return, to your embarrassment, you are handed another six-incher to wipe your hands.

Of course, the great put-down is to say something has been used as toilet paper. Dolly Parton once said, “My aunt in Knoxville would bring newspapers up, which we used for toilet paper. Before we used it, we'd look at the pictures.”

Ah, and I look at meself in the jug of water?

29.9.09

The Aging of Reason


Why does he document himself aging? Every five years he makes a mould of his face, fills it with 10 pints of blood. The sculptures are then kept in a Perspex box filled with silica and chilled to minus 18 degrees Celsius to prevent them from turning to liquid. Precious. An ode to life frozen and afraid of flowing like the warmth of life-giving blood.

British artist Marc Quinn says, “I think I’m more obsessed with life than death. Death’s inevitable, and slightly boring.”

This is why he makes it interesting by celebrating “the powers of the human body”. The last one was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in London for $500,000. His earliest work is worth millions of pounds. This is an interesting aspect of art as not a statement but evolution of the human being.

Quinn is quite contemporaneous in his oeuvre. Take a couple of examples...

Alison Lapper Pregnant – a marble sculpture of a woman born without arms:


Sphinx – painted-bronze sculptures of Kate Moss in yoga positions:


In the latter, though inspired by the earlier one, he used the model to “explore the opposite: the body that everyone thinks is absolutely perfect”.

Here, Quinn has fallen for a faddist idea. Just as he believes that Moss as model and person have different lives, he ought to understand that the fashion industry’s idea of perfection is not the real world’s perception. In fact, perfection even as a means to manipulate a counter-perfection is antithetical to art, for it merely uses ready material as illustration.

The woman born without arms, on the other hand, has not been culturised. She is a part of the natural process of being. He might believe he has through Moss created an abstraction but he did use Moss.

Coming up next year he has a new series of sculptures of “people who’ve transformed themselves with plastic surgery”.

Again, a contemporary statement. Will he use real role models? Will it show evolution or disintegration? Is there a likelihood of it being a parody of such surgical intervention or will it be an observation of the same ‘growth’ of the aging process he uses his blood heads for?

I don’t find his works disturbing, a term he dislikes. “I think you have to make work that makes you feel things and people don’t like feeling things.”

It is more than feeling things. It is unfeeling them. There is detachment in taking the real, transforming it and pushing it into the extreme version of one kind of authenticity.

He may freeze some of his blood but will he allow it to congeal within him?

Gunning for whom?


On Dussehra it is customary to commemorate good over evil. I have seen pictures of the police placing flowers over weapons. Understandable. They are in a sense worshipping their job. Although it ought to be more than the use of weapons. If the armed forces do so, again fine. What is the chief minister of Gujarat doing bowed before guns?

He ought to be at his office offering prayers to all those musty files that have let him off. Or he should be arranging money to give as compensation.
- - -

Image courtesy The Times of India

28.9.09

Swami Ramdev, Modi and a Love Child

Islands

It isn’t unusual. In fact, it is along expected lines. Swami Ramdev has bought a Scottish isle for about £2 million (Rs 16 crore) to set up a wellness retreat. What is surprising is this:

The conch-shaped Little Cumbrae island, spread over 1.25 sq km and home to a 13th century castle, was put on the block by its previous owner due to the global financial crisis.


Obviously, spiritualism has suffered from no recession. People are still spending money “for scientific research and treatment in yoga, spiritualism and ayurveda”. Why is this jim-jam being garbed as research? Yoga therapies, ayurveda are already there in ancient texts. And what scientific research can be conducted in spiritualism? A personal quest is not dependent on analysis or measured.

The Swami’s explanation is this:

“The base is not about property as much as it is about spreading Indian values. My aim is to turn this island into a peace haven.”


What is the need to spread Indian values oversees when Indians themselves are aping the West? What exactly are these values? Contorting the body, eating stuff procured from forests and swallowing long strings to bring out mucus? What is so un-peaceful about the island that it will transform into a peace haven?

It will only increase tourism. Travellers will throng to the place, after having satiated themselves with haggis, shortbread, tartan scarves and kilts and want to retire for some S&M – spiritualism and massage. These places are no different from detox spas and, while the regular parlours are pretty upfront, here it probably makes people just feel better for no reason other than partaking of an ‘inner journey’.

If Swami Ramdev is so concerned about peace, he could have chosen an Indian island like the Andamans or Lakshadweep.

And someone please make it clear that this Swami has not revived yoga. There are several institutes that have been quietly doing their work and people practising it. When your mind is searching with a resolve in the stillness, you are on a higher plane without the arrogance of making tall claims about it.

Villages

If Narendra Modi says there are no villages in Gujarat, you just believe it. His reason to sneak out of it is the plan to set up gram nyayalayas (village courts) for quick dispensation of justice.

A report says CM of Delhi Sheila Dikshit too said there were no villages in her jurisdiction and the newspaper explains it as a possibility because:

the once upon a time villages in Delhi have been consumed by rapid urbanisation given the need of a burgeoning population.


I do not understand. We have had panchayats for years and these village courts decided by the union government is only one more move at interference.

To give Modi his due here, he has agreed to have “mobile courts…at the grassroot level”. Makes sense. Now if only he does not have chaps like Vanzara and company getting all mobile. Okay, could not resist that one. I prefer Modi’s idea in principle.

Huh?

Rather sick headline in TOI:

Masaba Gupta, India’s first celebrity love child, has had to sprint many races before finding a voice.

Masaba with Neena
She is the offspring of West Indian Vivian Richard and actress Neena Gupta and has made her debut at the recent fashion week. She spoke about being a product of black and white, not quite fathoming what ‘white’ means. I am sure she must have faced questions and got weird looks. Many people do for various reasons.

Had she not had famous parents would anyone make this seem so legitimate? What is there to shout about India’s first celebrity love child? Is this an achievement? Two people shared some moments of passion and the woman chose to have the baby. Who took the responsibility, how the parenting was done is between the parents.

Let the media not prop this up.

27.9.09

Poll in the Literary Court

How does reading about Barack Obama’s father shape world literature? Is the literary world a conglomerate that follows trends or patterns? Then, does it not oppose the very idea of creativity?

In a poll conducted by the international writing magazine Wasafiri 25 writers were asked about the books that have shaped world literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude topped the list. This book even in its translated version is older than 25 years. There is no doubt that it remains a delight in the magic realist genre and is fabulously nuanced and loaded with symbolism.

One of the primary reasons mentioned for its choice is, "Apart from the fact that it's an amazing book, it taught western readers tolerance for other perspectives."

Are we assuming that the West must decide? Have there been no literary efforts in other languages precluding English? Not all of the writers polled are considered huge names. Therefore, this sort of survey is obviously the opinion of 25 people. Is it any better than a random reader poll?

These are essentially reviewer type pat choices. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has been chosen for its “astonishing virtuoso performance, which has never been excelled". Never according to whom? One writer. Is literature a performance? How do we measure excellence? And if it has not been bettered then how has it influenced world literature at all? Aren’t creative efforts about growth, even if – better if – it is tangential?

Is Raymond Carver’s work important because, "Thousands of young writers have been taught to pare their work to the bone”? Are we talking about literature as an editing course?

Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was chosen for "a new form of intimate poetry, quite different from Robert Lowell's confessional verse". Is poor Lowell the only one into confessional verse? And what is intimate poetry? Writing about intimate things or getting the reader to get intimately involved in the process of such work and its thoughts and metaphors?

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Satanic Verses figure as well. I was curious about the latter. How would this book qualify as one that influenced the literary world? Are we talking about writing, pushing the envelope or inviting controversy? What was Rushdie’s literary topography to begin with? A religious book. Would he agree that he was influenced by it and therefore his effect on literature is a reflection of the effect of the Quran? Has his work seminally induced a genre of parodist writing? I am not too sure. Those who took on religious ideas did so from different perspectives – there was the modernist view, the alterative sexuality view, the view from the reverent side. And there have been several forms of irreverent writing before Verses.

I am quite amazed that in 25 years the Obama memoir, Dreams from My Father, made it. The reason: It is "definitely the most influential book historically, but … also a work of literature too, beautifully written, and the product of deep, open-hearted reflection".

Most influential historically? I do not think it is because he traces his father’s life. It is because he is the President of America and a product from a certain background. I cannot comprehend this obsession with the ‘difference’ being highlighted continually.

I suspect some books and literary figures get chosen because writers are sometimes not willing to take the onus of their own ideas.

Creativity is a lonely hunter and you may not find the big kill but, wait – can you feel the adrenaline rush? That is inspiration and perspiration enough.

Sunday ka Funda

"The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they come from lack of understanding."

- Albert Camus

26.9.09

Students pay to watch CEOs play

The ‘Joy of Giving Week’ tamasha touched new levels of stupidity. Students of the Indian School of Business (ISB) participated in an online bid for company CEOs. The highest bidders would be allowed to spend a day with the top three selected winners.

Infosys chief mentor N R Narayana Murthy is worth Rs. 1 lakh. Kumaramangalam Birla came next. For some reason the organisers are not willing to reveal the amount he was auctioned for. It must not be close to the Murthy bid. It probably is way less and might seem embarrassing. One thing this proves is that management students know that they cannot follow the path of inherited money and need to know the way someone who started from scratch works.

Will a day be enough? No. Will the ‘Shadow a CEO’ be truly educative or merely an opportunity to bask in the sunshine of a sparkling office and watch Mr. CEO (was there a Ms?) conduct day-to-day routine. It is unlikely he will decide important matters of company policy in the presence of the student.

Management schools do have long sessions on various aspects and it might be an interesting opportunity. But I do not like the idea of this bidding at all, especially if it is being garbed as the Joy of Giving. Who is giving and for what?

The students have paid up and the money will go to a charity of the CEO’s choice. Have these students done it with the intent of giving or receiving? By giving one day in their life to a student, who will most likely be hanging around ‘absorbing’ – yeah, that’s what they’ll say – what are they giving?

Why is it a charity of the CEOs’ choice? It is these three who will get the credit for it. 1,196 students went online and took part in this. A lakh of rupees is a lot of money for them. They would never have thought of spending it on their own for any charity, and it would be perfectly understandable. The CEOs can spend this much money any time.

The real joy of giving would have been if they had just divided the groups of students and distributed them among the 26 business heads who participated. And each would donate an amount they could afford for charities decided by their institute. If the CEOs wished, they could add their own to it, a minimal amount as token.

After their shadowing session, the students could be sent of to those charity organisations where they can imbibe some management skills about how to handle issues of people who have less of everything.

But who gives a damn too, right?

25.9.09

If only dogs could talk...

A cabbie has been arrested for sexual intercourse with a canine. He believes he cannot be sentenced because it is a stray and not a pet dog!

Mahesh Kamat while appearing before the court appealed for bail because the cops could not record the statement of the victim.

He has been slapped on two charges – unnatural sex and cruelty against animals. The first one is the controversial Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which includes gays and heterosexuals indulging in what the law deems as abnormal. Dogs and other animals are included.

The newspapers have branded this bizarre. I wish they had asked a few more questions.

What I find strange is that the cops in Mumbai, who are extremely lax about sexual abuse of women and little boys and in fact have been caught in rape cases themselves, are cockily announcing that they have enough evidence against him, including DNA and forensic reports. This is the same police force that does not reach crucial areas of attacks and riots on time and is ill-equipped. Cases of rash driving resulting in death and molestation cases take years if they ever manage to reach the courts.

These are the same cops that look the other way as strays are put to sleep by the municipal authorities. Suddenly, they are concerned about animal cruelty. It is believed that the offence disturbed the residents of the area. I really am wondering what this taxi driver was upto. Doggie with doggie is noisy enough and one may understand the dog’s reluctance. I do believe that humans are the only species that commit sexual crimes.

This man is obviously a pervert. But if the residents were disturbed, why did they not intervene? The cops have got evidence, which means they must have reached the place of the crime pretty much around the time after it happened, if not during, to know which particular dog it was. Strays are fairly visible in the city and I doubt if they have tell-tale signs that show specific abuse by men. Were these people watching the show and then decided to act?

Would the man be so foolish as to do it in full public view? And what is this about it being a stray and not a pet dog? It is like saying that the homeless have less of a right to their bodies than people who live in houses. This incident reveals that even for the animal kingdom the human mind uses hierarchies. The poodles leashed with Prada collars are of course not as free as it may appear.

The cops wouldn’t know about lapdogs, would they?

23.9.09

Lord Rama replaces Amitabh Bachchan


Move over, Mr. B. The competition is now really stiff. Nothing compared to the ambassadorship of Uttar Pradesh. In the gubernatorial stakes, the good lord has got mythology, religion and culture all backing him.

Lord Rama is now the official ambassador of Gujarat. According to legend, Hanuman was born in that state. And then these people complain about an Italian being the Congress chief only because she married an Indian. Such proxy glory and relationships are fine to further ends…

Next time you visit Gujarat, even if it is only to meet your favourite trader, eat undhiyo, drink masala chhaas, and then make a quick trip to buy some nice bandhni sarees and souvenir torans, please do the ‘Rama Trail’. These are essentially places important to Hanuman. Read the following carefully:

“It is believed that when Hanuman was flying to Lanka with a mountain from the Himalayan ranges with the Sanjeevani booti to save Laxman, a piece of it fell in Gujarat’s Dangs district at Anjani Parbat,” said State tourism minister Jay Narayan Vyas.

Officials said the Sri Lankan tourism delegation was all set to join hands with Gujarat government to develop a ‘Rama trail’ on the lines of the one existing in Sri Lanka.


Think Tamils 2009. Think Gujarat 2002.

Anything for god, though. So, it is not surprising that the two have got together. Gujarat has added Mahatma Gandhi, for his “mass appeal”, as another ambassador. They will play up his “Hey Rama” last words. What else?

Now, I look forward to a ‘Modi Trail’. Tourists will be taken to various ‘ruins’ and finally end up in a room full of dusty files. The guide will announce, “Ane aa Gujarati asmita chhe”. And this is the self-esteem of Gujarat. Sure.

It is so easy to pass of the danda as a dandiya stick and make it seem like tradition.

The New Sepoy Mutiny?

Who is Sudhanshu Sudhakar? He joined the Indian army in 2002; in 2007 he was dismissed for what reports refer to as “dubious activities”.

He has been arrested now. If the army had thrown him out for such activities, ought not the government to have been informed? Isn’t the government then supposed to keep tabs on such persons?

Let us get some basics right, first:

Five days before India and Pakistan’s ministers for external affairs are scheduled to meet in New York, Bihar police on Monday nabbed a dismissed Indian sepoy, suspected to be an agent of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and seized important Indian military documents from him.


Why are those five days before important? Was the arrest timed with the upcoming event?

Why is he referred to as a sepoy? In the days of British rule, those who were with the colonial army were called sepoys. One assumes the reference here is to his ‘allegiance’ with the ISI! A bit silly to use such nomenclature. And if it must be used, then it cannot be ‘dismissed Indian sepoy’…from what I understand we refer to soldiers as jawans.

Now, it is possible that a soldier is called a jawan irrespective of designation. But, if he were a high-ranking person I am sure it would be mentioned. Therefore, one might assume he wasn’t. So, how does he have access to important military documents and maps of key army installations? Even if he were super smart, it has been two years since he was rusticated. Is the information the same and the installations exactly where they were? If not, is there someone within the armed forces helping him?

He was on his way to Nepal to meet a “Kathmandu-based ISI conduit whom he identified as Rana”. The Intelligence Bureau tipped off the Bihar police about his whereabouts.

The IB gets to know about what this man is doing two years after his dismissal. The cops manage to get out the information that there is some Rana he is in touch with, who is with the ISI. Now what?

The two countries will bring it up in their meeting in New York. This is not for India or Pakistan. This is for America. The US will reprimand the two errant nations to behave, the blame game will continue. America will weep tears over terrorism. Huh? That’s right. It is about the Indian army. The ISI. But the US only knows one word.

- - -

A few days ago there was a news item about our Home Minister P Chidambaram giving US officials a list of 60 Pakistani terrorists killed by Indian security forces in various encounters in different parts of the country and another of 10 arrested in the last one year.

Our honourable minister did this act of boasting (or kowtowing?) before leaving on his US trip.

“Their names and addresses in Pakistan were given in the list,” the official said. The government is also contemplating launching a publicity blitzkrieg in Pakistani media about the activities of terrorists belonging to that country in India.


As though Barack Obama will put them up on a most wanted list when they are already dead or in prison. What fools. And what is there to launch a publicity stunt in the Pakistani media? This sounds like a gossip session of tu-tu-main-main. Dekho, tumhari kameez meri kameex se kitni ghandi hai…

20.9.09

Maulvi in her hand?


Now,now. Mehndi is an important part of Eid. And it is sweet of The Times of India to remember that. As much as they have their ghazal/qawwali programmes that are nice sponsored events. Works as well as political iftaar parties.

But, obviously the advertising department has no clue about how to portray even cliches.

In this advertisement wishing readers Eid Mubarak they have used the most appalling stereotypes in a bizarre manner.

A mosque? The number 786 (conveying 'Bismillah') is just about fine. But, what the heck is a maulvi type reading the Quran doing on a woman's hand? Do they understand subtlety, forget sensitivity?

Even the most religious person would think a hundred times before having this on her palm. To make the idiocy more evident, the other palm has two men in an embrace as they do when greeting each other!

If it weren't so stupid it might have been funny. Well, I hope the TOI cow gets to jump over that crescent moon. Oh, it is there. Naturally...

In Vein

Imagine you are ready to die. They are going to kill you. 25 years after you have committed a crime. Raped a 14-year-old girl and then murdered her. You were 28 then. You wait, arms stiff, body taut, eyes numb.

They hold your hand tightly, as though they are drawing blood for testing. They probe and prod. They cannot find your veins. For 90 minutes they try this. One hour and 30 minutes you are already suffering a slow death.

Romell Broom’s execution has been delayed because the prison authorities in Ohio could not find a vein that could handle the lethal three-drug injection. Had he been tried and sentenced soon after the crime he might have had to spend time in a prison cell for long. Since 1999, the state has resumed executions.

They finally conducted a medical examination and found that his “right arm appeared accessible”. Who would imagine that one’s own arm, that too the right one, would become a traitor? He must curse that arm. What if he had no right arm? What if they had not found this access path? What if…?

I do not sympathise with his crime, although I am against capital punishment. I have said this often that killing a killer does not stop murders anywhere in the world. There is no precedent to prove it.

But, the idea of a man waiting for that final moment when in his full senses has dark elements. An ill person knows about malady and fatality. A person in an accident is taken by surprise. But to have to wait for death? Was he thinking about what he did 25 years ago? Did he even remember the face of the girl? Did he think about the details of his crime? Did he feel remorse? Did he hate himself?

Right now he must be only thinking about his veins.

19.9.09

Tweeting Tharoor

1. ROTFL. U r a hoot, man. Hand on hart (ouch) u r Woodhouse so rolling on floor wid lafter is easy.

2. Tnx 4 bringing out funny side of PM. He got ur joke but dats coz u did Kofi. Last time he joked was wid Gilani bout Balochistan.

- - -

Ok. Am done with bird talk. If you really think you are some pun-chkin then you have a think coming.

Here are some statements you made and in one you imply that people would not appreciate humour. Honestly, you are about as humorous as a bagpipe playing at a Roman repast
...

Holy cows are NOT individuals but sacrosanct issues or principles that no one dares challenge. Wish critics wld look it up.

Aww, giving us work to do? You think your critics would not know? For your information, YOU are a holy cow and as far as I can see you are an individual unless you believe you are an issue now.

And you do not travel with principles. I mean, do you ask for an aisle seat next to that puffed up sore-assed principle of dynastic politics? Heck. I already got it wrong. That wouldn't be a holy cow for you. You cannot have a beef with those who give you a ticket to ride.

- - -

It's a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle.

Aha! So did you speak to our local Richard Branson, Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher, and to Naresh Goyal of Jet? Did you speak to the minister of aviation?

But, what will you tell them? That they are doing okay with the holy cows...principles, of course...but not individuals who have to go moo-moo each time they turn their face and the passenger next to them is breathing butter chicken?

I know your fan base has increased though I suspect some women ministers might object to your gender political incorrectness with regard to cow.

You have put everything at steak and need a well-done break.

Wanna do Kofi at Kyarla Hose?

(That is what the Mallu you have forgotten would say about doing coffee at Kerala House.)

Take care, tweets. Now be good and LOL.

The Great Indian Rope Trick

Arrogance and Austerity
The Great Indian Rope Trick
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, September 18-20, 2009

The soles of his feet were cracked like the soil in barren fields. He sat idly and drank khus sherbet. There weren’t any files spread before him. He was doing no work, only shaking his legs in that nervous frenzied manner of people in power who have to sit with others.

This was in the executive class on a private airline. It was before the Congress party told its ministers that they had to go on an austerity drive and travel economy. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar reacted by saying there would be no space to do any work.

Why has there been such a black and white reaction to this move? Was it because two ministers started staying at luxury hotels while their government bungalows were being ‘done up’? S.M.Krishna and former UN man Shashi Tharoor claim they did not use the tax-payer’s money; the latter in his now patented fashion is throwing the “I am paying the bills from my own savings after a lifetime of international work” line.

His little tweets have made him into a five-star martyr to become a part of knee-jerk legend. In one he said he would definitely travel in ‘cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows’. Naturally, those who think life revolves around conveying their daily stories in small doses find it, and him, cute. The arrogance of this kind of Indian politician mirrors the same feudal mentality that upstart urbanites accuse the country bumpkins of.

The primary reason is that our society follows the “Dilli Chalo” (onward to Delhi) credo to sanctify the power of central leadership and fake cohesiveness. Our slogans have moved from “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan” (Hail the solider and the farmer) to “Garibi hatao” (Banish poverty) to “India Shining”. While India was shining, farmers were committing suicide as they are now. Getting ministers to give 20 percent of their wages for drought-affected regions is simplistic. The salaries of ministers are not known to be high. They earn more through perks – for fuel, phones, travel. There is also the larger issue of corruption. Granting licences for large projects to certain firms is part of the money-making deal that keeps the political machinery lubricated.

The current move is not about hypocrisy but hyperbole. And who better fits the slot of abstinence than the father of the nation? Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “Mahatma Gandhi always preferred to travel in third class compartments... and remained frugal throughout his life.”

If there is anyone who made poverty look like a million bucks, then it was Gandhi. The land of nabobs became the land of the half-naked fakir. The Birlas played host to him not because he drank goat’s milk but because he said, “India must protect her primary industries even as a mother protects her children against the whole world without being hostile to it.”

This is the brand of selective socialism that is being replayed today, not the fashionable Nehruvian model which was about how to do a Lenin by wearing mink. It is corporatisation of spiritualism. Anyone with a begging bowl of empty dreams can head a start-up venture of couture abstemiousness.

The idea of droughts and famines do not merely fan such high thinking among politicians but intellectuals, too. Remember Amartya Sen’s facile belief that, “… famines have never afflicted any country that is independent, that goes to elections, that has opposition parties to voice criticisms, that permits newspapers to report freely and to question government policies without extensive censorship”?

Simply speaking, we would be talking about socially and economically wealthy societies. Forget famines. What about other problems that beset a country like India? We have democracy, why then does Prof. Sen subscribe to state intervention? He had concurred that the role of the state even in matters of nutrition, health, education, social insurance was connected with the outcome of economic processes, which must empower people to become economic agents in their own right.

Here was a clear case of making both sides happy without giving a thought to the fact that state intervention can never empower people; it only results in dependency if not degradation. Perhaps, that suits the purpose. As he once stated, “Buddha was asking himself what kind of life is that (of illness, old age, mortality)? These are problems we all face. For many of us it is also the impetus for our work.”

T
he concern about rural India’s suffering arises only when it affects the middle class and the rich. Food, a basic need, is in short supply. An India that is now being sold Quaker Oats by an organisation of heart cure is willing to exaggerate its misery. Where are our irrigation plants? What happens to the families of farmers? How many people are moving to other towns and cities? Have these aspects been considered? Sonia Gandhi takes a flight with the plebs. As a symbol it might work, but only for a limited audience.

Once the flight touches ground, there will be a fleet of security vehicles. The person in the street does not care. It will, however, result in more corruption. The corporate sector that has thrived due to political munificence will be happy to help. They will not go quietly and do something in the villages where they have set up factories; they already think they have done the country a huge favour by providing employment opportunities. Labour is cheap. Instead, they will provide facilities to ministers, and since many of their kind have got into the fray it will be easy. They talk the same language and suffer from the same gilt-edged greed.

Does anyone talk about austerity for them when they are in fact sponging on the shareholder’s money? Was there any talk about austerity when villagers were driven out of the leftist state to facilitate factories to produce a low-cost car for the city dweller – a car that would clearly point out the difference between the rich and the ones who would never get there?

We condescendingly let Lalu, our rustic politician, join the cavalcade of management geeks to give lectures at Harvard and Wharton. The gallery applauds as they would when they watch a comic act or an acrobat. He senses that. Years of having been marginalised have taught him lessons in hypocrisy, stereotypes, and expectations. He plays their game. He too starts quoting Gandhi even as he made money from kickbacks from cow food. How much more hick town can anyone get?

Sleepy Communism has joined ranks, clinking glasses of Old Monk and belting out the angst of foreign rebellion in the voices of Ginsberg and Che, driving kitsch up the Warhol wall. Poor India has today become a parody of its own poverty.

- - -
(An abridged version appears in The News International, September 19)

17.9.09

The Danes, they are a coming

Want a fling? Visit Denmark. A three-minute long ad showed a young, blonde woman cradling a dark-skinned infant called August and saying he is the result of a brief tryst with a foreign tourist.


There are several questions here:

This was on Danish TV and apparently staged, so what prompted it? Is there a belief that people will throng to the country to have flings?

Is there a problem with the child being dark-skinned, although in the image here it does not appear so? Why are such values being promoted?

VisitDenmark manager Dorte Kiilerich explained that the intent was to tell a nice and sweet story about a grown-up woman who lives in a free society and accepts the consequences of her actions.

I understand free societies. But, do only women in such societies have to grow up? And what does ‘accept the consequences of their actions’ mean? Isn’t a woman in a free society intelligent enough to protect herself against pregnancy? What is so nice and sweet to be left alone with a baby? Do free societies have a carte blanche emotional security policy that makes its women believe that it is nice and sweet to consolidate this image of independence even if it means that they have to fend for themselves?

It is indeed sick to even imagine how any nation can let itself be bartered for such an image.

14.9.09

Osama says...












Osama bin Laden has sent a message directly to the American people. This time there is no video footage; just an audio with some images. He says:

“The time has come for you to liberate yourselves from fear and the ideological terrorism of neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby. The reason for our dispute with you is your support for your ally Israel, occupying our land in Palestine.”


Our land? I think by bringing in Israel he is deflecting the issue and really pushing the anti-Semitism idea, which is counter-productive. The funny thing is while some westerners are not willing to grant Al Qaeda the role of culprit in the attacks, this man wants to be seen as the criminal. Where was the Al Qaeda when America attacked other nations? The Israel lobby has always existed, and Palestine has rarely had support from Arab nations in real terms. In fact, Palestine is different in many ways and has to deal with Israel on a daily basis.

The response from the White House is facile. The press secretary said:

“I don't think it's surprising that Al Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts and continued efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world.”


Please. These open dialogues are as good as marshmallows during Halloween. What are these historic efforts? A lot of blah-blah, just like saying racism will end if the Prez has beer with Henry Louis Gates Jr. And Al Qaeda is not in the US. Does a small radio clip have the power to shift attention? Does the ordinary citizen care one bit whether Obama has historic or pre-historic discussions with the Muslim world, whatever the heck that means?

It is time the White House realised that there is no single Muslim world, just as there is not one kind of American. During elections, the red and blue states are clearly divided. So, wake up and smell the Starbucks, which is indeed the great leveller.

Caveman, Cavewoman

Where are the bats? The darkness? Why are these two cave-dwelling examples more about urban chic than an honest attempt at starkness?

Daniel Suelo has been described as a “48-year-old hermit from Utah”. Eight years ago he decided to stop using money. For the past three years he has been living in a cave. His eureka moment came when he went on a trip to Alaska. His friend and he “speared fish, ate mushrooms and berries and lived very well. Then we hit the road, hitchhiking, and realised how generous people were”.

Now this is being glorified. How many people do you know of who have given up materialism, live away from ‘civilisation’, and yet manage to reach out? Mr. Suelo has succeeded in portraying himself as one who lives without government handouts. Yet, he goes to a public library to record moments of his “punishing lifestyle”. He is a hero during times of recession because he has got no money, so he cannot lose it. Ho-hum.

This charade reeks of disdain in a world where qualified people are laid off. Where skilled labour in some societies has to subsist on minimum wages. Where people do not have water, forget fish to find in it.

There was a report a year ago about a foreign tourist who lived in a cave in the mountain regions of Kullu a tourist town in Himachal Pradesh. After losing her passport 8 years ago, Dimitri subsisted by soliciting money, food, and other essentials.

No one quite knew where she was from, though the cops said, “She has been living here for last many years.”

And how has that been possible? She did serve a seven month term for being without documents, but why was she still there with the knowledge of the cops? If her police records showed she was from Italy, then on what grounds did that country refuse to accept her?

What I find even more intriguing is that she declined to interact with Indians and begged only from foreigners. Ah, and they say beggars can’t be choosers.

Is there a need to romanticise such stories? There are millions of people who are homeless and do not have the choice of who they beg from and how they file their routines for internet posterity. This cave identity just does not convey a fraction of the squalid conditions of people who live in the open or in pipes.

I’ll any day take bats over manipulative batty.

13.9.09

Pushing Duh

Next time you get all Wilde or Confucius, you might miss what lies between. It’s Paris Hilton, who has made it to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

I do not know what the standards used for such choices are, but one assumes there is an element of wit or thought, and it rides on some literary or artistic drive, if not merit. Merit is subjective.

Sarah Palin has made it, too, but then that quote did become famous and symbolised a part of an election campaign: “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick.”

Honestly, I don’t have a snotty attitude towards what the reports have made a point to mention – Paris’s partying and sex tape. The problem is the choice of quote: “Dress cute wherever you go, life is too short to blend in.” Is this funny? Profound? Interesting?

I mean ‘cute’ blends in like whipped cream does in milk, honey. Besides, this quote has not made heads or headlines turn. It is a run-of-the-mill advice that a matron would give students in a dorm on a good day.

It is so un-Paris. Heck, it is even un-Prague.

Is there a value to duh?

There is something tragic rather than comical when celebrities start to get all highfalutin. Intellectualism isn’t the prerogative of every goatee-glasses-crumpled skirt-seeking muse creative person on the make. We do have some absolutely marvellous quotes from the entertainment world. Think Woody Allen, think Mae West, think Jean Harlow, think Chaplin, think Sam Goldwyn. Think dry humour, sarcasm…heck, you need élan to carry that off with panache. No emphasis needed to make a point. It has to spout like grease off the tongue.

In a world where 'lolling' is not a pastime, heavy-set words wearily fall off mouths drained of innovativeness in an attempt at throwing attitude and furtive funniness.

Almost two years ago, Vanity Fair had an interview with ‘Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’. It is a known fact that most interviewers don’t bother to counter-question. After reading those bits, I don’t think “The lady's like a sailor!” She is just vocabulary-ly challenged.

Here are some of her replies. There are a few counter-queries I would pose, if I were the one conducting the interview. (I had posted this portion before.)

PL: On the Top Chef Emmy nomination: "[It] was a big fucking deal.”

Me: Erm…was that the deal?

PL: On life without her ex-husband, Salman Rushdie: "I'm really fucking sad."

Me: Bad for the guy you are with. It means you are sorrowful while at it, right?

PL: On her new cookbook: "Finishing the fucking book was like being in labor for two years!”

Me: Shouldn’t you have worn a condom?

PL: On hosting a dinner party: "I pulled this out of my ass."

Me: Is that why the guests called it shit?

PL: On an AIDS charity she supports: "…we’re doing a campaign and an event and you should buy a fucking table.”

Me: Are you trying to say if you do it on the table, then you ain’t get no AIDS, but AIDS gets aid?

PL: On telling the press if she had a boyfriend: "My husband would call fucking Reuters."

Me: So, everytime you and Salman were at it, he said “Let’s Reuters”?

PL: On a tabloid's coverage of her bra size: "…they said it was 36C. I said, 34C, motherfucker!”

Me: Does it not mean that mamma-obsessed tabloid fellows like it bigger?

PL: On her current living situation: "Now I’m staying in a fucking hotel with all my shit in storage."

Me: Are you saying you live like a stowaway in your own room?

Sunday ka Funda

Aa Chal Ke Tujhe, Maein Leke Chaloon
Eik Aise Gagan Ke Taley
Jahaan Gham Bhi Na Ho, Aansoon Bhi Na Ho
Bas Pyaar Hi Pyaar Paley

Let me take you
Beneath such a sky
Where there are no tears or grief
And only love lives

Aa chal ke tujhe



Movie: Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein
Lyrics: Kishore Kumar
Music Kishore Kumar
Singer: Kishore Kumar

The film was also produced and directed by Kishore Kumar.

12.9.09

The Malik-Chidambaram Face-off


The Malik-Chidambaram Face-off - A Satire

by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, September 12, 2009

This is an exclusive peek into the private debate that took place between Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik and India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram regarding the 26/11 attacks. Mr. Malik had suggested they meet at any place – India, Pakistan or elsewhere. After much deliberation, Nepal was chosen. They had seen former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell plant a peck on the Nepal king’s cheek. Détente was all about gaal se gaal mila

P Chidambaram: Just wondering.

Rehman Malik: Now what? You think too much. You remind me of Dalip Kumar, you know he also has this pose of hand under chin. Big tragedy king. India’s gain, Pakistan’s loss.

PC: What happened? He has nukes?

RM: Nahin yaar. He is original Peshawar banda, and you got him. He became so famous doing all those rona roles. Sometimes, I think he misses being with us.

PC: You gave him Nisha award, right?

RM: Nishan-e-Pakistan…

PC: Oh, whatever.

RM: Not vatever. We have enough on plate…

PC: Plate? Are we starting with lunch?

RM: Nahin, I mean we have enough problem; you want us to probe what happens in your country, then you send formal request in Marathi. How can we understand?

PC: It is not for you to understand. This is bureaucracy. Did you understand anything that Baitullah Mehsud used to say? You think only you need time? We also need time.

RM: How much? I told reporters that day that we filed the chargesheet in court within 76 days whereas Indians took more than 90 days to prepare it.

PC: Have you seen our population? Our courts have too much work. And all because of you guys. If you want to infiltrate why did you guys leave during partition at all?

RM: Tohada dimaag toh theek-thaak hain? I was only in kindergarten that time.

PC: You went to kindergarten?

RM: Haan toh…Jack and Jill saath saath vich hill climb and then Humpty Dumpy came tumbling after…

PC: You are mixing up your nursery rhymes.

RM: So vaat? How is Arun Shourie saab? He is ekdum intel gents, full of fatafat rhyming.

PC: Can we get down to business?

RM: Down ya up, business is business. Bolo, kithe shuroo kainda?

PC: So what are you doing with the dossier?

RM: Which one – Baluchistan or Mumbai?

PC: Excuse me, but your own PM made it clear there was nothing given.

RM: We don’t have to give everything we make. Waise, your Man saab is changa aadmi…ekdum jo moonh mein aaya bol diya…

PC: Er…

RM: Err…ghalat honda?

PC: Ok, we both know English.

RM: We both studied statistics also.

PC: Oh, well, I am a lawyer, too.

RM: I got doctorate in criminology.

PC: So find the criminals for us.

RM: Lau ji, if you are saying we send criminals then how we can have them also…this is like eating cake and having it…Mary Queen of Scots said.

PC: No, she did not.

RM: How you know what she said and what she didn’t? The problem with you Indians is jumping the gun and not pumping the gun.

PC: We are the land of Mahatma Gandhi…we believe in non-violence.

RM: Chhad yaar. But I am not minding. You took effort to come over here to debate, I am grateful to Allah.

PC: Hmm…I took the flight you know.

RM: Oh yes, that also in conmy class. That Parnab is on new trip.

PC: We understand that we need to pull up our socks.

RM: Loose hain kya? Please tell me why all Indian finance ministers carry that funny briefcase like someone carrying black money?

PC: The budget report is there.

RM: Ok, so budget has to have small buxa, not big. Nice symball.

PC: “Gham ka heera
dil mein rakho
kis ko dikhaate phirte ho
ye choron ki duniya hai…”

RM: Wah-wah, you know Urdu so well.

PC: All finance ministers must know. In India it is tradition to quote Urdu poetry.

RM: But you did not.

PC: I know. Big mistake. We need to appease people.

RM: But Muslims are poor.

PC: Who is talking about Muslims, we have to show Pakistanis that we are Jack of all trade.

RM: Jack in the box…

PC: Please, can we start the debate?

RM: Ho gaya ji. Baat cheet. Hor ki? Kuchch spice gal ho jaaye.

PC: It does not become us.

RM: Who is wanting anyone to become. I only asked for spice gal…gal meaning talk. You Indians are so big country but you only have one railway track line mind. I don’t want any trouble. Zardari saab said one nice thing to Sarah sahiba and whole of Pakistan was called Republican.

PC: You are anyway half American.

RM: Haan, sahi hain. But you are full Italian.

PC: I take your leave sir.

RM: Allah hafiz

PC: Thank you for reminding me…where is Hafiz Saeed?

RM: And who is Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi? Make up your mind who did what. Next time we will have more material and debate on border. Then we will see doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.

PC: We have a shortage of ghee and butter in India, you are rubbing it…

RM: Correct. Rab sab jaanda, I tell you.

Both depart. Rehman Malik takes PIA fusst class and asks for razai. P Chidambaram gets into economy and the seats next to him are vacated.

Ajmal Kasab continues to grin in court.

11.9.09

News meeows - 22

Jail Bharo

You are in an Indian prison. Why can’t you get anything non-vegetarian?

The Bombay high court raised this query rapping the prison authorities for this discriminatory attitude. “When you can consider the tastes of a foreigner, why can’t you show the same consideration to Indian prisoners?’’


Foreigners in prison are served bread, butter and eggs. Here is an exchange that took place.

Public prosecutor: “They were not used to eating chappatis.”

Judge: “All Indians don’t eat the same food. Revise your rules and make room for every taste.’’

Ah, Kasab will now get his biryani. But seriously, would any Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Korean serving time in a prison in the West be granted culinary grace? Are foreigners given forks and spoons (knives would be out)? These days they have taken big-time to Indian food and curries, so they can jolly well eat some dal and chappati. And anyway the prison ones are as thick as pita bread. Just mash the chholey and call it humus. Puree the tomatoes, add a dash of mirch masala and finely-chopped onions and you have salsa.

And for their chai time, are the firangs offered Earl Grey or English breakfast? Is it coffee and do they prefer a frothy cappuccino or an Espresso?

Mera Bharat Mulligatawny…

Church

Do churches encourage conversions? Maybe. Maybe not. Conversions have always existed. But attacks on churches have just increased in the past few years.

Outside Bangalore, in a church two statues were broken and glass panes damaged; they tried to set a car on fire but were unsuccessful.

Infuriated by the attack, 350 followers of the church blocked the Bangalore-Hosur Road on Thursday morning, leading to traffic jam for hours…church followers called it a well-organised attack.


The police are “looking into the matter”. What got my goat was the state home minister V S Acharya saying that some antisocial elements were trying to create disharmony.

Of course. We are a peace-loving nation, living in harmony. Remember Orissa?

School

A stampede in a New Delhi school results in the death of five students; 35 are injured and four critically.

Initial reports said a rumour about electric charge in water led to the stampede, but locals refuted it saying that the area had no power supply at the time of the incident. The stampede took place when students were trying to make their way up and down a narrow staircase when they were asked to shift classrooms flooded with rain water during an examination. Around 1,300 students had come for the examination in heavy downpour.


This is unfortunate and bizarre. When there is flooding, the students should be asked to go home. If there is a shift suggested, then someone ought to be in charge of seeing that it is carried out in an orderly manner. Why were no teachers injured? Where were they?

Chief minister Sheila Dikshit has announced compensation of Rs one lakh to the next of kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 each to the injured.


I am aware that the government can do just this much; after all, we need to take care of our defence budget. But these were young people who had a long way to go; many would have supported their families.

Boxer’s Day

Barely had he delivered the winning punch to become the first Indian to make it the last-four stage of the prestigious World Championships and boxer Vijender Singh has already signed a million-dollar sponsorship deal with the Percept Sports Management Company.

It is good that a not-pampered sport is bringing us accolades. It is good that boxers too are getting endorsements. But Vijender has already become the media’s darling not only because he is good-looking but because he speaks English haltingly. Everyone’s heart goes out to the Jat with thaat. Yeah. He has got attitude. And that’s what matters.

Good for him. Now how about the sponsors shelling out some money for athletes to get some accommodation and facilities to practise so that they can get us much more? Buy them if you must, you vultures.

Wedding off her back

A Surat bride gets her back painted

I find this quite an ugly sight. The bride's skin has been painted completely in that portion and stands in contrast to the rest of her natural colour. Damn, it is not even some flowery design or a peacock feather pattern. Like, what is it for? Each time she turns, the groom can get a high seeing another woman’s face? Is this some sort of threesome fantasy being realised?

Perhaps, they can instead have a you-know-what sketched so that he knows you-know-what to wear when…

Truthers and Truth

The fact that big budget hit pieces against 9/11 truth are still being rolled out proves that the establishment is upset that the population is waking up to false flag terror.

These are actor Charlie Sheen’s words.

* He has claimed that the U.S. government was behind the September 11 terror attacks.
* He has said that 'the official 9/11 story is a fraud' and the commission set up to investigate was a whitewash.
* He has appealed to President Barack Obama to hold a new investigation into the attacks on the World Trade Centre towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC.
* He claims the attacks simply served "as the pretext for the systematic dismantling of our Constitution and Bill of Rights".
* He says the administration of former president George Bush was behind the attacks, which they were then able to use to justify an invasion of Iraq.
* He even hints that Osama Bin Laden was working with the CIA up until 9/11.
* He voices doubts over whether the planes really were passenger jets and questions how passports identifying the hijackers survived the infernos.


In 2006, he had said: "It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75 per cent of their targets, that feels like a conspiracy theory. It raises a lot of questions."

The supporters of the conspiracy theories are called Truthers. I would have preferred if those theories were not seen as conspiracies, because the term conspiracy denotes something illegal and secretive. Scepticism is not conspiratorial. It is a valid way in which to further an argument and to reach the truth. Truth, as has been wisely observed, is relative. Its 'relativity' does not invalidate it if the crux to be reached is facts. Facts can, however, be tampered with. So, how true is the truth?

Is it the death of 3000 Americans that has caused such resultant havoc or is it, as Sheen observes, a political agenda? It is to the credit of independent voices that raise these queries. The fact that they feel the need to ask these questions itself is cause to sit up and think.

Many more Americans, soldiers, died fighting for a ’cause’. They are still being sent off on flimsy grounds.

And the citizens will have to replay the “where were you on that day” scenario. It does not matter that even in countries far away people have to think about it.

I have a list, too, that I have brought our earlier:

1. Where were you when the Partition of India happened?
2. Where were you during the Bangladesh War?
3. Where were you when Indira Gandhi was assassinated?
4. Where were you when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was executed?
5. Where were you when the anti-Sikh pogrom took place?
6. Where were you when Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber?
7. Where were you when parts of Eastern Europe were being spliced?
8. Where were you when the Gujarat earthquake happened?
9. Where were you when the Bombay riots of 1992-93 took place? Where were you when the Bombay blasts happened soon after?
10. Where were you when Godhra happened? Where were you when the Gujarat riots were taking place?
11. Where were you when Iraq and Iran went to war and stayed that way for eight years?
12. Where were you when the Gulf War happened?
13. Where were you during Operation Desert Storm?
14. Where were you when the US started bombing Afghan civilians to look for a man in a cave?
15. Where were you when America attacked Iraq to look for weapons that they have not yet found?
16. Where were you when Kargil happened?
17. Where were you when Swat was taken over?
18. Where were you when blasts keep occurring?
19. Where are you when hundreds die each day because of lack of food, hygiene, shelter?


There are so many reasons to know where we were…and these queries are not posed to you. For, even I do not know where I was when most of these disasters/calamities took place. So I do not know where I was when 9/11 happened.

But we are supposed to know. The media in our subcontinent will remind us because they cannot feel left out. People who do not want to think about other societies would also find this important enough to recall.

I can understand those who live in the US having vivid memories; or those who have relatives there being worried, but I do not see why that date should become a part of our local psyche. To be concerned about the new world order, terrorism, religion and politics is of course important, but to deify a date? But then we also remember when Princess Diana met with that fateful accident.

Therefore, I wonder if expats could check with the Americans and other Westerners if they recall any of the incidents I have mentioned. Do they know where they were when these events took place?

If we wish to talk about a world where equality must reign, then knowledge of other societies is a great equaliser.

And that is more effective than any version of truth or ‘truthers’.

10.9.09

Orangi versus Dharavi

Orangi versus Dharavi
by Farzana Versey

The News International, September 10, 2009


He parted the dull grey curtain with a flowery print. Inside, a group of men of all shapes, sizes, ages shuffled as images of entwined couples moaning flickered on a bulbous old TV screen. The moment some light slithered into the room, it was startled eyes and hands akimbo, almost in a ceasefire pose. I wanted to laugh, but Muthaiah motioned them not to bother about me. I wasn’t a cop. Cops too visited, watched the show and extracted money from these poor guys.

In the nineties, video parlours that showed blue films were big business. Muthaiah was the entrepreneur of Dharavi, a hero-villain. It was easy for him; he was once a henchman of Don Varadarajan. His parents had moved here from a village in South India decades ago when the place had developed from marshland to tenements that began to spread like a gathering storm. His father had left them after producing three children. By the time he could walk, talk and demand cheap plastic toys, he had to become a man to fend for the family. His first job was with a bootlegger. “I was good and cheated my boss, that’s why I got to join the gang.”

If a metaphor for Dharavi is needed, it would be found in his persona – poverty, spunk, drama, power, fear and a hierarchy that makes sure poverty is not a leveller.

Soon enough, one-storey houses had an extra floor, like a pack of cards and just as precarious. The airless rooms were reached with a ladder placed inside. These illegal constructions had the blessings of slum lords who collected hafta (illegal tax) every month.

I sat with Farhat bi in a room lit by a naked bulb even in the afternoon. Her husband worked as a junior artiste in films. He was at home. “Kaam nahin mila (I did not get any work),” he said as he brushed his teeth with a twig. Farhat was a seamstress. Her clients were from lower middle class homes outside the Dharavi belt. As the machine creaked, she recounted her life story, brief and yet telling. “Bachchon ke liye sochna padta hai. Lekin yahaan koi danga-fasaad nahin hota (We have to think about the children’s future. But there are no communal riots here).”

There is no place for communal disparities. In fact, what the residents worry about are do-gooders. When I cornered Satish, who carried a cycle repair kit, his first question was, “Woh didi waali tau nahin hai? (I hope you are not one of those sisters from a NGO)” We went into a tea shop and sat on a rickety bench. “Aye, kya bolti tu?” was the song that captured the Bambaiyya patois and bravado; it seemed like an anthem here. It played at full volume. Satish ordered kadak chai (strong tea) and bun maska (butter). He asked for a thanda (cola) for me, imagining I’d prefer a bottled drink. I would, but he wanted to have an upper hand. Dharavi is about such arrogance. I chose tea. He slurped it from the saucer and queried, “Tu kya karti idhar? (What are you doing here?)” I was amused by his comfort with lack of respect in addressing a person much older than him.

Child labour. I was writing about it. He was disgusted. “Kaam nahin karega tau peit kaisa bharega? Bada ho ke sab ko karneka, tau abhi se ich shtart kar liya. Taim nahin. (If we don’t work then how will we fill our bellies? After growing up everyone works, so why not begin early? There is little time)” He seemed busy. I went to the tanneries and found young boys surrounded by the smell of burning animal hide. Furniture factories showed similar scenes. Hands were calloused with age as faces retained a frayed innocence.

Their creations are displayed in fancy stores and they don’t know about it. Recently, I drove past the area. It was late evening and bright tubelights hid the filth of illicit liquor made in greasy drums as gutter water seeped in and used batteries added the extra zing to nasha (stupor). What shone were bags and antique chairs through glass fronted shops that had names like Enigma. Today, it is as fashionable as distressed jeans, the slits deliberate.

Dharavi has now lost out to Karachi’s Orangi as the largest slum in Asia.

Orangi has always had ‘town’ suffixed to its name. It has neat divisions and is surrounded by areas that might be quite similar, like Gulshan-e-Iqbal or Gulberg. There is a bond of demand and supply. Orangi supplies labour, space and a cosmopolitanism similar to Dharavi. It is essentially mohajir dominated, the dregs of Karachi finding place here. But Pathans too came in, partly as a result of the needs of a city that required gun protection and a poppy high.

It was the push of poverty that made the residents enhancers of their own destiny. The town status was granted only in 2001. It has resulted in several development measures, and therefore lacks the canniness of dirty streets. Vazir Ali’s family had moved to Nazimabad after Partition and brought along their leather business. “Small-scale,” he says. His workshop is in Orangi. “It is expensive in the main areas and I only manufacture so it does not matter.” His products won’t have a ‘Made in Orangi’ label, though.

It appears like lower middle class chawl areas in Mumbai. Perhaps because it does not have a history as long as Dharavi, which is a century old and has reinvented itself to the lowest depths till it became a celebrity. Travel operators run a ‘real Bombay’ tour to show how people here live and work.

Orangi might not fall for this. It is a hidden township surrounded by respectability; even the little boys scurrying with tea seem to defer to your presence. I asked a woman for directions. She gave it impassively. There is an acceptance and you don’t see much status variations. Conversation is difficult, unless you want to buy something. I opted for pirated CDs. The young man would not tell me his name. He refused to acknowledge my Urdu and spoke in broken English. He recognised a tourist from afar. “Software?” He had all possible software available. And music, the covers garish, plenty from Hindi films. Any qawwali? I asked. He shook his head. “Not selling.”

Elsewhere, close to a small shrine, they do sell qawwali and Sufi music. Strings of flowers smother other smells. Orangi needs a camouflage to justify itself as a Karachi township.

Dharavi hits you in the face as you drive to the east part of Mumbai, the greenery stinking of turd dropped in malnourished pellets. It isn’t Danny Boyle’s chocolate soufflé version.
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Also published in Counterpunch.