28.2.10

Sunday ka Funda

M.F.Husain’s Exile: Battle for Art or Religion?

M.F.Husain’s Exile: Battle for Art or Religion?
By Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, February 27, 2010

M.F.Husain is not an Indian anymore. He has accepted to become a citizen of Qatar. Why did he do it? The general answers you get are that he was hounded out of the country with threats to his life and his art by Hindutva fundamentalists. True. But he is not the first one. Fundamentalists of all stripes force out dissenters, whether they are political, from the field of art or literature.

It is not a pleasant life. There is solitary confinement, lack of avenues to express the very words and paintings that brought them to such a pass. Closer home, think Faiz Ahmed Faiz or Ahmed Faraz. They were made prisoners but stayed with their national identity, and it is not even an ancient one.

When news reports mentioned a handwritten fax by the painter stating, “I, the Indian origin painter, M.F. Husain at 95, have been honoured by Qatar nationality”, one thought he would not agree to it. It was conferred on him by the first lady Shiekha Mozah bin Nasser al Misned, wife of Qatar ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, after commissioning him to work on a series of sculptures.

There is a sort of succumbing to power here. Will he experiment with those sculptures? Unlikely.

His supporters are consolidating the view of the artist as someone who toes the line. Lalit Kala Akademi chairman Ashok Vajpeyi said that he is “the only Indian painter in history who has extensively painted both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata”. Not only is this untrue but it begs the question: why must he be protected by a government that is using the occasion to co-opt him into its own agenda? And why is it important to paint what is considered sacred by some?

The war is between art and religion, with patriotism as the undercurrent. Husain’s nationalism depends on his religion, or at least what a person of his religion can do to what belongs to another religion. In bringing this up, we assume that the dominant religion of India is also what drives its nationalism. Therefore, the ‘Save Husain’ brigade is equally culpable.

I was quite surprised to read the comment made by artist Satish Gujral: “Few have contributed to popularising Indian mythological heritage as has Husain through his paintings. I strongly condemn the government’s attitude of not helping him in the strongest of terms.”

Flashback to the early 90s when Gujral had stated, in a sense denying his own stand regarding socially-committed art, “I see only hypocrisy here”. His major grouse was that, “He painted this devi figure in Calcutta and then covered it with white paint. This only proves how much emotional link he has with what he paints. When an artist paints something he has total emotional subservience to it. If he had written Allah would he then have to destroy it? It is because Hindu society is more tolerant.”

It is not whether he used an image from Hindu mythology instead of firmans from the Quran. If anything, this sort of emphasis reveals more about the mind of the accusers. As Gujral had stated then, “Both Husain and Raza wasted talent on depicting a mythology they were not brought up on. Why did Raza have to take to Tantric art? He was trying to build up a false background.”

He had even provided a reason for it. He believed it was because in post-Partition times the patrons were essentially Hindu. Inadvertently, he answered his own question. Would Husain, who depends heavily on these patrons, dare to antagonise them?

Let us ask aloud why Husain did not tarnish an image of Allah. For one, there is no image. Besides, the dominant principle in Islamic art is to be found in the Mughal miniatures and it will be agreed that defacing those can have virtually no impact on an already deadened psyche. The all-male religions have produced no religious imagery and in fact forbidden it.

Art can never be a religion or gain that kind of legitimacy because it is an individual activity given to personal interpretation. Religious icons as art works have to bear the brunt of being mauled at museums. Is that not a slight? Is what Husain does with his interpretation worse than what the general public does with religious iconography at caves and temples? These are often people who have been brought up on the very mythology they are debasing. Where is their emotional involvement?

Whoever said that art and religion were two roads by which men escaped from circumstance to ecstasy obviously did not know the rules of the bazaar. Why could one not look at Husain’s erasing of a religious image as one more gimmick from the artist’s considerable oeuvre? Besides, why does Husain have to tread carefully where religious issues are concerned when art is, in the words of Roger Fry, “significant deformity”?

The artist cannot be expected to be a realist simply because not only does he colour the sky red as his whims dictate but he can also turn reality upside down to make a point. Likewise with religion; reality is not as it is experienced but felt. However, while religion lays down our social mores art rarely, if ever, reflects it.

Temple sculptures were not mere artistic indulgences; they were created for the purpose of reverence. Art today is created for the buyer, even if it is the artist’s peculiar vision. Therefore, it is ridiculous to equate art with religious fervour.

Once one takes a moral position, then one has to forgo the right to be a dissenter in any area. As someone once said, “The artist, like the idiot or clown, sits on the edge of the world, and a push may send him over it.”

Qatar really is not the edge of the world, so M.F.Husain made the choice to find another market. As an icon himself, he is worshipped and debased in equal measure.

27.2.10

Wayward thoughts - Concrete sky


A city in slumber; a dawn awake. I was amazed by how useless everything looks before nature, almost gross.

Then I snipped off a part of the picture to get rid of the grossness, to make it pure.


And what did I find? The sky devoid of character. The clouds appear to be touching the ground in what looks like a dust storm, or they could be the remains of a mangled aircraft still retaining some strength in its engine to careen towards its end.

There is nothing here to give it a background, a motivation. Nature is orphaned when it does not have us. It is antiseptic without the concrete to contrast with its beauty. There is nothing in the beyond except what we imbue it with.

And when the morning sharpens with laser-beam heat, I shall burn the sun.

25.2.10

Into the minds of Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir

This Pakistani shook hands with an Indian Army official’s wife and pronounced that she suffered from severe migraine. That is the reason Director-General for South Asia, Afrasiab Hashmi, labeled a ‘physiognomy’ expert, was said to have been included in the delegation that took place today at the foreign secretary level talks. He will apparently read the faces of the Indian officials and predict what they really mean when they utter those precious words. (If Indian diplomats were visiting we'd have a choice of astrologers?)

It is said that he can also predict the future. He is not trained but has a natural knack.

Now, as those who have been here for some time know, and the devil is my witness, I have deconstructed many a photograph and my hunch has not been far off the mark. I don’t even have to shake hands or anything.


Therefore, in the interest of the Indian side, here is my humble reading of Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir who have had "closed door talks" by now:

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said India had approached the talks with "open minds, fully conscious of the trust deficit between the two countries…Talks were candid. There was good chemistry between the two delegations. We had useful discussions.”

Good chemistry is like love. You don’t know what the hell is happening, but something is. It also results in suspicion. Every bit of information, even about orangutans, appears useful.

She said Pakistan wanted to resume the so-called "composite dialogue" - covering a range of key issues - but India felt the time was not yet right to do so "because the climate of trust and confidence has to be built up… I told them about our concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistan. We agreed on step-by-step engagement."

It is clear from the picture. Although they are facing the same direction, they are looking at different cameras and her head is tilted slightly at an angle to the other side. It won't be step by step but a tangential idea.

Her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir, wanted to discuss Kashmir and had already met the Hurriyat leaders before. It shows in his visage. Although Pakistan admitted the 26/11 attacks had been partly planned on its soil, he has an all-knowing look on his face but trepidation regarding this meeting; his left hand is too close to his body and straight.

Their clothes are also interesting. She is wearing a saree blouse with too short sleeves revealing thick arms. Good enough for flexing? The lower button of his jacket is unbuttoned, which one would expect him to do just before sitting. Either he forgot to button up or that’s the way he likes it. It shows a laidback attitude that seems to suggest: do what you want, say what you want, I am cool with it. And, yes, I can stomach things.

"We have agreed to remain in touch," concluded Nirupama Rao.

Sure. Like a cat offering a ball of wool while the bone remains buried (Kashmir, Hafiz Saeed, Baluchistan, all that Pakistan wanted to discuss).

End result: It was just a meeting, stupid. No strings attached to be detached.

And: As for the Pakistani ‘face reader’, let me tell you what I think. He is good with headaches and he will return with one!

Tandoori Knights

It is a sick idea for hordes of Australians to tuck into chicken tikka to express solidarity with the 30 victims of racial attacks that have taken place since May last year.

They even had a name for this one-day project: ‘Vindaloo Against Violence’. Victoria Premier John Brumby got all sagacious when he stated:

“Victoria has been shaped by people from across the world. We come from over 200 countries, speak more than 230 languages and dialects and follow more than 120 faiths. Today, Victoria’s 150,000-strong Indian community is a vital part of modern day multicultural Victoria. Victoria’s cultural diversity is one of our strengths and any attack on our community is an attack on us all. Any attack motivated by race or prejudice is particularly disgraceful.”

All this could have been said in a public address or, better still, at an Indian-run organisation driven by diplomatic initiative. How does it help if tandoori chicken is served at Queensland’s parliament or people patronise Indian cuisine in restaurants? How does vindaloo speak out against violence when some animal has been butchered for it to get to the table? This became one of those herd instinct type ideas where people registered and the word spread and Indian restaurants were booked for lunch and dinner.

Most of the attackers are disenchanted youth who believe in cultural fascism or suffer from some sort of xenophobic tendencies. Would any of their ilk fathom the importance of such a gesture? Is such a gesture important at all? What signals does it really send out? Are those who are participating likely to become more aware of the need for Indians to study and work in Australia?

This dumbing down is quite counter-productive. It, in fact, pins down Indians as being good only with food. Besides, balti cuisine and tikka masala have already gained currency in the United Kingdom and America and in most parts of the world, including Australia. This amounts to further drawing attention to what is probably popular and even those who were not particularly into sharp tangy food will now discover the whole smelly stuff in their backyard as they see pictures of their neighbours relishing the drippy curries. They might not like the immigrant’s sizzling skewers one bit.

Racial attacks are crimes and crimes need to be dealt with legally and not by what’s on the plate. Symbolism has its place if it is backed up with concrete action.

What happens when after a spicy meal, the good Australians have to deal with a not-so-nice morning after? Start a new movement called ‘Peace with the Antacid’?

24.2.10

Don't take that man's name

Unlike Elizabeth Hurley, I did not plan a ‘special gift’ for my husband. I did not change my last name to his. I am glad, for when we parted legally there was no decision to be taken about reverting to the maiden name.

Recently, a police officer complained that his ex-wife was misusing his name. The Mumbai high court ruled that a divorced woman must not use her former husband’s name and surname anywhere, including in her bank account.

It is entirely possible that some women may misuse the ex-spouse’s name. But reports in the Indian media have been quite crass, especially with reference to high society women. “Often such women continue to keep their marital surnames after a divorce to ensure better networking, or to remain in the social circle.”

It does not take into account that there have been instances where the women find themselves in an awkward position and in the patriarchal system that even the puff brigade follows they become persona non grata. Those who are now talking about misuse quite forget that when the marriage was on, the men used these women as arm candy to up their visibility quotient. In many cases it meant showing off the wife in designer wear, which made it seem as though the male was in a position to pamper her. It is a fact that quite a few of these women got into some sort of business – usually jewellery designing, fashion, charity because of the connection. This is turn gave the men the added halo of being enablers of woman power!

Although I was quite comfortably-placed as a columnist when my ex met me – he got in touch with me as a reader – I know he was looked upon as some sort of saint. After all, I wrote “like that”! No offence meant, but he did manage to get that Pope-like beatific look on his face. I am sure our balcony would have been more Vatican than Romeo and Juliet.

Within marriages, too, there is the use/misuse aspect, but it is seen as legitimate, even if it crosses all limits of decent give-and-take. In family settings or in his work-related social situations, his last name was mentioned. In invitations that were meant for me, though, people went out of their way to confirm his and added it. I cannot understand. If a woman is expected to be Mrs. So-and so, then why does society become politically correct when it comes to male identity?

And what is the guarantee that the former male spouses do not misuse the woman’s name? The fact that she was a part of his social circle and has something going for her could well be enough bait. The male ego often uses it in rather disgusting ways. A certain film star from the South married to a well-known dancer started living in with another film star. He would shamelessly make personal digs about his ex-wife, aware that she was famous enough for people to be interested. She had retained her maiden name.

And then there is this socialite, quite known at one time in her field, who had a long-term relationship with an extremely prominent idiot. He left her for a younger woman, but she was pregnant. She bore him a son. Today, since she uses her first husband’s name, she had to approach him for permission to add to her son’s as well as gave the child this other man’s name although they were never married.

So, who is using whose name here? The ex- husband has his own life, but agreed to give his name to a son not his. Does it help him grab Page 3 eyeballs? The live-in guy for happily flaunting a son although he had nothing to later do with the woman? The woman for managing this coup? The father of her child married again and has a daughter, and apparently everyone lives happily including a daughter from his first marriage who is probably as old as his third wife.

Since these people belong to the charmed circle, no one really bothers. It will be difficult for people who lead different lives. If the courts have announced their verdict in one case and it is said it would set a precedent, it is really a regressive verdict painting women as ‘marriage careerists’. It might also help if the law then gives women who have custody of the children to let them use the mother’s name.

We need to look at the issue holistically and not throw away traditional nomenclature while remaining conservative.

Therefore, I cannot understand why Elizabeth Hurley is making a noise about the special gift for her husband. She is adding his last name to his and that too, as one report states, “when she is not working”. He married her when she was working and the hyphenated Elizabeth Hurley-Nayar would not affect her career. Her reason is, “Arun is quite old fashioned about these things.” For three years that they were married was it okay? A friend told the papers, “She is doing this to please him. It’s her publicly accepting that she is his woman.”

For years before they were married, it was obvious that they were a couple. To make it more than clear they even tried making out in the first class cabin of a British Airways aircraft. Their wedding ceremonies were the typical exotica geared for ‘Hello!’ magazine. All this was public. She won’t become his woman by adding his name just as he won’t cease to be the guy she married by not adding her name to his.

Relationships, marriage or otherwise, need more than seals of any kind. And if it is a seal that keeps you in it – not to speak of mortgages and children – then that constitutes misuse.

Mouth Smoke

Cigarettes, or cigars, have often been seen as phallic symbols. A French anti-smoking ad uses the innuendo of oral sex to warn young people against nicotine addiction. As in most public service campaigns, this one too has caused an uproar. My problem is not only with the ad, but also with the criticism.

The adverts, presented earlier this week, show an older man in a suit pushing down on the head of a teenager with a cigarette in her mouth, in a position that suggests oral sex. Another version of the advert shows a teenage boy in a similar position. The accompanying slogan reads: "Smoking means being a slave to tobacco".

Those who have been opposing it say:
  1. "The campaign trivialises sexual abuse - worse, it implies guilt on the part of the abused."
  2. "The campaign targets young people who see cigarettes as symbols of emancipation, of freedom, when it really causes dependency and submission."
  3. "As far as I know, practising fellatio doesn't cause cancer."

The ad is suggestive but people who choose to smoke do so due to peer pressure, to appear cool and later make the choice because they like it/are addicted to it. If the analogy denotes sexual submission, then fellatio would be seen as such too. So, are the critics of the ad holding a candle for oral sex or for homosexuality in the case of the boy? Fellatio does not cause cancer, but if it is an unknown person not using protection then there is the danger of sexually-transmitted diseases.

By using the word slave, it might make a person feel guilty if s/he is a teenager. On the other hand, it could make the person feel free of responsibility. Why can they not see that? It would be easy for the kids to pick up a cigarette and say they are being forced into it. Heck, the man is wearing a suit, he could therefore be a professional or a businessman and well-settled in life. He would be seen a role model. And he may be pushing the head down to position it right, and therefore training a novice.

Much as I would like to take a high moral ground, the fact is whether we use skeletons or blow jobs, those who want to smoke will smoke. What about those who light up after sex?

22.2.10

Over 60 and Unsafe

What makes some men into monsters? I got goose bumps when I read about old women worried about being raped learning martial arts to defend themselves.

Close to Nairobi in the shanty town of Korogocho, women who are in their 70s and 80s practise karate, hit a punching bag and watch as a teacher demonstrates the vulnerable points in a young man’s body. Their frail frames have to know about this so that they don’t end up just trying to beat hard.

It is apparently a known fact that bandits operate in this area. “Every time the boys make a robbery, they will ask the grandmas to sleep with them,” says Mary Wangui, 73. “Young men believe that young girls are all infected with AIDS, so they’d rather go to the old ones.”

Two years ago, three drunken young men broke into Frida’s home in the middle of the night and raped her. "They knew I lived alone... they broke (down) the door and came in and covered my eyes with a blanket, then they raped me... and left me there just lying on the floor. I can't believe people young enough to be my grandchildren could do that to me. When I heard they are teaching women how to beat rapists here, I decided to come and learn. Now I know if somebody wants to rape me, I just poke their eyes and make a noise."

Philip Otieno, executive director of I'm Worth Defending (IWD) said that besides fear of AIDS, "Others do it for ritual reasons... (some) criminals believe that having sex with an old person before or after a robbery will bring good luck either for a successful mission next time or protection from the police."

Surely the cops would catch these guys? Are there no groups to teach them something? It is terrible that even when one woman told her assaulter that she had AIDS that did not stop him. What about security agencies in the area? The media outside will report it, and in some cases it will be seen as one of those backward things out of Africa, but will it change the rot within? Don’t these women have children and grandchildren?

What do those guys get? This is a poor shanty. What can they rob? And why sexually abuse a woman? The reports talk about their fear of disease. Why is there no mention about these women getting infected by those sick men?

Cruelty is part of the human psyche and is manifested in different forms, but when such survival groups have to be set up, it reveals the sheer careless attitude of society, the government and human rights organisations too. The latter are often too busy with fancy causes to bother about these things.

Poverty is no excuse. Poverty expects you to survive and feed yourself and get shelter. Those are the basics.

It is tragic that the stigma attached to rape is such that these women don’t always speak out. Imagine the sense of shame that is already ingrained and then to have to face the smirks as the listener wonders: Oh, grandma, you think you are still worth it?

No one will ask those guys why they cannot get a life and lead it with some level of decency.

Just saying so...

I do not understand why these actors and directors say things that they probably cannot figure out themselves:

“Tomorrow, if I have to play a prostitute and wear skimpy clothes, I will do it.”
- Vidya Balan


After the makeover, if she wants to show skin, then it is fine. But she ought to know that prostitutes are not the only ones to wear skimpy clothes. In fact, they do not wear short skirts, halter tops, and go around in bikinis. If she were the enact such a role from the lower strata she’d be surprised to see them dressed in sarees that are not even Yash Chopra’s chiffons.

Now that she is being called the thinking man’s dream, whatever that means, she is talking about her own niche even as she says people are comparing her with Hema Malini, Sridevi, Madhuri, Rekha, Meena Kumari, Madhubala and Smita Patil. Some niche!
- - -

“In a film, there is collective contribution, an entire team works on it. Like for my most favourite song, Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam, I give full credit to the composer and the writer. But if the film Kagaz Ke Phool would not have been made, nobody would have heard the song. A song is created from situations in a film that come from the script of the film. Therefore, I feel it a song is not separate from the film.”
Aamir Khan


Smart. He chose a song that has nothing to do with him. Of course, it was heard because it was in the film, but the film did not do too well in the beginning. There are movies that flop, but the music becomes a hit. There are background songs. There are private albums that do well. It is time these people realised that without the dialogues and the lyrics, they would just be moving their lips.


For days there was news about his run-in with Javed Akhtar where he said that a song becomes a hit because it is picturised on a big star. He says he was misquoted. If that were the case, why did Javed Akhtar not contradict it? Why has Aamir contradicted only now? And even when he does, it makes no sense.

He ought to know that there are often song banks of composers (including A.R.Rahman) and if they suit a situation, they are chosen.

- - -

“Nirmal was a beautiful, giving person with malice to no one, just love and yearning for spirituality. He was a genius actor that was willing to bare his soul. Such people are destined to leave early.”
Shekhar Kapur


Let us forget Shekhar Kapur’s knowledge about how destiny works. If he was a genius actor, how come he did not cast him again? It applies to all those who have termed him brilliant but did not give him any roles, and he faded away until his death the other day at 48.


I did not see much of Nirmal Pandey, except in Bandit Queen and Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin. The media should avoid getting sound bytes from those who did not do justice to his talent, that they claim he had, but gain publicity by appearing as his well-wishers.

20.2.10

Dance and Dunce Diplomacy


Shashi Tharoor talking diplomacy? Nah. Not really. He is making ambassadors of different countries sit through Bharatanatyam performances. The reasons are supposed to be seen as a way forward in promoting detente:

“I wanted to give diplomats a feel of our precious cultural heritage. Diplomacy tends to be practised in rather predictable patterns and I wanted to break free of the mould and try something different. This is the first time I am experimenting with familiarising ambassadors with Indian culture, I hope it becomes a sustained process.”

This man is clearly an outsider and his experiments are rather stale. Every diplomat is given a dose of our culture in varied forms. Some get so taken up that they end up marrying the performer. We have Shovana Narayan who is married to the former Austrian ambassador? I don’t think it has done much to improve our relations with Austria. As for familiarising these diplomats, they are already quite well-versed in these ‘artistic’ aspects just as they are with elephants and camels.


Among his first victims was the ambassador of Egypt, Mohamed Abdel Hamid Higazy, who said:

“We must thank the Indian government and the minister concerned for the performance. It was a wonderful, colourful, spiritual and folklorish dance where spirituality, visual arts and history merge with each other. We in Egypt share this spirituality with India through our colours and god.”

He has read Lonely Planet or one of those glossy travel magazines. Each one will say something similar about colour, spirituality, history.

I wonder how our minister will fare with the Americans and the Brits (who might well go, haw, we were here and my grandpa saw it all before you were born). I think he should invite them for one of those long Kathakali performances that last through the night and relate epic tales. Do you think they’d get anxious when the character transforms into a demon or will they suspect us of having nuclear arsenal?

Oh, I forgot to mention the seating arrangement:

The “gushing” envoys, at least 10 of them, were seated in the first two rows while Tharoor sat in a special seat upholstered in rich green silk and brocade.

What? Why? I think he is really mucking it up. Is he some maharajah who has invited lesser rajahs from other kingdoms to watch as the ladies perform? Is he promoting Indian culture or a version of urban feudalism?

- - -

Our home minister P Chidambaram has come up with something else:

“Infiltration has not reduced. Incidents of violence have reduced...and I attribute it to the army, paramilitary and J&K police,’’ he said. They are rattled by various factors—quiet talks being held, the PM’s reconstruction programme and a stable government in the state.

This is being monitored. So the guys are entering our shores and twiddling their thumbs because they are frightened out of their wits by quiet talks, a reconstruction programme and a stable government? Excuse me, but if we can tell there are no real peace talks, do you think militant groups will not? What stable government? Omar Abdullah seeing a Pakistani hand in stone-pelting incidents (really, I think the across the border guys must be devastated)?

Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor said:

“Our neighbour is continuing to infiltrate militants from across the border into J&K. It (infiltration) will continue. Forces are deployed along the border and they will make all efforts to stop the infiltrators there.”

If forces are deployed and making efforts, then why is he saying they will continue to infiltrate?

I think Shashi Tharoor must be deployed there so that he can arrange some dance performances. It will divert attention or act as a real barrier for the committed jihadi who would not tolerate such kafir things, and see no colour, spirituality and the rest.

19.2.10

The Halal Question

Culinary Communalism
The Halal Question
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, February 19, 2010


Let us not confuse matters. France’s problem with the veil is different from its problems with restaurants serving only halal meat. The veil is being banned on grounds of not being part of the mainstream and carving a separate niche. The argument against the restaurants is discrimination against the majority.

Quick, a Belgium-based chain, has gained popularity in France. Burgers are stuffed with smoked beef instead of pork. The mayor of Roubaix, a small town, said, “It’s very good that a restaurant like Quick offers halal (meat), but why get rid of what there is everywhere else? The fact that they do not offer other choices to non-Muslim clients is not acceptable.”

Has the mayor not heard about speciality restaurants? Would he have the same problem with sushi bars, vegetarian eateries, stores that sell organic foods, bakeries with only brown bread and sweets that are sugarless or eggless? Has it not become the norm to find new ways to market cuisine by emphasising that the place has only a certain kind of menu or even ambience? What about the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona built like a hospital that has cardiac arrest inducing burgers and provides wheelchairs to its clients as an after-meal incentive? Or the one in Japan that has toilet seats? What about picking a fresh piscine from a tank and open kitchens where you can watch the fish breathing its last just before it is brought to the table? We can take the argument even further – about places that offer only one kind of music, a limited wine list or are alcohol free.

Societies develop their own culinary culture that may be frowned upon by others, whether it is certain insects in the Far East or restaurants in Africa that serve game in what might be termed hunter style. How about a table with a hole where a monkey’s head has been cut off and the diners pick on bits of brain as it is cooked slowly? How about several parts of animals that are marketed as aphrodisiacs?

All these will be explained in terms that are politically correct or wonderfully chic. The problem with halal meat is that it is lawful according to the Quran only if the animal is bled to death and slaughtered in the name of Allah. No one protests as they have their probiotic meals in the name of bacteria or bothers to understand that several Indian restaurants that serve strictly vegetarian food first offer a bit to the gods.

These are cultural nuances and as long as you do not have to watch the process, and are assured of its goodness for your palate, there ought not to be any problem. Halal meat is not restricting others and it is not as if the French were waiting for this chain to open and are now disappointed. The motives are clear; no one is being cheated. You enter with the knowledge of what you will get.

Therefore, it is a bit surprising that the agriculture minister, Bruno Le Maire, is making it into an issue: “When they remove all the pork from a restaurant open to the public, I think they fall into communalism, which is against the principles and the spirit of the French republic.”

Communalism is when you force your thoughts on others. In my travels I have noticed that many countries in Europe do not understand the concept of vegetarianism. The troubles begin in the aircraft when “no meat” is understood to include fish. Should one accuse them of communalism?

The new French renaissance has a lot to do with the monetary aspect, too. It is a € 5.5 billion halal market catering to five million people, which is the largest Muslim population in all of Europe. A few years ago there was a halal version of Burger King, Beurger King Muslim (BKM) in France. It did not even attempt to look like an Arabic place. It serves an imitation of bacon made from halal turkey meat. This is rather surprising. Why would anyone who does not want anything to do with pig products wish to experiment with something like it? The only explanation is curiosity.

It is unlike some vegetarian restaurants that use soya to mimic meat and one restaurant in Hong Kong has specially created vegetables to look like chicken wings and lamb chops. Is this the grand idea of secularism?

Reports mention about how people drive from long distances just to get a taste of the sort of food they like but with the sanction that their faith permits. Besides the food, BKM also allows its female staff to wear the headscarf. What, then, would be the stance of France’s need to reclaim a national identity when it objects to the veil and yet wants its citizens to have access to a ‘restricted space’? Isn’t it a contradiction?

There are places where you go to experience exotica or the local flavour; it might include putting up with topless waitresses, having tea with yak milk or sitting on the floor. There are the subtle differences in the way cutlery is used or not used at all. I had once visited an institution in Mumbai and lunch was served as per old British traditions, but the meal was Indian. It was a sight to see my host roll his chapatti and use a knife and fork as he dipped it into the gravy as though it were sauce. We were alone in that dining hall, so even if he used his fingers to take bits of the chapatti and spooned the curry it would not have seemed odd. He would have felt perfectly in sync had he chosen to break bread with his hands, though, in a fancy restaurant.

However, amused as I was, I would not consider this as a loss of identity. He was just aping what he thought was modernity, while it was merely a western paradigm. Just as one would not see the West as one whole – the American hanging on to a Mac Whammy might seem a bit gauche to the Frenchman gently prodding quivering crab flesh with a fillet knife.

There are no standardised ways to eat and what to eat. It can be conditioning.

I do not eat pork. There are several other meats I do not eat. But, although I am not a practising Muslim, the reason I do not eat pork is considered a conservative option. The fact that I do not go looking for halal meat places should then make me a liberal. Combined, this may well damn me as a fence-sitter when all I am doing is exercising my choice to eat what I want without offending anyone.

Identity is larger than what you relish on your tongue or let slip off it.

17.2.10

Pune Blast: Actors in search of a character?

“I’m not accusing the government of Pakistan at all. In fact, we believe there are a number of actors in Pakistan who may be beyond the control of the government, who might be behind some of these actions.”

These are the precious words of minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor. That he decided to convey this in Kochi is a step up from his usual twitter politicking.

However, we would like to know whether he is speaking in his personal capacity or as a government functionary. He has used ‘I’ and then moves on to ‘we’ and they are almost giving the Pakistani government a clean chit in the Pune bomb blast. There are a number of actors beyond the control of the government. Right.

Do you think there is some altruism here? No. It is in a manner of speaking throwing up your hands and saying, look, those poor guys are not to blame, so how to you expect us to find out who did it? We sent them dossiers; they arrested a few blokes; we have Ajmal Kasab with us, but really there are too many.

The subtext is we must have those peace talks as though we have paid for some prime time slot on TV and just have to do it.

There is this absolutely hilarious mention in a report:

The discussion underlined that the foreign secretary-level talks will remain, to borrow the phrase used by national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon in an article for a foreign publication, a “limited and controlled” affair as long as the government remains unsure of Pakistan’s sincerity in controlling terror.

I love the reference to a foreign publication. I love the limited and controlled affair even more. It is like Pakistan is not committing itself, but India does not mind a one-night stand with no strings attached.

After Tharoor’s magnanimity, he realised he had to say something 'historical', so he came up with this:

“…it is a fairly safe presumption looking back at the last 15 years of attacks on India that many (of them) originated from across the border’’

Presumption? For 15 years the country suffers attacks and we are still presuming without any concrete evidence and all this baloney about ‘actors’. Actors are directed by someone.

Who is this someone? Obfuscation comes in handy when there are no hard facts.

The first several minutes of the telecast of the Pune attack kept on mentioning a gas cylinder. The media reached there after the cops. Did no one get it that there is a difference between LPG gas and a bomb? There were body parts strewn around.

As happens often, conflicting groups have taken responsibility - a so-called breakaway faction of the LeT, Lashkar-e-Taiba Al Alami (International) and Indian Mujahideen Kashmir.

They have been called red herrings:

to distract attention from the perpetrators in view of the growing belief among the intelligence community here that the Pune attack was the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen, which was under pressure from its Islamabad-based patrons belonging to the LeT to break the 14-month lull in the terror campaign. The anxiety to organise an alibi for the ISI is seen as another possible reason for the sudden emergence of LeT ‘International’.

For all these months, until recently, we had no clue that the Indian Mujahideen had any role in the Mumbai attacks. The home minister woke up recently. Now, there is a belief that the IM’s masters are in Islamabad asking them to get going.

Abu Jindal, the self-proclaimed spokesman of the Lashkar splinter group, gave India’s “ittehad (alliance)’’ with America as the other justification for the blast. “We will wage war against any ally of America, whether it is India or Pakistan,’’ the correspondent of the Indian newspaper quoted Jindal as saying.

To the correspondent, the spokesman of the Lashkar faction, who claimed to be calling from Miramshah in North Waziristan, sounded like an educated boy in his late teens or early 20s. Jindal refused to give the name of the leader, but claimed that the breakaway faction had “sources’’ in India who executed the blast in Pune.

Okay, so this is getting very complicated. The group does not like India or Pakistan or America, and it is from Waziristan, so it could be the Taliban. Who would like this theory the most? The US. Pakistan. India. There is mention of an educated boy. We are going by what a correspondent says. What standards have been applied to gauge the education? Who will benefit the most from such profiling? And if Mr.Richard Gates knew, why can we not just demand to know the details?

Just when we were dealing with this, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) chief and Al Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri spoils it all by warning foreign players from coming to India for the hockey World Cup and later the Commonwealth Games.

“We, the mujahideen of 313 Brigade, vow to continue attacks across India until the Indian Army leaves Kashmir and gives the Kashmiris their right of self-determination. We assure the Muslims of the subcontinent that we will never forget the massacre of the Muslims in Gujarat and the demolition of Babri Masjid.”

His Harkat whatever did not remember the Muslims in 1993 or 2002. I am not sure if they have any real interest in Kashmir. Kashmir has its own indigenous movements.

There has been much talk about targeting foreign-dominated areas and the German Bakery has been seen in this context. It is too small a place. The bag was placed near a table with young Indian students. If the Osho Ashram was the real target it would have been placed there. Besides, the Ashram is not as prominent as it once was in the public eye, so it too does not serve a great purpose.

This was a low-level operation meant to disorient. It has succeeded because of the way our politicians are behaving.

There is much talk that there are groups against any Indo-Pak initiative. Let us stop acting like kindergarten kids. Everybody and their Uncle Sam know that dialogues are not going to solve the problem, and which problem? With such talks Pakistan has nothing to lose and India has nothing to gain.

There is a third hand that has nothing to lose and everything to gain by stealthily encouraging enraged militant groups. The good old divide and rule policy with a dash of fake détente.

14.2.10

Francesca and Farida


Paulo and she read through Lancelot, and a page was enough for them to know how they felt. It often is instant. Like dust in eyes, though, it can hurt. It did. But, it did not stop them.

Dante further immortalised them in his Divine Comedy:

One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
Alone we were and without any fear.

Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o'ercame us.

When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein."

And all the while one spirit uttered this,
The other one did weep so, that, for pity,
I swooned away as if I had been dying,

And fell, even as a dead body falls.

(Translated by H.W.Longfellow)

As for Farida, she just sang a song like many others have done. I don’t know what she felt, but despite others having sung it, her version remains with me.

Sajan Laagi Tori Lagan – Farida Khanum

12.2.10

Understanding the Rot in Academia

Understanding the Rot in Academia

Botulism and Babel
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, February 12, 2010

Jean-Baptiste Botul does not exist, but having been cited and sanctified by a real philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, he has exposed the level of fictitiousness that exists beyond the imagination in the world of academia.

Before we unravel the several layers that constitute intellectual deceit, it is important to take a quick look at the controversy.

Frédéric Pages, a journalist, created Botul and his ‘work’ that often critiqued Immanuel Kant. This came in handy when Lévy wanted to emphasise his own position and used two pages from the writings of the fictitious philosopher. The intellectual community is having a good laugh. The question is: what are they laughing about? That Lévy did not have the good sense to run a search? Did he need a simulated theorist to rubbish Kant as “raving mad” and a “fake”? If that is so, then should one not examine why the journalist chose to do what he has done? His mock-up effort has been going on since 1999 – what prompted his fiction?

Lévy’s critics, even while damning him as a poseur, do not fail to refer to him as “France’s most dashing philosopher”, which is a rather superficial yardstick for philosophers. It is the celebrity craze that props up thinkers who can turn around and, as Lévy has done, say, “So I was caught, as were the critics who reviewed the book when it came out. The only thing left to say, with no hard feelings, is kudos to the artist!”

He is being magnanimous and including the whole intellectual community in his blunder. Rightly so, for the cult of the thinker is seriously flawed in contemporary times. “It’s the role of the philosopher to land blows,” according to Lévy.

What passes for original thought is essentially dependent on a bibliography not only of data but of ideas that have been sponged on. In the realm of philosophy, it becomes difficult to understand the fount from the fountain. The basis of judicious analysis is to understand available material and find one’s tangential niche, unless one is part of a fan club or a groupie.

Lévy’s fault is not quoting a fictional philosopher, but being cavalier about it.

The imagined aspect is redundant when ghost writing has become fairly commonplace.

A few years ago All Deliberate Speed, a book by Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor, had six paragraphs lifted from What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said, a book by Yale professor Jack Balkin, and he did not know he had plagiarised. Why? He had left the job to his assistants. The wrong assistant forgot to attribute it, or so he said, and it went straight to the publishers without him realising it.

He acknowledged his assistants but it was an Ogletree book. Often an academician claims to be helping out students; young people are indeed looking for such godfathers but what are they being taught? It is about being part of institutional cliques. It is an incestuous world where the hierarchy is based on who gets to the goal-post first. Not how. The number of guest lectures, the countries that send out invitations help in bolstering this pecking order. The academic junket junkies merely hold forth within the circumscribed area of what their sponsors lay out.

This case got some amount of exposure because big universities were involved. What must happen in smaller colleges? In the Lévy case, the most damning indictment was that he did not check on the internet. There is precious irony here. The fact that thorough philosophical discourse must include proper reading, absorbing, disputing of prevalent ways of thinking has now become something that is available within a few seconds.

If internet search engines are doing all the work, then why are huge sums of money spent on research that has absolutely no value except to glorify the teams, get their works published in journals and help create new celebrities? Most of the studies are only slightly smarter than spot polls. A small sample of people is used and treated no better than laboratory rats. Clearly, the motive is to prove a theory and there seems to be no room for individualism.

Besides, there is a disconnect with the outside world. The purpose of such knowledge is to disseminate information and not to be an exercise in vanity. While scientific breakthroughs in important areas are indeed valuable, what passes for science these days is quite often suspect or susceptible to vagaries of trends that are in turn chattels of commercial interests.

One of the reasons we still wish to respect the academic is that we believe there was no hurry to be feted. The image of the Saint of Scholarly Seeking toiling away among moth-eaten books in silent libraries smelling of old wood was a romantic notion. Today, not only do they wish to become known, but known better than the bloke sitting in the next cabin. Academics are often popular writers who were chartered accountants or some such thing and reinvented themselves, wrote fabulist tales about obscure aspects of their personal renaissance, were celebrated in the lists of bookstores along with cupcakes and immediately offered a Fellowship; if they are lucky in their veteran days, there might be a Chair named after them.

What makes them utterly charming is that after years of having done number-crunching they do not forget those roots and continue to nurse the market bubble. They have begun to use less heavy language, which would have been rather nice, except that they continue to look down on those who have such naturally accessible abilities.

Trivia is trumped up as appraisal. How many times must we have dreams of Madonna and Mona Lisa’s smile analysed or an ‘unusual’ assessment of Marilyn Monroe’s death?

The other worrying aspect is: Why would there be so many different versions and emphasis on how products affect us? From chocolates to wine to the scent from male armpits, we are inundated with conflicting information. Our health, sex lives and physical appeal become silent guinea pigs to this charade that is played out in campuses.

Again, these findings do not take cognisance of cultural, metabolic and even personal disparities. How provable are they outside of the study group? Are the findings adequate indicators to apply across societies?

What about thinkers and their ideas? Are thoughts verifiable? It would be fascinating to explore these areas but we’d end up with a fictional philosopher to make the real more potently real.

11.2.10

A Tissue for Sale

We read about the prized virgins in backward countries and are offended. We read about hymenoplasty and are offended. How about ‘priced’ virgins?

A 19-year-old in New Zealand auctioned her virginity online for $32,000 for tuition money. She used the pseudonym ‘Unigirl’. Her ad said:

“I am offering my virginity by tender to the highest bidder as long as all personal safety aspects are observed. This is my decision made with full awareness of the circumstances and possible consequences.”


Over 30,000 people had viewed her ad and more than 1,200 had made bids before she accepted an offer of more than $32,000. All this she managed without posting a photograph or details that were verifiable.

What does it tell us? That those who bid were doing it to help her get a good education? That they were excited by the possibility of a blind date they would be paying for? Is it that they valued the virginity since they can get sex from anywhere? Why would anyone take the trouble?

Even if they are not certain, those who took part in the auction must have felt powerful. There is a culture of ‘deflowering’ that makes men believe they are the first to conquer.

That is the reason we have these surgeries to repair ruptured hymens. While it is known to happen in non-western countries, the idea of virginity – and the nubile young girl – is indeed the stuff of fantasies as well as creative works.

Without morally judging the seller or the buyer here, it is disturbing that the girl could not borrow this amount from parents or friends. She is obviously smart enough to know about safety aspects. How would she ensure that? Can she, a ‘bought item’, demand a medical test? Is it only her virginity at stake as a one-time act or will she get trapped into giving more of herself?

Is she certain that the amount will be given to her, and if so her real identity may be out since the transaction is unlikely to be in cash?

I am afraid I don’t think much of such education that forces people – men and women – to objectify themselves or rather a part of themselves. They become reduced to just what they are selling. Some may think it is empowering because 'Unigirl' chose to do what she did. A system or society that makes people use these measures only transforms them into manipulated dolls who begin to wallow in the very concept of manipulation.

She will know how much she costs but not how much she is really worth as a person. And that is the benchmark she might well start using to gauge others. It is a loss, anyway we see it.

Cricket for Hockey

The stadium is empty. He sits on a bench. He won’t play. But he will cheer. He will paint his face with the tricolour. He will root for our team. He is plugging hockey. He is a cricketer.

Virendra Sehwag has been roped in to promote World Cup Hockey 2010, starting February 28. I find it hugely insulting.

I keep reading about lost past glory. What past glory does cricket have?

The major advantage, at the basic level, is that there is something like gully cricket; there is no gully hockey. It is a stadium game and needs to be treated as such.

Hockey is mired in as many controversies as the cricket organisations, but it does not have sponsors. It is a vicious circle. Someone has to start getting people interested. I am not holding a flag for it as a national game, but we have to respect the fact that it was hockey that brought us glory. It is a sport that is played internationally, too.

A film like Chak De was almost like a concession to it.

Virendra Sehwag in the ad gets attention for himself and the sport he plays. No one is interested in whether he is going to watch hockey or kabbaddi.

10.2.10

Thai Marines?


What are US marines doing eating scorpions, lizards, frogs and drinking a cobra’s blood? I understand this is part of the jungle survival techniques. They are part of the ‘Cobra Gold 2010’ joint military exercise with Thailand to help keep peace within that country.

Assuming that there is some sort of turmoil or civil unrest, most protest movements prefer to be visible in urban areas where they can reach the authorities. If there are insurgent movements in hiding, then US Marines might not take too long to spot them. They are not likely to have a face-to-face combat.

The presence of these troops came about with Thailand agreeing to fight the US ‘War Against Terror’. The problems Thailand faces are from the South, with the Malay Muslims and from Cambodia. There were earlier some noises about how bandits were being called insurgents. This ‘unrest’ can indeed be problematic, but is it possibly a result of the increasing use of outside forces that act as saviours?

These pictures are, however, disturbing because they create the impression of a society that in all probability indulges in such survival tactics on a regular basis and is therefore backward. Soldiers are rarely in a position where they need to subsist in this manner even when there is an active war on or they are in bunkers. Whatever happened to canned beans?


I am no authority on Thailand, but this much I know is that it is a culturally rich country, a kingdom to be technically correct. Unfortunately, it has been marketed in a different manner, with Bangkok and Phuket seen as sex cities. There is a thriving industry of commercial sex, as there is in any society. There is open display of strip clubs, but then they are there in Amsterdam and Hamburg and anywhere else in the world as well. As for the Thai massage, why does it produce sniggers when the Swiss or Kerala massage does not? Whose fault is it that there is no American or British massage culture?

Perhaps they are so accustomed to being colonisers and pampered that they have not been able to grasp the intricacies of making others feel good.

Oh, yes, there is no Islamic massage either. But no mea culpa from me for that!

9.2.10

Dis n dat

I am not surprised that some student from the National Institute of Design (NID) posed as a journalist to enter the court premises and later attacked former Haryana DGP S P S Rathore.

The case of Ruchika’s molester has been covered rather strangely in the media, especially the emphasis on his smile/sneer. This student really behaved like some stupid hack. Utsav Sharma will be hailed for his self-righteous anger over the light sentence meted out to Rathore. The guy did not know Ruchika, he would not take a knife out to slash fellow students in ragging cases or some punk throwing acid on the face of a girl who has jilted him. To be a hero, you need a prominent villain.

This is an old case, and its sudden shooting into prominence reveals how we make use of certain examples for our own benefit. Rathore should be given the stiffest punishment without being given so much media coverage.

- - -

There will be another round of discussions about the West Bengal government and its reservations for Muslim OBCs. I have been against reservations based on religion because they result in ghettoisation. Besides, Muslim caste structure is different and based primarily on economic backwardness. What caste did the villagers of Nandigram belong to?

- - -

Amitabh Bachchan read out his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poems. Zia Mohiuddin from Pakistan read out the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. This was part of the Shaman ka Chacha* TOI thing.

Was there a need to posit Hindi against Urdu? Urdu is an Indian language, and an official one. It would have been nicer if we had two Urdu writers from both sides being feted. Ghalib is ours. So are several others.

And pardon my saying so. Even with my limited knowledge, Harivanshrai is no comparison to Faiz. If we wanted Hindi, then we have ‘Dinkar’, Maithili Sharan Gupt.

It would have made great sense to promote ‘other’ aspects of culture, like, say, a Tamil or Malayali poet and someone writing in Saraiki or Pushto from the other side.

And has anyone noticed that women are hardly represented in any of the 'series'? Will they be lumped into one intellectual zenana, a harem to discuss wimmin's vermin issues?
- - -
*Play on 'Aman ki Asha'

8.2.10

I told you so...

The Shiv Sena and Shahrukh Khan have "climbed down" a bit, without altering their "ideological" positions. So, the SS is not interested in doing anything to interfere with the release of 'My Name Is Khan' and the actor won't take the war of words further. How convenient.

Anyhow, I said this would happen a few days ago in 'News Meeows -23'.

The new news was in yesterday's papers. One would imagine TV debates that are aired live to keep up with fresh news. Instead, we had the same things regurgitated. The usual shouting to emphasise nothing.

A few noticeable points:

* A studio audience is not the "aam junta".
* Dissent is not some tutored youth, who believes Shahrukh has done so much, standing up to say they would all go and line up to watch the film ("Come on guys, let us show them," he said). It is called falling prey to hype and following trends.
* Konkona Sen Sharma saying, "But arts and sports must be exempt from all this, no?" is the sort of bubble some people wish to protect. Why only arts and sports? There is a world outside also, no?

Did no one read the papers that morning? If they did, why did they not discuss the fact that there was a 'truce' of sorts.

Neither the SS nor Khan is standing for any ideological position so let us not even get there.

7.2.10

The Curious Case of Dr Afia Siddiqui

The demonisation of violence
The Curious Case of Dr Afia Siddiqui
by Farzana Versey

Countercurrents, February 6, 2010


The mosquito hovered over skin and with one little prick it had sucked out blood, infected an innocent person who might suffer from malaria. If the person is poor and lives in inhabitable surroundings, it could prove to be fatal. The insect is not accused of violence.

Had it been ‘Lady Al Qaeda’, she might have raised her hand and screamed, “Out, damned spot!”

Is Afia Siddiqui a Lady Macbeth metaphorical clone, a “psycho”, anti-Semitic as she is being accused of and which reveals the febrile mindset of those indicting her? Did she carry chemicals that would make bombs? Why did the judge often throw her out of the court accusing her of outbursts, which is a strange reason indeed?

She had fought back by saying, “Since I’ll never get a chance to speak…If you were in a secret prison, or your children were tortured…Give me a little credit, this is not a list of targets of New York. I was never planning to bomb it. You’re lying.”

There are clear divisions in this case and part of the reason is that she was an educated, articulate woman, a neuroscientist. The world cannot yet deal with this ‘type’. Incidentally, Dr Siddiqui has not been convicted for an act of terror but in the popular imagination even felony, if the victim is the lordly West, can pass muster as militancy. It is another matter that no tangible evidence has been provided for this too.

After the judgement she reportedly told her attorney, Elaine Sharp, to inform her supporters abroad of her fate and that she did not want any violence to ensue. What is violence? Support groups? Those who retaliate? The Establishment?

The malaria example might appear a facile metaphor for something that wreaks havoc and creates fissures in society. Truth is that violence is seen through a microscope instead of a telescope. In the laboratory the specimen sample is militancy and not martini. Martini by itself may remain shaken within the confines of a glass, but it stirs the sort of sophisticated idea of good versus evil where good is a given. There are no nuances, no dimensions. You meet the hero and just accept him. To enter into a debate would be travesty. He belongs to Her Majesty’s Secret Service and not the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Ku Klux Klan.

By pinning down one particular stream of fiendishness we completely ignore the more rampant issue of social violence – at the workplace, at home, as petty crime, as psychological aggression.

Religion and nationalism are the two most brutal forces. They do not give you a choice to understand the greys. They are intangible and, as in Sartre’s world, the incommunicable is the source of violence.

Every belief system has arisen due to some skirmishes. Amazingly, we use tribal warfare and mythology as benchmarks in a world that aims for détente. The penury of organised faith to sustain human civility is manifest when temples, mosques, churches are regularly desecrated – a term that takes the shine off violence and transforms it into something akin to a satanic act of sin. Stampedes at pilgrimage sites are further evidence of just this sort of pugnacity.

Using hostile opposites as an example, Leo Tolstoy said, “The churches are arrogance, violence, usurpation, rigidity, death; Christianity is humility, penitence, submissiveness, progress, life.”

The problem is arrogant display often gets wiped out by penitence. Cries of “Allah-u-Akbar” and “Jai Siya Ram” are the precursors of contemporary violence. Thieves and rapists do not shout out slogans.
A headcount of dead patriots glorifies the sense of nationhood that the wrapped-in-flag corpses had no premonition of. In their trail are thousands of cadavers that worked in those conquered countries, had names stamped on identity cards. That did them in. Their being certain people.

Certain people are not important. Their lives standing on footholds of local trains, losing limbs in factories, fighting for basic wages, fighting to enter places of worship, to marry someone from another caste, class, race, religion do not constitute brutality, even if they lose their lives in these battles. They are not burnished with the gold of nationalistic gunfire.

The American people are brainwashed into believing in a just fight. No explanation is given because it is about Being American, an America that can now show off god’s creation and liberty at the White House by installing a totem Harlem. It won’t pay heed to Malcolm X’s words: “If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.”

Defence is rarely the goal of violence. It is an advertisement for oneself. What tells a militant apart from a James Bond? If we take away the so-called ideology of the former and the willingness to die for it, then both are comic-strip like characters that transmogrify into soap-opera heroes whose travails are ongoing as is their invincibility.

There is one crucial difference in the machismo: a lack of brotherhood. As a loner, Bond tempts the enemies instead of vanquishing them. It is a violence that seeks male bonding. He kills violence using violence.

The fanatically-driven sadist dies killing a lot of others with him. Both use ‘goodness’ as their calling card and although representative of specific places are rootless. Such emotional diaspora makes their aggression almost democratic and global in its sweep. Nothing is above them and everyone is below them.

The targets don’t get brownie points for making them happen. It’s a win-win situation. Therefore, by demonising violence we sanctify it. Why stone a devil that is within?

6.2.10

The Death of Bo

Think. The last member of your clan dies and what you had hoped would outlive you has gone. Disappeared from the face of the earth, the universe after 65,000 years of existence.

Think.

Boa Senior, the only one left of the Bo tribe of the Andamans, died at 85. And took with her every remnant of a culture, a language, a way of living.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “With Boa Senior’s death and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of society is now just a memory.”

A memory for whom? Who would know and, even if they did, why would they remember?

Apparently, she once told linguists, “We were all there when the earthquake came. The eldest told us ‘the Earth would part, don’t run away or move’.”

They knew how to survive. Yet, they were not allowed to. First it was the British colonisers who killed them or just let them die of diseases they could not cope with due to the advent of new viruses. Their departure did not help. The process of civilisation is complicated and in the urban mindset it means trying to change people. But only superficially. You give them clothes to cover themselves up, but nothing is done to preserve their heritage. Or if it is, there is commercial exploitation.

They provide fodder for photographers; a visit is considered dangerous and akin to a trip to a wildlife sanctuary where you are supposed to spot them.

Channels such as Discovery do attempt to trace them and provide a semblance of understanding, yet no one is concerned in helping them live their lives the way they want to by working within their system and needs.

The more accessible tribes are showcased on important national events for their dances and acrobatics. Those who have creative talent are given some materials to express it; these are then sent to the market and sold at trumped up rates. One does not know how much the tribals themselves benefit from it. There would be totem visible star who will be taken to award shows as a symbol of our national culture.

How many of us remember? How many of them have been sustained after this? Besides, can we not respect the fact that what they draw is rudimentary and meant for rough walls and floors and not soft boards? I feel sickened by the idea that these are displayed in houses that reek of ostentation.

Am I over-reacting? Isn’t it better than leaving them in little places? The point is that we are not including them in what we call civil society; we are using them, and that too not all of them. The rest will continue to be in those places until some great shining hope in the form of big fat cameras descends to capture their work or their breasts.

Boa’s death is a frightening reminder that the thousands of years of what was created and built upon was allowed to perish.

The Bo was a sub-tribe of the Great Andamanese; there are only 52 left of these as well. I can only hope that we get some sense and work on preserving them and what they stand for. It is not they who need to be civilised but we, for our callousness and our idea of inflicting supremacy on those who still have some self-esteem to keep their culture alive.

The beauty is that they don’t even know it. If only such innocence could be canonised in a world where even saints need to perform miracles.

5.2.10

Am I not sexy enough for you?

I thought these long sessions, foreplay with words, the urgency to do something, shed inhibitions and garbs, the languorous moments with the seen and the unseen, as sentences were caressed and teased worked.

Not anymore. Blogging is passé. Emails are...oh, no...



A new study has found that brief is in. People want quickies.

Danah Boyd, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said, “Remember when ‘You’ve got mail!’ used to produce a moment of enthusiasm and not dread? (Now) people focus on using them for what they’re good for and turning to other channels for more exciting things.”

What is more exciting about tweets? Or leaving messages on walls at Facebook or other social networking sites? Is communication about just leaving behind a toe-print and not a trail? Yet, it is these sites that have ‘followers’. What are they following?

I took a quick look and found that this is just a way to make an asinine comment and then scoot off. Substance is lacking. I can understand celebrities doing that; I can understand if it is used to direct people to something of import elsewhere that they themselves have contributed to. But this is just one more element of fan culture where anyone with an account can claim to have fans. It also ends up as a means to make visible that you have said something about someone, even if it is a one-liner, to seem important.

There could be a few who may be able to convey something, but even they know it is only an appetiser.

Another distressing aspect is that the study focused on the young. It assumes that sexiness is connected in some ways with youth, and that stops at 30. This is only encouraging an attitude that will push the idea and target youngsters who will become commercial puppets. Will they stop and listen? Will they want to explore ideas? Sharing only means files, vids, plans for da party and latest pix. (Incidentally, if all this is getting fast-paced and short, then why the need for larger electronic memories?)

Commercial enterprises are quick to catch on to trends and they will be thrown the bait of cosmetics, clothes, and culture as a quick fix. It will, I am afraid, also result in ‘moving on’ even in careers and relationships.

How does any of this become sexy?

Language as we know it and experiment with cannot become a harridan only because of some punks who don’t even use their fingers well, that is why they trip so often and miss the vowels to save space. It is like missing a moment and talking about the eternal. The eternal flush that skims over and never enters the pores to tickle the flesh of a thought that rises to meet a paragraph created for it.

Chidambaram and the voice

Home minister P Chidambaram is now getting the hang of it. There could be a one of us types in the 26/11 attacks.

“There was a handler in 26/11 whom we have known for long, or suspected for a long time, could be an Indian. That is something we have known for many, many months now... he goes by the name Abu Jindal, but he is not Abu Jindal, that is not his real name. We cannot get a finger on who he is, unless we get a voice sample. And they (Pakistan) won’t give us a voice sample.”

What? Is there some technical device through which you can figure out an Indian voice? Is it is the accent? Then, don’t forget the questions that were raised about the speech patterns of Kasab and his Pak handlers.

Chidambaram replaced Shivraj Patil as Home Minister following the attacks. If they were aware of this for long, and they asked for voice samples, then how did they put it to the Pakistani establishment? There are several other factors, so why would the voice be the deciding one? If they hinted at something, don’t you think the Pak authorities would go to town about it?

More importantly, are we so dependent on Pakistan to provide us with clues?

Now that PC has brought it out in the open, it would be interesting to watch another drama unfold. Did they keep quiet because of the elections and not to 'hurt' a certain section of society?

Incidentally, unlike our reverend home minster, this blogger had raised this point and mentioned it right here on December 1, 2008, five days after the attack:

I know the authorities are coping with several things right now, but has anyone traced the whereabouts of this Deccan Mujahideen group, whatever it is? I mean, we manage to trace crank callers and spam too. This is important. Because they were misleading our security and intelligence agencies.

And where is the Indian Mujahideen? Just wondering....

If you’d like my 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 and missed it earlier, then go for it.

4.2.10

Words, words, words

Back to the Shaman ka chacha initiative by we know who. They got two young writers, “Punjabis” who know the meaning of panga (hah, who lives in a bubble?) to chat up each other on "BUSTIN’ MYTHS & FEARS".

I shall just take two quotes from the TOI report.

Chetan Bhagat:

“After all, peace isn’t touchy-feely organic farming. What do Pakistanis feel about Ajmal Kasab? Do Pakistanis want him prosecuted too?’’


I can understand a management type who wrote about three idiots not being really upto nuff where real Pakistanis are concerned. But I am curious about how organic farming has become touchy-feely and what does it have to do with peace/'unpeace'. Is regular farming like peace? And does the Pakistani attitude towards Kasab a yardstick for what they think about peace? What about before November 2008? Did they not exist? Aren’t those valid areas to explore?

Mohammed Hanif:

“I have yet to meet any Pakistani in his right mind who does not want Kasab prosecuted. As for the Mumbai terror attacks, we were scared out of our wits as we watched TV. Because we knew that if this was happening in Mumbai, it could just as easily take place in Pakistan. And that’s exactly what’s happening. How could anyone who saw the Mumbai terror attacks feel good about the incident?’’


How does Hanif define a right mind? This guy was with the Pakistani airforce; later he worked for the BBC’s Urdu radio service in London. He moved to Karachi last year. It shows, Is he saying that because something like 26/11 took place in India, it could happen in Pakistan?

There is no question about anyone feeling good, and even mentioning it is rather strange. It only buffers the image certain Indians have about Pakistan.

If this is what bringing about peace is, then let’s not leave it to people who cannot go beyond pangas.

3.2.10

Is Saudi Arabia responsible for all acts of its citizens?

It appears like just another case of legalised paedophilia, but it is important to note that sometimes what individuals do is not always accepted by the government.

A 12-year-old Saudi girl unexpectedly gave up her petition for divorce from an 80-year-old man her father forced her to marry in exchange for a dowry. Despite support from human rights lawyers and child welfare advocates, the girl and her mother, who originally sought the divorce, withdrew the case on Monday in a court in Buraidah, in Al-Qasim province.

Who is to blame here? The mother had earlier approached the government’s Human Rights Commission charging that the girl had been raped; the local media reported it. Now she and her daughter have backtracked. This is a social evil and has to be handled at several levels for I believe it is crucial to look at things holistically.

The father is a piece of scum who sold his daughter for 85,000 riyals ($22,667). The groom is a shameless man who not only paid for this nubile bride but also consummated the marriage. Why was the mother quiet initially, then made a noise and has now withdrawn the case? I can only sympathise with the girl. She has been brainwashed about obedience to parents.

If the Saudi government body was willing to intervene, if the case did reach the courts and the media reported it, then do we reproach Saudi Arabia or the social mores or the individuals concerned? How many such examples are there? Do all of them appear in the public eye? What are the compulsions that drive people to do this? We imagine the kingdom to be rich, therefore what sort of greed was at play here?

We have had cases of men way in their dotage lusting after young women even in the West. The matter of choice is usually mentioned, but what choice can we talk about when there is power at play and the young women are hankering after riches and fame, not to speak about coveting even minor luxuries to keep up with the Joneses?

I think not all is lost in this case. The Saudi government should in fact assert itself and drag the father to court as well as the mother. There must certainly be provisions for forcing a minor through pressure tactics. The media has evidence since the mother had approached a journalist. That 80-year-old man needs to be tried too.

There is always talk about how women are not allowed to drive or go unescorted in Saudi Arabia. These are important enough issues at one level. It is more crucial to address how individuals make decisions that reflect badly on a particular society that anyway has a record for being considered regressive, and in some instances rightly so.

It is, however, time we realise that there are watchdogs even in such societies and they should be encouraged rather than buffering what they are fighting against by giving the negative more mileage.

Also, in the fluffy omelettes we may not notice our own bad eggs.

2.2.10

Bachchan, Modi, Terrorists and Mumbai

Political expediency can be this obvious:

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan has formally agreed to become the brand ambassador. Bachchan will participate in the development of Gujarat. He will use his image worldwide to promote tourism. Chief minister Narendra Modi in a letter to Bachchan has welcomed the actor’s decision.



Mr Bachchan was the brand ambassador of Uttar Pradesh. Ever since Amar Singh’s fallout with Mulayam Singh Yadav, it was understood that the Bachchans would not stick around. However, he ought not to have been in such a hurry. Gujarat has been flaunting its economic progress; it has done well for itself. So, obviously, it isn’t that everything was in the doldrums and they needed a superstar.

Mr B’s relationship and exposure to Gujarat is limited. I can hear the voices saying, he is an Indian and the best representative. True. But tourists are not going to flock to the state because of him. To make it worse, he had this to say:

“I do not agree with anyone who calls me shahenshah. This title is more apt for Modi; I am nowhere close.”


And, as a citizen of the country, he ought to realise that the Modi regime has been harsh on the industry from which he earns his livelihood. He may not protest when their films are banned, but the least he can do is not help out an establishment whose human rights record is abysmal.

This is complete obeisance, typical Bachchan fake humility. Only in this case, it sends out a different message. He owes it to the people of the nation. I doubt whether we’ll hear much against this, and if you do it will be couched in sober words.

Mr Amitabh Bachchan has conveniently sold out to the best possible hope for him at the moment. Mr Bachchan has acted irresponsibly in doing so.

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How stupid it all is. This Marathi maanus versus the rest of the country. I have said it before that the RSS will not support the Shiv Sena stance because the saffron lot depends on the northern belt. So, no surprises about the BJP’s position.

However, they have smartly – and wrongly – invoked Article 370 to define the Sena attitude to that prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir. One has to do with sovereignty; the other prejudice. One has got a historical reason, however fissiparous it has turned out to be; the other is simply to keep out immigrants from within. Article 370 does not talk about kashmiriat; the Sena idea is about Marathi maanus.

Is the opposition to this strong, or even sensible, enough? No. Here is what Rahul Gandhi has said:

“North Indians (NSG) saved Mumbaikars during 26/11. If terror has to be fought, let Biharis stay in.”


This is ridiculous. Is he trying to say that the NSG specifically employs only North Indians? How many Mumbaikars were saved? What about the times they were not saved? Since when have Biharis become the force against terror? Is this about terrorism at all?

Sheer poppycock is passing for politics, which is bad enough on its own.

All that has to be done is throw the Constitution on the face of the Shiv Sena or drag the party to court. No Opposition party will dare do that because they are thinking about the future, about coalitions, about feeding their own vote banks.