31.5.10

The Queen, Brothels and Commonwealth Games

Isn’t it time we stopped the Commonwealth Games? Participants are countries that once were colonies of the British. We are now independent nations. Sports of any kind do not depend on old laws and aspects that hark back to the days and ways of yonder.

You might wonder why we play games that we inherited from the Brits. Then, we can go splitting hairs over several other things. Here, nomenclature reveals a form of slavery.

And the Queen of England has been inaugurating it for 44 years. This time, she won’t attend. She is busy, which should give us an opportunity not to be lazy about the monarchy and its role in our lives and our public image. Instead, we are seeing it as a “departure from tradition”. She is sending Prince Charles as her emissary to read out a message to the athletes during the opening ceremony. Prince Edward is the Vice Patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation, so he will be attending.

For a few months now one had been reading reports about how our home minister has been urging officials to pull all stops and see to it that the roads leading to the venues are in perfect shape; it is a good thing but he has talked about making a good impression to the world.

Obviously, we as citizens do not deserve these facilities.

In a related report, brothels in Delhi’s red-light area are being given a makeover and the residents are being given English lessons, as though they will be asked to have conversations.

Besides the fancy tiles, split ACs, refrigerators and LCD TVs have appeared as the latest additions in these brothels, which too hope to benefit from the Games extravaganza. While the owners themselves provide most of the money, funds have also come from National Network for Sex Workers, which is funded by the Ford Foundation. Apart from renovating the brothels, non-voluntary organisations are also focusing on health and hygiene of the workers.

It is sad that it takes an international event to motivate not just government officials but NGOs too. Should not hygiene and health be priorities every day, especially in professions that are vulnerable most?

Business does increase considerably on such occasions, be it sports or political meets, but this really is playing up sex tourism.

End note:

LCD TVs in brothels? Will they be watching the games there?

USA to teach Indian MPs?

You would not catch them attending a leadership programme at one of our universities or management institutes.

But twelve of our ministers will be off to Yale University to attend the fourth annual Programme for India’s Parliamentarians that was launched in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and India-US Forum of Parliamentarians.

From the fairly seasoned Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi to the young Union ministers of state Ajay Maken and Agatha Sangma, from the ruling party to the regional and religion-oriented ones it is a diverse mix.

What do these people hope to learn? What is the India-US Forum of Parliamentarians about? Is it a lobbying group? Or will it help brainwash our MPs to understand the American system better?

Besides undergoing a seven-day leadership programme at the Yale University campus beginning June 9, the MPs would travel to New York and Washington for meetings, discussions and interactions with US politicians, policy analysts and senior government officials. “The India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Programme is pioneering in the amazing diversity of topics explored; in the outstanding, cutting edge quality of the world-renowned lecturers; in the truly bipartisan nature of the multiparty delegation,” said Singhvi.

This is not about individuals going abroad for education or even professionals attending seminars or conferences. These are our elected representatives who will shamelessly sit and listen to some American on how to be leaders in India, a country that is vastly different in every way. Mr. Singhvi is the spokesperson of the ruling party and has been holding forth on policy decisions. What are we to make of the things he has been saying? That he needs an education?

Will any of these ministers be asked to speak and address US parliamentarians?

Since FICCI is involved, there is obviously the economic angle. The angle of how to pass files for industrial houses and possibly multinationals. Who is paying for their trip?

Forget all this leadership baloney. They are being had and, worse, loving it.

Where is our self-respect?

30.5.10

Sunday ka Funda

Social statements? Stalemates? Damn. This guy knows what he is talking about.


Minimum wage got my adrenaline caged
Full of venom and rage
Especially when I'm engaged
And my daughter's down to her last diaper
That's got my ass hyper

That's Rock Bottom - Eminem



- - -

The complete lyrics:



A-yo!
This song is dedicated to all the happy people
All the happy people who have real nice lives
And who have no idea whats it like to be broke as fuck

[Verse One:]
I feel like I'm walking a tight rope, without a circus net
I'm popping percocets, I'm a nervous wreck
I deserve respect; but I work a sweat for this worthless check
Bout to burst this tech, at somebody to reverse this debt
Minimum wage got my adrenaline caged
Full of venom and rage
Especially when I'm engaged
And my daughter's down to her last diaper
That's got my ass hyper
I pray that god answers, maybe I'll ask nicer
Watching ballers while they flossing in their pathfinders
These overnight stars becoming autograph signers
We all long to blow up and leave the past behind us
Along with the small fry's and average half pinters
While player haters turn bitch like they have vaginas
Cause we see them dollar signs and let the cash blind us
Money will brainwash you and leave your ass mindless
Snakes slither in the grass spineless

[Chorus (x2):]
That's Rock Bottom
When this life makes you mad enough to kill
That's Rock Bottom
When you want something bad enough to steal
That's Rock Bottom
When you feel you have had it up to here
Cause you mad enough to scream but you sad enough to tear

[Verse Two:]
My life is full of empty promises
And broken dreams
I'm hoping things will look up
But there ain't no job openings
I feel discouraged hungry and malnourished
Living in this house with no furnace, unfurnished
And I'm sick of working dead end jobs with lame pay
And I'm tired of being hired and fired the same day
But fuck it, if you know the rules to the game play
Cause when we die we know were all going the same way
It's cool to be player, but it sucks to be the fan
When all you need is bucks to be the man
Plus a luxury sedan
Too comfortable and roomy in a six
They threw me in the mix
With all these gloomy lunatics
Walk around depressed
And smoke a pound of ses a day
And yesterday went by so quick it seems like it was just today
My daughter wants to throw the ball but I'm too stressed to play
Live half my life and throw the rest away

[Chorus]

There's people that love me and people that hate me
But it's the evil that made me this backstabbing, deceitful, and shady
I want the money, the women, the fortune, and the fame
That Means I'll end up burning in hell scorching in flames
That means I'm stealing your checkbook and forging your name
Lifetime bliss for eternal torture and pain
Right now I feel like just hit the rock bottom
I got problems now everybody on my blocks got 'em
I'm screaming like those two cops when 2pac shot 'em
Holding two glocks, I hope your doors got new locks on 'em
My daughter's feet ain't got no shoes or sock's on 'em
And them rings you wearing look like they got a few rocks on 'em
And while you flaunting them I could be taking them to shops to pawn them
I got a couple of rings and a brand new watch you want 'em?
Cause I never went gold of one song
I'm running up on someone's lawns with guns drawn

[Chorus]

28.5.10

Heart of the Market

Do you pledge to play more often with Leo? Do you pledge to use the treadmill? Do you? Your heart and its well-being are not only an advertiser’s paradise, but they are used to convey the wide disparity that exists between the social classes.

The Times of India has started the Billion Hearts Beating campaign together with Apollo Hospital. The ads refer to an audience that will have access to the good things of life. The assumption is that heart diseases affect only the urban individual, that only their health is of any consequence.

You might say that readers of the TOI are not living in villages, so it is perfectly fine to address this group. Here is the problem: It creates a closed group that begins to believe that only certain sections suffer; the rest are peripheral.

Some of you might recall that a while ago Quaker Oats had joined in. I had written then about what a sad trend it is of marrying concern with consumerism and blatantly plugging products. While Apollo Hospital does have facilities for such care and is directly involved, what do oats and newspapers have to do with it? You’d quibble that this is sponsorship and support, and the corporate sector can help in educating. I’d have gone along with that if it were only about you and me.

Of the millions who will suffer from heart diseases, how many eat oats or are amenable to the idea? How many even know what oats are? Quaker is not an Indian company; it is a multinational that wants to make a dent in the Indian market. Is there any proven study that shows oats reduce the risk of heart problems or reading a particular newspaper will educate you more?

I called it a trend. It is worse. This is a money-making racket through fear.

We already have false images of people in white coats telling you that your toothpaste has been certified by them so little children can eat as many chocolates and ice-cream as they want. There is one absolutely ridiculous ad where a kid is complaining of a tummy ache and the ‘doctor’ model says it is not the stomach to blame but the germs that find their way into the hands. You get the right soap and all is well. While the germs-on-hands theory is true, the stomach does have a mechanism of its own. No one bothers to ask or tell us that children or adults do not walk around with soap.

If these heart waalas are concerned, and there has got to be more education here, then they could have added some simple message of eating daliya, which is porridge, which is what oats amount to. The minute you want to ride on the salesman’s gravy cart, there is a chance of credibility going under the horse’s hooves.

26.5.10

Purple Pose

She blinked against the sun’s sharp rays of afternoon, her lids sparkling with silver eye-shadow. I would not have noticed her but she stopped me as I was crossing the street. There was hesitation in her voice as she asked for the address of a trendy lounge bar. It was a few metres away from where we stood.

Even as she thanked me, I could see there was nervousness in her gait. What struck me most was her gown in georgette, clinging to her lean frame. Other than a knee-length slit there was nothing spectacular about it. It wasn’t bad; it was ordinary. Ordinary is worse than bad. The colour was purple. I had read a few days ago in some glossy that purple was ‘in’.

She had probably read it, too, and decided that she had to follow the fad. Everything about her spoke of a simple existence. If she did not know the address of this place, then she must live in another part of the city. She had most likely taken a bus, brought out the money from her little clutch bag – also ‘in’, according to glossies – that was designed to look like a labeled one. She must have visited her tailor or gone to one of those many small shops that now call themselves boutiques and told the salesperson, “Purple.”

Purple became her anthem, I imagined. But would all those other people where she was going to be dressed in purple with silver eye-shadow, holding on to a clutch and wearing sandals with precarious heels and tacky tassels? They would, but they had ‘real’ names written on these appendages.

She would be the outsider, a chance that fell upon her. A rich friend, perhaps. A colleague who wanted to shower munificence. She must have agreed because she wanted to feel like them. Just for an afternoon. Of more.

I dreaded the thought of her entering the dark smoky room only to find that her hosts and their friends were all casually dressed. What would happen to her gown?

As she tick-tocked away from me, I could see the lower ends of her straightened hair curl. A blow-dry gone bad. I wanted to talk to her, talk to those eyes that blinked against the sharp sun’s rays. I wanted to wipe out violet from her prism because that is all she would see.

I write this almost a month after the incident and think about a purple bruise, a purple person who was a wound.

Of PIOs, Rathore and the BJP's Prodigals

She is an advocate and the first woman attorney-general. But trust the headlines to play that down. Hindustan Times had ‘Indian-origin granny is PM of Trinidad’. The Times of India went with ‘Indian-origin’.




Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been elected the first woman prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

“I am grateful for the immense support from women across the country,” Persad-Bissessar, a devout Hindu, said. “I celebrate this victory on their behalf.”

Her forefather was among the 1,48,000 Indian labourers who were brought here between 1845 and 1917 to work on sugar and cocoa plantations.


How far back in time can we go to claim origins to specific places and fete it? I am waiting to see how much mileage this news gets in the Indian media, what analysis follows. After all, she is not heading a Western company. Trinidad and Tobago are in the news when we see beauty queens strutting down the ramp and their sash has many more words. If forty-four per cent of the country’s population is of Indian origin there may be quite a few who have achieved something. You never hear about that.

I should hope Ms. Persad-Bissessar will change that and we look beyond the US-Europe axis. And we have not missed the reference to her being a “devout Hindu”. I am quite certain if the Indian media interviews her, she will be asked how many times she prays, who is her favourite deity, what festivals she celebrates and she might lovingly display some idol. She has to keep her forefather’s home constituency happy. They don’t do Trinidad and Tobago often.

Oh, and Hindutvawadis will talk about how Hinduism is a global phenomenon.

Of course, I could be wrong and no one will give a damn because she is not heading PepsiCo.

- - -

Why is everyone celebrating justice?

Former Haryana DGP S P S Rathore was thrown behind bars on Tuesday, 20 years after he molested 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra, driving her to shame and suicide,

He has got an 18-month sentence. He is in a barrack where they put undertrials and convicted police officers. The manner in which newspapers have been writing about his strip search is as though they feel something unusual is being done. He is a criminal and what is being done to him is what criminals have to go through. There is also this disgusting emphasis on his smile. Every report would mention his smile and now they sat there is no smile.

However, Rathore told TOI while coming out of the court, “The smile is on my face and it will remain.’’

Oh, my, what a scoop.

This man is disgusting for several reasons. The last time he mentioned the cramped space where it was impossible to molest anyone and he would have to be Hanuman and perform a miraculous feat to change his size. Someone ought to have slapped him. And where were the upholders of religion? This man is using a mythological character to say that he could commit a crime if he was one.

The judge, Gurbir Singh, pronounced the verdict:

“As police officer, his role was to protect the public. As president of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association, his role was to train budding players for India. But he failed in both duties by molesting a minor girl. People are afraid to send minor girls to playgrounds due to the presence of such persons.”


Is this some dacoit film dialogue…so jaao, nahin tau Gabbar aayega? What if he had encouraged other budding players and had performed his police duties on other occasions? This is a specific case and the judgement should be specific.

Subhash Girhotra, the girl’s father, said:

“It doesn’t matter that the sentence awarded is one-and-a-half years or two years because justice has been delivered. The court has taken the side of righteous people. But the battle will continue for justice in the abetment of suicide case.”

The courts took 14 years and Rathore resigned seven years after his crime. How can anyone call this justice?

I am also intrigued that his wife, a lawyer, is representing him in court. It must not be easy. Does she truly believe in his innocence or is she performing her wifely duties? Is she under threat to do so?


- - -




If there was one person who was most certainly not taken in by Jaswant Singh’s ‘ouster’ from the BJP it was this writer. I had even alluded here that his martyrdom was a concocted act.

I had also maintained that Uma Bharti’s leaving the party is a superficial move.

Now, we have it in cold print. Just the way everyone likes it:

The BJP is all set to welcome back into its fold two of its expelled leaders — Jaswant Singh and Uma Bharti — it is learnt.

If things turn out according to plan, Singh could be back before the party’s national executive scheduled for June 12-13 in Patna and so could Bharti. Of the two, the prospects of Singh’s homecoming are stronger with senior partyman L K Advani himself having initiated the process.

Uma Bharti had quit the party she started! What more can one say about such power-hungry people? They will justify their return by saying things like, “We were always ideologically with the BJP”, “There are fights but we are one big family”, “Disagreements reveal that we are a democratic party” and ho-hum.

PS: What happens to those poor supporters of our sophisticated and shrewd Jaswant Singh?

25.5.10

Protest or pique?

It is not about the Saudis, stupid; it is about a Pakistan in denial, fighting its own demons.

Protest or pique?
by Farzana Versey
May 25

The Islamists and the government of Pakistan have been unable to follow the Holy Quran in spirit, given the laws against women and minorities. The liberals do not make a strong case against local issues. They are busy downloading or uploading videos of people being shot dead by the Taliban, indulging in a titillating form of sadism that whets the voyeuristic appetite for the gruesome violence being perpetrated.

For a while now, Pakistani authorities have been trying to be more loyal than the most devout king. A lot has been written about the blocking of social networking sites that would expose its citizens to images of the Prophet (pbuh) following a cartoon contest. This gave the establishment an opportunity to send out the message to the world that it is seriously an Islamic Republic.

The decision, though questionable, goes beyond freedom of speech, whether it is of the cartoonists or the citizens to access websites. Muslims in other parts of the world do protest, but banning restricts the space of individuals who might have remonstrated using the same websites to make their point. Interestingly, the contest invitation had been up a month ago and there was no outcry then.

For those opposed to such censorship, is it ideological resistance or is it about bored youngsters who will lose out on exchanging notes with friends or checking out photographs? Do they support the idea behind such lampooning? It is unlikely, for they react with vehemence in matters of religion. It may often be a public posture that may have nothing to do with their personal stance, which would qualify as self-censorship. What could be the reason behind putting a muzzle on one’s mouth?

There is a good deal of talk about the Saudi-isation of Pakistan. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy had to face resistance for encouraging ‘un-Islamic’ ideas in the physics department when he started a film club at the Quaid-e-Azam University. Some students switched off the lights when the brilliant mathematician is being seduced by his wife in A Beautiful Mind. Yet, pirated DVDs of Bollywood films sell well. It is not the Saudis, stupid; it is about a Pakistan in denial, fighting its own demons. Wearing certain kinds of clothes or using language in a particular manner does not delete history. Culture is internalised.

When Indian artist M F Husain painted figures of Hindu goddesses, he got threats from hardliner groups at home. The Indian government woke up to support him only when Qatar gave him citizenship. The liberals back him selectively as an upholder of pluralism. Had he conveyed that he portrayed those images for reasons other than ‘knowledge’ and ‘interest in Indian mythology’, he would have been toasted, and not with a bottle of bubbly.

“Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime,” said Jacob Bronowski. Belief systems are conformist and censored paradigms, in that the faithful believe in only the given material. This is why countries like Pakistan cannot fight extremist religious elements within, but in matters of grabbing international eyeballs for an Islamic cause there is no obfuscation. It is time to reach the pique.
- - -
Published in Express Tribune

Sidelights about the piece:

I would like to state here that I do not normally prefix any religious text with the word 'holy' because I assume it is. Therefore, the 'Holy' before Quran was added by ET. Also I do not think it necessary to use 'PBUH" along with mention of the Prophet. That too was added.

This is to let you know that Pakistani newspapers probably need to follow certain standard rules. It reminds me of the editor of Khaleej Times telling me what a problem he had at the last minute because, new to the job there, he had no idea that you could not use the word god, even in capitalised form. It had to be the Almighty. I am not sure if he was seriously worried or he was just making sure it scared me off!

24.5.10

Concrete jungle

I live in one. You live in one. We feel walled in and then we break through walls. Ghosts. Or smashed heads. Or lonely souls:

Bob Marley - Concrete Jungle



- - -

Talking of which, the blogger cannot view the blog and now cannot post comments. So, I shall taste the cement and feel the bricks. Crash.

22.5.10

T-shirt politics

Every occasion is good enough to make bucks. Or to propagate a message. The souvenir industry thrives on such vulture-like behaviour.

The vendor who alerted the authorities about the recent bomb scare on Times Square is selling T-shirts with the message, ‘I saw something…so I said something’ superimposed on the American flag. He is selling his heroics for five dollars but he says in an evangelical tone that he wants people to be vigilant.

Is this any better than being eyed suspiciously by intelligence agencies? You see anything that you find suspicious and you talk about it. That does it. Who will stop the profiling that will be based on personal biases? You may have a bad experience with a person of a particular kind and you use that type to target. It can be dangerous.

It also reveals the nature of the way we look at contemporary history - as something to flash on your chest. Aw, yeah, your heart is in the right place.

Ask the vexpert - 22

Question: My boyfriend is a foreigner and we are thinking of consummating our relationship. Are foreign penises different from Indian ones? Will I have to do something special?

Sexpert: There is nothing different, except it won’t be brown. It’ll be pink and white.

Me: The sexpert assumes that foreigner means White. You have not specified his country of origin and his race. One thing you must remember about foreign penises is they are foreign, which makes it double trouble since the penis by itself is a foreigner to your system. It is not what you do but what will be done unto you that is more crucial here. Despite some anthropological knowledge, I am forced to put the Europeans together because the euro expects me to. However, the Italian one will be a bit argumentative; the French arrogant and given to small courses; the German would either still believe in the superiority of its race or suffer from guilt pangs given its Nazi past; the British will labour to be conservative resulting in confusion over its hung status. This brings us to the other Europe and we will not get into things Greek right now. East Europe will always be worried about separation so there may be times of withdrawal; its history has been turbulent so you could well end up in a war zone situation.

This leads us to the Middle East. Given the desert climate and the Bedouin history, the Arab is designed for harsh climatic conditions but due to the wealth from oil, he has pampered himself. Therefore there is a tendency to rough it out and then luxuriate. The African does not have the luxury of the latter.

The South East region again cannot be clubbed together, for while the Chinese have mastered the art of making facsimile copies at cheap rates, they treat parts of their body with the reverence reserved for the ancient dead. There will likely be many rituals to propitiate the god. The Japanese loves experimenting with electronics and might want to create mini versions that will keep you amused when his own is busy. The Singaporean has a fetish for cleanliness and the Hong Kong one will display Chinese traits as well as some English ones that have left a residual impact. The Thai, known up until now for the famed soothing massages, is quite likely to stage a protest.

What about the American? You will be under constant suspicion for possessing weapons of mass destruction. Shall we say you can expect a drone attack?

20.5.10

God and the Indian Courts

Unbelievable. Now the IPC embodies the basic tenets of Hinduism and Islam. The Gujarat High Court upheld the seven-year jail term of two Muslims in a firing incident in 2002. Justifying the decision the judges did not merely quote para and verse from the Constitution. They started to define why the accused were being punished by using religious concepts.

What is all this roundabout tamasha for? Because the two accused have been charged for revenge for post-Godhra violence.

Stressing that India is wedded to secular policy, the judges observed if citizens of the country start with mental strategy of division based on religion, it may result in damaging the unity of nation and would consequently tinker with the integrity and security of the nation. “Neither Hindu nor Muslim religion permits taking of revenge... no religion professes that if a person from one religion has committed misdeed, revenge should be taken from all persons following that religion,’’ the bench observed.

Is it the same judiciary that is dealing with the cases of the Gujarat riots? Are the standards being applied the same? What were Narendra Modi and his bunch of police goons doing? Has he not openly talked about the action-reaction theory? But, if you want to go by the book, then stick to the book for all cases and stick to only the relevant book. No need to bring in religion.

The judges also dwelled on historical aspects and noted, “The Hinduism is based on principles of ‘Sahanshilta’. It has been cited so many times that it is on account of receptivity and adaptability of Hindu culture, it has survived for more than 5,000 years, though the number of persons following Hindu religion are less as compared to others in the world–Christians, Muslims and Buddhists...’’

Is this a courtroom or some ashram? What are they trying to say here? That it does not matter there are fewer Hindus but they adapt well and that is the reason they have survived? What is the connection to the crime? Or the criminals? I am not against these two individuals being awarded the sentence. But think about it: They fired on a lawyer and have been awarded the jail term by a special POTA court (why?). Two other accused died as undertrials (how?) and one is absconding (how?). Five people were arrested for firing on one man and all in the name of revenge for the Gujarat riots?

And here the judges quoted from a book on jihad and how it is not what it is made out to be.

It is shameful that the judiciary is stooping to this level. I do mean stooping to this level because it is undermining the Constitution that gives rights to people of all faiths, but nowhere does it state that criminal cases have to invoke some god or the other.

Should we, therefore, see the case in Goa as part of this 5000-year historical acceptance by the judiciary?

Under normal circumstances terrorist organisations are banned and some terrorists get away. Not only is the Sanatan Sanstha safe, but the 11 people chargesheeted for the blasts on Diwali-eve last year in Margao that killed two people are referred to as “activists”. Yes, activists, not terrorists.

Never mind that the chargesheet is a full 3000 pages and the “members” are behind “several low-intensity explosions in Maharashtra some years ago”.

They face charges of conspiring and collecting arms for waging a war against the state and mischief. They have also been charged under the Explosive Substance Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Despite this, the TOI does not refer to them as terrorists. Later, in a separate report, there is a mention of “Hindu Terror Comes To Fore?” The question mark conveys disbelief even after Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who is a part of the organisation, has been arrested on charges in the Malegaon blasts. The organisation was set up as for spiritual purposes, but when madrassas are targeted or under suspicion then nothing should be left to chance.

19.5.10

Clinton, the Poet and Obama’s Aunt

Bill Clinton isn’t exactly up for auction, but let's stop to think about this business of you-do-me-I-do-you. You've already read that you could spend a day with him in New York if you can dig into your financial reserves and come up with $7,71,000. This is due to the huge debt of $25.2 million that Hillary ran up for her fight with Barack Obama for the Democratic ticket.

It is his idea and some have hailed him as a loyal husband, which is precious. Some have said it lowers the office; others have said he is now not in office. Honestly, it would be better if they had put up their pet poodle for auction. Or had a garage sale of memorabilia.

It is true that wives stand alongside their partners during elections and it is perfectly nice that Bill did so too. But, it is rather shameful that this sort of expenditure was incurred all for power. The underlying theme is the honourable one of clearing debts and all this is for the reputation of America. However, is the situation very different from the Australian woman who put up her poet husband for auction last month?

Will the person who manages to shell out the money for him become a patron?

I ask this because the Ozzie woman, Sonya Semmens, who put in an ad on eBay stating that her struggling poet husband is “up for sale” believes that anyone who buys him for $25,000 will get one year’s patronage, a book of poetry dedicated to him/her, a complete catalogue of the works and acknowledgment during performances.

The product description goes like this:

"Cameron Semmens, Ivanhoe performance poet who has dedicated his life to the wit and wisdom of well-crafted words, and brought meaningful entertainment and thoughtful inspiration to thousands of Australians for more than 20 years.”


The seller-wife says he would make for a good investment and believes, "Without patronage there would have been no Beethoven, no Michelangelo, no Shakespeare.”

Is this about intellectual patronage? She did it after the birth of their son and the guy obviously is not making enough with his poetry performances. I don’t think he is terribly enthused for he quoted Robert Graves, “There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money either.”

Ah, but there’s food on the table, clothes on the body, a roof over the head and you can write poetry about all of these.

However, such patronage is not of any sublime nature. There is barter. And that existed even on the early days when royalty and clergy both got writers and artists to paint and pen paeans to themselves, their positions or the kingdom/church they represented. The only difference is that there was long-term dedication. Here it is about how fast you can make the buck and how fast you can bid and get the satisfaction of either rubbing shoulders with a powerful person for a day or sponsoring him for a year.

These are seen as clean transactions, in that they are upfront.

What happens to Barack Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango? She has lived in the US and when her permit ended she stayed on for two years illegally. She was to be deported to Kenya, but has been permitted to stay.

According to reports, she will get a work permit, social security card and driver’s license. In a year she can apply for permanent residency, or a green card, and in five years seek US citizenship.

It has wrongly been said that has been granted asylum. Asylum-seekers have to report some sort of pressure and danger to their lives and work. She now says she will be harassed if she returns, mainly because she is the President’s aunt. This is conjecture and there have been no reports of threats. Therefore, can we assume that the President’s aunt is being patronised by the President himself or is it the United States of America?

Is there a quid pro quo involved here?

18.5.10

Is this funny?

I probably have no sense of humour, but I do not find this ad funny at all. You place a bushman who starts digging the ground, finds something, beats on it, holds it above his wide-open mouth, squeezes it and a drop finally appears. The other bushman shouts out, “What are you doing?” His attention is diverted and the drop falls on the ground. They chase each other around a thatched hut while the voice-over asks, “Thirsty?” A bottle falls and then there is the chant of “lemon, lemon, lemon”.

Just what the hell are they trying to convey by using people who are poor, considered backward, living in isolation? Is this their target market? No. Why are bushmen used at all? There was a film ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ but it was supremely satirical about consumerist habits, especially that Coca Cola can falling for the sky. And it was not selling anything.

Parle, the manufacturers of LMN the drink, would have been equally culpable had they used Indian villagers or farmers on parched land. It is insensitive and serves no purpose. How can anyone who likes bottled drinks and lives in relative comfort be motivated? I am not.

If this is considered entertaining and humorous then I seriously don’t think I have a funny bone.

Please tell me if you do and why. Also, would you be motivated to buy this drink after seeing this particular ad? I am not judging anyone; I seriously would like to know if something is wrong with me.

A Kashmiri Victory?

A Kashmiri Victory?
by Farzana Versey

Express Tribune, May 18


Had Dr. Shah Faisal's father not been killed by “unidentified militants”, he would have been just another exam topper. It is a tragedy that such a Kashmiri is being showcased as the ‘other’ face of the region. This is pigeonholing and Shah Faesal is consolidating the viewpoint. He says he wants to show the world that Kashmir does not have a monopoly over the enterprise of terrorism. Even if we ignore the curious choice of words, there is still the issue of his being hailed as a hero for the wrong reasons.

Dr. Faisal is the first from the province to top the Union Public Service Commission 2009 examinations. This ought to be cause for concern and not celebration. And how has he transformed “a hurdle into a moment of opportunity”? Like him, several people survive with the scent of death after losing members of their families. This ongoing devastation has been prevalent since the past two decades. While he was giving interviews, there was a gunfire battle and two civilians and two security personnel were killed in Kupwara, where his father was murdered in 2002. There are many little kids who have seen their parents being shot dead. Some are poor and get sold for a pittance in the jihad market; some have the blood congeal in their memories.

When Faisal says, “I had only two choices — to be bogged down or to stand up and face the challenge”, he forgets that living behind closed doors in curfew streets that prevent essential supplies from reaching does not pose a challenge. When a boy is caught in a skirmish over flag-hoisting, he does not get bogged down. He just does not understand what is going on. These are wounded people living with shrapnel and solitude.

It is sad that instead of pursuing medicine, he opted for the Indian Administrative Service. “I felt that I could not have made a change by being at a hospital and wanted to work with the government.” Doctors are needed, not bureaucrats. What can a young person who has just cleared his exams hope to achieve in the government? Party equations change every few years, files pile up. One might deem his stance to be idealistic, but it is the opposite. He could have gone with his medical kit and expertise to the rural regions or to inaccessible places.

In the past so many decades no one has managed to bring about any change. If he is sending out a message, then that message will only reach the bosses in government. He will be made their slave and their symbol: the good guy whose father got killed by the bad guys. Faesal’s father was a teacher and there is no information about his ideological stand. This is the position that suits the powers and makes it convenient for them to assume that the victim was pro-establishment.

They like to give pacifiers, so Faesal has a good chance of getting a prime posting. Late last year a woman shot down a Lashkar-e-Taiba militant, who wanted to marry her, by grabbing his rifle after a four-hour hide-and-seek challenge. Rukhsana Kausar told the media, “I thought I should try the bold act of encountering militants before dying.”

She was made a special officer with the Jammu and Kashmir Police Force. She had never used any arms before and said she just mimicked what she saw on television. Without any training, she got a sop. No one seems bothered that such rewards can demoralise those who are deservedly awaiting a promotion.

The zeal to consecrate anyone who can be remotely seen as an enemy of militancy legitimises the false belief that terrorism is the norm and these chosen ones are the exceptions. Shah Faisal’s misfortune, as well as his achievement, is personal and not political. However, by being co-opted as the ‘other’ face, heroes like him end up unwittingly offering the other cheek.

- - -

Published in Express Tribune

16.5.10

Sunday ka Funda



"A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself."

- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

15.5.10

Riding the crest

Nearing midnight. I wish I could touch the sky. And then this voice approaches me...I ride the crest...

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with Michael Brook - CREST:

Playing both sides of the religious coin

Playing Both Sides of the Religious Coin
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, May 15

“You cannot represent Islam,” I was told by a Muslim friend. It isn’t the first time and it pushes me into an uncomfortable position.

I am also not a ‘communist’ who appears regularly on TV to call the ulema “mad and insane”, for which Javed Akhtar gets into trouble, though the nature of the trouble is not known. So, I don’t get brownie points from non-Muslims.

I have not done research into madrassas to understand the working of the minds of mullahs nor am I a convert to Islam that I can pretend to give a ‘balanced’ picture. No espionage here. So, I am not terribly smart.

I am not a trained religious acrobat who has done time with the faith.

Then why am I a Muslim and why do I now state that I can speak for some of us? Because I was born one; I am secure in my ability to not follow any rules unthinkingly. And I can speak on behalf of my kind of Muslims because I do not feel the need to appease any group.

Hence, I feel quite disappointed to read letters to the mullahs that are an apology for the faith as well as a desperate attempt to sound like the ‘nice Muslims’ that non-Muslims wish to see us as. It is offensive to women who have had to fight several odds to read the “sister-in-Islam”, Nigar Ataulla, write an open letter to the fatwa-makers wherein she states that besides giving a large part of her zakat to the madrassas she is not a “a radical feminist out to attack you out of blind prejudice”. Is one to suppose that radical feminism is about blind prejudice? When any person who believes in an ideology takes a position there is embedded in it a prejudice against the contrarian position. It is done with open eyes and a questioning mind.

While there is some attempt at sarcasm, it does not flip the coin but furthers the stereotype:

“While some of you have issued fatwas declaring watching television (including even Islamic programmes) as wholly haram, I do turn on the TV once in a while, but only to watch my favourite cartoon show ‘Tom and Jerry’ (It’s about a cat and a mouse chasing each other and having loads of fun. You can also watch it, its clean stuff!). For my job as a writer, I have to interact and interview people, and not just women. Given all this, perhaps I do not fit your description of what the ideal Muslimah is.”

Perhaps the writer might have added Discovery Channel where animals mate. Islam has never said anything against cohabitation. The problem with the cat and mouse game is that the positions can get changed. Even in Islamic countries that have a strict code there are programmes that show women in strong positions.

I take exception to a comment like:

“What I wish to convey to you as a Muslim working woman is that your fatwa sends out wrong signals to not just us Muslims but to non-Muslims as well.”

I had already stated in my piece Subjugating the Muslim woman (that led to an interesting discussion on this blog here) that women do earn and contribute. However, it does not mean a non-working woman does not have access to similar rights in other spheres of life. A letter such as this sends out even worse signals. It strives too hard to please. Take this example:

“I sometimes wonder how religious scholars from other communities, such as Hindus Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs, interact with the common folk among their co-religionists. Frankly, sometimes I really envy them. Non-Muslim women can freely ask questions to their priests, gurus and so on and discuss religious matters with them. I simply cannot, for the life of me, fathom why Muslim women cannot have a healthy and positive dialogue with the ulema. Is it because of some deep-rooted fear on both sides? Is it because of a totally unwarranted hierarchy that seems to prevail between the ulema and the common folk, paralleling that between medieval kings and their subjects? I don’t need to explain who the ‘kings’ and the ‘subjects’ here are, for surely you will understand.”

This is a most ridiculous argument. This fatwa was issued because there was a specific question asked. Therefore, some woman felt the need to discuss it with a maulvi. How many women from the other communities mentioned consult their religious heads? The Confession in churches is not about a religious discourse. Ashrams do not encourage inconvenient queries and are essentially a spiritual salve.

Which woman will have the courage to question any of these holy men about the patriarchal nature of all religions? There is also the aspect about who truly represents the priesthood. There are several sects in all faiths and they have their own cushy set-up. Women as well as men, when they do become a part of the active believer fraternity, end up as slaves to religion and therefore the priests running the establishment. Such slavery can be emotional or physical, as we have seen from some recent reports.

If fatwas have to be opposed, as some of us have done, then it must not become a mandate for everyone else to jump on one community. There is no need to show Muslim women wearing slit-eye veils in the media, when there are very few such women in this country. If we oppose the fatwa, we must be actively involved in opposing the state machinery too that uses these same organisations when it comes to garnering votes or to appease the community. Why is there no anger when the liberals go out to claim that we are not terrorists and use the mullahs for their rallies? Why are the voices silent then?

When there is anger against the Deoband, which the writer has not mentioned by name, then there must be no need for a dialogue. I am not interested in having a chat with the mullahs just as I am not interested in a chat with any establishment figure.

They can refuse to accept me as a Muslim. My friends can say that I do not represent the community. It does not bother me. I work, I wear what I want, and I do represent myself and those who identity with me. I won’t play into the hands of the mullahs or those who watch from the sidelines tittering, “Look, Islam is such a problem”. It is. And so is every religion that seeks to interfere in the public domain that is outside its periphery.

14.5.10

Dear Praveen bhai Togadia

Why you so angry? I am thinking how big NRI doctor leaving all antiseptic and scalpel comes to smelly hometown and trishul to make India proud. I am thinking and thinking that one day you will get just desserts for your sacrifice. No, no, not shrikhand and puran poli. I am talking about you getting something for giving up big job. Here you are only giving speeches.

I don’t know why that SIT called you. You are just man with big mouth and cannot do anything on your own. I can be wrong also, maybe you are real Chanakya and you took hypocritic oath and all. They are calling you VHP international general secretary, so your bhaav is more in Hindutva market but that is only upra-oopar.

Really they are showing you off, but I am not getting the intention. What is there in you to show off? You got old green card? But they don’t like green. So you gave that up also?

What international work is VHP doing? You are collecting money? For what? You must be open book.

I felt very emoshunal when reading that you are being victimised because you are Hindu. I wanted to tell you no need to worry so much. Please. I am feeling your pain. You said:

“SIT has called me because I am a Hindu. No Hindu in Gujarat is safe. In this country, Hindu saints, temples, organisations are targets of jihadis.”


You are expat Hindu, not dal-dhokli Hindu, so they must give more respect. I understanding your pojishun awkwardness. Gujarat is not safe for Hindus that is only why the CM and other politicians and police officers did danga-fasaad. It was to defend because alien attack was going to happen from Mars. Mars has green men and green men are all jihadis.

I am only asking frank question like Indian to NRI type, okay? Don’t mind, hanh…which saints have been killed? How many temples have been targeted? How many Hindu organisations? I knowing you are excited and don’t know difference between Indian and Hindu. Chalta hai. You are not experienced. For you it is all like patient – one wound on hand and you want to cut arm because you thinking whole arm will become wound.

I tell you I am feeling like crying. We Indians like to treat NRI nicely and here you are asked to sit in SIT office, all sit, sit and answer question about what speech you gave and why you were in town when riot took place. Where you will go? You have to protect Hindus. You are international general secretary. Whole world is looking and seeing how you do good work.

Zakia Jafri took case to Supreme Court because her husband was burnt alive in Gulberg Society. Some saying 2000 people landed there. She named 62 people. So SIT called you.

See, Praveen bhai, Modi bhai is telling all how Gujarat making leaping and bounding progress. He is bringing Nano, moto, everything. Now you saying that it is unsafe. So who will come to that place, who will invest? You are one time saying you are in danger, then you are saying:

“Very soon, they (Zakia Jafri and her supporters) will get a befitting reply to whatever they have been trying to do.”

My mind is getting confusing.

Keep quiet, be honest. Bas. If you had gone back, I would come to airport with sandalwood garland and box of thepla and Surat pedha. Now it is too late.

I am giving you free advice because I am feeling very pain when you say you are not safe. I want to give you medicine for this afraid beemari even if you are doctor. It is not anyone after you but your own shadow.

Ekdum sincerely,
Suraj ni kiran

13.5.10

It's just not cricket


So M.S.Dhoni blames the T 20 fiasco on exhaustion and partying and everyone starts talking about how cricket is supreme and these excuses won’t do.

I don’t care whether Dhoni is making excuses or not. It has once again brought to the forefront the nature of the sport. Dhoni is right when he says:

“The IPL is not just about cricket. There are lots of things going around it. The players must be smart about it. They have to respect the body, give it some time to recover because it’s not just about playing. There have been day-night matches, then parties, and then early morning flights too. All this, including the travel, takes a toll. But if you are smart, I don’t think 45 days of cricket will drain you.”

The last sentence does not seem to have registered. He is trying to say something. There has always been infighting and one-upmanship. Now with IPL there are external factors too. Dhoni is as much a part of the satellite stunts. How well you are dressed, what haircut you get, the company you keep all have become more important than the scores. After all, they are now auctioned items.



The organisations capitalise on this aspect and make the players play other games after they have done their stint on the field. And why would any hot-blooded young player give up the opportunity to be seen at the right places when that is what helps in the selection process? Come on, you have to know the right head honchos.

And those who are getting all righteous about it are not players. What games has Rajiv Shukla played besides politics? Suresh Kalmadi? M.S. Gill? They have stuck to their positions as chiefs of various bodies without ever representing the country or even their mohalla. Jagmohan Dalmiya was a Kolkata businessman and he managed to virtually rule the roost.

Forget treating contemporary cricket as some holy cow. It is just another poodle with fancy trappings added to it.

The high point in recent days was that Sachin Tendulkar had finally signed into Twitter and within hours managed to get a whole bunch of followers. It was crazy how starlets went on about how he should exceed the following of Ashton Kutcher, who I believe has the largest following thanks I guess to the updates he provides on his wife Demi Moore. We even had an old friend telling the media about how he convinced Sachin to sign up. Now there will be newspaper columns about his tweets and when he slept and what he thinks, which is a nice human touch, but it is not national news.

Therefore, Dhoni’s comments are far more relevant. Sachin would not have said it. The good guys do finish first in some areas. And, hello, why is Mohammed Azharuddin railing about Dhoni’s excuse and saying that players can refuse to party? Right.

I’d like to pull up all our tainted players and ask them why they did not refuse those underhand betting deals.

In our country we are bad losers, but this time that is not the concern. It has stopped being a concern for a while now. People are sharp and they know that this is like a dumb film they can watch in an auditorium to get some cool air-conditioning. It does not even qualify as a peanut gallery anymore.

12.5.10

Subjugating the Muslim Woman

Subjugating the Muslim Woman
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, May 12

What is worse – the Dar-ul Uloom Deoband’s decree that a woman’s earnings are illegal because according to the Sharia her working among males is wrong or the Allahabad high court ruling that a non-Muslim bride must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim?

In both instances Islam is used to denigrate the position of women.

In the case of the edict, I fail to understand how it is being referred to as a fatwa by the media. This word is being abused in the most blatant manner. What the clerics of the Deoband seminary say is their point of view and they are often responding to specific queries by individuals. Their pronouncements and the questions asked are not universal statements or a general matter of concern or confusion among the Muslim populace.

Here is the Deoband version:

“It is unlawful (under the Sharia law) for Muslim women to work in government/private sectors where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without a veil.”


As happens often, newspapers have collected stray comments, and all from the religious perspective. Historical examples are a good foundation and place to start an argument, but they need not be used to deal with contemporary lifestyles and attitudes.

Why have the clerics woken up now? If they are supposed to be of any consequence and wish to be taken seriously, then must they wait for someone to raise a point? Don’t they see that thousands of women work and earn and help their families?

Have they not seen women beggars at traffic signals asking for money, displaying maimed children? There are Muslim women among them, too. If groups of Muslims keep talking about the real issue of economic backwardness, it is related to social backwardness that is forced upon them by these mullahs.

It is a tragedy that even where political issues are concerned women have to bear the brunt. Do the mullahs recall how they brought their women out with the same frankness they are against to reiterate their anti-terror position? Do the mullahs realise that everytime there is some backlash and they feel their religion is threatened it is the women who have to start observing the dress code, whether or not they themselves do as a mark of respect to their identity?

While there is no doubt some merit in making references to the Prophet’s liberalism and his wife Ayesha’s participation in the war, these are seen as special cases. For, in a monotheistic faith where the Prophet is held in complete reverence no one wants to emulate him or anyone from that period. They only wish to use their limited understanding of certain sayings in the Quran and either twist them or use them without any concern for the changing mores and requirements.

How many such edicts have been passed against men?

To be fair, there have been voices within the religious fraternity that have objected to this edict. These voices will be very few and not really stand out. It is the women who need to make themselves heard, both with their actions and their words.

The Dar-ul-Uloom is based in India and while the country does have provisions for personal laws, there is the Indian Constitution. If this gives us freedom to practise religion, then it will also intervene in criminal cases and any form of cruelty.

It is for this reason that the Allahabad court judgement goes against the principles of choice provided in the Constitution. The ruling states that matrimony between a non-Muslim woman and a Muslim man will be considered void as it goes against the tenets of the Quran.

This sort of blanket judgement bringing in religion can have disastrous consequences later. Sunita Jaiswal had filed a FIR against Dilbar Habib Siddiqui alleging that he had abducted her daughter Khushboo; she contended that she did not convert to Islam to buffer her case.

The court verdicts states:

“In our above conclusion we are fortified by the fact that in the affidavit and application filed by Khusboo herself subsequent to her alleged contract marriage, she has described herself as Khushboo and not by any Islamic name. As Khushboo, she could not have contracted marriage according to Muslim customs. In those referred documents she has addressed herself as Khushboo Jaiswal daughter of Rajesh Jaiswal.”

Therefore, her marriage is void, says the judgement.

One assumes that she was not abducted because she made the subsequent application. Therefore, unless she was forced, one cannot use that against Dilbar. While many people choose to use religion-specific names, some don’t. Khushboo is an Urdu word and could be a Muslim name. There have been several cases of celebrity nikaahs performed where the couples belong to different religions and opt to retain the cultural rituals of both sides of the family. It may not have religious sanction, but some qazis do conduct such nikaahs.

What if the couple got married under the Special Marriages Act and had it registered? No conversion or name change is required. I should hope the girl is not pressurised as this could well be a ruse to prevent a cross-religious alliance.

If the judge believes she is abducted, he should handle the case at that level as a criminal offence. There is no need to bring in religion and humiliate the young woman. This is just an invitation to divide people and bring in the religious heads to intervene in a personal matter. Incidentally, there was no reference to a non-Muslim male marrying a Muslim woman. The patriarchal mindset even of a secular judiciary believes that only the woman has to convert.

At this rate, the Deoband edict could well reach some high court in the country and we might have an Indian judge pronouncing that Muslim women in the work-place goes against the Sharia and therefore will be kept out of any professional role.

The state and religion are two entities and it is the business of both to protect all its citizens and members. Women are not lesser human beings and if we are expected to perform our duties, we are also in a position to demand our rights. And our rights include non-interference of the state and religion in matters of our well-being.

* * * End of article * * *


Updated on May 13 around 6.30 PM IST:

The role of the state and religion had come to the fore with regard to such religious edicts when P.Chidambaram applauded some maulvis on their stand against terrorism.

Here is an extract from my earlier piece The Farce of Fatwas:

Have the Jamiat or the Darul-uloom ever come to the forefront and fought for the dispossessed within the community? What has been the role of religious organisations during times of riots and such crises? Do they work with traumatised victims as human beings and not merely god’s soldiers? Give us the instance of a single head of such an organisation who is leading such proactive movements. They merely pontificate and pronounce edicts. The opinion of a handful of maulvis cannot be elevated to a diktat.
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Updated on May 14, 5.25 PM IST:

Why does the TOI insist on using pictures such as these when talking about Muslim women in Mumbai? How many women dressed in this manner do you see even in the mohallas? They did it in the initial report and this one is in today's paper where the topic of discussion is the Urdu press opposing the fatwa. So, in effect, TOI is following in the footsteps of the Deoband. Why am I not surprised?


Is this a front page report?

This is the front page of today's TOI. It is a report. How can the 'aman ki asha' logo (highlighted by me) appear right at the centre? Was this 'movement' responsible for the SAARC Summit? Is it behind the efforts of these leaders to meet?

If not, then it is completely unethical and misleading. Or, are we to assume that our elected leaders and government spokespersons are now puppets of the media?

11.5.10

Retail therapy peace

Retail Peace Therapy
by Farzana Versey
May 11, 2010

After the head-banger’s ball of Sufis and starchy-clothed activists, they are now moving on to “confronting hurdles”. The media has no business to meddle in detente. If we do not want mullahs and sadhus to intervene, then these saints of sound bytes ought to stick to their studios and their ground zeroes and tell us what is happening, not what should be happening.

The ‘aman ki asha’ hype is really corporate angst being channelised for a tried-and-tested ‘common culture and heritage’ market. The whole world and its Uncle Omar know it, which is the reason they target it; if Pakistanis did the kumbaya at the jirgas then they’d have no common ground to crush old seeds.

Sunday’s paper announced that 98 per cent of Indians would like a joint anti-terrorism initiative. Did they get this figure on internet, SMS, Twitter polls? This is not representative of rural India or an India that does not have an open credit limit to indulge in the fake nonsense of inviting those with selective amnesia to share some chai-paani (not Chenab waters) to make money. Most of these events have been free but the media house also has a music company. You get singers from both sides, have a jugalbandi. Bring out CDs. Feed the hungry peaceniks and Wagah shoppers.

Since economic co-operation is on the agenda too, business groups will increase ad displays and acquire a halo in the bargain. Think about sponsors for Basant as the same paper makes vile cross-purpose insinuations about how a “Hindu festival flourishes in Lahore”. People fly kites and don’t think of god while doing so. It must be one of the most devious game-plans passing off as a “renewed concerted push”. This month, they are talking about tough topics that “would build a sturdy safety threshold that could absorb the occasional shocks of terror and barbs of extremism”.

To aid in this effort, they got writer Mohammed Hanif. Expressing empathy with the 26/11 terror attacks, he said he was scared watching it on TV, “because we knew that if this was happening in Mumbai, it could just as easily take place in Pakistan.’’ What sound-proof cocoon in Karachi does he live in? For years there have been bomb blasts every week in his city. And has he not heard about Balochistan, Waziristan, the Marriott hotel, the deaths during Benazir Bhutto’s rally and in Lal Masjid?

Terms in the media blitz like “the warmth of our words can melt the ice in the valley” would qualify as artificial sweeteners. However, what does “India maintains that Kashmir is an integral part of it. Pakistan maintains it is incomplete without it” mean? Are we then talking to an incomplete nation and how legitimate is it to do so? When they state in gossipy tones that “the guns will stop pointing when the fingers will”, all they managed was to get the Hurriyat Conference’s Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to reiterate his position. There has never been “sulking silence” as alleged by the pouting aman and asha pirates.

You cannot hole yourself up in seminar rooms and expect to create a road map. There is also the ‘we’ factor that is disconcerting: “We brought to you, our readers, a ray of hope that peace between India and Pakistan was possible and necessary for changing politics.” Obviously, they imagine they are catering to an audience of nitwits. It is no big deal to get “intellectuals, artists, journalists, strategic analysts and even politicians to discuss the generational hostilities threadbare”. These people have always had access across the divide. The point is: Have they done anything for those who have lost jobs and the families of those who have lost lives? Have they discussed issues at the political level? Have the finance ministries been involved?

You cannot have a consumerist counter-establishment that pretends to be a civil society movement. All this talk about how both pastures are green is like pulling wool over sheep’s eyes.

- - -
Published in Express Tribune

9.5.10

Sunday ka Funda


A female polar bear with her two young cubs near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. © David Jenkins / WWF-Canada

- - -

"And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read."
- Alice Walker

- - -

Chalo chalein ma...



Film: Jagriti-1954
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Pradeep
Singers: Asha Bhosale

8.5.10

Staying Alive

She looks at her husband everyday with his never-changing smile, holding a bottle of bubbly. Some might think she is weird, but Maria Challis of Cheshire has found a way to keep Paul’s memory alive.

Among the familiar sofas, chairs, tables, toys, knick-knacks, stands the even more familiar life-size cardboard cutout of the man she loved and who died at 38, leaving her with her two kids. The photograph was blown up into a 2-D version for the funeral, but it stayed and even attended his own last rites.

As she said, “When you lose someone you love, you worry you’ll forget them and this is our way of remembering Paul. The children even dressed him up as Santa at Christmas and as Dracula on Halloween. He was due to go to a friend’s wedding some weeks after he died. He didn’t make it but his cut-out did. Some people might raise eyebrows but who is anyone to say what is the right and wrong way to deal with grief?”

True. Who is to say? Some find solace in prayer, some in tears, some in activities to divert themselves. The problem with pre-knowledge of mortality is that is never does lessen the pain.

I still ‘consult’ my grandma and speak to her photograph after all these years. It was only a while ago I realised it wasn’t even a real photograph; it was a picture of a portrait of her that was rather shabbily done after she left. I recall every bit of loose skin on her arm and the anger in her grey eyes, the scent of lavender talcum powder and the silver hair left open after a wash, her reading unmindful to the calls for lunch, her whacking me only once and my sulking for days. I did not need the photograph, but I talk to her, not to it.

Maria is 36 and this Paul is not the Paul she remembers; it is the Paul who is a reminder of a life lived together. She may move on, and that tall frame could well be kept away. Who is to judge? Right now, it is the person she loves…a present tense to what has become the past.

It isn’t a fantasy or a salve for loneliness but of being tethered to a sense of belonging.

- - -

It isn’t about Imaginary Lovers that I wrote about.

Why They Won’t Bell the Israeli Cat

Literary Dissent
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, May 7-9


It is a bit incongruous to expect writers to spurn awards on political grounds when the business of publishing itself has become a political game. Several groups have appealed to authors Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh to reject the Dan David Prize jointly being given to them by Tel Aviv University on May 9.

Big mainstream publishing houses, especially if you are in the West, are into it for the money as are manufacturers of other products. That is the reason marketing takes precedence and often books are pre-publicised with an award angle in mind. The diaspora and other stories from the new exotica have become trendy partly because they went along with the fad, culling characters that would appeal to the western frame of mind that is forced to live among more than just motel owners and the corner store guys; the smells are now in the realm of overpriced acceptable cuisine in restaurants.

To expect that living in these countries you might not bump into the all-pervasive Israeli lobby in some form or the other is rather unusual. Must writers work within the circumference of political correctness? This question begs the larger query regarding how political the writing is as opposed to the writer.

Atwood and Ghosh are not mere pen-pushers
and do express social concerns in their works, even if these may not be overtly activist. Given the creative nature of the chosen form – mostly fiction – the reality is simulated. Simulated reality is not a falsehood; it is recreated truth. Therefore, almost all literary works can be deemed to be political since they convey the cultural ethos of a given space and time. Such an ethos is constructed to be ruled by laws. Jurisprudence is embedded in the establishment from which social mores derive, either to belong or to disprove or merely disapprove.

Ghosh had earlier refused the Commonwealth Prize because he was against the colonial construct being retained. It suggests that he understands the need for dissent. However, this is curious, for the colonisation he was protesting against is of the past. It is much like saying the colonised societies ought not to use certain modes of dress or maintain heritage sites because they are relics of the rulers of the time. The language Ghosh writes in is the language of the masters of his ancestors. In a way, he empathises with it.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group comprises Palestinian civil society. Their appeal to Ghosh does not seem to have worked for he stated that he objected to such embargoes in matters of culture and learning.

He got a response saying, “...why should cultural and learning institutions be exempt from boycotts if they are implicated in the atrocities as any other sector?...When you reject our call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, you undermine our struggle for freedom and ignore the voices of almost all prominent Palestinian artists, writers and other cultural workers and the many international intellectuals who have joined our boycott.”

Must he be concerned about getting an award at a university that has been built on the razed remains of a Palestinian village
or that is state-funded or that President Shimon Peres will be attending the ceremony? It might be prudent to ask here whether accepting the award means accepting the principles of the state you are not a part of. And does non-acceptance denote empathy? There are two aspects here: endorsement and commitment. They are mutually exclusive. A stamp of approval or disapproval is a passive activity. It does not necessarily send out any important signals. The other is commitment to the cause, a long-standing understanding of it.

Apparently, Atwood wanted to know if there were practical suggestions to help solve the issue and, as stated at the website of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), she asked for “practical immediate means to improve the lives of Palestinians; questions to ask moderate Israelis with power; warnings for the future if the status quo is maintained; what kind of cooperation on Climate Change in Palestine\Israel would Ayala advocate; things to tell the present government of Canada and helpful suggestions for Hamas. She also labelled herself a bad messenger for extremists”.

This is a classic cop-out in the mould of Dr. Fix-it. We are talking about a historically depraved occupation that has completely disregarded international pressure, has continually displaced the people whose lands they occupy, has denied them basic rights – human and for survival – stopped facilities from reaching them. The groups did provide her with a list, but is she in a position to do anything?

It is fallacious when cultural ambassadors begin to see themselves in the role of the establishment. The idea of protest is not to become patron saints of movements, but to shun the spoils of a system that is sponging on the soil and blood of others.

Israel is not even considered a coloniser; the lands it is sitting on are called ‘occupied territory’. And I am a bit confused about her being a bad messenger for extremists. Is she referring to the Palestinian Movement as extremist or the Israeli Establishment? If it is the latter, then she has conceded their status. So, if she is a bad messenger, how would it feel to be feted by such extremists? It isn’t as though Shimon Peres in literary mode will transform. Many dictators read fairytales and believe their lives are fairytales. Delusion is part of the coloniser credo.

Ghosh’s comment that the prize is not being given by the state of Israel is an assertion of his belief in such a ‘state’ as it exists. And a state that represses the people who own the land is unlikely to have independent organisations functioning within it. The Tel Aviv University would not exist without governmental support.

One of the problem areas of such a boycott is the emotional distancing that seems to be the bane, and boon, of the intellectual community. Pragmatism has replaced feeling, which is considered wimpy. Ironically, these same people will be proponents of peace, will fight the war against terror as an abstraction.

It must not surprise anyone that these two writers live in the West; one is a naturalised Westerner, the other an exile by choice. Atwood’s reluctance is of one who wishes to solve the problems in the manner the society to which she belongs to has trained her. Ghosh is indebted to the West and, while he chooses to write with such passion about other societies, he will not rub the neo-colonisers the wrong way.

If he refuses this prize then the edifice on which his oeuvre is built will develop deep cracks. Can he then accept an award from the US that is looking for war opportunities to give itself a continual semblance of the greatest superpower? Will he have to shun awards in India where different state governments have displayed crass disregard towards religious, regional and economic minority groups?

Given the attitude, one can assume that Israel is not likely to lose any cultural points. It is time for the boycott groups to re-examine their position regarding who they wish to involve as patrons of protest. Goods and awards can be banned but not mindsets that have become marketable.

6.5.10

Faisal, Farah and Lie Detecting

Everyone is going on about who this Faisal Shahzad is. As though they are supposed to know.

His neighbor has given some information: "He was quiet. He would wear all black and jog at night. He said he didn't like the sunlight."

He bought fireworks but according to the shopkeeper, those would not harm a watermelon. However, had he got them in the blackmarket it might have been different. I guess he is the stingy sort.

My question is: Why did the US and its agencies say immediately after the Times Square bomb scare that they did not suspect any Islamist group? How did this superpower with all the arsenal at its disposal make this pronouncement? And what changed? A guy who is a Pakistani and says he was trained in Waziristan. This sounds just too convenient, especially after Mehsud comes back from the dead and declares that the Taliban will attack the US. This fits in. Of course, they are still not taking it at face value for they don’t have to worry about the Taliban at all. They are thinking other nations. Or other cities.

Do remember that US intelligence had warned India of attacks in its major cities and our security and sniffer dogs went all paranoid. Either they were misled or they misled.

I wish that instead of a hotdog cart owner who was the one to smell the bomb it was a kebab seller. That would have been nicer.

- - -


The truth serum is on its way out. The Supreme Court wants investigations to be based on techniques other than narco analysis and brain mapping.

While it is true that such information gathered through lie detection techniques is inadmissible as evidence, it might have helped in putting the cops on a specific track.

Is it inhuman, given the health risks? I’d imagine it is better than keeping undertrials in prisons for years.

Former IPS officer YP Singh made a pertinent point:

“The test helped reveal vital details. Now, the use of third-degree could increase. Professional investigators are essential to conduct probes minus scientific tools. But such professionalism is no longer left in the Mumbai police force. Narco-analysis was increasingly used as it was easier.’’

Will doing away with it make the police force more vigilant to the actual collecting of data and vital circumstantial evidence? I am wary. Think about the cases where clues have not been collected or have disappeared.

We might recall how disturbed our Balasaheb Thackeray was when a Naxalite under the narco influence said that the Shiv Sena had funded them. Wonder what the SS chief would have to say had the accusation been made after a few pints of warm beer, that he had a special fondness for at one time.

- - -

Oh, here’s a story about how a Muslim woman is fighting her way into the fight club. Jordanian Farah Malhassa is a body builder. She says:

“Everyone is against me. No one understands why I want to become an international star in figure body-building.”

For six years she has been working out, managed to get all those tattoos, is now ready to go to Canada for an international competition, so there must be at least some support. I wish she would not create such a negative picture, since she is sitting in Amman and managing all this.

I think I understand her family disapproving and wondering why she wanted to “deform my body and make myself look ugly”. This is the general perception. We do have fixed ideas about the male and the female body. A man who is not of strong build or his manner not masculine enough is considered effeminate. Women who do not possess the right body type – differing in cultures (interestingly, this applies mainly to the female) – are made to become aware of it.

Farah might like muscles, but not all women do. Sure, she ought to have a choice and she has made it. Some of us just course through life training with the weight of our follies. And they come in different sizes.

5.5.10

Muslims on a leash...

...held by Shiv Sena and Modi's men

When the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena start protecting Muslims, it is time for our antennae to go up. They are parochial parties, and the former’s role in the Bombay riots and its communal stance is well-known.

The case of Majid Khan that I had written about - Dogs allowed, but not Muslims - has taken a turn because these two parties have done the turncoat act from their positions. They went to the building from where he was barred, held a meeting with the society members and asked them if they had a problem with a Muslim staying there.

“Until the Sainiks went there on Monday, some elements prohibited me from even going anywhere near the society. But the Sainiks insisted that I go with them there and sit in the very house that I had rented,” said Majid.


One can well imagine his relief. There will be a general feeling that the SS is doing something concrete and it does not believe in discrimination. Right now Majid Khan is only a Muslim; they probably have not asked whether he is from Bihar or UP or Tamil Nadu. They cannot afford to expose their hypocrisy and will play their cards well. As one of their members said:

“We have made it clear that we will give him 24-hour protection during his family’s stay in the building. Irrespective of who opposes him, we will stand by Majid. The idea is to send out a clear message that a person should not be ostracised because of caste, creed or religion.”


This is frightening. They have held a Muslim man captive and he is supposed to owe the roof over his head to them. If anyone has to give him 24-hour protection then it ought to be the cops, not a political party. This is not the Sena’s private durbar. This is not Chembur’s Panchayati Raj with some mukhya sitting and deciding.

If the Shiv Sena is honest, it should have helped Majid Khan file a police case, as I mentioned.

I am also struck by the photograph of the family. Had the man been a ‘typical’ Muslim, then would the Sena have come forward? This looks like any urban family, and personally it is how they are and many of us are. But a clean-shaven pant-shirt Majid with a Hindu wife has definitely played a role. I can imagine some SS blokes slapping their thighs and saying that this is how Muslims should be to belong to the mainstream, never mind that they go around looking like half-baked godmen themselves.

There is no message here and instead of the society members being made an example of narrow-minded discriminatory tactics, it is Majid Khan who has been made an example of the Muslim who will be forced to cop-out and become a ‘protected’ species.

Would he have dared oppose the Shiv Sena’s interference? No. And in that No lies the story of what threat really means.

- - -

The business of protection against threat has become very important.

IPS officer Rajkumar Pandiyan, accused of killing Sohrabudin in a fake encounter in Ahmedabad in collusion with cops D G Vanzara and Dinesh MN, on Monday said he should have been honoured by the country for eliminating the most dreaded criminal instead of being put behind bars.


Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife were kidnapped and locked up in a farmhouse in November 2005. He was then dragged to a spot and shot dead, with one of the big cops asking his men to take the body to the civil hospital. Two days later his wife Kausar bi was burnt to death. The initial CBI reports did recreate the scene.

It will be recalled that top officials were transferred by Narendra Modi’s government to protect them. Now Ram Jethmalani will be able to appeal the case of Pandiyan even though his client says he killed Sohrabudin in a fake encounter.

Pandiyan wants to be feted because he believes he saved the nation from this threat. He obviously has little idea about what constitutes a nation and its laws. If the cops are really convinced and upto the task then they capture criminals and see to it that they are tried legally, and if at all they have to shoot, it is when they have evidence and a warrant. They do not lock them in farmhouses and then fake an encounter.

It is cowardly. And we still do not have a medal for cowardice.

- - -

Picture of Majid Khan's family - Mumbai Mirror