30.8.10

No citizenship please, we're phirangs

Actress Katrina Kaif, supposedly the queen bee of Bollywood and one of the highest earners, is not an Indian national. And she does not even wish to be an Indian citizen.

Today’s TOI had an interesting report that talked about how most of the prominent people are on work permits. Some are earning in crores. What are the tax liabilities? Whenh they shoot overseas, don’t they need to get visas from their home country? Since most of them are from places that are exempt from many struictures, it might not pose a problem, but one wonders about the lenient policy of our government.
Yana and Katrina
Among those who have been staying in India and working on an employment visa include UK national and actress Katrina Kaif, US national Dipti Nawal, UK national Salma Agha and Yana Gupta from Czech Republic. “Most of the actors and other foreigners working in Bollywood prefer staying here on an employment visa. Sometimes they come asking for an extension in visa period. We consider whatever is correct as per the law,’’ said a police official from the immigration department.

Deepti Naval is not doing much work, perhaps out of choice. How does the employment visa apply to her? What is Salma Agha doing? Yana Gupta was married to an Indian, but it appears she chose an employment visa. She is a model. It is a freelance job as are films. What are the strictures for such cases where there is no employer and contracts can change with every assignment?

As per the bilateral treaty between India and the US on tourist visa, an American national can stay in India on a tourist visa for as long as 10 years and the same tenure is applicable for Indian citizens in America as well.

I think this is not correct. One can get a 10-year visa, but it is multiple entry. Indians can live there upto six months and then return.

Pakistani singer Adnan Sami is staying in Mumbai along with his German national wife.
Adnan and new wife

Adnan Sami and his wives at different times seem to get some special treatment. He is of Pakistani origin; his ex-wife was from the UAE; his current wife is half-Afghan. He works here, buys properties, fights divorce cases here, buys dogs, the spouse fights for custody of the dog. Great. And then Indians have the audacity to questions Muslims in their own country.

I could not resist that. The important point is none of these people want to become Indian citizens. It is not only those from the glamour world, though. I know people working in NGOs who do the same.

Do Indians get the same treatment abroad? No. If the UK and US are now worried about their jobs, then India isn’t really flush with employment vacancies that Indians cannot fill. It is pretty disgusting that even the dancers in the background in our films are now whites, and don’t tell me that our girls are shy. We have seen item numbers and know they can jiggle and wiggle and bare as much as anyone else.

And just in case you did not know, to counteract the policies of these countries and due to our foreign obsession some of our prominent Indians make sure that their offspring are born abroad so that they become naturalised citizens. These are people we respect as Indians. Go figure.

28.8.10

What's up, dork?

I prefer Woody Allen to George Clooney, but not because he would treat me like a babe in the geek-woods. I like the language – cinematic and verbal – that he employs. Clooney comes across as rather complacently confident.

While I am aware he won’t be devastated by this little snub and Allen is unlikely to be flattered, I am on the case of one more study that decides on the basis of what 3000 women say that women love guys who can fix things rather than those who spend hours at the gym.

Obviously, it is a partisan survey because it was conducted by the 24/7 technology support service Geek Squad. They say:

“These results will be a blow for the millions of men who workout in a bid to appear more attractive to the opposite sex.”

Most men are not working out to be more attractive to women but to compete with their peers. No one notices if James Bond is with dumbbells, but he exudes power and can also fix things. Yet, except for his rather unemotional alliances, he is more a man’s man.

The survey results state that women prefer a man who can help sort out the TV, stereo, and home computer. This makes quite a few of them feel cared for.

I find it rather chauvinistic, this aura of dependency. It ignores the fact that a woman can hire help for such tasks if they cannot fix things themselves. I admit I cannot, but when I give the gadget a nice male punch it often starts crackling back to life. However, there are women who can do such things with finesse and expertise.

It also belittles the male by slotting him as a mechanic. Fixing things might be skilled labour, but it does not denote intelligence as a natural consequence. And can a woman not feel cared for if a man just carries her shopping bags, has a few muscles, and woos her with limericks? Besides, a man who takes care of himself is not always about abs and biceps but just basic hygiene and neatness.

The dork who does not care if his toenails are fungus-ridden and smells of yesterday’s pizza crumbs would hardly convey the impression that he can care for anyone. Except perhaps that computer virus.

27.8.10

New York’s Muslims in danger?

Had no one decided on opening this Islamic Centre in Manhattan, a driver assaulted by a 21-year-old tipsy guy would have been just another crime. Not a hate crime. Is there anything like a love crime? Yes, of course, there are crimes of passion and we suddenly seem to have become a world desperately passionate about religions we know precious little about – our own or those of others.

Ahmed Sharif a Bangladeshi, was assaulted by Michael Enright. The newspaper versions interestingly add a twist here and a turn there, making them seem different from each other. Some say the attacker greeted the cabbie with an “Assalamalaikum” just as he entered; others say he uttered those words after verifying if he was a Muslim. Some say he cursed; others says he made jokes about Ramadan after asking Sharif how he was faring in the month of fasting. Some say Enright brought out a knife and slashed the cabbie’s throat and neck; some pictures show him with chest wounds. This was through the plastic partition that divides passenger and driver. Some say these are slashes; some quote doctors as saying that had it been an inch deeper he would have died.

It was not; he did not. But I can already see everyone jumping on the mosque at Ground Zero bandwagon.

The question is: why is every crime being connected to this Cordoba whatever that is to be built?

The driver says he was attacked because of his religion. It is possible, but it may not be. Worse, he says or it is implied on his behalf that it is because of the controversy over this centre. Please, profiling has been going on since 9/11 and suspicions about different groups of people have been there always.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt it was necessary to comment and said:

"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to.” 

Why is the religion of the victim emphasised and not the attacker’s then? How does the mayor know what all New Yorkers believe? This incident did not take place at the site of the proposed building, so why is Mr. Bloomberg entering the fray? We know he thinks the Centre will bring about amity and all that but he does not have to use unrelated incidents to further his agenda.

This is a political issue but why politicise every act? Those opposing the structure have also got into the act. Republican mayoral candidate Carl Paladino’s spokesman, Michael Caputo, said:

"Violence in New York City is nothing new, no matter who stabs whom....Blaming the debate over whether there should be a mosque at Ground Zero for the violence in New York City is a simple-minded way to heat up the debate even more."

True. So, he should have kept silent. Most people should have. But it is too good an opportunity to pass up. Enright’s friends talk about how tolerant he was. Reports say the cabbie was against the centre. This is all just so very convenient. Never mind that.Now it is about Muslim cab drivers who have expressed nervousness, according to Bhairavi Desai, the director of the taxi drivers' alliance:

"In light of the Ground Zero mosque debate, 'Are you Muslim?' has taken on new meaning."

The cops did reach the site, Enright, who incidentally has had a little past of some violent behaviour and was booked for trespassing last year, is in custody without bail. Why rake it up? Perhaps in the course of that ride other crimes might have been committed in New York and no one even knows or cares.

As for hate crime, heck, if only minds could be taken into custody then there would be many, many more. So, it’s time to cut out the claptrap on all sides and not give religious identities to every darn thing.

26.8.10

Premji and Aiyer can go take a walk…

…or a sprint

It is becoming increasingly clear that while the Commonwealth Games are rife with corruption, I am not quite certain what the ‘concerned' people are barfing about. Some of it I discussed in Play it again, scam.

Today, Azim Premji was interviewed on the subject. Why Premji, chairman of Wipro, the computer etc manufacturers? As a citizen, he has every right to question the nasty deals. But he has not done that. He is complaining about money spent on infrastructure for the CWG, yet he forgets the same is done when some middling leader from the West arrives here. Besides, why this balancing act of ifs and buts?

Here:

“The Commonwealth Games, like the Olympics, are a celebration of the human spirit of excellence. Therefore, in itself, the Games are a worthy endeavour.

However, given the thousands of crores being spent on the Delhi Commonwealth Games, we need to ask if this is money spent wisely. As a country, we are constantly forced to compromise on funds. For instance, India needs more schools, and the existing schools need better infrastructure and more teachers….

How can we forget that for Rs 28,000 crore we could have established primary schools and health centres in tens of thousands of villages? Can we ignore this splurge the next time a malnourished child looks at us in the eye?”

How many malnourished children look us in the eye? If the Games are a worthy endeavour, then why is he diverting the issue to other aspects? Does he ask the same eye-popping questions when five-star hotels are built, new industries come up, and villages are wiped out to make way for factories? These are private enterprises – does that make them immune to accountability? And, they do need to get governmental approval. Ever heard Premji come down on these and discuss schools and healthcare?

“The capital already boasts of some of India’s best infrastructure. Instead of spending crores to widen Delhi’s roads, should we not prioritize building roads and schools in Bihar where none exist in the first place?”

I think Bihar’s CM Nitish Kumar will want to do a double-take on this. The places Azim Premji has visited in Delhi may have the best infrastructure, but has he been to Yamuna ke uss paar…the other side? Instead of rubbishing Bihar, he might like to check out the level of poverty in Delhi. Only because it is the capital does not mean the ordinary citizen gets the benefits.

“At times like these, it will serve our leaders well to recall Gandhiji’s talisman: ‘Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?’”

I assume Mr. Azim Premji’s computers will wipe out illiteracy and give the poor control over their lives.

As a related aside, has he asked our prime minister* how the nuclear deal will not help the poor?

- - -

This brings us to Mani Shankar Aiyer who is on a roll, thanks to the CWG. This is from a report where he:

…questioned the rationale of Delhi hosting the event and said it would have been a “very good answer” to insurgents if it would have been held in Manipur.

This is not even smart; it is idiotic. It is the people of Manipur who have to be given an answer by his government, a political answer. Where was he when the National Highway was closed and provisions could not reach the people? This sort of muscle-flexing does not make sense if you know that the insurgents are fighting several elements within and outside.

He wants to play games with them, then he can go there and have a chat and a friendly match of some kind. Why is he giving a lecture to Delhi University students about it? Talk to the Manipuris, ask them if they would have liked a little infrastructure, some beautified roads. whitewashed buildings, new stadia, potted plants, lots of toilet paper. And, yes, he can revert to his bosses in New Delhi, who still keep him in business, and check whether they can provide the requisite security to the players, the visitors and sports enthusiasts.

Aiyer wondered why such mega events come back to Delhi again and again. Even if it is organised here, he asked, why localities on the outskirts like Bawana are ignored.

Where is Bawana? Does Azim Premji know about it? And why is Aiyer so attached to it all of a sudden? Does Bawana have the space? Would it provide for the needs of such competitive sports? Why has his government not done anything for Bawana?

To show just how he means business, he poses a challenge:

“There are 37 days to go in which the government has to fill the gaps to ensure a spectacular Games which it has promised us. I am content to wait. The Games will last for 15 days. I will come back. Neither are you going away nor I am going away.”

He had promised to “get the hell out of” the city. I hope he goes to a place where he has a huge TV screen and can watch the games. If we know a little about him and about our media, then be sure there will be a satellite link conveniently connected to him for his sound bites. He will be on call 24/7 just to tell the world that it has been a useless exercise.

I hope that before leaving he ensures that the residents of Bawana have dish TV so that they can welcome him when he decides to move residence there to show his allegiance to lesser souls. We aren’t going anywhere, Mr. Aiyer, but we assume you will not let us down. Go, Bawana, go!


End note:

Did TOI have to mention in the headline: ‘I am not a US stooge, says PM’? Did he use those words? Manmohan Singh used the passive voice for the important part.

*“To say that this has been brought to promote American interests, to promote American corporations, I think, this is far from the truth. I beg of this House to pass this bill with unanimity.”

Having said this, it is truly unfortunate that he has to stoop in Parliament before colleagues, that too for a bad deal.

25.8.10

Iss se pehle ke hum bewafaa ho jaaye....

Two years ago he died on this day. Ahmed Faraz is known for a varied range of poetry. I have chosen this one for two reasons. One is personal. The lectern says 'Holiday Inn'. It was close to his office towards the end of his life, an office he was thrown out from. It was at Holiday Inn that he asked me to join him for lunch and I had to decline. Had to? Do you refuse Faraz? Let us just say I had committed to be elsewhere and I think he would have done the same. The other reason for putting up this video is because he says before reciting that things have not changed much in Pakistan. This was the poem that got him in trouble and he was imprisoned during General Zia ul Haq's regime.

There are a few people who you read and read about and then you meet and it is not the same. With him, his poetry was him and he was his poetry.

Ahmed Faraz reads 'Muhasara' - The Siege


24.8.10

Beyond Ayodhya's property dispute

What judgement can they pronounce on the Ayodhya case when it is now referred to as the “60-year-old Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi title suit”? 18 years ago it was just the Babri Masjid, a mosque that was demolished with the connivance of the political leaders. Just as it supposedly was several hundreds of years earlier by the Mughals. They were conquerors, as I have to point out each time I write about this. The people who called for its demolition in 1992 were our own politicians in our own democracy.

The judgement to be announced on September 6 will be about the piece of land. The media has one more topic to create fear and then try to assuage the dread. Since the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a core meeting in July, some fellow from the Helal Committee and a tea stall owner, one Muslim, one Hindu (cute) are afraid because when that happened in 1992, there was also a four month gap. Are these guys calculators?

Then there are cops stationed outside and someone “lowers his voice” and says they were there the last time too! They have been there all these years, the site has been fenced. What do they expect? It has nothing to do with judgement day but the way things have been.

To make the event more interesting in what the TOI refers to as the ‘temple town’ – could someone tell me how many temples are there and how many are regularly visited as pilgrim sites? – we have the sadhus enter the fray:


Recently, Ayodhya woke up to another high drama—this time a non-stop recitation of Hanuman Chalisa, 11 times in 121 temples, to mark the official launch of the Hanumat Shakti Jagran Anushthan—a four-month long saffron jamboree to “awaken the somnolent Hindu pride”. “Lord Hanuman, say scriptures, needs to be reminded of his might now and then. He tends to be quite oblivious of his true potential,” says Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, the burly head of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.

Sitting in the Maniram Chhavni, a sprawling marble fortress amid a bevy of guntotting security men, the mahant insists it is purely an apolitical and religious affair. “We are seeking His intervention to rehabilitate Ramlalla, and no offence meant to anyone,” he said with a smile.

They have every right to do their recitation, but why does a man of god need gun-toting security men? How is it apolitical when the idea is to rehabilitate the idol, which was a political act? Is Hindu pride dependant on such recitations and how will it get awakened? Why does Lord Hanuman have to be reminded of his might now? And why does he have to intervene when the case is in the courts and there is no Sita to be saved, for the marauders were the ones using the name of Hanuman’s hero, Ram?

Whatever the court verdict, and I hope politicians stay out of it and not make political capital, it will help the vote banking parties, and they run across the spectrum. I am not particularly concerned about who gets the property. And I hope Muslims just accept the judgement on it. The mosque has gone.

However, no Indian citizen should permit anyone to take charge of the site until those who were responsible for the demolition and the engineered riots and deaths are punished. Not a single individual must go scot-free. Not the cops, not the politicians, not the bureaucrats, not the religious leaders, not the lumpen elements who can be identified.

And make sure that the compensation monies are paid with interest for all these years when people have been at the mercy of the Establishment. This was not separatists; they were people who get elected and who in fact came to power after this. They are paid to look after our interest and to protect every citizen. If citizens commit any crime, there is a judicial process where they must be tried.

Just in case these leaders forget, they happen to be citizens of India too and they darn well be treated like us.

Condoms at the Commonwealth Games

Promoting promiscuity
by Farzana Versey

The Indian government is prepared. It is providing 150 vending machines at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) village from where athletes will be able to purchase condoms. Will this promote prostitution? Our former sports minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer, thinks so...

Objecting to contraception at the venue will not stop prostitution.

-->

Full column at Express Tribune:

22.8.10

A seatful for a million dollars

There is literary merit in the fact that J D Salinger’s toilet seat is up for auction. Think about the ideas many creative people say they get when they are digesting more than thoughts. Is there any truth in this phenomenon?

As a somewhat creative person, I do come up with the most imaginative description of post culinary indulgences while responding to pathology tests. One doctor even guessed I was a writer based on the poetic justice I did to what appeared to be a drab report that exposed me not only to amoebae and bacteria but also to a future reader.

Given this little episode in the nascent stages when my literary yearnings got a boost, I can conjecture with a degree of certitude that it has to do with the seating arrangement.

It is said that Rodin’s The Thinker is in such an inspired pose. With feet on the ground, while the left side of the brain is occupied in logical activity, the pressure reaches the right side and sparks off the dance of the cerebrum. There is also the psychological fact that something is leaving you; although the departure is welcome in this case, it harks back to a past. This becomes the manure to fill the fertile soil of the future. The mind suddenly has ideas and on occasion they could be psychedelic. It is quite akin to a state of deliriousness as closure is being reached.

The difference between a scientist and an artiste is that the former can soak in a bath tub, think up something and run out stark naked screaming ‘Eureka’ because he has a hypothesis; the latter, due to the peculiar task at hand cannot leave until it is over and therefore there is time to ruminate and think it through. You can later always say that you were preoccupied with your Muse.

- - -

“I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible.”

(Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye)

Sunday ka Funda

“We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation.”

– Lily Tomlin

There are so many things to believe and believe in. It isn’t about certitude but could well be a doubt. A question. We question because we want to believe.

I often find myself finding important topics spawning the most bizarre and laughable ideas. But then I have another quote that fits:

“It is my belief, you cannot deal with the most serious things in the world unless you understand the most amusing.” 

– Winston Churchill

- - -

We cannot exist in a vacuum of complete non-belief in anything. It is a space we seek…

I need you to believe in something
I needed to believe…
Oh I'm moving in between
can you feel me in between
I need to believe

Believe – Chemical Brothers


21.8.10

Would you wear a Harry Popper to bed?



A cartoon-like condom with round-rimmed Harry Potter-style glasses waving a magic wand appears on the packaging of contraceptives. Warner Brothers, who produced the Harry Potter film series based on the books by J.K. Rowling, is taking legal action against the manufacturers of the condom, Magic X.

The lawyer said:

“The image of my client is in danger. This is clearly a reference to the film and fictional character Harry Potter. Everyone who sees the condoms automatically thinks of Harry Potter.”

Copyright infringement aside, may I ask how the image of Warner Brothers and the Harry Potter brand is in danger? This just gives a new meaning to the magic wand. They already have merchandise worth £15 billion. There could be a tie-up with the Swiss contraceptive company and the Potter series can be re-sold in a new avatar for a slightly older audience. Imagine the potential of Harry Potter and the Secret Chambers or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Just think about the potential.

Of course, the manufacturers are denying any connection. The name is a give-away, but I don’t agree with the Warner lawyer that everyone who sees the condom will automatically think of Harry Potter. I doubt a man with lust on his mind is giving much thought to the name of the brand. Don’t forget we are talking about the Swiss who are even picky about their cows, so there might be more emphasis on what it delivers. They’d perhaps put more emphasis on the time factor and the texture. Both are subliminal indicators based on their selling points – watches and chocolates. They’d not buy a watch with a HP dial or a chocolate with Harry mug on it. Therefore, they won’t really find the character an exciting addition to have in bed.

The makers got it all wrong. The cover looks rather comical and, unless some Swiss males believe that this will imbue them with the much-desired sense of humour that every woman seems to crave for in the ideal guy, they’d not be amused. Or, if they wish to appear nerdy, but then they’d have to keep track of the packet’s position rather than their own.

This brings us to the women who are more finicky about such details. If they knew the name, they’d send the man out with it to buy a tub of popcorn.

Unless Magic X wanted to go all Hollywood real bad, it ought to just stick to its own USP. Omega said with a Swiss accent does sound so much like “Oh my gaad…”

Who destroyed Kashmir's Jain temple?

After the Sikhs, it is the turn of the Jains whose only temple in Srinagar has been burnt down by a mob. Before someone begins to cry wolf and starts paying lip service, do look at the issue in its entirety.




This is not a heritage site. A Mumbai family built it for Jain tourists, specifically to fulfill their mother’s wish for she believed that many of the visitors do not start their day without prayers. Interestingly, the family runs a travel agency. This temple was built two years ago. Clearly, Article 370 is not applicable here, for this is not residential property. Two years ago militancy was rife in the Valley and yet they managed to construct this place of worship. It is obvious that no one hampered their efforts.

Jyotin Doshi, whose family built the temple, says:

“We don’t want anything out of this. Such an issue is easily made into a political controversy. We only want closure through nonviolence. Our idols are safe and that’s what matters.”

He is right. People do create a controversy. It is important to note that this incident took place last Saturday, but has been reported in today’s papers after yesterday’s news about those unsigned letters to the Sikhs. Is it great timing by certain elements in the media or did the Doshi family being used or are they just canny business people who, now that they have installed the idols in Chintamani Parshwanath derasar in Sabarmati, Gujarat, can afford to talk? The news spread (how and why?) and more than 14,000 people turned up for darshan.

Are you wondering how idols from a burnt-town temple were saved before the temple was destroyed?

Here is what the TOI report states quoting Doshi:

“There was curfew in the Valley but he (the priest) noticed people gathering outside the temple,’’ he says. The priest, who is disturbed and has now returned to his village near Lucknow, quickly gathered the three idols, which were sculpted out of panchdhatu (an alloy of gold, silver, copper, iron and zinc), and hid them in a hotel. “Three hours later, the mob struck and destroyed what we had built,’’ says Doshi.

Let us get the sequence right. A mob gathers outside the temple during curfew. There is no police force around. The priest does not call up the cops. He just picks up the idols, manages to get out and check into a hotel with these while the mob is outside. The mob strikes after three hours, giving him enough time to do all this?

More is to come:

Two members of Doshi’s team from Mumbai, Apurva Bhansali and Jiten Dharod, flew to Srinagar the next day when the curfew was lifted. They packed the idols in cardboard boxes and flew to Sabarmati.

A curfew being lifted is not something that is planned. Apparently, the very next day this happens, the men from Mumbai manage to fly to Srinagar, meet the priest and take the idols. Is anyone aware about security checks at the airport? What about those mobs everywhere? And what about the one that razed the temple? The idea behind such destruction is always a show of strength and religiosity. They must be stupid not to look for idols if the intention was to bulldoze the believers, who in this case were tourists. There is no mention of their presence there at the time.

It is imperative that the state government orders an enquiry. It is not for the Doshis to say it is all right after they have got their idols back and managed to house them elsewhere and got worshippers trooping in for a look at the saved ones. Any property on any land has to go through the process of law to decide the fate of the culprits. Why don’t they want to know?
This is what I had posed regarding the unsigned letters to the Sikhs. I was wondering why they did not approach the relevant authorities and instead chose to address the separatists. It ought to be a niggling doubt in anyone’s mind, at least minds that are not boxed in with a single thought process. You cannot rubbish the militants and then seek their help in solving a problem that is under a cloud and raises more questions.

- - -




Updated at 7.55 PM:


After an alert reader posted a comment here, I ran a search to verify. These are extracts from a report that appeared in Kashmir Dispatch:

Srinagar, August 21: A report in The Times of India’s (TOI) Mumbai edition about the burning of a Jain temple in Srinagar has been termed “mischievious” by the state government. “The news report about the burning of a Jain temple in Srinagar is absolutely baseless and it’s a mischievous report,” said Mehraj-ud-Din Kakroo, District Commissioner Srinagar.

While speaking to Kashmir Dispatch, General Manager Imran from Silver Star Hotel, said, “The temporary temple was dismantled and the idols were removed by the Mumbai-based tour operator after his three-year contract expired last month.”

“We had a three-year long contract with the travel agency for hosting tourists, mostly from Jain faith. The tour operator asked us to build a temporary Jain temple in the hotel to attract the Jain followers and facilitate their prayers in the hotel,” explained Imran.

“It was not burnt and TOI will come out with a corrigendum,” said Jyotin Doshi, Chairman of Gem Tours, Mumbai, who facilitated the construction of the Jain temple in the Hotel told Kashmir Dispatch.

"The structure was broken; we don’t know by whom, we had a contract with the hotel for five years under which the temple was built on the hotel property," he said.

Who is asking the Sikhs in Kashmir to convert?

by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, August 20

Has anyone asked this crucial question? Before it can be voiced in cogent terms, the government ’swings into action’ to protect the Sikhs. Let us not forget that the Congress party had done no such protecting of the community in the capital city and the rest of the country in 1984. Those who were indicted and held responsible for the carnage managed to hold important portfolios and stay in power for years. People are still waiting for compensation.

Therefore, the central government’s prompt action – and it is rather surprising that not only does it come from the home minister, but also the finance minister and the external affairs minister – reveals that it has found a new ruse to deal with the people’s movement in the Valley.

Unlike the Kashmiri Pandits who were systematically made to ‘flee’ by vested interests, the Sikhs are not an extremely wealthy or powerful group and decided to stay back. As the largest minority group comprising 60,000 people, they faced problems just as the other locals did. Now there is news that they have received letters asking them to join the protest or convert to Islam. Some of these letters state: “When you are enjoying the joys here, why can’t you share the grief and sorrow of Kashmiris as well? We know you are afraid of bullets. Hold protests inside gurudwaras or leave Kashmir.’’

In these notes there is no mention of conversion. There is a call for joining forces and fighting in their own religious places. The coordinator of the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (ASCC), Jagmohan Singh Raina, said, “Our community members have received unsigned letters at various places. Some letters have asked Sikhs to embrace Islam.’’

He said his people would not leave and much rather fight the “evil designs’’. It must be noted that these are unsigned letters. Whose evil designs are these? If members of the community do decide to convert, will it not alert the authorities? Will their converting to Islam not become an even greater hindrance to the civilian war taking place?

Why did Raina choose to appeal to separatist organisations like the JKLF, the Hurriyat and rather incongruously the PoK-based United Jihad Council to ensure peace and amity? Why did he and his organisation not address the issue to the chief minister Omar Abdullah?

The issue reached Parliament and, as reports say, the government “held out an assurance that Sikhs had nothing to fear in Kashmir in the wake of reported threats to the minority community from militants to convert to Islam or leave the Valley”. There is no mention of the letters that asked them to join the protest movement. The NDA members, always on the lookout for such ‘communal’ concerns, had to be placated; Chidambaram told them, “nobody will be allowed to harm the Sikh community”.

Indeed, the community ought to be protected but this verbal heroism is senseless when the local population is being harmed everyday. Has there been such immediate sympathy expressed for the ongoing war and killings of civilians and security personnel? A shoe thrown at Omar Abdullah gets more mileage than the street protests.

Pranab Mukherjee became magnanimous: "Not only Muslims of Kashmir but the whole of India would rise as one to stand by the Sikh community.” When was the last time the whole of India stood as one to stand by a community, and how could it when the establishment orchestrates such harm?

Has anybody informed the whole of India about where those letters have come from? Why did the Sikh representative in Kashmir talk to the militant groups? Why was the PoK organisation informed? Assuming these threats are coming from the Pakistani side, why would they be interested in “peace and amity”? It just does not sound right.

While Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called these letters fake and had on an earlier occasion dramatically stated that the Sikhs could not be forced to join the protests and harming them would be like inflicting a wound on his body, it conveys the impression that his body has a great deal of importance. And if the JKLF and the Hurriyat do have a say in every such matter, then it begs the query as to what is the status of an elected government in the state?

It is a known fact that when militant groups send out threats, they like to flash their credentials. Since this is an upsurge from the ground level, it would be presumed that the locals are sending those letters. This is damaging to them as well as to what they have held important all along – the coexistence with minorities. This is reminiscent of the planted fliers posted on walls during the exodus of Pandits.

This time both the central and state governments do not know how to deal with the uprising in the Valley. Omar Abdullah can only give assurances when he knows well that there is nothing he can do because there is nothing he has done to salvage the situation. The separatist organisations are also riding on the wave rather than taking responsibility for it.

Instead of assurances in Parliament and smart talk, the government should find out where the mischief is taking place and the origin of those letters. The Sikhs who have received them should file FIRs in the police station. That will be the first step towards getting the government involved rather than the government just standing from afar and issuing homilies.

There is far more here then appears evident and the shoe could point in any direction. It’s time for the establishment to talk on its feet.

19.8.10

Oh, Blimey!

It’s rare that one country has such interesting little bits of news around the same time. But here’s from Old Blighty.

A British billionaire, Alki David, has offered $1 million to the first person who manages to streak naked in front of Barack Obama. Currently ranked 45th in the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £1.15 billion, this is a publicity stunt for a new website.

I don’t get it. Why not in front of the Queen? Or David Cameron? Why an American President? And how does he know that no one has streaked before the presidential eyes before? He is almost imbuing Obama with some kind of Victorian chastity belt that has to be unlocked with such streaking.

- - -

Malcolm Pearson, head of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), which advocates withdrawing Britain from the European Union, quit. He said he’s learned he is not good at party politics and that he doesn’t enjoy it. “I have learnt I am not much good at party politics. I am also 68, and need to give more time to my interests... So it is right I should stand down on September 2 to give a younger leader time to be established before the next election.”

When our leaders don’t enjoy it, they become martyrs. A huge thumbs up to the man.

- - -


London-based businessman of Gujarati origin Sanjiv Mehta has turned history on its head by buying out the biggest symbol of the oppressive British Raj–The East India Company.

For Sanjiv Mehta, the new owner of the company, this was an emotionally charged moment as it stood for the total transformation of EIC — from a symbol of the tyrannical Raj, to a symbol of the growing economic might of Indians the world over.

“You can’t imagine the sense of pride and redemption I feel.”

This is not transformation. A rich Indian is buying a company where he will display luxury goods which mostly other rich Indians overseas will buy. If there is so much concern about the symbolism, then he should change the name. I doubt that will happen. He has not bought it for redemption – where the heck does that fit in? – but as a business proposition. It is a brand and he will capitalise on it. Good for him, but let us not make it seem like this is ‘revenge’, as some newspapers have pointed out.


- - -

End note:

David Cameron is the most tweeted subject. How does that become news? Some media analysis agency said there were many more tweets among the Brits about his coalition government than about Afghanistan. Whoa! When was Afghanistan more important than hot water bottles? Of course, they’ll talk about David – any David or Will or Dick or Dirty Harry.

18.8.10

The Israeli Images

A Brutal 'Net' Scape

by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, August 18

Eden Abergil is, quite rightly, confounded. She cannot “understand what’s wrong” about her posting pictures of herself, a former Israeli soldier, posing with blindfolded Palestinian prisoners and uploading them on her Facebook page.

As a member of the Israeli armed force not only was she expected to resort to violence, but to hate the very idea of Palestine. The outrage her social networking has sparked off is merely a facile reaction. Why does a military spokesperson describe her behaviour as “disgraceful” when far worse happens on the ground? The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson, captain Arye Shalicar said: "It was just something very foolish and stupid – and I hoped there wouldn't be any media interest."

She used the media or at least a medium that is open to media and public scrutiny. Below one of her pictures, a comment by her friend states, "You look sexiest here." Eden replies: "Yeah I know … I wonder if he's got Facebook! I have to tag him in the picture!"

Is this insensitive? Is it spunk? Is it just plain juvenile fun? This is what we do not seem to understand. It is not her posing in those pictures that counts or even her putting them up. It is the reason for her doing so and the response it would elicit that is of concern. It is about the nature of accessibility to what has until now been a pretty much closed area. Brutality and war crimes were meant to be under wraps or, at worst, leaked out in tantalising bits and pieces so that the enemy was warned.

Now, the warning often precedes the act and creates more than a fear psychosis a cult of worshippers at the altar of the mighty. Even those who might find such animalistic attitude despicable can be co-opted by this sort of sado-masochism. The army and the police force had always been institutions; individuals were not people who were promoted, unless they had something of consequence to say in policy-making decisions concerning their nation’s defence policies. This has altered drastically due to the availability of material that anyone can flaunt. No rules are to be followed. Abergil, a small player, has become a legitimate representative of Israel.

I am surprised at the naiveté of the human rights group, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel. Its executive director, Ishai Menuchin, said: "These cruel pictures reflect Israel's ongoing objectification of Palestinians and complete disregard of their humanity and of their human rights, and especially their right to privacy."

Such statements buffer the need for such exposure rather than see it as demeaning and a devious method of tormenting those who are not imprisoned. They convey the fate that awaits those who do not stay within their limits. These pictures do not reveal any more or less of what has been going on in Israel. When there is a blockade, people suffer and it is news. When an aid ship is fired at, then the world does get to know. There has never been a question of privacy, for when someone is arrested and tortured he ceases to have an identity. He is just a body that stands for a wayward system that is to be despised.

Today when there is talk of privacy, it is more about an Israeli soldier’s right to change her Facebook settings and make sure that only her friends have access to the photographs. However, they have already been downloaded; every mainstream newspaper has splashed it. So, who is culpable? A woman on a high or the media?

Will this awaken the world to atrocities or merely add edginess to voyeurism? There is no visible physical suffering in these images. The men are blindfolded. They cannot see their own humiliation or their privacy being tampered with. The blindfolds also make them fairly unrecognisable. And this is the scary part – they cease to be real people. When she jests whether one of them has a Facebook account, it merely shows that contemporary wars, even those fought with arms, rely more on image-building. They are the new politics – the YouTube videos, the social networking groups, the studio battles that make or mar you.

The hypocrisy of the Israeli reaction is just another makeover before the cameras begin to roll.

- - -

Also published in Countercurrents

Shoo-shoe, Omar – 2nd episode

Omar Abdullah has decided that he is going to be a good boy and follow the spirit of Ramzan. Therefore, he has forgiven the suspended head constable Abdul Ahad Jan who threw a shoe at him, as discussed here, because this month “teaches us to be compassionate”.

After the incident, Jan was hailed as hero by the public. This must have made Omar realise that not only has he lost the goodwill of the people he might also lose a photo-op. A few questions for the chief minister and what appears to be his enthusiasm for Ramzan and compassion:

  • This man was suspended – should he be given a job?
  • It is said that his son was once arrested for some militant-type work – is there a way in which he can be cleared of this?
  • The young people pelting stones – what compassion are you giving them?
  • The security guys who are being targeted – what compassion for them?
  • People are coming out in the streets because they have grievances – how would compassion translate into action for them?
  • There is curfew and people have to do without essentials - where is the compassion for them?

I would also like to know what this compassion business has got to do with the work of the agencies responsible for dealing with criminal activities or disturbing the peace. Abdul Jan did that and was taken into custody. He is said to have a PDP pass. Will there be any investigation? If not, then does Omar believe that he is superior to the law? If he does, then on what grounds can he object to unlawful activities?

As if this grand gesture was not enough, his father Farooq Abdullah says that he “has joined an elite club of George Bush, P Chidambaram, Asif Ali Zardari and a few others with the reward of shoe. It is a wonderful thing”.

So, it is all about elitism. And look at the members he is enthused about. Besides, what is so wonderful about it? Is there no sense of shame? If Abdul Jan was expressing the feelings of the people, as seems to be evident from the outpouring of support he garnered, then it should be wake-up call for the Abdullah club. If he was mentally unstable, then he might have thrown a shoe at anyone, maybe a karakul lamb, so there’s no need to get all that excited.

It only reveals the lengths to which people will go. I am also willing to see a conspiracy theory here. The shoe was too well-polished for a suspended cop. And don’t tell me Mehbooba Mufti provides shoe-shine boys for this kind of jihad.

17.8.10

The Impersonators

Why would anyone want to be me when I sometimes have a problem being me?


I am not on Facebook, but I was there. An impersonator did it. I had no idea until I got a casual call from an acquaintance regarding something else and he asked, “Why don’t you reply to any messages on FB?”

“But I don’t have an account.”

“Rubbish. It is there. Go look it up.”

I did. Sure enough I was there. The profile was hidden but the links linking to ‘me’, who was not me, were all about my sites. I complained. Facebook acted promptly and removed the profile.

It is an interesting phenomenon. Why would a person want to impersonate another? Either there is a vicious motive or the person wants to be in your shoes. I have experienced both in the past when I was impersonated, before networking sites came into the picture. The level of malice is amazing. People who know jackshit about you try to malign you, create discord and, since one’s writings are public, it is easy to pick them up and appear authentic.

The Facebook impersonator would not have been terribly lucky for I often announce that I am not on any social networking sites, so those who know me or of me are aware. The acquaintance who alerted me is not a regular himself nor was he aware of my ‘unavailability’ in the cyber social world.

One can only imagine how visible celebrities become easy targets. It is inexcusable, but it happens quite regularly and can have a damaging effect. I guess that is the reason many have signed up to avoid any confusion.

Just yesterday, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen recounted his experience. “I do not have any Facebook site of my own, and do not intend to open one…the site referred to there, where someone pretending to be me answered questions, had nothing whatsoever to do with me.” Someone was, in fact, responding to queries from readers that contradicted his views. He is understandably upset: “The managers of the Facebook system are not helpful in monitoring the veracity of the sites and communications. I got no help from them...”

I am surprised at this as well as the audacity of the person running the account. It does not seem to be a harmless fan for he was providing skewed ideas. This ought to have alerted the Professor’s fans; they don’t seem to be a smart bunch! The only good thing is that it is in the open. For a less visible person, as in my case, one does not know what happens behind the scenes.

I can only conjecture about the dynamics here. There is some admiration mixed with envy and quite a bit of low self-esteem. The person will publicly praise you, and then there will be private communication that veers from desperate accusations to even more desperate regret. It astounds me to read bits of my life being replicated by a couple of these people. I know about coincidence and serendipity, but please don’t tell me that almost everything I do has been done by another person, when I know the person.

The impersonator personality can, on rare occasion, be truly someone appreciative and wants you to notice her/him. It is a weird way to do so. Then there are ‘plants’ that have been set up to kick up a storm. It is quite pathetic, for they forget that the steaming hot tea cup will scald their own lips.

I have concluded that, given the experiences I have had, being me is not such a bad idea after all.

16.8.10

Shoo-shoe, Omar

I don’t know about you, but I am really tired of the intellectual analyses these shoe-throwing incidents have thrown up. The manner in which the media has been tracing the history and dissecting the cases, one would think that every shoe is a dissenter.

The latest target is Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah. I love the picture; it almost looks like the photographer and the assailant had co-ordinated their movements. Now, the Times of India carried this caption: ‘SHOOED’ BUT UNFAZED’ as the footwear ‘sailed over’ the precious head. How was it possible for the CM to get fazed? Does he have eyes above his head or, more appropriately, over his cap?

Or was the reference to his reaction after the incident when the shoe fell ahead of him? An interesting possibility that it sails over his head and falls ahead of him when it was thrown from the third row in front of the dais and might have fallen at the side. Perhaps the direction of the wind had something to do with it.

However, the TOI report is very balanced; so balanced that while it says the man who lost his shoe is a head constable with the J&K police on one page, it mentions later that Abdul Ahad Jan was dismissed and in fact served a sentence and was out on bail. Should not the media – not just this newspaper – have checked on the current status of the man?

No. For it would not help in the slant of the report:

The fact that he did so during I-Day celebrations makes it an even more damaging dereliction of duty.

Had he done it on any other day it would have been less damaging and less of a dereliction of duty? In fact, he is exercising his independence on the given day.

Mind you, Omar has been demanding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act be revoked so that the J&K police can tackle the troubles in the state directly.

Ah, how wicked. While seeming to take up the cause of Omar, the paper is snidely trying to say that you get the army out of the way and look at what can happen. That is the reason the other story about the cop was pushed to the back pages.

Here is the stuff about him…

  • He was mentally unstable
  • He looked uneasy from the beginning
  • He had been charged with extortion
  • He had been sent by a political party and used the politician’s entry pass. (Names please.)
  • He was shouting pro-azadi (freedom) slogans

Guess what? Omar also mentioned azadi:

Earlier, in his address, Omar said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was ready to consider autonomy for the state as a solution. “But we would like to discuss other options like self-rule and azadi too.”

Back to the shoes, it did not deter our brave CM. He went on to unfurl the flag. The way this is emphasised one would imagine he was grievously injured. Of course, courageous man that he is he said:

“I’ve no regret that somebody threw a shoe and raised azadi slogans. I think it’s a better way of protesting if a shoe is tossed instead of a stone.’’

Bloody hell. Those who are pelting stones are protesting against policies or lack of them, they are protesting for their rights, they have grievances against the social order and against being pushed into a corner, they are being targeted by militants and security forces and used by political parties. Before Omar Abdullah aims at getting martyrdom from those brown shoes, he had better understand that this individually-expressed ire against him is not the same as the movement he will ditch the moment he gets some sops from the Centre for himself. Isn’t that why his papa, Farooq Abdullah, stopped him from resigning? If they want to run the state as a Mom & Pop store, then they'd better just stick to candies.

Don’t speak for the people’s hunger and anger of years.

15.8.10

Sunday ka Funda

“No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.”

- Bob Dylan


Someone might think these people are free…no responsibility, no taxes to pay, no social network to be surrounded by. Yes, they are free to suffer, to beg, to be unbothered by what people think, to have children who do not know what hope means, to have lice-ridden hair that don’t have miracle shampoos with celebrity endorsements, to eat and vomit the filth, to not think of tomorrow, to not care if they are run over, to be beaten by cops, to beg. And then sell paper freedom to us. Yes, they are free.


They are not chained to the sky because they rarely look up at it.

13.8.10

My iPhone’s got a headache

It has been almost two years since I bought this sleek thing. I should have been up there, chalking up 12.3 sex partners. Clearly, my iPhone has a problem. It ain’t me, babe.

In what has been described as an unscientific but fun study, it was claimed that iPhone users have more fun than other smart phone users. And it was the women who managed that figure of 12.3. I understand simple figures, preferably full; on a bad day half would do. But what is ‘.3’? Is it one- third of a man? Probably the iPhone manages to attract just this much in the 13th potential target. I am just guessing. Women, unless they are on the phone, usually prefer to put it away in their bags. Depending on the trend and the choice any woman exercises, the level of the bag could be from somewhere near her waist to her hips; if she is using a short-handle one it might skirt her knee, and if it is a clutch then it would brush against her thigh. The third part of the man that gets enamoured would have to be in that range.

Is that a hit? Does not some level of attraction start from the top? Do these phones naturally give out vibes, irrespective of where they are?

Come to think of it, this could be quite serious. When I first went to buy the phone it was raining that September day as I, with much trepidation, entered the service provider’s store. They said it was ‘out of stock’.

“Oh, really? I have already called your head office and they have directed me to this place. Hang on, let me call.” I called someone and told her that I was a loyal client and they had promises to keep.

I think someone liked Robert Frost. They asked me if I could wait, it might take long.

While I waited, not like regular folks on those fake happy-looking red benches, but at the desk of one of the executives, I kept fidgeting with what now seemed like an antique handset. Thoroughly bored, I turned around and found a rather large man watch bemusedly at what must have been my huge handbag.

“You are waiting for an iPhone?” he asked in a heavy American accent from a posh expat mouth.

He told me the story of his iPhone and how the screen had frozen. “You must be a Mac person,” he said.

I had never seen a Mac, let alone used it then. But it seemed that to be an iPhone person you had to be a Mac person; not just a Mac person, but an Apple person, for he went into a detailed discussion about Apple. I kept ‘hmming’ with interest. I can sometimes look quite intelligent, so it helps.

Impatient as I was, I was already being initiated into the sexual rites of possessing an iPhone. He decided to give me a tip. “When you touch the keypad don’t let your thumb hit the key, just touch it above the letter. Gently.”

The guy who brought me the black box did not look like he could be gentle with anything. I asked for the instruction manual. “No, it’s all there.”

“Where?” I asked.

He shook his head. My saviour had gone into some secret dungeon to see if his phone had thawed. I discovered that smart phones don’t need manuals; they need men.

I departed carrying what I thought was just a spiffier version of a cell phone. Little did I know that I had been given one with no sex appeal. All it ever did was dial numbers only because I had touched it at the wrong place; it slipped from my hands, which made it mandatory for me to use a cover. Oh, it’s a dominatrix leather one, make no mistake, with a strap, a button and even a steel ring that could pass off as a handcuff. I guess all this was subliminal.

It was happening without any attempt on my part. A lot more was supposed to happen, and it did not.

So, what is it about the iPhone that the Blackberry and the Android do not have? They are smart; they can connect you to anyone anytime. And I was in fact planning to buy a Blackberry. Did my iPhone realise it was the second choice and therefore decided I did not deserve to be imbued with special magnetism?

If this survey is just a flippant foray into gizmo territory, then think about another one a year ago. It wasn’t even a poll; it was an analysis by Strand Consult who don't think we, the users, are particularly smart:

"When we examine the iPhone users' arguments defending the iPhone, it reminds us of the famous Stockholm Syndrome--a term invented by psychologists after a hostage drama in Stockholm. Here, hostages reacted to the psychological pressure they were experiencing by defending the people that had held them hostage for six days."

I have never defended the iPhone; if anything, it has to make excuses for me. I don’t even use it well enough and I have not upgraded it. So, where is this hostage drama? I like it because it does some things and don’t because it does not. This bunch of consultants has the audacity to declare:

"In reality, the iPhone is surrounded by a multitude of people, media, and companies that are happy to bend the truth to defend the product they have purchased from Apple."

I purchased it from my phone company. It did not matter whether Apple or Pears had produced it. There is no need to bend the truth for no one cares about what I have in my hand as I breathe into the phone while talking to them. I use the camera a lot and it accidentally creates the most amazing pictures. And until I tell anyone, no one will know how just a little shake of its booty can produce art.

If I get something that I like more, I will go for it. I am not into smart phones, really. But I would take one-third of Steve Jobs, if only my iPhone did what it was supposed to do.

11.8.10

Tata, goodbye

So the next head of the Tata group need not be a Parsi. Is it good news? Does it mean that the great big Indian industries are getting out of their little family holes?

Not really. The simple reason for looking for "the right person" is that Ratan Tata has no direct heir. It happened even when JRD was around and poor Rusi Mody had to go back to playing his piano as Ratan was called upon to wear the mantle. This time around, there could be absolutely no right person within the family ranks.

I am quite certain that the Parsi community will be disappointed. The Tatas, for whatever reason, stood for a certain different class of business that got associated with the community. Just as Marwari, Gujarati business houses are. If they can stick to their lineage, why can the Tatas not?

I find it curious that Ratan Tata is emphasising that it is an Indian company. Of course, it is. Does being a Parsi take away from that? It might be considered an extremely liberal attitude on his part, but let us not forget that there is a difference between a stake-holder and the chief. The latter will perform a role; s/he will not inherit the empire.

There is this superficial liberalism that does not amount to much. Narayan Murthy’s son gets engaged and it makes front page news and he and his fiancée, who is also from a business family, are portrayed as royalty of sorts.

Another gem from Ratan:

“In my opinion the successor should be a suitable person for the job. He need not be a pro-Parsi or anti-Parsi.”

If he is not interested in the Parsi angle, then how does it matter? Do head honchos have to take an oath that they don’t care one way or another for Parsis?

Now if he had said he need not be pro-Modi or anti-Modi, then that would be talking.

Racist Hollywood?

Did Dev Patel play James Bond in his first film? Has any non-mainstream Hollywood actor enacted significant roles? What is he cribbing about? He got to play a poor slum boy who appears on a reality show and wins a million. Now, he is jobless and calls Hollywood racist. There are several reasons for Hollywood to be called names, including reverse racist for weren’t there howls of protest when Angelina Jolie portrayed a part-Black woman in A Mighty Heart? It has a lot to do with the kind of films being made. Any mainstream institution will cater to archetypal ideas; if it did not, it would cease to be mainstream.

Dev says:

“Because Slumdog was such a big hit there was a lot of pressure in terms of what I did next. For my second film I wanted a role that would stretch me, but all I was getting offered were stereotypical parts like the goofy Indian sidekick. Asian actors tend not to be sent scripts that are substantial or challenging. I’m likely to be offered the roles of a terrorist, cab driver and smart geek. I want to show that I have versatility.”

If we look at Bollywood, it too sticks to the tried-and-tested formula when casting. In the few period films that are made, the White guy is invariably a caricature. What substantial roles have been given to the outsiders in India? We have had a surfeit of women from mainly East Europe and they perform the backdrop in dance sequences. This has caused resentment among what are still referred to as ‘junior artistes’ or, worse, ‘extras’. It just adds exotic value to the oomph and in some ways reflects urban India where many of them have come to work and live and end up in the party circuits as the more prized arm candies than the local girls.

I wonder who was pressurising poor Dev after the success of the film. Its female lead, who did precious little in the movie, suddenly got catapulted to the big league; adjectives flew fast and furious: she was sexy, stylish, the ‘in’ thing. To be honest, she would never have made it in Bollywood and if she has been accepted it is not because she is getting the roles as a mainstream character.

Besides, if we look at the adaptation of Indian themes in Hollywood, do they cast foreigners in those roles? Who acted in The Namesake? Most of the other films tend to capitalise on the ethnic aspect and indulge in far worse stereotypes, cramming the screen with loud clothes, over-the-top festivities, marriages, funerals, religious rites…it is like giving a guided tour of colourful India bookmarked in Lonely Planet.

One might want to know about Dev Patel’s aversion to portraying cab drivers, terrorists or geeks. Don’t they exist and aren’t they for real?

10.8.10

Abstinence and egotism

Now that we know Muslims can just do it, courtesy Junoon’s Salman Ahmad, how are believers to manage abstinence? You forsake food, water and other bodily needs for a month and transform into a seraph rather than a siren or a rake.

This sort of austerity is disturbing. On a trip to a Muslim country I was told that even stores that stock pork products to cater to their foreign clientele would continue to do so but behind curtains; the same applies to restaurants in malls where they put up a screen. It is utterly debasing. Why must people who want to eat be made to feel guilty? Do Muslims who stay away from food spare a thought for the jobless in shanties lying on cardboard sheets on stone floors, for whom going hungry is not a matter of option?

It isn’t only about Islam. Hinduism too loves good abstainers. Each day is designated for a god and people fast depending on which deity makes their tummies rumble the most. Christianity relies a great deal on suffering. Mother Teresa’s emphasis on a beautiful death denied people medical facilities. Let us not forget the irony of holy men who perform miracles that produce Rolex watches out of thin air! The Jain devotee who wishes to get initiated into sainthood has to pull out each hair from his head. Years ago when a diamond merchant’s son decided to give up the material life, his family spent crores of rupees on the celebrations and threw precious stones along the route. No one thought of building a hospital or a school. Self-denial is desperate for an immediate halo.

I am not dismissing the believer’s need to follow rituals, but why make a public display of it? Just as flaunting ostentation is déclassé, making a show of abjurance is equally gauche and rather hypocritical if you have a post-sunset a la carte menu. Look around at discussion boards where there is much talk about appropriate cohabitation timings. In this context, Salman Ahmad’s ideas easily qualify him to be a televangelist advising people on how the religion is “good, awesome and great”. His film called Islam sexy. The contextual explanatory analogy is weird: “Westerners talk about ‘Africa being sexy’ to dispel the commonly held image of a region and a people who are mired in pandemic diseases like HIV and Aids, extreme poverty, despair and violence. It’s a way of showing the other side of Africa just as I’m trying to show another side of Islam which is tolerant, thought-provoking and modern.”

If westerners refer to Africa as sexy, they are sick to the bone, the bones of the poor Africans they capitalise on. This is what happens when you use the paradigm of religious and cultural beauty and sell it to the Occident. We can be amused by such flaccid attempts for they posit themselves against cruel fundamentalists. Given that human beings do not lead uniform lives, these guys can turn around and justify perversions too. Despicable as it may sound, we have instances of human sacrifice and virgin blood being offered in several faiths to appease gods. Denying one person dignity and life is used to add to another’s potency — sexual or as power play.

Gandhi, who mastered the art of abstinence, had the luxury of publicly ‘experimenting with truth’. The point is: were those at the receiving end mere guinea pigs? It is worth ruminating that each time we deny ourselves something, it is a choice we make that most cannot. Abstinence is, therefore, just a bonsai version of indulgence.

- - -

Published in Express Tribune, August 10, 2010

9.8.10

Geelani saab, keep your Black Day to yourself

The Hurriyat’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani is right in refusing one more dialogue with home minister P. Chidambaram. This is not the time for it. But he is mucking up the case by asking the people in the state to observe August 15 as a "black day" and Pakistan's foundation day as "a day of solidarity" on August 14.

Not only does it go against his own statement about self-determination – and the reality – that "Pandit Nehru promised Kashmiris the chance to decide their fate in 1948, but never fulfilled the promise", it also demeans the current crisis in Kashmir.


The Kashmir issue has escalated beyond a border dispute. All we are hearing are pathetic noises from almost everyone and long feature articles discussing ‘housewives’ coming out in the street, revealing chauvinism and a lack of understanding of insurgency. We won’t even go into the sad attempts at religious history being touted out that are not only invalid but also factually incorrect.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has joined forces against a dialogue, but he should most certainly not agree to be a part of this Black day and Solidarity Day tamasha. He at least seems to have his ideas verbatim, even if he might himself create hurdles to realising them later:

The 37-year-old Mirwaiz said he had proposed specific measures like demilitarisation, revocation of repressive laws and release of political prisoners to build trust to take the dialogue process forward and provide much-needed relief to the people. "But, unfortunately, these demands were not heeded," he said.

Meanwhile, Geelani is acting cute when he met a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits. According to Srinagar-based Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti leader Sanjay Tickoo:

"Geelani became emotional and told us that we're a part of Kashmir and our safety is the majority's community's primary duty. Geelani told us that if anything happens to us, it would be like a wound inflicted on his body.”

Again, this is not the time. The kids coming out in the streets are not Kashmiri Pandits. Their concerns are different. He is sending out so many different signals. I think he should himself offer to take house arrest.

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The other case of getting all cute is our Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. She has said that India understands Pakistan best. It is such a lover-like comment that it was a dampener to know that in her interview to IBNlive all she was referring to was the Wikileaks and we knew it before it all came out. These darned foreigners. Should we not at least patent our knowledge, since we don’t seem to be acting upon it?

Play it again, scam

Play It Again, Scam
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, August 8


Our favourite sport – corruption – has once again taken centre-stage. Instead of kicking ball, there is talk of kickbacks. Had there been no whistle-blower, no one would know about the expensive pots and pans. We are still giving those embroiled in the Commonwealth Games controversies airtime to clear the air.

Is there a reason for it? Is it about national pride? Or is it one more smart strategy where the media that exposes the scandal cannot afford to miss out on the goodies of advertisements as well as telecast rights and sound bytes?

A couple of days ago there were huge advertisements in the newspapers titled ‘Commonwealth Games Emotional Appeal’. It was signed by ‘A Humble Citizen’, the head of the Sahara Group, Subrata Roy. I could well imagine how many Indians reading it must have had tears brimming over.

India has hosted several events in the past, sporting or otherwise. Not all have gone off without glitches. Even without the controversy over underhand deals, we are not quite prepared. Therefore, the manner in which the issue is being raised by a group of elite citizens has little to do with ‘pride’. What is there to be proud about hosting the games? It is done by rotation and whoever bids, gets to do so. It isn’t that the whole world is looking at us with sudden “respect and hope” and it most certainly has nothing to do with “our recent economic growth”.

This is the fantasy of the millionaires. The economic growth has not reached most citizens. In fact, humble sportspersons have to make do with filthy hostel rooms, inadequate practice, slimy food and sexual harassment. Is this our “rich heritage”?

The media has indeed given a great deal of time and space to the scams but that too is to grab eyeballs. Mr. Roy writes, “Due to this continuous and extensively negative coverage, we are creating a withdrawal feeling in thousands of organizers, 23000 volunteers, who are feeling totally demoralized and dejected. This would totally mar the successful conduct of the Commonwealth Games and give a bad image to our beloved country for all times to come.”

While sports are an important part of building the morale of teams and individual players, we have the hierarchy of different games and different sportspersons in place. It is this class system that gives us a bad name for we may flaunt the heroes in our endorsements, but the world is interested in what it will get out of it.

Why the world, is it not true that certain individuals, including Mr. Roy, are directly involved in sports franchises and bidding for foreign ones and could therefore be more concerned about their own image and well-being? Does Mr. Roy not have a stake in IPL and is he not eyeing Liverpool?

Unfortunately, the emotional appeal can have a counter-negative rather than a positive effect on the gullible middle-class that is made to believe that their nationalism rides on hosting a sporting event. It is grandiose efforts that make us believe we are global citizens. Indians are supposed to wake up to their Indianness when foreign dignitaries visit and miraculously roads are cleaned, plants dot the cavalcade location, buildings get a fresh coat of paint, linen is laundered and even the poor are dressed in colourful gear to give them a taste of our heritage.

China put out all stops for the Olympics not because it wanted to impress the world, but because it wanted to assert its power. We still suffer from a slave mentality. What will they think of us, is always a bother. There is never any consideration as to what we think of ourselves and how we treat those with less than what we have.

There have been several scandals before too, including match-fixing deals and doping. No emotional appeal was made then.

It is rather shocking that Mr. Roy feels “the culprits most definitely need to be punished with all their misdeeds thoroughly investigated and all sorts of checks and audits duly conducted by going deep into the matters related to purchase, negotiations & payments etc. But if should all be done after our country's greatest ever sporting event is over. Of course, all the culprits should be severely punished, thereafter”.

This is a classic way of pushing the dirt under the carpet. These culprits will be officially in charge of welcoming visitors, especially dignitaries. They will be the visible face of India, all over the international media. If we know from experience, they will be in the front rows, their relatives, friends and business interest groups will get VIP passes and sit in VIP enclaves.

If, as is suggested, we can still manage to make a success of the games, then there will not be many people to question them. For, it is these mavens who will flash it as a badge of their achievement. It is interesting that in this whole advertised public letter there is just one reference to the players who will be on the field. Clearly, they matter little.

Emotions ride high on the hot air of national pride and these days such pride is inexorably linked with those who can afford cheer-leaders. Humble citizens don’t come cheap.

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This is the image of the ad:

8.8.10

Sunday ka Funda

A short history of medicine:

I have an earache.

2000 B.C. - Here, eat this root

1000 A.D. - That root is heathen, say this prayer.

1850 A.D. - That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.

1940 A.D. - That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.

1985 A.D. - That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.

2000 A.D. - That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root. 

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Switch:

7.8.10

Sly Media bigotry



You won’t see this newspaper with its defences down. Ever. It is just so subtle. Or sly. Today the Times of India front-paged news about how ‘Julia Roberts makes a leap of faith to Hinduism’. All very well. It then went on to talk about other ‘switchers’ among celebs, not just to Hinduism, but Buddhism, Kabbalah and Scientology. There was no mention of converts to Islam.

Just wondering.

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On the Editorial page, where they post short news items under the arrogant title ‘Snap Judgment’, they mentioned the Afghan woman who made it to the cover of Time magazine with the words: “Bibi Aisha had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban because she ran away from abusive in-laws. The photo underlines why it is essential not to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.”

Is this taken from somewhere and blindly copied here or is it some sub-editor dashing off a note? What was the op-ed department doing? It is indeed gruesome and there is every reason for people to question such practices. However, who has given this newspaper or any media group the right to decide who must rule another country? This incident took place a year ago and only because it appears on the cover of Time must we rush to aid the American effort at ruling by proxy and causing innumerable civilian deaths?

And, can we please pause for a moment and ask what we are doing about the attacks on women in our country – acid thrown on faces, paraded naked, killed in cold blood?

Just wondering…

Iran’s Protest on Pink Floyd Wings

Learning to fly? 

Iran’s Protest on Pink Floyd Wings
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, August 6

"Hey Ayatollah, Leave Those Kids Alone!" sing two Iranian-born brothers. Their band is named Blurred Vision. They have been living in exile, we are told. The word exile is used quite randomly these days. Were they shunted out because they were protesting or did they leave because they could not take the stringent laws anymore and wanted the freedom to see through the blur? Do they wish to return and are being denied that right? Such queries do not matter. Emigrants are exiles if they have a drum to beat.

Their video, shot by Iranian film director Babak Payami, has used the Pink Floyd number “Another Brick in the Wall”, altering the lyrics a bit and using images of street protest during the elections of 2009. It is questioning the religious guardianship of Ayatollah Khamenei, which is really off-the-mark. The fact that elections are held and there is a leader elected – whatever be the means used – denotes a political process and not a religious one. But this sounds better. Had they said, “Hey Ahmadenijad”, it might not have been quite as dramatic, especially since the Iranian leader has gone ahead and challenged the US President to a debate on television to see who has better solutions. So, you pin down an Islamic figure-head.

This is the surface. There is more beneath the epidermis. Why use a western song of protest? Apparently, it has become the underground anthem of the youth in Iran. We have to take the word of the exiled brothers to understand that it is true. Let us not forget that Iranian cinema is considered among the finest today and it can hardly be termed establishment-oriented. Creativity often flourishes when pushed against the wall to make bricks fall.

Every movement has its anthem or song or symbol that is indigenous. It could be political, social, cultural or regarding gender issues. It could take the form of street theatre or performances in stadia that pose a challenge to the mainstream status quo openly. Many use songs simply because it appears to have universal appeal, be they folk or pop. It is a part of the oral tradition where values were instilled through the narration of epics.

One might argue that since these are often used even today, they go against contemporary ideas of dissent. Would citing mythological characters that are revered be seen as exemplars of tangential ideas? In some ways, indeed they do, if we take the cases of those who remonstrated against the linear forms of goodness and morality. The devotional songs of the female saint Meerabai quite clearly indicate that by the societal norms prevalent then, she was going against the tide, breaking caste, gender and moral barriers. It is another matter that the cult of devotion itself is anti-dissent.

Therefore, if we see it through such embedding, then the heroism of those who strike out transforms what they are voicing about general angst into the creation of idols and is antithetical to the purity of protest. This is the fate of traditional as well as pop culture. The traditional forms have in fact used religion, as some Indian leaders did during the British Raj. The result is that these examples are cited in contemporary times to push minorities within the nation against the wall. Nostalgia for a movement needs fresh enemies.

With pop culture, mainly music, the tendency has been to create stars and chartbusters. It does reach a huge audience and whips up emotional frenzy. As the lines get repeated, the person on stage looks more and more like a priest with a swaying choir. The dissonance inherent in the lyrics becomes another attempt at the ooh-aah factor of playing to the gallery of rogues. The bad guys are not the bad guys because they have sung a few sentences against apartheid, global warming, homophobia, wars. It becomes a peacenik picnic.

Except perhaps for some Black spiritual songs, which remained within the realm of spiritualism, such anthems as they are highlight an issue only to the extent that the stage allows for. Rap worked at the street level and promoted a stereotype of Harlem. In this instance, Eminem became the dissenter – the clean White boy-man singing the song of garbage-rummaging. It is particularly unfortunate that the anti-war movement needs songs; invariably they work as catharsis for the collective guilt felt by societies that have pugnacious governments. However, when the time arrives and they have to make a choice, they do end up choosing between blue and red states. The Vietnam flag-holders walk all over the red carpet to fund the rising sunshine of blinkered vision.

The aftermath is that followers merely sit in echo chambers enunciating words that seem so hollow after the initial impact. In fact, they often become consumer goods, labeled and retailed and lose their sting. It also remains pretty much a western cornucopia that is sponged on by the rest of the world. ‘We are the world’ does sound so very cryptic.

It is with this background that one must see Pink Floyd’s magnanimity in permitting their song to be adapted by the Iranian band. It is because Roger Waters of Pink Floyd already has a stance on Iran that has been described as outspoken. Opinions are personal and borrowed numbers are another form of “thought control”. The ayatollahs are not “just another brick in the wall”. They are, due to the peculiar nature of that society, the edifice. If you wish to strike at that then you must use the language and the ethos of the soil on which they have taken root.

Hitting out at bricks will only create holes in the building, holes you can see through but not completely penetrate. Is that what protest movements wish to be? A bit of a tease? A show of camaraderie with what the rest of the world has admired? Or to be mimic men catering to the “comfortably numb”?

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Here is the video of 'Hey Ayatollah'