31.3.11

Don’t touch the Mahatma

Gandhi, Sonia Schlesing and Hermann Kallenbach
A new book talks about Mahatma Gandhi’s sexuality – this time bisexuality. The counter-argument assumes that because he was so frank about his own life, including his views on sex and wrote about these in My Experiments With Truth, it should be enough. The problem is that we don’t have to take his version to be the final truth.

Those of us who have read works about him from different sources, by his estranged son too, know that from another angle the persona may appear different. Not only was Gandhi a public figure and the mascot of the freedom movement, his ideology persists and is used and abused in equal measure by the Indian political class as well as his quotes are seen as inspirational material for international leaders from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama.

In any part of the world you cannot mess with public figures, but there is at least some element of analyses, however off-tangent, respected in the West, although political correctness regarding some groups and people is now the new version of ‘freedom’ there too. However, in India sainted figures are out-of-bounds. Mahatma Gandhi has been on a permanent pedestal and any critique of him is scorned. So much so that even the rightwing parties – it was one of their members who killed him – get concerned about his portrayal. The Gujarat government has banned the book. It makes political sense, not ideological.

While it is true that a person’s work must be given precedence, such a person who made his personal life as an example of his social, economic and political credo lays himself open to further examination. Joseph Lelyveld’s book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India implies that Gandhi was bisexual based on letters between him and his German friend Hermann Kallenbach. The author himself says that he has not indicated any such thing and reviewers are jumping to conclusions.

The point is that Gandhi’s experiments did include sleeping with his grandniece to test that he had overcome his weaknesses. It is unusual, especially in Indian families, for men to share a bed with a female family member who is not a wife and maybe a pre-pubescent daughter; even male and female siblings are kept away from each other. Gandhi simply used his young disciples for his own ends, however honourable the motives may have been from his perspective. Sleeping alone and not wandering about looking for temptation might have served the same purpose.

It is rather surprising that Indians who are so closed when it comes to sexuality just don’t seem to care about Gandhi’s conduct. But if there is a whiff of alternate sexuality, they would really lose it. The media, too, has attributed the language in the letters to “late 19th -early 20th century style of overflowing English”.

In his first letter in June 1909, Gandhi wrote:

“I address my first letter from the train to you as I expect most from you and as you are uppermost in my thoughts. When heart speaks to heart, speech is superfluous. Yet I cannot help saying this much: I do not understand your extraordinary love. I hope I deserve it all. Our mutual attachment is the strongest possible testimony of our having lived before in bodies rather than the present ones.”

There is a possibility of a spiritual alliance and a deep bond. Gandhi was anyway fascinated by white skin and white thoughts! He probably was also alluding to reincarnation. Incidentally, the German was referred to as ‘Lower House’ and Gandhi as ‘Upper House’; since there was no Parliamentary democracy prevalent at the time, it could not allude to the elected ministerial hub and the nominated one. So, perhaps Gandhi was indeed a control freak. There was also a contract between the two:

The first one with seven points was a simple one and talked of how the two would divide work in the farm near Lawley. The second agreement talked of Kallenbach going to meet his family in Europe and not spending money beyond what was “befitting the position of a simple-living poor farmer’’. It also says `Lower House’ would not look “lustfully upon any woman”. The agreement signed by both ends with following line: “The consideration for all the above tasks imposed by Lower House on himself is more love, and, yet more love between the two houses – such love as, they hope, the world has not seen.”

Was Gandhi initiating him into the frugal way of life and of celibacy? It is interesting that even in an agreement the tasks have been imposed on the Lower House "by himself". If there was this great spiritual love, then obviously the world did not see it.

It was a letter written to Kallenbach in September that has grabbed attention:

“Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in the bedroom. The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed. The eternal toothpick is there. The corns, cottonwool and Vaseline are a constant reminder.”

For someone who was striving for detachment from all things worldly, I guess these memories are not expensive and fit quite snugly into an austere mould.

The Swami’s True Lies


Aseemanand is right. He probably has been forced to confess to his role in the bomb blasts in the Ajmer dargah, Mecca mosque, Malegaon and Samjhauta Express. But he is wrong that it is the investigating agencies that are doing so. It is likely that the Sangh Parivar put pressure on him when the saffron terror dragon began its first leap in public domain. In The Saffron Smokescreen, I had written:

So, what is the role of Swami Aseemanand? It is to create a soft-focus photoshopped image of the RSS. Has he mentioned any high-level functionary in his confession or any remote link to prominent leaders? Do any of the persons mentioned claim to take their instructions from a higher authority? No. The demon of Hindutva terror is doing its dance and there is no way in which to wish it away. The best course is to accept the extremists in the fringe fold of Hindutva, the over-enthusiastic, misguided people.

He now says that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) had put pressure on him. The smart thing is that because all the cases are in different states he can blame one at a time. He says that the Rajasthan ATS has not allowed him to hire a lawyer. So which lawyer had said that he was tortured into making the confession, although he had recorded his statement before a magistrate under section 164 of the CrPC which is admissible in a court of law?

If he is innocent, then why did the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, say that there may be some radical members but they were told to leave the organisation since there was no place for extremism within it? He had said that the accused are not in any way connected to the RSS. Why, then, were they asked to leave?

As for Aseemanand, what happens to his heart-tugging story about the Muslim boy who reformed him? Kaleem who was wrongfully imprisoned and his “good conduct” affected him so deeply that he wanted to do “prayaschit” (penance) and therefore confessed. Was Kaleem from the investigating agencies?

30.3.11

Birther Pangs

Trumpeting?
See, I am in a sort of confused state of mind. When I glanced at a report about Donald Trump discussing birth certificates, I thought he wanted to know where Christopher Columbus was born. Then I figured out it was something about birthers and images of village elders who help women in labour crossed my mind. I was, of course, wrong. Donald Trump wanted to know the origin of the toupee. Where does Barack Obama get that head of hair?

Obama with daughter with US birth certificate
He cannot ask such facile questions, so he is casting suspicion about the President’s place of birth. Not the United States, it seems. Again, my mind was in a loop. Did it have something to do with Obama messing around in Libya? But Whoopi Goldberg says Trump’s query is racist. I understand that anything questioning what Obama does is racist. He is helping a North African country just as he helped an Arab country, Iraq, and a Pashtun one, Afghanistan, and a Muslim one, Pakistan. Whoopi is like a birther for the Obama idea, right? No. It is all about Donald Trump producing his birth certificate which is not quite a certificate because it is something from the hospital. Why is it not the right one then? Was he not born in a hospital? Like was he born in one of those large towers that he owns and the hospital where they went to give him his essential infant vaccines put the wrong date by a few days? Where does Obama figure in all this? Trump wants to contest the elections as a Republican which means that he has been born and Obama being a Democrat need not be?

Aw gosh, it is so much easier being an Indian. Here, the leader of our Opposition was born in what is now Pakistan, our prime minister was born in what is now Pakistan, the chief of our ruling party, Sonia Gandhi, is an Italian by birth, and no one cares where our politicians are born. No one even cares whether they contest or not. Our prime minister has never contested an election. He just got to sit in the hot seat because his party boss wants it warm later for her son to continue the legacy.

You want birthers? We got re-birthers here.

There's no cricket in my soup

Forget the hype about extra local trains, offices working half a day. And let us please try to forget some itsy-bitsy model who wants to strip if we win the World Cup. She says, “I’m a cricket fanatic and I’m a diehard supporter of my nation. India needs a lot of support and this is my way of supporting the team…and I’m doing this to excite our boys to play better.”

What a fruitcake. If she wants to do her bit, she can just get atop a table and gyrate at some of those lounge bars where other ‘fanatics’ are watching the game. They are more likely to get excited. It is insulting to India, Indians and our cricket team that some female who is “confident” of her body can have the temerity to announce that Indians will perform better just thinking of her stripping. I wonder what her exposure has been. These guys have seen many women doing much more, as sportspersons are accustomed to special attention. They'd be more excited if their captain threw off his shirt, as Saurav Ganguly had done some years ago.

Captain Courageous: Ganguly rose to the occasion
Since this model has posed for the Kingfisher calendar, perhaps she should try her stunts at Vijay Mallya’s IPL team innings, whenever that happens, as one of the pom-pom girls.

I also wish people realised that today’s game is not the final. Catching bits on TV has not excited me enough, despite the fennel and cheese crackers. The run-up in newspapers has been asking actors and Page 3 types about their favourite teams. The answer is pretty standard: “I luuuveee India.” And one more thing. I wish people knew that most Sidhuisms (what former cricketer and now commentator says) are quotations. They aren’t original, except that he mauls them. But then, more people know Sidhu than they know Shelley.

And I am tired of watching ‘celebrities’ I don’t know. And just for your information, the street below my building is buzzing; not everyone is cooped up inside.

File photo: Dawood Ibrahim and actor Anil Kapoor
Who wants to be a millionaire?


One more thing. The person who is not there is probably all there. How I miss those scenes from the Sharjah matches where the cameras would zoom into don Dawood Ibrahim in the company of Bollywood stars. Later, even those caught hugging him, denied it. Body doubles? Some said they were forced to be there. Possible. Although, rather surprisingly, he did not seem interested in Pakistani celebrities. Anyway, our stars have moved on. But has he?

Now for the finals at Wankhede, we all know how much money has been spent on the special lights and how Mukesh Ambani has bought three VIP boxes.

I don’t know how much things have changed, besides the cosmetic ones. But sometime in the mid-90s, I watched my first and only live cricket match at the same stadium and even the posh set was excited about Jeetendra in all white, including his shoes.

Let me reproduce a snapshot of those memories, kind of strip mentally:

Ms. Gucci arrived, flashing her gold trophy – a thick Cartier bracelet. Loud ‘whoas’ and ‘shiiiiit mans’ rent the air. But we could not feel the air. We were seated in the member’s enclosure, the one sealed with glass on three sides/

The talk among our august group, and I am sure of those in the private little cubicles flanking us, was about office, the party in the evening or the latest gossip about the other Ms. Gucci and Mr. Hugo Boss. Yet, when the umpire flailed his hands about indicating a boundary, these cats would meow a little prayer and figurines and taweezes would appear from nowhere to make life easier for Indians.

I had stepped outside for a feel of the real action and there was more lust here than that room with a view could ever manage. Our ‘boys’ were the toy boys and totems not because they were necessarily better than whoever they were playing against, but because every bead of sweat, open mouth and heartbeat was paying obeisance to them.

Today, the masses have been sidelined and it is all about the who’s who and what they are wearing.

Incidentally, I am dressed in green! But it isn’t that kind of green; it is the green of sage.

- - -

Update:

- India won by 29 runs. Great. But how does it become "creating history"?

- Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi apologised to his country for losing. If he has to do that then they and not his team are a bunch of losers.

- Two cutouts were in the audience. Wait. They were the two leaders Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani.

- Heard several commentators say we need to win the finals and the cup for Tendulkar. Anyone heard of India?

29.3.11

Rehman Malik, Wah Ustad!


I don’t understand why Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik’s ten commandments to the cricket team should cause a “furore”. All the poor guy did was to lay down some basic rules: thou shalt concentrate on practice, thou shalt go to bed early, thou shalt wake up according to schedule, thou shalt ensure discipline, thou shalt dedicate yourself to the game for Pakistan, thou shalt not indulge in match-fixing…

Now, this is the one that has raised eyebrows among former players. Zaheer Abbas said he is demoralising players. Rubbish. Their ammis, abbas and biwis would be telling them the same things, except probably the last. Imran Khan thinks the minister has problems with the English language, so he must have meant something else. How many of us can understand the language used in scriptures?

The idea that he is spying on the team is ridiculous. Or maybe it is meant to sound like that. 

Rehman Malik needs to be applauded for thinking on his feet. He is acting as cricket’s messiah by declaring that his country has sent “clean players” and can’t take chances after the ICC had banned three for spot-fixing. His target is not the players at all. He is preparing the ground for the outcome of the game. (Yes, I understand his English and more.)

If Pakistan wins the semis against India, then not only will the country rejoice but Pakistan’s image as detergent nation will also get a boost. If it loses, then pin it down to match-fixing. And everyone knows that such fixing is not a one-way street. So, which is the other one? Conspiracy theories galore will float. Rehman Malik and the Pakistan government will have ready scapegoats and their own hands will be clean. If only the cricketing greats understood basic bat and ball stuff.

28.3.11

Art-mart, Akbar, Arundhati: Muzzled Nudes

Will he be muzzled? That would be precious irony. Welcome to this world of irony, then.

Freedom of expression? You can ask that again. You will recall the painting ‘Goddess of fifteen minutes’ that portrayed Arundhati Roy in the buff flanked by Osama and Mao, also in the nude. When I wrote Can nudity make a political statement? there were several questions that needed to be raised, including the artist's use of symbolism and motives. I did wonder whether the exhibition slated for March 22 at the Lalit Kala Akademi would be held as scheduled.

It turns out that the artist Pranav Prakash has been given the boot. He had got a confirmation letter that was later cancelled. There was to have been a protest by the artists and some others on March 26. The Daily Pioneer reported:

This, when despite her anti-national stance, Roy continues to enjoy Government patronage even as she and her band of rabid associates are allowed to hold anti-India conclave in the heart of the city. Ironical then that the artist who painted Roy's nude is turfed out. The artist and people from the arts fraternity are set to hold a protest against this discrimination by the academy on March 26, outside Lalit Kala Akademi.

The protest was held by a small group and the artist exhibited his work outside. He had sought a legitimate venue and was forced out in the streets. If this is seen as setting a precedent for anyone to abuse such space, then all protests are held out in the open. 

Most of the mainstream media has had little to say. A media that feeds on controversy is silent. Are they concerned about her larger role or do they think the artist is small fry and does not need to be given any attention? Then why was he allotted prestigious gallery space at all? There have been lesser known artists in recent times who have got into trouble for portraying gods in the nude or painting other explicit works.

Husain's Draupadi with dices

The media starts salivating when they find M. F. Husain's nudes. Isn't the one on Draupadi with dices a political comment on the Mahabharata? And the minute he finds a new muse who he might paint in the nude, the actress concerned is approached to make a public comment about how she respects Husain saab’s work while remaining non-committal about such a possibility. Sheer hypocrisy.

Those who know how the big galleries operate will be aware that it takes a long time to get through. Prakash had applied in 2009. As he said:

“The controversy cropped up after nude paintings of Arundhati came to the notice of the Akademi officials. The academy might have come under 'pressure'. The attitude of the officials who were earlier making me calls and keen to display my work changed overnight. I have written a letter of request to the secretary, Lalit Kala Akademi to reconsider the decision. I have made all attempts to get in touch with the officials to know the exact reason fore turning down my application.”

We do not know the nature of the pressure, but they cannot just cancel his show and allot dates to someone else. Besides, if they had a problem with a particular work, then they could have continued with the show taking that one out. Why did they not do so? Because they would have been openly caught out. 

Let us be clear about one thing: Every anti-establishment figure that gets propped up by the media, by foreign liberal sources will be coddled by the Establishment itself. I have said this often – the counter-establishment is not spotless, and it works under camouflage even to save its own image. Had the artist painted P. Chidambaram in such a manner, the Congress and perhaps other political parties too would have objected, but the upholders of freedom would be the first to rush to the artist’s defence.

The subject has maintained silence, the silence of arrogance when you abrogate the job of defending you, or better still muffling the matter, to intellectual henchmen/women. 

Akbar Padamsee’s works caused probably the first nude scandal in 1954 during his exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery. He was charged under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code for obscenity. Two of his works, Lovers No 1 and Lovers No. 2 were taken off and there was a warrant against him. In the first the couple was nude, but not in the other. The case was based not on nudity as much as on whether it excited the viewer. In both, the man has one hand over the woman’s breast but the judge noted rather kindly that their facial expressions were “calm and devoid of any glamour”!

Padamsee's reclining nude
Two days ago, the artist’s 1960 untitled reclining nude fetched $1,426,500 (Rs 6.3 crore) at a Sotheby's sale in New York. He is part of the group that broke tradition and in quite a few interviews I did with him, the topic of nude art did come up. I have to recall from memory until I manage to trace the piece, but he had said that it wasn’t the specific shapeliness of the body; he might be inspired by a rather thin woman who is just the beginning of his own exploration. This was a period he used monochromes, although his series of ‘Heads’ continued the tradition. On his choice he has said: “Grey is without prejudice; it does not discriminate between object and space.”

In this particular painting, despite her voluptuousness the lady appears lifeless. She could be a patient on an operating table or a corpse in the morgue or a drug-overdosed sleeping woman. As an artist who is also a thinker, his works are not random brush strokes. There is a method and dynamics, even if not overtly so. The very lack of discrimination through is chosen colour reveals what he was seeking to convey. Perhaps, there uniformity; maybe he was looking for the woman’s approval, since her face is turned towards him. On a larger canvas, this too is political – the politics of artistic endeavour and of the body.

What are people revolted by in the naked body? We turn our faces away when we see young girls and women at the traffic lights with little clothes, torn and tattered. It too works on our guilt. None of his models was identifiable, although they might well have been people he knew. It could have been a partner, a housemaid, a nude model, a fellow artist or a writer.

The problem is, therefore, not with identifiable figures, but with how we look at the human form. One may extend the argument and say that since advertising exploits women for product-selling, the huge price he commanded for this painting is also a form of exploitation. How then do we see the works of an Amrita Shergill who painted her own body in different moods to convey varied aspects of the female persona? What about poetry that titillates? And what about writings who sensationalise to market issues as just over-the-counter awareness pills?

27.3.11

What is Zubin Mehta's peeve?


Zubin Mehta is Bach-ing up the wrong tree. I know a section of Indians go all gooey about “aapro Zubin”, a phrase that beats my ear-drums into wanting to produce the most déclassé dhin-chak sounds that would make our classical aficionados squirm.

Now, Zubin Mehta has done the country proud. He has performed with the very best at the prime venues. There is no disputing that. However, is the music he wields the baton for for general consumption? He has two performances coming up in Mumbai and has effectively issued an ultimatum:

“I don’t know if I’ll be back again. The government makes it so difficult to put on a concert with its tax demands. If we give in to all the demands, we’ll not make any money to give to charity.”

The charity he supports helps the study of western classical music. Those who are exposed to it are most certainly capable of paying fees for it or even training abroad. The government taxation policy is rather steep for all entertainment activities as well as other sectors. But, Mr. Mehta’s attitude is limited to his own world:

“Taxes for popular rock ‘n’ roll concerts in stadiums makes more sense because they make a clear profit. But we have just 1,200 people in the audience and sponsors who all ask for free tickets—there’s no logic. It’s very frustrating.”

The fact is that he has sponsors. The 1200 people is a limited number and he should be wondering why that is so in a cosmopolitan city. What he calls rock ’n roll concerts are probably music shows by pop artistes. They do make a profit but they too have to fork out taxes.

Worse, movie tickets, even the escapist fare that was a staple of the lower middle class and the poor, are now so heavily taxed that most of the audience has dwindled. There is no concept of silver jubilees anymore. Even a 100-day run is rare, if at all. The cinema halls have been forced to keep a heavy mark-up on snacks. It is unfair but how else do they maintain the hall and the sound system?

It is interesting that the stars of the classical world who do not even live in India want the best facilities. Earlier, Pandit Ravi Shankar got some land. His excuse was that he was taking Indian music to the West and making us feel proud as some goras started fiddling with the strings sitting on the floor wearing kurtas and looking like god’s own children. Have the older doyennes of Indian classical music or dance been treated on par? Remember Ustad Bismillah Khan’s plight? Remember how Sitara Devi had to decline a Padma Shri when she deserved much more years ago?

Zubin Mehta just might make some headway if he taps the right sources, and it won’t be difficult for him. Meanwhile, some business house can easily help his charity by putting aside a corpus so that those who are really keen can learn about Mozart. But will they stay here or will they get wings and fly the coop to return as prodigals?

Sunday ka Funda

I was sitting before a TV screen and suddenly this hip number was kind of in my face, quite literally. I had heard about the smoky new version of Dum Maro Dum and its sex quotient. Deepika Padukone has what it takes, but anyone could have done this – any item girl, any other actress. There are precisely two real moves in the whole song and it looks like an assembly-line product. There has been a build-up and people will lap it up. Will it stay in the mind for long? Nope. These belly-ass contortions need to be choreographed, and after a while the studied pout begins to look like a goldfish gasping inside an aquarium. It does not even have the cold-blooded streak of contained anger.

The new yawn


I don’t believe that anything old is necessarily sacrosanct. But if you meddle with something iconic then at least try and live up to it. Zeenat Aman was no great actress – Deepika is far better – but the original song stayed in character and does not look like the tens that came out even if we recollect the music of that particular era.

It remained in memory for years and continues to do so. It appealed to a new urban audience and created a different sound. It also created a different bad girl. The fact that it is so contemporary will be borne out by such scenes even today in many happening discotheques and lounge bars.

For some of us in our later growing up years, there just wasn't anything expressive enough for adolescent angst and we had to rewind to the 'dum'; just swaying sybaritically and pretending to be ‘ecstatic’ was such delicious rebellion.

The old dawn


PS: I think Zeenat was among the first mainstream dusky actresses and there was no special mention about her colour. It is, therefore, disappointing that Deepika who should be happy with her complexion is endorsing a fairness cream. She is pushing a stereotype and also assuming that people are fools. The advertising agency seriously needs to do a reality check. For a lot of bucks she is willing to be insulted, for insult it is to the way she is, and to cheat people into believing in the possibility of such change, which is not likely and should not be encouraged.

26.3.11

Indian Armyman? Want to marry? Wait!

The Indian Armed Forces love their boys so much that they cannot stand the idea of another woman, especially if she is not a good enough Bharatiya naari, the epitome of Indian womanhood. Never mind that the better cantonments follow fairly westernised modes of entertainment; even their you-know-what time-pass is not Savita bhabhi, but some Kardashian or unnamed Kelly belly.

Now, this is not to diss the respected arm of the nation. It is a recent news item that needs to be examined.

Major Yogesh Sayanakar, 27, posted in Jammu and Kashmir wanted to marry in 2009. The lady of Indian origin is a US citizen. Army rules state that either she has to become an Indian citizen or his services will be terminated and he would have to refund the cost of his training. However, the lady did not want to give up her US citizenship.

The Major had petitioned the HC after the army repeatedly denied him permission to leave the services. The couple had the blessings of their parents, but the army was not convinced that he wanted to leave the army to marry a foreigner.

Yesterday, the Bombay High Court gave its verdict: He could go ahead and get married and will have to furnish proof of that marriage to the army.

What does it tell you? That once you join the army you become captive. In some ways, it does encourage fealty. But how many army men are posted in the same place for long periods? Do they get an opportunity to understand their terrain well enough?

It is time for the army to realise that, as in any other profession, people are disgruntled and they do look for better opportunities and career challenges, either within or outside. Such suspicion says more about the army than the people wanting to leave. Let us not question their patriotism since many capitalistic enterprises are in charge of how nationalism is perceived anyway, so if they get into the corporate sector they might end up holding the flag higher and with more perks.

There is unlikely to be a shortage of people who join the forces because of unemployment and due to an inherent attraction towards the profession. I also find it rather unfair that people have to pay the army for their training. Such training must be given to all willing citizens so that the pressure on the forces is less during civic strife or when the army cannot reach immediately.

There is the argument about security risk. It would wash had there been a squeaky clean image. The armed forces are as tainted as any other profession – from real estate to rape to encounter deaths to torture to corruption to spying to involvement in bomb blasts to political affiliations, many officers have been indicted for these.

Incidentally, what happens if an armyman is abroad on vacation and his pregnant wife delivers her baby there and the child naturally becomes a US citizen? Will the armed forces insist that the child will need to give up that citizenship before the soldier resumes duty?

And surely the seniors in the army are aware that there are cases where people fake certain illnesses to quit. An epileptic seizure is all it takes. I don’t think a man will risk something as seismic as marriage just to get out.

Ask the vexpert - 24

Question: I am 45 years old, 5.10-inches tall and have a wellbuilt body. My penis is 7 inches long. I have been married for 23 years and enjoy a good sex life. Six months ago, while travelling by bus, a person started rubbing my penis. I got uncomfortable and climbed off the bus. The next day, the same thing happened, but surprisingly, I enjoyed his stroke and behaviour. Since that day I am unable to enjoy an intercourse with my wife. I do not get an erection anymore. I only get aroused if somebody on the bus touches my private parts. I’m depressed. What should I do?

Sexpert: You have discovered on the bus that you are bisexual. Now you will have to decide to go one way or the other. However, when you are with your wife, you can fantasise about a man to get an erection. You need not feel depressed; rather work towards a solution.

Me: Did you start using the bus after 23 years of married life? If that is so, it has more to do with the mode of transport than the particular act by another person. The man was merely the medium to express the bus’s amorous intentions, you having neglected it for a while. If, on the other hand, you have been travelling regularly and this happened now, it is possible to classify it as the 7-inch itch. Maybe a part of you was waiting to be discovered. Whatever it be, your disinterest in conjugal cohabitation and arousal only by the ‘touch me’ on the bus reveals a deep need for becoming one with the masses. It is the political resurgence of your psyche that had thus far been happy with smaller and more elite forms of transportation. This is your Jasmine Revolution moment or a Tahrir Square revolt. That the bus is red and stands for blood and passion is also revealing. I would not deem you bisexual at all, for even if the back of the seat touched you, you’d respond. That part of you wants to join the movement and as it repeated itself the second day, it means that you are being included in the revolt. Do not be depressed. Just get off the bus and walk or take a cab or an autorickshaw. It might be worthwhile to invest in a scooter or even a Nano. Because your penis is not going to abdicate its throne and neither will your wife. So, better go home and fantasise about your own spouse as your bodyguard.

- - -
PS: In this series I usually have my tongue in cheek, but this time I take strong objection to the sexpert’s advice. The questioner has had just two such encounters and he is termed bisexual and told that he has to choose one way or the other and to fantasise about a man. It is ridiculous. Men, and women, can at vulnerable times during peak hormonal season get aroused by anything and it is their hormones that are responsible, not some stroking. If this person were bisexual, he would not have stayed married for 23 years without having ever fantasised about any man, if not gone all the way.

25.3.11

Quote uncoat

Advaniji believes that being the prime minister was his birthright…and, therefore, he has never forgiven me

- Manmohan Singh on the BJP leader

If anything, L K Advani would never forgive Sonia Gandhi, not Manmohan Singh. As regards birthright, there are many politicians in this country who believe it is and it is taken to its logical conclusion. Dr Singh happens to be propped up by The Family, and the only reason it has not exercised its birthright is simple: Why go into the kitchen when you have a khansaama (chef)?

- - -

To our son, his excellency, Mr Barack Hussein Obama. I have said to you before, that even if Libya and the US enter into a war, god forbid, you will always remain a son

- Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan leader

The problem with such ties, even if by diplomatic adoption, is that it makes the son assert himself and want a piece of the pie and the pie (oil) chart.

Who's afraid of Liz Taylor?


There are images of her beauty. It’s gone. It was slowly going away, except for those speaking eyes and tranquil mouth. These were skin-deep. I don’t know if Elizabeth Taylor was among the greatest as far as her acting prowess goes. Larger-than-life she was and it was only fitting that she portrayed Cleopatra.


But it was not as the haughty queen with those outsize headgears that she shone. It was in languid repose as she half-crossed her legs in a seduction ritual that she did. It was a ritual; she was playing the queen beckoning the mighty, yet she was wallowing in her own sensuality.

This wallowing was most evident in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I had already read Edward Albee’s play, had soaked it, torn through it and in some ways it is still lodged inside me. I can well imagine how Liz Taylor might have had to strip herself, her ego and her vanity to enact Martha, whose drunken whiplashing tongue was also her vulnerability.

It isn’t fair to judge people by the characters they enact, but from whatever I know of her, Martha she seems to be. Martha married to George, a history professor. A partnership where both are bound by an imagination – a child that does not exist. This is not a review, but Liz did have mythical ideas and her relationships of convenience were many. They were convenient for her loneliness and it was convenient to those who found in her loneliness space for theirs. Of course, it was also about money.

How she used her money, especially later in life. Without taking away any credit from the humanitarian causes she supported, she wore big hair that surprisingly highlighted her limpid eyes; she already had big breasts and these on her rather small frame did appear like she was caricaturing herself, telling the world that some things always remain large.

She was among the first major stars to come out with a fragrance: White Diamonds. I have it but rarely use it. It’s much too strong for my taste. And I don't like the bottle. Fake diamonds encircling the neck of a shapeless glass dispenser. The only thing is that it has been around for a few years and still smells the same.

Her worst personal move was to marry that truck driver guy, not because of his lack of economic and social stature but she did not need toy boys. She needed lovers, people who would woo her. And if she had to spar, it would have to be with an equal. Some Larry was not the guy.

Think of the devastating line Martha delivers to George during one of their brawls: “I swear, if you existed, I would have divorced you.” George is not up to much but he has an intellectual aura about him. Her denying his existence, therefore, added weight.


And in the dark shadows when the light struck her face and the deep lines, there was so much embedded within their folds. So much left unsaid even as she spoke. There was beauty in that, a beauty that has no name.

If you could feel Martha, and Elizabeth Taylor, then to her question, “What do you take me for?” like George we might reply, “Much too much”.

- - -

I read somewhere that the NYT carried an obit piece that was written four years ago and the writer had preceded her. It is supposedly common practice by newspapers but I can't help wondering about how mercenary it is.

22.3.11

Living Through the Media, Darkly

The recent India Today Conclave raises the broader questions about the media role in giving a forum to politicians and industrialists to whitewash their image. Also, on what basis does the media give honours to people in public office?

Living Through The Media, Darkly
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, March 22

Narendra Modi got at least one thing right. At the recently-concluded India Today Conclave, when he was asked a question about his final call regarding being part of the Centre, he said, “And you think all this should be made clear here?”


‘Here’ is a word that encapsulates the media and the belief that newspapers and television channels are the conduits between the citizens and the people in power. It has become commonplace for media houses to have award functions to honour people for excellence in public life or in fields where they represent the nation. Covertly, the media is taking sides, so where is the objectivity they talk about? These events are sponsored and it is distasteful to watch the leaders in every sphere being handed over scrolls and trophies that have been paid for by some business group.

Therefore, on what basis do politicians berate the media when they agree to participate in such functions? This is not a forum for clarification. They are answerable to the citizens of the country and not to the TV channels and newspaper owners, who choose their winners as per the flavour of the season. How can they decide on the “most deserving”, the “best” – what are the yardsticks? Some take cover by pretending to use the popular voice, which happens to be SMS polls, filling the pockets of the phone company.


The India Today Conclave did not hand over awards, but the discussions and question-answer sessions were designed to appear as a representation of all angles. Yet, how rounded was it really? While prime minister Manmohan Singh made hesitant remarks about the WikiLeaks, Narendra Modi got away with the usual stand of promoting his state’s economic progress and called it the “people’s movement”. A member of the audience helpfully mentioned his World Bank stint and how all the wonderful business houses swear that Gujarat is one place where they don’t have to pay to do business. This went unchallenged and there was applause. Even those responsible for the great exposes on the Gujarat chief minister asked him soft questions. Why? Were they told beforehand to skirt anything controversial? How important was it to know about his spin doctors and image-building when inbuilt in the query is the belief that he has indeed managed to get himself a great image?

Someone wanted an assurance from him that there would be no riots in the state. Imagine how fortunate the media feels when they succeed in getting him to promise them he will be a good boy. What did he do? He gave a history of the state’s communal riots before 2002 and how nothing happened after that. There was no further probing about his sly role in transferring police officers, about encounter deaths and about people still waiting for justice. Modi got a golden opportunity to camouflage all evil. Manmohan Singh was not as successful, not because he was put on the mat but because we had the outside ‘objective’ source to pin him down.

The outside force in Kashmir was represented by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It was a deliberate attempt to get a pro-Pakistani speaker. It gave Farooq Abdullah an opportunity to display his allegiance to India as he sparred with Geelani by discussing not the failure of his party to address several issues but by bringing in the problems of Christians in Pakistan. These diversionary tactics are precisely what make important issues seem like a playground for the media cheerleaders.


Even the title of the session on gender was ridiculous and patronising: “Can the burqa and the bikini co-exist?” Why only burqa and not ghunghat or even power-suits? And why bikini and not other modes of casual dress? Do women go around wearing bikinis in the streets, to work, at home? What did Germaine Greer mean when she said, “The bikini actually forces women to have bodies of children, and women, who are naturally fat-bottomed animals, are forced to lose weight and then buy new breasts because they lose them as well”?

Perhaps Ms. Greer should visit the beaches sometime and see that not all women in bikinis follow the flat-bottom principle, and some animals might be lean in the rear as well. I won’t even get into the burqa discussion because when it is isolated in such a manner in a broad narrative there is a tendency to be condescending about how bright those women too are. It is at the level of lipstick on pig.


That brings us to Sarah Palin. Almost a month before she arrived to give a keynote address on ‘My vision of America’, USA Today had quoted Andrew Cline’s argument that “someone who makes a trip to India a higher priority than a trip to New Hampshire” could not be a serious presidential candidate. The rhetorical query was: “Palin going for the outsourced vote?” How daft is that. It assumes, as has become the pattern now, that Palin will be dumb because recent geographical records prove that you cannot see Russia from Alaska and by default Indians are dumb and will be taken in by a former beauty queen, just as the Pakistan President was when he called her gorgeous at an official meeting. Indians do not vote in the American elections, unless you keep the migrants in mind. How she comes across in India will not affect their voting choices.

The Indian media too initially stood on flaky ground and mentioned her shopping spree. Many others would have gone shopping and in fact done more networking than she did. It is weird that some women wanted her to be asked tough questions when they themselves took the safe way out to portray a balanced picture with ifs and buts. A media conclave cannot give a clear picture of what Palin or the Republicans stand for on all issues. It is to her credit that she spoke up for women in the White House by mentioning Hillary Clinton.

We may have issues with Palin’s statements and politics, but her views are ironically reflective of what she called the “lamestream media”. It isn’t just about one conclave and one media group. As India’s economy grows, we are becoming a bit too cocky globally for our own good. It is not confidence, but shallow bravado where we ride the poverty gravy cart to flaunt an unabashed small segment of polluted wealth. The media is the illegitimate offspring of such socialistic liberalisation.


We have had recent exposes of lobbying. This is the big story. There are smaller ones and one is forced to question whether the concept of paid news is not applicable to awards and honour ceremonies and symposia where the people who ought to be questioned are given an opportunity to clarify their positions.

In his weekly diary in Outlook, Vinod Mehta recounted an interesting anecdote about “two flamboyant Indian editors, R.K. Karanjia (Blitz) and Ayub Syed (Current) who, alas, are no longer with us. Both made annual visits to Gaddafi's tent in Tripoli. Ayub, who could be disarmingly candid, once mentioned to me that he was off to Libya to meet the great leader. ‘I never forget to take two empty suitcases with me when I meet him and on the way back I always stay for one day at Zurich.’ Russi was much more cunning and made no such admission, but he also went on his annual pilgrimage and came back loaded. At that time these were the only two journalists/editors who had direct contact with Gaddafi. Incidentally, it was one of these gentlemen who came back with the offer Gaddafi made to Indira Gandhi: sell me the bomb technology and India will never be short of oil.”

Anyone who knows these and many more facts might believe that such in-house prejudices have always existed. So, along with the forwarded piece from Outlook, a person with political affiliations added a note that said: “In the enclosed item, I do not see any sense of revulsion - worse, I see a sense of admiration. The two journalists were considered to be sort of doyens of the profession.”

It is an important point, especially if exposing the Radia tapes is about lobbying then so was arranging meetings.

I have met both these gentlemen, one for a couple of interviews and the other when I did a few assignments and usually for a chat. Since I spoke with Mr. Karanjia on specific topics, he was forthcoming about his international contacts and his role as liaison person. He was a global citizen before the term gained currency, quite literally. However, unlike the other media owners who were interested in toppling governments he had no such interest. Blitz was happier, I suspect, with its back page and its pin-up model and the last vestiges of a communist idea kept in high spirits with the occasional sharp shots of tequila.

Things have altered because there is more competition between media groups. Earlier they fought over getting the best journalists; now they fight over politicians, industrial houses, advertising agencies, film corporations. They have the gall to portray themselves as the liberal faces of India when they are parochial pockets with their own allegiances. And when they say “Iss hamam mein sab nangey hai (everyone is naked in the public baths)” while talking about lesser mortals, they forget where they have left their own clothes. Or is it masks?

(c) Farzana Versey

20.3.11

'Con'claves and undressing

'Abs'olutely ridiculous
My first reaction was irritation as Shahrukh Khan pulled up his shirt to show his four pack abs at the India Today Conclave. This wasn’t the place for it, where was the decorum, blah, blah…but then I realised that he should not have been asked such a silly question (about his six pack) to begin with. Besides, it looked gauche since he was wearing a suit. Also, why is there such a desperate need to mention in reports how intelligent he is? Sounds rather patronising. Or are they trying to balance this image with the contents of this speech? Then how about emphasising the dumbass query too?

Later, during Narendra Modi’s session, the moderator asked him about his new sense of style. So, it really was quite a bit about style and bile over substance.

More on this after I am…err…dressed for it. 

Quote uncoat

“Even though I am a little brat... 33 girls in two months seems like too much even for a 30 year old. It’s too much for anybody."

- Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy

Hugh Hefner would not say this. The Berlusconi drama is being played out and as stories about sponsored nips and tucks for the women in his pleasure house come to light, I think there is the aspect of consensuality to be considered. Some of the girls were minors, but they were operating as nightclub dancers and probably more. You go to any red-light district, especially in the low income areas, and there will be many minors who have been forced to sell their bodies. Their clientele can be of any age and the money is not even in their hands but sourced through pimps and madams.

Therefore, Berlusconi’s crime isn’t so much sexual as it is of misusing his powers. (And what did Clinton do? Monica Lewinsky tried making a career selling handbags and the rest? Where are they?) He promised one woman a position, another one got an implant, someone else got a lot of money and they knew what they were doing. Now, just suppose he had promised a portfolio or a business deal to one of his male employees, and we shall exclude the alternate sexuality possibility here, then would it be seen as more than favouritism?

What about all those media groups who want Ruby and company to open their mouths and get a headstart – with down payment for scoops?

Closer home, our own N. D. Tiwari has been asked to take a DNA test regarding a paternity suit. He is over 85. What has been our hypocritical position?

- - -

“Fake pilots should not be arrested for being frauds but for planning and attempting mass murders.”

– Javed Akhtar, lyricist, on pilots holding fake certificates

This sounds like so much poppycock. The typical citizen journalism for the elite sort of thing. There have been reports about pilots getting licences through fake diplomas. It is a fraudulent practice where many people need to be pulled up. But are they planning mass murders? Then extend it to other professions where the fake degree rackets are quite common, including medicine. Lives are in the hands of the doctors, but since it is an individual interaction and case, it does not register in our consciousness.

The whole idea of mass this and mass that is gaining more and more currency because without a herd how would the well-wishers get noticed? People commit suicide watching episodes on television and films. Are those who conceptualise these mass murderers?

- - -

“I wish to make it clear that no one from the Congress party or the Government indulged in any unlawful act during the trust vote during July 2008.”

and


“I have no knowledge of any such purchases. I did not authorise anybody in the Congress to purchase any votes. I am not aware of any such thing.”

- Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

How can he make it clear and then not be aware at the same time? So much in tune with the persona.

I am a trifle amused to read 'new' perspectives on Dr. Singh and the discovery of his being politically savvy. When was he not?

The Myth of Manmohan Singh. Yes, I told you so!

Sunday ka Funda



 - - -

Happy Holi...

"Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways." - Oscar Wilde


19.3.11

Pakistan, America and Bloodied Money

It looks like the United States of America now believes in the Sharia. On March 17, Raymond Davis got off by paying blood money to the families of the two men he had killed on January 27. Pakistan’s law minister Rana Sanaullah declared that Davis, supposedly a CIA agent, had been pardoned by the heirs of the murdered men as per the Islamic law where blood money (Diyat) amounting to Rs. 37 crore ($2.3m) was received. They had signed the papers in court.


One needs to know about the Pakistani establishment’s use of the Islamic laws. Will it pardon the killers of prominent politicians if they pay blood money to the families? If the law is so clear, then why did the authorities put up a fight against their own legal provisions and go around patting themselves for not buckling under US pressure? Does the government of Pakistan not owe its citizens proof of evidence regarding the receipt of the money as well as the nature of US involvement in the issue? How did the most powerful nation in the world agree to become part of such a transaction?

Why did America want Davis back? He is not innocent; he has killed two people that resulted in another incidental killing. What went on behind the backdoors of diplomacy that ‘proud Pakistan’ capitulated so easily and packed him off immediately? The court had indicted him and then quite suddenly within a few hours the families pardoned him. Are such families supreme in Pakistan and have a say in such matters?


It is regrettable that some commentators had been talking about the Pakistan-US fracas as giving an opportunity to fundamentalists. In a country where cases drag on for years, it has been only two months since the incident. The Taliban has been around and one Davis coming or going would not have changed that. While trying to put on a brave front against the CIA, Pakistan was really buying time with its own fanatic forces. If Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad, the two men Davis shot dead, were ISI’s snoops following him, then what exactly was their role? Elementary logic would suggest that the US would want to know more about that. Anyone under diplomatic cover, or any outsider for that matter, is routinely tailed in Pakistan. He would have been aware. So, were they ISI agents or someone else?

The incident has been extensively recorded. In brief, the two victims were on bikes; one took out a pistol when Davis was driving through a Lahore street; Davis took out his gun and shot at them. Initially, he stated it was in self-defence. However, on-the-spot footage shows that their backs were turned to him. Ibad-ur-Rehman was run over by the American vehicle. How so?


Davis was said to be part of a team investigating the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operations. Did Davis get some incriminating evidence? Does the US need any to bludgeon ‘threat perceptions’? The arrogance is amazing. Cameron Munter, the US ambassador in Islamabad, has expressed gratitude to Pakistan and its people for pardoning Davis. Using Twitter the embassy conveyed the message from His Excellency: “I wish to express, once again, my regret for the incident...”

Gratitude to the people? The people are out protesting. The lawyers of the victims’ families were not allowed to meet their clients. By accepting such a pardon, the US government seems to have adhered to the role of the Sharia. Does it mean that it will now not interfere in Pakistan’s internal problems that will be sorted out using the same Sharia?

When the ambassador expresses regret, does it mean that he accepts responsibility for more than just the deaths, but also the reason for it? The US was probably in a tearing rush to get Davis before they got him because he may have more information about the US than about Pakistan.


It is surprising that the media refers to rightwing parties and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf organising demonstrations. Are the liberal parties and the liberal activists who have often exposed their own laws also not protesting? Why do they not come out strongly against this sell-out when they were all gung-ho about their country’s strong stand earlier?

This is as much a human rights issue as any other lynching. Only because it is an American with a gun, he cannot be pardoned. Is the money that has been reportedly paid tax free? Has it been deposited in the banks of the next of kin of the murdered men? Who according to the Sharia is entitled to this amount in the family? Have all these provisions been taken care of?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denies that the US government has paid the money. If that is so, then on what grounds do they want Davis back? The government where a crime is committed conducts a criminal investigation and tries the person. There are reports that the money was paid by the Pakistani government with the help of Saudi intervention. The US has indicated that it “fully expects to get the bill” and will pay for it.

Sure, except that this isn’t a laundry bill. Someone has got to come clean. It is a dirty deal and there is blood in more than the money.

- - -


Images: The News and Aaj TV, Pakistan

- - -

Published in Countercurrents, March 19

18.3.11

A 50 Crore Suitcase and Pranabda’s Memory

The WikiLeaks revelations are becoming a huge yawn. Why is everyone so shocked? Money has always been used to buy over politicians to join in or abstain from voting. Everybody who does not suffer from amnesia knows about Satish Sharma and his Italian marble floors (or was it bathroom?). And the BJP need not jump around too much. They have their own slippery characters. I am also not amazed that someone showed a US embassy official two cases of Rs. 50-60 crores in cash. Shouldn’t there be certainty about the amount? There is a huge difference between 50 and 60 if it is in crores (500-600 million rupees).

However, I am amused. Imagine some middleman going to meet an American diplomat with two suitcases and opening them. “Sir, look. This is to show we are buying our ministers. I am swearing on this money that after they get it you will have nuclear deal in your pocket. This is word of gentleman’s honour, sir.”

American official replies, “Aww, c’mon. You guys are jest so smart, you wanna show us that no one’s gonna get laid off in Eendia. Why didcha not give this money to the US lobbyists? Typical Eendians.”

“Sorry sir, my patriotic blood is boiling over the top of vessel and I am crying over spilt milk. We are hardworking, heartfelting people. Our Sant is helping you lots and also sending butter chicks to Oval Maidan.”

“What the hell is goin’ aan? Chicks and Maiden?”

“Yes chicks are sent to Oval Maidan, you cannot hide all that. I came with clean soul to show you corruption money for free and frank exchange of idea, not to listen to you baelshitting.”

“Hold aan. I ain’t listenin’ to your crap.”

“You have to listen. Our pride of India Sant Chatwal is sending buttered chicks Punjabi speciality to your big leaders, he is also giving chanda.”

“Who is Chanda?”

“Your American English is weak. Not who but wot, okay? I am learning in British system. Chanda is donation for getting your man and woman in office to do things.”

“You’re crazy, maan.”

“Haan, haan, I am crazy and when you come to power and want to sell phataphat bomb you come to us and we are buying also because we want to be like Big Mac. I am now going. This money is only to show we are sincere to buy people.”

“Are they slaves?”

“Sir, we don’t have slaves. You had slavery. We only have simple corruption to help servants of public.”

- - -

Public servant Pranab Mukherjee has stated: “What happened in 14th Lok Sabha cannot be dragged to the 15th Lok Sabha. The government of the day is not accountable to 14th Lok Sabha but the 15th Lok Sabha.”

Pranabda, you have a sense of humour. It is like parents saying after the second child is born that they are not accountable for the first one’s poop. Were they not responsible for potty-training, for feeding the kid right, for ensuring that it was given gripe water and thup-thupped on the back to burp?

The finance minister is washing his hands off the goings-on in the Lok Sabha. It would mean that none of the crimes committed should stick, no issues that have been raised ought to be raked up again. Let us go all the way and erase history completely then. Flush it down like so much old baby poop.

Reservations, Minorityism and the UID Threat

Do not expect the UID (Unique Identity) scheme to track absconders and the corrupt. It will see to it that the backward remain where they are with a mid-day meal and an occasional trip to the local Disneyland ensured.

Reservations, Minorityism and the UID Threat
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, March 17


Who is really exploiting the reservation policy? If this is the constant fear, then there is more going on than we know. If politicians back certain groups for electoral ends, then those groups are not to be blamed. It was indeed shocking to read the Times of India editorial pick on the Gujjar and Jat communities that have demanded reservations and pass a blanket verdict:

“Today, reservation has ended up creating ‘creamy layers’ in targeted sections. The Supreme Court’s 50% ceiling on quota has been breached as well, as in Tamil Nadu. Quotas were meant to facilitate upward mobility in terms of jobs, livelihoods or status.”


What about sectors where the real 50 per cent are not considered? This has not happened because of more reservations, but due to the nature of nepotism and promoting one’s own, and it starts at the lowest level of bureaucracy to the highest power centres. On what grounds can it be stated that quotas are about upward mobility when public visibility ensures that they are recognised as the downtrodden? How many top positions have been filled with this reservation policy? How many candidates standing for elections are given this opportunity, unless it is to woo the constituency, and this is done by all sections – the Brahmins, the Rajputs, the Muslims, the Christians in their respective majority areas?

The editorial goes on to say that “six decades ago, it was thought that ostracised and marginalised groups needed reservation only as a time-bound instrument of socio-economic levelling. India has come a long way since then”. If that were the case then there would be no need for other groups to downplay their status, not in a country where recognised as heirs and designated with labels is so very important. There was much media attention paid to an over-the-top wedding of the children of two Gujjar politicians in Haryana. It does not reveal prosperity of the community as a whole, although it does make the upper castes uncomfortable to see their ostentation mimicked. It therefore acts as a convenient stick to beat the issue with:

“Clearly, if we’re to have reservation, it must be based on the economic criterion. More important, quota-based positive discrimination must make way for affirmative action in the form of efficient services delivery to the poor across the social board.”

While economically-backward people from all communities must benefit in terms of opportunity, how will such action be carried out? In the unorganised sector where daily wage is the mode of earning, there is no talk of reservation. Those are among the poorest people irrespective of their caste. Where has this great economic leap reached them? The definition of welfare does not have to be relegated only to paper.


It is pathetic to see the media playing the role of government spokespersons. The UPA gets a pat on the back for its food, health and “need” based schemes:

“Whereas quotas create social friction by building coddled niches, welfare-for-all has unifying potential, and hence can help bridge caste divides. The midday meal scheme in schools – encouraging community eating at a young age – is a case in point.”


Why is there always a problem regarding coddled niches where the SC/ST groups are concerned and not when the fat cats are? How does school children sitting and eating together result in a feeling of community? How many schools do not discriminate in matters of admission and, more importantly, attitude? What mid-day meal schemes are there in the rural areas?

These are camouflages that only serve those in power and probably let the middle-men make some money on the food-packets. Also, eating in a Dalit house does not unify anyone when we know who is eating where.

The worst part of the debate is regarding “fasttracked” development. This will work at the level of lining the roads with potted plants when a foreign dignitary visits. There is a rather vile motive and that is to promote the government’s UID scheme.

“The underprivileged have a sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem precisely because they’ve been treated as a faceless collective to be swayed by political populism, rather than as individual citizens with distinct identities and entitlements. Here’s where UID and financial inclusion come in. By giving the poor identity, financial agency and provable claim to social benefits, such projects can do more good than quotas ever could.”


Okay, so now that they have a face and a card, instead of a broom trailing behind them to clear the path for the others, will they get equal benefits? Or will their identity, stamped and marked, exclude them from certain areas while keeping up the pretence of welfare in others? Won’t their recognised identities help even small politicians trace them and use them for populist reasons, all at the click of a button? Is it not possible that were the younger lot to progress on their own and seek positions they will be tracked and prevented because those wonderful opportunities have been reserved for years for the privileged? Will not such a government-sanctioned identity, where everything from their source of food to their birth control methods are on record, not in fact work as a process of elimination quietly in the background?

Do not expect the UID (Unique Identity) scheme to track absconders and the corrupt. It will see to it that the backward remain where they are with a mid-day meal and an occasional trip to the local Disneyland ensured. India’s economic policy is a showcase, not an internal buffering system. It is about Forbes not welfare.


In this fairytale version of progress, one of the sops that has been thrown in is to give a well-settled institution like the Jamia Millia Islamia minority status. One might well ask where all the talk of welfare is now. In an article Najeeb Jung, the vice-chancellor, mentions that when it became a central university in 1988 with all the relevant faculties working, it had about 50 per cent Muslim students. In 2011, it has the same number. Unfortunately, he sees the positive aspects in what is clearly negative demarcation.

“First, over the last 90 years Muslims have had a sense of ownership and a fierce attachment with Jamia. They believe it is an institution of higher learning set up by their forefathers, to further in essence the cause of Muslim education, and declaring it a minority institution makes them secure in this feeling. Two, with the introduction of reservations for OBCs, the level of reservations in the university would go beyond 50% and therefore over time Muslim numbers will decline.”

Jamia is seen as a secular institution and promoting it as a minority one defeats the purpose. Citing the example of Christian-run colleges does not quite work because most of them have a missionary background and yet a ‘convent’ education is considered prized. The Christian community did not feel any ownership and having studied in such institutes one can say that except for the occasional superficial religious dimension, it was the elite students who felt more of a sense of belonging irrespective of their caste or religion. What the government has done is to make Jamia work as a double OBC unit, in a way.

On the subject of women’s education, Jung writes:

“Today, one of the glorious achievements of the university is that within its campus one frequently sees groups where girls in hijab mix easily with all others.” 

He is playing into a stereotype. Delhi has Muslim students in other universities who go without the hijab. Why does he assume that Muslims do not mix otherwise? The criticism that this could well be a ghetto, as much as is the UID scheme, is valid. And it is proved when he declares:

“While this is a huge affirmative action on the part of the government that the Muslim community must accept with grace and gratitude, I believe the government has put an onus on the Muslims to prove that they can look beyond common perceptions of ghettoisation, fundamentalism and so on and understand that imbedded in this initiative is the challenge to be tested at the altar of competence, professionalism and, above all, commitment to fierce nationalism and secularism that has been the bedrock of Jamia for the past 90 years.”

Technically, the Jamia is anyway entitled to 50 per cent quota for Muslims, so giving it the minority tag is a trap and it is easy to fall into it. Why should there be an onus on one community to prove not only its capability to be professionally qualified but committed to fierce nationalism, which incidentally is at the core of contemporary disparities and communalism?

The devious double dhamaka of minority certified as minority is to push a group into the corner. It is not surprising that an established institution has been chosen for this ‘honour’. It will be used as an example to throw more crumbs at lesser people, be they minorities or the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, all in the name of welfare and unification. The fact is their every footprint is being marked to make certain that they can only walk thus far and no further.

(c) Farzana Versey

17.3.11

The Brotherhood of Hindu-Muslim Clerics

The maulvi says TV is haram. The sadhu says gambling is immoral.

Baba Ramdev and Maulana Madani
Under the skin they are the same, so what tells the mullah apart from the swami? Nothing. If we ignore the outside perception, then it is quite another matter. There is bound to be an Us vs. Them battle for the worse agent of regression. The mullahs win because the way they dress is pretty much how many traditional Muslims dress. The sadhu’s robes are restricted to the ashram community or the occasional flash of saffron donned by political leaders of a religious stripe.

Two recent reports have brought the underlying similarities to light and in fact raises questions about how religion is viewed by those responsible for propagating it. It is interesting that they seem clueless and appear to be more interested in playing god themselves. The media, predictably, plays to the gallery and especially in the case of Muslims tries desperately to get the moderate or liberal faces, though one is not quite certain about the distinction between the moderate and the liberal in this context. It is assumed that the Muslim community is held hostage by the utterings of a handful of mullahs and consolidates such a viewpoint. Curiously, they use other religious figures or scholars of Islam as the voices of reason, quite forgetting that the large populace has no such scholarly knowledge or interest and faith is just one more way to express their beliefs and identities.

This does not suit the Indian media, so you have a screaming headline: ‘TV and cinema are SATAN’S TOOLS’. Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) chief Mahmood Madani has declared:

“Watching television and cinema are haram. They are the tools of Satan and must be buried as soon as possible.”

This debate has been going on for years. and Madani is right that only such sensational pronouncements are reported. Education and employment reservations may lend themselves to panel discussions, but not quick news stories. The anti-polio stand has fewer takers than the anti-condom stand.

A moot point here is that rarely is there a poser regarding how these maulvis themselves appear on television to promote their version of religion or indulge in political discussions. If television is haram, then what are they doing before the cameras? Why are they using the internet to advise believers about everything from sexuality to health issues?

Maulana Madani on TV
Will the media have the courage to ban these religious authorities and then let us see how their views are made available? It is a mutually-beneficial game they both play, and it reached its absolute nadir when they had the audacity to conduct a kangaroo court on TV in the Gudiya case, where clerics debated about a young woman’s marital fate. How different is it from fatwas and underworld diktats or even regional politicians holding court and dispensing justice?

The progressive mullahs, usually the likes of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, state, “By asking Muslims to boycott television and films, they are Islamising non-Islamic issues.” He goes on to answer his own query: “How many Muslims will listen to them and switch off their television sets?” Precisely. However, what exactly are non-Islamic issues? Islam or any other religion can be applied to any field or behaviour, if the believers want it to be so. There is no reason to drag in Islam at all simply because by doing so such scholars make these issues haram, for to the faithful anything ‘non-Islamic’ will be unacceptable.


Blind devotees do not look at history. They might not even exercise their minds to realise that during the time of the Prophet there were no electronic gadgets. Unfortunately, it is the modern inventions that are projecting regressive views and are responsible for the creation of a standard scapegoat fanatic, when there is fanaticism in every sphere. What does a political scientist mean when he says, “Conservatism is only a step behind fanaticism”? Does fanaticism not base its fervour on the foundation of conservativism? How many liberals are deemed fanatical?

Entertainment is taboo in many societies, yet most of them skirt it by using music and even dance to sing praises of god. The number of shrines that have such performances is evidence of it. The camera-friendly staff members at such mausoleums are ready to entertain celebrities.

The discourse on Islam also ignores the fact that the idea of Satan is not in opposition to god, but to angels. Satan is a flitting character, which is why he has to be hit by stones in a symbolic ritual at Mecca. To grant Satan the ability and right to influence the gullible is itself wrong.


The Biblical connotation is a curious intrusion. It seems to have entered the Hinduism discourse, too. Is there a concept of the seven deadly sins in the religion? It is not even part of pure Christianity and is referred to only in Matthew’s Gospel. But a code of conduct has been promulgated for the priests in Karnataka to stay away from such sins. It states:

“Archakas (priests), who give prasada and teertha to devotees, should be above board. They should be free from sapta vyasanas (seven sins) so as to maintain the sanctity of the profession. We are also bringing in an amendment saying that priests should know vedic mantras or shlokas related to rituals of temples where they work, without which they can be disqualified.”

They must also not indulge in gambling, smoking, immoral sex and cannot take the money deposited in the hundis, which will go to the temple account. Why are these not seen as regular laws by the Temple Boards rather than sins? There have been instances where priests have indulged in some or all of these acts, but they usually operate from their own or smaller ashrams. One of the clauses in the amendment is rather surprising – priests should be free from virulent or contagious diseases. How can they lose their jobs over this? They may not perform certain rituals that might affect the gathering, but they are not to blame.


One might ask how it is possible to extricate morality from religion when the former is based on the belief system. This is largely true. However, the concept of sinning also has the convenient proviso of penance, so religious authorities might sin and find an exit through penance. This luxury is not as easily granted to the ordinary person, who often has to use dubious middle-men to cleanse themselves. Swami Nityanand is a case in point. Despite the videos where he was captured in compromising positions with his female devotees, he had audaciously organised a havan to purge himself.

Mata, Vidya and the cellphone
The sins also reveal that the activities mentioned are indulged in and this is across religions. Do the priests indulge in them due to lack of entertainment or because of their exposure to it? Access to the world and to religion itself has become dependent on such means. Why do pirs and sadhus advertise their ‘wares’? Why do they conduct nikaahs or hold pujas over the internet? Are they not aware that other ‘immoral’ websites are just a click away? If technology is haram or exploits religion, then before preaching to the public, the clerics should take the first step and refuse to use it. There was this photograph of actress Vidya Balan with Mata Amritanandmayi who is apparently blessing someone on her cellphone in a Page 3 moment. Aren’t these instances of commercialisation of religion where every scripture-reading session by some ‘devi’ or ‘maulvi’ is a sponsored event and the happening crowd that has suddenly discovered their roots gets into designer stupor?

The media will not highlight these, at least not to expose the farce. It needs the fanatics and it needs the liberals and they have to be on two sides fencing. This is prime-time faith, where even invoking of god’s name is TRP-driven.

(c) Farzana Versey

16.3.11

Radiation alert: Don't read this

I am supposed to keep a cloth ready and swab the skin on my neck with betadine because radiation hits the thyroid area first. This is one among the many text messages I have got and I realise that the smart phone I am using would cause me more immediate damage than the spill in Japan. 'Flash news' is moving at great speed because the BBC mentions Asian countries. Indians love being Asians and any other thing when they know they are world players, even if it is a threat perception. Radiation is real and one is not reducing what has happened in Japan. But these chain SMSes can be lethal as much as they are ignorant.

The sun’s rays and the stuff in natural sources of water emit radiation. So stay indoors (that’s what the messages are saying: “If it rains, don’t step out for 24 hours”). Electronic goods that we use daily have radioactive emissions. So don’t watch TV, don’t wear those fancy watches and don’t use mobile phones. Medical diagnostic tools cause radiation. So don’t bother about X-rays. Don’t go through metal detectors and do not visit the loo on a flight because while they will keep an eye on whether you are smoking or not, that little device is a source of radiation. Industrial units that produce most of the stuff you need are radioactive agents.

And when your country tests nuclear power, instead of singing ‘Jai Ho’ or whatever people in Burkina Faso sing, just hide beneath the covers not because someone will get jealous of the nation’s pride bombing and give it back but because of all the radiation it has caused in the environment.

You are under threat all the time, but no one will tell you. It is indeed a state secret. So, why are they telling you now? Because it is helping business. The media, the governments and those medical units will put the fear in your heads and you will go out and buy betadine without even thinking how its overuse can have an adverse effect. It happens to be available over-the-counter, without prescription - your poor doctor won’t get his or her little ‘cut’.

Now please do me a favour and forward this to as many people as possible after reading this quickly. Write it down on a piece of paper and mail it or distribute it. You don’t want no radiation from your computer, do you?

Libya, Bahrain and shifting sands

Muammar Gaddafi talking about a holy war is like someone selling halal pork. The Libyan leader is desperate. In a single interview he shifts from “our war is against al-Qaida” to “if they (the West) behave with us as they did in Iraq, then Libya will leave the international alliance against terrorism. We will then ally ourselves with al-Qaida and declare a holy war”.

It isn’t a threat. The al-Qaeda will probably pamper him for a while, but will kick his butt soon. Also, there is no uniform international alliance against terrorism, not unless you snort something that makes you hallucinate. However, his comments should make it clear that there was too much of a rush to declare the Arab revolt a revolution. The initial silence of the West was a flashing neon light. It was like watching dogs fight inside the kennel. The guns are out with greater force. I had written last month:

This would give and has given the military more powers than it ever had, and it is pertinent to note that some of these ousted leaders have had army training and experience themselves. Therefore, the people’s protest has given way to a sneaky military coup or waiting-in-the-wings mullahs. Who will benefit the most from these ‘stopgap’ regimes? Any die-hard conspiracy theorist will tell you that it is the West, mainly the US.

Gaddafi knows what he is doing even if he may turn out to be the pawn in the game.

Now Bahrain, where the poverty paradigm of rebellion does not quite work, has the majority Shias fighting the Sunni establishment. The reason is entirely different. Yet, it is being clubbed together with the rest. The country’s defence forces have taken over with the tacit help of friendly allies like Saudi Arabia (so much for one Arab world) and the US.

Will Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Yemen come to the rescue? No. They won’t and they can’t. They are still fighting their battles after the war. Commentators who went to town about “overthrowing despots in the Great Revolt” are now writing about “the fissures”.

It is even beyond fissures. Again, from my piece:

What will any of these movements achieve besides dethroning the atrophied who even denied people any coherent contemporary history, except as an ode to themselves?

I do not wallow in any cynicism I expressed but as outsiders we need to understand that even when Humpty Dumpty has a great fall, it will remain a smelly eggshell.