30.6.11

Mickey Mouse, Modi and Muslims

The 'joke' and the joker's twitter page

If anyone should be objecting to the Islamised cartoon of Mickey and Minnie mouse, it should be the Disney group. It completely mauls their loved characters. The main job of the guy responsible for this is to make money through the mobile company he owns in a Muslim country. As a report states:

An Egyptian Christian telecom mogul has angered Islamic hard-liners by posting an online cartoon of Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie in a face veil. The ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafis, called the cartoon posted by Naguib Sawiris on Twitter a mockery of Islam.

Naturally, everyone who is not part of the campaign or understands it has been going haha at his joke, although he has since apologised because the shares of his company fell after a call for boycott. Some people have asked, and rightly so, what happens if he had made Mickey and Minnie wear a priest and nun clothes or those of Jewish rabbis? Would it not be considered anti-Christian or anti-Semitic?

This guy lives in Egypt and runs a successful business. So, what makes him find humour in this sort of thing? I mean, it isn’t even worth a titter, unless you are seriously retarded and laugh at people who slip over banana peels. To be honest, when I read a small item, I smiled. I like Mickey and Minnie and thought there would be a cute beard and a nice sexy naqab. Muslims do not have proprietorial rights over beards – some famous names have them. And most of the Hollywood women cover their faces with outsize shades that work just as well as veils. Besides, Egyptians do not dress like that. Haven’t we seen enough of them at Tahrir Square?

But when I saw the cartoon, it does not look like a joke. Mr. Sawiris is no different from the rest of the hate-speechers I discussed following the Geert model. One is unclear about the motives except to push a faith into a corner without taking into account the varied kinds within it. Is Christianity to blame for what some priests do in their chambers? Are all Jews to blame for the Zionist expansionism? Do Hindus stand for the saffron parties? Then why must every Muslim be looked on as a potential cartoon or someone who needs to be poked to elicit anger and show the ‘ugly face of Islam’?

I feel sorry for such tickled imaginations.

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On another note, I got this in the mail. I should hope the ‘accidental reader’ is revisiting the site of accident, for I prefer responding here since there was no reference to the context in the note. I hope s/he understands. Thanks, anyway.


The note

I came across your blog by accident, and it made for delightful reading.

Would you feel safe in India if Narendra Modi were to become the PM by some tyrannical twist of fate?


My response

I assume you are asking this question because of the faith I was born in. Therefore, it means that the general perception is that Mr. Modi is against Muslims and could pose a threat to the community. As chief minister he has to be house-proud and showcase Gujarat as such, which is the reason many local Muslims of a certain class have become part of the economic development. As Prime Minister, he will have to delegate responsibility and not be the sole arbiter. That tendency, however tendentious, ended with Indira Gandhi.

If the BJP/NDA were to prop him up, I am not quite sure he would be ready for it. He is aware of his reputation and he is most certainly not a team person, unless having police officers at his beck and call can be termed a team. On a larger platform, he might have to soften his stand considerably, and since he has pushed the economic agenda he will have to live up to it. The RSS will be at hand to raise the communal bogey and he would not be able to shirk from being a loyal soldier of the cause of ancient heritage. The problem is there is no Babri Masjid to demolish now, so large-scale violence across the whole country would not be easy. Besides, he cannot take the mickey out of the mice who have already scraped the niche market.

The resurgence of the Hindu rashtra idea has pushed the Indian Muslim into backward mode to a large extent in terms of social attitude. This has been the worst legacy of the Hindutvawadis.

The survival of the Modis and Advanis, not to forget the whole saffron brigade, rests not on reclaiming culture but on opposing what they see as another culture. Take that away and they will be left twiddling their thumbs.

So, to answer the question: I would feel safe if Modi became the PM, but sorry – for him and his fractured ideas.

The Diana joke's on Newsweek


Making a cult figure into a caricature is par for the course and in fact an ‘occupational hazard’. So, doing a ‘Diana at 50’ is not quite as repulsive as the devotees of divadom would like to believe. What is a tad ugh is that it appears in Newsweek and not Hello or Ok or Vanity Fair or Marie Claire. It also sounds awfully juvenile.

Written by Tina brown, it has the tone of an adolescent finding mommy’s hip pictures in the closet. Only, here Ms. Brown tells the world that Lady Di would have given up toy boys but not the big toys. She’d go for some hedge-fund guy in her 40s and then move on to “a high-mindedly horny late-night talk-show host, or a globe-trotting French finance wizard destined for the Élysée Palace. I suspect she would have retained a weakness for men in uniform, and a yen for dashing Muslim men. (A two-year fling with a Pakistani general, rumored to have links to the ISI, would have been a particular headache to the Foreign Office and the State Department.)” Sure, that’s the only type of dashing Muslim around. This is so clumsy that I don’t understand how anyone finds it disrespectful.

Her fitting in with the Etonian leaders just seems like so much fluff. The mention of a probable meeting with “Gorby” (Gorbachev) is pure treacle as “she would have caused his birthmark to flush deeper as she leaned in to hear him speak of his wife, Raisa, grasping his hand as she fixed her big blue eyes on him”. Oh, and she’d find her best friend in her ex-hubby.

The more important point we might examine is how the so-called liberal western media treats age. On the one hand we have the Sophia Lorens and the Helen Mirrens walking around and being applauded for their sex appeal, but Diana as mother-in-law, despite the botox shots mentioned, is shown to age in the cover picture. A woman who can get her skin ironed out will keep the crow’s feet? Worse, she is carrying a shoulder bag in a manner that looks just terrible. This just does not go with the style one has seen her in and as.

It appears that Newsweek and Tina Brown are totally off regarding what middle-aged people do, and it is surprising given that the magazine is pretty conservative and Ms. Brown is not a greenhorn herself. It reminds me of how women well in their 30s in our part of the world refer to other women and men who might not be up to their ‘standard’ but may or may not be much older as ‘aunties and uncles’, and I am not talking about in form of personal address, but in print, as in “The hall was full of auntie types”. Read some of the so-called parodies and even books on social butterflies by butterflies and you’d get what I mean. So, the references to Diana having a Facebook account and tweeting from Davos by trying to show her keeping up with the times are in fact like stale jokes, especially since even the Pope has just started tweeting.

Social networking would have been one of the satellite things in her life. She’d be spending much more time with big toys and it does not seem likely that she’d post her daily schedules unless they have a larger social relevance. Diana was a sucker for the cameras and would have been courted by talk show hosts and get prime time for anything that she did. But it is also possible that she might have been rendered irrelevant after a while. Her antics, such as they were, remained as a reminder of the woman wronged. She got it so right just for that.

The article is, therefore, a bad caricature and a rather sophomoric ‘looking into the future’ type account of the past. If it was intended as a tribute, then it is flat. If it was meant to be a probing essay on how royalty would evolve, then it lacks even the sharpness of a needle pricking a haystack.

29.6.11

Chatting up the media = barking up the wrong tree

Hear, hear?

The media should be the last refuge of the Prime Minister of any country. I think our ministers are too vocal without saying anything – whether it is home minister P.Chidambaram whose bright idea it is for the PM to have these gup-shups, or the social networking guys who provide bird feed or the Digvijay Singh types who use the rattler to create a noise. Occasionally some sense comes out of it, but politics and leadership are not occasional sparks.

Manmohan Singh’s interaction with the media will be as scripted as his speeches. If anything, it will create fissures among different groups as to who gets to attend these special sessions. Five senior editors are being invited. The first meeting was today. His office is expected to release the transcripts.

This is as pathetic as Anna Hazare holding the government to ransom. And it is unfortunate both ways. One, this amounts to fed information. The editors may ask questions but one can be reasonably certain it won’t be open season. Dr. Singh will know what is being asked beforehand – and most senior media guys tend to err on the side of propriety when it comes to dealing with authority. Gone are the days of putting their heads on the chopping block. Now, it is more important to rub shoulders with the powerful, and even if it means making them accountable there is an element of “See, we have this much reach.”

Two, how many of the editors will carry the full transcript? What would the editing reveal if not their own pet positions? That would not be as bad as trying hard to give a balanced picture and misleading the reader/viewer by slyly pushing an agenda. Recall the famous breakfast meeting by Pervez Musharraf in Agra where editors spoke about the fluffy omelettes and his compliments on their clothes. They called it his PR coup.

(Break: Just come in. One of the PM's statements at the high-powered meet: "What surprises me is not that there are corrupt civil servants but that despite all the temptations, so many of our civil servants remain honest and lead frugal lives and this is the mainspring that we have to tap.")

Take any recent event and you can see which side the media house is on despite giving all sides.

Manmohan Singh is answerable to the nation not to the media. The job of the media is to carry news and express opinions and the two should be clearly demarcated. The PM owes them nothing. He owes the citizens an explanation. For that he needs to release a statement or come before the Doordarshan cameras. Maybe answer queries from the public.

Government transparency is not about discussing policy issues with editors. They are not in the government. And they are not even transparent themselves.

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I can understand media pressure when one of their own is murdered. Initially, many did to want to comment on the killing of investigative editor J. Dey, remember? Let the cops do their job was their stance. Then the morchas took place. The ministers were pressurised. The cops had to do something quick.

Now they have rounded up seven people from the Chhota Rajan gang. Everyone knows that this could be the tip of the iceberg, but can the media run its own investigations? If so, then come clean. Don’t expect the government to deliver the goods and then run your own theories. Dey’s colleague ‘Akela’ had some leads. Have they come to any use?

And, more importantly, if he made that trip to Europe and met some underworld guy, then what exactly was going on? What about his proposed junket trip to Philippines that he was not too keen on? Are scribes being used to act as messengers and by whom?

Rather conveniently, the action has suddenly shifted to Chandni Chowk where the plan was apparently hatched. This, after the case was “cracked”. More obfuscation, but no real questions. And, yes, no motives.

(Here was my take on June 11: Who kills investigative reporters?)

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Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is not making any promises. Nice. He left a public gathering when he was asked to make an announcement in Beerwah that it would be given separate district status from Budgam. He said there are procedures for these things and he cannot make false promises.

This is all good. But why did he leave the venue? He is the CM. It wasn’t like he was being asked for Kashmir to be separated from Jammu or Ladakh or even India…

28.6.11

Will Ramdev Join The SlutWalk?


I’d like to know how many of these women who are promoting the SlutWalk in India are bothered about sluts. Spend a day as a slut, a whore, a sex worker and then tell us what it feels like to be called a slut after servicing upto ten men in a tiny cubicle behind a dirty curtain. Yes, you want to bring awareness to India, then don’t ride on the name of a group of women who don’t wear masks or carry placards saying they are sluts. For them it is bloody work and the only means of earning. And most of them do not dress up in fancy dress even when they have to lure men for their keep.

Some of them should get together and protest against this group of pampered pop activists and prick their bubble.

Women, feminists and others, have been writing about their bodies, about sexual exploitation, about objectification. So, why is the SlutWalk being heralded as something that has finally arrived in India, like some colonial hangover after a rave party?

I thought I’d give this major happening a pass because what does it say that one has not said before? But the people responsible and those opposed are gearing up for it. To sufficiently localise it, they have added ‘besharmi morcha’ to the terminology. What does it convey? That, yeah, we are shameless and so what?

Someone said, oh, cut out the crap about rural women, as long as it works for some. It works for the very people who already don’t give a damn, will dress as they wish at their lounge parties and ask for “Orgasm on the beach’ from a bartender who has seen more cleavages than cognac bottles. It will work for the teen brigade that is looking for a heart-stopping, heavy-breathing cause that is in your face but does not need much work. It will work for a certain kind of feminist who is discovering her ‘ism’ and a walk won’t hurt.

It is true that women are often derided for what they wear, but it is disturbing to see westernised clothing as representative. What about hipster sarees and backless cholis? How many of the girls/women will be dressed in everyday clothes and not hot pants and short skirts? Because this is making it into a garment association and women are objectified even in the workplace not because of what they wear but who they are – talented, confident and achievers. Their achievement is stimulus enough to taunt them.

The SlutWalk is not only about rape, but while Bollywood films of the 80s often had courtroom scenes where a lawyer raised sexist questions, art-house cinema has not been much different – what about ‘Bawandar’ that was based on the Bhanwari Devi gang-rape case? The protagonist was asked: “Were you wet?” She had her ‘odhni’ covering her, but her head was not lowered. Finally she said, looking straight into his eyes, in her dialect, “A woman gets wet when she is intimate out of choice, but when it is forced on her she bleeds.”

It is sad that we begin to be thankful for small mercies, so if someone takes on the ‘challenge’ of portraying a true story, we shower hosannas. But think about it. The rape in the movie was depicted quite graphically. Then at the police station the cop is shown smelling the victim’s ‘ghagra’, swirling in it and finally masturbating. There is also the lasciviousness of the MLA who asks the culprits whether they enjoyed it or not. All this in the name of realism.

Do the Dilli billis know about these aspects? How grounded are they in such real issues and what about the already educated men in the BMWs who commit date rape? What about marital rape and the silence of emotional rape?

Now we have Baba Ramdev who has made the accusation that the cops had plans to rape his female supporters at the Ramlila grounds rally. It is pretty disgusting the way women are used all around. There are several cases where such things happen, but in an open ground with the ruling party watching and seeking electoral brownie points? Isn’t it surprising then that he chose to dress as a woman to escape? Has he ever commented on the Nityanand type swamis and their antics captured on camera? Or the godman who sold pornographic CDs of young boys and girls against the exotic backdrop of the Varanasi ghats and of his wife too with deity pictures in the background? Does Baba have anything to say about these?

The Slutwalk is a minor tic, but today when everyone wants to be a concerned citizen, it could turn into a movement. I won’t be surprised if some media group joins in to sponsor the event. After all, we do have beauty pageants that already flaunt the female body as an example of empowerment. The ramp is the precursor of the SlutWalk. No one calls it ‘besharmi’ because these girls are trained by ‘experts’ and Mother Teresa protégées in diction and clichés. They speak up for causes ranging from global warming to education. Not one of them has spoken up for the real slut. The whore. The sex worker. The woman who works by getting fucked. Really.

If on the appointed day they can walk and show solidarity for those women, then these hawks can tawk.

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(c) Farzana Versey

26.6.11

Sunday ka Funda

Some stories left untold take on a life of their own...and what is hidden adds a new dimension: Snuff out the stars, hide the moon - light will become a mere visitor telling its own tale...

Yahaan roshni mehmaan ho gayi hai
Yeh kaisi ajab dastaan ho gayi hai




Film: Rustom Sohrab (1963)
Music: Sajjad Hussein
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Singer: Suraiya
Actors: Suraiya, Priithviraj Kapoor

24.6.11

The Anti-Islamism Hobby Horse: Out of the Wilders


The Anti-Islamism Hobby Horse 

Out of the Wilders
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, June 24-26

It was indeed “a beautiful day” as Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, wrote after being acquitted for hate speech against Islam. It was a beautiful day not because it was a victory for freedom of speech, but because what Wilders has been doing is akin to sowing wild oats. One should hope he has now got his hormonal kicks and can get down to real political debate.

The first thing he needs to realise in a secular set-up is that religion ought to have no place in such debates. He comes with a huge baggage of a right-winger and a devout Roman Catholic. If this is his personal viewpoint, then it is perfectly valid – he can hate anything he likes. Does it have any place in public discourse? He writes:

“My view on Islam is that it is not so much a religion as a totalitarian political ideology with religious elements. While there are many moderate Muslims, Islam's political ideology is radical and has global ambitions.”

It is indeed possible to see religion through a political prism, and most societies do so as it is easier than selling new ideologies. Wilders 'Party for Freedom' (PVV) has risen to a large extent due to his rabid stance. Perhaps he does not have a mirror around to show him that his criticism of Islam comes from projection. His audience is clearly taken in by his totalitarian views and his own expansionism is quite evident.

It is inadvertently amusing when he says “now it is legal to criticise Islam”. This sounds like a statement of an addict seeking legitimacy for his habit. It begs the question: Why is it important to criticise Islam?

A Guardian profile of February 2008 states:

“Likening the Islamic sacred text to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he wants the ‘fascist Koran’ outlawed in Holland, the constitution rewritten to make that possible, all immigration from Muslim countries halted, Muslim immigrants paid to leave and all Muslim ‘criminals’ stripped of Dutch citizenship and deported ‘back where they came from’. But he has nothing against Muslims. ‘I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people’.”

It would have been nice if he could see culture more holistically instead of through the hole of some Arabian Nights dark fantasy, unless he is seriously filigree-resistant. More seriously, where does he draw the line between Muslims and Islam? His comments would have made sense had he been an atheist or born a Muslim and concerned about the state of people in societies that may shackle them due to stringent laws. He lives in the west and is riding on anti-Islamism because it happens to be at the centre of political turmoil in many parts of the globe. Besides internal strife, much of religious resurgence has been a result of western intrusion in such territories.

One commiserates with Wilder about Muslim criminals, but what about criminals belonging to other faiths? What if the Muslims do not have any criminal record and are contributing in professional capacities or as unskilled labour to these societies? Would being Muslim be sufficient to qualify as a crime? Should Muslim societies return the favour by deporting westerners who work in their countries?

The action against hate speech is not restricted to Muslims. “The Dutch penal code states in its articles 137c and 137d that anyone who either ‘publicly, verbally or in writing or image, deliberately expresses himself in any way that incites hatred against a group of people’ or ‘in any way that insults a group of people because of their race, their religion or belief, their hetero- or homosexual inclination or their physical, psychological or mental handicap, will be punished’.” These are Wilders’ own words.

The prosecution stated:

“Freedom of expression fulfills an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable.” 

So, how can his acquittal be a victory for freedom of speech when it goes against the law? Why has he been treated with kid gloves? It is likely that had someone been critical of homosexuals or the disabled there might not have been a case at all except for a few rumblings.

* * *

This leads to the other question: Why do Muslims always protest?

It is a disturbing trend for it works against the Muslims more than anyone else. But can anyone point out to concerted hate speeches against other religions by non-militant Islamists, except for calling them infidels? If anything, it is the liberal Muslims who are critical of holy cows among Muslims as well as others. Then there are ‘career Muslims’ who have had a brush with censorship and get catapulted to fame solely on that basis. Take the case of Ayaan Ali Hirsi, Dutch writer-activist. She was included in Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2005, a year after Theo Van Gogh was killed for his film ‘Submission’ based on her script. She had already decided on her position, but her public stance was that the brutal killing made her aware:

“Militant Islam shuts down any criticism of Koran. Be it in any language – Chinese, Hindi, English – even if you touch upon Koran, all discussion ends with accusations of ‘traitor’ and ‘infidel’ hurled at you.”

One is not quite sure about a term like “militant Islam”, for those who believe it is militant cannot be Islamic. For them such militancy would be internalised. If the reference is to terrorists, then Islam is their calling card, although one does not have to restate that more Muslims have been killed due to this so-called Islamic militancy. It is unfortunate that people do not comprehend such a glaring fact.

One can empathise with Ali for being hounded by a bunch of fanatics, which is not how the debates deal with such issues by confining their ire to the fringe elements. There are blanket assertions about the faith with militancy added as a mere prefix. Ali’s views on the west reveal a certain cosy understanding:

“The idea that the US is conspiring against Islam is devised by vested interests such as Iran and Saudi Arabia because they resist the American demand for democratization, despite years of aid. In both Europe and the US there’s a fertile liberal ground to do anything.”

Indeed. You can burn the Koran, you can create paranoia, you can decide what people ought to wear and not wear. Aid comes with strings attached and the US has a relationship of convenience with Saudi Arabia. It is amazing that liberal commentators brazenly propagate the idea of American supremacy and how it can “demand democratization” when it has its snide unstated policies in place regarding the ‘others’ within its shores. The anti-Islamists are coddled because they can be used to showcase sympathy. Bring on the stand-up comics, the activists, the bold ones who stick their fatwa-ed necks out. It is the western establishments that use them and place a higher price on their heads than the militant groups. They are the prized jockeys for the multicultural derby.

Wilders had described his film ‘Fitna’ most audaciously:

“It’s like a walk through the Koran. My intention is to show the real face of Islam. I see it as a threat. I’m trying to use images to show that what’s written in the Koran is giving incentives to people all over the world. On a daily basis Moroccan youths are beating up homosexuals on the streets of Amsterdam.”

Are there no cops in Amsterdam to arrest these youths? Are they beating up these homosexuals because they have taken a walk through the Koran? Or is it homophobia that might have nothing to do with religion?

Social consciousness is being married to faith in every sphere and it has snowballed to such an extent that one cannot discuss any issue without the crutch of religion. While among some circles there is shock that liberals have come together with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, no one blinks when Tony Blair converts to Catholicism, a Bishop heads a government, the oath of office is taken in the name of god, courts make you swear on holy books, bedside draws in hotels in most parts of the world have a copy of the Bible, ailing members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood donations because it goes against their faith and missionary movements have spread their tentacles, especially in poverty-stricken areas. They offer sops for conversion.

* * *

What differentiates them from Islam, then? They do not have fatwas and jihad. It is purely a matter of semantics. The grammar of belief begins with full stops. It cannot grow because its fate has been sealed. Evolution – no, not the one that rattled the Christian Garden of Eden – is anathema because it is akin less to betrayal and more to freeing oneself from non-cognisable fences.

The concept of the infidel is to shirk any outside influence. At the scriptural level it was to create a following. In contemporary times it works as community. The books of all religions have some such survival mechanism. Christianity states:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? ... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” (2 Cor.6:14-17)

There are passages that are even more aggressive. The moot point is that books don’t talk. There has to be an apparatus that connects the dots and creates craters from them.

An apt analogy would be the priesthood. Joseph McCabe discussing the Psychology of Religion has brought in this important dimension:

“The American population is especially composed of religious, and often fanatical, contingents from nations of the old world who had suffered persecution; and even in the last hundred years the main streams of immigration (Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, etc.) have predominantly brought religious fanatics, because they naturally came from the poorest, least educated, and most overcrowded countries, which means the most religious.

“Now consider the fortunes of the most fanatical of them all, the Roman Catholics, when the great expansion of the American people toward the Pacific took place in the nineteenth century. It is true that there were not priests enough to found chapels wherever a few hundred Catholics settled – a difficulty which Rome can always overcome by consecrating German or Belgian peasants and drafting them abroad – but the main point was that priests were generally disinclined to leave Boston and Philadelphia and rough it with the western pioneers. The result was that in a few decades literally millions of these fanatical Catholics lost all interest in religion…The New York Freeman's Journal in the same year (1898) put the loss at twenty millions, and I have shown from immigration analyses that the loss was at least fourteen or fifteen millions. In other words, the most fanatical of all religious adherents fell away in masses when there were no priests to bother them, and, although priests came along as soon as there was money enough in any town to give a middle-class income to an ordained peasant, they never recovered the apostates or (in most cases) their children.”

The recovery has taken place as part of the marketing prototype to create a demand. The demand is accelerated when there is competition. Acquisitiveness is about having what the other does not. A health drink will show a child triumph over another who ends up with a bloodied nose.

All religions have been born with blood trails. The footprints have coagulated. The journey is, therefore, a tribute to fossilisation. Middle-men swoop down on the hardened remains – whether it is militants, evangelists or Wilders-like demagogues. It is business for these predator-priests of frisson.

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Also published in Countercurrents

23.6.11

Wayward thoughts: Bought


Profound quote stares at me. Shoo. And then I read it’s official. Shopping makes you happy. I want to be happy. Can one buy love? Profound quote stares at me. I’ll buy that as well.

Celebrities, Crimes and Media Manipulation

The media flip-flop is far worse than the fresh evidence that is presented in a couple of prominent cases.

Shiney Ahuja and his wife Anupam are reliving the trauma in glossy paper with sepia-toned photographs tracing their happy life that has been mucked up because a maid cried rape.

Today, the media is recording these beautiful moments but holding back on committing because they say the case is sub judice; the ‘victimised’ say it is sub judice. Then, how are they being featured all over the place and, in fact, influencing public opinion?

Shiney-Anupam
If the “hard evidence” was ignored, then did the media report on that? The forensic lab is “unreliable”, so the DNA results are false. The cops did not ask for the phone call records, and the maid was talking on the phone when the rape occurred. Her hair and clothes were apparently not dishevelled as stated because the CCTV images show her hair neatly tied up and her dupatta pinned.

So, who is at fault here? The investigating agencies? The doctors? Why did these questions not arise earlier? If the samples have supposedly disappeared now, then who is to blame? The issue is beyond proving innocence.

The more important question is about motive. Why would the maid want to implicate Shiney Ahuja? Because it was one-sided love and she asked him to confess a day before the supposed crime took place? Then she comes to work in underwear with old blood stains and around the time when she claims to be raped she calls up an acquaintance? The neighbours take her to the police station while their maid who has got her this job waits for her downstairs where the cameras reveal that her gait is perfect? The neighbours were not on talking terms with Shiney.

So, are the neighbours culpable? Is the other maid culpable?

The Times of India in its 'view' has this to say after giving us a long report:

Actor Shiney Ahuja’s wife, Anupam, has made startling disclosures about the rape charges that were made against her husband. She has cited strong evidence in Shiney’s favour and has claimed that this evidence was ignored by the court. But since the matter is still in court, we will not comment on the evidence. But we can’t help draw attention to the fact that the actor spent 110 days in jail and his career was disrupted. If he turns out to be innocent, he has already been unfairly punished. False charges of sexual abuse and rape against celebrities are not uncommon. The legal system needs to guard against media hype in such cases and deal clinically with the facts.

If the initial trial was fasttracked, then the actor’s appeal should also be speeded up through the system. It would be a shame if he had to unfairly live with a guilty tag and have his career ruined due to judicial delay.

This is trying to force collective guilt on the public. Shiney Ahuja was not such a big celebrity. His fame has increased after this case. It is precious that TOI talks about guarding against media hype when it was a frontrunner in this business and continues to be. Just to jog memory, two other women did accuse Shiney of inappropriate behaviour. Are these just sound bytes for a vulture media?

The same media that is now giving us details about how his wife, when she was away, broke her karva chauth vrat (women fasting for the husband's long life) via webcam with him is now wondering that the maid used the term atyaachaar, which could mean any sort of torture. So, what was the atyaachaar? That he did not reciprocate her love? Does she recall saying in June 2009, “Rape is a very heinous crime and in today’s time it can be committed not just by a man. Even a woman can do it and we all know”? What validity does it now have when the argument is against rape itself?

Does the media ask for fast-track justice in non-celebrity cases? I would like to know how many cases against celebrities have come before the courts? What happened to the sting operation against actor Shakti Kapoor? He was invited on panel discussions and is spoofed on comedy shows where he also appears as a judge. Is there not the possibility of a flip side where the victim is silenced because of the so-called clout of the perpetrator? Abroad many of these women squeal and make a neat packet, so such misuse of celebrity is common.

Jerome, Neeraj, Maria
This brings us to that other case. Did Neeraj Grover, creative head of an entertainment channel. demand a pound of flesh from Maria Susairaj, an aspiring actress? Or did she willingly have an affair with him? Then, what snapped? Grover was killed; his body cut up in small bits and burned and then dumped in the Manor jungles just outside Mumbai. Maria and her fiancé Emile Jerome, a naval officer, were implicated. It was said then that they made love right there after they had chopped the body and even went out for dinner.

Now, they have different lawyers and are trying their best to protect themselves. Maria’s lawyer, after three years, claims that she is still a virgin and could not be in a physical relationship with Neeraj. Is that the pivot of the argument when 48 witnesses have been examined by the prosecution?

The mall where she went to pick up three sports bags and a knife had the recordings. The cops are being blamed for not noticing the knife earlier and in fact are being accused of planting it there.

I fail to understand what the police get out of framing people in such crimes because Maria had admitted to the murder. She says it is because her siblings were being held and it was a forced confession. Jerome’s lawyer says no one checked if Neeraj was still alive when he arrived from Kochi.

There are several legal loopholes that can be used. If the media wants to give the benefit of doubt to people who are implicated in dastardly crimes, then it should not follow the trail in a vicarious manner to start with. The verdict will be pronounced in both these cases. Irrespective of the outcome, the motives for the accusation or the crime remain unresolved.

Neeraj is dead. Why don’t they talk about a young life being snuffed out? And what about the maid in the Shiney Ahuja case? You won’t see her in the pages of Bombay Times at a party like Shiney did with his wife soon after he got bail. Why is she not being interviewed? In some ways, she is already seen as the guilty party and, fast-track or no fast-track, her life has been derailed forever.

'Faming' Arindam Chaudhuri

Anybody writing a book on Arindam Chaudhuri ought to be sued – for writing it at all. I mean, he runs some fancy management coaching classes. Are there books about Aggarwal classes or Ghate’s? Now, Chaudhuri has gone and filed a defamation suit against Penguin, Google and The Caravan magazine, the latter two for spreading the bad word and using an extract from the book. He has valued his tarnished image at Rs. 50 crore.

Since only bits are available it is not possible to decide on the defamatory nature except that the title is so long-winded it could qualify as defamatory to language and further to the middle class, success and all sweet smells. Here it is in its full monty form: Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri Made a Fortune Off the Aspirations - and Insecurities - of India's Middle Classes.

This sort of reminds one of how AB Corp was accused of taking token signing amounts for their projects from people and then Amitabh Bachchan shrugged and said he had hired the wrong managers. In this case, Arindam is the owner-manager-management guru-dean of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) and he is also a film producer. A sort of Baba Ramdev of the faux elite. It is only natural for people to be upset by what is written about them. Does that make them right? If there is evidence against him or even a discussion about how the management bubble bursts then stuff of this nature can be written. He is a public figure; he markets himself as the institute.

Chaudhuri dotting his 'i'?
A bit of digression here: Call it coincidence or whatever, but last month when I saw this picture of Chaudhari I could not take my eyes off it. I downloaded it and marvelled at the blatancy. What? The first lines that flashed through my mind were how linearity is limiting but what about symmetry? Don’t we look for some order, a pattern to fall into place? Indeed. Then, why does the symmetry of what Mr. Chaudhuri is wearing so off?

I am no fashion police, yet it was beyond amusing. This is the man who is about creating an impression and the impression one gets is that he is trying too hard to fit in (his ponytail is not rebelliousness but being ‘with it’). The blue jacket in a shiny fabric is tight and everything is co-ordinated in the linear fashion. Striped trousers and polka-dot tie and kerchief in pocket? The flap pockets and lapel have white piping while the shirt collar and button front have blue piping. The rims of his shades are white; I am surprised the lenses are not blue. The shoes are not visible, but I’d be damned if they were white or blue.

This is symmetry gone bad. And it is also a metaphor for thinking. This is not revolutionary management that pushes the envelope and thinks on its feet, but a straitjacket.

Part of the problem of any public discourse these days is linearity. Good is all good. Bad is all bad. The context is missing.

22.6.11

Gays and Maoists

Courtney and Sarah
When the two American gay women got married in Kathmandu, they probably were not aware that they were fighting Maoists.

Psychologist Courtney Mitchell and lawyer Sarah Welton exchanged vows as a Brahmin priest presided over the ceremony at the Dakshinkali temple.

Of course, westerners love these exotic traditions and part of the reason for the Nepal choice is that their marriage is not recognised in their native Colorado.

So, is Nepal more progressive? There is a more pragmatic reason. A while ago there was a report making it clear:

Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) officials hope that LGBT arrivals will give a boost to the number of visitors to the country as the government mulls new ways to bring in a million foreign tourists every year by 2011.

“Some international companies want to work in tandem with the government and attract LGBTs,” said an NTB official. “The beginning is encouraging.”

The sudden spurt in this niche market was due to the decade-long Maoist insurgency that affected tourism. The 10 per cent that constitutes sexual minorities need a space where they can roam free and not be judged. If a country offers itself openly as such a place, then there are bound to be takers. In fact, in this “first Asian public lesbian wedding”, Nepal’s only gay legislator, Sunil Babu Pant, did not waste any time and kick-started wedding packages for same sex partners with his Pink Mountain Travels and Tours.

The Maoist position on such alliances is not known and one should hope that a targeted group is not being created to deflect the danger elsewhere.

Rahul as PM of a Failing State


Rahul Gandhi can become India’s prime minister not because Digvijay Singh says so or because he has turned 41, but it is time to come out of the closet. Even as frontman, Dr. Manmohan Singh had only a ‘clean’ image to show. We are not looking for detergent leaders. If it is a known fact that Sonia Gandhi and son run the party, then the pretence must stop. And they should realise it before it is too late and we end up with another NDA-like grouping, which seems likely given the scams and the people’s movement that has gone haywire.

It is a pathetic state of affairs where even Anna Hazare writes post-it type notes to Sonia and expects replies each time he gets these hunger pangs to fight corruption. Rahul Gandhi does not have the “right qualities, instincts and experience”, but who defines right qualities? What is the role of instinct – something like emotional quotient, connecting with people, the Third Eye, sixth sense? Experience, too, is relative. Is the heavy metals portfolio good enough? Is being elected from a constituency adequate? A few padayatras, a few speeches, a few humble meals – do they work?

First let us get some fundamentals out of the way. Rahul is not a youth leader; he is middle-aged. Monarchies around the world have either crowned kings when they were babies or when they were well in their dotage, so age is not a factor. Rahul comes with an advantage that is a disadvantage. The Gandhi family name brings with it a degree of arrogance. I am not worried about the sycophants; low-level bureaucrats have them too. The problems will arise later when they advise, offer their expertise.

Rahul may have travelled by train and gone to villages, but so do backpackers. Touring India is not the best way of knowing it. He is in the worst phase post-Emergency in India. The PM is replaying Egypt by acting like the Sphinx, a title that Sonia Gandhi was once anointed with. The chi-chi class wants answers even though they do not know the questions. He may have shown some love for Dalits and one farmer’s widow but this group is in a hurry. The sheep are looking for a shepherd. They want an India that is a cross between royal regalia and the Modi operandi, something like Lakshmi Mittal replicating Indian excess in a Paris palace. They want a mix of tradition and modernity, much of the stuff on daily soaps although they do not watch those. They watch ‘different’ cinema that is dark and edgy and has no message except that you can show your middle finger. This is the new revolution.

It’s funny. India is surrounded by all failed states and we are chuffed about it. We do not notice that we are failing and the walls crumbling beneath the fresh coat of paint. The reason is quite simple. These countries make us look good in comparison. It is pertinent to point out here that we have historical problems with some of them that are part of our contemporary baggage.

One may find fault with the structure of ‘failure’ as envisioned recently by Foreign Policy magazine, but not the fact of such failure. Our neighbour’s description is true to stereotype: “Pakistan has long been dubbed the world’s most dangerous country in Washington policy circles…yet it isn’t just dangerous for the West – it’s often a danger to its own people.”

India has to deal with Pakistan’s equation with the West (help in its war on terror) and its internal problem (the RAW/ISI jugalbandi). Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar are the others mentioned.

The problem with much of the older leadership is that they have tangible memories. Rahul does not. Does anyone know what his views are on relations with these countries? He can use his ignorance to his advantage. As Lao Tzu said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

It seems like a difficult task when visibility is not only important but over-rides everything else. In a democracy people like to hear speeches, to be spoonfed information, anachronistic as it may seem. He can do that. Provide appetisers and keep the main course simmering. Let the work happen in the background. Make sure the judiciary and the armed forces have enough teeth to manage on their own. Don’t have a coterie and let the ministers of the different departments be the true advisers.

A major step would be to end all ritualistic activity at the political level. Vote banks will exist; even a guitar-strumming, gum-chewing candidate will get his rock band loyalists, so let us not cringe over other vote banks. But together with sops and rights come responsibilities.

I am no supporter of Rahul Gandhi (click the RG label and you'll see) and admit that this is a case of TINA (there is no alternative). Think of the others. Manmohan Singh? Pranab Mukherjee? A.K.Anthony? Sharad Pawar? This is the UPA. Outside of it we have Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Narendra Modi.

And please do not mention Priyanka Gandhi. A resemblance to her grandmother does not count as experience.

Veterans have made boo-boos and so has Rahul. I think it is time to check him out, which is what Indian democracy is about anyway. And his first major job should be to send off Digvijay Singh on a gubernatorial posting to some unpronounceable country and make Anna Hazare the sarpanch of Ralegaon Siddhi.

Finally, he should take that remote control from his mamma and surf the channels himself.

- - -

Also published in Countercurrents

17.6.11

Club me tender...

Calcutta Club

I have failed to understand why people object to dress codes in elite institutions. If they are elite, they will have certain rules. If you don’t like them, just don’t go there.

A recent news item mentions that Calcutta Club refused entry to painter Suvaprasanna who had been invited there. The reason was that he wore kurta-pyjama.

There were protests outside the gate. I can imagine the bhadralok sitting with their pipes, reading Chomsky or Sarat Chandra or the Guardian or even the Economic and Political Weekly, going tchah-tchah as they sipped their gin-tonic. Do clubs owe people explanations?

It doesn’t make any sense for you to continue with this colonial rule even as a wind of change is blowing in our state. Do away with this dress code, said a letter to the club that was signed by writer Mahasweta Devi, painter Jogen Chowdhury and Sameer Aich among others.

Isn’t it precious? The Left ruled West Bengal all these years and the clubby atmosphere remained; now a non-Commie government is here and people are talking about winds of change to do away with a ‘colonial rule’. There is nothing colonial about wearing trousers and shirt with shoes as much as you are permitted to wear a formal national dress.

Dress codes have a certain charm. Do people attend celebratory functions in bummy clothes? Do they wear shorts in places of worship? And don’t our army personnel follow these same codes in dress, form of address and how to carry themselves? They are much-respected for it.

Of course, club members are not serving the country but clubs are not public places. The members know the rules. I have visited a couple of Kolkata clubs and they are not much different from those in other cities, except perhaps Delhi Gymkhana where people run to sit by the fireside during winters to “catch a nice place”!

The Great Indian Wedding Turf
A Vijay Mallya could get away with an orange jacket at the Turf Club races but then it is also where lavish weddings with kitschy maharajah type decor is almost mandatory even if the tulips and the cheese are imported. This is also part of the Mumbai reverse snobbery.

In Madras, no one makes a song and dance about what anyone is wearing because everyone knows the rules and loves following them. Yes, these are elite institutions, but the liquor and food is cheaper than in fancy restaurants or even mid-range ones. Also, the winds of change are such that even the most hallowed clubs are now not considered posh, and serve as places for a quiet snooze or a swim. The real action has shifted to the plush lounge bars, especially in Mumbai.

Contrary to belief, clubs are not all about gentility. I have witnessed from a vantage position a general body meeting where people were shouting one another down. Management committee elections are big events where people are bribed with gifts and huge parties are held to make one’s presence felt and votes are bought with promises of some sort of barter. Why would then such gentlemen and a few ladies have the time for kurta-pyjamas? It is simple: product placement. You have the best golf courses, great views, a fairly upper crust membership. These are not important within the confines of the club but for further enhancement outside.

The antique collectors, the ones with land, the ones with private jets and helipads, the ones with arm candies and dandies all have that little ticket. It is pretty much the old order or those who are not in the rat race who are regulars at the clubs – reading in the library, snacking on Welsh rarebit and waffles in the verandah, the sofas upholstered with pale flower prints, watching the crows swinging on the netting that prevents them from entering.

Ah, the dress code of the crows does not work too even though it is a nice black coat.

- - -

Interestingly, I was invited for dinner at a small club in Dubai. On our way out, I could hear the sound of thumping music. It was the nightclub. I wanted to take a quick look. The bouncer refused because "no national dress allowed". I was wearing a salwaar kameez. How that qualified as national dress in an Arab country beat me. Much later I had a brainwave: I should have just thrown off my dupatta or wrapped it like a scarf.

PS: My friend's bomber jacket was acceptable at the club and the nightclub

16.6.11

Babas and Babes

Had we been Pakistan, the doomsday prophets would have pronounced us a failed state. But we are a ‘dynamic’ democracy. So dynamic that currently there is a fight about which godman is a better showcase for yoga. That one of them died after fasting for 115 days makes such comparisons disgusting.

It really does not make sense to compare the fast taken by Swami Nigamanand against illegal quarrying in Ganga and Baba Ramdev’s against corruption. The political parties were quiet all along and now that Nigamanand is dead they are using his staying power as opposed to Ramdev’s. This is if we set aside the accusations of him being poisoned. Why would anyone wait this long to poison him?

However, it is childish to discuss how yoga has suffered a blow. Nobody expected Ramdev to bring about any change. But should one cast aspersions on yoga because of him? Don’t cardiologists suffer heart attacks? Don’t dentists have cavities and ophthalmologists get cataract?

Take any field and there will be some fault lines. Are all PR exercises successful and all diplomats diplomatic (remember the headless chicken remark by our ambassador to the US)? Do all writers write exceptional prose or poetry? How many teachers are great tutors?

I am absolutely not interested in Ramdev’s concave stomach and his yogic and other postures. We must also remember that yoga is a discipline and not the jaagir of a few godmen. This is what should disturb us: By questioning one man’s inability to live up to his yogic image we are giving a carte blanche to such characters to take charge of our ‘heritage’. The politicking is not too far behind.

The important fact is that Ramdev has proved to be a non-entity in the larger public scheme. It is, therefore, time to stop this ‘whose fast was better’. We look like fools to ourselves, and let us not start on the image of yoga abroad suffering. We have enough of these export-quality levitators teaching the firangs how to hold their noses and breathe.


And...

Since Anna Hazare has stated with some flourish that our political leaders are public servants, one might remind him that if he wishes to head any people’s movement his role will be the same.

- - -

Now, when it come to staying power, it seems even Hugh Hefner has had to taste defeat. At 85, he was all set to marry 25-year-old Crystal. And then she decided it really isn’t worth it. Of course, they say she wanted money, but would she not get it as Mrs. Hef? She wanted a career in music, apparently and our old stud is old-fashioned and don’t like his women having careers, though what they are doing with him is a career. Anyhow, Crystal says:

“This isn't the lifestyle for me. Multiple girls around all the time. The Playboy lifestyle. I just wanted to be true to myself.”

Aww. Nice. She was a bunny. Now she wants to be a carrot.

15.6.11

Booze and dare? Imran, take a chill PIL..

Here, genie in the bottle?




Imran Khan, the young actor, has decided to “take on” the Maharashtra government. Why? Because he does not agree with the state raising the drinking age to 25:


“I am really disturbed by the state’s perception that the youth of today are a bunch of idiots. I am working with my legal team and plan to draft a petition. When one gets the right to vote at 18 and elect a government and even marry and have children at the age 21, to ban drinking for people below the age of 25 is ridiculous.”

It is and I don’t have a moral issue with people drinking but once again the elite are taking over. It reveals just the sort of people who lead closed lives and romanticise alcohol. As for idiocy, what has that got to do with whether you can swig a cocktail or not?

His knowledge is limited to a certain category of people:

“The issue is a raging debate on all social networking sites and most of the youth feel that it is unfair. It’s completely unfair to expect that one has to wait till one is 25 to exercise the freedom of choice regarding one’s lifestyle.”

I should assume he knows that ‘lifestyle’ is not restricted to what you imbibe. People are not born with visions of booze and they do not wait to grow up for that. If we take the argument even further then there are child labour laws that affect youngsters and they do not even elect the government, so should they talk about freedom of choice?

This is not on Imran’s radar. In fact, the quiet guy has come out with what will be perceived as a strong statement that may well catapult him to youth icon status because he has one of those ‘bold’ films coming up. I can see maamu jaan Aamir Khan’s strategy here. This is classic marketing AK style. So, why has the senior not raised a voice? Simple. He is now the face of many public service government campaigns so he cannot spoil his image.

Besides, this is about youth, the film is about youth. I wonder why Imran has not sneaked in the bit about how the youth can go down during sex, for that is one of the USPs of the film, or at least what the fed ‘scoops’ tell you . If he is so concerned about “right to choose” and how such laws should not be “imposed upon the youth”, will he also raise his voice about crimes committed against the youth? Paedophilia? Incest? Drug couriers? Imprisoned suspects?

There is no plausible reason for the Maharashtra government’s move, but this statement by Imran is shocking:

“This kind of regulation is bound to turn the youth into outlaws.”

What the hell does he mean? Are young people who drink law-abiding citizens with no criminal record? Has he not read about cases of drunken driving and people getting killed in the streets? If people do not get their favourite tipple, they will turn into outlaws? If the pub refuses to serve them, will they start smashing the bar?

Many do – when they are drunk. In the debate, no one seems to take into account the poor who become victims of spurious liquor even when it is freely available simply because they do not have a choice.

Has the government given this a thought? It would seem that this youth business that has gained momentum is essentially about a creamy layer. The charmed circle of Mumbai. Even the authorities will not enter many of these lounge bars to check on age, least of all the pub owners.

If you want to take on the government, then first go to some small town and find out about the ‘choices’ the youth there have in any matter.

12.6.11

Sunday ka Funda

Understanding silence...

Kabhi tanhayion mein yun


Film: Hamari yaad aayegi
Singer: Mubarak Begum
Lyrics: Kedar Sharma
Music: Snehal Bhatkar

11.6.11

Who kills investigative reporters?

An investigative reporter is shot dead in Mumbai. J.Dey, a senior journalist with Mid-day, covered the crime beat. He was recently looking into the oil mafia.

It is always pause for contemplation when someone doing his job is ruthlessly murdered.

I did not know him and cannot claim much acquaintance with his work. From what I have read, he knew a lot about the underworld activities. As we gather from news reports all the time, the underworld is not a terribly hush-hush underground movement. Their kin produce films, they sponsor Ganesh pandals, openly celebrate weddings and own real estate.

It is important to nail the killers because someone is trying to muzzle information. The usual suspects would be those he wrote about. He would have had access to some insiders. Do they necessarily constitute gangsters?

Let me veer a bit from this unfortunate incident.

Several years ago in what I had thought was a pertinent observation (subsequently I have mentioned it often), I had written in a column wondering how reporters have access to some underworld characters and quote them; I had mentioned a specific article in the news then. Why could the police not follow the lead that was staring them in the face? How could they pretend ignorance when a real conversation took place between real people?

As it turned out, my query was not considered innocent. The reporter was summoned by a police official. I got to know about it much later when the journalist who I did not know personally at the time told me about it. "You almost got me arrested," he said. I reckon he did not call me immediately because it would seem alarmist and make me even more curious.

Why were the cops not interested in arresting the culprits? How did he get the information.

Sources. That's the tricky word. The sources don't drop from the sky or just saunter in. They need to be cultivated. The beat is not kind, nor the hunt for scoops equal.

The underworld is a vile world but not too different from extremist groups - separatist or political establishment. My piece on Pakistani journalist Shahzad's murder tried to explore some factors.

Gangsters do not have a reputation to protect. They could wreak vengeance to make a point if one of them is in danger of being exposed or likely to squeal. For them media exposure is an asset because it conveys what they want to the government and rival groups.

Dey had written about underworld lingo. The cops know it; they also know the code words and what they mean. They only don't seem to have 'evidence'. Police personnel get killed too but we have cases where fake encounter cops have been in cahoots the mafia.

There are forces that benefit from the status quo. This is the real underworld where a coverup operation can be as mercenary as it is secretive.

(c) Farzana Versey

Naomi Campbell to Mahatma Gandhi: Shackled by the Food Chain

Naomi Campbell to Mahatma Gandhi

Shackled by the Food Chain
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, June 10-12


Cadbury gets into trouble in one part of the globe. Dry mouths protest in another. The second largest population in the world is in the past few weeks being emotionally blackmailed with hunger fasts while it dreams, quite anachronistically, of an Arab-style revolution. Such hunger fasts are part of the manner in which food culture is perceived and used – in colonisation, gender bias, racism and sexuality. It gives us a peek into how society functions from the perspectives of different recent events.

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread” 

- Mahatma Gandhi

It is ironical, then, that Gandhi often chose the path of culinary abstinence. Religious fasts test the ability of the believer to ‘feel the pain’, not of the immediate surroundings but based on some scriptural injunction. This is about devotion and not awareness. Gandhi, who was the pioneer in religious politicisation, seemed to make a mockery of this denial. By not eating, was he suggesting that the God/bread did not exist?

Those who are blindly following the trail know that after their demands are met they will be pampered, have meetings in five-star hotels and be served by those for whom the bread is a precious commodity they have to struggle to get everyday.

It is also interesting that, while the Biblical reference of ‘breaking bread’ represents the body of Christ, there is an element of elite etiquette when you must properly break French bread and not under any circumstances slice it or cut it.

As Julia Child said, “In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” This reveals a certain leisureliness. However, in the Nora Ephron film ‘Julie and Julia’, based on the real life story of Julie Powell’s discovery of Julia Child through her own search, the latter joins Le Cordon Bleu to learn cooking when she is 32 to cope with the American wives’ diaspora. It becomes a metaphor for inclusiveness as well as exclusivity – a society within a society.

Art is comfort, and given that this was at the peak of the Joseph McCarthy era that drones in the background it makes a sharp comment about how artists were rounded up. Julia’s outing was a silent and nurturing protest, an invocation of the 1st Amendment, so to speak. Rather tellingly, she was shown to be enjoying sex immensely, sometimes with residue of flour still in her hands. What a potent image when placed against the barrenness around. As Diogenes said, “If only it was as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate.”

* * *

“Sacred cows make the best hamburger” 

- Mark Twain

The politicisation of food has many dimensions. We must leave alone the recent study about how the choice of a thin crust pizza would qualify you as a liberal and a heavier meal would make you a conservative, for liberalism and conservatism are not flash-in-the-pan ideologies and their dynamics and dynamism rest on specific situations. Isn’t there cultural conditioning and health-related factors? And since both need dough – which is slang for money – one would think that economics is the great leveller.

Therefore, when Cadbury used the line, “Move over Naomi – there is a new diva in town” in an ad campaign for its new chocolate Bliss, the model had vociferously objected: “I am shocked. It’s upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people. I do not find any humour in this. It is insulting and hurtful.”

It is, to the blacks who are derided for it. But, what does it mean for a diva who has been booked for assault cases against her staff? Cadbury has apologised. We need to ask some questions about racial stereotypes with food imagery: Is the dumb blonde not likened to candyfloss? What about beefy men and meaty women? What about Shylock as the avaricious Jew? The bean-fart Mexican? Is not a peaches and cream complexion flattering only because it applies to white people? Then, would not the fad for baking in the sun to get a tan not be a backhanded insult?


Naomi has appeared with a milk moustache for the series of ‘Got milk?’ campaign, even though milky is associated with Caucasian skin. Many people are desirable because their colour is different. Does anyone think of it as a racial slur?

One might contend that the personal need not be the political, for we often nurse exotic dreams and realise them. Socially, such messages might need a level of sensitivity because the straitjacket is always in a hurry to fit in whole communities.

* * *

“Civilized life has altogether grown too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide a harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting” 

- Bertrand Russell

Mark Zuckerberg decided he needed to go for the kill and only eat what he himself killed. He made it appear like a Dale Carnegie sell-improvement programme: “This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have.” Like many people, he could have turned vegetarian or chosen to eat less meat. His saying that a pig roast meal at his house made him think “that the pig used to be alive” is akin to saying that before social networking sites people met in person.

His moral concern is only one part it. The other is about the primordial instinct to conquer beyond the boardroom, to flex muscle and draw blood. These are tactile. Like the hunters of old who often took pictures with their prey, Zuckerberg posted photographs of the chicken he had killed and the dishes he made from it. It was his male moment.


The absence of machismo was one of the reasons for an outrage when McDonald’s had released posters that showed Asterix and his group of warriors enter one of their outlets to feast on burgers and fries. It was part of their “Come as you are” campaign. For all the McIdea of breaking through barriers, they had not contended for a comic-book character’s history. The hero lives in a Gaulish village and reports mentioned that it had survived Caesar’s legions for half a century.

The ad was seen as a softening of a brave hero who ate wild boar now sitting with pressed meat hidden between round buns with veggies poking out and ketchup drooling. It is, much as we hate to admit it, the manner in which the US seems to be larger than life. Fries are in fact a French invention, but who cares?

In a trice, there was capitulation, or so thought Gallic pride that detests the American concept of homogeneity.

* * *

“Appetite comes with eating; the more one has, the more one would have” 

- French Proverb

The extension of a flexible world would mean no boundaries. Most societies today revel in fusion food. But think about a battle of the spuds.

When some New York restaurants were getting all snooty, the boss of Burger King had got snottier about English cuisine, which is like fries sticking out their tongue at jacket potatoes. It isn’t merely about the hidden dragons in crouching potatoes and most certainly not relegated to American versus English. Experiments with food do evoke a Pavlovian response in more than the salivating manner.

When Bernardo Hees, the CEO of Burger King, said about his student days in Warwick, “The food is terrible and the women are not very attractive”, it was seen as an insult to British gastronomy and English women. His company issued an apology.

The fact is that Burger King outlets are all over Britain as in most of the world. There are women behind the counters taking orders. The inadvertent connection between food and women has a deeper connotation. Even though the connotation of comfort food and comfort women are totally different concepts, they find a convergence in the pleasure principle. Years ago, when easy-to-make food packets were being marketed, it was women who felt less empowered; it took away the sensuality and drama associated with kneading the dough, baking it, poking the fork through the crust to check on the sponginess or softness of the insides, and then whipping up the cream.

It wasn’t a job being done but an immaculate conception. Or self love.

Ask the vexpert - 27

Question: When women have a problem with their vagina they go to a gynaecologist. Whom should men consult when they have problems with the penis?


Sexpert: First the family physician and if he feels necessary an andrologist/urologist.


Me: The neurologist.

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Question: I am a 24-year-old bachelor. I have three problems with my penis — 1) I can have sex with a woman for hardly two minutes before it drops 2) It is not fat as everyone else’s. 3) It doesn’t harden during sex with a girl. What should I do? I’m very sad.

Sexpert: The problem is in your head and not your penis. Go see a sexpert.

Me: Do not be sad.
  1. You have not specified where it drops. I assume you mean it goes flaccid. This could be due to the drop in temperature. Ideally, heat should expand it, so obviously the problem is the location. Unfortunately, your partner/s’ specific area tends to cool off after two minutes – it could be a deliberate strategy to get you laid off. Most employers use it and this seems to be no different.
  2. Your penis is adipose-resistant. It believes that it needs to fit in, so there is a problem with larding. Maybe there is a fat man waiting to come out, but again there is the economics factor. With rising inflation you are in fact lucky.
  3. The problem is not with you but the media sound bytes where girls go on an on about soft and gentle men; ads talk of men’s soft skin. The penis is only mimicking what is expected.
There are solutions:
  1. Stay away from fast food, quick-to-cook noodles. Watch videos of food simmering for long on slow heat.
  2. If you really like it beefy, then add layers. This might counteract the first point, though, giving the impression you are in Alaska or Siberia.
  3. Do not ever present yourself as a nice guy, even if you are one. Your weapon is into fads and gets swayed easily, so train it by doing some hard labour outside of the desired arena. It should, one hopes, get the message.

If nothing works, then portray yourself as they do in matrimonial ads: Here is a slim, soft guy, but ambitious and in a hurry to get things done.

10.6.11

Husainsaab, aren’t you disgusted?

He does not need enemies even in death; he has friends. A look at the tributes reveals just how everyone is riding on the secular gravy cart with their own agenda.

Isn't there any sense of proportion? Above its masthead, the Times of India has quotes from well-known people about the controversies. What about his art? And then there is the headline:

'Hounded By Hindu Extremists, Our Most Famous Artist Breathes His Last In London, A Qatari National
INDIA’S PICASSO DIES IN EXILE
M F Husain’s Death Stokes Anger And Regret Back Home'

Did he breathe his last because he was hounded? Where is the stoking of anger and regret? This has been expressed earlier, so what is new about it? This is irresponsible.

I am aware that the TOI has to keep its moneyed advertisers happy, and irrespective of what their political/communal views are in private, Husain was their idea of the perfect Indian, although they were happier in the Alps.

And I am quite sick of reading about "India's Picasso". On the one hand, he is called our pride and then they shamelessly hang on to some other crutch to validate him. Can he not just be Husain?

If he wished to be buried in India, I hope this will be granted to him. Many criminals are in our graveyards and crematoria. And that he was not.

I do not know the reasons and I do not care, but this from the same report stood out as the most sensible bit:

BJP condoled his death and said it was not the right time to comment on controversies that surrounded him. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said, “May Allah give him peace,” while MNS chief Raj Thackeray called for Husain to be buried in Maharashtra, the artist’s birthplace.

Compared to this, TOI used a wicked comparison:

Like Husain, he too lived abroad, but at 89, Sayed Haider Raza was back in India, the motherland he left 60 years ago. Regretting Husain’s death in exile, Raza, the last living member of the Progressive Artists’ Group, said, “If I had been in his place where some of my ideas or paintings offended the Hindu community I would have apologized, explained myself and talked it over. I don’t know if that was done…one has to be very careful in these things.”

Raza went of his own accord and there was no controversy. Why are they raking up the apology business now? Don’t you see? They get a Muslim artist to say it. The good guy.

Here are a few quotes that are revealing, and my response to them:

"The only way Cong can atone for not defending Husain is by posthumously awarding him the Bharat Ratna."

- Ramchandra Guha, historian

Of course, this is what governments do. It is puerile to suggest that an award is atonement enough, if any is required at all.

"The stupid controversy was motivated; it was created by bad politicians for publicity and to serve their own interest. One of these days, I’ll name those culprits."

- Anjolie Ela Menon, artist

Is she an investigative reporter? If so, it has taken her a long time to wake up. Is there any use protecting the dead?

"None of our supposed tolerance applied to Husain. We should hang our heads in shame."

- Shyam Benegal, film director

Did Husain need 'tolerance'? Did these people stop doing their work in a place where they want to hang their heads in shame?

"The manner in which Husain died reflects a false people in a great nation."

- Jatin Das, artist

A nation is made up of people.

"Being Muslim was only accidental…And that is exactly why he was so totally taken aback when the attacks on him began. Of all things, for denigrating Hindu gods and goddesses. He lived, breathed, talked about Indian culture all the time, and for him Indian culture was synonymous with Hindu culture. He was as Hindu as any one of us, in spirit if not in faith. His worked was steeped in our culture and mythology."

- Pritish Nandy, writer

Why is it so important to be a ‘Hindu’ when his being a Muslim was “accidental” as it is for all? And on what grounds does Nandy talk about Indian culture being synonymous with Hindu culture? Husain used mythology because he found it interesting, just as Raza uses the ‘shunya’. Indian culture is an amalgamation of various regional cultures and influences of colonisers. Had he chosen to paint miniatures would he be seen as Muslim? Does stained glass painting make an artist a Christian?

As for living and breathing Indian culture, perhaps one might like to check out how much of it our high society does so. Will they need a certificate for their Indiannness?

Leave him be...and if he wanted Mumbai falooda, then there are several Indian restaurants in London where he spent his last days. In his state, he might have been happy enough to get it...or from the several eateries in Southall, both Indian and Pakistani, that serve it. They also make it pink like the Crawford Market one. But then exile would not sound so romantic.

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My other views were expressed here yesterday.

9.6.11

The Yogi as Commissar?

The man speaks about violence. Why is the government not arresting him since they do not hesitate to crack down on Maoists? Does no one realise how this could snowball into something dangerous without any results for the ostensible purpose it was started for? It is a delicate time and not for pussy-footing. I do not care at this juncture what the Government of India and the various leaders within the Congress party are upto. This is making hay time, but what Baba Ramdev is doing is inciting the youth.
By mid-June, he wants a “militia of volunteers” to train in shastra (arms) and shaastra (scriptures):

“Peetenge nahin par pittenge bhi nahin (we will not beat anyone, but we won’t be beaten either),” declared the yoga guru at his morning satsang at the Patanjali Ashram. The army of 11,000 volunteers he wants to form will train in martial arts, traditional as well as karate, and learn to wield the lathi.

He also dropped dark hints about this struggle being taken up by the young whether he is around to see it or not.

We all know that due to the surge of getting together the youth, all political parties had started the process. So, Ramdev has a readymade constituency of naïve people who think they are going to bring about change. This is no different from kar sevaks who landed up with bricks at Ayodhya.

There will be the usual noises about Islamic terror. Has he come out and said he is fighting it? He is playing a sneaky game. His bring a front for the RSS is redundant. The RSS shakhas do train their members on how to use lathis and how to remain celibate. Much as any good yogi would. But the RSS says it is fighting Muslims, which the Jan Sangh and others have been doing before Partition. Ramdev is keeping shut. He is the bigger politician.

A report says:

“His trump card is the presence of a motley group calling itself the Bharat Muslim Manch whose banner demands the ouster of non-Indians from the country.”

Who is this group? I won’t be surprised if Muslims have joined his group. Every political party has them, and they are often more loyal than the king, although they work as a harem. Good for some variety and fun, but with no status. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi will cry himself hoarse, but he is just a BJP tattu (plaything).

And which non-Indians does he want out of this country? Praveen Togadia? All those who have dual citizenships? Or Adnan Sami, who I am surprised to discover was allowed to buy eight flats in Mumbai. If he is referring to infiltrators then on what basis will he be fighting them and how? Will his men be at the border areas? Will they reach to defuse bombs? Will they act as intelligence sources?

Don’t we have an army for that? Why do we have a government at all if this sort of nonsense is permitted? What next? A kangaroo court? His fake assurances reveal his mindset:

“The words should be used in the right context...I said I will make a force who will not beat anyone but they will not get beaten either. What is the harm or wrong if I speak about shaurya (valour)?”

You do not need a force for that. You just do what you are supposed to do and no one will mess with you. There is a woman who was beaten up rather badly at the Ramlila ground and is now in coma. Instead of starting legal proceedings, his chelas are busy giving interviews to a hungry media, not to speak about his own press conferences. What will Anna Hazare’s group say to this?

Why is there not a major protest against his violent statements? What valour is there in self-defence, which is part of the survival instinct? Common citizens, especially in disturbed areas, have to face such situations? Do they form armies? Will they be permitted to?

His caste is being mentioned these days in the mainstream media. This is a new development. No one talked about it earlier and what has he done for his lower caste? Does he speak about caste? What outside forces are responsible for caste factions?

Is there a fear that this will give boost to the Hindutva movement? No. The Hindutva movement is well-entrenched. It will, however, act as another arm of it – the strategy that the BJP and RSS employ where one comes out as the moderate for political reasons and the other plays the hard line. This confuses people and a confused people do not have time to think. Ramdev has come at the right time for the saffron group. One would like to know his views on saffron terror. What does he have to say about it, since he has now moved from corruption to this ‘army’?

There is no comparison with the revolutions within the Arab world because they were fighting against specific leaders and their policies. In India one could talk of the emergence of the Janata Dal as such a movement and later the Jan Morcha. Ramdev’s, and Anna Hazare’s, rallies are not even close to Lokmanya Tilak using the Ganesh Chaturthi festival to convey the message of freedom from the British. The superficial fight against corruption was bad enough; now we have this completely pugnacious stance of violence as valour, and he may hide beneath any excuses.

It is unfortunate that the Congress has lost such credibility that anything is does now will only give more arsenal to this yogi as conniving commissar.

There are people who are trying to make this into a Hindu vs. Muslim fight especially if the people objecting happen to be Muslim. It does not take much effort to figure out that the Indian Muslim has every right to object as a citizen of this country. This has nothing to do with ‘Islam says so’, although one can imagine that this is a convenient way to set traps. Indian Muslims are not outsiders and constitute the indigenous population. They have not come to India from anywhere. And in the years after Partition, they have had to bear the brunt of criminal acts by establishment forces. The Hindutva renaissance such as it is has used the ‘ancient heritage’ theory. This heritage includes Muslims.

History is being twisted to even claim that the Partition was the result of militant Islam. If anything, there were militant Hindutva groups at the time. They could not tolerate the idea of a secular nation. The Muslim League was a political group and chose its history in another country.A look at Jinnah and the Indian Muslim might give some idea about the dynamics.

Ramdev is trying his stunts within the Indian nation. If he wants to create fissures, first by fighting for a civil issue and then against outsiders, then he must come clean about his intentions. Declare war against specifics instead of just aiming aimless darts and creating mayhem.

(c) Farzana Versey

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Published in Countercurrents

M.F.Husain: Heaven can't wait...

There's no looking back
M.F.Husain has taken off on his paint brush into the other world. Age 95. Dead. Obituaries are tricky. I think about the ceiling of his house; he had sketched stars – black on white. I sat on a chair waiting for him to turn up. He did not. His wife said no one knows when he comes and when he goes. I disliked him, anyway, and my conversation would not have been about him walking without shoes.

He was surrounded by women, the kind we rather disparagingly refer to as society dames. What could he find so entertaining, forget enlivening, about them? For them he was Fame. At one of their homes I saw a painting by him that was unspeakably sad. Fine crystal shone below it on a mantelpiece. I smirked. Then one day many years later I saw shards on the floor…and experienced the sadness of broken crystal.

Husain, for reasons I have been unable to fathom, continued to look like an arriviste, despite all the celebrity, the money and the artistic talent. We all perceive art in different ways – for me he was more skill than soul, and not many possess that kind of skill, the adhesive-like hold on the imagination of the artistic fraternity.

Curiously, I got a note yesterday from a person of the rightwing persuasion questioning me about his portrayal of nude goddesses that I had tried to explore in an earlier piece. This is what he became known for – not the works, not the ideas, but the controversies. He was restless, but not a gypsy. He was the nomad who had luxurious homes everywhere he went. It won’t be much different now.


duniya ne hum pe jab koi ilzaam rakh diya
hum ne muqaabil us ke tera naam rakh diya

ik khaas had pe aa gayi jab teri berukhee
naam us ka hum ne gardish-e-ayyaam rakh diya

- Qateel Shifai
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Here is an old piece I had written in my Rediff column of October 27, 1997, well before they started stoning galleries where his works were displayed:

The unmaking of a maverick

M F Husain has a major problem. If we start with this premise it would be far easier to approach his persona. And the problem lies not with what he is, but what he is seeking to be.

Today, few talk of Husain as an artist – he is either the showman, the maverick, the risk-taker and, finally and conclusively, a product. His market value is under discussion rather than his palette's wild guesses and sometimes calculated conundrums. It is very likely that he feels trapped and is now seeking to assert his independence. No artist in his right mind would rush from one canvas to the other to show the onlookers the process of painting, as Husain claims to have tried to do. But, at this point in time, he is not in his right mind. He is on a binge to negate his art by harking to his hoarding-painter days of relative freedom. The days when he could paint the other icons of cinema, without having to worry about whether his unshod feet would gain celebrity status.

Husain' painting on the Mumbai blasts
The very concept of being a celebrity can be difficult to handle, its reality even more so. Husain's position as a product has to do with his being many other things. As a showman performer, he is expected to toe the classic 'I pretend, therefore I am' line. This includes massive image-building. But the man about whom it was made shows all signs of not being at peace with himself. The result is whimsical behaviour. The charitable will call it maverick moods.

But why would a man already on the pedestal want to be a maverick? It cannot be to get attention. Not a genuine desire for experimentation either, so the possibility of his sense of boredom at being 'known for being known' cannot be ignored.

To this end, the artist has begun taking risks, not so much with his work but with his reputation, which has been the cause of most of his ecstasy and all of his anguish. Kierkegaard put it beautifully when he analysed, "It lays a prodigious burden on a person to have to support the weight of everyone's eyes." Even a Husain work is merely a work of Husain. Snapping the chain with his offbeat acts, he has in effect put the ball in the court of his 'audience', the subliminal message being, "Since you have made me, you might want to unmake me. But before you can do that, I will do it myself."

Therefore, the new Husain is essentially the old one trying to come out clean, but not without attempting to kill two birds with one stone – by hankering after his freedom and at the same time (and perhaps because of it) making sure that the public does not run after someone else. This is the hallmark of a celebrity. Or an insecure man.
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Updated in new post here