31.12.11

Ice Flowers

vapours rise
from frozen dreams
circling the air
they nestle
on moist leaves
slither along branches
wrap around the tree
settle near the roots
liquid now
soil swallows them
like seeds
frozen dreams
will become trees
with flowers of ice

~FV

Indian Lolly Cow: Re-run of the Native

For the native, returned or revived, it is about creating an outside world inside. Nationalism is a pleasant hangover. They are doing their own country, touring it, a form of counter-escapism where kitsch makes culture into hyperbole. 

A song 'Kolaveri Di' that has gone viral with several spinoffs is a wonderful analogy.



Re-run of the Native
Indian Lolly Cow
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, Dec 30-Jan 1

“The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis—the final overthrow.” 

- Thomas Hardy, ‘Return of the Native’

  • They strip the whole mansion that belonged to the royal courts in a re-telling of history. The Hindujas, a prominent business family, buys a £100 million huge mansion near Buckingham Palace and renovates it in the East meets West fashion, Victorian balustrades with ancient patterns sourced from the monarchies of their homeland.
  • A once-reigning Bollywood diva returns ‘home’, bags, hubby, children and new accent in tow. She touts the tired excuse of wanting to inculcate Indian values in her children. She, who used to sing praises about a suburban life in Denver, grocery shopping without being mobbed, is seeking the crowd. In a sad Fedora-like account, she wanted to perform at one of those many New Year’s Eve shows where people pay to watch others dance. There were no takers; her style was passé. But there is hope. Her spouse, a cardiac surgeon, is being wooed by the best hospitals. This is what the return is for – to make the best of India’s wealth. It is not xenophobia that they run away from or values they run to, but the lure of a lifestyle without mortgages where celebrity is still worshipped. The famous in India live in a time-warp where no one must know about their botox, their rehab, their crimes.

Both these examples are two aspects of the same story. Even as the value of the dollar makes the rupee go soggy with remorse, India continues to smile beatifically. This is not part of the old fatalistic paradigm. We still have elephants, but they are now in the room, and on the doors of sprawling London houses.

The India Shining story was a sorry little slogan that simulated glitter, but that has made way for the heavy metal. India probably remains the most ‘untouched’ nation in terms of financial meltdown. How can any country be measured by its economic situation alone? The answer lies in the query. India’s monetary power cannot be measured. Those who make it to the Forbes list are only the showpieces.

Indian industrialisation is steeped in guilt. Guilt does not mean empathy, which was so sharply delineated by Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’. Group guilt is guile camouflaged. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to dress free enterprise with the garb of socialism. In this case, the clothes became the first impression, the label the nation was tagged with. Added to that, it had to live with the looming shadow of Mahatma Gandhi and his spinning wheel yarn. In many ways, when Indian business people bribe, the psychological dimension to it is of generosity, charity. The peon is given money for ‘chai-paani’ (tea and water, literally); those slightly higher up are advised to “buy something for wife and kids”; the big powers are given the ultimate – familiarity and an opportunity to be equal. The dress of socialism covers all ills. Gandhi’s shadow is like graffiti on walls, designed for a nervous chuckle, a release of tension.

* * *

He threw his hands up in the air as though waiting to catch a ball. “India!” he muttered under his breath, like a whispered secret, as he nodded his head. The imported shrug and nonchalance could not quite take away the yes-no combination gesture.

29.12.11

Why Can't Science Let Us Be?



If you don’t wear stilettos and still get orgasms, then pat your back. You are the last hope of science. It’s funny that ‘science-ologists’ think such theories need to be debunked. The “year’s worst abuses against science” by celebrity offenders is the annual list that is part of the Sense About Science (SAS) campaign.

The organisation’s managing director Tracey Brown sets the tone for the attempt:

"It's tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse. At a time when celebrities dominate the public realm, the pressure for sound science and evidence must keep pace."

By making an issue of it, SAS is in fact giving it celebrity endorsement. Why are famous people asked to put their lot behind prominent medical causes like HIV and cancer? Don’t they often become a reason for treacle-inducing stories rather than gain any merit based on a factual analysis or research? Most celebrities perform at rock concerts and charity balls for these issues. How does it reach the real target audience when they are cocooned in their gowns and dinner jackets parroting what one version of the sponsor group tells them?

If scientific endeavour reaches a dead-end because of rumours or what someone personally believes, then it does not speak too well about science. A small group of people who are completely besotted by what celebrities say does not constitute the population of the world. None of the views they have listed can cause any damage.

Here are a few and my take:


  • TV personality Nicole Polizzi: "I don't really like the beach. I hate sharks, and the water's all whale sperm. That's why the ocean's salty."


People do not like the beach for several reasons; some do fear sharks; sperm – or semen at least – might be considered salty, although human and whale sperm could well be different. And don’t we say that even a drop makes an ocean. So there.


  • American singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro: "I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleanser powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference."


How is this harmful? Anything done in excess is bad, but I suspect the keepers of science are also the keepers of the pharmaceutical industry and the medical fraternity, and how they’d like to replace the powder-juice combo with a nice little capsule.


  • Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, said that spending more time with horses had made her less allergic to them.


That is her experience. It is not like the whole of Britain or monarchists are going to line up at the stables to get rid of their horsy allergies, which they would be imagining about anyway.


  • Pippa Middleton: “It (cold water rinse) closes the pores and gives it a lift and shine... it really works.”


SAS tells us that hair does not have pores. All salons insist on washing off conditioner with cold water so that it does not become limp. How will it affect the hair to get a cold rinse?


  • Simon Cowell was ticked off for saying that he found vitamin injections “calming”.


Doctors use such placebos routinely, and many people are addicted to vitamin supplements.


  • Heiress Miss Ecclestone said her secret to prevent falling ill: “I have acupuncture to boost my immune system every month or so.”


Alternative medicine has been practised for centuries. She is using acupuncture as a preventive measure and not a cure.

  • Gwyneth Paltrow believes that a detox diet helped her liver and gave her “mental clarity”.


So? Don’t we harp on psychosomatic illnesses? Are people not uncomfortable if they are too full of themselves, so to speak? Getting rid of some of the elements might in fact make a person think clearly or at least not be so preoccupied with what is within.


  • Christian Louboutin, a French footwear designer, was taken with something a fellow party guest told him about shoes: "She said that what is sexual in a high heel is the arch of the foot, because it is exactly the position of a woman's foot when she orgasms. So putting your foot in a heel, you are putting yourself in a possibly orgasmic situation.”


An anthropologist or a psychologist would have the good sense to see it as body language or how illusions and analogies work.

Instead, they got a consultant in sexual medicine to ‘debunk’ this myth. Kevan Wylie, (“responded drily”, as the report states, which makes one wonder):

"A woman's foot may be in this position during orgasm, but that does not mean that putting her foot into this position under other circumstances will result in orgasm.”

The woman is not suggesting that, just as men do not get an erection if they hold a gun. She is fantasising.. The shoe industry uses such fantasies, too, as do other advertised brands. Why do some people find stilettos sexy and others think wedges are? Why do some like pumps while others prefer those mean leather boots?

I wish I had thought about this arched footwear…the image is wonderful.

The science saviours can go work on their test tubes. I am thinking of little needles poking into me and a small shot of calming vitamins as I get under the shower to wet my hair with freezing water that will leave it shining and bouncy. I shall then go the riding club and inhale deeply as I get astride a horse. We reach the beach and I walk on my toes on the sand and ever so hesitatingly dip my feet in the ocean. The fear of sharks lends an edgy feeling as I cup my hands and gather a bit of salty water.

28.12.11

The Ambani Matron Saint

Hamare paas maa hai: Kokilaben with Anil and Mukesh

It does not matter whether the Brothers Ambani – Mukesh and Anil – will do the business tango or not. As the family got together for the memorial of Dhirubhai on his 80th birth anniversary, it was obvious that the Reliance empire is still holding on to Ba’s apron strings. Mother Kokilaben has shown great business acumen earlier and she seems to run the family in just such a corporate manner. Mukesh and Anil may address share-holders, but when it comes to making definitive statements, whether it is about her late husband or her sons, it is the matriarch whose word counts. It may be a mask, but with the sanctity that Indians have for the mother figure it gains extra currency.

She has seen the building of one of the major players in the country; she was with Dhirubhai during his struggling days, the days he fought to find a place, the days he manipulated the System, the days he became his own System. The Ambanis were the envy of many industrial houses because they were together. Dhirubhai did what most corporate patriarchs do not – he reposed faith in his sons. He knew who was good at what and delegated the tasks accordingly. It was not quite equal, but it was just. Just to his shrewd eyes. And that is what mattered. It was left to Kokilaben to be the General Manager or a sort of bureaucrat who knows more about the files than the politician who signs the papers and takes the credit or gets the flak for them.

Bahus can dance saala: Tina and Nita

So, when they met at the village Chorwad in the mansion they have built, it was all about carefully-planned sentiment. The media was allowed to shoot in what was a private ceremony. We caught glimpses of the brothers doing the dandiya, and the bahus playing traditional daughters-in-law as opposed to their more glamorous avatars when in Mumbai and their silent rivalry – Nita with her school, Tina with her art, both doing it for the benefit of society, of course. This was all about custom and it was custom-made. There was uniformity about the clothes, the camaraderie, the smiles.

Who cares whether or not it is good for the economy if the two brothers get together. It may certainly be good for their business, but again it is not an equal game. Kokilaben wearing bright pink spoke before the cameras, she said, “Agar pyaar nahin hota tau saath kaise hote (If there was no love, then why would they be together).” No one would dare to ask why they were together now (though they performed the havan at different timings) and for how long and what would happen once they reached their respective homes and went on their separate holidays.

That is not the point. This was the matriarch’s diktat and a clear signal to the business fraternity and stakeholders: When you buy one, you pay for the other too.

Of Ombudsmen and Wo(men)

I think we need an ombudsman to overrule the ombudsman who will be overruled by everyone who knows what an ombudsman is not supposed to do.

Anna had a “wish list”. It just so happens that his wish is not his command. Why is his team's moral high horse better than anybody else's? There is nothing to celebrate about him, his movement, the Opposition, or the ruling party. After all this utter waste of time and effort, I think we deserve a couple of conspiracy theories.


  • Why did the BJP chicken out? Perhaps, the party had a tacit understanding with Team Anna that if there were not sufficient crowds – don’t bother about the traffic jams, in Mumbai cows, strays and fallen trees, all cause traffic snarls – then the BJP will not vote for the government’s Lokpal Bill even with amendments. This will give Anna reprieve from the fast, which he should have not undertaken for health and other reasons anyway. And it will give the anti-corruption movement something to do in the New Year.
  • Another important factor could be that this would take away the allegations of RSS links of Anna that they are so concerned about, and in effect the BJP might wish to distance itself from for a while to put on its moderate face in the make-up van.


Okay, let us get serious. I do not understand numbers, so will skip all that. There are some details here.

I'd like to address some points BJP's Sushma Swaraj made:

“It appears the government is placing this bill in a fit of rage”

It was pushed into this sewer and naturally came out smelling of turd.

“The federal structure of the Constitution is being violated”

And what was Anna’s movement about? The Constitution?

“Centre wants to make the Lokpal model optional for states, but the bill you have brought makes it mandatory”

True. The river flows from the seas. Same logic.

“18 states have Lokayuktas. Many of them have better bills than the ones you have brought. Like Uttarakhand. Your bill will override those. There are better ones like the bill that Karnataka passed long ago”

So, the Lokpal Bill was already there for 43 years. If that is not good enough, then it is all a matter of how you look at it. This is not a case of ‘uski kameez meri kameez se safeid kyon’. Incidentally, Mamata Bannerjee too is putting up a fight, so you cannot keep everyone happy all the time.

“Minority quota: Reservation in constitutional bodies is not allowed”

In principle, agree. But the ‘Jan’ Lokpal Bill was trying to over-ride the constitution. Besides, if we accept regional variety, then why not caste, class and religious ones? I mean, when you bribe someone with a khokha it is different from using ‘good offices’, hai na?

“Government is acting as if this bill is a nuisance and it just wants to get over with it”

True. Like fast-track justice for certain media-hyped crimes. If you set deadlines, pour out in the streets, have your demon Santas go around demanding support, then the government will play politics with even more vigour. It just has the advantage of being the driver.

“We wanted CBI to be freed from government control. But this bill does the opposite. All power lies with the government”

The Armed Forces are exempt and will be tried through regular and civilian channels. The CBI is an indepenedent agency. This is the time to prove it. The BJP can do what it wants when and if it comes to power.


“CBI’s prosecution and investigating wings need to be separated, with the latter handed over to Lokpal. This way, the government’s hold over the CBI ends”

Fantastic. Why not name it the Federal Bureaus of Investigation. We can have our own FBIs.



“Inquiry against PM comes with too many safeguards. Are you increasing transparency or checking it?”

The prime minister is not directly elected to the post by the people. It is the party that decides. So, in effect, there is no transparency to begin with. The role of the Opposition is to raise issues of crimes of commission and omission on the part of the PM. That is transparency enough. When he appoints people, shuffles portfolios, it is obvious what is going on. What more would we like to know? Heck, we even know that Mukesh Ambani has told him he will invest Rs. 70,000 crore in India. And we know that the PM has given the Home Minister a good report, the same Mr. Chidambaram who was fighting with Pranab Mukherkee who was fighting about who first passed the file for the 2G spectrum.

“Either you correct this bill or I say with folded hands, please take it back and send it again to the standing committee. Let there be a detailed discussion there and bring it back in three months”

No need to fold hands. This was expected. Why wait for three months? Ah, Anna Haxare does not like winters, I understand.

The real cherry on the cake was from the CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta:

“I support a Lokpal Bill but not this bill”

Yeah, I support Marx, but not Marxism.

- - -

The drama is not over. It will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha, then back to agitations. Meanwhile, here's my cheesy filmi line for the day: Thappad se darr nahin lagta Anna saab, bekar vaar se lagta hai....

27.12.11

Anna’s Blockbuster: Don or Munnabhai?

Why has Hazare asked Sonia Gandhi for a debate? Is it because his churlish demands can get some legitimacy when standing across from a supra power? But, when something is wrong in the government, it immediately goes back to the ‘high command’. What does Anna represent? Power without responsibility. 


We are supposed to applaud the fact that Anna Hazare’s team has not resorted to violent methods. The fact that this is emphasised reveals the potential the movement has to ignite just such violence. Besides, we cannot rule out the violence of intent. How did the latest box office showing manage to get people at the ticket counters? Through the internet and SMS. How does this ‘vote for your favourite reality show contestant’ sort of support qualify as a ‘people’s movement’? I know one is repeating many of these statements, but we are witnessing a strange situation where whipped up collective anger is passing off as idealism and resurgence.

1.4 lakh people have signed up for the Jail Bharo call. This is such a ridiculous strategy, to begin with. For, those who want to be participants in the Lokpal are behaving like opponents. To solve any major issue, such emotional tactics do not work. By courting arrest, you give more teeth to the System you wish to see tempered down. How many of the anti-corruption crowds are aware of what prison rules entail? Have they visited jails before, and sought to bring about change in the conditions in prisons, the abuse that takes place there, the wrongful arrest of several people for reasons ranging from petty robbery to terrorism? Do they know that people serve sentences for years only to be proved innocent later? Do they understand the seriousness of this issue, and it includes the flavour of the moment – corruption – which those imprisoned can ill-afford to indulge in?

Yes, there are ministers in jail; many of the elected MPs have charges of corruption against them, besides murder, possession of arms, involvement in scams. They are there long before Hazare got his Eureka moment. The Constitution was referred to to put them behind bars, the courts decided on it. There were industrialists and CEOs in there, too.

Does Team Anna have the courage to go and agitate before the houses of these corporate giants? Recent reports have stated that 100 prominent people from Mumbai have accounts in Swiss banks. No one puts legal money there; it is black money. Why is the anti-corruption brigade silent about it?


We are being fed the illusion that Team Anna is honest and upfront. Why is a businessman from Haryana sponsoring the food stall at the maidan? Why was it necessary to spend Rs. 8 lakh to hire the ground? Just take a look at the mind-boggling arrangement: a barricaded stage that has a room tucked with ensuite washroom for Mr. Hazare, 32 mobile toilets, ambulances, doctors on call, a fire tender, generators. There is also a separate VIP entrance close to the stage, so that those who matter do not have to pass through the ordinary people. Metal detectors, screening of vehicles, CCTV cameras and a police force of 3000 that includes 16 ACPs and 50 police inspectors will handle security. The people’s movement has also got well-wisher bouncers from a private agency.

While the Mumbai Police has ensured that it will put a plug on provocative speeches as it does for any public meetings, it has set up an Anti-Mischief Squad to protect Anna from any egg on the face, or rather shoe or slipper being hurled. Why? Because last month when someone slapped Sharad Pawar, the peaceful Gandhian had retorted with, "Sirf ek thappad? (Just one slap?)" Of course, he had immediately justified it as the anger of the public. Now, when a small group wearing black bands protests against him or if some parties suggest that he has links with the RSS, they get touchy about it and go into overdrive. Arvind Kejriwal even tries to meet Muslim groups, and yet these people object to quotas in the lokayukta. If you do not want reservations for certain sections, then do not try to woo them from the backdoor.

Kejriwal has taken on an offensive defence stance:

"The government is provoking us by saying Anna is an RSS agent. Congress government is targeting Anna by spreading such rumours. Even former president Abdul Kalam and Digvijay Singh have been photographed with (Nanaji) Deshmukh.” 

Such excessive reaction clearly denotes that they have something to hide and they agree that the RSS is not quite the desired company to keep. Or, like political parties, they too believe in vote banks.

26.12.11

Closed Doors: Band Darwaaze - Satyadev Dubey



Satyadev Dubey made me uncomfortable. On two occasions.

First: Prithvi Theatre. Lights out. Power outage. Everyone stood where they could find space – the foyer, near the entrance or in the lane outside. Many were familiar faces. The café was full with those who were not going to watch the play. It was always full. Writers, directors, actors, wannabes, has-beens. I stood near the tree at the curve of the entrance; a short stocky man in a kurta was ambling the distance of a few feet. Makarand Deshpande, whose play was being staged, introduced us. There was a short verbal exchange, but his eyes continued to speak, to probe. It was as though he was taking up the air around me, converting it into frost that would cage me in some unfathomable way.

I was already acquainted with his work (films and stage) and recall watching Sambhok Se Sanyas Tak (From Lust to Sublimation) at the Karnataka Sangh, not one of those charmed places where everything different is seen as ‘path-breaking’; the different was meant to be just that. No overdose of adjectives. Dubey was in some ways the Osho of the theatre world, and the serious aficiandos might take offence to it, which would be precious because he was offensive most of the time. His work was designed to hit where it hurt. His gaze unrelenting.

The second uncomfortable Dubey moment was again in the dark. The same stocky figure waiting at a park for a young girl, trailing her wherever she goes, a foreigner in a country that is supposed to be alien, but which is more like him than anything he has known. A playwright who has so dramatised his life that he is looking for a grand finale to it. Nothing else, or less, will do.

She is young, pert and full of ammo. On the face of it, a propah English girl, but slowly, with every professional failure, she unclothes herself before our eyes to reveal what she has always denied: Her alienness. She does not quite belong, so she is shunned. She is displaced and grudgingly has to admit that to be deflowered she needs not a gentle touch but to be roughed up. To unleash her anger, her potential. The music must rise from the waltz, the jive, the samba to a deafening crescendo of Antigone’s cry.

Dubey could not be for real. He acted the part he wrote in It Could Happen Only In London, taking you on a fantastical journey of a girl becoming a woman and a man turning into a boy. It is about age catching up with us or making us regress. About seduction. Violence. Ambition. Realisation. And at the end of it all the menace of futility being unable to prevent that glimmer of light from penetrating through its transparent wings.

Satyadev Dubey died yesterday and is closer to the sun now. But that night, tucked away in a lane in Juhu under canopy of fake stars, I had discovered the full thrust and throb of what “effing your head off” truly meant. It was about chasing an evanescent dream, and when it assaults resistance gives way to release.

25.12.11

Sunday ka Funda

"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”

- Albert Camus

- - -

And must we not be generous to the past too and leave it the way it wants to, was meant to be? Not everything we have is great, not all that we give is wonderful, not all that we receive fills the emptiness. But it is there and we are there. It just might be something beyond the obvious...

- - -


"The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes
Some of it's just transcendental
Some of it's just really dumb

But I
I love it when you sing to me
And you
You can sing me anything"


A Christmas full of giving and acceptance to all...and...

The Book of Love - Peter Gabriel:

24.12.11

Kim Jong-Il's Virgin Town


Among the many stories coming out about Kim Jong-il, the one that has fascinated me is about how he built an entire city in the 1950s. Kijong-Dong was designed only for propaganda. No one lived there. Ever. Of course, the North Korean government said it had some 200 families, but they were invisible. Lights are switched on and off at set timings; caretakers clean the place. And then back to nothing.

It makes me wonder:

If no one lived there, no one thrived or enjoyed the facilities – and there were many – then what was the use of such propaganda? Does it even qualify as propaganda? What is ideal about a place that no one experiences? Or is that what makes it ideal – being untouched?

Cannibal Farm: Bare Bones and People’s Power

The close-up of the Protestor's head is much like the trophy brought back by head-hunters or warlords. Our lack of spine in the social construct is taking us away from the fine-tuned art of the gourmand to a basic need for the raw. Such instant aggressive gratification has numbed memories. 

A bit of him - the TV shot

Bare Bones and People’s Power
Cannibal Farm
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, December 23-25

Two suited guys at a candle-light dinner nibbling on each other’s flesh for a television show does not denote cannibalism. If placed in a larger landscape, it could be seen as a microcosmic interpretation of contemporary socio-political mores. The ‘noble savage’ transported into an Orwellian version of Noah’s Ark is a devious mirror of excoriating glass.

Dennis Storm and Valerio Zeno are in their mid-20s, which by today’s standards is considered seasoned. They are Dutch TV hosts. Both went under the surgeon’s knife; Zeno had a length of muscle removed from his abdomen and Storm opted to give a part of his buttock. The chef presented them the meat to sniff, after which it was cooked in a pan with sunflower oil without any seasoning. Then, before a studio audience, they pierced the fork into each other’s flesh. The motive ostensibly was, according to Storm, to answer “a stupid question”. He admitted that it was “weird to look into the eyes of a friend when you are chewing on his belly” but “we wanted to find out how human flesh tasted. It was just a few centimetres of meat and now I have a good story about that scar."

There will be the valid queries about legality, ethics, and good taste (never mind the pun).

This is where we must make that leap onto the big stage and the bigger questions, irrespective of the duo’s motives. It might help if we kept in mind that the show is called Proefkonijnen, which means ‘Guinea Pigs’. It exposes the expediency of experimentation to its bare bones.

Replace this ‘stunt’ with the stunted studio wars, the cameras on the battlefields of Operations and Revolutions, following soldiers and cops, zooming in on dead bodies, the anchors lying flat, mimicking the dead, even as the microphones – the ultimate symbol of pop potency – is ‘eaten’. When we chew such news and digest it, we are in effect committing cannibalism by default.

Besides, the nature of news becoming stale and dead would also allude to necrophilia. There is power in such revivification of the dead.

Salvation and Survival:



While the need to survive is basic, latter-day salvationists resort to reductionism in the moral sphere they seek to uphold.

Time magazine’s Person of the Year is an un-named, undefined, unrecognisable Protestor. With a few rare voices that question the dissident’s management of the System – recent examples being Hitchens and Havel – potential hagiographers continue to feast on the morsels of the maverick mafia. It shows us just how the process of natural selection has changed to create shrines for survival of the niftiest.

22.12.11

Character Assassination

Due to the untimely demise of one of my characters, I was in mourning and could therefore not submit the story on time.

This is a real note I sent years ago. A colleague had entered my name for a short story competition by the British Council. I was not terribly enthusiastic about such events, but since it required imagining, it was par for the course. I thought nothing about it and since I was not accustomed to writing for a reason, I wove the words at a leisurely pace.

A tap on my shoulder and a thick envelope served as reminders that I paid no attention to. The date of submission was gone. I folded the sheets of paper and put them in the envelope – the address and stamps were ready. My friends were still enthusiastic. I quickly grabbed a page from my diary and wrote down the note:

“Due to the untimely demise of one of my characters I was in mourning and could therefore not submit the story on time.”

What else could I say? I am not good with formal letters. Besides, it was succinct and happened to be the truth. The cat in the story had died. Obviously, I had killed it. Yet, its death was a departure, a turning point.

Recently, an Indian media house gave an award to a novel and the jury used a curious phrase for its choice: one of the reasons was “for its non-judgmental attitude to the characters”. How does a writer not judge a character when s/he has created it? This is not immaculate conception. You sweat over it, love it and get suffused in it, for however brief a time. The judgement lies in the nature of the relationship. The writer is the initiator and woos the character. It is possible that the character might mirror the writer. Introspection is also judgement. You are pronouncing a verdict on your thoughts and feelings.

Any objectivity would be forced. The character is because you are.

Back to my old story, I had written it for myself. In those days, there was no audience I was seeking or speaking to.

A few days later, rather uncharacteristically, I got a note from the British Council. It said, and I will rely on memory and promise not to exaggerate, that indeed I had missed the date of submission and rules would not permit my work for consideration. However, my accompanying note was rather interesting and caused much amusement and they could not but let me know that although the story would not be included in the competition, it was noticed.

I wondered whether dead cats could lick the cream.

21.12.11

Two minute noodle: Lokpal Bill

If we go by Team Anna logic, then the Opposition and independent agencies should be running the government. Forget everything else, it would spell the end of a real Opposition as it should be - to question, debate and give a contrarian point of view and not fight over the spoils of who gets to swivel in the chair.

If the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) comes within the Lokpal ambit - which the government draft rightly does not allow for - then all investigation will be left to whims and fancies and further delays or worse. The CBI is not the ISI.

20.12.11

Ghalib, Bharat Ratna and Lost Memories of the Indian Republic

Are we to consider the conceptualisation of India as a Republic as the cut-off date for historical relevance of India as a nation? In what manner did Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela embellish the Indian Republic?


The highest Indian civilian honour is become a joke, not only because of the names being bandied about but due to the so-called reasoned responses to those names. There is a cultural, philosophical and atavistic leap from Sachin Tendulkar to Mirza Ghalib.

Ghalib may ever-so-gratefully be turning in the grave on being considered for the Bharat Ratna, though the chances the finance minister quoting him in the next ‘baajit’ (budget) are remote. Pranab Mukherjee might just opt for Sarat Chandra.

That the Padma awards are politicised is a known whisper, but this year we have everyone jumping on to the Bharat Ratna bandwagon, which has resulted in a glut of Ghalib verses reappearing with as much vigour as Veena Malik’s disappearance. Sarat babu has not been as lucky, and it is rather interesting that most op-eds are not even mentioning him. What is the politics behind such counter-politics? It started with Markandey Katju, a former judge and chairperson of the Press Council of India, doing what people consider the equivalent of digging graves. He has responded in a column in the Indian Express:

“I have been criticised for demanding Bharat Ratna for Mirza Ghalib and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Some even lampooned me by saying that Bharat Ratna should also be given to Lord Rama and Gautam Buddha, and Param Vir Chakra to Tantia Tope. 
In reply, I wish to say that there is nothing wrong in giving awards posthumously, provided they are given to the right persons, and Bharat Ratna has been often conferred posthumously in the past, for instance to Sardar Patel and Dr Ambedkar. 
Moreover, Ghalib is a modern figure, not a legendary one like Lord Rama, or an ancient one like Gautam Buddha. Many of his thoughts were, for his times, surprisingly modern. Though he was steeped in the feudal tradition, he often broke through that tradition on perceiving the advantages of modern civilisation… 
As regards Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, in a recent function in Kolkata I appealed for the award of Bharat Ratna to him. Here was a man who in a feudal society (early 20th century Bengal) launched a full-blooded attack on the caste system, against women’s oppression, and superstitions…”

Irrespective of his motives, I would not rubbish Justice Katju without taking into account the larger framework. His proposal, in fact, lays bare the idea of how we view history and whether such honours and their contribution affect a large mass of people and in what manner.

The reactions can be revealing, as is this piece by Ashok Malik in the Asian Age:

“The Padma series of awards and the Bharat Ratna are state honours given by the Republic of India to those who have been of service to or have otherwise embellished that very Republic of India. Can they be given to those who lived and died before the republic was instituted or even conceived?”

If service to the nation is the yardstick, then not many have been real contributors. There is lobbying for these honours and professionals wait for the lists like students waiting for results. The Bharat Ratna has been arbitrary, in that it is based on the whims of a small group and pressure tactics have been used to make sure that the person so anointed is popular. Popularity is based on commercial considerations. The most-endorsed person (and there is a pun in there) is likely to be feted with a Padma. Some have refused these awards. Does it make their contribution any less?

In what manner did Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela, both recipients of the Bharat Ratna, embellish the Indian Republic?

Besides, let us see such honours holistically. Are we to consider the conceptualisation of India as a Republic as the cut-off date for historical relevance of India as a nation? What about the tumultuous period of 1857? What about the gathering momentum of the freedom struggle? I reiterate that this is not only about handing out awards, but to see the nature of contributions to the country beyond its status as a Republic.

Ashok Malik’s reasoning is frightening:

“A posthumous award rarely makes sense, unless given within a year or so of the person’s passing, when memories of his or her life and achievements are fresh and relevant to contemporary society."


What does it tell us about the nature of achievements if they are dependent on memories? If a person’s work is likely to be forgotten or become irrelevant within a year of death, then what really is the contribution to the Republic? Do we need statues, roads, and garden benches named after people for us to remember them? Posthumous awards are as relevant as death is inevitable. Since death does not announce itself, it becomes a bit difficult to put someone in queue.

As regards the swipe and sarcasm doing the rounds about awarding people like Rani Lakshmibai and Emperor Asoka, there are awards named after several historical figures. One wonders why our Republic has not grown up enough and suffered from the much-needed amnesia to forget them. Now, why does someone not tell these people that forgetfulness would help a great deal when we are discussing certain political issues where such a past is made the pulpit from where contemporary India fights elections for its Republic?

Justice Katju has pushed the envelope a bit:

“People are talking of giving the Bharat Ratna to cricketers and filmstars. This is the low cultural level to which we have sunk. We ignore our real heroes, and hail superficial ones. I regret to say that the present generation of Indians has been almost entirely deculturised, and all they care for is money, filmstars, cricket, and superficialities.”

He is not entirely right, and certainly not when he rubbished the media coverage of Dev Anand’s death, but it does not merit Mr. Malik’s wonder as to why he is “expending his energies in seeking a Bharat Ratna for a poet who had been dead 150 years. Could he not have devoted his precious time to composing a petition related to the agrarian crisis?” Those of us who are responding to Mr. Katju are not penning paeans to the farmers. We are also discussing these very superficialities. And many of us do question film stars and cricketers ourselves.

Anna Hazare is one of the names being pushed, and whatever he writes about the agrarian or industrial crises, he would still be seen as a drumbeater by quite a few.

There is the question of real heroes, and the youth treats Hazare at the same level of pop iconism as it does film stars and cricketers. He too appears on reality TV shows to promote his campaign as they do.

I shall - Aila! - leave the matter of Sachin Tendulkar.

As regards the crowning glory, let me leave you with another poet who wept for his land. Alas, it was not a republic then:

"ya mujhe afsar-e-shahaa na banaya hota
ya mera taj gadayaa na banayaa hota"

(Bahadurshah Zafar)

- - -
(c) Farzana Versey

Also published in Countercurrents, December 23

Response to another view in a new post

13.12.11

India Copulated:The Dirtier Picture



This is a marketing gimmick camouflaged as a film. I went to a single-screen theatre to watch it. Alone. After all, this was about female empowerment. Sipping coffee, waiting for the door to open, I looked at the audience. Men – young and old. Women – young and old. One woman wore a burqa, but her face was visible; another one wore a tight tunic with pants, but her face was covered and only her eyes were visible. Weird. There was an infant, too. One elderly lady told me, “No one was willing to come along.” Aha, it was ‘The Dirty Picture’.

I had booked in advance and opted for a corner seat. The film began and at some point the dirtiness started with the protagonist making funny sounds while a couple is at it in a filthy room. Dirty, remember? It was not quite certain whether she was faking an orgasm or a crap. Just as the film is a confused medley. It does not even have the grace to be a parody; it is downright slapstick with the so-called bold dialogues not going beyond what you might hear boys in school talk about when playing with themselves. Yes, boys. Despite now claiming it is a work of fiction, the makers had pushed it as a biopic based on the real-life story of South Indian actress Silk Smitha – her overt sexuality, her exploitation and her ultimate destruction and death by suicide. It is an insult to her and to any kind of sensibility, even the crude.

Silk Smitha

For months news items and television promos were showcasing Vidya Balan, the actress who essays the part, in ‘character’. Bright clothes and a wink, irrespective of which programme she was on. The film has been declared a hit at the box office and almost all reviews and stories have been applauding Ms. Balan for her courage. This is such irony. No one ever thought of Silk as courageous. She was dismissed as a soft porn star. There are many such stories and the entertainment industry, including Hollywood, has used women. Those who make it to the big grade deny the casting couch. The others like Silk have no choice. They remain where they began, bathing under a waterfall or falling off slopes with an ageing hero.

Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika had tackled the subject with finesse, although it too had its love-making scenes and even a tantalising lavni dance by Smita Patil. It, too, was based on a real-life story. We could empathise with the character and her growth. Silk, on the other hand, does not at any point give us an opportunity to feel her pain or even her pleasure.

Bollywood has been commending the fact that a ‘respectable’ actress took up the role. This is hypocrisy and exploitative. They are using the story of a woman whose family lives in poverty in some village, and yet tacitly they are running her down. All this talk about celebrating the body is so much smooth talk. There are many such young women who perform dance numbers and they are called item girls. They go through the process of shedding their clothes, but no one says they are celebrating their bodies. They are well endowed, but no one says they are the ideal “voluptuous Indian women” as though it is a national asset. These women are low down and if they flick their tongues or bite their lips suggestively it will be deemed obscene.

The pampered star takes such a role as a “challenge”, implying the hierarchy. It is nothing short of patronising. The urban herd has certified that this is not sleaze. It makes them feel smug. Moreover, women are expected to understand that this is liberating and empowering. Did Silk have a choice? Will middle-class women “unleash their sexual side” without being branded, if not as floozies, then nymphomaniacs?

Ms. Balan who is on a high right now assisted by her PR machinery talks about Silk with a know-it-all attitude: 

“She’s unapologetic about using her body and her sexuality as a big ticket to fame. There’s no shame in doing it.”

No one has asked if she, Vidya Balan,  would have done so since there is no shame to it.

That would be putting a wet blanket over a hose-pipe assisted wet dream.

(c) Farzana Versey

New meeows - 33

Should any person holding high rank in the government take the oath of office in the name of god, any god? In secular India that boasts of being a khichdi culture and tolerant society a student, Kamal Nayan Prabhakar, filed a petition against the Jharkhand Governor Syed Ahmad for taking the oath by uttering “Allah ke naam par” (in the name of Allah). When the High Court dismissed his petition, he appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Bench pronouncing the verdict said:

“Your client has come with a sinister motive. He has tried to draw a comparison with the Constitution of Pakistan. World over in the mythology, god is described as formless. Why do you want to confine him to a name or image? It is very sickening.”

This is the problem. The petitioner has, technically, the rulebook on his side.

The petition says, under Article 159 of the Constitution, the Governor or other constitutional authorities can take oath only in the name of “god or Eshwar” or he/she may “solemnly affirm.”

This means that in India the formless god has got to have an English or a Hindi/Marathi/Gujarati kind of name. On what grounds is Eshwar permitted? Or even god?

It is fairly obvious that this young man was not merely invoking the law:

The petitioner submitted that if the trend goes on, it might encourage others to use their choice of personal deities like Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesh, and Christ at the time of taking oath. 
“A new trend will emerge and will be continued whereby the Governor or any other dignitary of high post having faith in different religions would start taking oath in the name of different gods/spirits according to their beliefs and then there would not be proper following of forms of oaths which may lead to a Constitutional crisis.”

Why will it lead to a Constitutional crisis? Our politicians fall at the feet of godmen, and often follow their advice. They consult astrologers, numerologists, aura readers, and they do use various deities to get into power, even if it means causing mayhem.

Why has this issue been raked up only when someone invoked the name of Allah? Why not Eshwar? Only because it is permitted? Then the ssue of one religion taking prominence should have been raised. It is time that any godly reference is removed and the oath is taken with a mere “solemnly affirm”. We all know they aren’t solemn or affirming anything. On the other hand, since we know that, we may as well allow them to take the name of some god or the other, who we can subsequently blame for any “Constitutional crisis” that might arise.


- - -

Anna with communists and Hindutvawaadis

Another Constitutional crisis or constipated one? Joining the Anna Hazare bandwagon for political gains is like putting the cart before a lame horse. You aren’t going anywhere with this one.


- - -


Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practising witchcraft and sorcery, which are banned. One is not quite sure whether she really was a ‘witch’ or she merely did something that a patriarchal society cannot digest.

Many women are considered witches and exorcists are brought in to purge them of the demons that have taken over their bodies. Rather strangely, while the woman in Saudi was killed for it, often such people, including our tantrics, kill to practise such sorcery. Haven’t we heard about the blood of infants to cure impotency? Or children, women and those of lower status killed to solve everything, from financial problems to getting rid of the evil eye or the enemy?

- - -


Those still on the 'Kapil Sibal is an idiot' trip, especially from the media, do tell us how many of the editors/ channel owners allow all kinds of views? Do media houses not push one particular position? Do they not promote political parties and their agendas? Are not certain industrial groups favoured in matters of coverage? Don’t glossies make it a point to ‘like’ some socialites and shun others when their chips are down? Don’t we know of stories that are planted?

So, how does this qualify as freedom of expression when you are a pawn in different games of different people? Does this not amount to pre-screening?

- - -

Does Bombay Times not know the definition of plagiarism? Hindustan Times lifted one of its major pieces (yes, something about two people from the entertainment industry saying they are "just good friends") with the byline. They have not passed it as their own. This is a matter of attribution here, not plagiarism, unless BT has patent over anyone saying they are just good friends. Why HT would pick up something like this at all is a bit strange. Apparently, the media world was abuzz about the writer having quit to join HT. Now is this not earth-shattering? Isn't it like saying Neil Armstrong landed on Mars and not the moon? 

- - -




Reading some of the obit pieces on cartoonist Mario de Miranda one is left with a bit of bitters. Comparisons are fine, but I found in them a sort of tangential and quite unnecessary put-down of R.K.Laxman. Here are excerpts from two pieces:

  • "It is the ideal example of two great cartoonists working together in the same publishing house. Much of the credit for the fact that they could do so must go to Mario, for the wonderful human being he was. He made sure his work never clashed with Laxman’s. Laxman handled the newspaper, Mario the magazines. Laxman was primarily a political cartoonist, Mario excelled in the social cartoon."
  • "That he was to the magazines of the Times of India what Laxman was to the daily paper. And, dare I say it, that Laxman was the Lata Mangeshkar who subtly ensured that the pedestal was not for sharing?"


This is such rubbish. The TOI had shifted Laxman’s column to the inside pages quite sometime ago. He is ailing and now lives in Pune. Would these same people have written such words had he been active and around in the TOI premises inside his cabin? The newspaper needed him; he did not need it. The TOI of course uses him when it wants. One rarely ever read paeans about Mario Miranda’s work earlier. We heard more about his attendance at parties. And Page 3 was always about events. Always. A small clique of people who propped up each other.

It is a pity that in death Mario is being used as an example of the approachable person he was as opposed to Laxman. Pity because he had his own style, which many later tried to emulate. It was something you could emulate – he used stereotypes, and there was no cheep about sexism where the secretary always wore cleavage-popping frocks, which was often understood that she had to be a Catholic or a Parsi.


He often illustrated a story or told a story, and his travel series were the best. Even his wayfarers and vagabonds seemed to be having a good time. They really were not common men. I am sure Miss Nimbu Paani will feel left out with his exit, but her kind always move on and find someone else to hang around with. That Mario lived in some heritage mansion and not in a rundown little apartment block in Goa just added to the society pages armour of a cultural ambassador.

He probably knew that this is a tail-wagger’s world, which is why the dog was omnipresent in his work. 

The quiet yelp will be the only true test of fidelity to his being.

10.12.11

ISI in the Raw

Seduction thrives on the seamy side and works its guile in risqué risky adventures. What if Veena Malik had RAW embossed on her arm instead?



If political asylum is the tacit goal, then it must be a most unusual manner to go about it. Pakistani actress Veena Malik’s notorious cover photograph in an Indian men’s magazine is now a lawsuit. She is nude. This is only one part of the exposure. The other is a tattoo on her arm with the initials ISI, which she says “was intended to be a humorous take on the fact that anything — big or small — is blamed on ISI in a funny way.”

She accuses the magazine of morphing the picture; the editor has video evidence of the photo session. The magazine’s website changed the cover, though. She is not fully naked in this one, but she is shown pulling the pin out of a grenade and the tagline says: “Pakistani WMD''.

This is not about the body. It is clearly political. Pakistan is seen as a nation that toys with arms and intelligence agencies. Sexing up these only reaffirms the potency.

The reaction has been rather quirky. Pakistanis are associating the ISI, Inter-Services Intelligence, with Islam and patriotism and the whole nation. While there is most certainly an objection to her being in the buff, the emphasis this time is on the intelligence agency’s reputation. For a moment, imagine that she could possibly be an agent. After all, Mata Hari spent her early years in France dancing in the nude, leading a life that did not beg for answers and seduced many a powerful man. It was on one such sleeping assignment that she was recruited by the Germans to spy during World War I. Her initial forays were desultory and her abilities not of much significance. Her artistic background made espionage seem far more intriguing than it was. Her true calling remained the use of her body, primarily for her own pleasure and later to subsist of it.

Mata Hari by Paul Boyer

Seduction thrives on the seamy side and works its guile in risqué risky adventures. While we are hypothesising, what if Veena Malik had RAW embossed on her arm instead? India’s Research and Analysis Wing is often held culpable for some outings in Pakistan, although to a lesser degree than the ISI is in India. If the idea was to humour as much as be humorous, then her cultural and subliminal Indianness might have gained some currency and shaken the system. If not as an agent, then as agent provocateur.

Oxygen to fire: Kolkata


The most telling picture of Friday’s fire in a Kolkata hospital is not burnt bodies, patients being rescued with rope ladders, relatives crying. It is this: Hospital staff dragging an oxygen cylinder. This looks like a scene from some isolated township not a big city, and most certainly not a private hospital.

89 people died when a fire broke out in the basement of the Advanced Medicare & Research Institute (AMRI) hospital in Dhakuria. Most of the patients were in the intensive care units. I cannot even imagine those who are too ill and fragile in a position to even save themselves. Did they try pulling out the drips, the pipes, the wires linking them to machines when the smoke reached them and there was panic? Or were they asleep, rather sedated, at 1.30 am and died strapped to their beds?

There were some who pressed their faces on the windows and seemed to shout for help. Combustible material was placed in the basement. The fire brigade took time to arrive, ambulances took time to arrive…it was the nearby slumdwellers who rushed to assist in the rescue operations, but the guard refused to open the gate.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrived later in the morning, holding a mike and a megaphone leading the way, to assure people, to convince them. I do not wish to be cynical here. She was there at the other hospital where the injured were shifted and stayed there until late evening, apparently without food. Not many people in her position would do so. While I do not like the idea of politicians and their entourage disrupting real work, there are times when such gestures help assuage those who are suffering loss. I only hope that this is not a political angle.

In some ways it has become one. The government holds 1.99 per cent stake in the hospital. What about the 98.01 per cent that is privately-owned?

I also do not understand why they are now talking about the slums as a hindrance to the movement of rescue vehicles. They arrived late. It was those living in the slums who were physically present, and for years ambulances have been reaching the hospital.

It is good that six people have been arrested, but it needs more. Many of our hospitals, and not just government ones, are run in the most careless manner. Doctors go on strike, nurses go on strike, machines do not function, and cleanliness is not top priority, however many bottles of sanitiser liquids you see. Only some months ago a woman was singed and her newborn died because instead of antiseptic acid was used to clean them up. In another instance, stray dogs were roaming near the canteen and ICU areas of a municipal hospital. I have seen such dogs even in the premises of a private hospital.

What is the use then of thick glass panes that even firemen cannot break easily, as happened at AMRI?

9.12.11

Harvard Pottering with Swamy

You are probably applauding Harvard University because it has decided to junk Prof. Subramaniam Swamy’s courses in next year’s summer session for the views he expressed in a piece where he, according to the report:
 …recommended demolishing hundreds of mosques and suggested that only Muslims in India who “acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus” should be allowed to vote.

I think the Janata Party president’s role is different from the man teaching Quantitative Methods in Economics and Business and Economic Development in India and East Asia. His political views cannot and should not interfere in his academic role, and by the same token he ought not to be jusged by his stand in his other role.

If the university is trying to make a point, then it should not permit guest lectures by Bill Clinton, George Bush, Tony Blair and several others for different reasons.

There is the huge question about how much a person’s political views matter in his non-political work. I have often said it is impossible for me to like Naipaul’s writing anymore because I find his politics loathsome. In this case, he is ‘coming home’, so to speak. He is addressing the issues he feels about and I do not agree with, and there will be an opposite reaction from others. In an assignment where the topic is entirely different, I do not see the validity of such protocol.

Harvard is probably looking for an excuse to draw attention to the fissures in Indian, and subcontinental, politics. The West has courses on terrorism. India does not. Pakistan does not. Sri Lanka does not. Bangladesh does not. Nepal does not. That should tell us something.

As regards the good professor, one must always keep the salt shaker handy for Swamy’s stupidity.


8.12.11

Rehman Malik and Ghulam Nabi Fai: A Tale of Two


A mourner in Afghanistan

Is Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, insensitive or stupid? Neither. He is trapped in a controversy for saying:

"I had appealed to the Taliban that they should respect the Muharram. I am grateful to them that they respected the Muharram this time. This is a good thing."

What is so shocking? He is in charge of the home department in the country. It is no secret that the Taliban do target people in religious places, however absurd this may sound. So, when there is mass mourning during Ashura by the Shias with 177 processions and 900 gatherings, and 7000 security personnel are deployed, it is obviously a matter of some concern.

You talk to people, and that includes non-Shias, and they will tell you how the community has been targeted for years, even when the Taliban was not active.

Why, then, you might ask, does the minister have to thank the Taliban? Does it not amount to being grateful to an extremist group and therefore accepting its role in politics? If the Taliban is everywhere today in Pakistan, it is akin to appealing for peace in a difficult situation. He is not known to use language very well, but there is no way Pakistan can go along by alientating the Taliban completely.

Why is no one talking about the fact that he also lauded the role of the cops?

The fact that there were blasts in Afghanistan killing 59 people is a sad reminder that the two countries have been divided. In fact, there are murmurs that the attacks were orchestrated from Pakistan’s border areas. At one time, the whole Pashtun community was one.

This is not only about shrines or even minorities anymore than it has been for a long time. Countries that have the misfortune of outsourcing their security will have to deal with insurgencies that damage their own society and people.

- - -

Ghulam Nabi Fai has admitted that the ISI was funding him “to influence US policy on Kashmir”:

“For the last 20 years, Mr. Fai secretly took millions of dollars from Pakistani intelligence and lied about it to the US government,” said US Attorney Neil MacBride. “As a paid operative of ISI, he did the bidding of his handlers in Pakistan while he met with US elected officials, funded high-profile conferences, and promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”

Right. Now, what will the US do about those policy makers after they pronounce the verdict on Mr. Fai on March 9?

Will they do the boogey-woogey with Pakistan? Will we know how the innocent policy makers were taken for a ride? And will they show us the money and tell us just how they were influenced and how did they act upon it?

We seem to excel at looking at the curst and not reaching the core. Here are two bits from my earlier piece:

Did the ISI do it? Possible. Did Mr. Fai use this money? Possible. Was the FBI unaware about it all these years? Not possible.

and

It would be a pity if due to the ISI angle, the real issues will be pushed aside. America has the arsenal to deal with the ISI, but does it have the will? If Mr. Fai is a front, then why only name the ISI people and not the Congressmen who knew what they were expected to lobby for? Culpability in this case lies across the board. It is utterly ridiculous to make this sound like a terrorist plot when the monies have been traced and people of some stature have been consistently raising the Kashmir issue, not just abroad but at home.


Mona Lisa in the Lion's Den



I always suspected that Mona Lisa was a bit of a wild cat. Something to do with the Cheshire cat smile. Oh, I know, it has been analysed to death – from toothache to the pleasure of labour pains to muscle dystrophy to sucking on a lozenge. Okay, that’s not been explored yet. Anyhow, New York artist Ron Piccirillo is a guy I’d like to go on a safari with. It is so difficult to spot tigers in the wild, and I am quite certain that he will. He can see them. Just like that.

Piccirillo has transformed a yawn moment into something exciting. Leonardo da Vinci’s subject is surrounded by animals, he believes. Most people look at paintings as they are meant to be, but our artist here turned it horizontally and found a leopard, an ape, a buffalo and even a crocodile or snake right near the subject’s right shoulder. I suppose da Vinci maintained an element of delicacy and refrained from painting Mona Lisa horizontally.

I have tried to notice all those animals and it is the lady who seems the most beastly, because she is primal. Those other figures look like mushroom clouds to me.

But let it not be said that Piccirillo has not attempted an indepth analysis. What started as a “Geez, that kinda looks familiar” moment has turned out to possess some history.

7.12.11

Never bog-ged down



I just love this…flowers and ribbons to inaugurate a toilet. Only in India. Thane got its first electronic automatic public toilet (e-toilet) with computerised flushing, electricity, and water storage capacity in a 45 sg ft area.

I do not know if there is any special e-facility to figure out what to do when some of us squat atop the pot rather than sit on it. For a two-rupee coin, it could become a bit of a curiosity, and wonder whether there is a time limit, for each time that there is a heave-ho, there could then be a lot of water and power wastage.

But you bet, if you go by this picture, wherever we Indians are we come out smelling of roses. 

6.12.11

Blind

Without Hope by Frida Kahlo
It was an ordinary mark. A brown spot on the inside of the arm. Was it new or had it been there for long. Today it looked larger, browner and not just a mark on skin. It seemd more like a burn, but it did not hurt. I started scraping it with my nails. The loose skin or piece of wart would not come off. But my nail marks remained.

December 6. Wart or nail mark?

19 years ago. No media frenzy. Nothing to discuss. There is no Lakhvi, no Kasab. The culprits could well be ruling us. Again. As they did earlier, after the demolition.

Chilman ke peechhe
Awaazon ke neeche
Dab jaayegi haqeeqat

These are a few translated lines from the poem I wrote nine years later.

I had recorded the English original in 2008. The podcast is here.


Blind

Curtains drawn
Other humming sounds
Gag reality
Nature flourishes outside
My balcony is a carpet
Of green leaves
The railings soggy with rancid dew
Paint has peeled
Revealing a pockmarked patchy visage of wood
The glass has developed a deep crack
Injuring the winds knocking on the pane

There are injured looks
Frightened souls
What if?
What if the day repeats itself?
What if people get imprisoned in their homes?
No one asks about those who have no homes

They ask me my name
And make me walk down guilt lane
I can brandish a sword
Aim the barrel of a gun
Claw at someone's flesh
But the knife has been blunted
The gun is rusty
Nails are already filled
With my own scraped skin

The slow rumblings of conscience
Have formed dents in the floor
Red-faced anger
Makes place for red-faced shame
It looks like a canvas I have slashed
Painted with my blood

I fall into a slumber of broken thoughts
Hammering noises wake me up
Asking for retribution
Haven’t I damned myself enough
With ruptured veins
And torrents of pain?

I gather a drop of wayward tear on my finger
And hold it against the light
It grows into a bubble
Everything floats in it

The city
Drowned in ennui
Nudged out of comforters
The city
Of lost dreams
In pipes
The city
Where laughter is a challenge
A technique
The city
Where slums have numbers
Yet when they are destroyed there are no figures
The city
That sells its angst to the highest bidder
And buys its own tragedy as a souvenir

There are cities
That live within us
And breathe their last
Wearing oxygen masks

The tear bubble on my finger has evaporated
Sorrow is bone dry
It is time to pull out my eyes
There is nothing left to see

~FV

(This appeared in the January 2009 issue of Verve)