31.7.12

A CounterPuncher Forever...

 
“Alexander Cockburn no more” would sound like a terrible headline. The reality of it is as biting as his prose. To think that I just got to know about his death early today shook me up a little more. I crumble easily and almost did. The ‘almost’ worked because every word of his obit on Christopher Hitchens still haunts. To many it was either blasphemous or an excoriating take on a man on a self-indulgent pulpit. I saw it as Alex’s honesty towards his ideas. The subject’s demise would not alter that.

I have gone through a few memorial pieces in respected mainstream publications. "Radical", "iconoclast" are the running themes. It is true he took no prisoners. It is true, and I say this from my experience, that he welcomed whatever skirted the beaten path. One day, about five years ago, when I came in from miles away and got accepted, he and Jeffrey St. Clair made me realise that CounterPunchers was a community.

There are several reasons to respect him for his hard-hitting work, but he was also aware of limits in certain areas. He did not carry one article I sent. He owed me no explanation, but he did. It was about sensitivities. I was surprised, even shocked. The good thing is it was not to coddle up to some commercial enterprise.

There was another piece he carried – an account by his nephew about his battle with schizophrenia. It appeared in the weekend edition and in his diary Alex introduced it. This, to me, is as honest as taking on the system and speaking of truths that are sought to be hidden away.

While he was open to different thoughts, he was human enough to have his own biases. How could we not expect it of one with such strong opinions?

He called his readers a “communicative lot”, forwarded emails that complained to him about publishing me, but expressed genuine happiness when some pieces “got around”. The people who have corresponded with me have been from varied fields based on the different subjects I wrote on – from scientists to academics, from fanatics to the faithful to atheists, from purists to adventurers, from the prurient to sexual libertarians (and, yes, some who wooed). They do not need an open forum.

That is the reason CP is not a journal. It is a movement. I differ with those who talk about it being non-mainstream. This is what the mainstream should be like. I’ve written for a whole range of publications and websites, and know the difference.

“Please ask your web team to fix it,” I had said in one of my emails about a broken link.

“Le ‘Web Team’, c'est Jeffrey. There's just the two of us. Best A,” was the reply.

So shall it always be…the two of them. And a bunch of writers and readers bound by questioning minds.

- - -

I do not know what world I occupy to be so unaware. Here is Jeffrey's piece:  Farewell, Alex, my friend

29.7.12

Sunday ka Funda

“OBSESSED, p.p. Vexed by an evil spirit, like the Gadarene swine and other critics. Obsession was once more common than it is now. Arasthus tells of a peasant who was occupied by a different devil for every day in the week, and on Sundays by two. They were frequently seen, always walking in his shadow, when he had one, but were finally driven away by the village notary, a holy man; but they took the peasant with them, for he vanished utterly. A devil thrown out of a woman by the Archbishop of Rheims ran through the trees, pursued by a hundred persons, until the open country was reached, where by a leap higher than a church spire he escaped into a bird. A chaplain in Cromwell's army exorcised a soldier's obsessing devil by throwing the soldier into the water, when the devil came to the surface. The soldier, unfortunately, did not.”

- Ambrose Bierce

28.7.12

Pakistan's Conversion Circus: Missing the woods for the tree

Sunil on his way to Abdullah

Pakistani society has one more reason to get agitated. A Hindu boy has converted to Islam in front of a live television audience. Sunil became Muhammad Abdullah.

I’d like to take up the editorial in Dawn to show just how this limited concern works.

"In yet another example of how the industry's commercial goals trump ethics, open-mindedness and common sense, on Tuesday a television show broadcast an imam leading a Hindu boy through a live conversion to Islam carried out in the studio as part of the show, complete with the audience joining in to suggest Muslim names for the new convert.

"There is no reason to think the boy was not converting of his own free will, but the whole event had the distinct air of being carried out to give viewers something new and different to watch, even if that meant dragging an intensely personal and spiritual experience into public view.”

This is like suggesting that it is quite nice to carve your meat at a fine dining table, but don’t let us see the butcher’s shop. There is as much ethics in what the paper says as the bleeding rites of passage. I have always maintained my anti-conversion stand, and in this case I might be interested to know a couple of things if ethics is an issue:

  1. This is reality TV. Participants on such shows are paid. Was the boy paid to appear on the show or to convert?
  2. If he was doing it of his own free will, then the question is not about conversion but about the involvement of imams, who object to entertainment programmes. 
  3. Is it not the job of the media to investigate about the motives of the boy – where is he from, what are his reasons, instead of replaying clips?

Sitting on a high horse has become part of the media culture. Editorials are passing judgments and trying to ‘convert’ people into thinking in ways they deem fit all the time, taking political sides, writing treacly pieces on leaders.


Maya Khan in an earlier stint


The host of the ARY show is Maya Khan, who is seen as an Islamist. It is interesting that actress Veena Malik was supposed to host a Ramzan programme and it was vetoed by the mullahs in Pakistan. Did anyone among the liberals question the ethics of someone like the controversial lady hosting such a show? Was it not to grab eyeballs? Would it not be as bad as mullahs looking beady-eyed over a conversion? What are the ethics about having such shows at all in a country that is constantly discussing religious resurgence and its ill-effects?

Who is to decide what form of religion should be portrayed? If you want a Veena Malik type show, then someone else might find a Maya Khan entertaining. Did not Ms. Malik become the hero of a section of the nation when she took on some mullahs on a channel a couple of years ago for her right to expose her body and perform live canoodle scenes? She suddenly became the ambassador of the nation, of liberal Islam, of a fight for modernity.

These are all circus acts, and one does not expect better from reality television and that includes news channels. Part of the hot air is possibly because this is a competitive game, where ethics are the flakes of pistachio on the phirni, not an ingredient. This is borne out by the fact that the editorial is worried about how just to spice things up “religion is now fair game too”.

Talat Hussain, who hosts a political show on private television channel Dawn News, said:

“Think about how Muslims would feel if Buddhists in Burma show a Muslim being converted on a live TV show.”

If this is not spicy and sensational, then what is?

Religion always has been fair game. Why get pedantic about it in a country that relays every religious detail, and “spiritualism” is sold at shrines, as CDs? And just for the information of those who do not know, conversion is not a private matter. The decision to convert might be, but the individual has to perform certain rituals to show that s/he belongs. The whole reason behind it is often social acceptability or pressure.

Question that. But it would not get as much attention, does not give those expressing anger a primetime slot.

It is surprising to read this:

"more disturbingly, what the channel obviously didn't stop to consider is the message this broadcast would send to the country's minorities…The joy with which the conversion was greeted, and the congratulations that followed, sent a clear signal that other religions don't enjoy the same status in Pakistan as Islam does. In a country where minorities are already treated as second-class citizens in many ways, this served to marginalise them even further”

Who has made a noise about this? Where are the minority groups? It is not about the message a television show sends out. Pakistanis do not live in and off studios. The country’s laws discriminate against minorities.

Can anyone file a petition against the channel? Will it change anything? How many Pakistanis have the courage to flaunt their agnosticism/atheism, if that is their proclivity?

In a moment of perfect coordination, it would appear – and that showcases the hypocrisy – President Asif Ali Zardari has formally invited PM Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan:

Zardari suggested that if Singh’s visit coincided with Guru Nanak's birth anniversary in November, it would be well received by the Pakistani people and reinforce the desire of both countries to promote inter-religious harmony.

Is this not misuse of religion? Do India and Pakistan need to promote inter-religious harmony? At least, India does not need Pakistan for that. And this is being hailed by the same media that has been frothing at the mouth over a conversion. Weren’t Sikhs beheaded in that country not too long ago?

India has enough of its own problems with different religions and sects and castes. But I dread to think what would happen if we had an Ahmadi Prime Minister. Would President Zardari extend an invitation to celebrate anything and promote inter-religious harmony, when the community is ostracised socially and politically?

Perhaps one of the ‘ethical’ people of Pakistan might like to convert to the Ahmadiya faith on public television and send out a strong message?

If you cannot do that, then a coat of varnish is not going to change the shakiness of the walls.

(c) Farzana Versey

India shortchanging Olympians?


We want our contingent at the Olympics to go for gold. Yet, if reports are to be believed, the players are complaining about their kits. The shorts are too tight, the sleeves too long, something is short, something missing.

More noise was made about Amitabh Bachchan carrying the torch, and other celebrities rooting for causes. The Olympics are not about activism and such celebrity involvement. It is a shame that the celebs who are using the huge forum for their concerns would not cough up money for the players.

The Olympics Association of India gave the contract to the best bidder, Dida. The largest Indian contingent ever (89 players) has been invested with kits amounting to Rs. 50 lakh. This is what one of our pampered cricketers make for attending an inauguration ceremony or endorsing a product.

On the one hand we talk about privatising, and yet when it comes to something so crucial we don’t have problems about exposing our inadequacies. I am glad the players are talking about it, although they should have done so before they left. Yet, it is not too late.

If money is the problem, then get rid a of a few officials who will be sitting in some comfortable hotel room, going sightseeing, and travelling back in comfort. That money should be used for the kits.

But then who really cares?

And if the ad above is an indication, then Samsung as partner can surely contribute for our “heroes”. Let us glitter, even if it is not gold.

27.7.12

N.D.Tiwari's Fatherhood



It's blaring everywhere. One would think that N.D.Tiwari has been declared the Father of the Nation. Yes, the DNA test has proved that he is the biological parent of Rohit Shekhar.

This was a personal matter. But, now the Congress will be shamed and the opposition will use it. It's a small step from sperm 'bank' to vote bank.

My views on the subject are not in keeping with either prevalent morality or sanctimonious sympathy. Rohit Shekhar is no underdog.

Earlier he said that he was not illegimate, it was Tiwari who was. Fair enough.

Now, after the judgement, he declares, "I am not illegimate. I have a father."

He has a mother, too, and a step father who his mother was married to when she conceived him with Mr. Tiwari. Let us not talk about morality.

If Rohit Shekhar wanted legitimacy, then a public spectacle was not the best route to take. However, typically, expect the media to shreak and shed tears about justice at last. TRPs will get a rise. India shagging.

- - -

For a detailed look, my previous piece:

Sons and Lovers: N D Tiwari's DNA

26.7.12

Sexism and slang


Sexist jokes are vile and unacceptable. However, I object to a study that uses this yardstick to understand whether women fit in under these circumstances.

A Melbourne Business School report found that companies lack strategy to tackle "low level sexism" despite having policies in place that target "overt" sexual harassment.

The risk factors of sexism, sexual harassment and gender stereotyping were found to be key characteristics of male-dominated work environments, in industries such as natural sciences, engineering, medicine, police forces, military forces, information technology, law firms and financial services.

I find it curious that the entertainment industry is not included. This reveals how even feministic ideas do not pay attention to what they probably consider a ‘lesser’ profession. Do models and movie actresses permit sexism due to the nature of their jobs, which often objectifies them?

This would be hypothetical. With exceptions, what role do women play in the military and police forces? Besides the jokes, they are discriminated against anyway. In other fields, it depends on societal factors. The manner in which women are expected to perform is itself discriminatory, and many of them are partially to blame when they use terms like being better than men or like men, when they try to mimic men with power dressing.

It is the business of organisations to ensure that all their staff are not the recipients of jibes – be they sexist, racial religious, or physical.

The part about such a study that bothers me is it works as a trap and belittles women while seemingly rationalising how to empower them.

“If women feel they do not fit in or are not accepted as equals they are less likely to stay in their role or in the organisation.”

This gives the impression that women are weak and cannot fit in. The onus is put on them, instead of those who use sexist language. A workplace is not a cocoon. These are professional women who have gone to college, used public transport, interacted at small jobs, and with paternalistic family members and patronising well-wishers. They watch films and television; listen to music, read the papers. They are not ignorant about such slang. It is rather insulting to assume that what men say in passing would make them give up their careers. (I might add here that one is not talking about stalkers or dangerous characters out to destroy a woman.)

And if blonde jokes are so offensive, then why do women go and colour their hair light? Are there no successful blondes, or will someone have the gumption to say it is only because gentlemen prefer them? 

By suggesting a “no just joking” policy, the bullying will not stop. Perhaps such studies should try and find out why bosses deny women equal pay and equal opportunities.

Such attempts at bridging the gender gap are merely cosmetic. It is the warts that need to be extricated.

Noose for Modi?

The whole of India’s media is abuzz because Narendra Modi said, “Hang me if I am guilty”. This “candid interview” was given to Samajwadi Party MP Shahid Siddiqui, who is also in the news. It is interesting that he says the idea for the interview was hatched with some friends like Salim Khan and Mahesh Bhatt. No wonder Modi played the Bollywood plot.

Much is being made about this appearing in an Urdu daily, Nayi Duniya. What is so surprising? Urdu is one of the official languages of India, and it has little to do with Gujarat.

Modi and Siddiqui are entitled to their PR exercises, but this yogic meditation is absurd. Is Modi saying this to the Supreme Court? For all you know, he might be using this as a swipe against the new President who might have to entertain a mercy petition should such a sentence ever be pronounced. Modi has not dirtied his own hands, so this sort of declamation is just so much noise.

What we must take note of is the clause that if he is proved innocent the media should apologise for tarnishing his image. What exactly does this mean? Is he only concerned about his image? Is the media India? Even if some in the media do apologise, it does not count. He is answerable to the people of Gujarat, to the people of India.

And to those who think that giving an interview to an Urdu daily amounts to trying to win over Muslims, please do not forget the pamphlets that were distributed in the state in the local language against them, their culture, and a call to boycott their businesses. This man now talks about development of Gujarat when in 2002 a whole section of the population’s development was sought to be derailed, at a time when so many had lost earning members of their families, whose houses were destroyed.

Shahid Siddiqui and his band of filmi boys can go drum up a frenzy about this, and make it seem like he has done a huge favour, but if Narendra Modi has to apologise to anyone it is the people of his state, irrespective of whether he is personally guilty or not. All this happened when he was in charge and the noose was on his people.

Talk about hanging seems so churlish, if not insensitive, in the context.

24.7.12

Wear and tear: Who will bell the khaps?

The man, briefcase in hand, seemed to be in a rush. Yet, rather loudly, he passed a lewd comment. I managed a feeble “Shut up”, and even then more eyes turned towards me than him. It took me by surprise because it was at what is considered a sophisticated place. My reaction immediately after that was to check if my clothes were exposing anything. Was I bending at that time? If I accept my right to dress up the way I want to, then can I stop someone from commenting on it? Are there levels of acceptable comments?

This was a few days ago, around the time when young women in Baghpat were being told not to wear jeans, step out of the house after sunset and use mobile phones. It is not the first time we are hearing about this in India, although quite typically the blinkered mainstream media calls it a Taliban-like diktat! Even if it is not stated, there are nuanced family edicts that almost everyone follows. The strapless gowns too are in ‘restricted’ areas.


I don’t know what is worse. Some khap panchayat issuing diktats about what women should wear or television channels ostensibly conducting serious liberal discussions that end up as fancy dress competitions by women. Both draw attention to the woman as ‘model’, manifestations of another self.

On a recent show, NDTV's Big Fight, a village woman spoke up for tradition and how there must be restrictions. Her grand-daughter wore salwaar-kameez and believed that Indians do not need to become westernised. Pooja Bedi, who used to host a rather nice talk show wearing tantalising stuff irrespective of who her guests were, decided to dress up in Indian clothes this time. She spoke about how she wore different garments at different places and nobody had the right to touch her because of that. True. But, why did she opt to wear a salwaar kameez for this show and then challenged the young small-town girl that she was showing her arms and had moved away from tradition?

This is most certainly not evolution of tradition, as was argued, which is a vast area and has to do with attitude more than clothes. A woman wearing a bikini at the beach is normal for the urban woman, but she too might be stared at and have people comment. I have seen women in sarees on a weekend outing giggle and say rude things to those in beachwear, so it is not restricted to gender. Are all these women brainwashed by men? I think that would be an arrogant presumption.

There are questions as to why women’s dress matters more than men’s. Female clothing has been socialised because it is seen as the second skin, so to speak. There is one aspect about what a woman wears and the other is how what she wears is viewed. Is it legitimate or fair? This is where I find some arguments puerile, one of them being: But women don’t molest men because of what they wear.

Feminism does a disservice by even raising such a question, for it buffers the clothing idea. Someone said that women get raped whether they wear jeans, sarees or burqas. While this is true, I find such assertions disgusting. It seems to suggest that it will happen anyway so why stop women from wearing what they might want to. Instead of making the covered-up woman into an object of derision, despite what may be considered regressive views, we must understand that we cannot reduce the debate.

Why was there no talk about why the diktat was applicable to women under 40, when there are cases of older women, even octogenarians, being raped? Why no talk about the restrictions on love marriages, which is also a matter of choice and has greater social ramifications?

The problem is that dredges of these edicts make the urban media feel superior. Now that the North East has become a mandatory token, there was a participant from Manipur. She wore an off-shoulder half saree, which is their traditional dress. She told us that the older village woman had chided her for wearing torn clothes and being semi-naked before the show began. Personally, I can see how offensive it is. Socially, I am quite certain many of us remark on those who cover their heads and wear what their custom demands. The Manipuri lady would not be wearing her traditional clothes everyday or even often enough, but she chose to do so for the TV show.

How then are we to get out of this trap of what women should wear or not wear when we make it into an issue? Do these TV channels go to those places to follow-up on their liberal views and see that people get justice? Or is this one more commercial enterprise to keep the garment and mobile phones industry thriving? It is not surprising that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav chose to assure the media at a FICCI interaction:

“Whatever should happen should happen for the betterment of society. I firmly believe that no one has the right to curb anyone's freedom.”

It is rather surprising that the Home Minister P. Chidambaram now speaks out:

“Dictates (or diktats) have no place in democracy. Police must act against anyone giving dictates.”

Why is he quiet about the Deoband fatwas, then? There is no need to politicise the issue. It is not about democracy, for we know that these same panchayats will be approached for votes. This is a subject of an individual’s right to liberty, and should someone file a case the police ought to take action. It is the same police that look at women victims like objects.

(c) Farzana Versey

18.7.12

Zindagi ka safar: Rajesh Khanna

He did not have screaming fans, yet the frenzy was unparalleled. Is unparalleled. Rajesh Khanna was not the first superstar. He was the only real one Hindi cinema has produced. He was not a durbari or a durbar. He knew the value of keeping that little distance. 

He had no muscles, no abs. He had a pimply skin. He was not tall. He did not have a great voice. Yet. It is that yet...that undefinable aura that made every strand of his hair worthy of emulation. His 'guru' shirts started a trend. Many actors have trends to their credit, so I'd say this was just an occupational bonus in his case. 

To even suggest that Amitabh Bachchan and he were rivals is disingenuous. Bachchan's formula had method - from the angry man to the drunken scenes to the comedic moments. Khanna's acting, even though heavily stylised, did not seem to have any plan. Bachchan may be seen as a pitashri; Khanna was a combination of Arjuna and Duryodhana, and Krishna too. There was an element of narcissism. Which is why the women married his photograph, applied the dust his car passed over as sindoor in the parting of their hair. I have witnessed one kissing his car, her obeisance so complete. They were all Meera; he their unattainable lord, an image, an idol. 

It is, therefore, interesting that he married the teenager who used to stand outside the gate of his bungalow Aashirwaad. Of course, Dimple Kapadia had shot to fame with her debut in 'Bobby', but she gave it all up for the idol. Like all such alliances, it was tumultuous. Rajesh Khanna could not be anything else but Rajesh Khanna. The famous chamchas surrounded him, people who fed his ego and led him to believe that his life was not his own. 

Yet. It is that 'yet' that takes us to how the couple, though separated, continued to be together in many ways. Neither compromised or faked happiness. 

The reason for this personal look is because his stardom cannot be parodied. It lacked affectation, and was intrinsic. The persona and the person became one. 

There are too many roles, too many films to remember. I would not box him into the “romantic hero” category. What about the 'Patch Adams' like cook in 'Bawarchi'? Or the criminal in 'Raaz'? While in and as 'Anand' he made the life of a cancer-stricken patient live after death, for me his character in 'Amar Prem' epitomises true love. Here, he was so much like Devdas - trapped in an unhappy marriage, he finds solace and companionship with a courtesan. The sensuality is unspoken, despite her profession. They do not romance; they share. No dream sequences. Nothing. 

It is a love that endures, and the physical distance means little as they meet again when the hair's turned grey and the gait has slowed down. He still hated tears. 

Rajesh Khanna. Now in another world. 

And the perennial questions of life that his character asks:

"yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua, kyon hua, jab hua, tab hua
O chhodo, yeh na socho..."


(Why did this happen, when, what, it had its time...think not about these now...)

13.7.12

When faith causes fissures

Can religion make couples drift apart? It would seem so, and the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise divorce has put this in the public arena, although other factors might well have played a role.

"There's a gorilla in the room, and it's Scientology," said a famous attorney. It is about control, apparently. They control Tom and how he proceeds with major decisions in his life.

Other things aside, including Hollywood fame, belief systems do indeed interfere in personal interactions. If they are of an intimate nature, and have far-reaching social dimensions that involve familial ties, then there is little hope for a couple to live in a bubble.

The fact is that Katie immediately reconverted to her Catholic faith and was welcomed back into the church. Is she looking for moral validation for her act? Does the congregation make her feel less isolated? Is it a form of purging from an 'outcast' cult that she seemed to have been forced into tolerating?

She and Tom got married through the Church of Scientology. It follows a completely different set of rules. Was love so overpowering that she did not think about what it entailed? If, as reports suggest, she lived under a supposedly controlled situation, then how much of it is due to Scientology and how much because of his greater fame, his age, and the general patriarchal nature of most male-female relationships?

Besides, no religion can be interpreted in truly feminist or pro-woman terms. We may find a few needles in the haystack about progressive women, empowered women. But it is largely a man's club.

One would have thought that a quasi religion, that relies on psychology and marketing, might have sought to break through stereotypes. But, it is offering itself as an alternative. It isn't an 'unfaith'. It seems to simulate a belief system with greater ritualistic fervour. There is talk of hypnosis. All religions rely on it, although less obviously so. Only because L. Ron Hubbard, the founder, did not hear voices or fought for his people does not as a consequence make him less of a prophet to the followers. Instead of emotion, the appeal is rational. Katie was treated like a robot. Did daughter Suri togged up in designer wear become an automaton, programmed to be a label even as she wore some?

This is an intriguing thought: Is faith itself robotic? Many religions rely on the emotive nature to lure the masses (blind love?), yet talk about the practical nature of practices or their symbolic value. Staunch believers are not unlike spouses; the purpose seems to be to keep the house in order and perpetuate the lineage, to consider only one god as supreme - polytheism too uses a godhead with others as offshoots, somewhat like offspring - and to face the consequences of any sort of disloyalty. Blasphemy is like adultery. Marriage is, after all, an institution.

Similarly, other ideologies too can mess up relationships, unless there is complete fealty towards the same belief or a submergence of individual identity into that of the human god/goddess/thought leader along with an unseen power.

It is a pity that people do not consider this aspect when they decide to marry. For what you believe in, non-belief too qualifies, affects behavior, attitude, social norms. Suspension of disbelief works more for reality than for fiction.

11.7.12

Sangma hoga ke nahin....



The two Presidential nominees are going door-to-door appealing to parties and ministers to vote for them.

P.A. Sangma seems to have come into his own, but that could be a smart appearance with canny backing. Let us not forget he had a forgettable stint as Lok Sabha speaker. It is fair enough that Congress candidate Pranab Mukherjee is challenged, although a consensus would be more in keeping with the post. However, Mr.Sangma, even if he is not elected, will have made a few unfortunate points:

  • The post is a sop (he has pushed his adivasi status)
  • The post is used for regional gains (quite suddenly, everything North East has become quite in, without any real proactive measures being announced)
  • The post is being seen as an alternative

Here, Mr. Sangma has been cutting:

"Whatever problem is there in the country today, the price rise problem, the GDP growth rate problem, the FDI problem, petrol price problem, Finance Minister is to be responsible, for which he is to be dumped. And unfortunately, Raisina Hill has become a dumping ground. It is unfortunate for India.”
There is a belief that Mr. Mukherjee is being ’elevated’ for this reason. Surely, he could be moved to another portfolio? There is no compulsion to keep him happy.

The dumping ground theory might turn out to be ironical if Mr. Sangma wins. What happens to Pranabda? Will it be a loss of face for the Congress or a victory for those opposing his selection? Would P A Sangma come out as the underdog?

Not quite. He too would be the ‘dumped’ by those who need a puppet. The BJP, BJD, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the AIADMK – importantly from different regions – are supporting him, or rather challenging Mukherjee. He is trying to get the support of the NCP as well as the Shiv Sena. About the possibility of getting to meet Bal Thackeray, the final deciding force in his party, he said:

"Not everything in politics happens through meetings. Like you (media) have channels, we also have several channels."
This is unfortunate. Worse, with so much bad blood, emotional blackmail, and appealing to varied instincts, will we get a president who will not be partisan?

And should Mukherjee get there, will the other political parties, as well as those who have read and taken Sangma seriously, respect him and the position he holds and not look on him as a castaway?

I wish it were an open ballot. The least a democracy deserves to know is the person who might be at the very least in charge of dealing with death penalties is not elected by specific ministerial huddles for personal gains.

10.7.12

Unburying Arafat


Yasser Arafat's body will be exhumed. He was poisoned, they say. Besides the rather obviousness of the suspicion, for those who follow Middle East politics there is something quite intriguing about the timing. 

It's been eight years. Mahmoud Abbas took over. Hamas became the other force, with the 'legal' Palestinian Authority looking for spoils from the UN. It became a wonderful opportunity for mediators and peace-makers to ask the precious question: Who do we speak to? 

The fractured identity always poses an opportunity. Palestine has, however, been an outcast even where Arab nations are concerned. 

So, where does Arafat's poisoning theory come into the picture? 

He was under virtual house arrest. There was reason enough to inquire into his death then. Let us not forget that several attempts had been made to kill him. His miraculous survival was part luck and part careful strategy. No one knew where he was headed, and he altered his plans often. 

His 'immortality' was an important aspect of the Palestinian issue. He had to be invincible; his fallibility was but a charming expression of offering the “olive branch” that angered many within Palestine. But he was no moderate, not if you look at his successor. He refused to bend. There is every reason for his death to have been executed with surgical precision, 

According to a report:

"Switzerland’s Institute of Radiation Physics detected elevated traces of polonium-210 — a rare and highly lethal substance — on the belongings, but said the findings were inconclusive and that Arafat’s bones would have to be tested to get a clearer answer."

I fail to understand how a recognised lethal substance can render the findings inconclusive. It is also amazing that there are circuitous references to Israel. Is there a possibility to nudge that Israel might have nothing to do with it at all? Hillary Clinton, while refusing to speculate on "rumours" about the poisoning is scheduled to visit Israel to discuss, among other things, Middle East peace efforts. 

Here the timing of the revelations become important. The Arab nations are in a state of flux. There are civil wars. Does Palestine qualify as a civil war? This is putting the cat among the pigeons. A convenient thing to do. No leader to be thrown out, therefore bring in a ghost. 

Eight years later, it transpires that a section of the world might want Palestine to be a little more Arab, a little more diffused. Take the attention away from the West Bank to a buried man. Exhume his body and conduct an autopsy even as the scientists are not so sure about whodunnit. The people would object to it on religious grounds, but there is also fealty to a leader. 

Ultimately, what really will be exposed? A substance. The purpose is cosmetic. Cosmetics work well as masks. 

8.7.12

Sunday ka Funda

"There's a place that I know
It's not pretty there and few have ever gone
If I show it to you now
Will it make you run away
Or will you stay
Even if it hurts
Even if I try to push you out
Will you return?
And remind me who I really am
Please remind me who I really am
Everybody's got a dark side"


3.7.12

Domestic violence, pesticides, alcoholism: Half Truths-Satyamev Jayate

SMJImpact is a typically superficial and arrogant assumption that a television show has made a huge difference. We titter when any of the private channels, star anchors and even newspapers claim to expose cases. We raise doubts over sting operations. We question cops, soldiers, government officials and ministers even when there is palpable change. In fact, we do not see any impact when cases are cracked, when terrorists are stopped, when bore wells appear in villages or panchayats solve issues or women in rural areas form protection groups or become part of the cooperative movements. We do not care to see anything positive in political initiatives. 

We are right to a large extent. We say these are for votes, these are sops, these are tokenisms, these are drops in the ocean. 

When did Aamir Khan become the ocean? Is Satyamev Jayate really having any impact? Don't we know of how corporate groups ensure that the 'good work' they are involved with gets enough publicity? It would be foolish to imagine that change is taking place. A film star host has become the marketing vehicle for different causes, not unlike Bill Gates. Except that Bill Gates forks out his own money. However, philanthropy is never a free lunch. 

I did not write about the past three episodes. As I said the last time, one is not opposing everything. It is the stance that bothers me, and how a section of society helps in propagating it as the ultimate truth. If you need such a show to even know that domestic violence exists or to buy the one-dimensional view of the use of pesticides, then it is more sad than shocking. 

Let me recap my views on a couple of aspects:




Domestic violence, we all agree, is a serious issue. It is not only about being battered. There are other aspects, and mental cruelty is considered a legitimate ground for divorce. Again, the emphasis was on show and tell, giving it a vicarious tinge. Also, while it is essential that women are self-sufficient, the law has some provisions. A TV show has no business to expect a superwoman to be manufactured in the studio. One of them said that after taking a beating from her husband for years, one fine day she slapped him and that put an end to the torture. The sound byte here was that you have to take that step when it first starts. That's not how it works. The first time a person does not see it as the beginning of something horrible. People are used to being hit by parents, so this is seen as another paternal figure. 

At this point, I must commend activist Kamla Bhasin who explained the patriarchal construct. 

The show now follows a pattern of bringing in one or two well-heeled cases to tell people like us that people like us also suffer. The host dramatises the moment by starting off with, “So, we think this happens among the poor, uneducated? No." And then he shakes his head, sighs, and brings on a lady with blow-dried hair/lipstick/jewellery. There are so many stereotypes here already, and it is rather insulting to both women because they are put in these boxes and the only thing that 'identifies' them are scars of a kind. 



Pesticides are bad. But, Mr Khan should have asked his audience to put up their hands, as he does in school master style, whether they use mosquito repellants, DDT, and other sprays in the house. This was, of course, a show on pesticides in food, but he did begin by discussing how many women cook, go to the market to purchase their veggies. Yes, only women. 

Do you trust the organic lobby? I am as confused about its intent as other packaged foods. In what appeared to be a truly revealing expos√© on the use of pesticide, and I must confess  that much as I like the natural I have been disappointed with the 'movement', what we got was just one aspect. The host demonised one manufacturer, and it became a joke. How much did his audience know about organic farming? It is not only about paying a bit more. The organic product lobby caters to the ostensibly aware segment. They are supposed to be either rich or concerned about health, the latter has become a big money-making industry. 

Unless grown in personal terraces or gardens using natural manure, nothing is without chemical traces if produced in bulk for the market. Fungicides are used in organic farming. It is a question of degree of how noticeable traces. 

I am sure there are health benefits, but not unless you wash these as well. Do not assume that what you get in healthy packages is always clean. But people lap this up. A little study will tell you some nasty truths. 

We are just not into that. It was pretty disgusting that the show started with a researcher telling us about how she found pesticide residue in mother's milk, because the woman had consumed non-organic food. I wonder how all those women with silicone implants would react! Honestly, there is too much of a good thing. 



I have not watched the episode on alcohol abuse. Lyricist Javed Akhtar was one of the guests and spoke about his battle with alcoholism. 

However, let me recount a conversation with an expat. She is impressed with the show. I am not surprised. 

"Imagine, Aamir Khan got a respected man like Javed Akhtar to speak about alcoholism," she said. 

"And he must have been feted for being frank, fearless, bringing the curse out in the open, opening the eyes of people..."

"It does. You realise how bad it is."

"You don't read the papers? You don't know of people who are addicted to drink? There were others too."

"But this is someone we identify with."

"What about Mr. Akhtar do you identify with? You are from disparate worlds."

"He is from the glamour industry, so it takes courage to come out and admit it."

"Sau choohe khake billi Haj ko chalee...anyhow, I read an article that quoted him where he said that drinking makes a person three things: 'ghinoney (filthy), gadhey (an ass), or both'."

"See, alcohol makes you like that too," said the lady.

"I don't think you need to be an alcoholic for that."

She is part of the "dream response" that has made Mr. Aamir Khan opt for another season. Obviously, he would not have done so unless he was "convinced", "moved", "sensitised". I should hope a lot of people discover life and different sorts of people, finally. And they can recall real people with similar issues. 

Perhaps, we will get to watch a show with more celebrities in confession mode. How about the philanthropy partner's bossman Mukesh Ambani on his chemical industries polluting the environment? Or, how babus are bought? 

Just a thought, for truth's sake.