30.8.12

Mind Your Language, Mr. Terrorist

Under the lens. Pic: MSNBC

If you walk into a New York restaurant and hear some people talking in Urdu, they could be terrorists. That is what NYPD wants you to believe.

It boggles the mind that after years of US occupation of Afghanistan, the city police have not figured out that the Taliban – assuming they are the biggest threat – do not speak in Urdu. If al Qaeda members are suspects, then Arabic is their chosen language. Besides, they are also targeting Bengali speakers. This effectively is then about a huge chunk of the South Asian population, some of who consider America not only their adopted but their first home.

It amounts to alienating immigrants who contribute considerably to society. Had this 'threat perception' originated in the mind of some rightwing punk, one would have seen it for what it is – a fringe group trying to elicit memories of 9/11. That it comes from Thomas Galati, the commanding officer of the New York police department’s elite intelligence division, is disturbing. He has formed an eight-member “demographic squad” that eavesdrops on conversations between Muslims in restaurants and stores in New York City, New Jersey and on Long Island.

“I’m using that information for me to determine that this would be a kind of place that a terrorist would be comfortable in. A potential terrorist could hide in here. Most Urdu speakers would be of concern.” In a casual manner he also added that Bengali-speaking people would be suspects too to determine where “I should face a threat of a terrorist and that terrorist is Bengali”.

Many of them are probably out for an evening meal with friends from their own country. They could converse in their language of origin because it is probably becoming rare to do so, unless it is with family members. I have Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi friends who live in New York and places in the vicinity. They are overarching Americans. It does not mean they won’t cook curries or speak the language of a home they left years ago. In fact, many of them struggle to ensure their children have some knowledge of their culture, often not succeeding.

Had the police department considered tourists as a threat, I would have seen this as extra cautiousness, more to soothe their own frayed nerves rather than those of the citizens.

Among the voices of protest is that of Attorney Jethro Eisenstein who has spoken about taking the Unit to court to stop its operations:

“This is a terribly pernicious set of policies. No other group since the Japanese Americans in World War II has been subjected to this kind of widespread public policy.”

Tactically, too, it is flawed. Do the cops think that terrorists have their meetings in restaurants and shops, carry a blueprint of their plans, and talk in Urdu or Bengali, thinking that no one will understand or suspect them? The police force undermines its reputation with this assumption. A terrorist could speak with an American drawl, the preferred language might be German, French, Spanish or English, and the person could be from anywhere, even Norway, you know.

Instead of trying to send out a positive message, a city like New York is being told to look out for anyone who does not sound like them, with specific languages mentioned. I wonder if Mr. Galati realises that his name is so Urdu-sounding. It is eerily similar to the most succulent kebab from a place where Urdu was considered tehzeeb (culture itself) – Lucknow’s galauti kebab.

How would Americans recognise Urdu or Bengali from, say, tens of others, if they have not been exposed to those? And suppose they do, will they keep casting backward glances as they dine to see what people at the next table are ordering – tikka masala, bingo! Whoever made it mainstream? – and call the cops? Would they stop in their tracks if they spot Urdu-speaking women at the store, especially if they are anywhere near the Victoria’s Secret aisle, which could be a sort of code word meeting point for potential terrorists who come from British colonies?

Paagalpan ki hadd hoti hai…These words would make me a suspect were I in New York, when all I am saying is there is a limit to madness.

(c) Farzana Versey

The Modi Amusement Perk via WSJ

...The CM on beauty consciousness, milk, democracy, makeover-ing out

Dear Wall Street Journal:

Those of us who are derisively referred to as Modi-baiters – which means he is a vulnerable fish – have called him devious, callous and such. But you have done what we failed to do – made him look rather foolish and, therefore, irrelevant.

Just for that, I thank you from the bottom of my soles. It’s been a long journey, and despite the declaration in your introduction that he is “widely considered a top contender for prime minister”, without any reference to the widely, we have had the delightful opportunity for a chuckle or two.

Let us keep a straight face for a while, like observing a moment’s silence, and read the sheer poetry as he weeps for the power grid failure in July that affected large parts of the country:

“The situation was immediately compared to Gujarat. The world saw so much darkness that even a flicker of light caught their attention.”

Who better than Mr. Modi to know that what flickers are also flames? But I am going into the fire before the frying pan. Here he is in Mother Teresa mode:

“Villages (in Gujarat) didn’t used to get power at dinner time. They’d eat in the dark. Kids didn’t have light to study for exams; if mother was sick, there was no electricity…It disturbed me. Then I got involved. God helped me. He gave me a technical solution…”

He is messiah and geek combined. God, obviously, helps him in matters technical.

If any of us thought that things on wheels were a technical matter, you have made us see another side, which says:

“I will not spare a single second for the auto sector – it is already over…What I am looking for is the next generation – and that is, we want to focus on defense equipment.”

He is so far-sighted that he is already preparing for future paranoia. Picture this: the young generation is cowering in a corner, wondering who will save them and, hey, dude CM of developed state says, no worries, be heppy, I goat gun, you soot.

Please do not for a moment misunderstand and accuse me of poking fun at an accent. I find regional accents charming, and it just goes well with the amusement you have so kindly provided with this interview with Narendrabhai Nero.

And now, we reach that moment when the world is a ramp. You asked how he would combat Gujarat’s persistently high malnutrition rates. A man of less intellect might have flashed figures, but the CM seamlessly became agony aunt:

“Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle-class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, “I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.” We will try to get a drastic change in this. Gujarat is going to come up as a model in this also. I can’t make any big claims, because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.”

I knew Gujarat was making great strides, but little babies pinching their own bottoms and feeling the tautness of their bellies comes as a pleasant surprise. I should hope that WSJ ensures that the CM is awarded the Padma version of Vanity Fair or Marie Claire.

You want to know if he is doing these interviews as an image makeover. It is unfair to ask loaded questions about his new hair, new clothes, new attitude. Naturally, he said:

“I haven’t done anything wrong that I need to make up for. I am what I am in front of the world.”

For a moment, he came across as transparent:

“In the Emergency we came to know what it means to not have democracy. And it shook me. This played a significant role in making me what I am.”

Yes. We’ve heard about childhood trauma affecting adults.

Then you posed the predictable one about seeing himself as the prime minister of India, as opposed to, say, PM of Fishbowl:

“I don’t carry the burden of the past or the madness of the future. I live in the present. My present is my Gujarat, the 60 million people of this state, the villages, the poor farmers, the children – to change their destiny. I can’t think beyond that.”

Here Sophocles meets Martin Luther King meets pragmatism.

Finally, you conveniently ask a question by firing from the shoulder of those who do not agree with him. “Your critics say you should apologize for the 2002 riots. Why won’t you?”

The answer you get is a tunnel of semantics:

“One only has to ask for forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime. If you think it’s such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven? Just because Modi is a chief minister, why should he be forgiven? I think Modi should get the biggest punishment possible if he is guilty. And the world should know there isn’t any tolerance for these kind of political leaders.”

The fun is over. He does not realise that some people want him to apologise not for the crime, but for letting the crime happen when he was and continues to head the government.

Note: He is referring to himself for the first time during the interview in the third person, a sign of removing himself from the ‘scene’. Or, he thinks he is the Queen of England.

In either case, we are not amused. Anymore.

- - -

On another note:

To show just how clever Modi’s gang is, after a special court pronounced 32 people guilty in the Naroda Patiya riots in Gujarat, including Dr Maya Kodnani who has been a BJP MLA since 1998, this is what we get:

The Gujarat government distanced itself from Kodnani saying an MLA is not a govt functionary, nor was Kodnani a minister when the incident took place.

The Legislative Assembly is not part of the government? If she was not a minister in 2002, and took active part in the riots in her individual capacity, it only means that anyone can do what they want in Gujarat. Very democratic type, one must say.

And this video of Babu Bajrangi of the Bajrang Dal, which of course has nothing to do with the BJP or Modi except that it often comes to their rescue, gives a chilling account:




End Note:

The only way for closure is not apology, but when the people of Gujarat do not re-elect Modi.

28.8.12

Rediscovering the North East or Riding the Bandwagon?


It feels terrible to admit it. When I saw this photograph in the paper today, my instant reaction was, “Oh, so they had to have someone from the North East even to show rains in Mumbai.” As it turned out, I was wrong. These were described as “tourists”.

My immediate reaction tells us something, aside from the fact that people from the Oriental regions too may be mistaken for those in the North East, is that the media is going over the top to portray and project everything possible about the region. It is like dusting something from the attic and placing it on the mantelpiece. There is no attempt at trying to even examine it closely, explore its history, and look at the cracks it has suffered when it was consigned to the dark corner.

Today, we have seen how damaging stories can be. The term “chinki” that many people use for the Chinese or those with slanted eyes is being put to the test of a politically correct grinder. People of Sikkim look like that. Nepalis do. And what about those in Darjeeling who have been demanding Gorkhaland? Why is no one interested in that? Why are we suddenly concerned about what they are called? Have we never made such errors of judgment based on physical appearance?

This sort of quick-fix concern tourism does nothing for the people, educates no one, and enlightens little. Armed with a map, the “seven sisters” are not even given distinct identities that they fought for amongst themselves. Have people already forgotten the ULFA that targeted tea plantation owners, mainly Marwaris from Kolkata? Disaffection with Bangladeshis is not new, but it is not the only problem. (Read Don't Blame the Immigrant)

Film director Kalpana Lajmi, who was the late filmmaker, singer, poet, political activist Bhupen Hazarika’s longtime partner, was interviewed recently by The Times of India about the violence in the North East. She lived there for long periods. Why did she never speak before about the problems that range from “they’re often dismissed off as ‘chinkis’” to “it came as a shock to me when I realized the magnitude of the issues only after violence spilled over at Azad Maidan (Mumbai)”?

She makes dangerous simplistic statements that are no better than the rumour-mongers:

“Friends in Assam say that they have lived in harmony with the Muslims, and that the quarrel is between the Bodos and the immigrant who have outnumbered them. I tell them it is a communal issue as it is a fight between the Muslims and non-Muslims. How can you even call them Bangladeshi if they have lived in India for over 50 years?”

Has she read anything about the history? She is reaching such conclusions because that is what some people in the media and some political parties are doing. It is so conniving that she, sitting in Mumbai now, is talking about communalism. Did she not feel victimised when she was there? Did Bhupenda ever tell her any such thing?

And with as much alacrity as she effectively grants Bangladeshis local status, she contradicts it:

“There is also a feeling that one day a Bangladeshi immigrant may take over as the chief minister of a northeastern state.”

Whose feelings is she referring to? Has she gone there on an assignment recently? When she lived there, did she worry about this? If as she suggests a Bangladeshi who has lived there for 50 years is not a Bangladeshi, then is she implying that someone who has crossed over years later, maybe even recently, will contest elections and become the chief minister? Not only is her surmise ridiculous, she reduces the people of the North East, who have, despite the centre’s callous casual attitude towards them, never cowed down.

So dumb is the discourse that the interviewer asks her, “Are you planning to do anything to bring peace back in the region?” Her reply:

“I am planning to ask CM Tarun Gogoi to request artistes like Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar and Mahesh Bhatt to make the people feel at home. There is a need to make them understand that violence is not the solution. There is a need to get leaders and NGOs with no political ambitions to come forward. There is a need to decide once again the cut-off date for newer immigrants. But I still feel it is a deep-rooted problem as one cannot differentiate between the local and the immigrant.”

Yet, she has this crystal ball or third eye that tells her some immigrant can become chief minister. She believes that her chosen gang will bring peace, forgetting that two of them are in politics and politically sharp.

I do not know for how long this party with the North East will last. It is being played out in the most absurd manner and doing nothing for the states. We have already discovered the snowball effect of an ‘exodus’.

Political parties will make a killing of it during the elections. Will the people benefit?


MC Mary Kom, the boxer from Manipur who won the Olympic medal, apologised for not getting more than a bronze. She was feted for her gesture. This infuriates me. How many golds and silvers have we got?

Now Bollywood has jumped on the bandwagon. Sanjay Leela Bhansali wants to make on her life. It is an amazing life, no doubt, but this is not the first time she has participated in an international competition. It is understandable that she sees it positively. As she told the BBC:

“This film will help bridge the gap between people of the Indian mainland and those from the north-eastern states.”

The North East ought to be seen as much as mainland as Maharashtra or Delhi. Giving her example is like making an example of her, to be always on test, to struggle and to to triumph. Success is the barometer for acceptance.

This and the whole human interest angle to her story is part of the patronising attitude we have towards the North East. It started with politicians, it buffered ethnic strife, and now it has reached the pearly gates of our elite intellectuals with the memory span of a few minutes.

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -
Two of my earlier pieces:

Manipur's fate and the North East States
Will Gorkhaland become a reality? 

27.8.12

The Kejriwal-Kiran Karnama

and a dash of Modi...

a
Kejriwal at the protest

This time I am with Kiran Bedi because I know where she stands. Whatever be her personal motives, she was right in not joining Arvind Kejriwal’s protest on Sunday. To those analysts who believe that he is targeting the BJP, take a chill pill. If the party dangles a carrot before him during the general elections meal, he will happily make a halwaa of it.

What we are witness to is political acrobatics. Team Anna has already announced its decision to form a political party. It should go about its business instead of taking to the streets:

The activists are demanding resignations of the PM and Gadkari and the cancellation of all coal licences following the CAG report that estimated a loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the public exchequer.

Does it mean that each scam will result in just such a show of strength? What about the ones in the past? Why don’t they file a PIL? This is indeed an issue, but why does corruption only mean that which grabs media eyeballs?

The activists led by Arvind Kejriwal reached the residences of the PM, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Gadkari three hours before schedule, setting the pace for a manic nine hours for a harried Delhi police that never quite got its grip on the situation.

Kejriwal said, “Our intention was to show the nation how the BJP and the Congress were hand-in-glove over the coal allocation issue. We have done our job, it is time we go back.”

Oh, sure. You create havoc, try and force an ‘alliance’ between opposition parties to show how ‘balanced’ you are and you expect people to believe you?

Addressing the crowd, he said:

“When the ruler is afraid of its subjects, it means that democracy is dead. What wrong are we doing? We are just sitting quietly on the footpath. At least we should be told why we are being detained.”

What they did was not democratic. They just follow another form of autocracy. It never was and cannot be a “people’s movement” when you need to wear Anna T-shirts. The caps seem to have been replaced. Is this what young India wants?

Kiran Bedi, Anna and the goddess

Kiran Bedi’s stand is “realistic” (My piece on her dance and symbolism is here). As a TOI report states:

She had opposed IAC’s plan to target and gherao BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s house on the coal block allocation issue, arguing that the activists should not forget the support given by leaders like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, L K Advani and Gadkari during their bid to get the Jan Lokpal bill passed.

“Arvind and the Bhushans had several meetings with them (BJP leaders). And they agreed to support in some ways. But at least they were not dismissive as the ruling party. Why must we forget this. End of the day, if we paint all black who will get us what the country needs now and in the near future. India needs honest political leadership and I look forward to widespread changes. But we got to be patient and inclusive. Without losing possible quarters of support even if we have ideological difference with them.”

Kejriwal just wanted to play drama queen until things hot up and he will have to sit and help formulate something called a party manifesto that goes beyond corruption that is already being exposed by others. This is, as I have said so often, a BJP vs. RSS diversionary tactic, and he is so comfortable in such a scenario where one acts as the foot soldier with righteous indignation and the other is the moderate.

See you in saffron in 2014, Mr. Kejriwal.

- - -

Netting Modi

Modi maange more

There are several websites singing his praises, uploading his speeches, capturing his every move. So, why does Narendra Modi need another channel?

Cornered by a relentless onslaught from a rejuvenated Congress and a buoyant Keshubhai Patel, chief minister Narendra Modi is planning his biggest ever media blitzkrieg. An internet protocol channel (IPTV), most likely to be named Namo Bharat, will be launched soon to arm the Gujarat CM with a potent propaganda tool.

“The name itself makes it clear that this is personal projection not just for the assembly election but bigger things that lie ahead,” said a source.

Namo is the name the mainstream English media gave him, just like they did Saifeena (for Saif and Kareena), which was copied from Brangelina. This is also what stores and companies with two partners do – add parts of each name and run shops.

"Bigger things" is a loaded phrase. And adding Bharat does not mean a thing, because even Manoj Kumar used the name for his characters in films. This won’t make Indians more interested in him as potential prime minister. In fact, he will appear so limited, stuck to his “5 crore Gujarati” obsession in the big pool. Good. Perhaps, there is a typo in the name. Is it ‘Nano Bharat’, little India?

(c) Farzana Versey

All quiet at the crematorium: A.K.Hangal

How the social hierarchy reveals itself is evident in how many people did not attend actor A K Hangal’s funeral. He lived to be 98 and half of these years were spent in the Hindi film industry.

This is showbiz, and most of the people in it make it a point to be present for various reasons. At one of the prominent funeral pictures, I spotted two well-known stars having a good laugh. Could the joke not wait? Or were they, as has become so trendy to say, “celebrating his life”?

Okay, so why were no prominent names who Hangal saab acted with present? They will run to see a newly-born baby who will come out all swathed to hide her from the world; they will rush to the hospital for an actor who suffers from fever or routine checkups; they will visit to condole the death of a parent/grandparent of one of them.

Of the few character actors present, Raza Murad did not mince words:

“The actors would’ve come if a political party summoned them. But they didn’t have an hour to spare to pay their last respects to the man who gave 50 years to the industry and worked with all top stars.”

I’d also ask the media the same question: where were they? They will climb atop trees to capture a baraat they are not invited to; they will sit for hours outside vanity vans waiting for some star, or even starlet, to turn up after giving 40 retakes to get a sound byte; they will do their Entertainment slots with loops that make no sense. Had they landed there, some stars might have turned up.

Of course, they tweeted about it, or gave their two paise worth.

“A K Hangal, passes away this morning!! A veteran, a gentleman, a congenial co artist and a master at his work” – Amitabh Bachchan

But he is not Uddhav Thackeray getting an angioplasty, right? Besides, what are those two exclamation marks for to announce a death?

“An era comes to an end. Theatre and film were enriched by him” – Shabana Azmi

So what happened? After all, he was part of the great theatre movement IPTA, a card-holding Communist that Ms. Azmi admires so.

“Undying father figure in world of theatre n hindi cinema lived for 50 years in this profession only because he was disciplined n a thorough gentleman, who would bring theatre discipline on sets of a film shoot too . He worked with me in ‘Krodhi’ n ‘Khalnayak’ and we used to call him ‘humble sahib’. Great soul, indeed” - Subhash Ghai

I suppose Mr. Ghai thought he was so humble he would not have wanted to feel conceited about people attending his last rites.

- - -

This is only one of the concerns. More important is the fact that Hangal saab could not afford treatment when he fell seriously ill last year.

I have written this earlier, but let me repeat it. The day after it came out, the film industry woke up. Some contributed quietly, some raised issues of ‘doing something for our seniors’. Jaya Bachchan sent a message to be conveyed that his ‘daughter’ remembers him (he played her father in many movies) and her office will handle his medical bills. How dismissive is this. Office? Could she not visit him or just keep silent about who would manage it? Why this announcement?

Upon mild recovery, Mr Hangal was on the ramp in a wheelchair. The reason? Part of a fashion show was organised by designer Riyaz Gangji to generate money for the ailing actor, according to Mumbai Mirror.

Helpless to save his health
This was insensitive and gross. Was he a showpiece? Can there be no dignity in such charity? Imagine someone who was a “freedom fighter” - incidentally everyone is mentioning this having discovered one more use for their patriotic fervour - expected to display himself and his “abject poverty” to get a decent life. These people get mileage and our seniors have no choice but to go along.

Following this, another case was highlighted about someone leading a penurious life. The editor of Sholay, a blockbuster and pathbreaker of its time, was living in Dharavi. Shocking? Yes and no. How many of us ever bothered to find out who edited the film? What about all those researchers who did critical tomes on these movies? Why such discoveries now?

M.S. Shinde worked on a salary of Rs. 2000 and he has no regrets:

“I worked with Sippy Films on a salary of Rs 2,000 (per film) all my life. I didn’t mind the salary because they allowed me to take up work outside.”

At one time even film stars, the visible beautiful faces immortalised in black and white, led lonely forgotten lives. They did not invest their money and instead chose to flash their Bentleys. That was stardom and glamour in the pre-red carpet days. It also had to do with splurging arising out of insecurity if they had made it from the pavements.

Think also about art house cinema before it got sponsors and acquired marketing skills. A whole bunch of idealists would descend on the city and often crashed at someone’s place. Or took the train back home after performing in a few street theatre plays.

This is not to deny the genuine problems faced by our veterans, but before we dismiss it as callousness think about the hierarchy that has always been prevalent. Even today the actors are paid much more than the director. We won’t get into the subject of junior artistes, at one time called ‘extras’, who have to await their turn and often cosy up to the ‘provider’. It is not a business that is organised and therefore a risky proposition for almost everyone concerned.

Mr Shinde might have had it better if there was mandatory provision for provident fund and retirement benefits.

Newspapers and TV channels, if they do take notice do so in a patronising manner: to announce how people came forward to help after they ‘broke’ the story.

The Hindi film industry is acting out a farce with its fake philanthropy helped along by the media.

- - -

I’m afraid, this should have been a tribute to a fine actor, but this attitude upsets me. About Hangal saab and his most-remembered character of the blind Rahim chacha is Sholay, I have some reservations. It was a stereotype, the token nice Muslim posited against the rough terrain of thakurs and dacoits. His blindness, of course, gave it added pathos of not seeing the bad and therefore understanding the good.




But I cannot forget being creeped out by him as the lecherous old skirt chaser in Shaukeen. I disliked him, so credible he was. He, Ashok Kumar and Utpal Dutt, all wonderful, formed the trio of shaukeens. Dutt was always stylised; Ashok Kumar had his mannerisms. A.K. Hangal had the ability to not act. After seeing him as the genial grandpa or the family retainer in other films, this was a shocker.

I mentioned elsewhere how it is perhaps our moral obsession that makes all tributes glorify his Rahim chacha character and of course, the famous line, “Itna sannata kyon hai bhai?” (Why is it so quiet here)

It was indeed very quiet at the crematorium, for no one was there.

26.8.12

Lunar eclipsed: Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong. Pic: CNN

Who would have thought that Neil Armstrong’s death would take us back to semantics? The eleven words he uttered are not merely historic. They convey evolution. It is almost Darwinesque. And like Darwin, this was challenged. Not for the words alone, although they added to the controversy.

The doubters who believe in miracles refused to grasp such scientific miracles. On July 20, 1969, the moon did not change. The world’s perception of it did. We still look at the moon with wonder and get tantalised when it hides behind clouds. We see it in all its stages – half, full, new, eclipsed. Some of us who have read David Niven’s amazing autobiography relate it to The Moon’s a Balloon; others to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, which may be seen as a sharp commercial idea using a scientific breakthrough.

Some of you already know that Armstrong’s quote, “That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind” was a slip. He omitted the “a” before man. As he admitted, “Damn I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn't I?”

I disagree. We shall always cherish his words because they are about hope. Besides, it was not his private mission accomplished. He did step out of the Apollo 11 first. But just 18 minutes later, while he was walking his weightless walk, Buzz Aldrin stepped out. I am amazed how minutes can transform history. Twins are born a few minutes apart and they remain precious children to their parents. You stand in line to gain entry into places where you have paid the same amount of money and will watch the same things. An actor’s entry on stage may be delayed by the script, but it may not lessen the impact of the performance.

Who scripts historic moments? Or is it about coincidence, necessity? Do we remember what Buzz Aldrin said? I did not, so I went looking for it. His words were: “Beautiful, beautiful. Magnificent desolation.”

This is what many of us would have said. I cannot think of anything more potent than “magnificent desolation”. Couple that with “a small step” and one can feel the trepidation that finally takes the stride into “a giant leap”. The earth from space is a small orb with its own desolation, howling at the moon.

(c) Farzana Versey

Sunday ka Funda

"Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn
Isn't that the way
Everybody's got the dues in life to pay...'

Dream on



- - -
The original is by Aerosmith

Look at this...


What does this photograph convey? It was on the day when a mob went
berserk at Azad Maidan in Mumbai.

Here the cop is coolly ambling ahead. What is he reading? Did he not realise there were people on a rampage right behind him? Did he turn to look back later?

He appears to be so immersed in something else. What is it?

This picture, despite it being in-your-face can have its layers unpeeled. Disturbing. Almost dark 'comedy', if it wasn't real.

- - -

Image is from TOI, but there was no photographer's name so not aware
if it's taken from elsewhere.

25.8.12

Kristen, Gandhi and Happy Pill Spiritualism

Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattison: Harper's Bazaar
Mahatma Gandhi would have been pleased to find a Hollywood star snuggling his words. Known for his penchant for white women, he was their knight in spiritual armour.

It is, therefore, not surprising – although a bit amusing – to discover that he is the 'other man'. Here is a snappy report from ABC News Radio:

Kristen Stewart may not be able to rely on her former lover and Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson for life advice in the wake of the revelation that she cheated on him, so she’s reportedly turning to another man for guidance: Gandhi.

The Sun reports the 22-year-old actress is still struggling to “forgive herself” in the wake of her affair with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, and has turned to the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, who led a successful non-violent resistance movement against British colonel rule in India.

Is the non-violent idea in opposition to the “wrath of a woman scorned”? Are relationships about colonisation?

This is a digression, though. The larger context here is how “inner peace” needs others’ views on spirituality. Go to any bookstore in any part of the world and volumes on self-help occupy pride of place. Self-help means relying on someone else’s help. There is little nuance and they make for decent beach reading. But do they engage the mind, for isn’t spirituality about extending the boundaries of the self?

The fact that Kristen is seeking retribution puts such books in the realm of morality. Are religious texts inadequate? Why are books on spiritualism bestsellers when they say what many have, at least in childhood, read about in scriptures or fairytales?

Fairytales invariably are a morality tale. The Stewart-Pattinson fairytale would probably be part of another day in Hollywood, and much of contemporary life. People give in to temptation. Fidelity is restructured. Bruised emotions take time healing. However, the elevation of ‘cheating’ on the pedestal of spiritual enlightenment transforms it into the bad witch looking into the mirror for the fairest of them all. The answer is obvious. There is no good news here. The effort, by default, aasumes inherent goodness, so what really is the purpose of an external support?

There are wonderful sayings in almost all languages – homilies, fables, koans, verses. There are life stories of struggle by yogis, sufis, zen masters. The new age gurus run a corporate spiritual enterprise, churn out books that work on the vulnerabilities of people looking for messiahs as pauses. Is it not better than lying on a psychoanalyst’s couch? They are not much different. You are expected to exterminate the bile consuming you. Time does that. Talking with friends does it. Talking to oneself does it.

The problem is we don’t do that much. It is hard work. Kristen Stewart is like those prisoners who discover the Bible, Quran, Bhagvad Gita in the confines of jails. People are caged when they feel trapped in their own worlds. Reading Gandhi is as much a pop diva act as attending a Deepak Chopra enlightenment spa.

What can a Rumi, a Kahlil Gibran, a Confucius, or an Osho give you when you are not willing to give yourself anything? I love reading them, quoting them sometimes, but it is not when I am looking for an anchor. If the seas are stormy, I’d rather find a wispy branch fallen off a tree and sail with it…like a wilting flower with new leaves.

(c) Farzana Versey

24.8.12

Leave the guys alone...

People sit in an auditorium watching a wicked play. The jokes are vulgar; there is talk about the female anatomy and sex. What makes this one different? It is restricted to men only.

The reaction is that it is sexist. It is not. The director has not tried to hide intent nor the fact that “‘Only for adult men’ is my USP. It has worked. It is the first time in India, rather in the world, that such a tagline has been used”. Has it caused consternation because the characters are the regular sort?



We have shows for ladies only, be it for movies, plays or other cultural activities. Do women accompany their partners or male friends to dance bars, where men go to enjoy a few drinks and ogle at the dancers? How many women attend tamasha shows (a rustic and sensual dance performance loaded with innuendo) even in the villages where it is a staple form of entertainment?

How, then, can the playwright-director-producer Ashok Patole be put in the dock for “gender segregation” for restricting entry to ‘Ek Chavat Sandhyakaal’ (One Naughty Evening)?

He explained in an interview to Mirror:

“That is a matter of choice. Our play has adult material which, we think, is unpalatable for women. That’s why we do not wish to embarrass women, and also men. We were told by men to keep this a fun evening that they can enjoy. They claimed that they will not be able to laugh aloud at the sexy jokes if their wives were with them.”

It is shocking that he was asked whether women could not use the Indian Constitutional right to watch this play, when many women activists cry themselves hoarse over how women are portrayed. This is a closed group, and everyone knows that women too have their moments of fun. It has become quite the in thing in the metro cities for the ladies who lunch to invite a male stripper. The dynamics are changing, and although these are superficial indulgences there is no denying their usefulness as a form of social catharsis.It is beyond the male pattern Chippendales that advertises itself as :for ladies' entertainment'.



I remember watching a Dada Kondke film that was known for its rather crude humour in a small cinema hall. Curiosity about its filmmaker-actor was what prodded me. It was difficult to convince a friend to accompany me, to begin with. I was the only woman there and I could see that those sitting around me weren’t comfortable. We left mid-way.

The director, therefore, has a point when he says:

“If we had opened the play to everyone, and if some women had found it objectionable, our play would have been banned. We would have been labelled as porn-makers. Theatre-goers, who otherwise savour English sex comedies and Hindi bedroom farces, would have joined some women’s organisations, would have organised morchas against us. So, the marginal chance of doing well at the box-office would have been lost. We didn’t want that. And this tagline helped us put the play into perspective.”

This is way more honest than some ‘bold’ attempts at selling a film on the basis of making a feminist statement. Example being The Dirty Picture. Standard phrases like exploitation, empowerment, breaking the glass ceiling are used without understanding the import of these. Even the more offbeat feminist films and plays, without saying so, are indeed restrictive, in that they are catering to a female audience, have female sensibilities and make no attempt to market themselves for the consumption of men. A case in point being The Vagina Monologues, where the male, however aware and enlightened he might be, was a spectator. Unlike the woman as empathiser-observer.

This men’s only play has “two men talking about sexuality-related issues. A sexologist and a professor help a PhD student to analyze her subject: ‘Psychological, sociological and physical need of sexuality-related jokes and swear words’. It entails all those jokes that we chuckle over in private. We have just made those jokes public. What’s wrong in entertaining people? And we are not even involving people below 18. There is no malicious intent. I am a progressive director with a very broad openended view of sex and morality.”

That is the reason I find it intrusive that women would want to barge in. A female councillor after getting complaints – about what? That women could not attend a play they might find repugnant? – has muscled her way in and the shows will now have a new tagline welcoming the female audience.

I wonder if, as a matter of gender parity, they’d also use the men’s facilities.

(c) Farzana Versey

21.8.12

Internet Depressive Quotient



Is “What did you surf last night?” akin to a metaphysical query? Is your use of the internet no different from how you introspect and the answers you get from it?

Scientific research has once again stretched it, although now it concerns what we do every day. I am not dismissing the possibility, but the fact that it might be employed as a diagnostic tool for serious mental health.

This is not the first time, but a more recent one. A report in The Scientific American states:

Consider two questions. First: Who are you? What makes you different from your peers, in terms of the things you buy, the clothes you wear, and the car you drive (or refuse to)? What makes you unique in terms of your basic psychological make-up – the part of you that makes you do the things you do, say the things you say, and feel the things you feel? And the second question: How do you use the internet? Although these questions may seem unrelated, they’re not.

And there begins the analogy. ‘Who are you’ is about identity, even in superficial terms of being identified as separate from another. There will be an overlap, such as people who prefer driving SUVs or wearing red lipstick as a statement. The SUV and the red lipstick might themselves be identified as different in, say, mileage, interiors, sturdiness and varied shades of red and varied types of lips. The things we do or say in a certain manner may or may not constitute psychological makeup; they might well be behavioural, and dependent on factors such as heredity, habits learned in childhood, or ‘borrowed’ from observation.

However, do we read books or listen to music in a standard fashion? These could reveal a few things about us. The internet is an on tap medium. We are logged in, we look for what we want, we chance upon material – it is fairly automated.

Therefore, it is distressing that the research believes that besides the almost Linda Goodman-like predictions of “Spending a lot of late nights playing high stakes internet poker? Chances are you are a risk taker”, it can predict how depressive you are. Going by the examples given, the person playing high stakes might just be a drunken gambler, or someone who is self-destructive and has forgotten to will his wealth to his cat. If you post videos of yourself, depending on the content, it could mean that you enjoy sharing or you like exhibiting. We do such things without the internet.

It is not possible to completely ignore factors such as how much and how often you email or whether we multi-task reveals about us. But it would be facile to use this as a yardstick for we multitask outside the internet and how we reach out to people in words could also be indicators. To make internet habits into a laboratory test negates its role as just another easy access machine.

200 volunteers were asked to fill out a survey about “recent affective experiences”. They did not know that “a well-known measure of depression—the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CES-D) scale—was embedded within this survey”.

There is the question of ethics here, and there is the question about how such an embedded measuring device can accurately predict a psychological state when it uses parameters that are extraneous.

Quickly switching between websites may reflect anhedonia (a decreased ability to experience emotions), as people desperately seek for emotional stimulation. Similarly, excessive emailing and chatting may signify a relative lack of strong face-to-face relationships, as people strive to maintain contact either with faraway friends or new people met online.

These cannot be termed untrue, but are they the best indicators? How do they diagnose depression when it could be behaviour on a particular day? I’d say that not switching websites and sticking to one or two could also mean seeking emotional stimulation from those limited sources. People lead life at a hurried pace and information seeking is part of many professions, therefore the shifting movement from one site to another.

The same applies to email and chatting. You often email people who are not accessible – due to physical distance or lack of time. Not everything needs to be said face-to-face. Also, many people chat with those they do know or have got to know. If it is strangers, then do we not strike up conversations with people in the park, the street, salespersons, cabbies, receptionists?

I find it depressing (yes) to read that the study claims it has things in order:

Recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that around 10 percent of adults in the United States currently suffer from clinical depression—depression that consists of symptoms such as disruptions in eating, sleeping, and concentration patterns, lack of interest in daily activities, and consistently feeling like a failure.

If people truly feel like a failure, they might not have the energy to get on the internet at all, for they’d see tremendous expressions of vanity on display. The internet is like the proverbial harlot that has power without responsibility.

Addiction to the internet – like any other addiction, and love too – does cause these symptoms. What is happening now is that the same multitasking that is being seen as one of the pointers of depression is used by researchers to ferret out different aspects of ‘abnormality’. It is quite common for people to say they are “severely depressed”. It does not take long for them to end up in some ward as clinical cases because they believe they are ill for uploading videos of themselves. It is pertinent to point out that the activity performed could be way more harmful than its blurred version.

Such studies end up creating paranoia about paranoia.

(c)Farzana Versey

Sajda and the Sadhu


How sorry are the attempts at communal harmony. This picture is an example. The Times of India used this caption:

"A sadhu prays while a group of Muslims perform namaz in Jodhpur on Eid"

Was the sadhu invited? Is he leading the prayer? He is a distance away, so where is the harmony here? Look at the expression of those praying. Their attention is diverted to this spectacle. Besides, I wonder how the devotees would be bowing before their footwear. Sajda to their chappals?

It's better not to project such images. Really. We can all live without variety.

20.8.12

Just a touch of faith...

Never seen the Taj Mahal like this. Pic Hindustan Times

Of the first time I am supposed to have heard the azaan, there is no recollection. It was whispered in my ear as a newborn. My memory isn’t that great. The complete azaan is a full-throated call, every syllable enunciated with as much power as preventing an echo from falling off a cliff. You do not need to understand the language, and you must suspend the ‘yours and mine’ to be able to just listen to the sound. Think of it as thunder, of waves lashing, of a cry, of laughter. Of thoughts unspoken.

I know so little about religion that once when I was at the health club while travelling, and I needed to get to one of the machine, a man on his knees was in the way. I went up to the reception and asked, “When will this guy finish his yoga?”

“He is praying, ma’am.”

I had failed to notice the prayer mat or his hands on his ear. When he turned to the left and then the right, I thought it was an asana. Was I entirely wrong? If prayer is meditation, then it does not matter what you call it. I hasten to add that I know what a namaaz is. It was just the thought of seeing someone there, in my space, so to speak, that confused me.

This year during the month of Ramzan, I heard no azaan. It wasn’t something I was aching to hear. Just the thought of having heard it in days past made me wonder – crowded areas, traffic might well have drowned the sounds. Back in the early days, when one of my relatives fasted, along with the azaan call to prayer, I used to rush to look for the light bulb in a building across. It was an indication that it was time to break the fast. I felt no guilt that I had not been on an empty stomach, but did feel elated as I watched those who had stayed hungry bite into a date and eat slowly, waiting for tongues to form liquid to swallow.

Ignorant as I am, nostalgia is my shelter. Each morsel of life I take is celebration, each morsel I have denied or been denied is a lesson about vacuums, emptiness.

Here is a poem by Gulzar that conveys my thoughts:

Sparsh

“Quran haathon mein leke naabeena ek namaazi
laboun pe rakhataa tha
donon aankhon se choomtaa tha
jhukaake peshaani yoon aqeedat se chhoo rahaa tha
jo aayaten padh nahin sakaa
un ke lams mehsoos kar raha ho

main hairaan-hairaan guzar gayaa tha
main hairaan-hairaan thahar gayaa hoon

tumhaare haathon ko choom kar
chhoo ke apni aankhon se aaj main ne
jo aayaten padh nahin sakaa
un ke lams mehsoos kar liye hain”

My rough translation:

Touch

The blind namaazi brushed the Quran with lips
Kissed it with both eyes
Touched his forehead to the ground
With such faith
As though the verses he could not read
He could feel with a mere touch

Confused I left
Confused I pause

By kissing your hands
Touching you with my eyes
The verses I cannot read
I can still feel them

Eid Mubarak…

For those who came in late, for more of my memories More than a moon

17.8.12

Rethinking Asylum for Pakistani Hindus

Crossing over. Pic; India Today

What has made 250 Pakistani Hindus want to seek asylum in India? The obvious answer is that the community is persecuted. Hindu girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslims. This is true, as true as Muslim girls being kidnapped, raped, and forced to marry men they do not wish to be with. The only difference is that there is no conversion. Criminal law for all citizens of Pakistan is the same, and it falls short in execution where women’s issues are concerned.

The law does not protect minorities. The Blasphemy Law is ridiculous, for it assumes that non-Muslims will run down the Prophet or the Quran, although it must be understood that Muslims too have been arrested for the same.

However, I’d like to know why it is only Hindus who are looking to move to India, and why now? Christians are treated no better; Ahmadis suffer; Shias are killed. Only a small fraction of extremists is involved in such persecution and holding the country to ransom. We do hear Pakistani leaders talk about minority rights, and either they do nothing about it or have to suffer the consequences.

The Hindus who arrived here got visas for pilgrimage. Did they plan not to return, or was it an idea that germinated in their minds later? Do all of them belong to a group? Mass asylum – although this really isn’t all that large a number – is sought with some pre-meditation. Did the Indian government know about the plans?

The opinions are contradictory. Some say they are seeking refuge here because they are afraid. Others are emphatic they will return. Yet, voluntary organisations have rushed to help them the moment they crossed the border. Were they intimated about it?

India Today states:

NGOs, lawyers, professors and artists have stepped in to bring relief to the 113 Pakistanis, living in a refugee camp in the national capital. They have arranged for food, sanitation and even education for them.

Human Rights Defence secretary general Rajesh Gohna said, "We have moved the application for extension of visa for them and now we are going to meet the chief visa officer on the first (December 1). Our group could go there along with their representatives. We will request the government of India that their visas should be extended and long-term visa should be granted to them and subsequently citizenship should also be granted to them."

Are those who are here the persecuted cases? If they are being helped on the basis of actual experience, then the human rights organisations must file specific cases.

I am afraid that do-gooders these days also have political agendas. In their enthusiasm, they might take away from these Pakistani Hindus their homes and livelihood only to make a point.

At the camp. Pic The Hindu

Art of Living guru Sri Sri Shankar too met these Pakistanis at the camp. He runs a franchise operating in Pakistan. Has commercial gain superseded his concern for all these years? He visited the country a while ago. Did he listen to the woes of the Hindus? Did he approach the Indian government for assistance?

A PTI report of August 11 gives another picture:

"It would be wrong to say that Hindus or Hindu families who have crossed over to India were no more willing to go back to Pakistan," group leader Rajesh Singh said. The Hindus from Pakistan have come to India to pay obeisance in the Hindu historic temples located in Amritsar, Indore, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Delhi but not for asylum," he said, while dismissing as "rumours" reports of exodus of Hindus. "In fact, none of the Pakistan-based Hindu families could afford to live in India while leaving their ancestral houses and set up behind in Pakistan," he said.

250 of 4.3 million Hindus do not constitute an exodus. So, are there only practical considerations? Certainly that is the major reason. Since most are based in Sindh, it is rather obvious that it was a factor in their not moving to India during the Partition or later. It has been 65 years. How many tried to return to India? Were they denied licences to run their businesses in Pakistan? Don’t they hold jobs? I am speaking purely at the practical level. Indeed, there are fewer temples than there were in 1947. It is not the Islamists who have targeted those. They were mainly demolished as illegal constructions. There is rarely any mention of the celebration of Hindu festivals, including Ganapati visarjan.

A minority in a religion-based majority state is at a disadvantage by default. In principle and practice there are some things they have to accept and have done so. Therefore, Justice Bhagwan Das had taken the oath of office in the name of Allah. It seems absurd that the momins would want those they consider ‘kafirs’ to utter the name of Allah at all.

Returning to those who have arrived in Indian, an anonymous voice has been quoted:

"If Indian government throws open the doors for Pakistan based Hindus, they would flock to India," he said, adding that they felt life would be much easier here especially when they have to marry their children.

Again, it is a practical consideration.

India as refugee haven is a bit of a delusion. If these Hindus who have crossed over are provided for, despite being illegal immigrants (should that happen), and they are granted quick citizenship, it will raise questions about several Bangladeshis who have been living here for decades and should have become naturalised citizens and are not.

Would political parties be as enthusiastic had Muslim refugees decided to land up here and seek asylum? There are many more Muslim families who are separated. If persecution is the yardstick, then Pakistani Muslims are right up there.

The reason I bring this up is simple: It is not merely a humanitarian story. It is politically charged.

The global censure for its failure to protect minorities appears to be pinching the Pakistani regime. The 250 Hindus who recently arrived in India were briefly detained at the border by Pakistani authorities. They were allowed to enter India after signing a commitment to return, and told not to criticize Pakistan while in India.

Why did the Pakistan ask them to sign documents stating that they would return? Would the government not wish them to go away? Or do they fear a diplomatic impasse? That is unlikely. The Pakistani establishment has never expressed concern about such niceties. Is it really afraid of international repercussions when the concern is diplomacy and little else? Is Pakistan looking for lamb to feed the fundamentalists? Going by figures, and the different kinds of communities and sects targeted, this is unlikely.

Pakistan is a helpless spectator. If you have visited Hindu homes and met Hindus, or for that matter other minority groups there, they are not Islamised. I was at a friend’s home and her help wore a Gujarati style saree and a bindi. Shopkeepers run their businesses, their identities rather obvious. Sikhs, of course, stand out because of their turbans. If anything, it is the poor Christians who due to the menial tasks they are relegated to perform are disparaged. People don’t like comparisons, but think about how we treat “bhangis”.

Is the Indian government going to capitalise on this or play safe? Minister of State for Home, Mullappally Ramachandran, had said:

"All such Pakistani nationals who have come to India on group pilgrimage visa will have to return to Pakistan... within the visa validity period or the short extended period allowed in specific cases."

Since then, there are attempts to approach the authorities, mainly by making it into a TV show. The Hindutva parties will benefit the most. This should be pause for thought. Just as Indian Muslims, or even most Muslims in Pakistan, are urged not to fall into the rightwing trap, the same applies to Hindus, in Pakistan or in India. The ruling party should not bite the saffron bait and act in a hurry. It is dangerous, for Pakistan might want to swoop down on just such an opportunity and offer asylum to Indian Muslim victims of riots only to score points.

I understand that people are concerned, but let us look beyond the concern. How many of the Hindus were asked to “Go back to India” by the general Pakistani population? If it is fundamentalists we are talking about, then this is not what they want. This is what they do to draw attention to their shaky ideology.

I would not want to leave home. Think about those people too, the ones who are not part of this group of 250. In fact, think of mass exodus of Christians, Sikhs, Shias, Ahmadis. This will not be a reversal of Partition, but one more.

If we paid heed to the larger picture we’d not be feeding off a group of pilgrims.

(c) Farzana Versey

15.8.12

Azaad Hind...sight?

"To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one's freedom."

- Andre Gide

India completes 65 years of being independent today. There are many who quote Rabindranath Tagore's poem, "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high" mindlessly. What do the feudals have to fear and will they permit their 'slaves' to hold their head high and speak out any truth, forget a truth uncomfortable to them? These are people who thrive on "narrow domestic walls". In fact, they flaunt fearlessness in opposition to those outside their own walls.

It's easy to memorise homilies and lecture others. In their slumber, they mumble "let my country awake".

And then there is this - a silence of poignant wakefulness:



- - -

I cannot do better than that. Or add to what I have already written in Despicable dogs and Independence and Lay off the National Anthem.

A Happy Independence Day to all Indians think beyond 24 hours...and look back, and ahead, with anger if needed.

13.8.12

Plagiarists, Muses and 'Stalk-home' Syndrome


For me, a plagiarist is not only someone taking your words, but a worm eating into you. The extent of such I-way robbery differs. In every field, there are dangers. But when it is something that you have created, it really amounts to intellectual, as well as emotional, colonisation. Whenever it has happened to me, I feel as though someone is walking around with a piece of my skin.

By now it is known that renowned columnist Fareed Zakaria has been charged with lifting a few portions from another article by sociologist Jill Lepore. The Huffington Post report reveals that they are almost identical, although I do note the parenthetical exclamation mark after Texas. There was probably enough potential for original mischief. I am really surprised that he felt the need to copy this. Most of it is quotes. Is this lazy?

It has been explained away as the shoddy work of interns. In fact, Zakaria has perhaps taken courage from this to come out and apologise – the message being that he is doing so with much generosity despite being blameless.

“Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore's essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”

We love apologies. It imbues people with a halo. Time and CNN, where he was editor-at-large and host respectively, have suspended him for a month or upon review.

What he did is terrible. It is essentially a cut-paste job of factual information, not his first time. The apology and suspension will put a lid on too much spillage.

Zakaria is not the only plagiarist, and not among the worst. However,a writer-broadcaster like Tarek Fatah is utterly dismissive when he says that those who cannot write memos for sick leave are discussing it. Typically arrogant, revealing that the pecking order is in place. I’d understand it if they decide not to comment, but to brush this away reveals how these intellectuals form coteries and protect their own.

Plagiarism is rampant. Only, with easy access to material it can be outed.But is it as often as it should be?

We watch films that are facsimile copies of those in different languages (Bollywood is notorious for it; film producers hand over DVDs of Hollywood, Iranian, Korean films and ask directors to give them an Indian spin). We listen to music that leaves no room for doubt about its origins, although with remixes and nifty applications an echo makes us forget the sound. We see works of art that could be reprints. We read passages in books that even have conversations from elsewhere.

Academic writers are more often than not the worst offenders. Research is a convenient term to use the material from different sources. A professor who was visiting India wanted to meet some poets. I spoke with a friend and this is what he said: “Why should I share my views with him when he will use them as his own? There won’t be any evidence. I’d rather write and publish my opinions than give inputs.” I was not as smart and spent two hours with a person doing her thesis at a New York university on riots in India. I expected nothing, but she did not even have the courtesy to call up to thank me or send an email.

I had written this in Understanding the rot in Academia:

A few years ago All Deliberate Speed, a book by Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor, had six paragraphs lifted from What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said, a book by Yale professor Jack Balkin, and he did not know he had plagiarised. Why? He had left the job to his assistants. The wrong assistant forgot to attribute it, or so he said, and it went straight to the publishers without him realising it.

He acknowledged his assistants but it was an Ogletree book. Often an academician claims to be helping out students; young people are indeed looking for such godfathers but what are they being taught? It is about being part of institutional cliques. It is an incestuous world where the hierarchy is based on who gets to the goal-post first. Not how. The number of guest lectures, the countries that send out invitations help in bolstering this pecking order. The academic junket junkies merely hold forth within the circumscribed area of what their sponsors lay out.

The stalker-plagiarist

Some of my own experiences have a bit of a twist. The rest are too many to recount, be they interviews, lines from articles, poems, blog posts. Years ago one feature writer even told me rather excitedly, “You know, I have started using some of your lines.” Her reason was impeccable. “Since you’ve stopped writing for the magazine, I did not want them to miss you.”

Is imitation the best form of flattery? No, it is not. Or, perhaps, some of us prefer appreciation and understanding to flattery.

About six years ago I had published a poem that has cut through my very being. Much later, someone (let’s call him P) wrote a short story in which the most potent lines from my poem appeared. What followed was humiliating. A person caught like a deer in the headlights, which I hasten to add is common usage, transformed into a raging bull. I was not seeking anyone’s support, for I am not rash about my words or another’s, but many agreed that it was a clear case of plagiarism. What they could see, he did not. Or, pretended not to.

A poem and an article cannot be identical, and I could not sit and explain similes, but the lines used were not such that they are part of local lingo. I might add here that there are some classics where the lines are part of public memory. If you pun with them or parody them, they are recognisable and an automatic acknowledgement of the source. This cannot be said about most of contemporary writing, which makes it vulnerable.

P knew this and could therefore be offensive. He could not prove that he had not used those lines.

This is how he went about the admission:

"Yes, the Versey used those words before I did! Yes, I have read the poem before! No, I did not steal those words. Yes, the words came to me!

They were meant to come to me and they found me and they settled down and they made themselves home and they took root and they thrived on me and they grew and they got stronger and they flowered all over until they became MY words!

And there was not a darn thing I could do about any of that!

Shoot me, kill me! Who cares!"

It was getting to be a soap opera. The internalisation of “came to me” versus the overt “Kill me”. Passive-aggressive was the theme. I was called vile names, followed by contrition addressed to everyone but me:

“The influence of the writer whose name you bring up is EVERYWHERE in my writings – sometimes it is overt –but mostly it is invisible to others – and that influence has been there for the past two years in virtually everything I have posted on this site and perhaps elsewhere. It has been acknowledged again and again. I suspect that influence will be there forever – for life!”

He further added that it was a “simple, well-known-around-here fact”. A person who he thought was pretending to be ignorant of it was dismissed with being “simply jealous of me – not so much because of my writing ‘skills’ or anything else – but because of my being open and upfront with my feelings!”

A question of intellectual rights had become open season. I was in the dock, as it were, for being there as ‘inspiration’. This is how a woman interactor responded:

“With all due respect, Let's say, if (P) was actually infatuated or in love with you or admired you as a writer, why it is considered a crime and why he will be BERATED for loving any other human being?”

It was draining me, especially when I discovered his other writings. Amazingly, even his experience on a treadmill, treating it like a human, and the feelings that went through his mind and how they were expressed was the same as what I had written long ago.

The mind-reader in me tries to explain things. In this case, it was not laziness. Given the background, he wanted to seek my attention.

This must happen to others, too. I wonder how such stealers can live with the load of others’ creations, even in bits.

If we extend the meaning of copying to anything that is taken from an original manner of expressing, then I know of people who use someone else’s way of addressing, way of signing off notes…I know of people who pick others’ ideas, episodes and weave them around in such a manner, with change of location and some details, that it appears as their own. I know of people who even use another’s likes and dislikes. I know of those who use other people’s experiences and make it seem like they are theirs.

I’ve watched incredulously as my life’s precious moments too have been plagiarised.

(c) Farzana Versey

12.8.12

10.8.12

Tightening the screws on ageless vaginas

Woman on top: From the Kama Sutra

If you are sitting on the pot and holding back your urine flow for five seconds, then starting, stopping – Kegel’s exercises – it is to strengthen the pelvic and vagina muscles. Why? Preparing for the tush Olympics?

The vagina is back in the news. People are agitated over '18 Again', a vaginal tightening gel. In the coming days, you will read innovative terms to refer to the word, flaunting sexual openness while crying hoarse against openness. Ironically, what some of these people, mainly women, write will be far more titillating or explicit than what they are rubbishing. It is often men who get excited about such ‘analysis’, which does not cross beyond “Are you trying to tell us what to do with our bodies?” and “Is a woman all about giving men pleasure?”

Some of my arguments are in ‘Shading the vagina’.

Here’s are extracts from the Tehelka report and my rejoinder:

There is a lot that you could remember from the first time you had sex — confusion, unfamiliarity, relief, discomfort, exhilaration. But as a recent advertisement for Ultratech India’s new product will have you believe, what’s truly worth remembering is how tight your vagina was.

In fact, this promotion of virgin nostalgia is anti-feminist. If it is a path-breaking moment, what about those holding a stick to beat you with about “an issue over a tissue”?

In the 60-second video commercial made by advertising agency Curry Nation, a young man, presumably dressed for work, bends to touch his parents feet, as his comely young wife, carrying a tiffin box for him, first runs a finger down his back, and then croons — “Ooh, I feel like a virgin”. As his father spits out his tea, and a young boy pulls out his phone to start recording — the husband joins in her salsa number singing — “Oh yes, you do”. The two dance all around the courtyard, loosely borrowing lyrics from Madonna (“Touched for the very first time”) and eventually waltz their way into the privacy of a bedroom.

Curry Nation’s account manager Nagessh Pannaswami insists that a tighter vagina is empowering, because “it’s not just about sexual pleasure, but also about preventing infection, discharge, urinary incontinence, and making older women feel good”.

I do not like such obfuscation. Condom ads are sold for pleasure. Creams for men to get a stiff are sold for pleasure. A gel for tightening of the vagina ought to be marketed for that. Just as some women might find flapping labia as breaking free from shackles – I assume they are perfectly fine with a limp penis, if not delirious about it – there are women who prefer a tighter squeeze. That’s the reason they sit on the pot and perform that routine.

It is disconcerting how under the guise of speaking up for the rights of women, a few forget that childbirth, menopause and even highly charged sexual activity could result in loosening of muscles. Talk to gynaecologists and check whether or not the more forthcoming women express concern about this. They take medical assistance. It is not as though intervention is not sought. So, do people have a problem only with the ad and not the need?

While one could appreciate the advertisement’s attempt to talk about pleasure in a sexually repressed country, Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, points out that it is still the man’s pleasure that we’re talking about. Menon, who finds the idea of a ‘vaginal tightening gel’ hilarious and maddening, says “the perversity of it all lies in the fact that (using the gel) will be sold as a health issue, as something women ‘should’ do to take better care of their bodies”.

If ads could promote health, then we would still not have public service ads for several ailments or fall so ill to need doctors for a cold. The professor, and I will be repeating what I said in the earlier piece, forgets that a woman also gets pleasure. The ad conveys that. Object to ads using women to push products like cars and alcohol where she is a clinging hanger-on. Of course, it is delightful to watch Priyanka Chopra go for a spin on a scooty and declare, “Why must boys have all the fun?”, and she kind of rides solo, but then there are problems with the colours used. There is much whining about those pinks and yellows. As though women do not wear those colours. As though we do not baulk when men wear what we think are feminine colours.

Object to this:

Ad-man Prahlad Kakar, responsible for handling ad-campaigns for some of India’s biggest brands, such as Pepsi and Cadbury, says that while selling feminine products is always tricky, Curry Nation could have sold the gel better if they had chosen a toned, athletic woman in the advertisement instead of a woman in a sari — “possibly a gymnast on the bars, because a tight body automatically makes you think of a tight vagina”.

I find such thinking offensive. The so-called liberal male who has often spoken about women’s rights is making it sound like sex is all about acrobatics with young agile women. Just for this, let us see that the ad is talking about a vast majority of middle-class Indian women, who might be reluctant to approach their gynaecs or even talk about it with their spouses.

The report rightly asks about clinical trials, but there is a problem with the clause: “given that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and gynaecologists do not encourage women to douche excessively or use external products”. The reason for discouraging the use of douches is precisely because they loosen the muscles. Now, what would you say?

Quoting the product’s spokesperson the piece states:

“the time is right for a product like this — women are looking after every part of their body, and looking after the vagina is the next natural step to being healthy and confident”. That the ideal of this health and confidence should be an 18-year-old virgin, does not strike him as ridiculous.

Both are unfortunately trapped. The advertisers are on the defensive even as they wish to make the most of the publicity (and guess where that comes from? Those objecting to the ads!) and try to explain the ad in guilt-ridden terms. As regards the comment about health and confidence being an 18-year-old virgin’s prerogative, it is not. The people in the ad are not 18.

Fact is that younger people are healthier; I am not so sure about confidence. That often comes with age and experience. The young are perhaps more cocksure. To feel like a virgin essentially conveys a burst of resurgence. (Think about metaphors using the word ‘virginal’.) It can be sportspersons endorsing health drinks or older actors licking Chyawanprash. If there is a problem with ads that target women, then we should also object to masculinity fortifying ads. For, that too raises questions about why women need to deal with a ready-to-go guy. They might not want it. I mean, they are probably looking to cuddle up, watch a movie or, wait, they have deadlines to meet, project reports to prepare. They are on the ball, and anything that comes in the way is a nuisance.

Don’t you want to talk about that?

Here’s more on the ad:

An accented woman’s voice tells us we can all feel like virgins, thanks to ‘18 Again’ vaginal tightening gel. “Now in India” says the voice, implying that women all over the world have already tightened their vaginas and stopped their husbands from going to work. In the advertisement’s parting shot, the ageing mother-in-law is bent over the keyboard, painstakingly keying in one letter at a time to order the product online, while her husband pats her shoulder with an excited smile.

Just for information, hymen tightening surgeries are not uncommon. They are pretty much there with botox, breast implants, liposuction. Why does the ad use the world as a calling card, that too with an accented voice-over? I guess, for the same reason that the report quotes American writer Naomi Wolf!

This is not really a new product. Ayurveda offers remedies. Pakistani manufacturers too advertise it:


...we've launched a researched based herbal vaginal tightening gel. Due to the child birth, age factors and physical factors, the flexibility, tightness and grip of the vaginal muscles do gel loosen, it results in diminished sexual pleasure for both the partners and brings inferiority complex in women, also in this condition vaginal canal is more prone to infections. Gel is restores the strength of vaginal muscles.. so what're you waiting for???

And what is wrong about an ageing woman ordering the product? Is there an objection that her husband shows excitement? Would we have the same problem if an older man places an order for a product and his wife is happy about it? No one seems to have problems with older celebrities and young women. How do you think they manage? What about older women who are in relationships with younger men?

As I said, this is about sexual pleasure and the ad portrays it. For those who have a problem with a guy not going to office because a woman has tightened it for him probably need to be shown a hard-on to convince them that there is something called pleasure. Pleasure is empowering, too.

(c) Farzana Versey