30.12.12

Sunday ka Funda

A young student of Zen was going to the market to buy vegetables for the monastery where he was studying. On the way he met a student from another monastery.

“Where are you going?” asked the first student.

“Wherever my legs take me,” replied the other.

The first student pondered over the answer as he was sure it had some deep significance.When he returned to the monastery, he reported the conversation to his teacher, who said: “You should have asked him what he would do if he had no legs.”

The next day the student was thrilled to see the same boy coming towards him. “Where are you going?” he asked and without waiting for a reply continued, “Wherever your legs take you, I suppose. Well, let me ask you . . .”

“You’re mistaken,” interrupted the other boy. “Today I’m going wherever the wind blows.”

This answer so confused the first boy that he could not think of anything to say. When he reported the matter to his teacher, the old man said: “You should have asked him what he would do if there were no wind.”

Some days later the student saw the boy in the market again and rushed to confront him, confident that this time he would have the last word. “Where are you going?” he asked.“Wherever your legs take you or wherever the wind blows? Well, let me ask you . . . . ”

“No, no,” interrupted the boy. “Today I’m going to buy vegetables.”

(A Zen tale)

28.12.12

Painting and Denting Misogyny: Losing the Plot

So he gets a rap, naughty boy!

A man makes a sexist statement. We cry misogyny, and rightly so. But, who is this man and why are his utterances so important?


Abhijit Mukherjee is one of those political 'leaders' who has inherited his career; his father is the President of India. A phrase from his remarks about the protestors in Delhi saying that they were "highly dented and painted" women has become the pivot of a war. This should tell us a lot about such wars. Here's a chunk from the quote:

"(These are people) who have little connection with the ground reality. In India, walking on the street with candle, going to discotheques...Those who are coming in the name of students, pretty pretty women, highly dented and painted, giving interviews on TV, as if they have come to show their kids and others..."

Two important points here:

  • His speech was in Bangla to a Bengali channel, but this phrase was in English. It means that he wanted it to immediately reach a wide audience. What he may never earn by way of fame, he has got through the notorious route.
  • The analogy is primarily of cars. I have no intention of giving him the benefit of doubt, but dent also means "to make a dent (an impression)". However, clubbed with painted it is obviously a scratch/abrasion. Intriguingly, while running down some women he actually believes that despite such reductionism they can "have an adverse effect on" those around, which is what the word denotes in a larger sense.

His words are kneejerk. So, unfortunately, are most reactions. In fact, the speed with which serious Op-eds are churned out and live panel discussions are arranged makes one wonder as to who is really making a joke of it.

I am afraid, but holding up an individual's comments may serve the valid purpose of making it into a showpiece, but the very space that women wish to reclaim is being handed over on a platter for such nonsensical debates. Are women learning something new about male attitudes?

A few weeks ago, another politician, Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said to BJP member Smriti Irani on a TV discussion:

"Char din hue hain aur aap rajnitik vishleshak bani firti hain (It's been only four days that you have entered politics and you have already turned into a political analyst). Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi (Till about some time ago, you used to dance on TV and now you have become an analyst)!"

He was insulting her. What was the media response? To refer to him as a would-be rapist. Aren't we concerned about how a serious crime against women is being used as a metaphor for just about everything? It is cringing to read pieces by women about how they were touched here and there at different stages in their lives.

The derogatory aspect apart, aren't there women whose job it is to dance? I had said this when Imam Bukhari made a similar statement about Shabana Azmi. Would the more appropriate response by women not be to dignify the profession rather than feel 'defamed' by it? Or are we seeing a neat hierarchy in which certain women have natural rights as opposed to those who will fight for the 'lesser' ones?

I watched one of those debates on 'dented and painted' on Times Now last night. It was absurd and sheer theatre. To the incessant queries of “What do you have to say”, Mukherjee kept up a monotone, “I’ve already withdrawn my statement, I have nothing more to say”. The anchor, Arnab Goswami, kept repeating, “I think you are nervous”, when the host had the nervous tic. Did it achieve anything except to prove that the media could outshout Mukherjee and look even more ludicrous?

His sister was shocked and according to the host said that she as an emancipated woman had been to discotheques. Honestly, how is that a sign of emancipation?

It was curious to see a representative from Slutwalk on the panel. Would the studios bring women from the red-light areas to discuss women’s issues? About Slutwalk, I had earlier written here:

“How grounded are they in such real issues and what about the already educated men in the BMWs who commit date rape? What about marital rape and the silence of emotional rape?”
We buy cars that use women


It is also quite hypocritical that while one person is made an example of (a few others are mentioned by turns), we forget that many people refer to painted, artificial, botoxed, plumped up women who are considered lower down in the entertainment industry or when we discuss socialites. Terms like cow, bitch, cat fights are the stuff of social media and Page 3 chatter, and we have all at some time used these. How, then, does our conscience revolt for a group? This is clearly about acceptability. By accepting them we legitimise ourselves as superior in some ways. In the initial days of the Anna Movement, people assumed they were upholding a Gandhian prototype.

Do men become sensitised by seeing one of their own become a public square exhibit, when many of them probably talk like this in private?

If any woman imagines that a male feminist renaissance is possible due to such display news, she needs a reality check. She might also like to examine her own position. There are women who run down others for wearing makeup or for being haggard. Advertisements use envy or competitiveness rather effectively to market cosmetics.

And cars are sold with a woman as a sexy mascot. Is it fine because they aren’t quite dented enough to be painted over? 

(c) Farzana Versey

27.12.12

We, the animals: Bestiality and evolution

A still-born baby would not be news. Unless the baby is a dead lamb with a human-like face. Evolution throws up such surprises. How we react to them also shows how we perceive our evolvement when confronted with other forms.

Erhan Elibol, a vet, had to perform a caesarean on a sheep in a Turkish village in 2010. He said:

“I’ve seen mutations with cows and sheep before. I’ve seen a one-eyed calf, a two-headed calf, a five-legged calf. But when I saw this youngster I could not believe my eyes.”

The lamb’s head had human features on – the eyes, the nose and the mouth – only the ears were those of a sheep.




While the reports suggest that the fodder of the mother had abundant vitamin A, the subtext is the possibility of beast and human cohabitation. A similar example mentioned a goat from Zimbabwe. It managed to live for many hours. The villagers were so afraid, they killed it.

The governor of the province had said:

"This incident is very shocking. It is my first time to see such an evil thing. It is really embarrassing. The head belongs to a man while the body is that of a goat. This is evident that an adult human being was responsible. Evil powers caused this person to lose self control. We often hear cases of human beings who commit bestiality but this is the first time for such an act to produce a product with human features.”

A similar fate, or at least ridicule, is meted out to children with dominant animal features.

Scientific Darwinian explanation would merely allude to the possibility of an ‘antecedent’ strain embedded in the human body and, perhaps, mind. We live in fairly close communion with what we term ‘domesticated’ creatures, much as we refer to human – unfortunately more often women – in such a manner to suggest a comfort with the hearth than with the caveman skills of slaying lions.

Have religious mores made the human less animal? How would then one explain “unnatural sex”, which mimics to an extent animal behaviour when in heat? Humans do not have a period of being in heat. Should one therefore assume that evolution has empowered the homosapien to continue with perpetual animalistic behaviour, and the true test is the amount of value-laden acts that manage to supercede pleasure? However, experiencing pleasure is a human boon; animals do not feel it, except perhaps as relief, much as scratching an itch.

When we read about instances of humans and animals, the preference seems to be for what might broadly be the canine and bovine family. There is rarely an instance of sex with simians, who are closest to us. Is there a ‘morality’ embedded in unnaturalism, where this would be deemed as incest?

Also, would we be able to stretch attraction to pets where the sexual act might never occur but the affection is a compensatory aspect, and indeed the nuzzling, caressing, licking are not too far from human foreplay? These do not worry us, or even cross our minds, because there is a clear demarcation in our ethical paradigm. Bestiality is when the lines blur. A human having intercourse with an animal is termed bestial. We refuse to see it from the animal perspective. Surely, we could not term it ‘humanistic’. And we do not even care much about it. That probably explains how eveolved we are, for we can take control of our acts and how we choose to see them, as also the moral dimension we give it.

“Evil powers” are blamed. Men have used such evil powers against other humans too. In fact, in the animal kingdom, there appears to be more equality in sexual encounters. There may not be long-term relationships, but the act itself is not confined to the male prerogative to ‘take’. In the human context, women who are adventurous may be exciting, but they are termed “wild” by their partners too. Even a progressive man would not fail to notice the uninhibited passion. It is, therefore, seen as a departure from what is common human conduct.

Recently, a 750-year-old stone tablet was discovered in Vasai, a far suburb of Mumbai, that suggests a woman had copulated with a donkey. 




The Times of India report quotes historian Shridatta Raut, of Kille Vasai Mohim, who chanced upon the tablet:

“The stone dates back to the era of the Shilahara kings, who ruled Vasai around 1,000 years ago. It bears a few lines in Sanskrit that we are trying to decipher. Years of exposure to the elements and accumulated dirt have blurred the inscription, but we have read a series of ‘Shri Shri Shri Shri’, which shows that the tablet must have been commissioned by a senior courtier or perhaps a Brahmin. The stone bears an image of a donkey copulating with a human female, perhaps threatening transgressors that a similar fate would befall their women should their menfolk ignore the warning.” 

This suggests that not only did humans a few centuries ago use women for procreation, but were not averse to the idea of bestiality as punishment. The female as wartime booty had become a fairly common occurrence. This ‘tradition’ continues. What is deemed as repugnant has been legitimised as machismo. For the male, woman is property is used to protect other property.

Is it much different from animals marking their territory?

© Farzana Versey

25.12.12

Beyond 'Theek Hai': A Brother, the PM and Media Mischief

Nothing has moved me as much today as the words of the brother of the Delhi gangrape victim. Here are a few quotes from the report:

•“It is like the life we had a week ago never existed. Every day is now passing by in a flash. When I switch on the TV or log on to a social networking site, I see these emotional outbursts about Damini, Amanat, Nirbhaya (the names some media organisations have given the victim). It’s hard to digest that this is my sister they are talking about."

•“I thought the channel in question had got my sister’s name wrong, because they said ‘Damini’s condition is deteriorating’ — they addressed her like that. I was reassured from the first day that our names, my sister’s name would not come out. I was furious."

•“Every two hours, there is a new rumour. On social networks, celebrities and many friends flash her obituaries every night. For them it is just an online status they correct in two hours. At the same time, media channels say she has had a two-hour conversation, she has walked, she has smiled, she has hugged UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi."

It is easy to join the hype and the popular outrage. I felt a bit out of place. But, this young man's words confirms my belief that the media does more harm than good.

He, however, does not completely dismiss the protest movement. But, has it not brought even more fear in his life?

- - -

Read the papers, and suddenly rape cases stare you in the face. This is not sensitising, but is likely to numb people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came on TV and gave a short speech. People know the precise time - 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Had it been longer, would it change anything?

He became the butt of jokes because a news wire service forgot to edit out his post-speech words "Theek hai". It gave the impression that the PM was saying all is well.

>“Since the team got delayed because of the traffic diversions and the heavy equipment, they were unable to set up a teleprompter for the PM,” a source said. The PM’s address was uplinked directly to TV channels with the “theek hai” comment that went on air. Later, news agency ANI clarified, “A question to ANI’s cameraman was inadvertently broadcast by some news channels as we fed the PM’s message. The lapse was rectified.”<

It does not seem inadvertent. The media is upto mischief, especially when the news is hot.

Yet, one has got to be particularly stupid to see disembodied words nullifying the main speech.

But, stupidity is just a click away. It transforms into concern.

So, if you are concerned about security of women, then the government is meeting you halfway. Write to the Justice Verma Committee directly. I know it will deflate the efforts of 'petition' waalas. But this is what you can do:

Wayward Thoughts: Burst of Light

A burst of light makes the difference. The street is the same. The noise, the traffic, people skirting unpaved portions of a fragile road.

A burst of light makes a difference. I inhale polluted air, but the breeze offers cooling respite, branches sway and let me see kaleidoscopic images of what might be mundane.

A burst of light makes a difference. Sharing what I see from my balcony:

And a wish to all in words conveyed so well and simply by Charles Dickens:

"Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home."

24.12.12

Diary from Raisina Hill: The voice of a 17-year-old

(This is a fictitious account that I would have written if I were young and at Delhi on this day) 

 
I live in Delhi and have already been to President’s house and Mughal Gardens. But yesterday, I heard my friends from college were going to protest. I know that girl got raped badly and is fighting for her life. How is the paper calling her ‘Nirbhaya’, fearless one? Don’t they understand she must have been so frightened at the time? It frightened me. I travel by bus. Papa wants me to become independent and not use the family car. My brother and sister are five and seven years older. I know the criminals should get punished forever. Why are police never around? And why are they calling it ‘Shame’. One lady even wrote that raping with penis is different from raping with iron rod. I find this shameless. Why are they calculating? I get angry with this.

Last night I sat to watch news on TV and chatted with Bhaiyya and Didi. I saw big crowds, people saying this is Tahrir Square and Tiananmen Square. Earlier they used to say we were like Singapore and Shanghai. I am getting confused. Then those cops brought out water cannons, put big yellow fences and even ran with lathis. The TV people said the students also threw stones and damaged property.

How do we know whether they were students? And from Delhi? I began to feel stupid that I was not there. They were saying this is voice of India. My voice was not there. Didi, Bhaiyya, Mummy, Papa, even our driver Sohanlal and maid Sumitra were not there. They are also India. How all these big actors become voices of India? Anchors were shouting that no one cares, that the President didn’t come out to meet these people. But who are these people? Why did Swami Ramdev want to come here? If he is concerned about rape, why does he not speak out against all those dirty acts in ashrams and madrassas and churches? Why does everybody want to take to the streets? Annaji, Arvindji, all fighting for the common man, but surrounded by famous people.

I read somewhere that those who don’t support the protest live in ivory towers. We live in Kalkaji. Both of my parents work. We went to good schools and colleges, but are taught the value of work. Didi did part-time voluntary work in an orphanage; she is now an intern at a government hospital. Bhaiyya is studying to be a lawyer, but he helps out at a friend’s CA firm. I wanted to be a journalist. Now I am not sure. The papers are full of stories I already saw on TV or read on social sites. If I join a TV channel, what will I do? Run from one place to another and get people to scream and shout and I will also scream and shout and feel important? Didi was giggling when she was looking at something on the computer. It was about Kanchan uncle and Barkha aunty, and who was on whose side at Raisina Hill. Everyone liked to say Raisina Hill. There is no hill there. Anyway, why should TV and media people be on anyone’s side and why should we, the people, have to be fed this ‘news’? If this is India’s voice then why are different news waalas talking different things about what should be one voice?

They are saying this is reporting from the ground, this is reality, we must get real. We who are not doing anything are elite types. How do they know the youngsters protesting are not from elite families? I know some who went there. They are very rich and many don’t even read papers. I saw their Facebook walls with photos from the site. I don’t want to lose their friendship and I wanted to click ‘like’, but what is there to like about someone running, some climbing electric poles? One dude even removed his shirt. He looked kewl and I like him. Am sure many girls will. He will become popular. Will that girl in the hospital bed know all this tamasha is for her? How will she feel? 


Our parents taught us to be careful. Now some aunty on YouTube was shouting (why are they always shouting? Is this what they mean by being voice of India?) that women can go out anytime, anywhere, wear what they want, it is their right. I want to ask mummy why I can’t wear short skirts and have a curfew time. But then Bhaiyya has to also follow some rules. If he took out his shirt, he has had it. Once he kept a few buttons open and was going out. Mummy gave him such a firing. He will get angry if I say this, but he wanted to look sexy. Papa told him nicely later that it looks vulgar and no girl gets attracted to this. So, we have restrictions.

Now they say it means we don’t have independence. As far as I know, all of us made decisions about what subjects to choose, what professions we want. We wear clothes of our choice – skirts (but not so short that we have to think twice before bending), jeans, salwaars. We have friends and our parents never stopped us from going to their houses or inviting them. Didi has a boyfriend and he is from another caste, another city. So, now someone will again say we are elite. Raveena Tandon is not? Farhan Akhtar is not?

It is true men behave badly in public places. They have no right to. Some girls carry sharp clips in their hair from Mummy’s young days. So in 20-30 years it has been like this, not only in Delhi. I read this article where the words “rape culture” was used. What is culture about it? I asked Didi. She said it is not proper use of word. What is culture, I asked. I know, but I wanted her opinion. She said culture is art and also how each society is different and unique in dress, food, behaviour. So, how can anyone talk about rape culture as though it is part of life?

Why are they protesting when they say people want rights? They are asking for strict laws. Why don’t they file cases? I see so many times youngsters don’t even help out elderly people to cross the road. If they have so much time and energy to protest, they should form groups and do police work. The government has now apologised. But can politicians be on buses to see who is a criminal? The law has to be strict. For everyone. In Mumbai’s Marine Drive some years ago a cop raped a girl inside the chowkie and the residents were more worried about their reputation.


People are saying how dare peaceful protestors are called mobs. All mobs become unruly. They are called ‘lumpen elements’. Go to Kashmir. Go to the North East. Go to small towns.

Who is the leader of these protestors? In a year’s time I will be able to vote. I will be able to choose a candidate, a political party. I cannot do that with these protestors. They want justice. I also want justice, not for one case, but for all cases. Even today, I am seeing protestors versus police. Then, how can we ask same police to change? People are saying it was spontaneous. How can you have posters and flags and all that just like that?

One uncle was proudly saying he has not missed any protest and is sorry he cannot be in Delhi. Just imagine, he thinks he is a proud Indian because of this and all who don’t agree are not Indian. Then people at Azad Maidan, at Ramleela Grounds are most Indian. Why are the other politicians not at the protest, the big people like Shri Adbaniji or Shri Modiji or Mayawatiji or Mulayam Singhji or Mamata Bannerjeeji? Political parties are talking against each other. So, who is the real voice of India?

Please don’t judge those who don’t come out in the streets. Don’t ask ladies to take cabs with woman drivers only because of rape cases. One day you say women should choose what they want. So, let them decide what driver they want. Don’t create fear.

I am very sad I could not be with some of my friends, but I am also happy that I will one day really fight for justice. My Bhaiyya will. My sister will. My maid Sumitra fights everyday to make her children grow up and not be poor. Her daughter goes to school. No one from her basti went to the protest rally. They did not even know about it. They don’t have smartphones and Facebook accounts. One day they will. And they will ask to be treated equally in offices, not only men and women but irrespective of gender. They will put photos of achievements, not screaming and shouting. And I will ‘like’ that.

Sohanlal and Sumitra are also voices of India. Can you hear them?

(c) Farzana Versey 

---

All images: MSN

23.12.12

Sunday ka Funda

“The biggest cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid people are so sure about things and the intelligent folks are so full of doubts.” 

- Bertrand Russell

Today's choice of music is not directly related to this quote. There is just unspeakable sadness that goes beyond stupidity and doubt. The problems with the world are often best expressed in small personal ordeals. And it does not need each word to be understood.

"Don't talk that way, my cruel lover, 
Let me save you from the ordeals."

20.12.12

Subject: Delhi gang rape

1. Have you cried and publicly announced it?

2. Have you derided the political insensitivity?

3. Have you said, oh, everyone is talking about Modi and no one cares about the Delhi gangrape?

4. Have you applauded Jaya Bachchan for breaking down in Parliament after insisting she have her say?

5. Have you handed out certificates to the last word on rape to someone who is sitting in a posh office and writing about it, just as I am doing now?

6. Have you signed a petition?

I have done none of these. There is a half-written piece. And I look around and see the same old riding-the-bandwagon of a media-propped tragedy.

Look at this ad:

When will we be a shamed India? Is it all about shame? A commercial brand using rape to sell its butter is shameful.

Then, there is this comment at a petition site under 'Reasons for signing' (It has got 170 'likes'):

"I guess until some big politician's wife and or daughter is raped, Indian politicians won't wake up"- B Suri, India

Does anyone realise how regressive it is? You talk about protecting women and allude to the rape of other women. How is a politician's wife or daughter to be blamed for laws and the acts of criminals?

Jaya Bachchan too touted the regressive "In the land where woman is worshipped" line, giving the example of goddess Durga. Her tears became national news.

A 23-year-old fighting for her life is a 'subject'. This is not one case. If we must speak, then speak at every opportunity we get. Speak before it becomes a TRP rating. It does not mean one should not speak about it. Just let's not get into a race to reach some goalpost.

- - -

End note

Raise these questions, particularly about a celebrity, and brown-nosers snigger. I, who have been accused of being too emotional in my writings, am given the riposte that it is okay to get emotional in Parliament, but not on a public forum like a blog. This is so asinine it does not even merit a response.

People who don't understand patriarchy are ready to lecture you.

I bring this up because it is just such an insecure masculine mindset; it afflicts some women too.

(c) Farzana Versey

18.12.12

Hunger can't wait - Don't throw the 600 bucks



If we take into account the starvation deaths in India, then Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit's comments would not be seen as such a joke.

We are ignoring the reality to project what we believe, perhaps rightly, is her fictional notion of how much it takes for a poor family to live.

Here is what she said:

“In Rs. 600, he would get dal, rice and wheat...A family of five can easily complete their needs.”

This Rs 600 is a monthly cash subsidy under the Dilli Anna Shri Yojna, a food security measure, to be transferred directly into Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of the senior-most female members of two lakh poor families. 

Ms. Dikshit is probably not in touch with the ground reality, a term we like to flaunt, but this money is not a replacement for other options. Just think about the statistics and you will see that this scheme should have been introduced long ago.

A cursory look around reveals:

"The International Food Policy Research Institute's 2011 Global Hunger Index, it ranks 67 out of 81 countries and has more than 200 million food-insecure people, the most in the world."

We produce so much food that we can export it. A good deal of it, though, ends up rotting in warehouses. Why is it not used to feed the poor and children who die of malnourishment?

Years ago when Tamil Nadu introduced the mid-day meal scheme during MGR’s tenure as chief minister, it came in for criticism. Partly because his then PR in charge was Ms. Jayalalitha, now the CM, and it was thought to be populist.

We need to slacken our righteousness where populist moves are concerned, if they benefit some people. The two lakh who will gain from this Rs 600 stipend cannot be the end-of-the-road vote bank. Besides, those in charge of providing essential food, shelter, clothes often siphon off those funds.

The newly-minted Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal was among the first to criticise the scheme:

“Jab unhein aata dal ka mol hi nahin maloom toh woh logon ke liye kya karengey? (If she does not know the price of essentials, how will she do anything for the people?) A cash subsidy can never be a substitute for rations. A Rs-600 subsidy cannot solve anything. Inflation is not a static phenomenon. The subsidy is almost like a sop before the assembly polls. It is the job of the government to organize a healthy public distribution system and not somehow fulfil its obligation by giving a cash subsidy.”

I don’t see how a politician keeping track on prices is a prerequisite for solving issues. This may be a sop, but as I already mentioned it does not mean the beneficiaries should sit with this and not seek other opportunities. If we wait to address the issue of unemployment or public distribution, then we miss out on the immediate needs of a few. Mr. Kejriwal probably is not aware that ration shops sell the lowest grade available as mid-grade to those who can afford it. He might like to peek into the grains to see just how bad they are and how often they are sold in the black market.

Harsh Mander, special commissioner to the Supreme Court on the right to food said:

“The government's disconnect with ground realities is self-evident. Even a homeless person ends up spending Rs 100 to Rs 150 for his daily needs. It is not that the poor are just looking for handouts. They are hard working and desire a life of dignity. A labourer works hard to earn a living. It is the duty of the government to ensure that labour laws are implemented. Same is the case with the PDS system.”

Is he serious? A homeless person spends 100 odd bucks a day? On what? There are no overheads, so what is the expenditure breakup? Such flashy statements do more harm than good.
                                                                          
No one is denying that the poor should be granted a life of dignity as much as any other citizen. But let us not romanticise poverty. Take a look at the beggars around. Try offering them stuff you take in your doggy bag and it is likely to be rejected. If begging is not seeking handouts, then what is? Has anyone attempted buying knick-knacks and asking a beggar to go sell these and earn? I have. It does not work. This does not get enough money. Of course, there is a begging racket run by a mafia and many of them have no choice. Look at the crowds of them outside restaurants near places of worship and you will realise how they feed off the guilt of devotees. I am quite certain that they’d gladly take the Rs 600.



Is this money enough to feed a family of five? The obvious answer is, no. But think about those who go hungry and you will accept that this is a small step. I am setting aside all political considerations for now.

The fact that the senior-most female member gets it in her account is another positive step. This will ensure it is not hogged by the men, or at least she has the power to assert her right over it. If some NGOs join in and educate them on innovative use of funds then, say, the wheat can be used to sell ready-made chapattis; that will bring in additional income.

I can give an example of how community cooking too can help. This was in a village off Mahad in Maharashtra. It had no electricity. Late evening, two huge vessels were simmering with dal while some women were rolling rotis. It was winter and quite nippy, so the firewood kept them warm. They ate on plantain leaves, so they saved on washing dishes.

If a group of people collect their respective Rs 600 and replicate this, it might work at least to assuage to some extent the problem of their hunger. The Planning Commission's India Human Development Report states, “If India is not in a state of famine, it is quite clearly in a state of chronic hunger.”

But, everybody wants to be Mother Teresa. If we can contribute as little as Rs 6 a month each for such schemes, instead of signing petitions and one-off donation drives, we might eventually make huge strides.

Getting Paris Hilton to visit an orphanage is worse than doing a taking digs at an Indian politician. I fail to understand why opposition groups, or even activists, cry foul only when certain pro-active schemes are introduced. Why do they not raise these issues all the time, if they are so grounded and would be cognisant that this is a huge ongoing problem? Why is corruption a bigger plank than dignity of the poor, then? This too is politics.

Poverty has fed many politicians, right from the time of Mahatma Gandhi. If it also manages to feed the poor, it is worthwhile to make it popular instead of ranting about populism. 

(c) Farzana Versey

16.12.12

Sunday ka Funda

"Where there's a carcass, there will be vultures"

- Malayan proverb


This truly disgusts me. You are being urged to watch the live mourning of the grief-stricken family of the nurse who committted suicide after a prank call she took regarding Kate Middleton's pregnancy.

What would anyone get from this? Is personal tragedy now all about downloading apps? Will they download tears, too?

Regarding Barack Obama, too, his condolence address on the school shootout in Connecticut has been telecast. This is just commercialising a crime and its tragic consequences.

At least vultures don't pretend to grieve.

PS: I've blanked out the SMS number and website url. Also, fused two ads that appeared separately.

15.12.12

Babri, Balasaheb and Rehman Malik

Overreactions are the new analyses. So it is that one comment by Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik has been described as a "blow to Indo-Pak relationship".

This reveals more about us - that for fake diplomacy we will reuse a comparison that we say should not have been made. How convenient it is. Here is what Mr. Malik said:

"We don't want any 9/11, we don't want any Mumbai bomb blast (attacks), we don't want any Samjhauta Express blast and we don't want Babri masjid issue."

We don't want Pakistan to meddle in our affairs, but why the rage? Don't we talk about minorities in Pakistan? Why, we even discuss Balochistan. The minister has subsequently clarified:
"When I spoke of Babri, I never compared it with terror acts. What I said is that we do not want ugly incidents..."

I don't agree with him. My problem is that anything coming from Pakistan about issues to do with Indian Muslims makes it difficult for the latter. We don't need Pakistan to solve our problems, but we don't lead isolated existences. The US rakes up 26/11 on its 'do India' time. Why does it interfere in what is our problem? It uses it for its 'war on terror' narrative.

I'd also like to state in clear terms that the post demolition riots were an act of terror. On what grounds, do we make a difference? Only because our own people did it, does it become a lesser crime?

- - -

Now that Bal Thackeray is no more, should his legacy be killed? I ask this with reference to drop cases against him in the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots, as well as the active participation of Shiv Sainiks in the kar seva and the act, something their leader was proud of on record.

An IPS officer quoted in TOI said: "The CBI has informally approached the Mumbai police for this purpose. We are expecting a written communication from the CBI in a day or two. We will certainly provide them with the relevant documents."

The relevant documents are the death certificate and not reports of incitement.
The others who participated in the crime are alive. Since the CBI has woken up, can it pursue those 20-year-old cases? It is rather impudent that it openly seeks closing of a case against one respondent who is dead, whereas families of several dead people await justice.

But then, when has justice been top priority, especially when we talk about holy cows?

- - -

If one 'legacy' is sought to be scotched, another is being forcibly kept alive.

"If they mind their business, the Indian Army will mind its own." This is what an officer said about preparations for Vijay Diwas at Shivaji Park.

Why does the army have to even talk to the Shiv Sena? The party is refusing to vacate the space and has put a couple of hundred workers on vigil. Newspapers report that there is concern about a midnight coup to dismantle what was meant to be a temporary funeral stage and not a memorial. This is illegal occupation of land. The state government does not need to use sly tactics. It can legally remove the structure.

The latest news is gratifying. The Shiv Sena has agreed to remove the makeshift structure. We are a nation that creates shrines everywhere. Bal Thackeray, whatever be one's political stance towards him, was a leader revered by many. However, a memorial to him is not a national concern. His party has every right to commemorate him, but it needs to do so with government sanction.

It is a bit surprising they wanted the place itself named after Balasaheb. Whatever happened to their fealty towards Chhatrapati Shivaji? Wasn't their leader a huge admirer who, in fact, mimicked the Maratha king?

Uddhav Thackeray, his son and leader of the Sena had better not fall into the trap of old tactics. The lure of demagogues only works until the rally ends. These days, such excitement cannot work as more than retail therapy.

14.12.12

The Muse of Strings: Ravi Shankar


He had the most beautiful fingers. With head bent slightly tuning the sitar, he looked like a mother putting a child to sleep. Ravi Shankar is asleep forever. He died on Tuesday, December 11, at 92.

Frozen in death, memories come alive. He made the sitar, essentially an accompanying instrument to the vocalist, a solo hero. But, was it only the magic with the strings that made him who he was?

The cult

Flower power was looking to use its hands. Fingers fisted for release were itching for more. The long-haired, crumpled kurtas of Woodstock found in the sitar the sound of pain. The rudra veena, another stringed instrument, made famous by many a saint including Meera, was more of a wail, a plaintive cry. It was all emotion. The sitar could whip up angry angst and uninhibited joy.

Ravi Shankar realised it was here that he would find heroism. In India, he’d be relegated to sitting behind or next to singers who rarely acknowledged the presence of musicians; they were such giants that it was said the ragas they sang could produce rain, light up rooms…Indian music was meshed with mythology.

Ravi Shankar was too much of a modernist. He belonged to the classic Bengali school of thought that believed there was a rational reason for every act. When the Beatles sought him out, he probably figured that their belief in him had a reason. He was no hippie or backpacker. The bhadralok were a gentlemanly and genteel class whose arrogance preceded their accomplishments. However, it also produced people like Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, and Panditji had a subliminal and real connection with both.

They did not spend time at addas (corner coffee stalls or an animated gathering) to discuss the day’s events. They sat in their rockers, filled their pipes, used their beautiful fingers – this seems to be a common thread – and painted worlds from homes with high ceilings. It is easy to dismiss these as ivory tower impressions, but the distance gave their works a touch of both irony and poignancy. Think of a film by Ray based on a story by Tagore and as the scene pans to fields or the desolation of an empty house, the silence is broken by what sounds like broken glass.

Ravi Shankar’s music created shards.


With George Harrison

The hippies were amblers, the neo fire-walkers. They had to quieten the noises in their heads. A man bending over, putting a child to sleep was their answer.

It can be rightly said that Ravi Shankar took Indian classical music to the globe. He was not the first, but he did what levitating gurus did: made it popular. When he realised that these flower children would soon tire with their death wishes, the essential survivalist in him forsook them. It was a pragmatic decision based on the fact that he had already collaborated with respectability in the form of Yehudi Menuhin.

Did it make him lose touch with the purity? That was his musical genius. Even as he got involved in fusion music, the sitar never played second fiddle.

The man

True artistes are difficult people at the best of times. Shankar as rock star and recusant did not like the muddied bonhomie. His finesse with the instrument did not make him shirk the good things of life. His face, chiselled like a rock, did not give away much. He was a stoic saint of subtle hedonism.

He was born in Varanasi. In those days the Ganges was clean. Smoke from cremated bodies in the ghats was mystical. The famed shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan sat there and mourned the dead breathing into the hollow of the windpipe. Ravi Shankar was finding his feet, dancing in his brother Uday Shankar’s ballet troupe.

Later, as a disciple of Baba Allauddin Khan, he honed his innate talent in an old-fashioned gurukul atmosphere, where all students went through the rigours of learning and living in austerity. When he had studied enough, instead of him giving guru dakshina (a token of humility to express indebtedness to the master), he seemed to have got a reward. He married his guru’s daughter, Annapoorna Devi. It was often rumoured that she could have been a better musician than him. She became the subservient partner at home. 

This dichotomy existed throughout his life. The modern musician and the misogynist. For a dancer and one who caressed his sitar with such gentle passion, whose very demeanour and speech reflected what people like to call the feminine side, women were integral to his life, but as appendages. This aspect of his persona is important to understand his attitude towards music, for it also serves as metaphor. The promiscuity allowed him to experiment musically as well. One fed the other.


Norah Jones

One of his long-term partners was Sue Jones. Once the relationship was over, he did not look back, not even at the daughter. Until the little one grew up to be Norah Jones of five Grammy awards. Panditji had nothing to do with her; he did not contribute to her upbringing and repertoire in any way. Yet, when there was media chatter about his genes (her mother was a performer too, but those genes were ignored) he claimed her.  

Why did he not stay away when she had refused to acknowledge him or use his fame? Was he not a great man? Was this an extension of his constant striving to re-invent himself? He said he was proud of Norah Jones although their music was very different; he had never said this about George Harrison’s music.

Anoushka, his daughter from his relationship with Sukanya, was luckier. But he took his time to legitimise them. Guilt and loneliness were making Panditji into a good Indian patriarch in California. As it turns out, Anoushka remains his most famous student. 

With Anoushka

The Counter-cult

Although he had differences with his contemporaries and younger musicians too, he quite loved being part of the establishment. In India, he was feted not so much by the knowledgeable, who probably envied him his popularity, but by bureaucrats and politicians. He was nominated to the Upper House in Parliament. The government awarded him the highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, jewel of India. He did use his influence to get land for a special school for music. All this would not have been possible had he sat on stage in India training a generation of young musicians.

In some ways, he was a pioneer of the commercially aspirational artiste. He did not sell feel-good homilies and physical contortions. Music was real. But it being exotic and alien certainly added to its appeal. As he said, “In our culture we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of god.” So, if he was the westernised Indian at home, abroad he remained the Indian who adapted to the west. Form was as important as content.

Early Indian classical music had depended on the patronage of the courts. It was the kings that kept the tradition alive. By the time Ravi Shankar began to make waves, there was little choice. He could stick to his art or play at venues. He chose a third option imbibing the other two. He had the luxury of choosing his patrons. How do we gauge creativity in this context? Pablo Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”

Several years ago, I stood in a music shop in a lane in Dadar, a crowded central suburb in Mumbai. It was dusty and instruments were displayed like hapless wares. I wanted to purchase a harmonium with my limited college-days budget. The store manager pointed his fingers in several directions without much interest. I hit the keys; they screeched. Soot had collected in the crevices of the unhandsome squat creature. The man had veered away. He pulled off a cloth from something that stood in a corner to reveal a statuesque beauty that looked like burnished gold under the lamp. He plucked at its strings. It sounded like a vain young girl’s anklet walking with measured steps. The hauteur was alluring. The sitar even in those grubby hands looked like a goddess.

Much later, I would find out that someone had become revered for understanding that reverence. The beautiful fingers of Pandit Ravi Shankar, head bent, was not putting a child to sleep. He was bowing before a sound he was a master of and a slave to. 

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -

At Woodstock

 

11.12.12

The Osho Show


"So many so-called saints are really schizophrenic — they cannot laugh. And if you cannot laugh, how can you weep? how can you cry? Both become impossible. When laughter and crying are impossible, your heart is completely dosed. You don’t have any emotions, you start living only in the head. Your whole reality consists of thoughts. Thoughts are dry — they cannot bring laughter, they cannot bring tears. Tears and laughter come from the heart. And clarity is not of the mind, clarity is of the heart. Confusion is of the mind."


Osho was not a godman; he wasn’t quite a charlatan.  He was, however, a game-changer in the ‘holy’ business. He had probably researched the market of vulnerability well before he decided to use his knowledge. It might seem odd, but he offered a variety of religions on one platform and used the nice bits from them, altered the language, and gave a whole new meaning to devotion.

While he rubbished organised religion, his ashram was a good and proper one. He was initially addressed as ‘Bhagwan’, god, and I think that even though he insisted this was the wish of his followers, he probably chuckled over it. It was just what he wanted – to turn deification on its head, sit on a high seat and with those hooded eyes deliver not sermons but bon mots…engage with people, encourage them to ask what seemed often like rehearsed questions.

They loved him, but essentially what transformed him into Osho – a huge plus to his marketing skills where he changed his own name – was that they loved themselves even more. The whole ‘get rid f the ego’ was a kick-ass search for the ego. 

"Mind is such a thing; it turns everything into a possession, because the ego can exist only if it possesses. And ego is the barrier. Ego is the water in which only reflections can be caught, the real can never be known."

I landed up there on invitation. After reading one of my not-so-flattering accounts about him, a lengthy fax was sent to the newspaper and forwarded to me. I was told how wrong I was and the only way to know what was going on was to visit. I went to Pune often, anyway, but never to Koregaon Park where the ashram was. Next time, I decided I’d visit. It was a breathtakingly beautiful place with beautiful people. One of his personal physicians took charge of educating me in the gentlest possible ways. A Hollywood producer’s wife came up to me and held my hand. There was so much warmth, it was a bit frightening. I felt I’d be drawn into this. Osho had hypnotic appeal, and a former ashramite told me that he was in fact quite wicked for he did use hypnosis to trap people. I might believe her, but mass hypnosis has also to do with herd behaviour.

When they were asked to let themselves go and surrender, there was nothing spiritual. It was animalistic. Therein lay the appeal. I visited a couple of times again. I was searching…these were pauses: the Zen garden, robed followers, the books, the smiles, the quiet corners, the sense of no borders where people from every country congregated. After leaving the gates, I took back a warm handshake. I realised that is what we don’t do often enough in the outside world – hold eye contact, hold hands, hold thoughts.

If we did that, then all that Osho or anyone says is about just living fully.

- - -

Here is something I found fascinating and amusing from his ‘teachings’:

Beloved Master,
I FEEL SHOCKED WHEN YOU USE THE WORD `F..K`. WHAT TO DO?
Said Osho:

"It is one of the most beautiful words. The English language should be proud of it. I don`t think any other language has such a beautiful word.

One Tom from California has done some great research on it. I think he must be the famous Tom of Tom, Dick and Harry fame.

He says: One of the most interesting words in the English language today is the word `f..k`. It is one magical word: just by its sound it can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love. In language it falls into many grammatical categories. It can be used as a verb, both transitive (John f....d Mary) and intransitive (Mary was f....d by John), and as a noun (Mary is a fine f..k). It can be used as an adjective (Mary is f.....g beautiful). As you can see there are not many words with the versatility of `f..k`.

Besides the sexual meaning, there are also the following uses:

 Fraud: I got f....d at the used car lot.

 Ignorance: F....d if I know.

 Trouble: I guess I am f....d now!

 Aggression: F..k you!

 Displeasure: What the f..k is going on here?

 Difficulty: I can`t understand this f.....g job.

 Incompetence: He is a f..k-off.

 Suspicion: What the f..k are you doing?

 Enjoyment: I had a f.....g good time.

 Request: Get the f..k out of here!

 Hostility: I am going to knock your f.....g head off!

 Greeting: How the f..k are you?

 Apathy: Who gives a f..k?

 Innovation: Get a bigger f.....g hammer.

 Surprise: F..k! You scared the shit out of me!

Anxiety: Today is really f....d.

And it is very healthy too. If every morning you do it as a Transcendental Meditation -- just when you get up, the first thing, repeat the mantra "F..k you!" five times -- it clears the throat."

From `Osho: The Dhammapada, volume 11`

He was born on December 11 and his resting place had the famous words: "Never born, never died" 

10.12.12

The Big Bad Ad


The US ad for Virgin Mobile appears to have made light of a crime: rape. The obvious question would be - are there no limits to sexism? But, then, we reduce the argument. 

As you can see, it features a man standing behind a woman, trying to shut her view. He holds a red box. The caption reads: 'The gift of Christmas surprise. Necklace? Or chloroform?' 

I go with the rape theory. However, for the sake of argument, are rapes always planned? By asking her, are we as viewers of the ad complicit in suggesting that a man will ask before he commits the crime, that the woman is to blame for wanting a gift so badly that she might - a very covert suggestion - just say chloroform to humour him? The ad is bad enough; seeing it as a joke on rape seems worse. 

Like most people my first reaction was the same. Then, I looked at the picture a few times. The gesture of her hands does convey exclamation; it could also mean she is protecting her neck from the necklace. Why is she smiling then? Blind trust?

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson took immediate action: 

“Having just seen, for the first time, the Virgin Mobile US advert which has upset many today, I agree it is ill-judged. Although I don’t own the company [it is owned by a US  firm, Sprint Nextel], it carries our brand.”

Will anyone unsubscribe to Virgin Mobile or its US partner Sprint?

Now we come to the business of advertising. Why would a festive occasion like Christmas be transformed into something Gothic? Does it subliminally appeal to consumers, who probably become less sensitive to social propriety in their fervour to buy, and that as a result everything becomes an object?

That is something we should ask ourselves.  

9.12.12

Sunday ka Funda

"There is no happiness; there are only moments of happiness"

- Spanish proverb

Between those moments, we might be in the tunnel. Dark. Silent. Listening to our heartbeat.

Somewhat like this:

8.12.12

Phenyl, Cricket and Pakistan


Not many in Pakistan would have heard about their cricket team for the blind. Fewer would have known about Zeeshan Abbasi, the captain. They are playing in the T20 World Cup for the Blind.

However, one accident and it becomes an issue of intrigue. The Hindu reports that today morning after drinking from a water bottle at breakfast, Zeeshan felt sore in the throat and took ill. Some say it was cleaning acid, others say it was liquid soap, still others say it was phenyl. An endoscopy was performed; he has been discharged.

But the backroom chatter has just started. It is, as happens always, about the tense relations between India and Pakistan. A case of gross negligence by the hotel staff has turned into a whoddunit. (Does anyone remember Bol Woolmer's death in Jamaica?)

I don't wish to sound insensitive, but India is more interested in its international series against England, where it is being trashed.

To even imagine that the phenyl was part of some vendetta is weird. It raises a few questions about whether there can really be normal relations between the two not only despite, but because of, peace initiatives. 'Aman ki Asha' is essentially a Mom & Pop store version of amity. It has not reached the general public.

What if an Indian player drank that 'water'? Would it not be seen as the responsibility of the hotel, and not the organisation hosting the event? Even so, here's the official statement:


Mr G K Mahantesh General Secretary of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) and founder of the Samarthanam Turst for the Disabled, who are organizing the 10-day tournament, termed the incident as ‘shocking and embarrassing’. He said “All players are important to us. The Movenpick Hotel have promised an internal inquiry and we await the results.” Mr Mahantesh added the ‘strictest of actions’ will be taken against those responsible for the incident.

In today's paper, I saw a picture of the Jaipur Foot meant for Pakistan. Our neighbours come here for medical treatment. They come for literature festivals. They come to perform. They come for conferences. These do not need the crutch of peace. These are services and ideas we avail of and share with everyone. The same applies to Indians.

A sports event, especially involving the differently-abled, requires care. However, accidents occur even with those with regular faculties. Haven't  we heard complaints of Delhi belly, food poisoning, sun stroke?

A probe has been ordered. It will reach the authorities who don't care about such people otherwise. A team fighting against the odds of not being mainstream will now be politicised by opportunists. Zeeshan Abbasi will have to uphold nationalism for the seeing blind.

- - -

Image: The Hindu