30.6.13

Sunday ka Funda

"Open your eyes, look within.
Are you satisfied with the life you're living?"


— Bob Marley

I just feel so elevated listening to this. With eyes shut.



28.6.13

Tunnel Light



Don't you think we overdo this 'light at the end of the tunnel' thing? Tunnels are not created to keep out the light. They have been carved out to help us reach our destination. If anything, it is tunnels that have been relegated to darkness. Do we even consider the possibility of tunnels wanting to see the light?

One might, of course, rely on the obvious fact that tunnels are not people and do not wish to see anything whereas people are aware that tunnels are tunnels, which makes getting out of them so much more palpable.

This begs the question that if one knows what a tunnel is and what comes after that, what is the reason for the fear and the expectation? Do we not experience light otherwise? Why does getting out of a tunnel symbolise hope? Going into a tunnel is a wilful act, whereas the dark moments in life are most likely not. When we hope, we expect glad tidings, a reversal of misfortune, a fresh start. It is rarely a windfall. Quite often it is a knock on the door, a nod of approval, an offer, a strange encounter that is sustaining only because it is familiar. We 'light' up because we throw open the windows.



I am excited by small narrow mountain tunnels because I can reach out to their walls. There is something protective about them. On occasion I have flashed a torch and noticed the ridges running along its length. They appear like rough skin. I wish I could smooth out the wrinkles. I want to apply lashings of cream and see my hands chafe. When I form a fist and look through it, does it not resemble a tunnel?

As a child we often visited a hill station just a couple of hours away. As we approached the tunnel, my heart would beat faster. The wheels of the vehicle sounded like boots stomping. Everything seemed like an echo, as darkness repeated itself in loops. When we came out, it took a while to adjust the eyes to the stunning valley and the mountains covered by mist. I lost out on precious minutes because of the blinding light.

As the car snaked its way and I turned to look, the tunnel appeared forlorn yet steadfast. There was unusual beauty seeing it from outside — like a greying wizened woman, always awake, bearing the burden of travellers who don't look back. The inside of a tunnel is rarely captured in photographs, and that makes her such an enigma.

If I spoke to her, she might remain silent. She swallows stories and chokes on them. If she wasn't stone, who would risk passing through her?

When I embark on the new, and hope for hope with hope, I know it is the tunnel's dark womb that gives me intimation of light. It lies at the beginning, not the end.

© Farzana Versey

26.6.13

Symbolic secularism in the time of floods





There is much that has to be written about the flash foods and devastation in Uttarakhand. The last thing on Wing Commander S.M.Yunus' mind while he went on a sortie to rescue people would have been his religion. But, he is being feted because of it. 'Airforce pilot Yunus is proud to be Indian' was the headline. Not 'proud to save people'. Okay?

However, before we rubbish the Times of India report and the response to it, let us pause a bit and look at the role of the media.

If anything is worse than political opportunism, it is how the different newspapers and television channels claim breaking news.

When you see corpses floating, houses toppling down, and read stories about people clinging to ropes for up to three days, hungry, thirsty, unwell, waiting for help, then all debate becomes futile.

Yet, the media was caught between delivering eyeball grabbing news to an audience or losing out. Readers and viewers who complain about sensationalism were looking out for heart-wrenching stories and pictures.

Photographs were emailed or posted on social networking sites questioning their veracity. Some pictures were supposedly from China. In one video clip a reporter is shown carried through the knee-deep waters on the shoulder of a young survivor.

Narayan Pargaien said that he was hoisted on the shoulder by a local out of respect and he had no intention to show this sight. The cameraman was to shoot him chest up. The video was posted online and was everywhere. Some took to grandstanding about the "fall in journalistic standards". This was often done by other journalists.

The reporter is from a local and not a well known urban channel. Had that been the case, would the response be the same? Or would he be lauded for braving the waters, of being resourceful?

It is most certainly not a nice image, but there are many such young people who ply cycle rickshaws, who carry pilgrims, who act as coolies. Was it necessary to make it into a Brahmin riding on the shoulder of a Dalit? Who knows what caste either is from? Who is equally to blame for this demonisation?

I do hope I don't have to reiterate that I absolutely dislike media overdrive. It reveals a desperation that is market, and not news, driven. The fat cats who run the media know how they can get business, and if it is a place of worship the 'moral' is factored into it.

Secularism has become about oneupmanship, much as religion is. To return to the case of the IAF officer and the TOI's patronising report, is it only about "scumbag journalism"? Those taking a high ground forget that this is not the first instance of such reportage or line of questioning.

In this instance, it was, "So what was it like for a Muslim to be one of the first to come to the aid of Hindu pilgrims?"

It then goes on:

"Yunus laughs out loud before giving a quick answer to that. ‘In the Air Force we are taught only one religion — to be Indian. That is what IAF pilots are trained to be. Had it not been for such tragic circumstances, I would have been grateful and happy to see the holy shrine of Kedarnath'.”

You know what? As bad as the query is, may we take a closer look at the reply? Wait, before you reach your conclusions. It is not because he said that being Indian is the only religion in the army. Why do they have all kinds of religious totems in various outposts then? Why does it need to be emphasised at all when it is understood that an officer will be called upon to do his duty as an Indian?

Of course, his statement is applauded as being a "fitting reply". Since when has the obvious become fitting? Had he rescued people from a dargah, would anyone bother about him and his Indiannness, even though he would have saved Indian citizens?

His statement does not stop at his 'Indian religion'. He adds that he would have been happy to visit the Kedarnath shrine. This is the subtext that has been glossed over, because no one wants to take away from the secular face of the army. Or is it this that actually makes him secular?

He is doing his job as are many others. He has not only been made a symbol by the newspaper but even by those who are on the lookout for the good Muslim. It is pretty disgusting, especially since the community members are often taunted about whether they serve the nation.

A couple of prominent names will be bandied about. It is as though they are museum pieces that have been reclaimed. The fact is graver, as in this report. Although two and a half years old, things aren't much different:

“India’s largest religious minority – which accounts for about 15% of the nation’s population – is just 3% in the Army. But when it comes to martyrdom, the Army jawans from the community double the percentage. In 2010, as many as 187 armymen laid their life while protecting the nation – more than 6% of them were Muslims....This figures out as out of a Muslim population of nearly 150 million (15 crore), barely 29,000 Muslims are in the million-strong Indian Army. The figure will further go down if the number of Muslims serving in J&K infantry that has over 50% Muslims is excluded."

So, should we assume that three per cent of the Indian Muslim population is considered secular because the armed forces gave them jobs? Are they reluctant to join the army or is there reluctance to recruit them?

To be honest, not only the army, but every national organisation should not choose or flaunt a religious identity. This means also not highlighting secularism, for by doing so it amounts to 'accepting all religions'. How does it matter when we are Indian? Why specify, highlight, laud on the basis of some god allegiance to legitimise tolerance?

Before calling the reporter names, how many asked themselves what certificate they were giving the officer and why? I am afraid this kind of melt-in-the-mouth secularism is just that — a tasty titbit.

Early this month there was an article in India Today that reeked of the worst form of magnanimity. Their subject was Asif Ibrahim who...

"was made the first ever Muslim director of the Central Intelligence Bureau...ostensibly with an eye on Muslim vote in its race for minority votes with the likes of Mulayam Singh and his Samajwadi Party. It was supposed to be a message to the India's Muslim leaders who command their community votes: 'Look, we have made a Muslim the first Central IB head, something which no Government of Independent India including those of Pandit Nehru and Mrs Gandhi had ever done'. Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde even said so after Ibrahim's appointment."

Since when has the IB chief ever garnered votes from any community? Does he not possess the requisite qualifications? These do not seem to count. It is when he did not agree "to fix Narendra Modi in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case" that the magazine declared, "Ibrahim has shown his true nationalist colours".

I won't get into the case details here, but just think what would happen if his stance were different. Would his nationalistic colours fade? He is heading a security agency that depends on inputs and uses the intelligence network; nothing is foolproof. Where does nationalism come in here? Why does he as a trained professional have to hold up the flag of secularism?

The article quotes a security and political analyst Vidyut Thakar, who says:

"Asif Ibrahim's move will go a long way in removing the stereo-typing of Muslims in this country as ones who always side with the cause of their brethren even at the cost of national security."

Perhaps, they'd like to keep in touch with the ever-changing versions that keep appearing. Maybe they ought to beef up their security, so that infiltrators and terror attacks do not take place.

Who is in charge of scams involving poor bullet proof jackets, of not ignoring real intel reports, of ensuring the safety of the citizens? On what basis does anyone have the gumption to allude that a senior officer has to go along with a preconceived template of who is a terrorist in a fake encounter killing to prove that he is not siding with his "brethren"?

Wing Commander Yunus should not have said that being Indian is his only religion. He should have instead counter-questioned, "How do Hindu officers feel when they rescue their brethren?"

Those who have been running down this report reveal how important it is for them to huddle with their own. They look for an opposition they can pit themselves against. So that they can then choose the good, the bad and the ugly.

No one is in a position to lay claims on India that is agreeable only to some to the exclusion of other Indians.

Sorry to break the news, but if you think secularism is a handout, then stuff it.

© Farzana Versey

23.6.13

Sunday ka Funda


“Democracy don't rule the world

You'd better get that in your head

This world is ruled by violence

But I guess that's better left unsaid

From Broadway to the Milky Way

That's a lot of territory indeed

And a man's gonna do what he has to do

When he's got a hungry mouth to feed."



— Bob Dylan



Whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaves for Russia. A 'non-democracy' will protect him. Who would have thought? The answer my friends is blowin' in the wind in this delightful snap clip:

21.6.13

Sartre was born today...was? is?



I said I was an Existentialist without quite knowing what it meant. Between the crevices of poetry and philosophy, my life was worming its way. I hid my growing teenage form behind big books – shy, afraid, unsure. Among those saviours was Jean-Paul Sartre.

I admit the initial fascination was for the great love story. Simone de Beauvoir seemed to be the perfect foil. It excited me to know that people could have open relationships. Later, I realised that such freedom does not prevent the tumult, the feeling of being tied down, of role-playing.

What Sartre gave me was intangible. An acceptance of nothingness. Confidence about angst.

But, was it just so pat?

“Anything, anything would be better than this agony of mind, this creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough.”

I recently told someone, “What pain is pain if it does not stay alive?” This is not self-destructive. The mind that keeps one agonising is what keeps one awake.

There are many views about Sartre, some accusing him of not being true to his own ideas. I prefer seeing it as ideas overtaking. He was not quite perfect, and would probably find the thought of perfection reprehensible. I am not providing a detailed essay on his works. I confess that at some point I outgrew them. He is indeed the pop star of philosophy – to my mind a strange mix of Woody Allen, T.S.Eliot and a brooding Marlon Brando.

I don’t want to go into a detailed discussion on Existentialism. I would have to agonise over it, for I am dealing with ennui. Sartre would comprehend this!

There is another quote I’d like to examine:

“Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.”

This is so complete. If I were to deconstruct it, then he has captured the very essence of existence. Survivalists may not wish to even go there. The moment we think of life as an open-and-shut case with death as the destination, then we are rather obvious pragmatists. And fatalists, too. The eternal does not exist in real terms, therefore one has to imagine it. Life cannot be defined, but it has meaning and value only if we know that it is a continuum.

And he said it best:

“That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.”

Illusions. Eternal.

© Farzana Versey

20.6.13

Advani and Modi: No Exit — Will Muslims show the way out?

Pic: NDTV

By now everyone and their favourite Jasuben pizza joint is aware that Narendra Modi has been 'elevated'. This is the sort of delusion that his devotees depend on, reminiscent of milk pouring out of murtis. A crowd will gather; some will see the milk. No one will bother that it's a trick. Believers like to be tricked. They call it faith.

All that Modi managed to get by way of a 'national' role was that of Election Campaign Committee head of the BJP. It means that he is in charge of PR. He will manage the slogans, the hoardings, what lectures do give when, who should do what to look nice.

Of course, he is canny and may have other ideas to push himself. What truly surprises me — and one of the main reasons for not writing about it thus far — is the hyped-up Modi vs. Advani battle. It is as much of a gourmet delight as a flat soufflé.

According to latest reports, LK Advani has actually informed the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that he has a problem with Modi's elevation.

"The veteran leader has reportedly emphasised the need for collective leadership in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the 2014 elections."

On June 10, at the BJP conclave he reported unwell. Then he resigned saying he did not like the way the party functioned. The leaders met him. He withdrew his resignation. Modi claimed that he had Advani's blessings. Nobody knows what that was for — to become a speech writer?

All this to and fro should tell us what we already know: the RSS decides on BJP policy, irrespective of who visits its pracharaks. So, an Indian voting for the BJP is casting a vote in favour of an organisation that has power without responsibility and a few of its members have been involved in terrorist activities.

To add to the controversy, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Advani's aide and a well-known ideologue of the party, wrote about the two leaders in his piece:

"...A self-centered leader who has shown that he cares two hoots for the party organization and long-time party colleagues in his own state has suddenly become all powerful in the BJP's national scheme of things, whereas a selfless leader who toiled for many decades to build the party brick by brick is being cast aside as a useless relic."

I'd have thought Kulkarni, with his often sharp insights, would not even consider that Modi has become "all powerful". Has he fallen for the autosuggestion by a bunch of cheerleaders? Modi is not "autocratic", as he suggests. To be autocratic, you need to have an ideology in place. Modi has none. He is the mukhauta — first of himself and then of the party. As the mask of the party, he has to send out sound bytes and signals that convey to an extent what the party wishes to project. As the mask of himself, he has to cover up his flaws with a whole lot of concealer. He is a cosmetic dream.


Kulkarni further adds about Advani:

"Precisely for this reason, he was both respected and feared by his party men, until his position was thoughtlessly weakened by the RSS in the wake of a manufactured controversy over his visit to Pakistan in 2005 and his comments on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan."

Today, this sounds odd, given that the senior leader has visited the same RSS that had weakened him to express reservations about the man who "cares two hoots" about the party.

Besides this, I have issues with Mr. Advani and in no manner will I consider his character certificate of secularism to Jinnah as being of any consequence to Indian Muslims. Let me re-post a long extract of what I wrote in May 2009 about the confused position of Indian Muslims:

***

It isn't the BJP defeat that bothers me as much as the Congress victory. For, we are being fed these false images of a young India, an India on the move, an India that is secular. How different is it from the 'India Shining' baloney?


The messages like the one I mentioned are mostly from progressive Indian Muslims who blatantly play the communal card, forcing mullahs to walk with them on peace rallies. They don't even realise the silliness of their stand. Who stopped peace and progress while the non-communal government was in power? And was God not great when the NDA was at the Centre?

The worst part is the assumption that communal forces have been defeated. Take a look at the candidates put up. Why were rookies chosen? Because the majority of the electorate from those areas were from a particular caste or community. Besides that, every religious leader will be wooed. The tendency to jump the gun is opportunistic. The rally-wallah Musalmans know exactly which cause to espouse and when.

And we have had the disgusting sight of a man whose house was burned down during the Gujarat riots sit before a TV panel and tell the audience to move on. Why? He is a rich.

That is the reason I think the Indian Muslim reaction is kneejerk. Narendra Modi is not a spent force; he may be a regional leader but that is his strength. He has managed to consolidate his position in such a manner that even Muslim businessmen are talking about economic growth. That is all they are interested in. Modi spoke about fifty million Gujaratis without mentioning religion. It will be his smart card for years to come.

In fact, the BJP's defeat will boost his position. While L K Advani is a statesman without a state, Modi will work his way through home ground. And nothing will happen to him. With vultures already preying on the party leadership position, Advani will have to deal with his own creation. He thought Modi would be a domesticated pet who could act as watchdog to warn visitors. The leash, alas, was too long.

The handful of the 250 million Muslims can continue to live in their canny paradise, but they have no right to make fools of those who do not have a choice or a voice.

When Uma Bharti had the gumption to declare before the elections that she and the senior BJP leaders did not know who demolished the Babri Masjid, there were no rallies by these so-called liberal Muslims demanding an explanation.

When there were questions asked about certain lies by NGOs in Gujarat, why did these Muslims not come forward and provide facts and figures or ask their own questions? How many of them will speak to the new government about expediting these cases? Or will they only look for their chance of getting a Rajya Sabha seat?

When the Darul Uloom issued a fatwa asking Muslims to vote, why did they not tell the religious organisation to stop interfering in the business of the state even if they were responding to the queries raised by the devout?

***

Regarding the two portions I have emphasised in bold, the latter is deja vu for it is being dished out these days all over the place. There has been no reason to alter any stand I have taken. For a party that berates others for vote bank politics, Modi's minions flaunt the number of Muslims who vote for him. It does not take much to understand why. They'd vote for a puppet who leaves them alone. I maintain that Modi will remain a regional leader.

As for Advani, Kulkarni has called him a democrat. Perhaps within the party cadre, he was. But democratic at the national level?

I don't have time or inclination for politesse. He was the man who was responsible for making Ram Janmabhoomi into a political issue. Can anyone take his "being in the dark" statement to the Liberhan Commission or his comment about December 6, 1992 being the "saddest day of his life" seriously?

Not if you read up on what IPS officer Anju Gupta deposed. Here is one remark she made:

“I did not see any of these leaders making any effort to stop the demolition of the disputed structure. Advani was sad only about the fact that people were falling off the domes and dying.’’

Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara hugged him after the demolition.

You might think I speak only as a Muslim. We are dealing with two leaders, two major riots, both involving one community. The community needs to introspect about how it thinks and how that ought to change.

Opportunistic leaders, whether in the garb of predators or prey, are not committed to democracy or the country. In an India that wants to live without bigotry, it is not Modi vs. Advani, but Modi and Advani vs. good sense.

L.K.Advani once played kingmaker, pushing Atal Behari Vajpayee ahead. Why? He knew he was tainted. It was a pragmatic decision. The RSS will have to force Modi to wear the mantle of kingmaker for the same reason.

The cheerleaders will laud his 'sacrifice' to save their own face. And soon disperse into the interiors of Gujarat to sell another dream to the NRI sons of the soil.

It will be back to square one, after moving round in circles.

© Farzana Versey

16.6.13

Sunday ka Funda

When the first showers were awaited, I thought to myself — the gutters will spew out and we will smell the filth. Early this week, I was in the kitchen and even before I could hear the sound of drizzle touching on the window sill, a fragrance lifted in that small space. It was the one we talk about, of the freshness of earth.

How does it happen? We have concrete streets. Where does this 'open' soil come from? There are patches of green in the vicinity; a few trees. They must quench their thirst and let out this earthy breath.

I was overwhelmed and just stood there 'drinking' in the scent. Nature, as always, silenced me.

It is a few days on and now it's a downpour. It brings us news of water logging, disrupted public transport, structures falling down. The lakes need water, drought-prone areas have been parched, grains need to grow and reach our tables, even as there are mandatory pictures of urchin kids bathing in the showers near the gutters whose smell I am put off by from my high floor and insulated life. They sleep on drenched slabs of public space. The monsoons have overdone it.

Nature overwhelms in different ways.

This afternoon, as the sky darkened, I shut out all thought and listened to some elevating music. Ustad Rashid Khan's voice is the most soothing thunder one could possibly listen to. This one is in Bengali, a language I barely understand. But, then, did I know how the rains would turn out to be?



---

Last year I had captured 'Rains from my window': http://youtu.be/uztqiwldRyQ

Updated

The video link to 'my rains' (re-posted the link) is particularly poignant now, for last night one of the trees 'fell' — "what if the tree falls?" I ask in the voiceover. But it hasn't really fallen. The root is adamant. It is the branches that could not withstand the lashes of rain and the gusts of wind.



13.6.13

Murdering a suicide: Jiah, Depression and Misogyny




Should a suicide case that has led to an arrest be decided in the media? Are lawyers permitted to discuss the possibility of a police case holding up in court or its outcome?

When actress Jiah Khan committed suicide, I did anticipate the electronic media rushing for sound bites and social networking sites transforming from RIP factories into warring camps. What I did not expect was the judgmental, callous attitude towards abuse and depression. Those who look down upon Bollywood were quick to jump in with their supposedly contrarian views.

I have desisted from commenting, but now I shall because all barriers have been broken. The first shocker came from Jiah's mother Rabiya. Her pain, anger and suspicion about who was responsible are understandable. I only felt that she should not have called a press conference. A police case had been registered. Jiah's boyfriend Suraj Pancholi was arrested.

Immediately, the experts — real and fake — passed their judgment: It was too hasty, they said, anyone can make such accusations. The accusations were in the form of a six-page letter written by Jiah

It really does not matter when she wrote it. Relationships grow over a period of time and spoil just as slowly.

The latest news is here:

Sooraj Pancholi, arrested for abetting actor Jiah Nafisa Khan's suicide, has allegedly confessed that he had beaten her up following a fight in Goa eight months ago, after which she slit her wrist. According to Juhu police, Sooraj has admitted to being in a live-in relationship with her. Police are contemplating adding additional charge under Section 498-A (harassment of a woman by husband or in-laws) of IPC. Police have also received the medical report from a Juhu hospital where Jiah, also known as Nafisa Khan, had undergone abortion.

I will only repeat the reasons these same lawyers gave about it being tough to pin him down — he has admitted to abuse and a live-in relationship. The law can recognise it as domestic violence.

It is time to visit a pathetic little post that was uploaded on Facebook by an intellectual of sorts. Let me add here, that he is not the only one who thinks this way, although his ‘courage' to stand out and be counted has been lauded. Seriously. Mahesh Murthy's note has made way into the Indiatimes website. It starts with a typical masala formula:

"So this note is likely to piss off many of you, but still...So it's the usual story. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are happy, then they break up. Then he sees someone else. At which point over-wrought girl decides her life isn't worth living. Seriously - this is a 25-year old who co-starred with Aamir Khan in a hit film and then later thinks her life is value-less without the continuing attention of some unemployed star-kid?! How the heck was she brought up? What kind of foolish adult mind thinks that someone else's attention is so important that her own life pales in comparison? How dare her parents blame her ex for this ridiculous state of mind? Who gave her these values where "death before losing in love" is a virtue?"

By beginning with a 'this contains adult content' type warning, he grabs eyeballs. He bases his thesis on assumptions about his boy-meets-girl thesis. Was Suraj an ex-boyfriend already? And since when has a young woman with one hit begun to be considered a success? She debuted with 'Nishabd', an unusual story about an April-December relationship. Her co-star was Amitabh Bachchan. The film flopped, partly because of its content. Later, she acted in 'Ghajini', where Aamir Khan hogged the show and she was the second lead.

Curiously, and I shall divert from the bilge here, director Mahesh Bhatt compared her situation with Parveen Babi's. Bhatt was in a relationship with the late actress and has been 'inspired' to make more than one film on her life. The first, 'Arth', had agitated her. She was successful, though, and together with Zeenat Aman, became the face of the 'modern' film heroine. She was also the first Indian movie star to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Her depression was severe, seeking solace in the Church, to the extent of complete isolation where her neighbours did not even see her. They had to break open the door to find her dead body.

Clinical depression is different from mood swings. These may have to do with personal loss or a sense of failure, but not always so.

To return to Murthy's questions about her upbringing, it is clear that he, like quite a few men, are filled with dread of dealing with "difficult" women. Has he ever met a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst to understand that people are not brought up to take their lives? When children commit suicide after failure in exams, do we read reams about 'How dare anyone blame the parents'? In fact, parents are never held culpable, although there is tremendous pressure from them on the kids.

At what point in that letter does he get the idea that Jiah thought taking her life was a "virtue" that her supposedly bad upbringing taught her? Would it be fair to ask why he is so concerned about the moral dimension? She lost self-esteem, and although she also lost her baby she was not pining for that loss. Indeed, she was obsessive, and enough to fall for an unemployed guy. (A small omission is that he was to be launched in Salman Khan's production.) But, what about him? There is not a word about his upbringing, and I raise it only because the other side is being rubbished.

Aditya Pancholi, the father, has had several affairs, is known for his public spats, and his wife, the older Zarina Wahab, had accepted his philandering. This is in the public domain. Although it is a choice between two people, if someone decides on pop psychology it might help addressing this as well.

"So she writes a latter (sic) saying she had an abortion when she got pregnant, presumably by him - again, no one told her about contraception? And even if they decided to forswear protection - it's his fault she got pregnant? Wasn't she equally part of it?"

This is such a load of rubbish, besides being libellous. Who is he to cast doubts about the parentage of the aborted child? Perhaps, his own obsession with "virtue" rears its head when he puts the onus of contraception on the woman. Her letter talks about him forcing her to abort, which is different from saying, "I did not want to have sex with you because I was not on the pill". Did he bother to ask why Suraj was not wearing a condom?

"So yes, she had an abortion, she set her mind to have him, but he moved on after they mutually broke up - but she wanted him back, and he said no, so she took her life?"

Oh, Sherlock Holmes decides they mutually decided to part. There is never a definitive moment when both people decide at the same time and with equal determination to go their separate ways. It may happen technically, but in this case they were meeting. And it is for the cops to decide whether they have a case. Why is he jumping the gun?

Part of the reason for this sort of thinking is insecurity, and it becomes evident soon enough:

"So what's a guy to do if he doesn't want to marry a girl? Or vice versa actually. Report to the cops when he's been proposed to? Take anticipatory bail before he says "No, I don't want to marry you"? Call the counselling lines so they make outbound calls to the partner in advance of him saying no?"

I do hope he has seen more of the world and couples who have broken up and moved on. Not everyone commits suicide. At this point I'd like to know what happens in cases of marriage. The law would immediately come into the picture. So, why can it not in an intimate relationship? Is it the good old "virtue" where a legitimate relationship has more value? Would he say the same about dowry deaths, wife battering, suspicious spouses, womanising all when a couple is married? He has said elsewhere he does not think much about the institution, yet he does not realise that intimate relationships mimic marriage more often than not.

His take on marriage sounds just like what he dismisses:

"In India, you don't need to be married to have a child legally. Or even to inherit and pass on property. Marriage is just a social custom where a bunch of old people shower rice on your head and believe they're giving you their permission (or direction, in some cases) to sleep with someone. As you can imagine, it has little or no legal necessity or significance."

The couple being discussed were not married. They did not seek anyone's permission to get intimate. And, again, why does he assume Jiah wanted the baby? Very conveniently, it makes it appear as though it would have been her responsibility. She did not pop the pill, remember?

In what he probably thinks is his philosophical contribution to this debate, he writes:

"No one grows up with a right to be loved. It's a privilege you earn for yourself. It doesn't come naturally. You earn it. And very often, love comes. And love goes. And love comes back. And goes again. And so on."

People are born with the right to life and to dignity. If either or both are abused, it can cause harm, physical and mental. Not everyone breaks down. And you cannot earn love. This is just too calculating a way to look at it. Of course, love does go and there is new love waiting. But there can be extreme situations.

It is stupid to believe that Jiah Khan lived for marriage. In fact, she wanted a career, until she fell in love and was abused, something her boyfriend has admitted to.

Acting as a PR agent for Suraj, he asks people to stop the "witch hunt", while himself hunting for prey.

"And let's stop glorifying suicide in the name of unrequited love."

Just as people have a choice over their bodies, they have a choice over their lives. It may be a wrong choice, just as getting into idiotic relationships is. It is not about glorifying anything. And it was not unrequited love. It could be that idea of love differ.

I would like to address the issue of depression. I've read celebrities and others discuss this case. It is assumed that women are more prone to it. It's time for a reality check. Many men suffer from bouts of depression. They are suicidal. How is jumping from the terrace of IIT more respectful of life? Is this not about rejection and despondency, too?

What has made some men so concerned about this particular suicide? Are they worried that their rejection will result in suicide and they'd be trapped? Unlikely. For there are many more examples of people who don't. The survival instinct of men can whiff out signs of trouble and they scoot. Men resort to emotional blackmail before getting into a relationship. It is to 'capture the booty'. Depending on how well they mesh, there is an attempt by women to aspire for an equitable equation.

And let us not forget that men too want marriage. They want their sperm to spread and 'create' the world. (There are men who are reluctant to use condoms even when they visit sex workers. Why? Because they will not return to haunt them?)

I will flip the coin. What if a desperate young man who is yet to prove himself in his career, woos a woman, loves her enough to live with her, but is tortured by the pressure to perform as well as his peers and in this state abuses the one he shares a close relationship with? She acts as a buffer against the outside world. He cannot flex his muscles outside, so he tries it within the four walls. There are the usual passive-aggressive moments.

So, who is the one who is sick?

Think about it. I really don't have the inclination to be glib and discuss marriage portals and Karan Johar films. Nor will I resort to the one-line tokenism of, oh, it is sad a life is lost or oh, I feel sorry for the poor guy but...

There will be ifs and buts in everything. Life is amorphous. It does not mean that we abuse what it meant to a woman we do not know.

© Farzana Versey

8.6.13

Nathuram Godse vs. Gandhi:
Did both influence post-Partition politics?

“Gandhi used to claim the Partition would be over his dead body. So after Partition when he didn’t die, we killed him.” 

- Gopal Godse 


Any discussion on Mahatma Gandhi has to be sanitised, it would seem. I have made no bones about the fact that a nuanced reading of his politics reveal divisive traits. 

Once again, Nathuram Godse, Gandhi's assassin, has come into focus in the ‘viral’ world. Trying to understand his motives makes one in public perception an RSS sympathiser, which many are. But, no one can accuse me of that.

These are my views from 15 years ago; at least, that is when they were first published. I do hope that those reading it do not transform into Gandhians overnight, as is the trend when we feel compelled to take sides without knowing the various angles to an issue.

Can we think about Godse as a hero? Here:

Whatever be the nature of the struggle for Indian independence and the stalwarts that strode the firmament, it was one bullet fired five months later that embedded itself in public memory. It is that bullet which can make claims to have created the first hero of post-Independence India.

I am not referring to Mahatma Gandhi, the victim, but Nathuram Godse, the assassin. We must understand that heroism is a loaded term. A deed is heroic if it has a clear-cut purpose and a complete fearlessness about the consequences. It does not seek legitimacy. In fact, its very authenticity lies in being able to stick its neck out in the face of opposition. There is no conflict between good and evil; it is merely a matter of degrees of justice.

In this light, Nathuram Godse is extremely important to modern-day Indian politics simply because he exposes the underworld face of it. He was poised between two aspects – the lowly hit man and the ideologue ‘dada’. His initiation into the major league depended entirely on how big his target was. If his anger was against the Mahatma’s appeasement of a community, then he would have just gone and killed a few Muslims.

This is borne out by his statement: “Before I fired the shots I actually wished him well and bowed to him in reverence.” He did not go on a rampage against a group (an earlier attempt of his to kill Gandhi was unsuccessful because he was afraid that the bystanders would get hurt) for that would have not made him a loyal soldier, a man who would do or die.

He did and he died. And his offence as well as defence had a clinical precision, quite unlike prevalent political skulduggery. His brother, Gopal, said in an interview: “Gandhi used to claim the Partition would be over his dead body. So after Partition when he didn’t die, we killed him.” It was as simple as that.

A little less than two years after he had killed the Father of the Nation, Nathuram was sentenced to death by hanging. Before the noose went round his neck, he spent five hours justifying his act. It was not to get clemency, but to declare that he was not a lowly gun-happy cad. His was not a revolution of the moment. In fact, it had the same fervor as the Gandhian ethos. By killing one man, his legacy proves that his 90-page testimony was revealing the spirit and the undercurrents running through the public mind that could not be articulated.

Look around you. What is the attitude towards the minorities and the lower castes today? The fact that these segments still have little power after 58 years of Independence shows that, ironically, it was the Mahatma who legitimized the Hindutva agenda. A modern state cannot be built upon the premise of a theological doctrine – whether it be for it or to oppose it. Gandhi patronized religion and casteism. He wanted the India of the villages, which is why the rural population still lives in the cave ages. He talked of Ram Rajya, which is what is sought to be ushered in by his opponents. He called non-violence a “weapon”; the truth is the freedom struggle was most certainly not bloodless.

Neither was the aftermath. If Gandhi has been deified, then so has his assassin. Overtly, it has been only a handful of people who commemorate his ‘martyrdom’ on November 15, they read out his Will at memorial services, and there is a full-fledged fan club that was orchestrated by his brother.

This gives it the legitimacy of an underground operation, somewhat like what happened during the freedom struggle. It can be safely assumed that Godse was possessed of a desire to further a cause; wreaking vengeance or merely ensuring his 15 minutes of fame would be looked on contemptuously by him.

The cause has had a cumulative effect. Just watch how the RSS and its acolytes operate and see how they are like underworld/terrorist outfits. There are the compulsory disciplinary drills, the initiation ceremony where you have to prove your loyalty and capability, the strict hierarchy, blind belief in an ideology based necessarily on the theory that you are being wronged by the Establishment, and the submergence of the individual self.

This is why I feel Godse was a mere pawn. He did not constitute a think tank; he used gut sense. He was paranoid; he had to ensure that his lowly status would not impede his path to self-righteous glory. He was irreligious, but communal. He rode on the back of cultural regression, impersonating a renaissance to posthumously become a figure in national politics.

Assassins and icons become heroes because they simulate the System even as they fight it. The anathema and anachronism acquire their own authority. Godse visited a brothel before he killed the Mahatma. Was it to prove his manhood, lest he be deemed a coward who could not face the consequences of an effeminate and impotent democracy? Or was he mimicking Gandhi, who once confessed that he was making love to his wife while his father lay dying in the other room?

Interestingly, although he was an active member of the Hindu Mahasabha and the editor of the newspaper Hindu Rashtra, he did not call out to the Lord as he prepared for his death. It was the secular Gandhi whose last words “Hey Ram” have become the Hindutva coinage.

Godse’s last wish was for his ashes to be submerged in the Indus River of an undivided India. That urn still stands.

By conventional standards, he is no hero. Yet, he was regurgitating the thoughts of many. In his own way, he was an idealist. It is only idealists who are truly afraid of failure, not because of inadequate capabilities but due to their inherent ability of not being able to follow rules. We just do not expect them to have any side other than the one we are comfortable dealing with.

Nathuram Godse may make us uncomfortable, but it was the bullet he fired soon after Independence that set in motion a legion of experiments with different kinds of truth. In modern terms, he would be the godfather. A hero by default.

© Farzana Versey
---

A major portion of the piece was first published in 1998 in The Sunday Observer, print edition. This later version appeared on a website and is archived here



6.6.13

Mahatma Gandhi in Kashmir





If one were to go by news reports, then all that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been waiting for these past decades is the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi.

'The Story of My Experiments with Truth' is being translated in Kashmiri. Of course, since it is not just about any state, there is always a message. And according to the managing trustee of Navjivan Trust Vivek Desai:

"Gandhi's life would offer a solution to the problem of terrorism to the locals. We hope it helps trigger a mental thirst for peace through non-violence."

Take any of the initiatives of Gandhian ahimsa and there is underlying violence, perhaps self-destructive. If the freedom fighters of India took the lathi blows of the British, then the Kashmiris have had to deal with such blows and arrests from security forces. Whether it was Gandhi's 'jail bharo' andolan or the Dandi March, the consequence was violence.

Kashmiris too can claim that their protests at Lal Chowk qualify as legitimate dissent. The youth taking to stone pelting might be deemed as a soft stance to make a point. What makes the publishers believe that the people do not want peace? They just do not want to be bulldozed, and the Constitution grants them that right.

His role in Kashmir is dicey and he was most certainly not beloved of the king, let alone the people. Campbell Johnson in 'Mission with Mountbatten' wrote, “Both Nehru and Gandhi have been very anxious that the maharaja of Kashmir should make no declaration of independence."

Besides that, the Mahatma who happily went along with Hitler's forces during the World War can hardly be seen as a paragon of peace to find a solution to terrorism. Wasn't there much sniggering when JKLF leader Yasin Malik said that he was Gandhian?

The paths are not black and white about what is good and bad. In fact, Gandhi used a religious paradigm to deal with many problems, and much of his decision-making was driven by his conscience. It really was about one man's inner voice that colonised a large part of the independence movement.

If at all, his life story is one of struggling with his own flaws. It is essentially a Biblical thesis on how to cope with moral dilemmas. In a land where so much blood has been shed, a book is not going to teach them anything.

The Kashmiris, even its separatist leaders, do not suffer from this sort of humble arrogance where they can afford to decide on what people want. There are checks in the form of the Central and State governments, oppostion parties, security forces, outside forces — mainly Pakistani insurgents as well as the government — and many militant outfits.

In some ways, this is democracy even if there are weapons that talk.

Mahatma Gandhi did not get crushed in the stampede or under British boots. He sat with a charkha, spinning yarns, with a White woman as one of his devotees.

Let a Kashmiri try emulating this and he will be rounded up for suspicious activities. The people live the truth. They do not need to experiment with it.

End note: What if Kashmiris clamoured for Shaheed Bhagat Singh's works? Think about it.

© Farzana Versey

3.6.13

Tea with the Nazi




He still sells. Anger sells. It has buyers. However, are they "Nazi lovers"? A bit simplistic.

You must have already read about the JC Penney tea kettle that looks like Hitler and the reactions to it. They were forced to remove a billboard, but the damage, or publicity, had been done.

Those who probably did not need a kettle right then rushed to purchase it. Some are selling the $40 steel piece online for four to six times the price. It has become an investment.

The description of the kettle is that one can see the “handles as Hitler’s hair parting, with the lid being his moustache and the spout a Nazi salute".

Is this only about imagination or was it deliberately designed as such? A report quoted JC Penney from its Facebook page, “You won’t be able to stop yourself from whistling at us when you see this billboard off the 405 Freeway in LA!!! If you find it safely shoot us a pic if you can.”

Why would anyone want to whistle at a kettle? It seems obvious they knew what they had — whether by design or by chance. If it was the latter, then clearly it was a whoa moment and the kettle went right up there to claim its Calvin Klein moment.

It was a stripping of both sensitivity and political correctness. I wish they had gone along, for it would reveal facets of how we as a society treat history in a contemporaneous setting. Unfortunately, the page was removed and the Penny people said, “If we had designed it to look like something, we would have gone with a snowman or something fun.”

Given the sales and the bidding, it seems this is people's idea of fun. I do not agree it is about love for the Nazi leader or the Nazi credo, though. There are many souvenirs available. And the ideology, for whatever it was worth, is not quite dead if we extend it to the 'superiority of the race' theory. In almost every part of the world, there are groups that believe they are superior or better than others. These might span from religion to socio-economic policies, trend-setters, divas, the rich and in some ways the poor, who by virtue of their disenfranchisement are beyond the system.

Californians are known to be quite liberal, so it was surprising that the kettle billboard was forced down by its residents. Is anti-Nazism a way to assert liberalism? Isn't such a badge of 'we are more liberal than the rest' itself an assertion of superiority?

Let's talk about fun, then. It is possible that the buyers merely like something that has curiosity value. Some might enjoy 'Hitler' boiling, which says a lot about Nazism as a psychological phenomenon that has nothing to do with a specific ideology.

We aim darts. There is road rage. We need magnets and stress balls to keep ourselves in check. We use voodoo dolls and burn posters and images of hate figures.

Is this peaceful? It reveals our hate. Quite naturally, there is the value dimension of what is generally considered good and evil. However, the fact that good has traditionally been known to triumph over evil means that it went into battle. It gave a good fight and had its hands bloodied.

When we use figures like Hitler and Gandhi as opposites, we forget the nuances of how non-violence too chooses the self-destruction of a people. The leaders in both instances are safe. Incidentally, images of Gandhi too have got into trouble, because people don't like their heroes tarnished, when there is a whole industry that fools people by selling themselves as Gandhians.

Were JC Penney to use a look-alike of, say, Martin Luther King there would be opposition. Yet, people will use fridge magnets and other knick-knacks with his image. The same goes for pop celebrities. But, there is less of a reaction to a Marlilyn Monroe being used to sell products, and this also should bother us. Why do some people become public property and, only due to their profession, their memories can be treated with scant respect?

And, no, I don't see Hitler in that kettle. It looks like Chaplin to me.

© Farzana Versey

1.6.13

The Labs of Boston, Woolwich, Chhattisgarh:


by Farzana Versey, CounterPunch, June 1-3
“As we heard the instant matters before us, we could not but help be reminded of the novella, “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, who perceived darkness at three levels: the darkness of the forest, representing a struggle for life and the sublime; (ii) the darkness of colonial expansion for resources; and finally (iii) the darkness, represented by inhumanity and evil, to which individual human beings are capable of descending, when supreme and unaccounted force is vested, rationalized by a warped world view that parades itself as pragmatic and inevitable, in each individual level of command...Joseph Conrad describes the grisly, and the macabre states of mind and justifications advanced by men, who secure and wield force without reason, sans humanity, and any sense of balance. The main perpetrator in the novella, Kurtz, breathes his last with the words: ‘The horror! The horror!’”

Blood. Death. Hate spreads. I do not know where sympathy should begin and for whom, anymore. We know the bad guys, with cleavers and rudimentary weapons, talking, walking with ruthless strides, dancing near corpses. That they do not look squishy clean like our sanitised toilet bowl gives us the power to screw up our noses.

The horror

We have seen the horror in the last few weeks, the latest being on May 25 in the tribal belt of India. Why is the quote at the beginning important? It comes from an unlikely source. In its report on the anti-Naxalite organisation, the Supreme Court of India pulled up the government and got the Salwa Judum banned.

The FBI spies on Americans. India sets up a counter-insurgency group against its citizens. They might call it 'necessary evil' but if after decades the problems persist, then it may be implied that the solutions infect the problem, hoping the virus spreads and falls dead. That is not how it works; it never has.

At 5.30 pm on Saturday at Darbha Ghati in the tribal area of Bastar in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh, a state carved out of Madhya Pradesh in central India, Naxalites rained gunfire at a convoy that was on its way to bring about change through its ‘Parivartan Yatra’ before the assembly elections. Over 25 people were shot dead by 200; many were injured. The figures change, but that is not the point.

The point is that this time it was not about innocent civilians.  Political leaders of the Congress Party and, more importantly, Mahendra Karma, who started the Salwa Judum were the targets. Although the Supreme Court disbanded it in 2011, the very idea that the government backed a terrorist outfit to deal with insurgency and got away with it reveals a conscientious and devious manoeuvre to obstruct not only the execution but the very concept of justice.

News channels and papers kept talking about how Karma was tortured. It was indeed brutal, as though the group was performing a ritual sacrifice through this purging. However, in 2010 the same government sent out photographs of a female Maoist’s body carried tied to a pole like an animal. What was the reason for it? I had written then that this does not send out a message to the Naxals, who are ready to die for their cause. And it does not send out any message to civil society. The last thing people need to believe they are safe from terrorism is to see armed soldiers enacting a theatre of the absurd.



The universal

Using a word like terrorism loosely is only giving more teeth to the establishment to pursue innocents, who might turn out to be what they are stereotyped to be. What puts the three incidents in diverse countries on par is that ‘national pride’ was aimed at.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar once wanted to represent the United States, until something changed. They then planned to strike on July 4. The pressure cooker bombs were ready. They did a recce of police stations, looking for officers as possible targets. They could not wait, so on April 15 they struck at the symbol of hope and aspiration, of breasting the tape. The Boston Marathon stood for all that is good – adrenalin throbbing in the muscles of different-coloured bodies, flags fluttering in the background to convey varied ethnicities. This was the mass congregation version of the American Sweetheart.

The U.S. was afraid to bury the dead Tamerlan because it feared the site would become a cult memorial. Something has got to be wrong if this were to happen. But then, has not the superpower’s Department of Defense called all protest “low-level terrorism”? This is how it went about it: “The FBI deemed OWS (Occupy Wall Street) to be a terrorist organization and went into ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mode. Many of the FBI descriptions of possible OWS actions or those of affiliated organizations like Adbusters consistently look to have taken the most inflammatory snippets and presented them out of context.”

In Woolwich, Michael Adebolajo – a ten-year ‘Islamist’ (he converted in 2003) – was sought by M15, even offered cash. Just the sort of guy in whose mouth you can stuff some food so that he does not rant against the system and assists it.  He, along with his accomplice Michael Adebowale, hit at the concept of security in the form of a young soldier, Lee Rigby. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, "they are trying to divide us". Hugely ironic, considering it comes from the masters of divide-and-rule policy. Much has been written about the brave white woman who tried to reason with the killer. Perhaps, this is what Cameron meant by ‘they’ and ‘us’.

He has set up the Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force (TERFOR) "to stop extremist clerics using schools, colleges, prisons and mosques to spread their ‘poison’...It will also urge Muslim ‘whistleblowers’ to report clerics who act as terrorist apologists to the police". This sort of vigilantism makes everyone a suspect.

The Guardian quoted former British soldier Joe Glenton, who served in the war in Afghanistan:

"While nothing can justify the savage killing in Woolwich yesterday of a man since confirmed to have been a serving British soldier, it should not be hard to explain why the murder happened... It should by now be self-evident that by attacking Muslims overseas, you will occasionally spawn twisted and, as we saw yesterday, even murderous hatred at home. We need to recognise that, given the continued role our government has chosen to play in the US imperial project in the Middle East, we are lucky that these attacks are so few and far between."

How lucky, indeed. And this is heralded as a liberal point of view, whereas it is just more shit hitting the fan. It adds to the pan-Islamic prototype, of every darned Muslim being concerned about every country with a population that follows the faith and could get murderous in adopted lands.

Strangely, nationalistic fervour is a mirror image of the Ummah it so detests. In Chhattisgarh, the government is treating the Naxals as “kufr”, non-believers of poodle democracy.
                                                                          
The Image-makers

The reason the subject has become an even more important issue is because it highlights how the government uses subversive tactics through insidious means. In the major attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that killed 76 soldiers, the reportage and political drama hinged on ‘embarrassment’ and ‘blot’. It was the image factory at work. No emotions for the dead or the very reasons behind such insurgency,