27.2.14

Looking for the Potent Hindu Male?

Sometimes, words are impotent when they shoot in the dark or do not serve much purpose. Yet, they seem to attract a lot of attention. How potent is such impotency then?

"I want to ask him this question that you claim to be such a strong and powerful man and wish to be the PM, and you could not protect the people of Godhra. Some people came, attacked and went, and you couldn't protect. Are you not a strong man?...Our allegation is not that you get people killed...but that you are napunsak (impotent)."

These words by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid were aimed at Narendra Modi.

The reactions have covered a wide range, from questioning Khurshid’s education to the insult, to other candidates and back to the accuser’s own ‘manliness’. The Faking News had a rather hilarious pictorial depiction of the minister in varied machismo avatars.


However, as the one reproduced here shows, the assumption in that potency/manliness is associated with beefcake – big muscles, big build, big attitude. This is the archetype and has nothing to do with potency, which literally is the ability to perform and (re)produce. A male who is not physically well endowed might deliver quite adequately, even well.

The portrayal of Khurshid is, of course, parody. Tittering about his manliness does not denote the manliness of his target, though. Is there really an issue with the language here? The minister is often not the best spokesperson or face of the Congress party. But is ‘impotent’ the wrong term here? In fact, he is giving Modi the benefit of doubt by conveying that he is helpless, for no one chooses impotency. It is just there.

But, where sexually-loaded language is concerned these words would invariably be seen as a slur.

Rather interestingly, just the other day, Modi had found an unusual niche for his leadership claims – bachelorhood. Singles don’t have to worry about families, he said.

Most people reacted to this with humour, and the opponents quoted examples from other political parties, including Rahul Gandhi.

There is a problem here and it is not restricted to the gentleman who made the statement. It has been said before too by those in positions of power or committed to a cause. I would understand if the individual had taken sanyas and had no strings attached. However, not getting married does not mean you do not forge relationships. Or cannot. But, he was on a different trip:

"Mere liye na koi aagey, na peechhey. Kiske liye bhrashtachaar karunga? (In have no family ties. I am single. Who will I be corrupt for?)…this mind and body is totally devoted to the nation."

He is in effect saying that men become corrupt for their families, they want to accumulate wealth for their wives and children. The impression is that essentially men would have led pretty much clean lives had it not been for the demands the family makes on acquiring things. The signal given out is that of one focussed on the task of changing India without any personal ties. What happens to the larger family of greedy party workers? Why did he feel the need for a makeover? Will he accept it if other politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists turn around and say that all the scams are because of pressure from their families? How would that explain the hoarding by godmen?



The idea of the single man and his assumed celibacy is a potent one. Think Mahatma Gandhi. Think the RSS pracharaks. The allegiance to an ideology imbues them in the public imagination with ammo. In the case of Modi and his tireless campaigning it also gives an adrenaline rush to his followers. It is like an orgy.

Therefore an accusation of “did nothing” is deemed an insult for one who sweats it out. Here, it is not restricted to language, but perception and symbolism.

Does the single man not go against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s new mantra to protect Hinduism? As its leader Ashok Singhal said:

“Hindus should not restrict themselves to two children per family. Only when they produce five children will the population of Hindus remain stable.”

The Sangh is looking for the potent Hindu male. (It is another matter that population is a problem for India.) Modi’s strategy will be to act as the shepherd who will supposedly lead the people to this stability where conversions by missionaries and over-production by certain others will be curtailed, while at the same time urging them to develop and finetune their natural instincts for the nation. In that, his focus could be seen as potential without any performance anxiety. Also, power without responsibility, due to no ties. Detachment can be potent for it allows a person to spread himself thin while appearing to be self-contained.

© Farzana Versey

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Images: The Faking News

23.2.14

Sunday ka Funda

"Screw it, I’ll just be a porn star.”

What started as a joke became real. This is about Lauren, a student, desperately trying to finance her tuition fees, who landed a job as an adult film actress. And how it was not as bad as it is made out to be; in fact, how it empowered her to do with her body only what she wished, not what was forced upon her by lovers, spouses, exploiters.

22.2.14

The road less travelled...'Highway'



I had a profoundly cathartic experience while watching 'Highway'. It was when Veera and Mahabir are in the mountains, and they reach a house and she says, "Yeh tau mera ghar hai, mujhe hamesha se hi aisa ghar chahiye tha (This is my home, one I had been looking for)". It is a dusty, bare house, very different from her plush lifestyle in Delhi where "tameez" is taught and learned by buying silences.

Without getting into details and diverting attention from the film, let me just say that the home, a cavernous retreat, that she swept clean and put food in front of became mine. Next day, sudden gunshots hit Mahabir, and as his eyes meet the sky that seems flanked by trees, there is another purging. An acceptance of things being short-lived.

'Highway' has been called a road movie, but the journey pierces internally. Old maps are brought out, some lines erased, new ones formed.

Veera Tripathi, on the eve of her wedding, asks her fiancé, "Why can't we just run away and go to the mountains?" This is how she is. She wants to breathe free, take risks. For her the fancy wheels are just a means to getting away. She wants to go far, just go on and on...and when they take a U-turn, they are confronted by a group of criminals on the run who had no intention of such a 'meeting'. It is a chance encounter. Her kidnapping begins on an unreal note, and stays that way.

The gang leader, in fact, is angry with Mahabir Bhatti for taking her hostage. This is a criminal niche where they have not ventured. "Tu kutte ki maut marega (You will die like a dog)," he tells Mahabir. The latter's reply is stunning in its simplicity: "Jo kutte ki jindagi ji raha hai usko kutte ki maut hi milegi (one who leads a dog's life will obviously get a dog's death)."

While it is not emphasised, there is a strain of a political class struggle. At one point, not sure about what to do with her, he tells his mate that they should sell her to a brothel. He is not dismissive about it. He gives a reason. As a Gujjar, he vents his anger over how easily the rich abuse the women of the poor, even demanding their wives for pleasure. He wonders at the hypocrisy of gangsters too being concerned about the clout of the rich father of Veera. Yet, he does not abuse his power. He does not sell her. This needs to be seen in the context of her innocence being bought by one she was supposed to trust. Is that why she becomes comfortable in his presence?

Her story does not merge with Mahabir's, but runs parallel. They are not made for each other; they are like raw material that cannot be moulded. Therefore, she laughs in the midst of tears, she asks herself incredulously, "Why am I talking so much?" And she hides when the cops check the truck. She had a chance to find freedom from the criminals. Why did she not? Even Mahabir wants to know.



This is most certainly not about the Stockholm Syndrome. If that were the case, then Mahabir is the one suffering from it. He becomes vulnerable. But this is not about any such syndrome. It is not about being awe-struck or falling in love with your captor. Veera wanted to run away right at the beginning. Her escapism is a thirst to experience, to break free, and also due to insecurities. This is the captivity.

That time when she comes out with "when I was nine" and how her uncle sexually exploited her is not an episode. The retelling is not planned, which is why it is so effective. There are no gory details — the fear, helplessness, anger are all in her face and voice. And his stillness. She is the water, he the rock. The terrain has many of these water-rock scenes as they traverse through six states. Water rising, a spray, a jet, droplets in her palm, moving in circles around the rocks.

Mahabir has two moments of denouement. One when he hums the song his mother sang to him as a child and the other when he peeps into that dusty mountain house and sees Veera transforming it. "Promise me you will go and see your mother after all this is over" she tells him in the first incident. She holds him weeping close to her bosom, like mother to child. In the new home, she snuggles up to him, almost over his chest, like daughter to father.

They are together, but not joined. There is no adhesive. As he tells her on an earlier occasion after she rushes back when he leaves her near the police station, "What will you do with me - marry me, produce babies?" Later, waiting for a bus, she says, "I am not planning to marry or make babies. I just want to go a little further for some more time, knowing that you will take care."

We trust the elements as we climb hills, go into the sea, battle inclement weather. We trust almost everything we grow up with. Here the growth is on the way, a constant movement. In Veera's words, "I don't want to return where I came from. I don't want to reach anywhere. I just want that this road should never end."

Mahabir's death does not end her journey. She not only faces, but confronts the demons. She spits out words in their customised faces. And leaves for the mountains. To work. To live. To be. When she remembers Mahabir, it is of both of them as kids. They had never met then. What she is recalling is the innocence of their relationship, its purity. Like the clear air.

This is not about being a captive. When we feel good or seek out something, somebody. it is essentially the true love we feel about wanting to reclaim ourselves.

© Farzana Versey

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Snapshots

• Alia Bhatt as Veera behaves as nature does. Fire, earth, water by turns.
• Randeep Hooda as Mahabir smiles only once, weeps twice, yet he carries so many emotions in the hardened face.
• Imtiaz Ali has broken all genre rules. His direction is most unobtrusive.
• Anil Mehta's cinematography goes from craggy dark cranies, flithy lanes, godowns, to long stretches of undulating ghats, valleys, deserts, mountains. And he shows silence.
• A.R.Rahman. Quiet music is rare. Still music rarer.

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19.2.14

Rajiv Gandhi's Assassins and the Question of Extra-Judicial Justice



Seven of those who plotted the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi are free. If mercy petitions take long, does if mean that the convicts ought to be set free? By this logic, how do we deal with the even more serious issue of undertrial prisoners who are dumped in cells without even a trial, and merely on the basis of suspicion? Should this case be treated as more important than any other?

That day of May 21, 1991 has been etched in the memory of many Indians, irrespective of political views. A young former prime minister seeking to get re-elected in the forthcoming elections jumped right into the trap, the perils of being populist, and popular. Those images of his torn bits, and the memorable one of his shoes, made the nation mourn, mainly for what was seen as 'bringing it upon himself'.

Briefly, the secessionist movement in Sri Lanka by Sinhalese Tamils, helmed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was initially assisted by Indian agencies, including the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The members were trained in India. However, as happens often with legitimate power brokers, India sent a peace-keeping force that did what any muscling army would do. Sri Lanka and India signed an accord where the rebels were not even taken into account. That there is still disaffection and the struggle has become even more violent, with many Tamils being killed, speaks volumes about what can only politely be called lack of political will.

Lack of political will often translates into politicking. On February 18, a day after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment for three convicts, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha went a step further and in the cabinet meeting decided to free seven of those who plotted the murder. This is not a case of egalitarianism, but sheer arrogance. She was quoted as saying:

"The cabinet has taken a decision to release the three convicts, Perarivalan, Murugan and Santhan, along with those four, Nalini, Robert Pyas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran who are undergoing life sentence. The decision will be conveyed to the Centre for appropriate action. If we don't get their response in three days, we will release all convicts in accordance with the rights granted under Indian Constitution."


The report further states, "The state government has the right to release convicts who have completed 14 years in jail after considering their good conduct."

But is this consideration for the "inhumanity" of their incarceration for 20 years? In which case, as any human rights organisation will tell you, we need to standardise procedure. This would be a good precedent only if it is not selective, and applies to other insurgents who can claim in all seriousness that either they were unaware of the big picture or that they were ideologically motivated, both of which have been mentioned in these cases.

The popular perception is that Jayalalitha is appealing to the local Tamil population who empathise with the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The point is not to doubt that, but it certainly raises the question about how long and to what extent her concern will last. Freeing prisoners of a high-profile case seems like a gimmick if there is no support at a fundamental level.

When the SC put the onus on the executive and stated that "it was not for the convicts to bring forth the evidence of their suffering and agonising affects on their body and mind", it did come across as bit simplistic.



Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan said "there was unexplained delay in deciding their mercy pleas". It is indeed a good move that there is no capital punishment, but it seems surprising that the prisoners were concerned for their life. The LTTE cadre is geared for death. The suicide belt that killed Rajiv Gandhi would have killed the assassin. If the killers or the plotters are captured they are expected to swallow cyanide.

The timing of the SC verdict does not appear innocent. There is no way the Gandhi family will oppose the life sentence and ask for capital punishment. It would be political harakiri.

In fact, it can be said that the 'forgiveness' started at 10 Janpath. Two years after getting the death sentence, Nalini Sriharan, one of the main plotters, got a reprieve after Sonia Gandhi intervened. Priyanka Gandhi visited her.

A front page report in The Times of India in 2008 stated:

According to what Nalini told her lawyers, a visibly emotional Priyanka made Nalini sit next to her and asked several short questions related to the assassination. Why had it happened? For what purpose? What was Nalini's involvement? Nalini replied, “I didn't know anything till the end. But it is true that I went to the spot.” Nalini is the sole survivor of the five-member assassination squad.

Priyanka is quoted by the lawyers as saying, “My father was a good person. It could have been resolved through talks. Had you known about my father’s good nature, you would not have done this.” Nalini apparently kept quiet. Then Priyanka asked, “When did you see my father last?” Nalini said, “When he got out of his car.”


The sympathy wave for the sympathy wave is a known tactic. But did Priyanka Gandhi have the authority to conduct such an enquiry? We are talking about a hugely serious issue that is still on the boil. How legally valid is it for the meetings to have taken place, for anyone to file a petition on the basis of Right to Information and, most importantly, whether the media ought to have carried such stories at all?

Now it is in the public domain. The questions remain. Is the judiciary going strictly by the book, or is it assisting the political class? Will this sentence stand in every court of law when other cases are brought up? Is India going to be 'humane' to all secessionist groups? And if not, why?

The Congress party heads have displayed magnanimity, but this is not merely about coming to term with a personal tragedy. The issue of Tamil Eelam does need to be addressed. And then on to other such movements.

If they are ready, as are other parties, then perhaps we ought to welcome a renaissance in political thought where rebels are recognised for their ideology and prison bars do not demonise.

© Farzana Versey

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Images: Livemint, NDTV

17.2.14

Self-made Selves?



How many people reside in us? Facebook's decision to provide an option of 50 genders is not really about choice. It is divisive and confusing, and in many ways reductionist.

Gender is not about sexual orientation alone. It is a birth fact. We are either male or female and in some cases hermaphrodite, those born with sexual organs of both. How we feel or behave later is another matter, and the choice takes off from the prevalent genders.

The option for 'other' does cover a wide range already. Why then the need to split hairs? A surgeon, irrespective of area of expertise, will tick-mark surgeon, or more often would fall into the broad category of doctor or medical professional. The same would apply to writers, even if they are identified with a particular genre.

It is possible to argue that these are not personal and there is less of an emotive compulsion to be possessive about them. What does ‘AndrogynousBigender’ tell others about who we really are, when one needs a reference manual for that term? It has been described as "a person who feels that their gender is fully male and fully female, or any pair of genders, generally by switching between the two". Will the person be able to convey when the switch is taking place, for would that not be the ethical stand? If this is an imperative identity, one cannot quite treat it on par with mood swings. There is a major shift between two fully operational and active sexes that choose to be one at any given point in time without any noticeable change in demeanour. How is anybody to perceive such a fluid identity, which by its very nature is tethered?

If we think “gender fluid” is an identity, then would we apply the same standards to wavering between faiths, to take just one example? How would we annotate an individual alternating between different belief systems and non-belief? This is in the area of ideology, therefore less crucial as a benchmark unless it is a publicly-recognised position. The closer analogy would be a physical transformation in spurts. Imagine a visually-impaired person being not blind and then back again. Gender is the ‘face’ of a person, and the persona too.

For all its “cool” quotient, the privacy option is retained. Therefore, the new identities might merely be self-recognition. It raises the question: Is this what one is worth – a pull-down menu? If, as Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison said, “There's going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world”, why does the report state: “Unlike getting engaged or married, changing gender is not registered as a 'life event' on the site and won't post on timelines”?

For those who think this is an important part of who they are, is it not life-changing? Is FB resorting to a cosmetic gimmick? The pronouns offered are ‘him’, ‘her’ and ‘them’. In popular usage, except when addressing a designated group, ‘them’ denotes otherness. Therefore, alienation is embedded within. How does it work “in supporting individuals' multifaceted identities”? Perhaps, this too is ad-driven. The ‘neutral’ category will have advertisements that are not male or female oriented. It means a larger pool, as well as several niche markets.

This is certainly not about civil rights. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said:

“Over the past few years, a person's Facebook profile truly has become their online identity, and now Facebook has taken a milestone step to allow countless people to more honestly and accurately represent themselves. We applaud Facebook for making it possible for people to be their authentic selves online."

Besides reducing an online persona to a person’s identity, it also ignores that social media often masks the true self. It has been a refuge for counterfeit personae, irrespective of gender, nationality or other defining details. To create 50 categories to choose from is itself an inauthentic understanding of gender.

Instead of granting those who do not wish to conform, this is an attempt to create several conforming stereotypes that others can selectively target for different purposes.

© Farzana Versey

16.2.14

Sunday ka Funda

Do things ever leave? Maya, illusion or reality, hovers around in stray thoughts, words. Its - her - presence is so all-pervasive that even if she has taken up space, her existence seems less hurting than the constant memory where even her aches like falling leaves are not soundless. Or is it only perception, or the fear of her, of her quiet exit?

"saavan ke kuchh bheege bheege din rakhe hain
aur mere ek khat mein liptee raat padee hai
woh raat bhulaa do, mera woh saamaan lautaaa do"

A few wet days of rain are there
and in my one letter a night is encased
Take that night away, but do return my belongings.

The subtle pathos of Gulzar's poetry is also dryly taunting. Emotions are 'samaan', things. They take shape, become real. Maya does not merely haunt; she lives.


15.2.14

AAP vs. the Neo-Maharajahs?



The suggestion that Mukesh Ambani could become a poll issue has deeper implications than merely the fall of Arvind Kejriwal's government. It brings to the forefront an undercover operation, and the sheer brazenness with which it can be touted about.

The Ambanis, and for that matter most industrial houses, are what constitutes corporate India, which in effect is the India we blindly promote. The elephant is in the room, and we trumpet it along with old exotica.

So, is the Aam Aadmi Party going to be considered the whistle-blower? Hardly. Kejriwal pushed the Jan Lokpal Bill. The whole of India and it chachas and mamaas want the Bill, because it merely makes the already transparent, transparent. It cannot expose what is not there, and only the very stupid would reveal their ill-gotten assets.

Despite reservations about AAP's modus operandi, this resignation is a mere sample for things to come. It is a run-up to the Lok Sabha elections and it does not sound good. The resigned CM has been playing politics, but by standing on the periphery. This is dangerous, for it amounts to power without responsibility.

Why was he in such a hurry? Was it only about his 49 days of 15-minutes fame? Does he want to be known as the last man standing, a moral trope?

It does sound ironical to discuss democratic behaviour in this context because none of the parties follows it. However, in his short stint, Kejriwal has been rushing from arrogance to anarchy without a blink. Perhaps, both of these feed each other.

Where does Mukesh Ambani figure in all this?



Kejriwal used his resignation speech...to lash out at Congress and BJP for joining hands to allegedly protect the corporate interests of Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani.

The AAP government's decision to file FIRs against Ambani and Congress leaders for "illegally" raising the price of natural gas was the reason for the Jan Lokpal bill being defeated, the CM said.


If it is glory he is seeking, then it will not work. Many among AAP's supporters are covert Ambanis. This whole common man idea was propped up by an upwardly mobile middle-class mindset.

Dhirubhai Ambani represented it best as the man who made it. Indians have never been particularly interested in how anybody makes it. Since we love legacies, the sons — that too warring ones — have earned the fealty of a public that finds its role models in the neo-maharajahs. Boardroom wars are akin to going to battle for different sides, but with the ostensibly rock solid foundation of the self-made man.

Corporate venality does not figure in the popular imagination. The demons we want to slay are underworld dons and people without any history. Big industry always seems to have history, even if it was built in a short time. Chemicals and gas have been around forever, and being a part of it the manufacturers get history by default.

Kejriwal did not drop a bombshell. It would be rather naïve to believe that political parties would openly be seen to promote a business group, even if they indeed do. We have had scams running into mind-boggling figures. There was a judicial, constitutional process followed. People were given jail terms. But, did it change the landscape of corruption?

Think about it. Who spent time in the clinker? The politicians and the smaller business guys. Did anything happen to the big honchos? No. Therefore, not only do the major and minor political parties protect the corporate masterminds, they are willing to sacrifice their own relatively smaller players.

And in this game, Arvind Kejriwal's throw of dice wasn't even on the board.

© Farzana Versey

Also:

A touch of arrogance

The posh anarchy of the 'aam aadmi'

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Images: Financial Express

14.2.14

Afraid to love?



Why should anybody get defensive about love? There are different manifestations of it, and differing ways to express it. The need to box in can be a bit of a dampener.

Therefore, when somebody started a Valentine’s Day trend on #ActivistPickupLines to show that activists can be “cute and funny”, it was subversive. Worse, it wanted to express how they are not “cold-hearted feminists”. This is an assumption prevalent among non-feminists and conservatives. They believe in the ‘nazism’ of the feminist narrative. Besides, “cute” and “funny” are mutually-exclusive. In fact, all such terminology is. And let us emphasise that love does not mean pickup lines. So, this is again flashing it as machismo, playing into a male idea. Of course, women want it too, but why the heck should it follow masculine standards?

I am sounding a bit like a killjoy, but it is really better to just enjoy the moment, the day, the event without carrying this huge baggage where you have to defend your choice. Not very proactive. No doubt, some of the lines are adolescent funny and a howl back at popular theories and protests. But some…

“I'm underrepresented. In your pants”

Is it asking to ‘fill up’, or not getting enough, or having to share space with others? Ergo, acceptance of promiscuity/bigamy?

“You're hotter than global warming”

Yawwwnnn.

“We ain't gotta worry 'bout leaving carbon footprints...when we're horizontal!”

Wake up. You don’t have to do it lying down all the time. Or does all that activism or ‘standing up’ for rights tire you out?

“Of course you're beautiful. I don't believe in colonized standards of beauty”

Bitch. Look into that mirror first. This is colonisation when you think s/he expects that little twit of a compliment. Even the Tutsis do not believe in the Western standard of beauty.

“Three strikes and you're in”

And out.

“Baby you must been tired cause you've been marching for equality in my mind all day”

Pity that the mind of so effed up it did not even consider stopping the march. Relishing the inequality?

Part of the reason activists have got into the groove is because the anti-love movement has been taken over by extremists and they wouldn’t want to be bundled with them, would they? Also, they realise that their movements need to be marketed as much as those soft toys and tinsel cards, so they really cannot rant against ‘commercialisation’ of events.

And if simple things matter to some people, then why rubbish the same when others revel in small joys?



It is tempting to explain some ‘activist’ reactions to fear of love. It is quite different from fear of commitment. Those who are afraid to love could well suffer from a rigidity that they share with fundamentalists. It is narcissism that camouflages itself in things outside of oneself, but is more likely to be obsessed with one’s ownership of that role. What might appear to be self-deprecatory is likely to be plain old insecurity.

Famous writers and artists, and films that have used love as their template. It did not reduce their stature.

"It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it."

 – From Sleepless In Seattle

9.2.14

Sunday ka Funda

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
- Albert Einstein




8.2.14

Satya's Truth. Or dare?



Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandhar is not biting. Yet. And this is probably the best thing to happen to Satya Nadella, the newly-appointed CEO of Microsoft. When approached by the media, the father simply said:

"I don't know why I should speak about his childhood. How is that even important. Yes I wish him well, but that's all I have to say. All this is unnecessary hype. I don't understand why it is required."


In India it is a ritual for parents, siblings, relatives, old friends, classmates, neighbours, shopkeepers, domestic staff, guy who changed the lightbulb, fellow who fixed the leaky tap, to all celebrate in an achievement that they do not even fathom. Therefore, since newspapers cannot dare to call the senior arrogant, they reluctantly grant that, "Some joys, perhaps, are best felt in private".

Is there anything to celebrate? Microsoft is a private company. Nadella has been living in the US and has chalked up years in the field. Why do we treat this success as special and how does it qualify as success at all? Sure, getting to head a huge enterprise is a big thing, but why is a person of Indian origin helming an American corporate sector a matter of pride for India?

A most patronising article in Firstpost asks:

Is the appointment of Satya Nadella a feather in India’s cap or a slap in the face for the Indian system?...We need to ask ourselves: why does our system kill future heroes, while the US helps raise even ordinary Indians to iconic levels?


Do we say Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are ordinary and the American system has given them iconic status? It is not as though Nadella was waiting tables and was just grabbed and taken into the MS fold. We get to hear about these stories because they are huge conglomerates that resonate world-wide. You won't see the Chinese or Japanese, or Czechs or Ukrainians start abusing the system in their country of origin if one of them makes it in the US, or is knighted in the UK.

It is difficult to say who will become something. Besides, how we perceive this something is relative. Therefore, "future heroes" is a tad bit disingenuous and cheesy.

How does a CEO qualify as a hero? How many Indian CEOs do we consider as heroes? At best, they become part of our celebrity culture and are given the VIP treatment.

The article further states:

A Satya Nadella, who is from Manipal, would never have made it big in India since he is not from the IITs. But even IITians don’t flower much in an Indian corporate or academic environment; they leave India and prefer working with foreign firms.


So do cabbies and motel owners earning an honest living. It has to do with seeking a better life, just as villagers move to the cities. Red-tape and nepotism indeed act as barriers to opportunity, but has that stopped certain industries from throwing up talent?

It is almost moralistic to venerate a few businesses and sanctify them. Indians will applaud someone getting a top post, but will we applaud her or him for helping themselves to coffee without a peon scurrying in fright to get it?

Will we glorify if a 'hero' takes out the garbage and does the dishes? No. We are only interested in that nameplate, the pomp and grandeur we imagine goes with the post. Some might intellectualise it as talent being recognised when that is not the real purpose. How many analysts have discussed Nadella's role without bringing in some Indian trait that will change the way Microsoft looks? Perhaps some curry stains are mandatory to go with it?

To conflate this elevation with Nobel Prize winner Venkatraman Ramakrishnan makes no sense. He too had to go through this test by fire, and came across as someone who was dragged to the roots guillotine:

"Accident or not, I remain grateful to all the dedicated teachers I had. Others have said I have disowned my roots. Since 2002, I have come almost every year to India. In these visits, I have spent time on institute campuses giving lectures or talking to colleagues and students, and stayed in the campus guest house. I have not spent my time staying in fancy hotels and going sightseeing."


Back then, I had written:

Roots are not about giving lectures and staying at campuses. By going sightseeing you do not become less of an Indian. He is coming here on work in his professional capacity and has the audacity to talk about it as maintaining connections with his roots. He could have been going on lecture tours to Jalalabad, for all we care.


Was Nikki Haley merely going all mainstream when she registered her race as “white” in her voter registeration form in 2001 and it got noticed only ten years later? Is it typical expat behaviour that North Carolina’s governor made herself White?

The state’s Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian had said:

“Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her. When she registers to vote she says she is white.”


To get a breakup of different races is necessary for population statistics, but how does it count in the electoral process? The emphasis on differences only mark out territory.

Was Haley striving to do so by faking it? Some people of Indian origin tend to be quite attached to their ‘green cards’. It was and probably still is a dream realised. Their value increases in the home they have left. They are extremely conscious about what they perceive as the pecking order. The term coconut refers to their brown colour and whiteness of being or rather becoming.

Perhaps those like Haley are merely insecure and want to get upmarket socially, having earned their stars and stripes and with no apparent trace of origins left.

Such personal need reveals the larger truth. You cannot change your race but the change might do you a whole lot of good. Why is it so? It is this aspect that should be addressed, especially when there are so many voices against multiculturalism.

Satya Nadella is not in denial about his origins. But the Indian desperation to finger-point it is racist in a manner we might not even comprehend. This makes it all the more pathetic.

© Farzana Versey

7.2.14

Horn 'ok' please: Varun Gandhi's dilemma



They were hopping mad, this group of 'independent' BJP supporters. Columnist Tavleen Singh asked angrily, "Is Varun Gandhi trying to return to his family party? What was this 'shahzada' doing on Modi's stage in Kolkata?"

The other darbari of the disciplined party, Madhu Kishwar, expressed her anguish too: "Varun Gandhi joins Modi Baiters. In private conversations he never made secret of pathological hatred for Modi. Now battle in open."

This is a hoot, especially the familiarity of private conversations.

What does it take to start a controversy? A report that sounds like a third-grade account of a picnic managed to make Varun Gandhi into both a traitor as well as a 'family' man.

Indian Expressstarted the sophomoric excursion with this headline: "Varun Gandhi bats against Narendra Modi,says Rajnath Singh ideal BJP PM pick."

Not a single phrase alluded to this shift in stance. In fact, IE was interested in the size of Modi's rally in Kolkata's Brigade Parade Grounds. As always, the BJP gave figures of a "huge" crowd running into lakhs. The party's general secretary Varun Gandhi seems to have said that the crowd wasn't the size that was reported and the rally was "okay".

The newspaper did not think this answer was good enough, so it persisted:

Asked why he did not think it was excellent, Varun said, “You have got the figures wrong. It is not true that 200,000 plus people turned up at the meeting. The crowd was at the most 45,000 to 50,000.”


What is this? Why is the media suffering from performance anxiety?

Not unexpectedly, Varun Gandhi has called it a "mischievous article...implying that I was trying to denigrate Modiji and the historic Kolkata rally. Why would I denigrate a function that I myself organised? When asked whether the rally was okay, I replied it was absolutely okay."

Who is going to set crow now?

By then, conspiracy theories were raging. NDTV website had this title: "Varun Gandhi's reported assessment of Narendra Modi rally is gift for Congress."

Why can't the media just wait, or ask people who have either covered election rallies or have some knowledge of bells and whistles thinking? If anything, his being a Gandhi will help the BJP for he has already been portrayed as an outcaste from the fold before. He is the one who decided to take a risk and strike out, joining forces antithetical to the family's politics.

In 2009, when he was arrested for hate speech, he had said, "In our country, Varun Gandhi is jailed under the NSA and was having 'lauki' (bottle gourd) in Etah jail but Kasab is treated with 'tandoori chicken' inside the jail."

And his views on the 'paternal' family weren't charitable at all: "I won't comment against Congress as it was breathing its last, my mother had told me that I should not say anything bad against people who are on their deathbed."

Things do change in politics, but to base such an assertion on whether Varun Gandhi was satisfied with a particular size or not reveals immaturity.

© Farzana Versey

4.2.14

Third Front or Facade?

How many Third Fronts will we have? Promiscuous political relationships are not likely to last simply because they are not meant to.

What do Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Naveen Patnaik, Deve Gowda, Om Prakash Chautala and Mulayam Singh Yadav have in common? Does the need to “form this anti-Congress, anti-Modi block” suffice? The BJP also wants a “Congress-mukt (free) Bharat” and the Congress does not want a “communal” party. Therefore, each can qualify as a Third Front if the idea is to oppose a bloc.

It is worrying that parties are coming together at this stage, for the stakes for horse-trading are high now. Rather than an anti-anything move, it appears to be one garnered to make themselves relevant. Many of them have been made irrelevant or have been snubbed. The CPI may not have high ambitions, but it is on the list of all these parties for an alliance. It has already tied up with the AIADMK.

Jayalaitha stated: “AIADMK and CPI have decided to enter into an alliance to face the upcoming Lok Sabha elections together.” Therefore, how would they dethrone Congress to form a “secular and democratic alternative” when the alliance itself if purely electoral?

Nitish Kumar had said, “It’s not exactly a merger of parties, but we can federate these parties.” Given that all of them have only a regional presence, how would they federate? What role would Odisha have in Bihar or UP in Haryana? How much of a presence do these parties have in states where the Congress or BJP are ruling? For that matter, do they even count in Delhi where AAP is holding fort?

Nobody quite knows what such a tie-up entails. Are these alliances designed for the Centre should the results be skewed? Who all would jump in and what happens to the different manifestoes and ideologies of the parties? How many ambitions will they have to deal with?

A small detail has been ignored. The Congress government is a UPA government formed with people like them. The BJP too had ruled as the NDA. Instead of working against the two big parties, the Third Front will in fact give them an opening to pick and choose based on their stated objectives. Did not AAP, which started as pretty much a Third Front prototype, without alliances, end up with ‘support’ from the Congress? Recall the Anna Movement hobnobbing with rightwing parties. What came of it?

There will be more middlemen who will help these alliances for their own ‘cuts’. The Third Front will be fractioned into many smaller groupings and some of these fighters will emerge as victors after joining forces with those they started out opposing.

© Farzana Versey

2.2.14

Sunday ka Funda

Initially it was only curiosity to watch a group of Americans reminiscent of Woodstock singing Sufi qawwali. As I kept listening, it struck me that it was not merely about breaking the music and culture barrier. It was about being free from the very thought of walls.

The qawwali is an acquired taste, and takes huge amounts of patience. The good thing is that like classical music and dance, if you 'tune in' then you don't need technical knowledge. I must emphasise, and I am being a tad bit defensive, that 'Allah' here could be seen as a superior power, even a superior self.



This poem by Kahlil Gibran is an extension of what I was attempting to say at the beginning:

Have I spoken this day of aught else?
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,
And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?
Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying, "This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?"
All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.
He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.
The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.
And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.
The freest song comes not through bars and wires.
And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.