31.8.15

Murder, she said -- Sheena Bora vs. Indrani Mukherjea


When a murder case is described as a circus, an edge-of-seat drama, you know that nobody is interested in the dead. It is the killing that counts, especially if it takes us through a maze.

India is riveted by the daily assault of media stories on Indrani Mukherjea, the woman who killed her daughter (who she publicly referred to as a sister) back in 2012. It has been brought to light three years later; the reason for it is confined to footnotes when it ought to be the real news.

DNA

Briefly: Indrani married Peter Mukherjea, whose son Rahul from a previous marriage was in a live-in relationship with Sheena, daughter of Indrani, who also has a son Mikhail (introduced publicly as her brother).

An informant told the police that Sheena had been murdered. This led to the driver, who confessed and accused his boss Indrani and her ex-husband Sanjeev Khanna of the murder. Sanjeev and Indrani have a daughter Vidhie, who Peter legally adopted. The father of Sheena and Mikhail is a Siddharth Das whose mother says she can only vouch for one grandchild, i.e. Sheena, and not Mikhail. (Who named him Mikhail? Clearly somebody must like Gorbachev.)

There is bound to be confusion, what with all the players contradicting one another and themselves.

However, due to the sensational nature of the disclosures and the surge of pop psychology doing the rounds, the fact that the police in the forested area where the remains were buried did not pursue it should be alarming. Nobody seemed to know or care about her disappearance in all this time, including her fiancé, her brother and her grandparents.

But, it is also about how society does not care. The manner in which people are reacting too reveals little concern for the victim. And if there is, it is to judge the non-existence of moral values.

I have a vague recollection of Indrani as a Page 3 denizen. She and Peter, who was the CEO of Star India, were obviously party animals. Later, they started another channel. Now Vir Sanghvi, senior journalist, has given an interview about his ex-bosses. I don't understand this. If he does not have any clues about the murder, why should he be allowed to barf about what are essentially his peeves against them?

In the initial stages, I watched a high-society punk on two TV channels. It was amazing how he altered his tone to suit each channel's story, and the channels are playing favourites here too.

I fail to understand how these ‘friends’ who say they can't believe such a thing could happen are called upon to judge precisely that. Far more important than the motive, it is for the police to establish that a murder did indeed take place, and the identity of the victim. Right now, they have exhumed the grave and collected a bagful of bones and a skull.

We read this and write about it as though these are things we encounter regularly. The reason we are becoming desensitised is because of the inhumane nature of reportage. The emphasis is on the uber lifestyle. For the middle class, it is a story close enough but certainly not about them. They can, therefore, judge, be it the money angle, the lust angle or the power angle.

Let us pause here. We do judge all crimes and criminals, so why not a woman who has from all evidence produced thus far killed her daughter, a planned murder, wiped out all visible clues, and lived with this and other lies?

The feminist trope has become mandatory when discussing any public event or cases these days. So, some commentators tell us that it is wrong to diss Indrani by referring to her as ambitious or a femme fatale. There is nothing wrong in being either. I do see that such slotting might convey that a woman with drive is bound to clear whatever comes in the way through any means. It so happens that Indrani did indeed do all of these. Her gender is immaterial.

I read a piece where the writer was angry about this and went on to list quotes not only about this case, but two other publicly visible women, thereby drawing attention to what she was herself dismissive about. While it is a fact that a woman with more than one husband draws attention and sniggers, here these gentlemen were very much a part of the crime, either directly or as evidence.

Some part of her lifestyle will be highlighted for the same reason as some are now talking about how the dynamics might change after the revelation about her being abused by her father as a teenager. Are we going to justify her crime because of it? If we think he is a beast, then should we trust him to shed light on the case?

The driver was an important part of the crime; there is little attention being paid to him. Why? Because we do not have pictures of him holding a cocktail glass? I am curious as to why he had preserved Sheena’s photograph (supposedly to identity her just in case the killing was outsourced) years after the murder? Wouldn’t he have wanted to get rid of it?


What prompted the informer, who woke up after three years?

What intrigues me most is Peter, who appears to be given the benefit of amnesia. He does not seem to know about anything and has portrayed himself as a lovelorn man who only trusted his wife, and did not seem to know about anything, including her being the mother of these two children she called her siblings. He says he has never met her parents, either.

Since we do not know how well she knew his family, is it possible that they functioned as a supra nuclear family? They weren’t very young, and had experienced previous marriages. The term “delusions of grandeur” has been used for Indrani. It is possible that this was a delusional compact world they chose to lead, where ‘others’ were not admitted as more than passersby. He probably believed her because he couldn’t care less about another version, just as she probably trusted him for other things.

I am surprised that people are shocked not so much by the murder as by the relationship. These are the same people who are quite okay with discussing minutiae of their own ‘happy lives’ in private messages to strangers on the internet. Therefore, nobody is in a position to discuss the dysfunctional.

As regards the crime, usually we say there should be justice for the family. Isn't that redundant here?

16.8.15

The lion and the vultures


How different are the two pictures really? In one the man poses with his kill; in the other the industry caters to consumerist bloodthirst that feasts on the same kill.


I'll be honest. I found the moral high ground on the Cecil the lion story hyperbolic, and in many ways a pretence. And it had nothing to do with it overturning the fairytale where the ogre is the beast. There was just too much of reductionism going on — of race, of bestiality, of the hunter as sinner.

The American man who killed a lion in Zimbabwe became a villain everywhere; to boot, a white with a whiter smile. One news report even spoke about how it was discovered that the killer of Cecil "turned out to be" an American dentist. How was this a discovery or of any consequence?

Hollywood's avande garde voice and general conscience-keeper was so riled that she even posted the address of Dr. Walter Palmer's clinic. It became just another, what we Indians call, jungle raj.

It is important to question such trophy killing. We need to forget one ism to favour another in some cases, so not all animals are equal and indeed we would need to understand that animals in the wild play a different role. However, if we are going to talk about sensitivity, then why is it that we don't ever evince any such sensitivity when we see stray dogs rounded up in municipal trucks?

Now, there are Cecil memorabilia. It is not an environmental consciousness initiative but a commercial enterprise. Is Cecil the first one one to be ever killed? How did the "local favourite" become the pop favourite globally? Can people really tell one lion apart from another?

Instead of buying mugs and other paraphernalia with a lion face, perhaps we should all just stop visiting zoos, which is where the animals are slowly reduced in stature and where we learn how to recognise that what's behind a cage should be naturally game outside of it. 

15.8.15

We, the little people



I can understand the usual speeches of politicians, but what makes us repeat the same old songs again and again as evidence of our patriotism? When will we get out of our gramophone existences and understand that a democracy thrives, in fact exists, because we need to question everything that appears to be free.

Our so-called nationalistic safety nets protect us from much of reality.

***
Let me post something I had written elsewhere back in 2009 about just such a reality:


Last year I was involved in a slum project in Delhi. It was late evening by the time I finished the rounds. The group of hutment dwellers took me to what was supposedly the best little house in their midst.

They pulled out the only chair there was for me and this is what I saw on the wall:

The man of the house had no legs. He slid in on a make-shift 'cart'; his wife stood proudly next to him. I asked about the pictures, "What do all these have in common?"

He laughed and spoke in halting Hindi, "Kuchch nahin, lekin sab ko respect karna hai (Nothing, but one respects everyone)."

A whole lot of people had gathered in that little room, some spilling on the doorstep. Someone bought a cola for me. I was asked not to leave without having dinner with them. It was a touching gesture. I said, “Next time” and just so that they did not feel bad I started discussing the nuances of various uthhappams.

It was a South Indian family. I tried my little Tamil with them to much guffaws all round.

And then of course as I was leaving I said, with complete idiocy, "Vanakkam". It means welcome.

I may never meet them again, or I may. But even in that faux pas I think I had welcomed them into my little world as they had welcomed me.

They were fighting to preserve their homes that were going to be bulldozed. I have found out that they have won the case. I smile at the memory of that wall. I can only hope that walls too have memories.

***
Politically speaking, only walls seem to have memories.

As all the usual groups get celebrated on Independence Day, let me just sing for them the songs they won't hear:

"Ai mere watan ke logoun zara aankh mein bhar lo paani, yeh shaheed hue hai unki zara yaad karo qurbani..."

"Saare jahan se achcha Hindostan hamara, hum bulbulein hai iski yeh gulsitan hamara..."

13.8.15

Ferguson, deflection and Malcolm X

Deflection is the worst thing that can happen to socio-political movements. As Americans took to protest a year after Ferguson, for it and the others that have happened and keep happening, Lexi Kozhedsky was catapulted to meme heroism.

At a protest rally, she stood as a shield protecting the police. Of course, one person doing so won't do much, but its symbolism is huge. Here is a young student who acknowledges there is racism, but still believes in the system:

“I’m supporting our police because not all cops are bad, and that needs to be realized. I think we need to show our support for them. They’re the people who protect us. I think a lot of people have the same opinion as I do but are too scared to voice it themselves, so when I did, people caught attention, whether it be negative or positive."

This might well be true, and due to that very reason it is most disturbing. The rally was to protest the wrongs done, not to pick out the goodness. There is always time for that on occasions like Fourth of July or something. Here it was imperative to listen to the voices of the affected, of voices that are stilled due to no fault but the colour they were born with and as.

If this is how the new generation plans to figure out contemporary history, then it will only repeat itself as the tragedy it is.

And it was Malcolm X who knew all about it before Ferguson because, well, it is just the same old thing. Alas.


12.8.15

Pornography, Freedom and Bondage




The other day we were watching a fine contemplative film on humiliation, death and renewal against the backdrop of a crematorium. It was an afternoon show and as soon as the young woman on screen placed her lover’s hand on her breast, the man next to us started grunting. The lovers got into bed and he shouted, “Oye, aage badho! (hey, get on with it)”. Why would a lone man want to protest aloud about fictitious characters to strangers in the dark? Was he objecting to what he saw or was he merely moralising to scotch what might turn out to be his own natural response?

Two days ago, the Mumbai police knocked on doors, dragged out young couples, slapped some, made them call up their parents, asked them to pay a fine, and all this for checking into beach shacks and small hotel rooms consensually. They were charged with "indecent behaviour in public" when the space is private and they had paid to use it.

These two incidents show up the probity sham for what it is, for in both one can see the need for some sort of release.

Last week, the Indian government banned 857 adult websites. A couple of days later, the ban was reversed with only child porn coming under the lens. The government is suffering from the same syndrome as that man in the movie hall. It feels the need to assert its morality when it is afraid of being caught with its pants down.

Culture

Websites, films and books are easy targets to acquire a seraphic halo. Would they ban temples where the frescoes are in poses that celebrate sexuality?

Those opposing the ban too talk about freedom of expression and inevitably bring in the Kama Sutra as evidence of liberalism. This is a fallacious defence, for people do not riffle through the pages of this manual to relieve their sexual urges, although one does notice cigarette burn marks in orifices of temple statues, which is really about social perversion rather than hormones.

Besides, these texts were written in ancient times when tribalism was the only culture. The refinement of material aspects of life has led to a different sensibility. The sculptors of temples were not thinking about metaphors the way contemporary analysts do. Interestingly, the same analysts will see a centrefold differently, perhaps even with disgust over how gauche it is, even though a real woman or man has posed for it.


The need to sex things up in order to make an impact has resulted in the concern industry indulging in its own forms of exhibitionism, whether it is animal rights ads making curvy models wear animal skin or strategically placing vegetable florets around private parts, or even protestors walking around in undergarments to draw attention to their cause – do those gawking feel any empathy or are they only voyeurs?

Fantasy is a bourgeois concept that gains more sophistication with the social status of a person but it does not preclude a going down and dirtying of oneself. Ancient cultures reveled in orgiastic rites and 18th century England had its special editions of “voluptuous reading”.

But can pornography be absolved of its role in social debauchery?

Children

As a supporter of responsible access to and indulgence with pornography, I find my position get shaky when confronted with the abuse of children.

While social media has made young people post pictures of themselves and their friends – and the motives could vary from vicarious thrills, exhibitionism to revenge –it is often the market that abuses children. That market could constitute of people in positions of power.

There have been many cases of Indian children being used in such pornographic material. Tourists who hole up for months and pretend to run shelters lure poor kids with goodies or drugs. Juvenile homes become dens of exploitation.

The recent abuse scandal in Kasur, Pakistan, reveals how entrenched this is. 280 children were enslaved into performing in 400 videos; the CDs sell for less than a dollar each. For six years nobody got wind of it simply because the police and politicians ensured that business went on.

In 2010, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan had shockingly refused to make possession of child pornographic material a criminal offence on grounds of freedom of expression. In a disturbing incident, a mother had taken images of her infant son and sold them on the internet. What was she expressing? What about the infant’s freedom of expression, freedom to privacy? What about every child’s?

Around that time, an Indian army officer was arrested for uploading 157 videos of child porn; all the kids in it were Caucasian. The authorities, therefore, deduced that none of them was shot by him.

These are criminals who are in a manner of speaking killing the children, or at least their childhood. To call this pornography would be wrong.

The Indian government’s retreat using these instances to ban porn, therefore, does not fit in. We are a repressed society because we do not have a liberal porn culture. There is ignorance about the body and the consensuality between objects, as the consumer is one too before images that invoke his helplessness.

Women and Men

Feminism is often put to test when it comes to pornography. The pro-choice proponents who find it reprehensible use the objectification angle against it. When Sunny Leone, an Indian origin adult film actor, joined mainstream films she immediately became the poster girl of the wet dream not only due to her appeal (which is about as much as any other’s) but also because of her history. Taslima Nasreen, writer of frank memoirs who has no problems sharing her picture posing on a giant penile sculpture, was shocked: “Women's half naked dirty dance became normal in Bollywood, the next step is to make a known porn-star enter TV and cinema.”

This is nothing more than entrenched hierarchy that assumes the tone of intellectual morality. For one who claims to have serious issues with objectification, she had once said that being called a “fallen woman” was an achievement, quite forgetting that this is how many societies view a porn star, who would not even have the luxury of political asylum.

It is notions such as these that objectify women and not pornography. Likewise, the accusation of creating a false body image might apply to mainstream advertising and cinema too, as well as the flashing red carpet images with their thigh bombing and safety pin cleavages. In fact, the several niche adult sites cater to many alternatives, including different body types.

It is ridiculous to suggest that such access to adult content alters relationships, for relationships are not only about sex. Just as dildos have not replaced men, it is unlikely that relief through images would make women redundant. Masturbation too relies on fantasy, and surely fantasy cannot be antiseptic.

Musician John Mayer had said in a Playboy interview, “When I watch porn, if it’s not hot enough, I’ll make up back stories in my mind, this is my problem now: Rather than meet somebody new, I would rather go home and replay the amazing experiences I’ve already had.”

This is not skewed priorities, but in some ways it freezes positive pleasure signals and memories like any other nostalgia. There is no escaping it and there is no reason to.

Socio-political titillation exploits, not the harmless pin-up that in fact could help in the seeking and finding of a sexual identity, as well as idealisation outside of the constricting hold of stratified roles.


---

Published in CounterPunch

10.8.15

Organs and ideology




Organ donation is something most of us grapple with although it is so important, and just to make it seem sublime there is also some nobleness associated with it. Most donors’ families do so out of respect for the deceased person’s wishes, their own sense of commitment, and sometimes because this appears to be a continuum.

When Rita Desai died, one of her kidneys was donated to Anita Gharat. One hears about how the recipients show gratitutde, often silently because they are not even aware of their benefactor. What happened here is a different story.

The donor’s brother said:

“We told Anita after the transplant that Rita's soul would be at peace if she could give up non-vegetarian food,“ said Shah. “ Anita's family respected our sentiments. Hence, not only Anita but her entire family turned vegetarian. It was a very moving gesture.”

I am sure it is moving, and for one whose life depended on a kidney this is a small price to pay. But a price it is. It has not come free. There are strings attached. I dread to imagine what other ‘requests’ donors can put forward for the deceased’s soul – conversion of religion, political ideology, literary interests, moral values, way of life itself?

Although it is not as cussed, it really is quite similar to selling parts of the body. Instead of money, something else is marketed. This is not to in any manner reduce the act of donation itself. I can well understand that a receipient might agree to conditions not only as a gesture of thanks but also because who would want to be haunted by an organ inside oneself? I personally find this unethical because nobody knows whether the donor would have wanted it this way. 

8.8.15

Hug a Muslim?


I want to vomit all over this. A man stood in a public space in Mumbai with a blindfold, his arms stretched out. The placard near him read:

"I'm Muslim and I trust you. Do you trust me enough for a hug?"

This is utter nonsense. It is one thing if such pantomimes are forced upon immigrants in the West, but why must Muslims behave as though they are dependent on the hospitality and large-heartedness of a benefactor state or community? They are a natural part of the country, and don't have to prove anything to anybody.

Such temporary drama helps no one and in fact has a deleterious effect on the onlookers because the huggers will most likely be those who are anyway quite comfortable in a pluralistic ethos. Now suddenly, after becoming more public via the media and Internet, they will begin to view their act as some sort of charity, a doling out of trust.

This is the sort of beggary that justifies majoritarianism. And it does not surprise me that the liberals are calling this a wonderful story, given their penchant for the cute varnish, and the fact that their business thrives because they are the precedent that forms the template of such charitable concern for the minority. Remember the 'put the hand on the shoulder of the Muslim man in front of the Taj Hotel' act after the 26/11 attack by a star anchor? That man was just somebody who had gathered there, perhaps in a show of support against terrorism (another mandatory gig for Muslims). The impression it gave was that in some ways all Muslims will or should feel guilty. Unless of course the saviour says otherwise and legitimises them.

It is time Muslims stopped playing into this devious lot's game-plan of swooping down on just such acts.

If people mistrust you, then honestly they have to bear the onus of suspicion for it arises not from reason but fear of imagined demons. And you can't conquer that for them.