Shazia Ilmi's secularism

There is much, much more to call out Shazia Ilmi on. Not this:

“Don't be much secular. Muslims are too secular and they should become communal. They are not communal and do not vote for themselves. Arvind Kejriwal is ours. Muslims have remained secular for long...have voted for the Congress and helped them win. Don't be so secular and look at your house (community) this time. Other parties have their votebank intact and Muslim votes split. This is a controversial statement, but we should look at our own interest.”

Ilmi, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Ghaziabad was talking to some members of the community, including clerics. As is expected, there has been a reaction. Her own party members believe she should not have said it. She herself has clarified:

"I said it half sarcastically. Somebody was saying Muslims are very communal. I am saying Muslims are not communal, infact they are very secular. They need to be communal. This does not mean to incite hatred. They must think of themselves and must not be political slaves. What have the political parties done for Muslims in terms of political empowerment and representation in either government or private jobs, education... in terms of economic and political opportunities."

I figured the sarcasm bit out immediately and I am sure her audience did too. The only ones who did not are her party cadres, the opposition, and the media.

Their reason is obvious – to extend the show. For long the BJP has accused AAP of covertly working to benefit the Congress. But, then, why would they want the votes that would probably go to the party? Will AAP divide the votes against the BJP, and then see how it goes?

Besides that, there is Ilmi’s ‘be communal’ suggestion. Everybody is using the communal card or offering sops based on it, every group wants to protect its own. Why is this so surprising? I suppose wanting to build a Ram Mandir in the BJP manifesto is about the development module the party talks about.

If you look at Ilmi in this picture, she was not even trying to be non-communal. She was reaching out to a group of Muslims, and with her head covered was trying not to disrespect sentiments, although it is unlikely a non-Muslim would have tried to do so, and whether the people there might have been offended at all.

From some responses, it is rather amusing that those who have often been abusive towards the community and slandered its members for divisiveness now believe one newbie politician is spreading the message of communalism. Will they take back their insults, then, considering that Muslims are not communal? Interesting to see how they get trapped in their own arguments.


PS: Narendra Modi is trying hard to drop his communal stance. This magazine cover takes him right back to the days that his party wants erased. How will he build a temple with this image?!

© Farzana Versey


Bread and Wine

The Last Supper is not just Resurrection. It seems a challenge to authority, to the haters, to those who kill, and who cannot stand dissent. It is rebirth, not of oneself but of those who stand by you. It is a lesson to face the traitor head-on, but also to keep people guessing about the identity of the one who betrays — in that way, everyone is on their toes.

Jesus was a sharp man. He went through tribulations, yet he also knew he was destined to be much more than one nailed to the Cross. There has been much analysis of the famous eponymous painting of the event by Leonardo da Vinci, including the sort of food displayed. The salt-shaker in repose as bad omen; the plate before Judas being empty; the choice of fish - did Christ get his apostles from among the fishermen?

Bread and wine, of course, mean what has been said:

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

Would remembrance imply rejuvenation of those who remember? Are they the only chosen ones?

I am not qualified enough to discuss the symbolism in religious terms, or even in detail. Also, I was quite intrigued by this other painting by Jacopo Tintoretto:

It is darker, has more happening, and except for the light near Jesus, the rest is almost mundane. Does it need the routine to show up brilliance or does brilliance put everything and everybody else in the shade?

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53-58)

Was this spiritual barter? Or, is it the submergence of flesh to live in another (off another?)? If the eternal is based on the temporal, then is it really eternal?

PS: It took a Mad takeoff, with cellphones playing an important role, to suggest that, indeed, the temporal is eternal, connecting, staying in 'touch' with others and, therefore oneself.

© Farzana Versey


Márquez in his Labyrinth

I decided not to read any obit pieces on him. One landed in my inbox and, unfortunately, with more than a link. The prose was so heavy with its own purpose in life that I decided to let it rest. Only Gabriel Garcia Márquez could do a Márquez.

It is a bit sad that he was labelled as a magic realist, although it is not a genre. He pioneered the technique, which again I find simplistic and limiting. A technique in literature is something you deliberately use, and he did, especially creating and uncreating things and giving them a character. In fact, making them into characters. For me, this is not much different from stream of consciousness, except that it is an externalised monologue addressed to an image outside – a place suspended, bleeding carcasses, illness, recovery.

You can have a lot of fun with Márquez’s works because nothing is static. It is a maze that you do not want to get out of. The challenge is in staying there. In some ways he is a difficult read because you are likely to deceive yourself. You mark a page, and you might never return to it with the same story in your head.

Not too different from this in ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’:

“To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else's heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.”

How delicate and yet imagine not being able to approach the one so desired.

I am not particularly keen on tedious explanations about the process of writing, but occasionally it can be quite revealing. As in his interview that appeared in The Art of Fiction. No. 69, 1981. Márquez’s earlier role as journalist is of particular interest.

“In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That's the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.”

This is so true to the bone. The novelist has the advantage of not being responsible towards any reality. We believe in the cocoon.

A Columbian who needed a special visa to enter the United States, something that bothered him a great deal, he was deeply, if not overtly, political.

“I would have liked for my books to have been recognized posthumously, at least in capitalist countries, where you turn into a kind of merchandise.”

It happened during his lifetime, but sometimes it is wise not to dismiss all merchandise when you chance upon the rare piece of stone from a bottomless ocean on a glittery shelf.

And then to reach out...

“Leaf Storm was written for my friends who were helping me and lending me their books and were very enthusiastic about my work. In general, I think you usually do write for someone.”

It is so much more intimate than talking about reader profile and audience expectations. How precious to write for somebody, an ode that when made public becomes an expression of timeless feelings and acknowledgement.

One hundred years of solitude...reflected in another.

© Farzana Versey


The time when there were objections to his work being made into a film: Marquez's Whores and a Porn Sta

The Accidental Prima Donna

Published in CounterPunch, April 18-20

She spoke for three minutes. It was enough to make the rightwing Hindutva groups desperate and unleash abuses. Sonia Gandhi’s biggest political weapon has been silence. Every word she utters gains that much more weight by comparison. Behind the mystery and enigma is a canny political mind. She has understood the Indian pulse better than many, and positioned herself as a matriarch monarch.

“What are these values that are the very heart and soul of our motherland?” she said in a TV clip on the Congress website. They are love and respect, harmony and brotherhood. In a word, non-violence...Today, our society stands at a crossroads. Their (BJP's) vision, clouded with hatred and falsehood, their ideology, divisive and autocratic, will drive us to the ruination of our Bharatiyata, our Hindustaniyat.”

Although others have expressed such sentiments, the response reveals that she has touched the BJP’s raw spot, something it has not been able to live down. They fall into the trap, some even emphasising that Hindustaniyat is Hindutva. They stand exposed. Predictably, they question a foreigner’s right to discuss Indianness. Sonia Gandhi ceased to be Italian when she took Indian citizenship in 1983, a year after the family returned from abroad, where they lived after the Emergency, and her husband Rajiv Gandhi joined politics. The 30-year period ought to qualify her as a naturalised citizen.

However, alienation has worked well for her.

Inheritance of loss

While her slain husband and two children were hesitant to enter the fray, Sonia Gandhi was never a reluctant politician. Her refusal to be the prime minister was also a political act that stood her in good stead. Indians connect emotionally with detachment. She came across as one not ambitious for herself.

For a moment, let us pause with British historian David Starkey who upon noticing Queen Elizabeth II’s desultory interest in the exhibits at the National Maritime Museum, except for one that she recognised as her ancestor and exclaimed “mine”, said: “I don’t think she’s at all comfortable with anybody intellectual. I think she’s got elements a bit like Goebbels in her attitude – you remember, he said. ‘Every time I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver’.”

This is not to compare the comment with Sonia Gandhi, but to note the proprietorial and ghettoised tone of “mine”. In a sense, the aura we see around her is the burden of a few reputations: 

“My family has always been the target of the opposition – be it Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi -- each one was targeted with equal vehemence. They were not merely prime ministers but great leaders, therefore unmindful of the opposition they continued to serve the nation."

It helps that she and Rajiv were not tainted by the Emergency, and despite Rajiv Gandhi’s kneejerk reaction after his mother’s assassination – “The earth shakes when a big tree falls” – one remembers her as the daughter-in-law who rushed out to the lawn when Indira Gandhi’s security guards shot her. 

It is a Pieta-like image, repeated tragically on May 21, 1991 with her standing near the ambulance that carried her husband’s remains after a suicide bomb attack by the LTTE. In 1999, she wrote to the President to commute the death sentence of the convicts. “My children suffered at the death of my beloved husband Rajiv Gandhi to a great extent and therefore we do not favour that another child in the world should lose mother and father.” (sic) It was a humane gesture; it was also politically astute.
Most women in subcontinent politics tend to adopt a maternal role. It is a commonsensical route to deal with inherent patriarchy – either you mimic men or deities. Indira Gandhi became Goddess Durga. Sonia Gandhi has managed without a titular title. It is surprising that people are surprised she called the shots in the government. However, it would have been only at the macro level. For one who is dismissed for being not well-educated, she is given too much credit.

A recent book on Dr. Manmohan Singh, The Accidental Prime Minister, is seen as a hatchet job released during the election season. Its author Sanjaya Baru, the former media advisor to the PM, explained his intent: “He has become an object of ridicule, not admiration. I am showing him as a human being, I want there to be empathy for him.”

The BJP is gloating over “two centres of power” and the Congress is on the defensive. There are also whispers that this work might please the PM. In a CounterPunch piece five years ago, I raised this point: “He is in the enviable position to get away with anything and attribute it to helplessness, because he is not considered rabid, rigid, or regressive. And he is answerable to the dynasty. It would be no revelation to state that Sonia Gandhi is propping up Dr. Manmohan Singh; the more pertinent point is that he chooses to be propped up.”

She is the longest serving president of the Congress and also heads the coalition United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the Lok Sabha. Sharad Pawar, who had challenged her on the foreigner issue and formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is one of the allies. She went out and contested elections and won from Rae Bareilly in 2004 and 2009, her margin increasing from 59 to 72 per cent.  It was senior leaders who anointed her. There was nothing democratic about it.

Managing contradictions

Helming a political party as the divine right of kings, she has not been answerable to anyone. It is a position and role difficult for anyone to play well. How has she managed it?

She thundered, “Today every stone is being thrown at me, every arrow shot at me and every bullet fired at me.” This was during the assembly elections of 2006 in her constituency. The crowd chorused: “Sonia tumhara yeh balidaan, yaad karega Hindustan (Hindustan will remember your sacrifice).”

She did not marry into a dynasty; she married an airline pilot. There is much to question about dynastic politics, but is the Nehru-Gandhi clan the only one? From Jammu-Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, politics has become the fiefdom of families, not unlike industrialists who are the backroom boys in government. There are also the residue royals who want to maintain their polished silver and indeed enjoy the fealty of a junta that believes pomp and pageantry will imbue them with grace and ensure old-fashioned justice.

One reason Sonia Gandhi does not dismiss the loyalists is because it helps to bolster what is really an empty throne. The Gandhi children have not been able to sustain, or capitalise on, the heritage link. In a way, this would be seen as striking out on their own without any baggage, and it is not always a pretty baggage.

Where does Priyanka Gandhi figure in this? It is decidedly uncomfortable to watch Congress leaders call upon her for cosmetic reasons – she has charisma and looks like her grandmother. Unlike Indira Gandhi who was initially dubbed “goongi gudiya” (dumb doll) when she was known only as her father’s daughter, Priyanka is lucid. Her cheerleader act is not of a mute bystander, but a vocal one. She publicly ticks off her cousin Varun, who is a BJP candidate, for letting down the family; she publicly states it is not a family tea party. No one cares about such contradictions. She is a bit of Mother India – a complete woman, standing by her husband despite questions raised about his role in land scams, looking after her children, tending to her home and taking an ostensibly independent stand, even if that means not to be a part of politics. At best, she can be another Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi has to live up to a name and also stay away from the smears on it. India is not just his constituency, and poverty is not about a hutment tour. He was taken off the cradle and asked to complete a marathon. It is not possible. Therefore, the relay race came in handy. Sonia Gandhi passed the baton to Manmohan Singh who passed it to Rahul who passed it back to the PM and then it all goes back to Ms. Gandhi, which is how the chain has been sustained. In the past year, he has shown that he wants to change the system. He has spoken for a federal structure. These are idealistic ideas and rather uncomfortably go against what Ms. Gandhi has had to manoeuvre to keep a legacy alive and herself relevant.

She has not only survived slurs but thrived due to them. The Congress losing in the polls will not be an issue for her; she has been the leader of the opposition before. She stayed away from the limelight for seven years after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. When she accepted the post of party president, it was seen as another sacrifice as she was called upon to sew together warring factions. At some point, she became the fabric and later the pennant. That is unlikely to change.

The dynasty is now essentially about one woman’s battle to keep alive inherited beliefs. Redux is just another way of looking at history.

© Farzana Versey 

Also Part I of India Elects: Modi as Hindutva's Marionette


Images: NDTV, Times of India, India Today, The Hindu


Politics is Bollywood's Business

Should Bollywood interfere in the elections? Asking such a question is not only disingenuous and ignorant, it also reveals the nature of hierarchy.

If activists, academics, even mohalla groups, not to speak of the media, can take sides, why should the Indian film fraternity be denied the right to exercise its choice and promote it?

The yawn-worthy assertion that Bollywood has always been secular makes no sense, for it comes at a time when a group of film folks have decided to sign up for secularism. Bollywood stars have always campaigned for candidates, either out of choice or compulsion. They contest elections. They are called upon to join various causes – be it to promote tourism in Gujarat or for AIDS, against drugs, for the girl child, for eye donation, for toilets, for cleaning up the streets (where they even land up with brooms), and by the election commission too. The armed forces conscript them in the Territorial Army, and decades ago the Ajanta troupe run by Nargis and Sunil Dutt would go to the border areas to perform for the jawans.

3 parties, 3 Bollywood canditaes

We have discussions about how films impact society. Can they influence us and yet be apolitical? What, then, is wrong if a group of them decides to appeal to the public, when they are as much citizens as the goon who can knock on your door or the college punk who has suddenly transformed into a common man?

Here is the complete text:

Dear Fellow-Indians,

The best thing about our country is its cultural diversity, its pluralism - the co-existence of a number of religions and ethnicities over centuries, and hence the blooming of multiple streams of intellectual and artistic thought. And, this has been possible only because Indian society has prided itself on being essentially secular in character, rejecting communal hatred, embracing tolerance.

Today, that very sense of India is vulnerable. The need of the hour is to protect our country's secular foundation. Undoubtedly, corruption and governance are important issues, but we will have to vigilantly work out ways of holding our government accountable to that. However, one thing is clear: India's secular character is not negotiable! Not now, not ever.

As Indian citizens who love our motherland, we appeal to you to vote for the secular party, which is most likely to win in your constituency.

Jai Hind!

While there are a few well-known names, the biggies are missing. It is of course their choice, but these same biggies will promote anything that gets them attention, whether it is Salman Khan flying a kite with Narendra Modi or Aamir Khan getting cosy with the Congress (or is it AAP)?

I watched the segment of The News Hour last night discussing the issue. Why was Arnab Goswami demanding that some of the panellists who had signed the appeal should name names? Why did one person from the other side ask, “Why are you scared?” My point is all they want to hear is Modi’s name and add to his cult status. Hansal Mehta did concede that he personally did not support Modi. The show was all about bulldozing. Has anybody bothered to ask why the Bollywood stars perform for cops, even when so many cases are not filed, crimes are committed in broad daylight?

I ask these channels that want one man to be ‘targeted’ (many of who will then play up his victimisation): will you agree then that he and the BJP are not considered secular openly? Will you promote the cause of heavily censored if not banned films?

Ashoke Pandit was screeching about Anand Patwardhan’s stand. The latter said at one point – obviously you can’t talk about the Gujarat riots without somebody raking it up – that in 1984 it was not only the Congress that was responsible; there were Hindutva goons involved too. 

Here, I do take exception. Goons are goons, but one party was in power. I expect Modi to take responsibility for Gujarat, and I expect the Congress party to do so for the anti-Sikh pogrom. The leaders of the latter have apologised. (Just read a report that Modi in one more TV interview said that he will not apologise; instead, if it is proved that he is guilty, he should be hanged in public. Bollywood should hire him. He dramatically announces that he is now in the people’s court. Strange, for the Supreme Court has not found any evidence against him, so why is he still feeling guilty? Well, people’s court means only one thing: get me elected first. Smart man. He will project himself in any manner.)

Anupam Kher asked Patwardhan, “What is more important – secularism or nationalism?” A question like this is so divisive. I mean, is there competition between the two? That if you are secular you cannot be a nationalist? Ergo, the latter belongs to one section of society that flaunts its unapologetic non-secularism? Patwardhan said, “I only believe in humanism.” For a moment, I was put off, until I heard Kher state, “We are all human beings.” If we are animalistic that would make us animals? Capiche! 

Patwardhan became the focal point also because he is not mainstream Bollywood, and has made what are considered anti-rightwing films. I do not agree with some of his views and the way in which he chooses to highlight a few aspects, but he has been vocal against any establishment politics. A studio anchor with a limited agenda, and a panel comprising of at least two hardcore Sangh supporters, is not likely to comprehend nuance.

By the same token, I do not believe that we have any business to object when writer Salim Khan chooses to inaugurate the Urdu edition of Modi’s website. However, has the Hindutva lobby made a noise against this Bollywood intervention, although he did endorse Modi’s leadership?

When politicians censor films, those films are dragged into the political sphere. This is apart from movies with obvious socio-political messages. It includes mainstream films. The recent Youngistan was obviously political, as were Rajneeti, Sarkar, Rang De Basanti. Films with messages have a long history, and one can easily include Mother India, Bandini and Do Ankhein, Baarah Haath even though they were made when art house cinema was in its infancy.

Speaking of which, why is it assumed that cinema of conscience is essentially left-wing? Were Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, V. Shantaram Communists? Is Gulzar who directed Aandhi leftwing? What about Mahesh Bhatt for making Zakhm on the Bombay riots? Are Ramgopal Verma’s films on the underworld Marxist? Think about the wonderful spin on Mahabharata by Shyam Benegal in Kalyug. I know Madhur Bhandarkar supports a rightwing party, and so does Mahesh Manjrekar, but both have made films about contemporary ‘political’ reality, about the underbelly, be it Vaastav (which I thought was better than Satya) or Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion. There is much to disagree about the subtexts in the last three films but they did expose some facets that are brushed under the carpet. We also have Vishal Bhardwaj who takes Shakespeare and transforms his works into Indian political statements. Is he leftwing? What about Gangs of Wasseypur or the two series on Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster? Or the dry humour of Tere Bin Laden, Khosla ka Ghosla, Jolly LLB?

Bollywood is right there, and while we can question the artistic or cultural merit of how it projects reality, we cannot demand that some of the filmmakers stay away from active participation as citizens.

In the end all fiction is what we expect reality to be. Ask some politicians!

© Farzana Versey


Note: A couple of points have been added since I posted this.

Images: Tripadvisor, NDTV, Zee Films


On caps, Vajpayee and the Modi Trial

There is competition over who meets Muslim clerics among the two top political parties, and then both accuse each other of appeasement.

When Sonia Gandhi met the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari, she apparently got an assurance from him regarding her plea that Muslims should not divide the secular vote. The BJP accused her of vote-bank politics. It was as though they had captured the Muslim votes already in that little meeting that has nothing to do with Muslims at all.

Days later, BJP president Rajnath Singh met a whole bunch of clerics – vice-president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, Maulana Hameeudul Hassan, Maulana Yasoob Abbas and Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali. The Congress hit back.

Both described these as courtesy calls, but when pushed the BJP said

“Rajnath Singh is a candidate and it's his duty to go door to door to everyone's house. Not be selective. All prominent persons in Lucknow are close to each other. So we have to call on everyone and reach out to people of all sections.”

These politicians talk about wanting to improve the lot of common people, so why are they meeting “prominent persons”? One of the clerics later told a TV channel: “We are scared of Narendra Modi, but Rajnath Singh has the acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee.”

Acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee?

Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha got into a bit of trouble over his statement

“The weakest PM ever was AB Vajpayee, who wanted to sack Mr Modi for the ghastly Gujarat massacre, but succumbed to BJP bullying.”

Does anybody recall Vajpayee’s support of Modi post Gujarat riots, his speech in Goa at the time? Does anyone recall that he was famously called a ‘mukhauta’ (mask) by his own party man? He was positioned as the nice face and knew about it. Jha further stated: 

“The weakest PM India ever had was AB Vajpayee who despite the treachery of Kargil, gave Musharraf a red carpet welcome at Agra. The weakest PM India ever had was AB Vajpayee who was hugging PM Nawaz Sharif, even as 50 soldiers...”

Hindutva parties are so against Pakistan and would oppose any red carpet welcome, but now they have nowhere to look. So they call out the change in the earlier Congress stand where the former PM was praised. This is so churlish. I do not agree with Jha about using Pakistan as a touchstone to decide strength and weakness of our national leaders, but it is no big deal. The Sangh has been critical of Jawaharlal Nehru for years as well as Mahatma Gandhi.

Most of them are in a twist. No politician can keep religion out of politics because they themselves are blind worshippers of anything that will get them power.

Vajpayee’s photograph with a skull cap and Rajnath Singh’s recent one are making some kind of statement to transpose with Narendra Modi’s refusal to do so. In the by-now hyped-up interview he gave India TV, the loop on the skull cap was played in the promos and given prominence. My stand on it has been clear. I do not think it is important, nor is it evidence of secularism. However, if he talks about it, there will be some counter argument. This question should have been irrelevant, considering this was a major interview.

In a mock courtroom, he sat in the witness box. This effectively made it appear as though he was taking justice head-on. Nothing of the kind happened, and it was a horribly creepy show, where the audience clapped after every sentence. It lacked dignity and probity. It was a sham. The interviewer Rajat Sharma helped Modi sail through, not only with planned queries but his whole demeanour of agreeableness. 

The cap question was designed to give Modi an opportunity to softly peddle his views about a community. He gave it a lot of importance, and spoke about how he would respect all cultures, but not do what was against his “parampara” (tradition). I have an issue with this.

He positioned himself against one community, showing that they were outside his parampara, which I assume is Hindu. It better be, for India is not a Hindu nation and Indian Muslims, with or without skull caps, have a stake in it. Indian parampara is as much ours. To transpose this cap against the others makes for an interesting discussion when one is given the argument that he wears other caps because those are regional. How is the Sikh turban regional? Are the khasis not Christian? I won’t even get into his Buddhist outings, for he has cravenly started even using Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who would find him an untouchable (pardon the use of the term).

When people get competitive about who is wearing what, then we need to shut up about secularism. These are ritualistic and gimmicky. However, if political leaders go to the Ajmer dargah to beg for favours from a dead saint, then they have no right to make distinctions about parampara. Modi knows that there are a few influential and rich Muslims in Gujarat or of Gujarati origin who contribute to development, his presence being absolutely incidental. Why, then, does he meet Muslim religious leaders? Why does he not go to the relief camps, instead?

One person in the audience asked in a pained voice how he coped with the aftermath of 2002. Seriously, nothing could be worse than asking a man who uses the “puppy” analogy for Muslims about how he coped during the period. He said it was “Satya ka saath, desh ka pyaar” – The side of truth and love of the nation. Such delusions.

I obviously did not expect any counter-questioning, but he was clear about his position as a grand mufti of sorts.

Pictures were shared of the big moment. People sitting out in the open on plastic chairs before huge screens when even slums have TV sets. This cannot be spontaneous; they were herded there to create a buzz. After all, this cleric was going to give his devotees a sermon.

© Farzana Versey

Also: Modi reads from The Satanic Verses


Sunday ka Funda

Gulzar to receive the Dadasaheb Phalke award seems like a redundancy. The accolade will not change a thing, but it does draw attention to the fact that this poet-lyricist-scriptwriter-director is one of the more subtle minds to embellish the Indian film industry.

I have often uploaded his songs, and gone into sometimes long explanations. Of Tere bina zindagi se shikwa tau nahin.... Of Mera kuchch samaan padaa hai aapke paas

This time, let us just listen. This is not one of my favourite ones, but it captures a certain mood. A tribute to tears?

Fill the eyes
Empty sleep...

Pani pani re khaare paani re
Pani pani re khaare paani re
Nainon mein bhar jaaye
Neendein khaali kar jaaye