How not to sting Modi

Maverick: How not to sting Modi
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Oct. 30, 2007

If I were Narendra Modi, I would be distributing laddus and gathiya. He has got me weeping into my lace handkerchief over the utter naiveté of his police officers and partymen. Some reporter posing as “sympathetic to the Hindutva cause” approaches them and they open up. For free.

The website, magazine and television channel are all gung-ho because they got these guys to “brag” about killing Muslims in Gujarat. They said that it was the chief minister who gave them three days, which is in fact extremely charitable.

Come December and Modi will win the elections with a huge margin because as one newspaper headline rightly stated, “Expose on Role in Godhra Killings Likely to Revive Image as Hindutva Poster Boy”. Somewhere in all this development of the state nonsense, he had become just another guy talking aata-daal ka bhaav. Now he can reclaim culture. He can even claim to fight Islamic terrorism because the politics of vigilantism buffers this very image.

The veracity of the Tehelka probe notwithstanding, what is worrying is that there is nothing new in it. The National Human Rights Commission had already talked about it. Of course, the question remains: why did this exposure come after all these years? It began six months ago. What prompted it?

The soap opera of violence is being played out all over again as you switch on the TV set; there is a disclaimer that images may not be fit for viewing. This is whetting the appetite and catering to those who in fact get their thrills by these horrific scenes.

Do you want to know again about how someone pierced the womb of a pregnant woman and threw out the foetus? Do you want to know about the chopped arms and legs, and of charred bodies?

Is this the first time you have heard anyone accuse the state government of sponsoring terrorism? Many of us have always written about the collusion of the Establishment. It was stated by none other than the CM himself when he spoke about the “action-reaction” theory.

Did not the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee express his fidelity when he said, “I am his (Modi’s) advocate and it is my duty to plead his case”?

Weren’t 78 Muslims arrested after the Godhra accident under POTA when the police made up false cases against them? Did not the state government give away cheques amounting to Rs 1 crore as compensation after the incident to the immediate kin of 25 victims?

Weren’t pictures of the damaged train circulated in Gujarat during the polls then? Weren’t pamphlets in Gujarati telling people “Desh ane dharam bachao” (save the country and religion) distributed? Wasn’t there a call for an economic boycott of Muslims, their business establishments, eating joints and even films starring them?

Did we get this news through an expose?

Therefore, what has this disclosure done? Can someone please explain why the Election Commission’s fact-finding group suddenly transferred eight top Gujarat police and civil officers, including the director-general of police P.C. Pande as recently as on October 15? Babu Bajrangi, a Bajrang Dal activist, has named him as the person who ordered that the 700-800 dead bodies at Naroda Patiya be picked up and dumped all over Ahmedabad.

Was the expose information leaked out?

It is right to blame the police and the VHP activists, but the role of the common man cannot be ignored. Don’t we recall scenes of people getting out of their cars and looting Muslim-owned shops? These were not even the poor common people; they were rich and middle-class educated individuals. They are the ones who vote and they vote for Modi. Such unofficial probes only complicate matters because a Babu Bajrangi can tell someone ‘sympathetic to the Hindutva cause’, “After killing them, I felt like Maharana Pratap...We killed at will, turned the place into Haldighati.”

The person who goes to office in his little car, spends the day in a shop and watches some boring tele-serial will get excited. Ahmedabad’s ennui has been elevated to the level of a battleground. This is working on the psyche of a people who don’t need to be told India is shining; they want to boast about “Gujarati asmita” – their self-respect and very identity rests on their connection with the land.

Why do you think a rather non-descript NRI called Praveen Togadia talked about going to war with Pakistan? Such was the feeling of joy echoed then by Modi who said, “The day there are Hindu terrorists you would not see Pakistan on the world map.”

If this expose has done a whole lot for the muscle-flexing Gujarat government, then the image of the Muslims in the state has taken a beating. This operation, under the pretence of being activist in nature, has ended up making a mockery of Muslims who have always said in no uncertain terms that they will go by the court verdict for every event in post-Independence India. No Muslim organisation has interfered in judicial probes, unlike the mahants who sit and confabulate on national issues.

Worse, the photograph of the tailor Qutubuddin Ansari folding his hands, begging for mercy, is said to “symbolise the grief and despair of the victims of the genocide”. The message that goes out to those who look at the picture again is: The poor defeated Mussalman; at last, we are making him eat crow. When Islamic fundamentalism is getting to everyone, this is truly the picture-perfect moment. Even I, who have been termed a pinko jihadi, am reminded about our “cowardice”.

Modi’s men brandish trishuls. The hidden enemies aim poisonous paper darts.


Caricaturing Islam

Riding the Danish Pastime Wave

Caricaturing Islam
By Farzana Versey

October 29, 2007,

Don’t they really fancy Islam? The Danes show their love for the Prophet again. On October 25, the rightwing Danish People’s Party used a hand-drawn picture of Prophet Mohammed under the slogan “Freedom of expression is Danish, censorship is not” in an ad for its election campaign.

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Danish-Muslim politician of the leftwing Red-Green Alliance, said, “People won’t react to it because they have decided not to. Nobody wants to talk about (the Muhammad cartoons crisis). It is no longer an issue.”

However, she herself has responded with a poster showing a sketch of the DPP leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, with the caption, “Freedom of expression is Danish, stupidity is not”.

She has fallen for the bait. Islam is the pin-up religion of the world now – pin-ups can be hugely threatening because they get your hormones all jiggling, they give you an opportunity to air your moth-eaten morality, they make you titter because their in-your-face attitude overwhelms you and makes you blabber and try to reduce the object of your derision because you cannot do a damn thing to either aspire to or control it.

Last year, after the cartoon series of the prophet, someone decided to shoot a video footage of members of the anti-immigrant DPP taking part in a competition for drawing the best such cartoon. A report had stated, “The faces of the young people were blurred in most of the footage. One cartoon appeared to depict the Prophet Mohammad as a camel, urinating and drinking beer.”

This is not even pathetic. It isn’t something to get worried about. These people do not have the courage, forget conviction, to show who they are.

Think about it. A group of drunken wasters has a problem with immigrants for taking their space and their jobs. Instead of just sounding like jealous dimwits, they caricature the prophet; they believe that hitting out at Islam will get them attention. They probably don’t know much about the religion. I’d cut them a lot of slack because they are desperate.

The only aspect of this amateurish one-upmanship was that state TV aired it. Should not the Danish government have a clear-cut programme on its immigrant policy instead of getting punks to do its dirty work?

The idea of the punk as political pontificator has found voice, and a rather demonic-looking tongue, in the persona of ‘Rage Boy’, who has been in the forefront of the Danish and other protests, his photograph with wide open mouth all over the media. His peripheral ideology being given cult status was commented upon by British writer Christopher Hitchens, who said, “And the cameras have been there for him every time. Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion.”

I got a flavour of a lack of such Islamic fervour during the time when the Quran was flushed down the loo. I was in an Islamic country, Dubai, and with some amount of vicariousness was looking forward to the real McCoy. No protests. Nothing. Arab families on a Friday afternoon, presumably after the prayers, were heading towards the KFC, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks sections in shopping malls. Where was their hatred for the West, their concern about the desecration? Chances are that if you told a wealthy Arab about Guantanamo Bay, he might look skyward and say, “Inshallah, next month I will take my family there for a holiday.”

For me this was a revelation more potent than the reams written about ‘insult to the religion’. The Danish cartoons, then and now, fall in the same category. The Prophet is no doubt the symbol and the messenger of the Quran. But Islamists, as opposed to Muslims, use religion as a political entity. Quranic injunctions are fabulist in their probity; it is the Shariah that lays down the rules of law.

Most Muslims have a more fable-like relationship with the Book and the Prophet – there are passages they like and repeat. It is that simple.

Matters get complicated when demonstrators get into the act. The last time during the cartoon controversy, they were screaming, “USA watch your back, Osama is coming back”, “Desecrate today and see another 9/11 tomorrow”. This is more Speakers’ Corner than evangelist.

It is not about piety, but about superficial assertion. The West has created the bugbear about, and thrown the bait of, pan-Islamism. The Islamic world spotting this mirage in the desert goes for it. They call out the name not of Allah, but of Osama. What has Bin Laden got to do with the Quran? They have been trapped, and they do not even realise it. The strategy has worked beautifully – get the Muslim world to talk about Islam and Osama in one breath and then declare a general war on terror.

How many Islamic nations put their wealth and manpower to fight the Western forces against their aggression towards their own? Where is the Islamic revivalism one hears about? With the exception of token gestures like people fighting for the right to wear the hijaab or say their prayers in public places, where is the unified, self-respecting, self-sufficient Islam?

If Islamic societies want to worry about insults, they should start looking at how they treat their own people. Sunnis and Shias routinely violate each other’s existence and they follow the same Prophet and Book.

Then they should, if they must, consolidate into a progressive conglomerate with diverse schools of thought adding dimensions to their ideology. It is time to give up the pretence that there is one Islamic whole. Amazingly, this imaginary bloc has resulted in the West trying to ape it. The West uses religion during elections today; it uses morality; it uses terrorist tactics to purify society. It is an interesting turn of mores, but not desirable.

The Muslim world could with its wealth and heritage easily take on the West in one fell swoop: reject it.

Values are what people practise, what they believe in. Values do not come packaged as symbols. The problem is that we do not as yet have the capacity to make that fine distinction between decency and morality. Everything decent is moral. All that is moral is not necessarily decent.


The fool on the hill

Killing people with statistics amounts to zilch if you don’t have an original idea to stand on its head and yours. When I started getting letters on my rejoinder to the Jemima piece, I was a bit perturbed. Someone said I had not ‘researched’ it. Heck, she got away with the Hermes scarf and I have to go through musty books to tell her off? I like using chalk over chalk and not wasting cheese.

Besides, if you have done your work already, you don’t need a bibliography. I am happy being the fool on the hill:

Well on the way head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices is talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make,
And he never seems to notice,
But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

(The Beatles)

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Funny how simple ideas, conveyed simply or even simplistically, get completely destroyed with intellectual input. I enjoyed reading Foucault at one point in time and recently when I saw the complete bafflement regarding the theory of exceptionalism, it made me wonder. Is it really all that complicated, especially if one sees it in the context of India? Or does making it complex add to the intellectual quotient of the perceiver?

I decided to detonate it:

Theory A:

George Bush imagines there are WMDs in India and thinks this is an exceptionalist idea, so he bombs Pakistan.

Theory B:

1. McDonald’s divides India. With mayo, without mayo? Dishum-dishum.

2. Historians to study how it affects caloric intake, given the sweat factor.

3. In the post-quarrel context, it must be analysed whether the sesame bun is an exceptionalist concept although it is known to always go with the patty.

4. In its crudest form, Indians use heeng to prop up culture. They therefore become custodians of morality. Ergo, culture is moral.

5. While these individuals insist on heeng, they are not open to the idea of adding mudduku, zeera or dhania that belong to different regions.

6. Those who protest against too much freedom of choice are also being exceptionalist because they are taking exception to the exception.

7. There does not seem to be a problem with the latter, but still the violence at Big Mac needs to be understood before you decide to add heeng or zeera.

8. Due to this fast-food battle, some people believe that villages are safe from such influences. However, when there is a shortage of other ingredients in the village and the local tantric is called upon to get the ‘bhoot’ out (The Exorcist replayed, in reverse colonialism), the Big M types start imagining that those creatures are weird. Irrespective of all this the Indian free market thrives because Big M and KFC co-exist and everyone stands in line to get their chicken wings.

9. The right and left in India both believe everyone likes fast food. It is an illusion, though. What Indians really want is to be Indians. Only thing is they don’t know how.

10. Mayo and heeng in fact show us the leap from colonial to post-colonial India where both can cause stomach cramps. India is therefore a democracy.


Dis n Dat

Most men in the UK believe that the girls most likely to have sex with them on the first date are the ones named Kelly, according to a survey.

The name, made famous by stars like Kelly Brook, pipped Tanya. Debs or Debbie is third, Becky fourth and Steph fifth, in a poll of 1,000 men for global research web site OnePoll.com. Spokesman John Sewell told The Sun: “It’s strange how certain names have connotations. If guys have a good experience with a girl of a certain name, they tend to remember them”.


If I were Kelly, I’d take that website to court. This is so ridiculous. And to think that all this time I believed that British men were happiest with their hot water bottles.

And what does a comment like “If guys have a good experience with a girl of a certain name, they tend to remember them” mean in this context?

Do they go on a binge of “Kelly”ing. As in all their first dates would be with a person who has this name? Men are smart. In the throes of ecstasy they do not have to invent terms of endearment like “Babes”, “Honey”, “Doll”, “Darling” and others. Just stick to Kelly and you won’t be faced with a slap and the query, “Were you with her last night?”

PS: In India we have a male model called Kelly Dorji.

Students go through etiquette training at a vocational school in Beijing on Thursday.

About 1,400 aviation service students are undergoing physical conditioning and professional training in dressing and etiquette so that they are able to serve as stewards during the 2008 Beijing Olympics


How about showing us how the men will serve?

A painting of a young Sean Connery wearing only a skimpy pair of trunks has gone on show in a Scottish art gallery, revealing the James Bond star’s talents even before he hit the big screen.

The picture of Connery, who won third place in the Mr Universe competition as a young man, was painted in 1952 by jazz musician Al Fairweather, then a student at the Edinburgh College of Art. The oil painting shows the actor side-on, posing in a pouch-style pair of bodybuilding trunks. Fairweather went on to become a successful musician and his painting has gathered dust in the Edinburgh art school’s collection for over half a century. The college has now decided to include it in a retrospective exhibition of its past students which will run until January 19.


Well, thank you for telling us how men can indeed serve… “revealing the James Bond star’s talents even before he hit the big screen”. Wow. This was his talent? I understand that talent is sometimes inherent, not always acquired, but much as I like the …er…painting there is no way I would qualify anything in it as revealing of talent, except perhaps the artist’s.

Modi or Tehelka?

"Gujarat rioters brag about their killings: Tehelka Exposes State Role"


I dislike Narendra Modi; I dislike Tehelka even more...

But Tehelka is today's hero...so we must shut up and applaud. All those of us who have been saying the same things were accused of being 'whiners', of capitalising on the anti-Modi brigade...we were conjecturing, mere hot air (that's the word here, right?).

So? All these 'operations' start with conjecture, a doubt, a suspicion (get your own Thesaurus and find your words) and then they go out and collect 'evidence'. They tell us the same shit we already know. Yet, they get sanctified. Because they are they and we are us?

Samjhe na?

Oh sure, this is more whining, more gas...but helium flies higher and then bursts; but bubbles made from chewing gum stick to your face.


A Rejoinder to Jemima Khan

Imagining Serfdom in a scarf
By Farzana Versey
October 24, 2007, Counterpunch

She’s back because she never went back. Pakistan was a nice stopover. Hurrah! She’s a woman. She’s brave. She’s a moderate. She speaks good English. She’s Bristol-educated…ah, will make the cut. And she’s not bad looking either.

Now I am mimicking all of these opening lines that Jemima Khan used as she tried going for the kill to claim her pound of legitimacy. The Hermes scarf is the oh-so-flip touch that in fact endows both these women.

Which is what makes the critique a bit like Isadora Duncan’s scarf: “It is red and so am I”. What is precious is Jemima attempting to save world opinion from converting Benazir Bhutto into a martyr. It is unlikely to happen for the simple reason that the lady is so power-hungry that she calls people that have turned into corpses as evidence of democracy and an ‘inevitable’ fallout. Martyrdom requires a bit more.

Who should know this better than the new cleavage-turned-chador-wearing and back to cleavage Jemima Khan? Her nine years in Pakistan were seen as exile from Annabel’s and rather appropriately she was canonised as Blonde Power by the Western press. As I had once stated, there were breathless exclamations deifying her: Look, someone broke into her Fulham house and it was a politically-motivated act! Look, she was called a Zionist conspirator yet she wrote passionately about the Palestinian cause! Look, she campaigned with her husband in the heat and dust and spoke Urdu and a bit of Pashto! Look, she lives with her in-laws and shares her bed with her kids! Look, she took Lahore shadow-work to London! She did these in her capacity as the wife of a man who may have changed jobs but has only one profession: Being Imran Khan.

Of course, Imran is no Asif Zardari. He is rather sophisticated to settle for 10 percent of loot. However, he too is the sanctioned owner of hubris, a necessary requisite in subcontinental politics, unlike the West where it is an adornment.

What I find disturbing about Jemima’s analysis is when she says, “This is no Aung San Suu Kyi, despite her repeated insistence that she's ‘fighting for democracy’, or even more incredibly, ‘fighting for Pakistan's poor’.” I find it disturbing because she has a short memory; she has forgotten that Pakistan is still an Islamic Republic where democracy will follow at least some of the religious norms, and fighting for poverty is a slogan all politicians revel using. It is like the posh circles talking about limited edition solitaires.

Ms. Khan was herself being manipulated to reinforce the delusion of British superiority, almost in an Empire strikes back fashion. While Benazir may become a martyr only in the eyes of the West, Jemima became a martyr at the hall of matrimony that soon got consecrated as pedestal politics. Pakistan’s erratic electricity, water supply and the rumour that she did not even have a (shudder!) washing machine became tabloid chatter.

Pity-tinged headlines tried to recall the child of innocence caught in the jungle of Pakistani rough terrain. It might be pointed out here that the UNICEF ambassador post has come courtesy walking around with head covered through these very streets.

Therefore, when Jemima says that “Benazir is a pro at playing to the West. And that’s what counts. She talks about women and extremism and the West applauds. And then conspires”, it really brings back memories of how she was in fact pitted against the same woman by the West. And they found a precedent to harp on, no matter that it was a flawed one, to prove the compromises she would be forced to make: they said Benazir Bhutto gave up her slacks and opted for the shalwar kameez when she came to Pakistan. There are two problems with this. One is that Bhutto was head of the government twice, and represented a particular tradition. Surely, she wasn’t expected to traipse around in strapless gowns at official functions? Two, if Asians in the West wearing traditional clothes become objects of curiosity, if not amusement, then why should Western garb be exempted in Asia? Or is Western attire normal, while Eastern clothes are peculiar?

It was Jemima who became the one off-shoulder gown shoulder to fire the gun from.

She is absolutely right is accusing Benazir of doing nothing to repeal the Hudood Ordinance, but that is where she stops. For Ms. Khan is not in a position to be the total-recall feminist. She changed her religion, her name and her identity to ‘fit in’; it could hardly have been a desire to belong for there was always the charitable stance of wanting to do something. This is as political as it can get. Besides, Jemima still harbours a tunnel-vision of what constitutes gender disparity.

At what cost are women in the West better off? There are women who break through the glass ceiling in the West as they do in India and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. I would say the areas of exploitation differ and we mistake them for degrees of exploitation.

The problem is that Jemima Khan appears to be grandly granting Benazir the vanity of looking good on Larry King’s sofa while making no attempt to discuss how in the interiors and even in the cities women are fighting against outdated laws every single day. Pakistani politics is a bit more complicated than calculating the euros spent on a Hermes scarf.

Funny bones

Am getting my chuckles from real-life incidents and real-real people.

Of late, of course, some people are very angry with me.

So, one of them asked me to “shut the *$%&#*$& up”.

It is beyond me why anyone would wish to deny another certain personal activities and I do wonder how the said activity can be 'shut up', as though there were a lid that could cover it. Anyhow, in the urgency to camouflage the unsavoury term 'F...', he has used 8 (Eight) replacements rather than the four that would have sufficed. I can only conjecture that it was over-enthusiasm. Bad spellings are bad enough, but to also err with cuss words is a bit sad.

- - -

Another has honoured me with what he says is an Irish curse: “May all those who fart only unnecessarily be also afflicted with the itch and have no nails to scratch with!”

At best I thought the activity was a necessary evil, but how can it be unnecessary ever? I also see no connection with the latter part. However, in the good old days when humans learned to walk, they used twigs to scratch, anything with bristles can do. They were civilised way back then…

What of course worries me is that this curse and several other cussed comments have come from one who has 300 people working under him and they are in charge of an important force in the country. Well, well, well…

- - -

Now, this one I really like found here.

General (later Field Marshal) KM Cariappa, while talking in Hindi had a tendency to translate English words too literally. He was visiting 50 Para Brigade at Naushera, whose Commander, Brigadier Usman was to be given an opportunity to recapture Jhangar. Addressing the troops, the General wanted to refer to India having become free and wanted to put the soldiers in the picture. Operations to capture Jhangar could be undertaken only after administrative arrangements could be completed.

He spoke:

O Para brigade ke afsaran, sardaron aur jawanon. Is waqt hum muft, aap muft, mulk muft, sab kuchh muft hai. Aap ka brigade commander saheb ne bola kih aap aage jana mangta magar ham pahile aapko tasveer ke andar dalna mangta. Aap abhi aage jana sakat nahin kionhki hamara bandobast ka dum bahut pichhe hai.

This roughly transliterates as -

Oh officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and men of the Para Brigade, today I cost nothing, you cost nothing and the country costs nothing, everything is free of cost. Your Brigade Commander told me that you wish to advance, but before that I wish to put you all of you inside the picture. You may not move forward because the tail of our arrangements has been left behind.

[Recounted by Major, later Lieutenant General (Retired), SK Sinha, who was the staff officer to the General during that period.]

- - -

This really takes the icing…

This picture accompanies the profile of an individual at a defence forum; please note the boy in the photograph is blonde (not proud enough to be Indian?) and below it are the words all Indians grow up with:

Satyam Eva Jayate” – Truth alone shall prevail.

I would love to know what is the truth here and in what manner it will prevail. A little boy cocking a snook at what?

How brave is that!


Race with the Devil

Can You Really Have a Clash of Civilizations Without a "Civilization"?

Race with the Devil
By Farzana Versey
October 23, 2007,

Anything that can walk on two legs and take a gladiatorial stance is being described as a clash of civilisations these days.

Andrew Symonds plays a mean game of cricket and can hit any ball that comes the way of his bat, but when some spectators during a match in Mumbai two days ago made what has been widely reported as “monkey gestures” against the Australian player, Indians were accused of being racist.

The International Cricket Council joined forces and a compere at an awards function where Symonds was being feted referred to the offensive hecklers as “idiots”. He got the audience to give the cricketer a standing ovation. This is what the race issue has become: chicken soup for the soul.

It has its Deepak Chopra-like moments where victims turn aggressors and then back to victim again. Instead of lending a feisty fight, we are creating roosters. Some rational Indians are talking about how this behaviour goes against our culture. The problem is our culture smothers people with our peculiar ritualistic welcome of sandalwood garlands, lit oil lamps and red marks anointed on foreheads. We forget the era (history has indeed become hip and contemporary enough for a couple of decades to qualify) when women wearing the traditional ‘bindi’ were systematically abused by ‘dot-busters’. These same Indians who are being made to feel ashamed of culture would not have reacted in a similar manner had the person at the receiving end been a Black player or even a dark Brown one.

A small nose-stud had become a centre of a controversy a couple of months ago. An Indian woman who worked at Heathrow Airport for over a year was suddenly asked to quit because that shiny thing was deemed a health hazard; they put flesh piercing in this category. One fails to understand why they did not realise that for all the months that piece of jewellery could have harboured bacteria, created a hazard with the machinery and found its way into people’s food, which was the problem?

Amrit Lalji was of course incensed. This nose-pin was absolutely essential to her as a married Gujarati woman, she said. “I had always made it clear that I wear it as part of my Hindu faith.” She is now back at work.

Last year Nadia Eweida was suspended by British Airways for wearing a Christian cross but later reinstated following condemnation by clerics and politicians.

There is the perennial problem with veils. And turbans.

Why have outward symbols of identity become so very important? Is it because there is a greater resistance to them or has the resistance stemmed from the over-enthusiasm of proponents to push the envelope, so to speak?

How do these factors become a clash of civilisations? There has been no renaissance, religious or intellectual, in recent times. One is not sure whether there is much by way of civilisation, as in civilised discourse and understanding, left. We have become archetypes, flag-bearers and agenda-holders of causes we have a fluttering acquaintance with.

When an Indian participant, the actress Shilpa Shetty, took part in the reality show Big Brother in the United Kingdom (which she ultimately won, largely due to the sympathy factor), Channel 4 received thousands of complaints for the discriminatory treatment meted out to her. She was called a dog, a Paki; her accent was mocked at, her cooking ridiculed. However, do these good people ever complain when those on the tube, in buses, in stores are called such names and worse?

Racism has become a celebrity endorsement of sorts. When Michael Winterbottom’s ‘A Mighty Heart’, a film on Daniel Pearl’s journey as seen through the eyes of his widow Marianne Pearl, was first out on screen, all people seemed to be concerned about was that Angelina Jolie who enacted the part was not Black enough.

The film crashed at the US box office, and to pat themselves on the back they started saying it was because the American people had spoken out against this discrimination. Hello? Rodney King, are you there? The thought that xenophobia and a complete disinterest in the subject could be reasons were ignored. Black groups had been protesting ever since the casting was announced. They believed that Marianne is a woman of mixed race and any Black actress could have portrayed her; using Jolie amounted to “whitewashing of history”.

This is another kind of reductionism. Pointing out these differences too constitutes covert racism. The world over people make choices and it would be ridiculous to suggest that having made those choices they become racist. We all have our preferences, and were we to choose Black or White or Brown or Yellow it need not reveal our racism. But if we emphasise these, then it does point to the fact that we are not untouched by these factors entirely.

The film’s director has been incredulous about the reactions: “How would a Latina woman be more like Mariane, who’s French, half Dutch, half Cuban and a quarter Chinese. It just seems incredible generic, like a non-American is somehow more like another non-American than an American, which is kind of bizarre.”

Problems get compounded with mixed race people: where do they really belong? Do they have to belong anywhere? Is mixed identity a new stereotype where we hear about better-looking, more intelligent cross-breeds?

Labels aren’t bad in themselves. For example, a blonde is a blonde. Now, if we go on the track of the ‘dumb blonde’ and ‘gentlemen prefer blondes’, then not only do we stereotype others, we in fact limit ourselves.

This is what the Black groups are doing. If cinema is part of culture, then must we stratify it to necessarily have the benefit of an authenticated history that they are talking about? Angelina Jolie’s ‘whiteness’ ought to be immaterial because she was performing a part; were she enacting the role of a homeless person would homeless people protest because she is a millionaire?

Indian racism is more complex for it is neatly compartmentalised into regions and sects. Those who still use the derogatory term ‘bhangi’ for their sweeper, who protest against quotas for backward classes, who have parochial mindsets and arrange matches for their children in the heaven of caste and class equations wake up to apartheid only when the superior ‘race’ in involved, be it economically or socially.

However, I am indeed surprised that the spectators did take on the White man, until now considered a knight. Is colour the only yardstick? In India we have far too many castes and languages, and each has a feeling of superiority over the other. I should imagine this would not constitute racism, though the Brahminical attitude towards the darker Dravidian race could well qualify.

Insecurity gets enshrined in our mental constitution. There is most certainly racism, Indian style. Blacks who come to India for good cheap education feel snubbed in public transport, in shops, in streets. Even in small cafes, a backpacking White will get better treatment than a decently-dressed Black. As Desmond, a Sudanese student, had told me, “We didn’t expect to be seen as savages. They tell us to our face that we are monkeys.”

There have been frightening instances. One student was pushed out of a train, and he died. They therefore seek upward mobility by trying to become what they are not.

Why did Keith say he was an African-American in his first letter to me? Wasn’t this a lie only to legitimise himself? What was wrong in saying he was Nigerian?

The more open our societies are becoming the more we feel the need to look for corners to hide in. We find people who might even say today that Rudy Giuliani is da man. Something named with a sense of parody ‘The Freedom Center’ in Washington is dedicating a whole seven days to what it calls “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”. They are portraying Israel as the victim and there is a pamphlet titled “The Islamic Mein Kampf”, which anyone with an iota of historical knowledge would agree can have no link. The Jews of Adolf were victims of the superior race syndrome; the Israelites are just land-grabbers with a nice Jewish lobby in the US to patent their money and their wry humour.

Giuliani is not interested in history. He is your today man and his bravery lies in showing his middle finger to political correctness. So he says aloud the words “Islamic terrorism” and thinks he is a warrior because he has used the term. “I am not offending all of Islam. I’m not offending all of the Arab world. I’m offending exactly who I want to offend and making it clear to them that we stand against them.”

Now, should Osama be quaking in his knees and must Iraq wonder why Rudy the dude didn’t say it before so that they would not have had to go through all the stuff they did?


News Meeows - 11

One of Congress’ babalogs has come up with a new idea to revive the party’s fortunes in Uttar Pradesh. To counter the influence of caste politics — to be read as Mayawati and Mulayam — the plan is to spring Shah Rukh Khan as the chief ministerial candidate for the state.

Utterly shocking. I should hope this is just some tittle-tattle. The argument dished out is that film stars have been elevated to the top slot in the South, so it can be done in the North.

We have only the example of Jayalalitha and she had done a good deal of work with MGR. Irrespective of what anyone thinks of her policies and politics, this cannot be ignored. Shahrukh has no such exposure. And the reason itself is vile. Everyone knows about his run-in with Amar Singh and the simmering rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan. We cannot have leaders only on the strength of these.

Besides, only recently I read an article where the actor said he was too good-looking to be in politics. It is of course a casual comment, supposed to raise a few laughs. I only hope he continues to have such vanity and stays away from the field. ‘Capturing the imagination’ is not how the largest state, or any state or even tehsil, can be run.

It is also disturbing that the report comments, “It is to be seen if the idea finds favour with Rahul Gandhi. If the Prince gives his nod, then the party will go all out to chuck old style politics and King Khan might be seen in a new role.”

Prince? King? Where are we – in some principality being ruled by a monarchy? And whose Prince is Rahul? He has indeed been traversing through the UP landscape and has got the flavour of the state, but he still appears rather distanced. On what basis will he decide on the chief ministerial candidate? This is eerily reminiscent of the late Sanjay Gandhi. Fortunately, Rahul does not have the reputation of being a roughneck. That still does not permit him or whoever is trying to project him to make such important decisions.

Mellowing his stand against Muslims for the first time, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray trained his guns against Christians and attacked Congress leaders for cosying up to the US.

While I have opposed the nuclear deal, his other comments are pretty disgusting. He thinks Sonia Gandhi is fond of “Christian leaders like Margaret Alva, Union ministers like Oscar Fernandes and her son-in-law Robert Vadera”. He managed only three names and none of them is important enough in Indian politics, unless in Robert’s case (half Christian) keeping the daughter of India, Priyanka, happy in a marriage qualifies as leadership.

Margaret Alva is only a fairly regular TV face. Oscar Fernandes is rarely mentioned. I have no idea how Sonia Gandhi is expressing her fondness for them and how Balasaheb is privy to such affections.

Of course, his keeping quiet about Muslims seems rather worrying. Is it a diverting tactic?

In an interaction with her fans at New York, J K Rowling claimed wizard Albus Dumbledore was gay.

I have watched only one Potter film and quite enjoyed it. I like the magic stuff though this post is no place to analyse it. It would not have mattered what the wizard’s secual orientation was unless he did something really gay to earn his stripes.

Rowling is probably already bored that her last book on the subject is done with and she needs to keep that memory alive. The millions she made is not enough; money cannot buy you people’s recollection of what you produce. She is a canny businesswoman. During this year’s Durga Puja one tableau in Kolkata used the Harry Potter theme, including the castle. Rowling sent them a notice about breach of copyright and they had to dismantle it.

Come now, she could have just let it pass…her fans in India as elsewhere were queuing up to buy the book, part of the herd mentality zombies suffer from everywhere. (Ouch, it really wasn’t a swipe…) So urban kids stood in line like obedient students and shelled out the big bucks. Wonder if they would do it for our Panchtantra or Amar Chitra Katha stories (though again I think mythology isn’t the only way to learn) or even if someone brings out a really interesting children’s book.

No. I am quite certain. We just don’t have it in us to appreciate our own creativity.

Imran Khan on Ms. Bhutto

“Given the way that she has undermined democracy by siding with Musharraf, I don't know how Benazir has the nerve to say that the 130 people killed in those bomb blasts sacrificed their lives for democracy in Pakistan.”

Oh, she can, after all she referred to the tragedy as “inevitable”. Reminds me of the Rajiv Gandhi comment when the 1984 riots broke our and Sikhs were being killed, he had said, “there is a shaking of the earth whenever a big tree falls”

Potent pictorial comment

Caption states: Unable to take the strain of standing at attention for many hours, a constable falls in a dead faint at at Naigaon Police Hutatma Ground on Sunday. The constables and police officials had gathered at the ground to pay tribute to colleagues who died in the line of duty.


Jaswant Singh: "...the Army had better awaken to reality"

This is an excerpt from Jaswant Singh's book A Call to Honour - In service of emergent India by Jaswant Singh, Rupa & Co.:

On military training

Technically, there was little I found difficult in all this military training. It was all clearly so exaggerated, needlessly loud and overbearing, and especially concentrated too, so as to break us in quickly. And for most, that breaking-in was permanent. As I tried to cope with the daily assault on my sensibilities, and upon my incurably free spirit, this 'understanding' helped me arrive at just the appropriate response: 'I must preserve myself and not sink into the anonymity of totally submissive obedience. For this, technical excellence in the "externals" of what is being imparted is training, is all that is needed.' That brought me privacy, saved my self-respect and spirit, too. Was this not the aim of all this bullying and hectoring after all: to inculcate qualities of individuality, initiative, the ability to think and act on one's own? I doubt it. The system really works for developing conformity, not individuality, unthinking obedience, not questioning assent.

Military training gave me a very great deal, infinitely more than what it took. What I had to give was conformity and obedience, even a pretence sufficed. In return, I got self-control, a sense or regulating time, much greater self-discipline. Vigorous physical training, coming on top of an already led outdoors life and upbringing, became a kind of fixed deposit of value, of habit, of exercising the body daily. A certain military directness replaced the rounded courtesies of village dialect.

...The schedule and pace of military training was such as to leave hardly any free play in the mind. If you gave yourself up then it would suck you down, instantly.

On Commissioning

I already knew, had perhaps always known, that I was not going to be in the army for good.

On military service

My commissioned service in the Army of just about nine years, 15 December 1957 - 22 November 1966, has no place in this narrative. I joined in what I term as the 'golden age of cantonment soldiering' in India. We soldiered as we imagined fabled cavalry must have done at one time, therefore, we too must follow suit: 'Cavalry, Sir, is to lend colour to battle to add style to what is otherwise just an unseemly squabble', 'Officers, Sir, are to lead men into battle, not muck around all the time on piffle like inspections and parades and all that...' An officer at Jhansi railway station, aping the 'mythical' Brabazon to the flusterd and hapless station master, after being informed that the train to Delhi had gone: 'Gone?' the officer asked in a gimlet-soaked drawl, 'what do you mean gone? Get another, instantly, go and get another train, now.'

I realised soon enough that all this was empty posturing, this living as caricatures; that the Army had better awaken to reality. I sought a formal interview and asked for permission to resign. I had barely two years of service. 'Why?' a rather jovial, bon-vivantish colonel commandant asked. He was a great raconteur and he truly couldn't grasp what I meant when I said: 'To write Sir, I need leisure to do so, and I am losing time.' Astounded he asked: 'How old are you?' 'Twenty-one, Sir,' 'Twenty-one! You are mad! The maximum leisure is here in the Army, not outside. Look at me... I have all the time I want, so much that I don't know what to do with it.' I did not succeed then, but I was not deterred from my objective either.

As a reflex, I volunteered for all the impossible seeming missions, the many reconnaissance in the Himalayas that were then being ordered....

In 1966, I resigned. When asked to give reasons, I stated clearly: 'To join politics.' I had no pension, I did not want one, and, of course, no other 'terminal benefits' from the Army. My service with it was the great benefit, and what the Army gave me, taught me, left with me is my priceless pension.

The Army responds - 3

Here is a letter published, finally.

Matter Of Honour

Sir, The pen is undoubtedly mightier than the sword. But might is not proved by denigrating articles based on isolated personal experiences and apparent biases, such as In Arm’s Way by Farzana Versey (October 16). The absence of problems is Utopia — non-existent everywhere, including in the Indian Army. As it draws its rank and file from society, the Army is not insulated from the problems of society. To say that there are instances of corruption, sexual harassment and so on in the Army is thus no investigative journalism. But trashing an organisation with the credentials like that of the Indian Army, on the basis of a few aberrations, is naïve. It is demeaning to the thousands of non-aberrant people who are part of the same organisation, and tirelessly face privations, even death, so that citizens like the writer can enjoy the freedom to express her opinion at will. There have been cases of misdemeanour of different kinds in the Army. But is the Army "one of the most corrupt institutions in the country" because of that? Where is the data to prove the claim? The writer is also oblivious of the speed with which each manifestation of such aberrant behaviour is dealt with by the Army. As for her advice to the Army to "stop glorifying the profession and treat it as another job," in the course of which other job is a person expected to lead or follow his comrades into situations that are likely to cause grievous bodily harm, or even death? The soldier does not brave all odds and even lay down his life if required for the few thousand rupees that he is paid. He does it for izzat — his own, that of his unit, and of the country. Our nation will live to rue the day the Army stops glorifying the soldier’s job and starts treating it like any other profession.

Lt. Gen. (Retd) R.P. Agarwal

- - -

My reply:

October 21, 2007

Dear Lt. Gen. (Retd) R. P. Agarwal:

To begin with, let me thank you for addressing your views to the newspaper in the letter in today's Asian Age. I had been waiting for someone to do so since from the Tuesday it was published I have been inundated with feedback. The email route has been chosen only by a few; most have traced my blog and used it to spew the venom I have been accused of.

We shall come to that in a bit. Since you are not aware of the exchanges, I will have to repeat some of what I have been saying to answer your points:

- Does questioning certain negative aspects of an organisation, that too one that is considered noble, a result of "personal experiences and biases"? Will you be able to dispute any of the incidents, except perhaps of the Colonel who shot pigeons, which going by the way people have reacted appears to have caused a lot of anger? (Should I say it is due to some negative personal experience? Would it be right to reach such sweeping conclusions about people I do not know?)

- You are indeed right when you talk about the inability to have a Utopian organisation without problems. And of course the Army draws its members from society. Therefore, if I or anyone pulls up other aspects of society, then the Army is equally to be called upon to question. I have not spared the media's fake sting operations, either.

- I gather that you might read newspapers regularly. You do read of doctors who have carelessly performed surgeries that ended in death or who refused to accept patients. These cases are reported, citizens of this country and any civil society will have an opinion. It does not mean the medical profession is bad, but when you read about such instances folks who are dependent on such professions will question it. We can change our choice of doctors; we cannot do much about who joins the Army and how certain "bad eggs" conduct themselves.

- Had you read the article carefully you would realise that I did not "advice the Army" to stop glorifying the profession and treat it as another job. These were my words: "The number of soldiers who commit suicide or are killed by their colleagues exceed those killed by enemy fire. If only we stopped glorifying the profession and treated it as another job, then perhaps there would be less pressure on the need to be macho."

- The Army must glorify its soldiers, though it would be nice if it also took to task those that committed "misdemeanours" that you yourself have agreed exist.

- You mention that what I wrote is not "investigative journalism". May I venture to say here that I am glad it isn't, for there would have been far more damaging instances, all factually recorded? I have as a matter of fact followed a stringent self-censorship. I realise of course that the 'facile' examples have been commented on because they indeed have touched a raw nerve.

- I will add here that there have been two officers of your Force who have given me an insight into the real life of soldiers. They believe in the organisation, but are not blind to its flaws; they know the value of discourse and have indulged in it in the best way possible.

For the rest, it will dishearten you to know that there have been personal attacks by people who are hiding their identity. However, I will be providing the information to the gentleman officer who is in charge of the image of the Army. Perhaps he will know exactly what the brave soldiers do for the reputation of the organisation they claim to be fighting for and take any action that might be necessary. It isn't too difficult to trace the miscreants, I should hope.

- While I avoid using gender as a matter of discussion, the comments reveal a patriarchal mindset that has hit out at this very aspect. I do not wish to be treated like a "lady" but there is no way I want to be patronised or have hollow male talk thrust on me. Had anyone else indulged in it, it would have been deemed harassment. I hope you as an honourable officer, gentleman and human being will understand that.

- Information about me and my work is accessible and available to read and scrutinise. Therefore, it amuses me to listen to comments about "maturing in my career"…this is so typically sophomore that it does not deserve a reaction. Obviously, they do not wish to see the material that stares them in the face and tells them about the other work I have done for years, do and will continue doing. I do not know the credentials of these individuals, where they come from, or where they are posted. At the moment, they do appear to have a lot of time, though. If you read the comments you will realise that the example of the Colonel serves as a perfect metaphor for precisely this sort of chest-puffing.

- One has read about how political corruption is rampant. I could not agree more and it pains me to have some of these people be called our leaders. I can imagine the pain soldiers would feel when a scam-ridden politician dies and they have to offer him a gun salute.

- To end, I must say that despite the spamming on my personal blog by the 'brave' soldiers, I have learned a lot and there is enough material for at least a couple of more articles should I wish to do so. Unfortunately, they have not taught me about the good aspects. My forum now shows civilians exactly how some of your aberrant soldiers are as much as it has caused disillusionment to the officers I know.

- With the best possible intention of engaging in a discourse, I indulged the wrong people. I should have refrained and only talked to the genuine ones.

I am enclosing an article by Jaswant Singh as well as some of the comments and links. I have refrained from correcting the spelling and other grammatical errors in the attachment since it must not appear that I have tampered with them, for that is how they appear to the public. I am sure it will not further harm the reputation of the Forces in any way. If it helps, I cannot hold a gun, let alone shoot.

With very best wishes,
Farzana Versey

- - -

PS: Irony hit me: The Retd. Lt. Gen has also appeared on the blog! What can I say? May I add that the text of his letter posted above is the one that was published...what the officer has put in the post below is not the way it has appeared in print.

PPS: Until now I have permitted some people's comments to pass in the spirit of a dialogue, but they can and do have other space for personal abuse which they may utilise. This place has several other things I enjoy writing about. Besides, spamming is considered a cyber crime. Therefore, until they get their act together, their posts will be moderated and what I deem unsuitable and a repetition will be deleted from the earlier lot. Or maybe not. It is interesting that the officer while choosing to post his letter and that of another person did not look at the rubbish that preceded it.