Return of the Pink Panties: Flimsy Opposition to Indian Fundamentalism

Return of the Pink Panties: Flimsy Opposition to Indian Fundamentalism
By Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, 28 March, 2009

The politician has been reduced to a blubbering idiot. As India gets ready to go to the polls and back to talk about the largest democracy, we are witnessing punk fascism.

The equations have changed dramatically. The professional politician’s credentials are being questioned in an advertisement that shows him being interviewed for the most important job in the country.

In the enthusiasm to take an ethical position, the irony is lost – the job is to head corporate India. One might applaud a move that does away with the pretence of the ‘public servant’. But the savants aren’t the ones we would trust even with Hallmark cards and heart-shaped balloons.

On Valentine’s Day, there was the usual noise about it being against Indian culture. The liberals woke up. They decided to send lingerie to the fanatic. The pink panty became a metaphor for rebellion, thus reducing the very real threat of fundamentalism to a farce.

Today, India does not have any genuine opposition to the increasing legitimacy that such forces are garnering. Definitions have become deliberately hazy to accommodate nebulous ideas.

Westernisation = globalisation

“Corporate India has finally roused itself from its political apathy,” was the deadpan beginning of a report heralding a contestant from South Mumbai. Meera Sanyal heads ABN Amro Bank, a multinational. Like many people with an elite education, she too was moved by the November terrorist attacks. Currently, the catch phrase is “immediate challenge of terrorism” so the corporate diva bemoaned that our coast guards do not have binoculars to see them coming.

The constituency she is catering to is essentially made up of the pink panty types. Her involvement in social issues has been broadly described as “poverty alleviation and HIV prevention programmes”. These are two subjects that make no one answerable.

This class of people has begun to assume that westernisation naturally translates into globalisation. This micro view of finance and marketability is thoroughly opportunistic. The major industrialists are aligning themselves quite openly with Narendra Modi, the architect of state terrorism. For them, he remains the man who has brought about tremendous changes and made Gujarat into an economic utopia.

The problem with rash and random industrialisation is that under the guise of creating more jobs it is mechanising the menial. In the 1980s when textile mills were shut down, thousands of workers became jobless; crime increased and it was partly the reason for the rise of the big gangs. Urban terrorism was the direct result of the sudden breakdown of industry.

Historically, too, we must remember that what we hail as Nehruvian socialism only borrowed the husk from Marxism; you broke open the crust and the kernel was unashamedly capitalistic. The labour class was a cover-up job and highly dispensable. The public sector became the stomping ground of the bureaucrat who consolidated corruption as a national pastime.

Later, we were to witness liberalisation that may have smirked at the Licence Raj but was essentially built on its edifice. The people who invested money and ran the show thrived by merely greasing palms. It was the class that could afford a foreign education and returned to wear the Nehru jacket, turning the concept of the FOB on its head.

Even the Gandhian rural idyll was trussed up to serve the feudal class, not the agricultural worker. The fact that farmer suicides continue to take place is testimony to this.

Globalisation, as we understand it today, is about making India into a corporate entity with its regimented hierarchy smartly camouflaged beneath an egalitarian “We all need to go outside for a smoke” and “We pee in the same loo whatever our designation”. The mimic men are aping the West, which is why they would never understand the ground realities.

To them it is important to sell the blinkers before they can even enter the horse race.

Do they understand the true nature of fundamentalism? Is flashing a pink panty in the face of a man who opposes a western concept enough? It seems to be their utter ignorance that it is no better than the saffron bandana or the green cap. In fact, it indulges in further reductionism because while the fundamentalists talk about ‘protecting’ women, these liberals are stripping them.

Therefore, sheltering your hood with gourmet restaurants is only a selfish need to further the western model and create an exclusive diaspora that will dictate what the world gets to see. It would include Slumdog Millionaire because this is what corporate India is going to save.

Amusingly, rightwing parties have been using the film’s message to hit out at the Congress saying that it only shows how badly the country has done under its governance.

The pink panty appears to fit the Hindutvawadi rather well.

Indianisation = Hinduisation

A 28-year-old with a famous last name and sturdy political genes makes a rousing speech against Muslims. There is no substance to it, but what stands out is that he talks about being “a Gandhi, a Hindu and an Indian”. Varun Gandhi has become the young audacious face of the BJP. It ought to surprise no one that he is the front man. The problem is not with the hate speech, but that an insignificant player has been catapulted to the national headlines.

His cousin, Priyanka, advised him to read the Bhagwad Gita carefully. She did not say he was wrong or that his speech made little sense; she asked him to go to the Hindu scriptures. There was no appeal to rationalisation. There was not even an expansion on the advice. What does the Gita say that would nullify Varun Gandhi’s words? Is there any particular verse that asks devotees to desist from making references to Muslim circumcision in a derogatory manner? Or that Muslim names are not so funny, really? Or there is nothing to fear when you see a bearded Muslim in the dark?

It is a typical pink panty argument that in effect equates Indian with Hindu. The Hindutva renaissance is essentially about regurgitation. While there is a legitimate cause for concern about the wooing of the Muslim vote bank, the new development is the subtle enticing of the Hindu vote bank. It is being packaged as culture rather than religion; places of worship are being protected as heritage monuments. No one seems to take the discourse further and ask how they can have heritage value when we are accusing the colonisers of having demolished them.

The BJP can never contest an election without reaffirming its commitment to the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Barbed wire fences around temples and stereotypes around their own status make it mandatory for every political party to protect the majority community; it might appear to be the legacy of the Hindutva groups but it is more likely a phenomenon catering to a limited segment.

The Congress has already been tainted with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and forced sterilisation of Muslims during the Emergency. The groups that stand for the backward classes feel compelled to woo the Brahmin segment; it isn’t unusual to find them whining about being the intellectual outcastes. The left parties do not think twice before selling out to industries displacing Muslim villages. Some of these may be considered aberrations but they reveal the rot they arise from.

The desperate need for reconversion of Christians is a part of this resurgence. With the Muslims, the parties stoop to selling themselves via Pakistan. The subtext being, we are not telling you to go to a nation that was created for you, we are saying stay here, but if you want safety of movement, of choice, of work, of education, of thought, of anything, then you will get it only from us. We will be the custodians of your fate.

You cannot tell the suave religious bigot apart from the liberal politician anymore. The pink panty syndrome has percolated down to demeanour and mannerisms. While one section debates against the foreigner heading a political party, the other flaunts her as the ideal Hindu widow.

It has its fluffy version in television soaps.

Ghettoism = Herdism

Political parties that spoke up for the masses are becoming increasingly ghettoised. Creating fissures along regional and lingual lines make it easy.

One reason the Uniform Civil Code has not fructified is that it will not suit the majority community. How can you talk about promoting “religious freedom” and then favour a ban on conversions? Don’t conversions constitute the right to choose your religion?

Hindutva groups are using other conniving tactics too, stating that the BJP views a Uniform Civil Code as an instrument to promote gender justice. It is true that most gender-related problems arise due to flaws in the practice of religion. Ban the triple talaq. Let Parsi women who marry outside their community have the right to enter the fire temples and allow their children to partake of this part of their heritage. These problems of the minorities need to be addressed sharply. But, then, Hindu society must not look away as female foeticide continues unabated, or pretend not to notice little children being married in Rajasthan, or that female infants are not sacrificed. The Devadasi system still exists. Women are beaten up and burned to death for dowry.

The herd wants it own exclusivity.

There is a huge noise about madrassas, but not a word against religious training and astrology sought to be introduced in mainstream syllabi. Expatriate money is pumped in to uphold our culture that seems to miraculously get recreated in ostentatious-looking temples.

The pink panty response is quasi religious. It flaunts an Art of Living guru.


Redefining national shame: India, Pakistan, Israel

This is the season of shame. Everyone is so into this national shame business. Of course, it is all skewed. It is as though feeling ashamed makes you a patriot.

Indian Pachchtava League

For those who have been jumping around about the IPL being shifted outside the country – as though it ever was a national tournament – being a shame to the nation, I only wish they’d stop in their tracks awhile.

Nah, I am not going to do a Chidambaram and say Gujarat riots were a national shame (then one will have to talk about apartheid in South Africa and all that)…all the politicians squawking about what is none of their business is a round-the-year shame.

I wish to draw attention to a report that says:

A South African peace conference of Nobel laureates has been postponed after the government’s decision to deny a visa to Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Several Nobel peace prize winners had threatened to boycott the event over the visa ban, but the government said it was standing by its decision. Local media said the visa was refused after pressure from China, a big investor and trade partner.

So, do we talk about national shame that South Africa has got the IPL contract for our great Indian Premier League when our great generosity of spirit and commitment towards the Tibetan cause is being put to test? Are we going to be great trade partners with that country as China is or will we choose our great ethical position for our refugee with a hill station?

*Pachchtava = regret

Pakistan’s real losers

Zardari figures among the big losers of the world. Pakistanis are feeling chastised that they let him get away with the murder of democracy and all that jazz. How the hell does it matter? And what kind of a loser is he when he has been on a winning streak – money, fun, houses, and the Presidential seat?

They should be more ashamed about the financial state of ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan.

“My family, which has exhausted even its ‘rainy day securities’, is now badly failing to foot the treatment bills,” said his son Arif.

The ‘Shahenshah-i-Ghazal’ will need monetary assistance for the rest of his life if he is to survive, the report said.

Arif said he still has to pay about Rs 5 lakh to the private hospital for accommodation and treatment, in addition to meeting other expenditures incurred on Khan Sahib and his family.

Forget the government, what about the music industry in Pakistan, the artists, the film and television sector, NGOs? What about all those music companies that still play his numbers and don’t bother about royalties?

I hope some of them get up and contribute and do so quietly without fanfare. Show the man respect. If today anyone recognises Pakistan’s ghazal singers, it is entirely due to Mehdi saab’s tremendous contribution. All of us have heard him first before we went on to anyone else.

And no one is ever going to Zardari in a hurry, not even Sherry…medium dry?

Israeli military’s pretence

Israeli soldiers wore T-shirts with a pregnant woman in crosshairs and the slogan “1 Shot 2 Kills,” adding to a growing furore in the country over allegations of misconduct by troops during the Gaza war.

The shirts “are not in accordance with IDF values and are simply tasteless,” the military said in a statement. “This type of humour is unbecoming and should be condemned.” The army said it would not tolerate such behaviour and would take disciplinary action against the soldiers involved.

Oho…what a shame…you can go and raze whole Palestinian villages, put a blockade over essential supplies, occupy a land that is not yours, but when it comes to raising a moral bogey, blame the T-shirt.

Are those soldiers doing it as Israelis or as individuals? Are we to believe that there is no schooling in hatred? Has the Israeli army not killed pregnant women? These were enlisted men.

If you want to feel ashamed, then do so for the basic politics and pugnacity you revel in. The T-shirts are only a reflection of this same attitude.

Nano – saving us from shame?

Now that we have Nano, are we to feel less ashamed? I am sick of seeing that car all over the place and Ratan Tata giving the people’s car to the people. All we saw was TV channels covering the press conference, biggies talking about its body and mileage and such stuff…real people will have to shell out the “little over a lakh rupees” and stay away from the public eye. Incidentally, why are there three types with different pricing? Does it not contradict the very purpose of the notion of a cheap car for the common man? Why grade the common man?

This is a nice game being played of people versus people. The World According to Nano was my take on this very idea when the butt-ugly car was being conceived.

Mera gaon, mera desh: Starring Ajmal Kasab

Isn’t it strange that when the media reports about a “healthy and confident, showing no signs of remorse for his heinous act” convict, their own reportage shows no remorse? They are not bothered about asking the right questions.

The most ludicrous bits of appeals I have been reading are from Asif Ali Zardari asking the UK and US to help him curb terrorism; today was funnier. One headline mentioned India asking Pakistan to help it control terrorism. Make up your minds. Chor ko kotwal banana hai tau phir ussey chor mat kaho. (If you wish the thief to police the robbery, then do not call him a thief.)

Now the media is, of course, thrilled to bits about getting “a rare glimpse of Ajmal Kasab” at a video conferencing of his trial.

I am more amused by what he said rather than his healthy and confident attitude.

Here is the transcript reproduced by the TOI:

Judge (J): Naam?
Kasab (K): Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab (holding the mike on the table next to him). Jailer Swati Sathe gestures to him that he should put down the microphone.
J: Kahan se ho?
K:Pakistan...country (smiling).
J: Kahan se?
K: Punjab muluk.
J: Gaon?
K: Faridkot.
J: Chargesheet mili?
K: Ji sir.
J: Koi vakil hai?
K: Filhal to nahin.
J: Aapko chahiye kya?
K: Jo pehli tarikh mein mere naam pe khada tha woh chalega.
J: Samajh main aa raha hai (referring to the proceedings)?
K: Yes (in English).
J: (Smiling) Tumhein malum hai main kaun hoon?
K: I don’t (in English).
J: Main judge hoon. Main hi tumhara case chalaoonga.
K: (Smiles widely, folds both hands) Namaste, Sir.
J: Namaskar. Kaun vakil hai?
K: (Folding hands) Pehle chaubees ko khade hue the? (Judge looks at Nikam. Nikam says in Marathi ‘Koni navta (No one appeared for him).’
J: Aapka koi vakil nahin tha pehli peshi main. Case ke liye vakil chahiye?
K: Vakil ki jaroorat hai. Aage jo aap behetar samjhe.
J: Koi vakil hai?
K: Abhi tak to nahin.
J: Aapke kharche par vakil kar sakte hai?
K: (Looks away for a while and then looks straight at judge) Ji nahin.
J: Sarkar ke kharche par aapko vakil denge. Manjoor hai?
K: Ji sir.
J: Aage jo hai who aapko Mrs Swati Sathe bataengi.
K: Bilkul theek.
J: Abhi aap jayiye.
K: Thank you, sir.

- - -

Oye, tussi great ho…where is the Punjabi lingo, puttar? I must say yaar ke apun ka Mumbai mein jo rahela woh sab kuchch bhool jaata…saala “muluk” bola? Aur jaisa beech mein bhai log angreji thoka waise yes, no, thank you, sir daala…aur kya baat hai, Namaste bhi bola. Baaki kya hai? Usko approver banao, citizenship do, aur election campaigning ka kaam mein laga daalo. Usko Daddy (Arun Gawli, the local goon-don turned politician) ka wing ke neeche rakh do aur woh phat se sab rassi seekh lega…

Sab ko maalum hai ye phadda chal rahela hai, log ka aankh mein dhool feko aur taim pass karo court mein. Iska video conferencing ka kya jaroorat tha? Khali-peeli Mumbai vaasi ko bataaneka ke kaam chaaloo hai. Woh security dikhata Arthur Road jail ka, aajoo-baajoo ka log ko kitna problem hota…sab ka vaat laganeka eik aadmi ka waaste? Aur kya karela donon muluk? Letter bhejne ka, sawaal-jawaab karneka, kitna paper ka wasting hota…phir bolega green bano. Ab green banega tau bolega jihadi hai…Sab yedda hai.

Apun ka suno aur seedha Kasab ko bolo, “Maar diya jaaye, ya chhod diya jaaye, bol tere saath kya suluk kiya jaaye…”

Woh itna kantaal gayela hai ke khud ko ich phaansi ka phanda pehena lega…Faridkot mein uska statue laga lega uska gaaon ka log.

Phir udhar ka do aadmi mein aisa dialogue hoga:

“Kasab kaun tha, hain ji?”

“Pataa nahin, koi changa munda honga…”

“Assi yaad aaya…woh Taj waala Shah Jehan to nahin?”

“Na ji na, woh tau sar ki pagdee vich fah-dar laganda hor gulaab da phool soongda.”

“Chalo ji, ki gal nahin…koi chhota-mota tryst haiga.”

“Ajee, woh toh Jwaar tha…”

“Kya yaad dilayaa…jwaar di roti kinne dinan hue khaandi nahin…”

“Jwaar Lal Nehru, tryst with dust-nee speech-sheech.”

“Main tau AK-47 noon tryst di gal karanda…”

“Oho, Taj waalan di gal hi hor thi…Faridkot da naseeb itta vadaa thodi na, koi chhota mota tryst honda, toh station vich bhej diya.”

“Chalo, khajoor da naam toh roshan kainda na?’

“Haan ji, tussi great ho, Kasab se…”


The way we exploit...

Is this giving a whole new meaning to recession? A 60-year-old man was told nine years ago to have sex with his daughter to improve his business prospects. She was then 12. The advice was given by a tantric. This vile character began raping the man’s younger daughter a few months ago.

Is this about superstition? I think there is more to it. A man who runs a business may be greedy but not stupid. Did his business improve? If his daughter was unlucky for him, then would not having intimate relations with her further defile him, as per the logic of superstition?

It is time we stopped panning these crimes as blind belief. They are all about power. He was merely managing to release his frustrations. The tantric was using the time-tested device of sexual release to make him less edgy.

These guys flourish in our society because we need something beyond religion. To reach god we need to pray. It does not satiate our other longings, our senses. These charlatans come along and sell their stupid ideas.

Do not blame blind belief. We blindly believe in brands, in celebrities, in people we love. It is not in the same league. This is a crime being committed on gullible people or those with an agenda. They should be treated on par with other criminals.

I am glad the daughters picked up courage and reported the matter. Besides the most stringent punishment that is legally possible, this man’s business should be handed over to them rightaway.

And I do not see why the police allows these men to cover their faces. They need to be exposed. Where is the intrepid media during such cases?

- - -

Now it’s a fashion show…

Then a meeting with Sonia Gandhi where the Slumdog stars said they were willing to campaign for the Congress:

“Now that people know us, they will listen to us,” they said about their campaign plan.

They then mentioned that they needed a house to live in.

Smart or sick?


Election hiccups!

Poll time is the best time to get a peek into the premium each state places on what. The fact that something like this can be so blatant should tell us that voting is only a ritual. Here is a picture and the caption says it all:

In Kerala, a state that tops in liquor consumption, a bottle goes a long way. A rate card put up by the Kottayam Election Workers’ Union is proof:

Painting graffiti and sticking posters: Rs 500 + pint (half a bottle)

Defacing rival posters: Rs 1000 + full bottle

For spreading rumours that a candidate is going to win: Rs 2,500 + 1 litre

For spreading rumours that the rival candidate will lose: Rs 5,000 + 2 litres

Jade Goody and the big questions

Ok! Magazine has carried a tribute issue to Jade Goody. Terms like "In Loving Memory" and "Jade Goody 1981-2009" appear on its cover. Jade Goody is not yet dead, but she has sold the rights of her death being made into a reality show to make some money to ensure the future of her children. Her family has not objected to this story.

The debates have been swaying from one end to the other.

It is a difficult to have a problem with her choice because although this sort of precedent isn’t there, it is quite common for even the richest in Hollywood to sell rights to their wedding photographs or the first pictures of their babies. They make loads of money and flaunt their charitable intentions. With the kind of money they already possess, they can feed some village in Africa or adopt some babies. But, no, this gives an excuse to use their own lives.

Jade Goody is only following these august footsteps.

However, in doing so, the emphasis is on what the magazine calls "a celebration of Jade's amazing life". Resorting to hyperbole is a part of the ethos of such journalism, but has the media been highlighting the problems about cervical cancer? Has anyone started a campaign to educate young women about getting themselves screened for it? Has Jade Goody herself made statements to that effect?

The amazing story is that a woman got catapulted to national fame in Britain because of her racist remarks. She was the punk spunk. I am sorry if this sounds insensitive, but she is merely carrying on that legacy.

She is going to die a natural death, as in it is probably inevitable. Isn’t it important for the media to highlight cases where young people are fighting for the right to die? They don’t want the cameras; they merely want the opportunity to control their lives in the face of devastating suffering.

The ethics of euthanasia are important to discuss; in some ways Jade’s life in the open waiting for death amounts to mercy killing. Maybe, if she was in a cocooned environment she could live longer or die more peacefully whenever that is to happen.

Isn’t this a concern of the medical fraternity? Of human rights organisations? Even the media, which is playing along…but is that its job?

One only hopes for peace for the lady and one hopes she feels at peace every moment of the day and night when she is being scrutinised beneath a microscope. Wish she had chosen a more human way to go…

- - -

The picture is from another cover of Ok! magazine when she got married after her treatment and selling the rights to that as well.


My dear Varun Gandhi…

You naughty boy! What a nice little roundabout way to get Muslim votes. What did you say? You said what would swell the heart of any Saudi – that you would cut the hand of “anyone who raises a finger towards Hindus”. This is not in the Hindu shastras or the Indian Constitution; you are following primitive Islamic laws banned in most Muslim countries. Bravo…

At the same time you said:

“They have scary names - Karimullah, Nazarullah - its scary to see them at night…………… When my cousin who is seven-eight years old, saw Samajwadi Party's candidate's photo, she said Bhaiya (big brother), I didn't know that Osama Bin Laden is fighting from your constituency”.

Maan gaye ustaad…you know all these mullahs are trying to distance themselves from Osama, so the thought of little eight-year-old girl being scared of large section of population will bring out motherly instincts of all the Darul-Uloom types…and they do look frightening at night. You did not say day. See? You are conveying that in darkness everything looks different; we must see the light.

You called Muslims “katuas”; you were saying the obvious – circumcised. I don’t understand why these television anchors have suddenly become so demure and say they cannot even utter these derogatory words; these same channels used to reproduce Bal Thackeray’s speeches where he screamed the word all the time.

I think you are right. This is a political conspiracy against you.

"I am a proud Gandhi, an Indian and a Hindu in equal measure.”

This, I am afraid, you cannot be. It has to be 33.99 per cent or something each. Alumni of the posh Sanawar School are not supposed to be good with numbers, so it is okay.

"Nothing I have said was to incite anybody. There is a rigorous attempt to malign my faith, each time anyone tries to identify with Hinduism, he is being branded communal. I am pro-India, I am not against anybody.”

Look at your party. Even the BJP is anti-India then, they are not standing up for you. But you know what? It is all a smart strategy. They are using you and you are using them.

If the Election Commission debars you, then you have two years to practise your skills. This one speech has brought you in the foreground; the BJP is happy but won’t show it. They have got a lot of attention and are now speaking through both sides of their mouths – one is the Hindutva side; the other the secular side.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (if he had “ullah” in his name would you be scared of him?) said that your speech is part of your Congress family legacy…he is not wrong. Your father Sanjay was known for carrying out lots of forced family planning measures, bulldozing slums…

On the positive side it also means that you have left room for your entry into that party too. The Congress needs Hindu votes; it also needs a Gandhi who is not just breaking bread with Dalits. And the fact that your mummyji is keeping quiet could help you – she can flash her Sikh card and 1984 won’t trouble the Congress.

I am telling you, this is a good time for you, as the astrologers would say. Rahu-Ketu, Shani-Ravi all are in alignment and you can swing anyway you want.

Er, Jai Sri Ram!

PS: I liked your reference to cutting off heads of “katuas”. Nice touch.

Ask the vexpert - 14

Question: I am a 25-year-old man. Please tell me if regular masturbation can increase the size of one’s butt.

Sexpert: Just as your nose, ears, fingers and tongue will not increase in size, neither will the butt.

Me: But, of course. What you have to decide is the sort of increase you desire. If it is a wide butt, then you will have to stand in the Bharata Natyam position with feet together and knees bent. This will adjust your behind to the shape you wish and with the activity at hand the muscular tension will work on the rear. If you just want a well-rounded butt, then you might need to circumgyrate and do a bit of rotation, first clock-wise, then anti-clockwise, just so as to ensure that your precious organ does not take on a bend instead. If you prefer a butt that juts out, then you will have to perform your act of self-love in the missionary-on-my-own position; the skyward look your behind takes will make it swell over a period of time. Done at dawn when the sun’s rays are showing up, the solar energy emitted will heat up the skin and quicken the process. You could call it your version of surya namaskar.


Elections and the tea party

Maverick: Elections and the tea party
By Farzana Versey
Covert March 16-31

On Election Day I plan to sleep. I am not buying into the Jaago re! campaign that says, “Election ke din agar aap vote nahin karte ho to aap so rahe ho.

The ad is sponsored by a tea company, a large industrial house that has other products. The youth is being targeted and as the ad goes about its socially conscious message tea is passed around.

I have a strong antipathy towards private groups trying to market their ideas and products through the nationalistic route. They are no better than political parties and their futile promises and smart slogans.

Will this ad campaign make a difference to the young people in villages? Does it even matter for they are not the consumers?

It is all about consumerism.

For years one has been told that if you don’t vote you have no conscience. This is your chance to be heard. Do you believe that those who are taken in trucks are getting their voices heard? Does one get to see the local corporator once s/he has performed the victory lap in a jeep wearing a marigold garland?

You with your conscience return home with a little ink dot to show you are a conscientious citizen. Have you given much thought about who you have voted for? Even if you have, are you given a guarantee that the promises made in the manifesto are fulfilled? Do you take a political party to court based on shirking of any of those points? Can you do so?

You vote for, say, a secular party because you are not communal. After the counting of votes, the horse-trading begins and your nemesis, the man with the tilak or skull cap, has been bought for a few lakh rupees and is suddenly secular.

You believe in the right of the scheduled castes and tribes. With much hope you cast your vote for the party that represents them. What happens next? It teams up with some goons or, worse, a group that flashes money and big names.

You vote for the right of your favourite god to get a home since your prayer room does not have national legitimacy. Things go pretty well because here you think there is a single-point agenda. But to get to that god, the political party has got into a clinch with those who negate anything godly.

You vote against the powerful foreign element running the show by remote control but the swadeshi lobby is selling out to outsiders in the name of globalisation.

he reason the ad mentioned is using the urban youth is not because they are the future but because they are both demand and supply. They are the ones who will decide whether we need a dynasty or not. They will tell us whether a rustic politician can give lectures at management institutes. They will tell us that the brain drain is about making India look good abroad. They will sell us vacuum cleaners by bringing the dust along.

And they are the ones who buy over-the-counter self-righteousness. They love talk of the ‘inner voice’. They don’t care where it comes from. The leader’s inner voice may well be the sword on his head or the pulls and pressures that will work on him and against him. His inner voice will bleed for the poor, but the finance minister can bring out a budget that bleeds them even further.

The man who has served term in jail will start talking about justice, his inner voice having woken up due to solitary confinement and the overdose of watery dal and mosquitoes.

Or we will have the scions, political and of business houses, who will be pushed to the front because their inner voices will not allow them to remain silent. Especially not after the hangover.

The worst part is all of them will promote the idea of idealism. Blind fury is a convenient ploy of those who live in the dark with only neon lights shining their path. The cynic is the real idealist for the cynic asks questions.

On Election Day I will sleep and wake up to the smell of cappuccino and a few perennial unanswered queries.


Chand-Fiza-Rahman: Conversions and the use/abuse of Islam

Talaq, talaq, talaq,” he pronounced on the phone and then via SMS. It sounds like such a Muslim thing to do, right? It just so happens that the man was Chander Mohan three months ago, married, with kids. The woman he has divorced was Anuradha Bali three months ago.

They decided to get married by converting to Islam, called themselves Chand Mohammed and Fiza Mohammed.

He is a politician and it is said his career was being jeopardised because of this alliance.

Now, due to this talaq and a supposed threat to the lady, the Ulema and the Muslim Personal Law Board have woken up to the “farcical conversions”. This has been happening for years and instead of taking out rallies denouncing terrorism they should stop these idiots with overworked hormones and illicit intentions from using the religion.

What if these guys have criminal backgrounds? Does anyone check the credentials? This is more important than just letting them convert. Islam is the last thing on their minds. Since these things fall within the ambit of the Personal law, the Ulema should completely debar such conversions, unless one of the persons is Muslim. The partner seeking conversion should be screened and it should be ascertained that s/he really does want to go through with it.

Will Fiza, who is now quoting para and verse about how ‘illegal’ such talaq is according to the religion, stick to this faith or reconvert? Or will she just join a political party and use this?

And for the Hindus who talk about exploding Muslim population, why don’t they raise their voices against this?

Some of the film-stars who used this ruse are prime movers and shakers of the BJP. Talk about irony.

- - -

Regarding conversions, it isn’t easy. One is brought up in a faith and it takes a while to ‘unbelong’. That period is usually of deep thinking that could be agnostic or purely spiritual experimentation. True conversion requires study and commitment. I am not saying those born in a faith are naturally superior (I know for a fact that many converts are more learned about Islam and are definitely more committed to its core values than I would ever be) but when you change, you are giving up something. It has to be for a reason strong enough.

I find the A. R. Rahman conversion based entirely on a whim. His sister gets cured, the Pir suggests they all convert and they do.

The Hindutva movement wasn’t strong enough then, but can you imagine what would have happened had it been so and Rahman was the Rahman of today? They would be hopping mad and he would have been forced to revert to his Dilip Kumar status.

It is equally amusing that even now there aren’t any tut-tuts about it. They say it is because Rahman is not really Islamic, he is Sufi. Heck, Kailash Kher calls himself a Sufi and anyone with a begging bowl howling a sad song voice says he is a Sufi. Rahman follows Islam to the core. He prays, fasts…all the five pillars of Islam are part of his persona. So let us cut out the crap.

If the others want to legitimise him, stick to his music. Don’t go carping about how he is a good Sufi as opposed to Islamists. No one needs the certificate of bigots.

Pakistan's 'saviours' saving their skins?

Asif Ali Zardari was supposed to be following Hillary Clinton’s diktat. What happened? Why was Nawaz Sharif put under house arrest? And if he was, then how did he manage to break through and join the protest?

This is all sounding very stage-managed.

Not a single politician in Pakistan will go against American interests. None. Even if they want to.

It beats me why Zardari is behaving the way he is. He is not a man of substance who can stand up against opposition. The only reason could be that aware of his utter failure he already has a tacit arrangement with the army for a neat escape.

His attitude has given rise to a whole new bunch of martyrs. Imran Khan, who is essentially a mullah in Saville Row suits when abroad, is now leader material. The guy could not stay in his country when it was crisis time. He has absolutely no standing in the major areas of Pakistan; social butterflies do not count. Even the mullahs will not stand by him.

Nawaz Sharif already has the Saudi lobby in his pocket.

Sherry Rehman resigns because of the clampdown on the electronic media. Naturally, she does not get to be seen…she is now leader material – Benazir’s courier girl? The one who stood by Zardari knowing what he was about? If she had any real intentions to be committed to democracy, then she had her chance to quit a while ago and not wait for Geo TV’s going on the blip.

These people are merely preparing for the next power Centre and hope to save their skins. Far-sighted, I must say.
- - -

I believe there is some kuchch kuchch hota feeling for Musharraf now. Perhaps for those who want to see things beyond the narrow confines of the current situation, you might like to visit what I wrote a year ago in Musharraf, Peace and the Autumn of the Patriarch: The Great Dictator?

Sunday ka Funda

I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician – Charlie Chaplin

The BJP in Bangalore is protesting against a statue of the comedian that was erected for a song sequence in a Kannada film. The reason: He was a Christian and the sets are close to a temple.

Imagine all those worshippers, many fans of Chaplin, being tainted by the sight.

And I do not understand why newspaper reports are at pains to point out his Left leanings. So what if he was indeed a Christian, a practising one? That does not take away from anything. As I say, we are so darned insecure it isn’t even funny.


When women strip men...

Caption: Women tear off men’s clothes as they play huranga a day after Holi in a Mathura temple

My Comment: Where is the moral police? Why is it acceptable for men to be stripped, that too in a temple? While their clothes are being torn off, do you think the men will twiddle their thumbs and not indulge in a bit of touchy-feely? So, are we saying that if something has religious sanction, then morality does not matter even if it goes against all standards of moral decency?

News meeows - 19

In a radically new move, the army has decided to screen candidates for soldiership through a written examination first, followed by a physical test. Only those who clear the written test will be allowed to appear in physical test and interview before the final selection. However, even though we aim to attract sharp-minded people, physical parameters for recruits remain the same, Major Kaushik Sarbadhikari, spokesperson of the recruiting office.

The headline is deceptive. Written tests are about general questions. They might reveal knowledge, not sharp-mindedness, which is how you think when you are faced with a situation or in action. And let us face it, being in the army for the majority of jawans on the front, means how to manoeuvre their way through rough terrain, handle arms and use them.

It says the formula is meant not only to attract sharp people but to eliminate incidents of stampede during recruitment rallies

If you ask me, these should be televised so that people can see how popular it is to join the forces, instead of those public service campaigns asking young people to serve the country. We like herds. Just watch them at bargain sales. Same principle applies everywhere.

However, I do not understand: Are those who have passed the written test less prone to pushing and shoving?

45% of girls married off before 18

Child marriage was banned in 1929, but it continues. We still see pictures in the papers. These are age-old practices and the law can do precious little. What is needed is education and a ground-level movement.

There is a tele-serial being aired called Ballika Vadhu; it is hugely popular and I must say it is well-made. The message against child marriage is flashed at the end, but when you see this cute child couple it does not make it look as horrendous as it is. This is dangerous. Worse, the young daughter of the rich family has become a widow and has chosen to be secluded.

Throughout she was shown as a carefree girl, asking questions, being allowed to do what she wants, with progressive parents. Now, only because her husband was killed on his way to take her home after she came of age, she has chosen this life of prayer and sleeping on the floor.

It gives out a completely wrong message.

In fact, here social class has little to do with how the girl is treated. The higher the class, the greater the clutch of customs. The poor think this is the model to follow…it is a vicious circle and we cannot talk about a New India till we get rid of the old.


The short end of Pakistan's Long March

“Today is a defining moment in Pakistan's history. We can change the destiny of this country. Pakistan stands at a crossroads today and it is your duty to save it.”

Words of Nawaz Sharif addressing a rally to protest the arrest of dozens of political activists and lawyers and the outlawing of demonstrations in Islamabad, and the provinces of Punjab and Sindh.

This is the man who was willing to sleep with the enemy to change the destiny of the country at that time.

“Allah has put the decision to change the fate of Pakistan in your hands. It is possible in seven days, even three days. These conspirators will run away with their tails between their legs,” Sharif said.

Why did he not protest all these months when his main difference with Zardari was the reinstatement of judges? Why invoke Allah now? To please the Taliban? So whose tail is between whose legs?

Let us ignore this fact for now. Pakistan is in the midst of probably the worst civil strife it has faced in its history. Asif Ali Zardari was bad to begin with; he has only got worse. He is the dictator he sought to overthrow. There are whispers that he is toeing the US line; I doubt if America would risk getting its pet puppet to arrest lawyers, unless the lawyers pose a danger to its pet puppet once they assert themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may talk about ideals but the Long March beginning on the 12th from Karachi to reach the capital on 16th will achieve nothing except a photo-op; it will work to undo the images being flashed around of the Taliban and Swat tribals. These will be the people the Americans will want to save. In a twisted way, the General Kayani warning to Zardari is only the tip of the iceberg. If it is a US prompt, which is the prevalent view, then America does not realise that the Pakistani Army also works in tandem with the ISI. The ISI is like Mossad; it will give all the appearance of being the US bunny, but will thrust its ass at it when it really wants to.

Right now, Zardari is in trouble; Nawaz Sharif has no locus standi other than to be an Opposition leader; the tribal belts will do their own thing. Nothing is to stop the takeover by the Army.

The snow will melt soon in the Northern areas of Pakistan and Kashmir. Hot air will blow. The barracks need to show some action.

I am afraid democracy in Pakistan is all about who the best dictator is.

Bakwas on bakras:

Meanwhile, a report in Hindustan Times mentions that India and Pakistan are already in battle gear. Over the rights to Pashmina. Our side says that the Srinagar Valley produces the best; they say that their side is good enough.

I think there is a possibility of some détente here. Let our goats and their goats do a bit of mating and we can sort it out. And next time you drape the soft shawl, don’t be surprised if someone asks: Was it good for you?

Uff, I goofed again...

A few days ago I called up the chemist. They do home delivery. I asked for Xylocaine.

“Ma’am, gel?”

“Hmm…yes, yes, not tablets.”

“Okay. Anything else?”

“No, but you will have to send this real quick, it is very urgent, I need it now.”

“Sure, sure.”

The guy was at my door in ten minutes. I took the packet, paid him. When I opened it I found xylocaine gel, the stuff you read sexologists tell worried questioners who complain about painful intercourse to use. “Apply to the vaginal area 20 minutes before the act,” is the sage advice.

(Digression: Do people plan these things? Like, okay, it pains, so apply at 9 PM, at 9.20 wipe it off…with what? Keep something handy…then start getting in the mood, play music…tabla? flute? sarangi? Toooiinnnnn, toooiiin. …like a long sigh…then whatever…)

What I had wanted was the antacid Xylocaine. It is a liquid, not a gel. And what surprised me is the fellow who takes his time delivering the goods was so prompt. I can well imagine what must have gone on in his mind…

And the damn thing was not even urgent, but here we just need to make it sound this way…

Now, he has an extra broad smile whenever he visits.


Miss Nuclear Reactor? What next?

On the eve of International Women’s Day, the Russians are on a mission and I don’t like it one bit.

This is a part of the report:

"Russia’s turning up the heat on nuclear power—it’s on the hunt for Miss Nuclear Reactor 2009.

The online beauty pageant is inviting applications from women in the business of nuclear power, and is out to prove that industry girls don’t just have Dexter’s brains, but are drop-dead gorgeous too.

The girls complain that people wonder if working in the nuclear power industry means they have been mutated in some way by radiation. This, organisers say, only proves that more awareness on the subject needs to be raised in Russia."

I don’t get it. Why are similar standards not applicable to men? Would radiation not affect them? Instead of such a beauty pageant, could the men in the field not be paraded to show that no damage is done and they have not been mutated?

This is utterly demeaning and I find it difficult to believe that women with brains enough to qualify for such professions would be worried sick about their looks. Vanity is, no doubt, a part of the human psyche and men and women display it differently. But this isn’t about vanity, for a vain woman can flash her smile and talk about her achievements.

Everytime I read such reports something really gets to me. I have often talked about my appreciation for aesthetics and how wonderful it is that women do like to do themselves up. I have my own sense of what looks good or not and am not demure about it. However, there is a limit. Looks as a parameter of beauty is one thing, but to be judged by it in the professional sphere quite another.

When a woman is performing a surgery, it is her skill with the scalpel that counts not how flat her abs are; a writer’s use of words and the content of her ideas matter not the way her eyes dreamily droop as she pens them; an astronaut on a space mission has to go through the same rigours as men and it would be stupid to expect her to think about her brand of moisturiser; a sportswoman may bare her legs, but it ought not to be anyone’s concern whether she has depilated them or not. It is another matter that in this arena, endorsements have made sports stars into commodities, the females flashing knickers and cleavage.

That is fine as long as they are not doing so to prove that their work has not in any manner mutated them.

At least not in the manner envisaged. Transformation also translates into growth – a thought that must have been forgotten by those beauty pageant people.

Jab Deep Jale Aana

I like this song for several reasons – it is underplayed romance, the words are simple even if a bit clichéd, the classical interlude flows seamlessly into the body of the main song, and I think Yesudas was not given his due by mainstream Hindi cinema.

His is a voice that transcends the lyrics; like a temple bell it does not matter who the devotee ringing it is.

Movie: Chitchor

Singer(s): Yesudas, Hemlata

Music Director: Ravindra Jain

Lyricist: Ravindra Jain


Jai ho...hum...

The Congress Party has bought the rights to the Jai Ho song for its election campaign.

What a pathetic thing to do. True, it is written and composed by Indians, but you are buying it from an outsider. India will have the anthem of how the world sees it and not how we are or want to be. It also reveals the paucity of original thinking. We have enough writers who could come up with some slogan/anthem for the party. But, no, it has to be the tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee Jai Ho.

The response from the Opposition is equally amusing. BJP leader, Prakash Javdekar, said:

“This song will ensure their defeat because it will remind every Indian that millions of people still have to stay in slums because of faulty Congress policies.”

Still? When was the NDA in power? No slums then? And every Indian has watched the film? The Congress plans to play this ditty (yes, I can only refer to it as that) in rural areas and small towns. I don’t think people there would have watched the movie, or that slums would affect them. Who knows, this might be the millionaire moment being shoved down those poor throats…hey, you live in a hovel, no water, no nothing, good…send SMS to a reality quiz show and become a hero. What an idea, sirji…

Heave ho.

- - -

Would this man, a bade baap ka beta being launched as hero, be carrying these kids in his arms had they not become famous?

I had said I was sick of the Slumdog Millionaire titbit and here I am…mea culpa.

Fine, they are making their debut as themselves. Returning from the Oscars win they are targeted by bombers…

I hear that little Rubina Ali has said she does not want to lead the life she led anymore because of what she experienced in the US. Had this girl not seen big cars and big houses when she got out on the roads in Mumbai? Did she not envy those or aspire to that? Has the very idea of aspiration been imported? Or is the West playing up to this?

Then there is talk about the greed of Mohammed Azharuddin and his father who have been demanding more money.

So? What about our pampered film stars? One feeble hit and they up their price. Look at that other child, Darsheel Safary of Taare Zameen Par. Rs. 1.50 crore is his demand and he is getting it. He really hasn’t been tried and tested well enough in other films and yet he is talking big money.

If the whole world is making using of these slum kids, then why not they themselves? It is a lesson at least they learned in the streets among the garbage bins and not by asking their secretaries to negotiate. There have been instances when superstars have refused to come out of their vanity vans unless their demands are met.

It isn’t all good anyway, but then nothing surrounding the Slumdog hype is.

Monroe in the wind

A model displays a creation of Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall/Winter 2009-2010 ready-to-wear collection during the women’s fashion week in Milan.

Is this iconic or ironic? The dress lacks basic good sense, don’t even think about classiness.

I know we have a T-shirt industry with images of famous people. Che Guevara is, of course, the favourite of all who think they are rebels. Why don’t Indians have Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose stamped on their tees? Even the saffron parties will not have Veer Savarkar and Golwalkar.

Digression over. The Marilyn Monroe dress is so frumpy and what is it trying to convey? A smiling woman who died young is being strutted on a ramp by a model who looks like she needs a laxative. Talking of which, and pardon the indelicacy of the imagery, do you recall that scene where Monroe’s dress balloons out in the wind in The Seven Year Itch?

Hmm…a person wearing this dress could, in one of those au naturalle moments, give that quite a different dimension. With Marilyn’s face at the receiving end.


It's just not cricket...or anything else...

You Muslim? Then you better get the Oscar award or win matches for your country or do something…or else…

A sick little report appeared in the papers today. No one would think it is sick. They would talk about glory of secularism. No one would want to puke at a subhead that read: “Religion Took A Backseat While Celebrating Rahman, Pathans’ Heroics”

Refusing to get mired in hatred, Rahman chose the path of love and went on to win the biggest cinema award in the world. Just a fortnight before the tune created by the Mozart from Madras became a ballad for many Indians who will hum it for a long time, the Pathan brothers—Irfan and Yusuf—got together in Colombo in the dying stages of a T20 match when the dice was heavily loaded against India. They unleashed scintillating shots to help India claw back from the jaws of defeat to stand head high on the victory podium.

What the hell does this chosen the path of love mean? Even terrorists do not admit they have chosen the path of hatred. Are we being patronising and oh-so-kind that a Mussalman, that too a convert, managed to give up the thought of hatred? And what if the Pathan brothers had not managed to score in a match that was admittedly “loaded against India”?

This sort of reportage in a mainstream publication like The Times of India makes you wonder about all the educated elite and their liberalism. Here goes…

So what is your pick? Rahman or Pathan brothers? No doubt, they are the real heroes. For, they brought smiles and tears of joy in the eyes of millions—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs. True, none of us thought about the religion professed by Rahman and the Pathan brothers. Who cares, they made us all proud.

Great. Now you can pick and choose your miyan bhai, go shopping for him (where are the ‘hers’?), even poke and prod to see if it is in good condition and will do you proud. And don’t you lie that you did not think about their religion because you would not have submitted this nauseating report that got published.

Do we say similar things when Harbhajan Singh manages a feat like this on the field; we aren’t even talking about the rest of the Hindus? How many Hindu, Sikh, Christian Indian musicians have managed to be awarded at international fora and been branded for their religion? (Zubin Mehta does not count and he is always “aapro (our) Zubin”, a belongingness bestowed rather than a grudging acceptance.)

And listen up. There are millions of Muslims and not all get the opportunity or possess the talent or the looks that will make you proud. But before expecting that of others, what about you? What do you have? Look inside your house and see if you have mirrors in the first place, forget an image. Then tell us about what you want from Muslims.

We have as much of a right to fail and not be up on the marquee as the rest of you.

- - -

On cricket, I have just managed to access news on the firing in Lahore on Sri Lankan players and the death of some people.

I do not understand why it is always soft targets that are chosen to make a point – by terrorists and politicians. What has Sri Lanka done to Pakistan to deserve this? What have these sportsmen done?

Am sure there are analyses poring in; it is too early to conjecture much. Could it be the Taliban? Or political rivals trying to make international headlines? Or…

There will be the usual condemning and looking into the matter.

“Uneasy calm” there is. Why have we stopped being angry?

What does the Supreme Court have to hide about Godhra/Gujarat?

How supreme is the Supreme Court and what ethical values must it follow? This question arises because it is said that the highest judicial authority in the land is not making public what is termed as a “caustic” report on the Godhra/Gujarat probe.

The SC has sought a response from the Modi government within four weeks. It posted further hearing on the matter on April 13. However, it decided to keep under seal another “confidential” report submitted by the five member Raghavan committee, which contained inferences about the manner in which the state police had investigated these sensitive cases immediately after 2002.

The SC also observed that there would be no interference in the work of the Special Investigative Team (SIT), which could further probe the cases. It also said the composition of the five-member team would remain unaltered. The SIT was appointed by the SC after complaints by the riot victims and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that there had been no proper probe and fair trial in the riot cases.

It is for the last statement that one wonders about the prudence of the SC to keep the matter secret. The fact that the appointment of further investigations was made by the people affected makes it a public issue that needs complete transparency.

Whoever has been indicted, there is no reason for the court to protect the individuals/organisations. There has been a reference to the forthcoming elections; I’d say making the report pubic would not make much of a difference. Most people vote for selfish reasons and not to see that justice is meted out to other groups, unless they are a part of that group.

Please let us not forget that many well-off Muslims in Gujarat, including one whose house was burned down, have happily spoken up for “moving on” so long as their businesses are back on track.

It is the poor, displaced and voiceless who need to be heard. And it is the business of the Supreme Court to release the findings, however caustic they may be. This sounds rather bizarre that the SC is using such an adjective as an excuse to keep something that has shaken up the country confidential.

Is there any guarantee that during the course of further findings some sharp shooter – and powerful person with access to the report – decides not to tamper with it and we again have the same old game of how the Establishment is victorious and therefore not culpable?

This is shameful and one hopes more voices are raised, voices that do not have any axe to grind and use the victims for their ‘concern industry’. Pardon the cynicism but we have seen it all, have we not?