The Case of Two States

From tomorrow there won't be any pre-paid mobile connections allowed in Kashmir. That region was given cellphones after years and now this.

Just in case the Home Minister is not aware, photo IDs are mandatory for both pre- and post-paid connections. Surely, limited vendors can be given distribution rights. Besides, since satellite technology is used, the authorities can keep tabs quite easily. But that's not the point.

Who suffers? The citizen and the Kashmiri is a citizen of India. The country is denying them basic rights using the security against terrorism tactic. Terrorists can manage to get connections as well as have them. They have other means of communication. And in areas where signals are weak would they depend on some cellphone provider?

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Meanwhile, foreign tourists are being given visas on arrival in Goa against all immigration laws. This is being done with the help of the authorities. Reportedly eight such tourists arrive every day, mostly Russians.

As always there is concern about the 'drug cartel'. The Taliban have more drugs but that would be a different issue, wouldn't it?

As we have seen, Goa has experienced blasts. So how has this been permitted to go on? Will they stop cellphones in Goa so they can protect the citizens? Was this special privilege granted only to lure more tourists?

In that case, Kashmir was a tourist haven. Why was it cut off from access to what are now basic facilities?

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End Quote:

"Madrassas encouraging militancy in the country." - RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

A warm welcome to Sadhvi Pragya and her chelas.


Hi, my name is Rahul…

Mujhse dushmani karoge?

Look, if the officials of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) want a vacation to the US, it is just fine. As a tax-payer, I will permit it. There are security concerns. But, please, please, give me a break from some half-baked ideas that sprout in barren minds.

If the Pakistani-American terror suspect Dave Headley (Daaud Gilani) has been frantically exchanging e-mails “with his Pakistani handlers in the course of planning an attack in India”, then the security should be about how to prevent an attack here. The public would like to know about measures being taken and the veracity of such blowin’ in the wind plots.

India is vulnerable. All the more reason for us not to be misled. The Americans want full co-operation, and all they are throwing our way is that the suspect has mentioned the name Rahul to the FBI. The TOI front-paged the news:

Headley apparently told investigators that “Rahul’’ refers to a prominent Indian actor with that first name. Although there are a few Indian actors with the first name Rahul, there is apprehension that Headley may be trying to throw investigators offtrack. Concern is high also because it is the first name of Rahul Gandhi, whose father and grandmother were both assassinated.

However, the Gandhi scion is by no means the only person being mentioned as a possible target. Names doing the rounds within intelligence circles include Rahul Mahajan and actors Rahul Bose and Rahul Khanna, though it is considered unlikely that they would be terror targets.

Is this anywhere close to serious reporting? Have such conjectures been forwarded by security agencies, the IB, RAW? If not, then does the newspaper have any business to club it along with the main report? Should they wish to add the extra dash of intrigue and glamour to good old terrorism, must they not put it as an op-ed or a box item? Imagine all those Rahuls, who are primarily on the fringes of their profession, being suddenly in the limelight for no reason other than the fact that they share a name that is to “throw investigators off-track”, to begin with?

Now watch out for the glam section of the paper interviewing them, with sound bytes from other prominent film personalities, the modelling fraternity (Rahul Dev) or TV (Rahul Roy) about the threat to them. Some may ask for security and, because they have been mentioned in the report, they just might be provided with it. Is this fair to the exchequer? To us? To the cause we are supposedly fighting?

If the report mentions that these Rahuls have not had much success, why would any terrorist make them a target? This is beyond crazy; it is downright juvenile and stupid. There is worse:

It has also been pointed out that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, often cited as a symbol of Indian secularism, has played characters named ‘Rahul’ in at least six films.

Unbelievable. It has also been pointed out by whom? The public has a right to know, and if the authorities are responsible they should be doing something about it rather than sending out such releases to the media. Their job is to work behind the scenes and not transform what they are at pains to tell us is a major attack possibility into some sort of tamasha with prominent names, even if they are merely visible socially.

How can the use of a name of a character in films suggest that the actor can be a target? I do understand the possibility had it been extortionists. Don’t these people have any clue that terrorists aim to make a huge impact; they do not target individuals unless they can send out a loud message to the authorities or to the international community.

I am afraid if this sounds insensitive, but none of the individuals would create a big bang, not even Rahul Gandhi. One hopes, at the human level, that they are safe irrespective of what they represent, but it is time the media and the establishment grew up.

This is again part of the elitist brigade being propped up, much like what followed the 26/11 attacks. Being targets is now considered a sign of some importance. There could be many Rahuls, Rahuls who are working quietly or even Rahuls with some murky connection who could be held to ransom. More importantly, we need to realise that terrorism is not about idiocy and it does not take an awful lot of intelligence to figure out that ‘Rahul’ is a tactic.

Why did no one think about turning Rahul backwards and making it into ‘luhar’ (the Hindi word for ironsmith)? It could have several connotations, but it is terribly downmarket. And where would they find pictures of such lowly professionals, and who would be interested in them anyway? Now, we can imagine the Page 3 types twirling their glasses of wine and clucking woefully about how the city is not what it was anymore.

Neither are you, sweetie…when did you ever give a fig about such issues before? And even now, unless they come with pearl strings attached, they just do not count to those living in oyster shells.


The Patel Raj and Prince Philip vs.Harrods and Indian Culture

It wasn’t quite a joke nor was it a jibe. That it was at the Buckingham Palace and the recipient an Indian businessman made it into an issue. So Prince Philip has a history of making off-colour remarks occasionally. During the introductions at a reception for the Indian President, when introduced to one of the guests whose name tag he read, he quipped, “There's a lot of your family in tonight.”

The anti-monarchy group Republic is incensed. The organisation’s spokesperson said, “At best it's a comment that shows he's out of touch and out of date. There are a large number of Patels living in Britain and many will find it offensive that Prince Philip tries to joke that they're all related.”

These guys just don’t know Indians. They might relish the idea that one of them was in the list of invited guests at ‘Berking-em Pay-less’. They would probably distribute free sweets at their stores in Wembley and later when photographs are released there will most certainly be some who will show off the one in which the Duke of Edinburgh is shaking hands with Atul Patel.

The anti-monarchs will need to find some other group to vent their ire. Indians love the pomp and splendour of royalty and in fact fox-hunting is nothing compared with the stories they heard from their grandparents about tiger trails and elephant palanquins.

The Patels are so important internationally that even motels that they run are referred to as Potels. They are a hard-working lot who are happy to sell what they know best – a slice of pickled mango and a dash of spice.

But, since anti-monarchy groups have got into the act, someone in India might get the bright idea of objecting, never mind that the recipient of the quip has not felt offended.

They might bring in something about racism when the fact is that these guys have colonised and virtually set up a mini-Pateldom in that country. The minute you come close to Wembley you can smell it. The shops sell Indian clothes the way they do in India: bales of cloth unfurled and you are encouraged to touch it and say “so soft, no”, and then begin the haggling. The restaurants are typically filled with Indian food and the loos are…well…not the best place you’d like to stop over at. When I was there, not for a minute did I feel I was in a different country.

These people rule in their little kingdom and it’s all good.

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Talking of kingdoms, I was mighty amused that the owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al Fayed, has said that he would be ready and willing to become the first President of Scotland and even urged his “fellow Scots” to break away from “the English and their terrible politicians”.

It takes some nerve. He has been denied a British passport and although it was most unfortunate that his son Dodi, who Princess Diana was dating, died along with her, the fact remains that he capitalised on that tragedy by putting up busts of the two of them at Harrods, almost creating a shrine. Harrods itself is a shrine for those who fall in the middle of Marks and Spencer’s and Bond Street retail therapy. It is a landmark of England and this is where he made his name.

So, will he close shop and get all set to walk around in the ceremonial kilt and look like a tribal chief he often behaves like?

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In quite another story about India, dancer Pratibha Prahlad, the convenor of the Delhi International Arts Festival said, “DIAF can become an Edinburgh festival.” Sounds good? Not quite, for just a sentence before she had declared, “The time had come for India to project its cultural supremacy.”

Cultural supremacy by using something else as a standard? And why the need for cultural supremacy? Is culture only about some dance, music, literature?

I find her other comment intriguing:

“The Britishers, the French and Germans realised this long ago, so they set up the British Council, Alliance Francaise, Max Mueller Bhavan in every metro and small towns too. Today, China asserts itself through its cuisine, Japanese through technology, French and Americans through cinema. They’re monocultures, we’re a cauldron of culture, so why not celebrate our diversity?”

I will refer to the beginning of this post. Our cultural supremacy, if such a thing needs to be asserted, lies in our ghettos that evolve. Bollywood is an important part of many countries and known everywhere. A ‘pure’ artiste might snigger at it, but these same pure artistes will regard some weird installations artistic. Why, they’d even find museums of erotica rather uplifting, if I may say so.

Our diversity is not always our strength. Chinese cuisine has variety reflecting different parts of China. There is no uniformity in French or American cinema, and Japanese technology works best when it has cheap imitations elsewhere!

Let us get real. Indian food, clothes, attitude are seen as only Indian outside. No foreigner specifically goes for Punjabi or South Indian food, except the connoisseur. It is Indian clothes, not regional ones. We have enough parochialism within our shores, so let us not export it or try to show our cultural supremacy through this trumped up diversity. It is this diversity that is making us into small pockets of people who don’t feel Indian enough.

Even our current song of patriotism ‘Jai Ho’ comes from an Oscar-winning film made an Englishman and was used by the ruling political party. Before crowing about how great we are culturally we should first understand that culture and, if it is not asking for too much, some interest in civilisation.


Was it good for him?

If we thought we were human, then wait. Our ancestors could have got into the sack with Neanderthals in some of those weak moments that make us human, to begin with. It was probably 33,000 years ago, but it’s not such a long time considering the speed at which sperms travel and make home in ovaries.

Therefore, residual genes might well be residing in us. That ought to make us less than human which, if we delve upon how society functions, is not quite out of the ordinary.

This brand new research was published in the US journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, although the researchers were European. The reason probably is to make America not feel left out. As you may well know, the Neanderthals did not live in the United States. They were in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. Of course, don’t shoot back that there was no America then. There was always America; it just remained hidden.

I digress. Before these guys went to check out on how we cohabited with them, I mean Neanderthals not Americans, we already knew that the Ns buried their dead, could not throw a spear to save their lives, and did not like the weather (oh, so British), were short and bulky and, guess what? We ate them. Yes. Most early theories suggest that humans got rid of them.

This might be the earliest instance of trying to silence the enemy you slept with. And, of course, it also suggests that evolution is not all it is made out to be. There are conspiracy theories in science too, therefore science is not all logic and reason. It is based on some interesting little ideas that take off because they seem plausible.

I was a bit surprised to read that one of those great scientific minds is not sure whether they produced children. Like the Neanderthals were quite happy getting into the act with people they did not know and they were genetically incompatible with. It perhaps was an okay thing to wham, bang, thank you ma’am. After all, morality was not an issue. It also reveals that the modern human did not have these issues and could just as well have some fun.

There is a dark side to this story. It could have set the idea of racial and physical superiority. Humans even then were suppler and must have felt that they’ve had enough and need to create a pure race. They, therefore, just did the thing that would get rid of the species as also test the mettle of their molars and incisors.

Since the inter-breeding theory is still being tested, I’d say this is a revelation about us rather than about the Neanderthals. We cannot stand any Other. Our prejudices are as deep as they are superficial. We are the ones who need to be researched. As for having sex, we don’t spare anyone. Or anything.

And if we have to a large extent outgrown cannibalistic instincts, it is because we now decimate people emotionally.


Why does Arundhati Roy see a Muslim in a Maoist?

Muslims are not Maoists. There is a difference that Arundhati Roy needs to understand before making any sort of comparison. To begin with, Muslims as a community, a social group, as citizens are not at war with or in any part of the country.

This is her statement about Maoists, and even if I am using only that which has been quoted in the press, there is still room for no obfuscation or being wrongly interpreted:

“If I was a person who is being dispossessed, whose wife has been raped, who is being pushed off his land and who is being faced with this police force, I would say that I am justified in taking up arms. If that is the only way I have to defend myself,” she said when asked if armed struggle was justified. “We should stop thinking about who is justified... You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed. I am sorry but it is like that. So you can’t extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other.”

The above quote is important because it comes after the association she has drawn. Her opinion about holding talks with them is valid, but it does not hold true when she says:

“My fear is that because of this economic interest (in mineral-rich states), the government and establishment needs a war. It needs to militarise. For that it needs an enemy. And so in a way what Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress.”

Where is the connection? The Indian Muslims for the BJP were a political nemesis that had to be decimated only because of their religion. They did not militarise because of their faith or otherwise. Muslims did not declare a civil war, they did not take up weapons, they do not constitute a whole, in fact. Mumbai and Gujarat happened not because of economic interest. The ones who were raped and dispossessed did not arm themselves; it was done by those who were anyway opposed to certain aspects of governance or had already formed organisations that may be called militant in nature. None of the retaliatory measures have been as combative and was in one case said to be sponsored by the Dawood underworld gang, which earlier had political patronage. The Indian Mujahideen or any of the smaller groups have not been able to sustain themselves.

From her remarks, it appears as though the entire community is on a crusade, and by such implication she makes the insidious insinuation that it would be justified. The Muslims will decide whether they are justified in doing something or not as per the laws of the land. That is what they have always striven for, including the maulvis who have said time and again that they will go for judicial probes and judicial decisions, including the one on the Babri Masjid.

I am not venturing into the Maoist Movement right now, but at least in this context she seems to completely ignore the role of Muslims in the political arena. They have never sought an armed struggle. It should be remembered that Muslims were not up against the corporate lobby in the BJP, but a strong middle class. This middle class resentment arose because the anti-Muslim theories fed by the BJP had managed to both emotionalise and intellectualise the issue. The middle class was at the centre of the internalised war in this case and continues to be so.

The weapons used are prejudice.

And prejudice, unfortunately, is not just bias from one kind of people. Liberals use it in large measure, too. When Roy was at a seminar with Pakistani peace activists among a predominantly Muslim crowd, she described Taslima Nasreen in these words: “She is not a great writer. Don’t waste your energy on her.” A week before that, at the same venue, along with Girish Karnad and many other intellectuals, she had battled for her.

So, how do these two versions work in tandem? Why are there different standards for the same person, the same issue?

With this background, it is indeed disconcerting to watch a complete disregard for the nuances of cultural reasons of protest. One would understand, though not fully accept, a comparison with insurgency in Kashmir. But most certainly not with Muslims. However, it is unlikely that the liberal brigade will raise any objections, for several reasons:

• You question the Roys and their ilk and in the populist and popular imagination you cease to be a liberal.

• You will not be considered a qualified proponent of dissent, for you will appear to be against the Maoist struggle.

• You will not be seen as supportive of Muslims, the last great bastion left for the liberals, much like vote banks for politicians.

What many will not understand is that to be a true liberal you do not need to follow a specific liberal ideology. That would be the antithesis of liberalism. If you do not question the people who speak your language even if you disagree then you are creating some new gods and heroes. You may not have the same reasons to support insurgency groups and armed struggle as this group. And while Muslims have got support from many people, no liberal or activist can change how people think about them. That will happen through symbiosis. We are dealing with history here, not mineral rich corporate games.

The Indian Muslim is fighting a daily battle for acceptance as a rightful citizen and not rejecting the state.

It perhaps won’t suit the professional liberal agenda but Muslims are not going along with this sham comparison.


The Guitars at Gitmo

This sounds a bit weird even if it has tragic resonances. One can imagine that in Guantanamo Bay some kinds of music might be considered torture simply because of their quality. Here we are talking decibel levels to “help break uncooperative detainees”.

Musicians have joined the coalition that is backing Barack Obama’s shut down plan for the camp for terrorist suspects. The group is depending on the National Security Archive in Washington to file a Freedom of Information Act request. The executive director says, “the US government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture”.

In interviews some prisoners have complained and one of them spoke about the stress caused because he believed music was forbidden. He has spent seven years in jail. Is it not possible that the years have caused his aural immunity to be affected and resulted in the high degree of strain?

One is not justifying any manner of torture, but these are suspects. Therefore, no sort of force is to be used anyway. The Gitmo persecutions go way beyond Marilyn Manson and the Meow Mix cat food jingle and have already been deemed as gross human rights violations.

If loud music has been used as an interrogation tool, then what about the other tools? This is at least more humane. How many of the suspects have broken down and confessed because of the music?

I am sure people who know more about these things have research documents to back up their claims, but if we flip the discussion then would not loud music anywhere be deemed as torture? Are not such concerts, therefore, making people bondage?

Jayne Huckerby, research director at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, says that music was not used as a “benign security tool,” but as a way “to humiliate, terrify, punish, disorient and deprive detainees of sleep, in violation of international law.”

I do not understand how music can be a benign security tool. I have met a couple of prison officials here in India and they have used music with prisoners as a meditation device or even to soothe truant criminals. I am afraid this is probably one more exercise in intellectualising an act of power play by the authorities, and it includes the government.

Music is probably a ruse to divert attention from the gruesomeness of the other ones and prevent those from being brought to the forefront and discussed again. Closing down a prison does not condone what has happened there or the paranoid political ideology that prompted it.

Would those guys in prison clothes shut their ears, go down on their knees and spit out bile?

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Here is Eminem singing Criminal:

A lot of people ask me stupid fuckin' questions
A lot of people think that what I say on record
Or what I talk about on a record
That I actually do in real life, or that I believe in it
Or if I say that I wanna kill somebody, that
I'm actually gonna do it, or that I believe in it
Well shit, if you believe that, then I'll kill you
You know why?

Cuz I'm a criminal
(You goddamn right)
I'm a criminal
Yeah, I'm a criminal


A Baby, the Quran and Terrorism

Do miracles happen? Do they serve a larger purpose other than giving signals? Must all miracles have a religious basis?

We know that parts of Russia have been going through turbulent times. In the Kizlyar region of Dagestan, one such place, a nine-month old is being touted as a “miracle baby”. Ali Yakubov is oblivious to the hordes descending to see the verses from the Quran appear on various parts of his body. I find it amazing that these people are being referred to as pilgrims.

In normal times they would be blind believers, and we have them in every society and for reasons of personal consolation Now it is being referred to as “mystical hope…in Russia’s mostly Muslim southern fringe who are increasingly desperate in the face of Islamist violence”.

What is so different about the message “Be thankful or grateful to Allah” that is found imprinted on the infant? Is this a sign of god? How will this small region solve major problems, as one of the heads suggested when he said, “The fact that this miracle happened here is a signal to us to take the lead and help our brothers and sisters find peace”?

The child’s mother says that this is connected to extremism: “Allah is great and he sent me my miracle child to keep our people safe.”

I really am sorry but this is taking it a bit far. Ali was born with cerebral palsy and an ischaemic heart condition but he's now healthy, they say. Yet, when the marks appear, he has high fever that goes up to 105 degrees. It could be a serious medical condition and there must be some way to ascertain whether his sudden health is real or is being merely sidelined because of this new miracle?

It is also quite surprising that local Muslim leaders have joined ranks and are passing on photos of the verses that appeared on the child’s body and praying outside the house that is now seen as some sort of shrine. 2000 people visit daily. How Islamic is this? Not one bit. In fact, it is anti-Islam, which absolutely does not permit such worship. It is almost akin to paganism. Don’t these clerics realise it?

One of them even said, “It is written that the closer to the end of the world, such signs will appear on a person's body.”

We have been seeing and hearing about such end of the world scenarios for years and all religions have different versions. So will each faith’s followers have different worlds which will end at different times? Is it time zone bound? And, don’t these people realise that the “wisdom of Allah” that appears on the child’s body are the very words used by the militants themselves to justify their acts?

In times of crises, we do have instances when people seek solace in anything. We have seen faces appearing on potatoes and other vegetables and the Virgin Mother’s bleeding tears and a milk-guzzling Ganesha deity.

There are auras and paranormal phenomena that cannot be explained logically or scientifically. One is not dismissing these. But, let us not assume that such miracles will solve harsh social, economic and political problems. And most certainly it is time that the media stopped making everything into a terrorist issue. The poor kid’s mother is unlikely to pronounce such views when her child runs a high fever and has been seriously ill.

Whoever is behind this marketing ploy should think about the child first.

As for miracles, I suppose it is possible to see them everywhere – in nature, in people, in every single day that we wake up. And in the face of such unquestioning devotion, to manage a little cynicism is a miracle too!


Manna Dey gets an award or a token?

Why does everyone feel so humble? Is this a sign of true greatness always? If I were Manna Dey, I’d either sit quietly with a glass of honeyed water and keep doing my riyaz, as he indeed does, or tell those blokes who decide on giving national awards to go stuff it.

A man has sung over 3000 songs, is over 90 years old and some politicians and bureaucrats decide they need to give him something he can die peacefully with? What nonsense. This has been happening for years and these awards have become just a plaything for some people. Who knows? Some babu must have been sitting with his cheap rum at a sidey club and heard the strains of some Mannada song, maybe “Ai meri zohra jabeen” and his wife blushed thinking he looked so happy and hummed along for her, this tubby hubby of hers who spends time pushing files away from his desk and looking for every opportunity to show his power.

So, she is smiling and saying, “O ji, such a lhuuvly song. Reminds me of old days…” even if those old days were as exciting as parathas on the tawaa. Husband realises in his slightly tipsy state that there is this singer and he should propose his name for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award. And they all gather and say, “Haan ji…

These are mostly such haan ji moments.

To say that Manna De deserved it would be reducing him.

I cannot say I like everything he sang and I find that number from Zanjeer, "Yaari hai imaan mera, yaar meri zindagi" execrable. I also do not like his rendition of "Pyaar hua, iqraar hua, pyaar se phir kyon darta hai dil”. This is an out and out Shanker-Jaikishen triumph.

His range was in the songs, not the voice (the exception being "Eik chatur naar" from Padosan). And I say was because of his old songs. "Poochcho na kaise maine raen bitayee" and "Sur na saje kya gaaoon main" have very strong memories. They were sung at our house since I was a child, a state so pure that it recognises purity and ensures it retains.

I personally like this one because it is so quiet…like a pin in the haystack. It can still hurt. And make you ache…

Ye kooche ye neelaamghar - Manna Dey

Ask the vexpert - 20

Question: I am a 24-year-old man and I will be getting married soon. I have the following questions: a) When does a man wear a condom — before or after getting an erection? b) Of what use are flavoured and dotted condoms? c) Are there female condoms? If so, how are they worn? d) If one masturbates everyday, can he still experience night fall?

Sexpert: a) A man wears a condom after getting an erection. Buy a packet and read the instructions on the pack. b) Flavoured condoms are used for oral sex. There is no need of using them with a trusted partner. Other kinds of condoms help heighten pleasure. c) Female condoms have been recently made available in India. They are inserted in the vagina and cover the vulva area d) Why the compulsive habit? I suggest you undergo premarital counselling along with your partner.

  • a) A man must wear a condom before an erection so he knows how much area to fill up. It is an exercise in upward mobility.
  • b) Flavoured condoms are like fragrances and give the penis a distinct identity so that it becomes identifiable. It will tell the woman whether you are a fruity person or a spicy one; the dotted ones just add an extra dimension as garments do. All this talk about giving extra pleasure to a woman is mere talk. Why would any woman get excited seeing little pimples?
  • c) The female condom is not meant to be worn. It is kept aside to send a message to the man that she is not interested in his babies.
  • d) You can see all the sunrises you want – will that stop you from looking at the moon?


The Bad, the Bible and Babel

God is one rocking muse. Some writer or the other uses religion as allegory, metaphor, reinterpretation. Some religious group or the other is offended.

Jose Saramago who won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature has written a book Cain that has been described as an ironic retelling of the Biblical story of Cain, Adam and Eve's son who killed his younger brother Abel.

I assume since he has titled the book after the bad guy, it would be a bit rebellious and off-track. However, his one comment resulted in some intellectual fracas. He said:

“The Bible is a manual of bad morals (which) has a powerful influence on our culture and even our way of life. Without the Bible, we would be different and probably better people.”

It is intriguing that for one who is seeking to upset the apple cart of Eden he is concerned about morals, bad or otherwise. If morality is about values that formulate and to an extent formalise social mores, then those would not be uniform and specific to any one society. Is there anything like the Catholic or even Christian culture outside of the realm of religion? Morality learned through belief systems is essentially a conduit between conscience and this way of life thing.

With or without the Bible or any religious text we would be denied this channel. The probabilities of being better depends on what we perceive as good, and the good and bad are again dependent on value systems as well as social behaviour.

Saramago has been accused of being a publicity seeker. It is possible that he does not mind a bit of controversy, and his book is indeed using an aspect of the Bible so it would be a fair exploitation on his part. That apart, what could be the reason for his comment that the book would not offend Catholics or the Church “because they do not read the Bible”? Had he said that it would not offend his readers because they are not religious or they think with an open mind, it would make sense. This, unfortunately, does not.

Does he mean it is not read or read? The Bible has sold more copies than many books and it is entirely possible that Catholics would not read it with much interest beyond what faith dictates, which is true of any religious text. It is also true that many regressive fairytales are being reinterpreted, which is also true for holy texts. Have the updated fairytales had any influence to change mindsets? Is the addition of gender ambiguous ideas enough?

The author believes that his work might offend Jews but he does not care. I find it a bit disconcerting that he has made all these slots about who it will offend and how much. I read that in 1992 he had caused a scandal in Portugal with The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. The book depicted Jesus losing his virginity to Mary Magdalene and being used by God to control the world.

It seems like an interesting idea and there have been works that have tried to analyse the role of Mary Magdalene. As for control, whether anyone writes about it or not, the belief that Jesus is deified for having “died on the Cross for us” is a manner of control. The psychological dimensions of it are right inside the Bible.

Saramago attacked “a cruel, jealous and unbearable God (who) exists only in our heads”. I find the use of such words in a report rather amusing. How can one attack a god one does not believe in and who exists only in our heads? And why expend so much energy on one who is cruel, jealous and unbearable?

We all have demons on our heads, and they have little to do with god or the devil. They have to do with our circumstances and how much we internalise aspects of it. It is our baggage and our tag, both.

These, in fact, could help elevate us to be better since we become more aware about the bad, and consequently the good. The ugly is our reserve player for those bad hair and dare days.

Who do I tell?

Burn, burn in love and such wait it is that you cannot tell anyone about it. Sublime. Ashes.

Jaloon tere pyaar mein karoon intezar tera
kisi se kahaa jaaye na

Saanwre tore bina joya jaaye na - Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan


RDX? Catch a Kashmiri...

A cricketer from Kashmir was arrested at the T20 Tournament in Bangalore. Why?

The drama started early in the morning when the private agency tasked with security at the stadium reported that a detector was beeping, indicating explosives within 300 metres. Alerted, the Karnataka anti-terrorism squad moved in at 6.30 am and narrowed their search to the rooms in the Karnataka State Cricket Association Club House on the eastern side of the stadium. The J&K under-22 team had checked in on Friday night for a match in the C K Nayudu tournament from October 21.

The cops were led by sniffer dogs to room 105, occupied by Pervez Rasool and Mehrajuddin. The detectors went off in the room and the cops zeroed in on Rasool’s kit bag, which they suspected had traces of explosives. Immediately Rasool was taken in for questioning. Mehrajuddin was asked to accompany him.

Some questions:

  • Do the security agencies run a check of the grounds everyday? These matches are to begin on the 21st.
  • What else was within the 300 metre radius?
  • What does ‘suspected the kit of containing traces of RDX’ mean?
  • Later, it is reported, the stadium was sanitised. Why was the stadium sanitised if the RDX traces were only in the kit?

This was deemed a terror scare, and these things are not unlikely anywhere. But here is what happened later:

M R Pujar, additional commissioner in charge of law & order and security in Bangalore, said: “A young man was taken for questioning by police but he has subsequently been released without charge. Police and security experts have checked the stadium twice, as well as the suspicious bag, but nothing of concern has been found.’’

So, is one to assume that traces of RDX are not of any concern anymore? Why was the player released? What is the idea behind sending the kit to the forensic lab if you have let him off and the cops say there is no evidence? Isn’t there a possibility that someone will tamper with that kit now that they have been proved wrong and all their terror dreams have come to naught?

What? It is rare to see a J&K team, and it is important that they are playing.

We have had instances of match fixing and other dubious deals in the past even as betting for high stakes continues. That seems to have become legitimate. You need some terror threat at any given time to make things interesting. And what better than a Kashmiri.


Gubernatorially Yours

It really seemed as much of a big deal as any sort of feedback. Or as small as any pesky spam.

So, when one fine day I got an email from the ambassador of a certain country my first reaction was 'troll'. He had talked about an exchange of ideas, had given his personal email address and phone number.

I did what protocol demands and wrote back to say thank you and blah. But, remember, ideas had to be exchanged? I waited it out. What was the worst that could happen if I called? Someone would have a good laugh? I'd like that. For anyone to go to such trouble just for a little laughter would tell me a lot about the state of that mind. But I digress.

I dialled the number and it was a foreign accent. I relaxed a bit. Caution did not leave, though.

"Who am I speaking to?" I asked uncharacteristically and impolitely.

"Er...who would you like to speak to?"

"Ok. It's like this. I got a letter from someone saying he wants an exchange of ideas. "

"Oh..." (How was he to remember that?)

"So, do you?"

"One moment. Who do you wish to speak to?"

"My name is FV. Are you...hmm...excellen..." Damn. I was supposed to say "Your" but the PA who had sent the attached note had said "His". So, my tongue was in this conflict zone between His and Yours and how can he be your?

"Yes," he said simply. "My name is X. Now I recall."

"Yes. But you know how it is. I thought you were some crank," I said with a straight face he could not see.

"I perfectly understand. Even in our profession we have to be careful. "

"I was not worried, just wanted to be sure. What ideas do you want to exchange?"

"I read you but want to understand the mind. We must open all channels. I have worked in Y country and know it is important."

"Let me be honest. I write only what I want to. But I can exchange ideas. "

"Exactly. You tell me when."

"Yes. Your Excel..."


(The initials used here are fictitious and any resemblance to characters with similar initials is purely fictitious.)

Sunday ka Funda

This is supposed to be a sign whose message has gone askew, one of those blubbering idiot things that makes us smile.

Yet, from the point of view of the sign, the arrow is pointing in the right direction. For us it may be wrong. So, how do we decide what is right? Where we are or where we are going or where we are directed to?


Marquez's Whores and a Porn Star

A 90-year-old bachelor decides to give himself the gift of a night with an adolescent virgin. This happens in life and it takes place in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's latest novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Anti-prostitution groups are objecting to a movie being made on this work. They believe it will promote child prostitution.

Literature, cinema, art have always been questioned along these lines. It is assumed that fewer readers get influenced than viewers. The possibility of the visual being more straightforward and tangible does have definite and definitive appeal. I wonder why no one is concerned about 90-year-old men, then.

If it is assumed that young girls will watch a film and think of joining the profession, then won’t this spur on elderly men? It has in fact happened when a German offered to pay a huge sum and wanted to die in the act. He wanted to reach a climax the right way. We have had Lolitas and Geishas in various forms.

The protestors ought to divert their attention to the large number of children who are already plying the trade. The virgin is a big draw, and in India it has got religious sanction in the form of the devadasi cult where a girl in some families was offered to a deity, but is exploited by the priests and the feudal lords of the area. That many of them later find themselves in the red light areas is evidence enough that the racket is flourishing.

Cinema does have responsibility, but not merely to protect people from the truth. And young children are very much desired. I have not read the book, but at a psychological level I can imagine how men might find them non-threatening – a harking back to their callow youth.
- - -
In another report, there was this precious headline: ‘Porn star barred from fully-clothed role’

It is ridiculous. Maria Ozawa, of mixed Japanese and Canadian parentage, has been described as one of Asia’s most successful pornographic film actresses. A report states that she “does not look like an obvious candidate for the blacklist…she is not a terrorist, journalist, or a convicted criminal. But Ozawa has been forced to cancel her arrival in Jakarta on Thursday in a row that has drawn in Islamic fundamentalists, feminists and others”.

Can someone please elaborate? Who are these others? Why would feminists have a problem with her being a journalist or a convicted criminal? Indonesia, like several countries, does have a problem with pornography even though it might be hugely popular in private. No wonder the account is breathless:

Although little known in the West, she has surpassed even acting legends such as Pamela Anderson as the most searched for celebrity on Indonesia’s internet version of Google.

Since when did Pamela Anderson become an acting legend?

As happens often, the crux is to hit out at “conservative Islamic organisations in the latest round in an ongoing debate about sexual morality”.

The supposedly fully-clothed role was to be a comedy “about a group of teenagers obsessed with Ozawa’s work who ‘accidentally kidnap’ her as she is attempting to escape from a mob of fans. The screenplay ends happily with the adult star settling down in Jakarta, where she opens a lingerie shop”.

Why would they be obsessed with her work? Why does she settle down? Is Jakarta the only place where she can open a lingerie store? And why only lingerie? Why not nuts and bolts?

The Indonesian Ulema Council has put its foot down: “If someday we approve the film, many teenagers will see it, then after that they will idolise her and we are worried that they will eventually seek out her porn films.”

You know what? They are technically more right than those anti-Marquez film protesters. For, this is not based on a classic; it has populist appeal and shows teenagers in awe of her body of work, so to speak. They are bound to find out what lies beneath those clothes, if they already don’t know.

If the filmmakers are so keen on the subject, they could cast someone else in the role, could they not?

In both instances, however, we are dealing with situations where women are the objects of desire. It would be foolish to assume a self-righteous posture and say that they may not enjoy it. The difference lies in the details. Ozawa has made the choice; a child prostitute does not. The influence of the former is greater on the general psyche because she is not catering to individual but herd instincts.

It is herds that decide on social behaviour and values.

End note:

‘The Taliban in Orissa’…

I am surprised they did not use such a headline for the following report:

Residents of a village near Soro in Orissa’s Balasore district dragged a woman by her hair, tied her to a tree at a marketplace and then flogged her after accusing her of prostitution. The villagers even shot the barbaric act with a video camera.

I can imagine the reaction. Oh, but the men were caught. They were denied bail. The cops rescued the woman.

Will we see how the case is followed up? Will we?

Venky’s Chicken

He is obviously doing more than going through his emails. In today’s Times of India he has reacted to the reactions to his reaction about the woes of his inbox. He has apologised for “inadvertently” hurting people.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was quite candid as I mentioned in the earlier post. He talked about people bothering him. So, what is this?

I want to make it clear that I was delighted to hear from scientific colleagues and students whom I had met personally in India and elsewhere, as well as close friends with whom I had lost touch. Unlike real celebrities like movie stars, we scientists generally lead a quiet life, and are not psychologically equipped to handle publicity. So I found the barrage of emails from people whom I didn’t know or whom I only knew slightly almost 40 years ago (nearly all from India) difficult to deal with.

And he was psychologically savvy enough to hit out? Did he know the Nobel Committee? And did he not say he congratulated the person who called to inform him about the prize for his Swedish accent, assuming it was a crank call? So, if he can answer phone calls from strangers, he is going to get emails from strangers.

People have also taken offence at my comment about nationality being an accident of birth. However, they don’t seem to notice the first part of the sentence: We are all human beings.

I noticed the whole comment and reproduced it. Being human beings is an obvious fact and even those who go into space don’t cease being human beings. I wish he had the courage of his convictions and stood up for what he had said instead of this rubbish:

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

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

Finally, at a personal level, although I am westernized, many aspects of culture like a love for classical Indian music or South Indian or Gujarati food are simply a part of me.

So? I know westerners who love our cuisine and music and culture. What is he trying to prove? He has even given an interview about riding bicycles and all those wonderful memories. Why did he not think about them before shooting off his mouth about some professor making tall claims? Did these memories not seem important then?

Some of us had taken what he said in the right spirit, respecting his privacy and right to be not an Indian. He has, unfortunately, decided to do a 360 degree turn and come across as extremely patronising:

I am personally not that important. If I hadn’t existed, this work would still have been done. It is the work that is important, and that should be what excites people. Finally, there are many excellent scientists in India and elsewhere who will never win a Nobel. But their work is no less interesting and people should find out about what they do. My visits to India confirm that it has great potential and bright young students. A little less nationalistic hero worship will go a long way to fulfil that potential.

We know there is potential. While there are a few of us who do not believe in blind nationalistic worship, there are others who do so. That is why we have Gandhi and Nehru cults. How will less hero worship tap potential? He says he was excited about Gellman’s work and it did not matter what his nationality was. True. So, Indians also worship Michael Jackson and Angelina Jolie. What potential will they be fulfilling? And will anyone take him on about the “less nationalistic” advice? No. Because we are idiots. We will throw stones at our own when they point out certain hard facts, but not at this man.

Is it only about his inbox? If all this was unimportant, he would not be writing this defensive little piece. He would have gone on with his work instead of telling us about how we must look for potential and learn from his work, his roots notwithstanding. Fine. As I said, people will move on. He should too. And I hope he has the good sense now to let go and get into his quiet life and further tap his potential. The Nobel is not the end of the world, as he has so self-deprecatingly implied. Now all he has to do is stop holding forth on India, although the adulation will certainly be hugely appealing.

We are happy for him in his heavenly abode – the West.


Hey, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, you've NOT got mail

I am so glad our Nobel laureate has said what he has.

“All sorts of people from India have been writing to me, clogging up my email box. It takes me an hour or two to just remove their mails. Do these people have no consideration? It is OK to take pride in the event, but why bother me? There are also people who have never bothered to be in touch with me for decades who suddenly feel the urge to connect. I find this strange.”

There are two levels on which I adore this comment.

1. He is not upto silly public relations and seeking of roots. I guess in his field it won’t matter much; an atom and molecule here or there won’t really pull at heart strings, unlike, say, a Salman Rushdie who can really get us all worked up because he is working on us. So, good going.

2. This business of thinking every Indian is really Indian makes no sense. I know the expats get irritated when I say it but here is one of you saying it in so many words, words that are far from polite, whether it would be in the gentle temple town of Chidambaram or the robust Punjab.

You won’t find him returning to be garlanded and have tilak put on his forehead and talk about how rich our culture is and how much he would like to dig into the rasam rice. He does not give a damn, and I am glad. We have enough of these Johnnies in New Jersey trying to claim heritage and crap. This man knows that some teacher at Annamalai University is faking it when he says that Venkatraman was his student. He must qualify as a true child prodigy for he left India when he was only three. He has called it “all sorts of lies”.

Ramakrishnan said it was good if his winning the Nobel Prize encouraged people to take interest in science.

“But I, personally, am not important. The fact that I am of Indian origin is even less important. We are all human beings, and our nationality is simply an accident of birth.”

Great. I almost said ‘saar’ and then realised he would not know what that meant. I’d have to say jolly good, now that he is not even in the US.

However, I would like to know if he will indulge in such plain talking when the heads of countries congratulate him. If being Indian is of no value, and it ought not to be given that he was so little when he left, then he should be able to tell them to just chill. I mean, no one sends congratulatory notes to an accident of birth. He could have been born in Jhumri Tallaiyya and no one would have cared. Now Tamil Nadu and Surat and all of India think their dharti putra (son of the soil) has won. Some may even be planning to invite him. Fuhgetit. He is not playing ball. He might like to tell his father not to go around giving interviews about the Indianness, though.

As for the belief that people will take more interest in science because of his victory, this is temporary. It happens when someone goes to space or cracks a code. No one is mastering spelling after a girl of Indian origin won the Spelling Bee contest.

Given the number of Indian restaurants doing brisk business in the West, we have not had a surfeit of people getting interested in food. We just like to celebrate anything.

So, here is a short note to him:

Sorry about all those emails telling you nice-nice things about things no one knows or understands. Or, someone asking you about how is life and all that, as though you are interested in such small things. You are now big man and I am not flooding your inbox because I am fully understanding how inbox is suffering because of overweight. We Indians are like that only, eating and eating and getting fat. Not working out. But obesity is American problem also. You not knowing because you are busy with test tubes.

But, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, one day when the Western press asks you about anything on India, and they just might – about its foreign policy, its poverty, its global leap - please do not give your opinion. Even though you may be well-read, speak as a foreigner, not as one who knows. Coz, although you might remember the ground as you learned to crawl here, you don’t know the ground realities.

India does not count to you, and we respect that. For some of us, the chemistry prize could have gone to some Maori tribal. We don’t give a tosh. Oh, that reminds me to start deleting all those emails that are choking my inbox. You have to pay the price for fame; I have to pay the price for just being an Indian trying hard to be seen as one.

Rib-o-some, eh?

Rahul's Pakistan and Arnie's Sikhs

In recent times, Rahul Gandhi has made a few small strides in appealing to public sentiment for things other than the cuteness factor.

Now the cute boy is acting all grown up:

“India is giving too much time to its neighbour. It is not even half as important as we are making it. India cannot be compared to Pakistan in world affairs... India has a larger role and status internationally... Pakistan shall occupy a small piece of our diplomatic policy. I do not wish to talk even for five minutes about Pakistan,’’ he said, refuting the charge that Delhi faced embarrassment after the joint declaration at Sharm el-Sheikh.

He is right about us being obsessed with Pakistan. But why has he woken up now? How does pitting ourselves against that country, as he is in fact doing, make it less important? If you don’t think something is worth it then do not say that we are better. You can be better than something that occupies the same space – in real terms or in your mind.

To get to the more crucial aspect of diplomatic policy, this is a rather juvenile statement. The small part is enough to cause us untold agony. And this small part is more crucial than attending some G-string summit, because it has to do with a stretch of land more than anything else. Pakistan is not interested in how much we are shining and our GDP. Pakistan is interested in Kashmir; we are interested in Kashmir. And, guess what? Kashmiris are interested in Kashmir. So, we will have to spend more than five minutes on anything to do with Pakistan. I know it is a heck of a long time for someone who is busy tasting different kinds of Dalit cuisine, but tough luck.

- - -

How many Sikhs do you know in your regular life who go around carrying kirpans?

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a Bill seeking to educate law enforcement officers about the religious significance of kirpans, one of the five Ks that Sikh religion expects its followers to adhere to.

“This loss for the Sikh community is a reminder of our serious lack of political clout in this state. After months of hard work and 100 per cent support from our lawmakers, the Sikh voice was still not strong enough to overcome the whim of one man,” said Prabhjot Singh, chairman of the advocacy group Sikh Coalition.

Over the last few years, there has been a sudden rise in the arrests of Sikhs nationwide for carrying kirpans. In most cases, the Sikh Coalition said, the police take kirpans to be concealed weapons.

Like religious resurgence and identifiable marks in many societies, it is happening among the Sikhs too. This is not about clothes or beliefs. A weapon is a weapon. How would teaching the cops about its religious significance make it less worrisome? Would Sikhs in the US expect to board flights with their kirpans when people are not allowed to carry tweezers? I would be curious to know how many of them wear kachhas, the boxer shorts sort of undergarment. Is it feasible to wear it beneath tight jeans? These are supposed to be visible symbols to display faith, and the kirpan is to be used only as protection and self-defence.

When the Sikhs had to distance themselves after 9/11 from terrorists, they used their different faith. Now, it is their different faith that is being asked to follow what everyone considers mainstream norms of the United States of America, and it does have to do with security issues. American lobbies are pretty strong against the gun culture too.

So, does anyone have anything to say about Arnie and his move?


When Jews won't take a lift...

I have entered lifts with too many people breathing one another’s breaths. It is probably unhygienic and a security risk. I have pressed buttons, real ones, without knowing that some people in the world think that doing so after sunset on Friday until Saturday’s sunset is a “desecration of the Sabbath”.

That this has become an issue that Jews are concerned about in New York City and not some remote Taliban-like rugged turf should get our liberals to raise eyebrows. But, will they? I doubt it.

The report in the NYT has a deadpan tone. Almost as though it is perfectly acceptable:

But last week, newly added to the tenant issues facing building managers like Harold M Jacob, who runs a co-op where Orthodox Jews inhabit a substantial portion of the 2,500 apartments, was this almost ontological question: Does that elevator “know” how many people are on it?

Ontological? Is this anywhere close to the metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence?

Ever since elevators became the norm with the construction of high-rise buildings, concessions were made for the 39 activities prohibited during the Sabbath. Use of electrical devices is one of them. Pressing buttons constitutes such activity.This had got the Knesset involved and made it mandatory in Israel to designate one lift in a building as ‘Shabbos’, the good one that automatically stopped on every floor so that Orthodox Jews did not have to press any buttons and could spend their Sabbath within the accepted religious realm.

After a meeting with technicians, it was recently discovered that even Shabbos elevators have devices that automatically measure the weight of the lift car and adjust the power. It has resulted in seeking to ban them.

In a world that is sitting in judgement about other faiths and their strict adherence to them and making it out to be as though they are backward and not moving with the times, this sort of observance will not be questioned with much harshness.

Why? Because these people are educated? They have made money and can live in the heart of New York? They have a strong lobby within America? An apartment block that has 2500 residents and several other issues now being forced to think about pressing buttons in lifts is ridiculous.

How many of you have heard about Jews being made fun of because of their obsession with the kosher? They don’t eat pork. They are circumcised. The orthodox among them wear clothes as per the Talmudic laws wherever they are or go. Does it not strike anyone as unusual that rabbis are having meetings about this and how the community follows the belief?

Oh, so you will turn around and say, they don’t have suicide bombers. They don’t do this and they don’t do that. Kindly visit Gaza. If you can get there. An educated community that stops essential provisions from reaching people who belong to the land is hardly educated.

Incidentally, Palestinians are among the most educated people in the world. But a boy in Gaza has to ride a donkey painted with stripes to mimic a zebra because he has never seen a zebra in his life. His world, though, is black and white. And if he grows up, unless he gets killed, he will see the world as a monochrome reality.

The Jews in the world outside can continue to think of important issues about where the lift stops. The buck will never stop at their door.

Sunday ka Funda


Nobel Salvages?

Herta Muellar is not going to cringe with defeat and anger, but until October 8 I had not heard about her. In the knowledge stakes that makes me ignorant without the accompanying bliss.

There are two sides to the Nobel Prize for Literature coin. It either goes for straight the straight or the  obscure. And then it makes both categories look like they are accessible and profound.

I am sure that despite her limited exposure outside Romania and Germany, Muellar was also read by the Swedish Academy. She made the citation easy for them as she belongs to an ethnic minority: Her work was lauded for “the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed”.

You might want to know what concentration of poetry is. I wanted to. So I sat myself down and began to think of what it could mean. It probably conveys focus and precision; I imagine free verse is not looked down upon by these Academy people.

You might want to know what frankness of prose is. I know about purple prose, prose that drifts or drags, prose that hits out like a whiplash, prose that is too descriptive, prose that is sparse or lean, prose that is emotive, prose that challenges you with metaphors. But frankness of prose? Mind you, it is not frank prose, which might be abrasive, brusque, blunt, straightforward. It is to be understood here that prose by itself wears a mantle of honesty and Ms. Muellar, having adopted this form, is by default honest.

The way the Nobel Committee has been putting people on dole is quite simply ridiculous.

They got some Romanian actor – and again I am completely illiterate – called Ion Caramitru, an anti-communist who we are told rode atop a tank to the television station in Bucharest during the 1989 revolt and now heads the country’s national theatre to say something. So, he said, “She is a very sincere writer and wrote about what happened to her and this is something that must have impressed the judges. This prize is the international recognition of the oppression of what happened in Romania and Eastern Europe.”

I must add here that we are going beyond Muellar. Someone suggested that the Nobel for Literature is concentrated in Europe. The Guardian said it is about “expanding our concept of Europe”.  How many of the op-ed writers who have been talking glowingly about the writer had read any of her work before the Prize was announced? Is it not customary for newspapers to put their literary hacks on the job to do a quick read even as the bookies are busy betting? I understand that such queries are not posed regarding other fields, mainly because they are honed in laboratories and not out for public scrutiny.

Muellar was critical of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule and her country’s feared secret police; she was later censored.

Whether a writer chooses to write about the dispossessed or the possessed, it is as influential as an affectation we acquire upon watching a film character or someone we might idolise. It must be understood that writers too work in labs where they might experiment with form and language and thoughts.

Since the factual cannot be pinned down, we need to grow out of this into interpretation. Interpretations can be feted as just that. And literature may give us hours and hours of pleasure and insight, but it has less impact in tangible terms than how to stop aging or how to kill bacteria by decoding the structure of ribosomes.

It sounds like treason towards the fraternity of writers but if dead bacteria can give me a better life then I can write too. And I promise to put all the forces at work to allow my work “the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose”. As a bonus I shall throw in a bit of what lies in-between.

- - -

This brings us to how proteins are built by ribosomes. I had heard about proteins but knew zilch about ribosomes. I am still grappling with it, and not because an Indian scientist is sharing an award in chemistry for decoding the extra structure of this character which everyone in the scientific world happens to know about. I got interested because haemoglobin is a protein and I am obsessively attached to this haemoglobin for personal reasons.

I got even more interested when I read that “To understand the working of the ribosome is to understand one of the key processes of life” and it can have “staggering implications for human healthcare and synthesing newer antibiotics. This knowledge can be turned around to disable the ribosomes of hostile bacteria that cause diseases in human body. Already many antibiotics are using this knowledge to kill invading bacteria. They target the ribosomes in the bacteria and stop its functioning. Result: the bacteria dies.”

Scientists Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of India, Thomas A. Steitz of US and Ada E. Yonath of Israel worked along the same lines and this is the result of their combined knowledge. Now for all the dead bacteria in the world in the coming years we can thank them.

Muslims, the love jihad and Advani’s dreams

This fellow is quite a hoot.

Alleging that ‘love jihad’ was the latest tool being used by miscreants to promote anti-national activities, Shri Rama Sene chief Pramod Muthalik said his organisation would launch a nation-wide agitation against it.

Aww…so every Muslim male is a suspect? Every college girl is pliable? What survey? You talk to a couple of girls going out with Muslim men and you have results?

What about those who marry Hindus? Should we assume that those women and men are not anti-national only because they are not Muslims? Who is this Rama Sene to decide on patriotism? Will its chief have the courage to target celebrities who are married to Hindus? Is the issue only of conversion?

On a recent flight, the young woman sitting next to me got chatting. After covering one quarter of the world’s nationalities and half the states of India, she still did not get an answer to “Where are you actually from?” I love that actually. Mumbai is not actual in anyone’s book and these days after the crash-landing saying 'moon' won’t work besides it being too cheesy. I was left with no option but to accept my fate. Muslim, I said, feeling a lump in my throat and everywhere lumps are possible. I mean, it was an emotional moment.

Her eyes widened, and I know it for a fact for she had small eyes. “Oh?”

“Well, yes,” I shrugged, imagining she would now hold herself away, look at my rather nice handbag suspiciously or even the ring she liked. It might hold something damaging. I put on the best jihadi face I could manage, you know narrowing of eyes and wicked grin.

She turned enthusiastically, “Tell me, why don’t you Muslims allow people to marry outside?”

“They do. But there is not a policy decision. Why do you ask?”

“I am seeing this Muslim guy for four years and now his parents say they won’t let him marry a Hindu.”

“As long as he stands by you…and I hope they are not expecting you to convert.”

“I don’t mind that.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. What is there to convert? You just say some prayers, no?”

“Well…So, what is their problem?”

“I don’t know. His mother will go to spa and all but she should understand that a Hindu girl is also a human being.”

“The spa won’t teach her that. And if both of you are sure, it should not be a problem.”

“I know it will, so we will continue like that for as long as we can and then go our separate ways.”

“Is it so easy?”

“That is the practical decision.”

She did not think of him as anti-national. She was willing to convert. And the stole she had wrapped round her neck was because her mother wanted it that way.

I had no intention of getting into a discussion on Islam and she was most certainly not up to anything beyond chit-chat. She shared something because she felt that she could get a point of view from a Muslim who looked like she went to the spa. I guess it’s time for me to.

- - -

On what grounds are Bihar schools being forced to teach Urdu? That the initiative comes from the JD (U)-BJP government is surprising, but as the report clearly implies it has to do with getting Muslim votes. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said:

“We will be appointing Urdu teachers in every state-run school to enable the students learn the language.”

This is fascism. What is the percentage of Urdu-speaking people in the state? On what grounds do we assume that all Muslims are conversant with Urdu? A Muslim in Kerala or Gujarat will fumble with the basics of the language. And even in Uttar Pradesh it will be the elite that will speak it with some fluency. In most states, even if people speak Urdu, there will be a regional flavour to it.

There is no doubt that it is a lovely language and must get exposure, but there ought not to be any compulsion. If Bihar wants to expose its youngsters to a wider variety, then why not include Marathi or Malayalam?

The state language is Maithili and Bhojpuri and most Bihari ministers cannot even speak Hindi well. So, let’s cut out the nonsense. It might help if Urdu teachers refused to become a part of this political game.

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L.K.Advani was in Vashi for an election meeting and after all the baloney about water, electricity and roads – yeah, these don’t matter – he came to the crux:

“It is my cherished dream to have a ‘bhavya’ (beautiful) Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.”

Why would the Vashi voter be interested in what happens in Ayodhya? Why would the Vashi voter care about Advani’s dream? How would the Vashi voter know how beautiful it will be? Is Advani an architect? Why is the temple’s beauty of importance? Where will the money come from? Of course, the Vashiwallas will have to continue with water shortage, bad roads and power cuts. So that a man can realise his dream.

The crowd cheered. It does not mean they are thrilled. It is because the candidate had managed to get a few people to hold banners. People are not stupid, but politicians are.

That’s not the end:

Advani also spoke of his other dream, of having American style debates for political candidates, like the presidential debates in the US.

What will they debate? The colour of the sanctum? How much gold to cover Lord Rama with? Will it be a cradle or a throne? Oh, this is an issue – are we going to display the deity as an innocent child or a mature adult? What will better help us market India as a global phenomenon?

Advaniji is like Kumbhakaran*. He must sleep so much for how else would he dream so much?

Kumbhakaran was Ravana’s brother in the epic Mahabharata who was cursed to sleep for months on end. I am implying this aspect of his personality and not the other one in which he ate everything, including humans, upon waking up. Nah. Advaniji comes across as someone who’d be picky about his meals.