Lindt it or lump it?

Minarets don’t really float my boat, but to ban them? That too in Switzerland by a referendum from the people. 57.5 percent voted in favour. It has been opposed by the Swiss government, parliament, business groups and churches but given the thumbs up by the Right wing Swiss People’s Party.

Here are a few issues raised and it reveals the hollowness that has come to apply to political discourses:

There are only four minarets among the tens of thousands of church spires in Switzerland but the SVP campaigned against them as a symbol of Islamic political influence, which it claimed could eventually undermine the nation's Christian values and democracy.

Since when has Switzerland become a Christian nation? Values cannot be politicised. Minarets do not stand for political influence. Muslims constitute about five percent of the population, and they are mostly from East Europe which can hardly claim to be symbols of Islam.

The spires are traditionally used to make the call for prayers at mosques but Swiss noise control regulations have already stopped them from being used for that purpose; instead, they became an architectural symbol of the Islamic faith. The ban on minarets does not stop the building of mosques, and Muslims were still free to practise their faith.

This is weird. A muezzin could shout from atop a dome as well. And what about church bells? Personally, I am against the call to the faithful at unearthly hours and would rather they invest in alarm clocks, but to use this as a stick to beat a community with is ridiculous.

Embarrassed government spokesmen agreed that the ban would "serve the interests of extremist circles" only, and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey claimed that a yes vote "could make Switzerland a target for Islamic terrorism".

Wow. Even when they are decrying the ban, they are slyly suggesting that this could result in a backlash. Did they want it? Switzerland was not attacked in the two world wars. During the First war, Lenin lived there; it managed to remain unscathed during the WW 11 by playing along with the Germans, although it did not fall into the Nazi trap.

If it has managed to work its way around such major upheavals in history what is the fear now? Mosques have been attacked these past two weeks.

Ulrich Schluer, an SVP politician has been holding forth:

"We compare our situation to Germany, France or England and the problems they have in their suburbs. That is what we do not want here. Mosques are not part of freedom of religion. This is not against Islam. The minaret is a symbol . . . of conquest and power, which marks the will to introduce Shariah law as in other European cities. We will not accept that".

Obviously, someone needs a few lessons in history. How is it not against Islam if it assumes that Shariah law will be introduced? Civil society building mosques is going to now connote conquest?

The problem is that many of these nations will market their goods, send their expertise to Arab countries and bask in the special privileges they get there, but at home they treat immigrants with suspicion.

I have already talked about the breach in the White House security. This was no terrorist attack.

I understand the need for societies to retain their own identity, but what can five per cent of the population do? Are we trying to use examples of a few terrorists? There is no way to justify those acts, but how many people are gunned down in campuses, how many people are murdered, how many fanatics of different stripes – and not just religion – walk around selling their ideologies? What about those versions of ‘shariah’? No one can impose a religious law in a democracy. This bogey is deliberately created to marginalise some groups.

Businesses such as watch-maker Swatch and Switzerland's famous banking industry said they feared the ban could provoke expensive boycotts by Muslims around the world, while the Swiss government warned it could inflame tensions between religions.

Oh, sure. This is what the business lot would be concerned about. Here is news. Muslims, the real rich ones, are the Arabs. They will not boycott anything so long as it is kosher. Trade will continue. If they just kept quiet and went about with their Alps and stopped getting all jittery about something rising up towards the sky, there would be no problems. The rowdies may come out in the streets and make a noise. This seems deliberate.

In the form of direct referendum to get views, they could have asked people about more pressing issues. Why did they choose this? To please the rest of Europe? France, Germany? Perhaps the country should take a good look at itself and watch how the different sections of its own French and German sides are disparate and have an ongoing quiet battle on between them.

I only hope Muslims forget about it as a bad joke and go on with their jobs. They do work too, you know? And the Swiss can be certain that at least one Muslim here has worshipped at the altar of Sprungli. And will continue to do so.


Look Ma, No Bra

Long before I discovered the political fire of a brassiere bonfire, I decided that lift or sag I won’t fall for the boob trap. My resistance was personal and since it was way past capitalising on its ‘make a statement’ date I had to do with whimsical titology. Read more here.

Recently, a question that concerns the feminine mystique and mistake is this: Can you lift those up without wearing bras? Sure, if you’ve got 40 minutes to spare you can walk out with a Cup and Up and get to be perky for the rest of your life. No more getting gifts from partners that end up with you floating in those bowls because men come with Baywatch fantasies even though they cannot handle those. Or, if they are keeping in touch with trends you’d have to squeeze yourself in.

Eyal Gur, an Israeli researcher, has worked on this ‘internal bra’ described as “harnesslike”, which makes one think of some beasts that need to be kept in control. After a small surgery a centimetre below the skin cups like those used in regular bras are placed, then straps are fixed to the ribs with titanium screws between the breast and shoulders, and you are ready.

I did a little experiment on myself. I pinched a centimetre of me and while the cup part may not become visible the straps could unless you are very fleshy. I could not manage to pull at that centimetre near the shoulder.

Besides, even if it is for those who have a genuine problem how would it help? How would women check themselves for breast lumps? It is a serious concern. And, what if they lose weight naturally? What if they gain weight? The idea of those screws is quite ugh and there will be scars too. What happens to the nipples? Sudden arousal from airconditioners can be quite an embarrassment. Surely the undercover operation won’t be covering up the crucial area?

These new-fangled experiments to make us feel good are really a dampener. I am not impressed and cannot imagine a world where my silhouette would be the same everyday. Who wants to be a winner without Triumph?

Imagine not being able to linger near lingerie sections and then look through lace like it’s an unknown face.

- - -

The other day I went for an essential item of a colour I needed badly. I went to a shop in an old arcade that has not felt the need to smarten its act. I entered the shop I remembered as a child and an adolescent where I’d shyly look away as my mother made the purchases. It was around 11 AM and the store was cramped. I managed to find space and stood against the counter. The salesman while giving me the skin-coloured panties informed me that I should go for sea green as it would suit me!

Before I could snap at him, a Ms. Amazon pushed against me. “Excuse me, can you just wait?”

“I am not pushing; I am being pushed, so I am also pushing,” she said.

I had nowhere to push and the glass counter would have pieced through me had it been a sharp object.

The salesman realised that I wasn’t going to swim in sea green, so he shut the box. Yes, these were all in large boxes. Then he brought out one with much care and whispered, “Foreign.” I was supposed to in my excitement tear into those. He picked up one and stretched it. “Anyone can fit.” Images of Ms. Amazon and me sharing the same space flashed before me. “No, thanks.”

He got into overdrive and brought out a high-cut one and put his hand inside one leg. I told him I was done.

“Over? No bra?”

Ah, well, I could do with one.

“Size? Cup?” I told him while I pretended to feel up some Mickey Mouse undies.

He brought out something that even a nun would wear only if she desired to feel particularly stifled. I wanted something a bit, well, low cut.

“Madam, usmey se tau sab baahar niklega. (Madam everything will just spill out of it).”

If he was saying this to me, what would he tell Ms A still pushing me with her mammaries?

I was getting angry, by which time he had brought out something and stretched it. “Tee-shirt bra,” he declared.

“I don’t want one.”

“You can wear with other clothes also, it will look nice.”

Now I was ready with a mouthful. “I know what I want. If you don’t have it just tell me so.”

“My job is to tell you what is right and what is wrong.”

He was going all intimate clothing evangelical on me. By now Ms Amazon had moved away. “Look…” which was an error for he did precisely that. “Are you trying to teach me? Do you think this is my first time?”

I wanted to wipe out that grin from his face. Unrepentant, he brought out one with intricate shadow work. “Holes wallah chalega?” (Will one with holes do?)

Holey cow.

Muslims for Kurbani

Read this rubbish…

Mani Ratnam is planning to make a film called Azan. This is what a ‘source’ said:

Unlike the films releasing in Bollywood of late, which focuses on either Jehad or Islam, this is a pro-Muslim film which will portray Muslims in a positive light.

What exactly is a pro-Muslim film? Is someone saying we are going to make you look like little angels? Well, then, those angels are a part of Islam and also jihad if the term is understood.

Mani Ratnam, even in Bombay, a rather nice film on the riots and Hindu-Muslim alliances, did fall for the stereotypes when he showed the father of the girl as a butcher who even takes out an axe to protest against the relationship.

- - -

I have not watched Kurbaan, the latest flop on terrorism. But it is really funny that all the publicity while focussing on its producer Karan Johar also uses his pictures wearing glasses. As though that will make him more enlightened and sensitive!

- - -

Results of last poll:

Mumbai First Impressions

Cosmopolitan - 4 (15%); Money - 2 (7%); 26/11 - 2 (7%); 1993 riots - 2 (7%); Bollywood - 4 (15%); Slums - 6 (23%); Page 3 celebs - 0 (0%); Snobbery - 0 (0%); Immigrants - 1 (3%); Opportunity - 5 (19%)

I voted for opportunity.

Sunday ka Funda

Eskimo: "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?"
Priest: "No, not if you did not know."
Eskimo: "Then why did you tell me?"

- Annie Dillard
- - -
Anyhow, here is something to do on Sunday if you are already thinking about what not to do on Monday!


Gatecrashers, hoax calls...and then they wonder about security...

This sure wasn’t about being part of the hottest party at the White House al fresco dinner. You’ve already read about the couple who gate-crashed. It raises questions about security. The US creates this thing about how it must save itself from those monsters, and here two people, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, manage to not only be a part of the party but also pose for pictures with vice president Joe Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, three uniformed Marines and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi.

I understand it is assumed that those who are there have been invited and it is polite to take pictures. I’d be curious to know how they introduced themselves. If they did not, then it means that big ticket events are just another ruse for schmoozing. These guys had a reason, being celebrity wannabes who put up the photographs on Facebook. That is when the security agencies noticed the goof-up. Does it mean that now government agencies will have to depend on networking sites to get their information? Have we come to this sorry pass when citizens won’t know about the real risk potential until someone gloats about it on their ‘walls’?

Reports have said in a rather cavalier fashion that the couple did not get close to the President and weren’t a threat. They are saying this after it happened. What if they were a threat? Oh, of course, they look clean, they don’t fit a stereotype.

Therefore, the whole bogey is still about getting very, very scared only about certain types.
- - -
Certain types brings us to a question. Why would a year-old story resurface again providing no new information? This is about the hoax call made by the alleged killer of Daniel Pearl who pretended to be leaders of India and Pakistan and “heightened tension between the two countries following the Mumbai attacks”. The calls were made to Indian external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

“Omar Saeed Sheikh was the hoax caller. It was he who threatened the civilian and military leaderships of Pakistan over telephone. And he did so from inside Hyderabad Jail.”

I know that officials are corrupt and it is no big deal for criminals to procure phones inside prisons. Underworld dons in India continue to conduct business from the confines of their jails and even contest elections!

Shaikh’s wife gave him the information about the Mumbai carnage and when all the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were killed, he made a call, first to Pranab Mukherjee, posing as Zardari. Anyhow, when he was told they’d get back to him, he called up Zardari and Kayani.

The question is: how did he have the numbers of these high-powered leaders? Anyone who has heard Pranab Mukherjee speak will never forget it for the rest of their life, especially people who have to deal with him. I understand that terrorists are getting smarter, turning into linguists, but mimics too?

Can they just pick up the phone and talk to presidents and army chiefs and threaten them? I mean, how would Pranabda get aggressive? Would he call up to say, “Asheef boy, harm tomar log ka oopaar vaar kaarega” (Asif bhai we will wage war against you)? And “Koyoni shaab, kaun-troll koro apna army ko nahin to homora army tomar aadmi ko phinish kor lega” (Kayani saab, control your army or our army will finish your army)?

This Shaikh guy was released by us in the exchange during the Indian Airlines hostage crisis in 1999. They say he used a British SIM card. Isn’t this a bit unusual that such powerful men would assume that their counterpart in another country is calling them up from a number of a third country? What was the exact content of the threats?

The reports do not mention that. They managed to trace the source of the call and are “baffled by his cheekiness”. Baffled? Where is their security?

Who is being taken for a ride here? The political leaders? The army? Or the people? It is the people. This drama that is costing a precious paises to the Indian exchequer and making a mockery of the judiciary in both countries is going to be a long-lasting soap opera. Kasab will be our new Kashmir issue.

The most amusing part was a report in Rediff that said, “Sheikh was brought up and educated in the UK, and briefly attended the London School of Economics before dropping out to pursue a career in jihad.”

Now jihad has become a career and not a passion or a misguided decision by men of god?

Getting your goat

Irony could not get more amusing. Today is Eid al-adha. Pricey animals are just another means to flash money. Muslims sacrifice a goat (or in some countries cow or camel) to symbolise the sacrifice made for Allah. I won’t bore you with the details. The link has more information.

As symbols go, one can have no quarrel although I do believe that we need to understand that what was a message at one time has got to be internalised.

Today’s papers mentioned about this goat called Khusi (happiness) who is going for Rs 21 lakh. The owner is not a Muslim and he had planned to sell the animal to the slaughter house months ago, but the potential buyer refused to butcher Khusi because he has some pattern on his black body that resembles the symbol '786' in Arabic and there is also some crescent moon formation.

That butcher probably felt that he would bring holy wrath upon himself. Now, things have changed. Buyers want this fellow badly. Imagine being able to flaunt a sacrifice that is so expensive. This goes completely against the spirit of what was intended. If something is so sacrosanct then how are they willing to go ahead and kill it? Will they preserve the hide and frame it with the holy words?

Naturally, the seller knows he has got a golden goat and he is waiting for the amount to reach over Rs. 51 lakh. I don’t blame him. I also respect the butcher who refused to buy the beast. It is the wealthy sacrificers, the ones who think they are following god’s dictates, who need to get their heads examined. If we go by the faith, then they ought to sacrifice their own children and only then will god spare them. But can we expect that? Anyone who can afford this much, would have kids who wouldn’t care and just Google the details. Symbols remain just that.

The other aspect in a country like India is that due to several faiths and communal riots at the sight of cows and pigs near places of worship, this becomes one more opportunity for a ‘tense situation’. I’d find this laughable had it not been so worrisome. Animals are slaughtered everyday for consumption and it is by Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs. Heck, butter chicken is not a Muslim speciality and the Malayalees also have meat dosas. So, this sudden concern by people of other faiths for animals is a bit precious.

Besides, animal sacrifices are common in some Hindu temples. Certain cults also perform human sacrifices. Real babies are killed due to superstition, sometimes for the silly reason of increasing virility if you drank the baby’s blood.

We are, for all the aggressiveness, becoming more and more impotent because those who need to be heard are silenced. Charlatans and totems work on minds too numbed by rituals – and these days such rituals are also politicised. Religion is far from anyone’s mind.

Yup, Eid Mubarak and may we all learn that if we want a ticket to heaven then don’t make life hellish here.


A Night With Shining Obama

The American East India Company:
A Night With Shining Obama

by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, November 25, 2009

Minutiae have rarely been of such importance. Or symbolic. A white tent might have been more appropriate for an Arab head of state, but it works just as well for a fairytale. There was special vegetarian food to tickle the guest’s palate. Most important of all is that the First Lady wore a gown designed by an Indian American, never mind that it seemed more appropriate to walk the red carpet at Cannes.

Was India truly the flavour of recent times? The media, not only at home but in the United States, did give the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the state dinner a lot of mileage. There are Indians in the Obama administration, there are Indians who do business in America. There have been nine state dinners hosted for the Indian heads of state thus far. These are at the simplest level courtesy visits.

In the 90s, Indians who participated in beauty pageants began to win. We thought it was because of what they were and what they said in their trained elocution contest manner. This was the American East India Company at work marketing its cosmetic brands to the large middle-class population. Once they had consolidated their hegemony, the Indian beauty was junked. She continues to appear on the fringes as arm candy for a slumdog or the dusky woman as exotic breed as well as in exile trauma and triumph stories that feed literary vultures.

With the arrival of the 21st century and Indian consolidation and recognition in areas of intellectual endeavour, the West had to use other terms of trade. America, for all its worldly-wise attitude, is not as canny as the British were over a century ago. The Englishman knew us so well that he could as coloniser make us fight his enemy on the prompting of none other than the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi. It was quite easy, for Indians have always been ruled, by others and their own. We relish the pomp and pageantry of durbars; we like to see those superior to us in terms of wealth and power to prosper. Our problems are always with those like us.

The US is the outsider with little history of its own let alone historical colonising. It has been mimicking the British model by co-opting certain segments of society. Market politics have changed and you need to pit one against the other and then settle for a deal that is so completely abstract that no one knows what the trade was about.

Manmohan Singh went on his soft mission with the hard truth. Obama had told the Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing that the US wanted China to play an important monitoring role in the region. A joint statement consolidated to “support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan”.

China has been at war with India and continues to lurk near the border; China is on special terms with Pakistan and Pakistan is also lurking at our border and inside. America is inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, and its interest in China is one of staying away from a potential enemy.

It would have been clear to anyone that the US was telling India something. And it was telling China and Pakistan and Afghanistan something. China is the most powerful in this group; the other two countries have no options. Where does that leave India?

With the fly in the asparagus soup, a fly called a “rising and responsible global power”. Both terms are loaded. A rising power has a long way to go and responsibility means following certain rules and doing what is expected.

China may keep mum at the moment, but the US has thrown a ball of wool for the cat to toy with. It is pertinent to note that following this Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, chief of the Hurriyat Conference, said that China should become a part of negotiations on the Kashmir issue. China has no stake in Kashmir, so it will lie low. America knows that. This is to make the Indians edgy and the Pakistanis feel complacent for a while about their real allies – the Chinese and the Americans.

Singh did not raise any tough questions. All he managed was some tripe about maintaining peace and tranquillity until the pending resolution is dealt with. He even said, “I have received these assurances from Chinese leadership from the highest level”. This is like someone at a gossip session throwing names without really namedropping and not how a statesman would talk.

He repeated his naïve act when he mentioned that “there is but a certain amount of assertiveness on the Chinese part. I don’t fully understand the reasons for it”. What does he not understand about such assertiveness? The political machinations? Or the psychological dimensions? Does he comprehend the reasons for the US assertiveness in Iraq? Or the drone attacks on Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Some reports have talked about him being disturbed about the comparison with Chinese economic growth. This is a fact and was recently evident at a trade fair in India where the Chinese left within a few days because their goods were sold out. But the Indian PM had other ideas about “values” when he said, “I think the respect for fundamental human rights, the respect for the rule of law, respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights, I think those have values. So, even the Indian perforce with regard to the GDP might not be as good as the Chinese, certainly I would not like to choose the Chinese path.”

This is most surprising. He heads a country that is a democracy and yet its record on human rights is being questioned, its courts take 17 years to table a report on major riots when the evidence stared them in the face right from the beginning, its multiculturalism is partly a case of being a vast nation with too many ethnicities, regions and languages. No one would suggest that India should go the China way because it cannot be a monolith even if it wanted to.

One might imagine that he was being brave. It came across as quite the opposite. This was the Indian on a levitating moral ground, one more exotic idea that America can chew on.

President Obama used the opportunity to bring Pakistan into the picture. “There were probably times when we were just focused on the (Pakistani) military...instead of (engaging its) civil society.”

This is smart. In September last year Obama, as senator, told Fox News that Pakistan was misusing its aid in “preparing for a war against India”. The tune has changed. The Pakistani army is not important enough in times of the Taliban. The elected government will play along. The US, as always, will seek puppet regimes and India will have to deal with them. The power by default lies with America.

Are we keeling over before the US because of the huge outsourcing potential? Young people despite faking American accents are abused in call centres; they are not considered ‘talent’ – they are cheap labour. They have become the equivalent of the White Man’s burden.

When George Bush visited India
as President, there was a front page picture in a newspaper of the cone of a rocket being wheeled on a bicycle to its first launch site in Kerala, in the year 1966. There was a small editorial note alongside. Its post-script addressed Bush: “This isn’t a WMD. It’s a symbol of an upwardly mobile India”. This, after talking about the symbolism of how a technological marvel was being taken on the road in a bicycle and we have come a long way.

It was to convey that we are harmless; we just want to better our lives. Such sniveling reveals a feeling of being indebted to the West. The culture we take pride in is precisely the one that they find ‘interesting’. What are we then catering to? What powers do we have in the international arena, the Security Council, the United Nations?

Due to the sneaky fears we are saddled with, we are spending most of our budget on defence and not on education, literacy, health. Is this upward mobility?

What did Manmohan Singh’s visit achieve except for the benevolent catch-phrase from Barack Obama that US-India ties would be the defining partnership of the 21st century?

And Angelina Jolie adopts one more baby.

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(Also published in Counterpunch, November26)


I am not terribly enthused about the 1,000 page report by Justice M S Liberhan. It says what has been said so many times these past so many years. It was obvious that it was a conspiracy by the BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and VHP...

to not just demolish the Babri Masjid but bring the country “to the brink of communal discord”.

To the brink? It was a communal carnage, dammit.

Some of us have called Atal Behari Vajpayee a “pseudo-moderate’’ and worse.

Bal Thackeray is saying what he has said often:

“My brave soldiers were on the forefront in this battle. Some of them even laid down their lives for the cause.”

Amar Singh’s secular stunts do not even count.

Tell us who is going to be put behind bars and when will those who have not yet got justice get it.

Do we know? Are there records?

- - -

We seem to know more about our neighbour. Take this from General Deepak Kapoor:

“There are estimated 42 terrorist training camps in Pakistan as per intelligence reports. The total number of militants staged in these camps is roughly between 2,000 and 2,500, and they are ready to infiltrate to this side.”

The Army is, of course, prepared:

“We are ready to deal with them to ensure safety and security of the people of J&K.”

Jammu and Kashmir is not all of India, Sir. If we have all this information, how come we did not know anything about the handful who landed in Mumbai?

- - -

Vaishali Ombale may not meet Sonia Gandhi, but she is doing her bit. The daughter of assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Ombale, who was killed in the 26/11 attack, has declined any monetary aid without making a fuss over it.

She has asked the organisations to use it for needy children; she also handed over a cheque of Rs 1 lakh to Rukhsana, the Kashmiri girl who killed a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist when militants barged into their house. (Seen in the picture with Vaishali on the left.)

Explaining her stand, she said:

“Had the money, which is being donated to us by many, been used to purchase modern arms and ammunitions, lives of a few policemen could have been saved today.”

End quote:

“God bless you for saying that!” cried Miss Harrison. “If we keep our courage and our patience the truth must come out.”

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval Treaty


Shivaji posters vs. the canny ‘Idea’ ad

Today, November 24, is Terror Day. Where? In Mumbai and, perhaps, Maharashtra as well.

Is there anything being left out of this terrorism jamboree? Many of you are already aware about the Shiv Sena’s attempts to revive the killing of Afzal Khan by Shivaji. It happened 350 years ago.

2009. The Shiv Sena vandalises the offices of a media group, repeating previous performances. Anyone who does not ‘do’ the local act well enough is rebuked. The party has a history of destroying not enemies but those who don't follow their ‘principles’. Every group has been targeted at some point in time or the other.

They should not be talking about terrorism.

Having said this, I disagree with the cops that the posters of Shivaji murdering Afzal Khan should not be allowed. What does ‘pre-empting a possible law-and-order situation’ mean? If the SS believes it conveys a message, then it should stop there. Let people decide what they are learning. Our school texts had this lesson, so what is the fuss about?

The Shiv Sena is wrong on many counts, but here I do not think we can prevent them from putting up posters.

It assumes that there will be a backlash. From whom? Going by the image I have reproduced, it looks like a scene from some kitschy tele-series or a comic book produced on cheap paper. It tells us more about historical costumes and some drama.

If they wish to convey that our guys too can kill, then we don’t need posters. We have contemporary examples.

For those who aren’t aware, the Afzal-Shivaji deal was supposed to be a real cunning murder.

The Maratha king was referred to by the Mughal rulers as “the mountain rat” and our teachers, irrespective of which faith they belonged to, would smile at the reference. We were to be in awe of rats in mountains, never mind that on any mountain I managed to get to (via cable car or a zigzag drive) I did not spot a single rat. Rats until the Shivaji allusion had been those pesky creatures that jumped out of nowhere to do nothing in particular but make you perform the innocent damsel in distress act. It was a fairytale pantomime. Then came advanced studies where rats were people, in the sense that they had things tested on them to ascertain that we humans could tolerate levels of toxins and other materials that we would be subjected to.

When the Gujarat plague happened, rats were incidental and Surat became a showcase for progress. There is a temple where rats are worshipped, and countries where rats are eaten.

But for today, it is about a brave rat who asked his opponent to meet him at the foothills of Fort Pratapgarh for a bit of détente. Assuming that the wily Khan would come prepared, our Shivaji wore a nice armour (not even bullet proof!), carried a tiny dagger and a pair of tiger claws.

When the strapping Khan pretended to embrace Shivaji and decided to stab him in the back, our Maratha was prepared. (Was there a mirror where he could see this?) He performed a great butchery with intestines and other parts being pulled out, culminating in the beheading. It is pertinent to note that Afzal Khan’s legal advisor was a Brahmin who was also killed.

Therefore, we are dealing with not only a Mughal-Maratha battle but a Kshatriya-Brahmin one too, besides of course the parochial one.

These are more nuanced readings that cannot be adequately conveyed in posters. By gagging all attempts to put these up, we are only giving them – the posters and the party – more importance than they deserve.

It is more crucial to keep in check the latter-day backstabbers and mountain rats. And, of course, armours that don’t work.

Posit this against attempts by the charmed liberals using militancy for their moment under the humane arclights.

Today, everyone wants to celebrate a terror day. Even religious festivals have tableaux depicting the terrorist attack. Ajmal Kasab has been shown in different garbs. The ‘enough is enough’ brigade had gone full throttle over it. Now, there is an ad by Idea, a cellphone company, asking you to talk on 26/11 for one hour. The net amount the company earns will go to the police force. Do you think it gives a damn about terrorism? It just wants to make people spend money, initially for ‘concern’ and ‘involvement’ - chup nahin rehna (do not keep quiet, as though they did then). It is entirely possible that the brand with such emotional blackmail will rake in many more subscribers. They mention the five crore existing ones; herd mentality will make many more join in and it will be seen as a movement.

This is so simple and we love simplifications.

I was not sure I wanted to project this ad here, but I will do so to show it up for what it is – a cunning attempt to get mileage. It would be better that everyone just shuts up and donates what they want quietly and maintains some dignity. One hour of discussing food, clothes, or breathing heavily into the phone will not make people 'talk for India'. Idiots.

Hey Pakistanis, say hello to Manmohan Singh!

We ain't talking...just tickled pink

A head of state goes public and says that he does not know who to talk with in the country we consider tricky business.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is clearly sounding like a lost child:

“I do not think whether we have a partner right now. I think, when General Pervez Musharraf was there (president of Pakistan), I was to ask him and he said well I am the army, I represent the armed forces, I represent the people. Now I do not know whom to deal with. It is not clear if the president is in charge of the army.”

Why would the Indian PM want to talk with the army guys? We have a chief of army staff, we have a defence minister.

And what is this about a partner? Are we discussing trade?

Asked if the Pakistani army was serious in tackling terrorism, Singh said he was not certain if the Pakistani army would take on those elements. “I think the most elemental force in Pakistan is the army. There is democracy. We would like democracy to succeed and flourish in Pakistan, but we have to recognise that the power today virtually rests with the army,” he said.

Right. He is saying that the Pak army is powerful, yet there is democracy, which he likes, but he wants to talk to the army because they are supposed to contain terrorism, which they are not serious about, and they won’t let democracy flourish. What is going on?

He says all this sitting on the CNN seat with Fareed Zakaria before his trip to the US.

It might appear to be a smart move from the Obama angle, but people at home won’t find it remotely sensible. Aren't we supposed to take a stand on terrorism? Instead we have our PM going all Red Riding Hood with the big bad wolf act.

Here is a clue:When it is time for playing diplomatic footsie, it is the politicians and bureaucrats who come to the table. You go to war with the army unless a country is under military rule.

Next, Dr. Singh will want to chat up the ISI. That might not be a bad idea since the agency works with officers as well as ‘gentlemen’.


Open Letter to the RSS Chief

Dear Mohan Bhagwatji:

Pranam! I would like to thank you for including Muslims in the warm embrace of Hinduism, but for me personally it is just one more religious burden to carry around. However, aap ne itne pyaar se kahaa hai tau hum na nahin kar sakte.

These are your words:

“India is a country of Hindus. Even Muslims and Christians are also Hindus as they have inherited the Hindu culture. They, too, have roots in Hinduism.”

Now, let us get some technicalities out of the way so we can play Muslim-Hindu doctor-doctor. Most of those who converted were from the backward castes, therefore I would like to know to what extent you include the present-day Dalits in your fold. They too are Hindus. They still have a problem entering temples. The reason I am asking you is to get the ground cleared before we go ahead and start this business of being a nation of Hindus; we must also learn who to leave out.

Other technical details are there, too.

Qawwalis have, unfortunately, not been inspired by bhajans but from Persia. If my research is okay, then bhajans really took off during the Bhakti Movement and the qawwali precedes it by at least five centuries. It is possible that the later Sufis quietly plagiarised the new bhajans by sneaking in behind trees and watching Surdas and Tulsidas singing their hearts out and said, “Wah…taaliyaan”…I guess that is why the qawwalis of today have so much clapping. It could also be mimicking the clash of cymbals at bhajan mandalis.

I am learning new history lessons from you.

I do not know the reactions of Madani and the rest, but you can now go about educating the aam junta that fatwas are a Hindu concept and not a Saudi one. After all, sati, Devdasis, child marriage are all decided by a group of individuals against the wishes of the person being persecuted/forced into situations they may not want. It is binding on them despite the legal system.

I agree with you that placing chaadars on tombs at dargahs does amount to a form of idol worship, so we are on the same page here.

Now turn the page. The Indian Mujahideen, SIMI, Deoband, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind will all be considered Hindu. Madrassas will be Hindu and, since according to the religion there is no one book to follow, these fellows must be simply seen as learning from a different one. So easy, na? And what happened in Mumbai and in Gujarat and in Malegaon and everywhere else is just Hindus killing Hindus. Right? Would we use the Pandava-Kaurava analogy here?

I would also like to know how you plan to deal with M.F.Husain who desecrates Hindu gods. He must be seen as doing so to his own gods. Should the punishment then be any different? You must understand that we have sent a Hindu brother off in exile to a Muslim country. It does not do well for our image.

So, you will want to know: what do we do about the Babri Masjid? Why do you need to ask? Just let the Muslims in India who are now Hindu do what they feel like with it. After all, they made those sandals (padukas) for years, and those who help you cover the distance are the true bhakts. Ram lalla will not mind. I am sure of that because I got the message from a farishta. Oops, old habits die hard.

To be honest, I am rather excited. When I say anything against Baba Ramdev, it will be seen as merely ticking of my own. If you put some Mussalman boy behind bars thinking he is a terrorist, then you will be only helping your own bachcha reform. It is like putting children in hostels.

As with all families, there will have to be give and take. I would like Uma Bharti to cover her head and face, which Hindus call ghoonghat, and I don’t mind donning that saffron kaftan at all. Unless you prefer us in bermudas.

Now, all you have to do is ask me nicely and start a movement to change the Constitution of India. Because the judiciary has different ideas.

In principle, if you accept responsibility and think Muslims and Christians and other minorities have the same rights – and not just duties – as Hindus then we are on.

Imagine, you will be halal.

Aapki aadarniya…


Was it bad for you?

What exactly is bad sex writing? Is it having bad sex while writing? Or is it bad to write about sex…cluck, cluck? Of course, all of you know about the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Many really good writers have ‘won’ it. No one has ever thought about giving a good sex in fiction award, it must therefore follow that it’s all just bad. The worse and the worst do not count. Just bad is good enough.

Auberon Waugh, the English writer, must have been reading something on a grey dry day, which is really about unrealised possibilities in case you have missed the metaphor, and decided to set up this award. I believe it was to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

Those who are subtle would not really indulge in such careless passages, and if they do then perhaps they genuinely mean to be crude, tasteless and perfunctory. The modern novel, as opposed to classics (or is it conservative?), does use sexual descriptions. It might be redundant to certain readers and the only thing worth reading to others.

As a teenager my female friends would be given books by the boys that had specifically marked out portions of writing from the point of view of hormones. It worked as a learning experience as well as succeeded in conveying the intent of the one rewarding them with these precious jewels.

I say 'them' because I did not read those books, and when on occasion I was asked to “at least try” I took it up with the assiduousness of an experiment, looking for syntax where I ought to have been examining the possibilities of sin.

This year’s shortlist includes Philip Roth for something he has written in his latest book The Humbling – “the story of the seduction of a ‘full breasted’ lesbian by an ageing stage actor. The novel includes a threesome scene and has several references to a green-coloured sex toy”.

I am a bit perturbed by this. It suggests that lesbians may not be full-breasted and if they are their seduction is wont to take place only by ageing stage actors. Has the threesome scene been written from the point of view of one individual or all three? Would Roth manage a balanced perspective giving three sides of the sex coin, the third being upright and poised to roll?

Use of sex toys is fairly common among the living, so I assume characters in fiction might emulate real people. I am confused about the green colour, though. Is Al Gore still at it? Green is also associated with Martians, which again expresses that it could be an out-of-world experience. All good. However, since men are supposed to be from Mars, then political correctness would unfold its wrath on Roth for assuming that women cannot really enjoy such blissful moments on their own. Green is also the colour of nature, at least when it is not autumn in some parts of the world. To refer to nature and toy in the same breath is to take the breath out of nature.

The passage, however, does not have those twists and turns:

“There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be.”

Paul Theroux’s attempt in A Dead Hand has also been nominated:

“Her hands were all over me, four hands it seemed, or more than four, and as she touched she made me weightless, lifting me off the table in a prolonged ritual of levitation.”

What does all this convey? I know it isn’t quite easy to write about how characters one has created would behave in bed. But authors do base personalities on people they know or read about. And they do have the power of imagination.

Now, what happens to the much-touted Kama Sutra, the ancient Indian manual on sex? It was written by the celibate sage Vatsyayana. It is considered a path-breaking work, and I suspect it has to do with it being an old text and less due to its inherent practical merits. Take this passage:

When a woman, having placed one of her feet on the foot of her lover, and the other on one of his thighs, passes one of her arms round his back, and the other on his shoulders, makes slightly the sounds of singing and cooing, and wishes, as it were, to climb up him in order to have a kiss, it is called an embrace like the 'climbing of a tree'.

Why would a woman stand on a man’s foot and place the other one on his thighs? Were all women way shorter than the men? And why must she sing and coo all to get a little hug?

Don’t ask questions. Visit any bookstore and this volume is around. Everyone has heard about this book.

The point is: Do readers give a damn? As Roth himself had once said, “When you publish a book, it's the world's book. The world edits it.”

Therefore, it depends on us. The bad sex is in our heads.

Farewell to rubbish

A music video will now protest against terrorism. Singer Shibani Kashyap’s Alvida will get wide coverage; it has television actors holding placards.

Says the singer:

“It’s been a year now and people tend to forget these tragedies. I personally think that they need to reminded every now and then of the need to carry on with their protest against terrorism.”

People forget many tragedies and isn’t that the idea behind the Salaam Bombay treacle when they talk about the city of survivors? Why the desperate need to remember this one? Has anyone asked for follow-up stories on several criminal acts committed?

Apparently the song has three connotations:

  1. A tribute to the victims
  2. For the policemen and the commandos who helped the people out
  3. For “no more farewells” and no more terrorism, corruption and communalism

Good. This will ensure the channels run this video and people buy the album. It is showtime folks, and everyone wants a beam of the arc lights.

What has really pissed me off is Shibani’s comment:

“26 November is as important a day as 26 January or 15 August.”

Do these people even know what they are talking about? Have we got independence on this day? From whom? Have we been declared a republic? I mean, does ignorance have no limits?

And look at the posters.

Just what does ‘Pain and sorrow we are here to borrow’ convey? As though it is some money-lenders sitting around and these guys are willing to pay interest as long as they can get a share of some of the tragedy moolah?

‘We are a peace loving nation then why is there no peace?’

Maybe it is unrequited love or something, love? Like that? Now, go…alvida


Those things our armymen do...

Now, this forward is supposed to make us go all gooey. I did try. Honest. But it’s not working. Why on earth is it even necessary to ask, “Any one more secular than the Indian army?”

Here are the examples. My two-bits in bold:

As a serving army officer, I never stop marvelling at the gullibility of our countrymen to be provoked with alacrity into virulence in the name of religion. I have never heard the word 'secular' during all my service -- and yet, the simple things that are done simply in the army make it appear like an island of sanity in a sea of hatred.

In the army, each officer identifies with the religion of his troops. In regiments where the soldiers are from more than one religion, the officers -- and indeed all jawans attend the weekly religious prayers of all the faiths. How many times have I trooped out of the battalion mandir and, having worn my shoes, entered the battalion church next door? A few years ago it all became simpler -- mandirs, masjids, gurudwars and churches began to share premises all over the army. It saved us the walk.

So, God is not omnipotent and omniscient, but has a) a foot fetish b) is a fitness instructor
Perhaps it is so because the army genuinely believes in two central 'truths' -- oneness of god and victory in operations. Both are so sacred we cannot nitpick and question the basics.

In fact, sometimes the army mixes up the two! On a visit to the holy cave at Amarnath a few years ago I saw a plaque mounted on the side of the hill by a battalion that had once guarded the annual Yatra. It said, 'Best wishes from -....- battalion. Deployed for Operation Amarnath.

If there was oneness of god, then there would be no need for an Operation Amarnath.
On another instance, I remember a commanding officer ordered the battalion maulaviji to conduct the proceedings of Janamashtmi prayers because the panditji had to proceed on leave on compassionate grounds. No eyebrows were raised. It was the most rousing and best-prepared sermon on Lord Krishna I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Geez, the army has maulvis and pandits? Can people not have their own little holy books they can read from? Would it be the same attitude had a pandit given a sermon about the prophet? Do they also have Catholic priests, Sikh granthis and Buddhist and Jain monks?
On the Line of Control, a company of Khemkhani Muslim soldiers replaced a Dogra battalion. Over the next few days, the post was shelled heavily by Pakistanis, and there were a few non-fatal casualties.

One day, the junior commissioned officer of the company, Subedar Sarwar Khan walked up to the company commander Major Sharma and said, "Sahib, ever since the Dogras left, the mandir has been shut. Why don't you open it once every evening and do aarti? Why are we displeasing the gods?"

Major Sharma shamefacedly confessed he did not know all the words of the aarti. Subedar Sarwar Khan went away and that night, huddled over the radio set under a weak lantern light, painstakingly took down the words of the aarti from the post of another battalion!

Is this secular? If there are no aartis, it would displease the gods? Since they know so much about the working of the mind of gods why don’t they ask the gods (please note the plural…didn’t someone talk about oneness of religion earlier?) to do some jaadu and get the troops on the other side to just disappear?

How many of us know that along the entire border with Pakistan, our troops abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food on all Thursdays? The reason: It is called the Peer day -- essentially a day of religious significance for the Muslims.

Only the armed forces seem to know about such days. Which Peer is being commemorated and for what? To the best of my knowledge, Peer is Monday in Urdu. So, how does Monday appear on Thursday? Civilian Muslims eat meat on all days and those who do not drink will not drink on any day. The rest will continue with their chhota and bara pegs.
In 1984, after Operation Bluestar there was anguish in the Sikh community over the desecration of the holiest of their shrines. Some of this anger and hurt was visible in the army too.

I remember the first Sikh festival days after the event -- the number of army personnel of every religious denomination that thronged the regimental gurudwara of the nearest Sikh battalion was the largest I had seen. I distinctly remember each officer and soldier who put his forehead to the ground to pay obeisance appeared to linger just a wee bit longer than usual. Was I imagining this? I do not think so. There was that empathy and caring implicit in the quality of the gesture that appeared to say, "You are hurt and we all understand."

Fine. Nice. Empathy is good anywhere. Have they asked themselves why they have to do what they do? It is better than putting the forehead to the ground and lingering a bit longer.
We were deployed on the Line of Control those days. Soon after the news of disaffection among a small section of Sikh troops was broadcast on the BBC, Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Sikh battalion yelled across to express their 'solidarity' with the Sikhs.

The Sikh havildar shouted back that the Pakistanis had better not harbour any wrong notions. "If you dare move towards this post, we will mow you down."

So Santa Singh became Santa Claus for the Indian Army. This is his job. Why see it as a special gesture?
Finally, a real - and true - gem.

Two boys of a Sikh regiment battalion were overheard discussing this a day before Christmas.

"Why are we having a holiday tomorrow?" asked Sepoy Karnail Singh.

"It is Christmas," replied the wiser Naik Gurmeet Singh.

"But what is Christmas?"

"Christmas," replied Naik Singh, with his eyes half shut in reverence and hands in a spontaneous prayer-clasp, "is the guruparb of the Christians."

Ok, a Sepoy would not know what is Christmas and he is supposed to rattle out the brand names of designer weapons. And a Naik who knows ups his GK quotient and becomes secular because he connects the celebration of something to do with his religion and another. Like taal se taal mila...

I wonder what he would have said if someone asked about the Last Supper. Would he call it temporary reincarnation? Or just say “Rab returning for holy langar”?


Loos Morals

Happy Toilet Day! When I saw an ad this morning by one of those toilet cleaning companies, I thought it was a joke. One of those happy bogs thing to market the product. Turns out there is, indeed, more to defecation than a super bowel event.

Now don’t go screwing up your noses. It’s got big sponsors and volunteers. Quite happening.

This event has a history going back to eight years. In 2001, the World Toilet Organization decided to address the issue of worldwide sanitation. It would be easy to smirk. But, think about it. We discuss global warming which is somewhere between the clouds and the sky. This is nearer home. It is inside the home, if you are lucky to have en suite facilities.

This year Unilever's Domestos has got together to “improve the lives of those affected by poor sanitation and increase access to hygienically clean toilets around the world”. This is where I have a problem. We have the local brand from this company and their ad frightens the hell out of me. It shows these huge monsters that are supposed to be bacteria walking all over the shit throne and screaming with joy about mucking up our little daily tryst with weight loss. I have felt chastised for I have been using another brand for years. Squishing the blue liquid into the pot made me feel safe and secure. Now, these animated bacteria have been telling me for the past so many days that I have been doing it all wrong.

It’s okay for the likes of us who have private loos and a fastidiousness that comes with learned behaviour about How to Respond to Excrement with Excitement. Had I been an academician of some ill-repute I might have pondered over it and produced a big fat geek wedding kind of production on paper. But I am not. So, I turn to the best bet – cynicism. And it is valid. How many people with poor sanitation and lack of hygiene know about this squishy-squish bottled cleaning liquid? How many have basic facilities?

In the heart of my city, I have walked through lanes where women have to use umbrellas to hide their faces as they squat near the drains. I have seen people line the railway tracks. I have seen children leave little pellets of malnourished shit. There are villages where people go to the fields to relieve themselves.

Therefore, we are dealing with a bunch of people that is wooing the WC-ers. It is ethically unfair. There are events for the community, the school, the world. There is also the Big Squat, “A Movement for the Toilet-less”, to drive home the point "where would you go?" and how people without toilets are forced to go in public places.

Is this empathy? How temporary it is when they tell you, “At exactly noon on November 19th, gather your family, friends, classmates, colleagues and everyone you know to squat in public for 1 minute in support of World Toilet Day.”

You might be given a bottle of the cleaning liquid and those 60 seconds would help your knees get a bit of a workout. It won’t help anyone, unless you want to bond with the group or you are planning to visit a really backward area and your lives depend on managing this feat.

If it is noon in your part of the world and you go along with this, here you go.

As for me, I dumped it.


Desperately seeking Sarah?

What's all the noise about a bit of leg and Newsweek using her picture from Runners World on their cover? It just gives her a boost. She looks fit, young, and ready to take on any call…two Blackberries in the hand are worth a few thousand in a jam!

The sob story-tellers aver:

"It’s more like a glamour shot. Sure, she’s in running gear but it’s apparent that she hasn’t begun the workout yet. She’s posing in her old office clutching two Blackberries and leaning on an American flag."

So, Ms. Palin has worn glamorous clothes before and shown leg and a bit of thigh too at meetings with heads of state. As for not having begun her workout yet, how many sportspersons pose for shoots after sweating it out? Serena Williams, David Beckham?

Palin has been, I think, forced to sound chewsy-newsy when she wrote on her Facebook page:

"The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness — a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation.”

Then, how does it become irrelevant? America is full of reports about health care and this might send some important message, even if the intent is not as honourable.

But Sarah is out to make a statement:

“The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention - even if out of context."

It is not sexist. Newspapers and magazines like to show some political skin because they cannot show political spine. If it is a woman, she will look like a woman. If it is a person of colour, the colour will show. It does not need to be reiterated that you do not judge a book by its cover, for those who do so are the ones who need to rethink their priorities.

The picture in no way damns her or what she might stand for. She is in her office leaning on the American flag and not an Alaskan whale. Heck, even that would have made sense.

On the other hand, I am surprised she does not find the title offensive: “How do you solve a problem like Sarah?” reminiscent of the Sound of Music classic, “How do you solve a problem like Maria...” where the nuns in the convent sing about the wayward one among them. This would make her a maverick. The sub-head says she is bad for the GOP and everyone else.

This is alarmist, not sexist.

So, run, Sarah, run…maybe it is about you wanting to run for office and…er…getting there? Get it, duh?

Iconic abodes and dogs

After 26/11, the government of Maharashtra set up a committee to study the safety and security of iconic buildings.

To design a foolproof security system, three layers of security were considered. The first layer deals with protecting the perimeter of the building. The second is entrance control, concerning entry and exit points and the third layer is internal security of the building.

What about non-iconic buildings that fall like a pack of cards? They don’t have gunfire smoke coming out, just people making a quick buck. You won’t hear exposes about cement scandals here.

How about some security for senior citizens and vulnerable children? How about it for slums that are bulldozed? How about it for women who work night shifts? How about it for crowded local trains?

These are the icons of Mumbai.

Is he, the red-collared one, a Mumbai icon? Not in normal times. He is pretty much another stray who might have been put to sleep after being dragged in a municipal van. It just so happens that he has a tale of bravery simply because he was at the wrong place at the right time, “the night Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail came calling there”. No kidding. This is how the TOI reported it.

I do not dislike animals, especially not four-legged ones.

Sheroo survived the 26/11 attack at CST station. This is not his name. He did not have a name. Here is what they say about him:

It was the BSPCA staff who named the canine ‘Sheroo (lion), impressed by his steely will to survive that helped him pull through.

Several dog lovers come to visit him, eager to meet the ‘survivor’ and many leave behind contributions for his upkeep, but the BSPCA has decided to take care of him for life.

Sheroo does get a little anxious in the company of strangers or on hearing a loud noise.

This is pretty much sensitive dog behaviour. Of course, next time I hear a yelping sound I the dead of night, I must think about some dog who has gone through terrorist trauma.


The Truth Behind Reality

Maverick: The Truth Behind Reality
by Farzana Versey
Covert, November 15-30

No one would go to court against ten spoilt brats getting themselves a slum buddy to live the lives of the dirt streets in the Big Switch. It was appalling in its subverted exhibitionism. Minor celebrities were taught survival skills that included the pairs to hawk wares at a traffic signal, polish boots at the railway station, collect garbage, sell fish to win and fulfil the dreams of the slum kid. This veneer of generosity is a façade. The underlying message is that small people will do small things and their needs can be realised only with a helpful and presentable sugar daddy-mommy.

ust we then smirk at reality television? Not quite. There was the heart-warming story on another show where a group of labourers won purely on the strength of their art. There is no doubt an element of voyeurism in the genre, but news channels rehearse such forced realism on a regular basis. There are instances where participants are tutored on what to say before the cameras.

The need for revelation is inherent for we are what we wear and how we think. Thoughts manifest themselves in gestures. It can be a microcosmic lesson in anthropology. The human is the performing monkey and the laboratory rat.

America has mastered the art. I recall watching the most absurd antics on the Phil Donahue show, including episodes of breaking wind and barfing into plates. Is it merely bizarre, a put on? Even if this is so, it works as an eye-opener to show the extent to which we have become socialised to curb natural reflexes.

Those sitting on their high horses use the ruse of one-liner concern about “exploitation of those poor things” while holding forth on the subject themselves.

The problem lies not in what is disclosed, but who does it. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s bedtime stories make it to the market, people salivate, and there are discussions about impropriety. The escort girl wants to share a bit of the limelight. It isn’t everyday that the head of government comes visiting. This is reality. But the big man will be considered a naughty stud; she will be seen as a gold digger. It is not about gender alone. Princess Diana’s famous television interview was catharsis, a public display of a very private life. Paris Hilton’s steamy video got her default points which she continues to live off. Drugs, sex, shoplifting, pregnancies, quick marriages, messy break-ups, are all indulged because the person is rich and famous.

No one really minds as contestants share a house, faking fights and love in the Big Boss. No one has questioned the channel that put up a Swayamwar and the couple decided not to marry. No one says anything as people watch film stars and celebrities bare their all in an attempt at being frank.

A flogging video reaches a level of frenzy because it is elevated to that point of orgiastic ecstasy akin to a vicarious comfort we get through other people’s misery. There is a genre of misery literature that operates in confessional mode, and it is often by well-known writers. Why this dignifying of the same old regurgitation technique? How different is it from opening up before an audience?

Change track. Put a middle-class person in the seat and let the skeletons pop out. The moralists fume. Court cases are filed. I bring in Sach ka Saamna at this juncture because it revealed how society refuses to accept that ordinary people can have lives that are not bound by strictures. The emphasis of the opposition was on promiscuity, adultery, sexual experimentation. No one was bothered that many of the contestants were speaking about putting their co-workers at risk, cheating their bosses, their greed for fame and money. It only shows that these are not issues that matter or cause any ethical pangs.

It is ironical that those who are cocooned leave their cotton wool existence every once in a while to show off slashes, whereas the ones who are marred and scarred on a daily basis do not have that luxury. Selective consciences are extremely territorial.

Toy soldiers and 26/11

'TOY SOLDIERS: Action figures appear to be guarding the Taj waterfront'.

Is this some spoof? Whose idea is it to have these figures, and the waterfront belongs to the whole stretch not one structure. This assumes that even after the incident, there will be such an attack with people holed inside and our security having to fight them from the outside. It just does not convey that we will be prepared and the attackers will be handled before they can enter any building. If at all we must have these toys to play with, then these figures should be facing the waterfront and not have their backs to it.

It is quite sickening and we will see more of this in the coming days.

I will try and bring these sidelights and, while someone somewhere will be pleased as punch over them, you won't get the pretty picture here under the label 'countdown to 26/11'.


Moderns, Models and Martyrs

The Indian Media Discovers a New Pakistan
Moderns, Models and Martyrs
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, November 13-15, 2009

(A slightly abridged version has appeared in The News International, November 14)

If you believed the Indian media, then not only do Pakistani women possess cleavages and midriffs but their displaying these body parts is considered a fight against militancy.

“Bare shoulders, backless gowns and pouting models are wowing Pakistan’s glitterati as Karachi Fashion Week shows the world a different side of the Taliban-troubled nation,” said one report. Are there no other paradigms for us to understand modern Pakistan? Do we even want to?

There is talk about Islamic clothes as opposed to what was witnessed on the catwalk. This is an artificial comparison. Social dress codes vary for regular wear even in the couture capitals of the world like Paris, Milan and New York.

However, the Indian media saturated with tribal chiefs found an opportunity to perform a virtual bereavement ritual as fashionistas supposedly braved gunfire to strut on the ramp.

It is a patronising attitude quite forgetting that we have to deal with not only the rightwing moral police but also educational institutions that lay down rules. In Kolkata, for example, a college wanted its students to only wear sarees and not salwaar-kameezes; the elite St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai issued a diktat against short dresses.

We want to look at modern Pakistan as the West does – a materialistic opposition to fanaticism. None of these people are modern in the sense of being ideologically driven. We give prime time and front page space to wardrobe malfunction and there are psychological discussions on stress levels. It perhaps adds a similar dimension when we see our neighbour defying external stress.

A modern Pakistan is both a relief and a threat to India. It is a relief because there are mutual opportunities and mutual backscratching possibilities for fake blonde bluster to cover up real blonde moments. It is a threat because we need those bearded guys and burqa-clad women to make us feel good about our democracy. For those who constitute the upper layer of any society, democracy is the ability to walk the ramp – for charity, for theatrics, for flaunting money, for flaunting regenerated bodies, for flaunting redeemed self-esteem, for flaunting trophy hubbies. To belong to the jet set you need to walk the ramp.

Can such cocoons rebel against society? Take this headline: “Fashion takes a bow near Taliban hub in Pakistan”. Do we know what a hub is? And how close is Karachi to the hub? The show taking place under heavy security does not as a matter of course catapult it to the level of a valid protest. “And this is a way to tell the people who want our lives to stop that 'No, we won't let you.'” was one such voice that immediately echoed what the Indian media is happy about portraying.

A “mix of eastern and western inspirations” immediately makes us think of a little bit of Chanel infused with a touch of Sindh and the Louis Vuitton with Lahore. This is the muaah-muaah comfort level of the wannabes whose empathies come purely from performing a striptease. It is a battle of and for the botox and its accruing financial benefits. India has a huge market, but Pakistan’s elite can flash their Calvin Kleins just as well.

I can imagine our media chortling at the words of one expat Pakistani designer who said, “My muse is that quintessential modern woman who’s self-aware and knows what she wants. She’s ambitious and driven but isn’t afraid to flaunt her softer side in fear of contradicting that image. In fact, she embraces it.” Oh no, the power woman has those threads sewn into her mannequin frame and control over body means just not being able to exhale.

Why do these people assume that a woman in the tribal areas, if heard, might be unaware about what she wants? Is it not possible that her ambition is to not flaunt certain assets? The neo ‘cons’ transpose the victim of fanaticism against a peek preview of the houri from heaven and end up portraying extremism in two limited shades.

The positions are in place. Men have to take on the war against terror and women must do the phoney mommy of moderation act. Liberalism is the new poster girl and caters to market demands. No wonder it has degenerated to the level of the trivial.

Look beyond this current event and you will find that according to the Indian media the great Pakistani moderns are not the true dissenting voices, but the flavours of the season. Modern is Imran Khan coming out of a socialite’s pool in Mumbai like Ursula Andress, actress Meera covering half her face with shades and the other half with braggadocio, politicians and diplomats wearing suits, commentators talking in clipped accents punctuated with home-grown patois, activist cats crying over the spilt milk of peaceful resolutions to the conflict. And if someone can say “those Talibs” followed by a few choice cuss words, then they begin to epitomise nothing less than a quick-fix renaissance.

This is a composite list. If you notice, the arrivistes overtake the artistes. People who do street theatre, use art and dance as statement, who question the status quo are simply bypassed or seen as ranting mavens unless they are threatened. Then, they can take that great leap towards modernism. Intellectual shahadat – martyrdom – has good currency.

Interestingly, television and newspapers in India have buttressed the feudal class as spokespersons of such modernism. The idea is that a haveli may well be a hotbed of intrigue against the system when more often it is only a haven for hors d’oeuvres. On the rare occasion when a person of clear merit is propped up, then it is as per Western parameters. Abdul Sattar Edhi is not a mere do-gooder anymore but the ‘Mother Teresa of Pakistan’, and Mother T was a celebrity with an imported stamp.

It is this construct that makes us narrow-mindedly listen to our neighbour talk the robot walk. No wonder that we count among the great moderns former President Pervez Musharraf. The reason is simple: he has a dog.


Om's Ardh Satya - a story of half truths?

Is this latest story salacious because of what it is or how it has been portrayed? Is it about the man or other people’s perspective?

Sensationalism is not to be condoned, but Om Puri does not sound particularly sensible when he lambasts his wife who has written his biography on one day and apologises the next – both publicly. So, if she gave a TV interview and responded to queries about his sexual experiences, he compounded the damage by clarifying in the newspapers. I have not watched her interview, but I read his views.

From the reader’s point of view he is, for the purpose of the book Unlikely Hero: The Story Of Om Puri, a subject. We might care that his wife has penned it only to the extent that it may have added dimensions of familiarity, although it is not essential.

There are some disturbing aspects to the way he has conveyed his anger and his regret within the span of one day. The few details so far mention his sexual encounter with his 55-year-old maid Santi at the age of 14; then followed a long affair with a woman for 14 years. Here is what he said about his wife and some more:

I was shocked by her revelations. It was so cheap. She was talking about my sexual encounters as though those were my biggest achievements!

In the interview, from the way he talks it appears as though he is more concerned about his reputation and he does mention it. It is like pointing towards a wart and saying, ‘do you think this is my face’? Even those who would not notice or comment on it will be drawn towards it.

Mahatma Gandhi spoke of his experiences with sexuality in The Story of My Experiments With Truth. But was that all there was to his life. I had hoped when my life was chronicled it would be an inspirational story.

We don’t know what has been highlighted and from her account the book is about the actor and the man. And while one appreciates that he had to collect money on the train and wear borrowed clothes, the fact is that he got to the Film Institute. Not many destitutes do. Also, this is the story about so many people in the film industry itself. Some have died in penury. And some made it due to talent or luck. After all, even Akshay Kumar was a chef. As for Gandhiji, he did not have problems marketing his experiments, in fact they may not be all he did but they have come to represent what he did not do!

Om’s wife says:

Om has all the human foibles, just like all of us. He had sex as an adolescent with his maid and then he had a long liaison with the other lady who was also a maid. This was his way of coming out of his other relationships and demolishing class differences. If Om has any objection to her being called a maid he’s just being unrealistic.

Demolishing class differences? Yech. What the heck is this? One would take issue with her over this, but listen to Om’s version:

This lady whom Nandita talks in such an undignified manner was Laxmi, who raised me and my brother’s orphaned children. My relationship with this wonderful woman was a homage to her loyalty for looking after me unconditionally. But it was not a furtive and sleazy experience. It was beautiful. Why make such a tamasha out of these very sensitive moments…

What is this – some sexual asylum? He was paying homage? Why did he not just go ahead and erect a statue or name a tulsi plant after her? Has anyone bothered to even ask what happened to the first maid? I was shocked to read that he is worried that now he’ll be compared to actor Shiney Ahuja (accused of raping his maid). This is sick. It is okay to do it but not be outed for it only because of a case in the news? His attitude of paying homage makes one wonder whether he was as sensitised as a teenager, and if so what did he do?

He is upset that his wife did not show him the manuscript. She did not have to. When he is with her, is he acting? No, right? He knew she was writing his story and he talks about sharing these details with her. It would be silly for him to expect her to only talk about train rides and torn chappals. Yesterday he accused her of sensationalism and today he is apologising:

“My anger should have been projected at the publishers for trying to pre-sell my wife’s book by leaking out only the sexual episodes. My story doesn’t need this kind of publicity.”

As a matter of fact, it does. Most books do. Whether it is Naipaul or Nehru, a slightly sexual angle makes it more attractive, especially when the image is different or a public mask has to be worn.

The publishers will leak out these bits because it won’t be terribly interesting to know immediately how he prepared for the role of the cop in Ardh Satya, the film that truly gave him that push. He has spoken several times about his stint in Hollywood long before the mainstream actors did.

Had the affair been with someone from the same profession or a prominent lady – and don’t tell us there weren’t any – would he have been less virulent? Is he being protective about Laxmi? Then, why would he not be protective about a big name? Can’t such women be vulnerable, especially since time has passed and they may be leading their own lives?

His public apology is an about-turn since his wife has been getting calls and his son is “under scrutiny”:

I’m not in Mumbai to protect them from the damage I’ve caused. I can’t sleep or focus on my work. I don’t want our child to suffer for the mistakes I have made. I therefore sincerely apologise to my wife and to my son for being so rash.

If he had a real problem he could have taken a flight from Chandigarh where he is shooting. It takes two hours to reach Mumbai, and he could have consoled to his wife, called up the person who interviewed her, talked to the publishers. That would not help the book, for people know him and not his wife.

Just when I was to out this up, there is another story a few hours ago in which he praises his wife and her work:

The book is a tribute to my friends, my colleagues, my mentors and the women in my life. I am proud of my story, my childhood and my journey and I see it as an inspirational story for millions of Indians.

Did he not say he had not seen even a page of the book? The tamasha has not only been created but recreated by him publicly. Or was it the publisher’s idea?

Well, shall I just call this my homage to Om Puri’s fine talent?

“The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson