29.9.10

Jamaatis vs. Peroxide Blondes

Not a huge fan of a ‘balanced picture’ nor of teetering on the side of achingly forced ‘logic’, quite by default I have ended up rubbing the jamaati proponents and the peroxide blonde supporters the wrong way. This would make me balanced.

I don’t see it this way. There are areas that need to be explored beyond what is available to us.

Reproduced here is an excerpt from a letter…I have withheld certain details for the individual may not wish to make known his profession or location and has not posted at the website:

I am referring your article Untouchable Aafia

It is excellent. But I am surprised about your comment ‘The Jamaatis who would want their women in purdah and left uneducated, barefoot, pregnant and most certainly not in the lab’, I don’t know is it because of ignorance or bias?

We worked in a flood relief mission of a Jamaat e Islami affiliated body. It has a women wing as well with well educated medical professionals including Medical College professors. They work in flood affected areas where secular NGOs are largely absent.

We are surprised to see their professionalism as well as commitment. Their affiliated bodies have opened large number of girls schools in rural areas.

I am a keen observer of Pakistani English press. Unfortunately large number of its columnist write to satisfy their ego rather than deal with facts. They talk to themselves and their colleagues. I see a difference in your writing, but partially.

May be you are ignorant of what really Jamaatis are.

I cannot claim expert knowledge and I am aware of their work during the earthquake and floods, but where an individual case is concerned I am wary about religious groups getting into the picture and furthering a stereotype, however faulty it be. Why religious, I would say the same about certain vested interest activist groups.

I have already mentioned in my reply to Yvonne Ridley at the site my intention:

As one who has written about the Jamia Hafsa women as legitimate protestors, I would not tar any organisation with one brush. It is important for me to reiterate that I was positing two extreme stereotypes to drive home a point.

You are right about the ‘peroxide blondes’ earlier enthusiasm; Aafia is their discomfort zone right now. I am afraid that the half-hearted liberal support is full of ‘ifs and buts’. The JI may be in the forefront, but as I stated, I think they will force or be pinned to the Islamophobia tag, which helps no one.

This brings us to the completely weird support of the peroxide blondes. I wish there was some understanding of the deliberate ‘characterisation’ I was indulging in.

Here is one example posted at the site:

These peroxide blondes (your disgust and bias is obvious) have just come off the movement of restoring of judiciary expressing on everyone of us to respect judiciary. How can they now go against it and tell us not to respect decision of judiciary? You expect double standard from them? Damned if they do damned if they don’t.

Wow! Forget my bias, this is precious. They restored the judiciary? And what is the chief justice’s standing as of now? What is the Pakistani judicial system doing, really? And these people are going to sit and respect a decision when they are not one bit affected and we are expected to see them as holding a stable stand on the matter? Please. This is sheer bunkum. Respecting the judiciary does not mean blindly accepting any and every verdict, but understanding that the victim has recourse to legal aid and justice.

The onus is not on the victim to prove she is innocent but on the courts to prove she is guilty. And guilty in clear terms of the guilt and not the possibility of guilt. That is what courts are for. And then these people want facts of innocence.

Someone even wants to know why I wrote in Aafia’s favour despite knowing about her guilt. Did I? Where did I state it? Of course, the person has an analysis, and it makes for some chuckles as to my motives for writing this column:

There could be two possible reasons. 1. to collect few extra claps from Mullahs and Mullies who are a obvious majority in Pakistan. 2. the usual infection the Muslims are prone to; the rediscovery. In males the symptoms are instant growth of beard and in females, the sudden or gradual disappearance of a woman beneath the burqa.

I am discarding the second possibility as I don’t see your fresh photograph wrapped in scarf with this article. If the first reason is true then that would be outrageous. As you are well aware of the fact that a few brave men and women in Pakistan are busy waging war against loony mullahs and their wretched self exploding followers.

You may call these brave people peroxide blonds, but they are the only hope left for Pakistan. They are the ones who are fighting to keep the sanity alive in the land of the nuts. It take a lot of courage to challenge herds of lunatics while living amidst them. Even people of great stature such as Mr. Kamran Shafi are not spared.

Instead of extending a moral support, you ended up handing over more ammo to the Jihadis by writing this foolish article.

Since the Jamaatis have questioned me, the first option too is out. What I find amusing is that many of these people have never been to Pakistan, do not know any real Pakistanis outside of the internet world and the media, and suddenly they see these neo-concerned women and their bravery captured on TV channels. They have no clue about the real work being done by real people – men and women – for years before these people tried to bring ‘sanity’. Their sanity is a specific limited version that helps them keep their lawns mowed and in fine fettle. They have not had to battle the government and its policies on the ground, they have not been hounded, and they are most certainly not the only hope. If they are the hope that the outside world sees, then it is much like the India Shining flag that flies full mast way above the poverty line, which is more than half our population.

Pakistan has its own problems and its hope lies among different sections of people doing different things. There are women in the villages, women in the NWFP. There cannot be one group taking over and being the media mouthpieces.

These people will take up a case only when it suits them at a given time. I don’t have the time or the inclination to extend them moral support. Especially, not anything moral, which really gets them to do a little gig because it imbues them with a halo.

28.9.10

Why did 'Irene' go to Gaza?

Is Israel right in not permitting an aid ship from reaching the Gaza Strip? ‘Irene’ carried Jewish anti-blockade activists and was stopped by the Israeli army because it was breaking both Israeli and international law.

The flotilla incident and its violence are fresh in memory. I understand that the activists were protesting, which is a valid manner in which to draw attention to the issue. However, this sounds a bit like hand-me-downs:

On board are 10 left-wing Jewish activists, including a Holocaust survivor and a man whose daughter was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing in 1997. Organisers say they are bringing “symbolic aid” to Palestinians in Gaza — textbooks, prosthetic limbs, toys, musical instruments and fishing nets.

Just look at the way in which some of the activists have been described.

- A Holocaust survivor – Read: man who knows about suffering. The Nazis and the Israelis are not comparable, from the historical as well as the ideological perspective.

- A man who lost his daughter to a Hamas bombing – Read: despite this, he is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

They are all left-wing, which immediately gives them a political nuance, and the ship was flying the British flag, which is neither here nor there…actually it is if we go back to the Balfour Declaration!

Do Palestinians need symbolic aid? It benefits mostly the givers, not even at the level of guilt but as symbolism. Palestinians have earlier said that what they need is building material for razed constructions. They have hospitals. Let us not forget we are talking about educated people.

Where the heck will they fish with those nets? And what toys? Do we recall that picture of a young boy playing with a donkey painted with black and white stripes because he has never seen a zebra in his life and may never do so?

Untouchable Aafia

Why are the Pakistani peroxide blondes not coming out in support of Aafia Siddiqui when she is closer to their league? It is surprising to see the Jamaat-i-Islami leading protests and asking for the repatriation of a neuro-scientist as a “daughter of the nation”. It is even more surprising that the Pakistani media is trying to be balanced in this case when they have not shown such circumspection in instances where they have been provided dossiers or infiltrators have been proved culpable on several charges...

The reason I have asked about women protesters is because, as happens often, Aafia’s case got ‘complicated’ with the duplicitous ploy of the febrile female accusation.

->Full column here:

- - -

My original headline was 'The anti-Aafia Mafia'. I was asked if I could give an alternative "just in case". It made no sense to me, but I'd much rather make the choice myself. And so I did.


'Express Tribune' also yanked off the last sentence, which reads:


For a nation that wants to put its finger in every Islamic cake, the anti-Aafia mafia is icing for the US seeking hysteria to justify its hyperbolic xenophobia.

This is ridiculous. Unless they wanted to preserve the word 'mafia'

- - -

Anyhow, for those who have been following my work, there is a deeper look at the issue that many of you have already seen here



27.9.10

How Modi will get away

Why is the Nanavati Commission probing the 2002 Gujarat riot cases refusing to cross-examine Gordhan Zadafia, former Minister of State for Home?

These commissions just end up with semantic and technical jugglery and together with the government the NGOs too seem to use a peculiar logic. In this particular instance, the Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM) in its application had sought summoning of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Ashok Bhatt, Zadafia and Savani. But, as reported:

JSM had contended that it would press for calling Mr. Modi and Mr. Bhatt only after the subordinate staff and other ministers are examined.

What is the reason for this? Aren’t they aware that subordinate staff usually takes instructions from those higher up? Aren’t they aware that it was Modi who transferred top police officials who had followed his instructions? Does anyone imagine that these people will tell the truth and accuse their chief minister, that is if they know more than their part of the truth? What is the bigger picture? They are front men who merely press the trigger. What they spew out will be small details that may not directly take them to Modi’s door. Now, the Commission itself has convenient loopholes:

“it appears to the Commission that the motive of JSM in making applications for summoning persons named in the applications is not guided by the consideration of assisting the Commission but by some other consideration“.

This is an agency set up to enquire into the riots and it is quite unmindful of the consequences of indulging in innuendo. Has it bothered to elaborate on the ‘other consideration’? It will help the public know if there is something beyond the genuine need to bring the culprits to book. Is the NGO pandering to outside forces? Are the refugees and families of those who died sponsoring it with huge amounts of money that they lost? This is sheer poppycock, but we as citizens are willing to go along with such poppycock if you give us tangible reason for the motives behind the JSM. If not, the Commission cannot defame any outfit that seeks legitimate justice.

The Commission said that Mr. Zadafia, who has parted ways with BJP and floated his own party, cannot be considered as a witness and hence cannot be cross-examined.

So, if criminals have a change of heart then they cease to be criminals? He was with the BJP, which was the ruling party in the state; the JSM says that he has admitted before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of making phone calls to some persons who are now accused in the Naroda Patiya riot case. He is, therefore, an important witness.

It might also be prudent to question him about his move from the BJP to start his own party. It is not as though he has joined an established political party for better prospects. This could be a red herring and a backdoor entry for many such accused in Modi’s government who want to save their skin.

The buck, in this economic Valhalla that Gujarat is touted to be, stops at Narendra Modi’s court. It could well end up with nothing concrete, but that is the only way to go. It reveals abject cockiness on the part of the establishment and the elite that even if all his junior ministers leave the BJP and start their own parties, he will still be propped up and win elections. A safe tunnel has been dug for him.

Squeaking about clean

I am charmed by Lalit Bhanot, the secretary general of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. The fact that the facilities are unhygienic and he deems it as a difference in perception of standards of hygiene reveals a truth that we and the rest of the world refuses to accept.

It could be a nice cocoon within the complex, but does it change the way Indians perceive hygiene? Have you used toilets in public places? Haven’t you seen the manner in which people defecate and urinate in the streets? Before screwing up your noses, and we do that, let us remember that these people have no choice. Let us also try and look back at our ‘lesser’ athletes who have to make do with very basic facilities. Let us recall the times we have glorified this excreta and let the westerners make millions of dollars over the dump.

One is not pro-dirt. Bhanot has not ‘shamed India’ as the headlines claim. We need to see how we shame ourselves and our citizens everyday. If some countries want to bring their own janitors, then they might as well bring their mosquito nets and Evian bottles too.


It seems that they are deliberately showing these aspects much as the fear created over security. Why would our authorities let them take these pictures? And how do we know for certain what these particular photos are from and about? Something stinks here and it is not the poop.

Those who have travelled overseas do know that the quick-fix fragrance and automatic flush stuff is not always about cleanliness. Loos there have sanitary napkins and toilet rolls on the floor; the seats often have menstrual stains. We all know about the legendary lack of male aim, and it is universal. Garbage bins overflow and are collected weekly as they wait in the backyards of those who can afford backyards. People do pee against bushes. And where do you think the homless go to clean up?



There appears to be less dust due to the climate, but there is enough of it going around. Mouldy foodstuff is pushed into a microwave to come out as good as new. Yes, Indians spit, but if you have seen any Phil Donahue show or read some silly stuff about Hollywood starlets and models you will know that their natural resources are expended in quite public a fashion. I know of women unable to control their bladders who have sat nonchalantly on pub stools as their stockings got drenched. But, the weather’s so chippy nippy that it dries and their glasses of ale warm them up so.

Of course, it’s all nice and clean at Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon and the World Cup and other events because the guys who mess up in the locker rooms are the guys who win the medals. So, no one complains because no one talks about it.

Get over it, people. Cricketers rub their balls against their balls and footballers spit on the grounds; tennis players lick their sweaty upper lips and athletes fart in their shorts. And people will pay money to wear, touch these items of clothing. Go clean up your minds first, then we can talk about how prepared we are.

Are our players ready to run, pole-vault and stand tall? Ask that question and let the drains choke to death.

26.9.10

Sunday ka Funda

It is not we who question life, but life that poses queries all the time...seemingly innocent yet complex, complicated. I have no answers...to life's accidents. We can plan nothing:


23.9.10

Why wait for the verdict?

Let’s wait. No, said the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad Supreme Court. A retired bureaucrat, Ramesh Chand Tripathi, filed a petition challenging this.
It gets even more bizarre:

The Court fixed September 28 as next date of hearing, keeping in mind that one of the judges would be retiring on the 30th of this month.

So, instead of a week, it is five days because a judge is to retire? Can’t his retirement be deferred? What if a judge falls ill or something worse happens?

It has now become an issue about disagreement among judges about whether the verdict should be delayed rather than the verdict. What is Tripathi’s motive?

In the petition filed through advocate Sunil Jain, he cited several reasons for deferment of the verdict, which he said would be in "public interest" in view of the apprehension of communal flare up, upcoming Commonwealth Games, elections in Bihar and violence in Kashmir Valley and Naxal-hit states.

There is always something happening in this country and insurgency movements are not going to disappear. I have said this earlier, the communal flare-up idea creates a fear psychosis and works as auto-suggestion. Besides, this issue was establishment-created militancy. How will a delay help? According to the senior counsel:

the matter of judgement should be deferred so that religious, political and national leaders could try and work out a solution. He also said it was not a matter of just 10 or 20 parties in the case but related to lakhs and crores of people and the mediation could result in some way out.

Why did he file a case this late? How will a solution be worked out when the matter is subjudice? It has been 17 years and about nine months. No mediation has worked. And what is there to mediate about? This is not about lachs and crores of people; it is about the property. Once that has been determined, then there is scope for mediation. Whoever it belongs to will need to prove how the structure came up there, why it was demolished, why it resulted in large-scale riots and why nothing has been done.

Just putting it off by a few days is not going to change things. In fact, it will create tension, which is perhaps the whole intention. Nobody likes a quiet judgement where the parties will have to come to terms with the verdict and then act upon it in some concrete manner and answer the queries I have posed above and which have far greater ramifications than whose land it is.

Tripathi has not got the bureaucratic worm out of his system and is into prevaricating and file pushing.

The Supreme Court should have insisted that the Allahabad High Court go ahead and make the announcement. We are wasting time and resources on this and it appears to be a devious trick to keep the fire burning.

21.9.10

Ayodhya door ast

L.K. Advani is by far the shrewdest politician India has produced since Mahatma Gandhi. When he talks about pseudo-secularism he should be looking at the mirror for no one is as pseudo about it as he, his seal of secularism to Jinnah being precious irony. He has pretty much created the worst possible post-Partition partition in India. And all he had to do was "dream", his word, about a temple in India...

Pushing the idea of Papa Babar, Advani completely destabilised the middle-class...These people have puja rooms in a little corner of their homes, visit the local temple, go on pilgrimages, but never did they hallucinate about such a fractured fantasy. Now, having an opinion on the Ayodhya issue has become a psychological need.

Full column at Express Tribune:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/52475/ayodhya-door-ast/

19.9.10

Sunday ka Funda



“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes”

- Richard Buckminster Fuller



These pictures of the latest strap-on mattress may seem to be inventive, but it expects expected outcomes. Straps for the hands so women can stay in place comfortably and men can hold on for dear life, a trench for the men to place their knees “for extra traction and grip”.






The makers do admit that “even the laziest lovers can put some extra snap into their performance”.

Wonder why they did not just make a nice little seat where the guy could deposit his account while he settled down with his gin and tonic.

18.9.10

Suicide Pact

A news story that really starts two years ago has been lauded because of the philanthropy of the subjects. Dr Rajasekar Sham donated half of his assets to the University of Madras where he studied radiology before moving to the US. That is the obvious part.


The story that interested me is that two years ago he and his wife, Lucila, made a suicide pact. As the report says:

“The couple cancelled their phone, stopped their social security benefits and prepaid the year’s income taxes.” And, of course, the Will.


They had been married for 40 years and when Lucila was diagnosed with cancer and had very little time to live, they decided on this since they had no dependents. She did not have the strength to end her life, so she asked him to kill her. He stabbed her and then himself. She died; he did not. He was found guilty of manslaughter but later managed to kill himself.


Is this about love? About loneliness? About selfishness? About fear? About hopelessness?


Why did they choose stabbing for what was a joint decision based on love? It seems gruesome. Was Lucila being selfish or was Dr Sham afraid of living without her? Surely for a professional of some standing – the donated money speaks of a fairly good lifestyle – he would have had friends, colleagues and his work or related interests that might have kept him occupied?


They were obviously both in their senses when they took this step and planned it all so carefully. What if Lucilla had not died but was deeply wounded? What if she, in that state, wanted to live until her illness ate into her? Would she look at him with anger, of why he did not convince her otherwise? Would she introspect about the possibility that he might not have killed himself later?


She trusted him, but did she trust him enough to believe that had he continued to live he would not forget her and not move on? Was it her fear at play as well?


Did Dr Sham have second thoughts and therefore did not succeed fully? Did he later kill himself out of fear of the law or due to his earlier commitment?

We recall how writer Arthur Koestler made a pact to die with his wife Cynthia; she suffered from no illness. Initially he planned to die by himself since he was suffering, but in his final suicide note he mentioned that his wife could not live without him. Cynthia’s note stated:

“I fear both death and the act of dying that lies ahead of us. I should have liked to finish my account of working for Arthur – a story which began when our paths happened to cross in 1949. However, I cannot live without Arthur, despite certain inner resources. Double suicide has never appealed to me, but now Arthur's incurable diseases have reached a stage where there is nothing else to do.”

Nothing else to do? Is a person something one does, an occupation? Do we become hopeless in the face of such loss or is it the ultimate tribute?

16.9.10

Black-try dinner

 Not given to political correctness for the sake of it, I yet find the idea of a ‘blind restaurant' revolting.

It isn’t new, and has branches in a few cities. Dans le Noir (In the Black) is staffed by blind waiters and waitresses. You can only choose whether you want meat, fish or vegetables, but not specify anything more. Same goes for cocktails. You are led by a guide and the visually-impaired staff becomes your eyes.

It is completely dark and you don’t even know who you are seated next to. Once the food arrives, you are informed and then begins the battle of trying to figure out what it is.

A report says, “It’s also a great chance to break free of social convention and eat using your fingers. Those same fingers are also the only way you can tell how much wine you’re pouring into your glass.”

After fumbling and spilling and making conversation with your neighbour, when you are done, you are taken to the lit bar area where they show you what you ate and the person you discussed the food with. 60 people spend 90 minutes indulging in this charade.


I know there are quirky food places and ideas. But is this a quirk? What kind of people would pay to experience the feeling of being blind? Do these eateries assume that blind people have no choice in the matter of what they eat? The idea of diners poking into bits of food and swirling their fingers in wine glasses just demeans those who cannot see. However, I know quite a few such people and this is most certainly not how they eat and drink.

The patronising bit of them acting as guides only makes it worse. It reiterates the theory that they have to live in eternal darkness and even then must display their independence. They cannot afford not to as they have to cater to the paying customer’s whims.

What learning experience can this be when the people come out and have a good laugh? Not only is it insensitive, I wonder about the kind of idiots who cannot manage to at least know from the aroma a little bit of what they are being served.

Darkness has many meanings and manifestations. I recall a visit to some old ruined castle in the UK where the big thrill was cobwebs hanging down some caves. The highlight was that some spooky creature would leap out and frighten the hell out of you. This was for a lark, to recreate an ambience.

Dans le Noir cannot afford to play such pranks because it is toying with disability, a ‘let’s see how it feels’ situation. There is no attempt at empathy or understanding. It is a vile commercial proposition and a rather sad success story, which it appears to be from the fact that it has spread out in different cities. It reveals that very many human beings are so devoid of vision that they want to act blind when they cannot see beyond their limited worlds.

15.9.10

Salman Khan vs Pakistanis in India

Before questioning Salman Khan about speaking to Pakistani news channel Express 24/7, since they have blocked Indian channels, the Shiv Sena should first ask why Veena Malik is to participate in 'Bigg Boss' or Wasim Akram and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan can judge reality shows.


This is not the main argument against Salman. As we have not had any major attacks later, we are stuck on 26/11. He said what some of us wrote about right then about the hype "because elite people were targeted. Attacks have happened in trains and small towns too, but no one talked about it so much".


He is right.

--> Full column at Express Tribune:


14.9.10

Holy Smoke

We need to get out of these fixed role-playing that religion is pushing people into. Even as opposition, symbolism is beginning to sound rather lame and ridiculous.

Alex Stewart belongs to some atheist group – which is a bit amusing, because then you are huddling into some faith-type system – and decided to respond to the Terry Jones threat by tearing pages of the Bible and the Quran and smoked them. YouTube took the 12-minute clip off, which again does not make much sense. If people have the time and inclination to watch an Australian lawyer take off pages from some holy books and light up, then they need to get their heads examined.

This is not even exhibitionism. It isn’t a joke, either. How funny can something like this be? He would have made some point had he chosen specific pages, read out from them, and shown them to be hollow/unpalatable/contradictory/backward or whatever it is that made him light up.

And what is this about rolling a joint and saying “Holy” after inhaling from a page of the Bible? Oh, he is feeling great while he is on a high. If I were a die-hard believer, then I’d take it as a huge compliment. This man gets his jollies from what he is dismissing. He is in fact confirming the idea of holiness. Just in case he is ignorant about matters of religion, then in almost all faiths worship has been described as a spiritual high. You are supposed to feel disoriented and lose yourself into a Being outside you. It could be smoke. It could be a smokescreen.

- - -

As if this was not enough, now people have to be protected while worshipping.

The Gaud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) Seva Mandal has taken a Rs 49.5-crore insurance policy from New India Insurance Company for their Ganpathy celebrations. Earlier they would insure only the elephant god for the 61 kgs of gold and 350 kgs of silver they embellished the deity with. That was to safeguard the wealth. This time it is people.

“We wanted to ensure that our devotees, staffers and volunteers can pray and work in a secured ambience. Henceforth, we will continue with the policies every year.”

I find it strange that devotees who worship with blind faith would want to get such protection. What does belief mean then? The insurance covers food poisoning from eating prasad and injuries or death during stampedes. Makes one wonder about the nature of such piety. We have had stampedes at various pilgrim sites of all faiths and people get killed or kill.

Does no one want to question the god they believe in?


End note:

14 people get killed in Kashmir due to firing by security forces, reportedly because they were protesting against the burning of the Quran; a policeman also lost his life. Will this alter the manner in which the spate of protests has taken place?

This has given an opportunity to the government and other groups to brand this into an Islamic war. What accounts for the killings that took place earlier?

I don’t see why they had to protest at all about the Quran burning. It will only take away from their other grievances.

Another ceasefire drumroll

You create a scenario where there is enough space to meddle and then when you are asked to close that space, you renege. Why does Arundhati Roy do that?

She has been clear about her verbalised opinions on the Maoist issues with a few tantalising ifs and buts thrown in. It reveals the paucity of thinking in the electronic media that she is asked if she’d take on the role of mediator between the government and the Naxals. What prompted that query?

She said in a television interview that a ceasefire between the security forces and the Maoists was "urgent" and "unconditional". Have the security forces been given a carte blanche to make such announcements? Will the Maoists who have been waging this war for many years and many reasons suddenly give up their conditions? And if all this is urgent then why dilly-dally?

When asked if she would like to make a statement calling upon the Maoists to come forward for talks, she said, “No. Not when there are two lakh paramilitary forces closing in on the villages.”

Did she not mention unconditional? Why does she not wish to put her mouth where her mouth is?

“I would not like to be (a mediator or part of people’s committee to mediate between the government and Maoists). I don’t think I have those skills... I don’t think I am good at it. I am a maverick... I’ll try. I don’t know how to think about it.”

If she is good enough to go on lecture tours, meet the comrades, question the government, then why not? And she forgets that she is not the real maverick here – it is the Maoists who are, the ones she thinks should call for a ceasefire as though they can be herded like sheep for someone else’s intellectual high.

“I don’t think it should be one person. I think there should be a group of people who are used to taking decisions collectively…If you studied the peace talks process in Andhra, you see that this business of picking one person and announcing it to the media... both sides have done it. Home minister P Chidambaram has arbitrarily picked Swami Agnivesh. Maoists arbitrarily announced that they want this one or that one. That is not how it works.”

Indeed. For one, collective decisions can be taken when there is uniformity in thought and action. This has not been the case. Two, there will be individuals chosen arbitrarily because they are either the face of the movement or have a record of such mediatory roles. Interestingly, she herself has suggested that rights activity B D Sharma should be included in such a committee. And isn’t she the spokesperson of several causes? Whose arbitrary decisions are those?

If the Maoists send a peace envoy and he gets killed, then she believes the government does not want peace. So, why is she asking for this committee to be formed and why this sudden ceasefire talks?

Are the Maoists getting out of hand and doing their own thing, not quite concerned about who says what at seminars?

10.9.10

The Twin Towers

Selective Memory and History in Limbo

The Twin Towers
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, September 10-12

If Michelangelo is considered a computer virus, then it dismantles the notion of posterity. Why is it that young people who were children on September 11, 2001 will remember that date but not substantial chunks of other pasts? For a generation that believes reality shows have always existed, how will they view the burning of the Quran?

Amnesia

Time is not factored in here. The Michelangelo reference comes from a study conducted by two academics at a US university. Students who had recently enrolled did not know who the artist was. There were other results – Beethoven is a dog, John McEnroe appears in ads and has no connection with tennis, reality shows have always been there, Germany was never divided and Czechoslovakia did not exist.

The Mindset List is compiled by Beloit College professors, Tom McBride and Ron Nief. The questions are updated to include social, political and cultural events that shape a generation. However, these become dated and annually there are new inputs, timed from the year of the student’s birth. “Then we present the ideas to every 18-year-old whose attention we can get and we wait for the ‘mindset moment’—the blank stare that comes back at you that makes you realize they have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Since there are references to pop culture as well, one would imagine the longevity simply due to its accessible nature. It is frightening not because it reveals ignorance, but it wipes out the generators of data while continuing to use the data. In a wired world the genesis is rooted in several decades and even centuries of scientific discoveries upon which it has been built. Music, art, literature, sports and even nationalism exist and are in fact prominently displayed on billboards, but the inventors and pioneers have been blanked out.

We are forced to think about the immensity of forgetfulness and how memory is reduced to memorabilia. History is no more about origin but action replay. The oral tradition of information has been replaced with media murmurs and the numbing of senses through constant repetition of peripheral issues. Chances are that those born in 2001 will remember 9/11, but not Iraq and Afghanistan, that is if the American establishment lets them forget.

Opportunism

While societies that have been colonised will retain memories, they will also have internalised aspects of such colonial concepts. Contemporary colonialism does not possess the ability to last or even feels the need to. The aggressiveness is tinged with the cartoon-strip quality of Robin Hood.

Political leaders are, therefore, not much different from the students. Their memories are selective and they ride on the wave of any movement that conforms to their political ends.

Rev.Terry Jones is not an isolated opportunist. He is but a small cog in the wheel that is keeping American xenophobia in motion. Does anyone have a count of the number of Qurans that are burned or destroyed in drone attacks in civilian areas? How many are destroyed when Muslims bomb their own mosques in terrorist attacks?

The ‘International Burn-a-Quran Day’ movement gathered momentum not due to the First Amendment that protects the rights of American citizens to freedom of speech, but because it is a handy tool to express concern while firing the gun from the pastor’s shoulders.

The President of the United States of America, Barrack Obama, says, “This is a bonanza for Al Qaeda and could increase recruitment of individuals willing to blow themselves up in American or European cities.”

To begin with, it is disingenuous to tie up the Al Qaeda with the anti-US sentiments in many parts of the Muslim world. Has the US arrested the supposed brain behind 9/11? Do we hear much about the search for Osama bin Laden? If Saudi Arabia is reportedly sponsoring the movements in Afghanistan, the Northern areas of Pakistan and even Iraq, why has America always gone soft on it? Obama and his administration know that the real deal lies in the Af-Pak policy; they let it go and they have to face the pressing issues back home.

When this is clearly an intitiative against a particular group of believers, and the actual act of burning has less significance than the buildup, the predators are calling themselves victims. Gen. David Petraeus is more concerned about the impact of video images, much as a great screen director would be about the box office results of a magnum opus. He is worried about anti-US extremists: “We’re concerned that the images from the burning of a Quran would be used in the same way that extremists used images from Abu Ghraib — that they would in a sense be indelible. They would be used by those who wish us ill, to incite violence and to enflame public opinion against us and against our mission here in Afghanistan, as well as our missions undoubtedly around the world.”

I am not quite sure who the pastor is here – the general or Terry Jones. The images of Abu Ghraib were real and vicious, just as US occupation in other territories is. If he could count, then he would know from figures as to how many have been killed in those nations by militants as well as troops of the US and its allies. If it would sway public opinion, then it has worked the other way round too. Why would an unknown pastor become an important figure who can declaim, “How much do we back down? How many times do we back down? Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behaviour”?

What is this radical Islam? The immediate provocation is the proposed building of an Islamic Centre near the Ground Zero site. Rev. Jones has been happily playing a truth or dare game, getting into discussions with imams and exchanging promises, real or imagined. He says he will withdraw if they decide not to build the Cordoba Centre. Then he retracts. Does any sensible person for a moment believe that someone from Florida who will not be physically affected and who was nowhere in sight when the issue was raked up earlier is of any consequence?

It would be dangerous to term his actions innocent, though. He is speaking the language of the establishment and is ideologically important. It is quite likely that the mainstream media has helped along simply because the anniversary of 9/11 cannot go unsung without a controversy. An inert, unconstructed building would not quite do the trick. This is about the president performing a canny balancing act to regain lost ground when he initially gave the feudal nod for the Islamic Centre; he now has to go along with a church. He needs to show that his history is not really his history.

Here he is in complete sync with the real self: “He (Jones) says he’s someone who is motivated by his faith, I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he’s engaging in.”

Better angels? Better than whom or whose?

Holy-unholy

Obama modestly wonders, “If he's listening, I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values and this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.”

Apparently, what happens in America stays in America, for he also states, “As a very practical matter, as commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan.”

Is this about religious freedom or about freedom to protect American interests? When troops are sent out they are not provided a won’t-be-killed warranty. Why will this endanger the troops more than when they shell those countries and face retaliatory or provocative fire?

The US colonial idea works at the level of both Islamophobia and tolerance. Hillary Clinton has been showering praises to those who have been voicing their discomfort over this burning issue. These are the visible peaceniks. Most Americans may not come out in the streets but are unlikely to support this behaviour. The reason for visible signs is to somehow connect the incident to patriotism.

Nations that have nothing to do with 9/11 join in or are forced to. The Vatican has found the proposed act outrageous and the Iranian ayatollah wants the pastor arrested. Most interestingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an unrelated but well-timed moment, honoured the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Muhammad at an award ceremony to honour his achievements for freedom of speech. She described Kurt Westergaard’s bravery despite “fear for his life since the publication of the cartoons in 2005”. It is a long time for Germany to risk the lives of such brave soldiers of speech.

In India, Cardinals and maulanas are huddling over their common aversion to this event. While the Catholic says, “I can’t imagine a man who claims to follow Christianity ever thinking of burning a holy book”, the Muslim cleric says, “The Quran never asked the 9/11 plotters to plough loaded planes into the Twin Towers. They were the misguided merchants of death and their heinous crime should not be blamed on a book which Allah revealed as a guide not just to Muslims but to humanity”.

This is known to believers and there appears to be no reason to preach to the congregation. It is obvious they are being swept along with the flow to meet the dead-end of the US-manufactured dam.

There are some with overarching facile liberalism who will say that Muslims are in denial about the culprits of 9/11. Muslims across the globe would not have given it much thought had the unfortunate attacks not been forced down every available electronic medium and newsprint. Do not forget that like most people in economically poor countries, they too look to America as some sort of financial haven. They did their jobs as do the Americans and Europeans in several Muslim countries. The difference is that the latter are treated as superior beings even if they are serving coffee at the Starbucks franchise and the former are suspect. This after 9/11.

So, whose history will be recorded and who will remember that Beethoven is not a dog and Barack Obama does not have Hussein as a middle name? Perhaps, Michelangelo the computer virus can help spread selective lies.

9.9.10

How the media desecrates

We talk about desecration in such linear terms. It is only the vile people who do it, the intolerant bunch. The liberal media is rarely pulled up. Watch this:



We know some media houses have commercialised religion and festivals and taken over virtually every such space that is available. But, how can they use their front page to audaciously claim ‘The Times of India Presents’ and make Ganesha into a tacky film character? The insidious message of fighting evil is of course not to be missed, especially since the good lord is placed prominently in the foreground of the memorable monuments of November 26, 2008 attacks.

Interestingly, there is no rat as the deity’s mode of transport; instead, he is poised in the air, Hanuman-like, with a mace. While Ganesha is worshipped for auspicious beginnings and to remove obstacles, this sort of pugnacity is not quite in character. The ‘film’ is ‘coming soon at a mandal near you’. The fiction lies not in the mythology but the autosuggestion and the conniving method in the innocence of celebration.




To further whet the aggressive credo, there is competitiveness. The godly pantheon for all its variety does not clash. Here, one deity is clashing against himself by those who have created different versions of him. It is not about how spiritual the version is but how well-sculpted, how much money has been spent, how many devotees it can gather, and how many celebrities. God has not only become a commodity but a way to create fissures among people.

The poor man’s feast has now become a Page 3 phenomenon.

8.9.10

Pissing the point

Blood, perspiration, urine, tears. Another artist uses his bodily fluids. I can imagine the shock value, but they call it message. Or, Message.



The artist is not well-known, but even known names do indulge in gimmickry. Prashant Pandey wept and used exactly 20 tears for some works. Were they real tears of sorrow, of pain, of memory? Or did he slice onions? Then he collected 350 litres of urine, which must have been a bit at a time of course. Cigarette butts, expired chocolate are all there. He says:

“While these objects may be of no use to others, my work is about transforming them into social symbols and destablise opinions.”

Pakistani artist Tatheer Daryani who was in an arts college in India did pretty much the same thing. I had written earlier that I am all for such ‘subjective’ use in art and literature or any creative endeavour. I wonder, though, whether the avowed purpose truly manages to convey what it sets out to do. Blood and hair are universal, but would red paint and artificial hair not convey the same emotions. Had we not been informed would we even know?

Will the attention now not be on the artist’s blood and hair rather than the message she wishes to put forth? If it were about a personal journey, one can well understand. This is not to rebut such attempts but to question aloud about how much reaches how far. It applies to all of us who endeavour to do so.

The same would apply to Pandey’s works. Is the stench a reminder to us? Don’t we all live with our own smells and those of our surroundings? In a country like India what exactly is the purpose of such a wake-up call when we screw up our noses at the poor and homeless who have no choice to camouflage those smells since they have to urinate and defecate in the open?

Does anyone care to recycle their waste? There is plenty of it out there.

He has used a headless baby with expired chocolate to convey loss of innocence:

“Each chocolate square is a memory; it will keep melting and exposing the iron structure underneath.”


Chocolates can express memories, and expired chocolates are just those who have overstayed. What has the iron structure beneath got to do with it? I suppose it props up the sculpture in the gallery. You won’t hear this as a reason, though.

He has views on 9/11:

“It is sugarcane stalk that has been sucked off all its juices; this is how the victims and survivors of World Trade Centre attacks must have felt,”

What has been sucked off? It was an attack and human beings died. The survivors mourned the deaths. It isn’t that they stopped leading their lives. It is also pertinent to note that he comes from Gujarat where in 2002 the state government’s pogrom against its own citizens resulted in over 1000 murders (unofficial figures mention almost 2000) and large-scale displacement, and the culprits are still not arrested. He has no memorial sculpture for this.

I guess it would not be as internationally appealing. And a sheer waste?

Jolie's image-making

Angelina Jolie has gone to Pakistan to help the flood victims. Good enough.



But why is she dressed as though she is visiting a dargah or some holy place? And why has she been photographed with a fully-veiled woman? This is just pushing a stereotype, when people have been stripped off their belongings and have to make do with what little they have. Men, too, were affected, and many, many children. But Ms. Jolie is with this kind of woman because it makes such a huge impact.

Whereas, these women wade through the waters unconcerned about how they appear.


And there are several others who often come out in the streets to protest without their heads covered.

This is part of the image-making exercise.  Of the advanced society helping the poor and trying to be like them in a show of empathy. After Jolie leaves and gets back into her thigh-high slit gown, these women will be still seen by the world as cloaked creatures. The world will not think about those who are helping within. Or even the corruption within. Vultures overtaken by vultures.

7.9.10

Relief from belief

Stephen Hawking is baulking at the wrong evolutionary tree. He may choose gravity over God to rationalise the creation of the universe, but how does one explain away religion? Faith cannot be exclusive of creation, and it has provisions in it for the idea of destruction as well. Elemental and human factors come together to prop up holiness ...

Society gives no breathing space to those who do not believe in anything of a sacramental nature.

--> Full column at Express Tribune:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/47277/relief-from-belief/

6.9.10

The Kerala Professor and the Sharia

This is the sort of news that revolts, irrespective of the questions that will be raised.

In a gruesome incident, suspected religious extremists chopped off the right hand of TJ Joseph, a Malayalam professor at Newman’s College, under suspension since March for allegedly preparing a question paper with derogatory references to Prophet Muhammad, at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district on Sunday morning. The police took into custody 15 persons, reportedly activists of Islamist resistance outfit NDF (presently Popular Front of India), for questioning.

How many people were aware of such an organisation? Is the state government not supposed to keep a check on them? There were already protests in March after the question paper controversy. Why did the attackers wait till July?

There is no scope for dilly-dallying here. They had absolutely no business to harm the professor or even threaten him. If they were disturbed by the references to the Prophet, they could have used legal recourse. This group has been bundled as an Islamist outfit. Had they been true believers they would not have conducted this horrific act in the month of Ramzan. They are just criminals who probably have political aspirations.

I am aware that someone will turn around and say that they are only upholding the spirit of Islam and jihad. The BJP has jumped in already:

Demanding an NIA probe into the attack on the college professor, Kerala BJP president V Muraleedharan asked the Home Ministry not to encourage Talibanism in the State. “The Thodupuzha incident proves that Islamic terrorism has strengthened in Kerala. We are not blaming any particular outfit for that. But a tendency to nurture Talibanism should not be there,” he said in Thiruvananthapuram.

As someone quite familiar with Kerala, I can say that this was one state that seemed to be the least communal. Regionalism, too, was limited. You could hardly every tell the community to which a Keralite belonged – they speak the same language, dress in similar fashion, eat the same food. They are liberate and well-read as well. The Gulf traffic proved to be an economic boom and irrespective of what faith they believed in, they all constructed hideous-looking houses when they returned on ‘holydess’.

Would a stray Madani, who incidentally has not yet been found culpable in the Bangalore blasts case, change the attitude of the Keralite?

The chopping of the professor’s hand is a judicial matter. If this group was trying to follow the Sharia, then there is no place for it in India. They have to follow the Constitution. As I said, if the reference to the Prophet has bothered them, then they should take up the matter with the authorities. I do not know what prompted the professor to make derogatory references in a language paper. The college is a Christian one and affiliated to the Mahatma Gandhi University. And he was sacked. Why? Did the authorities think he had done something wrong? Was that probed? The dismissal took effect from September 1.

Who are these lumpen elements, then? Why did they wait for all these months? I hope they are arrested and given adequate punishment. More importantly, I hope they are arrested on charges of threatening, attacking and causing bodily harm.

Just as I believe they should be tried according to the Indian Constitution, their accusers should not try them in their kangaroo courts on charges of ‘Talibanism’. It’s not there in our statute books. And the family’s forgiveness in July does not count.

The case should have been solved by now. Is his dismissal more damaging? Will it get more attention?

5.9.10

Sunday ka Funda

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”

- Kahlil Gibran

We celebrate Teacher's Day in India today. Since I hated school, I did not care much about the teachers. However, after all these years, I still recall certain aspects of their personalities.

Their faces, their clothes, their put-downs, their occasional laughter, their speech pattern, the way they enunciated words, the way they came round to inspect nails and uniform hemlines - mine had to be cut and ripped respectively, the times one bumped into them outside class, the suddenly affectionate "Good Evening, Sister" to the nun we met in our outside the school dresses...I discovered that daydreaming worked better, especially since one was ticked off for it.

I shall, however, be indebted to the physics teacher who caught me scribbling and not concentrating on her rambling. She had held up the notebook and said disgustedly, loud enough for the whole class to hear, "What is this? in my class you are writing poetry, tchhah!" I did not know that what I was writing was poetry. Her anger, her insult not only made me realise that I had created something but also that I was accepted as such before an audience!

I learned by observing, by the squeamishness I felt over cruel words, by the few times I was sent out of class, of the first flush of menstrual blood and the tightness in the chest. They tried, they followed the books.

I learned by tearing chapters and rearranging them. Perhaps I'd have been better-off had I followed the tried-and-tested ways. It just so happens that the worse-off hasn't been too bad for me.

This song is how I would like to continue to learn - by finding connections, crossed or straight:

4.9.10

Blaring isn't quite tony

Muaah, I am a yankee poodle
Tony Blair is the sort of guy you would take home to your pet orangutan provided your pet orangutan is upto it. Yes, of course, I refer to the former British prime minister’s confession to being an animal in bed. One marvels at his ability to keep 10 Going Down Street in fine fettle, and we shall refer to his beastly instincts in a bit.

First, his memoirs are called ‘A Journey’, and without reading it I have formed a fair opinion since it has been publicised a good deal.

It has, like most books these days, to do with publicity. In fact, he has written a six-page introduction for his transatlantic readers that says:

“The book, in many ways, is a story about America as well as, evidently, a history of my time as British PM.”

This reveals how he seems to have meshed the roles of PM with that of keeper of America’s political policies. He even audaciously writes about the US:

“Mere mortals are still inspired by a certain awe.”

I understand awe; people do admire characteristics of nations and societies and even some leaders. But, what does being mere mortals have to do with it? Are the US and its leadership god, whatever is the herd or individual definition of such a god? It is ironical, then, that the qualities he admires are based entirely on practical considerations:

“These Americans can be smart – really, really clever. Homely, folksy, in certain aspects disarmingly simple: but don’t let any of that fool you. Underneath all the pop culture, old-fashioned courtesy, Disney, McDonald’s and the rest of it, there beats a brain.”

Pop culture and the rest arise from a canny mental ability as does consumerism. You don’t get apple pie only because your heart beats for it.

“I have come to love America and what it stands for. The essential values it embodies are so much more fundamental to our fortune than even Americans themselves may appreciate. America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is a nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries.”

Fine. If he is talking about values embodied in the Constitution; if he is talking about the everyday American. But can character be generalised? What have the British learned from the Americans? What nobility is he talking about and what centuries? It would seem he is talking about some ancient civilisation that has fought off several conquests by outside forces.

It is clear that he is not referring to the America of the people but of the politicians.

On George Bush: “The stupidest misconception was that he was stupid…He also had – has – great intuition.”

On Barack Obama: “The personal character is clear: this is a man with steel in every part of him.”


On Bill Clinton: “an extraordinary mixture of easygoing charm and ferocious intellectual capacity. Probably . . . he is the most formidable politician I ever met.”

Blair comes up with an smart analysis of the Monica Lewinsky affair. As stated in a report:

He says Mr Clinton had a curiosity in people. With men, this would result in friendship, he says, while with women there was a sexual dimension. “In this, I doubt that he is so very different from most of the male population.”

Right. This ignores the fact that the curious men are with women who might be curious themselves. They do not get the same respect in society or by the likes of Blair. He justifies Clinton’s lies as “not wanting to embarrass his family”.

Do families not understand curiosity? And it is precious that while he accepts with equanimity the affair of his minister Blunkett, he dismisses the scandal to his choice of the “wrong woman”. She was married. A woman’s marriage is a problem with this curiosity business, it would seem.

Tony Blair has had a rather interesting recollection of when he tried to rid himself of anxiety when faced with a leadership battle. I don’t know whether it is wife Cherie or his opponent Gordon Brown who can take credit for this!

“That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me; made me feel that what I was about to do was right... On that night of the 12th May, 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly.

“I devoured it to give me strength, I was an animal following my instinct, knowing I would need every of emotional power and resilience to cope with what lay ahead. I was exhilarated, afraid and determined in roughly equal quantities.”

If there is a potent connection between sex and politics, then this is it. More importantly, Blair has done it with tremendous delicacy. Selfishness and instinct are married rather well. It is also a great analogy for the survival need that regresses to evolve to withering heights.

3.9.10

A Sensational Media’s Sensation Victims

by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, September 3-5 

Lynched has become a part of the Pakistani lexicon. Two teenage boys in Sialkot were murdered in full public view. It has resulted in an outcry. This is important. However, the outcry is accompanied with an almost-lascivious recounting of details and an even more exhibitionistic display of indignation. What is surprising is that it is not unlike how the Taliban happily provided video memories of a girl being shot to death or the young Iranian woman Nida who was considered a martyr because she was there at a protest rally. The important thing here is the search for a cause. Calamity Janes and Johns are not interested in anything that does not smell of YouTube blood.

A couple of days after this incident, there were drone attacks in which 11 people were killed; there were suicide bombers. In the span of three days almost 40 people died. Barely a cheep has been heard. There is no scope to upload videos. Besides, this was in tribal territory. You don’t go there. What do you say?

Recently, the Supreme Court of India restrained the media from sensational or scandalous reporting of a rape and murder case. Aarushi, the teenager, had provided a good deal of fodder to the newspapers and TV channels. The judges were perturbed that the information the media had was either leaked by the investigating body, the CBI, or was made up of “imaginary reports”.

The parents of Aarushi are concerned because their reputation is being damaged. One might add here that being educated and fairly well-placed, they can get the court to understand their perspective. Ever since the case was highlighted, there were references to the girl; then the vaginal swabs were swapped and evidence tampered with. The media reported it. Was it wrong? Was it sensational?

The judges are suddenly getting ethical about sensationalism. Have they just discovered she was a 14-year-old girl? The media had already sensationalised the case before the supposed leaked information. What is worrying about it now and why?

Most important cases have been leaked out to the media. If there are to be guidelines on reporting, will it prevent opinions? It was Aarushi’s mother who was on the TV channels a day after her daughter was killed. Was she dragged into it?

The problem is when reportage turns into an agenda, especially in sub-judice cases. The fallibility of the probable judgement notwithstanding, it is not the business of the media to pronounce a verdict. Unfortunately, news channels need stories that are not about an occurrence. They rely increasingly on the ability to play messiah. The cult of the expose is flawed for it starts with a premise and tries to prove it.

It is titillating to watch blurred faces or little black highlighters over body parts to convey that the newspaper or channel are protecting the identity of the victims. These are victims created by the media, just as they are transformed into heroes for no reason other than having once been victims before those cameras.

Does anyone remember the case of Gudiya and how maulvis were brought into the studio to decide her fate? Does anyone recall how Aarushi’s friends were giving out certificates to her? Does anyone even know that many of the ordinary people are trained before they go ‘live’ with their spontaneity?

This brings us to the objections raised by the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS) against the film ‘Peepli [Live]’ for trivialising the issue of farmer suicides. The main character is asked to fake death to get compensation. The VJAS has said that widows who have been fighting for compensation will be denied it. I doubt it will be due to the film. Such denial is endemic to bureaucratic procedures. There have been cases where people use tricks to get compensation.

The more pertinent question is: does a film manage to not only offend but also prevent the rightful procedures from taking place? We need to see the portrayal of real issues, their validity, their motives and their outcome. What separates reality from its projection?

Marketing farmers’ suicide may seem like a despicable accusation, but when Indian actor-producer Aamir Khan took his promotional road show and gave interviews to the media, he rarely expressed any sympathy for the farmers. In fact, Omkarnath an untrained actor who was taken from nowhere to add the rustic touch to the character of Natha, the pivot of the satire, has been talking about which Bollywood heroine he wants to meet.

We have had movies in the past made on topical subjects; the New Wave cinema in India was built on such social concerns. There were satirical moments in some of these films where swipes were taken at the establishment, but the core remained the subject being dealt with.

There is also the question about what lends itself to satire. This is a sensitive issue and the idea of the planned death comes from the family and not the media. The TV channels only land up there as vultures, and in the age of quick communication predators are seen as proactive instigators of change. The parody is almost like mutual ribbing. Naturally, glamorous icons cannot afford to rubbish the media. A producer has every right to see that his movie gets a wide audience and is talked about, but is there any reason for him to be propped up on a pedestal as the man with a conscience?

It is the hawking genius that makes the characters into caricatures of upwardly-mobile villagers who find fame in the studios. If there is any satire, it is this.

Accidental communalism?

Now road rage and drunken driving have been included in the hall of communal fame. It is beyond disgusting. A businessman rammed his car into a scooter, killing the pillion rider and grievously injuring the rider. His blood sample revealed 16 times higher than the normal limit of alcohol. Clear case of drunken driving. He is permitted bail. However, the police do not want him out and made a remand application that states:

“Not only would there be communal riots, the Muslim community shall stop believing in law.”

The reason given is that the driver is Hindu and the victim a Muslim. It is natural for the victim’s family to be angry, just as the culprit will get himself a good defence lawyer. Where do Hindu and Muslim come in here? Or are they being overly protective of the culprit?

A while ago Nooriya Haveliwalla, also drunk and reportedly on drugs, killed two people and injured four cops. She is Muslim. There was no talk about a flare-up. Salman Khan’s infamous accident killed a Muslim, so no communal tension.

The victim’s family is complaining about the culprit’s rashness, which all of us should. Anyone could have been killed, including the driver. The court has dismissed the police statement as frivolous, but it reveals the mindset that I spoke about in the article below. Are we to believe that Muslims will riot for every darn thing when they are often victims of those riots? As for the tepid afterthought about ‘stop believing in the law’ it only indicates that there is a belief that Muslims will take the matter in their own hands.

I think the police officers where this remand application has come from need to be taken to task and a case of defamation filed against them.

2.9.10

The Mainstream Terror

The TOI picture



The Mainstream Terror
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, September 2

What do you think of when you hear the words, “United colours of India”? A kaleidoscope that shows different shades and patterns of society. This, unfortunately, is not to be. The edition of the Times of India of September 2 has a picture of a child Krishna; his mother is wearing a burqa that covers her face completely with only a slit for her eyes to be visible. The caption reads: ‘GOD’S OWN COUNTRY: A Muslim woman carries her son dressed as Lord Krishna for the Janmashtami celebrations at his school in Patna on Wednesday.’

See the transposition. God’s own country makes it god of a certain kind. The Muslim woman’s acceptance of this fact is crucial. It makes it mandatory to combine a certain religion with the nation. To many, this might appear innocent, even innocuous. There was a time when it was. When children celebrated all festivals and not all men were shown with beards or women wearing veils to reveal their identity.

It is interesting that while the urban elite has taken over religious celebrations and consumerised it, they use the ‘backward’ idea to drive home the point of India’s colourfulness. It almost seems like they are sitting away and cheering at a spectator sport.

Part of the reason there has been a strong reaction to home minister P.Chidamabaram’s statement about ‘saffron terror’ is not indignation but to bring it out into an open arena and fight it out. As the home minister, he should have intervened and made sure that the ‘Hanumat Shakti Jagran Abhiyan’ by the VHP to mobilise the inert Hindu sentiment was not given a public platform. It could be held up as contempt of court proceedings that are subjudice since it is directly whipping up emotions prior to the verdict on the demolished Babri-Masjid site. As it is essentially a property dispute case right now, the chanting is geared to take the issue beyond it. What is the point in sending paramilitary forces apprehending trouble when such trouble need not occur at all if there is no such religiosity permitted in public?

The timing of Mr. Chidambaram’s statement appears to be a means of scoring political points. He said, "There has been a recent uncovered phenomenon of saffron terrorism that has been implicated in many bomb blasts in the past. My advice to you is that we must remain ever vigilant and continue to build, at both Central and state level, our capacities in counter-terrorism.”

How recent is recent? Why did he not talk about it earlier when the incidents took place? While the Hindutva parties have objected, it is surprising that the Congress has jumped in too to state that terrorism has no colour. Why? When people talk about Islamic terrorism, and do note it is not green terrorism but the blasé reference to a religion, then all the social commentators can come up with is that a few fanatic elements do not constitute the faith. Fine. So, this is saffron and it denotes certain specific parties that align themselves with Hinduism; they are known to be fanatic in mindset and actions. They are terrorists for that reason. So, why not call their bluff? Why is it, then, that terms like ‘Hindu jihad’ and 'Hindu fatwa' are seen as acceptable? Because they snidely refer to another religion as the paragon of evil.


Chidambaram mentioned that the phrase “saffronisation of education” has been used earlier. This is far more crucial for it tries to brainwash young minds into believing one kind of knowledge. It started with initiating astrology, then the singing of Vande Mataram. These would not be harmful in themselves if they were not forced upon people or appeared to be harking back to reclaiming of the national heritage.

India’s heritage includes rulers of the past. When it is convenient we blame the British for our Victorian attitude, especially when we want to project ideas like the Krishna’s ‘ras leela’. But if someone questions the agni pariksha (trial by fire) of Sita in the Ramayan or Draupadi being put up as booty in a game of dice and marriage to the five Pandavas in Mahabharat, then there is no scope for analysis. Suddenly, the intellectual corsets get tightened.

In the same manner, almost the entire Mughal era is seen in light of what some criminal elements indulge in. It now appears that all the monuments they created were built over razed temples. While there is some evidence in certain cases, this cannot be generalised. The reason there are muted voices regarding the Taj Mahal is because it is our major showpiece internationally. It is an economic necessity, not a cultural one.

This attitude has seeped into contemporary thinking. In one sort of terrorism names are mentioned and we can see that they are either criminals with some background or infiltrators; many are misguided young people who have been bought with money. In the case of saffron terror, even the home minister will not name Sadhvi Pragya or Col. Purohit although they hit at the crux of two of our great institutions – religion and the army.


Islam’s holy warriors are flashed around; Hindutva’s are portrayed as cultural ambassadors. The armed forces have been saffronised mainly because it was drilled into them that their enemy, Pakistan, was an Islamic nation and therefore the fight was essentially one of faith. The police force has also been inculcated with such ideas and the carte blanche given regarding arrests itself reveals the colour of the undertrials in cases of terror.

A writer of satire too has fallen for the bait by alluding to a don and terrorist links in Dubai, Pakistan and Laden to justify the slur on the Blackberry. This is the huddled group that mouths clichés about united colours whereas it holds itself close to the archetypes. Eid is coming up and Indians who have nothing to do with 9/11 are already discussing its timing with that date.

We have had enough of the iftaar vote-bank tamashas. I would like to see one of our mainstream newspapers put up a picture of a woman dressed in soap opera sindoor in the parting of her hair with a bindi shining on her forehead, her head covered, taking her child for a school celebration of Eid with him wearing skull cap and kurta pyjama or the girl child in salwaar-kameez with tassels. This has not happened in 63 years after independence in our secular republic.

It isn’t too late to show us the true colours of an India that needs to unite.

1.9.10

Obama Talkin'


Mr. President why do you say you have a funny name?

“Well, they think so.”

How do you know?

“I mean the place where I was senator is called Illinois, so what do you expect?”

Then aren’t they the funny ones? Or shall we say 'ill' and 'annoy'ing?

“They are projecting.”

So, are you a Muslim?

“Moslem, Moslem, that’s how we say it here, with a zee sound and an ‘o’, like Mozambique.”

Were you born in Kenya?

“I would say that I can’t spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead.”

It isn’t about your birth certificate but your roots.

“That would be Hawaii.”

Hawaii is a place, but your origin, your ancestry is more than that.

“Is it? I thought I talked about change. Change means getting out of the old.”

But you are still following Bush’s agenda. You are still in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Maybe it is the Muslim in you.

“Those are just rumours. I don’t believe that Pew Research Centre poll."

That 18 per cent Amercians think you are Muslim. What’s wrong with that?

“The facts are the facts. So, it’s not something that I can I think spend all my time worrying about. I don’t think the American people want me to spend all my time worrying about it.”

But you are tetchy about it.

“You know, there is a mechanism, a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly. We dealt with this when I was first running for the US senate. We dealt with it when we were first running for the Presidency.”

At that time you called yourself Barack Hussein Obama.

“I did?”

Yes. You even swot a fly in a TV studio.

“Yeah, that must have been a conspiracy. Like this survey.”

There will be several factors that surveys may throw up; that you like broccoli, you look good without your shirt on, you need to get out of Afghanistan. These are a part of your identity. So why does that 18 percent make you dodgy?

“If I spend all my time chasing after that then I wouldn’t get much done.”

All those drones to be managed. Swimming along the Gulf Coast. You are indeed a busy man.

“Yeah, it ain’t easy bicycling in Martha’s vineyard, too.”

I can imagine. Not when they think you know Martha.