Switch it on

Now they are going to tell us what quality time is. This is your chance. Wonderful. To register you have to send a text message. Bucks. You log on to the site. Hits. This is a Hindustan Times venture and there are other sponsors, which means you get their products and services in lieu of television.

While it is true that a lot of people have ceased to go out and prefer to watch TV, many of them also indulge in the activities mentioned. If they can. Marine Drive and Oval Maidan are open spaces; senior citizens do get together; yuppies try and spend time with their kids. Not so sure about “dinner with my masterchef”.

Just in case these concerned organisations care to know, in quite a few cities there are power cuts, so TV watching is not uninterrupted. For people with careers, this is time to clean the house, get provisions and be at home. Commuting isn’t easy in a city like Mumbai.

For all the negative points against TV, I think there can be occasions for family and friends to bond. How many spouses discuss the walk they want for or the food they ate? Now think of the conversation about soaps and news, soaps in their own right. Multiplexes have made a visit to the movies quite expensive, so when films barely a couple of months old are telecast, it is a boon for them. Sports that were inaccessible are now on air. These things do create cult figures and covert advertising does push the viewers towards consumerism. But, you cannot walk down a road today and not meet blinking neon lights or encounter someone hawking something, sometimes even themselves – whether it is a helpless person or one on the make, whether it is poverty or glitz.

I watch TV everyday, but that is not all that I do. And there are many like me.

Just imagine if on this grand occasion of ‘No TV Day’ some channel decides to go to town shooting people at random doing what they always do and flaunting it as a success of this bold initiative. And we get to watch it live! Anything can happen.

Anyway, what’s this token one day going to achieve? People will return to their remotes and start surfing. There just aren’t enough waves in the sea.


Harvard Terrorism

A tony university will naturally have its eyes on the swish. Yet, there is something unnerving about a case study at Harvard Business School on the role of the employees at the five-star Taj Hotel during the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008.

The multimedia case study ‘Terror at Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership’ by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande documents “the bravery and resourcefulness shown by employees” during the attack.

The study focuses on why Taj employees stayed at their posts, jeopardizing their personal safety, in order to save the hotel guests. It also tries to study how that level of loyalty and dedication can be replicated elsewhere. A dozen Taj employees died trying to save the lives of the hotel guests, during the attacks. “Even senior managers couldn’t explain the behaviour of the employees,” Deshpande said.

He added, “Even though the employees knew all the exits in the hotel and could have easily fled the hotel building, some stayed back to help the guests. These people instinctively did the right thing. In the process, some of them, gave up their lives to save the guests.”
While there is no dispute over the bravery, has any study been done about the saviours at other places where these attacks took place and where several others occur on an almost daily basis? What about flight attendants who help out passengers when there is an air calamity? What about the guards who are routinely killed trying to save people? Would HBS bother about smaller establishments and countries that are quite ‘under the radar’? And what about the several problems of labour: from fighting for wages to safety measures in the work area to being unceremoniously thrown out to having to run about to claim pension?

I do not wish to sound callous, but in this particular case it was difficult to figure out what exactly was happening. It is a huge hotel and all employees do not know about all exits. Besides, given the nature of the attack – guests taken hostage and much exchange of gunfire – was there any guarantee that using any exit would save them?

Why is the management surprised? Don’t they train their employees about service? In the hospitality industry, more than anywhere else, this is an important component. They have, at best, done a job in the most humane manner possible.

The fact that this study explores the need for a replication of such loyalty and dedication begs the question about how indepth the research has been. Are there no other examples? Have you heard of caretakers of places of worship running away when there are bomb blasts? Have you known of junior employees leaving the premises of big enterprises when they are under any sort of attack? Don’t the guards at banks get killed during a heist?

I find it extremely patronising when the HBS team claims under camouflage of romanticisation:

Another key concept of the study is that in India, “there is a paternalistic equation between an employer and employee that creates kinship”.
This is merely pushing the agenda of the ruling class. The equation is feudalistic in all sectors – of benign master and slave. The kinship is one where the employee swears to do anything beyond the call of duty. It is a gentleman’s unspoken word of honour that only those in the lower hierarchy can keep because they have no choice.

The employer may most certainly look after the interests of the employees, and there may be the annual general body meeting where there is a mention of “we are one big family”. Don’t forget, this includes the shareholders who need to be reassured that the company is doing great and it has a loyal staff. Such loyalty is bought with an unwritten agreement that implies there won’t be any special sops or protection. Compensatory packages are part of the contract. The courage displayed by workers helps build the brand of the master. What loyalty are the employers showing towards their workers?

Why does it have to be a one-way street?

WEF (What Economic Forum)

There was to be a discussion on organised crime, 'Criminals without Borders' at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Why a separate discussion? Isn't the WEF already about this? Or does it need some more muscle-flexing self-introspection?

- - -

Heard about the Red Berets. Any symbolic moments? Just wondering...


The Republic of India Divided

by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, January 25

It is rather ironical that the day that is meant to commemorate and celebrate the Constitution of India, an independent India, is creating fissures. The day was specifically chosen because 17 years before we got independence there was a declaration of it against the British Rule. We got rid of the imperial laws to a large extent – not all, since it has taken time for us to come to terms with social issues – but the ruling class mentality remains. 

If we were to look at things dispassionately, then there is no reason to celebrate Republic Day because there are laws that continue to make certain that the federalism that we ought to be proud of is now a mere regional and parochial mix. Article 370 notwithstanding, the state governments have treated Jammu and Kashmir as their fiefdom.

BJP protestors in Jammu

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in his earlier stint would have happily welcomed the BJP leaders to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk; today, due to his political alliance with the Congress, he peremptorily washed his hands of any problems that it might create. It isn’t the dissidents who were creating an emotional whiplash but the sitting head of government in the state when he said days ago, “What is the need for an individual to hoist the flag? If their aim is to set Kashmir afire, please tell them to stop. If there are repercussions, I will hold them personally responsible. They should not hold me responsible if there is a fallout of that in Kashmir. They will have to come and sort it out. They shall not hold me responsible.”

There is no doubt that the BJP did not do it for the love of the people of J&K. It was a politically-motivated move, but the Ekta Yatra did travel through several parts of India. Their wanting to end it in Srinagar was clearly to send out a message that Kashmir belongs to India. 

Omar Abdullah who had already decided there would be trouble had in fact set the stage. The group landed at Jammu and senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar were later arrested. Home Minister P. Chidambaram intervened. We are a Republic because we vest the states with some power. This will clearly give out the signal that Kashmir cannot manage on its own and needs central assistance. It continually permits this sort of interference in matters that can be handled at the state level.

Is this a law-and-order problem? Only if the Abdullah government and the police cannot handle it. How many districts and villages in the state hoist the tricolour on this occasion? The Republic Day is essentially a Delhi Parade where we get to watch the display of our arms and ammunition, the disciplined and symmetrical march by our armed forces and the cultural variety of different states. This has been the tradition and is like any other festival. The states may be coming apart at the seams, but the firecrackers will go on.

* * *

Showcasing the 'Agni' missile at the parade in 2004

The Andhra Pradesh police killed Naxal leader Cherikuri Rajkumar ‘Azad’ in a fake encounter. During the subsequent judicial probe, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the government saying, “We cannot allow the Republic to kill its children.” In today’s edition, the Times of India has passed off an opinion as a report that states: “It displayed the importance the constitutional court attaches to right to life guaranteed to all citizens under Article 21, which says ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’. The expression ‘person’ in Article 21 must include securitymen engaged in anti-Naxal operations in Bengal, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. They too have been killed. Though we can term it as occupational hazard for securitymen, will their mothers, widows and children not question the Republic for their irreparable loss?”

This sounds good on paper and in the papers. Is there a clause that specifically excludes security personnel? Aren’t they honoured posthumously? And why this emphasis only on certain states and a certain ideology? “Procedure established by the law” ensures that those outside the system will be more at risk. This does not in any manner lessen the loss suffered by security forces and their families. It is the job of the government to ensure that they are not dispatched on missions where killing is the only way in which they can move up the ladder. The government must also give them their rights and not involve the innocent in bureaucratic corruption deals or pass feeble judgements against the ones involved in bigger scams. 

It is also time to understand that the armed forces are not apolitical. Soldiers have their political sympathies with certain parties and will forward those agendas if they are in a position to do so. If they are not, then they might seek out an outlet when the opportunity arises. The brainwashing and the hierarchy do not make the armed forces over and above politics. It is a political system that works within.

It is pertinent to note that while Naxals have killed security forces, the government does not take into account those killed by their own colleagues, or those killed in encounters in urban areas. The problem the government has is with the idea of dissent. Tribals in the areas of Naxal violence are as much victims. Had the government chosen to ensure that they were protected by the security forces, then people would have empathised with them and seen contemporary Naxalism as a movement that had gone wrong in action, however valid it may be in principle.

* * *

A protestor at Jaitapur

As a weapon of protest, boycott is relevant. This is what the villagers of the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant plan to do. It is another matter that boycotting Republic day celebrations begs the question about when and how it is celebrated in these villages at all.

However, it exposes the government for what it is – a dalal for foreign agencies that want to park their arsenal here. According to reports, the state government was planning to pay a pittance for fertile land. There are several issues involved: people are attached to the land they till. It is farmland, which feeds millions of people. It takes away income of the locals and renders them homeless. And it compensates them poorly. Is this nuclear plant necessary at all? 

Our villages are being cleared to make way for factories and such plants and as the recent price rise and food crisis showed, we will become a nation that imports basics. In a country of 1.2 billion, what exactly are our priorities? To feed people or to play with explosive devices?

Again, this is one-upmanship among states as to who gets a better deal from which firm. There will be kickbacks here as well. The villagers will not benefit.

* * *
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the person who formulated the Constitution of India, had said, “For a successful revolution it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction of the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights.”

Rights are now mere rites and vision is through a narrow slat in walls.

For example, what will the Jammu and Kashmir government do about the fact that militants already attacked a checkpost at Sopore and the Lashkar-e-Taiba is planning an attack? Will there be arrests? This is what the IGP Kashmir S M Sahai said: “A three-tier security consisting of inner, middle and outer circles has been laid around the main venue. No private vehicle within the radius of half a kilometer will be allowed to proceed towards the venue.”

Restrictions and added security have all been pushed into action. This is to protect India from itself.

Bhimsen Joshi: Always Dawn

Many years ago I had interviewed a classical musician, quite well-known. At that time he was disgruntled about several things and I clearly recall one comment he made. He said that great singing does not necessarily mean you have to contort your face so much. This was a swipe against the master of them all - Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

As I scoured the obituaries today, there has been an outpouring of so much more, but one of them mentioned how he sang with his body - for every sound and rhythm he used gestures.

More than anything, he is thankfully not being lauded for taking our culture outside or for making us 'international'. He hosted a music festival every year in Pune and that remained his base. Yet he was a repository of how Indian classical music evolved in the post-Independence era. I hope his work is archived because this is one instance where the man and his music were equally large.

I have said earlier that I saw him as more of a technician, as opposed to Kumar Gandharva. These are personal connections we feel. Therefore, I was surprised when I first heard his version of Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Jaaye. This was a Saigal signature for me and it had made its place deep in my heart. But Panditji sang it in such a mellow fashion with different inflections that one felt the heart just well up with emotion. It is in Raag Bhairavi, a morning Raag. The soul is always awake:


Veena, the Mufti and Berlusconi

This is not about Pakistan, yet the Pakistani media is going into overdrive about a starlet and creating a scene far worse than the reality show Bigg Boss. As is the pattern now, Veena Malik was pitted against a cleric on a TV discussion. Aren’t there other kinds of people in that country?

Mufti Abdul Kawi called her immoral. What did anyone expect? Forget the maulvi, most people here in India thought she was going a bit out of line, and we are not talking about just Muslims. She was the only one who engaged in this sort of behaviour. On the show with the Mufti, she cast aspersions on the Indian contestants and how they abused her, and this included the women. “Where was the Pakistani media then?” she asked. Indeed. They were watching from the sidelines, enjoying the show, cackling away, so that when she finally came out and was, as expected, pulled up by the fundamentalists, they could then rush to rescue her for ‘taking on the maulvi’. Wah, wah.

This is the country where even the liberals question the classical dancer, actress and activist Sheema Kermani and think she is a bit of a drama queen when she mentions the law against her performances, but they will lend their support to Veena Malik. Why was she on the show? She says she was asked to contest because of her bravery. What gallantry award has she received? Had she done anything that might be considered courageous?

She says she was representing herself as an entertainer and whatever she did were tasks as per the show’s format. One would like to question the producers of the programme that if these were tasks, then why was there a huge ruckus in India to change the timings and since they wanted it to be on prime time they decided not to carry certain footage?

The maulvi was, of course, a strange creature and was probably selected precisely because of that. He kept addressing her as ‘sister’ and mentioning her ‘husn’ (physical charms). According to her, in Islam a man cannot cast a second glance at a woman and he ought to be punished. Taaliyaan from the gallery of front-bench liberals. Little do they realise that this is buffering the image of a country that would then need to stop all entertainment activity and this might involve keeping the madrassas away from regular education and access to the internet and the outside world. Her constant use of ‘alhamdollilah’ and her fibs just did not work. In fact, the emphasis should have been on her single relevant poser to the cleric that he should first look into how the maulvis behave and the prevalence of rape within the religious bodies. This was the most important point.

It is stupid to tell us that she offered the namaaz and even Ashmit Patel did so. Honestly, it is a fact that such namaaz by a non-Muslim has no currency and when Ashmit spoke he said that it is similar to yoga asanas and he respects all religions and wanted to know what it feels like and that night he slept peacefully. What does all this mean? I am sorry but a lot of other things can have the same effect.

And, please, she should just shut up before telling people that Salman Khan said it was because of her that people in India had started talking in Urdu. Get over it. He might have made a passing comment because she kept using the term ‘meri zaat’ which her co-participants mistook to be ‘religion’ when it meant ‘identity’. What Urdu was she speaking, anyway? She was practising her English.

One of the points that came up was regarding her drinking champagne at a post show party. Without as much as blinking, she said it was sparkling water!

If she could stand up for the ‘tasks’ at Bigg Boss, then why did she not stand up for this? After all, while she was happily giving examples of other Pakistani women who walk the ramp in fashion shows and actresses who kiss – things that she would never do, effectively making them seem less honourable – this too is what many Pakistanis enjoy. And just by the way, since she kept alluding to chauvinism: “Kyon ki main ladki hoon” (because I am a girl), did it not strike her that the others are women too? It isn’t that they have never faced problems. Why, even people in other professions face these questions.

It is time for Pakistan to have its own version of the show because Veena Malik’s ‘taking on the cleric’ has made Pakistan look like a country that badly needs a veil over such asinine antics.

- - -

Silvio Berlusconi may be booted out of power because of the sex scandal regarding his township of women on call, but some of the stuff that is seeping out is pretty much unbelievable.

Nadia Macri, a prostitute who went to a police station in Milan to give a statement, in which she revealed that after sharing a swimming pool with an allegedly nude prime minister and five or six other girls, she watched as he headed for a room used for massages.

“After a bit, he said: ‘Next one. Next one’. And every five minutes we opened the door and had sexual relations. One at a time,” the Guardian quoted her as saying.

I am not sure what she means by ‘sexual relations’ here. Every five minutes? Are the Guinness guys listening? Imagine the pressure on men the world over who roll over and wait for thawing time.

Not to worry. I suspect he’d call the girls in and say, “La Dolce Vita”, pat them on the bottom like good Italians do and send them off to spin a yarn.

Is this how the bookworm turns?

Those covering important events seem to think they are the only ones who know how the crumbles become cookies. So we have reports from the Jaipur Literary Festival that state:

“When questions were thrown open to the audience, most were very silly and some rather long-winded. A local uncle asked Orhan Pamuk, “Museum of Innocence talks about the different types of love; what to you is deeper, philosophical love or physical love?”

  1. What exactly does ‘local uncle’ mean? Does the person posing the query live in Jaipur and is related to the reporter? I think this is silly.
  2. The question was, in fact, pertinent and exploratory.

If anything, I found Pamuk’s response utterly distasteful:

“Well, that would depend on how deep you penetrate.” (The reporter added, “The audience was in splits, the uncle shocked.”)

The author then said:

“You know you used the word ‘deep’, so penetration naturally came to mind!” (The reporter: “Who says Nobel laureates can't get silly?”)

Okay, is this nice silly as opposed to the audience’s silliness and the ‘local uncle’s’ shock?

- - -

This brings us to Patrick French. I’ve watched him on a TV panel discussion and he seems like a nice guy. But would anyone from our so-called less developed societies dare to have a blurb on the jacket with the words to the effect that it is a “biography of 1.2 billion people” as he has in India: A Portrait? There truly is no issue about others writing about us, but I really do not like the attitude:

“I’m drawn to complicated subjects. In writing about India, I was trying to make an inexplicable subject comprehensible.”

Comprehensible to whom? How can a nation be inexplicable – what aspect of it is French talking about? Is it the writer voice or the ‘other’ voice or the human voice or the global voice or the inquisitive voice or the empathetic voice or the sympathetic voice or the voice of reason or the voice of emotion? Which voice is deciding that India is complicated and which voice will make it understandable and for what kind of audience?

The idea is not to nitpick but to raise genuine queries about what the author says and what he is asked by the non-local uncles and aunties.

- - -

Pakistani writer, H.M.Naqvi won the DSC South Asian Literature Award. There have been the usual tales about how impecunious (that word was used almost everywhere) he was and could not even buy ciggies in New York, so he returned to Karachi where he could do better and light up, too. One interviewer even asked him how it felt “from being impecunious to the challenges of abundance”. (The prize money is a cool Rs. 23 lakh.) He said that he wrote 300 words a day even when he was "destitute". Now, just for not using the word impecunious, I already think he is extremely imaginative.

But, wait. Here is a quote:

“I can tell you as a novelist that I wouldn’t want to be Caucasian, Christian or American. Because there just isn't enough raw material if you are any of these.”

For someone who can invoke hip-hop despite being from an “Urdu-speaking background”, this is strange. I would understand if he had said that as an outsider those cultures/identities might be difficult for him to navigate or were inaccessible. Instead, he said there isn’t enough raw material if you are any of these. Absolute rubbish. Our subcontinent may have more ‘colour’, but how can we dismiss off the others mentioned?

Is Black writing more relevant than Caucasian writing? In what context? What kind of Christian is referred to here? And besides the Bible, a most quotable work, there is quite a bit of literary exploration that has been done from varied Christian schools of thought. As for American writing, I wonder how Mailer, Bellow, Miller, Salinger, Fitzgerald, Updike, Plath, Hemingway among the few who wrote often quite specifically about their country managed to find the raw material. And one is not even going into the territory of American literature by outsiders or ethnic groups as well as the huge output of poetry. America has had its fair share of struggles, including the Great Depression, a sort of really ‘impecunious’ state, if you will.

While it is quite natural to choose one’s own environment and personal ideology as the canvas, I find such blanket assertions rather narrow-minded and racist in their own way.

- - -

It isn’t quite time to say, ‘come back William, all is forgiven’, but Dalrymple seems to be quite a darling. So, I am not surprised to receive a note lecturing me that he is Indian in spirit and wears kurtas. Since I did not question what he wrote, I find this defence rather curious. Glad to know, though, that he wears kurtas. Who would have imagined that a Scot would dress up in anything but a kilt?


The 'Stained' case

I am against capital punishment, so the Supreme Court's verdict of a life sentence to Dara Singh and his accomplice Mahendra Hembram felt right. 12 years ago they had killed the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons, 10-year-old Philip and Timothy, six.

However, I do not like the tone of the judgement:

The bench said the Orissa HC was justified in awarding a life term to Singh and Hembram as the crime was committed in passion, to teach Staines a lesson for his alleged attempts to convert tribals.

“Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon in Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity,” it said.

“All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the high court and modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur,” the bench said.

It seems like this action-reaction theory has gained ground in almost every sphere. I mean, will we condone anything done as an act of passion?
While condemning killings in the name of religion, the bench also expressed its disapproval of conversion. “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other,” it said.
Is the highest judiciary in this land talking about brutal killing in terms of teaching a lesson? For religious activities? For conversions?

Has there been any evidence produced about forced conversions? Why are they not tried? Is it prudent for a judge to discuss whether anyone thinks their religion is better than another? Is that why conversions take place anyway? Wasn’t there talk earlier about tribals being bought or given sops?

If the judiciary is concerned about these matters, then nip them in the bud and deal with the issues faced by tribals.

- - -

Updated January 24:

Received a mail from one of our friends here raising a point. Reproducing it and my reply to clarify things:

This is about your blogpost on the Staines judgement. While mostly in agreement with your blogpost this particular last line ("If the judiciary is concerned about these matters, then nip them in the bud and deal with the issues faced by tribals.") in the post left me a bit down.

"Real-Politik" apart, our Constitution guarantees freedom to choose religion. The court's congurent remarks in judgement may actually end up setting a precedent of courts being in judgement about citizen's freedom of choice in religious matters.
Interestingly enough , a section of press has started campaign to get the remarks expunged from Court's judgement. Read through more at : http://www.hindu.com/2011/01/23/stories/2011012357870100.htm

My reply:

I obviously did not mean to convey that the judiciary should intervene in a matter of choice, but I was just pushing the case for the courts to look into the real issues faced by tribals. 'Nip them in the bud' is if there are complaints of force used. It really is challenging the system that assumes such things.

Anyhow, thanks for pointing it out because I can see that it can be misconstrued, and will update it.

When Love is War: Questioning Eros

When Love is War

Questioning Eros 
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, January 21-23

Berlusconi will be happy to do it and so would the caretakers of prisons whose inmates are sodomised and pussy-whipped. This is the cult of militant sexuality. So, while it may be personally a joyful time to celebrate Eros Day on January 22, as Dr Susan Block so deliciously laid it on here in ‘Make Eros, Not Thanatos’, on a larger canvas it is like kissing the barrel of a gun.

The Eros persona, attractive as it is, pursues ideas that may send out conflicting signals. We are not living in a mythological age of winged creatures or even the beatnik idea of peace where free love meant making love without inhibition rather than the naked transaction of sensual experiences sponged for free in the back alleys of the exploitative nature of the human beast. The Woodstock and Imagine ideas too suffered from blurred or altered vision as they sought to express hormonal yearnings with violent passion. Orgiastic pleasure is essentially a battleground and it would be questionable to conjecture that such excitable expression would soothe the violence within.

James W. Prescott, a neuropsychologist, had examined the connection between the seeking of pleasure and violence and averred that the former was something people could not get enough of: “I am now convinced that the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure is the principal root cause of violence. Laboratory experiments with animals show that pleasure and violence have a reciprocal relationship, that is, the presence of one inhibits the other. A raging, violent animal will abruptly calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers of its brain. Likewise, stimulating the violence centers in the brain can terminate the animal's sensual pleasure and peaceful behavior. When the brain's pleasure circuits are ‘on’, the violence circuits are 'off,' and vice versa. Among human beings, a pleasure-prone personality rarely displays violence or aggressive behaviors, and a violent personality has little ability to tolerate, experience, or enjoy sensuously pleasing activities. As either violence or pleasure goes up, the other goes down.”

Are we to make a distinction between the sensual and the sexual? Many acts of sex are violent and non-consensual. Almost every day we read about sexual crimes committed against children, of incest, of rape and crimes of passion.

Mythologies have looked on these without a puritan prism because they are distant and, more importantly, symbolic. Which god has been fathered by which one and enjoyed himself the most with his mother are what may be seen as the harbingers of a natural process of selectivity and, one hopes, amnesia. In the epic Mahabharata, Draupadi’s marriage to the five brothers of the Pandava clan is seen by contemporary thinkers as a feminist prototype. Even Krishna and his childish obsession of hiding the clothes of the village maidens constitutes a preamble to the ras leela (the pleasure principle) where they subsequently woo him. These are in the nature of totemic traits. But, the Mahabharata is essentially a treatise on the war for power. There is tremendous violence. So, where did all that pleasure disappear?

It is a fallacy to imagine that those who are satisfied will continue in this beatific mode. The nerve centres of the brain are prone to their own little orgasmic moments that last a few seconds. It does not follow that there is a paradigm shift in the sensibility of the senses.

Prescott’s further assertion is equally surprising: “We would expect to find that human societies which provide their infants and children with a great deal of physical affection (touching, holding, carrying) would be less physically violent than human societies which give very little physical affection to their infants and children. Similarly, human societies which tolerate and accept premarital and extramarital sex would be less physically violent than societies which prohibit and punish premarital and extramarital sex.”

Punishment is a moral theory. Human societies follow certain mores to keep the family unit intact. A man who abuses his wife could also indulge in sex outside of marriage. Many societies that have liberal values are not violent simply because they do not see themselves as big players in the political scheme. As Dr Block wrote, “Some Eros Days have been very political, such as 2005’s Eros Day Counter-Inaugural Ball, featuring effigies of Bush and Cheney that were gleefully smacked and paddled throughout the evening, and 2009’s exuberant Eros Day Orgy for Obama.”

This is significant because the celebration of pleasure cannot exist on an island, unless you wish to join the naturist clubs, which are themselves a political statement. The burning of the effigies has as much to do with the senses, a kind of sadism, especially when one thinks of the pornographic fantasy of WMDs. The Obama orgy may have seemed exuberant but it was like rain before the thunder. The drones had not yet flattened out homes. The threat perception of missiles has to do with sensual violence as they can penetrate the fluffy clouds leaving a comet trail across the sky.

This brings us to the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is being probed for setting up a township to facilitate his appetite for young women who were paid for. At 74, these girls would be considered too young. But, there have been reports by the one currently in the public eye that Ruby, the Moroccan night-club dancer, was bought for her silence.

One might think this is consensual and therefore not violent. Has Italy not allied with any violent powers politically during his tenure? Do his policies at home give the impression of being democratic and equitable? And the crucial point is that such pleasure is commercial. Most wars have been fought for land and what the land can give. The land can be the terrain of flesh. It happens now, it happened then when the 17-year-old Elsie Manners approached the famous vaudevillian Fred Karno for a role. He asked her to take off her blouse, explaining, “If I hire a 36-inch bust I want to know I am getting what I paid for.” After he was convinced that she wasn’t lying, he asked her if she wanted a two-pound a week job or a four-pound one. She chose the more lucrative offer. Promptly, he asked her to strip and “get on the couch and we’ll see if you’re worth four quid.”

The market economy is the war zone, and it does not exclude the gods. In the holy city of Vrindavan in India, Bhagwatacharya Rajendra has been christened ‘Porn Swamy’. He has been arrested for making porn films with kids, his foreign devotees and his wife against the backdrop of the holy shrines and the pictures of deities. These DVDs were sold. The cases of such holy men indulging in these activities in not unknown. The same applies to all religions, whether it is priests or pirs. Celibacy is not forced upon all of them. Many are politically involved in demagoguery and, in some cases, even inciting violence against minorities and those outside their purview.

The sensual is a violent idea and a weapon. In the normal discourse and course of social interaction men apparently take 152 risks of rejection from first eye contact with a woman until intercourse. This is likely to get internalised. In ‘How to Pick up Girls’, Eric Weber advised, “Do not get uptight. You are not on a bombing mission on enemy territory. You are not hunting bull elephants.” It is fear that sharpens the senses. I knew this man who would take his buddies to a brothel and even pay for them while he went off to sleep, unable to do a thing due to physical deficiency or moral pangs. Next morning, he'd go ho-hum, slap his thighs and talk about the great time he had. Where was the need? I read somewhere that, “Male bonding is institutionalized learning behaviour, whereby men recognize and reinforce one another's bonafide membership of the male gender class, and whereby men remind one another they were not born women...male bonding is how men learn from each other that they are entitled under patriarchy to power in the culture.”

According to William Farrell, a one-time feminist male writer, divorce leaves men who are dependent on women for their emotional lives with a gaping “love void” that must be filled. These men who want to be “nurturer-connectors” are simply viewed as “killer-protectors”.

If it’s all in a day’s work, then go ahead and make love for Eros and for phallic patriarchy to lubricate inertia and angst.


Gujarat at the UN, Shiv Sena at Unity

Is it right for an issue that has to do with Indian court cases to be taken to an international organisation? In principle I do not agree. But, the fact is we cannot put strictures on stapled visas to China and who is talking to whom in the North East and Kashmir.

Of course, these are issues of insurgency movements. Gujarat is not. This is the reason why the Supreme Court pulled up activist Teesta Setalvad for reporting to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council about 10 serious Gujarat riot case proceedings monitored by the highest court. I’d like to counter-question some of the posers by Justices D K Jain, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam:

“It shows you (Teesta) do not have confidence in us. We are monitoring the cases and are here to hear your grievances. Yet, you write to the UN body. Can the international body provide protection to witnesses?”

Does this mean that the witnesses need to be protected? Has the court provided for such protection?

“Can they guide us how to proceed with the cases?”

No. But there is a charter of human rights that have to be followed. It is not to guide the courts; it is to take up the issue of victims.

“You are reporting the day-today proceedings in the Supreme Court and trial courts to that organization as also what the joint commissioner of police does. Is the international body a disciplinary authority for the police?”

No. It can only prepare a report based on the police’s acts of omission and commission.

However, Setalvad ought not to report every detail. There is also the issue of an international organisation getting involved for its own agenda. It is also prudent to ask whether the victims gave the go-ahead. Such cases are delicate in nature and they and their families have to live in the state and deal with people and the authorities on a daily basis.

In the interest of transparency she should also make the communication with the international organisaiton public. One assumes she has shared it with the court by now.

As I had said earlier: This is about Gujarat, not Teesta.

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On Sunday, the 23rd, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray will celebrate his 84th birthday. The party has decided to mark this occasion as ‘Hindu Ekata’ (unity) day.

This has nothing to do with Hindus or unity, but wih the BMC elections and, as reports say, to embarrass the Congress for bringing up the issue of Hindu terrorism.

The Shiv Sena has the gall to now claim that the saffron coour of its flag is about a blend of various communities and castes as it was during the Bhakti movement.

Perhaps this doha (couplet) by Kabir, the bhakti poet and sage, might be a good birthday gift for Balasaheb:

Bura Jo Dekhan Main Chala, Bura Na Milya Koye
Jo Mann Khoja Apna, To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye

My rough translation:

I sought the wicked ones, but found none
And when I looked within myself, I found none more evil than me


The Literary Slumdog Millionaires

Racist Dalrymple?

One fine day somebody wakes up to the fact that William Dalrymple is a Scot and he has taken over the Jaipur Literary Festival like one of the White Mughals he wrote about. There is the cry about racism. It is a bit surprising because Mr. Dalrymple has been ‘doing’ India since 1984. His work is not superficial; the adulation he has been receiving all these years is.

We did the same with Mark Tully, making it seem like he was doing a favour by staying in our humble little environment and anointed him as an ‘expert’.

The recent controversy has made the political personal and lost merit. The accusation by the political editor of ‘Open’ magazine is that Dalrymple is sitting in judgment and the festival works “not because it is a literary enterprise, but because it ties us to the British literary establishment”. I wonder how by listening to a few British authors Indians get tied to their establishment, when not many of them are royal poets or poseurs. If this criticism is in any manner valid, then one ought to take exception to all those Indians who take their literary critiques and analyses to British and other foreign publications and expose our India to them. Let us get this clear: such festivals are meant for networking and if foreign writers were not invited very few Indians would turn up. Everything else is a whitewash job, and the white is just a colour.

Dalrymple had written in The Daily Beast:

“One of the things people like best about Jaipur is that we are completely egalitarian. There are no reserved spaces for grandees, no roped enclosure for our authors; they mingle with the crowds and eat with them on a first-come, first-served basis. In as hierarchical a country as India, this is rather radical. Last year, there was a flurry of press when an Australian volunteer usher rather peremptorily asked two beautiful young women to move out of the aisle as they were blocking an exit, apparently unaware that the women in question were Julia Roberts and the adored Bollywood goddess Nandita Das. To their great credit, both women moved immediately and without complaint.”

Here lies the problem, and it includes his lack of knowledge of what Bollywood goddesses mean to the Indian. Or is he cleverly transposing a Hollywood biggie with an art house actress deliberately to show that ‘his’ India is not populist? In fact, his response to the racist diatribe included a precious phrase, that it “felt little more than the literary equivalent of pouring shit through an immigrant’s letterbox.” Surely, Mr. Dalrymple, must you do a Danny Boyle? In the other piece he wrote, “Last year Namita (Gokhale, the co-director) programmed a whole raft of Dalit or ‘untouchable’ writers from across India. I was skeptical that we needed quite as many as 30 Dalit poets to make the point, but I couldn’t have been more wrong: The Dalit sessions were the most crowded and exciting of the festival.”

This is utterly offensive. If he must explain the term Dalit then there are other ways in which to do so; Dalit writing and the Dalit people have broken the untouchability wall. Anyhow, this sort of tokenism is part of the literary scene. A couple of years ago at the same festival they found a new voice in Baby Halder. She had penned her story of being an ordinary person. She had to play the role even in the literary meet as she said:

“Somehow people look down on a maid’s work. Why are only those who type away on their computers considered professionals? I think all of us have a spark. It just needs to be lit. I will always work in my employer’s house. I find time to write between daily chores. Or sometimes late into the night.”
This would obviously be considered newsworthy. The headlines followed the pattern: “From Maid Servant To Writer”.

It is the culture of ‘luminaries’ that should be taken to task for it ceases to be egalitarian. This is the new colonisation where power rests and is vested in the popularity charts. Why is the event being held at the Diggi Palace and not in some less fancy location? Possibly because, as Dalrymple writes, “Behind us, invisible yet omnipresent, we have the mighty engine of the Indian economy, growing at 9 percent a year, and the rapidly expanding publishing scene and fast-growing book market that this has engendered.”

Most of the events are sponsored. When the writer speaks, there will be banners behind that might be completely antithetical to her/his literary and social concerns. No one will talk about these issues because they want to leave that little opening and possibility for their future contracts. How many even care about how the distributors influence publishers? From my own experience, I know that the subtitle of my book, A Journey Interrupted was changed from ‘An Indian Muslim Woman in Pakistan’ to ‘Being Indian in Pakistan’. The reason is that the distributors thought it might be mistaken for an academic book on Islam. The alteration happened too late and I had to just go along with it, although each word in the subhead had relevance to the text and my personal take and neither the blurb nor the title conveyed any interest in an Islamic exploration.

The battle of the books is really a reflection of the changing face of writing where often an audience is programmed and so is the author. Why dismiss an outsider when our own Salman Rushdie sidelines literature in Indian languages? Why do we hail the diaspora writing and get goosebumps over every little nostalgic moment in a designed for a western audience exotic narrative? The definition of the exotic has changed. Caparisoned elephants have made way for white elephants and the new maharajahs are the corporate czars. Taking on India is as lucrative a proposition as it once was to write about the ‘fallen angels’.

The so-called famous recluses are, in fact, pushed by the publishers in television ads before the book is out and there is lobbying for awards. A wry commentary in simple Net lingo is on. This is colonisation. Publishers are scouring social networking sites to pick up confessions and these get propped up as ‘chick/boy lit’. Or they grab the IIT-IIM-based narratives not because of their writing skills but due to the fact that these are the kids who will be part of the economic jump-start venture that is India Incorporated. These books are priced low, so they have an initial pick-up and become bestsellers. In an almost vulture-like manner, writers are now churning out books on Kashmir because they sell.

Sometimes, books are covertly sponsored by the corporate sector committees and we even have the cringing sight of some publishers giving talks at such launches. Needless to say, the big guys buy off most of the copies.

Today, book launches hardly have an audience unless they are clubbed with “cocktails”. One pulp fiction Indian writer had years ago, upon getting bad reviews, got so angry that she wrote a scathing column where she mentioned how the reviewers came and drank her husband’s expensive Scotch. Embedded in this rather casual and callous remark is the manner in which the writing scene has been in India. The status quo also encourages literary atrophy.

Scratch the skin and you will find a fabricated mask.

(c) FV

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Image: Open magazine

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Also published in Countercurrents, January 21


A Deobandi as Modi's Brand Ambassador

Before you raise your eyebrows, do see things beyond the obvious. The new Darul Uloom vice-chancellor, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, has given his stamp of approval to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Shocked? Don’t be. They both essentially perpetuate the same schema of religion as the subterranean text. Both have worked wonderfully at brainwashing people – one with the carrot of ‘Gujarati pride’, the other with the stick of fatwas that make faith into some watertight compartment.

Maulana Vastanvi is from Surat and an educated man. It has been reported that he introduced modern subjects like medicine and engineering in the local Darul-run institutions. One does not quite understand how these subjects become modern when even madrassas use technology these days. This is the superficial aspect that draws attention, quite forgetting how several religions steeped in rituals and superstitions do not permit true scientific inquiry and even resist certain medical intrusion. This includes the Darul Uloom.

Let us not forget its disgusting record of fatwas in the Imrana case or objecting to women working or the clothes people wear. The latest in the list is a fatwa issued this month that prohibits the practice of prophecy by Muslims. It cites the Shariah and warns that if a follower of the faith indulges in soothsaying, his prayers for 40 days become unacceptable.

Will the Deoband then ban all the caretakers at various shrines who after the prayers have been said, offering made and money deposited in the donation box swoosh a peacock feather over the devotee’s head and prophesise that all wishes will be fulfilled? What about the various pirs who advertise their powers to predict the future and the past? What about Islamic scholars that give their interpretations of Islam and further divide the community? What about the Deoband itself that issues these edicts? It may now say that it is only advice based on queries raised, but that is precisely what soothsayers do.

If they genuinely believe that the Quran is the last word, then they should refer the questioner to the Holy Book. Why is the Deoband permitting itself to act as a go-between?

This brings us to the modernisation by Maulana Vastanvi. It is relegated to the well-off. According to him there is “no discrimination against the minorities in the state as far as development is concerned…Development has taken place in Gujarat and we hope it will continue. I ask Muslims to study well. The government is ready to offer jobs (to them), but for that, they need good education.”

While education is always a desirable goal, why are there only government jobs on offer? Is this some autocratic system where the state decides even what employment opportunities are available to the minorities in the private sector? What is the educated population of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs? Who will fill up the Class IV government quota? I am not in any way suggesting that menial jobs should be an aspiration, but these too qualify as work. There are professions that require unskilled workers – what about those? The sword of education is made to hang on the necks of people precisely to demolish their self-esteem. Literacy does not guarantee the ability to fight for your rights. The system will not permit it.

Narendra Modi has streamlined the system so well that it is made to seem like the final destination, when education is a journey. How educated were the rioters of 2002? What degrees did the cops who went on a rampage hold? Were all the victims uneducated? In fact, some were educated rather well and had to pay the price for the possibility that they would not keep silent.

The Maulana does not see this. He is speaking the language of the elite, and an institution like the Darul Uloom is elitist, in that it lives within its cocoon and every once in a while comes out to pronounce edicts in a rather feudal manner. One does not want the Deoband or any group to take over the task of bringing a politician or a political establishment to book, but when a person takes over such an organisation he has to be responsible. Maulana Vastanvi says, instead, “The issue is almost eight years old now and we should move forward. Rioting anywhere – in Gujarat or in any other part of the world – is bad for humanity and should never happen. The Gujarat riots were a blemish for India and all culprits should be punished.”

The riots were not a blemish for India but for its bigoted politician who is the hero of this same modern India that the cleric is endorsing. He has gone to the extent of saying, “There are not as many problems in Gujarat as has been projected…As far as relief work for the riots is concerned, it has been carried out very well by the government and people of Gujarat.”

He seems oblivious to the cries of people still seeking justice…justice based on evidence. So, who is the uneducated one here?

Maulana Vastanvi and Narendra Modi may want Muslims to move on, and a few have because they could afford to. There are many who cannot. Some do not wish to because if they let their voices be muffled, then together with those few hundred bodies their souls too will get buried. One can be reasonably certain that a mall mausoleum will be built over it. Modi will flash it as one more victory for economic progress and the Maulana will flaunt a shadow puppet modern Muslim. He might like to check out what the Deoband has to say about malls, though.

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Published in Countercurrents, January 19


Sabarimala: A Test of faith?

Pilgrims on the way
Every year, in some part of the world, in some pilgrim sites, people die. Tents burned, landslides, stampedes. Yet, year after year people continue to visit these places. As a non-practising anything, I can only tell myself that we don’t stop flying because of air crashes or driving because of road rage or indulging in risk-filled activities and eating the wrong foods knowing they are wrong for us.

However, where anything religious is concerned, both believers and non-believers alike start analysing faith: If there is a god, then why put the devotees through such things? We must understand that these are totally besotted people and they want to see miracles happen because they trust in them, blindly. They are not challenging the superpower; they are submitting to it.

I think such queries are too rational to understand religious faith or the god-mechanism. In fact, there is rarely rational explanation even for air crashes, because it is not always engine failure. It could be a bird hit. I mean a bird in the sky, that pretty feathered creature, can bring down a whole airplane. Turbulent weather can do so. These cannot be factored in by science. So, how can disasters at pilgrim sites?

The miracle light
On Friday, the 14th, 106 people were killed and several injured near the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. There were 200,000 people gathered there at one time. The shrine where the Makara Jyoti (celestial light) appears on its own thrice a year is a sight that every worshipper wishes to behold. There is talk of mismanagement, about how vehicles that are prohibited at the last stretch managed to get in, how there were few cops to man the area, how people had no choice but to push because parts of the rubble were falling on them.

A liquor baron had donated Rs. 18 crore to get the roof of the sanctum gold-plated. This sort of thing is done regularly by the rich in India, but no one bothers about basic infrastructure and, more importantly, management.

The state government has paid Rs. 5 lakh compensation and the Centre has chipped in with Rs. 1 lakh each for the families of the dead and there is money for the injured. This is done when there is large-scale calamity of this kind, but never when an individual is killed in a road accident due to the terrible condition of the roads. And who will take action against the cops who were not there? What about the vehicles when the drivers too are dead? What accountability can there be when there are no accounts?

I am beginning to appreciate these virtual rituals now. I think devotees should follow the rites they wish to and just watch the light or the idol on the internet or on television. And during Haj they can stone the devil in this manner, too, with some sort of interactive software. I know this sounds blasphemous, but I am sure the gods can take care of themselves; it is people who need to be protected.

And let us try and ‘unbrainswash’ them from believing that all this is because god is testing them. Given the way some of our lives go, even the atheists among us must then count as the greatest believers.

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I do have some memories of Sabarimala on my frequent visits to South India during a certain period of my life.

As we’d drive from the Kerala side to Tamil Nadu there would be people walking, often barefoot, in saffron robes mostly to meet Lord Ayyappa, the reigning deity. Women of a fertile age are not permitted in the sanctum because the sage was celibate.

One day I had to return urgently to Mumbai and since there was no night flight, I drove past midnight to reach Thiruvananthapuram airport before dawn to catch the hopping flight at 6.30 AM. There were two drivers, both Tamilians, to ensure that should one feel sleepy the other would be ready to take over. The guy at the counter said the flight was delayed and I could not purchase the ticket since it was not certain what time it would arrive or even if it would make the scheduled stop.

My two escorts, accustomed to an early breakfast, asked if I was hungry. No, I said. Realising that they were, I told them to go ahead. “Madam, you come also,” they said. We went to a small eatery and all eyes turned. I had just worn a loose T-shirt over tights and my lids were heavy from lack of sleep. There were only men in here. Once we settled in, no one cast a glance at all. A banana leaf was placed before us, that was to act as a plate, and all kinds of chutneys were dumped on it, arranged rather neatly though in corners and then arrived my paper dosa, crisp and golden. The two men had ordered half a dozen things. The coffee came in a steel tumbler with an extra one that it had to be poured into from a height with the arm at a right angle. I stopped trying this jugglery but watched with fascination. This cools the beverage and adds froth. The contents of my cup remained in repose.

I could hear the others murmur, if it is possible at all to murmur in Malayalam which is a language that requires one to make groaning and gargling sounds …but there was softness in their demeanour, and I am not romanticising. They had just returned from Sabarimala. Their long fast was over and they were headed back home. They had made it safely, feet calloused, but worth the walk.

I did not take the flight and returned. This time I slept on the drive back. It was fate. Or faith?

Sunday ka Funda

Sometimes, it is the sheer helplessness of their positions that make people come together. What is reputation? How we are viewed by others. Does their perception make us those things? It takes a rich zamindar to make a prostitute see this, but the lyrics could apply to any of us. Why do we become slaves to what people think and say? They see labels, they see invisible branded iron rod marks on us and then make up their minds.

As these simple lyrics state, and I translate liberally:

Such is the way of life that every dawn is turned to dusk
So what are you when even the revered Sita had to go through fire?
Why weep over verbal ire?
People will say things, for speak ill they must

kuchh reet jagat ki aisi hai, har ek subah ki shaam hui
tu kaun hai, tera naam hai kya, sita bhi yahaan badnaam hui
phir kyon sansaar ki baaton se, bheeg gaye tere naina
kuchh to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna

* Movie: Amar Prem
* Singer: Kishore Kumar
* Music Director: R D Burman
* Lyricist: Anand Bakshi
* Actors/Actresses: Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore
* Year/Decade: 1971

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This song came flashing to mind because they are telecasting the film this evening and, of course, despite certain old-fashioned stereotypes, it is a beautiful love story...the sublimity contrasting to the brothel locales. In a manner of speaking, we aren't the walls we are pinned against.


Suck face

I am tired of kissing. First it was kissing as an art, now it is a science. Can people not just be left alone to do with their mouths what they wish to do?

How many of you have ever looked at the Kama Sutra for tips? I doubt it. Every glossy worth its smooth skin has covered this subject and I would in the past get terribly amused. To be honest, wouldn't you rather have a butterfly in your mouth than someone’s tongue fluttering inside in what is clearly a studied exercise?

This, however, is a subject that excites the intellectual. Sheril Kirshenbaum, a scientist at the University of Texas, has written a book The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. Did George Bush mean that? Anyhow, she has laid bare the whole shebang about how kissing evolved, why people kiss, why some kisses work and others don’t, why people have a phobia of kissing and others don’t, why it is okay in some societies and not so in others. You get the drift.

I understand all these are important aspects of any activity. Do you know the manner in which you clip your toenails can tell you a lot about your past life? You don’t? Neither do I, but I am sure it can be explored. The point is that most of the material is available, and that is how I found out stuff, and it does not even work as relaxed beachside reading. Like, are you aware about something called the ‘hickey kiss’ when all it means is that you get a blue mark that looks like some editing details in galley proofs of newspapers? Oh, ok, it is supposed to be more animalistic, an out-of-control body experience. Then there are all those different areas where a kiss can be administered, and the motives are quite clear. Does anyone need to figure out what a cheek peck and a foot lick really mean?

Way back in the 1930s there was a manual called The Art of Kissing that spoke among other things of the Vacuum Kiss. The man must position himself as he knows and then when his lips are where they should be he must get on to the task of "sucking inward as though you were trying to draw out the innards of an orange".

I have eaten oranges and as far as I know they don’t have innards. Unless someone means to defrock the fruit and then blow into it or rather from it; sounds more like a conch shell thing. Oranges have slices and the sucking of them is messier than empty or vacuum-like.

The part I dislike about the scientific study, though, is that it says you are more likely to remember your first kiss than losing your virginity. Kirshenbaum, in fact, believes that you can remember 90 per cent of the details of that smooch. I beg to differ and I will provide a counter-scientific theory. While the kiss may have some special memory, it could well have been unmemorable.

How many of you have managed to find a prince by kissing a toad? Or have experienced the kiss of the spider woman? As for virginity, it is culture specific and may matter a whole lot in some societies and not so much in others, and there is also the gender factor – men are less likely to be affected by the loss of virginity than are women, although I believe that men will remember it more clearly because it was a boy becoming man thing. Girls become women when they start menstruating and reading Maupassant after throwing off Mills & Boon. Virginity has a lot to do with giving up oneself and I do not mean to the horse you are riding or the energetic aerobics at the gym that may cause the ruptured hymen.

It has a lot to do with oneself for women and for the conquest by men. Therefore, it is unscientific to believe a kiss will be remembered more.

These theories do start a debate. Did you know that the ‘soul kiss’ is called so because the soul passes through the breath of one mouth to the other? I thought that was the job of resuscitation and the soul kiss, which is how the French got famous, although they call it the English kiss (maybe because you end up with a stiff upper lip), was to cure tonsillitis. But then I am not Woodward and Bernstein and know precious little about Deep Throat.

The Saffron Smokescreen

The Saffron Smokescreen
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, January 13

Swami Aseemanand is the rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s PR man. His new place in the confession box revealing the role of Hindutva terror may gladden the hearts of the ruling party and the political mechanism, but he is in fact saving the skin of the real culprits. More importantly, this sort of admission of guilt reveals the poor state of our intelligence agencies and security. This isn’t about murder any more, but about martyrdom.

He is speaking the language of Narendra Modi when he says that it was the attack on the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi that made him and his band of saffron terrorists decide that they needed to retaliate. It started with the bomb blast at the Mecca Mosque in Hyderabad followed by the blasts in Malegaon, a Muslim majority area.

Immediately, the antiterrorism squad (ATS) arrested nine Muslim boys under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the latter case, for they apparently posed a danger and could create “a riot-like situation in the state”. Later, under Hemant Karkare, who was killed in the Mumbai 2008 attack in Mumbai, the suspects turned out to be members of a hardliner Hindutva group, led by Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and an ex-armyman Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit.

In a television panel discussion intelligence expert B. Raman talked about how we need a scientific enquiry into these confessions and the subsequent acts. This is rather interesting, for no one has talked about such scientific evidence needed when the Muslim boys were arrested and several other cases where organisations are branded when they take credit for such acts of violence. Are we to understand that Swami Aseemanand is saying all this to merely show us the power of Hindutva terror?

Is this a wicked ploy to frighten and silence the Islamist jihadis and tell them that the upholders of the ancient culture cannot be silenced? This really is not necessary. We have history to speak, we have riots, we have POTA detainees, we know that Hindutva terror has existed always; it was the infiltration from outside that kept its exposure on the backburner. The current confessions seem to be playing on sentiment using a fine strategy.

As the Swami said, “In the (Valsad) meeting, I also suggested that... (since) a lot of Hindus visit the Ajmer shrine, we should carry out blast there so that Hindus get scared and stop going there. Moreover, I suggested that mostly Pakistanis travel in the Samjhauta Express, so it should also be bombed.”

The first is a passive-aggressive move. It is not about who goes where, but what a place stands for. There are people in Ayodhya, too, close to the Babri Masjid so this argument just does not wash. What is of particular importance here is that they got two Muslim boys to place the bombs along with Sunil Joshi, who the Swami claims was killed by his own men. There is no explanation for it, except to reveal that there are fissures in the group and not everyone might want to go ahead with such plans. In fact, throughout the admission of culpability, there is the subtext of the Muslim role. Apparently, the Abhinav Bharat members were not happy with the RSS’s Indresh Kumar, although he actively participated in their activities. The reason is curious, to say the least. He was supposedly an “ISI mole”. If he was a Pakistani agent, then why would he be a part of their plans? Simple. Pakistan will raise questions and what better alibi than putting the cat among the vultures?

Furthermore, a report states that the radicals objected to him “for his attempt to woo Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. The RSS leader’s bid to flag off Muslims on yatras — a scheme that went largely unnoticed—had incensed some of the Abhinav Bharat members.” What seems to have gone unnoticed is that the RSS has a strong covert operation going on in Jammu and Kashmir and is the pivot for all the yatras. It is the troublemaker.

That is the reason the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has come to rescue his party. In a counter-confession he said that there may be some radical members but they were told to leave the organisation since there was no place for extremism within it! He said that the accused are not in any way connected to the RSS. Why, then, were they asked to leave? This is such an old trick of the saffron parivar that one does not even get surprised. When the BJP is in trouble, then the RSS acts as its foot soldier. Now the RSS is in the forefront, so the blame is dumped on a few extremists, forgetting that its whole ideology is based on extremism. The mukhotas (masks) that contest elections cannot shed their RSS skin. In fact, it is the saffron blood that courses through their veins.

So, what is the role of Swami Aseemanand? It is to create a soft-focus photoshopped image of the RSS. Has he mentioned any high-level functionary in his confession or any remote link to prominent leaders? Do any of the persons mentioned claim to take their instructions from a higher authority? No. The demon of Hindutva terror is doing its dance and there is no way in which to wish it away. The best course is to accept the extremists in the fringe fold of Hindutva, the over-enthusiastic, misguided people.

The Swami’s lawyer is now saying that he was tortured into making the confession, although he had recorded his statement before a magistrate under section 164 of the CrPC which is admissible in a court of law. Before doing so he gave an insight into this move. He came clean because of a Muslim boy called Kaleem who spent a year and half in jail for the Mecca Masjid blast. Since the Swami knew whodunit, he wanted to ensure that the “real culprits can be punished and no innocent has to suffer”. Kaleem was a nice Muslim boy: “He helped me a lot and used to bring water, food, etc. I was very moved by his good conduct and my conscience asked me to do prayaschit (penance) by making a confessional statement.”

Now, he is on a yatra with the National Investigation Agency (NIA). For over 18 months they have been collecting evidence, but there has not been a cheep from them about the possibility of such a terror group’s hand in the Samjhauta Express case.

All their talk about hideouts and explosive-stuffed suitcases seems feeble before the grand gesture of the Swami and by proxy the RSS. Such is the nature of the legal process that those who light the fire are the ones who get to hide behind the smoke.


News meeows

True lies:

In times when exposes have become grandiose, Mumbai Mirror (Jan 11 issue) sent out its reporter to apply for membership to various political parties. He said he was a freelance web writer. This was enough to make him seem educated and he is young, too, which is what
everyone is looking for.

It is appalling to discover that one can become a member of any political party without anyone bothering to check on not only credentials but basic details. He even lied about his address.

The NCP was the quickest, followed by Shiv Sena, BJP and the MNS, whose office was also the most crowded. Within 48 hours he had laminated ID cards for all these parties. The Congress is the only one that asked for proof of address and PAN card number and the form he
has filled will take a week to process. I assume there will be some standard used for that.

What does this reveal? Party members can participate in several activities and have access to programmes organised by them. Should the person wish to take advantage, he can easily do so and there will not be any evidence. A fake name, a fake address, a fake profession - think about these the next time someone sells a political leader and party to you.

Are the political parties desperate or do they want such 'invisible'
people who can hide their shame?

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True idiocy:

"It's true that the price of milk and vegetables are high. Some of this is a reflection of economic prosperity and purchasing power."

- Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission

Someone tell him that we are not talking about limited edition solitaires. A country's economic prosperity is judged by how it manages to improve its main sector - agriculture here.

The high cost of essentials, in fact, is a yardstick of poor policies. I heard someone say on a TV discussion on Doordarshan, I think, that if the price rise is being attributed to bad crop, then why are egg prices high? "Murgi ne tau andey dene band nahin kiye! (the hens have not stopped laying eggs)"

If our purchasing power is so high then even the fairly pricey restaurants would not be replacing onions with cabbages. But who's to tell these kings of fancy economic policies?

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True grit:

This news has made me really happy.

Polio cases in India are down by 94 per cent from 741 in 2009 to 42 last year.

It seems like such a small thing but in our land of bad health care, superstition and lack of initiative, this shows we can do it if we genuinely want to.

Just two drops can save so many people of a debilitating disease and also closed minds.


Let down by the liberals

Is a serious public discourse going to blow with the winds of wrong reportage, second thoughts, or spontaneous reactions retracted? What is the truth?

Ilina Sen, wife of Binayak Sen, was reported (Jan 4) to have talked about seeking asylum in a more “liberal and democratic” place. She has refuted it in today’s issue (Jan 8):

“Had it been a plan, I would have left India 20 years back. Binayak and I need no certificate of patriotism.”

20 years ago, there was no slur; Binayak Sen was doing his work among the tribals. Her asylum comment was made when she was speaking at a meeting organised by the PUCL that has painstakingly recorded every detail of the trial and judgement and what it means and the loopholes. Is she saying that she did not make those statements? Then must she not pull up the press for misreporting? Why has no one from PUCL clarified on her behalf, if she was possibly in a disturbed frame of mind? She has refuted the asylum comment – no one mentioned emigration, as has been reported now – at a conference organised by the Indian Association for Women’s Studies. Is she saying that she had not used words like “democratic and liberal” society for wherever she thought she might want to go?

If the earlier report was erroneous, she has reiterated, “My phones are tapped.” So, what parts were misrepresented/misreported? Again, she was hoping that the High Court, where Binayak Sen has filed an appeal, will acquit him. However, she stated:

“But what if one spends 20 years and comes out clean. Who’ll compensate for 20 years of agony and blot?”

Is she expecting the acquittal to come after 20 years? There are such cases, cases that remain hidden from public view. But they are not prominent people and they might not even be contributing much to society, so no one gets to know. The reason Binayak Sen has got this support is because there is intellectual backing for his cause, and his cause as many see it is working among the people. It is not an ivory tower concern.

At least for some of us, that is an important factor. I had ended my piece Should Binayak Sen's Wife Seek Asylum? with:

By now a lot has been written about the absolutely shaky pretext on which he has been charged; some of the concerned people have come forth to say that because of their support for him they too should be jailed. This is an utter mockery of what he has stood for – he was not shouting from the podium and writing reams against the state; he incited no one to take to violence. One cannot even say that his dissent was intellectual. It was more for social equitability, and all he did to make this possible was to use himself rather than words; he lived by the Hippocratic Oath rather than hyperbole.

In times of exaggeration when you have to be a Tarantino scream to get noticed, Binayak and Ilina Sen have gone way beyond the schisms created by superficially-sanctified ‘isms’. Their fight is not to prove their innocence but the guilt of the state. It can only be done within the shores of their own country and among the people whose lives they sought to make better. (emphasis added now)

This is an issue of public concern because it has come into the public domain. There will be opinions and some will take the discussion beyond the ‘case’. It is about India, about Indian justice, about sedition and how it is viewed, and about dissent; it is all within the shores of the country. If we support Binayak Sen, it is a genuine support for all the factors that go with his sentence and the attendant clauses and causes. Therefore, it was indeed disappointing to read about his wife contemplating political asylum, as reported, and while it is fine that there are those who are ‘pillars of strength’ and ‘ideologically in tune’, there will also be valid posers about what we believe in. It probably does not fit in with the static nature of ‘support’, but if one cannot put one’s own beliefs under scrutiny then it limits its scope.

No one is giving a certificate of patriotism to the Sens, for patriotism itself has several layers. Perhaps Ilina Sen already knows that there are people who by the mere fact of having certain kinds of names are constantly having to prove not just their nationalism but their nationality.

I do not know why Ms. Sen has reacted the way she has, but it has upset me since my support is not buffered by any group allegiance. I continue to back Binayak Sen and want him released so that he can do what he so painstakingly worked towards. It is this that stood out among the caucus.

Arundhati Roy:

It is precious that when I have questioned this lady’s modus operandi – and I will not repeat about my earlier support for her ; it does not matter because you have to caw with the caucus at all times – a bunch of supporters would descend on me. This itself is evidence that there is a parallel mainstream. I was told that the anger against her by the mainstream (where she gets published) reveals ingrained misogyny. Sure, and when I am accused of “female jealousy” if I happen to disagree with her, then obviously this does not reveal any sort of misogyny. Am I a hijra or what?

Swami Agnivesh:

I understand that he is doing good work and if we permit missionaries to set up educational and social organisations, then he too can. However, what is this with him spreading himself in every damn cause, but how many times has he spoken out against his own swami brigade and their scandals? If we have issues with the Shankaracharyas and the sex swamis for poking their noses and stuff, then the same standards must apply to Swami Agnivesh. If he says that religion is an accident of birth, then why does he not quit his robes and his tag? We treat Uma Bharti as Uma Bharti and not as a sadhvi; when she tries that act, we pull her up for it. If we do not want religion to mess in politics then let it be for all.

The media finds these moderate mullahs who talk about peace and other nice things and because they are scholars of Islam it makes their position legitimate. It is, but only where the faith is concerned. Not the Constitution.

Only because Swami Agnivesh talks the accepted liberal talk it does not mean he has to be coddled for his views on everything, from Maoism to media lobbying.

Incidentally, I am still waiting for the big ‘liberals’ to come out and say something about the latter.

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Signing petitions was something I was wary of and as I said recently I have done it about six times; the last was for Binayak Sen. It is the last. No more petition-signing. Not even for the ostrich to take its head out of the sand. Who knows? There just might be an oasis somewhere down there.


Beyond women as 'liabilities'

Crimes are despicable. Some crimes reveal such sickness of mentality that they cease to be just crimes.

A 75-year-old woman was raped and murdered in Chandigarh; she belonged to a well-known family. I mention this because such acts do not take place only in 'backward' localities.

A five-year-old was sexually assaulted.

We already know about the 'tandoor murder' and the cannibalistic cases
of Nithari.

They never fail to shock me. We know that rape is not just about sex but power. Yet, a man can only flash his power when there is the possibility of a real struggle, by a woman trying her best to save her body and soul.

What resistance can an old woman or a child give? What can any man get out of this? Pleasure? Conquest? For a few goddamn seconds of ejaculation, why would any man go through such inhuman behaviour?
I cannot even picture this. I think of an aging face being stunned and a kid's wide-eyed stare that blanks out when she does not even know what is happening, that there is a part of her body that can be abused.
And when these men are done, they kill their victims. These big men with big weapons and tiny minds are afraid that they will be exposed by such helpless people? What an irony it is.

In rare cases, the dead bodies too are devoured. This is the male who cannot deal with anything living because he is dead inside.

Some of them are caught but the cases drag on. When did you last read a headline that said, 'No one killed this old woman/child'? Is there fast-track justice for them?

Corruption that is taking up prime time these days is a two-way crime. Rape isn't.
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Last week the papers reported that the Supreme Court's only female judge, Gyan Sudha Mishra, had listed her two daughters as liabilities in the proforma.

Today, her secretary has clarified that the liability is the cash outflow that would result in their future resettlement. Education loans fall under this category,too, he mentioned by way of example. He also wondered if the issue had been about sons would there be any discussion about gender?

I think this is a cavalier attitude. How many people mention expenses incurred on sons as liabilities? The subtext here, and stated too, is marriage expenses. What does this mean? Dowry? 'Stree dhan' (a woman's wealth, literally, but generally what her parents give her during the wedding)? Don't we know that the latter is often considered as covert dowry unless the marriage falls apart and the case is in the courts and the woman often has a tough time proving that the jewellery and other items are her's.

And this patronising nonsense flaunted as a rescue to reputation operation about the Judge Ms. Mishra's daughters being assets to the parents only underlines the transactional nature that human relationships have stooped to.


The 'spy' who loved Saudis

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a plan!

I think the Saudis have a point. That vulture that strayed into their territory could well have been a “Zionist plot” set up by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

It is possible that the Saudis thought it was a plane. The bird has a wing span of 8ftx8in, and if people can see UFOs, why can they not imagine spying? Besides, our pigeons can carry information, so vultures are known to be far more ambitious.

It carried a tag of Tel Aviv University. This was an educated bird, see? It was either a sophomore sent on training or one with a seasoned doctorate, perhaps even a professor. These Mossadis are known to be quite academic. But it ventured into the ‘No Fly Zone’, so its intentions may well have been deliberated.

It carried a GPS transmitter. The Israelis say they were monitoring migration patterns of the rare bird. Aha, now Wiki (pedia, not Leaks) says that the Griffin Vulture belongs to the old school and its population is mostly resident. So, what migration is possible?

It was found in the rural area when it was arrested. Since it is a scavenger, are Saudi Arabia’s villages located on mountains (the bird likes to feed and breed at a height) and have many dead animals that they wish to hide from the world?

I know the Israelis and most people are having a good laugh, but let us just say that their little big birdie is not up to much. It cannot study migratory patterns, loses its way, cannot lay its hands on a proper meal, does not even find a decent mate along the way, lacks any urban graces and goes to some stupid rural area and gets caught by the Saudis who usually prefer looking down at their oil wells.

I think this is a Saudi plot and the bird is really a falcon, its national bird.

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Image: Mirror, UK