Fear Factor in Gujarat

If it were not so tragic, the story of the Gujarat riots might have qualified for an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Witnesses are either coming out of the woodwork or turning hostile. Every accusation is termite-like eating into the riots case.

Recently, IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt testified against chief minister Narendra Modi’s role when he alleged that he was there at a late-night meeting on February 27, 2002, when the CM gave instructions to let Hindus “vent out their anger” and for Muslims to be “taught a lesson” after the Godhra train burning. His words were not new, but because of his position it did cause a stir. Besides, there were questions about the veracity of his claim. They said he was not present at the meeting. And there is also the question as to why the Special Investigative Team (SIT) did not call him for questioning. This was his position. One might ask why he did not proffer such information through other channels. It is likely that he would have lost his job or been transferred, which he was. Is he safe now?

According to a press conference held today, April 30, he has said:

“I can tell the Nanavati Commission that (about what he has said in the affidavit) and much more because I was privy to much more. When I approached the Supreme Court with an affidavit, I submitted to the honourable court that I know much more which I can reveal to the court when I am called upon to do so. If this commission is interested in finding out the truth and if I am given an opportunity to speak out the truth, then I can come out with all the facts that I know and can recollect at this point of time.”

He asked for security and got it. Now, some reports say that as per a notice from the DGP’s office he had to return the vehicles and ammunition. If the government is clean about its intentions, then does it have to worry about what an IPS officer who was not around, as they claim, has to say?

What do all these twists reveal besides delaying the process of justice to suit different stories at varied intervals and the fact that one needs an “opportunity to reveal the truth”?

Yasmeenbano Shaikh is the latest. She is a key witness in the Best Bakery case and earlier this week has moved the Mumbai high court against activist Teesta Setalvad who she contends misguided her. It is important to note that she had already written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Mumbai High Court on June 17, 2010. Her petition states:

“Yasmeen gave false deposition against the accused and identified them falsely at the behest and advice of Teesta Setalvad only in the false hope that she (Teesta) would help her financially…Yasmeen was obsessed with the idea of getting money from Teesta and hence she did not think much about the repercussions of her false deposition against innocent persons. She is however repenting now.”

The Best Bakery which was torched in the 2002 riots was owned by her father-in-law; her husband was injured and later died due to illness. She was witness to the carnage. Therefore, while she now says she is being manipulated for “ulterior motives”, will she deny that the bakery was burned down and people died? Does she know who did it, if she says that her testimony is false and innocents were implicated because of it? If she is expressing concern for the nine people who have been given a life sentence, then does she have similar feelings for the families of the 14 people who died in that fire?

Her letter was also sent to the Chief Justice of India, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and the Director General of Police, Gujarat. Why was there silence for 10 months if there was a good case to be followed? The DGP would have jumped at such an opportunity.

Is it her personal trauma that is making her do this – she lost her house to her husband’s second wife and had to live with her mother? Is there a political machinery using her and that could include the politics of activism? As she said about her time in Mumbai:

“Rais Khan (who has since also accused Teesta) and Teesta Setalvad kept strict observation on the flat in which we were residing, we were not able to go out and no one was allowed to meet us. Neither were we having mobile nor were we allowed to talk to anybody, even if we requested. We were not permitted to open the window of the room. Dhyansingh or sometimes Pradip, working in the office of Teesta Setalvad, used to stay for 24 hours there. They used to fulfill our requirements as well as keeping watch on us.”
After all this, why did she still go along? She says she was being tutored regarding what to say in the court by the activist as well as public prosecutor Manjula Rao. Is this not standard legal procedure where the lawyer advises regarding how the case should be dealt with?

One has to be certain as to how a woman who says she signed papers she had no knowledge of can now write letters to the powerful and mighty. She has made some very serious allegations:

“I was removed from the house the very next day of the pronouncement of judgement. I came to know that in the name of Best Bakery Case and for arranging deposition of persons like us, Teesta has collected lakhs of rupees and nothing was given to us.”

How does she know about the existence of this money, where it has come from and for what? Is it from the Gujarat government as compensation? Is it from human rights organisations? Is it from philanthropic institutes? Is it from well-wishers? Is it from outside agencies? Had she got a piece of the pie would she have continued to keep quiet and then what would have happened to her guilt and sorrow? Has no one told her that only one person’s deposition cannot result in such a huge sentence for the accused?

Having said this, it is difficult to ensure that victims are not used. The cases have been dragging on precisely because a closure would shut shop for many. The Gujarat riots were an intensive experiment at several levels. If Yasmeen could be lured by the activist lobby, then she can just as easily be lured by the political lobby. If she was kept under detention then her open protest could put her in further discomfort, unless she is being protected. She ought to know that legal proceedings can be instituted against her for false deposition, so what makes her unafraid? Is she just another face of Gujarat’s economic ‘miracle’? Or the ugly side of samaritanism?

Is justice about how many versions we have of it? It is important to not make this into a personality issue. No one can get away with any kind of abuse by using their power and position. If there are accusations, then they should be verified and the people made answerable. This should not in any way derail the cases against the role of the government officials.

Part of the problem with the Gujarat riots case is not only the strong establishment lobby but the several human rights organisations that jumped into the fray. There have been ego clashes and questions are naturally raised regarding the positions they take. It is, however, unfair that it becomes a battle against “pseudo secularism”. This is a sneaky modus operandi that may get some applause but does not solve the problem.

(c) Farzana Versey

Published in Countercurrents

Worn out clinches

I remember clothes – what I wore when and why, if there was a reason. Many of my reminiscences have the dress embedded in them. I like clothes although I am not pernickety. Maybe because I am certain about what I want. “You shop like a man,” I am often told. The allusion is to the fact that I don’t spend an awful amount of time going through the racks. I rarely window shop. If I did, I’d want to buy the window.

Are clothes superficial? In that case, they’d be deemed superfluous as well. I read some celebrities mention how they only dress up for comfort when they are wearing the most uncomfortable-looking clothes. This is really counter-snobbery. What is comfortable about thick denims in a warm climate?

Not all of what we wear are statements, but they are indicative of how we think to an extent. Henry Ward Beecher is right when he said:

“Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.”

Of course, ‘making it’ is relative and in social terms all of us are scrutinised by our peers. Clothes are also about manners because they often alter the way we carry ourselves. What we choose not to wear is equally important. One would imagine that people who socialise regularly would get it right, but they are the worst of the lot. There is a great deal of insecurity there. A Tennessee Williams quote is apt, although a bit sexist – it might apply to the male counterparts too:

“A witch and a bitch always dress up for each other, because otherwise the witch would upstage the bitch, or the bitch would upstage the witch, and the result would be havoc.”

These ruminations are prompted by the “event of the century”. I suppose everyone has different ideas of couture. While I understand the BBC going into every minute detail, what were the Indian channels thinking? Over-the-top society types were discussing how “understated” the royal gown was. There were nods of appreciation that every thirty minutes the people sewing the lace washed their hands and the needles were changed every three to four hours so that it looked fresh and lacy.

The television audience could not see all the work that went into it. We’ve seen better lace, and the trail did not have the drama and splash or even sobriety, if that is what they wanted. It looked like a curtain had fallen.

A budding queen?
And what was it about the yoke or rather the Madonna-like conical breasts? And really if you are getting married anywhere with anyone, the least you can do is get your hair right. Prince William is young and it is fine to get a hair weave. Really. What exactly did Kate Middleton have in mind with that limp rat’s tail hair? If she wanted to leave it loose, as she often does, why not set it or even have a stylish flounce if you must appear casual?

A heady experience
The commentators spoke about how she seemed to be so confident. I wish they had mentioned during all those rehearsals that the bride, when she gets out of her Rolls Royce, gears up to walk the length of the aisle to meet her waiting husband-to-be; she does not first wave at the crowds like some pop star on the red carpet. She was getting married and it is only proper that she played the nice girl along with her husband.

Her sister the maid of honour’s gown was obscure and quite ‘homely’. Prince Charles and Camilla were okay, and Prince Harry was such a natural and yet poised. But the Queen was so hammy. A yellow dress with a matching cloak-jacket and hat with white shoes and bag! They do it better at the Derby.

I'll bet on that filly...is that what the Queen wants to say?

All this business about simplicity in the time of recession is a laugh when you invite 1900 “close friends” and hold lavish receptions. Also, the stereotypes were played to the hilt when the BBC sent off its reporters to the Middletons' village and among the celebrations was a duck fight. No one’s going to sing a swan song to that for very long.

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Saudi Surprise!

Why invite the tyrants had been the cry when the Arab royals were asked to join in the celebrations. Well, they were there and it was striking to note what Saudi Arabia’s Princess Fadwa bint Khalid bin Abdullah bin Abdulrahman had worn. Where is that veil?

The Saudi royals - the lady's not veiling

I recall meeting a rather high-ranking official once. The appointed place was a lounge at a mall and I thought it would be easy to spot him. How many people would be in that traditional gear in the specific place? I looked and looked and finally went up to a security guy around and asked if he had seen any person in Arab dress. No. Finally, a gentleman in casual slacks and shirt walked up to me and shook hands. Yes, this was the man. No beard, no moustache, no prayer beads, no “salaam”. His teenage daughter was in a skirt that revealed legs.

So what is it about? Do they do in Rome as the Romans do and at home as their laws expect? If that is the case, then I must say that we need to step out and take another look.

Prince Mohamed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz is wearing traditional dress which is perhaps the formal code and a symbol of where he hails from.

If Victoria Beckham can come dressed like she is on the catwalk, pout in place, then the Saudi national dress is perfectly fine.

Ask the vexpert - 25

Question: I am a 26-year-old bachelor. I like to fantasise about my sexy colleagues or actresses to arouse myself during masturbation. However, whenever I see a picture of a girl's vagina, I get turned off and feel like throwing up. I have tried to get over this strange aversion, but have been unable. I can get aroused by a woman's lips, smile, breasts, navel, but not the vagina. Hence, I am afraid of marriage. I am not sure if I will be able to satisfy my wife. Is there something wrong with me?

Sexpert: You should consult a psychiatrist to get you out of this aversion. You can start by looking at pictures of a vagina every day and also when you masturbate. After you are married, you won’t be able to go without seeing it.

Me: Marriage has got nothing to do with the vagina, which in turn has little to do with sexual satisfaction. You can praise all the above-mentioned body parts of your partner and she will be satisfied. In the long history of cohabitation, I have not heard anyone singing praises of the vagina. Marriage has to do with how two people try and not get in each other’s way except when the occasion so demands. Besides, when you are at your ‘real’ job it is unlikely that you will see V, unless you are an obstetrician or a techie who likes to check that all the hardware is tickety-boo. On your ‘other’ experiments there will be a nodding association required. Seen figs? If you are a fruit guy, it might be your answer.

However, to make sure you do not puke at the site, do chew on some ginger as you would when you are taking an arduous journey in the mountains. You could also acclimatise yourself by visiting caves and sitting there for a few minutes. Make sure you do not spend too much time or you will be left hanging loose when you need to replicate the images. Also, make a note of the bats on the ceiling – that is a good testing ground for future use.


By Appointment With The Future Queen: Royalty and Labor Day

Royalty and Labor Day
By Appointment With The Future Queen
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, April 28, 2011
Two days after Kate Middleton and Prince William walk down the aisle, a group of workers will take to the streets to celebrate the working class. If there is any contradiction it will be ignored. Or perhaps, there is no contradiction. The working class pays the least amount of taxes and therefore can spare a few quid for monarchical whimsies. The real tussle of labour is with the capitalist.

The British monarchy is politically the most ceremonial. It has also stuck to its religious and traditional roles; these give it rights without duty. Analyst and economist of the Victorian era, Walter Bagehot, had expressed it clearly: “The Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense and sagacity would want no others.”

Within the confines of palaces and horse stables, and the occasional outings in military zones and for social causes, it does not get in the way of the public. Therefore, the anti-monarchy voices are essentially of the intelligentsia. It is a teak-wood panelled clubby opposition mainly reiterating at regular intervals that the times they are a-changing, and like any vinyl record, it has some antique value. Rather charmingly it gets transposed with the antiquity of the object of protest. Karl Marx had foreseen this when he wrote, “The Tories in England had long imagined that they were enthusiastic about the monarchy, the church and beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about rent.”

There have been humongous amounts of opinion column debates confined to discussing the future queen’s middle class origins. One would have assumed that the middle class was a defunct species for Britons in the discourse. The reason for such an obsessive and often intrusive nature of investigation is that not only was Ms. Middleton middle class until her formal engagement, she was also working class. It has little to do with her history that harks back to a coalminer, the pits, a flight attendant and air traffic manager, but her job profiles of choice did not reveal grand professional qualifications, although she did study well, holidayed well and led a nice little life in a red brick house with pretty siblings and parents who ran a neat business. Her ‘marrying well’ hits out at the idea not of the monarchy but of the middle class. It is worse than betrayal of the class; it is the travesty of demoting and then rising, skipping over the fence, so to speak.

When she went shopping recently, she chose undergarments at the bargain section and just as easily moved to Calvin Klein for the next batch of smalls. She has also revealed that she got nightmares that on her wedding day she would be in the buff. It might well be the jitters, but it is also a rather trashy public statement to make. It is what would appeal to the lower end of the stalls. There is possibly no planned method, but then it is no madness either. It is an art that her mother-in-law, the late Princess Diana, had perfected – an Eva Peron-like persona. Eva, who addressed the poor, “the shirtless ones”, with the famous words, “I leave you my woman's heart and I tell you once again that your companion Evita prefers to be Evita rather than the wife of the President…” She was not a politician, yet she knew that in an environment where self-esteem depended on how others viewed you, you had to have the masses on your side.

Diana worked the assembly line of causes to become the people’s princess. The people were not the intellectual class. They did not judge her and her foibles. She was way more popular than Prince Charles could ever be, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he talked to plants. Physical allure is one aspect, but it is the factor of benevolence that impresses upon naïve minds. They do not see it as a conflict situation. For them the monarchy is a fairytale – it is as imagined as it is real.

In the factories where they toil over making souvenirs, the kitsch goes well with the lack of aspiration forced upon the labour class that is given to believe they are the moving wheels of the economic carriage. The designers and sometimes tacky merchandisers redoubling as creators give them a blueprint but it is their hands that have shaped the mugs and plates and felt the heat of the kilns. While the formula is standard for the middle class minions of opportunity – the British flag, the royal emblem, the faces of the couple – for the working person each of these are symbolic of a comforting stability. Unlike politicians who swing to two extremes overtly, the changes in the monarchy are fairly subtle. The Queen remains the fulcrum and it is not without reason that she has refused to abdicate the throne. It is not about the British Empire anymore; that has been taken over by the House of Commons and its American-mimicked ideology. The Queen wants to keep alive the idea of the United Kingdom and that is the reason the pressure to be regal and proper has always been more on the future queens-to-be rather than any of the other princesses. Sarah Fergusson with her blazing red hair and toe being sucked by a millionaire moments were brushed off as specks of dust.

Diana was a callow young girl who had to be spruced up. The baggage she collected along the way went against the tulle trail that followed her on her nuptials, but she managed to get a royal canonisation. The attempts of Mohamed al Fayyad to erect a shrine at Harrods’s for her and his son Dodi appealed to the in-betweens the most. The middle class found that it went well with its Tory going Labour politics where the immigrant, the paparazzi and anti-monarchism can come together while shopping for scented candles and scones at a place that would never reach Bond Street. They would not want that; it is their destination when the chips are up and in the ‘Yes, Minister’ stance they employ it can be as often as they like to give that slight nod of their coiffured head as their proffer a limp handshake to simulate a foppishness they imagine is their ticket to upward mobility.

The working class has no such concerns. It is free of both democracy and monarchy. However, while the former uses it, the latter indulges it. May Day rallies have been against the capitalist movement and the targets are the politicians or the moneyed. Winston Churchill has not been spared and neither has McDonald’s. Why, one would wonder, attack an American franchise? Because the British middle class has become americanised. The best traders in the world are now watching their mustard Englishness being squirted with coquettish ketchup. There is only one way to go – fall in line.

The Americans, on their part, are quite besotted with the idea of ‘history’ and their own version of royalty is created in the Kennedy’s. In an amusing piece, Vanity Fair was so totally smitten with a scoop photograph that shows Kate Middleton to be a distant relative of Edward Kennedy.

A young Kate (fourth from right) with Ted, Hill-Bill Clinton and some other Kennedys
 A portion from the piece of fruitcake is worth reproducing:

“Middleton has the athleticism of a Jack, the charm of a Teddy, the shiny hair of a Maria Shriver, and the enigmatic reticence of one of the lesser-known Kennedys—Rose, for example. The 29-year-old, Berkshire-born Middleton frequently takes hunting and skiing trips with William, and would feel right at home swimming and playing tennis in Hyannis Port, where the Kennedys have owned a waterfront compound since 1927. Sartorially, Middleton is partial to basic trench coats, extravagant hats, and classic A-line skirts—all hallmarks of Kennedy women. Additionally, Middleton shares a birth date—January 9—with the singer Joan Baez, who of course shares a first name with Joan Kennedy, the first wife of Teddy Kennedy.”

In her first eye-popping net dress at college, she would have been more Paris Hilton, but no one wants to go there. Not now, at least. She has gone through the motions, been trained like a filly and has reportedly been asked to watch clips of how Diana dealt with the paparazzi, the same paparazzi that have been held responsible for her accident and death.

Prince William seems incidental as Kate is the one being initiated. Her best career move yet is not her marriage, but her willingness to share ‘digs’ with Prince Harry. The clubbers will snort silently. This is just what the working class would do.

(c) Farzana Versey

Images courtesy Guardian, Time, Vanity Fair

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An abridged version appears in Khaleej Times, May 2

Fashion, Fads and the Pharma Farce

"It is ironic when large parts of the world suffer from malnutrition, we have a situation where women are encouraged to look malnourished to sell fancy clothes."

Fashion, Fads and the Pharma Farce 
by Farzana Versey
State of Nature, Spring 2011 issue

• On a damp rack inside a hut, a rusty tin can stood amongst the small packets of lentils and a lime and chilli tied together to ward off evil. The can was a supplement of infant powdered milk.

• The model sashayed down the ramp wearing only a jacket that barely concealed her tiny breasts and ribs. Later in the hotel lobby she was smoking furiously, her hands trembling; the cosmetic face could not salvage the fading beauty of her mid-20s.

• Children in a posh suburb of Mumbai are encouraged by their parents to take their vitamins at the onset of exams – these pills are to enhance memory and have no vitamin content.

• In a red light area, a doctor has a long queue outside his clinic – performance drugs and placebos rule.

These are examples of what I have encountered as a journalist and during my stints with NGOs.

While the big questions remain about the role of pharmaceutical companies as well as of doctors and hospitals, it is really the soft targets that become living corpses for experimentation – women, children, the fashion industry and sexuality.

Why is there such discussion about the female body through the fashion route? Is it about anorexia or advertising? “She is emaciated,” said one user of a fashion clothing site. When former reality show star Allie Crandell began appearing as the model for a brand, some buyers had raised a hue and cry: “If you want people to buy from your company, don’t make them feel bad by showing your clothing on someone who clearly has no self esteem or respect for their body.” But isn’t that what the fashion industry wants – models who look like hangers that they can display their clothes on? Women with pre-pubescent bodies to give a young look?

Anorexia is the buzzword, but surely there cannot be so many models with stick-thin figures? It is ironic when large parts of the world suffer from malnutrition, we have a situation where women are encouraged to look malnourished to sell fancy clothes. Model Isabelle Caro had started a “No Anorexia” campaign where she posed in the nude to show her skeletal body. She died last year at 28. There have been debates, but they are in the nature of how the human form influences emulation. The more pertinent questions are regarding how they maintain those thin bodies. It is not about an individual choice anymore. Women are being herded into slots of the desired size. Curiously, their height, their features, their culture, their preferences do not matter.

In a schizophrenic world, once they are out of the ramp time, many seek jobs in the movie industry. Here, a more voluptuous look is desired. So, they need to plump up, and like farm chickens they are fattened by steroids and then sculpted surgically. These fields sponge on such trends, and everyday there is a new ideal. While we quite rightly pull up the cosmetics companies, we fail to see that the lines are now blurred. After the surgical procedures, there are antibiotics to be taken. However, the body image that is created has larger ramifications because it also inflicts itself on a segment that cannot afford such procedures, so it resorts to the urbane quacks who prescribe fat dissolving tablets and creams that supposedly tighten the loose muscles. The ayurveda industry has managed to claim its cosmetic products as medicinal, thereby avoiding taxes as well as misleading the user about its ‘no side-effects’ assertions, when many do in fact add allopathic elements to make it a quick-fix. The same applies to homeopathy, which has again become a big spa-like industry.

Sauna belts and teeth whiteners are available over the counter and no one bothers to read the fine print about what they contain and the precautions that are to be taken.

Respected sexologists too prescribe medicines for extended erection for men and painless intercourse for women. This is a dark area and most people will trust an authority figure they can approach anonymously. There are huge placebo possibilities here. The doctor I spoke to in the red light district admitted as much: “These people come with diseases for which there is no immediate cure, and since I am sitting here and have to run this clinic I give them some vitamin pills.” There is also the problem of follow-up. The clients are rarely regulars and it might not be feasible to keep track of such patients.

Condoms as a medical solution may seem surprising, but in the brothels that is how they are pushed. Not much care is taken regarding the brands and their efficacy. Some NGOs have tried to instil healthcare and teach the women proper use; however, the buyer is king and will dictate terms. The women in the poorer brothels have no control at all. Their visits to the doctor are essentially not driven by fear of disease, but of common ailments that will keep them off business. The doctor told me, “There is little time, so they believe they need a shot to speed up recovery usually for minor aches and pains. Again, it is a placebo.”

Many pharmaceutical companies advertise sex enhancement drugs as rejuvenators, since the advertising companies figure out ways to make the strength evident in specific areas. Even if they don’t, they use role models with great bodies and achievements. Or they get people from legitimate professions, like doctors and nurses, to sell ‘medicated’ toothpastes, lotions and soaps.

No one can have a problem with such innocent marketing, but it makes the prospective buyer believe that its use will tangibly address their problems, and then they place children in the arena to give it the appearance of a ‘caring’ industry.

The dream factory is full throttle where the under 15 segment is put to test. There is no reason for such young people to suffer memory loss, but pills to enhance memory are sold, as recent reports in India suggest. In a society where education is primarily scorecard-related, there are psychological factors that have to do with failure, competitiveness and being left out. Besides affecting vital organs, this could lead to a slowing of natural alertness. Knowledge would be by rote and curiosity would disappear altogether. There are no proven results regarding the drugs, but the fact that no prescriptions are required makes it dangerous.

The youngsters, whose bodies are still growing, are being made aware of calcium and protein supplements that are available in natural foods. The magic word ‘Glucose’ is bandied about as though it is a cola and equally harmful if taken without medical advice.

The same goes for teens whose ambitions seem to be in the entertainment industry or at least to look like they could be in one of them. From their hair to their toes, they are being sold products that have vitamins. A loving mother believes that she is slathering her girl’s hair with protein for an early beauty regimen; she believes there is vitamin in the processed soup, which in fact is filled with preservatives. This mother had probably timed her baby’s birth with some auspicious occasion and opted for a Caesarean section and did not nurse because she felt her breasts would sag.

The hut I mentioned in the beginning is the mimicked reality. The woman who had stocked on a multinational company’s formula milk product was illiterate. She could not read and follow the instructions about how much powder to add to the water. Even if she did, her circumstances did not offer her the luxury to make use of a clean vessel to boil the water, sterilise the bottle and mix the right proportion; her poverty would also make her add more water to save on the powder and make it last longer. When I questioned her, she said that the lady in whose house she worked as a domestic help used this and her baby was healthy. For the slum woman it was not about vanity, but the thought that she should at least be modern in the upbringing of her children where she could. Her decision was also based on the fact that certain organisations do give free samples in the poor areas. Most of these are close to expiry date. Once the women have used them and see pictures of lovely babies, they immediately begin to think that they need to save money and buy the same product.

In a vicious circle in a world where trends prevail, the healthy babies will need to fake a malnourished look in the future to be the face and bodies of designer labels.


The Call and Kalmadi

“Ma’am, I need to speak to you.”

“What is this about?” I asked.

“You are on our database…of socially conscious people.”

“I am sorry but it’s not possible.”

“Ma’am, don’t you have two minutes?”

“In two minutes I can get noodles ready, not social consciousness.”

I cannot believe they are reaching your doorstep to ask you questions. This call was from my building’s intercom and am glad the watchman checked to see if I had invited any “laidiss”.

This little anecdote of the afternoon takes us straight to the shoe/slipper or whatever footwear that was chucked at Suresh Kalmadi, Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chief and chor.

Let us get one thing clear – there will be many voices who will now claim that he was nailed because of the hoo-haa at Jantar Mantar and at the urban social dos they will discuss “how wonderful that we made it and exposed that fellow”. Hello, hello, Ms/Mr Social Conscious, when you run your half marathon in designer tracksuits, don’t forget who you are running with, okay? And at one time Kalmadi was One Of Them. Suave. Smart. Just a li’l bit Slimy. Great organiser, though. I recall his Pune Festivals. He had a good eye for laavni dancers.

So, for the past few months, there was a cry of “Kalmadi, Kal…maa….di” and how he gave deals to people at pumped up prices. He has finally been arrested. Now, some are saying it is just an “eyewash”.

Nitin Gadkari, the BJP’s spokesperson, is talking sizes:

“Kalmadi is a very small thing. He had a limited role of deciding the expenditure of just Rs.1,400 crore for the Commonwealth Games...Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must answer as to why only he (Kalmadi) was arrested when every file related to the CWG had signatures of a Group of Ministers (GoM), cabinet sub-committee, expenditure finance committee, Delhi chief minister and Prime Minister's Office ( PMO ). All those involved in the Rs.70,000 crore scam should be arrested.”

So, why was everyone barking out only Kalmadi’s name or “thing” all this while? He says he has proof:

“They can file a defamation suit against me if they believe I am making false statements.”

Looks like everyone wants to go to jail these days – whether it is on graft charges or defamation.

The real issue, not just for the Opposition parties (hardly clean themselves) but of certain members of civil society too who are suddenly talking the rightwing lingo, is the Congress. The CWG scam is huge, but how can everyone be arrested? Should the prime minister resign? What do resignations achieve? Kalmadi’s arrest is a big step because he did benefit, he was the one who was dealing with the agencies. Was he a front? Partly. But that is politics. In any field.

It is time, in fact, to ensure that politicians stay out of such sports events. Throw out all those running the major sports organisations and bring in former players, though they too have ulterior motives, especially if they are in prominent fields like cricket or tennis. Yet, at least they will be a tad better than politicians.

The other parties are only gearing for elections. That is all. Here is Gadkari:

“The Congress party has also not taken any significant steps to curb terrorism.”

I wish these politicians stuck to an issue and took it to its logical conclusion, instead of such diversions. Or is their concern mere ‘eyewash’ too?

Whose burden is the burqa?

Those who object to the “moving prison” say nothing about men displaying the physical assets of trophy wives in a consumerist paradise.

If anyone is benefiting from the Islamist idea, specifically the veil, then it is the western elite or the westernised liberals among Muslims. I might have been a part of the latter given my mode of dress, speech and general deportment. I choose, instead, to play devil’s advocate. The reason is that the debate over whether a woman has the right to cover her face and body has become a western discourse. Its validity is reduced partly due to its being co-opted by an alien yardstick and partly because, ironically, it uses the religious paradigm to justify the ban on the veil.

The Quran does not prescribe it, the Prophet did not enjoin it and so on go the arguments. That is not the point anymore, and incidentally men too follow certain dress codes. It is beyond religion and one must understand that the Muslim world, and even the Arab world, is not of one kind. Therefore, discussing anything in such uniform terms reveals paucity of insight. I’d like one single commentator to discuss this issue without bringing in Islam and then let us watch the fun.

Contemporary society has many areas of darkness and every religion is rediscovering its roots. The rediscovery probably has nothing to do with the essence of the faith. The Pat Robertsons often go well with TV dinners for those rushed for time and prayer. Patriarchal paranoia too would be justified if it also took into account how non-Muslim societies choose to treat their women where they are subtly left out of mainstream political and social opinions. Why is the West obsessed only with Islam?

This is an extension of the old xenophobia. Some are upfront and brand others as terrorists or suspects; the others go the other way and play patronising angels who understand the ‘pain’ of the Muslim woman. In France, where the veil was banned on April 11, a very small percentage of its Muslim population wears the veil. Why is the rest of the female population not considered in the arguments put forth? Does the fact that some women defied the ban not reveal that they cannot be herded into an ignorant, backward stereotype?

When the Bill was first being considered Andre Gerin, a Communist Party legislator, had said, “Today, we are confronted by certain Muslim women wearing the burqa, which covers and fully envelops the body and the head like a moving prison”. His 57 colleagues had signed a document that stated it amounted “to a breach of individual freedoms on our national territory”.

Whose individual freedom is it? I may personally not wear the veil but I do not think any woman doing so is infringing on my freedom. If the religion of France is secularism, then it does not as a matter of course mean that no religious choices can be made. Secularism is not atheism. If the issue is regarding security risks, then the government must make it clear that certain checks will be mandatory, but to sneak in ethical arguments is vile.

It is also extremely offensive to question veiled women who believe they feel empowered. Like grand vigilantes, the anti-veil group thinks it is important to probe the basis of such a choice. As a stand-alone poser it is legitimate, but then how many women have access to equal opportunities in the workplace or rights even at home? Those who object to the “moving prison” and contend that male insecurity puts a wife or sister behind the burqa say nothing about men who feel secure having trophy wives and displaying them for their physical assets in a consumerist paradise.

There is a belief that the veil defines a woman completely. It does not, just as a skirt or a lipstick does not. Whether they choose to wear loose ‘tents’ or scarves with tight clothes is only one of the choices they make in life, as much as others do things to please their partners, peer groups or societal trends. The people who can ensure that no one is forced to wear what she does not want to are those who understand the construct and not imposers who come with their own moral values garbed as liberalism. A true liberal is not offended by others and most certainly not afraid that she cannot bond with a face behind a niqab. With botox and cosmetics, not to speak of public facades, what about the masks we wear?

(c) Farzana Versey

The images are posited to emphasise the exaggerated positions and draw home the point that there are several layers between the two aspects.

Published in Countercurrents, April 25, 2011


Ale and Hearty

Can women use Viagra? Does it affect their performance? I am asking because of this silly little beer that has been created to trumpet the royal pain-in-the-ass wedding. BrewDog is marketing the Royal Virility Performance lager and it also has a tagline that says, “Arise Prince Willy”, which is sophomoric. It is a limited edition brew and the proceeds will go to the charities that the prince supports. Therefore, to mime a similar manner of speaking, those who consume it will really rise to the occasion.

What has not been made clear is the effect of the Viagra content on women who might imbibe it. Britain is known for its pubs and beer is a fairly unisex all-time drink there. It is a bit sexist.

The co-founder of the firm states: "As the bottle says, this is about consummation, not commemoration."

Then why wait for an occasion? Or is this bottle going to replace the water-bottle?

Now we have news that beer will not be served at Buckingham Palace because the “prospect of guests downing pints has been deemed unsuitable for such a prestigious occasion”. And would the guests be glugging pints? That says more about the guests than the beer. This is not the Oktoberfest where you sit on planks of wood and rough-hewn tables and the mugs are huge and there is much banging of the tables for refills. I dislike the taste of beer, but love to look at the froth. It is a beautiful sight, like a desert sunset topped by fluffy clouds.

Kate and William want a more “sophisticated” experience for their guests who will sip champagne and wine to accompany the canapés. There was a huge noise about how the 10,000 varieties of canapés will follow strict English cuisine norms. I wonder which English wines will be on the list and where would the champagne be from.

I am truly interested in the hierarchy of alcoholic beverages. I find it amusing when outside of fine dining, people make a production of wine-tasting. Especially if it is house wine! All good wines have been tasted; the details are mentioned on the label and if you are a connoisseur you ought to know about body and aroma. What’s the point when the steward brings a glass that you swirl it, sip it, roll it in your mouth and then nod appreciation, which you would do anyway?

It is fascinating, though, to watch. I doubt the guests at the Palace will dare do such a thing.

Talking of champagne, it is strange but quite sometime ago I had mentioned that the perfect female breast was the size of a champagne glass. It got people all wired up and it came to haunt me again recently in an accusatory tone. Honest, this is not my invention and not all champagne glasses are flutes. In fact, there is history to prove that the coupe was shaped along the curves of some aristocratic ladies, including perhaps Marie Antoinette. Wonder what she had with her cake.

I had an interesting experience in Delhi a few months back. I had a glass of vodka and my colleague brought his gin. We were seated with some other people at an ‘intellectual’ hub and he made a surprising comment about his choice of dinner drink: “I am not ashamed to show my feminine side.”

“Ah,” I said. “In that case I am an Alpha female and a spudist.”


Sunday ka Funda

"In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims."

— Howard Zinn

Satya Sai Baba: Spiritual Rockstar

Baba died this morning of April 24, 2011. According to his own spiritual calculations, he was scheduled to depart earth in 2022. While I understand the grief of the followers, I do not understand the disposition towards worship. I usually do not fathom any kind of mass belief, so this is not to single out an individual. Not individual, say the faithful, it is Bhagwan. We need gods. Sachin Tendulkar is god, and Sachin was not going to celebrate his birthday because he wanted to pray for Satya Sai Baba’s recovery.

At 85, he did lead a full life. He was known for his miracles, more magical than any magician’s. Unfortunately, his own bodily organs failed and no doctors could revive them. Strangely enough, even the prayers of the devotees could not nor his own divine powers. 

This is a profound disclosure of the spirituality business. Many people need guidance; many people suffer from some sort of misery. Wealth, education and even therapy do not work. They prefer being part of a gathering where a guru offers solace by the mere fact of her/his existence. It is a rockstar phenomenon, a classic case of collective catharsis. 

I was witness to it at Baba’s Whitefield ashram almost 15 years ago. I admit it was as a voyeuristic tourist that I went. A blue plastic shade covered a huge tent-like area. People were ambling about and most were foreigners. As I recollect, it was only Whites, a phenomenon that is noticeable in most such ashrams. You rarely see Blacks or other races, although there is considerable Japanese presence at the Osho ashram, because he had this thing about Zen. These foreigners wore carelessly draped cream-coloured sarees and bindis on the forehead; the men were in kurta-pyjama. At a water-tap a woman, her hair coiled at the nape of her neck, bent to drink water by cupping the palm of her hand. It was a memorable image, reminiscent of villages as seen in Bollywood films.

There was a canteen across the road run by the ashram. It was packed with people. Long wooden benches and tables. I am not sure if one had a choice, but the stuff on my plate was terribly spicy and as tears ran down my eyes, I watched the rest whose palates were even less trained for such food. They were eating with their fingers, seemingly enjoying every morsel. I thought to myself that perhaps this is what the spiritual journey is all about – getting used to whatever is on your plate. 

Back to the main ashram, they said Baba was going to give a darshan. The ground was dusty, but a platform was ready; soon there would be a throne for him to sit in and deliver his sermon and bless the congregation. Some had already begun reserving their places on the floor.

What were they looking for? They could read hundreds of tomes on spiritualism from several masters; they could be believers without moving from their homelands. They chose to travel all those miles just to become a part of the enterprise and get a glance of the man. Is this faith or is it about auto-suggestion where you begin to believe in your own delusions? How much of a role does any guru play in this, except for being a conduit to their greater search for going beyond the material? Can people not give up luxuries in their own environment and contribute to their societies? Where does the guru fit in when they cook, clean and eat humble meals?

Is it not a contradiction to see the person they have faith in sitting on a gilded throne and being hailed by the most powerful people, people who are willing to publicly be obsequious, unmindful of their reputations? Does that make them spiritual when after the ‘special’ moment they are back to their corporate offices and ministerial bungalows dictating policies that are hardly austere?

Baba had declared himself the incarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi; the latter’s devotees are not necessarily his worshippers and that itself should say something. 

It is also pertinent to note that when it comes to proving faith-healing and miraculous powers, it is the poor who are brought forward. It can be deduced that for them just a touch of any god-like creature is enough of a status leap. You won’t see them rubbing shoulders at community canteens with the rich devotees. Therefore, the Satya Sai Baba empire had little to do with his ability to produce Rolex watches out of thin air and vibhuti (holy ash) from his palms. Both have been challenged and proven by the Rationalist Society, but it has not affected the attitude of the faithful, even the ones with reasoning powers.

This is more likely about channelising wealth into a nirvana factory. Baba’s educational and health institutions are often quoted as examples of the good work beyond the ashram. These are commendable activities, but they also encourage people to owe their knowledge and their lives to Baba. Besides, there is a lot of money involved in maintaining ‘international standards’. Attempts to probe into the functioning of not only this but any religious organisation always meet with a dead-end because among the believers are those who run the investigating agencies. Any other improprieties are also shut up. Will any people’s movement have the courage to look into the financial dealings at the several ashrams and even madrassas and missionary-run outfits?

Complicit in this is the media. Rarely has any media group raised questions and when they do there is an arching over backwards to give a balanced picture. I was once told to “go slow” on religious figures for one of my columns, although I had written about Imam Bukhari of Delhi's Jama Masjid and the Pope earlier. In a casual conversation with someone much later, I discovered that the editor was a devout worshipper. It makes one wonder, then, what balance we are speaking about when there are already treacly tributes pouring in.

Ever since Baba took ill, news reports gave a daily update. It is fine since he does have enormous appeal and people were concerned. However, it was distressing to read about security arrangements at Puttarpathi, where his main operations are run from and in the ashram where he will be kept in state now. The forces are there because there will be a rush of VIPs. I can already imagine people killing themselves in grief. Who will do so? The poor. Not the rich and influential.

What does it tell us about the prospect of individuals as institutions? As Satya Sai Baba had once said, “Devotion has to be unintermittent, uninterrupted, like the flow of oil from one vessel to another.” Pity, he did not keep another vessel ready. Who will be in charge of the various organisations run by the private trust? It will be interesting to see how things unfold and whether Baba’s legacy can continue under the tutelage of his trusted aide, an IAS officer, or his nephew. It is unlikely. There will be a fight for the spoils. Spiritualism goes on the ventilator.

(C) Farzana Versey

Also published in Counterpunch, April 25


Echoes beyond Mortenson: Fabricated Philanthropy

Echoes Beyond Mortenson

Fabricated Philanthropy
By Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, April 22-24

It is being vilified as a yarn, for plagiarism, for making up the Taliban threats. Frothing mouths are expressing anger over being cheated. Cheated about what? A chronicler who took liberties in the telling of his story or one who embezzled funds from the charity he set up?

Let us go beyond the mountain story. Greg Mortenson, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, wrote the bestselling ‘Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time’ based on his experiences with the tribals after having lost his way on a mountaineering expedition and landing up in Korphe, a Balti village. It is possible that he exaggerated bits of the anecdotes, but surely he did not know that the Central Asia Institute charity he set up to fund schools in the region would turn out to be a cash cow? If, as the reports now reveal, only 41 per cent of that money was utilised for the charity work and the rest went on his book marketing, then we need to use another route of inquiry. There is hypocrisy in the manner in which it was promoted; the author was following the good old altruism trail. The reality and deception lie between the lines.

One report stated:

“President Obama was so impressed with the book that he donated $140,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize money to education ventures it spawned. The US military made it compulsory reading for personnel deployed in the Af-Pak theatre. American kids emptied their piggy banks to give to schools the author claimed to be building in Pakistan.”

Why was it made compulsory reading for army personnel and why humanise what is being demonised? Why did Barack Obama donate the money to this charity and not to any local one? Mortenson’s greater crime is one by default – of whitewashing the image of the US administration, even if to a small degree.

It has come to light that he was not kidnapped by the Taliban. In one of the photographs of 1996, his so-called kidnapper turns out to be Mansur Khan Mahsud, a research director of the FATA Research Center. After all these years, he now tells the Daily Beast that the author “just wanted to sell books because by 2006 everyone wanted to know about the Taliban and Waziristan…He thought this was a good chance to cash in”. Going by this argument, he too is cashing in after the expose. Did he not recognise himself earlier in the picture?

The author with school kids in Khanday

There are many organisations that work in those areas and if one writer has conjured up stories about Taliban intimidation it does not mean they are entirely untrue. It isn’t, in fact, just the Taliban. The government agencies too keep track. There have been cases of some activists being poisoned, of phone calls being tapped, of attempts at conversion. This I have first-hand knowledge of. But many of them also understand that they could be seen as suspect. There are some who admit that being do-gooders can be a pampered job profile where you don’t socialise with the locals beyond three cups of tea, and return to the UN club for your dance and drink evenings.

The Mortenson story, as opposed to Mortenson’s story, is not as unusual as it is made out to be. Misappropriating funds from charity is a known racket. In this case an individual has been exposed. What about the conniving methods by respectable people who ride on the philanthropy bandwagon in needy societies?

Lady Gaga’s bracelet for Japan’s tsunami victims is less devious than what the two Williams had been upto in India. Gates and Buffett made the idea of aid a business enterprise. It is a shame that they are sponging on the Indian economy while pretending to be “cheerleaders” for the game of giving.

With evangelical fervour they went about tutoring Indian industrialists on philanthropy. In this manner they got to meet all the big honchos under one roof and make a sound investment, not just in the poverty sector but to further their own businesses back home.

Beneath the umbrella of donations, it is raining opportunities. Buffett, the third richest man in the world, even manages to get upfront about it: “India is now a logical destination for an investor. I am an enormous believer in global trade and the better the rest of the world economies do, the better the US economy will do.”

So insular is the attitude that while flashing sympathy he commented on the two recent world crises - in Libya and Japan - rather callously: “Of course it is a tragedy for the people who have lost their loved ones. But for trade these events are just an interruption. Business will go on and this will not slow down world economic growth.”

India’s poverty will work as a testing ground for experimental entrepreneurship and can also be a means of skirting bureaucratic stasis. Together with the vaccines, they will be pumped in “chewing gum and coca-cola”. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, has a stake in Wrigley and Coca-Cola.

Bill Gates follows a similar principle when he says, “Giving and making money has a lot of similarities.” It is, if seen in entrepreneurial terms. A minuscule portion of the growing individual wealth is channelised into a large nameless pool. But success is rarely shared by those who contribute directly and are seen as competitors.

It is easy to speak about the Third World black money that can be routed for such legitimate activities. Buffett made a startling comment, “A child receiving a vaccine is not going to question the source of the money.” This could well apply to those coming from outside as well.

The plans for healthcare may set dangerous precedents. Bill Gates has been travelling through the villages of Bihar and while talking to NGOs, there is an attempt to educate and train the people. The simple fact is that such training will be quite useless, not because the rural folks are resistant – most do not question – but because it will be open season for the multinational pharmaceutical industry to dump their medical waste on us. This is not new and banned drugs even in urban areas are still prescribed and sold in India.

In a shocking bit of news a while ago, four Indian public-funded national universities entered into a pact with Nestle for nutrition awareness programmes for adolescent school-going girls in government-run village schools. This was kept under wraps because it has come to light that there was a Memorandum of Understanding between the two sides that stated: “This MoU, its existence and all information exchanged between the parties under this MoU or during the negotiations preceding this MoU is confidential to them and may not be shared with a third party.”

When questioned on the basis of the Right to Information Act, the response from Nestle mentioned that the programme was “specially developed by scientists and experts to be used exclusively to carry out the set objectives of the MoU. The contents of the programme are of commercial and confidential nature and the disclosure of which may harm our competitive position.” It is amazing that public institutions are being utilised for such competitiveness.

Our societies are also pulled up by the international philanthropist communities for spending on religion – people are more interested in building temples or donating to shrines. But when a huge tragedy occurs, it is the local NGOs and people who join in to help without waiting – the earthquake and floods in Pakistan, the tsunami in India. Except for foreign agencies, the Samaritan business community prefers to seek areas where they can spread their wings. This too is proselytisation.

Perhaps, it would make sense to talk about a preacher from Oakland, California. Harold Camping, an 89-year-old former civil engineer, runs a $120 million Family Radio Network, a religious broadcasting organisation funded by donations from listeners. He now owns 66 stations in the US alone.

There are many kinds of stories to be told and as many subterfuges. Greg Mortenson’s charity will be examined. He has, however, only fabricated the truth a bit. The real fabricators are the ones who delude people into believing that while they are emptying their pockets their motives cannot be questioned. They are not selling books. They are buying obeisance, these altruistic colonisers.


Playboy and the Muslim Vote

Recently, there were reports of former cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin being used by the Congress to garner Muslim votes. An email asked: “I wonder how the secularists will react if a political party follows an aggressive strategy to get Hindu votes.”

I have a counter-question: How will the Hindutvawadis react if a Hindu girl posed in the nude for Playboy? They have often created a ruckus about Valentine’s Day or certain clothing. My question is based on the news item about a Turkish Muslim girl posing in the buff for German Playboy. Her parents are angry. Many parents would be. She says she wanted to be free. I wonder from what. She is an actress, and does not live in a strict environment. Yet, this is being seen as a protest against stringent Muslim laws.

So, I’d like to know how many good Hindu girls won’t face similar flak.

As regards the secularist question and Hindu votes, what was the whole Ram Janmabhoomi movement about? Can there be anything more aggressive than this? Are there no caste faction political considerations? Even the secular political parties employ such methods. The “Muslim vote bank” has just become a convenient ploy to hide the other ploys. Muslims are not in a majority, so there will be many more Hindu voters anyway.

And Hindutva groups do try and portray their Muslim agenda, including Narendra Modi. They keep their token Mussalman members and they too attempt the Muslim at Ganesh puja and Hindu at Iftaar stunts.

If there is a real problem with secularism, then will these people have the courage to ask Muslims not to vote for them? Just as you don't have to look at Playboy.

Cool Bhushan, Hot Air

Now is the time to test the efficacy of the Lokpal Bill. The iron is hot, even if it is being re-heated by political interests.

A fresh controversy involving anti-corruption campaigner Shanti Bhushan broke out today over allotment of priced farmhouse plots to him and his son Jayant in nearby Noida and demands have cropped for the lawyer's resignation from the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill.

The controversy arose after reports were published today that the Bhushans has been allotted 10,000 sq metre plots valued at Rs 3.5 crore each to them by the UP government in 2009.

There are no victims here. But is has become a tussle of egos and they are all using diversionary tactics. Shanti Bhushan says:

"Public applications were invited...It is clear that it is part of a campaign by some corrupt important politicians that if I remain on the joint committee, it will not be possible for them to draft a soft law.

"(If I am there) they will be compelled to draft a really tough law against corruption. Probably those politicians are feeling jittery. The real intention seems to be to derail the process (of drafting the Lokpal Bill)."

This is now about individuals. It always was, but it is becoming more visible. Name the corrupt politicians. This is about corruption, so face it head-on. Does Mr. Bhushan believe he is the only hard-nosed person around? Does anyone for a moment believe that some such draft is going to put an end to swapping of favours? Isn’t there a conflict between his legal persona and his civil rights activist one? Did his son not appear on behalf of the UP government in the statues-installation case in a Noida park? This was not a human rights issue.

It is a known fact that prime properties are sold for a pittance to favoured people. Isn't the anti-graft bill about honesty. The Bhushans must be ready for this trial. And so must Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav with whom there were telephonic conversations in a CD that has appeared.

Instead of using this as an opportunity to discuss bribe givers and bribe takers, people are claiming it is doctored, which it well might be. Swami Agnivesh is really pushing it when he talks about the timing of the CD’s release. Anna Hazare’s fast and the anti-corruption movement were also timed with the recent scams, never mind that many operators were not included in their radar.

The insouciance with which both the Lokpal panel members as well as the politicians are flashing it reveals that no one is afraid about corruption at all. It is being used like any other trend and will have a short shelf life. If there is any doubt, then it is the business of the clean upholders of a civil movement to prove their innocence and not try and get out of it. Was this not being lauded as the great revolution with celebrity support? Well, then, if the CD is fake and the papers regarding the property are in place, then the people defaming the Bhushans can be tried in court. The revolutionaries are there, aren’t they?

And stop the puerile debate about who should sit on the panel to draft the Bill. We have a Constitution that is constantly tampered with, so what’s a Bill? Whether Shanti Bhushan is part of it or not, he does not hold proprietary rights over it and neither is it necessary to beat him up. We have too many martyrs on the make as it is.

- - -

Precious quote from Anna Hazare who is backing Shanti Bhushan:

"How can I give a guarantee about any person. I got to know him only because of this committee. I can give guarantee only about myself."


'Trump'eting and 'Singh'ing

Donald Trump loves America so much that he wants Libya. And China too if he could get past the noodles and fake Rolexes. There was a time when many wanted Donald Trump. Today, in his respectable avatar as a “serious” Republican candidate, he is making rather outrageous comments. No, I don’t have a problem when he says, “this country is a laughing stock throughout the world”, for he assumes that the United States has got the power and ought to use it not to better itself but to get the better of others.

It is his rather facile attitude that makes one wonder what all the fuss is about Sarah Palin.

On Libya

“Look at Libya. Look at this mess. We go in, we don't go in, he shouldn't be removed, we don't want to remove him, we don't want to touch him, but he should be removed. Nobody knows what they're doing on Kadhafi. I'd do one thing. Either I'd go in and take the oil or I don't go in at all. In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation is yours."

I am tempted to at least accept his upfront stance. Nobody asked the American administration to go to Libya in the first place. If anyone has to do anything to or with Col. Muammar Gaddafi it is the other political leaders and how the people decide to act. He is pummelling them, but the situation would have been not as bad without outside interference.

Trump has inadvertently revealed that it is all about oil and not to save the poor citizens. Talking about the old days, he need not go very far back in time to figure out that the US went to war with countries it had no skirmishes with. It just landed up there when two other countries or two factions within a country were fighting, or of course to look for weapons of mass destruction or to find a man in a cave or a caveman. None of these qualify as victories because the local people have been most affected. And none of these nations belongs to America even after the ‘win’.

On China

“If you look at what China is doing, they're stealing our jobs, they're taking our money. They're then loaning our money back. It's amazing. They're making all of our products. They are also manipulating the currency that makes it almost impossible for our companies to compete with China.”

China is, undoubtedly, a canny competitor. But the jobs have not been stolen. It was the US that decided to outsource jobs to get cheap labour. If China is manipulating currency and doing a trade yo-yo, then it is merely using sharp business tactics. The US economy has suffered due to the jugglery of its own companies and the policies of the government. Naturally, foreign investors will move to where they get returns. China is not taking American money, unless Americans are choosing to invest there.

And what American products are being made by China? They manufacture cheap stuff of their own or imitations of Swiss watches, German gadgets, Italian mosaic work and even Indian artefacts. Ever heard about Chinese American apple pie? Or Apple?

- - -

Another case of putting the carriage under the horse is Indian PM, Manmohan Singh.

On five things he’d like to achieve with relations to Pakistan:

“Five would be too much. Well, if I can succeed in normalizing relations between India and Pakistan, as they should prevail between two normal states, I will consider my job well done.”

He cannot mention five things and then he wants normalcy. What is normal about these two countries individually, anyway? How would he define it when there are separatist movements all around? What is the yardstick for normal states to be considered normal vis-à-vis each other?

Such obfuscation is not new, but it would have been way better had he mentioned five specific things, even if he said cricket or sweets or films or exchange of camels, because he would certainly not talk about defence issues, Jammu and Kashmir, nuclearisation, prisoners, infiltration, Headley, Rana, Kasab, Raw, ISI. Nope.

So, how do we achieve this normal state between two normal states when the real issues are not addressed? I understand that on a flight to Kazakhstan, where the query was posed, it might not be prudent to go into details, but we have been in denial or employ dithering tactics.

And dear Mr. Prime Minister, this is about India and not you and how “well done” your job is. Is it at stake or is it steak?


Sedition, Defamation and the 'People's Movement'

Not only has Dr. Binayak Sen been granted bail, he can even roam the Red areas. This is a bit weird, for he was charged with helping the Maoists based on literature he smuggled into prison and that was found at his house.

Many thought the arguments facile (my pieces are available here), but when Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who has led the battle against the Naxalites says, “I am happy to know Sen has got bail", one is forced to look at the flip side.

The Supreme Court pulled up the trial court for sentencing him to life imprisonment.

Are the courts so disparate in their judgments when the law books are the same? If he is allowed to visit Red areas then why do the security agencies then not take into account the exact nature of the involvement of those it shoots, putting its own people too at risk?

There have been many smiles around after the SC intervention, but I am not so chuffed about the larger issue. Does Sen’s temporary freedom mean that perhaps they will find more material to charge him with if he does go to those ‘Red’ places?

In a rather amusing analogy regarding the material found with Dr. Sen, the SC stated:

“These documents are available widely. These are general documents and could be available with anyone. How do you fasten sedition charge for this? If Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography is found in the house of a person, it will not make him a Gandhian.”

Of course, I do not buy into simplistic sedition charges, but what a silly comparison. In the hands of certain forces, those documents can mean different things. The presence of holy scriptures around might indicate that a person is religious. And to drive the point home, the law books do not mean every judgement is fair.

- - -

Swami Agnivesh clears the air about Anna Hazare’s pro-Modi stand with Mallika Sarabhai. Hazare himself sits in as guest editor of The Times of India and clears the air. I am sounding like a stuck record, but this is all about a huddled group.

Mr. Hazare can base his applause for Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar’s development work on media reports, but he wants evidence into Modi’s role in the post-Godhra riots:

“I have no proof of that.”
He said it would be tantamount to defaming someone, but reiterated he did not in any way support the riots. “I’ve read about the rural development work done by Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Modi, that is why I said these models seem to be working.”

“I have received emails contesting the record of the Gujarat government. If claims that Modi’s record is not good are true, I will withdraw my remarks.”

He has been defaming the entire Indian population because corruption cannot exist in a vacuum; he has defamed the Indian Republic. So, while sitting in the TOI office why did someone not whip out the proof that he wants? Not that it matters one bit how much he is concerned about communalism. That’s his problem. But then he should not start behaving like someone who can topple governments:

“If my fast had continued for three more days, the government would have fallen.”

Then why did he not continue since he knows that corruption will not just vanish? Would this not have been a good lesson? But, no. That would take up too much time from TV studio visits where he spews “folksy wisdom”. Sure, folksy wisdom discusses rural development projects and like some holy man he gives his blessings without knowing how the development has taken place and who it is benefitting. He will withdraw his remarks if the claims are not true. He might need proof of that as well.

And this is the man everyone is rallying around, a man who does not know about genocide and hundreds of people waiting in relief camps for compensation. There is corruption here too, in case he has a thing for a single-minded narrative or whatever they call it in folksy wisdom lingo.

I might add that my views about this ‘people’s movement’ are not based on his communal statements, which were made later. It is just that now I am looking at how the lust for power spares no one.

End note

Surfing channels I found a disgusting ‘spoof’ on CNN-IBN, and we will ignore the stupid “Isn’t Anna a woman?” jokes. When he is breaking his fast, we see a blue-turbaned Sikh bending to offer him lime juice and Hazare’s assistant shouting at him to bring some other goodies. It was in poor taste not because Manmohan Singh cannot be spoofed but because it is a bloody ignorant thought. No one has capitulated before Anna sahib. If anything, he is playing ball with everyone.

Incidentally, the media, especially the electronic media, should be the last one to applaud the fight against corruption. The sound of the Radia tapes has not yet died down. Or is this a nice little camouflage opportunity?

What are Anna Hazare’s views on lobbyists in the media who assist in corruption?

Sunday ka Funda

When you are at home and miss it...when you raise your eyebrows and yet hope...


The Gandhian Orgy: Ideological Bunga-bunga

The Gandhian Orgy

Ideological Bunga-bunga
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, April 15-17

Nude heads wearing Gandhi caps have become the new face of corporatised India’s conscience. It happens to be at around the same time when the Mahatma’s clay feet are being grounded in a book that is sought to be banned for its allusion to his affair with a German Jew. But Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India is being lapped up eagerly by the nouveau intellectuals who believe it is cool to have Gandhi as a gay icon.

The two ideas meet quite seamlessly in the conscious – and one might add conscience – of the ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ crowd. The awakening of India is not evolutionary. It has not chosen a specific segment to fight against, but a notion. Corruption, like sexuality, works underground. It comes with a baggage of shame and guilt and although crimes can be tried in a court of law, there is more likely to be an emphasis on the moral dimension.

When activist Anna Hazare decided to go on a hunger strike to push for public involvement in dealing with corrupt ministers he was playing on sentiment. Right versus Wrong. Superficially, it is about right and wrong, and at least one headline talked about “Crowds gather at the Corruption Kukukshetra’, the latter being the mythical battlefield of the Mahabharata. But there is no battle. Sonia Gandhi in a moment akin to her raised fists to cheer a victorious cricket team has come out in support of this fight. There cannot be a darker comedic moment than this.

But, then, think of her as an outsider in more ways than one, the onlooker, the lawgiver with eyes blindfolded to convey that justice will be done. This is giving a different thrust. In slang parlance it would amount to taking the mickey out of the mouse. It is a mice story.

More reminiscence reveals that it is the story of selective Gandhian conscience. The Gandhian conscience and Gandhi’s conscience are not the same. The latter is a personality trait; the other is a potent totem of what is perceived to be Gandhi’s conscience. At the most obvious level, Gandhi never wore what has popularly been called the Gandhi cap. Today it is being used as a symbol for a non-violent struggle against a non-violent crime. Therefore, it isn’t a struggle with an outside force but one within.

The conflict in Mahatma Gandhi’s mind is a chimera for public consumption. He was clear. There was no obfuscation in his need to sell a dream and market his concept of sleeping with a clean conscience. Indians are really into this. In their waking hours they might not worry too much about their consciences, but they must sleep with an airbrushed one.

Several miles away the Italian prime minister is being tried for his debauched lifestyle and using his position to have merry moments with women who benefitted from his position. He claims that he is “no saint”. Gandhi did not indulge in any of these hedonistic delights but his sainthood is rather deliciously based on his trials with “the scorpion of passion”. His celibacy was exhibitionistic. India has been a spectator to it for all the years since Independence. Much as we inherited the Victorian idea of sexuality from the British, the Mahatma embellished it further with the theme of struggle, an annihilation of the Self. It appears like a humble thought but in reality it is egotistical. The Self becomes a self-perpetuating organism, like the algae that breaks up and creates other selves. This ‘complexity’ is designed.

In a society that shirks discussions about the body, everything from his frail frame to his swift walk to the sparse clothing and the primal instincts have become part of our cultural understanding of the individual to use as an example of subsuming of precisely what was over-the-counter. It is a bit like our flashing the Kama Sutra and temple sculptures as examples of our openness. They in fact serve to alienate us and renew guilt over basic needs. The struggles are for saints and the fantasies for iconic figures.

Superimpose this on the battle against any idea that takes to the streets. It again harks back to guilt and punishment and the culprits are to be shamed before a public commission. The call for a ‘jail bharo’ to fill the prisons can be seen as a release from guilt, the momentary joy by letting go of inhibitions. Rather tellingly, no questions are being asked about those who are participating or offering support.

There have been pictures of young children standing in the heat who don’t know what corruption is. They are being tainted with the knowledge before they can think of using it. This amounts to intellectual paedophilia. Bollywood stars who are raided for tax evasion are offering their support; film directors who have exploited characters to suit their art-house works are joining in. There is silence over their inclusion and it is not because the fight is not exclusivist but because they will be the supra-‘underdogs’.

These people may have been otherwise spewing out against any negative representation of Gandhi, but these are days of liberalisation – economic and therefore elitist. When we tour the world with our fat wallets we will meet people who are sexually experimentative. We have legalised homosexuality not to help the poor in the gay community but to give a semblance of modernity to our cultural ambassadors who can now flaunt India as an ‘alternative’ vision.

Discussing Gandhi, sexologist and author Dr. Sudhir Kakar chooses to see his sexuality in spiritual terms.
“We cannot understand Gandhi’s sexual preoccupations without understanding their source in Hindu Vaishnav ideas on semen and celibacy, which he had absorbed from his culture while growing up and which he had internalised. In brief, physical strength and mental power have their source in virya, a word that stands for both sexual energy and semen. Virya can either move downward in sexual intercourse, where it is emitted as semen, or move upward into the brain in its subtle form known as ojas. The downward movement of semen is regarded as enervating, a debilitating waste of vitality and essential energy. If, on the other hand, semen is retained, converted into ojas by brahmacharya, it becomes a source of spiritual life and mental power. Memory, willpower, inspiration - scientific and artistic - all derive from the observation of brahmacharya. Gandhi is merely reiterating these popular ideas when he writes that sex, except for the purpose of generation, is ‘... a criminal waste of precious energy. It is now easy to understand why the scientists of old have put such a great value upon the vital fluid and why they have insisted upon its strong transmutation into the highest form of energy for the benefit of society’.”

Scientific ideas in fact insist that letting the fluid flow is better for general health. The ‘wastage’ theory is unfounded, and its upward movement need not necessarily transform into a halo. It could just sit in the brain and devour it. Gandhi employed the concept as a masochistic non-violent struggle. The rightwing RSS that follows stringent rules of abstinence does not show any spiritual inclination.

The main purpose was to “benefit” society. This resonates with people. The giver is also the one who retains, so to speak. Moral authority is in the hands of the Samaritan. A gathering gains momentum in a metaphorical hormonal surge. Internalised guilt gets projected. A hundred mutinies throb in symbolic deliriousness. Nothing is wasted; a little is gained.

Tharoor and Abdullah

"Amul babies are fit, strong and focussed. (They) symbolize white revolution, which brought milk to the masses.

- Shashi Tharoor

This comment is being considered humorous because unlike our other Congress netas he has not made a fuss over Kerala chief minister V S Achutanandan's statement about Rahul Gandhi being an Amul baby. A few points:

*Rahul asked the voters if they wanted a 90-year-old man at the end of the tenure. That was offensive to a senior leader.

*The Amul baby is an advertising symbol and has nothing to do with the masses. What is the baby 'focused' on anyway?

*The white revolution was the result of the cooperative movement in Anand, Gujarat. Those masses did not think of utterly butterly stuff. I guess they really did not want to butter up anyone, and did not even know if their bread would be buttered, forget on which side.

We miss straightforward old-fashioned sycophancy.

Incidentally, Narendra Modi has inadvertently got the thumbs up for a fit and strong
revolution in his backyard. He did not start it, we know, but Amul is a Gujarat story.

- - -

"The day is not far when there will be no girls to marry and we will all become gays."

- Farooq Abdullah on the declining female population

Is the primary role of women to be male-centric? Unless the minister lives in some la-la-land, girls do grow up to do other things. This remark is especially absurd because procreation has pushed the woman into a situation where, although she is the conceiver, she cannot decide whether she can give birth and if she does then she has no choice but to fall in line with the desire for a male offspring, even watching and participating in the ritual of killing the girl child.

Next we come to the minister's comment about gays. Homosexuality is not the consequence of lack of females. Using his logic one may say that since there are more men, women will become promiscuous and we will be headed towards a matrilineal society.

The skewed sex ratio should be seen from the female perspective and not about what will happen to the poor men.

For starters, they can grow up. Or is the Amul baby idea catching on?