Indira Gandhi Booked

The history of the Congress party being written by a group of people from within the fold is like the skin covering the flesh. But, as expected it has got politicians to react.

This is supposed to be some sort of commemorative effort because of the completion of the party’s 125 years.

The Congress’s history, written by a group of experts, has blamed Indira Gandhi’s policies for the party’s collapse in the Hindi heartland, including its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh, triggering surprise among leaders about the growing tolerance in the party over an alternate viewpoint.

Rubbish. This is not an alternative viewpoint but passing the buck. It is edited by Pranab Mukherjee, who is an acolyte of Manmohan Singh, who in turn is an obedient student of Sonia Gandhi, who in turn has to think of Rahul Gandhi, who in turn has failed to do much in UP, which in turn is the big trophy for any political party and had the whole thali of vote banks – Muslim, Brahmin, Dalit, farmer, zamindar, gun culture, culture and some of the most power-hungry people ever in this country sitting in positions of office.

I doubt if all those who are barfing now have read the book. The Congress probably leaked out the juicy bits about the Emergency, which no one can do anything about instead of more current and relevant issues. Of course, it is history and history will mention such events. I would like to read about the anti-Sikh riots and see whether they have shown up those characters who continued to hold office until recently. I want to know if Rajiv Gandhi’s comment after his mother’s assassination is mentioned. I want to know if Rajiv-Longowal pact is mentioned. I want to know if the role of India with regard to the LTTE is mentioned.

The Congress does not even know who the writer is. At least that is what cross-over politician V.C.Shukla said.

“There are only views and thoughts of some leaders in the book. Actually, Indiraji had done a good job in her tenure.”

Great. Indira Gandhi gets a certificate from the man who was a Sanjay Gandhi loyalist, then stayed on to get the goodies, left a while ago to join the BJP and is now back in the Congress.

The BJP has its own take on the book:

“The party is personality dominated and there are differences on every issue. Whether it is the Maoist issue or other ones, the party lacks unanimity on issues.”

Yes. Now tell us why did Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari squabble yesterday? What were the dynamics in the relationship between L.K.Advani and A.B.Vajpayee? Why does the BJP play one game and let the RSS act as its boss?

This is just a book. If only all political parties would reveal what is between the lines of their own chapters and verses.

Forgetting a War

Joshua’s lips quivered just a bit. This was sadness that crept stealthily, crushing leaves underfoot but not before the trees had been laden with fruit. Joshua, born into a war, of an Italian Jewish father and a mother from an aristocratic family, had pride as well as curiosity. The Guido and Dora love story was a sacrifice to retain his innocence.

I have read a lot on World War II and seen quite a few films; much of it has had a deep impact. Life Is Beautiful, that I watched again recently, has stayed by my side because it clasped the heart. No amount of fighting and strategy could convey what Guido sought to conceal. For me the film was less about war than it was about peace – the peace within us that seeks order, that thirsts for a few drops of rain on parched earth, that clamours to hold on to clammy palms to share fears and thereby lessen them.

Some had criticised it as being too simplistic. What is not simplistic about deciding enemies and shooting off your mouth and damning whole sections of people only because you need to protect a geographical space? What is not simplistic about control? What is not simplistic about the belief that you are superior only because you belong to a place that seems superior? Think about Chaplin’s brilliant portrayal of Hitler (and a Jewish barber) in The Great Dictator and see how simplistic it can be when the roles are swapped.

Joshua’s education in forgetting is nuanced. It is easy to remember, to learn by rote, to take mental snapshots of what is happening and see the worst in it. It is not easy to watch all this and believe that it is not what it appears to be. If Guido tells his son that some of the things he is supposed to do are games, then games were indeed being played by the big powers, big boys with big ammunition getting into a huddle and forming groups, much like children do at school and in play areas, but much worse. They were not destroying places or conquering them; they were destroying the worth of people’s identities, soiling them with small ideologies. It was a muddy, bloody battle. The family knew it was not a game, but that tank which was to be theirs to conquer symbolised victory over forces stronger.

The father is shot dead, and Joshua does not know about it. The hidden is so much more potent. Why does the child believe his stories for so long? There is only one answer: Faith that comes from love. This isn’t a war story, but a love story where forgetting is more important than remembering.


Sunday ka Funda

The Sheikhs of the skullcaps

Bahaudin Naqshband (c. 1389A.D.) was approached by the sheikhs of four Sufi groups in India, Egypt, Turkey (Roum), and Persia. They asked him, in eloquently-worded letters, to send them teachings which they could impart to their followers.

Bahaudin first said: 'What I have is not new. You have it and do not use it correctly: therefore you will simply say when you receive my messages, "These are not new".'

The sheikhs replied: 'With respect, we believe that our disciples will not think thus.'

Bahaudin did not reply to these letters, but read them in his assemblies, saying: 'We at a distance will be able to see what happens. Those who are in the midst of it will not, however, make the effort to see what is happening to them.'

Then the sheikhs wrote to Bahaudin and asked him to give some token of his interest. Bahaudin sent one small skullcap, the araqia, for each student, telling their sheikhs to distribute them as from him, without saying what the reason might be.

He said to his assembly: 'I have done such-and-such a thing. We who are far will see what those who are near to events will not see.'

Now he wrote, after a time, to each of the sheikhs, asking them whether they had abided by his wishes, and what the result had been.

The sheikhs wrote: 'We have abided by your wishes.' But as to the results, the sheikh of Egypt wrote: 'My community eagerly accepted your gift as a sign of special sanctity and blessing, and as soon as the caps were distributed each person regarded them as of the greatest inner significance, and as carrying your mandate.'

And the sheikh of the Turks wrote, on the other hand: 'The community regard your cap with great suspicion. They imagine that it betokens your desire to assume their leadership. Some are afraid that you may even influence them from afar through this object.'

There was a different result from the sheikh in India, who wrote: 'Our disciples are in great confusion, and daily ask me to interpret to them the meaning of the distribution of araqia. Until I tell them something about this, they do not know how to act.'

The letter from the sheikh of Persia said: 'The result of your distribution of the caps has been that the Seekers, content with what you have sent them, await your further pleasure, so that they may place at the disposal of their teaching and of themselves the efforts which should be made.'

Bahaudin explained to an audience of hearers in Bokhara: 'The dominant superficial characteristic of the people in the circles of India, Egypt, Turkey and Persia was in each case manifested by the reactions of their members. Their behaviour when faced with a trivial object such as a skullcap would been exactly the same if they had been faced with me in person, or with teachings sent by me. Neither the people nor their sheikhs have learned that they must look among themselves for their choking peculiarities. They should not use these trivial peculiarities as methods to assess others.'

'Among the disciples of the Persian sheikh there is a possibility of understanding, because they have not the arrogance to imagine that they "understand" that my caps will bless them, will threaten them, will confuse them. The characteristics here are, in the three cases: Egyptian hope, Turkish fear and Indian uncertainty.'

Some of the epistles of Bahaudin Naqshband had meanwhile been copied as a pious act and distributed by well-meaning but unenlightened dervishes in Cairo, Hind and the Persian and Turki areas. They eventually fell into the hands of the circles surrounding these very 'Sheikhs of the Skullcaps'.

Bahaudin, therefore, asked one wandering Kalendar to visit each of these communities in turn, and to report to him how they felt about his epistles.

This man said on his return: 'They all said: "This is nothing new. We are doing all these things already. Not only that, but we are basing our daily lives on them, and by our existing tradition, we keep ourselves occupied day in and day out with remembrance of these things".'

El-Shah Bahaudin Naqshband thereupon called all his disciples together. He said to them: 'You who are at a distance from certain events connected with these four sheikhly groupings will be able to see how little has been accomplished by the working of the Knowledge among them. Those who are present there have learned so little that they can no longer profit from their own experiences. Where, therefore, is the advantage of the "daily remembrances and struggle"?'

'Make it a task to collect all the available information about this event, inform yourselves of the whole story, including the exchange of letters and what I have said, as well as the report of this Kalendar here. Bear witness that we have offered the means whereby others could learn. Cause this material to be written down and studied, and let those who have been present witness it so that, God willing, even reading about it might prevent such things happening frequently in future, and might even enable it to come to the eyes and ears of those who were so powerfully affected the the "action" of inactive skullcaps.'

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I received this from a reader in London, who does not have to deal with skullcaps! Thank you, if you are reading this. As you can see, true words always reach out.

The Axe Defect

This guy has been using a deodarant for seven years but as he rues, "No girl came to me." He sued the company.

Deo ads are in trouble in India at the moment for being suggestive and showing " women lustily hankering after men". The ads also "brim with messages aimed at tickling men's libidinous instincts".

If there were no deos men would not get tickled?

There is no escaping these ads but they are quite humorous and will work on adolescent boys. I mean, to tell us that Axe is now offering more we get to see the bottle's phallic-like head growing. If they'd have shown a man's wallet or his mind displaying similar growth maybe it would have some effect.

It is pretty hilarious to watch some guy spraying himself and suddenly women go all pouty, eyes glazed and follow him. This is more Pied Piper than serious sexy.

And what is wrong with women getting attracted to men? Don't we see ads where men eye a woman for her clothes, makeup and how she even manages to do well at her job because of some talc?

And what about the ad where a woman makes carrot halwa with some readymade mix due to a last-minute demand by her husband who is bringing home his boss and colleagues? This too can be construed as hankering.

We see ads of men's underwear - so who are they appealing to? Saif Ali Khan does a joker on the track laidback act and reaches the finish line before the athletes. Duh. Any sensible female would notice their toned legs rather than this guy's Amul chaddi that needs a dhobi, not a woman.

So, please don't worry about women. The only time they swoon is when they feel light-headed. Or when they look in the mirror.


Hindus, Muslims and a Toilet

Next time I want to become part of the ‘mainstream’ I will wear red bracelets. If any of you thought that Hinduism was associated with saffron, then according to the ISI’s Major Iqbal it is not quite so. It is red. The Left parties are still nursing wounds and here some Pakistani even takes away their colour. Oh, but the Hindutvawadis had also taken away the hammer during Babri no? And maybe the sickle during the excavation? Commies are bereft and all because of the ISI.

One more story on the David Headley 'investigation'. He bought 15 red bracelets to be worn by the attackers so that they could disguise themselves as Hindus. This is part of the evidence and I can imagine those American backpacker tourists saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s wotwesaah at those aahsim taimpills.”

I saw Shakti Kapoor wearing one. At the Ajmer dargah. Every religion has this red thread/bracelet thing, okay? Honestly, can we get serious about this? Would the Indian intelligence authorities look at the wrists of suspects? Next they will say people with varicose veins are chosen to be disguised as green Muslims.

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Smita Thackeray has complimented Muslims for not being swayed by LeT and al Qaida. What to do, Smitaji. We only sway when we are drunk.

“It is a matter of great satisfaction that Muslims have retained faith in India’s unity and communal harmony.”

Gee, thanks. Now your turn.

“The prayers of Hindus and Muslims will shield Balasaheb from any threat. The Ajmal Kasabs, Ranas and David Headleys can’t touch him, Sonia-ji or Manmohan Singh.”

What about atheists?

Ms. Thackeray’s new-found interest is because she is making a film called Babri on Babri. She insists it will be from the common man’s perspective. Of course. I should hope to see a lot of Behrampada, of Madhukar Sarpotdar and the arms, of people being made to pull down their pants in cosmopolitan Mumbai, of honest cops who were transferred. It can all be fictionalised.

Incidentally, Aamir Khan has helped her with the script. This is one common man we can wash our hands of and who will do anything to market anything.

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I do not know of many people who if they need to go the loo will take the name of the toilet. Will someone who happens to be in the Bhuleshwar area and wishes to use the facilities say, “I want to go to Kasturba Gandhi”?

No. But we have to create a noise. One bloke is angry because of one such toilet name:

“This is my fight because the public seems to be afraid to speak up. I think the British (appear in a better light) at this point since they named the road after Kasturba Gandhi, thus honouring her. We, on the other hand, have done the opposite and degraded her.”

Her husband degraded her long ago when he gave her a broom and expected her to clean lavatories. Mahatma Gandhi had great respect for ‘toilet training’. The self-righteousness by citizens is unnecessary. Shit happens, so no need to get pissed off.

Oprah's Divine Comedy: Winfrey the Pooh

Winfrey the Pooh 
Oprah’s Divine Comedy
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, May 27-29 

They were discussing thighs. The woman was wearing a blue garish printed veil, the uncovered face revealed a touch of kohl in her dark eyes. She was telling her host that what Moroccan men are most attracted to in women are thighs – they like them thick. The Oprah Winfrey show was now not a secret watch in parts of the Arab world; she was hosting it there. As the young woman held forth, Oprah went on a relentless examination of a part of the female anatomy. It was obvious she thought she was breaking some barrier when thighs, men, women and ideas about pulchritude have existed since the existence of civilisation.

Oprah is about breaking imagined barriers.

She has bid farewell to the show after 25 years. What sustained it for this long? Much of what was revealed is what we hear in everyday life, what we experience and what we don’t. Yet, using these same ideas she created an alterative universe. However real the reality in her shows was it was reality amplified by auto-suggestion.

A more comprehensive reading would suggest that the show could be divided into three main ideas.


Excessiveness was an important part of the exercise. Laughter and tears were loud and flowing. There would be distended stomachs, bruises more purple than prose. As in Roman feasts, where people went on an eating binge and then vomited to start feasting again, true stories were retched out. Humorist Josh Billings’ take is apt here: “As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”

Without the abundance, there would have been a need for the core. Oprah was about the circuitous route; the essence lay in the maze.

Her personality lent itself rather well to such profligacy, from her girth to the big hair, the big heart, the large camaraderie. But, her projection of little people in fact showed up their littleness. Their foibles and warts were huge as compared to their personalities. They were here in the Confession Box. The studio had an almost-church like atmosphere where the host played priest and choir girl by turns, until the Moses-like denouement.

She did pretty outlandish things, was outspoken, and dressed the part. It camouflaged the traditionalist inside her. It made her craving for infallibility as self-conscious as her vulnerability: “Though I am grateful for the blessings of wealth, it hasn’t changed who I am. My feet are still on the ground. I’m just wearing better shoes.”

And those better shoes came from many a soiled feet that entered the hallowed show. She appeared to tell them that they could do it, but would they have that opportunity?


Misery was flaunted on the red carpet and posed for the cameras – its couture more discussed than its merits. People on the Oprah show seemed to regurgitate the deviant without owning them. There was a disconnect between the teller and the telling. Even if none of it was stage-managed, one could decipher an element of training, of being ushered into a hall of shame in hushed whispers. It is not difficult for people to sense what is expected. While for the ordinary person this seemed like a purging of evil, an exorcism, celebrities were given to believe that this would humanise them.

There was no mirror more qualified than Oprah. At the grand finale she said: “But I’m truly amazed that I, who started out in rural Mississippi in 1954, when the vision for a black girl was limited to being either a maid or a teacher in a segregated school, could end up here. It is no coincidence that a lonely little girl who felt not a lot of love, even though my parents and grandparents did the best they could – it is no coincidence that I grew up to feel genuine kindness, affection, validation and trust from millions of you all over the world. From you whose names I will never know, I learned what love is. You and this show have been the great love of my life.”

This is true, but most of the recognition talks about her blackness: the first black billionaire, the greatest black philanthropist, the richest African-American of the 20th century. Has black society altered and has the perception about blacks changed? The ‘teacher-segregated school’ is also what the Oprah Winfrey show is about. There was this bubble of sorrow and with every pinprick of a query it would burst. The sorrow would not disappear because it wasn’t there in the first place. The internalisation was left untouched. The balm and the gauze were for this bubble that settled like dew. The show worked as well as faith-healing, people limping back to normal and basking in the warmth of the arc lights and then out in the cold holding on to their crutches. Art had imitated life, but not limited it.

The simulation analogy can be best explained in the totalitarian philosophy as expounded by George Orwell: “It not only forbids you to express – even to think – certain thoughts, but it dictates what you shall think, it creates an ideology for you, it tries to govern your emotional life as well as setting up a code of conduct. And as far as possible it isolates you from the outside world, it shuts you up in an artificial universe in which you have not standards of comparison.”

Oprah had set herself up as a role model, when the millions who were with her were like the Beatles acolytes were for John Lennon. He was one of them but he remained Lennon. She employed the classic Lennon anthem as her modus operandi: Imagine.


Is imagining about hope or about despair? Had there been happy stories, then the Oprah show would have wound up long ago. It is important to ask here whether the hates/loves/desires that dare not take their name have brought about any change. Iconoclasm is a much-abused term. The populist need not be iconoclastic. A show may be a hit, but what kind of impact does it have, has it altered the way people think, feel?

One cannot state that, “Oh, this was just a TV show.” It was not. It became a cult, and cults have some responsibility. Oprah did what she could, but it was the Big O, a few seconds of happy numbness. She treated her staff well, she took her audience on holidays. These are freebies. The stereotype of the Mamma. The world is full of varied ideas and varied behaviour, so it is disconcerting that she did not push the envelope, except when stuffing it with a few dollar bills to assuage guilt and express gratitude.

In fact, archetypes were trussed up and embarrassingly displayed. The brazen wore little and the demure played their part. The obsession with the body only consolidated set views even if they were to debunk them. Alternative sexuality was given the worst possible treatment when she invited an ‘Indian prince’ who is out of the closet. He came in regal finery that he has no right to as a representative of India, which has done away with royalty. The gall of having someone in a position of power, however titular, to convey the views of the gay community was such an Oprah thing to do. You cannot just be a misery maven, you’ve got to lay it thick and be king.

She had a banquet but offered fast food. This was part of the show’s attraction. The host knew what she was doing, even if some of it was subliminal. A broken soul, broken self-worth, fighting for convictions – these brought fear, a persecution complex and arrogance. The arrogance of humility: “What we’re all striving for is authenticity, a spirit-to-spirit connection.”

A spiritual connection does not look for authenticity, which is tied to the strings of dynamic facts and changing alliances within the mainstream. You cannot talk about the facetiousness of fame when you are a product of such evanescent celebrity. It is not the legitimisation that makes for icons but the potential of returning to their ruthless roots. Winfrey did attempt that, but by default, by just blowing up the cocoon a bit more. She reached the world and out at the world, yet her confinement was narrower than it appears. “There is one expanding horror in American life,” believed Norman Mailer, that cogent chronicler of the American’s internal dilemma. “It is that our long odyssey toward liberty, democracy and freedom-for-all may be achieved in such a way that utopia remains forever closed, and we live in freedom and hell, debased of style, not individual from one another, void of courage, our fear rationalized away.”

Such fears on the show were stamped and sealed like factory-produced wares. The potency was in the reaction to the pinch and the pitch. She took the ready-made material and gave it a new language and identity. Pop analysis tends to label such people revolutionaries when all they do is to recreate. To continue with it for a quarter of a century is commendable, but not impossible. That is why Oprah Winfrey will be remembered as a fine juggler, not a magician.


Not She, Not He, But It?

If you want to get rid of gender stereotypes must you do away with gender? Would you raise your child as a 'not boy' or 'not girl'? How does it help?

Storm is four months old and the parents have decided that their child will be ‘it’. This defeats the idea of empowering the kid to decide on what gender s/he chooses, for a non-gender is also a gender, as many transgendered will tell you.

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker are a Canadian couple and they want their third-born to not be constricted by social norms. A person’s gender, as much as a body part, is not only about societal norms but also about identity, and more superficially about grooming and self-perception.

They have only revealed the gender to immediate family and a couple of others. They have two children who have been permitted to dress the way they want and choose non-gender clothes. They are both boys and one of them wears braids. Their argument that after Jazz was mistaken for a girl and suffered an “intense” time over it, they decided that Storm will not be given any specific gender.

But while dealing with the child they will know. Storm will also know whether s/he has a vagina or a penis; Storm’s body will respond and later on need specific intervention for gender-related ailments. Will the parents not register a gender in school and medical forms?
This is only confusing the kids because what these parents forget is that more than individuals stereotyping themselves it is society that does. Their own son is an example of making a choice but being berated for it. When the father says, “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” he forgets that when you want to get to know someone you already know what’s between their legs. How people deal with that is upto them.

Storm may not go by people’s perceptions but there is no way in which to escape being influenced, unless they bring the child up in some sort of cocoon where there is absolutely no exposure. So, Storm watches Johny Depp and decides to act pirate-like – what of it? Does that mean s/he is choosing masculinity? Can there not be women pirates? Or if Storm gets excited about Desperate Housewives would it mean that s/he is identifying with one or all of the female characters and is therefore taking a shine to being a woman when there are different kinds of women and it may be the male in her responding to either a typical womanly instinct or a maverick female. Suppose Storm decides to be male and happens to be naturally female, then will the parents opt for surgical intervention and get her a phallus? Or will they think she is a butch?

This is a most facile and dangerous manner in which to promote choice. What if Black/White/Brown/Yellow parents decide to leave the choice of colour/race to their child? This is something you are born with – it is in the DNA, the genes. The only option is to provide an upbringing with an open mind to accept what others are and have while not denying one’s own. And most certainly not be trapped within the confines of such ‘spaces’.

The only area where I would root for parents’ leaving the choice to children is religion, but then again every single society – and I mean every society – has some religious moorings. Some bloke is announcing the end of the world in a liberal country based on a certain religious idea. So let’s not fool ourselves. And, as I had mentioned in an earlier piece, it is the armed forces in America that are fighting to get rights as atheists. Therefore, children will be taught, whether by parents or by switching on the TV or just walking down the street and being handed over holy books and religious literature. If the atmosphere at home is truly not narrow-minded, then kids learn to sift and see what suits them. Or if nothing does.
As for gender, the child will know and will behave according to such a natural selection. If it is a girl and gets attracted to girls, then she won’t be going against type but merely making a sexual, rather than a gender, choice.

I think the parents should stop calling themselves ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, instead of experimenting with their children because they are stuck in some groove where blue and pink are male and female colours and length of hair determines gender choice.

In a world where unisex clothes and styles are common and with historical and artistic references to androgyny, I am not too sure about the liberal agenda here.

(c) Farzana Versey
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Images: Gaugin's 'Marquesan Man in a Red Cape'; Hindu portrayal of 'Ardhnarishwara', a meeting of Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti

3 Idiots: IIT, IIM and the Minister

A distorted image of a scene from the Hindi film 3 Idiots

Since when have IITs and IIMs become shrines that everyone has to bow before them and whatever comes out of those hallowed corridors is to be considered some holy benediction?

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and the hurt alumni and faculty of the institutes are both narrow-minded. Here is what the minister had said:

“There is hardly any worthwhile research from our IITs. The faculty in the IIT is not world class. It is the students in IITs who are world class. So the IITs and IIMs are excellent because of the quality of students not because of quality of research or faculty.”

What exactly is world-class? Don’t we have our own standards to judge? There is some pretty wimpy stuff coming out of Ivy League universities. The IITs and IIMs depend on government funding, so Mr. Ramesh has just given them an opportunity to crib about how they are short of money and shackled by government interference.

It is no wonder that reports mention the kneejerk response that this one statement has received. Typically, they have pulled up the minister, asking him to hold forth on the quality of politicians. Pretty lame. For not only is the minister a product of such an institute, there are many others, and quite a few of them in fact confirm what he says – not about the faculty, but about the students. The hierarchy is in place and those who get in assume they are better than the rest.

And what is so great about those students? Many take the first opportunity to go overseas and then after they have made it return with a cheque to donate to their alma mater. Those who remain here end up doing staid academic jobs; the more enterprising ones consider research to mean rehashing the minutiae of what they did at the institutes in columns, books and films and these are lapped up because our ‘youth segment’ is now interested in the techie/managerial route to success decoded in simplistic paneer wrap language.

Oh, before I forget, a little bit of mandatory failure along the way is seen as idealism. Idiots.

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I had written a more detailed piece on a related subject in Understanding the Rot in Academia


Leave Indian Muslims out of this

I have already stated my views on the Headley deposition. It is turning out to be even more bizarre. Here are portions from a report that needs to be ripped apart:

Headley and Rana even debated who should declare jihad, whether a head of an Islamic state, as Rana believed, or someone else. Headley explained that a head of state was necessary only if it was to be “offensive” jihad, but for “defensive” jihad of the kind currently underway it was not necessary.

Was this some coffee-shop discussion? Were they not working for a terrorist outfit or were they important enough blokes to debate about such decisions? If the LeT is involved it does not need to specifically declare a jihad. It is not like you say, “Lights! Camera! Action!” and the cameras will roll. And what exactly does ‘head of an Islamic state’ mean? Surely, they did not imagine Saudi Arabia would chip in with the clapper board? If the ISI has to be implicated, there are better ways to do it.

How does Headley become an expert? If we see this as just a terrorist plan pushing for a holy war, then the concept of offense and defence does not arise. The believers assume it is in the defence of the religion.

Another striking disclosure that Headley made relates to the 2002 Muslim massacre in Gujarat in the aftermath of the killings of 50 Hindu pilgrims at Godhra. In fact, he said the massacre was one of the triggers for him personally to get involved in 26/11. He said between 2002 and 2007, the LeT had received hundreds of letters from Muslims in Gujarat seeking help. He even referred to an undercover video recording of a Hindu activist called Babu Bajrangi who had bragged about personally having killed Muslims.

What is so striking about this disclosure? Everyone who carries out such acts will use their co-religionists. These are dubious claims and if Headley was so concerned about Gujarat why did he want to get his dream launch in Kashmir? This is devious in the extreme because Indian Muslims have not turned to Pakistan to help them in any crisis. Here we have Narendra Modi boasting about how Muslims in his state are doing so well. He should be the one contradicting such statements.

There is no need for undercover videos when our national leaders have made their biases clear. But, a large segment of the population is not taken in by this. The LeT is not interested in helping out Indian Muslims or any Muslims for that matter. Terrorists are killing Muslims in Pakistan. And they will not wait for over six years to strike when they do have the ability to infiltrate and the arsenal to carry out attacks.

It is utter hogwash to involve the Indian Muslim population. As it is they go on a guilt trip each time some Islamist is behind attacks. I don’t find Hindus feeling guilty or taking out morchas because of Malegaon or Bhiwandi or Babri. And they absolutely do not have to. But Muslims, with their so-called well-wishers, will wear those starched kurtas and skull caps and parade like puppets.

For an illiterate and backward community Indian Muslims are certainly being accused of too much letter-writing. After the Bombay riots, they said that Dawood Ibrahim carried out the March blasts because the Muslims wrote to him. He cannot even protect his brother, so how will he protect the community?


Kasab, Headley and America: Who Pays the Price?

Ajmal Kasab does not have a price on his head, but he sure comes at a price. Even in prison he is guarded by 150 commandos, and this is Arthur Road jail. Now we get the news that the Indo-Tibetan Border Police commandos have been holding fort for over two years. The cost of such protection has come to Rs. 10 crore (over $ 2 million). The Maharashtra government is refusing to cough up this amount – it has already spent a good deal on creating high walls and a special court.

It makes one wonder how after the huge noise by the elite rallyists, we are still not capable of taking care of a man behind bars and require such added facilities. It is quite clear that no one wants Kasab, least of all Pakistan. He has changed his version several times, so no one can really benefit from sneaking him out. This kind of security is obviously due to the high-powered eye-ball grabbing nature of the Kasab trial. We have to be seen to be doing something, although in effect nothing is being done.

Anyhow, this new drama is being enacted between the state government and the central government, with the latter as well as the ITBP being asked to waive off the amount because the crime was not against Mumbai alone but against India. According to the report:

“When Qasab and his gang attacked Mumbai, the nature of the crime was not limited to (hurting) Mumbai. It was an attack on the country. Taj, Trident and CST station were attacked because they were important to the country, a senior official said. The Indian Air Force, Army, Navy and NSG which came to Mumbai at the time did not send us a bill for services rendered. Why should the ITBP give us a bill when Qasab is a criminal of the nation?”

I hold no brief for the Centre, but it was the city’s high-rise crowd that had made the tragedy into a cause celebre. It was they who got excited when they saw coast guard boats bobbing in the waters from their sleek apartments and felt oh-so-safe now that the government had acted on their initiative. People who would have been flaky gossip-mongers became courageous citizens with raised voices in the hallowed confines of television studios. This was chic society on a conscience trip. Now all they have to do is cough up some money. It wasn’t only about those commandos who fought bravely and put out the fire; it wasn’t only about seeing those ‘institutions’ destroyed. This ridiculous amount for guarding Kasab is to a large extent due to their Page 3 paranoia and the fact that the city was on the global stage.

Since our industrialists often mention how they are concerned about India, they can surely chip in. Buy one masterpiece less; don’t get that prized horse; chuck that one holiday in the Alps; forget about that little antique trinket. And those who are endorsing public service ads can put their money where their mouth is. Let’s get a bit wicked here: Has the Times of India thought about contributing some? After all, it has made quite a killing indirectly with its ‘aman ki asha’ initiative. Peace is also about paying those who keep it.

As regards the Centre’s role, have we asked it to pay for the losses during the Sikh, Bombay and Gujarat riots? During the blasts that occur in several places? During the ongoing insurgency-related killings in Jammu and Kashmir?

* * *

On the subject of the 26/11 attacks, David Headley has indicated that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) provided support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Do remember that he is deposing in the United States and they have just had this ‘victory’ over Osama bin Laden who was found in Pakistan and the ISI has had a role to play. (For the moment please forget the different versions, including Osama’s youngest wife who has transformed from human shield to purveyor of his libidinous activities to, at last count, being the one who squealed on him!)

This is perfect timing. Some ‘Major’ Iqbal gave Headley $25,000 to go on a sightseeing trip to India, a country he says he hated. Now, the hate was so great that he wanted to go on a jihad, like people go on picnics or bungee jumping. Among the things he did in Mumbai was to join a gym, a respectable and fancy one. He managed to take pictures and shoot some videos of the targets. I assume they have those with them and tally with the unfortunate ones that were finally chosen. Headley, incidentally, said he wanted to get “launched” in Kashmir. The LeT – and now it comes to pass the ISI – thought he would be better suited in urban areas.

He also said that his house was bombed in 1971 during the Bangladesh War; he felt that Pakistan did not get a good deal. It is as though he is trotting out things from history book or some op-ed columns.

The Assistant US attorney Sarah Steiker said:

“The defendant didn't carry a gun or throw a grenade. In a complicated and sophisticated plot, not every player carries a weapon. People like the defendant who provide support are just as critical to the success.”

Absolutely. And the people behind the behind of the plot. Or those who do not take enough precautions so that such a “manipulative” guy manages to escape their shores. Headley’s real name is Daood Gilani. He made a fake passport – in the US. He, a person of Pakistani origin, managed to come to India – from the US. (This is not easy, unless the person is on a business trip, and although it can be said he was, he would not possibly carry a LeT or ISI visiting card, right?)

So, a citizen of the United States of America, trained in Pakistan, assisted in a crime against India. He is being tried in the US and the US will give India only as much information as it deems it necessary and to suit its own agenda. Like the ISI role. Which really is not a huge revelation. What is the punishment for providing such logistical support and what is the nature of the evidence? Since a key witness has indicted the ISI, can any international legal organisation try it? There really is no point skirting the issue with amateur photographers.

America is trying to tell India it is serious and Pakistan it is serious in two different ways. This is a lot of talk. Do not be surprised that Headley will change his version when things have cooled down a bit for the US. He has merely mentioned that there was co-ordination between the ISI and LeT. Once the Osama story does a RIP – watch how Mullah Omar’s ‘killing’ is now being paraded – the Obama administration will not care about the ISI.

Pakistan will get a rap on its knuckle so that NATO can walk around and India will be kept busy selling its wares and buying nuclear technology because the US is purportedly concerned about the region and its welfare. Perhaps hotelier Sant Chatwal, our influential NRI who provides food and adds the multi-culti exotica to the White House, can be asked to foot the bill for Kasab’s security.

(C) Farzana Versey


UPA: Close Encounters for the Third Time

Hawaii chappals, silk sarees and a prison cell with an open Indian style toilet have been in the news for what appears to be the right reasons that are all wrong. They have given the UPA-2 government reason enough to celebrate its second anniversary and shameless entry into the third year. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s house will be lit up and tables set for the bash. What exactly are they celebrating? Rahul Gandhi’s biker dude act and his yadda-yadda about Noida? Or the fact that after 34 years the Left has been trounced in West Bengal and their ally is ruling? Or that now Tamil Nadu has a new government and they can heave a sigh of relief?

All these are opportunities that have fallen in the lap of the mother party – the Congress. Some months ago Sonia Gandhi was singing the praises of Mayawati. Now, Uttar Pradesh is the pits, except for Rae Bareilly and Amethi, of course, the principalities of the royal Gandhi family. The victory of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu is part of the cyclical nature of electoral politics. True, the scams contributed, but if the two parties are now hobnobbing with the Congress they forget that it was the Congress policies and the liberalisation of the Prime Minister that made these backdoor entries possible.

If, as someone said a long time ago, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle, then who should own up responsibility? The man who is playing host. And the party president.

Of women and men:

The reason I began with the trivia is because the media has feminised the issue, and is yet hypocritical. The sartorial details of Mamata Bannerjee and J. Jayalalitha were trotted out to reveal the differences. The fact is that while both have been unfortunately at the receiving end of vile sexist abuse, they have been a part of the cult factory themselves. Mamata was seen as an image of Goddess Durga and during the puja season quite a few of the tableaux would be dedicated to her. She has chosen eight portfolios for herself this time. Jayalalitha has been tried for corruption, for possessing wealth in excess of her position; her devotees’ rolling on the ground to pay their respects to her is well-known. Now to flaunt them as examples of woman power is facile.

On the other hand there is talk about how equal treatment should be meted out to the DMK’s M. K. Kanimozhi because she asked for bail on grounds of her gender. Most people have been demanding reservations for women in parliament, they want to discuss kitchen cabinets, about how these women manage home and career, but when a person is imprisoned and asks for consideration, then there is the ho-hum about how she should take it like anyone else.

Were that the case, then why are the big players not arrested? A. Raja is indeed behind bars, but Raja or any minister for that matter cannot move unless someone higher up permits him to. He is most certainly culpable and benefitted from the contracts, but who was it who thought it was convenient to have him in the Telecom Ministry? The CBI has relied heavily on the Radia tapes, and Niira Radia was not working for the government. She was employed as a lobbyist. Where are her employers? Where are those who were going to help her get in touch with the ministers?

Of Tatas and alibis:

The political arrests are the most expedient ploy to show that the Congress is attempting to clean the stables, while the real derby colts and fillies will watch from the stands. Ratan Tata is currently in Little Mr. Buffett mode and hitting out at Mukesh Ambani for living ostentatiously and wondering whether he is concerned about making a difference. He told The Times, UK:

“If he is not, then it is sad because India needs people to allocate some of their enormous wealth to finding ways to mitigate the hardship that people have. We are doing so little about the disparity. We are allowing it to be there and wishing it away.” 

He is, as the biggest manufacturing employer in the UK ever since his takeover of Corus and Jaguar Land Rover, also taking to task the British system of work where no one goes the “extra mile”. In India it is different:

“If you are in a crisis, it means working till midnight, you would do it.”

These are more interesting statements than they appear to be. His ‘I was once a victim’ cry has much to do with the Trinamool’s victory. When Mamata had made a loud enough noise against the Nano factory, he shifted to Gujarat. But Mamata has appointed the former FICCI general secretary to head her finance ministry. Mr. Tata is using the time-tested double sword, where he makes his point and also gets it. His talk about Indian commitment to entrepreneurship at the managerial level is an indicator that he is pushing the India Shining vision overseas, made even more clear with his endorsement of Barack Obama and David Cameron:

“Both of them are open to ideas; they are very pragmatic in their views. Each of them feels that India is a land of some opportunity for themselves.”

This will make Dr. Manmohan Singh happy. He wasn’t ever unhappy, but this will make him overtly so. His score card will move steadily. It will do for him what the abused people in Uttar Pradesh cannot do for Rahul Gandhi. After making a celebrity of one farmer’s widow, Kalavati, Rahul is on a showcasing spree. The PM and he may be on the same page, but they are reading between the lines differently. In fact, Rahul’s open emphasis on youth power can be seen as a tangential out-down of the PM. Of course, being a nice guy – even Mamata Bannerjee said so – he will speak the same talk while continuing to support the worst criminals. And the crime is not merely in the committing, but in the obfuscation and the omission.

We have had enough of “human errors” in the technological age where computers do most of the work. Despite major problems on the home front as well as defence, the ministers of these portfolios will continue to occupy their seats. The Sharad Kumars, Shahid Balwas, Karim Moranis are the conduits – where is the money? Remember how after the hearings both Tata and Anil Ambani were praised by the Bench for being “candid”? They can afford to be. Alibis are left with small change and no fingerprints on them.

Hassan Ali had been in the news for years and there was this one rather dandy picture of him that would be flashed all the time. Suddenly, we saw him in pajamas and stories about his demand for ‘western-style toilet’ became front page news. Has any probe found out why he was protected all this time and who are the other beneficiaries? The same goes for the Commonwealth Games. They are held in the nation and showcase the country; it is not about a stadium and flower pots. Suresh Kalmadi could not have been alone.

Of the media:

It is ironical that the media is sounding so saint-like when just a few months ago many of these groups were tainted for their role as facilitators. A grand opportunity has presented itself for them to slink away from the real heat because those in the clinker are easy targets. No one, not even those behind the people’s movement, will implicate the media because they need prime time as much as anyone else. Not only is it business as usual for them, they are now experts on the subject. They are exposing it, which conveniently validates their earlier stance of “doing it for journalism”. That it comes a bit late in the day won’t matter. In the ad-run world that is India today, the news too is sponsored.

The UPA has the advantage of being the main upholders of secularism. Is it any wonder that Mamata Bannerjee has decided to be in charge of minority and madrassa affairs that she believes aided in the Left’s downfall? When the Congress party had allied with the Left earlier, it was considered an asset for the minority vote. Didi is just playing her cards well. Regarding the DMK, as Cho Ramaswamy has said, M. Karunanidhi needs the Congress but the Congress should get rid of him. It won’t blink an eye to do so. Without thinking about their ally, Sonia Gandhi congratulated the rival J. Jayalalitha and invited her over.

The UPA has, with a losing ally, found the best option. By extricating the DMK, it will wash its hands off some of the crimes and scams in the location where they flowered. No one talks about who got the seeds and who watered the plant. Happy Birthday, UPA. You have just proved that you can indeed eat your cake and have it too.

(c) Farzana Versey

Sunday ka Funda

"And I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

- T. S. Eliot

- - -

Don't want to close my eyes
I don't want to fall asleep
And I don't want to miss a thing


Armageddon - Aerosmith


Swami Agnivesh's Double Barrel

He wears orange robes and then appears on behalf of 'civil society'. Why does no one pull up Swami Agnivesh for mixing religion and politics?

Now during a conference with Syed Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat Conference he talked about aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Very slyly he sneaked in a controversial comment about the Amarnath Yatra. Had he delved into the security issues, it would have some validity. Instead, he called the ice formation of the Shivalinga melting a fraud, so what faith was this?

I have a few points:

1. Hindu religion believes in idol worship and all idols are made of some material that breaks. Why, some are put out at sea. When he was initiated, did he not worship anything?

2. In dargahs, the tombstones are indicators of a dead saint. Often, the body is not even buried there and, if it is, it would have degenerated over a period of time. Why are they so popular?

3. The embalmed body of St. Francis Xavier in Goa is a religious and tourist attraction. What value does it have?

Are all of these frauds? A voice should be raised against superstition and blind belief and especially if it causes friction among different groups. As I mentioned, the Amarnath Yatra does result in security issues, and in the past caused deaths during clashes. What does the Swami have to say about that?

His opportunism is clearly visible because he chose to make the comment in Kashmir where he was meeting a separatist leader. His so-called concern for the Kashmiri people gets a setback because often they help in the smooth running of the pilgrimage.

His is politicking of the worst kind, for he portrays himself as a spokesperson of Kashmiris and by default all Indian Muslims. This is what causes problems.

If he wants to address the fraud in the Hindu faith, then he should go where the action is and give his two bits or lecture from some temple or ashram pulpit. And tell us why he is wearing those saffron robes.

Civil society does not need moonlighting sadhus.


So, Prof. Hawking, how about hell?

Stephen Hawking says something quite ordinary and there is a reaction. The battle between science and religion is old and makes little sense. Although a non-religious person, I really don’t get excited about monkeys or the Big Bang theory. Does that mean there is a teeny-weeny bit of hope that I might be ready for some Edenesque idea or whatever the counterparts? To make it simple, I do not rule out possibilities, which is a scientific attitude.
In fact, most seekers who go to religion do so as an experiment. The main problem I have with Hawking is the statement that has been doing the rounds:

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

This is facile in the extreme. While the brain may be likened to a computer, what about the software? There are several of those and they can be loaded whenever we want as per our requirements. The failure of the computer is technical, not philosophical or psychological. A brain-dead person, or one who suffers cardiac failure for that matter, is the end of life. It does not end the possibilities for the living.

Hawking’s problem is to see religion as a fairytale. It isn’t. Outside of organised religion, there are very many stories, and I have no idea how he concludes that these stories are for those who are afraid of the dark. By saying so, he assumes that death is dark and not as much of a happenstance as his scientific beliefs are trying desperately to convey. I wonder what he has to say about science fiction. It is hypothetical, it creates larger than life heroes with ‘god-like’ abilities. The scientist himself is considered some sort of miracle because he has survived despite a debilitating disease. Of course, it is science that makes him accessible to the world, but when he is applauded for his willpower, what is the scientific basis for it? Where does the urge to live against odds come from?

I am most certainly not alluding to a belief system, but to the philosophical dimensions beyond a computerised brain. It might be a wicked idea to posit the gravitational aspect of Newton’s discovery with the enticement of a serpent. It could have been an orange. Why did it have to be an apple?

It would be interesting to add here that almost all ‘religious’ fairytales are up for scrutiny on a regular basis and hypothetical questions are asked of them. It is true that the vast majority is made up of blind believers, but are there watertight compartments about scientific theories? Have they not been debunked or proven wrong?

I wonder why there has been no mention of hell, which comes as a package deal with heaven. Stephen Hawking should know that the devil is in the details.

India's most wanted lists and politics

There is something amiss. A man’s name appears on the list of ‘50 most wanted criminals’ India gives Pakistan, where it believes they are. It turns out that he has been living in Thane, Mumbai. Why has it caused embarrassment about lack of coordination and why has the Home Minister owned up responsibility for the mistake?

Chidambaram called the bungle a “genuine oversight” and a “human error”. He said Wazhul Kamar Khan’s name has now been taken off the list and Pakistan was being informed through Interpol.

“We take responsibility. It is a mistake. How this mistake has happened has been explained. The CBI through Interpol will convey this to Pakistan.”

There was some asinine analysis about how Pakistan will now have the arsenal to taunt us about other names and their veracity. Khan’s name was on that list in 2007 too, which P Chidambaram himself admits to with some gumption. Did Pakistan react then? Did anyone bother at that time? As though Pakistan is about to hand over the other 49 to us. As though names on such lists matter. As though we care about such wanted people.

This ‘feeling bad for the mistake’ is just a smokescreen, not for Pakistan, but for the Indian constituency, and we know which one. The BJP too has jumped in about incompetence! Khan was an accused in the 2003 blasts in Mulund but was released on bail and no chargesheet was filed. This ought to be the real issue. Because Khan is not the only one. There are several people in our jails who do not have any tangible case against them. Why politicise the lack of co-ordination between the Mumbai Police and the Information Bureau when far worse instances are there to be considered?

The reason we have factored in the human error could also be that we can assume Pakistan will raise its eyebrows and ask, “Dawood who?” And that will satisfy us. No running after the don. Let him run his business.

- - -

Yesterday’s news reports were telling us about how Dawood Ibrahim’s brother survived an attack on his life when he was out on his post-diner stroll in Nagpada and then two motorcyclists appeared so he ducked behind a car; his driver/bodyguard took the bullets. As it turns out, today they have discovered that Iqbal Kaskar was at home.

Now they are going through the fine details of who it could be and if this is a new beginning for gang wars. Some police officials say it was a small gang; some say it could be Dawood’s enemies and he may retaliate. Does anyone keep track of the number of murders that take place in the city? It is interesting that the cops are not pointing fingers at Chhota Rajan, Dawood’s biggest foe, except to bring his name is as the usual suspect.They've already caught two guys from Nepal.

One may go a step further and say that it need not be any rival gang at all. Most gangs are now living outside and India is only their pit stop for ‘fuel’ replenishment. The Kaskar family must be in the radar of the authorities, and they know who goes for after-dinner strolls and whose bodyguard is where at any given time.

Whatever it is, this won’t work as bait for Dawood to show up or send his emissaries to wreak vengeance. The possibility of others being used as red herrings cannot be ruled out, though. And of course, the aftermath – encounter killings.

Talk of human error.

- - -

End note:

Rahul Gandhi may or may not have been misquoted about the 74 bodies found after rapes and murders committed by the Uttar Pradesh Police, but his interest in Noida is truly 'grassroots'. His reportage was based on what some villagers told him. The Congress says that all he mentioned was there was a 70-foot area with a heap of ash where bones were found. There are such heaps, in Noida and several other places.

Perhaps, he’d like to bring the Nithari murders and the Aarushi killing to the fore since he is so into Noida these days? There are names, the cases have been dragging on, evidence is on display. What is he waiting for?



Yes. So? I don’t plead guilty to it. I am not guilty about it. The accusations have been piling up for many months now: I do not feel victimised and I am not looking for a shoulder to hold on to. This post is about me, so if you are not into me, you may skip it. But this is also about you. Betrayal was about you, the ones whose silences seek to coagulate in my bloodstream.

Before we get anywhere with this, let me tell you why I can take a stand.

There were emails, calls. It was an invitation to speak on a subject I have written about often. This wasn’t the first time. I don’t feel the need to flash it, especially since I mostly stay away, anyway. But today I will tell you because I am honestly fed up. I will tell you because those who want debates fall silent when it matters. I will tell you because when I talk about co-opting it means from anyone anywhere and the term itself can be broadly classified.

So when those emails came quite recently to be one of the speakers, and from people who are deeply involved and extremely respected, I paused. It did not surprise me, but unlike many people who would be glad to make the journey to another city in an all-paid-for trip, my instant reaction was: Why?

I called up a friend who is in, let us just say a security agency, but does not toe any line. “What would you do?” I asked him.

“Of course, I’d go and you should.”

“Where do they get the money from?”

“All NGOs are given some funds from government sources and then they have their well-wishers.”

“Who are the well-wishers?”

“They could be people who believe in this.”

“They already have speakers, so why call me the distance, and how will it add to anything?”

“I think your voice needs to be heard…”

“I write.”

“That is not enough. You need to understand that such visibility is important. It will be reported in the papers, and such things matter.”

Do they? How do my ‘ivory tower’ scribbles transform into an agent of change by just bellowing into a microphone? Although I believe strongly in the subject, I found it difficult to identify with the linearity of the proposed discussion, although this was the only way to highlight the issue.

I did not go.

I have too many questions. Where are the answers?

I share with you portions of email exchanges with two people; they encapsulate what has been said a good many times. The first is specific to a recent subject; the other is more general. I am omitting the praise that was in both of them.

From X

Note 1 (On the latest Binayak Sen piece):

Should we always be anti-establishment ? It makes one's job simpler, isn't it? You don't take any responsibility, you only criticise. I do not mean anybody in particular. I know you have taken sides, rationally, in just the previous article about Rahul Gandhi and Mayavati. But sometimes, when you are in the actor's seat.... What happens then ? (I am rather fond of that Hamlet character!)

What is wrong with Binayak accepting an advisory position with Planning Commission? I know that he is not guilty of the charges framed against him and I know how apathetic the system can be.

I know the various routes of co-option and allure of an easy life. Certainly I see the dangers ahead of this appointment. And I wholeheartedly endorse your view that there are innumerable tribals etc. who will not have access to such fame and international support. What should we do about them?

My reply:

I do not know Binayak Sen or anyone close to him to be able to comment. (The person is acquainted with people.)

I wonder if you have read my pieces in support of Binayak Sen, arguing the loopholes in the case. I still believe in that. However, one day his wife Ilina talks about seeking asylum in a "more liberal country". Next, she says nothing of the kind, they will stay here. She did not mention that she was misquoted. It was a change of stance, just like that. This bothers me.

I wish my current critique were read holistically. It is surprising that you say it is easy to be anti-establishment. Had the situation been different, we'd not have thought so. I keep talking about the anti-establishmentarian cliques that form their own System, with heroes in place.

Even though I dislike Modi, when there were murmurs about how the activist lobby tutored witnesses, I did want them to come clean. These standards apply to everyone. So, what does this mean…I am anti-anti-anti?

Meanwhile, the governments use such opportunities and we have people conveniently change their stands.

This is what is frightening. I do not think many people would have signed petitions had they known that a political party would jump in. And how many people are going to talk about this, anyway?

An actor is also a character. I like Hamlet, too, but where would he be without the ghosts?

Thank you for an engaging dialogue even if we disagree.

Note 2 (I am withholding personal references about people):

I know, Farzana. My response to your post was knee-jerk, and more on emotion than logic. Of course you are right (as usual!).

I was also bothered by Ilina's statements, contradicting her earlier stance.

Hamlet will be forever haunted by his ghosts, it seems.

Regards and best wishes,

P.S. I am sorry about that responsibility bit. Of course, for some of us action is synonymous with writing, exposing or highlighting issues we consider important. (Remember "Plebians rehearse the uprising" by Gunter Grass ?)

My reply:

Perhaps I am not right and just centred, even self-centred in the metaphysical sense?

It is curious but after I had written about the Anna Hazare campaign, a friend said, “This is the first time I have seen you so establishment!” What does one say to that? He understood what I was conveying, and here’s an important detail – he is part of the establishment, quite literally.

I am beginning to think that Hamlet is beyond ghosts and more about altered graveyards.

Incidentally, I do not resent intellectual engagement with the Sen case; it is the one-dimensional nature of it that makes me wonder about how crusty any counter position can get.

Talking of Gunter Grass, he also said, “Art is accusation, expression, passion. Art is a fight to the finish between black charcoal and white paper.”

What we get, alas, is black on black and white on white.

* * *

From Y:


I dont think I really understand half of what you write (and then I despair) but I love the way you write it. What you write FEELS right. My one, small, humble "criticism" (observation is a better word) is that...you're always protesting something...you come off as being very unsatisfied with everything around you. If that is your motivation to write thats fine...I just wish the dissatisfaction wasn't so...relentless? I would love to read your analysis on something that pleases you. I hope I havent offended you or made myself sound like a fool.

My reply:

Shukriya...even if some of it is a bit dense, it is mainly about feeling, whether right or wrong.

Yes, the latter is an important aspect of right, in my opinion. I am not offended by your remarks because I hear them often. I'd say I am not complacent. It does not mean those who do not come across this way are, but I take it to the next level. And, if I may say so, I have seen most of what I write at close quarters for long. My opinions are formed with this background and not as a 'seminarist'.

It always feels good to get feedback, so isn't this positivity?

* * *

Beyond notes:

So what is this negativity? Are not the things I write about/against negative, to begin with – anti-civility, anti-poor, anti-caste, anti-good sense? My motivation to write is not limited to expressing dissatisfaction; if that were the only reason I wrote, then why the poems, the musings, the sex, the other BS? I don’t even have a motive to write. I express and articulate and never claim to speak on behalf of anyone. It pleases me when I have written something that I feel about, that resonates within me.

There are dark corners, and I go there. It includes the dark corners of my own mind. If I go into a coal mine, it need not be to find a diamond or even coal but to look for the dried sweat of coalminers or to feel the soot in my hands, my mouth, my eyes. I am not Aesop’s Fables. Okay, even my poems are quite macabre, my doodles are just stuff I do when I am…angry? I don’t know. I am usually at peace with myself even when I am protesting. Maybe because I am not comatose. Maybe because when I shout from the mountains I am listening to the sound of the wind and not my own echo, forget other people’s echoes. Now you watch as they lie in wait for others to say something and then come out with their ‘original’ vision – a twist here, a twist there. Maybe after I have written one piece, I don’t lie back and watch the circus unfold, but follow up. Is this relentless? It is. Because every story that has more than one character is about many other stories.

I may be with one story, but what are those characters about – don’t they mean anything? Shall I just shut my senses? I have often said the real idealist is the cynic. If I am holding a thorn, it means I am darned well acquainted with flowers. Not the bottled essences and paper memories, but the ones that were still seeds and could well be nipped as buds.

“I shall speak of how melancholy and utopia preclude one another. How they fertilize one another... of the revulsion that follows one insight and precedes the next... of superabundance and surfeit. Of stasis in progress. And of myself, for whom melancholy and utopia are heads and tails of the same coin.”

- Gunter Grass


Sunday ka Funda

“The City of New York is like an enormous citadel, a modern Carcassonne. Walking between the magnificent skyscrapers one feels the presence on the fringe of a howling, raging mob, a mob with empty bellies, a mob unshaven and in rags.”

- Henry Miller

Today as New York once again becomes a place for souvenir tributes and the mobs rage has found its bellies full, we find that history is becoming closer, narrower. Cities are much, much more. We live in them and through them. No one talks about a time to stand and stare in cities. Why? There is a time and there is much to look at.

Rewind. New York six decades ago:


Ending on Primetime

He was made into a corpse in a moratorium even before he died. His body went limp and the world saw it. They paid to watch it as the images flickered and the TV dinner or the evening drink in their hands shook a bit.

BBC1’s primetime documentary, 'Inside the Human Body', used Gerald a cancer patient on live television. He died in January, but they showed his last breath moment yesterday. Was it right?

A BBC spokesman defended it:

“Death is an important part of the human experience, and showing Gerald’s death is integral to understanding what happens to the body when it is no longer able to function properly. The BBC does not shy away from difficult subjects like this, but presents them in a sensitive and appropriate manner.”

If that were the motive, then it would have been proper to show his x-rays, the scans, and 3-D images of the affected parts. However sensitively it might have been portrayed, this is not much different from reality television and a bit more devious. In those shows you know someone is putting on an act or exaggerating or whose buttons are being pushed. Here, Gerald’s death was played out for two months. Indeed, the ‘experience’ of death lasted this long as his lung and liver degenerated.

Death is not part of the human experience; it is the end of it for the person concerned.

Gerald was approached last November. he had said then:

“I don't want to die but evidently, unless some miracle happens, I ain't going to be here very long so let's get on with my life as best I can. I'm not frightened. I believe it will not be just like cutting off tape with some scissors. It might be, but either way I just have blind trust I shall not completely disappear.”

Why was he approached? Are news channels in charge of such experiments? How do they choose their guinea pigs? He was probably told that what he was going through would help others. Do the ratings of the programme reveal any education on the part of the viewers? I can imagine sympathy and fear…the stuff you get in soaps and increasingly in news stories. But when there is no cure for last-stage cancer, the emphasis should be on finding out how to improve lives, not to get people to accept the inevitable and do a sightseeing tour of what happens to the body. Especially not the skin and flesh and eyes and smile.

I do not buy into the argument that people are accustomed to seeing gunshots and blown-up brains on TV shows and films. I might add that we see such deaths in real encounters too. The two are examples of fiction and reality. Not the in-between situation of Gerald. I would have understood an interview with him where he spoke about what tormented him, but not this. Certainly not this.

Recently, some guy had put up a line on his Facebook account that he was going to kill his son ‘now’ and he did. He had taken him from his estranged wife for the day. These have become the new YouTube fantasies, where people who would otherwise have lived and died as most do want to become public figures. There is no dearth of takers. In Gerald’s case, we are told that he was 84, as though it lessens the pain in any manner. In the picture as he breathed his last his family is shown weeping.

Many viewers might have done so too. This does not mean it is one big family joined together in sorrow. It means for those who were not close to him an end to a show.

Ask the vexpert - 26

Question: I want to know what semen tastes like. Is it salty, sweet or bitter. Would any of the above determine the quality of the sperms? If so, is there any possibility of deficiency/ill-health in the newborn. Can one prevent this?

Sexpert: Why not taste it if you are so keen to know? Salty, bitter or sweet the sperms merrily swim in the fluid. You cannot predict anything by the flavour.

Me: Sperms are like human beings – full of tantrums, picky, running the rat race and they have a sense of taste. And fun as well. If they are accosted by a strawberry-flavoured condom, be sure that they will think of cream and even Wimbledon by association, if they are well-travelled. The flavours you mention are the ones they live with and are influenced by. Individuals may possess all of these at different times, so a particular semen sample would reflect the mood of the day, a sort of ‘status’ on Facebook. Here is my guide:

Salty: The sperm will be an essential ingredient, a rather sociable being, adding a dash of that something extra. However, the possibility of water retention and high blood pressure may make them a bit slow and giddy headed. But salt goes well with eggs, so while they are together they will be rather well-adjusted.

Sweet: The sperm swimming in such a honeyed environ could well be a bit sticky to deal with. Once he gets rid of the baggage, the sweetness will make him a good after-meal companion. Like dessert. Since the only sweet eggs you get are for Easter, there will be hope of a second coming, a metaphorical need to return to roots. The also look for stability, a few good friends, and will turn out to be nice guys or good girls. 

Bitter: The first thought is to feel sorry, but the bitter medicine will stand these sperms in good stead later in life. They will be toughened and to get rid of the bitterness resort to airing their tongue, which will later transform into a give a damn attitude. They may rarely carry residual bitterness because they managed to rise above it anyway. However, they could suffer from angst and be wary of too much sweetness.

Before going ahead, taste the thing and then decide what kind of babies you want. And don’t slap the butter on. It masks the natural taste and misleads. Besides, grease could end in corrupt sperms. Imagine a people’s movement against you only because you want to do something like ‘Last Tango in Paris’.


The System’s Dissent: India Inc. Gives Binayak Sen a Job

He may not have been a ‘poster’ boy then, but he has become one now. First for those fighting against the sedition charges; now for those who think he is an asset. Neither of these should be taken at face value

India Inc. Gives Binayak Sen a Job

The System's Dissent
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, May 13-15

The man who stood for quiet contemporary dissent has been offered a swivel chair. It could be an olive branch wrapped in poison ivy. What is worse than the government’s offer of an advisory role in the Planning Commission – with its history of being a white elephant – is Binayak Sen’s acceptance of it.

Both the Central government and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) are arguing that this post is only an extension of what Dr. Sen has been doing all along. This is true, but it is an uncomfortable situation not relegated to what one man has done or not done. He was arrested on May 14, 2007 for conspiracy, for war against the state and treason, and for being a member of a banned organisation – the CPI (M). A 1000-page chargesheet deemed him to be anti-national and slapped sedition charges against him for possession of Naxalite literature. Last year he was awarded a life sentence based on skeletal evidence.

Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Raman Singh, reacting to the Sen appointment, said:

“He has not been absolved of the charges by the court, but just given bail. Is there such a dearth of experts in the country that the Centre had to take the advice of a person accused of sedition? The people of Chhattisgarh do not approve of this.”

Much as I understand that he has political motives, the sudden change in attitude does need to be probed. This is beyond the BJP feeling victimised or even stating, “The government must ask itself what is the tradition it is trying to establish by Sen's appointment and whether it is good for democracy and the whole federal structure”. It is about how by using the same law books, there is a play of semantics to suit different establishments.

The 12th Planning Commission has included him on the steering committee that will deal with malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality in the rural and tribal areas. After 30 years doing this work, he is now considered among the “best brains”. One would have to be foolish to buy into the anointment of his “expertise”. The Centre had not intervened even once when the trial was on.

Later, on an appeal, the Supreme Court dismissed the trial court’s verdict:

“We are a democratic country. We must draw a line. He might be a sympathiser. But it does not amount to sedition. We are going on admitted facts as per prosecution case. Does it connect him with Naxalite violence? Does it mean he has committed sedition?”

* * *

The foundation for the current co-opting of Dr. Sen was laid when Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who has led the battle against the Naxalites, had said:

“I am happy to know Sen has got bail. I have always believed if one is not satisfied with a lower court order, one can get reprieve by approaching a higher court”.

This is democratic in principle. How many people have recourse to such options? It also leads us to the important question about the fate of those falsely convicted who are languishing in prison. How many of them will get such opportunities? Most of us have not believed the charges against Dr. Sen, but this can set a bad precedent. It could also legally legitimise real criminals who contest elections.

His response has been one of elation:

“I am very happy to get this information... I will surely attend the first meeting of the committee. I will like to bring on board and work for ensuring further equity in health-related issues for deprived communities.”

The government is using him for two reasons: One, to send out soft feelers for electoral purposes that it is not against tribals and not all tribals are Maoists and not all Maoists are bad. After his bail, the Supreme Court even allowed him to visit Red areas, thereby giving the benefit of doubt to the people there and the possibility that they cannot be implicated by association. Two, he is an international star and the Planning Commission is dealing with health issues and needs a global forum to sell its poverty. One does not expect better from the establishment.

What now?

What prompted his acceptance? Does he, a maverick who went it alone, not understand that there is nothing like a free lunch in politics? Does he like any individual seek to be free of any allusion to his treason? Will he alter his ideology, and it will surely be compromised when he has to sit with bureaucrats who might not see the issues the way he sees them?

I am surprised that the PUCL that has thus far been steadfast and committed to counteracting every charge is also pleased with this announcement. It is an organisation that has dealt with several human rights issues. What if someone else, not from a leftist banner of thinking, had been offered a position when the rightwing party was in power?

There is indeed some hierarchy involved and not just due to the fact that Nobel laureates had petitioned the government against the charges. It is how we need to see Naxalism as not mere dissent but as a political movement with its own political compulsions and motives.

There is an almost smirking attitude towards the Kashmiri movement because it has not been intellectualised and has an outside element factored into it. It also does not lend itself to romanticisation.

* * *

The first images I was exposed to were of blood stains on gritty walls in the streets of what was still called Calcutta. It was dark and we refused to blink as we wanted to miss nothing. As it turned out, we could have shut our eyes and the same images would assail us. This was cinema verite and as part of the serious film festival clique it was mandatory to watch the clock tick. Naxalbari had become the hotbed, but in the languorous manner that Bengal so enjoys it reached its shores years after the uprising of farm labour in parts of the Southern regions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and even Tamil Nadu. It slowly spread towards the east and some parts of the western regions. It was not a battle against the government or the corporate sector; it was against the rich farmers or estate owners.

Is Naxalism today more an extremist movement rather than a fight for tribal rights? There were reports that two Naxal women had come to Mumbai. The urbanisation is not new, except that it is now the other way round. Most of the Maoist leaders and spokespersons are from the educated and elite class; their protest has been in the addas, holed up in corners and coffee houses arguing polemics. It is only natural that they became the voices for the poor, bonded to land and survival, have none.

You run through a roster of the big names and institutions like the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) figure prominently. The 70s was the period where university students developed ideas about liberation. Interestingly, this was pre-Emergency. People like Kobad Ghandy had studied with Sanjay Gandhi in the posh Doon School. They were busy making posters and sticking them on the walls of Delhi. They stayed up late at night smoking beedis, drinking cheap alcohol and indulging in some sort of orgy or the other. There were no strings attached to any other aspect of their lives; they were committed only to nightfall and paper wars. In the morning they’d wake up in soft beds and drink orange juice. It was a schizophrenic existence.

After acquiring degrees most went on with their professional lives to become part of establishment-like professions, often behind the very walls they had pasted those posters on. Others decided to take the road that led to the interiors. Binayak Sen was one of them. He may not have been a ‘poster’ boy then, but he has become one now. First for those fighting against the sedition charges; now for those who think he is an asset. Neither of these should be taken at face value, but his not being a traitor does not mean he has to be the man the system can command at will.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘The Dream of a Ridiculous Man’, the protagonist experiences a profound introspective dream that exemplifies the situation Sen is in:

“I knew that it had something like a human face. Strange to say, I did not like that being, in fact I felt an intense aversion for it. I had expected complete non-existence, and that was why I had put a bullet through my heart. And here I was in the hands of a creature not human, of course, but yet living, existing. ‘And so there is life beyond the grave,’ I thought with the strange frivolity one has in dreams. But in its inmost depth my heart remained unchanged. ‘And if I have got to exist again,’ I thought, ‘and live once more under the control of some irresistible power, I won’t be vanquished and humiliated’.”

Binayak Sen is now answerable to a faceless being. This is the dissent of the system. Paint over blood stains.