More than a moon

It looked like a roomful of glass. If there is anything that I will always remember in the house of a film star it will be the sheer khorma. There was a big gathering. My uncle S had gone to wish the person, as was the custom. He had taken me along. I was quite unimpressed by the chandelier that covered almost half the ceiling, the rugs at choreographed intervals, and the plush carpet. The night seemed pink – perhaps it was the upholstery, or the blushing cheeks, or the rose sherbet glasses, or bloodshot sleepless eyes.

A khadim (servant) went around with an ornate silver tray on which there were silver bowls. Someone urged me to take it when he came and stood before me. I was scared. It was silver, metal, but it seemed so fragile it would break. Just as I thought that chandelier would fall down and crush us. I was sitting on a sofa that was too deep and large, so I was quite at the edge of it. A couple of women were next to me, but except for the occasional smile or “Kiske saath aayi ho (who have you come with)?”, after which they would pat my head, there was no communication. What could they tell a girl who seemed so lost?

I swirled the spoon in the bowl. The sheer khorma was thick, as though all the milk had dried up. There was an overdose of dry fruit. I sniffed the fragrances of the women who walked past. Strong scents, beautiful faces. One day I would be one of them; I was quite certain I’d have copious hips and eyes curved with kohl at the edges. And I would laugh after every spoonful of the delicacy in a language that sounded sweet but distant.

Dressed in silk, I was sweating. The drizzle of perspiration reached my thighs and down my legs. When we got up to leave, I thought the spot where I sat was wet. What would people think? Would they even bother to think when I had been quite invisible?

I was also concerned about the bowl of sheer khorma, half consumed. I could not finish it and had left it on a side table. Each time I have sheer khorma anywhere, I feel cheated. No one makes it like my mother. No one makes it the way I like it. The milk simmering for hours to turn into the colour of sand, the sevaiyan (vermicelli) roasted just right, and garnishing that does not overwhelm but stands out silently like thoughts to be chewed.

Over the years, the quality has remained unchanged, much like its smokey flavour that comes from a steady flame. What has altered is the quantity. The large pateela (vessel) got reduced in size as the joint family spread out. Today it is a small one.

I was asked to chop the pistachios. “Why can’t we just pound it?” I asked in a lazy middle-aged manner. It is travesty to powder it or even have large rough pieces. They need to be cut into shavings. I brought out the knife. It turned out to be blunt. I had to apply pressure and precision. The easy way out would have been to get another knife. This process was a good test. I did not even cut my finger, although it got a bit sore. At the end of the exercise, it looked beautiful, like confetti. It was sprinkled over the mix.

The aggarbattis (incense sticks) were lit and circled round the bowl. A bit of ash fell in. It was as though suddenly everyone had reappeared, the old days relived. Ash is so alive with nostalgia.

- - -

Have you ever scene Eid greetings without the crescent moon or a minaret or calligraphy or two men hugging or something out of miniature paintings?

These are the standard themes. I have already written about childhood memories and my filmi moments, but I find the ‘Muslim socials’ fascinating. Rather than stereotypes, they were creating an old-world romance.

Even if the theme was contemporary to the period, the homes, the clothes, the demeanour harked back to something quite out of history. I did not think of any of this as regressive. I am glad to be exposed to this cinema in later years because it gave me a sense of comparison. In the 90s the guy woos the girl with the words, “Khambey jaisi khadee hai, shola hai phuljhadi hai (She stands like a pillar, she is a flame, a firecracker).”

Flashback to this song. It is a tad long but wait till the scenes come alive. There are subtitles. The woman is in naqab – and there is the perfectly-poised books falling scene! – but she is not weak. The man, so entranced, needs her eyes to support his vision:

A better quality video is here for those who understand the language.

Movie: Mere Mehboob
Singer: Mohammad Rafi
Music Director: Naushad
Lyricist: Shakeel Badayuni
Actors: Rajendra Kumar, Sadhana
Year: 1963
- - -
Eid Mubarak!


Libya's Poster Girl

Nisreen in Gaddafi's army

It was only a matter of time before Libya found a totem. The psychological semantics are beautifully laid out. A 19-year-old girl. Attractive. Murderer? Victim? The shadow-play is potent.

Libyan’s leader Muammar Gaddafi always had a female army alongside the traditional male one. So, what sets Nisreen Mansour al Forgani apart? Have the rebels not taken others captive, those who massacred the dissident forces? Why do all such movements feel the need to use such ‘human shields’ to drive home a point that is ironically against the debasement of the human used as shield to prop up dictatorial regimes?

It is essentially the idea of “Gaddafi's girl executioner” that has the appeal of bondage. It is essentially vicarious. Her being shackled to a bed now is a wry comment on how both sides will use an individual, especially if she happens to be an eyeball-grabbing young woman.

The rebels have taken her after she killed 11 of them, many at point-blank range. Her story, as recounted now, is about a girl who enjoyed “dance music”, which the media seems to emphasise, quite forgetting that in Gaddafi’s Libya it was not forbidden. The leader himself was given to many pleasures.

Nisreen who lived with her mother was initiated into the army by Fatma. Besides training in guns, she was also sent off by the lady to a room where military officers raped her and other young women. So, why is Fatma not being held out as the ugly face of the regime? The rebels will make the most of Nisreen. The gut-wrenching account will be for an international audience as they too like to put their best victims out.

Nisreen recounts about Fatma: “She told me that if my mother said something against Gaddafi that I should immediately kill her. If I said anything about the leader that she did not like I would be beaten and locked in my room. She also told us that if the rebels came, they would rape us.”

The rebels did not sexually exploit her, but she is being flashed around in the media. There is pity for her as she gives the details: “The rebel prisoners were tied up and kept under a tree outside. Then one by one they were brought up to the room. There were three Gaddafi volunteers with guns also in the room. They told me that if I didn’t kill the prisoners then they would kill me.”

Wasn’t she trained as a sniper? What did she expect? Weren’t most of the rebels people who opposed the regime? There were many who supported Gaddafi right until the revolution. It is a bit hard to digest that Nisreen now says her family were not supporters of the Gaddafi regime. Are these her political views? What is the genesis of it?

Was she forced to do it, or is she now claiming to be anti-Gaddafi because she fears the rebels who took her prisoner? “I told them (the rebels) what I did. They are angry. I do not know what will happen to me now.”

This is the crux. No one quite knows. If many who followed Gaddafi’s laws had been forced into doing so, then they were victims as well. Do the rebels then have the right to hold them responsible? How will the alternative powers deal with these contradictions?

In a rather macabre conversation, a rebel fighter asked her, “Do you pray?” She said she used to.

“What time of day did you kill them?”

“In the mornings.”

The rebels?
Are the rebels going to base their decision on her devotion? What does the fact that she “used to” pray convey – that she has lost faith, or that she cannot do so physically now? Is the timing important for religious reasons?

The rebels seem to be on a trip of their own. It happened with Nida in Iran, a martyr by default. It will happen with Nisreen. Where did they get the photograph of her before being tied to the hospital bed from? There are others of her weeping. These will be flaunted as part of the victory over Tripoli. The rubble from Gaddafi’s mansion with its joy rides and zoo don’t work as well as a young woman killer in tears.


Kiran’s Dance, Illiteracy and Symbolism

Kiran Bedi as performer

After the fast-feast, there are bound to be leftovers. They make for an interesting peep into the psyche of the performers and the spectators. There has been much shock expressed over Kiran Bedi’s ‘ghunghat’ dance at the Ramlila rally.

Bedi then moved on to theatrics and enacted what she said was how politicians behaved. Bedi pulled a scarf from the neck of a young activist on stage, wrapped her head with it and proceeded to mock MPs.

"You remove one mask, then you find another one, and then another. They change words according to time and place. Never trust them," she said.

What is the objection to? That she poked fun at the MPs or that she enacted this parodic scene? Despite my antipathy towards the whole movement, I fail to understand how this alone reduces her stature. Her calling this act a “game-changer” is a bit too delusionary, but at what point in time has there been no drama in this rally?

When Anna Hazare came on the music reality show “Little Champs”, he too sang a few lines of Gandhi's favourite bhajan “Vaishnao jan to”; Arvind Kejriwal asked the kids to come to the rally and give a boost to the ‘andolan’. Many singers and actors did. This was the nature of the movement. Ms. Bedi was just playing her part.

Does anyone recall Asma Jehangir and company singing in a television studio on one of those ‘aman’ programmes? Street theatre is very much about activism. Did not Sushma Swaraj dance, and was the objection to her doing so essentially relegated to tarnishing the image of Gandhi’s Rajghat?

Bedi as cop

The problem with Ms. Bedi’s stance is that she, who claimed to be the dissenting voice against any authority, is now calling herself a mere soldier. She is not even that and seems more like Anna’s nurse.

During the 1984 anti-Sikh riots there were pictures of her, lathi in hand, fighting the mobs. It was an iconic image that has stayed with some of us. But in later years, even as she was honoured as a ‘supercop’, she was accused of being a publicity hog.

Let us not forget that she has endorsed a detergent to show how to clean dirt. Whether we agree with her or not, this is what has been embedded in the public mind.

As for her opinion on politicians, is not the Jan Lokpal Bill fighting against the system’s version?

What I am trying to say is that she is pandering to type and not going beyond the script because it is the best option. As for her saying that our leaders wear masks, wasn’t Atal Behari Vajpayee called the “mukhota”?

Only because some of us – in fact many of us – do not agree with the Anna caravan, I do not see any reason to respect politicans as a reaction. We must respect Parliament and the Constitution. Individual ministers are known to be venal as are individual activists.

This brings us to the other leftover issue. Actor Om Puri got a whole lot of mileage for landing up slightly tipsy and making a speech where he called our ministers illiterate:

“I feel ashamed when an IAS or IPS salutes a "gawar" who is a Neta. We have more than 50 percent ‘gawar’ Netas. Don’t vote for them.”

It has resulted in much semantic knowledge of what really “gawaar” means. Is it crass, or lack of knowledge, or just illiterate? How does it matter? Is this the first time anyone has said this about our politicans? Did not Amitabh Bachchan, a neta once, call politics a cesspoll?

Om Puri in the last couple of years has shown that you may be literate and educated but you can still be crass. Literacy does not imbue people with decency or common sense. If anything, he has insulted the very aam aadmi, the considerable numbers of unlettered people that constitute the Indian population and who this Team Anna is claiming to be the voice of.

Political leaders have been quick to trot out numbers of MPs and their degrees. I remember a forward that was sent some years ago listing out Manmohan Singh’s impressive CV. What does it mean when it comes to the real world of steering the country outside the ‘economic progress’ bubble? How has the educated Narendra Modi fared with the common people? Did not the rustic Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was seen as a standup comic, gain respectability only after he was invited by the posh management institutes to lecture?

What is most amusing is that many of these foot soldiers, by putting their foot in the mouth, are only making Anna seem more saintly than he is. They are the shoulders he can happily fire the non-violent gun from. And to think that some people believe that the elite dislike Anna because he is a poor villager. Oh sure. Had he not been legitimised by candle-light, these barfers would not have been supporting him. Isn’t he too a “gawaar” and we do have a former top police officer saluting him? What a circle within circles. If this is not politics, then what is? Or shall we say politicans trussed up for the kursi, with the readymade words, “We think it will be better to fight from within the system”?

Talking of leftover matters, I wonder why there isn’t much noise about the symbolism of two little girls offering Anna his first drink to break his fast – one was a Dalit, the other a Muslim, we were informed. I can imagine the communal harmony waalas applauding. I find it revolting. As though it is okay to drink from the hands of Dalits and Muslims. The only symbolism here seems to be the poor souls make for good water/message carriers; they cannot be the fount from which wisdom and change can spring.

End note:

Why has Rahul Gandhi been silent? It is the most sensible thing to do. The visible face of the country is the prime minister. By letting him manage with his core group is a smart move. Rahul, once he is anointed, will need the Mr. Clean image. That is probably his only USP.


Like a prayer...

With cucumber pads on my eyes, my head uncovered, nothing to indicate that I was doing ibaadat, I lay down to pray. I do not know many prayers. I depend on memory.

Yesterday was the 27th roza. Except for recollection of days when food was sent to the poor who observe the Ramzan fast, I have nothing to fall back on. It is also a practice to complete the reading of the Quran. For many years someone would read it and the finale would be the last few verses, followed by a fateha. Most of those who read were not supposed to demand money; they got it anyway. One day, I discussed about the purpose it served. The person would be reading by rote, trying to meet a deadline. Even as symbolism this seemed superficial.

It is believed that prayers offered on this day have the efficacy of a thousand prayers. I respect the sentiments of those who believe it because I believe in dreams and illusions.

So when I lay down, I knew it was the right time. Maghrib is special. Dusk comes everyday, but when dusk has a purpose the sun does not just disappear. It leaves a glow.

I had spoken earlier in the day with a friend. She is fasting. She is not religious. As conversation went on, she said, "You know, after a few days of roza you reach a dream-like state, something like sex."

What did I discover?

Cucumber pads on the eyes are soothing.

Lying down and just uttering certain words can produce a sense of numbness – some call it calm.

I smiled when I thought about the conversation with my friend. Did it interrupt the prayer or add to it? Isn’t smiling good?

Hundred was the number I set for myself. I am bad at math.

After completing it, I decided to become corrupt and bribe god. I started in English and then it just sounded better in Urdu/Hindi. I could not decide, so I stuck to the Bollywood ‘Jab We Met’ filmi style. And thought about Kareena Kapoor’s character, who says when you really, actually want something, then you get it.

There are some things I have that I never wanted. Since they had appeared, I tried to make the best of it and gave whatever I could to them. Holding back nothing – not my anger, not my affection, not my cyncism, not my idealism, not myself. After a while, these fossilised and ‘became’ mine. Some people call extra baggage a bonus.

There was a time when I would say to nothing in particular, “May everyone’s wishes come true.” This is stupid. One person’s wish may be to cut the thread and the other may want to sew something. Each removed from the other. So, should we wish for islands?

I don’t know. If there is the sea and a few trees, I suppose this is good enough. I shall write on sand and know that it is not meant to hold my words whether or not the waters lash against it and wash them away.

The clouds write out new scriptures in the skies everyday and every breath exhaled is a prayer…

Sunday ka Funda

There are teems of people in the roads everyday, uprooted from homes. For them survival is a dream. A little money to be earned, wrenched from their families and often themselves. They don’t have to be naked fakirs and the only voices that speak for them are what they have left behind and which they connect to with that old red postbox.

Gaman remains one of those rare gems that silently revealed such displacement – crowded streets and vacant eyes. Two ghazals from the film...

tanhai ki ye kaun si manzil hai rafiqon
taa-hadd-e-nazar ek bayaabaan sa kyon hai

seene mein jalan aankhon mein toofan sa kyon hai
is shahar mein har shaks pareshan sa kyon hai

(Where is the loneliness headed to
as far as one can see there is nothing beyond

the heart burns as storms fill eyes
in the city everyone seems to be a tortured soul)

Back in the village, the woman waits. The torture is no less as memories tug…

koi deewana galiyon mein phirta raha
koi awaaz aati rahi raat bhar
Aapki yaad aati rahi

(Some madman roams the streets
Some sounds I hear at least
As all night your thoughts don’t leave)

Movie: Gaman
1. Suresh Wadkar
2. Chhaya Ganguly
Music Director: Jaidev
1. Shahryar
2. Maqdoom Mohiuddin
Actors: Farooq Sheikh, Smita Patil
Year: 1978

Team Aamir and Arnab

Now that the medics will be free, they should rush to some television channels. First stop is emergency treatment for Times Now's Valmiki. Arnab Goswami is celebrating Diwali - there is so much patakha coming out of his mouth - for the return of Lord Anna from his banwas. Fact is, he was not in exile.

The real agni pariksha (test by fire) does not count. Breaking news is screaming out about "Complete victory". He challenged the viewers: "Is this a victory for Anna or for the billion Indian people?"

Please correct me: is a session in Parliament that has tacitly agreed to the main points a complete victory? Rest assured that Team TOI has ensured that the ads will keep coming. For, the anchor at one point referred with some gumption to "what we call the common man". He was also handing out certificates applauding ministers for conducting the Parliament session so well. "It is creditable..." he intoned.

He refused to entertain "cynicism", although arrogance is his birthright. After Medha Patkar had her say, which was pro-Anna, he used her to fortify his sponsored point. To the extent that he even said, "She does not belong to the constitutional club and may not even be allowed inside the India International Centre." Media people are on quota lists for everything, including membership of IIC, and whatever her stand on this subject it was a cheap shot to earn common man mileage points.

The real cherry was when he was contradicted on his euphoria. He snorted and said, "If one does not understand history in the making, then I would not be true to journalism"!

- - -

My Hindutva party acquaintance has other problems.

The Note:

"I am watching the 7pm news on Times Now. Aamir Khan is sitting next to Anna Hazare. And he is wearing a skull cap, which clearly identifies him as a Muslim.

However Team Anna had consistently opposed any show of Hindu symbolism on the stage.

Strange definition of secularism.

Incidentally, I think one rarely sees Aamir Khan in a skull cap in other surroundings. One has to wonder why he felt it necessary to make his Muslim identity so stand out. Did he take part as a Muslim or as an Indian?"

My take:

This whole tamasha has been about symbolism. Aamir Khan has often used public fora to market his films and himself.

Did anyone object when Swami Ramdev openly propagated a 'Hindu' style of protest? Is everyone wearing a Gandhi topi Gandhian?

Indeed, Aamir does not wear the skullcap, so he perhaps did it to further the cause after the Shahi Imam's objection. And to send out the message that elitist Muslims are with Anna.

Even if he made his Muslim identity stand out, I find it strange that this is seen as antithetical to being Indian.

What about the dhotis and chotis, the sadhus and bhajans? Shall we ask every woman to discard her bindi and the men to put away rudraksha beads so we can be completely secular?

Everyone has used the Ramlila Ground to bribe their way into different groups for their versions of "complete victory".


Manmohan Singh's Soft Stance

They talk about the second independence. It is really another partition of the country – a partition that will last until the next popcorn episode of the soap opera.

Sonia would have handled it with greater maturity, are the whispers doing the rounds. The Hazare cabal is giving us titbits about which minister is more “pliable” and it is supposed to be a good thing. We, who complain about lack of spine in our leaders, now want them to bend over backwards.

This push-the-buttons sort of democracy is detrimental, and now we have sheer desperation:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday paid fulsome tribute to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, calling him the embodiment of “our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption” while defending his own record by inviting the opposition to scrutinize properties he or his family members had acquired in his 40-odd years in public life.

No, Sir, he is not. Where was he when Bofors happened? Would the PM say the same thing had he raised that bogey? The people involved here are not disgusted with corruption but how they cannot get their way despite it being around. Big businesses have thrived on corruption – getting permits for their industrial units that they know will go beyond the limit allocated. These corporate houses have the most corrupt practices going on. Newspapers that take money to splash photographs are joining the crusade. Doctors, lawyers, teachers who give ‘extra tuitions’ often transact with cash – does anyone know how much of it is accounted for? And these are the ‘angry people’.

Why should the leader of the largest democracy have to kowtow to an individual? And why is he “hurt” over his reputation being sullied by a bunch of performers? These are ‘non-state actors’. Why was the PM not concerned when there were misdemeanours committed earlier?

“In the course of seven years as prime minister, I may have made mistakes. Who is above making mistakes? To err is human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving at corruption is a charge I firmly repudiate.”

Fine. But as the prime minister, it is not only about him. It is about the whole system, and that includes the sabre-rattlers at the Ramlila grounds. Manmohan Singh has erred by not acting on several occasions. So, why this need to act now, and for whom?

“I respect his idealism. I respect him as an individual. I applaud him, I salute him. His life is much too precious and therefore, I would urge Anna Hazare to end his fast.”

What a sorry comment. There is much of this in op-eds, and I wish people would just say it. Anna Hazare’s movement is opportunistic, and an arrogant one at that. It is being marketed as idealism only because people are gathering around. Every life is precious. As the PM he should be concerned about the many unnecessary deaths due to basic lack of health facilities, due to the heinous crimes committed in the name of religion and honour, due to patriarchal attitudes, due to quiet deaths in prisons. If anything, this shows that those people are not corrupt enough to bribe their way to avoid death by torture. What does the PM have to say about it?

Nothing. Instead we get this:

“…in the two-and-a-half years that is left to us, we will do everything in our power to clean the system of this country.”

Besides being an absolutely ridiculous statement, he appears to be making himself answerable to a group of people who have not fought an election. Does anyone have details about the ‘aides’ – who they are, their source of income, their past record, their future plans?

One of the reasons our PM is trying to work this out is that his constituency is largely made up for these people. The educated, the ‘sensible’ middle clsss and the ‘sensitive’ rich. When was the last time you heard about the small grocer, the farmer, the cobbler bribing anyone?

Has anyone seen the ad for some chips where there is a rally and spotting a pretty girl Saif Ali Khan goes up to her and says, “Candle-light vigil ke baad candle-light dinner?” She is charmed by his munchies. They go crunch-crunch together. The poor ad agency must have thought it was doing a public service campaign, but it has revealed the true nature of this hollow movement’s exclusivist nature.

If it is fairly certain this government does not have a chance, has anyone thought about the alternatives? Will the Bill be written in stone and apply to subsequent governments? Is there any guarantee they will not tamper with it?

Manmohan Singh may want to leave with some glory, but he should do it by standing up for the democratic process as is constitutionally established and not under pressure from an unrecognised group.  It is time he gave statesmanship a chance instead of sticking to good old politicking. (He is not seen as such, but that is the Myth of Manmohan Singh: The Follower as Leader I wrote about.) Even the media heroes are making noises about how while Anna is fasting others are having badaam-pista. So? Are these anchors starving?

And for those who have compared this to the Arab Spring, look at these pictures after Muammar Gaddafi’s mansion in Tripoli was destroyed.

Is this what we want? Or is this already happening without the fire? ‘Rebels’ kicking footballs and posing for pictures with statues?


Arundhati and Anna: Same Saints

Arundhati Roy, with a touch of sarcasm, calling Anna Hazare a saint is like the Pope holding back a canonisation until a really good miracle takes place. Ms. Roy is probably funnier than she might imagine, for you don’t even have to scratch the skin to figure out that she and Anna Hazare are from the same stock of hand-wavers from the Vatican balcony.

She refers to Anna’s moves as canny and notes his sense of timing in a mint-'fresh' piece in The Hindu. One wonders whether she realises that it is precisely what she has been doing. Where were her impassioned op-ed pieces on this subject all these months? This is classic Roy territory: Wait until the opportune moment where the momentum has gathered enough steam and then join the rally as the ‘other’ voice. She has said nothing that is different or new that those who oppose the ‘people’s movement’ – yes, we have put it in single quotes before – have not commented on.

This is typical. A bit like Aamir Khan – great marketing strategy. It is as though she woke up, had her cuppa, switched on the TV (oh, she does watch it), saw those teeming thousands and the farce and decided it was time to swoop down on history in the making by playing the tragedy queen. It is easy for her because her CV has nice little sticky notes with ‘causes’ or at least stuff she has read. So, out pops Irom Sharmila of Manipur, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which she quietly sneaked out of, the Bhopal Gas leak, farmers in NOIDA, Pune and Haryana, nuclearisation. Did she comment on the rapes and murders, individual cases, by her St. Stephen’s crowd?

The worrying aspect of her piece is that she has strung together all that she could source and made a complete mish-mash of it. And if she has problems with certain terminology being used by Team Anna, such as “civil society”, then what has she been doing in her write-ups and lectures?

The problem is not primarily with what she is saying but why she is saying it. Is she really in a position to point fingers at saintliness when her own halo is glowing?

She has issues with the Anna jail yatra:

Then, on August 16th, the morning of his second “fast unto death,” before he had begun his fast or committed any legal offence, Anna Hazare was arrested and jailed. The struggle for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill now coalesced into a struggle for the right to protest, the struggle for democracy itself. Within hours of this ‘Second Freedom Struggle,' Anna was released. Cannily, he refused to leave prison, but remained in Tihar jail as an honoured guest, where he began a fast, demanding the right to fast in a public place. For three days, while crowds and television vans gathered outside, members of Team Anna whizzed in and out of the high security prison, carrying out his video messages, to be broadcast on national TV on all channels. (Which other person would be granted this luxury?)

Lady, you! Recall how she would go on and on about her “put me in jail” rant when she was doing the Maoists? Remember how she sat with Syed Shah Geelani discussing Azadi in New Delhi even as there was local turmoil in the Valley?

Geelani & Roy

Then again, there was the sedition business that she was feeding on. Her riposte was that this was nothing new. Exactly. This is what the people have been demanding, but they have died for it and they did not hobnob with a pro-Pakistani activist or want to go to jail to prove a personal point. They are dying because of the callousness of the militants and the security agencies. Does anyone remember that her first words against being misquoted in the Indian media were in a Pakistani newspaper, a front page article that too? We do see her on TV, so her words are being broadcast as well. She chooses her channels, like her causes, well.

It is true that Anna Hazare has not spoken on several issues, but like her he is probably biding his time. This hunger fast is wonderful for now. I mean, did we hear Ms. Roy come out strongly against the lobbyists when the controversy was at its peak? Has she named anyone? No. When she was specifically asked about two people, she came up with this: “They’ve made it worse for themselves.”

So, indeed Anna is riding a media wave and some of us have been saying so for long. Has she done anything that has not been designed to get attention? Even at her recent book release at Habitat Centre, there was a hue and cry about rightwing parties barging in, shouting slogans, and threatening. She loves to be threatened. If anyone has watched clips, you will see some fellows throwing pamphlets in the air and the saint of small things sitting right there with a beatific smile.


The worst aspect of her causes célèbre is that she cleverly weaves in communalism, not unlike the Imams and Shankaracharyas. She did it a while ago when she used the Muslims to make a Maoist point. She has done it again, berating Anna:

He does however support Raj Thackeray's Marathi Manoos xenophobia and has praised the ‘development model' of Gujarat's Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. (Anna withdrew that statement after a public outcry, but presumably not his admiration.)
Despite the din, sober journalists have gone about doing what journalists do. We now have the back-story about Anna's old relationship with the RSS.

Then she dishes out some material about his relationship with the RSS. Never mind that she has taken her time over it; perhaps she was waiting for Ramzan or something. It is true that the Hindutva groups are supporting him, but bringing in this is counterproductive and diversionary when discussing the simplistic nature of this movement. Her arguments fall flat because his supporters, however superficial the reasons, are from several regions.

Interestingly, Muslim clerics have spoken out against Imam Bukhari and are with Anna. Many Muslims are also with Arundhati. They believe that such characters speak up for them. While Anna made a wrong move, Roy will not. She is obviously secular, but why does she not speak up on behalf of Sikhs or Christians? Why this special thing for Muslims? Because Muslims are happening. And the community members are so grateful for ‘non political’ voices from outside that they lap up this trivial caring, as though they are socially challenged. Has she spoken out against any fatwa ever? Has she taken on the imams and maulvis ever? Is she afraid her secularism will be seen as suspect? Oh, I forgot. She likes that. Remember, “put me in jail”?

It is precious that she takes on the activists when it suits her:

Worse, by demonising only the Government they have built themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for a second round of reforms — more privatisation, more access to public infrastructure and India's natural resources. It may not be long before Corporate Corruption is made legal and renamed a Lobbying Fee.

Fine. Now, will she check out the mirror? Haven’t the Maoists who she has gone for a walk with (the sample group, okay? Just like Anna’s ‘people’ are) demonised the government – what is her position on that? What ‘corporate’ lobby does she belong to? Who sponsors her seminars? Where does all that money come from?

I have said it often enough that NGOs need to be accountable, the media needs to be accountable. It means everyone. What is rather surprising is that Arundhati Roy actually gives the Mahatma a flying kiss:

While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare's demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji's ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official.

Both Gandhi and Anna are extra-constitutional powers. Gandhi was by no means egalitarian. Read The Gandhian Orgy and you will see how this morality goes against the nature of democracy. Arundhati would not know, or will turn the other cheek. That is how martyrs are made – give your best profile shot. Anna is deciding who he will talk to from the government. This is the problem with such movements. They thrive on a ‘chosen’ few. And that includes Ms. Roy too.

- - -

Note: I repeat, I do not support Team Anna or any such movement. 


Team Imam and the Muslim

Just when I was getting sick of Anna Hazare feeding dates to little girl when she broke her fast and other communal harmony stuff at Ramlila Ground, the head honcho of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has said that Muslims should stay away. I think everyone should stay away, but his reasons are different. The war cry of “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” are causing him problems:

“Islam does not condone the worship of the nation or land. It does not even condone worship of the mother who nurtures a child in her womb for nine months. How can Muslims then join his stir? I have advised them to stay away from it.”

The general impression is that he is saying this at the behest of or at least helping the Congress. I am against the Anna movement and very anti the Shahi Imam.

The genesis of Islam was a fight across lands. The holy site is on land and that land is worshipped. Muslim nations call themselves pure or Islamic, based on faith. So, are all these countries haraam? Should the patriots of these countries be thrown out of the religion?

When Muslims offer namaaz they touch their forehead to the ground. This is land. They are not worshipping it, but god is not there, so it becomes the medium.

And Islam does not say you cannot revere the mother. How does he define reverence anyway? Had it been “Bharat Pita ki Jai”, alluding to Father Nation, would he have kept quiet? Had it been “Vande Pitashri” would it be okay? This is just sexist rubbish, and not true at all.

I don’t care how these terms were formulated, but they are part of the nation. You do not have to believe in idol worship or paganism, and the Shahi Imam should not offer advice and benediction because Islam does not believe in middle-men.

If he was genuine, he would not have added:

“If Anna had included communalism in his agenda, I would have felt more convinced about his intentions.”

Why? Does he know that communalism would also make maulvis, sadhus and priests answerable? Does he know that a lot of money is stashed away by these holy people?

Having said this, I find it curious that those who had initially realised, after Anna had spoken glowingly about Narendra Modi, that he may not be non-partisan, did not waste time over it and supported the movement anyway.

That was not my prime concern, but it is a revealing aspect of the movement.

Now that Imam Bukhari has opened his mouth, the 'other' communalism will be seen as a preemptive reaction!

And those Muslims who do not agree with this crusade against corruption circus will be seen as typically following his diktats by default. Or, just maybe, all Muslims believe in kruption?

All these potty mouths should learn to look beyond such limited ideas.

PS: Just for the record, I had written about The Pitfalls of Populism in April when Hazare first began his drama. My views have not changed.


Sunday ka Funda

"There ain't nothing you could ask I could answer you but I won't (I won't)
I was gonna change, but I'm not, if you're doing things I don't

You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free"


Where's the shame?

The roads were slushy. Two boys sat near a puddle, cleaned some space in the rubble and squatted. There was a traffic jam. I could see as dollops of excreta fell off them. It would soon mix with the slush. They were chatting with each other unmindful of anything even as a cyclist took a short route from between the two of them.

We went off on our way. There were rows of what people called home. A large plastic drum of water took pride of place, a cot stood outside against a gunny sack ‘wall’, clothes washed in dirty water were drying on loose ropes. A woman wiped her face with the loose end of her saree; men sat vacant eyed. I do not know where they come from, but they are Indians.

Is India ashamed of their plight? Has anyone gone on fast for them? Any rallies? They wear synthetic clothes because it is easier to dry. Khadi, the symbol of Gandhi, is designer wear.

But the worst possible flaunting of it is by the popcorn crowd. At a fashion show they are flashing it:

So, why do we complain when poor kids defecate in the open? The shit is up there on the conscience catwalk.

- - -

It is horribly sad that a 15-year-old suicide bomber entered a mosque in Peshawar. There were Friday prayers. 50 people died and almost 200 are injured. Is this not the month of faith? Why are they killing people, and believers at that?

And here in all our countries people are busy discussing the best dates to break the fast at iftaar. Do we have any shame? Some Pakistani bloke has decided to emulate the kneejerk Indian ‘revolt’ and go on a fast. Will he address the issue of such rampant carnages taking place every day in his country?
Peshawar was not what it was made out to be just a few years ago. They are independent-minded people. So, who are these people whose independence depends on demolishing others?

Everytime some outside forces enter they change the psychological landscape of a place. Yet, where is the feistiness of the locals that they destroy what is theirs and, in fact, play into the hands of those waiting to catch?


Let's dance

People were dancing, some close, some in a frenzy. The cops landed up and arrested them. This was private space in Mumbai, the great metro. Goes against our culture, say the moral police. Encourages unhealthy activities, they continue.

I can understand if they were in the streets or in places that families with young kids frequent.

Anyhow, another case came up for hearing to let the place remain open until late and permit people to dance. The comment by the judges is curious:

“One may think 3 am is too late; others may not. Customers want to dance. Somebody putting their hands up and dancing cannot be objected to. Innocuous dancing can be permitted. As long as nothing obscene or objectionable is happening… If police comes like this, then customers will be afraid.”

This is in a five-star hotel and people are not forced into it. What does putting hands up mean? What if the hands are not up? Is this a call for surrender? Some dances do not need the hands to be up.

Have the cops and those who are concerned about our culture ever objected to drunken street dancing during festivals? What about the ‘eve-teasing’? What about marriage functions? The young do dress provocatively at many of these. Only because it is ethnic clothes, it does not make them less titillating. And the hip swaying even in our kiddie talent contests on TV should tell us that we aren’t really a whitewashed culture.

Dance is an important manisfestation of our culture, anyway. Shiva’s nataraj dance, Krishna’s ras leela, and Menaka’s seduction of sage Vishvamitra are well-known. What about the mad-as-hell dervish moves at Sufi shrines?

I am a bit surprised that while passing the judgement, the bench mentioned that not allowing dancing would be a dampener for tourism. I do not think people from outside come here to dance. This is about us and how the urbanites socialise. The cops, the same cops who have often been caught molesting young girls, need not look beyond their own little dirty minds before they arrest people who are doing so of their own free will. Certain big industrialists have private parties that openly serve drugs. Has anyone heard about arrests there?

I don’t understand why every report mentions ‘dirty dancing’. And, yes, some years ago a television channel had taken shots of a discotheque to serve some voyeuristic purpose.

Dance can be a release or an elevating experience. The gliding on the floor, the meeting of eyes, the touch around the waist, the bend and the curve. It is a beautiful sight. People may lose control, but that happens even when you are not on the dance floor.


Decoding Anna Ardour

Lots of people want to help the poor in India and go to Tihar. Many are in phoren lands and many are not aware of all those terms being bandied about. Here is a quick guide about the 10 most commonly-used words and the genres they might belong to:

1. Antshan: Hunt the shun

Genre - Wildlife

2. Andolan: On dole

Genre - Anthropology

3. Brashtachar: Brash taker

Genre – Pulp fiction

4. Lok Pal: Lock a pal

Genre – Mystery thriller

5. Jan Lok Pal: Heartfelt lock a pal

Genre – Romantic mystery thriller

6. Dharna: Don’t fear

Genre – Feel good

7. Gandhi topi: Gandhi’s top-up

Genre – Advertising

8. Jail bharo: Burrow the jail

Genre – Archaeology

9 Loktantra: Lock the magic

Genre – Mime

10 Badlao: Bad love

Genre – Paranormal

The literal meanings are hunger fast; revolution; corruption; Lokpal and Jan lokpal are bills to deal with corruption, one the government’s version; the other Anna’s version; protest; Gandhi cap; forcing the authorities to imprison; democracy; change.

Tea from Ivy League

I like tea. So, when I heard that a Harvard Business School graduate decided to get into the tea business, I thought we were in for a true son-of-the-soil story. Oh, I forgot. I am a cynic. I am not supposed to like all this. There has to be a niggling thought.

Right. It is a bit more than niggling. People enter these top institutes and then decide to give it all up. It is rarely simple. I have met a few who did quit cushy jobs because of conviction. Amuleek Singh Bijral tries his hand at modesty:

“There are thousands of chai wallas in this country and I’m just one of them. The beverage that I sell has a history of three and a half thousand years. I have a technology background and I sell tea. People think it’s exotic and unconventional... I don’t.”

One, he was addressing students from the Indian Institute of Management and other biggie schools on the subject of “unconventional entrepreneurs”.

Two, he is the owner of Mountain Trail Foods and his Amuleek Chai Points have ten outlets all over Bangalore.

Three, if it is not all that exotic, then why does he bring in history? Do those thousands of chaiwallas think like him?

Among his staff are IIT and IIM graduates. This is just another business enterprise. As expected, there is a tendency to believe they are better and will offer something more:

“Chai is a global phenomenon. Everywhere I go I see people cribbing about lack of good tea. I wanted to do a scalable business and one that had a big market. Chai provided both.”

Everything has to be a phenomenon. Chai is part of the imbibing habits of people across the world, just as performing morning ablutions is. It does not become a global phenomenon. Indian tea has always been in demand – whether it is Darjeeling, Assam, or the green tea from Kashmir.

The problem with the unconventional entrepreneurs is that profit-making is the sole imperative, whatever else they may say. It is fine for their benefit, but this is one more attempt – and I am not singling out this gentleman – to create a different demand. It works in tandem with the multinational ethos.

How does it alter the social consumer landscape? It could take away the business from smaller companies and most certainly from the small chaiwallas. It will not be much different from the Baristas. You make it into a corporate culture and automatically it is seen as organised, clean, efficient and of superior quality. Add to this, the man is from Harvard, so he will be better at reading tea leaves. Crystal ball gazing is big business, isn’t it?

Imagine, the locals saying, “Brake-fast at Tea-fanny”…

On a personal note, I like tea in so many different ways. There is the green tea that has to just have a touch of the fragrance; a little more and it is not green anymore.

For regular tea, I do a yoyo between the wimpy version where the flavour is left to the imagination and the several types that hit you. We call the first light tea. Who can forget Farooque Sheikh’s character in the delectable Sai Paranjpye film Katha twirling the keychain and saying that he only drinks light tea? It was an indication of being westernised.

Brewed tea can be brewed delicately, with tea leaves added to boiling water and left for a couple of minutes. Or it can be introduced at the beginning and go on and on to become ‘kadak’ (strong). Most Indians like it this way. There are some who will have tea only ‘cooked’ in milk - the famous doodh patti chai. One can add saffron to it.

I love my masala chai. I don’t care about the travesty of it. Tea without a touch of ginger and cardamom may be pure, but I like to sin.

I believe that too is a global phenomenon…


The morning after...

Rain-drenched flags. A PM who speaks about the same old things. Why should we live up to the dreams of our freedom fighters? Are we not entitled to our own dreams? Why talk about the sacrifices of our soldiers and farmers, when both are pushed into it - one due to skirmishes with outside forces (or to contain the anger that spills over within our own borders) and the other because they are forced to commit suicide. Yet he talks about a Green Revolution; he talks about security. 

And, of course, the economy. The world looks to us, at us...

Those scam-stained blokes who are in jail will be dealt with. Indeed. 

I think these Independence Day speeches should move to a new venue. Maybe Davos or somewhere. 

- - -

I was hoping to be disturbed by loud music. The road beyond my lane has another lane. It is where slumdwellers set up a music system and disco lights. I anticipated the usual Mahendra Kapoor and Lata Mangeshkar songs with a sudden burst of "Dhinka Chikka".  There was silence. Until, lazily at around 10 AM or so, a whimper was heard: "Mere desh ki dharti sona ugley..."

I checked the bullion rate. It had hit Rs. 26,000 or so. 

The next speech of the PM should be from the gold souk or something. 

- - -

One gets the usual greetings. This time, not much. What I received instead was a response to my post Cameron's "culture of fear" from my Hindutva party contact. It makes for interesting reading and, naturally, I will share my reply. 


Dear Farzanaji,

I am not sure if Cameron has linked the present riots to the multi-cultural programme. He has, however, said that multi-culturalism has failed much before the riots, and he was talking in the sense of the non-integration of the Muslims community with the mainstream society. This lament has been expressed by other European leaders with respect to
their own countries.

On multi-culturalism my thoughts are as follows.

The primary problem is that the term culture is not properly defined. In common parlance it would be a secular term, and would normally have a geographical connotation. Thus we can have an Iraqi culture, or an Iranian culture, or an Indoensian culture, or an Egyptian culture. But to lump all of them in a common term of Islamic culture would be wrong. I am sure that no Indonesian would accept that in culture and civilisational terms he has anything common with a Turk.

Similarly, on the Christian side, I do not think that a French would accept that he has the same culture as the English, or a German with an Italian. Nor would a Welshman agree that he has the same culture as an Englishman. In Germany, the Bavarians really think they should be a separate country. As do the Basques in case of Spain.

However, if one were to see that the participants in the programme are those that represent the religion of Islam and Christianity, but you will not see one who represents Somalia. Nor do you see anyone who represents the Welsh, for example.

Hence, you see that the programme should be rightly called multi-religion and not multi-culture. Because of the confusion of the
definition, the programme is not going anywhere to come to even close to solving the problems that the society is encountering. And if the problem of a follower of Islam not being able to fit into a secular society is broght, it is brushed aside since the position taken is that the programme deals with culture and not religion. On the other hand, those who are invited to participate are not those who can talk about their culture.

My Reply

Dear X-ji:

Thank you for the response. Cameron has not said the riots were a part of multiculturalism. He cannot possibly do so. But, given the nature of the reaction, it was obvious that the government was unconcerned. When does a government show such slackness? When it knows that the indigenous populations are safe.

Therefore, the multiculturalism bogey is anti-immigrant. That is the reason my piece took off from the example of South Asian victims and Cameron's special words for them. It was a shrewd move. They want our best talent. That's it.

Where Islam is concerned - and since many people are concerned about Islam to the exclusion of all else! - it is really a part of this mixed bag that has appeared on their shores. The reaction is extreme because the current situation internationally is geared towards fighting a 'war on terror'. Due to the obvious jihadi groups, it becomes convenient. I am speaking here purely from the multi-culti perspective.

A lot has been said about the difference in reaction of Norway's leader and what could possibly be the US position following the attacks by Breivik. The insistence of the media to not brand him a terrorist is part of the multiculturalist ethos.

I understand your differentiating between religion and culture. However, the issue is about the 'other' here. It could be geographical, cultural or religious.

Think about anti-immigrant stand of some people in Mumbai. It was based on outsiders. So, it was geographical but with it comes language, and sometimes religion. Will we not also club them as 'culture'?

Culture has a larger connotation and includes various aspects of living. The London riots are being seen as economic protests, which is one part of the story. Race is another and then within that there are the chosen few as opposed to the not acceptable.

A bit like good Taliban, bad Taliban that transformed into good Muslim and bad Muslim. Ironically the good Muslim in political terms is one who is not toeing a religious line.

I am not sure what mainstream means because there is no single British idea (think Ireland) and most certainly no single Indian one. So what stream is the main one? Even politically, which means how the country is run, there are several disparate ideas.

Yet, for an outsider, there is something called Indian culture. It is based solely on India as a nation and what they see of it. It could be the Taj Mahal or the ghats in Varanasi or the churches or Ayurveda.

This is the real mainstream. All else is manufactured to belong, like a newly-wed bride in her new home.

Happy Independence Day.

- - -

The media had fun. Every few minutes, TV actors would pipe up with the national anthem. The saffron, white and green was splashed around.

Kaun Banega Crorepati started rather tepidly. Amitabh Bachchan, usually well-dressed, wore some band-gala type jacket, which did not have a band-gala but a purple scarf tucked into the neck. Whatever it was, it was ill-fitting and creased unbecomingly at the chest.

The first contestant had a dream. If he won he'd go to Malaysia and get all possible massages by beautiful women. He did a good job for Malaysia tourism, though little for the Indian economic utopia we are marketing.

- - -

I told you, August 15 came and went, and I woke up to a picture that says more about India than a lot of speeches and writeups.

See this:

Its title was, "Yahoo opens new window". Huh? It shows a film actress on her way to the Banganga crematorium for Shammi Kapoor's last rites. We do know that in the song from the film Junglee he utters a loud "Yahoo!" but how does it open a new window now?  Anyhow, I give up on these careless smarts.

There are people clicking pictures of celebrities at the funeral. Nothing dies because it is business as usual. I won't judge these camera-happy folks. They don't get to see the famous often. And the fact that they have mobile phones that they know how to use well is part of our consumerist society. Every ad tells us this - the poor can reach out.

There are the urban poor and the rest. Cellphones can only take you so far. What is it that people can connect to? A soldier video conferences with his lady love and enquires about a spot on her beautiful face; the villager hollers at someone back home; the young and old have instruments in their hands. Do they have power?

Do they even have dreams? 


Sunday ka Funda

“Praising what is lost Makes the remembrance dear”

- William Shakespeare

There are times when you may not praise overtly, but the person or event stays.

Actor Shammi Kapoor is no more. Known for his energetic and completely non-choreographed dances, I somehow preferred his mellower moments when his voice dipped into a whisper. The words of this song could be for him...whenever you listeh to my songs, you will hum along, so how can you forget me...

jab kabhi bhi sunoge geet mere
sang sang tum bhi gungunaoge
haan tum mujhe yun bhulaa na paaoge


Cameron’s “culture of fear”

David Cameron has so canonised water cannons that they appear to be miracle-makers of the new morality drenching the fires of protest. “London is not Kensington,” an expat tells me. It is a discovery for the immigrant, too, and armed with this knowledge commentary is caged behind fabricated fences on two sides.

As an outsider, I have conveniently been relegated to the posh areas of mood-lit darkness with the occasionally permitted literary yearning for a Bradford-on-Avon. Cameron, one might conjecture, moved slowly precisely to prove a point that has significantly been marking territory and has become the torchbearer of the empire striking back – multiculturalism is dead. What better way to prove the efficacy of such a declamation than show how fissured society is?

There is an England that is slowly trying to get rid of what it sees as flotsam. This is Europe-centric, but as the greatest colonisers the British have to deal with much more leftover baggage. From the Tottenham-Nottingham the fires spread to Birmingham and Southall, the open ghettos with sinewy lanes that hide desperation and despair even as the loud sounds and strong smells assault.

One summer day, I sat in a most unremarkable eatery in just such a lane. It was run by a Bangladeshi and we were served chicken that was in rigor mortis. I was mortified for more than that reason. Inedible as the food was, and rather late for lunch, a few people still trooped in. They all seemed to know one another. They talked in whispers. I did not look like I would seek out anything halal. My credentials were suspect. I could hear the expat spitting out, “London is not Kensington!” My small talk got more attention than it merited. Eye contact, when made, had confusion reflected in the irises.

Walk into stores and you will see it. Leaders choose not to. If you can see, then you must understand, and if you understand then you may need to empathise. Empathy, especially if you are a moralist, would expect some proactive reversal of fear. Where power fumes are exhaled from paranoia, this would not lessen the impact. However if the fear can be used, then the leader will rise to the occasion. Cameron got his moment of empathy when South Asian victims were affected. Three young men of Pakistani origin killed and Sikhs standing guard with sticks and swords outside the temple, with one of them saying, “We’ll take the law into our hands, bad luck.”

Here is how a phrase – taking the law into our hands – that might have played havoc, and which the ‘rioters’ are bludgeoned for, has come in handy and is up for praise. In the House of Commons session, Cameron said, “We saw it (the spirit) in the hundreds of people who stood guard outside a Southall temple, protecting it from vandalism”. He also paid tribute to the parent of one of the Pakistanis: “Everyone will be impressed by the brave words (urging calm) of Tariq Jahan, a father in Birmingham, whose son was so brutally and tragically run over and killed.”

Passive-aggressive is often the subcutaneous layer of such policing. Had the Sikhs or any other group taken the law in their hands for their own demands, they would be deemed criminals. Had the Pakistani father cried for justice and exacted action against the laidback cops, he would not be imbued with this halo. Pugnacity and calm act as the dichotomous daredevils to solve the moral dilemma that seeks to eat into the very innards of pluralism.

There is cunning calculation here, though. A few weeks ago, Britain had announced a new Tier-1Visa category for exceptionally talented immigrants from India and other non-EU countries. The first lot of the best in the fields of Science, Humanities, Engineering and the Arts will be baptised between August 9 and November 30. Britain wants to fatten itself on and flatter itself with outside excellence. These conciliatory noises following the violence are not really meant for the shopkeepers; they are to send out the right signals that the United Kingdom can be home if you are brilliant. The neo-geniuses are just trumped up store owners, who would sell patents and art, and occasionally rationalisation of establishment impunity, the “science of the soul”, if you will.

* * *

The nation of shopkeepers has lived with its corner stores that grew into lanes and streets and hemmed-in areas.

Mark Duggan, the young man who was shot dead by the police, did not spearhead the movement in the streets. No one knew him. And no one cares about him. He is not even a symbol. The people who came out, burned, and looted were dressed for it, in hoods and masks. When those masks were peeled out, we had faces that did not fit the stereotype of race. There was Laura Johnson, peach-pretty, with loads of money. What would she do by robbing laptops, plasma TV sets and high-street clothes?

This question itself exposes elitism. The riots in London and the outskirts have revealed that it is not economy in the doldrums that led to the protests. No, not protests, it is riots, say the mainstream media, as they shout down ‘other’ voices. The problem is not with how the economy is doing but what the economy makes people do. If it were disgruntled Black youth, then why would they rob their own neighbourhoods and kill people who were not the bratpack? What was the police’s pregnant pause about? To let this happen and send a message that crime in the ghettos is the driving force behind recession?

When Cameron finally woke up – revived, one might say, after his belated Tuscan café outings – he spoke about using water cannons against the “culture of fear”. An indelicate analogy may be drawn as to how people often react to fear with a full bladder. It is an instinctive bodily need. The Prime Minister is conducting the business of politics in just such an impulsive manner.

This deciduousness of culture is in fact due to propagated fear. We have seen and heard how Darcus Howe, West Indian writer and broadcaster, was verbally pummeled by the BBC anchor . He called this an insurgency. He wanted to recollect history; she wanted a human interest story: “So, you were saying about your grandson…”

The leader of the nation has all the sons and grandsons on his fingertips. He said, “In too many cases, the parents of these children – if they are still around – don’t care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing. The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken.”

Not only is this messed up psychoanalysis, but insensitive. There is no reason to condone those who have killed and destroyed parts of the city but he has claimed that the police did not use stringent methods because, “Looting had wrongly been treated as a public order issue, not as simple criminality” until it gathered momentum. Whose sons are the cops? Moreover, how can he insinuate that the parents of these young people may not be around? Is he implying they are later immigrants who have come without knowledge of the United Kingdom and have the temerity to disunite it? Or, is he suggesting that a certain class of people have removed themselves from the mainstream specifically to resurrect a counter-culture against the genteel British one? Perhaps, he might like to consider a walk through the most corseted times of English history, of an era where the morality he loves to flash dictated societal norms, and see for himself the sort of crimes committed then.

His smarmy statement, “These people were all volunteers. They didn’t have to do what they did”, conveys his trick-or-treat attitude. Having packed off the parents to the moral dungeon, he offers the children the luxury of choice. They ‘volunteered’ to commit such crimes. He does not specify whom they were volunteering for. This is part of the fear psychosis. To haunt is better than to hunt. He sent a message from the pulpit: “We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done.”

It has taken him a while to find that out. Or was he biding time for the opportune moment where disparate sides could be played against one another and he could bask in the glory of gumption?

* * *

Who will they shut up? The reasonable middle-class as represented by the media talks about those who took to the streets for “justice”, not justice. It is their version as opposed to the proper one. It is pertinent to point out that the few who were not poor belonged to the creamy layer. This works wonderfully to posit evil against evil. The millionaires’ club versus the murky cubby hole. It serves the establishment to partake of the a la carte tokenism of Laura’s theme.

Let us recall the Ernest debate. Discussions about Hemingway’s paranoia were renewed and it was all out again – his depression and his suicide. No one believed his slurred ramblings, including his friend and biographer, A.E. Hotchner who wrote in the New York Times about it. The writer would say, “Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.”

As they drove one day, Hemingway peered into a bank; two men were working inside. He said, “Auditors. The F.B.I.’s got them going over my account. Why would two auditors be working in the middle of the night? Of course it’s my account.”

Hotchner was to realise the truth of it: “Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all. In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file. I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.”

We are discovering the plausibility of how the system seeks to subvert thought with WikiLeaks and now how the Murdoch empire used the purveyors of news to create and destroy news. The United Kingdom will need to figure out that the “culture of fear” is not in those stolen in H&M jeans.

Who is the paranoid one here? Is not xenophobia a paranoid reaction by a nation?

© Farzana Versey 


Lay off the National Anthem

Like most people, our national anthem makes me emotional. It is part of one’s history. It is a feeling. I do not deconstruct it nor do I see it as a necessary vehicle to flash patriotism. I have reservations about blind patriotism, anyway.

There are people like me, people like us, who feel and think. So, how would you react if you were told that the anthem you grew up singing and listening to is being reinvented? That it is being “launched” in a “limited edition” by a private company?

We have had the “Saare jahaan se achcha”, “Vande Mataram” and “Mile sur mera tumhara” versions, which is fine. It is also all right to alter the tune of the anthem for a specific purpose that is not in any manner insulting or takes away from the way we know it.

What is about to be unleashed on us is an extended version with four more verses that were in the original "poem" by Rabindranath Tagore:

Now, for the first time in the nation’s history, these four verses, set to music and produced by Saregama, will be presented to the nation by The Times of India. At a special launch ceremony this evening, two days before the nation celebrates Independence Day, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will release ‘Jaya He!’ a unique, limited edition rendition of these verses… Over the next few days, the four stanzas will also be unveiled at the 9pm News Hour on Times Now.

This is not any ordinary song. How has the finance minister agreed to attend the function? Who has granted the permission for this adaptation? There is often a ruckus about depiction of caste, religion and tampering with ‘facts’ and even names and shlokas from holy scriptures. This anthem is about India, despite its controversial history that it was written in praise of the imperial powers at the time. You cannot tamper with it. For, even technically, “Jana Gana Mana was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian national anthem on January 24, 1950.”

This obviously implies the verses as they are recited today and have always been since. The music company is riding on the Independence Day fervour and the media company is marketing its news channel and taking over the nationalism bastion too, after capitalising on everything that can be commercially sold, including the soul. Buy those darned CDs about sufi, bhakti, shakti sangeet and be transported to some delusionary heaven.

The TOI report states rather audaciously:

There are few who don’t get a lump in the throat when the national anthem is played, especially when it wraps up with the distinctive flourish of ‘Jaya He!’. But the irony is that Rabindranath Tagore never intended Jana Gana Mana to be signed off with ‘Jaya He!’ He’d actually written four more verses of our moving anthem, which are hardly known about.

Before barfing this tripe, the least they can do is gather some basic research. It takes less than two minutes, unless you really want to use the word “irony” in the news item. Besides, rather disgustingly, the headline of the report is 'Unchained Melody'. Is the original shackling us and are the private companies in charge of unchaining us? Here are a couple of details:

  • All the stanzas end with “Jaye He”, which translated means: “Victory, Victory, Victory be to You, the Supreme King, the dispenser of the destiny of India!” So Tagore wrote it this way, and whether it is a sign-off with a flourish or not is a matter of one’s preferences. All the original five verses are here with translation.
  • Tagore did not choose the national anthem. It was legally adopted by the INC.

Given its controversial history, what is this new marketing trying to achieve? Get into more discussions, more panellists splitting hairs, more friction? I can already see the Reverand Arnab Goswami (who is also an anchor for those who do not know!) going rat-a-tat-tat about how India needs to get in touch with its roots and wipe out corruption. Yes, some hoity-toity socialite conscience will be around to sniff the air disgustedly and quote from what Tagore intended, according to the said Rev. Goswami: “By the halo of Your compassion India that was asleep is now waking”. The “your” could be the youth, the citizen’s movement, Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev, the Dalai Lama, Sonia Gandhi, heck even the cartel of industrialists. I mean, they run the marathon so they are awake, stupid.

They have roped in top singers and the fact that it is limited edition is a smart strategy. Whet the appetite. This is one Armani of an anthem.

What next, India? Outsource the tricolour, the assembly and even Parliament? There is not much difference between a buyer of the spurious from a sell-out.

If this is called waking up, then it is time for the country to get some sleep.