Can India afford the Formula race?

While I am against the globalisation mirage of India, I think that any of us firing the gun from the shoulders of the poor and dispossessed, unless they are specifically the target of discourse, is patently unfair. I can speak only for myself and in many ways all of us who are English-speaking/educated and have access to technological modes of communication can be deemed elitist, at least at the level to access to information and its dissemination.

The subject of India’s debut in the Formula 1 circuit is bound to raise the same questions about whether we can afford it. We cannot afford nuclear weapons, we cannot afford branded goods, we cannot afford fancy cars mainly because they hog up space. Who is this 'we', though? It is not a single group.

Let us take the arguments - well-meaning though they are - raised in an email from a discussion group:

It is strange that India, a zero in international sports (track & field, football etc) is to host this most expensive of sports.

Tickets will be priced at Rs 30,000 (£400) for two days. Germany’s ace Michael Schumacher has apparently given his blessings while America’s Lady Gaga (who usually sings and gyrates near naked) has been invited to perform at the F1 event. India elites have long been hungry for the western presence and approval. There is no doubt that the track must have been planned and constructed with total foreign knowhow.

It is true that we do not have a great record in sports, but that is mainly due to the cussedness of sports politics. Our hockey team wins and they are offered a piddly sum as reward. This is supposed to be our national game. How did it come to be so? Because we were good at it, the very best. Those were not days of sponsorship. In cricket, too, we have been fairly consistent, and rather good well before the advent of IPL and one dayers and T20. We have done well in golf, in snooker, in chess, in athletics, in archery, in weightlifting, in tennis, in badminton, and we have climbed mountains. It is not about who has done better. Let us not forget that even a Usain Bolt gets disqualified.

Many of these sports require sponsorship or patronage. Remember Sania Mirza’s training was paid for by a businessman. Most equipment and clothes don't come cheap. If we send shabby-looking players, our internationalists will be the first to object about our ‘image’. Training in many of these games is in fact expensive. Yet, quite a few of our current sports stars had rather humble beginnings, if we look at any major sport. There is a pecking order, no doubt about it, but does it have to do with an elitist sport?

It is far less elitist than horse racing, and not many strive to become jockeys. Yet, every year there are a few prime derby events and it must be said it is the only sport where the gamblers get more prominence, or the owners rather than the real players. Car racing and go-karting appeal to a larger audience, and like any sport test the stamina and skill of the drivers. It is also extremely risky. India has been silently conducting racing events for years now, and the tracks outside Chennai and Bangalore do not depend on foreign knowhow. I happen to know some people and have visited the Sriperumbadur track. The glamour aspect is there primarily because cars are anyway associated with it through advertising. We should be more worried about the number of foreign cars that are entering the Indian market and roads.

If we can get thrilled about Bill Gates coming and lecturing us about philanthropy then Schumacher’s visit is great. We have had some of our own drivers play at the international level. And Lady Gaga or any pop star from any field is an added attraction. When Oprah wants to do India she does not find ordinary people but our celebrities; that ‘gay prince’ appeared twice on her show with full royal regalia making a mockery of our democracy.

As regards ticket pricing, Indians eating out cough up this much at five-star hotels; they attend western classical music concerts which cost a pretty penny; they blow up on several other products, and they are made to feel wonderful when they buy a dinner table at a charity function if Richard Gere attends. The overheads cost more than what the charity gains.

Consider the fact that 80% of Indians have to live on RS 600 a month. They would need to save four years of earnings just to watch a bunch of overrated foreign drivers going round and round the course 60 times. Clearly the event is not for the masses but probably to impress the westerners that India has come of age – it is an ‘emerging power’, no matter that it is a starkly poor and malnourished country.

I am not sure if not having these races will solve poverty. These games are indeed not for the masses, just as reading and writing in English are not.


Salman and Taslima Together Again

Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen both have chips on their shoulders – one choco-chip, the other butterscotch. Pick your flavour, but you get the drift.

They are also cross-bearers, Christ wannabes, every fatwa giving them just that extra mileage. It is strange, therefore, that when you’d expect them to be pretty much in the same groove, they end up grooving to inanities. That’s the gift of social networking – to create a fake ‘anti-thesis’ to what is not a thesis, to begin with.

For those who came in late – I did too – Salman Rushdie recently lost his Twitter virginity and while declaring it as a “madhouse” seemed to be ready for more action. For some reason, Taslima’s response was rather absurd:

"Salman Rushdie is begging everyone to follow him on Twitter. He'll feel embarrassed if he doesn't get a million followers. Be aware of Salman Rushdie! He wants to get girls in his 'whipped cream range'."

The creamy layers

Ms.Nasreen’s writing is nothing to write home about, unless you are translating from the Bangla into Pashto and then imagining it in English from the Edwardian era pretending to be Balti cuisine, which is quite Edwardian in its own way now.

Whether she likes it or not, Rushdie would get followers. This world is full of followers; even the leaders are, so having followers on Twitter is like running an ashram where you are judged by who is keeping tabs on your every utterance or exhaled breath. Rushdie would get them quite on merit, because his work has a genuine following.

That’s all there would be to it. But wait. Rushdie is also the man with a price on his head. Taslima wickedly construed that part of the anatomy with another and got into the girls-cream thing. How does she know about his “whipped cream range”? Hasn’t living with Padma Lakshmi, she of the foul mouth and fowl in the kitchen, taught him about healthy organic stuff? Whipped cream is so last simmer. And does it have a range? Can it act as a lure, a sort of dump pool in which women just dive blindfolded?

One would have imagined the ‘superior’ Rushdie to either be gentle, if not gentlemanly, about it, or ignore what is lame even as a jibe. Instead, he rose to the occasion, when there was none, an old habit.

"Somewhere in the distance I hear the envious miaow of #Taslima-Nasreen being catty about me. Tut, tut, Taslima. #Shame #Lajja."

This is the stuff that even tabloid journalism has grown out of. He spells meow wrong, but of course he knows that cats make those sounds. And he also knows the name of her book and his own. Why would a popular writer get so antsy about such a comment, and worse deem it envy? Is he alluding that she is envious of his talent, his spurt of followers on a networking site, his ability to get girls, or the whipped cream at his command? It is the tantrum of a little boy, and Sir Salman would be considered so very charming for having retained that little boy in him.

Tosh-Lima (as the Bongs say, and not how the Brits might legitimise the toshness of the Peruvian capital) is also in little girl mode:

"Big writers should hv a big heart. No reason to be 'envious'. It wasn't abt writing, it was abt 'whipped cream'."

Oh, geez, what about it? Why did she wait for him to ‘grace’ Twitter to say it? And what has his heart got to do with bigness, and how does she measure it anyway? Apparently, the whole Taslima riposte was about feminism. Although she did not specifically mention him, she has said:

"Sexist men r unappreciative, narcissistic, hateful who'll do anything on earth as long as it makes them think they're smarter than any female.”

Then how non-sexist is she when she assumes that women, who she is supposed to stand by, would follow for some creamy bait? Her feminism is not necessarily the only one. Some might want to know whether her own life is really how many women would like to live, not because they are constrained by social mores but because freedom has different connotations and they may not follow her version.

Handing it to herself
Many men are indeed sexist, and if they are not they can be narcissistic and hateful, the qualities that many might accuse Taslima of as well. Wasn’t it hatefulness that prompted her to start this puerile ‘sparring’? Isn’t she narcissistic when she believes that her ideas are sacrosanct, her writer self more important than many others, her stance towards fundamentalism the higher moral ground?

In fact, both of them are standing taller than they otherwise would precisely because of this higher ground. Rushdie’s mostly wonderful prose has definitely been overshadowed by his fatwa-ed persona. The same applies to Taslima.

Incidentally, reports are talking about how both of them took on the fundamentalists. They did not. They wrote what they wanted; it backfired because of the liberals who read it and pre-empted what they thought would most definitely result in a fanatical response. Maybe they are all in the marketplace together and need to feed off such horrible mullahism, never mind that Ayatollah Khomeini did not read Satanic Verses and whoever has read Lajja so carefully ought to get an all-expenses paid holiday to Dhaka via Geneva. 

I’d say Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen qualify rather well as the liberal fanatics. Or shall we just say the mullahs of meow?

- - -

What's with these same-same types going on 'war'? Earlier I had looked at Arundhati and Anna: Same Saints


Why Modi Refused Spandex Tights

Only crowns will do

My friend from Rajkot, Karsanbhai - "call me Kairi (Kerry), like ole IIM importex peepul are doing" - runs a shoppe selling sale phone eelektrone and all. He is also homosexyual. And very angry.

He wanted his chief minister Narendra Modi to wear spandex tights. "I thot sadbhavna is good occasun to show davelupmeint of gas (gays) kominitee, so I toll SRK, maane Saan Rupes Kapdawala (he is producsun of mix masala meridge), we will olso go and do harmoney. We are leeving sample of davelupmeint, and sucksex of bhavna's sambhavna and sadbhavna. We thot and thot wot to geev. SRK said we will take rainbow flag. I said to him no baba rainbow has not goat saffron. Then we thot peacock feather, fur stall (stole), even letest Perees Heelturn beig to sow glaubalisasun and Perees is olso gas ikaun, na?

But SRK is little scare type. He is poor thing coat between his gasness and his Mussalmanness. He is saying if Narendrabhai says no to purse, then hole world will feel insult just like that maulana is saying Modi is insulting Islam only because he did not wear skull cape. I like SRK and all Muslims basically. But why is cape called skull only becoz it is on skull? Then why cowboy hat is not on top of cowboy?

Muslims are very touching, no, no, not like that. I am saying they are getting hurt for little little thing. Now Islam is big religion, even Dharmendra became Mussalman and Obama is also small part Muslim. How cape will insult Islam? Why they are shouting Allah-hu=Akbar when man who was ruling when 2002 heppened? This is not insult to ordinary Mussalman? I am saying it is non-issue. RSS olso saying same thing. I am not RSS. They are saying dawn pees Muslims, we have to stand for Hindu. I am standing for Hindu, but I can pees Muslims oslo. Bakwas is going on and on, and fasting is over but no one is telling our story. Hole time how to hurt Muslim or pees Muslim. I am with Muslim and loving it, like Mac bhai saying.

SRK swallowed anger, ate ten khakhras and said with brein vhew, "Why not give him spendex tights?" My bhejo went all round. It was gud idea. Simball of gasness and olso harmoney and closeness. So we took nice orange peir, XL for some lajja. We pecked it in khadi beig to sow Gandhian vel-you. Modi's chamchas wonted us to stay out. Place was full of skull capes and bhagwa dhotis. Too much attrecsun, I am telling you. SRK looked hurt, this time not like Muslim type, but gas type. He is too much attach. I must detach. What if Hindu rashtra comes? I toll him note to whurry. I was only looking.

Finally some bhakt from SIT took us inside. Narendrabhai looked weak but had hello round his hade. Later I found it was light bulb. We have packet. He thot it was kurta or something. His food tester opened. I was wondering how food tester is doing this. Bhakt said food tester tests everything becoz test buds are more powerful. Thet is why Modibhai is so orally gud, haan?

But he sow the spendex tight and said, "I do not wear Spandex tights," and ask SRK to give him his shawl. That shawl had all calligraphy is Arbi, but Modi thot it was design from Amdavad febrix. You know Mallikaben Sarabhai hes museum, I think. Why she is bringing bribery case from so long back now in open? I am liking her. She is all for gas. Leebral types hev to be or thier ghoos will become cook!

I brot this topic up becoz all are toking about skull cape and this will be fourgoaten staury. For informasun, SRK and I am heppy that Narendrabhai did not take spandex tight but he is in posessun of gas bag.

PS: The above is a fiction. Should anyone find it believable, do let me know what other categories can be peesed....I mean, appeased.

- - -

The language is Gujarati-accented English. I am afraid, I cannot make it intelligible for those who are not acquainted with it. Please ber with me!


Sunday ka Funda

There is no 'funda' here. I love this song and have been humming it, so...

And, yes, only in Bollywood can people continue to sing while making love and even reaching an orgasm! Oh, well, people do laugh and scream, so may as well sing...

Movie: Refugee
Singers: Alka Yagnik, Sonu Nigam
Music Director: Anu Malik
Lyricist: Javed Akhtar
Actors: Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor
Year: 2000


Publicly Private Lives

An Indian politician has separated from his wife; they are headed for divorce. It becomes front page news and once again there is talk about the privacy of a public figure.

He has stated:

“I have noted with considerable dismay and anguish the growing tide of speculation in the media about my private life, particularly the status of my marriage. While it is true my wife and I have separated, the speculation about motives and about my future course of action are unfounded, untrue and deeply hurtful to all concerned.”

Let us look beyond the obvious.

Contemporary politicians, in these days of social networking, are quite happy to express their candour, whether it is their views about their work, the opposition parties, their own colleagues. At a certain level, they are ensuring a constituency. It is fair enough.

I am most certainly not saying that they should be targeted. That is cheap. But a statement like the one above makes one think of divorce as something that needs to be covered up. When he got married, there were two kinds of reactions; now that there are problems, there are other kinds of reactions. This is how people respond in real life.

To his credit, he did come out with it but only after, one reckons, the rumours started.

Is it his fault or the way Indian society operates? Then why does our media become voyeuristic when it comes to what Berlusconi and DSK are upto? Did our media respect the Clintons or even Diana and Charles? In fact, when they visited India, pictures of her alone at the Taj came with the tag of martyred woman on cold stone bench.

Our own soft targets are not spared. Remember the reports of the octogenarian N.D.Tiwari caught with a group of women (my post is here) and then the demand for a DNA test by a man claiming to be his son? Why was it flashed all over? Did it have any national importance? Of course, this was not considered a ‘clean’ situation. Supposedly, feelings were not involved.

There have been insinuations about the most revered leaders, too. What about Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jinnah? Later, there were whispers about Vajpayee, Jayalalitha, P.V.Narasimha Rao, even Bal Thackeray. Indira Gandhi’s marriage was a constant source of curiosity, and it was a curious alliance indeed.

In Pakistan there was talk about Asif Ali Zardari’s affair with some expat; Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s ex-wife wrote a book (two, in fact) based on her life with ‘My Feudal Lord’.

People from other professions are constantly under the scanner. Are their private lives not of any importance? News channels run loops about these and newspapers carry long features exploring every angle. It is not just film stars, but also corporate heads. Why, when Shashi Tharoor, a politician, got married, one Mumbai paper had disgustingly displayed before and after cosmetic surgery pictures of his wife. This was low, not because he is a public figure but because she is entitled to her private space and this was a personal matter. She has not chosen to discuss her marriage or her life.

One reason for the intense scrutiny is that the politicians have become a bit too chatty. It is not about exposing human frailties – they don’t have to; it is pretty obvious that they are not infallible, even if some might like to believe they are. It is a flurry to humanise their role, so they indulge in small talk. I recall a few interviews where I wanted this ‘other side’, but due to the nature of the medium and the larger canvas to understand motives it did not become a mere cool quotient.

Recently, there were reams written about some ministers undergoing weight-reducton surgery. How important is this? Had there been articles about their pot bellies before, they would have screamed about it being a private matter. Why the two standards?

For me, the most important aspect of this debate is how a situation like divorce has an impact on a person, and we fail to realise that you do not have to be a public figure for that. Private individuals go through such intense scrutiny too and we hear of all kinds of comments posted on sites about people who are not well-known. As a person who has been through it, I can only say that it is painful for the people involved and despite being pretty much a recluse (a situation that is often chosen as an escape) one is not spared. So, where is the privacy of the private individual? Does anyone care about that?

Watch news clips and, at best, you wlll have pixelated faces to hide the identity. But more often than not, cameras just swoop down and microphones are thrust in faces. You might say, nobody knows those people, they are not running major establishments. They are running their homes, they are probably working, they have families. And their neighbours and friends are watching. They want to know, in fake sympathetic tones, “What happened? Could you not make it work, you know for your own good?”

And you, you of the otherwise bold stand, are made to shut up. What do you say when you did not know how it happened and it does not take one person to make it ‘work’? What do you do when suddenly knights of the night assume that you might need some company?

No one likes their lives to become other people’s fantasies. No one.


The Calculating Chidambaram

The tribals of Lalgarh

We expect the home minister of a country to, at the very least, speak with some level of proportion if not propriety. P. Chidambaram is not only counting the dead in violent incidents, but comparing the whudunnit statistics. One is aware that this unity in diversity business only works at the polite social level and for political need and greed. However, when you are in power, you have got to see each attack as not just an isolated case but with its history and the response to it.

By saying that Naxalism is more dangerous than other forms of terrorism, he is behaving like a village headman rather than a statesman:

"The most violent movement in India is not terrorism or insurgency but Left-wing extremism. While 26 people were killed in terrorist violence and 46 killed in insurgency (27 in Jammu and Kashmir), 297 people were killed in Naxal violence. That is ten times of those killed in terror incidents.”

  1. Is he saying that what happens in Jammu and Kashmir automatically becomes insurgency-related terrorism? Is he not aware about local groups that operate? Has he factored in security-related killings?
  2. What are the factors that differentiate terrorism from Naxal violence, according to him?

To this, his idea is puzzling:

"Unlike any other movement, this movement is driven by a very fearsome and brutal idea. The goal of Left wing extremism is not to bring about development but to overthrow Parliamentary democracy... their goal, their methods are directly in confrontation with the goal of the elected governments.”

Amazing. Are other forms of terrorism less brutal and fearsome? Is their intention to bring about development? Are they not in conflict with parliamentary democracy? Do they give a damn about elected governments? Why, some of these groups that are well-entrenched do not contest elections because they believe that democracy is a façade.

There are indeed ideological differences between different separatist movements, but by making this ‘fine’ distinction he is in fact alienating the populations where some of these groups do have support. How did this come about? Where was the Centre? Regarding the Maoist-ridden areas, he says that the government "does not have that much human resources”. How does the CRPF unfailingly manage to reach those districts then?

One is aware of the immense loss among the security ranks too, but here I think the home minister is clearly using a political card. The Naxals are thus far relegated to non-Congress governments, so putting the onus on the states is a strategic move and also a long-haul vote-catcher. As the home minister, he should also cast a glance at the record number of crimes committed on a regular basis right under his nose. Only because they do not have an ideology, it does not make them any less reprehensible and worrying.

Instead of providing a plan of action that entails talks with the groups, he is indulging in homilies:

"The battle is to restore hearts and minds. Not many Chief Ministers and Ministers have visited the affected areas. They should spend a night there.”

And one night will reveal all? What will the report show? "Lalgarh's lumpen"? "Danger at Dantewada"? Holed up in government accommodation, these ministers will not manage to restore their own equilibrium let alone organs of the people.

"If villagers think that Naxals are their friends and the government is their adversary, you cannot win the battle.”

This is not a Dale Carnegie book. The villagers are not in the battle. They are caught between two sides. Think about that. Some of them may be sympathetic to the Naxal cause, but they are not tying friendship bands. Democracy is not about co-opting the government by the people, but of the Establishment to make certain that the people are with them beyond electoral politics. And democracy does mean dissent as well. It is not all about winning minds and hearts.

Many terrorist movements have often managed to do so where elected governments have failed. This needs some introspection, not a head count.


Modi's Fast 'Undo' Death: Gujarat's Shame

While L.K.Advani is on to his next rath yatra against corruption (yawn), Narendra Modi is planning to go on a fast. It is not to celebrate his ‘victory’ in the 2002 Gujarat riots case. That would seem as though he was seriously concerned. He never was. For him, after the destruction, Gujarat was a playground to experiment, and like all experiments the state became a laboratory where everything was controlled. Naturally, ‘peace’ prevailed. So, cunningly, he is fasting for peace when he should go on an indefinite hunger strike against himself.

The BJP members are cheering. Why? Because the Supreme Court, the final destination for justice, has washed its hands off the petition filed in the Gulberg Society massacre during the Gujarat riots of 2002.

They are cheering because it has found no “prosecutable evidence” against Narendra Modi and his cohorts. There is absolutely no remorse or shame expressed about the actual incidence of riots that took place.

Here are a few comments:


“Never in history of India has there been misinformation propaganda against any political leader as it has been against Modi”
He said the Gujarat chief minister has been maligned in an unfair manner and described him as an outstanding leader, capable of discharging every responsibility assigned by the party.

Strange that he was never assigned any responsibility of note. Were they too concerned about his reputation and the “misinformation”?

Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha:

“Narendrabhai has passed the agnipareeksha. My heartiest congratulations to him. Satyamev Jayate. Varsho baad aaj satya ki vijay hui hai” (truth shall prevail. After years the truth is victorious)

What agneepareeksha? Did he go away to the forests? Was he suspected by his own parivar? Did they put him through a trial by fire? Get your Ramayana references right at least. He is the inheritor of the Ram Rajya PR guys and did his burning of Lanka with his tail to come out looking like a saviour and get those brownie points.

Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha:

“BJP has throughout maintained that allegations against Narendra Modi are totally false and there is no shred of evidence against him to connect him with the unfortunate riots…Propaganda is no substitute for evidence.”

What about the propaganda by the saffron parties that he was innocent – is that a substitute for evidence?

If Mr. Jaitley describes the riots as unfortunate (had the same number of people been killed in a bomb blast would it just be “unfortunate”?), then has the BJP attempted to make sure the culprits are brought to book? Have we ever heard any senior leader from the Hindutva parties call for an inquiry into the riots?

Why is it only about being “vindicated” because Modi has passed muster?

Now that the SC has given the case to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and will not even bother to monitor it, we really need to consider that this is not just about the widow of Ehsan Jafri, Zakia Jafri’s petition. It is about the several other cases as well, including encounter deaths, that will get such “clean chits”. Let us not forget that the Godhra train probe acquitted the maulvi who was considered the “mastermind”. Should we see Modi in a similar light?

Not possible. Ms. Jafri’s petition is a call for accountability that every Anna and paisa is tom-tomming about these days:

“The constitutionally elected head of the state (is) responsible for fundamental rights, right to life and property of all citizens regardless of caste, community and gender. Alleged to be the architect of a criminal conspiracy to subvert constitutional governance and the rule of law; unleash unlawful and illegal practices during the mass carnage and thereafter protecting the accused who played a direct as well as indirect role and abetted commission of the crime.”

This is accountability. Have we seen ‘evidence’ of it?

To jog the memories of those who forget, after the Godhra verdict, the head of the SIT, R. K. Raghavan, had said, “I have a mixed opinion on the judgement. I am satisfied with the Godhra train burning verdict, but I am pained as so many lives were lost due to the incident.”

And this is what I had written in response: How can a person in his position have a mixed opinion on a ‘judgement’? A judgement is declared after cases of people who have died are brought to court. It still has eight cases of post-Godhra rioting pending before it, including Naroda Patia and Gulberg Society. Hope he is ready for more pain.

Now, what do we think the SIT will do? The trial court will decide on the basis of the its findings. The SIT is to take into account the report of the amicus curiae. There are bound to be differences. So, who will prevail? Will it consider the number of dead?

We are seeing a disgusting display of victory by the party leadership, instead.

Modi himself has said “God is great!” Did he say that when his state was burning? What about god’s greatness where the victims’ families are concerned?

It is ironical that this man is going on a three day fast. Here is his letter in full; my responses are embedded:

My Dear sisters and brothers,
My Salutations!
Yesterday, the Apex Court of the country delivered an important judgment regarding the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

Touché! He accepts these were communal riots.

Everyone is interpreting this judgment in his own way. For political analysts it has one meaning and for legal experts it has another meaning. Someone is interpreting it as victory someone else as defeat. Everyone has his own point of view.

The few hundreds who were killed have no point of view. Don’t sit on this liberal bandwagon when it suits you. There was a concerted massacre and that is not a point of view.

One thing is apparent from the Supreme Court's judgment. The unhealthy environment created by the unfounded and false allegations made against me and Government of Gujarat, after 2002 riots, has come to an end. For the past ten years, it has become fashionable to defame me and the State of Gujarat. These elements who could not tolerate any positive development of Gujarat have not left any stone unturned to defame Gujarat. It is difficult to say whether this campaign of defamation will stop even after the judgment of the Supreme Court. But one thing is certain that the credibility of those who have been spreading lies and defaming Gujarat has come to its lowest ebb. The people of this country will not trust such elements anymore.

One does not expect better than such reductionism from you. Asking you some questions, expecting you to prove yourself wrong and express even an iota of concern is not defamation and most certainly not fashionable. Is it fashionable when you and your friends go on and on about ‘progress’? You think it is hard work. Well, it is hard work for those fighting for justice too.

After 2002, Gujarat has not spared any effort to march towards peace, harmony and progress even amidst false propaganda, lies, conspiracies and allegations. 
'Six crore Gujaratis' has not remained merely a word. It has become the mantra of unity and human endeavor. Every citizen of Gujarat has internalized peace, harmony and development. Gujarat has experienced an unparalleled phase of peace, harmony, and development in the last decade. Gujarat is committed to march forward on this path only.

You are talking about the creamy layer and the cats that lick it. How has the ordinary man benefitted from this progress? Tell us about how the conspiracies have come in your way? You don’t have an answer because they have not. You are running a shackled ship, so this harmony is the prototype of what you want.

There is a famous saying, "Hate is never conquered by hate." The real strength of our country is its unity and harmony. Unity in diversity is the defining feature of India. It is our responsibility to strengthen unity in our social life. We have got an excellent opportunity to proceed with a positive attitude. Hence, let us come together and contribute in enhancing the dignity of Gujarat. I humbly submit before you that, as part of this responsibility to strengthen social harmony and brotherhood, I am thinking of starting a movement of "Sadbhavana Mission."

Did you not hear about the famous saying in 2002? If you had, then you would not have talked about the action-reaction theory. Will you deny that you said it like your buddies did about the Babri Masjid demolition when there is ‘evidence’ that they were there pushing the kar sevaks? One would like to be part of the positive attitude, but only after the business of justice and accountability are dealt with. Peace and economic progress cannot act as whitewash jobs. Dignity lies in how you treat the citizens’ woes and not by showing off shining streets and humming factories.

As part of this Sadbhavana Mission, I have resolved to fast for three days from, Saturday, the 17th September 2011. My fast will conclude on 19th September. I deeply believe that this fast will further strengthen Gujarat's environment of peace, unity and harmony. 
Sadbhavana Mission is completely dedicated to the society and the nation. I hope that, our effort to take Gujarat to new heights of development through peace, unity and harmony will contribute immensely in the progress and development of the nation as well.

Why are you going on a fast for it? What will three days of going hungry mean to those who have suffered? Heard about Best Bakery?

Or it this just another publicity stunt? Probably you are the BJP’s answer to Anna. A well-fed leader on a fast just might take away some of the superficial thunder from the faux Gandhian.

Always at your service,
Narendra Modi

This is what many in the service industries say. I hear from reliable sources that if the customer gets on their nerves, waiters and airline crew do not hesitate to spit in the water or juice. There are many ways to be at service with a smile, as you can see.

I cannot even say I am disappointed that there is not a word about the victims or the destruction in the riots. Not a word. Always at the service of denial.

Welcome to Sharampur, the world of the shameless…


Anna Effect on Delhi Blast

We all know that terrorist groups like claiming responsibility for terror attacks. The reason is not always to mislead, unless there is a syndicate involved. This is power by default, like college Romeos pointing out to sundry girls and saying, “She is mine”. 

Yesterday, September 7, at 10.15 am, there was a blast near the main gate of the reception area of the Delhi High Court.12 people have died and over 70 injured. The bomb was in a briefcase. The questions will be about everything except an unattended briefcase. 

The Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI) sent an email to the media: 

"We own the responsibility for today's blasts at Delhi high court. Our demand is that Mohammed Afzal Guru's death sentence should be repealed immediately else we would target major high courts and the Supreme Court of India."

Believable? Yes. Except that other terrorist groups have also jumped in, and the suspects are from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to wherever the HuJI operates from.

The media cacophony has begun, and I am still restricting it to the print media. Read this bit from a Rediff report:

Considering that the blast has taken place outside a court, there are two angles that will come under the scanner. The first would point towards someone who is upset with the judiciary, or someone has had a case lodged there.

The other obvious angle would be terror, and by carrying out a blast outside the court a message is being sent out regarding the various cases being tried against some of the accused of both the Students Islamic Movement of India and the Indian Mujahideen.

Is this some version of the Ramlila grounds, where angry over certain issues people are taking over and pushing for ‘reform’? This implicates several innocent people, including undertrial prisoners. We have had a few rare cases of shootouts in the courtroom itself, so it is facile to suggest that because it took place outside a court someone was “upset with the judiciary”. Everyone is upset with cases dragging on, including people filing for divorce, and there are thousands of cases lodged there.

Now we come to the “obvious angle”. Despite the reference to Afzal Guru, why does the report dig out SIMI and the IM?

Let me give two angles here:

  1. After the Rajiv killers’ delayed sentence by the Tamil Nadu High Court and Assembly, certain sections of the media want to ensure that it is not seen as a precedent for Afzal Guru. Keeping silent about any mention of him is smart.  
  2. It is good opportunity to work on some home-grown terror groups, especially the Johnies-come-lately, because there is obfuscation regarding their motives and they are easier to round up as suspects.

The government has put the Delhi Police on the backburner immediately and given the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Newspapers call it a “no-confidence motion” against the police force. The fact that the NIA has already arrested three people in Kishtwar is laudable, but makes one wonder:

  • That was quick.
  • The Kashmir angle will give the government its own ammo to deal with Afzal Guru rather than be seen as following HuJI’s diktat.
  • Did the Intelligence Bureau know that the judiciary would be targeted? Even if it did, how could it handle the situation? Insist that people tag along sniffer dogs with them?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said:

"There are obviously unresolved problems and weaknesses in our system and the terrorists are taking advantage of that. We must work hard to plug those weaknesses."

I am afraid but the job of terrorists and their ideology is not geared to merely take advantage of weaknesses. When they set their minds to something, they plan it and they can enter the most fortified citadel. It is one power centre against another. It is pretty disgusting to read what one IB source said:

"It is too early to call this is a terror attack. It appears to be a low intensity blast, and the modus operandi for now looks like it is the job of some miscreants… but we are still investigating."

This is surprising because there was no such mention of miscreants in the Mumbai Zaveri Bazar, Dadar case. Then there was talk about how outside forces were jealous of India’s economic progress. Honestly, during the London riots too no one went to Bond Street. And please do not get into the 26/11 Taj/Trident hotels reference. These were two places among others – and the idea, besides the terrorist one, was to ensure live telecast. The case has still not been resolved since we are waiting for Godot.

This seems to be the pattern. However, the IB, according to some reports, believes that such blast patterns could also mean that “there are several fringe elements on the loose capable of carrying out such attacks”.

What is surprising is that there have been some of us who have often talked about looking at the criminal angle, outside of the terror motive, but it was always the terror angle and the war on it that took up prime space. So, why this change in stand? Why is there an attempt at a more cautious approach, which should be as a matter of course?

One might assume that this sobriety makes better sense as compared to the earlier prominent ones. Perhaps from the point of the government, yes. But is it the Anna effect where hitting out at the establishment does not make the ‘enough is enough’ brigade start their chest-thumping since they are supposed to ‘fight’ the government machinery?

Look at a couple of quotes that seem like a hangover of the rally.

“India is seen soft targets for terror attacks as political system protects only its own” – Shekhar Kapur
“Wake up Mr. Home Minister. Please protect the citizens of this country. Innocent and ordinary lives are equally important” – Anupam Kher
While most who die in terrorist attacks are the innocents – just as it is the ordinary who immolate themselves for their heroes – there have been prominent people targeted as well. It would be frightening to think that this group overtakes the corrupt security agencies angle, a reality but it cannot explain such plots. Surely, this is not like match-fixing. 

Politicians, a naturally much-reviled species, are not the only ones playing politics. There are cries against Parliament being adjourned to express solidarity with the victims. Had they gone about the business, there would be flinging of slippers, banging of tables and shouting of slogans. How would that send out any signal that we will not be intimidated by terrorists? 

Parliament is in session when bomb blasts take place; politicians are in their constituencies.

Gestures of the government getting ‘back to work’ convey nothing. At best, they are akin to messages in a bottle.

(c) Farzana Versey

Quacks of quakes

Correspondent on Headlines Today:

"It looks like the people were not prepared for it."

The 'it' is the earthquake that shook the Delhi/NCR region over an hour ago.

It says the magnitude was 6.6. TV news anchors kept saying how large it was. Experts were woken up from their sleep. This was barely ten minutes after the tremors. How would they give accurate details?

Then, they were asked what people should do.


If you are living on a high floor don't go down...Come out in the open...Go under the furniture.

How can you come out in the open if you are not to take the stairs (lifts are out)? And if the building is shaky, why will the furniture not shake?

Most people would not have felt it if they were asleep. The others would have experienced it and sat still. But, if you switched on the TV then you would be told about aftershocks and how you were part of the Breaking News.

As for the lady who made the prophetic statement that the people were not prepared, all I can say is that perhaps they can have a panel discussion on how to expect such calamities. They can also go on a hunger strike for it.

Meanwhile, latest unreleased reports state that Nature has claimed responsibility for the quake. Nature's links with terrorist organisations are not yet known and a high-level inquiry will probe into any such alliance.


India’s WikiLeaks: Wrong Aim

For all its hands-off talk, the US has been watching India rather closely.  The WikiLeaks revelations are no big deal, it is the sheer superficiality and gossipy nature that is a bit worrying, mainly because these tidbits will be seen as major issues.  

They also reveal how the different Indias are being played against one another.  It also exposes the vulnerability of the political class to American pressure tactics, or at least the desirability of US policy-makers to keep a hawk’s eye vigil as a pre-emptive drone. Here is an appraisal of a few of the subjects:

On Rahul Gandhi

“He is reticent in public, has shunned the spotlight and has yet to make any significant intervention in Parliament. His singular foray to centerstage during the UP elections was unremarkable. He is viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those who dismiss him as a lightweight. To do so, he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina. He will need to develop his own networks of loyalists.  Relying solely on family inheritance may get him the top job but it will not be enough to make for a successful longterm political career.”

Is this rocket science? Or is it a soft spot for Manmohan Singh? We do know that Dr. Singh is not the power centre, but he is the one with the degree, the “upright” one. He gets to keep both sides happy, and by both we mean the Congress chief and the US chief.

Interestingly, while sniffing at Rahul’s inheritance, the cables talk about him developing a network of loyalists, like any feudal lord. I think that his reticence has left the Americans befuddled. They do not know what to expect should he take on the prime ministerial role. They know about the ‘regular’ Congress leadership and the BJP. To be noted is that the economic progress ones get prominent mention.

The “empty suit”, from the US point of view, is bound to be a bit threatening. 

On Kashmir

The US Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer had cautioned his government against any “activism” in Kashmir saying even a hint of it can prove counter-productive in view of India’s sensitivity to third party involvement on the issue. “In order for India’s efforts to restore sustainable peace and stability in Kashmir to succeed, its engagement with the separatists and with the Kashmiri people must be free of any perception of outside influence.” Roemer had outlined a slew of measures that Indian government should take to make forward movement on resolution of Kashmir issue, but warned against making these “prescriptive” in nature.

There are 20 of them, including panchayat elections, bus links, telephone connections between PoK and J&K and “to encourage separatists to participate in future elections by providing them incentives”.

The use of the term “perception of outside influence” denotes a) it exists; b) the US did not believe that many among the Indian ranks think of Pakistan as the third party; some even imagine that the Kashmiris are not a party to the dialogue. This is clever usage given American activism through certain activist lobbies.

Besides, are we to understand that the US is offering over-the-counter advice if it is not ‘prescribing’ these suggestions? They may prompt one to ask whether it is the chicken-egg story, for most of these measures have been attempted. So, was it the initiative of the government or was it ‘doctored’? What is the nature of the incentives provided to the separatists? While the movement in Kashmir has a tumultuous history, did the US jump in to consolidate the separation and even assist in some sort of infiltration well aware that Pakistan with a still-hurting ego would be keen and able?

These questions have some basis. Another cable mentions that one faction of the Hurriyat was working against another and that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was against hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani going for medical treatment to the US as he would “stir up trouble”.

This is not news. The news is that he was denied a visa because “the US official had believed Geelani's travel will ‘physically’ take him out of the political picture in India”.  It becomes clear that the intent is to promote a dogs-and-bone situation.

American covert policy in the state can be damaging in the long run, especially if it plans to ‘quit’ Afghanistan.

On Modi
“Modi is using his strong base in Gujarat to position himself for the BJP power struggle and to crow about Gujarat’s investment-friendly (but certainly not minority-friendly) record,” says one of the cables which were uploaded earlier this week by WikiLeaks. The cables sent by US diplomats in New Delhi focus on Modi's rising stature in the BJP and claim that “Modi has his eyes on bigger things”. In an assessment going back to 2005, the cables suggest Modi could be the most popular BJP leader and a potential PM candidate.

The BJP would like to keep Modi as a potent symbol, and he too is aware that at the national level he will not cut ice. Being a shark in a pond is better than being a goldfish in an ocean. Has he been on any major consultative committees where party matters are concerned? US interest in him is understandable because of the huge NRI population from Gujarat, and the fact that he has a loyal constituency of followers there. The money that should be part of the US economy being siphoned off for “Gujarati asmita (self-respect)” would not go down too well with the adopting country.

On Bengal’s commies and Taslima Nasreen

A cable sent by US embassy in Delhi to Washington after the November 2007 riots in Kolkata was titled, “Author Taslima Nasreen: pawn in political web”. It says, “After Nandigram, Nasreen represented a convenient foil for both the CPM and fundamentalist Muslim leaders in Kolkata.....it is clear India’s main political parties could not care less about Nasreen or her writing beyond how their parties’ reactions to events play to voters. Congress and the CPM continued to snipe at each other while searching for a solution that does not offend their all-important Muslim vote bank…The CPM is being accused by some of manufacturing the controversy in order to drive Nandigram out of the front pages. “

Although Nandigram was a Communist Party-corporate plot, the place where the plant was to be set up and would uproot the people had a majority of Muslims – 65 per cent. Reports state that 600 Dalits and Muslims died in the violence.  Asking Taslima to leave would not replace the ire – restricted to the community as well as on the issue of landlessness – over the takeover.  This was not the first time Nasreen was denied extension of the visa; if anyone was truly upset over her it was the Bengali intellectuals, whose personal relationships with her she had written about in her first memoir. Lajja, her book about a Hindu family in Bangladesh, was one of those convenient ruses used for another sort of vote bank.

If there is any tacit US sympathy for the writer, then it is a business decision. A stake in industrial units is what the American corporations have always strived for, the Gates-Buffett philanthropy being part of the deal-making big picture.

On Mayawati

The cables on Uttar Pradesh chief minister are a bit strange.

When she needed new sandals, her private jet flew empty to Mumbai to retrieve her preferred brand," a cable dated October 23, 2008 reported, adding she employed food tasters to guard against poisoning. "She constructed a private road from her residence to her office, which is cleaned immediately after her multiple vehicle convoy reaches its destination," the cable said in an analysis of her "eccentricities, whims and insecurities".

This fits the stereotype and again seeks to use one India against another. In this case, the dynamics are more nuanced and devious. She is seen as the Sarah Palin prototype when she is probably more like Barack Obama – the ‘other’, for whom ‘change’ is symbolic and, despite all the flaws, can become a thorny issue.

The reductionism is par for the course, and we have seen it in India too as I mentioned in an earlier piece. Many world leaders have their eccentricities and whims. Even Jinnah and Nehru were known to get their suits tailored abroad. There is an element of ostentation, but is this what the US is bothered about? Or is it the fact that its fat middle class dream gets shattered?

Of course, being Mayawati means not keeping quiet. She has shot the messenger:

“There is no iota of truth in the cable leaks. It is a blatant lie to tarnish the image of my government. The owner of WikiLeaks seems to have gone mad. He should be sent to a mental asylum by the country he belongs to and in case there is no place for him, he should be sent to UP. We will put him in the Agra mental asylum.”

Julian Assange has responded with:

“Mayawati has betrayed rational thought. The question is, has she also betrayed the Dalit? The allegations… are made by US diplomats in their private communications back to Hillary Clinton. If chief minister Mayawati has a problem with the contents of these communications she needs to take it up with Hillary. I ask that Mayawati admit her error and apologize.”

I am intrigued. How has she betrayed the Dalits? Assange sounds no different from the US administration. It is the Dalits who elected her, and she is as much of a totem for them as Obama is for the Blacks. 

In politics, you have to shed your skin and wear a mask. It is not the best thing to do, but where skin and caste matter so much this kind of upward mobility goes beyond opportunism. 

(c) Farzana Versey


What the Dickens

 Should an unfinished novel by a writer whose works have a special stamp be completed and adapted for the stage? How can anyone complete Charles Dickens’ novel? It is an adaptation for the stage, but will it then go without an ending?

Between now and 140 years ago when he died, people have apparently been curious as to how “half the psychological thriller” he wrote might have ended. In this time, I doubt if it was curiosity that killed those that passed on. Besides, on what basis is it assumed that The Mystery Of Edwin Drood was half finished? At 23 chapters, it might have been almost towards the end, or maybe it was intended for the long haul and had only just warmed up, slowly.

BBC Two has entrusted the drama to Gwyneth Hughes. She said: “The tragedy of the erotically obsessed cathedral choirmaster, John Jasper, throbs with sexual menace, murder and opium addiction. But alongside his story runs a brilliant small-town social comedy which is often laugh-out-loud funny. After all, this is Dickens, the great emotional extremist, and master of the rollercoaster ride. It’s just the most enormous fun.”

Jasper falls in love with his nephew Drood’s 17-year-old betrothed, Rosa Bud. A small portion from the last written chapter may give some peek into the story:

That he must know of Rosa's abrupt departure, and that he must divine its cause, was not to be doubted. Did he suppose that he had terrified her into silence? or did he suppose that she had imparted to any one - to Mr. Crisparkle himself, for instance - the 
particulars of his last interview with her? Mr. Crisparkle could not determine this in his mind. He could not but admit, however, as a just man, that it was not, of itself, a crime to fall in love with Rosa, any more than it was a crime to offer to set love above revenge.

As subjects go, this is as relevant today. Emotions are not dinosaurs, although there can be half-finished emotions that remain on the cusp and wait to be realised. While Hughes is not working on the novel, the act of giving it a finale when there was none is a bit disconcerting. It is like adding icing to a half-baked cake. Theatrically, even a chapter can be staged, but one would be aware of the work in its entirety.

Would this qualify as an adaptation of Dickens? Then, on what basis is the end assumed? We are talking not only about one form as opposed to another but also about one writing against another. We are not talking about assembly-line Mills & Boon or, for that matter, the James Bond franchise. When I see a film based on a Jane Austen novel or watch a play by Tennessee Williams, it is the authorial voice that comes through. Despite several innovative interpretations of Shakespeare, the core of the bard seeps through the props, the characters and the sheer power of language, however much it might be ‘simplified’, or indeed made pretentiously complex.

Dickens had said all those years ago: “The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”

This is a cogent thought and might well apply to the current situation. However, I’d like to examine the two terms outside the context. The BBC is in the business of construction (rather peculiarly it has described the work as “a strange, disturbing and modern tale about drugs, stalking and darkness visible”). The raw material is there, but the blueprint is not unfinished. It builds the skeleton of a structure, start piling on the bricks and mortar, adds the plumbing, the wires, but the last few floors – let us assume the penthouse or boutique apartments – have no design. Being in the construction business it will follow the module of the lower floors. Or will it experiment and give them a special touch? Can one architect replicate another’s unspelt-out ideas?

When Dickens talks about love for the creation before, it is as conceiver. The creative process is ongoing and the creation itself grows over a period of time. Does the love for it and of it alter too? Does the pre-emptive love negate the very creativity, in that it falters? Is it weighed down by the fact of how the constructed work will ensure love?

With some writers, the love is in the lines. And that includes the fine lines on the face of a work. It is completion.


Sunday ka Funda

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent”

- Victor Hugo

Discovering new sounds where words do not matter...stunning...


Right said Omar?

Omar Abdullah is trapped between the BJP and the Hurriyat. At any other time it would have been a wonderful place to be in, berated by two extremist groups. Unfortunately for him, their reasons for putting him on the mat are vastly different.

The chief minister has been quoted from Twitter as saying:

"If the J&K assembly had passed a resolution similar to the one in Tamil Nadu on Afzal Guru would the reaction have been as muted? I think not."

The death penalty for Rajiv Gandhi's killers has been delayed by state intervention. This is unusual.

Omar is right in that there are different standards. Interestingly, the muted reaction he was complaining about has agitated people and 'unmuted' them. The BJP is going hoarse with sudden concern for Rajiv Gandhi. (They are quiet over the acquittal of Haren Pandya's killers. Pandya was a BJP man who later had a fallout with Modi.)

The BJP uses the phrase "sovereignty of the nation" rather loosely. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, unfortunate as it was, had its own dynamics that had to do with policy. The LTTE is not an Indian organisation, although it has its supporters. Such support results in huge electoral gains.

The BJP is worried about this aspect. After all, Priyanka Gandhi had met Nalini, one of her father's killers, in Vellore jail in 2008. The death verdict was given 11 years ago. Why did the BJP not put pressure to expedite it as they have done on a regular basis in the case of Afzal Guru, an Indian?

Omar Abdullah was pointing out the double standards, and one should see this as part of a thriving democracy that we are so chuffed about, with people out in the street.

However, the Hurriyat's Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has wondered why if he is so concerned about Afzal does he not resign. Again, we are faced with a missing the wood for the trees situation.

Omar Abdullah was in fact speaking as a political leader and expressing the helpless predicament of dealing with Kashmir. He chose the wrong forum to do so.

A few 'other' questions too need to be asked:

1. Would he raise the issue in the J&K assembly?

2. If so, would it mean he is doing so on humanitarian grounds or on a legal/factual basis?

3. If the latter, then would he risk providing possible loopholes?

4. How often do fake encounters figure in the assembly?

5. Does exposing political hypocrisy - I am assuming the muted reference was to politicians - enough?

This is a question for all parties. We do live in times when terrorists too have a vote bank, that is those who are not behind establishment-buffered terror.

Answers need to be sought in the right place, unless the 'people's movement' has seeped into the system's bones. In that case, stone pelters should be excused.