Aiyyo, India Tussi Bharat Ratna Ho!

Of course, India is one country. Diverse, yes, but unified. You’ve got to be joking. Just one day’s news will tell you that not only do we have such strong borders within our country but we also react in a manner that would make an outsider seem less alien.

Let me start with the film of the moment ‘Ra.One’. I have not watched it yet. Now, besides all the criticism about flimsy storyline, SFX not up to nuff, nothing like Hollywood, listless performances, what I found a bit curious was one long article in the TOI about the portrayal of Shahrukh Khan’s non-superman character as a Shekhar Subramaniam. The writer of the piece, a Tamilian, “cringed” because,

“It was somehow difficult to imagine the man whose name has always been Khan or Malhotra pulling off this new surname or doing his signature wide-arm gesture in a veshti and baniyan or even preparing crisp paper dosas for that matter. No, I don’t hate SRK; he’s indisputably the master of spontaneous wit and Yashraj romances.”

Here is someone complaining about stereotypes and indulging in it. What is a Malhotra or a Khan? Why does she imagine all Tamilians wear veshti-baniyan all the time? As a Malhotra, has anyone seen him eat pakoras?

The criticism would have been fine if the nitpicking were not as puerile as this:

“The curly hair, usually a Malayalee trait, I can take. Even Subramaniam’s inability to make iidlis or his soft spot for Lord Balaji (whose largest fan base lies in Andhra Pradesh by the way) is excused. But, under no circumstances, and ‘you can take it in writing’ (now this is a line any Appa would be more prone to using), would a Tamil father quote V Shantaram. Thiruvalluvar, yes. Valampuri John even. But a veteran Maharashtrian film director?”

Do all Mallus have curly hair? Lord Balaji is pretty universal in those parts, and yes, I mean the whole South, which is not Madrasi. As for quoting V. Shantaram, aiyyo, Rajini saar is originally from Maharashtra and he rules the Tamil industry. In fact, what is the cribbing about caricature? Every Rajinikant character is a caricature, often of himself. Pointing out the subtle variations within the South is not educative but only emphasises the disparities and the archetypes. It is important if the issue being discussed were of import; here we are talking about the non-hero avatar of a superhero.

One scene has got quite a few people into a Maggi mass. The good Tamilian writer explains that an appa “is not someone with a natural taste for noodles and wouldn’t ever substitute rice in curd rice with noodles. Is that so hard to get?”

Yes. Because, some appas can be eccentric. Here we go on and on about fusion cuisine and someone does it in the privacy of his home and it becomes a matter of grave social concern. What if he had poured rasam over the noodles? Or, was there a problem because he eats with his hands (not just fingers)? Have you not been to any traditional home or even small restaurants? Balling the rice after adding the sambaar/rasam/curd is pretty common. There have been occasion when such images are poked fun at, but if you can take a joke then it should not be a problem. The Chinese and Japanese even in fancy restaurants have their soup straight from the bowl. Americans will stuff triple-decker burgers in their mouths, mayo, ketchup and all. North Indians will eat their gol-gappas with the jal jeera dribbling down their chins. Same goes for most chaat in other parts of the country.

As for the accents, Bollywood is not here to make realistic cinema. Watch the old films, see how comedian Mehmood portrayed the Tam-Brahm in ‘Padosan’, watch those lungi dances…and we have film stars from the South who spoke in Hindi as Malhotras but never did get rid of their accent. No one spoke about nuance and how they managed to stay at the top.

It is interesting that there is no word about Shahrukh’s character being lean. Why? Does the Tamilian appa not like himself to be a little robust round the tummy, by and large?

And here is this whirly-gig that “even the most accented Tamilian father does not have a problem pronouncing ‘keys’, no matter where he’s looking for them (in this case, a woman’s bosom)”. Well, maybe he had just travelled from Medrass and hopped across the Tamil border into Kerlah? If he can acquire curly hair, according to the writer, then he can indeed look for kiss in the oman’s boosum (keys in the woman’s bosom)?

The writer goes all moralistic about upbringing of Tamilians. Hello, how many of them have wives in several corners of the house? Ex-CM Karunanidhi might be able to help.

PS: I do not like SRK and my next recipe will most certainly include noodles with curd, since I have already been eating tomato bhaat (pronounced bath by Tamilians) with curd and papaddam.

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From the South, we move north. Metallica decided at the last minute it would not perform at the Gurgaon venue – something to do with security. Dilliwallas were angry. Rightly so. But Dilliwallas are always angry, so angry that if they cannot break a signal, which is their birthright, then they just get on to the footpath. Of course, this was not a Delhi-only event, but there are some places that bring out the worst in you. And Delhi most certainly is.

It does have people from other parts of the country, but it is a strange mix of ‘ji huzoori’ and ‘civil disobedience’. Unlike Mumbai that does not make you into a uniform kind of Mumbaikar, Delhi does it unless you really strive to retain your individuality. The worst possible thing is that the Dilliwallas are probably not too happy that Noida pulled off the first Indian Formula One, pretty much without glitches. No one has as yet come out with CWG like scandals, and this in the land of Mayawati.

It is truly silly when people ask what will happen to that land now that the races are over. What happens to Jantar Mantar and Humayun’s tomb and Ferozeshah Kotla Maidan? The first two have symbolic-historical value, but after that picture of a stray dog at the spot before the races, perhaps it can be used to get our police sniffer dogs some exercise; it can be used as a jogging track; there can be music performances. Anything. Maybe even Team Anna can play a cricket match against the various factions that crop up within it every other day.

The cribbing continues, including how it is just a glamorous event. Sure, it is. But those with memories will remember that the respected news magazine, India Today, back in the old days had done a photo shoot of the makeover of athlete P.T.Usha. Think before you cast stones.

I have two cribs about the event, though.

  • Why did Sachin Tendulkar flag the winner Sebastian Vettel? One of the participating teams was Ferrari and we might recall that he sold his Ferrari, a gift.

  • I love Lady Gaga but an Indian band or a group of our best could have been chosen. After all, it was the Indian Grand Prix.

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We move to Mumbai. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray wants Amitabh Bachchan to get the Bharat Ratna.

"Amitabh Bachchan is the last 'Shahenshah' (emperor) of Bollywood. In many countries of the world, the people don't know who is the president or prime minister of the country, but they know Bachchan. He is a real jewel of India who has brought laurels to the country...Bachchan truly deserves the Bharat Ratna.”

We do not know if Balasaheb plans to take away titles and we cannot have another shahenshah years from today. Mr. Bachchan does deserve this honour. But, why this sudden interest? Because, recently a North Indian MP had asserted himself and there was a war of words. So, the SS decided they could use the man who represents the North best. Moreover, he is now the brand ambassador of our beloved Modi’s Gujarat.

Let me jog your memory, again. In 2008, Mrs. Bachchan, Jayaji, a fine politician from the Samajwadi Party, had said at a function when the ‘speak and eat in Marathi’ call was at its peak:

“Hum toh Hindi mein bolna pasand karenge. Hum toh UPwalle hain. Mumbaiwalle humein maaf karein.” (I would like to speak in Hindi since I am an UPite. Mumbaikars please forgive me.)

Smart woman that she was, she forgot that she is a Bengali married to a UPite; she was marketing UP then. At the time, Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut had said,

“Why should anybody undermine the Marathi language in Maharashtra? Moreover, there is no need for her to promote Hindi in Mumbai. It would serve the purpose better if she campaigns for the language in southern states.”

So, Balasaheb is not only suffering from convenient amnesia, he is pushing the Bachchan agenda by bringing in the friction with the Congress as the reason that Mr.B has been denied the honour. Why has he kept silent for so long? Had he got it during his friendship period, then the accusations would be of favouritism.

Talking of Mr. Bachchan and his show 'Kaun Banega Crorepati', I think it is quite communal, in that it finds a Muslim and the queries are about naqab and some Urdu stuff; the Hindus get their queries from mythology, which is in surfeit, incidentally. Always has been.

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It is, therefore, wonderful that the Mumbai High Court did not pussy-foot when it came to a mandal that claimed it was a temple and asked for it to be removed without touching the deity. Justice P.B.Majumdar stated:

“People are interested in building places of worship. But God is never interested in huge worship places. He is satisfied with a small place also. If you really have the love for God, pray to God. He can give you more.”

True. There should be a moratoriam across the country on new places of worship. We have more than enough of every religion and sect, not to speak of those in honour of film stars.

Mosques, temples and churches are anyway not about god, but about the devotees’ need to find god. A haystack should do. A pin here and there might confirm the best suspicions.


Sunday ka Funda

See I remember we were driving, driving in your car
The speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder

And I had a feeling that I belonged,
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

You got a fast car


The Booby Trap

In Sickness and in Wealth
The Booby Trap
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, October 28-30

All eyes have been on our mammaries the whole of October. Was it breast cancer awareness month or does the Big C stand for the Big Consumer gifted another marketed opportunity wrapped with a pink ribbon?

This is not to belittle those who have suffered and the survivors, but why are malignant tumours in individual women’s bodies made into a universal threat? Each of us has a different metabolic system and our organs are wired differently. Even the risks would not be the same across genetic disparities, habits, and, in many instances, cultures.

Healthcare is the new terror psychosis. It works like LSD, giving us multi-hued delusionary images of flying pills, cotton swab clouds, and lasers throwing beams in the darkness of our prostates, cervixes, lungs, intestines, hearts, breasts. We are no more the sum of our parts, but the parts stand for what we are: organs that need tweaking and pampering.

In almost every country, from America to Saudi Arabia, India to Indonesia, they celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. People run wearing T-shirts with logos, there are dolls on sale, and camps for free checkups. In India, the major campaign was conducted by a media group; its newspaper layouts advertised the pink satin ribbon between editorial space. Every day, there were anecdotes by celebrities. This immediately puts what they tell us is serious business in the realm of pop culture. Many of these celebrities have held forth on their drug habits and alcoholism earlier. Has that stopped people from drinking or snorting?

Years ago there was an article on the subject and the model was deliberately chosen because she had “normal breasts” – that is not pumped up. As a rookie, I was around for the photo-shoot rehearsal. Some lotion was slathered over the nipples and in the cleavage to give the impression of whipped cream. The model was doing her job, but how much connectivity would there be between the reader and the illness when there was such sensual distraction?

What really does ‘pre-emptive’ mean in the context of a disease? How can you pre-empt paralysis or dementia? While it is important to follow basic measures, the underlying message of self-diagnosis is that after feeling for lumps no one can depend on their own judgment. We are either brainwashed about our carelessness or given the thumbs up for our enthusiasm. This superficial empowerment, illustrated with perfectly luscious images, works about as well as selling a sleek car with slightly damaged parts that can be replaced.

Don’t you see it? The empowerment is relegated to a few. Awareness is sold to those who are already aware. From the surfeit of such human interest stories one would imagine that it is an illness that affects a certain class of people. That could be the reason you do not come across cases of the poor suffering from hypochondria.

Survival stories can at best make us admire the person who has gone through it. Would we say the same about anyone who has been strapped to a bed for days, vomit dried on sheets, and quarantined because of cholera or tuberculosis, unless they become epidemics that can be exploited to ghettoise people and use them as guinea pigs as well as consumers? Does anyone recall how swine flu and mad cow disease became lucrative propositions? Not only were they sold as people’s malady movements, they also became a camping site for the pharmaceutical industry and another manner in which governments sought to save and control their people. This ‘theirs and ours’ attitude reeks of apartheid. Developed societies believe they are better off, and yet their populations suffer far more from the fear of suffering. A good way to gauge a society’s level of development – even as self-perception – is how it views healthcare.

India now thinks it is a global player. Without considering the ailments that beset the majority and the rural populations, it has begun to blindly ape the western modules of diagnosis. The ‘good’ hospitals are run by the corporate sector.

I speak from personal experience as one who has been lured by these executive health plans. You can go for silver, gold, platinum packages. You sit in a room with a large plasma television, there is soft music in the background, they serve you herbal tea and even light snacks. After the tests, you can take the DVD and watch colourful images of your insides. It is like being a star in an art-house movie and you are the red carpet.

The real problem is that even when the diagnosis is “benign” and you are wondering about the smiling Buddha within you, phantom fear hovers as authoritative voices mention other tests, other doctors, other DVDS to take home, and too many Buddhas now jostling for space in the shrine your body has become.

What is happening here is pretty simple. They are playing on several emotions and ideas: fear (“you never know, it could be”), sensibility (“it is smart to be cautious”), consciousness (“we need to spread the word”), faith (“believe in yourself”), posterity (“it is not just about surviving but longevity and ageing gracefully”) and, most important of all, vanity (“if it comes to the worst, with new techniques you can be as good as new”).

It is time we noticed the subtle shift in how cosmetic surgery has been refined and redefined to get its time on the pedestal as reconstructive surgery. The latter has always been around but by marrying Pam Anderson’s assets with a cause just give them a certain sanctity. Those gel packs become saviours. It is not about getting the boobs you need; it is about self-esteem.

Who is this catering to? How many of these awareness campaigns have gone to the poor and inside villages? Don’t the people there suffer from ailments that require caution, which in turn feeds an industry that thrives on paranoia and is lubricated by the governments? Strangely, these governments probably spend a tenth of their budget on healthcare as compared with the defence budget, and unfortunately that is all it takes to push the threat.

It is the emphasis on the flaky crust of courage that has blurred the line between medicine and cosmetics. The alternative health product manufacturers create a faux naturalle demand. The consumer who is asphyxiated by noxious fumes starts to breathe imaginary fresh fern-scented air as aloe vera extracts appear from genie lamps.

Illness itself has been painted on a broader canvas and now includes those who are ‘different’. How does anyone expect inclusiveness if the idea if to emphasise the difference?

Recently, there was a meeting at a trendy bar in a tony suburb of Mumbai by an organisation that works with burn victims. The founder is someone who has suffered an acid attack. Due to the disfigurement, there have been curious glances at what she refers to as “visual difference – (from) what is considered to be normal”. Can such a movement, and talking about it at a place where she admitted she had on other occasions felt uncomfortable, “sensitise” people? The group was there because she now runs an organisation and has been made a brand ambassador of a salon patronised by celebrities. Is this about turning the concept of beauty on the head or paying lip-gloss service to the difference? Will there be a range of haircuts and cosmetics specially designed for these “visually different”? Are we not each visually different and does not the concept of beauty or even the ordinary vary in societies?

In a cringing account of the meet, the young woman apparently “looked the audience in the eye and asked how many would flinch from sitting next to her, and shaking her hand. Although silent, all seemed to say, ‘We’re not afraid.’” Not only is this shameless, it is insensitive to both the ‘different’ as the well as the ‘normal’, for there could be several reasons why some may not come forward. These are the same people who throw coins in the bowls of beggar lepers. Of course, it is not the same, but since we are talking about differences let us not stop at what suits the commercially-propped agenda.

It reminds me of a fashion show where the designer got models to walk the ramp in clothes with Braille prints. During the finale, a couple of visually-impaired women were brought on stage, wearing their regular clothes. What was the idea, then, except as a cheap gimmick that would rake in some conscience cash? Would these same audiences attend a function if dowry victims from the lower middle-class gathered at some hole-in-the- wall?

I am not suggesting that people who can afford a certain lifestyle do not suffer from diseases. They do and have to go through similar pain and treatment. The sheer magnitude of the elitism of enlightenment bothers me. With celebrity endorsements and sponsors, the overload of information is targeted at the click clique. It leads to looking for soothers, with every tale a harbinger of posterity. Other people’s reality becomes our fiction. Once we read and turn the page, there is only lingering doubt that makes us look for tunnels in the light.

(c) Farzana Versey


Words/Sperm Count

Writers who think blogging is a waste of words are like men who don't masturbate for fear of wasting their sperm or making them weak.



Google eyed

Look who's watching...

Two of the largest democracies – America and India – top the list of countries wanting to snoop on their citizens. How is that for wonderful liberalism? Can these countries talk of censorship with a straight face?

In a bid to curb terrorism and other anti-social activities, US, India, France, Britain and Germany have requested Google Inc to divulge surfing habits and details of its users. Google also listed how many times governments across the world sought to censor video on its widely watched YouTube video site.

Have these governments prevented the voyeurism they promote to suit their political agenda by getting citizens involved in their devious plans to purportedly serve them? How can you curb terrorism or anti-social activities by checking on the surfing habits of people? There are people involved in research, writing, activism, or just those curious to learn more, who might want to take a look at what is happening in the particular field. If I were to type out “Who killed Osama?” would it make me suspect?

I write a lot on the subject of terrorism, communalism, the global bubble and, while I have my opinions, I might have to check out some facts. Are these governments trying to prevent us from accessing information, especially that which is not fed by the establishment? Or even a certain stripe of counter-establishment? How different is it from the dictatorial regimes that completely blank out sites? At least the people living there are aware of what is happening. We don’t even know when we are being spied on. This is plain disgusting:

In Tuesday’s update, Google included total number of user accounts targeted, instead of just the number of requests made by police, courts and other agencies. Google is trying to get users to share even more tidbits about their lives on social networking service Plus, which has attracted over 40 million account holders since it debuted in June as an alternative to Facebook.

The police and the courts can make these requests only if they have a special case and evidence that they need to check out. Fair enough. But why is Google getting co-opted? Why is it asking people to share more information? This is really low, for not only does it deliberately put its users under suspicion by default, it also makes them vulnerable to other sorts of attacks by non-government sources. I can well imagine how even a joke might misfire.

There are thousands of cyber crimes committed. How many of them are spied on by these concerned governments? How do they define ‘anti-social activities’? There was an interesting interview in Mumbai Mirror with Mumbai's Commissioner of Police, Arup Patnaik. He came across as quite upfront. However, when asked about the deadline of 1.30 am for bars and pubs, he said:

“You conduct a survey and find out how many of the city's total population want to have a life after midnight. I am not here to serve these people.”

Does he not realise that this is not only about the elite? Young people from middle-class families are going out – remember India is shining and all that blah? People work late hours or do night shifts. Besides that, there are so many who live on the streets. Do they have to go out after 12 am to get killed or raped? Do the police close shop after midnight? And what do they do after that? Send out feelers to Google to check out what people are surfing on the Net?

Terrorists and other criminals do not need to depend on websites, and it would be plain silly if they did to find out what’s happening with their gang. If anything, they end up feeling like heroes because of the way the media thrusts them down our throats every other day. These governments usually let bloodied figures get enough display time to build up anger and emotion and then decide to withdraw because such images are “too brutal” and “they could divide society”. This is not funny. It is paranoia that is let loose like a mad dog and then strapped with a leash. It only ends up with it pulling at the leash and more blood.

The establishment is ready with soothers and balm, not to forget its pre-emptive measures. Like snooping on you. You, often the victim, are seen as the vulture.

It’s time to type out the next search phrase: “nekid pix of prisoners”. Let us play the way the governments play us.


NGOs, Kiran Bedi, the Media: Who’s the ‘farest of them all?

Kiran Bedi is indeed wrong, but when media persons sit to judge her it is a bit of a laugh. Clearly, they do not look in the mirror.

Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to question all sorts of voluntary agencies and their modus operandi, we have a situation where a person is pinned down for wrongdoing without a backward glance at how the whole NGO business works, often with the media’s involvement.

Kiran Bedi has been fudging her bills, where she charged inflated amounts from her hosts. The main source was airline tickets. She would travel by economy class, that too at a discount because of her gallantry award, and charge business class fares. We now have these sanctimonious NGOs tell us that they took it at “face value”. Most NGOs send the tickets themselves. So, why did they let her use her travel agent? And what sort of auditing departments do they run? The reason for keeping quiet is not that they were afraid of Ms. Bedi’s wrath – they obviously did not mind shelling out Business Class fares – but because their finances will lead to many question marks.

This is my point. The media and certain activists have taken a convenient yo-yo stand on the Jan Lokpal Bill campaign. They propped him up and were completely besotted by Team Anna. After they were done with the photo-ops of the caps and the fasting and dancing, they realised that there were chinks in the armour. No one was interested in the deeper questions – it came down to superficial put-downs.

Let us get this fudging business clear. Kiran Bedi has admitted to it and says she will return the excess money that she wanted to use for her own NGO. Where do the NGOs get this kind of money that they can afford to invite people from different cities for seminars? I have often posed this query when we rubbish other institutions. Do you know that most of the activists themselves travel Business Class, stay at fancy hotels, and order the best food – for what? To gupshup about the state of the nation, the homeless, female foeticide, dowry, terrorism, communalism?

Check out the number of people who have left their high-paying corporate and bureaucratic jobs to “serve the nation” or, “become useful members of society” or, “fight communalism”. They could do all of these by continuing to work. The reason is that activism has become a paying proposition. Have you seen the huge ads put up in newspapers inviting you to attend some conclave or the other? Is it affordable or even appropriate to shell out this kind of money on overheads? Besides government grants, there is a good deal of foreign sponsorship and donations from industrial houses. While the international ‘intervention’ often comes with some amount of side-effects (pushing of substandard products and services clubbed with the do-good, feel-good stuff), some of the Indian business black money that is not stashed away in banks abroad is routed to charitable organisation, with income tax exemption.

Why does the media not raise a voice about this? Has the media ever questioned journalists who attend these same seminars? Oh yes, the same journalists who give inflated bills to their accounts departments for their travels and hotel stays and “related expenses”. Journalists who sit at the desk and make phone calls but charge taxi fare for the quotes. Journalists who try to get tickets and freebies because they think they are in a position to ‘arrange something’. Journalists who do not have to spend a paisa at restaurants and spas because they just might mention it, in passing, in their next column. Journalists who give us scoops that are fed to them by interested parties or who conduct sting operations that are again paid for by interested parties.

Of course, it is not only the media at fault, but also those who host such talks. Corporate India’s ladies who lunch get a big high when they invite a person who can indeed talk and add to their resume. They flash such people as trophies to display their own worth as ‘aware citizens’. That some media people are doing their evening show with this group should be an eye-opener rather than a can-opener.

If, as some commentators wish to know, why people from public office enter the fray late in the day to become part of NGOs, then one might wish to ask them why they have timed their queries now and not for all these years. Do they ponder about it when they go on government-sponsored junkets?

The problem is that this whole Anna Hazare campaign has been a sham, and revealed more shams both on the inside as well as on the outside. It showed us how the ruling party and the opposition got to pay politics; the arrests also reveal a lot about those who got away without a scratch to their reputations. It is rather disingenuous of Digvijay Singh to say that if Kiran Bedi can offer to return the money, then every bribery case can be closed by saying the bribe-taker will return the money, including, A. Raja.

This is some gumption. A minister in the government of India is caught in a scam of frightening proportions and another government person uses this as an analogy. He is also quite gung-ho about such a thing happening at the highest level. The 2G Spectrum scam is not just about bribes, but also about how the nation was taken for a ride with the government, big industrialists and lobbies involved. It is about how the government functions and not merely who took how much. This case has come under scrutiny; many others do not.

If political agencies get a chance, they try to co-opt the activist groups. Most are willing to go along because it is the easy option. In some cases where they need the government to act, it does become a crucial mutual involvement. Therefore, if a political party invites activists, and they fudge figures about travel expenses, then what will the political parties do? Why not question the complete lack of balance by media groups? One can understand individual commentators taking a particular position, but why do they blatantly follow the newspaper/TV channel line? Where is their independence? Those who talk about objectivity should really look in their own backyards. There is favouritism everywhere and the media indulges in it as much as politicians, and the ‘activist’ role of the media should also come under scrutiny.

Tavleen Singh, Indian Express columnist, while raising some important points, makes a rather shocking comment:

“My own observation is that many NGOs working in India appear to be funded by organisations bent on ensuring that India never becomes a developed country… In order for India to become a halfway developed country, we need new roads, airports, ports, modern railways and masses more electricity. In addition, according to experts, we need 500 more cities by 2050. The odd thing is that the NGOs who oppose steel plants, nuclear power stations, dams and aluminum refineries in India never object to the same things in China.”

Is this the definition of development, and the only model? As I have already said, many NGOs do have an agenda, but not only if they are funded by organisations that do not wish to see a developed India. By this logic, Gujarat should have no NGOs. And why must Indian NGOs object to what happens in China? Has the Indian government opposed the self-immolation of Tibetan monks and nuns in support of the Dalai Lama’s return? Has the BJP done so? Has the media done so?

Forget the NGOs for a while. Think about how these plants were to come up, who was to be uprooted and how it would affect the environment. If this development is only for those setting up factories and making India technologically advanced, then why are we still the hub of western-powered outsourcing? Are the NGOs involved here?

Why absolve the fat cats of business only to hit out at the NGOs unless they are specifically playing dirty? How many media people have taken free jet rides, attended fancy wedding functions abroad and written glowing accounts of them? Will they be sanctified as the facilitators of development? Or do they need to get closer to the seats of such power or perhaps such development? These are trick or treat queries. Ask them we must, for there is much beyond Kiran Bedi, whose banshee persona was in fact given a boost by the media when they needed her sound bytes. They were birds of a feather, until she was grounded.

The still-feathered ones have taken wing and are giving us a bird’s eye-view.

(c) Farzana Versey

Also published in Countercurrents

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My earlier related piece on such superficiality: Kiran's Dance, Illiteracy and Symbolism

Jab deep jaley...

Lord Ram and brother Lakshman go looking for Guru Vashisht in the forest. They find his hut and knock on the door.

The voice from inside asks, "Who are you?"

Lord Ram replies, "That is the reason we have come here, to discover who we are."

This is what ‘finding the light’ means. Diwali Mubarak to all, for enlightenment is universal!

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Here’s a beautiful song that captures all the light in black and white…and grey:


Dangerous India?

Most foreign tourists still come to India for some exotica and because the dollar goes a long way. Indians might fool themselves that they visit us to see our humming factories and zooming cars in our streets, but they are really into the slumdogs, not the millionaires.

They do not want to see Mukesh Ambani's mansion or a Nano car in action. They are at best amused when they see the limited edition sedans vying for space with lazing cows in the street. The 'difference' is what appeals. And they'd take home a picture of themselves with the cow/camel or whatever animal they espy, not with the car or the rich.

They'll sit in a boat that offers ensuite crapping facilities and even sing praises about how their droppings make it into the backwaters. So, it is understandable that India is upset that we will lose out on phirang manure.
Five countries - the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - have issued advisories against travel to India during the festival season. The reason: caution about the terror threat.
The West loves this terror threat as much as it loves its Big Macs. And they love Indian festivals - they visit during these because they get to take in the culture, place flowers over mausoleums of dead queens, watch naked sadhus, throw colour, light firecrackers. This is Halloween many times over. Now, terrorism is quite akin to that. A mask that hides something; they don't know what, so if their mai-baap (the government) tells them it wants to save them, they listen.

This latest piece of protectionism has made India's tourism minister, Subodh Kant Sahay, angry:

“I have taken this up with the external affairs ministry and asked it to persuade these countries to withdraw the advisories immediately. This is nothing but scare-mongering. Leave aside other parts of India, 100% booking is being reported from J&K. If this isn’t a sign of normalcy, what is?”
I understand his pain, but the manner in which he has mentioned Jammu and Kashmir just shows that there is only kind of terrorism even India wants to hold as an example.  There is insurgency/disturbance in many other parts, but who wants to go to Dantewada/Jaitapur/Telengana? And tourists do not visit the Delhi High Court.

Has the government ever assured Indian tourists that places are safe? Most depend on travel agents for advice; these guys do a recce and are more responsible than the tourism departments.

However, there are foreign tourists who do take risks. For some, the edginess is as exciting as bungee jumping. Then, there are those who, besides seeking spiritualism, manage to 'contribute' by helping those who suffer. "We know how it feels," they seem to suggest, completely losing out on the irony.

Then, there is the low season factor, which is great value for money. They are the smart ones that calculate how many foreigners can be taken hostage and figure out the chances are one in a million or way less. Besides, it is not all great back home. Instead of occupying Wall Street, they can just hop into a low cost airline and bum it in India, where they are treated like gods. Really. We have a dictum, also in the scriptures: Atithi devo bhava (The guest is god) So, Aamir Khan endorses our tourism board by telling some poor cabbies not to mess with the foreign tourists. they are our guests/gods.

Why would the guy who drives a black cab in London or sits at the cash counter at Walmarts not rake it?

Besides, the advisory is probably to save the countries from making sure that the Indian economy does not look as chippy as it does for those who are indeed going through a low phase. I won't be surprised if they try and sell some sort of patriotism with this terror threat and also keep the money where it belongs. At home.

But India need not worry too much. There are still those who like the elephant in the room, so to speak.

Precious memory of the Puram festival in Thrissur, Kerala. Dusty, hot and sunny. Foreign woman in transparent pyjamas intently watching the backs of elephants and finally going down on her knees to capture a fart. Like any threat, it was invisible.

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Just thought I'd link this other piece I wrote to give a different perspective: Can Indian Men Handle Foreign Women?  Some interesting comments there...

Also some personal vignettes from an older piece: These Boots Are Gonna Walk All Over You

Shiney Bling, Nirupam-Uddhav Sting

We have heard about people having to swallow their words, but “Shiv Sena CEO” (a TOI description) Uddhav Thackeray would go a step further with Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam:

“If he persists, we will make him swallow his teeth.”

Another version spoke about breaking his teeth, but this sounds better. So, what is Nirupam persisting about? The Congress MP, who was once a loyal Sena guy, decided he had to speak up for North Indians, obviously as a pre-electoral move with the BMC polls coming up:

“North Indians play a crucial role in Mumbai. We are told that we, Hindi-speaking migrants, are a burden on Mumbai. This is not true. Actually, it is we who bear Mumbai’s burden…if north Indians make up their mind, they can bring Mumbai to a halt.”

  1. 1. I am not sure if this can have any major impact on local polls; most of the immigrant workers are registered in their villages and towns and do not vote, so they are not a real vote-bank in the next level assembly elections. It only helps the politician to give a more cosmopolitan face to the varied constituencies the city is peppered with.
  2. 2. Bringing the city to a halt should not surprise anyone because the Sena has done it in the past with its bandhs, ‘spontaneous’ strikes and its hold on the trade unions.
  3. 3. There is no single body of North Indians and they are unlikely to get together to halt the city.
  4. 4. It has become a largely north-centric fight, when there are many South Indians and Bengalis too in the city. We are dealing with regionalism on a larger scale than is being made out.

In a rather surprising move, the report states:

Uddhav has asked the Congress to clarify if it endorses Nirupam’s remarks. “Balasaheb Thackeray had, in his Dussehra rally address, warned that there was a conspiracy to delink Mumbai from Maharashtra. Nirupam’s Nagpur speech has confirmed our fears.”

Mumbai does not need to be physically/technically delinked; it already is. If the Sena is so concerned about all of Maharashtra, why is it that there aren’t too many reports of the party workers beating up someone in Satara or even Ralegaon Sidhdhi, Anna Hazare’s fielfdom? Simple. Few people migrate to the small towns and villages. It is the lucre of Mumbai that attracts people, or the illusion of it.

Like every other party, the Sena too would not want any such delink simply because they too would lose out on big icapital. How many trade unions does the Sena control in the towns, except for the industrial belts?

It is interesting that they want an answer from Sharad Pawar, the Sugar King of Satara, for they know that they have to safeguard the monetary interests just in case they come to power or can benefit in some way from kickbacks and scams.

As for the Sanjay Nirupam Congress talk, it is all hot air. Had he still been with the Shiv Sena the teeth they are threatening he will be forced to swallow would have been biting the same North Indians.

- - -

In another case about disparities, actor Shiney Ahuja is angry. He ‘features’ in an ad for a mobile company. I was put off by it when I first saw it, but for a reason entirely different from the one Shiney has sent a legal notice for: that it takes a dig at his case.

His case is that he was convicted for raping his maid and later released on bail following an appeal. The ad amounts to “willful character assassination”. It shows a young woman exclaiming, “Shiney bought me a new 'Bling' (the name of the cellphone). Her friend retorts, “He bought me one too”, flashing the handset.

Soon a phone rings and it belongs to the maid. They look surprised and more so when she says, “What? Saab bought me one.”

The ad has been taken off air. Shiney’s publicist issued a statement:

“As we know, Shiney had challenged his conviction and the Bombay High Court has admitted his appeal, which is currently pending hearing. For the mobile company to air such a commercial influencing public opinion when Shiney's appeal is pending hearing, is equivalent to contempt of court.”

Shiney and his wife have given extensive interviews where they have tried to ‘influence public opinion’. (My questions remain unchanged.) He has signed films and will be a visible figure, maybe even a good one. What put me off about the ad is not the Shiney factor, but the class aspect. It seems okay for two spoilt young women to be given gifts by the same man, but they are shocked when the maid even possesses it. Her expression is one of guilt, as though owning what the great Indian dream tells us is now a ubiquitous gadget even in the villages is wrong. Besides, a maid being given a gift makes her suspect. Why are those two women not suspect for being he beneficiaries of what the man has given them?

The company may say that it is fictional but it is obviously a dig, and if they call this humour then honestly they have yet to discover where the funny bone exists. It is time the ad companies realised that helpers have mobile phones; not all are gifts. They are available cheap. And if they are given these, it is by their employers who want to keep in touch and know what time they will report for work. This is a job necessity, not to please some saab.

It is not Shiney but the domestic help sector that should be objecting. But, of course, Shiney gets to stay in the news. By hook or by crook.

Here is the ad:


Sunday ka Funda

An apology for the Devil: It must be remembered that we have only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.

- Samuel Butler

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And a few church signs that go beyond the books. (Courtesy a forwarded email)


Clinton Plays Snake and the Rope

While most of the media is patting Hillary Clinton for the “tough talk” with Pakistan in Islamabad, what the US Secretary of State has really done is to send out contradictory signals. Take these two quotes:

  • "Our relationship of late has not been an easy one. We have seen distrust harden into resentment and public recrimination. We have seen common interests give way to mutual suspicion."
  • "We work with the Pakistani military and intelligence services [so] that any person who has committed a terrorist act or is about to commit one can be intercepted. There are many ways of doing that. I think it's one of the real successes of the relationship."

What tough talk? The US has its ways, so where is the mutual suspicion? This is the façade. It is ridiculous, as has been implied by one set of analyses, that things got a bit difficult between the two countries because of Osama bin Laden. What of him? That he was found in Pakistan? Or, that the Americans killed him? Or, that the Pakistanis helped the Americans?

The only problem with the ‘end of Osama’ deal is that the US administration is suffering from an itch. It has to fight terror, but it has nothing to show. After camping in Waziristan and Kabul – not to speak of hovering over the Middle East – it has figured out that the Haqqanis are in charge of the terror network in this part of the world.

The supposed Clinton missive is about asking Pakistan to do all sorts of things to the Haqqani faction that sounds like a bad mixer-juicer-grinder ad: "to encourage, to push, to squeeze…That is what we are looking for." All this is apparently for a peace chat. She reportedly added for good measure, revealing an appalling lack of understanding, that it was not clear whether the militants were ready for talks.

Damn them. Really. Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Kayani, had in fact made the ‘tough call’ by saying “we are not Iraq or Afghanistan”, although everyone knows that it would take a minute to become one. The US can do that if it has a ruse. Pakistan has managed to resist obvious puppetry due to its Saudi connection.

Since Clinton has already said that the US worked with the Pakistani army, why is she ranting? Because that is her job profile. Her quick visits are part of the banshee cry that needs to resound.

If anything, this was a PR exercise.

"Every intelligence agency has contact with unsavory characters, that is part of the job of being in an intelligence agency. What we are saying is let's use those contacts to try to bring these people to the table to see whether or not they are going to be cooperative." She noted that it was the Pakistani intelligence services that requested the U.S. meet with the Haqqanis.

Where is the problem here? Why make noises about the ISI then? If the US and Pakistan are in this together, then every single meeting is a wasted effort. They are merely sending out signals to no one in particular. Since every intelligence agency has contacts with unsavoury characters, why does the US always need help? Is its own intelligence falling short or do they avoid unsavoury characters due to some moral reasons?

The most delectable comment was from The Guardian quoting Pakistani officials responding to criticism about intelligence links with the Haqqanis as saying:

“It's not like we can pick up the phone and call them to Islamabad. We know people who know people who know them.”

Sheer brilliance!

As for Ms. Clinton’s “you cannot keep snakes in your backyard and expect they will only bite the neighbours'', why has it just become a much-touted quote?

Which neighbours was she referring to? Is she okay with such neighbouring? This is such a typically selfish attitude. And, anyway, the United States of America does know about snakes in Pakistan’s neighbourhood. Its CIA helped create one. When he bit it, they decided that anything that looked like a reptile was a threat and had to be done away with. What no one realised as that the American administration was the chameleon dangling a rope and screaming, “Snake!” A win-win situation.

The noose and the venom, real and delusionary, are powerful weapons of destruction.


Barnes and Noble

Readability versus what? Instead of going round and round about “dumbing down”, has anyone posed that query in clear terms? Awards these days come dog-eared with controversies. Ironically, the ones upholding non-populist writing make it into page-turners with their cussed dismissal.

I have not read Julian Barnes, so when he won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending it did not change my opinion, for I had none. However, I went scouring around. The debates have made me even look at his pictures closely to see if he does possess the daring nonchalance of the edgy writer who cares not for the raiment’s that will catapult him to the Top Ten lists. But then, wait. If he is supposed to be a rebel, then even the sanctity, not to speak of sanctimony, of a clique of aye-sayers ought to be an oddity. Mr. Barnes looks to be an interesting character, a bit dour, a bit of dry wit.

Unfortunately, one should hope a small titbit does not reveal too much. When writer Lucy Scholes met him during the celebratory party and congratulated him on a “well-deserved win”, she wrote that he “commended me my alliteration, smiling profusely all the while”. Was the smile out of politeness or does he really believe it is a worthy alliteration, when the phrase “well-deserved win” is used in ordinary reports on a regular basis? Since he was with a glass, would ‘wonderful wine’ be alliteratively good?

Ah, so much for the trivial. This is the purpose. To draw home the point that literature is not being qualified, but quantified. It is not about the merit of a piece of work, but what it is pitted against. It goes beyond competition because it becomes a matter of degree of likeability. Yes, however serious the work, the judges will rate it differently. Even if there are stringent yardsticks, no two people can have the same ones on all points.

The media mavens have already jumped in with their demeaning of the circus by setting up circuses of their own. Chairing the jury was Stella Rimington. She said, “We were looking for enjoyable books. I think they are readable books. We wanted people to buy these books and read them. Not buy them and admire them.” That immediately brought about a kneejerk reaction of, “Why not Jeffrey Archer, then?” Judges should not be asked to justify, for they end up sounding bad. Another judge Susan Hill is supposed to have tweeted, “Hurrah! Man Booker judges accused of 'dumbing down'. They mean our shortlist is readable and enjoyable."

If you read a book, it has to be ‘readable’. Is that not a basic tenet? How does one explain enjoyment – the feeling of lightness or litheness? The sense of déjà vu? The empathy with the characters/plot? The sheer power of the words to transport you into that world? The remnants that stay with you when you recollect in the noise and the tranquillity? Or that it just “had to zip along” (in another judge’s words)? Unputdownability is reviled, when it should not necessarily be so. I have read Shakespeare at one go. Does it make it any less precious? I have struggled with some of the quick reads, not because I found them tiresome, but I had to mull over sentences and their role in the narrative. I too could have zipped along and praised the turbo-charged prose and been done with it. That is not the way it always works.

Salman Rushdie is a gratifying read at most times, and he has been Booker certified. There are metaphors and more in his work, but it is also a page-turner. Sometimes, incidentally, we turn the pages quickly because it does not have any sustaining interest. This is terrible for a work of fiction that carries you from the beginning to the middle and then to the end. You blink and you lose something. Or you must. Unlike soap operas, there are no recaps here.

This brings us to the issue of admiration. We admire nature, although we do not read it. And we can admire words that may not throttle us. The reassurance that something is “not difficult to read”, though, is not what one is looking for. As I said earlier, I find some racy books difficult to read.

Why are classical musicians making their work accessible? Why is art deconstructed is easy-to-understand steps? And how does a man posing as an installation, propping up some talismanic idea, become highbrow? Why does shit in a box become meaningful and that which is flushed down so much crap? It is our need to seek order, to justify and rectify the limitations that exist.

I liked what Claire Armitstead wrote in The Guardian about Barnes’ book: “But what it lacks in length it makes up for in depth of philosophical inquiry about memory and the shakiness of the personal identity formed by it. The main character, Tony Webster, will go down as one of literature's great unreliable narrators: a man whose belief in his own guilelessness can only be challenged by direct confrontation with his past, and then only partially, and for fleeting moments.”

The idea of an “unreliable narrator” is itself identifiable. You may see him from several angles and reach your own conclusions. It is pushing the boundaries of our thinking and imagination.

Since the squeaks continue, one might like to remind the opposition that there have been quite a few Booker winners who have written clearly populist books. Were they given the benefit of doubt because they brought an element of exotica into the narrative?

It is rather disconcerting that there is so much opposition that a rival award is being set up. The Literature Prize has its aim in place: to “establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence”. Excellent. In one year, there might be three or four books that could qualify. Why choose one over the other? Is something not being compromised here? How will the judges decide on novels “unsurpassed in their quality and ambition”? Even within the small group within academia, this is not possible. How can it be so with works of fiction where quality and ambition of the books may not follow a standard formula? It will be about the judges’ idea of these aspects. In the words of one supporter of this alternative Prize, “It is a sad day when even the Booker is afraid to be bookish.”

Oh dear. I am quite certain that Julian Barnes would be quite happy with the alliteration, if not the swipe. Now that he has joined the “posh bingo” gang, he would probably like to be at least less polite with his commendation of alliterations and other figures of speech. As for the Booker quaking at the thought of being bookish, perhaps we might like to see some stuff from the opposition that we can place on our shelves. For, I refuse to be spoonfed by the thought police.

(c) Farzana Versey


Advani, a Weak PM, and Incontinence

I think our Prime Minister is not weak; he knows his so-called weakness works in his favour. Therefore, L.K.Advani may be sighing with Hissar relief after the Yeddy-made problem, but it is a bit too pat and he ends up boosting the real weaklings/seeklings:

“We have had Prime Ministers like Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and IK Gujral who may not have even ten-fifteen MPs but who never appeared weak as there is a lot of strength in the position of Prime Minister.”

Exactly. There is strength in the position, not necessarily the person. What did these three really contribute?

"The condition of the government is very bad. Sometimes I take pity at Manmohan Singh though I had respect for him at one time. When I criticised him by calling him 'weak' before the 2009 elections people asked me why I said that because he was a good and honest man. Calling him weak is not an abuse. But if the Prime Minister thinks that he cannot do anything till 10 Janpath does not give me clearance, it does not behove him.”

A few points:

  1. Does he mean to say that since “weak” is not an abuse, he is by default an honest man? 
  2. If he does need “clearance” from 10 Janpath, then why target him at all and not the person at 10 Janpath? He has been going on tours, attending summits and signing documents. Why not make him responsible for all of this?
  3. Finally, since when has the BJP encouraged independent leaders? Does it not tomtom itself as the great Indian family? Aren't the rebels thrown out? Did not Vajpayee have to follow the Advaniji’s diktats, not to speak of the RSS?

- - -

And on a note that might bring a smile to pitashri Advani’s face, a small little news item:

A Maharashtra MLA has registered a complaint against the use of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil’s pictures to indicate men and women’s washrooms near the VIP lounge of Nagpur’s Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport.

“Both portraits are displayed near the washrooms, which is against discipline and protocol. Symbolically, it shows that Patil’s portrait gives direction towards the women’s washroom while Manmohan Singh’s directs one to the gents’ loo.”

Just shows how our cult of worship can get terribly leaky. I fail to understand, though, how people – that too in the VIP lounge – would 'follow' the leader unless they are bladderful. It is good that we do not have Dr. Ambedkar’s statue in the famous pose, finger pointing out, anywhere in the vicinity. That would be quite a discretionary take on the constitution.

Dramatising Shalit: An Officer and the Terrorists?

Moussa was 25. Too young to die, too old to live in a student’s hostel. He did not have the luxury of patriotism. What was Palestine? Home? A country? Occupied territory? His papers said he was a Palestinian. He had never lived there. Egypt, Jordan, India, where we had met several years ago. He dragged his legs listlessly as we sat in a dark corner, away from the raucous voices. Or, perhaps to understand silence?

He, too, was a prisoner. There was nowhere he could go and feel he belonged. As a child, he had watched war films; he wanted to join the army. Which army? His father, a scientist, had decided to submerge the identity question. The world is a big place, he told his son. Education is important. At 25, Moussa was struggling with degrees, higher qualifications, rolled up papers he might have wanted to scrunch and throw away. He would never wear a beret or hold a gun and offer a stiff salute. In those days, the Palestinian army was not organised. His family had chosen the option of rootlessness.

He dragged his feet as he bid me goodbye refusing to step out into the light.

The officer - Shalit

I think of him today as I see another 25-year-old. Gilad Shalit’s homecoming is being celebrated the world over. The Israeli soldier was taken prisoner by Hamas five years ago. In a move that should shock people, he has been swapped with 1027 Palestinian prisoners.

To dismiss this as another social networking crusade would be just one part of the story. The political angle, where Benjamin Netanyahu the humanist prevails, is another shrewd one. Then there is the role of Egypt, not the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak, but of the rebel-propped rulers. This is the wonderful western touch, the preparation of a proxy.

Possibly the worst dimension is that one innocent soldier is being used as a symbol of Israeli supremacy as opposed to the 'terrorists'. This is drama of a high order where his every move has been traced, from the helicopter, to the parade in the convoy, to his interview, to the meeting with family and the outpouring of joy by his supporters. His supporters?

As a captured soldier, his bravery is by default; his rank has already been pushed up. There are assumptions about his ill-treatment. It is true that Amnesty did not have access to him. Do human rights organisations have access to the many individuals who are captured? Did they have access to the over 1000 prisoners that are being released in the ‘arrangement’? Will they criticise the slurs on those released?

True, Shalit was injured; he is a soldier. He was on duty. There are daily skirmishes going on in the territory. The Hamas took him prisoner. He might have been given the status of a prisoner of war if the war was certified and recognisable. It is not. Nobody knows when they will be attacked and by whom. It is not so surprising though that Shalit is being deified. He does not look pugnacious. Reports even quote his friends as saying, “He doesn't bother anyone, not even a fly. He just wanted to be left in peace, like his family.” One assumes the Israeli army was aware of that when he was being trained to fight the Palestinians.

This frail young man now stands alone against a bunch of lumpen elements that the honourable Israeli government has let off, but not without a warning: the fight against terrorism will continue. Responding to the celebrations in Gaza over the return of the Palestinian prisoners, he said, “Here we don't celebrate murderers and turn them into heroes. We believe in the sanctity of life.”

Getting back one soldier and holding him up to the world is not enough. The sanctity of life is not about just one side. Has there been a count of the numbers killed? Indeed, there are a few of the released prisoners who have murdered Israelis, but what about the dead Palestinians?

The groundwork for the humane coup has been laid. Shalit needs to be examined and kept a watch on for the damage the confinement might have caused him. No one is concerned about the swapped prisoners. The descriptions too are revealing. As reported in The Telegraph:

“Pandemonium as the first buses carrying the freed prisoners arrives in Gaza City's Katiba Square. People are setting off endless bangers as Hamas songs blare in the background. The prisoners get off the buses, waving solemnly to the crowds, before being led into a mosque behind the flower-strewn dais where they will eventually take their seats
Israelis release a dove as they celebrate the release of Gilad Shalit.”
The terrorists? Freed Palestinian prisoners

This horde of unruly men will go to a mosque. The dove is for the Israelis. This portion did not mention the street scenes, the flags, and the outpouring of patriotism by the Israelis.

The Hamas has already said that they will take more soldiers prisoners. The BBC has a pat analysis:

“Palestinian politics is a zero-sum game. For now, Hamas will bask in the glow of having got more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one man. Mr. Abbas, while publicly welcoming the exchange, woke up this morning a politically weakened figure. But when the jail doors open - probably next Tuesday - and people begin going home to their families, it will be clearer that key political Palestinian militants, seen as heroes by many people in the occupied territories, will still be behind bars. Hamas has just played their only trump card. It has unquestionably won the round. But will it be enough to win them the game?”

This question should be posed to Mr. Netanyahu. He has for the moment successfully played Hamas against Fatah. Besides, there is no way to gauge which prisoners are more dangerous because it is not about the number of people killed. If that were the case, then Israel would not bet on one soldier, would it?

Daniel Taub, the Israel's UK ambassador, believes:

“At its root, the decision to make the deal was not won by pragmatic arguments or realpolitik. We are bringing Gilad home, and paying the painful price, not because we know that this is the correct strategic decision, but because of our profound conviction that it ought to be. The bittersweet joy of the moment presents a challenge to us all. If this indeed is not a world in which placing supreme value on a single human life is the best course of action, then let us work to make it one.”

History is full of instances where “a single life” was employed for strategic victories. People identify with an individual trauma, rather than a group. It is humanised, and naturally so. One can fully comprehend a father’s emotions, but when Shalit reportedly told an Egyptian television channel that he would like peace between Israel and Palestine, there was anger, they said he was misunderstood. In the next few days, he will have to tell stories of his imprisonment. There is no other option.

He has not been bartered for peace, but for war. Shalit will have to show the scars that are there. And some that are not.

(c) Farzana Versey
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Published in Counterpunch and Srilanka Guardian


And minds to walk...

Can a book or film make people ‘mad’? The real expose is not that Sybil’s story was false, but that there was a spurt in multiple personality disorder cases reported.

Shirley Mason

The reality: Shirley Mason had a troubled life, suffered from OCD and needed therapy. Her therapist Connie Wilbur prescribed some wonder drugs; among them was the truth serum that encourages “patients to describe fantasies or experiences that could never have happened. After one pivotal session, in which Mason described episodes in which she became different people, with multiple names and personalities, Wilbur saw an opportunity.”

The story: Patient and therapist got together with journalist Flora Schreiber and wrote a book. Sybil sold seven million copies. They added a lot of perversion and sex, made the delusions seem real. A film version became a hit; then there was another one.

The expose: The book by Debbie Nathan, 'Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case' denounces the account as a fiction. As evidence they have a letter written by Shirley saying she was lying that she had been 16 different people in her story. Could not the letter be a 17th one where she was in denial?

What is of concern, and even more fascinating, is that 40,000 people had visited therapists claiming the symptoms they read about. It is true that we identify with characters, we often take on characteristics, and more so in a book where our delusions play out against the characters'. But in a society that at the time did not completely accept a not so regular mind would people just go out and claim to be perverted and abused, and suffering from socially unusual behaviour merely as a herd instinct? Is not reading a solitary activity? Or was it the belonging to the seven million club enough?

Or, has it always been like that, the precursor to reality shows where the herd mentality prevails and people start identifying not because there is anything identifiable but because there isn’t? The negation gives it an aura, a mystique, and everyone wants to be a story.

There are versions of analysis that state that science is not too sure anymore about the multiple personality disorder syndrome at all. Now this would be taking away from genuine battles of the mind that some people do face. At the most basic level a multiple personality might manifest itself in ways that would collide with one’s own self. This is schizophrenia repeated several times. Think about it.

At the creative level, and I am not talking about the making of Sybil, people do play roles in life. Ordinary people often talk about ‘balancing lives’. The writer or artiste, in creating characters, is for that time probably living them or through them. Why do we laud the multi-dimensional persona and yet wonder about multiple personality as a disorder? Because the latter affects the individual beyond the parameters of her/his own ability to manage the dissonances.

Personally, I feel like many people and while there are strong opinions on certain subjects, there is also a dithering where personal decisions are concerned. I might at one time think like the man I am not, or the woman I am, or the woman I want to be, or even the woman I’d hate being.

It is possible that Sybil lied, her therapist pushed her into something and they got a story. But one lie does not negate the possibility of the truth.

This is beyond the book, the film, the expose and even the real person. It is about how people respond. Those who came out were, quite possibly, imagining the symptoms. However, they could be truly suffering from at least some of them. Such extreme sensitivity to so many personalities is socially an asset in terms of empathy, but psychologically it can mess up an individual’s own peace of mind. Or piece of it.


The rotten state of IITs

This news comes from the director of IIT Guwahati. Well, not quite rotten, but if you are not literal you will get the gist of the apparition, not to speak of the continuum of illusion. For all the so-called brilliance of those entering the institute, we have a thriving coaching class business that makes them ‘ready’. In a candid disclosure, Gautam Barua says:

On entering the IITs after undergoing excessive coaching, the students are almost burnt-out and mentally fatigued. Then the IITs for them become a place to relax. Coaching is the primary reason that affects the performance of students. A mindset has been created that if they (students) do not opt for coaching, they may not have the chance to get admission to the IITs.

And do these students wish to go to into engineering at all? Remember the film 3 Idiots where the maverick protagonist calls the fiancé of the woman who he will fall in love with a “gadha” (donkey) because, after all the admission to the prime institute, he ended up in a swivel chair? For him everything had a price tag. Mr. Barua’s views express similar sentiments:

IIT has a brand value. Parents and students want to enter IIT without thinking what they will do. So after they graduate from the IITs, many of them don’t go for engineering jobs; they rather go for the finance sector, management or do jobs which have no connection with engineering. We have seen that about half of the students from IITs are really not interested in engineering.

The IITs are creating a brahmanical bubble of being the superior race and the chosen ones. The fact that some of them are grabbed for a few crore rupees’ salary makes news; the rest become certified purple-robed job seekers. Or, they just have that brand on them and think they can do anything and be certain that with the campus story to back them they are worth a good deal.

People who join medicine have to shell out capitation fees and are made to feel responsible about how that seat is so important. Do the IITs give that sense of accountability to the students? Obviously not. So, why are they such prized mice in the rat race in other fields? Ah, why is the lady carrying the Ferragamo bag with nothing else to show given a better welcome or the man who alights from a Mercedes offered a stiffer salaam? It is the tag.

We are living in times when this is all that seems to count.

In a rather tragic-comic comment, Mr. Barua states:

It is time for the government to create IIT-like institutions in the field of humanities. Let there be IIT-like institutions in economics, philosophy and other fields of humanities, with IIT-like campuses and branding. Then it will no longer be necessary for students to get admitted to IITs and later join non-engineering jobs.

I really do not think we need this sort of tagged legitimacy to move around like dogs with collars. Many universities in any case have ‘names’ and cater to some sort of elitism, whether monetary or intellectual, the latter an iffy word because the purity of such intellectualism is largely diminished if they make puppy eyes about being Stephanians or leave scruffy ideological paw marks about JNU. Where is the individualism?

There was a time when we worried about students being spoonfed. Now, with technology and the availability of information within seconds, the term has taken on different connotations. The IIT person is assumed to be prepared for anything. A bit strange that one who might have been a cordon bleu chef chooses to stand at the buffet table. The only difference is that someone is there to carry the plate.

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"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (From Hamlet. Marcellus to Horatio, after Hamlet follows his father's ghost)


Sunday ka Funda

A thousand words or more
Seep through the floor
And then take root in the soil
Growing trees of doubt
Helpless people shout
Until their blood starts to boil

If you all get to Heaven - Terence Trent D'Arby


Karva Chauth Wish

May the husbands live long enough to spare the wives from repeating the same mistake.

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For those interested, it is the day when women fast for the longevity of their spouses.

A Wall Street Fall?

The 99 per cent that will ‘occupy’ Wall Street today, October 15, will not be a global 99 per cent. They are probably the one per cent they are railing against for the outsiders.

The call to action by the “leaderless movement” is, on the face of it, a rare protest for they are hitting out at the financial institutions in the United States and large parts of Western Europe, traditionally acquisitive and developed societies. Their status has often been gauged by their monetary prowess, best exemplified not in the standard of living of their people but in their defence expenditure, their fund management for aid, their war operations overseas.

These are political strategies. Therefore, is the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ group really on the right track? It says:

“Over the last 30 years, the 1% have created a global economic system - neoliberalism - that attacks our human rights and destroys our environment. Neoliberalism is worldwide - it is the reason you no longer have a job, it is the reason you cannot afford healthcare, education, food, your mortgage. 
Neoliberalism is your future stolen. 
Neoliberalism is everywhere, gutting labor standards, living wages, social contracts, and environmental protections. It is "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." It is a system that ravages the global south and creates global financial crisis - crisis in Spain, in Greece, in the United States. It is a system built on greed and thrives on destablizing shocks. 
It allows the 1% to enrich themselves by impoverishing humanity.”

Bankers and financial institutions, rightly reviled as they are worldwide, have no ideology. Neoliberalism is government policy. Funds that should have been used for healthcare, education, and jobs were earlier outsourced to defend the nations and to get cheap labour. Will these people think about the consequences of that on the recipients of such largesse? They were the ones who slammed racist slurs on those who got the jobs. Was it the financial biggies who did it? Yes, but only to an extent. It was the pushing of the Big culture, the teaching of the twang, the infiltration through the trade route – perfected by the British, imbibed by the neophytes. In a moment of comeuppance, shall we say, among the bad apples were some whiz kids from the lands of the poor who divested investments after faking the huge corporate lie of taking a one-dollar salary.

Wall Street echoes the White House. Moreover, not too long ago, many Americans voted for the country’s honour as opposed to the country’s welfare. It was the superficial honour of keeping the forces in countries that did not need them. The consequences of such financial expenditure, besides the burden of having to keep up the façade and the spirit, snowballed and reached the doorstep of the mortgaged houses and the laid-off workers. Cutbacks were everywhere. This did not happen yesterday or even a month ago. Did this group join in when the trade unions were on strike? Has it mattered that the first ones out are usually the immigrants?

If people are not granted the choice of lifestyle, then it does not qualify as neoliberalism. Western countries did not need to liberalise their economy, for they held the purse strings of the major international financial institutions. However, the billions given as loans were a political trade-off.

Is this about Wall Street, then? Or the Zuccotti Park-Liberty Plaza where the silent protest will take place? The update states:

Over 3,000 people gathered at Liberty Plaza in the pre-dawn hours this morning to defend the peaceful Occupation near Wall Street. The crowd cheered at the news that multinational real estate firm Brookfield Properties will postpone its so-called “cleanup” of the park and that Mayor Bloomberg has told the NYPD to stand down on orders to remove protesters. On the eve of the October 15 global day of action against Wall Street greed, this development has emboldened the movement and sent a clear message that the power of the people has prevailed against Wall Street.
“We are winning and Wall Street is afraid. This movement is gaining momentum and is too big to fail,” said one protestor.

What sort of victory would this be? The firm was doing the cleanup on instructions by the mayor. The one per cent occupies seats of power too. Can such a movement itself be ‘moneyless’? It is said that billionaire George Soros is funding the “anti-capitalism” movement. It may or may not be true, but it is not improbable. The capitalist is the one who makes the hammer and the sickle prosperous, and pliable. Ordinary people are donating as well. For what? So that families can sit in, children can be brought there, not to forget the advice to bring in packed meals and warm clothes? Does anyone realise that there are people who wait for a meal and are huddled in torn blankets in these very same places?

99 per cent is a hugely dispersed figure and does not constitute a uniform group. This is a vast spectrum we are speaking about, and at the lowest end Wall Street and investment bankers cannot even be spelled because they go no edjikayshun, brother.

Yet, the voices will speak on behalf of everyone, much like bankers and politicians do. Harrison Schultz, business analyst from Brooklyn said:

“For too long the 99% have been ignored as our economic system has collapsed. The banks got bailouts and we’ve been sold out. Wall Street’s greed has corrupted our country and is killing our planet. But today we celebrate victory and vow to keep fighting for justice and change on Wall Street, and in over 100 cities in the US and over 950 cities globally.”

It was the global bubble that everyone wanted to be a part of, to begin with. The “vampire” survived because there was enough blood to suck. The co-opting of outsiders is disingenuous, though, because together with those suffering there are others who are fairly stable despite Wall Street. It also does not take into consideration the cultural and political dimensions of varied societies, including internecine ones.

The word ‘occupation’ has me in a tizzy, for we know of many states outside of the West that are now occupied in more devious and violent ways. It is irony that the protestors are using the Arab Spring as an example, when those nations have been left bereft of a leadership ostensibly due to the greed of its leaders, but it is way beyond that.

"We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants."

What safety do those in Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya have? Does putting Hosni Mubarak in a cage, much like the torture of Saddam Hussein as a televised example, bring democracy to Egypt?

The greed of financial institutions is really the avarice of political ideology, of being the first among equals, the Big Brother. A sleepover outside the Pentagon might have been a better idea.

It is the end of Fall, but will Wall Street Fall? With winter sneaking in, snow will cover those dry leaves and all you will see is white. Again. ‘Change’ is often circuitous.

(c) Farzana Versey


Is Prashant Bhushan The Fall Guy? Or A Foil?

Bhushan and the goon (TOI pic)

What was the TV channel doing while “goons” thrashed lawyer Prashant Bhushan at his chambers in the Supreme Court when he was being interviewed? The people at Times Now continued filming so that they could replay the images and their newspaper could have a front page with a pictorial strip and talk about how “FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION TAKES A BATTERING”. (Note: In the photo above it is Bhushan who is grabbing his assailant's collar, so what is the channel/paper upto?)

Can you imagine how convenient it is for the media to claim to be upholders of freedom of expression? This is what happened for those who don’t know. Prashant Bhushan is one of the key members of Anna Hazare’s team. However, he apparently has talked about plebiscite in Kashmir and was therefore attacked. So goes the story.

A few facts:

  • Certain sections of the media have propped up the Anna campaign without any thought about the consequences and made a hero of a febrile mind.
  • Anna had initially expressed admiration for Modi; the Sangh Parivar was also quite happy with this crusade because it helped in the anti-Congress movement.
  • Prashant Bhushan is not a Sanghi, and in fact the Sangh has issues with Anna now. Their own guy is on his yatra.

Times Now jumps in (or up) at the opportunity to convert corruption into communalism. Or at least make them walk in tandem. So, if Prashant Bhushan is essentially the guy who should be talking about the Jan Lokpal Bill, where does Kashmir azaadi fit in? For TRPs, it works. You manage to send careless whispers to some small Hindutva group like the Sri Ram Sene, the same ones that were gifted pink panties by ‘liberals’ on Valentine’s Day because they said it was against our culture. Waste of panties, but never mind.

So, what was all this about? Sheer timing. Mr. Bhushan was being interviewed by a channel that has supported the anti-corruption jamborees, but is not known to be supportive of Kashmir in any form. The tactic is to draw attention to the ‘azaadi’ aspect. It does not matter that it is one person’s views, a person who has nothing to do with Kashmir.

It polarises rather shrewdly by saying, look, we are calling these guys goons and discussing freedom of expression…would they do the same in Kashmir, take those stone pelters to task, those terrorists, those jihadis?

We have seen the main anchor here quake before Balasaheb Thackeray, so we know where they are coming from.

Bhushan has said, post the fisticuffs:

"This is an organisation which needs to be socially boycotted and perhaps banned by the government. Such an organisation has no right to exist legally. Sriram Sene is known for its goondaism and unprovoked assault on unarmed people. This is their trademark which they had showed in Bangalore when they beat up many boys and girls outside some restaurants and pubs. They have been known to beat up girls who wear skirts.”

Bingo! Where goes freedom of expression? This sort of thing happens in parts of Kashmir too by fringe elements. Is Prashant Bhushan going round in circles or is he getting trapped in one? Is someone pushing him unwittingly for a ban in J&K?

"They were shouting something about Kashmir but did not bother to discuss anything with me.”

What were they shouting? There are recordings. Or are the Times Now microphones of such bad quality? And why would they discuss anything with him when their purpose is obscure?

There is no way he should have been beaten, no way in which they ought to have managed to get into the chambers and no way others should have watched while it happened. The shameless TV guys should be arrested together with the Sri Ram Sene ones. Will they become witnesses and be able to recount what those guys were shouting against? How will they justify their standing around and not intervening?

“There should be legal proceedings but certainly not violence against the members of the organisation.”

There is physical violence and there is the violence of voyeurism. Bhushan is a victim of it as well as, I am afraid, a predator. If this is comparable to Hitler’s storm troopers, according to him, then Anna’s ‘peaceful’ drama was designed for a similar reaction. It is to incite people without any specific goal.

The Kashmir comment falls into this category. One does not have to reiterate that this is what the Kashmiris have been saying for years. Every part-time activist feels it necessary to whip this out as a trump card and take away from the genuine grievances of the people. The Kashmir issue is becoming top-heavy with every other ‘concerned’ person landing up there to get a slice of the action.

Team Anna should stick to what it is best at. Drink honeyed lime juice served by Dalit and Muslim children.