Taliban and Breivik: Degrees of Madness?

They are not pets that can be domesticated with the clipping of claws and an offering of bone-shaped biscuits. If the British government thinks it can tame the Taliban with an incentive of a $150 monthly stipend, then it is not only fooling itself but also behaving in a characteristically cavalier manner. It has chosen a test group, quite like guinea pigs in a laboratory. There is little difference between the brainwashing that makes them insurgents and this “reintegration” programme that is to ensure the international troops are safe. It is, therefore, not surprising that Nato supports it.

If this is an Afghan process based on the idea of forgiveness, then why are the British forces getting involved? Maj Gen David Hook, the director of the Joint Force Integration Cell in Kabul, said:

“We accepted large numbers of IRA back into our own society because we wanted peace in Northern Ireland and I don’t see it any different in Afghanistan.”

It is. The IRA figured in its immediate environment and was seeking independence from the United Kingdom. Afghanistan is another country and the Taliban was not fighting Britain or the United States. It was not even the Taliban as we understand it now when it was in the long Afghan War with Russia. The West supported it then. There was no talk about getting them to integrate at the time, even though many of them were killed or rendered homeless. As they have been in the past few years.

What “de-indoctrination” are they talking about when foreign troops entered their lands and killed their civilians? There is no doubt that the Taliban fought back, with even greater ferocity. And this is what the outside armies are working on. By discussing amnesty even for the most brutal acts of the Taliban and setting up a corpus of £6.5  million "to deliver peace at the local level”, it will make the families of the soldiers who were killed feel a part of this benign nationalism and also divert attention from the brutalities committed by the troops.

In a smart move, those who opt to join the programme will fill out a questionnaire explaining their reason for joining the insurgency. Many of them are young, so the idea that this is about settling land disputes does not count. It is rightly surmised that those who have signed up may not be real insurgents.

There is also a rather superficial attitude towards the deal, as Maj Gen Hook believes:

“General John Allen (the American commander of the ISAF) talks about three natural ways of leaving the Taliban – killed, captured or reintegrated. The prospect of death is a great motivating force. The insurgents are feeling the pinch after a very effective summer of fighting by Nato. The insurgents know that if they continue fighting they will be killed.”

The Taliban live under the shadow of death. Their terrain is such that they have little choice. Besides, the tribal laws that they have been brought up with would not permit capture. They kill or get killed. They often leave instructions that their colleagues must shoot at them before the enemy does. They do not strategise sitting in pretty offices with video conferencing facilities. The community leaders in Afghanistan are the best people to decide how to integrate them, if at all they are ‘dis-integrated’.

Since the foreign troops are planning to leave, what is the purpose of intruding and wanting the Taliban to return with “dignity and honour”? The Pashtuns are a proud people, and even when they fight amongst themselves, they follow a strict code. Their friendships, and their enmities, are extreme.

Filling questionnaires will not change that.

Just as it took a mere 36 hours with psychiatrists to declare that Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was insane when he killed 77 people when he went on a rampage in Norway.

"A psychiatric evaluation ordered by an Oslo court found that the self-styled anti-Muslim resistance fighter was psychotic during the attacks, which means he’s not mentally fit to be sentenced to prison, prosecutors said."

This conclusion, some reports say, goes against the careful planning that went into his attack that killed 77 people.

I had already anticipated it when I wrote then:

The fact that he is seen to have acted alone puts him in the romanticised category of the lone ranger. He has himself said about how it was all “in the head”. They might just analyse it as mental trauma due to seeing so many immigrants around; maybe he suffered from claustrophobia; perhaps he was just playing some video games and decided to re-enact those scenes in real life. It would be attributed to madness. I would like to know why other sorts of such attacks are not. Because, they are not. They are planned and always have a purpose. There is, therefore, no reason to give him the benefit of doubt and to put him on a psychiatric couch only because he was alone. He has already displayed enough gall to declare that he wants to explain his stand.

The psychiatrists have come up with a fantastical theory that describes him as one “who finds himself in his own delusional universe, where all his thoughts and acts are governed by these delusions”.

Right. So, all those who are indoctrinated can be said to suffer from such delusions – of grandeur, superiority of the race/religion/group they belong to, or of the inferiority of others, or are extremely paranoid. Would xenophobic establishments qualify? Are they legally insane when they attack innocents? Are they mentally unstable when they delude themselves into believing that the devil is just round the corner?

(c) Farzana Versey


Sycophants and Slaps

Now the lawyers and judges are fighting. If judges are sycophants, then lawyers are born to be sycophants. It is their brief, for when they represent a client, they are doing chamchagiri for that client. Even in cases of crime and terrorist acts against the state, the prosecution lawyer is supposed to argue on behalf of his client, whether or not s/he is right.

Upholding of truth is based on facts. Facts are based on evidence. Evidence comes from what the cops, the witnesses, and the intelligence agencies see and say. What they see and say need not be equally true and it can and does change. So, they are all sycophants to such altered perceptions and circumstances.

Lawyers ask for adjournments to stall the evidence, to buy time or because they really need to get some more information, or their client cannot depose. They are legally entitled to do so. This means that the judiciary is a sycophant of the rulebooks. Cases go on. Lawyers change; judges change; even criminals change when dead men they had killed turn up alive one fine day, sometimes after years.

 All this sycophancy talk is because senior advocate Ram Jethmalani said:

“Why do you (judges) adjourn when they (lawyers) ask for it? You also have become sycophants to maintain relations.”

Justice P B Majmudar of the Bombay High Court reacted sharply:

“What sort of nonsense statements are being made from a public platform?...Lawyers are making public statements which affect the image of the judiciary. Senior advocates are tarnishing the image of judges by saying such things in public. It affects the public profile of the whole institution. There should be some restraint (on lawyers making statements). From new entrants in the profession to advocates on the verge of retirement, everyone is indulging in it.”

I undersand protocol, but just a flip-side query: If the judge asks the lawyer to quicken the pace, despite the seriousness of the case, and the lawyer acquiesces, then would s/he be sycophants of the judge?

 - - - 

Okay, I missed the tamasha over the tamacha (slap). Every angle has been analysed, I assume. I have read a few, very few. So, here is a small snippet from a report:

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was today slapped by a man at the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) centre in New Delhi. The incident occurred while the minister was leaving the premises after attending a literary function.  
The attacker, identified as Harvinder Singh, reportedly blamed Mr Pawar for rising prices of essential commodities. “This is my answer to corrupt politicians,” shouted the attacker as he took out his kirpan (small knife) and threatened to kill politicians. 

When informed about this, Anna Hazare said, “What, only one slap?”

Then the NCP guys went on a rampage to protest – the slap, Anna’s comment and generally because they wanted some action.

So, here are my completely superficial thoughts: 

1. Why do municipal corporations host literary functions and invite agriculture ministers?

2. Aren’t we up to our necks with this corruption thing? Some commentators spoke about ‘disaffection’ of the public. In that case it has nothing to do with corruption. Other politicians have got the shoe treatment; if such disaffection is going to be so pat, then assassinations can also be explained away.

3. Then there are those who think the slap was undignified. Whoa. Slippers are thrown inside Parliament too. What Harvinder Singh did is the equivalent of heckling at rock concerts – everyone wants paisa vasool stuff. If Sharad Pawar sent them sacks of sugar from his fiefdom, they’d be quite happy.

4. Then there are those who think he was so cool in forgiving (he did not, his daughter did) while his goons went about breaking things. This is not cool. This is political smarts. He would have been cool had he stopped the rampage. Mr. Pawar is in no position to be magnanimous given who he is known to be cosy with.

5. Then there are those who say Anna Hazare should not have said what he did, it is not Gandhian. This is funny. Gandhi was around sitting with his charkha, weaving khadi, when all those violent episodes took place and his supporters got the bad end of the stick, quite literally.

Anyhow, Anna and Pawar are two sides of the same bad coin. They are raking it in from the rural/agriculture sector in terms of cash or kind, but appealing to the urban groups, well aware that this is how they can get that spit and polish.

- - -

End note: The turncoat moment in 26/11 anniversary two-bits when celebrity page 3 regulars who had been right up there in colour-coordinated scarves and tunics pushing the ‘enough is enough’ agenda diss “celebrities” and think about the ‘others’, and pat themselves for having refused to appear on TV shows this year. Wow, missed ya babes. What were they doing barfing at the sensitive time when it mattered most? Or is three years later not good enough to get them international mileage?


Killing the news or the messenger?

Is it about a story? A journalist gets arrested for being involved in the murder of another journalist. Such real facilitation of killings is not commonplace, or at least not known.

But, then, news needs to be fresh and to update it anything goes. Even another story.

When senior crime reporter J. Dey was murdered by the underworld gang, there were several theories. Few probably thought that someone from the same profession, in this case Jigna Vora, would play such a crucial role. The latest report says:

Crime branch officers told special judge SM Modak they suspect that Vora had sent information on Dey to gangster Chhota Rajan, the main accused in the case. MCOCA carries a minimum punishment of five years in jail or a maximum of death sentence. If the MCOCA charge against Vora were to be dropped, she would still face charges of murder and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code that can attract the death sentence, another officer said. 
Vora is accused of sending pictures of Dey’s motorcycle, details of his whereabouts, his office and home addresses to Rajan.

Soon after the murder, I had given the example of a reporter acquintance getting into trouble and written in Who kills investigative reporters?:

Sources. That's the tricky word. The sources don't drop from the sky or just saunter in. They need to be cultivated. The beat is not kind, nor the hunt for scoops equal. 
The underworld is a vile world but not too different from extremist groups - separatist or political establishment. My piece on Pakistani journalist Shahzad's murder tried to explore some factors.
I would also ask one contrarian question: If giving information amounts to actual murder, then must not police informants also be seen as encounter killers?

Regarding the Dey case, one truly wonders what happens to the ethics that the media constantly talks about. Before they sit to once again judge, let them re-examine the incidents where other sorts of sniping are par for the course – passing on rival or wrong information; planting sources to check out the sources; making threatening calls; posing as imposters. Of course, this does happen, and all for the spoils of the big story that will be stale after a day.

I -Witnesses of the Mumbai Attacks: Robin Hoods of Victimhood

Robin Hoods of Victimhood
I -Witnesses of the Mumbai Attacks
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, November 25-27

"The spectators laughed. And my lawyer, rolling up one of his sleeves, said with finality, 'Here we have a perfect reflection of this entire trial: everything is true and nothing is true!'"

-- Albert Camus,  from ‘The Outsider’ 

Just suppose 26/11 had not happened. Unthinkable. Even as nightmare, it is an addendum of India, the footnote we seek to become a part of history in the making. Such history seeks no veracity, but has a voracious appetite for stories where good conquers evil and no one knows either quite well. It can subsist on lies for “everything is true and nothing is true”. Perceptions overpower falsehoods.

From casual tourists to world leaders, the 26/11 route is part of the itinerary. Voluntary agencies have not been prominently involved. The work has been taken over by diverse citizens’ groups. Hubris meets hype.

Does it matter that recent reports have mentioned that certain western countries, most prominently Denmark, have plans to pump in funds to create discord? That the government is probing into the finances of ten NGOs that have received millions of rupees “to stage protests and resort to other agitational programmes against government policies, thus creating unrest”? Is this not cause for alarm, especially given the fact that David Headley, it transpires, could well have been a double agent working for the United States as well as Pakistan?

It is no surprise that those who came out in the streets on November 26, 2008 are the same ones who are part of the people’s movement against corruption. Today’s insider guilt by association is a reflection of the guilt by dissociation from then.

“Life does not proceed by the association and addition of elements, but by dissociation and division.”

-- Henri Bergson

One of the reconstructed hotels has a red grand piano in its lobby. It looks like an installation made up of all the blood. A 13-year-old girl who has an iron rod fixed in her leg says she will kill all such terrorists. Remembrance pretends to be the great leveler closing the divide between disparate groups; fake egalitarianism walks a tightrope as pursed lips and hanky-covered noses touch the hearts of the little people.

Cracked glass of the windows has been secured between two rectangles of fortified glass. It is now less reminder and more attraction, seen through the golden haze of beer mugs at Café Leopold. Three years after the attacks, everyone remains a witness to the persecution. I saw, I heard, I touched, I felt, I know – the politics of eyewitness accounts is as fragile as those shards, memories engraved in renovated carvings. It is a personal ‘I’ witness monogrammed monologue.

They await the larger-than-life four-foot clay and bronze bust of the cop who was killed. Sub-inspector Tukaram Omble spotted Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the gang that carried out the attacks, playing dead in a car and confronted him only to take the bullets. His colleagues captured Kasab. In 2008, Omble was a sidelined figure who was soon replaced by kitschy toy cops along the sea-face promenade. It was a hollow sense of security, much like inflatable dolls. Sub- inspectors are not particularly important in the Mumbai psyche. As glorified statues, though, they will be garlanded. The other ‘victims’ who suffered through televised images will grant this man the honour he would never have received had he helped riot victims or doused fires in slums. It is their magnanimity superimposed on his martyrdom.

The superimposition is part of a larger projectile where two power centres play out their games. It is the moneyed class versus the establishment. “What about our security?” they ask. It is a perfectly-timed question. The rich taxpayers think they need to be protected; only they can beckon the government functionaries who we are supposed to see as public servants. They forget that they have elected the convenient candidates, the ones who will be good for business. That is what Kasab, too, was apparently told by his minders when he left his village in Faridkot to join the Lashkar-e-Taiyba: India is rich, they have goodies; you are poor, the son of a fellow who sells street food. If you want a better life, then destroy the best that India has to offer.

Mumbai has been killed often, but no one wants to go there, as I mentioned in my piece written then. So, why is there no closure in this case? We have the man in prison with the verdict of a death sentence. “Hang him!” is the cry of the herd. This is merely collective catharsis; no one cares. Not even Pakistan. This will end the matter, but just as the United States has to look for new wolves after they ‘got’ Osama, India has to keep this issue alive. There are tactical reasons.

Kashmir is a stale tale, and it is a porous border; the army is on the job. The conflict with Pakistan is like a long--playing record, with both sides getting royalties from the tremendous sales. Gujarat is too much of an internal saga. Ever since the innocence of Muslims who have been arrested for bomb blasts became news and it was not merely the ideology of the rightwing parties that could be blamed, but the failure of the intelligence agencies, it has become increasingly difficult to make the outside hand seem like a palpable reality. Mumbai, a city of immigrants, serves as a perfect example. Mumbai can mimic New York, it can have as many Ground Zeros as it wants. What it lacks in land, it makes up for in imaginary space.

“By means of microscopic observation and astronomical projection the lotus flower can become the foundation for an entire theory of the universe and an agent whereby we may perceive Truth.”

-- Yukio Mishima

A self-serving society basks in the evanescence of self-destructiveness. Terror is archived, each file suffixed with the word.

Pakistan has given India a reason to live a Goth monstrosity as much as it gave us death. Why did Pakistan that lost all its three wars against India manage to keep a people hostage in their home territory? The vampire has been encrusted as icicles in cold consciences. Ajmal Kasab goes against the prototype terrorist we expect, and that is what fills the vacuum of paranoia. The city that did not sleep is now awake to every drumbeat. The sounds ricochet like bullets. We can now say, look, this guy could have been anyone, so everyone is suspect. This makes us all feel threatened.

No self-respecting society would wish to engage in friendly banter with an enemy that has caused it so much grief. Why does India persist in the dialogues, the trade initiatives, the exchange of cultural ambassadors, who incidentally follow a strict pecking order with only the big names involved, the dissenting patriots, the stooges of recusancy?

The peace motive is suspect. In fact, it is ‘insider trading’ where here too the corporate sector is involved. The man on death row is not just a number, but also a figure: Rs. 50 crore spent thus far to keep him alive. He is our ticket to barter minted myth. The anger that had manifested itself with such calculated fervour was mythical too. The only hammer to come out is during art auctions. Painted landscapes of a blood-soaked yesterday. Such memories are just strawberry daiquiris.

(c) Farzana Versey


Tata’s Serious About Cyrus

It’s a girl…oops, I mean, it’s a Parsi! After the hoopla over a Bollywood star giving birth to a baby, the front pages reverberated with the earth-shaking – or is it game-changing? – news that Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, has finally found a successor. Cyrus Mistry, besides being humble, intelligent, young, mature, family man, foodie, car-lover, who plays golf, is also bloody rich. He is the son of construction magnate Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry, and already owns an 18.4 per cent share in the company he will now head.

He says he will dissociate himself from the family business to prevent a clash of interests. Socialites who love to throw their danedelion words around are applauding the brave move that does away with dynasty. Idiocy! Cyrus inherited his papa’s business; he is inheriting the chaimanship because besides being humble, intelligent…you get the drift…he also holds the largest outsider stake in the Tata pie.

And while it is sad that he may not have enough time for golf (I am not saying this; it has been quoted), he will still be the good boy who made it better. His being a Parsi is also a sort of dynastic thing considering the dwindling population. I say this because Ratan Tata had mentioned last year that his successor need not be from the community. Not just that, he also said, “In my opinion the successor should be a suitable person for the job. He need not be a pro-Parsi or anti-Parsi.”

Well, from the looks of it, Cyrus will have to walk the razor’s edge. But then, according to an insider, “Mistry is one person who can laugh at himself.” Great. I was kind of worried for this Irish citizen who will have to deal with such Indian things.

- - -
For my take on his earlier Parsi comment, here is Tata, goodbye

Converted Kashmiris and Secularists

All Saints Church, Srinagar

Reverend Chander Mani Khanna of All Saints’ Church in Srinagar was arrested following protests in the city against trying to convert a few Kashmiris. While he should be fully represented in court, it is a bit hasty to use this episode to flash liberal credentials just yet. The people have protested for various ills committed by the Establishment. At such times, we are ready to give these same protestors the benefit of doubt. So, where is the need to score secular brownie points now?

How many Christians are there in Jammu and Kashmir? How many Kashmiri pandits or Sikhs have been converted to Islam? Had there been such conversions, there would have been the standard outcry against Islamisation. There is brainwashing of people in the state by other groups as well. It would not be unusual for some missionaries to use this opportunity; it has been done in other parts of the country and there have been protests, and people have even been killed for it.

Rev Khanna had stated:

“The Kashmiri youths were coming to the Church since past one year. They wanted to participate in the Holy Communion like rest of the Christians. I explained they are not allowed to do without undergoing water baptism. They insisted me to baptise them. I am a priest and I cannot deny them this right. Someone later recorded the baptism ritual through a mobile and published it on the YouTube. This was done with a provocative intention to create religious violence.”

If such conversions happen willingly and the pastor has been with the church for seven years, then in a state that is already riddled with violence why would there be a need for such provocation? Had these people been planted? Why did it take them one year to participate in the Holy Communion?

The head of the Amritsar Diocese, Bishop PK Samantaroy, said:

“The law and order situation can change any time in the Valley. The Sharia Court has no locus standi practically, but they are the ones who rule. We have to be very careful. The issue has also put at risk the lives of other local Christians in the state.”

This is an alarmist comment. What other verdicts have been pronounced by these courts? Why make it seem as though they are mandated by the State government or even many separatist outfits? They are not. So, why did the bishop appear before Mufti Mohammed Bashiruddin of the Sharia court that has no locus standi? Why did he and the church authorities not approach the government before things got out of hand? Is the government acting at the behest of the Mufti or to circumvent the situation?

Javed Anand, in his Indian Express piece that begins with the sentence “Eating your cake and having it too may be a tempting thought,” asks, “What’s Islamic law and a sharia court doing in a secular democratic polity?”

Let us jog Mr. Anand’s memory. He was an agreeable party to a fatwa, even if it was ‘secular’, that made a huge song and dance about fighting terrorism. Here is the snapshot:

“Mehmood Asad Madni, the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind’s general secretary and prime mover behind the ongoing nationwide campaign against terrorism thought it fit to engage with Javed Anand general secretary MSD (Muslims for Secular Democracy) and his friend and communications expert Alyque Padamsee in strategizing for the May 31 rally of the Jamiat in New Delhi. The New Delhi-based Maulana Madni made three trips to Mumbai in early May where, together with Alyque Padamsee and Javed Anand, the key elements of the proposed rally were finalized: an unambiguous Fatwa from Deoband, an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to be taken at the rally, the only two slogans to be used on all placards and banners, design of the stage backdrop, the key points of Maulana Madni’s own speech.”

Why was a religious body involved in what is a law-and-order and social issue? Since it came from an organisation, Mr. Anand was quoted as saying, “In the theological universe, it is the equivalent of a verdict of a full constitutional bench of a Supreme Court.”

So, why was this theological world involved then and why can it not be involved now? Only because it suits a certain kind of limited secular perspective in a state that is not viewed as ‘cosmopolitan’?

Since J&K does not have a law against conversions, Rev. Khanna has been charged under different sections. From Mr. Anand’s column:

“Section 153A pertains to ‘promoting enmity between different groups... and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.’ Section 295A has to do with ‘deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Why should conversion of a few Muslims to Christianity be deemed a malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings? Why should it be tantamount to promoting enmity between different groups? These might be questions for you and me. But Omar Abdullah and his police may well be wondering whether the FIR and the arrest are enough to douse the flames.”
Protesting more than conversions

In a tinderbox environment, everything hurts religious sentiments. If we are concerned about secularism then he should be happy that instead of the mullahs, the state has acted. Having said this, it becomes imperative for the government to ensure that due legal process is followed. The Kashmir Bar Association has refused to represent the pastor, but there are lawyers from outside who are willing to do so. Omar Abdulla should step in and see to it that the State he heads does not fall prey to other sorts of outside elements.

Besides the screeching mullahs and the angry Christians, there are also the liberals who will use Islam when it suits them. It is unfortunate that Javed Anand has quoted some anonymous punks from websites to justify his theory: 

“The responses to the video clip have apparently been venomous. ‘We promise to kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, schools and churches!’ pronounces one commenter, while another proclaims, ‘we should burn this priest to death!’ Echoes of Pakistan’s obnoxious blasphemy laws?”

This is so mischievous. Does he know that our very own Vishwa Hindu Parishad has jumped in to protest the killing of three Hindus in the Sindh province of Pakistan? Here is what VHP president Ramakant Dubey said: 

“We demand protection of minority Hindus in Pakistan where they have been subjected to repeated attacks. Human rights organisations across the world and the Indian government should seek an explanation from the Pakistan premier about the repeated killings, massacres and conversions of minority Hindus.”

A rightwing Hindu organisation in India can interfere not only in Pakistan’s internal matter – however despicable the crime – but also applaud the US for raising the issue. If anyone from Pakistan even mentions the plight of Indian Muslims, the whole community is branded jihadi or accused of owing allegiance across the border.

It is, therefore, a dangerous argument that what people are saying on social networking sites works as law, whereas when a legitimate law is used it is questioned. This is double standard, too. One does not expect the Ummah to stay quiet, just as the Christian organisations are planning their own counter-protests. Incidentally, the ummah is not a universal body that can work on remote. Jammu and Kashmir does not have any blasphemy laws. If anything, more Muslims are arrested and killed in prisons there.

The sophistry of quoting nice little verses from the Quran does not work in a democratic polity, does it? Besides, it does not alter the soft belligerence of vocational secularists.

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -

Here is the video: 


Your turkey’s a Muslim

You’ve got the bird home, dressed it in its best Thanksgiving suit, and placed it in the warmth of the oven or the stove, the heat causing the flesh to melt softly inside and the juices to spill out and settle over its body. You will bring it out for the family dinner – an event so positive, so traditional. The turkey is only one of the many rituals.

You have been to the butcher’s often or to the food store. You checked the meat for health and bite. You are a carnivore and relish the tartness of plump flesh in your mouth, the chewiness of the white insides. Turkeys – or other birds and animals – do not have a religion. There are, of course, ways in which some faiths choose to kill. That is how everyone did at one time. But the times, they are a-changing, and what’s on your plate could decide how devout you are.

That is what American Thinker’s Pamela Geller asks rather ominously:

“Did you know that the turkey you're going to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day this Thursday is probably halal? If it's a Butterball turkey, then it certainly is -- whether you like it or not.”

There is challenge in this, as though you are a poor little thing forced to put up with it. She believes “that much of the meat in Europe and the United States is being processed as halal without the knowledge of the non-Muslim consumers who buy it”.

Under the pretext of the awful slaughter methods – she has nothing to say about fox-hunting and open barbeques that are pretty common in the west, or even the choice of steaks rare – she is driving home the point that this is an Islamic plot. Yes, in the heart of America and the western nations, where turkey is consumed more than in any Muslim country, these Muslims are managing a major coup by not labelling the meat separately as halal and non-halal. Do they own all the meat companies?

She managed to verify just one such manufacturer. Wendy Howze, a Butterball Consumer Response Representative, said: "Our whole turkeys are certified halal.”

Butterball is in trouble, because Ms. Geller is starting a campaign in the US:

“Across this great country, on Thanksgiving tables nationwide, infidel Americans are unwittingly going to be serving halal turkeys to their families this Thursday. Turkeys that are halal certified -- who wants that, especially on a day on which we are giving thanks to G-d for our freedom? I wouldn't knowingly buy a halal turkey -- would you? Halal turkey, slaughtered according to the rules of Islamic law, is just the opposite of what Thanksgiving represents: freedom and inclusiveness, neither of which are allowed for under that same Islamic law.”

I understand her pain, and more so of the turkey. But she is the antithesis of the “freedom and inclusiveness” she is talking about. She is emphasising the differences. American butchers are not all Muslim, and they do not run the industry anyway. This halal stuff gets to be tiring, whether it is those who want it and those who don’t. Especially if the motives are religious.

America is not a religious state, although Abraham Lincoln did use faith to explain Thanksgiving:

"…announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord… But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own… It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people…"

If the 16th President of the United States declared it a national holiday, it was for all citizens. This can be seen beyond faith as it was thanking for a good harvest initially. It can be a gesture of deep gratitude for so many things in life.

Geller is exaggerating and making an issue where there is none. If people like her are so concerned, they can just go chase a bird and put it to sleep in the gentlest manner possible. Or, better still, get a soya turkey.

- - -

"Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings."

- J. Robert Moskin


Ishrat Jahan's 'Last Right'? Or Just Another Encounter Case?

Six years later, Ishrat Jahan’s dead body knows how she was killed.

Yet another encounter by the Gujarat police has been termed as a murder in cold blood. The three-member Gujarat High Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) probing the Ishrat Jahan case of 2004 has unanimously concluded that the Mumbai college girl and her three aides were murdered by Gujarat officers who later staged a fake encounter. 
This could spell trouble not only for the Gujarat police officers, but also for the central intelligence agencies as they are believed to have faked inputs that led to the encounter and open Narendra Modi’s government to the charge of shielding the officers involved.

“Three senior IPS officers, nominated by the Centre, refused to head the Ishrat SIT,” said advocate Mukul Sinha who is representing the family of one of the victims. “This is clearly to save the skin of senior central IB officials involved in the case.”

One would have thought that the conclusive pronouncement on the case would have been a sort of wake-up call. Instead, my mailbox had a note from my rightwing party contact who mentioned it in passing. The real issue was this:

I had Googled "Amit Shah and CBI" around 11am on Nov 22. There is practically zero coverage of the strong indictment of CBI by the Supreme Court. But you will see a lot of the earlier articles when Amit Shah was arrested. This is what is called a secular coverage by the media of events in Gujarat. And those who damn Narendra Modi always talk about his supposed image. 
Incidentally, the SIT findings that the killing of Ishrat Jehan, along with three others (two of whom were of Pakistan origin), was termed as a problem for Narendra Modi. But the Supreme Court remarks on the false charges of CBI against Amit Shah are not termed as a problem for the Congress led Union government.

It was 12 pm when I read the email. I did my own search and sent a cached copy of the page that had several references with this note:

An hour after you googled, I did so....and copied below is just a portion that showed up! The reports are all four days old. I do know that the media is selective in reportage - from both sides. Just thought I'd share what I saw. Even if your search has prompted this change of heart on the part of Google, it still does not take away from the coverage.

Why must a crime not be seen for what it is? Why do we need to play politics when politicians are already doing so? Amit Shah will get justice sooner than one expects.

What about Ishrat? I will reproduce yet again what I had written earlier this year because we suffer from amnesia and the characters seem to have changed:

- - -

It is the law that is now returning with an old unresolved case.

Giving a new twist to the Ishrat Jahan case, Satish Verma, a member of the Special Investigation Team claimed before the Gujarat High Court that the 2004 killings could have taken place in a fake encounter. 
Verma, a senior IPS officer, who is part of the three-member probe team set up by the high court last year, also said that a second FIR with regard to the encounter needs to be filed. “The illustrative evidence brings out well founded allegation of a fake encounter. This is different from the version contained in the FIR.”

This is what happens when cases drag on. While some of us laypersons have gone through several reports and it was obvious there is no room for any idea other than a fake encounter, given the available evidence, all we end up with is another ‘twist’.

These were my views over two years ago about what the inquiry had revealed:

Ishrat Jahan, the 19-year-old student of Mumbai’s Khalsa College, and the three others who were proclaimed Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives on a fidayeen mission to kill chief minister Narendra Modi, were killed one day before they were actually shown as killed in a police encounter.

On June 14, 2004, the then police commissioner and two senior officials and their boys dubbed these people LeT operatives only to get promoted and to cosy up to Narendra Modi. The others were two 'Pakistanis', not confirmed by anyone, and one Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Shaikh. Ishrat was last because she had witnessed the murder of the others. Pranesh was her boyfriend. She was dragged in front of the car and shot from close range. The report stated:

The police then put her college identity card around her neck and her purse was placed in the boot of the car, which was “uncanny’’. It also declares that Johar and Rana were Indians. The policemen had also dragged Amjad’s body to the road divider alongside the car and placed a 9 mm gun in his hand—to show that he had been killed in action.

The magisterial inquiry, based on scientific evidence that relied on the digestive food remains in the stomach and the state of the four bodies, concludes that all the bodies at the site had rigor mortis showing they were killed several hours earlier.

Should we merely let the issue die at the level of ‘wanted promotions’? There were other encounter killings at the time. Modi himself transferred senior officers to save them. There is obviously the communal angle, and incidentally Pillai’s father has maintained that his son and the others had been framed.

A few other questions need to be asked:

Why were these findings not available earlier when the families have been crying foul from the very start? Given that none of them had any criminal record, the judicial system is supposed to take some action soon.

Cut to February 2011. Will the cops do anything about Verma's revelations – the fact that the weapons do not match, that the intelligence input is not on record, that the deceased was being chased, that the vehicle was not stopped?

Verma told the High Court that “there are two possibilities in the case; one is that four people (who got) killed in the encounter had come to kill Gujarat Chief Minister (Narendra Modi), and the other is that they were killed in cold blood by the police…There is a possibility of the second one (having taken place) irrespective of the first one.”

This is a dangerous comment for it assumes that Ishrat and her colleagues were terrorists. If that is the case, then the police can use their murders as a defence tactic. There is no law that you cannot kill a criminal in cold blood if s/he is seen as a real threat with a plan to get rid of the chief minister. The job of the SIT is to investigate the encounter deaths and prove if there was any motive on the part of the persons killed. Why bring in possibilities here?

Another point Verma makes:

“There can be either controlled investigation or dynamic progressive investigation...investigation cannot be controlled from Delhi...at every point you cannot get prior approvals, as it defeats the purpose of investigation.”

True. But is it possible for the investigative team to operate independently when they are in the lion’s den? How many witnesses will co-operate? Will their phones not be tapped by the state government? Instead of innuendo, perhaps they might like to specify how Delhi is interfering. Here we are dealing with politics at cross-purposes, with the UPA at the Centre and BJP in Gujarat.

The fact that there is some dissonance within the SIT made the court state:

“Decisions should be taken after discussion with all the members. If any member of SIT expresses dissenting views, it would be open for the SIT chief to proceed in accordance with law.”

The SIT is to submit a progress report every two months.

So, it is back to school, to where it all started, the painful process of what law and according to which Section and the possible loopholes.

- - -

Today, November 22, 2011, as I write this we are told that there will still be questions. I do not doubt it. Her mother should go slow on those celebratory ladoos. We are dealing with the Establishment that has always tampered with truth.

Here’s my first other take on Ishrat as the pretty dead.

Born to live-in?

Gujarat has paved the way for legitimate live-in relationships. You don’t have to be in love, but if you are looking for a mate in your later years the Vina Mulya Amulya Seva (VMAS) has the option for you. On Sunday, they organised a “Senior Citizen Live-in Relationship Sammelan”. 300 men and 70 women attended. Seven couples found what they were looking for and will go on a few dates before they start living together. No wedding ceremony, no legal papers.

“I have all the luxuries in life, but I wanted somebody to share my feelings with and find an emotional connect,” said one of the lucky men whose partner’s needs are simple: to be with “someone whom I can enjoy life with, go shopping and watch movies”. Another 60-year-old male participant said, “At my age, sex is not a consideration. What I need is company, a person with whom I can live with for the rest of my life.”

Why are they not choosing the legal route, then? I also do not like the desexualising aspect. It is a sham. People can enjoy sex for longer and, in fact, this should be kept in mind. Is this just another avenue for people looking for an outlet? A report states:

The organisers would be monitoring the relationship status of the couples in future, and if required, would also make the men make a security deposit to ensure that the women do not get exploited.

Once the woman and man start living under one roof, the role-playing will start. The men will be at an advantage because they may need someone to care for them. The woman can be exploited to look after the house and the grandchildren, if any are living with them. Moreover, chances of him walking away are greater. At this age, how will the woman cope? There is nothing to bind them together. I also do not like the sound of a “security deposit” as though the woman is some object that has to be kept in a vault. Will the organisation arrange for a ‘replacement’ just in case one relationship does not work out?

I understand the loneliness, and how difficult it is to find someone to share so many of life’s pleasures with. This is possibly a good avenue, but I am a bit concerned about the consequences.

Is this radical? I am not too sure. Besides their immediate families, how will their neighbours, friends, relatives react? Will they be seen as spouses or will they be sneered at? How will they explain their status to the young kids in the family? When people of a certain age in our society fall in love and decide to live together there are question marks. Even today, in urban areas among the elite too, the non-marital status is emphasised.

And, indeed, I am curious to know how this sort of gathering did not rile the culture custodians that rough up young people for cuddling up and celebrating Valentines Day, and tears movie posters because ‘it goes against our culture’ and is a westernised import? Why are they behaving as though we are born to live-in? The reason is simple. They delude themselves, quite deliberately, that the people are too old to do anything and the patriarchy is so strong that they believe the poor man will need someone to look after him in his dotage without having to leave anything behind.

- - -


Talking about the ‘no sex’ angle, a 95-year-old man is getting tired of his one-year-old son. The bloke is impeding his fun. Ramjeet Raghav of Haryana who became the world’s oldest father last year, said:

"I used to be able to go on through the night, sometimes two to three times a night, and if I got the chance during the day then I would. But now we have our son it's not always possible. We're so tired all the time and there isn't the opportunity.”

But not one to give up and amazingly for a villager quite concerned about his 59-year-old wife Shakuntala’s enjoyment too, he saves up money to pop the V pill.

“I now take a capsule a few times a month so I can go the whole night again. “I'm up, down, up, down, through the night. I don't stop. It makes me feel like our wedding night again. She loves it.”
They don't want any more kids. No beating round the bush here. Straight and simple. I wonder if they have time to do the movies, though. And they sure as hell are emotionally connected if they like the same things. 


Unravelling Travelling

V.S.Naipaul has not had dinner. At least, not with you. You are among the people he meets to concretise his ideas about the place he is writing about. You are raw material, and he cannot possibly sit with both a cooked meal and raw meat. At the literal level, yes. But I find some of his recent thoughts on travel writing curious and, therefore, interesting to explore:

“I think it is best to go with an open mind and then allow the place and the people to cast their impression on you. You never get to know a place by staying in a hotel and meeting people for dinner. You need something more, a little more cement to turn it into a book.”

An open mind does not close if you sit and eat with someone. I shall ignore the fact that quite a few people had problems with his using them on his India travels; they drove him around and he misinterpreted what they said and what they observed. The reason I shall ignore it, although they are well-respected in their fields, is that the more important question here is his belief that a writer is shackled by circumstance.

A writer is more likely to be shackled by the need to go with an open mind. It conveys a pre-meditated thought. It is like going into the wild as an adventure, soaking in the sights and sounds, but keeping a lookout for the pug marks on the dirt roads or the stomp of the one-horned rhino. There are expectations. How do we have expectations? We are armed with some knowledge. It would probably get disproved during the course of the journey, but the template is already there.

He was right in implying that one should not read up about a place before going there. However, all his travelogues have been about something specific – the discoveries follow a pattern. Societies may follow certain standard mores and one can trace their cultural moorings, but what happens to the surprise that does not fall on your head but wraps itself round you like a gentle breeze? Do you recognise it at all or let it pass because it does not fit into your body, your material?

We are exposed to different perspectives well before we may know a place. Can I claim that I did not know anything about Pakistan before visiting it when it comes out of our ears and we are assaulted with images everyday? Even a casual tourist cannot plead ignorance, especially when the mainstream media has made battlefields sexy too.

I also believe that the slumming travel writer business is over-rated, and one is not quite sure about the veracity of such claims. Unless you plan to write about a niche aspect, the idea of living ‘among real people’ is a bit studied. You are already predisposed towards them as ‘real’ as opposed to what you imagine would be unreal, given their situation. To soak in the atmosphere, you do not have to live there. If that were the case, then Danny Boyle and many Indian art-house film-makers and writers would not be the ones making films and writing books; such works would come from the slumdwellers.

A travelogue – and I use the word as a placeholder for travel into rather than to a place – is essentially a subjective perspective, like any other writing. A place, like people, grows on you and takes time to understand and trust and for you to be reciprocated with such sentiments. Or, you can get a gut sense within a few seconds, as in a glance across the table or a quesy feeling that creeps you out. It does not matter whether you are sitting in a cycle rickshaw or stepping into the granite lobby of a hotel. Oh, there is much to write about hotels – they often set the tone (and here is one such reminiscence).

My experiences in the room in Peshawar helped capture so much of what I felt then and on hindsight served as an analogy of the decrepit, the fear and the fearlessness that is so much an integral part of the place. Or the time elsewhere when I was given a room that had a connecting door and was told no one was occupying the adjoining room. The first night I heard soft music, like someone humming and playing a string instrument. Too scared to call anyone, I dragged the sofa and pushed it against the door. The music sounded quite sonorous after that! It seemed as though an invisible being was serenading me.

This too is an experience. Naipaul has a strategy, and given the humongous amount of details he adds that do use research and history, this would only be a part of his writing:

“When I meet people and start talking to them, I don't take any notes. It is only after they have finished, that I bring it out and request them to go over all that they have said. This time, I write in a long hand (I have never been able to master the short hand) and I realise, they too take their time to share their thoughts, speaking almost as if in a long hand themselves.”

This might appear as superimposition of thought over thought. You are not catching the impulse and the pulse. Of course, for personality interviews or introspective ideas this is necessary, but not as repetition. Can one ask the beggar to repeat a story? Some of these tales are what you capture along the way. In fact, capturing would be wrong for then they lose their character; you feel them. It is tactile. You can taste those morsels much after they have been digested. Which is what makes the stories of others your own story ultimately.

- - -

“She probes with her curious mind the simplest of gestures and mannerisms and tells herself, more than the reader, of how it is to be an Indian visiting Pakistan” 

This is Jaya Jaitly on my book, A Journey Interrupted. A couple of months ago, I was searching for a link to another review and found a snapshot of her review. Pleasantly surprised. The taste of those old morsels again. Her take is here

Sunday ka Funda

Linus: "I am a giant!"

Lucy: "Giants are thirty feet tall!"

Linus: "I'm a giant among lesser men!"

(From Peanuts comics)


No farting please, we’re Pakistani

A person sitting in Karachi will now be unable to send a text message telling his friend not to be so ‘cocky’ about his entry through the ‘back door’ for a ‘bakwaas’ post. And the woman will have to rein in her articulation about an innocent ‘period’, although she can go ahead with the comma, but dare not tamper with the ‘tampon’.

Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority has decided that certain words cannot be used anymore for SMSes. No, even if your car is crashing because of a certain failure, you cannot type out ‘headlights’.

I find this quite interesting because the letter sent out to the service providers says that there is a law for preventing information that is “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene” or “in the interest of the glory of Islam”.

A person sitting with thumb on the touch-screen or a tiny keypad is hardly thinking about the glory of the faith. And how does calling someone an ‘idiot’ tarnish the shine of Islam? Interestingly, while ‘padosi ki aulaad’ (offspring of the neighbour) is not allowed, you can type kafir (infidel). No problem. And no ‘Jesus Christ’. Duh?

Apparently, much of it is to stop Pakistanis from getting all sexy, so ‘lick me’, ‘do me’ (not even a favour), ‘S&M’ (M&S is okay, Marks and Spencers will be happy), ‘lotion’ (forget the moisturiser), ‘porn’, ‘gay’, ‘homosexual’ are out. You cannot even be held ‘hostage’ anymore or try ‘harder’ and find a ‘hole’ in the wall. Do not even think about a social ‘intercourse’, and you can suffer pain but do not mention ‘athlete’s foot’. And if you have ‘breasts’, then keep them to yourself. Wear a ‘condom’, but just don’t talk about it.

My concern is that many of such words are used in jokes rather than in real interactions. Okay ‘pussy lick’ and ‘fuck you’ and other stuff may be real, but who thinks about ‘monkey crotch’?

And here is this gem: ‘Chipkali ke gaand ke pasine’ (sweat off the 'anus' – another banned word – of a lizard). That is really deep.

So, here’s to my friends in Pakistan: 'Padosi ki aulad', you cannot claim to not have a ‘foreskin’ anymore.

What will happen to the "glory of Islam"?

There's a Kambli in you, too

Teary on camera, 2011

You have heard about cricketer Vinod Kambli crying on a television channel. You have heard the experts. The “I was there…” chant has begun. What is the objection to Kambli’s statement that the 1996 World Cup semi-final match against Sri Lanka was possibly fixed and that is the reason we lost?

Teary on the field, 1996

Here are the arguments by those who know:

  • Why did he wait for 15 years?

We wait for years to discover our heritage and wreak havoc on people in the name of culture. 15 years is not much.

  • Why is he saying that his career was finished when he played 31 one-day matches after that?

Did he reach the form, what was his role in test cricket? Wasn’t he the guy who started with Sachin Tendulkar and showed the same – some even say more – promise?

  • Why is he creating a drama and crying before the cameras?

Kapil Dev cried; Hanse Cronje cried; Dhoni cried; Yuvraj cried – that latter two for sheer joy after the last World Cup victory. Kambli had cried on the field at that time as well. Why did no one say anything about it?

  • How can he say he was made a scapegoat – by whom?

Precisely. The manner in which all those in the team then are now rallying behind Mohammed Azharuddin, who was banned for life for match-fixing, (the ban was removed in 2006) just shows that they knew whose tail they could twist. He quoted the then team manager Ajit Wadekar, and Wadekar is himself now saying that Kambli’s accusations are not true. (Azhar is now screaming about Kambli. Does he know what they have been saying in the studios about him during this discussion? That his word does not count.)

The dressing room has seen a lot of action in the past, so it is not like this cannot happen. If all those experts are saying, oh, it is possible, but he cannot make these claims without evidence, I’d tell them to go run between the wickets. If they can suspect, and say it on national television, then so can Kambli.

It is pretty disgusting to listen to them declare that had the accusation come from someone like Manjrekar or Tendulkar perhaps one would take note. Really? What happens to those ‘waking up after 15 years’ comments? Manjrekar said it may have been a wrong decision but it was an honest one. Now they are all saying that it was a team decision to field. Is there a vote by the team when the coin is tossed on the field?

And where is Sachin Tendulkar? Watching from the wings? No statement from him. Perhaps he is just waiting for that 100th century.

The problem is that Kambli has been the castaway always, and I believe that where regional biases are so strong can someone stand a chance with a high-caste attitude? In the early days an Eknath Solkar (a gardener’s son) could get away with a little pity; in the days of commercialisation someone like Kambli has the stakes heavily against him.

He came from what is referred to as the backward class, lived in a chawl with his parents and six siblings, studied upto matriculation, and became a prodigy on the field. He scored almost 800 runs in his first seven tests. He was clearly on the make. His double century came much before Sachin Tendulkar’s, but the latter is the respectable face of Indian cricket. Kambli was the eternal rebel, seemingly with no roots and therefore no possibility of flowering into anything of consequence.

A lot has been said about the Sachin-Vinod friendship; many have even attributed Kambli’s inclusion in matches due to this factor. It is commendable that they could share such a relationship at all in a cut-throat world. But while Sachin has always been seen as a magnanimous gentleman and a loyal friend, Kambli had to live under this shadow of generosity, even when it dried up. (He made the mistake of mentioning this too on a reality show – the naïve fool.)

He and Javed Miandad (in his time) were like clowns in the circus. They knew that people were there to watch the acrobats and the animals display their skills, while their job was to be funny and flamboyant. This often made them social and professional outcasts. Taking risks had, therefore, become a ‘nothing to lose’ gamble.

Tendulkar stood for stability; we could rely on him and show him off. Kambli was the boy who needed to be given a chance. And he mucked it up by being the bad boy. We could also feel superior for encouraging a wayward person get back on the right track. He was cricket’s own combination of tragedy king and jerk.

The local imperialists as well as the patriots are aghast. When he said, “Main apne desh ke saath kabhi gaddari nahin kar sakta (I cannot ever betray my country),” I can well imagine the shudders going through so many replays. It does not make him a great patriot or the others less so. But it further exposes how this sport’s major contribution these days is not about the nation but the spoils of such wars – it could be in terms of endorsements or making it to the record books.

Why, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri are on the payroll of the governing body of cricket and yet claim to be objective experts during matches. The controversy has been sidelined. After all, they are not drama queens.

Kambli is. It is in his system. That is the way he played his game, the way he talks and the way he makes a scene. Some of it has been no doubt to get attention. But how can anyone ridicule him for appearing on reality TV shows? All these starchy fellows who make up the panels of news studios are also being exhibitionistic. Last night, the anchor of Times Now, Arnab Goswami, got them to stop and watch a portion of the interview with his running commentary: “See, he is crying, he is hurt, emotions are rolling down his cheeks!” Is this not drama when you replay the drama and get your jollies out of it? If this is a non-issue, why is everyone so hot and bothered and grabbing their airtime? And Navjoy Singh Siddhu should keep shut – he has been a judge on a comedy show, and he does not even have to get on one to be a comic.

Yes, Kambli woke up too late. Yes, he wants to be on TV (was he invited or did he solicit it?). So? In 1996, there were not too many avenues for him to open up. If the media is sitting in judgement, or making the most of this situation, then do not blame him. This is what television is about now, and everyone is playing to the gallery.

Vinod Kambli is this Indian psyche, a sort of street urchin playing in the rain and dreaming of making it big, and landing up in the studios even if it means showing the shit.

- - -

Here it is:


Mr. Musharraf, Do You Not Know?

Following the ruckus former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s statements to an Indian television channel have caused, mainly about Dawood Ibrahim, I decided to do a follow-up interview.

FV: Welcome, Mr. Musharraf. How does it feel….

PM: I don’t know.

FV: I have not asked a question yet.

PM: Okay, okay.

FV: How does it feel to be accused of trying to grab the limelight again?

PM: What limelight? You asked me for an interview. Who sent you here?

FV: I don’t know. Uh…mmm….I mean, this is my job. I need to know why you don’t know.

PM: I already said in that interview. How am I to know where Dawood Ibrahim is when I am not in Pakistan? Why does India not know? You have his relatives there, he is also looking for a burial place in Mumbai. Why? Is Pakistan only for hiding? Everyone wants to go to Pakistan and hide and then they get buried somewhere else. Osama was in the sea and that also not in Pakistan but Afghanistan. Karzai got so many points only for that. This was an insult to our fishermen.”

FV: But it was a Pakistani magazine that exposed Dawood’s hideout in Karachi, and there was talk about his white house.”

PM: How can you see a hideout? The Pakistani media is westernised. They cannot understand local sentiments and want to ape the Americans, so they called it white house. So many bungalows are white. They sit in their ivory towers and don’t know what is grassroots.

FV: This reminds me. No one seems to have caught on to your comment about going in a helicopter to look at the refugee camps to get a feel of the ground reality. I thought that was rather amusing.

PM: I like to poke fun at myself. I do not believe in lying.

FV: Lying is not a belief, Mr. Musharraf. But you agree you mixed up the figures and the riots in India, don’t you?

PM: I don’t know.

FV: Well, you did.

PM: I forget the figures in Pakistan too. This is not about numbers, but emotions.

FV: So you said, and I will quote you here, “They think that he (Dawood) did a very good job... Because Indians killed 3,000 Gujaratis. In Gujarat they killed 3,000 Muslims”. There has been a huge noise from the liberal Pakistanis. They say that most of them don’t feel this way.

PM: Did I give any figure? I just said they think. ‘They’ could mean any number. I told you these liberals don’t know the ground reality.

FV: Maybe because they don’t use helicopters?

PM: Even if they did, they would look at the birds.

FV: Dawood is on the list of most wanted terrorists, even though his work is mostly hawala transactions these days.

PM: For the west, this is more important now. Money.

FV: But Pakistan too depends on US aid.

PM: That is to help them. It is an economic strategy, like you say diwaala nikaalna, they can write off loans and show bankruptcy.

FV: Do you think Dawood qualifies as a terrorist?

PM: I don’t know. But since you Indians go on about him, we can give you Javed Miandad instead.

FV: Why did you say that Imran Khan is the best of the lot in politics today?

PM: I don’t know.

FV: Surely you would. Ah yes, you said he was untested and should be given a chance. Is it about him or about you getting another chance?

PM: Do you think I need another chance? I am wiser now…

FV: So you will stay out?

PM: Not at all. I am wiser, which means I will find better ways to get in.

FV: There was a TV debate later and your former spokesperson Major Gen. Rashid Qureshi was holding the flag for you. Is the Pakistani army like Indian democrats where people in exile or waiting in the wings have someone to keep their seat for them?

PM: Not at all. I am curious about what he said, though. Did he say I was chu….. (Mr. Qureshi gained notoriety for using an Urdu cuss word on Pakistan television)

FV: He suggested you were chu…chewing over several options. He did not say it, but it came across.

PM: Good boy.

FV: Right. The Pakistani army seems like an old boys’ club.

PM: Are you suggesting we are sexist?

FV: No. I don’t suppose women would want to actively be a part of it.

PM: You saw what happened to Gaddafi?

FV: But he was a permanent colonel, more titular than anything else.

PM: The same in Pakistan. We skip ranks, because our main role is politics.

FV: Will General Kayani join politics?

PM: I don’t know

FV: Of course, you do.

PM: Let me put it this way. He does not have to. It is very complicated in Pakistan.

FV: Then why do you wish to return?

PM: Because I can solve so many problems. I can call a jirga anyday.

FV: But that is only in the Pakhtun areas.

PM: Today, it is possible anywhere. Just call a few people and take quick decisions.

FV: That is what the Taliban is doing.

PM: Everyone is. Even the media. Imran Khan too had a jalsa…

FV: That is different…there were thousands of people.

PM: All of them do not take decisions.

FV: You keep talking about enlightened moderation. What exactly does it mean?

PM: I don’t know.

FV: Please try.

PM: Do you have any knowledge of gravity?

FV: A bit.

PM: If Newton had seen that the apple remained on the tree and a grape had fallen, then it would be like enlightened moderation. I will give one more example. You have a bright light in the room; if you use a dimmer and make it moderate, what do you get?

FV: Dim light.

PM: No. Moderate light. That is enlightened moderation.

FV: This is enlightening.

PM: It should always be in moderation, otherwise you become an extremist.

FV: How would you describe yourself in this scheme?

PM: I don’t know.

- - -

(c) Farzana Versey

- - -

Obviously, this is a satire. The real interview can be seen here

Benetton's 'Friendly' Lip-service

How can you ‘unhate’? Is it like undress or undo? Benetton is known for its use of stereotypes to display its supposed egalitarian stance. Where money speaks who would anyway care about colour or race? The new campaign has images of people in positions of power, supposedly belonging to different ideologies, getting close and comfortable in a liplock. How does a kiss solve problems?

If we take it literally too, lust does not necessarily overcome hate. It could well result in more hate if it is embedded, for together with that emotion will be the added baggage of guilt: I slept with the enemy. People are also known to wreak vengeance through the sexual route. If we do not wish to get that far, then there is the image of social niceties. A ltitle peck, even on the lips, could be seen as a mere gesture, an acknowledgement of existence and being part of the herd. There is a good deal of it at gatherings, besides the overdose of socialite don’t-mess-my-makeup air-kissing.

The fact that Benetton desisted from using images of the Indian and Pakistani leaders due to cultural sensibilities reveals that it is steeped in these archetypes. There could have been a backlash, but it would not be so much about cultural sensibilities as it would for diplomatic reasons To force-feed friendship for commercial gains is pretty disgusting, especially if you know precious little about how the particular governments wish to deal with each other.

As I said, where money talks, the company need bother about bringing ideologies together. Major American companies have outsourced their technological marvels to China, where the workers are paid a pittance and labour in terrible conditions. So where does free enterprise and Communism clash here? One feeds the other.

The same goes for religious figures. The sheer muscle power of these organisations put them at an advantage. They have millions of people who will follow them for no reason other than that they are seen as emissaries of some god. They have not been able to control any undesirable activities within the fold or even within the hallowed precincts from where they operate. And chances of them being quite willing to put up Benetton’s rainbow-coloured banners to promote peace and sell a few threads are not quite as remote as it might seem. There has been sharp reaction from the Catholic Church and the company has decided to remove the Pope’s image with the Egyptian Imam.

Bringing the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a digital photo-snogg is unlikely to solve the political issue; if anything the images draw attention to the differences.

So, let’s just not play this social consciousness banner game which follows the slapstick prototype rather than anything remotely sensitive to bonhomie. Get the slumboys and girls who work hours to make it happen. No, wait. That too might end up as slcik marketing gimmick. Nothing is left untouched. They’ll dig the muddiest places if there is promise of gold.

Let’s just continue to ‘hate’ without having to dress in ‘unhate’.

- - -
Note: I have used the images because the company cannot titillate and then choose to selectively censor. Besides, the more important issue is not of the photograph but the larger picture of why the need. 

- - -

Update: The Vatican has objected:

Press secretary Father Federico Lombardi said:

"We cannot but express a resolute protest at the entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends. 
"The secretariat of state has authorised its lawyers to initiate actions, in Italy and elsewhere, to prevent the circulation, via the mass media and in other ways, of a photomontage used in a Benetton advertising campaign in which the Holy Father appears in a way considered to be harmful, not only to the dignity of the pope and the Catholic church, but also to the sensibility of believers."

While the al-Azhar mosque did denounce it, the Imam was not quoted.

The company immediately started tearing down the posters. Now, had the objection been raised by the Imam or his emissaries, it would have mmediately been branded as an over-reaction and muzzling of freedom of speech.

- - -

On quite another matter, and a bit on the light side of heavy....

Is Barack's Butting Again?

“I want women to be liberated and still be able to have a nice ass and shake it”

- Shirley MacLaine

But, do we want men to watch? President Barack Obama sure likes to stand behind women. Here he is with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Canberra on November 16:

Two years ago, his hindsight was evident when he looked back at a Brazilian girl under the watchful eyes of Nicholas Sarkozy (not in this picture):

Of course, there was a debate then about the 'lying' pictures. Of course, they can lie. But I am curious why other heads of state, friskier than Obama, have not been so captured.


Dr. Do Little: Rahul Gandhi As Placebo

Like all men in a hurry, Rahul Gandhi is slipping. Had his shoes been worn out, one might have excused it. In his case, he is slipping because he wants to show his feet are on the ground, not despite it.

This is not mythology where the gods can come down to earth, live the life of the common man, and provide a panacea. It is also wrong to assume that he has been pushed into this role. The version about the reluctant conformist is just good marketing strategy where you gain sympathy only because you chucked a few pebbles in the slush. The Congress is so devoid of any alternative that even the Prime Minister says he would be happy if Rahul Gandhi played a more important role. Does Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was himself in some ways anointed rather than appointed for the role, have a choice?

It was said that he was keeping the seat warm for the ‘scion’ – an undemocratic term. As events unfolded, it became a seat too hot. Rahul Gandhi knew that he would one day be the democratic monarch of the Republic of India. He did absolutely nothing to stem the rot he accuses non-Congress states of. Rather unfortunately, he is behaving like the destined to rule “yuvraj”, when his contribution to the Indian political scene has been essentially about the discovery of India. He walked through the villages, he took a local train, he sat on the floor, he ate here and slept there. This is what a politician is supposed to do. It is not a favour he is granting – it is not the equivalent of throwing coins at the junta in a durbar, even though it works at one level in our colonised mindset, as I had pointed out in an earlier piece.

Unless he wants to be a kingmaker in the Mahatma Gandhi mould, which he cannot, he ought to be setting targets for himself. Pugnacity is a part of polls, but by using a slogan like “Jawaab Do/ Jawaab Hum Denge” (give answers and get a fitting reply), reminiscent of his father Rajiv Gandhi’s “Nani yaad dila denge” (we shall make you remember your grandmother) he is using threat as an alternative to action.

He started the Congress campaign from Phulpur near Allahabad on his grandfather’s birth anniversary, reminding the people of how Jawaharlal Nehru started the path of progress from the state. Uttar Pradesh has been considered the test-drive for most politicians. It is an over-rated idea, for although it is the largest state, the chief minister Mayawati has talked about a division into four states. This may or may not happen, but it reveals that no state in today’s times has any uniformity. You cannot play a single card and come out trumps.

Rahul realised it when he made the horrible error of addressing the rally by saying:

“How long will you beg in Maharashtra (for work)? How long will you work as a labourer in Punjab? It will take only five years and the change will come.” 

Then he asked the crowd to give the Congress "a chance for five years". Who was the one begging? His comment has expectedly brought about a reaction from the Shiv Sena and the UPA allies. The Congress has ruled in UP, and yet there was migration. Does it make a difference whether a person is working as a labourer in Punjab or in Lucknow? Will he use a similar speech in the other states he campaigns in? Does this not amount to being anti-labour?

In his speech, he also said:

“The people of UP taught me that a leader belongs to his people, he should visit them and listen to their problems…A leader should be aware of the ground realities, to see how poor the people living in his constituency are - he should eat at their place to see what they eat, he should stay in their place to see how they live there.”

If many have left to “beg”, then which people is he talking about? These visits are like doctor visits – check the ailment, provide a temporary cure. It does not result in understanding the circumstances that cause it. Can you get the rid of the virus?

He has thrown up a challenge if he believes that a state, any state, can be better off if its people remain within its borders. This goes against the free movement of citizens within the country, it goes against the right to livelihood and it goes against the belief of a unified India.

As expected, the Congress party members came to his rescue with the ‘he was misinterpreted’ argument. Kripashankar Singh, president of the Mumbai Congress, said:

“We need to understand Rahul's sentiments. He was only expressing pain of the people of Uttar Pradesh.” 

Has any organisation approached him to express their pain? Have the taxi wallas and halwais sent him a letter pleading that they want to return to their hometown?

Party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury went further:

“Rahul tried to awaken the sense of self respect of those from UP.” 

When she left Andhra Pradesh and moved to Delhi, did it negate her self-respect? Why is such self-respect awakened only among those who probably respect themselves enough to want to earn an honest livelihood and are not restricted by such parochialism as the leaders would wish them to be?

Mayawati is on her own trip, so it was entirely in keeping with her persona that she wondered: “why does the prince get angry?” Rahul Gandhi responded at the public rally:

“I get angry because the poor are being exploited. Mayawati and Mulayam too used to have this anger, but it is now dead because of their power lust. They are always running for power.”

It is pertinent to note that he did not contradict her reference to him as “prince”. He should have taken her to task on that. The anger of a prince is not much different from that of the power-hungry. He might think he is benevolent royalty, but that is certainly not what this country is looking for. If UP is ruled by “the mafia”, then his street-fighting mode of giving a fitting reply falls into the same category.

The government machinery cannot be lubricated with anger. If he believes that India is developing and UP is going backwards, then he has already bitten the tail. Will he be able to say this in Gujarat? Using the corruption mantra, he said that people had to pay money even to file FIRs in the police stations. Has he looked at the crime statistics in the capital, in Mumbai? How many of them are reported?

He must realise that corruption will rear its head soon when the horse-trading begins and the change in five years he talked about will come through the backdoor entry of the same “mafia” into the legitimate fold of the Congress.

The level of sycophancy expresses more than it reveals. One hoarding put up by Congressman Baba Awasthi said, “Mata bimaar, mantrimandal lachaar, Rahulji, netritva karo sweekar (Mother ill, Cabinet helpless, Rahul, accept leadership role).” It was hurriedly removed, but tasteless though it is there is a message in there: No matter what he does and where he eats, he will have to play Yashodha to the country that is seen at the grassroots as just another child-god, where even serious corruption amounts to being a makhan chor (butter thief, that the child Krishna was indulged for).

I stand corrected regarding my earlier premise. We are living a mythology or a living mythology we are.

(c) Farzana Versey

Also published in Countercurrents