Sunday ka Funda

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

- Anais Nin

And then there are dreams that are the sharp strings that let the kite fly high or cut other kites.

I've left almost everything in my life to chance, including my dreams.

Whatever has come to me has been without kites. What can you see in a black sky?


What an Ikea, Sir ji

I like furniture with sharp edges. Not the best choice as you end up getting poked. It is the clean lines that appeal to me. Rounded and moulded appear artificial.

My room has everything made to order. Except a work chair and a holdall. It was created according to my specifications, which have changed.

That's the point. That's why we cannot snort over Ikea's move to invest $1.9 billion spread across 25 stores in India. We may not need some Swedish all-purpose standard designs, but it is adaptable.

Besides, there are already Italian furniture stores in most cities. They are expensive and use leather that is hardly conducive for our climate.

Will Ikea pose a challenge to Indian stores? To an extent. I've been to their outlets and, except for a mini easel to place my notes, I have not purchased anything from there. But I can see how it might entice people who are not snooty. Why, some of them too might stop by, pick up some things and add their designer touches.

Regular furniture stores, at least in Mumbai, are not user friendly. I once landed up in Malad in what looked like a nice shop. As what I wanted was not available, I was asked to visit the godown. After jumping over an open drain, I entered a smelly room. A sofa was patted and dust clouds formed in the air. "Imported," said the sales guy.

"Why is it so dirty?"

"Antique finish."

Great. It was worse than the shop in Chor Bazaar that made an antique roll-top desk. I still have it. The wood is sturdy and it holds everything. It even has secret chambers where I keep the menus of takeaway joints. Now that would qualify as a secret if I ordered food for guests and passed it off as mine!

I am sure Ikea will have some such secrets.

Indians who know about sleeping on the floor or on khaats still get excited about futons. Outsiders have cannily caught on that we are penguins and will even buy ice cubes.

Rajat Gupta to Rodney King and In-between

The American Dream Act
Rajat Gupta to Rodney King and In-between
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, June 22-24

Between a man in a dark grey suit and a bright-eyed bride in white, they seem to have covered the American dream. Insider trading and ‘marrying well’ are common occurrences, but when these things happen in the United States of America they become symbols. Somewhere outside of this Wall Street and Silicon Valley insulation, even Rodney King’s death becomes a twisted tale of nightmare as part of the hallucinatory narrative.

The DREAM Act is a different story. This is Barack Obama’s latest nice guy act. It is not his brainwave. On paper such a provision exists since 2001. Almost 1.4 million undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children will not be deported if they have graduated from high school, have no criminal record and are under the age of 30. Detention of such immigrants is in private prisons and incurs a lot of expense. Is he putting employment of indigenous citizens at stake? It is a no-lose situation. Most are Latinos and not likely to opt for the big stakes in a dwindling economy.

However, the assumption of making certain they are not a security threat is a natural progression into stereotyped territory. Immigrants who have either served in the military or are successful students get to stay. It means that the two pillars of American democracy are pugnacity and profitability. These are investments in areas where the US wants to triumph at any cost. The ‘target’ migrants are already in the red. They will be expected to work harder and essentially follow the dream set for them.


Do they move out of the clean image? The fascinating tale of insider trading by Rajat Gupta got even more intriguing when the judge was his countryman. Preet Bharara. This was classic courtroom Clint Eastwood scenario. The good and the bad Indian. It became an Indian story recreated in Manhattan. Bharara was catapulted to demi-stardom. It became less about what Gupta did wrong and more about what the judge did right. In a rather amusing statement he said that Gupta had “exchanged the lofty boardroom for the prospect of a lowly jail cell”. He was pushing the penitence theory, the lowliness of the greed for “more”.

But has not Bharara’s righteousness been recognised with Big Mac-sized effusiveness? Between the two of them, who has lived the American dream? What about the Sicily mafia that operated in the US? What about the Hugh Heffner mansions, the Neverlands, the Gracelands? The grand charity balls with gloved donor hands clinking glasses frosty with potential deceit? Had Bharara’s verdict been different would he be seen as less American? Would his fealty be questioned?

What happens to Dr. Deepak Chopra and his spiritual jugglery? He is part of the 'Friends for Rajat' group, and has spoken up for him, his concerns, his philanthropy. He is another case of selling the idea of the Self to people who are anyway obsessed with themselves.

The profiling of the case as that of Indians shows the limitations and the trap of febrile illusions.


There is a price on her head. Priscilla Chan has been described as the “£12 billion Facebook bride” who “embodies the American dream”. Mark Zuckerberg’s is an individualist dream. She is the daughter of collective refugee sweat. Her father had to slog for 18 hours at a Chinese takeaway. How many hours does Mark put in? That does not count. The slogging should smell of spices and a huddled group talking in strange accents.

Priscilla is the child of a Chinese-Vietnamese father who arrived in America with his family in the 70’s after spending time in a refugee camp. Dennis Chan “dreamt of his first-born daughter living the American dream”.

Those who project this leave it fairly vague, and it is a one size fits all. No one quite knows what it means. A man who has left his home in Vietnam, lived in a camp – what sort of dreams will he have? Had he wanted her to become a gourmet chef, would it be a lesser dream?

This dream has strings detached. It has to be upwardly mobile, a spider crawling up a wall leaving the web far behind. In a treacle-dripping certificate of merit, Peter Swanson, her science teacher at the state-run school in a working class neighbourhood, said:

“She came up to me during that first year, when she was 13, and said, 'What do I have to do to get into Harvard University?’ I was stunned. In all my years of teaching I have never had a 13-year-old ask a question like that. She knew what she wanted, even back then.”

This conveys that her marriage is part of this wanting and a career option. Besides, Harvard is made into a fantasy project. When and why do individual aspirations become part of social mores or do the latter dictate how people decide on their destinies? Then, one might say that such attitudes determine how many immigrants fight for an illusionary space. The reality has to be a fairytale in every respect:

“She and Mark both want to change the world. And they are in the fortunate position of having the resources to do that.”

The princess’ transformation is complete when she doles out goodies from the “£3.5 million home”. Palo Alto is the geek’s Beverly Hills.


The Los Angeles cops occasionally take away the exotic nuisances created by the stars – self-destructiveness sometimes measured in vials and rolled joints. Rehab is imbued with the fervour of retribution. Death, unfortunate as it, becomes hardcover editions of leftover letters. Posterity of sediments.

Rodney King’s death in a swimming pool seems to have taken away the question of why he was an inheritor of slaves who were first brought to Virginia in 1619. It took away from the fact that 127 years after the abolition of slavery, in the city that boasts of pretty beaches and Hollywood, he was beaten up by cops, suffered 11 skull fractures, a crushed cheekbone, broken ankle, internal injuries and some brain damage. The court had initially acquitted the four White police officers. More than 55 people were killed and 600 buildings destroyed in the violence.

On Sunday, Rev. Al Sharpton, issued a statement:

“History will record that it was Rodney King's beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement.”

That same day members from 300 civil rights groups walked through New York City protesting against the New York Police Department's (NYPD) stop and frisk policy. Blacks and Hispanics suffer the most, and the refrain reflected in the Bill of Rights Defense Committee statement was:

“If you're white in New York you actually have to do something, you have to present reasonable suspicion to be stopped. Whereas if you're a person of colour the police just disregard that … (and) there is no oversight effectively of the NYPD, the world's seventh largest army.”

The 35,000 officers earlier ran a spy operation to keep tabs on Muslims. The figures are appalling. 39 to 56 per cent white voters approve of the frisk policy.

Michael Bloomberg, the city's mayor, talked about these as safety measures:

“We've sent a message to criminals, if we suspect you may be carrying a gun, we will stop you. Through those stops, the police have recovered thousands of guns over the past decade … and tens of thousands of other weapons. There is no doubt those stops have saved lives.”

Why did no one stop George Zimmerman, the guy who was watching out for threats and found it in Trayvon Martin? Two decades after the LA riots, it has become an individual holding on to his vision of America. Racism is not just against a group, but to protect against contamination. Zimmerman is the symbol, not Martin. Unlike Rodney King.

One of his obituaries stated:

“Mr. King, whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol abuse, multiple arrests and unwanted celebrity, pleaded for calm during the 1992 riots. In a phrase that became part of American culture, he asked at a news conference, ‘Can we all get along?’”

The pressure was on the victim. 20 years after the incident, he published his memoirs, ‘The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption’, a title that fits into the American detergent dream.

You can beat the guy and see as his blood flows in the streets, but if he is alive, he should be Walt Disney. No hoodies, please. King, despite his addiction, was the token sympathy ticket. The tokenism overrode the sympathy. It might appear that there were hopes on him being the Black Christ. It was a cross he had to bear:

“People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. I should have seen life like that and stay out of trouble, and don't do this and don't do that. But it's hard to live up to some people's expectations.”

But he played along with the imagined idea and appeared on television reality shows like ‘Celebrity Rehab’. What was his celebrity about – getting beaten up? There is no sense of proportion, and this rubbed off on him when he said:

“Obama, he wouldn't have been in office without what happened to me and a lot of black people before me. He would never have been in that situation, no doubt in my mind. He would get there eventually, but it would have been a lot longer. So I am glad for what I went through. It opened the doors for a lot of people.”

Sometimes, doors are walls and graffiti scrawled on them obfuscate real dreams.

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(c) Farzana Versey


Walker no like Hebrew

If Alice Walker objects to Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people, not permitting the publication of the ‘The Color Purple’ in Hebrew will not alter anything. There is much to be said about making a statement, and I agree that it is valid in certain cases, but not in this one:

“I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside,” she wrote. “I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.”

As a pro-Palestinian activist, she has every right to her political views. However, I do not see this as a particularly strong message. Most Israelis can read English. Regarding her stand against apartheid, isn’t it practised in many parts of the world to different degrees and in different ways? Whether it is India or Pakistan, White or Black, China or parts of Europe, and right inside the US, of which she is a citizen, bigotry and racism are prevalent. How much has really changed for blacks since she wrote the book? What about prejudices against outsiders based on clothes, eating habits, lifestyle, beliefs – religious or otherwise?

The young are forced to follow such inherited hatred. Now is the time. Withholding a work that is already in the public domain may give the impression of a writer’s commitment to her political activism; unfortunately, for this it will be the Palestinians who will be demonised further as a group that is intolerant when they have no say in this matter. Alternatively, a few intellectuals and activists will applaud the move:

The Jerusalem Post reported that letter was then “posted Sunday by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on its website [saying] Walker supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and offered her hope that the BDS movement 'will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.'”

It honestly means little and has nothing to do with her book. Palestinian rights have not been protected according to international law by the nation states and they will not be given on a platter because of literary intervention. These are personal opinions, even if publicly aired.

It has resulted in a counter-reaction, which is what the Palestinians should not look forward to. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz spoke, typically, to the Jewish Press and said that Walker "has now resorted to bigotry and censorship against Hebrew-speaking readers".

Everyone seems to be wearing blinkers, and comparisons are made at random. This does not qualify as censorship.

‘The Color Purple’ brings out with such passion the suffering at the hands of just such attitudes she finds deplorable, so given her opinion on Israel she ought to let it be accessible in the language the Israelis perhaps ‘connect’ with. The problem is we all seem to lead ostrich lives, heads in the sand, from where we wish to bring about or hope to see change.

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Image: The Independent


Quote uncoat

“If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade”

This is supposed to inspire you to take the smallest thing and make the most of it, or at least something. I am intrigued by the lemon. It conveys a certain level of being sparing. Why does life not give you an avocado? Why can we not make it into pulp and use it as a dip? How about an apple that we can make a pie of?

These, you might say, require other ingredients. Lemonade needs only water. What if the water is contaminated? What if you are in a desert and get that lemon? You might suck on it, but does it slake your thirst? Can you capitalise on its full potential?

How do you gauge potential? If you are suffering from nausea, then that sucking is good. I don’t know if life has given me lemons. This ignorance or not knowing has not prevented me from making lemonade. However, lemon juice is not an end. It is only one of the things one can do with lemons.

I’d much rather leave it out in the sun and watch it dry, the rind stiffening and slowly browning, while the insides swell with rage. And if one must learn any lessons from such idioms then pickled lemons last longer. If there is only one that darned life gives, then too you can separate the rind, the insides, the seeds. Add some sugar to the rind and eat. Feel the tartness of the juice or let it sting your eyes. And take those seeds and throw them in the soil. Wait for them to sprout to life.

Then let's see what life does with the lemon you give it.

Sunday ka Funda

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.

- G. K. Chesterton

The streets are awash. The rains make you forget summer. A season of heat and sweat disappears with a few showers. It is like wiping our slate clean to start all over again. The wet night beckons you...

Bheegi bheegi raaton mein tum aao na - Adnan Sami


Indo-Pak Peace on Crutches

Is hatred a handicap? Can't you move with it? In fact, people keep alive ideologies and patriotic zeal, the killer instinct in many competitive fields because of just this feeling of hatred and opposition.

Is 'Aman ki Asha' merely using emotive appeal?

It is good that the disabled will play together. But there will be one team that will win. If we say it's the game that matters, then in this case it is probably a concession.

Let us see it as an exchange programme. Not everything must be marketed as an Indo Pak peace initiative.

I wonder if soldiers from both sides who've become handicapped in the course of battles would not make more sense. Who'd understand the importance of peace more than them?

Muslim Cops For Muslims?

Until such time that Muslims will get arrested even before they are proved guilty, that there will be a huge number of undertrials, that after years their innocence will be proved after they are socially tarnished, at least those who need to be protected should be. But is it easy?

The Committee, which was constituted on March 9, 2005, under the chairmanship of Justice Rajinder Sachar to prepare had suggested that it would be useful to have at least one Muslim police inspector or sub-inspector in police stations in areas having high concentration of Muslim population “not as a matter to eliminate discrimination but as an initiative to build confidence”.

My Hindutva contact sent a one-liner:

“Simultaneously, no Muslims should be posted in low minority populace areas? And then we will have peace on earth?”

It is amusing. If we check the statistics, how many Muslim police personnel are recruited? Have there been cases of Muslim cops deliberately rounding up people from the majority community or non-Muslims for no reason other than ‘suspicion’?

There won’t be peace on earth by such demarcation. Ideally, there should not be any. But we do not live in ideal times. Whether it is jobs or housing, there is discrimination.

Therefore, I find the Sachar Committee’s use of the phrase “not as a matter to eliminate discrimination but as an initiative to build confidence” curious. If there is a skirmish between communities, why can the Muslim officer not intervene and call the bluff of such discrimination? Do poor Muslims – and they are the ones who usually end up in ghettos – need pillow talk by the cops to instil confidence that no Gabbar Singh is around?

In fact, to give the flip side, the cop being an employee of the state would be far too cautious about being correct, and maybe even agree to cop out for getting his quota of ‘hits’.

Besides, in slums local gangs run the show and demand protection money. As with other groups, there are some shanties with a concentration of Muslims. There are Muslim gangsters, too. Yes, many. Everyone knows that. They are protected by cops and politicians irrespective of religion. However, if the Committee’s report is followed then the tussle would become mandatory. The Muslim cop will have to prove his allegiance with greater fervour and instead of protecting the common citizens, he will be pulled up for not capturing criminals, which other cops don’t anyway.

Invention is the mother of necessity, as the saying goes. And like many sayings, it just might end up being a truism.


Awaaz: For Mehdi Hassan

Oss nahin
Sookhe pattoun ke
Shaakh se girne ki

Leher nahin
Toofan mein paani ke
Patthar se takrane ki

Saraab nahin
Reit mein bikhree hui
Garm hawaaon ki

Sheesha nahin
Kaanch ke tukdoun se
Zameen ki chubhan ki

Marham nahin
Dard ki cheekh se
Raungtein khade hone ki

Tarz chhedkar taar todne ki
Aate-aate laut jaane ki


Mehdi Hassan's voice was all this to me.


Disabling and Disability: Half Truths - Satyamev Jayate

Have you gone sky diving? Have you gone mountain trekking? No? You have all your limbs, your senses intact? Yes? Yet? Look at these people. They cannot walk. They cannot see. But they’ve done it. This is positive attitude.

I was left marvelling at the opening scenes of SatyamevJayate (June 10). Let me assure you that I do not start watching the show with the intention of rubbishing it. In fact, this particular one was the most assured of the lot until now and dealt with disability in a fairly pragmatic manner. If there were sentimental moments, they were justified. Yet, having said that and I mean to commend it, there were a few points that would not register immediately, but these things have a subliminal effect.

Flashback 2007. This is what happened and reported by me:

It is disturbing to see Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan battling it out about the sensitivities of such cellulouid portrayal. Both are smart businessmen, and Aamir has a film based on an autistic children due for release (‘Taare Zameen Par’), his first directorial venture. It is disgusting to rake this issue up now only to tell us that he is sensitive. And just in case they don’t know most people with disabilities are treated in a horrible manner.

Here is what the two actors have to say about the film, ‘Black’…

  • Aamir Khan: “I didn't like the film. I found it very insensitive, it sends out very wrong signals. It was extremely manipulative…Most importantly, it was about a child who had these problems, an alcoholic person comes and says you have to leave her alone with me for forty days, and he slaps her around. I don't know of any parent who'd agree to that. Black reminded me of The Taming Of The Shrew, and I found that very disturbing. It was a film about 'I can teach a bear how to dance’.''
  • Amitabh Bachchan, who won a National Award for his work in Black: ''If Aamir is unhappy with this, let him demonstrate otherwise. I would be keen and anxious to educate myself on any prospective change that he might introduce to cinema. With due respect, all the films that he features in and that I have had the great pleasure in watching, have all adhered to the very qualities that he dislikes in Black. From using the distinct handicap, or to be politically correct, challenged condition, of a crippled human in his cricket team in ‘Lagaan’, to the 'sensitivities' of a blind girl in ‘Fanaa’.”

Independence and confidence are often acquired, and not everyone has the luxury to afford the trappings of these. How many middle-class parents can stick their necks out and fight the system to get their children to study in regular schools? While it is important, do they always become mainstream? I had a classmate in school who suffered from polio and wore heavy braces on her leg. She got good grades, but her disability stood out. Forget the obvious ones, even if a student is slow or has some minor tic, it is noticed and ridiculed. Children are cruel. Besides, why is it assumed that special schools will not make these people independent?

The host addressed the school principals in the audience and the general impression was that parents of other students did not like the idea of their children studying with kids with disability. One of them said it was they who suffered from mental disability. Does anyone realise the crassness of the use of such a phrase, when mental disability is a huge problem too?

I happen to know one of the people who was on the show and spoke about being treated like anyone else, but he used to be pretty much part of the ‘blind’ groups, and that is how I met him. Ketan Kothari also brought up the issue of portrayal of the blind in Bollywood – they are either beggars or musicians. I have not seen too many of the latter, although Ravindra Jain, a music director, happens to be blind. As regards beggars, we know that many are made blind. We do not see officers in films because there aren’t many in real life.

There was the token office that had a huge number of disabled people and it was a success. Why the emphasis on success? How many ‘normally abled’ people make a success of their lives? How many of us can sky dive or go mountain trekking? How many get into universities abroad?

I agree that in India public transport and buildings are not user friendly; there are no ramps and railings. This point was well-delineated and it came through loud and clear. This is probably the most important need, including traffic signals for the visually-impaired.

And now I come to Nisha. She suffers from a disease where her skin is so tight it has to stretch to accommodate more bone than flesh; there are sores. She has been adopted and a video showed her and her parents. The mother mentioned an incident when they were in a mall and a woman came up to her and said, “Why do you bring a child looking like this out?” and spat on her. Later, as she wiped the girl’s face and said sorry, Nisha replied, “Why are you sorry? I have not done anything wrong, she did.” It was a wise statement.

We had seen her in the videos laughing and talking. She was in the studio. The host invited her and sat with her on the steps and held her. For me, this was cringing. If she had to be called, then she should have been made to sit across from him like the others and been asked a few questions. Why was she made into a showpiece for a few brief moments?

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It is an area difficult to negotiate. Let me share my own experience to convey that.

“Ma’am we cannot see, but we can hear.” His words hit me. The mike was too loud, the room too small. I was to teach a group of visually-impaired students language skills at the National Association for the Blind.

I had never taught anyone before. These were graduates and post-graduates. There was one spunky guy who wanted to know about my qualifications. I hesitated. Between vanity and vulnerability, I felt naked and they could not even see my bare skin. Slowly, I took out the book and we began to learn. Yes, we. I was learning every minute. First it was to throw out the mike and let my voice fall and dip.

Many of them were from small towns and despite their education they would land up with jobs as telephone operators or work that did not do justice to their talent or knowledge. I felt no pity, just a deep sense of having too much for too little. It struck me like a whiplash when I was enunciating words in what is considered a cosmopolitan accent without any regional traces. One of the young men said, “What is the use? We will not be moving in society with people like you.”

I did not want to be people like me. I went home and started blindfolding myself in a ridiculous attempt at empathy and understanding. How would the occasional fall make me comprehend the immensity of their everyday falls? And did they fall at all? Had they not become accomplished at sniffing the roads and barricades?

They would smell me. I made it a point to wear the same fragrance everyday so that they knew when I entered the room. “Good afternoon!” would greet me from a distance and I’d want to go and embrace them. Not because I felt sorry but because many sighted people look through you even when you are at close range.

I recall touching the hand of the girl sitting across. She was painfully shy and awkward, less about her lack of sight and more due to her inability to communicate. She cringed as though a piece of glass had poked into her flesh. My instinct was to withdraw my hand, but I let it stay. I told her that I was so shy that there were times I’d lock myself in the room. She shook her head and then laughed. During the break she would stand in the balcony, a breeze blowing through her hair and I could see her smile her unsighted smile where you try and gather things through ears, nose, mouth, palms. I let her lose herself in those moments of nothingness that were everything.

Once, during a demonstration on White Cane Day, I had joined the group. A local politician had asked some of us to come along to Jogger’s park. It was around 8 pm and dark. While the rest of the lot were huddled in conversation, Arpan Singh and I decided to take a stroll on the mud-track. I was wearing heels so I had to tread carefully. To Arpan all walking places were the same, and darkness and light made no difference.

Suddenly, he stretched out his arm and touched a leaf. “There is so much greenery here,” he said. In the dark I, the sighted, could not see any greens. “It is wet,” his voice trailed off as he ran his hands over the foliage. We reached the low wall and sat for a while. He was swaying gently as one would to the music of the swelling tides as he inhaled the scent of flowers of the night. I did not wish to interrupt his reverie, but when his face broke into a grin I told him that the waves and scent were indeed overpowering and soothing.

“No,” he said. “I have been thinking about those wet leaves.”

The touch of night-dew had not left him.

(c) Farzana Versey

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My other pieces on SMJ


Literary Love? Rushdie's Myth

He is the contradiction of his own statement. Salman Rushdie at the Hay Festival in Wales is still "joking" about a two-decade-old fatwa. Yet, he maintains:

"The reason why books endure is because there are enough people who like them. It's the only reason why books last. It's the people who love books that make them last, not the people who attack them."

Of course, people have got to love books, but can he deny the role of marketing, of notoriety, of the last temptation of chastisement? How often do we hear him speak about 'Shame', 'The Moor's Last Sigh', 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories', or even 'Midnight's Children'? The last he has been talking about recently because of the Deepa Mehta directed film version that's ready for release.

What makes books endure? Can people from diverse backgrounds love a work with equal fervour? How do we describe such 'literary love'? Is it always about liking a book or liking the idea of being part of an appreciative group?

Many books that are considered classics today were panned when they were first published. Readers ignored them in the stores. They lay in the dungeon rusting. When did love happen to them and why?

Rebirth was planned with surgical precision, except for the very rare exception that relived due to their appeal to a newer readership.

It takes some canny salesperson who understands words, but also figures out that attractive covers, blurbs, gimmicks, and flashy launches are the selling points to buy love. It really is akin to heart-shaped balloons and Hallmark cards to celebrate Valentine's Day.

It is a celebration of love, but also a confirmation of commercial socially-sanctioned behavior.

Reviews and word of mouth publicity are part of such acceptability, for how would diverse people experience the same feelings at around the same time?

There are books that make us uncomfortable, that we hate but cannot stop ourselves from reading. They endure in our hearts and minds.

And then there are books that are not meant to. They are written for a specific timeframe, an event. Topicality is the key here. They are conceived for a short life. Do we love them less even if they do not endure?

It also depends on how they are sold. There are books on political leaders and pop stars that are written when they are in power, or going through a lean phase. They capitalise on momentary lust.

Readers' lust with 'Satanic Verses' has been propped up by the author's obsession with the fatwa. He knows that this work has endured for reasons other than love for books.

When he says, ostensibly in jest, that he did not write "for the mullahs. I didn't think they were my target audience", he reveals a truth he denies: he wrote it for the anti mullahs. He did have that section of the reader in mind.

As he said, "The only thing worse than a bad review from the Ayatollah Khomeini would be a good review from the Ayatollah Khomeini."

The bad review altered sales, from a hundred in a week, it sold 750,000 in a month. It became Viking's bestseller.

So, the love was conditional. It has endured because of being a tantaliser, like many others, even if it is of silicone implants.

(C) Farzana Versey


Muslim puberty and marriage

A 15-year-old Muslim girl is permitted by the high court to marry.

Forget the level of maturity of our grandmothers who did not make a choice, but managed. This news report throws up several questions, not so much about the judgment as the reactions to it. How are we supposed to respond? The obvious answer is anger, revulsion, and to bring out the old bogey of the Uniform Civil Code.

Here’s the judicial verdict:

“According to Mohammedan Law, a girl can marry without the consent of her parents once she attains the age of puberty and she has the right to reside with her husband even if she is below the age of 18....,” a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and S P Garg observed while accepting the minor’s plea to let her to stay in her matrimonial home.

The mother had filed a petition saying that her daughter was kidnapped. While accepting the girl’s statement that she was not and she had made the choice, the bench clearly added “she has the option of treating the marriage as voidable, at the time of her attaining the age of majority, i.e. 18 years”.

Can we take one judgment in isolation and assume that girls of this age in the Muslim community will get married?

Her choices are being protected on both counts. And on the basis of the law. This is being ignored to buffer a one-dimensional narrative. The judges used the existing Muslim Personal Law. And they have also empowered the girl to change her mind, which will nullify the marriage. This is a huge thing. I wish we got out of our safe zones and saw this in perspective.

It is particularly surprising that the noises will be mainly from the liberal activists. This is ironical, for it is this same segment of the educated elite that opposed the ‘Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill’, that said “no person below 18 years will have the legal capability to give consent for engaging in any kind of sexual activity”. They held forth on how young teenagers should be permitted to make their sexual decisions and not be demonised.

Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, had said:

“Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex? Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts? The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18, especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age. This is stupid and goes against the child.”

Yes. Such a statement was made. How many of them would approve if their children were sexually active outside marriage at that young an age?

If you can choose to have sex – and as I mentioned in my piece then it can mean subtle force, date rape, peer pressure – then you might be in a position to choose to live with a partner legitimately, is my devil’s advocate argument.

Instead, the modern Muslim is once again out in the open airing a ‘uniform code’ modernism that ignores the Personal Laws in other religions. Let us not forget that there will be opposition from other faiths equally, if not more, and they have their patriarchal constructs well in place where women’s property rights, right to inheritance, to matrimonial rights are questionable.

There is a lobby that keeps the ‘interpretation of Islam’ alive. It is to promote leaders from the clique. Who will interpret Islam in the right manner, and what is the right manner? Aren’t there several interpretations that work or try to within different societal frameworks? This is not even germane to the discussion, but it seems to be hugely important.

I wonder why when we seek uniformity where religious laws are concerned, we barely pay heed to the ‘secular’ criminal laws where no uniformity is applied. Check out statistics for Muslim prisoners.

The digression apart, it is not about being pro early marriage, but about not taking up for one aspect and negating the other without a thought. My position on the sexual consent age bill and this is not dichotomous. As I had written:

Much of India still believes that sexual activity is also about emotional intimacy. Young people are not automatons. That is the reason we have abolished child marriage, which these activists agree is important to get rid of. Did society not insist that the age of marriage be raised to 18, and rightly so?

I realise that not taking the tried-and-tested liberal Muslim path is rife with the usual labelling. I am not the person to decide, and neither are all of those expressing disgust, and we will not be affected legally or socially.

Regarding this case, it will be made into a hothouse plant to beautify the moderate Muslim landscape.

- - -

You might like to read the other post in full: Young love on a leash?

Obama's Nightmare on Helm Street

Think about it. The first black president takes the oath of office amidst mass hysteria akin to a rock concert, and instead of sitting with a microscope to work things out in the home lab, he points the telescope at the sky.

The clouds of fear gather. US intelligence forces known to keep the governments under control in democracies kept the fear alive. As a report states, based on information in a new book by New York Times journalist David Sanger:

Soon after assuming office in 2009, President Barack Obama experienced a security nightmare about the possibility of Taliban in Pakistan acquiring a nuclear bomb, with the fear lurking in the back of his mind that the loose weapon could be headed for a major US city…Obama's aides also worried about the leak of the news to both India and Pakistan.

The only way in which the Taliban can have nuclear arsenal is if they have a government and a nation of their own. Indeed, they have run roughshod in the Af-Pak region, but they use hand-held weapons and rudimentary bombs.

It is important to note that the President’s aides were concerned about keeping this information from Pakistan and India.

"Obama's aides worried that if news of Washington's suspicions leaked, the Pakistanis would shut down altogether and the Indians who had barely held back retaliating against Pakistan after a deadly attack in Mumbai the previous year would mobilise and put their forces on high alert," Sanger said.

This rules out Pakistan as the base and it implies that the US wanted that country badly as an ally, and not India. It was ready to keep India in the dark, an India it was to sign a nuclear deal with. It also assumes mischievously that India was going to retaliate after 26/11, when there was no such intention.

The author writes:

“Obama decided he could not take the chance that the story was false: he ordered one of the US government's nuclear-detection-and-disablement teams to travel to the region in case it was needed for the search. But they dared not step into Pakistan itself, where the government would have a tough time explaining why there were foreigners with nuclear-detection equipment wandering around."

This is amazing. Just amazing. They travel and what do they do? Hover over the ground with large metal detectors? What part of Pakistan was involved or not involved with this Taliban nuclear scare? If it is Pakistani Taliban, how would it be detected without stepping on the land? Pakistanis in the northern regions are accustomed to such foreigners with all kinds of equipments. Was the US concerned about the Pakistani government or the army, both of which it believes is in cahoots with the Taliban in large measure?

Now comes the bizarre one:

"And there was always the risk that the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), realising that the United States was on to the conversations, could issue a threat to make use of the weapon, even if none existed. If they included a threat to set it off in an American or Pakistani city, mass panic could follow. That could kill more people than a small explosion."

So, now the Taliban is not quite Pakistani and it has greater access to US information than the US has about it. Or about anything. But because these Talibs are such fools they will slap each other with joy and say, “Masha’Allah, the Americans are scared. Let us frighten them more, even if we have nothing”.

Does anyone realise how dangerous such stupidity is? If a “small explosion” does not matter, then why has the US been parking its forces where it is not wanted to protect its cities that are only under a false threat? If people are killed by such panic, then who is responsible? The US has mastered the art of creating such mythic threats all the time. It has been living off 9/11, and has made life hell for several countries overtly and covertly.

This passive-aggressive behaviour has been the hallmark of the Obama administration, for it then sneakily says the Taliban threat “focused on Pakistan itself”. This happens to be the truth, and all because what it accuses the Taliban would do, it has gone and done with its perceived threat creating terror in cities.

But Obama also keep alive the possibility of this “loose weapon” hurtling towards one of the major US cities. This is how he has run his term, riven by disastrous management of human dread.

Those fears have not been put to rest by ‘getting’ Osama bin Laden. It has resulted in spreading its tentacles to find fear from everywhere.

It is the tragedy of America that from xenophobia it has moved to paranoia.

(c) Farzana Versey


Manufacturing the Greatest Indian

Do we know about who is the greatest Indian before Mahatma Gandhi?

It does not matter. We live in iconic times with iconic figure who did iconic things and deserve iconic status through iconic surveys. So, the question for a survey (TGI) “Based on an internationally acclaimed format by BBC held in 22 countries” is “Who is the greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi?” It is no surprise that it is a media-propped poll and “the initiative is to select that one great Indian after Mahatma Gandhi who is the most influential, iconic & inspirational and has impacted your life”.

There could be quite a few or perhaps none of the fifty names mentioned. But why is Gandhiji the cut-off date? I can understand the use of a term like “post-Independence”. If he is the benchmark, then what are the variables by which we are to judge industrialists, sportspersons, actors, scientists, musicians, activists or even politicians? Do they have to be ‘Gandhian’? If not, then does it not nullify the yardstick of the chosen iconoclasm?

Besides, how do we define an Indian as great? Due to their origin or their contribution to what is the ‘essential’ India, and that may be far removed from those featured here?

Indira Gandhi

It is ironical that Indira Gandhi, who had declared Emergency, shares the space with Jayprakash Narayan, who bitterly opposed it and suffered for it? The acquisitive business people stand along with the ones who gave it all up.

Vinoba Bhave

How do we judge? Will the general pool reflect how people feel, and I am not taking into account those that cannot vote by giving a missed call.

The media partners will have a good time. They will be in charge of the decision-making process. Primetime and newsprint will bring you the ‘news’, and then there will be analyses. As for the token of the title, there will be comparisons and whoever makes it will in some way be given a Gandhian rubdown.

The India that existed and flourished in the past does not exist. The India where discoveries were made, art and literature flourished, and political strategy was as crucial as swordsmanship, that India does not exist in the finger-wagging and tapping world. How can they say your vote counts, when they have already decided on the broad spectrum of who matters?

The luminaries are pretty much great in their fields, but what was relevant in say the 50s does not apply to those who came in later. Is there no difference between scoring a hundred tons and working among lepers? Is there no qualitative difference between a Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and a Kanshi Ram? How does Atal Bihari Vajyapee feature for being loved by both admirers and opponents, when that is how politics works?

Achievements are now propped up by commercial interests as they were probably ideologically exaggerated in the old days. Today’s greatness rests on success; yesterday’s on making inroads.

Is Mahatma Gandhi in any way a unifying force? The symbolism of the name is, of course, canny marketing. But it leaves one wondering as to whether the greatest Indian – whoever she or he may be – will also be one who has been truly great for India. If so, then what aspect of India? Ask no questions. A pedestal awaits. Your vote will give you a chance to be part of the icon factory.

(c) Farzana Versey

Half Truths: Satyamev Jayate (The death of love?)

Let us just say that the June 3 episode of Satyamev Jayate was like watching a concoction of Mughal-e-Azam, Bombay and Mera Gaon, Mera Desh. Add to that a love guru.

First, let me get this out of the way. I am simply amazed that people who are glued to television, read the newspapers, surf websites look on what is around us as a “Bingo!” expose.

Caste, class, religious, economic status barriers between couples have always been there. It is tragic when people have to suffer because of it, but not all such love alliances end up happily. The host refuses to touch upon that. He is on a mission and this time it was to see that people who found each other got married. There was no attempt to understand the compulsions.

Everybody loves a lover, but is it all about ‘honour killing’? There is absolutely no doubt that the khap panchayat in Haryana has been interfering in such alliances. One of the groups was there with its members, and while what they said was bizarre – one mentioned how even in England tradition is more important than the law – it ended up as a comic diversion.

Aamir Khan gave his spiel about the Indian Constitution and how the panchayats were running contrary to it. This is now along expected lines. He is the man upholding the Establishment of a free, democratic country. He does not live in those villages and small towns. Action has been taken against these panchayats, but we just might get news about more, all thanks to our Mission Man.

Will he dare talk about organisations like the Sri Ram Sene or the Deoband fatwas that publicly humiliate lovers?

Why does the show invite people whose cases are subjudice to talk? This is a convenient ruse to steer clear of asking inconvenient and pointed questions. What we get is to skim the surface. He did not touch upon caste dynamics, religious differences, and if I may say so even physical debility (one of the men was on crutches)?

Then, he brought in this Sanjay ji who assists those who have problems. He was the court jester, throwing one-liners on how love conquers all and the older generation should realise the folly of their views. How many people can he help? Most of these runaway couples are from small towns and it is important to know how they will subsist.

There have been lovers immortalised on screen and in literature, and there are lovers in real life. There are crimes of passion. There are hurdles – some created by outsiders. When there was such an opportunity, he copped out. The case is in court.

Then what was the purpose of sitting and witnessing a mother’s tears?

This was surprisingly no different from when the case was first reported. Let me reproduce this from my piece written then, in 2007:

His skull was smashed and his body thrown on the railway tracks. The police in Kolkata claimed that Rizwan-ur-Rehman had committed suicide. His diary and complaints to human rights organisations show that he was being threatened by the cops for marrying Priyanka Todi, the daughter of an influential industrialist from a Marwari family, traditionally considered clannish.

This was less than a month after their wedding. The girl has disappeared; the voice of the criminal party is barely heard and the victim’s family is hounded by the media. In a most appalling move, Rizwan's brother and mother were in the studio for a panel discussion on one of the private channels. At one point the anchor asked the audience to put up their hands if they believed he could have been forced by circumstances to commit suicide. This was media interference in legal matters. Is this how justice is conducted?

Later, the lights were dimmed to show us how Bollywood has portrayed inter-religious alliances. This was demeaning and facile.

The screen captured the father, a butcher, brandishing an axe. The young man was pleading with him to let him marry his daughter. He glowered in return, screaming. The girl cowered in a corner wearing a veil, but her eyes dripped pain. For the sake of cinematic licence they showed the eyes and the face. Our beauties are not to be hidden.

The lover, his ardour not lessened, grabbed the weapon and then the girl’s hand, slashing her arm near the wrist, then his and letting their blood mix. All differences were wiped out in that one melodramatic moment.

Why is it disgusting? It isn’t about Hindi cinema but about how a serious discussion on inter-religious marriage that led to a tragic death chose to use clips from movies; this particular one ended the montage, while the brother and mother watched. The brother said that this in fact was Rizwan’s story.

No, it is not. Not all Muslims are butchers with axes. The sly media devil is creating a most dangerous trend. Rizwan was educated at St. Xavier’s college in Kolkata; he graduated with English Honours. He had ambitions of being a journalist, but due to financial pressure chose to be a graphic designer. They are not a poor, but a middle-class family.

Middle-class does not sound exotic enough when you talk about Indian Muslims. Poor, shabby, illiterate look great.

Communal divisions are getting more pronounced. Disturbingly, while the youth are prone to making choices, they are increasingly making pro-clannish choices. The voices of dissent are not rising against the status quo but for it.

I’d like you to read the full article Two Lovers and the Funeral of Secularism if you can. It may not make you cry, but perhaps you’ll think again about what you already know?

There are muffled sounds about how the tragic cases on the show appeal to the sensitive. Listen, some of us have been through stuff, or seen it up-close and wept our eyes out. We do not need to be given lessons in sensitivity only because someone’s tears on screen move you. This has become a cathartic herd instinct where everyone gathers at 11 am on Sunday to publicly mourn something or the other. If only they could purge the hype.

(c) Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

There are days when you just want to cut out the crap. It's my Frank Zappa day, so...

Some of you might not agree
'cause you probably likes a lot of misery
But think a while and you will see...
Broken hearts are for assholes