The Indian Mujahideen and the N-bomb?

When a newspaper report begins with "The prospect of terror organisations getting their hands on a nuclear device has long concerned both security agencies and thriller writers" you know that it is not going to be a joy ride.

The manner in which the Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives have been captured and their statements in recent months looks too set up. At the start, let us remember that the Indian Intelligence agencies had not even considered the possibility of any local real or tactical involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks during the early stages of investigations. They, like the media and the public, were completely fascinated by the ten Pakistani men in a boat who landed on our shores, surviving the choppy waters from Karachi with packets of dry fruits and dates.

Except for Ajmal Kasab, they were all killed after going on a rampage in the city and taking the lives of 165 people. Whatever the role of the masterminds, it would not have been possible without local support. In 2008, nothing much was done to find out.

The IM chief Yasin Bhatkal (real name Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa) has been doing a lot of confessing ever since his arrest in August. The latest is that he asked his bossman in Pakistan for a minor favour — a nuclear bomb.

The IM has caused enough harm with rudimentary material, but the ring of N-bomb pushes the organisation in a different league. There is a bizarre ring to this narrative.

Yasin informed the officials:

"Riyaz told me that attacks can be done with nuclear bombs. I requested him to look for one nuclear bomb for Surat. Riyaz told me Muslims would also die in that (nuclear bomb blast), to which I said that we would paste posters in mosques asking every Muslim to quietly evacuate their families from the city."

Muslims have died in several jihadi sponsored blasts, and the guys in Pakistan have been killing their co-religionists for years now.

What is really alarming is that the investigating team actually believed this stuff to let it out to the media. How could Muslims "quietly" evacuate if the posters are going to be up on the walls? Does it mean that the police in Gujarat is so ineffectual? What about Muslims who do not visit mosques and cannot read? One does not even need to ask these questions for it is just so implausible, and as though they care for any lives.

Rather conveniently, the report states:

However, the plan could not be initiated since Yasin was tracked by the IB and arrested in August.

Only to tell tall tales. Bhatkal's statements sound like he is campaigning for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, by creating the N-bomb fear psychosis.

End note:

Notice the timing. The NIA that is getting titbits from the IM leader now gives a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, described as "the face of Hindutva terror", in the Sunil Joshi murder case. Rather interestingly, it was "personal enmity" for which she was charged, and the case against her and the others for involvement in the Malegaon blasts remains.

Here again, cart before horse.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” She asked.

Where do you want to go?” was his response.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

* * *

Actually, it does. Often the road decides where we want to go rather than the other way round.


No Method, No Madness: The Subtlety of Farooq Sheikh

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

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

Farooq Sheikh was probably nobody's favourite actor. Few parents might have looked upon him as an ideal son in his early days, and few women swooned at the sight of him, and few children tugged at his shirt imploring, and few peers felt threatened by his image.

Yet, why is it so easy to remember the characters he essayed, as though they are etched deeply in the heart? Some might think he played the man-next-door, and was therefore identifiable. I do not agree. In fact, there was a touch of stardom to his persona, for every ordinary bloke he was on screen there was the Farooq Sheikh stamp — a slightly hurried manner of speech, the way his hair flopped over his forehead, the shuffling gait, and the thehrao...there are quite a few words in English that would explain this, but none has the quality to stop us for a few seconds in pause mode to pause. I'll settle for tranquil.

He died at 64, and his last film Club 60' was about a couple of senior citizens coping with the loss of a son. It has been on my "to watch" list, but I already know how he would have dealt with it.

Does it mean that his performances had no surprises? No, it is just that they came with added sheen and finesse. For someone who cannot be slotted as a method actor, his spontaneity shone. He was the unheralded mascot of directors like Sai Paranjpye and Muzaffar Ali. In the former's movies about everyday trial and tribulations, garnished with humour and charm, he fit in as though to the manner born. In Ali's 'Gaman', who can forget the helplessness, the silent ache of making a living in a big city, connected to love through the crossed cable wires beyond reach? Who can forget him as the reluctant nawab in love with a courtesan in 'Umrao Jaan'? Who can forget him again as a sidelight in Satyajit Ray's 'Shatranj ke Khilari' (the chess players), as a pawn in the bigger scheme? Who can forget him as the unkempt, unemployed youth who cannot save the girl he loves from being sold to a rich Arab in 'Bazaar'? Who can forget him in this year's huge hit 'Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani', where as the father of an errant son his love pores out of every extra fold in his face and brightens a room that seems always so dark?

In many ways, his film journey was like the start of 'Katha', based loosely on the hare and tortoise fable. Pitted against no less an actor than Naseeruddin Shah, who was the tortoise here, Sheikh took on the hurried hare with a disarming rather than a devious smile. His cocky twirling of the keychain, the languid moves, the showing off, all like a pinch of extra salt. He did not need poison.

His own career was more tortoise-like, slow and steady. He did not win any race, for he participated in none.

In the past few years, he was added to the list of panellists on news channels always looking for that elusive 'nice Muslim'. Except for maybe one occasion when I did not like the way he allowed himself to be projected, I felt that however much the fake moderate/liberal cultural Indian Muslim bogeys tried to co-opt him, he stood apart. He lived a pluralistic life, and did not feel the need to shout about it or even see this as something unusual.

It was so like his performances. He was not celebrated, he was not dismissed off. Perhaps, this was a good thing. Subtlety leaves no marks, but is something you remember without even trying for it does not fade away.

© Farzana Versey


From 'Bazaar':

"Dekh lo aaj hum ko jee bhar ke
Koi aata nahin hai phir mar ke"


Notes from the OPD

At the hospital for consultation. Saw...

At entry point, bags searched. Nervous smiles when the person at security does not figure out why anybody would want to keep chewing gum sticks in a jewellery pouch.

Those carrying fruit are asked to leave them. All those germs must not be allowed in. Human beings can carry as many germs and no one even notices.

In the lobby, anxious faces, some impatient. The liftmen have to answer the same question a hundred times with the standard reply, "Abhi time hai, wait karo (there is still time, wait)."

As soon as it is time, there is a rush. Someone's love and life held in the cubicle that will take them to a room smelling of antiseptic, medicines, and helplessness.

In the canteen, they are gobbling up potato vadas, poha, sandwiches. Coffee, tea, juices. Fast. To rush back to meet a loved one dribbling into a bowl of lukewarm soup.

We exchange smiles at the counter. I ask for coffee; wish one could request for extra froth. Have you realised that the more the froth the less the coffee? Why would I want it, then? Because both coffee and froth don't last forever.

There is a small area for prayers off the lobby. A large idol wearing a garland, flickering flames on lamps. A man has prostrated himself. I can't see his tears. Neither can the deity. Not the flames. Not the person he is praying for.

The OPD is a maze of lanes with chairs stuck to walls. A wheelchair passes through. At one turning, a woman, an in-patient, is on a bed awaiting her turn for tests. Eyes blank as strangers look at her frail frame, drips connected to unseen veins.

Moving on, laps hold plastic bags that hands fish into to bring out files seen umpteen times that make no sense.

What do those figures and percentages mean when they talk about blood-urine-stool? Then there are unintelligible-sounding words and graphs that give one undue importance.

Check out the normal range and whatever falls in the 'less than' or 'more than' could be intimation of mortality. Really.

No chairs vacant. Stand against the marble wall. Try shoulder exercises, try pushing heel against it, try sideways and see blurred reflection. Notice others watching. Smile sheepishly. There is no ice to break.

Watch the toilet. Women walk awkwardly towards it and if locked wait, fidgeting with the ends of dupattas, saree pallus, or strands of hair. The one returning has eyes averted, as though she has just done something she should not have.

Men don't wait for the locked door to open. They knock. Or walk away. The one returning will either adjust zipper in full public view or do a version of twerking to position his stuff.

The doctors' chambers are close to one another, so confirmations are sought about who belongs where and who goes in when.


Bored, I look blankly at the cellphone. Then start sketching. Someone peers. I draw a pair of tits. They could be the globe, the sun, the moon, anything. But I know the person is thinking of something flesh. It is our bodies on test, isn't it?

Bored, I look at my feet. Why am I wearing these peep-toe shoes that are so perky? I slip my foot out, the one that's hurting and see that my little toe has chafed and turned red.

Bored, I ask the person next to me what time it is. She tells me, after looking at my watch.

Bored, I read up the text messages offering me home loans, domestic staff, pest control, even a villa ready to move into.

Bored, I re-read an email that had disturbed me. Now that I look as distressed as the others, I feel less guilty about not having any visible signs of illness.

Bored, I begin counting people in the corridor. I check out their clothes, the way they speak with whoever is with them, their voices, the way they move their hands and tap their shoes and sandals.

Bored, I start chatting with the salesmen from pharma companies with their huge bags. There are a dozen of them. I ask the one standing near me, "Are all of you from the same firm?" No, he says. "Then you are competitors? So, who decides who gets in first?" He finds it funny. He says they have an arrangement.

Bored, I now have twelve young men discussing pharma arrangements with me.

I get a call in my lowest volume mode. I answer it only to say I am very busy.

My doctor's door has been opening and closing, people have walked in and walked out. Someone tries to get in. He says, "After F." She repeats, "Ok, I'll come after F." It is so contagious I too want to say I'll go after F, until I realise that I am F.

I tell the doctor about previous tests, repeat symptoms, add new ones. He takes the vital readings. Peers at reports, x-rays, prescriptions. Scrawls something. Change in medicine. Change in schedule. Change in what I must do and not do. Change is constant.


On the way out, I stop at the chemist's. Crowded. Someone says, "Side please." We are all waiting and there is no side to move to. I leave.

On the way out, I pass the prayer area. A family is standing with folded hands. At least I think it is a family. Their faces glow in the light.

On the way out, the lobby is abuzz. Some film star has come to visit another film star. I pull my shades from my head and wear them indoors. Just for fun. People try to place you. Coloured glasses colour others' perceptions too.

On the way out, I stumble. Yes, old habit. I don't notice a step. 'Ouch' escapes my lips. Is ouch a word or an exclamation? Does ouch really sound like ouch or have our sighs and grunts begun mimicking words?

On the way out, I go to another chemist way past the hospital gates on another street. I buy chocolates. The sales assistant at the cosmetics counter gives me a spiel on a new night cream. What is the difference between night cream and day cream, I ask. She says, "Ma'am night cream you apply at night." I cannot believe it, I tell her. If I use it in the day, will it become night. "Not like that ma'am," she says. "It is good for you." I buy it. If there are things good for me in the world and affordable, I will take them.

On the way out, I forget I had been to the hospital where there are patients who might not be aware of the difference between night and day. It makes me cry.

On the way out, I reach home. In.

© Farzana Versey


Wagers of Labour: The Devyani Khobragade case

Is America humiliating India by riding on the case of a maid? Sounds illogical, but if true then it is bizarre.

The incident in short: Devyani Khobragade, Indian deputy consul general in New York, was arrested for falsifying details on the visa of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard. She was strip-searched, handcuffed, had her DNA swab taken and was put in a lock-up with drug addicts.

The Indian media and politicians have gone into hyperbolic mode that, in fact, is derogatory towards the country’s honour they are seeking to uphold. For example, one headline spoke about “Strip search shows India’s spine.” A minister said, “India can’t be treated like a banana republic.”

Every major political party has spoken out, with one vital difference: they are promoting their own agendas. It has little or nothing to do with electoral gains, for Indians really do not care about the nitty-gritty of who represents them abroad or at home. However, it most certainly helps to push ideologies, whether it is making a reference to the diplomat’s Dalit background, or asking for gay American diplomats to be sent back home by a rightwing member, or the ruling party standing up as one of the largest democracies against the might of the other largest democracy. Add to this a mish-mish of others who want to give a befitting reply to America’s arrogance to prove their feeble patriotism.

Posters too convey a feudal attitude of a bigger role as big brother that ought to protect our sisters.

It is shameful to read about a tit-for-tat policy when we are discussing diplomacy. An unconditional apology is perhaps in order, but the US refuses because it reasons it is about their laws.

After a week, secretary of state John Kerry called up India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon. Spokeswoman Marie Harf issued a written statement:

"In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India...The secretary understands very deeply the importance of enforcing our laws and protecting victims, and, like all officials in positions of responsibility inside the US. government, expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in our country.”

This is too vague and obvious that the response is not to the treatment but a reaction to public protests in India.

Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said:

"We have put in motion what we believe would be an effective way of addressing the issue but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity.”

While granting her immunity makes sense, how does not meeting American delegates help serve her dignity? The western media and authorities are not terribly concerned with this issue.

With regard to withdrawing identity cards of US officials that allowed them special privileges over those they were entitled to, it should have been done long ago. Now it appears as though bruised egos are doing the talking. The US consulate and other staff have had many privileges and are afforded protection way above the norm. This reveals a lot about us, and a little about them. For a nation that does not have a history such as ours, where the pecking order is more glaring, its staff overseas seems to quite relish being treated like big saabs, not unlike the colonisers of the British Raj.

India has held its own at least at the level of détente, which is where it matters most. There is no need to behave in a churlish fashion now. Instead of these ‘withdrawal’ measures, would we have the courage to nix the nuclear deal with the US, have an embargo on trade relations, put strictures over fly zone and refueling, a cap over foreign investments, and mandatory surveillance of American companies and consulate offices by Indian agencies? This would be real talking.

Having said this, I do not think any of this is necessary only as a response to Ms. Khobragade. This case should be dealt with between two offices and not two countries. The international agency and labour commission has to look into it.

We have lost all sense of proportion, and failed to notice that the US picked on a mid-level diplomat, and not a high-ranking official. It is also curious why the US arranged for the maid’s family to visit just two days before the arrest of the diplomat. There is a suggestion that this was part of some plan. Why would the American government want to do so? There are strict procedures for immigrations, and if Sangeeta Richard is being given special treatment only because she did not get the salary as per minimum wages, then it might be prudent to ask just how many in the US do.

The helper escaped; her employer got a call asking for money; she complained about the disappearance and extortion; India alerted the counterparts in the US. Nothing happened. Instead, the employer got arrested.

The major issue is the indignity she underwent. It is indeed shocking and rather unusual. What were the authorities going to find after a strip search, a cavity search and a DNA swab? It makes no sense.

If the concern about malpractice, then what about the malpractice of the help seeking employment, which one understands is common practice?

Following the detention of Ms. Khobragade, a report stated:

“Many officials, who have faced such situations, say maids who allege human trafficking, sexual abuse by employers etc have an easier route to obtaining the coveted green cards for them and their families. For this, they are assisted by a veritable army of NGOs and lawyers. Officials said on condition of anonymity that sometimes maids etc are lured by attractive offers from resident NRIs.”

It brings us back to the question: what exactly is the US thinking? At a pinch, it looks like America wants to appear egalitarian towards what is the working class. Although this has not got much publicity, it will convey a message in-house. There has been discussion about minimum wages as opposed to what the domestic staff would earn in India. The expenses are higher in the US, even if board and lodge are taken care of.

It is important to note here that diplomatic staff, and even those of multinational companies, working in India are provided a ‘hardship allowance’, apparently to tide over the hardships they might face in a less developed country, quite forgetting that the dollar goes a long way here. As for the terrible state, they occupy the best real estate and are the toast of big business and the glamour world. They are on the socialite’s wish list all year round, and as they live in the metros there is hardly any reason to complain. If anything, they get far more attention than they would at home. The policy of “reciprocity” will not affect many socially, if we understand the Indian mindset.

The issue has to go beyond removing protective barricades. For those gloating that India is taking a firm stand, let us not fool ourselves.

Playing on anti-American sentiment will cut no ice, because the US has survived it and thrives on it. Count the nations that are against American policies and you will get the picture. Yet, it is American forces that land up to save beleaguered countries, and let us not get into the pragmatic position or even the ethical one here. Or, shall we use the word of currency now – malpractice?

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”

- Harry A. Blackmun

At first, these words by a Supreme Court justice in the early years of the last century appear regressive. I particularly dislike the word “treat”. However, it is important to recognize the differences and celebrate them.

Recently I came upon the term ‘microaggression’.

These photographs were posted with this explanation:

Photographer Kiyun asked her friends at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” 
The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

I was most intrigued by the “smell of rice”. When rice is steamed or cooked simply, it pretty much has no smell. But that is not the point. It is to point out a predominant trait or habit.

There are other such instances, and we will find them in our own environment too. How different is different allowed to be? Why is the ‘other’ always a matter of running down? Even within families not everybody is alike; our friends are not all the same; we too might not look, act or think in a uniform manner all the time.


Mandela and the Politics of Immortality: Art and Artifice

(Published in CounterPunch, Dec 11)

I saw a dead Nelson Mandela in 2010 for the first time. The symbolism of and reactions to his corpse in a work of art then and to his demise now make for an almost eerie comparison.

December 10 Tuesday’s memorial service held at a stadium saw thousands, and many more who watched the live broadcast in three stadia in Johannesburg. 11,000 troops took care of the security arrangement, as several heads of state and government paid tribute. His body will lie in state until the funeral on Sunday. As reported:

“Each morning, his coffin will be carried through the streets of the capital in a funeral cortege, to give as many people as possible the chance to pay their final respects.”

There is choreographed precision, for this would not merely be about homage but ensuring immortality, a fumigated immortality. Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani – leaders with politics quite different and negating what Mandela represented – were at the same place consolidating the pragmatism of denial. Obama has worked within the circumference of the racism apologia. Rouhani signifies a moderate stance where power brokering replaces ideology. Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans at the very last minute. An Israeli official said he changed his mind after learning about the high cost, as well as special “security challenges". It goes without saying that he is an opponent of Mandela’s stand on a free Palestine. Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro has become another one of those messiah miracle moments that appeals to the infantile concept of angels flying overhead to clear the air.

Immortality is in many ways about the longevity of status quo. In some cases, death by martyrdom ensures that. Mandela is probably the first political mystic many of us have watched, and now the sinners will canonise him. The process started when he became the first Black president of South Africa. The civilised world could not accept just another black, so he was honoured as the ‘man of peace’; the person they called a terrorist had to be whitewashed as a democrat. During the 27 years that he was imprisoned, the struggle had continued.

It must be mentioned that Winnie Mandela, his wife in all those years, was also imprisoned and tortured. Rather ironically, to make certain that Mandela’s posterity remains untarnished, her three decades of effort to keep his heroism alive have been sacrificed. Her black against blacks political moves are certainly more nuanced and expose the one-dimensional narrative that we would like to imbue Mandela with.

Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, is now not just about prison bars echoing with cries and defiant raised fists; it is a guest book of purple prose penned by many a suited establishmentarian. Nothing establishes it better than the effort in Obama’s speech to disabuse the notion of Mandela as someone “detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men” only to consecrate him as a ‘higher man’. Notable was the pre-emptive strike of the ‘higher plane’ on which he himself stood:

“Like America's founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations – a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.”

Using the language of wisdom, he sneaked in references to how “Madiba disciplined his anger” and, rather opportunely for Obama himself, how “he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal”. Icons are often the creation of others’ self interest and self-indulgence.

To add to the mythology, it helped that Mandela took his own final breath unmasked by oxygen. The last breath transformed a political sage into a death-defying prophet. That Soweto, the arena of the violent uprising, enshrined this Biblical moment is not without irony. Public sentiment is quite unlike the rehearsed obituaries that seek to gain historical relevance by default. That the leaders would return to order their armies and polish their weapons is the real post-mortem of the déclassé, a deliberately bourgeois reference to underline the pugnacity.

This is where the dead Mandela of 2010 in a painting seems so relevant now. Johannesburg artist Yiull Damaso strove to "confront a subject that remains almost taboo" – the future death of Mandela. Mortality is no message. However, as a metaphor for dying ideals it is significant.

Parodying Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp’, the artist had painted Mandela covered in a loin cloth, watched over by world leaders Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jacob Zuma and former presidents F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki, and a 12-year-old boy who died of AIDS.

He explained it thus:

“The politicians around him are trying to find out what makes him a great man. Nkosi Johnson, the only one in the painting who's no longer alive, is trying to show them that Mandela is just a man. So they should stop searching and get on with building the country.”

The African National Congress found the ‘autopsy’ revolting. A party spokesperson had said:

"It is in bad taste, disrespectful, and it is an insult and an affront to values of our society. This so-called work of art is also racist. It goes further by violating Mandela's dignity by stripping him naked in the glare of curious onlookers, some of whom have seen their apartheid ideals die before them."

South Africa has seen a great deal of suffering. Mandela stands for overcoming racism and the onlookers are perhaps made to watch not his literal death but to understand what the movement he represented was about. Using a child, an AIDS orphan, who died of an illness that requires extreme caution, stands for the diseased parts of the system that has no moorings.

The almost naked form reveals a man without any encumbrances, and the loincloth is at a very basic level both tribal culture and childhood. As dress has become our mode to judge civilisation and hierarchy, it might appear to be racist at some level. But the ANC, by referring to the work as “a foreign act of ubuthakathi (bewitch), to kill a living person”, indulged in convenient sorcery by ignoring the leader’s long tenure as the ‘living dead’.

The painting was displayed in a mall, where nuance would be lost to consumerism. Whether it was intentional or not, this too comes across as a potent message. The symbolism of hawking Madiba as a shining hope, by subverting the essentiality of his tribalism and history, has been an egregious pastime of the intelligentsia.

Nelson Mandela in a glass case has indeed become a work of art and not a bad investment for the glory-seekers.

© Farzana Versey


Images: 1. A stamp commemorating him in Russia; 2. Slogans during the anti-apartheid movement; 3. Cameron, Obama and the leader of Denmark posing for selfies at the memorial service of Mandela; 4. The painting

Courtesy: New York Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian


A touch of arrogance: The Kejriwal USP?

We are in a hurry to create heroes, especially if he happens to 'conquer' the seat of power. Is that not the reason why, despite the BJP doing well in all the four states that went to polls for the assembly elections, the accolades have been reserved for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)?

Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdulah said, "Never underestimate the underdog/ newcomer with a fresh face and message."

Arvind Kejriwal, an IITian and Magsasay Award winner, can hardly be called an underdog. His message, too, is not new. Following his win, he said:

"Who are we? We are the aam admi of this country. We are very ordinary people. But when ordinary people stand up to injustice, they shake up the establishment."

The establishment has been shaken quite a few times before too - whether it was by S.P. Mukherjee, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and the Janta Party, V.P.Singh and the Jan Morcha and later Janata Dal, the NDA, and all these in response to the Congress. When the Congress returned, it also shook up what was the prevailing establishment.

If Kejriwal means doing politics differently, then it is too early to accept it. We might rejoice over unknown names when it comes to water, electricity; pamphleteering and house visits also have a feel-good factor.

Rahul Gandhi too has admitted that the AAP used non-traditional people, which was its strength. He should not see too much in it or try to "learn", as he said the Congress should, because there is something called flash-in-the-pan.

Look no further than Bollywood to figure out how many remarkable "debuts" have not had a repeat chance.

Kejriwal further states:

"This is the first time that an election has been fought on the basis of truth and honesty. Till now, we associated politics with crime and corruption. For the first time, people have looked at honest politics and the results show that the masses are fed up with the corrupt politics of BJP, Congress and their likes. If these parties do not change, people will uproot them."

A simpler term is anti-incumbency, although "uprooting" has a nice romanticised ring to it. There is a touch of arrogance to his statement. Those who fought against the Emergency did so for upholding truth. The Bofors kickbacks resulted in the JD win. One may not agree with the politics of some of the parties, but they fought for something.

He is positioning himself as a messiah, and one is not sure whether the "we" is the royal we or he can claim to speak on behalf of us or even for the common man. The common man does not recognise corruption because he does not have the means to acquire anything. If a tube well is not installed in a village because some bureaucrat has swallowed up the money, then for the common man it is water that is the issue, not the sahib. He is pragmatic enough to realise that this immediate boss is his connection with the world.

The major parties do have criminals, they are corrupt. Some of the leaders known for their notoriety have been getting reelected. Why does this happen? Where is the intelligence of the public? Where is this victory of democracy that we are hearing about now?

The 'cleanliness' of the AAP has to do with it being new. One splash of mud, and it will be laundry time.

Meanwhile, Anna Hazare has resurfaced as the wise man who showed Kejriwal the way. "Delhi ‘andolan’ has helped AAP,” he said. This might sound opportunistic, but it happens to be true.

Kiran Bedi, another member of the core team of the People's Movement, has said: "Why can't they (BJP and AAP) sit down together and explore an option of a common minimum programme."

Bedi has come out as a clear BJP supporter, but then Anna too was a tacit supporter, and one cannot rule out Kejriwal's own ideological allegiance. The reason he has said he will not ally with any big party is to ensure some time. He will weigh his options carefully for the Lok Sabha elections next year. [Of the 70 seats in Delhi, the BJP got 32 seats, the AAP won 28. 36 seats are required to form the government.]

Those who are running down the quick schemes by the Congress Party, even if they were rushed in time for the elections, they had been in the pipeline. That they were to help the common man ought not to produce sniggers now. After all, the AAP also capitalised on the corruption scandals. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time.

© Farzana Versey


On the common man fallacy in this earlier post: Aam Aadmi in the time of elitism


Sunday ka Funda

"We could live for a thousand years
But if I hurt you
I'd make wine from your tears..."

Find these words interesting. Sounds a bit cruel on the face of it, but I am thinking of old wine, the longevity of tears that will be held precious even after a thousand years.

And just for the moment too...this:


Sanjay Dutt and the case for prison reforms

It would not be anything new if I said it is a mockery of the law. This is beyond comprehension. Actor Sanjay Dutt who was jailed for arms possession in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case is to be let out on parole once again on grounds of his wife's ill-health.

The latest report suggests that there are protests outside Yerwada Jail by activists of some political parties. All this happened primarily after some media outlets carried pictures of Maanyata at a film screening and a party last night, which signaled that she was perhaps quite well. The report says a doctor did check on her, and she is suffering from a liver tumour and suspected heart ailment.

How did Sanjay Dutt manage to get a whole month for his wife's ill health? Who decides on the tenure of care that would be required, as an illness has no timeframe, especially if the specifics are not spelled out?

The important questions here are about favouritism and the law. It is obvious that he manages to pull strings and get his way, something denied to others in the same case during the same period.

Zaibunisa Kazi, a woman in her 70s, was denied parole despite her illness. Will Sanjay Dutt stand surety for her? The answer would be: he cannot because he is a convict. Precisely the point. As a convict, how do the authorities take his word?

On the earlier occasion it was his own illness. Aren't prisoners sent to jail doctors? Should there not be adequate checks during his period of furlough to ensure that his health is alright, a mandatory requirement when a prisoner is inside the premises? Jail authorities can be pulled up if there is a problem. What are the standards when a prisoner is on parole? What if he commits suicide? Who will be responsible?

Should we blame the person seeking it or those granting it? If I were a celebrity, then it is possible that I might try and milk my status as much as possible. What is the law for — to play into my whims? Is the law my chattel that I can call upon to do as I will it to?

There is much talk about corruption, but what is going on here is a form of corruption on the part of the police and law agencies. Under pressure state home minister RR Patil passed the buck:

“The parole has been granted by the Divisional Commissioner. We are looking into the matter and have sought documents which formed the basis for allowing his release on parole.”

From the start, this case was in the public eye because the legal system deemed it fit to be seen as proper. To maintain that sense of propriety it sent a bunch of people to jail. Once you take this decision, then at least respect it. If Sanjay Dutt's behaviour is good, what is the aged Zaibunisa Kazi doing that isn't good?

I am all for humane treatment of prisoners, but it should apply across the board. (It was not done while convicting, as we know about ministers who had arms at the time.) If the law too believes it buckled under pressure while sentencing Dutt and a couple of others, then is there room for reopening the cases?

Perhaps it is time to use this instance to discuss prison reforms. Why can we not have a system of a broad-based house arrest, where convicts who are to be trusted can continue to contribute to society while being denied certain privileges? Doing carpentry and cooking may work in the barracks, but prisons can become better places if there are fewer prisoners in them. They can benefit if the 'homed' convicts are made to pay a portion of their earnings to the welfare of prisons. Imagine a Sanjay Dutt contributing, say, 10 per cent of his earnings.

There should certainly be strictures, such as showing up every ten days and filling up a roster, impounding of the passport and whatever identification papers the government deems fit, and the police can conduct surprise checks whenever they wish but accompanied by an appointed ombudsman from an impartial agency. Public appearances in the case of celebrities should not be permitted. Between work and home, the legal system can create a group of individuals who are not merely holed up and then granted special leave that looks like a farce.

If justice is seen to be done, it can be so outside the prison too. As I had written in an earlier piece:

a criminal is not answerable to me or you. The government, the judiciary, the police are. They are public servants. As for the ‘watchdogs’, it would be good for them to remember that those who prefer selective justice are the real anti-social elements.

The same applies to selective treatment of those who have seemingly got their just desserts.

© Farzana Versey



Everybody wants to claim Nelson Mandela. India has appropriated that right with its most bankable crutch: Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela, who fought against apartheid, was imprisoned for 27 years, is seen in India as the man inspired by Gandhi.

Of course, he expressed admiration. Yes, Gandhi was thrown out of a train in South Africa. But their lives and politics were vastly different.

That ought to not even be a point right now. Just as quoting Barack Obama on Mandela, except as an obituary, makes no sense. Mandela was the product of a violent struggle in his lifetime and was called a terrorist. He did not initiate a war on terror, he did not live to send drones to other countries.

In his own words: "Armed struggle must be a movement intended to hit at the symbols of oppression and not to slaughter human beings."

He was not a traditional pacifist when it mattered. As he said, "During the times of tensions, it is not the talented people who excel, who come to the top, it is the extremists who shout slogans."

In the rush to pay tributes, people don't seem to realise that they are conveying something entirely different from what they intend to say, simply because they are saying it badly.

Take this ad for a dairy product company.

It has sensibly not put in a reference to its butter. But, how exactly did Nelson Mandela rise each time we fell? Who are the 'we' represented here?

This does not even sound complimentary; rather, it is an insult. Did Mandela rise when others faltered? Does it mean that his whole struggle was about such flawed behavior on the part of the rest instead of a fight for what he believed in?

There is a quote by Confucius, which seems to have inspired the ad:

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Mandela did not give up despite the incarceration. It was his glory, his achievement. He did not wait and watch for others to fall so that he could rise.

In fact, prior to the 1994 elections, he said: "If there is anything I am conscious about, it is not to frighten the minorities, especially the white minority. We are not going to live as fat cats."

End note:

"Nelson Mandela Becomes First Politician To Be Missed" — Headline in The Onion

© Farzana Versey


Khaps and Taliban — Sometimes Misunderstood?

The idea that the khap panchayats want to get an image makeover is not new. They tried it earlier. So, will it be any different when they launch their website on December 14?

Whether we like it or not, khaps play an important role in villages, especially since the ministers are too busy in circuit houses, if they ever show up. Often, the regressive attitudes expressed and, worse, action taken against women, including honour killings, are not exclusive to panchayat members, but part of the conditioning and attitude.

Sunil Jaglan of Jind's Nogama khap has been quoted as saying:

"We feel positive work done by khaps is not highlighted by the media. Khaps resolve disputes related to property and matrimonial affairs but these do not get prominence anywhere.''

This could well be true, and given that there is more and more a need to delegate, khaps can play an important role. Perhaps a policy of reward, by way of recognition for their good work, might help them to understand why there is a negative perception based on their diktats and how detrimental it is to the society they claim to represent.

It is obvious that they are essentially trying to woo the media and the outside public, and such a website might not even be accessible to the villagers. However, the fact that they are in the open would be a check on their activities. In fact, it might help if they also dealt with issues not restricted to their domain. It would then reveal how the big bad city denizens behave, too.

The flipside of such 'reaching out' could be self-censorship of news and views, and if the media depends solely on their version the truth might never be out. Or, it might be reported as sensational items, like the Deoband fatwas that nobody except the mullahs sitting in there care about.

If the khap initiative does turn out to be an exercise in such value judgments, then it would end up telling the rest of the country who is boss.

For now, the benefit of doubt is due.


Another case of an organisation that will never get good press is the Taliban. There was a news item about how the Talibs told Pakistanis that howsoever great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is they should not praise him, but instead praise their own Misbah-ul-Haq, even if he is a bad player. Headlines like “Stop praising Indian Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Taliban warn Pakistani media" made it to all major international and national newspapers, with the usual moral authority that comes with being on the side of the good guys.

Turned out that the intelligensia got it all it so wrong that the Taliban statement came across as superbly nuanced!

The media took one para out of context and missed out on the analogy, exemplified in this last bit:

"This logic certainly opposes reality, just like the example of cricketers I just gave, everyone knows how much it is opposite of reality to not admire the greatest cricketer [Tendulkar]."

Of course, there will be many who would ask: "But haven't the Taliban done so many vile things? They are capable of saying this."

Yes. But there is no ethical reason for those who are 'superior' to mislead. This is not just about what the Taliban says, but how it is perceived in a generally antagonistic Indo-Pak context.

I was particularly struck by the photograph I have used here. It seems to suggest that Sachin is under threat from the Taliban.

It is a little amusing, though, that these guys want to clarify their stand on a cricketer. But, I do sigh in relief that no one has used the done-to-death headline saying that the Taliban bats for Sachin.

It was a 'no ball'.

© Farzana Versey


Cartoon: The Hindu
Image: Express Newsline


Sunday ka Funda

"A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end… but not necessarily in that order."
- Jean-Luc Godard

The battle between what constitutes good cinema and bad cinema will never end. The mainstream, whether in Hollywood or Bollywood, will be looked down upon, even as the majority of people crowd the movie halls to watch escapist fare, or distorted versions of events.

I have been quite open about my love for Indian cinema, despite its flaws, and partly because of the manner in which the original New Wave has been completely altered to make way for the sanctimonious creators of pulp redefined.

A while ago I read about this conversation between actor-director Manoj Kumar and Satyajit Ray, two people from different genres of filmmaking:

At the 1967 International Film Festival in New Delhi, Ray told Kumar that he found his film 'Upkar', a tad too melodramatic. After a pause, Kumar replied: “Manikda (Ray’s nickname), consider the scene in 'Charulata' where Soumitra Chatterjee first meets Madhabi Mukherjee. There is sound of thunder and lightning in the background. Is it not melodrama?”

A smiling Ray apparently patted Kumar’s shoulder and said, “You caught me!”

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out."
- Alfred Hitchcock


A few months ago we had an interesting discussion here about a song from a Manoj Kumar film