Sunday ka Funda

The only thing that will be remembered about my enemies after they’re dead are the nasty things I’ve said about them.

- Camille Paglia

I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them.

- Susan Sontag

Whenever we see two or more feminists we assume they will warmly cuddle up, echo each other's thoughts. This is not how it works, or even should. Not just feminism, no ideology should be trapped in one narrow path.

This clip I came across would appear like a cat fight that everyone so loves, but men can be snarky too. As I watched it — initially with a smile, I might add — it struck me that the more important aspect here was competitiveness. Usually, it is healthy. But, as the screen went dark, it left me with some disappointment. How can two people who are well-known and have their own following refuse to acknowledge each other, or in one case pretend the other does not even exist?


Couples DO consciously uncouple

If you have not walked down that street, stop spraying near every lamppost. Those commenting on how others decide to term their personal lives is the stuff of gossip, and does not in any way express the concern for relationships they claim to uphold.

The phrase under the scanner, and that caused sniggers, is 'conscious uncoupling', used by Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her musician husband Chris Martin after a decade of marriage. It was a joint statement, but Paltrow has had to bear the brunt of "sickly self-serving twaddle". This should tell us something about the stupendously 'unconscious' lives making lobotomised decisions that are holding forth.

Parting is never easy. In intimate relationships, you have to reclaim yourself. You do seek euphemisms, because it has to do with how you project your life from past to future. You feel like shit even if you are the one to opt out. You feel like shit even if you knew it was coming. You feel like shit when you stand bare and look for warts because you must have screwed it up. You feel like shit as vultures view your vulnerability with binoculars.

You have to look the voyeurs in the eye, with their happy shared-diaper duties, joint-account couplings, looking for your availability, your blotches. You feel like shit. But you have other things to do, even if the relationship was your priority, and not just because you were given the keys to the kingdom in a barter. You may not even have a signed piece of paper. You just have your dignity.

You may not utter the D word or mention the breakup for months, years.

Gwyneth and Chris had to announce it because their lives are public, and they did so gracefully:

"...we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner."

For anyone to assume that only celebrities have to deal with verbal issues to break the news reveals ignorance. On legitimised kingsize beds, in denial about their compromised existence based on mortgages and suspicions camouflaged as concern, they do you.

Take this from Jan Moir in Daily Times:

"An irony-free chunk of classic Paltrow pretentiousness, it made them sound like two camels detaching from a desert train in search of tastier macro-biotic foliage...Like a pair of tights who suddenly find out that they were stockings all along. Being ‘consciously uncoupled’ certainly made breaking up the family home and ‘co-parenting’ nine-year-old Apple and Moses, seven, seem like something holistic and pure; an experience you’d order at a wellbeing spa, along with the coffee enema."

Besides the use of terrible metaphors (unless she has an organic acquaintance with camels), this bilge will not fathom that It is holistic to be conscious when you make a life-changing decision. Being free from dithering is pure.

It is pure when you don't live on dregs of how you are measured. It is holistic and pure to not be stuck in a groove of a fake smile and the warmth of nostalgia for what you were when you are. It is pure when you are fair to the roads you travel through, not just the moss that's gathered around you.

When you decide to uncouple, you can't just 'unconsciously' walk away into the sunset.

© Farzana Versey


Whitewashing the BJP: The New Muslim Pastime

In the past few days, political equations have changed rather quickly. The change is not based on ideology — whatever its flaws, only the Left manages to get votes based on that — but personal motives, and opportunism.

Had it been restricted to people merely altering their positions, it would have been all right. But we have a new brand of 'reasonable' proselytisers. Whether we like it or not, the BJP is banking on its religious identity and due to the peculiar nature of the history of conflict, it is pitted against the Muslims.

What happens when a few Muslims start mouthing the BJP rants? What happens when they use denial? What happens when they talk down to other Muslims?

A case in point is former Samajwadi Party leader Shahid Siddiqui. Like many converts, he is expressing his love for the BJP like a spurned lover on the rebound.

"I want Muslims to be part of building a great prosperous India. I love my country and want Muslims to contribute to its development."

He is not Martin Luther King nor does he have a dream that he can use the first person singular to discuss a group of people with disparate needs and dynamics. Besides, what has love got to do with it? How do you measure development? Is it the elite version that completely ignores the work force, which has no religion? Aren't Muslim artisans and unskilled labourers contributing as much as those from other faiths? Will assembly-line products have a Muslim stamp and a Hindu stamp to gauge contribution?

When he was with the SP, a party that had been 'accused' of being soft on Muslims, did he raise these questions? No one is denying that Muslims need to be educated, just as there is no denying that they should get opportunities. Perhaps, he is not aware that the Modi government he lauds claims that Muslims in rural Gujarat are doing better than their Hindu counterparts. One hears about these figures all the time. So, who is not contributing?

It bothers me that Hindus, or even Christians and Sikhs, are not expected to quantity and qualify the contribution of their community in such broad general terms.

Siddiqui comes up with an even more disgusting statement:

"Muslims are unable to see that they have become slaves of Secularism to suit a coterie ruling this country using M as a vehicle to power."

This man speaks for inclusiveness of Muslims and then rubbishes them as slaves of the same secularism he is riding on. He spits it out as though secularism is a cuss word, if not a curse. It is nobody's case that secularism is a panacea; it is not even practised in its truest sense. India is just a nation of bundled together communities, tribes, regions.

Muslims are used as much as any other community. Because they are the largest minority, the stakes are higher. Every political party has its coteries that tap different sects from different faiths. This is the version of secularism we have followed for years. And this is precisely what these temporary messiahs are doing.

They come up with supposedly fresh perspective, which is only about their upward mobility, and market it as the solution without realising that it is part of the problem, if not the only one.

It is also a shrewd move to talk about economics and Muslim contribution in an atmosphere where it is the safe and, well, secular, thing to sell. The development egg is a showpiece. And the hawkers are asking Muslims to buy what they cannot get.

© Farzana Versey


The collage landed in my inbox, and makes a rather telling comment about the exaggeration and lies trotted out by the BJP.


Sunday ka Funda

"No, you can't lose a broken heart..."

You can. There are takers for shards...to recycle, perhaps, to want to bleed, to find some sheen in those pieces. But, more importantly, this is for those of us who do not think things out, who are upfront, and who finally do ourselves in...

"Take a walk
Think it over
While strolling neath the moon
Don't say things in December
You'll regret in June

Weigh your remarks
Before you speak
Or you may be sorry soon,
Don't be erratic
Be diplomatic
To keep your heart's in tune

Cruel harsh words
Often spoken
Will upset your applecart
So don't lose your head...
Cus, you can't lose a broken heart..."


The Imagined Man: Khushwant Singh’s Malice

Always laidback? Pic: India Today

Here was a brave, frank man with heavy security guarding him. A man who did not spare anybody, but supported a lid on the press, among other things, during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. A self-made man who lived and died in a house he inherited from his builder father, Sir Sobha Singh, who was a witness in the Assembly Bombing case for which Shaheed Bhagat Singh and others were sentenced to death.

Khushwant Singh is dead. He was 99. They said he lived a full life.

Standing in front of sandbags and a stern-looking guard, before I could be ushered in to meet him, I had often wondered about the several dichotomies. At some point, he took me to his study. The curtains had Arabic calligraphy; there were artifacts and plaques with Urdu verses. He asked me to read from one. I could not. There were two realisations. He, a product of the Partition, had got over his misgivings about Muslims. I, in search of universalism, had paid scant respect to heritage. That moment somehow defined how I would view him.

There were searing moments in ‘Train to Pakistan’, and uncomfortable ones in ‘I Shall Not Hear the Nightingales’; in ‘Delhi’, a novel, he used the eunuch as a metaphor. At least, it seemed so. Largely, however, he gave you bits and pieces that you could discard at will, leave behind in airports that you passed through.

Most of the obituaries in print and on television have droned on about his love for the good things of life, and then added with some gravitas that he was a serious man. After all, he wrote the “definitive”, “scholarly” ‘A History of the Sikhs’. In many ways this is such a limiting perception, as also being utterly disdainful. Clearly, there is discomfort over accepting one who confessed to “malice towards one and all”, which of course was not quite true. Singh did have an illustrious career as a diplomat, a lawyer, and then as a gadfly writer and magazine and newspaper editor.

Yet, he was not a dissenter, in that he did not shun the powerful and he did have his groupies. What is described as his “kindness” was really about social upstarts massaging his ego for which they got a tailpiece mention in his columns. If he wrote a few words about a pretty poet with two sonnets to her credit, her stock went up. His word counted for much among the wannabes, so much so that a woman columnist was so thrilled he called her buxom that she even wrote about it. He did a plug job for the world, and the world returned the favour.

More than what he said, it was the reactions to him that were always intriguing. Despite the hoopla about his obsession with the lewd, everyone is convinced he was a nice man. He confessed to debauchery, freeloading, a vicious pen, and yet he was respected. People invited him to speak on matters of national interest; in academic circles he was considered a scholar; in the media, a pathbreaking journalist; among the litterateurs, a sensitive person with the knack for picking the right books; among the liberals, a secularist; and among the religious, a god-loving agnostic.

It appears, though, that he was never striving for the sensational. I could not find anything sensational about monkeys in the hills where he had a vacation home, or the attractive wife of a tea-estate owner, or even Shraddha Mata, a hip god woman, in a leopard skin dress trying to woo Jawaharlal Nehru. What Khushwant Singh did was to make people feel good. If somebody were at the receiving end of his jibes, then the fellow’s enemies, as well some friends and readers, would end up feeling good.

The cartoon by Mario Miranda:
it became the logo for all his columns

The reason he was considered an epicure is not because people genuinely recognised his good taste, but because they felt that by elevating him to that level all that he said, including about them, would acquire a certain stature. In that sense, Khushwant Singh too was a product – the man sold in a bulb, the logo that went with his columns. He had no control over anything, including Sikh history. They called him anywhere, and he’d go. They’d ensure him his Scotch and early dinner – a precondition to his agreeing to attend any function or party – and he was happy. He thought he was happy.

How does one define a full life? Is it not empty of itself trying to fill up every cranny with the bon mots thrown its way like careless whispers on a dark day? And what is this about looking for the real man behind the mask? Why could he not be taken at his word that he was what he was?

The problem is that Khushwant Singh did too many things. Look closely. By telling us so much he did not really reveal a lot about himself. His columns were essentially a compilation of people and places, a few anecdotes and those execrable jokes that he got from the rustic heartlands. When did you read about his struggles? And struggles there would have been, mainly with himself. A man who despite his non-belief felt guilty about not visiting a gurdwara must have been introspecting and fighting those nagging doubts.

But when you are a hot-selling item on a sleek shelf you do not have the prerogative to be insecure. Self-defense is an ongoing process where you must keep falling into rat-traps laid out for you. That is the tragedy of being a phenomenon. That is where the distortions begin. Where the real man comes to grasp the impermanence of truth and the immortality of a distorted image. Khushwant Singh got the opportunity to make a career of it.

© Farzana Versey


Portions of this had appeared originally in the June 18, 1995 issue of Sunday Observer


Soni Sori: A Conduit for the Aam Aadmi Party?

Soni Sori contesting from the Bastar constituency for the 2014 general elections is good news. The Aam Aadmi Party made the right choice — she represents the travails of the common man in its truest manner, unlike the codified middle class mannequins that are often trussed up as 'aam', including the party's leader Arvind Kejriwal.

A tribal woman, a school teacher, an "alleged Maoist", a suspect, an undertrial, a jail inmate, an 'escapee', and finally and most conclusively a survivor. Soni Sori's story exposes a venal government, a venal police force, a venal justice system, and to an extent venal activism.

On one occasion some years ago, she had asked how shoving stones in her body could possibly solve the Naxalite issue. The Indian State has employed a war-like colonial stance against its own people almost immediately after independence. The status quo was stratified and sanctified rightaway and is now congealed.

Other blood flows.

Even as someone who was incarcerated and tortured for being a conduit, the big guys of corporate India who were supposed to be working in tandem got away; she and her nephew, the tribals, were left to rot in prison.

India's conscience did not rise at this daughter's treatment. It is possible that had the Delhi gangrape victim been alive today, she would have got a ticket to contest the elections. Soni's predicament has been political from the beginning. Yet, will politics be the panacea?

Unlike certain media channels that have a single-point agenda to demolish AAP, I have tried to give a fairly rounded critique ever since its inception. There would, therefore, be no reason to snigger at its choice of candidates, the broad sweep of the socio-economic landscape it has managed to awaken. But this is a bubble, and as bubbles go it will work.

The party is hinged on one man, and we are yet to know his views on many crucial internal and foreign policy matters. His situation is all the more shaky because it is a new party. There is a case to be made for the 'anarchist', but not when the movement is reduced to name-dropping and cultivating a slumdog persona. Indeed, we do get excited when a Mukesh Ambani or the Adani group is called out. What after that?

A relative visiting from abroad was endorsing AAP: "I thought at least there will be some change."

There is. In that it works as NOTA - none of the above, which is a new form of TINA - there is no alternative. So, it might operate as a buffer. When the results are out, and some of its candidates will most certainly win, will it remain independent?

This is where my concern for Soni Sori comes in. None of the other candidates have anything to lose. They are part of a neo-awakened class that can afford the risk of not being in power or of tactically aligning with some other party.

Sori's has been a lone ideological battle. It might appear that we are talking about just a teacher, a tribal woman from Dantewada. We are and we are not. Her situation is emblematic of what is wrong with India.

Let us not forget that until last month, AAP was hesitant to give her a ticket. Should she win, and who more deserving than her, then how would the party deal with her in an alliance partnership with the state's serfs that were the cause of her problem, of the problem of what she stands for?

While getting my thoughts together, I came across her most recent interview to The Hindu.

The AAP approached her. For this, one must give them credit. No other party would touch her. Pardon the cynicism, but it is also their trump card. Despite the Indian State, people like Sori represent the marginal. There is a whole lot of support for people like her.

However, in the enthusiasm to give the tribals a voice, politicians are more keen to sanitise her image by emphasising her non-Naxalite status, her innocence as opposed to their criminality. This is something that needs to be considered. Will she be a political conduit now?

Sori says:

"I felt if I have to change things in Bastar, politics is the only way. I realised that it was only through politics that I can empower myself, and when I am empowered, I would be able to empower people in Bastar as well. The freedom of my people has been curtailed. I want to give their freedom back to them."

If only this was true. Political opportunism may not permit such change, except perhaps cosmetic. And it was politics that victimised her. As a winning candidate she might be able to address the local issues of Bastar, but not how the system chooses its criminals. It co-opts, and that could be a greater tragedy where one or two or a few individuals are shown as 'reformed'. As she said:

"Some of those who witnessed the recent Maoist attack in Jeeram Valley say many of the guerillas were women and children. They were carrying guns. Children should not be carrying guns; they should have pens in their hands."

There has been a breakdown. However, when was education of tribals ever a priority? It has served various governments to keep them backward to serve the colonial mindset we thrive on. The "innocent tribals" are also those who pick up guns because they have been forced to.

As a school teacher, she is addressing the right issues, and there is hope for that. Her personal experience with the law has naturally made her conscious of exposing it ("I fear that the more I speak the truth, the more I’ll subject myself to danger. But I cannot keep silent any longer"), but under the skin all political parties are the same.

She was asked if she'd like to tell anything to the Maoists, establishing the otherness. She replied:

"What do I tell them except that the gun solves nothing; the only way forward is through peace, through dialogue. Bastar has seen enough of violence. Let’s all work together to put an end to this bloodshed."

Peace is always an option, a desired goal. But we are not talking about one hand clapping. Will she be able to confront the police? Will her party stand by her to seek the release of "hundreds of innocent tribals"? And will it be only one of those fast-track justice acts where footfalls of the free will hush the quiet arrests made, the bodies bundled up in the thick of the forests?

Soni Sori coming into the mainstream is likely to be somebody else's trophy. Again.

© Farzana Versey


Image: Tehelka


Patriotism and the Sahara Parivar

A big business magnate gets jail time, aggrieved investors shout slogans against him, someone throws ink as he leaves the court. The Indian middle class, quick to find conscience keepers in any nook and cranny, will pat itself for justice delayed but not denied. They will applaud Indian democracy.

The default beneficiaries will be political parties. Look, they are likely to preen, we put the big man in Tihar Jail, he will have to sleep on the floor, eat prison food.

Subrata Roy has essentially done what big businesses in India do: withheld information and cheated investors. A report states:

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) says Sahara failed to comply with a 2012 court order to repay billions of dollars to investors. Sahara says it repaid most investors and that its remaining liability was less than the 5,120 crore rupees it deposited with SEBI.

Roy had evaded arrested, and when he was caught the cops took him to a forest guesthouse where he held court. This Tihar Jail stay until March 11, close to the general elections, will be a great showpiece for the idea of the 'power of politics'. Assisting it are the investors who shouted, "He is a thief, he has usurped people's hard-earned money", and then appeared Manoj Sharma, a Madhya Pradesh lawyer, who chucked black ink on Roy's face within the premises of the Supreme Court, an illegal and nicely acceptable anarchic act. He even managed to show his torso, and the inked words in Hindi scrawled on it: "Azaad Hindustani", the free Indian.

This was a moment.

Roy is also a huge celebrity magnet, partly because unlike many other industrialists he does not have lineage. He patronised and was patronised by the governments in power, Bollywood actors, cricketers. The nouveau riche.

Some of them even had a press conference a few days ago to support him, but had to stop mid-way. Former cricketer Kapil Dev in a letter to the media, which he said he was sharing "in the best interest of the people of the country", no less, wrote:

I came to know though TV channels that Saharasri has surrendered and is in police custody. I have known him as an extremely patriotic man who has done so much for the country. I wish that he comes out of this situation soon."

Patriotism is the key that opens many doors. Roy had mastered this art, and in some ways by calling his organisation a 'Parivar', family, he truly played into the emotions of the Indian psyche.

Our memories are short, though. At the height of the CWG scandal, he had issued huge advertisements in the newspapers titled ‘Commonwealth Games Emotional Appeal’. It was signed by ‘A Humble Citizen’. Himself. He used words like "pride", “respect and hope” and “our recent economic growth”.

This is the fantasy of the millionaires. The economic growth has not reached most citizens. In fact, humble people who are not sponsored by big men's logos.. Is this our “rich heritage”?

Roy had written:

“Due to this continuous and extensively negative coverage, we are creating a withdrawal feeling in thousands of organizers, 23000 volunteers, who are feeling totally demoralized and dejected. This would totally mar the successful conduct of the Commonwealth Games and give a bad image to our beloved country for all times to come.”

Clearly, here it was about self-image and well-being. Roy had a stake in IPL and iwas eyeing Liverpool. It is such grandiose efforts that make us believe we are global citizens by marketing our heritage, which has been taken over by those far removed from it.

It is rather shocking how Roy came forth on CWG and felt “the culprits most definitely need to be punished with all their misdeeds thoroughly investigated and all sorts of checks and audits duly conducted by going deep into the matters related to purchase, negotiations & payments etc. But if should all be done after our country's greatest ever sporting event is over. Of course, all the culprits should be severely punished, thereafter”.

This is a classic way of pushing the dirt under the carpet. These culprits will be the visible face of India.

It is no surprise that a businessman would think narrowly. Some of his supporters have shown concern for members of his Parivar and their wellbeing. Subrata Roy, even when down, remains in the Indian public imagination a benevolent patriarch, the head of the extended Indian family. By default, it is India. India Incorporated running India is not just about money gained and lost. It is about the gullibility and guile of the upwardly mobile middle class, the vote bank that dares not take its name.

It can be the victory even in downfall of many a corporate house of cards.

© Farzana Versey


Fashion as Art

Can a fashion image have the longevity of art? Fashion, by nature, is ephemeral. What we call timeless fashion is regurgitation of trends in spurts to hold on to something that might be termed, fashionably, antique.

The pictures in “Different Distances: Fashion Photography Goes Art", an exhibition by Swedish fashion photographers, cross over the barrier. Curator Greger Ulf Nilson was aware that not everything would fit in:

“Most of the time, straightforward fashion photography has a ‘best before’ date because it's meant to be in a magazine or for a campaign that month or that season of the year. It's a very fast image in that way.”

So, what makes these images work? I have chosen four that represent varied moods and art forms, too. After being impressed by their artistic merit, I was left with the question: do they qualify for the purpose they were created? Is there any appeal for those who follow fashion? Would they sell anything?


Elisabeth Toll, One More Time and the Elephant Is Going to Be Angry, 
Paris, 2006

The elephant and the girl is spot on. The target segment is the young, and the adventurous. Although the clothes and shoes are far from sporty, they are certainly comfortable. The message is not quite different from the ones we are accustomed to of, say, a model water rafting or rock climbing. The monochromatic format with the model not taking up too much space – the pachyderm does that! – might also send out a signal for a small niche market or, be light on the pocket.


Denise Gr√ľnstein, The Female Gaze, 2009
I’d be surprised if this one was selling only hairpieces; it would be too literal and therefore disappointing. This is more contemporary and expressionistic, and enticing. The fact that you cannot see the model’s face, and only hair in different shades spread around, is alluring as fantasy. The sand and sea, ‘natural’ ingredients, sharpen the bizarreness. What sort of table is this? Is it for magic, for an al fresco meal, for a voodoo act, for an emergency operation? Intriguing. The caption says, “The Female Gaze”, and she is not seeing anything as her face is covered. Her dress is quite formal and the colour merges with the backdrop. The target would be a fairly conservative sharp dresser but whose foxiness is displayed in the accessories she chooses. She knows that the female gaze is discerning and will notice.


Julia Hetta, Untitled, 2009

Portraits in the classical mould have been sanctified in art, although often the patronage that created them was a commercial transaction. It has always been the trend among the nobility to sit for the artist. Now the tradition has altered to include anyone with money and the art might be illustrated using a photograph. Therefore, this one seems perfect. It whispers bespoke with its subtlety and quiet hauteur. The strong-jawed model naturally draws attention to the neck and then the leaf on the lapel, which is the only burst of colour.


Julia Peirone, Lovisa, 2010
This one is wham. Lovisa is a jewellery and accessories brand. Would any girl/woman buy it after seeing this macabre expression? The model is devoid of conventional makeup, and is ‘zombified’. Her left hand has a bruise, her palms and fingers seem reddish, and it can mean many things. She is young and while it would take a good deal of indulgence to call her naughty, I’d still go with perkiness and a couldn’t care less attitude. One can spot a gold chain and over her head she is holding on to a strap of what could be a bag. There is an element of self-indulgence in this photograph, but the no-eyeball look could suggest that the brand can be trusted blindly. And once you own it, you can put people under your spell.


In the end, fashion and art mean different things to different people. And much appreciation of art does have to do with how the art galleries and curators position it. Over a period of time, some artists become a trend.

It has also become acceptable for reprints of well-known art works to be used on clothes, furniture, and other paraphernalia. You could wear a Picasso on your scarf and a Marilyn Monroe dress could be in the museum. The lines are blurred, and it is all right if they flow as well as a trailing gown…

© Farzana Versey


The image on the sidebar on top is also from the series.