The Australian Imam and meat

Why Can't The Australian Imam Think Beyond Meat?
By Farzana Versey
28 October, 2006, Countercurrents

* * *
Sheik Taj Aldin al Hilali chose the month of Ramzan to talk about meat. Unfortunately, he was referring to women in that demeaning fashion.

Said he, “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden, or in the park, or in the backyard without cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat's?”

While the concentration is on the woman as meat analogy, we should also cast a glance at his assumption that, as a consequence, men are cats. The cat brain is vastly different from the human brain, which the Mufti does not seem to understand.

He went on to add, “If she (a woman) was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

Which world does he live in? Is there no rape in Muslim countries? Are women behind veils not molested? Don’t rapes take place inside homes?

What is surprising is these comments were made at a public sermon outside a mosque. What were the Muslims doing at the time? Isn’t Islam all about there being one god and one prophet and one holy book? Then, this human ‘middleman’ is not sacrosanct. Why did they not pull him up immediately or issue a statement distancing themselves from these disgusting views?

A month later ‘The Australian’, a local newspaper translated his comments, and now it has caused a furore. The problem with hindsight is that an emotive issue gets rationalised to the point that demerits too are rectified. Even the BBC, while interviewing him, described him thus: “A softly-spoken man, who clearly commands both enormous respect and affection within his community.”

This is a nice way to pin the whole community, at least within Australia. Did the BBC’s correspondent conduct a poll to ascertain his popularity? The media tends to assume that religious leaders, politicians, pop stars control people’s attention merely due to the fact that they cater to or represent them symbolically.

To those who see this as one more Islamic problem, my answer is, NO. It is the problem of one guy living in Australia.

There are those who are reacting to it and justifying the Imam’s statements by saying that even the Israeli President Moshe Katsav has been involved in scandals of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment of women. The latter is clearly a criminal offence for which he will or ought to be tried in a court of law.

There have been several cases of such crimes as well as inappropriate behaviour, including by the former US President Bill Clinton. The law took its course, to whatever degree (some element of influence no doubt impeding the legal process).

However, bringing these examples into the present discussion does not help, because these are not religious leaders.

Should there be different standards for them? Most certainly. While politicians can be thrown out of power, what checks and balances are there against these ‘people of god’?

How different is the Mufti’s behaviour from, say, a situation in which a woman may be referred to as “a nice piece of ass”? Social interactions require an altogether different set of norms, based on the constructs of that particular culture, which may or may not look kindly upon such terminology.

But the Mufti’s words negate what HE is supposed to stand for. His religion, Islam, does not give him the right to talk in this manner. It is as simple as that. If anything, he ought to feel ashamed of claiming Islam as his own and so should the Muslims. He has no business to hijack the religion for his paltry understanding of it and his few minutes of notoriety.

I do believe people should reasonably argue this issue without getting into religious politics. Irrespective of the fact that Australia has recently asked for a citizenship test that may target Muslims and start the whole debate about “integrating into the mainstream” – a superficial and smart way to bludgeon a community – it is a separate concern that needs to be tackled at the level of immigration policy and political prudence. Race riots have indeed affected many Muslims of Middle East origin and as Walid Ali of the Islamic Council of Victoria said, “I am expecting people to get abused in the street and get abused at work.”

For now, however, the Australian Imam should be disowned by the community for his irresponsible remarks.


Shabana Azmi and reality shows -- what's the difference?

Not many are going to question it. She carries her bleeding heart on her sleeve and makes sure the cameras are around to capture the moment.

I will pose the query nevertheless: Why has Shabana Azmi been conferred the International Gandhi Peace Prize? That she is the first Indian to be so rewarded is all the more surprising. One report gushed, “Shabana Azmi makes every Indian stand six inches taller as she becomes the first Indian to receive the prestigious International Gandhi Peace Prize for her contribution in social work.”

I am no admirer of Gandhi, but if an award has been instituted in his name, there has got to be some modicum of allegiance to his projected values. Is Ms. Azmi the best representative of those values, of peace? Aren’t there other ‘social workers’? What about Baba Amte, Swami Agnivesh, Anna Hazare, Medha Patkar, Ela Bhatt? Please check out their credentials. They have not only had hands-on experience, but also changed the mindsets of large sections of society.

Shabana Azmi has been involved with some slum organisation, and she uses her fame occasionally to get the issue some extra media coverage. And if, as one report said, she has worked for women’s upliftment, I would really like to know where and in what field/endeavour.

On being informed about the award, the lady responded with, “In today's strife-ridden world, Gandhian values of non-violence as a means of conflict resolution have gained great significance. Nowadays, people talk about Gandhigiri, thanks to Lage Raho Munnabhai.”

Is this a socially-committed activist or is she doing a plug job for a film? Chances are her own discovery of Gandhi was through the film, because one has never heard her speak about all the things she is saying now.

The unfortunate thing about awards is that the more visible you are the more likely you are to be recognised.
* * *
There is a controversy going on about how reality shows are being rigged/influenced by the participants to garner more votes for themselves. They are buying SIM cards in bulk, distributing T-shirts, going from place to place canvassing for support.

There are the dance shows Jhalak Dikhla Ja and Nach Baliye, music contests like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Indian idol and many other smaller ones.

The manner in which the votes can be rigged is clear and no sensible person thinks of the winner as being the best or most talented. This is in-your-face popularity seeking.

Can there not be more subtle canvassing going on for the more prestigious and respectable awards? Are we not aware that political considerations often swing the deal, and deals they are? Isn’t it true that the Miss Universe and Miss World contests that suddenly found a spurt of Indian ‘beauties’ were marketing ploys by western cosmetic agencies to tap and trap the huge middle-class market?

I am afraid but Shabana Azmi being honoured along with Mother Teresa in France, Shabana Azmi getting the Martin Luther King Award by the state of Michigan, Shabana Azmi winning an award at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year fall in the same category.

The London weather is good right now. One hopes that she and her husband will once again get to enjoy the hospitality of and be feted by Lakshmi Mittal, the steel baron and an important mover and shaker in Britain. After all, Javed saab did write the script for Mittal’s daughter’s wedding.

There is the scent of victory and bracing winter in the atmosphere. I suppose this is what Ms. Azmi meant when she said about Gandhi, “his fragrance seems to be in the air till now”.

Sure thing.



There are these promos on TV. Celebrities are telling us to root for India in the Champions Trophy: "Ooh...aah...India...aaya India". Supposed to be major emotional appeal, but ends up sounding like an ad for some pain in unmentionable regions.

It sickens me because some corporate organisations believe they have to tell us to applaud our country. Does it mean they assume we would not? Does it mean that watching some famous people is all there is to nationalism? Is a game a yardstick for how we must feel about India?

I don’t know how many of you recall an old ad where Saif Ali Khan was rooting for our men in blue. I had addressed the issue then…

How did you react when you were told you needed a few lays? You smiled. Yes, SMILED. You thought it was a fun thing. No, you thought it was good for your self-esteem, your…gulp… country. This was irresistible. A few lays and from a mere punk you had been transformed into a patriot. Potato chips that threatened you with cholesterol were now your weapon to make the globalised world into an Indian.

The ad being aired during the World Cup matches was clearly distasteful. Saif crunching on those wafers tells a White man cheering for another team that the munchies are so irresistible that he would not be satisfied with one. The bet is that if he asks for more he would have to wear the India T-shirt. Soon, the whole stadium is in blue screaming for our team -- Whites, Blacks, Browns.

What do I find offensive about it? One, we conveniently want a cohesive whole backing us at a time when we are digging our past and fighting amongst ourselves. Two, does nationalism mean over-riding others’ rights? Do we need the crutches of other countries to be able to say we are one? Do we need SMS messages telling us to wear blue condoms and f… the Pakistanis, as happened at that time? Do we need to offer special prayers to win against an ‘enemy’ when we never do that for droughts, train tragedies, people dying of extreme cold and souls getting burnt because of the intense heat? Do we paint our faces in the colour of the national flag when any of our worthy citizens get awarded for their efforts, when a village gets drinking water, when dignity is restored to displaced people?

I don’t need two-bit advertisers, politicians, bending-over-backwards-to-please Muslim organisations, pretending-to-uphold-the-culture outfits, lighting-candles-holding hands ‘liberals’ to tell me what the nation means to me. I shall continue to ask inconvenient questions, stick my neck out, not allow anyone to accuse me of being an ‘appeased minority’ because I believe I can be true to something only if I am not blind. And yes, I like the colour green and I like the crescent moon. But if anyone dares to tell me that this indicates that my place is across the border, then I shall ask them to go take a walk. For they only want to smile during hollow victory marches, while I weep with my country, and when I watch the rainbow in the sky, I know the true meaning of colours. As the rains merge with my tears, I don’t need to prove to any part-time patriot where I belong.

So go ooh…aah…ouch…


The scent of Eid

I think I will be using the mehndi cone after all, despite my protestations that, ok, it is Eid, so what’s the big deal?

For me the festival is associated with scents of all kinds.

- The first thing in the morning would be the whiff of henna being removed, its overnight stay on my hands giving it a deep tinge; I’d cup the palms before my nose and inhale.

- There was the strong ittar, the one day when non-alcohol-based perfume was used; it wasn’t mandatory, of course, and since I hated it I only hoped that heaven was nothing like Jannat-e-Firdaus, the particularly preferred one.

- There was the fragrance of aggarbatis as the fateha was said before one small bowl of sheer khurma, the rest to be distributed was spared any godly intervention.

- The smell of onions and potatoes being browned on a slow fire to be added to the biryani.

- The scent of gajras, strings of jasmine with a rose in the middle, which the women wore in their hair.

Finally, the aroma of gulkand and supari from the paan as they were chewed to pulp in the mouth.

Nostalgia has a very strong whiff…try as I may I cannot wash my hands off it.


Will 'Don' see the dusk?

A big deal is being made of the new version of Don. Worse, they are talking about whether it will live up to the legendary status of the old one. When was that silly little film a pathbreaking filmic venture? It was a regular potboiler.

I do like Farhan Akhtar as a director, but he has nothing to live up to. If he has remade the original in his own style it might turn out to be a taut movie. That’s it.

A lot of hoo-ha is being made about whether Shahrukh Khan will fit into Amitabh Bachchan’s boots. No, he won’t. Amitabh has large feet. And in that over-hyped “Khaike paan Banaraswaala” song he looks like one of those street acrobats balancing on stilts while rolling a scarf as a magician would do before bringing out a pigeon.

It was an exaggerated performance, not even in the sense of caricature. The small-town or dehati has been done with great sense of comic timing by Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna and later Gopi

As for Shahrukh, I have never thought him to be an actor; his own admission of being akin to a madaari fits him well. His typical roles are urban, not necessarily urbane. As small-towner/villager he seems like not even a disaster, but a damp squib. Paheli will bear witness to this.

So, in the other part of the Don, would he jell? As one of those irritating ad types said, “Amitabh was all about dignity; Shahrukh gives a damn for it.”

Ah well, Amitabh as Don was a stiff, starchy-suited, deep-voiced mannequin. That passes for dignity in Bollywood. Shahrukh may well be in control, but the effort will show. A bit like holding back a sneeze.

I know this is presumptuous. I have not seen the film. I am a presumptuous person. But if I do watch the film and it turns out to be different from my perceptions, then I am willing to eat my words.

It’s been a while since I had a delicious meal…
* * *
Talking of which, let me tell you about my disaster. Yesterday, with minimal pomp, I entered the kitchen with the purpose of cooking. It was to be humble fare – aloo paratha. I love aloo parathas. The potato mix had been kept ready, the dough was ready. All I had to do was fill the mixture into the dough, make it into round thick parathas and cook.

The potatoes kept peeping out, as though in protest for being trapped. The dough was clinging to me like a spurned lover. The flour that was to be dusted waited sullenly to be sprinkled. I overdid it. I put lots of it and rolled the damn thing and put it on the tawaa. Suddenly, I remembered the fat had to be added. As a child when anything was being cooked I would run miles away because the smell of cooking ghee sickened me.

Here I was dunking it on the frying pan and waiting for the paratha to cook itself. Turn, wait, turn…and I couldn’t figure out whether it had been cooked completely at all. I put my head close to it and saw spaces that were raw, the dough the colour of sallow skin. I don’t know how long it took.

At lunchtime, my mother bravely ate; she said it wasn’t bad. I thought it was awful. I took spoonfuls of yoghurt to cover the bites I took.

I wasn’t trying to hide my mistakes, but having committed them I was making an attempt to make up for my flaws, for no one but myself. I owed it to me.

Making parathas is not my scene. This isn’t about giving up so easily, but some things are not meant to be. And that which we relish need not be something we ourselves can be good at.

I feel humbled by Ammi’s efforts and all those who make good parathas.

I cannot. There are many things I cannot make. Many more that I cannot unmake.

"u bloody bastards," he said...

The bane of saying anything that does not quite go with people’s perceptions and expectations is always there.

Among the letters I have recently received, there is one which I should ignore, but I found it just too delectable to let go. It says:


u bloody bastards percecuted us for 1200 yeasrs killeing inocent people evryday..why u making chaos on one incident

Go and ask your forefathers what sins they did?


I cannot figure out why the person has signed out with ‘bastard’. I thought we were the illegitimate ones. Anyway, thanks for the empathy.

I am assuming the person is referring to Mughal rule. I wasn’t born 1200 years ago, although I do believe in rebirth. But, I was not a Mughal in my last birth. I was not aware that they killed everyday, because then they would not get their jiziya (tax), their harems, their cheap labour – like all colonialists do.

Come on, cut them some slack. They did give us some of the finest architecture, some of the best musical heritage, some fine poetry and dance were preserved under their patronage.

Of course I cannot figure out why for such an aesthetic lot they went around wearing frocks over their salwaars or jodhpurs or whatever they wore in the lower half, and why they stuck those ridiculous feathers in their turbans and posed for paintings with silly roses held in front of their noses.

I ask for forgiveness for such travesty.

Now, tell me, how can I ask my “forefathers” what sins they “did”? They are dead, na? I can call them using a Ouija board, but I don’t know who is the most articulate and sporting of the lot.

Babar might be in a foul mood because his name was ruined into Babri…sounds like some Bengali’s ‘pet name’. Humayun – no one cares much about except that his tomb in Delhi is a nice little lover’s nook. Jehangir spent too much time with Noor Jehan playing with pigeons, or flying kites. Shah Jehan was too busy waiting for his wife to die so he could give us one of the wonders of the world, where people sit on a bench and get photographed looking like sissies in front of what looks like a Catholic wedding cake. That leaves us with Aurangzeb. He is said to be real nasty, but I don’t know what to say about a guy who lived frugally and knitted skull caps. Sounds like a bored housewife to me.

And no one mentions Bahadurshah Zafar. The poor man wanted to be buried in India but the British insisted on Burma. I would personally like to invite his spirit, but we’d discuss his poetry, which I love…

I am sure they all “did” sins. Some of which I am aware of and do not deny. I have also ‘done’ many sins. You want to know?

So, let us play fair and square, as they say. You show me yours, I’ll show you mine. You call me bastard; you call yourself bastard.

We are equals.


Mohammed Afzal ko ghussa kyon nahin aata?

Whoopee! Two of the biggest cuckoo cases have jumped onto the ‘Guru ho ja shuroo’ bandwagon.

Instead of reading Urdu novels and the Quran in prison, Mohammed Afzal Guru ought to display some fire and ask some of the siyaasatdars to lay off.

Tomorrow, Rahul Mahajan, son of late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, will sit in a protest rally, looking very committed and innocent, to press for the death sentence on Afzal Guru for his role in the Parliament attack case. "I feel Afzal should be hanged and to register my protest against those seeking pardon for him, I will sit on a dharna," he said.

Rahul has a case in court against him for a drug binge in which his father’s secretary died under mysterious circumstances, he was himself put in prison and is now out on bail and a few others (including a Kashmiri whose credentials are said to be iffy) were arrested.

Since the case is sub judice, how can he be given the right to protest in a political matter? "From the same venue, Mahatma Gandhi had given Quit India slogan in 1942 against the British. Similarly, we will be asking terrorists to leave India.”

Who is the ‘we’? If he is doing so as a voice of the party, then will the BJP please tell us what position he holds and that he has yet to prove his innocence? If the ‘we’ is the people, then who are the people? We need to know.

It is also so convenient bringing in Mahatma Gandhi. And it is very sweet of him to ‘ask’ terrorists to leave India. But what happens to the ghar ki murgis? Are home-grown local ‘boys’ not to be considered? They are Indian citizens, just like him. He should start with the Gujarat CM, since he is apna aadmi, then we can move to the fellows who indulged in yesterday’s shootout in Mumbai and killed two men, including one police informant. Then we go South, then East, then further North East, then North…

And then he might also like to deal with the fixers within his own party that shamelessly make deals with those they call terrorists.
* * *
The other politically-motivated guy is Dr. Farooq Abdullah. (He and Ghulam Nabi Azad must be banned from entering J&K.) Is this the way to fight for Afzal’s case in the manner in which he has been going about it? He said, “You want to hang him? Go ahead and hang him. But the consequences of hanging him must also be remembered. One of the consequences will be... we have paid the price of Maqbool Butt’s hanging by the judge who was shot in Kashmir. Those judges will need to be protected like anything.”

Fool. He should do what he is best at – go to London and play golf and return to the Valley only when he has to take film stars (the oh-so-conscious-of-my-social-responsibilities Ms. Shabana Azmi, if you please) pillion riding on his motorbike.

This just about suits him. He has not done a thing to solve the problems of the Kashmiris and happily slept with the NDA combine to "bring peace". Har-har…

By making such silly statements, he is impressing no one and impressing upon no one.

Judges have been shot at in courtrooms by goondas and the underworld too. And people in the public eye in controversial cases are always at risk. That is the reason our country has Z or is it “Zzzzz” security.

He also said the nation would go up in flames. This is the language Bal Thackeray uses all the time, and of course everyone just indulges him; some even feel he is right. Farooq Abdullah should find better inspiration for his dramabaazi.
* * *
Talking of drama, on Monday (Oct. 16) the local BJP unit in Rajkot organised a play, enacting the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru to highlight the party's protest against his clemency demand.

A former BJP MP said, “One, who killed nine persons in the Parliament attack, should be hanged without delay.”

How do they become MPs? Afzal killed no one. What he did is in the court papers, but on that day he fiddled around while Parliament was attacked, just like Modibhai did during the riots.

Mohammed Afzal ki ajeeb dastaan

In a rather unusual development, Colin Gonsalves, who represented Mohammed Afzal in the high court has written an open letter to clarify about certain people “spreading a rumour that I did not defend Afzal in the High Court and instead asked for him to be put to death by lethal injection”.

Ram Jethmalani has defended Mr. Gonsalves and one discovers that the certain persons include Nandita Haksar, who has been defending Afzal!

This is my open letter, and the other two are reproduced below…

Dear Colin Gonsalves:

Those of us who are aware of the work you have done on several human rights issues would not for a moment doubt that you would not stand up for what you believe in.

It is commendable that you took up the case at the last minute and truly distressed to learn that Nandita Haksar could have said that you were suggesting a lethal injection for Afzal.

This is also surprising considering Ms. Haksar has braved flak and more for appearing for Prof. Geelani, the other accused. It is due to this reason that I believe an open letter is not such a good idea for this is the time that committed activists did not expose their differences.

If she has publicly accused you, you do have Ram Jethmalani's testimony and the court papers that you could have put before her. The onus would then be on her to clarify and, if need be, even apologise.

At this moment, it will only give grist to people to crib about ‘pseudo-secularists’ and ‘pseudo liberals’, of which incidentally you ought to proudly lay claim, given that the ‘pseudo’ has been added by certain political groups to legitimise their fake beliefs.

It is true that the “current champions coming on television were nowhere to be seen when they were needed most”. But I wish to draw your attention to the fact that these are media-created champions, drawn from glamorous activism. This is the unfortunate fallout of byte-sized news and large egos. However, among these people there are some who are deeply involved in various movements and must be given their due.

Publicity is a double-edged sword. Citizen’s activism is possible only if there is awareness.

In fact, the emotional appeals for Afzal denude the factual ground on which he can rightfully claim not only clemency but exoneration, too.

-- FV

Colin Gonsalves’ open letter On Afzal Case

Dear Friends,

I was taken aback to hear that certain persons are spreading a rumour that I did not defend Afzal in the High Court and instead asked for him to be put to death by lethal injection.

I was asked by advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan who appeared for Shaukat in the High Court to defend Mohd Afzal. Apparently many persons were approached before me but were not available. I was brought in at the last moment, perhaps a couple of weeks before the arguments were to begin in the High Court. I was told that payment would not be possible and that I would have to do the case free.

I gladly accepted even though it meant sacrificing my other work because I am totally opposed to the death sentence for any person. This has been my consistent stand over years.

When I appeared for Afzal in the High Court, I found that there was nobody to help me in those days except for advocate Nitya who was more familiar with the case than I was since she had appeared in the Trial Court. Apart from her I found nobody interested in helping Afzal. I believe campaigns were conducted to help the other accused and also to raise money for them, but not one person met me during the six months of the day to day proceedings in the High Court. The expenses of the case came to about Rs. 40,000/- because volumes of materials had to be Xeroxed. About half that amount was reimbursed by Afzal's cousin. I am putting this on record to emphasize that all the current champions of Afzal coming on television were nowhere to be seen when they were needed most.

I argued before the High Court for three weeks continuously. I have never argued that Afzal accepts his guilt and that he prays for death by lethal injection. I have my written arguments which were filed before the High Court and anyone wishing to read them may contact me. In the 250 page written submissions there is not one word on death by lethal injection. In the High Court judgment there is not one word on that.

You must remember that in those days the High Court arguments were being covered by a battery of journalists on a day-to-day basis. Had I mentioned to the Court that I want Afzal to die by lethal injection that would have made sensational headlines.

I met Afzal in jail thrice. On the second occasion he told me that someone had informed him that I was asking for him to be put to death by lethal injection. I told him that I would never argue such a position. He was satisfied on that explanation and the issue was not raised with me thereafter.

I spoke to Mr. Jethmalani who was also in Court during that period and he has given me a letter which I am attaching with this document.

Colin Gonsalves

Letter from Ram Jethmalani
Date : 10-10-2006

Dear Mr. Gonsalves,

You appeared for accused Md. Afzal before the High Court of Delhi at the hearing of the Death Reference in which Md. Afzal and two others had been sentenced to death.

I watched with admiration the manner in which you defended your client. It is all the more creditable that you agreed to appear for him in the first instance and in the second place you did an honorary job. It was a very unpopular cause and many stalwarts had refused to represent him.

You acted at the request of a Human Rights Organization and your junior Nitya in the case. I believe she had appeared in the Trial Court too. You have acted in the best tradition of the Indian Bar and everyone should be proud of your performance.

I have with me the final summary of your submissions which you made to the High Court running into nearly 250 pages. I have preserved it for my education and the education of the young lawyers who keep coming to my Chamber for training in the art and practice of advocacy.

I can only imagine the amount of industry that must have gone into the preparation of this massive volume and the enormous energy that you used in your speeches as to the High Court over a long period of almost three months.

I write this because I have been distressed to learn that Ms. Nandita Haksar, an advocate has appeared before the media and made statements against you which have no content of truth at all. She is reported to have said that you did nothing for your client except to tell the Court that he deserves a lethal injection. The impression that she has created is that you made no effort to provide any legal assistance to your client.

While I cannot believe that Nandita has made these false statements with malice against you, I cannot but think that they are totally and recklessly false.

I remember your argument that the provision of our criminal law which sanctions death by hanging is a cruel and unusual punishment and is constitutionally impermissible. If this argument had succeeded there was no provision left for executing the death sentence. You were only suggesting to the Court that there are more humane methods of carrying out the death sentence and a lethal injection is one of them. You never suggested to the Court that your client is guilty but he should be given such an injection. I am quite sure Nandita did not understand what was being argued. It may be that she was wrongly informed by somebody else. Please forgive her.

I was quite impressed about by your eloquent argument supported by extracts from the record that your client did not get a fair trial. I regret that this argument did not succeed with the High Court. I am not sure whether it was pursued in the Supreme Court. It should have been and might well have produced a welcome result.

I do want that you should help Md. Afzal in his family's Petition invoking the presidential powers under Article 72 of the Constitution of India. That would raise your stature and will certainly add to the reputation of our legal system.

With warm regards
Yours sincerely,

Why did they clip Shoaib Akhtar’s wings?

Right, so two Pakistani cricketers have tested positive for taking performance-enhancing drugs and have been banned from the Champions trophy being played in India. And everyone is going, “Hai, hai!”

Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif took some anabolic steroids which are supposed to be virilising agents. So, would the Pakistan Cricket Board ban all the players who take Viagra or ginseng or even the occasional palang tod paan? The anabolic drug is said to build bone mass and muscle and if you are in the business of being fit, then you cannot only do bench presses and running on an inclined treadmill.

Steroids are used for various other purposes, and the only worry should be the side-effects: baldness and impotence among them. Imagine the hunks going for a duck…

The PCB, like all government bodies in the subcontinent, tends to acquire this moral halo once in a while because it wants to be seen as ‘good’. They need to create bad boys, and Shoaib at least is a great one at that. If his steroid-thingie was so powerful, then why was he ‘out of form’ earlier’? Weren’t the reasons different then?

And then there are Pakistanis who are lauding this organisation for acting promptly. Hah. How prompt? And why did the fleshy Inzamam get banned? Naturally the ICC is thrilled. The PCB is playing its game and acting like a nice little poodle.

* * *
I had written the following about Shoaib on March 3, 2005, and have highlighted certain portions...

Hell's Angel

"Shoaib Akhtar`s withdrawal is a body blow for Pakistan. The Indians must be celebrating. Pakistan, I think, have lost the series even before it has started.” Former Test fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz


Shoaib Akhtar has already won the series for Pakistan. How our neighbour fares on the field is immaterial; it has scored its victory by keeping the bad boy away. The message being sent out is that Pakistani cricket, Pakistani society, Pakistani politics are all about squeaky clean gentlemen out to do a hard day’s work and play fair. This one masterstroke has achieved what a hundred diplomatic meetings and handshakes would not have.

Shoaib’s situation is not unlike Laloo Prasad Yadav’s at the moment; those who ought to support him are steering clear simply because they want to show that their hands are clean. But are the hands they stay away from all that filthy?

Undoubtedly, there is a rasta-chhaap quality about Shoaib. Everytime he starts his run-up, it is like he is forming little spit-bubbles and pre-empting the batsman to such levels of disgust that when the ball does leave his hand it sounds like an indecorous “Ach-thoo”.

Don’t go by that put-on Pindi meets Pennsylvania with a stopover in Bradford accent. He is in the thick of a world not his own, and camouflage in his best defence. Interestingly, his small-town status and mentality that were a cause of fear and insecurity have been his biggest weapons. This is why he welcomes trouble. He needs it to prove his mettle, to tell people he exists, to announce that he has arrived.

When there are accusations against him, he does not deal with them like one to the manner born but as a person who has been nursing a wound for long:

“When they called for the ban I packed my stuff and was ready to go to England to live the rest of my life. They told me to change my action, make it right, put things back in action and come back again. I said I can`t do that. I said I`m going to England because I got my house down there. I said I will never play cricket again.”

He knows how to pronounce panache, but does he have it? Beneath those snazzy suits and confident demeanour is a boy-man who feels completely rootless. He goes a step further and takes potshots at himself. He also laughs the loudest at his own jokes. It is funny. And it is sad. For the man has talent, but he is afraid that someday it will all be taken away from him. As it has been several times. Today, every gesture of his is a desperate cry to call attention to himself. He may have the money, glamour and buying power, but he is in a profession where he can never be sure of security. He is also learning how it might be advantageous to be used:

“I have a fitness problem. There is just too much cricket these days. The past three years have just been a bit too hectic for us. There is too much of bloody cricket being played. But I try to keep myself fit.

Like many who come in from closed, cocooned backgrounds, Shoaib has been confused whether to embrace the notoriety of one who has made the sharp moves or take a principled stand and talk about the values he imbibed. That he tries to stride both reveals his discomfort. He makes a public display of his charms and yet talks about being the fall guy. In either case, he becomes vulnerable to ridicule as well as pity. And he can do without these. For instance, when he had a court case against him for attending a fashion show on the night of Shab-e-Baraat he said:

“I don`t know why this guy filed a case against me. I was invited to have a meal with some people. When I went there I saw there were some models walking up and down. I was not aware of the fashion show. I just had my dinner and left. They all saw that I went to this fashion show but no one knows that I went home and prayed all night and only slept after Fajr.”

This might come as a surprise, but it is probably how he wants himself to be portrayed. He came late to cricket, got into controversies, has few friends and more enemies, is banned and fined on a regular basis, and has allegations of ball-tampering and chucking and faking illness against him. He is constantly humiliated but becomes a super-star and, along the way, self-centred and ruthless too.

They don’t want him to be an Imran Khan (whose confession of ball-tampering elevated him to the status of one with a conscience!), they don’t want him to be a Wasim Akram or a Waqar Younus or even a Javed Miandad. They don’t even want him to be himself. They don’t want him to forget that he is a little man who made it big.

The problem is that we won’t play ball. His is the voice of protest. He went and stood before the jury in Australia to prove that he was right. He showed them how his limbs twist, his joints bend – he bared himself. He refuses to go for fitness tests when he is not ready. He admits to being aggressive. He has physical flaws. As he told an interviewer, “Did I say I was flat-footed? Nothing, no contours, flat as a pancake, I can take my shoes and socks off and show you if you like.”

For him this means defeating his shortcomings. And he flaunts it. He is selfish. So is every player. He has fun. So does every player. But while his team-mates in India are busy being garlanded and posing for cute pictures with their wives and kids, Shoaib Akhtar will be tossing his mane, wiggling his middle finger, spitting out an invective. And then, beckoned by the devious sun, he will once again become Icarus and melt his wings.


Belabouring Over Child Labour

Belabouring Over Child Labour
By Farzana Versey
October 13, 2006

The Indian government's recent announcement banning the employment of children as domestic servants and workers in roadside eateries, restaurants, teashops starts with a problem. The age limit is below 14 years. And its figures are 80 per cent off the mark – the verdict talks about 20 million children whereas the number is close to a 100 million.

Child labour is an inevitability. It sounds awfully romantic to shed tears over this fact, but then we forget that if they were not rolling beedis or knotting carpets or serving food, they would be out in the streets robbing, soliciting or even begging. The last ought to be taken into special account because there is a large mafia that maims children for them to qualify as prized beggars.

Often children work on their own in these unorganised sectors before they 'graduate' to working for employers. This is where a defined exploitation comes in.

Gerard Oonk, spokesperson of the international campaign 'Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work', that India is affiliated to, has commented on the recent ban: "This is a very important step in the fight against child labour. Hopefully the Indian government will combine it with sound rehabilitation programmes, as many children are traumatized, and with programmes to get them into regular schools, either directly or through special bridge programmes."

This is naïve and hands over responsibility to an establishment that in the past took action only because the United States refused to buy our carpets. A follow-up action is a utopian dream. In our armchair cogitations, we completely forget the person at the centre of this: the child.

I have met a number of children working in private establishments in the tanneries at Dharavi, in shops, doing arduous work, and they all felt work was the only way out. Mubarak who left a job washing dishes at a small restaurant now works in a factory making flash doors and at the very suggestion of banning child labour he had smirked, "What's wrong with working anyway? It is better than being in the streets. If you ask me I am willing to work anywhere, do anything as long as I make money. I have to survive in this city."

Together with child labour are connected the issues of other remedial actions, for many of them are immigrants. The pavement becomes the child's home. In Brazil they used to kill street children; in India it is a case of slow poisoning – hafta, drug peddling, pimping, prostitution and the inhumanity which robs them of innocence.

The present ban that has been imposed under the Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 mentions frequent physical violence, psychological traumas and "at some times" sexual abuse. Long working hours are mentioned, too.

Who is going to ensure that there will not be night shift, that there will be a one-hour rest period in the stipulated six-hour day, and that the employer would maintain a muster roll? Isn't the employer the exploiter? Aren't the parents conniving due to financial compulsions?

Children themselves are powerless. Sanctifying child labour with all the provisions will not take away the bondage factor, just as abolishing it on paper is not going to end its practice. Several years ago a Bill was tabled in the Upper House making provisions for minimum legal protection: "Any person can file a complaint before the courts," it said in all earnestness.

Who would go around scouting in factories, make-shift hovels and homes to find beleaguered children who would bare their souls? Moreover, who would take the case to court? Would the parents, themselves ignorant, helpless and a party to the deal, fight against an employer who is their mai-baap? Or does the law think that work experience has made the child so mature that s/he could hire a lawyer and make the employer a respondent?

Let us extend the parameters a bit. Remember all those children immortalised in Mira Nair's film 'Salaam Bombay'? They were back to where they belonged, where they were meant to belong. In the gush of authenticity it was forgotten that the raw emotions they exposed for the camera would stay with them. They too were exploited.

Or take the reality shows on television, be it a fun programme or a serious music contest. Children look and perform like adults and are made to wear outlandish and vulgar clothes. It isn't their education that counts, but how well they can manipulate the audience to send SMS votes that seems to matter.

Parents themselves exploit these kids by pushing them in directions they had wanted to go but couldn't. Under the garb of promoting their untapped talent, they display them as their property, emotionally blackmailing them all the time.

Employers are only one of the categories of exploiters.


Another Kiran -- this time Fortune's

Three Indian women have made it to Fortune’s 50 most powerful businesswomen in the world list.

While Chanda Kochchar and Naina Lal Kidwai are bankers, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is an entrepreneur. As head of Biocon, she has revolutionised the biopharmaceutical industry.

Of course, I do not understand a thing about the subject. I had met her years ago at the airport departure lounge in Mumbai. I was a bit fidgety as I had an important assignment that same evening. A slightly plump woman came and sat next to me. We exchanged smiles.

She guessed I was on work; I was doing everything possible to convey I meant business to hide the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing. I have noticed that if you appear laidback and chilled out, nobody takes you seriously. At that stage, I wanted to convey I was serious.

“Yes,” I replied. She was a curious person and wanted to know more. I told her and suddenly I was like my old stupid self, sounding excited. I did not ask her much, but she told me to get in touch with her if I needed anything. She handed me a card. It said ‘Biocon’. It sounded like medicine, so I dumped it in my bag.

Two days into my ‘work’ and I had an evening free. I dialled Kiran’s number and she immediately invited me over. She wanted to know how I’d get there. “Oh, I’ll manage,” I said like always do.

I looked at the address on the visiting card and called up the photographer to ask him how far it was. He said, “Kiran Mazumdar? Great.”

Why was it great? He explained to me that she was quite a biggie. I did not want him around. So I hired a taxi that drove me to god-knows-where. She was a warm person; her living room seemed to be a bit dark for tea-time, though. We indulged in what seemed like girlie talk for quite a while and then I realised that she was a biggie. This meant I could interview her.

“You know I can interview you,” I said.

To her credit, she remained unfazed. I rattled off general, non-Biocon type questions and she answered. I cannot recall much, which is surprising, but it wasn’t a dazzling performance. Later, I wrote it out, adding a lot of background details, and gave it to the editor. “Who is she?” I was asked.

“She heads Biocon,” I said authoritatively.

“Uhh…we’ll see.”

The interview was never used. I did not even bother to remind the editor. And today I do not kick myself for not preserving a copy.

What struck me about the woman then was her humaneness, and that is what I will remember. Her being on Fortune’s list is less important to me than her being the child of fortune and hard work.


The Kanshi Ram that Mayawati kept alive

That the funeral rites of Kanshi Ram should get embroiled in controversy is no surprise. I’d say he has been among the most under-rated leaders in India. In a society where caste matters, his Bahujan Samaj Party was meant for those who to this day have to go through the ignominy of being called ‘lower caste’ and ‘untouchable’ in some parts of rural India.

He became a Dalit, like many such ‘backward class’ people do. To stick one’s neck out in a place where politics is gossip, appetizer and a dose of nashaa, was indeed a bold move. Uttar Pradesh has always been a thakur/dacoit/local mafia domain.

Kanshi Ram changed all that. There were taller leaders than him, but they went the route of national politics. He stayed put in the vast expanse of UP. And then he introduced Mayawati. There is no doubt that he groomed her and pushed her in the forefront, and in an atmosphere where hypocrisy prevails, these two broke all those barriers to openly live together without engaging in any discussions on the subject.

Mayawati has had to bear a lot of flak, some of it well-deserved. She is a shrill woman, power-hungry, making use of her position to start completely faulty projects. On one of my visits to Lucknow when she was the chief minister, there was this horrendous Ambedkar park project with the leader’s statue on a granite platform.

She is wrong on many counts. But how worse is she than other leaders? Mulayam is a shrewd little man. While Mayawati can rightly be blamed for initiating the Taj corridor project, he has been giving away precious farmer’s land to Reliance for a pittance. He went about preening as ‘Maulana Mulayam’ but he will ditch any cause to become ’Mahant Mulayam’. He has his hangers-on, notably Amar Singh, who is a useless, media crazy man. He spends time doling out Rajya Sabha tickets and other sops to celebrities. Mulayam Singh is today Amitabh Bachchan’s devta. Why? Mr. Bachchan lives in Mumbai, has loads of money and fame. Why does a politician in another state become his god? One is aware that god is omnipotent etc, but faith has got to have some basis.

Mayawati has to work with these people around. They say she kept Kanshi Ram in captivity. Even if she did, he was terribly ill when we saw him on a TV programme. I think she kept the myth alive. But being a single woman in a place where you find shops selling arms openly in the bazaars she had to be attributed with dire motives. No politician works without motives, but the gender factor did come in here.

To make matters a bit more difficult, unlike Jayalalitha she does not have a convent accent and her guru was not a dead film star. She lacks glamour and speaks for those who are voiceless. Kanshi Ram saw the spark in her and she retained it and the memory of the man.

She is certainly not the best thing around, but to keep the wolves at bay we cannot have little Red Riding Hoods lost in the woods.

She will now be faced with Kanshi Ram’s ghost by those who didn’t give a damn about him. It is time we accepted that a person – and a woman too – has an individual style of functioning. Her tribute to her mentor will be to shut the mouths of the naysayers and truly work for those who have no say and have no right of way…


Get real about Mohammad Afzal

India would not have got Independence had hanging served as a deterrent to terrorist activity. Our freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, Rajguru -- all dubbed terrorists by the British who ran this country -- were responsible for the killing of innocents as part of their strategy; their target was never innocents.

Therefore, please let us not make the Mohammad Afzal very real dilemma into a frikkin soap opera. I have given my point of view in the blog of 29.9.06, but these ‘human’ stories should be left out for the moment. Afzal’s son, apparently, tried to tie a rope round his neck…his mother said something about him trying to feel the pain of his father. Sorry, the kid is seven and I am aware that children exposed to such extreme trauma do grow up fast, but this is no time or occasion for pop psychology.

We do have the other side where the widow of a CRPF jawaan, killed in the Parliament attack, who was posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra has threatened to return the medal if Afzal is not given the death sentence. No time for blackmail too.

Time to stick to the bare essentials.

1. The Congress (that has suddenly got chicken) now says they are against clemency; the BJP has always said so; the Shiv Sena…who the heck cares for it…Wait a minute. Political parties cannot decide on this issue. It is solely Presidential discretion.

2. Afzal is an Indian. It is clear we believe Indians are not capable of heinous acts on their own. As his lawyer Nandita Haksar pointed out, despite the apex court having acquitted Afzal of charges of belonging to any terrorist organisation, he is still referred to as a JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) operative.

3. Why the hell has the Hurriyat Conference’s Mirwaiz Umar Farooq taken up the issue of Afzal death sentence with the Bush administration in New York and sought their intervention towards seeking clemency for him? Does he not understand that the US is one of the biggest ‘civilised’ terror factories? Can we not handle the issue ourselves? This will send out the wrong signal to the Indian government.

4. A group of concerned citizens had written to the prime minister in December 2004. They had put forth a few pertinent points:

-The prosecution produced 80 witnesses. None of them even mentioned that the four persons accused of conspiring to attack the Parliament have any link to any illegal or banned organisation. All of them were acquitted of charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

-If Afzal was a surrendered militant how would the Pak-based JeM use him?

-His confessions were made under conditions of torture and the police made him implicate himself before the media.

-One of the other accused, Prof. S.A.R. Geelani, was framed on the basis of forged documents and fabricated evidence. After his acquittal, he has been speaking out and giving details about the conditions under which prisoners in the high risk cells are kept. The National Human Rights Commission instead of investigating the allegations closed the case filed by Mr Geelani on the ground that the jail authorities have denied the charges.

What do you expect jail authorities to do?

No one expects an emotional response. These are practical issues that need to be addressed. And for those who have accused me of bringing in other cases, like the Bombay riots, the authorities are doing it all the time. Giving examples of what happens in Pakistan. Get real. Pakistan is a different country now.

I am interested in India. Aren’t you?

Brangelina tracked by cops!

Take a good look at this car. Someone put life and limb at risk to shoot this picture. Isn’t that why it is on the front page of the largest-circulated daily in India? The press kept a vigil for the past few days, but the van sneaked away.

A report stated, “As there was no intimation to the city police about the arrival of the star couple, and their further movements, the police has now decided to track them on their own. ‘Teams have been formed to check all their movements and provide security to them,’ a senior police official said, adding that it was aimed at mob control, besides ensuring their security during their stay in the city.”

This is not a tip-off about a terrorist attack. This is two of Hollywood’s film stars, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who are here not on government invitation or for some social cause but to shoot for a film.

They were “received at the airport” by the chief of security. Does anyone do that for our stars when they visit any country in the West?

For the past few days the media is feeding us information about where they may or may not stay, who will be with them, what they may or may not do…

This is paparazzi stuff and fine as gossip goes. But why is the police acting like hangers-on? “Check all their movements”…phew…if only our security were not so lax where it mattered even more.


Katrina's legs in Ajmer

Actress Katrina Kaif’s legs making headlines. She prayed at the Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti dargah in Ajmer wearing a skirt. I wonder how this has become news. Who leaked it out? Is it because this was part of the shooting of a film?

Sarwar Chisti, spokesperson of the Anjuman, which is the elected body of representatives of Khadims said, “Nobody objected to this but the media took up the issue and created the controversy.’’

A report in the TOI further states, “Chisti said many celebrities come to the Dargah and it was not the Khadims’ job to look down at their legs and see what they were wearing.”

This sort of composure is admirable. There are two ways of looking at the issue.

1. I have visited several places of worship for whatever reason and I think it is important to be dressed appropriately. Mainly because in most religions you have to be seated on the floor and baring legs makes it difficult. This is not a gender issue. You do not see men wearing shorts, unless they are really desperate desis trying to appear hip. Besides, I just do not see the logic of covering your head if you do not cover your legs.

2. Why are the devotees looking at these stars instead of doing their job as believers? And if god has created the human being and her/his anatomy, then as long as there is no vulgar display it should not be seen as offensive. I find it more disgusting to watch women in hijaab (I am talking about the cursory head scarves) in some ‘progressive’ Muslim countries wearing tight-fitting shirts and skirts/slacks. Even in Pakistan, they may cover their heads, but see how the kameezes are cut at the sides – they rise almost up to the hip. Not only does it look undignified, it is also an assault on aesthetics as you can see the line of the salwaar where the ‘band’ stops and the pleats begin.

I find that these religious standard forms of clothing are becoming more and more victims of fashion, which defeats the purpose. If the reason is modesty, then how does it work? What is the point of hiding your hair and wearing electric blue eye-shadow and glitter on your cheeks?

Regarding the Ajmer episode, many temples in fact have a mandatory dress code. Some of them even have counters where you can borrow a saree or long cloth to wrap around you, even if you are not baring your legs.

I do not protest to this because it is the custom and if I have problems I should just stay away. Honestly, one should have better places where one can bare one’s legs.


Gandhi ne tau apun ko maamu banaaya...

I think the Gandhian philosophy has a lot going for it, except for the fact that it is associated with the Mahatma!

Here was a real canny salesman. Is it any wonder that we now have a film that is marketing his ideas? I am upto my gills with this Gandhigiri that the film Lage Raho Munnabhai has been promoting.

I watched the movie, but I won’t ever buy the T-shirt. As time-pass it worked well, but will someone please stop this nonsense about the non-preachy message it conveys and how it has reinvented Gandhi? If anything, it is preachy as hell. Just when I wanted to let out a laugh, I would have to adjust my face into a beatific smile because Bapu was hovering somewhere behind our hero. Damn.

The reinvention is more simplistic than Aesop’s Fables…it is like after every episode we are told, “And the moral of the story is…” I felt I was in school.

To be honest, it is the character of Circuit who is the most Gandhian, a philosophy the Mahatma preached but hardly practised himself. Circuit remains the backroom guy, the kingmaker, so to speak, he is grounded, he has almost no desires for himself, he does not expect forgiveness, and he is ostensibly celibate…he does not watch the chicks or flirt with them…

As for those lessons that are learned and problems solved they are plain silly. A girl wants to know what she should look for if she has to marry a certain boy . Ah, says Gandhiji, check out how he treats those lower than him in status. She does; she hears him calling out to the waiter with a “Shoo…shoo” and walks out. Hey, if she was this unsure why did she go to that coffee shop at all? Sure, it is not good manners to call out to anyone in this fashion, but as though our loving Gandhiji did not get work done by his minions…who massaged his feet, who gave him support while walking?

Then there is the guy who loses all of his father’s money. He is told to confess. He does so. Big deal. It is obvious he is a nice guy and wants to end his life like all nice guys should. After the piece of advice what does he end up doing? Driving a taxi and escorting runaway brides and talking to radio shows.

Gandhiji conveys to the runaway bride that she should forget about superstitions, if the man loves her he will marry her. Aha, this was the man who was superstitious in the extreme and showed scant respect for his own wife’s consent before taking important marital decisions….

As for those silent protest scenes outside the builder’s house, I’d love to see how anyone would allow it. Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan…

And the guy who spits near his neighbour’s house is shamed after he realises the neighbour is washing up after him. Long years ago people had already found a way out of this thoo-thoo dilemma. Just place a picture of a deity or some godlike motif and the spitting stops. In India we are like that only…The Bapu spent most of his time lying down, except for those Dandi and other marches. Here he gets everyone to work.

Well, hum honge ‘kaam’yaab, as we say…so happy birthday, Gandhiji. This is a good year for you. You produced a blockbuster and once again proved what a great PR guy you are. Maan gaye, Ustad.