Play it again, Spam

I was going through this mental exhaustion. My Inbox did not interest me. Friends were being kind; acquaintances were sending me the usual forwards – jokes, pictures and links to YouTube videos, which I have no interest in.

Then in the Bulk folder I saw all those unattended to emails. I was visiting them after months.

I like spam. You must be particularly insensitive if you don’t. There is this mail staring at you, the subject line in all caps, saying, “I NEED YOU”. Hell, how many people in your life tell you that?

Then there is the one from a part of the world you have never heard about. It appeals to you, “Urgent: Please help me”. It tells the tale of suffering, fight with the government or big powers. Who is this person? What can you do to help? How did s/he get your address?

Suddenly you find you are invited to join some Hi-5 list where you can meet and add friends. It is very touching, a bit too touching…I don’t want to add friends.

I am told that I owe the Bank of America and eBay money; I have never been to their sites. Amazon tells me to pay for the books I ordered; I never did.

Others think I am money-minded. I get offended if I read things like, “Here is your chance to make a quick buck!” I am not into this. Please don’t hurt me, I feel like saying.

The hurt would result in a further insult: “Get FREE money to shop!” How much did money ever cost that it was free now?

For some reason the United Kingdom keeps offering me lottery prizes. I seem to have been winning for the last several weeks. They give me a number to contact, they send me reminders. I wish I would just get an OBE or something instead.

Not that awards matter to me. But, yes, I am also given awards for things I have not done. “You have won an award for services rendered.”

What services rendered and unto whom?

Then there are those who confuse me about my gender.

"Viagra soft tabs – 15 minutes and you are hard as a rock!” In that much time I would have seven and a half packets of Maggi noodles ready. Another one orders me, “I’ve got a 8-inch…! enter!:.” This is very confusing, technically speaking.

Before I can spend time over such issues, I find another subject line staring at me, “Raise your voice”. This is addressed to about a few hundred people; it is the sort of committed thing one is supposed to do on a weekend.

I get all these articles and letters to the editor and appeals from organisations. I was going to get rid of the damn lot when I saw one which said, “You must read this column by FV ‘here’ (link provided). It holds forth on blah, blah. We should support such blah, blah.”

I love spam. I love blah, especially my own.

Just when I was about to close the window, there was something that caught my eye, “Do you have five minutes to spare?”

I am so tired that there is nothing I can do in five minutes. Ask for more. Why is everyone in such a hurry? Where are they going? Will they reach there on time? Will they wait there, spend time? Or will they want to run away from there as well?

"Join the run!" says another subject line. Oh well...


No train to Pakistan

My mother told me about this incident that happened when she was little and was travelling in the train with her mother and chachi. She recalls it because it became one of the talking points later in the family.

It was well after Partition. A couple of Sindhi women were sitting across. At some point the train got crowded. My grandma was recognisable as a Muslim because she wore a Khoja long gown-like dress and dupatta with a kor (border).

Kutchi, the language our women spoke, and Sindhi are quite similar. At some point those women started saying, “Why are these people here?”

My grandmother preferred querying them in Hindi, “Kyon?”

Udhar jaana tha,” said one of those women.

My Nani shot back, “Sind udhar hai, tum log ko jaana tha!”

That train had many stops and each got off at their destinations.

That train was another one at another time…

Some things change only superficially…


Samjhauta:Why compromise peace?

So, it’s happened to the Samjhauta Express. 70 people died. Was it a fire or a bomb? The Pakistanis say they have no clue; the Indians say they have lots of clues but won’t talk. Leave politics aside.

Do you know what those non-political guys are saying? That since both Pakistanis and Indians are dead (like together, in the same train), this will bring them together! I am sick of this peace stuff being churned out every once in a while. And sickened by the insensitivity of these ‘sensitive’ souls.

Someone does not want peace between the two countries? Damn, the two countries don’t want peace because that will take away the whole reason for them to have something to do at the border. There has never been any serious effort; if one side tries, the other puts conditions and so on…please give peace a chance to lay off…and leave train travellers alone.

- - -
chalo ke chal ke siyaasi muqaamiron se kahein

ke humko jang-o-jadal ke chalan se nafrat hai

jise lahoo ke sivaa koi rang na raas aaye
hamein hayaat ke us pairahan se nafrat hai

kaho ke ab koi qaatil agar idhar aaya
to har qadam pe zameen tang hoti jaayegi

har ek mauj-e-havaa rukh badal ke jhaptegi
har ek shaakh rag-e-sang hoti jaayegi
(Sahir Ludhianvi)

How realistic is Black Friday?

Blackened Friday
By Farzana Versey
19 February, 2007, Countercurrents

“Shiiit, we missed the blast!” I turned to look at the late entrant into the cinema hall. He carried a rucksack and was with a friend; they appeared to have just returned from college. They must have been around 18 years old.

The film was ‘Black Friday’, touted as one of the most realistic films ever made in India. It traces the journey from the bomb blasts of 1993 to the trail of the culprits, the enquiries and the evidence. For the teenager, the “Shiiit, we missed the blast” is not only about the first one shown on screen. He missed the real one. This is history for him. History is irrelevant.

Taking top angle shots, shooting at real locations among real people, showing the violence and bodies does not translate into realism. This is controlled and manufactured; it is edited.

Besides, why build up objectivity as the highest virtue? Much of life is a bit of fact that fits into our very own fictions. Am I being too harsh? Can all those critics and a large section of the ‘aware’ audience be wrong? No. This is beyond right and wrong, good and evil.

This is cunning cinema conniving with the forces to appear balanced. It loses all credibility the moment it starts with a quote of the Mahatma: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”

No one turned blind on December 6, 1992, and that too for wanting to herald in a Hindu Rashtra. History repeats itself as farcical tragedy.

Why does lex talionis, the law of retaliation, not seem to apply to four centuries old vengeance or for ‘action-reaction’ based riots?

The unfortunate hero in this saga is Tiger Memon, who we see is devastated by the loss of his business. Please note that hundreds of Muslim families lost much more and did not retaliate. However, what comes through in this film is vengeance. And because a few pieces of timber do not have a large epic appeal, the film brings in the word jihad.

It sounds ridiculous as Memon is picking his teeth and looking at some new recruits. His interrogation of Badshah Khan is especially meant to be profound for the latter is the perfect example of the misled Muslim youth.

“Do you pray?” he asks Badshah. Badshah nods his head.

“Five times?”

“Yes, I try to.”

“Do you read the Quran and know what it says?”

“Yes, of course.”

Please let us cut out this poppycock about this film not taking sides. The same stereotypes dot the whole landscape. An innocent young woman who lived in the same building as Tiger is asked about his and his family’s whereabouts.

Woh gaon gaye, (they have gone to the village),” she says.

“Which village?”


A woman who clearly does not know much about the world is talking about Dubai as gaon; gaon here is more than merely a village; it connotes colloquially in the Indian context one’s ‘native place’.

The training in Pakistan is so silly. If we are being told that Muslims were an angry bunch with jihad on their minds, does it not mean that they had the strength to fight back on their own? Here a whole community begins to look like sissies who don’t even have a physical trainer forget adequate muscles. And to think that the Indian Muslim population is larger than the whole of Pakistan’s population.

We are also shown a group shouting slogans outside Dawood Ibrahim’s house in Mumbai, “Dawood Ibrahim Murdabad!” It is entirely possible that such a group did go, but it is like neighbours complaining about broken window panes; it does not mean that the whole community sought his help. He was sent a few bangles to show how useless he was.

Amazingly simplistic. It is a bit weird that Dawood would not have entered into the fray if it was important enough; many of his lieutenants were Hindu. Can we forget Chhota Rajan? If you bring in Dawood then Rajan has to be mentioned, for the whole basis of the latter leaving the D-company was Dawood’s involvement in the riots. Did not the research check that out? Rajan started portraying himself as a Hindu hero. This is what he had said, “I am a Hindu, a true Indian. I was wrong to associate with him, and I have made it my life’s motto to fight him. I am first and foremost a patriot.”

He has also gone on record to say, “My men have killed more Dawood members than the police. I have always helped the Indian government.”

The whole justification for such claims now falls flat. The underworld is a close-knit group and there are squealers. If Rajan was still a part of the Dawood gang until the blasts, then surely he would have known his part in it. Now we are being told that the Don was not responsible, so why did Rajan do what he did?

Was he getting instructions from certain important people in India? How did he escape?

We are given a wholly white-washed picture of the police. Does anyone in his right mind want us to believe that the same cops who were shooting innocents in bylanes by standing on the roofs of houses, who provided no help to victims who had to take their own family members and friends to hospitals in carts, who demanded to watch television while they were ‘protecting’ the citizens, who joined forces with the goons, who arrested anyone they could get hold of knowing full well that they had the power of the terrible TADA, would within a couple of months transform into paragons of virtue? Get real.

Sure, the realism does show tough police interrogation techniques, but they are for the benefit of society. Right? We are shown tired cops, hungry cops, disturbed cops.

The helplessness of the ‘misguided youth’ in the form of Badshah just does not come through potently. What happened to all his training in Pakistan, his brainwashing about jihad? If a man can be tutored for one thing then he can use that for anything else too.

After he turns approver, we have the most bizarre scene where he recounts to the police officer, Rakesh Maria, that Allah was with them.

The officer replies, “Allah is with us now. If he was with you, then you would have been successful in bombing Mantralaya and Sena Bhavan too.”

‘This’ turns out to be the turning point for the Muslim youth! He sits in prison and prays, and then asks to meet Maria. It has struck him that indeed if god was with them then there would be a cent per cent success rate. What utter nonsense is this. The establishment too wants to lay claims over Allah. Has Allah justified the arrests of innocents? Did Allah approve of TADA?

And this is authentic cinema only because it depends on a book based on research? Only because it takes real names of people? You can take all the names you want, but when you have a position, then state so clearly. Do not do it slyly. Stand up for it and stop this charade of objectivity. Newspapers mention names. Nothing new about it.

Is this authentic cinema only because it uses the cut-and-chop, no romanticisation format?

Then why is Dawood shown in silhouette as an enigmatic individual? The director said somewhere that it is because little is known about him. Really? For pete’s sake, he used to be shown on national television during the Sharjah matches with film stars. Everyone knows where he lived in Mumbai, where his sister lives, his other relatives live. His properties have been attached. If you know his White House in Dubai, then the Pakistani press has already told us about his abode in Karachi. We know his daughter is married to cricketer Javed Miandad’s son. We know how many mistresses he has. We know about his wife. We know about his illegal dealings. Journalists used to speak to him on the phone. And god knows who else continues to do so. We know who his associates are and who his opponents. We know. But I suppose this does not show up in research.

The film again ends with that quote from Mahatma Gandhi. I would like to state here that if history has to remember anything it is this: following the bomb blasts no Muslim organisation or Muslim individuals in India called Dawood Ibrahim or Tiger Memon their hero. Tell the world that, and then we will believe this twisted authenticity.


Moo-moo maverick...

Okay, I feel like a cow. Among the many meanings of the word maverick, there is one that says, “Calf or yearling found without an owner's brand”.

So a stupid Texas cattle owner forgot to brand his beasts and those were named after him, Samuel Maverick.

The other definitions are, “Someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action” and “individualist, unconventional person”.

Am not sure being any of these helps much. Strangely enough you are the first to get ‘branded’. All sorts of names come your way. Not much you can do, but sit back as others wait for you to make the wrong move, say something unconventional, go against the tide and in essence be ‘abnormal’.

As I picked up the newspaper in the morning, I had to make a choice – was I a cow or abnormal? Or an abnormal cow? Maybe an unconventional cow that refuses to chew cud?

I think I am pretty conventional. I just don’t like walking the straight line. I like to see the world upside down. I am sure there are tribes where this would be considered normal behaviour or bungee jumpers who will hug me for managing to do this without being hung from an elastic rope on their ankles and thrown off a cliff.

To come straight to the point. Today my new fortnightly column Maverick (the first one is titled Citizen Cane) has started in the Op-ed page of The Asian Age; ask them why they wanted to call it that. You can also check it out directly at Deccan Chronicle, the other paper that will carry it. Even better, get the newspaper.

For me it is still the best medium because when I am angry I can crush the pages in my hands and I do feel ecstatic to smell the ink and see those occasional black blotches on my fingertips.

- - -
Updated on Feb 16 for the column to be accessible...

The Asian Age, OP-ED Feb 6
Farzana Versey
Citizen Cane

Chances are you are being co-opted into believing that the banning of the film Parzania is evidence that your rights are being trampled upon, that if you support Taslima Nasreen’s plea to live in India you are socially-aware, that you are a patriot if your face is painted in the tricolour, that you are alive to the environment only if you send SMS messages responding to a TV poll on the Nithari killings, pesticides in colas, racism against a film actress.

Chances are that you truly believe you are being empowered.

Welcome to the world of Citizen Cane where they dangle a carrot of consciousness before you and you assume it is a stick to beat the system with.

You, the common man and woman, are being taken for a ride to serve the purpose of those who think they "make a difference."

Let us see what difference is being made.

Parzania traces the story of a Parsi family whose son has disappeared during the Gujarat riots. The state government has banned it. It is based on a real-life incident. The father of Azhar Mody has said, "This film was our last hope. It shows my son’s picture in the end and gives a contact number. If somebody sees Azhar, they can report on that number. He might be here in Gujarat, but the motive stands defeated if we can’t show the movie here."

While I sympathise with his personal situation, does anyone realise the irony that the visible victims of the riots are still waiting for compensation, the culprits have not been identified, let alone tried? Does anyone have the time to ask what has happened to Zahira Sheikh who was used as the poster girl and then branded a liar, a young woman who saw her house go up in flames and 14 members of her family killed? Why do we seek to ignore the ground reality and look for a manufactured reality that is at best symbolic?

Did Rahul Dholakia make this film with the purpose of tracing the boy? Then, should his responsibility not go beyond selling his celluloid cause? Why blame an insensitive establishment that has anyway shown scant regard for a large section of its people?

No one is interested in large numbers. Has anyone asked you to give your opinion on the plight of 20 million Bangladeshi "illegal immigrants," many of who crossed the border after the 1971 War? It has been 35 years, enough time for them to become naturalised, but they are still harassed and often considered a security threat. The "concerned lobby" will not publicly campaign for them.

Taslima Nasreen’s is a different story. It is the story of "exile," of intellectual freedom. The freedom to write in an Indian magazine, "Burn the burqa." She does not speak up for the refugees from her country of birth. She does not talk about the "Barbie-fication" of women. She does not know that about 12 women die every hour in India from a pregnancy-related cause. She is not even addressing women in burqa, for the vast majority would not read her; they do not have the luxury of claiming rights and making choices.

When the dance bars were being shut down, who do you think were the spokespersons of the social strata most affected? The elite. An ad man had the audacity to announce on national television that if the wives knew how to keep the men at home then they would not go to such places. Is this what we have come to sanctify as the citizens’ movement?

The 22-year-long peaceful battle of the Narmada Bachao Andolan is taken over by the actor of Rang De Basanti, which promotes violence. On what grounds does a film like this become the "voice of the nation"? Who decides that Gandhi has been reinvented in a preachy little blockbuster? Why is communal harmony the preserve of those who congregate in their martini moment of truth and exorcise other people’s demons before the cameras?

I won’t even go into the fast-track justice reserved for those who treat it as a Formula One spectator sport. Or the Nithari killings where a small-time Noida businessman is described as an industrialist and we are given graphic accounts of the recipes for baby-flesh kebabs. Or how TV panel discussions transform into kangaroo courts. Causes are important only if they are about AIDS, drugs, acid attacks. You go clean the streets in a photo-op where a film-star wearing Nike flashes a broom around. The Art of Living is now a posh course you take to survive stress.

If you have managed to reach till here in, say, five minutes, then five people have by this time died of TB in our country. No, TB does not stand for Tattoo Boredom.


Terrorism versus toilets

I love Mumbai. It has seeped into my bones. I have driven over its potholes, walked through its dirty streets, jumped over sewers.

There are queues of people waiting everyday – for water, for rations, even for using toilets. They wait till the water taps run dry and they are left holding the bucket with no bath water; they wait till the grocer decides to sell the rations allotted to them in the black-market that some of us can afford to buy; they wait till the toilets get clogged and they have to find bushes and railway tracks, and the women wait for dark near gutters.

I love Mumbai because I have the luxury. There are thousands who do not have the time to love. They are looking for food in garbage bins and some empty space to sleep in; they are looking for work, for a daily wage, for something. Anything.

Mumbai pays the highest amount in taxes to the country. A lot can be done, needs to be done. These are issues too.

What we get instead is ‘The roar of the tiger’, an 80-year-old man who has no idea about the number of infants that die only because health services are so poor.

No one gives a damn. Water, rations, toilets don’t count. They don’t have emotional appeal; they do not have the potential for rhetoric.

It is sad that one has to listen to such crap from this man again and again:
"Unless and until Hindus come together we cannot defeat terrorism."

Okay, come together. Defeat terrorism. Which terrorism? The one in the North East? In Kashmir? Or the one unleashed by your goons?

"The network of Islam is spreading and Mumbai has become the capital. But Mumbai or Maharashtrians, Gujarat or Punjab alone will not be enough. All of us need to combine forces, as ‘Hindus’…If Hindus come together, not only can we fight them, we will defeat them”.

Who is 'them'? Since when has Mumbai become the capital of Islam? Has this man really gone crazy? Hinduism has existed in India for centuries. What does it want to defeat? And why?

Isn’t it possible for Hindus – and Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, atheists – to come together and tell this man to get lost? Why is it not being done? Why can we not see that terrorism is also about the terror of not knowing where the next meal comes from and when a home will be turned to rubble?

Wake up, please...


Love, the mercenary

Mohabbat hi na jo samjhe, woh zaalim pyaar kya jaane
nikalati dil ke taaron se, jo hai jhankaar kya jaane

I was confused. Would not mohabbat and pyaar be tautology? So, if an individual does not understand one, then s/he will not comprehend the other. Simple?

No. For those who like these things, let me share my deconstruction of the lines.

Love in its mercenary (zaalim) avatar certainly cannot understand itself…just as the soft strings of the heart would get buried beneath loud beats.

Perhaps, I’d say, even one’s heart beats – and therefore survival (and its practical considerations) - could drown the sounds of our inner voice. Often, love does not understand love, just as we do not fathom the vastness of what lies within us.

We forget that every speck of dust could point towards an expanse of sand. We treat it as grit and rub our eyes till they swell. Tears flow in wasteful drops. What could have been an ocean remains a trickle of turbulence.
- - -
Here is the rest of the song:

use to qatl karna aur tadpaana hi aata hai
galaa kiska kata kyunkar kataa talvaar kya jaane

davaa se faayda hoga ki hoga zehar-e-qaatil se
maraz ki kyaa davaa hai ye koi beemaar kya jaane

karo fariyaad sar takrao apni jaan de daalo
tadapte dil ki haalat husn ki deewaar kya jaane

mohabbat hi na jo samjhe, woh zaalim pyaar kya jaane
nikalati dil ke taaron se, jo hai jhankaar kya jaane

Lyrics: Anjaan
Music: C. Ramachandra
Singer: Talat Mehmoood
Film: Parchhaai


Hello, hello? Salman Khan?

It started a few months ago. There was this long-distance call ring. The voice at the other end asked, “Yeh Salman Khan ka ghar hai? (Is this Salman Khan’s house?)”

“Nahin,” I replied. “Aapne shaayad wrong number dial kiya hoga. (You could have got the wrong number)”

“Shaayad ke pucca? (Could or sure?)”

“Wrong number,” I said assertively.

“Chal chal, jhoothi…(Liar.)”

I put down the receiver. Picked it up again. He had not disconnected.

This continued every day. Sometimes he got abusive; occasionally someone else would call. Salman Khan had now become Salman bhai.

On one occasion the answering machine was on. I heard the same voice and his muttering, “Saali English mein bolti hai, kuchch samajh nahin aata…(She is speaking in English, can’t understand)”

Yep. Next time he called I refused to reply in Hindi. I even acquired a Salman Khan accent, you know the kind that takes you from the United States all the way to Australia in one sentence. “Rrright, ah jest khaald to say I lurv you, mite (mate)!”

Ok, I digress…I would just go, “Hmm, can you speak louder? Aha, no, no…”

He’d scream, “Tu hai na…(It’s you)”

“Whattt?? Sorreh, I down’t unnerstaind…”

It was working. The calls slowly became less frequent and I anyway kept the answering machine on most times. A few days ago, after what I assume must have been a Eureka moment, he had a brainwave.

I picked up the phone. A woman was at the other end. She asked me in English, halting and unsure, “Pliss, I want to talk Salman bhai.”

“Sorry, he does not live here.”

“Oh, who is you?”


“Ah, I know, I know. You are Katrina bhabhi!”

Why do funny things happen to me? Now I am waiting for the day Abu Salem calls and asks me for money. That would be rich.

Bal Thackeray and the President

Thackeray's 'Hairy' Encounter
By Farzana Versey
01 February, 2007, Countercurrents

Instead of asking Bal Thackeray to apologise to the President of India for saying, “His hair is falling over his eyes and blinding him, or perhaps he is seeing stars or the moon before his eyes”, we ought to thank him.

If the Shiv Sena chief can be accused of frivolity, then the responses are just about as flippant. They say he has insulted the highest office in the land by taking personal pot-shots. President Kalam’s hair had been the topic of discussion from the day he was in the running for the post. Newspapers had put up computer-generated images of him in various hairstyles that would ‘suit him’. No one objected then.

Even today, the Prez happily takes up assignments as guest editor and writes articles. Don’t these go against the dignity of the office he holds? Is one to assume he agrees with the policy of the medium of communication?

We must not forget that President Kalam was chosen by the NDA government. It was a smart move. You got your token Muslim who was not bearded, who said he was impressed by sadhus seated around in a trance and who could quote from the Bhagwad Gita.

If this is what keeps the Hindutva lobby happy, then the Congress has its own reasons. As the Mumbai chief of the party, Gurudas Kamat, said, “In a desperate measure to seek votes, Thackeray is attacking Kalam, who gave ‘Agni’ to the nation.”

What if he had not given the nation this macho little toy that could frighten the enemy across the border? Would his loyalty too, like that of a few million in this country, be suspect?

Thackeray’s statement can have a more dreadful impact than one may imagine. Will the President be compelled to fall prey to such pressures when the fact is that the Mohammed Afzal case is not a watertight one and deserves clemency? Afzal has killed no one. What he did is in the court papers; on the day when Parliament was attacked he fiddled around, just like Narendra Modi did during the Gujarat riots.

Thackeray’s own record during the riots of 1992-93 is no better. His interest in the ‘Muslim problem’ was largely because he realised that Islam was the new pop cult and he did not want to lose out on the mileage it would get him. A television anchor asked his lawyer about his recent comments. Among the usual things, the reply also mentioned that “this is a Hindu rashtra”. Much to my amazement, the anchor did not counter-question. They were still harping on the rape of the President’s locks.

Do you understand? The malaise goes beyond Matoshree where ‘saheb’ sits like a Mogambo in an ornate chair and dispenses a form of urban Panchayati Raj justice. This is the man who had said that if anything happened to him then the city would burn. A bit ironical for he has never contested an election and cannot move around without security guards. What is he afraid of?

He gives the impression of leading from the front and being upfront when he is safely ensconced in hypocrisies.

He has spoken against dynastic rule, but the Sena is nothing more than a family-run small-scale industry.

He has a problem with anything western, but when it suited him he sucked up to ENRON.

He had been a strong proponent of TADA, but when Sanjay Dutt was arrested under the Act and the case was still sub-judice he had no problem in pronouncing him “a nice boy”.

He flaunts the Hindutva card – “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai” is a Thackeray coinage – yet he is selective about the Hindus he speaks up for. Shiv Sainiks from the lower rung of the caste hierarchy or outsiders are soon shown where they belong. Chhagan Bhujbal, Sanjay Nirupam, Narayan Rane were all loyalists who left.

His boys are told to uphold Indian culture; they destroy stuffed teddy bears and tinsel-covered hearts, they round up couples in parks and tear posters they deem vulgar. Yet, to protest against his support for the film ‘Fire’, they went on a mission to actor Dilip Kumar’s house dressed in nothing but underwear.

He tarnishes the public display of one particular religion as jihad, but it was his party that took the maha-artis out in the streets.

If underworld dons forced film stars and singers to perform and do their bidding, then the Shiv Sena does the same.

Industry bigwigs go to his house to seek his ‘blessings’. Everyone knows the price.

These are issues that ought to bother us. The Presidential post is above religion and there is no need to be touchy about careless comments. Instead, Thackeray should be made accountable for being an irresponsible citizen.