India's external and internal affairs

Where are the citizens’ groups now? Where is their anger? External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said, “We have received information from our High Commissioner in Islamabad that they (Pakistan) have started the process. Let us see how much time they take.”

This is a bit too cute. Or is there something else? The Mumbai carnage became a focal point; the world was at our doorstep; everyone was getting hot and bothered; so many candles were wasted; obfuscation tactics were adopted; we suddenly realised that we had been damaged.

Now, after blaming Pakistan unofficially, the man who is in charge of such things is going to wait and watch?

When asked if Pakistan was testing India’s patience, he said, “It takes time. Diplomatic performance cannot be like switch on and switch off.”

So, India hands over some papers, asks for investigations “in a sincere, transparent and verifiable” manner, expects that to happen and sits back.

The citizens of India want to know what those “some papers” are. We want to know how the foreign minister is talking diplomacy in a situation that calls for action, whoever it might be against. We want to know the exact role of the United States in this.

Now that the tamasha of ‘enough is enough’ has died down, all those people are back wrapped in their winter holiday mood, having made their appearance in glossies. They don’t have the courage to ask the tough questions.

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The fallout is that the industry bigwigs are running the BJP campaign. Narendra Modi’s Gujarat has become an asylum for their factories. This is sickening. I had already talked about how Ratan Tata’s Nano was the smartest move going. The rest will follow.

With such backing, these powerful people will easily manage to get all those Gateway of India wallahs to vote for the Hindutva parties. Poll analysists will go on about anti-incumbency. Hogwash. This is all strategy. The moneyed class has always decided. This time they have come out of the closet.

Let us be clear: Since the tragedy struck Mumbai, it is not outsiders who have made any massive gains politically. Pakistan is in bad shape. But we have conducted an election campaign all along – politicians, business community, socialites, and acitvists. Everyone has got a whole lot of mileage.

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Sanjay Dutt was approached by the Samajwadi Party after 26/11. Why? He has a criminal record, but fielding him from Lucknow, accompanied by his Muslim wife, is a smart move. We are back again to the Muslim vote bank with a dose of Gandhigiri.

It is difficult to imagine Amar Singh in the role of kingmaker, but he is a wily man willing to stoop to any level for his regular 15 minutes of weekly prime time on TV.

There is nothing wrong about film stars entering the poll fray; Sanjay, however, is being used and he is using the opportunity to get some legitimacy, not only for himself but also for his wife. In a country where politics is a gharelu muamla (home cottage industry) this ought not to surprise us. Yet, the people will be left with very little choice.

Many might vote for Munnabhai, a fictitious Robin Hood like character, and not the individual with absolutely no experience in any kind of social commitment.

Asked who he would nominate as his ‘Circuit’ (his loyal sidekick in the film series) in politics, Jaya Bachchan – SP’s Rajya Sabha nominated member – piped in, “We all are his Circuits.”

Sure. We know about the opportunistic heritage where the state of Uttar Pradesh became this family’s stomping ground to garner all awards possible.

Sycophancy rules.


Why I choose to be ‘communal’

Maverick: Why I choose to be ‘communal’

By Farzana Versey

Covert January 16-31

It ended in a rather unpleasant quarrel. He and I were both brought up in a liberal atmosphere where after the initial tut-tuts inter-sect and even inter-religious alliances were acceptable. Both of us lived what is called cosmopolitan lives. Our social meetings took place at ‘modern’ places, including pubs.

On one such day, as he tapped his glass of Scotch, he started discussing religion. He said, “I don’t give a damn about Muslims, they can do what they want, but the moment I hear anything against Islam my blood boils. I will not tolerate it.”

Seeing my impassive expression transform into some sort of disappointment, he asked me if I agreed.

“No. For me the Muslim matters more. People matter more. I do not understand your idea of Islam or that of others, which means there are several such ideas. So, which Islam are you talking about? The Holy Book? The Prophet? They do not need your support. Groups of people do.”

This brings me to the possibility of someone arguing that I am therefore ‘communal’. It is an interesting thought to not be religious but communal. We need to understand that on a macro scale. It is easy to say that there is nothing in common between a Muslim in Iran and a Muslim in Iraq, or a Muslim in India and a Muslim in Pakistan, or a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and a Muslim in Turkey, or a Muslim in Palestine and a Muslim in Bosnia.

One could further argue that if they are targeted in any manner it is due to their religious affiliation. True? Not entirely. Examples in societies clearly show that there are fissures within it. Nations may use the Shariah for jurisprudence but that is at the level of the ruling class.

Persecution and minorityism are the result of imperialistic religious attitudes – whether it is by Israel or America. These societies get away with it due to their superior position not in the ethical hierarchy but on the economic evolutionary scale. A rich sheikh just does not have the same legitimacy as a rich Jew; the former is seen as tautology, the latter as achievement.

Does it behove well then to invoke the name of god at all? Once we bring in god, then evil or good take on a moral dimension and there is more to these attributes than morality.

The paradox lies not in the ‘person’ of god but in the perception of godliness. If god created evil, then must god be evil? Does a carpenter who produces a flawed piece of furniture become a flawed carpenter? Carpentry may not be empowered with supra powers but a carpenter is a creator too.

The concept of god “doing everything” essentially means that the believer plays a subservient role. Many believers today may be considered ‘evil’. In some cases it is indeed true. Therefore, should we assume that such evil challenges godliness and has nothing to do with god? And isn’t that possible if we go by the theory of god as creation/imagination of the human mind?

To return to evil, is it a finality? Does it have shades? Can evil transform into goodness at some point in time? Then is evil really evil or a pretence at it? The same would apply to good.

Cain’s tragedy is greater than Abel’s for he suffered from pangs of conscience. Was he then evil? Or were his circumstances responsible for making him commit the act?

Can whole nations be considered evil because their governments have policies that are not for the greater good? Then must we include the people living in those societies within this limited paradigm?

God is what believers – and non-believers – make of her/him and that provides the attributes of good or evil. A creation takes on a life of its own outside the creator.

This puts religion, beyond the point of our understanding of it, outside the grasp of individuals. Human nature and suffering are more universal. My friend and I could keep arguing over it – for him the blood at Karbala takes precedence over what occurs under his nose. I choose to look at the congealed crimson in bodies of people who share the same space as I do.


Random thoughts: Behke khayal

Kitne sehraon mein bhatakna padaa
Eik saraab paane ke liye
Kitne aaine todne padey
Apne hi aks ko pehchanney ke liye


How many deserts have I walked through
To find a lone mirage
And broken several mirrors
To recognise an elusive reflection



Of naked gods and the cover-up jobs

Another nude portrait, another outcry.

The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti forced artist Nitai Das to withdraw a nude portrait allegedly resembling Lord Shiva from an exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery.

We are back to the same old argument about freedom of expression. The artist has gone on the defensive saying that his untitled oil and acrylic painting was not of the Hindu God but just an anthropomorphic image of God. “My thoughts have been expressed through these paintings. People have a right to disagree with my work but my right to express my views cannot be curtailed. The work is untitled because I want people to interpret it on their own.”

With this statement he is handing over to the protestors a long rope to hang himself with. For, by his logic, their interpretation is valid, too. I don’t understand how giving a title can prevent people from interpreting a work as they wish. Do artists assume that if they title their works, then only their interpretation must prevail?

People have already commented on how the cult of Shiva has nude images, including the blatant worship of the Shiva lingam (Shiva’s phallus). These have mythological, and symbolic, meanings. No one is going to destroy the temples because of these depictions and no one has a problem that the works are titled or understood to be clearly what they are.

There is this rather silly notion that because India has given the world the Kama Sutra it is a more liberal society. These texts were written in ancient times when tribalism was the only culture. The refinement of material aspects of life has led to a different sensibility. The sculptors of temples were not thinking about metaphors the way contemporary analysts do.

Interestingly, the same analysts will see a real nude on the centrefold differently, perhaps even with disgust over how gauche it is, quite forgetting that a real woman or man has posed for it. Therefore, what does freedom of expression really mean, then?

Artist Atul Dodiya’s words, “India is a country with diverse traditions which is why certain people may find some things disturbing. But as long as the intent of the artist is correct, it must be understood. Artists, on their part, must not paint to offend, shock or provoke the viewer” are completely off in this context.

Who is to define the intent of the artist and its correctness? And what does he mean by an artist “must” not offend, shock or provoke the viewer? Are the viewers a single body of people with identical thoughts and ideas? What is wrong with provoking? Without provocation there can be no further exploration. Must the viewers be spoon-fed and swallow only the artist’s version?

Even calendar art makes people react differently as does the concept of beauty.

If the artists owe any responsibility to, it is to their idea of aesthetics and their ability to stand by it. There ought to be no room for scurrying away with a weak ‘untitled’ and use that as an excuse.

Had Das been upfront and said, yes, his work could be seen as Lord Shiva, he would have made more sense.

No one has seen god and god ‘creates’ us naked. So, is god offending, shocking, provoking the maternity ward, the first viewing gallery? Is god exploiting the human?

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Image 1 is of Shiva in the Nataraj pose in the bare miniumum

Image 2 is a sculpture from the Chitragupta Temple

In the news...and yet...

Baap ka raj

Farooq Abdulla did what he is best at – behaved like a buffoon. Son Omar was sworn in as Chief Minister and he started humming, “Papa kehte hai bada naam karega, beta hamara aisa kaam karega…”

Kashmir is not a Mom&Pop enterprise, okay? Grow up.

More than a shaheed’s widow

Watching Kavita Karkare on CNN-IBN, I can only say that she deserves a gallantry award. The manner in which she has maintained her composure and dignity, and yet expressed her thoughts clearly, makes her deserving of our admiration.

I am paraphrasing some of her thoughts, a few of which were expressed in a Hindi poem she wrote where she says:

Mere pati ke shaheed hone ka mujhe gham hai, afsos nahin (The martyrdom of my husband makes me grieve not regret”)

This is courage. It is courage that despite suffering for it, she still spoke about Hindu terrorism. She spoke about how secularism should be a mandatory subject in schools from Class 1. She spoke about better facilities for the police. She spoke about how not for a moment did she have doubts about what her husband, ATS chief Hemant Karkare, stood for. She spoke about how questions ran through her mind about the three senior officers being together at one place at one time. She did not flinch at any moment. This is courage.

She also quoted her daughter who said that Kasab must be given an opportunity to reform his ideas. I must admit I was taken aback. Now, as I type this, I think she should have rephrased it. Kasab is in custody; it is a high-powered case, for whatever reasons. Instead, she could have mentioned that terrorists should be given an opportunity to rethink. For, it is not the life of one officer, but several people.

I know she means well. It is obvious from every action of hers.

It is most obvious when she refuses to go along with the “anger” proponents; she stated clearly that taking out rallies is not going to help and would like changes within and she is optimistic that these will happen.

I hope she can continue as she has. Thus far, she has retained her integrity and individuality. The lurking fear is that it does not take long for politicians and activists to use her. I’d hate to see her being made into some sort of totem by those who have their own agendas.

Silence of the wolves

I have rarely noticed such silence over what is among the worst genocides taking place right before us. Israel has no intention of stopping and the world will not do a thing about it.

This is from The New York Times report:

Phones in Gaza homes rang repeatedly with recorded Israeli military messages saying, “We are getting rid of Hamas.” That goes beyond the stated goals of Israel’s top leaders, who have emphasized that the operation is intended to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel.

The ‘Hamas rockets made us do it’ is the lamest excuse. One quarter of those killed are civilians; the blockades are affecting civilians. And they are not firing rockets. The NYT refers to the “Islamist rulers of Gaza”. When will it start calling the Israelis Zionist aggressors?


It is only small change

Maverick: It is only small change

By Farzana Versey

Covert January 1-15

In a few days Barack Obama will be formally anointed as king of the jungle. It is a good way to start the year that has made democracies realise how fragile they are, how hypocritical, how very against the principle of voice to the voiceless.

We spent a large part of last year getting overwhelmed by the complete reduction of the concept of change.

It reminded me of the elections of 2000. I was in the heart of Bush territory; the whole process seemed like a reality show. Participation in democracy in the US is essentially about how much TV you watch, which channels and how the performances are rated. Interestingly, at the time ‘Survivors’ was being aired, the show where strangers are on an island together. As each act unfolded, there was a new challenge and a fresh dramatic moment. There was familiarity with one another’s habits, reactions, needs, but is it possible to understand the character of the people forced to share space for a specific purpose?

Initially I was baffled by what American television could dish out. But then you realise that it is not only the media that makes a joke out of human emotions; people too are designed to belittle and reduce themselves and others. Transpose this to the current elections. It was essentially about surviving the test in the mirror. Race, gender, ageism became questions Americans had to face in the linear mindsets that stratify its melting pot into red and blue states. How much more isolationist can politics get?

It was sheer voyeurism for the debates were ‘organised’ challenges; the public just waited to see who would become the first ‘castaway’. It is spellbinding to watch the transformation of people into characters with distinctive identities, and the evolution of identities distinct from the ones they started out being.

Islands are the worlds people live in and respond to; how they do so has little to do with them and a great deal to do with others. The environment affects the participants so that they change: friends became enemies, diverse people get together for convenience, and opinions are altered all the time.

Hillary Clinton who was rubbishing Obama in crucial aspects of policy and ideology willingly struck a deal with him. One assumes her opinions have not changed for it would reveal a lot about her ideological commitment. What does this tell us? That we often just go along, and being judgmental does not come in the way of political expediency. “The times they are a changin’”, as the song goes, but Time carries with it values and they are dissipating.

As always, the American media went into overdrive. What should have been a microscopic examination became the view from a helicopter to take aerial shots of an ongoing adventure. By that yardstick, is the winner truly a winner? Social psychologists reveal that success in the work-a-day jungle depends more on interpersonal skills than on technical competence. In the same breath, there is a belief that the bottom-line is to ‘get them before they get you.’ These are contradictory ideas. How can you form a team if you see every person in it as an opponent?

The winner is then somebody who, at the very last, clinched the deal not due to the qualities he possesses, but because he knew how to take advantage of the play of human emotions. It was not self-confidence, but just the sort of bluster that makes others be on their guard. Survival is all about manipulation.

One commentator on the ‘Survivor’ show had said: “The winner should be presented as a flawed hero who improves, and takes the prize to everyone’s surprise and delight.”

This seems most plausible for it is about catharsis. People had waited for months to see who would survive and how. They had their favourites, but they also knew that the larger game is predetermined.

The public does not choose the winners. It chooses the losers. Those who survive stereotypes and do not fall into the limited trap of vox populi perceptions walk away to another challenge.

Survival is not about the fittest. It is only a fitting reply to the wanton ways of those who remain undecided. ‘Change’ is a great anthem for fence-sitters.


Jaaye to jaaye kahaan...

This might sound strange. I put this song in the romantic category. Romantic in capital letters, as in a love beyond love.

apna bhi gham hai, unka bhi gham hai

ab dil ke bachneki, ummeed kam hai

This is about making another’s sorrow one’s own. A soul crying out…

Jaaye tau jaaye kahaan:

Film: Taxi Driver (1954)

Singer: Talat Mehmood

Music: S.D.Burman

Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi