Buying and selling Gandhi

Why do we Indians wake up so late? Now that Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings are to be auctioned in the US, we have got into a tizzy. Did anyone bother to reclaim them earlier?

This is clearly a political move. We need Gandhi at all odd hours of the day and night to make some stupid point, including non-violence, this occasionally by trishul-wielding blokes.

Anyway, I am not a big one to get back our belongings. What do we do with all those swords and funny-looking outsize clothes of former kings?

Haven’t we seen enough of the steel-rimmed spectacles and lavatory sandals? I have seen them in quite a few museums, which makes one wonder how many pairs he had. Also, every public service campaign will draw an outline of those glasses and they have come to symbolise the man; the message is as hazy as it always was.

A report talks about an “action plan” to get all those precious items back:

...the government has devised a three-pronged strategy. “We are approaching the owners not to auction these articles and requesting to offer them to the government,’’ the official said.

If that doesn’t work, the second option is to prevail on the auctioneers to take these items off the auction to enable the government purchase them on a reasonable negotiated price. The third option is to request an NRI or the local India-American association to participate in the auction, purchase the items and donate them to the Indian government, he said.

Re. Plan A: The government of India is going to be indebted to someone out to make money. Will they add a little footnote ‘Donated by Mr. X, resident of Cincinnati’?

Re. Plan B: The Indian authorities want to shamelessly bargain for what they claim is their national asset? We name every damn road after the Mahatma, build expensive statues, and we are talking about reasonable price?

Re. Plan C: Oho, I can imagine all those NRIs going around with a hat. Let me guess. Not one of those big-shot guys will pay up because Gandhi is not going to get her/him anything concrete, not even a well-publicised wedding mandap. But they will convene at some charity dinner, get some singer/tabalchi to perform, donors will ‘buy’ a table for their tandoori night out…then they will reclaim Gandhi for us. What happens next? The government will have to do some ‘sopping’ for the grand gesture on the part of those who feel so much for our heritage.

No one has talked about Plan D. But one of these days some local industrialist will jump in to save these item numbers and become the messiah who brought back Gandhi where he belongs.

Maybe a liquor baron?

Hey Ram…


Did I fly his flight?

“Your flight has been rescheduled,” was the text message. It was followed by a voicemail. I read and heard both these the next day. My phone was in silent mode.

The messages were not for me. It was for a person with a very long name travelling on an international carrier from a far-off land. Why did he have a Mumbai number? Probably a businessman.

Today, it happened again. He was flying between cities. His flight was delayed. I called up the Indian private airline. These guys talk real smartly. I told him about the error and could he please update the information so that the real person gets the message?

“Oh sure, ma’am. I will need your name.”

“Why is my name important? I am giving you details about the passenger, and you should be concerned about his information.”

“But I will need to tell the department who called.”

“Tell them Helen of Troy.”

“Huh? Sorry, I did not get you?”

“Yeah, you won’t. Just do what you have to. Here are the flight details, the gentleman’s full name. Feed it into your system.”

“See, why don’t you call the reservations department, they might be able to help.”

“I do not need help. And I do not have the time. It is your job, you do it.”

Trrring, trring…cellphone rings. An automated voice informs me about my flight delay. I want to scream.

Yet, somewhere, I am thinking about Mr Long Name. Christian from Kerala. I can imagine him working his ass off in some Gulf country, returning to India, going to different cities to sell a dream he has sleepless nights over.

He must have reached the airport early, picked up a quarrel with the check-in staff…and shrugged. He, in all likelihood, did not expect them to inform him. He does not know that the number he gave them is not his number. It is mine.

He is probably travelling well, but even in Executive Class he will be with a plastic carry bag, usually from some department store. Something will poke out. He will say, “Side pliss,” as he tries to haul it up in the overhead luggage bin after the flight attendant has told him that he cannot keep it near his seat as it is inconvenient and not advisable during emergencies. He has travelled so many times, yet he will repeat the performance, jut his tongue out to indicate his mistake, roll his large eyes, and maybe look over his reading glasses.

Then he will sit down, ask for the newspaper that is already in the seat pocket, and wipe his face, neck, arms with the wet towel. When the drinks are passed around, he will first touch the glass of juice, then the fresh lime and finally pick up the Coke. He will spread the newspaper to its full broadsheet size.

He will change channels of the in-flight entertainment till he has watched two minutes of each. He will have the full meal on board, ask for extra milk in his coffee, then recline his seat all the way back and start looking around. After a few minutes he will get up and start walking down the aisle to confirm whether he needs to visit the loo. When he is certain, he will pull up his trousers and go towards the toilet. When he is done and comes out, his hand will be on his zipper. Just like that.

Back at his seat, he will ring for the attendant. He will ask for "magsin” and pick up a serious news mag and look at the ads.

Once the flight has landed, he will switch on his mobile and start punching numbers. When the aircraft door is opened he will pull out his plastic bag and his strolley and his laptop, carry the paper and mag with him and try and rush to the exit. He will make a call saying he is late for a meeting.

Right now, as I type this, he must be on that flight from Bangalore to my city. He does not know me. But for the airline staff I am him.

What a flight it has been…


Tum...pukar lo...

Sometimes it is a line; sometimes the holding back of a line…taken over by a rhythm like a pulse beat.

I can think of several songs, and I know it is a cheesy thing to do today, but I feel like it. Perhaps I have already shared the words in bits and pieces. Perhaps, I have bared many words in bits and pieces.

There are several faces and phases of love.

Here are two subtle ones…

The beginning of the first one is both profound and playful, “Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin phir bhi tu bataa de ke tujhe pyaar karoon ya na karoon” (I have no control over my love, even so you tell me whether I ought to love you or not.)

And the lines that grab me:

poochh kar apni nigaahon se bataa de mujhko
meri raaton ke muqaddar mein sehar hai ke nahin

(Ask your eyes and then tell me

If my nights are destined to see the dawn or not)

Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin phir bhi

* Movie: Sone Ki Chidiya

* Singer(s): Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mehmood

* Music Director: O P Nayyar

* Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi

* Actors/Actresses: Talat Mehmood, Nutan, Balraj Sahni

* Year: 1958

- - -

A beautiful aspect of this one are the visuals of long shadows, curtains, light falling and creating patterns. The woman can only hear his voice and in that there is stillness as she enters the house and moves towards the stairs, framed at one point climbing them – there is a tantalising building up of expectation that may never see fruition, as though moving willingly towards imprisonment. Even when she first sees him in the course of the song, only his back is visible. How much we suppress…

For those acquainted with Hindi literature she is carrying a copy of Kalidasa’s Meghdoot (The Cloud Messenger). So much darkness with promise of rain…

As I have said often. I don’t think anything can surpass this simple expression:

dil bahal to jaayega is khayaal se
haal mil gayaa tumhara apne haal se

(The heart will be sated with the thought

That I know how you feel because of how I feel)

Tum pukar lo

* Movie: Khamoshi

* Singer: Hemant Kumar

* Music Director: Hemant Kumar

* Lyricist: Gulzar

* Actors/Actresses: Waheeda Rehman, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna

* Year: 1969


The Nithari murders: Why is justice being delayed?

It has been over two years. And all that we get in the Nithari killings case is one conviction where the suave and educated feudal lord of NOIDA raped, murdered, dismembered and put the parts of a 14-year-old girl in a drain inside his farmhouse. Moninder Singh Pandher is a pervert. Do the parents of the other kids have to wait for another so many years each?

There are several such cases committed by this sick man; skeletons were found in the drains in his house. His accomplice was his servant, Surinder Koli. In the present case he has been convicted for attempted rape instead of rape. He was known to be a necrophiliac and used the bodies after his master was done with them and dumped them cruelly with his help. At that time the media used to give graphic accounts about making human flesh kebabs.

If they are through with the repast, they should now push the courts to act. What the hell is one conviction? The man is powerful and in NOIDA, which even Uttar Pradesh treats like the back of beyond, you can sense that it would be easy for such men to do as they please.

Politicians can stay out of this as they have done in these past so many months. They don’t have to wake up and make electoral capital of it. But the police and human rights organisations must insist. And TV channels who were walking around with cameras and microphones then should now insist on the fast-track justice they demanded for other high-powered cases.

The victims here are unfortunately poor and unknown villagers and the only reason it caught the national media eye was due to the sheer voyeuristic delight it offered. Now, instead of those details, they can concentrate on getting serious panels made up of legal brains to expose this case.

The master and the servant had a convenient alliance, each a power play. Both need to be given the most stringent punishment, without delay. What more evidence is required? There is something called precedence, which the courts have convicted him of. They can clearly see the pattern.

I am against capital punishment, and castration is silly. Besides being put in solitary confinement and made to do hard labour for the rest of their lives, Pandher will have to provide for all the families of the girls he raped and killed. And unfortunate as it may sound, his son – although in no way involved and probably ignorant of his father’s actions – will have to continue to bear the expenses of providing for them should the father run out of resources. I say this because the son was in court. People like the senior Pandher are not fit enough to have any support system or families.

They debilitate society. It isn’t a question of making him into an example, but baring the face of this prime example before it is too late and others think they can get away with it. We have suffered enough and worse goes on in the interiors and rural areas. Time to start somewhere. And now.

- - -

Updated on Feb 16:

Nithari killings put to shame even pre-civilisation era: Judge (Report from The Hindu)

Ghaziabad (PTI): Following are the highlights of the 59-page judgment delivered by Judge Rama Jain while sentencing businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surinder Koli to death in connection with the rape and murder of 14-year-old girl Rimpa Haldar.

"In the said case, a helpless, poor girl has been raped by the two accused who resorted to extremely barbaric, inhuman and unkind act which has no precedence. The manner in which the horrendous act has been carried out even puts the era into shame when there was no civilisation."

This crime is against womanhood and a blot on society. The manner in which the crime has been done, death sentence can be the only justice because there was not an iota of sign that their character will change in the future.

Rejecting the CBI's contention of Pandher being away in Australia when the crime was committed, the Judge said the investigating officer of the agency cannot derive a conclusion on the basis of his passport and the immigration stamp affixed on the travel document.

The recovery of the saw, which was used to chop bodies, when Pandher and Koli were taken to Nithari house was a convincing proof that the businessman was also involved.


Some cow urine and dung...if you want a 'pure' Dalit

With their “purity quotient” not matching the fancies of priests, 450 Dalit households of Tiloli village in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district were subjected to ignominy by being told to have cow urine and dung for purification to be able to participate in a yajna ceremony.

This is 2009. We win laurels for scientific endeavours, reach space, but are still caught in a time warp.

Often such news does not go beyond making us cringe, that too over the reference to excrement. We get more bothered about how to deal with terrorism, how to fight, how to score points, how to snivel before the superpowers…

The crime mentioned in the report is in many ways worse, because it kills the souls of people, it creates deeper fissures in society and it demeans our own citizens.

India has progressed at many levels, but why can we not solve these entrenched outdated values from being discarded? What great leaps can we claim to make when we falter at every step in our own backyard?

Part of the problem is the unholy hold of religion in society. Even the Dalits, who were outcastes and made themselves acceptable by embracing the all-encompassing Dalit identity, want to be a part of the parent religion and participate in the rituals that even earlier discriminated against them.

We can blame human prejudice, but many of the differences are there in the scriptures; they may have been there to merely highlight certain cultural aspects but, as we know, religious texts get interpreted to suit whoever runs the show at a given time.

A cow that must have spent time in filth is more acceptable than a human of an economically disadvantaged group. This cow’s urine and dung is going to purify the Dalits, because the cow is worshipped. Suppose one was to go along, would this temporary purity take away the inherent low status of these people?

I know that priests in temples urinate and defecate in the patch of green behind the temples. Do they not defile the place? What about impure acts and thoughts of high-caste worshippers?

The problem is that all of us have become immune to these acts. It is as though we now accept that ‘Dalit’ is only a politically correct word to use; the attitude towards them has not changed and never will.

If that were so, then instead of the Dalits asking to participate in the yagna, they would have filed a report in the police station and the cops would have been forced to act and arrest the priests.

Will that ever happen?


Advani sells himself to Pakistan

A Pakistani website is a rather unusual place to find an advertisement of BJP leader L K Advani campaigning for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. But there he is in the online edition of Dawn, Pakistan’s premier English newspaper, with the slogan: ‘Advani for PM’.

Good show. Wonder why. Here some of us end up writing for Pakistani papers and there is a hue and cry and this man hawks himself in a newspaper started by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Are Pakistanis going to vote for him? Does he imagine that Indian Muslims will be impressed? What is the smart idea?

And why does the newspaper publish this ad? Does it have no ethical bone in its body? You publish reports where you say that Kasab is a Pakistani, so should that country promote our leaders and get into a tangle? What is going on? Who is Dawn to sell the idea of who the Indian PM should be?

Is this a paid ad? Were regular charges applied? Are there no standards applied to advertising?

And does Mr. Advani not have any moral qualms about this? If Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism, then how dare he use their largest selling English daily as a forum for his political ambitions?

This is shameless behaviour.


Are we coming close to becoming a cuckoo society?

I don’t know what Union Minister Renuka Chowdhury’s trip is, but it sure is a shaky one. She has suggested that the only way to tackle the moral police in Karnataka - they went on a rampage last month in Mangalore beating up women in a pub and warning them against wearing noodle straps or tight jeans and celebrating Valentine’s Day - was to launch a “pub bharo” andolan.

This is a ridiculous way for the youth to make a point.

Going to pubs is a personal choice and trying to make this agitation reminiscent of the “jail bharo” of the freedom movement is making a mockery of both the situations. Pubs are one of the offshoots of urban life and limited to certain sections of society. Has the good minister ever asked people to do a “call centre bharo” when there were instance of exploitation there?

I wish she would not simplify the matter and do her usual drum-beating.

- - -

Of course, the attitude of organisations deciding how people ought to behave socially has no validity. Just read the quotes of Sri Ram Sena chief Pramod Muthalik (and my comments follow):

On attacking pubs:

"We are totally against alcoholism. There are traditions, like in Kodagu where parents and children sit together and drink. But why come to the streets to drink and behave in an obscene manner? (Arrack is banned and now) We want the government to ban 'foreign' liquor. Liquor lobby is behind all these incidents."

Hmm, so is it possible that a certain Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher brand will make hay?

On Valentine's Day:

"These would turn our boys and girls into perverts. They will lead to misuse of women who are our sisters and mothers. Last year, 38 girls committed suicide in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi during VDay. We oppose not just V-Day but all celebrations having a Western touch, including New Year. By creating awareness, we are safeguarding our boys and girls."

One hopes that rapes and battering and abuse in the workplace all stop. We should ban Holi where it is a free-for-all then…and ragging in colleges, and sexual exploitation in remand homes. And, that the mothers and sisters are asked what they want.

"We will submit memoranda to the governor, CM and home minister seeking a ban on these celebrations. We will also seek help from the police chief. Moreover, all colleges, hostels, hotels and greeting card stalls will be requested not to support the celebrations. On February 14, our volunteers will go around parks and hotels carrying mangalsutras and accompanied by priests. If anybody is caught 'celebrating' love, they will be taken to a nearby temple and married."

The moron does not realise he is living in a multicultural country; he may have his issues with the influx of western commercial interests, but not everyone gets married in temples and wears a mangalsutra. Does he realise it may end up costing much more than those Hallmark cards? Who will pay for it?

He says his organisation has many volunteer donors. I believe him. We are becoming a society of totally shackled herds who will buy our way into anything that claims to make us feel ‘proud’ of our roots, even if the tree is plastic and merely stuck on the soil with adhesive.

Welcome to India blinding.

When Kalyan Singh cries

Former UP CM Kalyan Singh took “moral responsibility” for the Babri mosque demolition in 1992. He claimed Muslims do not see him as anti-minority, as he had never discriminated against them during his tenure.

“Letters and phone calls are coming in hordes not just from Hindus but also from Muslims who have hailed my decision to quit the BJP and also the coming together of two politicians (him and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav),” he said.

This is worse than Uma Bharti’s here now, there then stand. By taking moral responsibility, he is only playing politics. Uttar Pradesh is a huge arena and this move can be hugely decisive, not because Kalyan Singh is of any consequence, but because he is of no consequence.

He will be the soft totem who is now weeping crocodile tears over the Babri demolition (and they say I have no business to keep remembering that event) when he stood by his stand and that of the BJP all along. The Muslims of UP, if they are indeed sending him letters and calling him up to hail the decision to quit the BJP, are probably Mulayam Singh Yadav’s sycophants. Perhaps Amar Singh has fattened his pockets and gifted him one of those safari suits with big buttons.

Look forward to some other unusual alliances in the near future. It is time these politicians stopped banking on the Muslim vote. And it is time for Muslims to use their brains and vote according to what works for them in larger terms, not some sops thrown their way.

Kalyan Singh is a fraud. And the Samajwadi Party has turned out to be a gallery of rogues.

- - -

And while we are in UP, saw this picture with the caption:

A performer at a show held in Lucknow to popularise pole dancing

Why? Is pole dancing part of Lucknow culture? Did the nawaabs get nautch girls to twirl round those huge pillars in their palaces, which might explain the thunder thighs? I am not being a prude, but when we look down on mujra and even the classical form of Kathak, this is a bit strange.

The golden mean and the go-betweens

Maverick: The golden mean and the go-betweens

By Farzana Versey

Covert, Feb 1-15

It’s time for ideological palm-greasing. The very same industrialists who were weeping over terrorism a couple of months ago are now propping up Narendra Modi as the leader at the helm.

But, are we sitting in judgment only because we are talking about prominent people, when we are well aware that bribery is a part and parcel of everyday life – even our own?

Why must we get so uptight and upright over such backing, when we are a country of middlemen? Have we, even in our daily lives, got things done without the services of a well-wisher, a balancing force?

If today you know of some obscure people, it is because they have paid to become known. As P.T.Barnum, the public relations biggie, said, “The bigger the humbug, the better the people will love it.” So, the wannabes get to hobnob with the cream of society, many of who are of doubtful merit, and the impression given is that, look, we believe in equal opportunities, we don’t care about who is who. Few are honest as an advertiser was in one of our respected financial papers, when he stated clearly: “Wanted person experienced in the art of ‘lubricating’ top executives in banks.”

Isn’t this a regular occurrence? Can any of us get any work done without paying for it in cash or kind? Does the middleman not make life somewhat easy, just like the blackmarketeer at a cinema hall, the helpful peon at a government office whose only demand is chai-paani and the high-ranking official, who miraculously provides water in drought-prone areas because the private sector, which he publicly claims to hate, provides him with a brown paper packet?

Why get into this serious area of moral accountability? Births, marriages and deaths, all need someone to make the passage clear.

Social workers are go-betweens of another kind. They act as buffers between good and evil. They also get catapulted into the forefront of a movement or sit in air-conditioned offices of corporate honchos, sipping herbal tea and demanding donations.

Demanding has become a normal practice. If you are a beleaguered soul seeking justice or merely have a case in the courts, the black-robed ravens swoop down on you. The ‘names’ charge a neat 50,000 rupees for a one-page consultation. Some straightaway ask for a cut if it is a property matter.

Real estate agents are another bugbear. Forget what they promise you. Just watch the gleam in their eye as you sign on the dotted line and they get their two per cent commission.

The doctor sends you to a specialist; the specialist parcels you off to a bigger guy; the cut at the end could be in lakhs. While the general physicians have to make do with weekly luncheons that pass off as conferences, the ones with fancier degrees get all-expenses-paid trips abroad sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. How does it affect you? Your friendly doctor will insist you use those medicines which might be infinitely more expensive.

The media cannot be absolved. It is the most in-demand profession. Hacks who have managed to re-word a press release a few times on a certain topic are called experts and invited on junkets to hold forth on the subject. Academicians enjoy similar elevation, based purely on the number of footnotes in the paper they present.

God has not been spared. When you go shopping for a guru or a saint, you are looking not so much for solace as for a nice middleman. Everyone knows that the Real Thing is somewhat confusing, an abstraction, and understanding this entity can get time-consuming, besides taking a toll on your brains. So you deposit your searching soul at the feet of a holy one and leave it to him/her to pass on your messages, requests, and complaints to God. Along the way you drop some money into a donation box or sprinkle ghee into fire or slaughter an animal, depending on what you are told to do. This is not to appease any Higher Power, but to make your earthly messenger feel that something is being done.

When two sides have a dispute, it is the ‘agents’ who get away, pleading quite truthfully that they are merely caught in the middle.