Lindt it or lump it?

Minarets don’t really float my boat, but to ban them? That too in Switzerland by a referendum from the people. 57.5 percent voted in favour. It has been opposed by the Swiss government, parliament, business groups and churches but given the thumbs up by the Right wing Swiss People’s Party.

Here are a few issues raised and it reveals the hollowness that has come to apply to political discourses:

There are only four minarets among the tens of thousands of church spires in Switzerland but the SVP campaigned against them as a symbol of Islamic political influence, which it claimed could eventually undermine the nation's Christian values and democracy.

Since when has Switzerland become a Christian nation? Values cannot be politicised. Minarets do not stand for political influence. Muslims constitute about five percent of the population, and they are mostly from East Europe which can hardly claim to be symbols of Islam.

The spires are traditionally used to make the call for prayers at mosques but Swiss noise control regulations have already stopped them from being used for that purpose; instead, they became an architectural symbol of the Islamic faith. The ban on minarets does not stop the building of mosques, and Muslims were still free to practise their faith.

This is weird. A muezzin could shout from atop a dome as well. And what about church bells? Personally, I am against the call to the faithful at unearthly hours and would rather they invest in alarm clocks, but to use this as a stick to beat a community with is ridiculous.

Embarrassed government spokesmen agreed that the ban would "serve the interests of extremist circles" only, and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey claimed that a yes vote "could make Switzerland a target for Islamic terrorism".

Wow. Even when they are decrying the ban, they are slyly suggesting that this could result in a backlash. Did they want it? Switzerland was not attacked in the two world wars. During the First war, Lenin lived there; it managed to remain unscathed during the WW 11 by playing along with the Germans, although it did not fall into the Nazi trap.

If it has managed to work its way around such major upheavals in history what is the fear now? Mosques have been attacked these past two weeks.

Ulrich Schluer, an SVP politician has been holding forth:

"We compare our situation to Germany, France or England and the problems they have in their suburbs. That is what we do not want here. Mosques are not part of freedom of religion. This is not against Islam. The minaret is a symbol . . . of conquest and power, which marks the will to introduce Shariah law as in other European cities. We will not accept that".

Obviously, someone needs a few lessons in history. How is it not against Islam if it assumes that Shariah law will be introduced? Civil society building mosques is going to now connote conquest?

The problem is that many of these nations will market their goods, send their expertise to Arab countries and bask in the special privileges they get there, but at home they treat immigrants with suspicion.

I have already talked about the breach in the White House security. This was no terrorist attack.

I understand the need for societies to retain their own identity, but what can five per cent of the population do? Are we trying to use examples of a few terrorists? There is no way to justify those acts, but how many people are gunned down in campuses, how many people are murdered, how many fanatics of different stripes – and not just religion – walk around selling their ideologies? What about those versions of ‘shariah’? No one can impose a religious law in a democracy. This bogey is deliberately created to marginalise some groups.

Businesses such as watch-maker Swatch and Switzerland's famous banking industry said they feared the ban could provoke expensive boycotts by Muslims around the world, while the Swiss government warned it could inflame tensions between religions.

Oh, sure. This is what the business lot would be concerned about. Here is news. Muslims, the real rich ones, are the Arabs. They will not boycott anything so long as it is kosher. Trade will continue. If they just kept quiet and went about with their Alps and stopped getting all jittery about something rising up towards the sky, there would be no problems. The rowdies may come out in the streets and make a noise. This seems deliberate.

In the form of direct referendum to get views, they could have asked people about more pressing issues. Why did they choose this? To please the rest of Europe? France, Germany? Perhaps the country should take a good look at itself and watch how the different sections of its own French and German sides are disparate and have an ongoing quiet battle on between them.

I only hope Muslims forget about it as a bad joke and go on with their jobs. They do work too, you know? And the Swiss can be certain that at least one Muslim here has worshipped at the altar of Sprungli. And will continue to do so.


Muslims for Kurbani

Read this rubbish…

Mani Ratnam is planning to make a film called Azan. This is what a ‘source’ said:

Unlike the films releasing in Bollywood of late, which focuses on either Jehad or Islam, this is a pro-Muslim film which will portray Muslims in a positive light.

What exactly is a pro-Muslim film? Is someone saying we are going to make you look like little angels? Well, then, those angels are a part of Islam and also jihad if the term is understood.

Mani Ratnam, even in Bombay, a rather nice film on the riots and Hindu-Muslim alliances, did fall for the stereotypes when he showed the father of the girl as a butcher who even takes out an axe to protest against the relationship.

- - -

I have not watched Kurbaan, the latest flop on terrorism. But it is really funny that all the publicity while focussing on its producer Karan Johar also uses his pictures wearing glasses. As though that will make him more enlightened and sensitive!

- - -

Results of last poll:

Mumbai First Impressions

Cosmopolitan - 4 (15%); Money - 2 (7%); 26/11 - 2 (7%); 1993 riots - 2 (7%); Bollywood - 4 (15%); Slums - 6 (23%); Page 3 celebs - 0 (0%); Snobbery - 0 (0%); Immigrants - 1 (3%); Opportunity - 5 (19%)

I voted for opportunity.

Sunday ka Funda

Eskimo: "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?"
Priest: "No, not if you did not know."
Eskimo: "Then why did you tell me?"

- Annie Dillard
- - -
Anyhow, here is something to do on Sunday if you are already thinking about what not to do on Monday!


Gatecrashers, hoax calls...and then they wonder about security...

This sure wasn’t about being part of the hottest party at the White House al fresco dinner. You’ve already read about the couple who gate-crashed. It raises questions about security. The US creates this thing about how it must save itself from those monsters, and here two people, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, manage to not only be a part of the party but also pose for pictures with vice president Joe Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, three uniformed Marines and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi.

I understand it is assumed that those who are there have been invited and it is polite to take pictures. I’d be curious to know how they introduced themselves. If they did not, then it means that big ticket events are just another ruse for schmoozing. These guys had a reason, being celebrity wannabes who put up the photographs on Facebook. That is when the security agencies noticed the goof-up. Does it mean that now government agencies will have to depend on networking sites to get their information? Have we come to this sorry pass when citizens won’t know about the real risk potential until someone gloats about it on their ‘walls’?

Reports have said in a rather cavalier fashion that the couple did not get close to the President and weren’t a threat. They are saying this after it happened. What if they were a threat? Oh, of course, they look clean, they don’t fit a stereotype.

Therefore, the whole bogey is still about getting very, very scared only about certain types.
- - -
Certain types brings us to a question. Why would a year-old story resurface again providing no new information? This is about the hoax call made by the alleged killer of Daniel Pearl who pretended to be leaders of India and Pakistan and “heightened tension between the two countries following the Mumbai attacks”. The calls were made to Indian external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

“Omar Saeed Sheikh was the hoax caller. It was he who threatened the civilian and military leaderships of Pakistan over telephone. And he did so from inside Hyderabad Jail.”

I know that officials are corrupt and it is no big deal for criminals to procure phones inside prisons. Underworld dons in India continue to conduct business from the confines of their jails and even contest elections!

Shaikh’s wife gave him the information about the Mumbai carnage and when all the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were killed, he made a call, first to Pranab Mukherjee, posing as Zardari. Anyhow, when he was told they’d get back to him, he called up Zardari and Kayani.

The question is: how did he have the numbers of these high-powered leaders? Anyone who has heard Pranab Mukherjee speak will never forget it for the rest of their life, especially people who have to deal with him. I understand that terrorists are getting smarter, turning into linguists, but mimics too?

Can they just pick up the phone and talk to presidents and army chiefs and threaten them? I mean, how would Pranabda get aggressive? Would he call up to say, “Asheef boy, harm tomar log ka oopaar vaar kaarega” (Asif bhai we will wage war against you)? And “Koyoni shaab, kaun-troll koro apna army ko nahin to homora army tomar aadmi ko phinish kor lega” (Kayani saab, control your army or our army will finish your army)?

This Shaikh guy was released by us in the exchange during the Indian Airlines hostage crisis in 1999. They say he used a British SIM card. Isn’t this a bit unusual that such powerful men would assume that their counterpart in another country is calling them up from a number of a third country? What was the exact content of the threats?

The reports do not mention that. They managed to trace the source of the call and are “baffled by his cheekiness”. Baffled? Where is their security?

Who is being taken for a ride here? The political leaders? The army? Or the people? It is the people. This drama that is costing a precious paises to the Indian exchequer and making a mockery of the judiciary in both countries is going to be a long-lasting soap opera. Kasab will be our new Kashmir issue.

The most amusing part was a report in Rediff that said, “Sheikh was brought up and educated in the UK, and briefly attended the London School of Economics before dropping out to pursue a career in jihad.”

Now jihad has become a career and not a passion or a misguided decision by men of god?

Getting your goat

Irony could not get more amusing. Today is Eid al-adha. Pricey animals are just another means to flash money. Muslims sacrifice a goat (or in some countries cow or camel) to symbolise the sacrifice made for Allah. I won’t bore you with the details. The link has more information.

As symbols go, one can have no quarrel although I do believe that we need to understand that what was a message at one time has got to be internalised.

Today’s papers mentioned about this goat called Khusi (happiness) who is going for Rs 21 lakh. The owner is not a Muslim and he had planned to sell the animal to the slaughter house months ago, but the potential buyer refused to butcher Khusi because he has some pattern on his black body that resembles the symbol '786' in Arabic and there is also some crescent moon formation.

That butcher probably felt that he would bring holy wrath upon himself. Now, things have changed. Buyers want this fellow badly. Imagine being able to flaunt a sacrifice that is so expensive. This goes completely against the spirit of what was intended. If something is so sacrosanct then how are they willing to go ahead and kill it? Will they preserve the hide and frame it with the holy words?

Naturally, the seller knows he has got a golden goat and he is waiting for the amount to reach over Rs. 51 lakh. I don’t blame him. I also respect the butcher who refused to buy the beast. It is the wealthy sacrificers, the ones who think they are following god’s dictates, who need to get their heads examined. If we go by the faith, then they ought to sacrifice their own children and only then will god spare them. But can we expect that? Anyone who can afford this much, would have kids who wouldn’t care and just Google the details. Symbols remain just that.

The other aspect in a country like India is that due to several faiths and communal riots at the sight of cows and pigs near places of worship, this becomes one more opportunity for a ‘tense situation’. I’d find this laughable had it not been so worrisome. Animals are slaughtered everyday for consumption and it is by Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs. Heck, butter chicken is not a Muslim speciality and the Malayalees also have meat dosas. So, this sudden concern by people of other faiths for animals is a bit precious.

Besides, animal sacrifices are common in some Hindu temples. Certain cults also perform human sacrifices. Real babies are killed due to superstition, sometimes for the silly reason of increasing virility if you drank the baby’s blood.

We are, for all the aggressiveness, becoming more and more impotent because those who need to be heard are silenced. Charlatans and totems work on minds too numbed by rituals – and these days such rituals are also politicised. Religion is far from anyone’s mind.

Yup, Eid Mubarak and may we all learn that if we want a ticket to heaven then don’t make life hellish here.



I am not terribly enthused about the 1,000 page report by Justice M S Liberhan. It says what has been said so many times these past so many years. It was obvious that it was a conspiracy by the BJP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and VHP...

to not just demolish the Babri Masjid but bring the country “to the brink of communal discord”.

To the brink? It was a communal carnage, dammit.

Some of us have called Atal Behari Vajpayee a “pseudo-moderate’’ and worse.

Bal Thackeray is saying what he has said often:

“My brave soldiers were on the forefront in this battle. Some of them even laid down their lives for the cause.”

Amar Singh’s secular stunts do not even count.

Tell us who is going to be put behind bars and when will those who have not yet got justice get it.

Do we know? Are there records?

- - -

We seem to know more about our neighbour. Take this from General Deepak Kapoor:

“There are estimated 42 terrorist training camps in Pakistan as per intelligence reports. The total number of militants staged in these camps is roughly between 2,000 and 2,500, and they are ready to infiltrate to this side.”

The Army is, of course, prepared:

“We are ready to deal with them to ensure safety and security of the people of J&K.”

Jammu and Kashmir is not all of India, Sir. If we have all this information, how come we did not know anything about the handful who landed in Mumbai?

- - -

Vaishali Ombale may not meet Sonia Gandhi, but she is doing her bit. The daughter of assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Ombale, who was killed in the 26/11 attack, has declined any monetary aid without making a fuss over it.

She has asked the organisations to use it for needy children; she also handed over a cheque of Rs 1 lakh to Rukhsana, the Kashmiri girl who killed a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist when militants barged into their house. (Seen in the picture with Vaishali on the left.)

Explaining her stand, she said:

“Had the money, which is being donated to us by many, been used to purchase modern arms and ammunitions, lives of a few policemen could have been saved today.”

End quote:

“God bless you for saying that!” cried Miss Harrison. “If we keep our courage and our patience the truth must come out.”

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval Treaty


Hey Pakistanis, say hello to Manmohan Singh!

We ain't talking...just tickled pink

A head of state goes public and says that he does not know who to talk with in the country we consider tricky business.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is clearly sounding like a lost child:

“I do not think whether we have a partner right now. I think, when General Pervez Musharraf was there (president of Pakistan), I was to ask him and he said well I am the army, I represent the armed forces, I represent the people. Now I do not know whom to deal with. It is not clear if the president is in charge of the army.”

Why would the Indian PM want to talk with the army guys? We have a chief of army staff, we have a defence minister.

And what is this about a partner? Are we discussing trade?

Asked if the Pakistani army was serious in tackling terrorism, Singh said he was not certain if the Pakistani army would take on those elements. “I think the most elemental force in Pakistan is the army. There is democracy. We would like democracy to succeed and flourish in Pakistan, but we have to recognise that the power today virtually rests with the army,” he said.

Right. He is saying that the Pak army is powerful, yet there is democracy, which he likes, but he wants to talk to the army because they are supposed to contain terrorism, which they are not serious about, and they won’t let democracy flourish. What is going on?

He says all this sitting on the CNN seat with Fareed Zakaria before his trip to the US.

It might appear to be a smart move from the Obama angle, but people at home won’t find it remotely sensible. Aren't we supposed to take a stand on terrorism? Instead we have our PM going all Red Riding Hood with the big bad wolf act.

Here is a clue:When it is time for playing diplomatic footsie, it is the politicians and bureaucrats who come to the table. You go to war with the army unless a country is under military rule.

Next, Dr. Singh will want to chat up the ISI. That might not be a bad idea since the agency works with officers as well as ‘gentlemen’.


Was it bad for you?

What exactly is bad sex writing? Is it having bad sex while writing? Or is it bad to write about sex…cluck, cluck? Of course, all of you know about the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Many really good writers have ‘won’ it. No one has ever thought about giving a good sex in fiction award, it must therefore follow that it’s all just bad. The worse and the worst do not count. Just bad is good enough.

Auberon Waugh, the English writer, must have been reading something on a grey dry day, which is really about unrealised possibilities in case you have missed the metaphor, and decided to set up this award. I believe it was to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

Those who are subtle would not really indulge in such careless passages, and if they do then perhaps they genuinely mean to be crude, tasteless and perfunctory. The modern novel, as opposed to classics (or is it conservative?), does use sexual descriptions. It might be redundant to certain readers and the only thing worth reading to others.

As a teenager my female friends would be given books by the boys that had specifically marked out portions of writing from the point of view of hormones. It worked as a learning experience as well as succeeded in conveying the intent of the one rewarding them with these precious jewels.

I say 'them' because I did not read those books, and when on occasion I was asked to “at least try” I took it up with the assiduousness of an experiment, looking for syntax where I ought to have been examining the possibilities of sin.

This year’s shortlist includes Philip Roth for something he has written in his latest book The Humbling – “the story of the seduction of a ‘full breasted’ lesbian by an ageing stage actor. The novel includes a threesome scene and has several references to a green-coloured sex toy”.

I am a bit perturbed by this. It suggests that lesbians may not be full-breasted and if they are their seduction is wont to take place only by ageing stage actors. Has the threesome scene been written from the point of view of one individual or all three? Would Roth manage a balanced perspective giving three sides of the sex coin, the third being upright and poised to roll?

Use of sex toys is fairly common among the living, so I assume characters in fiction might emulate real people. I am confused about the green colour, though. Is Al Gore still at it? Green is also associated with Martians, which again expresses that it could be an out-of-world experience. All good. However, since men are supposed to be from Mars, then political correctness would unfold its wrath on Roth for assuming that women cannot really enjoy such blissful moments on their own. Green is also the colour of nature, at least when it is not autumn in some parts of the world. To refer to nature and toy in the same breath is to take the breath out of nature.

The passage, however, does not have those twists and turns:

“There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be.”

Paul Theroux’s attempt in A Dead Hand has also been nominated:

“Her hands were all over me, four hands it seemed, or more than four, and as she touched she made me weightless, lifting me off the table in a prolonged ritual of levitation.”

What does all this convey? I know it isn’t quite easy to write about how characters one has created would behave in bed. But authors do base personalities on people they know or read about. And they do have the power of imagination.

Now, what happens to the much-touted Kama Sutra, the ancient Indian manual on sex? It was written by the celibate sage Vatsyayana. It is considered a path-breaking work, and I suspect it has to do with it being an old text and less due to its inherent practical merits. Take this passage:

When a woman, having placed one of her feet on the foot of her lover, and the other on one of his thighs, passes one of her arms round his back, and the other on his shoulders, makes slightly the sounds of singing and cooing, and wishes, as it were, to climb up him in order to have a kiss, it is called an embrace like the 'climbing of a tree'.

Why would a woman stand on a man’s foot and place the other one on his thighs? Were all women way shorter than the men? And why must she sing and coo all to get a little hug?

Don’t ask questions. Visit any bookstore and this volume is around. Everyone has heard about this book.

The point is: Do readers give a damn? As Roth himself had once said, “When you publish a book, it's the world's book. The world edits it.”

Therefore, it depends on us. The bad sex is in our heads.


Those things our armymen do...

Now, this forward is supposed to make us go all gooey. I did try. Honest. But it’s not working. Why on earth is it even necessary to ask, “Any one more secular than the Indian army?”

Here are the examples. My two-bits in bold:

As a serving army officer, I never stop marvelling at the gullibility of our countrymen to be provoked with alacrity into virulence in the name of religion. I have never heard the word 'secular' during all my service -- and yet, the simple things that are done simply in the army make it appear like an island of sanity in a sea of hatred.

In the army, each officer identifies with the religion of his troops. In regiments where the soldiers are from more than one religion, the officers -- and indeed all jawans attend the weekly religious prayers of all the faiths. How many times have I trooped out of the battalion mandir and, having worn my shoes, entered the battalion church next door? A few years ago it all became simpler -- mandirs, masjids, gurudwars and churches began to share premises all over the army. It saved us the walk.

So, God is not omnipotent and omniscient, but has a) a foot fetish b) is a fitness instructor
Perhaps it is so because the army genuinely believes in two central 'truths' -- oneness of god and victory in operations. Both are so sacred we cannot nitpick and question the basics.

In fact, sometimes the army mixes up the two! On a visit to the holy cave at Amarnath a few years ago I saw a plaque mounted on the side of the hill by a battalion that had once guarded the annual Yatra. It said, 'Best wishes from -....- battalion. Deployed for Operation Amarnath.

If there was oneness of god, then there would be no need for an Operation Amarnath.
On another instance, I remember a commanding officer ordered the battalion maulaviji to conduct the proceedings of Janamashtmi prayers because the panditji had to proceed on leave on compassionate grounds. No eyebrows were raised. It was the most rousing and best-prepared sermon on Lord Krishna I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Geez, the army has maulvis and pandits? Can people not have their own little holy books they can read from? Would it be the same attitude had a pandit given a sermon about the prophet? Do they also have Catholic priests, Sikh granthis and Buddhist and Jain monks?
On the Line of Control, a company of Khemkhani Muslim soldiers replaced a Dogra battalion. Over the next few days, the post was shelled heavily by Pakistanis, and there were a few non-fatal casualties.

One day, the junior commissioned officer of the company, Subedar Sarwar Khan walked up to the company commander Major Sharma and said, "Sahib, ever since the Dogras left, the mandir has been shut. Why don't you open it once every evening and do aarti? Why are we displeasing the gods?"

Major Sharma shamefacedly confessed he did not know all the words of the aarti. Subedar Sarwar Khan went away and that night, huddled over the radio set under a weak lantern light, painstakingly took down the words of the aarti from the post of another battalion!

Is this secular? If there are no aartis, it would displease the gods? Since they know so much about the working of the mind of gods why don’t they ask the gods (please note the plural…didn’t someone talk about oneness of religion earlier?) to do some jaadu and get the troops on the other side to just disappear?

How many of us know that along the entire border with Pakistan, our troops abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food on all Thursdays? The reason: It is called the Peer day -- essentially a day of religious significance for the Muslims.

Only the armed forces seem to know about such days. Which Peer is being commemorated and for what? To the best of my knowledge, Peer is Monday in Urdu. So, how does Monday appear on Thursday? Civilian Muslims eat meat on all days and those who do not drink will not drink on any day. The rest will continue with their chhota and bara pegs.
In 1984, after Operation Bluestar there was anguish in the Sikh community over the desecration of the holiest of their shrines. Some of this anger and hurt was visible in the army too.

I remember the first Sikh festival days after the event -- the number of army personnel of every religious denomination that thronged the regimental gurudwara of the nearest Sikh battalion was the largest I had seen. I distinctly remember each officer and soldier who put his forehead to the ground to pay obeisance appeared to linger just a wee bit longer than usual. Was I imagining this? I do not think so. There was that empathy and caring implicit in the quality of the gesture that appeared to say, "You are hurt and we all understand."

Fine. Nice. Empathy is good anywhere. Have they asked themselves why they have to do what they do? It is better than putting the forehead to the ground and lingering a bit longer.
We were deployed on the Line of Control those days. Soon after the news of disaffection among a small section of Sikh troops was broadcast on the BBC, Pakistani troops deployed opposite the Sikh battalion yelled across to express their 'solidarity' with the Sikhs.

The Sikh havildar shouted back that the Pakistanis had better not harbour any wrong notions. "If you dare move towards this post, we will mow you down."

So Santa Singh became Santa Claus for the Indian Army. This is his job. Why see it as a special gesture?
Finally, a real - and true - gem.

Two boys of a Sikh regiment battalion were overheard discussing this a day before Christmas.

"Why are we having a holiday tomorrow?" asked Sepoy Karnail Singh.

"It is Christmas," replied the wiser Naik Gurmeet Singh.

"But what is Christmas?"

"Christmas," replied Naik Singh, with his eyes half shut in reverence and hands in a spontaneous prayer-clasp, "is the guruparb of the Christians."

Ok, a Sepoy would not know what is Christmas and he is supposed to rattle out the brand names of designer weapons. And a Naik who knows ups his GK quotient and becomes secular because he connects the celebration of something to do with his religion and another. Like taal se taal mila...

I wonder what he would have said if someone asked about the Last Supper. Would he call it temporary reincarnation? Or just say “Rab returning for holy langar”?


Loos Morals

Happy Toilet Day! When I saw an ad this morning by one of those toilet cleaning companies, I thought it was a joke. One of those happy bogs thing to market the product. Turns out there is, indeed, more to defecation than a super bowel event.

Now don’t go screwing up your noses. It’s got big sponsors and volunteers. Quite happening.

This event has a history going back to eight years. In 2001, the World Toilet Organization decided to address the issue of worldwide sanitation. It would be easy to smirk. But, think about it. We discuss global warming which is somewhere between the clouds and the sky. This is nearer home. It is inside the home, if you are lucky to have en suite facilities.

This year Unilever's Domestos has got together to “improve the lives of those affected by poor sanitation and increase access to hygienically clean toilets around the world”. This is where I have a problem. We have the local brand from this company and their ad frightens the hell out of me. It shows these huge monsters that are supposed to be bacteria walking all over the shit throne and screaming with joy about mucking up our little daily tryst with weight loss. I have felt chastised for I have been using another brand for years. Squishing the blue liquid into the pot made me feel safe and secure. Now, these animated bacteria have been telling me for the past so many days that I have been doing it all wrong.

It’s okay for the likes of us who have private loos and a fastidiousness that comes with learned behaviour about How to Respond to Excrement with Excitement. Had I been an academician of some ill-repute I might have pondered over it and produced a big fat geek wedding kind of production on paper. But I am not. So, I turn to the best bet – cynicism. And it is valid. How many people with poor sanitation and lack of hygiene know about this squishy-squish bottled cleaning liquid? How many have basic facilities?

In the heart of my city, I have walked through lanes where women have to use umbrellas to hide their faces as they squat near the drains. I have seen people line the railway tracks. I have seen children leave little pellets of malnourished shit. There are villages where people go to the fields to relieve themselves.

Therefore, we are dealing with a bunch of people that is wooing the WC-ers. It is ethically unfair. There are events for the community, the school, the world. There is also the Big Squat, “A Movement for the Toilet-less”, to drive home the point "where would you go?" and how people without toilets are forced to go in public places.

Is this empathy? How temporary it is when they tell you, “At exactly noon on November 19th, gather your family, friends, classmates, colleagues and everyone you know to squat in public for 1 minute in support of World Toilet Day.”

You might be given a bottle of the cleaning liquid and those 60 seconds would help your knees get a bit of a workout. It won’t help anyone, unless you want to bond with the group or you are planning to visit a really backward area and your lives depend on managing this feat.

If it is noon in your part of the world and you go along with this, here you go.

As for me, I dumped it.


Desperately seeking Sarah?

What's all the noise about a bit of leg and Newsweek using her picture from Runners World on their cover? It just gives her a boost. She looks fit, young, and ready to take on any call…two Blackberries in the hand are worth a few thousand in a jam!

The sob story-tellers aver:

"It’s more like a glamour shot. Sure, she’s in running gear but it’s apparent that she hasn’t begun the workout yet. She’s posing in her old office clutching two Blackberries and leaning on an American flag."

So, Ms. Palin has worn glamorous clothes before and shown leg and a bit of thigh too at meetings with heads of state. As for not having begun her workout yet, how many sportspersons pose for shoots after sweating it out? Serena Williams, David Beckham?

Palin has been, I think, forced to sound chewsy-newsy when she wrote on her Facebook page:

"The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness — a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation.”

Then, how does it become irrelevant? America is full of reports about health care and this might send some important message, even if the intent is not as honourable.

But Sarah is out to make a statement:

“The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention - even if out of context."

It is not sexist. Newspapers and magazines like to show some political skin because they cannot show political spine. If it is a woman, she will look like a woman. If it is a person of colour, the colour will show. It does not need to be reiterated that you do not judge a book by its cover, for those who do so are the ones who need to rethink their priorities.

The picture in no way damns her or what she might stand for. She is in her office leaning on the American flag and not an Alaskan whale. Heck, even that would have made sense.

On the other hand, I am surprised she does not find the title offensive: “How do you solve a problem like Sarah?” reminiscent of the Sound of Music classic, “How do you solve a problem like Maria...” where the nuns in the convent sing about the wayward one among them. This would make her a maverick. The sub-head says she is bad for the GOP and everyone else.

This is alarmist, not sexist.

So, run, Sarah, run…maybe it is about you wanting to run for office and…er…getting there? Get it, duh?

Iconic abodes and dogs

After 26/11, the government of Maharashtra set up a committee to study the safety and security of iconic buildings.

To design a foolproof security system, three layers of security were considered. The first layer deals with protecting the perimeter of the building. The second is entrance control, concerning entry and exit points and the third layer is internal security of the building.

What about non-iconic buildings that fall like a pack of cards? They don’t have gunfire smoke coming out, just people making a quick buck. You won’t hear exposes about cement scandals here.

How about some security for senior citizens and vulnerable children? How about it for slums that are bulldozed? How about it for women who work night shifts? How about it for crowded local trains?

These are the icons of Mumbai.

Is he, the red-collared one, a Mumbai icon? Not in normal times. He is pretty much another stray who might have been put to sleep after being dragged in a municipal van. It just so happens that he has a tale of bravery simply because he was at the wrong place at the right time, “the night Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail came calling there”. No kidding. This is how the TOI reported it.

I do not dislike animals, especially not four-legged ones.

Sheroo survived the 26/11 attack at CST station. This is not his name. He did not have a name. Here is what they say about him:

It was the BSPCA staff who named the canine ‘Sheroo (lion), impressed by his steely will to survive that helped him pull through.

Several dog lovers come to visit him, eager to meet the ‘survivor’ and many leave behind contributions for his upkeep, but the BSPCA has decided to take care of him for life.

Sheroo does get a little anxious in the company of strangers or on hearing a loud noise.

This is pretty much sensitive dog behaviour. Of course, next time I hear a yelping sound I the dead of night, I must think about some dog who has gone through terrorist trauma.


Moderns, Models and Martyrs

The Indian Media Discovers a New Pakistan
Moderns, Models and Martyrs
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, November 13-15, 2009

(A slightly abridged version has appeared in The News International, November 14)

If you believed the Indian media, then not only do Pakistani women possess cleavages and midriffs but their displaying these body parts is considered a fight against militancy.

“Bare shoulders, backless gowns and pouting models are wowing Pakistan’s glitterati as Karachi Fashion Week shows the world a different side of the Taliban-troubled nation,” said one report. Are there no other paradigms for us to understand modern Pakistan? Do we even want to?

There is talk about Islamic clothes as opposed to what was witnessed on the catwalk. This is an artificial comparison. Social dress codes vary for regular wear even in the couture capitals of the world like Paris, Milan and New York.

However, the Indian media saturated with tribal chiefs found an opportunity to perform a virtual bereavement ritual as fashionistas supposedly braved gunfire to strut on the ramp.

It is a patronising attitude quite forgetting that we have to deal with not only the rightwing moral police but also educational institutions that lay down rules. In Kolkata, for example, a college wanted its students to only wear sarees and not salwaar-kameezes; the elite St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai issued a diktat against short dresses.

We want to look at modern Pakistan as the West does – a materialistic opposition to fanaticism. None of these people are modern in the sense of being ideologically driven. We give prime time and front page space to wardrobe malfunction and there are psychological discussions on stress levels. It perhaps adds a similar dimension when we see our neighbour defying external stress.

A modern Pakistan is both a relief and a threat to India. It is a relief because there are mutual opportunities and mutual backscratching possibilities for fake blonde bluster to cover up real blonde moments. It is a threat because we need those bearded guys and burqa-clad women to make us feel good about our democracy. For those who constitute the upper layer of any society, democracy is the ability to walk the ramp – for charity, for theatrics, for flaunting money, for flaunting regenerated bodies, for flaunting redeemed self-esteem, for flaunting trophy hubbies. To belong to the jet set you need to walk the ramp.

Can such cocoons rebel against society? Take this headline: “Fashion takes a bow near Taliban hub in Pakistan”. Do we know what a hub is? And how close is Karachi to the hub? The show taking place under heavy security does not as a matter of course catapult it to the level of a valid protest. “And this is a way to tell the people who want our lives to stop that 'No, we won't let you.'” was one such voice that immediately echoed what the Indian media is happy about portraying.

A “mix of eastern and western inspirations” immediately makes us think of a little bit of Chanel infused with a touch of Sindh and the Louis Vuitton with Lahore. This is the muaah-muaah comfort level of the wannabes whose empathies come purely from performing a striptease. It is a battle of and for the botox and its accruing financial benefits. India has a huge market, but Pakistan’s elite can flash their Calvin Kleins just as well.

I can imagine our media chortling at the words of one expat Pakistani designer who said, “My muse is that quintessential modern woman who’s self-aware and knows what she wants. She’s ambitious and driven but isn’t afraid to flaunt her softer side in fear of contradicting that image. In fact, she embraces it.” Oh no, the power woman has those threads sewn into her mannequin frame and control over body means just not being able to exhale.

Why do these people assume that a woman in the tribal areas, if heard, might be unaware about what she wants? Is it not possible that her ambition is to not flaunt certain assets? The neo ‘cons’ transpose the victim of fanaticism against a peek preview of the houri from heaven and end up portraying extremism in two limited shades.

The positions are in place. Men have to take on the war against terror and women must do the phoney mommy of moderation act. Liberalism is the new poster girl and caters to market demands. No wonder it has degenerated to the level of the trivial.

Look beyond this current event and you will find that according to the Indian media the great Pakistani moderns are not the true dissenting voices, but the flavours of the season. Modern is Imran Khan coming out of a socialite’s pool in Mumbai like Ursula Andress, actress Meera covering half her face with shades and the other half with braggadocio, politicians and diplomats wearing suits, commentators talking in clipped accents punctuated with home-grown patois, activist cats crying over the spilt milk of peaceful resolutions to the conflict. And if someone can say “those Talibs” followed by a few choice cuss words, then they begin to epitomise nothing less than a quick-fix renaissance.

This is a composite list. If you notice, the arrivistes overtake the artistes. People who do street theatre, use art and dance as statement, who question the status quo are simply bypassed or seen as ranting mavens unless they are threatened. Then, they can take that great leap towards modernism. Intellectual shahadat – martyrdom – has good currency.

Interestingly, television and newspapers in India have buttressed the feudal class as spokespersons of such modernism. The idea is that a haveli may well be a hotbed of intrigue against the system when more often it is only a haven for hors d’oeuvres. On the rare occasion when a person of clear merit is propped up, then it is as per Western parameters. Abdul Sattar Edhi is not a mere do-gooder anymore but the ‘Mother Teresa of Pakistan’, and Mother T was a celebrity with an imported stamp.

It is this construct that makes us narrow-mindedly listen to our neighbour talk the robot walk. No wonder that we count among the great moderns former President Pervez Musharraf. The reason is simple: he has a dog.


Om's Ardh Satya - a story of half truths?

Is this latest story salacious because of what it is or how it has been portrayed? Is it about the man or other people’s perspective?

Sensationalism is not to be condoned, but Om Puri does not sound particularly sensible when he lambasts his wife who has written his biography on one day and apologises the next – both publicly. So, if she gave a TV interview and responded to queries about his sexual experiences, he compounded the damage by clarifying in the newspapers. I have not watched her interview, but I read his views.

From the reader’s point of view he is, for the purpose of the book Unlikely Hero: The Story Of Om Puri, a subject. We might care that his wife has penned it only to the extent that it may have added dimensions of familiarity, although it is not essential.

There are some disturbing aspects to the way he has conveyed his anger and his regret within the span of one day. The few details so far mention his sexual encounter with his 55-year-old maid Santi at the age of 14; then followed a long affair with a woman for 14 years. Here is what he said about his wife and some more:

I was shocked by her revelations. It was so cheap. She was talking about my sexual encounters as though those were my biggest achievements!

In the interview, from the way he talks it appears as though he is more concerned about his reputation and he does mention it. It is like pointing towards a wart and saying, ‘do you think this is my face’? Even those who would not notice or comment on it will be drawn towards it.

Mahatma Gandhi spoke of his experiences with sexuality in The Story of My Experiments With Truth. But was that all there was to his life. I had hoped when my life was chronicled it would be an inspirational story.

We don’t know what has been highlighted and from her account the book is about the actor and the man. And while one appreciates that he had to collect money on the train and wear borrowed clothes, the fact is that he got to the Film Institute. Not many destitutes do. Also, this is the story about so many people in the film industry itself. Some have died in penury. And some made it due to talent or luck. After all, even Akshay Kumar was a chef. As for Gandhiji, he did not have problems marketing his experiments, in fact they may not be all he did but they have come to represent what he did not do!

Om’s wife says:

Om has all the human foibles, just like all of us. He had sex as an adolescent with his maid and then he had a long liaison with the other lady who was also a maid. This was his way of coming out of his other relationships and demolishing class differences. If Om has any objection to her being called a maid he’s just being unrealistic.

Demolishing class differences? Yech. What the heck is this? One would take issue with her over this, but listen to Om’s version:

This lady whom Nandita talks in such an undignified manner was Laxmi, who raised me and my brother’s orphaned children. My relationship with this wonderful woman was a homage to her loyalty for looking after me unconditionally. But it was not a furtive and sleazy experience. It was beautiful. Why make such a tamasha out of these very sensitive moments…

What is this – some sexual asylum? He was paying homage? Why did he not just go ahead and erect a statue or name a tulsi plant after her? Has anyone bothered to even ask what happened to the first maid? I was shocked to read that he is worried that now he’ll be compared to actor Shiney Ahuja (accused of raping his maid). This is sick. It is okay to do it but not be outed for it only because of a case in the news? His attitude of paying homage makes one wonder whether he was as sensitised as a teenager, and if so what did he do?

He is upset that his wife did not show him the manuscript. She did not have to. When he is with her, is he acting? No, right? He knew she was writing his story and he talks about sharing these details with her. It would be silly for him to expect her to only talk about train rides and torn chappals. Yesterday he accused her of sensationalism and today he is apologising:

“My anger should have been projected at the publishers for trying to pre-sell my wife’s book by leaking out only the sexual episodes. My story doesn’t need this kind of publicity.”

As a matter of fact, it does. Most books do. Whether it is Naipaul or Nehru, a slightly sexual angle makes it more attractive, especially when the image is different or a public mask has to be worn.

The publishers will leak out these bits because it won’t be terribly interesting to know immediately how he prepared for the role of the cop in Ardh Satya, the film that truly gave him that push. He has spoken several times about his stint in Hollywood long before the mainstream actors did.

Had the affair been with someone from the same profession or a prominent lady – and don’t tell us there weren’t any – would he have been less virulent? Is he being protective about Laxmi? Then, why would he not be protective about a big name? Can’t such women be vulnerable, especially since time has passed and they may be leading their own lives?

His public apology is an about-turn since his wife has been getting calls and his son is “under scrutiny”:

I’m not in Mumbai to protect them from the damage I’ve caused. I can’t sleep or focus on my work. I don’t want our child to suffer for the mistakes I have made. I therefore sincerely apologise to my wife and to my son for being so rash.

If he had a real problem he could have taken a flight from Chandigarh where he is shooting. It takes two hours to reach Mumbai, and he could have consoled to his wife, called up the person who interviewed her, talked to the publishers. That would not help the book, for people know him and not his wife.

Just when I was to out this up, there is another story a few hours ago in which he praises his wife and her work:

The book is a tribute to my friends, my colleagues, my mentors and the women in my life. I am proud of my story, my childhood and my journey and I see it as an inspirational story for millions of Indians.

Did he not say he had not seen even a page of the book? The tamasha has not only been created but recreated by him publicly. Or was it the publisher’s idea?

Well, shall I just call this my homage to Om Puri’s fine talent?

“The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Scent of a boy

We are told that the pheromones released in a man's body smell like heaven. Great. It probably has to do with sweat. Sweating it out conveys hard work, hard fun, activity, fitness.

No one has yet sold bottled perspiration, though. Because no woman would buy it. It is one thing to nuzzle into a man’s armpit and take a deep breath, mainly so that you don’t have to listen to him talk, and quite another to find that smell being sold across the counter for which one has to pay.

Seriously, I am coming to an important issue. It has to do with body spray. The Axe effect advertisements in India still do not have an indigenous flavour. I am quite okay with it. The idea of deodorants anyway is not common for the majority of the population and, even if some do use it the reliance on foreign approval is immense. Our own models dress and try to look like the Caucasian models.

The problem is how with the being aired currently that shows a young lad in his early teens, a bit nerdy, dressed formally in the lift. An older attractive woman enters and she inhales deeply, adjusts her collar suggestively. Next she presses a button to stop the lift. When she walks out later, the guy’s clothes are rumpled, shirt out, and he smiles with the sudden knowledge of his appeal.

Just when he is getting accustomed to his altered state, the lift door opens and a buxom woman of rather oversized proportion gives him the look; she is a bit androgynous and artificial. We do not know what follows but can only imagine.

This leaving it to the imagination is dangerous business. Worse is that this could be seen as child abuse. Instead, I hear it being referred to as humorous. I think I do have a funny bone in my body but this is not funny at all. It could bring about some nervous giggles from guys that age. It only tells them that they can look like schmucks but just a little body spray will lift their spirits.

And they can always depend on older women to indulge them irrespective of who or what they are as people.

Interestingly, being well-groomed sends out a different signal here. It is about basic instincts and no quality required. This is going back to the rough-hewn idea without having even started out and muddied yourself.


Learn to date the First Lady way

Michelle Obama is turning out to be quite a social evangelist. Now she is giving dating tips to young women. Her advice is rather regressive. “Cute’s good. But cute only lasts for so long and then it’s, ‘Who are you as a person?’ That’s the advice I would give to women - don’t look at the bankbook or the title. Look at the heart. Look at the soul.”

She assumes that all women are gold-diggers and wish to be arm candy. In many professions there are women who are settling for men who are younger and therefore not as well-established in their work. Hollywood and the music industry have several examples where the women are more famous and the men have dated or married them for money.

She also discounts the fact that many men do want recognition for their wealth and their position from not just their peers, but their women. I cannot imagine a situation where a Mr. Money Bags who is also a Big Title would be even willing to expose his soul. That would make him vulnerable. It is much in the manner of women acting tough as defence mechanism.

Relationships are built over time. It is not as easy as what you look for, but what you are attracted to. What keeps you in it keeps both in it, maybe for different reasons. It isn’t a one-lane journey.

She also warned women against marrying “somebody who doesn’t make you completely happy and make you feel whole”. The concept of happiness alters over time. And why must a woman need a man to make her feel whole? Can they not be two individuals who share many things? Being completed by another is really closing the book when you should be merely moving from one chapter to another with the person.

Azmi’s Raj and Amchi Mumbai

Abu Azmi had been going to town that he would not take the oath in Marathi long before he was sworn in. While Raj Thackeray’s goons from the MNS had no business to get rough with him in the legislative assembly, and follow it up with stone throwing at his house and business establishments, in many ways Azmi had laid the foundation.

Language chauvinism is as bad as any other sort, especially in cities that have a large immigrant population. There are two factors at play:

  1. Those who force it down people
  2. Those who oppose it even when they do not need to

Azmi says he is not fluent in Marathi and took the oath in Hindi. The script for the two languages is the same. He could have read it out in Marathi. How would it affect him if he said ‘shapath’ instead of ‘saugandh’, both of which mean oath? Part of the problem is that he belongs to the Samajwadi Party whose leader comes from the Hindi heartland, Uttar Pradesh, as do many of its prominent politicians. Azmi’s act in Maharashtra would probably affect the party’s reputation elsewhere.

Has he not put up Marathi signboards on his shoe shop and restaurants? Then, what is the need to make such a fuss beforehand so that those guys are prepared to act when the time comes? Who benefits? All of them. The MNS – with the Marathi maanus; Azmi – with the Hindi belt and for standing up for the national language; Congress – to have someone do their dirty work; Shiv Sena – for jumping in just when they were being dismissed off.

This must be noted. The media and even politicians have been too quick to end the Shiv Sena era and giving Raj Thackeray’s MNS more credit than it deserves. His party did get a few seats, but overall what was its showing? Can we not look at it in perspective? It may be a relatively new party that made its election debut, which is like welcoming a bride into her marital home. The saas will put her on test soon enough, not to forget that her training will be all thanks to her maika (Shiv Sena). Raj pits himself in opposition to his cousin Uddhav and not Bal Thackeray. It is a smart move being passed off as respect. Balasaheb has re-entered Sena Bhavan. Prince Charles, Uddhav, has to just watch as the Queen sits on the throne.

Make no mistake. Raj and the MNS have only managed to give the SS more respectability. As I have written earlier, Raj was the fall guy and will remain so. The goons are with him, but not the real ammunition.


"Youre a hateful writer"

I do occasionally put up feedback received and my replies, if any, here. Many of them are those that disagree. This is not to say there have been no positive responses; it is just that these give a glimpse into a more varied mindset. Positive and negative are anyway relative terms.

The following did not deserve a personal response and came from someone trying to sound like an organisation.

Youre a hateful writer. I was so disappointed to read your disturbing diatribe against muslims and their community leaders. so hateful, so drirty. Shame on you. Who pay you to produce this kind of text?

Damn. If only I knew where to get the monies from…Well, all I know is that Swami Ramdev will get lots of business from the Muslim fraternity for learning how to blow their noses.

As for the “community leaders”, here is a report from today’s papers:

Six days after the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind passed a resolution asking Muslims not to sing Vande Mataram on the grounds that it was “un-Islamic’’, the community’s clerics have reportedly softened their stand. The change of heart came after spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar visited Deoband on November 8 and met Jamiat leaders.

After the meet, the ulema said they did not have any objection to the national song and had left it to the conscience of Muslims who could decide for themselves whether they wanted to sing the song or not.

So ask these hypocrites, Mr. Letter Writer, who is paying them.

- - -

Sometimes, correspondence is really worth it and makes one feel that what one is doing isn’t so bad. Not for me, at least!

The next was unexpected, although I have indeed corresponded with quite a few academicians. It is from someone who knows Structuralism enough to hate it. We have had a bit of an exchange and here it is without naming the name.

Farzana, you are much too kind to Levi-Strauss's incomprehensible fog.

Marvin Harris was a scientific anthropologist & Levi-Strauss's greatest critic.

Harris takes the Gallic charlatan's know nothing structuralism to the woodshed for a thorough thrashing in Cultural Materialism (chap. 7).

There are thousands of academics still pretentiously spouting the rancid bullshit of structuralism.


I am kind and do believe that all fog does not denote winter, so one must meander through the mist.

There are anti-Structuralists as there anti Freudians or anti anything, and there ought to be. I was, in my own little non-academic way, trying to question some theories...it was part tongue-in-cheek.

- - -

Structuralism turns anthropology into a delight for literary poseurs.
Try Marvin Haris's expose.


I delight in exposes. According to your theory, anything construed as a delight is anathema, or logically ought to be from your perspective on poseurs. Whether it is Levi-Strauss or Harris, they are taking a position which might be deemed as a posture for one critiquing it, which would in turn be seen as posturing. It is a clique of charmed intellectuals, and for an outsider, whose primary interest lies in the human as animal, social creature and sublime wannabe, anthropological analysis can come from the toenail of an ape and I’d be happy. Or, delighted?

I only wish you had noticed that I used the Structuralists paradigm to explore the mundane. Not too many academicians are interested in it, but it might surprise you to know that many of us live it.

Having said this, I appreciate your position and almost proselytising fervour. Harris is a lucky god!

Mine is more like Margaret Mead’s:

“Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.”



The Dalai Lama's Subtle Politics

Why was such a noise made about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh?

He is in exile. But from his utterances it does not appear so. He first fled to Tawang from Tibet in 1959; his attachment to the place is understandable. However, he ought to understand that he should not speak about Indian politics:

“My stand that Tawang is an integral part of India has not changed.”

The report has called it his defence of the host country. In all likelihood this will work as mocking China, not because of the Tibetan issue but the Maoist one. It probably suits the central government’s purpose.

His statement:

“It’s usual for China to oppose my visit. It’s baseless to say my trip is anti-China. My visit is not political at all”

reeks of politics. Right from the start a statement is being made.

Even more surprising is his stand on Tibetans in India:

“The other reason why I am happy is that the people here take genuine interest in Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist culture. Right from Ladakh to Tawang, Tibetan Buddhism is practised traditionally.”

Buddhism, yes. But Tibetan Buddhism? The Dalai Lama was given a place to set up home with his followers; it is only natural that they will go out for work opportunities. Hasn’t it struck anyone as rather naïve of us to let the Tibetan version spread?

The Tibetan right to a homeland is valid, but the Dalai Lama’s idea of being a travelling salesman to “promote human values, and promote harmony” needs a rain check.

- - -

There’s more here on India and the Dalai Lama’s Middling Path


Sunday ka Funda

Rumi was sitting next to a pond intellectualizing over his numerous religious books - his precious possessions – when Shams Tabrez ‘happened’ to pass by, stopped and asked him, ‘what is this?’ Rumi, without looking up, egoistically said, ‘leave me alone!’ Tabrez then repeated, ‘what is this?’ Then Rumi looked up and said, ‘can’t you see I’m busy; besides, this is a knowledge of which you know nothing about!’

Tabrez then went and picked up the most valuable one of Rumi’s books and tossed it right into the waterpond, which, of course, infuriated Rumi. Rumi screamed, ‘you crazy man! look what you’ve done; my prize possession is ruined!’

Upon hearing that, Tabrez immediately reached into the pond, fetched-out the book and handed it to Rumi – completely whole and dry! Rumi, in total amazement and wonder, asked, ‘what is this?’ – to which Shams Tabrez replied, ‘this is a knowledge of which you know nothing about.’

- - -

“Outwardly, you are equal to a particle. Inwardly, you are equal to a hundred suns” -Shams Tabrez


Go, Modi, Go!

I will not sign a petition against Narendra Modi addressed to the 'Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia' asking His Excellency to deny him a visa. I do not care about the man and had in fact applauded the US decision to deny him a visa. In this case, he has been invited by Mr. Syavral Yasin Limpo, Governor of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province.

The petition lists the crimes of Modi that include genocide, that resulted in several people rendered homeless and many still awaiting compensation; it mentions the criminal cases against him and several others and his ministers and police officers.

The moot point here is that he has been invited by the government. We can question the sagacity, but we cannot ask a foreign nation who it should invite. I do not believe his travels will make any difference.

How can it when our own RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said yesterday on TV:

“Why should he [Narendra Modi] apologise? He has done no wrong … I am told that the speed with which riots were controlled is commendable …”

I find the idea of an apology patronising, anyway. And I cannot figure out this portion of the petition:

The question is - Will Indonesia offer Mr. Modi that restitution, by legitimizing his record of promoting hatred and violence against the minority Muslims and Christians of Gujarat.

We, the signatories to this petition, request the genteel, peace and justice loving people of Indonesia,

There have been riots in Indonesia. The people of India are in large measure genteel and peace and justice loving too. These are the same people who have elected this man to office despite being denied justice. What kind of society is this and what kind of people are we? We prop him up for his business acumen, for economic progress, for being a great administrator.

When there is a petition asking the people of Gujarat not to vote during elections, then I shall sign it. If there is a petition pressurising the courts to follow up on the cases, then I will sign it. If Gujaratis, and this includes the big cat Muslims, refuse to do business in Gujarat because of this asmita (self-respect) bait that Modi dangles before them and they show the courage not to cow down or be opportunistic, I will sign it.

I know that one signature less won’t make a darned difference but, frankly, Modi travelling to Indonesia or the Honduras will not alter my opinion of him or legitimise him in the eyes of Indians. And that ought to be our concern.

PS: I am willing to sign a petition making an urgent plea for him to be deported somewhere.


The killing fields within America

Take this. An Army psychiatrist. Frustration. Opposes war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was being sent off.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is not somebody one would have heard about. Today, as news comes in about him going on a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Texas Army base killing 13 people and wounding 31, his act is being called madness. Not any old madness, but with the subtext of madness with a method to it.

Retired Col. Terry Lee who had worked with him said:

“He would make comments to other individuals about how we should not be in the war in the first place.”

He also made “outlandish” comments:

“He said maybe Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressor. At first, we thought he meant help the armed forces, but apparently, that wasn't the case.”

I am afraid but there are many soldiers and civilians who believe the United States of America should not be in this war. And no American officer would publicly sound so naïve as to suggest that a mental health professional would talk as a Muslim about fighting the aggressor and mean helping the armed forces. What aggression have Iraq or Afghanistan displayed towards the US, until provoked? Their lands are being occupied by outside forces.

If Hasan got poor reviews in his previous posting, had “difficulties” that “required counseling and extra supervision”, why was he in the army?

Texas US Rep. Michael McCaul said that he “took a lot of advanced training in shooting”, and this helped him.

If he had made outlandish comments, had difficulties, and now they say he was a “devout Muslim”, which is enough to brand him, then who permitted him to get this training? What do the rule manuals say about it? Did he get a personal trainer as though this was some private gym?

It is clear that he opposed the wars, that is the reason he fired at his colleagues at the military base shouting out to civilians to move out of the way, something that the US establishment does not do when it uses drones.

His two handguns are said to be not “military-issued”, which raises the question about gun culture.

And what does President Barack Obama have to say?

It's "difficult enough to lose" soldiers in battles abroad, he said, but "it's horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil." The president promised a sweeping investigation of the worst soldier-on-soldier attack ever to take place on US soil.

He might like to consider trying to understand the thinking of his troops. The ones who kill at the army base on US soil or who abuse prisoners in lands they have been sent to under the guise of saviours.

I do hope Maj. Hasan survives (he is on ventilator), appears before the courts and is tried for his crime. There is no doubt about that. It will also open up a few cans of worms for this man dealt with the minds of soldiers. It must have affected him deeply.

The madness lies in the system. He is a cog in the wheel. It is unfortunate that he killed his colleagues. They probably hate the wars as much as he does. Though, one must ask: whose war is it anyway?

Nannies and Parents

See that little baby in the arms of a beggar? See those eyes looking blankly? He has been sedated. He has been rented out. He could be your child.

This is a real case and it happened in Bangalore, the city touted as the IT capital of India.

A seven-month-old baby of a working couple who relied on their ayah—recruited from an employment agency, and hence thought to be above board—was used for beggary. The unscrupulous nanny would pack off the tiny tot with beggars for Rs 100 a day, while she settled down to a quiet afternoon in front of the TV set.

Begging is big business here and in some cities doctors help amputate limbs to make the emotional blackmail more potent. Children are often kidnapped. These are usually from poor families.

This time an educated couple is in the forefront. The mother who worked for a multinational company returned home to find her son missing. The nanny audaciously told her that he too was out on work. For three weeks this had been going on. Several questions need to be raised about the work culture and careerism. I don’t see why a woman has to give up everything once a baby is born, but biologically a child needs the mother more at this stage. As long as women are the only ones who can reproduce – and for now we will leave out the experiments of pregnant men – then there is some responsibility to be shouldered. The father can attend to other chores, if a woman feels she does not want to be left with role-playing, but her duty is towards the baby. A man does not produce milk.

This lady had obviously weaned the infant away, but there are other dimensions. Why do cities that boast of getting ahead in life not have basic facilities? Can offices not have special baby rooms if they have rooms that lie vacant for weeks until there is some special conference? Why are there not enough crèches run by accredited organisations that will take responsibility?

Nuclear families are important because it helps new families grow up. However, I am sure a parent of the parents or a relative would be happy to help. Since there is a lot of movement to other cities, it is possible that no family members is around. I am afraid this won’t appeal to a one-track feminist mind but I think the woman can take a few months off or work from home. In this information age where you rarely meet people, it is not a far-fetched idea. When the child is slightly older the father can swap roles to make things on par, if it is of such importance, though I wonder how women who cannot trust men with their kitchens, would trust them with a baby…

This couple is moving abroad, and it must have been planned earlier. They are not filing a police case and want to remain anonymous. I can understand their hesitation. But one nanny losing a job from one organisation won’t solve the issue. I dread to think what would happen had the child been a girl. This is not to say that a boy cannot be abused sexually. A girl is just so much more vulnerable.

A seven-month old has been the victim not only of a greedy nanny but of the new social mores that have canonised go-getting. The couple too is a victim. We all are and the only way out is to out our rusting new ideas.

More on Chidambaram...

My article on ‘The Farce of Fatwas’ below did not mention one quote by P. Chidambaram because the subject would have got diverted. But here it is:

“We have no hesitation in speaking for the rights of Muslims at a time when Tamils were denied their rights in Sri Lanka and Indian students were attacked in Australia.”

This is utterly stupid. What does he mean by having no hesitation? Is it being done under duress? Or, do Indian Muslims who have lived here all along need an alibi in the form of Tamils in Sri Lanka, which is Sri Lanka’s problem and therefore India's concern, and Indian students in Australia, which is an immigrant issue that has to do with racism?

When Mr Chidambaram speaks about Indian Muslims as a minority, he must not forget that we are naturalised Indians and not part of any secessionist movement (a section of Kashmir being the exception for complicated reasons). And this minority would not be considered a minority anywhere in the world given the numbers. It is pretty immature to speak in such a manner. Time for him to come to grips and address the Muslims in a non-religious environment.

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As for the maulvis, I suppose hobnobbing with an idol-worshipping godman who performed pranayam while another Hindu priest recited vedic hymns at the congregation is completely in keeping with monotheism. These same guys made a noise when actor Salman Khan visited a Ganesh pandal.

So, what is Maulana Mahmood Madani doing with Baba Ramdev?


Why can't Muslims keep it in?

If Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadis, Bohras, Ismailis or whoever wish to hold a gathering about their religion, then it ought to be restricted to those who belong to the faith. Why did the Sunni-Dawate-Islami have its annual convention under media glare? This is like permitting someone to enter your bedroom; there are bound to be intimate details that no one else should know because no one else is a part of it.

This was about how the faith ought to be practised, and while the media did mention that they discussed climate change, there was an element of “whoa, they know ‘bout it, eh?”. Of course, references were made about “appropriate dress”, “right colour to dye the beard” (henna orange, if you missed it and are dying to know) and how women can contribute because they keep the family in shape (so do gyms). Here is one such gem from a report:

Queries reflected the dilemma most followers faced in attempting to adapt principles of Islamic living with contemporary conveniences and ideas. On Sunday evening, one man wanted to know whether Islamic principles allow a follower to run a television repair service. He was told that while fixing damaged television sets was halal (permissible), watching a programme with inappropriate content was not.

Got it? Among three lakh people a handful would have been concerned, and if they are truly religious they can get the information from the local mosque’s maulvi or stores selling religious books/CDs. This was a stupid little effort and I won’t be surprised if some special queries were put in to cater to the salivating media. Or asked by a media person faking it?

Most religions, if seen in their original form, go against contemporary living, whatever the heck that is. Your contemporary living is different from mine. Such reports make it seem as though everyone is living one way of life and these Sunni bros are kind of really fumbling in their ankle-length pyjamas and saffron beards (haw) wondering how to do it right.

Boy, all my TV repairwallahs have been clean-shaven Sunnis (ok, one Sindhi too) and managed to only damage the set even more. I guess they thought they had to butcher it before repairing it.


This meet reminded me of another one which I had attended. It was at a hall organised by some secular Muslim organisation and had speakers from “different walks of life”. I did not walk there, but was quite tickled that the cameras were focussing on me. I was suitably embarrassed at my magnetism and kept turning my face away. You don’t believe it? You are right. The reason was that, clad in pristine white with my head uncovered and a real sharp looking object in my hand –a pen, I had behind me and in front of me only black veils. It was sheer co-incidence, but can you imagine how thrilled the photographer must have been?

My own excitement lasted until the break after which I made a quick exit to do a few haraam things.


Amitabh Bachchan dargah mein haazir ho...

Bachchan at Tirupati with brothers-in-arms Anil Ambani and Amar Singh

We had no idea that Amitabh Bachchan’s religious routine includes visits to dargahs. This is news. How come we never heard about it before? Aww, of course you will say that Mr B is subtle, he does not show off, he is a private person, he is so dignified. Fine. But if his pictures can be taken at temples, then they can be clicked at dargahs too. It is permissible and every celebrity placing a sheet of flowers over a tomb has been photographed, including Shakti Kapoor.

There could be pictures of Mr. B but obviously he did not want them displayed. Wonder why. Incidentally, the Haji Ali Dargah is still being renovated, so it was really some effort on his part to make it there. I understand the sanctum work has only just begun. Never mind such minor details.

Places of worship enjoy such famous devotees and the PR agents make sure their high-profile employers are given the right media coverage. Pandits and maulvis get into the act and feel good cordoning off the place so that the privileged worshipper can pay his respects in a privileged manner. All good.

Now, Mr Private Amitabh Bachchan has revealed that he has been threatened by an anonymous person via text message for visiting a temple and a dargah because it is “incorrect” to do so.

One assumes the person believes he cannot do both and it is tantamount to demeaning one faith. The report mentions visits to two dargahs and two temples in the course of a day. Interestingly, neither the individual nor the recipient mentions any particular reason or the religious belief of the sender. It sounds a bit strange given that fanatics of any faith would make their intentions very clear.

Obfuscation, of course, has its merits, especially to depict bravado:

“I am going to do it again, and shall continue to do it. And I want to see how you are going to stop me. If you have the courage and guts, come and get me,’’ he wrote (in his blog). The man has also warned the actor that his latest film Aladin, which hit the theatres on Friday, will not be successful because of Bachchan’s act of visiting both the dargah and temple.

“If the film has merit, no force on earth will be able to stop its worth. If the film is weak and does not have merit, no force on earth shall be able to make it a success. At the cost of every film of mine failing, I am not going to change my routine,’’ wrote Bachchan.

Aha, so it is a publicity stunt for the film. I knew it, but I wanted to leave this for the last. As I asked earlier, how many times have we heard about this routine of Mr. B? Aladdin, as we know, is an old Arabian legend; in the movie the actor plays the role of the genie. It is amusing that his routine is perfectly timed with the film’s release and is prominently mentioned in the SMS as well as in his response to it. The dargah angle makes complete sense now. How can you have an Arabic setting with a Muslim name and no little stopover at a place of that faith?

Clubbed together with this gimmick is the patented Bachchan self-effacing diversion: The film will succeed on merit and fail if it has no merit. This is just to make sure that a) the believers should throng the theatres, b) if they don't like the film, remember he went to a Muslim shrine too, so spare the Hindu one…okay, I am kidding!

But, someone is really smart.

This angel/genie persona is evident in Bigg Boss 3.

He tries to repeat the Kaun Banega Crorepati stunts with sanskritised Hindi and you almost feel that he is in inquisition mode. This season's show is boring as hell, but when I do catch some action on the day the contestant is voted out and that final salaam, it becomes obvious that the programme has suffered hugely because of him. The participants are aware of his stature and he is aware of his stature.

When he attempts the psychologist act it just does not ring true. Last night he tried it with Sherlyn Chopra and it was worse than a Nirupa Roy cliched tearjerker where he called up her mother and there was a patch-up with the lady referring to him as an angel.

All so darned staged. Understood? Amitabh Bachchan acts as genie and the poor little girl’s wish is granted.

I wish his Bhootnath had released now. It would have been fun to see him disappear. Yeah, that word: Disappear…uhm, King Lear.
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Top image courtesy: Amitabh at Tirupati