Mr. Bachchan's Brand Politics

Oh, they are overdoing it. Oh, he has every right to attend functions. Oh, he is our national asset and conducted himself with grace as opposed to the politicians.

Did the Congress have to react to Amitabh Bachchan’s presence at the sealink with chief minister Ashok Chavan? Did it have any business to ask whether he supports Narendra Modi’s role in the Gujarat riots? Is there a conspiracy against poor Mr. B that they removed the audio-visual clips of Abhiskek, who is the brand ambassador of the World Wildlife Fund?

Okay, the Congress has no love lost, but Mr. Bachchan did not have any problems when his son was given a premature award by the UP government because of their connections. You cannot play a game and expect to only have your cards.

Now, he has gone on the offensive-defensive. He has asked readers of his blog to tell him what to do – which function to attend. This is not public opinion but playing to the gallery. The media is sucking up to him big-time. Imagine the millennium superstar saying he was a failure in politics. They want to tell him, no, no, you did not fail, politics failed you.

This is what he writes:

Ever since leaving politics I have never partaken in any political activity, never made any political statement or shown public allegiance to any political outfit. As a citizen of this country I have a confidential right in not divulging publically my political allegiance, that is if I have any.

Gujarat was there before Mr Modi and shall remain even after him. The divine temple of Somnath in Gujarat was not built personally by Mr Modi, nor did he construct the ancient civilizations of Haraapa, nor did he have a hand in the existence of the lost city of Dwarka, or the beauteous white soils of the Rann of Kutch, and neither did he order the construction of the largest number of heritage sites in the State. These are all vital important and exquisite jewels in the crown of the majestic State of Gujarat, in the most beautiful country of the World, India, and I want to see ..who is going to stop me from glorifying them !!


You find this laughter cheesy and stupid? Well, this is what the great superstar has done.


Remember what you had said?

“I do not agree with anyone who calls me shahenshah. This title is more apt for Modi; I am nowhere close.”


And when you were brand ambassador of Uttar Pradesh we did not hear you promote any specific sites, nor have we seen you do it for Somnath etc. When did you discover the beauty of the state? And when will you film your next project in that Gujarat?

You also have some social responsibility, not as a celebrity but as a citizen. I had questioned Ratan Tata and his Nano project and I questioned you, too here:

And, as a citizen of the country, he ought to realise that the Modi regime has been harsh on the industry from which he earns his livelihood. He may not protest when their films are banned, but the least he can do is not help out an establishment whose human rights record is abysmal.

Mr. Amitabh Bachchan has conveniently sold out to the best possible hope for him at the moment. Mr. Bachchan has acted irresponsibly in doing so.

If this is not political activity, then please let us know if the Gujarat Tourism Board is not part of the state government. If it is, then you are hired by a political organisation. And since you are not a peon or a clerk, you represent the politics of the state. You mentioned Somnath, did you not? You forgot Gandhi and Porbandar. I mean the Mahatma.



I remember best when I am in a state of turmoil. Then why are scientists saying that stronger and more lasting memories are likely to be formed when a person is in repose and the memory-related neurons in the brain do a little tango with certain brain waves?

I differ here, even if it goes against all scientific logic. Synchronisation requires harmony and often the management of material. Now suppose you recall every little detail of a turbulent experience, how do you sort it out? If it is sorted out, then it ceases to be a memory. Or turbulent. It loses its character and transforms into a linear ‘wave’ in the mind.

What perhaps a relaxed mind can do is memorise. Memorisation is not about memories. Memories are intangible and nostalgia makes you ache for the jerky ride.

Memories are apples bitten into that have left teeth marks; they are ripped open gift packages where the satin is frayed; they are stains that won’t go away and scars that don't fade; they are losses that you don’t count because you could not count on them when they were gains; they are moments that left with the wind and dust that settled in its trail.

Scientists may optimise the state of the brain and believe that relaxation brings about new information and improves memory. But all new information will be memory.

Will they be able to ask us to relax and remember the times we wish to forget?

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Memory – Barbra Streisand


The CIA Chicks?

Would you like to sell your story to help promote war? Do you believe that troops marching into terrain that has abused women would truly help them?

The CIA plans to use women to market the war.

“Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing” the mission for Europe, according to the CIA analysis, posted on WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website. Afghan women could express “their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory”.

Isn’t there a difference between humanising and being humane? True, many of these women have suffered, but how will a war solve their problems, their social status, their gender roles, their subjugation? Who will help them realise their dreams once the war is over and there are many left dead, including their fathers, their husbands, their sons? What if they want a future that includes family?

The analysis, dated March 11, says “outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive scepticism among women in Western Europe”.

This is too conniving. You get women under Taliban rule (from where will they get real women or will they be westernised spokespersons?) to talk to women in the west and convince them that a war is essential. This is blackmail that is planned by one set of patriarchy to subvert another. Both kinds of women are being used.

Even if the Taliban loses, we already know the cost of such wars – in economic as well as psychological terms. The woman in the west perhaps understands that besides those being sent off to fight a futile war, the immense tragedy is of bringing back a baggage of guilt.

Those plotting such efforts simply reveal another dimension of machismo. This isn’t much different than keeping women in an intellectual harem and expecting them to send off the men to slay the lions while they wait for them to return, bloodied and victorious.

Neither woman gains anything. The memorandum is subtitled, “Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough.” The PR exercise is itself apathy, using a tragedy as a soap opera.

Sunday ka Funda

Modi versus Advani

I switched off the television. It was getting tiresome. The script’s being followed as envisaged. Narendra Modi has to answer 68 questions; he took five hours to respond to 60. He is sitting in the SIT office with a retired fellow asking him those questions and a typist. They have had refreshments. After a short break, during which he came out to address the media, he returned.
The experts in the studio are following a pattern.

Most shocking comment was by Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook, who said that Modi has to be commended for “submitting himself to such an enquiry”. Really? We had commissions before and top leaders have appeared before it – remember Liberhan?
So, what will happen?

The typist will take time preparing the papers. Modi will not be indicted. If he is, then it will be seen as a Congress conspiracy. The same people who were upholding the judiciary will question it.

It is simple. There is no evidence. He did not go burning bakeries and looting shops and, massacring people. And as one panelist rightly said, the murdered minister Ehsan Jaffrey is said to have made 200 calls, so why is only Modi being held responsible? Even if all those calls were traced, how is one to know the contents of the conversations?

Final verdict will be: Modi expressing sorrow for “my people” who have trusted him. End of story.

Then there is L.K.Advani. The details are being repeated again. He did instigate during the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Everyone knows it (here again); his denial cannot stand on two feet.

Interesting that the two cases are timed together.

Advani has nothing to lose. Standing on a podium and shouting slogans amounts to nothing, especially if you are now ‘retired’ and have already called Jinnah secular. Modi has everything to gain.

The Aruns in the party must be very happy that the second rung leadership is being superimposed – on Advani’s rubble the Modi pedestal will be erected.


Reporting Rape

Why is reportage on child rape so insensitive? Recently, a 12-year-old girl was sexually abused by her cousin and later his friends. One newspaper managed to get the doctor’s report where it stated that her hymen was intact and there were no concussions in the anal region nor was there any sign of struggle.

This has been going on for 18 months and it is possible that she decided to complain to the police later. After all, she lived with her aunt, the mother of the accused. If he is not guilty then why has he escaped?

Now, we are told that there were two self-inflicted wounds on her arms. What I find disturbing is the emphasis that she studied in an English-medium school, which makes her savvy enough. Apparently, she also changed her statement from rape to fingering.

I am aware that at 12 young girls today are quite aware of such terms. However, for someone who lives away from her parents – they are divorced and her mother is not in the city – and who is pretty much dependent on her aunt’s family, it does not make much sense that she would fake something like this and also manage to include nine boys.

If the media is so concerned about portraying a balanced picture – and no one has stopped them from reporting about abuse of boys – then the least they can do is not use illustrations such as the one here. The empahsis on portraying shame is unfortunate. I have seen some sketches of barely-clothed girls. Rape does not involve the victim being stripped. This sort of nudity only caters to the audience.

Incidentally, while surfing news, I found a red strip from The Economist asking us to “read more” on Child Pornography in Japan.

I don’t know who is worse – the one abusing the children or the media for abusing their sense of responsibility.

Oh Shirt!

How absolutely ridiculous to even imagine that George W. Bush wiped his hands on Bill Clinton’s shirt after shaking hands with a Haitian during their aid tour.

Is this how political leaders wipe hands? And how clean would he expect Clinton’s shirt to be?

I read somewhere it could either be an insult to the people of Haiti or to Clinton. The Haitians have been insulted enough already by history; as for Bill, a light pat of the back would not even register. He is accustomed to a lot more.

There is a tendency to read myriad meanings in such gestures and while it is fun we want them to show us the money.

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“I would like a short, simple statement from the CPI (Maoist) saying we will abjure violence and we are prepared for talks. I would like no ifs, no buts and no conditions. I would like the statement to be faxed to 011-23093155. Once I receive the statement, I shall consult the Prime Minister and other colleagues and respond promptly.”
- P Chidambaram

So, our home minister thinks he will get a fax message by a group that has been fighting for years, that has a political ethos, that is disaffected in many ways to let him know that they are ready to give up violence so they can have chai-biscuit with him and get “prepared for talks”?

If the Centre has to take action, then they must do it. This business of faxing and no ifs and buts sounds like some tired old macho stuff in an echo chamber.



Why can't advertising companies use some common sense when they try and use some smarties to promote their products? They are showing street food here; a sanitiser is of no use in what is served, how it is cleaned or cooked.

Incidentally, how many of these squeaky clean people bother about how their wash basins are cleaned?

We won't go into the ethical issue of using poor food as a chic statement for now.


Citizen Husain?

The caption in TOI says:

CARD-CARRYING INDIAN: M F Husain, who has recently taken Qatari citizenship and has had to surrender his Indian passport, shows his Overseas Citizen of India card in Dubai. It denies him voting rights but the artist claims he was never interested in the political process anyway

This is a rather telling statement. I absolutely do not understand how the word 'citizen' is used in such a card when individuals are not interested in the political process. Husain was candid about it, and we know from his stint in the Rajya Sabha that he came up with caricatures/illustrations of politicians and Parliament proceedings since he said that he was an artist and that is how he could make a statement. (Are Rajya Sabha MPs nominated to convey statements? That is another issue.)

What about all those overseas Indians who want to intervene in every aspect of political life in their home country? There has been a demand to grant them voting rights too. If we pull up electoral candidates for not knowing their constituencies, then on what basis must we permit expats to vote for someone they know precious little about or political parties that have outgrown their memories of it?

These are people of Indian origin and not citizens. They have chosen another country, another passport.

As for M.F.Husain, much in the manner we dig up our ancient Indian heritage, he is more Pandharpur than India to flaunt his commitment to the soil.


Modi's Date

You have got to be a bit off, and I am being polite here, to assume that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would appear before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the post-Godhra riot cases. He did not appear on the appointed date because he does not follow rules. He has to send out that message clearly.

Anyhow, plenty of print and bandwidth and airtime got a high as they went to town about his ‘cowardice’. Please. By making him into some creature looking for a cranny to hide in, we forget that he has had his way after looking the other way as crimes were committed in his state. It is this rather jumping-the-gun attitude that has helped him further, to the extent that he has addressed “my beloved countrymen”:

Seeking to communicate to people his “deep pain” and “despair” over the attempts to tarnish the “good image of Gujarat, my government and me”, he rebutted the perception that he was scheduled to appear before SIT on March 21. “To say I was summoned on March 21 is false. I shall respond to the SIT fully respecting the law and keeping in view the dignity of a body appointed by the Supreme Court.” He added, “SIT had suggested that a suitable date can be fixed for my appearance based on mutual convenience. Such a date, when it is fixed, will be known to countrymen in due course.”

Note that mutual convenience is operating here. The SIT is putting him on the mat but he will show up when he wants to. He is using the trump card of Gujarat’s progress by involving the people in his incarceration.

It is surprising that Citizens for Peace and other NGOs want him to come clean. What are we suggesting here? There are cases of abuse of people, delay in justice, and one fine day they think he will stand there and say, yes, he is guilty? I don’t imagine there is any naivet√© in this, for these are organisations that have been involved in the process of getting legal aid. They have seen injustice up close; they were around when police officers were transferred to protect them.

If it isn’t sound bytes and an attempt at getting some attention to the cause, then that is a different matter. But do not expect results or a confession.

We are dealing with the worst form of power play that co-opts the citizens and uses elitist progress as a yardstick to wipe away blood stains.

The Congress has no business to get moralistic about the situation. They have their Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. To Modi’s credit, he made no feeble excuses. Did he check into a hospital with a sudden tummy ache or to get urgent medical tests?

The courts took their time appointing the SIT. Earlier reports have been ignored or put on the backburner. Let us not forget those and obfuscate the issue by calling a man responsible for the carnage, a man who has been re-elected as CM, a coward. If he is, then so are the people of Gujarat and a large section of the nation that thinks he is a great administrator and a patriot.

We need to get our fundamentals right about who we permit to rule us. Hanging on to precarious consciences will only get us a good night’s sleep. A sleep we can ill-afford.


Sunday ka Funda

"Stirring myself from long hibernation, I knew myself once more a poet
Guarded by timeless principalities
Against the worm of death"

- Robert Graves

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I am sorry. Am I? Will write more later. Thanks to those who wrote in
here or elsewhere. Or just waited. Or walked away. Or...


Sunday ka Funda

Character Assassination

I scrolled through the list of contacts on my cellphone. Tried first name, last name, middle name, nickname. Nothing. I could not find him. He was gone. Did he disappear or was he deleted? A gentle soul, I recall. He had shown me his city, taken me home, made me feel at home. Put up with my whims. We had sat in the muddy lanes on rickety charpoys and he took pictures of me with a bunch of kids. I saw the child in him, the man in him.

Salim was not there in my contacts. I wanted to get in touch. Call him up.

After days and days of feeling frustrated, I realised that I had forgotten his name. His name was not Salim. I had to change it to protect him. My guide in Peshawar had become a character in my book. And we don’t have real details of characters, do we? Often, we don’t have real details of people, too.

Sometimes, details give us too much meat and make us forget the bones, the stuff that flesh clings to.


The Eye and Eyes

That week in England, just before I was to leave for home, I decided I had to see the London Eye. Although it was unashamedly touristy, I felt this urge. On reaching there I was told there was a technical problem and it might open only at noon; it was 10.30.

I walked towards the Dali exhibition, then sat on a bench and starting writing something morbid, my pen twisted at an angle as though reluctant to commit. A few people hesitated before asking me to take their group pictures. I felt like taking back a digital memory as well. I managed half a smile and returned to my place.

An old woman came and sat next to me and unpeeled a sandwich wrapped in plastic; it looked stale as dry crumbs fell. She remained expressionless, looking nowhere but at the target of her hunger. There was so much desolation in those few minutes – was that her lifetime?

So lost in thought was I that I decided to walk back towards the gate. There was already a queue. I had not bothered to exchange my counterfoil for a ticket. I ran quickly and was being ushered into one capsule. After the metal detector and the rummaging of the bag, the security person asked, “Anything sharp?” I had already moved ahead but I called out to him, “Yes…”

He arched his eyebrows in a query…what??

“My mind!”

I did not wait to see his reaction.

Inside the capsule we were told to take precautions since we would be going very high and could feel dizzy or get sick. I started clicking – the sky, the river, the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, buildings, others in the capsules, people below – tiny figures. We all look like crumbs from stale sandwiches.

As we were descending, an announcement was made that our pictures would be taken by a remote camera and we should all move to the North-east side. Everyone stood…well, most did. A bit diffidently, I felt I too needed a souvenir. I ambled to a spot. When I went to collect the picture, there were several flashing on the monitor.

I was there with the thick line that ran across the capsule dividing me into two. The girl at the counter apologised, “Sorry about that.”

“Not at all. That’s me, all right.”