What's up, robot?

Would you like your doctor to be a machine? I am wary about the first ever heart rhythm operation performed by a remote-controlled robot.

Dr Andre Ng, cardiologist at Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital, sat outside the operation theatre as his 70-year-old patient’s vital organ was manipulated to get his irregular rhythm back to normal. The doctor felt in “complete control” and could see and speak to the staff who were with the patient.

As a report says:

The main advantage is that the doctor doesn’t have to wear heavy radiation shields such as lead aprons, which are normally required in the operating room because X-rays are used to see inside the patient.

“Because I was sitting down in a relaxed, not having to wear a heavy lead coat, it was actually a pleasurable experience.”

I have read reports earlier about how patients prefer robot medics to unfamiliar doctors. That is different. It is more like scouring the web for information.

Science has progressed, but is technical progress enough? Doctors anyway use high-tech equipment; laser surgery has made it possible for a small incision to extract huge tumours. I do not understand the need to remove the person from the process.

It might well be asked that the patient is under sedation so s/he would not be aware of the doctor’s presence or absence. True. Yet, we need to ask a few questions:

Is the patient told prior to the surgery that it would be a robotic operation?

If something goes wrong, and our dear doctor is sitting relaxed outside, then who will rectify the situation, who will shoulder the blame? How long will it take the doc to wear his fancy superman suit and get into the OT? And if this is touted as a remote operation, then what is the big deal about other staff being inside? It only proves that human assistance will be crucial at all times.

I am seriously concerned about the possibility of this being done in cities far removed. The manner in which medical science is seen and acted upon by different cultures differs. How will a doctor in the UK liaise with the team in, say, India? What about the ego problems between the two? Again, who will accept blame for any goof-ups?

It is bad enough the way ‘specialisation’ has been promoted, but this truly is taking it too far. If robots must be used, it could be to teach doctors, to be used as guinea pigs for experiments, not to become the masters.

Has anyone given a thought to the psychological ramifications? How will the patient be affected before and after?

I understand that robots have been trained in bedside manners too in other cases. This really amounts to making the patient feel like a machine. I like my doctors with a warm touch and a smile, not some automaton advise me in a disjointed voice that I need a pill. He wouldn’t know if I just need to chill, would he?

Good Cop, Bad Cop

It can’t be bigger than Bofors due to the sheer value, financial as well as regarding security measures, attached to the gun deal. However, the scam regarding bullet proof vests is itself a big deal.

The CBI has arrested three people, including one bribe-giver, for exposing an officer of the home ministry for taking Rs. 10 lakh.

R.K. Gupta’s company manufactures defence equipment and he feels he is being targeted because he exposed the cartel:

“This is an act of revenge. I and my wife studied at IITs. We are paying the price for blowing the lid off the scam. This is bigger than Bofors. We will have more (Hemant) Karkares if such elements are allowed to have their say in the decision-making process.”

Surprisingly, the CBI prosecutor investigating into the case, instead of expressing any views on the officials, said:

“We are not a puppet investigation agency. The CBI does not work under the MHA, and it carries on the probe independently. We have a CD of their taped conversation and this court can hear it. The accused is saying he is a whistleblower, but at the same time he was bribing the accused official.”

He could well be both. In fact, if he is the briber, then the case gets more credence. The problem is that everyone wants to sound holier-than-thou. The bullet proof vest controversy came to light after the killing of ATS chief Hemant Karkare, and more so after his widow filed a PIL.

No one can deny that those jackets were not upto the required standard, if any such standard is laid down at all. There weren’t sufficient numbers. If we want our police force to be ready and do not want a blockbuster where we have to bring in commandos, then we have to make them feel empowered.

There are, no doubt, instances of cops being the bad guys, several instances. But, there are many who want to do their jobs as best as they can. We have seen photographs of them in makeshift tents, where they did not have basic facilities and had to use the local shauchalaya even to bathe.

Just harping on coast guards is not going to take away the terror that exists everyday for the ordinary individual, especially the vulnerable segments.

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Talking of which, it was wonderful to read about Parivartan, an initiative by the Delhi Police, that has only women beat constables. A report in The Hindu quoted Sagar Preet Hooda, DCP (North), who is responsible for this:

“Police can't be everywhere, this is a mechanism to help us prevent crime against women, not just in public places but in their homes too. The beat constables are in constant touch with the colony women, they share their mobile numbers with them so that they can contact them in trouble. Women bond easily with women and that they know someone in the police gives these vulnerable women a sense of confidence to fight crime not just for them but for the neighbours too. We have cases where people complained against domestic violence in the neighbourhood and we have intervened.”

There are NGOs, but they too have to report to the police. In this case, there is direct contact and the very presence of the cops can act as a deterrent. Even more heartening is that it concentrates on the poorer localities and conducts workshops to train women in self-defence.

Let me play devil’s advocate for a bit: are these cops given the licence to shoot? Bonding is good, having authority figures around is better, but will these female constables act if necessary? Do they have weapons that work? We are informed that crime rate has reduced. Have there been any concrete examples of a rape being prevented? These vigils are in colonies and colonies have hierarchies. Do the cops get to choose their beat?

Despite these nitpicking queries, I think it is an important move, especially since domestic cases can be solved at the ground level rather than being dragged to court.

This sounds like real fast-track justice rather than the trumped up ones that the courts flaunt in celebrity cases.


The cup runneth over

Wasn’t there a Calvin Klein ad where the guy bites the edge of his trim partner’s panty? Ironically, the Botox and implant industries are thriving. So, isn’t there some dissonance here - the advertising agencies and designers on one side and the cosmetic surgery and boob vanity industries on the other?

Therefore, it came as a surprise that a lingerie ad has been banned from mainstream American channels because it has a plus-sized model.

Lane Bryant, the manufacturing company, has said, “ABC and Fox have made the decision to define beauty for you by denying our new, groundbreaking Cacique commercial from airing freely on their networks.”

There is nothing groundbreaking here. I have seen it and while the model is busty and she does strike a few sexy poses, which are mandatory in lingerie ads, and are quite happily shown in promos for cars, colas and icecreams where they are not, it is pretty routine stuff. Unless you get excited by a voiceover that says, “Mom always said beauty is skin deep. Somehow, I don’t think this is what Mom had in mind.”

To be honest, the model does not look like she is thinking about her mom at that moment. In fact, she is not thinking about anything but herself. It is at best self-love and at worst lingerie that you might want to take off rather than wear. I know 25 seconds are not good enough to judge a product, but that is good enough time to judge a bad idea.

Had the channels objected to it on grounds of poor quality, one would have understood. It is too self-conscious. Undergarments are meant to enhance and support. That they add to a woman’s sex appeal should make manufacturers sensitive to different types rather than getting into the big and small battle.

Fox apparently wanted the ad edited and finally relented and carried it. ABC remained resistant to DD.

Are these channels truly defining beauty for us? If that were so then Pamela Anderson ought to be banned. Reruns of films featuring Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Lauren, Elizabeth Taylor, Raquel Welsh should not to be permitted. And please do not telecast images of those spilling out of their designer threads on the the red carpet.

Both sides are taking moral positions for a part of the female anatomy. The bra guys are saying, “Our new commercials represent the sensuality of the curvy woman who has more to show the world than the typical waif-like lingerie model.”

More to show the world? Isn’t the lingerie for her? If the channels are indeed promoting the waif-like models, then they will talk about less to show. In all this there is the issue about portraying the ‘normal’ woman. Does anyone know what a normal woman is, or what her breasts are like? In a room there will be several normal women doing normal things and they could well be differently built, just as they would have different eyes, noses, mouths and ways to express themselves.

Each time new products are launched a normal woman is brought out of the closet and only those in charge seem to be privy to this character’s normalcy.

If a woman starves herself to fit into a pair of handkerchiefs, then she might think it is the most normal thing to do. A woman who decides to get herself pumped up because that makes her feel confident would think of it as normal. Then there are people who are comfortable with their bodies and genetically built in certain ways – skinny or big or medium.

If those looking at them have certain preferences or fetishes, then one may wish to measure their level of normalcy too. The bosom, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder.


Sunday ka Funda

Getting real?

She should be more concerned about whether he is wearing lipstick...besides, why waste kitchen ware? Chances are if the guy has come with lipstick on his person/clothes, he will also pretend to be drunk and will most certainly be late and have an excuse like, "I was buying cosmetics for you and wanted to feel how your lips would look on my shirt."

If you ask me, the partner's girth has little to do with it. Some people's 'brains' are just wired that way.



Filling Empty

There are times when you wonder whether you are right or someone is wrong. These are not the same. Your rightness does not denote another's wrongness.

Anyway, I recall a qawwali we heard often when we were young, "Bhar do jholi meri Ya Mohamed, laut kar main na jaaonga khali..." There was challenge in that 'prayer'. I liked that aspect. When I came across this other version, an almost complete departure, I did not know how to react. It was like the child in me was left to roam, lost in the woods even while sitting under the shade of a tree.

I am growing to like it, forming my own visuals. Filling the emptiness..."Khat'm kar de khaalipan"

Bhar de jholi - Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

The Swami and Bonded Labour?

He was caught with his robes up, but can Swami Nithyananda be sentenced?

As in sensitive corporate assignments, this young godman made his devotees sign a contract. These are supposedly educated people, mostly women, many NRIs. He used that old bait – ancient tantric secrets.

I am surprised that despite the clarity of the contractual obligations there were signatories. Here are some details:

“Volunteer understands that the programme may involve the learning and practice of ancient tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, including the use of sexual energy for increased intimacy/spiritual connection, pleasure, harmony and freedom. Volunteer understands that these activities could be physically and mentally challenging, and may involve nudity, access to visual images, graphic visual depictions, and descriptions of nudity and sexual activity, close physical proximity and intimacy, verbal and written descriptions and audio sounds of a sexually oriented, and erotic nature, etc.

“By reading and signing this addendum, a volunteer irrevocably acknowledges that he/she is voluntarily giving his/her unconditional acceptance of such activities, and discharges the leader and the foundation, and anyone else not specifically mentioned here, but directly or indirectly involved in the organisation, from any liability, direct or indirect, arising from such activities.’’

Wow. Therefore, on what grounds have some of the followers been pleading innocence? Is it because they are not supposed to disclose details? Was there any provision of a possible civil or criminal case? Had they been informed about such a possibility? Obviously not.

Since the swami made his intentions clear, he was not using those people; they agreed to become a party to this learning. It really amounts to raiding a whore house and arresting the clients who are aware of what they are going for.

Aside from this, questions can be asked as to how this was kept hush-hush for so long. We have had a few celebrities saying how they attended his lectures and do not know anything beyond this. If the clause is so exhaustive, then it is unlikely they were ignorant.

The crucial point is: were any of the devotees used inappropriately? Were they conscious that they were being taped? Was this part of the learning process? If not, then did the swami arrange for it so that he could later blackmail them? That being the case, there is a strong argument to be made against him for misleading and cheating and wrongly binding them with this document. He could be tried for virtually making them into slaves. Will this qualify as bonded labour?

But, if they had an idea of what was going on, if they had watched the tapes together during the ‘cooling down’ sessions, then they are equally culpable.

Did the cops not get a whiff of this before? Did some disgruntled devotee squeal? Are such institutes permitted to be registered as ashrams and are their activities monitored? Has the money been accounted for? If it operates along the lines of NGOs, are the devotees exempt from tax if they made donations?

I have this deadpan tone as I type, but I find it both amusing and extremely fascinating that something like this could take place with this level of professionalism. I think we need people like this in our government organisation. With it will come whistle-blowers. All transparent.


All White

I still remember the beggar girl craning her neck as the couple walked down the road, foreign tourists with straw hats, fair with golden hair. There was a girl with them. A girl as dark as the urchin. A girl who looked like an add-on, who did not seem to belong. Both girls were turning to look at each other, their eyes widening. One had her hand clutching at her adoptive mother’s dress; the other’s had been outstretched a while ago hoping for coins to drop in it.

This was at least ten years ago and the eyes of those kids still haunt me. It can be a story of hope for one, but it isn’t always.

It is not surprising that whites choose to adopt non-black children. This is the reality of choice, not the celebrity market that flaunts different colours.

The data was collected over a period of five years from a website by an adoption agency by a team from the California Institute of Technology, the London School of Economics and New York University.

It showed that non-Blacks were seven times more likely to be chosen over Black kids. It is easy to term this racism, but think about ordinary middle-class homes in the suburbs. If the kids look different they would be ostracised. There is likely to be a bias, but the bias is driven by a need to protect the status quo as well as the social dynamics within which such families operate. Would black parents opt for white kids? The question is not even addressed and is all the more revealing.

The elite can go scouting for babies in Africa, Korea, Vietnam, India because they live a different life. Besides, at one level it would appear that they are doing a good deed and get imbued with such legitimacy that is politically correct. Ever wondered why they do not adopt black kids in their country?

Middle class couples who have to furnish all sorts of papers to show they are capable of looking after the child will not have it so easy. Therefore, they want someone like them.

The study also revealed that girls were preferred to boys even by gays and lesbians. I think that despite the need to bond, there is always the feeling that the child is not genetically the same. The inheritance of name and perpetuity seems to rest on the male and perhaps the parents are a bit reluctant to let an outsider have that privilege.

Gay men might just be more comfortable bringing up a girl to avoid any questions about impropriety and lesbians would quite likely think along feministic lines as also avoidance of the male principle in their scheme.

One could judge the biases harshly but individuals in general choose what is non-threatening and they think mirrors them.


One-hand Opener

Can you imagine your good fortune? At the Geneva International Exhibition of Invention, the world’s largest fair devoted to innovation, one of the great new discoveries is a soda bottle opener that makes you open the said bottle with only one hand. Imagine!

I have no clue what anyone who has to open the bottle would be doing with the other hand at the time that s/he cannot employ it as well. I am sure, though, this has warmed the cockles of many a heart. Look at the neat design and the satisfaction on the model's/innovator's (?) face. As I said, you people are lucky.

Why not me? Because I cannot open a soda bottle even with two hands, especially if it is straight from the fridge and sweating icily. I find it slippery so – pardon the indelicate reference – I have to press it between my thighs and hold it a little below the neck with one hand and get the opener at the opening and hope and pray that the deed is done without any spillage or the fizz does not leap out and fracture my face.

I am sharing this important personal detail because surely it cannot be the only instance in the world. No, don’t tell me it is. Like, am I a pioneer who uses parts of four limbs to open a soda bottle? I do it with other bottles as well. And sometimes with cans too.

PS: Those who have the privilege of being Mumbaikars might be aware of a wonderful Parsi last name: Sodawaterbottleopernerwalla. No kidding.


Jaswant and Tharoor

Jaswant and Tharoor
by Farzana Versey

April 20, 2010

You had a stand-up comedian in your midst and you did not even notice. The beauty of Jaswant Singh is that he is so subtle he makes a snake look like a rope and even manages a rope trick or two.

Why did he tell Pakistanis that the Quaid-e-Azam was secular when they have to mention their religion in most documents? Transforming Jinnah into a sound byte was perfect timing. He threw a pebble in the puddle and asked you to see yourselves in it.

On the other hand, Shashi Tharoor is less ambitious. All he does is use his fingers to type 140 characters to announce to the tweeting world that visa rules must be relaxed because not everyone is a terrorist, knowing well that such a comment is patronising.

The two gentlemen might appear as different as chalk and cheese in demeanour and politics, but scratch the surface and you’ll get more surface. You will find no ideology. There is product placement.

Let us go beyond it. How many people have bothered to think about why Jaswant Singh stayed for years in a party whose manifesto right from the start has been to construct a good temple for the nation to pray in? He gave the spiel about his hands being tied. It was, in fact, perfect synchronisation and chances are that he was responsible for his own martyrdom. The BJP asked him to quit; the RSS, known to be the big boss, made it easy for him. They issued a diktat to infuse fresh blood. The main motive was to ensure that L.K.Advani was out and Modi became lord of the inner ring. Jaswant would remain the preserved heritage site.

After cribbing, “I am being treated like Ravana” (the epic demon king), he let his son contest and win elections for the same party and walked into the Sialkot sunset as a knight in shining armour. He chose to appeal to the larger enemy to lessen the heat on the lesser enemy.

Now he has got together with a band of boys, former Pakistani and Indian leaders, and this consortium of “collective wisdom’’ plans to find solutions to the Kashmir and water-sharing issues. This is seriously funny stuff. Is this the honourable Rajput of old Mughal courts or Birbal trying his smart act?

Tharoor’s honour rests on pretending to be the outsider who wants to change the way things work, when he does not even know how they work. As minister of state for external affairs he had nothing important to say about attacks on Indians in Australia or about immigrant issues in Britain.

He represents the complete disregard for diplomacy by making the right noises where action is needed. The social networking is not a device to connect him to the citizens but to get ‘followers’. It is a westernised feudalism. As an imported denizen from the grand UN, he thinks he is breaking the rules and shunning the typical.

What he has actually done is exposed the face of the dumbed down politician with a ‘just back from the sauna look in my open pores’ facile frankness. It is the deception of form that is disturbing. Both these men are the management gurus of politics. They appear to operate on their own terms when in reality they have their corporate images in place.

It works well with a segment of Indian society for whom facets are only a measure to rate diamonds with. Criticism is a mere tinkle of glasses and a huddle of whispers. Nuances are unexplored. Shashi Tharoor’s squeaky clean image has got a bit muddied, but that won’t affect him.

Suddenly, the prodigal became the man who had something to hide. It was a closet crucifixion. He may be a loser in the battle for stakes but, as with Jaswant Singh, his trickery is the treat.

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Courtesy Express Tribune


Bared? Marilyn, Oprah, Sunanda…

I do not know which of these ‘outings’ is the worst.


Fans of Marilyn Monroe will be able to bid for an intimate snap of the star at an upcoming auction. An xray of the stars chest is set to go under the hammer. The medical photograph was taken at a Florida hospital in 1954 when the actress was being treated for endometriosis. The x-ray shows Monroe’s ribs as well as the outline of her famed cleavage.

I would understand a dress from some film, a personal belonging. This has become quite the norm for the public that seeks such vicarious thrills. But the woman was ill, for god’s sake, and it is an x ray. Isn’t there any shame left? And, why is there a mention of her cleavage. This is beyond disgusting.


Oprah Winfrey has repeatedly lied about her upbringing and made up stories about sexual abuse to boost her reputation, claims biographer Kitty Kelley in her new book. Where Oprah got that nonsense about growing up in filth I have no idea, the New York Post quoted Winfrey’s cousin Katherine Carr Ester as saying in the book. I’ve confronted her and asked, why do you tell such lies ... Oprah told me that’s what people want to hear, the truth is boring.

Kitty Kelly has her kitty full of tell-all tales. I have my reservations about Oprah’s modus operandi that caters to the most basic instinct – voyeurism. It has often been camouflaged as catharsis, but you can see right through the tears, which often reveal that some of it has been staged. She is also her best subject, using everything from her weight to her money. Just as well. However, I can understand exaggeration as a possibility, but to make up stories of sexual abuse, especially as a child, somehow seems unlikely. If it is true, then it is cruel. Cruel to the telly-viewing world that trusts her implicitly, cruel to herself for needing such a ruse. Also, I’d like to know a bit more about this high moral ground adopted by her cousin. How much was she paid for telling this 'truth'? If she knew about it and felt so strongly, why was she silent all this time? There are hundreds of tabloids and channels waiting for such exposes.


Sunanda Pushkar's face recently launched a thousand IPL controversies. However, if you've had enough of it, you could try an older variation. The one you've been spotting these days is only a new and improved version. City sources say that the woman, who is in the eye of the Modi-Tharoor storm, had a nose job done by a leading Mumbai-based cosmetic surgeon ten years ago. Sources said that Pushkar also had two other fat reduction surgeries before the nose job.

(Latest reports say she has withdrawn her stake in the IPL.)

Take her to task for the franchise deal, but this is low. The Medical Council should take note of the plastic surgeon Dr Ashok Gupta for revealing these details. It goes against the ethics of his profession. Incidentally, Mumbai Mirror that carried the story showed the before and after pictures and amazingly in all of them the lady is wearing the same lipstick. Is it her fealty towards a certain shade or is someone tampering?

Besides this, it might help if those who socialise with bottle blondes stopped mentioning this aspect of her. It is amusing to see the ladies who lunch get all concerned about power women, which of course Sunanda is not because she has not yet had a chance to appear on Page 3. She is an insult, apparently. She is telling us what to think about Tharoor. How dare she? Phew. People who opine about piffle should not be wondering about how her opinion does not count.
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The sainted and the tainted - Lalit Modi with the Dalai Lama:

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Sunday ka Funda


Star-crossed Borders

Star-crossed Borders
by Farzana Versey

Inside the well-rounded cosmopolitan atheist persona of Shujaat Rizvi, there was a Pakistani nationalist and Islamist waiting to come out.

I turned out to be the catalyst, unfortunately, for this ‘homecoming’. Today, when I sound a bit wary about cross-border alliances, I have reason to believe that even if you share a faith, the political dimensions leap out like dragons.

Sania and Shoaib’s saga became a matter of precarious acrobatics; there are many others that cannot even venture into the circus arena as static cable wires, phone lines and meetings die slowly. More importantly, they bring out certain prejudices that we do not know we possess. Our earlier conversations about Sartre and Sinatra came unhinged as it soon turned into a battle of, and for, national and religious identity.

The day I landed in Islamabad, Shujaat decided to take me for dinner. We sat across from each other, a flickering candle between us. It was a mellow moment. “Would you have ever married a Pakistani?” he asked.

We were not young. I was newly single, hammering the nail on the coffin of a marriage gone wrong; he was a confirmed bachelor.

I had never thought about people as countries, but apparently that baggage had gone along with me. “Perhaps...” I muttered, afraid even of hypothesis.

“It is easy to get you a Pakistani passport and even an ID card. All that can be arranged.”

“I said I did not mind marrying a Pakistani, I did not say I would live in Pakistan.”

“This is a better place. You can walk with your head held high. You don’t have to suffer during communal riots. This is an Islamic country. There is no pretence.”

He was curious about the Muslim women in India. When I told him about the relative freedom of movement, at least among the urban, educated woman, and cross-religious alliances, he flared up. “I do not think Indian Muslims can get equal status by marrying their women to Hindu men. It is nauseating to imagine...”

He could not understand that relationships were not based on religion. “With such westernised and modern views, do not tell me that the man would say Islamic prayers before, after and during their intimate moments.”

Shujaat’s knowledge of this aspect was based on biased news and stereotypes, mine on experience. His prism only showed him a Muslim utopia. Was this about the scriptures or nationalities?

“If you don’t have a problem about nationalities, then why would you not live in Pakistan?” he queried.

“I cannot live even in America.”

“I think your attachment to your country is like a bad habit. Like smoking it can cause cancer. I am sure Muslims in your country would feel the same.”

It was a curious exchange at many levels – he appeared to be testing me personally and politically. Rather than a candlelight dinner, it seemed like Roosevelt’s fireside chat to his people via radio.

He had been active in student politics and his ideological leanings were leftist. He was clear that if he married an Indian, they would have to live in a Muslim country. It surprised me, for he was educated in the West and had worked outside too. In fact, during his stay in the US, he came close to getting involved with an Indian woman.

“Not just an Indian woman, but a Brahmin one. There was this desire to have an affair, a short affair.”

“So, would you not become impure?” I asked, since he often alluded to my cultural impurity.

“This would not be about love but hate. It is like war. You don’t love the land you occupy.”

This was territorial, whichever you looked at it – geographically or psychologically. We drifted apart, never to meet again, characters leaving the stage empty for more biases to resound.

- - -

This is my column in The Express Tribune, Pakistan, dated April 17. It was a special exception after the first Guns and Lollipops, which they wanted for the launch issue on Monday, April 12. My scheduled column day is Tuesdays.

They omitted to add the following footnote in the current column, at least in the Net edition:

Some portions in this piece are from my book ‘A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan’.

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Results of the blog poll:

Are cross-cultural marriages...

A political statement - 3%; A secular statement - 10%; A chance to discover another culture - 17%; A recipe for disaster - 10%; If not planned, then just 2 like-minded people getting together - 53%; Why marry when you can be a tourist or commentator?! - 21%


Does the Pope understand Crime?

For the first time since the raging allegations against the sexual abuse scandal involving a priest, Pope Benedict has publicly stated:

“Now, under attack from the world which talks to us of our sins, we can see that being able to do penance is a grace and we see how necessary it is to do penance and thus recognize what is wrong in our lives.”

It is a telling comment that he refers to the attack from the world. It is a masochistic way of looking at things. Had there been no attack, would there be no need for penance? This penance too is part of “obedience to God”. Has god been in any manner demeaned? Has god been tarnished? No. The Church is an institution, and like all religious institutions it has a set hierarchy, sub-sects and people in charge. They ought to be pulled up and be seen as criminals for committing crimes against others, as they would be in civil society.

One increasingly notices that ashrams, madrassas, convents and churches are being used by a few for abusive activities that go contrary to what they stand for and wish to portray. Due to the holy tag attached to them, it is difficult to discover the improprieties and to pull them up and try them as one would in regular cases.

The pontiff denounced Nazis and Communism and alluded in his speech that “subtle, or even less than subtle, aggressions against the Church show how this conformism can be a real dictatorship.”

Is he implying that the Church is not conformist? Religion conforms more than anything else, whether it is monotheistic faiths with one holy book, a god, angels or polytheistic faiths with several gods and their own little value systems. The believer has got to believe in these and conform to the rituals of that faith. How is any of this non-conformist?

He called upon the faithful to “open themselves to forgiveness, to prepare themselves for forgiveness, allow themselves to be transformed. The sorrow of penitence, that is of purification and transformation, that sorrow is grace. Because it is renewal, it is a work of divine mercy.”

In short, do what you want, but keep your options open to seek retribution, not in the real world for real reasons, but because you need divine mercy.

Those poor kids and the women who are being molested in places of worship do not count. Some seers have the audacity to use the ruse of ‘purification’ for such sexual rituals.

- - -

This is from the German satire magazine Titanic. This is its April issue cover on ‘The church today’:


Guns and Lollipops

He licked his index finger as he turned the pages of my passport. He had to merely stamp the page to say that I had returned home to Mumbai.

The man at the immigration desk seemed to be in no hurry. He looked up at me over his gold-rimmed glasses and asked, “Who is in Pakistan?” That had not been my destination, so I could not comprehend his query. “Do you know people there?” he persisted.

“Yes. Why?”

“You made so many trips…”

“London, too,” I said.

“So, how is Pakistan?” He enunciated the name, loud and clear.

I shrugged.

“Tell me, good or bad or what?”

He was humouring me, his lower lip, pink and wet, against his dark skin glistening with summer heat. Confusion would have turned to anger. I was in my country with my blue passport, three booklets pinned together.

“They are really like us only?”

“No. Worse,” I said.

His paradigm had no place for worse or better. It was either good or bad. Gun or lollipop. My name is whatever and I am not a terrorist. He stamped the page and, from his high seat, motioned with his head that I could go.

This had never happened before.

It shows that a Pakistani connection married to elitism is anathema. My thick passport that ought to have been a sign of globalism reduced me to a pampered poodle stretching at the leash.

I could imagine the immigration officer in the auditorium watching the utter humiliation of a Bollywood star made to grovel for approval by the ice-candy man, Karan Johar. I can see those pink wet lips smiling as he sees the awkward walk and the man going down on his knees out in the open because he has to pray. Religion is placed prominently in the narrative of My Name is Khan.

While my immigration officer would have stood for an autograph for Shahrukh Khan, he would not have let Rizwan Khan past his eagle eye. Rizwan, who cannot sell lotions and face creams, is made to sell the Muslim moderate. The story uses disability as a device to cunningly convey fake innocence.

Beneath the ostensible garb of post 9/11’s continual angst lurks a more real danger that seeks to heighten the uncomfortable relationship between Indian and Pakistani Muslims. We have reached such a stage that each time an Indian Muslim bats straight, creates award-winning music, or says something secular, there is jubilation. Intellectuals gather along with maulanas to applaud that we were saved in 1947. The idea of a generation far removed from partition, using that event as a yardstick not only to judge another country but one’s own position, raises the question of self-esteem.

Recently, I met a Sindhi family. We got to discussing food and Pakistani cuisine was mentioned. I seemed to have a lot of knowledge, so they asked, “Are you Pakistani?” No, I snapped. They responded, “Oh, but we are…our grandparents were born there and lived there and came to India later. So we qualify as Pakistanis.”

Why were they confident and why was I not? At a discussion Mahesh Bhatt had mentioned that most of his Indian Muslim friends, even the famous ones, tried hard to assert their Indian identify when they were in Pakistan. He turned to me and said, “I suspect you did the same on your visits.” I did, but not as much as I do in my own country. There I was asserting my otherness; here in India I have to assert belongingness. It is all about loving lollipops, is it?


A Little Birdie Told me

That albatross round your neck is a loyal dog, but adultery rules in the avian kingdom. Bird-watching has got a fresh connotation in an upcoming book The Bird Detective by Bridget Stutchbury.

This might not have ruffled my human feathers at all for the simple reason that the concept of institutionalising relationships is the trait of homosapiens and the world of fauna is fairly liberal, if we see this as one aspect of liberalism, and not tied down by any moralistic constraints. It is true that birds too try their best to attract the opposite sex; they too cohabit like good people of religion for mainly procreative purposes, although their faith rises when the heat in their bodies does; they like building nests, laying eggs, taking care of their young. But we also don’t expect them to be steadfast since no one is going to sit in judgment and shame them.

Therefore, I do not understand the purpose behind such a book venture and, more importantly, the findings. Take this one example:

The book shows male Acadian flycatchers fertilizing females far away from their home nests, and female blue headed vireos premeditating divorce by checking out new mates before they abandon their young.

The main discovery is that so many birds do divorce for what humans would describe as selfish reasons, Stutchbury said, noting that females may seek out males that are more colourful and better singers, or look to step up in the world and move to areas that are safer and have more food.

How can the word divorce be used here? Abandonment, yes. Multiple partners, fine. Glad eye, okay. Selfishness, true. How do birds divorce? Does the erring partner make it clear that s/he is quitting the home-nest? Is there an understanding about territory? Who gets custody of the children? Now, in this respect there are anyway fairly clear ideas regarding who does what that Discovery Channel tells us.

From the little bit that one has read, it seems the females are really on top. Some choose the rakes; others the security. And they plan their moves.

99 per cent of the flamingoes have broken marriages and the wandering albatross merely wanders and returns to the spouse.

I don’t think I will be able to look at any of the birds in the same manner. I know there is a crow that keeps staring at me while I write. He perches himself on the cable wire outside my window and looks. I blush sometimes, but all along I thought he was being a moral support. Or that parrot that occasionally sits on the kitchen window sill? Does she want a bite or does she want me to help her out of a sticky situation? There is a kite that appears rarely. Now I know why. Fidelity is not on the cards. As for the pigeon, I can hear him moaning and groaning and I get irritable or listen quietly depending on my frame of mind. Now I wonder whether he was in desperate need of counselling.

And for those whose cuisine includes fowl, have we ever thought that the bird must have been suicidal anyway after Monsieur Cock gave Madame Hen the documents to undo their ‘I do’?

I am warming up to the author’s effort. I think it should qualify as chick lit!


3 Readers in Search of a Writer

X, Y, Z belong to three nationalities and do not live in their homelands. We first ‘met’ on the page and the monitor screen. I was a byline. There was communication beyond that, but I remained a Person Who Wrote (PWW).

One day I met them in person. It was not the first time I was meeting readers, but the first time I was meeting such disparate people within a span of days in one city.

X and I had the longest correspondence and talks and he knew quite a bit about me; he also knew what was not there. In effect, I came away feeling like a curiosity that had been satiated. I was still the writer, the metaphor for a person. I was familiar but that sense of familiarity was black on white. I never became grey or blue or red or pink…and if I did it was as a ‘colourful’ character. The writer became a character. If my blood had been drunk it would have only congealed into ink.

Y is a new recruit! We exchanged only two notes; the first time he was ticking me off because I had written something about his area of expertise and he felt I was wrong. I said I was right about my right to be wrong, and he agreed. So, we were okay. Then, we met. It was nearing sunset and I was dying to look at the sky in all its flaming brilliance. I sipped iced tea; he stuck to Earl Grey. It was an amazing chat, completely metaphysical, and he did what I often do – drew various patterns with his hands on the table: pyramids, squares, other shapes to highlight a point. I don’t know when exactly, but he mentioned a personal incident from my life in passing. I immediately reacted, “How do you know?” He laughed, “You wrote about it!” I did not expect that as someone new he would have read this. More importantly, those pyramids and squares, so meaningful in our debate, now became me. I was also an atom, a molecule, something you brought to the table. I was a PWW.

Z knew me from my book, primarily. He had written a few times, and had got fairly acquainted with my work. He invited me home and I would have met his wife and child, but it was too short a notice. So it was dinner at a club without them. Fun insights about his life, about the diaspora. He asked little. Towards the end of the meeting, he said, “The moment I saw you, I said this is F. Frankly, if you were not what I had imagined, I would have been devastated.” Again, I was the writer, except that he had imbued me with the flesh and blood of his imagination. Yet, the imagination was about what I wrote. During the conversation he had said, “I see you as completely liberated…” I paused. I knew what he meant. As an Indian woman writing on certain subjects I am seen as a bit of a rarity, especially the language I use. In fact, I am told it has little to do with my nationality. I am bold and far too upfront even by normal western standards. Z was, like many others, projecting that onto me as a person.
The parting shot, just before I left, was most amusing and interesting. “But, you can also be quite frightening. There is a divinity about you that seems to go contrary to that other image.”

I chortled. I began to think of a halo around me, but again it was either as a writer or as an imagined person going a bit against that which he said he had also thought about.

It has made me contemplate about whether I want to be seen as just that. Recently, I did not write for a while. One of the reasons was, as I mentioned in Who moved my bubble?, to unwrite myself.

From being a curiosity, a pattern made on the table, an imagined entity, a bagful of words seeping out on the sand, leaving small little imprints and occasionally metamorphosing into crabs clinging to what will be washed away.

Even more importantly, in this supposed bonfire of the vanities I was in fact trying to reclaim my person. I realised only later that although I knew all along that these three people are hugely accomplished in their fields, have interesting experiences – professional and personal – by seeing them see me as only a writer, was I not seeing them only as readers? The difference is that I know them from what they say or do; they know me from what I write.

What sort of synergy is possible in such sharing? It also makes me wonder whether there can be any equitable understanding. Different perceptions aside, does the reader not have the upper hand? S/he can see you as you are, as you could be, as you may not be, as they think you are, as they want you to be, as they hear you are. There is no room for factual analysis at all. Strangely, the subjective makes you into an object.

I used to crave the company of people who had not read me. One friend would boast that she had met me without having read a word and wanted to stay away from my writing as much as possible to see the real me.

As the friendship evolved, she often remarked, “You are so transparent. I can read you like a book.”

Violent Dance

What were they thinking? Does this picture make you cringe? Does reading the copy make you feel better? Would you enroll for dance classes because it says doing the cha-cha-cha or samba can be violent unless you are under the kind and trained care of a choreographer-teacher and you join the academy?

You might do so because you want to learn or you think the person in charge is worth it. But I doubt it would be for the reasons mentioned: “In a month’s time you’ll move swiftly (not to mention non-violently)”.

Since when has dance become associated with violence? There are passionate forms with some level of aggressiveness, but they are not meant to physically hurt. By using images such as these, the truly demonic aspects of domestic and social violence are reduced to nothing; in fact, they are shown as accepted facets of life.

The character in the photograph does not look like she was on the dance floor just before getting hurt. Her expression does not seem nonchalant about accidental wounds. The use of the word 'victim' is revealing. These are photographs that denote real violence and the ad is using a negative message to lure the readers to notice. As I said, people will not sign up for the classes because of this, but there will be an internalisation of what they see, whether they dance or not.

Violence has become a marketable commodity. And you need to buy it to protect yourself because danger lurks – at the borders, in the street, at home and by a process of reductionism on the dance floor.

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This is another ad for the same. Look at the bruise. Is this about jiving? Damn, why am I so angry?


Subtraction Addiction

When Sting talked about legalisation of drugs, the poor guy had to sound like a nice guy. So he said that the money the US spends on reforming drug users and imprisoning them could be better used to tackle poverty and global warming.

I think he was high when he said that. Poverty and Global Warming are huge industries with several NGOs fighting over the spoils of being part of these movements. Drug users are jailed at random and usually when it is coupled with some petty crime. The government ought to realise that isolated cases cannot stop such consumption. One rarely hears about groups being imprisoned, when the fact is that it is often a social activity.

One is not promoting any such thing, but how many alcoholics are imprisoned or those who indulge in sexual exploitation within a closed circle?

We won’t get into a detailed study of hard versus soft drugs but many cults derive a certain identity due to some form of Ecstacy. In India sadhus (godmen) are often seen with hash and flower power had a lot to do with mind-altering substances.

Those who get into drug overdose that debilitates them or causes death are not arrested. Many of them are celebrities. They do not need legal sanction for anything. What about the poor? In Mumbai one sees them under railways bridges rolling joints. They are abused by the cops as well. Do remand homes and prisons change them?

The culture of rehab is truly about affordability. People with money enter fancy rehab centres, come out feeling good, give interviews to ‘Hello’ and ‘People’, and start snorting again.

A related, although not the same, topic is about sex addiction. It is only in the past few years one has been hearing about it. What is it? That a person has a huge propensity towards making out? Or is the problem that a person wants to make out with several people? That would be promiscuity. An addict wants to have one thing and does not seek variety. In fact, the very idea behind addiction is a kind of uni-dimensional obsession.

Michael Douglas, a known sex addict, said that he had cooled off now. Catherine Zeta Jones should sue him. How convenient it is for him as senior citizen to talk about taming the libido irrespective of whether his wife – 22 years younger – likes it or not. Same goes for Victoria Beckham. A report says she asks husband David Beckham for sex five times a day, and of course it is because she wants a daughter. (Bring on the halo.) She keeps a chart for good ovulation timings and stuff. Isn’t David the guy who couldn’t resist nannies? Then why are reports going all concerned about his exhaustion?

We won’t even get into Tiger Woods territory. It is bizarre that the media spoke about his return more as a prick rather than a golfer.

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Image courtesy


The White House Whitewash Job

Mind your language
The White House Whitewash Job
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, April 9-11, 2010

Forked tongues are part of the political arsenal, therefore what the White House says and what the White House does rarely meet even the facile “Read my lips” dictum.

Hamid Karzai was the fattened cat of American foreign policy that intervened to transform their version of a tribal society into their feudal Afghan version of a democracy. As strategies go, it worked as well as LSD.

Cut to the new airbrushed initiative. While the Bush Doctrine underlined National Security Strategy in the document that stated, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century,” it was upfront about its limited idea of ideology. It meant ‘Attack’ and it did. George W. Bush had no clue about history and no vision for the future. He was not even attempting ‘change’ and was rather complacent about the status quo as much as Bill Clinton was with the blue dress.

All was not well and the world knew it. They had put Islamic nations, which included those who were beleaguered, being forced out of their own land or battling internal strife, into a shoebox to consecrate their febrile memory.

The shoebox was a metaphor for beneath the boots, unshod, in short of as much value as skeletons in the cupboard.

Tagged along with it was Islamophobia. We fell for it, at least the term. No one seemed to realise that phobias are about fears. If you are phobic, then you hide away. You do not taunt, tease or challenge unless you want to exorcise that fear.

Now Barack Obama is attempting the first two. He, like the aggressors, knows that there never was any fear. The Islamophobia construct was not the doing of Islamists but their opponents. It was to create the fear of fear.

Obama's band of boys has decided that phrases such as “Islamic radicalism” should be deleted from the shoebox. A report states that there will be a "new version to emphasize that the US does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say...The revisions are part of a larger effort to change how the US talks to Muslim nations."

Notice how counterterrorism officials are issuing such statements and how it is about the US talking to Muslim nations. One wonders whether there will be any real attempt at altered perspective. If the idea is not to get trapped in linguistics, then it does not qualify as a diplomatic manoeuvre and need not be emphasised. However, it is being dangled as a huge carrot not only of political correctness but empathy, and therefore is too cunning a ploy for Obama to be anointed as statesman. For, had there been any genuine intent, then there would be no need for the use of the words ‘Muslim nations’.

This is mere playing with terminology. What the United States and a large section of the western world wishes to engage with is not Muslim nations, but to create a fear so that the demons can be exorcised, and exorcised only partially. If you do so completely then there will be no shoebox.

They wanted to bring peace and democracy to Iraq? Rubbish. Besides the hallucinations and the ground level war, they managed to get local insurgents to fight the Al Qaida in Iraq. Was there any Al Qaida in Iraq, to begin with? A group of Sunnis, members of Sahwa, Awakening Councils, thought they were on to become big-time US allies. It did not work that way. Last week, gunmen dressed as Iraqi officers killed 25 people in a Sunni village; the victims were handcuffed and shot dead.

The forked tongues work wonderfully to prop up this idea of internal turmoil as a ruse for ‘preventive war’. Hamid Karzai announces that he might join the Taliban, as though it is like signing up at the local gym, and there is concern. This is fake. Quoting a minister, Farooq Marenai, who mentioned that the President said “rebelling would change to resistance”, the report helpfully added that he was “apparently suggesting the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign powers rather than a rebellion against an elected government”.

Karzai works best under pressure; in fact, that is the only way he works. The Taliban has always been a resistance to foreign powers or puppets of foreign powers. Their method of resistance may be questioned but Karzai’s grouse is personal, that Parliament reduced his powers over the electoral process. Since he cannot hold the Taliban responsible, he accused foreign powers. The simple fact is that it is true. He is making noises with the purpose of gaining extra rights for himself within the US-controlled system he heads.

His comments should not have alarmed anyone. They have. Peter Galbraith, a former UN envoy to Afghanistan, appeared on television and said, “He’s prone to tirades. He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports.”

Since President Obama is on language, he ought to make note of this. Forget what alterations are made on paper, this buffers the image of backward societies. If Karzai accused the US of fraud in the Afghan elections, then why is Mr. Galbraith out to limit his powers to appoint officials until he proves himself to be a reliable partner to the US? It just does not make sense. Wanting to reduce his clout is in effect an admission that it is possible to do so and might have been done since Galbraith himself states that the US had got him a second term!

One wonders who is tripping on what.

And while talking about reliable partnerships, is America going to decide the nature of it alone? Is a partnership not about two sides?


Heir to Trash

For those who think they are too poor to leave anything behind, just bequeath your Spam. The Digital World is now rife with riches, in terms of email accounts, uploaded photographs, videos, social networking portfolios.

If you thought you lived in a cramped rented studio apartment and have the audacity to declare that you are homeless, you are in fact occupying space. Ah, did you know that 'My Space' was moveable property? Get it? You, who played the poverty card, the hobo, the one who had to depend on social security and wait for bonuses, are rich. So wipe that woe-begone look off your face and straighten your shoulders. You are priceless.

The legal fraternity has been busy formulating Wills that leave the heirs with all cyber wealth. Apparently, people believe that after they are gone their children, grandchildren or complete strangers ought to be given all their communication. Passwords won’t be mentioned in the Last Will and Testament because it is an open document. It will be drawn separately and the inheritor may have sole rights to it.

I understand that everyone believes they have precious stuff beyond their cupboards, safes, mutual funds, and property. This is certainly a move to make the Will a great leveler and bridge the gap, at least socially. I mean, someone can leave behind a virtual solitaire. It sounds neat. But what would an heir do with ‘friends’ gathered on Facebook? And how would s/he deal with updated tweets and discover that the parent or family member or friend was really cuckoo?

Think of all those recipients wondering about the nature of correspondence revealed. It is one thing when people do so while they are alive, but after death?

I don’t think it is a particularly good idea, unless one has saved every memory digitally. I am sure if you have pictures with someone at the Eiffel Tower, that someone would have a copy. Heck, your online ‘contacts’ and ‘followers’ might have access to them if you ‘share’. With so much sharing already going on, the heir could well misuse it. How many of the friends do you know personally? So, the person bequeathed with the information could well play the same character, that is you, and no one would know.

I think what we save is of value to us alone and what we delete is not. Imagine being the legatee of an email account and just after the last tear drop has dried on the cheek you go and sign in and the first words that greet you are: “Your email account has won $ 2 million”? Would you want to LOL or ROTFL?

The latter has often made me wonder about the hyperbolic nature of the internet. Does anyone really Roll On The Floor Laughing? Then how do they manage to type?


The Right Thing?

Jairam Ramesh threw off his robes. As a minister for environment and forests, he was making no point, but by discarding the convocation robes at a function, he did send out the right message.

However, he made some wrong points:

“Why can’t we have a convocation ceremony in simple clothes? With the flowing robe and hat, it’s like being decked up like medieval vicars and popes. This practice started in 13th century Oxford. This attire can be stifling in this season...You can come to the convocation in shirts and trousers. Why the robe? The hat is worn only so that it can be thrown up in the air at the end of the ceremony. Why do you wear a hat if you have to throw it?’’

Throwing the hat is symbolic. We throw a lot of things during religious ceremonies…often as purging. This denotes some sort of freedom. As regards Oxford, we flash such credentials at every given opportunity.

“I’ve still not been able to figure out why we stick to such barbaric colonial relics.’’

Colonial it is, not barbaric. In fact, it strived for a specifically stifling dress code to portray a civilisational mode of pomp and pageantry as opposed to savage crudity. It is ceremonial attire to confer a degree, to accept an achievement into the hall of fame. While we must understand that these clothes do not seem appropriate now, there is the more crucial question about how education itself has become a downgraded and ‘barbaric’.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced education for all as a basic need. It is honourable in intent, but where are the questions: why do people drop out? Where are the schools in the interiors? Who sells question papers in the open market prior to exam? How has technology intervened in the cheating process?

Also, what about the farce of honorary doctorates being given to ministers and actors and celebrities?

What after discarding the robes? Some more thinking.

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What is this?

The caption says:

In this handout picture released by The Press Information Bureau on March 31, 2010, Incoming Chief of Army staff General V.K. Singh (R) shakes hands with outgoing Chief General Deepak Kapoor (L) in New Delhi”.

I am surprised. I am not sure about the specifics required, but for a profession that talks about protocol and how mandatory it is, why is the Chief of Staff seated? Isn’t it expected that he should stand up? It is not as though some minion is paying respects to him.

If not as protocol perhaps courtesy?

Empty-handed evening

What is dusk? The end of the day returning without nothing.

When I wrote Break Lighting, I had a feeble idea. My mailbox brought me up-to-date with emptiness. Thank you for sharing this gem...

Aaj bhi na aaye aansoon
Aaj bhi na bheege naina
Aaj bhi kori raena
Kori laut jaayegi

(Today too there were no tears
The eyes remained dry
The blank night
Returned blank)

Khaali haath shaam aayi hai

Movie: Ijaazat
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: R.D.Burman
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Actors: Naseeruddin Shah, Rekha, Anuradha Patel
Year: 1987


The Real Face?

Be prepared! Sounds like a dire warning, especially if what is to be unveiled is a 3-D image of Jesus Christ according to digital technology.

Computer artists – and I shall let that term go – have used information available from the 14-foot long Shroud of Turin, the only available evidence that had blood. dirt and stains. History Channel is to air ‘The Real Face of Jesus’ that used the impression they got from the linen on the body of Christ.

"The shroud wasn't hanging on the wall - it was wrapping a corpse. The face is hidden in there. By imitating those distortions we could take the image and put it back into shape and figure out what the face looked like. It gave us a blueprint," said Ray Downing from the computer imaging company.

Is it important to know what the man looked like? Christianity, like most faith systems, crosses cultures and borders. People like to imbue their god-figures, as they do their legends, with a dose of the local culture. It is true that thus far Christ has been portrayed in the Caucasian mould despite not being from the region. This is part of the way religions grow and are taken over by the superior races.

However, we cannot discount that paintings and sculptures by artists too took liberty when portraying such images. Was it artistic license or a personal fervor? Unless it was within the confines of the church, would such images be dictated to by those in charge of a version of the faith?

Christ has most often been shown on the Cross in popular culture because that is what he symbolised. It then begs the question whether his potency remained as symbol or does humanising him have greater value?

Would this digital face really be seen as the true face? It is scientifically fascinating and therefore ironical that when there are doubts about the Shroud itself, we have a community of rationalists trying to recreate a face based on it.
As a non-religious person who understands the idea of belief, I think that faith in anything depends not on a figure but on one’s own sense of connecting. If you believe in the power of the ocean, then you will not alter your opinion based on changing tides. Images are like tides.

And portraits do convey more about what the artist thinks than what the subject was.

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The Real Face of Christ