The expatriate's angst

“I’d rather be called a terrorist than an Indian.” This comment was made a while ago following reports of some Pakistanis pretending to be Indians to avoid being targeted by intelligence agencies. Nothing bothers young Pakistanis more than being identified as Indian. Yet there is barely any social isolation between them overseas. However, militancy has resulted in an awareness of differences. While it is true that many more Indians are in prominent positions and have greater political clout, the fact is that despite all the profiling no American establishment will alienate Pakistan for tactical reasons. The ordinary expat’s level of distancing from the homeland is evident in the overarching need to assert fealty. The prototype Pakistani goes into apoplectic fits of apologia the moment one of them transgresses from the path. More than anything else, it is seen as a betrayal of the land of pure opportunity.

Therefore, while there is often some level of intellectual empathy with the McCabbie and McSilicon Valley wallahs and given that according to a private survey 96 per cent of Pakistanis have a low opinion of America, it would be natural that expats would not feel differently. It is not the four per cent who take a flight into Disneyland and stay back for the rollercoaster ride. And the one who strays does not suddenly appear in the US on a Waziristan-sanctioned visa. He has been there, digging into Shalimar biryani, downloading Coke Studio episodes.

The general anger towards Islam has affected the Pakistani diaspora. But has it affected the Americans? Mark Steyn wrote recently in the National Review: “Were America even mildly ‘Islamophobic’, it would have curtailed Muslim immigration, or at least subjected immigrants from Pakistan, Yemen, and a handful of other hotbeds to an additional level of screening. Instead, Muslim immigration to the west has accelerated in the last nine years … An ‘Islamophobic’ America might have pondered whether the more extreme elements of self-segregation were compatible with participation in a pluralist society. Instead, President Obama makes fawning speeches boasting that he supports the rights of women to be ‘covered’ — rather than the rights of the ever lengthening numbers of European and North American Muslim women beaten, brutalised and murdered for not wanting to be covered.”

Is one to assume that the US is masochistic or perhaps using a strategy to invite a little doom to feel morally sanctioned to conduct greater devastating strikes? President Obama’s opinion on the hijab is a patronising gesture. Does the US constitution not have provisions to protect women who have been brutalised for not wearing the veil?

The problem is that this is being posited against the educated professional who turns wayward. It is a disingenuous comparison. It could, in certain instances, be a genuine feeling of disgust with the system. Hispanics feel it, blacks feel it and it would be unusual if immigrants from Pakistan did not. When a South Korean student went on a shooting rampage at the Virginia Tech campus, did all Koreans fear getting profiled? Were they condemned to contrition?

If we set aside an act and its ostensible motive, this could be a potent analogy for frustration, the need to draw attention to oneself where the cause becomes a mere medium. Unfortunately, no one is willing to discuss why crimes are not seen as crimes anymore and are all branded terrorist acts. The Pakistani expat with no such history is forced to identify with branches that are tagged as roots.

It also raises the question about how by seeking a greater plan we, and the American establishment in particular, are losing all respect for and anger towards individualism. The militancy of the mainstream can swallow one whole.

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Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2010.


A model's death

Is a model’s suicide any different from other suicides? Until Page 3 became a standard feature, one recognised models only by their faces and bodies; many remained fairly unknown unless they were interviewed in women’s magazines.

There is a romanticisation of the stress levels. Today’s papers reported the suicide of model Viveka Babajee. She hanged herself from a ceiling fan; the reason was depression, partly due to a failed relationship. She came to India from Mauritius and was immediately engulfed in the world of glamour. Together with her professional skills, she, like several others, became an asset at society parties.

The film Fashion, despite its stereotypes, has depicted the life of the industry rather well. The clamour to be a part of it is huge. There was the case of Gitanjali who was found in the streets of Delhi, drugged, disheveled and in urgent need of medical and mental care. The media took to her – it was a great story. Madhur Bhandarkar used bits of her life in the film, but what is most striking is the hierarchy. It exists in every profession, but especially in one where vanity is the selling point.

They all seem to have an ‘attitude’. Attitude is arrogance teamed with a readiness to do anything. It is a generalisation, but happens to be the unfortunate truth. The stepping stones are designers, photographers, agents and business houses. The latter stay behind the scenes but are probably the most exploitative.

There is the sequence in the movie where some new girls are asked to attend a party because it helps grab eyeballs. This is what we see on Page 3, where unknown faces become names. It isn’t that they lack merit in their field. Someone has to model those products. They get instant fame and very few fall apart. Doing drugs is not considered a major problem.

Viveka was smart enough to realise she could not model forever, so she became an event manager and in fact had returned to Mauritius. Why did she come back to Mumbai? Because, in all likelihood, the country where she was from has no such culture of celebrity. It does not splash pictures only because you are dressed in certain clothes or you are invited to a party. The real high is fame on a pair of legs.

I found it curious that someone she met a week ago said she looked composed and not depressed. That is what they are paid for. Viveka must have had other problems and probably hid them from the world because the same celebrity that brings you in the forefront for baring forces you to not expose yourself.

She chose to die.


Sunday ka Funda

"For when they see the people swarm into the streets, and daily wet to the skin with rain, and yet cannot persuade them to go out of the rain, they do keep themselves within their houses, seeing they cannot remedy the folly of the people."

- Thomas More

Image: A Japanese invention


The swami moves from sex to kerosene

This seems like such a convenient way to purge yourself. Swami Nithyananda involved in a sex scandal was released on bail. He decided to indulge in a purification ritual, the pancha tapasya near fire. His spokesperson said he would also pray for world peace. That is generous. But, how did the courts allow such public purification? He has not been exonerated and if the cases are proved against him he would be sentenced to prison. The manner in which he has been going about his penance, it would seem that he is above the law and still has a following.

Just when his purification was happening, it was found that there is another fiery scandal:

Self-styled godman Swami Nithyananda has courted fresh trouble for allegedly using kerosene meant for poor families during his meditation for ‘penance’ and may face a seven year jail term if convicted. Nithyananda, out on bail after staying in jail for 53 days on rape charge, resorted to the ‘pancha tapasya’ in his Bidadi ashram. Over180 litres of kerosene was seized from there.

Had it not been about poor families, this would have been comical. He has his fans who could have sponsored his purification. I am not sure how sitting before a fire will alter things. If he is seeking to purify himself, does this not amount to some sort of acceptance of culpability? Will he gain sympathy from the public? Will his devotees feel better? Does it help him?

There is a place for rituals for those who indulge in them with true intent and as a private act.

From the looks of it, he appears pretty cocky about the way the case has gone and his current situation. There aren’t too many precedents of such people serving their full terms. We are a nation that believes in what we cannot easily understand. Mumbo-jumbo is a panacea and people like Nityananda work along these lines.

I hope he at least realises that kerosene is a rationed item and many people in this country do not have unlimited access to it.

Obviously, the guy has moved on from being swinger to swindler.


Reclaiming Tagore

It’s happened again. After the get back Gandhi’s stuff that I discussed here, we are crying about Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings being auctioned by Sotheby’s. The 12 works fetched £1.6 million (about Rs 11 crore). They were owned by the Dartington Hall Trust in England.

I do not understand how activists who have been urging the government to intervene kept quiet all this while. Besides, how did those paintings get to be with the Trust?

In 1939, Tagore presented the paintings to a close friend, Leonard Elmhirst, who had worked as his private secretary both at Santiniketan and overseas, whose Dartington Hall Trust has been the proud owner of them since.

They plan to expand their artistic endeavours to charity work in the field and it will help many new artists.

The buyers do not belong to a consortium we are told and have made individual purchases. A report states:

An Indian diplomat familiar with the matter expressed fears of the set being “cannibalised’’.

We have scant respect for art and many of our museums are in terrible condition. Some years ago Tagore’s Santiniketan was no better and his books were not even available there. Is the big deal about heritage value or about the big money and how we rate our greats according to it?

Individual connoisseurs have often shown more respect and if the work is displayed for snob value then so be it. What do you think these precious art galleries are upto? They sell art as investment, anyway.

This business about reclaiming what is ours - a contemporary form of swadeshi - is getting to be a pain. If it could be ours in England with a Trust for over 70 years, then it can be ours for however long it exists. An expat Indian who has purchased one painting is being looked upon as a shining white hope who will bring it back to India. Art is not property. You can bring it back to India and pickle it for all you want but if you do not appreciate art, then it is worthless. If you do not know how to encourage people with creative talent, it is worthless. If art belongs to a coterie, then it is worthless.

Tagore will be rather happy that his works went for six times the estimated price. He was high maintenance and rather liked the regality of status.


Comedy of 'menners'

Every once in a while we are introduced to a new species of male. It gives us women something to look forward to, at least theoretically. In practical terms it is the same old caveman in different togs.

So, when I read about how the Alpha male is turning into the Omega man, it sounded Greek to me. But it crosses cultures. This character sleeps in late, lives with his parents, does not bring home the moolah every month, but is happy. Happiness means:

On a typical day, he wears tatty clothes, plays computer games and “works on his music”. He does his washing and cooks his meals, and is usually single.

Why this obsession with types of men? Earlier we had the metrosexual guy who shaved every part of his body that had hair; for some weird reason that also made him sensitive. I guess it’s because of the razor.

Then we have nice guys who are not rakes; they help with cooking, cleaning and occasionally even making love. Nice.

Between the Bad and the Good, there is a wide range and women are left wondering at the amazing array that is on offer. Sometimes, we get so lucky that we can even take one ‘on approval’ basis, test a sampling and then return to the shelf.

Why am I pissed off, then? Because it is all about men. I am an Omega woman – I lounge in tatty clothes, I don’t play computer games, but I potter around trying to create designs, I sing into the microphone and have been ‘working on music’ by creating tunes for my cell phone, I don’t even cook, but for the occasional tossing and turning of things in the pan; I do a bit of cleaning; I am single.

I am mostly happy – with myself. That is darn Omega. Here comes a small problem. I also am focused about what comes after the doodle; the times I write I am committed to deadlines that I love meeting; I have an opinion and it comes on strong; I have a keen sense of dress that I put to use when I want to; I like to get the best for myself. That makes me Alpha.

There must be many women who have qualities of both but no one discusses us. No one is interested in whether we shave or not, whether we are working on music or creating noise, and if we are not dressed up it is assumed to be because we are supposed to be wearing aprons, even if nothing else to go with it.

I am not getting into a gender war simply because there is a bunch of guys out there trying so hard to give us a choice when we know already that beneath the ho-hum of variety all we hope to find is a man who can light a fire and watch candle-wax melt. And he can do it in Greek if he wants to.

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I have no problem with football. Men need something to kick around. However, this silly obsession of the Indian media and therefore the public is unfathomable. We are not playing in the World Cup. Do you hear me?

No! I know that football is played in this country but, except for Kolkatans and their Mohan Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, no one gives a damn about these teams. Yet, when some Messi starts messing and Ronaldo goes rolling, you hear the same old screams. The build-up started early and everyone from Bollywood actors to other sports stars to industrialists was asked about their favourites.

It is quite amusing to see some of them plan parties or decide to gather at a bar or coffee shop at a fancy hotel where large screens show the men in action. It has become a huge business. I once had the horrible experience of going out with some people visiting from overseas; we got a table quite close to this mammoth television. No conversation was possible and even worse we had to watch the idiotic women in the ‘fan’ groups letting out little screeches of delight holding their glasses of strawberry daiquiris. They were not there for the sport; they were there to hang on to the men they accompanied or who happened to be around.

All of these men come dressed in Friday clothes, and that becomes occasion for the Page 3 photographers to capture them at their casual best, never mind that they are very carefully casual.

I am rooting for the little boys who will be kicking a large rubber ball in the puddles of my city now that monsoon is here.

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End note:

Did this blog not talk about ads using bushmen? So, today on the Ideas page in a slot called Snap Judgement, we had this picture and writeup:

In Poor Taste

It is disgraceful that some TV commercials with racist undertones have recently surfaced. The advertisements in question poke fun at African people, who are depicted as backward. Humour cannot be a defence for racism. Our ad-makers would do well to steer clear of such politically incorrect commentary and give vent to their creativity in a more responsible manner.

Yes, of course. But the Times of India did not take names. Because if it did, then how will their Response Departments go soliciting ads, how will their TV channel air those ads and how will stories connected to such ads be woven around the consumer ideal?

This is not restricted to one media group, I might add.


Feet in a trance

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” – W.B.Yeats

There are some marvelous moments when even the dance cannot be separated from the viewers. It isn’t merely about watching but partaking.

This one is from one of my favourite Satyajit Ray films where you demarcate debauchery and good taste at your own peril. This is what life is about – chandeliers that light up the room or crash as glass shards to pierce souls.

Roshan Kumari in 'Jalsaghar'


Wah-wah, Ramji, Modi kya banaye

Ram Jethmalani certainly deserves the Rajya Sabha seat. The BJP is happy to acquiesce, at least one section that counts.

He is also making the right noises. About Ajmal Kasab’s death penalty, he disagrees, though:

"Let him rot in solitary consignment in Indian jail till his death so that he realises that what Mullas told him was wrong. This man was ill doctrinated by some Mullas that if he kills some innocent people in the neighbouring country, he will go to Paradise and he will also get the company of beautiful women there.”

This is sheer buffoonery. These are not your everyday mullahs; they hold training camps to kill and they use ideological bait. Women they can get anytime they want because they are powerful. A man of Mr. Jethmalani’s intellect should know that there is no need to mix religious issues here.

He is also exposing his ignorance. Nowhere does it state that you will go to Paradise by killing innocent people.

Reminds me of his quote way back in December 2000 in Rediff:

People who used Hindutva to get into positions of power are quite willing to abandon it when it suits their interests. Some shut it in a closet. Some use it depending on the audience. Some flaunt it when required.

He is showing those same signs. He contested against Vajpayee as an independent with Congress support. Now he is returning home but only if he gets that hot little seat in the RS.

Kasab comes in handy and a pat on the back from Narendra Modi helps.

Modi is a real number. Is it November 14? No. Is there anything happening on the children’s front? No. Was he attending a summer camp for underprivileged kids, you know the ones whose parents his boys did in? No.

Out of nowhere and with reference to nothing he asked:

“Has anyone shed a tear for these children who struggle to get a square meal a day when Children’s Day is celebrated? Nehru was said to be very fond of kids and his birthday has been christened as children’s day. Kids called him ‘chacha Nehru’ and it brought images of a benevolent Nehru flooding our minds. But what good has it done to the kids?”

What is his point? If he wants to rant against Nehru, then there are several other things he could have picked on, especially since he is into the development agenda. Why did he bring in kids? I do not know if Nehru really loved kids; he must have been fond enough of his daughter to ensure that she retained power within the family.

Now Modi may not wish to sire kids, but he can adopt a few at the refugee camps and come out smelling of roses.


The Swami and the Strays

Imagine a situation where a tragedy is imminent. The heart aches. Tears just about line the rims of eyes. The devotees begin the mournful pre-emptive dirge, the inner circle cries foul, the victim indicates he was the target but he smiles. He has to. He teaches everyone to do so in the face of all odds, ends and tails.

The investigators arrive. Big man, big audience. They move swiftly and the trail takes them to a farm from where a bullet travelled 2,500 feet to reach the ashram and grazed one member of the meditating congregation. Who was it aimed at?

Four stray dogs that had mauled a sheep at the farm-owner’s property. With his licensed .32 revolver, Mahavira Prasad fired three bullets; one bullet decided to travel farther out.

The Swami has said, “It is a closed chapter and will be forgotten.”

I am thinking about all those high-powered devotees who rushed to claim fealty and wondered in sorrowful tones about how anyone would want to target a good man like the swami. He himself had insisted that the intention was to hit him. He still believes that there is prejudice against swamis: “I suggest Karan Johar make a movie titled ‘I Am Swamy, But I Am Innocent’, which could show that all religious leaders are not like that.”

Those dogs could be innocent, too. Did the farm-owner know exactly which strays had mauled the sheep? Did the sheep stray into stray territory? Since it is a poultry and sheep farm, weren’t the fowl and the animal meant for consumption?

Why did Prasad first fire two rounds and the third near the gate of the ashram where another dog was? That dog could have been a devotee or planning to join the satsang. Have the police considered this angle?

There is in this incident a sense of a weird deus ex machina…a powerful man’s potential martyrdom snicked by a dog.

Also, imagine this one stray, perhaps human in an earlier birth, quite besotted by the swami yearns for a glimpse. Several frustrated attempts lead her astray and she goes berserk as the Swami’s car whooshes past, the dust rising and stinging her eyes. Day after day. On that fateful day, she scampers to the farm stomping on the grass and then as she watches the sheep quietly munching away she lunges, gnawing at the flesh. How she aches!

Her anger subsiding, she decides she can only pine. And so she waits at the gate. For a glimpse and dust in eyes:

A song from Sati Savitri yelps in her mind:

Tum gagan ke chandrama
Main dhara ki dhool hoon
Tum pralay ke devta ho
Main samarpit phool hoon

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For those interested in the report, here’s a brief summary:

The mystery bullet that Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar claimed was intended for him and cops insisted was merely a stray slug was actually aimed at scaring stray dogs at a farm near the guru’s ashram.

Karnataka police chief Ajai Kumar Singh said Mahadeva Prasad, chairman of Dr B R Ambedkar Medical and Dental College was on his poultry and sheep farm last Sunday around the same time the guru was addressing his congregation. Prasad was taking aim at four stray dogs near his farm since they had recently mauled a sheep. He fired three shots, missed the dogs completely and one bullet travelled over 2,500 feet in the air before grazing Vinay, a devotee at the ashram. “Taking the ballistic expert report, gradient of landscape and time of firing, it was confirmed the same bullet had travelled to the ashram,’’ Singh said.

Sunday ka Funda

E t c.

A sign to make others believe that you know more than you actually do.


Murder, she said

She is distasteful. She is dramatic. She comes on strong. Then why do people expect Lady Gaga to play Little Bo Beep?

In a performance in Manchester she recreated murder with scenes of her being eaten by a psychotic killer, fake blood on her body. It just so happened that there was a shooting spree in Cumbria hours before the show.

There are questions being asked. Most people are shocked. Shocked about what? This was part of the Monster Ball tour. Get it? The name conveys something. So, why was one mommy so agitated when she took her 14-year-old for the show? She said, “I was absolutely sickened at what I saw. We know Lady Gaga is not exactly mainstream performance for all the family but she really crossed the line this time.”

If they were worried about the 12 people who were shot dead or the three prostitutes a few days earlier in Bradford, then they might have chosen their entertainment more carefully. Were they not riveted by the news in the tabloids or on television channels? How does that imbue them with a sense of superiority? Lady G had planned this performance. They say she could have toned down the act? How would that have helped? It would have only drawn attention to what had happened and then there would be accusations that she was using the tragedy. Besides, if it is understood that she is not mainstream, then why apply those standards for her?

Here are a few comments that I completely disagree with:

"We're always saying, people who are icons to young people need to be aware of their behavior and they need to think about how their behavior influences young people.”

It is the job of the parents to ensure that young people are not besotted by glamorous images. These same young people read about stars and socialites in skimpy clothes getting drunk at parties and even stripping. Only because they have not paid for the show, does the responsibility factor decrease?

"Would she have sold less tickets without that scene in her show?”

Did she advertise that scene? If she did, then why were all these people there with their impressionable children?

“Murder is disturbing image to impose on young people. When young stars mention they've got a collection of knives and enjoy flicking their knives they're endorsing it. They're not thinking about what they're portraying to their fans. It's all for shock value.”

It is indeed shock value and they may be endorsing it. But there is a gun culture that exists. There are murders. There is incest. There are cases of monster dads and moms who have sex with their eight-year-old kids. They are not watching these shows. Often news stories and most certainly documentaries recreate such scenes. Do parents have problems with that?

Art, music, cinema and literature portray social evils or use them as metaphor. What if these people had decided to stay at home and watch one of those horror movies?

Waiting for rains

Dark clouds herald pre-monsoon dawn. Wait and wait…a pining for both rain and the hidden sun.

I have listened to Kumar Gandharva at different times, but mainly with my best friend when I became an adult. The much older worldly-wise corporate guy would turn into a blind devotee. Our conversations were silences then as I soaked in the rain pouring from the singer’s voice.

Aisan kaisan barsaat barkha – Kumar Gandharva



I am tired of the pretense that passes for freedom of expression in the media. It has happened to me in my country, India, in the past. At the time, I did raise the issue with the people concerned directly, which is where it got buried. That was real low. Now, comes this…

My article, Half Muslims and non-Muslims (posted on my blog) was pulled out from Express Tribune where I write a weekly Op-ed column. I was not informed about it. I sent a note early this morning wanting to confirm whether it was only missed out in the internet issue (as I don't have access to the print edition) or something else. I got a reply in the afternoon saying that “it was too sensitive given the current situation”. The subject was the attack on Ahmadis and a comparison with Ismailis.

A couple of points:

1. There have been several reports, several columns on the subject. Many have picked on the establishment. So, how does my piece become too sensitive? Is it because I have made a reference to Ismailis, a community to which I belong? Or is it because I am an Indian, that too an Indian Muslim?

2. There is the issue of professional courtesy. My piece was sent on Sunday night, almost midnight. On one occasion when they did not receive it they had called; I expect that when they do not use a piece by a columnist who they had approached to write for them months before the launch, then they jolly well let her know. A simple email might have at least made me aware of what was going on; in fact, a timely note would have made it possible for me to send a replacement and then argued.

What I am writing here is not anything that I have not spoken about to the person in charge of the section there; he knows exactly how I operate with regard to deadlines and scheduled day of the column. Also, except for standardisation, I am not ready for crass editing of my columns.

Since January, it has been a supposedly corporate style set-up where regular emails were exchanged by varied staff members. So where were they all when they had to inform their first-day-first-show columnist who is expected to meet deadlines but is not shown similar courtesy on time?

Whoever made this decision obviously knew that s/he considered it “too sensitive” on receiving it or after a few hours. You do not wake up at the last minute and get the heebie-jeebies; if you do, then I am not sure about how sensible the policies are.

I have been writing since 1990 and know what I am talking about. If a voice is to be shut up, whether in India or in Pakistan or in Timbucktoo, then the media has no business to rubbish censorship of anything else.

Look in the mirror and shatter a few delusions.
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Updated on June 3, 8 PM IST:
I have received several emails; many discussing Islam, some wanting to start signature campaigns. This is beyond Islam.
And for those who believe I should not be dissing Pakistan, I cannot keep repeating that it does not matter who/what it is. I have had a far worse experience in India. Those who came in late, do take a look at The Media and I.

Half Muslims and non-Muslims

Half Muslims and non-Muslims
by Farzana Versey

Born in the Ismaili faith, I have been quite accustomed to the ‘aadha Mussalman’ (half Muslim) tag. Members of the community are none the worse for it. However, I cannot understand the attitude towards Ahmadis in Pakistan. Ismailis have a living Imam, yet they are not considered a minority.

Why is this so? Is it because the Aga Khan Foundations help many people in developing countries? So does the Red Cross. Is it because the Ismailis are more interested in trade than the Taliban? This could be said of most people in any society.

If anything, the believers of the Aga Khan can be deemed more esoteric and are considerably distinct in the many countries they have chosen to make their homes in, mainly because allegiance to the nation is emphasised as part of the religious doctrine. Talk of mixing religion and politics!

Politics uses religion as much as religion is being politicised. What happened in Lahore were extremist attacks. Don’t blame the Taliban. They do not discriminate. They get no special points for killing Ahmadis; discrimination against them is built in the Constitution. How many people have made the government answerable for this? How difficult is it to change laws?

Ahmadis have been declared heretics. If they wish to perform the Haj they have to provide a written declaration stating that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of their sect, is a “cunning person and an imposter”. How will this make Islam better? It is true that the leader declared himself to be the promised messiah and this would be seen as blasphemy in a monotheistic belief system that will not accept such a major departure even if no one disputes the oneness of god.

Ismailis often have to traverse two completely contradictory viewpoints – that of being the ‘nicer Muslim’ and of being ‘half Muslim’. The first honorific is given by people from other faiths who have a stereotyped image and are surprised to find the unveiled, clean-shaven ones; the other comes from true-blue Muslims who find it difficult to not only accept that Ismailis believe in a continual line of Imams but that they have their own secular rules.

When there was some semantic jugglery regarding how the media cannot refer to the Ahmadi place of worship as a mosque, it struck me that the Ismailis call their place of worship a jamaat khana. They have a separate set of duas and namaaz is not offered on a regular basis. Men cannot have more than one wife at a time or they will be ex-communicated. There have been people who have left the fold to join the ‘pure’ Muslims and written books about the ‘half ones’, and they ought to be thankful for the education they received as Ismailis which taught them about the possibility of dissent.

It is ironical, then, for them to brand some offshoots of Islam as cults. What about dargahs where you pay obeisance to dead saints? Muslims do not consider it heresy to place flowers on tombstones, light incense sticks and let the caretaker run a peacock feather over their heads as blessing; no one baulks at the fact that donation boxes rake in money to keep these places rich. Is this Islam?

The Ahmadis were promised a return to the pristine form of Islam. Who can have a problem with that? Not the religious fundamentalists if they think about the ‘essence’. Acts of violence should be condemned for their own sake. Let people remember that the Taliban is not making rules. Pull up those who are. Minorities are supposed to be protected. If nothing else, such tragedies should at least lead to introspection and proactive action from concerned citizens instead of ruing it as one more bad haywire day.

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(c) Farzana Versey
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This column that was pulled out by Express Tribune was later published by Countercurrents

Mars and Venus – ecstasy or Ecstasy?

If you did not look at the fruit, you would think it was all about love. Now David Bellingham, a programme director at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, says the fruit was overlooked and so was the subversive message in Botticelli’s painting:

“This fruit is being offered to the viewer, so it is meant to be significant. Botticelli does use plants symbolically. Datura is known in America as poor man’s acid, and the symptoms of it seem to be there in the male figure. It makes you feel disinhibited and hot, so it makes you want to take your clothes off. It also makes you swoon.”

Is there another way of reading it? Mars is lost but Venus is in her senses and fully clothed. Why would the man decide to get high and feel uninhibited if there is nothing to gain? If it is for him to be put into a stupor, then again Venus gets nothing out of it.

Take one operative phrase – removal of clothes. This is also a giving up of a part of oneself, baring oneself to the other. Exposure is not without its fallout.

The National Gallery description of the painting notes: “The scene is of an adulterous liaison, as Venus was the wife of Vulcan, the God of Fire, but it contains a moral message: the conquering and civilizing power of love.”

Is this also a message of guilt? Is the seduction incomplete? Did Venus seduce him or did they get intimate and this painting is the post-coital depiction, where she is sitting dressed up and unsure?

Though many paintings do show her in splendid naked glory - was she high on drugs then? Was it loneliness and not love that drove her to it?

Can Mars pretend that he was under the influence and therefore he is unclothed? If the fruit is capable of making people go mad, then the madness could be a metaphor for losing one’s senses as sublimation.

The fruit is being offered to the viewer. Is it to tempt us? Is the precursor none other than the Garden of Eden?

The idea of drawing the viewer in is also part of the voyeuristic exercise where art itself needs an audience; the painting has other characters in the sublime love story. The satyr’s apparent insignificance – or invisibility – conveys a delightful tension that exists in relationships, among artists and interpreters as well as the person and the Self.

Of course, we can settle for a most pragmatic analysis and imagine that this was supposed to be an aphrodisiac that ended up working as a sedative. I believe it happens.