Switch it on

Now they are going to tell us what quality time is. This is your chance. Wonderful. To register you have to send a text message. Bucks. You log on to the site. Hits. This is a Hindustan Times venture and there are other sponsors, which means you get their products and services in lieu of television.

While it is true that a lot of people have ceased to go out and prefer to watch TV, many of them also indulge in the activities mentioned. If they can. Marine Drive and Oval Maidan are open spaces; senior citizens do get together; yuppies try and spend time with their kids. Not so sure about “dinner with my masterchef”.

Just in case these concerned organisations care to know, in quite a few cities there are power cuts, so TV watching is not uninterrupted. For people with careers, this is time to clean the house, get provisions and be at home. Commuting isn’t easy in a city like Mumbai.

For all the negative points against TV, I think there can be occasions for family and friends to bond. How many spouses discuss the walk they want for or the food they ate? Now think of the conversation about soaps and news, soaps in their own right. Multiplexes have made a visit to the movies quite expensive, so when films barely a couple of months old are telecast, it is a boon for them. Sports that were inaccessible are now on air. These things do create cult figures and covert advertising does push the viewers towards consumerism. But, you cannot walk down a road today and not meet blinking neon lights or encounter someone hawking something, sometimes even themselves – whether it is a helpless person or one on the make, whether it is poverty or glitz.

I watch TV everyday, but that is not all that I do. And there are many like me.

Just imagine if on this grand occasion of ‘No TV Day’ some channel decides to go to town shooting people at random doing what they always do and flaunting it as a success of this bold initiative. And we get to watch it live! Anything can happen.

Anyway, what’s this token one day going to achieve? People will return to their remotes and start surfing. There just aren’t enough waves in the sea.


Harvard Terrorism

A tony university will naturally have its eyes on the swish. Yet, there is something unnerving about a case study at Harvard Business School on the role of the employees at the five-star Taj Hotel during the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008.

The multimedia case study ‘Terror at Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership’ by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande documents “the bravery and resourcefulness shown by employees” during the attack.

The study focuses on why Taj employees stayed at their posts, jeopardizing their personal safety, in order to save the hotel guests. It also tries to study how that level of loyalty and dedication can be replicated elsewhere. A dozen Taj employees died trying to save the lives of the hotel guests, during the attacks. “Even senior managers couldn’t explain the behaviour of the employees,” Deshpande said.

He added, “Even though the employees knew all the exits in the hotel and could have easily fled the hotel building, some stayed back to help the guests. These people instinctively did the right thing. In the process, some of them, gave up their lives to save the guests.”
While there is no dispute over the bravery, has any study been done about the saviours at other places where these attacks took place and where several others occur on an almost daily basis? What about flight attendants who help out passengers when there is an air calamity? What about the guards who are routinely killed trying to save people? Would HBS bother about smaller establishments and countries that are quite ‘under the radar’? And what about the several problems of labour: from fighting for wages to safety measures in the work area to being unceremoniously thrown out to having to run about to claim pension?

I do not wish to sound callous, but in this particular case it was difficult to figure out what exactly was happening. It is a huge hotel and all employees do not know about all exits. Besides, given the nature of the attack – guests taken hostage and much exchange of gunfire – was there any guarantee that using any exit would save them?

Why is the management surprised? Don’t they train their employees about service? In the hospitality industry, more than anywhere else, this is an important component. They have, at best, done a job in the most humane manner possible.

The fact that this study explores the need for a replication of such loyalty and dedication begs the question about how indepth the research has been. Are there no other examples? Have you heard of caretakers of places of worship running away when there are bomb blasts? Have you known of junior employees leaving the premises of big enterprises when they are under any sort of attack? Don’t the guards at banks get killed during a heist?

I find it extremely patronising when the HBS team claims under camouflage of romanticisation:

Another key concept of the study is that in India, “there is a paternalistic equation between an employer and employee that creates kinship”.
This is merely pushing the agenda of the ruling class. The equation is feudalistic in all sectors – of benign master and slave. The kinship is one where the employee swears to do anything beyond the call of duty. It is a gentleman’s unspoken word of honour that only those in the lower hierarchy can keep because they have no choice.

The employer may most certainly look after the interests of the employees, and there may be the annual general body meeting where there is a mention of “we are one big family”. Don’t forget, this includes the shareholders who need to be reassured that the company is doing great and it has a loyal staff. Such loyalty is bought with an unwritten agreement that implies there won’t be any special sops or protection. Compensatory packages are part of the contract. The courage displayed by workers helps build the brand of the master. What loyalty are the employers showing towards their workers?

Why does it have to be a one-way street?

WEF (What Economic Forum)

There was to be a discussion on organised crime, 'Criminals without Borders' at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Why a separate discussion? Isn't the WEF already about this? Or does it need some more muscle-flexing self-introspection?

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Heard about the Red Berets. Any symbolic moments? Just wondering...


Bhimsen Joshi: Always Dawn

Many years ago I had interviewed a classical musician, quite well-known. At that time he was disgruntled about several things and I clearly recall one comment he made. He said that great singing does not necessarily mean you have to contort your face so much. This was a swipe against the master of them all - Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

As I scoured the obituaries today, there has been an outpouring of so much more, but one of them mentioned how he sang with his body - for every sound and rhythm he used gestures.

More than anything, he is thankfully not being lauded for taking our culture outside or for making us 'international'. He hosted a music festival every year in Pune and that remained his base. Yet he was a repository of how Indian classical music evolved in the post-Independence era. I hope his work is archived because this is one instance where the man and his music were equally large.

I have said earlier that I saw him as more of a technician, as opposed to Kumar Gandharva. These are personal connections we feel. Therefore, I was surprised when I first heard his version of Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Jaaye. This was a Saigal signature for me and it had made its place deep in my heart. But Panditji sang it in such a mellow fashion with different inflections that one felt the heart just well up with emotion. It is in Raag Bhairavi, a morning Raag. The soul is always awake:


Veena, the Mufti and Berlusconi

This is not about Pakistan, yet the Pakistani media is going into overdrive about a starlet and creating a scene far worse than the reality show Bigg Boss. As is the pattern now, Veena Malik was pitted against a cleric on a TV discussion. Aren’t there other kinds of people in that country?

Mufti Abdul Kawi called her immoral. What did anyone expect? Forget the maulvi, most people here in India thought she was going a bit out of line, and we are not talking about just Muslims. She was the only one who engaged in this sort of behaviour. On the show with the Mufti, she cast aspersions on the Indian contestants and how they abused her, and this included the women. “Where was the Pakistani media then?” she asked. Indeed. They were watching from the sidelines, enjoying the show, cackling away, so that when she finally came out and was, as expected, pulled up by the fundamentalists, they could then rush to rescue her for ‘taking on the maulvi’. Wah, wah.

This is the country where even the liberals question the classical dancer, actress and activist Sheema Kermani and think she is a bit of a drama queen when she mentions the law against her performances, but they will lend their support to Veena Malik. Why was she on the show? She says she was asked to contest because of her bravery. What gallantry award has she received? Had she done anything that might be considered courageous?

She says she was representing herself as an entertainer and whatever she did were tasks as per the show’s format. One would like to question the producers of the programme that if these were tasks, then why was there a huge ruckus in India to change the timings and since they wanted it to be on prime time they decided not to carry certain footage?

The maulvi was, of course, a strange creature and was probably selected precisely because of that. He kept addressing her as ‘sister’ and mentioning her ‘husn’ (physical charms). According to her, in Islam a man cannot cast a second glance at a woman and he ought to be punished. Taaliyaan from the gallery of front-bench liberals. Little do they realise that this is buffering the image of a country that would then need to stop all entertainment activity and this might involve keeping the madrassas away from regular education and access to the internet and the outside world. Her constant use of ‘alhamdollilah’ and her fibs just did not work. In fact, the emphasis should have been on her single relevant poser to the cleric that he should first look into how the maulvis behave and the prevalence of rape within the religious bodies. This was the most important point.

It is stupid to tell us that she offered the namaaz and even Ashmit Patel did so. Honestly, it is a fact that such namaaz by a non-Muslim has no currency and when Ashmit spoke he said that it is similar to yoga asanas and he respects all religions and wanted to know what it feels like and that night he slept peacefully. What does all this mean? I am sorry but a lot of other things can have the same effect.

And, please, she should just shut up before telling people that Salman Khan said it was because of her that people in India had started talking in Urdu. Get over it. He might have made a passing comment because she kept using the term ‘meri zaat’ which her co-participants mistook to be ‘religion’ when it meant ‘identity’. What Urdu was she speaking, anyway? She was practising her English.

One of the points that came up was regarding her drinking champagne at a post show party. Without as much as blinking, she said it was sparkling water!

If she could stand up for the ‘tasks’ at Bigg Boss, then why did she not stand up for this? After all, while she was happily giving examples of other Pakistani women who walk the ramp in fashion shows and actresses who kiss – things that she would never do, effectively making them seem less honourable – this too is what many Pakistanis enjoy. And just by the way, since she kept alluding to chauvinism: “Kyon ki main ladki hoon” (because I am a girl), did it not strike her that the others are women too? It isn’t that they have never faced problems. Why, even people in other professions face these questions.

It is time for Pakistan to have its own version of the show because Veena Malik’s ‘taking on the cleric’ has made Pakistan look like a country that badly needs a veil over such asinine antics.

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Silvio Berlusconi may be booted out of power because of the sex scandal regarding his township of women on call, but some of the stuff that is seeping out is pretty much unbelievable.

Nadia Macri, a prostitute who went to a police station in Milan to give a statement, in which she revealed that after sharing a swimming pool with an allegedly nude prime minister and five or six other girls, she watched as he headed for a room used for massages.

“After a bit, he said: ‘Next one. Next one’. And every five minutes we opened the door and had sexual relations. One at a time,” the Guardian quoted her as saying.

I am not sure what she means by ‘sexual relations’ here. Every five minutes? Are the Guinness guys listening? Imagine the pressure on men the world over who roll over and wait for thawing time.

Not to worry. I suspect he’d call the girls in and say, “La Dolce Vita”, pat them on the bottom like good Italians do and send them off to spin a yarn.


The 'Stained' case

I am against capital punishment, so the Supreme Court's verdict of a life sentence to Dara Singh and his accomplice Mahendra Hembram felt right. 12 years ago they had killed the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons, 10-year-old Philip and Timothy, six.

However, I do not like the tone of the judgement:

The bench said the Orissa HC was justified in awarding a life term to Singh and Hembram as the crime was committed in passion, to teach Staines a lesson for his alleged attempts to convert tribals.

“Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon in Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity,” it said.

“All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the high court and modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur,” the bench said.

It seems like this action-reaction theory has gained ground in almost every sphere. I mean, will we condone anything done as an act of passion?
While condemning killings in the name of religion, the bench also expressed its disapproval of conversion. “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other,” it said.
Is the highest judiciary in this land talking about brutal killing in terms of teaching a lesson? For religious activities? For conversions?

Has there been any evidence produced about forced conversions? Why are they not tried? Is it prudent for a judge to discuss whether anyone thinks their religion is better than another? Is that why conversions take place anyway? Wasn’t there talk earlier about tribals being bought or given sops?

If the judiciary is concerned about these matters, then nip them in the bud and deal with the issues faced by tribals.

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Updated January 24:

Received a mail from one of our friends here raising a point. Reproducing it and my reply to clarify things:

This is about your blogpost on the Staines judgement. While mostly in agreement with your blogpost this particular last line ("If the judiciary is concerned about these matters, then nip them in the bud and deal with the issues faced by tribals.") in the post left me a bit down.

"Real-Politik" apart, our Constitution guarantees freedom to choose religion. The court's congurent remarks in judgement may actually end up setting a precedent of courts being in judgement about citizen's freedom of choice in religious matters.
Interestingly enough , a section of press has started campaign to get the remarks expunged from Court's judgement. Read through more at : http://www.hindu.com/2011/01/23/stories/2011012357870100.htm

My reply:

I obviously did not mean to convey that the judiciary should intervene in a matter of choice, but I was just pushing the case for the courts to look into the real issues faced by tribals. 'Nip them in the bud' is if there are complaints of force used. It really is challenging the system that assumes such things.

Anyhow, thanks for pointing it out because I can see that it can be misconstrued, and will update it.


Gujarat at the UN, Shiv Sena at Unity

Is it right for an issue that has to do with Indian court cases to be taken to an international organisation? In principle I do not agree. But, the fact is we cannot put strictures on stapled visas to China and who is talking to whom in the North East and Kashmir.

Of course, these are issues of insurgency movements. Gujarat is not. This is the reason why the Supreme Court pulled up activist Teesta Setalvad for reporting to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council about 10 serious Gujarat riot case proceedings monitored by the highest court. I’d like to counter-question some of the posers by Justices D K Jain, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam:

“It shows you (Teesta) do not have confidence in us. We are monitoring the cases and are here to hear your grievances. Yet, you write to the UN body. Can the international body provide protection to witnesses?”

Does this mean that the witnesses need to be protected? Has the court provided for such protection?

“Can they guide us how to proceed with the cases?”

No. But there is a charter of human rights that have to be followed. It is not to guide the courts; it is to take up the issue of victims.

“You are reporting the day-today proceedings in the Supreme Court and trial courts to that organization as also what the joint commissioner of police does. Is the international body a disciplinary authority for the police?”

No. It can only prepare a report based on the police’s acts of omission and commission.

However, Setalvad ought not to report every detail. There is also the issue of an international organisation getting involved for its own agenda. It is also prudent to ask whether the victims gave the go-ahead. Such cases are delicate in nature and they and their families have to live in the state and deal with people and the authorities on a daily basis.

In the interest of transparency she should also make the communication with the international organisaiton public. One assumes she has shared it with the court by now.

As I had said earlier: This is about Gujarat, not Teesta.

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On Sunday, the 23rd, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray will celebrate his 84th birthday. The party has decided to mark this occasion as ‘Hindu Ekata’ (unity) day.

This has nothing to do with Hindus or unity, but wih the BMC elections and, as reports say, to embarrass the Congress for bringing up the issue of Hindu terrorism.

The Shiv Sena has the gall to now claim that the saffron coour of its flag is about a blend of various communities and castes as it was during the Bhakti movement.

Perhaps this doha (couplet) by Kabir, the bhakti poet and sage, might be a good birthday gift for Balasaheb:

Bura Jo Dekhan Main Chala, Bura Na Milya Koye
Jo Mann Khoja Apna, To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye

My rough translation:

I sought the wicked ones, but found none
And when I looked within myself, I found none more evil than me


A Deobandi as Modi's Brand Ambassador

Before you raise your eyebrows, do see things beyond the obvious. The new Darul Uloom vice-chancellor, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, has given his stamp of approval to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Shocked? Don’t be. They both essentially perpetuate the same schema of religion as the subterranean text. Both have worked wonderfully at brainwashing people – one with the carrot of ‘Gujarati pride’, the other with the stick of fatwas that make faith into some watertight compartment.

Maulana Vastanvi is from Surat and an educated man. It has been reported that he introduced modern subjects like medicine and engineering in the local Darul-run institutions. One does not quite understand how these subjects become modern when even madrassas use technology these days. This is the superficial aspect that draws attention, quite forgetting how several religions steeped in rituals and superstitions do not permit true scientific inquiry and even resist certain medical intrusion. This includes the Darul Uloom.

Let us not forget its disgusting record of fatwas in the Imrana case or objecting to women working or the clothes people wear. The latest in the list is a fatwa issued this month that prohibits the practice of prophecy by Muslims. It cites the Shariah and warns that if a follower of the faith indulges in soothsaying, his prayers for 40 days become unacceptable.

Will the Deoband then ban all the caretakers at various shrines who after the prayers have been said, offering made and money deposited in the donation box swoosh a peacock feather over the devotee’s head and prophesise that all wishes will be fulfilled? What about the various pirs who advertise their powers to predict the future and the past? What about Islamic scholars that give their interpretations of Islam and further divide the community? What about the Deoband itself that issues these edicts? It may now say that it is only advice based on queries raised, but that is precisely what soothsayers do.

If they genuinely believe that the Quran is the last word, then they should refer the questioner to the Holy Book. Why is the Deoband permitting itself to act as a go-between?

This brings us to the modernisation by Maulana Vastanvi. It is relegated to the well-off. According to him there is “no discrimination against the minorities in the state as far as development is concerned…Development has taken place in Gujarat and we hope it will continue. I ask Muslims to study well. The government is ready to offer jobs (to them), but for that, they need good education.”

While education is always a desirable goal, why are there only government jobs on offer? Is this some autocratic system where the state decides even what employment opportunities are available to the minorities in the private sector? What is the educated population of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs? Who will fill up the Class IV government quota? I am not in any way suggesting that menial jobs should be an aspiration, but these too qualify as work. There are professions that require unskilled workers – what about those? The sword of education is made to hang on the necks of people precisely to demolish their self-esteem. Literacy does not guarantee the ability to fight for your rights. The system will not permit it.

Narendra Modi has streamlined the system so well that it is made to seem like the final destination, when education is a journey. How educated were the rioters of 2002? What degrees did the cops who went on a rampage hold? Were all the victims uneducated? In fact, some were educated rather well and had to pay the price for the possibility that they would not keep silent.

The Maulana does not see this. He is speaking the language of the elite, and an institution like the Darul Uloom is elitist, in that it lives within its cocoon and every once in a while comes out to pronounce edicts in a rather feudal manner. One does not want the Deoband or any group to take over the task of bringing a politician or a political establishment to book, but when a person takes over such an organisation he has to be responsible. Maulana Vastanvi says, instead, “The issue is almost eight years old now and we should move forward. Rioting anywhere – in Gujarat or in any other part of the world – is bad for humanity and should never happen. The Gujarat riots were a blemish for India and all culprits should be punished.”

The riots were not a blemish for India but for its bigoted politician who is the hero of this same modern India that the cleric is endorsing. He has gone to the extent of saying, “There are not as many problems in Gujarat as has been projected…As far as relief work for the riots is concerned, it has been carried out very well by the government and people of Gujarat.”

He seems oblivious to the cries of people still seeking justice…justice based on evidence. So, who is the uneducated one here?

Maulana Vastanvi and Narendra Modi may want Muslims to move on, and a few have because they could afford to. There are many who cannot. Some do not wish to because if they let their voices be muffled, then together with those few hundred bodies their souls too will get buried. One can be reasonably certain that a mall mausoleum will be built over it. Modi will flash it as one more victory for economic progress and the Maulana will flaunt a shadow puppet modern Muslim. He might like to check out what the Deoband has to say about malls, though.

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Published in Countercurrents, January 19


Sabarimala: A Test of faith?

Pilgrims on the way
Every year, in some part of the world, in some pilgrim sites, people die. Tents burned, landslides, stampedes. Yet, year after year people continue to visit these places. As a non-practising anything, I can only tell myself that we don’t stop flying because of air crashes or driving because of road rage or indulging in risk-filled activities and eating the wrong foods knowing they are wrong for us.

However, where anything religious is concerned, both believers and non-believers alike start analysing faith: If there is a god, then why put the devotees through such things? We must understand that these are totally besotted people and they want to see miracles happen because they trust in them, blindly. They are not challenging the superpower; they are submitting to it.

I think such queries are too rational to understand religious faith or the god-mechanism. In fact, there is rarely rational explanation even for air crashes, because it is not always engine failure. It could be a bird hit. I mean a bird in the sky, that pretty feathered creature, can bring down a whole airplane. Turbulent weather can do so. These cannot be factored in by science. So, how can disasters at pilgrim sites?

The miracle light
On Friday, the 14th, 106 people were killed and several injured near the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. There were 200,000 people gathered there at one time. The shrine where the Makara Jyoti (celestial light) appears on its own thrice a year is a sight that every worshipper wishes to behold. There is talk of mismanagement, about how vehicles that are prohibited at the last stretch managed to get in, how there were few cops to man the area, how people had no choice but to push because parts of the rubble were falling on them.

A liquor baron had donated Rs. 18 crore to get the roof of the sanctum gold-plated. This sort of thing is done regularly by the rich in India, but no one bothers about basic infrastructure and, more importantly, management.

The state government has paid Rs. 5 lakh compensation and the Centre has chipped in with Rs. 1 lakh each for the families of the dead and there is money for the injured. This is done when there is large-scale calamity of this kind, but never when an individual is killed in a road accident due to the terrible condition of the roads. And who will take action against the cops who were not there? What about the vehicles when the drivers too are dead? What accountability can there be when there are no accounts?

I am beginning to appreciate these virtual rituals now. I think devotees should follow the rites they wish to and just watch the light or the idol on the internet or on television. And during Haj they can stone the devil in this manner, too, with some sort of interactive software. I know this sounds blasphemous, but I am sure the gods can take care of themselves; it is people who need to be protected.

And let us try and ‘unbrainswash’ them from believing that all this is because god is testing them. Given the way some of our lives go, even the atheists among us must then count as the greatest believers.

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I do have some memories of Sabarimala on my frequent visits to South India during a certain period of my life.

As we’d drive from the Kerala side to Tamil Nadu there would be people walking, often barefoot, in saffron robes mostly to meet Lord Ayyappa, the reigning deity. Women of a fertile age are not permitted in the sanctum because the sage was celibate.

One day I had to return urgently to Mumbai and since there was no night flight, I drove past midnight to reach Thiruvananthapuram airport before dawn to catch the hopping flight at 6.30 AM. There were two drivers, both Tamilians, to ensure that should one feel sleepy the other would be ready to take over. The guy at the counter said the flight was delayed and I could not purchase the ticket since it was not certain what time it would arrive or even if it would make the scheduled stop.

My two escorts, accustomed to an early breakfast, asked if I was hungry. No, I said. Realising that they were, I told them to go ahead. “Madam, you come also,” they said. We went to a small eatery and all eyes turned. I had just worn a loose T-shirt over tights and my lids were heavy from lack of sleep. There were only men in here. Once we settled in, no one cast a glance at all. A banana leaf was placed before us, that was to act as a plate, and all kinds of chutneys were dumped on it, arranged rather neatly though in corners and then arrived my paper dosa, crisp and golden. The two men had ordered half a dozen things. The coffee came in a steel tumbler with an extra one that it had to be poured into from a height with the arm at a right angle. I stopped trying this jugglery but watched with fascination. This cools the beverage and adds froth. The contents of my cup remained in repose.

I could hear the others murmur, if it is possible at all to murmur in Malayalam which is a language that requires one to make groaning and gargling sounds …but there was softness in their demeanour, and I am not romanticising. They had just returned from Sabarimala. Their long fast was over and they were headed back home. They had made it safely, feet calloused, but worth the walk.

I did not take the flight and returned. This time I slept on the drive back. It was fate. Or faith?

Sunday ka Funda

Sometimes, it is the sheer helplessness of their positions that make people come together. What is reputation? How we are viewed by others. Does their perception make us those things? It takes a rich zamindar to make a prostitute see this, but the lyrics could apply to any of us. Why do we become slaves to what people think and say? They see labels, they see invisible branded iron rod marks on us and then make up their minds.

As these simple lyrics state, and I translate liberally:

Such is the way of life that every dawn is turned to dusk
So what are you when even the revered Sita had to go through fire?
Why weep over verbal ire?
People will say things, for speak ill they must

kuchh reet jagat ki aisi hai, har ek subah ki shaam hui
tu kaun hai, tera naam hai kya, sita bhi yahaan badnaam hui
phir kyon sansaar ki baaton se, bheeg gaye tere naina
kuchh to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna

* Movie: Amar Prem
* Singer: Kishore Kumar
* Music Director: R D Burman
* Lyricist: Anand Bakshi
* Actors/Actresses: Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore
* Year/Decade: 1971

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This song came flashing to mind because they are telecasting the film this evening and, of course, despite certain old-fashioned stereotypes, it is a beautiful love story...the sublimity contrasting to the brothel locales. In a manner of speaking, we aren't the walls we are pinned against.


Suck face

I am tired of kissing. First it was kissing as an art, now it is a science. Can people not just be left alone to do with their mouths what they wish to do?

How many of you have ever looked at the Kama Sutra for tips? I doubt it. Every glossy worth its smooth skin has covered this subject and I would in the past get terribly amused. To be honest, wouldn't you rather have a butterfly in your mouth than someone’s tongue fluttering inside in what is clearly a studied exercise?

This, however, is a subject that excites the intellectual. Sheril Kirshenbaum, a scientist at the University of Texas, has written a book The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. Did George Bush mean that? Anyhow, she has laid bare the whole shebang about how kissing evolved, why people kiss, why some kisses work and others don’t, why people have a phobia of kissing and others don’t, why it is okay in some societies and not so in others. You get the drift.

I understand all these are important aspects of any activity. Do you know the manner in which you clip your toenails can tell you a lot about your past life? You don’t? Neither do I, but I am sure it can be explored. The point is that most of the material is available, and that is how I found out stuff, and it does not even work as relaxed beachside reading. Like, are you aware about something called the ‘hickey kiss’ when all it means is that you get a blue mark that looks like some editing details in galley proofs of newspapers? Oh, ok, it is supposed to be more animalistic, an out-of-control body experience. Then there are all those different areas where a kiss can be administered, and the motives are quite clear. Does anyone need to figure out what a cheek peck and a foot lick really mean?

Way back in the 1930s there was a manual called The Art of Kissing that spoke among other things of the Vacuum Kiss. The man must position himself as he knows and then when his lips are where they should be he must get on to the task of "sucking inward as though you were trying to draw out the innards of an orange".

I have eaten oranges and as far as I know they don’t have innards. Unless someone means to defrock the fruit and then blow into it or rather from it; sounds more like a conch shell thing. Oranges have slices and the sucking of them is messier than empty or vacuum-like.

The part I dislike about the scientific study, though, is that it says you are more likely to remember your first kiss than losing your virginity. Kirshenbaum, in fact, believes that you can remember 90 per cent of the details of that smooch. I beg to differ and I will provide a counter-scientific theory. While the kiss may have some special memory, it could well have been unmemorable.

How many of you have managed to find a prince by kissing a toad? Or have experienced the kiss of the spider woman? As for virginity, it is culture specific and may matter a whole lot in some societies and not so much in others, and there is also the gender factor – men are less likely to be affected by the loss of virginity than are women, although I believe that men will remember it more clearly because it was a boy becoming man thing. Girls become women when they start menstruating and reading Maupassant after throwing off Mills & Boon. Virginity has a lot to do with giving up oneself and I do not mean to the horse you are riding or the energetic aerobics at the gym that may cause the ruptured hymen.

It has a lot to do with oneself for women and for the conquest by men. Therefore, it is unscientific to believe a kiss will be remembered more.

These theories do start a debate. Did you know that the ‘soul kiss’ is called so because the soul passes through the breath of one mouth to the other? I thought that was the job of resuscitation and the soul kiss, which is how the French got famous, although they call it the English kiss (maybe because you end up with a stiff upper lip), was to cure tonsillitis. But then I am not Woodward and Bernstein and know precious little about Deep Throat.


News meeows

True lies:

In times when exposes have become grandiose, Mumbai Mirror (Jan 11 issue) sent out its reporter to apply for membership to various political parties. He said he was a freelance web writer. This was enough to make him seem educated and he is young, too, which is what
everyone is looking for.

It is appalling to discover that one can become a member of any political party without anyone bothering to check on not only credentials but basic details. He even lied about his address.

The NCP was the quickest, followed by Shiv Sena, BJP and the MNS, whose office was also the most crowded. Within 48 hours he had laminated ID cards for all these parties. The Congress is the only one that asked for proof of address and PAN card number and the form he
has filled will take a week to process. I assume there will be some standard used for that.

What does this reveal? Party members can participate in several activities and have access to programmes organised by them. Should the person wish to take advantage, he can easily do so and there will not be any evidence. A fake name, a fake address, a fake profession - think about these the next time someone sells a political leader and party to you.

Are the political parties desperate or do they want such 'invisible'
people who can hide their shame?

- - -

True idiocy:

"It's true that the price of milk and vegetables are high. Some of this is a reflection of economic prosperity and purchasing power."

- Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission

Someone tell him that we are not talking about limited edition solitaires. A country's economic prosperity is judged by how it manages to improve its main sector - agriculture here.

The high cost of essentials, in fact, is a yardstick of poor policies. I heard someone say on a TV discussion on Doordarshan, I think, that if the price rise is being attributed to bad crop, then why are egg prices high? "Murgi ne tau andey dene band nahin kiye! (the hens have not stopped laying eggs)"

If our purchasing power is so high then even the fairly pricey restaurants would not be replacing onions with cabbages. But who's to tell these kings of fancy economic policies?

- - -

True grit:

This news has made me really happy.

Polio cases in India are down by 94 per cent from 741 in 2009 to 42 last year.

It seems like such a small thing but in our land of bad health care, superstition and lack of initiative, this shows we can do it if we genuinely want to.

Just two drops can save so many people of a debilitating disease and also closed minds.


Beyond women as 'liabilities'

Crimes are despicable. Some crimes reveal such sickness of mentality that they cease to be just crimes.

A 75-year-old woman was raped and murdered in Chandigarh; she belonged to a well-known family. I mention this because such acts do not take place only in 'backward' localities.

A five-year-old was sexually assaulted.

We already know about the 'tandoor murder' and the cannibalistic cases
of Nithari.

They never fail to shock me. We know that rape is not just about sex but power. Yet, a man can only flash his power when there is the possibility of a real struggle, by a woman trying her best to save her body and soul.

What resistance can an old woman or a child give? What can any man get out of this? Pleasure? Conquest? For a few goddamn seconds of ejaculation, why would any man go through such inhuman behaviour?
I cannot even picture this. I think of an aging face being stunned and a kid's wide-eyed stare that blanks out when she does not even know what is happening, that there is a part of her body that can be abused.
And when these men are done, they kill their victims. These big men with big weapons and tiny minds are afraid that they will be exposed by such helpless people? What an irony it is.

In rare cases, the dead bodies too are devoured. This is the male who cannot deal with anything living because he is dead inside.

Some of them are caught but the cases drag on. When did you last read a headline that said, 'No one killed this old woman/child'? Is there fast-track justice for them?

Corruption that is taking up prime time these days is a two-way crime. Rape isn't.
- - -
Last week the papers reported that the Supreme Court's only female judge, Gyan Sudha Mishra, had listed her two daughters as liabilities in the proforma.

Today, her secretary has clarified that the liability is the cash outflow that would result in their future resettlement. Education loans fall under this category,too, he mentioned by way of example. He also wondered if the issue had been about sons would there be any discussion about gender?

I think this is a cavalier attitude. How many people mention expenses incurred on sons as liabilities? The subtext here, and stated too, is marriage expenses. What does this mean? Dowry? 'Stree dhan' (a woman's wealth, literally, but generally what her parents give her during the wedding)? Don't we know that the latter is often considered as covert dowry unless the marriage falls apart and the case is in the courts and the woman often has a tough time proving that the jewellery and other items are her's.

And this patronising nonsense flaunted as a rescue to reputation operation about the Judge Ms. Mishra's daughters being assets to the parents only underlines the transactional nature that human relationships have stooped to.


The 'spy' who loved Saudis

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a plan!

I think the Saudis have a point. That vulture that strayed into their territory could well have been a “Zionist plot” set up by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

It is possible that the Saudis thought it was a plane. The bird has a wing span of 8ftx8in, and if people can see UFOs, why can they not imagine spying? Besides, our pigeons can carry information, so vultures are known to be far more ambitious.

It carried a tag of Tel Aviv University. This was an educated bird, see? It was either a sophomore sent on training or one with a seasoned doctorate, perhaps even a professor. These Mossadis are known to be quite academic. But it ventured into the ‘No Fly Zone’, so its intentions may well have been deliberated.

It carried a GPS transmitter. The Israelis say they were monitoring migration patterns of the rare bird. Aha, now Wiki (pedia, not Leaks) says that the Griffin Vulture belongs to the old school and its population is mostly resident. So, what migration is possible?

It was found in the rural area when it was arrested. Since it is a scavenger, are Saudi Arabia’s villages located on mountains (the bird likes to feed and breed at a height) and have many dead animals that they wish to hide from the world?

I know the Israelis and most people are having a good laugh, but let us just say that their little big birdie is not up to much. It cannot study migratory patterns, loses its way, cannot lay its hands on a proper meal, does not even find a decent mate along the way, lacks any urban graces and goes to some stupid rural area and gets caught by the Saudis who usually prefer looking down at their oil wells.

I think this is a Saudi plot and the bird is really a falcon, its national bird.

- - -

Image: Mirror, UK

Omar, the BJP and flag-hoisting

Omar Abdullah has never been a particularly responsible man. He takes after his father. The guy who at one time supped and slurped with the NDA now has problems with the BJP wanting to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day.

"What is the need for an individual to hoist the flag? If their aim is to set Kashmir afire, please tell them to stop. If there are repercussions, I will hold them personally responsible. They should not hold me responsible if there is a fallout of that in Kashmir. They will have to come and sort it out. They shall not hold me responsible.”

This is the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir talking. We may remind him that any individual is permitted to hoist the flag; they do so even in prisons. If he has a problem with an ‘individual’, then on what grounds is he talking about ‘personally’ holding anyone responsible? Is he saying he will hold a person responsible or that he will do so in his personal capacity? If it is the latter, then he has no business sitting in the chair he now occupies. What exactly does he mean that if there is a fallout they should come and sort it out? Why does he not just take off on vacation or something?

He wonders if their aim is to set the state on fire and this he believes is counterproductive to the peace that has apparently returned to the Valley. Just to jog his memory, the incidents of the past few months of “civil unrest” had nothing to do with flag-hoisting or any political party. It was under his administration that the protests took place.

Having said this, it must be mentioned that traditionally it is the ruling party that conducts the flag-hoisting ceremony at Lal Chowk. The possibility of a clash of egos, rather than any public skirmishes, is likely.

What is the BJP’s agenda? Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, said:

“BJP maintains that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India... We are going to carry the national flag not in one state but through several states...This is part of a campaign for national sovereignty and solidarity.”

Since the Rashtriya Ekta Yatra is to start on January 12, pass through several states and end in Srinagar on Republic Day, I have a few questions:
  • How does carrying a flag ensure national sovereignty and will the BJP also flash its own saffron flag along the way? 
  • Why could it not start in Kashmir and end in Kolkata, for the message would be the same, isn’t it? 
  • Given the views in the Valley and the fact that the BJP feels so strongly about it being an integral part of India, what is it doing to make Kashmiri Pandits a part of this solidarity?
  • Is it possible for Arun Jaitley and any other BJP/saffron party members to carry a message of peace, instead of this ‘yeh hamara hai’ ownership agenda?

At the end of it with Omar’s fumbling and the BJP’s chest-thumping, and the pre-emptive noises, the people may be forced to come out in the streets to give both of them a piece of their mind.

And Omar Abdullah, do not take peace as lightly as you take the paranoia about fire.


Jewels of India

When Union human resources development minister Kapil Sibal announced plans for ‘navratna’ universities, his blueprint was not our own ancient universities like Nalanda or the brilliant minds of a Chanakya or Birbal. He looked westward:

“We are working on the concept of having navratna universities or an Indian Ivy League. We intend to nurture these select universities, like the public sector navratnas, by generous financial support, freedom in accessing external funding and total autonomy so as to free them from the shackles of government control.”

While the absence of government control in the running of such universities is gratifying, to what extent will it be so? Will it nurture an open-ended educational system where students are not trapped in outdated syllabi? Will there be freedom to explore controversial subjects and books? And will this further create a fractured society?

Recently, an elite school raised objections to students from less privileged backgrounds enrolling as per the requirements of the Right To Education (RTE) Act because they were concerned about the adjustment issues they might have; there have been instances when this hurdle has been crossed, but it is a fact even in regular schools that the social and financial status counts. The disparities are ingrained at an early stage.

Mr Sibal further stated:

“With regard to our existing navratnas —the IITs and IIMs—we are according full powers to their boards to create posts within the approved norms, top up the salaries of the directors and faculty from the funds generated by them, open centres in India and abroad, amend rules within the framework of their Memorandums of Association and Rules, acquire and dispose property and manage funds generated on their own.”

There is no doubt that some of our bright minds are nursed here and grabbed by foreign companies. By opening centres abroad, they will cater to a limited expatriate population or perhaps those from some Asian and African countries. The wealthy Indian diaspora even today chooses the American school franchises available in the countries they reside in.

As for the Ivy League inspiration, again those institutions do have a reputation, but does that translate into brilliance as a matter of course? The affordability factor is extremely important here, and the snob value. Those who are there because they got a quick ticket have no worries; for the others who are being sponsored the stress is immense.

Check the suicide rates and the culture of angst that these institutes give rise to and you will know that where the crucial human element is concerned, they may not be roughed up as in the colleges of some small town but it isn’t all glittering.

The nine jewels – navratna – must not create a parallel world of India Shining to gloss over the reality.

Just wondering

Why is that everytime Digvijay Singh makes or receives phone calls (or says he does) from people who are in some controversial situation they get killed soon after?First Hemant Karkare, now Salman Taseer.

- - -

The TOI had this picture on the front page with the title: "Look, no one's watching the president".  Ms. Pratibha Patil took a  break and decided to get some cool Goan breeze at the beach. She is surrounded by plainclothes security. How many people does the newspaper imagine ogle at women in a saree on the beach? And how do they know no one was looking? Or, is the TOI mighty pleased at getting a picture?


Sunday ka Funda

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer”
- William Somerset Maugham


“Tradition is the illusion of permanance.”
- Woody Allen


- Jeff Parker


Tech that...

It’s maroon-coloured, slick and light. I’d lie down with it propped on my stomach like a baby as words would dribble out of its warm, white mouth. When it fell asleep, bubbles would appear on its chin and rise up to the cheeks. My little notebook with thousands of sentences spanning six months just gave up on me. I made the error of treating it like a big child, one who could take the knocks and could hit a mean punch. It obviously couldn’t; it was not born for that. It was meant to be coddled, taken in a perambulator, stuffed with a nipple in its mouth to keep it quiet and put gently to sleep to save on battery life.

I thought I was doing everything right, except that I did not treat it gently enough. It handled my jabs, my tears, my maniacal laughter, but that day it just curled up. I thought it was a petulant sulk and I poked it, tickled it…there was a gurgle, but no delight in the sound. A balloon came up: “Critical HDD error.” I did not know what HDD was. It sounded like an illness. I persevered. It rebooted many times and it was back again to nothing, although those bubbles did appear. I had not backed up the pictures, the documents, the notes…I did not know this would be over so soon, like a fling, a brief encounter. It did not appear to be this way. After all, it had been with me to protect me when I was laid up, it was there to make me not feel lost, to stand by me and renew me. But this was just another man pretending to be a child.

I should be crying. This is my work, my memories. And they are gone. For now, at least. I may never retrieve it all. But I am not crying, I am not even angry. For me this means taking more pictures, making more notes, finding newer words.

- - -

The dependence on technology frightens me. I have begun to make notes on my cellphone about every little thing. My calendar is full every day – to remind me to get what I have got, to make calls that I will not make, to sleep on time, to wake up, to read, to write…I have not yet posted one that reminds me to breathe.

It disgusts me, for I do have a keen memory. I can remember even what did not happen.

- - -

The other day I misplaced my credit card. The company said it was lost. Lost puts the onus on others; misplaced is about one’s own fault. What is the difference? There is a lost-and-found department, but not a misplaced-and-found department although in the latter case you are more likely to find it. So, I reported lost and all transactions were blocked.

Now began the problems. In order to make my life simple I had signed up for the automatic clearance of certain bills. Poof. Calls, text messages inundated me…the bills were boomeranging. My phone would be cut off. I did not bother, until it got serious. I find these cellphone companies quite funny. You have to go through the whole computerised crap till you reach your desired destination – ‘our executives are busy playing with the dog, your call is as important to us as canine biscuit, so please stay on the line’…then there will be this horribly happy tune playing and finally someone will come and announce who they are. I am unfailingly polite.

I say, “Hi, this is Cleopatra and I want to know where Egypt is”…well, you get the drift. I give them my name, my number, and whatever else they ask.

When I mention my problem, the person at the other end sounds as though a condolence is necessary. “Oh, ma’am, I am so sorry to hear about it.” Huh? Get to work, damn it.

“Can I put you on hold while I check?” Yes, please.

“Sorry to keep you on hold for so long,” says the bloke who has appeared within five seconds.

“So, what do I do now?”

“No problem, F,” (yes, they do get familiar sometimes), “Just log in to our website.”

“Just a minute. I am calling you, so you tell me what I can do.”

“You first pay at our billing centre or through online transaction or the phone, and then we will adjust the amount in the next cycle when your credit card accepts.”

“But my credit card company is ready for you.”

“Please discuss this personal matter with Mr. X who is in change of your account.”

“Is there a Mr X in charge?”

“Yes, yes, he will be happy to help.”

I dial Mr X who listens patiently. He is on the road so will solve the issue as soon as he gets to his office. “It’s all cool,” he says.

“Cool?” He really said it and told me not to worry since I am an old customer and have never reneged on any payment. I feel like a prison inmate who has been let out on bail.

Problem is almost getting solved. I send an email. One little glitch. I typed out my number wrong!

Poke, poke, poke. Little note. Reminder. Call hotline. Send email saying I am me, but my number does not have that particular digit, so do make the rectification. I am not paying for someone else.

- - -

The touch screen froze.