The President and the Hoodie

He won’t utter the R word. He won’t call it racism. His job matters. It took the President of the United States of America one month to comment on the gruesome killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white guy with a weapon. His crime? He was black. The President of the United States of America will not say it.

Instead he said:

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

If he had a sister, she’d look like Whitney Houston. What does this really convey? Nothing.

He wants to humanise it, make the Americans feel like they are one big family. It is such a lie, such a lie in Georgia, in Harlem, in the fetid streets where they don’t give a damn about who is looking, but they can beat the shit out of the ‘other’. Yeah, sure, not all whites have jobs, not all whites have it good. No. they do not. But he knows it is different. He ought to know for when he became the first black president of the United States of America he was basking in his blackness, this otherness, this chance to bring about change. He did not. He could not. He became just another mainstream guy, as white as snow. Even the white Cheney looks evil. But not our man Obama.

One month later he wakes up from his sleep to tell his people:

“I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. Every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together — federal, state and local — to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”

How? He does not know? Of course, there should be investigations; for that he did not need 30 days. He does not have to pull up all American parents, and ride on their backs. He can express his views. He must stand up for what is right and what is wrong legally, criminally, and racially. He should have the courage to utter the word and not push it under the carpet like so much dust.

If he had come out earlier, there would not be scenes of little kids holding placards in the streets, crying for justice. Already, there are attempts at giving another perspective, anonymous eyewitnesses. It is a shame to see black wearing hoodies, making it beyond a symbol of cultural clothing. It is eerie that they are highlighting it, for it could become one more reason to be beaten up, easily identified as they are. They are not wearing sharp suits and designer gowns and getting their athletic healthy training with organic food added to their menu.

No, mastah, they dun have it so good.

(c)Farzana Versey

Sunday ka Funda

How can one always express? How do we answer questions, ask questions, care about what people say? I don't know. And I don't know what this song has to do with it, but I like it. 

"mushakil ho arz-e-haal to hum kya jawaab de
tumko na ho khayaal to hum kya jawaab de
duniya kare sawaal tau hum kya jawaab de"

Movie: Bahu Begum
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music Director: Roshan
Lyricist: Sahir Ludhianvi
Actors/Actresses: Meena Kumari
Year: 1967


A close shave?

Imagine if one fine day men turned around and said they want all women to wear lipstick or they will not listen to them. Sounds bizarre? Something quite similar is happening. The “No Shave, No Lipstick” movement by a razor company is reducing women, men and relationships to such basic common denominators.

It is true products use several tactics to subliminally convince potential and existing customers to go for better options. Will an ad such as this convince men who like their facial hair to shave? If it does, then it reflects rather poorly on male self-esteem, and much more poorly on how women strike a bargain. This is a strike of a petulant kind. The women will let go a bit of vanity, a cosmetic, to ensure that men turn up the way the majority supposedly like them. The implication in the words is that women are exercising this power. In fact, they are denying themselves something. Or, worse, assume that their appeal lies in what they wear on their lips. They are limiting themselves.

The “common platform” is an “aversion to stubble”. The basic philosophy is that if men cannot groom themselves for women then they must not expect the same from them.

Is there a single yardstick to measure grooming? Is it all right for the man to be unhygienic, loud and crass so long as he shaves? What exactly does the ad wish to convey by saying that men think a woman looks less appealing without a lipstick? There are thousands of women who do not wear lipstick, and I mention this because the ‘movement’ has talked about middle-class women too. And don’t we often read in style magazines how the nude-lips look is so in? What about it, then? Besides, the lipstick is an external object that can be applied. A stubble grows naturally. A man may not be able to deal with it immediately or everyday – he could be unwell, he may not be in the mood, he might be busy with other things. This is a kind of pressure to perform, and it is unfair.

I also dislike the manner in which words are used to describe the hirsute man as untrustworthy, giving rise to suspicion that he could be hiding something. He is hiding his chin, if at all, and sometimes this could be the real reason. Like women opting for a fringe if they have large foreheads. Although clean-shaven is mentioned, I am intrigued by the reference to stubble, and not a moustache.

On the other hand, guys who shave are confident, affable and hardworking. There is a small little footnote which says the ad is not intended to hurt the sentiment of any gender or community. This is about men and men with hair on their face. So, forget the hurt, the message could rule out the good qualities of people from certain communities. Are Sikhs not trustworthy? Are Muslims not hardworking? Do cultures where many men sport beards, like Malayalis or the goatee among Bengalis, less affable?

Perhaps the women who are taking part in this silly movement, wasting their time to support it, should ask the organisers to give them a list of criminals in the past few years who have not been clean-shaven. Ask them to provide a list of wife-beaters, drunken drivers, those with poor performance in the office, those who slink in corners waiting to molest, rob, even kill. Ask them to check out what the clean-shaven men wear, if their shoes are polished, whether they bathe regularly.

Let us not forget, there are women who might like men with facial hair. Think about some artists, philosophers, scientists, academics, and even pop stars. If, in the latter case, women can cry out of sheer joy if they get hold of a sweat-soaked T-shirt, then they certainly cannot really mind the stubble.

And if they really care about ‘issues’ they should wake up to reality. I know, I can hear those smirking voices say, chill, this is an ad. But an ad is not just an ad, especially if it purports to be a movement. We have reached a stage where everything is a movement, and it assumes the stupidity of women by making them seen like ‘concerned citizens’, in charge of the whole ‘clean up’ operation, so to speak.

And the poor dears are sacrificing their lipsticks for this. They do not realise that some smart chap might flash the razor in front of them as bait. They are just fishes in the huge sea…

PS: I wonder whether men trust women who do not shave.


Sunday ka Funda

The sun won't shine till the clouds are gone
The clouds won't go till their work is done
And every morning you'll hear me pray
If only it would rain today

Heavy cloud, but no rain - Sting


Pakistan on an Indian Spiritual Trip

The guru in Pakistan

I stood in the sun, eyes blinking. On that dry Delhi summer afternoon of parched throats and heat without sweat, I was waiting in the queue outside the visa collection window of the Pakistan High Commission. People started exchanging notes. The moment they discovered I had been there before, the questions were rapid: Do you have family there? What are the good places to visit, shop, eat? Are they like us? I became a Pakistani expert, until I saw someone watching me with a bemused smile.

He was a tall lanky man with longish hair that he kept pushing behind his ear in a rather effeminate manner. In that line of nervous people waiting to know whether they had been granted entry, he seemed supremely confident. “So, you’ve been to Pakistan before?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” I said, now that I was the ‘source’ the group around us had made me into.

“Is this your first time?” I asked.

By way of explanation, he opened a file. The sun was beating down and there was just too much light to read. I shrugged. “Many times,” he said. “For how long do you plan to stay?”

“I’ve applied for a month again, let’s see. And you?”

“Six months.”

“What? Do they give a visa for six months?”

He had a boyish grin that did not quite go with what he was about to tell me:
“I teach.”

“Oh, ok…” I was not sure if asking anything more would be deemed proper. He held up that file again.

“Actually, I teach the art of living.”

When spoken, it sounded like he was teaching Pakistanis the fine art of going about with their lives. But, obviously, he was a tutor with the Art of Living Foundation.

"Do you know about it?"

"Of course. They let you stay there for this?"

I must admit I was envious because of my own experience with visas. I was fairly certain then that there was a spiritualist inside me waiting to come out.

I got my passport and, unfortunately, just then he was called to furnish some papers, so no contact details were shared. If only I had looked at the file he had opened for me. Perhaps, he did not wish to make a public display.

I was curious then as I am now about how in a supposedly Islamic country there was enough space for such quick fix spiritual solutions. I met a few local soothsayers, too. One particular palmist was very popular in Karachi; people would go in their cars and stick their hands out. It sounded like a takeaway joint, only bizarre and fascinating. My friends took me there, but he wasn’t around on that day. The fact is that despite the Islamisation, these kinds of activities have been prevalent.

I recall this now because Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, visited the country recently. I am amazed at the manner in which his trip has been portrayed in the media. ‘He is going to teach the Taliban to de-stress...this is a peace mission’, they say.

Quite naturally, he is not going to let go of this opportunity to appear as more than a soul spa. So he said:

“All those who fight have fear and concerns; they want to feel valuable. Our techniques give them a sense of well-being and calmness, and once the inner calmness happens, the feeling of wanting to fight and the urge for revenge disappears.”

Why has he not tried that in India? We have terror groups, criminal gangs, separatist organisations. He has met some, but will he dare to approach them to stop taking revenge? Can anyone imagine the Taliban members doing a breathe in-breathe out?

This is nonsense only to project the guru as someone with a higher purpose, and a vague Taliban rather than real criminals come in handy. Besides that, he is treading on dangerous ground by getting involved in politics:

“We want to talk with the Taliban in Pakistan. We’ll go in with an open mind, to find out who they are, their problems and their intentions—that has always been my approach.”

He is talking about the ‘we’ of his organisation, not as an Indian. I am surprised that there has been no objection to this. Even ministers who appear in studios with people who are considered enemies of India are lambasted. Those writing anything positive about Pakistan are questioned. And here we have this man talking about an “open mind” regarding the Taliban.

And how are the Pakistanis taking this? Do they not complain about their nation being run over by the Taliban?

At the time of the Lal Masjid incident when Islamabad was supposedly under siege, there were Pakistanis in deep meditation at the Art of Living Foundation, not to solve the country’s problems or shut them out, but to detoxify their indulgences. There are 5000 such people. It is part of one more salon trip.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s mission is possible because he is not interested in really doing anything. If that were the case, then the government as well as the Taliban would have found ways to keep him away. His is a commercial venture, catering primarily to the elite or to those among them who want to ‘help’ others through pop philanthropy.

There is nothing more to it than this. However, it just does not sound important enough. After all, this is Pakistan. Both Pakistanis and the guru need to make it seem like ‘peace’, one of the most abused words in the Indo-Pak context. It takes on the pugnacity of a war-like situation.

This is the guru’s hope trick and ticket.

(c)Farzana Versey

Sexist media

There is much to get excited, I understand. But even a discussion on the Budget reveals how mainstream media needs to sex up everything. Unfortunately, it indulges in horrible sexism. Here are two examples from the Times of India.

Do women smokers outnumber men? Why use the image of a tribal woman to say that "Pranab sticks it to smokers"? Besides the obviously skewed use of image, it also implies that men can afford to smoke. Such 'affordability' is not just financial but also about socially acceptability.

There is a place for pulchritude; this is not it. It stares you in the face. Again, it demeans women. The headline: "Gold fingered, by customs".


Sunday ka Funda

“Just as tall trees are known by their shadows, so are good men known by their enemies”

- Chinese Proverb

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renenwed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien


Did a woman backstab Osama?

The Osama sage is not likely to end soon. After Pakistan saying that his wives were illegal entrants, the latest news is intriguing, although not implausible. Why retired Pakistani brigadier Shaukat Qadir would want to carry out his own investigations is, of course, a bit strange.

It looks like a neat cover-up job, for there are reports that bin Laden’s body was taken to the US and cremated there. Qadir saab could have written a soap opera:

“In the cramped Abbottabad house... Tensions erupted between Sadah, described as 'the favoured wife' and Khairiah Saber, an older woman who occupied a separate floor.”

A report further states:

Bin Laden's youngest wife also told interrogators that her husband shaved his beard and disguised himself as an ailing Pashtun elder as he leapfrogged between safe houses across northwestern Pakistan, eventually regrowing the beard after finally settling in the Abbottabad house in 2005.

Armed with this news, and despite being the favoured one, she squeals to the US intelligence authorities so that they can capture her husband? How did she contact them when she was probably hidden in there and a prisoner of sorts? Or, was she so favoured that Osama let her go to the market to buy eggs and perhaps those potency pills, and she let out little secrets to the shop-keeper who was perhaps an ISI agent?

Mr Qadir knows this old and new wives’ tales sounds a bit too ‘homey’, so he has another story as a standby:

"As a former soldier, I was struck by how badly the house was defended. No proper security measures, nothing high-tech in fact, nothing like you would expect."

Yet, for six years no one could trace him. Apparently, the former armyman has discovered that there were problems between bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri – no, not over the wives:

"This divide grew with time, and remained a source of tension until the day bin Laden died. His role had been diminished.”

The Obama administration is happy with this theory. Heck, it would be happy with anything. It helps them sell another story. Osama was a nobody, therefore it was not possible to locate him. His position was so inconsequential that now we have to find the new culprits, the new guys who will try to finish us off.

With Macbeth gone, Hamlet is holding a skull to keep the ghost alive.


Bahut shukriya

I knew Joy Mukherjee only for this song. Or chose to. This defined him for me - a romantic, and not flashy. In fact, he was a mediocre actor. It was the 'averageness' that endeared him. Like many actors of his generation, it was the songs that made him a hero - the balladeer, the serenader. The music conveyed the emotions.

khushi to bahut hai, magar ye bhi gham hai
ke ye saath apna kadam do kadam hai
magar ye musafir dua maangtaa hai
khuda aap se kisi din milaae
bahut shukriya, badi meherbani
meri zindagi mein huzoor aap aaye

(The happiness is tinged with sorrow
For we measure togetherness with every step we take
But this traveller prays
That god wills we meet again
Thank you for coming into my life)

The steps have halted. He left this world today

Movie: Ek Musafir Ek Hasina
Singer(s): Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle
Music Director: O P Nayyar
Lyricist: S H Bihari
Actors/Actresses: Joy Mukherjee, Sadhana
Year: 1962


Of shooting orders, noses, and pictures that brutalise

President Barack Obama can kill anyone. Or, his administration can. Needless to say ‘anyone’ here means persons who pose a “threat”, and for the United States of America it is the al-Qaida. Now that it has done away with Osama, is moving out of Afghanistan, and is a bit strapped for taking any overt action against Iran, the target practice begins at home.

If the threats come from US recruits of the organisation, the President’s office can get rid of its own citizens abroad without consulting a federal court.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said:

“Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a US citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack. In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the US with lethal force.”

This is dangerous for a few reasons:

  • If the US government does not know where the terrorists hide or how they operate, and we have evidence of it by the long-drawn out wars, then how would it assume there are threats?
  • If you do not know where they hide and therefore it is not feasible to capture them, then how will it be easy to spot them to kill? 
  • If the US knows that there is a possibility of violent attack, its intelligence agencies would know where it comes from. Isn’t it amazing that these agencies can recognise an American citizen as an al Qaida recruit who is a threat, but cannot figure out what to do with him? Has he put up the Stars and Stripes in some hidden location so that people can recognise his nationality?
  • How would the American government be so sure that the lethal threat is planned against the US? How many times in the past decade has the country been attacked?

This move is just a carte blanche to do as it pleases, round up the usual suspects and make it difficult for ordinary American citizens whose origins are elsewhere. They may be second generation immigrants who have no links with the country of their parents’ birth.

This is not to deny that young people have become acutely aware of their identity. Part of it is brainwashing, and part of it is most certainly the result of being socially targeted without any cause. These are a few. The US is supposed to know a lot about everything that happens in the world, so why can it not keep a track of its own citizens?

Why did it insist on getting David Headley back for trial? How did this US citizen manage to visit India and Pakistan? The US did not capture him. He was handed over. And the story of what he did and why will continue because the United States of America does not want anyone captured. It wants to kill, and not have to answer inconvenient questions.

- - -

Cosmetic surgery is not halal. An Egyptian member of the Islamic Al-Nour party has discovered. Or, rather, he knew already, that is the reason Anwar al-Balkimy explained away his bandaged nose as the result of being beaten up by gangsters in a robbery attempt.

His fib was exposed and he was expelled from the party and had to issue an apology. However, there will be an official inquiry and if found guilty he might be imprisoned for “creating anxiety among the public” and “worrying public officials”!

Does the public care? If only some of these purist groups took a look behind the hijaabs, they’d find blonde streaks and heavy make-up. Men probably use quite a few things that make them look and feel good.

It is indeed possible that somewhere in the religious texts there is a provision for not tampering with the body. There was no concept of cosmetic surgery until a few decades ago. If a person suffers from severe burns, will there be no skin grafting? This is reconstructive surgery and is meant to repair the appearance, for it does not necessarily hamper the functioning of other organs. So, what is the fuss about? Perhaps, the MP had problems with breathing because of his nose structure. Or, it may as well be that he wanted to alter the shape because he felt like it.

He has not changed as a person, so his nose should concern no one but him and his god, if they insist.

- - -

You are seeing this photograph and are revolted. Everyone is. However, what does come out of this? Today’s Mumbai Mirror had a front page story on this one picture – of a man who survives by begging, has no one and lives on the streets. He was beaten up, and it transpires it was by the cops. The important thing to note is that this photograph first appeared in yesterday’s issue. The writeup expressed remorse and anger, but no one knew who the people beating him up were. In today’s edition, Pritish Nandy says "These brutes must be punished". But, when he states that people just stood there and did nothing, he forgets to ask: did the newspaper’s photographer do anything?

And this is the long caption that went with it:

On a pavement opposite CST, scores of people were momentarily distracted from their vada pavs and chai by the screams of this dishevelled man in the picture. The drama started around 2 pm when a group of six, carrying canes, ordered the man to get into a police vehicle, which already had around 20 others. When he refused, he was thrashed mercilessly; the lashings didn’t stop even when blood started gushing out of his forehead. Shopkeepers by the pavement said the man was homeless, and would often be found looking for food in the garbage bins. There was no confirmation whether the assaulters were policemen; the man was finally bundled into a vehicle, driven away to an unknown destination.

Apparently, somebody wrote this seeing the picture and talking to the photographer. It was a “drama”, and now we have a story.

Is it always about a story, and then the claim of being the first to ‘expose’ how callous we are? Are they not ‘we’? Brutality, anyone?

- - -

Images: Telegraph, The Guardian, Mumbai Mirror