Toppling Paper Boats: Modi At Sea

The red carpet walk where Narendra Modi pirouetted at the BJP’s national executive meeting was like a film star at Cannes endorsing a cosmetic company. It was not for a new film release.

If he was given the honour as the number one guy, it was just to keep the party’s face pretty. We will get to that in a bit.

His opponents are out of the woodwork. Two former chief ministers of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta are helming what the newspapers call the banner of revolt.

Those in the party speaking against Modi are said to be close to Sanjay Joshi, an RSS leader who was a victim of Modi’s bullying tactics at the national executive. In their meeting, the dissidents spoke about an atmosphere of fear in the state. “A state of mini-Emergency in Gujarat is now being extended to the national level,” said Keshubhai, referring to Modi’s hustling Joshi out of the national meet…they felt BJP president Nitin Gadkari should not have succumbed to Modi’s blackmail or allowed him to hijack the party ahead of the Gujarat elections in December. Keshubhai, who yet again described Modi as a “dictator”, set the tone of the discussion, saying, “Crushing dissent is not the culture of the BJP or Sangh Parivar. We don’t want such despotic leadership.”

Why did they wait for the meeting to get over? Crushing dissent is very much a part of the Sangh Parivar culture; only, it is called party discipline. If it was all democratic, there would be a second rung leadership. Sanjay Joshi has become the rallying point because he isn’t big enough to be threatening. But don't forget he is a RSS man, and the RSS pulls the strings where the BJP is concerned where it matters.

They are talking about phone tapping. How is it then that Sanjiv Bhatt’s phone was not tapped when he says he has evidence of certain calls where Modi could be nailed?

It is surprising that they are complaining about it now when in 2008 Modi was all set to increase his spy network that would cost the state a staggering Rs 20 crore. Its main task was not to counter terrorism and foreign espionage. His spies were to watch every move of the state’s politicians, including the chief minister’s own men and rivals within the BJP, as well as prominent social workers and members of the business community.

Intensive spying by IB sleuths on local politicians at Modi’s behest have been doing the rounds since 2002, but six years later he increased it by almost 40 per cent. Around 400 government spies were active in the state and additional 93 spies were reportedly brought in from other departments or recruited afresh.

From Rs 17 crore spent every year on the spy network since 2003, the figure jumped to Rs 33 crore in 2008.

Politicians are an insecure bunch, and those like Modi use such blackmail tactics to stay in power and threaten people. It is entirely possible that all those who have been singing about economic development, including some Muslim businessmen, have been under such surveillance and just learned to keep their mouths shut.

Could Modi justify such expenditure? He is the one who rails against terrorism all the time, so why did he not deploy vigilante groups for more concrete efforts?

That is the point. I do not agree with this state of emergency in Gujarat extending to the national level. BJP president Nitin Gadkari knows that right now Narendra Modi is a good publicity stunt. The meeting was in Mumbai, and the message was not for the politicians of the party, but for the business groups in the city. Gujarat is the BJP’s piggy bank. Nitish Kumar may have streamlined infrastructure and made the backward Bihar liveable, and Modi has only added tinsel to gold, but the latter is, as I said in the beginning, a better photo-op.

Much is being made of L.K.Advani’s absence. Let us be pragmatic. Mr. Advani may not want a second term for Gadkari, but Modi is not his calling card. If anything, he has let a Modi flourish simply because the BJP needs a fishbowl. The senior leader is in complete command, as he was even during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister. He knows who to keep where. And Modi could push away a Sanjay Joshi, but not a Gadkari. This is the RSS at play, a game Advani knows only too well.

The more important point is that Modi has to return where he belongs. It is this sense of being rooted in one place that makes him both arrogant and insecure. His boasts are exaggerated and his fears result in paranoia about his own. Sometimes, I do feel a tinge of sadness for him. He has to live with so many ghosts and so many private moments grabbed from others. Does he have the luxury of a life of his own?


Sons and Lovers: N D Tiwari's DNA

The sympathies are with the guy who does not want to be called a bastard. Today, he has the courts on his side, and the police have forcibly taken octogenarian Congress leader Narain Dutt Tiwari’s blood sample for a DNA test.

Rohit Shekhar Sharma has people’s sympathies for only one reason – N D Tiwari was caught in a sex scandal. It is easy to add more salacious stuff to such notoriety and anyone who suffers on account of such a person will be deemed a victim.

Is Rohit really a victim?

Here are the facts:

His mother Ujjwala Sharma had an affair with Tiwari:

“Between 1977 and 1995 Tiwari, who was then a nobody, used to visit my father Sher Singh — a minister at the Centre. He said his wife could not have children because of some physical problems and persuaded me to have his child. He told me he would complete the formalities of marriage after their divorce,” she says.

Rohit was born in February 1979.

Tiwari allegedly assured her he would adopt him once he ended his marriage. “He came home for Rohit’s birthdays and festivals. He had become Uttar Pradesh CM by then. So I felt he should be allowed to choose the appropriate time for owning up to his son,” she says.

She is an educated woman, retired recently as Sanskrit lecturer. She was involved with him, aware that he was married. Since he knew her father, did she not bother to find out the truth about his wife? She says he was a “nobody” then, so he obviously could not exert pressure to silence her.

He snapped ties with her and the son in 1995. His wife had died two years ago. He was not interested in the relationship. She moved on and got married to Bipin Sharma; they have a son. Tiwari resurfaced in her life. Amazingly, she admits:

“Between 2002 and 2005 there was a semblance of a relationship between us.”

She had a husband, and went ahead to be with a man who was now quite a prominent politician, who had deserted her and the son, and shown no remorse.

In 2006, she and her husband parted ways. It was also the year Rohit started a campaign against Tiwari.

“In 2006, I started a campaign against him and sent out letters to everyone in Uttarakhand about our relationship. He kept telling people I was not his son but just a blackmailer. That’s when I started looking for legal options. This is not a battle for his property or money. I just want to make peace with myself. He had told me a 1,000 times in private that I looked like him. How I had inherited his nose. But if I met him in public, he would simply look through me. That hurt.”

If he knows, then this public acceptance does not make sense. I am also a bit wary about certain aspects. 

Take these pictures that Rohit has submitted to the court. The first where Tiwari is asleep bothers me. One assumes the mother clicked it, and this was when he was quite young and the situation had potential. Why would a woman take a photograph of her sleeping lover with her son obviously posing for the camera? Was she already collecting evidence? Tiwari may be an immoral man. But was he doing it alone?

Rohit’s concerns are emotionally understandable:

“While my mother was labeled unchaste and a badchalan aurat, Tiwari got away with it. No child should be called a harami or a bastard. I first learnt that Tiwari was my father when I was 11. My grandmother told me I was different from my brother Siddarth because I had a different father. It completely shook me up.”

This is a sexist society and the woman does have to bear the brunt of such slurs, unfortunately. However, Tiwari has not got away with it. His reputation is at a low, and has always been.

It must have certainly affected Rohit to discover who his ‘real’ father was. But, was it necessary for the grandmother to inform him? Who called him a bastard? Where was this announced? And why? He is the legal son of his mother’s ex-husband, who he says has been good to him.

And now, when the courts are taking his paternity concern forward, he says it will still be complicated:

“I will then have two fathers — one legal and another biological.”

So, what is this battle for?

  • To get dignity for his mother? It will draw attention to something that is over. 
  • To get his rights in terms of a name? Strange that he would want to be associated with someone he has no respect for and from whom he says he wants nothing.  
  • To bring closure? If Tiwari turns out to be the father, of which he is reasonably certain, then what will it close? That should be it.

Will N D Tiwari be forced to accept him when he already did in so many other ways? We are talking about a traditional idea of institutionalised relationships when this one was far from traditional in every aspect.

I will not offer lip sympathy for Rohit Sharma because I do not think he is doing it only so that he can sleep well at night.

Here, let me recount another case that is not known to many. A prominent person from the entertainment industry had an affair with another well-known woman from the same field. His wife had no intention of divorcing him, so he made no promise of marriage. They were the cool couple. Suddenly, she decided she wanted to be a mother and stopped taking her pills without his knowledge. At some point they drifted apart, or he left her for a younger woman. This time, his wife was ready to divorce. Woman #1 already had a daughter. Woman #2 had a son; he accepted him. Woman #3 had a daughter. Now, they are one big family, all in the same field.

It is a world where these things are socially acceptable. Yet, the second woman could be said to have wanted to use the child as bait. It is another matter that he did not go along, but did not shirk his duty either. But could she cry foul if he had not? Would the son have taken him to court? The man’s acceptance is not generosity but a bit of a kick to be considered a potent ladies’ man at his age.

So, why did Tiwari not go along and claim to be a father when he had no compunctions making merry in government circuit houses? Would this not add to his stock rather than deplete it?

When the jokes about the jab that might do him in are over, perhaps people will try to understand that by playing the ‘who wants to be called a bastard?’ game we, the observers, run down invisible illegitimacy that exists on a far larger scale, beyond the cocoon of looking for the real daddy.

(c) Farzana Versey

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My view on the earlier sex scandal: Old Man and the She


Half Truths: Satyamev Jayate (Doctors in trouble)

Doctors and medical frauds should concern us all. I have had some horrid experiences that made me revaluate the dependency we have on medicines. Capsules, doctors, hospitals have been a prominent part of my life. So, I was truly glad to watch yesterday’s episode of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ because there are many of us who have no option but to blindly trust our bodies with those who are qualified but treat us as organs, rather than people.

This time, the host cut down on the vicariousness and concentrated on more information. However – yes, there is a clause – for much of the show the emphasis was on how people are forced to take medicines when they do not need any. One particular example was of a man who flashed a packet of ORS and said that he could have been cured of his diarrhoea and vomiting with this at Rs. 15 instead of the few thousand he spent at two different hospitals.

There are such cases. But ORS is available over the counter or can be prepared at home. What if people start thinking that since most doctors are going to fleece you/mislead you, it would be better to self-medicate? What if it indeed turns out to be a serious illness?

The solutions were simplistic. Go to a chemist for generic medicine and you save money. This is for drugs that are expensive and for major illnesses. What about those we take for common ailments?

It would have been topical had the show also brought up the recent case of a poor man whose wife was denied admission to a hospital after an accident and his sorry tale of running from one to another to another till she died.

The tale of a village in Andhra Pradesh where all women had their uteruses removed should have been seen from the population control perspective rather than medical malpractice. Someone is responsible at a higher level; this cannot be doctors just wanting to make women sterile to earn money.

It is perturbing to know that India spends only 1.4 % of its budget on healthcare. And it was good to see the efforts made by some to use the pay-in-advance scheme, where the poor and the rest can benefit based on their capacity.

The racket and the treatment are two different aspects. Aamir Khan, it is being said with much appreciation, grilled the Medical Council of India (MCA) chief. All he managed was a schoolmaster version of extracting a promise to behave. Taking away licenses from doctors for malpractice is all very well, but how many doctors do we have with regard to ratio of population? Many people still visit quacks. Then, there is the ancillary industry of homeopaths and ayurveda, and these days they are all meshing.

I only hope that we don’t see a spurt of ‘actions taken’ and then the lull. This is an ongoing problem, a tragedy of our country.

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Let me share something I had written earlier about exposing a doctor:

A few years ago I had followed up a case of neglect that could have led to death. A wrong blood group diagnosis prior to surgery. In a chawl at the far suburb of Ghatkopar in Mumbai resided this lower middle-class family; they put all their papers and trust before me. It was late night when I left them.

Next morning I decided to meet the doctor. I entered the clinic and after a very long wait his wife, also a doctor, told me he was not in town. It was a lie for the fruit vendor outside had in fact given me the exact address and also confirmed his presence.

When I went out, I told him he wasn’t in. “Aisa kaise ho sakta hai? Hum ne khud dehka aatey hue aur unki gaadi bhi yahaan hai.” (How is it possible? I saw him enter and his car is still there.)

It was raining outside. I crossed the street and lay in wait, hoping for something. Nothing. The showers were getting incessant and I was drenched. It must have been the time of a blink of an eye when I saw THE car get out of the gate. I couldn’t move. Where would I? How? It was a helpless situation. I left. An hour later a colleague from a magazine told me that he had got a call from the doctor, he was a nice man, very influential. The message was that I should keep shut.

I did not.

What happened? Did the family get anything out of it? No. Except that they had raised their voice. No action was taken despite their case being put before the medical council.

Slowly, it was almost forgotten…a year or so later I was shocked to read that this doctor had been given some award by his own fraternity.

The media today has a greater reach, more influence. It should use it as a weapon against offenders and act as a shield for those who need protection.

As for me, that scene still haunts me of a car that escaped and the rain that wouldn’t stop. It haunts me that I could do nothing. Absolutely nothing.


Sunday ka Funda

An ass, carrying a load of wood, passed through a pond. As he was crossing through the water he lost his footing, stumbled and fell, and not being able to rise on account of his load, groaned heavily.

Some Frogs frequenting the pool heard his lamentation, and said, "What would you do if you had to live here always as we do, when you make such a fuss about a mere fall into the water?"

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A fable


Heads you win?

As though the brain is not complex enough, it rattles us with its ability to turn the tables on us.

We have heard of cases of leading scientists, philosophers, writers who were considered failures. This only proves that academic prowess is not a good yardstick to judge the ability to create and be innovative.

However, how do we explain the sudden genius of a man who is beaten up?

I first read about Jason Padgett, a school dropout, a while ago. Outside a karaoke bar, a few muggers assaulted him. The kicks on his head caused severe concussions. The results were remarkable and shocking:

Now, wherever Padegtt looks, he sees mathematical formulae and turns them into stunning, intricate diagrams he can draw by hand. He is the only person in the world known to the skill, which experts say, was caused by his head injury.

Not only is he a maths genius but according to neuroscience tests also an "acquired savant":

Savant syndrome is the development of a particular skill, that can be mathematical, spatial, or autistic, that develop to an extreme degree that sort of makes a person superhuman.

Is Padgett's genius 'mindful'? It is said that due to injury a certain part of the brain is overcompensating. Does this not occur in instances of physical disabilities, where the visually impaired have a sharpened sense of smell and hearing? Or those with motor dissonance?

Some people lose their memory after such accidents. I wonder if this too is a loss that resulted in a gain. Does it mean Padgett has lost his memory of being a failure?

If we use this example, then is genius limited to certain areas? Are we confusing skill for genius? What if the formulae he sees suddenly tranform into incoherent patterns that might make complete sense to him but not to others immediately?

Isn't artistry of greater value when there is consciousness?

That would be heady.

Ask the vexpert - 31

Question: My husband wants me to perform oral sex on him early in the morning without brushing my teeth. I am confused if I should go ahead with his fetish.

Sexpert: If you brushed before going to bed at night, your mouth is clean enough in the morning. Occasionally, ask him if he would like a cup of tea instead and postpone his desire till you have brushed.

Me: Cut your toothbrush to size and attach, add paste. Alternatively, stick brush wipes to condom. Oral and oral hygiene both done. This is not a fetish. You husband is big into time-management. Or, he’s still cutting his teeth at experimentation.

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Question: I am 21 years old and my penis is 7 cm when erect. Whenever I masturbate, the semen just oozes out instead of coming out with force. Will I be able to become a father?

Sexpert: Whether it oozes or spurts does not matter. As long as the sperm enters the vagina, it will have the motility to reach the ovum and cause pregnancy. If your spermatic fluid contains enough sperms (and there is no reason why it may not) you can become a father.

Me: Your semen is like the reluctant fundamentalist. Or let us say that what you thought was liquid asset is stuck in fixed bonds. The oozing out is a result of the exit load it entails.

You’ve got the medical opinion about becoming a father, so yes you will. And who knows, the child may make up for the trickle and be a ‘force’ to reckon with?


Friends and Foes: The Case of Rajat Gupta

'Friends of Rajat Gupta' is not the sort of thing you’d read about, much less imagine it as a movement.  But in the closed world of the famous rich, protecting one of their own is crucial in some ways to their own reputation.

The case is pretty simple. Gupta, former head of McKinsey & Co. as well as a director at Goldman Sachs and Proctor & Gamble, gave away vital information to fund manager Raj Rajaratnam involved in insider trading that earned him what we in India would call 'oopar ki kamaai' (in the literal sense topped earnings, euphemism for illicit money).

On Monday, Gupta's trial began in a Manhattan federal court. Those who understand financial skulduggery and the legal machinery that might pin it down believe that the courts won't be able to prove a thing, unless Raj Rajaratnam who has been charged guilty last year testifies. With evidence.

Will the Friends of Rajat group play any role? Is their testimony of his character of any consequence? Since the trial is on and the case is subjudice, is their public display of support not against the law and tantamount to interfere in the legal process?

Mukesh Ambani, Adi Godrej and Deepak Chopra have been certifying his impeccable credentials.

Dr. Chopra, who is on the witness list, has said:

“I have known Rajat Gupta for 25 years and am pleased to call him my friend. Rajat has devoted many hours working in fields that are close to my heart -- particularly in promoting global health through the eradication of infectious diseases."

Without getting into the merits of the case, I'd like to pose a few general queries that could apply to any such case, in another country or India:

The open letterchallenges the press and public portrayal:

"The REAL Rajat known to us over several decades is completely at odds with the public narrative. To our collective knowledge which spans a lifetime and covers hundreds of friends Rajat has:

1-always upheld the highest of ethical standards;

2-been judged, without a chance to tell his side of the story; and

3-been mischaracterized by people who have little or no knowledge of him."

Most of these people have not worked with him. What we know of people through personal interaction could be at odds with their professional persona and aspirations in an entirely different environment.

The 'Real' can also be a perception.

1. Ethics is abstract territory, more so in the realm of business. A few 'tips' to a friend might be seen as ethical in the narrow sense. It would be a bit strange, though, to imagine that a Wall Street veteran wouldn't know how it might be used.

Did he benefit from it? Let's just say that if there's nothing like a free lunch, then his luncheon was a large spread, at the very least. It could be a symbolic gesture or symptomatic of a malaise.

2. He is given an opportunity to put forward his version. It probably causes consternation that this is being done in a court and not across the table, or under it.

3. People who are under the scanner for misdemeanours are judged on those and not based on their history.

It is arrogant for public figures to arrogate to themselves the right to dismiss characterisation based on their 'social' knowledge of a person. Besides, philanthropy is often refuse if not a refuge.

It bespeaks of scant respect for law, for propriety, and even for ethics.

Rajat Gupta may or may not be innocent, but this sort of gathering of support is an indication that perhaps there is more at stake than one man's tip-off to a hedge fund manager.

It is particularly disconcerting because the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread throughout America brought people to the streets who had suffered from just these kinds on insider deals.

Is Gupta a victim, a fallguy? Possible. But the lobbyists will speak up for him. And they might win because the good American Indian is vital for politics. A bit of whispered trade secrets could well be hushed up if the kitty is replenished for some loose 'change'

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A detailed look at The Wall Street Fall


Sonia Gandhi Too Can Be Prez

The race for the President of India has probably never been as enthusiastic as it is for the new term.

Why has the 'rubber stamp' become important? Or, is it just so much noise? Both. This time, however, the latter feeds on the former.

President Pratibha Patil has been embroiled in land deals. Not all presidents have had a clean record; they've also played along with the ruling party's stand. Did Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed have a choice when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency?

Constitutionally, yes. Article 53 says that the President can act on her/his own, being the head of state and of the legislature, executive and judiciary wings as also chief of the armed forces. Yet, how often has the President intervened?

The names being thrown around have turned it into a farce. Why is it imperative to break the mould now, if we've lived with titular heads all along? Would it not be counterproductive to have a politically-active president?

That's the point. It is a proactive position and not akin to a Rajya Sabha seat given to some film star, cricketer, mediaperson, or even a person qualified in jurisprudence.

It is no surprise that political parties as well as the junta has joined in. Madame Patil's foreign jaunts have brought out the citizens, many with lame jokes about her demeanour.

This is a political process and should not be outsourced to populist movements and their satellites.

Therefore, let us leave the lawyers, the foreign policy analysts, and other professionals out of this. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, a scientist, was chosen because of the Indian bomb and not due to our acknowledgement of science. And, anyway, the post is not a sop. Acceptance by all clearly reveals that the President has to be impartial. This is not the impartiality of one who has no stand, but whose own position on issues can run parallel to the demands of democracy.

Despite the political machinations by different parties, I still believe we need a political President. More importantly, someone who can use the powers vested in the role when needed. The three pillars are often at odds and a political strategy can come to good use.

Every party is fighting over their choice. Mamata Banerjee has vetoed the idea of Pranab Mukherjee and suggested Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, saying, "I love her. She is soft-spoken." It's a curious reason, but not a bad choice.

I'll skip other probables, though I do get a kick imagining defence minister A.K.Antony as Prez and former Army Chief V.K.Singh as Vice Prez.

I am not sure whether anyone has suggested it, but think about Sonia Gandhi in that role.

The reasons?

She has proved that she is a fine strategist.

The UPA needs to let go of the apron strings. Such obsequious behaviour will not benefit the party or the ministers.

The dynasty does not stand a chance, and must not. If Rahul Gandhi has to make a mark, then he has to be left on his own.

The Congress may get brownie points, but only if she remains impartial.

The BJP is priming up for a prime ministerial candidate, and propping up Sonia for a presidential role might get it more points than developing water parks and malls and relying on one man seeking a US visa.

Regional parties will have a 'rootless' person as head of state, so no conflict.

In fact, it would be in the fitness of things if M. Karunanidhi or Arun Jaitley became Vice President.

Of course, many would baulk at the thought. But think about it: She has the experience of being closely involved with the work of three prime ministers with very different ways of managing and thinking.

This might end up being a sop after all, but Indian democracy might learn a few lessons in managing contradictions and contra-indications


Half Truths: Satyamev Jayate (Dowry and Child Abuse)

“At least he is doing something,” they say.

Yes. This charity consciousness may work for those who do not have to go through the problems Aamir Khan’s subjects have gone through. ‘Satyameva Jayate’ cannot expect to be beyond reproach only because of a celebrity host.

Yesterday, it dealt with dowry. Why is it seen as something new and why must it be lauded as one more attempt? There are several. More importantly, why did they interview a man who was kidnapped in a village and made to get married? This is a rare custom of ‘pakadva vivah’. It gives the impression of being the norm and, if the impact of the programme is so great, then would it not justify women being kidnapped and forced into a marriage of convenience? Are women to be shown as only ‘marriage material’?

The other issue I have is with the simple, no frills marriage. Curiously, two Muslim social workers and two veiled women represented this. May I ask why? And what did the gentleman from Burhanpur mean when he said, “In 60 years no woman from our place has been burnt to death”? Is that an achievement? And the host and the audience applauded, instead of saying categorically that this was a crime and they’d have been behind bars had anyone done so. I do not see why women have to be demeaned with such a back-handed patronising attitude.

‘Samuh vivah’, community marriage, is quite common; it saves money spent on the hall and priests, and yet has a festive air to it. People do want nice weddings. Instead of lecturing others, Mr. Khan forgets the expenditure on his own and his nephew’s wedding functions. Of course, there will be some who might say I am getting personal, and I am. You cannot tell people to stinge on bricks when you live in a mansion.

It would have helped to also highlight the price for different categories of men - IAS guys are the most expensive apparently.Why not talk to men, the in-laws? This is effectively putting pressure on the victims to recount their experiences and therefore, in a way, be responsible for holding themselves up to scrutiny.

As for the girl who had done a sting operation on her future in-laws, she got lucky she found someone who she says is understanding. But stings are not the solution. The cases highlighted were of arranged marriages. This happens even when it is a love marriage, and it may not be called dowry. Today, a working woman is prized for her ability to earn and contribute to her husband’s joint family.

If some people do not know about this, then you can see it in one of Ekta Kapoor’s serials. Ah, but you might feel a bit ashamed to admit you watch those. So, it’s ‘Satyameva Jayate’.

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I skipped commenting on last week’s show. It was dreadful. Child abuse is. Talking about it is. Getting exhibitionistic about it is. Before the painful details, the host informed us that we may not want the children to watch, so we should take them to another room (his audience will not live in a one-room house, ok?), but close enough to bring them back to the TV set towards the end. Those participating went into the details. One young woman, when asked why she came out and spoke, said that indeed she was single, but who knows after this show she might meet someone, for she did not want to be with a man who would not accept her past.

I don’t know why we have standard ideas of empathy. I feel for what she has been through, but she has coped well, and it is not imperative that she would reveal her abuse to a suitor.

The male victim also went into details. I would have liked the psychologist to discuss the case studies and help them. This man endured it from the age of six till he was 18; his body and hormonal changes would have transformed in this period; he is now gay, but says it has nothing to do with what he went through. These are questions that need to be examined. I am not being judgmental. But the emphasis on story-telling and cutting short genuine analysis makes it just another show. I have seen a dramatised version of abuse where a 12-year-old even got pregnant on 'Crime Patrol', based on real-life incidents taken from police records.

The man I mentioned said he led two lives, and in the other he escaped into the world of films. He adored Sridevi. Later, the actress made an appearance. If at all, sending a message would have sufficed. This is not ‘make a wish’ show. But then the lady is making a comeback to films, and we may see other such ‘appearances’ in later episodes. Already, Nita Ambani is a participating sponsor through the Reliance Foundation. Every cause needs money. And every business needs tax exemption. It is wonderful that someone is helping out, but we do not need one more lecturer living in a bubble to take us on a discovery of India trip during the breaks.

The worst was yet to come: A workshop where the host told the viewers to bring the children into the room. Hiding them would have already filled their minds with ideas of something secretive happening. Now they were made to watch a group of obviously well-to-do children (child abuse does not seem to afflict the poor) being educated. “What is danger?” they were asked. Then they were shown two figures on the monitor – male and female – and the chest, genital area and buttocks were highlighted. These were ‘danger’ areas and if anyone other than parents were to touch them there they should shout.

This is just horrible. Most children are taken to isolated places, or abused when no one is around. I am perturbed by the identifying of these parts of the body with ‘danger’. Imagine when they grow up and get attracted to someone, will it not impact on physical intimacy?

Can we stop these simplistic solutions? Are parents not the culprits sometimes? The problem is that such shows will skirt many issues that may be difficult to swallow. We had the prominent Mira Road case right here in Mumbai where the mother actively encouraged the father and a tantrik to sexually assault both her daughters. Why did the show shy away from such cases?

Or, of quasi religious ceremonies where young girls are offered and virgin blood is considered a cure for impotency? What about someone from a remand home where some of the worst such crimes are committed? Think of Madhur Bhandarkar’s 'Chandni Bar' and 'Page 3', in which high-flying industrialists entertain their foreign guests with boys procured from such shelters. Why were there no such mentions of these wonderful people?

Is the purpose only to make us cringe? Please understand that you are getting half the story, half the truth. Those reading this and watching the show are perhaps exposed to such cases and are enlightened. Think about the many who are not. They will sit wide-eyed thinking of those images expressed by the participants. They will imagine them.

This is dangerous.

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No one can accuse me of not dealing with such subjects. So, I do plan to write on this show with the same fervour. To small minds, it might appear like I am using it, but it is less vile than using people who are suffering.


Great things about being a virgin man

Women are often concerned about losing their virginity. It is partly psychological and often due to what society expects, especially in the Indian context. That is the reason you will see desperate queries addressed to sexologists about how to hide the hymen rupture from the husbands, if he isn’t the one a woman has had sex with.

The sexpert tells her that there is something called trust, and she can lose her precious tissue while exercising, swimming, horse riding or spending quality time with a cucumber.

A rather regressive article that advises women to preserve their virginity has appeared in the Times of India. I believe that if virginity is so important, then men should be equally concerned about preserving the 'site'. So, here’s my rejoinder to a few points.

(Disclaimer: I do not adhere to the views in the piece or what I say. It is purely seeing the flip side)

There is nothing worrisome about your virgin status. Instead you should feel proud of it. It's not a big deal for it can be lost anytime. We know sex feels great, but just remember that there are many advantages of being a virgin. It is one of the most special gifts god has given you.

God did not gift virginity. A foetus was formed in the womb, and sometimes there are breakages of different parts. As regards feeling proud, why should men be denied such pride? And there are some goodies in store if you keep yourself to yourself.

So, for all virgin women out there, here is a list of few great things about being one.

No pregnancy fears: Out of the many advantages, this one is the most obvious. Many women who have regular sex always worry about getting pregnant. So if you are a virgin you need not worry about this, and also no headache of popping those birth control pills.

Men don’t have to worry about getting a woman pregnant and being subjected to baby pictures, right from Lord Krishna with butter smeared on his mouth to Justin Bieber trying to sing.

No STDs: It's always safe to be a virgin in this society where STDs like HIV/AIDS, herpes, syphilis are so common. If you are not having sex that means you are much less likely to contract STDs.

Men should remain virgins because these diseases can afflict them too, and do so more often. Besides, if they stay away from intercourse, they can even spend less time tapping the keyboard, and save themselves from strain on the back and eyes.

No emotional trauma of a relationship: Sometimes there is nothing left in a relationship after sex. Love is not all about sex so there are many things a couple can do without sex in a relationship. Remember, a sexual disappointment can make you feel hurt, lonely and angry.

True, and men need to hang on to their life because their seed is so crucial to the perpetuation of the species. They are more concerned about how well they do in bed. So, instead of getting many opinions beforehand, that might reduce self-esteem or result in raised expectations, they can just wait for the right time.

Your man will feel so proud and happy: It's a fact; most men still prefer a virgin woman. No guys want to think about his girl having sex with other guys. Even though virgin women are not sexually experienced, men still love them and feel more sexually excited. He will respect your innocence, and also there won't be any arguments on your past relationships.

Women find fumbling men cute. Haven’t you heard that all that brawn stuff just does not turn them on as much as a guy who is vulnerable? She will respect that and there will be no nagging about who you were with in the Palaeolithic Age. You can also spare the moment when by mistake you utter the names of Cleopatra, Nefertiti or Mrs Chaddha, or uncharacteristically say “Darrling” instead of “Honey”. Women can catch these linguistic derailments.

You are pure as an angel: Virgins are probably one of the sanest people on earth. Most virgin women have morals and respect themselves. Also they take relationship and marriage very seriously.

Virgin men are like Adam, the first man. A woman, therefore, feels like she is in heaven. Virgin men are sane because their other ‘brain’ has not been used as yet. When both brains come together, men understand respect and as they begin to value the relationship between their extremes they also value their partners.

So now, save your virginity. Don't give it away on a platter.

Yes, men. Treat it like a crusade. Save the endangered species. Wrap up the dildo.


Desecrating the Common Man

Where are the pigeon droppings? Do we spare anyone? Can the ordinary person be a holy cow?

This sculture at Worli Sea face is based on cartoonist R.K.Laxman's Common Man, who whimsically looked on as politicians fought for power and pelf.

We woke up to him every day, his silence his statement. Even those who did not live his kind of life were drawn to him.

There's a flipside to this. Such empathy can be conveniently put on a pedestal. It's not surprising that Anna Hazare had garlanded it one of his outings.

However, what would make people want to vandalise this symbol of 'no one', so to speak? His arm was broken; glasses broken. Was it living up to its identity of being broken, destroyed a bit every day?

It is a public place. Has it hurt anyone? Who would want a piece of spectacles or a fibre-metal limb?

We see that even sculptures at heritage sites, especially of women, are strategically damaged.

Is it anger? At whom? I think it is oneself.

And as the sculpture is taken away to be laid to rest, we know that by such destruction the humble common man has got his martyrdom.

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Images: Mumbai Mirror


Sunday ka Funda

I did not learn to cook from her. I did not learn to embroider like her. I did not learn how to keep things in place like her.

She would pack my school tiffin every day with as much care as a gift. She embroidered my ordinary bags and even sandals to make them look different. And, she kept things in place. She still knows where I will find what I have lost. I lose a lot. Have lost quite a bit.

And, yes, there are quite a few errors I make. Quite a few years we were in another city, sitting in the lawn of the hotel, and bumped into one of my old acquaintances. We asked him to join us. He was already with a glass of wine. I ordered a Pina Colada much to her displeasure and within minutes I was blabbering, giving away too much. Without saying a word, she gestured that I pass the drink to her, and she gulped it down. For someone who did not drink, she remained sober!

As I’ve said often, music binds us. Our voices are different, but when we sing together they coalesce in the air. The song I will post today is not an uplifting one. There is a special reason for it. Whenever she sang it, and she had learned it all from Radio Ceylon, as a child I would start crying. Nanima would reprimand her, “Kyon rulaa diya isko (why did you reduce her to tears)?” It is a song where the woman is asking god, “Kya mil gaya Bhagwan mere dil ko dukha ke, armaanon ki nagri mein meri aag laga ke (What did you get by hurting me and turning my land of dreams to ashes)?”

Things are different. Now, when I sing such songs, there are tears in her eyes, especially that couplet from one of my favourite ghazals: "Ghamoun ne baant diya hai yoon aapas mein, ke jaise main koi loota hua khazana tha (Sorrows have distributed me amongst themselves as though I were a booty they had snatched)"

Songs of pathos always convey more than just that. It isn’t about sadness. It is about understanding that there is more than sadness…it is the music of the soul when it has a lump in its throat.

Film: Anmol Ghadi
Singer: Noorjehan
Music: Naushad

- - -

And to show another aspect, here is an old post: Conversations with my mother


Nehru, Ambedkar and a Cartoon

Cartoon controversies have a way of becoming jokes themselves. The latest is in a textbook by the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training). The government is trapped. Here is why.

As you can see, Dr. B.R.Ambedkar is sitting on a snail. Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister then, is standing with a whip. Apparently, there is accompanying text in the book that blames Ambedkar for the slow pace of the Constitution that he formulated.

There has been the usual house adjourning, shouting, resignations, apologies. Do we need a committee inquiring into this, or do we need a full-fledged ministry?

There are people who think we lack a sense of humour. I think we lack a sense of proportion. I do not like this cartoon.

NDTV reports:

Sketched by renowned cartoonist Shankar in the 1960s, the cartoon has been part of the NCERT book since 2006. Today, MPs waved copies of the cartoon in Parliament and said it insulted both leaders.

Did Shankar sketch this in the 60s? If so, the Constitution was well in place before that. (It transpires that it appeared in his weekly in 1949, which seems more appropriate.) The problem is not with the Constitution, but the execution of what it lays down. Therefore, this is an insult of the Constitution. It is rather amusing to see a crowd of ordinary folks smiling broadly at this display of Nehruvian aggression. The cartoon insults them, too, for it assumes that they the lowly who will get their rights only when things are whipped into shape. There is no concern for dignity of the human being.

Does it insult both leaders? I’d say it backfires on Nehru. He looks more like a horse attendant, than a trainer. Besides, standing behind with a whip, there appears to be an element of Brutus back-stabbing. Ambedkar remains a jockey steadfastly steering.

I’d definitely see it as misconstruing history, although young people these days have access to other avenues of information and such cartoons and derogatory references do not tarnish the work done by people like Ambedkar. Note: I use the term work and not image.

The politicisation has predictably taken on a high caste vs. Dalits hue. It will fall flat. Mayawati has just been exposed for her indulgences, spending Rs 86 crore on renovating her house. Despite rising to power, and I do commend her for managing it against odds irrespective of her personal whims, she has shown scant regard for the Constitution. She has misused Ambedkar’s name for personal glory and treated his persona as her personal fiefdom.

Our political leaders should have found other ways to deal with it. But, no. This is the age of shoo-shaa as we say. Waving copies of it only drew attention to something that most of us would not have noticed. Now, sides will be taken. As I said, the controversies become the jokes.


Footnotes from the ledge

From the film 'The Sweet Smell of Success'

Years ago, a web portal I wrote for in the nascent stages of news and views on the Net in India, decided that it needed a footnote for its columnists. I was accustomed to ones that simply said I was “a freelance journalist” (I crack up when I read “independent columnist” – independent from what, of what, by what? Is that not to be taken for granted?) to the smart “refuses to sit on the fence” (it worked against me after 11 years of continuous writing of that column when I was told I was too independent and don’t take briefs!) to a phrase taken from my blog: “has a healthy disregard for objectivity”.

So, back to that e-portal. As some of you know, I could not imagine ‘writing’ for anything that did not scrunch in my hands. I did not even have a computer. One day, out of curiosity, I was at a friend’s office and casually mentioned this column. We reached the destination and as I scrolled down on my discovery trip, I reached that precious footnote. It was in red, italicised. It said that I, FV, was an “iconoclast”.

I froze. Images of me as Che Guevara flashed on several T-shirts. This was serious, and after a few seconds I was pretty much on the floor laughing, and ROFL was not yet known to us. From that vantage position where I had to look my iconoclastic best, I asked my friend whether he agreed with me that it was a stupid idea; he did. And made it sound more ominous: “It might appear as though you are saying it.”

This is the problem. It is more likely that publications decide. However, the newer lot ask you to send “two-three lines describing yourself”. I once wrote a horribly cheeky one and was told it did not go well with the content.

Sealing my fate!
When I became a serious op-ed addict during college, I recall reading pieces that were written with care for both language and thought. Some were ponderous, no doubt, but many were challenging. For me, this is the purpose of a good edit piece. There was space enough to explore ideas, and not the need to compress because there has to be place for ‘likes’, ‘share’, ‘send’. I understand this is the way to connect, but when some publications ask you to send SMSes to say whether you liked or did not like the column, it is a bit much. The writing becomes another product. Unfortunately, these days it often is.

But I did not know who those writers were. Celebrities and those from other fields had not taken over the business of holding forth on what they were doing. This does not work as ‘inside’ information or adds any authenticity, for they too are writing for an audience and have their own biases.

Do readers care about the qualifications of the columnist? It is a bubble theory. It looks good until you prick it. And the pricking is just giving it a good look-over.

However, mostly the footnote works as a promo for people in different professions. I had once taken a swipe at someone mentioning how his CV exceeded the word limit. It was, therefore, good to read on the ‘Self importance of names and titles’ in Pakistan’s Express Tribune as to how the whole description business has gone overboard. When I was writing for them, I had half a mind adding, “The writer has a degree in Vampirism from the University of Dracula”. (Incidentally, third-person descriptions are supposed to look objective; they make me feel schizophrenic.)

Quite a few publications have these long rambling bottomlines, and most of their columnists are so darned third-degreed, all from the best universities. A good university ideally teaches you to explore, not flaunt knowledge.

We never read any mention of a degree from Gujranwala or Chhatisgarh. Reveals our colonial mindset and, dare I say, adds weight to the publication's reputation. They could probably have a roll-call of Oxford/Cambridge/Harvard types, all with halos. If they can take global roundabouts and quote Greek mythology in Latin phrases with a slight nod to desi lingo, then chances are that more people will notice because snob and blob value go together. They are like the always-open KFC outlets.

The other peeve regarding "X is a former something or the other" reveals our absolute obeisance to the past. Instead of wondering why s/he even at the prime has been rendered redundant, it imbues the individual with the gravitas required of a know-it-all. Much like a divorce might make a discussion on marriage legitimate. If the 'formerhood' has been achieved after much toil, then it works like a tiger's head poking out of the wall.

Now, chances are that if the writer were not a "political economist" or some such and just another bloke with something to say, a piece questioning such self-importance would not have gone through the thinker's pose of editorial discretion.

PS: I posted the last three paras at the website with a footnote that said “~A former ET columnist with several degrees of separation”. It’s still awaiting moderation after hours! (Finally published after 12 hours.)

© Farzana Versey


Half Truths and Image-building: Satyamev Jayate

It started with the promos. Sunday, day to laze, wake up late, lounge in bed, have a cuppa. Then switch on the TV to watch the reality of India. Satyamev Jayate: Truth shall prevail. Walking near the sea, the host addressed us, telling us how he could not remove himself from this truth, how we cannot. And then we faced an audience. Yes, we faced the audience – they cried, they were moved. This was the idea. We were being judged by the standards of how a studio audience was judging, and the audience mimicked the host.

I will not take a swipe about what a superlative actor Aamir Khan is. But he is missing the reality more than anyone else. This is not Rancho of ‘3 Idiots’, who can do a techie version of Munnabhai, including the jaadoo ki jhappi, the magical embrace.

I did not watch it at 11 am on Sunday. I was not sleeping, therefore I am not his target. Some of us have other things to do. I did not watch the repeat late afternoon. At night, after the music show I catch often on weekends, he appeared again, with the wind in his hair, the sunset framing his silhouette. As you can see, I have not mentioned a word about the content. This is the problem.

The “most talked about show” is like any other reality show, even the much derided ‘Sach Ka Saamna’. The difference is that the host comes with a squeaky clean record of involvement in socially-relevant projects, never mind that all those are timed to promote his films/his ideas.

I do not grudge him the money he gets for every episode – reportedly Rs 3 crore. What I have issues over is that he assumes we are a bunch of ignorant people who do not know the truth. Every ‘discovery’ by him showed members of the audience with a set of expressions: wide-eyed, open mouthed, hands on lips, shaking head. It is clear that Mr. Khan did not know much, until his researchers ran through reams of work on the subject that exists and is read by many people, at least the ones who watched his show.

The subject was female foeticide. Three women were invited to give their personal examples of being forced to go through abortions or discard their female offspring. Two were from small towns and one a doctor from Delhi. This was to tell us that it does not only happen in the villages.

Have you not seen anything like this before? Also, the important saviours were men. He is promoting a patriarchal notion where women have to suffer, and if they brave it to give birth to female children then they have to leave home and manage on their own. There was no mention of male responsibility.

This was so disgusting, because many women do not have the means to earn. A strong message about taking the men to task, to insist on maintenance should have been made. What this programme did was to create a ‘ladies special’. The fact that the first show used a woman’s subject, knowing well that the telly-watching audience comprises largely of women, was marketing strategy.

Worse, via teleconferencing we got to see a bunch of men in their 30s in Haryana who cannot marry because of the skewed gender ratio. Instead of getting them to speak about the problem that has been created by their own, he let them talk about the lack of women and how they should get Salman Khan to be with them. Aamir said that Salman’s problem was different – he was surrounded by women and found it difficult to choose. Clearly, this man is a sexist under the garb of a women’s rights proponent. The message being that if you are a hero of sorts then women will follow you everywhere and such problems like female foeticide don’t mean a thing. As I said, he is scoring brownie points with his little huddle group.

I’d like to see him deal with other real issues that he might be more familiar with: the casting couch, promiscuity, lower pay for women in the glamour industry, extra-marital affairs, nepotism in the niche professions. Deal with your own weeds, too.

Is it fair to judge based on one show? It is. If you are talking about the ‘truth’, then don’t behave as though it is a bolt of lightning. And I dislike the idea of the sainted Aamir Khan writing a letter to stop this practice and asking us to send a SMS saying Yes or No. What the heck does this mean? What if there are a considerable number of ‘No’ responses? Will he wear purple robes and appear on the balcony to give his blessings so that the poor ignorant are washed off their sins? And if there are a majority of ‘Yes’ replies, will he take the credit for bringing about change?

Rather tellingly, he writes out ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on sand. It’s about impermanence, about being washed away by the waves.

This show is about making people cringe for a while as they watch real people reveal the burden of living lesser lives from our forced seemingly vantage unreal positions. This is the only way the host can wave his magic wand.

(c)Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"When things are no longer important, only consciousness becomes important. When things are no longer significant, a new search, a new door opens. Then you are not rushing towards the without: you start slipping into the within. The kingdom of God is within. And once you drop identifying with things, suddenly you are no longer fighting -- there is no point. You start moving with the river of existence. Arrival at home is effortless."

- Osho


Fighting Shit

Everybody needs to use the toilet. Every day. But in India, we exaggerate it. By doing so we do not give it importance; we merely magnify it in the lab under a microscope. More appropriately, we bring awareness to people who probably have a bidet, use perfumed toilet paper, and have a warm jet of water to clean up with.

National award-winning actress Vidya Balan is now the brand ambassador for the sanitation drive. This is the brainwave of Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, who said:

"It is going to be a two year programme. She's had a dirty picture in reel life, but this will be a clean picture in real life. I think she will help in making sanitation a national obsession."

This is a silly comment, the transposition of dirty and clean. It is also a cheap gimmick. Ms.Balan’s giggle act and repetitious references to the film was bad enough, now a central minister wants to ride on it. There are people who have to shit in the open, in fields, in dug-up holes, and sewage even from hotels near water sources floats into our rivers and seas. Those people would have liked to have such facilities long ago. What does the minister mean by saying she will make it into a national obsession? The film became a publicity-geared obsession only for those involved. The others bought tickets, whistled, got off and moved on.

Using public facilities is a basic need. What is obsessive about it?

For Vidya Balan it is just one more satellite benefit for The Dirty Picture. She does not have to say it. Instead, the words are typically managed:

“It's an honour for me to be the brand ambassador for the sanitation drive and like Mr Ramesh just said, it needs to become a national obsession and I am going to do everything in my capacity to make sure that the message is taken across to every person.”

What will the ads tell people living in slums or in the interiors? It is the job of the government to provide public toilets and ensure that women do not have to hide their faces behind umbrellas as they sit alongside drains on roads to empty their bowels. Have you seen such scenes? Do you know how heartbreaking it is? Do you know how young women have to take someone along because there are predators waiting? Do you know that many cannot afford even the two rupees to use the public loos? Do you know that the cloth they use during their periods has to be washed in dirty water because there isn’t enough of it? Do you know that they stand for hours to fill buckets to use the water for drinking and cooking and recycle what is left? Do you know that children squat for hours only to see their malnourished droppings taken over by flies?

We look away, hold up our noses. Vidya Balan is doing it out of “conviction”, she says. Every Indian she reaches out to will remember her as she lectures on sanitation. They will probably have an inauguration in some cleaned up poor locality. After that, there will be clips on what to do and how to keep your environment free of disease on television.

The municipalities and panchayats should be regularly visiting these places. They ought to involve key workers from those areas, people who belong there, have suffered. I know that with Ms. Balan it is possible to get some industrial houses to shell out money. Yet, it won’t really reach out unless the infrastructure is in place.

I am waiting for someone to compare her to Mahatma Gandhi the minute she holds up a broom in her hand. It’s been over six decades when he started it. Has it made any difference? It did not then. It will not now. Except to honour the celebrities for their sanitised concern and conviction.


Demonising a smile

Adults fake it. Do children? Anders Breivik’s smiling picture as a four-year-old is being used by psychologists to analyse what led him to kill 77 people in Norway. It’s been called the smile of the monster. Such photographic ‘evidence’ will demonise children.

At his trial in Oslo, a doctor said:

“Much of what we see in him today is visible here, not least in the disarming smile he hides his feelings behind. He had difficulty expressing himself emotionally. He lacked light, joy and the pleasure of playing with others. We feared he would develop serious psychopathology (problems), which may indicate mental illness. Unfortunately we were right, but we never imagined that one day he would become a mass murderer.”

This is just so dangerous. There are children who are shy for various reasons. Many turn out to be writers, scientists, actors, pretty much involved in activities that either are done in isolation or to become somebody else. Look at the picture again. Have you never seen a child smile like this – perhaps your own or someone in your family, maybe your childhood pictures? Have you gone and killed someone?

There is much to discuss about troubled childhoods. They affect the children more than anyone else. Does every child with a not-so-happy background read works that are considered violent? Besides, does such a smile reflect exactly what form of aggression will be used? What is the impetus for choosing one over the other?

About masking, it is a defensive reaction or in many instances nervousness. It could also mean suppressed laughter, and that one is taught in classes on decorum – do not laugh out loud at someone or over a poor joke, it is bad manners. Like, don’t talk with your mouth full.

If the psychiatrists are saying that it revealed “serious illness” in Breivik’s case, and was used to keep away emotions, then it is used by many adults at different times. The most extreme example would be Hitler’s masked smile that seems to be a held-back sneeze.

Body language is a fascinating study, but it cannot be seen as parts of a whole. How we look at people or away, how we sit in company, how we talk to or at, how we purse our lips, how we cross our legs are all about a situation at a given time. This need not be about us as we are, but what we behave like with someone for some reason. It may change in a few minutes or a few hours, days, months.

And those who give a full jaws smile need not be ‘open’ really. That too is part of the faking, the congeniality people.

I do wonder if Mona Lisa had the makings of a terrorist since we just don’t know what she’s hiding or revealing.