What an Ikea, Sir ji

I like furniture with sharp edges. Not the best choice as you end up getting poked. It is the clean lines that appeal to me. Rounded and moulded appear artificial.

My room has everything made to order. Except a work chair and a holdall. It was created according to my specifications, which have changed.

That's the point. That's why we cannot snort over Ikea's move to invest $1.9 billion spread across 25 stores in India. We may not need some Swedish all-purpose standard designs, but it is adaptable.

Besides, there are already Italian furniture stores in most cities. They are expensive and use leather that is hardly conducive for our climate.

Will Ikea pose a challenge to Indian stores? To an extent. I've been to their outlets and, except for a mini easel to place my notes, I have not purchased anything from there. But I can see how it might entice people who are not snooty. Why, some of them too might stop by, pick up some things and add their designer touches.

Regular furniture stores, at least in Mumbai, are not user friendly. I once landed up in Malad in what looked like a nice shop. As what I wanted was not available, I was asked to visit the godown. After jumping over an open drain, I entered a smelly room. A sofa was patted and dust clouds formed in the air. "Imported," said the sales guy.

"Why is it so dirty?"

"Antique finish."

Great. It was worse than the shop in Chor Bazaar that made an antique roll-top desk. I still have it. The wood is sturdy and it holds everything. It even has secret chambers where I keep the menus of takeaway joints. Now that would qualify as a secret if I ordered food for guests and passed it off as mine!

I am sure Ikea will have some such secrets.

Indians who know about sleeping on the floor or on khaats still get excited about futons. Outsiders have cannily caught on that we are penguins and will even buy ice cubes.


Quote uncoat

“If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade”

This is supposed to inspire you to take the smallest thing and make the most of it, or at least something. I am intrigued by the lemon. It conveys a certain level of being sparing. Why does life not give you an avocado? Why can we not make it into pulp and use it as a dip? How about an apple that we can make a pie of?

These, you might say, require other ingredients. Lemonade needs only water. What if the water is contaminated? What if you are in a desert and get that lemon? You might suck on it, but does it slake your thirst? Can you capitalise on its full potential?

How do you gauge potential? If you are suffering from nausea, then that sucking is good. I don’t know if life has given me lemons. This ignorance or not knowing has not prevented me from making lemonade. However, lemon juice is not an end. It is only one of the things one can do with lemons.

I’d much rather leave it out in the sun and watch it dry, the rind stiffening and slowly browning, while the insides swell with rage. And if one must learn any lessons from such idioms then pickled lemons last longer. If there is only one that darned life gives, then too you can separate the rind, the insides, the seeds. Add some sugar to the rind and eat. Feel the tartness of the juice or let it sting your eyes. And take those seeds and throw them in the soil. Wait for them to sprout to life.

Then let's see what life does with the lemon you give it.

Sunday ka Funda

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.

- G. K. Chesterton

The streets are awash. The rains make you forget summer. A season of heat and sweat disappears with a few showers. It is like wiping our slate clean to start all over again. The wet night beckons you...

Bheegi bheegi raaton mein tum aao na - Adnan Sami


Indo-Pak Peace on Crutches

Is hatred a handicap? Can't you move with it? In fact, people keep alive ideologies and patriotic zeal, the killer instinct in many competitive fields because of just this feeling of hatred and opposition.

Is 'Aman ki Asha' merely using emotive appeal?

It is good that the disabled will play together. But there will be one team that will win. If we say it's the game that matters, then in this case it is probably a concession.

Let us see it as an exchange programme. Not everything must be marketed as an Indo Pak peace initiative.

I wonder if soldiers from both sides who've become handicapped in the course of battles would not make more sense. Who'd understand the importance of peace more than them?

Muslim Cops For Muslims?

Until such time that Muslims will get arrested even before they are proved guilty, that there will be a huge number of undertrials, that after years their innocence will be proved after they are socially tarnished, at least those who need to be protected should be. But is it easy?

The Committee, which was constituted on March 9, 2005, under the chairmanship of Justice Rajinder Sachar to prepare had suggested that it would be useful to have at least one Muslim police inspector or sub-inspector in police stations in areas having high concentration of Muslim population “not as a matter to eliminate discrimination but as an initiative to build confidence”.

My Hindutva contact sent a one-liner:

“Simultaneously, no Muslims should be posted in low minority populace areas? And then we will have peace on earth?”

It is amusing. If we check the statistics, how many Muslim police personnel are recruited? Have there been cases of Muslim cops deliberately rounding up people from the majority community or non-Muslims for no reason other than ‘suspicion’?

There won’t be peace on earth by such demarcation. Ideally, there should not be any. But we do not live in ideal times. Whether it is jobs or housing, there is discrimination.

Therefore, I find the Sachar Committee’s use of the phrase “not as a matter to eliminate discrimination but as an initiative to build confidence” curious. If there is a skirmish between communities, why can the Muslim officer not intervene and call the bluff of such discrimination? Do poor Muslims – and they are the ones who usually end up in ghettos – need pillow talk by the cops to instil confidence that no Gabbar Singh is around?

In fact, to give the flip side, the cop being an employee of the state would be far too cautious about being correct, and maybe even agree to cop out for getting his quota of ‘hits’.

Besides, in slums local gangs run the show and demand protection money. As with other groups, there are some shanties with a concentration of Muslims. There are Muslim gangsters, too. Yes, many. Everyone knows that. They are protected by cops and politicians irrespective of religion. However, if the Committee’s report is followed then the tussle would become mandatory. The Muslim cop will have to prove his allegiance with greater fervour and instead of protecting the common citizens, he will be pulled up for not capturing criminals, which other cops don’t anyway.

Invention is the mother of necessity, as the saying goes. And like many sayings, it just might end up being a truism.


Muslim puberty and marriage

A 15-year-old Muslim girl is permitted by the high court to marry.

Forget the level of maturity of our grandmothers who did not make a choice, but managed. This news report throws up several questions, not so much about the judgment as the reactions to it. How are we supposed to respond? The obvious answer is anger, revulsion, and to bring out the old bogey of the Uniform Civil Code.

Here’s the judicial verdict:

“According to Mohammedan Law, a girl can marry without the consent of her parents once she attains the age of puberty and she has the right to reside with her husband even if she is below the age of 18....,” a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and S P Garg observed while accepting the minor’s plea to let her to stay in her matrimonial home.

The mother had filed a petition saying that her daughter was kidnapped. While accepting the girl’s statement that she was not and she had made the choice, the bench clearly added “she has the option of treating the marriage as voidable, at the time of her attaining the age of majority, i.e. 18 years”.

Can we take one judgment in isolation and assume that girls of this age in the Muslim community will get married?

Her choices are being protected on both counts. And on the basis of the law. This is being ignored to buffer a one-dimensional narrative. The judges used the existing Muslim Personal Law. And they have also empowered the girl to change her mind, which will nullify the marriage. This is a huge thing. I wish we got out of our safe zones and saw this in perspective.

It is particularly surprising that the noises will be mainly from the liberal activists. This is ironical, for it is this same segment of the educated elite that opposed the ‘Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Bill’, that said “no person below 18 years will have the legal capability to give consent for engaging in any kind of sexual activity”. They held forth on how young teenagers should be permitted to make their sexual decisions and not be demonised.

Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, had said:

“Do we want to start punishing young people for premarital sex? Do we want them to start wearing chastity belts? The authorities have gone overboard in removing the age of consent for those between 16 and 18, especially in a scenario where young people are getting sexually active at an early age. This is stupid and goes against the child.”

Yes. Such a statement was made. How many of them would approve if their children were sexually active outside marriage at that young an age?

If you can choose to have sex – and as I mentioned in my piece then it can mean subtle force, date rape, peer pressure – then you might be in a position to choose to live with a partner legitimately, is my devil’s advocate argument.

Instead, the modern Muslim is once again out in the open airing a ‘uniform code’ modernism that ignores the Personal Laws in other religions. Let us not forget that there will be opposition from other faiths equally, if not more, and they have their patriarchal constructs well in place where women’s property rights, right to inheritance, to matrimonial rights are questionable.

There is a lobby that keeps the ‘interpretation of Islam’ alive. It is to promote leaders from the clique. Who will interpret Islam in the right manner, and what is the right manner? Aren’t there several interpretations that work or try to within different societal frameworks? This is not even germane to the discussion, but it seems to be hugely important.

I wonder why when we seek uniformity where religious laws are concerned, we barely pay heed to the ‘secular’ criminal laws where no uniformity is applied. Check out statistics for Muslim prisoners.

The digression apart, it is not about being pro early marriage, but about not taking up for one aspect and negating the other without a thought. My position on the sexual consent age bill and this is not dichotomous. As I had written:

Much of India still believes that sexual activity is also about emotional intimacy. Young people are not automatons. That is the reason we have abolished child marriage, which these activists agree is important to get rid of. Did society not insist that the age of marriage be raised to 18, and rightly so?

I realise that not taking the tried-and-tested liberal Muslim path is rife with the usual labelling. I am not the person to decide, and neither are all of those expressing disgust, and we will not be affected legally or socially.

Regarding this case, it will be made into a hothouse plant to beautify the moderate Muslim landscape.

- - -

You might like to read the other post in full: Young love on a leash?


Manufacturing the Greatest Indian

Do we know about who is the greatest Indian before Mahatma Gandhi?

It does not matter. We live in iconic times with iconic figure who did iconic things and deserve iconic status through iconic surveys. So, the question for a survey (TGI) “Based on an internationally acclaimed format by BBC held in 22 countries” is “Who is the greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi?” It is no surprise that it is a media-propped poll and “the initiative is to select that one great Indian after Mahatma Gandhi who is the most influential, iconic & inspirational and has impacted your life”.

There could be quite a few or perhaps none of the fifty names mentioned. But why is Gandhiji the cut-off date? I can understand the use of a term like “post-Independence”. If he is the benchmark, then what are the variables by which we are to judge industrialists, sportspersons, actors, scientists, musicians, activists or even politicians? Do they have to be ‘Gandhian’? If not, then does it not nullify the yardstick of the chosen iconoclasm?

Besides, how do we define an Indian as great? Due to their origin or their contribution to what is the ‘essential’ India, and that may be far removed from those featured here?

Indira Gandhi

It is ironical that Indira Gandhi, who had declared Emergency, shares the space with Jayprakash Narayan, who bitterly opposed it and suffered for it? The acquisitive business people stand along with the ones who gave it all up.

Vinoba Bhave

How do we judge? Will the general pool reflect how people feel, and I am not taking into account those that cannot vote by giving a missed call.

The media partners will have a good time. They will be in charge of the decision-making process. Primetime and newsprint will bring you the ‘news’, and then there will be analyses. As for the token of the title, there will be comparisons and whoever makes it will in some way be given a Gandhian rubdown.

The India that existed and flourished in the past does not exist. The India where discoveries were made, art and literature flourished, and political strategy was as crucial as swordsmanship, that India does not exist in the finger-wagging and tapping world. How can they say your vote counts, when they have already decided on the broad spectrum of who matters?

The luminaries are pretty much great in their fields, but what was relevant in say the 50s does not apply to those who came in later. Is there no difference between scoring a hundred tons and working among lepers? Is there no qualitative difference between a Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and a Kanshi Ram? How does Atal Bihari Vajyapee feature for being loved by both admirers and opponents, when that is how politics works?

Achievements are now propped up by commercial interests as they were probably ideologically exaggerated in the old days. Today’s greatness rests on success; yesterday’s on making inroads.

Is Mahatma Gandhi in any way a unifying force? The symbolism of the name is, of course, canny marketing. But it leaves one wondering as to whether the greatest Indian – whoever she or he may be – will also be one who has been truly great for India. If so, then what aspect of India? Ask no questions. A pedestal awaits. Your vote will give you a chance to be part of the icon factory.

(c) Farzana Versey


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