Sanjiv Bhatt's Lost Rebellion

Sanjiv Bhatt with wife Shweta

There is a school of thought about fighting the system from within. It rarely works. The system eats you before you can even bring out your fork or finger it.

There is also the halo-giri, where it is assumed that the fight is being done for honour. One such instance is now before us.

Suspended Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife Shweta on Friday announced that she will contest the State Assembly elections on a Congress ticket against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi from Maninagar constituency in the city.

This is most certainly not a decision she took on her own. She has the backing of her husband, who in turn is backed by the Congress now. I emphasise ‘now’ because he did depose before the Nanavati Commission against Narendra Modi when he, Bhatt, was part of the IPS cadre in Gujarat and wrote to the Supreme Court indicting Modi for complicity. He was suspended.

Shweta Bhatt says:

“We have moved far away from democracy in Gujarat and to restore it, everyone has to do whatever they can. Fighting election against Modi is the logical step in our quest for democracy and to curb anti-democratic forces.”

Electoral democracy means people going to vote and whoever wins is accepted. So Gujarat is a democracy in that limited sense. She could have chosen a word like secularism. Or even dictatorship. But, these are loaded terms and can apply to the party she is now with. By pitting his wife against Modi, he has lost the moral spine of a real dissenter. He stands bare, as one more opportunist willing to sleep with the enemy’s enemy.

Despite some obfuscation and delay on his part, Sanjiv Bhatt did offer a little hope for those who do believe the chief minister owes responsibility for what happens in the state he governs. In a state where Modi is master, the Congress has had no major role to play and, therefore, prove. It knows Modi will win. It does not matter whether they put up a lamp-post against him or Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife. That should concern the officer and gentleman. It will in no way help diminish the crimes he has been fighting against. If anything, he has placed himself in an awkward position where his wife losing could well be used by the Congress as evidence of martyrdom, of having suffered because her husband is a hounded creature.

Well, that is not the case. And Bhatt is probably doing this to keep his options open. A quid pro quo cannot be ruled out, with the Congress promising a Rajya Sabha seat or other goodies. These are political gains.

Modi must be happier than usual. The man who ‘took him on’ on a matter of principle is now playing ball on another court. 

(c) Farzana Versey


Jest Married

Weddings are probably occasions when people have every right to indulge in all their fantasies.

Around this time of the year, whenever I pass the Marine Drive stretch dotted with gymkhanas, there is opulence staring in the face. Elephants, apsaras, fountains, havelis…I once even saw a terracotta Venus lying in repose. How I wish they had a David standing over her. In bright daylight, all these decorations look forlorn, if not ridiculous. They are like discarded courtesans from another era. At night, with lights on, bedecked guests, music, they take on a respectable sheen.

It is not right to question anyone’s idea of a wedding. However, when I read about this, I was stupefied.I'll skip the names although they were on the front page:

One of the biggest weddings in the city in recent years saw...the son of city realtor tying the knot with the daughter of a business tycoon. The four-day wedding bash, rumoured to have cost around Rs 50 crore (over $5 million), attracted over 6,000 guests, including an A-list of celebrities ranging from industrialists and builders to film stars and politicians…

The celebrations spilled over to the next day with a bingo night and an array of games, with eye-popping prizes for the winners: Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, paid foreign and domestic holidays, besides other expensive gifts.

Almost all the guests were well-heeled. I find this rather downmarket. Affluent people carrying away keys to cars, envelopes with tickets to places they’ve been to several times. I would feel terribly insulted.

It is good to have games and fun. Take-away gifts have also become mandatory. This is just so much tosh. Avarice seems to afflict the elite more than anyone else. It is not just greed for money; it is greed for one-upmanship, for power, for acceptance. But, how would a big name feel driving a BMW won in a game of bingo at a wedding? Or, what is one of them is spotted at the airport to catch a flight and someone from those 6000 guests is present and smiles knowingly at the ticket that was won and is being used?

That is the reason I call it downmarket. If you imagine for a moment that such gifts might be passed on to the less fortunate, who do you think those would be? What will the staff do with fancy cars? Besides, many will have to ‘respect the sentiments’ of the giver and keep the gifts. It is all hogwash because they would in all likelihood be backbiting about the host’s déclassé showing off.

 For all the poshness, there are other areas where the hosts reveal chinks:

The menu was multidimensional: Indian, continental, Punjabi, Rajasthani, south Indian, Italian, Chinese et al. “In short, from dhokla-patra to noodles-pasta, there was everything to suit the taste buds of the distinguished gathering,” a family friend said.

Distinguished people do not attend wedding to eat. Distinguished people might be quite discerning and appreciate one sort of cuisine, instead of biting into dhoklas between bites of dimsums while a plate with quivering sphagetii waits for their attention, all to be washed down with robust Punjabi lassi or is it South Indian rasam?

This is not about one wedding. It has become standard fare, with different stalls set up s though you are at some buffet in a restaurant. With so many guests, it might be impossible to have a sit-down dinner. So, why don’t they just have bearers go around with finger food? Then it does not matter that patra is popped in straight after canapés.

Perhaps, the dinner spread from all regions and countries can be packed and given away as prize on some bingo night. 

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Update on Nov 30:

In another context, extremely progressive and gratifying report about wedding vows to protect girl child that I shall reproduce in full:

JAIPUR: After the saat phera and agni sakhshi, health department authorities in Jhunjhunu will make the newly weds take an "official" vow.

Stung by the increasing cases of female feticide, couples will have to sign an affidavit after completing the customary seven rounds proclaiming that they would not possess any bias towards the girl child. They will have to take an oath that the bride will never undergo sex determination test. This was decided four days after bodies of two new born girls were found at separate locations in Jhunjhunju. The sex ratio of males to females is the lowest in this district in the state.

Jhunjhunu's deputy chief medical and health officer Dr Pradeep Singh told TOI, for the first time in the state, such a scheme is being launched under "Save the Girl Child" project."To raise awareness against female feticide and infanticide, we have termed it the eighth vow of marriage. We have printed about 3,000 affidavits which will be handed over to newly weds during the marriage ceremony in the district," said Singh.

The affidavit reads: "We take the eighth pledge that the bride will not undergo sex determination test. We will do our best to save the girl child and also raise awareness among others." The affidavit will be authorised by the minister of state for health Dr Rajkumar Sharma and signed by the couple. 


Aamir Khan's Khap Panchayat

What happened? A man is killed after appearing on 'Satyamev Jayate


Is there a limit as to how far reality shows can and should expose the participants? When people are willing to have cameras placed in hospital rooms to capture their battle for survival, or even impending death, how valid is the query?

I have consistently questioned the ethics of Aamir Khan's show 'Satyamev Jayate'. The host had begun to believe he was a messiah, riding on lachrymose glands. One thought, disgusting as it was, this is where it would end: Sunday mornings of chicken soup for the soul, followed by the main course of 'this is life' shrugging.

Unfortunately, the attitude remains one of arrogant consciousness.

Abdul Hakim eloped with Mehawish in 2010 against family opposition. The difference in status was the reason cited. The khap panchayat issued a death edict. Adoli village in Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh became more than a dot on the map of India.

On Thursday, Hakim was on his way to get medicines for his pregnant wife; five men pumped bullets into him. Was this a family dispute or honour killing?

Had they not appeared on the TV show would they be saved? Other people are indeed killed even when they don't appear on television. Yet, when a case is highlighted and ordinary people are transformed into media-propped bravehearts, then the irresponsibility of the medium ought to be questioned.

Aamir Khan, upon hearing the news, said: "It was completely their choice. In fact, when I met the couple before our show, they expressed the fear of being killed. They were already getting threatening calls."

Why, then, did he not dissuade them, since the purpose of the show was to help society? Or, wasn't it? 'Satyamev Jayate' was catering to voyeurism, not conscience. It had a clear agenda to mimic soaps, but make it sound realistic. Is that why their faces were not blurred nor their names changed?

One notices this sort of 'authenticity' increasingly creeping into the electronic media. Real people are like us or those around us. It is about being a bystander at an accident site, or even a neighbour of someone who commits suicide. We become part of contemporary events, some of which are deliberately exaggerated.

The manner in which such shows sit in judgement is a form of khap panchayat. They too issue diktats and use the vulnerability of those who suffer. Abdul Hakim was a casual labourer. How did he benefit? Was he desperate to appear on TV.

One would think there'd be some introspection. Instead, Aamir Khan said: "Disturbing and unfortunate incident. Will speak to the government authorities in UP to help and ensure the family is safe. The culprits must be brought to the book. The case is registered on the basis of right facts."

How does he know? If he has the clout to talk to the government, then why not talk about the role of such TV shows?

The case is registered, we know. Now, it is time for 'talaash'.


Foetus and Feminism: What about the other Savitas?

Words like “pro-choice” did not even occur to her as they forced an iron rod into her vagina and, together with the blood, remnants of an unborn human being seeped out. She wept a little for the lost child and much more for the scalded part that was essential to her job. Shanno was a sex worker. The brothel owner could not afford her ‘wares’ to be mothers. Shanno had opted for survival on sleaze street. Brothels are secular, so she followed all faiths. No one would justify or hold back her abortion on the basis of religion.

Savita Halappanavar’s death due to negligence at the University Hospital Galway in Ireland has become a global issue largely due to that. A 17-week-old foetus is considered risky for termination of pregnancy. Unfortunately, she was miscarrying and in the state of unbearable pain asked the doctors to abort the baby. The reply they gave her has become a whip-mantra: “This is a Catholic country.”

Is it news that the Catholic Church is against abortion? Savita’s family is justifiably incensed; the denial of her right to terminate the pregnancy is a crime for which they ought to get justice. However, would there be such international outrage had the doctors cited medical reasons for their refusal to abort? Indian politicians who pay scant respect for women’s health and welfare have urged the external affairs minister to intervene and order an enquiry into this case. A report states that 12 women die every day in India due to unsafe termination of pregnancy.

Jodie Jacobson wrote in RH Reality Check

“Someone's daughter, wife, friend, perhaps sister is now dead. Why? Because a non-viable fetus was more important than her life. Because she was left to suffer for days on end in service of an ideological stance and religion she did not share. Because a wanted pregnancy went horribly wrong, and, because as must now be clear, there are people who don't care about the lives of women.”

If it is an ideological stance, would the lawmakers in Ireland even consider this example based on a religion Savita “did not share”? Some foreign newspapers have carried stories with large pictures of Savita and her family at her wedding, including a dance video of a private function. The motive seems to be to pit one culture against another, or at least to highlight that an ‘outsider’ had to suffer because of these laws. Last month, the first private abortion clinic opened in Belfast amidst protests. Why did it take this long for such a medical service to be available when it is public knowledge that women travel to England for abortion? Do activists believe one case will lead to a re-examination of the country’s archaic laws?

Every religion talks about the value of life. That they do not value the quality of life, are misogynistic, and follow a wholly patriarchal notion should make us wary about using their programmed responses to falsify the reasoning. In fact, most social norms too consider abortion as the last resort. How many women, even among the educated, take an individual decision to abort?


Let us digress and expand on the idea of choice.  By applying the argument that a ‘woman’s body is her own’ – an obvious fact – the onus shifts entirely on women. Where abortion or childbirth is concerned, this amounts to being the sole caregiver or guilt-ridden slave of chauvinistic tripe. Just as the Pill did not really empower women but made her accountable for her ‘freedom’, the womb has been desexualised as a pre-birth nanny.

Contemporary feminist literature, especially about sexuality, while apparently busting myths ends up as a Hallmark card celebration of feminine body parts. Take this: “I experienced some of the 'thoughts' of the uterus myself”, from Naomi Wolf’s ‘Vagina: A New Biography’.  Imbuing the sexual organs with emotions demotes physicality as a natural state. The woman becomes an addendum to the part: “Your vagina makes you a goddess. Or rather, ‘The Goddess’.”

A review in The Guardian had taken on Wolf by recounting her description of “a ‘bodyworker’ who attempts, through massage, to re-engage sexually traumatised women and who, Wolf relates in the book with a straight face, once saw an image of the Virgin Mary in a vagina”.

This is a concept that the male module employs effectively to worship women as divine pleasure-givers whose own contentment is essentially to procreate. It appears that female sexuality can only be sanctified as motherhood. It is not easy to discard the psychological baggage, the subliminal conditioning of creating that which is in God’s image. When an Indian intimate cleansing product was advertised as satiating the male, some women activists had raised objections using the convenient hitch of its ‘fairness’ claims. While owning up to the right to pleasure, I had written then that they seemed to look upon it as an individual activity. This too amounts to a quasi-virginal Madonna state.

The supposedly more open western society is also not immune to this. When Demi Moore posed in the buff in an advanced stage of pregnancy for Vanity Fair, she was legitimising pop culture through maternity. Angelina Jolie goes a step further by a public forsaking of the crutch of cohabitation to become the ‘adopted’ mother.

Where choice is concerned, there can be extremes. If widows could use the frozen sperm of the spouse because the couple were seen as “together”, according to Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 1990, then at the other end a foetus born to a brain-dead woman was kept alive because it had the right to live. Savita might well have been saved had medical assistance opted to do so.  

It is not only Ireland that has to think. We forget that in many parts of the world foetuses are discarded because they are female and infants are thrown in garbage bins because they are viewed as burdens. By some weird logic, this is justified as a choice by a society that has no respect for human dignity and for women.  It is the low self-esteem choice to be chauvinistic.


Published in CounterPunch


Wailers and vultures

‘With Bal Thackeray on Life Support, Mumbai braces for violence’. The New York Times in its “Notes from the world’s largest democracy” just could not let go of the opportunity.

But, then, this is what the Indian media has been doing. They positioned their OB vans, and how dare those Shiv Sainiks who had gathered near Matoshree, the Shiv Sena leader’s residence, come in the way of their ‘job’. Their job is not to wait for someone to die. Whenever that is to happen, they will know.

Some of them have complained about being hurt in scuffles. This is what happens when there are crowds. The SS has done far worse, with the people, with media-persons. But in the 90s news channels and their prominent anchors were not celebrities. The people who were beaten, whose offices destroyed were not important people in their scheme of things. What a strange coincidence that Nikhil Wagle, among the few who stood up to Bal Thackeray, is today part of one of these tosh news channels.

I have absolutely no sympathy for Thackeray the politician, and it does not even need to be emphasised. If you’ve been around during the 1992-93 riots, you would know, especially if you went where it mattered. Nor am I one of those “oh, it does not change anything only because s/he is dead/ailing”, although I would accord some respect to privacy. And at least I would not think it terribly funny to pun on his name or crack lame jokes. This is to be expected from people who get their information on timelines and find it easy to just lump along with any smart-ass.

Where were all these people when he was well and thriving? Hitting out at someone who is in a weak situation reveals the weakness of the people commenting. Does anyone recall the grand interviews Balasaheb gave to the media? You should watch some to get an idea about how deferential the media was. To see them today screeching about how his legacy is about violence is a tad bit amusing, not to mention that it states the obvious.

Regarding all this talk about how the sainiks have/will behave and what business they have to converge at his place, did anyone ask why Amitabh Bachchan landed up there? Lest anyone forgets or does not know, Mr. B holds a Sunday durbar at his residence. He comes out to greet his fans. The cops are required. He does this because he wants to reciprocate their love or some such thing. Well, then Mr. Thackeray has his supporters. The police force is needed to handle the situation.

And what exactly is the situation? Why does the media indulge in pre-empt strikes about “violence”? Yes, the sainiks can get excitable and agitated. Think about what happens down South when film stars and politicians have died. There are mass suicides.

Some shops did stay shut. Public transport was slow. Who put the germ of the idea that “something might happen” in the minds of these people? Even if some sainiks did go around asking people to down shutters, the snowballing effect is all thanks to the media and social networking sites.

The worst possible aspect is that they are using Muslim shoulders to fire their empty guns. As always, such ‘protective’ instinct is counterproductive.

There is the violence of the street. And the violence of using the possibility of such violence for one's benefit.


Raja vs Rakhi: Digvijay Singh's Sexism

What makes a senior political leader use the example of a woman from the entertainment industry to hit out at a political opponent? Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh is known to shoot his mouth off. However, his statement, "Arvind Kejriwal is like Rakhi Sawant. They both try and expose but with no substance" is senseless, besides being in poor taste. 

The latest news is that he says she is welcome to slap a defamation case against him where she is seeking Rs. 50 crore in damages. This is just so arrogant. 

It is not surprising that much of mainstream media will not take up for Rakhi. She is not in the top league, and started her career as an item girl performing to titillating dance numbers, which is what heroines do today. She has been called drama queen, attention seeker and several other names, even as she was used by these same media channels to spice up their programmes.

It is to her credit that while she superficially reinvented herself – better clothes, better shows – she essentially remained grounded and, in some ways, coarse. I liked her before she got legitimised by Karan Johar on his talk show ‘Koffee with Karan’, and everyone suddenly started taking up for her being oh-so-frank when she made the famous comment, “Jo Bhagwan nahin deta woh doctor de sakta hai” (what god does not give the doctor can) regarding her several cosmetic surgeries.

Most times, she is cannily self-deprecatory. Like getting excited about designer clothes. She knows that she can afford them now, but she is also aware that whatever she wears will be seen as ‘cheap’. The same slit gowns, the same clutches, the same limited edition baubles that a top star might wear, and promote after being paid for by the sponsor, will be seen as favours done to her.

This is the sad state of our perceptions, of how we view people, especially women.

What Digvijay Singh has done is in the same league. However, like the others, he felt the need to use her name, a name that has become a symbol. There are many who expose, but he could think only of her. Or, he was too afraid to name Vidya Balan or Kareena Kapoor. The analogy was about Arvind Kejriwal exposing people’s names without any merit or substance to his accusations.

How does Rakhi Sawant exposing herself come into the picture? She is revealing her own assets, not anybody else’s. Besides, on what basis does he say she has no substance? This is her substance. This is what has made her, at least partially, what she is. This is her bread and butter. This is what people pay to see. This is how the respectable media exploits her.

She has written letters to the Mumbai Police Commissioner and the Maharashtra Home Secretary against Digvijay Singh. CNN-IBN published her letter, but not before stating:

“Here's the full text of the letter written by Rakhi Sawant, which has been reproduced in its entirety with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors”

So what? It goes without saying she has not drafted it. This works for the English-educated, Oxford-flashing mob to bring down the ‘vernies’.

Even if Rakhi Sawant is a drama queen, she is way better than these microphone queens who think they can change the world. Oh, not just that. They think they are in charge of the world.

Rakhi's letter raises a few important points:

“…outraging modesty of a woman/female, charges of passing lewd remarks and eve teasing, abusing, mischief, passing defamatory remake and false statement and rumour etc…”

Some may think the reaction is exaggerated. It is time to at least address these issues. 
  • Outraging of modesty can be verbal.
  • What he said is lewd.
  • I don’t like the term eve teasing, but such comments do amount to harassment of a woman.
  • It is abusive.
  • It is mischievous, for it immediately grabs attention
  • It is defamatory.
  • It is false because Digvijay Singh does not know her, and there is no reason to drag her name in.

I do understand that she has not been advised too well, though, for there is no relation established between her and Kejriwal nor is it about her gender.

It is also possible that she will renege on her own position and retract the case. But, then, so do politicians. Mr. Singh said he was "an old fan".

The same hierarchy prevails here, too. The lumpen politician passing sexist remarks is immediately pulled up, but a posh Raja Digvijay Singh will get a bemused reaction. He has chosen a target who even feminists would not feel comfortable standing up for.

The whole “objectification of body” argument will be raked up. She has paid to get that body with her money. And she did not ask a politician to objectify her with his comments. 

(c) Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

"If men are habitations of God, we should fall at their feet
But we should leave alone their habits and goals
Fire is good to drive away cold
But you must not tie it up
And carry it around in a cloth."

- Sant Tukaram

There are different ways to celebrate festivals. Poems, music convey those sentiments better than most dhamakas. Here, it is about giving yourself up to god...the happiness that comes with giving yourself to something is unspeakable...

This song is from a little-known film Parinay. The visuals in this clip somehow take away from the beauty of the words and music. I like the straightforward tone in the beat. Nothing against the deities, but to enjoy it best you might need to shut your eyes, as you would if you try to look straight at the sun...

Happy Diwali!

Suraj ki garmee:

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I had posted this earlier, but somehow this song and thoughts recurred to me again.


Blurred Lines and American Votes

Barack Obama has not won. He just defeated the traditionally bad guy, like burning the symbolic Old Man year after year to herald a new beginning that would arrive anyway.

We had been saturated with analyses in the run-up, and the ones after the elections are not much different, except perhaps for the trivia and the jokes. For example, the one about Ann Romney heaving a sigh of relief that now she wouldn’t have to live in a smaller house.

Indeed, Mitt Romney was too rich for his own good. He could have been Donald Trump. In fact, he could have been so many things.  Even Sarah Palin, if one goes by his performance in the discussion on foreign policy. Or, at least, how the debate was perceived.

In an incisive piece in the form of a note to the Republicans asking them to cheer up because they’ve just elected a moderate Republican, William Saletan wrote in Slate:

“Remember how Democrats ridiculed George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq? Obama copied it in Afghanistan. He escalated the drone program, killing off al-Qaida’s leaders. He sent SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden. He teamed up with NATO to take down Muammar Qaddafi. He reneged on his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay. He put together a globally enforced regime of sanctions that is bringing Iran’s economy to its knees. That’s why Romney had nothing to say in last month’s foreign policy debate. No sensible Republican president would have done things differently.”

The good thing about the American system is that it has two political parties. For those of us who have to deal with so many conflicting choices, this appears focused. The debates also tend to reveal a level of transparency. The ‘no more than two terms’ rule is also great.

However, what happens when the lines get blurred between the two major parties? Would people not have other options – independents are, well, independent? Aren’t the debates essentially reality TV, and a charade for the most part? Do people really decide based on banter?

President Obama has talked about finishing his work: “the best is yet to come”. While it is true that no political leader can complete the work, it does also imply an element of failure. It may be attributed to circumstantial factors, stubbornness or an attitude of trying to please some or please too many. This sort of optimism is a straw to hang on to when the winds are harsh.

Romney in his concession speech said:

“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion. We look to our teachers and professors. We count on you not just to teach, but to inspire our children with a passion for learning and discovery.”

Think of the months when the two leaders were flinging accusations at each other, of the lies that were tabulated, and of the humongous amount of money spent to prop up much-raking instead of anything concrete and you know that the people vote for what they think is their belief. It is this belief that will bring them out to celebrate, to stand up for what is good, to protest and to occupy, to get beaten up. Because, casting their vote is only the start of the battle. Promises do not ensure rights. For those, it is an ongoing fight.

© Farzana Versey


What do women get at dargahs?

Haji Ali Dargah as we see it from outside

Everybody seems to have been to or wants to visit dargahs. All it takes is a fatwa for the excitement to peak. So, when news came in that women will not be permitted in the Haji Ali dargah, there was no pause for thought. First, a bit from the Rediff report quoting Rizwan Merchant, trustee of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust:

“Women are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah. If Islamic scholars have issued a fatwa, in accordance with the Islamic law of Sharia, and have demanded that women not be allowed in dargahs, we have only made a correction. They can read their prayers, do namaz and offer shawls and flowers. All that we are requesting to our sisters is not to enter inside the dargah.”
Why have they issued this edict now? Or, was it already in existence, and nobody noticed because either women did not enter or when disallowed did not think it important enough to oppose?

If the Sharia is being invoked, then what is the role of dargahs, which is worship of a saint? According to Islam, such worship is wrong. Besides, graves are not supposed to be in a confined space and most certainly not have a fancy tombstone to which people bow their heads. Therefore, why was there silence on this matter earlier?

There is a suggestion that dargahs follow a Sufi tradition, which is moderate. I don’t see how and why people have to start asserting such moderate behaviour when the prayers offered are verses from the Quran; the namaaz is sanctioned in the Quran as one of the pillars of Islam.  Except for the qawwalis, there is nothing specifically Sufi about dargahs.

The above-mentioned argument is highlighted to posit it against the stringent form of Islam. This is point scoring, and nothing else. In mosques, women are barred from public prayers. I would like to know how many of the women who are fighting against the patriarchal attitude of the dargah Trust have fought for their right to pray at mosques or to even lead the prayers?  

According to some sources, women cannot visit cemeteries and graves. This is dependent on which sect you belong to, and the only thing I can vouch for is that they do not participate in the final rites.

Further more, the report states:
But the decision to restrict women from entering the innermost part of the shrine has not gone down with a women's group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. "The shrine trustees told us the restrictions were imposed after a woman came inappropriately dressed last year," said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder, BMMA, calling the decision unIslamic.

The tomb

I doubt if this is the sole reason. But I also do not see how demanding the right to visit some grave becomes a case of Islamic misogyny. How many women saints have shrines dedicated to them? Will the Sufis stand up and explain this, please?

Having said this, I have visited a few dargahs and admit it was less reverence and more curiosity or to please someone. I have not been able to ask for anything, which is what dargahs thrive on – using a pir as an intermediary to god.

Some people do find peace and, in the heightened atmosphere of incense, flowers and low sobbing, one could experience a spiritual or cathartic moment.

But, these places have become celebrity hangouts. The appropriateness of dress of the famous, even if questioned, does not make the place restricted territory for them. Then, there is avarice. The munjawars (caretakers) will rush you through the motions and their boys will follow you till you add to the donation box.

At Nizamuddin, in what was the ladies’ areas, a man came in, thrust a register before me, showed me several foreign-sounding visitors for some strange reason, and gave me a litany of complaints about the money needed. He was like a retail store that places the pricier wares closer to the entrance. Here, I was seeing these big ticket donors. I would have liked to make some offering anyway, but his attitude put me off. Yet, I did pay much more than I would have and it was not in any donation box. He took it saying it would be deposited on my behalf.  

Worse, the man selling agarbattis way out of the dargah area ticked me off for not covering my head. The visit was unplanned, so over my respectable kurta I had a thick flannel poncho, it being winter. He said, “Khuda ke darbar mein aakar itna bhi nahin maalum ibaadat ke bare mein?” (Coming to the house of god, don’t you know how to express faith?) I was really angry. I didn’t wish to nitpick that this was not the house of god, unless one refers to god’s omnipotence. But I did tell him, “Sar par dupatta odhne se ibaadat badhti nahin hai.” (By covering my head with a scarf, faith does not increase)

My uncovered head was not intended as a slight. I would have done so on my own. Since I was not going to let the experience go waste, I pulled up my poncho from the back and over my head, the tassels like a fringe on my forehead. I sat against a pillar in the women’s wing, and wept because I felt ridiculous, I was upset, and I did not know what to pray.  

A friend who was accompanying me had disappeared. Later, I was surprised to find him escorted right into the mosque and even asked to join in the prayers. He is a Christian. Without even trying, he passed off as a Muslim. He wasn’t too helpful when, upon hearing about my experience, he told me, “You probably don’t look like you belong here.” He meant it literally. I realise I don’t. In so many ways. In so many places. 

(c) Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

 - Thomas Jefferson

(The insider view)

 “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”

 - Winston Churchill

 (The outsider view)

The coming US elections seem awfully tough. It's just another form of warfare. And so, it is only fitting to quote:

"Ev'rybody's talking about 
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism 
This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m. 
All we are saying is give peace a chance"


Betrayal of beauty?

What Jian saw and committed to

The Chinese man who sued his wife for being 'ugly' and won the case can be seen as a study beyond beauty.

Jian Feng did not know about the lack of pulchritude in his wife. When she delivered an “incredibly ugly” baby, he figured out that this is what she looked like. She had, in fact, undergone several cosmetic surgeries.

It is interesting that he assumed she had cheated on him. This made her confess about her surgeries before marriage, where she spent about $100,000.

This was another form of cheating. It makes one wonder about betrayal. What really does it mean? He says she used false pretense. We are living in times when nips, tucks, implants, botox shots have become commonplace. In fact, if you do not have any of the new fashion “accessories”, you might still be suspect.

He got attracted to what he saw. That was the reality for him. Would he know about other forms of ugliness? These are often revealed when people are forced into situations or because these are suppressed emotions that cannot be surgically altered.

Did his wife lie to him? Did he ask her about her past? Would she have confessed to this? Regarding physical aspects too, there are so many that are not immediately visible – what about depilation, push-up bras, corsets, cosmetics that enhance looks? Needless to say, the standards would apply to men as well.

What if Jian’s wife had met with an accident after marriage? Would that be a betrayal? If he began looking at her with pity and tolerated her, then would he not be betraying her? If she underwent reconstructive surgery, but there were a few changes, would that be betrayal? What happens as she, and he, age?

As for the child, what would happen if the daughter was born cute? There would be no reference to false pretense. Would that diminish the betrayal? Is it then about the real false pretense which in turn is about destiny’s denial?

The court has granted him a substantial amount in damages. The child is a product of both of them. What is his responsibility towards the daughter who is unaware of what transpired? If she revealed to him the big truth about his wife, then should he accept her as the harbinger of news or reject her for being a part of it? Will the mother hate her because it was her looks that brought out her secret in the open?

Aren’t these additions and subtractions to the body a betrayal of the self first? Such betrayals are often choices. If people are expected to change habits and values, then why the chariness about physical traits? 

PS: I don't see any reason to post her 'before' picture. This is what she is now. 


Speak Easy

This picture in TOI is taken at Arvind Kejriwal's press conference. The man in grey was apparently asking him how he and his wife, who is with the IRS, were never transferred from Delhi.

He is 'opposing' Kejriwal. Does it seem like it? The latter is not only smiling, but holding the mic for his accuser.

Anything to be 'transparent'. Or, to give the impression of being so?