The Indian Mujahideen and the N-bomb?

When a newspaper report begins with "The prospect of terror organisations getting their hands on a nuclear device has long concerned both security agencies and thriller writers" you know that it is not going to be a joy ride.

The manner in which the Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives have been captured and their statements in recent months looks too set up. At the start, let us remember that the Indian Intelligence agencies had not even considered the possibility of any local real or tactical involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks during the early stages of investigations. They, like the media and the public, were completely fascinated by the ten Pakistani men in a boat who landed on our shores, surviving the choppy waters from Karachi with packets of dry fruits and dates.

Except for Ajmal Kasab, they were all killed after going on a rampage in the city and taking the lives of 165 people. Whatever the role of the masterminds, it would not have been possible without local support. In 2008, nothing much was done to find out.

The IM chief Yasin Bhatkal (real name Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa) has been doing a lot of confessing ever since his arrest in August. The latest is that he asked his bossman in Pakistan for a minor favour — a nuclear bomb.

The IM has caused enough harm with rudimentary material, but the ring of N-bomb pushes the organisation in a different league. There is a bizarre ring to this narrative.

Yasin informed the officials:

"Riyaz told me that attacks can be done with nuclear bombs. I requested him to look for one nuclear bomb for Surat. Riyaz told me Muslims would also die in that (nuclear bomb blast), to which I said that we would paste posters in mosques asking every Muslim to quietly evacuate their families from the city."

Muslims have died in several jihadi sponsored blasts, and the guys in Pakistan have been killing their co-religionists for years now.

What is really alarming is that the investigating team actually believed this stuff to let it out to the media. How could Muslims "quietly" evacuate if the posters are going to be up on the walls? Does it mean that the police in Gujarat is so ineffectual? What about Muslims who do not visit mosques and cannot read? One does not even need to ask these questions for it is just so implausible, and as though they care for any lives.

Rather conveniently, the report states:

However, the plan could not be initiated since Yasin was tracked by the IB and arrested in August.

Only to tell tall tales. Bhatkal's statements sound like he is campaigning for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, by creating the N-bomb fear psychosis.

End note:

Notice the timing. The NIA that is getting titbits from the IM leader now gives a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, described as "the face of Hindutva terror", in the Sunil Joshi murder case. Rather interestingly, it was "personal enmity" for which she was charged, and the case against her and the others for involvement in the Malegaon blasts remains.

Here again, cart before horse.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” She asked.

Where do you want to go?” was his response.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

* * *

Actually, it does. Often the road decides where we want to go rather than the other way round.


Wagers of Labour: The Devyani Khobragade case

Is America humiliating India by riding on the case of a maid? Sounds illogical, but if true then it is bizarre.

The incident in short: Devyani Khobragade, Indian deputy consul general in New York, was arrested for falsifying details on the visa of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard. She was strip-searched, handcuffed, had her DNA swab taken and was put in a lock-up with drug addicts.

The Indian media and politicians have gone into hyperbolic mode that, in fact, is derogatory towards the country’s honour they are seeking to uphold. For example, one headline spoke about “Strip search shows India’s spine.” A minister said, “India can’t be treated like a banana republic.”

Every major political party has spoken out, with one vital difference: they are promoting their own agendas. It has little or nothing to do with electoral gains, for Indians really do not care about the nitty-gritty of who represents them abroad or at home. However, it most certainly helps to push ideologies, whether it is making a reference to the diplomat’s Dalit background, or asking for gay American diplomats to be sent back home by a rightwing member, or the ruling party standing up as one of the largest democracies against the might of the other largest democracy. Add to this a mish-mish of others who want to give a befitting reply to America’s arrogance to prove their feeble patriotism.

Posters too convey a feudal attitude of a bigger role as big brother that ought to protect our sisters.

It is shameful to read about a tit-for-tat policy when we are discussing diplomacy. An unconditional apology is perhaps in order, but the US refuses because it reasons it is about their laws.

After a week, secretary of state John Kerry called up India's national security adviser Shivshankar Menon. Spokeswoman Marie Harf issued a written statement:

"In his conversation with Menon, he expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India...The secretary understands very deeply the importance of enforcing our laws and protecting victims, and, like all officials in positions of responsibility inside the US. government, expects that laws will be followed by everyone here in our country.”

This is too vague and obvious that the response is not to the treatment but a reaction to public protests in India.

Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said:

"We have put in motion what we believe would be an effective way of addressing the issue but also (put) in motion such steps that need to be taken to protect her dignity.”

While granting her immunity makes sense, how does not meeting American delegates help serve her dignity? The western media and authorities are not terribly concerned with this issue.

With regard to withdrawing identity cards of US officials that allowed them special privileges over those they were entitled to, it should have been done long ago. Now it appears as though bruised egos are doing the talking. The US consulate and other staff have had many privileges and are afforded protection way above the norm. This reveals a lot about us, and a little about them. For a nation that does not have a history such as ours, where the pecking order is more glaring, its staff overseas seems to quite relish being treated like big saabs, not unlike the colonisers of the British Raj.

India has held its own at least at the level of détente, which is where it matters most. There is no need to behave in a churlish fashion now. Instead of these ‘withdrawal’ measures, would we have the courage to nix the nuclear deal with the US, have an embargo on trade relations, put strictures over fly zone and refueling, a cap over foreign investments, and mandatory surveillance of American companies and consulate offices by Indian agencies? This would be real talking.

Having said this, I do not think any of this is necessary only as a response to Ms. Khobragade. This case should be dealt with between two offices and not two countries. The international agency and labour commission has to look into it.

We have lost all sense of proportion, and failed to notice that the US picked on a mid-level diplomat, and not a high-ranking official. It is also curious why the US arranged for the maid’s family to visit just two days before the arrest of the diplomat. There is a suggestion that this was part of some plan. Why would the American government want to do so? There are strict procedures for immigrations, and if Sangeeta Richard is being given special treatment only because she did not get the salary as per minimum wages, then it might be prudent to ask just how many in the US do.

The helper escaped; her employer got a call asking for money; she complained about the disappearance and extortion; India alerted the counterparts in the US. Nothing happened. Instead, the employer got arrested.

The major issue is the indignity she underwent. It is indeed shocking and rather unusual. What were the authorities going to find after a strip search, a cavity search and a DNA swab? It makes no sense.

If the concern about malpractice, then what about the malpractice of the help seeking employment, which one understands is common practice?

Following the detention of Ms. Khobragade, a report stated:

“Many officials, who have faced such situations, say maids who allege human trafficking, sexual abuse by employers etc have an easier route to obtaining the coveted green cards for them and their families. For this, they are assisted by a veritable army of NGOs and lawyers. Officials said on condition of anonymity that sometimes maids etc are lured by attractive offers from resident NRIs.”

It brings us back to the question: what exactly is the US thinking? At a pinch, it looks like America wants to appear egalitarian towards what is the working class. Although this has not got much publicity, it will convey a message in-house. There has been discussion about minimum wages as opposed to what the domestic staff would earn in India. The expenses are higher in the US, even if board and lodge are taken care of.

It is important to note here that diplomatic staff, and even those of multinational companies, working in India are provided a ‘hardship allowance’, apparently to tide over the hardships they might face in a less developed country, quite forgetting that the dollar goes a long way here. As for the terrible state, they occupy the best real estate and are the toast of big business and the glamour world. They are on the socialite’s wish list all year round, and as they live in the metros there is hardly any reason to complain. If anything, they get far more attention than they would at home. The policy of “reciprocity” will not affect many socially, if we understand the Indian mindset.

The issue has to go beyond removing protective barricades. For those gloating that India is taking a firm stand, let us not fool ourselves.

Playing on anti-American sentiment will cut no ice, because the US has survived it and thrives on it. Count the nations that are against American policies and you will get the picture. Yet, it is American forces that land up to save beleaguered countries, and let us not get into the pragmatic position or even the ethical one here. Or, shall we use the word of currency now – malpractice?

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”

- Harry A. Blackmun

At first, these words by a Supreme Court justice in the early years of the last century appear regressive. I particularly dislike the word “treat”. However, it is important to recognize the differences and celebrate them.

Recently I came upon the term ‘microaggression’.

These photographs were posted with this explanation:

Photographer Kiyun asked her friends at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” 
The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

I was most intrigued by the “smell of rice”. When rice is steamed or cooked simply, it pretty much has no smell. But that is not the point. It is to point out a predominant trait or habit.

There are other such instances, and we will find them in our own environment too. How different is different allowed to be? Why is the ‘other’ always a matter of running down? Even within families not everybody is alike; our friends are not all the same; we too might not look, act or think in a uniform manner all the time.


Sunday ka Funda

"We could live for a thousand years
But if I hurt you
I'd make wine from your tears..."

Find these words interesting. Sounds a bit cruel on the face of it, but I am thinking of old wine, the longevity of tears that will be held precious even after a thousand years.

And just for the moment too...this:


Sanjay Dutt and the case for prison reforms

It would not be anything new if I said it is a mockery of the law. This is beyond comprehension. Actor Sanjay Dutt who was jailed for arms possession in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case is to be let out on parole once again on grounds of his wife's ill-health.

The latest report suggests that there are protests outside Yerwada Jail by activists of some political parties. All this happened primarily after some media outlets carried pictures of Maanyata at a film screening and a party last night, which signaled that she was perhaps quite well. The report says a doctor did check on her, and she is suffering from a liver tumour and suspected heart ailment.

How did Sanjay Dutt manage to get a whole month for his wife's ill health? Who decides on the tenure of care that would be required, as an illness has no timeframe, especially if the specifics are not spelled out?

The important questions here are about favouritism and the law. It is obvious that he manages to pull strings and get his way, something denied to others in the same case during the same period.

Zaibunisa Kazi, a woman in her 70s, was denied parole despite her illness. Will Sanjay Dutt stand surety for her? The answer would be: he cannot because he is a convict. Precisely the point. As a convict, how do the authorities take his word?

On the earlier occasion it was his own illness. Aren't prisoners sent to jail doctors? Should there not be adequate checks during his period of furlough to ensure that his health is alright, a mandatory requirement when a prisoner is inside the premises? Jail authorities can be pulled up if there is a problem. What are the standards when a prisoner is on parole? What if he commits suicide? Who will be responsible?

Should we blame the person seeking it or those granting it? If I were a celebrity, then it is possible that I might try and milk my status as much as possible. What is the law for — to play into my whims? Is the law my chattel that I can call upon to do as I will it to?

There is much talk about corruption, but what is going on here is a form of corruption on the part of the police and law agencies. Under pressure state home minister RR Patil passed the buck:

“The parole has been granted by the Divisional Commissioner. We are looking into the matter and have sought documents which formed the basis for allowing his release on parole.”

From the start, this case was in the public eye because the legal system deemed it fit to be seen as proper. To maintain that sense of propriety it sent a bunch of people to jail. Once you take this decision, then at least respect it. If Sanjay Dutt's behaviour is good, what is the aged Zaibunisa Kazi doing that isn't good?

I am all for humane treatment of prisoners, but it should apply across the board. (It was not done while convicting, as we know about ministers who had arms at the time.) If the law too believes it buckled under pressure while sentencing Dutt and a couple of others, then is there room for reopening the cases?

Perhaps it is time to use this instance to discuss prison reforms. Why can we not have a system of a broad-based house arrest, where convicts who are to be trusted can continue to contribute to society while being denied certain privileges? Doing carpentry and cooking may work in the barracks, but prisons can become better places if there are fewer prisoners in them. They can benefit if the 'homed' convicts are made to pay a portion of their earnings to the welfare of prisons. Imagine a Sanjay Dutt contributing, say, 10 per cent of his earnings.

There should certainly be strictures, such as showing up every ten days and filling up a roster, impounding of the passport and whatever identification papers the government deems fit, and the police can conduct surprise checks whenever they wish but accompanied by an appointed ombudsman from an impartial agency. Public appearances in the case of celebrities should not be permitted. Between work and home, the legal system can create a group of individuals who are not merely holed up and then granted special leave that looks like a farce.

If justice is seen to be done, it can be so outside the prison too. As I had written in an earlier piece:

a criminal is not answerable to me or you. The government, the judiciary, the police are. They are public servants. As for the ‘watchdogs’, it would be good for them to remember that those who prefer selective justice are the real anti-social elements.

The same applies to selective treatment of those who have seemingly got their just desserts.

© Farzana Versey



Everybody wants to claim Nelson Mandela. India has appropriated that right with its most bankable crutch: Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela, who fought against apartheid, was imprisoned for 27 years, is seen in India as the man inspired by Gandhi.

Of course, he expressed admiration. Yes, Gandhi was thrown out of a train in South Africa. But their lives and politics were vastly different.

That ought to not even be a point right now. Just as quoting Barack Obama on Mandela, except as an obituary, makes no sense. Mandela was the product of a violent struggle in his lifetime and was called a terrorist. He did not initiate a war on terror, he did not live to send drones to other countries.

In his own words: "Armed struggle must be a movement intended to hit at the symbols of oppression and not to slaughter human beings."

He was not a traditional pacifist when it mattered. As he said, "During the times of tensions, it is not the talented people who excel, who come to the top, it is the extremists who shout slogans."

In the rush to pay tributes, people don't seem to realise that they are conveying something entirely different from what they intend to say, simply because they are saying it badly.

Take this ad for a dairy product company.

It has sensibly not put in a reference to its butter. But, how exactly did Nelson Mandela rise each time we fell? Who are the 'we' represented here?

This does not even sound complimentary; rather, it is an insult. Did Mandela rise when others faltered? Does it mean that his whole struggle was about such flawed behavior on the part of the rest instead of a fight for what he believed in?

There is a quote by Confucius, which seems to have inspired the ad:

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Mandela did not give up despite the incarceration. It was his glory, his achievement. He did not wait and watch for others to fall so that he could rise.

In fact, prior to the 1994 elections, he said: "If there is anything I am conscious about, it is not to frighten the minorities, especially the white minority. We are not going to live as fat cats."

End note:

"Nelson Mandela Becomes First Politician To Be Missed" — Headline in The Onion

© Farzana Versey


Khaps and Taliban — Sometimes Misunderstood?

The idea that the khap panchayats want to get an image makeover is not new. They tried it earlier. So, will it be any different when they launch their website on December 14?

Whether we like it or not, khaps play an important role in villages, especially since the ministers are too busy in circuit houses, if they ever show up. Often, the regressive attitudes expressed and, worse, action taken against women, including honour killings, are not exclusive to panchayat members, but part of the conditioning and attitude.

Sunil Jaglan of Jind's Nogama khap has been quoted as saying:

"We feel positive work done by khaps is not highlighted by the media. Khaps resolve disputes related to property and matrimonial affairs but these do not get prominence anywhere.''

This could well be true, and given that there is more and more a need to delegate, khaps can play an important role. Perhaps a policy of reward, by way of recognition for their good work, might help them to understand why there is a negative perception based on their diktats and how detrimental it is to the society they claim to represent.

It is obvious that they are essentially trying to woo the media and the outside public, and such a website might not even be accessible to the villagers. However, the fact that they are in the open would be a check on their activities. In fact, it might help if they also dealt with issues not restricted to their domain. It would then reveal how the big bad city denizens behave, too.

The flipside of such 'reaching out' could be self-censorship of news and views, and if the media depends solely on their version the truth might never be out. Or, it might be reported as sensational items, like the Deoband fatwas that nobody except the mullahs sitting in there care about.

If the khap initiative does turn out to be an exercise in such value judgments, then it would end up telling the rest of the country who is boss.

For now, the benefit of doubt is due.


Another case of an organisation that will never get good press is the Taliban. There was a news item about how the Talibs told Pakistanis that howsoever great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is they should not praise him, but instead praise their own Misbah-ul-Haq, even if he is a bad player. Headlines like “Stop praising Indian Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Taliban warn Pakistani media" made it to all major international and national newspapers, with the usual moral authority that comes with being on the side of the good guys.

Turned out that the intelligensia got it all it so wrong that the Taliban statement came across as superbly nuanced!

The media took one para out of context and missed out on the analogy, exemplified in this last bit:

"This logic certainly opposes reality, just like the example of cricketers I just gave, everyone knows how much it is opposite of reality to not admire the greatest cricketer [Tendulkar]."

Of course, there will be many who would ask: "But haven't the Taliban done so many vile things? They are capable of saying this."

Yes. But there is no ethical reason for those who are 'superior' to mislead. This is not just about what the Taliban says, but how it is perceived in a generally antagonistic Indo-Pak context.

I was particularly struck by the photograph I have used here. It seems to suggest that Sachin is under threat from the Taliban.

It is a little amusing, though, that these guys want to clarify their stand on a cricketer. But, I do sigh in relief that no one has used the done-to-death headline saying that the Taliban bats for Sachin.

It was a 'no ball'.

© Farzana Versey


Cartoon: The Hindu
Image: Express Newsline


Sunday ka Funda

"A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end… but not necessarily in that order."
- Jean-Luc Godard

The battle between what constitutes good cinema and bad cinema will never end. The mainstream, whether in Hollywood or Bollywood, will be looked down upon, even as the majority of people crowd the movie halls to watch escapist fare, or distorted versions of events.

I have been quite open about my love for Indian cinema, despite its flaws, and partly because of the manner in which the original New Wave has been completely altered to make way for the sanctimonious creators of pulp redefined.

A while ago I read about this conversation between actor-director Manoj Kumar and Satyajit Ray, two people from different genres of filmmaking:

At the 1967 International Film Festival in New Delhi, Ray told Kumar that he found his film 'Upkar', a tad too melodramatic. After a pause, Kumar replied: “Manikda (Ray’s nickname), consider the scene in 'Charulata' where Soumitra Chatterjee first meets Madhabi Mukherjee. There is sound of thunder and lightning in the background. Is it not melodrama?”

A smiling Ray apparently patted Kumar’s shoulder and said, “You caught me!”

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out."
- Alfred Hitchcock


A few months ago we had an interesting discussion here about a song from a Manoj Kumar film


No end to justice: The Aarushi-Hemraj murder verdict

The verdict is out. But this is only another beginning. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, parents of 14-year-old Aarushi have been pronounced guilty of her murder and that of their domestic help, Hemraj, in the early hours of May 16, 2008. There is also the charge of destroying evidence and filing a false FIR.

They issued a statement saying they will fight for justice. For themselves. Aarushi, even in death, was treated with disdain. Every bit of her for public consumption. No one was concerned about her reputation. Dead people don't have reputations. No one was concerned about Hemraj. I include myself in this group of people who treated his death cursorily.

This is what the death of the poor mean. What is even more astonishing is that after the verdict, there is sadness. People have short memories. The media that enjoyed the spectacle of conjecture now talks about probity. The media that sensationalised the case now thinks in terms of giving respectful space and not judging. Who were they to judge, to begin with? But not only did they judge, they decided on the 'turn of events'. Reporters were posted in Noida and acted as detectives. The change was quite evident.

I have written quite a bit about the case and following are excerpts.

June 2, 2008

Her father Dr. Rajesh Talwar is under suspicion for having killed her and their servant because he found them in a compromising position; other reports suggest that the girl knew about her father’s extra-marital affair. Whatever it is, I do find it surprising that the mother, Nupur, is appearing on several television channels to save her husband. She should be in the lawyer’s offices, with the police. Not giving sound bytes to the cameras. I am afraid I feel no sympathy for her when I watch her. Besides, they say she was in the house when the murders took place.

[I mentioned today that she was on TV a day after the murder. There were cameras covering this, so I did think in terms of a soundbite. Now, it appears she gave an interview to NDTV a week later. Apparently, that is fine. Also, I am told to remember that she was "stoic". That is not the point. It is whether you want justice for your daughter or for your husband and yourself?]

Now comes the part about the media. Aaj Tak channel had a story in the initial days titled, “Papa yeh tu ne kya kiya?” (Papa, what have you done?) What is this? Some soap opera? And when the mother was mentioned they played the track of the song “Maa…tu sab jaanti hai…” from the film Taare Zameen Par.

July 13, 2008

Criticising the UP police once again for their alleged irresponsible handling of the Aarushi murder case, Union minister for women and child development Renuka Choudhary said that the family should sue the police. “The family should sue the state police and those responsible for bungling the case must be suspended,’’ she said.

This isn’t mere concern about how the case was handled and the character assassination of Aarushi’s father Dr. Rajesh Talwar. It is about party politics.

This is a way to make the Mayawati government accountable.

It is true the police was most shabby in how they went about getting evidence, but why did the Talwars not mention their compounder Krishna’s name right then? Now he is the prime suspect. The question also remains as to where the parents were when the murder took place and how soon did they inform the police.

And just for the information of the minister, it wasn’t merely the cops who tarnished Aarushi’s name; the media went haywire. There was no need to report all that and no need to show all those teachers and students certifying the girl’s reputation. All this only draws attention to something that may be untrue but gives enough scope for rumours.

Dec 30, 2010

The CBI can’t solve a case. Aarushi... has left enough traces. But those traces do not seem to find their way to the source.

The Central Bureau of Investigation came into the picture soon after the Noida police made no headway. Perhaps, the entry of the CBI was the big mistake. Big people need big people to get mouths shut.

They found the weapon, they have a reasonable motive – “immediate provocation”, they know of missing files and the swapped vaginal swab, they know that someone was tampering with evidence. Then, why is it so difficult to find out who and why?

It is impossible that the findings reveal absolutely nothing. What did the DNA sample show? What did the brain-mapping reveal? Who cleared the room before the police came in? It need not be one person. These are people in different places doing different things. Who was calling the shots? And why?

Instead, the CBI has washed its hands of the case:

“The agency has filed a final report for the closure of the case on grounds of insufficient evidence in the competent court.”

It has been only two and a half years. There are cases that are pending for decades. I would like to see what Aarushi’s parents do next. It must surely be tough on them to have a daughter raped and murdered in the next room and the place cleaned up while they were around just a few metres away, isn’t it? They should file a case against the Noida police and the CBI and the hospital authorities for shirking their duty and making a mockery of justice.

They have the power, being educated and relatively better-off than many who do not have the means. Let this be a fight for the silent Aarushis and the silenced ones.

I don't know what to add except that there are silenced Hemrajs too.

There cannot be closure for facts change over a period of time because perceptions of them do.


Sunday ka Funda

"Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god."
— Aristotle

What happens if beast and human come together? When I saw this photograph, even before reading the article, I found immense beauty in it. Beauty, not courage, not adventure. We have seen divers, all dressed up and prepared to face sharks. In an older video, Christina gets real close, and the BBC commentary even talks about the sexual attraction, of mimicking a shark, of the shark being in a trance.

There are other questions that can be raised about interfering with nature, courting danger. And what happens were the shark to turn violent? Who is to blame? Would killing the shark that you have been embracing until now be deemed self-defence? Can it, if we rally extend the argument, be a crime of passion?

The article does not have answers. However, it describes the encounter:

At the 22-second mark, one man swims down and grabs the dorsal fin of the lemon shark. After riding it for several seconds, he does something truly shocking. He swings around to the bottom of the shark, gives it a bear hug and hangs on belly to belly. His head is precariously located just below the shark's mouth and he hangs on for several seconds before finally letting it go.

Before you watch this, let me ask Aristotle: Is it solitude when man and beast come together in what could be a spiritual (and a broad sense godly) experience?


Will Tarun Tejpal open a can of worms?

The manner in which the case of the editor who sexually exploited an intern is being played out one would imagine that people never had a low opinion of the media. From the looks of it, they expect the highest standards of propriety, chastity and morals from the news purveyors.

Tarun Tejpal, founder and editor of Tehelka, the investigative and sometimes controversial magazine, forced himself upon a young reporter from his office during the recent ThinkFest organised by the magazine. He wrote a letter to the managing editor; she, in turn, forwarded it to the rest of the staff with a short note.

Not noteworthy

The letter has been taken to the cleaners, and rightly so. But, let us pause and think. What could he have said? I am surprised he put anything on record at all. Why is nobody suggesting that perhaps he has been forced to by one or two of the many who are supposed to be sponsors or 'well-wishers' of Tehelka?

In the note, he does a promo for his mag. Let us look at it from the long-term perspective. He has to keep his best people around, and ensure that they are not affected by the scandal. It is part patriarch and mostly self-interest. The financial stakes are not to be sniffed at. His mention of a six-month leave is probably a face-saver. Or, perhaps, someone up there has provided some sort of guarantee?

Tejpal, of course, attempts to cover his tracks:

"It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles. Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words. I must do the penance that lacerates me."

This is all about him, and not a thought for the young woman, the daughter of his old colleague, his daughter's friend. However, the quibble over his use of terminology has revealed something: most have played right into it by getting moralistic themselves rather than treating his behaviour as a crime that needs to be tried legally.

Shoma Chaudhary in her letter to the Tehelka team has called it an "untoward incident". Again, much as this term is reductionist, did she have a choice if she had to forward a note? Could she go beyond the mandate, that too when she was to be in charge of the team?

On NDTV last night, she came across more strongly, and spoke about treating this case as sexual harassment at the workplace.

One needs to broadbase this, to include SH in other work-related environment too. Women journalists have to conduct interviews that are often not without the uncalled-for attention they receive. I am deliberately being euphemistic here, because adding to the sexual connotations just gives those looking for a high a talking point and little else.

Look, who's talking

This incident, like many others, has become about scoring over an opponent. Tehelka was supposedly a magazine with Congress leanings, so the opposition is quick to bring in references to Asaram Bapu and even the stalking by 'Sahib' in Gujarat, as though one evil cancels the other. Then there are competitors in the media, who have found a wonderful opportunity to pick holes at everything Tehelka has done, as though their own house is clean.

Should this incident be an example for exposing the media? Yes. But, if anybody thinks it is an isolated incident, then they are wrong. The assumption behind wanting such an exposé is that the public really did not believe such a thing was possible and the media was above-board. I doubt if it is naïveté. It seems more like the feigning of innocence so that they can now concentrate, rather lasciviously, on a case study.

However, can one entirely wipe out the work of many of its reporters only because of what their boss did, unknown to them? Now that they know, should they be punished for being part of the organisation?

The problem here has ceased to be about sexually abusive behaviour. Tejpal is the right candidate for pillorying. Brash, flashy, and sanctimonious. Even a letter written by an environmentalist made a mention of him and his red Pajero.

To be noted therefore: If a person in a position of power is not brash, flashy and does not have a red Pajero there is a better chance of his crime being less eyeball-grabbing. Tejpal had plans to start Prufrock, some sort of elite club. Where did he get the money, how can he do such elite things after claiming to stand up for investigative journalism...such questions are posed by those who seem clueless about the media, or think it better to go along with the flow.

The whole corporate structure works on barter, and as has happened often power is abused. It would not help to indulge in innuendo or even give random examples.

In some cases such abuse is passed off as consensual. This sort of consent is as forced as molestation. Besides media heads, there are the sponsors, the businessmen, traders, film stars, PR agents, and even colleagues that follow a pecking order. Women are used as bait, if not a straight honey trap. Go fly a kite if you did not know about this.

The Tehelka ThinkFest has been in the news regarding some of its sponsors. Again, I have an issue with all such fests because they only dumb down intellectual/literary exchange and compromise them at the altar of the highest bidder. For the critics to now use unconnected material from the past is sheer opportunism and will do nothing for the crime for which Tejpal must be tried.

Is anybody really interested in the victim or justice for her? Does it matter whether or not she covered cases of exploitation for the magazine? What if she wrote a gossip column or about fashion or sexy things — should we then judge her differently?

If anything, Tehelka was given a halo by the readers, mainly for its over-emphasis on sting operations that became trendy. Now, they are treating this as the story of the fallen hero.

Justice is not about self-righteous indignation.

© Farzana Versey


Also read my 2003 essay (from an anthology on the media): When puppets hide behind pomposity


Update on November 23

Although most people are in the loop of who said what, just to put on record what the girl said:

In her complaint to Tehelka Managing Editor Shoma Choudhary, the victim says, "It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you – I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn’t one. The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week. From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me – but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not. To add to this, I had to process the fact that it was Tarun who molested me — my father’s ex colleague and my best friend’s dad, and someone I had so deeply respected and admired for so many years."

“I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you — and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.”

And here is Shoma Chaudhary's statement


I no knot what to do...

"You know nothing about the business of writing," he told me.

Then came the details. How to get off. Get it off. Take off. Take it off. Book launches. Public relations. Publishers and their demands. Reviewers and their demands. Readers and their demands. The format. The cover. The pages. The typeface. The people to meet.

"What's happening with your book?" I asked him.

"I don't know."

I returned to my soggy half-finished sentence and patted it dry.

© Farzana Versey

The rape 'excuse'

Why has everything become about rape? The US ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, was asked why Americans did not come to India for studies. This was during her visit to an institute in Ranchi. She replied:

"The concern for personal security and perceived increased danger to women as a result of the rape cases was perhaps a factor in US students' decision regarding study in India."

First let us get this out of the way. How many Americans would want to study in India? The obvious answer is, few, if at all. And these few would opt for an off-beat course, not any mainstream field of study.

India is a good education option for young people from Africa and the Middle East. One does not see European, American or Australian students here, unless their parents belong to the diplomatic corps or have jobs in the many multinational companies that have set up offices. They have a choice in the American School or the more elite institutions run by business houses.

The latter are doing a good job, in fact, of preparing Indian students to qualify for further studies in the West. Many of them will probably stay on, unless they have big daddies at home who will keep the swivel chair ready for them.

Chances are that nobody will bother to ask them about the dangers of living in any of the countries overseas due to fear of racist attacks, of gun culture, of teen pregnancies, of date rape, or of any of the problems that the young citizens of those countries face.

Certainly, it is disturbing that women's security is treated with such disdain in India. There is relentless harassment of female western tourists at some places and there have been cases of sexual crimes against them.

But, Ms. Powell is being unfair in using rape as the reason for students staying away. Or she is just feeding on the relentless media blitz following the Delhi gangrape and the articles that have kept up the momentum?

I have stated this often that we are indulging in the worst possible form of reductionism by making rape into an exhibit and repeating every detail, thereby objectifying the victim.

Instead of grabbing every news item and airing it, giving the cops their 15 minutes of fame, the media could be more proactive. It is not only about how the world perceives us, but how this sort of coverage impacts on minds. I am repeating myself, but this is creating ghettos where women are told to be afraid at every step.

The implication here is as bad as 'she brought it upon herself'. Women are told that if they venture into certain places, they could be raped. What does this mean? Would it not make sense to ensure that those places are well-secured if we know about the danger there?

And it would really help if all those Indians writing stories for the western media would not try and replace the old exotica with this backward society narrative. For, it is only one part of the truth. Those who capitalise on it constitute the rest of the this truth. They are the progressive regressors who use rape as an adjective without even realising how demeaning that is.

© Farzana Versey


This post is not to ignore the problems faced by women from outside, as you will see in this earlier piece: Can Indian men handle foreign women?

Image (only for representation): Latitude News


Sunday ka Funda

"Everyone who enjoys thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed. — Herein lies the difference between them that create and them that enjoy."

— Friedrich Nietzsche

While the seed is crucial, it would be foolish to believe anyone, I mean anyone, would want to enjoy seeds. Besides, those who sow seeds are not doing so only to create. They too wish to enjoy the fruits.

This could apply not just to real seeds, trees, fruits, but to any aspect of life. For me, especially, it is about creativity. An idea that remains an idea can suffocate. I need an outlet.

It is possible to also enjoy another's creation without necessarily knowing or wondering about the seed that gave it birth.

This afternoon for two hours I was enraptured with music that was in some ways alien, and in some familiar. Kenya is the land my Nani came from. I think about her every single day. Listening to this song just took me closer to her history. Another seed.

This is not the season for it, but 'Kothbiro' means "the rain is coming"...


Where honouring Sachin Tendulkar means securing popular vote

It is not about Sachin Tendulkar being honoured with the Bharat Ratna that is the issue. It is the timing, the manner in which the highest civilian award is handed out for a personal milestone. Sachin has played well for India, no doubt. But, why did the government not wait to confer this award? It seems now that it is a populist choice, almost as though bowing to public pressure and thereby scoring political points.

It is no secret that the Padma awards and Bharat Ratna too are driven by political considerations. At the run-up to the former, there is heavy lobbying. The lobbying for Sachin to get the Bharat Ratna has been in the public domain for a while now. I watched Lata Mangeshkat, who has taken on the role of advising on awards and political positions these days, root for Sachin on a TV show, as he played his last test match.

What exactly does such retirement mean, in days when the game offers so many options? Sachin, like many other cricketers, has used his position for commercial advantage. It is fair enough to say that he will continue to endorse products. Today's paper had this ad:

In wanting to pay tribute, it has inadvertently sent a message that here is the hero who has everything that you may not be able to aspire for, but at the very least you should have something to return to. There is something a little sad here.

On November 16, Sachin played his last match as people before him have done. His statistics are better, way better. His record as a 'clean cricketer' made him a middle-class icon. Here is the dichotomy, and to an extent it is a bit disturbing. Indian streets are full of gully cricket. There were people from humble origins who played successful innings.

Sachin came from a decent, educated background. Let us not for a moment forget that this would have had an impact on perception of him. He moved out of the literary enclave where he spent his childhood, he drove swishy cars, wore designer clothes, opened restaurants, was seen in the best company. Anybody else would have been seen in a different light. His persona did have something to do with it, but one cannot entirely ignore the middle-class propensity for accepting upward mobility and business acumen that does not come with any obvious taint.

This squishy image, bundled with achievement, has kept him safe from any slurs. Indians are cricket crazy. They think of Sachin as god. These are not streetside boys, but the educated. Those who can rub shoulders with the big people because now there is that little hope where smarts have replaced knowledge. The behaviour of his fans is no different from that of the bhakts of some politicians being built up as cult figures.

The cult of Sachin is in a different league with celebrities endorsing him. Should one have a quarrel with the honour for Tendulkar only because of this?

No. But, why does public sentiment not matter where it counts? The government comes out looking like it wanted the popular vote and decided to ride the crest.

There in the audience was Rahul Gandhi, sitting not in the VIP box, but with the spectators. There was Krishh Hritik Roshan, our version of Superman. There was Aamir Khan who has made his activist career with selective televised truth through 'Satyameva Jayate'. There was Nita Ambani, the owner of IPL team 'Mumbai Indians', who has already announced that Sachin will continue to play an important role. Another party at Antilla will soon be announced.

Tendulkar is the first sportsperson to be awarded the Bharat Ratna. This should make us feel ashamed over how the Indian government treats sports, and ought to make it obvious that this has nothing to do with love for sports. Yes, Sachin will get the facilities to run academies. Therefore, the highest civilian honour is like any popular award.

However, one must grant it to the authorities who made the final decision. They knew there would be suspicious minds, so they announced two recipients. The other one is Professor CNR Rao, the man behind India's maiden Mars mission. The papers have given him a footnote paragraph:

Prof CNR Rao is an eminent scientist and a well recognized international authority on solid state and materials chemistry. He has published over 1,400 research papers and 45 books.

Good move. Sachin fans can continue to hog the limelight because no one will be unduly bothered about Prof. Rao and the government can breathe easy it can fool most of the public that it has not been biased or opportunistic.

Yet, a maiden Mars mission? I suppose it is all about the confluence of planets and stars.

© Farzana Versey


For those who came in late, Justice Markandeya Katju had been lobbying for Mirza Ghalib to be honoured with the Bharat Ratna. Read my take on that: Writers, Patrons and Politics


Second image in collage is Sachin with Manjrekar, Vivek Razdan and journalist Shekhar Gupta in 1989 tour of Pakistan. I've used it before here...the lipstick boys.


Let us meet? Another Indo-Pak moment...

Milne do. Let us meet. This is how the peace narrative of India-Pakistan relations go. Some of us have expressed reservations, emphasising how diplomacy is imperative and cricket, films, culture should not intrude or override political considerations.

Peaceniks are nice people. I am not sure about movements at any time, for they too become political if not commercial enterprises for certain media groups to use people-to-people contact for just making music, quite literally. One does not need to assert peace if the intention is purely cultural.

However, I do know that families are separated, and it is not only due to the Partition, although that is the most heart wrenching memory because it divided the country and, to an extent, the people. I do know how getting visas for people who can spot the sliver of a river or peek at trees across the border are torn because of such divisions and acrimony. These are not the ones who will go via Wagah.

While I wait for that, I cannot deny that this short by Google is indeed a warm recognition of the soul of what were once 'one people':

Google Search - Reunion from Google Pakistan on Vimeo.


This is far more important than the hype over our Home Minister P. Chidambaram being in the same room as a Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef at a non-government function.


Sunday ka Funda

I think about the sea often. But, it struck me that when eyes are described in Hindi or Urdu poetry, there is a reference to them as possessing the depth of the river: "Jheel si gehri aankhein". How deep are rivers?

Do they too cause little storms? Or, is their tranquility enough to shake us up, wake us up...to dream a daydream?



Opinion Polls, NOTA and Intellectual Waste

The word 'ban' is so potent that even those who do not know what is going on suddenly become agitated. Needless to say, these are what we charmingly refer to as the cream of society. This is not elite in the posh sense. You will find crumpled kurtas, jholawaalas, bidi-smokers, Old Monk drinkers in this crowd. Should you dare to even want a discussion, you will be deemed a conservative.

Now, here comes the rub. The rightwing political groups are part of the move against the ban on opinion polls.

Reportage and commentary have stuck to two neat divides of to ban and not to ban.

It is the AICC that has asked the Election Commission for "restriction on their [poll findings] publication and dissemination during elections". Congress party general secretary Digvijay Singh said:

“...These have become a farce. They should be banned altogether. The kind of complaints, information that I have got show that anybody can pay and get a survey as desired...In a country of 1.2 billion people, how can a few thousand people predict the trend. It has become a racket. So many groups have sprung up.”

One may have issues with the man, and also accept the possibility that the party is responding in such a manner because some trends are going against them. However, it is typically churlish to suggest that it is due to fear of Modi, especially as in the past the BJP too had problems with such polls.

Not so now. Narendra Modi is agitated by this undemocratic behaviour:

"Those who have followed Indian politics and the workings of the Congress party after Independence would agree that the stand of the Congress Party does not come as a surprise. The biggest casualty of the Congress Party’s arrogance while in power and its tendency to trample over Institutions has been our Fundamental Right to Free Speech."

How much of freedom of speech and expression could he possibly believe in when his government has banned the screening of films and art galleries have been destroyed in his state? Perhaps he should have asked for opinion polls to find put the public reaction. He has issues with the occasion when there was a clampdown on the social media. It is only natural for him to have expressed "solidarity" because most of the accounts were part of the disruption process. These same accounts are out to discredit anyone who exposes their government and ministers.

It does not in any manner imply that other political parties are not prone to such muzzling, but do we really consider such chaos as democratic?

To digress: The Congress came up with the ridiculous suggestion that the marshes in Madhya Pradesh should be covered because the lotuses in them would be publicity for the BJP election symbol and against the campaign rules. This is asinine, and the party was called out on it.

Modi further writes:

"My concern is not limited to this proposal to ban opinion polls. Tomorrow, the Congress may seek a ban on articles, editorials and blogs during election time on the very same grounds. If they lose an election they may then seek a ban on the Election Commission and if the Courts do not support them then they may say why not ban the courts! After all this a Party that resorted to imposing the Emergency in response to an inconvenient Court Verdict."

A politician will target only his immediate opponents, notwithstanding the fact that he will camouflage it as a principled stand.

There is a rather misguided perception that this amounts to banning opinion. It does not. Polls are based only on random selection. Everybody knows that, like rigging at booths, these too can be manufactured, especially since today the process has gained a certain sex appeal where titillation works. So, you have trends that do not commit and talk about a wave and sway. This is really devious, for they are wiling to to play into selective hands until they can retain the primetime slot. There is nothing to lose for the sponsors, because the end result can be attributed to several aspects, including low voter turnout due to everything from climatic to anti-climactic factors.

If they are so useless, then why want to do away with them at all? My reasoning is that it once again props up a limited number of people as the constituency and the deciding factors. The impact works as auto-suggestion, and we have the great Indian middle-class with its online shopping and yuppie dreams believing in any spectacle.

It is particularly important this time — whether during the upcoming Assembly polls or the general elections next year — for it has become a circus where the competition is between acrobats and clowns. Arvind Kejriwal has used his now-patented idea of having transparency. How can there be transparency in opinion polls? They are safe, for they do not stick their necks out.

To the hyperventilating suggestion that this could be a prelude to banning of other forms of expression, it has been done before and not because of opinion polls. (Not too long ago, a spoof site on Modi was blocked.) The media is often restricted due to commercial considerations that want to cozy up to certain political groups. This is an ongoing bias. However, a reading of any analysis is most certainly less random and quite clearly an opinion. The right to reject that viewpoint is embedded in it.

One cannot say the same about opinion polls where amidst charts and chants you are being bulldozed into believing something that may not even be an outright lie, forget the truth.

Rather interestingly, the Election Commission has confirmed the new symbol for the 'None of the Above' option, where voters reject all the candidates.

Is NOTA an opinion? It sounds good on paper. But it won't have an impact.

The EC has already clarified that the candidate securing the highest number of votes would be declared elected even if the number of electors going for the NOTA option surpassed the votes polled by the electoral contestants.

There goes the non vote. NOTA is a wasted opinion, and chances are that those who have made this choice would publicly claim otherwise, if the party that comes to power looks cosmetically good. Will those who opted for NOTA come out and claim to be votaries of it?

In some ways, the rejection of all candidates is a rejection of the electoral process. If no one is good enough, then just boycott. 'None of the above' reeks of self-righteousness, rather than an opinion.

© Farzana Versey


Return to light...

Lights greeted him upon his return after a 14-year exile. If we do not see the symbolism of epics and mythology, then what use are they?

Diwali surely is not only about a well-lit Ayodhya welcoming Lord Rama.

The light conveys coming out of darkness, of the warmth from diyas, of flames dancing in the wind, conveying evanescence. And the oil and the wick that stay in the background to light up things and are then burned out themselves.

Yet, light is never far away.

It is said that some raagas are so potent they can create and destroy. Legend has it that when Tansen used to sing in the emperor's court, the room would be filled with light. I think the power of such light is within us.

"Curving back within myself I create again & again."
- Bhagvad Gita

A Happy Diwali!


Ageism as monstrosity

Why is old age fit enough to be a Halloween costume? Heidi Klum chose to dress up as one for the annual party. As Jezebel reported, "She's honestly unrecognizable — look at the fake veins on her legs and hands. She must be wearing fake skin over her skin, like a festive version of Necromancer pants."

These pants are made of human skin. We won't go there now, but Halloween is supposed to commemorate the dead, martyrs and loved ones who have left. What message does this 'costume' convey? To begin with, it does not look like a costume. It is realistic. It makes it appear that the end is near for old age, and the body must be ravaged and sag and wrinkle.

As an international supermodel who has seen a lot of cosmetic intervention around her, Heidi ought to know that this is not how old age always looks. I am not against the fact that this could be the natural consequence, and there is nothing to be squeamish about it. But for Halloween — when everybody wants to do a make-believe? Had she chosen a gothic version, it would have been more than fine. This, however, is eerily reminiscent of the real, and it does not appear to be granted the respect it deserves.

There seems to be a whole attitude towards ageism that props up not just the Botox industry, but more damagingly the thought process. Youth, irrespective of maturity, is seen as the final authority, the mantle-wearers, the shining knights and primped up goddesses.

Had these fake veins been real they'd hurt like hell. Fantasy reduces them to a caricature.

© Farzana Versey


I had written about how Halloween made me Somebody Else

Saturday Snapshots

A quick weekend roundup of what made news and what it means.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban chief Hakeemullah Mehsud has been killed in a drone attack. Liberal Pakistanis are jubilating that at last a drone has hit the right guy. (How often did they point out the wrong targets?) The problem is that they do not even try to put pressure on their government to deal with such men. I'd like to know how the Americans manage to get it right this time. If they are capable of good targeting, why is it that so many civilians have been killed? Was this a chance encounter that gives them enough ammo to live on before their exit from Afghanistan? (Incidentally, Mehsud has been 'killed' before, too.)

And then there is Imran Khan. His tragedy is that every time somebody from TTP dies or is killed Pakistanis start mourning for his political career. They don't even realise what an unhealthy obsession it is. But, then, he is a few words away, unlike dealing with the real McTalibs.


Just got news that Rohit Sharma has scored a double century in the ODI against Australia.

Due to too much hoopla, I've lost interest in cricket. But seriously, scoring over 200 in a one-day match is like cooking biryani is a microwave oven.


Lata Mangeshkar has declared:

"Narendrabhai is like my brother. All of us want to see him become the Prime Minister. On the auspicious occasion of Diwali, I hope our wishes would come true."

Surely, Lataji cannot speak on behalf of all Indians. She is using a religious festival and has done what amounts to campaigning for Modi. We are aware of the family's leanings towards the Hindutva ideology and its support for the Shiv Sena in Mumbai. We also know how she made a noise about the proposed flyover on Peddar Road only because it would affect her. (She resides there.) Such political interference is not new, and when she was not getting an assurance she sulked and threatened to leave the city. Her sister Asha Bhosle spoke of moving to Dubai, which happens to be convenient because she owns a restaurant chain in the UAE as well as other Arab countries and London.

Wonder why Lataji has not sought a haven in Gujarat.

Meanwhile, Modi's reaction was amusing:

"With their (Mangeshkar family) divine voices, delighted crores of people making them stress-free with music and making their minds and bodies healthy."

PS: My views on Lataji predate Modi's appearance on the political scene.


No comments:

Michael Fassbender is fed-up with everyone obsessing over his penis.

"It wouldn't be acceptable, it would be seen as sexual harassment, people saying (to an actress), 'Your vagina...' You know?"


Mr. KPS Gill, did the police tutor Modi on the action-reaction theory?

The fact that the Modi camp rejoices over a few statements by a tainted former deputy general of police reveals the desperation to get a "clean chit".

In May 2002, KPS Gill was called in as security advisor to Narendra Modi. On October 31, 2013, over eleven years later, he says the Gujarat Chief Minister cannot be held responsible for the post-Godhra riots.

His reasoning:

"In law and order situations, it is the police leadership which has to respond and not the political leadership."

It happened to be the anniversary of the anti-Sikh riots when he said this, so it sounds particularly unfortunate. For, then, people like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, who have been tried for their role in the 1984 riots, would also be seen as blameless.

Why should Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, or even Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, be made answerable for the recent Patna blasts, prior and during Modi's rally? After all, they constitute the political leadership.

Why question Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh for what happened in Muzaffarnagar?

When protestors are beaten with lathis and tear gas shells are used, why does the police force not take responsibility? Why does the matter reach the political leaders, including the President?

KPS Gill has got to have answers to these allied queries, for he cannot be selective.

He was appointed by Modi as security advisor, which is a political process and position, to an extent. It was three months after the riots. What did he do? Whose responsibility are compensations, rehabilitation? Who should visit the refugee camps?

"I realised that people of all political parties who were anti-Modi and anti-BJP were taking advantage of this mayhem and making all efforts to defame Modi one way or the other."

There is no denying that political parties always come in to take advantage, and the BJP is no exception. Could Mr. Gill explain how exactly does defamation of Modi take away his lack of intervention? The fact is that the matter did not end with the "mayhem" (interesting choice of word).

The report further states:

He charged the policemen and the administration had become communal after the incident in Godhra and Mr Modi, who had just become the chief Minister, did not have proper grip over the state machinery...he said that after taking charge as the security advisor of the state, he had visited all places where violence had taken place and policemen from top to bottom refuted having received any direction of the type being mentioned.

• The police deal with communal issues on a routine basis. They are not supposed to be communally prejudiced. The manner in which Gill is running down the Force is rather surprising.

• If Modi did not have a grip on the state, how does it matter? Why did he start using his remote powers? Don't they go against the former DGP's own thesis that it is not a political issue?

• There was much that happened soon after the riots, including the transfer of senior police officers. So, if the police leadership has to take responsibility, why were they shunted out? Would they not stand up for what they did? They did not transfer themselves, right?

Those cases are documented and the cops have served/are serving sentences.

• If they did not get any directions, why has no senior cop from Gujarat come out and said so in clear terms about the murders, the destruction of property, the encounter killings?

And why did Narendra Modi speak about action-reaction at the very beginning? Was he tutored by the cops?

There is a limit to the whitewash job.


Speaking of KPS Gill, even a whitewash job by him is not really capable of cleaning. He has, after all, served a sentence himself.

In 1989, he was charged for sexual harassment with 90 IAS officers signing the petition.

Rupan Deol Bajaj, an IAS officer herself, had persisted with the case and later said:

"Gill was convicted of sexual harassment charges by the Supreme Court and it's high time the government withdrew the Padma Shri award it gave him."

It is important to understand the mindset of such a man before taking his clean chit at face value.

End note:

"The rank and file of the Punjab police force feared him. I cannot say that they respected him. He was very supportive of his subordinates as long as they co-operated in achieving his goals. Even delinquents and evil-doers were tolerated if their actions fitted into his grand designs."

- Julio Ribeiro, who inducted Gill in the operations in Punjab

© Farzana Versey


Ornamental messages: The Tanishq ad

A measure of how 'backward' a society is to see how it portrays progressiveness. If you need to pat someone for what is considered normal, then it only means you do not view it as quite normal.

The new Tanishq ad for its wedding collection shows what is being touted as a dusky woman, and a mother, getting married. This is supposed to be about breaking of taboos regarding colour and remarriage. In reality it is so bloody self-conscious, besides of course being elitist.

All those who look down upon television soaps should know that these aspects have been handled in them, and quite sensitively at that. There was one recent serial 'Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuchch Kaha' where a mother of two remarries, and if it means anything she was dusky too. And at no point was it alluded to.

This commercial is about jewellery, and therefore the message too is ornamental. To posit the woman's duskiness we have a fair groom, which amounts to seeking the acceptance of the acceptable. When her daughter says she wants to go 'round and round' the fire when the marriage vows are being taken, it is the man who carries her, his role as knight and proactive partner consolidated.

Don't bother to see this in the light of some great reformist movement. Corporate India that deals with so-called modern sensibilities has played safe by using a religious ceremony, the male as being 'fair' to society, and of course the possibility of such progressive thinking being the prerogative of a few who can afford luxury and by default the luxury of ostensibly going against the norm.

Once again, the 'revolt' has been appropriated.


Bare lies

Would you expect a biology teacher who also takes a geography class to explain mountains and oceans in biology terminology? Or a writer of horror stories to pen a children's novel using the same language? Why then expect an adult film actress to necessarily go topless for a film of a different genre?

As the report states:

Ironic as it may sound, actress Sunny Leone, who is known for her porn films in the US, recently refused to go topless for a scene in her upcoming horror flick.

Why is it ironic? What she does, or did, in a related field was the demands of her work. She has joined Bollywood with different dreams, or else she would have continued in her old job. I have never heard her run down or give a sob story about her past profession, but it is only fair to let her make her choices.

There are other mainstream actors who do agree because of the 'demands of the script' and then go around sounding conservative or, worse, as victims of the industry. However, male actors like John Abraham or Ranbir Kapoor who have flashed their butt can go around citing this as their USP.

Sunny sees the cinema she is doing now differently, as she has every right to do. We are such hypocrites. Many will watch her adult stuff, but run her down and expect her to perform as per type. She finally gave that shot in a bikini.

However, a source has been quoted as saying:

"Though she was allowed to shoot wearing a top, it was later removed using computer graphics. Her breasts were then digitally superimposed from one of her earlier films."

I do not know how she has reacted, but it is a sneaky and unethical thing to do.

It is okay:

If she did not want to physically perform the scene, but has no issues with the portrayal.

It is not okay:

If this was done without her consent and defeats the purpose of her not wanting to even be seen bared.

In very old films, actresses wore flesh-coloured body clothes beneath their flounces and feathers. This included those who made short appearances in cabaret numbers. In some cases body doubles have been used for intimate scenes. They were aware that the audience would be unaware of the 'deceit' and would perceive it as their skin, so why did they do so? Simply because of the discomfort of performing such scenes with a crowd of lightmen, spotboys and others around.

In Sunny's case, the filmmakers think this is her territory anyway, so why the chariness? I have one question for these directors: they shoot such scenes often — are they expected to only direct such scenes and nothing else? And do they identify with these in their personal lives?

© Farzana Versey


Also: Of porn and pawns


Image: Sunny Leone with Naseerudding Shah and Sachin Joshi in the forthcoming 'Jackpot'


Sunday ka Funda

This is not an obituary. Manna Dey has appeared on these pages in several forms, and twice to emphasise how it took him to reach the age of 90 for the government and the film industry to confer any recognition.

In a recent editorial in The Times of India, the headline called him the Amadeus of India. Not only is there no connection, but even in a tribute we need to compare one who gave so much to Indian music.

I know almost all his major songs, and am partial to his semi-classical songs. I have earlier mentioned that I felt "Pyaar hua iqraar hua" was the triumph of music directors Shanker-Jaikishen and not so much Manna da. I still think so. I have returned to his peppy numbers or the songs from 'Chori Chori' that he sang for Raj Kapoor because Mukesh was apparently not available. He was the second choice, although he was a trained, and in many ways, more accomplished singer.

This is, therefore, about the nature of what we call 'playback singing'. Raj Kapoor often said that Mukesh was his soul, and he did a stupendous job of it. Manna Dey had joked that he was always given songs that were picturised on beggars and boatmen.

Part of it is that despite his classical base, his low notes were brilliant. Unlike Talat Mehmood, there was no quiver in his voice, but there was a quiet, excellently expressed in his tribute to the Mohammad Rafi number in 'Pyaasa': Yeh kooche, yeh neelam ghar... It is unfair to include this here, but it reveals two facets of a song, as well as immense bonding in what could have been rivalry.*

For today, because I have been listening to this in a loop, I choose 'Phir koi phool khila, chaahat na kaho usko...". The scene from 'Anubhav' is a humdrum existence of a married couple where a bud flowering is not seen as some grand love, as the lyrics suggest.

And then there are these lines:

man ka samundar pyaasa hua, kyon kisi se maange dua
laharon ka laga jo mela, toofan na kaho usko

Essentially, why pray to anyone as the mind's sea thirsts and just because waves pile up it does not forebode a storm...

This is less detachment and more the beauty of now.

Manna Dey. A life, a sea.


Terrorism and the Indian Muslim: 'Shahid' as Apologia

Soon after the first shot was fired in the first scene, I felt uncomfortable. Anything to do with the riots of 1993 produces a pit-of-the-stomach reaction. I have no control over it. However, barely a few minutes into the film and my discomfort was transferred to the manner in which Shahid subtly works the mainstream.

The problem with the ordinary man as hero, or someone who does extraordinary things, is that everything else begins to be seen as a prop to bolster his story.

Those who have witnessed the 1993 Bombay riots up-close might be able to comprehend the issues I have with the film, based on the real life story of slain lawyer Shahid Azmi, whose portfolio comprised mostly of cases of wrongly-convicted or imprisoned men on charges of terrorism.

Except for that one torture scene, the dilemmas are portrayed in a touch-and-go manner. Not only does the film consolidate stereotypes, it comes across as an apologist for the government. Throughout there is an assertion of how wonderful the judiciary is. As the end credits roll, it is mentioned that in his seven-year career Shahid procured 17 acquittals.

While this is factually correct, there are numerous cases that go unheard, forget about getting justice.

The details, as shown in the film: A teenager from a lower middle-class family watches the riots of 1993. He is deeply affected and leaves for Kashmir. Here he gets some sort of training in handling arms. He escapes from there after a few months. Is arrested on charges of being a terrorist. In the seven years of imprisonment, he studies. Once out, he pursues a law degree, joins a firm, quits to start his own practice, starts fighting cases of 'suspects' who are rounded up without a shred of evidence.

And then one day he is shot dead in his office. The end is the beginning.

The premise was open to raise pointed questions, even as it maintained a narrative structure. Instead, there is no sense of commitment, except for mouthing of clichés.

It pained me when I watched it, and it pains me now as I write it, because this film is being hailed for taking a risk. Some have even said how wonderful it is that such a film was made at all.

What kind of a society are we that what needs to be stated as a matter of course is considered an achievement? It is infuriating that we have to accept these crumbs. Azmi's life was in some ways remarkable, but the biopic is not.

It works on the formula of good Muslim. Had this not been a "gritty" film, one would be tempted to recall Karan Johar's celluloid families. Shahid and his brothers are shown as too perfect. They are educated, clean-shaven, and the bearded men they associate with speak gently. I know loudmouths who are not militant. And much as education needs to be encouraged, should we assume that those who do not have access to it are all suspect?

Why does Shahid escape after the riots and that too for training in jihad? This is a horrible indictment, and assumes that those who are affected by such scenes will as a natural course choose to become terrorists.

We do not know what he is disillusioned about. It would have been an important message to understand that such jihad is not a panacea. But the director desultorily goes through the motions of showing a few men wearing skull caps, holding rifles, saying "Allah-hu-Akbar", and preparing for some grand plan that might come their way.

Upon his return to Mumbai, he goes home. He is later arrested because they think he is a terrorist. Resigned to a life in prison, a Kashmiri militant befriends him over games of chess. Yes, the good Muslim Shahid is pitted against the bad one who will use him as a pawn. This is borne out later when a good Kashmiri (the film is ridden with such good-bad ideas, although it does so quietly) warns him about Umar and how these guys just want to prove their superiority and lord over others. He also tells Shahid about how justice takes time, but it prevails. The fact that they are all unjustly in jail seems to be lost on him.

The good Kashmiri is friends with Professor Saxena. (You cannot possibly have a Prof. Gilani or Raza, can you?) They encourage Shahid to continue with his studies, and the professor pitches in with some tokenism about Sher Shah Suri.

Seven years later, the family has moved to a better residence. There is no evidence of anyone having dissociated with his family. This is not the story of many people, as Shahid himself suggests. Then why was this family spared? Because they are not 'typical'?

Shahid joins the firm of a Muslim lawyer. The avarice puts him off, and he starts on his own. I would like to emphasise here that all this conveys that for a young Muslim to be taken seriously, not only does he have to be clean-shaven and educated, he also has to be squeaky clean.

Maryam, one of his clients, is possibly a spark in many ways. Shahid falls in love with her and proposes. That is when she asks him, "You know I am a divorcee, don't you?" There you go. A Muslim woman who probably had 'talaq' said to her three times, and is now bringing up her son on her own. They marry quietly. Why?

When he later takes her to meet his mother he brings a burqa, something she has never worn. He requests her to do so just this once. I fail to understand this. His mother is not shown wearing one, and if he has married without consent, then does he need this? What exactly does the director want us to know? That all said and done, a Muslim woman will at some point in her life have to wear a veil?

The scenes in the court are slightly better, but again the judge is seen pulling up the public prosecutor more than the defense. This sounds rather utopian. At one point Shahid loses it and asks, "Are you trying to say I am a terrorist?" That is the one true moment. For the most part, he does not even use the word Muslim. He says "minority". If this is not a copout, then what could possibly be?

He fights the case of Faheem Ansari, arrested following the Mumbai attacks of 2008 because his laptop had some maps. Shahid starts getting threatening calls. There is no explanation. The silence is a tacit understanding of not taking sides.

One night, Shahid is called to his office and shot dead. His colleague appears for Faheem in his place. It takes a Ramalingam to justify the work of a Shahid Azmi. This is what the film tells us. This is what people tell us. This is how stereotypes work. This is how Indian Muslims get branded. Patronised.

Fine. I am glad this film was made. It just shows us how celebrity parallel filmmakers play the formula and consolidate the stance that the state is always right.



I have been fairly surprised by how the 'populism' of such serious cinema works. To the certified Muslim organisation that has sent this email:

"Go watch SHAHID before it is too late. If you dont have time atleast buy tickets and gift it to some who has. If people are so disinterested, filmmakers wont want to make such brilliant movies again"

I can only say that rather than gifting tickets, acquire the skills and have the gumption to make a movie that tells your story your way, instead of waiting for majoritarian prerogative to speak up for you.

You want to accept magnanimity, and that is the whole darned problem. And you in your elitist hole, there are people who do not need to watch movies to know what they experience.

If on an everyday basis one is taunted as being a jihadi and asked to go to Pakistan, I can only imagine how it is for the people who are rounded up without even the courtesy of a snigger.

I did not need this film to get me thinking. I have done so publicly since 'Bombay', then 'Fizaa' and later the execrable 'Black Friday'. My analysis of the last one is here.

It is no surprise that quite a few 'secular' people, even among Muslims, would want to applaud the film. It is their choice. Just do not expect me to fall for any and every gesture of some 'pathbreaking maverick'. I can turn around and say that I have posed queries that are not in the domain of either popular or even much of offbeat ideas. How does such hat-tipping matter when you are being handed over little bites of predigested bitterness?

What I write is to challenge the reader as much as I am challenged, though not by this film because it plays too safe. But do not tell me that the questions a film/art/book/thinker asks are the final questions and the ones I ought to ask too.

© Farzana Versey


The performances were uniformly above-average. But I cannot bring myself to see it as just a film. Here is the official trailer; what I have written will not come through here: