How to be a fringe element: The Vishwaroopam controversy

I thought people who went against the tide of prevalent thought are fringe elements. Now, from what we see around us, those who can manage to find a herd and sponsors for their ideology are called fringe elements (FE).

There have been times I have been critiqued for not saying politically-correct things; some have even implied that I “like” doing it, without fathoming the immensity of what might be (and indeed have been) the consequences.  But, it’s been a lone hunter (LH) sort of thing.  LH is vastly different from FE, and it surprises me. The outsiders should be the real FE, inhabiting that lonely mofussil space. That’s not how it happens.

The loonies, fundos, rightwingers, bigots have taken over the territory. Now, if you happen to stroll at the edge as LH there is every possibility that you might be mistaken for an FE.

Everyone is screaming out about the fringe elements once again in the mainstream media. TV panels point fingers at them. It is with some befuddlement that I watch how they are by default being transformed into some sort of maverick, almost out of Camus. The latest reason is the film Vishwaroopam that has been banned in Tamil Nadu. It talks about terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism. Its producer, director, actor Kamal Haasan, who “hawked” his house and “pawned” all his properties for this ambitious Rs. 100 crore project, is being held to ransom by the FE.

They are a bunch of Muslims whose religious sentiments are “hurt”. (Interestingly, Kamal Haasan has himself spoken about being “hurt” by what is happening, and now I am confused about this whole LH-FE business of being hurt.)  The film is doing fine in other South states.  It is Tamil Nadu that decided to ban it. I have not watched the film; the FE have probably not; most of those supporting the FE as well as the filmmaker have not.

This brings us to FoS. Freedom of Speech. Nothing in this episode is about freedom. I believe that a film that deals with a certain kind of terrorism might use its ‘inspiration’; it cannot exist in a vacuum. However, this is not about Islam. No one can make a definitive film on any religion, simply because there are just so many ways of interpreting it, and there will be provision for poetic licence. The FE use it, too.   
Here’s a quick manual on how to be one; as the reference is to the current controversy it will be restricted to Muslims:

  • Look at pictures of beard/skullcaps/veils.
  • Call friends on devices that they say the religion forbids. Gather in a herd.
  • Find helpful sponsors to make and put up posters, effigies, shout slogans.
  • Hide all glossy magazines in possession and bring out the Holy Book; play CDs with naats on the way to FE arena.
  • Express anger, but talk of hurt (in psychology they call is S&M).
  • There is 99 per cent of a possibility that some political group will understand your ‘sentiments’.
  • Leave options open.
  • The fire will be kept alive even when you are not around.
  • Go home to watch yourself on TV. Realise you need to get the look right. Dishevel beard, wear a better cap.
  • Set out to battle again. Anger. Hurt.

The Quit India Boo-ment

The biggest mistake people make is to legitimise the FE. If the case is in court, how does the media discuss it? Can the filmmaker give a press conference? Even before the verdict, Kamal Haasan said:

"Now, I shall wait for the afternoon judgement. But add to this, I think I will have to seek a secular state for me to stay in. And that choice would be a place where it would be a secular state. If I can't find it within India, I will hopefully find another country, which is secular that might take me in. M F Husain had to do it, and now Hassan will do it.”

MF, for all his flaws – and I absolutely disagreed with him for taking up the Qatar citizenship – did not have a work banned. His museum was burned down; he was threatened. These were not fringe elements, but members of a political party.

As regards leaving the state or the country for a secular haven, that is how the fringe elements credo thinks. They use emotional blackmail. They too question secularism. It is really turning out to be a wheels-within-wheels scenario.

In terms of the majority of the population, and I mean crossing any specific boundaries, Kamal Haasan is also a fringe element. He is not a common man. He interprets reality. However, he has the intellect, and the statement he made might sound like treason, if we choose to rationalise it.

Incidentally, this is not the first time anyone has spoken about leaving due to pressure. When the Shiv Sena sent its men wearing knickers to protest outside actor Dilip Kumar’s house, he said he would leave the city. Singer Lata Mangeshkar threatened to do so if a flyover was built near her house, because the pollution would affect her voice.

We will not talk about those who are forced to quit because they can’t find livelihood or due to persecution for reasons ranging from their beliefs to their gender to their sexual choices to their freedom to just be what they want to be.

In a statement he had issued, Haasan had written:

“I have been ruthlessly used as a vehicle by small groups who seek political profile. Icon bashing is a great way to be noticed when you are not one yourself. It is happening again and again. Any neutral and patriotic Muslim will surely feel pride on seeing my film. It was designed for that purpose.”

He is right about people joining a bandwagon. However, why does he need to emphasise “neutral and patriotic Muslim”? The terminology is all wrong. You can be a patriotic Indian, and it means your religion is not part of it. There can be no neutrality when judging any aspect, least of all a work of art. Has he made the film as a neutral and patriotic Hindu? No. And one would be disappointed if he did. He should create what he wants to, assuming that a sense of responsibility towards anything is inbuilt in the creative gene.

After his “I’ll leave”, he has agreed to make changes in the film and “move on”. It raises some fundamental questions which some of us would not have considered, given that I support him against the FE.

  • Is he compromising because of these elements?
  • Is there political pressure?
  • Has he, in fact, seen his own film in a new light and found certain incendiary portions?
  • Is he concerned about the money he will lose? (He said he does not care.)
  • Has he let down those who stood by him only to please a handful of his “Muslim brothers”?

I am hurt because he has caved in and because of his preemptive implication that if some people who are not the lumpen were to later object to parts of the film their neutrality and patriotism could be questioned.

It bothers me that the fringe elements as well as the filmmaker are playing with the sensibilities and intelligence of many of us.

In saying so, I realise that in spirit some of us are more on the fringe than both, the streetfighters and the filmmaker, for not being backed or backing out.

End Note:

Imagine if a hardliner were to ask the director to make changes and it would include his name. Kamal means lotus and is the BJP symbol and Haasan, which is spelt as Hassan sometimes, is a Muslim name.

(c) Farzana Versey



“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong it's reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” 

- Abraham Lincoln

I found this quote applies rather well to us in India as we celebrate our existence as a Republic.

There is much to question, but the Indian Constitution ensures rights. It is our duty to not misuse them. Among these, the right to life, livelihood and dignity should get supremacy. Unfortunately, we as individuals are helpless.

The right to breathe in a secular environment is important. Anyone who dreams of a nation based on religion - and any name given to it in disguise will not help - has no right under this Constitution.

- - -


Nehru, Ambedkar and a Cartoon

Cartooning the Constitution: Look before you leak


Sunday ka Funda

I've been discarding quite a few bits of writing. They don't read too bad; they might even be good in parts. But something seems not right when I internalise it yet again from where it came. There could be an explanation. Here's one that may or may not apply...

From 'Incense Burner', a Zen story:

A woman of Nagasaki named Kame was one of the few makers of incense burners in Japan. Such a burner is a work of art to be used only in a tearoom of before a family shrine.

Kame, whose father before her had been such an artist, was fond of drinking. She also smoked and associated with men most of the time. Whenever she made a little money she gave a feast inviting artists, poets, carpenters, workers, men of many vocations and avocations. In their association she evolved her designs.

Kame was exceedingly slow in creating, but when her work was finished it was always a masterpiece. Her burners were treasured in homes whose womanfolk never drank, smoked, or associated freely with men.

The mayor of Nagasaki once requested Kame to design an incense burner for him. She delayed doing so until almost half a year had passed. At that time the mayor, who had been promoted to office in a distant city, visited her. He urged Kame to begin work on his burner.

At last receiving the inspiration, Kame made the incense burner. After it was completed she placed it upon a table. She looked at it long and carefully. She smoked and drank before it as if it were her own company. All day she observed it.

At last, picking up a hammer, Kame smashed it to bits. She saw it was not the perfect creation her mind demanded.


Buoyancy vs. Vibrancy: Modi's Bubble

A Gujarati friend living in London was chuffed. "I think he's done it, he'll make it," she wrote. Her family could be here, but they are not. And will never. The excuse is "The children were brought up in a western culture, they won't adjust."

So, how globalised is it really? Many like my friend are mere cheerleaders. I avoided writing about it, but that note made me think.

Narendra Modi turned out in good form as a salesman during the recently-concluded Vibrant Gujarat Summit.

When a man hawking his state is trumpeted as hero, he is pushed into a slot. The background noises about Modi as national leader and prime ministerial candidate come from soothsayers, not pragmatists.

Modi has scuttled his chances at being a national leader, forget the candidate for the top job by acting as drumbeater. As he said:


"Once upon a time, Gujarat was the gateway to the Globe from India. Now it is becoming the Global Gateway to India. Gujarat welcomes you through open arms with this event which has grown far beyond the boundaries of Gujarat."

The statement proves just how regional he is. A good indication of a thriving global economy would be if migrants from the state have returned despite doing well abroad and not because of a slack overseas economy that forces them to invest in their roots.

For foreign investment, Gujarat has always had a thriving middle class. Modi has only given it a visible face, a name. He has made the trader his brand - marketing asmita, self respect. Curiously, this version of swadeshi is essentially based on a western model.

Much has been said about big business tycoons and their syrupy odes to him. Let us see what they really mean.


“I am proud to say that RIL is a Gujarati, Indian and a global company. We began from Gujarat and we come back here again and again to invest." - Mukesh Ambani

Indeed, Dhirubhai Ambani started from here. Their major benefactors back in those days were in Delhi. The AGMs of Reliance are held in Mumbai. They've built schools, hospitals in Mumbai. Their showpiece houses are in Mumbai. Their wives' promote cultural activities in Mumbai. They are not investing in Gujarat, but investing in property for their pollution-causing factories there.


"Narendra Bhai has been described in different ways. My personal favourite comes from what his name literally means in Sanskrit - a conjunction of Nara and Indra. Nara means man and Indra means King or leader. Narendra bhai is the lord of men and a king among kings." - Anil Ambani

This was probably the most treacly account, but we are a nation that deifies. Narendrabhai himself dresses up in mythological garbs and it pleases the junta, just as any road show would. Anil Ambani, like his brother, will pick and choose the options in Gujarat. They know they are the real kings, as Forbes keeps telling them.


“Gujarat has made a remarkable progress. We see almost every state embarking on an investors' summit now - a pro-active approach established with a walk the talk approach of the government here." - Adi Godrej

This is essentially playing politics. Investors' summits have often been organised by business organisations. You don't need a political leader for that. Giving Modi credit for it is the sort of palm-greasing industrial houses do before they get their files pushed. Here, it is a preemptive strike.



“There is something about the food in Gujarat that makes Gujaratis not just entrepreneurial but they are remarkably free of the fear of failure. And to me, this freedom from the fear of failure is at the root of entrepreneurship and innovation. In future we will talk not just of China model in India, but Gujarat model in China.” - Anand Mahindra

This is the consolidation of the state as a separate entity. When big industrial houses attend summits in Mumbai, do they reduce such talk to Maharashtrian food or the Marathi characteristics? No. It is redundant to their own aspirations. What Mahindra is in fact conveying is that this spirit was there before Modi and shall be there always.

The China reference was cheeky. China has gone ahead with its economy, but internally continues with its heavy-handed policies. It would be more than happy to clone any model and later make cheap fakes that will probably sell like hot dhoklas in Gujarat itself.


The state is an option like any other. Those investing here are contributing to its image- building much like a wedding family ensures a sturdy and trussed up mare for the groom to ride on to take back his wife.

Ratan Tata spoke about how he first did not invest and then he did, and is now convinced about Gujarat. He forgot to add that he was shunted out of West Bengal where he started his Nano project.

I felt a bit sad when Narendra Modi said in his concluding speech:

"All these people who are greeting us, trying to speak our language, they just want to be part of our economic success."

Foreign diplomats made the right noises and it was to ensure that the huge diaspora in their countries continues to add to the economy from their spice-laden havens in Wembley and New Jersey. Not in Jamnagar and Ahmedabad.

But it does not hurt to look through a bubble and see sudsy rainbows.

© Farzana Versey

Love Anarchy

Kang Yi stripped down to a thong while a young woman gave him love bites. Performance art is almost always controversial. What was the significance of this one staged on a podium at a Guangzhou auditorium?

He said: 

“It's a critique of the concept of chaotic love. I hope that my art piece will call out to today's youth to seek out the excellent genuine love and feelings of traditional China.”

A young woman, a student, spent an hour and a half bruising him with her lips. His chest, abdomen and arms were soon covered with hickeys. It is pertinent that he chose to stand in a Christ-like pose. If we use this as metaphor, then he sees excessive expression of love as no different from hate, of being nailed to a Cross, all to save his people.

The report states:

He also donned tree roots in his hair to signify time and tied three roasted chickens to the plank across his shoulders that positioned his body into a cross-like shape.

Does Time here denote going back to an age where love was mostly devoid of feeling? The roasted chickens covey death as well as sustenance. It is about survival.

Chicken skinning, cooking, carving are as much part of modern-day culinary tradition as they were in rudimentary form in the early days.

By trying to demonstrate what is wrong about such love, Kang is in fact making it seem desirable. He is the centre of that universe where a woman submits to him. His stoic stance is less of a saint and more of a taker. The master commanding that his needs be ministered to. His hot flesh waiting to be bitten into. And his being tied up frees him from having any commitment.

The woman whose lips too would have tired after 75 minutes of such activity is just a tool for his needs. Had the performance shown her writhing or expressing some emotion, it might have been ‘chaos’. Besides, the nature of physical love is subject to how two consenting adults choose to ‘perform’ it. No one is privy to what the traditionalists did in their bedrooms. Chaotic love is not one-sided, unless it is exploitation.

Emotional love is more often about an individual pitted against another. Two people cannot feel the same for each other with similar intensity and the nature of that love will witness varied shades along the way. This does cause turmoil. Tradition cannot save it. If anything, people have been forced into dismal relationships because tradition left them with no option but to follow the rules of the game as reckoned by their roots. This happens in most societies even today.

Kang is merely a revivalist who is using exhibitionism, much like a man enjoying life in a nudist colony trying to sell clothes to others. 

- - -

Images: Daily Mail


Sign Qua Non!

As with any written word, I am intrigued by signatures. My own has caused banks and other institutions much confusion simply because I 'forget' a turn or twist there, or am in such a hurry to put my stamp on paper that the pen overtakes, leaving behind unwanted slashes and mysteriously-placed dots.

Yesterday, while doing the needful, as the bureaucratic term goes, I decided to first give it a dry run. The back of a used envelope served as my zone of experiment. My work looked quite tidy, which surprised me, and fairly aesthetic, which did not!

So, how does it say anything conclusively about me? It is quite possible that my aesthetic sensibilities have become more compact. But, outside of the confines of a signature, I can appreciate the scattered, expansive, and bohemian as much as the minimalist. It could be in art, music, theatre, literature, or even everyday living by way of clothes and food.

Does a signature reveal or deceive, as in put you off the scent, to prevent forgery, to guard oneself?

The ‘messy’ signature of Jack Lew was in the news recently. President Barack Obama has nominated him as US secretary of treasury. If confirmed, his signature will be on every new dollar bill.

A report said, "Obama later added that Jack has assured him that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase the currency..."

While the "series of spirals" do look unusual, how would it debase the currency? Does anyone even look at it closely? In fact, its idiosyncrasy could well make it recognisable and prevent against fakes. The President did joke that had he seen this, he might have decided against the nomination.

I am told that some companies check on signatures when they hire people. Apparently, it is a good enough gauge of personality. Even if it is, individuals in a work environment need not be identical to 'who' they are as opposed to 'what' they are. Situations throw up challenges that test one's mettle and occasionally force one to go against type.

Not being an expert, and clueless about him, I'd still take a go at Mr Lew's signature in the spirit of fun.

To begin with, it looks like a pair of his own glasses reflected on a glass-topped table. He gives the impression of being gregarious, but soon clams up. Is ready to extend himself if there is a defined goal.

He seems to like eggs, curvy women, and perhaps Woody Allen films. He reads Harry Potter when no one's looking.

And chances are that he'd like seeing the Olympic rings in a laughing mirror than at a stadium.

Is this about Lew or about me? Or, a perception of a perception? I guess, it's time to sign off...

Sunday ka Funda

Just because I felt like it...


India and Pakistan – a Perpetual War: Decapitation vs. Capitulation

Are India and Pakistan at war? If we take a pragmatic view, then there has never been peace between the two nations. Does this translate into war? Should crossing the border, killing soldiers, infiltrating be treated as war during peacetime?

On January 8, the Pakistani army killed two Indian jawans, Lance-Naik Sudhakar Singh and Lance-Naik Hemraj. It was made out to be as though they ambled across, fired at the two, beheaded one and took away the head as trophy or proof. But this wasn’t a random act. The mainstream media has largely been talking in terms of “giving them a bloody nose” whether it is stated explicitly or implied.

Combat across the Line of Control (LoC) where both countries are involved does not amount to “diversionary manoeuvre to push infiltrators into J&K”, especially if the Intelligence Bureau was aware of it.

Winters in Jammu and Kashmir were generally considered as downtime for infiltration, the snow making it difficult for such incursion. If the IB had tipped off the Army, why were there no adequate pre-emptive steps taken? This is where it gets interesting.

False peace

Pakistan has, expectedly, denied any such killings. But what has the Indian government done? It termed it “provocative action”. The Indian Army also called it “grave provocation”. If the ceasefire is not respected, it is beyond provocation. This is not some game.

Foreign minister Salman Khurshid said: 

“I think it is important in the long term that what has happened should not be escalated…We have to be careful that forces ... attempting to derail all the good work that's been done towards normalisation (of relations) should not be successful.”

Who are these abstract forces that want to derail the peace process? Unlike in most countries that have a dispute, here peace is the Damocles Sword that hangs over the heads of India and Pakistan. It is ridiculously forced and caters primarily to the commercial and elite classes that gain points at seminars and encourage exchange of artistes to uphold a common heritage. If the heritage is common, why do we need clones?

Has any treaty been signed without ho-humming about the Kashmir issue? No. So, let us accept that the two governments are not interested in peace or a solution to Kashmir. We treat such casualties as collateral damage for a non-existent détente.

The two sides have taken position – away from the border – and ironically both are using the same excuse: non-state actors. This is particularly perplexing, for after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai India had categorically blamed the Pakistani government and finally its ‘non-state actor’ Ajmal Kasab was hanged to death. This time, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has suggested that the mastermind behind those attacks, Hafiz Saeed, was seen having a chat with people across the LoC and therefore the Lashkar-e-Toiba could well be responsible.

How, then, can we blame the Pakistani government for being in denial? If this is an act of terror, then no government will accept the blame, even if there is complicity and jihad training camps.

Besides, between different versions of truth and lies, facts become the casualties. According to a Reuters report

“The body of one of the soldiers was found mutilated in a forested area on the side controlled by India, Rajesh K. Kalia, spokesman for the Indian army's Northern Command, said. However, he denied Indian media reports that one body had been decapitated and another had its throat slit.”

The theory of provocation assumes that needling is part of our respective foreign policies.


Risky Riders

You must have read about how drivers in Andhra Pradesh’s public transport have transformed because their dashboards carry photographs of their wives and children.

“Every driver leaves home promising his family that he’d return home safe. A soft reminder of his family motivates him to be alert. This has gone down well with the drivers.”

I am not too gung-ho about it. One is aware that this bit of news has been highlighted because the Delhi gang-rape took place in a bus and it has been mentioned in the reports, although there is no connection at all.

My point is that not all drivers would be married. Besides, many dashboards have some talisman or icon of deities. Since religion is a huge factor in the lives of many, why does the fear of god not make these people careful? Why do they imbibe alcohol? Rash driving is simply a case of bad drivers – licences are bought by rookies after paying the RTO officers. Then there are bad roads, poor lighting, lack of proper road signs, no concept of road etiquette, both by drivers and pedestrians.

And why blame only public transport. What about private vehicles? Check the number of accidents caused by fancy wheels, and with prominent people behind them.

There is a fine for using mobile phones while driving as it diverts attention. Will not looking lovingly at the photograph on the dashboard have the same effect? If we wish to take a psychological look, then rash driving may have something to do with a sense of insecurity that suddenly finds a tantalising stretch that can be conquered by wearing blinkers, so to speak. There is no one in the line of vision except the road ahead. The cocky look in the rear-view mirror is only to make sure that no one overtakes one’s own road. This is a spatial phenomenon, where ‘I own this territory because it is under my feet’ prevails.

I am merely giving a flipside argument, because we really need to get our act together rather than resort to filmi prototypes.


Sunday ka Funda

"Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it."

- Bill Cosby


Is Miandad a threat to Indian Nationalism?

Why should a former Pakistani cricketer not get a visa to visit India? The obvious reason is that his son is married to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim's daughter.

I am not a proponent of Aman ki Asha, and his trip is not a part of it. To suggest that the Indian government is doing so as some kind of détente is ridiculous. We have celebrities visit us, and work here too, including cricketers.

Isn't his connection with Dawood Ibrahim sufficient?

Doesn't anyone realise how strange this sounds? If, as is the practice meted out to most criminals, he is on top of the 'wanted' list, should the GoI not have asked the Pakistani government to question Miandad years ago when the marriage and wedding plans were flaunted openly and our media and senior officers went to Dubai and returned with nothing, except wedding pictures?

We won't even get into the subject of the Sharjah matches where celebrities were spotted on the stands with him. Some later claimed they were under pressure to do so. This is just too convenient. The underworld financed Bollywood for a long time, and they were happy to be his guests.

There is a lot of hair-splitting over nomenclature. From don to terrorist. The March 1993 bomb blasts ring out clearly in people's minds.

Has the Indian government managed to arrest him? Why can we not take responsibility? Dawood Ibrahim is an Indian. His family lives in India. In Mumbai. His brother was to contest an election. Everybody seems to know where he is, but there's no hurry to arrest him.

It is fairly common knowledge that everyone,from the cops to politicians, maintain a rapport with the underworld. It's been this way from the days of Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar, Chhota Rajan (his Ganesh pandal in Chembur was a great draw and his brother produced films, including 'Vaastav' loosely based on his life), Dawood and the later entrants.

All of the big ones escaped the legal rap. The great encounter specialists depend on informants from rival gangs. It is a relationship beyond convenience, though.

Since there is so much discussion about 'shame', why are we as Indians not ashamed that such blasts took place? Where are our Intelligence agencies? We should be ashamed that even Portugal wants its extradition of Abu Salem reverted because they don't think he is getting justice! We should be ashamed that our cops don't have proper ammunition and facilities. On a tangential note, on New Year's Eve, due to special bandobast, policemen got two packets of biscuit each for a 12-hour shift.

I will not under any circumstances let the popular idea of terrorism overtake other crimes. By trying to make Dawood into a Pakistani stooge - something we already know was exposed by their magazine and not our security agencies - we completely ignore the killings of others, during the riots that preceded the bomb blasts (no luxury of 'action-reaction' terminology permitted here), during police shootouts, and by the gangs that operate under a different guise these days.

If we have problems with Javed Miandad visiting India because of familial links with Dawood, then we'd like to consider stopping all diplomatic ties and peace efforts. These tantalising attempts in cricket, music and trade reek of political hypocrisy.

Also, it is time we cleared our own dirt. The 1993 blasts culprits were arrested, compensation given in quick time. The victims of the riots preceding are still waiting for justice.

Does the Indian government want Dawood Ibrahim for that, too? In fact, it just might be an idea, considering his influence.

The reason the Opposition has dragged in this visa issue up is simply because we need a 'war-like' situation with Pakistan at all times. They seem to be doing rather well on the field in the current ODI series, so we can't display painted faces patriotism. The next best alternative is throw a loose cannon. It won't hit the target as it is not meant to, but will bring out the nationalist in every 'sporting' Indian.

PS: Imagine if Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik turns around and says, "Send us a dossier. We don't even know whether Javed Miandad lives here"!

© Farzana Versey --- Picture: Javed Miandad with Mr. Clean Sachin Tendulkar.