Looking for the Potent Hindu Male?

Sometimes, words are impotent when they shoot in the dark or do not serve much purpose. Yet, they seem to attract a lot of attention. How potent is such impotency then?

"I want to ask him this question that you claim to be such a strong and powerful man and wish to be the PM, and you could not protect the people of Godhra. Some people came, attacked and went, and you couldn't protect. Are you not a strong man?...Our allegation is not that you get people killed...but that you are napunsak (impotent)."

These words by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid were aimed at Narendra Modi.

The reactions have covered a wide range, from questioning Khurshid’s education to the insult, to other candidates and back to the accuser’s own ‘manliness’. The Faking News had a rather hilarious pictorial depiction of the minister in varied machismo avatars.

However, as the one reproduced here shows, the assumption in that potency/manliness is associated with beefcake – big muscles, big build, big attitude. This is the archetype and has nothing to do with potency, which literally is the ability to perform and (re)produce. A male who is not physically well endowed might deliver quite adequately, even well.

The portrayal of Khurshid is, of course, parody. Tittering about his manliness does not denote the manliness of his target, though. Is there really an issue with the language here? The minister is often not the best spokesperson or face of the Congress party. But is ‘impotent’ the wrong term here? In fact, he is giving Modi the benefit of doubt by conveying that he is helpless, for no one chooses impotency. It is just there.

But, where sexually-loaded language is concerned these words would invariably be seen as a slur.

Rather interestingly, just the other day, Modi had found an unusual niche for his leadership claims – bachelorhood. Singles don’t have to worry about families, he said.

Most people reacted to this with humour, and the opponents quoted examples from other political parties, including Rahul Gandhi.

There is a problem here and it is not restricted to the gentleman who made the statement. It has been said before too by those in positions of power or committed to a cause. I would understand if the individual had taken sanyas and had no strings attached. However, not getting married does not mean you do not forge relationships. Or cannot. But, he was on a different trip:

"Mere liye na koi aagey, na peechhey. Kiske liye bhrashtachaar karunga? (In have no family ties. I am single. Who will I be corrupt for?)…this mind and body is totally devoted to the nation."

He is in effect saying that men become corrupt for their families, they want to accumulate wealth for their wives and children. The impression is that essentially men would have led pretty much clean lives had it not been for the demands the family makes on acquiring things. The signal given out is that of one focussed on the task of changing India without any personal ties. What happens to the larger family of greedy party workers? Why did he feel the need for a makeover? Will he accept it if other politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists turn around and say that all the scams are because of pressure from their families? How would that explain the hoarding by godmen?

The idea of the single man and his assumed celibacy is a potent one. Think Mahatma Gandhi. Think the RSS pracharaks. The allegiance to an ideology imbues them in the public imagination with ammo. In the case of Modi and his tireless campaigning it also gives an adrenaline rush to his followers. It is like an orgy.

Therefore an accusation of “did nothing” is deemed an insult for one who sweats it out. Here, it is not restricted to language, but perception and symbolism.

Does the single man not go against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s new mantra to protect Hinduism? As its leader Ashok Singhal said:

“Hindus should not restrict themselves to two children per family. Only when they produce five children will the population of Hindus remain stable.”

The Sangh is looking for the potent Hindu male. (It is another matter that population is a problem for India.) Modi’s strategy will be to act as the shepherd who will supposedly lead the people to this stability where conversions by missionaries and over-production by certain others will be curtailed, while at the same time urging them to develop and finetune their natural instincts for the nation. In that, his focus could be seen as potential without any performance anxiety. Also, power without responsibility, due to no ties. Detachment can be potent for it allows a person to spread himself thin while appearing to be self-contained.

© Farzana Versey


Images: The Faking News


Sunday ka Funda

"Screw it, I’ll just be a porn star.”

What started as a joke became real. This is about Lauren, a student, desperately trying to finance her tuition fees, who landed a job as an adult film actress. And how it was not as bad as it is made out to be; in fact, how it empowered her to do with her body only what she wished, not what was forced upon her by lovers, spouses, exploiters.


The road less travelled...'Highway'

I had a profoundly cathartic experience while watching 'Highway'. It was when Veera and Mahabir are in the mountains, and they reach a house and she says, "Yeh tau mera ghar hai, mujhe hamesha se hi aisa ghar chahiye tha (This is my home, one I had been looking for)". It is a dusty, bare house, very different from her plush lifestyle in Delhi where "tameez" is taught and learned by buying silences.

Without getting into details and diverting attention from the film, let me just say that the home, a cavernous retreat, that she swept clean and put food in front of became mine. Next day, sudden gunshots hit Mahabir, and as his eyes meet the sky that seems flanked by trees, there is another purging. An acceptance of things being short-lived.

'Highway' has been called a road movie, but the journey pierces internally. Old maps are brought out, some lines erased, new ones formed.

Veera Tripathi, on the eve of her wedding, asks her fiancé, "Why can't we just run away and go to the mountains?" This is how she is. She wants to breathe free, take risks. For her the fancy wheels are just a means to getting away. She wants to go far, just go on and on...and when they take a U-turn, they are confronted by a group of criminals on the run who had no intention of such a 'meeting'. It is a chance encounter. Her kidnapping begins on an unreal note, and stays that way.

The gang leader, in fact, is angry with Mahabir Bhatti for taking her hostage. This is a criminal niche where they have not ventured. "Tu kutte ki maut marega (You will die like a dog)," he tells Mahabir. The latter's reply is stunning in its simplicity: "Jo kutte ki jindagi ji raha hai usko kutte ki maut hi milegi (one who leads a dog's life will obviously get a dog's death)."

While it is not emphasised, there is a strain of a political class struggle. At one point, not sure about what to do with her, he tells his mate that they should sell her to a brothel. He is not dismissive about it. He gives a reason. As a Gujjar, he vents his anger over how easily the rich abuse the women of the poor, even demanding their wives for pleasure. He wonders at the hypocrisy of gangsters too being concerned about the clout of the rich father of Veera. Yet, he does not abuse his power. He does not sell her. This needs to be seen in the context of her innocence being bought by one she was supposed to trust. Is that why she becomes comfortable in his presence?

Her story does not merge with Mahabir's, but runs parallel. They are not made for each other; they are like raw material that cannot be moulded. Therefore, she laughs in the midst of tears, she asks herself incredulously, "Why am I talking so much?" And she hides when the cops check the truck. She had a chance to find freedom from the criminals. Why did she not? Even Mahabir wants to know.

This is most certainly not about the Stockholm Syndrome. If that were the case, then Mahabir is the one suffering from it. He becomes vulnerable. But this is not about any such syndrome. It is not about being awe-struck or falling in love with your captor. Veera wanted to run away right at the beginning. Her escapism is a thirst to experience, to break free, and also due to insecurities. This is the captivity.

That time when she comes out with "when I was nine" and how her uncle sexually exploited her is not an episode. The retelling is not planned, which is why it is so effective. There are no gory details — the fear, helplessness, anger are all in her face and voice. And his stillness. She is the water, he the rock. The terrain has many of these water-rock scenes as they traverse through six states. Water rising, a spray, a jet, droplets in her palm, moving in circles around the rocks.

Mahabir has two moments of denouement. One when he hums the song his mother sang to him as a child and the other when he peeps into that dusty mountain house and sees Veera transforming it. "Promise me you will go and see your mother after all this is over" she tells him in the first incident. She holds him weeping close to her bosom, like mother to child. In the new home, she snuggles up to him, almost over his chest, like daughter to father.

They are together, but not joined. There is no adhesive. As he tells her on an earlier occasion after she rushes back when he leaves her near the police station, "What will you do with me - marry me, produce babies?" Later, waiting for a bus, she says, "I am not planning to marry or make babies. I just want to go a little further for some more time, knowing that you will take care."

We trust the elements as we climb hills, go into the sea, battle inclement weather. We trust almost everything we grow up with. Here the growth is on the way, a constant movement. In Veera's words, "I don't want to return where I came from. I don't want to reach anywhere. I just want that this road should never end."

Mahabir's death does not end her journey. She not only faces, but confronts the demons. She spits out words in their customised faces. And leaves for the mountains. To work. To live. To be. When she remembers Mahabir, it is of both of them as kids. They had never met then. What she is recalling is the innocence of their relationship, its purity. Like the clear air.

This is not about being a captive. When we feel good or seek out something, somebody. it is essentially the true love we feel about wanting to reclaim ourselves.

© Farzana Versey



• Alia Bhatt as Veera behaves as nature does. Fire, earth, water by turns.
• Randeep Hooda as Mahabir smiles only once, weeps twice, yet he carries so many emotions in the hardened face.
• Imtiaz Ali has broken all genre rules. His direction is most unobtrusive.
• Anil Mehta's cinematography goes from craggy dark cranies, flithy lanes, godowns, to long stretches of undulating ghats, valleys, deserts, mountains. And he shows silence.
• A.R.Rahman. Quiet music is rare. Still music rarer.



Sunday ka Funda

Do things ever leave? Maya, illusion or reality, hovers around in stray thoughts, words. Its - her - presence is so all-pervasive that even if she has taken up space, her existence seems less hurting than the constant memory where even her aches like falling leaves are not soundless. Or is it only perception, or the fear of her, of her quiet exit?

"saavan ke kuchh bheege bheege din rakhe hain
aur mere ek khat mein liptee raat padee hai
woh raat bhulaa do, mera woh saamaan lautaaa do"

A few wet days of rain are there
and in my one letter a night is encased
Take that night away, but do return my belongings.

The subtle pathos of Gulzar's poetry is also dryly taunting. Emotions are 'samaan', things. They take shape, become real. Maya does not merely haunt; she lives.


Afraid to love?

Why should anybody get defensive about love? There are different manifestations of it, and differing ways to express it. The need to box in can be a bit of a dampener.

Therefore, when somebody started a Valentine’s Day trend on #ActivistPickupLines to show that activists can be “cute and funny”, it was subversive. Worse, it wanted to express how they are not “cold-hearted feminists”. This is an assumption prevalent among non-feminists and conservatives. They believe in the ‘nazism’ of the feminist narrative. Besides, “cute” and “funny” are mutually-exclusive. In fact, all such terminology is. And let us emphasise that love does not mean pickup lines. So, this is again flashing it as machismo, playing into a male idea. Of course, women want it too, but why the heck should it follow masculine standards?

I am sounding a bit like a killjoy, but it is really better to just enjoy the moment, the day, the event without carrying this huge baggage where you have to defend your choice. Not very proactive. No doubt, some of the lines are adolescent funny and a howl back at popular theories and protests. But some…

“I'm underrepresented. In your pants”

Is it asking to ‘fill up’, or not getting enough, or having to share space with others? Ergo, acceptance of promiscuity/bigamy?

“You're hotter than global warming”


“We ain't gotta worry 'bout leaving carbon footprints...when we're horizontal!”

Wake up. You don’t have to do it lying down all the time. Or does all that activism or ‘standing up’ for rights tire you out?

“Of course you're beautiful. I don't believe in colonized standards of beauty”

Bitch. Look into that mirror first. This is colonisation when you think s/he expects that little twit of a compliment. Even the Tutsis do not believe in the Western standard of beauty.

“Three strikes and you're in”

And out.

“Baby you must been tired cause you've been marching for equality in my mind all day”

Pity that the mind of so effed up it did not even consider stopping the march. Relishing the inequality?

Part of the reason activists have got into the groove is because the anti-love movement has been taken over by extremists and they wouldn’t want to be bundled with them, would they? Also, they realise that their movements need to be marketed as much as those soft toys and tinsel cards, so they really cannot rant against ‘commercialisation’ of events.

And if simple things matter to some people, then why rubbish the same when others revel in small joys?

It is tempting to explain some ‘activist’ reactions to fear of love. It is quite different from fear of commitment. Those who are afraid to love could well suffer from a rigidity that they share with fundamentalists. It is narcissism that camouflages itself in things outside of oneself, but is more likely to be obsessed with one’s ownership of that role. What might appear to be self-deprecatory is likely to be plain old insecurity.

Famous writers and artists, and films that have used love as their template. It did not reduce their stature.

"It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it."

 – From Sleepless In Seattle


Sunday ka Funda

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
- Albert Einstein


Horn 'ok' please: Varun Gandhi's dilemma

They were hopping mad, this group of 'independent' BJP supporters. Columnist Tavleen Singh asked angrily, "Is Varun Gandhi trying to return to his family party? What was this 'shahzada' doing on Modi's stage in Kolkata?"

The other darbari of the disciplined party, Madhu Kishwar, expressed her anguish too: "Varun Gandhi joins Modi Baiters. In private conversations he never made secret of pathological hatred for Modi. Now battle in open."

This is a hoot, especially the familiarity of private conversations.

What does it take to start a controversy? A report that sounds like a third-grade account of a picnic managed to make Varun Gandhi into both a traitor as well as a 'family' man.

Indian Expressstarted the sophomoric excursion with this headline: "Varun Gandhi bats against Narendra Modi,says Rajnath Singh ideal BJP PM pick."

Not a single phrase alluded to this shift in stance. In fact, IE was interested in the size of Modi's rally in Kolkata's Brigade Parade Grounds. As always, the BJP gave figures of a "huge" crowd running into lakhs. The party's general secretary Varun Gandhi seems to have said that the crowd wasn't the size that was reported and the rally was "okay".

The newspaper did not think this answer was good enough, so it persisted:

Asked why he did not think it was excellent, Varun said, “You have got the figures wrong. It is not true that 200,000 plus people turned up at the meeting. The crowd was at the most 45,000 to 50,000.”

What is this? Why is the media suffering from performance anxiety?

Not unexpectedly, Varun Gandhi has called it a "mischievous article...implying that I was trying to denigrate Modiji and the historic Kolkata rally. Why would I denigrate a function that I myself organised? When asked whether the rally was okay, I replied it was absolutely okay."

Who is going to set crow now?

By then, conspiracy theories were raging. NDTV website had this title: "Varun Gandhi's reported assessment of Narendra Modi rally is gift for Congress."

Why can't the media just wait, or ask people who have either covered election rallies or have some knowledge of bells and whistles thinking? If anything, his being a Gandhi will help the BJP for he has already been portrayed as an outcaste from the fold before. He is the one who decided to take a risk and strike out, joining forces antithetical to the family's politics.

In 2009, when he was arrested for hate speech, he had said, "In our country, Varun Gandhi is jailed under the NSA and was having 'lauki' (bottle gourd) in Etah jail but Kasab is treated with 'tandoori chicken' inside the jail."

And his views on the 'paternal' family weren't charitable at all: "I won't comment against Congress as it was breathing its last, my mother had told me that I should not say anything bad against people who are on their deathbed."

Things do change in politics, but to base such an assertion on whether Varun Gandhi was satisfied with a particular size or not reveals immaturity.

© Farzana Versey


Third Front or Facade?

How many Third Fronts will we have? Promiscuous political relationships are not likely to last simply because they are not meant to.

What do Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Naveen Patnaik, Deve Gowda, Om Prakash Chautala and Mulayam Singh Yadav have in common? Does the need to “form this anti-Congress, anti-Modi block” suffice? The BJP also wants a “Congress-mukt (free) Bharat” and the Congress does not want a “communal” party. Therefore, each can qualify as a Third Front if the idea is to oppose a bloc.

It is worrying that parties are coming together at this stage, for the stakes for horse-trading are high now. Rather than an anti-anything move, it appears to be one garnered to make themselves relevant. Many of them have been made irrelevant or have been snubbed. The CPI may not have high ambitions, but it is on the list of all these parties for an alliance. It has already tied up with the AIADMK.

Jayalaitha stated: “AIADMK and CPI have decided to enter into an alliance to face the upcoming Lok Sabha elections together.” Therefore, how would they dethrone Congress to form a “secular and democratic alternative” when the alliance itself if purely electoral?

Nitish Kumar had said, “It’s not exactly a merger of parties, but we can federate these parties.” Given that all of them have only a regional presence, how would they federate? What role would Odisha have in Bihar or UP in Haryana? How much of a presence do these parties have in states where the Congress or BJP are ruling? For that matter, do they even count in Delhi where AAP is holding fort?

Nobody quite knows what such a tie-up entails. Are these alliances designed for the Centre should the results be skewed? Who all would jump in and what happens to the different manifestoes and ideologies of the parties? How many ambitions will they have to deal with?

A small detail has been ignored. The Congress government is a UPA government formed with people like them. The BJP too had ruled as the NDA. Instead of working against the two big parties, the Third Front will in fact give them an opening to pick and choose based on their stated objectives. Did not AAP, which started as pretty much a Third Front prototype, without alliances, end up with ‘support’ from the Congress? Recall the Anna Movement hobnobbing with rightwing parties. What came of it?

There will be more middlemen who will help these alliances for their own ‘cuts’. The Third Front will be fractioned into many smaller groupings and some of these fighters will emerge as victors after joining forces with those they started out opposing.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

Initially it was only curiosity to watch a group of Americans reminiscent of Woodstock singing Sufi qawwali. As I kept listening, it struck me that it was not merely about breaking the music and culture barrier. It was about being free from the very thought of walls.

The qawwali is an acquired taste, and takes huge amounts of patience. The good thing is that like classical music and dance, if you 'tune in' then you don't need technical knowledge. I must emphasise, and I am being a tad bit defensive, that 'Allah' here could be seen as a superior power, even a superior self.

This poem by Kahlil Gibran is an extension of what I was attempting to say at the beginning:

Have I spoken this day of aught else?
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,
And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?
Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying, "This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?"
All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.
He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.
The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.
And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.
The freest song comes not through bars and wires.
And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.