When will we kill patriarchy for our honour?

I detest the term 'honour killing'. It assumes that somebody's honour is at stake and therefore the murder has social sanctity.

Farzana Parveen was attacked by her family for "marrying the man she loved". She was pregnant. This happened in a big city, Lahore, Pakistan. It was in the day, at a place where there is always a crowd — right outside the high court. People stood and watched as her family members, including father and brothers, hit her with bricks and batons.

She was appearing in a case filed against her husband Mohammad Iqbal for kidnapping her. Her family had come prepared with guns and first fired shots in the air. It would seem the intent was to take her away. When this did not work, they picked up bricks and started pelting her. Her husband managed to escape. I find this disturbing. While it would be impossible to shield her against 20 people, he could have stayed there.

What was the crowd doing? Even if they did not want to get involved, they could have called for help. This is sickening. A report says:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private group, said in a report last month that some 869 women were murdered in 'honour killings' in 2013.

These are cases that get reported. Most are not. According to Pakistani law, if the victim's family pardons the criminal, it is acceptable with a few conditions. Many of such families are poor and settle for monetary compensation. In this case, the family is also the criminal. Although technically her husband will have to take a call, her parents would be permitted to do so. With the lackadaisical attitude of the cops, it is likely that nothing will happen. They all escaped. The father who did not handed himself to the police. He is not one bit repentant:

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it."

This qualifies as 'honour'? It is true that in many societies such relationship decisions are still taken by the family. It is often explained as the need to protect the woman (and men too). However, the scales are clearly tipped against the woman, as in this case. How did she bring disrepute to the family, and how does their blatant act of bludgeoning her not do so?

Some people have taken to replacing the word 'honour' with 'dishonour', which is much the same. The onus continues to be on the victim. She is supposed to bring dishonour. Terminology reveals a lot about how cultures evolve, or rather regress. There is a tacit acceptance that a reputation has been compromised, which is why it is so wrong.

Did those onlookers know what honour was involved here? Yet, they kept quiet. Partly because it is understood that something must be wrong about the woman's character or behaviour that prompted such rage. It looked as though they were participating in some ritual where they did not need to comprehend the language, yet believe in its significance. This is not about an unacceptable love story, for folklore has plenty of them. It is about how patriarchy sustains itself.

We hear about gang-rapes "to teach women a lesson". The message being that if a woman chooses to be with someone other than what is deemed right for her she has become the property of a 'rival' and is therefore territory to be reclaimed, or just claimed if the criminals are not known.

Added to cultural conditioning is the class structure. It is often the ones higher in the hierarchy who commit such acts against the poor or those belonging to a 'backward caste'. In india, the latter is common, and almost every other day we hear about women sexually abused or killed because they went against the norms. Their partners are not spared if they belong to a lower caste.

It means that patriarchy itself has its own hierarchy. A bit like racism.

In Houston, Aaron Aranza beat up his 15-year-old daughter with a belt for choosing a Black man as her dance partner. It was for a traditional 15th birthday celebration, and he discovered her choice during the rehearsals.

Here too, he might explain it as 'honour'. A young woman in a supposedly progressive western environment cannot make a choice that goes against stratified ideas of what is acceptable. She was quite obviously unencumbered by divisive colour palettes in her personal interactions. That is the reason she probably did not think of her partner in black or white terms.

Some reports have specifically highlighted that her father is Hispanic, which says a great deal about how the media adds to the pecking order, that is no order at all.

The father's rage is about assertion of not just the superiority of colour, but of himself as owner of his daughter.

The centuries' old attitude has never gone away. There can be no freedom if women are treated as property and crimes against them are deemed to be about protection of resources, and these resources are women themselves. They aren't allowed to own their minds or their bodies.

Those who do so are seen as a blot. Isn't it time for such 'blots' to expose the stains on the male mindset? When will we kill patriarchy for our honour?

Update, June 2, 12.30 am IST:

What do the new angles mean?

Farzana Parveen's husband admitted that he killed his first wife to marry her.

There was no honour involved in that.

The latest news is her sister insisting that when they came out of the court, she wanted to go to her waiting family but Iqbal and Iqbal's accomplices beat her up with bricks.

Whatever be the truth, a few points:

Why did the father admit to the murder, then?
Why did the family not stop the husband, if he was the one attacking?
Why did he not stop them, if they were attacking?
Why did the onlookers do nothing?
What about the cops?

Irrespective of who did what, she was brutally killed. We should stop pigeonholing such murders as 'honour killings' because, besides the points mentioned earlier, they impede justice.

© Farzana Versey


Also: Is this honour rape?


Smriti Irani, Sycophancy and the Politics of Vengeance

Twenty five percent of women make up the Modi cabinet.

Are we sexist if we question the credentials of some of these women, as much as we do so for men? If we can ask why Arun Jaitley has become the second most important man in the cabinet despite losing the elections from Amritsar, then we might also ask the same about Smriti Irani.

The acolytes have not experienced a single day of her capabilities and already pronounced her a great choice and a success. On what basis is she being touted as the next best thing? Had this 'out of turn' assignment been given by another government, or more likely another politician, it would have been seen as a favour, or a handout.

It appears to me that Mr. Modi's speeches are still resonating in the minds of the fawners. Priyanka Gandhi had asked, "Smriti who?" while campaigning for Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. Now they are gloating, "Smriti who? Take that. Our new Minister for Human Resource Development!"

Is this going to be one big round of vengeance politics? We'll get to that later. First, a few points about the 'Let's save Ms. Irani' movement, which reveals that the BJP supporters are still speaking with their mouths full of the May 16 ladoos.

• She is young, and that is an advantage. But, is she the first young person to be in a position of power? And if youth has such a premium attached to it, why have anyone above 40 in the cabinet?

[Incidentally, the PM has followed the RSS diktat of not having anyone over 75 in his ministry.]

• She is not the only woman. The oldest, Dr. Najma Heptulla, has been given charge of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Why are we not discussing this — a senior person with experience, however titular (mainly Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha) given a token portfolio, which does no justice to her education, and puts her into a convenient 'Muslim' pigeonhole? Sushma Swaraj has got the plum External Affairs, which is great, except that she would not have settled for less and this was one way to curb dissent.

So, how is raising doubts about Smriti Irani sexist? She should anyway be the last person complaining. Did she not make a huge noise on Times Now, insisting on addressing Priyanka Gandhi as Mrs Vadra? Was she not aware that quite a few women choose to retain their maiden name?

And although I have no issues with her work experience as a TV actress, if we are talking sexism, would she be able to explain the misogyny inherent in the saas-bahu serials she became known for and which her party promoted her as during campaigns?

She has in the past experienced slurs, as have others. This is wrong. But right now, anybody who calls the issues raised about her lack of qualifications misogyny should ask themselves what they had to say about those who have been dismissed as running kitchen cabinets? And how can we forget the incessant references to "the former Italian waitress" when referring to Sonia Gandhi? Think about Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mamata Bannerjee, and recently Shazia Ilmi. How many have called out the misogyny in their cases?

• It is amusing that quite out of the blue, education has become irrelevant. Smriti Irani has completed her 12th standard. She comes from a middle-class family, and was a Miss India contestant. Therefore, to try and make this into an elite battle against her is disingenuous and churlish.

We have not spared the most educated politician in the world, Dr. Manmohan Singh, when we felt he did not deliver or was making the wrong moves. Why should we use kid gloves for somebody who has not even assumed her duties?

Did people not constantly make jokes about the rustic Lalu Prasad Yadav? Did anybody take umbrage to it, arguing against sexism, class, and several other isms?

The HRD Ministry is a vast area, that requires vast knowledge of the education field. It is not something you can leave to technocrats to deal with. To coddle her by suggesting that the details can be outsourced to those with expertise would be misogyny, to see her as a rubber stamp.

If anything, Smriti Irani and her fans are the elite, rooting for the well-spoken (read English-speaking) one. It is the privileged clique anointed by the 'man of the moment'. This includes TV channels drooling over her 'victory'.

Loss as victory is nothing new. It is used as a slap on the face by the educated illiterates. This brings us back to the politics of vengeance. During her campaign in Amethi, when she was faced with the "Smriti who?" comment, the then PM-designate himself brought it up in one of his speeches. The arrogance rankled him (who had called a politician's wife his "Rs 50-crore girlfriend").

So, shall we say Ms. Irani is rewarded for standing up against the dynasty children?

Maneka Gandhi who has been pretty much out of the circuit has been given charge of the Women and Child Welfare Ministry. That she is Sonia Gandhi's sister-in-law is a loud enough message.

Sanjeev Baliyan, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, and Uma Bharti, an inciter during the 1993 riots, have both been given cabinet berths.

Of course, as they say in some parts, it is time to move on. These reminders don't suggest that. The presence of the VHP, RSS, and sadhus at the oath-taking send out strange signals.

As citizens, we want good governance. But each person has a duty to be vigilant. If we've done it in the past, there is no reason not to continue to do so.

It would help, though, if those who have made freedom of expression their business do not cash in on every opportunity. You have a voice. Use it well. Do not use it to promote yourself as a martyr. It sounds hollow when compared with those who are left to silently rot in prisons, or whose silence is bought.

© Farzana Versey


Bend it like Modi

Narendra Modi is officially the new Prime Minister of India. L.K.Advani, who had expressed reservations about his candidature in public, proposed his name. He had no choice. The RSS decides these things, including portfolios.

To cut a very long story short. There is much emotion, as though it has come as a huge surprise. There is much talk about how emotional he got and how humble he was that he touched the steps of Parliament.

Modi addressed a gathering with the words:

“We are sitting here in the temple of democracy. We are not here for any positions, but to fulfill responsibilities.”

Parliament is the seat of democracy and paying obeisance means following the Constitution.

Mr Modi is, of course, quite accustomed to bowing – whether it is before the controversial boy godman Nityanand, or guns during shastra puja, irrelevant in contemporary times, or before Swami Pramukh Maharaj.

He repeated that he was the son of a poor man, and that was the strength of democracy.

“Sarkar vo ho jo gareebon ke liye soche, jo gareebon ki sune, jo gareebon ke liye jiye, nayi sarkar gareebon ke liye samarpit hai.”

Reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan, he spoke about a government that thought about the poor, listened to the poor, lived for the poor, and dedicated themselves to the poor. It must be noted that this time’s Parliament comprises of the richest.

Meanwhile...these are not supplicants, but bureaucrats:

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

I do not know who would buy a mattress after seeing such images. Kurl-On is a well known brand. It has run a series using three public figures from different generations and for different reasons — Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Malala Yousafzai.

The last one has been pulled up for bad taste.

The ad shows the young girl holding up her hands while facing down a gun, and then being shot in the head. She tumbles through the air before coming to rest on a Kurl-on spring mattress. Rejuvenated, sthen "bounces back" -- that's the campaign slogan -- to receive Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize.

The ad agency is the local branch of Ogilvy & Mather.

The head of the Chilean studio that did the sketch admitted the gunshot stood out in the drawing.

"The Kurl-on ad tries to do the complete opposite, it's about triumphing over violence. The scene portrays a real event, an example of heroism that is very powerful, especially in Eastern countries, which is what they told us they wanted when we started the graphic."

If 'bounce back' is the tagline, I still don't get it. Do people want mattresses that bounce? Do they bounce on them? Being springy is a different thing altogether.

Ogilvy has apologised for the Malala segment. I can well imagine they would be concerned as she is an internationaly-accepted figure now and they cannot afford to antagonise the political brains behind her. There is silence about the other two though, and not only because they are dead. I find those images equally offensive.

• a young Steve Jobs being booted out the door, only to bounce back in his signature black turtleneck, showing off a Macbook in front of a camera.

• a young lawyer version of Mahatma Gandhi thrown out of a moving train and rallying back as the robe-clad Indian independence leader.

Bouncing back in a situation does not always mean being shot at, booted out, thrown out. In a subtle way, this is empowering those who do it — the corporates and the racists, who are everywhere. Normal people too bounce back from setbacks, personal and professional.

And many do not even have a bed to sleep in.


To Mrs Modi, the First Lady

Jashodaben goes to vote

Dear Jashodaben:

I hear you are in Tirupati to offer thanksgiving. Your prayers have been answered. Your husband has been rewarded, and may well head the next government.

You will, therefore, become the First Lady. There will be SPG guards protecting you. This can be extremely intrusive for somebody who led an ‘invisible’ existence for decades.

Do excuse my intrusion into this space, but now you are public property too. I desisted joining the chorus when you were flashed before the public on April 9. It was unnecessary to drag your name in, even though your name legitimised your husband in ways you may never imagine.

After 40 years, he publicly accepted you for the first time by adding your name in the spouse column in the affidavit when he filed his nomination papers. Clearly, he was aware that this time there would be more questions. You appeared as silently as you had probably disappeared. Your brother said you had gone off on a pilgrimage, as you promised you would the moment he accepted you:

“Jashodaben never stayed with Narendrakumar (Modi) after marriage and has led a life alone dedicated to spiritualism. But by heart she still considers Narendrakumar (Modi) as her husband. She had taken a pledge of not eating rice or any preparation made out of it till he (Modi) becomes a prime minister. She still considers committed to Narendrakumar (Modi) and is ready to go with him only if he calls her back.”

Why were you rejected? We tend to romanticise abstinence and asceticism. He was joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), where familial relationships are not encouraged. But, is not abstinence also about being above the perks of power? If anybody followed the vows, it was you.

Modi with his mother: isn't this family ties?

Your need for acceptance has been well-expressed by mythological figures and saints like Sita and Meera. But you were on banwaas and you had to give agni pariksha. Is this fair? You committed yourself to an idol, but what did the idol do?

Meera was strong. She said to those who taunted her, “Family honour, words of scorn? /I care not for these one jot, /For my Krishna’s bewitching form/Is etched forever on my heart.”

What did Lord Krishna do? He intervened in her dream to advise her, “If the gopikas could do their duty to their husbands, tend their families and above all be totally devoted to me all the time, you can do the same thing. Do your duty. I shall not leave you any time”?

For you he was both husband and deity, it would seem. You deserve more than a namesake relationship.

As the First Lady, will you have any influence? I am not suggesting that you should be doing the ribbon-cutting at inauguration for ‘ladies’ type projects. Your husband has promised many things to the women of India. It would make a lot of difference if you helped initiate schemes for ‘women’s empowerment’. Your husband keeps mentioning 'Nirbhaya'. There are many victims of sexual abuse who will never get media attention. They might not even want it. There are the widows of Vrindavan; they need more than an opportunity to spray colours during Holi. There is abuse at the workplace. There is domestic violence – a subject that causes a great deal of anguish and anger, because few want to go into what is considered a ‘private matter’, and a question of rights.

Do you believe in ownership in a relationship? Given your example, you gave up any claims not only to property or possessions, but also to the man you married at a young age. You made peace with your situation, but what about the many who lead lives of utter despair because they have been abandoned by some uncouth man in a fit of rage or for a higher purpose? Does the fact that the woman may not share that purpose count for nothing? Not everybody has the backing of a family they can return to. It is to the credit of your parents and siblings that you were not considered any less, which as you know happens often even among the urbanised, supposedly modern lot. You got an education, started earning, and became self-sufficient. You did not sell tea, and perhaps that will not bring a gleam to the eyes of people who get pleasure from hype.

Many women are illiterate and poor, and are often sold off into brothels. You are already aware of all this, and I am merely emphasising the points that are ignored when empowering women.

Now, I wish to touch upon a subject that is sensitive. You might have read about Snoopgate. A woman was being trailed and stalked by what a sting operation revealed to be the Gujarat government. The then Home Minister has been exonerated for keeping tabs for some ‘Saheb’. If we let this pass for the purpose of this note, then we still have the statement of the young architect’s father saying that the government had his permission to do so. It was to protect them. The woman is an adult. Is a father permitted to get in touch with the chief minister or other senior persons in the government to spy on his daughter? Is the state machinery meant for such purposes? Why has the father sought to quash a probe?

I was not and am not interested in salacious details, so I ask these queries because they can have serious implications. Women are stalked, and anybody can come forward to be a protector. With so many communication channels this can prove to be a means for blackmail, not to speak of an end to their reputation and future.

You have a right to a future, too. A future where you get the respect due to a partner. It may be difficult for you to transform from a Meera to a Radha, but no one worships Meera as a consort. Or will you stay in the background again – a name on a nomination paper, a prayer at a temple, footprints on a pilgrimage?

Your silence will be reflective of the silence of many women in a society where machismo takes different forms, sometimes even as abstinence.

Uth meri jaan...

© Farzana Versey


Marriage of Convenience: The ND Tiwari Saga

The N.D.Tiwari saga has now resulted in retribution. Whatever people might like to call it, the 88-year-old legalising his relationship with Ujjwala Sharma that was not anymore a relationship is the offshoot of years of guilt.

There are reports referring to his glad eye and other such stuff that is not germane to what he shared with the woman he has married. She says:

“He wanted to give social sanctity to our relationship, which was very old and we have a 35-year-old son. We will complete legal formalities after which we will invite all."

Social sanctity often means social security. Tiwari did not really care about public opinion. It is quite likely he is doing this because there is nothing left to lose anymore. He will be absolved of the feeling of having wronged; their son Rohit Shekhar who had dragged him to court in the paternity case will think he has scored some success in legtimising himself and his mother; and Ms. Sharma will be effectively 'saved'.

In all this, we forget a few things, including the fact that he was not quite the only bad guy here. (I shall reproduce some bits from an earlier post)

He snapped ties with her and the son in 1995. His wife had died two years ago. He was not interested in the relationship. She moved on and got married to Bipin Sharma; they have a son. Tiwari resurfaced in her life. Amazingly, she admitted: “Between 2002 and 2005 there was a semblance of a relationship between us.”

She had a husband, and went ahead to be with a man who was now quite a prominent politician, who had deserted her and the son, and shown no remorse.

In 2006, she and her husband parted ways. It was also the year Rohit started a campaign against Tiwari.

“In 2006, I started a campaign against him and sent out letters to everyone in Uttarakhand about our relationship. He kept telling people I was not his son but just a blackmailer. That’s when I started looking for legal options. This is not a battle for his property or money. I just want to make peace with myself. He had told me a 1,000 times in private that I looked like him. How I had inherited his nose. But if I met him in public, he would simply look through me. That hurt.”

I hope this puts an end to the hurt. It makes me wonder, though, about what really gives relationships sanctity. Is it merely the presence of people in our lives — their acceptance of us? Are they accepting themselves in that relationship with as much emotion?

© Farzana Versey

There are other aspects, should you be interested, here


The price of a home

Mukesh Ambani's home at Mumbai's Altamount Road still appears to me to be under-construction. There is something incomplete about it. Or, like a wedding cake that's been haphazardly sliced through. At night, it transforms into a lit-up bauble for Brobdingnagians.

It comes at a price and now it has topped the list, according to Forbes:

The title of the most outrageously expensive property in the world still belongs to Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia in Mumbai, India. The 27-story, 400,000-square-foot skyscraper home–which is named after a mythical island in the Atlantic–includes six stories of underground parking, three helicopter pads, and reportedly requires a staff of 600 to keep it running. Construction costs for Antilia have been reported at a range of $1 billion to $2 billion. To put that into perspective, 7 World Trade Center, the 52-story tower that stands just north of Ground Zero in Manhattan with 1.7 million square feet of office space, cost a reported $2 billion to build.

A rich person is most certainly entitled to spend wealth as s/he desires. There are wannabes who aspire to things the rich want. However, when it is a home in a city with a huge disparity in wealth among its citizens, then it ceases to be a question merely of personal riches.

Reminds me of wellknown architect Charles Correa, who and said:

“When I visited Australia I realised that save for a few homes most of the people in the cities live on similar-sized plots. Australia, I thought is locked into equality while in India we are locked into inequality. Mukesh Ambani has proved it. ‘This is the amount of urban space I control,’ he is telling us by building that home. At the same time you have to be impressed. What a huge ivory tower!”

Poverty bothers us, whether it is due to sympathy or because its presence is considered a nuisance, an intrusion into our space. We drive past, eyes averted. We walk past, waiting to get out and inhale. We are uncomfortable; this is not about us.

Why don't we feel the same way about the ostentatious although that too is not about us? We drive past and look with awe. We walk past, slow our steps until a guard looks with suspicion. This makes us uncomfortable because poor guy has access to super rich.

In that, we too live in ivory towers sponging on other people's make-believe.

© Farzana Versey

Conversion and Terrorism

When I saw this picture, it filled me with revulsion because, unlike images of violence that you can screen or turn away from, this was 'inviting' the viewer to participate. It was trying to co-opt the world.

The Boko Haram claimed they had converted some of the girls they had kidnapped to Islam. They are dressed in veils and ostensibly reading from a religious text. Who would believe in the exemplariness of this? Those who wish to, and there are many of those. The Islamists because it just adds to the numbers and makes them appear as the voice of the faith. The critics, and more than likely Islamophobes, because it is easier to condemn a religion-based act using the passive-aggressive strategy of 'your faith did it, but all religions are in essence about goodness'.

Now, since the Boko Haram are not about goodness, the saviours will emotionally and intellectually baptise those who might feel guilty by association.

In all this, nobody cares asking the questions that matter: Who converted the girls? Was it a religious head? What was the procedure? The Boko Haram guys are certainly not qualified to convert anyone. And in what language are the girls reading the holy text? Chances are the terrorists themselves do not know how to read, and probably do not even pray.

Forced conversions are a sore point, and being held hostage these girls could well also become hostage to the faith, for it probably offered them respite from the savagery of their kidnappers.

[An unrelated analogy would be the missionaries who make 'backward' class and caste communities feel indebted for removing the slurs on them.]


On another note there is the assumption that such militants are less frightened of drones than they are of girls studying. This is ridiculous, and we saw how it worked out during the Malala moment. The problem with this analysis is that it ignores the reality that some examples do not represent the entire truth. Nigeria has not shut down schools for girls. In Swat where Malala was shot at there were other schools even at the time.

By going along with this anti-school idea, we boost the confidence of militants. In fact, it helps consolidate the view that certain societies are illiterate or uneducated, especially when they have made remarkable contributions in the public sphere globally.

As regards drones, if the world believes terrorists are afraid at all, then why do they aim so badly as to target the innocent population? If the terrorists are afraid, why do they hide? And why the attempt to justify drones that don't have philanthropic intent?


Senator John McCain has said:

“If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country. I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan."

Such is the arrogance that even the Nigerian President does not matter. Why is the US not interested in capturing the terrorists and only rescuing the girls?

“If we rescued these young girls, it would be the high point of the [President Obama’s] popularity.”

Such is the opportunism.


Update, May 18

70 members of the Boko Haram have been killed by villagers in a town in Adamawa State, as this report states:

It was gathered that the civilian forces acted upon a piece of information by a local food vendor that the terror group were coming to get food before heading out for a major operation to raid villages in the area.

According to SaharaReporters, the group mobilized, laid ambush and waited patiently for the militants.

Sounds great. Now, what I cannot understand is why hardened criminals would go to get food in such large numbers. It just does not make sense. A hundred? And villagers "pounced on" these "gunmen"?

A member of the vigilante group said the Nigerian soldiers appear unable or unwilling to wage an effective war against the insurgents. “They (soldiers) seem to be helpless and to fear the Boko Haram warriors who terrorize us here. But we are not afraid. They are men like us. And we are tired of folding our hands and allowing them to kill us, to kill our wives and to kill our children.”

By "men like us" does it imply that the locals have better means to tackle the group? Are the soldiers under any government diktat to lay off? Or are these vigilante villagers provided for to be frontmen or, perhaps more, by unseen powers?

Nigeria's natural resources are there for the picking.

© Farzana Versey


Also Boko Haram and the Defensive Brigade


Sunday ka Funda

The last thing one would think about in a men's innerwear ad is a mother. The Amul Macho series has had some 'macho' moments, but it is pretty much oddball. In the latest one, burglars enter a house and are in the process of robbing it clean when the owner lands up in the room. He looks pretty much unlikely to take on the main big-built thief.

The 'hero' picks up the phone. Thief says, "Don't call the police or I'll shoot you."

"I am not calling the cops, I am calling your mother!"

"Why?" asks the thief, panic on his face.

"How do you address your mother?" the owner persists.

"Maaa," says the thief, pleading, almost like a child again.

"I must tell her about the big-big things you are taking away."

"Keep away the big things..." he tells his boys. And then to the hero, "Please don't tell Ma."

Much as I dislike stereotypes, the nurturing by the mother begins even before birth. Marketing gurus might sell products using this as a hook, but should we deny it because of that? The tagline "Bade Araam se" is indeed apt. That the guy wearing such inners can handle a tough situation. The entry of his wife at the end, holding him with approval, could be seen as a helpless bystander, but she is not in the frame earlier so I won't nitpick.

However, it is the thief who really makes this ad work because of the unseen mother. His fear of her also conveys a deep respect for the values she instilled in him, and that he is not adhering to.

I know it might seem that one is pushing it to justify a Mother's Day tribute, but the fact is that each time the ad appears on TV I wait for the word Ma.

On a side note, I do admit that I'd have committed fewer mistakes in my life had somebody called up my mother. I won't say no mistakes because, as another ad says, "Kuchch daag achche hain!" Some stains are good.

But mothers aren't detergents. They are water.

© Farzana Versey


Also: Forrest Mum and Miracles" and Mamta (when age catches up)


The side villain

Sudhir on the left in both pictures
We know about the big names, we remember the characters they essay, the titbits about their personal lives that make it to the gossip columns.

We remember the clothes they wore, the way they styled their hair and made up their faces. We remember the good guys and the bad guys who made the good guys look good. This was before grey became trendy. It was all black and white. The black bow-tie, the white shoes, the white jacket. Or the velvet gown that reminded of last night’s sins.

It was a world of sin. The flesh beneath the flounces of voluptuous molls. The dark lips chomping on cigars or blowing smoke rings into other eyes. And in this world, somewhere behind the curling smoke was Sudhir. I do not know his real name. It is there somewhere, but I don’t care.

He was the leering presence in neon-lit rooms, the one with the lighter, the guffaw, the fake laugher. And the sneer. He was the sidekick with so much attitude that you could not forget him. He spoke as though he was biting right into his gums or chewing or sarcasm had lodged itself on his tongue. You knew what he would do and how he would do it. No surprises. It was just like the formula you expected from a hero.

It set me thinking about those who stand and stare who we rarely notice. Each time a Sudhir dies, a satellite that circles the centre disappears.


Singapore Sting

Remember the time every Indian politician promised that India would be like Singapore? Remember how its former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was idolised for the very things that Indians cannot do – be disciplined? Remember the shoppers glowingly talk about walking down Orchard Street, which had a better ring to it than London’s Oxford Street, teeming with its migrants?

Migrants. Yes. There is not much noise about the report that Indians are finding it increasingly difficult to rent houses in that country.

If you are an Indian in Singapore and looking for a house on rent, it is highly likely that you won't get one. Most Singaporean landlords don't rent their house to Indians and people from mainland China. According to local media reports, many landlords are open about it. The moment they realize that the tenant is an Indian, they say sorry and slam the door. According to a report by the BBC, a quick glance at online rental listings shows many that include the words 'no Indians, no PRCs (People's Republic of China)', sometimes followed by the word "sorry".

Such discrimination is not legally permissible. As this report says, Singapore is only about migrants. So, choosing to segregate one or two groups is racist in the extreme and shows how certain nationalities are seen as better or superior.

Among the reasons cited are smelly curries and lack of hygiene. Were one to accept these as flaws if viewed from another cultural perspective, then all ethnic groups can have similar problems. Besides, these are properties to be rented, not shared. The landlord can always add a clause that after the lease period the property should be returned in the condition it was rented out in.

I have visited several parts of Singapore and there are different smells and sights, some of which I found revolting. The residents might feel the same. ‘Little India’ is not a ghetto, but a hub of activity. And there is a growing clientele for smelly curries. I did not see much hygiene in other areas, too.

Except for the main boulevards, and their antiseptic streets and obedient flowerbeds, there are patches of a grim controlled environment, with drab beige buildings where the majority of the middle-class lives. The markets are piled with natural cures in the form of walking and flying little creatures. At dinner one night at the famed Harbour Front, a congregation of restaurants from different regions, all I recall was a woman throwing up, her indulgence a murky pool on the pavement.

I know this has nothing to do with segregation; I just wanted to recount what memories can do. Should I judge a person’s nationality by a natural occurrence such as vomiting?

As almost everyone is a migrant there is no pressure to be nationalistic in the narrow sense. I read that Indians are identified as a race, too. The product of cultural synergy would be properly referred to with a hybrid term, e.g. the child of an Indian and a Chinese would be a Chindian.

Does this complicate issues for renting out houses? Would a Chindian be turned away twice, because of the Indian and the Chinese connection, both ‘not allowed’? And would a Eurasian be more acceptable, because the ‘euro’ factor would take away the curry smell?

There are indeed some Indians who have done well for themselves, and many are second and third generation. Their legacy includes contributing to the country. But, then, can any society survive without its labour and its white collar workers? They may not live in homes where the spluttering seeds in oil reach out, but each day they keep the wheels lubricated for things to function. Denying them space merely for their origin does not reveal a modern attitude that Singapore prides itself in.

This is a silent sort of discrimination, its impact no less damning than the violent ones in other countries.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

A committed atheist was on a trekking holiday when he became lost in some dense woods.

A large angry bear, with ten starving cubs back home and claws like kitchen knives, suddenly emerged from the undergrowth.

The atheist screamed in terror, turned and ran. The bear was quicker however, and after a long and desperate chase eventually cornered the atheist in a gully.

The exhausted atheist sank to his knees, shaking.

The bear, seeing that its prey was trapped, moved slowly towards the petrified man, drooling. The bear was drooling too.

The atheist lifted his head, with tears in his eyes, and uttered the words he thought he would never say in all his life: "God help me..."

With these simple three words, a blinding flash of lightning lit up the sky. There was a deafening crash of thunder. The clouds parted. A brilliant light shone down. The forest fell silent. The bear froze still, in a trance. The atheist stood gaping, transfixed.

A voice came loud from above. Louder than twenty AC/DC concerts all happening at the same time. We can safely assume this voice to have been the voice of a god of some sort.

"You atheists make me seriously mad," boomed the god, "You deny me all your life. You tell others to deny me too. You put your faith in all that bloody Darwinian airy-fairy scientific nonsense, and then what a surprise - you get lost because you can't read your stupid map, and now you're about to get eaten by an angry bear all of a sudden you're on your knees snivelling and begging for my help?......... You must be joking..."

The atheist looked down, realising that he was not arguing from a position of strength.

"Okay, I take your point," said the atheist, thinking on his feet, while he still had them, "I can see it's a bit late for me to convert, but what about the bear?... Maybe you could convert the bear instead?"

"Hmmn... interesting idea..." said the god, thinking hard, "...Okay. It shall be done." At which the brilliant light dimmed and vanished; the clouds closed; and the noises of the forest resumed.

The bear awoke and shook its head, a completely different expression on its face. Calm, at peace.

The bear closed its eyes, bowed its head, and said, "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful, Amen.."

From: Analogies on learning


I have reproduced the story above without any intention of hurting religious sentiments, least of all that of atheists...


When the Press shackles...

Turn the pages of a newspaper, surf television channels, visit news websites. What you get to see is plenty of freedom. Everybody is free to say what they wish, in a language they choose to, for a motivation only they might know about.

Together with freedom comes responsibility is not just a cliché. When you celebrate World Press Freedom Day at least understand what is expected of you:

Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

2014 Theme is: Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda.

How many are bothered about this? Editors who censor pieces and kowtow to masters of varied stripes are talking about press freedom? Even reports are cut to make space for ads, or if they go contrary to what the sponsors might like. Opinion pieces are censored because, again, they will cause problems.

But, whose freedom is this?

The regional press that has a much wider reach and better understanding of people in the villages and small towns, and certainly has an urban audience as well, is largely ignored.

A few months ago, two well-known TV anchors were said to be planning to quit their jobs. The immediate reaction was that they were under pressure. Op-eds in the international press too gave their example even though both had clarified that no such thing had happened.

More recently, a young lawyer collated some Modi myths to be busted; it was published in DNA. A few hours later it was not there. The immediate reaction was that the fascists had started working.

Let us get this clear: the fascists will. There are several examples. Yet, had anybody bothered to call out the newspaper, ask for an explanation? Had anybody bothered to raise questions other than the one that suited the current anti-wave? This is surprising, for nothing in that piece was new or more damning than some that have preceded it. There was no sharp opinion.

Would it not be more proactive to get the newspaper to respond instead of just riding a, well, wave?

We are already on to other stories, other minor ripples.

Is this about censorship?

The media that seeks the right to write has crossed the line several times. Have you noticed that while film stars and politicians are soft targets, industrialists are treated with deference? And what about the media houses themselves? It is rare that a Tarun Tejpal case comes to light, but even here it became a matter of professional rivalry.

I will only be repeating myself when I say that the deals the media strikes with politicians, with corporate houses (if they are not owned by them), with the underworld too will not be outed. Even in the Tejpal case, two factors were important.

1) After the media had given the Delhi gangrape primetime, sexual abuse has become an issue that cannot be ignored. I won't go into the dynamics of how it twists the victim's situation to suit TRPs and advertising.

2) Without in any way taking away from the crime, there was the political-corporate aspect that oversaw how justice was to be delivered.

In the FoE overdrive, there is rarely any discussion about the reporters on the field, especially in sensitive areas.

It is disgusting to read about how some in the press cling onto their peers who might be unfortunate victims of violence. It is time to wake up. Such incidents take place not because the media houses are outspoken and free, but because the perpetrators of violence won't have it any other way. They have targeted even those who are silent and have no media access. If the press wants to act as though it is upholding democracy, then it better learn to practice the freedom across the board within the organisation, and not be selective.

Or they should make their position/agenda clear. To the readers, their sponsors, and their staff and contributors.

Do they have the courage? No. They keep their options open because they want to curry favours. They do not know who will come to power, which industry will have its projects passed, which celebrity will be feted. So, we have a mélange of people of dubious worth featured consistently until such time that they become redundant for the 'free' media.