I finally say hello to Hello. Stray wisps had come flying suggesting that I try and follow the trail where music gets drowned in the deluge of drama.

I like drama.

Hello leaves me unmoved. Can you hear me? Yes, I say it leaves me unmoved, and words of loss usually move me immensely. In fact, words move me as much as silences do when both seek to communicate.

So here I am, with Adele on my stomach. My breathing synchronised with her whispers and whimpers. I am lying down in bed. A Sunday afternoon in December feeling the late winter upon me.

I like the sound of hello, any hello. It is the beginning, even of the end.

Why does this Hello not work, then? Why is this Hello like the stretching of elastic, and not the thread that links? Why does it seem that the mundane is overwrought with the weight of ennui — to say that I've tried, I've tried, I've tried...

Running out of time? Hello! We do not know how much time is there to be able to measure its running out.

What does "hello from the outside" mean when it is the heart that breaks or is broken? There is no outside then. Not even when we break our own heart. It happens. Can you hear me? No? That's the outside. When you can't hear the sound of another's self-destruction.

"Did you ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened..."

Is she hoping he has or delighting that he hasn't? Is it that nothing ever happened or something never did? Does another's stillness bother us when we are escaping from the noise or when we remember noises fondly?

Hello...could have been a deep sigh. Instead, it is a phone connection with too much static. Or, is she speaking from a phone that's dead, crying to herself about herself?

Is the hello just a question mark hanging in the air?


Laloo is the mouse that's licked all the cream: Bihar elections

Like many others, I too have been riveted by the Bihar elections. Or, rather, its coverage. And the feeble response to and recognition of the man whose party has got the maximum number of seats. RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is being treated as a side dish when he is the main course.

The media influence has resulted in drawing room opinion that he will pose to be an impediment to Nitish Kumar, leader of the JDU, an ally in the Grand Alliance, and Chief Minister of the state. "Laloo will try and halt development," they say, when the whole country is wondering how development has in fact been about benefiting only a few. If anything, Laloo should most asseetively work as an opposition within to keep Nitish Kumar on his toes to ensure development for everyone and not just the chosen ones.

Bihar, even its cities, does not really qualify as urban in the metro sense of the term. However sleek the new roads and development the new anthem, the ethos of the state is grounded in a more basic sense of roots. Denial of this beneath the blanket term progress, or even secularism, would mean denying the majority of its population an identity.

The slur of "backward" for Lalu is essentially an insult to those deemed "backward caste" for centuries. But, as he himself had stated with some arrogance long ago, "Jab tak samosey mein aalu, tab tak Bihar mein Lalu." It was, and is, as basic as that.

Here is my column from Rediff (April 21, 1997) when he was CM:

When the chief minister of Bihar, one of India's worst-ruled states, organises a mother or father of all rallies, there are sniggers. Laloo Prasad Yadav has become a joke but, let us be fair, he is not quite our Dan Quayle.

In fact, he is good for our culture. He is the living example of the virtues of being oneself. Whether elections are rigged or the coal mafia rules, Laloo remains Laloo.

The Yadav who has made it big suffers from the pride of the lowly for their humble background and the insecurity his new position has thrust upon him. That is the reason he is slightly brash. He is up against everything -- hypocrisy, stereotypes and our congenital pigeonholing of men in power and how they should behave.

Yadav behaves in no particular manner. He has no set agenda for his politics or his life and, in a world that is getting increasingly ideological (never mind that the ideology is to blow up someone's brains), this might seem like a classic case of spinelessness.

Instead, he comes out trumps. He has made this an anti-establishment stand, though riding on the back of the establishment is his unique selling point.

I don't care what his motives are. When he appointed Harijan priests in temples and Harijans as Shankaracharyas, the media response was typical: it was a political gimmick rather than a reform measure, they said. This is only partially true, unless you insist on wearing blinkers of doubt. Here, Yadav was "testing the Hindu religion."

It would have been far more dramatic and gimmicky had he put a brahmin on a donkey and paraded him through the streets.

To suddenly upturn what, for centuries, has been the status quo requires guts. This is not mere symbolism. He has put those who were considered the scum of the earth into the most sanctified position; he has legitimised their place in society. He may look like a country bumpkin but it is no more passé to be so. Because there is a certain confidence instilled in the people who have been at the receiving end of atrocities.

In a country where 180 million people belong to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, we still have a situation where action for crimes committed against them is slack, despite untouchability being forbidden by law by the Civil Rights Act of 1955 and the Scheduled Caste and Schedules Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Yadav is not the panacea; he is merely the looking glass; he has shown that it is possible to hold your head high wherever it is you come from.

How, then, can anyone dismiss Laloo Prasad's efforts only because, as a lot of academics are fond of saying, they come naturally to him? We have the amazing ability to transfer our tunnel vision into overviews - they sound so much more authoritative. Hence, Yadav's looking after the interests of the lower castes is considered a one-dimensional approach.

This is what has kept Harijans in a bind for years. In Bombay, there is a small colony where sweepers live. On my visit there once, they were celebrating Dussera. For the first time, I realised how important these festivities are for them -- while the ghettoisation is complete, this is the one time when it does not become circumscribed.

I know that talking about Harijan values may seem like a very patronising thing to do, but there it is -- a nice little hierarchy wherein one scheduled caste person is superior to another.

These are the lessons history has taught them. That equality is a myth. That someone has to pip someone else to the post. That tomorrow is not another day, but a continuation of today as today was of yesterday. That you are stuck for life.

And in this marshland appears Laloo Prasad Yadav. Not to tell us about the lotus in the gutter or the phoenix rising from the ashes. But about how cheese balls sometimes fail to become rat-traps. He is the mouse that's licked all the cream.


Aylan Kurdi and the Swarm of Tears

Published in CounterPunch

Galip Kurdi lay dead a few feet away from his brother. There are no dirges for the five-year-old, as innocent as Aylan, as much a refugee seeking a life, without knowing the meaning of it. Their mother drowned too. Nine other people lost their lives trying to escape from a home to a mirage or, if they were fortunate, an oasis.

They are just numbers, and if we have good pictures around then they become scattered belongings on shores, their bodies swallowed by waves.


It is Aylan Kurdi’s fate to be killed twice. Once by the waters that pushed his limp form ashore and then to be drowned in the swarms of tears. Swarms. A word made notorious by David Cameron to suggest that refugees are a marauding horde or insect-like nuisances taking over. Swarms of tears also take over. The debate today is centered on self-deprecation, a luxury that a few can indeed afford. The arrogance of such publicly sanctified humility belittles the humbled and the bereft.

Abdullah, the father of the two kids, has lost his world. No country would matter to him. But have any of the lachrymose-ridden Op-eds offered him a home? What does the grandstanding self-introspection amount to? Let me give a few examples.

“What does Aylan Kurdi’s death say about us?”

It is fairly obvious it tells us that we cannot fathom a tragedy unless we have a visual representation of it and can feed off it. We create symbols not to symbolise a social problem but to use as a hat rack.

“Look at the photograph, and feel the pain.”

Only so that the writer of this piece can go into a detailed description of a child’s corpse, details that are evident? “His tiny shoes baring their sodden soles to the sky.” This has been the chorus: “Don’t shut your eyes. Look. This is what we have done.” Then sit back and watch as our sensitivity is clicked and shared. Do we even care that we transform a short life into a précis?

Piers Morgan then goes on to state, “I believe that if Americans had been allowed to see images from inside Sandy Hook school after the massacre of 20 young children in 2012, then new draconian gun laws would have been implemented within months.”

What laws have been implemented in spite of these Americans looking at pictures of racist attacks?

Abdullah Kurdi is pained. “…now the whole world is going to watch my story, where was the whole world before when my kids were hungry, when I didn’t have a job?”

Why did nobody ask us to identity with such a plight? Using the photograph as prompter, Nicholas Kristof tried to pass off his moral high ground as the world’s guilt: “If you don’t see yourself or your family members in those images of today’s refugees, you need an empathy transplant.”

Empathy is germane, not generic. Kristof had a background story, not everybody does. What the world feels today – or was it yesterday? – is collective sympathy. Social media has made it possible to buy empathy/sympathy across the counter although it is touted as a prescription drug.

Art and artifice

“The Post appears to be asking its critics to hand out artworks as antidepressants.” The writer of the piece was referring to the Washington Post’s Style section asking art critics to “meditate on the role of the arts in coping with grief” after the Sandy Hooks incident. Not chuffed with the idea, Phil Kennicott’s message was clear and might apply to the Aylan story as well: “I think seeking consolation during a tragedy that hasn’t directly affected you is histrionic, and a bad form of sentimentality, and it distracts from urgent and obvious feelings of anger and political determination. Rather than seek solace, we should work to change the society in ways that will help prevent this kind of mayhem.”

Why is there a tearing hurry to make a ‘telling statement’ on an ongoing crisis? “Thank you for the tragedy. I need it for my art,” said Kurt Cobain. It is unlikely that the artists who are now paying tribute to Aylan would be as upfront. Some great art owes its inspiration to tragic events, but was it created merely as a reaction?

There is one image of a child lying face down in bed, the moon and stars chiming as twilight streams in through the curtains. “This is how it should have ended”, was the tag line. Is this how a child sleeps, a child who is escaping? Such artistic license implies that refugees are good life-seeking migrants when all they want, need, is a piece of earth and a piece of sky.

While it is important to taunt world leadership, placing a young child’s cold body at the centre surrounded by men in suits or keffiyeh in conference rooms with high ceilings makes it appears like he is something on their plate to be feasted upon.

Another artwork with the now-familiar image of the boy on the beach shows a plastic sand bucket and shovel in the forefront. Does this not convey that seeking refuge is a picnic, an outing?

Last year when four boys, sons of a fisherman, were killed in aerial strikes on a Gaza beach, some Israelis were posting ‘Bomb Shelter Selfies’. Art and social consciousness today seem as cocooned and vicarious.

Politics of benevolence

Alongside the news of the Pope appealing to parishes and monasteries to house one refugee family each and the Vatican making the move by sponsoring two families come reports of conversions.

The West uses the start-stop method often during social crises, the passive-aggressive strategy coming in handy. It would be foolish to assume that overnight some countries have had a change of heart. Governments often use foot soldiers as ‘fringe elements’ to do what political correctness prevents them from doing. Will the neo-Nazi groups that target immigrants be any kinder to refugees?

The same ugly face of ISIS is repeated to whitewash the saviours. Reports of a covert operation by ISIS gunmen entering the European Union among refugees seems to consolidate the phobia instead of assuaging it. Not surprisingly, conservative lobbies have their backup plan ready for explaining their reservations. I got this note from a Hindu rightwing person: “Migrants stream into Austria, swept west by overwhelmed Hungary - Arabs succeeded in exporting Pisslam to Europe without any Missionary work. Wait for an Islamic country to be carved out of European union. Just like India with huge chunk of muslim population, Europe will suffer.”

The criminalization of refugees is a real issue. The police in Prague were branding new entrants just the other day. Said activist Hana Frankova, “The Czech authorities are presenting them as criminals, and it resonates well with the public when they are detained.”

We may blame governments, but there are citizens who would not wish it any other way. A gush of online hashtag concern hubris will not alter that. The objectification of Aylan is the tragedy that has superseded the tragedy of thousands fleeing. The emphasis on this child, this shore, this event seems like event management to divert attention from what is happening everyday when dinghies do not capsize.

As one Palestinian posted, if it is dead babies that bring about change, we have many to show. I’ve seen pictures of other babies from Sudan to Kashmir, some from decades ago. This should bring tears to our eyes, the continual insensitivity, the building of houses of cards over the rubble of history.


Murder, she said -- Sheena Bora vs. Indrani Mukherjea

When a murder case is described as a circus, an edge-of-seat drama, you know that nobody is interested in the dead. It is the killing that counts, especially if it takes us through a maze.

India is riveted by the daily assault of media stories on Indrani Mukherjea, the woman who killed her daughter (who she publicly referred to as a sister) back in 2012. It has been brought to light three years later; the reason for it is confined to footnotes when it ought to be the real news.


Briefly: Indrani married Peter Mukherjea, whose son Rahul from a previous marriage was in a live-in relationship with Sheena, daughter of Indrani, who also has a son Mikhail (introduced publicly as her brother).

An informant told the police that Sheena had been murdered. This led to the driver, who confessed and accused his boss Indrani and her ex-husband Sanjeev Khanna of the murder. Sanjeev and Indrani have a daughter Vidhie, who Peter legally adopted. The father of Sheena and Mikhail is a Siddharth Das whose mother says she can only vouch for one grandchild, i.e. Sheena, and not Mikhail. (Who named him Mikhail? Clearly somebody must like Gorbachev.)

There is bound to be confusion, what with all the players contradicting one another and themselves.

However, due to the sensational nature of the disclosures and the surge of pop psychology doing the rounds, the fact that the police in the forested area where the remains were buried did not pursue it should be alarming. Nobody seemed to know or care about her disappearance in all this time, including her fiancé, her brother and her grandparents.

But, it is also about how society does not care. The manner in which people are reacting too reveals little concern for the victim. And if there is, it is to judge the non-existence of moral values.

I have a vague recollection of Indrani as a Page 3 denizen. She and Peter, who was the CEO of Star India, were obviously party animals. Later, they started another channel. Now Vir Sanghvi, senior journalist, has given an interview about his ex-bosses. I don't understand this. If he does not have any clues about the murder, why should he be allowed to barf about what are essentially his peeves against them?

In the initial stages, I watched a high-society punk on two TV channels. It was amazing how he altered his tone to suit each channel's story, and the channels are playing favourites here too.

I fail to understand how these ‘friends’ who say they can't believe such a thing could happen are called upon to judge precisely that. Far more important than the motive, it is for the police to establish that a murder did indeed take place, and the identity of the victim. Right now, they have exhumed the grave and collected a bagful of bones and a skull.

We read this and write about it as though these are things we encounter regularly. The reason we are becoming desensitised is because of the inhumane nature of reportage. The emphasis is on the uber lifestyle. For the middle class, it is a story close enough but certainly not about them. They can, therefore, judge, be it the money angle, the lust angle or the power angle.

Let us pause here. We do judge all crimes and criminals, so why not a woman who has from all evidence produced thus far killed her daughter, a planned murder, wiped out all visible clues, and lived with this and other lies?

The feminist trope has become mandatory when discussing any public event or cases these days. So, some commentators tell us that it is wrong to diss Indrani by referring to her as ambitious or a femme fatale. There is nothing wrong in being either. I do see that such slotting might convey that a woman with drive is bound to clear whatever comes in the way through any means. It so happens that Indrani did indeed do all of these. Her gender is immaterial.

I read a piece where the writer was angry about this and went on to list quotes not only about this case, but two other publicly visible women, thereby drawing attention to what she was herself dismissive about. While it is a fact that a woman with more than one husband draws attention and sniggers, here these gentlemen were very much a part of the crime, either directly or as evidence.

Some part of her lifestyle will be highlighted for the same reason as some are now talking about how the dynamics might change after the revelation about her being abused by her father as a teenager. Are we going to justify her crime because of it? If we think he is a beast, then should we trust him to shed light on the case?

The driver was an important part of the crime; there is little attention being paid to him. Why? Because we do not have pictures of him holding a cocktail glass? I am curious as to why he had preserved Sheena’s photograph (supposedly to identity her just in case the killing was outsourced) years after the murder? Wouldn’t he have wanted to get rid of it?

What prompted the informer, who woke up after three years?

What intrigues me most is Peter, who appears to be given the benefit of amnesia. He does not seem to know about anything and has portrayed himself as a lovelorn man who only trusted his wife, and did not seem to know about anything, including her being the mother of these two children she called her siblings. He says he has never met her parents, either.

Since we do not know how well she knew his family, is it possible that they functioned as a supra nuclear family? They weren’t very young, and had experienced previous marriages. The term “delusions of grandeur” has been used for Indrani. It is possible that this was a delusional compact world they chose to lead, where ‘others’ were not admitted as more than passersby. He probably believed her because he couldn’t care less about another version, just as she probably trusted him for other things.

I am surprised that people are shocked not so much by the murder as by the relationship. These are the same people who are quite okay with discussing minutiae of their own ‘happy lives’ in private messages to strangers on the internet. Therefore, nobody is in a position to discuss the dysfunctional.

As regards the crime, usually we say there should be justice for the family. Isn't that redundant here?


The lion and the vultures

How different are the two pictures really? In one the man poses with his kill; in the other the industry caters to consumerist bloodthirst that feasts on the same kill.

I'll be honest. I found the moral high ground on the Cecil the lion story hyperbolic, and in many ways a pretence. And it had nothing to do with it overturning the fairytale where the ogre is the beast. There was just too much of reductionism going on — of race, of bestiality, of the hunter as sinner.

The American man who killed a lion in Zimbabwe became a villain everywhere; to boot, a white with a whiter smile. One news report even spoke about how it was discovered that the killer of Cecil "turned out to be" an American dentist. How was this a discovery or of any consequence?

Hollywood's avande garde voice and general conscience-keeper was so riled that she even posted the address of Dr. Walter Palmer's clinic. It became just another, what we Indians call, jungle raj.

It is important to question such trophy killing. We need to forget one ism to favour another in some cases, so not all animals are equal and indeed we would need to understand that animals in the wild play a different role. However, if we are going to talk about sensitivity, then why is it that we don't ever evince any such sensitivity when we see stray dogs rounded up in municipal trucks?

Now, there are Cecil memorabilia. It is not an environmental consciousness initiative but a commercial enterprise. Is Cecil the first one one to be ever killed? How did the "local favourite" become the pop favourite globally? Can people really tell one lion apart from another?

Instead of buying mugs and other paraphernalia with a lion face, perhaps we should all just stop visiting zoos, which is where the animals are slowly reduced in stature and where we learn how to recognise that what's behind a cage should be naturally game outside of it. 


We, the little people

I can understand the usual speeches of politicians, but what makes us repeat the same old songs again and again as evidence of our patriotism? When will we get out of our gramophone existences and understand that a democracy thrives, in fact exists, because we need to question everything that appears to be free.

Our so-called nationalistic safety nets protect us from much of reality.

Let me post something I had written elsewhere back in 2009 about just such a reality:

Last year I was involved in a slum project in Delhi. It was late evening by the time I finished the rounds. The group of hutment dwellers took me to what was supposedly the best little house in their midst.

They pulled out the only chair there was for me and this is what I saw on the wall:

The man of the house had no legs. He slid in on a make-shift 'cart'; his wife stood proudly next to him. I asked about the pictures, "What do all these have in common?"

He laughed and spoke in halting Hindi, "Kuchch nahin, lekin sab ko respect karna hai (Nothing, but one respects everyone)."

A whole lot of people had gathered in that little room, some spilling on the doorstep. Someone bought a cola for me. I was asked not to leave without having dinner with them. It was a touching gesture. I said, “Next time” and just so that they did not feel bad I started discussing the nuances of various uthhappams.

It was a South Indian family. I tried my little Tamil with them to much guffaws all round.

And then of course as I was leaving I said, with complete idiocy, "Vanakkam". It means welcome.

I may never meet them again, or I may. But even in that faux pas I think I had welcomed them into my little world as they had welcomed me.

They were fighting to preserve their homes that were going to be bulldozed. I have found out that they have won the case. I smile at the memory of that wall. I can only hope that walls too have memories.

Politically speaking, only walls seem to have memories.

As all the usual groups get celebrated on Independence Day, let me just sing for them the songs they won't hear:

"Ai mere watan ke logoun zara aankh mein bhar lo paani, yeh shaheed hue hai unki zara yaad karo qurbani..."

"Saare jahan se achcha Hindostan hamara, hum bulbulein hai iski yeh gulsitan hamara..."


A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism

India has announced a seven-day mourning for its former president APJ Abdul Kalam. As TV channels paid rich tributes to the “People’s President”, they all but blacked out news of a militant attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab, where four policemen, three civilians, and three terrorists, all ‘people’, were killed a few hours earlier.

On the evening of July 27, as Dr. Kalam was giving a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong, he slumped to the floor. He died as he lived, a teacher always. At 84, he remained alert and disarming. His charms left no room for criticism, at least not overtly. De-politicising him has been modern India’s trickery.

Missile Politics

He has been described as a reluctant politician, although there is no record of him refusing to accept the post of President of the Republic of India, for which he was nominated by the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2002.

As a scientist and chief of the Defence Research & Development Organisation he did come in touch with politicians, but his elevation to the highest office was a different political move. While this is the norm, despite the chariness in admitting it, the post of the president is not without its bells and whistles. A ruling party will not nominate a person, however accomplished he might otherwise be, unless he fits into its broad ideological stand. The Congress-nominated presidents were notorious for being rubber-stamps, the worst being Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who signed Indira Gandhi’s Emergency declaration.

As father of the indigenous missile and planner of the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, in Kalam the BJP got a man who was seemingly above politics, a benefit they are reaping till date when they want to flash their version of secularism and pugnacious nationalism, especially to the enemy across the border.

He put across his own belief thus: “Unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. In this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength.” While to his political audience this seemed like a good excuse to justify their opportunism, his young admirers would have subliminally inculcated the message that India could be a world power only on the strength of nuclear capability.

He did use the opportunity to reach out and inculcate the scientific spirit in the young, who he related to so well. However, his position and what the media showcased usually showed him among the relatively elite urban students. On the occasion when a village Muslim orphanage school in Kerala sent 1000 cards to him on the eve of Independence Day, it was to inculcate the spirit of patriotism.

This story would not hold much traction in the effulgent episodes we witness now. Dr. Kalam has became a figure of fables and a Dale Carnegie type wisdom giver. His optimism, necessary and utterly sweet, however seemed to create a hothouse idea of the march towards progress. How could he reconcile his ideas of dreams and peace with the adult toys he created breathing fire and earth with Agni, Prithvi and Brahmos, also part of a godly pantheon?

The Minority Appeased

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor paid tribute by tweeting, “Abdul Kalam ignited minds, inspired young people, and embodied the potential in every Indian. A Muslim steeped in Hindu culture, a complete Indian.”

This statement embodies what the Indian nation expects of a Muslim in a position of power; to be a complete Indian a member of the minority community should be steeped in Hindu culture. No other president had such a burden to bear to effectively prove that he is above reproach. This was insidiously managed by using the apolitical argument, the implication being that a person from a minority community is not supposed to have any opinions about the society in which he was born and towards which he contributes.

To an extent, despite his utterances about spiritualism as opposed to religion, he too projected the image of someone who had made peace with the belong-to-the-mainstream idea by the mainstream, which translates into majoritarian hegemony. He had said once how impressed he was by sadhus “seated around in a trance”.

At Akshardham, 2006

"In him we found a perfect harmony between science and spirituality," said BJP leader L K Advani, the man who took out a procession in a Toyota mimicking an ancient chariot to pave the way for a Hindutva renaissance in a secular country. Dr. Kalam was to preside over a state run by this party.

In the initial stages, he was naïve. He went to the riot-affected areas in Gujarat soon after the 2002 pogrom. The then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had famously stated that he stood by the chief minister who is now PM, wasn’t amused. Kalam, as quoted in his memoirs ‘Turning Points – A Journey Through Challenges’, told him, “I consider it an important duty so that I can be of some use to remove the pain, and also accelerate the relief activities, and bring about a unity of minds, which is my mission.”

Kalam had, in fact, unwittingly witnessed the early days of political skulduggery. The home ministry cautioned him. But when he landed there, he was welcomed. “Narendra Modi, the chief minister, was with me throughout the visit. In one way, this helped me, as wherever I went, I received petitions and complaints and as he was with me I was able to suggest to him that action be taken as quickly as possible.”

Neither unity nor relief appeared magically. In fact, 13 years later, activists are being hounded for fighting for the victims of those riots.

When there was a delay in awarding the demanded capital punishment to Afzal Guru for the Parliament attack of 2001, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had sniggered, “His hair is falling over his eyes and blinding him, or perhaps he is seeing stars or the moon before his eyes” referring to Kalam’s long hair. Today, the party condoled his death by stating that he will be remembered as Mahatma Gandhi is.

Dr. Kalam fit into the idea of the yogi for which he was lauded – a bachelor, a vegetarian, and one who read the Hindu scriptures. He was not celebrated for offering the namaaz, or reading the Quran. Those who made him into the brand for secularism have always been selective. They would find any questions about their motive communal, because they wish to hold Dr. Kalam up as an example even if their varnished polite language might choose to call it ‘role model’, which he indeed was to those not in positions of power and pelf.

The political role model is created as an armour against an imagined dystopia. The role model is picked from the imagined avenging group. Innocent of their wily ways perhaps, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam became the message rather than the messenger.

(Published in CounterPunch) & Countercurrents)


Breastfeeding in Parliament

A woman breastfeeding her child can be a rather sublime sight, that is if she is not stared at. But does sublimity or subtlety even matter when the mother in the act ends up as an "internet hero"? 

Victoria Donda Pérez is an Argentinian MP. She decided to breastfeed her 8-month-old daughter in Parliament, when the session was on. 

Working women have praised her; her critics say it falsely conveys that women can have it all when that is not true.

Was she aware that her pictures were taken and would be in the media?  Assuming she is okay with it, I am not one bit impressed by Ms. Pérez's act on grounds of prudence as well as feminism. 

Breastfeeding is a natural activity as are many others, some of which we might not even have much control over. We control them in a public space anyway. I am not comparing sneezing, breaking wind or picking the nose to nursing, but surely there could not have been such urgency to feed the baby. If anything, this comes across as terribly unprofessional. 

This is not an issue about women's rights over their bodies; it is just that such rights as exercised in this manner convey that the woman has no choice. Even if we excuse the politician for elitism, the larger question is: is the woman a mother on the job? This just sends out the message about the feminised woman as the only one who can have any power, or acceptance.

Why are women applauding the "balancing act"? It isn't news that only a woman can bear a child and nurse babies. But such validation of 'balance' also unburdens the father of responsibility, and he will be the first one to call her superwoman.

Such a public act in a work place (as opposed to a park or even the office canteen) only consolidates the stereotyped role of a mother that deny her the option to make a studied choice — which could be fixed feeding hours at the office creche or collecting the milk for use at intervals. 

Suppose this was not in Parliament, but a regular office conference. Would the response be the same? Unlikely. It only means that in some ways this is sought to be made into a political statement. 

And it is no surprise at all that she has been nicknamed "Dipusex" (sexy MP). It takes a simple, natural activity to make a woman into a fantasy object. Women object to such labels on other occasions when they want to be recognised for their work or talent alone. How is it different this time? Is Ms. Pérez not being reduced to a pair of breasts, even if they are of a mother's? 

The Oedipal implications are too obvious. 

PS: In India, women from the labour class do breastfeed at the workplace on construction sites or in small industries. That is because the child is with them all the time. 

Sunday ka Funda

I don't like this tree, a hybrid tree that bears forty different kinds of fruit and flowers in varied colours.

This "sculpture by grafting", the brainchild of art professor Sam Van Aken of Syracuse University, might be a great scientific experiment and good as curiosity or art installation that it initially was, but a workable green option?

There is something about orchards with trees bearing one sort of fruit; it feels like communion, familiarity, and also to an extent hierarchy when one picks the good ones. The birds too know where to come for what they seek.

A huge tree with different varieties appears to compress nature. It is also demeaning in a way for spoiled for choice, one may either make the wrong move or the one not intended, or just walk away awestruck.

Trees are designed to be resilient, not to multitask. And some of us like our trees and people to just do one thing at a time.

As the Zen teacher told his pupil, “When drinking tea, just drink tea.”


No prayers for terrorists?

The Eid namaaz had just been offered. The maulvis at the Dargah Ala Hazrat in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh issued a fatwa: say no burial prayers for terrorists and their sympathisers.

Mufti Mohammed Salim Noori, general secretary of the Tahreek-e-Tahaffuz Sunniat, said:

"On the pious occasion of Eid, the Sunni Barelvi Markaz send a strong message that no maulana, mufti or other religious leader will read the 'namaz-e-janaza' for anyone associated with terrorism in any form. By this, we want to lodge a strong protest against terrorism."

It is not surprising that this will be hailed among some sections of the intelligentsia, because this segment loves varnish. Also, it cares not for details.

Clerics are not germane to Islam; they are middlemen that have capitalised on the vulnerabilities of the devout. A Muslim does not need a religious leader to recite any prayers; it can be done by anybody — relatives, friends or wayfarers. The maulvis are pushing their own agenda, as they have always done to keep themselves relevant.

If they are so concerned about all that is good, why don't they issue fatwas against those who do not use medical assistance due to superstition? Because this will hit their business of exorcism and other trickery. Will a Sunni or a Shia maulvi issue a fatwa to the faithful not to discriminate on the basis of sect?

While terrorism is a huge problem, it also helps empty rhetoric to sideline more urgent terrors of daily living. The Times of India report spoke about other good fatwas by the seminary quite forgetting its own
report of April this year when this same cleric had objected to a survey finding in which Muslim women wanted equal property rights.

Those who laud 'progressive' edicts should be protesting against the dragging of religion in what is a political matter. They too put the onus on Muslims to deal with terrorism, and ironically the pulpit that is often blamed for provoking violence is the one that gets away for ostensibly sending a message of peace.

How is the general public to recognise a terrorist when the police seem to have difficulty identifying them? Is that not why there are so many undertrial prisoners rounded up on mere suspicion because of their names or what they look like? What if a good Samaritan follows the good cleric's orders and implicates somebody as a terrorist supporter only because of a personal grudge?

Occasionally, the cleric is also a terrorist. If not for real, then by the sheer tactics he uses to promote himself. As for political terrorists, they aren't exactly roaming around in the cities and towns to recruit people who might offer the namaaz upon their death.


Sunday ka Funda

This Eid, in India, belonged to two films that essentially celebrate Hindu mythology.

At a late night show of 'Baahubali' on the day that celebrates the conclusion of Ramzan, we watched a celebration of Lord Shiva. In the audience were quite a few Muslims in identifiable clothes — caps, hijabs, even burqa.

Despite its obvious mythology it does not alienate those who might not follow its precepts. In that sense, it is a truly secular movie, and I say this despite my aversion for standardised norms of secularism, or of the fads surrounding it as well as the slurs it invites by way of spelling. No, it is not sickular! (A review will follow later.)


I have not yet watched 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan', but from what I've read and heard it is also simplistic and guileless. Here, a Hanuman bhakt takes it upon himself to unite a little girl who is Muslim and Pakistani with her family.

This qawwali here is something I've heard from better artistes, but just that moment when the protagonist breaks down as the music soars conveys that faith — religious or otherwise — is essentially about flowing.

Eid Mubarak!


How J.K.Rowling demoted Serena Williams

What should have been the brilliant Serena Williams' moment has transformed into a J.K.Rowling defending Serena one. The tennis star has enough calibre and celebrity to withstand stray comments, if she pays heed to them at all.

Instead, by rushing to her rescue Ms Rowling has reduced that victory to victimisation.

It started with Rowling posting her praise for Serena on Twitter: "I love her. What an athlete, what a role model, what a woman!"

A fellow called Rob responded with, "Ironic then that main reason for her success is that she is built like a man."

That's when Rowling did what she is now all over the place for. She posted two pictures of Serena in a slinky, clingy gown, her contours emphasised, and captioned it, "'she is built like a man'. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You're an idiot."

For doing this, Rowling is now celebrated for having "decimated", "destroyed" a troll. Seriously? Can't even imagine the search words she must have used to find these photographs. Was it "Serena looking like a woman" or "Serena's hips"?

Rob has an opinion about women's bodies, and he does not think twice about commenting on a tennis player's despite the fact that she has won due to stroke play and not what she looks like. But, is J.K.Rowling any different from the guy who is denounced as a "body shamer"? One may accuse him of being wrong, or of misogyny, but has he shamed Serena?

Why would being built like a man qualify as shame? If a graceful male dancer is said to be built like a woman, would that be an insult? It ought not to.

I am surprised that the media has gone all pulp prose to commend Rowling, who should in fact be ticked off. She posts a picture of Serena looking 'feminine' and goes on to highlight it. What if she did not have those curves, would she then be less of a person of the female gender?

Not all women are built in the mould that a Rowling fancies as representative, just as not all men are uniform in build that Rob implies.

Worse, Serena is objectified not by the unknown man, but by this celebrity author. It's almost like a put-on display to justify to that Rob guy that she is all woman, all flesh. This is body shaming because it feels the need to prove that it is the desirably accepted female body and not what a guy from somewhere suggests it is.

Serena has won a title at Wimbledon. Her body has not. So, J.K. Rowling and her cheerleaders in the media and social media, bereft of nuance, can just shut up. And perhaps grow up.


Walk like an Egyptian

Much more than his face, I liked his voice, including the lilt. A bit woozy and timorous, it had the steadying quality of a sage. There was no choice left but to like Omar Sharif.

I watched him a few years ago in 3D at the Trocadero Centre. It was in a documentary on Egypt. He had become a bit stocky, and his face had spread out; the gap-tooth smile remained. As he stood amongst the mummified remains and history, it became evident that Hollywood might have embraced him but he continued to walk like an Egyptian.

In fact, part of his charm was his difference. Would the West have been as excited about him if he was called Michel Chelhoub, which was his real name? It was not the filmmakers that renamed him though. The actor himself wanted something that his fellow countrymen could pronounce, it seems. Why would they not, if it was a naturally Middle Eastern name? Was this a little trick he was given to play — not sure about himself so making things easier for others as a preemptive exercise?

I did not start to write this with pop analysis. Like most, I found him attractive. However, what simmered was more beguiling than what was obvious. His much-feted 'Lawrence of Arabia' outing struck me as exotica overload. Dr. Zhivago did better, but morphing into a Russian for the Americans was exotic too.

Omar Sharif could have been Clark Gable in 'Gone with the Wind', and it is not surprising that the memorable line the character utters is, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Sharif's casual charm certainly did not.

While my exposure to his cinema was limited, I assumed he had some political inclination, if not history. One reason was that his works were banned in Egypt after he was shown making love to a Jewish woman in 'Funny Girl'. That he and Barbra Streisand were also a couple made it worse. An Arab and a Jew? His response was a throwaway, “When I kiss a woman, I never ask her nationality or her religion.”

The Jewish question seemed to be of some humanist consideration for he went on to produce and act in the French film 'M Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran' (Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Quran); in English it was just 'Monsieur Ibrahim'. It is about a Jewish teenager who befriends a Turkish shopkeeper. I've watched it and its message stands out simply because it is not shouted out.

Sharif certainly had views on the region he came from, and he did not think much of America. In a land of upstarts, his old world refinement, and to an extend bacchanalian tendencies, were bound to feel adrift.

He lost money in casinos where he went because he was lonely, and it was one place where he could eat without being stared at.

I revisited this video after a long while and was once again struck by gems like, "Arab society is extremely tribalistic", "democracy is not the panacea", "I have none (religious beliefs) that I can prove"...and on his deathbed he said he would call out to his mother to take him...


The wheelchair man

"It's so hot," he said, wiping his face.

I had found a place two seats away from him directly opposite the doctor's cabin. Heat was an icebreaker. 

"Yes," I said, fanning myself with a hand even though the aircondioning was on at full blast. 

"You are waiting for the doctor?" he asked. 

I smiled, "I guess so."

"My legs were crushed under the train," he said. 

I was taken aback. There was a walking stick near him, and I noticed a wheelchair. How does one commiserate with a stranger, a stranger whose condition you have not even paid much attention to? 

He brought out an album and showed me photographs of himself. "I was a big shot once. I was a regular on TV. My name is R."

The name and his face did not register, but I don't watch everything. 

"The accident taught me a lot about life and people." I don't know why he was telling me all this, and it was only five minutes since I was here.  He continued, "My wife ditched me because of what happened to my legs, because I was in coma. I've seen the worst." 

How does one respond verbally 

"Are you Christian?" he asked.

"No," and uncharacteristically I responded with, "Are you?"

"No. I am Maharashtrian. Hindu...You?" 

He was waiting for my reply. Just then, the receptionist called out to me. 

As I got up, I heard him say, "So, you are Muslim."

And I realised that perhaps we are all supposed to carry invisible crutches.  


Divided, and ruling

Kamal Haasan recently played martyr. It is fairly common for the arrogant and liars to play martyr. It is the prime ticket to a clean slate when you have moved on and reached closure, whatever the terms mean, for true closure should not result in constant bickering about that particular part of the past.

Kamal Haasan is an accomplished actor and filmmaker. He also has interesting insights into cinema, and social issues. Irrespective of how one views the choices he makes and has made, he has struck out. But that is not the issue here.

In a joint interview with his daughter Shruti, he chose to discuss his personal life and that is where he came across as arrogant and wanting. He rants about his first marriage:

"Just around the time she (Shruti) was born, I had lost all my money due to the various alimony settlements with Vani that I had to pay and had to restart with a zero bank balance...I was living suddenly in a rented house, which I was not used to, but fortunately my career was in great shape. Life was suddenly a wake-up call for me, but at that time to make a decision in my career to not be enamoured by money was a strange thing that happened to me."

I do not know the details of their arrangement, but I do know that his ex-wife Vani Ganapathy was and is an accomplished classical dancer. I also know that around the same time he was living in with Sarika, the woman he married after their two daughters were born. These are personal decisions, but there is no need to use any of them to score.

The feisty Vani has not kept quiet. She called up the newspaper and this is what she said and I reproduce in full:

“I was very hurt after I read a recent interview of Kamal's. He has said that because of our divorce, he went bankrupt due to the alimony that was paid to me. I would really like to know, firstly, which divorce in India has led to bankruptcy of any kind. And if he claims he went bankrupt, then I ought to have been living in comfort. Instead, why would I have had to buy a home on an LIC loan on the outskirts of Bengaluru 28 years back? All that I have today is because of my dance and my own hard work. Kamal also says that he moved into a rented house because of this bankruptcy. How can he say that when we only stayed in rented houses during the time we were married. The only house that Kamal bought during that time was used as his office. So where is the question of having to move into a rented house because of him running into bankruptcy due to our divorce?“

What has happened is not uncommon. Patriarchal societies believe that the male is the provider and assume that the woman he once promised to take care of will always be under his guardianship or at least supported by him. This may not be true at all, but people will buy the lies or anything that fits into their own narrow perceptions.

Relationships are anyway fragile, so why point out the pieces when they break? Why the tall claims? Was Kamal Haasan trying to appeal to his daughter, now a grownup woman who may have many unanswered questions?

Again, he strikes me as presumptuous. Talking about how he tackled the revelations of his breakup with her mother Sarika to her, he said:

"Also she wasn't sure as the facts were not given to her fully by either (he and Sarika). I didn't explain too much as explaining myself would have tilted her balance, which I didn't want to do. If I was a villain in her piece at that time, it's okay as I knew it's not a permanent piece as it wasn't going to be etched on rock. And it's good that I waited."

Was this necessary? Why would it have tilted the balance — the girls lived with their mother. Such emotional machismo is no different from the physical variant. The villain turned into a hero is so enchanting, especially when it comes to later explaining more digressions:

Let me talk in a very male tone. If you are talking about scores, mine is the lowest amongst my peers. Numbers don't matter to me, it's always about commitment for me. I have never had one-night stands ever. It can't work for me and that way I am like a woman as they too are troubled with that.

This is so problematic. Comparing his score with that of his peers he seems to suggest that they might lack commitment because of a higher 'score'. And one-night stands would bother those who are bothered, irrespective of gender. To imply that women are "troubled" only invokes that they better be while ostensibly conveying a sensibility that cares.

Even while talking about losing it all for his alimony, he is trying to show his concern for his other family. In the presence of his daughter, he is expressing to her the sacrifices he made for them. Such one-upmanship may work for the self-esteem of the insecure and to an extent to keep a superficial peace, but it only eclipses the halo.


The corpse carriers: Parsi untouchability

A news story on untouchability among the Parsis may seem like an anachronism, but this is how the pallbearers in the community are treated.

They are now protesting, not against the untouchability but their pay scales. These khandias have to work at odd hours, live amongst corpses till they decompose completely, and it takes a long time for there are no birds of prey these days at the Doongerwadi Tower of Silence at Malabar Hill. The solar panels leave the bodies "soggy". As one khandia was quoted as saying, “When we go to drag the body, a hand or a leg comes off."

These men are treated with contempt, as the report conveys so well. They can't live in the Parsi baugs, there is separate drinking water, they need to purify themselves before entering a fire temple, and when they are given money they have to open a pouch so that the donors do not get contaminated.

The contamination bit bothers me, and it is not restricted to Parsis and is rampant in all communities. The pallbearers are carrying and cleaning people who were once loved and lived amongst us. How does this defile them? Is it only considerations of infections that might pass? I think not. If that were the case, then long after they have washed and aired themselves, they would not still be ostracised for being who they are.

What is the point of funeral rites and memorials if we cannot respect those who ensure that the deceased have a dignified last image?

There are always exceptions to the rule, but that only emphasises how entrenched these non-scripture, non-legal rules are and also how social norms and prejudices have a greater say than them. It is appalling that we continue to be trapped in fears of contamination.

Some years ago, there was a demand for some purification ritual because actor Arjun Rampal (who is married to a Parsi) had said he had sneaked into a fire temple — as a kid. I had written Parsi Controversies then.

We do pull up Hindus for their practice of untouchability, and rightly so. But Muslims, Christians, and Parsis are offenders too. Muslims have a higher caste of Syeds, and many sects look down on others — including not having water in the house of one or treating another's rituals with contempt. Even if a religion talks about the differences, should we not move with the times? Ages ago, there were probably reasons of survival of the fittest and assertion of territory to be factored in. Today, social mobility makes these redundant.

The hypocrisy makes things worse when there is talk of dignity of labour in public and scant consideration privately for those performing such tasks. Why is it that a person with a degree doing a menial job is seen as honourable but one 'born' into it not so? These prejudices are not ingrained but learned. And such learning is also about some form of intellectual superiority, and therefore slavery.

If we must shun, then shunning these double-faced consciences should be considered good untouchability. 


Sunday ka Funda

Time flies, we say, as another dawn, another dusk arrive and leave. There is birth. And rebirth. Yes, rebirth. The soil is fertile. It creates.

Then, there are needs, wishes, desires. Each one takes away something from us even before it has given us anything. Indeed:

"Hazaaaron khwaahishein aisi ke har khwaahish pe dum nikle..."


Whose yoga is it, anyway?

After this Yoga Day is over, nobody will give a damn about it, neither those promoting it nor those opposing it.

As we celebrate the occasion on June 21, it becomes evident that unlike the rest of the world, for Indians it is not only about physical wellbeing. It takes a very simplistic mind to suggest that the sudden interest in yoga is about health. If that were the priority, then our health infrastructure would be revamped and several other cures propagated.

Perhaps those who perform their asanas and deep breathing might have gone about it as they always do but for the added burden of being made the keepers of a cultural heritage. This becomes more potent when you have to deal with what appear to be enemies of yoga. Supporting yoga today is also about patriotism.

"Yoga is the best soft power of India," said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. Inherent in the statement is the belief that we can colonise others with it, and indeed with so many other countries adopting it it is possible to indulge in such delusion, especially where the West is concerned.

The same goes for the prime minister. When Narendra Modi suggested to the UN to institute a day celebrating yoga, he was claiming heritage, capitalising on the foreign interest, and appealing to the NRI community by taking care not to use Hindutva evangelism and spoil their case in their adopted lands.

More than culture, it is an assertion of patent rights. Our foreign obsession often takes us to our own cultural moorings only after they've been accepted overseas, largely by the whites. Do we hear about blacks and yoga? There is no way that the foreigners enamoured of yoga are doing so solely due to its physical benefits. They like the exotica that accompanies it — the incense, the spiritual poses, the history and the mythography of finding the self from the navel to the seat of all desire at the base of the lower back, as the kundalini rises.

Added to this is the guilt that they are taking over yoga. There has been much debate for years about the appropriation. This is not quite true for Indian gurus from Maharishi Mahesh yogi to Deepak Chopra made money overseas and gained currency in the land of their origin because of their famous clientele overseas. There might be a few mom & pop type yoga stores, but it is more likely that it is preferred to be first experienced in its 'natural' environment.

The truth is that yoga has been chosen for special attention simply because it is a thriving industry, and not because India wants to culturally invade the world or the minorities. However, the 'yoga is anti-Islam, anti-Christianity' lobbies come in handy because the majority of middle-class Indians, avaricious as they are, like a moral core to justify their greed.

With the subtle implication that this is an ancient art form that needs to be protected and propagated, they feel assuaged. They carry history in their aspiring to be nimble forms.

It was bad enough that certain Muslim groups and individuals started talking about how yoga is anti-Islam, but it is even worse to see the ridiculous attempts to co-opt other Muslims. Photographs of maulvis and people wearing burqas and skull caps holding their noses and contorting their bodies just make it appear like the farce it is turning out to be.

It started with this nonsense about how Muslims can't do the surya namaskar because in Islam you are not supposed to worship any form. Not everybody who does yoga worships the sun or the moon or anything. Why even bring this up? This gave Yogi Adityanath just the kind of opportunity he waits for:

"Sun is the source of life giving energy. Whoever thinks Sun is communal, I would like to humbly request them to drown themselves in the sea or they should stay in a dark cell."

These Muslims deserve his idiocy that misinterprets their intent and even communalises the sun. At the other end is Sakshi Maharaj who called himself a true Muslim and Prophet Mohammed a great yogi. Some others said namaaz is like yoga.

Some Muslims asserted that they are not supposed to say 'Om' while doing deep meditation, and somebody suggested they could replace it with 'Ameen'. You really do not need either, and if yoga is all about health then just get on with it. By creating a controversy, bigoted Muslims have just played into the hands of the other bigots, and made themselves into a laughing stock to be 'saved' by the likes of Baba Ramdev.

Christians too have objected because yoga is "not compatible with Christianity". An event organized by drug rehab NGO Kripa is in trouble because many from the community believe that Fr. Joe Pereira is more like a Hindu yoga guru. A parishioner said, "...yoga is not Biblical. If a priest wants to organise something, he should do it within the framework of the Christian world."

Everyone seems to want to score points.

Mr Modi, despite all the criticism the event has generated, has used what has always been there to garner more attention for himself. He wants to ensure that this occasion gets into the Guinness Book. Large contingents will be out, including police personnel and bureaucrats.

A yoga instructor at the class for public servants was quoted as saying:

“They heard it on TV, and they are running toward the yoga. The prime minister is the king. If the king does something, that is very effective. And this time, our king is doing yoga.”

School students who anyway are expected to participated in Physical Training (PT) classes are being brainwashed. Is this about general wellbeing? One politician, whatever be his motives, seems to have got it mostly right. Karnataka Social Welfare Minister Anjanaiah said:

"Yoga is for lazy people, especially people belonging to well to do families. They do not have time for exercise in the open including taking a walk...People should ask their children to indulge themselves in playing outdoor sports including running and long walks instead of yoga."

Have you seen a poor person practise, much less discuss, yoga? Yoga is essentially for the angst-ridden elite looking for reprieve or the neo-enlightened who think it is a non-invasive body cleanser. Very few use it as an alternative to medicine. And now with the supposed renaissance, it has become a symbol of political opportunism camouflaging as culture. Forget yoga, we need a new culture.


The Taliban has now objected to Pakistanis celebrating the occasion, so many events have been cancelled. An earlier piece I wrote on Pakistan on an Indian spiritual trip


A life, a death: Aruna Shanbaug

Her death is in the newspapers just as most of her life was. Aruna Shanbaug died after being in coma for 42 years. The headlines continue to talk about her "vegetative state". They continue to objectify her, and her entire life becomes a mere précis — rape, brain damage, lobotomised.

Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai. On November 27, 1973, when she went to the basement after her shift, she was sexually assaulted by the sweeper, Sohanlal Bartha Walmiki. He used a dog chain to strangle her, leading to loss of blood supply and oxygen to the brain. It debilitated her in so horrific a manner that she was rendered paralysed, blind and has been comatose for over three decades.*

Rest In Peace has become an opportunity. In death, Aruna has been socialised, by most internet people, including socialites. Just read about how "Bollywood mourns for Aruna". Bollywood has every right to, but it is obvious that Bollywood is being given importance here. It is celebrity photographs that matter. And we live in times where everybody who publicly expresses a few words of grief is deemed to be sensitive and the possessor of a conscience.

Media persons do not lag behind. They speak about how the country has let her down. How many of them followed up on the rape case? They preferred to carry lingering graphic accounts of what was happening to Aruna Shanbaug's body. They were violating her again. They've taken pictures of her screaming, writhing in pain. What kind of people are these? And then they claim to be sensitive to suffering.

These are the same people who say, "Before Nirbhaya, there was Aruna". As though the Delhi gangrape victim is a benchmark, as though harking back is any justification for anything. In this ordered world of making icons out of victims, the purveyors of heroism sidetrack the crime and the criminal. A victim is made into a hero; she is said to fight a battle when she is not even aware that she has survived, and what it feels like to be alive. Or almost dead.

In all these years whenever the ‘story’ was covered in the media, the emphasis was on Aruna and for the most part her fight in a locked hospital room, hunger, pain, soiled clothes, stiff immobile hands and legs, the voice beastly, the brain half dead. Today at 61, the routine continues. She whines, is still afraid of male voices; we get these same dispatches in graphic detail. Aruna’s helplessness is made to appear heroic.

This is not about a lone woman’s fight nor a miracle, for it neither uplifts the spirit nor her body. She does not even recognize that she has survived.

What use is a lifeless person when the perpetrator of the offence is free? Does it drive home a point at all, least of all about the goriness of such a gruesome act?*

Now the nurses and her relatives a fighting over who should perform her funeral rites. Commendable as their care has been, it is unbecoming to claim the right because they tended to her. Also, the glorification of these 'Florence Nightingales' has given the hospital reprieve from ever being accountable to pursue the case against the rapist, who was also their employee.

This is not the tale of a support system. The crime was committed by a hospital staffer in the hospital premises and the authorities have a reputation to uphold. There should instead be an urgent need to look into the conditions of public hospitals and also the general wards of some private hospitals. They are in a pathetic condition. With Aruna’s case, there ought to have been a greater need to examine the level of security. By cocooning her in a room, the authorities have got away without being answerable for such a lapse. They could have fought the case against the rapist who was their employee; they could have issued notices against him being employed anywhere else.*

Her life did raise questions about euthanasia, but there were valid counter-posers, too.

Dr. Ravi Bapat, who was supposedly among the first of the team that responded to Aruna on the morning she was discovered lying under the stairway, is against the SC petition. “It is idiosyncrasy, no living cell ever wants to die…Aruna is like a mentally challenged person now. Would any parent of a mentally ill child move the court in a similar manner? It is sickening how every five years someone raises Aruna’s case just for publicity.”*

In death, too, the publicity machinery is alive. For 42 years, she had to undergo such close scrutiny. Strangers hovered over, unknown to her.

"From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity." — Edvard Munch

*All these quotes are from my earlier piece Whose euthanasia is it, anyway?


Sunday ka Funda

"I've laid in a ghetto flat
Cold and numb
I heard the rats tell the bedbugs
To give the roaches some
Everybody wanna know
Why I'm singing the blues
Yes, I've been around a long time
People, I've paid my dues"

(From: "Why I Sing The Blues")

There is always a reason why we do things, and sometimes the reasons become the things we shall always do.

I cannot claim to know much about the Blues, but the genre is rooted in pain, a pain that reaches out. The sweat and tears gush forth in the voice.

This cannot claim to be a tribute to B.B.King, for I know little about him on my own. He had said that playing the blues was "like having to be black twice", and instantly one understands. One understands how art will be judged by who the artiste is when he says that the blues was like a "problem child" only because you are concerned about how it will be perceived by the world. In that itself is an indictment of such perceptions that see the colour of the singer, and not the shades of the song.

However, a true artiste would mesh with his art. For B.B.King, “The blues was bleeding the same blood as me.”


Drops of life

“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”
― Nicholas Sparks

There's no water. The overhead tanks were being repaired. By the end of the day even the lone bucketful was depleted and only a couple of jugs could be filled. The jugs became a symbol of all that a daily routine, and life, represents. I became suddenly aware of even drops being wasted.

Strangely, I also became conscious of sweat. In this humidity there can be embarrassing perspiration. However, I'd let the beads of sweat remain on skin; it's as though they were replacing water.

Bath was a towel dipped in water to clean up, followed by lots of wet wipes. If you can't have bread...; the awareness of being elite comes soft-footed. It comes as bottled water and as images that make you cringe, even if momentarily, about the many who walk miles to get just one bucket, about those who have to pull and tug into wells, who have to wait before water taps in a queue, who collect water near rivers where flotsam coats the liquid, who bathe in any collected pool of muddy water, who sometimes die because their thirst was unquenched.

These are images for us. For them, it is life.