Hyde and seek...

...and see what you get for opposing the nuclear deal

Last night on CNN-IBN, just to be a bit different, they decided to ask viewers whether Prakash Karat, the CPI (M) general secretary, was a powerful enough politician in India. They ran a short biographical sketch on him. Where was the need? That is the problem – we need one individual to represent an ideology, to hit out at.

I have never claimed knowledge of such mammoth subjects, but I have been reading up a lot. And anyone with half a mind can see that we are going to be the losers; what we gain in two-bit handouts will result in a major diplomatic sell-out. In brief, India already generates one lakh MW energy; with this deal we will get 20,000 MW more by – wait, listen to this – the year 2020.

This is crazy. The TV channel had nothing better to do so they kept asking the panelists whether Karat was a nice guy, you know his integrity etc. And who did they ask? That turncoat Subramanian Swamy.

As the Communist on the panel said this was a trivialisation of the issue. However, they continued giving us SMS poll results that said Prakash Karat scored about 20-30 per cent in the popularity stakes. What did anyone expect? How may people have even heard about him? Our electronic media, mostly American lackeys, project politicians that it finds convenient. Therefore, now they have got a nice little thing to beat the Leftists with – ah, they are playing for China; they do what their overseas Commie masters want. It could well be true that since this ideology is anyway a Western one (as is contemporary democracy, so shut up), there are certain norms followed.

The moot question still remains: what the hell will India get in the long run besides a handshake and a jiggly-wiggly buffer?

Now, I called the Indo-US nuclear deal a “tutti-fruity” one. What is the reaction? Indians sitting in the US are telling me that my fellow Leftists are selling the country and we should be charged with treason. We are not concerned about the poor. Yes, the poor will benefit from the nonsense that is being passed as nuclear deal for energy.

Of course, there is a prompt reaction: How can you call her a Leftist? What do they know about me? Ah, wait, they do… “Why is this surprising? FV's loyalties lie with pureland”. Someone else mentions with great authority, "She is the voice of jihad in the garb of leftie stuff”. Huh, they have been watching me while I dress? In effect, they are telling us that Muslim jihadis, as opposed to Hindu and Rastafarian ones, are Communists. They are not wrong. From the little I know about Islam it does talk about egalitarianism, sharing of wealth and other goodies.

However, I still cannot figure out how opposing the nuclear deal in my country makes me loyal to Pakistan. I can understand if they had said Iran. But Pakistan sounds better. They don’t know many or any Iranians; they know lots of Pakistanis whose tails they want to twist.

So, some NRIs think they can call for a civil war and put a bullet through our heads. Just try it. Just you try. And let us see if you can get even one foot inside India. Because India survives on our taxes, our efforts and not your dollars sent to prop up some ancient historical relic so you can take pictures near it when you visit on your holiday, bringing back gifts from some China Market. China, gotcha!

And for those who have said I have a problem with foreign backpackers getting more attention in India than the respectable middle-class person because it is “perhaps FV's way of saying ‘look no one cares for me in India!!!’,”, I might remind them that if no one cared they would not sit and discuss a stray comment I make. Oh, and since when did I become a part of the middle-class. Were these not the same people who said that I was an elitist?

Strange. A swish commie jihadi envious of firang backpackers trying to belong to the middle-class. You tried beating me blue and coloured me pink. Better luck next time…if you can manage another one…


Trial by fire

Maverick: Ram’s Agni Pariksha
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Aug 21, 2007

Is Ram Gopal Verma doing a Rushdie? Should we see the film Ramgopal Verma Ki Aag, a remake of Sholay, as analogous to Salman’s Satanic Verses? Are they not both about interpretation or re-invention?

I have never regarded Sholay as a cult film. It merely packaged the tried-and-tested with aplomb. Caricatures were camouflaged as characters. It was the triumph of hype. Verma may end up doing a Spiderman, as he said; he has to say something to justify a “tribute”. Purists, however, don’t like it. This is amusing. For, pop culture is only dignifying pop culture. What Andy Warhol did to Marilyn Monroe is considered hugely flattering.

Whether it is satire or black humour, there is the egotistical belief that the mindless millions must be given some cud to chew on while they are petting their holy cows. Which is where sweet justice steps in for it is the so-called moronic masses who cannot understand the nuances that are the first to pronounce a verdict. They don’t have time to indulge indulgences.

In a strange twist, those who want to do away with holy cows become the holy cows themselves. Salman Rushdie blasphemes religion and cultural liberals rush to uphold his freedom to express himself. Campaigns are organised to garner support for what they insist is an attempt to not let minds turn mouldy. Years before the Mumbai underworld and Uttar Pradesh hinterlands had become chic enough to have Macbeth and Othello transposed on them, some cultural czars had got pretty uptight when stylistic changes were made to the Bard in a theatre production. Today, in his own country young students will be given a “dumbed down quick text” version of his works in comic-strip format. Would Naseeruddin Shah still ask, as he had done then in a biting essay, “Why the hell can’t we change Shakespeare?”

The same query cannot be posed in the case of religious texts simply because we are dealing not with one person’s creativity but the very foundation on which a section of people base their concept of society. It is not about a playwright, a novelist or a filmmaker believing in that particular belief system but whether s/he has an alternative.

No one knows what to defend anymore. The creative world by its very nature is meant to be in flux, dynamic in the face of stodgy status quoism. But when can it be said that going against the tide has gone overboard? At every point in history there have been heretics. Even the messiahs and prophets immortalised in holy books have gone against the established norms prevalent in their days. Then, why is it that we cannot accept our latter-day heathens?

There are several reasons for it but by far the most important one is that the compulsions behind the creative person are not to change society’s outlook but to provoke. The motive is to use the licence rather than to work on a crusade. At a time when religion, myth, history and its geographical position are having a field day, one wonders how sanctified any stand can be. Synthetic attempts are justified as having universal appeal.

This is far from the truth for in the late Eighties we were being told that for a woman to prove her virtue she would have to jump into her husband’s funeral pyre, as happened with Roop Kanwar. Isn’t this itself blasphemy when we consider the world we live in and how outdated and reprehensible such ideas are? Must we not then give credence to those who are keeping their heads above such beliefs? This is a tricky situation.

Many attempts have been made to upset Valmiki’s applecart. In one, Sita gets quite incensed when Rama meekly agrees to renounce his throne. Accustomed to the good things of life, when Ravana makes an offer to elope, she jumps at it. When Rama traces and captures her, she shows no signs of repentance. She is ordered to be buried alive. A lot of people think of these interpretations as brave attempts, but do they really turn the tables? The Sita of this world could exercise her choice only within a clichéd circumference. Did she have to use Ravana as a crutch? She defied Rama by letting him bury her alive. It may have become a revolutionary statement but there is a cop-out and she is conveniently packaged as a patriarchal puppet in a glamorous wrapper to hide the warts.

To what purpose are such efforts when they strive to be solely a defiance of formula, not essence?

Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American professor, has recently come out with a new English-language interpretation of the Quran challenging terms that feminists say have been used to justify the abuse of Islamic women. “Why choose to interpret the word (idrib) as ‘to beat’ when it can also mean ‘to go away’,” she wrote in the introduction about one such expression.

While I am all for changing with the times, why is it important to re-interpret religious texts? None of them are applicable in their original forms today. It is also a bit far-fetched to assume that several unlettered men who beat their wives are relying on the Quran to do so.

Now that we have a feminist version, someone may want a version palatable to the West, another group may ask for an Oriental one, yet another may demand a Sufi take on it. And there will be disputes regarding each.

Will Verma’s Basanti be asked, “Kitney aadmi the” and get away without being accused of nymphomania? No. That is the point. Poetic licence cannot ensure a parallel consciousness.


Hope and a little sugar

Returned home late last night. Found a box of chocolates. The box itself was a beauty in burgundy; the chocolates shaped like fish that are deemed auspicious were wrapped in coloured foil. A note wished me “Happy Navroz”. This was the third year it was happening. I don’t mind being mistaken for a Parsi or for anything, but it feels odd getting wishes that one has not earned, even if by default.

I just called up the organisation I have been receiving it from since I had also got a message on my cellphone.

“Vijay, you made the mistake again,” I told the manager.

“No, this time it was deliberate. I recalled our conversation of last year, but as I was about to take your name off this list I said, ‘Let her enjoy the chocolates anyway’.”

It seems life is all about hope and a little sugar…

- - -

I have already written about my Parsi memories. Let me share a couple of them with you:

Image 1

Jimmy was driving me to his house; he would park his car in the building and then we’d take a train from Grant Road station to Vasai for a case we were following up on. On the way up to his flat, he warned me, “Look, I live with three aunts and I rarely invite any woman over because they start imagining I have been hooked. So, just don’t mind them.”

Three ladies in different stages of moisturised wrinkles appeared together to greet me. Jimmy went in. Ebony-coloured furniture was displayed discreetly. The napkins that came with the tea were lace-trimmed. The house smelled of talcum powder. The three of them sat across in stiff organza sarees and kept smiling.

Jimmy returned and was immediately given a special look. He rolled his eyes and suggested I hurry up but it would be better if I freshened up first, since it might be a few hours before we returned. I got up hesitantly and was directed towards a room. All three aunts followed. It was the bathroom attached to their bedroom. One of them brought out fresh towels from a locked cupboard. I tiptoed in and was afraid to even let the water in the basin run lest the sound break this amazing silence.

As I stepped out all of them were sitting at the edge of their bed facing the bathroom door. I thanked them and they asked me to join them for lunch another day. “Bye-bye, bye-bye,” they chorused as we left. Jimmy breathed out, “I live with them!” Three spinsters and a bachelor, all past what is deemed by society to be the marriageable age.

Image 2

“Feedosssssssss!” That is my earliest memory of Parsis. There would be a scream in our house on spotting a perfectly harmless lizard on the wall and our neighbour, Mani Aunty, would solicitously rush to enquire, “Soo thaiyyu?” (What happened?) We would point out the slimy creature…she would go to the passageway that divided our houses and call out, “Feeedossssss…” Firdaus her son, would arrive, half-asleep, and be handed a broom. He would wield it like a baton and with remarkable precision hit the lizard; it would fall to the floor struggling; someone would ask him to fling it outside the window from where it would find its way. But this was a manly challenge and until it had been decimated, there was no reprieve. I am amused now that while the whole contingent of ‘junooni’ Mussalmans would be cowering with their feeble “shoo-shoo”, the peaceful Parsi had blood on his hands.

My childhood was full of these little neighbourly observations – sutarpheni (a sweet that looks like dry white grass and perhaps tastes like it, except for the sugar and pistachios) being sent to us on Parsi New Year; the daily chokh, a pattern made from rice powder, outside the door; Behram uncle, a soft-spoken man, standing in the balcony tying his Kusti (sacred thread) three times round his waist to signify good words, good thoughts, good deeds over his sudreh (a muslin vest) and muttering a prayer. This is his heritage from the moment he was initiated into the faith, not at birth but after his Navjote ceremony at the age of eight.

The family would always be dressed appropriately for the occasion. You wouldn’t find them shoddy. If they were going for a stroll on the Bandstand promenade, they’d tie scarves round their heads to protect their hair and ears.

This Irani household taught me about simple things and a language that was delectable. If Uncle as much as voiced his opinion about someone, then his wife would admonish him, “Marey-re, javaa de Bei-aam. Te taddan gadherro chhe.” (Damn it, let it be…that man is a complete donkey.) It took me a while to learn to pronounce Behram. I would mimic Aunty and after ‘Bei’ there would be a long inhalation before the soft whimper of an ‘aam’ was exhaled, almost like a meditative ‘Om’.

Of course, as one’s world expanded, I found it hard to believe that Parsis were an endangered species; they were everywhere. Haggling with hawkers, at the theatre to watch English plays (in which most of them were acting anyway), when choir groups or Western orchestras performed in the city, in parks, at the David Sassoon library, usually snoozing on one of the wooden armchairs, in clubs eating ‘akuri’ (an eggy mish-mash) on toast, sitting in their now-dwindling eateries where they put up signs that read, “No smoking, no combing hair, no discussing politics”, driving at a snail’s pace, usually in the Fiat. A “Parsi-maintained car”, although used, is still considered as precious as a virgin in the automobile market.

And then you have the colonies. It is an entirely different world where you suddenly hear the same sounds, encounter people wearing similar clothes and even looking somewhat alike. But the status is not always the same. You may enter Cusrow Baug, but if one flat has the Grand Piano playing Schubert, and another has a famous ballerina or a film-maker, there are smaller houses with little furniture and a lonely man sitting and gazing vacantly at the wall clock that chimes every half hour. I know how hard it is because as a stranger when I had knocked on such a door for an assignment, I was welcomed in and offered porridge at 4 pm.

I hate porridge at any hour, but when you have it with pent-up tears the taste changes.


I won't talk your talk

The hypocrisy of the liberal Muslim is in evidence. Everyone does not have to agree with my views on Taslima, but the very people who line up outside my Inbox to laud me for speaking up for the riots are now silent. Reason? It does not sound right. By showing they are on Taslima’s side, they will prove that they are not that kind of Muslim.

I don’t give a rat’s ass how I am perceived. Some Muslim Intellectual forum has “condemned the attack” and is now saying it was “not by a conservative Muslim organisation but by legislators”. Whoa. Imagine if Ms. Nasreen pays heed to this. Her world will come crashing down. Oh, they are not Muslims? Then how will I butter my toast? I can hear her mutter…

So I am like really being nasty to her? As I just wrote to a friend who spoke about the hegemony of the West (and if it is of any consequence, he is a Hindu): “The strange response I get these days is that perhaps I have become a fan of the clergy! This is so far from the truth. The thing is that most people blindly wish to accept the West's version of Islam, and the liberals in our subcontinent swallow this. The idea has been to question their questioning of a group that itself has disparate streams of thought. Sometimes, I do feel like the battle is a losing one. The West has colonised minds and few are putting up a spirited fight. Even our concept of liberalism is borrowed. I wish it did not seem like a fight each time I tapped on the keyboard.”

- - -

We have a new Vice President. In his first public comment after being elected vice-president, Hamid Ansari on Friday night condemned the attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. "Use of violence to make a point of view is wrong."

The V-P had nothing else to say? Hello, isn’t India dealing with the nuclear issue, kidnappings, Maoists, and if he did not want to start with a politically-sensitive subject then how about illiteracy, malnutrition, child rights, women’s empowerment? I will tell you why he has spoken up for Taslima. See, he is a Muslim. He has already been put on the mat to prove that he is a good guy. And what better way than to take on your own community.

If he is so concerned about violence, then why does he not talk about human rights violations, the treatment of under trials, encounter killings? Will he have the courage to even utter a word about this report which says that a 1993 riot victim is being hounded?

Yes, you heard it right. A victim is being hounded.


Farook Mapkar, who had received a gunshot wound in the Hari Masjid shootout in the 1992-93 riots, is being hounded by the Maharashtra government even today. He had already been tried in the case made against him in the Hari Masjid firing even though he was the victim. Yet, on Friday, the government asked the fast track court for time to file supplementary charges against him. His lawyer, Mr Shakeel Ahmed, told this newspaper: "On the one hand the government says that it is going to implement the Srikrishna Commission report, and on the other they are hounding him. Why don’t they withdraw the case?"

Mr Mapkar is one of the material witnesses to the unprovoked firing by sub-inspector Nikhil Kapse at Hari Masjid on Mumbai’s Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road. He said that on January 19, 1993, the situation in the masjid area was tense and Shiv Sainiks had taken to the streets. Then suddenly, at around 12.45 pm, a police van appeared near the masjid, forced its way into the premises of the masjid and the policemen beat up the namazis and started firing indiscriminately with their rifles and service revolvers. Seven people died on the spot and several were injured. The police arrested 50 persons, all Muslims.

Taslima and Her Technicolor Boat

On the Heels of Sir Salman
Taslima and Her Technicolor Boat
By Farzana Versey
August 10, 2007, Counterpunch

Taslima Nasreen, like many contemporary Muslim writers, is trying to portray the victim of religion. The best manner in which to do so since Sir Salman (before he was knighted) showed the way is through the dark Islamic tunnel. Let the pot sizzle with some concern for the backward Muslim world. Take large doses of the Quran, the veil, the Prophet and carefully carve it into little bits for easy consumption.

The problem is that Muslims are a bunch of fools. They imagine that most of these books will have an impact. They don’t. On Thursday, a group of activists from the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) barged into her press conference and apparently roughed her up. Television channels showed us this unruly mob get into a scuffle and throw bouquets of flowers still covered in cellophane. Taslima in her blue saree stood aside. No channel showed us what transpired before.

As always, they brought in a ‘conservative’ and he naturally said what conservatives do: she deserves it for constantly maligning the religion and the Prophet. The television anchor smiled and turned to the ‘liberal’ in the studio. This liberal has suddenly discovered she is a Muslim and the usual stuff about freedom of expression was dished out.

I don’t think Taslima or anyone should be physically attacked. What no one has bothered to find out, though, is that the organization that was involved is not a sanctioned Muslim outfit; not many Indian Muslims outside the city of Hyderabad have even heard about it. But, what is the message being sent out to the world? That not only are Muslims a bunch of uncouth fellows, they also beat up women. I can imagine the Western world nodding in agreement and saying, “We told you so.”

When Taslima Nasreen was not allowed to return to Bangladesh for fear for her life, she went to the West for a while. She could not adjust there, so she found solace in India. India that has been busy shunting out Bangladeshi immigrants became her temporary home. She did not have a word to say about the migrants who were being denied citizenship rights even though they have lived in India for 30 years or more.

If Taslima is all about this major literary voice being stilled, why is it that very little analysis is being done of her writings? Why is she always in the news for a perspective other than one of literary or ethical significance? Even when she wrote an autobiographical account in which several writers and political figures were mentioned, not for their role in damaging society but for sleeping with her, she was harping on freedom of speech. How different is this attitude from one of those Hollywood satellite social climbers that claim their pound of tabloid mileage and money based entirely on having had a close encounter with a celebrity? She has imprisoned her own mind and then goes out crying for escape.

Give her complete freedom and she won’t know what to do with it. She has nothing much going for her. Lajja revealed what one always suspected since that day in July 1993 when a fatwa demanding her head was pronounced in Bangladesh – that she was wallowing in quasi-historical truths to suit her convenience. She had ended her 13-day saga with false hope, “Let us go away…to India,” she made her character Sudhomoy Dutta, the sturdy secularist and patriot, say.

Does she imagine that India is some sort of Utopia? A few months ago, she had been ranting against Pakistan’s “tyrannical” yoke, quite forgetting that she lived in a different country. Of course, since she wants to make India her home, this is the best she could do. She felt that all talk of pan-Islamic or Muslim unity was essentially a myth, and nothing had shattered it more convincingly than the breakaway of East Pakistan from its parent unit in the west.

If there is no unity in the Islamic world – and most of us have been long saying so – then on what basis does she paint the whole Islamic world with the same brush? There are pockets of fanatics and she has had to deal with some. I have to belabor the point that a fatwa is an opinion by an individual or a group; it is not a sanctioned edict. If it were so, then all those who have fatwas on their heads would have been killed by now and not managed to write their life stories or create magic realism in Manhattan.

The only reason Taslima prefers India, specifically Kolkata, is the language. This is ironical. East Pakistan moved out of the ‘tyranny’ of West Pakistan largely due to the language issue. Now, she is speaking out against parochialism and perpetrating it herself.

What is she trying to prove? Her ‘humanitarianism’, which hangs round her neck like an albatross, weighty, but drawing sufficient attention to her prized position? Or is she just another writer with perfect timing and a sharp marketing sense? Take the reference to a sentence in her first book: “Most of Suranjan’s friends were Muslim. None of them thought he was Hindu.” What does this mean? Was she trying to say that a religious person could not have friends from another community? Is faith designed to make you inhuman? Then Marxists should be the most human and humane people on earth, and she herself would have written about communal harmony in the purest sense instead of sprinkling stereotypes from Bollywood movies.

If she scratched herself, she would be faced with a truth she refuses to acknowledge: She is so insecure that she feels the need to deny her antecedents. Were it restricted to a personal position it would have been all right, but she uses characters insidiously to make generalizations only in order to anoint herself as a progressive.

Shrewdly, she has selected a time when Islamic or fringe Muslim societies are going through a phase when the red alert sounds every time their names get mentioned. She has a nice bandwagon to ride on.


The Making of Benegal

Just the other day A was telling me that we in India did not give Shyam Benegal the recognition he deserved. Yesterday’s announcement that he has been honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke award should make her and us happy.

For many of us who had been exposed to and in fact got to study the New Wave cinema movement, Benegal is said to be the most likely successor to Satyajit Ray and also a pioneer of the ‘middle cinema’. I do not agree with either assessment. Benegal’s early films were primarily rural and wholly political. Who can forget Ankur, Nishant and Manthan?

My favourite Benegal films, though, are Bhumika and Mammo, the former based on the life of a Marathi film actress. How deliciously he recreated the era and all the characters that dotted the turbulent life of Hansa Wadkar.

Mammo dealt with the Indo-Pak conflict through the emotional prism of its protagonist when she makes the journey from Pakistan to meet her sisters and her return ‘home’. This was in many ways un-Benegal like, but rarely has a film dealt so subtly with a subject of contemporary history.

That has been Benegal. A strong political undercurrent running through most of his work but conveyed with sensitivity. Many have not liked Samar, thought it was trying too hard, but I felt that he dealt with the issue of Dalits without huffing and puffing over it, using the simple device of a film within a film to show how the scourge of untouchability even besets the liberals. The sympathy towards the character versus the attitude towards the actor were rather wonderful swipes.

The films he directed for Shashi Kapoor were again a departure from what one might expect, but only just. Junoon had the backdrop the 1857 revolt; Kalyug transposed the Mahabharata to the contemporary environment.

Suraj Ka Saatwaan Ghoda, Mandi, Trikaal all had their moments. Personally I feel he was out of his depth with Sardari Begum and most certainly Zubeida.

Shabana Azmi wasn’t the best thing Benegal discovered. It was Smita Patil, starting with a small part in Nishant and going on to reveal her wonderful combination of smouldering sensuality and vulnerability in Manthan, Bhumika and Mandi.

His biopics include those on Satyajit Ray, Nehru and Bose, but I particularly liked The Making of the Mahatma.

What I would love to see from Benegal now is a story on the absurd political and social climate of Uttar Pradesh and the hype that comes with the baggage of the Amar Singh-Bachchan clique.


Gandhi and Son

Maverick: The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Aug 7, 2007

Bluntly put, Mahatma Gandhi was afraid of his son Harilal. “To the people he was a father…To his son he was the father he never had” says the subtitle of the new film Gandhi My Father. This is itself a misnomer. Gandhi was never the father of the people; he was the father of the nation. To the people he was the Mahatma, a greater soul.

Like many fathers in the subcontinent, Gandhi was in competition with his son for the potential of him taking over as man of the house and his wife’s attention. To handle the first threat he denied him conventional education and for the second he adopted celibacy as a means of giving Kasturba the position of his mother. The son, denied his Oedipal attachment, sought out prostitutes.

Put sexual self-denial/destruction in the context of the family unit and you will see how universal the story is. The normal person here is the son and not the father.

Gandhi was at an age when he should have felt settled. He was not. When he talked extensively about his battle with lust, it would be easy to classify it as frustration. Harilal was mirroring it all the time and that must have been disturbing.

Individual angst is a microcosm of the dysfunctional nature of society and even larger political issues. When the son converted to Islam at the age of 50, it again brought to the fore Gandhi’s assumption that he was still a child who would go to the “highest bidder”. As he wrote, “Harilal's apostasy is no loss to Hinduism and his admission to Islam a source of weakness to it, as I apprehend, he remains the same wreck that he was before.”

The fact is that the father was struggling with his own spiritual moorings. He was trying to base a fight for freedom on the foundation of morality gleaned from epics. His political arena was an ashram. The son turning to a religion which would in effect brand the father a kafir was a blow not to his paternal instinct but to the idea of his own godliness.

Gandhi was essentially the Nowhere Man suddenly trapped in the standards of the new world, which his ostensibly simple sensibilities could not grasp. If you care to look out of your window and spot a man who is either smiling too much, or walking far too purposefully or getting more restless than is necessary, then this is the man who has no answers as to what went wrong, and how and why.

So, he regresses, hoping to unveil today’s revolution by using yesterday’s bravado. He starts at home with the new arsenal in his battle against an imagined opponent – his spouse. The only way he can assert that he is in charge is by making rules. Some lines need to be drawn for him not to break inside.

Kasturba became a caricature of a housewife forced into becoming an ideological sidekick. She was expected to get everything right, and be in control not only of external situations but of her emotions. She had the constantly pained look and fake smile of somebody who had to hold back.

Harilal was seeking a role-model and instead found parents prone to Kodak moments of lobotomised bliss. He naturally became obsessive, but there was clarity in his thinking. As he did not fit into a mould, he could fashion himself the way he wished. It is to his credit that his rebelliousness was positive in that he did not worry about playing to the gallery. It is here that a political statement comes out with the greatest force. Do we have to remain outsiders to be truly contented? Does being snubbed act as a spur to freedom?

In the devious little trick film Lage Raho Munnabhai, that is now considered a contemporary classic, the protagonist buffers the ‘spirit’ of Gandhi. Interestingly, we have a goon without a family lecturing a bunch of old men deserted by their families. All the subjects for the Gandhigiri experiment are what society deems to be dysfunctional people.

Therefore, let us forget whether he was a good father or not. Was Gandhi, the statesman without a state, a good father of the nation? His aphorisms amount to the inheritance of candyfloss that gets sticky after a while. In a nation that was to be created as a secular republic he was pushing the idea of god. When there was talk of an honourable settlement between the Hindus and Muslims almost a decade before Partition, he had said, “My faith in unity is as bright as ever; only I see no daylight but impenetrable darkness and in such distress I cry out to god for light.”

His idea of Ram Rajya has today become cause for an acrimonious second, albeit mental, partition. And what has happened to the Harijans, children of god? Don’t we realise that this whole toilet-bowl existence he sanctified as dignity of labour has left millions of people still in the Grade 4 category of jobs? It took an Ambedkar to truly empower them as Dalits. Non-violence? Is there such a movement today? We have a South African, Nelson Mandela, speaking up for it after having been branded a terrorist in the past.

Let us get real. We don’t need a Harilal to tell us that the Gandhi bubble had burst long ago and become a mere ghost along one more M.G.Road.


Oh man!

One day in the Garden of Eden, Eve calls out to God... "God, I have a problem."

"What’s the problem, Eve?"

"I know that you created me and provided this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful animals, as well as that hilarious comedic snake, but I’m just not happy."

"And why is that Eve?"

"God, I am lonely, and I’m sick to death of apples."

"Well, Eve, in that case, I have a solution. I shall create a man for you."

"What is that, God?"

"A flawed creature, with many bad traits. He’ll lie, cheat and be vain; all in all, he’ll give you a hard time. But he’ll be bigger, faster and will like to hunt and kill things. He will look silly when he is aroused, but since you’ve been complaining, I’ll create him in such a way that he will satisfy your physical needs. He will be witless and will revel in childish things like fighting and kicking a ball about. He won’t be too smart, so he will also need your advice to think properly."

"Sounds great," says Eve, with ironically raised eyebrows, "but what’s the catch, God?"

"Well ...you can have him on one condition."

"And what’s that, God?"

"As I said, he’ll be proud, arrogant and self-admiring... So, you’ll have to let him believe that I made him first. And it will have to be our little secret. You know, woman to woman."

- - -

This is a joke I read someplace...but how true, how true...


It takes a village...

I recall visiting this hamlet in Mahad years ago on assignment. It was with a group of people who had adopted that village. We reached around late afternoon and were taken to the circuit house for lunch. Then we went to a small guest house.

I spent a sleepless night. Dogs were barking a little distance away, the lady I was sharing the room with was wheezing from asthma; I had never met anyone who suffered from asthma until then…and I was worried sick that something would happen and I would get hauled up to the police station.

New to the profession, this was my first real village experience, and all my ideas about the gaon ki gori (the village belle) walking around with a matka (pot) perched on the hip were brought crashing down.

Next day we set out to see the work being done - what they made, how it was sold. I realised they had flourished because, although financed by outsiders, they were empowering themselves. People tend to be more comfortable with their own and that is what I keep harping on: the best way to bring about change is to use ‘key workers’ trained from within the community.

On the last night we went to the interiors. Our group had torches. We came into an opening and saw lanterns flickering; the smell of kerosene emitted from them. Women were sitting with rice in straw trays open at one end; they'd hoist it up so that when it came down the heavier pits would be visible. Then they’d pick them out and throw them. A little away, large vessels heated on wooden stilts held brown watery dal. We sat there talking even as some sang folk songs; they did not stop work even as they spoke.

They run a community kitchen to save on firewood. After the food is cooked and eaten and they have cleaned up, the lights are dimmed and they sleep in utter darkness.

Why am I recalling this today? I had recalled it a few days ago when I wrote about my bed lamp. I realised with some discomfort that the colour of the walls that I adore so are almost the shade of a villager’s hut. They did not even have basic electricity. And here I was romanticising about the play of light and shadow.

How do I deal with the conflict of what I possess and what others don’t?

- - -

This picture is only a representative sample; it was taken in a village in Bhuj, Kutchh on a non-working trip.


Petitioning for Justice for All

The worst indictment of the justice process is that what ought to be taken as a matter of course has to be fought for at every new turn. The decay started 15 years ago and has wormed its way into the minds of the 'intelligentsia'. Dissent is the only valid method of making the System accountable.

The above is my comment (signature #65).

If you as Indians believe in the concept of Justice for All, specifically the bomb blasts vs. riots case, then do read this petition and sign it if you believe in its message.

This is even more pertinent now that more news comes in. The Supreme Court plans to re-open the 1992 riots cases BUT it is not satisfied with the Justice Srikrishna Commission Report, although it has specifically indicted 31 police officers and several politicians by name. This, the SC feels, is not evidence enough.

"The bench added that it would be able to give directions for fresh probe or trial only after it was apprised of specific instances of lapses by the Maharashtra government in booking the perpetrators of the violence."

It is time to wake up...
- - -

Is it an emotional response? Am I getting too caught up in this riots/blasts thing? Yes. It is emotional. I am getting caught up because I never did get ‘uncaught up’. For many of us the riots of 1992-93 were the defining moment of ‘who’ we were. They made us think of ourselves as Muslims.

Even if we do not pray or fast or do anything to deserve a religion – and the religion most certainly does not deserve the likes of us – we feel an allegiance. To be a global citizen you first have to say you come from somewhere. That somewhere earlier was always India; now it is India and Muslim. I have surprised myself with this narrow definition. But how narrow is it, really? How many ghettos we trap ourselves in with the stereotypes we form...

Some say it lacks logic. Yes, it does. You cannot always logically understand ridges that appear on walls; they happen. It does not mean you give up on your home.