Monday, December 20, 2010

Right Choice, Charia

My mother grew up in Central Calcutta; Free School Street, to be precise. It’s not called that anymore, although its new name—Mirza Ghalib street—is not very well known and is also a bit ironic since the poet envied the growing ascendancy of Calcutta over Dehlee, penning this little ditty after a trip to the city: Kalkattey kaa jo zikr keeyaa tuney hamnasheen, ek teer mere seeney pe maaraa kee haaye haaye ("the very mention of Calcutta is like a dagger through my heart", or something to that effect).

Free School Street at the time (60s/70s) was populated mostly by Sindhis, I’m told, with a fair share of Anglos and Hindustanis—a quirky Calcutta/Bong term for Hindi speakers which alludes to the historical meaning of Hindustan, a region which more or less maps to the current Hindi belt. This population mix still holds, more or less, with Bangladeshi tourists being added to the mix (which has resulted in a couple of pretty decent Bengali restaurants there). Consequently, I’ve grown up eating a fair bit of Sindhi food that my naani picked up from her neighbors which was then in turn picked up by my mother. Daal pakwaan, chanaa daal with crisp, almost brittle, puri-esque fried bread, is a personal favourite and gee’ar—basically a latticed jumbo jalebi—is nice too. And although I don’t particularly like the tangy sindhi kadhi (I think it has imli in it), a lot of people in my family do and it was the only sort of kadhi cooked in my house.

Unfortunately, the Sindhi’s best food habit—as I’ve recently learnt from Wikipedia—never made it across to my naani’s house:

Johnnie Walker Black Label is considered the sindhi alcoholic beverage of choice. Many sindhis choose to drink this with Coca-Cola or Diet Coke


P.S.: Charia is a really popular Sindhi swear word (it was, at least, popular with the Sindhis I've known). I don't know what it means though.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Origins of Israel, Pakistan and Blasphemers

Uri Avnery, in a fascinating article in Outlook, argues how the “secular nationalism” of Zionism (or so he claims) was marred by the State of Israel’s “non-separation between state and religion”
“This distinction between Israelis and Jews would not have surprised any of us 50 years ago. Before the foundation of the State of Israel, none of us spoke about a “Jewish state”. In our demonstrations we chanted: “Free Immigration! Hebrew State!” In almost all media quotations from those days, there appear the two words “Hebrew state”, almost never “Jewish state”.”
“The source of all this evil is, of course, the original sin of the State of Israel: the non-separation between state and religion, based on the non-separation between nation and religion. Nothing but a complete separation between the two will save Israel from total domination by the religious mutation.”
Interestingly, this is eerily close to a revisionist school of South Asian History which claims that the Pakistan—which, like Israel, is a confessional state founded on a 20th century ‘idea’—might have been envisaged by its founder as a ‘Muslim’ state but never a ‘Islamic’ state. Like Israel’s ‘Jewishisation’, Pakistan’s ‘Islamisation’ is a result of the country’s politics after the establishment of the state.

This, of course, is a controversial and highly charged subject in Pakistan’s politics. And like so many other historical figures—Attenborough’s Christ-like Mahatma, for example, bears very little resemblance to Gandhi—the Quaid-e-Azam of so many Pakistanis differs starkly from the historical Jinnah. It is said, only half in jest, that a politician’s stand on the matter can be deduced from the sort of portrait of Jinnah he has up: if J’s ‘suited up’, it’s a liberal’s wall you’re looking at; if he’s wearing an achkan/sherwani, the man who owns the portrait wouldn’t take too kindly to the revisionist school.

Whatever be the source of it, though, this malaise has become quite cancerous. Recently, a woman was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for insulting the Prophet (prophets, as we all know, are in dire need of protection by just about anybody). Like most religion-based scuffles, the origins of the case are somewhat prosaic, rooted in a row over drinking water. Currently, the case is in Lahore’s high court with moves being made by Zardari to pardon her.

P.S: Just realised what a ridiculously pompous title this post carries. Oh well...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Football Shootball Hai Rabba.

I'm a person who knows nothing about football: I don't play the game, don't watch it and (shockingly!) don't support a club which operates 2000 miles from where I live.

For this I have been made to suffer. Grievously. A disproportionately large number of conversations I join in abruptly turn to whatever football tourney is underway, leaving me with the delicate task of showing just enough interest in the thing to not be doubted ("you're a guy and you don't watch football? ...Huh!") while also appearing disinterested enough to not be asked my opinion on the matter. Not an easy task, as you must realise.

It, therefore, gives me much pleasure to share this little write-up about how being a football club fanboy means you’re nothing more than a mindless, retarded twit who can’t separate fact from fiction:

Being a fan, particularly in the hardcore club-loyalist sense, is in many ways a matter of deliberately sustaining a set of fictions. When players let us know that they see the game as a set of skills they practice for money, rather than as a midnight war of meaning waged for the soul of the universe, or whatever the guy says in the latest Adidas commercial, it becomes harder to sustain some of those fictions, so we get mad.

But the fictions themselves are basically childish, aren’t they? I don’t mean puerile or selfish, exactly just basically congenial to the consciousness of a child. Childlike. After all, that’s the consciousness that many of us possess when we first become sports fans and that we frequently turn to sports to help us sustain.11 There’s a comparison to be made here with the way American sports have evolved a sort of secondary mythology of “getting paid”—the kid from the projects winning the max contract and buying his mom a house. That might not make it easier for fans to take a star leaving their team, but it gives the star a sort of existential defense against charges of greed. The fantasy of the game is the dream of lifting yourself up and winning incredible riches. Obviously hip-hop culture has had something to do with formalizing that narrative, which is also obviously basically a version of the American Dream. But it’s still interesting it doesn’t seem to have any real equivalent in soccer. You can call the Fever Pitch model of fandom—the OMG ARSENAL ARE THE GREATEST CLUB EVER AND I HAVE THEIR POSTERS AND I LOVE THEM model—a lot of things, some good and some bad. But in its preoccupation with heraldry and its belief that the arbitrary group you happened to join possesses uniquely redemptive qualities as compared to other arbitrary groups that are self-evidently almost identical to it, it is paradigmatically nine years old forever.

Of course, what the author doesn’t realise is that the “belief that the arbitrary group you happened to join possesses uniquely redemptive qualities as compared to other arbitrary groups that are self-evidently almost identical to it” is pretty much held by all of humanity. Not necessarily with respect to football clubs but other stuff like nations or faiths. Which sort of means were all mindless, retarded twits who can’t separate fact from fiction.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Drown in a Palmful of Water

Even as India’s ranks in 67th IFPRI's Global Hunger Index of 2010, placing it lower than any other Asian nation other than Bangladesh, the Indian press wets themselves over the successful Commonwealth Games and the good it has done for India’s “image”.

Well, P Sainath in a scathing article, disagrees somewhat:

“The point simply, is this: The Commonwealth Games were no showcase, but a mirror of India 2010. If they showcased anything, they showcased Indian crony, casino capitalism at its most vigorous. To build such a society and then expect The Games won't reflect its warts and sores is high optimism. But never in our history have an elite been so in love with themselves, so soaked in narcissism; so anxious about what ‘the World' thinks. So contemptuous of what our own people think, about anything. (Though the Commonwealth wouldn't exist without them. Indians account for over 55 per cent of all people in the Commonwealth.)”

If, even after 20 years of liberalisation, Nepal (Nepal! NEPAL!) is still better at tackling hunger than us, then I’d have to agree with Sainath that something is very,very wrong and resurrecting our image is the least of our problems.

Or maybe what the real problem is the “If, even after” in the previous sentence; if we replace that with “Because of”, will it make things better?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Here’s a brilliant outline of the super-rich class of Delhi by Rana Dasgupta published in a 2009 edition of Granta:

“Delhi is a city of traumas,’ he says. ‘You can’t understand anything if you don’t realize that everyone here is trying to forget the horrifying things that have happened in their families. Delhi was destroyed by the British in 1857. It was destroyed again by Partition in 1947. It was torn apart by the anti-Sikh rampages of 1984. Each of these moments destroyed the culture of the city, and that is the greatest trauma of all. Your entire web of meanings is tied up in culture, and if that is lost, your self is lost.


That’s why Delhi is by far the most consumerist city in India,’ he continues. ‘People buy obscene amounts of stuff here. Delhi has an impoverished symbolic vocabulary: there hasn’t been enough time since all these waves of destruction for its symbols to be restored. If I don’t have adequate symbols of the self, I can’t tell the difference between me and mine. So people buy stuff all the time to try and make up for the narcissistic wound. It’s their defence against history.”

And if you like this, or like Delhi (if that’s possible) or live there (there, there...) you should have a look at Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi, a book about an elite family of Shahjahanbad set in the early 20th Century. The book is actually badly written and its language is oddly archaic considering it’s not a very old book, but it does paint a fairly vivid picture of the elite classes of Delhi in those times and the contrast with the present—kaboothar baazi vs racing Bentleys; indolent poetry vs frenzied bhangra and so on-- couldn't be starker .

Maybe that explains why Delhi is so neurotically in-your-face (or at least, relative to most Indian cities it is)—changing who you are, so drastically and so completely, must really be tough on you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Reaction to the Verdict and a Few Other Bits

Much of the mainstream media has accepted the lack of reaction as a sort of unquestioning acceptance of the verdict from the Indian Muslim (the Hindu and the Outlook are two exceptions, though). However, opinions are now being aired as people stop cowering in fear of another communal conflagration and cautiously peek over the parapet.

Vidya Subrahmaniam of The Hindu in a sharp article on the Muslim reaction to the verdict:
“They spoke calmly but clearly, a small minority with a sense of resignation but almost all others feeling pained that 21st century India could substitute reason with faith. There were no raised voices, no uncontrolled flashes of anger, no talk of invading the streets or starting an agitation. Mr. Shamshad Khan was “deeply disappointed” with the “extra-judicial” verdict but felt Muslims had other far more important matters to focus on: “Are we going to be held hostage to this issue forever?”
Lots of smug talk of India having “moved on” in the air as well, as if 20 years back Indians were a bunch of retards who didn’t even have the good sense to “move on”. Of course, after experiencing the horror of 1992/93, moving on might not be a decision to take—it might be the only direction left to move.

“Yet conversations revealed an impatience to leave behind the past and embrace the future, however uncertain. There were complaints about biases, about being shut out of opportunities, about a sense of alienation. Yet even by these yardsticks, the world ahead was better for the young than the violence and darkness of the past. Their parents would know: All that mattered to the community in the decade after December 6, 1992 was their personal safety. Mulayam Singh in U.P. and Lalu Prasad in Bihar became saviours not because they delivered jobs but simply because they pledged to protect Muslim lives. A constant refrain heard in those troubled times was: “Hum hi nahin to aur kuch ka kya matlab?” (If we are not alive what use is anything else?) Who would want a return to that blighted past?”

Javed Anand, in the Indian Express, also makes a similar point in a somewhat disjointedly written article. Rhetorically asking whether there was “justice in India” in relation to the spate of communal killings after 1947, he questions the platitudes floating about with regard to "reconciliation" post the verdict:

"In the last week or so the media has discovered a magic word: reconciliation. Nelson Mandela has shown the world that in certain circumstances there could be an alternate route to peace — Truth and Reconciliation. But in the land of the Mahatma there is no Mandela in sight and the demand of the hour is reconciliation minus justice, minus truth."

Interestingly, he also advises “Muslims to unilaterally relinquish their claim to the disputed plot” , a claim echoed by many including the VHP. It’s tough to understand whether this is a genuine suggestion or something that Anand says almost in frustration or even anger. But assuming it’s the former, I fail to understand how Muslims, as a collective, would be able to do anything about that plot of land? I mean what does the word “Muslim” mean here? Do the Muslims of India own that land? When the court awarded 3,500 acres of land to Muslims (the language of at least one of the judges not to mention the Times of India on the day after the verdict) did it mean that each of India’s 14 crore Muslims got a fraction of that land? Or the do the Muslims of India control the Sunni Waqf Board to which the land actually went? Are there elections where Muslims from Kerala to Bengal vote to elect the members of the Sunni Waqf board? What could the Muslims of Bombay, who suffered grievously in 1992, have done to change the Board’s mind and their fate? Fired them? Voted them out? Gone en masse to UP and lynched them? I mean, how do you give up something that's not yours, that you have no control over?

Jumping tracks, at the very least, it’ll be interesting to see how this reaction is handled by India’s political class. The Congress, as usual it seems, is beset by indecision and the greed to have a finger in every pie. The BJP, as would be obvious, is over the moon, its vicious campaign of more than 20 years being bought to a neat end endorsed by the Judiciary, no less. Provincial satraps like Mulayam might try and sledgehammer their way into the Muslim vote banks of the heartland, a strategy that might not have the same resonance as it did in the late 80s and early 90s when the situation was a lot more, well, violent. The CPI(M) has come out strongly against the verdict, though; somewhat expected given the verdict’s reliance on faith as well as the coming elections in West Bengal. Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee has so far kept mum on the verdict; something that would, in all probability, change.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Protector or Protectee?

In a review of Ramchandra’s Gandhi’s Sita's Kitchen: a testimony of faith and inquiry, historian Vinay Lal recounts this episode from the life of Swami Vivekanada:
The famous Indian monk had gone to Kashmir towards the end of his life; anguished over the invader's desecration and destruction of countless images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and filled with rage at "this humiliating testimony of history", he approached the Divine Mother in a Kali temple, and falling at her feet, asked: "How could you let this happen, Mother, why did you permit this desecration?" On the swami's own testimony, Kali is reported to have said: "What is it to you, Vivekananda, if the invader breaks my images. Do you protect me, or do I protect you?
Of course, the irony of men having to protect God completely escapes some people.

Today, the Times of India reported that the VHP has come out against the Allahabad High Court judgement which awarded one -third of the land on which the Babri Masjid stood to Ram Lalla; the organisation feels He deserved the full 67 acres. And just in case the irony hadn’t been enough, the VHP also said that only the VHP-affiliated Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas could build the temple at the spot as it had that authority from Ram Lalla himself.



An earlier post on why we feel the need to protect our gods: Oh My God

Sunday, September 26, 2010


You mean that's not a peek-dani? Oops! (Picture courtesy The BBC)

Firangs, calm down!

That wasn't shit all over the toilets, man. That was paan kee peek--saliva mixed with paan juice with maybe some phlegm--that's all. The expectoration of saliva by paan-chewers, I'll have you know, is a venerable Indian tradition (it's quite beautiful, you know, the way the glistening, ochre liquid arcs gracefully through the air to splatter across some unfortunate wall or, in your case, washbasin) and it is not the paan-chewer's fault if the CWG organisers could not be considerate enough to provide spittoons in the CWG village.

So there.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Government reveals that Commonwealth Games a practical joke; gag hoodwinks entire nation

With a little more than a month to go for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Indian Government has revealed that there are no Games, and the event was nothing but a big practical joke on the Indian Public.

“Booyah, India,” shouted Manmohan Singh as he revealed this amidst peals of raucous laughter. “Now you know why we seemed to be so badly prepared for the Games. That’s cos there are no Games, duh! We just did it to show you guys up and boy did you fall hook, line and sinker,” said the PM as large numbers of press-types looked on sheepishly knowing very well that they had been mad fools of right and proper.

“You think we’d spend Rs. 28,000 crore on a sporting event that no one gives a shit about? This in a country where millions of children die of preventable diseases before they reach the age of 5? You must be kidding me man. You think we’re dumb?”

The 2010 Commonwealth Games logo. NOT!

The practical joke was apparently a very well constructed one with dummy detractors like Aiyer set up to “criticise” it in order to make it look a bit more realistic.

“Ha! Aiyer played it well didn’t he? Had you guys fooled to-ta-lly. We were a bit nervous about that; I mean how many people would believe it if a Congress MP went in himself and condemned his own government’s games. But it went off like a dream; nobody suspected a thing!” gloated Singh.

The bits about massive corruption in the games were also, as is evident, not real. As Suresh Kalmadi said, grinning from ear to ear: “How you guys fell for that story about Scheduled Caste fund being diverted to building stadium, I’ll never know!”

“I must admit the Government had me,“ says Delhi resident, Ravi Kumar, raising his hands in mock surrender. “I should have seen through it after that story about treadmills being hired for 10 lakhs hit the headlines. But hats off; this Commonwealth Games thing was an amazing gag. Nice sense of humour these government-walahs have.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why the 15th of August?

And not the 16th of August or the 13th of September was the date that was decided upon for India’s (and Pakistan’s) independence.

Well, because British India’s last Viceroy (and independent India’s first Governor -General) was a bit full of himself.

The 15th of August, 1945 was the day on which Japan had surrendered—special for Mountbatten because he had been the Supreme Commander for South-East Asia during World War II. In Freedom at Midnight, a book which accords the same position to Mountbatten as the New Testament to Christ, he says:

“I thought it had to be about August or September and I then went out to the 15th August. Why? Because it was the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender.”

On its own, that India’s date of independence was decided such that it would soothe its Viceroy’s vanity might not seem so important. However, when put in context—the extreme haste, even panic in which Britain withdrew from India (transfer of power was originally fixed for June 1948) might have exacerbated the frenzied killings that accompanied Independence—it might have been, tragically so.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Yeh sheher nahi mehfil hai

So I rode the new Gurgaon Metro the other day.

While exiting at a station saw this lovely sign, which read: "ASS CHARGED WITH 33KV KEEP DISTANCE". There was a skull and bones on the notice too, in case you were left with any doubts as to just how dangerous the ass in question was.

Blury mobile phone snap in case you don't believe me

While I'm sure there might be more "sensible" (pfft) explanations, knowing Delhi, I'd like to think that this was a subtle warning to the ubiquitous public transport groper.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Great White Hope

Gulab is large-ish shop in Gurgaon which sells an assortment of Indian sweets, mithai and such. Also has a number of things to eat besides mithai—thali meals, dosas and even the odd pizza—all ‘pure vegetarian’, of course (one day, I’d like to get my hands of something which is vegetarian and impure).

What I found interesting is that to advertise themselves, they chose to photoshop a picture of a rosy-cheeked, plump White man holding a thali which contains roti, daal, chaval and subzi. Not that using White people in Indian ads is anything new; they’ve been used in ads for cosmetics, perfumes and electronics. But to use a White chap to sell a Punjabi thali?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Middle Class Muddle

A Raja’s alleged crimes would make poor old Tharoor’s transgressions look like a church sermon. Yet Raja’s brazen refusal to resign, or for that matter even appear contrite, stands in sharp contrast to the way Tharoor was made to quit as a result of the IPL imbroglio. The reason, commentators tell us, is that Tharoor has no “political base”. However, this is only partly true. Tharoor had a very well defined base to target—the urban middle class. Tharoor’s credentials to play this role were impeccable: the man was an international diplomat, had been to the best schools, and pronounced the word ‘power’ as ‘par’, as in the golf term—a fact which endeared him to India’s anglophilic middle class. However, the ease with which Tharoor fell, as a result of a charge which, in Indian politics, was minor at best, points to how little explicit political power this demographic holds.

It wasn’t always like this, though. At independence, political power passed largely to a highly educated, urban leadership. This class used its new found power to great effect, knocking out feudalism from India’s power matrix—an achievement which tends to be undervalued till one looks across our western border. A highly centralised power structure kept this arrangement going for 40 years till Mandal and Mandir changed India’s political landscape, drastically curtailing the middle class’ political influence.

However, at the same time, India’s newly liberalised economy helped the middle class not only to become a lot richer but also became a lot larger. And, though it had lost a lot of political power, the urban middle class still enjoyed a disproportionately large share of the pie—Delhi’s power cuts cause a lot more consternation than the lack of power in UP.

In a bid to win over this growing class, lost to the the BJP in the 90s, the Congress air-dropped Tharoor onto the political scene. This coupled with Manmohan Singh’s favourable image and the general disarray the BJP finds itself in helped the Congress significantly in winning over the urban middle class. Unfortunately, Tharoor’s style was too much of a break with the way Indian politics works. However, as this middle class grows, it’s only a matter of time before it gets its own political representation.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Very Costly Bill

India is a democracy or, at the very least, that’s what some of us have been led to believe. And one of the major reasons that you can claim that India is a democracy with a straight face is that the country has a Parliament that, in some form or the other, represents the people of India. What allows Parliament to claim that it represents the people of India? That’s because it’s composed of MPs, elected by their constituencies and it is assumed that the manner in which an MP conducts business in Parliament will, in some ways at least, correspond to the people of his constituency. After all, the system is built on a mutual back scratching basis—put simply, the MP tries to act in a way that would help his constituents; if his constituents think that he’s done a good job, they re-elect him.

Sadly, the woman’s reservation bill (and more importantly, the Anti-Defection law, but more on that later) does a fairly good job of blowing this concept out of the water. Maybe the bill is well intentioned and, God knows, women in India can do with all the help they can get, but the feature of the bill which necessitates the rotation of parliamentary seats such that two-thirds of all parliamentarians will be compulsorily unseated every five years pretty much ends any incentive for an MP to even put up an act of representing the people of his constituency. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it:

“The rotation principle is a peculiar one in a democracy because it produces democracy without democratic accountability. You don’t, as an individual, now seek the verdict of those whom you claimed to serve. Even the rightly heralded reservations at panchayat level have generated this problem, producing both an accountability deficit and a weakening of an institution as a whole.”

Ironically, Subhashini Ali has even claimed this rotation principle is actually one of the redeeming features of this bill as it would “discourage personal fiefdoms” and the rise of pocket boroughs.

In order to prevent fiefdoms in some constituencies, to uproot legislators from 2/3ds of India’s constituencies regardless of whether they are fiefdoms or not is an extreme use of the broad brush. To try and present an analogy, it would be like a law which requires 2/3rds of all companies in the country, regardless of their size or market power, to be penalised as if they were monopolies.

From where I see it, the only faction this bill will benefit will be large, established political parties. You could bring in a class/caste angle too, I guess, but for most part that’s a red herring, although, the logic behind asking for sub-quotas is the same as what drives the original bill and it would be slightly hypocritical to support one without the other. However, by periodically culling 66% of all sitting legislators, MPs, on their own, will have little or no clout left in their constituencies; the Party will be his mai-baap if he wants a re-election, not the voters.

Of course, this bill can hardly be credited of being the first legislation which tries to actually make an MP and, by extension, Parliament, less accountable to the voter. The pioneer there would be the Anti Defection law which makes it mandatory for an MP to follow his party whip. Never mind the merits of the way he is voting or how it affects the people he represents—unless he agrees with his party, he will actually be stripped of his post as “representative” of his constituency.

By and large, though, middle-class India is grateful for the law. After all, it does bring a semblance of order to the dinner table—the unruly kids are rapped on their knuckles and ordered to keep their elbows off the table. However, the fact of the matter is that pelf and corruption go hand and hand with power—it has always been like that and will always be like that. The only antidote is to distribute the loaves and fishes to as many people as possible—so it’s better that 500-odd MPs are corrupt rather than just 5 party cabals, the ideal case scenario being when all of India partakes of those loaves and fishes.

Also, what makes this law doubly galling is that fact that parties in India, who control our democratically elected legislators, are highly undemocratic themselves. The Congress depends on one Family for its leadership, BJP presidents are appointed by funny people in khaki shorts and the last time I checked, politburos weren’t exactly paragons of democratic propriety.

Our political system started out by being modelled on Britain’s—I’m afraid that it might end up being more like China’s: our parliament will eventually end up being an ineffectual rubber stamp and all power will lie with opaque party machines.

Monday, February 15, 2010

MNIK Sob Story Softens Hearts of Sainiks

No spoilers about the movie, by the way. Can't say the same about the Shiv Sena, though.

An insidious plan by the Shiv Sena to send Sainiks into cinema halls disguised as movie goers to disrupt the release of My Name is Khan was foiled, as Sainiks, after watching the emotional tearjerker, were so overwhelmed by emotion that they were unable to carry out orders. The movie’s release in Mumbai was, for the most part, trouble free.

Sunil Joshi, a veteran Sainik, says that the plan of their group to jump out of their seats in the middle of the movie was abandoned mid-way as they were apprehensive that their red, puffy eyes—a result of the emotional maelstrom that the movie about religious stereotyping caused—would make them look like sissies. “Which, of course, is not true at all,” a fellow Sainik of Sunil hastened to add. “It’s just that we are ideal Marathi Manooses—hard on the outside and soft on the inside, you know...that’s all. But you never know as to what the TV channels would make of those images.”

Some other groups of Sainiks failed to act because the movie forced them to change their minds about the morality of their actions in the first place. In fact, quite a few refused to vandalise the theatre they were in after they learnt that Shah Rukh Khan played a character who suffers from Asperger Syndrome. As a Sainik, who did wish to be named, put it: “Accepting Balasaheb as my leader has inculcated in me a new found respect for people who are mentally challenged. I could never do this after watching Shah Rukh play Rizvan.”

Surprisingly, a few Sainiks, after the entry of Sonya Jehan in the movie, even went so far as to challeng the Sena’s stand of hating everything Pakistani, preferring to make a distinction between politics on the one side and things like cricket and actresses on the other.

Sonya Jehan

Of course, most Maharashtrians in Mumbai paid little heed to the Sena’s message, even in some instance openly defying it. Unconfirmed reports say that Paresh Mokashi is even working on a film titled, My name is Kulkarni and I am not a Sainik.

In related news, the beleaguered Bal Thakeray, already smarting from the MNIK fiasco, was further brought under the scanner by India’s premier investigative news agency, India TV, in a report which, keeping up to their impeccable journalistic standards, exposes the truth as only they can:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Republic Day is so Important

Because almost every achievement that India can claim as a country, rests on the bedrock of an amazing document which came into force today—the Constitution. It might seem simple enough now, but India could easily have blundered in the type of polity it chose. Just to compare, these are the words that Pakistan’s Objectives resolution (it lays the framework for the constitution to be framed) starts with:

Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;

As compared to, “Wherein all power and authority of the Soverign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people” from the Indian Objectives resolution.

Best to keep God away from matters as prosaic and boring as running nations, as India occasionally forgets and Pakistan is learning the hard way.

Not to say that the document is perfect—in my opinion, too much power is concentrated in the Centre. For example, Residuary powers—powers that do not exist on either the Union, Concurrent or State List—are given to Parliament, which is absurd given India’s size and diversity; even a relatively smaller country such as the US, vests residuary powers with the states. Of course, given the way power shapes itself to ground realities gradually, we have seen a decrease in the influence of national parties, as states increasingly vote for smaller, regional parties, thereby blunting to some extent, this constitutional tilt in favour of the Centre.

Of course, the other, and vastly more significant reason why this day is so important is that it’s a holiday. Woo Hoo!


Also, just to add a We-Are-Like-That-Only section to this Republic Day post, The Telegraph reports that Modi held a Samvidhan Gaurav Yatra where he "led a march through the Saurashtra town [Surendranagar], followed by a decked-out elephant carrying an oversized replica of the Constitution, in an attempt to showcase his respect for the statute and its best-known architect, Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar."

Yes, a human-sized replica of the Constitution was put onto an elephant and paraded through a city. No, seriously. Here's a picture:

Picture courtesy The Telegraph

My IPL is Bigger Than Yours

The glee that quite few Indians have shown over the IPL saga is understandable—to quote from one of India's most popular bloggers, Great Bong, the reasoning goes something like this: “Now since we are talking about a country who about a year before butchered our citizens and who allow the perpetrators of that crime against humanity to walk their streets amidst adulation and approbation” what the IPL has done is perfectly allright. Hell, it’s super.

Which is a fine sentiment.

But the thing is, does this, in any way, actually help in preventing further instances of terror, or even punish those in Pakistan who are responsible for this sort of thing?

Well, no.

Hiring or not hiring 5 or so cricketers from a nation of 170 mln is going to make no practical difference to anything, least of all the foreign policy of that nation.

Of course, not all foreign policy need be purely practical; India might make a symbolic point. Fair enough, other than the fact that India did not make a symbolic point. A symbolic point would have been made if the Pakistani cricketers would not have been allowed to participate from the outset and it would have been made clear as to the “issue”, in Shahrukh’s words , behind the ban. In fact the Government made in unequivocally clear that there was no “hint or nudge from the government ” in this matter.

Even explanations such as “it is business decision” do not stand up to scrutiny. As Offstumped explains:

IPL as a private business has the right to do what it wants but that right is not beyond the ethics and values how any business must conduct itself. Tacit collusion by a cartel to discriminate against individuals based on origin doesnt speak highly of IPL’s ethics and values as a private business.

This whole episode was an exercise in bad judgement—no two ways about it.

Of course, not be left behind in the stupidity stakes, some in Pakistan have erupted in near-hysterical rage, as if 5 players not earning some money in a private league is a national disaster.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aman ki Asha - Amen

The two leading media houses of India and Pakistan - The Times of India and the Jang Group - have come together to develop a stronger Track 2 in the diplomatic and cultural relations between India and Pakistan. "Aman ki Asha: Destination Peace" looks beyond the confines of a 62-year-old political boundary to the primal bonds that tie together the two peoples.

That’s how the ToI describes Aman ki Asha—an initiative which will, of course, amount to nothing. Don’t get me wrong, though—I’m not against the aims of Aman ki Asha. Peace is critical when it comes to a region as poor and wretched as the Indian sub-continent and anybody who thinks otherwise is just plain deluded. It’s just that by playing on the cultural similarities that the two countries share, as this project does ("primal bonds that tie together the two peoples"), you’re going to get nowhere.

It’s a common refrain, though—just ‘cause the two twins share a whole lot culturally, the two should be at peace. Well, the fact of matter is that culture-shulture never stopped a good, solid war. The two main protagonists of the Word Wars, Britain and Germany, shared religion, race and royalty (in an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, a sitcom set in WW I, when Captain Darling, on being accused of being a German spy, protests that he’s as British as Queen Victoria, Blackadder replies, “So your father’s German, you’re half German and you married a German!”) but that didn’t stop them from trying to flatten each other.

Of course, it might not even be accurate to say that India and Pakistan share a common culture. While North India would, I guess, fit the bill, the people of East and South India share little, if anything, culturally with the people of Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is that India has to deal with Pakistan as a neighbour, plain and simple. Wildly oscillating between the extremes of treating the country as a long, lost brother and, then, as India's mortal enemy isn't going to help in the least.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The City Never Dies

What do you do when your city is dying? Do you feel sad like when a person you know dies? Do you tell others, “don’t worry, everything will be all right”? Maybe even go for the “inhe dawaon kee naheen, duaon ki zaroorath hain” line.

Well, if the city’s Calcutta, you eat. Calcutta might be dying (it’s been dying for the longest time, really—Rajiv Gandhi thought it was dying even back in the 80’s) but there’s always a huge variety of interesting food available in the city to take your mind off that sort off stuff. And while cities that are not dying might offer, on paper, a lot more, much still remains to be said for Cal’s cuisine which is a part and parcel of the city unlike, say, Korean food in Delhi.

Eating out in Calcutta consists largely of three cuisines: Chinese, Mughlai and Continental (a British Raj relic). There’s also “Indian”, which is a euphemism for Punjabi, but it doesn’t make sense to sample that on a trip to Cal when you now live in Delhi. There are hardly any Bengali restaurants in the city, although this is changing now.

Tangra, Calcutta’s main Chinatown, still bustles; had a tough time getting a table at Kim Fa on Christmas day. Calcutta’s other Chinatown, Tiratti Bazaar, though, I was told has shrunk down.


It’s amazing the way the political graffiti, flags and other paraphernalia has changed in favour of the Trinamool Congress. Just by looking at Calcutta, you can make out that the Left Front is on the back foot--which is pretty much the same conclusion that you’ll reach on talking to Calcuttans. From Taxi-drivers to book-sellers to commuters on those new-fangled, low-floor buses, everyone I spoke to felt “it was time for a change”. Of course, it must be kept in mind that the city has never been a great Left supporter anyway, but this time around people aren’t wishing for a CPM defeat, they are, or so they feel, prophesising it.

Of course, you never know with the temperamental Mamatadi. This sort of rise can induce a number of mistakes—spelling, for one.

Might be a pun, although it’s highly unlikely. For all its warts, Bengal’s politics, unlike the rest of the country, has little to do with caste.