Category Archives: Culture

Textbooks and Intolerance, Communal and Secular

Once again, religious sentiments have been hurt. This time in the God’s own Country, Kerala . And the culprit is a small portion of a lesson from the social science textbook for class vii, part i. It has been alleged by groups claiming to represent Muslims and Christians that this particular lesson preaches atheism. It sticks because the government which is getting the textbooks published is led by Marxists and there is a perception that Marxists have a pathological hatred for religion. Kerala has been witness to a bitter controversy on the faith only recently in which the church and the CPM were at loggerheads. So, there is a background to the new battle over a small lesson in a class seven textbook. But first let us try to look at the facts.

Continue reading Textbooks and Intolerance, Communal and Secular

When you’re OUT, you’re IN

Since Gay is in, currently, for the Indian media, Sonali Gulati, film-maker, out lesbian and gay rights activist, knows what it is to be hotly pursued for sound-bites. She has posted on youtube a recorded conversation with a reporter from IBN 7 pressing her for her take on a “lesbian” issue. Her quiet , insistent questioning reduces him to confused gibberish, but more importantly, makes the point that “lesbians” are no more and no less newsworthy than straight people – At one point she asks him, “Agar yeh ek heterosexual couple ke saath ho jaata, tab aap kis se comment lete?”

(If this had happened with a heterosexual couple, then to whom would you have gone for comments?)

Meaning of course, that any and every heterosexual would not be considered “expert” enough to comment on any and every heterosexual issue. The bemused reporter starts all over again with his insane drivel – he simply does not get it. Can she really be giving up an opportunity to appear on television? Naaah.

But go on – listen to Sonali.

Taslima Nasreen and the Spirit of Islam

It is said that after he announced his Prophethood Hazrat Mohammed suffered severe persecution in Mecca. The vitriol and calumny extended from the verbal to the physical. There was one woman who would always throw filth on him whenever he passed by her house. He would unfailingly take the same route everyday and she would equally invariably throw filth on him. He never protested. One day as he passed her house, she was missing. He inquired after her and learning that she was sick he went up to her room, and finding her bed-ridden, tended to her. I grew up listening to a lot of stories from my grandmother about the Prophet Mohammed. Told in an anecdotal form, the stories largely avoided his image as a conqueror and concentrated instead on his personality, specially his grace under hardship. I narrate this story especially to remind my compatriots about what they might do when faced with hostility, or criticism.

I write this particularly in the context of Taslima Nasrin, whose vise expires this week and she still does not know whether it will be extended or not. Taslima Nasrin must be given an opportunity to stay on in India, and must be provided that opportunity not as a grace or favor but because she is, as a South Asian, as a fellow human, fully entitled to it. My appeal rests not merely on a liberal idea of freedom of expression, or on making this a litmus test for India’s pluralism. India’s pluralism, where it exists in practice, is not dependent on appeals or testimonials from intellectuals. Our pluralism does not, and has not, precluded violent confrontations between different social groups. However, we also have countervailing traditions of coming to a working adjustment with each other, which, as an aside, partly explains why the word ‘adjust’ is so popular in all Indian languages.

Continue reading Taslima Nasreen and the Spirit of Islam

A Circus, Some Laughter, A Film Festival

I would be very reluctant to call the recently – concluded Twelfth International Film Festival of Kerala (7-14 December) a ‘circus’, but well. When the CPM in Kerala wears Caesar-like accoutrements, one may have to call it just that! At the press conference organized a few days before the festival – actually the day on which Buddhadev admitted to his ‘mistake’ — M A Baby, CPM intellectual and Minister, Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala spoke at length about how Lenin and other worthies of the Soviet Union had endorsed cinema as a medium to ‘educate and entertain’ the masses. However when he announced the name of the opening film after many such lofty words, ripples of laughter filled the hall.

hana makhmalbaf with baby

The opening film was Hana Makhmalbaf’s ‘Buddha Collapsed out of Shame’! Of course, the CPM intellectuals could not laugh; nor could they snap at back-benchers who asked whether it wasn’t ‘Buddhadev Collapsed out of Shame’. Thus it was clear, that despite the circuses, the spectre of the people continues to haunt the CPM, to borrow Partho Sarathi Ray’s words.

Continue reading A Circus, Some Laughter, A Film Festival

Charu Gupta on Om Shanti Om and Saawariya

Like many other lovers of Bollywood cinema, I too was caught up since October this year in the countdown to the battle of all battles, with the release of Om Shanti Om (OSO) and Saawariya on 9 November 2007. Reams have been written, debated and analysed on the two films in newspapers, television networks, and everyday discussions. They have been depicted as films catering to very different sensibilities, and representing vastly diverse forms. The verdict seems to have declared both as average films, though OSO seems to be faring better than Saawariya at the box office. I enjoyed the first half of OSO particularly and thought Saawariya as a film with great form, but not much content. 

However, as a fan of Bollywood popular cinema, what struck me most was one striking similarity between the two films. I thought both the films offered great visual pleasure and feast for the female spectators, where the spectacular and stylish nude male bodies and images of both Ranbir Raj Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan, though very different from each other, were the prime objects of desire and erotic spectacle. Both OSO and Saawariya have urban heroes, whose bodies are produced and carved, rooted in providing a voyeuristic visual treat especially to most straight women and gay men. The identity of both the heroes in these films in centrally tied to the consumption of their nude bodies by the viewer. The films in some senses signify the coming of age of a new genre of Bollywood cinema, where it is not so much the female body but the male body which circulates and is on display, offering a sexualised imaginative anatomy. They also signify that the language of discourse of Hindi films has undergone a dramatic post modernist change in its conception of desire, where most of it is conducted not through the soul but through the body. There is no central heart, but a decentring of emotions at play here. In the recent past too, nude male bodies of Hrithik Roshan and Salman Khan have been offered to the viewer. It perhaps is also a reflection of the fact that more and more women are crowding the cinema halls and form at times the major chunk of spectatorship, and they are a vital part of the cinematic experience. 

Continue reading Charu Gupta on Om Shanti Om and Saawariya

Beaten — By a Woman!

[Below is a chapter from my translation of N P Muhammed’s wonderful retelling of folk tales about Malabar’s best-loved folk hero and one of the earliest songsters of the Mappillapattu song tradition of Malabar, Kunhaayan Musaliar. The book, Kunhaayante Kusritikal (Kunhaayan’s Capers), which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi’s award for the best children’s writing in 1973, is almost forgotten now. In the stories of the Mappila Muslim community of north Kerala, Kunhaayan figures as the quintessential humble-born person who grows in stature through his wit and quick thinking, rising to eminence in royal courts of late 17th- early 18th century Malabar. In these times in which the Mappila traditions of Malabar are clearly under threat, I thought that it was necessary to reclaim this figure for our children and ourselves – and translating NP’s sensitive rendering of the tales, which reverberates with the folk wisdom of the Mappilas of Malabar, seemed the best way to do it. The best thing about Kunhaayan, who impresses all of Malabar, is that he is no saint. Thus he does get puffed up a bit with all the glory, and has to be brought down a peg or two – it is his young wife who fells him, finally. This chapter is about how she does it!]

There was time when she used to brim with joy, proud to be introduced as ‘Kunhaayan’s wife’.

Not anymore.

Tears welled up in Aisakutty’s eyes.

Continue reading Beaten — By a Woman!

Aswatthamma Lives – Radha R.

[We are pleased to present this guest piece by Radha R, a poet and artist, who reflects on violence and other matters.]

1985 :
We were standing at the Bakery junction just behind the campus where the better -off amongst the designer students came alone or in select groups to gorge on buns at teatime… Freshly baked and still warm and soft, the baker slit them open swiftly and expertly with an extra sharp long thin knife roughly slapping in a whole 50 grams of yellow butter that dripped down the sides …
Post the curfew there was no one now standing at the junction .In this somewhat upmarket quarter there was little outward sign of that nightmare of violence…

“Do you know how they do it?” He whispered “With knives…”
He made a quick gesture of measurement with his hands… “This long…”
“The pillion rider behind the scooterist slashes open the sides of bystanders on the road who often do not realize as they run as to how badly wounded they are… Till it is too late… The sharp edge of the knife blade is lined with calmpose, you see…To numb”

Continue reading Aswatthamma Lives – Radha R.

That day 15 years ago

Read Asad Mustafa on his memories of the day the Babri Masjid was demolished.

In many ways it is just like any other Lucknow winter day. Sun has come up and my mother is watching her pickles dry on the roof. Our neighbor, Shukla-ji’s daughter has come for a lazy winterBabri Masjid afternoon conversation with my mother and is oiling her hair. I am struggling with unsolved papers from previous years’ JEE tests. This year’s JEE is going to be my first big test in the real world.

Arundhati Roy on Taslima Nasreen and Nandigram: Interview with Karan Thapar on IBNlive.com

As we have been discussing both Nandigram and the situation that Taslima Nasreen has found herself over the last few weeks, I thought that it might be interesting to listen in on a conversation that Karan Thapar has had with the writer Arundhati Roy that takes on both these questions. This interview was broadcast today on CNN IBN.


Transcript of Arundhati Roy interviewed on the treatment of Taslima Nasreen by Karan Thapar on ‘Devil’s Advocate’, broadcast this evening on CNN-IBN

The transcript was published on Sun, Dec 02, 2007 at 20:32, on the IBNlive.com website

A video of the interview is also available on the website.

———————————————

Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. How do India’s leading authors respond to the treatment given to Taslima Nasreen over the last 14 days? That’s the key issue I shall explore today with Booker Prize- winning novelist Arundhati Roy.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, let me start with that question. How do you respond to the way Taslima Nasreen has been treated for almost 14 days now?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it is actually almost 14 years but right now it is only 14 days and I respond with dismay but not surprise because I see it as a part of a larger script where everybody is saying their lines and exchanging parts.

Continue reading Arundhati Roy on Taslima Nasreen and Nandigram: Interview with Karan Thapar on IBNlive.com

The Sword and the Monk’ s Cowl: Curfew in Kolkata

“Instead of society having conquered a new content for itself, it seems that the state has only returned to its oldest form, to a shamelessly simple rule by the sword and the monk’s cowl. “

-Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

We live in strange times. Really strange times. Just as the news from Kolkata was getting better, it got worse again.The sudden spectre of ‘communal rioting’ has reared its head, as if from nowhere in West Bengal. The All India Minorities Forum, a little known entity led by a busy body called Idris Ali materialized yersterday on the streets of Kolkata demanding the deportation of the exiled Bangladeshi writer, on the grounds that she had once injured the sensitivities of Muslims. Crowds attacked police, pitched street battles continued, the Army was called in. Curfew was declared, and on television, Biman Bose, a CPI(M) and ‘Left’ Front hatchet man, declared – “… if her stay creates a problem for peace, she (Nasrin) should leave the state” (see NDTV report at the end of this posting)

Continue reading The Sword and the Monk’ s Cowl: Curfew in Kolkata

Decadent Delight

[Guest post by Gaurav Dikshit]

Sharab, shabab aur kabab. Of these three shauqs of Lucknow’s nawabs (as in the “nawabi by nature”) it is shabab – youth – that Lakhnavis cherish the most, for they know by instinct that it is fleeting. The sense of loss lies at the heart of Lucknow, and the subtitle of Veena Talwar Oldenburg’s anthology Shaam-e-Awadh – “Memories of a dying city” – captures the decadence that has defined the city for much of its existence. Continue reading Decadent Delight

The Lives And Times Of The Asokan Pillar At The Delhi Ridge

Tourists are people in a hurry; they want to pack-in a city in two days, even a city that has taken more than a thousand years to grow. Tourists see buildings as structures, frozen in time, standing aloof, without being part of the ebb and flow of life. Travellers on the other hand come searching for the feel and the spirit of the city. Looking for the lesser known the less explored and the uncelebrated, for it is here that one may find untold histories that lie sheltered under each stone that awaits the explorer.

Beginning with the story of a large piece of rock we launch into an exploration, or shall we say recapitulation, of the almost forgotten stories connected with the less touristy structures and ruins that have been witness to the unfolding of the many histories of Delhi. We begin this series with one of the Two Asokan Pillars erected at Delhi. The pillars were erected at Delhi, not by Asoka who commissioned them in 3rd Century B.C, but by a king who ruled Delhi in the 14th century.

Continue reading The Lives And Times Of The Asokan Pillar At The Delhi Ridge

The Lal Masjid Syndrome

[We are pleased to present here two pieces by way of reflection on the state of the Muslims in India and Pakistan. These two pieces together constitute an acute and critical reflection on the general crisis of the community: in one instance, as a consequence of the emergence of a clergy in a religion that prided itself on its ‘unmediated’ relation between the believer and the Creator; in the other instance as a result of the social and political discrimination directed at it by ‘secular’ governments in India. Ekram Khawar’s is a voice of internal critique – as ruthless about its own leaders as it is of the supposed secular dispensation of Independent India.]

By Ekram Khawar

There is an eerie silence after Pakistan army’s operation in the Lal Masjid premises; a silence dour and dark, in all immanence. It is got to be since the message, however, delayed is loud and clear, a warning to the zealots not to mess around with the state and not to impose their notion of Islam on others, and with such disdain.

But, in all fairness, it must be said that it was coming to this all along and only the blissfully innocent, if any still left in an otherwise cynical age, would have been surprised by the turn of events. The discerning ones could see it coming all along; in fact, as early as 1949, Chowdhary Mohammad Ali Rudawlwi, not a rabid “secularist” of today’s crusading mould, but a devout Sunni Muslim (married to a Shia woman), a perfectly honourable and practicing, believing Muslim and a “Haji” to boot, while writing to his friend in Pakistan, in 1949, cautioned that the ever increasing influence of the “mullahs” did not bode well for Pakistan. Perhaps, the malaise lay somewhere else; probably in the very ideology and genesis of Pakistan, whether Jinnah intended it or not and irrespective of whether the great visionary poet Iqbal would have approved it or not. In fact there are enough materials on record to suggest that both the poet and the Qaid would have disapproved of the events as they unfolded and determined the broad contours of both the Pakistani establishment and its ruling mindset. I tend to believe that, as far as Pakistan was concerned, the seeds of its “kharabi” were inherently built-in in its creation, to borrow a word from Ghalib. No wonder the votaries christened the new state as “Pakistan” – land of the pure, implicitly in the back drop of an impure world. And almost logically, the mullahs, much to the detriment of the new nation increasingly occupied the centre stage, of course aided and abetted in their efforts at nation building as a necessary justification and as a counter poise to the presence of a predominantly Hindu India masquerading as a secular state. And so a proxy war of jihad, always underlined the onward march of the competitive existence of both the newly liberated states, compounded with a vengeance apparently on an apple of discord called Kashmir.

Continue reading The Lal Masjid Syndrome

Kaurnanidhi knows his Ramayana Well – MSS Pandian

MSS PANDIAN, well known scholar, writes on DMK, Ram and the BJP. 
 

For M Karunanidhi, DMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister, Lord Ram is not a historical persona but a figment of human imagination. He has not only invited BJP leader L K Advani for a public debate on Ram’s historical status but also – as if turning the knife into the wound – has advised him to read Valmiki’s Ramayana with all the care it deserves. It is common knowledge in Tamil Nadu that Karunanidhi knows his Ramayana well.

Karunanidhi’s remarks have provoked Advani and his cohorts to breathe brimstone and fire. But they have not succeeded one bit in turning the Hindus of Tamil Nadu against Karunanidhi. Their desperation is evident when Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP spokesperson, claimed during a press meet that Karunanidhi has lost his head. Perhaps, he meant Karunanidhi’s followers too.

But for a minuscule fraction of rationalists, the majority of the cadres and sympathisers of the DMK are practising non-Brahmin Hindus. They regularly visit temples, worship, and go on pilgrimages. If they stand by Karunanidhi despite his open disavowal of Ram, they have their own reasons. For one thing, there is nothing novel in Karunanidhi’s comments on Ramayana. From the days of the Self-respect Movement founded by Periyar E V Ramasamy in the 1920s, Ramayana and Ram have been subjects of vigorous public debate in Tamil Nadu.

Read the full story in Times of India

Aini Apa

It turned out that she was being rash. I am referring to Ismat Chughtai’s summation of Qurratulain Hyder following the publication of the latter’s second novel in the early nineteen fifties. Ismat had asserted that “the star that had emerged on the literary horizon with all the promise of becoming a Sun dazzled so strongly in one place that it lost all its splendour.” Chughtai wrote this before ‘Housing Society’, before ‘Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya na Kijo’ and above all before ‘Aag ka Dariya’ were written. She also wrote this before Hyder’s gradually expanding sweep harmonized the dichotomies of History and Past, Civilisations and personal identities, stream of consciousness and feminism and nostalgia into a meta-historical plane where no Urdu writer has ever reached.

Through many a desolate month of the English winter the County library at Oxford provided me nourishment and succour by allowing me access to Qurratulain Hyder’s novels and short stories. Reading works like ‘Roshni ki Raftar’ and ‘Patjhar ki Aawaaz,’ titles which resounded with movement when all around me was depressingly still, I was doubly reassured. My own nostalgia for a warm home was echoed by the nostalgia for the lost world that resounds in all her works. Continue reading Aini Apa

The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad

Dear All (apologies for cross posting on Kafila.org and the Sarai Reader List)

The recent attack on Taslima Nasreen has again shown how fragile the freedom of expression is in India today. It breaks whenever a sentimental reader or viewer has their ‘sentiments challenged’. Are all these worthy gentlemen who go about obstructing screenings and readings suffering from some early childhood trauma that makes it difficult for them to countenance growing up and acquiring the ability to listen to contrary point of view? How long are we to be held hostage to their infantile suffering?

What is worse is the fact that the people who attacked her, and have made public threats to kill her – activists and elected representatives belonging to MIM, a leftover of the Nizam’s hated Razakars, were arrested and then let off on bail. So, the message that the state sends out to these goons is – “threaten to kill, be taken to a police station to have a cup of tea, have your picture taken, be splashed in the media, go home and make some more threats.”

see – http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=90746

Continue reading The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad

Lahori topi

I was going to Lahore for the first time, and took a taxi to the IG International airport in Delhi. My local taxi stand had sent a driver whom I didn’t know, and there was another lad in the front seat with him. At some point, as the driver swerved to avoid a vehicle that overtook from the right, he said to me – “Madam, aap bahar ja rahi hain. Bataiye, hamare desh mein aur bahar ke deshon mein kya farak hai”.

It was probably an opening gambit for a diatribe on how uncivil hamare log are as compared to gore log, but I replied – “Vaise main Pakistan ja rahi hoon, mujhe nahin lagta hai ki koi khaas farak hoga.”

At this, he responded, “Pakistan ja rahi hain? Hamare liye ek topi le ayengi?”

Me: “Zaroor. Lekin koi khas kism ki topi chahiye kya?”

Him: “Nahin, hamare musalmanon wali topi. Mere dadaji pehnenge.”

Continue reading Lahori topi