Category Archives: Everyday Life

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

Climaterror, boredom and media

The pressing, in fact the overpowering need to keep people perpetually agog with false excitement, generated by the fear of impending doom, played out in all its gory details over the last three days across the gossip channels that go in the name of News Channels and Glamour sheets that try to pass of as Newspapers.

26th January had come and gone, Sarkozy had come and gone without giving us the nuclear fuel that would have overnight made the greatest democracy into the second or third or fourth or the nth most happening country in the world.

Continue reading Climaterror, boredom and media

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

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.

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

The Hafta Bazaars of Delhi

The earliest known urban settlement in Delhi, aside from the mythological Indraprasth, called Inderpat by Sayed Ahmad Khan in his Asaar-us-Sanaadeed (1865) and by Bashir-ud-Din Ahmad in his Waqiyat-e-Daar-ul-Hukumat Dehli (1920) (probably to go well with Maripat, Sonipat, Panipat and Baghpat), is believed to have been at or near the present day Mehrauli.

The large number of exiting structures and ruins, both religious and secular, testify to rigorous building activity in this area going back to almost a thousand years or more and continuing during the colonial period. The Quila Rai Pithora, The Shrine of Qutub-ud-Din Bakhtiyar Kaaki, (disciple and successor of Moin-ud-din Chishti and the Peer of Baba Fareed Ganj-e-Shakar), whose presence in this area gave it the honorific Qutub Saheb, the Tomb of Altamash and of Balban, the Hauz-e-Shamsi, the Gandhak ki Baoli and the Rajon-ki-Baoli, Jamali-Kamali or the tomb and mosque of Jamal-ud-Din and Kamal-ud-Din, Adham Khan and Quli Khan’s Tombs, the Rang Mahal, the adjacent mosque and the large number of colonial structures, including several tehsil buildings, a municipal dispensary, the so called Tamarind Court and the Qutub Colonnade are evidence of a thriving Urban settlement.

Continue reading The Hafta Bazaars of Delhi

The Fascinating Triumph of Rakesh Belal

I bet you’ve seen Rakesh Belal. He is ubiquitous. An 18-year-old dropout, the sort found in trackpants and a fake Nike t-shirt outside shantytown video parlours and ramshackle gyms anywhere across the country. But this is not how we found him. It was the summer of 1996, and we were setting off from New Delhi railway station, going to Ghazipur for Muharram. We were in our compartment, when we noticed a boy, scavenging for food. The innocence of his face captured Mom’s heart. She gave him something to eat, and Dad gestured at him to come inside. Once with us, he settled down as if he had always been part of the family. When the train moved, Mom and Dad found it hard to send him away. And soon Rakesh Belal was en route to Ghazipur too.

Belal was not his real name. He was Rakesh Singh from a village in Uttar Pradesh called Hauwwapura. He had no clue where it was, but knew that the nearest city was Agra. His father’s name he gave as “Jungli Singh” — which we later found out to be Jungani Singh — and his mother’s name was Shanti Devi. His father was dead and his mother had left home. He had lived once with an aunt, but she ill-treated him, pushing him to leave home. In Delhi, he found refuge at a constable’s home, but was mistreated there too. Having fled that place as well, he was caught later by the authorities and thrown into a correction facility — an abysmal institution, where the rooms were cramped, the food miserable and the older kids were vicious to the younger ones. Finally he escaped, and that’s when we found him on the platform.

Continue reading The Fascinating Triumph of Rakesh Belal

A Modest Proposal to End All Controversies on Freedom of Expression in India

(apologies for cross posting on Commons Law and Reader List)

As we know well by now from the freedom loving sentiments (that are expressed loudly and frequently) by all sections of the guardians of social order in India, (that is Bharat, that is Hindustan), the real reason why certain insignificant documentary independent and student films, contemporary art exhibitions in university campuses and performances are banned, and their heinous perpetrators arrested has to do with the general populations right to sleep undisturbed each night and not to see anything other than cricket matches, news about cricket matches, election analyses, kaun banega crorepati, Abhishek Bacchan’s wedding, and yoga on TV.

Why should anyone in their right mind want to see, read, listen to or even think about anything else?

Consider the folly that some students in Kottayam have recently contemplated, making a film on of all things ‘Homosexuality’ .

Or, of the students in the Fine Arts Department of M.S.University in Baroda who went ahead and organized an exhibition of student work that contained offensive erotic imagery.

Both of these moves have been met with swift and timely responses. The offending students in Kerala have been expelled by the Christian educational institutition where they were enrolled, and the offending art student in Vadodara, one Chandramohanm has been arrested by the local police at the urging of Hindutva minded citizens.

There are only two things we need to learn from incidents of this nature. The first is as follows –

Actually, all that people need to do is to insist that only the self appointed guardians of public morality (of all stripes and shades) have the right to appear in any broadcast, exhibition, film or other forms of mediated communication. We need every channel to broadcast morally cleansed reality TV all the time. How else will this nation boldly venture where none other has gone before – into that heaven of bliss and freedom known as ennui for the billions.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to End All Controversies on Freedom of Expression in India

Devastating Looks: Smirks, Quirks and Judicial Authority

Devastating Looks: Smirks, Quirks and Judicial Authority

Raoul Vaneigem, the Belgian philosopher writes that “The economy of everyday life is based on a continuous exchange of humiliations and aggressive attitudes. It conceals a technique of wear and tear which is itself prey to the gift of destruction which it invites contradictorily”. In an incredible story in his chapter on humiliation, Vaneigem says that one day, when Rousseau was traveling through a crowded village, he was insulted by a lowly peasant whose insults delighted the crowd. The great philosopher Rousseau was completely taken aback and flushed with anger, but could not think of a single thing to say in reply and was forced to take to his heels amidst the jeers of the crowd. By the time he had finally regained his composure and thought of a thousand possible retorts, any one of which would have silenced the joker once and for all, he was at two hours distance from the village.

Vaneigem then says “Aren’t most of the trivial incidents of everyday life like this ridiculous adventure? but in an attenuated and diluted form, reduced to the duration of a step, a glance, a thought, experienced as a muffled impact, a fleeting discomfort barely registered by consciousness and leaving in the mind only the dull irritation at a loss to discover its own origin?”
Continue reading Devastating Looks: Smirks, Quirks and Judicial Authority

Mortuary Blues

Post-Gujarat riot people asked me have you written anything – a poem, an essay, a short story, anything? It is strange. Every time a cataclysmic event takes place, there is pressure on a creative person to respond to it. As if it is proper to respond to a catastrophe. As if it is an obligation if you are creative. As if art must serve a purpose in the end. As if underneath every creative urge there is a political undercurrent. As if there is a subtle politics that must consume every art form in the end. As if every expression of art is a grand statement redeeming a belief. But unfortunately creativity is not subservient to anything. It has its own mysterious, enigmatic, whimsical way of manifesting.

I read about the riots like million others as a news item. I had a vague confusion within, mixed with rage and a sense of injustice. (This does not mean I feel less enraged hearing a non-Muslim’s death. Normally, I don’t need to qualify a statement like the one above but I have heard such retarded inane counter-remarks that I think I need to clarify it.) And in spite of trying hard my pen spluttered nothing. Then seven months later, one August afternoon, as I was rehearsing for a play (George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and The Man – Why that play I wonder?) it all came to me. I do not know how I should categorize this poem. This was neither a response nor a rant. I wasn’t trying to make any statement. I just wrote a poem. And I know Gujarat was on my mind when I wrote this.

Mortuary Blues

through her soul
are few uneasy thoughts.
A blob in her throat,
her voice choked,
she stretches her hand,
as if a magic wand
will bring it all back –
the dreamful of sack
bit-by-bit stacked
in afternoons doing nothing.
Her son, perhaps, lies dead here
(She doesn’t even know it!)
amidst the decomposed heap.
She stretches her hand
to reach out for what,
I don’t know.

She may be a Muslim
or a Hindu, who cares
in this urban milieu.
Haven’t we all died
in our own mother’s eyes
so many times, whenever she wished
for a son or a daughter
to hold her if she falters.
But we all had our reasons,
perfectly justified reasons.
It’s no different here;
She only looks for a son
who is not there.

She wades through
her resolve, her stubbornness.
It has acquired
a macabre face now.
She stumbles,
gets up, only to stare
at a charred face.
Maybe he’s her son,
maybe he’s not.
She lost her reason
long before she lost her son.

I stand quietly
with a list in my hand
I don’t know who’s who,
all I have here are few names.
A stink greets us.
My soul silently pleads,
silently pleads to her
to quickly confirm
that this room
does not have her son.

I am just a municipal clerk,
doing an honest work,
diligently counting the dead
to earn my humble bread.
Arrey! This is just a mortuary!
I’ve seen worst crimes
at a spin of a coin –
the crime where one kills
one’s own conscience.
In this age of karseva and jehad,
wonder anyone heard a word called ittehad?

She straightens up, sighs,
looks at me with moist eyes.
Her face though sad
is at peace. She says
does it matter? Does it matter this room
has her son or not?
Even if this room had her son,
it means nothing.
I quickly extend my hand
expecting her to grease it.
See, I’ve been kind enough
to let you in, to let you
search for your son.
She smiles sadly
they took it all away in the riot.
I shrug my shoulders,
Ok! For once I shall be magnanimous!

© Dan Husain
August 26, 2002

Spectre of sameness

I always find it slightly odd that those among us who read and write for newspapers, or for blogs, for that matter, there is such a great identity of lifestyles.

Most of us not only lead similar lives but also live in similar conditions and do similar sort of jobs. I had written some weeks ago about the diversity a hospital waiting room can present. I had found that diversity is so striking in part because of the sameness I encounter when I go to a party in Delhi or Bombay. It is not merely a question of my profession, as a semi-journalist and stage performer that I am likely to meet similar people everywhere.

But even if I go to a place where lawyers predominate or where there are lots of bankers, our interests and pastimes would not be vastly different. We would have read the same books, seen the same films, would holiday in the same places and have more or less the same aspirations.

I have wondered whether my discontent has to do with the confinements of a bourgeois life. Continue reading Spectre of sameness

Patient India

Other than trains, hospitals are the most secular spaces in contemporary India. This applies as much to upper-end luxury hospi-resorts such as — Apollo and Escorts — as it does to the lowliest nursing home in any corner of the country. However, even as I assert this, a caveat comes to mind — the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, which had hospitals and even doctors sharply divided along communal lines.

In itself, it may or may not be a picture post card communal harmony moment, but if you keep the Gujarat experience in mind, then this little incident certainly substantiates my assertion. Continue reading Patient India

Absent of the absent: The elusive stories of Naiyer Masud

By Gaurav Dikshit

The incantatory quality of Urdu writer Naiyer Masud’s ‘fictional universe’–as translator Muhammad Umar Memon puts it–would seem witchcraftish to isolated and uncertain readers. Brittle and fluid, the painstakingly imagined worlds of these short stories have no resemblance in world literature. As silent and palpable as a dream, they rustle the senses until one realizes they are quite unprecedented in form and as ambitious in their idea of fiction and of tragedy.

Masud has said his stories are based on his dreams, some recurring over months which he keeps recording on waking up. He has also confessed to be a ghar-ghusna (stayer-at-home), a phrase quintessentially of Lucknow, the city where he has lived all his life in the house his father built. Writing his first story at the age of 12, he retained its plot when he began publishing at 35. He has survived by teaching Persian at the Lucknow University, though he says “My true occupation, at any rate, is reading and, occasionally, writing.” Continue reading Absent of the absent: The elusive stories of Naiyer Masud

Playing Cops and Reporters

This article was published in The Telegraph, Kolkata, December 5, 2006.

Here’s an amusing little story. According to reports in a leading daily, (August 26 and September 4), Hoshangabad police charged a couple with the murder of their twelve year-old son. Their son was indeed missing, and a body was found near the railway track. The parents confessed to the crime, and spent over 45 days in jail. Six months after his murder, young Gabbar turned up in town. He had fallen asleep while selling peanuts on trains, and woke up in Jalgaon. There he was put into a correctional institution, and later, sent to Bhopal. Finally he managed to convince someone to send him back home. Present in court, he listened to the government pleader arguing that the parents had confessed to the murder, so he could not be Gabbar; that the body found near the railway track was not Kallu alias Tufan, as claimed; and that neighbours had identified the dead body as that of Gabbar. The neighbours meanwhile, told the reporter they had never identified the dead body as his, and that this boy was indeed Gabbar. “We know him since he was born”, said one of them simply, “how could we make such a mistake?” Continue reading Playing Cops and Reporters

The Lumpen Bourgeoisie

The kidnapping of little Anant and his release for ransom highlight once again the great ease with which police fabricate accounts that suit their purposes. (Means: They Lie). Turns out that the case they claimed shamelessly to have cracked was resolved on the terms set by the kidnappers. (Most probably, the two arrests made subsequently are arbitrary and it seems pretty certain the ransom has not been “recovered” as claimed). The holes in the police versions are being relentlessly revealed by the mainstream media, concerned as it is with law and order, especially when it comes to “posh” areas like NOIDA ( a small – tiny – prize awaits anyone finding an English paper that did NOT use this adjective once during the whole Anant episode), and posh people like CEOs of MNCs. I need do no more on this front, except just to mutter “What about Afzal?” before I move on to another aspect of the coverage on the incident.

The Servant Angle. Or, as the French might put it, Cherchez le Servant. No opportunity is too slight for the police and the media to drill this lesson home: Verify Your Servants. They Are Out to Get You.

Continue reading The Lumpen Bourgeoisie