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Monthly Archives: May 2007

Varsha Sabhnani is Scary

A few short weeks ago, Varsha and Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani were the epitome of the Indian immigrant success story. Varsha, 45, an Indonesian of Indian descent, and Mahender, 51, an Indian, ran a multi-million dollar perfume business from their Long Island home, pictured below. The Muttontown mansion, located in one of the wealthiest areas of New York, was a fitting testament to their success.

That was then. Now, the police allege that this luxurious two story house and the couple who own it form the center of a gut wrenching tale of modern day slavery – the Sabhnanis stand accused of brutally mistreating two Indonesian women, hired as maids but treated as chattel, to be beaten and misused to the extent that they were often hidden away from sight, in the garage, basement, various cubbyholes and compartments like the one under the stairs, pictured below.

The two middle aged women, identified only as “Nona” and “Samirah”, say that they were forced to sleep on the kitchen floor, regularly starved, beaten, and tortured in various ways by Varsha Sabhnani with the full knowledge of her husband, Mahender. They put in 21 hour work days, seven days a week for the promise of $200 a month – a fraction of the amount the lowliest paid of her American counterparts would have received. Samirah told authorities that she found out that even this was a lie: her family had been receiving only half that sum.

Authorities say they learned of this house of horrors when Samirah was found wandering, bruised, half-naked and sobbing, about a mile away from the Sabhnani residence by a Dunkin Donuts manager, Adrian Mohammed, who initially thought she must be a homeless person.

“Home. I want to go home,” she begged in broken English, says Mohammed, thrusting an expired Indonesian passport at him.

Police who responded to Mohammed’s 911 call discovered two traumatized women. Samirah and Nona (who was found cowering in the 3 by 3 foot cubbyhole featured above) bore all the signs of long term abuse. They said Varsha used to beat them with household implements such as rolling pins and broomsticks, cut them behind their ears with a paring knife, forced them to take upto 30 ice cold showers in a row or eat roughly 25 red hot chillies as punishment for perceived mistakes, and gave them so little food to eat that they’d taken to secreting some away under a panel in the kitchen ceiling. Samirah even pointed out a bloodstained door; mute witness, she said, to the horrors she and Nona had suffered.

The Sabhnanis defense is that they were well known jetsetters who were as often out of the house as in it – not only did they travel the world on business but they also maintained a separate two-bedroom condo in Manhattan. The two women could have walked out at any time. The couple, who have four children, hired separate lawyers but have so far maintained a unified stance in spite of the fact that the maids consistently point out Varsha as the main aggressor.

Nona and Samirah counter that their passports were confiscated upon arrival by Varsha – she only gave Samirah’s back to her once it had expired. Nona was threatened with jail, both for her and her husband back in Indonesia, if she tried to leave. Samirah’s son reports that when he received word of what was going on in the Sabhnani household, he tried calling Varsha’s mother, who lives in Indonesia. He says she first told him to pay up a certain amount of money to buy out Samirah’s “contract” and then told him to be careful because she had the power to kill his mother.

In fact, allegation upon allegation has been spilling out ever since the Sabhnanis were arrested – from bribes offered by Varsha’s family to make it all go away to death threats against the maids’ family members. Lawyers for the defense say that all these charges are untrue and they “would not be substantiated” if produced in a court of law.

The Sabhnanis are hardly the first to be suspected of modern day slavery. Hundreds of thousands of poor workers, especially Mexicans, cross the American border every year in search of a better life. While all of them live in fear of the law and deportation, some of them end up enslaved to unscrupulous traffickers who expect them to pay off exorbitant contracts by working for a pittance. They make it all the way to the land of opportunity, to be denied any.

Mahender Sabhnani’s lawyer however, refutes all charges of human trafficking. The couple is now out on a $3.5 million bail. As they’re not only seen as a flight risk with global connections but are also considered capable of violence, conditions for release include strict restrictions such as house detention, wiretapped phones, and limited to no access to the internet. And all bills incurred by the police in said surveillance will be paid for by the Sabhnanis. The house that Nona and Samirah described as their slave pen, will now cage its owners.

“Freedom is priceless,” said the lawyer for defense. Indeed.

UpdateHere

 
93 Comments

Posted by on May 31, 2007 in Life, News

 

Bindaas Bol: “Condom”

(Thanks Aroon!)

I’m always struck by how well made these Public Service Ads are. Ad film making in India is at a seriously evolved level but even back in the day, the PSAs were something else. I’m old enough to remember the national integration ads with celebrities from different walks of life, not to mention the animated features which were absolutely delightful.

Zamana badal gaya, as they say. Times have changed. Now you can get your national unity in a slick format from the house of Bharatbala and PSAs are all about things like disease prevention. There’s the polio campaign, the no smoking campaign and most of all, you have the AIDS campaign.

Version 2.0 of the AIDS campaign is funny, irreverent and very, very important in a country that’s currently leading the world in the total number of people infected with HIV. There’s a statistic I don’t want India to lead. And I know it’s only to be expected in a country with a billion people, but I’m sorry, it’s just not acceptable at a time in history when information is becoming increasingly easy to disperse.

All the Gere-Shetty kiss-kiss nonsense shouldn’t take away from the rising threat of AIDS and the number of orphans it leaves behind each year – to live sad, short ostracized lives or to grow up neglected and alone.

Here’s the one of the original versions of the ad above. You can watch more on Youtube. Just type, “Bindaas Bol”.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on May 27, 2007 in Entertainment, Life, News, Television, Video

 

Book Tag

Jawahara at Writing Life tagged me to come up with a list of Indian authors/books I’ve read or want to read. She herself has a formidable list of names which is fast giving me a complex. :mrgreen:

There are two groups of writers below: the first group is plain old Indian, either by descent or by nationality. The second consists of what I like to call “Honorary Indians”. They’re people who’ve either written about India or whose work makes me think about India. Those who like to obsess over such things may also like to note that the list below comprises solely of Indian writers in English. Do drop me a line if you decide to go the regional route.

Writers whose work I’m yet to read are in italics. Books I haven’t read but am dying to read are in bold. In no particular order,

Indian Writers:

1. Fareed Zakaria – “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”

Well researched, deeply interesting ringside view of democracy in action around the world. It’s more of a primer than a book but it’s one of the best reads I’ve ever had. Worth every penny and all the hosannas.

2. Gita Mehta – “Eternal Ganesha

She’s always been a favorite. “Raj” was perhaps the only one that disappointed me. But her nonfiction books: “Snakes and Ladders”, “Karma Cola” and the slightly off-center “River Sutra” were all good reads. This one about Ganesha and his presence in Indian life sounds like one I must absolutely read.

3. V.S. Naipaul – “India: A Wounded Civilization”

If you have a chip on your shoulder about India or being an Indian, then it’s probably best you don’t read this one because it’s needless aggravation. Naipaul the fiction writer can make me jump through hoops, Naipaul the travel writer reminds me of a little old lady who really just wants to live in her cottage and cribs constantly about it to boot. Your first reaction to his work, especially if you’re not white, is to dismiss his opinions out of hand because his reputation as a “coconut” is by now so famous that it’s practically become canon. But the important thing to remember with him is that unlike a lot of polemical writers, his arguments are often a lot more complex and well-reasoned (certainly well researched) than taking his final statement by itself would have you believe. If nothing else, he provides a challenge.

4. Homi Bhabha – “The Right to Narrate” & “A Measure of Dwelling: Reflections on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism

The title of a review of “Nation and Narration”, Bhabha’s most influential work, on Amazon.com read, “I’d rather stick my head in a blender than read this again”. :D I sympathize with that guy. Bhabha isn’t what I’d call subway reading – if the motion sickness doesn’t get you, then the prose will definitely give you a sick headache. But what’s a girl to do? His work is absolutely riveting. Sign me up for these books when they’re published later this year.

5. David Davidar – “House of Blue Mangoes”

It’s been lying on my bookshelf for the past I don’t know how many years. I heard it’s good. One of these days I’ll read it.

6. Kiran Desai – “The Inheritance of Loss”

Each week I pass it on a library shelf. Each week, I pick it up, hold it in my hand and then put it down. This one’s weird because I like the passages I’ve read from it, so I’m sure I’ll like the book. She says she worked on it for seven years. Give me seven years and I’m sure I’ll read it.

7. Jhumpa Lahiri – “The Namesake”

Good book, good movie. I preferred “The Interpreter of Maladies”. I once told a friend that one of my favorite writers was Isabel Allende; he said that made sense because Indian lurve the heavy prose. Well, here’s an Indian who manages to lay off the heavy and concentrate on the prose. Kudos.

8. Salman Rushdie – “Shalimar the Clown”.

Everybody I know seems to love this one. I’ve been a faithful follower for a long, long time but this book gives me the ‘enh’. I’ll read it, today or tomorrow, I won’t leave a Rushdie unread; but not right now. I think I’m on a nonfiction kick right now. These things are cyclical.

9. Khushwant Singh – “City Improbable: An Anthology of Writings on Delhi”

Singh the fiction writer is a little blah for my tastes. I just don’t like the narrative even if I find myself caring for the subject matter. Singh the nonfiction writer, on the other hand, has all the style the fiction writer lacks. Sometimes he makes me want to pull his beard but most of the time he’s great. This book isn’t exactly ‘by’ him but it’s one of my all time favorites. A couple of the essays were borderline stinkers but as a Delhi girl I’m pleased to give the majority of them my stamp of approval. If that means anything to you, go and buy it.

10. Madhur Jaffrey – “Climbing Mango Trees”

I have the review up somewhere on this site. I’m the biggest cynic there is when it comes to books by celebrities but this memoir was great.

11. Amartya Sen – “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny”

Sen kind of reminds me of my dad when he starts telling stories – he’s very methodical and loves to weave multiple threads of information together. “Identity” is without doubt one of the finest books I’ve ever read; this slim volume packs twice the punch of “The Argumentative Indian”.

12. Ashok Banker – the “Ramayana” series

First impressions are not always the best ones. The opening pages of Banker’s “Prince Of Ayodhya: Book One” immediately bored me to tears. It took a little patience and a chapter or two for me to get engrossed. Once I did, there was no looking back. Definitely recommended.

13. Jawahara Saidullah – “The Burden of Foreknowledge

I’ve been burdened with foreknowledge – foreknowledge of how good a writer Jawahara is. I’ve waited and waited to get my hands on this one but now the end is at last in sight. For those of you who’ve been going crazy searching for her on Amazon, she tells me that it’s available on the UK site. Go for it!

14. Anees Jung – “Unveiling India: A Woman’s Journey

A big fat thank you to Jawahara. I looked her up after J’s mention and it sounds really good. I’d watch Brit-Asian women on the BBC or in Brit newspapers and magazines writing about the hijab and wonder where the Indians were. Well, here’s one. Can’t wait.

15. Githa Hariharan – “In Times of Siege

Hariharan is perhaps one of the most neglected contemporary Indian writers in English. “Siege” is uncannily prescient – it’s the story of a professor at a correspondence college in Delhi whose work on a 12 century poet and reformer lands him in trouble when an extremist Hindu group calls him anti-Hindu, launching him deep into a media circus. Ring any bells?

16. Ismail Merchant – “My Passage from India: A Filmmaker’s Journey from Bombay to Hollywood

I never remember that I want to read this when I’m browsing – either online or in a library or even a bookstore. But everytime I remember it, I immediately want to get my mitts on it. Maybe putting it in here will make me remember. Argh. I’m so annoying.

17. Ramachandra Guha – “India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

The “Leftist, Leftist, Leftist” & “Anti-Hindu, Anti-Hindu, Anti-Hindu” chant has already begun. Whatever. I’m still going to read it. Guha is one of the few Indian historians who don’t write like they’re auditioning for NCERT or are begging for a political post.

18. Tenzin Tsundue – “Crossing the Border”

Strictly speaking, Tsundue’s a Tibetan. You might remember him from the Outlook-Picador contest – he won the very first one. His situation is representative of an issue that I’ve often thought about: an entire generation of Tibetans have been born and brought up in India. They are not citizens and the Dalai Lama talks about taking them back to Tibet some day. You’ve probably seen them on the street, bought knickknacks from their shops, eaten food from their restaurants and gone to school with them. It’s almost shocking to realize that they’re “foreigners”.

19. Behram Contractor (Busybee) – “The Best of Thirty Six Years”

I admit it. I have a weakness for journos. Most of the time they disappoint. This time, this one, didn’t. If Mumbai, or as I like to call it, Bombay, is a city that fascinates you then Busybee is the man you want for a guide. But the city is not the sum of his interests. The wit is dry, the style conversational. If you’re not a long time lover then you might look a bit askance at the accolades most reviewers give him work. But the more you read him, the better you like him… and his city.

20. GV Desani – “All About H. Hatterr”

This is probably the only good book he ever wrote. But it’s a worthy legacy to leave behind. One of the best openings ever. Read it.

***

This list could go on forever so I’m going to put a stop to it here. The above are just the first 20 who popped into my head. There’re probably billions who ought to be on that list – I’ll remember them all tomorrow and groan about it. Meanwhile, here’re some writers I just can’t bear to leave out.

***

Honorary Indians:

1. Hari Kunzru – “Transmission

He’s British but he is of Indian descent. That makes it ok for me to stick him in here. :D “The Impressionist” knocked my socks off. An excellent first novel is kind of like a millstone around your neck. The only thing worse would be a bad first novel. I’m looking forward to this one.

2. Mark Tully – “India’s Unending Journey”

Tully helped me teach a new word to a girl in a writing workshop once – “Indophile”. She knew about Francophiles but didn’t know it was an adaptable term. That’s Tully for you – always a new perspective. And even when he toes the conventional line, he manages to make it pretty readable. One of the few authors I read based on name alone.

3. William Dalrymple – “The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857″

He won me over with “City of Djinns”. Nobody falls in love with my city and gets me to crib about them. I’ve heard the complaints and I understand them – here’s something the complainers need to understand in return: good writing will always triumph. People like it, they’ll buy it. “Mughal” is not just well written, it’s also pretty emotional and the last few pages, as they trace the symbiotic line of Western aggression and Islamic fundamentalism, is ample food for thought. Read it!

4. Mohsin Hamid – “The Reluctant Fundamentalist

So he’s Brit-Pakistani. My list of Pakistani authors I want to read (apart from the usual Bapsi Sidhwa crowd) is embarrassingly small. So I’ll stick him in here.

5. Bina Shah – “Blessings and Other Stories”

I remember Bina’s first book, “The 786 Cyber Cafe” from Chowk (I think they pulled it once she had it published). I didn’t know about this one until Jawahara mentioned it. I’ll definitely keep an eye out.

6. Nadeem Aslam – “Maps for Lost Lovers”

There are writers who might as well use blood for ink, so great is the work they’ve put into their stories. Aslam is one of them. “Lovers” was a great read, all the more for actually living up to the hype which not many books can do.

***

Okay, so that’s me then! DG, Kishore, Aditi, Aspi, Fleiger, Terri – you’re it!

Update: Readalicious (please do leave me a link if you decide to take up the tag) -

Aditi takes a trip through history at Muse

Kishore has a neat list of established and upcoming authors at All in a Day’s Work

Aspi’s list is short but well worth a dekko at Aspi’s Drift

DG bravely battled a blocked sinus to get this list at My Word

Ana, one of my all time favorite writers, has a Pakistani version at Khoshkhabri

Update II: I’m slowly beginning to make my way through that list of works and I’ve already got Jawahara’s book, so the review should be up soon. Meanwhile, Tanay went to a press junket for Ram Guha’s India After Gandhi and has an interesting post up at RemainConnected.

Update III: Fleiger’s list is pretty eclectic at Adlergedanke (Doesn’t that name just make you want to see what it’s all about?)

 
24 Comments

Posted by on May 26, 2007 in Books, Entertainment, Personal, Review

 

Tintin, Steven Speilberg & Peter Jackson

Long before Cameron Diaz scooped up a bit of Ben Stiller’s gunk in There’s Something About Mary, there was another fictional character with a famously upswept do – Tintin the investigative boy reporter. His Belgian creator, Herge a.k.a. Georges Prosper Remi, just received a posthumous 100th birthday gift: Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson with one other yet-to-be-announced director will film a trilogy based on The Adventures of Tintin.

As a longtime Tintin fan, I couldn’t be happier. First published in 1929, Tintin the character is a somewhat colorless young idealist who found himself embroiled in most of 20th century’s significant events. In his lighter moments, he rescued a friend from the Yeti, searched for pirate treasure, was kidnapped by aliens and rescued a diva’s priceless jewels from a larcenous magpie. At other times, he took part in the troubles besetting a banana republic, observed the results of the Bolshevik uprising, thrust a spoke in the wheels of the international drug trade and took a trip to the moon.

But Tintin’s real charm lies in the bizarre group of characters surrounding him. There’s the short-tempered, expletive-ridden alcoholic Captain Haddock; his nervous Nellie butler Nestor; the bane of the Captain’s existence, the buxom opera singer Bianca Castafiore; the bumbling P.I. twins in bowler hats, Thompson (“with a p”) and Thomson; the impossible pile-on Jolyon Wagg with his collection of brats; and of course, the eccentric genius, Professor Cuthbert Calculus who got Tintin to the moon a nearly 20 years before Neil Armstrong.

In a departure from the usual structure of comics, an interesting fact about this ensemble cast is their connection to the Captain. While it is almost always Tintin who first meets these people during the course of his many adventures, it is the Captain who acts as a lodestone – he employs Nestor after Tintin weans him from evil company; the Professor has his lab (somebody please correct me if I’m wrong) on the grounds of the Captain’s ancestral property (Marlinspike Hall); the twins always drop by the Hall to visit; and Castafiore with her penchant for distorting the names of people she considers inferior is primarily an irritant under Captain Paddock’s Haddock’s skin.

In fact, the Captain is one of the more intriguing characters ever to have been sketched as a sidekick. For one thing he is never servile or in awe of Tintin. In a stroke of brilliance spurred on by necessity, Herges also made him an inventive cusser. Instead of four letter words, this sailor uses words and phrases such as “Ectoplasm!”, “Vegetarian!”, “Troglodyte!”, “Ten thousand thundering typhoons!”, “Billions of blue blistering barnacles!”, etc when in a foul temper. He is also quite a dedicated alcoholic.

Hardly a wholesome sort of person for a young man to be hanging out with, much less young fans to read about – and yet, he and his mannerisms are such an integral part of the Tintin universe that you can’t imagine the series without him.

Another character integral to the series is Snowy, a cynical white wire terrier who accompanies Tintin wherever he goes, including the moon in a fetching little dogsuit complete with bubble helmet.

Snowy was the original foil to Tintin’s open-faced idealism. Although pushed to the background by the Captain’s arrival, Snowy was always a dog who knew his own mind and snarky with it. He’s helped save Tintin’s life a number of times but you know he’d laugh himself silly if you showed him Lassie. He’s just not that kind of dog.

The 70-odd years of Tintin’s life has been marked by a number of milestones – some good, some controversial. While Herge’s work was acclaimed for its trendsetting “clear line” technique as well the impeccable production values of what he liked to call his albums, he was also accused of being a Nazi collaborator in Belgium during the war. Then there were assorted charges of racism, which, incidentally, didn’t stop the series from attracting a large following around in the world including Africa and, of course, India. Herge also developed what is called the “serialization followed by collection model” of cartooning, which allows artists a more steady source of income.

Here, Shashidhar Kondareddy gives his top ten reasons as to why so many of us love Tintin so much.

Now, I have to admit my Luddite tendencies come to the fore when I hear the phrase “adapted to film” (nine times out of ten, this is filmmaking code for “worthless trash”). And the prospect of seeing Tintin come to life as a CGI marvel leaves me distinctly cold – except for two things:

One is the presence of Steven Spielberg. Not only is he a fan of the series, he is also an avowed Luddite by his own admission when it comes to digital cinema (if I correctly remember an article published in The Economist a number of years ago). Also according to reports, Tintin was one of the inspirations for his Indiana Jones movies. It’s hard to imagine him screw this up.

The other thing (person?) that reassures me is Peter Jackson: the man whose astonishing work prompted that very article. His Lord of the Rings not only made me do a rethink on the ability of filmmakers to adapt stories but his subsequent work on King Kong convinced me that he and his team are beyond masterful when it comes to weaving special effects onto film.

This fan is excited.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2007 in Books, Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, News

 

Zeitgeist

“Are you all right?” Anita asked.

He was sitting at the kitchen table, on a stool he’d pulled up from the counter. Anita leaned against the doorframe and studied his profile, remembering all the other times he’d done the very same thing in all those other houses.

The years had been kind to him, the nose was still the most prominent feature on his face, the brow a bit craggier, the cheekbones a little less defined – the face was lived in but reflected his indomitable inner strength a lot more now than it had when she’d first met him… 26 years ago now? 26 years and five months.

He didn’t look up. She thought he hadn’t heard her speak. Her mouth twisted. So what else was new? Clearing her throat, she tried again, louder:

“Dev?” He blinked, as if waking up from a dream before turning to face her. “Are you all right?”

“What? Yeah, I – um, everybody left?”

“All but you,” she said, gesturing with one hand to the pots and pans as they scattered around the big kitchen table, the sink full of dirty dishes.

“I’ll help you,” he said, his voice a little husky.

“Don’t bother,” she said politely. “I’ll manage.”

“Anita,” he said quietly. “I’ll help you.”

She nodded. “I’ll get some Tupperware, why don’t you fill them?”

“I can do that,” he agreed.

She moved around the kitchen, getting things ready, planning the sequence that would get her out of the kitchen in the least possible time, everything ready for the cleaners she’d arranged to come in tomorrow. He sat, arms crossed, and watched her through hooded eyes. This was the Anita he knew. Calm, methodical, even in the face of chaos.

“What?” she smiled, bringing over the promised Tupperware, twisting her soft shoulder-length hair up and out of the way as she tackled the overflowing sink.

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just book a hotel?” he asked.

“It’s my son’s wedding, what’s the use of such a big house if I don’t open it up even for his wedding? Besides it wasn’t such a big deal.”

“Hmm, plus it very neatly cut me out of the process,” he commented, pressing the lid down on a stubborn bit of plastic.

She looked at him sharply. “You think this was revenge?”

“Wasn’t it?” he looked at her evenly.

“No,” she said in exactly the same tone. “If I wanted revenge, Dev, I’d have found more… permanent ways of doing it.”

The tension that could spring up between them, even after 15 years of divorce, hummed for an instant before he dropped his eyes.

“Touché,” he said.

“Is that why you paid for the honeymoon?” She snorted when he refused to meet her eyes. “Maybe you should have tried paying for a trip to Bali when we were married. Perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.”

“Are you saying a trip to Bali would have fixed all our problems?”

“No, but considering how much you couldn’t afford it back then, you’d have been so busy paying it off, you wouldn’t have found the time to cheat on me.”

“You never let it rest, do you?” he asked, resignedly.

“Just because you married the slut doesn’t mean I have to get over it.”

He took a deep breath. “How about the news that we’re getting divorced? Does that make it easier?”

She stilled. “What?”

“Lali and I are getting a divorce.”

She didn’t say anything for a few moments. Dev stared at her impassive face, wondering what she was thinking.

“Say something,” he said when the silence had stretched too long.

“I had no idea,” she said in a cool little voice that gave nothing away.

He gave a bitter little laugh. “That’s all? Aren’t you going to crow a little? You’ve been waiting for this day for long enough.”

She looked at him, leaning back against the sink, her hands still in their bright pink plastic gloves. “That’s true,” she said at last.

“You admit it?” he asked, surprised.

She shrugged. “Did she find out?”

“About you and me?”

She nodded.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “At least, she hasn’t said anything.”

“Then she doesn’t know,” she said. “Lali’s not the type that would keep it to herself.”

“Well, that’s all beside the point now, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

“You don’t have to look so disappointed.”

“Do I? Look disappointed?”

“Come on, Anita,” he said impatiently. “You’ve only been sleeping with me these past few years as payback!”

“So?”

“So aren’t you cut up that she’ll never know…”

“She’ll never know you cheated on her with me? I suppose so.”

He didn’t say anything.

“What do you want me to say, Dev?”

“What do people usually say at times like this?”

“I’m sorry? I’m shocked? Hardly. Almost everybody who knows you expected this to happen. We were just off by a decade or so.”

He rubbed a hand wearily over his face. “Not really.”

Anita stared at him, that action of his bringing to mind another day in another kitchen – Dev asking her for a divorce…

“It’s pretty clear,” he’d said to her. “We’re not going to survive this, Anita. You can’t forget it and I don’t want to forget it.”

“I could forget it if you wanted to,” she’d told him, voice shaking. “But you don’t! Why don’t you just say that?”

“Fine.” His eyes had been so cold, the aloofness she’d sensed in him for the best part of a year coming forward and lying unmasked as an absence of emotion so severe she’d wanted to scratch his eyes out, just to make that expression leave his face.

“You won’t be happy,” she’d spat, desperate for anything from him, any bone at all that he might choose to throw her. “She’s going to leave you and then you’ll come crawling back and I won’t take you! Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” he’d clipped out. “Don’t worry, if she does leave me then I won’t come looking for anything from you. I gave up looking for anything resembling warmth from you a long time ago!”

Anita came back to the present with a sigh. She stripped the gloves from her hands and took a seat at the table, pushing aside a couple of plates to rest her arms on the top. “I am sorry,” she said.

He looked at her, surprised.

“You were married to her for about twice as long and I know it wasn’t easy for you the first time around.”

“What’s this, compassion?” he mocked. “I thought you’d be laughing your head off.”

“I’m grinning on the inside,” she told him.

Neither said anything for a while. “What am I going to do?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Is that why she didn’t come for the wedding?”

“No – I mean, she wouldn’t have come anyway. She’s always been clear she’s not his stepmother in anything other than name.”

Anita nodded. “It was the only thing that made her bearable.”

He grinned briefly. “I’m surprised you allowed him to get married.”

She shrugged. “It was either that or get into bed with him and I don’t think either of us is inclined that way.”

“My God, Anita!” he said, laughing in shocked surprise. “You can’t say things like that!”

“Why not?” she asked. “It’s only you.”

“Why are we so much more civil to each other now?” he asked after a pause, studying her face.

“Right now?”

“Generally speaking.”

She was silent for so long he thought she wasn’t going to answer. Finally, she said: “You don’t hate me now.”

“What? I didn’t hate you.”

“Yes, you did,” she insisted quietly. “I could see it in your face. You’d come home, walk in the door and see me and you couldn’t stand it.”

Dev thought back to their marriage – he had it filed in his memory under one giant block but when he looked at it now, he could see the individual bits fitting in to resemble a jigsaw puzzle more than anything else.

There was the time when he’d been completely in… lust with her. Not love, he thought. There was the pregnancy, which was when he’d fallen in love. But was it with her or the baby and thus by extension the woman who carried the baby? Did love work like that? And then, just life. For a very long time, there was nothing special about their marriage – nothing that stuck out in his memory, no highs, no lows, only a plateau. And somehow, from that plateau, a sudden drop off a cliff into… hatred?

“I’m right,” Anita said, beside him, watching his face fill with realization. “Aren’t I?”

He shook his head dumbly.

She smiled wryly. “I always admired Lali for that. It took me, what? Less than a decade to make you hate me. And she… well, she lasted quite a long time didn’t she?”

Dev caught her hand. “I’m sorry.”

She pressed his hand before disengaging herself. “You didn’t even realize until now. It’s not like you planned it.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t marry anyone,” he said.

“You have another candidate?” she asked, surprised.

“I was just speaking generally,” he explained.

“You hate her too?”

“Not…” he trailed off.

“Not as much as me?” she asked dryly.

He ducked his head. “I don’t know…”

She patted his hand. “Well, at least I come first in something.”

“I’m glad you can laugh at it,” he muttered.

“I’ve had 15 years to develop a sense of humor,” she reminded him.

“Did you ever figure out why I felt like that?” he asked before immediately shaking his head. “Never mind, I can’t believe I asked you that.”

“Don’t you know?”

“I just –”

“Found out,” she finished and shrugged. “Who knows? I thought it was me – I wasn’t pretty enough, nice enough, sexy enough. Enough. Then I entered the phase where I thought it was you – you were just a cheater, a louse, a liar… you remember that phase?”

“Vividly,” he said. “Then came the bitchy phase.”

“Whose story is this anyway?”

“Sorry,” he said, throwing up one hand. “Continue.”

“Then came the bitchy phase,” she said, making him laugh. “That’s when we had the power struggles –”

“Yeah, I’m glad that didn’t last long.”

“Especially for the sake of our son.”

“Amen,” he agreed.

“And that’s when I met Anand.”

“Right, the boyfriend. That bit I knew.”

“Careful, you sounded like an ex-husband there.”

“I am an ex-husband,” he said.

She smiled. “Then you ought to be a very grateful ex-husband because he’s the one who brought me back to my senses.”

He bit his lip. “Where is he?”

“He went home. I wanted to be the mother of the groom by myself for a while. No pity, nobody to ask me ‘What are you going to do now?’ as if I haven’t done anything other than mother him all my life.”

“Anand didn’t mind?”

“What we do works for us.”

He inhaled deeply. “I guess so. Are you two thinking of getting married?”

She didn’t say anything until he looked up to meet her gaze.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” she said. “You’re getting divorced and we’re having a heart to heart. But that hasn’t changed anything else. The universe is still on the same axis, get it?”

“I was just asking because it’s been ten years since you two –”

“Dev.”

“Got it.” He brooded in silence for a few minutes as she stacked dishes.

“I can feel you staring,” she said at last.

“Sorry. It’s just – you know, you know everything and I don’t know anything!”

“You’re the one who keeps telling me things, I never –”

“Ask. I know.”

She shrugged. “What do you want to know?”

“General things.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Are you planning on getting married?”

“That’s very general,” she mocked. “He’s asked.”

“And?”

“And the answer was specific.”

“You said no,” he guessed.

“What makes you think that?”

“You said yes?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re trying to make me crazy,” he groaned.

“If that’ll make you shut up.”

He looked her over. “You ever feel guilty about us?”

“I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty,” she said at last. “What about you?”

“I don’t know. That’s a good way of putting it – guilty for not feeling guilt. I should be guilty. When she said she – when she told me this morning, I –”

“She told you this morning?” she interrupted.

He nodded. “Remember how we’d go days without speaking to each other?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ve been having those. For a while now. Lali sure broke the pattern.”

“Serve you right,” she said with ill-concealed satisfaction.

“Did you always have that mean streak?” he asked, watching her get back to the sink.

“Don’t you know? I thought I was the bitch from hell.”

“That was when we broke up,” he dismissed. “No, I mean, as a person. I kind of remember you as – sort of vanilla, you know?”

“Ouch,” she said. “At least, I think ‘ouch’.”

“Ouch is right. That was not a compliment.”

“Vanilla is a very exotic and expensive spice you know.”

“Yeah, and we use it in custard pudding,” he remarked.

She made a face at him. “Maybe you were the custard pudding. Once I got you out of the mix, I could shine again.”

“Ouch.” It was his turn to wince. “Anand isn’t custard pudding?”

“Anand is,” she paused to think, hands immersed in the sudsy sink. “Anand is ice cream. Very expensive, very high quality ice cream.”

“Well, custard puddings have their own charm,” he said, a bit annoyed.

“Hey, Lali was your jelly.”

The silence was awful.

“I didn’t mean –”

“How did we start this dumb comparison anyway?” he asked at the same time.

They smiled at each other. He continued clearing the table as she briskly loaded the dishwasher.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked.

“Well, the apartment is mine. She’s moving out today. I guess I’ll have to find a lawyer and stuff.”

“Do you think she’s been cheating on you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”

“Hmm, you never do.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

She paused for a few moments before turning to face him. “Have you ever asked yourself why you hit on me that day?”

“We’d had a bad day.” She watched him search for an acceptably evasive answer. “We were two parents who thought their son was going to die and we were tired and in shock and we just – ended up in bed.”

“It didn’t mean anything,” she said. “That’s what you’re saying. It was just human reaction to a near-tragedy.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d put it that way,” he hedged. “Not precisely.”

“A coping mechanism,” she mused. “And then? All those other times?”

He rubbed his face, thinking. “I don’t know. I don’t – know. You were there and you didn’t say no. And somehow, that was enough.”

“Was it because of Lali?” she asked, leaning back against the sink, her face impassive. “Did she make you angry in some way?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because you only slept with her to get back at me. Pattern.”

“That’s not true,” he shot back. “She wasn’t just revenge.”

“You were in love with her?”

“Yes!” He faced her eyes squarely. “Yes.”

“And then you cheated on her with me. The woman you hated even if she was the mother of your son. The woman she hated. Thinking – knowing that I was sleeping with you for revenge. You did that to the woman you loved.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s complicated. I don’t know, dammit! I have no idea why I did any of those things. With you. I don’t know why it was you.”

“You know,” she said steadily.

He shook his head. She gazed at him in silence before she visibly reached a decision of some kind.

“I didn’t figure it out for a long time,” she continued in that calm little voice that never failed to drive him crazy when she sprung it on him. “I wouldn’t have figured it out at all if I hadn’t come across something of yours when I was cleaning out the house before the sale. Remember how I called you and told you to come pick up that box of things you’d left?”

Dev remembered it quite well. It had been around the time Anand had entered her life. Their lives. He’d somehow convinced Anita to sell the house that Dev had bought for her and get a place of her own. A fresh start. It was something Dev himself had suggested during the divorce but she’d accused him of trying to throw her out of the house and so he hadn’t said anything further on the subject.

He recalled a faint feeling of resentment – something about bloody Anand just ticked him off. Maybe it was that Zen-like calm that he carried around with him like some sort of comfort blanket when he wasn’t infecting others with it. And it didn’t help that one word from him could make Anita do things he had never been able to convince her to do, try as he might. Not even in the early days of their marriage when she’d been a lot more malleable than she was now at the age of 47.

There was something else about that whole house changing event that tugged at his memory but he couldn’t put a finger on it exactly.

“I remember,” he said aloud.

She nodded. “It was just little things. Mementos and tapes and things that you never got a chance to pack or forgot to pack or whatever. And a diary. A planner actually, not a diary. Do you remember that?”

And just like that, he remembered. Such an insignificant thing, really.

“Yes, I see you remember that too,” Anita said softly. “It didn’t have anything written in it. But there was a letter. From your old friend. The one who’d just gotten engaged to that model.”

“What about it?” he asked shortly.

She looked at him, head tilted to one side. “Did he make you feel old, Dev? Did I make you feel old?”

“Pop psychology,” he scoffed. “All these years I thought you’d understood – we just didn’t work out. And here you are.”

“Yes, here I am. And there you were – the father of a child, husband to a wife who was struggling to manage home and family with a demanding career of her own. I didn’t have any time for you, did I?”

“Ancient history,” he said impatiently.

“Yes.” She was quiet for a few moments. “But that’s not the whole story is it? You looked at me and all you could see was an adult. And you didn’t want it. You didn’t want to be that person in the mirror and I defined that man.”

“I was also a father,” he shot back. “And a damned good one. If I was trying to get away from my responsibilities then why just dump you? I’d have left him too.”

“You did,” she told him. “You left him with me. It took you a good year to come back to him.”

“That’s not true!”

“Isn’t it? That first year, you moved to another town, got a different job, married Lali, went on an extended honeymoon – how much time did you spend with him?”

“I came back,” he said after a while, his voice thick.

She nodded. “You came back.”

The emphasis on the middle word was subtle but he heard with the clarity of a thousand bells rung together. There was a buzzing sound in his ear. He shook his head.

“Are you saying – are you trying to tell me this whole thing – that it was all a midlife crisis?”

“Does it sound that simple?”

“Answer me dammit!” he shouted.

“I don’t know!”

“You sure seem to know a lot for someone who doesn’t know,” he said, his face ugly.

“I know you,” she whispered.

“Why did you sleep with me?” he asked suddenly.

“I thought you knew.”

“Why did you sleep with me?” he repeated.

“Because I wanted you.” She swallowed. “Because I loved you.”

He stared at her for one long second and then laughed, the sound of it harsh and loud. She flinched.

“Almost,” he said savagely. “You had me there – almost. Nearly pulled it off. But there’s a limit to how much even we puppets like to be managed.”

“You think I’m trying to manipulate you?”

“You love me?” he shot back. “You – love – me? You can’t stand me. I don’t what sick game these past few years have been about but I know one thing for sure and that’s how much you hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” she whispered.

“If I was about to get run over, you’d pay the driver to back up and run me over a couple of extra times.”

“Is that what you think?”

“It’s what I know!”

“And you? What would you do if you saw me about to get run over?”

He stared at her, his eyes gleaming unnaturally bright in the late afternoon light streaming through the window. “I have to go,” he said at last.

“What would you do,” she asked softly, walking across the few feet that separated them, “if you saw me about to get run over, Dev?”

Suddenly his hands shot out, fingers digging into the soft flesh inside her upper arms. She bit her lip on a gasp of pain as his grip tightened mercilessly, his eyes drilling into hers. He shook her lightly, her face mere inches away from his. She could smell his cologne, the light lemony scent of him cut with the smoky undertones of the Scotch he’d been steadily consuming all day. His teeth were clenched tight as he brought her closer and closer, inch by slow, painful inch. Her lips parted as she struggled to breathe, forced to stand on her tiptoes as he pulled her up against him.

And then he was gone. Just like that. Just like always. Anita heard his footsteps, loud on the parquet floors, right before the front door slammed shut. She listened to its finality echoing through her house.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2007 in Fiction

 

Three People on My Mind

Here’s a peek at three people on my mind this past week:

First up, Craig Ferguson. The host of CBS’ Late Night show, Ferguson was pretty much at the bottom of the pool ratings wise when he started. I’d caught brief glimpses of his show here and there while channel surfing – usually when Conan O’Brien was taking an ad break. And then one day I caught an episode dedicated to his father, who’d died just a day or so before the taping of that show.

“My heart is broken,” he said, his Scottish accent thicker than usual, shushing the easy sympathy of his audience and telling them that this monologue was cathartic, not a plea for their understanding. There are moments on TV when the person in the box reaches out and touches you. It doesn’t happen all the time – maybe just once or twice a career. But when it happens, you’ll always remember it. I’ll always remember that day.

Happy birthday, Craig!

Melinda Doolittle was robbed! Robbed, I tell you! A pox on the house of Uncle Nigel!

Ok, whew! Got that out of my system. Mindy Doo was the most talented singer on American Idol this season. She wasn’t the best looking (although she’s been looking better and better as the weeks fly by) and her humility sounded a tad suspicious in a world where people can barely stop themselves from telling you every five minutes about how great they are.

But she made you forget all that because when she took the stage, she commanded it! Mindy with the pipes on mute and Mindy with a mike in hand were two different people. The woman who sang those impeccable notes could rule the world. The woman who stared wide eyed at the judges when they loved her looked as if she needed a lesson in self-esteem.

The woman who won Simon Cowell’s support (he reportedly told her he wanted to make her career happen even if she didn’t win) is a woman who says she’s relieved to be off the show because all that judging was dimming the pleasure she got out of singing. Her sing off is the last word in class.

And of course, R.I.P Veronica Mars.

I don’t really have a video for you but that’s alright because no clip in the world can convey the brilliance that was VM. That said, this promo takes a fair jab at it. Who knew a story about a disgraced high school amateur detective in a fictional town called Neptune could be so good that mourning has broken out at the news of its demise?

If you’ve never seen an episode, then go ahead, buy the Season 1 DVD. Yes, I, Queen of the Download, ask you to buy the DVD. Do you now understand how good this show was? Season Three saw it’s share of hiccups, but I understand that was because of the powers that be: new network, new bosses, new pressures.

Veronica was still the best thing on TV. Sob.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2007 in Celebrity, Entertainment, News, Television, Video

 

Happy (V. Belated) Birthday Stephen Colbert

“We cannot elect men to office,” said Jane Fonda, cozily ensconced on a charmingly disconcerted Stephen Colbert’s lap, “that are afraid of premature evacuation.”

On May 10th, Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report got an early birthday present when the object of his fantasy, Fonda, decided to turn her interview with him into a make-out session.

“You are so cute, man!” she said to him, her face bare centimeters away from his pink one. “And I’m not kidding – you have the best lips. Why do you think I didn’t just kiss you just once the first time I came to your show? I came back for more.”

“Yes, we had a bit of a freaky three-way with Gloria Steinem, which is something, I think, very few people have been able to say,” he responded to shouts of laughter from the constantly giggling audience (if you’re like me and can’t stand the Comedy Central video player, The Raw Story has full video).

Fonda was only acting out the fantasies of any number of members of the so-called Colbert Nation (women and men). It’s all a far cry from October, 2005, when plenty of people, me included, wondered how far the new show would go. Colbert was leaving behind the hottest thing in fake-news and the idea of a half-hour parody didn’t seem all that thrilling, even if it was our favorite correspondent who was about to do it. It was one thing to watch Colbert needle self-important pundits like Bill O’Reilly in short segments on the The Daily Show, it was quite another to hand over an entire half hour to a pompous megalomaniac.

That stuff gets pretty old pretty fast even when it’s for real – how much comedy could Colbert wring from it? Well, let’s see: after one year and seven months on air, The Report and its bespectacled anchor has attracted attention on a scale guaranteed to make more “legitimate” news shows gnash their teeth in envy.

His guests include politicians and pundits from opposite sides of the liberal/conservative divide, movie stars, diplomats, artists and writers, academicians, musicians – it’s an eclectic mix. He’s also the only TV host I ever saw who actively uses the internet, especially Youtube, to connect with his fans. Craig Ferguson on CBS may have his emails and “The Google”, but Colbert has his green screen challenges: even George Lucas couldn’t resist the pull of the Star Wars challenge.

He also contributed the words “truthiness” and “wikiality” to the modern lexicon; inspired a Ben & Jerry ice cream flavor called Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dreams; has two namesakes in separate protected species – a baby bald eagle named Stephen Jr. and a leatherback turtle called Stephanie Colburtle.

Even alternate reality and other countries aren’t proof against him – Captain America bequeathed his shield to Colbert upon his death as the only worthy successor to his mantle and the city of Oshawa, Ontario, now celebrates Stephen Colbert Day. He nearly added a bridge in Hungary to his achievements but gave it up after the Hungarian Ambassador told him he’d have to die first. It’s an astonishing list of achievements for a fictional character.

In fact, in all this time, he has only suffered two significant “losses”: once to Barry Manilow (“Kneel before your God, Babylon!” thundered a crushed, in-character Colbert to the Hollywood that had deprived him of his rightful prize) at the Emmy’s for Outstanding Individual Performance In A Variety Or Music Program; and then to South Korean pop sensation Rain in the online poll conducted by Time for the top spot in their annual list of the 100 most influential people.

Manilow made up for his involuntary error by signing a peace treaty when he appeared on the show later on. The terms were simple – joint custody. As for Rain – Colbert chose to sing a song in Korean to show the world that he can be Korean and cool too.

Much of the frenzy surrounding Colbert is the effect of 2006, when he shook off the “TDS spin-off” tag and jumped into the national consciousness in spectacular fashion by staying in-character for the Annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Overnight, he turned into a cultural hero – for the left if not for the right.

No amount of breathless anticipation and endless dissection in the mainstream press – be it The New York Times or The New Yorker – could do what that one night’s recycled material was able to do. In hindsight, everybody who dismissed his performance that evening as “unfunny” or “mean” agreed that he was a sign of things to come. The backlash had begun, the tide had turned, the buck was slowing to a stop – think of a cliché and it was probably written in foot high letters somewhere.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Certainly, Colbert is more things to all people than I can think of. Personally, having watched him inhabit the character of Stephen Colbert, Idiot with a TV Show, for all these years, I suspect that The Report is less a symbol of our times, and more a result.

His effectiveness lies in an utter lack of preachiness at a time when everybody wants to tell us things. Advertisements, movie stars, priests, talking heads on TV – they just won’t shut up. Colbert subverts that process by taking it to an extreme level. His pundit is a character into whom he has put a lot of work, and it’s fairly clear from his rare interviews that he has learned the trick of concentrating on the job at hand rather than worrying about its eventual result. It’s a hard thing for anyone to do, and much harder for someone on TV, whose very job depends on his popularity, to pull off.

So far, Stephen Colbert’s bearing up about a hundred times better than I could’ve hoped for. Happy belated birthday, Stephen! It’s been a good year. Here’s to many more.

[Originally published at Blogcritics]

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2007 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Review, Television, Video

 

Violence in Punjab

“I called him and said that I’m prepared to meet you by myself, alone and unarmed.”

Who said that? Is that a piece of dialogue from some movie? The emissary of some city under siege offering to go out and meet the marauder at the gates, perhaps?

No, it’s a spokesman of the Dera Sacha Sauda offering to meet the representative of the Akal Takht to talk peace terms. Welcome to Punjab in the 21st century.

For those who came in late, for the past several days, Punjab has been in a state of turmoil. The trouble started with an ad featuring Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the leader of a religious sect called the Dera Sacha Sauda, dressed in robes akin to those, allege Sikh groups, worn by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Not only that, Sant Gurmeet Singh was also dispensing some sort of liquid to his followers, an act suspiciously like the Amrit Sanskar of the Sikhs.

If you can’t make heads or tails of any of that, here’s a concise (feel free to chip in if you see any information missing) bit of historical context for you:

Let’s start with Guru Gobind Singh. The last of the ten Gurus of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singhji had the extreme misfortune to be born in what the Chinese call “interesting times”. Almost his entire family (father, mother and four sons) was murdered by the forces of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb but against all odds he succeeded in constructing what we today call the Khalsa.

He introduced the 5 Kakke, formalized the baptism ceremony (Khande di Pahul), and proclaimed the Granth Sahib to be the eternal Guru among other things. Obviously, his is a sacred name for all Sikhs.

Then there is the Dera Sacha Sauda. Called a cult by some, the DSS is a relatively new entrant on the scene. A spiritual organization with social aims, it was set up in 1948 by Shah Mastana, a Baluchistani. The DSS disavows allegiance to any one religion, rejecting all dogma, and meets its financial needs through the work of its members rather than alms or donations.

Here is where the problems begin. There are three main components at work:

  1. Similarities: First of all, the very name “Dera Sacha Sauda” is based on an incident in Guru Nanak’s early life. Given twenty rupees by his father to start a business, he spent it on what he called “true business” or sacha sauda – food for the poor. Secondly, there is the root of the immediate controversy – Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (only the third leader of the sect since its inception) dispensing what the Dera calls “jaam-e-insaan” while dressed in a robe that sort of looks like one worn by the 10th Guru.Thirdly, both groups work in pretty much the same area of the country, with the Dera laying claim to more than 10 million members. A growing organization, they attract members from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan among others.
  2. Politics: This is the territorial part of the dispute. The elections held earlier this year in Punjab handed a pretty convincing defeat to the Congress but on the other hand it did absolutely no favors to the radical fringe such as the Simranjit Singh Mann-led splinter group of the Shiromani Akali Dal – the one supported, amongst others by the pro-Khalistani, lately nonviolent Dal Khalsa.But alarm bells went off when Dera support won the Congress a significant number of seats in an area considered to be an Akali stronghold. The Dera was no longer just another cult with eclectic beliefs – it was now a political threat.
  3. Crime: Neither the Dera nor those calling for its blood are what you might call untouched by scandal.

On the one hand, the Dera and its leader are both under investigation by the CBI for the murder of a journalist, Ram Chander Chattarpati. The CBI is also investigating the claims of abuse and sexual exploitation leveled by Chattarpati prior to his death.

On the other hand, the people at the forefront of said “protests” include some who were involved in those long years of violence in Punjab, if not directly then by party affiliation. Simranjit Singh Mann, for example, was arrested just last Monday for “trying to garland the statue of former chief minister Beant Singh with photographs of his assassin at Jalandhar”.

    So that’s the nasty brew in the making. One part religion, one part politics, one part crime and one part that holy of all holies “sentiment”. From demands for an apology, to burning effigies, to saber rattling, various marches to and fro… this entire incident gives an extra dimension to the phrase, “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

    For one thing, in a country like India, pageantry is part and parcel of religion. Everybody dresses up to show themselves off. I don’t have to like it, you don’t have to like it – the disciples, however do have to like it, and a lot of them do. If Singh was dressing up for his supporters in the Dera then that was his right.

    Then there is the question of what exactly he wore. Even if his robe resembled (emphasis resembled) that of Guru Gobind Singhji, this level of reaction is entirely disproportionate. The Guru’s clothes weren’t exactly made of some kind of unknown design. If you look at paintings of the Guru, you’ll see him dressed not all that differently from the rest of his men. Among other things, he was a warrior in a time of war, for heaven’s sake – not some sort of dandy! It’s an insult to the Guru himself to reduce him to the clothes he wore.

    But of course, there is that last element – the jaam-e-insaan. I can perhaps understand how imitation robe + random liquid = perversion of Sikhism to some people. But these are not just some people; it’s masses of them. The moment property began to be destroyed and people began to die, this whole thing reached a level of gravity that it simply did not warrant.

    We are not living in the Dark Ages – why didn’t somebody, anybody, from the Akal Takht, if nowhere else, just pick up the phone and call the Dera to see what they had to say? I would guess that it was because this is the age of “hurt sensibilities” – those magic words that guarantee you loads of publicity and public support, no questions asked. At least for a few hours.

    Questions like, what exactly is this infamous jaam-e-insaan?

    The jaam is just a mixture of water, milk and Roohafza, say dera officials. “Not like the amrit used to baptise Sikhs,” Singh adds.

    Who wants to tell the mother of Kamaljit Singh that her son died for Roohafza?

    [Originally published at Desicritics.org]

     
    3 Comments

    Posted by on May 18, 2007 in News, Politics

     

    Jerry Falwell

    Jerry Falwell is dead.

    I’ve been trying really hard to think of something nice to say ever since. Here goes: Jerry, your family will miss you. So will the Moral Majority. And Liberty University.  You were an inspiration to them.

    Ok, now here’s what I really think:

     
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    Posted by on May 16, 2007 in News, Politics, Video

     

    2 Million Viewers Vanish

    A year or so ago. Conan O’Brien, successful late night television host with shows like The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live on his resume, told Charlie Rose that he felt we were now living in TV’s Golden Age. The writing was better than it had ever been, the production values were excellent and the acting superb (special mention: Hugh Laurie as Dr. House). And yet, recent estimates suggest that TV viewership in America is down by more than 2 million this year compared to last. What happened?

    Is it a lifestyle change? Is it the effect of TiVo? Is the brilliant writing too brilliant (the old “The viewer is an idiot and this here edjikated stuff ain’t gonna work” argument)? Are concerned parents restricting their kids’ access to TV (I shake my fist at thee, Janet Jackson!)? Is American Idol the last big hurrah before the Apocalypse? Are people so befuddled by the springing forward of Spring Forward that they’re all standing outside their homes in the unexpected extra hour of daylight like bears outside their caves in spring?

    These are all questions that have been asked and obsessed over, especially as this news comes slap bang in the middle of sweeps’ month – kicking networks right where it hurts the most: their bank account.

    But as a person who spends too much a lot of time on the internet, I’m surprised at the tiny number of people who’re looking at the effect of downloading. After all, an increasing number of people now choose to view the shows they want online instead of living their lives in thrall to some corporation’s time schedule.

    The internet has been striking terror into the hearts of execs everywhere. While people in other industries have had to deal with things like leaked emails, tell-all blogs and hacking, the entertainment business – from books to movies to music to TV – has had an entirely different problem on its hands.

    And that big problem is piracy.

    Increasing bandwidth and faster connections make it devastatingly simple to download music, photos, documents and movies from the internet. Technically, this is stealing: you’re accessing the creative works of other people without actually paying for it, unless you live in Canada where that’s legal unless you profit from the process. But it feels a lot more grey. (Btw, here’s an interview with aXXo)

    For instance, if I download a movie then I’m obviously not paying to watch it. But I do not profit from it either – I’m under no illusion that I own the movie or that I’m entitled to use any of it for commercial purposes and while the average person could probably learn the basics of ripping/uploading media files in half an hour or less, most people will remain end-users.

    The law, of course, doesn’t work on feelings. So technically speaking, if I did download that movie for my own use, even if I deleted it after viewing, I’m performing an illegal activity. There are two ways of combating this problem:

    One, you can follow the lead of the music industry and punish the end user. This is a singularly stupid option. It’s bad PR, even if you do have right on your side, and big corporations in today’s world don’t need bad PR. I don’t care if you believe all the anti-business folks in the world should be dropped off a cliff with a rock tied to their feet, bad PR is bad PR. There’s also the fact that punishing the end user doesn’t stop the problem: the guy who put that music up in the first place is still going to do it.

    End result? You’ve got a whole bunch of people mad at you and nothing’s been solved. The music industry? Slowly catching on as they fix their beady eyes on those who do this all the time (there’s a term for it but I can’t be bothered to find it).

    The second option is what a number of TV networks have been trying out: the join ‘em if you can’t beat ‘em method. This idea has possibilities but the networks need to start hiring people clued in to the online scene if they want it to work.

    First of all, they need to understand that the days of traditional TV are winding down. I’m sorry, you guys, but we just aren’t the captive audience we used to be in your Grandpa’s time. That said, while some people are deliberately getting off the television bandwagon and prefer to spend their times with bigger and better computers, the majority of people still spend time on their couch with their big screen providing background noise.

    Maybe that too will change in time but it’s still a few years away from becoming commonplace. In the meantime TV needs to stop hemming and hawing over whether putting their shows online would “cannibalize” their audience. They still have a chance to get a corner of this market because unlike movies or music, TV is just on the rise.

    But if TV wants to compete with BitTorrent sites that offer free downloads and Youtube then it has to look beyond live streaming and iTunes.

    Networks love live streaming because the average user can’t save a copy of the file. It’s a way to have your cake and eat it too – something TV is very used to. But it also requires an internet connection that can handle the speed, on websites usually geared for Internet Explorer and all too often comes bundled with software that seeks to ascertain that you’re not pirating stuff.

    Personally, that last is the biggest deal breaker for me. I’m not fond of websites that have a preference for IE over all other browsers and while I hate the lack of thought that goes into sites that forget that not everybody is on a superfast connection, the software just skeeves me out. I don’t care how safe and specific that thing is, I’m not about to voluntarily download something that spies on my machine.

    Not when I can go to any old site, using my preferred browser and download an avi file that I can keep on my machine for as long as I want without some grubby spyware (legal or no legal) crawling around its innards.

    As far as iTunes goes, it’s a good thought but people will always pause to think twice at the idea of having to pay for something that they currently get for free, however much they wish to toe the legal line. Plus one of the main advantages of going online is that you get to create markets where none existed. And not everybody in them might be on the iTunes bandwagon.

    Craig Ferguson, for example, has just begun finding his feet in America much less around the world – and yet, thanks to Youtube, he has fans in countries that have never heard the name ‘CBS’.

    The consumer really is king. Ad supported downloadable free vids are the way to go, all around. Remember that song, “Video killed the radio star”? If TV doesn’t want to write a corollary to that, then it better see where the audience is headed instead of trying to herd us in like sheep. These here cattle done got fangs.

    [Published in a slightly altered form at Blogcritics]

     
    4 Comments

    Posted by on May 15, 2007 in Entertainment, Life, News, Television

     
     
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