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Category Archives: Politics

Sorry for the Interruption

“As The Rama annihilled The Ravan; as The Krishna annihilled The Kansa, so we are sure, The Chavan will annihil The Chou.”

– The late owner of one of India’s most famous English dailies (the first one that popped into your head is probably the right one) in 1962, at a banquet honoring YB Chavan, the new Defence Minister.

Suresh Kalmadi isn’t even tops at screwing up his speeches. The only good thing about a massively disappointing week was this little anecdote offered as a piece of dinner conversation. Normal blogging to resume.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Newsmakers, Personal, Politics

 

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No Joke Here, No Sirree!

Opponents of gay marriage in Hawaii celebrate the Governor’s decision to veto a bill legalizing same sex unions by getting on their knees, opening their mouths and emitting a “roar”.

True story.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in News, Politics

 

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Dressing to Please

I guess I should be happy I can wear clothes at all.

Do any of you remember the slew of articles that came out in the wake of 9/11 when people (in the West) suddenly sat up and discovered that there was a significant – significantly Muslim that is – population of women out there who walk around covered from head to toe?

Reporters were dressing up in burkhas to walk the free streets of London to find out first hand what it felt like (Answer: confining, scary, got stared at a lot. Alternative answer: safe, confining, got stared at a lot.); there were roundtable discussions on newschannels about what it meant to be an Arab and a woman and a Muslim and how they could make it all work (Answer: Arabic for “adjust maadi!”); and everybody was very concerned about how this was a violation of human rights.

I thought it would slowly fade away because it’s not like Muslim women just started covering up. I’m pretty sure they were wearing those things even before 9/11 and all they got in return were double takes and stares. But no, they’re still at it.

Meanwhile, lots of Muslim women went, “Thanks but we’ll drop you a note when we need you to talk for us because right now all you’re doing is creeping us out.” Turns out a lot of these women really like wearing the hijab/niqab to various degrees and saw it as their ethnic wear. Then a bunch of other Muslim women spoke up and said, “Hold on! We never signed on to this! Doesn’t our opinion count?”

So then everybody went back to the drawing table and it was finally decided that it was terrible that some countries (*cough*Saudi Arabia*cough*) control what women wear but if the women themselves want to wear it, then that’s because they’re brainwashed victims but hey! at least we told them so now it’s on their own head and let’s get real here for a second, is Saudi Arabia really going to pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks about how they treat their women? Ha! So enjoy snorkeling in a hijab, ladies! We hear the sea around your country is awesome. The Israeli end of it anyway.

***

My last year of high school, right before the Board exams, my friends and I were casually sauntering past the library on our way to catching the mid-morning bus home. Seniors were invited to come in a for a couple of hours each morning and put in some extra practice under the concerned teacher’s supervision if they felt they needed it and a bunch of us thought it was an excellent idea: we’d study in the morning, hitch a ride back to town, get something to eat at our favorite hangout before going home to study some more. Teen life in a small town where everybody knew who you were and what you were supposed to be doing was always a matter of extreme forward planning.

We didn’t have to dress in uniform and could pretty much do whatever we liked in school as long as we didn’t disturb the rest of the students, which was fine by us. It was like having a picnic every day and we thought it was a great way to end our school life.

So on this particular day, we’d just wrapped up and were about to go find the school bus when we heard the librarian screech: “There she is!”

We turned around and there she was, finger pointed dramatically and accusingly at… me. What had I done?

“Look at her clothes!” she screamed as though I was poking holes in her eyes.

I looked down. I was wearing my baggiest jeans, the ones that had never fit me properly but I loved to wear because it was so comfy. You could just see its shapeless legs peeping out from under my tent-like pink t-shirt, the one so large, its shoulder seams hit halfway down to my elbow. Not that this gave me a cleavage of any kind, mind you: like all Indian t-shirts sold within the country, it had a round neck that was so tiny, it would have strangled a person of the right size.

So I stood there in my hobo outfit, wearing flat ballet slippers, and completing the look with greasy hair, thick spectacles and a mouth full of steel and rubber. Damn, I thought. I should have listened to my mom when she told me I looked like a bum.

“What are you wearing, Amrita?” asked Miss X, the teacher we’d come to meet this morning, the one the librarian had apparently been complaining to.

“Uh, jeans and a t-shirt?” I said, hoping for the best.

“Well, such tight clothes are not appropriate for school,” she said with a straight face.

I looked at her. She studied her nails. The librarian looked victorious.

“Ha ha,” I said at last. Sometimes the teachers like to crack jokes. Nobody ever got them because they were incredibly lame, but maybe this was one of them?

Nope. No such luck.

“Why don’t you wear something like your friends?” she asked.

I looked at Pops and Sangs, wearing tight-fitted salwar kameezes and identical WTF expressions. Contacts placed discreetly in their eyes and no braces in sight. Then I looked at myself. If I was so inclined, I knew who I’d find attractive amongst the three of us. (Hint: it’s not me.)

I opened my mouth to argue when one of my friends jabbed me discreetly in the ribs. “Jeans,” she muttered significantly.

Ah.

Denim. Cloth of the Devil. It’s a wonder they let you buy it over the counter considering the accessories that come with it – a libido that won’t quit, teenage pregnancy with mandatory termination, the morals of a sociopath, a junkie-unwashed-hippie boyfriend, and an alarming tendency to take away the free will of all men in sight and turn them into slavering rapists by force! Oh, did I forget the Western Bug? It’s an advanced parasite that hides in your pants leg and drills into your bone, instantly changing your nationality, your morals and your personality.

For fuck’s sake! They’re pants! Durable, comfortable, easy to wear, easier to maintain, pants!

Tell that to the good fathers who ran the Catholic college I attended. In Bangalore. Shortly after I joined, they actually banned jeans on campus. No, I’m not 100 years old. This incident took place at the turn of this century, not the last. The fathers did it with the best of intentions – they were shielding the pristine minds entrusted to their care by anxious parents. I failed to understand then and I still don’t understand how wearing a skirt or salwar kameez to college protected our virtue whereas denims would absolutely destroy us.

What I did understand then, and continue to understand now, is that when you are a woman, the world is entitled to not just have an opinion about the way you dress but enforce it as well. As business school students we were required to dress in formal attire three days a week and were allowed to dress as we pleased the other two days.  The gender ratio in our class was five girls to about twenty boys. We studied together, we hung out together, we got in trouble together, we partied together, we paid the same amount of money to attend the same classes taught by the same teachers about whom we all bitched in the same rooms. For three days of the week, we were all equal. For the remaining two, five of us had an extra rule based on nothing but gender.

The ban didn’t last long, its utter ridiculousness becoming more and more apparent as the college tried to modernize itself into a sleek, Western-friendly environment in a city being touted as India’s Silicon Valley. India’s success brought down a rule based on lingering Indian bigotry. But I’ve never forgotten the sting of that relatively minor injustice.

***

The burkha is not a garment that I would wear. Unless I was hiding from the police or something. I don’t even wear a dupatta every time I put on a salwar because I often feel suffocated by things touching my neck, so the whole hijab-niqab bit is lost on me. I don’t care if it’ll make me feel warm and fuzzy like I’m back in my m0ther’s womb, I don’t want it.

Other women do for various reasons of their own. It’s hard to understand them from where I stand but you know what? They don’t need me to understand. I’ve never in my life put on a set of clothes hoping some random person I don’t know and will never know, somewhere out there in the big wide world, approves and understands my sartorial decisions. Why shouldn’t the woman who wears a niqab have the same right?

That said, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a journalist I greatly admire even when I find myself disagreeing with her, makes a strong point when she says:

We communicate with each other with our faces. To deny that interaction is to deny our shared humanity. Unreasonable community or nationalistic expectations disconnect essential bonds. Governments should not accommodate such demands. Naturists can’t parade on the streets, go to school or take up jobs unless they cover their nakedness. Why should burqaed women get special consideration?

Why? Because there actually are women living in the West today who cover themselves not out of choice but because that is the requirement for stepping outside the house at all.

Take for instance the woman who was fined for wearing a burkha in Italy. Her husband thinks their only alternative now is for her to just stay where she’s put, where nobody else can look at her. A law meant to “help” her ended with her imprisonment.

Europe’s response to Islamic nations forcing their women to dress a particular way is to tell Muslim women living in their countries how to dress, thus isolating them even further. Well! That’ll certainly show those stupid women in Saudi Arabia and Iran and elsewhere!

Amazing, isn’t it, that the right and the left come at it from two completely different political viewpoints, but they agree on one thing: the best way to help a girl out is to tell her what to wear. Once you’ve taken away her choice in this one thing, she will magically find herself surrounded by a multitude of “correct” choices and the world will be a better place. For her and for you.

India doesn’t have this problem, of course. Shikha Dalmia thinks it’s because India has a secular ideal based in the tolerant strands of Hinduism. Maybe. I think it’s because conservative Hindus up north practice their own version of the burkha. Any Indian politician who runs around saying Muslim women need to set aside the veil runs the risk of running into hordes of pissed off Hindu men vehemently opposed to their women taking the pallu of their sarees off their face.

***

So, basically, I wanted to say: Argh.

 
20 Comments

Posted by on June 1, 2010 in Life, News, Newsmakers, Personal, Politics, Video

 

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Meta

If ever a picture was worth a 1000 words… A 1000 Sully words. So awesome on so many levels.

Oh crap, I need to find a new avatar.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Newsmakers, Personal, Politics

 

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Kirkit Kirkit Kirkit

Kirkit Kirkit Kirkit

What’s up with all this kirkit business? Everyone seems to have lost their mind.

The way everybody and their father’s newspaper is weeping and wailing, you’d think they thought the IPL stood for the Indian Prayer League and it was a charitable institution built to eradicate India’s poverty problem by harnessing the power of cricket. How can you have sat through three years of the cheese-laden spectacle of the IPL and not known there was massive amounts of money at play? And that eventually it was going to go down in flames of Biblical proportions? I have a rule: the moment an entity’s success becomes evident enough for the mainstream media to take note, scandal must be right around the corner. Like night follows day.

And really, what exactly is the scandal here? That a cabinet minister has a social-climbing girlfriend and the new czar of mega-bucks cricket is a crookish brat? Good Golly, Miss Molly, say I, clutching my pearls.

Let’s talk Shashi Tharoor for a second: a man less suited to be a politician in India, especially of the Congress kind, I’ve seldom seen. I’m too young to remember when Amitabh Bachchan flamed out of Parliament, but I suspect even he was a more competent Congressman than Tharoor, who’s apparently never heard the Congress motto – “Lie low and prosper long.”

So you’re smart, funny and like the ladies? Throw discreet little dinner parties and show off in front of your friends. Word will eventually trickle down to the hoi polloi that you’re awesome and they’ll never know it’s because you and your girlfriend do an amazingly caliente mambo when the booze is at full flow. Does that suck? Is it a terrible system designed to hide the real face of our beloved leaders from the public? Not to mention their twinkle toes and mad moves? You betcha. But if you want to be a cabinet minister, then them’s the breaks.

Remember how you and your friends at the UN used to bitch about the member countries being such pains-in-the-ass? Well, guess what? Now you’re part and parcel of the circus that runs the memberiest of those member countries. I bet it sounded like a sweet career move on paper, but you just signed on to a pit of vipers.

And then there’s Lalit Modi. Is he a crook? Probably. I can’t think of even a handful of business people anywhere in the world who got to be successes at Modi’s level without getting their hands dirty at some point. And that saintly handful who float above the rest probably hire people who’ll roll in the dirt on their behalf for the right amount.

The problem with Modi is either hubris or idiocy. Did he really think he wouldn’t get audited at some point? With the kind of cash he was presiding over? Or that he could pick a fight with a cabinet minister and not get raided? If I’d been him, I’d have kept my nose cleaner than surgical tools just in case. My accounts would have been a thing of beauty, worthy of preservation in the Museum of Chartered Accountancy. What’s that you say? There’s no such thing? Well, they’d have built one to house my records once they got a look at them.

[Digression: why is that, do you think, that crooks don't think of a CA as their primary investment? I'm assuming the motive to be a crook would be A) Money, which leads to B) Power, which leads to even more money. The kind of vicious cycle every crookster dreams of. But it's the dough that brings you down, fool. I'd think a fantastic CA is worth even more than an amazing enforcer because you need the former to safeguard the moolah to pay off your gang of bad guys. Sigh. Crime would have totally been my game if only it wasn't such a lot of hard work. I've never understood why they call it Easy Street. As if.]

But apart from possible financial improprieties, the whole notion of which are a joke given nobody really knows what the hell is going on in BCCI proper (let me guess, politicians are keen on cricket because they’re great sportspeople as the stellar state of our national sport, hockey, proves), what exactly is the song and dance about? Some serious looking people say this is all very sad because it brings “the game’s name into disrepute”. If match-fixing and lame-ass cheerleaders shaking their ass to Bollywood numbers didn’t do it, sweetheart, I don’t think you have anything to worry. And yet, everybody from the paati cheering Dhoni to the munna egging on Sachin is having hysterics – but why?

Going by the similar Modi bios in sources as diverse as Outlook and The Mumbai Mirror, which also arrive at pretty much the same conclusion, it appears Modi’s greatest crime is that he’s a rich brat who got even richer and didn’t even have the grace to be humble about it. Well, that’s never happened before. Cry me a river.

Perhaps more than any other country, India is quite well-acquainted with the Girl Scout model of business. You know what I mean: when the scouts have (delicious) cookies to sell, the first stop is always friends and family and then the neighborhood. Obviously, there is a difference between the Girl Scout economy and the IPL one. A vast one. But the point is, in a country where family-owned business are still the norm, where politics is a dynastic exercise, it is beyond hypocritical to act as though Modi invented the whole sell to your family system. The richest .01% of India who own every stone on every pavement from Leh to Kanyakumari are an incredibly incestuous lot.

Read the various Modi bios, and you’d come away thinking he was the only rich brat to enter the hallowed halls of cricket in India. Hooey. Take a look at the BCCI: it’s where industrialists go to practice their power moves. From AC Muthiah (currently suing Modi’s reported bete noir and his own arch rival N. Srinivasan of India Cements for his allegedly unethical ownership of Chennai Super Kings. His cousin and Home Minister P. Chidambaram has reportedly been tasked with untangling the IPL mess) to Jagmohan Dalmiya to Sharad Pawar, each of them is “connected” up the wazoo.

Consider, for instance, Modi’s interim replacement: Chiriyu Amin. From their super-rich industrialist fathers to their privileged upbringing, there’s little to choose between the two. The only son of Ramanbhai Amin of Alembic pharmaceuticals is not exactly an inoffensive wonk who plodded his way up the ladder.

The only real difference between them is that Modi, younger and infinitely more flamboyant, is the perfect product of the brash 80s, combining cocaine, assault, an Ivy League education, and general uselessness with elan and doing it right in the open. Meanwhile Amin is the kid from the 60s who sneaks off to deserted balconies of posh hotels in the middle of parties to discreetly down tumblers of Scotch and mutton kebabs so that his vegetarian teetotaller parents don’t catch him.

This is why Modi is an enfant terrible, while Amin is a gentleman. India might make noises about young blood and change and blah blah, but there is a System and you’d have to pry it out of the cold dead hands of aged uncle-jis before they let you mess with it. And then beware the wrath of their minions, racing to take up where their mentors left off.

The funny thing about this whole brouhaha is that Modi and Tharoor are really two sides of the same coin (here’re their statements after getting kicked in the nuts: Tharoor, Modi. Boil it down and what do you see? They’re just two misunderstood patriots, y’all!). Both of them were brought down by their hubris; their conviction that they were unique enough and valuable enough that they could skate on consequences. That’s the problem with both: the Golden Kid and the Kid with Gold. Neither of them has any real understanding of their place.

The plus factor, of course, is that nothing bad ever happens to them. Tharoor will be back and he’ll have learned enough to mind his girlfriends. Modi will be back too and he’ll have learned enough to mind his tweets.

Meanwhile, there is this whole country full of pressing problems and all sorts of crookery emanating from the highest levels of government and nobody cares because the biggest problem facing India today is apparently Lalit Modi’s outrageous spa habit.

Cricketainment. Needs a fucking rest.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 26, 2010 in Entertainment, Life, News, Newsmakers, Politics

 

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A Lit Match

The ever-growing scandal about child abuse in the Catholic Church is gaining momentum. In addition to the United States, which made the headlines again this month about a cover-up at a school for the deaf (fair warning: this will make you want to stab a bitch), Ireland and Germany are struggling with emerging scandals of their own as are other European countries.

So far, the Church’s response has been something less than perfect. The Pope, whom most people are now blaming for much of the cover-up that took place during his time as Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed deep sympathy. It didn’t go over very well.

Andrew Sullivan, gay and Catholic, is especially not having it, following the story with the same zeal he has devoted to topics such as the Health Care Reform and Iran. In one of his many posts, he wrote:

So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy [...] so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination [...] Many of these tormented men have arrested sexual and emotional development. They have never had a sexual or intimate relationship with any other human being. Sex for them is an abstraction, a sin, not an interaction with an equal. And their sexuality has been frozen at the first real moment of internal terror: their early teens.

Sullivan is writing about young Western gay men who enter the Catholic priesthood. But doesn’t it sound terribly familiar to conservatively brought up Indian ears?* Heterosexual, non-Catholic, male and female ears.

So how long, I thought, before this story finds resonance in India?

Like many a middle class and upper Indian, I have legions of family members who attended convent school, from my parents and their siblings to my brother and my cousins. Most of my friends have attended a Church-run institution at some point in their lives. It’s an inevitable part of the Indian cultural landscape. I’m one of the few who didn’t and I made up for it by attending a Catholic college.

The worst thing that ever happened to me was that the Vice Principal kicked us off the snacks area because we were too loud. (He came between me and my raspberry icelolly!) The worst thing that happened to my brother (and my cousins) was extreme corporal punishment. He got the shit beaten out of him for years on end, which is probably where he developed his advanced death stare with which he frightens people these days. Boarding school gives you skills. And pretty scary memories.

If it got worse than that for anybody, nobody’s talking. Yet. In a recent edit, the Indian Express raises a flag:

Simon Palathingal, a Catholic priest of the Salesian order, was convicted in 2004 of sexually abusing a boy by a Wisconsin court. The abuse happened in the early 1990s. The same man was vice-principal of a prominent Chennai school in the late Seventies and Eighties. Given its record it is possible that the church knew of his leanings and did nothing.

If paedophile priests got away with their crimes in countries with robust legal systems, think how much easier it would be in India, with its endemic corruption.

Here’s what I was thinking as I read that: God forbid. If the Church thinks it has a problem on its hands in the West with their “robust legal systems”, then it really doesn’t want to get caught up in a similar mess in India with “its endemic corruption” because India has a fatal tendency to set fire first and ask questions later. Just ask Graham Staines‘ widow.

Right wing Hindu organizations have long been targeting the Church about conversion (here’s a flashback from the innocent 90s). You can only imagine what they’d do with pedophilia thrown into the mix. It’s kindling just waiting for a stray spark to come its way.

Religion and sex are an irresistible combination for smut as more than one religion has found to its cost. And with Indian cable news being its current excitable self… If the Church really wants to protect itself, it needs to take responsibility and ownership before other people start casting its role for them. I hope I’m wrong but it is seriously not going to be pretty if this scandal hits India.

Especially for its real victims – the children who will end up becoming tabloid fodder and political pawns in a matter of seconds.

*I really need to do a post on the Indian female equivalent.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on March 27, 2010 in Life, News, Politics, Video

 

Lady Politicians Are Just Askin’ For It

Esteemed Indian logician and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is very concerned:

If the women’s reservation bill were to be passed in its existing form, it would result in flooding the parliament and state legislatures with wives of government officials and women connected with big industrial houses, thereby provoking young men to indulge in eve-teasing.

As a member of Parliament, Mr. Yadav must know his colleagues better than the rest of us.  How wonderful it is to know that Indian democracy is so devoted to proper representation, it sees no difference between Parliament and the odd city street corner. It also sheds an interesting light on his family life: daughter in law Dimple is a budding seat warmer. Following his logic, Mr. Yadav is thus in favor of Ms. Dimple, er, coming to harm. Drama!

Meanwhile, his remarks deeply offended his former BFF and India’s supreme crusader for the honor and rights of women, Amar Singh:

“It is a sexist, Talibani and a cheap remark, which hurts womanhood.”…Singh claimed while the SP chief supports quota within quota for Muslim and OBC women, there have been instances when he has openly favoured “rich and good-looking” women within the party over those who came from humble backgrounds, while distributing party posts and tickets.

Constant companion and yesteryear hot babe Jaya Prada chimed in that nobody had ever said anything to her in Parliament. Someone tried it on with Hema Malini  and they were really, really sorry.*

* Only in my imagination.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Newsmakers, Politics

 
 
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