Archive | August 2011

Cats–o’–Nine Tails–n–Nine Lives

(This was supposed to be a tribute to that doughty dame Sheila D, but then Anna stole her thunder.)

Anna Hazare’s at it again – cracking his whip and Sheila Dixit has nine lives.

I can’t help but mention them in the same breathe given the penchant that they have for courting trouble.

But the thing that draws me to them is that they’re both on mercy missions. While one is out to save the country from the corrupt Congress led UPA, let alone the fact that a lot of those who’ve jumped on his bandwagon aren’t exactly painted white… The other lets a podgy faced murderer out on parole… because Tihar doesn’t stock his brand of Scotch?

Talk of magnanimity.

Speaking of which, I’m compelled to take another look at these two beacons… One, whose claim to fame has been linked on and off to several politicians of varying political affiliations, including a certain heavyweight of the Maratha clan. And the other, equally diminutive in size and as hard-nosed as they come, who readily courts controversies like they’re best friends, and then wipes her slate clean… Poof!

I recall her saying that girls in Delhi should stay home if they don’t want to be attacked!

Never a thought about tightening security or making the police force accountable, huh… Sheila?

But Sheila’s got enough on her plate, and apart from fending off insulting references to her name from a land far away, she had work to do, like playing proud hostess to the CWG in 2010. Now, you can’t really grudge her for wanting to be house-proud, can you? So what if she over-stretched her budget a bit and some of her decisions came under the scanner. It was all in a day’s work, until that Puneri loud-mouth messed things up and turned the spotlight on everyone, forcing that gentle and honest Manmohan to institute a Committee to probe into all those allegations of corruption against his buddies.

So in the name of transparency, the Shunglu Committee socks one to Sheila… But the old girl sticks on, her posse, honest Manmohan included, firmly behind her. As one of her party-men later said, at least she was smart enough not to leave a paper trail. Which takes me back to the time when I was little and when even kindergarten kids knew that leaving a trail meant that you could find your way back home… as could everyone else who followed it.

So while Kalmadi sits in Tihar, pouring over ‘The Dummies Guide to Alibi’s’, rolling out the red carpet for our anti-corruption crusader who happened to drop by, and making plans to sign up for a lesson or two from that great man himself, Sheila stays, firmly entrenched to hoist another tricolor, on another Independence Day.

Does the woman have luck on her side or is it the company she keeps?

They say politicians have tough hides… if you haven’t got one when you’re elected, pick one up on the way out of your first session of parliament. But even that luck runs a bit thin at times and you’re compelled to call in for reinforcements, the kind that scratches your back if you scratch theirs. The kind that helps you out of sticky situations, like the time when the Auditor General of India went on record stating that the dear lady was involved in bungling crores of rupees in power privatization (apparently close to twelve thousand five hundred crore… no small amount that) and the Public Accounts Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly proposed a CBI inquiry into the allegation, which died a very quiet death even after being approved by the Assembly. Or the time when as the Chairperson of the Delhi Jal Board, she was held guilty of corruption by the Loyayukta, in the awarding of contracts, with a recommendation that the PMO take action…

We’re still waiting Mr. Prime Minister.

But talking of Lokayukta’s and corruption and the penchant that our politicians have for wiggling out of sticky situations I wonder if Anna Hazare is wasting his time and ours. After all the man does claim to be the voice of civil society, ergo, my representative, so I have a right to question, criticize and appreciate, in equal measure or as I will. So… while I’m glad Anna’s doing his bit to stir up the unconscious masses, shaking them out of their apathy and giving them a purpose, I would like to state that it would have been better for him to have pursued his agenda in a more legitimate way, by following the law, ensuring that we work within the legal framework, instead of exhorting the masses to break the law, and sanctioning what can be termed as sedition by some of his coterie.

How about following due process, or as we Indians prefer to call it – ‘Procedure established by law’ – the law to which we are subject, or haven’t you heard of it Mr. Hazare?

Which prompts me to inquire whether Anna Hazare is the sole repository of all that is moral or is his brand of tough-speak tinged with autocracy that pillories and stifles all those who oppose his methods? Is there space in his politics and I term it such deliberately, for those who have a contrary view?

I am no admirer of the UPA government, and have strongly voiced my opinion against them repeatedly, but they are at the end of the day a democratically elected government, one that has remained in power through successive elections… and can very well fall out of power in the next. But there is a process, a mechanism by which governments come into existence, and fall out of favour. It would take the loss of support in Parliament, perhaps some cash-for-votes orchestrated by some of your new found allies Mr. Hazare, and an unwanted and very expensive mid-term election to give the people a fresh opportunity to choose the next government – unless you Mr. Hazare and your band of merry men and women plan to come forth as dictators to the teeming masses.

Maybe that’s what people want.

Someone informed me today that the autorickshaw-wallah’s in Delhi have joined the anti-corruption crusade. This barely a day after one of them insisted I pay him fifty rupees when my fare came to thirty, all because there weren’t too many autos on the street on August 15th. Which makes me wonder if people really know what they’re fighting for, or is it the mob syndrome, like what happened in London recently. One person picks up a stone, soon its five, then ten, and finally the whole street… and we descend into anarchy.

The newspapers the other day carried an article about Mayawati crying about her inability to proceed with various development projects in the State of U.P. because the Centre has not released its promised funds to her cash-strapped state. So, what about the new bungalow you’re constructing Maya, because the old one was ‘unlucky’, or would you like to talk about the colossal waste of funds on all those statues and monuments of self-glorification… Oh, wait a minute I forget you have a word for that kind of ostentatious spend. It’s called ‘gifts’.

Mr. Hazare it seems does prefer to take sides, keeping his guns trained on the office of the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary, targeting the UPA while he side-steps all that’s going on around the country, even the Karnataka sham, which makes me question his political intentions, and marvel at the audacity with which he stays steadfast on course, while the mob he has whipped up into a frenzy hysterically follows, insulated by numbers, threatening to crush the voices of dissent that rise up against them.

As for Sheila, all she can do is count her many lives and hope that she hasn’t run out of them.


A Coloured Opinion

Danny Boyle showed Mumbai’s dirty underside to the world in Slumdog Millionaire, right down to its unwashed undies, and we didn’t like it. I recall Amitabh Bachchan raising hell and bitching out Boyle. Weren’t you the man who routinely played the poor guy who got slapped around by the system and bashed till you had watered down crimson paint streaming down in rivulets from various orifices in your body? The one who said that the poor were treated like the scum of the earth and had to stand up in rebellion… You said it and we loved you for it. But that was okay, we’re Indian and only we have the right to parody our own or tell it like it is… No white man’s supposed to do that. And making money out of displaying our poop and dirt is simply adding insult to injury. Getting the Oscar for it is akin to stabbing us right in the gut.

I was upset with Bachchan for bad-mouthing Boyle. I live in Mumbai and know it to be a merciless city for some. That beggars are maimed here, and in other parts of the country deliberately to increase their earning capacity is nothing new. A news channel had conducted a sting a few years ago, and a couple of doctors who performed these amputations on perfectly healthy men were caught and hopefully charged. But the world is a hypocritical one, and even though Chris Rock has free rein to splatter the side-walk with the N word, my five-year old nephew in America has to learn to be politically correct and not call people thin or fat.

“Excuse me, how much horizontally challenging content is in this milk… 1 per cent or two?”

I dread the day but it isn’t far off.

So now Freida Pinto goes and shows us for the bloody hypocrites that we are. She’s spot on… and even though the poor girl doesn’t have the required acting chops and probably never will, she does look amazing, beautiful, brown-skinned and saying it as it is… That people in India are fascinated by white skin.

It’s true… We gape at it when it alights from a flight at the international airport, we paw at it, molesting it at every opportunity we get, and no matter how dark brown we may be, we want to produce children that are fair-skinned, or acquire fair-skinned brides for our coffee bean coloured sons… God save the girl if she happens to produce a dark-skinned daughter.

Yes… we’re brown skinned and we hate it.

Much of our advertising budgets are spent on feeding into the psyche of the Indian man and woman, into that dark skin phobia. It’s nothing new, and everyone wants to make a buck. After all… a soap is a soap… is a soap… unless it can make you whiter.

My mother fair and light-eyed, recalls the visitors who came home or to the hospital or see us when we were born, my siblings and I. The old aunts and relatives who came to have a look, and would surreptitiously move the fabric that bound us, just to make sure that our hands and feet were as fair as our faces. What on earth did they think… that my mother had spent the entire morning applying foundation on our faces? But then the penny dropped… my dad is darker skinned, so they were curious that we seemed fairer.

So Freida gets a thumbs-up from me, and though after reading the reviews I refused to see ‘Miral’, I am actually contemplating buying tickets to go see ‘The Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. (I only hope she doesn’t have a big role.)