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Thursday, October 16, 2008

A-tishoo, A-tishoo - the recurring plague of blind conformism

Ring a Ring o' Roses

Pocketful of Posies

A-tishoo, a-tishoo

We all fall down !

Watched the financial news lately ?

Shoebullah Khan, Daniel Pearl and Us

Daniel Pearl, journalist with the Wall Street Journal, was slaughtered by Pakistani terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan, 2002.

Shoebullah Khan, editor of an influential Urdu language newspaper from Hyderabad, was shot dead and had his right palm severed by alleged goons of the Majlis E Ittehadul Muslimeen in Hyderabad, 1948.

Headquartered in Hyderabad, 'MIM' continues to function in its original name, as a critical coalition ally and consistently successful political party nursing national ambitions.

Shoebullah Khan had been 28 when he was murdered. Daniel Pearl 38.

Shoebullah Khan's second daughter was born a fortnight after his assassination.

Daniel Pearl's son was born three months after his murder.

Google "Shoebullah Khan" and you get less than twenty results. Google "Daniel Pearl" and you get close to a million.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prof Mushir Ul Hasan's Smart Move

In a land where thoughtful Hindus have to hold their noses against the President of a major national party baying for a hapless prisoner's blood – George Bush as Governor was dearly beloved and admired for such proclivity - Rajnath Singh screaming "When we come to power, we will make sure that Afzal is hanged" - please Rajnathji, so sooli mein chadao me for being a thayir sadam Tam Brahm - but I would rather know how you propose to rehabilitate the tens of thousands who have been uprooted by the devastating floods - Prof Mushir Ul Hasan's offer of extending legal aid to the students of Jamia accused of terrorism comes as a blessed whiff of sanity.

Finding quality legal advice in our democracy is about as easy as finding the Sanjeevani.

For twenty years, I've searched.

I've spoken to "Gandhian" journalists and "civil rights"type retired judges, MPs, MLAs and lawyers - not Shri Prashant Bhushan or Nandita Haksar - despite advice from some erstwhile good friends - entirely my fault - "altruistic" IT tycoons, professional associations and even scientists, I have hunted in Delhi and Hyderabad and Chennai and Bengalooru - but I have not found one good person who could have an intelligent conversation about the legal options I may have about getting accountability in my "no excuses," ultra-peaceful, non partisan, individual, sathyagraha against the patronage paradigm - the paradigm of shoddiness, irresponsibility, cronyism and corruption that is cretinising our great nation.

A sathyagraha for the idea of the rule of law, that is now in its, give or take a year or two, twentieth year.

I have been pettifogged thrice.

The one case that I can prove beyond any shadow of doubt - when the then Commissioner of Police and the then AP Governor's office connived and egged on the so-called Owner's Association to cut water supply to my flat, without any judicial intervention or authority - the Commissioner of Police blithely interpreting this vigilante mob action as a "civil" dispute - the gold medallist lawyer at least left behind a saucy Hindi phrase that will forever yield me lessons in humility - "aap bhi tho dhoodh ke dhule huve nahin ho".

Till date, I have to fetch and store water every alternate day.

If there are any Peter Russos in Hyderabad, I haven't had the privilege.

Talking about Peter Russo, it just occurred to me that the sole forensic fraternization I have had on my case, was with a thirty something Australian backpacker in Pahar Ganj.

Over the tortuous years I invested, trying to get Doordarshan to be sane about working with me - with about as much success as Shri Ratan Tata had in Sonar Bangla - most of them spent in the halcyon climes of Main Bazaar, Paharganj,a Lonely Planet marked crossroads for Western backpackers and their suppliers, I had developed my own visa points system of those who would be worth my while.

In my system, "Readers of Books" topped the list. Ahead even of "Blondes wearing saris and pottu".

This guy, believe me, was really dug into "The Constitutional History of India"."If you really want to know a country, read its constitutional history." says he.
This one wanted to know.This was a brother.

Later as I became his guide and buddy, we visited his tabla teacher from DU who had accompanied my most illustrious aunt and when I confessed that I had been fatigued about writing about my plight, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and gain and again and again and again and again and again - okay, now think twenty years - he instigated me to demonstrate at the Film Festival in Delhi, helped draft my appeal, shared zany occult insights into deconstructing prose, and through my plain horror, explained with a relentlessly imaginative zeal how I had the soul of a punk rocker and bought me a marrow moving piece of our gorgeous tribal metal sculpture.

He pissed me off later by insisting on buying rare Indian paintings from Main Bazar, and I have not replied to him after he wrote to me complaining that the "art" he bought at some expense had washed off the cloth - but if he 's reading this, write me, man. I'm generous. I have forgiven you. Its

Prof Hasan may not have the soul of a punk rocker, but he probably does have some of the Mahatma's shocking talent for doing the right thing.

It was probably said of the Mahatma that he could sight a moral high ground from a mile away and he never passed one without wanting to clamber on to the very top.

Prof Hasan has realised that its not right to let our children twist in the wind, while we hurry off to our date with the television studios.

Prof Hasan's gesture is "modern”, democratic, potent and exemplary.

Twenty years ago, when I had taken the final cut of my documentary, "Hyderabad. August 1948." to our capital city and then had to spend two years trying to save it from being vandalised by the very people who had commissioned it with your tax money, Dr Manmohan Singh had taken over as Finance Minister and the air was so thick with mediagas about the so called reforms, that I was beginning to get little niggles that my documentary was becoming somewhat dated and irrelevant in the impending Shiny New India.

Hyderabad. August 1948 is about the events that led to the "Police Action” in the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. It told the story of those brave, visionary and humanistic Muslims who had spoken out against the depredations of the Razakars and argued for Hyderabad acceding to the democratic Indian state.

I had the opportunity of recalling the saga of the 28 year old Shoebullah Khan, editor of an Urdu newspaper Imroose who had been harassed, intimidated and finally slaughtered by the Razakars. They shot him dead and then cut off his right palm.

It is not for mere man to fathom the mysterious ways of Allah.

But here I was, a benighted and unredeemable qafir, chosen to be an awed witness to his mad / majestic munificence.

Because even before my niggles could develop into a concern, let alone take on the proportions of a worry, I was saved.

Prof MushirUl Hasan chose this particular moment to say some mildly professorial thing about Salman Rushdie’s comedy The Satanic Verses. And a bunch of Jamia Millia Islamia students chose to take deep umbrage and explode into a riot.

"Traitor to the qaum" screamed the students, to my relief and gratitude. They could have been quoting this rhetoric from my documentary. "Cut of his tongue. String him up. Shoot him down". They manhandled the poor man, demanded his resignation.

Decades ago, much before he became famous in India, for deifying our "altruistic" IT tycoons, Thomas Friedman, had observed that a fundamentalist, characteristically, did not have a sense of irony.

Can't argue with that, but then here was undeniable proof that Allah, certainly was no fundamentalist.

There were counter demonstrations in solidarity with the hapless academic. As a humble token of my own gratitude to the All Merciful Joker in the Ether With Perpetual Bad Timing, I joined them.

I called the Hassans and got myself invited to their refuge at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The Hassans received me most graciously and given the intense stress that they were suffering, they even organised a VCR and patiently watched my 37 minute Urdu documentary.

Years later, when I was still struggling, and had organised a projection at the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan, which the then Home Minister the late Shri Indrajit Gupta, had kindly decided to grace, I invited them.

Unfortunately for me, they had already committed to the BBC, which was showing something about The Dynasty of the Nehrus - at a local five star hotel.

The Hassans were not the only people I met.

Saeed Naqvi spared time to watch my documentary. However he could not accept my offer to get on the documentary and introduce it with a context.

I met Shabnam Hashmi and the good folks at SAHMAT.

I met MJ Akbar when he was aide to the Hon'ble Arjun Singh. And on a few occasions since.

I was given the courtesy of writing in the editorial page in Hindustan Times. Kaveri Bamzai was generous to spare me a line in her light op-ed piece in the New Indian Express. Unfortunately, we did not inspire a single Indian to even write to the Editor.

I demonstrated through the entire duration of the Film Festival 10 -20 January 2000 in New Delhi.

Some of the finest and most respected folks present, took the time to talk to me, understand my effort and sign my petition addressed to the then Prime Minister.

The Press was present in numbers. Hasan Suroor was there. So was Nikhat Kazmi. The Press ignored me.

Javed Akhthar and Shabana Azmi had seen me at the Festival. Shri Akhthar did say hello. Coincidence: I had featured Ms Azmi's uncle the late Akhthar Hassan, in my documentary and had the opportunity to include her beautiful aunt and her gangly, bespectacled nephew, kinda reminded me of me at that age, in a frame.

Of course these were not the only people I met in our corroded capital city.

I would love to report that I made some intelligent, new friends who have been an oasis of inspiration and pillars of strength to me.

Unfortunately, I cannot.

Maybe these very busy people were too preoccupied to make the connection between the nationwide, 24/7 corruption and the pulverization of the idea of the rule of law or maybe it was just my strange sounding last name or my stubbornly khadi clad presence that spooked them - we just passed each other by.

C'est la vie.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sorry Ms Farrow

Watched a documentary on Darfur on the Australian channel the other day and was informed that Ms Farrow is active as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNICEF trying to bring peace to this war torn region.
Which made me squirm a bit about my careless slash at her.
I am sure you've read my blog Ms Farrow, and were tormented by this bit of unprovoked cruelty from a total stranger.
Sorry Ms Farrow.
Next time I'm in Manhattan, I'll buy you a pizza.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Maharishi's Flower Power Rules !

Reading through the material on the passing of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I am struck by how much of the stuff appears to be mere regurgitations from a 60's time warp.

Without the Beatles he would have been just another importuning Indian hairy.

A charlatan, who made a pass at Mia (Mia...who?) Farrow and was immortalized by John Lennon for his pains.

Slick marketeer, made a lot of money, but no difference.

This happened to me:

A few years ago, I was at a studio to transfer my documentary "Hyderabad. August 1948." to a DVD.

As I was about to review the result, a young man of medium height and regular features, invited himself and watched it with me.

He was there to do some post production work on some engineering movies. But he seemed keen to talk about my film. He did...with an insight and acuity that I found remarkable.

This kid's mind was pumping.

My documentary had been well reviewed in the Indian press...but none with the curiosity and closeness, that this otherwise unprepossessing young man had displayed.

No he did not have a background in Indian History... he had not studied Film.

He was an MBA he said, somewhat apologetically.

From where? Bangalore. Which school? From MIBS.

What was that? Maharishi International Business School.

Had I heard about it?

I had heard about the Maharishi and I asked him...did they teach any of that meditation stuff in the B school?

Of course, students had to meditate an hour every morning. He still did.

So that was the secret.

Unconsciously and quite apologetically, this youngster had developed the The Ever wakeful Third Eye of Consciousness.

Not the bored narcissistic eye. Nor the fearful Authoritarian Eye.

But the skeptical, compassionate, creative, disillusioning Third Eye.

The Eye that perceives the essence and the context.

The Eye that grasps the fleeting detail and the gentle interrogations within the obscured sub text.

This kid had it.

But like Harry Potter in Muggle world, he probably understood the burden of his gift of creativity and disturbance and wisely kept it hidden; even from himself.

I am a child of the late fifties and the office of Frank, Fearless Blitz, was just across the street from where we used to live in Bombay.

No question that there was a sense of Orientalist derision about the way we viewed ourselves those days.

The Blitz, the equivalent of the proliferating popcorn television of India today, had a great time sending up yogis.

The term "godmen" coined by Khushwant Singh for the Illustrated Weekly came much later.

The Sputnik went up, Yuri Gagarin came to India, we had our "temples of progress" and a certain lazy, cruel, Herodesque, "prove to me that you are no fool, walk across my swimming pool ... prove to me you're divine, change my water into wine...." kind of attitude to our deshi, India that is Bharat, selves.

But as we all know, there is no integrity to the palimpsest that is the Indian mind and underneath this terylene facade gushed a roaring deshi torrent.

Shri Umaprasad Mukherji, elder brother of Shri Shyama Prasad, visited us and I still remember walking him along with my Himalayan mountaineer uncle, to some place near Azad Maidan.

Swami Sivananda, Ramana Maharishi, Kanchi Periyaval were all regulars in my Nani's chats with me.

And we were completely immersed in our music.

Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan sa'ab regularly came home, to teach Nani, both in Kanpur and Bombay and I was ordered to hang around.

The Guru who lived closest to us was Shri Mukthananda at Ganeshpuri and even though I have no doubt he took a personal liking to me, I was a very verbal six, the legend is that he prophesied I would be a judge one day, my own joy came from the hot, sulphurous springs at Vajreshvari and the anticipation of watching the deer that roamed his ashram.

Years later, Nani dragged me off to Guru Purnima at Ganeshpuri.

Even as I waited for the prasad, they rang the bell to start meditation. I took my place on a platform under a great tree, went into a deep snooze and woke up when they rang the bell again.

Looked around and sitting next to me, deep in meditation was Nargis Dutt. Her brood came in a little later all dressed in their Guru Purnima best.

Sunjay Dutt was much shorter than me and was in a little three piece suit and bow tie!

What do I think of Sunjay Dutt?

Like most Indians and the Kanchi Sankaracharya, a victim of a corrupt Indian state and political system .

The Kanchi Periyaval and Chinna Periyaval had allowed me to sit very close to them over several years - The Elder had started our exchange by offering to teach me a mantra, that would enable me to see the next day - the very thought that they would be involved in violence is laughable.

If I had a chance, I would hug, cry and condole with each person who suffered in Mumbai, Gujarat, Punjab, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, the West and all the gorgeous animals and forests .

The Maharishi did immensely more than that of course.

On the few occasions that my service provider offered the Maharishi channel, I was delighted to find him and his disciples to be well informed, trenchant and unflagging critics of the West.

They questioned Western dogma. They insistently opposed the war on Iraq.

But their challenge like the Mahatma before them was loving and they offered a tried and tested alternative.

So it is noticeable, how the Western Press and the dalal press in India chose to confine the Maharishi in a time warp...outside the context of its massive recent and current insanities.

The Maharishi's flower power survived the hippies and the Soviet Union. He did not instigate a "cultural Revolution" nor did he sow any killing fields.

I f ones values are truly sane and life centred, it is clear that this giggly, hairy man has towered over the so called leaders of the so called free and other worlds.

To the best of my knowledge, none of his actions resulted in the loss of any life.

The Maharishi was an adventurer who makes Columbus look like a klutz.

The Maharishi was not a batty charlatan, nor was he a flaky evangelist. He was no "parasite".

He was an angry, impatient bodhisatva, who transformed lives; and I believe could have cooled our fevers.

He is what I may have been, if I had transcended my addiction to nicotine and aversion to walking as a form of physical exercise.

He is what nations may yet be, if they transcend their fascination for the wrecking ball.

The Financial Times UK can have the last word:

"To die leaving a multi-million-dollar global business empire is an achievement. To do so while countless devotees still regard you as a spiritual leader is about as likely as Yogic flying. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles, pulled it off. His legacy – beyond the mundane $2bn his estate is reckoned to be worth – is a treasure-trove of tips for management success."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

RTI For Babus too!

In his column,"Dilli Ka Babu" in the Deccan Chronicle,(Sunday February 3) Dilip Cherian complains, " Babus misuse RTI Act".

The Central Information Commission is "busy playing agony aunt" to a score (sic) of babus 'whining"(sic) over various promotional and compensation matters.

Quoting "insiders" on this "trend in babudom"(sic) he says "many bureaucrats are now actually using the RTI Act for their own personal vested interest".

"Ranging from scrutinising file details when superseded to "petty" complaints on out of turn allotment of houses, these complaints make up an "alarming" 40% of the ones received by the CIC.

"No wonder" commiserates Cherian, Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner is "worried" about the backlog, as it is already dealing with a huge- one of more than 12,000 second appeals by "citizens".

Cherian then names a few a babus, who according to him have committed the heinous, unpardonable act of demanding their rights under the law and I do not know any of them, in fact I do not know another soul who has used the RTI.

As somebody who has been at the receiving end of serial babu bellicosity since the last twenty years, I ought to find this news appealing.

I find it appalling.

Because in typical "babu" fashion, this snippet of PR cleverness, diverts our attention from the real culprits, PIOs who appear to be hoarding simple, innocuous information that may be necessary to the appellants for the dignified conduct of their daily life and misdirects our indignation on the hapless victims who have been recalled to be skewered in public.

Is it possible that these vilified babus are actually the orphans? Those currently orphaned without a powerful sugar daddy?

But they are also citizens, entitled to the full protection and succor of the law.

To label any group,vilify them and strip them of their rights and dignity is... not cool.

The piece makes another diabolical Catch 22 distinction.

Between "private" and so called "public" interest .

So, now, you can deny information because it constitutes mere individual interest...and also because it might compromise the glorious national interest.

Is "private interest" such a shameful and socially undesirable disease? Does our Constitution only permit "thekedars" of the public interest to exist?

So,who's manufacturing the backlog of second appeals?

Is it the hapless petitioner or the callous appellate authority protecting "vested interests",patrons and mafioso types?

Shovel it out , I say.

If that's what it takes to unshackle our babus from the choke hold of the mafioso types.

And what value are the appellate authorities adding?

Would it not be more rational and productive, for the Commissioners to wield their powers like a hot cleaver to smite the dysfunctional appellate authorities who refuse to "apply their minds" to protect the Law?

Do that Sarvashri Commissioners and watch the backlog -12,000? Such a big deal? In a nation of a billion citizens ? In the Land of the Rising IT Sun?- melt away.