AUGUST 2012 `25 Issue no. 9 Volume no. 42 An MBD Publication RNI No.: 23870/72
D E M O C R A T I C
W O R L D
NEW AGE NETIZENS AND WEB VOICES PAGE 20
IS GAAR INDIA’S ANSWER TO TAX WOES? PAGE 28
Renaissance Man Meet the Sufi soul, the poet cum painter and filmmaker Muzaffar Ali as he talks of aesthetics and traditions PAGE 12
Food Lounge & Bar
EDIT ORIAL SONICA MALHOTRA KANDHARI | email@example.com
A Genteel Man from Lucknow YOU can take a gentleman out of Lucknow, but you
cannot take Lucknow out of a gentleman—well we believe it because we have met Muzaffar Ali who seems to be the poster boy for the city of tehzeeb. If QUOTE ON Vinod Mehta was our ‘Lucknow boy’, then MuzafDEMOCRACY far Ali is our quintessential Lucknow gentleman. Of all filmmakers claiming descent from the Awadh region, Ali is perhaps one of the handful refusing to cut his umbilical cord. His films (the popular Umrao Jaan along with the lyrical and poignant Gaman and Aagaman) were based in his home state. Ali is a nightmare for journalists who love to label people—how do you ‘label’ a man who is a poet, painter, designer, filmmaker and a photographer? We chose to call him the ‘Renaissance Man’. Not only for his deep love of all things arty, but also for his Sufi soul, his discerning eye for beauty, and his vision of aesthetics and humanity. Ali follows his creative pursuits without any compromise. And he is driven by a sense of oneness of the human race; a dreamer who believes MUZAFFAR ALI: “My endeavour has been in a world where love is a reigning concept—at least it to explore how Indians is an overriding theme in his films. Having said that, define democracy and we were in a tizzy when the decision to feature Ali freedom through the on DW’s cover was made. He, after all, is the present genesis of the HinduRaja of Kotwara, allegedly the oldest-living civilisation Muslim divide and what of Lakhimpur Kheri, the largest district in Awadh. better way to do that than How does a royal fit into a magazine dedicated to the to explore the incidents largest democracy in this world, that too in a month that took place in 1857” when India celebrates its independence?
But it was not Ali’s inheritance which endeared him to us. Rather, it was his legacy—how he chose to follow his father’s footsteps and work for the development of his village. How he was deeply influenced by his late mother’s musical affinities. How his unwavering faith in humanity is mirrored in his films. Ali is indeed a beloved king, but a twenty-first century one who reigns in people’s hearts. And why not? He has set up a design studio for Kotwara’s youth. He judiciously promotes traditional crafts through his design label which he co-manages with his stunning spouse. His Urdu and Hindi is impeccable and genteel, but he prefers to speak for the common man. Rugged and regal, Ali is the quintessential democratic artist—his art is for every citizen. He takes pride in his Indian roots. Read more about the enigmatic Ali on Page 12. Before I end, here’s wishing you all a very happy Independence Day—may India’s new President lead us all wisely towards a better tomorrow.
V. SANJAY KUMAR ON HIS SERENDIPITOUS TRYST WITH THE ART WORLD AND ON ARTS IMPACT ON THE ORDINARY PAGE 26
2 0 12
PHOTO BY SUBHOJIT PAUL
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S
12 JOHN ELLIOTT
24 | DEMOCRACY AND TRUTH Set up commis-
12 | Of The Sufi Soul The
sions to help unravel the real problems
extraordinary journey of Muzaffar Ali. A peek into the life of the unconventional, never-tiring filmmaker SANTOSH DESAI
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C O V E R DE S I GN B Y SUNEE SH K | P HOTO B Y SUBHOJI T PAUL
32 | THE DUPLICITY OF STATE PRIDE Why Congress is to be blamed
28 | A TROUBLESOME ACRONYM:
Can GAAR regulate the tax structure and control tax avoidance? Experts debate... FOREIGN DESPATCHES
10 | TABISH KHAIR
20 SOCIAL AGENDA
20 | Growing Noise of Cyber Protests
Sociologists look at the web world for action and information cascade leading
There is no pure and abstract ‘life’ without the greatly impure diversity of lives”... REGULARS
01 | EDITORIAL 06 | UP-TO-DATE 26 | LOOKING BACK 36 | READING ROOM 48 | STICKY NOTES
34 | STORY OF A BUTTERFLY Ek Titli and
38 | GADGETS & GIZMOS GARIA LSV
44 | THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS Cheap travel and
40 | THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING EARNEST A
its green crusaders are bent on changing the world and making it a healthy place
Wish to drive there golfcarts even after day's play? This baby is all you need!
oodles of appeal, there is more to Bangkok than meets the eye says Preeti Singh
self confessed foodie, today Joymalya Banerjee prefers to force others to pig out
www.democraticworld.com EDITORIAL D E M O C R A T I C
W O R L D
JULY 201 2
Publicatio n RNI No.:
THE D O DEBATLE E
SHOULD CE TH SPECIALNTRE SLAS E H SOPS? PAGE 26
REEL L IFE
TOM AL TE OF HISR TALKS CRAF BOLLYW OOD PAG T, E 44
SOCIA L AGEND A
GOT AN IDEA? ON PA WORT LINE TO SE STE IT H YOUR E WHILEIF IT’S PAGE 18
Articu never late, contra rian and boring a dynam , Vin ic editor od Mehta is PAGE 12
N DESP ATCHES
DEAR MADAM, READING ABOUT PRASANT SATAPATHY IN THE ‘FOREIGN DESPATCHES’ SECTION WAS A PLEASURE; HIS LIFE HAS BEEN MOST INTERESTING, AND AS COLORFUL AS THE TELESERIALS HE NOW DIRECTS IN KABUL. Regards,
Managing Editor: Monica Malhotra Kandhari Group Editor: Sonica Malhotra Kandhari Editor: Dr Chander Trikha Assistant Features Editor: Rohini Banerjee Sub Editor: Manjiri Indurkar
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“I am not against toll collection. But a citizen who pays the toll should know where that money is going and for what purpose it is used”
THEY SAID IT
Pranab Mukherjee is the new President India gets its 13th President as the former Finance Minister wins hands down ELECTED \\ Pranab Mukherjee was elected the thir-
teenth President of India. Mukherjee who was Congress’ chief trouble-shooter over the past eight years garnered 69.3 per cent votes and defeated his rival P.A. Sangma—who was backed by AIADMK, BJD and NDA (minus Shiv Sena and JD-U)—by a bigger than expected margin. While his victory did not come as a surprise, it turned out be sweeter for Congress as they managed to put up a show of united alliance. Mukherjee won 117 votes in the BJP-ruled 224-member Karnataka Assembly as opposed to the expected 102 votes, Sang-
ma got 103 votes. “I will like to take this opportunity to thank the people of this great country for conferring this distinction upon me by electing me to the high office,” said the former finance minister in his acceptance speech. “Now that you have entrusted me with the responsibility to protect, defend and preserve the Constitution as the President of the Republic, I will try to justify, in whichever modest way as I can, to be as trustworthy as possible,” he said. After the results were announced, Sangma congratulated his rival and added that the country had lost an opportunity to support the tribals of India.
69.3% of total votes went to the former FM
FROM AROUND THE WORLD //
Federer’s Seventh Wimbledon Win TENNIS \\ Tennis fans were in for a treat when Swiss
Violence at Maruti Plant HR executive burnt to death RIOT \\ A clash between workers and supervisors over disciplinary action resulted in
violent clashes and the eventual death of an executive at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant in Haryana. The plant’s human resources manager, Awanish Kumar Dev, was burnt to death during the riot while two Japanese employees were hospitalised along with 40 other Indian Maruti employes. Around 100 people, mostly workers, were arrested by Gurgaon Police in connection to the charges which include arson and attempt to murder. The Haryana government has formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe into the riot. After examining CCTV footage the police concluded that “armed with iron rods and car-door beams, a mob spread out in groups within the factory area and targeted supervisors, managers and executives... rendering many of their victims bleeding and unconscious. They ransacked offices, broke glass panes and finally set offices on fire.” Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has said that stern action will be taken against those found guilty.
legend Roger Federer won his seventh Wimbledon title and regained his numero uno spot. The champion came up with a cautious mix of resilience and range to stop fourth-seeded Andy Murray, the first Briton in 74 years to make the Wimbledon final. With this win the 30-year-old Federer levelled with Pete Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon wins and clinched his 17th career Grand Slam crown. Federer, who stormed into a record eighth final at SW19, said, “I am obviously ecstatic with the win. It has been a tough tournament.” In the ladies finals, Serena Williams made history as the first woman since Martina Navratilova to seize the Rosewater Dish past the age of 30. She surged to her three-set triumph over Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, before combining with Venus for the pair’s 13th Grand Slam doubles success in 13 finals.
Captain Lakshmi Singh breathes her last: Veteran freedom fighter, member of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, and a national icon, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal expired on July 23, 2012, at the age of 97 after she was admitted to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest AUGUST 2012
\\ FROM AROUND THE WORLD
God Particle Satyendra Nath Bose with Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru with Professor Khitish Roy at Santineketan in 1958. (Left) An image of the God Particle
‘The Goddamned Particle Spotted, Finally!’ SCIENCE \\ More than 50 years ago, Peter
Higgs and five other theoretical physicists proposed that an invisible field lying across the Universe gives particles their mass, allowing them to clump together to form stars and planets. Fifty years later the muchelusive God Particle (also known as Higgs boson)—responsible for providing mass to matter’s building blocks—was finally discovered in July 2012. Professor John Womersley, chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, told reporters at a briefing: “They have discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs boson,” and also added that the, “Discovery is the important word. That is confirmed.” According to scientists it is a 5sigma result which means they are 99.999 per cent sure about the findings of the new particle. The Standard Model, a theory which explains all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe, would have proved erroneous without the discovery of this
particle. It is the final plug of the Standard Model Theory in Particle Physics. The existence of such a particle was proposed five decades ago in the 1960s by Peter Higgs, an Edinburgh-based physicist, after who the particle has been partly named. But until now pinning down the particle had become an impossible task. The particle which is known to travel faster than light provides mass to matter and makes the elementary particles stick together which otherwise run helterskelter without the mass. To locate the particle the scientists used the Large Hadron Collider to smash protons together at almost the speed of light and cleaned the debris for traces of the particles that sprang into existence for a fraction of a second before disintegration. The God Particle or Higgs boson is partly named after the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. In India the discovery led to an extensive debate on the role of Bose. The
Discovery is the important word. That is confirmed
debate sprang from the fact that the ‘Higgs’ in the particle is a celebrated name in the scientific circle, but few are aware of the fact that Boson comes from Bose. Born during British colonial rule in 1894 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bose was a lecturer at Calcutta and Dhaka Universities. In 1924, he sent a paper to Albert Einstein describing a statistical model that eventually led to the discovery of what became known as the Bose-Einstein condensate phenomenon. The paper laid the basis for describing the two fundamental classes of sub-atomic particles—bosons, named after Bose, and fermions, after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. Bose specialised in mathematical physics and was a Fellow at the Royal Society. Yet another point of contention among the Indian scientific community was that while several Nobel prizes have been awarded research related to the concepts of the boson, Bose himself was never honoured by the Nobel academy. However The discovery of the particle has now opened doors to the understanding of the Universe.
FROM AROUND THE WORLD //
'Joker' Kills at Dark Knight Premiere SHOOTING \\ At least 12
movie goers were killed and 58 injured in a rampage which ensued after a gunman opened fire at the midnight premiere of a movie (Dark Knight Rises) at Aurora in Denver, Colorado. The alleged gunman James Holmes claimed to be the “Joker”—the fictional arch enemy of Batman,
a popular comic book hero. The Aurora police have alleged that the injured suffered bullet wounds, while a handful were hurt in the ensuing chaos. Ten of the victims were killed in the theatre, while two died at the hospitals. Holmes, dressed head-to-toe in protective tactical gear, set off two devices of
some kind before spraying the Century 16 theatre with bullets from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one of two .40-caliber handguns police recovered at the scene. The guns were purchased legally by Holmes. More than 6,000 rounds of ammunition were also purchased online.
Uproar over Guwahati Molestation Media Role under Glare
TWITTERATI BID ADIEU TO THE COUNTRY’S FIRST SUPERSTAR AND ROMANTIC HERO
“Rajesh Khanna was a golden handshake given by changing times to the romantic era of Indian cinema” Javed Akhtar | Poet
channel today is like Chitrahaar, the film song show we entertainmentstarved 70s kids avidly watched.#RIP Rajesh Khanna” Sagarika Ghose | Journalist
The Accused: A file photo of Amar Jyoti Kalita, the main accused in the Guwahati molestation case
MOLESTATION \\ A video clip showing a mob of men molesting a woman led to
protests across the nation. The mob was led by a man called Amar Jyoti Kalita, who was arrested recently from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. In the clip, Kalita was spotted trying to rip off the shirt of the woman. Later he was joined by a mob who dragged and manhandled her. Days after the incident, RTI activist Akhil Gogoi claimed that the reporter of NewsLive TV, a channel that shot and aired the video, was the main culprit. “Gaurav Jyoti Neog and his friends were at the bar. They passed comments about the girls which led the brawl,” Gogoi said. “The reporter instigated his friends to assault the girl.” He alleged that Kalita, the main accused, was a friend of the reporter. “They went to the bar in the reporter’s Hyundai. They are being safeguarded by the channel owner,” he added. Gaurav Jyoti Neog was later arrested on charges of instigating the attack. The arrest came a day after the Guwahati High Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea. With Kalita’s arrest, 14 of the 17 identified in the incident have been put behind bars.
“To live with intention & walk to the edge. Play with abandon, choose with no regret. Smile & made us do the same. Sir, u defined our era. RIP” Shah Rukh Khan | Actor
“Don’t complain if your mothers don’t cook good food today, they are all mourning, coz all of them were a ‘Pushpa’ once. RIP Rajesh Khanna” Gabbar Singh | Blogger
foreign despatches \\ NOTES FROM THE DIA SPOR A
TABISH KHAIR Aarhus, Denmark
There is no pure and abstract ‘life’ without the greatly impure diversity of lives” TABISH KHAIR: I was born in 1966 in Gaya (Bihar) India. I must be the only internationally-published Indian writer who writes in English, who not just grew up in a small Indian town but was even educated there. I went to the Nazareth Academy, a Christian missionary school, and later to the Gaya College under the Magadh University for higher education. At Nazareth Academy I remember being a well-behaved, and somewhat, an absent-minded student; I was possibly average or below average in everything except literature and sociology. Those were, and remain, my twin passions. As writers most of us start off by writing poems, I guess. There is something about rhyme and rhythm that attracts the human mind. I started off as a poet too. A somewhat bad one, but a poet nevertheless! However, my redeeming feature was that I was a precocious reader and read widely. Initially like all the other children I started off with the staples; Enid Blyton’s vast collection, the Hardy Boys’ series and also Three Investigators by Alfred Hitchcock. Then there were the fare of fairytales and comics—anything and everything that had the printed word and was present in the library. It is not surprising how a person’s reading taste changes or emerges. In my school days, my favourite authors were Jane Austen. Austen remained a great favourite for a long time, along with Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, and I distinctly remember that I disliked Emily Brontë wholeheartedly. Now I find Austen a bit tiring, still love Dickens and Hardy, and worship Emily Brontë. I also discovered Nikolai Gogol in high school and he has stayed on as a favourite. As has Mark Twain. I read most of Tolstoy’s fiction in high school, but am unlikely to want to read it again. Later, as I widened my reading net, I discovered lots of other favourites—Mahasweta Devi, Ismat Chughtai, Roberto Bolano and Italo Svevo etc.
TABISH KHAIR is an author
of numerous books, including novels, poetry, academic studies and journalistic work He has won or been shortlisted for major literary awards. His novel, The Thing About Thugs, has just been published by Houghton Mifflin in USA and Canada. Khair was born and educated mostly in Bihar, India. Khair’s The Bus Stopped (2004) was short-listed for the Encore Award. His honours include the All India Poetry Prize awarded by the Poetry Society and the British Council and honorary fellowship for creative writing of the Baptist University of Hong Kong. His works have appeared in anthologies of poetry and fiction, including The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry, City Improbable: Writings on Delhi, The New Anthem, Fear Factor: Terror Incognito and Delhi Noir
Though I wrote some poems in Hindi, English was my strong point—a language that I was always sure of. I come from an Urduspeaking family and went to school that did not teach Urdu. And the Hindi that was taught was ‘purified’ in a big way. It could not possibly have any smattering of Urdu words in it. I had to suffer every time I used an ‘impure’ Urdu word by mistake. That led to the low grades I guess. To me there was little distinction between pure Urdu and pure Hindi, because in general, everyday life people around me spoke both a mix of both. English was distinct from the Indian languages because one could never mistake it for anything else. So learning English was simpler. At school a lot of teachers encouraged me to read. My parents were not literary but they knew the advantages of reading, and books. As a result I was greatly encouraged by my parent to read. Not only me, of my the siblings. I call my family an ‘occasionally reading family’, at least for a small town in Bihar. There were books in the family. One of my uncles, Kalam Haidri, wrote in Urdu. Basically I think I just liked reading: it was the one thing I did not dislike doing in school. Maths and sports were another matter altogether. Surprisingly, one of the few awards that I received in my school life was a district gold medal in discus. I realised I was fond of writing and kept plugging away at it. And I accumulated rejection slips. Perhaps, there are no other ways to it but to try, try and try again. I tried to explore what others were doing and cultivate my own voice. Slowly I started getting accepted. In
foreign despatches NOTES FROM THE DIA SPOR A //
“There is no Muslim who is not ‘western’ in some form today—no, not even the radical Islamists, whose political reactions are determined by western factors”
1989 or so, Rupa—a major Indian publishing house— had a national competition for poetry. I assembled a manuscript on my grandfather’s typewriter and sent it in: it was one of four (out of 700-plus) submitted entries which were accepted. Later on the then editor of Rupa told me that he had thrown my poems away at first; it was so badly typed and unprofessionally presented. But he happened to look at it again, and was impressed by the collection. At that time, I was still in my small hometown of Gaya; the other three winners were big city writers. That was one of those affirmative instances in my life when you begin to believe that perhaps what you have dreamt may work after all. Post Gaya, I studied at the local Magadh University to complete my Master’s. Afterwards it was time to start working and like most people of my generation (who did not pursue the hierarchically superior science studies and became doctors, engineers) I became a journalist. Actually, at the age of 24 or so I fully entered the profession. I had been writing for various papers for years, and working as a part-timer, district reporter for the Patna edition of The Times of India when I was still in college. I got a job as a staff reporter in the Delhi edition of The Times of India. And passed a short stint there as a staff reporter. By then I was almost 30 and had realised that I needed to study more, escape the daily drudgery of journalism which was not conducive to thinking or reading and experience the wider world. So at the ripe old age of 30, I decided to pursue higher studies—PhD—and travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark. And that has been my country from then on. As a writer I am often asked my opinion on several matters. To one question of home I quote a cliché; home is where the heart is. And in some ways, I carry my home in my mind. I guess if India is home, so is Denmark. My life is markedly different because after spending some years in the big cities (Delhi, Copenhagen) I find myself again happily settled in a small Danish town. There is a difference between big and small cities. Both offer different rewards; different frustrations. As a writer, you can only write from life, and there is life everywhere in small towns as well as big cities. But perhaps different kinds of life. I think, these days
fiction from small towns is being hugely neglected; we are passing through an overtly big city, cosmopolitan strain in writing and its promotion, at least in English. When people talk of multiculturalism or globalisation they forget that these things exist in very different ways in small towns, whether in Denmark, England or India. This idea made me realise that a lot of writers do not know how complex and mobile small towns can be! Are people same everywhere? Yes and no. One can experience life as various lives. There is no pure and abstract ‘life’ without the greatly impure and concrete diversity of lives. What encourages me to write every day is the fact that some stories have been told too often and some are yet to be told. Then again I don’t know what really makes me take up the pen. I guess I want to talk to people—the 90 percent in the middle, religious or irreligious—who are crushed between ends of any extremism. I am interested in how we narrow down life and love, how we fail to communicate and understand each other; I am interested in what safety means and what danger signifies. I write what I feel driven to write and hope that someone will publish it; apart from that, I live on the margins. And I am content there. That gives me an anonymity and freedom from tags—at least to some extent. Otherwise, life is filled with nonsensical tags—I am almost always described as a ‘westernised Muslim’. There is no Muslim who is not ‘western’ in some ways today—no, not even the radical Islamists, whose very political reactions are determined by western factors. And there is no West without the influence of Islam—from the early Enlightenment downwards. So, as I said I like the anonymity. And prefer to not introduce myself to strangers. And I also have never really believed in political correctness. Political correctness is a comfy middle-class remedy for deeply-ingrained problems and prejudices: racism, sexism or xenophobia do not disappear just because you start avoiding some words. It takes much more than that. I am more interested in laughing at a world that says something and does something else. It is true that a novel is not very politically correct in a narrow sense, but that is because it does not believe in such narrowness; it believes in addressing the diseases, not the symptoms. But I do not just laugh at the world; I also laugh with it. A while ago someone asked me if I worry about the people I write for. Well I believe that as an author I don’t worry about them. But having said that I have a fairly good idea of what kind of reader will get me. My latest offering The Thing About Thugs is a kind of thriller set in Victorian London and featuring Asians and Africans, has just been released in USA and Canada—hopefully it will find its readers in India as well. (As told to Rohini Banerjee)
R E N A I S S A N C E
M A N
Soul MANJIRI INDURKAR
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SUBHOJIT PAUL IMAGING & DESIGN BY SUNEESH K
Seene Mein Jalan Aankhon Mein Toofan Sa Kyu Hai Is Sheher Mein Har Shaqs Pareshan Sa Kyu Hai... THESE LINES KEEP reverberating in my mind and I can barely hear anything, even the cacophony of the autorickshaw I am in. “It’s all good,” I tell myself. “The noise will keep me distracted.” My autowalah talks of the heat; I nod in agreement. It is a hot day indeed. But at this moment, nothing matters. I am supposed to be at the Kotwara Studios by 11am; it is almost time. And I am nowhere close. I tell the autowalah that I have an interview. He wants to know if I am meeting a bada adami. I tell him, yes! I am meeting Muzaffar Ali. His blank look says it all. I ask him if he has seen Umrao Jaan. His face lights up—he has seen the movie and wanted to marry Rekha after it. We both laugh; I tell him I am meeting the man who made the film. My auto halts and we are here. I have managed to reach a little before time. As I enter the studio, pictures of Abida Parveen, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and a painting—Ali’s
own creation—greet me. I am informed that “Sir is a little late.” I will have to wait for some time. I sit staring at the brown walls of the studio, thinking about the questions I want to ask, points I may have missed. Suddenly, there is a commotion. “Sir aa gaye hain,” says the man. Muzaffar Ali walks in. He is wearing a loose black shirt and grey cotton pants, his spectacles have been strategically placed on his forehead, his grey shoulder-length hair looks messy. He looks at me and smiles. At 67, he is a very attractive man. He has forgotten about the interview completely. I remind him about it and we move to the second floor, which is his film studio. Posters from Gaman, Umrao Jaan, Anjuman and Aagaman adorn its walls. From a wooden frame, Rekha stares at us; any time now we will hear her sing ‘In aankhon ki masti ke, afsaane hazaaron hain’. Moving away from the talking images, we sit in the second
room, which looks like an old library. All his film scripts, storyboards and poetry books of his favourite poets Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Rumi, Shahryar and others are kept here. I have a clear list of questions in front of me yet I remain conflicted. Where do I start? His royal
parentage or his films? His love for Sufi music or his paintings? Perhaps we could talk about fashion design? A similar feeling haunts me while writing the story. How do I start? I am not sure yet. I finally decide to tell his story the way a movie makerâ€™s story should be told.
\\ RENAISSANCE MAN
Opening Sequence...Lights... Camera... Action “Bol ye thoda waqt bahot hai Jism-o-zabaan ki maut se pehle Bol ki sach zindaa hai ab tak Bol jo kuchh kehna hai keh le” —Faiz Ahmad Faiz SOME FORTY YEARS ago, in the green hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh, a young man of 20 sat discussing Faiz and Rumi with his friend on a high cliff—perhaps discussing these very lines. The man, a geology student who took up the subject because he thought, “No matter what, people will always use petrol,” was Muzaffar Ali. Ali is in splits while narrating tales of his naiveté. From that UP cliff to Mumbai studios, the journey has been serendipitous. After graduation, Ali went job hunting and landed up in a Kolkata advertising firm. “Early on, I realised that I was not cut out for advertising; I couldn’t work under anyone forever.” Yet he is grateful that he took up the offer. Because it gave him the chance to meet filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. “I used to have long discussions
with Ray. We often talked about movie-making for hours,” he tells me. And there are other points of connection; Ali, like Ray, also prefers to do his own sketches while storyboarding. “Ray used to sketch frames because it gave him clarity of thought,” he informs. An artist himself, Ali has drawn every frame of his movies. While talking about how he came to sketch sequences of Gaman (his first film) he tells me that his storyboards (well, most of them) are lying around that very room. As he talks about long-shots and mid-shots, I am lost in an image of Ali sitting on a comfortable rocking chair with his sketch book and pencil. When I am back, I find myself staring at an empty chair. I turn around to see Ali wiping the dust off some old books. Those are the storyboards of Umrao Jaan and Gaman. He hands them to me; the weight of modern cinematic history rests on my lap. But I can not flip through its pages right now. A lot needs to be asked before that, and I am running out of time.
“Early on, I realised that I was not cut out
I couldn’t work under anyone forever” — Muzaffar Ali
MAN’S BEST FRIEND A dog lover, Ali spends his evenings playing with them
Bombay Talkies The Continuity Sketches IT IS A BUSY Bombay morning. A car halts near the traffic signal, its glasses roll down; two men sitting inside the car are deep in conversation. The street beggar knocks at the window, recognises the face and shouts his name. “Amitabh Bachchan!” he says. The signal turns green and the car speeds ahead, leaving an overwhelmed spectator behind. Aeons back, a job with Air India brought Ali to the city of dreams. He was allegedly living a “life of poverty”, where his “house rent was almost as much as the salary” and where he had to sell his father’s “vintage car in order to make a living”. In those days of struggle Amitabh Bachchan used to give Ali a lift to his workplace. It was also the time when Ali was contemplating the idea of making Gaman. He told Bachchan about his plan and asked him if he would be interested in hearing out the script. And he expressed a desire to work with him. “He kept on giving me vague answers and after some good three months, he came up to me and said,’ I can’t work in your film. My image of an action hero (read Angry Young Man) might get ruined if I do this character’,” says Ali. Bachchan perhaps missed an opportunity to work with one of the finest directors of our time, but as they say, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. When Bachchan refused, Ali approached Farooq Sheikh, who later became the protagonist of every film that he made. If Bachchan was the quintessential hero who could sing songs, woo the girl, beat the villains and save the lives of hundreds in one go, Sheikh was the charming guy-next-door; his dilemmas were often existential, he looked real and believable on screen. Perhaps this was the reason why Ali chose to cast Sheikh in Gaman. “He had the vulnerability which was much needed in my films. He didn’t just look the character in front of the camera, he became the character,” says Ali. After the critical success of Gaman, he started working on his masterpiece Umrao Jaan which
was based on Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel Umrao Jaan Ada. The film had a poetic value to it, and a lyrical flow which appealed to the audio-visual senses. That is why it is considered to be the most aesthetically pleasing film ever made. It is an Indian classic to say the least, and a piece of cinematic genius. Rekha, who played a Lucknow courtesan in the Mughal Era, was grace and elegance personified. And the music was enchanting, layered and haunting. This film won Rekha, and music director Khayyam, their first and only National Awards. It is needless to say that the film is still universally lauded. I am itching to know what he feels about the recent attempt at remaking the classic. In answer, he laughs. Naturally, he has been asked this question before “but it never gets old,” he says. I wait patiently, while he seeks the right words. “Why remake a classic anyway?” is his first response. “They couldn’t recreate the magic of Umrao Jaan. They couldn’t understand the essence of the film, its poetry was lost in the new version; Aishwarya couldn’t carry the film on her shoulders the way Rekha did,” he adds. His disappointment doesn’t end there; it is not just the fact that someone made a “version” of his film. He talks candidly about the current spate of films and expresses his disdain for most of them. “In the 80s, cinema had a social connect with its immediate surroundings. That connect is missing today”. Films like Peepli Live, which he considers to be a bold attempt, do not appeal to him as a viewer. “I can’t see myself in any of the characters. I just can’t relate to them”. Though he is all praise for some of the younger directors like Anurag Kashyap, he doesn’t
“Sheesho Ka Masiha” a documentary Ali made on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy was based on Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry of the same name DEMOCRATIC WORLD
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necessarily like the themes of his films, but he does “enjoy the way they are made.” But he is all praises for one peculiar man called ‘Tiggu’. “Tiggu is doing some great work,” he says. At my puzzled look, he informs me: “I was talking about Tigmanshu Dhulia. He is a friend of Shaad (his son Shaad Ali) and keeps visiting us often; I think he is doing a tremendous job.” Shaad is Muzaffar Ali’s son from his previous marriage with Subhashini Ali. Having made commercially successful films like Saathiya and Bunty aur Bubbly, the junior Ali has earned quite a name for himself. But Ali is very modest while doling out praise for his son and the films he has made. “I think he has a great understanding of commercial cinema, and I would never burden
him with my ideology. He is a person with different sensibilities and is doing well for himself” says the father. He adds later, “But his best is yet to come.” Ali has been working on a film called Zooni since the late 80s. Based on the life of the 16th century Kashmiri poetess Habba Khatun, Zooni was supposed to be released in the early 90s, yet is still stuck in the pre-production stage. “I started shooting for Zooni on January 5, 1989; I can remember the exact date.” His face looks poignant and grim while he talks about this film. He wanted to make the film divided into four seasons of the poetess’ life. “It was something that producers couldn’t understand and so the movie kept getting stuck,” he sighs. I ask him if he still plans on making this film and he says he does. But he doesn’t know when.
Interview | Farooq Sheikh
An Actor’s Director
he year was 1973; I had just finished doing a film called Garm Hava, which was my first appearance in any feature film. I got a call from a stranger who called himself Muzaffar Ali. After the pleasantries were exchanged, he told me that he was working on a film script and he wanted to meet me for a certain role. So I went and met him in the Air India office at Nariman Point. The moment I entered the office I saw a very presentable looking man. Quite obviously, he was much younger and even more handsome in those days. In that meeting, he gave me the script of the film called Gaman.
After going through the script I found it interesting and thought provoking. I could see from the way he talked about it, that he really believed in it. It also got me my first lead role and I was more than happy to perform it. Muzaffar Sahab, is one of those directors who have an extraordinary sense of aesthetics. And there are not many in the industry like him. Apart from the fact that he is an extremely hardworking person, his sense of aesthetics makes him stand out. And you can see that in all his films. Even in something as stark and grim as Gaman—which is about the lower class in UP and the struggling labour class in Mumbai—you will see that the sense of aesthetics is extraordinary. The hallmark of his aesthetic ability is Umrao Jaan which is a beautifully made film and all the credit goes to Muzaffar Sahab and the team that he works with. He is a very adjusting and giving director and far too easy to work with. In fact, I FAROOQ SHEIKH Actor sometimes tell him that
he needs to be more demanding. He is also very finicky about little things. I remember while we were shooting for Umrao Jaan, Rekhaji or I would be rehearsing for some scene and he would very silently come and move a lamp near her or my head. We would often wonder why is he creating such a fuss about these minor details, when we have so many things to do and time is running out. But later when we saw the film we understood that these little things made a huge difference for the look and feel of the film. Given the fact that we worked in many films together, we had become great friends. I enjoyed his company a lot and still do, but unfortunately geography stops us from meeting too often. But what brought us all the more close was the collective love for food. Muzaffar Sahab is a man who loves and understands good food. Therefore, after the days shoot would end, we would stick together and gobble down the delicious meals, which were more often than not, home-cooked and needless to say, delicious.
ROLLS WHEELS The royals surely love their vintage cars, and yet Ali sold his in Mumbai to earn a ‘living’
Flashback-Life in Technicolour ON A HARSH winter morning, a group of women have assembled in the sangeet ghar (music room). Singing paeans in the lord’s praise, the women are too immersed to notice a lad of eight who has sneaked in, and is listening to them with rapt attention. Ali’s first brush with Sufi music was through zanana sangeet. His mother and her friends would gather at one place and sing to their hearts’ content. And there, little Ali would hear them sing and be moved. It was this early exposure to music that helped him develop an astounding audiovisual sense. There is music and poetry in every corner of that chaotic and comfortable room where he is sitting. A lot of Ali’s artwork—paintings and photographs—grace the walls of this room. Beyond the ornamental value, these paintings don’t just embellish; they bear witness to an artist’s love for his craft. These are paintings made by Ali which were not up for sale. There is a picture of a Rolls Royce in monochrome, the very same one he sold to survive in expensive Mumbai. As is with any artist, his affair with his brush and pencil is ethereal. One can also spot a heavy influence of Sufism in his life—whether we look at his movies, music or paintings. Ali talks about Sufism with an infective zeal. It is Sufism’s closeness to human predicament that attracts him to it. He informs me that through his films he has tried to understand the dilemmas of the human mind, especially women. Perhaps that is why his films have always had strong female protagonists. “Such is the nature of Sufi music that the pangs and conflicting emotions of a woman are sung and expressed by a man,” he says hinting at a wonderful union of the two genders in a single strain. It is this love that compels him to talk about Faiz Ahmad Faiz—who was also an inspiration behind his first movie—again and again. While talking about the layers of poetry that Gaman had,
he starts fiddling with his phone. He is looking for something; he finds it, he passes the phone. It is a message from Faiz himself; a message he sent Ali after seeing Gaman. Though he waits patiently for me to finish reading the note, his eyes give him away; they have the glint of a child who has just met his hero. But if his life could be written in couplets, it would be written by Shahryar. The great poet wrote all the lyrics of Ali’s films. Shahryar and Ali shared a deep bond; the duo were friends since their Aligharh Muslim University days. “Shahryar often complained that before meeting me he used to be a man (think like one), but since he has met me he has turned into a woman,” he breaks into a smile that reaches his eyes.
Shades of Hue Muzaffar Ali in his various moods. A true royalty, he loves his stallion. A passionate yet easy going filmmaker, someone who gives his actors as much creative space as they desire. And finally a family man, Ali is a doting father and a loving husband
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“Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman is a poem in visuals. The movie’s
tragic lyricism and its muted eloquence is deeply perceptive;
its sensitively conceived and truthfully captured slice of reality around us—the heart-
break of the human situation in town and country— makes it a sheer delight, a veritable tour de force.” 26-8-78 FAIZ AHMAD FAIZ
ROYAL PRIDE Ali is fascinated by the style, strength and speed of a horse. He loves stallions above all
Behind the Scenes TODAY, MUZAFFAR ALI spends his time flitting between Lucknow and Delhi. He is yet to cut the umbilical cord that ties him to his hometown. The mention of Lucknow brings back memories of a childhood spent gallivanting in the dusty lanes of the ancestral village. Ali was born into the Royal Muslim Rajput Family of Kotwara. His father, the Raja of Kotwara was also a member of the Communist Party of Scotland and for him “being a raja meant working for the benefit of people and not ruling them.” When Ali admits of harbouring Leftist sympathies, you realise it is a legacy that he has inherited from his father, who returned to his country right when it was days away from Independence. It was a time when the ‘royals of India’ were living in the shadow of a glorious past. “What I saw was a skeleton of something spectacular” says Ali. But his father remained unfazed by the days long past. Instead, he marched right ahead and started a party for the local farmers, Haljutta Party that fought for their rights. The birth of the party couldn’t have been better timed. It was almost as if Ali’s father had foreseen the eventual exploitation of farmers that became a reality in freshly Independent India. Like father, Ali too believes in working for the welfare of the people. Today, he is trying to generate employment for the people in his hometown and reviving the ‘local culture and tradition of the City of Nawabs’. He talks about his current project Jhadi se Saree with great fervour. It is a project involving nine yards of
silk where his and his teams’ involvement starts right at the beginning; from the time a tree is planted, to the breeding of the silk worms. It is a peculiar project, but Ali is nothing if not unconventional. “My motive was to provide as much scope for employment as possible. It was imperative that we had all the stages of production happening right here so as to include as many people as possible in the project and maintain a strict eye on the quality,” he says. His studio in Delhi—named after his ancestral village, Kotwara—doubles up as his film, music and design studio. He takes care of it along with his wife Meera Ali. Here he teaches his craft to aspiring young designers. His customers are well-known faces such as the talented Irrfan Khan and fashionista Sonam Kapoor. In a bid to keep the traditional weaves and textiles alive, he focuses his attention on creating high-end Indian attires. Ali appears to be displeased about the increasing ‘western’ influence on society. And this displeasure isn’t limited to clothes. “The fact that you and I are having a conversation in English rather than Hindi is proof of how much we like everything foreign,” he says. By now the clock hands tell me that I have gone beyond the designated hour that I had for the interview. It is time to leave. As I gather my things, Ali gets up and takes out a thick notebook and hands it over. It is a yellowed, much thumbed booklet. I realise it is the script for Zooni. “This is the 23rd one,” he admits with a rueful smile. He puts it back gently and neatly. On my way back, I ruminate over the day but am interrupted by a song. “Ye kya jageh hai doston, ye kaunsa dayar hai Had-e-nigah tak jaha gubar hi gubar hai” I smile to myself. We steer forward leaving a cloud of dust behind.
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Growing Noise of
CYBER PROTESTS Sociologists are increasingly looking at the web world for collective action and information cascade BY TUSHAR KANWAR
ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL MEDIA //
ILLUSTRATION BY ANIL T
ahrir and #Guwahati, #OccupyWallStreet and #Kony2102. Four different continents, one common theme. Of masses rising up against crimes—crimes of governance, gender discrimination, economic and at worst, against humanity. And that each of these movements for justice played out at a social network near you, with millions of armchair activists expressing their digital solidarity by “liking” or retweeting their support. But does “liking” or retweeting messages of solidarity mean that you care? And what is the difference between liking a status update about latest Batman movie and one that condemns the atrocities committed by a corrupt Ugandan leader against children? I mean, it sure looks the same when you’re doing it, doesn’t it? And that’s the criticism “clicktivists” or “slacktivists” tend to get—that they take easy actions in support of a cause, such as signing an online petition, liking a Facebook page or adding a flag or a ribbon to their online avatar, and that’s pretty much where their involvement ends. Or that they lack real commitment, care only about momentary self-satisfaction and polishing up their digital avatars, and don’t really contribute to any meaningful change. The question that it really boils down to is–can a click make a difference in the real world. By itself, and in isolation, probably not, but when combined with thousands and even millions of other clicks, it builds social momentum. This support, even if it is part-time, brings a lot more into the fold than would previously have been possible, even if it is just online. Drawing a line of distinction between online activity and real-world behavior is becoming increasingly less relevant, when for many of us, our online lives are becoming inextricably linked with our offline ones.
Look at Guwahati, for instance. The seemingly simple (and for cynics effectively meaningless) act of forwarding messages of support for the harassed teenager took the video viral and made mainstream national news sit up and take notice of what could have remained a stray regional event. The widespread support and ensuing coverage forced the hand of the administration to doggedly pursue and eventually nab the culprits. Did Facebook and Twitter do this all by themselves? Hardly. But experts, such as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, argues that such events clearly play a crucial role in creating what she terms a “collective action/information cascade” that drive the protests out of the online world and into the “real” one. Or Egypt for that matter. With thousands of people joining and expressing solidarity for Facebook pages focused on the revolution, not only did this create a larger sense of community around such issues, but with Facebook’s real name policies which allow the authorities to track dissidents through these networks, it showed movement leaders that there is a very “real” outpouring of support, one that could help tip things over from simple online communities to real world activism. Ditto for the Occupy Wall Street protests or the support for Anna Hazare—online expressions of political anger channeled into a cause help build a visible momentum, which itself is one of the condition of success. So what’s the bottom line? That just because people are doing something easy on social media doesn’t mean that’s all they are doing. In fact, a study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication in late 2010 and 2011 showed that “slacktivists” (or “social champions” are they are referred to) are twice as likely to volunteer their real world
PARADOX OF CYBER PROTESTS (A study commissioned by George C Marshall Policy Outlook Institute) Cyberspace presents a new wrinkle in a relationship between protestors and society. Grassroots groups, established political parties, and special interests have all used it for traditional political activity: organizing, fund-raising, communications, training, and proselytizing. As often as not, protestors object to actions by large institutions such as government, multinational corporations, even churches that they believe are suppressing free speech on-line or otherwise oppressing individual liberty, all entirely legitimate topics of political discussion. Just a few years ago, cyber protests, such as web defacement, or the organisation of small-scale street protests often resembled collegiate pranks more than anything else. They could be quite creative and were often amusing—a form of post-modern satire that combined theater with computers to deflate groups that appeared (to the activists, anyway) to suffer from an excess of ego, power, or social indifference. One of the more aggressive activist groups, Anonymous, has popularized the Guy Fawkes mask used in a recent dystopian movie as a symbol of resistance to an authoritarian state, now rendering it seemingly ubiquitous wherever protesters gather. Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain would recognise the content, if not the medium. But in the last 24 months, the political use of cyberspace has taken a darker turn. One strain of activists has used cyber capabilities to attack social, political, economic, and public institutions directly.
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time to causes, whether it is by way of demonstrations, donations or soliciting donations on behalf of their cause, and often do so in a manner that has the highest potential to influence others. And what if you’re looking for good folks to advance your cause online? Katya Andresen, Chief Strategy Officer for Network for Good, a leading donation platform for cause support has some recommendations. She suggests that folks fronting the digital front for a movement should understand slacktivists rather than stereotype them—just because they are willing to quickly click on a link to show their support doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to do more for the cause (or already doing so, for that matter). And just like the rest of us, slacktivists show stronger support for some causes closer to them than others, and it is only by strong engagement that you can ascertain their level of interest. Net, do not slack off when it comes to engaging with slacktivists—they may be far more enthusiastic and interested than you think. The only word of caution—keep a check on expectations. For many folks, a simple message such as “If you care enough to show this visible sign of support and donate a meager amount of money, trust us and we will go and fix this world issue for you” is enough to goad them into action and donate. Instead, one should outline a list of measurable actions that can actually be achieved. Remember, the world isn’t that easy to fix, and all social media has done is flatten the traditional setting for conversations to allow many more unknowns to finally have a voice that can be heard. Recommended Reading: Refreshing the Revolution: Social media and Activism (http://bit.ly/DW-SocActivism) and The Best Activism in Social Media (http://bit.ly/DW-BestActivism)
Tushar Kanwar, a self-confessed gizmo-holic, is Bengaluru-based technology freelancer, who has contributed to leading Indian technology publications for years.
Good Looks. And then? Boss, what is this obsession with looking good all the time—every minute of the day you wish to look good now, is it? Not happening. And yeah! I am talking to the gentlemen as well. How is it possible to look good always—do you work in a saloon? Earlier, they used to call a saloon a beauty parlour. Ladies would go there to do things, mostly with threads. At that time, the men would sit and read magazines and see pictures of ladies... I mean girls. But then these beauty parlour fellows totally messed it up. They saw ki men are wasting time! So they said, “Arrey, we will cut hair for men too, come-come!” So today women are getting haircut. And next seat, men are also getting haircut. Women are looking into the mirror seriously. And men are also looking into the mirror at the women seriously. Best part, women know everything that is happening. Still they act as if they don't. What boss? Why such acting? Men look because hair is boring. If it is boring, why you are looking at it? Go watch television or play games. Anyway you are going to put your hairband on your wrist only. For that why so much trouble? Once, we used to happily go to the Malabar Saloon and get a haircut and all. Now, suddenly all the 'saloon' fellows have become 'salon' fellows. Best is, they dropped one o from saloon and added two 00s to the price! `10 hair cut is `1,000. Arrey! At least put some radio on, no? Some decent music or general knowledge will come. Instead they are playing party music. What?! Boss, hair is getting cut yaar, how to shake the leg to the music? Will you face the consequence of ugly haircut? Maybe you will, I won’t. On top of all this, they are selling hair cream to give that 'just-outof-bed’ look. Arrey! If I want to get that look, I will simply get out of bed and go straight, no? Indecent fellow will cut
the hair and simply leave, no? He won’t. Very cleverly he will look at your face and say “Sir, your skin is too rough and ugly patches are coming. You want to remove them?” We are thinking ki, “Boss, if guy calling me ugly, means that girls calling me more ugly.” Men are feeling like this—means, imagine how women will feel when asked like this? Ok, no need to imagine. And he also wants to cut my nails it seems. No thank you. I have 'Made in Korea' nail-cutter at home. And the trouble taken in the gym. Uff!! No need to mention at all. I think the gym fellows are our creditors in the previous birth. Otherwise why we will simply give money and forget about it? Especially because anyhow you are visiting Frankie’s every alternate day. What is the point? And yes, six-pack is useless. Women will look and drool. But ultimately fall for the 'chubby, cute guy with nice paunch' because he looks ‘normal’. Why bother anyway? You put fairness cream wherever you want to, but result will be same-same. Somebody will be always fairer. So don’t bother. There are six billion people in this planet. Who are you trying to impress? Boss, you do whatever you want to look good. Nothing wrong. Your money, you spend. If nothing is working you can at least download some nice filters on Adobe Light Room and impress others. Anyhow you are already using Instagram. But see, just looking good is not at all important, no? Ordinary looking people cannot live in this planet, is it? Who said? However ‘beautiful’ you are, if you are walking around with a frown means what is the point? People will throw mustard at your face and it will explode only. I don’t understand why we are trying so hard when there is an easy way. Put one simple honest smile. That’s all. (To read Local Tea Party's blog go to: http://thelocalteaparty.com/ )
VIVEK BHANDARI | Historian & Sociologist
Democracy and Truth Set up
commissions to help unravel the real problems
IN A COUNTRY as large and diverse as
India, its democratic culture is tested relentlessly. Things are further complicated by the fact that India is in the throes of a structural transition from its post-colonial Licence-Raj culture to its status as a free market ‘breakout nation’, to use Ruchir Sharma’s phrase. The fact that this transition is being attempted even as the global economic recovery continues to remain listless, basically indicates that the country’s democratic ethos is being challenged to its hilt. Over the past month or so, three seemingly unrelated events have occurred in quick succession which would allow me to punctuate the argument of this essay—how in the middle of a cacophonous, jingoistic and often-manipulative narrative shaping India’s democratic culture, there is an urgent need to create a space for truth and reconciliation, demystification and honesty. Without such a space, one fears that the country may continue to stumble from crisis to crisis. To elucidate my concern, I could talk of three events: the first occurred
between June 28 and June 29 when an armed encounter took place in Bastar between a group of ‘Naxalites’ and CRPF officers leading to 18 deaths. Early reports stated that the deceased were all Maoist insurgents. As the story unfolded, it came to the fore that the dead may have included civilians some of them barely teenagers. In the weeks that followed, the previously hailed ‘successful counter-insurgency operation’, led by the CRPF in collaboration with the state government, turned into a target of condemnation. To compound matters, a committee report by the Chhattisgarh Congress Committee also alleged that the ‘rebels’ shot did include villagers. In their defence, top CRPF officers went on to describe how murky things really were on the ground. Without in any way discounting the difficulties of policing Left-wing extremism, especially of the sort which has been growing in the triumvirate states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, events like the one mentioned raise uncomfortable questions about the degree to
ABOUT THE WRITER Dr Vivek Bhandari is a noted historian and former director of the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), a post he took up after spending 15 years in the US. Today he is a keen observer of a dramatically transitioning India
which our country’s internal security apparatus is in touch with the local realities they are trying to improve. Given the long and difficult history of the Indian government’s relationship with tribal lands—as designated within the framework of the Constitution’s Scheduled Lists—events like these are likely to exacerbate the trust deficit between the state and citizens in these areas. The second event occurred on July 7, 2012, when RTI activist Ramesh Agrawal (56) was shot by unknown assailants in Chhattisgarh. Over the past few years, Agrawal has been in the news because of his attempts to uncover the processes associated with the grant of land for coalmining projects in northern Chhattisgarh and earlier land grants for the iron and steel industries. Within days of the attack on Agrawal, two other green activists—Akhil Gogoi (Assam) and Bharat Jhunjhunwala (Uttarakhand)—also using the RTI to raise questions about environmental exploitation, were also targeted. These attacks are worrying for at least two reasons. First, they reveal
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the growing intolerance in quarters towards citizens’ political engagement as a First Principle Right granted to them by the state. Second of all, they create an impression that those who actively participate in the democratic space described as the civil society can come under attack when they threaten the powerful. The third event relates to the ongoing dispute over the grant of land to POSCO, the third-largest producer of steel in the world. POSCO has been trying to set up its operations in Orissa for years now. This initiative has a checkered past and it continues to insinuate itself into the lives of Orissa’s rural communities. The initiative has resurfaced because the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti— leading the anti-POSCO agitation has—organised a rally at Gobindpur, Orissa, to reiterate its opposition to land acquisition for the mega steel project. Not surprisingly, a number of petitions are also circulating in cyberspace, strengthening PPSS’ mobilisation on the ground. Such mobilisations should not be viewed as passing gestures. They are signs of a growing restlessness among groups, who find themselves struggling to get their voices heard in the legitimate forums of India. They are also symptomatic of a sense of hurt and resentment among those who, despite the land laws such as Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and Forests Rights Act (FRA), feel bulldozed by imperatives of India’s growth story. These three randomly selected events (one can identify more) help punctuate the growing strain on the country’s democratic polity which to a large extent is a result of grow-
Any attempt at reconciliation and justice must be preceded by a commitment to the truthful demystification of past wrongs as narrated by principle actors” ing (class, ideological and cultural) rifts within the civil society. Each constituency chooses to see things from its partial vantage point with little empathy for the other. For all intents and purposes, the Indian government continues to treat Naxalism purely as a law-and-order problem, and not a political one—even as tribal groups resent attacks on their lands as an assault on indigenous livelihoods and culture. RTI activists are perceived as a rag-tag bunch of troublemakers. Those opposing big industries, such as the Gobindpur community, are described as antigrowth and by extension anti-India; leading them to question the motives of private capital and state. In the middle of these divergent viewpoints, facts often slip through cracks. In these circumstances, what is the way forward from the perceived sense of injustice felt on all sides? The answer lies in truth. Any attempt at reconciliation and justice must be preceded by a commitment to the truthful demystification of past wrongs as experienced and narrated by the principle actors. This must be
done in ways that are, and are perceived as, legitimate by all parties. An instrument that has had some success in this regard is the truth commission, like those set up in countries since the 1970s. Like any instrument, the commission’s success is contingent on intentions of those using it. Indeed, the success of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1995 after the abolition of Apartheid, came on the heels of 20 truth commissions that preceded it. History shows us that such processes are never easy. And South Africa is not India. While by no means perfect, such initiatives are critical building blocks in pursuit of justice and democratic goals. Quite simply, preserving democratic values requires work and a spirit of humility. With sense of betrayal and resentment growing among so many constituencies in India, initiatives such as this need to be pursued with a sense of urgency. Honestly, there is no moment to lose. (Views expressed are of the author alone)
looking back \\ V. SANJAY KUMAR
ARTIST UNBOUND V. Sanjay Kumar on his serendipitous tryst with the art world and on arts impact on the ordinary BY MANJIRI INDURKAR
looking back V. SANJAY KUMAR //
NAME: V. Sanjay Kumar, Director, Sakshi Art Gallery ORGANISATION: Sakshi Art Gallery, Mumbai FOUNDED: 1988 DEBUT NOVEL: Artist Undone
WEBSITE: http://www. sakshigallery.com/
n my growing up years had someone asked me for my opinion on art or the business of art, I would have guffawed and moved on. Today I am an ‘insider’ in this world. Thus how someone like me, who majored in finance and left his city Chennai to set up a finance services outfit business in Mumbai, ended up in this trade, is quite a story. The connection was serendipitous, if I may say so. Just like the protagonist of my novel, I never knew that I would be so enchanted. It all started on my wedding day, when an acquaintance gifted me a Hussain. I was amazed and embarrassed by the magnanimous gesture and had no clue to the piece’s value. To find out, I began visiting art galleries and within my first few visits, I ended up buying a work by Jogen Chowdhury. I did not know who Chowdhury was or what made his (or any other artistes’ art for that matter) so expensive. But I was curious and wished to fathom how the process worked—who decided the prices, how were the pieces sold or what kept the market afloat. Once I started researching, I got hooked. Thus began my wonderful journey with Sakshi Art Gallery. We started the gallery in 1988, at a time when the Indian art scene was not thriving. Our biggest challenge was that it was not a firm that we inherited from our parents. It was something that we were setting up on our own. And as participants we were but amateurs. However, we were sure that this is where we wanted to be—so my business partner Geetha and I rented out a place and started exhibiting art. I have been into the art business for 24 years now. Yet, the curiosity to discover this beautiful world never ceases. My book Artist, Undone is my way of exploring the Indian art scene and its impact upon strangers ignorant of the existence of this parallel universe. I have been blessed
“But I was curious and wished to fathom how the process worked— who decided the prices, how the pieces sold or what kept the market afloat. I was hooked...” by the company of so many artistes. Their lives have caught my fancy and inspired me. I know their side of the story to an extent; and it was these stories from the other side of the fence that I wished to share with the world as well. Also there was a curiosity to delve into the issue of human frailty—to see how someone in his forties, after reaching a stage in life where the way forth is foggy, would react to an irrational decision. Thus my protagonist Harsh Sinha ends up buying a painting which costs as much a BMW on an impulse. This is the premise for my novel—a vulnerable man (Harsh) enters the art world because of an impulsive decision. And it goes on to change his entire life—as art does. I have tried to explore the tremendous possibilities of the art world through my book. I say tried because writing is something I am yet to come to terms with. When I decided to enter the art business, my family reconciled with my decision; after all it was just a ‘business’ at the end of the day. But when I decided to write a book, I think I took them by surprise. Heck, I think I took myself by surprise. I am not someone who holds a degree in literature nor can I call myself well read. I have been a finance guy and am comfortable with numbers. The feeling, the sense of achievement, is still sinking in. I am still in a transitional stage—moving on to the next chapter of my life, hopefully, as a writer. I guess this journey of self-actualisation is a central theme in my book. Almost all my characters have shades
of me and experience self-exploratory journies of their own. With Harsh Sinha I share his existential dilemmas, his curiosity for the art world and what it could do to him; with Manoj Tyagi (the Naami Chor) I share experiences of the business world and the challenges it holds for its players. Having said that, there are several recurring, secondary themes in this book. It deals with the dilemmas that individuals face in stages of their lives. Hopefully what the book would manage to do is to de-elitise the Indian art world for the middle-class. We do not promote a culture that takes pride in our visual arts; our energies are focused on performing arts. But, I am hopeful because over the past years the scene has been changing. What gave me my peg was a painting by Natraj Sharma called Fat, F**ked and Forty. The moment I saw the piece, I knew that I had my beginning. Before you judge me as the most 'sorted-out writer', know that I am an indisciplined one. Perhaps because the process is new; I am hopeful that someday (when I have an ‘enviable’ body of work) I will be able to streamline my thoughts in a more organised fashion.
Looking Back I have never looked too far ahead into the future nor too much into the past—I have gone ‘with the flow’. Though I have tried various things in life and explored varied fields, I have never planned anything. I do not believe in looking back or second guessing my choices.
issue | A closer look at anti-avoidance
A Troublesome Acronym
This year’s General Budget introduced a strange acronym to the Indian economy—GAAR. For those who are raising their eyebrows, it means ‘General Anti Avoidance Rule’ and is aimed at regulating tax structure and controlling avoidance of tax. Tax avoidance seriously undermines the achievements of the public finance objective of collecting revenues in an efficient, equitable and effective manner. GAAR aims to target tax evaders, stopping Indian companies and investors from routing investments through Mauritius or similar tax havens for the sole purpose of avoiding taxes BY SANJAY KUMAR
VODAFONE ESSAR CASE THE MAIN issue of the
case was tax and the measures taken by the government to ensure that the parties involved did not evade taxes later, leading to litigation. Trouble began when The Essar group sought a refund of the $883 million (`4,426 crore) that Vodafone Plc ‘withheld’ as guarantee to pay the Income Tax department while buying 22 per cent stake in Vodafone Essar from Essar
The immediate context of introducing the GAAR is the Vodafone Essar Supreme Court case and ruling which was in favour of the company. The verdict simply states that the Income Tax authorities in India will not have any jurisdiction over a sale transaction which happened elsewhere (outside India), with neither the buyer nor the seller being an Indian resident. And in the meantime Vodafone Essar, a part of the UK-based Vodafone Group, has been asked to pay an Income Tax of `11,000 crore. Vodafone which is the second-largest telecom operator in India has hailed the judgment. The introduction of GAAR in the General Budget 2012-2013 has raised suspicions and apprehensions in the corporate world. Now there is this belief that a “stricter tax structure” will discourage foreign investments. As a result it will accelerate India’s economic crisis. Critics say that GAAR has created an uncertain and arbitrary environment in India. They also contend that the sweeping powers granted to the “assessing officers” to question transactions done by any company and to label it as “tax avoidance”, provides them an enormous scope of power which can be easily abused.
However, the GAAR proponents say that the rule will improve revenue collection and stop the entry of black money into the country. Sensing the opposition and apprehensions of the corporate world, the Centre has deferred the implementation of GAAR for a year. Recently, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who also holds the Finance Portfolio, set up a committee to prepare fresh norms on the controversial tax provision to bring 'greater clarity' and prepare a roadmap by September 30, 2012, for its implementation. The four-member committee is to be headed by the Indian Council for Research and International Economic Relations (ICRIER) chief, and taxation expert, Parthasarathi Shome. The committee will submit its report after consulting stakeholders. Democratic World spoke to two experts to gauge both sides of the story. Talking in favour of GAAR is Dr S. Narayan, President of the Centre for Asia Studies, a policy think-tank based in Chennai. And pointing out the problematic bits of the rule is economist Bibek Debroy. Debroy was educated at Delhi School of Economics and Trinity College and began his career as an academician.
A CLOSER LOOK AT GA AR //
DR S NARAYAN Analyst and economist
Dr S. Narayan has spent nearly four decades in public service in development administration for state and central governments of India. His career as an administrator began in 1965. His last appointment was as the Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister between 2003 and 2004 DR S. NARAYAN// The anti-avoidance rule
has been brought to strengthen the tax regime and plug loopholes that are being used by investors and corporate houses to avoid taxes. Due to the lack of a proper mechanism to check tax avoidance, black money is being pumped into our country. The Centre wishes to stop this practice and the antiavoidance rule is a way to streamline that investment and push-up revenue generation. We want investments flowing into this country to come through proper channels. I believe that the anti-avoidance rule is cardinal to India and we need it, at least in
this stage of the country’s economic growth. This law is not specific to just India, other countries have it as well. Liberalisation does not mean a free run to all kinds of investments. It means allowing the right investment which enables growth and profit through legal channels. If you allow indiscriminate investment without checking its source, there would be trouble. However, people are not ready to put their trust into the rule as yet; so the Prime Minister’s Committee has been appointed to look into it. The committee will monitor the
rule’s role and impact on revenue generation and fine-tune it in relation to policies. I realise that people fear that the rule/ law may be manipulated or used against investors. And the committee will look into this aspect. It will ensure that the law stays investor-friendly. I believe that the present Indian income tax rules and regulations are not investor friendly. If GAAR comes into being, then it could become instrumental in inviting potential investors. We need to stop taking the easy route if we really wish to check tax-evasion. Just because investors are opposing it, we should not bring in the GAAR? I am sorry, but I cannot subscribe to such a baseless argument. Why should an honest tax-payer be afraid of the GAAR? Only those who wish to avoid tax, will fear it. Do you think a genuine investor will oppose it? It is a law that is a must for an economy such as ours, as it ensures tax security. Albeit a little modification may be required. But that is where the committee comes in—to ensure that it is in the best interest of everyone. Every businessperson should feel comfortable while investing in India. We are looking forward to inviting more foreign investments into this country. Before we do that we need to decide exactly what kind of investment we want—legal or illegal? GAAR has been suggested keeping in mind the larger interests of our country. And believe it or not, law and investment can go hand-in-hand. In fact, they do coexist peacefully in other economies. Contrary to what many are saying, I do not believe that the law has been introduced post the Vodafone Essar case (which I will point out as a solid example of tax avoidance). It would not be erroneous to assume that the company took advantage of the lack of a clear law on anti-avoidance. After all, the deal was related to an Indian company. Just because the transaction took place outside India does not give a firm the right to avoid tax in India. Off late there has been increasing talks on corruption in this country. GAAR can check the source of black money (which is a related concern) and make dealings and transactions transparent.
\\ A CLOSER LOOK AT GA AR
BIBEK DEBROY Economist
BIBEK DEBROY// I do not believe that any
of the concerned parties have anything personal against the General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR). The reason behind all the hullaballoo is because of the way the rule is being pushed by the Centre. Any attempt at the implementation of an important rule should be better thought-out and planned. I believe that the issue needs to be examined within the context of the Direct Tax Code (DTC). DTC already lays down provisions for the anti-avoidance rule. Had GAAR been introduced as a part of the DTC, there would have been less reservations against it. The core problem does not lie in the idea, but in the manner in which it is being pursued. For now, the question bugging every mind is; will this rule prove to be anti-investment? It might, if it is implemented in an arbitrary fashion. It might also lead to an abuse of power. If it is implemented in a systemic fashion—and here I am not talking about any particular ‘case’—then there is always a possibility that it might it work. The rule, as a whole, may appear to be against investment and corporate sectors, but I believe it is rather too early to speculate. We should ideally wait for the Prime Minister’s Committee Report. How far will the committee’s recommendations be acceptable to the corporate or industrial sectors remains to be seen. Does India need something like the GAAR? Yes, but not in the manner that is being suggested. One needs to look at it as the removal of exemptions. Remember the core issue is of ‘tax avoidance/exemption’ which is not the same as tax evasion. Exemption/ avoidance is perfectly legal, while evasion is not. As long as it addresses the issue, the anti-avoidance rule might just work out. What I have been saying often is to treat every case as unique. The Vodafone Essar case was one of its kind. It began in July 2011 when Essar Communications and Essar Com, both wholly-owned subsidiaries of Essar Communications (Mauritius) sold 22 per cent stake in Vodafone Essar to the
Vodafone Group; as a part of a larger deal. Vodafone bought out Essar’s 33 per cent stake in Vodafone Essar. Under the pact, Vodafone paid Essar, but withheld an additional `4,426 crore as tax. Both companies had then said they believed there was no tax due on the deal. Both felt it was wiser to deduct and pay withholding tax. And then have Essar Communications and Essar Com claim a refund. The Indian revenue authorities, on their part, claimed that though the deal was inked between two foreign entities via share transfer, the deal should be taxed in India because it involved Indian assets. The income tax department charged Vodafone Plc for not deducting tax at source. Recently, Vodafone won its case against the incometax department in the Supreme Court. Thus, establishing a certain precedence. The court ruling goes against the new antiavoidance rule that is being contemplated. If the GAAR comes into being; will it come in a retrospective manner? Will the Centre levy penalty to the companies for the deeds of the past? The Centre should have stated the basis of all transactions much ahead—I have a problem with the knee-jerk reaction that the policy makers are adopting. Had our policy-makers and administrators been forward thinking they would have acted earlier. Any action taken retrospectively is always problematic—that is why the Vodafone Essar snowballed into a controversy. We seriously need to ask ourselves whether India’s investment climate will go up with such a rule? India’s investment climate has deteriorated because of 50 different reasons and GAAR is one of them. We
Bibek Debroy was educated at Delhi School of Economics and Trinity College. Beginning his career as an academician, Debroy taught at his alma mater, Presidency College, and at the National Council of Applied Economic Research in Delhi
need rules which are investment friendly, and GAAR cannot be more ill-timed. And the manner in which it is being ushered in is creating suspicions in the minds of the people. GAAR has affected the morale of the investors. I hope the PM’s committee will address this. GAAR is adding to the pessimism prevalent in the country.
PLATFORM ASHOK MALIK | Journalist
The Duplicity of State Pride Why
Congress is to be blamed
AS THE MONSOONS played hard-to-get
all of June and early July, a perverse competitiveness was forced upon those living in the NCR—in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad. Did my area suffer longer hours of power cut today or did my colleague’s? Who had the boasting rights? Who among us broke the record? Was it the 12-hour misery in Ghaziabad or the 14-hour marathon in Gurgaon? On her part Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit blamed citizens for their plight. Just days after power tariffs went up by a substantial 26 per cent, she made it pretty plain that power cuts were unavoidable till the monsoons come. What was more, Delhiites would have to make do with less power, should learn to live with fewer units of electricity. “Naturally it is happening on a large scale,” Dikshit said, “People do not have control over power consumption… they use four to five airconditioners. They will have to change their habits.” How many people, families and households in Delhi use “four to
five” airconditioners simultaneously? The number could not be large. The number of families that use one or two air-conditioners—expected in an upper-middle class household comprising parents, grandparents and children—would probably be larger. Of course, there are families that cannot afford anything more than an air-cooler. Yet they too suffer power cuts. The issue is not about the quantum of air-conditioners. Mrs Dikhsit’s prototypical Delhi family switches on. It is the hypocrisy of the political class. When income and taxation figures from Delhi are announced, there is understandable pride among the same authorities, the same government and the same chief minister, that Delhi residents are among the richest people in India. Business tycoons and arms agents live well in Delhi. Mediapersons and NGO activists live well in Delhi—or better than their peers in other cities. Clerks, drivers and domestic staff live well in Delhi—they earn, spend and save
Ashok Malik has been a political journalist for over 20 years. He is now an independent columnist living in New Delhi and writing for a variety of publications, both in India and internationally. His area of focus is India’s political economy and foreign policy and their increasing intersection
more than they would in other cities. This explains why not just the rich with their “four to five” airconditioners—as per the chief minister’s assessment—but even humble folk, including the cook who cycles home from work or the office peon who takes the long bus ride back from the heart of the city to, say, its eastern fringes, can realistically hope for a television, an air-cooler and, with some thrift and enterprise, even a small or second-hand air-conditioner. This aspiration should not be mocked. It is hard-won achievement, recognition of the individual’s labour as well as the prodigious economic opportunities Delhi gives its residents and its migrants. If this prosperity is a badge of honour for the government to wear and show off, does it not also confer obligations on the very same government? If Delhi is becoming more prosperous, should not its government use the incremental revenue it is earning to make allowance for more power sources—rather than
A SHOK MALIK //
If this prosperity is a badge of honour for the government to wear and show off, does it not also confer obligations on the very same government?”
just wait for the monsoons, which all of India does every year anyway and has been doing since before Dikshit became chief minister? The issue here is not just about Delhi. The shortage economy, the failure of public utilities to ensure infrastructure upgrade with rising needs and expectations of citizens across the country—particularly in teeming, overcrowded but severely under-equipped cities—represents not ordinary misgovernance but one of the greatest public-service betrayals of our time. While all parties are guilty of this in some form or the other, the brunt must be borne by the Congress, India’s oldest, largest and longest-ruling party, one that has been in power at the Centre since 2004. There are two reasons why the Congress is to blame far more than anybody else. First, there is a larger conceptual problem. A perverted idea of socialism has been allowed to flourish and, frankly speaking, fester in India. It glorifies poverty and scarcity, worships Daridra Narayan ico-
nography and pointedly looks down upon any ambition for the good life even seeking to de-legitimise it. In this framework, to seek electricity and hope for air-conditioners is not only not justifiable but downright evil. Other countries don’t see it like this. From the American Midwest to the interiors of China, there are several locations with summer temperatures as high as those in India. Yet air-conditioned work-places and commuter networks are facilitated here as a matter of course, not some privilege given to the people by a munificent state. This ensures the worker reaches his factory or office comfortably and not dripping in sweat or broiling from the journey. It means he or she starts work at once without waiting to recover from the extremities of the weather. This enhances individual, corporate and social productivity. Such an assumption is not rocket science. It is not as if merely capitalism and open markets recognise the need and utility of electricity and
other systems of politico-economic organisation don’t. One of Lenin’s oft-quoted maxims in the early years of the Soviet Union was: “Communism is socialism plus electricity”. In Delhi, the mantra has been tweaked: ‘Crony capitalism is socialism minus electricity’. No wonder Dikshit feels she can get away with blaming her citizens for their power problems. The second reason the Congress should be pointing fingers at itself is specific to the UPA government. Why is power capacity enhancement at a virtual standstill in the country? Why did a particularly cussed environment minister spend two years shutting down not just coal blocks but entire coal-fields, even as associated power plants—with millions invested in them—came up but were rendered silent and sullen? Was there a direct correlation between that environmental exhibitionism and this summer’s power outages? It’s a question that won’t go away. (Views expressed in this article are of the author alone)
PHOTOS BY CEQUIN
\\ EK TITLI
STORY OF A
BUTTERFLY Ek Titli and its green crusaders are bent on changing the world and making it a healthy place BY MANJIRI INDURKAR
eople say that if there are ‘idiots’ crazy enough to think they can change the world, they probably will. Vaibhav Dugar is one such ‘idiot’ who has set out to change the world through his green revolution—Ek Titli. Through this venture, his team and Dugar are raising environmental concerns and spreading awareness about organic farming which they see as a cure and part of the larger vision of ‘keeping this planet green and
good karma EK TITLI //
“ I can plant a tree in your garden. I can take care of it. But I can not guarantee that the tomatoes will grow to the size you want them to” —Vaibhav Dugar
ORGANISATION NAME: Ek Titli FOUNDER NAME: Vaibhav Dugar FOUNDED IN: December 2010 LOCATION: The Urban Ashram, Pune WEBSITE: www.ektitli.org
sustainable’. Dugar was still in college—finishing his BTech—when the idea of Ek Titli struck him. In those days, it was just an awareness campaign. A group of college kids would roam the streets of Pune talking to people about the environment and distributing seeds and saplings to them. After finishing college in 2007, Dugar moved to Mumbai and took up a job with NDTV Movies as their marketing executive. It was here that he met some, “Inspiring people who were doing some amazing things.” Dugar and his friend Bhavik Kaul (co-founder of Ek Titli who has now moved on) would often discuss environmental issues and talk about the probable solutions. “We were not the ones who would just sit and crib about things,” says Dugar, who along with Bhavik, quit their cushy jobs at NDTV to start the organisation called Ek Titli. It was not a difficult decision to make. “I had to take a call and I did so,” admits Dugar. The idea was simple, and needless to add, effective. Just like home-cooked food is tastier and healthier that the one served in restaurants, home-grown veggies and fruits—
not doused in chemical fertilisers— are also tastier and healthier than what you get in the market. There is no denying the fact that over use of fertilisers kills the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables we consume. And this is why Ek Titli has become one of the successful, independent NGOs of India. Its aim is to change the way India—and finally the world—eats. Instead of just talking about the ever rising temperature, bring about a change, plant a tree or a shrub in your home. Whatever little space there is in the house, turn it into a farm, they say. And Ek Titli will help you to do it, for a minimum price which covers the cost of the saplings that they buy. Before starting the organisation, the duo forced respective parents to spend gift money to buy seeds and saplings. Now they are making others do the same and turning terraces, gardens and smaller balconies into farms. Along with this, Ek Titli also organises workshops from time-totime to educate people about the evils of pesticides and teaches them how to start an organic farm. That is not all—the Ek Titli portal is a one stop spot for eco-bloggers. Dugar once met a man who had built a wind mill and was providing electricity to around 100 homes. After meeting him he felt that his story needed to be told. “And why just his, there were many others relentlessly working towards the cause of the environment. For them we got this portal,” informs Dugar. Today, people share or swap stories on the website.
Currently Ek Titli has received even greater prominence; once India started to look at organic food as the new sexy. It is happening and healthy, and this seems to work well for Dugar, whose biggest challenge was battling people’s perception when he first started. “I can plant a tree in your garden. I can take care of it. But I can not guarantee that the tomatoes will grow to the size you want them to.” Though he still struggles with perceptions, he also sympathises with his clients’ concerns. “I understand that there is a cost involved but then it is a small price to pay for the sake of the environment and nutrition. It is your money and our labour and you get a better world for free,” he adds. The name, Ek Titli, was inspired by the Chaos Theory or the Butterfly Effect. The organisation is now hoping to create a larger ripple; like a butterfly flaps one wing causing the other to flutter and therefore making it fly. Ek Titli too is trying to take flight. These are crazy people who consider building a “terrace farm to be the biggest achievement,” and are staying afloat by creating “micro-farms and things like that”. Currently, Ek Titli is just confined to Pune. However, through their website they have touched other pockets of the country as well. Currently, they are working on an expansion plan wherein Gujarat is their next bastion. In this quest for the improbable, we hope that there comes a day when you hear a knock on the door and the lone butterfly asks you to join her as she soars.
“I still feel vulnerable because it’s me, it’s my life, it’s my mistakes and lessons”
— Dave Bessling
The Liquid Refuses To Ignite Need a life-changing book?
Pick something else. Read The Liquid for its irreverence, wit, tone and brutal honesty BY ROHINI BANERJEE
“I REMEMBER having some ‘happy
pizza’ in Cambodia once and being stoned for a whole day, but I didn’t relive 10 years of my life in a hallucination. Not even close. I just giggled a lot and thought the central pillar at Ankor Vat looked like the chute of a magic beanstalk. But that was easily attributed to what I’d ingested: the product of some magic seeds.—Dave Besseling, author of The Liquid Refuses to Ignite. That was Besseling puzzled— Ankor Vat’s hallucinogenics gave him the ‘giggles’. Varanasi’s innocuous lassi led to a series of slo’-mo’ to super-fast flashbacks, filmishtyle. Of course, there is that small possibility that the flashbacks were induced by what Besseling ate/drank/consumed the evening before. Or, they were the early symptoms of the severe stomach flu which would flatten him later. (Caution; if you are tender-hearted then read the lurid descriptions of his flu symptoms at your own risk.) Those who wonder why there are so many tourists and truth-seekers in all the Indian ‘holy cities’ or in South East Asia—this book will not provide you with any answers. And thank the lord for that.
Besseling’s The Lquid Refuses To Ignite was not written to enlighten— neither the inhabitants of the host country nor its guests; those who come to ‘holy places’ to seek answers or hallucinate their way to Nirvana. The Canadian-born, tattoo artistcum-journalist’s first book is a compilation of essays some of which have already been published in Tehelka, Caravan and MW. It would be wise to treat this book as just that—a selfindulgent act of looking back at the trippy days that were. And be thankful that it is being cleverly told. The Liquid is quite evidently a western tourist’s tale—whether he is backpacking across the Far East or in this tropical mess of a country of ours. His currency and its exchange rate gives him a scope to see the world in relative comfort. And let’s face it, when he walks, he walks along a ‘substance route’. His is a road trip fuelled by drugs and sex, which makes for an interesting read. Somewhere along the way there is that bit of epiphenomena thrown in—problem is unless you care enough about Besseling, this book would not do much for you.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Book: The Liquid Refuses to Ignite Author: Dave Besseling Publisher: Hachette Pages: 336 Price: `395 (Hardback)
However the fact that the book is nostalgic is not problematic. Comparing Besseling’s first attempt to the life-changing work of a certain Hunter S Thompson is. The Liquid follows Besseling on his travels from Varanasi to Tokyo, Amsterdam, Prague, Kathmandu, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Paris, Manali and Kashmir before ending in Nepal. Well yes, if you are thinking drug trail, you are not too far from the truth. Unlike Thomspon’s Fear And Loathing (the jacket makes the reference. So let us harp on this a bit more, shall we?), Besseling’s tone lacks solidity. Which is a disappointment because one hopes he would do better. Both Besseling and Late Hunter Thompson share a passion for trippy substances, interesting routes and eccentric companions. However, is it enough? Can we compare a boat to a fish; both move in water. Besseling is a bit too moored—to pragmatism, his past and to the fact that he is white and privileged to be unique. Result; he ends up sounding like a ‘tourist’, that creed he pokes fun at. Of a Varanasi bar he writes; “The beer is bad. The whole scene is bad…
“I was afraid that someone would ask me why are the stories thus (sexual)... someone did!”
reading room CRITICS & AUTHORS //
— Lopa Ghosh
Not the kind of place you’d bring a girl on a date.” You would rather avoid bringing a woman in a bar frequented by men raised in a compartmentalised, patriarchal system with strict ideas/definitions of gendered spaces and leisure? Thou art wise, Master Besseling (you wish to say).
The Liquid consists of stories of stomach flues, nostalgia, lassi, Tokyo hotels and stray dogs—not necessarily in that order. At the risk of repeating myself, unless the reader is invested enough, the book will not make sense. But if s/he is, The Liquid’s raw, visceral appeal is clear.
(Though for the love of Buddha, I cannot pretend to understand Besseling’s agenda-ish jibes at Buddhism.) The author is a hyperactive man. That aspect comes through clearly in his prose. His descriptions especially of Varanasi can make you cringe and laugh at the same time.
Revolt Of The Fish Eaters A mixture that is both good and bad, peppered with a sense of humour BY ROHINI BANERJEE
LOPA GHOSH’S debut is an Indian khichdi—it takes gen-
erous chunks of fact, mixes it with fiction and fantasy, evokes from the past and merges it with the present, take political engagement along with apathy, solid prose with grammatical suicides and headache-inducing sentences. The problem in Ghosh’s collection lies in its consistency—the language oscillates between pure rococo and Indian Hinglish-Benglish. However, all is not bad in this pish-pash; Ghosh’s strength lies in her occasional humour—acerbic and empathetic at the same time. And in her metaphors. She offers interesting insights into the corporate world; one which she knows closely as she was very much a part of it before moving onto her present stint at the United Nations. Though her characters are sometimes not a direct part of the corporate world, they remain deeply influenced by it. And bosses, power points and off sites make their special appearances. For those intrigued by Ghosh’s choice of the title, the stories are not exclusively about the Bengali community. Though the writer is admittedly one. She has also centred several of her plots around NRI Bengalis. But The Revolt
is named thus because Ghosh believes that fisheaters enjoy a ‘momentary sense of happiness’ after eating the meat because of the presence of Omega3 fatty acids in it. Thus, her stories are about fluctuating emotions; desire, longing, loss and manipulation. Revolt is also the story of other fish-eating communities of India and contains mesmerising flights of fantasy along with deceitful forces including a ghost of a dead mother, clueless communists and post modern arrogance. A chairman manipulated by his mother’s ghost; a midrung career woman in love with a Siberian oil digger; a corporate anthropologist in love with a suicide bomber; IT companies growing tea; a radical theatre actor creating boardroom Buddhas; the leader of an impending revolution who can only sing nursery rhymes; the world’s richest man in the middle of witchcraft, rape and idol immersions, Revolt of the Fish Eaters is a strange and motley collection from the business world going through its worst recession period yet. If her plots sometimes let you down, Ghosh’s style makes the collection an enjoyable read. And her intriguing characters are a strength.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Lopa Ghosh has dabbled in literature, journalism, street theatre, a London stint seeking causality and Sylvia Plath’s house, severe delusions and serious feminism.
Revolt of the Fish Eaters is her first collection of stories. Ghosh now lives in Delhi and works for the United Nations. She is working on a novel ISBN: 9789350290897 Pages: 272 Price: `299
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GARIA LSV `7.2 LAKH (APPROX)
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Garia Low Speed Vehicle
PANASONIC TH103PF10UK Panasonic can now turn your wall into a TV with a full HD (1080p), 103” HDTV, which is 3D. The monster-of-a-screen comes with four HDMI ports. `33,60,000
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GADGE TS & GIZMOS //
MONTBLANC COLLECTION VILLERET 1858 `20.2 LAKH Montblanc is a name synonymous with opulence and luxury, and not without reason. The Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 is an effort by Montblanc to go back to its roots, back when sailors relied on wellconstructed and highly accurate clocks for navigation. This limited edition series consists of two watches—a wristwatch with a regulator dial and two time zones along with a bigger, navigational clock that can display the time in three different zones, apart from the world time. Only 16 such devices will ever be manufactured, eight in red gold and eight in white gold, priced at around `20.2 lakh.
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Cleanliness is next to godliness. But why settle for a regular vacuum cleaner when you can get one studded with Swarovski crystals—3,730 of them to be precise. Indeed, the crystal Egoripado is the world’s most expensive home appliance, a cordless and lightweight vacuum cleaner priced at roughly `9.1 lakh. Designed by Lukasz Jemiol, the bejewelled device was first unveiled at a fashion show and has even made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records!
MOPHIE JUICE PACK PRO
The Mophie Juice Pack Pro is a rugged, military-grade case for the iPhone with an extended 2500mAh battery thrown in. Price: $130
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PHOTOS BY JOYMALYA BANERJEE
GARNISH Tangy Meat: Chicken supremes with pomegranate and spicy mustard
The Advantages of Being Earnest He was a self-confessed glutton. Today, Joymalya Banerjee prefers to force others to pig out
BY ROHINI BANERJEE
long time ago, in a state by the sea lived a boy who loved to eat. One day, when the boy was five, his mother left him at home and went to the market. Right then his cousin called to say she was coming over—with a friend. It was lunch time. The boy knew his cousin would be famished. And his Ma was not around. Would his cousin and friend go hungry? “My five-year-old self was so fond of eating that I was aghast by the possibility of anyone going hungry. So off I went to the kitchen to cook rice and fish curry like a good, Bengali host. The fish I actually managed. I was sadly mistaken about my expertise in cooking rice. I kept on adding water till the basin was choked. Luckily my mother and cousin arrived at the same time and saved the house from getting flooded,” confesses Chef Joymalya Banerjee, the owner and Chef at Bohemian, a Kolkata restaurant, creating waves in east of India, about his first-time cooking experience.
Before we say more about Chef Banerjee, a little note: you could take this Chef out of Bengal but you cannot take Bengal out of him. When they are not eating, people in Bengal pass time planning the next meal. And boy, do they love to talk—mostly about food. A true son of his state, Chef Banerjee, the son of a marine engineer father and a homemaker mother, merrily abandoned every ‘respectable and Bengali’ career possibilities to combine his twin passions; cooking and business. After school, when the good boys were starting their ‘serious’ science and humanities degrees, Banerjee was learning to slice and dice at the Indian Institute of Hotel Management. “Then
CHEF OF THE MONTH //
CHEF OF THE MONTH
I went to the Oberoi School of Hotel Management (Delhi) to learn the ropes,” says Chef Banerjee. He completed his degree and started his first venture; a catering-cum-delivery business—the first of its kind in east of India—which was an instant hit. “It has been 10 years that I closed that venture. But, I still get calls asking me whether I still deliver,” he says. The Chef in him might have been ready for the catering venture, but the businessman was far from it. After it flopped, Chef Banerjee decided that he would have to re-learn and re-think and joined Oh! Calcutta, a standalone eatery being run by the Anjan Chatterjee-led Speciality Restaurants. “I was never afraid to experiment. Ever since I can remember I have been cooking,” he adds. So experiment he did— with him as its captain Oh! Calcutta spread across Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune. And he became the mainstay of the restaurant chain. It was there that Banerjee made a name as an artist who loved to play with palates. He finally quit it to pursue his dream of doing something on his own, thus Bohemian. In Bohemian, Chef Banerjee has continued his habit of playing with palates and customers’ minds. Sample this; mutton with baby onions, green mango and cheese served with rice. Pan-baked fish with aam ada (a type of tangy, sweet ginger) sauce. How about prawn with muddled grapes, chillies and coconut; or sorshe (mustard) and coconut souffle. And a Hilsa
Joymalya Banerjee cooks to live, breathe and to be fairly content in life. The former Chef of the chain—Oh! Calcutta—Banerjee started his first independent venture with a mobile catering business then moved toJoy's Deli and finally seems to have come home to Bohemian—his latest venture. As far as artists go, Banerjee is as Indie as they get. He would prefer it if people stopped trying to label his food and just ate
Lean Fare: Murshidabadi chicken shashlik, (right) stir-fried prawns with grapes and chillies and some of the non-vegetarian must-haves
baked in a crust of boris (lentil dumplings that are dried and then crisp fried)—if it is not fusing flavours then what is? Who mixes chhana (a grainier version of cottage cheese, not as fine as paneer) with paanch phoron (Bengal five spices) to create a souffle? Well, Banerjee does. However, beware; this chef does not like his food to be called ‘fusion’.
// CHEF OF THE MONTH
“There is a reason for it. Like music, to even pretend that you can fuse two separate forms, one has to have an expert. I cannot pretend that I know Bengali or western cooking methods so well that I will manage to creatively splice both and create something novel,” he says. Like all great artists, Banerjee trusts his ingredients and gets to know them thoroughly before he experiments. “I believe that a cook has to research a lot. I have this personal obsession with jaggery. It is no less complicated than wine. Then there is the paanch phoron (five spices) that no Bengali kitchen is complete without. And I love gandharaj (an off-shoot of Kaffir and wild lime).” He loves the lime so much that he has created a gentle, refreshing drink with it and he continues to mix it in most dishes. And Chef Banerjee loves to experiment with the Anglo-Indian cusine. “There was once a sahib who ordered his bawarchi to make a quick dal. The cook did so with three types of lentils, ghee and ginger. But the concoction turned out to be too hot. The cook went back and added the first thing he spotted, apples,” he says about a peculiar dish called dal churchuri. Banerjee admires the cook for his novelty. Though he seems chatty enough, the evolution of food, flavours, taste and local produce gets Banerjee really talking. “Bengal cuisine carries the influence of British, Dutch, French and Arabic tastes. It is evolved enough, but it needs to experiment just a little to meet the new demands.” Chefs like Banerjee are thus trying to give a twist to the bhadralok’s tale with the elders’ blessings. “I always ask senior customers for their inputs. I know the younger people are more open to
Veggie Delight: Vegetable melange with spicy Alphonso cream, (left) royal Bengal roast mutton with bhuna sauce
Gift Giving: Banerjee judges a local contest
Fishy Tales: What is a fish for him? Must-have!
Bite Size: Have you had quail with celery salt? Try it as bit of bruschetta
experimentation. I need to know whether the senior lot—bit more strict about their shukto and shaak (saag)—approve,” he chuckles. Considering that Bohemian has been one of the few restaurants from the east of India which has received a four out of five stars in almost every rating site—he must be doing something right. As one ecstatic fan summed it up, “This kind of food not only comes out of hard work and experience, but also love and respect for each ingredient.”
PHOTOS BY PHOTOS.COM
Reclining Buddha: The temple of Wat Pho is named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived. Prior to the temple’s founding, the site was a centre of education
The Kingdom of Dreams
Cheap travel, food and oodles of appeal—there is more to Bangkok than meets the eye BY PREETI SINGH
ell anyone you are going to Thailand and chances are you would get some lewd and leery looks, with comments to match. That’s a cross that the country bears, nay brandishes, with relish. For Thailand is best known as the kingdom of sleaze, a fact that often overwhelms the other charms that the country has to offer. It is also one of the most popular holiday destinations for Indians, given the ease and proximity of travel, the option of a visa on arrival and the fact that the Indian currency goes a long way there. I decided to limit my first trip to Phuket and Bangkok—one for the beaches and the other for what no woman can resist—shopping. There are no direct flights to Phuket, and both Thai Airways and Air Asia offer various daily options. From Phuket, speed boats and ferries can take you to Phi Phi Island and the beach made famous by Leonardo Di Caprio’s movie of the same name, if you wish to get even further away from the bustle of it all.
A lot of us in India have become so used to including all our Southeastern neighbours in that group called the ‘developing countries’ that my first impression of Thailand left me quite surprised. So even if the taxi guy made me feel very much at home by
hitchhiker’s guide BANGKOK //
HIKER OF THE MONTH
refusing to use his meter and demanding an exorbitant sum to take me to the hotel, the drive itself revealed clean roads, orderly traffic, visible road signs and none of the chaos that you would associate with what was long called the ‘Third World’. Thailand can put India to shame as far as basic civic sense is concerned. Garbage is neatly collected, and even though it is no Singapore, the fact that the government has decided to co-opt street vendors into sharing the tourism boom by allowing them to peddle their wares in almost every nook and cranny, has ensured that you can dig into a baby sea horse or a fresh watermelon slice with wild abandon. Talking of baby sea horses, and this being my first trip to the exotic Far-east, sometimes it was difficult not to gag at the choices on offer in the various carts that line the streets and beach fronts. From fried centipedes to crispy grasshoppers, strange culinary delights lie neatly arranged in carts and trays, with some spicy accompaniments to go. Thankfully, every Thai meal is loaded with vegetables and, contrary to what one might expect, vegetarians are happy people here. That said, even though Thailand is crawling with tourists all year round, if you wish to hold a conversation that goes beyond “how much” and basic pleasantries, you have your task cut out for you. You are pleasantly greeted everywhere with the traditional Thai greeting Sawasdee Kha (or Khap, if the person offering the greeting is a man), uttered with musically-extended syllables. English spelling is definitely not their forte and shops proudly display signs for ‘chikin’
History buff, erstwhile defence analyst and lifetime member of the wanderers’ club, Preeti has worked as a researcher and editorial-page writer with the Hindustan Times. Wearing several hats over the past few years, she’s been busy doing what she loves most — writing and meeting people. An avid traveller, with a weakness for cooler climes, she hopes to add more stamps to her passport in the coming years
(Above) Travelling on a tight budget? Bangkok’s the place to be. Wish to sample the best? Follow the locals as they take to the streets post office-hours
‘pancacke’ and ‘sandviche’ in loud neon letters. Walk down any street and there will be a cacophony of greetings, inviting you to sample everything from foot massages to studded iPhone covers, pirated movies, fake Gucci handbags and original Viagra.
hitchhiker’s guide \\ BANGKOK
But the cheap beer is wonderfully real, and is also served in convenient five-litre beer towers for the discerning drinker. Ask for a pint, and they’ll serve it to you in a ‘beer condom’, that fits snugly over the bottom of the bottle. Chang is the local brand and the best way to enjoy it is with steaming hot skewers that are charcoal grilled on small improvised scooter carts. Patong beach in Phuket—with its buttery soft sands—borders the bustling shopping area. It changes moods as the sun goes down, transforming itself into a nocturnal hub, offering everything from pole dances to some mind-boggling circus tricks performed by women in various stages of undress in ‘ping-pong bars’ that are a local variation of the go-go clubs of yore. Also unique to Thailand are the ‘ladyboys’, scores of men who have opted to cross over the gender divide, and many of whom work in regular jobs, while others can be found jostling with the crowds in stunning dresses and impossibly high heels. The sad part is that a nation that seems to have made smiling its national motto of sorts, masks disturbing socio-cultural trends, given that it is considered rather synonymous with sleaze. You see the obsession with it everywhere, from massage parlours that are open through the night and only accept male clients to carts selling every imaginable sex aid and performance enhancer’ possible, to girls as young as 13 or 14 teetering precariously in high heels or wielding numbers in a bar, as if up for a macabre auction. This, despite the fact that prostitution in Thailand is actually illegal! It’s difficult to remember that when standing in a bar where bikini-clad women bear numbers to be easily selected and whisked away from nightclubs by paying what is called a ‘bar fine’. There’s more of the same in Bangkok, with the famous ‘Cowboy Street’ in Sukhamvit and the redlight district of Patpong, which is also a great place to get some knock-offs at a bargain during the night market. Bangkok is a shoppers’ paradise, with malls that tempt you with their wholesale approach, where floors and floors are lined with imitation handbags, jewellery and designer clothes designed to reward the generous shopper with bulk rates. It’s easy to lose track of the bahts (Thai currency) in your wallet. The traffic in Bangkok is merciless, with jams that would put Mumbai or Delhi to shame. But hop into a ‘tuktuk’—Thailand’s answer to our auto rickshaws—and chances are you’ll beat a car to the same
Tuk-tuk Travels: Sam Lors are cousins to our autorickshaws. It is the city’s favourite way of getting around, having started around the Second World War
AROUND THE ALLEY
Nervecentre: A lit up glimpse of Bangkok
Water Way: Shop at the floating markets
Most Thais are Buddhists by religion
destination by half an hour! They’re not for the fainthearted as they weave in and out of traffic, making a mockery of speed limits and small engines. Bangkok is also home to some of the most beautiful Buddhist art and sculptures, which are tributes to different periods and styles. There is the magnificent and awe-inspiring ‘Reclining Buddha’—a majestic 160 feet statue at Wat Pho temple; the diminutive ‘Emerald Buddha’ at the Grand Palace and the ‘Golden Buddha’ at Wat Traimit that was legendarily plastered over and then accidently discovered to be made of gold almost two centuries later. If you do take the day-long Buddha tour, don’t forget to stop at the vibrant flower market near Chinatown and the even more famous floating market in the Ratchaburi Province. When you travel around Thailand, you can’t help noticing that the King’s picture is on billboards everywhere, playing the saxophone and doing countless other ‘cool’ things you’re less likely to see politicians in India publicise. In fact, when I commented to one of my guides that the Thais sure liked their King, she was quick to correct me and point out that the word I was looking for was ‘love’. The pride of the people in a monarchy they love is palpable in the pride they take in being Thais, no matter what their socio-economic strata. That, to me, was the most beautiful thing about Thailand, visible in the care that its people take to make sure you’re made to feel so welcome.
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TOTAL RECALL WATCH
the The Pirate of is rd a w Year A rner, round the co aptain C and Pirate is h in wants it ts se e h o S . kitty on to si is out on a m Black — ls va ri defeat om the ich begins fr to the h w se a ch e h .T ew in and his cr d Cutlass Liz Bellamy an Island, takes the Capta the Captain win the od don. Will August shores of Blo Victorian Lon animated entertainer on of s et re st y fogg h this nd out, watc award? To fi theatre near you. a 17, 2012, at
THE MONSOON FESTIVAL 6
Based on the 1990 film of the same name and the 1966 short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, Total Recall is a sci-fi thriller set in the year 2084, where the world has been divided into two superpowers after being devastated by a war. Find out which side of the war you are on with Douglas Quaid, a factory worker whose memory and personality have been erased. Releasing on August 3, don’t miss it for the world!
Red Earth Foundation is back with their monsoon festival celebrating the “multi-hued awakenings of an Indian Monsoon”. Starting from August 2 and ending on August 21, in the national capital, this festival is a celebration of Indian traditional and modern art and culture. Here, those who follow tradition are considered cool and those who break norms are cooler... See you there!
THE IDLER WHEEL
What makes Fiona Apple a brilliant song-writer? It’s the honesty she puts in her work that makes her stand out in a world where lyrics have ceased to make sense. At the very fulcrum of the album, is Apple's clear voice and her sharp piano, with mild mechanistic percussions by Charlie Dayton, which add to the mood of the album. Sung with great candour and intensity this is an excellent album. Grab your copy now!
BORN AND RAISED
After a break of two years from music, this is John Mayer’s comeback album. It also is his most sincere album, where he confesses to his frailities and seeks acceptance. It’s Mayer’s hunt for salvation and nothing less. With songs like ‘My shadow days are over’, Born and Raised is the one to keep!
Published on Jul 30, 2012
Published on Jul 30, 2012
A Gentleman from Lucknow - You can take a gentleman out of Lucknow, but you cannot take Lucknow out of a gentleman—well we believe it becaus...