25 Great Escapes
RS 35 3 june 2013
INSIDE Was the Endosulfan tragedy a myth?
l i f e
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t i m e s .
s p otâ€“ f i x i n g
The Bookies League Cricket is dirty yet again
e v e r y
w e e k
“WELCOME TO MY WORLD”
John Travolta is not only an exceptional pilot with over 7,000 flight hours behind him and qualifications on ten different aircraft types. He is also passionately interested in everything embodying the authentic aeronautical spirit – such as Breitling instruments for professionals. On his wrist is a Navitimer chronograph with its famous aviation slide rule – a cult-watch for all devotees of the conquest of the skies, and equipped like all Breitling models with a movement chronometer-certified by the COSC – the highest official benchmark in terms of reliability and precision. Welcome to the Breitling world.
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Homosexuality is a sensitive issue and in India it’s more than a taboo (‘Karan Johar’s Gay Revolution’, 20 May 2013). Why are you comparing the depiction of a school principal with that of a homosexual character? Showing a school principal as goofy is in no way going to impact India’s education system. On the other hand, stereotyping gays does make it tough for people who are dying within, unable to express their feelings for fear of ridicule. In India, No one is blaming 90 per cent of the people critics here for giving don’t know about homosexuality, and Student of the Year a those who experience or good review. It’s about witness it think of it as a filmmakers who portray sort of chronic disease. gays as a joke, adding When you show a gay to our already heavily man as someone who is homophobic culture effeminate, wears pink and drools over other men, it affects the mind of people who have no knowledge of homosexuality. Even after it was legalised, why hasn’t any known personality come out of the closet? It’s because of the homophobic society we live in. No one is blaming critics here for giving Student of the Year a good review. My point is more about filmmakers who portray gays as a joke; this adds to the already heavily homophobic culture that we have. letter of the week
All rights reserved throughout the world. Reproduction in any manner is prohibited. Printed and published by R Rajmohan on behalf of the owner, Open Media Network Pvt Ltd. Printed at Thomson Press India Ltd., 18-35 Milestone, Delhi Mathura Road, Faridabad—121007, (Haryana). Published at 4, DDA Commercial Complex, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Ph: (011) 30934199; Fax: (011) 30934162 To subscribe, sms ‘openmagazine’ to 56070 or log on to www.openthemagazine.com Or call our Toll Free Number 1800 300 22 000 or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org For corporate sales, email email@example.com For marketing alliances, email firstname.lastname@example.org For advertising, email email@example.com
Volume 5 Issue 21 For the week 28 May—3 June 2013 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers
Staring at Disaster
brookshabad is a disaster in the waiting (‘Poison in Paradise’, 27 May 2013). The administration cannot think beyond Port Blair for all its needs. The beautiful landscape at Corbyn’s Cove, the nearest beach to Port Blair, now looks like a war zone. What tourists from mainland India claim to be a clean beach is the most polluted beach of the Islands, and the over-enthusiast administration organises a Beach Festival every year at Corbyn’s. Zubair Ahmed
cover photo AFP
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this is an extremely interesting and exhaustive article. Thanks for this. As a recent visitor to the Andamans, I knew something was not quite right
with the water around Port Blair. The average level of the water had visibly risen, and was blamed on the 2004 Tsunami. I wonder what is happening to the coral reefs around the bays. Shipra
indians, particularly politicians, have a problem only when sex or nudity is involved (‘The Emperor’s New Values’, 20 May 2013). Somehow, it becomes a matter of morality, ethics, sensibility and what not. The rest—scams of the highest order, criminals of the worst kind, sycophants of lowliest sort and their ilk—are acceptable and more than welcome in any party. For the common man, this perverse permissibility in politics should figure as the most obscene act of all. Prashant Pandey
How About Desalination?
this refers to ‘Thirsty State Pvt Ltd’ (20 May 2013). The Government should consider desalination of sea water like in the Middle East. I’m sure this is the solution for all our states. But there is no political will. Desalination may be very expensive, but India is not a poor but poorly managed country. We can definitely afford it if funds are not siphoned off. Manava
Dear Readers Priyanka Pulla’s article ‘Flock Theory and the Synchronies of Nature’, published in our issue dated 5 March 2012, received the first prize in the ‘Science and Innovation’ category of the Press Club Mumbai RedInk Awards for Excellence in Journalism, 2013. The RedInk awards were instituted three years ago to promote exemplary Indian journalism. Open’s features and sports editor Akshay Sawai received the second prize in the ‘Sports’ category for his story on VVS Laxman, ‘The Legend of Laxman’ (3 September 2012). The jury had Ravi Shastri, Ayaz Memon and Harish Thawani as members. The award includes a purse of Rs 25,000. —Publisher
open www.openthemagazine.com 1
fear factor A rabbi visits Chabad House in Colaba, one of the targets of Mumbai’s 26/11 attacks
Telephone Directory Terror panic
How a planned Yellow Pages listing of Indian Jews has sent waves of anxiety across the community
A young woman’s plan to compile a Yellow Pages of Indian Jews has got the community worried about terrorists using it to attack them. While estimates vary, it is believed that there are not more than 5,000 Jews in India. They once formed a sizeable community, but most migrated to Israel or other countries. Recently, newspapers reported that 25-year-old Judith Hillel from Thane, Maharashtra, was putting together a comprehensive directory of Jews in India to help them stay in touch with one another.
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However, many Jews fear it could be used by terrorists to locate and attack them. Aaraon Benjamin, honorary secretary of the Tiphereth Israel Synagogue in Mumbai, says, “Jews have been targeted in different parts of the world throughout history. We have remained relatively safe in India because we are few and our numbers are scattered. But a directory like this will help terrorists pinpoint each of us.” Jewish residents of Mumbai say that the 26/11 attacks— which had Colaba’s Chabad Lubavitch Jewish centre as
one of their targets—have made them feel insecure. Most Indian synagogues now have round-the-clock security and multiple CCTV cameras. Caretakers thoroughly screen visitors, who are often asked for identity cards. According to Yael Jhirad, a cofounder of the Indian chapter of Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), while the directory may seem a good idea, its dangers are evident. “It will be impossible to confine it within the community,” she says, “We saw what happened during 26/11.
We need to be more cautious.” Hillel refused to speak with Open. According to her mother, members of the community have been chiding her efforts. Several Jews, however, think that people are overreacting. Solomon Sopher, president of the Indian Jewish Congress and managing trustee and chairman of Sir Jacob Sassoon Synagogues and Allied Trusts, says, “Ever since 26/11 many members have become extra cautious. But, I don’t think a terrorist will look up a directory to find people to kill.” n Lhendup G Bhutia
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Cricket: Spot the guilty who get away
Threat or myth?
The CRPF tries to woo Tribals in Chhattisgarh go on, get out
25 Great Escapes
The fuss over scantily-clad mannequins
T r av e l S p e c i a l
The Jolie Conspiracy
on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of
Angelina Jolie made headlines after The New York Times published her column about undergoing a preventative double mastectomy. ‘My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 per cent to under 5 per cent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,’ she wrote. Her decision to go public, she said, was intended to motivate other women to get tested. Website Natural News alleges the whole thing is a public relations stunt timed to influence the US Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision on the viability of a patent on BRCA1 gene testing. If the patent comes through, testing for the gene will become hugely profitable, with tests costing $3,000$4,000. ‘It’s a...PR stunt that tries to trick women into supporting a corporate system of patents and monopolies that claims... to own portions of the bodies of every woman living today,’ the article claims. Natural News, incidentally, has often been accused in the past of fanning conspiracy theories and quackery. n
F o r blaming his party’s defeat on
Photo illustrationS tarun sehgal
A scientist at Imperial College London has named a 505-million-yearold fossil after Johnny Depp. According to Science Daily, David Legg discovered ‘an ancient extinct creature with ‘scissor hand-like’ claws’ during his research and named it Kooteninchela Deppi. “When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands [a role assayed by Depp],” said Legg, a self-described Depp fan. “What better way to honour [him] than to immortalise him as an ancient creature that once roamed the sea?” What better way indeed. n
fa m e
After a disastrous term, the completion of which has been his biggest achievement, one hoped Asif Ali Zardari might bow out with some grace or a realistic self-appraisal. As president, he has presided over increased violence and corruption in Pakistan, while development remained abysmal and CIA drones went on a killing spree within its borders. Blaming the defeat of his party in 11 May’s polls on ‘international forces’ only makes him seem delusional in addition to incompetent. He reportedly told fellow party members that “these forces were not happy with the PPP government’s agreements with [other] countries in the region.” Though his term ends in September, Zardari promises to return to active politics. We shudder with Pakistan. n 3 June 2013
Dispatch from Cannes
NOT PEOPLE LIKE US
A love story with a difference
Former CBI chief Trinath Mishra on why he bowed out
Gay Wrongs The gay rights movement in the US suffered a setback when Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18-year-old female student from Florida, was arrested for having a same-sex relationship with a girl on her basketball team. The younger girl’s parents registered a case of ‘lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16’ against Hunt, who was also expelled from school. Hunt’s parents say that her only offence seems to be that she is lesbian, and that the other girl’s parents can’t accept their daughter’s sexual preferences. Both girls were minors when they got involved, but the younger girl’s parents waited till Kaitlyn turned 18 to get her arrested. n
The undead have arrived
Sreesanth’s father called the spot-fixing scandal a conspiracy by Harbhajan Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but apologised and retracted his allegation the same day
d e n ia l
“My son knows many personal secrets of Dhoni. [The spot-fixing scandal] is their effort to keep him [out of] the game in any manner possible” —Santhakumaran Nair, Malayala Manorama, 16 May 2013
On With the Wind
R e v e r s e sw e e p
“In the past, Sreesanth had problems with Dhoni and Harbhajan. Hence, that was my first reaction. I wish to withdraw those comments and tender my apology’ —Santhakumaran Nair, Indian Express, 16 May 2013
Windmills might be passé for the Dutch, but not for London-based Dutch designer Merel Karhof. Once, while studying at the Royal College of Art in London, she covered her body in windmill brooches and walked around the city just to see how the wind behaves when on a rooftop or opening a door. After her 2010 venture the Wind Knitting Factory—a knitting machine which harnesses the wind to power a loom that knits scarves Karhof sells on her website—the 34-year-old has now set up a completely wind-powered furniture factory called Windworks. The factory is a combination of a saw mill, a colour dyeing mill and her own Wind Knitting Factory in Northern Holland where the wind-powered saw mill cuts the wood, while the knitting windmill makes pastel-coloured cushions for upholstery from wool dyed at the colour mill. She hopes to take her mobile knitting factory around the world to demonstrate what can be done with wind. n
c r aft y
3 June 2013
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On the Contrary
Soft Brains, Hard On What makes Mumbai’s municipal corporators demand a ban on scantily clad mannequins M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i
Mainly because it is such an idiotic The person who moved the resolution was a woman, a BJP corporator, but forgive resolution to pass, and also because there December, life has been a little is no National Commission for her, for she is an unwilling, meek and more difficult for middle- and Mannequins to issue an angry press crafty victim of patriarchy. Sheetal upper middle-class male chauvinrelease on it, reports on its passage have Mhatre, another woman corporator and ist pigs (MCPs) in cities. An uncle who another agent of patriarchy, was quoted as been buried in the inside pages. But it is comments on his niece’s dress suddenly still worth pondering the mind that cooks saying that a mannequin that was not finds himself becoming a Twitter update up something so fantastic. The immediate with a dozen sneering retweets. Politicians fully clothed was an affront to a woman’s cause is obviously the desire of politicians like Pranab Mukherjee’s son have become self-respect. She also brought in what a to be seen doing something. Most of them professor of Philosophy might call the responsible for new contributions— have no real power until they manage to utilitarian argument—‘No woman buys ‘dented-painted’—to the lexicon. get a government office. Till then, they clothes by seeing such dummies.’ Patriarchy has become a word thrown have to remain relevant. In this particular about so much by so many so often that it case, however, there is an added element of is on its way from a noun to a not-so-nice To say that a scantily dressed imagination. A mannequin is just plastic. adjective. The MCP’s world has become a mannequin is inviting rape is to The only thing human about it is its form. forest of feminists on the prowl raring to pounce on any little derogatory gesture. say a scantily dressed woman is Even for their deliberations over the resolution, the corporators would have But man will be man. As Sophocles inviting rape, but now you can had to first imagine it as a woman dressed wrote, ‘He hath resource for all; without get away with it... mannequins in lingerie. Picture, then, 220 odd resource he meets nothing that must corporators inside that hall in various come: only against Death shall he call for are not a vote bank frenzies of lust (and women aid in vain; but from baffling getty images corporators imagining their maladies he hath devised escapes.’ husbands and brothers in such And thus you have corporators of frenzies) lamenting the evil they the Brihanmumbai Municipal had been possessed by. Corporation (BMC) exposing their The advantage of targeting primitive convictions in their mannequins is that you can call suggestions on how to prevent them ‘dented-painted’ without crimes against women—but with their complaining. To say that a an ingenious twist. scantily dressed mannequin is On Monday, Mumbai Mirror inviting rape is to say a scantily reported that the BMC general dressed woman is inviting rape, body, the assembly of the city’s but now you can get away with it. corporators, had passed a The mannequin is the filter resolution barring inadequately through which you can publicly clothed mannequins from public air your views on all sins being display. This pioneering decision traceable to the female body was rationalised on several fronts: without being pilloried. that women are embarrassed by Mannequins are far from such mannequins, that people becoming a vote bank, so that is mistake them for sex toys, that this not a problem either. was urgently needed in the wake These corporators actually don’t of the drastic rise in crimes against realise it, but they might be onto women. The mayor of the city, a something profound, a new Shiv Sainik of long standing called religion itself. Animism, or the Sunil Prabhu, even gloated over infusion of souls into natural what he saw as a revolution of objects, has long been a form of gender justice under his charge. worship in tribal societies. This is Last month, he had observed that its opposite—inanimism, the such mannequins attract the doctrine that inanimate plastic attention of men, who, unable to control their surge of lust, then put plastic lust The BMC believes that inadequately clothed mannequins bodies draped in negligees have titillating souls. n could arouse men and lead to a rise in sexual crimes against women sex crimes on their to-do list. ver since the Delhi rape of 16
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A Hurried Man’s Guide
Pay Us to Watch You Work
David Karp is the CEO of Tumblr who has just become a multi-millionaire after Yahoo decided to buy the micro-blogging website for $1.1 billion. He is expected to get richer by $250 million as a result of the sale. Not bad for someone who is just 26 years old.
The tyranny of Kerala’s labour unionism reaches the doorstep of a former Communist CM’s relative S h a h i n a K K
He launched Tumblr in 2007 and is regarded by many as a programming genius. Karp taught himself how to code at the age of 11 from an HTML for Dummies book, as reported by The Independent. He dropped out of school at 15 to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions. Often seen in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt, he started building websites for local tech outfits, before spending several months in Tokyo workKarp taught ing for a start-up. When himself how to he returned to the US, he code at age 11 created an internet mesfrom an HTML for sage board for parents Dummies book named UrbanBaby. When this board was sold in 2006, Karp used the money he got for his new start-up, Davidville. Tumblr was one of Davidville’s projects.
Karp has often blogged about his personal life and party-hopping. He has been, accord-
oh yeah? Only 26, Karp is worth at least $250 million already as a result of Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr
ing to The New York Times, a recurring target of the gossip website Gawker, on which he was labelled a ‘fameball’ (a term used derogatively to suggest an individual’s desire for fame). Karp lives in a $1.6 million one-bedroom loft in Brooklyn along with his girlfriend and dog. He now joins a small group of individuals who have made a fortune online before turning thirty. The others include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley. Karp will stay on as CEO of Tumblr. In fact, the statement he released on the deal promises that the new development will not ‘compromise the community’. He signed off this statement announcing the billion-dollar corporate buyout with a characteristic ‘F*ck yeah, David’. n
to David Karp
common sight CPM leaders, including former CM VS Achuthanandan, at a protest in Kerala
he trade union movement in Kerala has made impressive contributions towards the cause of labour rights, but even good things can be taken too far. One of the most glaring examples of the tyranny of trade unionism has been nokku kooli, a charge that head-load workers levy just to stand by and watch. Recently, nokku kooli was enforced on the relative of a leading figurehead of the CPM, former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. The nokku kooli system goes like this: a bunch of head-load workers in a particular area have the sole right to unload material from trucks. If the owner of the material insists on having it done by his own workers, or machines, he still has to pay them— just for ‘looking on’. Achuthanandan’s nephew, G Peethambaran, recently unloaded six loads of rock pieces in his compound. “The rocks were brought in a tipper van and mechanically unloaded. Boys in the locality helped us carry the pieces to the construction spot. The final load came in a lorry which didn’t have mechanical unloading. Head-load workers of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) arrived to unload it,” he says. The CITU, incidentally, is a huge trade union affiliated to the CPM. Peethambaram is branch secretary of the CPM in
Alappuzha. You would expect that relationship to save him from such extortion, but it didn’t. He says, “Seeing the earlier loads, the CITU workers demanded an additional amount of Rs 1,500. They said they have a share in each load, irrespective of who actually unloads it. Finally, I had to pay Rs 750 as nokku kooli.” Peethambaran filed two complaints—one with the district collector and the other with the state CPM leadership. “We suspended two of them from primary membership of the party. The CPM will not CITU workers tolerate this demanded undesirable practice,” says Rs 1,500 as CB Chandranokku kooli babu, the party’s district secretary in Alappuzha. The head-load workers had to give the money back to Peethambaran. Nokku kooli has been banned by the Kerala High Court, but all major trade unions—the CITU, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Indian National Trade Union Congress—encourage it. “Excessive mechanisation has resulted in the unemployment of labourers. The trade unions together [arrived at] a consensus that workers have to be paid compensation,” says K Pradeep, district joint secretary of the BMS in Alappuzha. n 3 june 2013
Gentlemen Prefer Inflation Indexed Bonds
war on gold Policymakers want Indian savers to put their savings in inflation-proof bonds instead of the metal For the first time , the RBI SAV I N G S is set to issue inflation-indexed bonds (IIBs). These will debut on 4 June with this grand objective: ‘To protect savings of the poor and middle classes from inflation.’ By definition, such bonds pay their holders an interest rate over and above inflation. The big idea is to win household savings back to financial instruments, money that has been going into gold as an assumed hedge against the rupee’s falling purchasing power. “In principle, it is a very sensible move, as the mechanism protects both the principal and coupon rate from the corrosive effect of inflation,” says
*Consumer Price Inflation
Retail prices in India are rising faster than wholesale prices
Source: MOSPI, Angel Broking. compiled by shailendra tyagi
9.86 10.03 9.73 9.75
wholesale Price Inflation
Deepak Kapoor, a financial consultant with ADC Legal Services Pvt Ltd. About Rs 15,000 crore worth of IIBs are slated for issue this financial year. Though aimed at household savers, institutional investors are expected to participate in June’s auction, and this demand will determine their coupon rate. While sensible, the move is being dubbed a half-measure, as the inflation against which people’s savings would be protected is India’s wholesale rate, the WPI, which usually understates the true cost of living in India. “Linking IIBs with the WPI is more of a political statement by
the Government on having ‘tamed’ inflation,” says Professor CS Balasubramaniam of Babasaheb Gawde Institute of Management Studies. In reality, it is always the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that reflects household expenses. In the West, such bonds are usually linked to this index. In India, this difference is significant at this juncture because of a wide gap—of more than 4 percentage points—between the official measures of wholesale and retail inflation. Critics say that India’s WPI-linked IIBs will Instead of not save a household its WPI-linked inflationary losses. bonds, Indian However, others households argue that WPI-linked would rather have CPI-linked IIBs are the best the country can offer at this securities point, given that using shield them the CPI would push the from inflation Centre’s overall borrowing costs up and worsen its already-burdened finances. Still, the Centre is said to be considering CPI-linked bonds as well. Another worry is that aam households may not have the cash surpluses needed to invest in IIBs, and so only the financially savvy will buy them. Retail investors may also be put off by the tax they may need to pay on the returns of these bonds. “Some tax incentives should be provided,” says Kapoor. Yet, for all their weaknesses, he adds, IIBs could help India’s bond market get past its infancy phase. At least they are a safe option for the aam aadmi. Unlike chit funds. n SHAILENDRA TYAGI
10.79 10.91 10.39
9.39 * Combined (Rural+ Urban)
The gap between retail and wholesale inflation means that consumers are not as relieved by the recent dip as the Centre says
“It’s a question of timing; they feel I could have informed them earlier... [Company policy] is just that you have to disclose it, it doesn’t specify a time you have to disclose it” phaneesh murthy, former CEO of iGate, who was axed after a subordinate levelled allegations of sexual harassment against him, claiming that it was ‘just a personal relationship’ , which is okay by the company rulebook, and suggesting that his dismissal for a disclosure failure is disputable under company rules
Carrot and stick
Citizens and Soldiers The CRPF’s missteps threaten its efforts to woo tribal youth in Chhattisgarh supriya sharma
T h e s e a s p r a y s p l a s h e d on board and they steadied to take a picture. ‘India Gate’ was fading. So was ‘Hotel Number 1’. The boat was moving fast, too fast. “You see, it has an engine, like trucks,” a tall scrawny boy explained to a younger one, Magan Podiyami. “It is not your village donga (canoe).” Earlier, while stepping onto the boat, Magan had been reassured that “the sea is nothing but a giant pond.” It was the last day of April. The clear blue summer sky met Mumbai’s muddy waters off the coast fringed by the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Hotel. The boys, 20 of them, were on their way
to Elephanta Caves atop an island thronged by tourists. That morning, they had alighted from the Jnaneshwari Express after a 20-hour train journey from Raipur, preceded by a day-long bus ride from Sukma and Bijapur, troubled districts in Chhattisgarh’s far south. All along their journey they had been accompanied by a sub-inspector of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), India’s paramilitary force which has long been engaged in counter-insurgency operations against Maoist guerillas, and which was now sponsoring the boys’ trip and hosting them as part of its ‘civic action programme’. Limited in
the past to distribution of medicines, clothes and utensils, the programme has made an ambitious leap this year, bringing school boys from Chhattisgarh to distant cities. Magan, a shy eighth-grader, couldn’t believe his luck. This was the first time he had sat in a train or seen the sea. For that matter, this was the first time he had stepped out of his home district, Bijapur. His village lay inside a dense forest where Tribals saw CRPF men in a menacing light. But now, with a uniform-clad soldier calling him ‘beta’, and warning him in a gentle voice not to lean over the railing of the boat, Magan wondered if the village
Unlikely Tourists Boys from Chhattisgarh pose for a group picture at Mumbai’s Nariman Point
people had got things wrong. And yet, less than 20 days later in a village called Edasmeta, not far from Magan’s own, CRPF soldiers would gun down eight people, including three children. The disputed events of 17 May read similar to the Sarkeguda incident last June, when CRPF soldiers fired on and killed 17 people. The CRPF claimed they were Maoists, but among the bloodspattered bodies, five dead children lay for all to see. Much like Sarkeguda, in Edasmeta, the CRPF says its soldiers simply responded to fire initiated by Maoists, losing one man in the exchange. But over the next few days, villagers would tell reporters that they had gathered to celebrate Bija Pandum, a seed festival that marks the start of the sowing season, and that the CRPF soldiers had burst into the village and opened fire; there had been no Maoist presence, and as for the dead soldier, he was a victim of ‘friendly fire’ from his own colleagues. The dispute over how would not change what had happened: three children had died for no fault of theirs.
or the CRPF, the Edasmeta killings are a setback to its careful plans to win people over and woo the youth in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region. Keen to shift its image from a ‘hostile’ force to a ‘friendly’ force, the CRPF has scaled up its ‘civic action’ . Every other week, somewhere in the conflict-ravaged south of the state, you could see the incongruous sight of weapon-wielding soldiers handling saris, lungis, utensils, medicines and solar torches. Zulfiquar Hasan, the InspectorGeneral who headed the CRPF in Chhattisgarh, kept watch from his office in Raipur and would often land up to personally supervise such events. One day in the last week of March, in Palnar village in Dantewada, men cheered lustily as women kicked up a cloud of dust. It was a tug-of-war. The women from Bazarpara, a market hamlet, eventually won. Hasan handed them a trophy and also gave out whole stacks of saris. M Dhinakaran, the commandant of the 111 Battalion, which had organised the event, later joked, “Earlier, women would hesitate to take saris from us, but now they come and demand a specific colour.” Over the last six months, Dhinakaran’s men have set up computer training centres, organised tele-medicine camps—with specialist doctors attending to patients over the internet—and
3 june 2013
even started a bus service. The emphasis on ‘civic action’ has been so strong, that efforts have been made to reach even those villages deep inside Maoist territory, where the rebel presence rules out any attempt to pitch a shamiana, let alone invite crowds. Last November, in the dead of predawn, the residents of Morpalli village were woken rudely by soldiers. In 2007, homes in that village had been burnt down by the Salwa Judum, the statebacked anti-Maoist militia. In 2011, the Judum men, by then drafted into the state police, did an encore. Having lost their homes twice, the villagers lived in intense fear. So when they found themselves being herded by soldiers and marched 12 km to a CRPF camp, they expected the worst. What awaited them
The team from Nahadi crashed out of the football tournament early, but still won a 32-inch LCD TV. The calculation, one CRPF officer explained, was that “if people in such villages [as Nahadi] could see how the rest of the world lived, they would kick out the Maoists” was unprecedented: three high-powered solar lamps, three kits of volleyball, and three footballs.
ootball is the latest tool against Chhattisgarh’s Maoists in the CRPF’s arsenal. Unlike in Jharkhand and Bengal, where tribal communities are familiar with the game, the sport is new in this state. Most of the young boys who came to play in the tournament organised by the CRPF in February were playing it for the first time. Jogesh changed into a blue and yellow jersey, pulled up socks striped with the same colours, and slipped his feet into spiked shoes—all supplied by the CRPF. His teacher bent to help him tie the laces. “Remember, all you have to do is run,” the teacher said. “If all of you ran every minute, we would win the game.” A few more instructions later, the boys were in the field, a newly laid grassy cricket ground. Whatever else they did, they ran for sure, winning the game 2-1. Jogesh’s team from Nahadi ashramshala —the residential school of Nahadi village—was one of 20 teams that
competed in Dantewada district between 18 and 20 February. Five other districts in the Bastar region hosted their own tournaments. By the following week, when the winning teams converged to play the finals in Dantewada, about 1,800 boys from the region, aged 12-19 years, had seen CRPF soldiers up close and personal, not in their avatars as soldiers, but as harmless cooks, coaches, drivers and referees. The attempt to drive home a positive association did not end there. The tournament was held in the memory of Gundadhur, a Tribal leader who led the Bhoomkal rebellion of 1910, an Adivasi revolt against the British that Maoists commemorate every year. “We wanted to say, ‘Gundadhur belongs to everybody, not just the Maoists. He is an Indian hero, he fought the British,’” explained Inspector General Zulfiquar Hasan. The attempt to appropriate an icon was clever thinking. Asked who Gundadhur was, a couple of class eight boys from the Nahadi village school responded: “Must be someone from the CRPF.” During the closing ceremony, Hasan and his colleagues from the CRPF gave out a mountain of awards: trophies, cash prizes of Rs 2 lakh, and more than 80 mobile phones to individual players who performed well. The team from Nahadi had crashed out of the tournament early, losing its second match. But it still won a major prize: a 32-inch LCD TV. A solar panel and satellite dish were also given away. The calculation, one officer explained, was that villages like Nahadi lay inside Maoist territory, and “if people in such villages could see how the rest of the world lived, they would kick out the Maoists.” It was this same thought that made the CRPF organise ‘Bharat Darshan’, sending off batches of 20 players to Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Mumbai.
h, look what’s here!” the boys
squealed in delight as they spotted a rat in a tree trunk not far from the Gateway of India. After a day of heady newness, a familiar sight was welcome. From the moment their bus had driven out of the CRPF campus in Navi Mumbai—after a breakfast of chhole bhature, which they had tasted for the first time—the boys had been in a photo frenzy. Everything seemed worth a picture: the high-rises, the roads, the crush of cars. “Don’t overshoot,” warned Narendra, one of the older boys. “The phone memory will be over even before you open www.openthemagazine.com 15
Football And Fanfare The CRPF-organised tournament in Dantewada closes with the sort of pomp and ceremony that the area’s Tribals have never seen
get to see Shah Rukh Khan.” Earlier that morning, they had been addressed by smartly-dressed CRPF officers seated around a conference table. Commandant Gaurav Singh had welcomed them and told them they would be taken to see the homes of filmstars: Shah Rukh, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan. If they were lucky, he had added, they might even catch a glimpse of their favourite star. “Is there anyone else you’d like to see?” Singh had asked. “Katrina,” a boy had said feebly. They didn’t get to see Katrina. But they did see Shah Rukh Khan—giant-sized, on billboards. At the end of the day, Dilip Madavi, a tenth-grader, couldn’t contain his excitement. “Football gol gol ghooma raha hai (Football is taking us places),” he said. And what did they think of the CRPF? “Achche hain (They are good),” he said. Would they face trouble back home if the dada log knew they had stayed with the CRPF? “If they ask, we’ll say all we did was play football.”
ow does a rebel group counter an
offensive that comes concealed in a football? In March this year, Maoists held a meeting in Morpalli village. Men,
women and children sat cross-legged under the shade of a tamarind tree, while the commander, a woman, stood upright, her hands folded behind her back. “Now they are coming and giving you stuff,” she said, speaking in Gondi, the language of the region’s Tribals. “Where were they all this while?” “It has been three years since your homes were burnt. Has any policeman been punished?” she asked, reeling off the names of several other villages that had been targeted by security forces where, she said, ordinary people had been beaten or killed, women raped, and home scorched. At the end of the roll call, she named Sarkeguda, the village in Bijapur where the CRPF shot 17 people dead last year. “The government is being run by those who are growing rich at your expense. They loot your wealth and live in cities and travel in gaadi-ghoda (fancy automobiles). They are not going to give you much,” she continued. “We will not accept their gifts. We will fight them,” she said, turning to the women. “Right, sisters?” The women stayed quiet. A few moments passed. The commander made a few more exhortations, turned to the
men and asked again. Finally, there was an answer. “You are right,” a man said, and a gentle buzz of voices broke out in support.
hen I return from an opera-
tion, I struggle to sleep. I feel depressed. I ask myself, ‘Who am I fighting?’ That poor man,” says a CRPF officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I feel confused. But then, this is the nature of Naxalism. It is no ordinary problem…Look, even the PM is confused.” In public conversations, CRPF officers love to ridicule Arundhati Roy and her ‘tribe of misguided intellectuals’, but in their private spaces, they admit to being assailed by doubt. Many think back to the history and politics they studied in college—some had attended Jawaharlal Nehru University, the hub of the Indian left. Those not given to intellectual debates still have to deal with their emotional responses. In the morally fraught world of the Maoist conflict, where a soldier may perchance kill a child, the saris and footballs seem to mean more to those who give them than to those who take. n 3 june 2013
Modern Times Manu Joseph
Infernal Lessons Deciphering Dan Brown’s bestseller Inferno
3 june 2013
uddenly it struck me that it is not possible to write a successful book without the help of the word ‘suddenly’. I realised this while reading Dan Brown’s Inferno, which has over 150 suddenlys (and just eleven suddens). And then, it struck me that ‘and then’ too is important. There are over 120 andthens. There is much to learn from Dan Brown’s craft. Convey the obvious in italics. In Inferno, after the fleeing protagonist runs out of a building into an alley, he says, I’m outside. After being shot at by a professional killer as he flees in a taxi, he says, Someone is trying to kill me? After an associate returns to her flat, he says, She’s back. Another important lesson in the book is that a writer has to be proud of his prose even if bastard critics have said hurtful things about the language of his previous books. In fact, so supremely confident is Brown that a character in Inferno describes a nine-minute recorded soliloquy of the villain, who is wearing ‘a beak-nosed mask’ as a speech ‘that hovered somewhere between genius and madness’. The speech is also described as ‘classical chorus’ and ‘elaborate language’. Now, having described a piece of soliloquy in this manner, most writers will be reluctant to share its actual content. But then Brown is no ordinary writer. He reveals the soliloquy that ‘hovered between genius and madness’ not merely in Italics but in bold letters: ‘Wretched misery. Torturous woe. This is the landscape of tomorrow… This is what awaits. As the future hurls herself toward us, fueled by the unyielding mathematics of Malthus, we teeter above the first ring of hell…’ And then, the minor character who thought this speech ‘hovered between…’ searches the internet to figure out who Malthus is, thereby cleverly introducing the reader to ‘a prominent nineteenthcentury English mathematician and demographist’. The character even reads an excerpt from Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population. What happens
spot the clue Brown has probably left encryptions all over the world for readers to crack
after he reads the excerpt is something Malthus would have loved: ‘With his heart pounding, Knowlton glanced back at the paused image of the beak-nosed shadow. Mankind, if unchecked, functions like a cancer.’ The greatness of Brown is that he knows most of his readers are probably very dumb. So it is not just Malthus he graciously introduces, he also explains what a blurb is: ‘…one of those single line endorsements from a powerful individual, designed to make others want to buy your work.’ This description of a blurb is issued by a Harvard professor in the 2,000-seat lecture hall of an academy of sciences in Vienna. Brown also introduces Venice for our benefit: ‘…a unique Italian water-world city made up of hundreds of interconnected lagoons…’ What readers truly hope for in fiction is that it is not. Brown, of course, knows this. And he wants his readers to believe that except for the plot and live characters, everything else is true. As in the case of some of his previous works, before Inferno begins, he tells the reader, ‘Fact: All artwork, literature, science and histori-
cal references in this novel are real.’ Yet, Brown knows that research is overrated. How is anyone going to find out if he has misquoted the theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer? For instance: ‘“I am death?” Sienna asked, looking troubled. “That’s what it said, yes.” “Okay…I guess that beats ‘I am Vishnu, destroyer of worlds.’” The young woman had just quoted Robert Oppenheimer at the moment he tested the first atomic bomb.’ Robert Oppenheimer said no such thing. What he said was that when he recalled the detonation of the atomic bomb it reminded him of the words from the Bhagavad Gita, which in his own translation from Sanskrit were, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ The true revelations of Brown’s work, though, are probably encryptions he has left all over the world, in cathedrals and on hoardings, which are for his readers and not his protagonist Robert Langdon to decipher. I am already beginning to see the rudiments of these clues here and there. For instance, I have discovered that an anagram of Wonderbra is Read Brown. n open www.openthemagazine.com 17
Turn the Spotlight It’s time to go after those who might get away Akshay Sawai and Shahina KK
Mumbai businessman who has been betting for years on cricket and horse-racing sits on a couch at an acquaintance’s home in a Mumbai suburb. He has a moustache. He is slim, but bears traces of a paunch. Over a plate of sheera and cutlets, he reveals a few things about bookies. “There is a bookie who is a good friend of mine,” he says, “But when a match is on, he doesn’t tell me his location. He could be anywhere—in a house, a car, or on a cruise ship.” The businessman says bookies have no conscience. They don’t need one, he feels. “They are not killing anybody.” The rationale is the same as Don Vito Corleone’s when he turns down a lucrative offer from drug lord Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather. Sollozzo approaches Corleone for cash and protection from the politicians and powerful friends that Sollozzo says the Don carries in his pocket “like 18 open
in the dock Sreesanth leaves Saket Court in Delhi after a hearing on 21 May
howzzat Chandila and Sreesanth at a practice session in Jaipur; Vindoo Dara Singh watches an IPL match in Chennai with Dhoni’s wife Sakshi
nickels and dimes”. Corleone declines, reasoning that his powerful friends would desert him if he got into a dangerous business like drugs. Gambling, on the other hand, was a harmless vice. Like cricket betting, according to this businessman, a—relatively—harmless vice. Who is at the crease reflects on the betting rate. “With Chris Gayle, you never know,” says the businessman, “Woh aake khada rehega, lekin kabhi bhi gear badlega (He might just block deliveries initially but can shift gear anytime). So the [betting] rate can fluctuate widely. With someone like Rahul Dravid, the rate will be steady.” The slang in use for getting a player on board, one learns from the interaction, is ‘player ko phodna’—‘smashing’ the player. But it is only top bookies, the man says, who have access to players. The rest 20 open
of the bookies are just operatives. He also says the kind of gambling that takes place during the Indian Premier League (IPL) is mostly ‘even money’ gambling. If you bet Rs 10,000, you win or lose Rs 10,000. The families of bookies know what they do, the businessman says. But rela-
tives might not. They use couriers for collections and payments. The couriers often travel on bikes and meet their clients at street corners or some meeting place, but never at their homes. Main team owners are not involved, the businessman believes. But it would be foolish to rule it out after revelations of the link be3 June 2013
tween actor-and-punter Vindoo Dara Singh and Gurunath Meiyappan, son-inlaw of BCCI President N Srinivasan and also Team Principal and CEO of the Chennai Super Kings. Held for questioning in Mumbai, Vindoor has revealed that he helped two bookies escape to Dubai and that he made Rs 17 lakh from bets. But sources say that Mumbai aside, a lot of betting takes place in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana. Haryana is where Ajit Chandila, who has so far emerged as the slyest of the three Rajasthan Royals players accused of spot-fixing, comes from. The tall offspinner is from Faridabad. Reports suggest he was a hardworking cricketer who often played more than one match a day. But, like Hansie Cronje, he had a weakness for money. Unlike Cronje, he was not a big name. Already 29, Chandila couldn’t resist the opportunity to rake in what he could. He had a Rs 10 lakh deal with the Rajasthan Royals. This was upped to Rs 30 lakh after his encouraging performance last year, when, among other things, he took a hat-trick against the Pune Warriors. But Rs 20 lakh or thereabouts for a single over thrown away was far more tempting. According to newspaper reports, the Delhi Police have named Chandila as the main fixer and one who convinced Ankeet Chavan, another accused, to participate in the scam. Chandila also made proposals to some other players. It is not unreasonable to compare Chandila with Chick Gandil, the Chicago White Sox player who took the lead in fixing America’s 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, perhaps the first high-profile case of matchfixing in sport. Of the three accused, it is Chavan for whom one feels some sympathy. By all accounts a sincere, even conscientious cricketer, Chavan seems to have given in to a weak moment. A quote from a Vanity Fair article on Steve Cohen, a leading hedge fund owner under investigation for insider trading, feels apt for Chavan, or any player who saw his will buckle under the promise of big amounts of money. The article quotes a former colleague of Cohen as saying, “The payout is huge and you can get swayed. What would you do for, say, 20 per cent of $276 million? You do stuff. You fucking do stuff. You can’t be in this job without navigating a 3 June 2013
grey line constantly.” That last line hits the bat smack on the sweet spot of contemporary cricket. Starting from the 1980s and its Sharjah jamborees, if not before, players, umpires, curators or anyone with a direct involvement in matches has navigated a grey line. To cite one example, in 1991, India played Pakistan in the final of the Wills Trophy in Sharjah. Before that match, according to a highly reliable source, a senior Pakistan cricketer had come to the Indian dressing room and said, “Come what may, don’t let the ball hit your pads. You will be given out legbefore.” The umpires, he’d hinted, had an incentive to raise their finger against Indian batsmen. Pakistan won the match, with Aaqib Javed taking 7 for 37. This included a hat-trick, Javed’s victims being Ravi Shastri, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. All three were out lbw. To this day, people laugh at those decisions.
Reports suggest Chandila was a hardworking cricketer who often played more than one match a day. But, like Hansie Cronje, he had a weakness for money
n the current scandal, the biggest name among the three accused is obviously S Sreesanth. Ever since it broke, a retired police constable in Kerala, his home state, has lost his sleep. Samson Viswanath, father of Sanju Samson, the teenage find of this year’s IPL and a player for Rajasthan Royals, is worried about the fallout on his son’s career. “Sreesanth was like his elder brother,” says the former policeman, “I was not able to comprehend the news initially. I started believing it only after watching the press conference by the Delhi Police Commissioner. The police would not say such a thing unless they have solid proof.” Samson’s specific worry is that Sanju’s friendship with Sreesanth might be misunderstood. “I asked him to keep his phone switched off,” the father says, “People may call him for comments. I also instructed him not to take calls of
strangers. We don’t know who is who and what is what. The police might be monitoring everyone’s calls.” A Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) official describes Sreesanth as “naive but vulnerable”, someone who was not aggressive off the field. And Sreesanth was also trying to control his onfield aggression. In a diary found in his Mumbai hotel room, the bowler had reportedly scribbled lines such as, ‘I should not be aggressive’, ‘I will never get into arguments’, ‘I will never take up a fight’ and ‘I will always keep my cool.’ Indrajith Sukumaran, a noted Malayalam film star and a close friend of Sreesanth, believes the cricketer is innocent. ‘Knowing Sreesanth for so many years, I personally don’t feel that he’ll get involved in scandals like these,’ he posted on Facebook, ‘I hope and pray that he comes out clean.’ But Indrajith seems to be in the minority. The story and people’s responses might change by the time you read this, but so far, rather few famous people in Kerala have gone out of their way to support Sreesanth. On 16 May, when journalists arrived at Skyline flats in Edappilly, Kochi, where Sreesanth owns a villa, all they got to see was Sreesanth’s white BMW in the porch. His father, Santhakumaran Nair, and mother, Savitri Devi, were at Thrippunithura, where Sreesanth’s sister Divya and her playback singer husband Madhu Balakrishnan live. Santhakumaran’s first response to news of the scandal was that his son was a victim of a conspiracy hatched by MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh. Savitri Devi also believed her son had been trapped, though not by Harbhajan or Dhoni. Madhu Balakrishnan said he subscribed to this view too. But none of them spoke to the media after the press conference held by the Delhi Police Commissioner, detailing the modus operandi of spot-fixing. But Santhakumaran did a sensible thing. He apologised to Dhoni and Harbhajan, attributing his rash statements to emotions run loose. Santhakumaran was a development officer with Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), and Savitri Devi, a state government employee. As the youngest of four siblings, ‘Sree’ was a pampered child who often threw tantrums for anything and everything. His elder sister open www.openthemagazine.com 21
the good and the bad Sreesanth with adoring fans, family members and parents before his crossover to the dark side; (circled) the tell-tale hand towel
Nivedita is a small-time TV and film actress. His second sister is married to Madhu Balakrishnan. Sreeâ€™s brother Deepu has also acted in some films but his career as an actor has not gone far. He looked after Sreesanthâ€™s business venturesâ€”mainly Bat and Ball, a chain of restaurants opened by the cricketer in Kochi and Bangalore with Robin Uthappa and former Ranji player JK Mahendra. Sreesanth also had a sports goods agency in Kochi. Despite the initial hype, both these initiatives failed and were shut down. By way of property, Sreesanth has three houses that he bought in Kochi city. There are rumours that the family had other real estate schemes being run by close relatives. But many surmise that the failures of his other businesses, and the fact that he is now 30 and near his performance peak in cricket, may have led him to succumb to the lure of easy money. He did of course earn rather well as a senior player for the Royals, not to 22 open
mention the Rs 25 lakh a year that he received as a contracted Grade C player of the BCCI. As the probe so far reveals, Sreesanth’s crossover to the dark side was facilitated by Jiju Janardhanan, a former cricketer and now allegedly a middleman between players and bookies. It was Sreesanth who introduced Jiju, a Malayalee based in Gujarat, to Kerala cricket. “Sreesanth introduced him as a talented all-rounder and recommended him for the selection trials for the Kerala Ranji team,” recalls the KCA official. But Jiju could not make the cut for the Ranji squad, though he was selected for the under-25 Kerala team and even played an A-list game. “He was not Ranji stuff,” says the KCA official, “but was a good enough player for shorter versions of the game.” Jiju was a member of the Ernakulam Cricket Club for which Sreesanth also plays. In his last game for the club a couple of months ago, Jiju scored a brisk century. Interestingly, Sreesanth had introduced him as his cousin to several of Kerala’s former players, according to PG Sunder, a former Ranji player. Santhakumaran has now clarified that Jiju is not a relative but only a friend of Sreesanth. The father has also disclosed that Jiju was looking after Sreesanth’s accounts, even though the cricketer had a couple of managers on the job. Jiju’s father, who once worked for the Gujarat government, had once said his son was not well-to-do in the family’s Gujarat days (they have moved to Kerala since), and that he used to send Jiju money whenever he was in need. As news of the spot-fixing scandal spread, Jiju’s family left their house near Koothuparamba in Kannur district of Kerala. The house remains locked. The neighbours have no clue where the family is. Jiju’s father’s phone is now switched off. Jiju, of course, is in police custody in Delhi. If he had a slippery side, he hid it well. Sunil Pallan, a senior player in Ernakulam Cricket Club who has known Jiju for over five years, says, “He was hard working and focused. I have seen Jiju advising upcoming players to dedicate themselves hundred per cent to their career. He was an aggressive cricketer, but was pious off the field. I’m shocked at what has happened.” 3 June 2013
obile phone to his ear and a bouquet of flowers in hand, Professor Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI’s general manager for cricket development, waited for his car at the entrance of Acres Club in Chembur, Mumbai. Shetty had flagged off a two-day symposium on the business side of sports called Indian Sports Forum 36. Now he was leaving. As he waited for his car, Shetty shared some of his thoughts on the spot-fixing episode. Ever since the scandal was exposed, the IPL and BCCI have faced a lot of flak. Shetty said he did not understand why. “If Sanjay Dutt goes to jail,” Shetty asked, “will you also arrest Sunil Dutt?” Shetty pinned the blame for spot-fixing on the moral corruption of contemporary times. He also reiterated that the BCCI’s Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) had limited power. “I just hope there is more fear after this among players,” he said and got into his car.
Sreesanth’s crossover was facilitated by Jiju Janardhanan, a former cricketer and now allegedly a middleman between players and bookies The next day, in a Chennai room, another senior BCCI official took a seat to deal with the same issue. N Srinivasan, the BCCI’s president, had called an Emergency Meeting. Two notable things happened here. The Rajasthan Royals, for which the three accused players play, were asked to file a police complaint in Jaipur against the players, which they did. Two, an enquiry commission was formed. This will be chaired by Ravi Sawani, head of the BCCI’s ACSU. The BCCI could not have punished the players without an enquiry because that would have been against the rules. Sawani’s report will determine the future of Sreesanth, Chandila and Chavan. “The report, which we seek at the earliest possible, will be placed before the disciplinary committee for further action,” Srinivasan said, “We have to go by the rules that are applicable to players as formulated by the BCCI. We have also requested the Delhi Commissioner of
Police to provide us with information to help us complete our internal enquiry.” Another major outcome could be that match- and spot-fixing are declared ‘criminal offences’ under the Indian Penal Code. This demands legislation and Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal has backed this proposal. As of now, taking a bribe to act against the interests of your own team is not covered under any specific law, though the three have been charged with ‘cheating’ and ‘criminal conspiracy’ by the Delhi Police. Still, since these are indirect, it is not always easy for the authorities to secure convictions or harsh sentences for offenders. The Cronje case of 2000, remember, has still not seen a chargesheet filed. What direction the case takes is being closely watched. Whichever way it goes, two things are certain. It is idiotic of players to sully themselves with corruption in an era when you don’t even have to be an international player to earn well. The IPL and domestic cricket compensates them handsomely. Besides, it affords them exposure that the less talented only dream of. How else could the likes of Chandila and Chavan get a chance to perform in a packed stadium for a TV audience of millions? How else could they ever share a dressing room with Rahul Dravid? Besides, just having those three magical letters—I-P-L—on their resume would have meant plenty post-career. They could have leveraged it for years to come and become coaches, commentators or eminent cricket professionals. Two, the credibility of Indian cricket has been injured again. There is not a single season without Indian cricket being in trouble. Boards of other cricket nations, which often have to tolerate the BCCI’s autocracy for their own financial survival, must be revelling in the discomfiture of the big bully. These foreign boards are no angels, but India, being the finance and passion capital of cricket, must make the most effort to maintain the integrity of the game. In other words, the BCCI’s refusal to be answerable to anyone has to end. Right now, nobody, not even journalists—let alone the Right to Information Act—can breach the high walls that Srinivasan has erected around Indian cricket. The spotfixing scam should make the BCCI see some sense at last. Or so we hope. n open www.openthemagazine.com 23
Go On, Get Out of Here
have a splash You can take the über-cultural route in Austria, or just chill out in the lap of nature
It is June and the weather is a little all over the place, if you get our drift. Rain-soaked clouds are preparing to burst over Kerala, and soon they will be moving across South India, but it will be a month and more before they drift northwards and cover the Subcontinent. For a good while yet, summer still holds sway over the north of the country. Whether you’re beleaguered by the sun or the monsoon, however, the urge to ‘get out of here’ is a pan-Indian one. To retreat from the heat, take your pick from a rich array of hill stations. As for the rain, there are two ways to tackle it: hole yourself up in those rare rain shadow patches where there’s no precipitation, or better still, embrace it... chase the monsoon, seek out those spots that thrive on bountiful showers. Or there is yet another way to get away: zip off to a completely different climate altogether... an Arctic summer, or even winter in the southern hemisphere. Open brings you a selection of 25 choice holidays for the season corbis
photos india picture
worth the puffs and pants (Clockwise from left) Apart from a cup of Darjeeling tea, enjoy a ‘toy train’ ride in the hills; go on a monastery tour of Leh; or take a round of heritage city Udaipur
You wouldn’t think rain and Rajasthan in the same breath, but the truth is the monsoon renders the stately city of Udaipur even more gracious than usual. The rains fill up the city’s numerous lakes, and the beautiful Lake Pichola—with the famous heritage Lake Palace island—is a wonderful sight. Udaipur has more heritage than you can reasonably handle, but you absolutely must see the magnificent City Palace complex, the largest of its kind in Rajasthan. A fusion of Rajasthani, Mughal, European and Chinese architectural styles, this complex was started by Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 and added to by a succession of 76 rulers since. The result is an agglomeration of structures that include 11 separate palaces. As is customary, they all face east—since Sisodia Rajputs are sun worshippers. Inside, these buildings are interlinked through a number of chowks with zigzag corridors. By the palace, don’t miss Jagdish Temple, a 17th century temple to Vishnu. Also include Sajjan Garh, a monsoon palace built on an elevation by Maharana Sajjan Singh that offers a panoramic overview of the city’s lakes, palaces and countryside.
Darjeeling, West Bengal
The very name evokes a sense of delicate gentility—it has come to mean a light fragrant tea of refined flavour.
But Darjeeling is more than its finest produce—it is quite simply a fabulous hill station. The town and its surrounding areas were gifted to the East India Company by the Chogyal of Sikkim in 1835 and its slopes were found to be particularly well suited to growing tea. There are plenty of trekking opportunities in these hills, and among the other touristy things to do is explore the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was opened in 1881. Wander about this lovely Victorian town, catch the views from Tiger Hill (from where, if you’re lucky, you can catch sight of Mt Everest and Mt Kanchenjunga), visit the pagoda-style Dhirdham Temple, and, of course, buy some Darjeeling.
The high-altitude desert of Ladakh is among the most forbidding and yet most beautiful landscapes on earth. It is, in a word, mesmerising. Its capital Leh, a beautiful historical trade town located on the great river Indus, makes for an ideal destination this time of year because it doesn’t get too much rain. As soon as you’ve settled your highaltitude unease, wander about the town’s wonderfully vibrant market, and visit the Royal Palace built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. A little further afield, the Shey and Thiksey monasteries must make it to your list of sights. open www.openthemagazine.com 27
photos getty images
Fort Kochi, Kerala
Looming dark clouds, fat raindrops, bolts of lightning that sunder the skies... the first glimpse of the monsoon is always Kerala’s privilege. Fort Kochi is a beautiful place to be when this happens. There’s plenty to see and do in this historic town. With incursions by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, there were several European influences here—and you’ll find them all in St Francis Church, India’s first European church. It used to be a Roman Catholic Church during Portuguese rule, became a protestant Church under the Dutch and metamorphosed into an Anglican Church under the British. Visit neighbouring Mattancherry, stroll around Jew Town, shop for antiques, see the local synagogue and the Dutch Palace and don’t leave Kochi without admiring the wonderful Chinese fishing nets or cheenavaala in use.
kerala a la carte (Clockwise from left) A slice of history in Fort Kochi; monsoon carnival in Wayanad; Munnar’s mist-kissed tea estates
No fewer than three rivers—the Madupetti, Nallathanni and Periavaru—flow through this charming hill town, giving it its name ‘moonu aar’ or ‘three rivers’. Munnar’s history involves the British, who discovered it, and then, it involves tea. So, when you’re done strolling through its salubrious pathways, looking around at mist-kissed green hills, you should visit the Kolukkumalai Tea Factory, 38 km from Munnar. Also, dive into the Tata Tea Museum at the Nullathani Tea Estate. After that homage to the world’s favourite brew, the Atukkad Waterfalls are particularly scenic, and Chithirapuram (10 km from Munnar), once the retreat of the Royal Family of Travancore, is full of heritage bungalows that reek of the old world.
The pleasures of this hill district in North Kerala are the quiet, deeply satisfying kind. Find a nice homestay, laze, eat, walk, go birdwatching... If you’re inclined to see the sights, make a trip to the ancient Edakkal Caves in the 3 June 2013
Ambukuthi hills, 25 km from Kalpetta. Or frolic at Meenmutty Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in Kerala. And if you happen to be in Wayanad in the second week of July, join in the revelry at the tourism department’s monsoon carnival, Splash.
Most national parks and forest reserves in India are closed for the monsoon
months—but not Periyar. It is true that sightings during the rains are fewer, but if you’ll be content with the immense beauty around you and grateful for a chance to simply be in the wild, you’ll find this National Park very rewarding. The roads and trails are iffy in this season, but boat safaris on the lake make for a very scenic alternative. And then, there’s always the chance of stumbling upon elephants. open www.openthemagazine.com 29
Binsar in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon Hills is a lovely hamlet that lets you set your own pace. The Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is home to some exotic bird species as well as leopards; besides, it offers some fantastic views of the Great Himalayan mountain ranges as well as the Nanda Devi peak. Do a round of some wonderful temples to Shiva (don’t miss the 16th-century Bineshwar Mahadev temple), or just walk, walk, walk along any of these gorgeous trails.
Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Bound by snow for most of the year, this beautiful and desolate valley on the Indo-Tibet border opens up each year for a short while between June and September. At an elevation of more than 4,000 metres, Spiti Valley (‘the middle land’) is an imposing landscape—high naked ridges, vast barren slopes, clear cloudless skies... It lies to the north of the Pir Panjal range and falls in the rain shadow area, so it hardly ever rains here. Experience the hospitality of local homestays, plan a trip to the beautiful Chandratal lake, explore the breathtaking architecture of centuriesold monasteries, crane your neck at ancient forts that hug the craggy precipices, and visit the Pin Valley 30 open
National Park for some rare high-altitude flora and fauna.
If you’ve decided on the ‘embrace the rain’ route to tackling the weather, then Cherrapunji must be on your shortlist of options. The title of the ‘wettest place on earth’ is taken every year by one of two places in Meghalaya: either Cherrapunji or its neighbour Mawsynram. The green of the verdure and the white of mist and spray... catch some lovely views of the Cherra cliffs at the Eco Park at Nongrum and catch a small glimpse of Meghalaya’s labyrinthine limestone caves at Mawsmai. And while you’re here, you simply must trek to one of several living-root bridges in these parts. ‘Jingkieng deingjri’, as they’re called, are roots of the rubber tree, guided to form bridges over gushing monsoon streams.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
When it comes to great destinations, you could step off the trodden paths, blaze trails into the unknown and discover for yourself the wondrous beauties of nature. Or you could just latch on to other people who’re brilliant at precisely that sort of thing. In other words, the sahibs of the erstwhile Raj, who knew a good place when they spotted one. And then went about
adding wonderful infrastructure to make it habitable. Take Shimla, which they ‘discovered’ in 1819—and where they made themselves quite at home. This gorgeous hill station became their summer capital and is still one of the most evocative remnants of the British Raj. You’ll get views of snow-clad peaks, green meadows, Victorian architecture, charming bazaars and the historic centre which is almost entirely a pedestrian shopping mall—an area so famous that its mention inevitably follows within a few sentences after the word ‘Shimla’ has been uttered. Take the ‘toy train’ from Kalka, walk around the mall, admire the heritage Gaiety Theatre, saunter to Christ Church, venture out to Chadwick Falls and take in some of the town’s wonderful museums. And if people tell you Shimla’s a cliché, say it’s a classic.
Nainital, up in the hills of Uttarakhand, is named after the lake that forms its centrepiece, and, for the sake of nostalgia and countless movies that have been filmed here, you should take a boat ride on the lake. Walk about the town, admire the colonial-era architecture, visit the Aryabhatta observatory, take in a few churches, trudge up to Naina Peak, and don’t miss the hill town’s zoo. 3 June 2013
on a high (Left) There is something romantic about the â€˜toy trainâ€™ ride to Shimla; at an elevation of over 4,000 metres, Spiti Valley offers a breathtaking landscape
Set in the lush Western Ghats, with views of verdant hills, unending slopes of spice plantations and hospitable people, Kodagu or Coorg in southwest Karnataka is a beautiful place. Madikeri, its capital, has been dubbed ‘the Scotland of India’. Catch the sunset from Raja’s Seat, visit the temple at Bhagmandala, the Buddhist monastery at Bylekuppe, and see for yourself the origins of the great Cauvery River at Talacauvery.
Gulmarg may save skiing, its choicest treat, for winter, but the summer delights of this ‘flower-meadow’ are special too. Glorious weather, scenic mountains in any direction you care to look and a host of things to do. At 2,690 metres, Gulmarg has one of the highest
of mountains and ghats Check out eco-tourism in Coorg; or (bottom) go trekking in Gulmarg while the weather is still gorgeous
gondolas in the world—a two-phase cable lift from Gulmarg to Kongdoori mountain. From up there, look for the famous Nanga Parbat, the eighth highest mountain peak in the world. Besides, Gulmarg offers some wonderful treks in the area and downhill trails for mountain biking as well. It adds yet another ‘highest’ to its kitty—a magnificent 18-hole golf course that has wild flowers in bloom in summer. The Alpather Lake, the shrine of Baba Reshi, the old Shiva mandir... there’s lots to admire.
Manali, Himachal Pradesh
There are many reasons to head out to Manali, particularly if your city is sweltering. At 2,050 metres in the Kullu valley, this multi-faceted hill station is located on the river Beas and quite a hit with adventure seekers. Not only is it a crucial staging point for an impressive variety of treks, it allows for white water rafting and rock-climbing. Besides, NH21, the highway from Manali to Leh via the valley of Lahaul and Spiti, is one of the most beautiful routes in the country and a perennial favourite with bikers. But that’s not to say Manali won’t please the family or the more sedentary holidaymaker, no sir! Drive up to Rohtang Pass (3,978 metres) for spectacular panoramic views, explore Old Manali, or visit a rare temple to Manu who gives the town its name. Take in the four-storey wooden temple to Hidimba Devi, or go up to Vashisht to soak in the medicinal hot springs there. Or better still, eat! Manali boasts of some excellent food and restaurants that serve many cuisines.
Mandu, Madhya Pradesh
The romance associated with Mandu or Mandavgarh is quite out of the common way. The hilltop fort in Madhya Pradesh, which overlooks the plateau of Malwa, has layer upon layer of history. It was a favourite with the Mughals as a monsoon retreat. Emperor Jehangir is supposed to have confessed: “I know of no other place that is so pleasant in climate and with such attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season.” Mandu’s lore is full of the epic 3 June 2013
love story of warrior-poet Baz Bahadur and his consort, the beautiful Roopmati. It ends tragically but Mandu carries the tale of their love in the beautiful structures it retains—the fort, which an impressive 82 km in perimeter contains ruins of palaces, canals, baths, pavilions... all of which provide a fabulous vantage to view rainstorms from. Among the points you should touch is Jahaz Mahal, which is flanked by lakes on either side, making it appear like a ship. Then there is the architectural marvel, Hindola Mahal, with its sloping walls; the Jama Masjid; the tomb of Hoshang Shah, a monument built on Afghan lines and said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Don’t miss the high-perched Roopmati Pavilion, which allowed her a view of Baz Bahadur’s imposing palace on the lower levels.
The monsoons are ‘off season’ in Goa. It rains rather a lot, the shacks shut down, the fishermen don’t venture into sea, you can’t swim in the sea, the beaches are deserted and there are no flea markets... so why is Goa in the monsoon a good idea again? Because, for one, the landscape is glorious. The grey of stormy seas is offset by the luxuriant green of foliage – the world renews itself again. The tourists have gone and it’s time for the locals to relax and put their feet up. Find a nice homestay that’ll feed you, and just be there... occupy a comfortable armchair and watch the clouds roll in. When you’ve had enough of that, go white water rafting on the Mahdei-Surla rivers or join in the many festivals Goans treat themselves to during this season.
Coonur, Tamil Nadu
The hill stations of Nilgiris easily rival those of the Himalayan foothills for charm and atmosphere. If you think Ooty is a bit too crowded, then the place for you is Coonoor. There are many wonderful trails to walk along, the local toy train will delight your children (and the child in you), there are wildflowers everywhere and an abundance of hill birds. Spend some time at the botanical
garden Sim’s Park, take photographs of panoramic views from various points and be sure to visit the 16th-century Droog Fort, 13 km from town.
Buxa, West Bengal
The name is dooar – meaning ‘doorway’ in Assamese/Bengali/Nepali, a name given to 18 passages or gateways that connected Bhutan to the floodplains and foothills of the eastern Himalayas. And when it rains—and it rains a lot here—words don’t do justice. Travelogues about the dooars in the monsoon tend to sound extraordinarily poetic and you’ll come across the words ‘lush’, ‘verdant’ and ‘green’ rather a lot. The sanctuaries and parks are closed for the monsoon months but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the dooars. As an example, base yourself in Rajabhatkhawa just outside Buxa Tiger Reserve, watch birds, visit the village of Jayanti, pay obeisance to the Mahakal temple, fit in the historical Buxa fort. Or cast your net wider and explore a larger swathe of the dooars: Mongpong, Murti, Samsing, Suntalekhola... they’re all worth it.
Located in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, Matheran is a delightful Western Ghats hill station that should find favour with you in any season. Plus, it happens to be one of those rare hill towns where motor vehicles are restricted from entry—you get around on foot, horseback or man-drawn rickshaws. But first things first: you must strain every nerve to travel by the 2-ft-gauge toy train that runs from Neral to Matheran for the breathtaking views it offers. In the town, there are scores of look-out points that give you a bird’s eye view of the valley. Make sure to include the lovely Charlotte Lake in your meanderings, as well as the ancient Pisarnath temple nearby.
Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand
Rain does something magical to a remote, far flung corner of Uttarakhand. Snow bound for most of the year, summer opens up the route to open www.openthemagazine.com 33
traverse, cruise, dive (Clockwise from right) It’s the ideal time to tour Masai territory in Tanzania; take a cruise in Alaska; or visit a coral garden in Australia
the Valley of Flowers, a high altitude valley known for its variety of flora. About 520 alpine plants and close to 500 species of flowers grow in these regions, many of them rare and endemic. In the rains, the valley wears a veritable carpet of flowers, set off to stunning effect against the snow capped mountains. You’re likely to find the Brahmakamal (the state flower of Uttarakhand) here, as well as the blue poppy and the cobra
lily. It takes a 17 km trek from Govindghat, near Joshimath, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth every arduous step.
Summer has a different connotation altogether when you’re talking of Europe. With every country and its capital beckoning the Sybarites, there is what is generally termed ‘an embarrass-
Every year, millions of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and a variety of other animals traverse the Serengeti, the ‘Endless Plains’ of Tanzania. The migration from Serengeti into Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve is one of the most fabulous sights of the natural world—and the best time to catch it is now. So gather your family close and hotfoot it to East Africa. Apart from the migration, you can tot up an impressive list of wildlife: elephants, giraffes, gazelles, monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, leopards, sable cats, lions and a host of migratory birds. Well, what do you expect? It’s Africa! photos corbis
ment of riches’. But why not go the über-cultural route and zoom in on Austria? Concerts, theatre, opera, museums, cathedrals, palaces... enough to satiate the most ravenous culture vulture. Go to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, appreciate its fine baroque architecture, walk around its historic centre and take The Sound of Music tour. And do stop at Vienna, see its imperial palaces, shuffle around a museum or ten, and don’t forget to book your ticket to a musical.
If a complete change of scene is what you need, you’ll have to turn the world upside down. Head to the southern hemisphere for a taste of winter, a time when there is a cornucopia of marvels to explore in Australia. Luckily, the continent’s northeastern coast is 3 June 2013
warmer—in fact, it’s the perfect time to visit the Great Barrier Reef, go snorkelling or diving in this gorgeous hotspot for marine life. Around Cairns, tour the magnificent Daintree rainforests which preserves major stages of the earth’s evolutionary history. Winter is also the perfect time for an epic Australian journey: take ‘The Track’ or Stuart Highway which connects tropical Darwin to Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) through the Northern Territory Outback. Or perhaps you’d prefer to explore Western Australia, where more than 12,000 wildflower species—including native hibiscus, bluebells, sticky cassia, and native fuchsia—explode across the state. Alternatively, you could go completely urban and do the rounds of Melbourne and Sydney. Or then maybe you’d like a chilly winter after all, in which case you
should head south to Tasmania’s snowfields, skiing down the powdered slopes of Legges Tor in Ben Lomond National Park or in Mount Field National Park.
If you are thinking of making a getaway, why not be thorough? This time of year is absolutely perfect for a family cruise around Alaska. Cruises range from six-day tours to month-long ones. You’ll find the days warm and long (about 14 to 18 hours of daylight)—allowing you to maximise on your sightseeing. Expect to see plenty of wildlife (moose, caribou, humpback and killer whales), and many cruise routes allow you glimpses of some of Alaska’s magnificent mountains and glaciers. Plus, there’s plenty of Alaskan history to glean. It’s all good. n open www.openthemagazine.com 35
photos ruhani kaur/cse environment photo library
debility The photographs published with this story, shot in 2004, feature residents of Padre village of Keralaâ€™s Kasargod district. Above is Sheelavathi, a vivacious woman trapped in a two-foot frame for more than 25 years since she suddenly took ill as a child. Her mother would lock her up in the house with a sickle for safety and a radio for entertainment when she left for work each morning
BLI G HT
Kerala’s Endosulfan Tragedy Did it really happen? A lesson in how India handles scientific debate PRIYANKA PULLA
ohammed Asheel is a fast talker. The nodal medical
officer of Kasargod district, who played a key role in Kerala’s campaign against the pesticide endosulfan, refuses to answer my questions until I see a slide-show on the toxic effects of this chemical. Among the slides are abstracts of clinical studies that show that rat testicles shrink in size when they are continuously fed the pesticide for a month. Another study suggests a link between endosulfan and autism among children in California. Asheel’s talk is peppered with words such as ‘gaba receptors’ and ‘COPD’ (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), medical terminology that will throw most lay people off. Even after he begins answering my questions, he dodges a few. The first question he dodges is: how many different diseases are being considered as part of aid to victims of endosulfan? At last count, there were over 300. In the first round of medical camps for victims in Kasargod, people with diseases such as jaundice, depression, hearing loss, epilepsy, and even those with non-diseases such as limb amputation, were classified as endosulfan victims and given government aid. Lump sums of up to Rs 5 lakh, a monthly social-security allowance of Rs 1,700 and medical treatment were given to around 4,000 patients. It takes a while for Mohammed Asheel to admit this, but he does: “To be frank, in phase 1 camps, identifying victims was left to the discretion of the doctors, because we were unaware of all the diseases that can be related to endosulfan.” According
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to Asheel, doctors may have exercised their ‘humanitarian discretion’ and not just their medical discretion. So far, several hundred crore have been disbursed to so-called endosulfan victims in Kerala, with very little proof that the pesticide was indeed the cause. This is a major political issue now, and Kerala’s political parties ignore it in the upcoming elections at their own peril. But the list of bogus victims taints this massive campaign against the pesticide and raises a crucial question. Was science co-opted to suit political interests? Seeds of Doubt
The endosulfan controversy first began in the late 1990s. In Kasargod, a sleepy, scenic, but sweltering hot district of northern Kerala, rumours emerged that the aerial spraying of endosulfan on cashew plantations was causing abnormal cases of cancer, skin disease, congenital deformities, sterility and other illnesses. As time passed, local activist groups grew increasingly convinced that they were being caused by a very old off-patent pesticide of the organochlorine class, to which the notorious DDT belongs. For 20 years, this pesticide—endosulfan—was aerially sprayed on thousands of hectares of hilly cashew plantations in Kasargod. Environmentalists and denizens of this district began to believe this spray was slowly poisoning people. By 2001, the issue became big enough for the Kerala governopen www.openthemagazine.com 37
affliction Kittana, a 25-year-old in 2004 living next to the Kodenkeri stream, had cerebral palsy. His mother had worked as a labourer at the PCK cashew plantation for more than 10 years, which his father saw as the reason for his ailment
ment to ban endosulfan. The Indian and global media began overdosing on the horror of the tragedy, implicating endosulfan in a shockingly wide range of diseases—from mental retardation to hydrocephalus, a disease which causes the head to swell to the size of a large watermelon. In January 2012, The Guardian ran an article saying half the homes in the village of Kattuka (Kattukukke misspelt) in Kasargod had a disabled person—a gross exaggeration. Meanwhile, an association of countries grouped under the Stockholm Convention, which aims to eliminate the use of dangerous chemicals in the world, called for a global ban on endosulfan in 2009. The events of Kasargod played a role in this decision, with green groups such as Pesticide Action Network and Thanal campaigning worldwide with horror-inducing pictures. The best known image among them is a picture of a child with hydrocephalus. This picture may well be the face of the global anti-endosulfan campaign, just as Pablo Bartholomew’s photo of a partially buried child became the face of the Bhopal gas tragedy. But what really happened in Kasargod is not very clear. As much as activist and political groups want endosulfan to be India’s DDT, it is far from proven that the pesticide indeed caused the diseases seen in Kasargod. It is not even proven that Kasargod suffers from a higher incidence of these diseases. As of today, the endosulfan issue is more of a political debate than a scientific one. Several of the people being compensated today have diseases that have nothing to do with endosulfan, such as deafness and diabetes. Government doctors admit this, saying they experience pressure to include people in the endosulfanaffected list. “‘Your son has a disease due to endosulfan’— people like to hear this,” says a government doctor who wishes to remain anonymous. Keshava Naik, a civil surgeon who has worked in Kasargod for almost 20 years, says that before 2000, the government was only offering treatment for the endosulfan-affected. No compensation was being paid then. “Not many people were coming forward for treatment then,” he says. “But now, people are fighting to be included in the victims list.” According to Naik, doctors in Kasargod are confused because they have no scientific guidelines to identify victims. As a result, in the first few medical camps, anyone could walk in and get government aid. “So far this is only a political issue,” says Naik, “We medical people have had no role in this.” Meanwhile, Manoj Kumar, secretary of the Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association, says only that “it is a controversial issue. We have to follow the government’s policy and toe the line. So I cannot give a straightforward answer.” Several of the other doctors I spoke to were unwilling to go on record against the official policy line. Off the record, though, they call the entire process a sham. A government doctor who worked in Kasargod for six years, said, “In my panchayat of 22,000 people, no more than 300 people had diseases. I couldn’t see any ‘abnormal’ occurrence.” This is the crux of the dispute. Government doctors say the incidence of diseases such as cancer, cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus is no higher in the district of Kasargod than in the rest 3 June 2013
of India. It is an accepted medical fact that in any given population, 1-2 per cent of the people have congenital disease by pure chance alone. And the occurrence of several diseases in villages close to the sprayed plantations is below this threshold. Lone Activists
Sitting behind a desk covered with stacks of paper in Kasargod’s Kerala Agricultural University, is Kinavoor Madathil Sreekumar, an associate professor of entomology—the study of pests and pest control. He is one of the few people willing to go on record against what he calls ‘one of the biggest scientific frauds’ he has seen. In one of the several emails exchanged with me before we met, he proclaimed in capital letters, ‘The endosulfan king is naked.’ In his youth, Sreekumar, the son of a farmer, was a huge proponent of organic farming. He was friends with the same green activists with whom he is at loggerheads today. When rumours about endosulfan emerged in the 1990s, Sreekumar began investigating if they were correct. By the time the ban was imposed in 2001, he was convinced they weren’t.
People with diseases such as hearing loss, jaundice, depression, epilepsy, and even those with non-diseases such as limb amputation, were classified as endosulfan victims and given government aid Several of the local doctors who spoke to him were highly cynical of what was being reported. “It opened my eyes,” says the entomologist. He shows a table comparing the rates of diseases such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus in the district of Kasargod with those of the rest of India. In no case do Kasargod’s numbers exceed India’s national averages. The only exception is the village of Padre, which has a higher rate of mental retardation and reproductive disorders. “But this could be due to some other reason that we don’t know. If it was due to endosulfan, why didn’t this happen in all villages close to the cashew plantations?” he asks. Then there are villages far from the cashew plantations which also see a high rate of disease, such as Mogral Puthur. “What is the cause of this?” Sreekumar asks. The health department has no interest in finding out real culprit—“if one open www.openthemagazine.com 39
remediable In 2004, Guruvaâ€™s grandson was almost completely blind. A cure might have been possible but the treatment would have been too expensive for his poor Dalit family living in the Sajjangadde locality of Padre village
exists,” he says. Sreekumar’s point is that no one has made an attempt to scientifically study the real reasons that may have contributed to such spikes in disease rates. Endosulfan has been an easy target. Bad Science
In the past ten years, several studies were carried out to find out if endosulfan was truly the cause of these diseases, and if they were indeed more common in Kasargod. But each of these studies had major flaws—a reflection of the quality of research by India’s premier science organisations. Among the very first was a study by the Delhi-based environmental activist group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). This study claimed that endosulfan levels in the blood of Kasargod’s ill residents were extremely high. But the blood levels CSE reported, at over 100 parts per million, were not just high, they were unbelievable. No living animal can survive such poisoning. Even suicide victims, who swallow endosulfan deliberately, have less than 10 parts per million in their blood. Recognising this blooper, the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) carried out another study in 2003 to determine if the problems in Kasargod were indeed caused by endosulfan. This study too was shot down, not just by pesticide manufacturers, but independent scientists such as Sreekumar. In response to the many flaws in the NIOH study, the Calicut Medical College (CMC) was commissioned to undertake a study with guidance from India’s reputed Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). This study, published in 2011, was no huge improvement. To understand its flaws, I approached Prem Mony, who heads the division of epidemiology at St John’s Research Institute in Bangalore. Mony began his response to me by saying, “This study has so many loopholes, I feel I should write a critique on it myself.” According to him, the CMC study is what is called a crosssectional study—it shows association but not causation. This
A CSE study reported endosulfan levels of over 100 parts per million in the blood of Kasargod’s ill, but even suicide victims, who swallow endosulfan deliberately, have less than 10 parts per million in their blood 3 June 2013
means that even if the study picks up the existence of a higher rate of disease in the villages, it does not prove that it was caused by endosulfan. Mony narrates the plot of a movie to explain the difference between association and causation. A married couple is staying with the husband’s parents. When they are asleep at night, a burglar breaks in. At about the same time, the wife wakes up and comes to the kitchen to drink water. Out of fear, the burglar stabs the wife. When she screams, the husband comes in to help her. Just as he reaches her, the rest of the family rushes in and sees the scene. They think the husband has murdered her and take him to the police station. Mony’s point is that a cross-sectional study is vulnerable to exactly this kind of faulty conclusion. Even if the CMC study did spot a high incidence of disease in Kasargod, it cannot say it was caused be endosulfan. To prove it, longer more complicated studies such as case-control studies or cohort studies would have to be conducted. But that is not all that is wrong with the CMC study. According to a critique by Sreekumar and fellow entomologist Pratapan Divakaran, published in the magazine Current Science, the levels of endosulfan in the blood of patients in the CMC study seem to have no correlation with the health of these patients. This means higher endosulfan levels did not lead to higher rates of disease. Mony explains that measuring exposure to the pesticide— whether through air, soil or blood levels—is vital to a good epidemiological study. Without measuring the exposure level, the results of the study are meaningless. The CMC study also does not specify the method it followed to arrive at a meaningful sample, a critical requirement for a good study. “For public policy decisions to be taken, a peer-reviewed and published study should have been used,” says Mony, pointing out that the CMC study wouldn’t pass muster if taken through a peer-review process. My chat with Jayakrishnan T, one of the authors of the CMC study, ends halfway when he says he is only answerable to epidemiologists. When I ask an ICMR official how the Council could allow such a poor quality study, he says the body does not take ownership of the study, and that it has tried to address some of the loopholes. The ICMR leaves other questions unanswered. Contradictory Evidence
Mohammed Asheel too admits that the CMC study is flawed, and that non-victims were wrongly compensated. But to him, this doesn’t change anything, because he believes the fault with the CMC study lies only with data analysis. As for the bogus victims, he says his team is learning from the mistakes of the first round. According to him, a few cases of misclassification don’t mean there are no victims. “If there is a problem in the BPL (below-poverty-line) list,” he argues, “that doesn’t mean there is no poverty. It only means that the system of classifying BPL people needs to be improved.” He insists that the problem of misclassification in the first medical camp has now been addressed. In the future, Asheel says, patients will be selected for the camp based on the ‘biological open www.openthemagazine.com 41
plausibility’ of the disease they have. When I ask him what biological plausibility means, he points to studies in rats and mice where endosulfan has been shown to produce cancers and reproductive disorders. Here is the problem with this approach: First, rat models often do not translate to human beings. So if a rat study shows that endosulfan causes tumors, it doesn’t mean it will cause tumors among humans. Mithua Ghosh, a senior researcher at the HCG group of cancer hospitals, says animal studies are merely the first step towards showing how a chemical will affect human beings. Second, there are rat studies that indicate the opposite—that endosulfan does not cause tumors. The scientific process requires that the results of any study be reproducible. This means that each time a study is carried out, it should yield the same result—in this case, that endosulfan causes tumors. Only then can it be said that endosulfan causes cancer in rats. This is why a single study is never enough to establish a fact. Asheel also shares another study that links prostate cancer among men with exposure to several pesticides such as endosulfan and DDT. Such a study cannot conclude that endosulfan is a carcinogen, because the people being studied are also exposed to several other pesticides. This is perhaps why neither the World Health Organization, nor the American or Australian regulatory authorities classify endosulfan as a carcinogen. But absence of proof is not proof of absence, argues Asheel. While it is a good argument, it opens a whole new can of worms.
Hundreds of dailyuse chemicals show inconclusive signs of carcinogenicity. It would be ridiculous to say paracetamol causes cancer based on a single study that links it to a higher incidence of liver cancer By this token, there are hundreds of chemicals that we use daily that show similar inconclusive signs of carcinogenicity. Take malathion for example, a very old pesticide known to be relatively safe for humans. The Stockholm Convention has suggested malathion as one of the alternatives to endosulfan for use by India. There are several published studies that indicate that malathion can cause cancer, and similarly, there are several that indicate it doesn’t. The WHO, therefore, concludes that there isn’t enough data to say malathion is carcinogenic. 42 open
Closer home, there is paracetamol, the ubiquitous pill we don’t think twice before popping for fevers and colds. There exists one study linking paracetamol to a higher incidence of liver cancer. And then, there exist hundreds which show absolutely no link. It would be ridiculous, therefore, to say paracetamol causes cancer based on a single study. The Kerala government, of course, hasn’t blamed only cancer on endosulfan. It has linked a mind-boggling variety of diseases—ranging from autism to sterility to mental retardation—to a single chemical. In most cases, the evidence is vague and tenuous. For example, a study showing that endosulfan may affect the occipital lobe, the visual processing centre of the brain, is taken to mean that endosulfan causes blindness. Mony dismisses this approach for identifying victims as ‘balderdash’. “If they want to give compensation as a precautionary measure for political reasons, let them say so. I have no problem with that. But let them not say it is based on science, because the science on which [it is] based is junk,” he says. POP: a Bad Word
In 2009, when the Stockholm Convention classified endosulfan as a persistent organic pollutant, or POP, things got complicated for India. POP is a bit of a bad word. It means that endosulfan is classified along with notorious pesticides such as DDT and Dieldrin because of certain characteristics—a tendency to remain in soil without degrading for long periods of time, to accumulate in the bodies of living organisms, and to travel across long distances and cause harm to living beings. Activist groups were quick to jump at the Convention’s decision to justify their claims that Kerala’s diseases were caused by endosulfan. According to them, POPs are toxic. So everyone in Kasargod must have fallen sick due to endosulfan. This simplistic argument has confused many. But it doesn’t hold weight. For one thing, the Convention’s decision is by no means beyond scientific debate. Perhaps one of the biggest critics of this decision is Ivan Kennedy, an environmental chemist at the University of Sydney, who has called it ‘bad bad science’. His argument boils down to one single point: around 95 per cent of the world’s usage of endosulfan today occurs in tropical climates such as India where the concentration of insects and pests is very high. And in hot tropical climates, endosulfan does not behave as it does in cooler temperate climates. It neither remains in soil for long, nor does it accumulate in the bodies of large mammals. This brings down the likelihood that it would affect human health, because the faster a pesticide disappears from the environment, the less people are exposed to it. Kennedy, who has published a large body of research on endosulfan, alleges that the Convention cherry-picked data from laboratory studies and arctic studies, which do not reflect field conditions in countries like India and Australia at all. Most scientists agree with Kennedy’s point. Crispin Halsall of the Lancaster Environment Centre in the UK, who advised the Convention on its decision, agrees that endosulfan behaves differently in tropical climates. Another German scientist, 3 June 2013
Volker Laabs, whose study was cited in one of the Convention’s documents, also says that the pesticide’s behaviour makes ‘long-term accumulation in tropical soils under realistic field conditions not very probable.’ Endosulfan in Kasargod
What does all this say about the Kasargod experience? Let’s reconstruct what happened over those 20 fateful years when endosulfan was used in Kerala. On two days each year, endosulfan was sprayed on cashew plantations from a helicopter. The formulation that was sprayed contained about 0.05-0.1 per cent of endosulfan, a small amount to begin with. From the studies carried out by scientists such as Laabs and Kennedy, we can picture the following scenario: Endosulfan falling on leaves would degrade within a mere 15 days in the hot weather of Kasargod, unlike other POPs such as DDT. In soil, the chemical would degrade in less than a month. Some pesticide would fall into ponds and wells, but would settle to the sediment at the bottom, since endosulfan has low solubility in water. This, too, would get degraded within a month. Villagers drinking the water would therefore probably not consume the pesticide. Meanwhile, a human exposed directly to the spray would get less than 1 per cent of what amounts to a lethal dose of endosulfan, the dose that can cause death. But his or her body would quickly excrete anything entering it. A small part of the endosulfan would get converted to another compound, endosulfan sulfate, which is a more persistent chemical. But human exposure to the sulfate would be about a thousandth of the exposure to endosulfan. Again, the spraying occurred on only two days each year. But this is merely a reconstruction. What if we look at examples of endosulfan sprayed elsewhere in India? It turns out that cotton farmers all over India have used the chemical for many years. Unlike in Kasargod, these farmers spray endosulfan using handheld sprayers, meaning they are likely to be exposed to more of the chemical. And yet, there haven’t been reports of disease epidemics among these farmers. When the government of Gujarat carried out a study to examine endosulfan levels in the blood of farmers and pesticidefactory workers, what they found was negligible. Then again, aerial spraying is different from hand spraying, say activists. In this case, India can look towards Australia, another hot country, for a real-life example. In parts of Australia, when insect pressure was high in certain months, endosulfan was sprayed as often as five to six times in less than a year. Despite years of spraying at much higher frequencies, no health effects on humans were reported. This is confirmed by Bruce Pyke, an official from Australia’s Cotton Development Corporation Council. Why, then, is Kasargod the only place in the world that believes it has been affected by endosulfan? The Bogeyman
It is easy for India to assume that pesticide manufacturers are always evil. In the DDT case, pesticide manufacturers argued 3 June 2013
against data demonstrating its harmful effects, and resisted a ban for years. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy ensured that Indians have no faith in the regulatory system. Meanwhile, the Plantation Corporation of Kerala, which owns these cashew plantations, did not exactly act with scrupulous care while applying the pesticide. In the first three or four years, water bodies in the sprayed areas were not covered,
Environmental chemist Ivan Kennedy argues endosulfan does not behave the same in hot tropical climates as in cooler temperate ones—neither remaining in the soil for long, nor accumulating in the bodies of mammals and only after local people protested did the company start distributing covers for wells and informing villagers in advance. This muddies the waters. The question is no longer whether India should ban endosulfan. India can well choose to accept the Stockholm Convention’s decision and discontinue the use of endosulfan as a precautionary measure. “Let them ban it using the principle of abundant precaution if they want,” says Sreekumar, “But let them prove properly that all these diseases were really due to endosulfan.” Perhaps the biggest losers in this entire controversy are the stigmatised residents of Kasargod themselves, despite the large sums of money they have received from the government. Men and women in this area are now finding it difficult to find spouses, as stories of their tainted genes get around. Some want to sell their land and move elsewhere, but the belief that the soil is poisoned ensures that they will get only throwaway prices. There is also an epidemic of fear, says Sreekumar. When children develop a slight headache, mothers worry that this may be the onset of hydrocephalus. Meanwhile, the truly ill will never know the real cause of their diseases, as endosulfan has been turned into everyone’s favourite whipping boy. But the residents of Kasargod are finally hitting back. Around two weeks ago, tired of the lies of the media and politicians, an organisation called Endosulfan Apamaana Vimochana Samiti was formed. Its name literally means ‘Association to fight the insult of endosulfan’ and ‘insult’ refers to what has been meted out to the local community, which is how these residents view the social stigma that blights Kasargod. n open www.openthemagazine.com 43
Illustrations by pawan tiwary
n i n co m p o o p s
Dumb and Dumber Stealing sperm, trying to rob the Reserve Bank of India, selling a stolen motorcycle back to its owner… these criminals are so stupid that they are an insult to crime Lhendup G Bhutia
n 2008, Dr Suryakant Hayatnagarkar,
director and co-founder of Cryocell India, received a call from a police station in Mumbai. Dr Hayatnagarkar’s firm, which is based in Maharashtra’s Jalna district, runs six semen banks in the country. He remembers the discomfort of the police officer on the line. It was no ordinary news he was relaying. “Dr Suryakant, we have caught a man in Bombay. And, hmmm… have you been robbed recently?” he asked. The doctor told him he had not. “Well sir, the thing is, he is carrying a
huge canister… We’ve never seen anything like it. And, ermmm…” Hayatnagarkar was perplexed. What might it have had to do with him? He remembers his impatience. He’d said something to the effect of: “Go on, get on with it.” “The canister has semen. Over a hundred vials. He has robbed your sperm bank.” Hayatnagarkar was shocked. Who would rob a semen bank? What use could it be? Surely, no one could sell it. Over the next few days, as the police of 3 June 2013
Mumbai and Jalna got involved, he learnt that the accused, Anil Mohite, along with his brother, Sunil Mohite, a lab technician at the firm, had looted the Aurangabad sperm bank of 101 vials of semen. Sunil had devised the plan after having seen how large numbers of semen samples were being sold to infertility clinics across the country. However, selling stolen semen is not easy. Many infertility clinics have their own sperm banking facilities, where they maintain records of sperm donors and do not welcome anonymous semen. The criminals, however, went purely by numbers. Cryocell India sells samples to several infertility clinics registered with them for Rs 630 a sample. According to Hayatnagarkar, a canister of 101 vials would be worth over Rs 63,000. Sunil had sent Anil with the stock of semen samples to Mumbai with instructions to locate an infertility clinic and sell their entire heist for not less than Rs 25,000. The case is currently in court. “I would like to believe that they had some plan of selling the samples,” says Hayatnagarkar, “[Else], they were really very foolish.”
very profession has its stalwart
and dimwit. For every criminal mastermind enjoying the ill-gotten rewards of his ingenuity, there is an idiot staring out of the bars of a jail cell. In the US, stories of dumb criminals are a genre by itself. It is not just the staple of local crime coverage, there are magazine articles on it, TV shows that rate the week’s most moronic attempts at breaking the law, and even books with titles like The Stupid Crook Book. Among the most amusing stories of recent years was the case of a Spanish robber who broke into a funeral parlour. The incident took place in 2008 in a town close to Valencia, Spain. When the police showed up, he tried to play dead by lying in a glass chamber that is used to view the deceased. According to AP, the suspect’s ‘grungy clothes’ and heavy breathing gave him away. In another incident about a year earlier, two 18-year-olds vandalised and burgled a children’s campsite. They would have gotten away. Except that one of them, Peter Addison, scribbled ‘Peter Addison was here’ on a campsite wall. He was identified and arrested.
3 June 2013
In the past few months, Mumbai has had two botched-up jobs. This April, a man tried to enter the Reserve Bank of India’s headquarters on Mint Street with an air gun. Alarmed, the police braced themselves for a terror attack. But they later found that they had taken the armed would-be intruder, Padma Shekar Nair, a little too seriously. Assuming that the bank was stuffed with cash, Nair had only wanted to enter the building to rob it. A few days earlier, he had even written his mother in Kochi a letter saying that he would soon return a millionaire. And just last week, there was the ghastly case of a kidnapped and murdered 13-year-old boy, Aditya Rankha. It was solved not by the dint of any policeman’s intellect, but thanks to the perpetrators’ stupidity. The accused were both known to the family. One of them, Bijesh Sanghvi—believe it or not—actually chauffeured the victim’s father and a policeman to the spot where the victim was last seen. During
A robber who broke into a funeral parlour tried to fool the police by playing dead inside a glass chamber. His heavy breathing gave him away the car ride, the boy’s father noticed that his son’s slippers were tucked under the backseat, and there were bloodstains in the boot. Sanghvi was arrested. Pandharinath Mandhare, a senior police inspector in Pune, has an observation to make on criminals. His 36 years of police service, he says, have taught him that the odd criminal will be smart but the rest are incredibly stupid. “It is the nature of this field,” he says, “If you are smart, you will be doing something else.” Yet, even such sagacity could not prepare the senior inspector for the case of Jeevan Sadhu Shedge’s missing motorcycle. In November 2010, Shedge, an infotech employee based in Pune’s Hadapsar, approached the local police station where Mandhare was posted with the complaint of a missing motorcycle. Like always, Shedge had parked his Bajaj Platina in a lane outside his home. One morning, he discovered it missing. Mandhare took
down the complaint but told Shedge that it was highly unlikely that his bike would be found. There had been over 230 cases of missing bikes in Pune that year, and none had been recovered. Two days later, Shegde started looking for a second-hand bike. He made a few calls and eventually got in touch with a local mechanic, Naim Rahim Shaikh, who was looking to sell a motorcycle. “Jeevan met the mechanic to check out the bike,” recounts Mandhare, “It was a Bajaj Platina, and looked remarkably similar to his lost possession. Jeevan even jokingly wondered aloud if Shaikh had stolen his bike. But when he inspected it further, Jeevan realised that the bike didn’t just look similar, it bore the same stickers and number plate.” Shedge was so surprised that he yelled out that the bike belonged to him. Shaikh raced away, and by the time Shedge reached the police station to complain, another half hour had passed. Mandhare hopped onto his motorcycle, and, with Shedge riding pillion, the two started looking for Shaikh. “There wasn’t much hope of finding him,” says the cop, “I was just amused by the fact that a thief had tried to sell a bike to its owner. But we continued to ride in the direction that Shaikh had taken. A few kilometres away, we saw, by a tea stall, Shaikh sitting on the bike, drinking a glass of tea.” In 1987, when Mandhare was a constable posted at Bombay’s Pydhonie police station, he helped a resident of Masjid Bunder recover a stolen car audio set. After losing it, Mohammed Ibrahim had tried to find a second-hand replacement in Chor Bazaar, only to find his own item being sold back to him. Ibrahim paid a small token sum, promising to return with the rest of the cash in a few hours. Mandhare accompanied him the second time round and arrested both the owner of the store and his lackey who would steal car stereo sets for him.
credit card is not an easy steal. It is almost always kept in the inner reaches of a wallet. To get hold of one, you usually have to pick an entire wallet. Then, unlike cash, there is always the possibility that the cardholder will block his card. But if you find a credopen www.openthemagazine.com 45
it card wrapped inside a bag lying by a busy road, it is almost like a gift. In 2008, three unemployed slumdwellers of an area near Mulund in Mumbai found an ICICI credit card bearing the name ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ lying on a pavement in Santa Cruz. According to Prakash Landge, a senior police inspector at Mulund police station, Khan had lost it along with his passport during a film shoot in Santa Cruz a few weeks earlier. The three finders—Vinay Vijay Tambe, Shekar Jadhav and James Paul Peremal—decided to play keepers and buy themselves a few clothes and watches with the card. They shopped at a mall in Mulund and ran up a bill of about Rs 25,000. Up till this point, you would still have to call them lucky. Recalling the incident, Landge, who investigated the case, says, “The man at the sales counter was struck by the name on the card, it being the same as that of the actor’s. But then one of the accused signed and handed the charge-slip back with a signature that read ‘James Paul Peremal’.” The man at the counter did not 46 open
At a Delhi Metro power substation, a thief tried to steal copper wire that had 33 kV of electricity running through it. His body was found a few hours later just smell a rat, he smelt three big imbeciles. The police were called in, the three were arrested, and to the surprise of all, the credit card actually turned out to belong to the Bollywood superstar.
owever, the most bizarre story of
stupidity has to be this one from the country’s capital. A copper wire thief spotted an opportunity in the auxiliary power substation of Delhi Metro’s Barakhamba station, one located at the end of the station’s platform. Equipped with a torch and hacksaw, he set himself to work upon a live copper wire that had 33 kilovolts of electricity running
through it. When his body was found a few hours later, it was burnt so badly that no one could identify him. There had lately been several reports of copper wire theft, says Delhi Metro spokesperson Anuj Dayal. “Most thieves were wise enough to steal discarded wires,” he says, “In this case, I think the robber must have been a substance-abuser who was so high he did not realise what he was doing. I can’t find any other logical reason.”
hile Mandhare never saw Shegde
after the motorcycle incident again, he continued to bump into Shaikh. Out on bail, the thief would have to visit the police station every few days. Later he found employment as a mechanic in another garage. The senior inspector and his fellow cops would tease Shaikh each time they saw him. “We would tell him, ‘Chootiyaa, naak katwa dee na, choron ki?’” (You’ve sullied the reputation of all thieves, no?) n 3 June 2013
mindspace true Life
Dancing for the Gods
O p e n s pa c e
Sonam Kapoor Freida Pinto Irrfan Khan Nawazuddin Siddiqui
n p lu
The Reluctant Fundamentalist The Great Gatsby
61 Cinema reviews
Atmos Hermes Star Theatre Planetarium Nikon AW110
Tech & style
Why Women Outlive Men Matching Music to Colours Fillip to Mental Arithmetic
The Rise of Indian Zombies Blind to Sexual Violence
Cobalt Blue Blind Spot
An ex-CBI Chief Speaks Up
confessions of a former cbi chief And how his stint ended after just 14 months because of political interference in the agency 48
trinath mishra is a retired IPS officer. He has served four Prime Ministers—Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar and PV Narasimha Rao—as chief of the SPG
‘Put the CBI Under the Judiciary’ Former CBI Director Trinath Mishra on his refusal to give in to political meddling, which led to his decision to bow out of the agency after just 14 months
he Bofors case was mishandled right from the beginning. This was a case I inherited when I took over the directorship of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1998. I found that it was not fairly investigated. Initially, there was every effort to pin the guilt on certain people, and later, when they found this was not happening, they started clutching at straws. Therefore, it had to come to its sorry end. I personally feel that Rajiv Gandhi was not involved in the Bofors scandal at all. He was made a target by everyone. The only mistake he committed was that he might have had some idea or notion of what was going on and he chose not to share this information. I do not know who advised him, but he surely was not very experienced in political matters. Personally I feel that he was a clean man, a man of good intentions. I wished he had survived and come back. His continuance would surely have changed politics for the better. That is my estimate of the man I served earlier in 1989 as director of the Special Protection Group, the Prime Minister’s security head. In 1998, I had joined the CBI as a special director, and after the retirement of DR Karthikeyan, who was finishing with the Rajiv Gandhi murder case, I took over as its head. My directorship came along with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister. I was with the CBI for a short duration of 14 months, but during my directorship, four main cases were wrapped up in good time. One was the dropsy death cases caused by adulterated mustard oil. The other was the theft of idols from Shivpuri. Scams such as Bofors and fodder were inherited from the past, the difference being that during my time, we forcefully finalised and prosecuted them. Another case we handled was of the Bombay riots. The fodder scam was capably and fearlessly investigated by Upendranath Biswas. He was hounded by the Government as well as the department at this point. Upen was my colleague when I was Superintendent of Police, CBI, in 1978-79, so I knew him well. I
3 june 2013
chose to stand by him and told him not to bother about the pressure. Now, he’s a minister in the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal. Luckily, the courts played a positive role during his investigation. He had committed a minor mistake, calling the Army for help directly. But this was done in good faith, so instead of taking him to task, it could have been condoned or overlooked. But the Government tried to put him on the mat on this very issue. Luckily, he got the matter quashed by the High Court. Despite all these cases being investigated during my stint, I found that I could not get along well with the powers that be because they wanted certain cases to be handled in a certain manner. There was interference from the Prime Minister’s Office, the state minister for personnel, the Home Minister, and so on. They were all nice to me, but I found that I would not be able to live up to their ‘expectations’. If I did, I would fall afoul of my own convictions. At my time, the CBI director’s post was not a tenured one and was at the pleasure of the Government. It was only after I left did it become a tenured post. I am not a very ambitious or proud man, and I practise humility. But I believe in one couplet of Goswami Tulsidas. When a bhakta asked him if he had got rid of his pride completely, being a saint of such a high order, he said he would search his heart and get back to him. The next day, he said, “I have got rid of my sense of pride and ambition, but there is one element of pride I still have that I do not want to dispense with.” He said: “Main sewak Raghupati prabhu more/ As abhimaan jaayi jani bhore (I am proud of the fact that I served Lord Rama)”. I carry a sense of pride that I have served the people of this country. This idealism is a gift from my school in Netarhat, which taught us that we are here to serve not only our immediate kith and kin, but people at large. Being a small man, what else can I do? There were no world wars to fight, or Taj Mahals to make. But to the best of my capabilities I can serve and
discharge my official duties. So I told the authorities that they should find someone who could toe their line. I was not that person. At that time, Manas Bezbaruah was director of the Enforcement Directorate. He had been shifted and there was a lot of hullabaloo in the media about his sudden transfer. Then, under a court order, he had to be reinstated. So there was a lurking apprehension with the powers that be that I may seek the same recourse if they shifted me. I assured them that I would not go to court, or lobby, and I would be happy with whatever they decided. There are no powers that come with any post, including that of the head of the nation’s primary investigating agency. There are only responsibilities and duties. The power is with the people who delegate that authority. The CBI has three major areas of investigation. In two areas, there’s hardly any meddling from the top. As far as middle and lower level public sector undertaking officers are concerned, whether they are involved in trap cases, disproportionate assets cases or corruption, there’s no interference. No one is interested in them; everyone wants them behind bars. Then there are conventional cases such as murders, riots and so on. These cases are initially handled by state governments and only when they fail to meet the people’s expectations or popular demand arises for a CBI investigation are they assigned either by the states or the courts to the CBI. Again, in these cases, 99 per cent of the time there is no interference from the Central executive. Of course, some old acquaintance may come up with a request that a certain person has been unnecessarily embroiled in the case and say, “Kindly look into it please.” However, there is tremendous media pressure in these cases. For example, the Raja Bhaiya case, which involved the murder of Deputy Superintendent of Police Zia-ul-Haq. The media created an impression that Raja Bhaiya was involved in it. But crime investigators did not come across any prosecutable evidence. Things such as guesswork open www.openthemagazine.com 49
or intuition is not evidence, it cannot be the basis for prosecution. But media exposure is always at the back of the mind of investigators. They fear that if they do not measure up to their expectations, then there may be allegations of collusion with the powers that be. With that comes the pressure of solving the case quickly. When the gang-rape case happened in Delhi, there were hourly media reports on such and such person not arrested so far. One cannot pull a rabbit out of the bag. In fact, the Delhi Police should have been complimented and commended for working out the case and arresting the criminals so quickly. But people unnecessarily bayed for the blood of Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar. Barring such special cases, there’s hardly any interference. Here, the Government can surely ask for a progress report, but that’s not interference. The political interplay comes only when cases involve senior officers and ministers of the Central Government, or any Central organisation in which they have a stake. Then, there is tremendous pressure—‘Do it in this manner’ or ‘you have to take this line’. Earlier, it used to be done in a more subtle and polished manner. The authorities would call to have a chat and tell you that ‘it is national security and the national interest will be served... these people are investing so much money in India, it will have an adverse impact if something is done against them’. They try to convince you theoretically and conceptually. But now, it has become more brazen. In this third area, there has been interference earlier, and this time too [the Coalgate report vetting]. There are many examples, but I would not want to dwell upon them. I was told on my face, “Do it this way, mulq ko fayeda hoga (it’s in national interest).” It is against the law, I would protest. “Phir bhi dekh leejiye. (Still, look into it).” Finally I had to say, “I am sorry, mujh se nahin hoga (I can’t do it).” This was the reason I got cheesed off with the post and got out of it. It was nice that they did not harass me, and I 50 open
quit the job without any difficulty. My friends tell me that my name had been recommended for quite a few posts thereafter, but the powers that be told them that ‘he is an upright but uptight person’. My entire stint is peppered with such compliments. When I was in Benares in the 1980s, I had lots of differences with former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Congress leader Kamalapati Tripathi’s family. They tried to get me transferred. When asked what was wrong with me, they said, “Kharaabi waraabi nahi hai, sunta
Earlier, it used to be done in a more subtle and polished manner. The
authorities would call to have a chat and tell you that ‘the
national interest will be served... it will have an adverse impact if something is done
against them’. But now, interference has become more brazen
nahin hai bilkul (He doesn’t listen to us at all).” The then Chief Minister Sripati Mishra told them, “We have not sent him to listen to you. He has been assigned to work. If there’s any fault in his work, we can take action.” Towards the end of my career, I was posted as Director General, CISF, and then as Director General, CRPF. On 1 January 2002, I retired and I was a free man. The best thing for the CBI would be to put it under the Judiciary. Right
now, this is so only theoretically. Every investigation agency, including the local thana, is under the court’s jurisdiction. The thana is doing quasi-judicial work because every investigation helps the court. Even the Supreme Court decides criminal cases on the basis of an FIR written by a constable. The National Police Commission has been crying itself hoarse for years to separate investigation agencies from law and order, traffic, from other duties. Let them be placed under a judicial supervisor. Let a high court administrative judge supervise vigilance, the CID and so on. In Karnataka, the Lokpal looks after the Anti-Corruption Bureau, and vigilance side, it has been functioning independently. A similar arrangement can be made for the CBI. It need not be a part of the Supreme Court, but a judge from the SC can be appointed to supervise it. Since the agency is supposed to handle various kinds of cases, the CBI director or supervisor should be granted full freedom on staff matters. They should be able to recruit an expert from the open market, like a financial expert, a chartered accountant, cyber expert, technologist, etcetera. It should be a police organisation with proper resources. The CBI should be turned into a modern and capable organisation. It is a great institution, so it should be independent and fair and efficient. Have your thana and local CIDs, perhaps, but keep the CBI separate. Let people have one organisation in which they can repose their faith. And if the chief of such an organisation is involved in misconduct, heads should roll. He should be given stringent punishment. Current CBI Director Ranjit Sinha has shown guts by coming out [on the Coalgate affair] truthfully and clearly. Many people would never have been able to do what Sinha did. As for me, I would not have gone to that meeting with Union ministers on the Coalgate report at all. They could have done whatever they wanted. n As told to Arindam Mukherjee 3 june 2013
Books A Love Story With a Difference Indian writing in English rarely ever matches the gems of vernacular literature, such as this Marathi novel by Sachin Kundalkar madhavankutty pillai cobalt blue
Sachin Kundalkar (Translated by Jerry Pinto) Hamish Hamilton | 228 pages | Rs 399
obalt Blue is the kind of book
that affirms why literary fiction in Indian English is a shadow of what vernacular literature has been churning out with such finesse (and so little profit) for decades. It is a book with the barest of plots and one grand ambitious idea. That is a formula Indian English writing is adept at, but which inevitably ends up being self indulgent. But Sachin Kundalkar, the author of Cobalt Blue, creates something extraordinary out of what appears to be outlandish. The book is about two people— Tanay and his sister Anuja—who have a secret relationship with the same man, the paying guest in their home. In the first half of the book, Tanay remembers his betrayal, and in the second, Anuja. Like all good novels, it is hard to pinpoint why it works. The peculiar situation is fertile for twists and turns, but there is none. It is just two failed relationships and both happen in a bubble ostensibly untouched by the other. The man they both fall in love with does not even have a name. From the memories of Tanay and Anuja, he appears in part scarred and in part enlightened; in part free of emotional trappings and in part so afraid of it that he always has to run away. One way of understanding this book is as two character sketches of the same man. And both sketches are wrong because neither Tanay nor Anuja really understands why he left them. Their family is a regular conservative Maharashtrian one living in a city.
Tanay is a homosexual who after casual encounters thinks the paying guest is the permanent relationship he is looking for. Anuja is free-spirited and aggressive. She coaxes her lover to run away with her. It is only after their elopement that Tanay realises that he was being cheated on with his own sister. Kundalkar creates in Tanay a deeply tragic character. While the family is crushed by Anuja’s act, Tanay grieves getty images
Kundalkar’s book is about two people—Tanay and his sister Anuja—who have a secret relationship with the same man, the paying guest in their home his own loss alone. When Anuja, heartbroken, depressed and suicidal, returns to the shelter of the family she had contempt for, Tanay has to live with the trauma of facing the woman his lover ran away with. In the end, both separately escape the family. Except for a vague hint in one line, it is never revealed whether Anuja knew of her brother’s relationship.
Kundalkar writes with abandon. When Tanay or Anuja is remembering, time flits between the past, present and future without warning. Paragraphs change and only after a couple of lines do you realise that the writer has moved on. Often, the same line is repeated deliberately, a trick of poets. But the writing is not lyrical. It is deadtone narration with the occasional rare flourish—‘Then you turned over again and once more I could see your face. I looked at you and I could do nothing.’ Kundalkar was 22 when he wrote this book and some of it is evident in the overdoing of a few things. Tanay’s half of the book is straight narration from memory. Anuja’s is in the form of a diary which, as far as you can tell, seems an indulgence. In one place, the writer throws in a few lines of a waiter who won’t find work because the Irani restaurant is becoming a McDonald’s. It’s a lonely half-political point that is neither here nor there. The paying guest is a character who seems too surreal to be real, but that is probably intended. But when the writer gets into details every once in a while, it doesn’t work. These lines of Tanay talking about his lover’s childhood— ‘Your memories as an eight-year-old: the Eiffel tower by night, sunlight until eight in the evening, and a variety of exciting cheeses’—are not the memory of an eight-year-old, but of a tourist. These are quibbles over details. The writer does not stay anywhere long enough for anything to jar. For someone who has not read the original, it is impossible to say how much the translator’s contribution is to the English edition. But if the final output is any indication, in a country bereft of translators of merit, Jerry Pinto deserves some credit for an unusual and fine work of art. n 3 june 2013
Books Bias Busters of the World Unite But this book was evidently written for ‘good people’ in America. Don’t count on it to do India any favour ARESH SHIRALI
BLIND SPOT: HIDDEN BIASES OF GOOD PEOPLE
Mahzarin R Banaji & Anthony G Greenwald Penguin | 254 pages | Rs 599
veryone has hidden biases,
just as each of our eyes has a retinal blindspot. And these, say Mahzarin R Banaji and Anthony G Greenwald in Blind Spot, guide human behaviour in sneaky ways that one is not even conscious of. Could this be true—of everyone? As someone who majored in Statistics for love of the word ‘unbiased’ (as opposed to ‘lies’ and ‘damned lies’), or so I consciously like to think, I picked up this book to serve myself a reality check on my own inner bugs. Ridding myself of my last self-aware bug, planted four years ago by a lady leaving a bar in a huff who backed her car into mine, had taken some effort. It had taken a close observation of roads and a raw estimation of odds. My conclusion: it’s not that women at the wheel are any worse than men, by and large, it’s just that female drivers are far fewer and vastly more noticeable on Indian streets, and so their rashness stays longer in memory. It’s also how visible minorities everywhere tend to get marked out and labelled unfairly for something or another. This book, alas, does not bust any of my other biases. Its authors are psychologists famous for their Implicit Association Tests, aimed at catching ‘good people’ in denial of a prejudice. But—at the risk of betraying a bias or two—despite Professor Banaji’s Indian birth, the tests on offer would probably be pointless to a young desi.
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On the flowers-versus-insects test (take it online at bit.ly/T8h6uD), my score of 4 turns out neutral: no clear preference, that is, for either lifeform. But then, how can anyone who’s watched enough animated films dislike creepy-crawlies all that much? In Antz, a worker ant called Zee played by Woody Allen rebels against the inequities of anthood. In Bee Movie, a feisty bee called Barry played by Jerry Seinfeld rouses his hive and kind’s fury against all of mankind for stealing their honey, gets all honeymakers to go on strike... and then, struck by an epiphany on the wonders of crossfertilisation as the world’s flowers
Implicit Association Tests are aimed at catching ‘good people’ in denial of a prejudice. But—at the risk of betraying a bias—despite Banaji’s Indian birth, the tests on offer are pointless start dying, buzzes off to get the gooey work going again and thus save life on Planet Earth; it’s an allegory that people who can’t see eye-n-eye on complex issues might easily miss, but maybe young moviegoers would agree that everyone gets to gain from a budding exchange of ideas, no matter how creepy they seem. The second test, the authors warn, is one you take at your own risk (of a shattered self-image). This is their famous ‘Race IAT’ that thousands of Americans have taken and agonised over. Again, it’s designed plainly for America, and leaves me looking for other attitude shapers to explain my
score of minus 12: a ‘moderate preference’, that is, for faces of AfricanAmerican over Caucasian kids. Being Indian could be an explanation. Or is it a childhood of chuckling at Arnold’s antics—my sole association—on a TV sitcom called Diff’rent Strokes? As my rational faculties kick in, or what my fallible mind consciously classifies as such, it strikes me that it’s also possible to attribute my score to a subtle shift in the test’s format. Take a close look at how this particular ‘Race IAT’ is designed (online at bit.ly/ TtkoCZ). Sheet A is like both sheets of the buds-and-bees test, with ‘pleasant’ pairings listed on the left. But Sheet B swaps ‘pleasant’ with ‘unpleasant’ on the left for a change. Arguably, this switch is disruptive enough to load the test in African-American favour. That’s my only objection. The rest of Blind Spot is a worthy read. What’s awaited is a test that could work in India, a country imperilled by insidious forms of injustice that can confound either-or binaries. This, after all, is a country that lets mobs turn prejudice into a pogrom all too often, and then sees shrugs galore as the rule-of-law kicks in hard and heavy to nab not its perpetrators but a marked man who grabs a gun in panicky self-defence; ask Sanjay Dutt, a tragic hero of hybrid heritage whose efforts to bust biases and barriers may yet outlive the gloats and goads that push him into a dim jail cell meant for a terrorist. One could sit back, sigh, and air-guitar along with Strings as they strum that peculiar pain to the chords of Yeh Hai Meri Kahaani, every breath testifying in empathy. But unless India’s ‘good people’ learn to acquaint themselves with their blindspots, there’ll be no relief. n open www.openthemagazine.com 55
CINEMA Birth of the Indian Undead What makes zombies interesting and why Go Goa Gone gets it right DEVIKA BAKSHI
eh India mein zombies kaise
aa gaye?” asks one of the leads of Go Goa Gone after their first encounter with a highly aggressive walking corpse. Another responds: “Globalisation.” It’s an obvious formulation, but besides being exactly right, it earns the film points for selfawareness—always a bonus, and especially so in a zombie comedy which plays on the absurdity of its own genre. The movie opens with a visual familiar to anyone who has spent a sufficient amount of idle time on YouTube—a man with prosthetic fangs in blue contacts and a red pleather leisure suit thrusting to the borrowed refrains of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. What you, and the film’s stoned protagonists, are seeing is the video for the song Golimar from the 1985 Telugu film Donga, now famous
something evil’s lurking in the dark It’s a wonder that zombies took so long to enter Bollywood’s horror imagination
worldwide as ‘Indian Thriller’. Put ‘goli mar’ into the YouTube search bar and the first two items that pop up are versions of the video with amused captions in Portuguese and Spanish. Type ‘Indian Thriller’ on Google and you’ll find your way to Indianthrillergolimar.com, a website dedicated to the video and its hero, Chiranjeevi—complete with a brief bio of and adoring messages for the actor-turned-politician. Kitsch spreads quickly these days, and it flows both ways. India exports its own—Bollywood, chandelier earrings, Amitabh Bachchan at Cannes in a truly horrifying seersucker bomber jacket—and imports, well, IPL cheerleaders. Our latest import, it seems, are zombies. By the time it zooms out and away from Chiranjeevi’s lacquered thrust, Go Goa Gone has already established its
kitsch credentials—it knows whereof it speaks. Though Golimar’s approximation of Jackson’s Thriller figure is somewhere on the vampire-werewolf spectrum, the video is the perfect setup for the first (almost) Indian zombie movie—we’re about to see something ridiculous, parodic, borrowed and therefore hilarious. The appeal of the zombie genre lies in its campiness; it is enjoyable precisely because of its ridiculousness. Its absurdity is what is hilarious. This can be said of any B-horror tradition, certainly of the vast body of Indian low-budget horror cinema. And while in the West camp is generally a cult fascination, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Indian cinema facilitates a mainstream appreciation of campiness and kitsch. It’s surprising, then, that it took so long for zombies to make it here. Barring Luke Kenny’s Rise of the Zombie, which came and went with little fuss last month, Go Goa Gone marks the zombie’s first
venture into commercial Bollywood. Zombies have been around in US pop culture since the early 20th century, and were part of American folklore even earlier, drawing on mythological Caribbean figures of the same name and similar disposition. But they have gained steadily in imaginative real estate since their appearance in George A Romero’s 1968 cult classic indie horror film Night of the Living Dead, which spawned several sequels and remakes, the last of which came out as recently as 2010. Meanwhile, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981) sparked its own series, and though there is some dispute about the nature of the monsters in the series, it did wonders for camp horror in general. The creators of Go Goa Gone seem more than a little aware of this legacy, even sneaking in a reference to Evil Dead while they go through the motions of introducing the zombie as a concept, both to the characters and to the unsuspecting among the audience. Unlike the aatmas and chudails the characters rule out in their attempt to identify what they have just encountered, the zombie has barely any history in India’s horror imagination. One could speculate, as others have, that the zombie is a uniquely JudeoChristian manifestation of the anxiety and horror surrounding death—what happens to all those bodies evacuated of souls? As a counterpoint to this, the bhatakti hui aatma of Hindi horror movies is a different manifestation of the same anxiety—what happens to all those souls bereft of bodies? Zombies have frequently been interpreted as an embodiment of existential anxiety and a recent surge in zombie culture—from a parody of Jane Austen’s classic called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the success of prime-time TV series The Walking Dead—has provoked further interpretation. In a 2010 article for Slate, Torie Bosch suggested the surge in zombie-themed pop culture was about ‘the economic fears of white-collar workers’ fearing obsolescence, and that it would die down once the economy recovered. In a piece for the The New York 3 june 2013
Times that same year, author Chuck Klosterman linked the same zombie preoccupation to the repetitive banality of modern life, saying ‘zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche’. This avalanche effect is the cornerstone of the zombie threat—it feeds itself, multiplying rapidly, compelled by a mindless momentum, and there’s no ‘off’ switch. Zombies are not an intelligent, cohesive force; they cannot be reasoned with, or cured, or collectively disabled. As viewers of HBO epic-fan-
This is the most effective aspect of zombie horror— hot girls turning into terrifying monsters—and the film hinges on our ability to empathise with the characters who were just going about the business of being young and indulgent when they are interrupted by a nightmare tasy series Game of Thrones are learning weekly, the undead are the threat to top all threats (including dragons). As far as horror scenarios go, zombies are the one that most logically require cooperation among survivors—if one of us is killed, there are more to kill us. Go Goa Gone is less a meditation of existence than on indulgence, and draws much more from the recent Hollywood trend of zombie comedies. In hindsight, this was a natural evolution. In 2004, the genre made an overt leap from camp to comedy. That year saw not only a remake of Dawn of the Dead, Romero’s 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead, but also an English spoof in Shaun of the Dead. Anyone who’s seen the latter will tell you what a good idea that was. Zombieland fol-
lowed five years later, combining zombies with buddy comedy. Go Goa Gone is most like the latter, with the added hilarity of a stoner comedy (see Pineapple Express). In the manner of every male buddy comedy ever, the guys of Go Goa Gone smoke pot, chase hot girls, and drink lots—clueing you into their modern, carefree existence. The movie isn’t subtle about placing us in its highly overdetermined context. At the end of an exchange of acronyms between Vir Das and Kunal Khemu in adjacent bathroom stalls—BTW, WTF, IMHO, KLPD—you know you’re supposed to be hearing plugged-in urbane youthspeak (never mind the fact that you’d just as likely hear the same stuff in a junior school girl’s loo). Every horror film sets up an idyll to be disturbed. In Go Goa Gone, that idyll is a secret party full of friendly sexy people on a gorgeous Goan island. The lingering shots of swaying scantily clad bodies swallowing pills and exhaling smoke make the movie’s central flip all the more terrifying—suddenly, those same beautiful bodies are covered in blood and want to eat your brains, and you’re trapped with them on that island. Go Goa Gone makes particularly good use of the sexual anxiety inherent to B-horror movies—with one of the boys trying to find ‘the moment’ with his love interest, and another, in an inspired sight-gag, running around trees with his undead hook-up from the night before. This is the most effective aspect of zombie horror—hot girls turning into terrifying monsters—and the film hinges on our ability to empathise with the characters who, like most horror movie protagonists, are just going about the business of being young and indulgent when they are interrupted by a nightmare. Sadly, Go Goa Gone spoils its lighthearted satire with a rather hokey final moment. Tacking a lesson onto the end of two hours of lunacy turns it into an elaborate scared-straight parable. It is entirely unnecessary to spell out the metaphor in a zombie movie. We know it isn’t about zombies. It never is. n open www.openthemagazine.com 57
CINEMA Wearing Blinders Why do women filmmakers in India not want to talk of sexual violence? annie zaidi
or the first time in years, I found my toes literally curling in fear during a film. My stomach was in knots and my knees were drawn up to my chest. The film was The Whistleblower, set in post-war Bosnia and based on true events. One scene was especially difficult to watch. A young woman was raped in front of many others—to teach her a lesson for trying to escape and as a warning to the rest. There was no lust involved. The film makes it quite clear that this bru-
tality is essentially about money and power. Halfway through the film, I began to wonder if the director was a woman. What was happening to those girls was torture and it communicated itself as torture. The camera focused a lot on the girls’ faces but did not shy away from the violence done to them. I went online later to confirm my suspicion. Indeed, the director turned out to be a woman, Larysa Kondracki, who wrote the script along with Eilis Kirwan.
How and why did I start thinking about the gender of the director? Because the film seemed to have a definite attitude towards women. The camera was not intrusive, and, although this was a thriller, there were no elaborate chase sequences to induce anxiety. The story was enough. A policewoman is sent as a peacekeeper to
here’s a start Zoya Akhtar addresses gender bias in her short feature in Bombay Talkies
Bosnia and she uncovers a sexual slavery and trafficking racket. The police and international peacekeepers are involved. It is in everybody’s interest to shut her up, including her own. A lone woman making enemies in a war-torn land where she doesn’t even speak the local language—does it get worse? Or, in cinematic terms—does it get better? The real-life story was in the international news in 2002 and it inspired the Kondracki film that released in 2010. But her handling of the theme made me think of another film, Taken. Taken (2008) is also about teenaged girls disappearing in eastern Europe, but you feel more anxiety for the male lead than the girls who face the gravest danger. Buried beneath the stereotype of a heroic daddy and the stylistic treatment of his rescue operation lie the horrors visited upon the girls sold into sexual slavery. Taken, however, is mainly about the men—good or bad— and the stunts. Stunts reminds me of yet another film, Sucker Punch (2011), which is also sort of about sexual slavery. The film is modelled on video games and the cast is mostly young women. The lead character is admitted to a mental asylum by her evil step-father and she ‘escapes’ into a fantasy world where she is held captive in a brothel. She dances but also fights Samurai warriors and German soldiers from World War I. All of this translates into weapons and skimpy clothes. In a fantasy narrative, one does not expect logic. And a girl frightened of sexual assault, perhaps drugged, may well imagine herself trapped in a brothel. But would she choreograph erotic dance sequences in her head? Why do we not feel her pain? This question of how sexual violence and gender stereotypes play out in cinema is all the more important because half our population experiences sexual violence of varying degrees, and because human trafficking is rampant across the Indian Subcontinent. If cinema is a mirror to society, what does our mirror tell us? Does our mirror fog over whenever it is asked a question about women’s fears, the risks they take, the battles they fight, lose, win? 3 june 2013
After the 1970s, Hindi cinema gave us more than an eyeful of the ‘male gaze’—cameras lingering on cleavage from the rapists’ perspective; women running from rapists with sari pallus clutched to their bosoms; women blushing coyly the morning after they’ve been raped. This is not to say that male filmmakers have not addressed rape or portrayed sex workers in a sensitive way; Shyam Benegal and Manik Chatterjee are some of the obvious exceptions. What is surprising is the absence of the female gaze. What keeps Indian women filmmakers from looking at sexual violence in the eye? The newest woman director on the block, Sonam Nair, has been quoted in an interview as saying that ten years ago, women were only making films about villages and rape. Clearly,
Hindi cinema gave us more than an eyeful of the ‘male gaze’—cameras lingering on cleavage from the rapists’ perspective; women running from rapists with pallus clutched to their bosoms; blushing coyly the morning after they’ve been raped Nair has not watched—or bothered to do a cursory Google search for— the work of women directors over the last decade. Most women who make Hindi films focus on urban narratives. Kalpana Lajmi and Aruna Raje did make a few films set in villages, but not recently; even Tanuja Chandra’s Dushman is 15 years old. Perhaps women filmmakers do not want to talk about sexual violence because they resent the ‘woman’ label. During interviews and panel discussions, they like to say that gender has nothing to do with craft, that they don’t see themselves as activists. But whether they do it consciously or not, their films do move around pieces on the gender boardgame. If their lens is not feminine, at least it’s not the ‘male gaze’ either. Sai Paranjpe’s Sparsh, Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer, Anusha
Rizvi’s Peepli Live, even Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd—have all cast men in a vulnerable rather than ‘manly man’ mould. Recently, Zoya Akhtar allowed us a square look at gender in her short film, one of the four in Bombay Talkies. “What’s wrong with being a girl?”— the question comes from a very young boy but it echoes in the head of his sister; later, brother and sister hold hands in solidarity and bewilderment. Sitting in the dark, I felt a rush of gratitude. Hindi movies have always had male actors dressed up as women, sometimes just to enable a colourful song in a wafer-thin plot. Cross-dressing amuses the audience. But the big question— why?—was never asked. But finally (finally!) it has been asked. Indeed, being female has nothing to do with creativity. But it does have a lot to do with one’s politics. Male writer-directors tackle stereotypes around masculinity and their gendered gaze feeds their creative abilities. Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan gave us a teenaged ‘hero’ on the verge of manhood, trying to live with a violent father. Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D challenged the stereotype of sexually coy village belles. Abbas Tyrewala created a non-violent but very confident protagonist in Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Naa. One of my favourite bits in the film is a single line of dialogue—a single mom tells her grown son that it is his turn to make ‘naashta’ today. It takes as little as that to acknowledge a gender stereotype or to challenge it. Men and women can be equally sensitive, equally invested in change. But the task of artists is to tell the truth as they see it. If women filmmakers are not acknowledging the all-pervasive sexual violence that cuts across class and the rural-urban divide, then are they seeing the truth? If a country is so violently divided along gender lines, and their work does not reflect this truth, then what does it tell us about their ability to hold up a mirror? Sometimes I wonder if, in trying to shake off the ‘woman’ label, women filmmakers are side-stepping the most powerful stories they might have told. I might be wrong. But I do wonder. n open www.openthemagazine.com 59
synesthesia A neurological condition in which the stimulation of one perceptual pathway, such as hearing music, leads to involuntary experiences along a different pathway, such as seeing colours
Why Women Outlive Men Their immune system takes longer to age
Matching Music to Colours
hy do women live longer
than men? According to a 2010 Scientific American article, women outlive men by about five to six years. There are roughly six women to every four men at age 85. At 100, the ratio is more than two to one. According to some scientists, this is because a majority of women, in comparison to men, lead healthier lives. For instance, women smoke and drink less than men. Evolutionary scientists argue that men, just like other male animals, have to compete for female attention. As a result of this, men are more aggressive and thus prone to engage in risky and sometimes violent behaviour, ultimately raising their overall death rate. However, according to a new study, the precise reason why women outlive men is that their immune system
ages slower than that of men’s. The study, which was conducted by Tokyo Medical and Dental University and published in Immunity & Ageing, found that the increased susceptibility of men to disease shortens their lifespan. For the study, the researchers analysed the blood samples of 356 healthy men and women aged between 20 and 90. They wanted to check if age-related changes in the immune system could be affecting the difference in average life expectancy between men and women. The study found that the number of white blood cells per person, in both sexes, declined with age, as expected. However, it found certain differences in the immune system of men and women. In men, the rate of decline of T-cells, which perform the task of protecting the body from infection, and of B-cell lymphocytes, which secrete antibodies, was faster. Males also displayed a more rapid age-related decline of two cytokines. These are molecules that interact with cells of the immune system to regulate the body’s response to disease. The researchers write in the journal: ‘The process of ageing is different for men and women for many reasons. Women have more oestrogen than men which seems to protect them from cardiovascular disease until menopause. Sex hormones also affect the immune system, especially certain types of lymphocytes. Because people age at different rates, a person’s immunological parameters could be used to provide an indication of their true biological age.’ n
According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people in both the US and Mexico linked pieces of classical orchestral music with the same colours. This suggests that humans share a common emotional palette—when it comes to music and colour—that appears to be intuitive and can cross cultural barriers. Using a 37-colour palette, the UC Berkeley study found that people tend to pair faster-paced music in a major key with lighter, more vivid yellow colours, whereas slower-paced music in a minor key is more likely to be associated with darker, grayer, bluer colours. The findings may help in creative therapy, advertising and even music gadgetry. n
Fillip to Mental Arithmetic
A harmless form of brain stimulation can improve one’s ability to manipulate numbers in the head, according to a research study published in Current Biology. “With just five days of cognitive training and non-invasive, painless brain stimulation, we were able to bring about long-lasting improvements in cognitive and brain functions,” says Roi Cohen Kadosh of University of Oxford. Incredibly, the improvements held good for a period of six months after training. No one knows exactly how this relatively new method of ‘transcranial random noise stimulation’ (TRNS) works. But the researchers say the evidence available so far suggests that it allows the brain to work more efficiently by making neurons fire more synchronously. n 3 june 2013
home planetarium The oldest planetarium still working can be found in the Dutch town of Franeker. It took Eise Eisinga, an amateur astronomer, seven years to build this planetarium in his living room. It was completed in 1781
Atmos Hermès A clock crafted jointly by Hermès, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Les Cristalleries that uses air to power itself
Star w Theatre Planetarium
Price on request
If you want to draw stars into your house, like a planetarium does, the Star Theatre can help. Using ultra-bright white LED technology, it beams 10,000 stars skywards, and even includes special discs to display stars and delineated constellations. It can mimic movements in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and best of all, it can also project shooting stars, just in case you want to make a wish. n
he result of the collaborative effort of Hermès, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Les Cristalleries de St Louis, this Atmos Hermès crystal clock literally lives on air. The honeycombed crystal sphere of this 176-piece limited edition table clock houses a unique, almost perpetually moving mechanism developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre. It operates with no battery, no electric current and no winding. It works on air by means of an ingenious principle: a hermetically sealed capsule containing a mixture of gases that expands when the temperature rises and contracts when it drops. Connected to the mainspring of the clock, the capsule acts like a pair of bellows, thereby constantly winding the mechanism. It is so sensitive that a one-degree temperature difference is enough to power it for 48 hours. Its balance oscillates just twice a minute rather than the average 300 times of a
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classic wristwatch, which consumes 250 times as much energy. This clock needs very little power to operate, but then it must also be placed on a completely stable horizontal support—a chest of drawers, console, etcetera— to ensure optimum conditions. Credit glassmakers par excellence Les Cristalleries de Saint-Louis for the clock’s astonishing exterior: a crystal globe made with the so-called doublé or double overlay technique, which has one layer of glass coated over another, including a coloured one. The sphere, which is 12 inches in diameter, weighs around 10 kg. According to its Swiss manufacturer, the components of the Atmos clock are amazingly accurate and dependable. There is no moving part that can easily be worne out. What therefore distinguishes the clock is its long service life. In theory, it can take a licking and still be ticking some 600 years hence. n
The AW110 from Nikon is the new version of its AW100, and this one supports full-HD movies with stereo sound. It has a much higher resolution screen than its earlier avatar, and is faster at 8 frames per second, though slightly heavier at 193 gm and thicker at 1 inch, 0.1 inch more than the AW100. With the AW110, you cannot take high-speed movies like the 240 frames per second low resolution of the AW100, but what you get is 3D and WiFi capabilities. The lens and sensor remain the same. Available in five colours, it is waterproof, shockproof and dustproof. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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the unreluctant novelist The Reluctant Fundamentalist is adapted from the 2007 novel of the same name by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. The film includes ‘a third act’ set in Pakistan, a significant departure from Hamid’s novel. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist: From Book to Film, a recent book about the adaptation, Hamid writes that he was confident about Nair’s movie version as he felt she ‘profoundly and intuitively understood [my] novel’. Last month, he told Open that he saw the movie as “Mira’s reading of the novel”
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Mira Nair’s translation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel into cinema is riveting ajit duara
o n scr een
The Great Gatsby Director Baz Luhrmann cast Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey
Maguire, Amitabh Bachchan Score ★★★★★
kate hudson, Cast riz ahmed, nd la er th kiefer su ir na a mir r to ec Dir
he plot of this film is a fabrication—an implausible manipulation of time and space—but the voice comes through intact. By constructing her narrative around a conversation between two men in a cafe in Lahore, Mira Nair makes a valiant attempt to turn a monologue into a dialogue. It doesn’t quite work, but The Reluctant Fundamentalist still ends up a riveting movie. The writing holds you from first to last. Since both novelist Mohsin Hamid and filmmaker Mira Nair work in the warp-and-weft of two or more cultures, they find self expression in the rips and gaps that appear from time to time between the separate identities they must sustain. This is translated very well to film, and the speaking of Urdu and English, the seamless switch in the languages, conveys a curious interaction between thinking, culture and identity. At one point, the storyteller, Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), explains 62 open
his feelings in Urdu to Erica (Kate Hudson), his American lover in New York. He tells her that love is sometimes ‘ishq’, sometimes ‘pyaar’ and sometimes ‘mohabbat’. She repeats the words in perfect pronunciation, but is unable to erase the memory of her deceased boyfriend, so Changez can never tell which word expresses her love. Later, in Istanbul, he meets a Turkish publisher (Haluk Bilginer), whose business is struggling. The American company Changez works for is going to take it over. The meeting is an epiphany, and in this city that straddles East and West, at lunch with a failed publisher of literature, the son of a famous poet from Punjab decides to go home. It is in these poignant moments that the movie is absorbing. The form of the ‘dramatic monologue’ belongs to poetry, not prose. It is an expression of poetic and cultural experience that Nair, with a little help from Faiz Ahmed Faiz, weaves effectively into film. An engrossing cinematic experience. n
In his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1996), also with Leonardo DiCaprio, Baz Luhrmann keeps Shakespeare’s language intact and changes the setting to gang warfare in Verona Beach, late twentieth century. A handgun is referred to as a ‘sword’ and a rifle is called a ‘longsword’. Outrageous as it is, it works, and Shakespeare’s tragedy is expressed most originally in ‘the two hours’ traffic of our stage’. Luhrmann tries to do something similar by re-inventing The Great Gatsby, by giving it a modern, even futuristic, look, through surreal sets and 3D effects, by adding hip hop music, and by casting a famous Indian movie star (Amitabh Bachchan) as Meyer Wolfsheim, fixer, gambler and mentor of Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). This is the relevance of Fitzgerald’s novel, the director says, the vulgar excess of wealth and fame amid the absence of social responsibility that still corrodes the American Dream. But, in effect, what the movie ends up looking like is a cross between a Hollywood costume drama and a romantic Hindi film, especially in the love scenes between Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). This adaptation, unfortunately, does not work. n ad
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Not People Like Us
R aj e e v M asa n d
Canned Heat... About to Pop
By the time you read this, the Bollywood brigade will likely be back from Cannes where they have spent a week or so walking the red carpet, making questionable sartorial choices, and going on and on about the centenary of the birth of Indian cinema without ever having watched a Ray or a Ghatak. But let’s not play the wet blanket. It was oddly comforting to watch Vidya Balan (the pallu on her head and the enormous nath in her nose notwithstanding) share the jurors’ dais with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman. You couldn’t help but cheer when Amitabh Bachchan spoke in chaste Hindi to declare the festival open alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. But it was the camaraderie, in the unlikeliest of places, that was positively heartening. At the L’Oreal suite on the rooftop of Martinez Hotel, to be specific. For years, there’s been a tacit understanding that the three Indian brand ambassadors would be kept at a safe distance from each other. The year that Aishwarya Rai Bachchan attended the opening of the festival, Sonam Kapoor was scheduled to show up only after Ash’s departure, and Freida Pinto not until the closing ceremony. The brand worked hard to ensure the three actresses didn’t run into each other on their premises. This year, Sonam and Freida’s schedules overlapped. (Queen Bee Aishwarya wasn’t slated to arrive until the other two had left.) The two ran into each other on the roof deck during media promotions, and when I asked if they would take a picture together, they gladly obliged. They even made some polite conversation about what they were going to wear to the opening ceremony. Don’t expect the same pleasantness next year, though. Freida’s intended Bollywood debut, a thriller titled NH10, has been in trouble ever since financiers Eros pulled out. And while director Navdeep Singh and producers Phantom Films have given the Slumdog Millionaire star the impression that they are still trying to shop the project around, I have learnt the film will no longer star Freida. The producers have reportedly decided to make it a more ‘commercial’ project, including songs (Freida had explicitly insisted she won’t dance or lip-sync to songs), and they might already have roped 3 june 2013
in another actress to play the lead. That actress, from what I hear, is none other than Sonam Kapoor. Ouch!
The Feud Continues
Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui were both at Cannes, their film Lunchbox having screened in the Critics Week section of the festival. The two actors, who barely acknowledge each other, had the difficult job of posing for pictures and participating in media interactions together. While interviewing them on a yacht docked just off the Croisette, I noticed that both gentlemen kept their shades fixed stubbornly on their noses during talkathons, and didn’t so much as mention the other while talking about their film. Depending on who you choose to believe, the tension between two of the finest actors of our times stems either from the fact that Nawaz got too big for his boots after his recent successes or from the fact that Irrfan is insecure about the new kid on the block. The one who deserved to be lauded for keeping a straight face throughout, and for steering clear of taking sides, was Nimrat Kaur, the leading lady in Lunchbox, who looked lovely in her Sabyasachi sari and who, thankfully, deflected some of the attention from her sparring co-stars.
Under the Radar
She has been a Cannes regular for some years now, but what exactly brings this actress to the Croisette each year is a well-kept secret. The head of a rival international film festival, who was dining with the elite set from Bollywood last week, claimed she had finally gotten to the bottom of the story. The festival boss said that she had learnt from reliable sources that the B-lister has long been in a ‘discreet relationship’ with the owner of one of the finest hotels on the Croisette, where she has a permanent suite. Her ‘contact’, according to this source, lands her invitations to all the big-ticket festival premieres, makes sure she has a fancy car at her disposal and has given her access to an unlimited shopping allowance. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63
Dancing for the Gods
by r au l i r a n i
A Bedia woman dances during an annual festival at the Kareeladham Temple in Bina, Madhya Pradesh, in April . Childless couples and those seeking male children throng this temple. If their wishes are fulfilled they employ girls of the Bedia communityâ€”who were traditionally involved in the sex tradeâ€” to dance at the temple as a gesture of thanksgiving
3 June 2013
Open Magazine 3 June 2013