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When Priyanka Gandhi went election campaigning

The front row at a fashion week

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INSIDE The gold diggers of Unnao l i f e

a n d

t i m e s .

In conver sat i on wit h S he il a D ik shit

‘Kejriwal is not even on our radar’ The Delhi state election will point to how much amateurs have transformed Indian politics. Weeks before the extraordinary election, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit speaks about her anarchist challenger, on Rahul Gandhi as PM, on Delhi as ‘rape capital’ and more

e v e r y

w e e k


Open Mail | editor@openmedianetwork.in Editor Manu Joseph managing Editor Rajesh Jha Deputy Editor Aresh Shirali Political Editor Hartosh Singh Bal Features and Sports Editor Akshay

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(South), Melvin George (West), Basab Ghosh (East) Head—production Maneesh Tyagi pre-press manager Sharad Tailang cfo Anil Bisht hEAD—it Hamendra Singh publisher

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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: subscription@openmedianetwork.in For corporate sales, email ajay@openmedianetwork.in For marketing alliances, email alliances@openmedianetwork.in For advertising, email advt@openmedianetwork.in

Volume 5 Issue 44 For the week 5—11 Nov 2013 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers cover photo

Raul Irani

VINOD KUMAR SEHGAL

There are all kinds of babas (godmen), from gross charlatans to enlightened souls who have no personal agenda and are devoted to service of humanity (‘The Sex Lives of Godmen’, 7 October 2013). It is a wide spectrum, and as such, no generalisation can be made of babas. Milk and lime solution are both white liquids and appear the same Milk and lime solution externally, but their are both white and attributes are radically different. Likewise, to a appear the same layman, all babas may externally. Likewise, to appear the same, but a layman all babas may from within they are appear the same quite different. The ability to distinguish between babas does not come from academic discussions or social/psychological theories, it comes after attending spiritual discourses and that too after years of contemplation. As such, for sociologists and psychologists, it is difficult to understand babas with their theories unless they personally attend such discourses and contemplate their spiritual teachings.  letter of the week The Big Urge

this is a very impressive piece (‘Nights out in a New Town’, 21 October 2013). Not coy about sex, not moralistic, just describing things as they are. The Indian men in Tashkent will turn moralistic about their sisters and daughters on their return home. They will go to their temples and madrassas and do penance. That will last till their next urge, when they will again buy a ticket to Tashkent or Bangkok.  vijay

Replace Tashkent with Bangkok and anybody who has had the (dis)pleasure of witnessing such men on those flights can relate to what the author is describing. I couldn’t care less about what people do or don’t on their travels, but it’s the way they carry themselves and behave that irritates the rest of us.  Mithun Divakaran

11 november 2013

A Scary Possibility

wow! That was an interesting article (‘The Battle against Ageing’, 4 November 2013). I wonder if we are inching close to the day when we will be able to objectively measure the lengths of our life. Just imagining the implications of that scares the hell out of me. But I love the ‘observe, measure and report’ methods that these academics follow. I wonder when this will become relevant to Indians. I suppose having data about basic medical issues would be a good starting point. 

media establishment. This article, ‘The Rest of the X-Tapes’ (4 November 2013), upholds that role. Hats off.  Ra jkamal Goswami

Soul Searching

it is very strange how the women said that they didn’t offer any resistance and felt soothed and had sex, but then why call it rape? (‘The Sex Lives of Godmen’, 7 October 2013). Rape is when you force people to have sex without their consent. But yes, there are cases of rape mentioned in this article, like the 15- and 16-year-old girls, and this is criminal. But most of the stories here talk about people who felt nice at that moment, but later decided to call it rape. This is nonsense. Besides I think that there is a big clash between the spiritual lifestyle and life under normal ‘social and religious rules’. I think that those people who felt like victims were actually being themselves (their real selves), being free souls who were letting themselves go in India, and it’s logical that it felt amazing. But when they got back to man-made society with all its man-made rules, they started thinking that what they did was bad. 

BD Baruah

Mirror to the Media

in the past three odd years, Open has formed it own distinct niche vis-a-vis other Indian news magazines as the one which consistently self-reflects on the journalist’s role in Indian society by holding a mirror to the profession and the larger

Hisham Oozeer

Corrigendum

in the piece titled ‘Recipes and Reminiscences’ (4 November 2013), the publisher of The Landour Cookbook was mistakenly mentioned as ‘Niyogi Books’. The publisher is in fact Roli Books. The error is regretted. editor

open www.openthemagazine.com 1


The Other Retirement check

SHK wasn’t SRT, but Sitanshu Hargovindbhai Kotak has played a role to remember in domestic cricket

u n s u n g He has crossed 40. His name starts with ‘S’. At the time of writing, he is playing his last Ranji Trophy match. No prizes for guessing that the player in question is Sitanshu Hargovindbhai Kotak. If SRT, the other man on the verge of retirement, is a global legend, SHK is a giant of domestic cricket. In a two decadelong career, the 41-year-old Saurashtra batsman scored over 8,000 runs, with 15 centuries. He helped Saurashtra reach the Ranji Trophy final, win the Ranji One-Day title and develop into the fertile 11 november 2013

ground that produced three current India players: Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat. A bizarre error on the part of Indian selectors prevented Kotak from playing for India. In the 1999-2000 Irani Trophy, he scored a hundred for Rest of India against Karnataka, facing an attack comprising J Srinath and Anil Kumble. He was 27. But the selectors, led by the sometimes Inspector Clouseau-ish Chandu Borde, thought he was 37. “I did not make a big issue because I did not want to jeopardise my ca-

reer,” Kotak says. “When they realised the mistake they told me I would be selected for the India ‘A’ team to the West Indies.” This he was, but it’s not the same as India. What gives Kotak peace is that while he may have made the squad, he may not have made the eleven. “Our batting was very strong at that time,” he says. Kotak was frank about his limitations. This humility and heavy Gujarati accent endeared him to cricket people. “Even a fifty by an attractive player would be noticed by selectors. [But] if I made 50 they

wouldn’t have noticed. My only chance of making a name for myself was by staying at the wicket as long as possible.” He regrets not developing his game further. “I should have improved my batting, learnt to play strokes,” he says. Kotak is a religious man. He says being God-fearing kept him on the right path. “In this game, there is scope for jealousy. [You worry] this person will go up, get credit. Going to the temple stopped me from doing wrong things because I felt God won’t be happy.” n Akshay Sawai

open www.openthemagazine.com 3

vivek bendre/the hindu archives

small world


14

contents

cover story Dikshit: “Kejriwal not even on our radar”

6

angle

Sachin: beware Pawar

20

32 Design

unnao

Gaurav Jai Gupta

Gold fables and old myths

12 26

Newsreel

TeleVision

Priyanka checks in

Indian 24: damp squib

on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of ke t a Cric

From Condone to Condemn twit Some are calling it a Freudian slip typical of a politician, but a foot in a social networking mouth would be an equally apt description for what Congress Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal did. Soon after the blasts at Narendra Modi’s rally in Bihar, Jindal tweeted, ‘Strongly condone blasts in Patna. We all impacted by this cowardly violence #PatnaBlasts’. Biju Janata Dal MP Jay Panda was quick to spot that something was amiss. Retweeting it, he

added a line of his own, ‘I do hope you mean condemn!’ That Jindal did mean ‘condemn’ instead of ‘condone’ is evident from the fact that on his timeline it now reads, ‘Strongly condemn blasts in Patna…’ But he should perhaps have added a small ‘thank you’ to Panda. n Madhavankutty Pillai

A Little Bit of Dey h o l d in g o n The late Manna Dey’s singing prowess and humility made him a favourite with fans. Since his death last week at age 94, his family has received several requests from admirers for some of Dey’s possessions. According to The Hindu, playback singer Kavitha Krishnamurthy and music director Suparna Kanti Ghosh are among those who want to keep a little bit of Dey with them forever. Some things are hard to let go. n

ryan The Ha ation o Ass ci

F o r filthy dressing rooms at the

Chaudhary Bansi Lal stadium Mumbai played Haryana in a Ranji Trophy match at the Chaudhary Bansi Lal stadium in Lahli this week. Not only was it an important encounter, it was also Sachin Tendulkar’s last Ranji Trophy appearance. The unlikely honour of hosting Tendulkar’s last Ranji game whipped up a frenzy in Lahli. Heaven and earth were moved to make his visit comfortable. But one important matter was overlooked. Before the match, the dressing room was in shambles, strewn with garbage. There were only a few chairs and a number of hangers-on. In any sport, the dressing room is sacrosanct. No one other than players and staff, however influential, is tolerated, as seen when Vijay Mallya was expelled by John Wright. Tendulkar takes most things in his stride, but the chaos in Lahli prompted him to wonder aloud, “Yeh dressing room hai?” n 11 November 2013


34

fashion

Front row at Fashion Week

44

p

b books

48

Interview: Husain Haqqani

c cinema

56

life and letters

The ashes of 1984

Room Rage

63

Bachchan saas-bahu

Quoted as saying Dawood Ibrahim had entered the Indian dressing room before the Australasia Cup final in 1986, former cricket captain Dilip Vengsarkar denied any such claim c a u g ht o u t

200,000 students in all. But it has accommodation for only 6,000 of those students. Proposals to build more hostels remain pending. University officials refused to comment on the issue. n Aanchal Bansal

“[Dawood] said, ‘If you beat Pakistan tomorrow, everyone will get a car.’ Jayawant Lele was our manager then. He asked if he would also get a car and Dawood confirmed that he would” —Dilip Vengsarkar, as quoted on TV news channels 28 October 2013

turn

S H E L T ER Delhi University is in a quandary. Praveen Kumar Singh, a student doing his Masters in Buddhist Studies at the university, has threatened to commit suicide if the university fails to keep its promise of building more hostels for its students. Singh has set the university a deadline of 14 February 2014 to commit to the hostels. That is also the day when its annual campus festival Antardhwani begins. The university has 70 colleges affiliated to it, with almost

NOT PEOPLE LIKE US

Sonu Nigam: a yogi in Bollywood

“This is all nonsense. I don’t know what these TV channels are up to... This is nothing but mischief and attempts to malign me. I have never said anything like this” —Dilip Vengsarkar, as quoted in Times Of India 29 October 2013

around

m o o chh l e e l a They’ve often been compared for their achievements and longevity. Now Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer have one more thing in common. Both donned moustaches for commercials recently. Federer shows up with thick whiskers for an advertisement for racquet brand Wilson, while Tendulkar plays a traditional, lip-fuzzed Rajasthani in a commercial for travel portal Musafir.com. What next? ‘Federer to announce retirement too’? n

photo illustrations tarun sehgal

Fuzz and Games

Akshay Sawai 11 November 2013

open www.openthemagazine.com 5


angle

On the Contrary

A God’s Slow Descent to Earth Why Sharad Pawar’s repeated use of his name should get Sachin Tendulkar’s guard up M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i

comprehend, Nationalist Congress Party head Sharad Pawar’s name has been associated with Sachin Tendulkar three times over the last few weeks. In the first instance, it was reported that Tendulkar’s only demand as a farewell gift from the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) was a portrait of himself and that Pawar, who was recently elected—unopposed—president of the MCA, would decide on the artist. Then Pawar announced that a club belonging to the association in the suburb of Kandivali would be renamed ‘Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana’. And finally, to a petition filed in court by BJP leader Gopinath Munde— against not being allowed to contest for MCA president because he wasn’t a Mumbai resident—Pawar’s counter-affidavit, as reported by The Indian Express, said that any interim order might affect Tendulkar’s 200th Test match and ‘will be prejudicial to the interest of MCA and even to the interest of the nation.’ In the matter of the portrait, unless you are an artist who harboured hopes of getting the commission, it really makes no difference who Pawar recommends. You can’t exactly float a tender for a portrait. But in the other two cases, Tendulkar should squirm a little. The Aam Aadmi Party says that the MCA club that will boast the cricketer’s name is founded on a scam, and there seems to be prima facie merit in that charge. It is coming up on land owned by the municipality that was turned over to the MCA for a cricket academy and then gradually became a recreational club with a restaurant and bar. From a space for the public, it has now magically become the preserve of a few, with the barrier of high membership fees to keep out the poor. Tendulkar has nothing to do with the alleged corruption, but he will be in the peculiar position of being perpetually linked to it. Who wants to be immortalised with a scam? We really don’t know what Pawar feels for Tendulkar, but usually this is something you do to enemies. Using Tendulkar’s name in court to

6 open

pal pillai/getty images

F

or reasons not too hard to

speak up Post-retirement, Tendulkar must publicly affirm his integrity; it is no longer implicit in his genius

Like that other god, Amitabh Bachchan, who became bankrupt and human, leading to Amar Singh and gang swooping in to co-opt him. The lesson Tendulkar has to learn is that as long he was on the cricket field, he didn’t have to flaunt his integrity. In the post-retirement world outside, he has to affirm it. He has to come out in the open either to say that the Aam Aadmi Party is Until a year ago, no cricket body wrong and that the club is clean, or say that he does not want his name associated would drag Tendulkar into an with a place with a question hanging over internal dispute. But soon to it. But if he is going to remain silent, as he retire, he is no longer immune. has done throughout his cricketing career, then people like Pawar are going to His days as a god are over—he continue making use of him. And this is will soon be just one man in a now, when he is not even retired. Imagine country of one billion schemers a few years down the line. How many will be circling around to leech and profit off him then? The other option is to follow the path of administrator or body would have superstars turned successful politicians thought of dragging his name into an like MG Ramachandran, NT Rama Rao or internal dispute. But with his approachImran Khan—dive into the cesspit and try ing retirement, he is no longer immune. This is the signal that Tendulkar’s days as to conquer it. It would be good to be wrong but somehow Tendulkar, who failed as a god are over—he will soon be just one man in a country of one billion schemers. captain, does not seem like he has the Others have walked this cruel path before. thick skin or cold blood for it. n protect Pawar’s election is worse. The MCA has a long history of internal politics and for politicians like Pawar or Munde this is just another day in the muck. But this is the first time that Tendulkar is so openly being made a pawn to such petty intrigues. He should be a little alarmed by it. Even until a year ago, no cricket

11 november 2013


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india

A Hurried Man’s Guide to Team Red Bull

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel joined the pantheon of Formula One greats when he won his fourth straight F1 World Championship title at the Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, recently. Only three other drivers have been quadruple winners before—Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Juan Manuel Fangio. Vettel’s phenomenal performances also illustrate the rise of and effort put in by the racing team supporting him. The two lynchpins behind Vettel’s rise are Christian Horner, the Team Principal, and Adrian Newey, the car designer. Before Red Bull bought the team, then called Jaguar Racing, from Ford Motor Company in 2004, the team was performing poorly. One of the company’s first moves upon acquiring the team was the hiring of Horner. Horner, a former driver in the junior circuit, Adrian Newy, was then running a racing one of the best team, Arden International, designers of in the FIA F3000 series. racing cars, built His work was noticed by a radically new Red Bull owner Dietrich car, the RB5 Mateschitz, who offered him the job of running the newly acquired team.

manan vatsyayana/afp

After his appointment, Horner pulled off a coup of sorts when he lured Adrian Newey away from McLaren in 2006. Considered one of the finest racing car designers, Newey had designed championship-winning Formula One

cars for Williams F1 and McLaren. In 2007, Australian driver Mark Webber was signed up. The following year, when David Coulthard, one of Red Bull’s drivers, retired, Vettel was brought in as a replacement. After using a number of Cosworth and Ferrari engines, Newey built a radically new car, the RB5, using a Renault engine. Both Webber and Vettel performed exceptionally well with the car. Vettel landed the team’s first win, winning the Chinese Grand Prix, and Webber backed him up to deliver a first one-two finish. Newey has since come out with newer and better models every year (RB6, RB7, RB8, and RB9). n

It Happens

Bangalore’s Infotech Eyesore With no reliable optic fibre cables policy, telecom companies are forced to lay wires randomly A n i l B u d u r L u l l a rudra rakshit saran

real

Tangle In Indian cities, power, water, sewage, gas, telephone lines and OFCs criss-cross

T

hey’ve been strung up casually on trees and electric poles. Sometimes they hide underneath sewer lines and jut out of cracked footpaths. They are responsible for Bangalore’s image as an infotech powerhouse and its No 1 status among Indian metros for broad band penetration, usage, bandwidth and carrying capacity. But Bangalore lacks a credible optic fibre cable (OFC) policy, forcing telecom companies to lay the thick and expensive cables at night, hoodwinking the Bangalore Bruhat Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), whose permission is mandatory for laying them. A BBMP sub-committee looking to turn the OFC policy into a revenue earner has estimated that as much as 30,000-plus km of OFCs lie exposed all over the city. The sub-committee began its mission by cutting a few cables earlier this month in localities where citizens complained of wires and illegal junction boxes. Bangalore’s new mayor BS Sathyanarayana is serious about tackling this problem. He says OFC companies earn an approximate carrying charge of Rs 23 lakh per km from telecom companies and wants a small part of it to be paid as laying and road cutting charges. “We admit we don’t have a proper OFC policy in

place. The BBMP is trying to fix a reasonable amount to charge these companies so that they can go about their businesses properly instead of illegally routing cables as well as stringing them up overhead,” he says. Cable companies and their partners allege that approvals are often mired in red tape and bribery, forcing them to draw cables where possible. In advanced countries, OFCs pass underground and share space Cable with other companies utilities. But, in allege that Indian cities, as each agency approvals are prefers its own mired in red of doing tape and bribes way things, power, water pipes, gas, OFCs, sewage pipes, cable networks and telephone lines criss-cross each other in a maze. Sathyanarayana says once a proper policy is laid down, the revenue earned can be used to conduct the business in an organised fashion. “We can look at building permanent ducts along roads or footpaths with access to service them,” he says. There is consensus that an organised policy is what’s needed, and not cutting cables and threatening telecom companies. n 11 november 2013


An Airline of the South Called Air Costa

undeterred by the fact av i at io n that all earlier attempts to run a regional airline in India have skidded off the runway, Air Costa, a new airline that serves South India, has just taken wing. Will it attain the operational viability that others failed to achieve? Since 2007, India’s regional aviation policy has offered small aircraft cheaper (lower-taxed) fuel and waivers of landing and parking charges at non-metro airports. “Despite these concessions available to regional carriers, India has no successful standalone regional airline,” says Binit Somaia, an aviation expert at Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation. This suggests that the key to regional success lies beyond government policy. Does the promoter of Air Costa, a Vijayawada-based real estate player called the LEPL Group, have what it takes? Analysts say that the viability of regional operations depends on managing

the cost structure, especially in the initial phase. This demands top efficiency as well as high levels of capitalisation to survive tough periods, something that failures like Paramount, MDLR and Air Mantra lacked. Captain Babu, CEO of Air Costa, claims to have both conditions met: “Air Regional Costa’s hardcore airlines have all professionalism will been failures in help us manage our India, but Air costs and do things Costa hopes to right.” As a start-up beat the pattern with only two 67-seater Embraer-170 planes, Air Costa will first need to study the southern market, for which demand analysis and route selection will be crucial. This is no easy task. According to a recent Deloitte report on regional aviation in India, delays in optimising a network result in heavier learning-curve losses,

‘thus increasing the sunk cost for regional aviation’. If all goes well, Air Costa expects to have a fleet of five planes next year. “It would be market-driven expansion,” says Babu, “as opposed to one where players first expand and then look at the market.” Air Costa’s main competitive challenge may well be from another new low-cost carrier: Air Asia, a part venture in India of the Tata Group (whose Singapore Airlines JV has also been approved) that plans to exploit the regional market rather than rely on overcrowded metro routes. Analysts argue that India’s aviation policy, which mandates that all-India carriers allot some seats to under-served routes, restricts market opportunities for regional players. For regional airlines to work, they recommend a policy balance between all-India and regional carriers that gives the latter sufficient space to operate. n shailendra tyagi

metro mantra

Over two-thirds of all seats on scheduled domestic flights are on routes that link a metro with another metro or a city of over one million people

Metro to Metro: 34%

Infographic by tarun sehgal

Metro to Tier-2 cities: 34%

10 open

Metro to Tier-3 cities: 25% Tier-2 to tier-3 cities: 7% # delhi, mumbai, kolkata, chennai and bangalore

Source: deloitte touche tohmatsu india pvt ltd compiled by Shailendra Tyagi

“It’s the currency of the internet, as real as any other” co-founder of the money-exchange firm Bitcoiniacs and co-owner of the world’s first ATM for bitcoins—a virtual currency created five years ago by an anonymous geek often called Sakoshi Nakamoto—explaining why it is not absurd to put up a teller machine that swaps Canadian dollars for virtual cash loaded onto phones; the ATM is located in Vancouver, where a few coffee shops and other real-world outlets reportedly accept bitcoins as payment

Mitchell demeter,

pti

business


news

reel

fAMILY borough

Priyanka Checks In The 41-year-old Gandhi’s increased activity in Rae Bareli lends credence to recent speculation that she will soon play a greater role for the Congress dhirendra k jha

dilip singh

F o r t h e p a s t f e w y e a r s , while on visits to Rae Bareli, Priyanka Gandhi has been restricting herself to Congress circles alone, overseeing the party’s organisational set-up in this district of Uttar Pradesh and addressing public gatherings only during election time. Otherwise, she has opted to stay away from any interaction with voters—apart from promoting a

few NGOs and women’s self-help groups— in her mother’s constituency. But these days, the picture looks surprisingly different. Her relationship with the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress President Sonia Gandhi seems to be undergoing a transformation, although in a subtle manner. On 28 October, Priyanka Gandhi, for the first time, sought to reach out to voters at

large in Rae Bareli. That day, she travelled through several villages, including Paho, Deogaon and Mithunkhera, making frequent stopovers to meet villagers. The next day, on 29 October, she held a janata darbar at Bhuvemau guest house in the district, listened to the problems of locals and collected their applications and complaints in person. According to a


Congress leader present, she met almost 300 people in all, in small groups, and assured them of all possible help. In addition, she also met the party’s panchayat, block and district level functionaries and set out an agenda for them for the next two months. These functionaries were instructed to undertake padyatras across the area as part of an effort to spread word about the Union Government’s food security scheme, says the Congress leader present at the guest house. The party’s local leaders were also asked to target the state government for its failure to implement the Food Security scheme and poor implementation of other Centrally funded schemes, he adds. This two-day exercise is a clear departure from Gandhi’s previous visits to Rae Bareli. During none of her past visits did she meet ordinary people in the constituency, as her focus was primarily

on the functioning of Congress officebearers and workers and reviewing the organisational structure of the party in the district. Also, this was her second visit to Rae Bareli in less than a month, a frequency generally not witnessed in her relationship with the constituency. She had visited Rae Bareli with her mother on 9 October, when the latter laid the foundation stones for an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and other developmental projects in the constituency. One could argue that this may well be an early launch of the election campaign in the Gandhi family borough. Gandhi’s latest visit to her mother’s constituency—despite being totally different in scope from her earlier visits—may well be part of her plan to give Sonia Gandhi time and space for her bigger roles in the party. With the high-stakes General Election due in April-May next year, the Congress President certainly needs all the time she can get to make an all-out effort for her party throughout the country. That is certainly the argument being put forth in private discussions among some local party leaders in Rae Bareli. Another section, however, sees much more in Priyanka Gandhi’s venturing out of the party fold to meet villagers personally and hold an unusual janata darbar for voters in the constituency. Indeed, her latest visit to Rae Bareli took place amid speculation that she will assume a greater role in the run-up to the 2014 General Election. Though the Congress has downplayed such speculation, the coincidence of these rumours of her expanded role with her reaching out to voters in Rae Bareli is too striking to be ignored. This is especially so because Priyanka Gandhi is seen by many within the Congress as reminiscent of her grandmother, India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. That this is not a rumour cooked up solely by the media became clear few weeks ago, when the Allahabad Congress Committee passed a resolution inviting Gandhi to contest 2014 from Phulpur, which was once her great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s constituency. Though the Congress promptly took disciplinary action against its Allahabad unit office bearers for showing Sonia Gandhi as ill in party campaign posters while expressing support for Priyanka, the suggestion has survived and is still being debated in party circles. ears open Priyanka Gandhi meets villagers at Mithunkhera on 28 October

11 november 2013

If anything, the Allahabad party unit’s resolution is suggestive of a growing demand that Priyanka Gandhi should assume a larger role in the party’s affairs. Rahul Gandhi’s flip-flops on important occasions have earned him the sobriquet of a ‘reluctant politician’. It is also felt by a section of the party that, despite his aggressive campaigning in several states recently, he has by and large failed to revive the party’s fortunes. Priyanka Gandhi, on the other hand, is believed by many to be a more effective communicator than most Congress leaders. She is also more media savvy and could— they think—easily connect with women and youth. According to a senior Congress leader, although the party lost most of the Assembly seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi in the last state polls in Uttar Pradesh despite Priyanka Gandhi’s best efforts, she has nonetheless maintained her appeal and charisma by keeping herself out of the spotlight. As for the charges of corruption against her husband Robert Vadra over his dubious land deals with real estate major DLF, the Congress leader says “that may not really become an issue. She could still help the party win back much of the lost ground.” The first time Priyanka Gandhi entered Rae Bareli as a politician was in 1999. While campaigning for Congress candidate Captain Satish Sharma, she asked voters: “Would you support a person who stabbed my father in the back?” She was referring to Arun Nehru, the opposition candidate from the constituency. Sharma won and Gandhi’s visits to the constituency began. In every Lok Sabha election thereafter, she has campaigned for her mother in the constituency, and in the state Assembly elections of 2007 and 2012, for the party’s candidates in the districts of Rae Bareli and Amethi. In the 2012 Assembly polls, despite her labours—she addressed nearly 70 public rallies in Rae Bareli alone—the Congress’ performance was extremely poor. After the polls, therefore, she has been consistently trying to build and strengthen a committed organisational structure in Rae Bareli, though of late she has also been helping Rahul Gandhi in his constituency of Amethi. It is because of this gradual progression that Priyanka Gandhi’s steps are being closely watched by political observers, though the reaction of Congressmen to these developments has been quiet. The family’s backdoor operative taking such an open interest in the voters of Rae Bareli is bound to lend credence to the speculation around her. n open www.openthemagazine.com 13


raul irani

u p c lo s e

“Kejriwal Is Not Even on Our Radar”

On a Monday afternoon, the official residence of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has a stream of visitors, the state’s Public Works Department minister Raj Kumar Chauhan among them. She walks into the drawing room a little after 4 pm to tell Open that she will only take a couple of minutes, and then steps out of the house to meet some people waiting to see her. Some offer her sweets and others have complaints, which she asks be submitted in writing. Those who are there for her aashirwaad make a beeline for her feet. She returns to find a portly businessman in a safari suit waiting. He wants an assurance from her that he will get a Congress ticket to contest the upcoming Delhi Assembly polls from his locality. Dikshit, who knows him by name, bluntly refuses to make a promise. He insists. She says Soniaji will take the final call. He walks out slowly as she settles down for an interview. Speaking to Open’s Mihir Srivastava, she talks about her 15 years as CM, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, her son Sandeep Dikshit, the issue of women’s safety and her life in general


“I run Delhi on Goodwill for Delhi” Congratulations on completing a third term in office. How would you rate this term compared to your previous two?

We have done extremely historic work. When I say ‘historic’, please remember in this term 65 per cent of our budget has gone towards the social sector. I think this in itself is a unique thing. The Right to Education, Right to Information were there before, [and now] the Right to Food Security. We have made Delhi a kerosene-free state… 97-98 per cent. The Metro has moved forward.

The state’s regularisation of unauthorised colonies is seen by many as a populist measure.

I was coming to that. The most historic is ownership rights given to resettlement colony householders; 1,600 colonies are to be regularised, 895 have already been done, and others are awaiting clearances because there are some conditions that they haven’t fulfilled. But we will do it.

My question was how you rate this term compared to the previous two terms. These five years have been eventful.

The last two terms didn’t have the Commonwealth Games (CWG); we had them this term. The CWG gave Delhi a real overhaul… its beautification.

Anybody who visits Delhi after three years feels that the city has changed a lot. Rahul Gandhi, at a rally yesterday, complimented you for changing the face of Delhi. Yes.

At the same rally, you raised the issue of a unified command for Delhi. Yes.

There is criticism on the issue that I’d like you to respond to: the credit for anything good that happens to Delhi is given to Sheila Dikshit, but when it comes to taking responsibility for lapses, mismanagement or, say, CWG corruption or lack of safety for women, you blame a multiplicity of agencies and say your hands are tied.

That’s true. I have to deal with the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Delhi Development Authority (DDA)… Ministry of Urban Development and Ministry of Home, Lieutenant Governor and the police of course.

So why don’t they get credit for changing the face of Delhi? How do you manage to run Delhi?

Well, I think I run Delhi on goodwill for Delhi. The fact that everybody considers it their capital city, it’s everybody’s capital city. So we have had supportive people [who understand] Delhi’s requirements. But I think the process of decision-making takes so long. No other state has to go around [so many agencies if] I want to open a school, for example: we have to go to the DDA for land, this place and that place. It’s a very cumbersome process. 11 November 2013

Correct me if I am wrong: you are a political heavyweight and the country’s most powerful Congress Chief Minister. Oh no! (laughs).

You are one of the most powerful faces of the Congress party. You have a good rapport with the Gandhis. You have been Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years. Why have you not been able to get a unified command for Delhi? You were talking about the issue before the last election as well.

In 1998, it was for the first time that a Congress government came to power in Delhi. Before that, it was the BJP. The BJP is shouting itself hoarse: ‘This has not happened’, ‘Power should be cheap’, ‘Corruption is there’ and ‘Inefficient, corrupt government should be thrown out’. Their words ring hollow. We are able to achieve [what we do] because of our commitment as a party... It was a job given to us by the people. So we tried to perform to the best of our abilities. That’s all I can say. For 15 years, people tried to make corruption an issue, but for the last 15 years, I am happy to say, no minister or MLA [has faced] any case of corruption.

My question is specific. Given your political clout, why haven’t you been able to get a unified command for Delhi? Now that Rahul Gandhi has supported the idea, I’m sure it will be done at express pace. But why not in the past 15 years of your tenure? The CWG went haywire for this reason. The CWG did not go haywire—primarily because the Prime Minister directed that we all work as a team. And we did. And it was, from the point of view of the Games and the medals India won, outstanding and historic.

But from an administrative point of view, wasn’t a multiplicity of agencies dealing with the Games a problem? Delays in construction of infrastructure had put a question mark on the Games that led to the PM’s intervention.

We managed to work with each other. The Cabinet Secretary at the time, Mr KM Chandrasekhar, we all worked together. It was team work. It was team work because it was not for a particular department, it was for the whole country. I think too much was at stake. So we worked as a team and the result was for everyone to see. Only a week before [the Games], everyone thought that it will be a washout. It was not. We worked as a team and there was success. That is why we keep saying that if there is a single line of command, then things will happen much faster in Delhi. Now I have to run to various [Union] ministries and come back home.

You had to run to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar for onion prices that could cost you this election.

Yes. We are not an agriculture producing state. We have to run for that too. Fortunately, we got it right today. Prices are going to fall. We made our officers run to Nashik. Today, they have gone to Alwar. So our dependence on other institutions, on other states, is much more. open www.openthemagazine.com 15


“Rape Capital an Unfair Medal”

is money lying unspent somewhere, it lapses.

Women’s security or the lack thereof in Delhi will be a big election issue.

It is not going into someone’s pockets?

Yes. You see, as far as women’s security is concerned, the perception is that it is the weakness of the police. The real flak comes to the Delhi government. We acted fast to get fast-track courts going—that was done within a week. Both Mr [Sushil Kumar] Shinde, [Union Home Minister], and I saw the then Chief Justice [of the Delhi High Court] and told him that we have already moved in favour of special courts, please implement it. They did. The other thing we did to give women a sense of security was the starting of the 1818 helpline of the Delhi Administration. That works 24 hours. Till today, we have been able to attend to around five lakh calls. This has given [women the assurance that] they are able to ring up [an authority] which will instantly either give them guidance or extend help. The police in this have been cooperative. The Commission for Women has been cooperative. The Social Welfare Department has been cooperative. I am being told that this is being replicated in some other states. So whatever was within our rights, capacity for delivery, we did very fast.

Do you think Delhi is safe for women now? (Ponders the question)

Rapes may happen everywhere in the world, but women feel unsafe in this city. Do you feel Delhi is safe for women?

Here the attention of the media is far more prompt and far greater than anywhere else. I am told the largest number of rapes take place in Madhya Pradesh. Nobody ever hears about them. And that other states are equally bad, but Delhi gets attention because your standards are very high. You expect perfection. So I won’t call Delhi a rape capital. I won’t call it that. It is an unfair medal to give.

“I Don’t Know What Kejriwal Stands For” This Delhi Assembly election is highly interesting because there is a new contender for power: Arvind Kejriwal. He is attacking you directly for corruption, misgovernance and a host of other things. Take, for example, his allegation that most civil projects don’t have a completion certificate; money is spent but no one has checked if the work got done or not.

No. I want them to name a single project that has not been done. They may have been delayed. You may plan things and the work may not begin, but it is there in your plan.

So there is no diversion of resources?

No, not at all. I can’t divert. Mr Kejriwal [of the Aam Aadmi Party], I must explain to him through you: if in your budget something is allotted for health, it cannot be used to buy buses. Or the buses can’t be moved to put up housing. This is a basic rule of budgeting. And suppose there 16 open

No, it can’t. You can’t draw one rupee of a cheque. A cheque for even a rupee from government coffers [cannot be drawn] without explaining why and where that one rupee is going.

Okay, take another issue—of tankers supplying water in Delhi, some 2,000 of them. They supply water to slums and also posh localities. They are there because there is no water in the taps. And the water mafia in operation gets patronage from the high and mighty in government.

I want to ask you a question. Do you need water or don’t you? It is a basic requirement of living. You need air, you need water. It is a fact that water to Delhi comes from other places. The Yamuna comes from the Himalayas, it’s not generated within Delhi. The only generation of water in Delhi involves [drilling wells] to tap underground water. If you are not able to do that and lay pipelines for colonies that are built unauthorised, are you going to let them starve of water? There are unscrupulous people in every society, but we as a government have to at least provide drinking water. Ask [Kejriwal] to cite one case where people have died because of a shortage of water.

It is no achievement that this has not happened. But in the capital city of Delhi, there exist water mafias that have the patronage of people in power.

I am not denying that there are water mafias. We try to crack down on them. There could be, just like there are sugar mafias. There are also housing mafias.

One mafia can’t be a justification for another. It shows that the government has failed. But now, Mrs Dikshit, let’s discuss Arvind Kejriwal in his capacity as a political opponent of yours. He has been challenging you to a debate. You have not taken up the offer. This could mean either of two things: you have no reply to his set of questions or just want to ignore him. Is there a possibility of a debate with him?

No, I must know the debate. He said he has written a letter to me. I have never received a letter.

You have not received any letter from him? No.

What keeps you from accepting his offer of an open debate? Let me first know their policies at least.

He has come up with a manifesto. He has written a book called Swaraj that outlines his political philosophy. He has been accusing your government of corruption. Let’s see them. What is going to be the basis of this debate?

Are you saying that the debate at this point is premature?

No, I am just saying ‘What is the basis of this debate?’ 11 November 2013


Are you worried about Arvind Kejriwal as a potent opponent in the upcoming polls?

No. In a democratic system, you don’t worry [about opponents]. You just worry about what you can do or how you can earn the confidence of the people.

At an election rally, without naming Kejriwal, you called him a ‘barsaat ka keeda’.

No. He is not even on our radar. We must first know what he stands for.

He is against corruption and misgovernance.

He is iconoclastic. ‘This is wrong.’ ‘This should be broken.’ What is it that you are going to offer?

He has promised to enact a Jan Lokpal bill in Delhi within 15 days of coming to power if AAP wins.

The Lokpal bill is not going to be made by him. The Lokpal bill is to come up in Parliament. We already have a Lokayukta in Delhi.

He plans to give more teeth to the Lokayukta.

The Lokpal bill is in Parliament. It has to deal with it.

There is speculation that if the Congress wins Delhi, you won’t continue as CM for the whole term, there will be a generational shift.

If people select [Kejriwal] and he gets an adequate number of seats, if he has more seats than any other party, he becomes Chief Minister.

No, I am not talking about Kejriwal, I am talking about you. Me? Oh! Let’s see.

It is a hypothetical question.

Yes, it’s a hypothetical question.

Still, please give me an answer. Would you be Chief Minister of Delhi for another five years if your party wins the election?

Let’s win the election first. Unlike any other party, we have a certain philosophy: first you win elections, send members to Parliament, and then you choose your leader.

Do you think Kejriwal has a good chance in these elections? I don’t know.

Do you see in him a significant opponent? This is your fourth election for the job of Delhi’s Chief Minister.

No, I can’t evaluate that. Because I don’t know what the [Aam Aadmi] party stands for, what its political philosophy is, what it is going to do politically and administratively that is good for the city. All that has not come out yet.

So you are not in a position to make an evaluation of Kejriwal as a threat to the Congress in this election? No. Not at all. I don’t think anyone is, as of today. 18 open

But Kejriwal seems very clear about what he wants to do. That’s all right.

“Chanakya teaches you what a king should do” How are you keeping? How is your health?

Absolutely fine. I am working 14 -15 hours.

Does anything other than politics take your time? Oh! Music takes my time.

What do you like listening to?

I listen to Indian and Western classical music, film songs, anything that is pleasant to the ears. I go out to watch films, I go to the theatre, [attend] concerts and dance performances. And I read a lot.

What is the last book you read?

I am now reading Chanakya.

Chanakya at the fag end of your third term? A little late in the day, I would say.

Yes (laughs). You see, Chanakya was an administrator. He doesn’t just give you a philosophy of politics, he teaches you what a king should do. [His work] is not only a treatise on political philosophy, but a treatise on administration. And I am also reading Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi.

Your saris are talked about among Delhi’s glitterati. They say you are one of our better dressed politicians. Do you get time to shop?

Oh yes, oh yes! I go shopping. I never wear foreign-made saris. I have always worn handloom and khadi saris.

“He is quite wise but impatient” Will Sandeep Dikshit play a greater role in Delhi politics soon? Is his political career a consideration as you plan this election?

I will tell you—in our family, my father-in-law used to say we function like republics; [each of us] takes our own decisions. And if required, the head of the family, at that time my father-in-law, [would] come together [to discuss an issue]. So it is the same philosophy for Sandeep. I don’t even know what he is doing or not doing. If he needs my guidance, it’s all there. If I need any information or guidance, I know I can rely on him. He has walked into a [political] career and he has to make it work.

How would you rate him as a politician?

I think he is good. He is quite wise but he is impatient.

Which is good. He will get things done. He has too much energy.

11 November 2013


“Rahul Gandhi is not a brash politician” What about Rahul Gandhi as a prime minister?

will expose him [to governance], and that exposure will help him emerge.

Look, Rahul Gandhi is emerging as he is getting more and more experience as somebody who the party looks up to, as the leader of the future. I am sure with his experience, his background and his support within the party, he will become a great leader.

As a member of the Congress’ highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee…

But he has no experience in government.

(Laughs) Yes.

Think of his father [Rajiv Gandhi], who was not interested in politics, he was a pilot, he became an outstanding person and today if India is in the reckoning as a country that is technically savvy, it’s because of his dream.

So do you think Rahul Gandhi is ready for the top job? I am sure he is.

He is openly critical of policies of the UPA headed by a Congress PM. Some see it as opportunistic politics. Some say he has all the authority but no responsibility or accountability. Don’t you think experience in government helps?

No. I will tell you what: experience comes with time. You can’t prepone experience. The opportunity he will get

I am not a member, I am a special invitee.

You are a permanent invitee, more vocal than other members. For all practical purposes, you are a member. Would you want Rahul Gandhi declared the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate?

Personally, I think so. But it is a decision his family has to take and I cannot comment on that. Personally, I would say ‘yes’.

Do you think Rahul Gandhi is a reluctant politician?

No, I don’t think so. He is not a brash politician.

You know him well. Is he afraid of failure and does he avoid taking direct responsibility for that reason?

As I said, he is not a brash politician. He is very correct about what he does. n


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Gold Fables From dead kings who come riding at night to snakes that guard hidden treasure, all the myths come tumbling out in the village of Daundiya Kheda as the ASI looks for 1,000 tonnes of gold

photos sanjay sonkar

CHINKI SINHA UNNAO

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wo men in yellow and saffron robes

climb up to the temple in Daundiya Kheda village. They have come from Faizabad after hearing about the dream and the gold. They would like to meet the seer, and perhaps ask him to join the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. On the way, they saw his photos plastered on buses and walls. They are convinced he has divine powers. “Just as the Himalayas stand tall to protect the country, so we sadhus protect dharma. It’s our calling. We have renounced everything,” says Pujari Ram Das, spokesperson and administrator of the Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious institution and a plaintiff in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid titles case. “They should not doubt Shobhan


Sarkar.” Sarkar is the godman who purportedly dreamt there was 1,000 tonnes of gold under a fort in Daundiya Kheda. After he has offered his prayers and enough pictures have been clicked, Pujari Ram Das sits next to a broken Hanuman idol outside the Shiva temple in the village, and a man unfurls a calendar with parts of the Hanuman Chalisa written on it. He has come to save what remains of this temple. He says he will return in January, and rebuild it.  Meanwhile, a few feet away, in a cordoned-off space, the State is digging. Slowly and carefully. A bamboo pole that rises above the thicket acts as a marker.  “There, it is there,” shouts a man pointing to the pole. There is no way of getting there. The police are everywhere. They

are tired of television crews shouting into their mikes about gold diggers. It is the seventh day of digging and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has managed to unearth a few things that could be of historical significance. But that isn’t enough to match the hysteria. Sarkar is in his fifties and credited with miracle stories. He lives in Shivli near Kanpur in an ashram and was ordained in Buxar. His followers wrote letters in early September to the RBI governor, Finance Minister and Prime Minister. The seer, the letters said, has communication that 1,000 tonnes of gold lies buried under the fort of Raja Rao Ram Bux,

At first, the ASI protested; they weren’t treasure hunters. But they could dig for objects of historical significance—like weapons used in 1857

who was hanged by the British in the Uprising of 1857. In the ensuing chaos, it was also heard that Sarkar had had a dream where the former ruler told him that he wanted the country to benefit from the treasure buried under the fort. It made for a bizarre, sensational story. A few days later, Sarkar wrote to the minister of state for agriculture and food processing Charan Das Mahant, who visited the site on 22 September. Mahant asked the Geological Survey of India (GSI) to conduct a preliminary survey of the site and it said it had found indications of huge deposits of metal—it could be gold, silver or lead. The ASI was roped in after Mahant persuaded the culture ministry to start digging. At first, the ASI protested; they weren’t treasure hunters. But they could dig for objects of historical significance, like weapons used in 1857. Everyone expects them to find the gold. So they dig on. On the seventh day, they unearth what could have been a stove, and pieces of bangles, shards of

dream run (Left) The ASI has so far unearthed some artefacts and pottery of ‘historical significance’; (Above) The Shiva Temple at Daundiya Kheda where the media has been camping since the digging for gold started on 18 October


seer hope Pujari Ram Das, spokesperson and administrator of the Nirmohi Akhara, says the gold exists; (far right) Surendra Prasad, the village mukhiya’s son, is hoping that some development will follow the gold rush

pottery from the Buddhist era. “There is gold. I can feel it. Shobhan Sarkar is not an ordinary man. We have researched him. I think God has sent him here to save this country. Only through saints can this country be saved,” says Pujari Ram Das. “There are many treasures in this country; remember, we were called ‘Sone Ki Chidiya’.” A man sits next to him, and asks another reporter, who is Muslim, to sit elsewhere. There’s no offence. They have exchanged notes in the past. Ram Das is his friend on Facebook. Ram Das looks straight into the camera and continues. “This is our heritage. The rupee has dropped because people have kept gold outside [the country]. Bless the media. We have come because of the media. We will now go and meet Shobhan Sarkar,” he says. “This temple has no trust. It must be taken care of.” Ram Das couldn’t meet Sarkar because the seer is refusing all audience. 22 open

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or this village of about 15 houses,

no school and no primary healthcare, it has been a bizarre tryst with fame. At first, residents here were amused. The attention was exhilarating. They had lived in obscurity. Now, OB vans were stumbling in. State vehicles too, and they were expecting a helicopter to follow. They have their own agenda: school, electricity, a college, and jobs for the youth. In that order. The first casualty of the gold hunt was the village school, run by a man from a neighbouring village. Pramod Yadav ran it on the temple grounds, using up part of the Panchayat Bhawan, which was taken over by the state administration when digging started on 18 October. The school has moved to another temple across the road. Sushma Tiwari is upset. Her children are missing school. To get there, they have to cross the highway, and it is dangerous because of speeding vehicles. “Who knows if there is gold, but our school is gone,” she says.

Her mother-in-law Vidya Devi says the gold will turn to iron because the diggers have no faith. “They have disrespected Shobhan Sarkar,” she says. “He was the one who built the bridge to Kanpur.” Daundiya Kheda consists of four tolas or mohallas. When the British attacked the area, the locals had left, and when they resettled, the village was divided into four parts. A river flows by it. It is a picturesque village. An old temple, a meandering river, a forest beyond. When dusk settles over the day, a lone bulb lights up the temple. All around is darkness. Candles flicker and a generator makes a whirring noise. Ganesh is making tea. He serves it sugary sweet in thin plastic cups to the policemen who roam the wilderness with their batons. A few carry rifles. Through the day, they sit around and drink tea at the two stalls that came up after digging started. To give them company, there are a few reporters. They are all bored. There is no scoop here. They wait to go live on 11 November 2013


air. The rest is all business as usual. Nothing dramatic. They dig by centimetres—about 42 centimetres a day. They say they are looking for weapons used in the 1857 uprising against the British. Finding gold would be purely incidental. But Sarkar, the villagers claim, knows there is gold. If they would let him have his way, the gold would be unearthed in a day, and India would be among the world’s richest. It is embarrassing for the

State to admit the ASI is here because of Sarkar’s supposed dream that 1,000 tonnes of gold lies hidden under the erstwhile king’s stable. Dhruv Sen, associate professor of geology at Lucknow University, says he has worked extensively in the Ganga plains. When he first heard about the digging, he thought it was driven by superstition, that there was no scientific basis to the claim there was gold buried here. 

“Conditions essential to the formation of gold are absent in Unnao. The kind of rocks needed for such a process are not present in the region,” he says. “Even if we suppose someone buried some treasure, such huge reserves are not possible, considering that it was a small kingdom. If someone says resistivity is high, it may be so because of the presence of iron nodules and calcium carbonate.” One reporter has finally got a scoop. In nearby Buxar, they burnt an effigy of Sharad Yadav on Thursday, who termed the gold hunt ‘ridiculous’. Self-proclaimed descendants of Raja Rao Ram Bux have emerged staking a claim to the treasure. But villagers say the ruler only had two daughters, who jumped into the river after he was hanged. But everyone, including the State, wants a share of the gold rush. Even the All India Kshatriya Mahasabha has submitted a claim saying the community ruled the land. The All India Kisan Mahasabha is demanding that the gold be used for the good of farmers. The villagers are on the periphery, hopes held up by Sarkar’s promise that development will come their way.     ne reporter, who has been here since it all started, got a tent to camp at the site. “We will stay here. It is difficult to commute from Lucknow every day. I am from a village. I can stay here,” he announces to fellow tea drinkers. “One day I will write a book about my travels,” he says. “This is like Peepli Live. But we can’t report on ourselves.” That evening, he returned to Lucknow; apparently his driver said there were too many mosquitoes. Besides, he had done his exclusive on the effigy burning.

O


guarded mission Around 150 policemen have been deployed at the site where a 12-member ASI crew is apparently digging for gold

Others were still at the site when he had gone for tea, and found the exclusive. He walked like a man who had just had a big meal. Everything else has been taken care of. The pramukh of the block, Ram Chandra Singh, alias Pappu Singh, has been sending food cooked by women in his village for the media personnel. He has been quoted in newspapers, and on television. It is a return gesture, one of his men says. “Please eat. It is very good food,” he says. There’s rice, and potato curry, and rotis. They are already asking the media what they would like for dinner. His men serve food in styrofoam plates. The policemen eat it too. Two kitchens are up and running for the two different sets of security personnel called in to protect the site and maintain law and order in case of a gold rush.   abloo Singh, who has come from Rae Bareli district, shows some old coins to a police officer. He found those while digging in his fields a couple of years ago. There could be a treasure hidden there, too. “I came to make sure,” he says. Soon after the digging started, there was another statement claiming more gold was buried amid the ruins of Admapur in nearby Fatehpur. Police were deployed there too after locals dug up the earth hoping to find gold. The driver is also on a gold high. His village, he says, was a Rajwara. “You

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think there could be gold there? Should we dig?” he asks. Here, villagers say they have always known there is a treasure. Many years ago, there used to be a saint who lived behind the temple. He had seven dogs, and would come to the village to ask for alms. He stayed in the temple, cooked meagre meals, and spoke of treasures hidden here. But he warned that if they tried to dig it, they would die because the treasure, which belonged to kings, was protected by snakes. Surendra Prasad, 34, is the mukhiya’s son. He remembers the other sadhu, whose name was Prananand Baba. “He lived in these parts for 25 years. We’d make fun of him when we were kids, and he would raise his hands in the air and say he would call Delhi, and one day the sarkar would come to this village,” says Prasad. “Now I know he spoke the truth. He had said a helicopter would land, that police would roam the village.” A policeman walks by. “This is a troublesome assignment. There’s no decent cup of tea to be had,” he says. In this part of Daundiya Kheda, people are poor, and in their words, they are an ignored lot. The village government primary school was shifted 25 odd years ago. There is a post office, though, by way of consolation. There are about 150 policemen here, from the Provincial Armed Constabulary and the state police. At Mahesh’s tea stall next to the fields,

they want pakora and chai. Mahesh scurries to the nearby block to buy packets of biscuit, gutka, cigarettes and other things to stock his makeshift stall. He makes around Rs 700 a day. His wife Gudiya fries pakoras on a gas stove, and even cooks for the police if they pay her. For the two brothers, this is their gold moment. “Nobody used to come here earlier. I would sell vegetables and papad. But this gold rush is good for us. We can make some money,” he says. Mahesh’s father had stumbled upon silver coins long ago. He was in the fields when Ganesh, his other son, found a few coins, which he pocketed to buy toffees in school. Then his father dug more, and they found silver coins with Urdu on them. They were very poor then. His father sold them for Rs 72 a coin, and it saw them through the lean months. That was almost 25 years ago. This story and more such are being told and retold in the village. Chandranath Tiwari, the village priest, is almost 70. When he was a young boy, they would sit on the banks of the river and tell stories to each other. Around midnight, they would hear horses neighing and running towards the temple. They never saw them. They believe that was Raja Ram Rao Bux coming every night to worship at the temple. “I was around 12 then. One night, we went to the Shiva temple and there were tents, and there was singing. I was in Class 4 then,” he says. “They were ghosts. 11 November 2013


They even gave us mithai. I packed some for my mother but when I returned, it had turned to cow dung.” He never went back to the temple at night. He wasn’t scared, but thought it best to leave them alone. So he says. His father, Brajbhushan Tiwari, would tell them there was a treasure—gold coins and gold jewellery. The villagers worshipped at the temple, whose idols had been vandalised, which they blamed on the British. The villagers wanted to rebuild the temple and reinstall the idols, but there was no money. Every year, there would be a dangal (wrestling contest) at the site. People from nearby villages and towns would flock here, there would be wrestling matches and prizes given to winners. Beyond that, the village remained anchored in its obscurity. Now, they feel the media and administration will do something about the village. Get the six poles it needs for electricity, and a school, and a dispensary. That is development. They aren’t interested in gold. That belongs to the State, but Sarkar has said part of the gold must be used to develop the village. He has seven demands, including a university in the area. That is their gold high. Far beyond the site where the ASI is now digging, they say there is a forest and another temple. In the mornings, the locals would always find two marigold flowers at the feet of the idol there. They believe the ghost of Raja Rao Ram Bux placed it there. They still sing in praise of the brave ruler, who stood up to the might of the British, and never surrendered. Even if history textbooks do not mention him, they have their memories. Pramod Kumar Yadav was the man who started the school 15 years ago. He

says it was not for the money but as a service to the poor because the government didn’t think they would need a school. The tuition is around Rs 100 and there are five local teachers. The school is called Amar Shahid Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh Shri Paramhans Saraswati Gyan Mandir and 200 children attend it. With the police taking over the community centre that housed the school, he has had to shift it. “I am now running the school from Siddheshwar Mandir. The mission needs to be completed. They are not letting us go there because they are digging. People say there is a treasure. Sometimes during the rains, they have

Everyone, including the State, wants a share of the gold rush. The All India Kshatriya Mahasabha too wants its cut, saying the community ruled the land found coins. But what is important to me is education,” he says. On important days like 26 January and 15 August, Yadav tells his students about Raja Rao Ram Bux. Last week, he went to meet Sarkar in Kanpur to speak about the school. “I asked him to do something for the school. But Sarkar said he couldn’t do much about the police presence in the area. He gave me his blessings and promised to do something,” he says.     wadh Prant mein ek thha raaj— Daundiya Kheda Usi nagar mein bhoop thha Raja Ram Rao

“A

Singh Sher Angrezon ko maar giraya mushkil jeena...” Ram Pyare from nearby Kalyanpur village stands in front of the temple and sings in praise of the ruler. “A war was fought here. I can tell you the whole history. They tried to hang him thrice and the rope broke. Only when he threw away the amulet given to him by saints could he be killed. Such was the power of saints who have blessed this land,” he says. “Of course the ghosts come here. They come to the dargah of Mardan Shah, the king’s general, and sing and dance.” A policeman is listening to the man. He walks over, wielding his stick. “When the police come, ghosts leave,” he says. Under a tent, a few policemen and ASI officials are waiting for dusk. It has been a difficult week for them. “The tough part was managing the media that came and camped here,” one of them says. “We cordoned off the area, but they were pushy.” He says one channel bribed a digger. “He gave Rs 10,000 and told him to take photos of the place where they were digging,” he says. With no gold strike yet, interest is waning. There are just a couple of reporters left. Other news is taking over. Besides, it is a bumpy ride to the site. Nearly three and a half hours from Lucknow. If Pappu Singh wasn’t so hospitable, they’d have starved by now, says another reporter. Kamlesh, a constable, says if there is gold, it will be good for the country. Inflation is way too high, so he is hoping they find it. “This is the first time we have been deployed at a treasure hunt site,” he says. n


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Cracker Trail Gone Damp Anil Kapoor’s 24 is a hot show on TV that is leaving viewers cold Samina Motlekar

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the less-than-complimentary epithets used to describe Indian television, it has been plodding along. The saas-bahu sagas delivered drama in the form of bejewelled warring families. Shrill women, clumsy dwarves and cross-dressing comics, the staple of sitcoms, gave audiences their laughs. Kings and gods unleashed arrows espite

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and sermons in the unlikely environs of photoshopped mountain ranges and lavish palaces in mythological serials. Once in a while, film stars deigned to descend upon the small screen to act as quizmasters, judges or anchors on reality shows. Critics carped about lack of creativity. But no one was listening. Audiences

were transfixed. The channels knew not to mess with what was working, no matter how mediocre or tacky it was. Then along came Anil Kapoor, fresh from such triumphs as Slumdog Millionaire, bought the Indian rights to 24, a popular American show on terror in which he’d played a Middle Eastern president in the show’s eighth season, and strode 11 November 2013


slick and sliding 24 has all the right ingredients, including Anil Kapoor, but its ratings are droopy

confidently into Indian homes with his version. In the desi version that began airing on Colors in early October, Kapoor plays the lead role of Jai Singh Rathod, a counterterrorism expert, himself. The show, however, barely managed to limp onto the TV ratings chart. Its debut week scored an average TRP of 1.5 and it has been downhill since. One could argue that 24 has all the right ingredients. Kapoor, a widely recognised film star, as its lead. Abhinay Deo, who helmed 2011’s sleeper hit Delhi Belly, as its director. Rensil D’Silva, who directed Kurbaan, and Bhavani Iyer, who wrote Black, on the show’s scripting team. And a broad cast of actors and actresses that combines the best of film, theatre and television. The eight episodes aired so far retain the soul of the American show while infusing it with an Indian spirit. Substituting the US President with someone who looks like a Gandhi family member, complete with an errant brother-in-law, may not be such an original move, but it does make the characters identifiable. Murder, mid-air mayhem, office romance and rivalry—that’s what one expects here, and they are all there. It is hard to detect any flaws. The plot unfolds in real time (hence ‘24’), one of the show’s unique selling points, and this seems pacy and precise. Deo has paid special attention to details. “One of the challenges of setting the story in Bombay,” he says, “was the time it takes to get from one location to another, especially in daytime, and we have kept traffic in mind while

creating the timeline.” This chronographic realism has garnered praise from critics as well as rivals. The moody Mumbai night lurks around every corner, and the brooding presence of Anil Kapoor works well in place of Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Jack Bauer in the original. Viewership numbers, however, remain elusive.

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nsiders in the TV industry are watch-

ing 24 with interest. Though rivals refuse to comment on record, their consensus is that it is a well-made show, the best on the small screen so far. Both the budget and scale of production are unprece-

The breathless timer that appears on the screen of 24 is running too fast for its own good. Sadly for the show, the time is not right and neither is the content dented. Manisha Sharma, head of weekend programming at Colors, does not disclose the exact budget, but says, “This is without doubt the most expensive fiction show ever in India. Each hour long episode has been shot over 11 days.” The average episode of an Indian TV show is shot in four days (a soap opera in less), and at a fraction of this cost. Yet, not everyone is impressed by 24. Abhigyan Jha, CEO of Undercover Productions and a TV industry veteran, wonders who the show is meant for. “If you are aiming at the intelligent audience, it is just not believable that a terror outfit in India will employ two women on bikes in tight-leather outfits,” he says,

“As soon as you show this, the intelligent audience is gone. Which theatre in India is open at 2 am to buy tickets as Anil [Kapoor’s character] does? If you want an intelligent audience, you have to go the intelligent route.” So, who is expected to watch 24? The masses fed on soap operas and simplistic crime shows seem to have rejected it outright. Its first-week TRP is an industry low for a show launched with a major publicity blitzkrieg and toplined by a Bollywood star. Even Kaun Banega Crorepati, now in its seventh season and losing steam, did better that week (TRP of 1.7). A show on a rival channel in the same 10 pm time-slot, CID, airing for 16 years without a break, scored more than twice as high (TRP of 3.5). “We knew it would be urban skewed and take time with the masses, and the ratings are reflecting that,” says Sharma of Colors, “But the show has created tremendous buzz for the channel, online and offline.” Social media preferences, though, do not reflect popular culture in India. Those who tweet applause for the show are mostly aficionados of pirated American shows and live in an almost parallel universe. They began watching 24 eight seasons ago in its original avatar, via the internet, and are unlikely to wait with bated breath for Anil Kapoor’s. Moreover, most have moved on to shows like Sleeper Cell and Homeland, which are crafted with even more subtlety and nuance than 24. The larger audience—of those who watch TV while it is actually broadcast — is a tough one to crack. No one knows what catches their fancy. Deo himself is not part of this audience and confesses as much. “It is not that I don’t know this audience or respect where they are com-


ing from,” he says in his defence, “My mother is [part of] this audience and she watches these soaps, but I myself do not like any fiction on Indian television.” Deo is confident, however, that like the new wave of cinegoers who patronise well-made films, there exists an audience for edgier TV shows. Writer Bhavani Iyer is also hopeful of an audience out there for 24. “Indian TV shows seem to cater to just one particular audience,” she says, “There are just a handful of crime shows or thrillers as compared to soaps. I do think there is an audience wanting more.”

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he art of filmmaking and the craft of a TV series, however, involve two different processes. A film director has to draw an audience in just once, and s/he has in her or his arsenal a darkened auditorium and captive viewers once that is done. In contrast, a TV show demands a strategy that takes into account viewers armed with a potent weapon—the remote handset. These are watchers who are not only ready to switch channels on impulse, they are subject to household distractions as well. “Even a bad show works if aimed at the right audience,” as Jha says, “But the makers of 24 are clueless; they have neither strategy nor understanding of the audience. Watching the original 24 is no qualification for making it.” Deo readily admits that his team does not have TV experience, but he does not see this as a disqualifier. To him, the medium in itself is incidental, for he himself has graduated from 60-second adfilms to the two-hour feature format and now has 18 hours—the length of the first season minus breaks—to tell his story. He believes there are people interested in what he has to say. “I am hopeful of the audience. It just needs hand-holding and some time,” he says. “Why would cinema change if not for the audience?” Maybe throwing money and star power at the audience was a bad move, but it has worked before and the makers of 24 took a path they considered safe. When KBC was launched with Amitabh Bachchan, it was a gamble with a fading superstar and format that lacked pace. It went on to become a game changer on Indian television. It anchored a whole 28 open

premature delivery A rehearsal on the set of 24, a show some critics say is way too ahead of its time for India

bunch of saas-bahu sagas that followed it and wired viewers for a daily fix of their favourite shows. How 24 fits in with the channel’s schedule strategy is unclear. In an industry whose mainstay is the daily soap, and where thrillers run entire stories in a single episode, this is a show that disappears for seven days after delivering two hours of real-time action over Friday and Saturday. To win viewers back after that gap, it needs a hook that Kapoor and Deo do not seem to have. That would require a grasp of TV mindsets, according to Jha. “Sure, our audiences have a long way to go,” he says, “but to be fair, the golden age of American television too is a recent one, not more than 15 years old. Our audiences have not yet been exposed to enough genres to see nuances. It will take them a while to accept concurrent scenarios. Where are our X Files and CSI kind of shows that led to the evolution of American television? In a country that has seen no thriller other than CID before, isn’t it a bit premature to dump 24 on inexperienced viewers?” Deo should not to be too surprised with the show’s disconnect with viewers at large. As he himself admits, “I do not relate to the [existent] audience.” The director’s stated aim may be to find an entirely new set of viewers, but even on this,

he may need to rethink 24’s approach. Says Jha, “The Indian audience is a plotdriven one and 24 is all slickness with the screenplay going all over the place. The audience is very smart. Give them what they want and they will come back.” If that means resorting to a bit of what critics call ‘escapist’, ‘tacky’ and ‘regressive’, it would not be such a horror. Labelling mass entertainment ‘escapist’ presupposes that most viewers are deluded and foolish in opting for TV and cinema fare that does not mirror the real world. But they may have genuine reason to watch what looks like nothing but fantasy. As for the lack of gloss on traditional shows in India, that’s just a function of money spent and could change accordingly. And ‘regressive’ is just a judgmental difference that depends on the level of evolution of the audience and could mean different things to different people in a country said to live in several centuries at the same time. Our stories will, as always, feed off our culture, customs and prejudices. Observers agree that TV audiences are set for evolution, but it will take time. The breathless timer that appears on the screen of 24, however, is running too fast for its own good. Unfortunately for the show, the time is not right and neither is the content. n 11 November 2013


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wired

Steel in the Fabric For a long time, the fashion world could not understand why Gaurav Jai Gupta was weaving metal into textiles. But he feels vindicated now Chinki Sinha

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t is melancholic—the portrait of an old lady in a nun’s habit, her hands folded across her chest. The original hangs in Musée du Louvre in Paris. This is an imitation, done in a day’s time. On the runway, as the lights come on to illuminate the portrait, the old lady marks her presence as the inspiration for Gaurav Jai Gupta’s collection for Delhi’s Wills Fashion Week. Tamara Moss, a model, walks down the runway in an austere striped skirt and a blue croptop, the colours all drawn from the nun’s habit. Blue and white. Shades alternating between the two. Cold and light. Calm and composed. One early morning eight months ago, Gupta was driving out of town for a hill station break when he saw a nun on the side of the street near a Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi. She was clad in a Missionaries of Charity sari. Since he was speeding down the deserted road, the sight was gone in a flash. “It wasn’t static. It was a white sari with blue stripes,” he says of what he saw that morning. “All ideas for me originate in such ways.” The image of the nun stayed with him, making its way into his subconscious. “It was peaceful. It represented hope. In this chaotic world where front pages of newspapers are full of news that is deeply disturbing, that image was so calm. As if it could be a solution.” He found himself looking for pictures of nuns online, and there began his research on the Missionaries. Gupta, 31, is a textile designer and that’s what his brand Akaaro—‘me’ in Sanskrit—has become famous for ever since he started doing fashion shows in 2011. Even today, though, he is mistaken for the other Gaurav Gupta, a flamboyant 32 open

fashion designer of costume-like clothes. Gupta works with an eclectic mix of materials. In a large hall, there is a loom with colourful threads being woven into fabric. There are just a few days to go for Delhi’s fashion week, for which he must get his Mode-rate collection together. Apart from garments, the hall has a pair of gumboots that he will later cut to make them look like sandals. On his laptop, he goes through a list of songs. One hears a crashing of waves, a whoosh through a forest. All of a sudden, the room seems full of mint leaves. “I think musically,” he says, “I can see when I listen to music.” It goes back to his teen years. In Class 10, he had begun listening to Ghalib’s ghazals. Sometimes, he would dance all by himself in a dark room. “I could dream with sound and image.” He says he does not have a definitive taste in music. He listens to everything. On most evenings at his house in Hauz Khas, Delhi, he listens to music he has stumbled upon. Gupta says he does not know what he wants, but knows he is headed big. All these years as a developer of textiles— and he has done interesting work by weaving copper and steel into his fabric—he was looking for respect. His work was dismissed as lacking in the aesthetics of structure, drape and cuts. But he would always introduce himself as a ‘textile designer’, and it took display after display at fashion weeks for his ‘engineered’ fabrics to get critical recognition. Gupta grew up in Rohtak in an upper middle-class family. Theirs was an old huge house with many rooms. He describes his as an average Indian childhood—playing cricket in gullies, being part of street groups, going to school and

doing homework. His father was mostly travelling on business, the family’s own, and let his sons have their own way with education and choices. Supported by his father, Gaurav attended the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Delhi and later went to London for a degree in textiles. He may not look like a designer, he says, but it’s the work that’s important, not the person. Reviews of his recent SS14 show have given him a new confidence. He is more dismissive of people now. It is the audacity of recognition. Talking to a senior designer, he tells her how he hasn’t seen her work and would not be looking out for it either since she isn’t a textile designer . From someone who has always seen himself as an underdog and complained about the apathy of the fash frat towards innovation, this sounds a little ungracious. But fashion, to Gupta’s mind, is a strange world. There’s too much politics and this restrains creative expression. Commercially, he is yet to break even. But it is getting better, he says. “I want respect,” he says. “I like showing people my work. My work is my soul.” But that’s not unusual. In this world, everything is a product of the soul. So designers say. Gupta’s needs and wants are few. He doesn’t have a fancy car or phone. He was brought up by a father who didn’t believe in excess, he says. He loves what Rajesh Pratap Singh does. It has all the elements he himself likes to work with—music and drama, for example. “But I don’t own his clothes,” he says, “He is more of a product designer. I could be his lover. I like his work so much.” 11 November 2013


ashish sharma

an identity of his own After years of being mistaken for his designer namesake, Gaurav Gupta has finally found recognition

So far, Gupta has done four seasons at fashion weeks. He describes his previous body of work as ‘heavy’. This time round, he felt light and it’s apparent in his work. “Now I am taking it easy,” he says, “Things will come to me now. I was thinking too much initially. But this time, it was like the stroke of a brush.” There was applause during the show as models came down the ramp in his work. There was a dark element too. It is something that’s in him, he says. With steel, he has created garments that look powerful. “I like steel,” he says. When a priest told him he should visit Vishnu temples across the country, he started to think. Fascinated with 11 November 2013

Vishnu’s Matsya avatar, he pictured the fish in water and the shimmer of the water. It’s an effect seen in the layers of zari and steel in his ‘engineered’ sari, a design that has been getting a lot of attention. “I like quality,” he says, “I don’t like average things.” There is this conflict. He calls himself an average person, but detests ‘average work’ . In the very next instance, he says average is important. For now, he is trying to find his peace. It will come, he says. “Like how it goes flat on an ECG screen. I want it like that.”

Gupta doesn’t know if he has an ego but he would like to have none. It is a struggle. And he is still complaining. “I am today’s India. I do hardcore textiles. I am ahead of the times,” he says. “Handloom has become a fad. This is a country that celebrates mediocrity. [However], I go for the best.” There is an arrogance about him. Perhaps it stems from his sense of vindication. His work is finally finding the appreciation and respect he wanted. It has changed his attitude. “I don’t feel intimidated,” he says. n open www.openthemagazine.com 33


HIERARCHY

Row with a View You could do a stellar collection at fashion week but if your front row wasn’t impressive enough, your work would likely fade into obscurity. So designers scurry about with invites for the ‘visible’ people. The front row is usually made up of three kinds of fashion VIPs—media (not any old media, just the top fashion glossies; the rest are relegated to the second and third rows), buyers and friends-and-family of the designer on show. The designer will also typically pick people from this row to wear his outfits. At the present fashion show, a socialite with a day job as a columnist was heard bragging about the number of outfits she had collected thus, but, oh, how to decide, whom to oblige? Fascinated, this photographer decided to turn his gaze away from the ramp, towards the hot seats. photographs by ASHISH SHARMA

THEY WERE HERE TOO (Counter-clockwise from left) At designer Aneeth Arora’s solo show, model Indrani Dasgupta poses for the audience; flash cameras are not allowed in the front row, but why fear when you have a smartphone?; for the grand finale by designer Ashish Soni at the recently concluded Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW), the seats were changed to match the runway setting and Robert Vadra was spotted in the audience


SQUASH AND SQUEEZE (Counter-clockwise from right) Shahnaz Husain, CEO of Shahnaz Herbals Inc, seen among the beautiful people; designer Dhruv Kapur, who owns the label DRVV, in an offshoulder robe; footwear matters because you are on show, tip to toe; workers at the WIFW pose for their 30 seconds of fame

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Festive Opportunities

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ealth is uppermost in our minds during the festive season of Diwali, and with it, the risks that are appropriate. In a world that is struggling to get past the trauma of a prolonged recession and in a domestic economy that is undergoing a slowdown, the only bright spark appears to be the Indian stock market. As tracked by leading indices (the BSE Sensex and NSE Nifty), Indian stock prices are near their old highs of late 2008, which was before the global financial crisis struck. Should retail investors return to buying stocks? Remember that the current stock market run-up has been powered largely by inflows from overseas that could reverse as soon as the US Federal Reserve begins to ‘taper’ its policy of ‘quantitative easing’. So these highs may be short-lived. On the other hand, company earnings have grown since Indian stocks last peaked five years ago and so there exist some bargains among beaten-down stocks, especially if you are looking for a regular payback in the form of annual dividends. Under today’s tight business circumstances, such stock choices are few and far between. By and large, thus, it may be a good idea to keep your money ready for another day of greater clarity in some form that can easily be liquidated when the need arises. What investors need is patience. So long as India’s emergence story is alive and well at the fundamental level, there will be opportunities galore in the future.

Leadership and Beyond N

ew India Assurance Co Ltd operates in 22 countries worldwide with a global business in excess of Rs 12,500 crore (Rs 125 billion). Founded by Sir Dorabji Tata in 1919, the Indian business touched Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion) in 2012-13 and are the only direct insurer in India rated A-(Excellent – Stable outlook) by AM Best. In 2012-13, NIA recorded the highest profit in India among all general insurers, and their Indian operations span across 1,600 offices, and 600 micro offices. With over 160 products catering to Petrochemical, oil & energy industries, power & steel plants, aviation fleets, satellites, large infrastructure projects and SMEs, NIA is present in all commercial sectors and a range of products in the rural, social sector & micro insurance segments. It has a central data base and integrated grievance management system synchronized with that of the regulator. The company’s foreign operations

operate through subsidiaries, agency operations, direct branches and associate companies. New India is in partnership with insurance companies in Singapore, Kenya, Saudi Arabia & Jordan. With the London branch in operation for the past 92 years, and branches in Japan, Mauritius etc for over 50 years. With subsidiary companies in Trinidad & Tobago and Nigeria, new markets have been tapped. it has equity participation in Kenindia Assurance Co Ltd, Nairobi, WAFA Insurance (SICCI) in Saudi Arabia, India International Insurance Pte. Ltd in Singapore and Asian Reinsurance Corporation, Bangkok. NIA is the co promoter of Agriculture Insurance Company of India & GIC Housing Finance Ltd. And is also in the process of setting up a common TPA in the Health insurance support services segment jointly with other Government owned insurers. n


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Festive Loan Schemes A

s on June2013 the total business of Bank of India stood at Rs 7,24,396 crore with Global Deposits of Rs.4,14,964 crore and Global Advance of Rs.3,09,432 crore. It is rated the ‘Second Most Trusted Brand in India’ (Economic Times) among PSU Banks and received the ‘Best Banker’ award at the India SME excellence Awards-2013 for exemplary contribution in the Banking Sector. BOI Star Home Loan extends loans upto Rs 300 lac and Rs 500 lac in select cities. For salaried and self employed inclusion of notional rental income of 2nd house, HRA of employees staying in staff quarters and income of close relatives for enhanced loan amount, repayment period upto 30 years and extended moratorium upto 36 months. Zero administrative charges, nil pre-payment charges for floating rate loans, free accident insurance cover from NICL and tailor made life insurance from Star Union Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Co. Ltd are some attractions. Under Rs 75 lac, the floating interest is at 10.25% p.a, at monthly rests and 10.30% p.a, at monthly rests for Rs 75 lac plus and no processing

charges till 31.12.2013. BOI Star Diamond Home Loan is for HNI’s (gross income of Rs 1 crore plus during the last 3 years) for purchase of properties in Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Delhi & _100 M_40 Y_0 K_0 PANTONE_300C NCR,CKolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. BOIC _0 Star vehicles PANTONE_1655C M_90Vehicle Y_100 K_0 loan for Indian is upto Rs 25 lac, Rs 75 lac for imported vehicles andY_100 Rs.100 lacs for corporate C _0 M_60 K_0 PANTONE_151C fleets. Upto 31.12.2013, the floating interest is 10.55% p.a, at monthly rests and waiver of the processing fees. BOI Star Education Loan gives upto Rs 10 lac for education in India and Rs 20 lac abroad. BOI Star Vidya Loan, for students admitted to select Indian educational institutions. Some other schemes are BOI’s Loan Against Property, BOI Star Personal Loan, BOI Star Vocational Education Loan and BOI Star Pensioner Loan.

Banking at your finger-tips K

arnataka Bank attends its customer base of 74.84 lac, through 559 branches and 580 ATMS across India and plans to reach 1,200 service outlets by the end of March 2014. Run on its Core Banking Solution, it provides ‘Anywhere’, ‘Anytime’, ‘24x7’ services. It has forayed into General Insurance as a JV partner in Universal Sompo General Insurance Company Limited and is the

agent for PNB MetLife. The bank has tied up with Times of Money for NRIs with ‘Remit2 India’ and has an MOU with Reliance Capital Limited for financing MSMEs. Guided skillfully by Sri P Jayarama Bhat, MD & CEO, it has a total business of Rs 64,482 crore, Net Profit of Rs 123 crore (30th September, 2013) and paid a dividend of 40% (2012-13). For the current fiscal year, an estimated turnover of Rs 78,000 crore [Deposits Rs 45,500 crore, Advances of Rs 32,500 crore], with an annual growth

of 27.32% is being looked at. The bank has strengthened its rural orientation by opening FIBs and USBs and embarked upon a BC model. It has won the IDRBT Award for 2012-13, Best Bank Award for Managing IT Risks and Best Bank Award for use of IT for business innovation. And been awarded Best Bank for Customer Friendliness (Midsized Banks), Best Bank for Customer Orientation and Best Bank for HR Practices (Private Sector Banks) by Sunday Standard FINWIZ -2013 Best Bankers Awards. And was Runner-up of ASSOCHAM’s Social Banking Excellence Award (Private Sector Banks). The bank has previously won two IBA awards: 2nd runners up for Best Financial Inclusion Initiative and Best Risk Management & Security Initiative; was Runner-up for Best Banker in Customer Friendliness (Midsized bank) and Special Jury Award for NFS Operational Excellence and the STP Award for improved payment formatting & straight through process rate The Bank of New York Mellon 2012. It received ISO 27001: 2005 certificate from NQA for its 3 IT set ups, in 2012. n


between the sheets

All the Answers

Good sex isn’t about what you do, it’s about how it makes you feel sonali khan

L

ast week, the best friend asked me what good sex

was. A very reasonable question, considering she’s been on the listening-and-going-purple-in-the-face end of my more unprintable escapades. I’m supposed to be her go-to person for existential questions of the prurient, libidinous and licentious kind. But the thing is, I don’t know. There, I said it. I know what good sex means for me, but unless I’ve slept with you, I don’t, and can’t, know what it means for you. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying through his or her teeth. Many years ago, the answer to ‘What’s good sex?’ would have been a no-brainer. My younger and supremely confident self had the recipe down pat. It read something like: Making out: 10 minutes Undressing: 30 to 45 seconds Oral: 5 minutes Calisthenics in bed: 10 minutes Penetration: 5 minutes Screaming orgasm: 2 minutes (mine) + 1 minute (his) What was the foundation of my unassailable confidence? The fact that almost all literature on the subject agreed on more or less the same definition of good sex. And as long as I was meticulously checking things off a pre-approved list, I must be winning at the good sex sweepstakes. I adopted this approach when I was 19 and the boyfriend and I decided it was time to take things to the next level. It was the fag end of winter and we had a private beach in Goa at our disposal. There were moonlit walks followed by skinny dipping in the ocean. It was all very Nora Roberts meets Kama Sutra. What more can a girl want? The first time we did it, it was awkward, painful and massively disappointing. But that’s knowledge I acquired in retrospect. At that time I thought it was freaking awesome! I’d loaded myself with so much information on what to say, how to move and, most importantly, How To Pleasure My Man, that there was no way on earth I was going to have bad sex. In all fairness, the magazines had warned me that the first time was nothing like my romance novels made it out to be, but I was having none of that. If I was going to do it, it had better be good. The aching limbs and locked jaw were a secret wild horses couldn’t have dragged out of me. As time passed, good sex stopped being enough. I now

had to have spectacular, toe-curling, awe-inspiring sex to feel adequate. Sex had become a game of Super Mario Bros—unlocking the bonus level was yesterday’s thing, it was imperative that I save the princess now. At 21, I had a fling that made me realise the stupidity of my approach. He was a textbook lover—every move was practised, rehearsed and seemed to have come straight out of a manual. He said all the right things and made all the right noises, but somehow, for some reason, he wasn’t completely there. We ended up watching a movie instead. That was the day I realised that good sex isn’t about what you do; it’s about how it makes you feel. A few months ago, I befriended a popular porn actress. In one of her more unguarded moments she admitted that good sex for her rarely ever involved penetration, instead, relying heavily on oral sex and other forms of touch. Another friend told me last week that it took her many instances of painful carpet-burn level of friction to finally work up the nerve to ask her boyfriend to invest in an industrial-strength lubricant. Once she gave up on the notion that a turned on vagina meant a vagina that operated like a well-oiled machine of heaving wetness, she actually started enjoying her sex life. Then there are those, like the boy, who have a constantly-shifting definition of good sex. For him, some days it means going at it so many times that I have to kick him out of bed and lock the door to be able to get some sleep. Other days, he’s all about touch and talk—no penetration. Sometimes, the sex is so quiet, I feel like I’ll be able to hear his thoughts if I listen hard enough. Sometimes, it is so loud, it blanks out the entire outside world. The point is, good sex isn’t about following some arbitrary set of rules or even necessarily having an orgasm. And it’s certainly not about following some hackneyed list of to-dos compiled by know-it-all bullies (read: sex writers) like me. All you need for good sex is an abiding love for yourself and your body and a partner who isn’t an asshole. And maybe a good lubricant, once in a while. n

All you need for good sex is an abiding love for yourself and your body and a partner who isn’t an asshole

42 open

Sonali Khan was holding on to her virtue, and then she fell in love...with several men. She drinks whisky, not Cosmopolitan 11 November 2013


life & letters

mindspace

1984 Revisiting a charred history 44

Bending it in Vikaspuri

63

O p e n s pa c e

Ranbir Kapoor Jaya Bachchan

62

n p lu

The Fifth Estate Mickey Virus

61 Cinema reviews

BlackBerry Z30 Tonda Woodstock Nikon Coolpix S6600

60

Tech & style

In Search of the Yeti Steroid’s Permanent Effects Gold Grows on Trees

54

Sc i e n c e

Costa-Gavras and the Cold War Sonu Nigam the Fame Yogi

52

Cinema

An Insider’s Dharavi

48

a rt s

Husain Haqqani on the tenuous US-Pakistan relationship The Competent Authority

books

The Ashes of 1984

44 64

Jacques Langevin/Sygma/Corbis


bedi/afp/getty images

life & letters

cinder In 1984, mobs burnt Sikhs alive in their homes and the Adi Granth in gurdwaras


CARBON Sifting through the ashes of a charred history Jaspreet Singh

T

hose who begin by burning

books will end by burning people. In Delhi, sayings like this are often misunderstood. The Indian capital is one of those rare cities where such wisdom gets completely inverted: those who begin by burning people will end by burning books. In November 1984, politicians of India's ruling party directed mobs to burn alive as many Sikh citizens as possible. Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers distributed kerosene oil and white phosphorous. Witness testimonials talk about the innovative use of rubber tyres to simultaneously trap the target, create thick clouds of toxins and facilitate combustion. After burning humans, the thugs took meal breaks and then burned more humans and then burned copies of the Adi Granth in gurdwaras. Sometimes they burned books and humans simultaneously. The Adi Granth includes approximately 6,000 poetic compositions by 43 saints who lived in the vast Subcontinent. The work included in the book defies caste, creed, region or religion—work created over five centuries. In short, the men burned not only what was sacred to them, but they also burned the very idea of ‘coming together as equals’. They also burned Memory. I was in Delhi in 1984. I saw the blackened remains of books. I saw ash particles floating in air. A few days later, the head of the Government delivered a chilling speech to the nation justifying the burnings (and lootings and gang rapes). It is only ‘natural’, he said. When a Big Tree Falls, the Earth Shakes

11 November 2013

a Little. He rewarded accused ministers and MPs, and announced medals for senior police officers who had facilitated the atrocity. The Congress Party conducted its first major pogrom exactly 99 years after it was formed, and exactly 100 years after it was conceived in the hill-station of Shimla. In a piece entitled ‘Thomas Bernhard in New Delhi’ for The New York Times’ blog India Ink, I alluded to the nation’s inability to mourn. No Partition memorials exist, for instance. The very idea of creating a November 1984 memorial would be repulsive to the ruling party. It has instead tried to impose ‘forgetorials’ and the perpetual mourning of so-called ‘great leaders’. The piece was accompanied by Gauri Gill’s black-and-white photos of survivors; photos that carry a vast accumulation of time and traces of the horrific. People stare out, urging ordinary citizens to do something. Photographs of memory, silence, complicated grief and collective trauma.   wenty-eight years after the atrocity, in September 2012, the Congress published a thick book: A Centenary History of Congress, Volume V: 1964-84. Co-edited by Mukherjee and Mukherjee, the 716-page book was released during the leadership of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. One of the editors, Pranab Mukherjee, is now President of India. The editors claim the Centenary History series is an ‘important historical work’ in which 100 years of ‘Indian politics’—not just Congress politics—have been treated with ‘unparalleled thoroughness’. ‘The fifth and fi-

T

nal volume reports on a period of the Congress that spanned Indira Gandhi’s rise to PM of India as well as her assassination, the rapid development and reform of the country…’ One does not expect a pogrom-conducting (and pogrom-denying) party to excavate honestly its own crimes, but one is curious nevertheless. Leafing through the pages one realises that November 1984 is neither an Event nor a Chapter. Mukherjee and Mukherjee lump post-partition India’s unprecedented pogroms together under a chapter titled ‘Punjab Crisis’. As part of an initial appraisal, I began counting the number of words devoted to November 1984. One. Two. Three… Hundred… Four hundred. Four-hundred words. One word for every ten Sikh citizens exterminated in Delhi alone. After a careful reading, I realised that only 40-odd words of the 400 deal with the reality of November 1984, though even those lack the ‘unparalleled thoroughness’ promised by the editors. One word for every 100 people exterminated by the party in Delhi. The catastrophe is first mentioned mid-paragraph, towards the end of the long chapter. The paragraph begins with 18 words almost justifying the murder of innocent civilians. ‘While certain amount of anger and resultant violence on 31 October 1984 is understandable…’ Most sentences follow the same tone, either beginning or ending in an odd manner. What ‘surprised’ everyone was that top Congress leaders were ‘suspected of flaming the antiSikh passions’. Only four leaders are open www.openthemagazine.com 45


named, their crime unacknowledged. While libraries all over the world are filled with books and documents that detail not just the crimes but also the precise mechanisms behind them, for India’s Congress party, to this day, the names of the guilty exist only within the realm of suspicion. Four words talk about women. Not as citizens, but as objects who belong to Sikh men: ‘Rape of their womenfolk’. The chillingly sinister justification provided by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is strangely absent. Not even a trace. With ‘unparalleled thoroughness’, the editors have omitted the rewards received by guilty MPs and Cabinet ministers from the Prime Minister. Perhaps November 1984 never happened? (Indian diplomats in foreign missions still refer to this in terms of a ‘conspiracy theory’.) There is no mention of the Congress party’s massive ad-campaign vilifying minorities to win an important election, or the fact that two of the accused hold important positions within the party, one of them a senior Cabinet Minister in the current administration. ‘Several prominent citizens organisations… condemned… the failure of the state. Several inquiry commissions… censured the official machinery for failure to maintain law and order.’ Human rights organisations didn’t call November 1984 a ‘failure’ of the State, or a ‘failure to maintain law and order’. They called it a planned and systematic attack on Sikh citizens by members of the government. There is no mention of the perverse misuse of language to describe what happened. ‘Riots’, for instance. The book doesn’t even pose this as a question. Not a word about the extraordinary miscarriage of justice for which the party is directly responsible. No discussion about the persistent use of words like ‘natural’ and ‘spontaneous’. Nothing at all. Instead, the party chooses to see the elevation of a ‘turbaned Sikh’ to Prime Minister as some sort of ironic justice. Seventy-six words are devoted to Manmohan Singh; 52 more words are 46 open

devoted to Manmohan Singh’s farcical ‘apology’: ‘Sikh history has taken a full circle.’ Perhaps it is not an absurd idea, even at this late stage, to check this statement with the women who were brutally raped or those who lost 21 members of their extended family in one single day. Or to verify the ‘turning point’ with the woman who, to this

The lawyers representing

Congress Leaders Also Received Advance Information from the Commission about when each victim was due to depose…

This Information Was Used To Intimidate The Victims Just Before Their Deposition. At times, victims received the Commission’s summons and the culprit’s threats simultaneously

day, displays her husband’s hair and amputated finger. Where exactly are those 400 words headed? Towards what kind of closure? How does a narrative like this end, really? This is perhaps the most astonishing thing about those 400 words— 400 words headed at the speed of light

towards more and more shamelessness. Near the end of the paragraph ‘about this dismal situation’, the astonishing Congress party takes credit for the good work done by students and professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University, saving lives in November 1984. Wise as it has become, the party doesn’t hesitate to issue instructions to Sikhs. Take refuge, it tells them, in the Adi Granth (the same book burned in large numbers in November 1984): Let yourself be lovingly absorbed in the Lord. Somewhere, buried in those 400 words, there is also a guiltless, shameless use of a little girl’s diary. A quote from Anne Frank: Our religion will teach the world and all the people in it about the goodness, and that’s the reason, the only reason we will have to suffer. Minutes after reading that quote, in a state of disquiet, I stumbled upon Jacques Derrida’s The Work of Mourning, which led me to Sarah Kofman’s poem Shoah (or Disgrace): We will not pardon […] for this crime, Render it null, make it un-happened, Nullify it in forgiveness and forgetting. … So that those who died … that their memory may not be murdered Let us not forget this Event! Memory. Forgetting. Trauma. How does one write the histories of burned books and a burned people? Histories of collective silences and the moral ruin of a nation? How does one comprehend lack of justice?

F

or anyone interested in State-

sponsored genocidal violence in India, Justice Ranganath Misra’s name keeps recurring, luminously. A pioneer of sorts, he is an example to future generations. If there were such a thing as a shamelessness scale, he would belong to the uppermost, brightest section. As a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, Misra headed the first ever commission to investigate November 1984. (Several other farcical commissions followed.) 11 November 2013


In March 2013, when I interviewed retired history professor and human rights activist Uma Chakravarty in her living room in South Delhi, she revealed something shocking a lawyer friend told her a few years ago. Uma kept her eyes shut while recalling the details. The young lawyer had witnessed first-hand Justice Ranganath Misra’s inquiry commission. A Sikh man had been inconsolable during the proceedings. He had filed an affidavit; his son had been murdered brutally in November 1984. Sardarji, Justice Ranganath Misra had said, your story is a bit like this one. Listen to me carefully. Imagine you and your son are going somewhere on a scooter. You stop at the railway crossing. Zillions of cars and scooters are waiting for the train to pass by. No one has any idea about a huge vulture flying high up in the skies, right above you. In the vulture’s beak, there is a snake. Suddenly, it slithers and manages to free itself; the snake falls down, and finally lands on your son, sitting behind you on your scooter. The snake bites his neck. Your son dies that very instant. And that very instant, the vulture lands, collects the snake and flies away. See, it is no one’s fault. Do you think it is somebody’s fault? Not really. This is exactly what happened to your family. It is no one’s fault.

O

ne of the most significant books

to examine the sinister role played by the Judiciary after 1984 was When a Tree Shook Delhi, co-written by Manoj Mitta and HS Phoolka. A Supreme Court lawyer, Phoolka has worked tirelessly over the last 29 years for justice for victims. Two chapters in the book detail the manner in which Justice Misra conducted the ominous inquiry. On the surface, it was an in-camera inquiry (apparently to protect witnesses), but all along, the judge released witness identities to lawyers working for accused Congress leaders, representing anti-victim groups that claimed the carnage was ‘spontaneous’. The lawyers representing Congress lead-

11 November 2013

ers ‘also received advance information from the commission about when each victim was due to depose… This information was used to intimidate the victims just before their deposition. At times, victims received the commission’s summons and culprit’s threats simultaneously. A number of victims complained about the threats, but to no avail.’ In some cases, security tasks were assigned to the same local police responsible for facilitating atrocities only six months earlier. While the pogrom conductors ‘and police were allowed to victimise the Sikhs all over again,’ Phoolka writes, ‘the media and other public spirited citizens were shut out.’ Thousands of fraudulent anti-victim ‘affidavits’ also surfaced then. All along, Justice Misra shielded the culprits and suppressed the truth. He didn’t even allow the victims’ representatives access to government documents or an opportunity to cross-examine the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the Police Commissioner of Delhi and seven other high-ranking officials. When the representatives insisted, the judge revealed that ‘he had already examined five of the officials’, thus excluding the victims’ lawyers from crucial parts of the investigation. ‘In a bizarre innovation, Misra was holding an in-camera inquiry within an in-camera inquiry.’ ‘The discovery of the secret examination of officials was the last straw for us,’ writes Phoolka. ‘It dawned on us that we were just being taken for a ride.’ And because of the ‘gag order Justice Misra had passed initially, nothing was being reported in the press.’ After much agonising, the Citizens Justice Committee, representing the victims, submitted a letter of withdrawal. Around then, Justice Misra asked Mr Phoolka not to get ‘carried away’. He instructed the young lawyer to quit the CJC and work independently instead. ‘He made a more blatant attempt to coopt me. I tried to cut him short [by saying] that I was very much party to the decision. Misra said that if I accepted

his offer to participate in the inquiry, he would, in turn, see to it that I was ‘suitably rewarded’.’ Several Supreme Court lawyers acknowledge that Justice Misra, with strong links to the party, was perhaps one of the most corrupt judges in postIndependence India. In his final report, Misra gave ‘a clean chit to Congress party as well as its leaders and the government… The police were accountable for errors of omission and commission.... But the upshot of all his exertions to cover up political complicity was that no individual, whether in the police or the ruling party, was indicted for his complicity in the massacre. Even as he maintained that he could not indict any of the culprits, Justice Misra went out of his way to exonerate HKL Bhagat and Rajiv Gandhi.’ Ranganath Misra went on to become the 21st Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court in 1990. He died a natural death at the age of 85 on 13 September 2012. In his condolence message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said these chilling words: “Justice Misra was an eminent jurist and parliamentarian who distinguished himself in the high public offices he held.” From 1998 to 2004, Misra was appointed a Member of Parliament (Upper House) by the Congress Party. In 2004, after the party returned to power, he was asked to look into various issues related to Linguistic and Religious Minorities. In 1993, nine years after the genocidal pogroms, he was appointed the first Chairman of the National Human Rights’ Commission of India. n — Jaspreet Singh is a writer who grew up in India and moved to Canada in 1990. His new novel Helium is, in the author’s own words, the story of a grand crime and the individual and collective trauma it caused. It is also the story of the collective silence and extraordinary miscarriage of justice in the aftermath of the violence of 1984. Helium will be available in India, published by Bloomsbury India, on 31 October 2013 open www.openthemagazine.com 47


Books

raul irani

The Interpolator In his new book, Husain Haqqani attempts to bridge the gap of understanding between the US and Pakistan DEVIKA BAKSHI

H

usain Haqqani is a writer, aca-

demic and former diplomat. His new book Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding seeks to provide a compassionate overview of the relationship between these two countries. Having grown up in Pakistan, lived in the United States for more than a decade, and worked as a liaison official between the two, Haqqani appears well placed to disentangle the complexities of this relationship. He has long been considered an authority on Pakistan in American academic circles—his book Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military has been called a definitive account—but this does not help untangle the sore question of his loyalties that arose recently. 48 open

In 2011, after a judicial commission in Pakistan concluded that he had authored a memorandum received by Admiral Mike Mullen of the US Navy requesting US intervention in Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, Haqqani resigned as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, a position he’d held since 2008. Haqqani’s involvement drained him of credibility in the web of Pakistani politics, where loyalties are often tortured to begin with, but made him a kind of hero in sections of the American press. The Atlantic called him ‘The Last Friendly Pakistani’ and The Wall Street Journal suggested that had the accusations against him been true, it would only have made him a patriot. Among Pakistanis commenting on

Pakistan, Haqqani at times appears—to borrow a phrase from You’ve Got Mail— “a lone reed”. Except that he is “standing tall, waving boldly” not in “the corrupt sands of capitalism” so much as in an inconvenient swamp of anti-Americanism. As he states in the introduction to his book, Haqqani is ‘convinced that the United States remains a force for good in the world’. His characterisation of the relationship between the US and Pakistan is fairly benign, his narrative of their history more screwball comedy than Bond movie, in which all problems are a result of mix-ups or immaturity or insecurity, not of sinister motives or ambitious villains. Through the interview, he wishes luck to Nawaz Sharif, his criticism of whom led to his exile from Pakistan in 1999; he refers to Imran Khan as a “nice guy” whose “understanding of socio-political phenomena is very, very, very limited”; and he cites Tariq Ali as a commentator on Pakistan who some people take seriously, clarifying that he himself is not one of those people. Though he says he is more suited to writing than diplomacy, his answers suggest he is a better diplomat than he readily admits. Excerpts:

You’ve lived in the US since 2002. You are known among Pakistani commentators to be very pro-US and were recently accused of having acted on those sympathies. How do you think living in the US, not Pakistan, over this turbulent decade has influenced the way you approach Pakistani affairs?

…Looking back at history and trying to understand and unravel a relationship should not be affected by the current climate within Pakistan. As you see in my book, I have pointed out that the anti-Americanism that people sense in Pakistan is not new… I had a less hostile view of the United States [than those around me] long before I ever visited the [country]. I just didn’t buy into the views that find resonance among Pakistanis about the United States. I disagree with elements of US foreign policy, [and] with some of the stuff that happens in American politics and even in American society, but living in the United States has enabled me 11 november 2013


to understand the weakness of the anti-American argument and sentiment in Pakistan. The Americans have never wanted to harm Pakistan. In my research, I found many efforts by them to try and help Pakistan even when those were ill-conceived efforts. So I am totally unfazed by the suggestions of pro-American sympathies. If anything, I am somebody who is trying to be a bridge between two countries that have been allies, have said they want to be allies, but have not been able to figure out why they can’t be allies.

How deeply entrenched is anti-American sentiment on the ground in Pakistan? You suggest in your book that it is merely fear mongering…

If you read the account that I have put together, as early as 1946 leaders of the Muslim League were speaking out against the United States as a means of getting American attention, because obviously, at that time there was no Pakistan, and neither Indian Muslims nor the would-be state of Pakistan actually had any genuine grievance against America—[they] could not have [had any] as early as that. I think the anti-Americanism in Pakistan is partly the result of what people are told. From [its] inception, Pakistan’s leaders have been reluctant to explain what Pakistan got from America or what they were seeking from America while telling the people that they were under pressure from the Americans. That said, the Americans have not always handled Pakistan right; just as they have not been able to handle many countries right. So there may be some genuine complaints, grievances and criticisms. However, the portrayal of the United States as an enemy of Pakistan is entirely a contrived idea.

Is there no sensible position possible against Western intervention in Pakistan?

Oh, absolutely there is. There may be a few individuals in Pakistan who say that Western interventionism is wrong, but that should not make us anti-Western. They are two different things. But look: the American embassy in 11 november 2013

Islamabad was burnt down on the basis of a rumour in 1979, long before the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan and widespread jihadism, long before any drone strikes. So all I’m asking for is an understanding of the sequence of events. Sometimes there can be a legitimate complaint or grievance, but its manifestation can still be not rooted in facts or reality. The United States has been and can be legitimately criticised and, in fact, some of the smartest and most articulate critics of American foreign policy live in the United States. At the same time the United States has made enormous contributions to human advancement in the last couple of hundred years as well. The major powers of the world and especially the dominant powers are always resented. But anti-Americanism is unique because Americans are affected by how people perceive them, much more than traditional hegemons, so some people take advantage of it. And I make the case that, in Pakistan, that has been done in a very methodical manner for a long time.

How might one take advantage of that?

Well, when you know somebody wants to be liked, then telling them that ‘we don’t like you’ makes them do things that they would otherwise not do.

Such as?

Give aid to a country that their analysts do not think [of as] important. ...From 1947 to 1954, the Pakistani government was wooing the Americans, asking for large quantums of aid, and was getting nowhere. And then, anti-Americanism started manifesting itself sufficiently for Americans to worry about whether they would lose Pakistan to the Soviets. That made the Americans interested, so it was a good strategy. [But] the fact is, the Soviet Union hadn’t even recognised Pakistan or established diplomatic relations with it, and now that the Kremlin archive is accessible, you can go and find out that the Soviets actually took no interest whatsoever in Pakistan until the Americans got interested. But

the prospect of Soviet interest got the Americans interested.

One of the ways in which you talk about the relationship between the US and Pakistan is that Pakistan has been to the US a conduit for its interests in the region, and the US, to Pakistan, has been a source of cash. But neither meets the other’s expectations, leading to a cycle of disappointments. What is the way out of this spiral?

Pakistan needs to get out of the game of dependency. [It] needs to understand that it cannot become a regional power based on the largesse of a global superpower. And in this respect, Indian foreign policy was smarter because, by being non-aligned, India kind of learnt to stand on its own two feet. And now, even if it becomes a close partner to any major power, it will not become dependent on them. Pakistan, on the other hand, has received $40 billion in American assistance since 1947. That’s far more than the amount that South Korea or Taiwan received... Yet Pakistan is not a major recipient of foreign direct investment, which would have helped it stand on its own two feet. Compare Pakistan with [what] South Korea and Taiwan… have accomplished. Pakistan cannot forever believe in the notion of existential threats. As a professor of international relations, I can very easily say there are no permanent enemies in the world. Pakistan needs a more pragmatic outlook, a more realistic foreign policy. And in that, Pakistan needs America’s friendship. But Pakistan should not construct this paradigm for its international relations that it will forever consider India an enemy and therefore try to look for cash from America to enable it to be able to compete with India. Pakistan needs to redefine its national priorities. Its priorities should be the prosperity of our people, and economic development of our nation rather than a permanent state of conflict or competition. [For their part], the Americans need to give up their illusion that aid brings them leverage. No country alters its foreign policy priorities or its perception of the national interest unless realities open www.openthemagazine.com 49


on the ground make it change them. So the flow of American aid has had the effect of allowing Pakistan’s policymaking establishment to persist with what is essentially folly because they get bailed out by aid. This cycle needs to be broken. The Americans need to develop their relationship with Pakistan on the basis of their own interest, and Pakistan needs to go beyond dependence on the United States to address its own domestic dysfunction, reach out to its neighbours, and basically get out of the conflict economy that has been fuelled by American money.

If aid doesn’t buy you desirable foreign policy, why is it such a central part of the way hegemons, particularly the United States of America, interact with the rest of the world?

Historically, hegemons have not always depended on aid; it’s unique to the United States, because [it] wants to be a benign superpower… On the one hand… one can probably say they are the strongest military power ever in history, but on the other hand, there is the historic American impulse to be a city on the hill, to be a model for the world, to promote free markets and democracy. So they often think that if we speak softly, carry a big stick, and pass around a few bucks, we will definitely be able to buy the friendship and affection of others. They need to embrace a hard-nosed realism in their foreign policy, albeit within the parameters of their national ideals, but they should not be naive about being able to buy influence… It’s only when the relationship is multi-dimensional—when aid is the basis of laying the foundation of an economy that then becomes self-sustaining, attracts private investment, creates higher levels of trade and benefits society as a whole, as happened in East Asian countries, [that] the aid is worthwhile. If the aid is a seed that can be nurtured into a tree that then bears fruit, it’s useful. But if you have to give aid as dole, on a regular basis, then you’re just deluding yourself that you are buying influence, because you’re not.

You’ve said somewhere that Pakistan needs to transition away from being an ideological state. But if Pakistan’s identity is not ideological—or religious—what is it?

Personally, I think the question of identity in Pakistan can best be seen in light 50 open

of the notion of nations being imagined communities. A shared imagination is what Pakistan needs. And the ideological paradigm has been an attempt to try and force people into having a shared imagination—‘We are Muslims of a certain way, therefore we are a nation’. The other way of looking at it is: we happen to be in the same territory through historic circumstances, we are a diverse people, we speak different languages, the majority of us are Muslim but we are Muslims with different denominations and practices and yet we are a nation because we want to be a nation. A modern nation can have contending visions for its present and future, and it can also have contending explanations for its past. The authoritarian ideological nation does not. And that is important for Pakistan because by fictionalising your past, you do not necessarily help lay the foundations of a better future. Pakistanis sometimes become prisoners of their own narrative.

How real is the threat of ‘radical Islam’ in Pakistan? Might it be somewhat overblown in the West? What can be a buttress against such a threat?

I think it’s a genuine threat, a threat to the fabric of Pakistan and a global threat. I mean, come on. Look at Pakistan, at what has happened. Thousands of people have been killed. Ritual slaughter has been conducted of human beings. Have you seen those videos on YouTube? If you haven’t, see them. This obsession with the West, and [with any issue] where the West takes a position, defining your righteousness by going to the other side, is as poor as being toadies of Western imperialism, as irrational… I’m very disappointed by especially some people from the European left who kind of end up explaining away Talibanism in terms of American policy. The Taliban had nothing to do with American policy. The Taliban were the Taliban. One of the things I’ve [established] in my book is that getting the sequence of events is very important. The Americans came to fight the Soviets a few years after Pakistan had already started supporting radical Islamists as part of their strategy to find strategic depth in Afghanistan. The Americans came only to bleed the Soviets and left when they had bled [them]. For them it was a strategic decision, for Pakistan it

was an ideological, political decision. And that needs to be understood: who has the primary role here. Going back to the subject of who can be the buttress against radical Islamism, I think those in Pakistan who offer an alternative vision for [it]. Malala Yousufzai is a buttress against Islamic radicalism. Benazir Bhutto was a buttress against radical Islam. Somebody who says, ‘There is an alternative way for our country to move forward.’

What is a book on Pakistan that you think needs to be read, apart from yours? Fiction or non-fiction. In fiction, I definitely like Mohammad Hanif much more than others, because I don’t think he tries to be apologetic or anything. He writes very well and he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder that he’s trying to explain to the West that all Muslims are not fundamentalist. He just writes; it’s his expression—which is what fiction should be. [For] non-fiction, the list might be longer, but all I would say is that Pakistan still as a nation is relatively under-studied. There are far too many subjects that have not been adequately researched, including the whole process of the creation of Pakistan. Very few people have gone into understanding the dynamic that led to Pakistan. One good book is Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman, which explains the politics of Mr Jinnah. Her new book The Pity of Partition, which looks at the Partition through the eyes of Saadat Hasan Manto, is also pretty good.

Is writing easier than diplomacy?

Diplomacy also involves a lot of writing, although it doesn’t always involve writing memos through third parties who are totally off their rocker. But I’m primarily a writer; I’ve always enjoyed writing. I enjoy journalism; I’ve enjoyed writing the books that I’ve written. Diplomacy in the Pakistani environment, especially the kind of role I was trying to play, is a very difficult task. Either you act as just the spokesman of policies you disagree with, or, if you try to influence the policies, you become persona non grata very soon—as I found out, to my chagrin. So I think writing suits my personality, temperament and orientation a lot better than being a diplomat, although it was fun while it lasted. n 11 november 2013


Books Postponing the Punchline Shovon Chowdhury’s debut novel The Competent Authority has some big funny ideas, but is too long in the telling MADHAVANKUTTY PILLAI

The Competent Authority

Shovon Chowdhury Aleph Book Company | Pages: 454 | Price: Rs 495

A

t 454 PAGES, The Competent

Authority is about 150 pages longer than it should have been. The book reads like a first draft where every thing is put on the page without any filters applied. Shovon Chowdhury, the author, does have an interesting set of big funny ideas, but they inevitably fall flat once he gets beyond the headlines. Chowdhury’s India is one recuperating after being levelled by China in a nuclear attack. Systems have crumbled, and from that chaos, one bureaucrat, The Competent Authority (CA), has emerged to usurp power. Everyone else, including the Prime Minister and chief of the armed forces, is a token puppet. He holds on to his dictatorship using the Bureau of Reconstruction, which, as the name signifies, must make the country whole again. There is a grim equilibrium of sorts until Pintoo, a 12-year-old whose hand is stolen by a corporation selling body parts to rich customers, suddenly develops superhuman abilities. The boy wants to make India a better place and sends three people back in time to change history by averting key events like Gandhi’s assassination and the second nuclear test. The CA, meanwhile, does not want to be faceless any longer and plans to start another nuclear war to bolster his power. This world—ruined, wacky and

11 November 2013

imaginative—is the kind that would instantly be labelled ‘dystopian’, a really cool word that is used because it is a really cool word to use. It is the kind of word Chowdhury would have some fun with, because he does get the whole thing about pretence right. Allegories pop out of every page. From the Angry Old Man, a take on Arnab Goswami, to the Monty Constant, a play on Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s definition of poverty, which brings people above the poverty line by bringing the line down.

This world—ruined, wacky, imaginative—is the kind that gets labelled ‘dystopian’—a really cool word that is used because it is a really cool word; a word Chowdhury would have some fun with From thousands of call centre employees in Bangalore paid to spout anger on behalf of the Chinese, to the Al Qaeda of the future—a social service organisation with only one jihadi with a guilty conscience left. A godman called Guru Dharti Pakar, creator of the Art Of Breathing, sells a Personalised Guruji Support System, a cut-out that people can keep in their home and lean on in times of trouble. No prizes for guessing who that is inspired by. And yet, while all this sounds exciting in overview, it is arid in the telling. The humour is badgering, unsubtle. Take this description of the CA pun-

ishing the director of the CBI: ‘The Director of the CBI twisted his own ear for a while. He spared himself no pain. The CA had an uncanny talent for spotting insincere self-punishment. The consequences of non-compliance were inconceivably hideous. He considered himself fortunate that it was his ears and not his nipples. The CA observed his teaching methods in action. This would teach the man not to use rude language in future. He would be a model servant of the state from now on, language-wise. The CA finally gestured to him to stop. Sinha let his hand drop, but remained sitting upright, rigid with fear.’ It might be amusing to imagine a CBI director doing all that, but the words have sucked the life out of the scene. This is more or less the tenor of the book from start to end. You could cut out one-fourth of the allegories, metaphors, ironies and asides and the book would be the same or even better. This paragraph, for instance: ‘The Chairman hid a yawn behind his handkerchief. He hated research meetings. Like Steve Jobs, a sage from long ago, he always knew exactly what to do, and saw no reason why the flow of his omnipotence should be interrupted by asking customers for their opinion. Some of his minions were rather fond of such things, however, and he tended to humour them in this regard. Sometimes, he even stayed awake.’ Since it has little bearing on what came before or afterwards, the reason for its existence seems to be to slip in something clever. And it might even have been relevant, if it were clever. n open www.openthemagazine.com 51


arts

The Eye of the Beholder Dharavi housewives go behind the lens to open up their worlds SUHIT KELKAR

T

window If photography’s cause is to freeze time and bridge distances between people, the exhibition was deeply heartening

he aperture: the eye of the camera that deals in fractions: f/1.8 (blurred background), f/16 (background in reasonable focus). The aperture revealed both the worlds within and without to 36-year-old Anuradha Jogalamallu. When, as part of a photography workshop, she started taking photographs in her neighbourhood, she felt free, a feeling as exhilarating as it was strange. Point-and-shoot camera in hand, glass bangles clinking, the homemaker explored her surroundings for the first time. Sure, she would step out for household purchases, or to lighten her husband Venkatesh’s load of bags, or for small rituals. But she was mostly at home. For Anuradha, her house was a shell where she raised two daughters and a son, sending the girls to junior college and the boy to high school. But if it cocooned her and kept her safe, home had also alienated her from a social life. She realised this when the camera opened its aperture to her. “I’d never been outdoors [for any 11 november 2013


length of time] since marriage,” she says. It was Ganeshotsav 2013, the city’s most popular festival, followed by Navratri, and the outdoors was welcoming of photographers. At home, though, her mother-in-law was sceptical of the pursuit. “My saas told me, ‘Do anything you want, it’s not like anyone will give a damn about you.’ I went out nonetheless, and when I told her I was doing photography, she smiled,” Jogalamallu says, smiling herself. She seemed elated to see her work featured in a limited-edition photobook titled Ladies Only: Stories For All, brought out at an exhibition at Art Loft, an upscale eatery and gallery in tony Bandra, worlds apart from Dharavi, the shantytown—the largest in Asia—that she calls home. She attended the opening of the exhibition, which featured her work along with that of her four homemaker neighbours, and discussed her conservative environment. The photos in the book range from gritty photographs of people against shanty-studded backgrounds and sensitive non-kitschy portraits of the five photo-enthusiasts, to reflective studies of household objects hung on walls, and of ornaments in daily use arranged on a flat surface, which served as explorations of female identity. Many photographs feature the children of Dharavi, negotiating its congested and polluted spaces with the matter-of-factness only children can muster. In one photograph, a schoolboy hangs from the top bar of a public swing while a few girls next to him strain to reach up, reluctant to jump. It’s a perfectly timed shot that provokes questions about the kind of conditioning that makes girls keep their feet planted on the ground. Another photograph features a papad-maker in Dharavi sitting by her drying products as she examines the imitation jewellery offered to her by an itinerant peddler. It is taken from above, and the angle contributes to the photograph’s empathetic—but not maudlin—statement. Together, the photos offer an insider’s view of Dharavi, calm and uncontrived, decongesting the place of its Slumdog Millionaire-style mythologisation. 11 november 2013

Visitors to the art gallery range from artsy Bombayites to foreign expats, all of whom seem taken by the women’s back stories. If photography’s cause is to freeze time and bridge distances between people, the exhibition was deeply heartening. The five participants used Canon and Nikon point-and-shoot cameras—the most basic models—for four precious hours a week, five weeks in all. They were tutored in camera operation, taught “how to use the zoom, what is background and how to replay photos”, says Jogalamallu. But the women were not primed with aesthetic value judgements. “[The tutors] had us take photographs the way we wanted,” says Shobha Sonawane, 32. “When someone tells you, ‘Don’t take photos like that’, you make a mistake.” Sonawane’s story defies stereotype.

Together, the photos offer an insider’s view of Dharavi, calm and uncontrived, decongesting the place of its Slumdog Millionaire-style mythologisation She is a homemaker with a class nine education who uses Facebook chat to contact her husband. Sonawane’s husband Tushar has a blue-collar job in Dubai that keeps him away for 11 months a year. Her husband took the Dubai job because it gave a huge upgrade to his four-figure salary—he now makes Rs 60,000 a month, sending most of it to Shobha. The long-distance relationship has its baggage and tensions, which were compounded by her pursuit of photography, if only for five weeks. “When he was leaving, I told him, ‘Trust this bindi on my forehead; if you want, I’ll not even go outdoors’.” She confined herself to her house. The result: “I felt locked up.” He was jittery about her going out for photography. “I told him: ‘At least shut up for two days a week’. Then he came home [on annual leave] and said, ‘Take my picture as well’.” He has acknowledged her as the family pho-

tographer for festive occasions. Sonawane speaks as bluntly as anyone who’s seen a new world open up for her. “I grew up in a conservative family. They found the perfect match and got me married into a conservative family,” she says. “I was stuck at home.” Her daughter had attended an art workshop with an artists’ collective called Art Room that had a project in Dharavi. It was soon to conduct a photography workshop for the children’s parents. Sonawane’s daughter put her name forward. “I shouted at her then,” Sonawane says. But, however grudgingly, she went over and picked up a camera. One exhibition and a photobook later, photography for Sonawane is still about meeting people rather than art. She sees photography as a marker of important occasions and does not plan to take it up regularly. You might call her a dilettante. Nevertheless, it was a transformative experience. “I feel I can do something for myself. That hope has awakened through this process.” The project was the brainchild of Aqui Thami, a member of Art Room. Though not an artist herself—she has a Masters in Social Work—she was one of many who regularly hold art workshops for children in Dharavi. During one such workshop this year, Thami struck up conversations with participating children, some of whom spoke of their mothers being cloistered. “One kid told me that her momma never goes out of Dharavi. I saw they had hardly any time left after household chores and kids—it was very discomforting. They needed something to have fun with, to go out, to make friends.” Thami went back to Dharavi with a Mumbai-based photographer of British origin, Joanna Wingate, to conduct a workshop for parents. After the experience, Thami says, she understands that “for someone to step out of home and take one picture takes so much energy, and taking that picture changes that person so much.” One of the photographers, 27-yearold Nirmala Narayane, says: “My husband has set aside Rs 10,000 for a new camera. He says, ‘Now that you know how, you take the pictures.’”n open www.openthemagazine.com 53


CINEMA The Politics of Costa-Gavras An encounter with the director who made Z, a political thriller set in a mystery country that inspired a guessing game on its release in 1969 and has become a classic since Lhendup G Bhutia george rose/getty images

T

he 1969 classic, Z, based on

the 1963 assassination of a leftwing leader in Greece, Grigoris Lambrakis, by forces close to the then military, is an unusual film. Its characters speak French, though it is not set in France and no mention is made of where all of it is happening. Names go unspoken, and when they are brought up, they are just single names that one can’t trace to any place. In the case of two of its principal characters, the assassinated leader is referred to as ‘the Doctor’ and the judge investigating the murder is called ‘the Examining Magistrate’ throughout the film. The only clue that it is based on a true story is the somewhat confrontational disclaimer that flashes on the screen at its start: ‘Any similarity to real persons and events is not coincidental. It is intentional.’ The unusualness of the film, of not pinning the story or its people to a place despite being based on a specific incident in history, has given the film a universal flavour of sorts. This is perhaps one of the explanations of why the film has gone on to become so popular. But as Z’s now 80-year-old director, Costa-Gavras, says, sitting by the poolside of a five-star hotel in Mumbai, that far from trying to broaden the film’s appeal, he had kept it anonymous out of necessity. Shooting it in Greece was impossible because of its military regime at the time, and French producers were unwilling to back him. “They said it was ‘too unconventional’,” he says, speaking in halting English and

post cold warrior The issue of capitalism remains relevant to Costa-Gavras long after the USSR’s demise 11 november 2013


throwing his arms out to mimic disregard, “‘Too many characters.’ ‘No love story.’ And they were worried it would be called communist propaganda.” Eventually, once he’d found financers, the money was too little to shoot in France. The only option was Algeria, where it would be cheap to make a film and which was known to be hospitable to socialist fugitives. It meant having French actors speak in French, Algerian extras and a filming location that was neither France nor Greece—and best left unmentioned. Costa-Gavras is in town to attend Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, a popular film festival where he was awarded a lifetime achievement award. He is wearing a light blue wrinkled shirt under a dark linen jacket and appears to be an affable individual. Z made such an impact that many credit it with having invented the modern political thriller genre. The film secured two Oscars (Best Foreign Film and Best Editing), and became one of the most successful films of 1969. After Z, the director went on to make several controversial films. These include State of Seige (1973), which explores the US involvement in supporting repressive regimes in Latin America, Missing (1982), which was banned in Chile and depicted US machinations in this copuntry’s coup of 1973, and Amen (2003), which explores allegations that Pope Pius XII was aware of the Nazi Holocaust but did nothing to stop or condemn it. “All my films,” he says, “if you look at it, whatever the issue might be, are about people. I am interested in telling people’s stories. About how powerful events affect ordinary people.”

C

osta-gavras was born as

Konstantinos Gavras in Greece, in a village called Peloponnese, in 1933. His father fought as part of the left-wing resistance during the Nazi occupation of the country. After World War II, his father was viewed as a socialist radical, jailed and blacklisted. The family survived with Costa-Gavras and his mother taking on a variety of odd jobs to keep themselves fed. Later, when

11 november 2013

Costa-Gavras wanted to travel to the US to study cinema at a film school, he was denied a visa since his father had been blacklisted. Instead, he moved to study the subject in France. A trademark of Costa-Gavras’ cinema is that however serious his subject matter, be it an assassination, a coup or even a genocide, it is never about just raising an issue. There is always an element of entertainment, a taut thriller or mystery, that lures audiences in. The director smiles as he says, “We have to remember that watching a film is not akin to listening to a lecture. The film is a show, a means of entertainment. Yet entertainment and politics are not contrary to each other. The best of films bring the two together seamlessly.” In the 1980s, starting with Missing,

“What’s the new villain of the modern era?” asks the 80-year-old Costa-Gavras, “Money, greed, unchecked capitalism... I am drawn towards subjects of the day. I can’t think of retiring” Costa-Gavras moved to Hollywood. Despite having spent a successful phase there, his stay was brief. He has since returned to making French films. According to him, Hollywood has undergone so many changes over the years, he is unsure if it can make enough space for filmmakers like him. “Now there are zombies, big action films with exploding trucks and choppers. I don’t know if I can find work there. Also, I like to make films without interference.” Speaking about how he insisted on working with a French crew and completing all post-production work in Paris for his first Hollywood film, Missing, he says, “Otherwise every week, we would get a studio executive in the edit room, asking what we had done so far and making suggestions. When I cast Jack Lemmon as the lead, they said, ‘Why Lemmon? He

is a comedian.’ I had to fight to have my say. When he was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars and the film did well, of course they were happy.” Missing, which takes a hard look at the US backing of the General Augusto Pinochet-led coup in Chile, also led to a lawsuit. The then US ambassador to Chile, Nathaniel Davis, unsuccessfully filed a $150 million lawsuit against the studio and Cost0-Gavras. Films like Missing, however, constitute a phase in Costo-Gavras’ career when he was obsessed with the Cold War, its ideological conflict and aftermath. Over the last few years, the filmmaker has started looking at new subjects. In 2009, he made Eden Is West, a story of an immigrant in Paris. And last year, he made Le Capital, which is set in the world of international banking and hedge funds. “The world was drastically different from the time I grew up,” he says, explaining his shift of focus, “In my time, it was the Cold War. When one of the blocs, Soviet Communism, disappeared, we all thought the world would become a wonderful place to live in. But that’s not true. There are new issues—of immigration, of capitalism. What’s the new villain of the modern era? It is money, greed, unchecked capitalism. As a filmmaker, I am drawn towards subjects of the day. I can’t think of retiring. Maybe when I make a lot of money, maybe when these issues disappear, maybe I will call it a day then.” Like his film Z, an undertone of satire inflects Costa-Gavras’ mannerisms. Before our scheduled meeting, a Thai journalist was emptying out his bag’s contents on the filmmaker’s table to get his autograph on numerous posters he had in the bag. Costa-Gavras obliged without comment for almost 20 minutes as poster after poster appeared for him to sign. He did it unflinchingly, sometimes with a white marker, sometimes with a black one, and sometimes with both. At the end, as the journalist prepared to leave, the filmmaker extended his arm for a handshake and said with a smile, “Perhaps you should quit your job... and become a collector.” n open www.openthemagazine.com 55


apoorva guptay

CINEMA

enlightenment Nigam says Yoga has helped him work through his inner restlessness


Melody, Mafia and Marriage The world according to Sonu Nigam SHRADHA SUKUMARAN

S

onu Nigam is sitting across a

glass table in his office and discussing death. The mood isn’t morbid or sombre. Nigam, 40, has been entertaining people since he was four, but he isn’t putting on a performance here. He does, however, make you laugh when he talks of mortality in the same breath as sex, singing, sneezing and itching. “When I’m in a concert, I’m already dying because time stops then. When I get off a stage, I feel as if I’m in a post-orgasm space. There are different points of timelessness. It happens when you have an orgasm; that’s why people want sex so often.” Warming up to the idea, Nigam grins and says, “Sneezing is a small fashion of orgasm. You love sneezing or even itching. The human soul experiences the divine in this timelessness. When I sing, the words flow by themselves (hums the opening lines of his hit Shukran Allah). Real artistes always reach a point where there is sheer ecstasy.” By his own admission, it is difficult to understand Sonu Nigam. He claims he isn’t afraid of death, despite the threats he has received from Chhota Shakeel, the right-hand man of mafia don Dawood Ibrahim. On 3 October, the Mumbai Police revealed that Nigam had got threatening phone and text messages from the gangster telling the singer to drop the event management company he had signed up with for a 2014 world tour and instead go along with an agent cherry-picked by the underworld. An old controversy also resurfaced: Shakeel reportedly threatened to expose Nigam’s “friendship with an influential woman from a prominent family”, an oblique reference to Smita Thackeray. Did the innuendoes irritate him? Nigam shrugs. “You can’t judge the press. They have to make news exciting. I just wish they had been more

11 november 2013

concerned about my security.” Nigam is one of several Bollywood celebrities targeted by the underworld, and joins names as Akshay Kumar, Karan Johar and Rakesh Roshan. Nigam’s concerts in the US, Canada and the West Indies are sell-out affairs and newspapers reported in June that he had bought a plot in Juhu for an estimated Rs 25 crore to build his dream bungalow. “How will he understand?” Nigam says, imitating Shakeel’s deep tone: “‘Hum ne bola na ki show karega, toh karega’ (If I say you’ll do the show, you’ll do the show). How will he know how I feel on stage?” In a letter published in the media on 4 October, Nigam explained his stance over the threats to “sort things out as truthfully

“The soul experiences the divine in this [orgasmic] timelessness. When I sing, the words flow by themselves. Real artistes always reach a point where there is sheer ecstasy” as possible” with Shakeel. The singercomposer believes it is his honesty that “struck a chord with [Shakeel]”, implying that the threats are off. Going by past interviews, you can expect pop psychology from Nigam. His mind is like a jigsaw puzzle—the pieces are jumbled, some even seem missing. Yet they fit in his head. It is pure logic for him to have felt frightened for an instant, not over the threatening calls, but because he would now have to seek police protection. “I was scared of losing my freedom. I don’t want to move around with cops and security all my life. I’m the kind of guy who wants to take my Innova—not my Range Rover—and go for a road trip with just one person to assist me

with hotel bookings or if the car breaks down. I’m that kind of spirit.”

N

igam’s office is on the first floor of his white, three-storey bungalow, Namah, in Versova. When I arrive, security guards at the gate greet me with suspicion. Maybe I do not look like a gangster, but last year, the singer had a female stalker camp outside his home for five days until his family called the cops. I wait inside the compound while they check with his managers. A middle-aged policeman is sitting on one plastic chair, his feet up on another, engrossed in a newspaper crossword puzzle. There is a water tank enclosed by a wire fence with two geese that occasionally honk at you. Soon, I’m ushered past enormous portraits of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Nigam’s parents, as well as framed photographs of wife Madhurima and six-year-old son Nevaan, into an office space. There are computers, white boards listing his concert schedule and a magenta drum set with price tags still hanging off the cymbal stands. Showered after a yoga session, Nigam strides into the room, looking absurdly young. There is a lot of work—concerts, composing movie soundtracks with his partner percussionist Bikram Ghosh, as well as singing the occasional Hindi playback and regional language songs, mostly in Kannada. He is taking a break from judging musical reality shows. “Who wants to do the same thing over and over? It’s big money, but I’m at peace that I’m not stagnating. It gets so mundane.” Nigam is also composing the soundtrack for the Sunny Deol-starrer Singh Saab The Great. It is a filmi twist of fate because Nigam once acted as the ten-year-old Sunny in the movie Betaab (1983). Despite being a child artiste, Nigam open www.openthemagazine.com 57


N

igam’s epiphany happened in

2004, with yoga. It helped him work through the dilemmas in his head and his inner restlessness. Yet his marriage seems a work in progress. Nigam casually mentions how he caught a screening of Gravity with his wife Madhurima the previous night, but is caustic about marriage. “I see friends, colleagues struggling in marriage—the men trapped, the women frustrated. Marriages are going to be obsolete in the next few decades. Two people can be completely compatible, but that can happen within a marriage or out of it.” Sharp words,

58 open

paul jeffers/ap

slogged hard for years before he saw success. He came to Bombay as an 18-year-old nobody from Delhi, tagging along with his father, struggling singer Agam Nigam. Sonu believes those days that he begged for work from music companies and composers helped him grow as a person, despite the humiliation. “It was great that someone threw me out. My papa and I would stand in the sun for hours to save Rs 5 and go by bus, then realise that we were standing at the wrong bus stop. I would sit outside offices for eight hours with no water or food. I’d think, ‘I’ll show them my perseverance.’ Your roots remind you of your reality.” Nigam hit the big league in 1997, hosting the TV show Sa Re Ga Ma. And once he sang Sandese Aate Hain for Border and Yeh Dil Deewana for Pardes in 1998, he never looked back. Discontent set in quickly when, in 2005, Nigam realised he had become a ‘machine’, recording 11 songs a day, only breaking for lunch and a night’s sleep. “There was a time that I had eight cars at home. I was young and had never really seen money. I bought books that I could only read on flights. You can relish your money, but you need to grow old with dignity.” He learnt some hard lessons too, like those from a doomed acting career in fiascos like Jaani Dushman (2002) and Love In Nepal (2003). “I fell into the trap. Acting comes to me naturally, but people didn’t want to see me in shady set-ups.”

lime light By 2005, Nigam was a ‘machine’, he says, recording 11 songs a day before discontent set in

those, for a married man. There is no ambiguity in his devotion to his parents, however. Nigam lost his mother Shobha in February and he feels that the deep sorrow only added another dimension to his life. “Yesterday, I woke up realising that for seven hours, I’d cried for her,” he says, making a sobbing sound like a child. “Not a single tear, but my soul was weeping the whole night.” The singer says he was only worried for his father

Nigam believes begging for work helped him grow. “I sat outside offices for eight hours with no water or food. I’d think, ‘I’ll show them my perseverance.’ Your roots remind you of your reality” after he received the death threats. “He lost his father in January, his soulmate in February and his childhood friend in August. I didn’t want him to have that stress about me.” There is a sense of peace around Nigam, even though he peppers the conversation with mysticism, befuddling you with words like ‘cosmic mesmerising’. He reveals he is happier because he has cut back on work, de-

voting time to himself, sometimes getting engrossed in four hours of yoga and at other times, partying ‘like an animal’ with his friends. “I’m a normal person. I’m not boasting about the things that are quirky about me. I know how to enjoy my life in every way.” You catch a glimpse of how Nigam views his own life today when he speaks of his dreams for his son Nevaan. In 2011, when he was four, Junior Nigam sang a version of Kolaveri Di that quickly became a YouTube hit. There are doting fathers, but Nigam sees Nevaan through a prism of wonder. “When I envision his future, I see him as a bright, shining example of happiness. He is a strange child, siddh purush. I was an angry kid. I would get baffled if someone spoke rudely to me. I want him to be an easier, calmer person. I don’t care if he doesn’t become a singer. I want him to be happy, not a frustrated successful man.” If you had to pick the biggest hit of Nigam’s 15-year career so far, a strong case could be made for the Kal Ho Naa Ho theme song. “When I die, it will be the song played at my funeral. And if I survive a mishap, news channels will play ‘Abhi, mujh mein kahin, baaqi thodi si hai zindagi…’” Nigam sings from last year’s Agneepath, laughing through the soulful lyrics. n 11 november 2013


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doping ban Athletes found doping will be slapped with a four-year ban from 2015. The ban’s length was cut from four to two in 1997. After a few of high-profile cases, the IAAF is now reverting to four

Bigfoot The Yeti most likely exists as a descendant of an ancient polar bear

Steroid’s Permanent Effects

ernst haas/getty images

science

mystery A ‘Yeti’ scalp kept in a gompa in Khumjung village, Nepal

T

he Yeti has remained one of the

most enduring myths of modern times. Also known as the Bigfoot or Abominable Snowman, many expeditions have been launched to find it. But all people have managed to find are inconclusive remains and footprints, and occasionally the odd hazy picture of a furry beast, many of which turned out to be hoaxes. Despite stories of encounters by mountaineers and locals, no one has ever been able to establish the existence of a giant half man-half ape roaming the Himalayan mountains. However, a new study claims that the ‘Yeti’ might in fact exist. Just not in the way people imagined. The mythical animal could be the descendant of an ancient polar bear. According to those associated with this study, Yetis are hybrids or crosses between polar bears and brown bears. The study was conducted by a geneticist from University of Oxford, Professor Bryan Sykes on two ‘yeti’ hair samples. One of the samples came from the remains of a creature that was shot by a hunter about 40 years ago in the Ladakh region. The hunter apparently kept the remains of the animal because he found the animal unusual and alarming. The

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other sample was found in the form of a single hair in a bamboo forest in Bhutan—about 1,280 km east of the site where the Ladakhi sample came from—by an expedition of filmmakers about ten years ago. Both hair samples were brownish-red in colour. Sykes put both the samples through DNA tests. He then compared the results to other animals’ genomes stored in the GenBank, which maintains a database of all published DNA sequences. Both samples were found to have a 100-per cent match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway. This particular specimen dates back at least 40,000 years, perhaps as far back as 120,000 years, which is also considered the period when the brown bear and polar bear started separating as species. There are only three known species of bears in the Himalayas—the sloth bear, brown bear and the Asiatic black bear. Sykes believes that the two hair samples belong to creatures that are descendants of crosses between ancient polar bears and brown bears. And because they were collected from animals that were recently alive, the hybrids are likely to be prowling in the Himalayas as you read this. n

A study published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that brief exposure to anabolic steroids may have long lasting, possibly permanent, performance-enhancing effects. The study by a team of researchers of University of Oslo also suggests that there is a cellular ‘memory mechanism’ within the muscle fibre of brief steroid users. The team investigated the effects of steroids on muscle re-acquisition in mice and discovered greater muscle mass and more myonuclei—which are essential components for muscle fibre function— were apparent after returning to exercise. The findings might have implications for the exclusion period of doping offenders as brief exposure to anabolic steroids might have long lasting performance-enhancing effects. n

Gold Grows on Trees

According to a report in Nature Communications, eucalyptus trees in the Kalgoorlie region of Australia are drawing up gold particles from the ground via their roots and releasing them through their leaves and branches (as gold is likely to be toxic to the plant). CSIRO scientists, who used a sophisticated x-ray imaging facility at the Australian Synchrotron, say that the discovery is unlikely to start a gold rush—the ‘nuggets’ are about one-fifth the diametre of a human hair—but it could provide a golden opportunity for mineral exploration: by sampling and analysing vegetation for traces of minerals, without any need to drill. It’s a better targeted way of searching for minerals that reduces costs and is greener too. n

11 november 2013


tech&style

BlackBerry Z30 It runs BB’s latest OS 10.2, looks and feels good, and does not cost a bomb gagandeep Singh Sapra

W

signal boost The simple act of holding a phone next to your head, or opening the flip/slide, can worsen antenna impedance, resulting in shorter battery life and dropped or missed calls. Paratek’s Adaptive Impedance Matching Module seeks an optimal impedance match in all operating conditions

Tonda Woodstock w

Price on request

ith a tall 5-inch super

AMOLED all-touch screen, 16 Gigabytes of storage, a 25-hour battery life, a Quad Core graphic processor in addition to its Dual Core central processor, an optimised dynamic BlackBerry Paratek antenna that adjusts itself to weak signals so that you stay connected and get maximum data transfer speed, four microphones and stereo speakers to offer relatively natural sound, a solid edgeto-edge glass finish that looks and feels good, this 4G-ready phone is the prettiest and best BlackBerry yet, and it runs the latest OS 10.2 The add-on Quad Core graphic processor takes on the entire visual load— from YouTube Rs 39,990 videos to social media updates. We can also create more graphic content, click and share pictures and videos, or play video games, and all this happens seamlessly on the Z30. BlackBerry’s natural sound technology and the four microphones on the handset assure very clear sound while making a call or receiving one. Even music recorded in ‘Mono’ plays vividly in stereo. The new operating system gives you faster access to the BlackBerry Hub, a new priority hub that picks emails and messages that are important to you; these could be from a set of people you mark, or maybe on a specific subject that you are tracking. Its built-in mirror cast capability lets you connect it to a mirror cast TV or projector to make a presentation wirelessly. Hook up a USB keyboard and a large monitor via the

11 november 2013

Parmigiani Fleurier has turned for the first time to the delicate art of marquetry. Each marquetry dial comprises more than 50 pieces of dyed wood. The Tonda Woodstock’s dial celebrates the international culture of music. Features include: one week power reserve, 18 ct rose gold, water resistance up to 30 metres, an antireflective sapphire crystal and a Hermès alligator strap. n

Nikon Coolpix S6600

phone’s HDMI, and you have a portable workstation. The Z30 has an 8 megapixel autofocus rear camera, and a 2 megapixel front camera that lets you make HD video calls over BlackBerry Messenger. The screen supports a 1280x720 resolution and is sharp and bright, and with its 16:9 aspect ratio, it is perfect to watch videos on. The Z30 weighs about 170 gm and is just 9.4 mm thin. Other features include a 2.4 GHz/5GHz wireless LAN, Bluetooth, GPS, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope for gaming. n

Rs 14,450

A 12x Zoom and Wi-Fi on board make this camera a great add-on for your smartphone. You may make full use of the camera’s better optics and zoom, use its wireless mode and transfer images to your smartphone to share with friends. Available in three colours, the S6600 also has a variable angle LCD that lets you shoot low and high angles easily. An improved vibration reduction lens offers better stability while shooting a subject in motion or a video. And if bugs and insects are your passion, the S6600 can work as close as 2 cm for macro photography. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

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CINEMA

t wo minds As The Fifth Estate went into production, its subject, Julian Assange, wrote to the actor playing him Benedict Cumberbatch, asking him to back out of the project. Cumberbatch reportedly responded by explaining why he thought the film could be a good thing, and decided to go ahead with it anyway

The Fifth Estate Though not perfect, this film gives you a measure of the man who opened a Pandora’s box ajit duara

current

o n scr een

Mickey Virus Director Saurabh Varma cast Manish Paul,

Manish Choudhary Score ★★★★★

mberbatch, Cast benedict cu l üh daniel Br ndon Director bill co

Even if it is the Devil’s advocate telling us the story of The Fifth Estate, it is absorbing. The movie may not give us an accurate picture of Julian Assange, his personality or his contribution to journalism, but frankly, we are not going to get that for a few decades yet, at least not until his work is done. However, we do get a sense of how he hacked through the firewalls of secrecy that corporations and governments set up between themselves and ordinary citizens, and we are given a sense of how radical that is in any period of history. As a remark attributed to George Orwell goes: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” The film is based on a couple of books, one by Assange’s former partner at WikiLeaks, Daniel DomscheitBerg (played by Daniel Brühl), and it is through his perspective that we see the maverick founder-editor of the organisation that, in 2010, released thousands of the US government’s diplomatic cables, the political rever62 open

berations of which continue to be felt. The two parted ways bitterly, primarily because Domscheit-Berg came to the conclusion that Assange was amoral as a person and a journalist, accountable to no one but himself. Despite this bias, by the end of the film we have a pretty good sense of the genius of Assange (wonderfully played by Benedict Cumberbatch). We get a measure of this man’s achievement, his bravery, his quirks and his absence of ethics. We understand, precisely through the perspective of his restrained—and dare we say pedestrian—partner, the quality of character and leadership that was needed to throw all caution to the wind and send the US State Department scurrying for cover. That said, in order to cover extensive terrain quickly, and because it is the dramatic history of a website, the film ‘surfs’—designing the screen like a computer window while sifting through information—along, which can be disconcerting and cause you to lose some of the big picture. n

Mickey Virus is a movie about computer hackers in Delhi who apparently operate from deep inside the office complexes of Nehru Place, tucked away in little dens of iniquity. There is a strong local flavour to them, because of which the denizens of this city sometimes mistake them for hawkers, which is why there are signboards everywhere that say ‘Hawking not allowed’. Naturally, in a city where people tend to name businesses after themselves (‘Kake Da Dhaba’), a hacker will do the same. That is what happens with Mickey Arora. And though ‘Mickey virus’ is a bit of a giveaway in a profession where secrecy is important, Mickey (Manish Paul) can’t seem to figure out why he is so much in demand by the cyber crime department of the Police. The story is that Mickey is the small fish that the Police use to catch the really big ones, the ones who do bank frauds and commit murders. He can unlock and decode any program under the sun, but he doesn’t know, until quite late in the game, that both sides are hawking his expertise. The film is a ‘comic-thriller’, a bit of a paradox by way of genre, and so it is only sporadically amusing and occasionally thrilling. On the whole, it doesn’t really work as entertainment. n ad

11 november 2013


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

Not Just a River in Egypt

If you’re wondering why film stars tend to make the same mistakes—or the same kind of terrible films—over and over again, you only have to look at their responses to failure for the answer. Ranbir Kapoor stepped out for a media event last week for the first time since the Besharam debacle, evidently expecting to be asked about the film and it’s complete rejection by the very audience that celebrated Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani only months ago. In his characteristic cool demeanour, when asked how he felt about the film’s failure, Ranbir said he didn’t regret signing Besharam. “Every film can’t be a hit,” he added cleverly, but appeared unwilling to concede that he’d made a bad decision. Ego? Maybe. While chatting with Sunny Deol a few days ago, I couldn’t not bring up the recent failure of Yamla Pagla Deewana 2, but the actor wouldn’t talk about it. “I try not to think of it at all,” he said. But surely there were lessons to be learnt, I prodded. “Best not to dwell in the past,” he responded. Refusing to drop the subject, I tried a different approach. Cut from the same cloth as films like Chennai Express, Rowdy Rathore and Ready, wasn’t he surprised Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 didn’t work while the others did? “I try not to watch such films because they make me mad, and I can’t possibly tell this to the actors and the directors who made those films.” Deluded? Maybe. Whoever said that admission of failure was the first step towards not repeating mistakes has obviously never met a Bollywood movie star.

The Tick-Off Queen

Jaya Bachchan’s dressing down of photographers who called out to her bahu Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, asking her to pose for them at an event, is quickly becoming the most viewed YouTube video among filmwalas. As Aishwarya and ma-in-law Jaya made their way into Hard Rock Café to attend a party hosted by Subhash Ghai, cameramen gathered on the other side of the red carpet urged the Devdas star to stop for a moment so they could take a few pictures. Their big mistake? That they called out to her, um, by her first name. “Aishwarya, Aishwarya,” they repeated as she headed inside, trying to get her attention. To which a visibly irritated Mrs Bachchan Sr snapped “Aishwarya kya hota hai? (What do you mean ‘Aishwarya’?) She’s your school friend?” 11 november 2013

Puzzled photographers couldn’t figure out what they’d done wrong, and even Aishwarya couldn’t hold back a chuckle. Perhaps Jaya Bachchan can enlighten us. How would you like us to address her, Ma’am? And speaking of Mrs B’s temper tantrums, you only have to type the words ‘Jaya Bachchan’ and ‘angry’ into a YouTube search for an entire playlist of the senior star’s previous outbursts at media people.

Severed Umbilical

It is no secret that there’s been a massive falling out between a director who made one of this year’s earliest hits, and the young star who debuted in that film. Few, however, may be aware of the exact reason their relationship went sour. After the success of their movie together, the filmmaker promptly signed up the actor for his next project, but the young star, who is currently represented by the artiste management arm of a leading film studio, signed on other projects whose dates directly clashed with those he’d allocated to his mentor’s film. Industry insiders reveal that a heated argument took place between the director and the actor, when the former learnt that he now had to negotiate the star’s dates with his new managers. Feeling underappreciated and betrayed, the director reportedly tried to explain to the actor that it was unfair that he had to get through ‘handlers’ to reach the star. He’s also believed to have complained that he shouldn’t have to reschedule his shooting plan because the actor had gone ahead and signed other films. Unfortunately for him, the star appears happy with his new management and is no mood to upset the apple cart. He allegedly conveyed to the director that he was still very interested in doing his movie, only they would have to look at new shooting dates so he could accommodate the other films in his schedule. Hurt, the director decided to replace the actor in his film immediately, and has apparently stopped speaking to him. All very well, but it’ll be interesting to see how the director and young star behave with each other publicly, especially during the upcoming awards season where they’re likely to bump into each other while going up to receive trophies for their last film together. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

Bending It in Vikaspuri

by r au l i r a n i

Sylvester Peter, 37 , works as a holistic trainer, counsellor and motivational speaker, and uses his personal earnings to run My Angels Academy (MAA), which is based in a small rented room in a slum in the Vikaspuri area of Delhi. Through MAA, Peter aims to transform the lives of slum children by imparting theoretical, moral and practical lessons. At present, 110 children attend the academy. Peter works with children who are rag-pickers, petty thieves, drug addicts and even religious fundamentalists, emphasising dignity, honesty, respect. He often uses sports to impart life lessons such as the hardship of losing, the joy of winning, team spirit, patience and anger management. Football was an instant choice, since he felt it appealed to most children. Both boys and girls report to a park in the area at 4.30 am for football and yoga practice. MAA is the West Zone Delhi football champion and won the Manchester United-sponsored Young Star Challenge tournament in 2012. Three of the academy’s players were also selected for the prestigious Barcelona football camp in 2011

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11 november 2013


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