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Africa’s war of words with the West over its diamonds

India’s frogman and the missing amphibians

RS 35 1 5 j u ly 2 0 1 3

INSIDE In conversation with Kiran Rao

l i f e

a n d

t i m e s .

CERVICAL CANCER

e v e r y

Deadly but preventable Yet India routinely fails its women

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 creative director Divya Saxena Features and Sports Editor Akshay

Sawai

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R Rajmohan

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 27 For the week 9—15 July 2013 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers cover photo Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis

15 july 2013

Shaishav Todi

News reporting was never supposed to be about what sells. If that is a [selection] factor, they would pretty much serve B-grade soft porn (‘Remote Mindset’, 17 June 2013). Mainstream media has long been compromised and it is not a surprise anymore. This is not specific to India, but a fact common to this world. We need to restructure how Mainstream media has the media is owned. Until the ownership of long been compromised. media is revolutionised, This is not specific to you can expect more India, but a fact common such articles with no to this world resulting change. Personally, I have moved away from the so-called mainstream media for my dose of news. I use Twitter. It is such a powerful tool.  letter of the week Legalise Marijuana

it is high time that ganja is made legal (‘Marijuana Myths and the Mass Market’, 24 June 2013). It has been more than 60 years since the British left India, but we are still following what they preached. Before the British took over the country, ganja was considered a normal stimulant. When the British came in, they banned ganja saying that it is harmful, while legalising alcohol and tobacco. Ganja is natural, unlike processed tobacco in cigarettes, and is one of the safest stimulants.  Abhishek DT

The Price of Development

this article is very informative and, as always with Kalpish Ratna, written in a way that holds one’s interest from start to end (‘Our Recurring Nightmare’, 8 July 2013). It took me back to the time when I lived in Borivli, Bombay, in the midst of fields, and our garden (also sometimes house) was overrun by displaced animals/reptiles ( including cobras and their babies) thrown out of their space by the continuous construction of huge, tall buildings. All this tampering with our environ-

also ignore the existence of many people who dwell outside the gender binary by choice, identifying themselves as a third gender—trans, hijra, etcetera.  Aniruddha Dutta

Premature Modi

ment is bound to have repercussions. I agree: ‘All we can manage is the here and now and the everyday.’  Uma Khedekar

A Haven for Elders

this is a great concept for evolving India (‘Home Not Alone’, 1 July 2013). We are in a transition stage where youngsters wish to conquer the world, but as they leave their homes in India, the worry of safety and security of their ageing parents bothers them. Antara Senior Living is another such holistic community coming up in Dehradun.  Garima Sharma

Half the Truth

some of the assumptions in this article and particularly the title are immensely problematic (‘The Half Man’, 8 July 2013). In implying that one has to undergo a surgical procedure to be ‘fully man’, the article only adds to the stigma around the protagonist’s position, and it erases his identification as a man already. Gender identification does not depend on surgery, surgery only affirms one’s pre-existing gender identity. The article

not that I am a fan of Manmohan Singh, but I would love to see how Modiworshipers get heart attacks if NaMo doesn’t win in 2014 (‘Dilli Door Ast’, 1 July 2013). Clearly, the 10 million or so online warriors shouting ‘Modi Modi Modi’ day and night do not constitute the majority ‘voice’ of this vast country, which is essentially not online yet. People of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka won’t be voting for Narendra Modi. So, clearly, the ‘anointment’ of Modi is a bit premature.  Sachi Mohant y

All for Love

anuradha, you’re a wonderful woman to have understood the importance of letting the girls be together (‘How I Found My Daughters’, 10 June 2013). It warms my heart. You are a shining example in our country. All the best with your lovely girls.  Megha

i had tears when I read what my niece had to go through to hold our darling grand children Sarayu and Reva. They bring happiness not only for you, but to all of us. God bless you all.  Shanthigopal

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openmagazine to 56070


Soon in Stores: The Anti-Suicide Fan Deterrent

A Jabalpur doctor designs a ceiling fan that will collapse if tugged by a weight over 25 kg

Suicide, the shrink will tell you, is related to the psychological makeup of an individual. To deal with it, counselling and sometimes medication is required. A cardiologist in Madhya Pradesh, however, has a radical solution. He wants to tackle the phenomenon by targeting what he believes is the most common tool used for suicide in India—the ceiling fan. Dr RS Sharma, a professor in Jabalpur’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College, has designed what he calls an anti-suicide fan. His fan, for

new delhi

15 july 2013

all practical purposes, is like any other fan, except that its shaft has been split into two. Connecting the two are four heavy springs. According to Sharma, if an individual tries to hang himself from the fan, the springs will uncoil and the person will land on the floor. “Suicide is an impulsive decision. The impulse comes as suddenly as it goes. If that moment passes, then the person won’t try to commit suicide. What I am saying is, let’s design a fan that will make any suicide bid using it unsuccessful. Not only will this person

fail in killing himself, even that moment will pass and he will change his mind,” he says. The doctor says he came up with the idea when he visited the house of an acquaintance, who was mourning the death of a son. His son had been unable to cope with the fact that he had failed his Class XII exams and hanged himself from a ceiling fan. “This fellow’s wife had recently put up that fan and she was cursing her decision. She kept saying she should have bought a table fan, not a ceiling fan,” he says. The doctor then tinkered

with the design of a ceiling fan with the help of a welder. He claims he took about two weeks to finish the product. He used sacks filled with sand and later used himself as a subject to test how much weight the fan could withstand. Currently, it can withstand an add-on weight of 25 kg. Anything above, and the springs uncoil. Dr Sharma has now filed a patent claim for the design. “Within two years, I can already foresee school and college hostels with ceilings bearing my fans,” he says. n Lhendup g Bhutia

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sanjay rathore

small world


6

14

contents

22

34 cycling

africa

Pedalling on unsafe roads

Are Angola’s diamonds still bloody?

13

angle

Journalism and human dignity

26

opinion

Snooping, scrutiny and the State

quest

The Frogman of India

cover story Cervical Cancer

Your Pesticide Supplement A study conducted by Greenpeace has found that Chinese herbal medicines sold in Western countries often contain pesticide residues exceeding safe levels. The study looked at 36 samples of herbal products imported from China and found that at least 32 of those products contained residues u n n a tu r a l

of three or more pesticides. The study’s report claims that the presence of pesticides in what are supposed to be natural herbs from China is not an isolated case, but ‘another example of the failure of chemical-intensive agriculture in China and around the world.’ n

on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of ■

The Ru

pee

F o r sliding all the way to around 60 to the dollar

18 Again

a g e n o b a r After being pilloried for reducing the legal age of marriage for Muslim women to 16 through a circular (see ‘Knot a Sensible Thing to Do’, 8 July 2013), the Kerala government has withdrawn the order. Another circular reverts the age to 18, as for women of all other faiths in India. The reversion came into effect on 17 June 2013. Marriages of under-18 girls registered before that date will still be legal. According to data provided by the social welfare department, local bodies in Kerala got 1,015 applications to register ‘child marriages’ between 2008-2013. “Whatever happened [has] happened and restricting the legalisation process of marriages which have already happened will only make the married girl’s life miserable,” says MK Muneer, minister for social welfare. n 4 open

It has been almost a week since the slippery slope Indian rupee touched nauseous new lows due to volatility in world markets that resulted in rupees furiously chasing dollars for conversion. Foreign Institutional Investors have been selling rupee assets in India fist-over-hand and leaving Indian markets for ‘safer’ dollar-dominated destinations. The RBI has not intervened to keep the rupee up and its governor has made a statement to the effect that ‘no defence is better than a failed defence’. This is apparently in keeping with the central bank’s policy of letting the rupee’s value be determined by market forces, lest India be accused—shudder, shudder—by the United States of being a ‘currency manipulator’ like China. But then, who would have thought the rupee will see its bottom fall out? It ought to behave itself. Really. n 15 July 2013


40 Modelling

Beauty ain’t cheap

46

p

p

NOT PEOPLE LIKE US

63

Shahid the unreasonable

photography

56

Alain Buu

c life & letters

How a story became a film

cinema

53

Kiran Rao talks cinema, celebrity and children

What’s The Big Mac Deal? B U RGER - b o d It’s strange what makes news these days. American tabloids are full of reports that Jennifer Aniston once ate a Big Mac. Oh, the horror! How can someone with that body eat a burger? Aniston told New York Magazine that eating the Big Mac felt like “putting gasoline in a purified system”, adding, “I am always trying to eat organic and natural foods, so that just made my stomach turn and made me feel terrible. And I think what you put in your body, as well as stress, is reflected in the quality of your skin.” One news item compared her to self-styled lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow, who has been known to wax poetic about tofu, saying both actresses seemed out of touch with the eating habits of Americans.n

After promising to probe Pawan Kumar Bansal’s role in his nephew’s hawking Railway Board appointments, the CBI gave a clean chit to the former Railway Minister reverse gear

‘[Bansal’s role] is a part of our investigation and I cannot divulge it at this crucial point. We are not going to spare anyone in this case’

‘We have chargesheeted 10 accused... The chargesheet does not name former Railway Minister PK Bansal and CBI’s probe in the trap case is concluded’

—CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, as quoted in DNA

—CBI Spokesperson Dharini Mishra, as quoted in Hindustan Times,

10 May 2013

3 July 2013

around

turn

Nuclear Tests Help Catch Poachers Researchers at University of Utah, USA, have developed a new method to fight poachers of animals like elephants, rhinos and hippos. According to an article in Science Daily, all one has to do to determine the year an animal died is measure the radioactive Carbon 14 deposited in tusks and teeth by open-air nuclear bomb tests conducted nearby. The year the ivory was harvested reveals whether it was obtained illegally. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’ve shown that you can use the signature in animal tissues left over from nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere to study modern ecology and help us learn about fossil animals and how they lived,” says Thure Cerling, co-author of the study. n

tus k - tus k

15 July 2013

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angle

On the Contrary

The Thing About Human Dignity Lessons about ourselves from the story of Narayan Pergaein M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i

6 open

deshakalyan chowdhury/afp

Y

ou might know Narayan Pergaein from a YouTube video in which he stands on the shoulders of another man in a river abutting some slums in Uttarakhand. From that completely unnecessary vantage point, the television reporter rails against the government while describing how the lives of men like his carrier have been destroyed in the Uttarakhand floods. The video made its way to social networking sites and went viral. After testing for some time how deep the waters of public affront ran, his employers, a Hindi channel called News Express, sacked him last week. The test of a man’s character is his demeanour in adversity, and by that measure, Pergaein comes a little short. In an interview to News Laundry, he blamed his cameraman for shooting the footage in a manner that showed him being carried. He said its leak was deliberate, done to malign him. Even if all that is true, he showed a limited understanding of his own situation. Essentially, he was making an excuse addressed to his immediate surroundings whereas his actions were being evaluated at a national level. What does it matter to some Twitter-happy fingers in Bangalore whether his cameraman wanted to screw him? Pergaein’s main defence was that this act was forced upon him by the man he purportedly exploited. He had gone to report on the flood-ravaged area, interviewed a stricken family and the man had insisted on carrying him across the waters as a courtesy. Pergaein gave him Rs 50 as a token of appreciation. Difficult as the task is, it is still possible to make a case for Pergaein which he himself did not imagine. This can be done by starting with the most elementary question—what exactly was wrong in what he did? The image is powerful and an insult to human dignity, whatever that vague label means. Yet, look closely, and the man who is carrying Pergaein is actually smiling, as if amused by what is happening. This is not the first time something like this has been seen. There have been instances that have made it

who is the offended party here? What is an affront to human dignity for some is daily wages for others

to television of government functionaries getting similarly pampered by subordinates in remote areas. But in those cases there is an element of power involved, an indirect coercion of sorts. Does that apply to what seems like a commercial transaction by a news reporter whose extent of influence is Rs 50? At its nub, you have a situation where the man who is doing the carrying has no problem (all this conditional on available facts), but a large literate number sitting in armchairs in urban India are agitated. Their outrage would have some merit had they let it loose after casting a look at their own lives. Consider an image which will be ubiquitous in most middle-class homes—that of a domestic worker on all fours cleaning the floor with a piece of wet cloth. Take footage of that, show it to a

Someone who retweets the Pergaein video is living the selfdelusion of uprightness whilst enjoying what would, by their own definition, be demeaning human labours

Western audience and their reaction would be similar to the sentiments evoked by Pergaein. Likewise, as people lead smug hygienic lives, should not there be some similar anger when a little distance away men go down sewer pits without masks or body suits? Every corner of India is stuffed with ugly imageries but they are so commonplace that it does not merit consideration. Plus, all that in some way is connected to your comfort. Someone who retweets the Pergaein video is living the self-delusion of uprightness whilst enjoying what would, by their own definition, be demeaning human labours. Sometime back, Kolkata did away with rickshaws pulled by men citing the same reason. That it is not something fit for human beings to do. In reality, what is upsetting is not the act itself; it is the discomfort of seeing it. It is self-interest at work. That is why the man who was carrying Pergaein was amused. To him, there is no affront here. It is a daily part of his life in which the entire middle, upper middle and rich classes are complicit. One reporter who thought he was getting a creative angle is just a welcome Rs 50. n 15 july 2013


india

A Hurried Man’s Guide to Neymar

Brazil’s emphatic victory in the recent Confederations Cup was made possible by their wiry 21-year-old striker and playmaker Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, or just Neymar. Neymar achieved remarkable things in his club football career with Santos FC. But the Confederations Cup was the first time he lived up to his name for the national team. Fans of the Selecao, as Brazil are known, are excited because the World Cup is next year and Neymar seems to be peaking at the right time.

It Happens

Things We Do to Lose Weight GoAir is going to have no more male flight attendants in order to lighten load and reduce fuel burn L h e n d u p G B h u t i a arko datta/reuters

real

Neymar was named ‘player of the tournament’ at the Confederations Cup. He scored four goals in five matches, including a blazing left-footer in the roof of Comparisons have the net against Spain in already started the final, and created a with Lionel Messi, few too. The tournament the biggest South also saw him donning the American star in team’s coveted No 10 jerthe game sey. Previously his shirt number was 11.

guillermo arias/corbis

Things have happened quickly for Neymar. At 11, he was drafted into the Santos junior pro-

heady triumph At 21, Neymar is already among the ten richest footballers in the world

gramme. At 14, he had an offer to go to the Real Madrid programme, but Santos paid him to stay. He made his senior team debut at 17. When the 2010 World Cup approached, 14,000 people created a signed petition that Neymar be picked for the tournament. But coach and former World Cup winner Dunga felt it was too soon for the teenager. Neymar made his Brazil debut a little after the World Cup, at age 18. He is already among the ten richest footballers in the world. Neymar did not wait long for fatherhood either, becoming a dad at age 19. Just before the Confederations Cup, he joined Barcelona and was presented with pomp at the team’s Camp Nou stadium. Comparisons have already started with Lionel Messi, the biggest South American star in the game. Messi has been unable to win the World Cup for Argentina. Neymar’s fans hope that he doesn’t have to wait too long for that honour. n

overburdened Jeh Wadia, GoAir Managing Director, with women dressed as flight attendants

I

ndian domestic airlines have

been taking various steps to shore up finances this year. Many now permit only 15 kg of free baggage, as opposed to the previous 20 kg. An extra sum is charged for pre-booking seats in the first two rows or near emergency exits. Another low-cost airline has come up with a new idea which seems a little bizarre. GoAir will stop hiring male flight attendants to reduce load and thus save fuel. This is one of a series of measures that GoAir is taking, which include reducing the number of inflight magazines and filling potable water tanks only up to 60 per cent capacity. Explaining the reason for doing away with male flight attendants, its spokesperson says, “Men are by nature heavier in comparison to women. Every male flight attendant will be at least 10 to 15 kg heavier than his female counterpart.” GoAir’s CEO, Giorgio De Roni, declined to comment for this article. But late last month, he told The Times of India, “The rupee’s fall has hurt the industry badly. All major expenses —aircraft leasing, spare parts and fuel costs—are linked to the dollar. The fall in the exchange rate of the rupee costs us Rs 30 crore on an annual basis. We are looking at every

possible way of cost-cutting to remain profitable.” The airline is expected to induct about 80 new aircraft over the next few years, each of which will require several new flight attendants. GoAir’s spokesperson, however, points out that the steps being taken by the airline are not new and that most airlines are doing similar things to reduce weight onboard. Still, most male flight attendants in India are aghast to learn of the decision. A male flight “Every male attendant flight attendant who quit his will be at least job at Indigo to work with 10 to 15 kg another heavier than airline his female questions the counterpart” rationale of such a decision: “GoAir uses Airbus 320 aircraft. On an average, every flight will have four crew members. If even one of them is male, will it make such a difference to aircraft weight? And, anyway, is such a step practical? What if a passenger turns violent on a flight and needs to be subdued? What if he develops a condition for which he will be embarrassed to approach a female staffer?” n open www.openthemagazine.com 7


business

India’s Big Aquacultural Opportunity boris horvat/afp

Given India’s current

seafood

account vulnerability, the $3.5 billion of seafood exports last year looks like a valuable contribution to the country’s forex kitty. But it’s only a drop in the ocean if one considers the potential. “The economic value of our vast coastline— about 8,000 km—and inland water resources is yet to be fully realised,” admits Leena Nair, chairperson of India’s Marine Products Export Development Authority. The future, she says, lies in aquaculture—a farming technique that has already boosted the output of Vannamei shrimp, a variety of prawn that generates half the country’s seafood export earnings. This exotic species, found mostly in warm Pacific waters, “has really caught on in India and would help us export about $5 billion of seafood by 2014-15”, expects Nair. Aquaculture relies on captive breeding of seafood and does not require anyone to venture far out into the sea with motorised trawler boats, which has been getting costly on account of rising diesel prices, according to DB Ravi Reddy, president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India. But the technique demands a careful approach, especially for Vannamei shrimp, which are susceptible to disease if optimum breeding conditions are not maintained. India has enough natural brackish water for it, but is mostly unused. It does not help that India lags other countries in the development of diseaseresistant hybrids. “It is advisable that India bridges the yawning coordination gap between scientific research, mostly done

captive school Keep pool conditions optimal to raise the ‘food conversion ratio’—imperative as costs go up

by central agencies, and the country’s coastline states where these developmental fishery programmes are implemented,” says Dr Vijay Gupta, who is a member of a scientific advisory committee at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture based in interior Tamil Nadu. The industry’s other big concern is the rising cost of the mix of animal and vegetable protein that captive fish and shrimp are fed. “Since this cost is constantly going up,” says Gupta, “an improvement in the feed conversion ratio—a measure of how much food turns into how much body mass of aqua species—is required to make the feed cost economical for farmers.” The typical ratio in India is

India’s seafood exports stand at only $3.5 billion but could shoot up if aquacultural efforts pay off

not bad by global standards, but could be higher still. According to Reddy, India’s aquacultural thrust does have the capacity to multiply seafood exports. But market conditions in the West, where the products’ price realisation per tonne is far higher, are so tough that just a 10-per cent annual growth would be enough of a challenge. Demand is in the doldrums and there exist trade barriers too. But with some “negotiation and persuasion ”, he believes, India could “sail through these troubled waters”. n SHAILENDRA TYAGI

India’s sea food exports for 2012-13 japan

usa

european union

south east asia

14% 5%

middle east

8% 10%

Quantity 37%

9%

17%

china others

6% 23%

9%

11%

Value 8%

21%

22%

Source: The Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA)

8 open

Southeast Asia is the largest destination for India’s seafood exports, but a lot more money per tonne is made by shipping these marine products to the wealthy West compiled by shailendra tyagi

‘My new pilot Sir Ratan Tata flying me to Delhi. Another way AirAsia cuts costs... The Advisor is a pilot’ Tony Fernandes, AirAsia chief, quipping on Twitter about the wonder of having the airline’s advisor Ratan Tata fly a private jet with its top executives on board


t h e r i g h t v i e w m g va i dya

Federal Party or Third Front? Pondering the 2014 prospects of potential political formations

T

For this, they know they have to come toJ&K, the Congress plays the junior part. he idea of a third front has gether. But it is far easier to form a third In Tamil Nadu, both the Congress and BJP got a boost after the JD-U front than a federal party. are almost non-existent. In UP, Bihar and snapped ties with the BJP. Naturally, this third front will consist of Odisha, both parties have been reduced Actually, in the context of parties that are opposed to the Congress or to minor political groups. Therefore, it is the 2014 Lok Sabha elecBJP (or both). But forming a third front is natural for the states to stake their claim tion, the idea of a third front was first also not easy. Some of the parties that are to the seat of power at the Centre. mooted by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen against the Congress and BJP are more inThird Front: It is obvious that almost Patnaik. It got the immediate support imical to other non-Congress and non-BJP all state-level parties are limited to their of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata parties in their states. If the SP of Mulayam own state: the TMC to West Bengal, the Banerjee. But Mamata’s vocabulary was Singh joins the third front, the BSP of DMK and AIADMK to Tamil Nadu, the slightly different. She talked of a new allMayawati will be out. If the DMK is in, the BJD to Odisha, the TDP to Andhra, the India federal party. Let us examine these AIADMK will not touch it. If the TMC is a Akali Dal to Punjab, and so on. Some of by turn. member, the Left parties will stay away. these are ruling parties in their states, Federal Party: It must be admitted that As for the JD-U, the party got a favourthis idea is good. A front can only be a tem- while others like the TDP were so in the able overture from the Congress after its past. None can dream of achieving powporary phenomenon. Its purpose would er at the Centre on its own. But it is natural exit from the NDA, but its response was be transitory. But a federal party would not encouraging and it has since spoken for them to aspire to India’s top position. have a well-defined structure for the long of a third front as well. term. Like any other political party, it will Given this complex picture, it will be have to frame its own constitution, rules interesting to note how these state-paron membership and office bearers, and The BJP alone will not garner ties come together. It is easy to understand state its aims, policies and agenda. more than 160 seats in the next their ambition. Their calculation is also It must be remembered that India’s patent. They expect that the Congress Constitution has no mention of the term Lok Sabha. Even if the NDA on its own will not garner more than 140 ‘federal’. Its first article says that ‘India enters the electoral arena as an seats in the next Lok Sabha; the BJP alone that is Bharat shall be a union of States’, alliance, its combined tally will will not cross 160. Even if the NDA enters not ‘federation’, and there is palpable difnot go beyond 175 the electoral arena as an alliance, its comference between the two. bined tally will not go beyond 175. In However, I am personally not hapajay aggarwal/getty images a house of 543 members, that would py about the wording of the article; it mean 228 seats for other candidates: a assumes that the states form a fundanumber that may mean a third front mental unity and the Country or State emerges as the largest single combiof India is just their union. I would nation. But even then, the front will prefer the following: ‘India that is still need some 50 seats more. So the Bharat is one country, with one peothird front will have to seek the supple, with one culture—that is, one port either of the Congress or the BJP, value-system—and therefore one and each would be eager to offer outNation.’ Under this, the states would side support to deprive the other of a be administrative units. There is nothpower base. ing extraordinary in such an arrangeBut there is no guarantee that a third ment. After Independence we have front government will last a full term. reorganised the states several times to It would likely meet the same fate as suit administrative purposes. As the Deve Gowda or IK Gujral governit is, the different states are likely to ments, from which the Congress withsee themselves as basic units of a feddrew support, or the VP Singh governeral structure. This understanding ment, from which the BJP pulled out. would naturally give legitimacy to a It is an amusing scenario to considfederal party. er. It is also interesting to wonder what As of now, there are two all-India pothe non-Congress, non-BJP parties litical parties: the Congress and BJP. that are not in the third front will do: But neither has all-India strength. In form a fourth front? n many states, they have to play second fiddle. In Punjab, the dominant party is the Akali Dal, with the BJP as its The author is a former spokesperson Back to Front Will Mamata and Mulayam make it to Delhi? junior partner. In West Bengal and of the RSS 10 open

15 july 2013


news

reel

quandary

The Prodigal Son Returns? It’s now Advani vs Modi in Karnataka too, as a section of the BJP wants Yeddyurappa to return to the party to lead the charge in 2014, while another section opposes the move anil budur lulla

bangalore

humiliating defeat in the Assembly polls, a section of the Karnataka Bharatiya Janata Party is working feverishly to build bridges with former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa who left to form his own outfit following the saffron party’s refusal to condone his corruption. The urgency to bring Yeddyurappa back on board is due to the impending General Election, now less than 10 months away. Though the BJP bravely went about proclaiming that it could face the electorate without depending on the former CM, it slipped to third place in Karnataka in the state’s recent Assembly polls. And though the Karnataka Janata Paksha founded by Yeddyurappa won only six seats, it harmed the BJP’s chances in 29 constituencies. The BJP does not want a repeat. Another factor is that the party’s |national election campaign chairman, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, also prefers Yeddyurappa to be onboard if the party is to retain the 19 Lok Sabha seats—of the total 28—that it currently holds. But, the chorus to bring back Yeddyurappa has not gone down well with BJP patriarch LK Advani’s camp in the state, which includes former union minister and Bangalore South MP Ananth Kumar and state BJP President Prahlad Joshi, among others. “We will lose the moral high ground that the BJP currently enjoys vis-à-vis the Congress in relation to several scams the UPA-II is facing. All this will come crashing down if Yeddyurappa, who was forced to step down following corruption charges in 2011, is accepted back,” Kumar says. Yeddyurappa was forced to step down after an adverse report by the state Lokayukta, which looked into the mining scam and alleged that he and his family members accepted favours in exchange for granting mining licences. He also has the dubious distinction of being the first former Karnataka CM to be jailed on charges of corruption. Any effort to bring him back into the party fold while the CBI

Weeks after its

12 open

is investigating his role will be doubly embarrassing for the BJP, says a source close to Ananth Kumar. Members of the Advani camp also fear that the Congress may use the CBI as a handle to gain advantage. And although those leaders pitching for Yeddyurappa are doing so to retain numbers, others fear the former CM’s return may erode the BJP’s credibility further. Yeddyurappa’s return is being orchestrated by another former Karnataka CM, Jagadish Shettar, under whose leadership the party contested the May polls, and by former Deputy CM KS Eshwarappa, among others. Sadananda Gowda, another former CM who was recommended by Yeddyurappa as his successor and later fell out of favour, admits the party is

The urgency to bring back Yeddyurappa is due to the impending General Election. Though the BJP proclaimed it could rally the electorate without the former CM’s help, it came third in Karnataka’s recent Assembly polls divided 50-50 when it comes to re-admitting his predecessor. “Yes, I am against his return. But even if the balance becomes 51-49 in favour of Yeddyurappa, we will go for it. We have to talk to the cadre and party leaders and elicit their views clearly,’’ he says, rather diplomatically. The state BJP brass has met several times in the last few days to discuss this issue. Senior leaders feel that Yeddyurappa will help the party consolidate votes among Lingayats of Karnataka, of which he himself is one. In the most recent Assembly polls, the Lingayat vote was distributed broadly between the BJP, KJP and Congress. Those in favour of Yeddyurappa merging his party with the BJP say it was

he who first created an opportunity for the BJP in the south when he forged an alliance with the JDS to form a coalition. When the JDS’s HD Kumaraswamy reneged on his promise to hand over the CM-ship to Yeddyurappa, polls followed and he led the party to a near-working majority—110 seats—and formed a government with the help of six independents. It was the first government ever formed by the BJP in the south. Though the party lasted a full term despite being racked by infighting and rebellions, Yeddyurappa was replaced after three years in the saddle. At one time, this Lingayat leader had even boasted: “In Karnataka, Yeddyurappa is the BJP and BJP is Yeddyurappa.” “Modiji clearly has a soft corner for Yeddyurappa. There is a perception that unless Yeddyurappa is brought back, the BJP will find it tough to retain the Lok Sabha seats it won in 2009,’’ says a former minister who is undecided about supporting the move. Meanwhile, new BJP Karnataka in-charge Thawar Singh Gehlot created ripples of laughter when he told newsmen in Bangalore that he wants Yeddyurappa to formally apply for party membership to be readmitted to the BJP. Yeddyurappa himself has been enjoying the debate within the BJP. He is believed to be making backroom manoeuvres to make sure he is in a strong position when he takes that all important decision. Another reason some BJP leaders oppose his re-entry is a fear that they will lose their leverage, as the former CM is unlikely to come back without the incentive of an important post. One such leader is concerned that Yeddyurappa will be vengeful unless he is given the post of state party president and a say in election candidate selection. That matters are gaining momentum can be gauged from the fact that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, too, has jumped headlong into the debate by sending informal emissaries to get an understanding of the mood on both sides.n 15 july 2013


opinion

h a rto s h s i n g h b a l

euphemism

If Snooping is Scrutiny A few suggestions on how surveillance may be put to good use T h e P R I S M s u r v e i l l a n c e programme run by the US National Security Agency since 2007 has been collecting communications data across the world on a massive scale. We have only learnt of the extent of the programme after revelations by Edward Snowden, who is now in search of refuge from the wrath of the US. But even as the US was taking the rather remarkable position that its citizens have some legal protection, and the rest of us across the world were fair game, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, in the wake of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to India, chose to dismiss concerns about the programme. “This is not scrutiny and access to actual messages,” said the minister, “It is only a computer study and a computer analysis of patterns of calls.” Khurshid elaborated, “There are issues that America is looking at. We discussed it during Kerry’s visit. Kerry and Obama have clarified, there is some information that they get out of scrutiny and they use it for terrorism [combating] purposes... It is only a computer study of patterns... It is not snooping.’’ This is a strange position for a government to take. If this is not snooping, and if Khurshid considers it justifiable, then it is possible to suggest several ways in which such metadata could be used to serve the national interest: CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta has recently alleged that Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily has gone out of his way to benefit Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries. Certainly, the decision to double natural gas prices with effect from 1 April 2014 defies logic when the Government has decided to rely on market forces to determine petroleum prices. How about releasing metadata on phone calls made by Moily and his senior bureaucrats, as well as Mukesh Ambani and his senior executives, in the month preceding the decision? If the decision is not, as alleged, a blatant instance of c` rony capitalism, then this metadata should clear all doubts. After all, this is not snooping, it is scrutiny. News reports have suggested that senior IB official Rajendra Kumar, while posted in Gujarat, may have provided tailor-made intelligence inputs to facilitate the alleged murder of Ishrat Jahan and her associates by the Gujarat Police. There are even suggestions that Narendra Modi was in the loop. What could be better than to release metadata on the call details of Rajendra Kumar, Narendra Modi and the policemen accused of the murder during that period? After all, this is not snooping, it is scrutiny. Or, even more importantly, given the scams that have dogged this government, all Cabinet ministers should make public their call details during the time they have held their posts. Who would argue that ministers should not be subject to scrutiny, as long as it is not snooping, in the interests of the 15 july 2013

nation? Perhaps Salman Khurshid should take the initiative and make his call details over the term of the UPA-II Government public. Unfortunately, none of this will materialise. In the name of national security, such metadata will only be used by agencies within the Government to enlarge their own roles while subject to little or no accountability on how they use it. Khurshid was defending PRISM not out of some regard for an ally, but because India is in the process of setting up a new Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) system that will outdo PRISM in its capacity to monitor data on its citizens. As The Hindu reports, ‘This means that government agencies can access in real time any mobile and fixed line phone conversation, SMS, fax, website visit, social media usage, Internet search and email, including partially written emails in draft folders, of “targeted numbers”.’ At the moment, there are no less than nine government agencies—the Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing, Central Bureau of Investigation, Narcotics Control Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, National In any functional Intelligence Agency, Central Board for Direct Taxes, Military democracy, such powers appropriated Intelligence of Assam and J&K and the Union Home by a government are Ministry—that are allowed to not about scrutiny monitor private communication. They would all have or snooping, they access to CMS data. To this list are criminal we need to add rogue operators within the establishment. After all, India’s previous Army chief was accused of tapping phones within the Government, and the National Technical Research Organisation has actually monitored the cellphones of Digvijaya Singh and Nitish Kumar at various points of time without the requisite sanctions. As the CMS shows, the technology to intercept and monitor phone and internet communication as well as actually intrude into an email account is expanding rapidly, but the norms that govern such violations of privacy have not evolved in India. Weak to begin with, they are almost worthless today. In a country where a morphed picture of Sonia Gandhi on a website, or an uncharitable comment on any of our leaders even on Facebook, can lead to arrests, we are nearing a nightmare where even expressing such thoughts in private, saved perhaps only in your draft folder, seen by no one, could have you picked up. In any functional democracy, such powers appropriated by a government are not about scrutiny or snooping, they are criminal. n open www.openthemagazine.com 13


deadly but beatable

photos rafiq maqbool/ap

m e n ac e


Cervical cancer kills nearly 100,000 women every year in India. The real tragedy is that most of them could have been saved through immunisation and screening Gunjeet Sra

‘I try to imagine what it looks like inside without a uterus, cervix, ovaries. What will my vagina be connected to... I didn’t know I was attached to my uterus. I never really thought about it… they don’t say there will be this huge absence. Or that we may have to take some of your vagina’ —Eve Ensler, In the Body of the World

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ive years ago, Swati, a writer who recently moved

to Delhi from Kolkata, found her periods turning irregular. She ignored it until her periods just stopped. She told her mother, who took her to a gynaecologist. Swati still didn’t think it was a serious problem. But that changed after a couple of tests, when she was told that there was a tumour in her uterus. The doctor told her it didn’t look bad. She was operated upon, and, as per protocol, the tissue sample was sent for a biopsy. The diagnosis was cancer of the cervix. She was told her uterus and one ovary would have to be removed to keep the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. The doctor asked her if she wanted to keep the other. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘What use is a lone ovary without a uterus?’ I told them to take it all out,” she says. The year was 2008 and Swati was just 21 then. Cervical cancer is rare in someone that young, but her genetic probability of acquiring the disease was high. Doctors told her that she had inherited a ‘faulty gene’ from her mother. After her surgery a week later, Swati went through 27 sessions of radiotherapy (a couple internal and the rest external). She has now been cancer free for four-and-a-half years and goes for an annual health checkup. She also has to get a Pap smear test—named after pathologist George Papanicolaou, its originator—done every three years for the rest of her life. “I find it humiliating,” she says, “to have to lie half naked in hospitals with all sorts of people around you and getting poked about by strangers.” The process put her off sex and even other forms of physical intimacy for a while. She has moved on, but is yet to come to terms with what she had to endure. “This is a disease,” she says, “A lot of women have it and I know I don’t have to be ashamed of it. But I don’t want the pity party to start again. I can’t bear it.” Swati is among a large number of women in India who

sensitisation (Top) A cervical cancer patient does a check-up exercise in front of health workers from Tata Memorial Hospital at her home in Mumbai; a health worker briefs a group of women on cervical cancer 15 july 2013

get this form of cancer. According to a 2010 report published by the National Cancer Institute, it is the second most common cancer in women worldwide after breast cancer. India has the third highest number of recorded cases of it. The last specific research study on cervical cancer, done in 2008 by Globocan, reported 134,420 new cases recorded in India and an annual death count of 72,825. A projection made on current trends by the International Agency for Research on Cancer puts the annual death count at 132,745 by 2025.

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ervical cancer is as stealthy as it is deadly. It de-

velops in the tissues of the cervix, which connect the upper body of the uterus to the vagina. The cancer can stay latent for up to10 years and tends to start with a condition called dysplasia, a medical term to describe abnormal cell development. Undetected, these changes can develop into cervical cancer and spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs and liver. Patients with cervical cancer usually don’t show symptoms until it has advanced and spread. Dr Nitish Rohtagi, head oncologist, Max Hospital, Saket, says, “There are no clear symptoms of cervical cancer to begin with. Only when the cancer becomes rampant does it begin to show symptoms. Even then, these are vague symptoms like pain in the lower abdomen, extra discharge, problems in the vaginal area, etcetera.” Cervical cancer can develop in women of all ages, but the peak age for it in India is 45-54 years. According to the Population Based Cancer Registries (PBCRs) set up under the National Cancer Registry Programme to track cancer prevalence, two of every 12 women in India in the 45-54year age group suffer from the disease. The general impression is that its prevalence is higher in areas where women lack awareness of its risk factors, access to screening and health services. Dr Renuka Sinha, former head of Safdarjung Hospital’s obstetrics & gynaecology department and now a senior consultant at Apollo Hospital, says, “Even in so-called developed areas, very few women come to get tested or screened because in our country there is no concept of preventive health.” Consider the case of Jasminder Sandhu, a 53-year-old resident of northwest Delhi. She had a dull ache in the lower left side of her abdomen for two years before she could bring herself to see a gynaecologist. “I know how horrible open www.openthemagazine.com 15


kuni takahashi/getty images

silent killer (Above) Mariana de la Torre, 29, a cervical cancer patient, struggles with pain at her house in Apatzingan, Mexico; Light micrograph of a pap smear showing malignant cells

this sounds,” she says, “but I didn’t really think about it.” As a middle-class housewife whose life revolved around her children and husband, she says she had little time for anything other than ensuring the well-being of her family. The pain, which she describes as insignificant and sporadic at the time, was something she thought was menses related. Then one day it exploded and she just couldn’t take the pain anymore. That was when she decided to visit a gynaecologist. “I was certain it was a minor infection and I would be prescribed antibiotics for it. I had never gotten sick in my life. The most I’d ever contracted was viral fever.” When the doctor called her for a thorough checkup, she was diagnosed with third-stage cervical cancer. Sandhu remembers feeling very stupid at having ignored what her body was trying to tell her. “I was just 51. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my children. I cried all the way home and for the next three days. After that, I was ready to face my fate.” The doctor checked her lymph nodes for cancer by doing CT and MRI scans. It had spread to her uterus and she underwent extensive internal and external radiation to get rid of the cancerous cells. The treatment worked, thankfully. Not many women survive cancer past its third stage.

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he Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common risk factor for cervical cancer. It is also the most common sexually transmitted infection. According to America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at least half of all sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives. In most women, especially those under 30, HPV does not lead to cancer and the viral infection heals spontaneously within a year or two. If the infection persists, however, it increases the risk of developing cancer. Even so, 16 open

science source

this should not alarm everyone diagnosed with HPV. There are 40 types of HPV infections, but it is mainly types 16 and 18, specifically, that are observed to be high-risk precursors of cervical cancer. HPV is not the only risk factor for cervical cancer either. Apart from this viral infection, additional factors like smoking, oral contraceptive use, poor hygiene, high parity (the number of times a woman has given birth) and other sexually transmitted infections increase the risk. What complicates India’s battle against cervical cancer, however, is the sexual nature of HPV transmission, which makes it taboo for women to get themselves screened regularly. “In India,” says Dr Rohtagi, “women are very private and for them to develop an infection that is sexually transmitted and usually associated with promiscuity is mortifying.” While ‘HPV’ sounds a little like ‘HIV’ to the uninformed, the truth is that there is no clear link to be drawn between HPV and promiscuity. It is quite common in India, and most women contract it from their partners. Forty-two-year-old Rama Swarup has been married for 15 july 2013


the past 22 years. The mother of three children, she had never been to a gynaecologist till the time she started getting irregular periods and severe cramps in her lower abdomen. “Even my children were delivered through midwives. There was never really a need to see a doctor,” she says, waiting patiently for her turn at radiotherapy at Delhi’s Rajeev Gandhi Cancer Institute. “It was only once the pain became unbearable did I decide to come here. I did not know what to expect. When they said ‘cancer’, I did not believe it,” she says. According to Dr Tanya Buckshee, senior consultant of reproductive medicine, surgery and assisted reproductive techniques at Max Medicentre, “It is only when these women are in distress that one has the possibility of screening them without resistance. That is because they are more open to medical procedures at the time and willing to do anything to stop that pain.” Dr Sneha Aggarwal, a senior gynaecologist who runs a private hospital in the rural belt of Mallihabad near Lucknow, says that the prospect of an examination of their private parts is so alien to most women in the area that they giggle at the thought of it. “There was this one woman who just leapt off the table the moment I started examining her,” she says, “And there are many cases of women who come to get screened but never follow up with treatment.” Poor follow up of check-ups is also a problem in cities. Because of the lack of a ‘Call Recall System’ like the UK’s, which invites women for regular screenings and then monitors their results, a lot of patients in India don’t take the screening seriously and seldom return. “They don’t realise that if tested early, it can save their life,” says Dr Buckshee. Since most rural patients are illiterate, doctors find it hard to convey what the examination process involves. “Sometimes it’s impossible to explain what I am doing and why. Most of them are very uncomfortable with the thought of getting tested,” says Dr Buckshee. The test procedure is tedious and expensive. One needs to first get a Pap smear test to detect any unhealthy/abnormal cells in the cervix. If positive, the doctor must figure out the exact area of infection through a colposcope and do a biopsy to determine if these cells are cancerous.

Abnormal cells need not always be cancerous. Since cancer takes almost a decade to develop, anyone above the age of 30 is advised to undergo a Pap test every three years. Even though the average Pap test costs Rs 760, the subsequent tests for cancer could take as much as Rs 3,000. This poses a deterrent to poor women like 39-yearold Lakshmi Kumari. A single mother, her husband died two years ago in a car accident. She barely manages to scrape through the month on her meagre earnings as a seamstress, and had to borrow from friends and family to get the money for her initial tests and screening. Luckily for her, insurance covered the treatment, which can cost anything from Rs 50,000 to Rs 6 lakh, depending on the stage of cancer. “There was no way I could afford my own treatment,” she says, “I would have died for sure.” In her third cancer-free year now, Kumari says things are looking up for her. She is waiting to cross the five-year mark and be declared cancer free. “I will only be able to breathe free when this disease is completely out of my system.” Though instances of a cancer relapse are rare, doctors recommend regular Pap smears even for cancerfree patients till the age of 60.

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ountries like the US and Mexico have been able to

control the incidence of cervical cancer through immunisation. Two vaccinations available against the disease are Gardasil and Cervarix. They were developed to prevent infection from HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are implicated in 70 per cent of cases, according to a paper, ‘Human Pappillomavirus: Current Issues and Future’, in the Indian Journal of Medical Sciences. Gardasil not only immunises one against the two perilous forms of HPV, it also assures immunity from genital warts. The effects of these vaccines last up to five years and booster doses may be needed after that. These vaccines, however, do not treat either HPV or genital warts; they only prevent infection. According to medical guidelines, the appropriate time to get vaccinated is after adolescence and before one is sexually active. “Even though it is best to get vaccinated when you are not yet sexually active,” says Dr Sinha, “I still recommend the vaccine to most of my patients [even if they’re active].”


dilip kaliya

basic test All that is needed to collect a sample for a pap smear

At Rs 12,000, the vaccine pack is expensive, and needs to be taken in three doses (the latter two at gaps of a few months). It is expensive because it is not made in India, but the Government is trying to make cheap versions available. Globally, 65 million women have been vaccinated with Gardasil in over 100 countries, as of 2010, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. In a country as poor as India, it is impossible for the Government to control the menace without a national vaccination programme or subsidy regime for screening tests. Doctors recommend the vaccine, but hardly a few show interest in immunisation. While vaccination vastly lowers the risk of cervical cancer, it does not entirely eliminate the possibility. So, approaching middle-age, even vaccinated women must have themselves screened. It will be a long haul, the battle. Even if vaccination among the youth is universalised, it would still take decades to contain cervical cancer in India. This is because there are vast numbers of sexually active women who harbour HPV already and remain at risk. Recently, a cost breakthrough was made with cancer testing. The medical establishment confirmed the efficacy of a new acetic acid test popularly known as the ‘vinegar test’. Used at first in Turkey and some African countries, it is cheap enough to make cancer testing accessible to women of poor families in India. The test relies on swabbing the cervix with a specific concentration of vinegar (usually 4 per cent acetic acid) to spot abnormal cells: those that turn white are abnormal. Positive testers are then put under a Pap smear. Dr Aggarwal has been conducting vinegar tests as a cheap screening method for women in Lucknow and Bareilly for a while now. In most cases, she says, the results are accurate. "Even then, it is difficult to get these women to go for further tests,” she says. 18 open

Last month, Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai revealed that a study it had done has established that the vinegar test is effective. Begun in 1998, its research project covered about 150,000 women between the ages of 35 and 64 with no cancer history. One group of 75,360 women had vinegar tests done every two years. The other ‘control’ group of 76,178 women living in the same area was given only awareness on symptoms of the disease. At the end of the study period, a fraction of women in both groups developed cancer, but the incidence of it in the vinegar-screening sample was significantly—31 per cent—lower than that in the awareness group. Dr Surender Srinivas Shastri of Tata Memorial Hospital, who led the study, said that it isn’t possible to rely on Pap smear screening in poor countries because people just cannot afford it. Not only is the vinegar test cheap in contrast, it does not even require a medical practitioner to perform it. Volunteers can be taught to do it in a two-week programme. “We now have a method that could in a very simple way reduce cervical cancer mortality in low-resource countries like India,” said Shastri at a recent meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The Tata Memorial Hospital study, however, also showed that even free cancer treatment was a hard sell in a country that stays stubbornly conservative. As of now, only 3 per cent of women in the country get screened for cervical cancer annually and these tests are conducted mainly in urban hospitals. Even if the Government provides low-cost screening options to women, the main problem is likely to be resistance by women themselves. “Until you break the subservience of women, where they cannot actively control their health and have to rely on their fathers or husbands to make small decisions,” says Dr Aggarwal, “it will be hard to convince them how they benefit from screening.” n 15 july 2013


d i s co n n ec t

Visa Vexation Why must India and Pakistan rely on Western reports for news on each other?

goran tomasevic/reuters

Amit Baruah

interference Is the non-extension of visas to Indian journalists Rawalpindi’s signal for Nawaz Sharif to moderate his friendly overtures to India?

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akistan and India are masters at

the art of sending each other mixed signals. The last Indian journalist posted in Islamabad was forced to depart just as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s new government took office amid all the right noises of friendship with Delhi. The Press Trust of India correspondent, like the representative of The Hindu before him, was told that his visa was not going to be extended. So, both slots of Indian correspondents in Pakistan are 20 open

officially vacant. With no Pakistani correspondent stationed in Delhi since May 2010 (a choice exercised by the Pakistani media), it is for the first time in living memory that there are no correspondents of either country in the other’s capital. My information suggests that The Hindu has sought a visa for a new correspondent and it has been told that its application is being processed. These developments set me thinking

about my own visa travails as a correspondent of that newspaper in Islamabad from 1997 to 2000. One thing is certain: an Islamabad or Delhi posting is not for the faint-hearted. It was while working for The Hindu in Colombo that I was asked by its then executive editor, Malini Parthasarathy, whether I would like to move to the Pakistani capital. My answer was ‘yes’. In my book Dateline Islamabad, there’s a reference to the many photographs my wife 15 july 2013


and I had to supply the Pakistani authorities and our private joke that these would have been put up at various police stations across Islamabad. Having landed there in April 1997, it was a tough job converting our entry visa into a year-long resident visa. The process, I recall, took months. We were allowed three exits a year, so these were to be used judiciously. For long stretches, we were without a visa. Armed only with a letter that our request for a visa was pending, we essentially lived the life of illegal residents awaiting a decision on our fate. Then as now, I was convinced that I had two jobs to do in Islamabad: one, report for the paper, and the other, to ensure that my successor could land. It was important not to give the authorities any excuse to shut down the newspaper’s office there. I was lucky that I succeeded in both endeavours. But it wasn’t an easy job. Indian and Pakistani diplomats get assignment-length visas. Journalists, on the other hand, are subject to annual visas. On one occasion, after my visa request had been pending for long, I was called to the office of the DirectorGeneral of External Publicity in Pakistan’s Information Ministry. He seemed a kindly old gentleman. After pointing out that he could have been my father, he proceeded to deliver a gentle admonishment. “Baruah sahib,” he suggested, “Aap thoda haath halka kar ke kyun nahin likhte. (Mr Baruah, why don’t you write with a gentler pen?)” It was delicately put, but the message was clear. My visa would be kept pending if I continued reporting the way I was. Clearly, the Pakistani establishment wasn’t happy with my reports. A few days later, I received another call from the Director-General’s office: my passport with the visa could be picked up from the immigration office. Flipping through the pages of my passport, I found that the number of exits that should have read ‘three’ had been reduced to ‘one’. It was devastating news. How could one live and work in a situation where one couldn’t go home to one’s family in an emergency? All these fears led me to a bold course of action. I called the Director-General 15 july 2013

and told him that there had been a “typing error” in the number of entries and could not accept the visa with this error. I knew and he knew that this was no error, it was a signal that his masters were displeased with my journalistic output. Between day and evening, however, my move had borne a result. He called me and said the ‘error’ had been rectified and I could get my amended visa affixed. It was a great relief. One had to be extremely alert just to ensure that the loaded-against-you status quo did not worsen. One of the ‘traditions’ followed by Indian journalists in Islamabad at the time was that you had to submit your copy to one Mr Salim in the telegraph office (outstation reports in those days were filed by having them wired across). I was to do it every week or month, and it was a painful job. Mr Salim would even call up from time to time and tell me that my copy was due for submis-

Intelligence agencies believe that all journalists from the other country are spies. And there’s not much you can do to convince them that you are not sion. He, in turn, would pass my work on to his intelligence masters. After telling Mr Salim on a couple of occasions that I wanted my pile of copy returned, it began to happen. And then, something odd happened once. I noticed that extensive notes had been made on my copy. Someone wasusing it as an exercise! Truth be told, I was flattered. I had no doubt that my visa could have been in jeopardy had I not complied with Mr Salim’s requests. Soon after The Hindu went online, I told him that whatever I wrote was on the paper’s website and that they could take it directly off the web. It took me some time to convince them, but in the end they agreed.

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ince 2000, the India-Pakistan visa

scenario for journalists has only deteriorated. If I had three exits and three cities to visit, my successors have had a single city to visit and often no exit. None of

the positive rhetoric used by leaders of the two countries on the state of their relations has had any effect on this vexed visa scenario. One of the things I realised was that there wasn’t much influence you could bring to bear on your case. On the one instance that I wanted to take my in-laws to Taxila, a stone’s throw from Islamabad, all I could do was wait; to go anywhere other than Lahore, Karachi and within Islamabad, special permission had to be sought. However, once I had given up all hope (we were to leave in the morning), an official of the Press Information Department drove up to my home and handed me the permission for our Taxila visit. It was a moment of exhilaration. Basically, intelligence agencies believe that all journalists from the other country are spies. And there’s not much you can do to convince them that you are not. In my case, the presence of my family was a major source of support as I went about reporting and dealing with the hostile living environment created by these agencies. One can only hope and pray that Indian and Pakistani journalists will once again be able to get visas to go about the business of reporting for their news organisations. It’s difficult to fathom why the people of India and Pakistan should be left to get their information on each other from Western sources alone. Friends have told me that the Indian journalists haven’t had their visas extended because Pakistan’s permanent establishment wants to send a ‘signal’ to Prime Minister Sharif that he should moderate his friendly overtures to India. I’m not convinced by this argument because one of the two correspondents returned home before Sharif took office. It could simply be that the Pakistani establishment has chosen to apply a simple rule: no Pakistani journalists in Delhi equals no Indian journalists in Islamabad. As usual, the reason for such decisions or non-decisions is but a matter of speculation. Such is the ground reality of IndiaPakistan relations. n Amit Baruah has reported for The Hindu from Delhi, Colombo, Islamabad and Singapore open www.openthemagazine.com 21


co u n t e r p o i n t

The War of Words over Blood Diamonds As India, China and Dubai become the world’s biggest markets for these stones, African countries like Angola are resisting attempts by the West to stigmatise their products as conflict diamonds Shantanu Guha Ray Luanda, Angola


I

t was Angola’s centenary celebra-

tion of diamond mining at Epic Sana, the most expensive hotel in the country’s dusty capital Luanda. Guests filling the expansive banquet hall suddenly saw an old man walk through a space reserved for cameramen. He was singing a hauntingly melodious song. Wearing dark glasses and a crumpled suit, the singer was Elias Francisco, Luanda’s oldest singer (known to many as Elias Dia Kimuezo). Unmindful of the virtual stampede he had triggered among the excited cameramen, he continued his song. Titled Nzala—Portuguese for ‘hunphotos seamus murphy/VII

ger’—the song was about his land of diamonds, copper and oil, all in abundance. Considered the king of Angolan music, Francisco wanted everyone to follow the seven words that formed the central theme of his song. He kept repeating them: ‘Work with me, not steal from Africa.’ For him, the continent, his home for generations, was the last best place on earth. As he finished his song, he was greeted with thunderous applause. Some rushed to put wads of Kwanza, the local currency, into his pocket. To many at the conference, it seemed Francisco had conveyed what generations of African govern-

“Africa knows what is best for Africa,” says Welile Nhlapo, chairman of the Kimberley Process, which he asserts is “the final authority on diamonds” ments could not explain to the world. Diamonds were once an integral part of Africa’s harshest civil wars, but are now scripting the continent’s story of economic growth. At the heart of this change is demand from China, India and Dubai, the Asian troika playing a key part in African empowerment. With the world’s biggest markets, these three are now the eventual destination for most African diamonds. It has been just over a decade since coastal Angola emerged from a bloody civil war. The country has an estimated $20 billion worth of oil reserves and sells diamonds worth $1.2 billion every year. By value, it is the world’s fifth largest diamond producer. Angola now wants to trade its minerals on its own terms, and the rest of the world is paying attention. Helped along by investment inflows from China, India, Dubai and even Russia, Africa has steadily been changing its broad strategy to market its minerals, especially diamonds. The image of boy soldiers prodded by rebel leaders is slowly being replaced by men working in Angola’s Catoca mines—the country’s largest—on a monthly salary of $1,000 A glint in the soil Most of Angola’s diamond reserves are alluvial, scattered across its countryside

and with benefits like food at work, medical insurance and free education for children. Africa, to its people and the world, wants to be seen as part of the era’s globalisation story. Everyone at the conference agreed. “One of the overriding consequences of the diamond sourcing process is the empowerment of African nations and African people. For them to obtain the full benefits [of] their natural resources, it is imperative that both diamonds and the diamond industry [stay clear] of any reputation threat,” said Elli Izhakoff, chairman of the Dubai-based World Diamond Council, one of the most powerful bodies of the global diamond trade. Izhakoff was alluding to Western reports on—and allegations of—the sustained supply of blood diamonds to world markets, and how India, China and Dubai ignore what Western NGOs claim is the ‘grim reality’ of the business in African countries such as Angola. Recently, a 17-page report by the Bonnbased International Center for Conversion blamed Angola’s armed forces for dominating the diamond trade and encouraging human rights violations at mines bordering Congo. African leaders see all this as a Western conspiracy to control the business of solitaires, currently witnessing an Asian boom.

I

ndia is the world’s second largest buyer of diamonds, tied with China. The US, which accounts for 40 per cent of the world market in dollar terms, remains the biggest for now. However, with demand bustling in Asia’s big two— China’s domestic market leapt 13 per cent in 2011-12; India’s figures are unavailable but could be similar—the world’s top diamond marketer De Beers has forecast that the two will surpass the US by 2020. African exporters see this as good news and are pleased to realign their strategy accordingly. “The growth of African nations is directly proportional to the growth of its minerals, especially diamonds. Sustained mining is the only answer to strong GDP [growth] in African countries, all of which comply with Kimberley Process regulations [a certification scheme to filter blood diamonds],” said Antonia Carlos Sambula, chairman of Luanda-based Endiama that controls open www.openthemagazine.com 23


the country’s Cataoca mines, the world’s fourth largest, through a joint venture with Russia and Brazil. Sambula also said the time had come to decide whether the West would like to endorse and go by negative portrayals of Africa, or accept the Kimberley Process as a valid certifier of ethically obtained diamonds from African mines. Africa, it seemed clear, was fast losing patience with Western diktats on the ethics of business practices. “If there are new markets,” said Sambula, “Africa will look at those and sell its solitaires [there].” The chairman of Endiama also took delegates on a guided tour of the Catoca mines, walking them around for hours while expounding on what his company does for its 4,000 plus miners. “Their salaries are one of the best in the world, at $1,000 a month,” he said, “Food, housing, education and medical care are free for

their families. We are [open] to inspections. Come here and see for yourself. Do not paint us black by saying our mines are controlled by child soldiers. The war is long over.”

D

iamond markets in the US, Canada,

Germany and the UK have shown a rapid decline in the last three years because of the West’s economic recession. In comparison, Asian markets have grown dramatically in the same period. “Africa knows what is best for Africa,” said South Africa’s Welile Nhlapo, current chairman of the Kimberley Process, “Africa produces nearly half of the world’s rough diamonds [49 per cent]. And the Kimberley Process is the final authority on diamonds. If the Kimberley Process says ‘the diamonds are clean’, then the diamonds are clean. If a coun-

try wants to dictate the diamond market, it must have the capacity to consume. No threats will work here.” Nhlapo reminded the audience how the US had last year wanted to push through a new rule that would have sabotaged trade with India, which polishes nearly 95 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds. Under this proposed rule, any violence in diamond trading centres would automatically label the stones as ‘blood diamonds’. The move fell through after vociferous protests from India, China and other African countries. Delegates from India at the conference agreed with their African counterparts. “If we had not protested, the US would have pushed it as a law,” said Anup Zaveri, a senior official of the Mumbaibased Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, “We don’t have riots in Surat? And when the Kimberley


oliver polet/corbis

carbon trading Africa’s diamond trade has historically been associated with violence. Angola is the world’s fifth largest diamond producer, selling diamonds worth $1.2 billion annually; (facing page) the office of a diamond dealer in Cafunfo, Angola

Process is certifying that less than one per cent of diamonds traded in the world are blood diamonds, why would anyone be worried about the very existence of blood diamonds? Where are blood diamonds now? I think this is a figment of the West’s imagination—seeing all African mines as producers of blood diamonds.” Traders from India, Dubai and China spoke in one voice to reject such ‘highhandedness’ by the US and other Western countries. “The West is afraid of losing [market clout] to India and China and Dubai,” said Dr Minesh Shah of AS Exports, a diamond firm based in Mumbai, “But if Asia is showing growth and Western markets are down, can anyone go against market sentiment? India and China have a huge population base that is keen to buy diamonds. Dubai is growing as one of the world’s biggest diamond hubs.” According to Peter Meeus, an industry veteran and chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange, misinformation on the diamond trade was being spread by NGOs. “There was a time when we enjoyed working together as an industry with NGOs,” he said, “They were fighting for a right and just cause, especially in Africa, so they had the support of Africans and it worked.” Meeus noted that while diamonds have emerged as the world’s most controlled commodity despite less than 0.2 per cent of their supply being ‘conflict diamonds’, the industry’s relations with NGOs had fallen ‘below zero’. 15 july 2013

“Why are they so dissatisfied with the accomplishments of the Kimberley Process and diamond industry?” Meeus asked, suggesting that these NGOs were in competition for funds to tell a story that had become greater than the cause. “I think the NGOs are fighting for their own relevance.” However, to reinforce the credentials of African diamonds, Meeus called for third-party verification by financially independent institutions that had the wherewithal to judge any

Dubai Diamond Exchange chairman Peter Meeus believes NGOs “fighting for their own relevance” have spread misinformation on the diamond trade abuse of ethical norms. “If there are human rights violations, they need to be judged by independent institutions that are really independent, and are respected as such and do not cook up stories for the sake of their own existence,” Meeus said. “That is what we proposed last year to the then Kimberley Process chair—a message clearly not understood. So it’s time to repeat it. Let the Kimberley Process be a certification scheme and not a human rights violation checker.” With China set to take over the Kimberley Process chair next year, the fo-

cus of the diamond business is expected to turn even more decisively towards Asia’s boom markets. African exporters are loving every moment of it, hailing this new trade pattern as their ‘Silk Route to Freedom’. Outside the Epic Sana hotel, Elias Francisco says he need not sing Nzala for much longer. Under the new dispensation, no one will steal minerals from his land. His next song is titled Uniao— Portuguese for togetherness. It goes with the new mood, a celebration of sorts as Africa reorients its globalisation thrust from the West to Asia. The singer has read the headline of the day’s leading newspaper that says China Petrochemical Corp, also known as Sinopec, has agreed to a $1.52 billion deal to buy the US-based Marathon Oil Corp’s 10 per cent stake in an Angolan oil and gas field. The second headline spoke of the Russian diamond giant Al-Rosa signing a deal with Endiama for diamond exploration in Angola.

Y

oungsters crowd the campus of Luanda’s biggest private university, Universidade Metodista De Angola, for admission to courses as diversified as financial markets, and information and communication technology. Outside the campus, there are a handful of hawkers selling ice-cream and stick jaws. Sorry, no meat, at least not for sale on African streets. That is only in pulp fiction. n open www.openthemagazine.com 25


st r e tc h ta r g e t

The Frogman of India A scientist attempts to save amphibians by getting people to join his campaign Dr caesar sengupta

Lhendup G Bhutia.

S

ometime in 2002, Dr Sathyabhama

Das Biju got a call on his phone from a friend. Biju was working with Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute in Trivandrum. He was trying quit plant research to enter the little-frequented field of amphibian research in India. His friend told him that while digging for a well, they had chanced upon a strange creature. “It looks like a tortoise,” Biju remembers him as saying, “But I think it is a frog.” When Biju visited the spot, he found the creature in two pieces. A labourer had accidentally hit the animal while digging. Of its remains, one part was the front of its face, including the nose, and


Dr Sathyabhama Das Biju

the other, the rest of its body. Biju was sure he had stumbled upon something rare. It was a frog unlike any he had ever seen. The creature had a slimy and bloated body. It had tiny eyes and stubby limbs, and strangely, a snout-like nose. What followed was a long and tiresome search for a living specimen that lasted over six months. “It was a foolish hunt,” he says. Because, as he later learnt from the discovery of two frogs of this species, this particular frog lives underground. And the only time it emerges is when the monsoon’s first showers hit the earth, and that too, just for about ten days—to mate. A year later, Biju and another researcher, Franky Bossuyt, published their findings in the science journal Nature. Not

great leap (Facing page) Biju (2nd from left) and his LAI team search for frogs in forests of Latpanchar, North Bengal; (above) the Chalazodes Bubble-Nest Frog, which was rediscovered by LAI after 136 years

only was this an entirely new species, it was found to belong to a hitherto unknown family of frogs. Since new families of frogs are extremely rare discoveries—only 29 such have so far been identified, mostly in the 1800s, the last discovery having been made in 1926— the journal dubbed Biju’s work a ‘oncein-a century find’. The new species was named Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, and popularly came to be called the Purple Frog. Interestingly, the frog’s closest relatives are located nowhere in or around India, but about 2,400 km from mainland Africa on the archipelago of Seychelles: Seychellean frogs. In terms of evolutionary descent, it was found that this newlydiscovered frog had split from Seychellean frogs at least 130 million years ago. This had important implications for the field of palaeogeography as well, and could throw fresh light on how species migrated in prehistoric times. “That discovery probably gave me everything,” Biju says, referring to his academic career boost. After he completed his second PhD (in Amphibian Systematics) from the Amphibian Evolution Lab of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, he delved deeper into the world of amphibians, especially frogs. Now, a little more than a decade later, at 50, Biju is considered India’s foremost amphibian researcher. Often referred to as the ‘Frogman of India’, he has discovered over 100 new species in various parts of India (58 of which have formally been described in various journals). Apart from the Purple Frog find, his work has yielded another hitherto unknown fam-

ily of amphibians. In 2012, along with a team of researchers, Biju discovered a new family of caecilians (legless amphibians) in the Northeast. Termed Chikilidae, it was described as a ‘giant scientific discovery’ by Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the journal that published the finding. It was just the 10th caecilian family ever identified, and, interestingly again, the Chikilidae split from their closest African relatives more than 140 million years ago.

B

efore Biju became an amphibian researcher, he had spent 10 years studying plants. His interest in frogs was aroused once he focused on one through the viewfinder of his camera during a field trip studying the flora of the Western Ghats. “Have you ever taken a photograph of a frog?” Biju asks. “When you focus on a frog, you realise how beautiful it is. Its various colours, the eyes, the expression… very few in the animal world can give you that experience.” Biju continued to take pictures of frogs. In 2002, he even sold some of his images to National Geographic and bought his first computer with the Rs 2 lakh he earned. His love of frogs increased as he pursued them with his lens, and he soon knew he had to shift academic focus. “Don’t get me wrong, I like plants,” he says, dressed in a shirt with red checks. “But they are boring compared to frogs.” His answers are terse and formal and he delivers them sitting with a straight back and square shoulders. However, on occasions that he recollects a fond moment, his tone changes and his back open www.openthemagazine.com 27


stoops and shoulders get rounded, as if cosying up to the memory. Biju is also an amphibian conservationist. The Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature claims that amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate group in the animal kingdom, with 41 per cent of their species at risk of extinction. The cloud of gloom is perhaps darkest over India, 60 per cent of whose amphibians are unique to the Subcontinent. According to records, around 57 species of Indian amphibians are considered lost—which means they have not been sighted for over 10 years. Globally, several factors have combined to threaten the amphibian world, from climate change and habitat loss to the appearance of diseases like chytrid fungus. But, according to Biju, the chief threat in India is habitat destruction. “People find frogs and amphibians cute or even weird, but no one was really interested in saving them. All our interest and conservation efforts, from the Government’s to [those of] lay individuals, were and still are for the country’s sexy animals—tigers, elephants, etcetera. But what about our frogs and lesser animals, which are equally if not more threatened?” he asks. It was sometime in 2005 that Biju began to realise the scale of the crisis. “Academics and experts can go about their jobs of studying various species and speak about the importance of conservation,” he says, “But none of this means a thing if you don’t involve lay people.” In late 2010, Biju came up with a project to generate awareness of amphibians. Called Lost! Amphibians of India (LAI), the project put out a public notice listing the 57 lost species and asked people to join him and other researchers in looking for them. The response was overwhelming; LAI currently has over 500 members, mostly non-researchers, and has undertaken as many as 59 expeditions so far in various parts of the country, including the biodiversity hotspots of the Western Ghats and Northeast. The effort has led to the finding of five lost species. These include the remarkably colourful Chalazodes Bubble-Nest Frog (fluorescent green body with bluishblack pupils and yellow iris), which had not been seen for 136 years and is a critically endangered species, apart from the 28 open

Anamalai Dot-Frog that was spotted after 73 years, the Elegant Torrent Frog after 73 years, the Stream Frog after 25 years, and the Silent Valley Tropical Frog after 30 years. There are many more species that have been discovered, according to Biju, but these will be announced only after the finds are peer-reviewed and published in a journal. LAI’s expeditions can last four days to a month or more. The researchers, both amateur and expert, set out with sleeping bags, supplies of dry fruits and kneelength leather boots to protect them from snake bite. Sometimes, they get decent shelter. But they usually have to make do with sleeping bags in tents . Finding frogs is never easy. “Amphibians are only found in swamps and forests,” says Sonali Garg, a member of LAI, “They only come out at night and usually camouflage themselves very well with their surroundings.” Garg has been

Biju has discovered over 100 new species in various parts of India (58 of which have formally been described in various peerreviewed journals) part of several LAI frog hunts, and was a member of one of the teams that rediscovered the Dehradun Stream Frog near Tiger Falls in Uttarakhand’s Chakrata area. It was a memorable expedition. They would trek up to the point of the falls, wait for sunset and strap on their headlights to look for the frog. They finally spotted not just one but several— perched on a rock close to the rapids, glowing light green in the glare of their lights. That was the easy part, as it turned out. Capturing them proved tough. “Even if our endeavours had proved unsuccessful,” she says, “the delight of exploring such a place was worth it.” Later tests of the specimens in Delhi showed that it was indeed the lost Dehradun Stream Frog.

B

iju was born to a family of farmers

in a rural part of Kerala in Kollam district. As a child, he would have to

bathe and graze cattle and feed the chicken that his parents owned. They were not well off, he says, but he believes his childhood taught him more about nature than any schoolbook could. “I would often go fishing in a nearby river,” he says, “But I would not eat [my catch], I would bring it home to illustrate.” Eco-sensitivity, he believes, requires a sustained effort at all levels, urban and rural. During his expeditions in the Northeast, he found that many frogs were under threat because locals consumed them as part of their diet without thinking twice about it. “The marketplace would be filled with baskets and jars of frogs,” he says, “I would try to explain to them why one should not eat them. But in the beginning, this was not taken to very kindly.” Locals often got into altercations with him. And sometimes the police also turned up to have a word with him for making a nuisance of himself. Biju had an especially difficult time in Manipur, where his forest excursions were viewed with suspicion by both Indian Army soldiers and militants. “To both, I was an outsider wading into their space.” On one expedition, he was even held captive by some militants for about six days. “I kept explaining that ‘My interest is not in you or the Army, or politics, I am here for the frogs’.” He was eventually let off. In time, he was also able to recruit a few locals to his cause in Manipur, asking students for help explain the need to conserve frogs. “Some of them stopped hunting and selling baby frogs and mothers that come out to mate during the monsoon.” According to Biju, there is a ‘nameless extinction’ underway in India: “Many species remain undiscovered and several of them are becoming extinct before they are found.” But something can still be done. In a recent talk he delivered in Mumbai, he said that LAI members would now visit schools and colleges in an effort to involve even more individuals by asking them to take pictures of amphibians for project members to sift through and identify. “Amphibians once lived in habitats throbbing with life,” Biju says, “Today they are mostly seen only in the silent and sterile unchanging world of spirit jars. We need to change that.” n 15 july 2013


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INNOCEAN-092/10

The Hurried Man's guide is a comprehensive, yet concise piece on subjects in the news. So you can be informed and discuss these topics opics without having to read too much. From people, to events, from concepts to animals, nimals, this nifty little section gives you enough to make conversation, without putting others to sleep.

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defiance

In Turkey, Silence Speaks

A prime minister once jailed for dissent can’t tolerate those who won’t sacrifice a park for ‘development’ NAZES AFROZ

O

nce, a man, the mayor of a city, re-

cited a poem in public praising his religion. That man was arrested because the law of the land interpreted his reading of the poem as religious incitement and hatred. A semi-professional soccer player turned politician, the man spent four months in prison. Four years later, he led his party to a 30 open

landslide victory in the country’s election. He could not become the leader of the country immediately as the old laws still barred him from assuming any public office because of his earlier conviction. The following year, lawmakers of his party changed the rules for him to become prime minister. Now the same man, as prime minister,

is faced with a major crisis. Citizens of his country are standing in silence out in the streets to protest his intolerant and brash ways of governance. In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is sending his police force to arrest the protestors who dare challenge his authority. The protests were sparked by the proposed development of Taksim Square, the 15 july 2013


osman orsal/reuters

smoke and mirrors The protests at Taksim reflect a growing gap between Turks and their government

ports, photos and videos of the excessive use of force by the police. And like a torrent, sympathisers from all walks of life started pouring into Taksim Square to stand against the government’s actions.

“H

only green space in that part of Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest, most vibrant city. The government planned to destroy it and replace it with a shopping mall. Locals protested by camping in the park and attempting to stop bulldozers coming in to uproot trees. Calling the protestors ‘antidevelopment’, the government sent in a large police contingent armed with tear 15 july 2013

gas, pepper spray, water cannons and batons. The protestors stayed put. The local media, either out of loyalty to the government or fear of persecution, chose not to report the high-handed police action on unarmed civilians; CNN Turk broadcast a documentary on penguins while the police action was taking place. But social media was abuzz with re-

ow can he say this?” a young Turkish friend of mine screamed as Prime Minister Erdoğan was delivering a televised speech, threatening the protestors. The gist of what he said is: “I’ve decided, and I’ll build this shopping mall in spite of all your protests.” My friend was livid and loud: “Isn’t that the language of a dictator?” While translating every line of the speech for me, she vented her anger at the arrogance of the leader of her country. This friend of mine, in her late twenties, is steeped in the ideas of civil rights and personal choice that go with being a citizen of a modern society. There are tens of thousands of young Turks like her who are vocal, articulate and well aware of their rights. They are the ones who first swarmed into the streets and were then joined by an unprecedented number of citizens from everywhere in the city. Tens of thousands of residents from the Asian side of the city came marching over the massive Bosphorus Bridge in solidarity with the Taksim protestors. Artists, musicians and performers came round to add a carnival feel to the protests. Housewives banged pots and pans from their rooftops and balconies to register their disapproval of police action. Taksim Square is perhaps the most interesting and vibrant space in Istanbul, dotted with hotels, cafes and restaurants. The residents and businesses around Taksim not only extended moral support, they opened their doors to protestors fleeing the tear gas and pepper spray, and let doctors and medics use their lounges as makeshift medical rooms. While this wave of sympathy and active support was being watched by the world, the prime minister, in his usual aggressive manner, was saying he too could rally his supporters to prove he had a mandate to implement the project. Within days, ripples of the Taksim protest reached the capital Ankara and othopen www.openthemagazine.com 31


petr david josek/ap

holding ground Performance artist Erdem Gündüz’s (centre) standing man protest has stirred Turkey

er major cities like Izmer and Antalya. Professionals, trade unions, teachers, students and housewives came out in droves to protest against the government. For the first time, the government relented and withdrew the police from Taksim— only to send the force back after a couple of weeks to clear the square.

T

he ‘moderate Islamist’ AK Party

led by Prime Minister Erdoğan has been in power for a little over a decade. It has won three consecutive elections; another is due next year. During this past decade, Turkey has registered impressive growth. Massive infrastructure projects have been undertaken and many have been completed. Its per capita income has risen significantly. So what explains the anger against the government? Following the demise of the old Ottoman Empire during World War I, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded modern Turkey in the 1920s by expelling occupying European powers. Secular democracy became the cornerstone of the new constitution. The constitution ensured total separation of Islam and the State in a Muslim majority country. In his project of modernising Turkey, Atatürk had the full support of a well-formed military, which continued to retain huge influence in the country in the decades after. The powerful military became the selfappointed keeper of the secular constitution and continued to interfere in the country’s democratic process, carrying out four coups between 1960 and 1997. That was a period of great repression, with no voices of dissent allowed. Various centrist secular parties often 32 open

worked hand-in-glove with the military—they were the ones who jailed Erdoğan for reciting the poem praising the ‘sword of Islam’. These regimes created a vacuum. Erdoğan, an able administrator with ambition, filled the void by bringing together Islamist parties of various shades together to form the AK Party in 2001, and swept the 2002 election. Erdoğan’s model of development is clearly based on a free market economy and private enterprise, yet he and his party also harbour ambitions of turning Turkey into a socially conservative soci-

Erdoğan is said to see himself as a restorer of the old glories of the Islamic Ottoman Empire, an idea that alarms Turkey’s secular citizens ety. As a Muslim majority country with a secular democratic foundation, Turkey has always been an interesting case study compared to other Muslim states that have endured deep conservatism and dictatorships. But in the last decade, a project of Islamisation has progressed under the aegis of the AK Party. One week before the police crackdown on Taksim, the government issued new restrictions on the sale of alcohol. A bill seeking to declare abortion illegal is in parliament. Restrictions are also being brought in to limit physical closeness between men and women in public. Erdoğan is said to see himself as a re-

storer of the old glories of the Islamic Ottoman Empire, an idea that alarms Turkey’s secular citizens. He wants to rebuild the old Ottoman military barracks in Taksim by demolishing a cultural centre named after Atatürk. He has also named the new third bridge over the Bosphorus channel after the Ottoman Emperor Salim said to have inflicted gross atrocities on such minority groups as Alevis. Even though Erdoğan has benefitted from the system of secular democracy, he has not shied away from using the most draconian terrorism laws put in place by previous regimes to gag any voice of dissent. It is said that Turkey is Europe’s biggest prison for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, close to 400 journalists are in prison— many of them minority Kurds. The publisher Ragep Zarakolou, my friend, has lost count of how many times he has been to prison for publishing books on the Armenian genocide or Kurdish issues that are taboo subjects in Turkey.

E

ducated urban Turkish youth like

my friend are connected with the outside world and have a developed sense of personal choice and civil rights. They do not want the State or prime minister to decide how they live their lives. They have posed a huge challenge to Erdoğan, and he is yet to grasp the causes of their resentment. Hence, he is still talking tough. He and his party leaders are spitting venom against social media avenues, and threatening to shut them down. He thinks his constituency—the rural poor—will keep him in power. But 15 million of Turkey’s population of 80 million live in Istanbul. So events in the city are bound to have a ripple effect on the rest of the country. Another important shift Erdoğan has failed to notice is that educated urban Turks have crossed their old line of fear. After police flushed protestors out of Taksim with tear gas and water cannons, renowned performance artist Erdem Gündüz began a standing man protest. What began as a lone man standing silently, is now an iconic countrywide movement, piling ever more pressure on the man who once went to prison for reciting a poem in public. n 15 july 2013


e m a n c i pat i o n

Sexuality and the State Why India’s LGBTQI movement has a headstart over the West’s Jerry Johnson

M

angesh Karande is 26, unmarried, and drives an autorickshaw in Mumbai. He prefers the late night shift because of the higher fares he can charge. He prefers the late night shift for another reason: Mangesh is intimately familiar with the ‘ladies’ who loiter around the dark corners of Linking Road after midnight. He has his favourites. Like the thousands of other autorickshaw drivers who also frequent these spots, Mangesh knows that these ladies are actually men dressed as women—some are transsexuals, some are not. This fact does not seem of much consequence to their clientele. For men like Mangesh, sex happens between bodies, not genders. For them, sex is unabashed, uncomplicated, and, in a way, liberated. In their world, sex comes within the ambit of either pleasure or purpose. The former can be enjoyed with anybody; the latter, with their wives. Mangesh poses a unique challenge to the dominant queer rights movement in India. He is not easy to slot within the queer alphabet milieu. The Indian LGBTQI movement has largely adopted—for better or worse—a Western character in its approach. We look towards the West, specifically Western Europe and America, for trends and strategies in fighting our own battles. We gladly adopt the Human Rights Campaign’s ‘equal’ sign in solidarity with the equal marriage cause. Our terminologies—queer, intersex, gender-curious—are picked up from Western post-modernist academic discourse. We would classify men like Mangesh as ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’, labels whose implications would surprise them if they knew what they meant. The recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented gay and lesbian couples from marrying and enjoying full and equal State recognition, was celebrated with as much gusto within Indian queer circles as American ones. Meanwhile, there are also anti-equal-marriage voices within the Indian queer movement, almost exclusively coinciding with the left of the political spectrum, which sees this recent US apex court decision as undesirable, as a reflection of the continued hegemony of the heteronormative marriage paradigm. Paradoxically, this contrarian movement in India also looks to the West’s post-modernist vocabulary for inspiration despite its anti-Americanism. In the midst of all these Westernised constructs, the fluidity

of sexual expression in India is often ignored for the expedience of fighting for the rights of well-defined communities. The fear is that such facts muddle the mind more than clarify, and can pose a threat to the march of equality for self-identified LGBTQI individuals. In a sense, these fears are not entirely unfounded. India’s Supreme Court is yet to decide on the matter of decriminalising homosexual acts; and pushing a pedantic nuance on the diversity of sexual behaviour in India is hardly going to make the whole affair more palatable to Indians at large. Often, big victories require broad and bold brush strokes. Nevertheless, it is hard not to point out that by adopting Western templates for LGBTQI rights advocacy, we may have overlooked one of the unique strengths of our own culture, which could have formed the bedrock of our argument for equality: namely, Indian culture’s historic character of decentralised authority. The Western template seeks the endorsement of the State—a dominant power centre—by agitating for strong legislative and executive-level action. This is because the State is accepted as an authority over matters of human nature and personhood, a view that has roots in Hegelian and monotheistic thought. First, the State, in all its wisdom, presumed to know what ‘acts against the order of nature’ are, and then chose to outlaw them; now, the State is being asked to reverse its decision. Indian pantheistic traditions are hardly amenable to such centralised authority. Nature is not thought of as something humans can preside over. As a result, the products of nature are accepted as is—sometimes, as in the case of traditional hijra culture, begrudgingly so. Indian thought allows for varying and competing power centres across different contexts that result in organic synergies and trade-offs. The Indian approach is to be left alone. It typically likes to circumvent the power of the State to get about its functions. The State is seen—often rightfully so—as inept and, at best, an annoying interference in the daily flow of organic human events. In this sense, LGBTQI individuals in India have a common cause with almost every other fellow Indian in that our ultimate goal is the sexual emancipation of all citizens from intrusions of the State. Our struggle for freedom and equality under the law, then, would be a sexual liberation movement for all Indians—including Mangesh. n

The Indian approach is to be left alone—it typically circumvents the power of the State

15 July 2013

open www.openthemagazine.com 33


WHEELS

No Country for Cyclists I

t was late in the evening when Mohan Raman, a 38-year-old who works for Siemens, left his office in Gurgaon for his home in Dwarka. Raman is a family man, and like a lot of others on the roads speeding home to dinner, television and children, he too was in a hurry to get back to his two kids. The only 34 open

difference being, his ride was a bicycle worth Rs 24,500. He decided to speed up to about 25 kmph. As he was cruising on Old Gurgaon Highway, he passed a Santro parked on the extreme left of the road. Without any warning, the driver’s door opened and he rode straight into it. The plastic inner surface of the door cracked

and his front wheel twisted in response. “They didn’t even have the decency to say sorry,” Raman recalls, “They just said ki tumko dikhta nahi hai (‘can’t you see’)?” The driver, a youngster, seemed to be on his way back from work with friends. Raman told them to shut up and get lost. After Ruma Chatterjee, coach of the 15 JULy 2013


Most developed countries go out of their way to promote a cycling culture, but in India, it can be a really dangerous hobby SIDDHARTHA GUPTAi

women’s national cycling team, was killed in an accident on the Delhi-NoidaDirect (DND) flyway on 18 June, the overriding thought in the minds of cyclists like Raman is how easy it is to get killed on Indian roads. Chatterjee was not on a bicycle. She was riding a motorcycle behind her team, all of whom were on cy15 JULy 2013

cles. She had been in the left-most lane when a speeding cab went out of control and smashed into her. If she hadn’t been there, it could have been one of the cyclists in her place. Onkar Singh, secretary general of the Cycling Federation of India and a colleague of Chatterjee, says that the stan-

dards that Chatterjee set, not just as a coach but as a mentor to her students, will be tough to match: “There are hardly any women coaches in India, and the few we have are not of her level. In India, once a woman gets married, her sporting career is over.” He had once asked her why she hadn’t thought of marrying. She open www.openthemagazine.com 35

photos dilip kaliya

A Strip Of Street Cyclists in India must compete with unsympathetic motorists for room on the road


pedal pushers Gurgaon-based cycling group Spinlife, seen here on Sohna Road, organises early morning bike trips across town

replied that she was already married to cycling. “Ten months in a year, she used to be with her cyclists,” he says.

M

ost cyclists in India face the ques-

tion of what they must do, over and above wearing protective gear, following traffic rules and sticking to the extreme left, to ensure their safety on Indian roads. The answer is not much. “People in autos and on motorbikes think you are a mosquito—machchhar,” Raman says. Eight years of experience as a cyclist in India have taught him that it is important to be cool and patient. There is no other way. “Gaali-waali hote rehta hai (you keep getting cursed at), but you can’t keep getting worked up,” he says. That it is a cultural problem is a sentiment shared by riders across the country. Drivers of motor vehicles find it difficult to comprehend that they aren’t the only ones on the road. “People don’t like it when they see a cyclist joining the traffic stream all of a sudden. They are like ‘Ye saala kahan se aa gaya’ (where did this idiot come from),” says Hari Menon, a 47-year-old amateur racer from Bangalore. Menon recalls how he was almost thrown off the road into a khat—a stretch of earth sloping down about 10 metres—by a speeding truck. He was on National Highway 17, just south of Kochi. “I must have been clocking 40-45 kmph. The truckwala, driving in parallel, saw a cycle and decided to come too 36 open

close, even though he had plenty of space on the road to drive on. He didn’t hit me, but the forceful stream of air that did almost knocked me off my path.” Jose George, founder of Lakecity Pedalers, a cycling group in Mumbai, says, “The guy in the car makes an opinion of you in a fleeting second, which is often not very flattering. You need to ensure that you don’t get in their crosshairs if you want to stay safe.” Drivers of big cars are more dangerous than those of trucks and buses. “They are so arrogant, they don’t care who they crush under their wheels, especially in Delhi,” says Shubho Sengupta, a Delhi-based cyclist who has been on the roads for more than 20 years. “Mehrauli Road is probably the most dangerous stretch of road for cycling in Delhi. They can just come and hit you and go. No cops, nothing.” Cyclists suffer the effects of a bias by many motorists that stems from a belief that not being powered by an engine, the cycle is slow. That is not always true, and is, in fact, one of the major reasons for accidents on city roads. “We often drive at 30-60 kmph,” says Menon, “and it’s difficult for people to judge how fast we actually are driving. You see the guy on a cycle in your peripheral vision and assume that you have around 7-10 seconds to turn or make a move, whereas you don’t. We are already there in about a second. The reaction time required to avoid collision in such a situation is difficult to achieve for both the cyclist and the driver.”

A

ccording to a recent article in The Hindu Business Line by Pankaj Munjal, chairman of the All India Cycle Manufacturers Association and managing director of Hero Cycles, there are approximately 100 million cycles in India, and annual production is around 15 million units. A 2008 study on traffic and transportation policies and strategies in urban India, conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates and India’s Ministry of Urban Development, places the proportion of people using non-motorised transport in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore at 30 per cent, cars at 10 per cent and public transport at 44 per cent. But most Indian cities don’t have space enough for cars, let alone bicycles. Once upon a time, a high density of people and mixed land use made Indian cities friendly for cyclists and pedestrians, but they have increasingly been designed and redesigned for the convenience of motorised traffic. For example, cycles are now banned in busy areas of Kolkata such as Esplanade, Park Street and MG Road from 9 am to 7 pm, to make way for motorised traffic. Amateur racers and professional athletes have greater demands than just space. “We have to have tracks as well as roads for training, because we train for both speed and endurance,” says Onkar Singh. “For endurance, you have to do up to 500 km a week, for which you need good roads. Where we have tracks—in places like Amritsar, Delhi, Hyderabad, 15 JULy 2013


Ludhiana, Pune and Patiala—the roads are very congested. Where we have roads, there are no tracks. This is the basic problem we are facing at the moment.” Singh stresses the fact that amateur and professional racers have no option but to move out of such cities. Ruma Chatterjee and her cyclists had been using the DND flyway for the past two years. Female cyclists face at least one more major issue on Indian roads. And that, because they are female. Vicki Nicholson, an Irish national who currently lives in Bangalore, talks excitedly about cycling communities in the city. She feels that active participation and strong intracommunity bonding makes Bangalore’s cycling culture particularly encouraging. And then she mentions the flipside. “On Nandi Hills, I have had guys on motobikes patting me on the backside a few times,” she says. “It’s intrusive, but I have consciously decided not to get upset by it.” Also, Indian women often have to wear more clothing than is comfortable while cycling in order to avoid being stared at and hassled. “When I cycle alone, I don’t wear shorts,” Nicholson says. “Proper cycling clothing is tight-fitting lycra. In India, if you get stuck in the countryside wearing that, [you’re] asking for trouble.” She feels North India, especially Delhi, is hazardous for a lone woman cyclist.

G

overnment response to demands

for dedicated cycling lanes, tight regulation of traffic and safe parking for bicycles—which can cost anything between a few thousand rupees to a couple of lakh—has been mixed. Members of a Gurgaon-based cycling group, Pedal Yatri, say they had organised a ride to Vice President Hamid Ansari’s residence last year and handed him their report on the plight of cyclists, but nothing came of it. On the other hand, Chennai-based cyclist Satish Narayanan, who runs an online bike information portal called ChooseMyBicycle, says the Government has been supportive. “They have promised to create dedicated cycling lanes and have also been present during [the] annual cycling events that cycling groups conduct.” Onkar Singh agrees. “We have asked around 10-12 chief ministers to build dedicated cycling tracks. In Noida

15 JULy 2013

and New Raipur city, we have seen positive responses. Shivraj Singh Chouhan also responded positively,” he says. Developed countries go out of their way to nurture a cycling culture as an environmentally sagacious practice. The mayor of London sanctioned £1 billion last month for cycling lanes. New York City has developed hundreds of kilometres of bicycle lanes over the past few years. But even in these places, there is a conflict between cyclists and motorists. This gave rise to the now famous Critical Mass, an informally organised cycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month in cities across the world. Cyclists from all over a given city meet at a pre-set time and place, and then ride around town to raise awareness about cycling and urge city administrators to provide suitable solutions to their problems. The event, which cyclists see as social and authorities often see as

Chatterjee’s death has led to an anxiety that, because she was a high-profile victim, the government will respond by banning cycling instead of making it safer political, first took place in San Francisco in 1992. In India where urban spaces are overcrowded, the feasibility of creating and maintaining separate lanes for cyclists is a big question mark. Jose George is of the opinion that motorists should be given first preference as far as roads and support infrastructure are concerned, or else they will keep spilling over onto pavements and sidelanes. Mumbai, incidentally, is infamous among cyclists for the simple reason that it already caters to more people than its infrastructure can handle. Every inch of road is fought over. Even in cities that have designated cycling lanes, encroachment is common. Pedal Yatri co-founder Jasbeer Singh says, “Whatever lanes we do have in Gurgaon are routinely used by bikes, autos, tempos and sometimes even police jeeps. If not, you will find them littered with hawkers.” Just setting up cycling lanes does not solve anything.

R

uma Chatterjee’s death has led to a peculiar anxiety among some cyclists. Because she was a high-profile victim, they think the Government’s response will be to ban or curtail cycling instead of making it safer. Hari Menon compares the scenario to the death of Mohammad Azharuddin’s son in a motorcycle accident two years ago, when authorities reacted by banning all twowheelers on certain roads. “What are the odds they won’t do the same thing this time? And the cyclists who need such roads to practise, what will they do then?” Many expressways are off limits for cyclists already. “In Hyderabad, for instance, the guys at the toll booths jump out of their cabins and come and tell you that, ‘Boss idhar mat chalana cycle’ (don’t ride your cycle here),” says Menon. After Chatterjee’s death, Onkar Singh says he is too scared to let his cyclists ride on the DND. “We are trying to find a road outside Delhi. But there’s no way in Delhi you will find a road suitable for this. We must move out.” Singh accepts that incidents such as the one on the DND flyway happen everywhere in the world. In 2005, the famous Australian cyclist Amy Gillett was training with her team in Germany when a drunk female driver lost control of her car and drove into her, killing her. Closer home, Menon was cycling with his partner early one morning on Hennur road when a middle-aged lady, who was being taught how to ride a scooter by her husband, drove straight into them. Luckily, nothing happened. Raman’s wife has always found it hard to understand why he needs to cycle to work even though they own a Maruti Suzuki Swift. He must start from home at 7 am sharp every morning, if he is to avoid traffic, and must leave work late enough to avoid the evening rush. Altogether, he rides almost 35-40 km a day, and has been doing so for eight years. “She has stopped arguing with me these days,” he says. “She is resigned to the fact that I am probably just not interested in taking the Swift to work.” He says he does it to stay fit. To Raman, Chatterjee’s death is troubling. “I know people who use that stretch to cycle to work. This incident has scared me,” he says. But for people like him, there is no choice. They just have to live with the risks that come with their passion. n open www.openthemagazine.com 37


mirror mirror Reality show winner Nirmala Shrimal rarely eats out to save money and exercises regularly to look good


p r e t t y p eo p l e

The Cost of Looking Good And the toll it takes on aspiring models and actors Aastha Atray Banan photographs by ashish sharma

P

rabh Uppal arrived in Mumbai

from Ludhiana two years ago with Rs 1.5 lakh in his bank account. His lecturer mother had given him this money to help him settle comfortably in the city while he tried his chances as a model. He started by living with friends as a house guest, but soon realised that no money was coming in to replace what he was spending. Male models get much less work than their female counterparts, and even now, Uppal says, sometimes a month goes by before he gets an assignment. He is engaged by a modelling agency whose foreign models get priority over him. “The agency is paying for their stay and expenses,” he says, “So they get them jobs because they need to get their money back. [In contrast], male models like me work maybe five days a month, sometimes none. But when we do get work [for print advertisements or on the fashion ramp], it’s good money.” A large chunk of that money must be spent on keeping up appearances. That is the nature of the modelling scene. Uppal spends Rs 15,000 on rent for a house in Versova that is shared with two others. Just a day ago, he spent Rs 50,000 buying clothes at Zara. He also bought a couple of perfumes because how one smells is also important. “We have to sell products, so we need to look good,” he reasons, “That’s why you are a model.” He got a haircut recently for Rs 2,500. He trains at a crossfit—a mix of aerobics, body-weight exercises, gymnastics and weightlifting—gymnasium in his neighbourhood that takes a monthly Rs 5,000

15 july 2013

off him. “My trainer says that if you can’t spend at least that much on your workout, you can’t be a model.” He attends Bollywood dance classes to loosen limbs stiffened by all the gymming; that’s another Rs 2,500 per month. Uppal also socialises a lot, which soaks up anything from Rs 1,500 to Rs 4,000 every night out. At home, he has a high-protein diet and says he spends Rs 20,000 per month just on daily purchases of chicken, which the three roommates share. “If you add other groceries, it’s Rs 10,000 more.” Add auto and taxi commutes, and that is another Rs 10,000. Plus there are expenses like phone and electricity bills. All in all, Uppal’s monthly appearance maintenance bill stands at about Rs 1 lakh. But it is money he does not begrudge spending. “Obviously I want to be an actor too,” he says, “But it’s hard surviving as a model or an aspiring actor. But what can you do? Anyone can become a model these days, but to do well, you need luck and looks. At least I can control the looks part.” He contemplates going back to Ludhiana almost every morning. “I have three cars at home,” he says. Once, he even left the city, only to return a few days later. “This glamour world, it’s hard but addictive,” he says, “You just can’t give it up. It’s not possible.”

L

ike Uppal, 27-year-old Debrah Marian came to Mumbai from Pune three years ago and hasn’t been able to go back. She got selected for Anupam Kher’s acting school and has nursed dreams of

becoming an actress ever since. She did get a role in a movie that is stuck in postproduction and also hosted a show on cricket for Sahara. Now, as she doesn’t have much work, she assists a director to make some money and keep busy. Three years ago, she broke up with her boyfriend because being married would have hurt her chances as an actress. She now regrets giving up love. Nothing is worth doing that, she feels. Marian likens the struggle to look good to taking a daily test. “Everyone thinks that the next meeting will change everything and so ‘always be prepared’. It’s like you are going to buy a lottery ticket every day. You are pushing your optimism to the limit and that’s emotionally draining. You have to repair your self-image every single day.” The recent suicide of Jiah Khan had a profound impact on Marian. “I have decided that if I get work the way I am, that’s well and good,” she says, “I can’t be plagued by bad thoughts anymore.” She is aware of the perils of the field. She knows of many models and aspiring actresses who have got used to a certain kind of lifestyle and will do anything to keep it going. “I have heard of friends of mine who were simple girls from small towns who are now high-class escorts just so they can keep up their lavish lifestyles—with the clothes, bags and socialising,” she says. At the start of her career, there were times that money was short and Marian took loans from her parents. She used to spend big bucks on dance classes, the gym and salon, and even hired a dietician open www.openthemagazine.com 41


Man on a wire Prabh Uppal, originally from Ludhiana, says the glamour world is hard but addictive

to keep her food habits in control. “You have this immense pressure to look good even if you are out with your friends,” she says, “There is just so much competition.” Now she stops herself when she wants to buy something expensive. “It’s not worth it. When you study to be a lawyer, you become one. In modelling, there is no guarantee you will ever make it, despite what you put in—be it money or emotion.”

S

uch stories are not new to Mumbai,

which attracts young men and women from across India to be the next Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif or Milind Soman. But only a few ever succeed. A few years ago, any journalist who interviewed Jiah Khan (including this writer) came away with a sense of her youthful, innocent vibe. Her optimism was palpable—as if the world were at her feet. But, as media reports suggest, the actress soon sank into the depression of failing to make it big and attendant financial difficulties. To most models and actors, Mumbai is a relentless emotional and financial struggle. Like Sharmistha, who came from Kolkata a few years ago. “Jo dikhta hai, woh bikta hai (What shows is what sells),” she says. “You can’t just walk to a meeting looking like a normal person. Why will people give you a job or expect you to sell something if you don’t look half decent? Clothes are very important.” She has just spent Rs 5 lakh on a trip to Dubai, where she walked the ramp at a 42 open

fashion show. “They gave me Rs 2 lakh and I had three in my savings. I came back with no money made.” She loves good shoes and only wears Jimmy Choos. She has a watch fetish and her collection includes a couple of Diors. She is aware modelling cannot sustain such a lifestyle and now does it only parttime, having got another job managing a resort in Goa. “I go to Mumbai when I get work. I can’t live like that anymore…

Part-time model Sharmistha only wears Jimmy Choos and owns two Dior watches. She is aware modelling cannot sustain such a lifestyle waiting everyday for that movie or role.” One of Hollywood’s latest offerings, The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola, is based on the true story of a bunch of teens so taken in by the lifestyle of the rich and famous that they steal just to look the part. That is not the norm in Mumbai, but is not beyond imagination either. The irony of the world of aspiring models is the idea of spending huge amounts on looking good while struggling to survive. Supermodel Candice Pinto feels that there is no way around it. “Models are looked at all the time, so you have to maintain appearances.” Back when she

started modelling, she remembers, it was much tougher than it is now. “There were few established models and to break into that clique was very hard. You had to work very hard.” Modelling agencies have made it easier for newcomers to get breaks now, but Candice observes that competition has also multiplied—with every second person looking to be a model. “Many girls go and do shady things to make money because you obviously need money, and there are so many people doing this,” she says. “Getting noticed is very tough,” she advises, “but just work hard and play your cards right, and money does come.” Pransh Chopra, 29, who worked at a multinational corporation before deciding to become an actor, came from Delhi to Mumbai with a fair sum of savings. In two years, he had exhausted his money and found that good work was scarce. “I had to borrow from my parents and that really hurt me. I didn’t even have the money to pay my bills.” His perseverance, however, has paid off. He has done ads and short films that have topped up his bank balance. “Now I am very careful,” he says, referring to expenses.

T

here are other survival tactics too. Many models splurge on their lifestyle as a professional necessity but cut costs elsewhere. In the words of Nirmala Shrimal, who won a reality show called Beauty and the Geek on Channel [V] a few years ago: “You have to strike a balance. Just because I pay a high rent in Juhu [a posh residential locality], I make sure I curb all my other expenses. I only eat at home and don’t even go to the parlour. I use kitchen ingredients to make myself look pretty.” Shrimal had used her prize money of Rs 5 lakh to get to Mumbai from Chennai and lived the first few months at the local YWCA to keep costs low. She doesn’t shop much. “I have a mantra: if I have a good body, I will look good. So I just spend on the gym.” She is conscious, too, about doing what she can to keep her spirits high. “I don’t meet people who judge me on how I look,” she says, “If I go out all dressed up to meet someone, I balance it out by going out in my most casual clothes to make sure it’s my personality that shines through.” n 15 july 2013


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INNOCEAN-001/12


between the sheets

A Modest Proposal

Want to make the world a better place? Take it up the butt sonali khan

deserve to call myself a writer because what I write about doesn’t help to make the world a better place. It got me thinking about the things we can do to make the world we live in a wee bit better. First on my list is not being an asshole by resisting the urge to honk while stuck in a traffic jam. We’re all being middle-fingered every day on our country’s 4,236,000 kilometres of road. We could give each other a break and make the world a better place. We could use less plastic, spray (CFC-free) air freshener after letting a really smelly one rip, not stick our chewing gum under the seat while using public transport, and generally not being a douche to the environment. All these things would make the world a better place. Undoubtedly so. But there’s one more thing I truly believe has unrealised potential to improve the world. We would be a better species if we took a leaf out of the bear community’s book and took it like a man. That is, up the butt. For those not in the know, by ‘bear community’ I don’t mean Goldilocks’ mama, papa and baby bears; I mean the male gay subculture. Here’s why I think the world would benefit if more men took it up the ass:

Why headaches matter

Continuing on the topic of misogyny and the language of sex—the dents made by the gay pride movement notwithstanding—being penetrated is largely considered the woman’s role. And it’s not a coveted part. When we fling ‘I’m so fucked’ or ‘fuck you’ or ‘suck my dick’ or ‘screw you’ as profanities, we’re reinforcing the belief that being penetrated is demeaning—a great way to alienate women and at least half a dozen subcultures involving alternate sexuality. That middle-finger joke I made in the first paragraph? Not cool. More men opening up to the idea of anal sex would not only open up multiple avenues to enjoy sex differently, it would redefine what I consider the performance of masculinity. Sex and masculinity would not be an all-or-nothing experience, and penetration would become simply another way to experience pleasure, not a marker of somehow being less-than. I’ve known men who pretend to be feminists because ‘feminist chicks are easy’. I know men who support gay rights because their girlfriends do, and life is easier when girlfriends are happy. I know men who support equal rights because it looks good on their essays for college applications abroad. They’re mushrooming in households of all income groups. Harder to find are men so confident in their masculinity that they don’t have to cling to outdated ideas of what the male gender should act, think and feel like. A healthy amount of butt action could loosen up some of those tight-ass ideas.

Imagine a world where men aren’t trying to skip ahead—I call it the Hogwarts of sex

Sexual nomenclature is a minefield of misogynistic attitudes, only packaged better. To resort to a cliché as old as our wonderful Prime Minister: girls like foreplay and men think of it as the price they pay for the real thing. The word ‘foreplay’ itself assumes that the goal is intercourse, that the getting there is not as important. I believe this assumption arises from the physical way that sex works for men—it happens outside their bodies. Something that’s external is a lot easier to do with a headache or if you’re in the mood for a quickie or simply want to fuck. But when sex happens inside your body, whether vaginally or anally, warming up and taking things slowly starts to feel like a really good idea. Men may understand this intellectually, but learning it physically is a game-changer. A man who takes it up the butt is far more likely to be mindful of a woman’s need for more prep-time before hard, pounding sex than one who doesn’t. Imagine a world where men aren’t trying to skip ahead in their excitement. I call it the ‘Hogwarts of the sexual world.’ 44 open

Feminism says thank you

egon schiele/corbis

L

ast week, an ardent hater announced that I didn’t

Do it for selfish reasons

Even if we had the inclination, standing up for anything in this country is a tough task. So let’s focus on the most important reason for doing anything: what’s in it for me? Think of it like this: if we could only let go of the definition of sex as vaginal penetration and expand it to include other ways in which pleasure can be given and received, imagine the room we could make for experimentation and sexual diversity. There’s a lot in it for you, if you allow yourself to try it. n

Sonali Khan was holding on to her virtue, and then she fell in love...with several men. She drinks whisky, not Cosmopolitan 15 July 2013


mindspace Life & letters

Carving Out a New Life

63

O p e n s pa c e

Shahid Kapoor Kangana Ranaut

62

n p lu

Ghanchakkar The Heat

61 Cinema reviews

Sony Xperia Tablet Z Tissot T-Complication Squelette Lenovo S920

60

Tech & style

Science of Throwing Avatar to Help Weight Loss New Dope on Motivation

56

Science

Addicted to War

53

photography

Interview: Kiran Rao

cinema

Coming Out in Celluloid

46 64

A man from a Turkana enclave in a Pokot area of northwest Kenya avoids drinking poisonous sulphurous water directly from the water bed

an obsession with war A conflict photographer who found himself locked up in Abu Ghraib 56

alain buu


life & letters

Coming Out in Celluloid An account of how a dark Delhi short story written with great personal investment was reincarnated and brought to life in cinema Mohan Sikka

W

hen people without mon-

ey arrive in Delhi, they come through Paharganj. I lived in this gullet of a neighbourhood in the 1980s, when my father worked for Northern Railways. We occupied a government-issue apartment in Basant Lane Railway Colony. It was the farthest thing from a glamorous location, but it was convenient to the central shopping district of Connaught Place,

the railway station and my high school, all just paces away. As a pimply, angstridden teen, I wandered around the area’s old bazaars, shabby hotel strips and backpacker cafes, staring in fascination at the grungy, doped-out foreigners who congregated there. Now, on a spring morning in 2008, I’m walking by the same row of flats where we once lived, mottled with age and painted a washed, unhealthy pink.

the seedy bylanes of delhi Shadab Kamal as Mukesh in Ajay Bahl’s film BA Pass

I wander the chaotic market lanes where stalls sell furniture, lamps, luggage and plastic goods of every description. The crossings are filled with fruit and vegetable sellers, the air pungent with the smell of enamel, glue and organic waste. My eyes follow the lines of exposed wire crisscrossing the drab buildings like elaborate gothic decorations. Further north, beyond the halfcompleted Metro terminal, vertical


neon sign and marble-slabbed fronts of new mini-malls and guesthouses make up a ‘nouveau’ Paharganj grafted onto the labyrinthine old lanes. Glitz and filth jumbled together; too many physical details to sort out. A difficult place to make sense of or, God forbid, write about. It’s getting warmer as I cross the streets leading to the train station. I haven’t found what I’m searching for.

I

’ve been asked by my friend Hirsh

Sawhney to write a story for an upcoming crime fiction anthology he’s editing. It’s called Delhi Noir. Initially, I chose Defence Colony for the story’s location, because my other yarns of bourgeois deviance take place there. But it was already spoken for by another writer. What about Paharganj? Hirsh said. That intrigued me. I recalled the area’s strange juxtaposition of institutional housing, hospital compounds, ancient warrens and hippie hangouts— and, of course, the sex and drug trade that flourished in the cut-rate hotels. One particularly vivid memory was of the backpacker suicides that took place with some unfortunate regularity: kurta and lungi-clad foreigners, adorned with dreads and beads, climbed to the top of our apartment building and flung themselves off the parapet, whether in an acid-induced plunge or having failed to find enlightenment at the end of a weary set of travels, no one could say. Also, just behind our housing complex was a small shrine of a pir, or minor saint. There, qawwali singing took place on Thursdays, the sounds of clapping and raised, rhythmic voices wafting in through the windows of our flat, along with the smell of incense. Afterwards, in the evening hours, we’d hear something else: the cries of women undergoing exorcisms at the shrine, the benign spirit of the pir chasing out the demons from these fallen souls. The handclapping and drumbeating that accompanied these darker rituals were more frenzied than the qawwali rhythms. I remember peering out of a window and seeing a blur of long hair being flung this way and that, before

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my mother pulled me back. Just another Delhi locality. As Hirsh and I discussed the idea of setting a story in Paharganj, I felt a flutter of excitement. Everything seems fresh and possible in a story’s early days. Characters began to form in my mind. Plot lines dangled tantalisingly. I kicked myself for almost skipping over this much more interesting neighbourhood in which to place a story of desire, crime and deception. In a short time, I had a good, though perhaps obvious, idea of the main character. He would be someone like me in my late teens, a young man at the threshold of adulthood, lost in the staid railway colonies and anonymous markets of Paharganj. That sense of being a transient was such a clear memory from my late adolescence, when we lived in Basant Lane between one of my father’s out-of-town postings. I was always in fear of being sent back to my grandparents if my parents moved again. It was a time when I was hormonally raging, frustrated almost to a breaking point. That was all good material to use. Of course I’d add new details: Mukesh, my protagonist, would be an actual orphan, living in Paharganj as a charity case with his bureaucrat uncle’s family, transported there after his parents’ death and chafing to escape his circumstances. His innocence and beauty would be irresistible. His desirability would pull him into adventures and gratifications in those smoky, maddening streets that I’d only dreamed of. With these character elements I began to paint a noir world of perversion and brutality. And like any good Indian boy I immediately worried about how my parents would react to such a story once it was published. Over the years they’ve accepted many things about me, including my homosexuality and life choices. But my fiction still makes them nervous. The characters in my pages are rough and unpredictable and can say and do anything. A character inspired by my grandmother, in a fictionalised tale about family secrets, created months of tension. The story was valiantly hidden from Grandma until she demanded to read it. “Next time,

why not try light romance or comedy?” my mother gently offers from time to time. Having found elegant ways to manage my personal story in their world, my parents remain frightened of what surprise will jump out from my next creative offering. And a noir story, I knew, had to be unapologetically salacious to succeed.

W

hich brings me to why I’m in Paharganj now. What I’ve written so far wouldn’t shock anyone. My draft is bogged down with back story and build-up when I need crisp action and characters in scene. In walking the streets where my character Mukesh has his adventures, I’m trying to get out of my head and test my ideas on the ground. I have a sense that there are physical clues here; that I need to allow Paharganj to reveal Mukesh’s story to me. I know that Western noir tropes, like a cruel private detective and an oblique, cynical take on the world, won’t transpose well to a city where casual cruelty, exploitation and corruption are living, pervasive norms. I want my plot to sit on all those things and yet feel personal and resonant. I need granular local detail and the unique flavour of how Delhi does darkness. My half-formed idea involves Mukesh meeting an older man, a local fixer and patron of a wrestling fraternity or akhara. I know such fraternities exist in old neighbourhoods like Paharganj. I’ve imagined that Mukesh, a school wrestler in his hometown, finds physical release in the akhara. In my plot, the older patron coerces Mukesh into having sex with him. He also pressures Mukesh into servicing paying clients, middle and upper class men. Mukesh begins to see in these sexual humiliations an opportunity to escape his constrained circumstances. The idea of blackmailing one of his johns occurs to him, setting in stage a noir series of events. As I walk, I look for such an akhara to give me sensory details: sights and sounds and smells, who comes and goes from its gates. Perhaps there’ll be open www.openthemagazine.com 47


a guesthouse nearby where Mukesh meets his johns. I’m hoping for the magic that sometimes happens in location: an impression is triggered, of characters in situation, a catalysing visual that jumpstarts a story. I wander through the market area all the way to the Railway Station and back. Past the old Imperial Cinema, gone to seed. Side streets with fivefloor-high neon signs advertising hotels: Raja, Ajanta, Chanchal, Hi Life. The Ramakrishna Ashram, its high painted wall and pristine interior in stark contrast to the rubbish-strewn lanes outside. Past school compounds and the institutional railway areas that I remember: a stadium, a hospital compound, an officer’s club. No wresting pit anywhere, no akhara. I slink back through the madness of Main Bazaar, where a remarkable number of stalls sell fluorescent flip-flops and mirrorwork bags and jackets. The Metropolis Restaurant is still here, with the same Chicken Kiev on the menu. In bylanes, Israeli tourists exchange small packages with slight, nondescript men. These men jitter by me, too, whispering, “Hashish? A girl, sahib? A boy?” My camera and clothes give me away as a tourist. I’m not a local anymore. I end up in a chowk, or square. Cycle and scooter drivers plunge through the pedestrian traffic, honking to clear the way. Music blares from street radios and tourist cafes. The riot of shops and signs begins to hurt my head. This world has a million disconnected details. There are characters all around— pimps, touts, shady dealers, shopkeepers shooting the breeze with old-timers, housewives arguing with fruit sellers, well-dressed men passing through or looking for paid love—but I don’t know their stories or how they connect to my protagonist. I have a sense, yes, of Mukesh in these streets, careening through the foot traffic on his bicycle, overloaded with his aunt’s groceries, her errand boy. But without a specific place he’s drawn to, like the akhara I can’t find, and particular people there, he and the plot will wander around as aimlessly as I am. Perhaps I can graft an akhara here from somewhere else in the city. I feel on shaky ground with such a narrative liberty. The editor has made clear that the story must be from and about the neighbourhood. I buy myself a cup of tea and try to find a place to sit and rest my feet. But 48 open

even the so-called parks are overrun with vendors, kids playing cricket with beat up bats, and street people cooking. It feels as if my fledgling crime plot is approaching a dead end. Walking through Paharganj hasn’t sparked inspiration. I plod towards the half-completed Metro with my tea, disheartened, uncertain if I should stay longer or leave. I mentally draft an email to the editor: ‘Sorry, Hirsh, couldn’t find the spark. Hope you can find someone else to do justice to Paharganj.’ Passing through the big vegetable market of Nehru Bazaar, my mood darker by the step, I almost miss an unusual gateway with a sign. It’s set behind flower and food stalls, and easy to walk past. The arched concrete entrance is painted with the words ‘Indian Christian Cemetery’. Through the gateway I see greenery and what looks like a receiving shed for hearses. There is a security guard, of course, and a caretaker’s office, but some pang of curiosity, some weird intimation of possibility, makes me walk resolutely in, following a pair of pie dogs snapping at each other’s heels. Just through the entrance I am in a completely new world, as if I’ve passed through a magic portal. Traffic noises recede, and instead there is space and solitude, the light filtered through peepal, neem and eucalyptus trees. Scores of concrete gravestones, memorials and sarcophagi are arranged in semi-ordered rows. The sounds here are the cackling of crows and the dull whack of workmen breaking the hard ground with pickaxes. Carpenters are hand-sanding wooden coffins. One of the walking lanes is laid over with a line of freshly cast crosses drying in the sun. Some of the better plots are covered with green fibreglass canopies mounted on iron supports, to protect the departed from the sun and the rain. On the graves are offerings of incense, flowers and food, and photos of family members. To one side is an open-air chapel with a lurid painting of Christ the Shepherd and another of Jesus praying in Gethsemane the night before the soldiers came, the night of his betrayal and suffering. There is a sign in Hindi from John 14: 27: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.’ I sit under a neem tree and drink my tea. I take out my notebook and make some sketches. I feel calmer. Even in Paharganj this place exists, a place of both momentary and eternal rest. I

probably wandered by here as a kid and never noticed the entrance. I rise and take photographs from different directions. An image flashes in my mind’s eye, then another, from the part of myself that lies beneath the overthinking. I take out my notebook and jot down ideas as fast as they appear: ‘The young man of the story, orphaned by circumstance, a lamb almost, sitting under this very tree. He’s not a wrestler, but he is a shy, awkward boy. He is beautiful, and not yet aware of his body or his beauty. He plays chess in this graveyard, reading books about grandmasters, replaying their moves on the beatup chessboard he carries around in his satchel. This is the only place where he can lose himself, this place where death is marked and remembered. He lives with his aunt and uncle in nearby Basant Lane Railway Colony, an unwelcome arrival, without means, like so many who pass through this portal of the city. He’s enrolled in a college degree with no prospects, a BA Pass. He yearns to escape from his dead-end circumstances, to be his sisters’ rescuer and caretaker, the head of a household.’ ‘Who else is in his life? Perhaps an attractive neighbourhood aunty, an officer’s wife. She sees the young man serving samosas at a kitty party and desires him. She draws him to herself, and towards opportunity and danger. I see a third character: A cemetery caretaker, a scraggy man with salt and pepper hair. He’s crusty, genial, worldly: the spirit of Paharganj. He is also lonely, secretly so. He finds Mukesh under this neem tree and makes a connection through a shared love of chess. Three individuals, each lost in their own way and pulling at each other. An underlying theme of striving and betrayal. Mukesh, full of sadness and naïve aspiration, taken by the city and eaten piece by piece, cannon fodder for its appetite for young flesh.’ I write quickly. Whatever I can download while I have this connection. What’s pouring out is much more in the spirit of noir, a story where death is a shadow character throughout. I don’t need an akhara when I’ve found a cemetery. I don’t need a patron pimp to instigate the action when I can use a version of the aunties I knew growing up, trapped in arranged marriages and the rigid rules of the bureaucrat’s compound. I just need one Railway Aunty who hasn’t accepted a life of shopping 15 july 2013


and kitty parties and mother-in-law service, who sees the moral regulations of her class for the shackles they are. A readymade desi femme fatale, bored and insouciant on the outside, tightly wound and ready to break inside. Someone who knows that there are others like her, women who want their physical desires satisfied. I don’t need a gay blackmail scandal when simple illicit relations will suffice, carried to a breaking point. The links between the characters would be so natural, of the next-door variety. Flagrant, in-yourface perversion, neighbours helping neighbours. It’s what I do in my other stories, the reason they make my mother uncomfortable. I have a sensation that something physical is coming out of me, so intensely that I think I might heave. I feel lightheaded, almost ill. I know I’ve hit a vein of narrative gold.

M

were sceptical, as I’d feared, that we writers had presented anything revelatory in a city where tales of sordid violence and venality filled the daily papers. Was this noir any different than the offerings of pulp magazines like Manohar Kahaniyan? Some thought my story was enjoyable in a racy sort of way, and gave me strokes for a sexually assertive woman character. Others felt that a middle-class female pimp was entirely bizarre and unbelievable. I didn’t know how to respond to these criticisms. I’d done the best I could to write an entertaining story. I’d hoped that grounding my plot in location and circumstance made it compelling and realistic if not revelatory. I realised I had to be satisfied with the masochistic pleasure I’d found in wrestling characters that marched through

Over the years [my parents have]

onths later Delhi Noir was pub-

lished in the US by Akashic Press and then in India by HarperCollins, a collection of stories showing every wart and depravation of my home city: ‘Corruption and contract killings, prostitution rings, rape and sexual assault, and class divisions that lead to murder.’ My father read The Railway Aunty on my visit to Delhi and laughed nervously about what his former colleagues would say about a railway officer’s wife as a pimp, a colony student as her gigolo. Too many four-letter words, he said, only half-jokingly. How was it that I knew such details about “alternate positions”? I joked back about the brain being the largest sex organ. My mother took refuge in the fact that the story was written in genre. “Don’t worry,” she said, which she always says when she’s worried. “Who reads mystery novels anyway? Only young people.” My parents praised my creative efforts. Then they shelved Delhi Noir in a corner somewhere. This story, like my own, wasn’t going to be discussed at dinner parties. “I have a couple of ideas for you,” my mother said as I was leaving Delhi. “Spiritual, familyoriented themes.” The critical responses to the book were varied and contradictory. Some reviewers praised Delhi Noir for bravely showing ‘India Uncut’, the shadow side of the ‘India Shining’ image that corporate elites wanted you to see. Others

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accepted many things about me, including my homosexuality

and life choices. But my fiction still makes them nervous

my mind onto the page, then making these people hurt and amuse each other for hours until a plot emerged, and finally, shedding blood and tears into interminable drafts to complete the tale. The story was out now and it was time to move on.

B

ut The Railway Aunty wasn’t finished with me yet. Late in 2010, I was in Delhi for my grandmother’s funeral when an email popped into my inbox. It was from someone named Ajay Bahl. ‘Thanks for a memorable story experience!’ he wrote. He thought The Railway Aunty a sharp study of loneliness, desire and the burden of circumstance, ‘all while keeping the noir thrill to the maxi-

mum’. The suffocated and caged-in lives of the characters resonated with him. He loved the twisted and multilayered relationship between Sarika and Mukesh, the femme fatale and her gigolo. ‘Having spent my youth in Delhi, the characters and locales came vividly alive in my imagination and I felt that this story would be the best means to showcase my abilities as a filmmaker.’ Filmmaker? Really? He said he worked as director of photography on commercial videos in Bombay. Was he talking about a film school project? One of those $1 options that lie on a shelf until they expire? Was he shooting a demo or short? What was his connection to this working and officer-class neighbourhood and its transgressive characters? Did he think they were believable? I spoke to this Ajay Bahl on the phone over the next few weeks. His life seemed like a series of stillborn adventures: a truant adolescence, followed by stints in professional cricket, music piracy, water-filter sales and apparel manufacturing. He’d discovered film somewhat late, and had taught himself camera work and cinematography. He told me he had no money but was obsessed with the idea of a serious crime film based in Delhi. But he hadn’t been able to find a fresh script in the industry. The days when authors like Manto wrote for film were long past. Most screenwriters were too formulaic, and the best directors were writing their own scripts. Eventually Ajay had gone searching in the world of contemporary literature for a juicy plot idea. Thumbing through Delhi Noir at a bookstore, the tagline of Paharganj jumped out at him under the title of my story. Like me, he’d lived near the area at one point in his life. As he read The Railway Aunty, the characters and scenes leapt from the pages and he could see them on screen: the neon glitz of Paharganj next to lanes that have been dark for centuries, the stodgy bureaucrats and their proper wives living yards away from whores and strung-out tourists, the polluted haze of the evening adding to the suffocation and despair to the story. A noir tale rooted in a unique physical space. Sarika’s sense of sexual agency captivated and intrigued Ajay. And the dispossessed Mukesh was a character he could relate to, having run away from open www.openthemagazine.com 49


home in his own youth. He was clearly infatuated with the story, but I wondered how serious of a partner he’d be after his passion subsided. Some of his ideas sounded improbable, such as casting Shilpa Shukla, Deepti Naval and Rajesh Sharma in key parts. These were solid names even I recognised, and I was hardly current on Indian cinema. Why, I wondered, would they be attracted to an unfinanced project, a director with aspirations and no track record, and a story by an unknown writer? Ajay said he was auditioning nationwide for a fresh face for the role of Mukesh. Ajay seemed unfazed by my doubts. He said there wasn’t an erotic human drama of this kind on the Indian screen. He was determined to bring the story to life. I knew it would take Ajay some time to line up the pieces on his end. But as the weeks, and then the months, passed without an options contract, and ultimately without any word from him, I began to wonder if I had fantasised it all. Someone I barely knew had flashed a pretty idea before my eyes and I’d believed it. There sat Delhi Noir on my bookshelf. I’d pull it out once in a while and amuse myself with Mukesh’s neediness and gullibility and his slowly emerging sense of himself, and cringe thinking that I’d been a little gullible myself, dreaming of tinsel and lights. Reading the collection I’d be reminded of the brilliant way in which noir’s dark lens both restricts and creates character possibility, and shows what intimacies can and cannot be exchanged between people in a corrupt and self-serving world. I’d look at the photos I’d taken of the Paharganj cemetery and marvel at how that neighbourhood had returned to me after all those years. Regardless of the reviews, the story had already revealed so much to me: how art is created from, and in turn engenders, unexpected connections. It wasn’t easy, of course, to be reconciled to the film project’s demise. Ajay had spoken so enthusiastically about the story’s cinematic potential, and how its contained locale and striver characters were so evocative of Delhi. He’d made me see Paharganj anew, its vivid possibilities for film. And so it was with no little disappointment, given the picture perfect pairing between setting and a filmmaker’s vision, that I 50 open

thought he had moved on.

S

everal months later, another

email arrived. It was from an indie filmmaker in Los Angeles. ‘I was recently introduced to Delhi Noir. I found it riveting, especially your piece. Are the rights of The Railway Aunty still available?’ Like that day in the cemetery, I had a sense of mysterious forces at play. This story wasn’t satisfied being locked away. The uncanny feeling became more intense when the same day there

I see now what the noir genre can reveal.

It shows the hypocrisy and coercion that hover just beneath the surface of our virtuous lives,

the violence that stays tucked away inside our honourable

and conventional families. It’s in such personal corruptions that the true darkness of Delhi emerges

was a voicemail on my phone: ‘Sorry, Mohan, I needed time to finalise funding. My family has sold some land, so we can begin production soon. I’ve already looked at shooting sites and the cast is ready.’ It was from Ajay Bahl. Two knights with cameras battling over a kinky Railway Aunty! I scrambled to find out what the California party was offering. The filmmaker, an Indian-American, had solid film school credentials and had worked in the LA TV market for years. He’d even directed his own cinema verité feature about the US/Mexican border. He was currently working on an international feature based in Kerala and South-East Asia.

Although he didn’t grow up in India, he’d spent time there learning yoga. This really gave me pause. Now I was talking to someone with a track record. LA-man told me that his current project was in post-production, and then he would focus on Delhi Noir. He was thinking of a trilogy of stories from the collection and was open to a creative collaboration. He seemed like an honest, hardworking bloke who was prepared to do the lifting and stretching that a feature film requires. I thought: He’s in the international circuit. He has project experience. My contribution in this version will be more modest but more realistic than the dream Ajay was dangling before me. It will be fun to see how my story will be woven with two others to create a fuller picture of a noir Delhi. I went to bed that night thinking: I’ve lived out of India too long. I know how to deal with people in the States. They return your calls promptly. They respond to your emails. The next morning I woke up with a different view: LA-man was from a whole other stream of California culture, less crime fiction and more scuba and spirit seeking. Between the wholesome dude and the maverick, was there any choice for a story like this? My gut told me that the film version would reveal something in the hands of the right steward, someone who knew the architecture of Delhi’s old lanes and ramshackle government colonies, someone who lived and breathed its polluted air. A smoker over a yogi. A Dilliwalla over an America-returned. And the maverick, having vaporised earlier, was now calling and emailing. Ajay said he’d found just the guy to play the role of Mukesh, a stage actor from Calcutta named Shadab Kamal. All the other actors he’d approached had loved the story and agreed to join the project on art-house terms. He’d even convinced his own family to finance his dream. His hunger and urgency were obvious. I put aside my hesitation and said yes. I signed over creative rights to Ajay along with the contract. Of all the decisions involved in the process this was the most painful one. I knew Ajay wanted a free hand to realise his vision, to bring to the screen what he’d seen in the story. But it was tough. Just like the character of Mukesh, my creation was now being fostered by someone else. 15 july 2013


And unlike Mukesh’s parents, I was still alive. Part of me was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to recognise my story when I met it again.

F

or the next six months I received

only bits of information. Location shots on Facebook, like dream residues: a Paharganj lane, a rooftop, a scene inside dingy quarters. Cameras and storyboards and lights on stilts and white reflecting umbrellas. Shilpa Shukla in the role of Sarika, the femme fatale. A teaser shot of her seated before a dressing table mirror, examining with wry amusement a hickey on her neck. A blue porcelain dancing figurine by her elbow. Reflected in the mirror, Mukesh in bed, naked from the waist up. To see flesh and blood humans playing my characters was like a hallucination that wouldn’t break. Even from those few images it seemed that Ajay was taking the erotic themes full on, and that he’d picked actors who could evoke the essence of Sarika and Mukesh, her control and insouciance, his almost childlike shyness and eagerness, a sexmistress and her puppy-in-training. My parents were dubious about what was happening. My mother said on the phone: “Naturally, if he goes forward Ajay will have to change your story. Indian actresses are more conservative.” I said: “I hope not.” “When is he planning to start this picture?” “I think he’s shooting, like, right now.” “Of course,” she said, in her sweet disbelieving way. “It’s not a small thing to organise. All in good time, God willing, if it’s meant to be.” I sensed she’d be fine if it wasn’t. My friends said: “Have you seen the script? What’s the director like? Seriously, you have no idea?” Comments like this left me yearning for more. If not the entire screenplay, then just a taste of the dialogue. Even a status update. But Ajay was superstitious about disclosing information early. I came through India around the turn of 2011 and saw an intriguing newspaper headline: ‘Shadab Kamal plays a gigolo in BA Pass.’ That’s what he’s calling it, I thought, as in a noprospects college degree, a reference to Mukesh’s circumstances. It’s true that it was ultimately Mukesh’s story, his

15 july 2013

graduation through life. The Railway Aunty title was always a bit of an inside joke. I tried to see if Ajay and I could meet. I had a fantasy that he would show me some rough takes, perhaps ask my opinion on a creative point. But our calendars didn’t align.

I

n May 2012, Ajay emailed me that

BA Pass was going to debut at Delhi’s Cinefan Film Festival in August. ‘Done?’ I wrote back. Surely he meant as an early cut. The equivalent of a stage reading. A work-in-progress. ‘Done,’, he said. ‘You should come.’ I wrestled with the idea. It was the director’s vision now. I’d be an awkward bystander. What if the movie was unspeakably awful, the sensuality overwrought, the plot adaptation flat? I would sit there squirming, witnessing the reactions of hundreds of people, including my poor parents. It’s not as if the film will be a revelation, I told myself. I knew every turn and pirouette in the story. It was safer to wait a year for the DVD, watch it by myself at home. One night I was walking with friends in Manhattan’s East Village. I told them that I wasn’t planning to attend the upcoming premiere. Flying was expensive; the hype overplayed. I’d be like the chaperone that no one wants at the party. My friend Carina stopped me dead on the sidewalk. “Imagine the premiere,” she said. “A dark theatre. The cast and director all there. The opening shot. Your name in the credits. Your story in lights, the first time in public. A oncein-a-lifetime chance.” “And?” I said, my stomach in a twist. “You’re in New York kicking yourself.”

T

he opening night of BA Pass. A

muggy August day. The Siri Fort auditorium in Delhi. My entire family is with me, including a sister who has flown in from Singapore. Aunties I haven’t seen in years arrive in a parade of Punjabi suits and saris. I wonder if they are expecting a soft romantic comedy, an Indo-American immigration theme. My mother looks proud, but apprehensive. Once friends and relatives heard about the movie there was no holding them back. The gorgeous Shilpa Shukla is here, slighter than she appears in her still

shots. She’s a Bollywood name, but she wanders with ease through the film festival crowds, who seem more curious than star-struck. Shilpa is documenting the experience with a video camera, her hand wrapped in an Ace bandage like a reference to the story’s violence. My mother approaches her and identifies herself. They hug and kiss, like they go back years. I greet Shadab Kamal, the human Mukesh. He is handsome and very serious. He looks a bit daunted even, like he’s about to go on stage for the first time. I’m introduced to other cast and crew, and finally meet Ajay Bahl in the flesh. He has rocker hair, a scarred upper lip and a cultivated dishevelled look, kurta buttons open and twirls of chest hair showing. He hangs in a corner with a clutch of indie filmmakers, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He tells me the cast had been handing out publicity postcards but he remains worried about how many people will show up. It’s the largest theatre in the complex and there are so many movies to choose from. I enter the foyer with my group of friends and family. We are early still. One of the theatre doors has chaotic Delhi-style lines outside. ‘Where’s BA Pass?’ we ask the ushers. We are pointed to the doors with the waiting crowds. I wonder what all these people have heard about the movie, and if they’ve come to see skin. That’s fine by me. The collective anticipation is electric. Finally the entrance opens and people surge inside. I catch the cast and crew in the crowd, although Ajay hangs back, the tension thick on his face. I have a sense he’s not joining us for the first show, perhaps another superstition. I sit in an aisle seat next to my sister. The film is announced and the lights go dark. My heart jumps clear into my throat. I’ll be okay if it’s not terrible, I tell myself. Just let it not be terrible. I find myself grabbing my sister’s arm. She lets me. My parents are a few rows away. Not being able to see their faces is a relief. The first scene is the memorial ceremony of Mukesh’s parents, who have just died in an accident. Their framed photos are in the centre of the room. There is low chanting in Punjabi, the mourners dressed in white, in contrast to the dark background tones. Mukesh sits with a handkerchief wrapped open www.openthemagazine.com 51


around his head. He looks blank, stunned. One of his sisters is in the bathroom, weeping softly. Here, in celluloid, are the characters that have long populated my mind. I feel as if parts of my psyche are being projected onscreen, especially the disturbed parts. I think with awe of the journey these images have taken, from my first musings to the page, then to Ajay’s eyes and imagination, and eventually through the actors’ bodies to the screen. At one point I’m startled to find we’re in the same Paharganj cemetery where the story was born. Mukesh sits playing chess right by the spot I was sitting. It’s strange and sublime to see these visuals set in the very place where the idea came to me. What machinations Ajay must have gone through to shoot there. There are other moments of eerie synchronicity: scenes between characters that I cut from early versions of the story. It’s as if my early drafts were visible to Ajay like ghosts within the final one. As the plot darkens, I see how celluloid lifts out and highlights meanings from the story. Delhi appears as a dystopian dreamscape. The deceitful culture of the city, narrated to the point of boredom in the newspapers, becomes riveting when played out through the specific betrayals between the actors, the ways they manipulate and coerce each other. The smoky streets, the garish blinking lights, the glitz and garbage of Paharganj, even the music score, all reflect the thwarted dreams and the suffocation of the characters. The movie is so graphic and disturbing that at times I feel that I’m inside some sick storyteller’s head. Then I realise with a shudder that it’s my own. I am transfixed by Shilpa as Sarika, the femme fatale. A dated type in Western noir, she still has the power to shock and unsettle here in India. Sarika uses sex to escape the paralysing limits of her social class and marriage, and express the darkness and anger that’s inside her. Her boredom and hardness reflect a fierce internal resistance against an order that she can’t overthrow but which she can defy through what she makes sexually possible for herself and other trapped housewives. Shilpa Shukla brings a bold and reckless energy to a difficult role, seducing us even as we can’t reach her. Ajay’s film relentlessly builds and builds, until the whole unstable structure collapses in the best way. He and 52 open

the screenwriter fill in what I’d left ambiguous in the text, choices that are smart and largely satisfying. At the end I feel a bit ill. I wonder again at the distressing psychic places I went to when I wrote this story. In the audience too there is a stunned silence, a palpable need to recover. I feel badly for those who came expecting mere titillation. V Karthika, Delhi Noir’s Indian publisher, finds me and says: “What a disturbed imagination you have, Mohan.” My response is to tip my hat to Ajay Bahl, not only for hewing close to the darkness of the plot, but also for taking it to new levels of despair. The questions in the Q&A show a great hunger for undelivered redemption, for a sign of light that we must have missed somewhere. “I loved the film,” says a young woman. “But why so dark? Why?” As if the streets and homes of this city aren’t filled nightly with rape and murder and mayhem. The film seems to hit a particular nerve for the young men in the audience. They circle around the director. “Good job, Sir,” they say, thrusting their cards and DVDs at Ajay. “Please try me for you next role, Sir.” A few even collar me. No one wants an autograph. Instead, they say: “Sir, just one writing tip, please Sir.” I’m taken aback. I realise these aspiring writers and actors see the director and me, barely out of the creative gates ourselves, as commercial successes who can lead them somewhere. These men are part of the legions moving to the city, competing for the fantasy of its prize, hustling as we all are. I have a moment of real humility thinking how much the character of Mukesh reflects every striver in the audience, and certainly me. Writing, after all, is just another way of selling parts of myself. Afterwards there is a party at my sister’s house, with friends, neighbours, aunts and uncles. Again that post-traumatic pall, the sense of licking a collective wound. I ask one aunt what she thought. “I’m shocked,” she says. “In our time we couldn’t imagine such things. I should try to be more openminded.” The mock horror is slightly annoying, and so very proper. My mother continues to pass the tikkas and samosas and smile gamely. “Good picture,” others say. “But where do these things happen, beta? How can this be?” It’s back, that trope of believability. What we can’t take in

we call implausible, and the characters’ dark desires are hard to pretend away when projected on the big screen. I see now what the noir genre can reveal— not just Delhi’s legendary public venality or the roughness of its streets, but the truly ugly underside of its middle-class, people who look and act like everyone at this party. It shows the hypocrisy and coercion that hover just beneath the surface of our virtuous lives, the violence that stays tucked away inside our honourable and conventional families. It’s in such personal corruptions that the true darkness of Delhi emerges. The film, and the story on which it rests, destroys the farce that our predictable bourgeois existence is a refuge from betrayal and despair. It isn’t just drug-crazed foreigners in Paharganj who stand at the edge of the parapet. It isn’t just the fallen women at the Basant Lane dargah who are possessed by demons. The noir hovers closer than we think. I see that in the eyes of my aunts and uncles I look different now. They’ve had the experience of watching my viscera on the screen, a part of me in each character, and not being able to turn away. The messiest, darkest, most perverse versions of myself are out now for everyone’s viewing. For me at least there’s no return to caution and coyness, to a veiled existence where people can meet me but pretend not to see me. This is the final gift of the movie to me, a new adaptation from which there is no turning back.

P

ost Script: BA Pass won Best Film

in the Indian Section at Cinefan 2012 and Best Actor for Shadab Kamal in the role of Mukesh. It has won other awards in New Jersey and Paris, and Ajay Bahl has chaperoned it to festivals from St Petersburg to Montreal to Kolkata. In spite of positive reviews, BA Pass struggled to find a mainstream distributor in the great hardship tradition of indie cinema, and to keep reminding us that, apart from the noir thrill, the story is about reaching and striving, finding success and being disappointed. As of this last draft, it has finally been bought for global distribution by Bharat Shah and an expected summer release in India. HarperCollins India has reprinted Delhi Noir (Hirsh Sawhney, Editor) with a still shot from BA Pass as its new cover. n 15 july 2013


CINEMA Aamir and Me Director Kiran Rao talks about her cinematic influences, marriage as partnership and why she gave her son Azad Rao Khan a double-barrelled surname Shaikh Ayaz

K

iran Rao, who became a darling of the geek circuit after her very first film Dhobi Ghat, defies the ‘star wife’ stereotype. She may be married to Aamir Khan, but has her own personality and voice separate from her superstar husband’s. It’s not difficult to infer from this conversation—which took place under a large Manjit Bawa sketch at her Bandra apartment—that she and Aamir are a modern-day compatible couple who see each other as equals, intellectually and otherwise. An artist in her own right, she is currently promoting the indie film Ship of Theseus. Excerpts:

What was it about Ship of Theseus that made you come aboard as a presenter?

For one, it had come so highly recommended. I had heard about it well in advance. I had seen its trailer. There was a certain image in my mind about what the film could be like. But when I saw it, it far exceeded those expectations. The film is a fulfilling watch, visually beautiful and very well written. There is enough story and drama in it to interest you. There are great performances. Actually, the scale of the film and the way it looks is very deceptive. I was quite impressed that they pulled it off on such a tight budget.

Were you expecting Dhobi Ghat to receive the kind of acclaim it did? No, I wasn’t. Genuinely, I didn’t know what to expect. Dhobi Ghat was made at a time when not very many films were being made of that sort. It was just... before the film festival boom. We have always heard of films going to festivals but they rarely entered the mainstream consciousness... and only cinephiles who travelled and actively sought out that kind of cinema would find it. Dhobi Ghat was something we were worried about because on the one hand it had Aamir, and on the other, 15 july 2013

it was a very art-house film by Indian standards. I didn’t know whether people would actually like it at all. We also pushed the envelope in terms of the size of distribution. When the praise did come and there was some acknowledgment of success, it was gratifying. When I had written it, I wasn’t very sure whether I would be able to get this film into theatres at all, and the fact that it did get into theatres was more satisfying than its success.

What are your filmmaking influences, if any?

To be honest, I don’t watch as much cinema as I should, but I think my influences are similar to that of most film school students. A lot of the French New Wave. [Jean-Luc] Godard had an impact on me. Robert Bresson, I liked very much when I was studying. His ‘model versus actor’ method deeply interested me and so did his book, Notes on Cinematography. [Andrei] Tarkovsky and his approach to cinema really influenced me. And of course, the Japanese directors [Yasujirō] Ozu and [Akira] Kurosawa. I absolutely love Ozu. Of late... the people I admire are more like the Dardenne brothers. I also like watching all kinds of independent cinema—Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola and Michael Haneke and films that are unexpectedly brilliant like District 9 and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Today, there is a lot more contemporary cinema to be influenced by and draw from.

What are your earliest memories of cinema?

There used to be Friday film nights at Saturday Club in Calcutta. It had a very community atmosphere... For us, it was... just about playing in the background while people were having interactions over beer and at the same time, a film was playing, so there were enough seats for people who wanted to watch it uninterruptedly. That was my first experience. Cinema wasn’t about

[an] ‘attaching oneself into the image’ sort of experience, but a more holistic experience of watching it with people, friends, eating and drinking. The experience was shared. It wasn’t so much about an individual in a dark room where nothing happens except what’s happening on screen. I didn’t watch it so actively for actors or plots or anything. It became more a consumption of images, sound and music and also conversation around it and the laughter. Doordarshan came quite a bit later into our lives, stuff like Chitrahaar. We weren’t taken to the cinema very much... Before I was 18, I must have gone to the cinema only a handful of times, maybe to watch The Sound of Music or some other classic. For some reason, my parents didn’t think the kind of cinema that was playing in theatres at that time was a good influence on us, even though my father was a film buff. In fact, I have a collection of all [the] studio bills, leaflets, pamphlets and little posters that he had collected of films, starting from [the] 1940s. In college, I was much more interested in plays. I would sneak into the SophiaBhabha auditorium. (Laughs) We knew the wardens and watchmen and they would let us stand in the back for free.

Which Hindi films made an impact on you?

The usual ones did. I remember watching Sholay, Anand and Bawarchi. But the films that really stuck in my mind as a teenager were Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Maine Pyar Kiya. From [QSQT], I remember Juhi [Chawla] the most. Hers was such a well-written character. Those days, we had a video cassette player. I must have watched these films at least ten times. I wasn’t into the stars so much. But both these films were love stories, so there was a certain influence of the whole romance of it. But I didn’t like Aamir and Salman so much that they became posters in my room... open www.openthemagazine.com 53


ashish sharma

Not another Star Wife Kiran Rao has her own life, voice, and artistic momentum, independent of husband Aamir Khan


[My] posters were still Dire Straits and Boris Becker. (Laughs) I had a massive crush on Boris Becker. He was my idol.

In 2011, you became a mother. How has that changed you as a person and an artist?

Well, motherhood has an influence that extends into your entire life. What ends up happening is that, with the introduction of this new life into your world, you stop being the centre of that world. That’s quite a strange but also freeing experience. Initially, it’s just that whole physical experience of having to completely devote yourself to something so helpless. You do [it] without even thinking about it. It’s more like a natural, organic reaction. As an individual and a creative person, there is some sort of anxiety that you let go of. Suddenly, nothing is that earth-shattering anymore. Azad brought such an infusion of joy into my life that it has washed away a lot of things that would otherwise have bothered me, washed away some of the anger I carried. It has mellowed me in a way that I am sure will influence my work as well.

You have named your baby Azad Rao Khan. What made you give him your surname?

It’s strange that we should draw our lineage and our family line only from our fathers. It has never made sense to me. In essence, you are a combination of both your parents. There should be more acknowledgement of the fact that mostly it is mothers who raise their children. They are much more the nurturers than fathers are, and children pretty much owe their upbringing and their environment to mothers... What’s a surname? It only helps situate you in a social and legal sense... If anything, it has been a deterrent for many people— what your surname is, which is indicative of what your caste is, which is indicative of a hundred other things that you carry, whether you like it or not. There are people who choose to entirely leave out a surname, which again, I think, is not a bad idea at all. (Laughs) If it weren’t for legal considerations, possibly, and the way the law works in terms of inheritance and other things, I would say... that we should have completely non-denominational names. 15 july 2013

Just a beautiful name. It doesn’t matter what your surname is, really. We know that it’s not that the name will change everything. It’s just the idea that Azad will take some part of me with him ahead in his life. (Laughs) Let’s say, I felt he should have a little bit of Rao in him.

What makes a marriage tick?

What helps two people stay in a relationship or partnership is some sort of common ideology, a belief system or ethical framework. Ethically, Aamir and I agree on the same things. It’s not at all religion but more like, what do I consider important in my life? How would I like to live my life? At the end of the day, marriage is all about sharing. It needs redefinition over time and as you stay married you keep redefining that relationship. So with Aamir and me, certainly that basis is there. As

“Azad brought such an infusion of joy into my life that it has washed away a lot of things that would otherwise have bothered me, washed away some of the anger I carried” personalities go... of course, we are different. But we have similar interests... Our work binds us in a big way—the fact that we are in the world of films. We like to discuss aesthetics, art, cinema and books. Hobby-wise, I am an outdoorsy person. I like travelling, seeing new places and looking at art. I love music and dancing. Aamir has his own set of interests. He likes to read. He likes to spend time with friends in a more intimate setting. He has lived a much harder life than me. So his hobbies tend to be slightly more sedentary, though he loves sports.

How do you deal with this whole celebrity culture in which you now find yourself ?

It’s a culture that, in the beginning, bothered me no end... The fact that I would open the newspaper and see faces of all these people... would both-

er me. I am not interested in that. Give me news. It’s actually indicative of how trivial and superficial our interests have become. But on another level, it’s sort of pathetic how, in general, the whole world of serious reportage has taken a beating in the process. A film that [shows this] is Peepli [Live], where you see such a desperate situation becoming this farcical circus. I have to say we as celebrities have got the better bargain. For us it’s not such a big deal if someone writes rubbish about us in the newspaper. If someone says we are moving to Lower Parel or that I wasn’t looking good last night, it doesn’t change my life because entertainment was not my whole world and it still isn’t. I am just as interested in politics, economics and what’s going on in India. So when it first started, it threw me off completely. I was shocked [that] people were rather happily consuming what I call ‘yellow journalism’. I suppose, over time, I have learnt to deal [with] it with grace. It’s not that it is... wonderful now. But then, it serves a certain purpose and certainly, as people working in the film industry, we ourselves have made full use of it. And since there is demand, there is endless supply. But when it’s good, it can inform. Like in the case of Ship of Theseus, it can tell people that there is this film coming up and you can go watch it.

How do you keep private in the media glare?

I pretty much live my life the way I did when I wasn’t married. (Laughs) The only thing that has changed is that I have got a bigger and better car, a bodyguard [who] travels with me and I wear slightly better clothes than I did ten years ago. Other than that, nothing has changed. I eat wherever I want to on the street. I go to the same cafes that every second person in Bandra or Bombay goes to. It also helps that, in general, Aamir and I are not the celebrity types. People don’t expect us to behave in a certain way. If I walk into a store, I don’t expect special attention. At airports, I stand in line and go the way everybody goes. So people treat me normally. (Laughs) Also, people have got used to... the way I dress and the way I talk, so there is nothing to show or hide. n open www.openthemagazine.com 55


photography Addicted to War Conflict photographer Alain Buu speaks about his obsession with capturing war, and why even being imprisoned and tortured in Abu Ghraib after being mistaken for a spy could not keep him away from it for long Photographs alain buu ronny sen


I

n 1975, when I was 15, I had to leave

Vietnam for France. Communists had taken over my country. I lost my country, my people, almost everything to the war. I guess becoming a war photographer was my way of taking revenge. Maybe that is why I am obsessed with wars, and also the reason that I always cover the weakest side of a conflict. I have been to many conflict areas in these past 26 years. But still, I never wanted to specialise just in war photography. I am satisfied if I cover two to three conflicts in a year. I do like covering war, but not like some of my friends who only cover war, and for whom the horrors of war are now normal. I don’t want to be that person. War is about death, rape, disaster and pain. There is the danger of beginning to accept all the bad things that happen in a war. So I make sure that I take breaks between covering conflicts to see beautiful things. That way, I never get desensitised to suffering. There is always fear within you when you cover a war. Sometimes you feel invincible and you think nothing can go wrong for you. And then there are times when the chaos around you grips you. But that slows you down, stops you from taking risks. During the 1991 Gulf War, there was a rebellion going on in the northern side of Iraq. Kurds were fighting with [Baathist] Iraqis. After battling with Shias in the south, these Iraqis were heading north. I went to Syria illegally, crossed over and entered Iraq without any visa. I was working with two other friends—one of them was a German photographer, Gad Gross, and the other an American journalist from CBS. We were travelling with the Kurdish rebels. The conflict got intense and we tried to escape, but it was impossible. I was in the middle of a road when we saw tanks coming towards us. They were shooting everybody they could see. I was lucky to find a hole near a

reminder of death The skull of a Pokot at the feet of a Turkana in northwest Kenya. Three months earlier, some Pokots had raided this Turkana village 15 july 2013

bush beside the road and I hid there. I could see the tanks moving close to me; they couldn’t be more than five metres away. I stayed in that hole for the next 18 hours, hoping that the soldiers would leave. The night passed and at 7 in the morning, my Kurdish guide and photographer friend were shot in front of my eyes. They had been hiding in a small house near the road, just 50 metres away from where I was. I saw an Iraqi soldier walking away with the photographer’s

camera after he shot him. An hour later, three soldiers spotted me. I thought they would shoot me, so I came out and surrendered. I started screaming out “Sahafi, Sahafi”, which means ‘journalist’ in Arabic. My journalist friend and I were captured and sent to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, which later became known for its gruesome stories of torture. They thought we were spies. I spent about a month in the prison. The prison guards didn’t want us to see


egyptian revolution An anti-Mubarak protest in Talaat Harb Street of Cairo

all the torture going on in there, but we did hear stories. One day, they blindfolded and tied me up. I thought they were going to execute me. That was scary. They even put a grenade inside my friend’s jacket. Even normal routine was torturous. Between 10 pm to 5 am, we were not allowed to stand or sit up; we could only lie down. And every other night, Iraqi soldiers would take some prisoners out, beat them up and force them to crow like a cock. They would torture them ruthlessly until a real cock, some 500 metres away, crowed back. And then everybody would laugh. At one point, I was locked inside a dark room with no windows for three days. It was so dark that on the first day, I couldn’t tell if my eyes were shut or open. On the second day, I didn’t know if I was awake or asleep. And I could always hear people screaming. However, I got saved since I was originally from Vietnam. We were thought of as heroes because we had fought Americans. The French external affairs ministry helped me a lot during this time. Finally, Saddam Hussein 58 open

came to know about me and released me. I think he spared me because I was Vietnamese. And he had to set free the American CBS journalist as well since he couldn’t have released me alone. Fortunately, since my release, I have not suffered from nightmares. I had no fear, nothing that bothered me after I was released. I think, for me, it was a physical crisis more than a psychological one. After I emerged from prison, I started suffering from asthma and eczema. My heart started beating very fast, and I guess the problems were not in my head but in my body for the time I spent in prison. However, my American journalist friend was not so lucky. At least once

Every other night, Iraqi soldiers would beat up some prisoners and force them to crow like a cock. They would torture them ruthlessly until a real cock, some 500 metres away, crowed back. And then everybody would laugh

every week, he wakes up in the middle of the night because of nightmares about torture. I, however, got over it and returned to work. I had to. After a year, I went to cover the war in Yugoslavia. I have realised that if you cover a war, you need to be sure that you have chosen to because nothing else is more important to you. For example, if you want to cover Maoists in India or the insurgency in the Northeast, then do it only if you honestly feel for it and believe that you can show the world something about the cause, that you can offer the world a new perspective. In a war, today you may be courageous, while tomorrow you may well be saying your prayers. Fear becomes a part of your life and you learn to live with it. Things are easier when you are young, though. With age and experience, as you lose friends in front of your eyes, you start having doubts. I think age slows you down. But war is an addiction for me. I can’t stay away from it for long. I have to go back. n As told to Ronny Sen 15 july 2013


15 july 2013

open www.openthemagazine.com 59


weight woes An estimated two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. They’ve tried fad diets, exercise programmes, diet pills and other methods, but the battle continues

The Throw It helped early humans hunt for calorie-rich meat that let them evolve larger bodies and brains

Avatars to Assist Weight Loss

allen donikowski/getty

science

T

he ability to throw objects at

very high speeds is a unique human trait. While our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, can throw only at about the speed of 32 km per hour, professional athletes—for instance fast bowlers in cricket—are known to regularly breach the 145 km per hour mark. According to a new study, humans have a lot to thank for this ability. When the now extinct Homo erectus species started undergoing anatomy changes, it led to the development of this ability. Researchers claim that this ability had an important role to play in the evolution of humans. The ability to throw at such fast speed enabled them to hunt. Hunting dramatically improved the diet of early humans, allowing calorie-rich meat. This change in diet allowed early humans to evolve larger bodies and brains, have more children, and travel widely. The researchers add that the development of this ability could have also had a sociological impact, leading to division of labour: while some hunted, others gathered food. The study, which was published in

60 open

Nature, was conducted by a group of researchers from the US. To find out how humans developed this ability, they analysed the throwing motions of 20 baseball pitchers at US colleges. They did so by using 3-D cameras and computer animation. They found that when the arm is cocked right before a throw, energy is stored by stretching tendons, ligaments and muscles crossing the shoulder almost like the mechanism of a slingshot. When the energy is released, the arm whips forward to make the throw. This was made possible by three anatomical changes in human evolution that affected the waist, shoulders and arms. All of these changes occurred during the time of Homo erectus. The researchers write in the journal: ‘These features first appear together approximately 2 million years ago in the species Homo erectus. Taking into consideration archaeological evidence suggesting that hunting activity intensified around this time, we conclude that selection for throwing as a means to hunt probably had an important role in the evolution of the genus Homo.’ n

Watching an avatar in a virtual community (like Second Life) display weight-loss behaviour might help some women shed kilos in the real world, a new study suggests. A Stanford University team of researchers enrolled eight overweight women for a four-week pilot test. Once a week, the women watched a 15-minute DVD featuring an avatar demonstrating healthy weight loss habits. And after four weeks of treatment, these women had lost an average of 1.6 kg, a fairly typical amount for traditional diet plans. The researchers hope that by watching the avatar, women using this programme will be able to keep that weight off for good. n

New Dope on Motivation

According to a new study, long-term cannabis users tend to produce less dopamine, a chemical in the brain linked to motivation. Scientists at Imperial College London, and King’s College London, who carried out the study, suggest this finding could explain why some cannabis users appear to lack motivation to work or pursue their regular interests. Researchers found that dopamine levels in a part of the brain called the striatum were lower in people who smoke more cannabis and those who began using the drug at a younger age. Other studies have looked at dopamine release in former cannabis users and not seen differences with people who haven’t taken cannabis, suggesting that the effects observed in this study may be reversible. n 15 july 2013


tech&style

Sony Xperia Tablet Z Perhaps the thinnest tablet around, it delivers a great Android experience gagandeep Singh Sapra

universal remote Smartphones and tablets such as those running Nokia’s Maemo (N900), Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems can also be used as universal remote controls

Tissot T-Complication w Squelette

Price on request

Rs 46,990

This Swiss made timepiece boasts of a wheel-inspired design that presents a 3D experience. It features an exclusive hand-wound mechanical movement, and its domed sapphire crystal with double anti-reflective coating is scratch resistant. Tissot T-Complication is water-resistant up to 5 bar. A classical crocodile pattern black leather strap is signed off with a folding clasp integrating two push-buttons. n

A

Beautiful 10.1 inch HD dis-

play that has a resolution of 1920x1200 pixels renders wonderful colours and images, thanks to its Mobile Bravia Engine 2 technology. Just 6.9 mm thick and 495 gm light, this tablet feels good in your hand, and the best part is that it is dust and water resistant with a durable glass front display. This is a tablet that is meant for both work and play. Running on a Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, and with 2 Gigabytes of internal RAM, the tablet manages to deliver a great Android experience. The tablet features NFC connectivity and if you have one of the latest Sony TV sets you can just tap the tablet on the TV remote to get a mirror display. The tablet has four speakers that create virtual 3D surround sound for you, so if you want to watch a YouTube video, or a movie you have stored on its 32 Gigabytes of storage (16GB on Board plus the Bundled 16GB micro SD card), the sound will impress you. I am not a big fan of cameras on tablets, but then sometimes they come

15 july 2013

handy. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z features an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with Exmor R support, which takes good pictures, and there is also a front-facing 2 megapixel camera, just in case you want to take a picture of yourself, or for that video call to the family from a work trip. The tablet has an infrared remote with Sony’s universal remote application that enables you to control all the devices in your home or office, be it air conditioners, music systems, TVs or media players, via the tablet. Sony has also provided a number of signature applications on this tablet— Sony Music gives you six months of free unlimited streaming and downloading of 1.5 million songs from its library, while Sony LIV lets you stream Sony television programmes from SAB, Sony Entertainment and MAX, and you also get over 77 programmes and 4,500 hours of video clips. Its x4 video player lets you play four clips simultaneously. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is available only in black, though. n

Lenovo S920

Rs 26,399

With a huge 5.3 inch 1280x720 IPS Display, framed in a smooth round white chassis, it looks good. It has a 1.2GHz Quad Core processor and runs Android Jelly Bean V 4.2 that supports all the standard applications like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G. It comes with an 8 megapixel rear camera for video and still shots. It also has active noise cancellation for clearer voice calls, though the 1GB Onboard RAM may seem limiting at times. It supports dual SIM. The S920 weighs just 159 gm. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

open www.openthemagazine.com 61


CINEMA

M c C arthy returns The Heat is directed by Paul Feig, creator of the cult-classic comedy TV series Freaks and Geeks, and director of the 2010 surprise-hit Bridesmaids, which also starred The Heat star Melissa McCarthy. Bridesmaids is often seen as McCarthy’s break-out movie, though she had already established herself on television through her long-running roles in The Gilmore Girls and Mike and Molly

Ghanchakkar There is nothing interesting about the conversation between the four people in this movie ajit duara

o n scr een

current

The Heat Director Paul Feig cast Sandra Bullock, Melissa

McCarthy, Demian Bichir Score ★★★★★

n, emraan hashmi, Cast vidya bala namit das rajesh sharma , mar gupta Director raj ku

N

ot only does it add words like

‘ghanchakkar’ to our lexicon—a part of the process of the ‘Bollywoodisation’ of the Hindi language—but such a title also immediately lowers our expectation of the film’s intellectual content. The movie is nothing but a wild goose chase, four people running circles round each other. Sanju (Emraan Hashmi) is a man who can crack open safes. He decides to do one last job before he retires. He has an expensive wife called Neetu (Vidya Balan), a buxom lady whose idea of the erotic is to look through fashion magazines for the most outlandish of clothes and wear them at bedtime. The expectation of instant arousal works for her. He has other things on his mind. As it turns out, Sanju’s retirement plan goes smoothly and the bank robbery is successful. He is to keep the money until the heat is over, then split it with the two goons who have hired him for his expertise. 62 open

But then he has an accident, suffers temporary amnesia, and says he has no idea where the money is. So the two hoodlums park themselves in his home to make sure that they are around when the light comes on. That’s the movie. In a film with just four people, depth of character is essential. There has to be a psychological reality to the drama, not just bits of mise-en-scene like the movie’s play on outlandish clothes and badly-cooked food. Roman Polanski’s Carnage, an internal drama, with just two couples in an apartment arguing, is an example of  inner reality. But when characters in Ghanchakkar talk, all they do is quarrel in the crude street language of Mumbai. The truth is that with the sheer tackiness of life in this city, a metropolis bereft of artistic or intellectual existence, you are just not going to get good conversation in a Mumbai-located film, no matter how hard you try. n

This is a ‘buddy’ film about two women cops in Boston, one local and the other on deputation from the FBI. The local one (Melissa McCarthy) is a hell raiser, extra large size. The other is an uptight nerd (Sandra Bullock) who puts off male colleagues with her over-smart situation analysis. She also often gets her knickers in a twist when the heat is on. They are an unlikely team, but eventually they hit it off and there are a few supposedly amusing scenes, like one where they do a sleazy dance in a disco to seduce a drug lord, and another where they get dead drunk in a bar. The idea is to declare that girl cops can be the stereotypical vulgarians that boy cops can be. And just to up the ante, maybe reverse it, their obsession, when confronted by a ‘baddie’, is to go for his ‘nuts’. When the Bullock character finally shoots the drug lord down there, there is a gasp of admiration from her partner. Respect! Ironically, this is quite contrary to the reality about the bravado of cops in Boston. Last one heard, they shut down the whole city to catch two boys. Still, the myth continues. In short, The Heat is a dull film and foul language doesn’t serve to enliven it. n ad

15 july 2013


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

A Collection of Rejections

It’s happening once again. Teaser trailers of Band Baaja Baraat director Maneesh Sharma’s new film, Shuddh Desi Romance, have only just been released, and suddenly every other tabloid has a story reminding us that Shahid Kapoor was originally attached to the project. It’s a well known fact that Shahid had indeed been signed up for the film. And depending on whose story you choose to believe, the actor either opted out of the project when production was delayed after the director injured his back, or he was dropped from the film by producer Aditya Chopra because he wouldn’t stop interfering in every department. In any case, Kai Po Che star Sushant Singh Rajput was subsequently signed on to play the male lead, and the trade has responded enthusiastically to the pairing of Sushant and Parineeti Chopra in the new teaser. As it turns out, another story also fast gaining traction in tabloids is about Shahid turning down the lead in I Hate Luv Storys director Punit Malhotra’s new film, Gori Tere Gaon Mein, currently nearing completion with Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Again, it is no secret that Punit did approach Shahid with an early draft, but reportedly the actor’s tantrums didn’t sit well with either the director or his producer Karan Johar, who promptly replaced him with Imran Khan. Shahid famously agreed to commit to the project if only Punit could “guarantee” that the film would make Rs 100 crore in box-office collections. Given that none of the actor’s previous films has made that kind of money, Punit was upset that Shahid would burden the film with such unfair expectations. The unwritten rule followed by actors in Bollywood is that it’s not graceful to talk about films you were offered but didn’t do. Clearly Shahid Kapoor didn’t get that memo. Mira Nair is apparently still miffed with him for spreading the story that he’d turned down the lead in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, that too when she’d met him only once to discuss the possibility of their working together.

Evil Supergirl

She served little purpose in Shootout at Wadala besides lying comatose under John Abraham’s hulking frame while he performed what looked like push-ups on the bed. But Kangana Ranaut is confident of wiping out those images from your head 15 july 2013

with her next film Queen, in which she plays a small-town girl who travels to Paris alone on her honeymoon and has the time of her life. Helmed by Chillar Party director Vikas Bahl, the film is slated to release in September, just ahead of Krrish 3 in which she plays super-villain Vivek Oberoi’s partner-in-crime against the film’s leading man Hrithik Roshan. “It’s a good thing the films are scheduled in that order,” Kangana told me earlier this week when I ran into her at a film screening. “Because if it was the other way round, the audience just wouldn’t buy me as a naïve, wide-eyed girl in Queen after watching me exercise my evil superpowers in Krrish.” Curious about her Tanu Weds Manu director Anand Rai’s latest film Raanjhanaa, she said she was happy to know it was faring well at the box-office, and didn’t seem to hold a grudge against him for choosing not to repeat her after their last hit together.

The Casting Cash

This young director, best known for having worked as an assistant to one of the most respected filmmakers in the South, has made two films so far, both of which met with limited box-office success and mixed reviews. He’s fast earning a reputation for becoming the go-to guy for wannabe actors with rich daddies. According to the industry grapevine, he cast an NRI kid in a fairly prominent role in his last film in exchange for the young actor’s dad picking up a substantial portion of the film’s budget. And it turns out that he has now cast another loaded 20-something in his next film, the Hindi remake of a horror hit from the South. The young actor’s dad has allegedly paid for the remake rights of the film from his own pocket, and is believed to be funding a substantial part of the production too. The funny thing is, with top studios bankrolling each of these projects, the filmmaker doesn’t exactly need the actors or their daddies to shell out dough from their own bank accounts. But reportedly, that’s his condition for signing them on in the first place. And the cash, from what it appears, goes straight into his own account. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

Carving Out a New Life

by as h i s h s h a r m a

Sculptures of Jyotirao Phule and Sai Baba at Sonavadekar Studio in Khar, Mumbai, wait to be relocated. The studio was founded in 1970 by Narayan Laxman Sonavadekar, who came from a traditional family of temple carvers in Maharashtra and was a professor of sculpture at Mumbai’s Sir JJ School of Arts. Over the years that he ran the studio, till his death in 2002, the studio garnered quite a reputation for making sculptures of freedom fighters, politicians and Hindu deities, including the famous sculpture of Swami Vivekananda at Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari. A sculpture usually takes anything from two months to two years to make and costs between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 2.5 crore. The space, currently being run by Sonavadekar’s former pupil Balakrishna Vasant Panchal, has now been shut for two years with plans to relocate it to the Mumbai Goa Highway

64 open

15 july 2013


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Open Magazine 15 July 2013

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