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RS 35 16 December 2013

INSIDE The case for BDSM as alternative sexuality l i f e

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Sex and Consent

Negotiating the minefield


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Volume 5 Issue 49 For the week 10—16 Dec 2013 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers cover photo

Grant V Faint/Getty Images

16 december 2013

Zermelo

Yes, media coverage sometimes descends into prying, but some ‘lurid’ details are essential information (‘The Voyeur in Our Midst’, 9 December 2013). In this case, Tarun Tejpal tried to get away with a good deal of equivocation and a disingenuous apology—he made it sound like all he did was make a clumsy pass at a subordinate. This was my impression when the story first broke. The actual allegation is much more serious—it’s physical molestation rather than sexual harassment. If the record is to be set straight, how does the author propose The defence often uses doing it without digging and sharing some dirt? the embarrassment Would it have been factor strategically, but better if the Tehelka only because the rest management’s official of us make such a big spin prevailed? If one deal of it were to put too much weight on privacy, the outcome would be what often happens—victims shy away from reporting it. Part of the problem is not voyeurism but an implicit prudery—the details of rape are deemed, even by sympathetic parties, to be much more damaging to the victim than, say, details of a mugging. The defence often uses the embarrassment factor strategically, but only because the rest of us make such a big deal of it. Sure, some information that gets spilt out (identity of the victim, for instance) is not necessary. But some of it is (for example, the exact nature of the assault) and there is no point evading it. None of what happened, however painful to recount, is the victim’s fault.  letter of the week Lessons for My Daughter

you have fantastically put across the dilemma faced by most girls when they attain menarche (‘Women Don’t Bleed Blue’, 2 December 2013). I had endless conversations with my just-into-teens daughter and bought her several books like Girls Guide to Growing Up and The What’s happening to my Body?: Book for Girls. Your essay is perhaps the best version that she could read. As for the ‘taboo’ associated with what is one of the most wonderful things to happen to a woman, most of these traditions have

fantastic piece of writing, Ramya. I’m glad that young women like you are leading the charge to change the way society looks at/deals with anything to do with women’s bodies. As a biologist, I have never really understood the drama that surrounds a woman’s menstrual cycle and I have always had lingering doubts about the actual reasons behind all the superstitions associated with it. I think our society objectifies women as child bearing machines. I know quite a few well educated men and women who feel squeamish talking about anything to do with female bodily functions, and so I hope lots of them and specifically lots of young women get to read this article and start to understand that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of.  Manoj Pra jwal

Bhimsen’s Raspy Note

a scientific explanation that our elders have unfortunately failed to elucidate. For instance, while traditionalists maintain that a girl/ woman should be isolated for the 3-4 days of her cycle, what they failed to mention is that a woman’s body during the cycle is very delicate and susceptible to infection, that she would need all the rest during her cycle to prepare her body for procreation, that it is a chance to give women a monthly respite from household duties. 

this is a sad story (‘A Belated Acknowledgement’, 2 December 2013). Raghavendra shares the angst of being mistreated by his father, in common with Geetali ‘Norah’ Jones, daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar. Both had famous fathers who ignored the earlier marriage(s) and kids. While Norah had the luck and fortitude to still thrive, Raghavendra struggled with providing for the family and sacrificed his possible career in music. Bhimsen Joshi, for his personal pleasure, ignored his duty to his son. What a coward. Guess all men cannot be perfect. 

Padmapriya Chilakamarti

Puru Singh

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The Dabholkar Murder Mystery misdirection

Is a breakthrough in the rationalist’s assassination case imminent or is it all hogwash?

A f t e r three months of inactivity since the killing of Punebased rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, there has suddenly been a flurry of activity. First, the police filed an affidavit in the Bombay High Court claiming evidence did not support the involvement of any right-wing extremist group, and that there had been no threat to Dabholkar’s life. Two days later, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told newspersons that the police had leads and that a breakthrough in the case was imminent. Around the same time, 16 december 2013

news emerged that four alleged arms dealers arrested in Thane may have been involved. But it appears now that a breakthrough is distant. Sanjeev Kumar Singhal, Joint Commissioner of Police, Pune, admits there is so far no proof to link the alleged arms dealers—Manish Ramvilas Nagori, Rahul Mali, Ramavatar Khandelwal and Santosh Bagde—to the killing. But a news leak by a police source said ballistic reports on one of the firearms seized from the group showed it may have been used to kill Dabholkar.

Deepak Girme, a member of the Dabholkar-founded Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), says the police often ‘leak’ such news when under pressure. “It is likely that their involvement with the case is being mentioned simply to show Shinde they are doing something.” About a month ago, he says, the police claimed they might have arrested the rationalist’s killers in Goa. “Four individuals, Dilip, Binasha, Gagansingh Vishwakarma, and Narayan Janala, were arrested with arms in Goa. They

were from Pune and had a pistol similar to the one used to kill Dabholkar. The police claimed they might be involved... Now, there is no mention of them,” he says. Assistant Commissioner of Police, Pune, Rajendra Bhamare, who filed the affidavit saying there was no evidence of the involvement of an extremist right-wing group, refused to comment. But Girme of MANS claims to have met him: “He told us they were not ruling out anyone. ‘All angles are being probed,’ he said.” n Lhendup G Bhutia

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cover story Sex and Consent

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Anna’s retreat

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bdsm

Alternative sexuality

reunion

How a tattoo led him to his family

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news reel

fashion

The acquittal of the Shankaracharya

The schoolkid school of fashion

Get the Cat Torturer c l a w s o u t A bunch of Bombay kids proved recently that they were true animal lovers. After a boy uploaded a video of himself kicking a cat on his Facebook page as a badge of honour, animal lovers shared the video in horror. It was then that the city-based Youth Organisation in Defence of Animals (YODA) filed an FIR against him at the Versova police station. Pooja Sakpal of YODA said, “The boy is absconding now. We visited his home and he and his family have run away.” The organisation is trying to pressure the police into issuing a warrant against the culprit, but that is proving difficult. “They think we are making a big deal out of nothing. But we won’t stop. We can’t let people like this get away,” said Pooja. Let’s hope they put a leash on the culprit soon. n

After revealing the assaulted Tehelka journalist’s last name on Twitter and apologising, BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi claimed her account had been hacked who me?

‘Within a minute, I realised the mistake and removed the post...It was only [a]partial [reveal of the assaulted journalist’s identity), and inadvertent’ —Meenakshi Lekhi, as quoted in The Indian Express 30 November 2013

‘I had left the phone in my car. I am [surprised] somebody used my phone to make a tweet and [delete] it... only later I was informed through [the press] that my phone was misused for this’ —Meenakshi Lekhi, in a press release issued by her office 30 November 2013

around

turn

Charting a ‘Rape Route’ m e m o r i a m Mumbai-based theatre and protest music group Swaang and Delhi based cultural group Majmaa are conducting a week-long campaign from 10-16 December to mark the passing of a year since the Delhi gang-rape. Called ‘Jurrat: Aazaad Chalo, Bebaak Chalo!’ (Be free, be fearless), the campaign will feature a mobile music concert that will move through Delhi charting a ‘Rape Route’ by stopping at six to eight spots 4 open

where rape cases were reported in the last five years. There will be performances by prominent artistes like Rabbi Shergill, Sona Mahapatra and Swanand Kirkire. Actress Swara Bhaskar, seen in fiery roles in movies like Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhana, is a member of Swaang and will be part of it. She believes that the effort is an endeavour to keep the story alive “as there are countless [victims] our country unfortunately continues to produce.” n 16 December 2013


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felia

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Ladies who love cats

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The inimitable Wodehouse

c true life

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A cop’s crusade against corruption

Hu

st on P o ffingt

F o r including Sonia Gandhi in its list of the world’s richest leaders and placing her net worth at $2 billion without any verification

After declaring Congress President Sonia Gandhi the 12th richest leader in the world three days ago, American news website The Huffington Post has deleted her name from the list with a rejoinder. According to the list, her net worth was $2 billion (about Rs 12,000 crore), which placed her higher than Queen Elizabeth II. The survey did not specify any methodology or source of information, merely stating that HuffPost World had compiled the list based on available data. The report now carries a footnote at the bottom of the article stating, ‘Sonia Gandhi and the former Emir of Qatar Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani have been removed from this list. Gandhi was originally included based on a listing on a third party site which was subsequently called into question.’ A silly defence from a news agency for a blunder that falls somewhere between shoddy journalism and slander. n 16 December 2013

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Deepika and PDA publicity

The President and the Birds of Play i m p o s t o r A few days ago, Twitter gained a new entrant. With a mug shot of himself superimposed on a photograph of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, along with the tag of ‘official account’, India’s President, Shri Pranab Mukherjee had arrived. Within minutes, the account whipped up thousands of followers. Sundry personalities from Barkha Dutt to Kabir Bedi welcomed him, with the latter even expressing the wish that the President tweet himself and not delegate the job to someone else. Except the President was nowhere near Twitter, but in the faraway Northeast, inaugurating Nagaland’s Hornbill Festival. The account turned out to be fake, and was disabled immediately. This, however, did not register with the Twitter

account of news portal, Bengal Newz. After the account was blocked, the portal reported with alacrity —‘Prez #PranabMukherjee’s newly opened Twitter account @POIndia facing some internal server error just after 2 tweets!’ n

Billy Singh Yadav b r a i n w a v e Taking a cue from the NaMo rap that hit the internet in October, the Samajwadi Party seems to be leaving no stone unturned in its quest for youth votes in its 2014 electoral campaign. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, keen to re-invent his father’s image for a younger audience, bought the rights to the melody of 1989 Billy Joel hit We Didn’t Start the Fire. The SP cover—Mann Se Hai Mulayam, Par Irade Loha Hai—has become something of a viral sensation on social media. The party has made it available for download on its official website. It might be a rip off—and ridiculous—but it sure is catchy. n

r Irade Loha -Pa Ha m a i ay

Mann Se ha iM ul

on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of

A leading man’s best friend

NOT PEOPLE LIKE US


angle

On the Contrary

The Man Who Could’ve Been Why Anna Hazare’s decision not to fast in Delhi is an admission of defeat M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i

again from 10 December to press for the passing of a stronger Lokpal Bill and, while a noble cause, it will most probably fail. The main reason for that is because he is holding it in his village Ralegan Siddhi and that itself is an admission of defeat. He helmed something spectacular in 2011 after the first fast at Jantar Mantar and the second at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. As they now mull over how things came to this pass, Hazare and his followers keep repeating that they were betrayed by politicians. The truth is that the common man, with his limited attention and empathy, got bored. Politicians, who understand their voters much better than Hazare does, knew all along that they just had to be patient and wait for the Indian citizen to revert to the mean. They were proved right when the fast called by Hazare in Mumbai saw abysmal public participation and shocked him into temporarily giving up the fight. He once said that the ordinary Indian would not let him die till the Bill was passed, but that mythical Indian was too busy with the business of day-to-day survival to worry about his dying. Plus, Hazare didn’t want to die either. As he tries to reclaim that space once again, Hazare says he can’t fast in Delhi because his health does not permit it. That makes little sense. Delhi is just a flight away and a man on fast has nothing much to do except sit on a pandal. The reason Hazare is doing it in a temple in Ralegan Siddhi is because that is his home and makes him feel secure. He is popular there and assured an audience. The fast cannot fail by the yardstick of that region. But while it might not lead to losing face, it won’t help get that Lokpal Bill passed either. If you start off with concern for your own health, there is a high probability that the ‘indefinite’ fast will be called off at the first sign of health being affected. Given that a political fast is essentially a bluffing game, which government is going to take him seriously? This is a game he has lost even before he started. All he

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nna Hazare is going on a fast

reduced stature Hazare still does not understand that his break with Kejriwal was a strategic mistake

can hope for is a token assurance before calling it off. It is, in one sense, sad that the victory of politicians over him has been so total. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, who was more politician than saint and had all the cunning that came with it, Hazare is a simple man. There is undoubtedly a certain greatness to him, but without any feel of realpolitik, it is left to those around him to strategise victory. It was Arvind Kejriwal and the others around him who turned the 2011 fast into a national movement by stretching the duel with the Government to breaking point and

Hazare helmed something spectacular after the fasts at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan in 2011. Now, his followers say they were betrayed by politicians. The truth is that the common man, with his limited attention and empathy, got bored

providing the high drama that had the country rivetted. Hazare still does not understand that he made a mistake excommunicating Kejriwal after the latter jumped into politics. Even if he didn’t want to get his hands dirty, Hazare could still have been a Gandhiesque father figure or conscience to the Aam Aadmi Party, a monitor of its morals. But despite being repeatedly beseeched, Hazare rebuffed Kejriwal. Like everyone else, he didn’t anticipate or comprehend the AAP’s success at a time when his own mass appeal was fading away. His letter to Kejriwal, asking that his name not be used in AAP’s campaigning, missed the point altogether. The AAP does not need him now; he needs them. But ever since the party was formed, he has treated it with condescension and suspicion. After suffering it for some time, the AAP is now returning that attitude. Kejriwal’s most recent letter to Hazare had retort in its tone; the days of meek supplication were over. All that Hazare can truly bank on now is Ralegan Siddhi. That is why he won’t fast in Delhi. n 16 december 2013


india

A Hurried Man’s Guide

to Amazon’s Drone Deliverers Drones are not only for spying on enemy territory, they might also deliver your new iPhone. Amazon.com is working on a model by which drones will deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes.

It Happens

Field of Dreams Shivaji Park remains the heart of Mumbai cricket despite the availability of numerous other grounds A s h l e s h a A t h a v a l e ritesh uttamchandani

real

Titled ‘Prime Air’, the drone is still at research and development stage, and the company says it will still take a few years for it to be operational, depending on rules and regulations created by the Federal Aviation Administration. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said that since these drones can carry packages weighing up to 2.2 kg, there is no reason they can’t be used as couriers. They will be tested to have a range of over 16 km. Bezos made the announcement on the American TV show 60 Minutes and said Amazon should have the project up in the air and flying in four or five years. These drones will Amazon CEO Jeff have GPS coordinates fed Bezos says in, and won’t even need delivery drones a human being controlshould be up and ling them from an operflying in four or ating room. five years

amazon/ap

But concerns are already being raised. Ray Kurzweil, a technology entrepreneur and futurist, says that though such drones will make it easier to deliver packages and can help with monitoring traffic, they will raise privacy concerns as well. Another

problem: how do you keep a delivery drone from hitting anything, damaging itself or hurting someone else? An official statement released by Amazon answers: ‘The FAA is actively working on rules and an approach for unmanned aerial vehicles that will prioritize public safety.’ Drone expert Missy Cummings told CNN that she felt that the drones would need to fly at an altitude of 300 feet to avoid being shot down by mischief-makers or thieves. She also said that there would be “drop spots” organised, from where people can pick up packages. n

fertile Shivaji Park has produced more than a hundred Ranji players over the decades

B

esides Sachin Tendulkar,

Shivaji Park has produced 22 Test cricketers, including Sunil Gavaskar, Vinod Kambli, Sandeep Patil and Ravi Shastri. Many of them first played club cricket under the aegis of the Shivaji Park Gymkhana (SPG). More than a hundred Ranji players are Shivaji Park alumni. But though the Mumbai Cricket Association now makes many grounds available for cricket training, Shivaji Park remains the field of Mumbai’s cricketing dreams. Besides SPG, eight clubs train cricketers at Shivaji Park, the most famous being Ramakant Achrekar’s Kamath Memorial Club. Cricket coaching began at Shivaji Park in the late 1980s. Created in 1925 by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the ground’s relationship with cricket grew gradually with locals coming to play there. Coach Kiran Adhikari says, “Locals later became members of the SPG. I have heard stories of people playing cricket wearing a kurta and dhotar.” After the SPG’s formation, many players represented it in club cricket, where they were spotted for Ranji and Test cricket. This is also why Tendulkar and Kambli are missing from the SPG honour roll of Test cricketers. “Sachin was so talented that within four or five years, he

began to play international cricket,” says Adhikari. “He didn’t become a member, so he didn’t represent SPG. The same with Kambli.” Former Ranji player Amol Rane remembers Shivaji Park as the only training ground available in Mumbai at one time. “Many players travelled hours to play there. I would come from Jogeshwari. Another reason for cricket to be associated with Shivaji Park was [its use by] Shardashram Vidyamandir “I’ve heard of school. It was locals playing the only school cricket here that promoted cricket and its in kurta and students dhotar,” says me) coach Adhikari (including were trained at Shivaji Park.” At one time, middle-class Maharashtrian parents were reluctant to let their boys pursue cricket. Former Ranji captain Prasad Desai says, “I was not allowed to play cricket by my family. I hid it from them, but was caught out when I was selected for a match.” Now, things are different with parents actively encouraging kids to be the next Tendulkar. “I feel funny when I see young boys arriving for practice with their mothers, while servants carry their kits,” says Desai. n 16 december 2013


business

e ne r gy Now that the US and Iran have finally shaken hands, what does it mean for India? On 24 November, the two struck an interim deal by which the West would lift some of its stiff sanctions on Iran in exchange for a freeze of the latter’s nuclear programme well short of a bomb. “The deal suggests that sanctions on Iran have peaked,” says Robert McNally of the US-based Rapidan Group. It lets Iran back with full capacity into the global market for crude oil, the country’s principal source of revenues, after a prolonged period of economic hardship that Iranian citizens found difficult to endure. The Islamic Republic’s supreme leadership appears to have decided to trade its nuclear ambitions for the benefits of global commerce (and perhaps greater voice in world affairs). “If Iran keeps its promise,” says McNally, “geopolitical risk would reduce [and] help promote energy price stability.” But would that stability be at lower price points? If Iran is able to revive its exports—say, by mid-2014—back to its pre-sanctions level of over 2.5 million barrels per day, up from about a million barrels today, “that would put Brent crude—the benchmark that determines Asian prices—in the high 90s or low 100s” estimates McNally. The current level is about $111 per barrel. While the price dip may not sound like much, it would be a relief for a big oil importer like India because its dollar outflows will dip too.

>100

>100

>100

Vahid Salemi/AP

Peace Prospects and Energy Security

statue of litany Iranian attitudes to the US are no longer stuck in the mould of its 1979 ‘Islamic Revolution’

But McNally cautions that since the global oil market has many moving parts, one cannot predict oil prices with certainty. Collectively, oil producers usually try to target a certain price, and they could sustain a desired price by counteracting the effect of extra Iranian oil. “The Saudis [unhappy with the deal] and other Opec members may cartelise to withdraw some of their supplies to keep the price intact at a higher level,” says Lydia Powell of Observer

The US-Iran deal may open the way at last for the IranPakistan-India gas pipeline

Research Foundation, a Delhi thinktank. India has another reason to hail the US-Iran deal. It could signal the end of US objections to the long-proposed IranPakistan-India gas pipeline. By the time it materialises, world dynamics of the gas market may have changed, thanks to US shale-gas exports. Yet, neighbourhood access to gas could boost India’s energy security in a big way. According to Arvind Mahajan, an energy expert at KPMG, India needs explore multiple gas sources within a cost-benefit framework. New Delhi should hope that Teheran’s new posture is not a bluff. n shailendra tyagi

>100 88.7

Proven Power

86.9 79.1

63

Source: BP Statistical Review 2013 compiled by Shailendra Tyagi

42.1 297.6 265.9

Barring the US, Canada and Russia, the world’s big oil producers are members of OPEC: a cartel in possession of three-fourths of the world’s crude oil

22.4 173.9

157

10.7

150 101.5

97.8

87.2 48

Venezuela

saudi arabiA

16 December 2013

CANADA

IRAN

IRAQ

KUWAIT

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

RUSSIAN FEDERATION

LIBYA

37.2

35

NIGERIA

US

number of years that reserves are expected to last (in brown) Proven oil reserves In billion barrels

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reel

Whodunnit

The Shankaracharya’s Acquittal The Kanchi peeth’s head has been cleared of the deed, but the Varadarajaperumal temple manager’s murder remains a mystery anil budur lulla I n 2 0 0 4 , a manager at a temple run by the Kanchi peeth started writing letters to patrons, authorities, the media and the pontiff himself that ever since Jayendra Saraswathi took over as its Shankaracharya, this seat of Hindu learning had fallen into disrepute. The manager also made noises about financial misappropriation. Given that Kanchi is one of five seats of Adi Shankara’s Advait School of Hinduism, it had the whiff of a scandal. But no one took much notice of Sankar Raman’s letters—until 3 September that year, when he was found murdered on the premises of the Varadarajaperumal temple that he was in charge of. The murder itself would have been little more than a crime statistic, but for an investigative piece that appeared in Tamil weekly Nakkeeran that suggested a conspiracy and pointed fingers at the revered Shankaracharya himself. The police, who latched onto the case quickly, got into the act backed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and arrested Jayendra Saraswathi, his brother Raghu, the junior Swami Vijayendra Saraswathi, another manager called Sundaresan and several others with police records for allegedly eliminating Sankar Raman for having turned into a nuisance for administrators of the muth (seat of a religious order). Last week, a judge in the Union Territory of Puducherry acquitted the Shankaracharya and 23 others of the crime.The verdict has come as a huge embarrassment for Jayalalaithaa, who is CM again and whose government had ordered the arrest of Saraswathi in her earlier term. But before his saffron affiliates can rejoice, the key question remains: whodunnit?

T

he murdered manager’s family is

unsatisfied with the judgment. His son,

inference A piece in a Tamil weekly hinted at the Shankaracharya’s own involvement in the murder ajit solanki/ap

16 december 2013


Anand Sarma, could only say: “We are disappointed with the verdict. We still do not know who killed my father.” Interestingly, his sister, who was paraded as one of the witnesses by the State prosecution, could not identify the accused. Sarma’s mother and he himself also issued contradictory statements. The arrest of such a high-ranked religious leader had made the case one of India’s most sensational. For the faithful, Jayendra Saraswathi’s status is the highest that can be in an order of Hindu learning (though co-equal with other Shankaracharyas of other peeths). The seer was known to play tennis, travel overseas, mingle with untouchables, and keep company with a powerful elite. These habits are not in keeping with what is expected of a shankaracharya, and were questioned by Sankar Raman. According to the police chargesheet, the Shankaracharya and his close associates had paid about Rs 30 lakh to two criminal gangs to rid them of his existence–one was given a supari contract to kill Sankar Raman, and the other was asked to own up to the murder and surrender. Before the case, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had been closely associated with the peeth and was regularly seen at its rituals. Since she ordered the arrest, it came as a surprise to many, with much talk of political intrigue around the case. Saraswathi was picked up on Diwali from Mehboobnagar in Andhra Pradesh, and it led to popular protests all over India. For the AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa, it was an opportunity to signal her neutrality on matters religious. Till then, being a Dravidian party leader of Brahmin lineage, she was usually seen as someone soft on saffron politics, while the opposition DMK took pride in being secular. In fact, DMK chief M Karunanidhi is reported to have said in private that it was the first time he’d seen two Brahmins (the seer and the CM) fight it out. That the pontiff was arrested was seen as a bold move by the AIADMK. After the Tsunami of 26 December 2004, the seer’s followers said that Tamil Nadu had been cursed by the ocean because the Shankaracharya had been hounded. It is another matter that most victims who met a watery grave were poor fisherfolk living along the coastline in thatched huts. The arrest reverberated in Delhi too. Former President R Venkataraman and former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, religious heads, rightwing political parties and their saffron affiliates held rallies denouncing the arrest. Aware of sensitivities, Prime Minister Manmohan 16 december 2013

Singh, who had just taken office a few months earlier, asked the Tamil Nadu government to probe the case with ‘care’.

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he case against Saraswathi turned creaky within a fortnight of the arrest, with a series of flip-flops in testimony. Kathiravan, one of the accused, turned hostile and retracted his confession, saying he had made it under duress. This man, who was killed in a 2013 gang war, has been acquitted too. The case has not just attracted media commentary, it has been followed closely by many. S Gurumurthy, columnist and rightwing ideologue, wrote in The New Indian Express after the acquittal: ‘No debate on the Shankaracharya judgment will be complete without recalling the vicious and hurtful discourse against the Acharya and the math and how the ancient institution and its faithful underwent the assault and pain silently...

As Jayalalithaa had been closely associated with the peeth and was regularly seen at rituals, it was a surprise to many that she ordered the arrest. But for her, it was an opportunity to signal neutrality on religious matters the math and the Acharya were being hounded without basis and the case itself was groundless. The judicial verdict exonerating the Acharyas and the others charged with the crime implies that the entire case was misdirected.’ Based on what he calls his ‘counter-investigation’ of 2004, Gurumurthy says the two criminals on whom the police had exclusively relied to name the pontiff had in turn accused the police of being principal fabricators of false charges. According to him, the so-called secular media had also launched a campaign against Saraswathi to tarnish his image. He himself had an arrest warrant issued against him, he says, and had to appeal to the Judiciary, which passed orders restraining the state. In Tamil Nadu, the police investigation was marred by what looked like underhand methods on their part to fix Kanchi’s godmen. The police used several rowdies with police records as witnesses (who were later to accuse the cops of forcibly obtaining statements on the seer’s role in the manager’s murder). In

2005, after Saraswathi obtained bail, the accused’s legal team/s petitioned the Supreme Court to shift the trial to a court outside Tamil Nadu on the argument that a prejudice-free process would not be possible within the state. In response, the apex court transferred the trial to a Puducherry court and also granted the petitioners their prayer that no Tamil Nadu prosecutor represent the State against the accused. The trial itself was not without its share of drama. In 2011, the Madras High Court briefly stayed it on revelations that the seer allegedly tried to broker a deal with the judge then. Another judge was appointed and in the eight years that the court took to reach a conclusion, it examined 189 witnesses, of whom 81 turned hostile. At the end, this was the key reason that all 24 of the accused were acquitted. In his judgment, the judge pointed out that there was no incriminating evidence against the accused and the motorcycle used for the crime had not been identified. Also, since witnesses had turned hostile, there was no substantive evidence to corroborate what they had said earlier. The judge also criticised the investigating officer for failing to conduct an independent probe and produce all the evidence collected. The court accepted the defence’s argument that some witnesses had made statements under threat.

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fter the court pronounced the verdict, Public Prosecutor N Davadoss told reporters that he would study the order before recommending a course of action, presumably an appeal to a higher court, for the government to take. Politically, the acquittal is not exactly good news for Jayalalithaa, who people remember ordered the arrest and defended it by arguing that it was based on strong proof. Welcoming the judgment, Subramanian Swamy, a known Jayabaiter who recently merged his Janata Party with the BJP, demanded an apology from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for the episode. “It is an insult to the Hindu religion,” he said, “If she does not apologise, she should be sued.” Adds Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of The Art of Living Foundation, “All the media houses that had maligned the Shankaracharya and Sanatan Dharma [‘eternal religion’] now owe them an apology.” While right-wingers across India have erupted in joy at the Shankaracharya’s acquittal, few seem bothered by the question of why Sankar Raman was killed on 3 September 2004 in the first place—and by who. n open www.openthemagazine.com 11


news

reel

shrewdness

Pawar’s Thackeray Memorial Ploy In leading a Shiv Sena project, the NCP leader shores up support for a lifelong ambition haima deshpande While Thackeray’s mortal remains were statement. Besides, Pawar’s clout will help Uddhav build his own bridges across the consigned to flames at Shivaji Park, chief and Union Minister for Agriculture political divide. Ambedkar’s funeral rites were done at Sharad Pawar has a new job: to plan, In recent months, sources say that Chaityabhoomi in Dadar. The Shiv Sena is execute and oversee the building of a memorial to Bal Thackeray, the late found- keen that Thackeray’s memorial acquires Pawar has been feeling increasing isolated from the UPA as the Congress has not iconic status and becomes a point of er and chief of the Shiv Sena. As a close accorded him the respect he feels he ‘pilgrimage’ for Sainiks, just as friend of the late Thackeray and a mentor deserves. In the recent past, when AK of his son Uddhav, Pawar’s appointment as Chaityabhoomi attracts a large gathering head of the memorial committee comes as on 6 December every year; Ambedkar, who Antony was effectively named second-incommand in the Union Cabinet after no surprise. But Pawar’s ready acceptance oversaw the drafting of India’s Pranab Mukherjee’s elevation as President Constitution, died on this day in 1956. of the job has created ripples in political of India, Pawar had sulked and not circles. The Shiv Sena and NCP are mutual- Over the years, this annual event has attended office for a couple of days. He ly opposed as political parties, the latter is attracted not just Dalits and other returned to work only after a meeting with sympathisers of their cause, but also a coalition partner of the Congress in Maharashtra and at the Centre as well, and tourists from across the country and even Sonia Gandhi and assurances that the parts of Southeast Asia. Thackeray passed Congress was mindful of his stature as a there is a General Election scheduled just senior leader of the UPA. away on 17 November last year, and six months away. With price rise, scams, corruption But then, Pawar has always been a leader Sainiks want his memorial complex to be allegations and the ensuing public outcry with close associations across the political called ‘Ramjanmabhoomi’, a name with over all these, Pawar feels that the divide. Though the NCP-Congress alliance an appeal aimed at devout Hindus. The Shiv Sena was grossly disappointed Congress may not win the required has been in place for 14 years now, signs of number of Lok Sabha seats to retain when the first death anniversary of Pawar’s discomfort with the Congress power. If the BJP also fails to fare well, then Thackeray did not turn out to be a have been increasing in recent months. chances would brighten of a realignment crowdpuller. Though the party’s leaders The leader has not wasted a single of political forces, with an alternative had been given explicit instructions to opportunity to signal to everyone in coalition coalescing at the Centre. If a third ensure that a mammoth crowd turned politics that he is willing and ready to up to pay homage at Shivaji Park, far fewer or fourth front emerges in such a political lead a third front coalition at the Centre scenario, then Pawar does not want to lose people came than expected. Now with in case neither the Congress nor BJP can an opportunity to play a big role in it— Pawar at the helm of affairs to build the form one of its own. possibly as its Prime Minister. Thackeray memorial, Uddhav is sure It is in keeping with his ambitions that Another cause of discomfort for Pawar that it will be make a solid political he has accepted this prominent role in has been Rahul Gandhi’s official erecting a Thackeray memorial at vidya subramanian/ht/getty images elevation as Sonia Gandhi’s successor Shivaji Park in Dadar. According to in the Congress. The 43-year-old observers, it is an open secret that Gandhi scion is likely to want a this is just his first step in forging relatively young team of leaders closer ties between his party and the around him. Little wonder then rival Shiv Sena. that the NCP leader has been on the Pawar’s new job has also brought lookout for new friends and potential into focus another memorial being allies for 2014. planned not too far away in Dadar By way of cadres, the NCP and Shiv by his archrival and Maharashtra Sena share a ‘cultural closeness’ that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. would ease an alliance between the The state government has cleared the two. After the polls of 2014, Pawar decks for a memorial to Babasaheb may want the help of Shiv Sena and Ambedkar to be built in Indu Mills Maharashtra Navnirman Sena MPs to complex, with plans likely to get a gain a sizeable support base while definite shape in the run-up to the staking his claim to prime ministerGeneral Election next year. Both ship. Hence the importance of Ambedkar and Thackeray lived in Pawar’s new job is not lost on Sainiks, Dadar, a central Mumbai locality who are keen that the memorial heavily populated by Marathi should come up before 17 November speakers, and a battle of memorials 2015. How energetically he works, could become a political flashpoint in they’ll be watching. n the months ahead. saffron The NCP and Shiv Sena share a cultural closeness

Nationalist Congre ss Part y

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ag r e e m e n t

Sex and Consent

justin beckett/getty images


Negotiating the minefield DEVIKA BAKSHI

‘C

onsent is sexy’. That was my introduction to the concept of consent. I was seventeen, and attending a mandatory seminar for incoming freshmen at an American university. The Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team—SWAT—wore black sweatshirts that said ‘Consent is Sexy’ in big red letters on the front and handed out buttons that said the same. I took one to demonstrate my support, but hesitated to pin it on my bag like others had done—perhaps because some part of me imagined it would be like putting an ‘Open’ sign in the window. Yikes. Is that what I imagined? It seems, then, that I had an inkling of consent and the fact that it can be implied, even before I had a word for it. But what a difference a word makes, what a relief to learn there is a name for something obvious. Like ‘gravity’. I don’t remember thinking of sex in terms of consent earlier than that. I was aware of violation. I was aware of rape. I was aware of sexual abuse. I was aware of unwelcome sexual attention. I knew violation was possible at the hands of strangers and familiars. I’d experienced ‘eveteasing’ and felt absurdly shaken afterwards. I’d lost sleep over the opening chapters of A Time to Kill. I’d watched Monsoon Wedding with a thickening nausea. In a way, I had a clearer idea about sexual assault than I did of sex. In sexual assault, the presence of violence was implicit. But there was also the sense of an absence of something. I can’t remember having a word for what that something was. It was clear that a sexual assault was not sex, though there was something of sex in it. Later, I realised there was also something of sex it lacked. That something is consent. When I first paid attention to the word, it became the name for that absence. Consent, for me, came to mean everything that was missing in a sexual assault—respect for a person’s bodily autonomy, for one’s right to choose and to refuse; a desire for mutuality, for pleasure rather than power, for exchange rather than extraction; an ability to accept refusal, deferral, disappointment. Consent is not simply acquiescence; it is agreement. It is a genuine consideration for mutuality, and a way to ensure it; a way to be clear that two people—or three— agree. It is a shared sense of endeavour rather than a permission slip—though permission is a start. I could have used a Gangs of Wasseypur-style introduction to consent growing up. I laughed at the ‘permission

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scene’ like everyone else in the theatre, not just for its comedy, but also for its ease in bringing up consent in a scenario that generally relies on its being implicit. Man and woman sit together making small talk. Noticing her hand beside him, the man seizes the rare opportunity for touch, reaching quietly down to put his hand over hers, yet staring straight ahead as though nothing at all had happened. This is a classic telling of a desirable progression in any courtship, and most films would just move on from two secret smiles. Instead, Mohsina turns to Faisal and chastises him for not asking first— “Permission lena chahiye, na?” The genius of this scene is in the fact that Mohsina insists her consent be taken even though she is willing. Consent is usually only invoked in the context of refusal or violation—“I don’t consent to this marriage” or “I

Consent is not simply acquiescence; it is agreement. It is a genuine consideration for mutuality, and a way to ensure it; a way to be clear that two people—or three—agree didn’t consent to the warrantless search of my house”— so to see it taken seriously even in the context of mutual enthusiasm was gratifying. The pleasure is not in seeing Faisal humiliated, but in seeing him sit back down to resume the handholding, minus subterfuge. Trouble is, our sexual culture revolves around subterfuge, around guesswork and hint-dropping, liberty-taking and going-along. Consensual sex does happen. But consent is for the most part given and taken tacitly, through ‘signals’ or circumstances that may be interpreted as ‘preamble’, willingness or invitation. Many a slip is possible in such a situation: shyness may be taken as coyness, eye contact as flirtation, physical contact as enticement. Great anguish is expressed over the ‘ambiguities’ inherent in sexual courtship, the difficulty of gauging interest, let alone determining consent. Short of turning to someone you fancy and asking them if they’d like to have sex with you—a directness to which many of us are not equal—some argue there is no real way to know for open www.openthemagazine.com 15


theodore chasseriau/the gallery collection/corbis

If there is a thin line between yes and no, there is an equally thin one between our confusion over consent and our disregard of it. If we are going to take seriously the traversing of this minefield, we are going to have to tread lightly, and pay attention.

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It is in the nature of consent to be uncertain because the point of it is that it can be granted, withheld, or revoked at any time. The point of consent is to provide a choice in all contexts certain whether your overtures will be welcome or not. It follows that, until we’re all ‘cool’ enough to talk freely about our intentions and desires with the people who are their object, we must navigate the minefield of implied consent. But I am sceptical that it is quite so hard to ascertain sexual interest and to obtain consent. In a standard understanding of courtship, it is the man’s responsibility to express desire and make the overture, and the woman’s to accept or refuse it. But past the point of initial interest, consent is too often taken as granted. 16 open

hat is it that signals a person’s willingness or eager-

ness to engage in a sexual relationship with someone? Is it a laugh, a wink, a look in the eye, a thing we said or how we said it? Viewed in a certain light, every choice, every gesture, every behavioural nut and bolt may be taken to indicate sexual intent or openness. Are we sure of our own intentions each time we interact with another person? If not, how can we be sure of theirs? What teaches us to interpret certain things as sexual cues? Pop culture, the first culprit for every malaise, plays its part. When almost every Hindi movie for several decades tells you hasi to phasi, uski naa mein haan hai, and an expression of anger or disgust means you should try harder until she sees your heart of gold, there is an impact, and this is how we’ve learnt it works: Man pursues woman, woman demurs; man persists, woman softens; man indicates intent, woman indicates openness; man makes a move, woman expresses reluctance; man persuades woman through expert seduction or demonstrates worth through vows of exceptional love and fidelity, woman yields; happily ever after. (Of course there are no take-backs in this scenario—consent, like virginity, once surrendered can never be withdrawn.) We have learnt resistance is par for the course. We have learnt not to take no for an answer. But let’s not hang Bollywood—yet again—for all our sins. Let’s acknowledge the part we play in the confusion of consent. A person’s evaluation of a situation rests naturally on their sense of themselves in it. If we are predisposed to assuming consent, we will. If we are inclined to see reciprocity, we will. If we are convinced of our own desirability, we will assume not only that we are desired, but that we deserve to be. Casting oneself as irresistible freezes the other as unable to resist, a passive vessel for our attentions, always willing. They may not be. In a saner world, this would be called wishful thinking. We hope for sexual welcome, we search for any sign of it, and, given a good stretch of the interpretive muscle, are able to find it. So let’s also own up to how easy it is to manufacture consent and how often we do it, and guilelessly justify proceeding without it. Let’s admit that we routinely interpret certain thresholds of comfort as prelude, certain kinds of conversation as foreplay, certain situations as ‘atmosphere’ because it suits us. And let’s surrender the absurd pretense of sexual clairvoyance—‘I just knew’—because we are not Ram and Leela and this is not a movie. The interpretive games of sexual courtship are based on pop-wisdom and dubious 16 december 2013


intelligence. This is risky business. Reading ‘signals’ is a tack best left to bros on the internet dispensing advice on how to ‘get more girls’. We may wish for a dictionary of sexual cues. But because we take consent as granted by default, we’d also need one to tell us what constitutes adequate refusal— what to do and say to leave no doubt that we are refusing consent. Then we’d have two dictionaries and a responsibility to police ourselves 24/7 lest we send out cues or let slip our ‘Go Away’ sign for even a second. We are already in the habit of interpreting anything warmer than iciness as ‘loaded’, expert at isolating things that might amount to consent, compiling them and calling it ‘context’. ‘There was a context,’ we reason, in situations when consent has been misread, ‘a context that indicated consent’—there was a marriage, a date, a flirtation, a softness, a warmth, a friendliness, a not-quite professionalism—‘You weren’t an absolute ogre to me so I thought you wanted sex.’ But there is no relationship, no context where consent is certain. And the uncertainty is the point. It is in the nature of consent to be uncertain because the whole point of it is that it can be granted, withheld, or revoked at any time, in any context. The whole point of consent is to provide a choice in any circumstance. We get to choose who to share our bodies with—and where, and when, and how. Consent is relevant in every context, and context can never be justification for disregarding it. Our insistence on trying to pin consent down to certain actions and behaviours and relationships reveals an inability to make peace with its essential dynamism. Consent cannot be and is not meant to be static; it must be renegotiated, re-evaluated at every stage of intimacy—intimacy is not an exemption—in every relationship, with every individual. It may be implied, but is never guaranteed. That is the point.

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t is troubling then that the uncertainty of consent

motivates us not to take pause, but to charge forth anyway. Violations are absurdly commonplace, and by chalking them up to the notorious elusiveness of consent—‘You can never be sure’, ‘mistakes are bound to happen’—and by letting them slide as ‘miscalculations’ and ‘lapses in judgment’, we only enable the unseriousness about consent that caused them in the first place, and ensure they will become commoner still. The recent uproar over one such ‘routine’ violation may turn out to be a good thing for just this reason. We are almost eager to see Tarun Tejpal made an example of. ‘He ought to have known better’, we say, based on his public writings and his stated positions and assumed capacity for comprehending nuance. We are right to be angry. Even taken at face value, his account of the assault betrays a total inattention to the consent he is invoking, if not an outright disregard for it.

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But there is something disingenuous in our eagerness to make him out to be a monster, to attempt to separate him from the rest of us, as if to deny that what he really is is an ordinary man whose garden-variety disregard for consent caused him to take a liberty and respond to an accusation of assault with predictable disbelief and defensiveness. This is what’s normal, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we are not subject to the same forces that shaped him—a sexual culture based on guesswork and the assumed faux-reluctance of the woman, who must be chased and pressed until she is persuaded. This is not merely a gap of understanding between generations and genders. This is not only the problem of men, or of people who were born before 1980. There has certainly been an evolution of the way men and women interact socially in recent decades, or so my father tells me. And anybody who has their ears open has heard a ‘back in my day’ that illustrates how things have opened up, warmed between the sexes. But this cannot be used as an excuse— ‘back in my day, that meant she was up for it’ is not good enough. Nor, for that matter, is being born after the 1980s—we cannot be complacent about having all the right attitudes because we were born in a certain decade. Sexual responsibility requires active engagement with consent. When we want it, we should ask for it, and also insist, like Mohsina, that it be asked for. When we are refused, we ought to respect refusal, and also be able to take more than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for an answer—to also accept ‘I don’t know’, ‘Not today’, ‘Not now’, ‘Not yet’, ‘Maybe later?’ And when we grant it, we might consider granting it explicitly. Because explicit, active consent is perhaps the best antidote to the received understanding that it can never be given freely, a solution to our sexual culture’s preference for a theatre of reluctance over openness and enthusiasm. Ultimately, consent has as much to do with ‘liberty to do’ as ‘liberty to not’. If our understanding of the concept continues to be arranged lopsidedly around unwillingness, we might bring up a whole new generation who know more about sexual assault than sex, who understand willingness as a passively defined thing. And the mechanics of our sexual culture will continue to rely on resistance, on charging ahead until we encounter what is not okay rather than setting out to explore what is. What seems to freak people out about consent is the vision of being in bed with someone and having to proceed as though with a checklist on a clipboard, sterilely checking off yes or no before moving on to the next step. This is why a discussion on consent seems to strike some as a threat to the la-la magic and mystery of sex. But no, boys and girls, consent will not destroy sex. There is no checklist, no clipboard. Bringing consent to the centre of our sexual culture means reorienting our approach to sexual encounters. It means learning to inquire ‘Do you want to?’ rather than ‘Will she allow it?’ ‘What do you want?’ instead of ‘How far can I go and get away with it?’ n open www.openthemagazine.com 17


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Church versus Nature In Kerala, the Church fuels an agitation based on a misreading of an environmental report on the Western Ghats Shahina KK

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t Arakkulam village in Idukki

district, farmers have laid siege to the Moolamattom Power House Project. Three hundred people have been blocked off by barricades set up 1.5 km away from the powerhouse. Most of them, especially the women, look tense. The village itself is deserted. Not a single shop is open, schools are shut. The trigger for the protest was the Union Environment Ministry’s decision to implement recommendations of the Kasturirangan Committee report on the Western Ghats. The report recommends restrictions be imposed on development activities in order to preserve the region’s

ecology. “We will be displaced from our land,” one farmer tells me. “Even if we are allowed to stay back, we will not be allowed to farm even food crops.” Lissy Thomas, an agricultural labourer, says she has been told they will not be allowed even to keep livestock or do poultry farming. “One family cannot keep more than three roosters or hens at a time,” she says. Everyone at the dharna has similar information and they believe it. But almost all of it is half-truth and exaggeration, the result of disinformation spread by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the largest church in the country. Through pas16 December 2013


a maddened crowd At a 48-hour strike over 18 and 19 November in Kattappana in Kerala’s Idukki district, people from the area gathered to express fears of being displaced

toral letters and public speeches by its priests, the Church has fanned the agitation against the report. Following large scale migration from the mainland to the hills during the 1950s, a significant population in the High Ranges—the part of the Western Ghats that falls in Kerala—have been Christians. With the aid of cash crops like rubber, tea, coffee and cardamom cultivated there, they laid the foundation of Kerala’s modern economy. The Church is campaigning against the report to appease this constituency. Present at the Power House siege is Molly Thomas, who has no doubt that the report’s implementation will displace locals like her. “We were told so even today morning in the Church,” she says. About a year ago, the hill areas of Idukki had seen another agitation directed against Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar Dam. Cooked-up nightmare scenarios about the dam bursting 16 December 2013

ratcheted up hysteria, creating fierce hatred between villages on both sides of the state border. Politicians and the local media invented pseudo scientific theories to scare people about a ticking water bomb. But the protests soon came to an abrupt end and the Mullaperiyar dam stands in the same shape today as it has for over a century. That agitation had been organised by political parties, with the Church playing a supporting role. With the protests against the Kasturirangan report, it is the other way round. The report was released on 17 April 2013. On 13 November, the Centre issued a notification for the report’s implementation. This led to immediate unrest. Widespread violence erupted across Kannur, Kozhikode and Wayanad districts following a hartal declared on 15 November. The Forest Range Office at Kottiyur in Kannur district was set on fire. Police say more than a hundred case files of forest-related offences were burnt. A violent mob of around 500 men

attacked the forest range office at Thamarassery in Kozhikode. Seven vehicles were set ablaze, including one State Transport bus. The mob waylaid a police team and injured the Superintendent of Police in stone pelting. The police fired three rounds in the air to disperse the crowd. Cases were registered against more than 3,000 people. The police say that the miscreants who went on a rampage that day were brought in by lorries and that the violence was strategised by the quarry and sand mafia—the only parties who will be affected by the Kasturirangan report, which recommends a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ecologically sensitive areas.

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he hartal and subsequent agitations were called by an umbrella of recently formed organisations— The High Range Protection Committee, Western Ghats People’s Protection open www.openthemagazine.com 19


fearmongering At a dharna in Kattappana, Idukki, a priest warned that children could be booked for crying after 7 pm

Committee and Western Ghats Protection Committee. What is common to all of them is that they are all led by priests belonging to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. For example, Father Thomas Manakkunnel is chairman of the Joint Protection Council, which is coordinating all the organisations. Bishop of Thamarassery, Mar Remegiose Inchananiyil, was one of the main speakers at all the public meetings against the implementation of the report. And Father Sebastian Kochupurakkal is the general convener of High Range Samrakshana Samithi, another entity that organises these agitations. The Church, of course, denies any role in the violence, but photographs and videos establish the presence of its officials. The Forest Department has submitted a report to the state government naming Father Saji Mangalath, a priest at Chembukavu Church in Kozhikode, along with a few others for physically participating in the rampage during which the Thamarassery Forest Office was set on fire. In Kattappana, Idukki, a priest reportedly warned people during a dharna that children will be booked by the police under provisions of the Wildlife Act if 20 open

they cry after seven in the evening. Another rumour is that those living in ecologically sensitive areas will not be able to watch TV or listen to music at night. Recently, the Bishop of Thamarassery, while addressing a oneday strike before the Collectorate, warned that there will be ‘bloodshed’ if the government implements the report. He said there will be one more Jallianwala Bagh and that Naxalism would creep into Kerala’s hill areas. A pastoral letter issued by the SyroMalabar Catholic Church, which was widely read across all churches in districts adjacent to the Western Ghats, said,

‘The Kasturirangan report is an open invitation to multinational companies to conquer our land .Though the report does not directly say anything about displacing the farmers, it will certainly happen if the recommendations of the report are implemented.’ The report, however, makes no mention, direct or indirect, of any such displacement. In this agitation, Kerala also witnessed the rare sight of two traditional enemies—Communists and the Church—joining hands. The CPM called for another hartal on 18 November in support. CPM Politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan wrote on his 16 December 2013


Facebook page that the government is trying to impose the recommendations upon people unilaterally, with no effort to address their worries. ‘People living in the high ranges have genuine worries about the impact of the report,’ says Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. The Kerala Congress, a regional ally of the ruling United Democratic Front, which is one of the most influential political parties in Idukki and Kottayam districts, also spread panic to increase its popularity among Christians. Only the Church could have got such disparate parties together for an agitation.

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he Western Ghats span six states— Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This region is listed as one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites and among eight hotspots of biological diversity on the planet. The recent debate on conserving the region’s biodiversity stemmed from a 2005 Supreme Court judgment on a case filed by the Goa Foundation, an environmental group fighting against mining in the Western Ghats. The verdict instructed the Centre to stop all illegal mining activities in the state. The court also asked for other ecologically fragile zones to be identified. The Centre sent numerous notices to the governments of the Ghat states, including Kerala, asking them to map such zones, but got no response to repeated queries. A Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel, chaired by Dr Madhav Gadgil, was appointed under directions of the Supreme Court. Its report, submitted in August 2011, divided the Western Ghats into three zones based on biodiversity, rainfall and other climatic conditions, and placed different levels of restraint on human intervention in those zones. When the states protested against the Gadgil report as being anti-development, another committee headed by Dr K Kasturirangan was appointed to ‘review’ it. Environmentalists in Kerala unanimously say the Kasturirangan report diluted Gadgil’s recommendations. Dr G S Vijayan, a member of the earlier committee, alleges that the Kasturirangan report “protected economic interests and sidelined environmental concerns”.

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Instead of the Gadgil Committee’s division of the Western Ghats into three zones based on biodiversity, the Kasturirangan Committee makes a broad division between ‘natural landscape’ and ‘cultural landscape’ based on habitation. ‘Cultural landscape’ constitutes 63 per cent of the Western Ghats and there is hardly any restriction on human activity within it. The entire protest is about restrictions imposed on the remaining 37 per cent, or ‘natural landscape’. 123 Kerala villages fall within this ‘natural landscape’. Other states have more villages that come under this zone— 1,179 in Maharashtra, 1055 in Karnataka, 200 in Goa and 133 in Tamil Nadu. But none of these states witnessed violent protests like Kerala did.

The Church is campaigning against the report to appease Christians settled in the Kerala Ghats who laid the foundation of a cash crop-based economy

“W

e never promote violence,” says Father Paul Thelekkat, spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, “neither in theory nor in practice. Some miscreants crept into the protestors, and thus, violence broke out.” This excuse does not convince everyone. “Whatever they claim, they cannot evade the responsibility of spreading fear and thus instigating people,” says Harish Vasudevan, a lawyer and environmentalist. “The priests and local political leaders do not give people an opportunity to understand the Committee’s recommendations. Instead of giving them translated copies or extracts of the report, they spread baseless theories.” With such disinformation, locals are genuinely scared of the report’s implementation. A group of farmers I met in Kattappana town said they were told that they would not be able to build houses and that no new roads or bridges would come up. “We cannot even buy or sell land,” said one of them. A cursory look through the report,

however, shows that these fears are baseless. Its ‘Executive Summary’ contains its recommendations for action and there is no indication whatsoever that the lives of ordinary people will be affected. Consider these recommendations: » ‘…is recommending a [prohibitive] and regulatory regime in ESA [Ecologically Sensitive Area] for those activities with maximum interventionist and destructive impact on the ecosystem. All other infrastructure development activities, necessary for the region, will be carefully scrutinised and assessed for cumulative impact and development needs, before clearance.’ » ‘There should be a complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining in ESA. All current mining areas should be phased out within the next 5 years, or at the time of expiry of mining lease, whichever is earlier.’ » ‘All ‘Red’ category industries should be strictly banned. As the list of industries categorised as ‘orange’ includes many activities like food and fruit processing, there will not be a complete prohibition on this category. But all efforts should be made to promote industries with low environmental impacts.’ » ‘Building and construction projects of 20,000 m2 and above should not be allowed. Townships and area development projects should be prohibited.’ The report categorises industries as ‘red’, ‘orange’ or ‘green’ based on the degree of pollution they produce, red being the most polluting, with 17 industries under it. Restrictions are to be imposed only on red category industries, and on buildings above 20,000 m2. This contrasts with the popular belief that no bridges, roads or houses will be allowed to come up. There are lone voices of dissent against these protests. The Church of South India (CSI, successor to the Church of England in India) has made a public statement dismissing the protest as ‘politically motivated’ and demanded implementation of the Gadgil Committee report instead of Kasturirangan. ‘Natural disasters have to be taken as signs [of] God for the protection and conservation of nature,’ said Bishop Thomas K Umman of CSI in a statement issued to the press. ‘We will [be taught] a lesson if we don’t listen.’n open www.openthemagazine.com 21


h o m eco m i n g

Return of the Son

The commando who was reunited with his family 20 years after he was lost as a little boy, thanks to a tattoo Suhit Kelkar photographs by ritesh uttamchandani


defying the odds Ganesh Dhangde in his uniform as a Quick Response Team commando

was in reliable company. The two had been through many a trial in the police together... who better to take along on this mission? Ganesh kept looking about as they drove slowly around a shantytown at the foot of Thane’s Hanuman Tekdi hill that rises above Wagle Estate. A bustling shantytown it was, with alleys going every which way. Sumit stopped the motorcycle in a narrow alley for Ganesh to get directions from a passerby: “Which way is the Mama Bhacha dargah?” It’s the only landmark I know. “It’s that way, up the hill.” A little farther, Ganesh had his memory jogged by a building, then a municipal school... these were granulated images

The one thing of his longlost family he was sure of was his mother’s name: Manda Raghunath Dhangde. It was tattooed across his right forearm

I

t was 4 October 2013 and Ganesh

Dhangde was feeling more than a little nervous. He would end every other sentence with ‘na?’ Lean and boyish looking, the 25-year-old anti-terror commando with the Thane Police had a soft voice that hid his marathoner’s lung capacity. Riding pillion on Constable Sumit Gandhwale’s black Honda Unicorn, he

16 December 2013

from his childhood. “Sumit,” he said, his voice a notch louder, “the school seems familiar!” When they came upon a mosque that went click in Ganesh’s head, he was convinced it was that neighbourhood. The one thing of his long-lost family he was sure of was his mother’s name: Manda Raghunath Dhangde. It was tattooed across his right forearm in indelible Marathi. He’d had it for as long as he could remember. “Aunty, sir, do you know Manda Raghunath Dhangde?” “No.” Perhaps she’s left the area. They saw an old man across the road and went to him. “Manda? There are three women named Manda in this neighbourhood,” he said. “Where do they live?” The old man directed them farther up the hill.

S

cars and tattoos, they last as long as your memories. Sometimes longer. Like, say, the scarred memory of how you went missing. Say, you were six years old and mischievous, tramping off into the nearby Yeoor jungle for fun. Say, your father, Thane municipal gardener Raghunath, had just died after a month of fever. You lit the pyre. Lonely and forlorn, you acted up, opting to play marbles and fly kites instead of going to school. You stoned your neighbour’s chicken and were tied to a tree by your mother as punishment after her thrashings didn’t work. In reaction, you acted up even more, and on one forgotten date and unforgettable day, you left your reed-and-mud house on top of Hanuman Tekdi hill to visit school with a neighbour’s son your age and met an older friend of his who encouraged you to skip school and go for a walk. Why not, you thought, and another friend of the older boy joined you while he himself disappeared... and then the stranger took you and your friend to a railway station, and you all took a train for fun and got off at an unfamiliar station. You were asked to wait on a bench as the stranger and your friend walked off—never to return. It was minutes and then hours, who knows, before you were gripped by panic. You figured a train going in the other direction would take you home, but you landed up in a hopelessly unfamiliar place. In tears, you asked for Mama Bhacha and got no answer. You wandered around Mumbai, slept the night at a pandal and woke up to realise it wasn’t a nightmare. You broke down, found yourself on a beach... and then a woman took you in. She clothed, fed and turned you into a beggar on trains and a scavenger of metal. She took half your earnings. Six months of this, and you lost hope of ever returning home. It was a grim life. And then a vehicle knocked you out.

W

hen Ganesh came to, he was in a

place that had men and women in white and smelt of blood and chemicals. His bandaged head hurt and he felt swoony—like, say, the sea. He spent months in that hospital bed. No one of his family turned up to see him, only the beggar woman and her son: what were their names? They’re lost to memory now. Had they admitted him to hospital open www.openthemagazine.com 23


or had some other kind soul? I don’t remember. After a while, the beggar woman and her son stopped coming. A doctor said he was okay. “We’re moving you to an orphanage,” he was told.

H

ome, train, beach, beggary, hospi-

tal—and now, orphanage. From the age of about seven to 12, Ganesh stayed at Thelma JRD Tata Trust Anand Kendra in Worli. It was run by a family he knew only as the Mehtas. They were strict. All the children had to rise early, brush their teeth and study hard. They were as scary as they were well-meaning. Ganesh couldn’t talk to them. But Shamshuddin, the cook at the orphanage, was friendly. “Sit here,” he’d say, and the children would sit in rows as he and his helpers served them food. Ganesh learnt that not all his fellow inmates were orphans. Some had been given up because their father had died and mother could not afford to bring them up. Before anti-child labour laws came into being, the Kendra had yarn-spinning machines for the children to work on. For their labour, they earned a few rupees that would be kept safe for them till adulthood. The school Ganesh attended was called Love Grove Municipal School—located near a sewage treatment complex. He had to start from class one all over again. He was disconcertingly taller than his classmates, but took it in his stride. He was good at athletics and his teachers egged him on to participate in inter-school tournaments. He would often win. At some point, he decided he’d be a sportsman. He spent his after-school hours running in a maidan behind the orphanage. In a few years, he’d forgotten about Mama Bhacha. He had lost his family and found a childhood. With other children, he would climb an almond tree in the Kendra’s courtyard; he liked to sit on its highest branch, even above the first-floor terrace. They would walk on the boundary wall. Once, he recalls, a kid fell off and his front teeth fell out. This was not Ganesh’s lot in life. He rose. He did so well as an athlete that he got admission to the Maharashtra government’s Krida Prabodhini sports academy. At the age of 12, Ganesh bade good24 open

bye to the orphanage; admitted to another school, he got a free hostel room in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai. As a hostel resident, he learnt to look after himself, washing his own clothes, cooking his food and watching out for trouble. His family was a distant memory. He didn’t miss them—or so he told himself. When the families of other kids at Krida Prabodhini came visiting, he’d retreat to a shaded spot under a tree in the compound to be with himself awhile. Ganesh found a father figure in his athletics coach, Surendra Modi. He was strict, but cared for the earnest boy who had no one at all. Modi Sir offered him a bit of advice: “Forget about your family. It’s no use pining for them. Look ahead— to the future. Focus on your work.” Under the coach’s care, Ganesh practised several sports at Krida Prabodhini: 800 m, 5 km running, the long jump, and sometimes even the pole vault. Growing up to be a deceptively small but strong

Ganesh was put into a routine of 6 am physical training and weapons practice. He gave away no sign of any inner turmoil that might shake his nerve teenager, he won several amateur medals, including a track-and-field gold at the Gujarat amateur tourneys in 2005. Ganesh applied for a police job, and graduated in 2010 as a constable from the state’s police training academy in Pune. (It was only later, after he found his mother, that he lerant he’d been fascinated by the force in khaki even as a child; he’d once cried and cried until they got him a play police uniform). On his first posting, he would spend three years at the Thane Police HQ, where he represented the force at amateur sporting events. He had seen several Hindi movies featuring commandos and their derring-do. In 2012, he caught sight of some anti-terror commandos strutting about. Impressed by their bearing, he applied for commando training. As an athlete, he was fit for the job. The selection trials put him through a 2.5 km run, 100 m sprint, sit-ups, dips, pull-ups, push-ups

and other tests of strength and stamina. He was chosen.

I

n July 2013, Ganesh was among a batch of commandos inducted by the anti-terror cell of the Thane Police. Inspector Shrikant Sonde, the cell’s head, was impressed with the humble youngster’s running times and was pleased to have him join the Quick Response Force. This elite unit, raised after Mumbai’s 26/11 terror attacks, was to be equipped with INSAS assault rifles and imported sub-machine guns. Also, its training module was extremely demanding, both physically and mentally. And that is why Sonde made a point of keeping men of unhappy—or no—families under close watch. Soon after the recruitment, Sonde sat the greenhorns down and grilled them on their loved ones. “Dhangde, where are you from?” “Don’t know, sir.” “Where is your family?” “I don’t have one, sir, I was lost to them as a child. All I know is my mother’s name, from this tattoo on my right arm.” Ganesh displayed the green ink on his arm. Ganesh was put into a routine of 6 am physical training, weapons practice and day-and-night shifts. He gave away no sign of any inner turmoil that might shake his nerve—make him trigger-happy, for instance—as a Quick Response commando. Yet, Sonde was unable to restrain his worry—and sympathy. After a few days of training, he called Ganesh into his cabin and said, “We’re going to try and find your family.” And then he added, “The tattoo on your arm, it’s the poor who do that sort of stuff. If you find your folks, don’t be surprised if their circumstances are slight.” Sonde urged Ganesh to retrace the steps in his life. It was in September 2013 that Ganesh revisited his old orphanage in Mumbai. Shamshuddin the cook, who was about to retire a month from then, reminded him how he’d talked about Mama-Bhacha as home, whatever that was. There was a clue. “Mama Bhacha?” asked Sonde, “You’d been saying it ever since you reached the orphanage?” 16 December 2013


“That is what they said, sir.” “I’ll tell you what. You go make enquiries. Your colleagues will help you.” With that, Sonde put Ganesh on his own case. He and a few fellow commandos began searching for a dargah by that name. By coincidence, it was right under their nose.

M

ama Bhacha: uncle-nephew. A strange name for a burial complex, but it was known among locals of Thane, for it was named after an uncle-nephew duo of Sufi savants who’d lived four centuries ago. Their mazaar (graves) were atop that hill, and a shrine had come up alongside for urs gatherings (to celebrate their ‘union with divinity’ upon death). And that is how Ganesh and Sumit

picked up the trail again. The old man in the alley told them there were three Manda Raghunath Dhangdes living in these parts. They had driven all the way up Hanuman Tekdi. Near the top, there was a small plateau with a Hindu temple, a Buddha vihar and a large water tank. Ganesh turned to a girl of six or seven who was playing with other children, to ask: “Where does Manda Raghunath Dhangde live?” “That’s me!” she exclaimed, and led him home. The girl would turn out to be his halfsister. A two-minute walk later, after weaving through tenements, Ganesh Dhangde saw a reed-and-mud shanty that brought back memory flashes of a long time ago. Three or four old women sat outside the house, close to the hilltop overlooking Wagle Estate.

“We’re from the police,” Ganesh said politely. “We’re looking for Manda Raghunath Dhangde.” He was ushered into the dark shanty. It had a tumbledown cupboard, a TV and a cot. He laid eyes on a thin woman of dark complexion, slightly over five feet, who seemed middle-aged. “Have you lost a son, years ago?” Yes, she said. What was his name, he asked. Ganesh Raghunath Dhangde. He showed her the tattoo. She grew agitated, losing control of her emotions. Five women of around his mother’s age entered the shanty. They were his aunts, including his mother’s closest relative, Savitri Bhokre, who’d been his father’s uncle’s daughter. They were all there to observe the shraadh of his father. It was a solemn occasion.

more the merrier Ganesh with his sister Vanita who is now unrecognisably grown up outside their hutment atop Indira Nagar slum, near Wagle Estate, Thane


home at last Ganesh takes a sip of cold water after climbing up to his home after 20 long years in which he’d given up hope of finding his family

And now, this. Manda’s lost son. He’d returned. Overwhelmed, everyone broke down. Ganesh was finally home.

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anesh had left a truant child and

returned a polite police- and sportsman. A few weeks after the reunion, he moved in with them. It has all worked out well. “Get married soon,” Ganesh’s mother has told him. First, he plans to get a BA degree from YB Chavan Open University and take an exam for the job of a police inspector. Then he will have his younger siblings married, before finding a girl for himself. His mother still works as a housemaid. He wants her to retire once he becomes an inspector. The two siblings he left behind are now grown up. His brother Ramesh is around 19, his sister Vanita, 17. He did ask his mother whether she searched for him. Yes, she said, they registered a complaint at the Wagle Estate police station, searched at the local 26 open

morgue, went to Vashi and Bhiwandi; Wadala, too, where gangs would draft missing children for begging. When that didn’t work, she had been to the local temple for mannat. After his father’s death, his mother was unable to fend for herself and her children. She married a man who lived nearby, Rampujan Yadav. With him, she has had two children: Hritik, 12, and Vandana, 10. Ganesh is still adjusting to this reality. Getting used to family life has not been easy. When he came to live with them, he would wash his own clothes and his mother would yell at him. That has changed since. He has learnt since to rely on others in his family. For this festival season, he bought a silver paayal for Vanita, a dress for Vandana and saris for his mother. They plan to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of a local goddess, for the first time, as a family. In this reunion with his family, Ganesh has also learnt that he is probably older than the 25 years he has counted. At the

orphanage, he had to repeat four or five years of school. That would place him close to 30.

O

n a recent evening, Ganesh and Sunil drove to Mumbai from Thane after their shift ended. They visited Anand Kendra, where Ganesh was felicitated by the management and he addressed the children. He spoke about goals, dedication and determination. A boy who was soon to leave the orphanage asked him how to join the police force. “Be good in your studies and in sports,” Ganesh advised him. Ganesh was in the presence of 30 children, some of whom were orphaned and others whom their parents couldn’t support. Many seemed cheerful, but one or two were sullen and quick to take offence. None had gone missing. By an estimate of the NGO Childline, almost 45,000 children go missing every year in India. Few of them ever get back home. Ganesh had defied the odds. n 16 December 2013


Fashion blogs by teenagers in India have begun to resonate with readers, advertisers and fashionistas AANCHAL BANSAL

with it

E

arlier this March, when it came

to choosing between attending designer Manish Malhotra’s grand finale at Delhi’s fashion week and studying for her final exam scheduled the next day, Anupriya Dutta had her priorities clear. “I thought about it, it was a tough call. But it was Manish Malhotra and my first stint at a fashion week,” says the shy 17-year-old. “I carried my text books that day, read [them] through in the breaks, reached home after midnight and dozed off. My mother thought I would fail my English exam, but I did well,” she says, with a glint in her eye as she sips a Belgian Chocolate Shake on a chilly November evening in Delhi’s Khan Market. Dutta’s profile on LinkedIn, an online networking platform for professionals, describes her as a ‘High School Fashion Reporter’ who writes about fashion on her blog, Lace Grass Hues and works as a reporter for Poshglam.com, an online fashion magazine. She has been a fashion blogger for the past three years now. With more than 500 followers, she prefers to keep her blog neat with no endorsements or advertisements that might interfere with its readability, and likes to write about the business of fashion. “I am more interested in what Tom Ford does with Gucci than in posting mindless pictures of clothes and accessories from a Zara or Forever 21, as is common with fashion blogs. I like to give my opinion on fashion,” she says. Indian fashion writing and blogs bore her. She admires American fashion blogs such as Man-repeller (a feminist take on fashion), Blonde Salad and Style Scrapbook. Being a fashion reporter also entails attending events and store openings; of course, attending school and taking exams is also part of her routine. Dutta usu28 open

The Schoolgirl School of Fashion

ally posts her work early in the morning after sleeping over a piece written the previous night. “That is the way it is, I am a fashion enthusiast who covers fashion all day, except for the time I am in high school,” says Dutta. She has signed up to study fashion journalism at London School of Design next year. “I recently designed a magazine for my portfolio and that impressed [the School]. My blog has a lot to do with that, as that’s where I have

grown to understand fashion as it is now,” says Dutta, a student of Delhi Public School, RK Puram. As fashion blogging gradually gains sway in India, this one-time hobby has also become a lucrative way to combine style and entrepreneurship. Bloggers writing about fashion offer style tips and endorse products of various fashion brands and designers. While blogging offers a simple online platform to interact 16 December 2013


photos raul irani

archblogger Anupriya Dutta, 17, a fashion blogger for three years now, has signed up to study fashion journalism at London School of Design next year

with readers over fashion and style, it also offers a professional opportunity to those with a keen interest in the fashion business. Age and resources are no disqualifiers, so it gives young bloggers a chance to start early. “That’s the best part about blogging,” says Dutta. “I went to several magazine and design places for an internship, but they all asked me to come back when I was 18. No one cares about my age, not even advertisers, 16 December 2013

on my blog. I am partly professional already,” she says.

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he blogosphere in the US had its youngest blogger in 12-year-old Tavi Gevinson, whose fashion blog Style Rookie caught public attention in 2008. Gevinson would simply post pictures of herself in different outfits and comment on the latest fashion trends; her blog is

believed to have drawn 30,000 followers everyday till she decided to start Rookie Magazine at the age of 15. Arushi Khosla, who started her blog Fab Blab at 14, is possibly India’s Tavi Gevinson. The blog has now been rechristened Bohemian Like You (after the song by American rockband Dandy Warhols). “I was beginning to see fashion as something that is more than being celebrity-centric and about ‘who wore open www.openthemagazine.com 29


what’. Since most of my friends are not as interested in fashion as I am, blogging gave me a platform to connect with likeminded people who see fashion as art,” says Khosla, now 18. Currently studying fashion in New York, Delhiite Khosla’s résumé reads like one of a full-fledged fashion editor’s, having reviewed fashion for American fashion houses such as United Nude, Mash NY and Motel. In one of her posts, she describes herself as a ‘Rodarte-Struck teen girl’. The American fashion label Rodarte has taken on Gevinson as its spokesperson. Clicking selfies on her terrace in Noida, Khosla would post outfits of top brands from the UK and the US. “Initially, I would post long and lengthy articles, but given the

While both Anupriya and Arushi have leveraged their blogs for their professional ambitions, 17-year-old Aishwarya Khanna sees her blog Bling Struck as a journal to record her daily thoughts on fashion. “Fashion and styling are central to my blog,” says the chirpy teen studying at Springdales School in Delhi. She is the subject of her blog; so you see her wearing, for instance, a pair of leather pants from Zara and teaming it up with a denim shirt she borrowed from her mum, and ruing her ‘thunder thighs’ more than talking about the outfit in question. ‘Readers, I don’t want to become thunderous. My bottom half I mean,’ she writes in one post. Equally passionate about football and

self help Aishwarya Khanna, 17, uses the money earned through her blog for buying fashionable clothes

short attention span that online readers have, I have converted my blog into a personal styling blog where I post pictures of myself,” she says. She has deliberately kept the look of the blog clean and minimalistic, and continues to post selfies from the fashion-savvy streets of New York. It was her blog that eventually landed her an internship in New York with the Council of Fashion Designers of America while she was still taking her Class XII board exams. “That sort of paved my career in fashion. Thanks to my blog, I was already connected to many people associated with the fashion industry,” she boasts. 30 open

Louboutins (she hopes to own five pairs by the time she hits 20), Khanna says that she was always interested in fashion courtesy her mother and a fashionable aunt who is a banker in New York. As she looked for a way of expressing herself through her teen years, Arushi Khosla’s blog inspired her. “I also knew Arushi through my grandmother, who is friends with her grandmother. I thought that if she could do this succesfully, I could do something like that too,” she says. “Of course, I don’t copy her,” she emphasises. Her parents fondly call her a ‘high maintenance’ child thanks to her devotion to labels and brands; she speaks of how she

has learnt to deal with money by going commercial with her blog and making space for advertisements and endorsements. “I negotiate with PR persons and look at revenue-generation options, something that none of my friends can do. I am, like, the star child of my gang,” she grins. Proudly showing off her new bolero leather jacket from Promod, Khanna says that she uses the money earned through her blog for buying fashionable clothes and accessories. While she has taken a hiatus from blogging, forced by her impending board exams in March this year, Khanna is looking at revamping her blog and looking more professional. “A 28-year-old wrote to me asking for help on style tips for her wedding. So why not?” she says, adding that she hopes to hook her mother and aunt to her blog; she saw them exchanging Vogue and Elle while she was growing up. “They are my style gurus, after all,” she says. Though Dutta and Khanna enjoy playing style gurus for friends and family, they admit that in the initial stages, they kept the blog private: they didn’t tell friends in school. “I always wondered what my friends would think, and whether they would judge me for being frivolous and stupid,” says Dutta. “Gradually, as my blog started becoming popular and friends came to know of it, I realised that we all had that one particular thing that we were embarrassed of. It helped me connect with my passion. That’s all I want to do,” she says. “My friends treat me normally, though some people do judge me for [it]. I still get good grades and people come to me for style tips. I just did a round of styling tips with some people in school for our farewell party,” she adds. “I try to keep a low profile about the blog in front of teachers and the principal.” Khanna enjoys going for blog parties and meets, even if it means juggling homework, tuitions and preparations for the dreaded board exams. “It just feels like my space,” she says, struggling to explain her passion for the blog. “People [at such gatherings] know what I am talking about and they are like-minded. It makes me feel good about myself and that’s what fashion is all about—confidence and feeling good about yourself,” she says, flashing a wide grin. n 16 December 2013


Dipjyoti Banik


kinks

Bound Free

India’s underground BDSM practitioners want Bondage-DisciplineSadism-Masochism seen as alternative sexuality, not deviant behaviour Chinki Sinha

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he lay on a bed of stones. Ants bit

her skin, but she stayed still, not even scratching herself. She was forbidden to. He had told her to not move until a butterfly alighted on her body. It must have been an hour. Maybe more. She can’t tell. But a butterfly did eventually land on her. It marked the completion of a task. There were other orders too from the man she refers to as ‘Huzoor’, tasks assigned to a ‘sub’ by the ‘dom’. It was behind a cottage on top of a hill somewhere in Karnataka. They had gone for a session there. “It was a beautiful place,” she says. “He was watching me all the time. I had surrendered to him.” They met soon after she joined a BDSM—Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism—forum on the internet. ALDIe Walker

A friend had referred him to her. Sessions could be held either online or offline. There could be multiple partners. It could mean subversion. Or, as most would say, perversion. She is 49. She has fought for many causes. As a feminist, an activist and much else. But she won’t judge herself for her fantasies. Those exist in a different realm. A place where desire is supreme and can be converted to reality at a pinch, if only for a short while. Almost nothing here is taboo. And pain is pleasure. She wasn’t bothered about personalities. The person would cease to matter in that moment. Beyond a few questions, she wanted no details. Nor did she divulge any. All she wanted was to push her limits of adventure. So when a man

said “I love you” in the midst of a session, she didn’t know how to handle it. By BDSM community custom, love was to be kept out. She eventually figured he was playing with her mind. He vanished, but left her thinking about love and its kinky reality. Why is love kept out of role play? “Because love is love, it’s up there,” she says. “It is sacrosanct. There are many in the community who are in love, many more who want to be in love. But now some of us are discussing this. Perhaps love can be part of role play.”

I

n India, BDSM often earns a stigma. It is seen as a psychological disorder. One objection to it is its inequality of engagement. This is inherent in its practice. There is a master or mistress and there is a slave. There is dominance and there is submission, the willing suspension of choice, freedom and other such ideals. A physical injury is always a possibility, though its practitioners say it is rare. Care is taken on safety. And the key is consent. There are limits that must be negotiated and set mutually before a session. Pain is real. Everything else could be fantasy. Which is why there are contracts, either written or spoken. It demands a clinical knowledge of kinks, which is a privilege of India’s educated elite with access to the internet. Yet, everyone out there is kinky, believes the 49-year-old. “[Even] love bites are an expression of kink.” She is a

stigma attached (Far left) In India, the BDSM community is largely underground; (left) a session where the woman is a pet of her master open www.openthemagazine.com 33


ALDIe Walker

subversion (Top) A woman in the role of a dom with a sub in Delhi; Parvati against a painting by Baaraan Ijlal that explores the dom-sub relationship 34 open

Raul Irani

spokesperson of the Kinky Collective, a BDSM club and advocacy group. Cigarette dangling by her hand, she speaks of it as a “junoon”, in which surrender to a dom’s will is something of a spiritual experience. “Intensity is when nothing else matters,” she says. “It is about timelessness… not pain. The intensity is enabled by this person [who doesn’t] matter in the end.” She calls herself a late bloomer. At 35, she heard a young woman articulate the rights of the LGBT community and fell in “lust” with her. She chased her. They had a relationship. By 46, she’d figured she was kinky. Right now, she isn’t feeling too well. There’s a chill in the air. Wrapped in a shawl, she slumps on a sofa, an ashtray by her side. She speaks of Kinky Collective’s daring photo exhibition ‘Bound to be Free’, the first of its kind in India. It’s going from city to city. Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and then onwards. The idea is to dispel myths about BDSM and stop eyebrows from being raised someday. Five years ago, she caught a sight that left an impression on her. At a fetish ball in a Brighton basement that she attended with her girlfriend and other friends, she saw a man seated with one woman by his side and another at their feet, resting her head first on his lap and then on hers. Her face bore no sign of humiliation. It was deeply moving, she recalls. Like poetry. As the man patted her, she seemed so at peace in her surrender. There was some beer spilt on the floor. The man took off his coat and spread it out so she wouldn’t get wet. “That was surreal,” she says. “Loss of dignity. That’s what’s so haunting about it.” There is beauty in the collapse of ego, she adds. “Everyone has a fetish,” she says. This is a difficult conversation. She is nervous of me, an outsider, maybe an intruder. And I have already made my first error. I asked her about ‘paraphernalia’. “We don’t call it that. Those are tools,” she says. “You are welcome to see those. It is about the mastery of senses.” It is not about tools and costumes and


role play, as I discover. Forget the preconceptions. It’s not even about sex.

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ucked away in Delhi’s Lado Sarai,

there are 40 photographs on display at Abadi Art Gallery. These have been taken by members of the community. Stillettos dug into a man’s throat, blindfolds, whips and chains, melting wax and leashes, there’s enough to cue visual stereotypes. The point, however, is to shatter the notion that BDSM is misogynistic. There are women dominants. There are male submissives. It is about power flow, says the Collective spokesperson. Gender is of no consequence. In a hazy photograph, a woman drinks milk from a bowl. It’s the ‘reward’, someone says. She was playing the role of a dom’s puppy. The woman is seen in other pictures as well: as a domme (a female dominant) in the one with stillettos at a man’s throat; and then laughing, cigarette in hand, with her feet on top of a man lying prostrate in another. The photos are not explicit. They are not meant to shock the uninitiated, but evoke interest in the strange. And it’s bizarre just knowing that the people in the pictures are present in the hall. Reality and fantasy can co-exist, evidently. Like the face of a woman wrapped in cellophane. Or the dog collar around a woman’s neck in a car, with a CNG auto-rickshaw in the frame. It’s Delhi. There is also a photo of a man with wax being poured on his back. “No gain without pain,” someone says, and chuckles. For many, it is erotica. But it is also much more. Another picture has a cage, with a whip and heels of steel in focus. The man in the cage, you can’t quite see. I later see the same cage at the spokesperson’s place. It was a prop for a game played at a Collective do. To get into the cage, the man had to squeeze himself on all fours over the iron mesh. Of the 150 odd people who’ve visited the Delhi exhibition, the organisers know only six as members of the BDSM community. “They are afraid,” she says. Not everyone can understand the photos. Or the fact that people with routine work and family lives can harbour such fantasies. And act on them.

16 December 2013

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he feels liberated talking about

the exhibition, about her choice of lifestyle, about her attraction for another woman. “I would think about her, and it was like my bed was on fire,” she says. “I had to come out to my mother. This had to be the bravest thing I did, and I moved out of the house. People are paranoid of the media. There is a history of fear in the BDSM community.” But it’s time perhaps for people to come out of the closet, she says. Most of the mainstream would agree that EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey broke the silence on BDSM. But she and others of Kink Collective had burnt the book at a fundraiser for the exhibition (which has a photo of shreds of the book with rose petals): to their mind, the book does BDSM a disservice by turning preference into pathology. “BDSM is about consent. Consent is sacred,” she says, “We have rules.”

How long it takes for them to emerge from the closet without being branded perverts is hard to say. Kink Collective has only 21 members right now. There is a long way to go At workshops held in the privacy of homes, Collective members meet to discuss issues and conduct skill sessions— training in wax play, whipping or rope tying. Never whip the stomach. That could hurt, she says. Certain things are off limits entirely. Like paedophilia. “But isn’t that desire?” asks a voice. “Where is the consent there?” she responds. There is much that the vanilla world needs to understand of BDSM, she tells me. “They can learn from us [the finer points of] consent. As someone who has been part of the women’s movement for 30 years and fought against violence against women, I have learnt a lot about consent after joining this community in which consent is not assumed, it is proactively sought and given, negotiated. Even more importantly, what makes it powerful and real is that it can be withdrawn in-

stantly and unconditionally. Limits are spoken about and pushed.” So, is BDSM where LGBT was as a community of alternate sexuality some years ago? She dislikes labels, but sees it as a valid comparison. “I feel differently about identity,” she says, “Everyone has experienced power in sex, the wrist being held if even for a moment, or rough sex... I believe this is a sexual orientation.” Yet, how long it takes for them to emerge from the closet without being branded perverts is hard to say. Kink Collective has only 21 members right now. But there is a long way to go.

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fter joining the community on-

line, she had gone into the garden and taken a photo of herself next to an iron grill wrapped by a creeper. It was her profile photo on the BDSM site for a long time. She says she felt like that vine— dependent. Her feminism was incidental. She was both that and this. “This too is real,” she says, “It’s my erotic reality...” It’s magic for her, playing with intensity. She compares it with Hindustani classical singing, which she is learning. It is a discipline that allows creativity. “When I first came into this, I was a sub in a hurry,” she says. “My friends in the community told me to slow down, so I did. But after I met the first dominant who I knew I could trust, within 12 days, I was on my way to Rishikesh for a session. It is about trust and faith. That we have in abundance.” While there are pre-defined limits and safe words (used to call a stop if it gets too much), she says she usually doesn’t push for adventure beyond certain boundaries. One non-negotiable for her is that she won’t eat meat. As she stubs yet another cigarette, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s dhamaal playing in the background, she speaks of an especially intense experience. “My dom in that session was a sadist and very experienced. In my journey of pain, I went into a kind of space that was trance-like. In the community, we call it the ‘sub space’.” It’s a space of nothingness. “It is still and calm. I didn’t want him there then. In my state of collapse, I wanted to be alone.” Aftercare, she says, is important. That’s open www.openthemagazine.com 35


photos Raul Irani

one of the things they talk about in their meetings. Is that a pleasure, then, at the end? “For me, it’s difficult to call it pleasure. It is just pain, the intensity of the moment. It is not that I don’t dread these sessions. Yet if the whipping stops, I am disappointed,” she says. “I am definitely turned on. I want to cease to exist. That is the only thing in life. It is a spiritual journey for me. It didn’t happen with meditation. We are just mediums for power flow. It is like singing. How to best let the notes flow. It is a trance.” Some of her sessions have been rather ritualistic. Some pushed her own boundaries in a way that liberated her feelings. One dom asked her to send him her pictures everyday. She was apprehensive, but gave in. “That’s how a dom understands you, releases you, empowers you.” Another dom asked for a striptease. She rehearsed for it, began the show in a pink sari, and danced to the beat of a Bollywood song. “It is wonderful not to have a choice,” she says. “If I am a good sub, I will let you take me on any journey.”

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he speaks softly, in measured words. “BDSM helps me distill parts of fantasy within reality,” she says. “I long for a daddy figure. But it isn’t incest. It is not about debunking my feminism. The fantasy here is about unconditional love. That daddy doesn’t exist. Even if he did, he couldn’t rule me in that way. In my BDSM, I want it. I can even get it.” Kinky sex is not new to India, she asserts. “You only have to look at the Kamasutra. The articulation of it could well be, but speaking about such issues requires courage of a different kind.” Yet, she knows she can’t speak about it in broader settings—say, in a village where she does social work. Open conversations will have to wait. And this is not elitism, she says. In one of her sessions, she injured an eardrum. She was told to tell the doctor it happened because she fell down. She’d wanted to tell the truth, but dared not. Until there is openness, it is difficult to solicit honest medical advice on the safety of edgier BDSM practices: a core concern for many. “We [also] want to speak to mental health professionals. Why should we make up stories? Awareness 36 open

the tools of domination Parvati says these handcuffs are exactly the ones used by the Haryana Police and the whips were made in Rajasthan

needs to be there,” she says. “This isn’t perversion. We have a meeting coming up soon with some doctors to discuss this.”

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s a child, he would tie himself to

the handles of French windows at his grandfather’s house with cords pulled out of bolsters. His parents’ only concern was that he should not hurt himself. But he would pretend he’d been captured. It was a bondage fantasy. “Maybe I didn’t know the terminology,” he says over the phone from Kolkata, “I have been into it since very young.” A lawyer, he is a founder member of Kinky Collective, which was set up in 2011. Overall, though, he has been a close associate of the community for more than ten years now. Many see it as a ‘life-

style’ choice, but that’s a misportrayal he believes. Just as homosexuality is not a ‘style’ one acquires, neither is this. For many years, he thought something was wrong with him. That was before the internet and he had no one to discuss it with. “I used to think I was the only one in India with this disease,” he says, “I wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with sexuality. I thought the rest were in America. I was almost in my late twenties then. In 1998, I had my first computer with a dial-up net connection. The point is that there was no exposure to media. There was no pornography then to tell me about it.” That it was a natural urge, he learnt later. He was inducted by an email from someone asking him whether he was into BDSM. At first, he thought it was 16 December 2013


spam. However, he did reply, and was pleasantly surprised to get a response from a woman in Bombay who was compiling a list of BDSM practitioners for a social network. “In 2003, I travelled to Bombay and met others like me,” he says, “It was real, it was fun.” Afraid of an adverse reaction till then, he had avoided any attempt at BDSM in his personal relationships. It was with new courage that he quipped to his partner that if she was tired of his teasing and troubling her, she ought to tie his hands. That did the trick. She felt a surge of power. It revitalised their bond. But he took care not to let her know of his selfbondage fetish. He identifies himself as polyamorous and gender fluid. He has a primary partner, though he has other playmates. All his relationships are known to all his partners, he says.

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n college, says the Kolkata lawyer, a friend had once confided in him that she was turned on by a scene in a film that had the heroine being dragged by the villain to be raped while her husband was tied up. “She wasn’t enjoying sex, she told me. I said something was wrong with her and she should go see a psychiatrist. I thought both of us had this disease. I want to apologise to her now and tell her it’s alright to fantasise. We never met after college. This was back in 1992-1993.” Over the next ten years, he kept his own stirrings to himself—and suffered for it. “In 2002-03, I had my first session. The pain was an amazing experience. This lady used to say she could take a needle through her nipples. Once, when I was hospitalised, the nurse would come to administer injections. I had this fear of injections, but that conversation helped me gather courage. When you are in pain, the mind shuts down and you tend to run away from it. Here, pain can be pleasurable too. I felt I could be brave,” he says. “Just like bungee jumping is not for everyone. Or like chess is not for everyone. It is just a choice people make. That’s why there are a variety of choices. The problem is we are comfortable laughing at anyone different. It’s a misogynist culture.” For all his experience over the years, he

16 December 2013

feels he has plenty left to learn. Even those within the community need information on issues like safety, respect for preset limits and use of safe words. “For first timers, it is important that it’s done right,” he says, “Someone who wanted to have a session with me started with a list of 50 hard limits. Over a span of six months, we had negotiations and long discussions. When she met me recently, she only had four hard limits. If one has to push the limit with a newbie, it should be discussed first, not done directly midsession. It might leave a scar if things go wrong. Let the partner take a conscious call beforehand by understanding the pros and cons.” He once had a session with a woman of conservative upbringing. He wanted to push her limits to liberate her. He inserted Ben Wa balls in her vagina and they visited a mall together. “She could have had an orgasm right there,” he says.

In a BDSM context, act-byact consent is so critical that nothing sexual can be presumed. Trust is also important because of the fear of being ‘outed’ and shamed in public “Only we knew she had these in her vagina, and she felt free that she could be out in the open and be so naughty without anyone knowing it. I was controlling her. It had been done by me. It is about knowing a person.” In another instance, he had an exhibitionist as his sub, who was comfortable wearing a dog collar to a queer party. “I was dragging her by the collar,” he recounts, “There were interesting reactions. This was an act of dominance in public.” In a BDSM context, act-by-act consent is so critical that nothing sexual can be presumed. “In India, a man can’t be charged with raping his wife,” he says, “In the kink community… if you don’t abide by the rules, you earn a bad name. The community will denounce you.” For instance, what calls a stop to all action—a safe word—must strictly be decided before a session. Sexual momen-

tum is an issue and it needs a circuit breaker. “The sub goes into a state of mind where he or she feels complete devotion and submission. You want to feel overpowered. Until you use the safe word, you can’t be released. Otherwise, it may just imply that you are enjoying the helplessness.” Just as in other relationships, he adds, “Abuses could be there too.”

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he lawyer says he is a ‘switch’: he

can play either the dominant or submissive partner. He enjoys both equally. “As a submissive,” he says, “there is this sensation of giving up control. This is ultimate surrender. I am for my domme’s pleasure and enjoy my sub doing the same for me.” If there’s an element of fear, he says, it works well for him. It releases chemicals in the brain, a high in itself. “The fear is not of being exploited or abused. It is not a negative fear. The fear converts into a sense of surrender. I am ready to take what you give me. That is the high. Even an ordinary person can do it. When you take a flight, you consent to hand over your life to the hands of the pilot. Similarly, we constantly surrender in daily life.” Of course, sex often begets love. “It is an extremely volatile situation,” he says, “The chances of falling in love with your dominant are high. The dominant takes you on a journey. You survive the fall, and when you are done, you are empowered. You overcome fears. There have been marriages within the community. For me, I have a problem with love. Trust and faith are more important. Love is merely a collection of feelings.” Someone fell in love with him once after a few sessions. When he declined her advances, she turned violent and started saying nasty things about him. “A male is also vulnerable,” he says, “If I tie up a woman and she has rope marks and we have sex and she cries ‘rape’, then I’m done for.” Trust is also important because of the fear of being ‘outed’. Almost nobody would understand. Global studies, he claims, have shown that BDSM practitioners are no different from anyone else. The only possible perversion, he says, is doing something without the other’s consent. n open www.openthemagazine.com 37


purrpose

The Cat Lady She used to be a lonely old woman. Now she’s young, independent and secure Aastha Atray Banan

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hotographer Nikita Sawant,

26, is always astonished at her cat Ginger’s ability to sense when she is sick. If she has a stomach ache, the tomcat sits by her stomach and purrs; if her head aches, he sits by her head and purrs. “It’s uncanny,” she says. Sawant recalls reading of a study recently that said

that a cat’s purring can affect human health for the better. We looked it up, and yes, a US-based entity called Fauna Communications Research Institute declared this June that, ‘When cats purr within a range of of 20-140 Hertz, nearby humans may be therapeutically benefiting from these vibrations. Purring

feline bonding Nikita Sawant likes her cat Ginger because he treats her like “his lady”. He is possessive of her

has been linked to lowering stress, decreasing symptoms of Dyspnoea (shortness of breath), lessening the chances of having a heart attack, and even strengthening bones.’ That’s not the reason Nikita has a cat. She likes Ginger because he treats her like “his lady”. She’d found him aban-


doned on a Pune street nine months ago, and ever since, it has been a love affair like no other. He is possessive of her. “He doesn’t like people visiting me and shows his anger by scratching them.” But even though he loves her unconditionally now, he did take some time to accept her as his mistress. “The fact is that [cats in general] don’t really need you, but choose to be with you. He is very independent but he loves me now. It’s because of him that I’ve become such a homebody. I like staying home with him.” He almost sounds like her boyfriend, I say, and she laughs, “I truly believe that young women complete their incomplete relationships through their cats. They pour all their love into that creature.”

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lobally, in popular culture, the Cat Lady has been a subject of slight ridicule or pity, even the glamorous ones like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s who doesn’t name her tomcat because she sees him as a reflection of “a wild thing” who doesn’t “belong” to her. Then there are the real-life cat ladies, like America’s reclusive Edith Beals— the mother-daughter socialite duo related to Jacqueline Kennedy. They lived in their Hampton home with numerous cats in squalor for two years before they were evicted. Even in India, the Cat Lady has long been a spinster who dotes on her cat. “Find a man soon or you may just end up as a cat lady,” is a refrain many women have heard. Despite the dismissal implicit in that term, more and more young single women are embracing it with pride. After all, as Sawant says, “A cat is not just an animal, it has a mind of its own.” Journalist Deepa Menon, 33, used to be a dog lover. When she shifted from Hyderabad to Mumbai five years ago, that was the pet she wanted in her life. But a dog left alone, she knew, goes into a sulk. Her best friend, who was living with her at the time, loved cats and that’s how she thought of going feline instead. She got a kitten from a Parsi restaurant Britannia and named him Jeejeeboy. She soon got another, a female, and called her Smalicule (a ‘small molecule’). Menon’s life now revolves around her cats. “I need to come home and not see any humans,” she says, “My cats and I get 40 open

along just fine.” She likens them to the friend who all other friends think is ‘aloof’ but is “affectionate and cuddly” once you both get to know each other. “I take photos of them all day.” Once while Menon was trying to feed Jeejeeboy as a new kitten, she remembers, he swallowed the dropper she’d made out of a plastic ear-cleaning tube. “After that, I made sure everyone I knew was worried about him. All conversations were about [whether] Jeejeeboy had pooped the tube out yet. I took him to office, sifted through his waste—and final-

ly, when we found it, we all got relief. That’s how obsessed I am.” Once a cat trusts you, feels Menon, he almost becomes a dog. “The only difference is that a dog is like a needy boyfriend, while a cat is very affectionate and not as high-maintenance. They have an inner life of their own. They’re independent,” she says, “Maybe that’s why women like them.” The lives of four cat ladies are chronicled in Christie Callan Jones’ 2009 documentary Cat Ladies. There is a lady called Margot, who often skips work to spend 16 December 2013


yuri’s photography/getty images

comforting companion (Left) Kalki Koechlin says her Dosa changed her life and he knows how to love her back when she needs it; more and more young single women are embracing their ‘cat lady’ tags with pride

the day with her cats and has a home designed for their comfort, while Diane lives with 123 cats and keeps adding to the brood as she can’t leave a sad cat on the streets. As Jones says on the documentary’s website, ‘It’s not the number of cats that defines someone as a ‘cat lady’, but rather their attachment, or non-attachment, to human beings. They create a world with their cats in which they are accepted and in control—a world where they ultimately have value.’ She also describes the smell in a house with so many cats as ‘intense’: ‘It’s like living with your head in a litter box, and not the clumping kind.’ Modern cat ladies regard the cat as a reflection of themselves: intelligent, sensitive and independent. I remember watching a young friend and her cat for an entire day. She sat in the bedroom while the cat hid under the living room sofa. In a few hours, the cat ambled into the bedroom, and, unacknowledged, climbed on top of the wardrobe and stayed there for another four hours. When she did come down, she lapped up a little water, ate some food and got into her lingerie drawer for a nap. My friend was not very communicative either. She called the cat’s name aloud a few times, and then gave up. I was intrigued how they’d shared the same space all day 16 December 2013

without any interaction. “She is having one of her moods, so I am waiting it out,” my friend had observed, “When she feels like talking, she will.” Sure enough, before the end of the evening, the cat regally walked up to my

‘When cats purr within a range of of 20-140 Hertz, nearby humans may be therapeutically benefiting from these vibrations’ friend and nudged her softly with her nose. “That just means it’s safe to pet her now,” laughed my friend. It was like watching two roommates who gave each other a lot of space. If my friend was the single freelancer who liked quietude, the cat was her moody friend who’d insist, ‘Speak to me when I speak to you.’

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ctress Kalki Koechlin talks of her cat Dosa as if he is a human being. She picked him up as a kitten off a road in Bandra six years ago. And she has always said that Dosa changed her life: he

has always been there for her. “He is not moody and is extremely relaxed. Just feed him well, let him sleep and he is happy. He is a simple soul.” She says that Dosa knows exactly what mood she is in. “If I am upset or crying, he will come and sit next to me calmly [in] support. He is not an attention seeker, but knows how to love when there’s need.” Conchita Fernandes, 22, calls her cat ‘Schmoo’, and even though she doesn’t reciprocate all her advances of affection— “I am not even sure she likes me much”— she finds her good company. “I talk to her when I come back from work. She is aloof when I do that… she only comes to me when she needs me. She doesn’t even snuggle. It’s a rare lucky day when I wake up and find her sleeping next to me,” she says, “But still, I don’t think I can do without her. She is like my roommate.” And then laughs, “I think she doesn’t like me because she is such a girl. She likes men so much more than women.” Feline aloofness can often feel like indifference, but cat lovers insist it is not. Rather, it’s an attitude that makes them so appealing. “Cats let you live your life and they live their own,” says Deepa, “That’s comforting.” It’s a mutually adaptive relationship of affection. Ask Italian expat Diana, a designer of shoes and bags who stays in Vile Parle with six cats named Kali, Manga, Electra, Buddha, Mitzouko and Zorba. She started adopting cats off the streets and just couldn’t stop. Now she has a different relationship with each and can’t do without any. “Mitzouko is much like a dog, for example,” she says, “She will do whatever you want her to and is super affectionate. She’d gone through trauma, as it was abandoned, but she has dealt with it in such a positive way.” Then there is Buddha, who always knows when she is unwell. “Recently, I was sick with a severe stomach ache. Buddha came, sat on my stomach and started purring. It really made me feel better.” As Diana says, cats take time before they trust you as a friend and caregiver. Her cat Kali was scared and distraught when she first got her home. For a long time, she wouldn’t let Diana pet her; she would hiss and snap. “But I let her be, and slowly, she came to trust me as the person who loved, fed and cared for her. Now she cares for me the same way.” n open www.openthemagazine.com 41


between the sheets

The Absurdity of Honesty

An exercise in bullshit that many of us must necessarily endure sonali khan

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t’s December—that time of the year when Facebook

newsfeeds turn into Sooraj Barjatya sagas on steroids. First, there are all those people getting married. Needless to say, each fitting for each outfit for the sangeet, mehndi, cocktail party, wedding ceremony and reception deserves at least one status update/photo. Dutiful friends are then expected to ‘like’ those photos. It is an unspoken agreement—all wedding-related updates must boast a double-digit number of ‘likes’. Then there is the slew of photographs unleashed a day after the shaadi’s worst-kept-secret—the bachelorette/bachelor party. The law of marriages ensures that no matter how perfect you look for the rest of the evening, the one photo of yours that will surface will be of you awkwardly trying to keep up with rest at the sangeet performance. To add insult to injury, that cute friend of the groom’s you’d been eyeballing will be tagged in the photo because some moron noticed that the dismembered ear floating in the frame’s corner was his. And most of us have at least one good friend and one cousin getting married every December. It takes a year of strategically taken selfies to nullify the effect of one wedding season, and then the next one pops up. December is also the month of the hopefuls—hopeful parents, that is. NRI boys are ordered back home to meet prospective brides their parents have lined up for them. The more optimistic hopefuls pre-order gold and diamond sets (to give once the rishta is finalised), confident that their faintly accented sons will fall for one of the many carefully screened options they are presented with. Meanwhile, the parents of these prospective brides do their utmost to raise their daughters’ chances. Young girls are encouraged to sign up for skin, hair and nail treatments (buy four, get the fifth free), gym memberships (free sauna facilities for the first 100 members) and table-setting classes (100 unique tablenapkin designs). It is, after all, the time of year they’ve been waiting for months. All the hopeful gleaning of rishtas of New York bankers and Boston engineers who’ll be back home soon; the fervent jotting down of email addresses to exchange photos, astrological charts and relevant details; the updating of Excel sheets for members of the core group entrusted with the task of selecting the right candidate to note down their remarks (a friend’s

mum once actually wrote ‘bahu jalaanewaale types’)—it all boils down to that one meeting in December. Last week, I saw one such meeting take place at Starbucks. Naturally, I sank deeper into my sofa for some shameless eavesdropping. The scene playing out before me looked eerily familiar. As a girl who’s been in her 20s for a while now, I’ve had my fair share of coffee with Karans and Karims. While Grandma K might need glasses the size of saucers to distinguish red from blue, she is a woman of great vision. Every outfit I’ve worn to a Grandma-approved date has had necklines that plunged just deep enough to let imaginations run riot and yet not so deep that anyone could object without sounding ‘old-fashioned’. Just before leaving, I would be reminded of all the restricted topics of conversation: “Don’t do pattar-pattar about politics” (Grandma K), “Don’t sigh if he says he doesn’t read” (Mom), “Don’t correct his grammar” (Dad). Given the training and script that every girl is advised to stick to, I’ve always wondered how arranged marriages work. If I were to parrot the answers I’ve been taught and if someone were to marry me on that basis, he’d be marrying a girl who: 1) Will respect his parents like her own; 2) Loves cooking and wants to learn new cuisines, and; 3) Definitely wants a family. Imagine the poor bloke’s shock when he finds out, post marriage, that I: 1) Believe that respect has to be earned, not demanded; 2) Make chapattis in the shape of a different country each time, and; 3) Go green at the thought of labour. So the question is, how do arranged marriages work? Is there some kind of cosmic conspiracy that helps men and women end up with exactly the right person, despite the bullshit they’re made to spew at that all-important first meeting? Or do people learn to navigate around their partners’ unexpected quirks and strive for compatibility? n

Given the script every girl is advised to stick to, I wonder how arranged marriages work

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Sonali Khan was holding on to her virtue, and then she fell in love...with several men. She drinks whisky, not Cosmopolitan 16 december 2013


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The Mythologiser of Corruption

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inimitable The genius of PG Wodehouse and Sebastian Faulks’ homage 50


ashish sharma

true life


The Cop Who Was Also a Crusader N Dilip Kumar has always fought against corruption. Now retired, he writes about it Mihir Srivastava

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Dilip Kumar was the first Indian

police officer to use a spy camera to nab corrupt government functionaries. In 2007, he was assigned to a position that conventional wisdom considers a punishment posting— chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Delhi government. Unlike his predecessors, he saw a lot of potential to make a difference in this position, recognising that corruption had become part of popular culture. He encouraged people to come forward and register complaints and use their own mobile phones to capture corrupt police and civil officials demanding bribes. He used this footage to prosecute them. It was not as simple as all that, however. For instance, a Delhi-based owner of a construction firm recorded engineers of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi demanding bribes, and the footage led to their arrest, but was not enough to secure a conviction against them. The challenge is to make sure the footage would be admissible as evidence in court, which required that it be verified as authentic. To get verification, Kumar would play the footage to the accused officers. Aghast, they would justify their position and would, in effect, end up verifying their voices and the video. In his two years in the position, Kumar supervised 50 sting operations to expose corruption in various gov-

16 December 2013

ernment enterprises and entities. To his credit, he secured convictions in most cases. He calls the government a “cesspool of corruption”. Kumar had become a hot potato for politicians, and by the end of 2009, the Delhi government shunted him out rather unceremoniously from this position of responsibility as well. After a few months, he was appointed Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police in charge of the Vigilance Department. He was supposed to pursue an in house investigation against police officers who faced corruption charges. He made a mark here as well, exposing, among others, police officials who were hand in glove with the

city’s sand mafia. His peers describe him as an inconvenient officer. “He had a reputation as a stickler for law by the book,” says a special commissioner, as if it were a disqualification, and adds, laughing, that “he was didn’t get the larger picture of how governments in this country function.” The ‘larger picture’ he is referring to is the larger interests of the political party in power, to which, he indicates, one's self-interest ought to align. Here, too, he was soon given marching orders. This did not come as a surprise to him. Kumar retired from the police service as Special Commissioner of Provisions and Logistics with the Delhi Police. This position turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He had little work, which gave him a lot of time to pursue his new found passion: writing. “I am glad I was assigned a posting that allowed me a lot of free time,” he says, sounding almost thankful. Ever since he received this final posting, he has followed a meticulous routine. He would wake up at four in the morning, and, sitting out in his balcony overlooking a garden with many fruit trees, he would type on his laptop non-stop for hours. He has just completed a fictional account of the experiences of a police officer in Goa, Northeast India and other parts of the country, which is due to be published by Dorrance Publishing Company early next year. open www.openthemagazine.com 45


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umar is not a corruption crusader. He just did his job—innovatively, but according to the law of the land. He was made to realise, time and again, that acting against corruption is like stirring up a hornet’s nest. With great frustration, he watched the Lokpal movement fail to bring about an effective anti-corruption law that he feels would have made corruption “a less safe crime”. He feels it’s a conspiracy: “all political parties joined hands against strong anti-corruption legislation as all of them have skeletons in their closets.” He is of the opinion—fortified by his 35 years in the police—that unless the Vigilance and Anti-corruption departments are independent of the government, nothing much is going to change. “These departmental enquiry bodies only reel out statistics to fool the public,” he says. Part of the problem, he says, is that people do not understand how corruption operates, what it does to all of us individually and the nation and society collectively. Corruption operates at many levels within government and society, and includes an array of crimes, not just those few listed in the the Prevention of Corruption Act. These include forgery, cheating, fraud, misappropriation, criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy, extortion and perjury, to name a few. The corrupt also invariably end up violating Income Tax laws and some, by parking their illegitimate wealth overseas, violate various provisions of the law that check money laundering. Corruption is a big challenge to the economy, and, in long run, even to nationhood. “Corrupt [people] are therefore anti-nationals,” Kumar argues, mincing no words. To address this issue, he wrote a book called Bakasur, in which he uses mythology to explain corruption. He believes mythological tales are “a powerful tool to communicate and explain ideas” because they are inspirational accounts of good prevailing over evil that people identify with. In them, demons, or rakshasas, are often described

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as the ugliest embodiment of human form, evil in their actions. To Kumar, corrupt people are manifestations of demons. In his book, he gives corruption a face. He calls corruption the Bakasura of modern times. Bakasura was a rakshasa who had an insatiable desire to eat. He would wander in search of food from one village to another, eating everything

Corruption is a big challenge to the economy Kumar argues, and, in the long run, even to nationhood.

"Corrupt people are therefore antinationals." To address this issue, Kumar has written a book called Bakasur. In it he uses

mythology to explain corruption. He believes mythological tales are a powerful communication tool because people identify with them given to him, and, the legend goes, would end up eating those who wouldn’t feed him. The more he was fed, the hungrier he would get. There was no stopping him.

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n his modern avatar, as visualised by Kumar, Bakasura the corrupt, makes for a scary picture. His insatia-

ble appetite for illegitimate money is shown through a huge belly, stuffed with money. His nose is like that of a pig. “Pigs eat shit,” Kumar explains, and amassing illegitimate wealth, usurping money meant for someone else, is like eating excreta. Illegitimate money is money ‘wasted’ by the system, he argues, and those who grow rich on wasted money are akin to those who feed on body waste. Money can only result in three things: danam, bhogam and nasham (donation, consumption and destruction). If you have more than you need, Kumar explains, it is bad for your body, mind and soul, and only leads to vices. Black money is a sure way to nasham. The laal batti in Bakasur’s hand symbolises power and authority, nodding at netas and babus, along with the Nehru cap on his head. His double tongue signifies hypocrisy and deceit. The spoons around his feet depict sycophants and boot lickers. And a disgusted Mahatma Gandhi is shown jumping out of the currency notes in his pocket—this is not the India of his dreams. Kumar’s book is full of anecdotes that make one hang one’s head in shame at how governments function. In it, he also offers his suggestions, one of which is for legislation along the lines of the Jan Lokpal bill. It is meant to reform the younger generation, who Kumar believes need to be shown the true face of corruption so that they can make good choices in their lives. At the very least, he reasons, they should be aware of the implications of making a wrong choice. He wrote the book in both Hindi and English, and says he is “getting this book translated into many vernacular languages, so the message reaches all over the country.” According to the myth, Bakasura was killed by Bheema (of the five Pandavas) in a pitched battle that lasted for days. It would require a herculean effort like Bheema’s to checkmate corruption. Alas, regrets Kumar, there is no modern world Bheema. n 16 December 2013


Books Never A Dull Moment What Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography lacks in depth and accuracy, it makes up in colour AKSHAY SAWAI

my autobiography

By Alex Ferguson hodder & stoughton, hachette india | 402 pages | Rs 1299

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alex livesey/getty images

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he revelation that there are 45 errors in Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography has dulled its sheen somewhat. Manchester United’s salty, feared former coach may have subjected those responsible for the errors to his trademark ‘hairdryer’ treatment, but the book still makes for useful reading. Ferguson wasn’t flawless but his commitment and achievements are undeniable. He lived admirably off the field as well as on, shunning the celebrity life, concentrating on family and hobbies, which range from wine to racehorses to the Kennedy assassination. When such a man talks, it pays to listen. Ferguson’s nearly 27-year reign at Manchester United is the longest in English football. He came on board in 1986, when United were long past the glory days of the 1950s and 60s. Their last English league title had been in 1967, and their only Champions League (then known as the European Cup) win had been in 1968. The English league, too, was in crisis. An assault on Juventus supporters by Liverpool fans before the 1985 European Cup final in Brussels had left 39 Juventus fans dead, resulting in English clubs being banned from European tournaments. Also, stadiums in England were in poor shape and hooliganism was the norm. Ferguson arrived at United in these turbulent times. But the sun rose again. In 1990-91, English clubs were readmitted to European football. The


English league was relaunched in 1992 as the Premier League and became immensely successful. So did Manchester United. By the time Ferguson left his seat, United was a $2 billion behemoth listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and a Hall of Fame side. They won the League 20 times and the Champions League three times. Ferguson was so closely associated with United for so long, it seems a bit of a surprise that his replacement, David Moyes, has a name of his own—that he is not simply called ‘the new Alex Ferguson’.

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erguson’s autobiography is written in a style that matches his personality. The tone is brisk and conversational, and passages often sound like transcripts of an informal chat. There is frequent use of the Scottish colloquial ‘wee’, meaning ‘small’ or ‘little’. Whiffs of chewing gum, Ferguson’s chewie of choice during games, rise off the pages. But there are moments when the narration seems hurried, making abrupt shifts. For example, in the chapter ‘Lean Times’, the narrative jumps without warning to a refuelling stop in Newfoundland during a tour of the US by the team. Along the fence of the small airport is a lone young fan with a Manchester United flag. Is the paragraph random? Yes. Is it interesting? Yes. That’s how it is with the book. There are gems, but their arrangement is at times disorderly. Ferguson reminds you of the man in your building whose window you were afraid to break while playing cricket. But the book confirms that behind this stern image is a softer man, one who values friendships, enjoys jokes and even feels vulnerable, seeking at such moments the ordinary comfort of a cup of tea with a trusted colleague. Ferguson writes about sitting in his office at United’s Carrington headquarters, hoping someone would swing by. But no one would, because he was deemed too busy and important. ‘Sometimes I’d hope for that rap on the door,’ he writes, ‘I would want [assistant coaches] Mick Phelan or Rene Meulensteen to come in and say: “Do

16 december 2013

you fancy a cup of tea?”’ At one point, Ferguson quotes a line once written about him: ‘Alex Ferguson has done really well in his life despite coming from Govan.’ My Autobiography is in large part the story of Ferguson’s journey from that shipbuilding district of Glasgow, Scotland, to the famous football arenas of the world. Ferguson is not shy of his origins. He is grateful to them. Affirming that adversity is a blessing is his family motto: ‘Dulcius ex asperis’ (sweeter after difficulties). Though his family’s background was blue collar, Ferguson found success in almost every role. He had a decent playing career from 1958-74 as a forward, including a stint with the renowned Glasgow Rangers. Along the way, he got into the bar business. It

Ferguson writes of sitting in his office, hoping someone would swing by and ask: “Do you fancy a cup of tea?” But no one would, because he was deemed too busy and important provided him not just income, but a wealth of friendships and experiences. Once he got into coaching, he soared. One of the things that comes through in the book is the extraordinary support he received from his wife Cathy. Ferguson credits her for shouldering all domestic responsibility, leaving him free for football. He also admits to being an old-fashioned father, barely involved in the upbringing of his three sons. It cannot have been easy for Cathy, and a chapter by her would have made the book complete. But there isn’t one. The book suggests that Mrs Ferguson wasn’t unhappy for her man to be out of her hair. When he planned his first retirement, at age 60, one of the things she said to him was, “I’m not having you in the house.” Ferguson’s final retirement, though, was for the opposite reason. Cathy had lost her sister, to whom she was close,

and Ferguson wanted to be around his bereaved wife.

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ootball fans will most enjoy the

chapters on the raft of famous players who passed through Ferguson’s hands at United. These include Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and, of course, David Beckham, who was part of the legendary Class of 92 with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville and Nicky Butt. Ferguson acknowledges Beckham’s love of football and work ethic, but he is disappointed with the player’s addiction to fame, saying that at one point Beckham felt he had become bigger than everyone at United. Ferguson was old-fashioned as a coach, too. He believed a coach must have authority. So much so that he would not allow players to call him ‘Alex’. ‘David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson,’ he writes in an insightful paragraph. ‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s Alex Ferguson or Pete the Plumber. The name of the manager is irrelevant. The authority is what counts. You cannot have a player taking over the dressing room.’ Ferguson also reveals how Beckham never admitted mistakes. This was admirable, in a way, because he retained an unshakeable belief in his abilities. But the obvious drawback was that he did not own up to errors. But Beckham is history. The raging debate in football today is whether Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is the better player. Ferguson, disappointingly, does not offer an answer, but seems inclined towards Ronaldo, seen by many as the more complete player of the two. One wishes Ferguson would have deliberated more on this subject. There are some amusing anecdotes. Ferguson, a wine connoisseur, once told Roman Abramovich, the owner of rival team Chelsea, that the wine at Chelsea was crap. The next week Abrahmovich sent Ferguson a case of Tignanello, ‘a great drop’, Ferguson writes, ‘One of the best.’ The same cannot be said of this autobiography. But it is a pretty good drop. n open www.openthemagazine.com 49


Books Riffing Off Genius Sebastian Faulks’ homage to PG Wodehouse reveals why humour is serious business, easy to admire but hard to imitate Samanth Subramanian

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ne of the most signal disservices to the craft of PG Wodehouse may have been done by PG Wodehouse himself. There are two ways to write novels, he famously said. One was to plunge like Tolstoy into the serious business of life; the other, his, was ‘making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether’. The contrast is vivid. It can suggest that Wodehouse simply tossed his novels off with minimal attention, relying on his genius to skip lightly from one book to the next. It doesn’t help matters that he is invariably categorised as a humorist, or that he wrote often to a formula, or that he cranked out nearly a hundred books over his lifetime. What a breeze this must all have been for him, a novitiate might conclude. But this would be a grievous error. Wodehouse’s best books—and many would qualify as such—will, after several careful readings, reveal plots wound firm and tight, without an ounce of flab to them. He laid down 20,000-word scenarios for 100,000word novels; before he started a new book, he once told The Paris Review, he usually had 400 pages of notes. Wodehouse’s formula, such as it was, really resembled a theme in jazz, off which he could riff and to which he could return. The art is held within the variations: the assortment of dukes and butlers and aunts, the devices like the silver cow-creamer or the plush Mickey Mouse, the tangles of romance, the schemes for easy money, all delightful precisely because they’re familiar in notion but also fresh in detail. The balance is a hairtrigger one, and Wodehouse could never have sustained his trade without an iron discipline and a pitiless ability to edit himself. For all its richness and virtuosity, Wodehouse’s language is similarly pared and lean, divested as far as possible of adverbs, powered by strong verbs and nouns, and with not a word wasted. ‘Every sentence has a job to do and—in spite of the air of lunatic irresponsibility which hangs around a Wodehouse novel—does it neatly and efficiently,’ the English historian Peter

16 december 2013

Quennell wrote in the 1940s. Consider the dexterity of one of Wodehouse’s greatest hits—‘If he had a mind, there was something on it’— and the way in which it inverts a cliché, renders it funny, and still manages to tell us something of its subject’s muddle-headedness. Consider how plastic the English language is in Wodehouse’s deft hands: in his description of a silence as frappé; in Bertie Wooster’s once-over of a corn chandler ‘who was looking a bit fagged I thought, as if he had had a hard morn-

shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.’ Slice it which way you will, the sentence is unimprovable: in the precision of its information, in the austerity of its prose, and in the anticipation of high drama that dissolves into the bathos of the punchline. This is one of those Wodehouse constructions that appears as if it has been committed to the page, perfect and fully formed, by some benevolent divinity. Gratitude is not an uncommon reaction to Wodehouse’s ripest stuff.

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Wodehouse’s formula resembled a theme in jazz off which he could riff. The art is held within the variations. His stories are delightful because they’re familiar in form but fresh in detail ing chandling the corn’; in the analysis of a grammar school’s assembly hall, where the air ‘was sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the scent of Young England and boiled beef and carrots.’ Or consider, finally, one of the most sublime sentences ever to open a novel, from The Luck of the Bodkins: ‘Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive

y reactions to Sebastian Faulks’ Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, on the other hand, were decidedly mixed. Faulks is not to be blamed for wanting to have written this novel; for that, I think, we can reproach our collective greed as readers, for whom even a canon of a hundred books is proving insufficient. The Wodehouse Estate picked Faulks for his ability to send up the styles of other writers, as evidenced in his pastiche collection titled Pistache and in his James Bond revival Devil May Care. Faulks tackled the task manfully, acknowledging that Wodehouse was inimitable and that he could produce only a homage. Even this has proven a devilish challenge. Faulks is, as Wodehouse might have put it, more to be pitied than censured. In its broadest strokes, Faulks’ plot motors into much-beloved terrain. With Jeeves in tow, Bertie hotfoots it out of a London infested with his Aunt Agatha and into a country manor named Melbury Hall, where a friend’s love life is in peril. An impersonation is required, although of a radical sort; it gives nothing away to say that Bertie acts as Jeeves’ valet, for this is how the novel begins. A cricket match is in the offing, as is a variety show in a village revel. A formidable quantity of money must be quickly raised through the usual Wodehouse methods: matrimony or an injudicious wager. So far, so familiar. Under these placid waters, though, Faulks lets off a few depth charges. open www.openthemagazine.com 51


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csa image/getty images

These are considered decisions; rightly, Faulks has thought that an act of homage needs to be something more than plain mimicry, and he has deliberately broken a couple of Wodehouse’s strictest conventions. For one, he punctures the hermetic atmosphere of Wodehouse’s idyllic universe, into which the real world never intruded to any noticeable extent. “His characters have never tasted the forbidden fruit,” Evelyn Waugh said of Wodehouse’s literature. “They are still in Eden.” Faulks, on the other hand, gives us a heroine whose parents died when a U-boat sank the RMS Lusitania in World War I. It is 1926, and people grumble about the general strike of that summer. A dinner party bickers for several pages over whether to give women the vote. In a moment of trepidation that he has lost the girl he loves, Bertie is revisited by a boyhood memory of his dog’s death. ‘I had confided more in this beast than any living creature thus far in my life, and my trust had been well founded,’ he mopes, sounding like a character out of Jack London. Then there’s this question of Bertie’s love affair, a full-tilt devotion to a girl named Georgiana Meadowes and an honest desire for matrimony. It was a sine qua non of the Bertie Wooster novels that he remain a happy bachelor; early in the day, in fact, Jeeves even set this down as a pre-condition for his employment. And yet here is our narrator, only a few pages into the book, after a dinner with Georgiana goes well: ‘It was a pretty elated Bertram who, twenty minutes later, went for a stroll on the seafront, looking up at a bucketful of stars and hearing the natter of tree frogs in the pines.’ At a later point, Bertie tells Georgiana that hers is the face he wishes to see on the pillow every day. He may as well be writing vers libre. If we cavil at Faulks’ departures from tradition, it is not because we abhor any tampering at all with Wodehouse, but because they gum up the aesthetics of a Wodehouse novel. His central characters—Bertie, or Lord Emsworth, or Ukridge—remain static, undeveloped nincompoops for the same rea-

Faulks believes that a homage must be more than plain mimicry, and broken a couple of Wodehouse’s strictest conventions—the hermetic atmosphere of his idyllic universe, for one son that their world is set at a remove from ours. These tricks render the novels weightless and timeless, so that they can function in the realm of pure humour. Freed of the burden of Life, Wodehouse’s language and plot can mesh in smooth and fantastic ways. The sinking of the Lusitania or debate over women’s suffrage or prospect of genuine heartbreak can inject sour notes into a form that depends on sweetness for its levity.

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n trying to match Wodehouse’s discipline and rigour, Faulks fares poorly on plot, and the story of Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is stuffed with inefficiency. The descriptions of the cricket match and village fete drag their feet, their action confused and without rhythm. One resident at Melbury Hall, Dame Judith Puxley, performs no role at all. Little tendrils of narrative poke out of the main shoot, niggle at us as we read, but stay stunted till the end: the belowstairs machinations of a housekeeper; a footman given to drink; the threat of Aunt Agatha. Most unpardonably, Melbury Hall’s original pair of sun-

dered hearts—belonging to Bertie’s friend Woody Beeching and his fiancée—is reunited not by one of Jeeves’ wheezes, but, rather tamely, by what looks like some earnest conversation and the passage of time. I couldn’t find a single comic moment that hovered between the surreal and the plausible, even though such moments were Wodehouse’s stock in trade. In the aspect of language, however, Faulks displays a measure of inventiveness and an appreciation of Wodehouse’s methods, dropping only a few clunkers along the way. ‘If Hoad could best be described as inert, Beeching, P was about as ert as they come,’ he writes, winking at Wodehouse’s famous extraction of ‘gruntled’ from ‘disgruntled’. Faulks deploys the transferred epithet well: ‘I slid a cigarette from my case and sucked in a pensive lungful.’ He also gets off some fine gags of his own. ‘The Red Lion,’ he writes, ‘was a fourale bar with a handful of low-browed sons of toil who looked as though they might be related to one another in ways frowned on by the Old Testament.’ Elsewhere, he describes a postal agent peering at Bertie ‘in a way I have grown used to over the years: as though I had been licensed for day release from some corrective institution, but only by a majority vote.’ The bite of that parting clause is satisfying, and it goes a little way towards making up for Faulks’ name for an Uttar Pradesh town where an old India hand is supposed to have served: ‘Chanamasala’. So beguiling and wondrous is Wodehouse’s prose that it can often seem to be the sole ingredient in the magic of his books. Faulks’ novel shows how the language, even when done right, still requires a superstructure to support it. Being funny is serious work. Wodehouse knew that; his greatest talent lay in masking his exertions, so that he could hand over to us only shining, seamless packages of joy. n Samanth Subramanian is the India correspondent for The National. He is working on a book on the Sri Lankan civil war 16 december 2013


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theatre The Ali J Show A play that converses actively with the audience, invigorates the public conversation about the identity of the Indian Muslim and doesn’t flinch from drawing Jinnah into the discussion Suhit Kelkar

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any a play breaches the fourth wall—the imaginary wall that separates the audience from the players—by acknowledging the audience. But Ali J, in the eponymous play performed recently at the NCPA Centrestage festival, speaks explicitly to the audience throughout. In one scene during the 50-some minute play, Ali J is in his death row cell, telling the audience in his hammy manner that India leads the world in the number of custodial deaths, when he stops to ask if he’s repeating himself. “Yes,” replies more than one voice from the seasoned theatre audience, aware that this is a different sort of interactive play. Many in the audience keep time by clapping when Ali J sings, at times laughing loudly, making sure that

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performer Karthik Kumar is able to hear them. Ali J is a one-man play that deals with that most charged of subjects: a Muslim man conflicted about his Indian identity. The story is about how a phoren-returned, “well-settled call centre go-getter” gets involved in the Godhra riots. Rich in visual and textual metaphor, the set consists of a square of upright poles which represents a death row cell, next door to Amir Ajmal Kasab’s. As Ali J recounts the tragic story of his life—how he wanted to become an actor once, had a failed love affair with a Hindu girl, went to Ahmedabad to find his grandfather’s origins and got involved in the post-Godhra riots—he mimes, performs nautch steps, hums snatches of song and weaves rope

through the prison bars, entangling himself in the process. He almost always accompanies this weaving with a warm intimate story or a darkly funny joke. All death row prisoners hallucinate, he tells us—many see plates of biryani or beautiful girls floating in the air—and the captive audience in front of him is his delusion. A call centre employee, an actor manque and a disheartened lover, Ali J was educated in London, where he revelled in breaking his religion’s food taboos. He was quite taken by the European concept of individualism— which, for Ali J, meant people kissing in public matter-of-factly. Now behind bars, awaiting the noose, he wonders how he could have picked up a stone in the Gujarat riots. 16 december 2013


ncpa mumbai

caged rage Ali J looks inward to examine the rioter in him

It’s not as if he’s a devout Muslim, goes the soliloquy. But he was called ‘Paki’ in London, and upon his return to his homeland, was treated like The Other. His call centre colleague G Mohan has said patronisingly how wonderful India was now that “a Muslim like Ali J could become a Team Leader”. The father of Bharati, the Hindu girl he loves, spat in his face when he proposed their match. The final straw was Gujarat, when Ali J saw a colleague’s sister gang-raped, men killed, women lying headless beneath their burkhas. Fuelled by personal humiliation and the bloodlust of the time, Ali J joined the rioting and killing, setting a few houses on fire—presumably with their occupants inside. It had become possible for him to 16 december 2013

channel his understandable anger into unjustifiable violence without any thought of the multiple houris (in the context, ‘nymphs’) he would find in heaven. The play makes the audience wonder why he did it—a tribal loyalty, a collective ‘infection’ of feeling, or the chance to be non-powerless, to strike out against those who would deny him his right to belong? As he embraces religion in prison, Ali J evokes the archetypal figure of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a non-pious man upon whom was forced “the masthead of Muslim identity”. Karthik Kumar, who is also the co-producer, says that playwright Shekinah Jacob and he pored over biographies of Pakistan’s founder. “Jinnah’s dream was to be an actor and perform ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ at the Globe Theatre [in England].” Even in his career, Kumar says, “Jinnah loved to orate. He loved to say what the audience [wanted] to hear... [We thought,]

As he embraces religion in prison, Ali J evokes the archetypal figure of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a non-pious man upon whom was forced ‘the masthead of Muslim identity’ let’s take the bare facts of his life and shadow them onto [Ali J].” The script evokes the many rifts within Indian communities today. The girl Ali loves, Bharati, evokes one facet of India, and Ali’s romantic rival G Mohan, whom Bharati ultimately marries, evokes the archetypal figure of Gandhiji. When that revelation strikes the audience, the cage around Ali, festooned by gallow rope, acquires another metaphor: besides Ali’s tragic life, the cage may also represent Pakistan, a country that has now forgotten its founder’s once-upon-a-time secularism, and the beseiged state of minorities in India, which was founded on lofty slogans of unity-in-diversity. “[The playwright Shekinah] is

Christian, so she understands what it is like to be [part of a] minority,” Kumar reasons. Ali J is a ham actor, influenced by Shah Rukh and Salman and Aamir Khan, so he deliberately over-emotes. He is engaging without being harrowing, no easy feat for a 50-minute performance. Sometimes he only just manages to stop short of grating one’s nerves, no doubt intentionally. Far from being a demon, Ali J is a ‘normal person’. He parallels the character of Javed in Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions. Like Javed, Ali J harboured childhood ambitions of becoming a larger-than life character, of mattering. And, like Javed, being hated for what faith he was born into led Ali J to violence. This is not to compare Ali J with the classic Dattani play. But Kumar hopes that he has managed to delve deeper into the reasons for a young man’s descent into violence than Dattani’s famous play does. Another play that explores rationales for violence in the context of the Kashmir azaadi struggle is Djinns of Eidgah, written by Abhishek Majumdar, which was performed in June last year at the Prithvi theatre in Mumbai. There, too, the character of Bilal sees his playmates in the mortuary and tosses away his football and dreams to pick up a stone. Dattani’s classic uses one of many Indian Englishes, whereas Ali J’s language veers for the most part towards ‘standard’ English. Watching lovers kiss on a London street, he muses: “They were eating each other’s mouths… savouring each bite...” This is counterposed with the furtive encounters back home, with “... reluctant body parts... under a hijab.” The writing could have been from anywhere in the world. This may be because this particular play is international—it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival earlier, where a Tamil or Kannada-adorned English would be hard to understand. The standardised idiom perhaps lets Indian plays in English travel easily across borders while retaining their message. n open www.openthemagazine.com 55


CINEMA Leading Man’s Best Friend From his launda gang to the big screen, Raanjhanaa’s Zeeshan Ayyub is looking Benaras talking Gorky, and redefining the role of the supporting actor in Hindi cinema Divya Unny

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ew who have watched and loved Aanand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa can forget the scene towards the end when Murari loses his best friend Kundan to the politics of love. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub’s moist eyes seen through the small glass opening in the emergency room door stay with you long after the film ends. Who would believe this is the same guy who pulled the trigger on Jessica Lal when she refused him a drink in No One Killed Jessica? “Playing the hero’s best friend is always tough, because you have to put in that much more effort to make your point. Playing the villain is easier. All you have to do is make people hate you,” says Zeeshan with a smile as his sips on his second cup of cappuccino at a cosy little coffee shop in Versova. That may be so, but his turn as Dhanush’s fun-loving Banarasi buddy in Raanjhanaa had this writer wishing for a friend as sincere and caring. “Zeeshan’s emotional logic is spot on,” says Himanshu Sharma, writer of the film. At a time when Bollywood bromance is restricted to sharing a drink or dance at the next happening party, Raanjhanaa showed us an honest and heartfelt bond between two childhood mates. Zeeshan shines as the always trusting, sometimes helpless Murari who manages convincingly to draw parallels between his best friend’s failed love life and his own failed attempts to clear the UPSC exams. He takes us back to Sholay, to Veeru watching helplessly as Jai bleeds to death in his arms. “Well, I did watch Sharaabi three hundred times. That was how crazy I was about Amitabh Bachchan,” 56 open

Zeeshan confesses. He remembers miming the entire film as it played on a VCR in his uncle’s dimly lit living room in Okhla village in Delhi. He was eight at the time, blissfully unaware of the actor in him. “That was when people around me first said, ‘kuch toh hai ladke mein’ (there is something about this boy),” says the 28-year-old. Today, he has some of India’s highest-profile filmmakers narrating scripts to him, thanks to his outstanding performances in films like Raanjhana and Shahid.

Having given up on a career in films years earlier, Zeeshan was all set to leave for New York to teach acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute when he was called to audition for No One Killed Jessica

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or a boy who comes from a family full of actors, Zeeshan was kept miles away from the world of film and theatre growing up. “My grandmother Saroj Bhargav was All India Radio’s first female radio artiste. Both my parents were theatre actors in Delhi and my paternal aunt and uncle were popular television actors in Mumbai.” Despite this, Zeeshan, along with his two older siblings, was strictly discouraged from even considering acting as profession. “Acting was not for boys, I was told. I grew up in Okhla and I knew that my father attended something called ‘rehearsals’ once he was done with teaching kids in school. But for the longest time, I had no idea what that really was.”

Not too much exposure to cinema was an important rule at home; 30 minutes of Doordarshan post dinner was a luxury, and then only if homework was done. “I used to watch films without Papa’s knowledge, but I still did not have the guts to defy him.” As he got older, Zeeshan’s father introduced him to the works of artistes like Balraj Sahni and Dilip Kumar, “But that was just so we [could] understand the difference between good and bad cinema. I was eight or nine at the time and I had an idea of what intonation meant, what subtext is, for an actor.” He’d often experiment himself, gathering an audience from his locality and playing out textbook stories as skits with the help of his elder sister. “I loved dramatising everything. Even if I was late to school, my excuses would be so innovative that the teachers would immediately let me in,” he says. The turning point in his life was a 15-day long drama workshop with Professor Keval Arora while at college. In Zeeshan’s words, it changed his life. “That workshop changed not just mine but everyone’s perspective towards life, our conditioning, our norms. I used to be one of those kids who were part of the local launda gang in Okhla. I’d beat up anyone without reason and thought it was the macho thing to do. I thought it was okay for women to stay at home and give up their careers. Keval changed all those perceptions. He made me question my motives in life. That’s when I realised what acting meant to me.” Not long after that, Zeeshan became a star performer in college. It was the works of legends like Barrie Keffe and Maxim Gorky that influenced his for16 december 2013


ritesh uttamchandani

upon reflection “When I saw Manoj Bajpai in Aks, I realised I was nowhere close to preparing a character like he did. I told myself to get over my illusions of being an actor”

mative years as an actor. His BSc grades were nothing to write home about, but he’d fallen short of space to store awards for his dramatics work. “I won 14 best-actor awards then, and that was a record,” he says. As his popularity as an actor increased, his relationship with his father started to skew. “For almost seven years, we barely spoke to each other. There were days I’d walk into my house from college with my head low, ready to listen to Dad shout at me for my irresponsible choices. The minute he’d stop, I’d take out a certificate or an award I got for acting and it would calm him down for a while.” It’s no surprise, then, that his decision to come to Mumbai in 2003 wasn’t exactly welcomed by his family. “My father told [my mother] that there was no point asking me to stay. He still bor16 december 2013

rowed Rs 25,000 for my travel and food and allowed me to go.” Zeeshan’s stint in Mumbai was short lived, and almost made him give up on his dreams. One afternoon, after a few failed attempts to meet Anurag Kashyap, who was then casting for Black Friday, he decided to stop acting. “I was watching Aks on TV. When I saw Manoj Bajpai perform in that film, I realised I was nowhere even close to understanding and preparing a character like he did. I packed up and came back to Delhi and told myself that I must get [over] my illusions of being an actor.” But Life had different plans for him. Without Zeeshan’s knowledge, a friend filled out an application form for National School of Drama (NSD). He got through, and that’s when his father finally began to pay heed to his

acting abilities. The people and teachings at NSD gave life and form to what Zeeshan had learnt through his dramatics work in college. Authors like Premchand, Hari Shankar Parsayi, Uday Prakash became his ideals. “I learnt a lot at NSD. By now theatre had become my food for life.” Bollywoodising his acting ambition was no longer on the agenda. “I started taking workshops and realised how much I loved to teach. It gave me immense satisfaction. I saw myself grow as an individual and so too as a performer while I taught.” He was all set to leave for New York to teach acting at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Institute when he received a call from Abhishek Sengupta, the casting director of No One Killed Jessica. “I wasn’t even excited when I was called for the audition. I was all set to open www.openthemagazine.com 57


true bromance In Raanjhana, Zeeshan takes us back to Sholay’s Veeru watching Jai bleed to death in his arms

leave the country. I just gave the audition for the sake of it. After a few days they called me again with a few costumes and asked me to put my travel plans on hold. Even then, I wasn’t really giving in to the fact that they might be considering me for this.” It was when he went on the sets of the film, met Rani Mukerji and had a cup of coffee with director Raj Kumar Gupta that it finally started to sink in. “I got a film when I did not even ask for one, so I told myself I’d better take it seriously.” Zeeshan nailed the manipulative, spoiled politician’s son act, complete with an unbelievably menacing Haryanvi twang. People watching the film in cinema halls wanted this guy dead, so Zeeshan’s job was well done. “To date, my professor Keval Arora tells me that Manu’s role has been my best until now. He said, ‘That was the Zeeshan I don’t know. He doesn’t think or behave like that.’”

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is debut was noticed by some and went unnoticed by many. He went on to do a few films like Jannat 2 and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, which brought him little satisfaction or popularity as an actor.“I wasn’t exactly in a position to choose work, but I knew that I would never do something just because 58 open

it’s going to put my face out there with a few superstars.” It was his NSD senior, writer Himanshu Sharma, who came to him with the role that set his career flying. “People started to recognise me after Raanjhanaa. That’s when you know it’s finally happened!” Zeeshan fondly remembers the time he spent with Dhanush through the shooting of the film and how it was so simple to

“Dhanush is not just a brilliant actor but an equally good human being. We used to discuss everything. After a point it wasn’t about Kundan and Murari, but Zeeshan and Dhanush... It was just magic” translate that friendship on screen. “Dhanush is not just a brilliant actor but an equally good human being. We used to discuss everything. After a point it wasn’t about Kundan and Murari, but Zeeshan and Dhanush. Aanand sir would let us do the scenes our way and it was just magic.” Within a few months, he topped himself with a subtle yet strong performance as Raj Kumar Gupta’s older brother in Shahid. It wouldn’t be an over-

statement to say that he outshone even the leading man in parts of the film. “When I read the script of Shahid, I told myself ‘Why can’t I do the main role?’” But there are many questions that don’t really have an answer. So I give whatever comes my way the best shot.” He doesn’t mind being the ‘supporting actor’ tag. He realises he may not exactly be the face of Harlequin romances and that’s not something that bothers him. He articulates an interesting analogy: “This industry is a lot like the political parties of our country. People who want to keep their films very desi are like the BJP, those who want to gloss it up are like the Congress, [and] those who want to do something pathbreaking, yet compromise on their ideas are like the Communist party. So I’ve learnt to live with it.” More important than a lead role is the wish to be known among the handful of politically aware actors who strive to bring about some change with their work. “There was a point in the 70s and 80s where films and other forms of art brought about revolutions. Why can’t we bring that back?” His attempt to achieve that stems from the work he does with Chara Tribals in Gujarat, who were jailed by the British before Independence and are still facing repercussions. “I adapted Gorky’s The Lower Depths with them a few months back and performed it in the village. It was a wonderful experience. These are neglected tribes that strive hard even for [one] decent meal a day. I try to do as much as I can to help build their confidence and add some value to their lives. Jean Paul Sartre always said art isn’t art if it doesn’t serve a purpose and his words are like the Bible to me,” he says. From loitering aimlessly in the streets of Okhla singing Bachchan songs to helping change lives with his work, Zeeshan has come a long way. His father must be proud. “I lost my father to cancer. Papa could never really make it big as an actor, and like many others, he surrendered his dreams to the pinch of the pocket. He did not want me to go through the same thing. It’s now I understand that I was just being protected. I hope he’s watching.” n 16 december 2013


science

influence If either of your parents has a drink problem, there is a greater risk that you will consume more alcohol after stressful situations, reveals a University of Gothenburg, Sweden, study

Inheritance of Fear Do ancestors pass on their phobias and fears to their offspring? It is probable

The Booze Gene

I

s it possible that some of our

phobias might have been biologically inherited? According to a new study published in Nature Neuroscience, it is likely that individuals inherit experiences and fears of their ancestors through chemical changes that occur in their DNA. The study, conducted by researchers from Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, US, suggests that fear can be transmitted from a father, through his sperm, to his offspring. In the study, mice were trained in a laboratory to fear the smell of acetophenone, a chemical that smells like cherry blossom. This was done by giving small electric shocks to the male mice, while releasing the scent of the chemical in a chamber, thereby making the mice associate the scent with pain. In later experiments, the researchers found that the offspring of the mice who had come to fear the smell of acetophenone, despite never having encountered the chemical in their lives, exhibited increased sensitivity when introduced to its smell. The offspring started shuddering markedly in the presence of the smell compared with the descendants of 60 open

mice that had been conditioned to be afraid of a different smell or had undergone no such conditioning. The third generation of the original mice who had been trained to fear the smell of acetophenone, had also inherited the fear of the chemical. Mice conceived through in vitro fertilisation with the sperm of males sensitised to acetophenone also showed the same fear. Other similar experiments with female mice showed that this fear can be transmitted through mothers as well. It was also found that changes had also occurred in brain structures. The mice sensitised to acetophenone, as well as their descendants, had more neurons that produce a receptor protein known to detect the odour, compared with mice that had not been conditioned. The study offers evidence that the environment can affect an individual’s genetics, which can in turn be passed on. One of the researchers, Dr Brian Dias, says, “This might be one mechanism [by which] descendants show imprints of their ancestor... There is absolutely no doubt that what happens to the sperm and egg will affect subsequent generations.” n

According to a new study in Nature Communications, researchers have discovered a gene that regulates alcohol consumption and when faulty can cause excessive drinking. The study by a team of researchers from five UK universities showed that normal mice show no interest in alcohol and drink little or no alcohol when offered a free choice between a bottle of water and a bottle of diluted alcohol. However, mice with a genetic mutation to the gene Gabrb1 overwhelmingly prefer drinking alcohol over water, choosing to consume almost 85 per cent of their daily fluid as drinks containing alcohol. The team is continuing its work to establish whether the gene has a similar influence in humans. n

Pills of the Future Researchers of MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have developed a new type of nanoparticle that can be delivered orally and absorbed through the digestive tract, allowing patients to simply take a pill instead of receiving injections. So far, the researchers have used the particles to demonstrate oral delivery of insulin in mice, but they say the particles could be used to deliver any kind of drug that can be encapsulated in a nanoparticle. The new nanoparticles are coated with antibodies that act as a key to unlock receptors found on the surfaces of cells that line the intestine, allowing the nanoparticles to break through intestinal walls and enter the bloodstream. This type of drug delivery could be especially useful in developing new treatments for conditions such as high cholesterol or arthritis. n 16 december 2013


tech&style

Steelcase Gesture A high-tech office chair created for the way we work today

ssd versus hdd Most of the advantages of solid-state drives (SSDs) over traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) are due to their ability to access data electronically instead of electromechanically, resulting in superior transfer speeds and mechanical ruggedness

Sony Smart Watch 2 w

Rs 14,990

gagandeep Singh Sapra

M

obile technology and chang-

of our time and we often complain ing work culture have not only of aches and pains. Working with changed the way we look at mobile his engineering team, James created computing, but have also had us deGesture, which is one of the most revelop nine new postures—from a laxing work chairs I have sat in for a single-handed cellphone operation very long time. to view social media updates, doubleIn the Gesture, a small lever unhanded texting, to a cocoon position der the armrests allows you to move that some get into when they want them outward or inward, and also to read something—and our chairs adjust their height to your liking. were not prepared for all this. The armrests also have small Designer James Ludwig at zones to rest your elbows Steelcase conducted a worldand these too can be adwide posture study and realised justed. And just in case Rs 60,000 the chair had to change. After you like sitting on an all, that’s where we spend most armrest while talking to someone else, it can even take your weight. All the controls are on the right hand bottom side of the chair. These are nifty. For instance, to adjust elbow pads of the armrests, a gentle turn of the control knob with two fingers will do. Another control lets you change the stiffness of the ergonomically designed back support: so no more shoulder pains, back aches or stiff necks. If you love sitting with your legs crossed, the seat cushion and its material design support that too. What Steelcase has done with its Gesture is amazing—no power supply required, and there is no processor in it. But it has genuine technology that gives this chair its flexibility to accommodate various body types and sitting preferences. The Gesture is primarily designed as a work chair. It is available in multiple options of fabric colour, finish and texture to choose from. n

16 december 2013

The Smart Watch 2 works with any Android phone, and pairs with your phone using Bluetooth. You can see who is calling you, decline the call right at your wrist, look at your message updates, and control your playlist too. Its battery lasts for three or four days and can be recharged via a micro-USB cable. The Smart Watch 2 is water proof. Its 1.6-inch display could have been sharper, though. n

HP Chromebook

Rs 26,900

Running on an Intel Celeron, with Google’s Chrome OS, the HP Chromebook has a 14-inch screen. It comes with built-in 16 GB storage on a solid state drive, and 4 GB of RAM. Since it’s designed to be used online, it comes with free 100 GB of storage on Google Drive for two years. Other features include: USB ports, an HDMI port, a combined microphone/headphone jack, and a front-facing webcam that works even in low light. The machine is well built and looks and performs nicely, but its keyboard is one of the worst I have come across in a long time. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

open www.openthemagazine.com 61


CINEMA

hysteric al hystorian Amaresh Misra, co-credited with Bullett Raja’s story and screenplay, is an author of three books and Convenor of the Anti-Communal Front of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee. In May 2013, after Narendra Modi’s speech at the India Today Conclave, he created a stir with a series of unparliamentary tweets directed at Modi supporters

Bullett Raja The bonding of Saif Ali Khan and Jimmy Shergill’s characters is the crux of this weak film ajit duara

o n scr een

current

Frozen Director Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee cast Kristin Bell, Idina Menzel,

Jonathan Groff Score ★★★★★

an, Jimmy Cast saif ali kh hi sinha Shergill , sonaks shu dhulia an am tig r to Direc

A

t times, the politics and visual design of Bullett Raja make it look like it was made from out-takes of Saheb Bibi Aur Gangster Returns, director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s last release in March this year. The two films even have a similar cast, with Jimmy Shergill and Raj Babbar playing central roles and Mahie Gill positioned as a decorative vase. The dialogues—conversational, with a touch of satire directed at the abject state of politics in Uttar Pradesh—seem analogous. Given the high level of vendetta in UP politics, the film suggests, the honourable members of the Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow need ‘political commandos’ to help them with their work. These are basically intelligent, somewhat literate goondas, sharp shooters who can help shut up some people and persuade others to do their masters’ bidding. They help oil the machinery of state, lubricating the relationship between corporate investors and law makers. A senior minister in the government

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(Raj Babbar) is impressed by the shooting expertise and intuitive co-ordination between Raja (Saif Ali Khan) and Rudra (Jimmy Shergill). He hires them to silence, extort and kill, all in the pursuit of ‘development’. On one occasion, he sends them as ‘observers’ to a meeting between senior police officers, politicians and a financier called Bajaj (Gulshan Grover). The two ‘commandos’ feel ignored and disrespected by Bajaj, and the plot thickens. The crux of the film is the relationship between Raja and Rudra, and in their bonding there are touches of the Veeru and Jai jugalbandi from Sholay. They ride around on a motorcycle, joke about the girl Raja woos (Sonakshi Sinha) using the metaphor of hitting a target—“lag gaya nishana”—and have a live-in relationship. Despite all this interesting sub-text, the film fails to grip you with its central narrative. Saif Ali Khan does not fire in Bullett Raja. Jimmy Shergill looks the better actor, but he is not the film’s star. n

In Frozen—an animated fairy tale told with a level of humanism and art that you would normally only associate with live action, personal, independent cinema— Walt Disney is back to form. The film proposes that ‘only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart’. You’d expect it to be about a beautiful princess and a handsome prince who kiss in the last scene. In fact, the true love in question is between two estranged sisters. Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) of the Kingdom of Arendelle has the magical power to freeze the environment around her. This includes accidentally freezing people. Her parents protect her from her own powers by keeping her in isolation, separating her from her beloved younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell). Years later, when Elsa is to be crowned Queen, the sisters meet and there is a disaster. Elsa runs away from her Kingdom, and Anna is convinced that this is because her sister hates her. She runs after Elsa, to win her love back. This is a re-written and updated version of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen, with the addition of an interesting feminine perspective on broken hearts that suggests a heterosexual relationship is not the only possible cause of one. Girls have other relationships that are equally important. This is a very touching film. n ad

16 december 2013


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

A New Alliance

It’s been the subject of Bollywood gossip for a year now, but last week, when Salman Khan appeared as a guest on the first episode of a new season of Karan Johar’s Koffee With Karan, it became clear to anyone who had doubts that the long friendship between Shah Rukh Khan and his Kuch Kuch Hota Hai director was indeed over. Karan, who has long considered SRK his lucky mascot, had his favourite actor open previous seasons of his show, and on one occasion, when Shah Rukh was travelling, Karan had him record a special video message that was played during a season premiere. But roping in Salman Khan to open this season—with nary a message from SRK in sight—is being viewed as a deliberate move on Karan’s part, a way to tell the world that he’s moved on. Salman and Shah Rukh, who famously fell out a few years ago when they got into a heated argument at Salman’s then-girlfriend Katrina Kaif’s birthday party, continue to maintain a safe distance from each other. And, as Salman explained on Karan’s show, the embrace he extended to SRK at an Iftaar party some months ago shouldn’t be construed as an olive branch or a sign that the two actors have gone back to being thick friends. More interesting were Salman’s sly digs at ‘it boy’ Ranbir Kapoor, who is currently dating Katrina. What was pleasantly surprising to note was the vulnerability Salman revealed while talking about Ranbir and Katrina. When explaining to Karan that he looked forward to working with him in the future, Salman remembered that Karan had in fact signed Ranbir for his next film. “He’s taking away everything,” Salman joked of the Barfi star.

PDA Publicity

Deepika Padukone is not pleased that the media has misinterpreted Cocktail director Homi Adajania’s affection for her as a drunken come-on. The famously bindaas filmmaker openly lavished kisses on his leading lady for photographers gathered outside a Mumbai lounge where they were celebrating the completion of their new film Finding Fanny Fernandes with the rest of the unit. Tabloids quickly jumped to the conclusion that Homi had had a little too much to drink, and was making Deepika uncomfortable with the PDA, but eyewitnesses insist he was intentionally putting on a show for lensmen. 16 december 2013

Deepika has reportedly laughed off stories that she’s miffed with Homi, insisting to friends that she remains very close friends with the director and his fashion stylist missus Anaita Shroff. Moreso, Deepika’s boyfriend Ranveer Singh was himself at the do, and appeared amused at Homi’s attention-grabbing antics.

Harsh Lessons

A young male star coming off a good year at the movies (of his two releases in 2013, one was a big box-office success, the other didn’t make much money but earned him mostly positive reviews), is now being seen as a possible rival to a popular star-kid who until recently was perceived as the only up-andcomer with superstar potential. Both actors share a cordial friendship, have partied together in the past, and aren’t in the least bit awkward about the fact that one is dating an actress that the other used to date. If the rising star does have issues, it’s not with the star-kid but with one of his directors. Turns out this filmmaker, popularly regarded as the poster-boy of indie cinema, had promised the rising star the lead in his epic period film, which he subsequently signed the star-kid to act in. The rising star has told friends he was disappointed when he learnt he’d been dropped from the project, but more upset that he found out from the press and not from the filmmaker who owed him an explanation. Another project, a proposed Hindi remake of a popular Telugu blockbuster, that was reportedly being planned with him in the lead and produced by a company in which the same filmmaker is a partner, did not eventually materialise. In fact, another A-lister’s name got attached to the movie, and once again the rising star discovered this in the papers. The remake hasn’t taken shape at all, and it seems unlikely that it will. But the young actor has confessed to his dear ones that experiences of this nature taught him early on that the film industry could be a tough place. The young star shares a very close friendship with the filmmaker’s business partner, another director, with whom he recently made a movie. But he can’t seem to get over this “betrayal” that has made him “wiser” and “more cautious” in his own words. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

No Job Too Small

by r i t e s h u t ta m c h a n da n i

Ram Ratan Pathak, a Class XII pass from Bihar, began working as a daily wage labourer when he was sacked from his job as a security guard after he drank and gambled away Rs 50,000 borrowed from his office and began bunking work. When the the haze of alcohol faded, he hit the turbulent streets of Bombay looking for work, squatting at cross roads with other daily wagers. Skilled or unskilled, by 10 am almost every naaka karigar finds work. Pathak sees no job as below his dignity. He hates going back home empty handed. This is his third experience cleaning and unclogging a sewage line, for Rs 600, near a cluster of shops on Filmcity Road. On his way out, after a hose down at a car workshop, he waves to shop owners and says, in his broken English, “Heb you nice day sir� 64 open

16 december 2013


“WELCOME TO MY WORLD”

John Travolta is not only an exceptional pilot with over 7,000 flight hours behind him and qualifications on ten different aircraft types. He is also passionately interested in everything embodying the authentic aeronautical spirit – such as Breitling instruments for professionals. On his wrist is a Navitimer chronograph with its famous aviation slide rule – a cult-watch for all devotees of the conquest of the skies, and equipped like all Breitling models with a movement chronometer-certified by the COSC – the highest official benchmark in terms of reliability and precision. Welcome to the Breitling world.

B R E IT LIN G.COM

NAVITIMER


OPEN Magazine 16 December 2013