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Jammu: Living with the shelling

What your selfie says about you

RS 35 1 8 N ove m b e r 2 0 1 3

INSIDE Modi and the media

l i f e

a n d

t i m e s .

e v e r y

w e e k


What makes neighbours murder and brutalise each other? The portraits of two warring groups illuminate the ancient question

UNEASY CALM at a madrasa in Hussainpur Kalan

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


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Volume 5 Issue 45 For the week 12—18 Nov 2013 Total No. of pages 66 + Covers cover photo

Raul Irani

Sachi Mohanty

And why exactly are some people obsessed with making marriage ‘work’? (‘New Rules of Marriage’, 4 November 2013). What is the big deal if you marry someone and realise it is not working and end the relationship and try another one? Unless you are saying that thrice-married men like the late sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar or Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen or writer/diplomat Shashi Tharoor or writer-moviemaker Nora Ephron are all wrong. And what is the big deal So many Indians appear about having extraso devoted to preserving marital sex? Can we grow up please? So 18th century notions many Indians appear so about relations. Most are devoted to preserving inexplicably obsessed 18th century notions with silly rituals and about relations. Most traditions are inexplicably obsessed with silly rituals and traditions and go through inane ceremonies as part of a ‘marriage’. No wonder, more inanities endure in the form of rituals like Karva Chauth and its regional versions in different states. Is it any surprise Indians mostly hold on to other moribund systems such as caste? Indians are about 200 years behind people in Europe. Did God forget to endow Indians with ‘creativity’ genes?  letter of the week Let Sachin Be

i have fundamental issues with the purpose, or lack thereof, of this piece (‘A God’s Slow Descent to Earth’, 11 November 2013). What is the point of delving into such trifling issues? I don’t think it really matters whether or not the rights of an organisation that merely shares Tendulkar’s name were acquired in a corrupt manner. He is a cricketer who is loved for his cricketing skills and the joy he delivered through that ability. In short, it’s no point over-intellectualising the issue, not because no one really cares, but it just isn’t as substantial as the author is making it out to be.  rahul

tendulkar is no less at fault. His 2 open

Rajya Sabha seat went waste for he made little effort to attend its sessions. What can you expect? He never did charity work in life, never mind all the money he made.  Koushik


i witnessed the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. I saw people looting television sets and fridges from Sikh houses in Model Town in north Delhi. The police were silent witnesses to these crimes. At the time, I was in secondary school, but I still carry the mental scars of those images. I can feel your pain, and I look forward to reading your book. I respect the quiet dignity with which you’ve expressed such a huge miscarriage of justice in your article (‘Carbon’,

11 November 2013).  Omer

Extended Life

a fascinating and well written article (‘The Battle against Ageing’, 4 November 2013). Ageing and how to beat it has been the human race’s goal for ever. Well we need to remind ourselves that the middle age phase—before menopause (both male and female) sets in—is the period that we need to extend. Dr Ornish of course is a scientist I respect, having read his books on heart disease. I am sure he will achieve something similar with cancer. And, as for the wonder pill, I think it will come one day.  vijay

Remembering PC Barua

this is a nice piece (‘What Bollywood Must Do’, 21 October 2013), but I disagree on the ‘director’ front. Manto thinks that the only Indian directors who qualify as a rarity are Debaki Bose and V Shantaram. Well, he forgot PC Barua. The man made such great quality films in his relatively short life.  Rupali Kaul

what is the use of publishing an article that is 75 years old? In the past 75 years, much in Bollywood has changed. I agree films like Dabangg and Chennai express are raking in money, but we are also making films like 3 Idiots. Besides, there are regional films, which are very well directed and are thought-provoking with strong messages. tinni

18 november 2013

Mumbai Is Now Off-Limits for Elephants keep out

And it’s a good thing too, considering how they were treated, say animal rights activists

Banning elephants from a city might sound like a curious form of discrimination, but animal activists aren’t complaining. Elephants can no longer enter Mumbai,Thane or Navi Mumbai. Earlier, they were permitted with an ownership certificate. But reports of illtreatment, including the recent death of one elephant, compelled the government to make the ban total. Suresh Thorat, additional principal chief conservator of forests (Wildlife), who passed the directive, says a


18 november 2013

dense city like Mumbai is no place for elephants. “This has been a long-standing plea by many activists. After reports of ill-treatment kept trickling in, we realised that we had to do something about it. An injured and abused animal is not just wrong. It also poses a danger to citizens,” he says. The clamour was amplified a few months ago when an elephant named Bijli died after collapsing on a busy road in Mumbai. The 58-years-old was suffering from obesity, degenerative joints and osteoporosis. A few years ago, it was

reported that the same animal had been made to walk some 100 km from Mumbai to Alibaug to bless a couple at a wedding. On the way back, she fell into a ditch and a crane had to be employed to get her out. According to activists, elephants are often brought into the city for commercial purposes. They are overworked, made to beg and be part of weddings and film shoots. Shakuntala Majumdar, president of the Thane chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says, “Elephants are brought here

from various states because this is where a lot of money can be made. They are given insufficient amount of water, fed all sorts of junk food like vada pav, and not given an appropriate shed. We once encountered an elephant that was being housed in a dilapidated public urinal.” A few years ago, she recalls, a doubledecker bus rammed into an elephant while trying to get around it, leading to its death. “Just like you cannot have a tiger or wolf in a city, you can’t have an elephant.” n Lhendup G Bhutia

open 3

praful gangurde/hindustan times/getty images

small world



cover story Muzzafarnagar again

32 cancer

photo essay

Don’t blame carcinogens

Life in the border villages of Jammu



The advantages of egolessness

22 news reel

‘Minority appeasement’ in Karnataka


Media spin and its danger to democracy

After asking visitors from six ‘high-risk’ Commonwealth countries, including India, to pay a £3,000 ‘security deposit’ for a visa, the UK government decided to scrap the idea pacifier

Peel by Peel tears for fears

The Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi may have tried to lower market prices for onions by selling truckloads of the vegetable at lower rates, but voters are far from impressed. Many interviewed by television news channels and newspapers say these onions, sold from mobile vans, are “mostly rotten”. Officials from the Food and Supplies Department rubbish these claims. But they admit that the

quality might not be “as good” because the trucks which bring the supplies from other states are travelling through areas affected by unseasonal rains. While retail prices of onions vary between Rs 70 and Rs 90 per kg, the government is selling them at Rs 50 per kg. Incidentally, the spiralling price of onions in 1998 is cited as the main reason for the downfall of the BJP government then and Dikshit’s rise to power. n

“This is [a step to make] sure our immigration system is more selective, bringing down net migration from the 100,000s to the 10,000s while still welcoming the brightest and the best to Britain” —Theresa May UK Home Secretary, 23 June 2013




“It was never targeted at India. It was an idea suggested within [the] government but we decided not to go ahead with the idea...We want people from India to visit Britain” —David Cameron UK Prime Minister, 5 November 2013


It’s Anand, Not Vishy n a m e g a m e The World Chess Championship begins on 9 November in Chennai, Viswanathan Anand’s hometown. The claimants to the throne—Anand and 22-year-old world number 1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway—are preparing for the battle in different ways, as revealed in a photo shoot by former junior chess player Misha Friedman in the latest issue of Time. Friedman, who got rare access to the champions’ prep work, captures Carlsen playing beach volleyball and golf. Five-time champion Anand is seen pumping weights and strolling in the quiet lanes around his house watching birds. For Indians, the World Championship is a good time to finally get the name of their champion right. He’s Anand, not Vishy. n 4 open

18 November 2013


39 cricket

a arts


Vijay Zol: India’s under-19 champion

Mumbai Modern


c life & letters



Kunal Nayyar

Can a magazine rebrand a movement?



Deepika’s Datebook

on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of p■ ■

N Pee t

uru ara K

hamb Cong



Pats From Expats

India is a pretty good place for expats but they do have a tough time with food, transport and, predictably, the climate. An international survey on expat experience commissioned by HSBC found that, overall, India ranked seventh on a list of 37 countries when it came to expat experience. It topped the ‘ease of making friends’ criterion, and was fifth on ‘work-life balance’. It was, however, comfort

F o r publicly molesting actress

Shweta Menon Congress MP N Peethambara Kurup was caught on camera nudging actress Shweta Menon lasciviously, but what rankled even more was his poker-faced denial of it. The incident came to light when the actress lodged a police complaint about being sexually harassed during the President’s Trophy Boat Race. She had not named Kurup, but the truth came out after television channels accessed footage of the function and saw him pressing against the actress inappropriately. Kurup denied the act, saying he was 70 years old and that he could do no such thing. He was, however, quick to issue a public apology to the actress, adding, “We talked to Shweta and her husband and tendered an unconditional apology if they felt hurt in any manner by our conduct.” n 18 November 2013

almost at the bottom on local weather and local food, coming in at 25th and 30th respectively. The survey reaffirms that India is becoming an important global destination for expats, who felt Indians were getting better at hosting them. But the country best-loved by expats was China, which topped the list. As with everything else, we are some distance behind our neighbour on this too. n

A Serpentine Tale On a recent weekday, an unusual customer appeared outside a tax office in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex in the form of a seven-foot long python. It was somehow secured in a sack meant to package rice grains, and taken to the local police station, which turned it away as ‘not police business’. The person who had trapped the snake—along with two relatives, a journalist, and a police constable who agreed to help


them—then took the reptile to a veterinary hospital in Parel, only to learn that the only snake handler there had died of a snake bite a few years ago. Fortunately, a volunteer claiming to have some experience dealing with snakes appeared. But the python couldn’t be handed over without an authorisation letter. The group, now with the new volunteer, returned to the police station. By the time, the letter was prepared, it was 2 am. Next morning, the volunteer let the snake loose in the wild. n Lhendup G Bhutia open 5


On the Contrary

The Power of Egolessness Why humiliation is no big deal for politicians like the repeatedly humiliated Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi M a d h a v a n k u t t y P i l l a i

6 open

kalpak pathak/hindustan times/getty images


anohar Joshi, who was once so key to the Shiv Sena that they made him their first Chief Minister in Maharashtra and their first Speaker in the Lok Sabha, is now enduring serial humiliation from the very same party. There is no doubt that he asked for it. Upset at the possibility of being denied a ticket for the coming General Election, Joshi criticised party chief Uddhav Thackeray. At a function, he commented that Bal Thackeray’s memorial would have come up already if Bal Thackeray was alive; the silent corollary being that the son doesn’t have the father’s guts or cunning to blackmail governments. Joshi then went into damage control mode with “I was misquoted” and regrets. It didn’t help. He was booed away from the Sena’s Dussehra rally, an event for which he turned up uninvited. He then went uninvited to Thackeray’s residence on Diwali and barely managed to get an audience. There was the sorry spectacle of him telling the media that extensive discussions would be done some other day, which means he is going to shamelessly continue popping in on Thackeray. A dispassionate observer with middleclass values would take a lesson from all this about the vagaries of time and the transitory nature of power. He would cringe at how someone getting so humiliated could have so little self-respect as to repeatedly knock on the same door that repeatedly bangs shut in his face. Surely even fallen men must retain some honour, especially someone like Joshi who has done rather well for himself in his old age—Kohinoor used to be the name of his coaching class, now it is a brand that flashes from a really tall skyscraper in a really expensive location in Dadar. You have a couple of hundred crore right there in public view; the private hoard is anyone’s guess. Joshi, our petty bourgeoise would infer, is a man who deserves his humiliation. But this middle-class person would be completely wrong, because he does not understand the one great characteristic of the true politician—the absolute absence of ego in

LOW Joshi pays his respects to Thackeray at the Shiv Sena Dussehra rally shortly before being booed off stage

the face of political necessity. Ego, as we know, is a person’s sense of self. It is the image of ourselves that we carry and relentlessly try to live up to. It is not necessarily a good thing, because betwixt image and reality is circumstance. Human beings are designed ugly at their cores. Your next door neighbour will teach his child not to lie, but during a communal riot, he could just as easily participate in a butchering. Under ordinary conditions however, he is bound by his values to keep his image of himself intact. People with malleable egos are less fettered by shame or guilt, and are often more successful. Dhirubhai Ambani used to say he had no problem doing a salaam to anyone if it got his work done. Spiritual

A dispassionate observer with middle-class values may cringe at Joshi’s repeated humiliation, not understanding that the one great characteristic of the true politician is the absolute absence of ego in the face of necessity

progress too is a gradual effacement of the ego, but given the danger of egolessness, organised religions are—in principle at least—accompanied by a code of ethics. Successful politicians, on the other hand, have a schizophrenic relationship with the ego—either they exercise it in full measure or they shed it completely. As Union Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde will have no qualms destroying the career of any policeman who irritates him, but he will also have no shame getting on his knees before Sonia Gandhi to prove his loyalty. And, if you look at his career path, this has worked for him. As it has for Manohar Joshi. Joshi will continue to humiliate himself because he has vast experience doing so; that is the road to success for a politician. It is also why it will not be surprising if he does manage to survive in some form. A common man will not understand this because he has never had the ambition or ability to taste the kind of power that Joshi has enjoyed. If you could be master of a million by being slave to one, most people would. Only, they don’t get that choice. n 18 november 2013


A Hurried Man’s Guide

to ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission At Rs 450 crore, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission, christened Mangalyaan, doesn’t come cheap. But that is understandable considering it has to travel 680 million kilometres.

It Happens

Prison Food Break Madurai jail’s mutton curry solution to reduce corruption Anil Budur Lulla hindu archives


After it took off from its Sriharikota launch pad on 5 November, the spacecraft went into elliptical orbit around Earth—250 km at its closest and 23,500 km at its farthest. On 1 December, the spacecraft’s engine will be fired, accelerating it beyond Earth’s escape velocity and catapulting it towards the red planet. It will reach its destination after travelling in outer space for 300 days. On 24 September 2014, according to the plan, the spacecraft’s engine will be fired again to reduce velocity and put it into an elliptical orbit around planet Mars—365 km at its closest point and 80,000 km at its farthest. It will then begin its experiments. Part of the payload is a sensor that will look for methane in the Martian atmosphere, as its presence could indicate life, and a photometer to measure two isotopes of hydrogen that’ll help us understand how Mars is turning from a wet to dry planet. It will also map mineral composition and temperatures at the planet’s surface and record images of the planet’s two moons Phobos and Deimos.

nathan g./ht/getty images

Once the Orbiter is in place, a message from Mission Control will take 20 minutes to reach it

ISRO chairman R Radhakrishnan says this mission is primarily to demonstrate that India can get into the Martian orbit. Once that mission is complete, the spacecraft will not be allowed to crash onto Mars but manoeuvered away. Russia, US, Japan and China all failed to reach Mars in their first attempt. Only the European Space Agency was immediately successful. The distance between Earth and Mars can be gauged by the fact that when the Orbiter reaches its destination next year, a single one-way message from the Mission Control Centre in Byalalu (near Bangalore) will take 20 minutes to reach the orbiting spacecraft. n

yum Convicts cook all food themselves. Officials believe some may work as cooks once released


adurai Central Prison

in Tamil Nadu has cooked up a recipe to reduce corruption among its officials: allow prisoners to purchase mutton curry. Deputy Inspector General VH Mohammed Haneefa’s logic is simple: “Prisoners crave non-vegetarian and home-made food, as they may not like what is served inside prison. Often, they bribe officials to get them biryani from outside or allow in food brought by a relative. If the same is available here, corruption is reduced.’’ The prison recently introduced an array of food options for inmates at reasonable prices. They can buy mutton gravy at Rs 60 per plate from the prison canteen, and idli, vada, pongal, dosa and tea at subsidised rates in the morning hours. “Convicts themselves prepare the food, which also gives them a chance to work as cooks once released,” said Haneefa while taking mediapersons on a tour of the premises last week. But this welfare measure comes with a rider. Sticking to the prison guide book, the officer said, an inmate can buy 100 gm of mutton in a gravy for Rs 60 only once a week,

while just the gravy prepared from mutton stock can be bought on other days at Rs 15 per plate. Inmates can also buy a boiled egg once a week for Rs 4.50. For breakfast, they can buy a plate of four idlis, two dosas, pongal or puri for Rs 15 each, while a vada costs Rs 3.50 and coffee or tea, Rs 2.50 a cup. All items are made on rotation and a food card given to inmates ensures that no cash is exchanged at the counter. Besides being While actual a check on meat can only corruption, be bought once this measure also reduces a week, gravy the possibility is available of mobile every day phones, chargers, SIM cards and even hacksaw blades getting into the prison along with smuggled food. The canteen has been running for two months now and the response has been overwhelming, say officials. “We will increase the number of items slowly as we don’t want prisoners to start putting on weight and enjoying their stay,” one official joked. n 18 november 2013


Why Stock Brokers Have Gone Broke punit paranjpe/reuters

period: infrastructure, real estate and capital goods, among them. that have suffered the wrath of Some investors did make money India’s economic downturn, stock while the going was good, but a broking is a peculiar case. It has vast majority were left holding the been under stress for want of retail can once prices crashed. Since their participants in stockmarkets, peaks five years ago (or more), most especially since the end in 2008 of of these stocks have lost 50-90 per the bull run that began in 2003, but cent of their market value. This has it has suffered a grievous blow over left investors bitter. Nor has the curthe past year or so. “The economics rent stockmarket upturn, fuelled of retail stock broking has become by foreign unviable for every player, big or small,” says Basant Maheshwari, Retail investors inflows, seen them recover an analyst who runs an online have vanished their faith in forum called The Equity Desk. at least partly brokers. Most Over the past decade, he says, the because stock demat trading industry has seen a major brokers have accounts, shake-out, with lots of brokerages lost their trust which cover shutting down or being taken over. only about 2 per cent of India’s Yet, there has not been enough population anyway, remain business for the few left. Despite a dormant today and this explains drastic drop in brokerage fees, why so few people are cheering the retail trading volumes did not Sensex’s new highs. By and large, expand along expected lines, retail investors appear to have squeezing revenues even as reconciled themselves to fixed overheads kept going up. deposits and gold holdings for their But is the downturn the sole long-term savings. Risk aversion villain of this story? “No,” says a remains high and the Sensex is leading fund manager. A credibililooking more and more out of ty crisis, he says, has also played a bully run Stock brokers would push lousy shares onto lay investors touch with wider investor role in the decimation of brokers. sentiment in the country. Overcome by their greed for easy In this dismal market scenario, India’s brokerage fees, which they earn on every eggs for them,” says Maheshwari. surviving brokerage businesses need to trade, many offered clients advice that was Market watchers say that during the re-orient their game to focus on clients. inappropriate. “The buy-now-and-sell-toboom phase of 2003-08, retail investors They must clearly spell out who and what morrow advice tendered by brokers has were prodded to buy shares of companies they stand for. n shailendra tyagi killed the very hen that used to lay golden in sectors that were the flavour of the sto c k s

Among the businesses

Foreign Institutional Inflows 30000


-5,923 -9,773

-11,027 -33,135


-6,086 -12,038


22,169 5,969

5,414 5,334


9,124 5,795

24,439 4,001


22,059 2,947


-20000 -30000

Equity Debt

-40000 -50000

10 open

Source: Sebi

All Figures are FII inflows IN Rs Crore

Jan ‘13 Feb ‘13 March ‘13 April ‘13 May ‘13 June ‘13

After the US Fed’s ‘QE taper’ scare over the summer, foreign investment money has started returning to Indian shores. But FIIs are buying equity shares, not bonds compiled by Shailendra Tyagi

July ‘13

Aug ‘13 Sept ‘13

‘Currently, the macro challenges that India faces in terms of external and fiscal imbalances, high inflation and tight monetary policy are being dominated by expectations of political change’ Goldman Sachs, leading FII, in a recent report titled ‘Modi-fying our view : Raise India to Marketweight’, that explains its upgrade of India to ‘marketweight’ from ‘underweight’ in its allocatory framework



poll sop

Karnataka’s Bridal Brouhaha A scheme for Muslim women gives the opposition pre-poll ammunition against the Congress in an electorally crucial state anil budur lulla

for Muslim brides of poor families by the Congress in Karnataka has become a political handle for the opposition against the party. Under the scheme, each beneficiary bride is to get cash and household goods worth a sum total of Rs 50,000. In denouncing the sop, former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has stolen the thunder of other opposition parties trying to contain the Congress, which won power in the state polls held in May this year and hopes to sustain its surge in next year’s Lok Sabha election. The opposition sensed in this scheme a ploy by the Congress to keep Muslim voters from favouring the Janata Dal-Secular and even the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) led by Yeddyurappa, both of which have been contenders for minority support. A war of words soon got underway, with charges of ‘minority appeasement’ hurled at Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s government. This, plus a 24/7 sit-in by Yeddyurappa, who wants all brides eligible for the scheme, has rattled the Congress so much that it has decided to extend the scheme to all minorities. Within a week of Yeddyurappa’s protest, the CM announced that the scheme will soon be extended to Christian, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh and Parsi women of poor families. “If it has been mentioned that only Muslim women are eligible, it will be changed to include all minorities,” announced the CM nonchalantly, knowing well that such a notification cannot be effected at short notice. Yes, Karnataka has Sikh residents too; living mostly in the Bidar district that houses the Gurudwara Shri Nanak Jhira, they constitute 0.03 per cent of the state’s population. As for Parsi women, most are of affluent households and so it is unclear if they would be keen on such a scheme. The eligibility criteria of this so-called Bidai scheme, now dubbed Shaadi Bhagya, includes an annual family income of

A government dole

12 open

under Rs 1.5 lakh per annum; also, both the bride and groom must be above the legal permissible age for marriage. Widows and divorcees in economic deprivation are eligible too. As observers see it, the inclusion of other minority groups does not obscure the fact that most beneficiaries would be Muslim. According to the 2011 Census, Karnataka’s Muslim population is just under 6.5 million—or 12.2 per cent of the state’s total. In fact, eligible women of the community have already been identified and a target set for every district this fiscal year. The state’s Directorate of Minority Welfare has selected 1,000 such

scale manufacturing units. This is also the state agency that doles out education grants and other subsidies to minorities. “The Bidai scheme was passed in the budget, which was debated by everyone in the state Assembly,” says the minister, “Some politicians are unnecessarily raking it up now as general elections are round the corner.”


eddyurappa’s argument is that there are poor women in all communities who need a helping hand from the State and that governments should not distinguish between them. “They should also be eligible for the Shaadi Bhagya scheme,” he has said, “When I was CM, all state programmes were meant for all Adding to the suspense is the communities and I did not offer a particuprospect of an electoral alliance lar community any such privilege.” The former CM’s argument seems to between the KJP and the BJP have the backing of some Muslim women for 2014. To counter its effect, as well. A few of them were spotted at his the Congress would need the protest venue. One of them, identifying herself as Shakeena Bhanu, said that en bloc support of minorities. government policies should not divide But this would be at the risk of people. “Yeddyurappaji has done a lot for alienating Lingayats minorities who were outside the ambit of normal government schemes,” she said, “We will always remember him for his brides this fiscal and set aside Rs 5 crore for progressive ways.” the scheme. A circular sent to all district On its part, the Congress dismissed administrations earlier makes it clear Yeddyurappa’s apparent Muslim support that only the poorest among the poor as being a show of ‘rented’ crowds. should be selected from applicants of Congressmen say that he is fighting for the community. political relevance now that he sees no Qamarul Islam, Karnataka’s minister chance of going back to his former party, for minorities, has also underlined the the BJP. fact that the money spent on the scheme Yeddyurappa was asked to step down as was not a fresh allocation but a sum the BJP’s CM in mid-2011 by the party’s drawn from the pre-existent budget of the central leadership in the wake of Karnataka Minority Development allegations of corruption with the Corporation, which gives out self-employ- promise that he would be reinstated ment loans—mainly to minority before the May 2013 polls. Once it was menfolk—for the purchase of autorickclear that the BJP had indeed dumped him, shaws and cabs and setting up of smallthough, he left and floated the KJP; in the 18 november 2013

k. murali kumar/hindu archives

from right under the BJP’s nose, the saffron party is ruing a lost chance to attack the Congress for its so-called ‘minority appeasement’, its traditional grouse against the grand old party.


majority voice Former Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa is up in protest against the Congress’ Bidai scheme

May 2013 Assembly polls, his fledgling party won six seats. After Gujarat CM Narendra Modi was named the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the General Election of 2014, Yeddyurappa was expected to merge his party with the BJP. But such a homecoming has not been possible for him as a section of the party opposes his return on the argument that his taint of corruption would weaken its anti-graft stance against the Congress. But now the wily regional satrap appears to have stolen a march over the BJP on this issue. Yeddyurappa began his 18 november 2013

sit-in on the night of 31 October in front of a Mahatma Gandhi bust in Bangalore, and in his inimitable style has promised to take the agitation to other districts and particularly to Belgaum, where an annual Assembly session will be held later this month in the all-new Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, Karnataka’s second legislature complex. The former CM has vowed to keep up his ‘struggle’ against the scheme until the state government extends it to poor women of the majority community as well. While Yeddy has snatched the issue

he Bidai scheme has angered some

backward class and Dalit leaders of the Congress too. “There are ten times more poor women who are of backward, other backward classes and Dalit communities,” says a Congress MLA from central Karnataka, “Why is the government helping only Muslim women? In fact, it goes against Siddaramaiah’s professed Ahinda politics, which brings together people of backward classes, minorities and Dalits. Why is he doing this injustice to us? We have to answer the people.” The controversy comes at a time when differences within the Siddaramaiah government are reaching a peak, as the current CM has successfully kept the old guard out of his scheme of power in Bangalore. Congress leaders of the old guard are piqued with Siddaramaiah’s style of functioning and the fact that he left leaders considered ‘tainted’ out of his cabinet even though they’d been elected as MLAs. Recent bypoll victories have taken the Congress’ tally of Lok Sabha seats in the state to nine, but the grand old party still cannot be sure of making significant gains in 2014, since current opinion polls indicate that it would be hard for it to trounce the BJP, which holds 18 of the state’s 28 parliament seats at present. The KJP’s rise and Narendra Modi’s elevation within the BJP are said to be causing anxiety in Congress circles, and a loss of confidence in its prospects could spell trouble from old timers as polls approach. A seasoned state leader close to Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been letting it be known within various party fora that if Siddaramaiah fails to deliver at least 15 seats next year, he would be asked to step down as CM. Those close to the CM, however, dismiss such talk as ‘pure nonsense’ and say he has the firm backing of the Congress High Command in Delhi. Adding to the suspense in Karnataka is the prospect of an electoral alliance between the KJP and the BJP for 2014. To counter the effect of such a pact, the Congress would need the en bloc support of minorities in the state. But this would be at the risk of alienating the vast Lingayat vote, which could again move in favour of Yeddyurappa. Nothing can be taken for granted in Karnataka at this juncture. n open 13

h o st i l i t y


What makes neighbours murder and brutalise each other? The portrait of two warring groups in Muzaffarnagar, UP, illuminates the ancient question CHINKI SINHA | MUZAFFARNAGAR Photographs by raul irani

INCONSOLABLE Shabnam mourns the loss of her brother Amroz at their house in Hussainpur Kalan, where three Muslim youth were killed on 29 October


aturday, 2 November. Shahnawaz Khan, a Samajwadi Party worker, gets into a white Scorpio with his party’s flag conspicuous on its bonnet. It starts to move. He raises his hand, and the vehicle stops. “Our battle isn’t with Hindus. It is with Jat terrorism. If they can call their panchayats, so can we,” he says. “We have waited for too long.” To that end, he says, Muslims here have formed a 14 open

Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch to negotiate their rights. “We will fight the battle of the disenfranchised. We have lived in the shadow of Jats for too long. Now, we will claim our space, our dignity,” he says. Night has descended. The police have imposed Section 144 (of the Indian Penal Code, which prevents unlawful assembly). But in Hussainpur, they have disregarded it, and men have gathered outside the pradhan’s house. 18 November 2013

Beyond here, the village is submerged in darkness. Sunday. 3 November. A young man sits in a corner, brooding; a young woman wails. “Amroz, mere bhai, kahaan se dhoondh ke laoon tumhe,” Shabnam cries. The mother, Khurshida Begum, a frail old woman, breaks down. “Mere kaleje ka tukda,” she says. “They killed him. They killed my innocent son.” The men and women sit in the house discussing the killing of three Muslim youth on 29 October, allegedly by Jats from the neighbouring village of Muhammadpur Raisingh. Suddenly, the sister shouts—“We want justice. Khoon ka badla khoon,” she says—and collapses. She is propped up. A village elder chides her: “No, not that way,” he says. “That will mean many more killings.” Amroz, 20, had gone to the fields with his cousins. His mother was at home when someone told her to look for him. She ran to the fields but was stopped on the way and brought back in. That is when they told her that her son had been killed. The mother, who brought up five children after their father died 12 years ago, still cannot express her grief in words. “When you lose a son, it is like losing your eyes, hands, heart…,” she says. The bodies had been butchered—eyes, hands, other parts dismembered. Was killing them not enough, she asks. She didn’t see the body. She couldn’t have. The family is poor. Eldest brother Pervez works as a tailor. None of the siblings was able to finish school—they all dropped out one by one. Amroz used to work in Delhi in one of its many sweatshops. He would come once in five or six months. He had come to the village for a few days to look up his mother, who was unwell. Youngest brother Adam pushes forward a cellphone with his brother’s photo. He had attended the village primary school till Class 5, and then given up. The sisters weren’t yet married and he had to support his family. “[Amroz] was responsible. He would send more than half his earnings to us. He made only Rs 7,000 a month,” the mother says. “They took him away. What had he done? He was just a son and a brother. A poor man. Nothing more. There was no time to be anything more.” Killings have also been reported elsewhere in the district. There is an uneasy calm in the two villages. It is an imposed calm. “Like before a storm,” a man says. “It won’t last.” It is not going to stop, Shahnawaz says.


mroz, 20, MehArban, 21, and Ajmal, 22, were

beaten to death in sugarcane fields. It is the border with Muhammadpur. Now, there are no Muslims left in Muhammadpur after they ran away to escape a mob, allegedly of Jats, who came shouting “Pakistan ya

18 November 2013

Kabristan!” Their abandoned, charred houses are the only reminders of the ‘others’ who lived here.  Muhammadpur was where the bodies of the three men were allegedly taken. One of the young men was still alive. He died on the way.  According to local Jats, they were masked men who attacked Rajinder Fauji, a fellow Jat, and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) killed them. An enquiry has been ordered. What led to which killing is still a matter of perspective here. The three were later returned dead, and mutilated, to Hussainpur. “I had last seen him as a human,” says Anees Khan, father of Ajmal. They couldn’t even do the usual rites for the dead. Not even the gusal, the ritual bathing of the corpse. Then there was the hurry to quickly bury them lest tension flare up again. But it did. Thousands congregated that morning at the madrasa in the village. On three cots, the bodies were laid. They were young, healthy men, Umar Daraz Khan, Ajmal’s elder brother says.


n September, riots broke out in Muzzaffarnagar district after a Muslim youth was killed for allegedly stalking a Jat girl. Two Jat men were lynched in retaliation. In the riots that followed, official figures put the death count just under 70. But the communities say the toll was more than 500 with bodies dumped in streams and entire families gone missing. More than 30 relief camps have been set up for those who fled their villages. Muslims in Muhammadpur had also fled to Hussainpur on the night of 7 September when mobs came after them. Around 900 Muslims from neighbouring villages still remain in Hussainpur, refusing to go back because return is impossible. In Hussainpur, Hindus were scared but promised to do ‘no harm’ and offered sanctuary. There are 36 biradaris (caste/ community groups) here, including Dalits and Thakurs. “Our fight is with Jats,” Shahnawaz says. In the courtyard of Abad Khan’s house, women have congregated. They read holy verses. In heavy voices that often trail off. And then, they wail. Meharban’s four sisters sit around their mother as they mourn the death of their brother. Abad stands and watches his other son Farmaan fill water. Meharban was a truck driver, and would come home twice a year. His wife and three children lived with his parents. The father is old and doddering. He doesn’t know what to do, he says.


n both sides of the narrow road, there are sugar-

cane fields. There’s a school on the way. A lock hangs on its door. This is Lusana, and beyond is Hussainpur Kalan. There are policemen outside the village. Section 144 has been imposed after the killings, but village elder Haji Sagir Qureshi is sitting with a group of 20 men at the open 15

village chaupal (central quadrangle). “They haven’t arrested all of them yet,” he says. “The panchayat will meet to decide the future course of action. If the State grants our six demands, we will thank them. Else, we will reconsider our strategy. These past few days, we have been restrained. But we can’t contain the anger for too long. We said: ‘Don’t fight’. But we can’t not fight forever.” Muslims had called a mahapanchayat on 7 October, which was later postponed after SP chief Mulayam Singh met some of their leaders and assured them that justice would be done. Their demands include Rs 25 lakh compensation for the families of those killed, government jobs, the arrest of all accused, and gun licences. Hussainpur is within 12 km of Fugana, another village ravaged by the riots that broke out in September. Rumours abound. In Fugana, they say, girls were stripped and forced to dance. There were rapes. Families were killed, or made to leave their villages, and live in horrid conditions in state-run camps now. “Exile is a tough choice. But when death stares you in the face, you leave,” says Qureshi. “We had given shelter to 900 Muslims who fled neighbouring villages, including Muhammadpur Raisingh. We even brokered a peace deal with them.” Just as they were beginning to send families back to their villages, the three young men were killed. Now, nobody wants to go back. They are everywhere in this village. They are the ones with sad eyes and ghost-like faces.

burden of loss Anees (left, foreground) and Abad Khan (right), fathers respectively of Ajmal and Meharban, stand at the site of their sons’ graves


hen they show the post-mortem reports of the

three men, Anees Khan bends forward, and moves his fingers over a figure they have drawn. Nothing is clear. But there is the outline, and it is of his son Ajmal. So he thinks. But it is of Meharban. They were all cousins. According to the police, there were more than 10 injuries on each body. “I couldn’t even look at my own son’s body.” He hands over the copy, and looks the other way. At his house next to the fields, his wife Bano holds a string of prayer beads in silence. “I am praying for the son I lost,” she says. She cries and turns away. It is important for them to assert that their son was not a killer. He was a 20year-old truck driver, who came home every couple of months. That morning, he had come from Kolkata. Bano had cooked a simple meal of khichri. It had begun to get cold here. They haven’t cooked another meal since. “Our son never fought with anyone. He wasn’t brought up like that,” she says. Across the fields, in Muhammadpur, they say the three dead men attacked one of their own community members. In the ensuing fight, they were shot by the PAC . “How could we turn killers? We were the refuge of those who had to leave their homes in that village,” Bano says, and goes back to praying.


n the dark chambers of Muhammadpur, Pradhan Omkar Singh, a Dalit on the reserved seat, a few men are listening to Singh’s measured sentences. It is a rehearsed speech.

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KHAP DECREE In the riot-hit villages of Muzaffarnagar, there was no Diwali this year, as ordained by a Jat khap panchayat

“Kab tak jalega Muzzaffarnagar (How long will Muzaffarnagar burn)?” he asks. “There was the Kawal panchayat, and people from this village had also gone. There was stone pelting, and other such things, and in the chaos, 1,200 unknown people came to this village and set the houses of Muslims on fire.” Singh has his version of how the murders of the three young men from Hussainpur took place. A Muhammadpur villager, Rajinder Fauji, was in his fields in the evening, watering his crops, when he was ambushed, and some masked men put a gun to his forehead. He was able to escape. There were three other farmers with Rajinder, says Singh. He was injured, but once back in Muhammadpur, Rajinder collected a group of men and told them about the masked men. They gathered PAC personnel and went to confront them. The three men, he says, were killed but the police took Rajinder away and kept him in custody. Eight people were arrested. Muslims of Hussainpur say 15 others are at large. They roam the fields, militia style, armed and ruthless.


ussainpur has very low literacy. Most men and women drop out of school to work in the fields, or as daily wage labourers. For now, the primary school has been converted into a shelter for families that have refused to return to their villages. “This won’t end soon. Not now. Not in the near future,” says Hamida, while making rotis for her family. They dropped whatever they were doing to leave Muhammadpur. Because the men hadn’t returned, and the mob was coming for them. They jumped from roofs and hid in fields. Then, when dawn broke, they walked to Hussainpur, and asked for shelter. Ishrana, 22, ran with her four children. Nobody knew

18 November 2013

which way to go. It wasn’t easy to run in the narrow lanes. So, they got out into the fields. “Those who couldn’t run were caught,” she says. Shahnawaz says at least five women from Muhammadpur village have lodged a complaint of sexual assault with the Mahila Aayog team that came visiting. They have also alleged rape. But FIRs have not been filed, and the women won’t come out and speak about it. They fear being ostracised. Rapes are used as terror tactics in such situations, says Shahnawaz. In earlier reports from riot-affected villages like Lisarh and Kandhla, women have said they were gang-raped. But the police have registered only five such complaints. In such situations, there are all kinds of stories—some true, a few manufactured.


hat evening, there is some commotion in the fields

close to Muhammadpur village. In Hussainpur, they watch from the graveyard, alert. Anything can happen. The tubewell that waters the fields of Jats lies in their zone. They have, so far, kept their word—they let them come and switch on the pump. “We can’t even go to the graves,” says Arshad Khan, who lives in Hussainpur. “It is dangerous.” Three trucks carrying RAF personnel go past. Nobody is willing to accompany them to the graveyard. Kotwal RK Sharma is doing the patrolling. “Will you please come with us?” I ask him. “Why do you want to go?” he asks. And then, “Go ahead, I will follow you.” But he does not. Arshad Khan is not surprised. “Now you see?” he says. The villagers have formed a group, and together we walk a narrow mud road, past the Idgah, to the graves. At a small distance, you can see men carry a coffin open 19

UNCERTAIN CALM (Right) It’s an enforced school holiday for children in both the villages; (facing page) Sec. 144 has been clamped down and an eerie silence envelops Muhammadpur and Hussainpur

covered in a shawl. A woman died this morning. She was a refugee, Arshad Khan says. They stop, and bow. Sohrab, another refugee from Muhammadpur, is chipping away at the wood. He sits next to where they have dug up the earth. That’s where she will be buried. “It is for her grave,” he says. “It’s sad to be buried on someone else’s land.” Ever since the riots broke out in early September this year, the villagers have formed groups of eight to 10 men to guard the village at night. They roam the streets, and circle the village, and spend the night stationed at various spots. On the way back, the kotwal meets us. “You should not be here,” he says.


uhammadpur fares better than Hussainpur in

terms of land ownership. There are more pucca houses here. The Muslims here mostly work as farm labour. There is a lane leading to the Muslim quarters. These are abandoned homes. The Hindu residents say they miss their neighbours. “Manga is 80 years old. He was picked up by the police,” says Pradhan Omkar Singh. “The police are against us. They blame us.” On Sunday, they sit in little groups, and speak in hushed tones about the killings. It is Diwali but there is a khap diktat that no village will celebrate the festival. “Dispel the darkness,” says Singh. But in the streets, there is talk of a possible attack. “They will come for us,” a young boy says. “The pradhan of Hussainpur has said he will take revenge. We can’t go outside. We are confined.” No candles are being sold here. In villages, panchayats are the last word. Nobody dares defy their diktat. 20 open


ul Mohammad, Shahnawaz’s younger brother, is sitting outside their house in Hussainpur. It is night, and tea is served in small white cups. “We had a peace treaty with [the Jats of Muhammadpur]. In this kind of guerilla war, you can’t be sure. So we invited them here, and agreed that business will resume as usual. You cut grass in the morning, and we will go to the fields in the evening,” he says. Shahnawaz, who is the Hussainpur pradhan’s husband, is the man in charge. He comes and sits. He says on the night of the killings, he made at least 20 calls to OP Chaudhary, the inspector in charge of the Bhoran Kalan police chowki, but they went unanswered. At the Budhana police station now, a woman refuses to give out copies of the FIR registered on the Hussainpur killings. When the inspector comes, he shows an FIR copy that is registered in the name of Md Qais, who was with the three victims in the fields that day. He and another young man had managed to escape, and that is how word got round. The FIR was filed on 30 October. The previous night, villagers had marched to the police station. The post-mortem was done in the wee hours of the morning, and the bodies reached the village at around 7.30 am the next day. In the FIR, Md Qais has said he was with the three victims and one other person from the village, and they had gone to the fields to cut grass when Rajinder Fauji, with 14 other men, ambushed them. According to the FIR, there was another group of 10 men with this group and they had lathis and sundry other weapons. “Rajinder has said he was injured, but he hasn’t given us any written complaint. Maybe he inflicted the injuries upon himself to make his case more genuine,” says Inspector Dhananjoy Mishra, who came to Budhana on 14 September from his earlier posting in Allahabad. It has been a challenging time for Inspector Mishra. He spends most of his time roaming the area’s villages and 18 November 2013

speaking to people, asking them to keep faith in the police. “We recovered the bodies from near the fields between the two villages. There were a lot of injuries but when a mob kills, it is no surprise,” says Inspector Mishra. “Those who died have no police record of criminal behaviour. We will normalise the situation.” That is a tall claim. With just 30-odd policemen in each village and the touring RAF personnel, it won’t be an easy task. Already, the police have been attacked elsewhere. “Section 144 is in place. There will be no panchayats,” says Inspector Mishra.


huda is on our side,” says Hamida, as she serves

a little girl food. The children cry for their home. They want to return. “How does one tell them home is no more,” she says. Three families from Muhammadpur are living in Shahnawaz’s house. The other families are scattered across the village. “Everything is gone,” says Hamida. “But I will never go back.” Around 10 families are living in the primary school. The school runs in a small room for now. Hina, another woman from Muhammadpur who is here, says they lost their animals and land. They even

brutalised the horses, she says, with resigned disbelief. Around 1.30 pm, a mosque’s muezzin calls for namaaz. Men are sitting inside the primary school, waiting. They have been waiting since September to return, to make a fresh start. Inside one of the rooms, there is a bed and a few almirahs. A set of cups and sundry other utensils. There are boxes and reclaimed furniture. “Some of us went back with the police to retrieve what was left,” explains Afroz. His daughter Mohsina, 16, is stoic. She was studying for her intermediate exams, due in March. But her books are all gone and so are the certificate and mark sheet of her first Board exam. Afroz says he will try to buy her new books and enrol her in a distant education programme. Mohsina averts her face. She doesn’t want to talk about the loss of her future. “She secured 63 per cent in Class 10. She is bright. But now she is always sad,” Afroz says. Mohsina walks outside. “I am determined. I will study,” she says. “I want to be a reporter. I want to tell my story.” On one of the walls, a line reads, ‘Vipatti mein dhairya rakho (keep faith in times of trouble)’. Two women stare at the wall. They probably can’t read. But Mohsina can. She will keep the faith. For now. n


Modi, Media and Money The interplay of these three ‘M’s is doing Indian democracy a gross disfavour Sandeep Bhushan

raul irani


s news television all about TRPs? Or is it an agenda of some kind? Or is there a third dimension? As I sat down to write this piece, my brief was how the Indian media—especially television news—was covering Narendra Modi. There were no clear-cut answers. And here is why. “Modi does not need either the party or PR agencies; television news media is doing the job for us,” confides a senior BJP leader. Asked if this is acceptable in a democracy, he replies: “Hasn’t the media done the same with Rahul Gandhi?”

Spinning Modi’s Image

That very evening, as I sat watching Aaj Tak, the popular Hindi news channel, I could see what the BJP leader meant. The 10 o’clock show—news bulletins are passé—had this lead story on how Bihar CM Nitish Kumar of the JD-U was trying to stymie Modi’s Patna rally by deliberately hosting the President of India (who later changed his Patna programme) on the same day. What struck me was the brazen spin-doctoring by the scruffy-faced, long-winded anchor. His argument ran as follows: Nitish Kumar’s main objective was not to thwart Modi’s rally per

se, but prevent its staging at Patna’s historic Gandhi Maidan, right in the heart of the city. Every successful rally here in the past has signalled the end of political regimes not just in Patna but in Delhi as well. This had happened in the 1970s during the JP Movement and later in 1989 when VP Singh led an anti-corruption campaign. As we now know, nothing even vaguely of the sort happened. But such spin doctoring in subtle and unsubtle ways— endless airtime to Modi speeches, ‘colour’ stories on ‘NaMo tea’, kurtas and masks (one newspaper even claimed it is a Rs 500 crore industry!), you name it—is pretty much the norm across news networks these days. And this stems from the peculiar beast that television has become, with ‘bites’ driving the news cycle. Of course, there is a pattern to it. First, a montage of bites reflecting neat bipolarities—the Congress versus BJP, for exam-

Since the TV media ecosystem feeds on bites, it allows for imprecision and endless controversies that all serve to make spin doctoring child’s play ple—which then merges seamlessly into a news studio where the anchor has rounded up partisans reflecting identical divisions. It is here, in the studio, that the nightly drama plays out with the anchor doubling as a sort of a ringmaster who provokes, hectors and lights the fireworks towards a scripted denouement. With reporting dead, and bite collection mainly outsourced, there is no need for a field report to check political claims against reality. For instance, I don’t remember seeing any field report on malnutrition in Gujarat despite the issue becoming the subject of a bitter studio war between the two parties. Or the recent toilet versus temple controversy that was decried as ‘manufactured’. Is this news or primetime entertainment? Or simply

media halo Modi arrives for a National Media Workshop organised by the BJP on 17 August in Delhi

the gross trivialisation of serious issues confronting our democracy?    Since the TV media ecosystem feeds on bites, it allows for imprecision, fudging, backtracking, denials and endless controversies that all serve to make spin doctoring child’s play. This is not easy in the print media, which lives up to at least a modicum of precision.  The only clarity in this chaos is the increasing clout of media promoters with their biases and preferences.   Several past and serving employees of the media behemoth Network 18 have told me that a heavy-duty ‘go-soft-on-Modi’ campaign is underway within the group. The editorial line is allegedly emanating from the ‘top’. A former anchor with IBN 7 traces the changes in the network’s ‘line’ to a specific event. They came about only after Mukesh Ambani picked up a stake in the media group. “Arvind Kejriwal was virtually blacked out after he hurled charges at Mukesh. On the news floor, in both CNN-IBN and IBN 7, every journalist knows that there are orders to rein in anti-Modi stories,” he adds. “There are standing instructions to cut live to any Modi rally or speech,” says another journalist. However, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-inchief of CNN-IBN, trashes all this. “This is all cock and bull,” he says, “There has been no change in line at any time. Both Rahul and Modi are top contenders for the PM’s post. We neither deify nor demonise either of them, but analyse their pluses and minuses in great detail.” But if Sardesai is right, then how does one explain the cloyingly pro-Modi chant on the group’s news portal, Here is a gem masquerading as reportage: ‘Delhi on Sunday witnessed a public rally the likes of which it had not seen in decades’, thanks to Modi’s ‘rock-star’ image that created a ‘maddening frenzy’. Another story headline screams: ‘JD(U) MP makes Nitish squirm: Are you jealous of Modi?’ This article, on Shivanand Tewari’s recent speech in Rajgir praising Modi’s ascent, has little explanation of the ‘jealousy’ angle. Yet another so-called report on the website gushes: ‘Patna blasts showed Modi’s leadership, Nitish’s ineptness.’ R Jagannathan, editor-in-chief of Firstpost, defends the group website by saying, “We are essentially an opinion open 23

portal. We also carry news. We have different editors who are free to air their own views. As the editor-in-chief, I don’t interfere.” On the Ambani factor, Jagannathan says, “I report to Raghav Bahl and there are no specific editorial instructions from him.” While Ambani’s alleged ‘directive’ is in all likelihood driven by the fear of a ‘Third Front’ that he presumably shares with the business class at large—remember, both Modi and Rahul Gandhi are the only ones to be hosted by industry bodies CII and Ficci—media houses like Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL), which owns The Times Of India, have other impulses driving them. They only produce what sells. And, like Anna Hazare earlier (whose movement fetched higher TRPs than even the IPL), Modi sells. And he sells because of mounting urban angst over the UPA’s corruption and leadership woes, not to forget the outrage over dynasts and votaries of entitlement politics. What BCCL’s Vice-President Vineet Jain told the American journalist Ken Auletta of The New Yorker last year, “We are not in the newspaper business. We are in the advertising business,” holds true for a powerful section of the media. That largely explains the BJP predilections of the group’s TV arm, Times Now. This news channel’s latest poll survey— conducted by C-Voter—of the BJP’s poll prospects following Modi’s anointment as the party’s PM candidate is a case in point. The survey gives Modi the thumbs up. The conclusions are identical to what C-Voter had predicted in an earlier survey for the India Today Group before Modi’s elevation, where it had forecast a ‘doubling of BJP seats’ if he were made the candidate. It is hard to understand why C-Voter keeps getting high-profile polster projects despite its dismal track record. Each time, it has projected inflated figures for the NDA/BJP. In 2009, it had predicted 183-195 seats for the NDA. It got only 159. Five years earlier, in 2004, it had projected 270-282 seats for the NDA. It managed only 181. As a reporter on the BJP beat, I remember party spokespersons holding up impromptu press briefings for a Times Now reporter to arrive. Much to our chagrin, the channel had better access to BJP leaders and was invariably the first to get a coveted ‘exclusive’ sit-down interview 24 open

with Modi (or any other BJP leader). Its anchor Arnab Goswami’s interrogative, offensive and subjective style of anchoring, done in the Fox News mould, is shrill and minimalistic. It reduces issues to a simple formula of ‘for’ and ‘against’, of neat binary oppositions, since this works better with TV audiences, but it also tends to carry a ‘hidden’ preference for a ‘muscular’ state.    What this loud and vituperative media drumbeat has done is create ‘a sense of inevitability’. “It has helped to rescale Modi from a regional Gujarati satrap, a state never considered very significant in national politics, to a potential national leader,” says Santosh Desai, a marketing guru and social observer. Beat Warriors as Polarisers

One of the disturbing downsides of this Modi froth is that it has not just polarised the ‘nation’, his party and the po-

In 2009, C-Voter had predicted 183-195 seats for the NDA. It got only 159. In 2004, it had projected 270-282 seats for the NDA. It managed only 181 litical landscape, but also the media. Remember the BJP leader’s quip with which this story began? As I wrote in this magazine some months ago (see ‘Remote Mindset’ Open, 15 June 2013), reporting on the Gandhis for NDTV, where I worked earlier, was like a complicated Brahminical ritual. Only a chosen few were allowed to report on their public activity and still fewer took editorial calls on the storyline that eventually went on air; the ‘buck’ stopped with Barkha Dutt, the absolute repository of Congress wisdom. More to the point, my report elicited a slightly surprising response from my friends and colleagues. A good friend and Congress reporter called me up to remonstrate: “Why don’t you write the same about Modi? Don’t the BJP reporters do the same with him?”   This is the big tragedy for reporters of

politics at a time of sharp political polarisation. The bitterness appears to have rubbed off on beat reporters, a number of whom are self-confessed ‘beat warriors’. Loyalty to one’s beat overpowers the journalist’s obligation to purvey accurate information to people at large. The schism often plays out in TV studios. Some senior journalists are not averse to standing in for their ‘respective’ parties when partymen want to duck the press (as happened during the Robert Vadra episode). This has meant that space for journalists occupying the middle ground has alarmingly shrunk. Any objectivity that involves criticism of Modi or Gandhi is met with charges of being fellow-travellers and ideologues of one or the other party. This pseudo bipolarity, a fallout of what BJP leader Arun Jaitley terms a ‘presidential style’ election campaign, is dangerous for democracy. It is a way of batting for both the national parties that resent the rise of regional parties that eat into their vote share. This bipolarity, which has willy-nilly seeped into our media discourse as well, leads to major distortions. While Modi’s meeting with TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu hit ‘national’ headlines, the 11-party meet in Delhi against communalism on 30 October, seen by many as a step towards a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative, was virtually blacked out by TV networks. It also means that wherever the Modiversus-Gandhi drama cannot be played out, you simply forget about it. Readers could be pardoned if they did not know that Assembly polls are also scheduled in Mizoram next month. What is staple fodder for anchor-orchestrated drama in news studios is a far cry from the complex reality that shapes electoral outcomes in this country. One of the most powerful players in next year’s election drama is the urban middle-class, which appears to be rooting for Modi. But, as Desai says, media overkill so early in the run-up to the General Election of 2014 could lead to “diminishing returns and viewer fatigue” as we inch closer to the actual polling dates. The larger issue, however, is an ethical one. Is the media accurately chronicling for its readers and viewers the unfolding drama of democracy so that everyone can make an informed choice? n 18 November 2013


Life on the Line For villagers living along the border in Jammu, injury and property damage have become routine fears Text and Photographs by ashish sharma

The quiet night was broken by a volley of bullets, followed by mortar shells, triggering panic among residents. “We first thought a gun-battle had broken out, but minutes later the firing stopped,” says 60-year-old Ram Lal, a farmer from Garkhal, a village about 35 kilometres from Jammu, right on the international border with Pakistan. On the night of 24 October, Ram Lal was asleep on a balcony off the room where his wife and children slept. The weather was pleasant. At around 11 pm, he heard gunshots in the distance. “Then there was a thunderous noise just outside, in my yard, and by the time I could get up, I was already in a pool of blood.” He had suffered splinter injuries to the torso and thigh. Shelling by the Pakistan Army continued through the night, damaging homes, crops and cattle belonging to residents of Garkhal, barely two or three kilometres from the border. Neighbouring villages on the border such as RS Pura, Kanachak, Ramgarh and Pargwal, too, have been affected by recent ceasefire violations. Many people living in the Akhnoor sector were seriously wounded and forced to leave

their homes. This is causing a small-scale civilian migration inland from border villages in Jammu, the first since the wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Pakistani troops have reportedly violated the bilateral ceasefire agreement signed between the two countries in 2003 more than 120 times this year along the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu. According to villagers in the area, similar damage has been done by Indian troops to Pakistani villages on the other side. At night, residents of Garkhal say they keep their lights off and sit in dark corners of their homes to avoid being hit by bullets from snipers stationed at sentry posts just across the border, easily visible from the village. The firing has made it difficult for villagers to tend to their crops. “Earlier, our parents used to work in the fields,” says Sonu, a farmer, “but since the ceasefire breaches have increased, village youth have had to carry out all farming and cattlerearing chores. If there is another firing, at least we will be able to run for cover and save our lives, but our parents are too old to run and take shelter. ” n

vigil A Pakistani security watch tower and an Indian BSF bunker face off across the zero line of the international border at Suchetgarh village in southwest Jammu district. Due to its unusual proximity to the zero line, the village is at particularly high risk of fire

ruptures (Clockwise from above) Raj Kumari lost her right leg when an IED planted by Indian troops on her farmland in Suchetgarh exploded as she worked; villagers gather around a mortar shell in the fields of Garkhal; a woman stands in a residential area of Garkhal near a mortar shell that locals claim was fired by Pakistani troops; a young man looks through bullet holes in the display case of a sweet shop in Garkhal, which locals say were caused by firing from across the border

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18 November 2013

debris (Clockwise from right) A stone laid in Garkhal for the memory of Shashi Bala, who died in 2002 after being hit by a bullet during crossfiring on the border; evening falls in Suchetgarh village near the zero line of the international border, where people prefer to stay indoors after dark; Sharda Devi, wife of Ram Lal, points out fissures in the wall of their home caused by mortar shelling on the night of 24 October; Sharda Devi from Akhnoor town displays an X-Ray showing a bullet lodged in her skull since she was caught in crossfiring in 1996; a man holds up a bullet fired from the other side of the border

18 November 2013

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r e v e l at i o n

steve shepard/getty images

Cancer Is as Natural as Ageing

Why carcinogens are not as scary as made out to be. A review of a book on the dreaded disease by George Johnson, followed by an interview with him Priyanka Pulla

kerry sherck


a science book, George Johnson’s The Cancer Chronicles (Random House, Rs 599, 304 pages) carries the oddly philosophical message of acceptance—acceptance of the fact that cancer has been an intimate part of human existence for as long as we have walked the earth. Johnson discovers that contrary to what the media portrays, environmental carcinogens, whether pesticides or radiation, have only caused a tiny amount of cancer. Even if the hundreds of carcinogens we blame weren’t around, a minimum number of us would still develop this disease. We know this because of the evidence of carcinoma that has turned up in excavated dinosaurs and mummies from centuries ago, when there were no synthetic chemicals. Johnson, whose ex-wife fought off cancer but whose brother succumbed to it, finds comfort in knowing that cancer has always been with us, ‘that it not all your fault, that you can take every precaution and still, something in the genetic coils can become unsprung’. Unlike Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of all Maladies, an exhaustive account of the war against cancer over the decades, The Cancer Chronicles is a personal journey. When Johnson’s wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer ten years ago, the couple found themselves faced with a barrage of tests, confusing diagnoses and treatments. Overwhelmed, Johnson set out, perhaps too ambitiously, to make sense of the ocean of cancer research data. But wading through the statistics, he found that we know very little about cancer that is conclusive. For example, even though the US government’s National Cancer Institute recommends eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, the link between or

eye-opener Author George Johnson

eating vegetables and preventing cancer is rather weak. Further, in several cancer clusters under study where environmental carcinogens were thought to have caused higher rates of regional cancer, the alleged link was never supported by data. Among the examples Johnson cites, readers will recognise one made famous in the Julia Roberts movie Erin Brockovich. In the 1990s, it was suspected that groundwater poisoning with hexavalent chromium was causing high rates of cancer in the California town of Hinkley. But, Johnson writes, this turned out to be a statistical illusion. Epidemiologists found that the town’s incidence of cancer was no higher than what could be reasonably expected, given the demographics of Hinkley. Even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster did not cause as much cancer as expected. While widespread cancer was feared, two decades later, a United Nations study

group estimated that less than 1 per cent of those most exposed to radiation developed cancer due to it. But no matter what data says, when the human mind is faced with the prospect of losing a loved one to a dreaded disease, it sees patterns that do not exist. ‘All of us acquire our own personal cancer clusters, and a mental file of anecdotal evidence as unreliable as it is impossible not to deep down believe,’ writes Johnson. His own wife Nancy was an exceptionally healthy eater, eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day, when she developed cancer. His brother Joe’s case was even more perplexing. He developed a form of mouth cancer for which he had few of the risk factors. Joe did not smoke, drank little alcohol and didn’t chew betelnut either. Throughout the book, the poignant stories of Nancy and Joe anchor Johnson’s wanderings into the world of cancer research. He finds that there are several theories on how cancer originates, how it grows and how it can be defeated. Each theory is much debated, so much so that cancer researchers are always working along multiples lines of research. But as Johnson jumps back and forth between his own story and that of cancer, it is hard to miss the central message of his book. The reason cancer is so hard to beat is that it has evolved with us. It is part of the process of life, the process of cells dividing constantly and duplicating their genetic codes. Each time this happens, there is a chance of an error in duplication. This is inescapable. In fact, such errors or mutations are the basis of life. If our genetic code were to stop mutating, life itself would stop evolving. And, paradoxically, if it were to keep mutating, we’d always be at risk of cancer. n

“A certain baseline of cancer has always occurred” The link between environmental carcinogens and cancer was proved in only a small number of cancer clusters. But carcinogens can affect different people differently, and their combinations can have a greater effect than individual carcinogens. Can epidemiology, which uses aggregate numbers, pick out these individual variations in how 18 November 2013

people are affected by carcinogens?

You can imagine a situation where someone has a genetic mutation that makes them particularly susceptible to, say, chemical X, while no one else would be susceptible. There is no way epidemiology would find that. How would you know unless you had a sample of a cer-

tain size? Maybe when there are advances in sequencing the cancer genome and seeing more specifically what individual cancers look like, that would provide some clues. It’s also possible that there are synergistic effects—someone might be exposed to a variety of different carcinoopen 33

gens and together it might have a significant effect. But I think in the US and other developed countries, where there have been big nationwide studies, it is fair to conclude that if cancer was being caused by these chemicals, there would be a lot more cases; it would be a lot more obvious, it would be like living near a toxic waste dump. Also, if there is some kind of ubiquitous carcinogen and everyone is exposed to it throughout the world, how would you know that carcinogen is not incrementally increasing the cancer rate, since it would not be localised to a specific chemical or food additive? In that case, it really helps to look at what is happening with overall cancer rates over the last decades. In the US, they have been steady or going down slightly.

How should policy be shaped to treat minor carcinogens whose effects are uncertain and which seem to cause cancer in some lab tests but not in others?

Of course, if there is a really clear case of something that might be a carcinogen, it should be banned or controlled. But there are very few black-and-white cases like that. There are all these carcinogens in natural foods. But no one can ban carcinogens in broccoli and spinach. You have to strike a balance in controlling toxic chemicals, but you have to consider the benefits. If there is a slight chance that a food preservative might be a carcinogen but is preventing people from getting botulism from spoilt food, you can’t ban it. There are arguments today that no substance should be allowed in the market until it is tested and shown not to cause cancer. But how do you do that? If chemical companies do the test, people say they are biased. They say it is a function of the government. But if the government does this, a different set of people would say too much government regulation is a terrible thing. There is a term that is very popular called the precautionary principle. It sounds wonderful, and you say, ‘Of course, this is what we should do.’ But then, you see the reality of it. There are a few outlying studies that conclude that electric power lines slightly raise the risk factor for a kind of childhood leukemia. When these studies first came out, quite a long time ago, there was a journalist 34 open

called Paul Brodeur who wrote a book and a huge article in The New Yorker. Later, these studies were pretty much discounted and countered by studies that didn’t find any effect of electrical power. Then again, you can’t completely discount the possibility that electrical power lines cause cancer. And the precautionary principle would say: therefore, we need to get rid of all power lines. Or maybe bury them all underground. In an ideal world with infinite resources, it might work. In a country the size of the US and India, it is impossible. There are places in the world where people don’t have electricity and there is nothing they want more. Some people say we should not have any processed foods and everything should be locally grown. This is completely unrealistic, unsustainable. Without technologies like artificially produced nitrogen fertilisers, there would not be enough food to feed the

“There is a certain level of cancer which will never be explained. Even if you may be able to explain it, you won’t be able to prevent it” world. It is usually wealthy elitists who take that point of view. They are essentially asking a third to half the population to go off and die.

So, little is conclusively known of how cancer is caused. Do you think there will be a time when greater clarity emerges on the risk factors and treatments of cancer?

I think we will slowly have more clarity when we study the cancer genome in greater detail. But it is very clear that there is a certain threshold level of cancer which can only be attributed to entropy, the fact that we live in a universe governed by the second law of thermodynamics. Inevitably, everything tends toward becoming disorderly. We humans call it ageing. Robert Weinberg, the MIT cancer researcher, said, “If we all lived long enough, we’d all get cancer.” How can we have such complex systems with all these cells having to work together and

not have errors? There is a certain level of cancer which will never be explained. Even if you may be able to explain it, you won’t be able to prevent it.

You cite statistics of cancer found in buried skeletons and mummies and state that cancer rates haven’t really increased if you adjust for age and early diagnosis. Is this an accepted view in medicine?

Yes. With all the qualifications—if you adjust for things like the ageing of the population, the increased smoking of cigarettes and the diagnostic tools we have today, it is not controversial that a certain baseline of cancer has always occurred. Maybe there is a small additional effect from chemical and other newly introduced carcinogens.

Why do the American Cancer Society and other organisations prescribe a diet high in fruits and vegetables if there is no proof that it can prevent cancer?

There were early studies that seemed to show a big effect from eating fruits and vegetables on preventing cancer. But larger studies are showing that there is a very tiny effect, if any at all. But the mainstream cancer organisations never really changed their position. There is no reason to say you don’t have to eat foods and vegetables. And of course everyone wants people to remain hopeful and feel like there are things they can do. They can’t project a message of despair. There are also many other good reasons to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. It could keep people from eating unhealthy foods and becoming obese. It certainly can’t hurt.

You write that there may be as many naturally occurring carcinogens as there are synthetic. Going by lab tests, we ought to be getting cancer much more often. What is protecting us?

There is one argument that we evolved in the presence of these natural carcinogens. And therefore, some of the anti-cancer defences that our cells have developed are tuned to counteract these carcinogens. But the other argument is that even though carcinogens exist in foods, they are very dilute at the level at which they enter the human body. They only cause cancer when given in the huge doses we give laboratory animals. n 18 November 2013

openmagazine to 56070


The Lineswomen of Maharashtra O

n 6 September, at precisely

9.30 am, when 22-year-old Rupali Gawand climbed up an electricity pole, little did she know that she had made history. All she was aware of was a feeling of elation. The climb, though with safety gear, was scary at first. But she gained confidence with every upward step, and before she knew it, she had climbed all the way up and then down. Those assembled below clapped. Photographs were clicked. There was much cheering. For the petite Rupali, it was a moment that will forever stay in memory. Rupali made history as the first woman in the country to climb an electricity pole as part of her job. A vidyut sahayak, she is among 2,200 women recruits who have recently been employed as linewomen by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL). This is the first time in India that such a company has taken on women as line staff to work hands-on with electricity poles, live cables, transformers and other pieces of field equipment that function as part of a power supply network. So when Rupali climbed up an electricity pole that cloudy morning as part of her training, she was the first. The recruitment is part of a policy that reserves 30 per cent of the jobs in the sector for women. In case the government could not find suitable candidates to appoint, it had the option of making appointments in another sector. However, says Ram Dutonde, general manager, public relations, MSEDCL, the company decided to hire women as vidyut sahayaks (literally, electricity helpers). Neither the company nor Rupali saw it as a breakthrough. At least not until Open 36 open

The state’s electricity utility has hired women for a job some consider too perilous for them Haima Deshpande

broached the subject. “The first batch of women was being trained [recently] and pole climbing was part of it. We did write down the date and time, but the significance of Gawand’s climb was lost on us,” says Chandrashekhar Yerme, chief engineer and programme coordinator at the company’s Nashik training centre. “My God! Am I really the first woman to do this?” asks a jubilant Rupali from her home in Borze village in Raigad district’s Pen taluka. Her big regret is that she did not wait a little longer atop the pole for a good view. “I was nervous,” she says,

“I just forgot to look around. Everyone was clapping and I was looking down at them. I wish I had stayed up there a little longer.” Rupali belongs to the Agri community of fisherfolk whose women sell fish for a living; they cannot understand why she has taken to climbing poles when selling fish is so much easier. For her, however, it was a challenge she gladly took on. For days during her training, she watched male colleagues climb up and down electricity poles. However, no woman was willing to step forth and give it a try. “I obphotos ritesh uttamchandani

served the men for two days, and the next day decided to do it myself,” she says, “It looked difficult, but every step I moved up it seemed so easy.” She was brought up by her mother Vijaya, a domestic help who had such a gruelling daily schedule (without holidays) that it robbed her and her three siblings of “mother’s love”. But it also made her determined to give her mother a better life. Today, armed with a government job on a starting monthly salary of Rs 6,000, she knows her family’s days of poverty will soon be over. Vijaya is proud of her daughter.


vidyut sahayaks Jagruti Gavan, 20 (right) looks on as she and Gayatri Bhoir, 25, practise fixing an electric line during a practical class at MSEDCL’s training centre in Nashik

bout 650 km away from Rupali’s

home in Borze lives 21-year-old Benazir Babumia Shaikh. A resident of Tuljapur in Osmanabad district, she is the first and only Muslim girl to have found a place in this squad. Unlike Rupali, she has not climbed a pole yet but says she will soon do so, as the job demands. Benazir is elated but also intimidated by the job. Four months since she took it up, she is more worried about travelling to her workplace than what the job entails. It takes three bus rides covering a distance of 75 km to reach her office in Latur district’s Khillari village. She starts out from home at 7 am and manages to reach by 10 am. She’s back home by 7.30 or 8 pm. The prospect of climbing poles does not excite Benazir. “Girls should not climb poles,” she says, “I will do so if the job demands it. My office is really far and travel takes the fun out of the job.” Her father Babumia Vajir Shaikh, who owns a cable network in the village, is not pleased with her job, and neither is her mother Raiesa. While Shaikh, an Arts graduate, is willing to give it a year’s time, Raiesa, who studied up till class nine and then left school to marry him, wants their daughter to quit as soon as possible. “The carrot of a permanent job is dangling before us. So we are letting her do it,” says her father, who worries about her travel expenses (about Rs 150-200 a day), apart from personal safety and job profile. “We did not know that she will have to climb poles. If she is doing this, then what will the men who work with her do? Stand and watch?” asks Shaikh, open 37

transformation A new batch of students at MSEDCL’s technical training facility in Eklahare, Nashik

adding that he would like her to “reach the skies” but not like this. Another matter of family concern is Khillari’s tag as an earthquake prone area. The company’s recruits include both married and unmarried lineswomen. All of them are from conservative families of modest means living in rural Maharashtra, mostly women who have never stepped out of home for work and had non-family men around. “Government jobs are best suited for women,” says Swati Sonawane, 28, a mother of a one-year old, “At least one member of the family must be in a government job.” By and large, married women have more supportive families than unmarried girls, whose parents worry about finding husbands for daughters who climb electricity poles. For 23-year old Ankita Pawar, who is unmarried and lives in central Mumbai, convincing her family to place faith in her new job has been difficult. “My late father was very supportive,” she says, “I almost quit the training course after his death. My close friends and teachers helped me stay on. My family did not know that I had got this job until much later.” All of them have completed the mandatory requirements of the job: an electrician’s diploma from either the state-run 38 open

Industrial Training Institutes or private establishments and an apprenticeship. To boost their morale, the entire women’s squad has been gifted a toolkit each. “The plier, tester and screwdrivers are important implements that have to be carried by the line-staff at all times,” says Yerme. The khaki uniform of a tunic and trousers, with a broad black belt, is compulsory. Though caps are not a must for everyone, the women have been given net caps to keep their heads covered as a safety measure. “They all have long hair and it is extremely risky to work with it,” says Yerme, “They have been told to keep [their hair] covered when they move out into the field.” The caps, however, are not large enough to shield them from the sun. Since they would be working outdoors for long periods, some confess to making Fair & Lovely face cream an essential part of their vanity kit. In all, MSEDCL has 7,000 men and women on its line staff. Training for the job is either imparted at the main training centre in Nashik or at regional centres in Amravati, Sangli, Aurangabad and Nashik (which has a smaller unit too). All these centres are training exclusive women’s batches at the moment. For 32-year-old Amita Sanase, a mother of two, this is her second job, the first be-

ing that of a lawyer. After an electrician’s diploma and an apprenticeship with the Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corp, Amita decided to study Law. She practised as a junior lawyer on civil and criminal cases and had set her heart on a private practice. That was until her husband Sandeep chanced upon an online application form on the MSEDCL website. “He told me about it only after I was [shortlisted],” she says, “He encouraged me to go for the interview and was very happy when I got the job.” She is keen to start climbing electricity poles as soon as she can. Every member of the line staff needs to undergo—and clear—a five-day field training module before being allowed to climb poles. Since the job demands physical endurance, all climbers, regardless of gender, are taught the importance of weight maintenance (even though overweight workers are kept on the rolls). The safety instructions are strict, since a single mistake could prove fatal. Then there are other perils too. Snapping off power supply, for example, is a particular challenge in rural areas. Here, supply has to be cut off from transformers and electricity poles, and the linesmen who do it are sometimes attacked. Now with lineswomen assigned the task, their safety would need to be assured to the extent possible. As an employee welfare measure, the company has instituted a special redressal cell to look into any work related problems faced by them. “We have tried to anticipate as many issues as possible,” says Dutonde, “But there could be something we have not expected. We will learn as we go.” Amita does not fear the perils of her job. She says she is confident that the company’s management will not shirk its responsibility for its employees’ safety. The men on the company’s staff, meanwhile, are not altogether sure that it is a good idea to have lineswomen doing a job that only they have done all these years. Some say that it is a good move on the company’s part. Many feel that women should be allotted desk rather than field jobs. Even with precautions, a few of them argue, there could be trouble with snapping off power supply. They are waiting and watching. After some experience of the job, they feel, the sahayaks themselves will want to shift to the safety of indoor work. n 18 November 2013

Pavan Khegre/express archives

early lead Vijay Zol, the captain of India’s U-19 team

s p ot l i g h t

Betting Big Hari Zol brought up his sons as athletes. One of them, Vijay, has given up school and is ready for top-level Indian cricket Sai Prasad Mohapatra Jalna


ain has mellowed the harshness of summer in Jalna. It’s an overcast afternoon. The weather is usually around 45º celsius in this drought-hit region. On this day, it is below 25º. Jalna is suddenly looking habitable. We are at Sahyog Nagar on Ambad Road, an area dotted with private bungalows. Most of Jalna’s nouveau-riche live here. Soon, we hear the thud of cricket ball against bat. The sound seems to come from an ivory-coloured bungalow named Vijay. The bungalow belongs to Hari Zol. His son, Vijay Zol, India’s under-19 captain, an under-19 World Cup winner and who recently scored a double hundred on his Ranji debut, is knocking away on a concrete pitch in the middle of the bungalow’s manicured lawn.

18 November 2013

The bowlers are not in whites. They seem more like friends than bowlers. But the practice doesn’t lack in intensity. The boys are in jeans or track pants, but all of them wear half-spike half-rubber studs. And they release the ball from a distance of 17 yards instead of the customary 22. Hari Zol, Vijay’s elder brother Vikram and coach Raju Kane sit on plastic chairs closely following Vijay’s practice. Why a concrete wicket at home? “Viju does not get to face quality seamers in Jalna. I’ve made this cement pitch so that he gets batting practice from a shorter distance of 15 to 17 yards,” says Hari Zol, also Vijay’s mentor. There’s something about the left-handed Vijay. He has a natural feel of the ball. The

crunching drives, meaty pulls and the occasional bunt produce a sonic ‘tok’ sound that echoes around the neighbourhood. Vijay is not a born southpaw; his father turned him into one. “David Gower was my idol. Not just him, all lefties look so elegant—Sourav Ganguly, Brian Lara, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina…,” says Hari Zol, who is a top criminal lawyer in Jalna. His analysis of cricket is as incisive as his famed legal acumen. Vijay visits Jalna for breathers. He was there after leading India’s U-19 team to a 2-0 win over Sri Lanka U-19 in three-day games. He is there now, after his impressive Ranji debut against Tripura. His kit remains packed, as he rarely stays home long. He usually leaves in three or four days for some cricket engagement or anopen 39

other. Vijay was in some form in Sri Lanka: 467 runs in five matches with two tons. In the Ranji Trophy, Vijay made a mature unbeaten double century against Tripura in Pune. In addition, he is the captain of India’s U-19 team. As Vijay’s friends mill around at home and Hari Zol vets invitations for felicitations, Kane, who has been training Vijay since he was five, speaks about his ward’s move to captaincy. “Forget state or junior cricket, he never led a team even at the club level. [But] he had the latent qualities to be a leader. He’s analytical, amiable and courageous. So managing players came naturally to him.” Vijay himself didn’t find the switch to captaincy difficult. “I spoke to my teammates about who we are and why we are playing for India. I grasped everyone’s strengths and utilised them in real match scenarios. The point is, you are respected when you perform yourself,” says Vijay, who entertains his clutch of friends by showing them video grabs of his recent hundreds against Sri Lanka on his laptop. He reached one of those tons with a six.


enior Zol exposed both his sons,

Vikram and Vijay, to various sports at an early age: cricket, karate, table tennis, athletics, swimming and horse riding. The last of these may seem an anomaly, but it runs in the family. Since his childhood, Vijay has been trained to push his body. And it showed in every sport he played. Be it swimming, boxing, table tennis or running, he would bring home the winner’s trophy. Their wall cabinet cannot lie—crowded as it is by an assortment of 40 odd trophies. Every sport contributed to his development as a cricketer. “Karate gave strength to my arms, table tennis improved by hand-eye coordination and swimming kept me fit,” Vijay says. “Winning is all that matters to him,” says his brother Vikram, “It’s in his name, Vijay, which means ‘victory’. He would shut himself from everything if he lost a match and wouldn’t talk until he started winning again.” When a 14-year-old Vikram defeated a 9-year-old Vijay in an intra-district table tennis final once, Vikram graciously conceded the trophy as his brother broke down. The senior Zol’s slight frame, dense 40 open

elegant twist Vijay is not a born southpaw; his father turned him into one Ian Hitchcock-ICC/getty images

beard and spectacles complete the brooding picture of a lawyer who chooses words carefully. The registration number of his Toyota Innova, 302, is a giveaway of his passion for law; Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code covers murder. Zol slips between cricket and law with ease. Cricket gives him a break from sifting through his stack of client files. And he loves talking cricket, speaking of ‘backlift’, ‘balanced stance’, ‘still head’, ‘trigger movement’, ‘back and across’, ‘bat swing’ and other such nuances of the game when he is not making notes for the next day’s hearing in court. The Zol household is a mix of conviviality and regimentation. Vijay’s friends are often welcomed with home-cooked food such as jhunka bhakar and puran poli. The practices and values of Maharashtrian culture are evident. But discipline is nonnegotiable. Hari Zol set the house rules many years ago. It’s ‘goodnight’ by 9.30 pm and ‘good morning’ at 5.30 am. Only home food is permitted.


ijay could possibly have played

any sport, but chose cricket. He met Coach Kane at a huge barren Railway

ground, the only playable area in the district—one that has a decent wicket, and that too, a matted one. “He had a solid defensive technique, and to add to that, he was aggressive,” says Kane, who, besides being Maharashtra’s junior selector, has been running Kane Cricket Academy at the Railway ground for over 25 years. “Balanced stance, head steady and minimal backlift, he would generate power from a strong forearm,” he says, “Just watch his short-arm jab, which is a quick whip at the point of contact.” Most of the posters in Vijay’s bedroom are of lefties, with Brian Lara, Michael Hussey, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina his favourites. His own rise in junior cricket, though, has been Bradmanesque: Vijay scored 860 runs in eight U-16 matches for Maharashtra and 1,607 in nine U-19 games for the state. Even the story of how he got into the spotlight is strikingly similar to that of the great Australian. Donald Bradman was a scorer for the Bowral team, which was captained by his uncle George Whatman. Once, they happened to be a player short. Whatman pencilled Bradman in and he responded with scores of 34 not out and 29 not out. Something similar happened 18 November 2013

in a nondescript corner of Jalna. Deepak Mehtre, former U-17 captain of Maharashtra, recalls, “Viju would sit quietly and watch us play. He may have been around 12 then and we were all above 20. One day, we were a player short. We asked him, he agreed to open the innings and top scored with 40.” Oblivious of the Bradman story, Deepak says, “Viju will play for India one day”.


ike many other batsmen starting out, Vijay suffered the ‘get out in the 30s and 40s syndrome’. “He started off in the middle-order,” says Kane, “we made him open as he played positively and dominated the attack. He would fritter away starts. But constant self-talk helped him get over the habit and he was back to scoring big again.” Vijay says, “I knew I had all the shots, so I limited myself to playing in the ‘V’, dropped the hook and started watching the ball more closely.” Having unlocked that mental barrier, he hit a mammoth unbeaten 451 against Assam in the under-19 Cooch Behar trophy in December 2011. While most in their ninth grade are not sure where life will take them, Vijay had found his calling in cricket. One day, he dropped a bombshell at home. “I will pursue cricket, no studies,” he told his folks. Hari Zol took a day to come to terms with the decision. Vijay’s mother, Chanda, took longer. “My mother is my everything,” says Vijay, “She chaperoned me to school every day, attended parents’ meets, arranged tuitions. My father has never been to my school. When I decided to quit studies, she was concerned about the risks involved. But slowly, she came around.” Hari Zol backed Vijay’s decision. No more studies. He would have to give himself completely to the sport. Vijay dropped out of school after his class nine exam. “I have no regrets,” Hari Zol says unapologetically. “Conventional education offers you a mere degree, but the lessons of life can be learnt without one… My father was a wrestler, but I didn’t play any sport. At least I made sure that both my sons took up cricket. If not in cricket, I am sure Vijay will do well otherwise in life, be it in business, politics or whatever he chooses.” Vijay seems in agreement with his father: “I may have stopped pursuing my

18 November 2013

studies, but I am still learning about another subject, which is no less [a pursuit]. Cricket is my qualification.” Hari Zol denies being a tyrannical cricket father in the Yograj Singh mould. “I had faith in his ability, I have only told him about life, karma, philosophies, relating them with cricket, not much on the technicalities of the game. I have left that to Kane Sir. I haven’t watched him play matches yet, because I don’t want to put pressure on him. But I follow his progress. I ask him what shots he played, how he got out, etcetera. He speaks to me before he leaves for his matches.” Whatever destiny has to offer his son, he adds, he would accept.


uring IPL 2011, Vijay had his first brush with cricket’s A-listers. The starry-eyed youngster had a chance meeting with Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag and AB De Villiers when he was part of

Vijay has been trained to push his body. Be it swimming, boxing, table tennis or running, he would always bring home the winner’s trophy the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s development squad. De Villiers gave him some friendly advice : “Don’t try to be like me or Virat, try not to be somebody else, you are good enough, so you have come this far. Your strength is your identity.” Identity. The word has different connotations in India. Cricketers from the country’s backwaters have to toil doubly hard to get noticed. “The lack of facilities here is a motivation for me,” Vijay says. “We know that there will be limited opportunities for us and we will have to grab every chance that comes our way. We can’t afford excuses.” Ashish Deshmukh, Vijay’s best friend and a medium pacer for Maharashtra, shares a tale. “Once we went to a Ganapati mela in Jalna where a few celebrities, like singers Sukhwinder Singh and Abhijit Sawant, were guests,” he recounts, “We had no passes. When we tried to gatecrash, the guard shooed us away, saying

entries were restricted to VIPs. Viju vowed, ‘One day I will be invited here as a VIP’. In 2012, India won the U-19 World Cup. Viju, who was part of the team, was invited as the chief guest of that annual festival.”


ricket consumes Vijay, but he finds his own release when he’s not belting the ball. The thrill-seeker in him surfaces and pushes out the otherwise calm Vijay. Like some of his peers, he has a parallel life in the fast lane. He finds speed irresistible. His 600-cc Hyosung bike rumbles through Jalna’s dusty pothole-ridden bylanes. You wonder if the roads do justice to the bike’s power. Still, he has managed a personal best of 160 kmph. It’s natural that Vikram is reluctant to go pillion with him, although Vikram insists that he rides safely. At the other end of the spectrum, Vijay enjoys nature. He redeems himself at Devi Dehgaon, a family farmhouse located 70 km from Jalna. The journey there is liberating in itself. We witness the intercropping of Rabi and Kharif crops, shoots of sugarcane bowing to the wind, deer bouncing over green fields, and a wide assortment of fruit—chikoo, custard apple, corn and sweet lime—spread across 70 acres of farmland.  Vijay and his friends visit the farmhouse regularly for an act of aquatic bonding. Down to their swim trunks, they pledge friendship at a huge well that is 50 feet wide and 80 feet deep. The dive has variations; the minimum splash is from a height of 30 feet. Other than that, “I come here to relax and do farming, swimming, diving and horse riding,” says Vijay, parting his dishevelled hair. “I supervise crops, milk cows, play with my dogs and spent time with the elders of this village.” Being with nature gives him peace, he says.  Jalna is famous for its seeds, being home to Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd, apart from steel making units and sweet lime farms. It seems ironic how often it makes the news with reports of droughts and farmer suicides. According to the Maharashtra law and order department, the district reported 435 farmer suicides in 2011. In Vijay, however, Jalna has something rather more uplifting to talk about. n open 41

i m ag e

Eye, Me, Myself What selfies say about people Aastha Atray Banan


aloni Dahake says that while

most of her selfies are byproducts of boredom, they all mean something. “People are more than the clothes they wear, books they read or movies they watch,” says the 22-year-old stylist who likes to put up selfies on her Facebook page, “It’s about their philosophy of life. My seflies are about different traits of me. They are shot differently and they are about my prized possessions. They are me.” One of Dahake’s selfies, self-shot on a webcam, has been taken with the camera in shutter mode, which allows a play with light as the shutter stays open for longer than usual. It creates a picture that merges two different frames of her face. Another selfie, shot in a bathroom at a party where everyone was smoking, has cigarette smoke wafting over her face. Yet another, shot from above, showcases the big bindi on her forehead. She has many selfies with her cat as well, her current obsession. “I don’t like the word ‘selfie’ because I feel it doesn’t justify what I do,” she says, “I never hashtag [denoted by # to group together similar pictures] my pictures for the same reason. It’s not just about pouting at the camera at a party. It’s artistic, it’s about doing something differently, and it’s about showing the world who you really are. It’s about inspiration, it’s not fake.” According to Wikipedia, ‘selfie’ was coined by Jim Krause, an American photographer and logo designer who has worked with Microsoft and Kodak, in 2005; Time magazine called it a top buzzword in 2012; and it found place in the online Oxford English Dictionary this year. Though selfies are a rage of the cellphone and social media era, they have arguably been around since the invention of cameras with self timers. It could even be said that the acclaimed painter Frieda Kahlo, known for her self-portraits, was a selfietaker. It’s just that self-portraiture as a genre of art was once the preserve of trained artists. Ever since Facebook, Instagram and phone cameras, it has become commonplace. Great hair day? Take a selfie. Butt looks great in a bikini? Take a ‘belfie’. Boyfriend looks like Brad Pitt? Got a cat with a mood swing? Bored and want to take a picture of that pimple me and my traits For Saloni Dahake, a selfie is about showing the world who you really are

18 November 2013

on your nose? Take a selfie. As photographer and selfienthusiast Ishaan Nair says, “It’s always about projecting an image to someone else—it’s about you making your life good. But the sad thing is that real life never matches up.” Nair, 28, was in Leh recently. His bathroom had a window that overlooked an orchard. “I looked at it and was like, ‘I wish I was with someone beautiful, so that I could take a picture.’ Then I said to myself, ‘I am pretty beautiful’.” And so he propped his camera on some tissue boxes by the bathroom sink and took a series of selfies. “It is about vanity. It’s about showcasing the best side of you as you know your face best. My selfies or self portraits are about my idea of the world and me in the world. My work always has undertones of sexuality, sensuality and duality, so I take many semi-nudes and nudes as well. It’s about me expressing myself.” He remembers a time earlier this year, when work was not going all that well (he is a fashion photographer), that he would scroll through Instagram and look at people’s ‘supposedly’ fabulous lives. “I would tell my girlfriend, ‘Everyone is working, everyone is having fun.’ And then she’d be like, ‘Why would you think that? That’s just a picture from one second of their lives. Even if they are sitting with a cocktail on a beach, they are going to work in an auto on Monday to a really shitty office.’ Everything looks good [through] a filter. It has made us sadder, as our Facebook accounts or Insta accounts make our life look better than it actually is.” Selfies, nonetheless, are a way of reaching out to the world, he feels, and that could always help someone. “If you put an emotional picture where you look sad, someone will call and say, ‘Hey, I saw your Insta… all good?’ Maybe you just need that.” The selfie also has the stamp of celebrity approval. Miley Cyrus likes to take them naked and with her tongue out, Rihanna likes to flaunt her red lips and assets as she looks straight into the lens, Kim Kardashian likes to keep it simple and just pout, Justin Bieber likes to look all dreamy, Nicki Minaj is a riot and doesn’t hold back on the expressions, and Lena Dunham is all about self-deprecatory humour (she shows us a stained shirt and quips about her inability to wear nice clothes). Here in India, Sonam Kapoor loves to give people a peep into

her life with selfies that include her without make-up and doing everyday things like Pilates, and Priyanka Chopra likes taking pictures of herself as she travels the world as a pop star.


he art of taking a selfie is subjective: you can do whatever you want since it’s about you as the centre of attention. There is the sexy selfie, with clothing optional, and looking like you’ve just orgasmed, a necessity. There is the my-lifeis-better-than-yours selfie, which must include lots of friends, glasses of wine and a party/beach/mountain/yacht. Then there are the subtle selfies, like the ones taken after you’ve just woken up that let the world know you are beautiful at a moment they look like monsters. And, of course, the not-so-subtle selfies, like the ones taken at the gym with your flat stomach or six-pack doing all the talking. Though Nair calls the selfie a vain pursuit that can leave you unhappier, there are many who believe it’s a way of making yourself feel beautiful. Freelance stylist Josie Paris’ Facebook picture shows her and her bright red hair gazing at the camera. She looks happy and content. “I feel sexy,” she says. And when her pictures online get ‘likes’ and comments, she feels validated. “I actually feel like I am a powerful woman. A ‘like’ on my picture gives me the boost I need.” She takes around five selfies a day and says that she has never thought it has made her vain. “It just makes me love myself.” Publicist Parikshat N Wadhwani’s Insta account is full of selfies. We spot one that he took early in the morning in front of a mirror. “There was great light falling on my face, so I said ‘why not?’ I took a picture, Insta collaged it [it has a double image] and put it up. My selfies are all about my moods… if I am sad, happy. They showcase my emotions.” Most of his selfies are impromptu, says Wadhwani. As he travels down a lift from the 31st floor of a skyscraper after a meeting, for example, he might while away time by checking himself out and taking selfies on his phone. “There is a fine line between trying too hard and being cool about it,” he says, “For me, it’s all about confidence.” His love of the seflie has a simple explanation: “Sixty years from now, I will look back at my Facebook account and know exactly what I felt at that minute. It’s a memory, isn’t it?” n open 45

between the sheets

A Momentous Request Never trust a sentence that begins with ‘Baby’ sonali khan


couple of months ago, the boyfriend and I had of action and rehearsed his piece. I could feel the wheels an important conversation. I was lying on the sofa of his mind turning, going over the bullet points. I reading my book and he was watching The Godfather couldn’t think of a single good reason to say ‘no’, so I defor the gazillionth time, when suddenly, he started mas- cided to salvage what I could of the situation. saging my feet. That should have been my first warning “Fine, I’ll do it. But I need some time,” I said, rapidly because, usually, I have to cut all kinds of deals—taking thinking of my own plan of action. All the meetingover driving duty, relinquishing grocery shopping privi- the-parents scenarios I had ever seen in pop culture leges and unspeakable boudoir promflashed before my eyes as I agreed MATT HERRING/Getty Images ises—for foot massages. to the prospect with all the enthusi“Baby?” he murmured, “I need to ask asm of a prisoner on death row being you something.” asked to tea with the executioner. I The second he uttered “baby” I knew thought of the collective wisdom of something terrible had happened. Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine, Shah Rukh Khan and Amrish Puri, We’re not a honey-baby-jaan kind of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, couple. I hate being lumped under geJennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, Monica neric relationship tags. I like hearing and Chandler, Lily and Marshall the sound of my name. I like that he and shuddered. I suddenly understood says it in a way just slightly different why all my friends—every last one— from the way others do. An outsider who had experienced the rigours of can’t tell the difference, but we know. Prefacing statements with “baby” is our arranged marriage, had come out of way of preparing each other for bad the experience at least five kilos lighter. news, like “Baby, it’s possible I may have Who can survive multiple rounds of forgotten the tickets at home,” or “Baby, meetings with many different sets that dress isn’t very flattering.” of parents without throwing up in fits “Yes?” I said cautiously, sitting up. of panic? There was silence, while he continued “How much time?” He asked, obsceneto rub my feet with vigour. I flirted with ly overjoyed at having won so easily. the idea of letting him finish the massage before prompt“At least until Diwali.” ing him to continue, but curiosity got the better of me. At that time, Diwali had seemed so far away that it was “Go on…” easy to ignore the inevitable. But time does this weird “Don’t freak out, okay?” thing, flying past at twice its regular speed, especially Worst opening statement ever. Because, like clockwork, when hurtling towards an exam you haven’t prepared for. my imagination conjured a list of worst-case scenarios to And so, last week, Diwali snuck up on us and the Devil choose from. There were the usual—he’s cheated on me, came to collect. he wants out, he’s moving to some far corner of the earth, Anyone who’s ever had to do it knows that meeting the he’s going to tell me he’s broke—and the unusual—he’s parents is a scary prospect at the best of times. It’s a huncontracted some horrible STD and he’s given it to me too, dred times more so when your relationship is a riddle in he wants out because I’m too demanding, he’s joined the Hindu-Muslim spectrum. “Please God—if you exist—just don’t let them be Modi some religious cult and taken a vow of celibacy, he’s supporters,” I prayed fervently as we exited the car to ensecretly a gambler and needs me to pay off loan sharks. ter the boyfriend’s childhood home. “Baby, will you please just tell me?” I thundered. He did. And I wish he’d picked one from my usual or un“Ready?” he asked and I instantly wanted to punch his usual worst-case scenarios. face while simultaneously throwing up. “I want you to meet my parents.” And then he unlocked the door. n I now know the meaning of deafening silence. Sonali Khan was holding on to her virtue, “But… But… But….” I sputtered. and then she fell in love...with several men. “But what?” he asked firmly, almost like he was ready She drinks whisky, not Cosmopolitan for an argument. Clearly, the bugger had come with a plan

Meeting the parents is scary, more so if you’re on opposite sides of the AyodhyaGodhra spectrum

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18 November 2013

life & letters


avalanche Rhythm House survives the odds 56

Don’t Hold Your Breath


O p e n s pa c e

Shahid Kapoor Deepika Padukone


n p lu

Krrish 3 Ender’s Game

63 Cinema reviews

iPhone 5S Big Bang Ferrari All Black Jabra Solemate Mini


Tech & style

Why Dogs Wag Their Tails Child-Centric Parents Happier Seeing in the Dark



Kunal Nayyar



Rhythm House



Mumbai Moderns

a rt s

Rebranding Feminism

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nick purser/getty images

life & letters

Glossy Coat The feminist movement may have its problems, but they can’t be solved by a fashion magazine makeover Gunjeet Sra


bout a month ago, Elle UK re-

vealed its plan to ‘rebrand’ feminism. Advertising agencies Wieden+Kennedy, Mother and Brave were paired with feminist web magazines The Vagenda, Feminist Times and ‘teenage campaigner’ Jinan Younis, respectively, to come up with three ‘rebranding’ campaigns, which were then featured in Elle’s November issue. A note on its website announcing the project began: ‘The conversation about feminism, what it means and more importantly, what it means to you, is one that runs continually at the Elle HQ.’ The editors at Elle would have us believe they were so worried about perceptions of feminism that they felt compelled to come to its rescue by changing its ‘image’, which had become ‘burdened with complications and negativity.’ “Feminism is an important issue for Elle readers,” Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Candy was quoted as saying. “But we’ve learnt, through engagement with our readers via our website and social media, that young women are confused as to what it means and whether it is relevant to them… Now the major political parties are desperate for the female vote, I wondered if presenting a new face of feminism may encourage women to think about their rights and what they need in society today. I believe debate is the key and we are in a unique position to reach the very audience feminism should be helping.” The collaboration between Brave and Younis, who was bullied at school for trying to start a feminist society, re-

18 November 2013

sulted in a flowchart designed to encourage people to identify themselves as feminist. Part of the copy at the bottom reads: ‘Feminism is the radical belief that women are people.’ The Mother-Feminist Times collaboration commands women to ask their male counterparts what they get paid if they are doing the same job, while the W+K-Vagenda campaign prompts them to challenge societal stereotypes by completing the sentence ‘I am a woman and…’ Though the ads may not be breakthroughs in terms of their insights and execution, they do manage to address important issues. Yet there has been a largely negative reaction to the exercise in feminist circles, which deem the exercise frivolous and superficial. The main point of contention is whether a movement can be rebranded at all. And if it can, is a magazine that trades in ideas of unrealistic beauty and consumerism in a position to conduct such a rebranding, considering that the movement in question largely rejects what such a magazine stands for?


ost Western feminist histori-

ans assert that all movements that work to obtain women’s rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they do not use the term themselves. The term ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist’ first appeared in France and the Netherlands in 1872. By 1895, it had made its way into Britain and the Oxford English Dictionary. At the time, it was used as a synonym for the wom-

en’s rights movement that had sprung up in France and was slowly gaining momentum in the rest of the world. By the 18th century, philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, Marquis de Condorcet and Mary Wollstonecraft were championing the rights of women and had made it the subject of a relevant political discourse. But it was only in the late 19th and early 20th century, when women began organising themselves into a movement, that the subject moved beyond debate. This movement was defined by demands for social and political equality and came to be known as the feminist movement. Now known as the ‘first wave’ of feminism, it focused on overturning legal inequalities, mainly of suffrage. During the second wave between the 1960s and 80s the debate broadened to include cultural inequalities, gender norms and the role of women in society. In the late 70s feminists began taking on issues of sexuality, pornography and prostitution, which polarised opinion and divided the movement. These debates, known as the ‘feminist sex wars’, caused the movement to fragment and are cited as a reason for the decline of the second wave. The third wave of feminism does not seem to exist when compared to the large mass movements of its past. It is more a catch-all term for a period featuring diverse strains of feminist activity, seen as both a continuation of the second wave and a response to its perceived failures. For the past two decades, feminism has struggled to stay relevant, both to the world and the open 49

women it seeks the allegiance of. Like any movement, feminism has, over time, evolved past its initial definition, beyond a simple call for equality, influenced by a plethora of factors, from changing times to localisation, resulting in a rather fragmented cause with no clear direction. New challenges have emerged, but the movement is experiencing a flagging of momentum as it lacks resonance with a younger, apolitical generation that is tired of the term ‘feminism’ and all that is associated with it. Last year Kareena Kapoor gasped in horror when a journalist asked her if she was a feminist. “No! I am not. I am a humanitarian instead,” she quipped. Feminism is now commonly understood to be uncool, endorsed only by the Rosie O’Donnells of the world or old English literature professors who seem so misplaced in today’s world. Feminists are often depicted in popular culture as aggressive, unreasonable man-haters, stereotypes that are then cycled through social media, resulting in a general atmosphere of ‘feministshaming’. This results in young women rejecting feminism as not only uncool, but also irrelevant. Unlike their predecessors, these women were born with basic rights, a sense of security and purchasing power in a relatively tolerant world. They do not understand the need to do away with beauty stereotypes, to fight for economic equality or the history and politics of the movement— simply because they were born in the 80s and the 90s and grew up on the fringes of the so-called third wave in a world made to believe that sexual liberation is the only true form of liberation available to them, with role models like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna (or Katrina Kaif). Despite their daily struggles with patriarchy in their personal and public lives, these young women continue to feel free because they don’t feel physically bound. The idea of true intellectual freedom does not even occur to most of them because they are unaware of their own limitations. Classic cases of the Marxist-feminist theory of ‘false consciousness’, unaware of the ways their behaviour is influenced by the system in which they function. In 1991, Naomi Wolf argued that as women gain social power and prominence, they are under pressure to ad50 open

here to arbitrary physical standards of beauty. In her book The Beauty Myth, she introduces the subject with this analysis: ‘The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us... During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing [medical] specialty... More wom-

A movement is always messy and so much of what feminism set out to f ight for is still

only half achieved. Establishments like Elle would claim it as their own simply because women form a majority of their

consumer base. Can you imagine a generation of women calling themselves

'feminists' based on an advertisement they saw in a fashion magazine?

en have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our un-liberated grandmothers.’


he problem with Elle’s rebranding exercise lies primarily in the fact that the ‘feminism’ being sold by the magazine is far removed from the violence and struggle of much of the movement’s history. In its attempt to

give feminism a makeover and find it a new audience, the magazine is conveniently ignoring serious feminists and their work for the movement. It is appealing instead to an audience that is at odds with the ideals of the movement—that of challenging gender and beauty norms. The very norms that magazines like Elle celebrate and their audiences revere. The attempt is to take a movement that was mainly about rights and sell it as a brand with a tagline. A movement is almost always a battle and it is always messy and so much of what feminism set out to fight for is still only half achieved. Establishments like Elle would claim it as their own simply because women form a majority of their consumer base. Can you imagine a generation of women calling themselves ‘feminists’ based on an advertisement they saw in a fashion magazine? Having said that, these efforts needn’t be all bad if they draw the conversation about what feminism reallyis into mainstream discourse. Attitudes towards the cause can slowly change if discussions about rape culture, reproductive rights and gender gaps are opened up on unexpected platforms. There would then be no need for a rebranding to turn the movement into something pretty and easy to sell. If feminism does need something, it definitely isn’t rebranding. It needs educated, aware young women with the confidence to defend their choices, willing to move beyond the obsession with the pretty-and-trendy and out of the glossy pages of a fashion magazine. In her essay Conditions for Work, poet and feminist Adrienne Rich wrote: ‘If we conceive feminism as more than a frivolous label, if we conceive of it as an ethics and a methodology, a more complex way of thinking about, and thus more responsibly acting upon, the conditions of human life, we need a self-knowledge which can only develop through a steady, passionate attention to all female experience.’ Feminism is not something you can put on a badge or a T-shirt. It does not come with a rigid set of guidelines. It is self-knowledge, something that you identify with and live with for the rest of your life. It is an ideology that determines the way you live; not a consumable good. Without its context, it is just a word. n 18 November 2013


photos ritesh uttamchandani

City of Moderns A new exhibition brings together works by all 13 of the ballsy youngsters who formed Bombay’s Progressive Artists’ Group Shaikh Ayaz


here is a popular story about Tyeb Mehta that is often told at art openings amid the clatter of wine glasses and numerous servings of cheese, especially by art scholars in sleeveless Nehru jackets who can tell their Tyebs from Bacons: in 1947, a 22-year-old Tyeb witnessed a man being brutally stoned to death on Bombay’s bustling Mohammed Ali Road. This incident had such an impact on him that violence became

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a recurring motif in his work, nowhere more apparent than in his macabre renderings of falling figures and trussed bulls. Like many fellow artists who migrated to the West, Tyeb went on to live in New York and London, before he moved to Santiniketan and then Delhi, where his wife Sakina supported him by taking up a job at an advertising agency. But it is Bombay, now Mumbai, that shaped his art. Tyeb Mehta’s great friend MF Husain,

home Delhi Art Gallery owns over 32,000 works of modern art, many of them Husains and Souzas

too, lived abroad for long stretches, most famously so as an artist in selfexile towards the end of his life. Yet, it is the Bombay of Irani chai and bunmaska that we associate Husain with. Incidentally, it was also in this very city—which artist FN Souza described in his 1959 book Words and Lines as a 18 november 2013

the spanking new Delhi Art Gallery, which has just opened in Mumbai’s art district of Kala Ghoda, not too far from the young artists’ favourite haunt of the time, Chetana Restaurant in Fort. “They were very poor, totally unknown... living in small spaces in the suburbs, they would travel long distances to meet in town,” says art critic Yashodhara Dalmia. Handsomely mounted, the exhibition celebrates the spirit of the Progressive Artists’ Group and its contribution to Indian art by lining up the works of all 13 artists who were directly or indirectly associated with the influential if short-lived movement. These include its founding members FN Souza, SH Raza, MF Husain, KH Ara, Sadanand Bakre and HA Gade, as also their associates Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, VS Gaitonde,

“Bombay is where the Progressive Artists’ Group created their earliest paintings. They lived elsewhere, but were born of a moment in Bombay when the city was buzzing”

city of ‘haggling coolies, numberless dirty restaurants run by Iranis, millions of clerks working clocklike in fixed routines’—that a group of likeminded young artists came together to form the Progressive Artists’ Group, regarded as India’s first modern movement in art. That was in 1947. Jump cut to 2013. An exhibition titled Mumbai Modern: Progressive Artists’ Group: 1947-2013 has been put up at 18 november 2013

Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Mohan Samant and Bal Chhabda. According to Kishore Singh, the gallery’s genial exhibition head, the show’s significance may be attributed to the fact that all 13 artists on display have “to my mind, never been shown together”. Says he, “For us, it was like curating a retrospective of the modernists.” Originally, Singh had intended an exhibition on the Bombay Presidency painters, chiefly from the Maharashtra region, but when Ashish Anand, the gallery’s director, suggested one on the Progressive Artists’ Group, Singh readily agreed. ‘The artists started out in Bombay,’ Anand writes in a 500page accompanying catalogue. ‘Many continued to paint when it became Mumbai. As we pause to look back at their careers from that momentous beginning to 2013, we can claim to have

bridged the length of their stride from Bombay to Mumbai without betraying their inheritance...’ The gallery couldn’t have started with a more relevant theme. “Bombay is where the Group created their earliest paintings,” Singh says, “They lived elsewhere, but they were born of a moment in Bombay when the city was buzzing and happening with its wonderful art deco buildings, cinema and theatre. There was that entire optimism and hope that arose from Independence and art somewhere became such a significant part of it.” The Group rejected the prevalent trends of pre-Independence art, including those practised by the School of Bengal and the British academic style of painting taught at government art colleges, and “broke every norm and ideology in emerging India and created its own language” in Singh’s words.


he Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) boasts

over 32,000 works of modern art, “all owned by the gallery,” says Singh. Given such a sizable collection, it was tough selecting “which paintings to display and which to omit”. The gallery houses a vast collection of Husains and Souzas, among others. Not all of them are equally good. “Of course, nobody wants to show weak works in an exhibition because when you buy, you usually do so in bulk and therefore you end up picking mediocre works along with great ones,” Singh says, walking us around the three-storey gallery, housed in a heritage building that took a year-and-a-half of restoration. “There are works here that are absolute masterpieces and you know it when you see them,” he says, referring to Souza’s 1962 oil-on-canvas Seated Nude, typical of the artist’s erotic female nudes with their direct gaze at the viewer, exaggerated breasts and frontal poses painted with furious black outlines and thick impasto. Souza, a member of the Communist party, was arguably the first Indian painter to have an impact in Europe. At DAG, the Goaborn artist is represented not just by his hallmark nudes but also landscapes, heads and still-lifes. open 53

Influenced by his Catholic upbringing, Souza combined religion and sex to create an iconoclastic body of work. According to Singh, his creative apogee was the 1950s and 60s. Souza spent the 1970s in New York, where he became a social recluse and developed—driven as much by a passion for experimentation as lack of money—his distinctive ‘chemical alternation works’, a transfer process in which he used a chemical solvent on printed paper. Critics consider this the most technically innovative phase of Souza’s career. By the 80s and 90s, as he grew old, alcoholic and even more obsessed with women, the quality of his work dropped drastically. Asked how experts can sift an artist’s best period from his worst, Singh says “[mainly] by observation”: “There is a general consensus among Souza experts that his best period was from the 1950s to 60s. The 1970s and 80s are good, but not as good. Tyeb’s later works are considered his best because by that time he had worked out a very strong language. Anyone who is part of the art world—writers, researchers and curators—tend to know this. And then, of course, you are guided by your eyes.” Souza, who famously announced after Pablo Picasso’s demise, “Now that Picasso is dead, I am the greatest”, was the driving force behind the Progressive Artists’ Group. “He was disgusted with the kind of art that used to be shown at the Bombay Art Society,” Dalmia says. “He felt that the time had come to form a group that would propel an alternative and parallel movement towards the kind of art that was being taught at institutes like the Sir JJ School of Art.” Souza himself was rusticated from Sir JJ School of Art for participating in the Quit India Movement of 1942. Trained as a Jesuit priest, he’d been expelled from high school for viewing pornographic images. The bad boy reputation would stalk him throughout his career. Dalmia says he was a “dynamic force” who encouraged fellow artists, particularly Husain. Starting out as a cinema billboard painter who later worked at a furniture store designing toys and furni54 open

peekaboo A child plays hide and seek while his parents view the exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery in Mumbai

ture, Husain was desperately poor: “A painter by night, under the lamplight,” as Dalmia puts it. Souza “singled him out” she says, inviting him to “join the group”. On display at the gallery are several of Husain’s early works, including sketches, cut-outs and oil paintings of medium format. If Souza has his divine Mother and Child (1961), Husain draws comfort from another maternal figure, Mother Teresa. Husain’s bi-

ographers have pointed out his fondness of painting women without faces because he didn’t have any memory of his mother Zainab. That’s what he does with Mother Teresa; his blackwhite-and-grey watercolour series conveys the saint’s identity with a blue band running through her sari folds. These, along with his other sketches— even those of horses and the playful Ganeshas that are often dismissed as 18 november 2013

Husain cliché—prove his mastery over line and movement. Unlike Husain’s, SH Raza’s watercolours are detailed and painterly. They depict landscapes, river banks, market scenes and villagers at work. Pointing to an acrylic work titled Witness/ Darshak, Singh says, “Raza painted that over 22 years. I suspect it started like a carpet on which he would test his paints and brushes. It became his companion. He calls it ‘Eye Witness’. It must have stayed with him so long that perhaps when he was moving out of Paris, he must have looked at it, and rather than leaving it unfinished, completed it as a painting.” On the first floor of the gallery hangs a luminous Akbar Padamsee landscape of 1964 that anticipates his latter-day Metascapes—what the artist calls ‘landscapes of the mind’. The shy Tyeb who died in 2009 is represented by a charcoal sketch and his 1973 oil-on-canvas Blue Torso with a distressed female figure. Once a film editor, Tyeb was also a ruthless selfeditor who destroyed more paintings than he unveiled to the world. This is why even a squiggle by him is prized so highly by art collectors. The exhibition also offers glimpses of abstractionist Ram Kumar’s stellar paintings, especially of his Banaras period. Kumar started off as a figurative artist, whose figures stood out sharply against a backdrop of isolation and gloom. However, in 1961, he went on a sketching expedition to Banaras with Husain, a trip that the latter described years later as thus: “Every night, I used to scribble on paper my impressions of the day. Ram used to get so annoyed with the sound of scribbling that he couldn’t sleep. I was there exactly for fifteen days and I left, saying, ‘Ram, now you please take care of Banaras’.” Kumar stayed on and worked rigorously on the Ganga ghats. Fellow abstractionist J Swaminathan once said that Kumar’s Banaras landscape “lifts one out of the toil of the moment [and places one] into the timeless world of formless memories”. The meditative forces of Kumar’s paintings lend credence to his declaration: “I want to find the same peace that mystics found.” 18 november 2013

Another pivotal work on view is Krishen Khanna’s wall-sized Suspense at Last Supper from his 1980s output. It’s a ‘special’ work, says Singh: “The interesting element in it is that other than the 13 people, he has introduced a fourteenth figure—the little boy Chhotu from the dhaba. Although he is serving them, he could well be you or me, observing the scene as an outsider.” Khanna, who used to copy Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper from a reproduction brought home by his father, painted several versions of Jesus’ last meal with his Apostles.


hough Singh has no favourites from the vast collection, Anand doesn’t hesitate in declaring his passion for Souzas and Husains. “I have Souza even in my bathroom,” he says,

Apart from Husain, Raza and Souza, DAG presents works by the less-known artists Ara, Gade and Bakre, who Singh feels “our country has often overlooked with sheer callousness” “There is not a single wall in my house that doesn’t have art.” Apart from the Husains, Razas and Souzas, the gallery presents works by less-known artists of the group, namely Ara, Gade and Bakre, who Singh feels “our country has often overlooked with sheer callousness.” Gade, he says, was a “great colourist” and was so acknowledged by his peers. Bakre, who painted only when he couldn’t afford material to sculpt, came into his own as a sculptor. A personal tragedy struck when Bakre’s German wife eloped with his younger brother, a shock he never recovered from. At a rare exhibition in 1997, an embittered Bakre lashed out at his colleagues of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Lonely and commercially unsuccessful, he retired to Maharashtra’s Konkan belt and was barely heard of, eventually dy-

ing in “near penury” as Singh says. Ara’s life and career traced an altogether different trajectory. Singh describes him as a “generous man.” He was not interested in money and ensured that his art was sold at the lowest possible price. “He was always giving his money away to friends,” Singh says. Starting out as a car cleaner and houseboy, Ara was encouraged to paint by The Times of India’s art critic Rudy von Leyden. Unlettered and ill at ease with the ways of the world, Ara was once reportedly convinced in jest by Souza and Raza that Oriental women have “horizontal vaginas, not vertical ones”. Incidentally, the very nudes that Ara’s critics noted had mis-depicted female genitalia are now, along with his still-lifes, some of the most recognisable works of Indian modern art. Intriguingly, one of those nudes is price-tagged at Rs 35 lakh at the current exhibition. All these years, while Husain, Raza, Padamsee and Tyeb fetched millions of dollars at auctions worldwide, Ara, Bakre and Gade were cheap currency in contrast. But that could soon change. “Markets will go after them,” expects Singh, “Their works are going to get rarer and rarer.”


ny such exhibition always has a

commercial aim as well; and all the works are on sale. “It breaks my heart when a work sells,” says Singh, “but we are, at the end, a commercial gallery. We have to sustain ourselves.” Anand, who vividly remembers the excitement of his first buy— a Ramkinkar Baij watercolour he bought for Rs 35,000—says it’s greed that drives his acquisition of art. He means ‘greed’ in the positive sense: “The more I acquire, the more significant and comprehensive shows I can put together.” Passion and commitment are a must for anyone to get a collection together, but there is also a “business side” to it, says Anand: “Nobody is doing charity work here.” Asked where he displays his Baij watercolour today, he replies with a couple of crisp words. “Sold it.” n open 55


That Kala Ghoda Landmark How Mumbai’s iconic music store Rhythm House has survived the digital onslaught Sumana Ramanan


n a dark monsoon afternoon, a salesman at a high-ceiling music store in Mumbai discusses an upbeat fusion track with a customer. It’s from the latest album released by a band called Recharge, says Ateek Khan, 42, who is dressed in the store’s distinctive red half-sleeved shirt. Khan has worked here for 16 years and specialises in Indian classical, regional and devotional music. “When I joined, I did not know much about these genres,” he says, “Over the years, I have learnt a lot about them.” Three-quarters of a century after it first opened, Rhythm House is still in business. Knowledgeable salesmen and its cosy ambience are among the reasons that people all over Mumbai still schlepp to its famous Kala Ghoda outlet to buy music in physical format.


n this era of iTunes, the shop’s survival is an achievement in itself. Among the more recent casualties of the online wave was Music World, one of India’s biggest chains of music stores that pulled down its shutters in June after serving as a beloved destination for music lovers in many cities. As late as 2011, the chain had 100 outlets across the country. “Over the past few years, the onset of digitisation of music and shift in consumer preferences towards music and video downloads has rendered the business model unviable,” says Sanjay Gupta, head of marketing at the Kolkata-based RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, which owned the chain (and of which Open Media is a part). Planet M, a Mumbai-based chain started by the Times Group and now owned by Videocon Retail, has reworked its entire market addressal strategy to regain sales and profits, which hit a low in 2010. From a peak of 200 stores primarily devoted to music, 56 open

the chain now has 70 outlets, mainly in the big metros, selling toys, T-shirts, computer games and mobile phones, in addition to DVDs and select CDs of music. According to Sanjay Karwa, 45, the chain’s CEO, music sales have been in decline for three years. Independent music stores are faced with a fate no better. Hiro Music House, which had two outlets in Mumbai, shut its downtown outlet last year; it had closed its Bandra shop two years earlier. In other cities too, music stores are either transforming into gift shops and the like, or simply closing down. For a retail business that fought off the threat of piracy for decades, the blow delivered by online music over the past five years has been stunning. Mobile phone networks such as Airtel and Vodafone now make up a large chunk of all music distributed in India. According to Devraj Sanyal, 38, Managing Director for South Asia of Universal Music Group, the US-based music company, young music fans are pleased to subscribe to mobile phone services that bundle music along at nominal extra cost. Then there are direct downloads and stream-feeds off the internet, illegal or legal. Websites like Gaana, Saavn and Dhingana, which allow free streaming and downloads (for now), are hugely popular with youngsters, says Sanyal. Among foreign music sites, Apple’s iTunes has scored a huge success within just eight months of focusing attention on India with tracks sold online for as little as Rs 15 a pop. Spotify, which is looking to enter India, is expected to do well too. Even physical CDs are selling fast over the internet. By Sanyal’s estimate, online sales—including CDs and downloads—have been rising by 15-20 per cent every month for the past two years.


mid this digital wave, Sanyal, like thousands of others, continues to visit Rhythm House. “It is the only music store in India that I visit because I have been going there since I was four years old,” he says. “Even today, it’s a sheer joy to stand in that store. But the next generation, consisting of preteens and those younger, want all the world’s music at the touch of a button, highly convenient to discover. They want it to be affordable and they want it on the go, to be portable. When their pricing power comes of age, physical formats are likely to die.” Until that dire day, however, Rhythm House carries on simply because its owners are committed to keeping it going. “All retailers are under pressure, having to compete with online sellers while paying high-street rents. Food is perhaps the only sector that is doing well,” says Mehmood Curmally, 52, managing director and second-generation owner of the store. “In music retailing, we have the additional problem of legal and illegal downloads. But although sales are declining, we are still profitable. I can’t move to selling clothes. Shutting shop is the last option. We’d like to be involved in this business for as long as possible.” Located at the head of Rampart Row, a street of galleries, restaurants and boutiques that branches off the arterial Mahatma Gandhi Road in South Mumbai, Rhythm House was founded in the late 1930s by Suleman Nensey, a friend of Curmally’s grandfather. His father then took over the shop, eventually handing the reins over to Mehmood. The store became a Mumbai landmark soon after it opened. For several generations of music lovers, no trip to Kala Ghoda was complete without browsing through the racks of Rhythm House and then savouring the purchas18 november 2013

brent lewin/bloomberg/getty images

curators too Visitors from abroad looking for Indian music buy CDs in large numbers and value the staff’s recommendations

es at Samovar, a café at Jehangir Art Gallery across the street. The store also features in Salman Rushdie’s 1999 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, a sort of alternative story of rock music largely set in Mumbai. The Curmallys knew most of their regular customers, who included musicians of genres ranging from pop to Hindustani, Bollywood stars such as Shammi Kapoor and even top lawyers—India’s Attorney General Ghoolam Vahanvati among them— who sought refuge in its aisles after arguing difficult cases in the nearby Bombay High Court. Yusuf Curmally, Mehmood’s uncle who worked at the store for years and now lives in Switzerland, remembers the actress Nargis, playback singer Kishore Kumar and music director Anil Biswas as regular patrons, and also recalls attending to sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and sitar exponents Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar. With such a robust retail heritage, the sentimental attachment that current and former Mumbai residents above a certain age harbour for Rhythm House has helped sustain its legend. “It is one of those Mumbai spaces that one would always recommend to music lovers and visitors to the city,” says Aneesh Pradhan, 48, an acclaimed tabla player. “My earliest memories of 18 november 2013

the place go back to my student days at Elphinstone College, when it was a sheer pleasure to have access to a space where you could spend an afternoon listening to music in booths.” Rhythm House’s music booths were particularly popular with young couples looking for privacy. “The store continues to stand because the people who run it are passionate about music,” says Bashir Shaikh, 68, a former singer with the pop band Savages who went on to work for Polydor, a record label owned by Universal. “When I was in college,” Shaikh adds, “I would visit the store at least once a week and spend up to three hours there browsing and listening to music.” Curmally, however, knows that nostalgia can help only so much. So while he used to be a familiar sight in the shop’s aisles, offering suggestions to browsers, over the past five years he has been spending more and more of his working hours at his desk in a cramped second-floor office that he shares with other colleagues, attending to orders that people from all over the world have placed on the store’s website. “A lot of my work is now at the back end,” he says, seated at his desk strewn with files and papers. “Once you have a website, there’s a lot of tedious work involved.” Online orders were only a trickle

when Rhythm House set up its website in 2010, but have picked up quite well since. However tedious the job of servicing these, the website is what has helped the store stem a decline in sales; CD sales have fallen from an average 1,000-1,500 a day in the 1990s to 500 now. To sell even this quantity, says Curmally, the store has to maintain a huge stock. There are still takers for CDs of Indian classical music and fusion, genres that aren’t always easily available online. Visitors from abroad looking for Indian fare also buy CDs in large numbers and value the fact that they can depend on the staff for recommendations. Some customers come for the store’s DVD collection. “[Rhythm House] lags in world cinema, but overall the collection is quite good,” says Gangadhar Humraskar, 29, an engineer who wants to become a filmmaker and is spotted ruffling through the movies section. The store is also trying to diversify into music accessories and electronics. Still, it is unlikely that a Curmally will be running the store after Mehmood retires. “I don’t want my children to enter this business,” he says. Curmally remembers navigating the market shift from LPs to cassettes and then from cassettes to CDs. This time, he senses, the challenge is of a different order altogether. n open 57


adam olszewski/corbis outline

It’s Kind of a Funny Story How a Delhi kid from an all-boys school ended up on America’s most popular sitcom and married to Miss India Nikhil Taneja

aim high “I was a normal Delhi boy who wanted to be a rockstar or Aamir Khan when he grew up,” says Kunal Nayyar


m a Delhiite who went

to St Columba’s, and one fine day, I ended up on the biggest TV show in America. It’s actually quite hilarious, if you look at it one way,” says Kunal Nayyar, better known to the world as geeky Indian scientist Rajesh Koothrapalli of The Big Bang Theory. A lead on the highest-rated American sitcom currently running and easily one of the funniest Indians in the world—at least one of the most famous funny Indians in the world—Nayyar, at 33, already has enough material for a memoir. Because unlike Kal Penn (The Namesake), Mindy Kaling (The Office), Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation), or any of the multitude of other Indian actors who’ve made a mark on American television in recent years, Nayyar isn’t an American-born desi. He was born in London to Indian parents—his father is an accountant and his mother, an interior designer—who relocated to Delhi when he was five. Nayyar was raised in Delhi and educated at St Columba’s, the prestigious allboys school attended by Shah Rukh Khan and Rahul Gandhi, where acting wasn’t really at the top of his mind. “In school, I was busy playing badminton and chasing girls. I hated studying and only wanted to play sports. I was a normal Delhi boy, in that sense, who wanted to be a rockstar or Aamir Khan when he grew up,” he laughs. After high school, at the age of 18, Nayyar moved to the United States to pursue a business degree at University of Portland, Oregon. It was there that he caught the acting bug. Nayyar first enrolled in acting classes at the university for recreational reasons, participating in several school plays. But after one of his plays was selected for the regional round of the prominent American College Theater Festival, things quickly became serious. “I believed that I was really good in the regionals but the judges gave me a firing for being incompetent,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that! That moment motivated me to go back home and work hard on my skill, so I could go back and win the competition. And four years later, I won the national

18 november 2013

round too.” By then, Nayyar had already enrolled in a Masters’ program in Acting at Temple University in Philadelphia. After graduation, he acted in a few plays, and only had a one-off role as an Iraqi terrorist on an episode of the crime drama NCIS, before he auditioned for The Big Bang Theory in the summer of 2007. He was 26 then. “One of the reasons I probably got the role was because I had just come out of graduate school after three years of training, and I was bursting with all this confidence,” Nayyar chuckles. “I had done a little play in England before that and was just getting started in LA. And I think I was just young enough and clueless enough to not understand the magnitude of the audition at that moment, and that really helped me.

“I’d just come out of graduate school and I was bursting with confidence... I was just young and clueless enough to not understand the magnitude of the audition, and that really helped me” Because I wasn’t thinking about it at all. I just went there and did my thing, and felt great about it.” Nayyar took on the role—originally meant for an Asian actor and initially named Ramayan David—head on, and in the seven years since, The Big Bang Theory, co-created by Two and a Half Men and Dharma & Greg creator Chuck Lorre, went on to become a ratings, viewership and syndication juggernaut, with the actor pulling in a reported salary of $75,000 per episode. So yes, it is definitely a story worth writing about, and while it has its twists and turns, Nayyar believes it is at heart a funny story. “Well it’s not funny ‘ha-ha’, but ‘I can’t believe this happened to me’ funny,” he says. “I mean, I’m so happy that I’ve achieved everything that I always wanted. But the truth is, I fake reality for a living… it’s not exactly rocket science! So you’ve got to have the ability to laugh at your-

self. I’m not saying that acting is easy— it can be torturous at times—but if you look at it from the outside, it is a celebration of life, and like life, humour is at its core.”


n his book, you can expect anecdotes about Nayyar cleaning toilets in Portland, being held up for 76 cents in Philadelphia, playing a terrorist on his first TV gig, playing a Star Wars board game for 36 hours straight, and then one day going on to marry a former Miss India. Of course, the irony of that last part hasn’t escaped Nayyar’s fans. For a guy who got rich and famous playing a character who can’t so much as talk to women sober, and is the only one of The Big Bang Theory’s four leads to not be in a relationship—ever—he’s married a gorgeous former model, who represented India at the Miss Universe pageant in 2006. “I have to admit there are things about this and about marriage in general that are hilarious,” says Nayyar, “but I find it funnier that people continue to confuse me with Raj Koothrapalli. When people meet me, they go, ‘Oh My God! You can talk to women! Oh My God! You are normal! Oh man! Are you actually wearing a jacket?’ Yes I am! Because I’m a normal person and what I do on the TV show is called ‘acting’!” Even though this conversation with Nayyar is happening over the phone, as he’s currently in Los Angeles shooting the seventh season of his sitcom, it’s quite obvious the actor is a naturally-gifted comic. All his answers have a punch line, and when he says something funny, he doesn’t just say it, he delivers it. And it’s all effortless. Nayyar doesn’t need to try to make you laugh; he’s just funny as they come and the jokes run fast and loose. He may always have been a funny guy, but Nayyar admits that a lot of his comedy has been shaped by the show and by American pop culture in general over the past decade-and-a-half. It is a kind of humour that he calls ‘language-based’. “There is a huge difference between what India finds funny open 59

and what America finds funny,” he explains. “I think there’s such a British influence on India, in terms of comedy, that everything that you see in Indian pop culture is more farcical and physical. In Indian comedy, the way it happens is that someone gets slapped in the face, his eyes widen and there is a music cue that goes (mimics the sound) ‘pyunnnn’. And that’s when you laugh. In America, comedy is more about setups and language.” “There’s a rhythm or even poetry in the way comedy is written and delivered in America. A lot of the humour lies in this rhythm of the language. Every joke here is a 1-2-3-sentence setup joke. For example, sometimes you might not understand the science stuff that’s being said in The Big Bang Theory, but because of the circumstances of the characters, and the set-up leading up to it in the language, when the punch-line is delivered, you will laugh.” Having delivered this impressive soliloquy, Nayyar takes a breath, and then instinctively proceeds to deliver the punchline he has just set up: “I hope this is making sense. But I think the bottomline is that getting slapped in the face is hilarious in every country.” Like he promised, you laugh.


ith his fluency in American humour, combined with an instinct for the farcical elements of Indian comedy, Nayyar now counts himself among the growing ranks of Indian-origin actors on American television shows, most of whom are funny. And humour may just be the key to overcoming the stereotyping and discrimination that Indian actors before Nayyar have spoken out against—from Aasif Mandvi, who wrote about the ‘whitewashing’ phenomenon in Hollywood for Salon. com, to Kal Penn, who criticised the thinly-concealed xenophobia of Joel Stein’s notorious 2010 Time article, ‘My Own Private India’. A couple of months ago, Kal Penn joked on Twitter about the way Brown actors are often confused with each other: ‘Creepy Australian Guy: Whoa, are you Russell Peters?! Me: No, I’m 60 open

Kunal Nayyar. Creepy Australian Guy: I love Parks & Rec! Me: High 5!’ Penn is in fact one of the leads of the multimillion dollar comedy film franchise Harold and Kumar. But the truth is, with Mindy Kaling writing and starring in her own sitcom The Mindy Project, Aziz Ansari becoming one of the biggest stand-up phenomena in North America, and actors like Danny Pudi (Community), Adhir Kalyan (Rules of Engagement) and Hannah Simone (New Girl) playing highly visible, well-liked supporting parts in top-rated sitcoms, now is a great time for Indian comic actors in America. Nayyar agrees: “When it comes to diversity with regard to Indian actors in American entertainment, I believe that bridge has been crossed. People ask me, ‘Why do you think it happened?’ My

“When it comes to diversity with regard to Indian actors in American entertainment, I believe that bridge has been crossed... American is no longer ignorant about India” version is that if you go anywhere in America today, be it a grocery store or a restaurant or even your work place, wherever you look, you’ll see Indians. America has always been a melting pot of cultures, and today, with Indian doctors and scientists and lawyers and engineers, we are definitely a huge part of that pot. We are highly visible people and we are upsetting Americans as a society (laughs), so when you see Indians on American TV, it’s not a stretch, it’s reality.” “Where I’m concerned,” he continues, “I believe that America is no longer ignorant about India or Indians. How can they be? There was a sitcom on NBC a couple of years ago, called Outsourced, only about Indians.”


hile comedy may have been the overriding reason for the acceptance of Indian actors in Hollywood, as

well as the cause of Nayyar’s humongous success, he isn’t satisfied doing just that. With the likelihood of The Big Bang Theory reaching its conclusion in the next three years, Nayyar is already planning for life after the show, and has his eyes set on direction, producing and teaching. His first effort in this direction is Sushrut Jain’s cricket-based documentary, Beyond All Boundaries, which premiered in India at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival, and is produced and narrated by Nayyar. He believed in the film because, being a huge cricket fan, he has always found that India is starved of good cricket content beyond just matches. “To me, cricket is not just a game, but a beautiful symbol for people’s dreams and their future,” he says. “Indian cricket fans have so many hopes and dreams riding on the game, that I really found it glorious to see a film about the impact of the game in the way it can shape our lives or even destroy it.” As the documentary travels to festivals across the world to much critical acclaim, Nayyar will continue exploring different creative outlets, with his focus staying on his sitcom, his two upcoming films—the comedy Dr. Cabbie and the thriller The Scribbler—and on voicing the animation series Sanjay and Craig for Nickelodeon. He is open to Bollywood offers too, and would love to be in films like “3 Idiots, Barfi or Cheeni Kum, which are poignant comedies— the genre I love.” But for the most part, Nayyar would be happy just to be home every night with his wife and some butter chicken. “It’s funny that after shooting for four hours and finishing an episode of The Big Bang Theory that maybe over the course of the future will be seen by 500 million people, all I like doing is coming home and eating butter chicken,” he says. “Like, I’ll heat up the butter chicken, put a little tadka on the dal and I’ll chew it, while watching music videos all night. People think I lead this glamorous life, but really, all I want is kebabs and butter chicken for the rest of my life, and I’ll be happy forever.” For once, he sounds completely serious. n 18 november 2013


happiness A University of Missouri study suggests that husbands and wives are happier when they share household and parenting responsibilities. However, sharing doesn’t always mean equal chores

Why Dogs Wag Their Tails It is not just about expressing their joy

Child-centric Parents are Happier


ontrary to popular perception, dogs do not wag their tails just to express their joy at meeting their masters. A new study has found that dogs communicate a lot more information about their emotions through their tails. When dogs wag their tails to the right side, it is because they are experiencing a positive emotion, for instance that of meeting their masters. When they wag their tails towards the left, it is because they are undergoing a negative emotion, like the presence of an unfamiliar and hostile dog in its surroundings. The researchers also found that other canines can spot and respond to these subtle tail differences. The study was conducted by neuroscientists at University of Trento in Italy and published in the journal Current Biology. They found that dogs have asymmetrically organised brains, just like humans, with the left and right sides playing different roles. For dogs the right side of the brain was responsible for left-handed movement and vice versa, and the two hemispheres played different roles in emotions. To find out how dogs react to the manner in which other dogs wag their tails, the researchers measured the heart rates and analysed their behaviour as they watched videos of other dogs wagging their tails. The dogs being studied remained in a calm and relaxed position while watching videos where the dog on screen moved its tail to the right side. But when the dog on screen veered its tail to the left, the heart rate of the dogs being studied picked up and

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they appeared anxious, signifying that dogs can pick up differences in tail wags of dogs. The researchers are not convinced that dogs intentionally communicate with each other through their tail movements, as, they say, these movements could be the result of

A new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science finds that parents who prioritise their children’s well-being over their own are not only happier, but also derive more meaning in life from their child-rearing responsibilities. ‘These findings stand in contrast to claims in the popular media that prioritizing children’s well-being undermines parents’ well-being,’ the researchers write. The researchers conducted two studies with a total of 322 parents. The results indicated that more child-centric parents had greater positive feelings, less negative feelings, and experienced more meaning in life during child-care activities. In addition, the well-being of more child-centric parents was not affected negatively throughout the rest of the day. n

Seeing in the Dark

the manner in which their brains are wired. Other canines in all likelihood simply learnt of these movements and what they signify through experience. The lead researcher, Professor Giorgio Vallortigara, told The Telegraph, “We know from neurological studies in humans that the left and right hemispheres in the brain produce different emotional responses... In dogs, single organs like the tongue or tail is controlled by both sides of the brain. There can be competition and dominance between these two sides. When they move their tail, it is more bias to the left or to the right depending on which side of the brain is more dominant at the time. It seems dogs pick up on this when they meet other dogs and it forms a type of communication between them.” n

With the help of computerised eye trackers, a new cognitive science study finds that at least 50 per cent of people can see the movement of their own hand even in the absence of light. Through five separate experiments involving 129 individuals, the authors found that this eerie ability to see our hand in the dark suggests that our brain combines information from different senses to create our perceptions. The ability also “underscores that what we normally perceive of as sight is really as much a function of our brains as our eyes,” says first author Kevin Dieter. “We get such reliable exposure to the sight of our own hand moving that our brains learn to predict the expected moving image even without actual visual input,” he adds. n

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touch id The Touch ID is a new feature exclusively for the iPhone 5S that lets you use your fingerprint as a password. You simply place your finger on the Home button to unlock your phone, and you can make purchases at the Apple iTunes store, App store, and iBooks store rightaway.


Big w Bang Ferrari All Black

iPhone 5S If queues outside Apple stores in India were any clue, this handset is a big hit gagandeep Singh Sapra

Price on request

Rs 53,500

This one from the Hublot Big Bang Ferrari family is a limited edition of 1,000 watches. Its characteristics include: a 45.5mm polished and satin-finished black ceramic case, satin-finished black ceramic bezel, anti-reflective sapphire crystal, Unico self-winding chronograph flyback HUB 1241 movement with column-wheel, 72-hour power reserve, and water resistance up to 100 metres. n

Jabra Solemate Mini


he iPhone 5 has been replaced with the iPhone 5S and is finally here in India. Its gold variant is sold out globally and has a long waiting list. I got a sneak peek of the 5S in San Francisco two months ago, but wanted to wait for it to arrive on our shores before sharing my take on it. The iPhone 5S looks and feels like the iPhone 5, which now stands discontinued, but the internals are all brand new—a 64-bit processor powers the iPhone 5S, and it also has a motion co-processor. What has been the talking point of the iPhone 5S is its fingerprint sensor. This is not the first time a fingerprint sensor has been employed, but this is the first time it’s been done right. From unlocking your phone or making that purchase from iTunes, all you need do now is to scan your finger, no more worrying about someone knowing your password and using it to buy stuff. The camera on the 5S also gets an

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upgrade. It now has an f/2.2 aperture and a 15 per cent larger sensor. This means sharper pictures in both day and night photography. The faster hardware also allows the camera to shoot 10 frames per second, and with a true tone flash, the pictures come out perfectly. The camera can also take slow motion videos and even takes still photos while recording a video. You also get auto image stabilisation for those shaky moments. Apple also has a number of cases for the iPhone 5S. Made of leather, these are shaped to cover the volume buttons, the on/off switch and also the chamfered edges of the iPhone. The cases have a microfibre lining for strength and durability, and are available in colours that match the S5’s three options—silver, space gray and gold. The iPhone 5S is available with built-in storage of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. I wish Apple had announced a 128 GB version of this phone. n

Rs 4,999

The Solemate is back in its new avatar and is called the Mini. At just 295 gm, the Mini is lighter and smaller and easily fits into a back-pack. It has Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC on board. You can use this unit, which has an omnidirectional microphone, to answer your phone calls by pairing it with your phone over Bluetooth. You can also use its Aux cable that is concealed at the bottom of the speaker to hook it with your Mp3 player. The Solemate Mini is available in yellow, blue, red and black options. It has an 8-hour rated battery life and charges with a USB adapter. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at

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fight reading The book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card features on the official reading list issued by the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, recommended for ranks Corporal and Sergeant. The reading list is intended to provide ‘all Marines with a common frame of reference and historical perspective on warfare, human factors in combat and decisionmaking’

Krrish 3 In this boring clone of the Hollywood superhero movie, the vamp steals the show ajit duara


o n scr een

Ender’s Game Director Gavin Hood cast Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford,

Hailee Steinfield, Ben Kingsley Score ★★★★★

shan, vivek Cast hrithik ro ranaut oberoi, kangna roshan sh ke ra r to ec Dir


he face-to-face between the

superhero and villain in Krrish 3 has a remarkable similarity to the same conflict in the Superman film, Man of Steel. There, a Kryptonian leader comes down to earth to do battle in New York City with his planetary kin, now a hero of Earth. In this film, the villain, Kaal (Vivek Oberoi), holed up in some snow-covered mountain, turns up in Mumbai and, likewise, destroys thousands of square feet of expensive real estate in deadly combat with Krrish. Thanks to special effects, all slums in Mumbai are deleted. The city is sanitised. In fact, the first superheroic feat by Krrish (Hrithik Roshan)—bringing down the front wheels of an aircraft with malfunctioning landing gear— gives you a lovely aerial view that tells you that we have finally caught up with Shanghai. Such rescue acts by the masked crusader have an appealing innocence about them and there could have been more of the same. Instead, the film

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switches lanes to the bizarre story of a killer virus from Namibia that suddenly spreads in Mumbai. A message comes to Krrish’s father, the brilliant scientist Rohit Mehra (also played by Hrithik), that Kaal Laboratory, location unknown, has an antidote. When it arrives, Mehra discovers that both the virus and the antidote have been made in the same lab. Unfortunately, the film has no time for observations on greedy and unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies that profit on disease. Family matters are more important. Mr Kaal has that very special DNA that makes him invincible, just like Krrish. How did he inherit it? The convoluted plot twists that follow turn this film into a big boring Hollywood clone. Still, the mutiny of one mutant deserves mention. Kaya (Kangna Ranaut) is a slithering creation of Kaal Laboratory. She turns herself into Krrish’s wife (Priyanka Chopra) to deceive and destroy him. Instead, she falls in love and steals the picture. n

Ender’s Game attempts to join a long list of films with teen or preteen protagonists, all based on novels by women: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, and, of course, the Harry Potters by JK Rowling. This movie, for a change, is based on a book by a man: Orson Scott Card. It’ll have to take its chances. Ender’s Game is about a future society threatened by an alien species. The society’s leadership decides that children are better suited to battle conditions than adults and selects them for ‘Battle School’. It is a strange decision, based on the principle that a battle that is completely digital, where victory and defeat are almost instantaneous, can only be won by daring kids with lightning reflexes. After careful observation, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) chooses a leader to command the Fleet. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the future Alexander/ Caesar/Napoleon, and he is chosen to fight a war to end all wars. Unfortunately, the movie takes itself much too seriously. It is entirely without humour and has the most awkward and unbelievable conversations between Ender and grown men like Colonel Graff and Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). They talk of ethics and survival, genocide and morality. The boy’s psychological age would not permit this. Even kids would watch in disbelief. n ad

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Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

Taking It All Off

Vishal Bhardwaj may have pulled off a coup of sorts. He appears to have gathered a gallery of exciting stars to headline his Hamlet adaptation, Haider. It is, by now, no secret that Vishal has cast his Kaminey leading man Shahid Kapoor in the central role, but turns out he’s also reuniting with his Maqbool stars Tabu and Irrfan Khan, who will likely play the roles of the protagonist’s treacherous mother and uncle respectively. There is some talk that Shahid’s own father, Pankaj Kapoor has been roped in to play the role of the protagonist’s slain father, who shows up in the film mostly as a ghost. And to round off the cast, there’s Aashiqui 2’s Shraddha Kapoor as the hero’s love interest. Likely to begin production in Kashmir shortly, one hears the movie requires Shahid to shave his head bald. When I brought this up with him recently, he joked that this could possibly be “Vishal’s revenge”, given that the filmmaker had famously attacked Shahid’s tendency to focus on his vanity over his performance around the time of Kaminey’s release. “If Shahid would concentrate on acting instead of his hair, he’d be a far better actor,” the director had said at the time. In response, Shahid tells me: “I’ll do whatever the role requires of me.” He does not specifically commit to shaving off his hair.

The Shot that Won’t Be

Deepika Padukone is on a roll. She’s had four mega hits back-to-back, starting with last year’s Cocktail, then Race 2, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, and Chennai Express. And even before the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela next week (carrying good reports, by the way), she’s already finished shooting for Homi Adajania’s Finding Fanny Fernandes. This English language dark comedy, filmed in Goa over a single stretch recently, pairs Deepika opposite Ishaqzaade’s Arjun Kapoor, and also features the director’s Being Cyrus stars Naseeruddin Shah and Dimple Kapadia. For her part, Deepika reportedly plays an ordinary Catholic girl, and has gone ‘simple’ for the role, with minimal make up and a basic wardrobe. Shortly after the release of Ram Leela, she’s expected to return to the sets of Farah Khan’s Happy New Year in which she’s been cast opposite her Om Shanti Om leading man Shah Rukh Khan once again. Having shot only briefly for the film during its recent Dubai schedule, Deepika has a chunk of work still left on the 18 november 2013

project, before she dives into Imtiaz Ali’s film, tentatively titled ‘Window Seat’, which also stars Ranbir Kapoor. One actor Deepika isn’t in a hurry to work with is Shahid Kapoor. Honchos at Balaji Films have been complaining that the actress won’t return their calls ever since she learnt that they want her to star opposite Shahid in Milan Talkies. But why blame only poor Deepika? Apparently Katrina Kaif has said ‘no’, Kareena Kapoor won’t even consider the offer, and Balaji doesn’t want Priyanka Chopra in the film because they’re convinced Shahid and PC are a jinxed pair following the failure of last year’s very expensive Teri Meri Kaahani. That leaves any of the many newcomers who’re available. But Shahid himself has said he’ll only do the film if the producers can bring an A-list co-star to the table.

Cosy Exes Club

At a Diwali party she threw at her Bandra home last Sunday, a siren star managed to have a good time, despite the presence of at least two of her exes and her current boyfriend in the same room. The alcohol flowed and the taash tables got louder by the hour, even as guests continued to drop in through the night. The actress’ boyfriend, a failed actor reportedly preparing to turn director, stood by her side supportively and made sure guests were comfortable and always had a drink in their hands. He didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable by the presence of a silver fox in the room, a greying supermodel his girlfriend once dated and who continues to remain one of her closest pals. The mood became tense, but only temporarily, when another of the actress’ former flings showed up in a smart black Pathani, but her boyfriend was cordial and friendly even to this actor. The two men have their own weird history, given that they’ve been on double date holidays with their own previous exes. Guests at the party insist that the evening remained pleasant because the hostess herself is a particularly ‘chilled out girl’, well known for her warmth and genial disposition. Hard to imagine many actresses who’d invite three men who’ve been part of her romantic history to the same gathering, but this lady appears to have pulled it off in style. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open 65

open space

Don’t Hold Your Breath

by r au l i r a n i

Gaurav Kumar pulls his vegetable cart through Ajanta Colony in Meerut. Kumar, about 18 years old, is a national level Kabaddi player, but despite having competed in several matches, doesn’t see a future for himself in the game. He is currently struggling to earn his daily bread by selling vegetables. Local politicians have promised him better jobs, but none has delivered

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18 november 2013


The seven pilots of the Breitling Jet Team belong to the international elite of aviation professionals. In performing their aerobatic figures at almost 500 mph, flying 7 feet from each other and with accelerations of up to 8Gs, errors are not an option. It is for these masters of audacity and daring exploits that Breitling develops its chronographs: sturdy, functional, ultra high-performance instruments all equipped with movements chronometer-certified by the COSC – the highest official benchmark in terms of reliability and precision. Welcome to the Breitling world.



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