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Political anatomy of the UP riots

Orchestra and farce in Kashmir

RS 35 23 September 2013

INSIDE Meet the Indians going to Mars l i f e

a n d

t i m e s .

e v e r y

w e e k

Lď ™ve in the Small Town


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Volume 5 Issue 37 For the week 17—23 September 2013 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers COVER PHOTO Ritesh Uttamchandani

T SAMANTA

Good education is not about fancy buildings and snazzy student hostels, it is about the positive spirit of people (students, faculty and staff) who have a vision and want to make a change (‘Wretched New IITs’, 16 September 2013). One of the objectives of creating new IITs was to make higher education more accessible and hence more inclusive. And like with Like with many other many other social expersocial experiments, iments, some results some results may not be may not be positive and positive and useful. But useful. But that does not that does not mean that mean that we stop we stop trying to make a trying to make a change. change If the author had done his research right, he would have known that some of the ‘new IITs’ are providing a great intellectual service to students who come from remote areas, who would not have got the opportunity had the IIT system not expanded itself. Finally, treating all new IITs as a monolithic block is plain ridiculous.  letter of the week Misdirected Apology

i find it hilarious when people use Manmohan Singh’s empty ‘sorry’ as an excuse to exonerate the Congress for the Sikh genocide and give them a certificate of secularism (‘Secular Nonsense on 1984, 16 September 2013). Does it matter that Manmohan Singh apologised? Was he in any way involved in the riots? Was he even a Congress member when the riots happened? What use is an apology from him? If Narendra Modi got some Muslim leader to apologise for 2002, would Muslims accept it or would they take it as an insult? If Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Kamal Nath or any of the other Congressmen actually involved in the riots had apologised, it would have carried some weight. Of course, even then, considering they spent their whole lives denying their crimes in court, it would never make up for what they did.  GAUTAM

2 OPEN

The Case for new IITs

thank you Siddharth for your article ‘Wretched New IITs’ (16 September 2013). I think the article brings out the failures of our ministers and also the hope of developing these institutes. We have every right to criticise our ministers for their lack of planning and coordination. Like anyone else would be, I am sad to note the poor condition of these institutes. However, we should acknowledge that there is something positive in setting up these new IITs as these will cater to the growing need for specialised education in India. I fully understand that they should not be called IITs in their present state, but in future they will surely meet the grade. Even IIT Kharagpur started from the Hijli Detention Camp. If, at the time, someone had waited for proper infrastructure to start, then we might still have been waiting. The sapling has been planted, now the government

has to nurture it to a fullfledged tree.  PRASHANT RA JORA

a country like ours need more than 50 IITs. However, the question to ask is, if we are not able to find good faculties for even five, how can we find the same for 50 unless we fix something? It is no secret that IIT Guwahati employed a lot of third-rate doctorates as assistant professors, and it is no secret that even the five older IITs are understaffed. Also, why try to ride the old brand bandwagon if you are confident of creating good institutions from the ground up? Why not make College of Engineering, Roorkee, a world-beater rather than just changing the name?  RA JEEV J

A Rational Solution

i appreciate what these various groups are doing, but unfortunately they can only achieve limited results (‘Evangelists of Logic’, 16 September 2013). I presume it must also be quite frustrating for these groups because it is not that this issue cannot be resolved. India can find a long-term solution to this problem by way of being bullish about education. Policies can be framed whereby high-quality education—be it in rural areas or cities—is made available to all free of cost. The blasphemy law in India too is ridiculous. A country that does not support scientific reasoning/discourse deserves to go to the dogs.  C V SUTAR

23 SEPTEMBER 2013


small world

trickster Hemant

hanif patel

Patil (right) got a high from the respect he got as a police officer

The Curious Case of a Fake Cop scam

How a conman posed as an IPS officer in Maharashtra for six months

About a month ago, Sangramsinh Nishandar, a senior police official in Virar, a distant suburb in Thane, met a confident young police officer, Hemant Patil, at an Iftar party. The man who introduced the two told Nishandar that Patil, who was dressed in plain clothes, was a bright young IPS officer from Virar. But Nishandar felt something was amiss. Patil told Nishandar that he was stationed in Maharashtra’s Gondia district in a subdivision called Gondal. That’s when Nishandar realised that Patil

mumbai

23 september 2013

was a fraud. Nishandar had been stationed in Gondia for over three years in the past and knew there was no subdivision called Gondal there. A few weeks ago, Nishandar made a plan to arrest Patil. “We wanted to catch him redhanded, wearing a policeman’s clothes. So I got one of my officers to invite him to a function to distribute free notebooks to disadvantaged children,” Nishandar says. When he appeared dressed as a police officer on the appointed date, 5 September, he was arrested. Upon questioning him, the

policemen realised that Patil had posed as an IPS officer for over six months. During this period, he had attended functions as a guest, given a speech to students of a local school, and once even attended a function organised by the VasaiVirar Municipal Corporation as a guest, along with Vasai’s Mayor, Narayan Mankar. He had a number of police uniforms and a vehicle with the ‘police’ sign on its windscreen. Patil, it turned out, was an unemployed 35-year-old from Virar. “He is tall, well-built and has a moustache, and car-

ries himself confidently. No one suspected he was taking them for a ride,” Nishandar says. “People would speak courteously with him, toll nakas would not charge money, and policemen would salute him whenever they saw him. He said this gave him a high. So he continued to fool people.” The police are exploring if he tried to extort money from anyone, though there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it so far. They are also trying to locate the tailor who stitched Patil’s fake uniforms. n Lhendup g Bhutia

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16

contents

22

cover story

38

Love in the small town

underbelly

Inside a Nigerian hangout

6

Communalism

angle

Why Sachin should now just go

Muzaffarnagar

12 34 comment

belief

Obama’s doublespeak on Syria

The goddess who went away

The Menace of e-Rickshaws vroom

The transport department says they are non-motorised and thus not covered by the Delhi Motor Vehicles Act, making them the responsibility of the municipal corporation. But the civic body claims they are motorised, being powered by more than 250 W (the standard for non-motorised vehicles). After a fruitless effort to ban the sale of these vehicles within the city, The Energy and Recources Institute (TERI) has been roped in to resolve the matter. The first step is to count the rickshaws and find their dealers, who operate from Noida and Ghaziabad, outside the city. n Aanchal Bansal

no big deal

“There were many reasons why people lost control in 2002... It should not have happened. The administration should have clamped down on any violence... It was a blot on Modi’s career” —Manohar Parrikar, to The New York Times 4 September2013

turn

Despite having championed clean fuel and promoted a battery-powered car, the Delhi government is stumped over the unregulated growth of battery operated rickshaws. These ‘e-rickshaws’, have become a common sight around metro stations in the past year and are considered a common cause of traffic jams on arterial roads like the Ring Road. Though in tune with the city administration’s transport policy as they do not cause air pollution, they are slow-moving vehicles running on small engines of upto 850 W, and cause traffic jams. Since they are illegal in Delhi, they run without license plates and thus lack accountability. There is no record of how many ply the roads, and neither the transport department nor civic bodies are willing to take charge of them.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar can’t make up his mind about Narendra Modi. After saying Modi mismanaged the 2002 riots in his state, he now says it was a small thing

“It is a small thing which happened in the initial stage, nothing beyond that”

—Manohar Parrikar, in an interview with CNN-IBN 6 September2013

around

Power Struggle

s h o r t f u s e The electricity connection of Shazia Ilmi, an Aam Adami Party (AAP) candidate from RK Puram, was snapped by BSES officials in the presence of eight police personnel for non-payment of bills. Furious AAP volunteers protested near RK Puram police station, demanding that the police and BSES officials cut the connections of BJP supremo Rajnath Singh (he has dues of over Rs 5.50 lakh), Jagdish Tytler (over Rs 10 lakh) and Ram Vilas Paswan (over Rs 1.50 lakh), to mention a few. No action has been taken against them for months. The bijli-paani satyagraha is going to be a protracted struggle, AAP workers say, accusing the Congress and BJP of pursuing a politics of vendetta. n Mihir Srivastava 4 open

23 September 2013


42

46

p photo essay

fashion

52

Duelling drapers

Patients of an Argentinian psychiatric hospital

life & Letters

c cinema

55

What’s wrong with the abused goddesses campaign

Amar Akbar Anthony

Look Who’s Writing

p NOT PEOPLE LIKE US

63

Deepika’s got no time for Hollywood

Manu Joseph

b a d c a l l Raj Kundra, who was charged with spot-fixing at the Indian Premier League earlier this year, has turned author with the curiously titled How Not to Make Money. Although the book concerns liquor smuggling and stealing Value Added Tax from the government, Kundra must be aware of the mileage it is likely to draw from the IPL controversy. The book will carry generous blurbs from Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Aamir Khan and Lalit Modi (“Fascinating, a gripping story”). Asked if he thinks he is a good writer, he says, “I don’t think Random House can go so wrong in their choice.” He fondly remembers the English Literature he studied in school. His favourite books? “Da Vinci Code is one of my favourite books, and I am currently reading Bloodline by Sidney Sheldon,” he says. “I think Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi are also setting decent benchmarks.” n Siddhartha Gupta

Smooth Operator

solaris images

n u d g e - w i n k On 8 September, the Sports Journalists Association of Mumbai felicitated the top sports achievers of 2012-13 at the Cricket Club of India. The path to the venue was dotted with khaki; policemen stood at the entrance and inside the room as security for Sachin Tendulkar, one of the award-winners. Chief guest Nandu Natekar, a badminton great and a cult figure in the 1950s and 60s, spoke about getting endorsement offers in 1952. “Brylcreem offered me Rs 600 and six bottles a month; Vicks offered Rs 400 and four bottles a month.” To Natekar’s disappointment, a badminton administrator advised him against accepting either deal. Chess coach Raghunandan Gokhale and player Pravin Thipsay followed Natekar at the mic to talk about the forthcoming world championship. Gokhale joked that neither he nor Thipsay were fit for offers from Brylcreem. Both are bald as eggs. n Akshay Sawai 23 September 2013

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angle

On the Contrary

Just Move on, for Sach Is Life If he does not retire after his 200th Test, Tendulkar is in for a hard time M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i

week, both Bishan Singh Bedi and Sourav Ganguly backed the idea that Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th Test be played in Mumbai on his home ground. The question of his retirement, they said, should be left to him. That both these opinions should be voiced in the same breath indicates how linked they are in the public imagination. In honour of Tendulkar’s contributions, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has reportedly shuffled around the cricketing schedule by inserting a West Indies tour in November, just so that he can play his 200th Test in India. The Indian team was otherwise headed to play in South Africa. Some reports say the BCCI will give Tendulkar the option of choosing between Eden Gardens and Wankhede. The only way to justify it is if Tendulkar retires after that. Otherwise, there seems to be really no sense to this kind of babysitting. This overwhelming patronising of Tendulkar marks yet another moment in the longest farewell party that any Indian sportsperson has got. So far it had been an in-house affair. Like Tendulkar getting to choose which ODI series he wanted to go for and his 100th century having to come against Bangladesh, which was a letdown. But now other cricketing nations are being dragged into it. The South Africans, though all admiration for Tendulkar, will have a few sour notes going through their head at this unilateral tweaking of plans. And then there is the uncomfortable question of what if Tendulkar does not retire after the 200th Test. From his statements, he still seems ambivalent. He is barely managing to survive in the team based on performance and if this was how he fared in the beginning of his career, questions would have started going through the minds of selectors. Tendulkar’s last century was 22 Tests and two and a half years ago. His batting average in 2012 was 23.8 and this year it is 32. He has had bad runs before, but he was not 40 then. Everyone, including Tendulkar, knows his time is over. He is today like the afterglow of a comet which

6 open

rick rycroft/ap

O

ver the course of the last

time to go When will Tendulkar realise that he needs to hang up his boots?

has been gone for some time and everyone tolerates a hangover only because they know it is temporary. The kindness shown to ‘old’ people in sports keeps decreasing with time until their loneliness equals the remnants of their superstardom. Why doesn’t Tendulkar just go? Why doesn’t Roger Federer just go instead of getting defeated by a 116th seed in the second round of Wimbledon of all tournaments? Why didn’t Steve Waugh go until the Australian cricket board literally showed him the door? Because of the most elementary human dilemma of all—not knowing what to do afterwards. Cricket is all that Tendulkar has done. Take that away and, despite enormous fame and fortune, he has no clue about the

Cricket is all that Sachin Tendulkar has done in his whole life. Take that away and, despite enormous fame and fortune, he has no clue about the direction of his life

direction of his life. That is what makes him do unwholesome things like accepting a Rajya Sabha seat knowing that he will be absent most of the time. It does not cross his mind that politics is as serious a vocation as cricket (would anyone have sent P Chidambaram as the 12th man of the Indian team because of his record in government?). But, in accepting the nomination, Tendulkar allowed himself to be part of a failed enterprise. You would not have caught Imran Khan doing something like that. But despite his conundrum, there is no alternative to quitting for Tendulkar. His reflexes and stamina are gone. There is the vast cunning of experience with which he still manages to survive but at some point other factors will take over. The question he has to face is whether he wants to get out cornered or with grace. When he retired from ODIs, it was incredible how little reaction there was, as if no one really cared anymore. The 200th Test is his opportunity to go out with some of his trademark on-field flourish. He might not score a century but at least a double hundred against his name will make up for it. n 23 september 2013


india

A Hurried Man’s Guide to Leander Paes’ Slam Victory

Leander Paes became the oldest male player to win a Grand Slam title on Sunday. The 40-year-old partnered Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic to win the US Open men’s doubles competition, defeating Alexander Peya (Austria) and Bruno Soares (Brazil) in the final on Sunday. They won $460,000 in prize money.

It Happens

School for All Kanailal Saha, who sells snacks to train passengers, is also principal of a primary school A n i r b a n Ba n d o p a d h y a y ronny sen

real

It was Paes’ eighth men’s doubles Grand Slam. He also has six mixed doubles majors. Paes is now well ahead of his former partner Mahesh Bhupathi in the doubles majors race. Bhupathi has four majors. He has more in mixed doubles (eight). But men’s doubles has more prestige. It was a creditable win for Paes-Stepanek, considering Paes’ age and the fact that Stepanek was coming back from neck surgery. It was Paes’ Besides, the duo defeated eighth men’s the formidable top-seeded doubles Grand combination of the Bryan Slam. He also twins, Mike and Bob, in a has six mixed fast-paced semi-final. Fans doubles majors rated the match as among the most exciting at this year’s tournament.

david goldman/ap

The win over the Bryan brothers has generated fresh interest in the Paes-Stepanek combo in the US. In a press conference, Paes narrated

ageing well Paes after his US Open win

some of his interesting experiences in almost 20 years of playing the US Open. He was in the Twin Towers the evening of 10 September 2001. He says he still has the receipt of the purchase he made in a store there that evening. Stepanek also contributed to their appeal. He is known for his popularity with women and has dated Martina Hingis, Petra Kvitova and was married to Nicole Vaidisova. He is also particular about his T-shirts, which feature vivid designs he suggests to the company Alea. This time, there was an image of Manhattan. “It’s our little tribute to Gotham and the people here and what they stand for,” Paes said. n

teacher’s day Saha sells Rs 600 worth of kachuri every day before heading to his school

E

arly morning commuters

in suburban trains on the Kolkata-Hasnabad route swear by Kanailal Saha’s kachuri-alur torkari. Within a couple of hours, Saha sells his entire stock of Rs 600 worth of kachuri and is home in time to take over as principal of Little Planet, a primary school the 42-year-old has been running since 2007 in Kadambagachhi, an LIG (lower income group) residential colony 30 km from Kolkata. Saha was the first secondary school graduate among the 350-plus families in the colony. He was born in a household of traders in Barisal district, Bangladesh, where he went to the village primary school. Following their forced migration to West Bengal in 1980, Saha dropped out, helping his father sell samosas in Kolkata. “My father said education was a luxury in a family where arranging the next meal was a challenge,” says Saha. They finally struck a deal whereby he could attend school if he sold 100 samosas a day. He has since self-financed his school education. Teachers encouraged him by lending him books and recommending students for tuition. “In Class 7, I had my first student,” smiles Saha. But the Rs 500 admission fee for college was beyond his means, and he had to

end his formal education. Saha resolved to build a school. “I cannot stand a poor student suffering simply because s/he does not know English,” Saha says. Twelve years, two children and several family crises later, Saha and his wife Alo managed to buy a small plot in 2007 for about Rs 50,000. A kind contractor agreed to take payment in small instalments and up came Little Planet. Saha selfA majority of financed Saha’s students his school are first-generaeducation, but tion learners. couldn’t afford Most often, their mothers the Rs 500 work as college fee domestic help and fathers as masons, rickshaw pullers and other such professions. Yet, the parents rarely miss the monthly parentteacher meeting. Teachers are often Saha’s old tuition students who have all been to college and received teacher’s training. At their thatched home, Saha’s elder son Abhijit, a rank holder in West Bengal State University, is preparing for his final-year undergraduate exams. The boy says he wants to be a teacher like his father. n 23 september 2013


business

BAN KING indiaN stockmarkets in general and bank stock investors in particular have had their chins up ever since Raghuram Rajan took over as RBI Governor and said he would ease the obligation of banks to lend the Government money cheaply. The RBI-enforced Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR), which currently requires banks to hold Government bonds worth at least 23 per cent of assets, would be reduced in a calibrated manner, he said. By freeing funds, this would “overhaul the lazy personality of public sector banks” says Nirupama Soundarajan, a financial sector expert at Ficci. Granting them “freedom to invest some of the corpus in other attractive instruments” means they will have to exercise extra choice. These banks may choose to invest in corporate bonds, the market for which is immature in India since there are so few large investors, as noted by a committee on financial sector reforms that Rajan had chaired. How well an SLR reduction will work, however, is unclear. Usually, banks are keen on extra lending options when an economy is on an uptrend. When the scenario is bleak, they often prefer the safety of Government bonds—the prices of which rise if others flock to the same safety—on their own volition. This is ‘lazy banking’ and Rajan’s opposition to it serves as an “indication to global investors that we are trying to discipline our finances”, says Phani Sekhar of Angel Broking. “Banks would be logical in parking more than the RBI-mandated

NEW MESSIAH Rajan is probably betting on pension reforms to mobilise a large pool of resources

ratio of their money in Government securities as a safe bet during downturns.” Soundarajan also says that a lower SLR would be based on the assumption of an economic revival resulting in increased opportunities for banks. What Rajan may be counting on is a passage of India’s Insurance Bill acting in tandem with the Lok Sabha’s just-enacted pension sector reforms to restructure the country’s broader finances for the long term. With those reforms, India “would be able to mobilise a large pool of financial resources not only to finance Government debt but to make up our trillion dollar defi-

The improvement in exports over the past two months— due in parts to a lower base effect, a weaker rupee, and lower gold imports in August— has had a consequent salutary effect on India’s current account balance AUG ’13

JULY ’13

JUNE ’13

MAY ’13

APRIL ’13

MARCH ’13

FEB ’13

JAN ’13

DEC ’12

NOV ’12

OCT ’12

SEPT ’12

Exports yoy growth Imports yoy growth

AUG ’12

cit in infrastructure financing”, says Soundarajan. Apart from banks, insurers and pension funds would also buy Government bonds in vast quantities, which would let banks do their job of allocating credit to business projects and suchlike. Given that banks, especially in the public sector, are suffering under the weight of loans that are not being paid back (‘non-performing assets’), an SLR reduction would be a relief to them. n SHAILENDRA TYAGI Usually, banks are keen on extra lending options when an economy is on an uptrend

The Balance of Trade

(%)

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 -2 -4 -6 -8 -10 -12

punit paranjpe/afp

Rajan against Lazy Banking

Source: Bloomberg, angel research compiled by shailendra tyagi

10 open

“[A] negative spill-over effect on emerging market economies could very much backfire on other economies. So, to assume that [the] domestic economy is totally isolated, that a country is an island, would not be the right approach.” IMF chief Christine Lagarde, underscoring the need for an orderly and well-communicated tapering off of the Fed’s unconventional loose-money policy.


COMMENT doublespeak

A Thin ‘Red Line’ One year after he took a stand on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Obama finds himself trapped in his own rhetoric nazes afroz

everton green/corbis

“ T h e w o r l d s e t a red line when governments representing 9 per cent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons was abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. That was not something I just kind of made up, I did not pluck it out of thin air.” When United States President Barak Obama said this at a news conference in Stockholm last week, it sounded like he was trying desperately to justify the off-the-cuff comment he made a year ago. In August 2012, he had given a clear

message to the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad: that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would change the ‘calculus’ and the ‘equation’. It may seem a bit strange that the President is clarifying what he meant by something he said a year ago while the whole world is on edge waiting to find out how the US House of Representatives will vote on a proposal by the White House to take ‘limited military action’ to ‘punish’ President Assad for ‘using’ chemical weapon on his own people. That is because Obama is finding it

increasingly difficult to sell another war to the majority of the American people and their elected representatives, who will decide on his proposal. He has seen how public opinion against such a military intervention led to the defeat of Prime Minister David Cameron in British parliament. So he is trying to establish that the proposal set forth by his White House has nothing to do with his personal moral position, unpopularity contest Public opinion against intervention strongly influenced British Parliament


and is instead based on an international obligation. Ever since the alleged use of sarin gas by the Assad regime in the rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of Damascus hit headlines worldwide, Obama’s reference to the ‘red line’ has frequently come up—mostly unfavourably— in TV discussions and newspaper commentaries. Satirist Jon Stewart lambasted the President on The Daily Show joking that the red line “is actually a dick-measuring ribbon”, while David Letterman, a big supporter of Obama, ripped into him saying, “So, it’s taken him five years, but finally the guy has learned how to bullshit.” Even mainstream and pro-establishment media commentators are continually voicing opinions against the military action proposed by the President.

I

t may seem, from President Obama’s passionate championing of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), that the US has a principled and consistent position on the issue of chemical weapons. But evidence from recent history show otherwise; the US has always turned a blind eye when such weapons were stockpiled or used by its allies and helped achieve America’s foreign policy objectives. It is common knowledge that during the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein frequently used chemical weapons, namely mustard and nerve gas, on Iranian troops. Last week, a cache of declassified CIA dispatches sent from Baghdad during the ten-year war have come to light. The files conclusively prove the Iraqi army’s use of chemical weapons with the full knowledge and complicity of the US, which supplied Saddam Hussein with the information that led to the use of sarin gas on Iranian troops. The CIA station’s report from Baghdad back to Washington on 24 February 1984 is most telling. It states that Iraq began an aggressive programme to produce chemical weapons in 1981, and that chemicals, ammunitions, equipment and expertise were purchased in Western Europe and Egypt ‘with a view towards development of both mustard and nerve agents.’ The report also says that Iraq started using mustard gas in 1983. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, an American intelligence officer said that in 1988, the US had supplied satellite images to Iraq with early 23 september 2013

warnings of an impending Iranian attack, and that this information resulted in an Iraqi assault on Iranian position with chemical weapons. The US was also fully aware when Saddam Hussein used nerve gas against Iraqi Kurdish civilians in Halabja in 1988. One does not have to be an insider to conclude that President Ronald Reagan’s administration had full knowledge of such large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi army but wanted the war to tilt against Iran, so never acted to stop it from taking place. The claim to a ‘principled position’ by the US flies in the face of these recently published documents. Not only in the case of Iraq-Iran war, but in recent times too, the US has time and again turned a blind eye when international norms—or even its own laws—were violated. America chose to remain mute when Israel, its greatest ally in the Middle East, clandestinely acquired and armed itself with nuclear weapons. It has been

While Obama’s championing of the CWC makes it seem like the US has a principled position on chemical weapons, in fact, it has always turned a blind eye when such weapons were used by its allies and helped achieve its foreign policy objectives suspected that the US turned the other way while Syria stockpiled chemical weapons in reaction to Israel’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal because President Assad was then in the US’ good books. Former diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post Glenn Kessler has, by recently quoting his conversations with American and Middle Eastern diplomats, confirmed this suspicion.

S

o why is President Obama so fixated

on taking punitive action against Syria? On this, there is a consensus among commentators inside as well as outside America: he does not want to be seen as a weak leader. Many have also brought in the Iran factor. Syria is the only client-state of Iran, the archenemy of America since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Taking out Syria’s regime, which is controlled by Tehran, and cornering Iran would seem a prime foreign policy objective for the US. But will it be an easy task? It is

far from likely. Obama’s plan of not ‘putting boots on the ground’ and only punishing Syria by sending in a few cruise missiles will invite Russia into the game. Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly stated that he would take action if the US showered missiles on Syria, though he did not clarify what exactly that action would be. Russia has deeply entrenched interests in Syria, as the Assad regime is one of the biggest importers of Russian arms. A few years ago, under international pressure, Russia suspended its supply of advanced air-defence missiles to Syria. It is likely President Putin would resume all suspended arms supply to the Assad regime, thus making it stronger. Syria is a melting pot of almost three dozen ethnic groups that are spread thinly in all its neighbouring countries. Even though Arab Sunnis are in a majority, the country has been ruled by the Alawite Shia Assad family since 1970. The family heads the secular but dictatorial Ba’ath party and has ruled the country with an iron fist by throttling dissenting voices. Arab Sunnis are now leading the charge against President Assad in various pockets of the country. The composition of these rebels is also a tinderbox. External extremist Sunni groups with affiliations to Al-Qaeda have taken control of some of the rebel factions. These groups, enjoying open support from the despotic Sunni regimes of Saudi Arabia and other kingdoms in the Gulf region, have carried out unspeakable atrocities against minorities like the Christians and Armenians during the last two years of the civil war. These minorities have now lined up behind President Assad. If the US intervention gives an upper hand to these extremist groups, it is very likely that the civil war as yet confined to Syria will spill over as a sectarian conflict into other countries in the region such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. This will undoubtedly throw the entire region into a state of chaos. If this is the summary of the accepted and credible analysis coming from all quarters, then why would President Obama still want to press his case of ‘limited’ punitive action against the Assad regime instead of going the diplomatic route by using Russia’s influence in Syria? It could be because he boxed himself into a corner by drawing a red line of moral obligation a year ago and the media latched on to it. What is clear is that the support he is after will be difficult to come by. n open www.openthemagazine.com 13


news

reel

hunt

NIA Wants Thai Gunrunner Held by the Thai police, Willy is believed to have a role in illegally supplying Chinese weapons to Naga rebels subir bhaumik

kolkata

arrested Wuthikom Naruenartwanich alias Willy on 30 August and started grilling him about his role in shipping illegally procured Chinese weapons to Naga rebels in India. During initial questioning, Willy told police he was a restaurant owner in Bangkok and denied involvement in arms deals, Police Colonel Charoen Sisasalak said in Bangkok. “But we are grilling him and also checking his records because the Indians have provided a lot of details,” Sisasalak said. “There are some signs that he could be more than just a restaurant owner.” But Sisasalak was not willing to provide details, “in the interest of investigations”. India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials claim they have ‘robust evidence’ on the basis of which to seek Willy’s extradition to stand trial in India. China used to supply Northeastern rebels weapons for free between 1966 and 1976, training and equipping several batches of Naga and Mizo rebels. But that stopped with the end of the Cultural Revolution and the demise of Mao. After that, Northeastern rebels depended on black markets on the Thai-Cambodian border for weapons left behind during the Vietnam War. But towards the end of 1980s, Chinese ordnance majors started flooding these black markets and suppliers like Willy lapped them up to make a quick buck, feeding everyone from LTTE to NSCN and ULFA. “Our agents are in Bangkok to interrogate Willy and the extradition process is on,” says NIA chief Sharad Kumar. “He is already being tried in absentia in India... I am sure the Thais will cooperate with us.” If India manages to get Willy extradited from Thailand, it will be the first such case between the two countries after they signed an extradition treaty during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Thailand last year. Willy is one of the four main accused in the 2009-10 gunrunning case that centres round Naga rebel leader Anthony Shimray. Shimray, a top leader of the

Thai police

14 open

separatist National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), was reported to have been arrested in Bihar in October 2010, though NSCN says he was picked up from Nepal. “Shimray has already told us that Willy could provide more details of his links to the Chinese arms dealers that Shimray does not know about,” said a senior NIA official now in Bangkok. “That would crucial for us to unravel the network used by our rebels to bring Chinese weapons into the country.” NIA says Anthony Shimray has confessed during questioning that a huge shipment of Chinese weapons was to be taken to the Cox’s Bazar coast in Bangladesh from Beihei port in the South

The NIA says it has now got hold of emails exchanged between Naga rebel leaders and Willy about the clandestine purchase of more than 1,000 AK series rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers. It also has evidence of $700,000 paid to a Chinese firm by Willy for the deal China Sea near Vietnam in 2010. The consignment was then to be taken by trucks run by a Bangladesh smuggling syndicate to the Chittagong Hill Tracts and delivered to the NSCN rebels in Mizoram. The NIA charge sheet names Willy, Shimray and two others in the arms smuggling case they have filed. Twice before have huge weapons consignments been intercepted on this route that runs from Southeast Asia to the Bangladesh coast and into India’s Northeast. In April-May 1995, the Indian army launched ‘Operation Golden Bird’ after it was discovered that more than 200 rebel

fighters from three separatist groups had entered the Mizoram hills after picking up a huge consignment of weapons at Wyakaung beach near Cox’s Bazar. 38 rebels were killed in a series of gun battles in the hills and 118 rebels, including some leaders, were arrested by Indian troops, who had managed to corner the rebel column with help from the Myanmar army, which had blocked escape routes by sealing its side of the hilly border. A large number of weapons were seized. On 30 April 2004, Bangladesh police seized a huge consignment of weapons from a dock in Chittagong after they had been brought into the port city by small boats in a lighterage operation from a big ship that had transported the weapons all the way from Hong Kong. Bangladesh arms dealer Hafizur Rahman, arrested after Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009, has told police in Chittagong during questioning that the weapons were meant for the ULFA, which would take them into the Northeast, keep some and sell the rest to other groups. Several top Bangladesh intelligence officials have been implicated in the case and are now facing trial. A red corner notice has been issued for ULFA Military Wing Chief Paresh Barua, seeking his arrest to stand trial in the case. But Barua is said to have shifted base from Bangladesh to somewhere in the Myanmar-China border near the town of Ruili. Shimray told the NIA during interrogation that he paid an advance of $800,000 in April 2010 to a Bangkok-based company run by Willy to source rocket launchers, grenades, assault rifles and ammunition for the NSCN from a weapons supplier in mainland China. The NIA says it has now got hold of emails exchanged between NSCN (I-M) leaders and Willy regarding the clandestine purchase of more than 1,000 AK series rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers. It also has evidence of $700,000 paid to a Chinese firm by Willy for the deal. Another businessman who introduced Shimray and other NSCN leaders to Willy is now a witness in the case. According to the NIA charge sheet, Willy put the NSCN leaders in touch with one Yuthna, a representative of Chinese firm TCL, which was the ‘cut-out’ for Chinese ordnance major Norinco. The NIA also has electronic receipts of the payments—$700,000 to TCL and $100,000 to shipping agent Kittichai of Intermarine Shipping Company of Bangkok for transporting the weapons to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. n 23 september 2013


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co m m u n a l i s m

saffronising the jats Tikait’s heirs are willing to sacrifice their father’s inclusive approach to politics for a few favours from the BJP DHIRENDRA K JHA

R

akesh and Naresh Tikait, the

commanders of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), have long been two of the most unpredictable farmer leaders in western Uttar Pradesh. The communal conflagration in Muzaffarnagar and nearby districts shows they have entered a period when they could become even more unpredictable than usual—and perhaps dangerous too. The new axis they have formed with the BJP, in order to realise their political ambitions, has already delivered a serious blow to the social fabric of the Jatland. The sequence of events by which an isolated crime turned into a widespread communal flare up in Muzaffarnagar and other nearby districts of western UP clearly bears the stamp of this axis. In fact, the 7 September Mahapanchayat that gave way to a series of clashes in the region was called by the Tikait brothers, sons of BKU founder Mahendra Singh Tikait. According to police records, the Tikait brothers, together with BJP leaders Hukum Singh, Sangeet Som and some others, addressed the Mahapanchayat. Provocative statements were made, and once the meeting ended, communal clashes began. Singh is the leader of the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh assembly, while Som is an MLA from the Sardhana constituency. 16 open

The Mahapanchayat had been convened over the murder of two people from the Jat community. The two murders followed the killing of a man from another community on 27 August over alleged vulgar remarks passed at a girl in Kawal village, Muzaffarnagar district. For almost a decade, the Tikaits have been trying to reap the political harvest of the popularity the BKU had achieved under the leadership of their father, but all their attempts so far have failed miserably. It is widely believed in Muzaffarnagar and nearby districts that with the help of the new alliance the Tikaits, particularly Rakesh Tikait, may be getting ready to test the political waters once again. It is too early to know whether the new alliance will actually help them get a political foothold, yet recent events show they have already become part of the brutal polarisation politics to which UP has been subjected for the past couple of months. BKU spokesperson Dharmendra Kumar denies these allegations, asserting that ‘there is no nexus between the BJP and the Tikait brothers’, and that the sons of Mahendra Singh Tikait have ‘no political ambitions’. He insists, however, that ‘the murder of two persons belonging to the Jat community at Kawal village on 27 August and the administration’s failure in nabbing the culprit—and not the provocative statements made at the

Mahapanchayat on 7 September—resulted in communal backlash in the region.’ Whether the Tikait brothers have any political ambitions or not, they have plainly allowed themselves to be used by those trying to communalise what was essentially an isolated crime. Also if the murder of two persons belonging to the Jat community was the trigger, the communal flare-up would have started immediately after the crime and would not have waited till the Tikaits’ Mahapanchayat on 7 September. 23 September 2013


gajendra yadav/express archives

signed in blood The way an isolated incident turned into a widespread communal flare-up in Muzaffarnagar bears the mark of the Tikaits’ new closeness with the BJP

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here are enough indications that ahead of the Lok Sabha elections due early next year, there have been plenty of attempts to communally polarise the electorate in UP. More than 50 clashes have taken place in the state over the past year or so. Nearly a dozen of these were recorded as major communal riots. In June 2012 a riot broke out at Kosi Kalan in Mathura following a dispute over drinking water outside a place of worship in which four persons were killed. In July last year, three persons

23 September 2013

were killed in riot that broke out in Bareilly over loud music near a place of worship. Fresh violence broke out in Bareilly in August and curfew had to be imposed. In September last year, at least six persons were killed in Ghaziabad in clashes over the alleged desecration of a sacred book. On 24 October, communal riots broke out at three places in Faizabad district in which at least three persons were killed, nearly two dozen shops belonging to a particular community were gutted and a place of worship was thor-

oughly vandalised. On 6 December last year, Azamgarh experienced a communal flare-up in which 11 persons were injured. Even in districts like Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Shamli, efforts were being made for quite some time to create communal polarisation. In June last year, for example, there was a major communal clash in Muzaffarnagar in which 20 persons were badly wounded. In April and July this year, Meerut experienced two phases of communal violence in which open www.openthemagazine.com 17


two persons were killed. A mere couple of days before the present conflagration, there was a conflict between the two communities in Shamli on 3 September during which one person was killed and ten others were injured. That the BJP has been trying to foment disturbance becomes clear by the fact that its leaders on the ground have been letting go of no opportunity to add communal colour to even the smallest of events involving two communities. Take, for instance, the Mahapanchayat of Jats that took place at Talesra village in Aligarh district on 18 August this year. The meeting had been called following a dispute arising from the elopement of a girl belonging to the Jat community with a boy of the minority community. Leaders of various political parties were present at the Mahapanchayat, which was attended by nearly three thousand people, mostly Jats. ‘BJP district president Devraj Singh tried to communalise the issue,’ says Suman Sharma, a resident of nearby Bhogpur village, who was also present at the meeting. ‘The BJP leader started saying that Muslims were taking advantage of the situation because Hindus were not united. He kept on exhorting Hindus to get united against the threat being posed by the Muslims.’ Finally, the Mahapanchayat resolved to boycott Muslims in the neighbourhood, she added. Somehow, the situation did not deteriorate in Aligarh. But in Muzaffarnagar similar exhortations following an isolated crime involving members of two communities have resulted in such grave communal conflagrations that they have engulfed neighbouring districts and have spread like wild fire to rural areas. In fact, of all the communal riots the state has witnessed in the past year or so, the present one in the western districts is by far the most severe and widespread, involving the maximum casualties and loss of property. While Muslims account for 18 per cent of the total population of UP, in the western districts, they constitute over 30 per cent of the population. Barring extremely localised instances, the Jatland has mostly remained free of major communal flare-ups. Only in the early 1990s, around the time the Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu communalists, were there major communal 18 open

disturbances in the region.

E

ven in those testing days, Mahendra

Singh Tikait firmly refused to be swayed by communal forces. That his sons are extending a helping hand to those communalising the environment in Muzaffarnagar now is, therefore, seen by many as a rather unusual development, not in keeping with the BKU’s past. ‘Never during his life-time did Tikait ever align with the BJP. Both Jats and Muslims used to attend his public meetings,’ says a Muzaffarnagar-based leader of All India Kisan Sabha, Ved Prakash Ved. ‘It was a normal practice in his meetings that while some Hindus used to shout “Allaho-akbar”, a group of Muslims used to raise the Hindu religious slogan of “Har Har Mahadev”. Even when the BJP tried to show its sympathy to him fol-

For almost a decade, Tikait’s sons have been trying to reap the political harvest of the popularity of the BKU under their father, but have failed miserably lowing his arrest by the Mayawati government in April 2008, he maintained his secular image by staying away from the Sangh Parivar,’ he adds. Tikait, who founded the BKU in 1986 as a peasants’ organisation focusing primarily on sugarcane prices, shot to national fame in 1988 when thousands of his supporters from western Uttar Pradesh filled the expansive India Gate lawns of Delhi. For a week, they lived there, cooking their meals and bathing in the open. The middle classes frowned at the chaotic disarray that had broken out in the heart of the city, and the government was at a loss to cope with the sudden influx of such a large number of Jat peasants into the well-ordered nerve centre of the capital. Even on the occasions when he showed some inclination toward VP Singh’s Jan Morcha in the late 1980s, or the Janata Dal in the early 1990s, or even Congress

in the late 1990s, formally, he continued to claim himself and his organisation apolitical. It was only at the behest of his son Rakesh Tikait that he agreed to start a political wing of the BKU, called Bharatiya Kisan Dal (BKD), ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2004. The party fielded nine candidates in that election, all of whom failed miserably. In the 2007 Assembly polls, Rakesh Tikait contested from Khatauli, but lost his deposit despite tacit support from the Congress. In April 2008, following his casteist slur against then Chief Minister Mayawati, Mahendra Singh Tikait was arrested and a case filed against him under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. Following this, both the BJP and Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party expressed their solidarity with the BKU chief. Thereafter, the Tikaits started shifting their allegiance to Mulayam, though the BKU chief never openly admitted the nexus. This remained so till his death in May 2011. For over a year, his sons continued the same way. But around the end of 2012, the Tikait brothers’ disenchantment with the SP started growing. A senior SP leader says: ‘We want to maintain a distance from Tikait brothers due to their political ambitions.’ Observers believe that the Tikait brothers’ unmitigated failure in the polls and their inability to draw anything substantial from their ties with the SP have finally led to their drift towards the BJP. Whether they can manage a successful turnaround in their political fortunes depends not only on the manner in which Jat politics unfolds in the months to come, but also on the BJP, without whose help the Tikaits would quickly collapse. Whatever the case, the active role of the BJP and other members of the Sangh Parivar, combined with the SP government’s failure to act on time—or, sometimes, at all—have created a situation in which the two parties look like mirroropposites of each other. The insecurity and fear on which the rival political sides seem to be feeding are likely to be intensified as the 2014 Lok Sabha polls approach. In the months ahead, as the BJP enters into a do-or-die battle, especially in UP, the good sense of the people here is set to be put to a harsh test. n 23 September 2013


d i s co r d

The Band’s Visit

dar yasin/AP

The chasm between feeling and reality in Kashmir RAHUL PANDITA

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he SUVs raced down Srinagar’s

Boulevard Road. They crossed one barricade after another without resistance. The soldiers checked the VIP stickers on windshields or looked in to see if the guests were carrying the invitation cards, and waved them on. At the designated parking lots, a couple of kilometres from Shalimar Bagh, the guests got off their vehicles, and were made to sit in other cars or buses, with an armed policeman in tow. They zipped through the narrow road leading to the garden, 20 open

with a few local bystanders watching the spectacle. The guests alighted outside the Garden main gate, passed through metal detectors, adjusted their bow ties or Dior shades and walked in. In 1981, during a concert in Tel Aviv, Zubin Mehta announced he would conduct Tristan and Isolde, an opera written by Richard Wagner, who was Hitler’s favourite composer. In the midst of protests, a holocaust survivor jumped to his feet and unbuttoned his shirt to show Mehta his scars. Now, India may

not be comparable with Nazi Germany, but separatist leaders in Kashmir and their friends in Delhi had tried their best to persuade Germany to call off the concert at Shalimar Bagh. Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called it the “nefarious design” of “a Jew who propagates Zionism.” But there was no possibility of a Tel Aviv redux in Kashmir. Only about 2,000 passes to the show were issued. Many Kashmiris who managed to get a pass found policemen at their doors for 23 September 2013


NOT AS IMAGINED Zubin Mehta and the Bavarian state orchestra at the Shalimar Bagh concert

security checks. An hour before the concert, most seats at the venue had already been occupied. The best seats were reserved for politicians. Behind the first two or three rows, where the most important dignitaries like the Chief Minister and the German ambassador were seated, people kept shuffling seats to get a better view. The socialite mother-daughter duo of Bina and Malini Ramani too were there, hopping from seat to seat, throwing air kisses at people they knew. Radha Kumar, a former Centre-appointed interlocutor, also arrived, dupatta draped over her head. Actor Akbar Khan was also there. A day later, on the return flight to Delhi, he learnt from the owner of an upholstery store that saffron grew in Kashmir. After short speeches by the German ambassador, the Chief Minister and Zubin Mehta, the Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (Feeling for Kashmir) concert began. Mehta and his orchestra first played a beautiful piece with a group of Kashmiri artists. But later, when they were playing Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, many in the audience started growing restless. Some clapped at inopportune moments, sometimes in the middle of a composition. A member of the state legislative council sitting next to me kept fiddling with his iPhone, the concert guidebook lying at his feet. He picked it up after the orchestra had finished playing Beethoven’s Fifth symphony. I thought the music had finally roused him. But he just glanced through the Chief Minister’s message at the beginning of the booklet. For the handful who had come for the sheer love of music, it was a wonderful treat. This, despite the unsatisfactory acoustics, a largely unappreciative audience and actor Gul Panag as compere, whose insistence on using Urdu spelt doom—especially when she meant to say taawun (co-operation) and managed towuun (which in Kashmiri is ‘the worst of hells’).

E

ven as Mehta was leading his concert, a parallel protest concert called Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (The Reality of Kashmir) was being held at a park on

23 September 2013

Srinagar’s Residency Road. I went there in the afternoon. The event was to begin in the evening, but the organisers had put up banners about human rights violations in Kashmir, including the forced disappearances of young men in the past two decades of insurgency. At that time, journalists outnumbered the audience here, and many of them flocked around separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. He was talking to the TV cameras. Minutes later, two men accompanied by a young girl and two women entered the park. “What is happening to us is also haqeeqat,” one of them shouted. The man, Saifullah Farooq, and his friend Irshad, turned out to be former militants. “No one is bothered about us. We have nothing to eat, we have no jobs. My daughter cannot even get into a school,” Farooq said, pointing at the young girl. His wife said they lived in an empty Kashmiri Pandit house in old Srinagar. “Even this

The relatives of those who disappeared in Kashmir’s bloody conflict gather every month in a Srinagar park. Maybe Mehta will play there one day is used as an insult against us,” she said. “They only address us as the family that lives in the Pandit house.” Farooq pointed at Irshad. “His heart has developed a hole, but nobody holds our hand,” he said. While the young girl stared at me, I noticed Farooq’s shirt had two upper buttons missing. He spoke very agitatedly. As he invoked his haqeeqat again, the Mirwaiz, surrounded by a group of his followers, quietly shuffled away.

G

eelani is not the kind of person who

watches movies. But he should perhaps make an exception for The Band’s Visit, a 2007 film about an Egyptian police band that arrives in Israel to play at an Arab cultural centre but gets lost, ending up in a remote Israeli town. Through the events of that one night, the film beautifully portrays the lives of both ‘enemies’—how similar they are in their ordinariness, in the hope and

disappointments they live with, and in the happiness they seek. In a single scene, the film powerfully shatters a stereotype when the band’s young trumpet player helps an inexperienced Israeli woo a shy girl. The trumpet player’s role is essayed by Saleh Bakri, whose father, the prominent Arab actor Mohammed Bakri, made Jenin, Jenin, a film on the 2002 Israeli massacre in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin. During an award ceremony, an emotional Saleh thanked his father, who he said had “taught me to love mankind” and his mother “who taught me to bear the burden of life in this country and stand strong.” In her acceptance speech, Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz turned to the film director and said: “You reminded us of a thing or two that we have already managed to forget. You showed us what would happen if we stood before each other, Jews and Arabs, and looked each other in the eye.” There is a lesson there. If Mohammed Bakri had prevented his son from playing that role due to his political convictions, it would have been an immense loss to both the film and the actor and to thousands of people who watched the film and were inspired in one way or another. Music does not change the reality of Kashmir. It continues being a conflict zone. But throughout history, there are examples where music has led to the bridging of gaps considered unfathomable. In the spring of 2008, the New York Philharmonic played in North Korea and even a dictator like Kim Jong-il allowed it. Last year, the UAE-based SharQ orchestra, led by Mohamad Hamami, played a beautiful piece, Bamyan, as a tribute to the two statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. It is a pity that when Zubin Mehta conducted soulful music, the aam Kashmiri was not there to enjoy it. But it was necessary to give it a chance. It is in a park in Srinagar that the relatives of those who have disappeared in Kashmir’s bloody conflict gather every month. Maybe Mehta will be inspired to conduct music in that park one day. If he could for Gilad Shalit, then he can do it for Nazir Ahmed, who went missing in September 1990 and whose mother Mogli died a few years ago in the hope that some day Nazir would return. n open www.openthemagazine.com 21


fa b l e s

Lve in the Small Town How the other India does it Aastha Atray banan, Anil Budur Lulla, Chinki Sinha, Gunjeet Sra


ritesh uttamchandani

shadow love A couple watches the sunset on the Tapi in Surat, where couples are not often seen together in public


Patna, Bihar

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hat afternoon at the restaurant, Tanweer Kamal

left his wallet behind, pretended he was taking a phone call and went outside. As he had expected, the girl checked the contents and found a neatly folded sheet of paper inside it. It had her name and ‘I love you’ written in blood. They had been sipping cola in a dimly lit restaurant. It had been a couple of years since they started talking and meeting.

ritesh uttamchandani

When he entered, she asked him about it, and he said he never had the courage to tell her how he had loved her all these months. The girl began to cry. She said if he loved her so much, he could have just written to her. “Why not ink? Why this blood?” she kept saying. What she didn’t know was that, for Kamal, this was standard operating procedure. “I never wasted any blood,” says the 30-year-old lawyer. If he cut himself by mistake while shaving, he would be prudent enough to scribble ‘I love you’ on a paper using that blood. He says, “I always kept two or three letters like this handy. I even gave one to a friend who wanted it. You can give a thousand gifts, but unless you write in blood, a tradition established many, many years ago, you won’t really be seen as the intense lover.” His cousin cut his wrist to write these long letters to a girl. “But one needs to be innovative, not stupid,” he says. In Patna, there were these odd spaces where couples could get a little private time. Like Daffodils restaurant, which was often raided by cops. It was located in this strange mall-like structure, carved out of an old haveli. The restaurant had these little cubicles with curtains, which were drawn to give couples privacy. There was an hourly rate and couples found the dim lights of the restaurant most convenient. When their time was up, they

ruhani kaur

young hearts (Clockwise from left) A couple in Surat; Tanweer Kamal’s letter in blood; a young man with his girlfriend outside her hostel in Nainital


quietly walked out. For those hours behind the curtains, they were not disturbed. At first, Daffodils had proper cabins. Then a raid took place and the cabins became cubicles with thick curtains. More raids, and the curtains got shorter. The restaurant is now closed. Surat, Gujarat

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hwanil Patel yearned for a girlfriend ever since he was 21. His mother had told him that whatever else he might do with life, his girl would be her choice and of their caste. She saw Janaki Patel at a wedding and knew she would be the ideal one for her son. The two were introduced and Dhwanil was told that Janaki can be his girlfriend, provided they get married one day. He agreed and so did she, though Janaki was taken aback at the prospect when it was first suggested. Both are 23 now and belong to well-to-do families. Dhwanil’s sister Pinal says, “My brother has a readymade girlfriend, who he will now marry.” The couple are sitting together at Coffee Culture, a popular hangout in Surat. He is outgoing, she is reserved. Once in a while, he fondly touches her arm or cheek. She says, “I was shocked when we got engaged. But then, I feel, love doesn’t happen overnight. As I have got to know him, I have slowly fallen in love with him.” He imagines that when they do start having sex, it will be awesome every single time. She smiles mockingly at the suggestion. They spend their time on long drives in a BMW or just hanging out at house parties. That’s as far as they will go. “Sometimes I feel I should just go to her house and say let’s do it now. But I know what we are doing is so much better. I feel her even when I cross her house,” says Dhwanil. He once met a Parsi in Mumbai who told him, “Don’t be a typical Gujju and cry for a virgin girl. If she likes you and is nice to you, that’s enough.” He professes to be liberal in his outlook. “I tell my girl you can do what you want. But if something wrong happens, I will beat the shit out of that guy.”

Patna, Bihar

W

e will call him Ishaqzaade. He spent seven years drinking numerous cups of tea at a chai stall for hours every day so he could get a glimpse of the girl who would come to the balcony to either hang clothes or take them back in. This played out in a small space between a big garbage dump and the tea stall. Next to Patna University. The man had earlier been dumped by the girl’s elder sis-

23 September 2013

ter, who started seeing someone else. He was heartbroken, but fell in love with the younger sister who wasn’t pretty at all. The girl belonged to the Jain community, and Ishaqzaade is Muslim. To add to woes, the girl didn’t have a mobile phone. Ishaqzaade would leave his house in the morning at 8. He would take a rickshaw to the tea stall, sit there till 9, and then go and open his shop, ani Sah i Rav work a couple of hours, and return to the tea stall in the afternoon. He would come again in the evening, and then late at night. This went on for seven years. Once the girl had gone to Ranchi for a wedding. Ishaqzaade followed her there. He stayed in a hotel for two days, borrowed money to cover his expenses. On the second evening, the girl came outside the venue dressed in her finery. He saw her from across the road, and then

“I never wasted any blood,” says 30-year-old Tanweer Kamal. If he cut himself by mistake while shaving, he would be prudent enough to scribble ‘I love you’ on a paper using that blood went to board the train back. Finally the girl said she was ready to marry him. Ishaqzaade’s friends were surprised. She was educated, and used to treat him badly. Now they are married after eloping, and the girl is pregnant. When he was wooing her, the couple had barely met a couple of times. For years, love sustained itself through his shifts at the chai stall. Belgaum, Karnataka

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iddharth Mutkekar, a 19-year-old student of electronics, once got caught with a girl on her terrace when her parents walked in earlier than expected. Her father suspected they were up to something and banned them from ever meeting again. “We were just sitting close to each other,’’ he says. “We were not doing anything bad, just trying to vibe.’’ For him and his friends, an ideal girl is attractive, should have a sense of humour and be able to handle any situation. “She should be able to handle her parents too,’’ says Siddharth. Another time at a theatre, one of his relatives saw the couple and snitched to his mother. “It didn’t matter as I open www.openthemagazine.com 25


photos paroma mukherjee

going out (Clockwise from right) Aishwarya Massey has the date she began going out with her boyfriend tattooed on her hand; in Nashik, college students hang out near a popular bakery, girls cover their faces while out with boys, and young couples frequent the Sula vineyards

confess everything to my parents,’’ he says. But, if his girlfriend’s neighbour or relative had seen them, there would have been worse consequences. Belgaum is still a conservative town. On the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, one can see couples in the parking lot or occupying a table for hours at the canteen. Says Ankita Priyadarshan, a 20-year-old second year medical student, “I know of friends who live together outside campus. Many have been together for years. Their landlords may not know 26 open

ruhani kaur

the truth. And the girls know there will be other issues if any of them were in a [declared] live-in relationship.’’ Aditya Batra, 22, a second year student, says anyone in such a relationship should get married. He knows a doctor couple who recently did that with the approval of their parents. Recently, the campus was agog with the news of a break-up after a six-year relationship. The girl got admission to a foreign university while her partner 23 September 2013


did not. Now, he walks alone on campus and does not mingle with anyone, says a student. Nainital, Uttarakhand

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hree years ago Sukhomoy Majumdar, 32 then, real-

ised the parents of the girl he had been dating would not agree to their relationship because they were from different castes. So one day he gave her an ultimatum—marry or leave. She agreed and the next day they got married outside town, with another couple and his family in attendance. Their intercaste marriage was quite a scandal in the small town, but the gossip eventually died down and now the two are happily settled. “It never occurred to her that she wouldn’t be allowed to go home after that,” he says. Milan, who is 16 years old, is certain he will marry his girlfriend. “Why should I marry someone else?” he says. Their parents know about the relationship. He pursued her for a year. They eventually became friends, and then transitioned to a relationship. It’s all quite filmi in Nainital—a stolen glance, waiting for hours to catch a glimpse, coordinated accidental runins at the market, old-fashioned letters, flowers and teddy bears. Gifts have to be discreet; dramatic gestures draw a lot of attention and could be socially suicidal for the girl. Lovers rendezvous in obscure areas such as Thandi Sadak behind the lake. Walking together but not on the same side of the road, pretending to be on the phone and having a conversation, hiding behind stone pillars of old buildings to hold hands, the accidental graze of lips… it’s like going back in time. Muzaffarnagar, UP

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hey went to the same school and he first noticed her

in Class 8. Every time he saw her, his mouth would go dry, his heart would start thumping. Shahnawaz felt it might leap out and embarrass him. He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to tell her then. He was afraid of the consequences. He wasn’t even a good student. So, the first semester in the next grade, he spent trying to improve his marks. He did. That’s when he approached her and told her he liked her “in that way”. She said she liked him too, but in the way sisters like brothers. That was a letdown, but he didn’t give up. He’d go up to her evey few months and repeat the proposal. She finally relented. Persistence paid, but he says they couldn’t sustain it. He is now in college in Bangalore. That was love. Here, in this big city, it is more a complex game of egos, convenience and other things. “It’s not like there is no love here. There could be. But not the same kind. Even when it was unrequited, you’d wait patiently. You had invested so much. You were not looking for sex. You wanted the person real bad,” he says. “If she came

23 September 2013

in front of me, I’d be so nervous.”

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aideep Sahni, writer of the just released Shhudh Desi

Romance, a film about small town love, recalls a meeting he had with a bunch of youngsters in Jodhpur (see ‘Shuddh Desi’, page 58). He asked them if it was really necessary to get married. The girls thought about it and said they have seen friends who are married and it seems like a jail. But since they know they won’t be allowed a live-in relationship, they will get married. The boys just said ‘ultimately shaadi karni padegi’. “They couldn’t explain why they said ‘ultimately’,” says Sahni. When he asked about kids, the girls said they didn’t really want to have them because they wanted to focus on careers. The boys said it was needed “to carry forward the family name!” “The girls were practical and pragmatic. They wanted to be married and all—it was like, a little of my way, and a little of what society says. They were sure they didn’t want to waste their lives,” he says. For the movie, Yashraj commissioned a survey by Ormax Media. They spoke to youngsters in 40 cities—including Aurangabad, Rajkot, Amritsar, Meerut, Dhanbad, Vijaywada and Ranchi, among others—about love. 36 per cent said they would rather stay in an unhappy marriage than seek divorce, 30 per cent of men said there was nothing wrong with a one-night stand even if in a committed relationship, and for 64 per cent dating implied they were in a sexual relationship. Surat, Gujarat

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ehal Shah and Shalya Pachchigar are both 22 years old. They met in college. Shalya liked her but he took his time deciding to ask her out. They are now at a stage where their families have decided they will be together and an engagement will happen soon. He thinks virginity is a virtue; she says she can’t even comprehend how that matters. “Even if she has had sex before, she will be doing it with you now, forever. Isn’t that important?” she says. He grins and says he was naughty in school and knows how boys think. That is why he would like to have a say in which boys Nehal talks to. “I trust her, but I don’t trust the person in front of her,” he says. Nehal recounts “a really funny incident”. “We were at a college festival and an old male friend hugged me. The same guy also knew Shalya, but just waved at him. So this one got super pissed off,” she says. Shalya makes a face. “Obviously. Why not give me a hug too?”

Patna, Bihar

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anweer Kamal is also a love guru of sorts, offering

wise counsel in matters of the heart. He says he has

open www.openthemagazine.com 27


helped 16 of his clients get married. And these were tough cases, where the girl belonged to a different religion or to a very orthodox family. On the conference call, his cousin intervenes. “Oh, he is the master,” he says. “He knows better. But let me tell you this story anyways.” So there was this girl. Pretty and petite and that is not the only thing. Kamal fell for her, and would walk two kilometres every evening to get a glimpse of her. He lived in Patna Market, and the girl lived in a different neighbourhood. The girl would come to the balcony for a few seconds, and he would look up, put his hand across his chest, and let out a sigh. “She would come like Akbar badshah and give darshan for one minute,” he says. This was in 2003. Then he heard from a common friend that she was getting married. He asked if he could bid her farewell at a restaurant. She came. “I said ‘tum ja rahi ho?’. You could have married me. She said that was not possible. She said she hadn’t ever considered me her lover, and I was like ‘what about those promises, and those meetings?’. She said ‘let’s be friends’. I fell

Pratik is 19. He wants a virgin bride, so he can teach her something new every night. “What’s the point if she has already done everything with someone else?” he asks

Kavish Rathore, an engineer and part-time dance instructor who has settled in the area, interacts regularly with students. He says almost every adolescent here is obsessed with romance and love. “By the time they are 13, they are dying to be in love. The only breakups that happen in the area are due to caste differences,” says Rathore. “If a girl has a reputation, nobody except men looking to have a good time will even consider dating her, let alone marrying her.” Nashik, Maharashtra

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ratik is 19. He is studying to be a lawyer and wants a virgin bride, so he can teach her something new every night. “What’s the point if she has already done everything with someone else?” he asks. He is in a small bakery in the heart of Nashik market. There are no clubs or pubs in this town. Vineyards nearby serve as dating haunts. Or they go on long drives. Along with Pratik are his friends Karan, Rahul and Apoorva, all in the same age group. Apoorva, a popular girl in college, hadn’t ever noticed Rahul. When he made a friend play Cupid, she said she didn’t speak to strangers. But once they got talking, she began to reciprocate his feelings. They will tell their parents once they have finished college and started earning. Rahul says he is ready to wait for sex and it doesn’t really matter. Apoorva says, “I want to wait for marriage to have sex, but if I am with the person I want to get married to, then maybe I will think about it.”

Nainital, Uttarakhand

silent and handed her this sheet where, like Ghalib, I had poured my heart out.” The girl read the two-page dedication, and nodded. “She said ‘bahut achcha hai’. But I retorted: ‘I am not looking for appreciation. I am only expressing grief. This isn’t a poetry class.’” Nainital, Uttarakhand

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ishwarya Massi keeps dried petals from the first rose Ryan gave her and carries the letters he wrote to her in his pocket. They are both 17 years old. Last year, they exchanged vows in mock marriage outside a Methodist church. “I also have the date tattooed on my hand,” she says proudly, displaying her hand. She has been open about her relationship with her family. “They were okay with it, as long as we met at home, supervised. We managed to sneak out and do our thing all the time, though,” she giggles. Her boyfriend, who is in a hostel these days, is waiting eagerly to see his girlfriend. They have kept their relationship going through long hours on Whatsapp and the phone. 28 open

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ollege students Garima and Rahul have been in a

two-year relationship. Garima is a Brahmin, Rahul is a Thakur from neighbouring Haldwani. “Her family is very conservative. But I am not letting her go,” he says looking at her possessively. She blushes and their fingers touch for a second. That is enough to make her collapse into giggles. Rahul smiles. “It’s this simplicity that draws me to her. She is different from other girls. She is vulnerable and emotional. I love that about her.” Now that college is ending, he will go back to his hometown and then maybe Delhi. They will continue their relationship over phone. “My sister is the biggest villain in our story. Just 23 years old and she is opposed to the idea of marrying outside the community. My father will never let me leave town,” says Garima. Rahul complains to her of not being able to meet enough, but Garima is unapologetic—any time she spends outside home has to be accounted for. “So we do what everyone around here does—we meet before tuitions. I wait hours to meet her,” laughs Rahul. Garima nods like a near-passive observer of her life. Will she stand up to her parents? “I will make her. There is no other way,” says Rahul. She smiles reassuringly, “I will.” n 23 September 2013


ways o f s e e i n g c h i n k i s i n h a

Love in Patna Memories of a youthful encounter

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any years ago, I wrote a letter to a boy who had followed my rickshaw home and flung in my direction a packet containing two bars of chocolate, a card and a long letter. I felt I should write back. So I did: ‘Marriage is a collection of rings. First comes the engagement ring, then the wedding ring, and at last comes “the suffering”’. Also that I didn’t want to get married, and that ‘I wanted to arrive like a comet on the firmament of fashion design’. For many months, we exchanged letters. We spoke on the phone, and it was hard because the landline had three extensions. I would insert cotton into the other extension ports to make it seem the line had gone dead. In any case, both he and I left Patna. I never managed my threatened dramatic entry into the world of fashion design and instead became a writer. He went on to do engineering, and then got a management degree, and went all over the world trying to figure how to be at peace with himself and the world. We kept bumping into each other. Once it happened at Delhi railway station, and some months later he called the Patna landline and we spoke. He still tells me I was nicer in the winter, and my chances of falling in love with him were higher then. In the summer, though he will never say it, I know he wants to say I was a bitch. We weren’t an item, but of that city and of those times, his is the most profound love I ever encountered. He has kept my letters. A couple of years ago, when I was in Bombay, we met and read them together and laughed. And talked about the loss of innocence—that whole deal of trying to sound cool, and different, using words like ‘gimme’, ‘lemme’, ‘wanna’, ‘gal’, and gifting each other friendship certificates and chocolates and cassette tapes with dedications. He had a bicycle he called Manisha because he loved the actress Manisha Koirala, and wore a strand of his dead dog’s hair in a locket around his neck. He is a collector. He has preserved the wrappers of chocolate he ate while he stood waiting for my rickshaw to pass. The notebooks where I solved mathematical equations are also with him. He had insisted on these. I think we met a few times at this restaurant called McRonald’s. It was right across from Maurya Lok, and had Ronald, the clown, sitting on a bench right outside the two-floor eatery. Inside, Sharmaji, a friendly waiter, was always there to manage situations where parents might come looking for their daughters. We hadn’t known about McDonald’s then; we were happy in the knockoff. This was also the preferred rendezvous for blind dates. Girls from colleges escaped between classes, looking like a version of the Talibani vision, dupatta wrapped tightly around the face, so nobody could recognise them. We would order

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chicken soup and linger over it for hours before we went home. I screwed my attendance and he didn’t clear the IIT entrance in his first attempt. In November 2011, we opened the old letters. Nostalgia, he said, was good for the soul. I wrote horribly; he wasn’t so bad. He told me how he would spend hours at the recording shop looking for songs he could dedicate to me. These would have to be charged with emotion, but any bold or potentially offensive words like ‘jawani’ and ‘chandni raatein’ would come with a disclaimer in the form of a letter. I had just one safe-bet song: ‘Jab hum jawan honge’ from Betaab. Now that we are older, he tells me I should finally dedicate a bolder song. Or a better one. We decided long ago that we should remain as we were—‘an aspiring couple’. Because it wouldn’t do to overwrite memory. In this case, it is a sweet remembrance of those long letters, and the occasional meeting at McRonald’s. shut down a few years ago. The city He has preserved It and its roads aren’t the same either. the wrappers of I used to live in a house—which my father chose to call ‘White House’— chocolate he for a few months in the winter to preate while he pare for exams. He would often come stood waiting there and roam the street. I would for my rickshaw stand in the balcony, and if nobody was looking, I would smile. to pass White House is now gone. My father sold it to fund our education. In another part of the city, he too lived on the banks of the Ganga. He would say the river connected us. We’d both gaze at it. For much of the world, the paraphernalia of such utopian love is an archaic thing. But the truth is love needs to be grand. And love in Patna in those days was something grand. I know it was the city then. Cities exist in memories. You don’t find them in real time. I have a few of those gifts from the past, locked away in an old cupboard. There are all these little teddies and Archies cards and friendship bands. There is a diary, too. And letters to me, one written every day, given to me at the end of the year. When I first got a mobile phone, a cheap blue Motorola, I started to write the texts in a diary. I had wanted to preserve the love for future. Only when I am in the city I left behind, I am surrounded with the love I had, and lost to other things like a big city dream, and the itch to see more of the world. I don’t own a grand museum of love like Orhan Pamuk, but like him, I have a few wrappers of chocolate in that cupboard. Somehow I had known there would many kinds of love, but never the same love twice. n open www.openthemagazine.com 29


photos raul irani

s pac e t r av e l

Men Are for Mars ...and women, too. What makes them take a sevenmonth one-way trip to an uninhabitable planet? MADHAVANKUTTY PILLAI

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en who want to go to Mars some-

times don’t tell their wives about it, and that doesn’t go down too well with them. Sameer Lowe filled his application in office and by the time his wife came to know, he was in the newspapers as a potential Martian. His wife suggests that he should go and live in the forests outside Mumbai alone for two days. “Then he will come to know what it is like to live all alone,” she says. Vinod Kotiya’s wife, when told by her husband that he had put forth his name to go to Mars, retorted that she would lie down before the rocket when it took off to stop it. “She said this as a joke,” he says, but the sentiment is evident. Kotiya and Lowe are among the 20,747 Indians (the second largest number after 30 open

Americans) who have registered themselves for the Mars One project, a plan by a Dutch NGO to use private industry to settle humans on the Red Planet. It is a one way ticket, and that is one of the reasons families have a problem with it. Those who apply are serious however, at least at this stage. The Mission sounds mindboggling but on paper it seems plausible, both in terms of technology and the raising of resources. Lowe, a tall, genial man, is an unlikely space traveller. He is 51, and in 2022, when it is time to send humans to Mars, he will be 60. He was a radar engineer with the Indian Air Force before joining the Delhi Metro and working there for a decade. He then shifted to Mumbai as the deputy director of MMRDA in its rolling

stock division, which handles the Metro and Monorail projects. Last year, while watching the news channel Aaj Tak, he saw a short clip about the Mars One project. He got interested and went to their website to read more about it. When applications opened in April this year, he was the fifth Indian to register. Lowe says he has always wanted to go to another planet, but there is a catch— he has obligations to fulfil on this planet. There is a son who has just finished studying engineering and, of course, a wife whose anxiety got worse when a news channel casually mentioned, without any basis, that the project was a suicide mission. “I have more duties on this planet because they are not happy with my decision. I want to see my son settled and I 23 September 2013


want him to get a job first,” says Lowe. Then there is the great disappointment of Lowe’s life—he has not been able to buy a house of his own. An advance paid for a Gurgaon flat is locked because he hasn’t been able to raise the rest of the money. “I want stability first,” Lowe says. He really wants to go, but there is vehement opposition from family. He wants Mars One to take care of his obligations and pay him a salary if he is selected. If they agree to it, he will go, otherwise not.

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ot every applicant has precon-

ditions. Kotiya is an engineer with NTPC. He is originally from Bhopal but is currently based in Delhi. He too was one of the first to apply. It had been his ambition, in childhood, to be an astronaut. To that end, he tried to join the Indian Air Force. He cleared the aptitude test but could not get through the final round. Instead, he went into engineering. Mars One sought applications from common men without any specific qualifications. Kotiya is married with a yearold daughter. But he is prepared to leave all that behind if selected. His family is reluctant, but is not taking it seriously because, considering the number of people

from across the world vying for a handful of slots, his chances of selection are slim. “Every day in Mars will be written in history; every step we take, all the research we do, every minute will be great there,” he says. In the beginning of his career Kotiya was posted near Gangotri in the Himalayas at a hydropower project for five years. It was a lonely and tough existence. He thinks that was good training for the isolation that the Mars mission would entail, were he selected. “I thought, ‘someday technology will come by which I can download my consciousness to a computer or satellite and they will launch me in space forever and I can feel how large the universe is.’ But in between, Mars One happened,” he says. Then there is Anil Sadarangani, a filmmaker from Mumbai who hosts the Manhattan Short Film Festival in India. He was always fascinated by ideas like the Earth existing in this perfect window where life is supported, by space travel, extra-terrestrial life and the question of what is out there. “The fact is, life is pretty delicate around us any which way. Anything can happen anytime. If one person does something, it is replicated, and then it repeats itself—until a new

standard is set. I think this is what it is all about,” he says. He doesn’t think living in Mars will be impossibly difficult. “There will be training. Ten years from now, whoever is chosen, for that person this would already be a part of life on earth. It’s like pilots learning on a simulator first,” he says.

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an’s venture into other worlds

has a brief history, when it comes to manned missions. The last moon landing was in 1972. Unmanned rockets and rovers were periodically sent and one of their findings—that there exists water in the soil of Mars—is crucial to this mission. Government agencies like NASA and ESA are not directly involved in this project but their technology is the foundation for it. Aashima Dogra, editorial manager for Mars One, is also its India representative. She was a science journalist who, while researching a story came across Mars One. “When I got to know [of] the project, I realised how serious it is,” she says. She then asked to join them and was accepted. Dogra says the technology for a manned mission has been available with space agencies for some time, but there is

pioneers (Left) Vinod Kotiya says his wife joked she would lie down in front of the rocket to stop it, should he be selected to go to Mars; (across) Amulya Nidhi Rastogi says he wants to go to Mars so he can “be there when everything happens”


ritesh uttamchandani

no political will to attempt it. ‘This looks like a great conThere has, however, been a cept, provided tectonic acboom in the private space intivity is low and there isn’t dustry. The founders of Mars much atmospheric leakage. One went to these companies Thoughts?’ This is accomand asked them if they could panied by a link to an item make the specific compoon Wired with the headline nents required for a manned ‘Concept for underground mission. They were told it Mars habitat marks dawn of was possible. “We have alMartian mole-people’. The ready given a big contract to a article is about a German company for making the life architecture firm’s concept support systems,” she says. for caves dug by robots for One of the reasons governhumans to live in on Mars. Another post reads: ‘I had a ment agencies don’t want to attempt something like this is discussion about Mars One because, while technology today at work and it turned to the difficulties of gravity. The to go to Mars exists, technoloastronauts have some diffigy for return does not. To culty with adjusting back to create it would be extremely 1G after spending time in miexpensive. Mars One worked crogravity on the ISS. Now, around this problem by obviously we will probably making it a one-way trip. Instead of astronauts, they are get some of the same gravity pragmatist Anil Sadarangani is unafraid: “Life is pretty delicate any which way” looking for permanent settraining they go through, but tlers. The project up to the first the trip to Mars will be 7 manned mission—including months in null gravity. We a demonstration mission, and cargo mis- kind will vote on which of the six teams, will not feel weight again until we land. sions to offload equipment the settlers all of which will be equally fit and inter- What do you think about it?’ Amulya Nidhi Rastogi, a third year mewill need—is expected to cost $6 million. national in character, should go first. One of the means of raising that money is This too will be a televised show through chanical engineering student from which funds will be raised. Gurgaon, posted—‘Your crew landed on rather unique. The final four will reach Mars after a Mars. It’s been a year or so. One fine day, Altogether at least six teams of four people each will be selected to go to Mars. journey of six to seven months in match- you go to a distant location to collect samOf them, one will make it to the first box conditions. Once there, the four set- ples of the Martian soil or something like launch. The others will go in later mis- tlers will live in Life Support Units. They that. And you see pyramids there (simisions. The selection process of these 24 will have around 500 square feet each of lar to the ones here on Earth). Would you will be broadcast on television and the inhabitable space. Inside this area will be go further to view it more closely? Would Internet in the biggest reality show this Earth-like conditions and breathable air, that freak you out?’ Rastogi wants to go planet has ever seen. Selling the broad- the oxygen for which will be made from because he wants “to be there when evcast rights will get the organisers the ma- the water in the Mars soil. Outside, they erything happens”. jority of their funding. The training of will always have to be in space suits. “I don’t want to fade away,” he says. As All this might sound surreal but a form a child, when he first got to know about those selected can also be converted to revenue. “We are talking to quite a few of it is already in existence in the the moon landings, he immediately wonbig names in the [media] industry and International Space Station. “Astronauts dered why didn’t they just stay there. “I working out what is of interest to them,” live there for seven months, and space is thought, ‘Why did they have to come Dogra says. On the Mars One website, much worse than Mars,” says Dogra. back?’ That didn’t quite fit. It didn’t satisthere is a table that shows how the “There is no gravity and yet they drink fy me completely. With this mission, that Olympics broadcast generated close to $4 water, eat food and exercise.” thought has evolved over time and I can billion, which brings this model within relate to it. Because I always wanted to the bounds of possibility. permanently settle on a planet or someThe selected 24 will train for about sevhy would someone sign up to live thing, anything beyond earth. It gives me en years in Mars-like conditions created with three others on an uninhabit- a sense of meaning in life. Everyone on Earth. As the date of the launch ap- able planet for the rest of his life? Dogra wants to have a deep sense of purpose. proaches, the isolation of participants says it takes a particular sort of personal- We choose careers that give us that. I will increase, to attune them psycholog- ity and points to a Facebook group called don’t know how to define it. We all want ically. The Arctic is one of the venues un- ‘Mars One – Aspiring Martians Group’ peace of mind. This is something that can der consideration. In the end, all human- for an indication. A post at the top reads: give me peace of mind.” n

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belief

The English Goddess Three years ago, a temple was built here to the English Goddess. It was to be a medium of Dalit emancipation. But she disappeared as suddenly as she had come CHINKI SINHA Banka, Uttar pradesh photographs by raul irani

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here could have been a black

temple here. The entrance might have said ‘Paradise Lost’ after John Milton’s poem about man’s disobedience and ouster from the Garden of Eden. Milton intended the poem to justify the ways of God to men. There was no justification intended here. The temple was meant to celebrate the outcastes, the fallen—Paradise Lost would be a refuge. Within its walls, Dalits would chant ‘ABCD’ and solve mathematical 34 open

equations. They would denounce other gods and goddesses who perpetuate caste barriers. The goddess wore a hat, a gown, and had gold hair. She looked like a Statue of Liberty knock-off. Chandra Bhan Prasad, the man who created her, says there were modifications made to give the new goddess her own mythology. The Goddess of English held a keyboard and a pen. She was atop a computer on the screen of which was the chakra of the Buddhist

faith. She also held the Constitution of India to cement her bond with the Dalit community because Dr BR Ambedkar, the Dalit scholar and leader, was its founding father. Why was the temple to be black? Because people would have found it strange. It would provoke reaction and this goddess was all about reactions. Black is seen as evil. The goddess would redefine black, give it sanction, says Bhan. This was Paradise Lost. They 23 September 2013


Who Went Away would regain it. But nothing happened. The English goddess went as suddenly as she came.

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t has been three years since the English Goddess was first unveiled by Bhan at a function in the nondescript village of Banka in Lakhimpur Khiri, Uttar Pradesh. The Nalanda Public Shiksha Niketan, a government primary school there, was run by his friend Amarchand Jauhar, who donated land for the temple. In Banka, almost 50 per cent of the population consists of Dalits. There are around 8,000 people in the village. The goddess came but only just. After the first day, she was stacked away in the office of the headmaster and for a few days, remained there in hiding. The district administration shut the temple

23 September 2013

down because, it was rumoured, Mayawati, then Chief Minister, had said there could only be one Dalit goddess in the state. Bhan wrote to the administration asking for a reason and was told there was a Supreme Court directive that no temple should be built on public land without permission from the administration. “We said this was private land, and they still said you can’t build it,” says Bhan. “They kept sending police officials. When we started building the roof, they came and stopped us.” The goddess was transported to the house of the school owner in a nearby town. There she remains, hidden away till she can be installed once again. The expensive black granite that was bought for construction of the temple lies around unused. Rain pours down, washing away the dirt, and the stones glisten

idols (Across) A statue of the English goddess at the home of her creator, Chandra Bhan Prasad; (above) a statue of Dr Ambedkar near the school in Banka

again. A dog seeks shelter in the old office from the rain. This is where the goddess had been moved after the police came to Banka and ordered that construction be stopped.

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o the villagers of Banka, she had been introduced as a saviour of Dalits. There were speeches. They gawked at the goddess, and wondered where she had come from. They were intrigued, but also sceptical. Bhan’s motivation for a temple like this was simple. In many villages in the country, segregation is rampant, with the open www.openthemagazine.com 35


‘untouchables’ residing in cramped quarters, often without basic amenities. They are still forced into professions like manual scavenging, attaching to them a perception of being ‘unclean’. In most village schools, caste barriers are intact and Dalit children are discriminated against. Bhan wanted to pitch English as the antidote to their condition. Class and language, he argued, were the two most divisive tools in this country. In order to break those, the untouchables must own the language. In Dalit households, he would see photos of Lakshmi and Durga. There was a vacancy for a goddess of their own. Christianity and Buddhism did not give

small crowd has gathered. Sonpal says he has never been outside his village. He wonders if the goddess has any temples in Delhi, the capital of the country. He is almost certain that she is worshipped in London. “Like we have Saraswati, who reigns over the domain of knowledge, the British would have a goddess of their own. It was a privilege that she chose to come to Banka. I wish she had stayed. But we are so poor. It is an ugly village. I have seen London on television. It is beautiful. She didn’t like us very much,” he says. Sonpal has tried to learn English. When he speaks, he throws in a few words. But he wishes he could manage

inspiration Bhan sees the goddess as a way to encourage the children of the poor, scared of math and English

them goddesses that were powerful and had their own unique domains.

“T

hey said if we worshipped the goddess, we would go abroad,” says Sonpal, a shiksha mitra (temporary teacher) in the school in Banka. He belongs to the Jatav community. He was there when the inauguration ceremony took place in May 2010. A few foreigners were also there, he recalls. On that hot afternoon, Bhan had worn a black suit, and was sweating profusely. The attire had been chosen with care deliberately because this was to be an anglicised ceremony. We are in the school playground and a 36 open

full sentences. The privilege of English is something else. You get respect, you get jobs, and you are no longer an outcaste, or a misfit, he says. Arvind Kumar, 20 years old and a Brahmin, says the goddess was cast in bronze, and stood a little above two feet in height. To him, she looked like ‘Bharat Mata’ in a different costume. “Times are changing. So it is okay for a goddess to be imported,” he says. He is studying law, and wonders why the administration came and said all kinds of things. It started with a local official telling them that this was a ploy of the Christian missionaries to convert them. Sonpal intervenes: “She looked a little

Christian. Her attire was like the English,” he says. “Durga wears no hat.” Then, in unison, they say they were certain she had come from London or America. It’s the same thing. “If the idea was to make us all Christians, then we are opposed to it. We have read in history that the English colonised us,” says Sonpal. “We can’t let them rule us again.” Others nod. “Bhola, she looked very western. She was Christian, right?” Bhola has no answers except a little anecdote. In a nearby village, some Dalits had embraced Christianity, which he figured was not the best way out of their plight. The main question the villagers have is this: what was the point of this goddess? Why had they brought her here of all places? Avneesh is a Class 8 student. He was there when the ceremony took place. It was his uncle’s school, and he liked the goddess. “We were told to learn English,” he says. “I offered her flowers because they said if you worship her, you will become a big man. Then she disappeared.” In Shahjahanapur, he found her again in his uncle, the principal’s house where the statue had been taken after the administration forced it to be removed. She was in exile. “She had made such a long journey,” he says. “Without English, our lives are incomplete.” A woman walks into the crowd. Her name is Akhtari. “Build a mosque for English. We will offer namaz,” she says. “Why only a temple?”

T

he school is empty at this hour, and

it is about to rain. But the crowd has gathered in the shed—which was to be the temple—with questions about the disappearance of the goddess. “Perhaps she didn’t like our village,” a man says. The children have very vague memories of the day she was introduced. “London se chal ke aayi... (‘she came from London’),” a young boy recalls the song. He says she was quite a beautiful deity. She looked like Son Pari, a mythical fairy with gold hair. In trying to create the goddess, Bhan, an atheist, knew he would also have to create a mythology for the goddess. Mystery was a key element. So he would 23 September 2013


pretend to whisper something in someone’s ear at gatherings in villages where he went to talk about the goddess. He did this at the inauguration too. Later, when the villagers would ask the person what Bhan was talking about, the man would say Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar found her in America when he went to Columbia University to study. He brought her here with him, and now she needs to be resurrected. Intrigue would also lead people to attach their bits to the stories. In one version, a childless couple worshipped the goddess and they were blessed with a child. Bhan was also in talks with Dalit leaders to create a ritual where the groom would have to worship the goddess before he goes to the bride’s house for the wedding, and both of them together would pay obeisance to the goddess before the ceremony. That way, she would find a permanent footing in the local customs of the Dalits. He also spread stories about the Dalit Goddess conquering the cosmos, and the Chinese, Germans and French wanting to embrace the goddess. On the posters that he created and circulated across the country, he wrote that the goddess was waiting for unborn Dalit babies. “I saw Dalits lacking in soft skills. I thought, let us deploy a metaphor that can convey the message fastest. Faith works best. I am an atheist. I thought I should create a goddess,” Bhan says. “The children of the poor are scared of math and English. If you can put up a statue of the goddess of English, then the fears are allayed. Fear of English will go away.” Bhan had wanted to get 10 statues, but the cost was prohibitive. In the end, he got two. Each cost him Rs 40,000. He had used his own funds and collected some money from friends to build the temple. In his house in East Delhi, the goddess—the second idol—occupies pride of place near the television on the windowsill. The living room, with all the posters and photos of her, is almost a shrine dedicated to the memory of the goddess. He conceptualised the goddess with artist Shan Swaroop Bouddh. When Bhan had gone to New York, he was fascinated with the Statue of Liberty. Later, when he was thinking about creating a goddess, the image came to his mind. Against the blue skies, the white statue 23 September 2013

epitomised freedom. He wanted the Dalits to be free and believed only English would help them. He had learned the lessons in his own life. He was born in a village in the Azamgarh district of UP, and later went to Jawaharlal Nehru University. In between, he had become a Naxal, but revolutions do not work. Not those. He returned and is now writing a book on Dalit entrepreneurs. Bhan does not believe in logic because there is no shock or surprise in it. In order to give legitimacy to an event, there have to be certain inexplicable things. He felt Dalits should connect to a high social marker and the goddess must, like the Statue of Liberty, be modern, tall and grand—Durga and Lakshmi must look like maids in front of her.

“It was a privilege that she came to Banka. I wish she had stayed. But we are so poor. It is an ugly village. I have seen London on television. It is beautiful”

B

han says he is trying to raise funds to

make the temple but memories of the visiting goddess have faded in Banka. The myths that he created did not really travel outside the village nor did she become part of local rituals. “It would not have worked had I just said ‘learn English’ to the children of the Dalits. Once women start worshipping the goddess, she acquires a different stature. For instance, children will figure they will do well in English because the deity is there,” he says. While he speaks, his wife looks for the file that contains plans for the temple. Finally, she digs out those presentation papers with formulas that Bhan had wanted to inscribe on the walls of the black temple. The pink pen that the goddess holds is for the sake of colour. It could also be for other things. But that Bhan has left open to interpretation. In the making of a goddess, many things must be left open-ended, so stories can be attached from popular imagination. “I’d drop some story in some village. Let people give life to the goddess.

Let them create her antecedents. Let them give her a history,” he says. “I want to take her places. But I don’t want to hurry things.”

B

efore reaching Banka, we got taken to a wrong village by our car driver. We are in Banikpur, 100 kilometres away. We ask for the whereabouts of the goddess of English but they have not heard of her. “There’s one goddess, but she has been around for a long time. Up that road,” a man points. We ask a woman if she has heard of the goddess of English and she points to another village beyond the pond, wondering aloud if that is where she is installed. They would like to see her, but they are not sure who she is, and what she can do for them. For so long Mayawati ruled the state, and they are happy that a Dalit woman was able to rise so high. But don’t mind, they set out a disclaimer first, we haven’t got anything. There is a school building, and a bunch of young men are playing cards inside. They scatter when we go looking for Ambedkar’s statue in front of the school building. We had been told that the temple was next to one such statue. But this is Banikpur, and there is no statue. We can see a few houses protected with boundaries. They belong to the Brahmin families that own the land. The Jatavs, and the Pasis, and the rest of the Dalits till others’ land. They are still struggling, drinking bad liquor, gambling away whatever little they have earned because it occupies their mind. Men walk like zombies, staggering, holding on to poles, straightening themselves. They are drunk, and it is only afternoon. It is sweltering hot, and most of them are sitting outside. A group of children are copying the English alphabet on their slates. The headmaster, who runs a little school under the shade of a tree near the banks of a pond, is trying to teach in English.A man we speak to says the daily drudgery is so tiring that any rebellion is ruled out. “Perhaps Banka is better. That’s why they have the temple of English goddess there,” he says. But when we finally reach Banka, it does not look very different. n open www.openthemagazine.com 37


u n d e r b e l ly

The Big Fat Nigerian Bar


Infiltrating the refuge of a highly visible yet selfcontained Delhi minority divya guha photographs by ronny sen

Them call you, make you come chop/ You chop small, you say you belly full/ You say you be gentleman/ You go hungry/ You go suffer/ You go quench/ Me I no be gentleman like that/ I no be gentleman at all o!/ I be Africa man original (Lyrics from the song ‘Gentleman’ by Fela Kuti, in which he ridicules the faux sophistication of anglicised Nigerians. A political rebel, Kuti was inspired by Europe’s Black Panthers.)

I

t is Saturday night and we are head-

ed to Michelle’s, which I will call not a dive but an African kitchen. It is located across the road from expensive real estate in South Delhi, in a busy ghetto. The rents here are low and the transport links excellent. This attracts a large number of down-at-heel tenants, among whom is a large, very visible, minority of West Africans who keep resolutely to themselves. In the locality’s dreary, unpaved, narrow streets, they strut about fashionably—men kitted out in clothes two sizes too big and women, often, in two sizes too small. Many Indians in this neighbourhood are a scourge—they jeer at Black men and women in the streets more unkindly than at long-suffering native women. The Africans rarely ever turn around to fight, even when they are called cannibals, which is the most common and cruel taunt directed at them. The targets’

haven Michelle’s is located in a busy South Delhi ghetto where the rents are low and transport links excellent, attracting a large number of West Africans who keep resolutely to themselves, ignoring jeers 23 September 2013


swagger remains unhindered and they seem equipped for these insults. Most members of the African community here speak some Hindi, surprisingly unaccented and confidently—their way of being smooth with the xenophobic oafs they must put up with. If they must engage, they do so with humour. If whilst walking with them, you stand up to fight off leering racists, they feel embarrassed and show gratitude by buying you a drink or several—and I haven’t met a stingy African yet. This rich mix lives alongside poor, young migrant labourers who occupy the area’s most squalid pockets, which are scattered, but everywhere. Many buildings here are illegal—a situation managed by colluding landlords, local entrepreneurs and government officials. Buildings are always being demolished, making the area look like a war zone. A newly-broken down building gets as much attention as a dead rodent in this neighbourhood, full of open drains. And

when it rains, the standard of living, poor by most yardsticks, falls a bit further.

M

ichelle’s is not a pretend speak-

easy of the kind popular in, say, New York—a poncey hangout with 1920s interiors and a concealed facade. This is the real thing. If you are looking for it, there is nothing above ground to give it away. Determined patrons must weave their way through a large, metal gate, a patch of slum housing with communal bathrooms, sludge, slurry and flies. They must walk past open ventilators, which reveal harshly-lit basement workshops where men sew at machines at all times of the day and night. The kitchen is just a short walk past a vast dumping ground. And the final sensory assault before arrival is the pong of perspiration past a sweatshop—called that for a reason— with which Michelle’s shares its basement corridor. Inside, the decor is artfully sparse and

inexpensive; there is no air conditioning. But the place is not unfashionable. Hidden in the shadows of one of the city’s busiest, most banal shopping districts, this basement hideout has an allure almost like that of an opium den. Drinking goes on unabated, except for the occasional knock on the door from the friendly local constabulary. In an age when practically nothing is forbidden, the idea that Michelle’s may not have all the right legal permissions adds an undeniable excitement to its authentic African fare. Michelle is quite a woman. On a muggy monsoon night, the forty-something entrepreneurial mother of two looks relaxed sitting at the kitchen table, sipping on a neat double of 100 Pipers whisky, which she pours discreetly out of her ‘sister’ Edith’s tumbler. Edith is a country ‘sistah’, not related by blood but by race. Michelle is concerned, like Edith’s other well-wishers, that she is about to become very inebriated. But Edith is showing no signs of flagging or restraint. She


looks quite happy to party and is welcoming of a tobacco- and filter-less spliff being passed around. Edith’s hair is in a bob of tight curls, but this changes from week to week. Her skin is a shiny coffee brown. She is dressed daringly in a seethrough ivory top, a turquoise bra, leopard print leggings, and a lot of chunky golden jewellery. She looks ‘on’, not drunk, speaking animatedly in Cameroonian patois with Michelle. The francophones natter non-stop. But it is not hard to tell when they stop discussing their lives and start discussing you. Very often, these discussions veer to the love lives of the people they entertain. Michelle is full of girly advice most evenings, agog at how girls of such and such age can be unmarried. She tops up her tumbler again with whisky, this time from a near-empty bottle, looks deep into my eyes, and blatantly promotes her favourite patron as a potential husband, asking, “Don’t you dream of having an African baby?” I regard this with cultural distance, though I am slightly weirded out by her directness. This is not a place where you might come and read a newspaper and enjoy a coffee. African expatriates turn up here for their various fixes—food, brain-dead Ghanaian pop videos, booze, THC.

African dominatrix with a penchant for tight lycra, which she wears often. ‘Mamma’—as everyone sweetly calls her, with a higher-pitched emphasis on the first ‘ma’, and the second syllable said a bit softer with a fall: ‘MA-mma’—is a happy, church-going Cameroonian with strong, conservative family values. One could accuse her of being a bit sanctimonious from time to time, but thankfully, Michelle is never a bore. She is a hard-partying entrepreneur who has all the goings-on of her place on a tight leash. She could be relaxed and joking, and suddenly turn around to bark an order at her kitchen staff—Ike, Austin or Kingsley, all strapping Nigerian lads—who promptly cower and do as they are told. Everyone who comes in greets her with a hug or a handshake and a little chatter. She used to run a similar establishment in Dubai, where she lived before coming to India. She has been here

W

for four years now. She is an old hand at this hospitality business, making mental, not written, notes of all that is eaten and drunk on busy and lean nights; a perfect hostess—warm, welcoming and attentive.

ell-dressed patrons promenade through the corridor. In the evenings, this passage is full of the smell of deep fried tilapia, the kitchen’s bestselling dish. Other items on the menu include goat meat in a roux, or stewed. Everything comes with plantain, a finely chopped scallion, tomato and chive salad, and no cutlery. A plantain is a large banana; the browner and more bruised it looks, the sweeter it is, the better to deep fry and eat with the red chilli chutney and Hellman’s mayonnaise Michelle serves with it. A basin of water arrives at the table first which means food is on the way. Whoever wishes to eat from Michelle’s generous portions may rinse their fingers and dig in. The cooking area looks more old than grimy, which does this otherwise cleanish kitchen an injustice. I imagine the plump Michelle—always in flat slippers, with a snatchpack and a baseball cap— lording it over her employees like an

23 September 2013

Not a place to enjoy a coffee and a newspaper, Michelle’s supplies African expats with their various fixes— food, brain-dead Ghanaian pop videos, booze, THC

T

he early experience of going to

this bar inspires total contempt for the rash of smiling men who ask for your number. You can be creative about how to dodge unwanted attention: “Can we wait ‘til we are better friends?” Be firm and they will back off faster. Be polite and it takes longer with some than others. A chef who says he runs an African restaurant on Devli Road hands me a card. I also have a few barbers’ business cards by the end of the night. Hair is a big deal, obviously. Even the grandpas are primly coiffured, to say nothing of the younger lot, who take appearance very seriously. Specialised African

barbers are clearly essential. Like butchers for Tibetans, as the Dalai Lama says. Brenda, a beautiful soft-spoken Rwandan who has her hair done every other weekend asks me if my hair is real (yes). She tells me one of the most profitable exports to Africa from this country is Indian hair, which she and her husband buy in bulk, as wigs, from Delhi’s INA Market and export all over the African continent. A boy walks up. He has a Mercedes Benz keychain dangling next to a Ferrari keychain on his belt. Turns out he drives a Toyota Corrolla. I am introduced to his friends—Miracle, KC, Junior, Professor, Bock, Benghazi, Blaze and Badshah. They all make rounds at Michelle’s for business and leisure, or just to put their feet up in a place where they recognise people. One of the kitchen boys, Austin, is beheading kilos of red chillies with his hands while singing to himself. We strike up a conversation and he asks me why Indians see faults in everything Black: “I walk past people and they cover their noses... Indians are not very civilised sometimes, are they?” He asks me if I am Christian—another question that comes up often—and then says, “Indians burn their dead. I used to live in Uttam Nagar [near a cremation ground]. That stinks.”

‘D

on’t bother with churches, gov-

ernment buildings or city squares,’ wrote Earnest Hemingway, ‘if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.’ And truly, all present here—the reserved or hustling men, the talkative or quiet women, and me, the Indian interloper—are mutually suspicious and curious. The suspicions they have are due to the threats they feel from the widespread racism they experience in the world outside, but over the weeks we become increasingly familiar and fond of each other. Normally what does the trick are a few key Nigerian words: Fela and Kuti work, as do Biafra and Ojukwu. And though this is thoroughly inadequate, the revellers are pleased that, at least, I know Nigeria from Niger. That’s enough to expect in a country of morons who cover their noses on seeing a passing African. n open www.openthemagazine.com 41


E VO LUT I O N

Cuts and Thrust On the design arcs of Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, two of India’s top fashion designers Aastha Atray Banan photographs by ritesh uttamchandani

F

or about two minutes after

Manish Malhotra’s show, which inaugurated the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2013 at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai, people remained seated, as if hoping for something more. That something more meant a showstopper, usually a celebrity who walks the ramp in the designer’s clothes to conclude a show. But there was none. So far, this was unheard of at a Malhotra show. He is the favourite designer of celebrities and is often responsible for the Kareenas, Karishmas and Kajols walking the ramp. The media seemed impressed by Malhotra’s bold choice to go without a celebrity, but the public at large seemed palpably disappointed. After all, before the show started, many of Malhotra’s celebrity supporters had trooped in to keep the shutterbugs and aam janta happy. There was

Karishma Kapoor, director Ayan Mukherjee, Jacqueline Fernandes, Shabana Azmi, Lara Dutta and Neha Dhupia. Everyone was waiting for the drama to start. But in the end there was no showstopper. Manja from Kai Po Che! played in the background as models walked on the ramp, divided down the middle by a curtain of fabric strands. White and orange lanterns hanging from the ceiling lit up the room. Again, Malhotra surprised, this time with the clothes the models wore. Those expecting to see Malhotra’s trademark blingy chiffon saris will have to wait for his next show. The clothes were muted and in earthy colours, and the sensibility, though rich and luxurious, not over the top. It was here that the audience’s reactions differed. The media cooed appreciatively, but people were heard remarking, “It’s so not Manish.” Women who had come to see a signature


Manish Malhotra show, with all the usual pomp and Bollywood masala thrown in, seemed disappointed. One of them whispered to her neighbour, “Why is it so simple?” But trendy the show was. There were cool Sharara pants, and the Rajasthani Koti top got a new life. Sheer kurtas teamed with pants, velvet blouses and intricate ghaghras were part of this wearable collection inspired by the Kutch and Rajasthan area. When Open spoke to Malhotra after the show about why this collection was different from all the rest in his career, he said, “It was a conscious decision to do something unexpected. The collection was very folk inspired, primary influences being from

Rajasthan and Kutch. I played with mirror work embellishments for the first time. The collection also featured custom-created zari work from Kashmir. It’s like a dash of colour on a beige canvas, which, to me, is mesmerising. ‘Minimalist look’ is the catchphrase this season and that is what I am trying to dictate through my vision.” As for not having a showstopper, Malhotra seemed unperturbed. “I always try bringing that surprise element to my shows. This time I thought it would be interesting to just let the world focus on my vision and the show than anything else.” He said his celebrity friends will, however, always support him as they relate to his designs. Asked about his target audience, he says, “A Manish Malhotra client is anyone who is rooted in tradition yet modern in thought and presentation. With this collection I am trying to reach out to women and men who are not just young but also youthful in thought and presentation.” It seems Malhotra has realised that his survival lies in re-invention, especially since there is another claimant to his ‘celebrity favourite’ tag— Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

Malhotra has been designing for almost two decades, while Mukherjee first made his mark with his debut collection at the India Fashion Week in 2001. Malhotra has always been a Bollywood darling—he created Urmila Matondkar’s look for Rangeela, a milestone in her career, and has since designed for stars ranging from Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra to Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt in several movies, including recent releases Student of the Year and Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. His shows are full of glitz and glamour and he has always given the sari a sexy twist—with sheer fabrics and plenty of sequins. But Mukherjee is just as popular in Bollywood now. He started off as the designer who did luxurious Indian wear with a twist, often using prints and materials not traditionally considered luxurious. He impressed with his innovation. For example, he made it trendy to wear check print saris with embellished borders and ornate full sleeve blouses. Vidya Balan, Mukherjee’s latest muse, wore his twist At the recent Lakme Fashion Week, Malhotra (facing page) worked with earth tones, while Mukherjee (left) envisioned a more modern royalty


designs earlier this year to the Cannes film festival—although he did get some flak for the ghunghat outfit Balan wore. He has become the go-to guy for the thinking Indian woman as his clothes easily blend modernity and tradition. He is the only Indian designer to have shown at all leading international fashion weeks, including Milan, New York and London. In 2008, Suzy Menkes of the New York Times had this to say about his show: ‘The collection from Sabyasachi Mukherjee was also a shining moment for the fashion season. The designer’s style is the essence of the proverbial melting pot with its meld of sportswear—a jump suit or a brief skirt—and romantic layers. Each outfit had an imaginative effect, such as block prints, embellished borders or conceptual decoration. Even the classic sari was given a twist by using a rough checked fabric, or with a decorative top under the drapes or with a bird embroidered at the back.’ Mukherjee has designed for movies such as <i>Guzaarish and Paa. Along with Balan, Rani Mukherjee and Reese Witherspoon admire his designs. It seemed fitting, then, that the week should have started with Malhotra’s show and ended with Mukherjee’s— both successful designers, whose sensibilities have influenced the mass market. A popular topic in the press room was how sari traders in markets like Delhi’s Karol Bagh sell Malhotra/Mukherjee knock-offs just days after their shows. And though there is no talk of a rivalry, they seem to be subtly influencing each other. If Malhotra went off the glam route this time, Mukherjee played to the galleries with pomp and grandeur. On the last day, the air was full of anticipation, but also apprehension. Mukherjee was collaborating with Lakme for an Absolute Royal collection (inspired by the queens of the bygone era). Mukherjee was showing at Lakme after a gap of five years, and it was a strictly by-invitation affair. His usual front row celebrities were missing—no Rani Mukerjee or Vidya Balan in attendance. Rohit Bal, actress Shraddha Kumar and Milind Soman were some of the known faces who attended. The show area was decorated like a queen’s boudoir, with chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. Models wore striped blouses with silk sa44 open

ris and Gatsby-inspired dresses with lots of bling. As one journalist remarked, “I may not be that person, but, boy, do I want to be that person on the ramp.” When we asked Mukherjee how this collection challenged him, as he is usually good at making luxury look effortless, he grinned, “I have played with royalty all my career. I knew I was doing the finale and the fangs were all out. And then I got to know that the theme was Absolute Royal. The pressure was about how I’d reinvent something I’ve done all my life. So I thought I’d take symbols of royalty and transform them into something modern, [using] even boho with elements of punk, still keeping the sophistication necessary for a royal collection.” He added candidly, “I am not a designer who likes to be edgy, because that’s not the DNA of my brand. But since this was a finale, I decided to be slightly more schizophrenic.” He was even more candid speaking about how he doesn’t care if the press

Malhotra went off the glam route, Mukherjee played to the gallery. Though there is no talk of rivalry, they seem to be subtly influencing each other thinks he is sometimes repetitive. “I don’t want to succumb to the pressures of the press. I think repetition is iconic. I think having a signature style is always a good thing. It’s like chicken soup; you may try your sushi, but you will come back to chicken soup. The longevity of a brand depends on its repetition—brands like Burberry, Hermes, they all have signature styles. I have a 25-year vision for my brand and I don’t want to corrupt that.” Talking about the popularity of his brand with celebrities, Mukherjee said he doesn’t think ‘commercialism’ is a bad word, and besides “why do we need to ‘over-intellectualise’ it all? I see it as a compliment that celebs love my designs. In a country as large as India, you have to latch on to either cinema or cricket. It would be unintelligent to shun these. Over the years, the vision of my brand has changed. I have realised that it would be

completely irresponsible of me to not to play to the gallery… I have so many people working for me.” As Kimi Dangor, fashion consultant for The Indian Express, says: “Every designer develops a signature style, just like an artist. One wouldn’t expect Van Gogh to suddenly paint like Paul Gauguin. Similarly, designers develop a language. It’s how they innovate within those parameters. If there was no signature style, there would be no Little Black Dress.” A line of criticism common to both designers is that they are repetitive. But that is where similarities end. Fashion writer Bandana Tewari says, “They both deal with the wedding market, and a bride may want to look coquettish in a Manish design one day and an intellectual firebrand in Sabya the next. She has the option to do that now as both these designers cater to her. Maybe they are not influenced directly, but when you are in the same fashion community, and you know you are all showing at the same fashion week, it’s bound to happen. They are growing as well. I don’t see that as a problem at all.” Tewari also feels Mukherjee is getting better at his craft. “All his clothing is handcrafted, so it doesn’t get repeated. He gets copied so often. Everyone looks to him to deliver something different. Whereas whatever Manish touches turns into gold. He has established his design credo so strongly that we felt this show was a departure. But we have to let him move sideways and grow.” Fashion columnist Shefalee Vasudev adds an important point: “There was a time when Sabya said he wanted to change the way India dresses. He wanted to take pink, tack and bling away from Bollywood. He has not become pink, tack and bling, but there has been a conversion of sorts. The Lakme show was populist, but his recent couture show in Delhi was artistic. There seems to be some shadowboxing going on with his inner self.” The beginning and end of this fashion week show where the industry stands right now—somewhere between innovation and tradition. What will last is still to be seen. “Manish is trying to mute the commercial side of him and be artistic, while Sabya is trying to go the other way,” says Vasudev. “They both have to figure out where the pendulum rests.” n 23 September 2013


flavia schuster

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life & letters

brinda bose is Associate Professor of English at the University of Delhi, and co-founder of MargHumanities

No More Goddesses, Please. Bring in the Sluts The ‘Abused Goddesses’ ad campaign on domestic violence is appalling and terrifying. By deifying women, it strips them of individuality, sexuality and power Brinda Bose

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compelling image of a physically abused Hindu goddess has recently been swirling through social networking sites. At first glance, it is just a familiar face: that of Durga, in all her glorious finery, glistening headgear and lustrous eyes. At second look, the horror hits home: this is a female model dressed up as Durga, her clear cheek and forehead emblazoned with angry whiplash bruises. A smudged line of kohl below one eye betrays her pain. Durga, beloved among the Hindu pantheon of goddesses, iconic daughter, wife, mother, protector and creator,

carries in this enacted, transformed image the burden of pan-Indian consciousness-raising about domestic violence against women, a savaging that both romances divinity and wounds it irretrievably. In this campaign by Save Our Sisters, an anti sex-trafficking initiative, other models re-enact the battered yet statuesque glories of Saraswati and Lakshmi, graphic images of mutilation that elicit an immediate response of total recoil. While many effusively laud the campaign for boldly using a loathsome cultural shocker to jolt bru-

talising men, others deride it for reasons that could be activist-feminist or economic or aesthetic. Then some ask whether the advertisement may not be effective in converting the ‘masses’ through shock value alone, despite its images being objectionable. Others offer nuanced, intellectual arguments on the efficacy of the image itself as a critique of the very patriarchy it depicts. There is also a discussion of the cultural mnemonic, to see the goddess figure in its pre-modern, anti-Enlightenment mode as a symbol of the transgressive rituals of society that defy all questions


23 September 2013

express archives

on the rights of, and justice for, women—and whether, therefore, reading the emblem as an enforced deification that is demeaning to contemporary women disallows all potential for stepping outside the rule of law in society. In response to these conflicted cogitations on the ‘Abused Goddesses’ campaign, I want to think through the ideas that will stay with us along with these hideous images, in the thick as we now are of debates on risk and safety for women—inside and outside the home. My first reaction was one of disgust at the blatant appeal to Hindu sentiment to secure safety in the conjugal home. Ah, I said with rhetorical flourish on Facebook, ‘Right. Put her right up there with Durga and her daughters, worship her, strip her of individuality, sexuality, emotion, agency, power, politics. And if/when she is raped, beaten, silenced—Save her, of course: she is your Sister.’ I also said I was disturbed to see many men in mea culpa mode while circulating the link for the advertisement (as Indian men have increasingly been in the wake of rapes since 16 December), and many women apparently undismayed to be likened to bruised Kumortuli clay figurines in glorious technicolour. I was not alone in this reaction. But this is not to claim that women who felt instinctively that the campaign had done something right in making female models impersonate handpicked gentle, nurturing, battered Hindu goddesses were out on a limb—in fact, from what I had seen till then, most women were comfortable with the images because they strongly believed that they served their didactic purpose. Some others thought the objections I had raised to this campaign were peripheral to other questions like who had made money out of this obviously offensive advertisement, and that I should not read it on my own academic/feminist/activist terms but try to gauge the impact it could have on ‘the masses’—that ubiquitous sea of vagabond, lecherous, exploitative, violent men who had no time to waste on niceties such as agency, individuality, sexuality or power for their women. While

forced divinity Sharmila Tagore as a ‘goddess’ in the film Devi; (previous page) the ‘Abused Goddesses’ ad

these arguments did not seem to me to be worthy of the point of the debate, I was more intrigued by the proposition that one should see the images in isolation from their lexicon of accompanying words or the history of the campaign’s original sponsors (which had by now piggybacked on social networking sites to far greater effect). This appealed fugitively, but left me irreconcilably uncomfortable about reading such inflammatory images shorn of their repugnant contexts. Another complex suggestion that made me think—the image of a goddess, a primitive/mythic concept, should be analysed as a symbolic cornucopia of excess, and so be allowed to transgress post-Enlightenment (non)virtues of choice, sensibility, understanding, responsibility and justice. The last two have made me wander down the knotted path of cultural memory, politics, history, feminism and viewer-response theories again. Were the questions that slapped me in the face upon first encounter with the advertisement of no relevance to the response I ought to have to a visual media image I should analyse—for aesthetic content, history, myth, irony, symbolism, effect, economy? What about all those further questions that

chased the first ones, fuelled by exchanges with friends and acquaintances—Why is she Hindu? Why is she a goddess and not a slut? Why is she Durga/Saraswati/Laskhmi and not Kali, whose nude monstrosity makes genteel society squeamish at the best of times? If she was a slut/monster, would she be worthy of being saved in society’s terms? And why does she need to be ‘saved’, in that most patriarchal rhetoric? And what does one do with such gnawing responses to the text at hand when confronted by the demand to put it in the intellectual tradition of centuries, to distance oneself from the immediate reaction of rage and disgust at being deified into a non-being, to rationalise it by understanding what a primitive goddess has meant in the spreading teeming culture of the land? Must there be ways to interpret such images that need not elicit knee-jerk dehistoricised, contemporised responses from women, even if those women are sick to the stomach at being—collectively, metaphorically—feted and worshipped with garlands on a Tuesday and then kicked brutally around the room on Sabbath? It is probably true that I am doing my training as an academic an injusopen www.openthemagazine.com 47


tice when, despite giving myself pause and thinking deeply about resoundingly convincing interventions from different quarters, I must profess myself to be bull-headed enough to be unconvinced when I emerge from that process of intellectual engagement with the many-splendoured universe of a visual image that enrages and terrifies me, both. I realise that I am transgressing a particular set of rational requirements set upon the academic when confronted with a viscerally scalping dilemma and asked to turn and re-turn it like a Rubik’s Cube, see it in light and shade, and then to think about what colour, height, weight and opacity has meant in the impressively convoluted history of the physical sciences. I find, alas, that the Rubik’s Cube transforms into a kaleidoscope, it dazzles with its immediacy of sparkle and sizzle, it numbs my reason and wakes me up to my skin-and-senses response to a representation of women in the world we inhabit that appalls me. And for those who have said consider the masses and classes of men who think through their loins, who are sexually and intellectually depraved, who have never heard of female agency and consider their women to be chattels, I am alarmed and discomfited. I think we so easily humiliate and infantilise those masses of men, we equate literacy with knowledge and assume that education ensures sophistication in matters of the heart and genitals. And yet we know statistically that domestic violence is rampant in higher educated wealthy homes. So if we send men— any men, all men—the signal that we should worship women as (docile, happy Hindu) goddesses, and/or that since we (should, or profess to) worship women as goddesses, we should not hit them or kick them, we are telling them to consign and condemn their women to safe oblivion. And we are also telling them that any time their women fall short of their assigned roles as domestic goddesses, they can be abused for that original sin. Even if I were not to take into consideration the peripherals of this set of images—that it is part of a dubious advertising campaign by a sort of 48 open

anti sex-trafficking organisation called Save Our Sisters that is politically unacceptable to me, that it puts out a helpline number with every image and comes accompanied with an explosively-regressive text—‘Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to'—the garish calendar-art images spreading awareness about domestic violence against wom-

There is no man or woman who does not know how

completely helpless one is when protected by chains of respect and

worship. That distinction, for women especially—between

goddess and slut, the angel in the house and the whore on the street—is what guarantees safety,

loyalty, fidelity, love, and smothers her to a fate worse than death

en seems to me to be gut-wrenchingly all wrong. I would have reacted with far greater respect to an image of a GB Road whore wounded by a male client’s aggression and torment had that picture said to me: ‘Let us ensure that we never see this day.’ There is, I believe, no man or woman who does not know—at least imaginatively—how completely helpless one is when pro-

tected by chains of respect and worship. That distinction, for women especially—between goddess and slut, the angel in the house and the whore on the street—is what guarantees safety, loyalty, fidelity and love; it smothers her and waves her on to a fate worse than death. Not simply because it bores her to tears, but because it is a finely-honed art of possession and control. It strips her of passion and desire and transgressive possibilities. It deprives her of risk and so the remotest imaginings of pleasure. Satyajit Ray’s Devi (The Goddess, 1960) visualises powerfully the trauma of a family in which a young and beautiful bride, Doyamoyee, appears to her father-in-law as Goddess Kali. The implication of Kali (rather than any of the more benign Hindu goddesses) inserts a different kind of fraughtness into the male fantasy, which is further complicated by Doyamoyee going insane in the course of being thus worshipped and frenziedly refusing to be rescued from this predicament by her tormented husband. It is a world of tantalising evil, of irrational fears and excessive fancies—which transgresses reason and safety. But in this compelling tale about a Hindu household, Doyamoyee is entirely controlled by a patriarch’s dreams and desires of greatness and power in his petty neighbourhood, and she is propelled like a sleepwalker through her assigned performance as a goddess, which she is unable to leave of her own accord. She is rendered completely powerless by being conferred a divinity she does not really possess, and in this bestowal she is deprived of any chance to pursue her own passions or fantasies. One wonders what may have transpired had Doyamoyee been imagined as a whore by her father-in-law rather than a goddess. What dangers and what risks might she have courted then! But perhaps, what pleasures—fleeting—of freedom, gifted to her body and soul she may have encountered too, and in those moments of irrational and transformative excess, she would have lived another life. No more goddesses, please. Bring on the sluts. n 23 September 2013


theatre Solace in a Routine Jyoti Dogra’s brilliantly crafted performance piece, Notes on Chai, discovers the universal in the ordinary deepa bhasthi

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sking of yourself questions for which there aren’t any straight, easy, candyfloss answers isn’t a pleasant exercise. It stirs up an otherwise good enough Friday evening and comes in the way of other mundanities—drinks, dinners, emails, sounds—that you have planned for the weekend. That those unsought questions and unavailable answers happen to be about mundane things does nothing to slow down the thought express. That is what Jyoti Dogra’s brilliantly crafted performance piece Notes on Chai does. It makes you melancholic, it makes you reflect on things you would rather stay under the carpet and it makes you laugh at yourself and at memories and anecdotes of caricatures that are instantly recognisable. Just before the performance in Bangalore last week, over sips of chai from a kulhad, you read from a note that terms the piece devised by Dogra as ‘a collection of snippets of everyday conversations interwoven with abstract sound explorations that attempt to relocate our relationship with the quotidian’. Even divided across geographies, linguistics, economic status and other parameters, there is much that is similar amongst people everywhere. If we haven’t chanced upon these familiar characters as we go about a routine day, then we are them, at least in part. Notes on Chai looks at the everyday, the ‘attempt is to create, through a series of portrayals, a collective sense of the everyday, which resonates with a universal sense of the ordinary across cultures and hopefully across different socio-economic strata’. Interspersed with these portrayals are abstract, guttural sounds inspired by Tibetan chanting, western harmonics and extended vocal techniques. What they seek to do perhaps is to stretch the limits of spoken language, while also facilitating a

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triumph of the ordinary Jyoti Dogra performs Notes on Chai in Bangalore

near seamless travel from one snippet to the next. Dogra begins with the autobiographical; while going over the tape of her day’s rehearsals, she is constantly interrupted by thoughts of how fat she looks, of having to clean the mess in her bedroom, of ‘why hasn’t he emailed still’, periodically berating herself for being this distracted. She is next a Punjabi wife, the kind who would feature in a K-soap, talking of her morning chai ritual, how she would rather have a cuppa alone in the balcony rather than share that time with her husband. The communicable word chai morphs into a chant, Dogra’s throat throbs furiously as she borrows from Jerzy Grotowski’s theatre style to represent the tea pot, the tea cup, the act of drinking tea with her hands, her body. Dogra is also an old Punjabi woman from Lahore who, in her raspy, weather-worn voice, dismisses coffee; she likes her chai thick, with the milk undiluted, without sugar, for she has the sugar disease from 1992. Her slurps from the chai cup lead to abstract sounds lead to a woman with weight is-

sues lead to ‘happy birthday’ in barely recognisable sounds. And then a government clerk who recites the same thing over and over again, never missing a rehearsed line, even stopping mid-sentence because it is chai break. A society lady enslaved by her appointments diary, her social calendar full of yoga for inner peace and green tea from Malaysia with the right flavour, the crotch-scratching man who wants to make ‘fraandship’ with the English girl he gives directions to, a typical middleclass man, a woman who wants to escape it all…there isn’t a character who isn’t recognisable. Through her characters, Dogra forces you to relook the mundane that crowds each of our lives. A struggle to escape from the routine is familiar, always sought after, rarely achieved. We find happiness, or something resembling it, in spite of the mundane. Routines are repeated, resumed, started again, it is a cycle. Notes on Chai presents a segue of such meditations, sounds and movements, leaving in its wake a realisation that no matter how different we all are, we all are also pretty much the same. n open www.openthemagazine.com 49


photo essay Remember Me? In this work, which will show at the Delhi Photo Festival starting 27 September, patients of a psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires, men lost in their own heads, look themselves in the eye photographs and text by flavia schuster

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any people are deposited by their families into Borda Psychiatric Hospital in Buenos Aires, facing abandonment and condemnation from society. I invited the mad ones to come into a shabby shed in the hospital gardens, away from the gaze of doctors and security guards. I asked these men to sit down and literally look at themselves in the mirrored glass I had glued on to my camera lens. Of them, General Perón’s reincarnation drove me from love to despair. I am told that another one had killed his mother. This one keeps repeating that his testicles were punctured and the rest of his organs removed. My favourite is a

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delirious kid living in the body of a 53-year-old man, one who wears the exact same clothes every day. Another one had been Jesus for a few years. Within them might be an architect, a lawyer or an agoraphobe. There could also be someone who cut his mother’s head off and cooked it in the oven. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan proposes that the ‘mirror stage’ constitutes a fundamental experience of identification in which the child conquers the image of his or her own body and helps to put an end to the psychic experience known as the fantasy of the fragmented body. It is through this narcissistic passage known as the ‘mirror stage’ that the child is able to identify with others. The following series presents forgotten men looking at themselves. n

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CINEMA The Miracle Maker A new book revisits the film Amar Akbar Anthony and shines light on director Manmohan Desai’s enduring legacy Shaikh Ayaz

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mar Akbar Anthony began in utter confusion, on a scale comparable to the climax of a signature Manmohan Desai film. When Desai conceived of the film, which was to become an enduring monument of the genre, word got round that the whimsical filmmaker was attempting an historical epic. Vinod Khanna, one of the leading men, got the impression that he was to play the Rajput warrior Amar Singh Rathore. Amitabh Bachchan, the loveable rogue Anthony, thought he was Mark Antony, while Rishi Kapoor thought he was being asked to essay the role of Emperor Akbar, a character that his grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor had immortalised in Mughal-e-Azam. A call was made to Rishi Kapoor, who was then on a shoot in Bikaner, playing billiards with co-stars after packup. It is clear that Kapoor didn’t quite share Desai’s eagerness. After he put the phone down, he tossed an abuse directed at Desai. It was only when he returned to Bombay that he learnt what Amar Akbar Anthony was all about and promptly apologised. This little trivia is narrated by Kapoor in Sidharth Bhatia’s book Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai (Harper Collins), which includes many such anecdotes connected to the making of the film. It also seeks to evaluate Desai’s legacy and his brand of filmmaking, which favoured heart over mind. In the 1970s, Desai was both denigrated and deified for a string of commercial blockbusters that challenged logic and reason. In 1977 alone, he stormed the box-office with Parvarish, Dharam Veer, Chacha Bhatija and, of course, Amar Akbar Anthony. Though Yash Chopra, Prakash Mehra and Ramesh Sippy were equally big names, people of the Super Seventies swear that Desai ruled the

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era. Much of that repute and allure emanates from Amar Akbar Anthony, his fourteenth film, also his best and the most representative of the Manmohan Desai school—typically, films aspiring to mass entertainment. ‘Lost and found’ was a major driving force of the plot though it was not the film’s original creation. To be sure, Gyan Mukherjee’s Kismet (1943) and Yash Chopra’s Waqt (1965) were there first. But it was Amar Akbar Anthony that raised separated-at-birth to the level of kitsch art. Bhatia, whose recollection of Amar Akbar Anthony includes a memory of “singing along, laughing at all the jokes and the amazing miracles” upon watch-

Actors, including Bachchan, were discouraged to question Desai’s motives. He expected them to submit to his vision. “This is not a Satyajit Ray film. You do because I tell you to,” he would admonish them ing it on its release in 1977, believes it was his generation’s favourite movie. When his publishers asked him to pick one film to write about, Bhatia was sure it would be one made in the 1970s— ‘something that’s recent enough for people to remember and old enough to provide perspective.’ Like Bhatia, most Indians remember and can quote from Amar Akbar Anthony at will. For the benefit of those denied this pleasure, here is a quick recap. The film opens with the convict Kishen Lal (Pran, styled like Abraham Lincoln, complete with chin curtain beard and frock coats) stepping out of

jail. Gifts for his three boys in tow, he reaches home to find his family living in appalling condition. Lal, a driver, was asked to take the blame for an accident case involving his boss Robert (Jeevan). In return, Robert promised to take care of his family’s needs. Infuriated, Lal confronts Robert and reminds him of his promise. An altercation occurs, and Lal grabs a gun and fires at him. But Robert is a step ahead. He exposes his jacket to reveal a bulletproof vest. Lal escapes, but is followed by Robert’s sidekicks. Rushing home, he finds his wife (Nirupa Roy) missing. He picks up his three kids and drops them at a park. When he returns, the kids are gone. The eldest brother is found abandoned by a Hindu police officer and is named Amar, the middle one is raised by a Catholic priest and grows up as Anthony, while the youngest, Akbar, is brought up by a Muslim tailor. Throughout the film, the brothers keep running into one another without knowing their true identities. Note that the mother, who loses her vision only to recover it later in the film by way of a divine miracle, crosses her sons’ paths a number of times. Yet, nobody recognises her, notably Amar who was old enough when the family disintegrated. A blogger teasingly writes that ‘Nirupa Roy was at the height of carelessness in this film; she misplaced not one, not two, but three children.’ Admittedly, at places like these, modern viewers exposed to the understated sensibilities of European cinema may flinch. Yet, if you are willing to overlook those moments, you will find in the film much to like. But then, on second thoughts, everything is possible—if not plausible—in the Manmohan Desai world. Actors, including Bachchan, weren’t encouraged to question his motives. He expected them to submit to his vision. “This open www.openthemagazine.com 55


express archives

pure entertainment Amitabh Bachchan’s character Anthony liberated the angry young hero of the 1970s, and allowed him to play the fool once in a while

is not a Satyajit Ray film. You do because I tell you to,” he would admonish them. Once, on another film set, when he found one of his technicians fussing over a minor detail, he lost his cool, “Do you think I am Satyajit Ray? Finish this and move on.” Ray and Desai inhabited very different cinematic universes. Ray’s poetic realism and close attention to detail had no place in Desai’s la-la land. “As far as Amar Akbar Anthony was concerned,” Bhatia admits, “there was certainly much suspension of disbelief, but the viewers felt engaged and entertained.” Implicit in this slim book is a suggestion that while Desai was exploiting old clichés for commercial gains, he wasn’t so much endorsing them as presenting an ‘ironic vision of them’. It is possible that the audience was complicit and in on the joke, ‘an understanding that what is be56 open

ing shown is one big joke for entertainment value, not to be taken seriously’. Among Bhatia’s chief purposes in writing the book is to rescue Amar Akbar Anthony from its ‘great but not classic material’ reputation and thereby place it among the touchstones of Indian cinema. The film is fanatically over-watched but ruefully under-appreciated. Looking back, it does strike one that if only it were made by a filmmaker with a more serious oeuvre— it’s worth remembering that it requires some intelligence to make a film that cuts across region, class and age—Amar Akbar Anthony would have been received differently. Perhaps, a tsunami called Sholay, which dominated the 1970s cinematic landscape, is partly to be blamed. It ravaged everything that came in its way. Decades on, academics continue

to drool over it. Google Sholay and you will be guided to book links, critical essays and blogs galore. Amar Akbar Anthony has not been that lucky. Until now, there wasn’t a single book devoted to it, almost as if it were not a subject worth studying. ‘Film scholars tend to latch on to films and filmmakers. Look at how much work has been done on Guru Dutt, but almost nothing on Dev or Vijay Anand’—Cinema Modern, Bhatia’s previous hardback, fervently argued in favour of the Anand brothers’ contribution to Hindi cinema—‘Even Bimal Roy. There are many more films, such as Amar Akbar Anthony, worthy of deeper examination,’ says Bhatia. Screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, quoted in Bhatia’s book, finds an ‘episodic’ quality to Amar Akbar Anthony. “Almost as if,” Rajabali observes, “Desai 23 september 2013


asked his writers to come up with some highlight sequences and then built the story around them.” One such ‘highlight sequence’ or ‘item/set piece’, as Desai liked to call them, was the Duck Soup-inspired mirror scene where Anthony, woozy from a blow, applies antiseptic to his reflection. The scene was shot in a single take in the director’s absence, with Bachchan chipping in with a few lines of his own. When Desai saw the rushes later, he reportedly told Bachchan, “From now on, you will be in every film of mine.” The character of Anthony was a decisive break from Big B’s vigilante screen persona. It was a risk to cast the angry young man as a farceur, but it paid off. ‘It was a brave decision,’ Bhatia lauds. Bachchan’s comic skills proved so useful that Desai never felt the need to hire a full-time comedian. Bhatia acknowledges Bachchan’s contribution in liberating the 1970s Hindi film hero (who was angry and serious and had no time for silly jokes) from the familiar tropes and giving him the freedom to play the fool once in a while. Which is to say, Bachchan liberated himself. It is not entirely surprising that Amar Akbar Anthony is seen as a quintessentially Bachchan film. Bhatia, though, maintains that everybody had their moment. While Rishi Kapoor matched the towering Bachchan with his trademark buoyancy, it is Vinod Khanna who many feel was served a raw deal. Even though Khanna’s subdued character was not as crowd-pleasing as those of Akbar and Anthony, Bhatia argues that he was ‘a perfect foil to the boisterous Anthony and the musical Akbar. He is the elder brother and must behave with dignity. Plus, he is an officer of the state’. It is not surprising to hear of Khanna, a top star at the time, insisting on a heroine and being consequently paired with Shabana Azmi. Unfortunately, the dames of Amar Akbar Anthony—Azmi, Parveen Babi and Neetu Singh—were mere props. ‘Also remember, Amar got to beat up the biggest star in India and shared some emotional moments with his father,’ Bhatia says, referring to the two 23 september 2013

popular scenes involving Khanna, a fight sequence with Bachchan and one where Kishen Lal watches him dig out a toy gun that he had hidden as a child. “You remember the gun,” Lal accosts Amar. “But you don’t remember your father who gave you the gun.” Another cult quip from the film goes: “Aisa toh life mein aadmi do baar heech bhagta hai—ya toh race mein ya toh police ke case mein.” (An individual runs this fast only twice—either in a race or if he is escaping from the police.) The memorable bon mots were courtesy Kader Khan, a professor turned playwright-actor. While writing dialogue, Khan, who spent his early days in Kamathipura, Bombay’s red light district, took care to bring in colloquial street lingo that showed little respect for grammar and politesse. ‘When Anthony says to Akbar in an early

“I think Manmohan Desai is totally uninterested in social messages, everything happens by miracle on screen. [But] people have been entertained,” filmmaker Shyam Benegal once remarked scene of the film, ‘Tum aaj kal diktaich nahin hai’ (‘You are not to be found anywhere these days’), it is wrong Hindi, but accurate Mumbai street language,’ the book notes. Secularism is the central fact of Amar Akbar Anthony’s narrative and where better to situate it than in cosmopolitan Bombay. Bhatia recognises it as a ‘resolutely Mumbai film’. ‘Imagine,’ he urges, ‘for a moment, that the backdrop of the story shifted to Delhi. There would be many Amars in the city and Akbar could conceivably be found in Chandni Chowk, which is a traditional Muslim neighbourhood. But Anthony, the church-going Catholic bootlegger? Never will Delhi produce such a character. He belongs to the many Christian enclaves of Mumbai, such as Vasai,

Byculla or Bandra.’ Both Desai and Khan loved Bombay just as Bhatia does. Both were products of the city’s ghettos. ‘Desai had grown up in a chawl in Khetwadi, one of the busiest neighbourhoods of south Bombay,’ Bhatia says. ‘He used to sit every evening in the maidan, chatting with locals about this and that, even asking them about his movies.’ Born to a family of filmmakers, Desai lived with his siblings, including elder brother Subhash who worked with Homi Wadia, a prominent director of the 1930-40s. He was in his early twenties when he made his debut with the Raj Kapoor-starrer Chhalia in 1960 and wasn’t heard of until the 1970s, the decade in which he directed Coolie and Mard, both starring Bachchan. Not long after, Desai, who prided himself in knowing the pulse of his audience, lost touch with the man on the street. Later films like Ganga Jamuna Saraswati and Toofan proved he was no longer relevant. In a twist that recalls his own films, he has now been canonised as the high priest of potboilers. His key films are seen as models that practically every mainstream Hindi filmmaker uses even today. When we say ‘Leave your brains at home’ to describe Bollywood fluff, it’s an unflattering nod to Desai— except that unlike many other films, his had staying power. ‘Take the street lingo that Anthony uses,’ Bhatia says, illustrating Desai’s influence on Hindi film dialogue. ‘Till then, movie lines were a little more formal, if not literary. The Anthony character demanded a different patois, which Kader Khan captured so well. That set off tapori-speak that actors like Sanjay Dutt specialise in. Now, that has become normal for any Bombay character.’ “I think Manmohan Desai is totally uninterested in social messages, everything happens by miracle on screen,” Shyam Benegal, one of the leading arthouse luminaries, once remarked. “People leave the cinema without taking any messages,” he added, “but they have been entertained.” That could well be Desai’s true legacy, and that of Amar Akbar Anthony. n open www.openthemagazine.com 57


CINEMA

Shuddh Desi Jaideep Sahni is fascinated by cities like Jaipur, Indore and Kochi. Their youth, he says, are “the cutting edge of our swords against feudal traditions” Nikhil Taneja

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n the past decade computer-engi-

neer-turned-advertising professional Jaideep Sahni has become one of India’s most successful screenwriters and lyricists. The writer of films like Company, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Chak De! India and Bunty Aur Babli talks about the art of writing and why the middle class needs to be written about.

Your films are of different genres, and yet have all worked. What do you know about writing, or the audience, that others don’t?

(Chuckles) I don’t know. I’ve never thought that way. For me, it’s like, you are in the middle of your community, and there are a lot of things you like about your community and a lot of things that make you restless or irritate you about your community. So what you do is: chowkdi maaro, kahani shuru karo. Darr kiska hai? Apne hi toh log hain (Cross your legs, and start the story. What are you afraid of? They are your own people). One day, they will pat your back and say, “Yeah you got it, that’s how it is.” And one day, they say, “Arrey yaar, you bored us this evening,” and you say, “Okay, I’ll come back next time.” I just try to keep it that simple. This whole thing about genres and movies and cinema, and the rest of it… I’m a bit ignorant of it and (smiles) I like to stay that way. (Pause) I’ve never tried to research what the audience wants to know. Because if I did, then Khosla Ka Ghosla would never have released or I’d never have written a film about women athletes starring a Shah Rukh Khan who doesn’t sing or dance, or romance. A movie may be a product, but for me, it’s an emotional product. As a storyteller, your only job is to tell a story you care about. If you are doing it for the wrong reasons, then you are 58 open

only going to let people down.

But you are one of the few screenwriters who research a film by going on reccees. What are you looking to pick up?

To be honest, the reccees are less a scientific process for the writing and more because I am curious about the subject for myself. (Laughs) See, I’m not a movie guy in the typical sense. I don’t write a film because I have to write a film. It starts with me getting interested in something, which is a lot like falling in love—I don’t know why it happens. Then I’m just excited to find out more about the subject and if, for that, I need to travel, I travel. And it’s not so

There is an oppressiveness in our culture that pinches me, a hypocrisy and fraud in the name of that allencompassing ‘maryada’. This is a war that millions of youngsters fight every day much research, but a pleasure… ki thodi dhoop lage, thodi hawa lage, thodi mitti khaoon (get a little sun, a little air, eat a little dirt). And sometimes, out of this process, a movie script may emerge. At other times, the subject may not be right for a multiplex, so I may write a book about it some day. A movie is a byproduct of my fascination with something. I never work backwards from the intention of writing a movie. All of that is like a middle-aged version of high school peer pressure, ki uski picture aa rahi hai, meri bhi aani chahiye (‘that person’s film is coming out, mine should too’). Ho gaya yaar, I don’t want to go back to class 11 again. (Laughs)

Your way of working is also different in that unlike other writers, you are known to stick with one project from inception to release.

It’s just because I’m committed to that subject and the people whose story I’m telling. Of course, everyone from the director to the actors worry about all this too, but as far as I’m concerned, I believe the buck stops with me. These are my guys that everyone is working with, it’s my guys they are dressing, my guys they are playing, my guys people may come to watch, or not watch. I care about my guys, so whether it is sitting and writing alone, or being available when they are shooting on and off, or seeing the first print, I like seeing them through. (Chuckles) Maybe I’m delusional, but till the movie isn’t over, meri jaan atki padi hoti hai characters mein (those characters are my life), I can’t abandon them and start freelancing.

Do you also feel a certain responsibility towards your subjects?

I do feel responsible towards the people I’m representing in the script, because I want to do right by them. The happiest days of my life have been when a sportsperson has come up to me and said, “You understand me,” because he saw Chak De! India, or when a salesperson says, “You got it right.” But another thing is, I genuinely enjoy the making of a film. I love to be around when the editing is happening or the costumes are being done, not in an intrusive way, but because I am excited for my guys. For me, it’s like a school annual day or a wedding in the family kind of thing. Sab apna kaam karte hain, par doosre ki help bhi karte hain na (everyone does their own work, but we help each other too)? Maybe it’s because I was from IT or because I didn’t know any 23 september 2013


paroma mukherjee

simple pleasures Sahni’s research is mostly to satisfy his curiosity—“thodi dhoop lage, thodi hawa lage, thodi mitti khaoon”

better. But I know this is not the story of every writer, and I’m just lucky to have worked only with people who’ve never asked me to not be involved. I’ve worked with some really rare kinds of people, that way.

What fascinated you about the characters of Shuddh Desi Romance and Jaipur?

I’m fascinated by cities like Jaipur, Lucknow, Indore, Kochi, which are the engines that are running India. They are different from the metros, which are world cities that operate on another level from the rest of the country. They are not the ‘small towns’ Bollywood thinks they are and portrays them to be, just because people in them speak Hindi more than they do English. These are places buzzing with energy, where things are actually happening. The funny thing about these places is that the youngsters here have their feet in two boats: the traditional and desi, and the modern. You have a guy selling kachori who has two mobile phones. You have a dupatta salesman who can convert currencies and talk to tourists in seven different languages—to the 23 september 2013

extent his profession demands. It’s really exciting for me, as a storyteller, to see how young people try to navigate their love lives in these environments, with some following the traditional mindset (but only to an extent), and some breaking out of it completely and experimenting with relationships.

In the 90s, Bollywood was largely about aspiration, what you’d like your life to be. Your films changed the trend, in a way, to what your life is. Why do stories about the middle class need to be told?

I don’t know, it’s some kind of conversation you want to have with the community you are a part of. (Pauses) Jinko kuchh bolne ke liye hai, unhi ko kuchh bologe, na (You talk to those to whom you have something to say)? Jo khush hain, Ballard Estate mein rehte hain, shaam ko Blue Frog jaate hain (those who are happy, who live in Ballard Estate and go to Blue Frog in the evening), I can have beer with them, but there’s nothing I can say to them. Because they are doing fine. I mean, they don’t blacken their children’s faces in parks if they do something against their ‘tradi-

tion’. There is a kind of oppressiveness in our so-called culture that pinches me. There is hypocrisy and fraud in the name of that all-encompassing word— ‘maryada’. And this is a war that millions of youngsters fight every day. I mean, how many lies do girls have to tell every day in order to do what any young woman anywhere else in the world can do as a matter of right? Why is this 5,000-year-old civilisation making the youth lie all the time? But what I’m doing is not a lecture or national service; I’m just trying to discuss. I just want to tell my people to breathe, and let the young be, and let them discover things on their own. These are the guys who’ll be running the country 10 years from now, because youngsters from the metros will fly away to America. It’s these kids who are the cutting edge of our swords against feudal traditions. I get very restless about all this. But at other times, it’s also quite funny, in a way. I mean, I don’t have any eloquent words to explain this, main engineer aadmi hoon, yaar (I’m an engineer type of guy, man)! n open www.openthemagazine.com 59


science

tamu massif covers an area of about 120,000 square miles. By comparison, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa—the largest active volcano on Earth— is about 2,000 square miles, or roughly 2 per cent of the size of Tamu Massif

Ageing: It’s All in Your Head How lowcalorie diets can give you a longer life

Largest Single Volcano on Earth

B

Y most accounts, the first person to extol the benefits of a controlled diet as a means to achieving better health and longevity was a Japanese philosopher and scientist named Ekiken Kaibara in the 18th century. Over the years, a number of studies have found a link between a low-calorie diet and longer life spans. However, nobody has been able to prove why such a link exists. A new study claims to have found the answer. According to it, lowcalorie diets enhance the presence of a specific type of sirtuin protein in the brain called SIRT1, which enhances the production of a specific neural receptor in the brain involved in regulating metabolic rate, food intake and insulin sensitivity. The study, which was conducted on mice that had been genetically modified to produce more SIRT1, found that an enhanced SIRT1 was able to extend the median life span of the mice by 16 per cent for females and 9 per cent for males. This, when translated to human years, could mean an extended 13 or 14 years for women, making their average life span almost 100 years, and another seven years for men, increasing their average life span to the mid-80s. The study, conducted by research60 open

ers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was published in Cell Metabolism. The mice under study were genetically modified to overproduce SIRT1 protein. Some mice were engineered to overproduce SIRT1 in body tissues, while others only in the brain. They found that only mice that had enhanced presence of SIRT1 in the brain had significant longer life spans, similar to those reared under dietaryrestriction regimens. Also, the skeletal muscular structures of old mice with a high presence of SIRT1 resembled young muscle tissue. For instance, according to the researcher, 20-month-old mice looked as active as five-month-olds. They also observed significant increases in body temperature, oxygen consumption and physical activity during the night compared with agematched controls. Delay in cancerrelated deaths was also found. According to the researchers, their discovery of a close link between SIRT1 and longevity raises the likelihood of a control centre in the brain that controls ageing and longevity. Such a presence could mean that in future scientists can try to manipulate it to extend life spans of other animals, including humans. n

A team of University of Houston scientists has uncovered the largest single volcano yet documented on Earth. Covering an area roughly equivalent to the British Isles or the state of New Mexico, this volcano, dubbed the Tamu Massif, is nearly as big as the giant volcanoes of Mars, placing it among the largest in the solar system. Located about 1,000 miles east of Japan, Tamu Massif is the largest feature of Shatsky Rise, an underwater mountain range formed 130 to 145 million years ago by the eruption of several underwater volcanoes. It stands out among underwater volcanoes not just for its size, but also its shape. It is low and broad. The findings appear in the 8 September issue of Nature Geoscience. n

What Our Urine Reveals

According to a new study published in PLOS ONE, more than 3,000 chemicals or ‘metabolites’ can be detected in human urine. Researchers at University of Alberta used state-of-the-art analytical chemistry techniques including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to identify and quantify hundreds of compounds from a range of human urine samples. The chemical composition of urine is of particular interest to physicians, nutritionists and environmental scientists because it reveals key information not only about a person’s health, but also about what they have eaten, what they are drinking, what drugs they are taking and what pollutants they may have been exposed to. n

23 september 2013


sparked by engine noise It was during a 1978 flight to Europe that Amar Bose, founder of Bose Corporation, started making calculations to see if it was possible to use headphones themselves as a noise-reducing agent. Bose introduced the world’s first noise-cancelling headphones a decade later

tech&style

Dior w VIII Grand Bal Piece Unique

Bose QC20i The QuietComfort series is way ahead of other noise-cancellation headsets gagandeep Singh Sapra

Price on request

Rs 22,388

The Dior VIII Grand Bal collection is a tribute to grand balls; it is equipped with the ‘Dior Inverse’ calibre, whose functional oscillating weight, placed on the dial, reproduces the swirl of a ball gown. The 2013 Dior VIII Grand Bal Piece Unique collection for women has a multitude of rare ornamental stones set on the oscillating weight. n

BenQ W1500

I

travel quite a bit , and thanks to the iPad and high-speed internet, I manage to keep myself entertained while on the move. But I have often had trouble with noisecancelling headphones. I am a Sikh and wear a turban most of the time, so to use such a headphone I needed a band over the turban, which never fit properly. Recently, I got myself a pair of Bose QC20i, and they are simply amazing. Bose’s QC20 and QC20i are the first in-ear active noise-cancellation headphones in the world. The only difference between the two is that the QC20 works with BlackBerry and Android devices, while the QC20i works with iOS devices. The battery of these headphones is small and easily fits into your pocket. It gets recharged with a USB cable, so there is no need for extra chargers. Attached to the headphone cables is a central microphone unit with which 23 september 2013

you can answer calls, play/pause music, change tracks and control the volume. On the side is a small white button to switch the headphone to ‘Aware’ mode that quiets your music and uses the noise-cancellation microphones to let you hear what’s happening around you without having to take off the earphones or stop the music. If you want to cut off all other sounds while you tune into a podcast on your phone, the QC20 delivers well. The hum of the AC, the traffic noise... all disappear magically once the noise cancellation is activated. The StayHear silicone ear tips (you get a set of three—small, medium and large) are comfortable to use, but remember, these are good to sleep with when you are on a flight but not with your head on a pillow. If you are a frequent flyer, the only thing left to buy is a convertor to use this device with in-flight entertainment systems. n

Rs 175,000

A full HD, 1080P, 3D-capable home projector that can project an image of up to 84 inches from as close as 2 metres. It comes with a 5GHz WiFi on board. You can stream both 2D and 3D HD video and audio content off devices that comply with wireless home digital interface (WHDI) to the projector. The W1500 also features the SmartEco technology that helps maximise lamp power savings by about 70 per cent. It is also equipped with a full HD 2D to 3D convertor. Its DarkChip3 DLP technology gives you a more film-like picture quality. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

open www.openthemagazine.com 61


CINEMA

on the man-u payroll Actress Parineeti Chopra revealed in a recent interview that while in university, she once worked part-time for the English football club Manchester United. She was one of the team leaders for catering during the matches, and that is how she earned her first paycheque

Shuddh Desi Romance An utterly charming romantic comedy ajit duara

o n scr een

current

One Direction: This Is Us Director Morgan Spurlock cast Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam

Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson Score ★★★★★

gh rajput, Cast sushant sin , vaani kapoor ra op ch parineeta sharma Director maneesh

D

esi Chick lit has come to

Hindi movies, and this movie sets the tone with the story of a wedding altar, a mandap, in Jaipur and how two girls and a guy approach it with much trepidation. In all, there are three visits to the guillotine, none of them leading to an execution. Is marriage extinct or has liberty, equality and fraternity within and between the sexes diluted the idea of commitment? This is the subject of Shuddh Desi Romance and it begins with a runaway groom. During the course of an overnight bus journey on the eve of his wedding, Raghu Ram (Sushant Singh Rajput) cuddles with the independent minded woman sitting next to him. She smokes, has had several boyfriends, or so she claims, and is not averse to a lip lock with the boy she knows is getting married the next day. Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) is, in fact, part of Raghu Ram’s wedding party, and the next day, when he sees her 62 open

standing next to him as he is about to exchange garlands with the bride, he loses his nerve and makes off, via a visit to the loo. The loo is the leitmotif in the film. It functions as the emergency exit from unholy matrimony. The funniest scene in the film is when Raghu Ram visits the mandap for his second attempt sometime later, having had a few beers to calm his nerves. This time the shrewd wedding planner (Rishi Kapoor) is wise to it and has cut off all access to the loo, stationing guards outside. But one digresses. The movie is really about two women, Gayatri and Tara (Vaani Kapoor), the bride who was dumped at the beginning of the film. The women talk to each other, to men and sometimes directly into the camera. They express themselves naturally and with rare self-confidence. This is utterly charming. However, as with some chick lit, the talking never ends, and the conversation drifts and repeats itself. n

This film purports to be a documentary on the boy band One Direction, but turns out to be nothing but a PR exercise on the five-boy British/Irish phenomenon that has turned teenage girls across the globe hysterical. This is surprising because the director is Morgan Spurlock, who earned his spurs as a docu maker with Super Size Me, a blistering attack on fast food culture, an activist film in which he goes on a diet of McDonalds for a month to document the devastating effect on his health. But here he gives us a fairy tale film about ordinary working class boys who have gone on to become millionaires before the age of 20 and yet remain Peter Pan figures, unaffected by the thousands of swooning girls they encounter at every concert. The film shows how they horse around on the tour for amusement, how attached they are to their moms and how clean and alcohol and drug free they are. Not one of the boys has anything remotely interesting to say, and though the film frequently compares them to the Beatles—fortunately not in terms of the quality of their music, but in their passionate fan base—there is no analysis of the psychology of the connections they have wired with teens. A very disappointing documentary. n ad

23 september 2013


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

Life without Children

Abhishek Bachchan, who is currently shooting Happy New Year in Dubai, has found a kindred spirit in his director Farah Khan. Both are reportedly missing their respective children and can’t stop talking about them. While Abhishek’s little girl, Aradhya, has been jet-setting with mum Aishwarya across the country as the actress fulfils her commitments to the various brands she endorses, Farah’s five-year-old triumvirate—Czar, Anya and Diva— have been at home in Mumbai with their daddy Shirish Kunder, who is responsible for making sure that they don’t miss a day of school while mum’s busy working. Farah is likely to be reunited with her children this week when they visit her in Dubai, but she tweeted earlier: ‘This is the longest iv been without my babies…missing them soooo much that am ogling random kids in the lobby and sighing.’ When Abhishek responded to her on Twitter saying he was missing his own daughter just as much, Farah suggested a plan: ‘2nite U n me dinner at nobu’s n only talking about our babies..’ Ah, it’s a shame there was no paparazzi around to capture the sight of two mistyeyed adults staring at pictures of their kids in between helpings of the best sushi at the Atlantis’ busiest restaurant that evening.

No Time for Hollywood

Deepika Padukone’s agents insist that the producers of The Fast & The Furious 7 offered the actress a plum role in their fast cars franchise, but she simply didn’t have the dates to accommodate the film in her schedule. It’s true that principal photography on the newest installment of the F&F series began earlier this week in Atlanta, and that Deepika is shooting Happy New Year in Dubai. It’s also true that once done with this schedule of HNY, she’ll return to Mumbai to promote Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela (which releases in November), and dive straight into her Cocktail director Homi Adajania’s Finding Fanny Fernandes in Goa, following which she’ll get into Imtiaz Ali’s next with Ranbir Kapoor. Her representatives say Deepika’s date diary, currently choc-a-bloc 23 september 2013

with A-list projects, hardly allows room to squeeze in a Hollywood film, especially one that requires bulk dates all the way from now until mid-2014. Alas, none of our other desi leading ladies was offered the role after DP said no (and many auditioned for the job, as we told you last week). Rumour has it that a British actress has been signed on for the part. Nevertheless, there still may be a desi connection in the film. Watch this space, I’ll spill the beans only after the cameras have rolled on this cameo.

Salvaging Her Reputation

She’s always had a reputation for bullying her employees. Ask anyone who has worked with this producer and the first thing they’ll likely bring up is her combative temperament. There are stories of directors being fired, actors being yelled at, writers being sacked impulsively. This aggressive behaviour notwithstanding, her instincts have proved correct most times. Lately, though, more than a few bad decisions have been made. A string of box-office flops suggests that her Midas touch may be fading. Earlier this year, reports surfaced that she’d clashed with a respected filmmaker over the climax of a horror film they’d jointly produced. She reportedly demanded that the ending be reshot as per her instructions. The veteran suggested sticking to the original script, but Ms Moneybags had her way eventually. The film bombed. Two big budget star vehicles also tanked and now, as her studio readies to release their latest—the sequel to another small-budget horror flick—no chances are being taken. Apparently, the producer has been present on the set frequently, something she didn’t do too often in the past, and has even directed scenes herself, insisting on specific camera angles and shots. Money will come and go, she’s fond of saying; it’s her reputation as a savvy producer she’s hoping to salvage. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

Grappling Its Way Back In

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

Wrestlers train at New Delhiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Guru Munni Akhara. The International Olympic Committee this week revised its decision to eliminate wrestling from the list of Olympic sports. Its reinstatement in the 2020 Games is being celebrated in India, which recently won individual Olympic medals in the sport. Wrestling or kushti is, in fact, considered more than a mere sport in the country, where it is practised in akharas under the tutelage of a guru. The soil of the akhara is considered sacred by the pehalwans, who rub their heads and bodies with it before they begin their session. Gruelling physical training, a stringent diet and celibacy for the duration of their profession is considered necessary to reach their maximum potential

64 open

23 september 2013


THE ESSENCE OF BRITAIN Made in Switzerland by BREITLING

BENTLEY B06


OPEN Magazine 23 September 2013  

OPEN Magazine 23 September 2013

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