Anuja Chauhan en Wed Nov 02 11:32:54 IST 2022 get-together-nancy-tyagi-and-kanhaiya-kumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I have been following Nancy Tyagi on Instagram for over a year. Her video showed up on my feed, and I was immediately fascinated by the thin brown girl with the erect stance, striding purposefully through the dust and grime of what looked like a fabric market in north Delhi, with a tote bag slung over one delicate shoulder. Sitting in Bengaluru, I was immediately taken back to the time when a younger me had braved the heat and dust of a similar market with minimum budget, maximum hope, a celebrity outfit in my heart and a hunter’s hungry glint in my eye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nancy conferred with a succession of pudgy shopkeepers, made her selection, hailed a cycle-rickshaw, and came home with bales of red velvet and satin inside her tote. Using an old-school hand-operated sewing machine very similar to my mother’s, and a brass tailor’s scissors, she stitched herself an outfit exactly like the one Amrita Rao wears in the classic ‘Gori Gori’dance number from <i>Main Hoon Na</i> (2004). As she modelled the outfit, pouting and pirouetting, I was utterly hooked. Last week, Nancy, her IG following now swollen to over 10 lakh, graced the red carpet at Cannes in two stunning self-made ensembles, a dramatic pouffy, pale pink gown and a diaphanous, glittering mauve sari and cowl.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonam Kapoor, a Cannes veteran and a fashionista in her own right, gushed over Nancy’s second outfit and tweeted to Nancy, “Make me something, Nancy Tyagi.” Sonam may have to get in line though, as Nancy is blowing up big right now. It is a Cinderella story of the best kind, with an impoverished young girl, a gorgeous gown and a fancy ball at the heart of the plot, except this young girl is her own fairy godmother and her own Prince Charming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In today’s uncertain world, with rampant unemployment and crumbling institutions, being one’s own godmother, significant other, and support system is emerging as the surest (if not sole) way to success, especially if one is born without a silver spoon in their mouth—you know, in the sort of family that eats with their fingers, which is to say, most of us. This ‘Do It Yourself’route of success calls for an incredible amount of focus, determination, hard work, homework and stamina. And while I am fairly certain that Nancy is not actively looking for a Prince Charming, thank you very much, the interfering Indian auntie and indefatigable romantic in me cannot help recommending that she check out the IG page of a remarkably intelligent and charming young man who seems to be in possession of all these qualities, and who (just like her) has a million plus followers—one Kanhaiya Kumar, originally from Begusarai and JNU, and currently hoping to be a member of Parliament from North East Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now I know THE WEEK’s pages are not Karan Johar’s couch of manifestation, but Zerodha’s Nikhil Kamath’s recent rant notwithstanding (‘I’m not going to ruin 18-20 years of my life babysitting. What if the child says ‘scr** you’ at 18 and leaves anyway’) our country urgently needs clean, talented self-made people to get together ideologically at least, if not romantically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, romantically would be better (no couple in India is as popular as Virat-Anushka—stable, focussed, high achievers who inspire young people to be the best they can be.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feel I am starting to sound dangerously Hitleresque with this dream of creating a master-race of self-made super-achievers, so I will now desist. Have a great election, Kanhaiya. (And maybe order a spiffy bespoke kurta from Nancy to wear on counting day?)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat May 25 11:13:29 IST 2024 rupali-ganguly-should-take-advise-from-her-tv-character-anupamaa <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I have been a fan of the television drama series, <i>Anupamaa</i>, right from the very start. The number one Hindi TV serial in the country for almost four years now, it tells the story of simple Ahmedabad housewife, <i>Anupamaa</i>, who loved her husband, children, and in-laws, and found her happiness exclusively in theirs. Till the day she found out her husband has been cheating on her, and has nothing but contempt for her as she is uneducated, uncool, overweight, a pushover, with hands that “stink of masalas”. And so begins <i>Anupamaa</i>’s second innings, in which she re-discovers herself, with her own hopes and dreams, divorces the cheater who did not value either her love or her stellar qualities, starts her own business, retains the love of her children and in-laws, marries a handsome, supportive tycoon who adores her, and proceeds to have an awesome new life (marred, of course, with all sorts of minor vicissitudes to keep the TRPs coming.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that the show airs on prime time Star Plus makes it a far more effective tool to battle patriarchy than any number of <i>Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaanis, Thappads or Laapataa Ladies</i>. There’s a lot of Matarani and Jai Shri Krishna in <i>Anupamaa</i>, but don’t be fooled by the <i>sanskaari</i> trappings. The show is subversive from beginning to end, pretty much starting where Sridevi’s English-Vinglish left-off. <i>Anupamaa</i> is an excellent home-maker and cook, but also fiery and fearless. She never hesitates to tell off family, friends and society. She is sympathetic, progressive, intelligent, independent, outspoken and thinks for herself. Which is why I wonder how Rupali Ganguly, the actor who plays <i>Anupamaa</i>, and has a fan following which has been compared with that of Smriti Irani’s in the early 2000s, will fare in the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I suppose the entry in politics seemed like the next logical step to the actor—Irani’s example is there before her, as is Arun Govil’s. After all, no matter how popular a show is, it cannot run forever, and one must be pragmatic and plan ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what would Anu (from the show) whisper into the ear of Rupali (the actor)? She would be happy and reassured that Narendra Modi has declared ‘zero tolerance’ for people such as Prajwal Revanna, and added that ‘they should not be spared’. But surely she would want to know why a government that came to power in the wake of the nation’s anger at the rape of Nirbhaya has proved itself, time and again, to be absolutely callous to crimes against women, unless they belong to a tiny and specific sub-section of atrocities committed on Hindu women by Muslim men? Or why Modi remains silent on horrific crimes against women in Unnao, Hathras, Kathua, Manipur? Or why Bilkis Bano’s rapists were garlanded, and why Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s son was given a ticket, and why dastardly dynast Revanna was fielded, even after the BJP was warned by its member that the man was poison. I suppose Rupali will have to explain to Anu that even though this is the real world, in which Rupali is still just an actor, with a whole lot of new lines to learn and a new role to play in a long-running super-hit reality show hoping to be renewed for its third season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, I am hoping that after playing Anu for so many years, Rupali has imbibed a little bit of the character’s strength and sensibility. And that she will carry some Anu-ness into this next phase of her life. And even if she doesn’t, she isn’t the only <i>Anupamaa</i>. We are all <i>Anupamaa</i>. And we all have a vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat May 11 11:46:13 IST 2024 is-bjp-trying-to-divide-and-win-with-mangalsutra-jibe <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am blown by the amount of research the BJP’s speechwriters have put in. They have gone way back in time to dig out and wilfully misquote something Manmohan Singh said in 2006 at a meeting of the National Development Council (NDC), which is “Our collective priorities are clear. Agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education… along with programmes for the upliftment of SC/STs, other backward classes, minorities and women and children… We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources...” 
</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is interesting to note that after making this ‘deeply worrying’ statement, Singh still managed to get re-elected in 2009—clearly proving that a majority of voters were chill with what he had said. My guess is that the majority of voters are still chill with what he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And our worry is more to do with our missing ‘fruits of development’. Like, hello, where is our big fat fruit platter? And why isn’t Prime Minister Narendra Modi explaining why it is missing, instead of making hateful statements about how many children our Muslims are producing—when he surely must know, with all the reports he has to read, that Muslims are producing roughly the same amount of children as everybody else, and that India achieved replacement level fertility rates two whole years ago. I even wrote about it here, and wondered why we weren’t celebrating this achievement more. (Duh, because the ruling party likes to use this hoary, defunct bogey bear to whip up insecurity and division.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For those who demand specifics, fertility rates have declined drastically across all religious communities over the last two decades to land at 2.1. And the Muslim fertility rate, while still the highest in India, is only 2.36, and getting steadily lower every day. Also, it gets compensated (sadly) by the community’s neonatal mortality rate, which is also the highest in the country. 
So either our prime minister is not doing his homework, which is unlikely because he wakes up so early and works so hard, reminding me often of the endearing prime minister Hugh Grant played in <i>Love Actually</i> who lifts the 10 Downing Street phone to say, “I’m very busy and important.” Or he’s knowingly inciting the voters of Rajasthan by implying Muslim hordes, dressed in furs and riding on horseback, will swoop in to snatch <i>mangalsutras</i> from the necks of Hindu mothers and wives if they vote for the Congress—which is just plain silly—because there are 80 per cent Hindus in India and only 14 per cent Muslims, and it is much too hot to wear fur in Rajasthan. And anyway, if they had to do that they would’ve done it during the “60 years of Congress misrule” for heaven’s sake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our Election Commission, by coyly declining to comment on this flagrant hate-mongering, has proven it has a severely debilitating case of erectile dysfunction. By speeches such as this, and telling acts like turning the Doordarshan logo saffron, and arresting Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal—the BJP has revealed that it is not as confident as it claims to be. Such insecurity, when the party is resurgent, flush with funds, and has all the state institutions in their firm control, is puzzling. 
</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is the BJP, which always has its ear to the ground, actually worried that Ram <i>phal</i> is not considered a ‘fruit of development’ by most Indians? Is it because more people are saying hey, if we’re allowed to go back in time and pull out old speeches, where’s that plump 15 lakh ‘fruit’ Modi assured us was gonna drop into all our bank accounts? Maybe Muslims probably stole that, too. And used it to buy fur-coats and horses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Apr 28 13:47:24 IST 2024 lok-sabha-polls-are-the-biggest-reality-show-on-earth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You have gotta love the election season. Setting aside contentious issues like electoral bonds, rumours of electronic voting machine rigging, bribery, intimidation and wilful disinformation, the fact is that India’s Lok Sabha elections are still the biggest reality show on earth. Of course, reality shows today are often accused of being a little um, performative and pre-decided, much more ‘show’ than ‘reality’ but that doesn’t stop them from being absorbing viewing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As usual there’s so much to watch and learn from the BJP’s advertising, marketing and information cell. It’s wrong to call it a cell, or even a sell, because it’s so much larger and savvier than that. Their classiest move this time, to me at least, is the weaponising of the number 370. By setting it as their target for 2024, they achieve two things. One, they flex casually on the fact that for them the erstwhile magical number of 272 is a <i>bayen hath ka khel</i>, the equivalent of competing with one hand tied behind your back. This is something an indulgent adult often does with a child, which in effect allows them to infantilise the opposition, which is clearly the logical next step after they have successfully infantilised the electorate (Bharat Mata is our holy mother, we are her worshipful, dutiful children, and to question her, or her chosen son Modiji, is the worst kind of sin.) And, two, without even uttering a single word on the topic, they remind all of us of the abrogation of Article 370, of the fact that nobody has ‘special status’ in India today, and that the BJP juggernaut sweeps everything that comes before it, be it the Supreme Court, the intentions of our founding fathers or the wishes of the majority residents of a state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition’s smartest move this time, to me at least, is the acronym, or rather the backronym (when one already has a word in mind and works backwards from there, to come up with an expanded form for it) I.N.D.I.A. This branding is a stoke of pure genius—it makes the alliance seem more cohesive, less raggle-taggle, it’s memorable, and gives the alliance some much needed high ground—they stand for the idea of India, not just opportunistic election victory—the speeches can just write themselves. In fact, the branding clearly rattled the BJP publicity machine, as rumours of India officially changing its name to Bharat swept our news feeds just a little after I.N.D.I.A was announced. But the usual cracks showed up in the ‘alliance’ almost immediately, and the BJP probably (and wisely) concluded that there was no need to panic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, the BJP is no slouch in the acronym game—there’s UPYOGI sarkar (Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath) and the last time I watched a new channel, a BJP spokesperson was busily pitching torturous backronyms like RAM LALLA (Rashtriya suraksha, Mahila, Labharti, Leadership and Ardhvyavastha), GIIITA (Growth, Information, Innovation, Infrastructure, Technology and Atmanirbhar Bharat) and PDA (Performance, Delivery and Aspiration) to an amused anchor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AAP used to be good at this—the name of the party is in itself evocative, and lends itself to endless, powerful wordplay, as does the symbol of the broom which would sweep India clean of all corruption. If the AAP publicity apparatus ups its game and plays it smart, they may be able to convert Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest into a sympathy wave that may pay a sweet dividend on the hustings. Who knows, Delhi could become BADLAPUR. (Beloved And Dashing Leader Arvind Powers Party’s Unbelievable Resurgence.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 12 11:23:18 IST 2024 private-space-get-a-camera-less-phone <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So all the young folk and the queer folk in my life are very upset at the break of long-time lesbian lovers Anjali Chakra and Sufi Malik. For those who came in late (like me) Anjali is a Hindu from India, and Sufi is a Muslim from Pakistan. They live and work in the US and shot into the limelight in 2019 when their pictures (dressed in traditional <i>desi</i> attire and laughing under an umbrella in the rain) went viral on the internet. And recently, everybody swooned collectively when Sufi went down on one knee, dressed in a beautifully tailored white pantsuit, and proposed to Anjali at the ‘very tippy top’ of the Empire State Building. And why not? These are gorgeous young women (Sufi is all twinkly-eyes and slight, elfin charm, while Anjali is a large-eyed, long-tressed stunner) who broke barriers of gender, religion and politics, all in one shot. Naturally, they captured our imaginations and our hearts and seemed to be living the happy ending we all crave. So what went wrong with Anjali and Sufi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their carefully coordinated posts on social media spoke of infidelity (committed by Sufi, devastating Anjali), but of course it goes much deeper than that. I am guessing their relationship deliquesced under the white hot heat of the very same viral wave they rode on to popularity. And unlike Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik, another hugely popular Indian-Pakistani couple who broke up recently, their chief accomplishment is their relationship itself. They don’t play tennis, or cricket. One is an artist and the other works in the health care sector; they are pretty much just starting out. It is terribly sad, and these girls probably didn’t know what they were getting into. When your love story starts getting recorded and lapped up daily by consumers it slowly gets leached of all spontaneity, and becomes calculated, rehearsed, agonised over and acted out cynically with one eye on the watching audience. Basically, a love story devoid of all love.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Living your ordinary day-to-day life in the public eye is nightmarishly difficult. Ask Kate Middleton. When you allow (even your own) cameras into your daily life, your marriage proposals, your baby births, and your most trusted spaces, you leave yourself with no place to escape to. Life becomes the Bigg Boss House, and all you can do is to fight to not get vacated. In the BC (before there was a camera in every phone) era these were issues only celebrities faced. But now, each and every one of us is a mini-celebrity, constantly locked in a battle to look as pretty in real life as we look in our display pictures. Everything is a projection, everything is for an audience, nothing is real. We don’t have experiences anymore. We merely record the projection of an experience, showcasing what we think one is supposed to be feeling when one has an experience of that sort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you watch films from Karan Johar or Sooraj Barjatya, you’ll see Amitabh Bachchan or Alok Nath playing a powerful business tycoon who loves his joint family. Then, on the news, you’ll see an actual powerful business tycoon, dancing to the songs of those films at his family functions. The tycoon is trying to behave like the actor, who was trying to behave like the tycoon. In a gangster flick, an actor is trying to ape a gangster, who was anyway trying to ape an actor. In an army film, an actor is trying to copy a commando, who was trying to copy an actor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is like two mirrors placed in front of one another, reflecting virtual images all the way to infinity. Nothing is authentic. The answer? Protect your private spaces fiercely, and get yourself a camera-less phone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Mar 30 11:18:06 IST 2024 how-about-celebrating-ram-mandir-by-opening-our-holy-books-and-reading-them <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The literary festival season, which is in full swing nowadays, brings to mind an old anecdote. Somewhere in the mid-2010s, I was at the Jaipur Literature Festival, diligently pushing a new book. Coming out of the authors’ lounge and heading for the venue of my panel discussion, all duded up in my writerly finery (delegate lanyard round my neck, litfest jhola on shoulder, dastkar sari pleated just right) I got separated from my minders and had the distinct honour of being gratifyingly mobbed. Not a circle. Not a knot. Not a scrum. I was mobbed by a massive, crushing, writhing mass of people. Squashed, out of breath, and a little afraid (yet secretly thrilled) at my clearly evident fame, I surrendered myself to their tumultuous demands for selfies. And then, mortifyingly, one particular young man leaned in to ask me, even as we both smiled into his phone camera, ‘Uh, what’s your name?’ Basically one person (or, perhaps, two) had recognised me and stopped for a picture, and everybody else, fuelled by Fear of Missing Out (FoMO), had quickly piled on to what they thought was a celebrity sighting. The sad truth is that we are not a nation of readers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The figures for viewerships of films, TV, OTT, even Instagram and YouTube reels dwarf the figures for readership massively. Of course, I am biased and not fully informed, but it seems to me, that in India, perhaps, because literacy levels are low and books expensive and out of the common man’s reach, the only way a writer gets full-on celebrity status is if their book gets made into a successful film/show. And even then, the writer remains a sort-of small appendage to the movie-monster, which gets promoted to the status of what in publishing is called ‘canon’ and the actual writing fades away into obscurity. (If you think I’m overstating the case, remind yourself of the cringe-inducing time when, during a television quiz show, Anil Kapoor—star of the Oscar-winning film <i>Slumdog Millionaire</i>, forgot the name of writer Vikas Swarup, who wrote Q&amp;A, the book on which the film is based.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Original writing doesn’t get to wear the hallowed status of canon in India, simply because we do not read enough. Either because we are lazy, or busy or historically dependent on learned Brahmins curating and relating the highlights to us; we don’t bother to actually consume a book cover to cover. And that is why when a Muslim character in the film <i>Annapoorani</i> quoted Valmiki’s Ramayan as proof of the fact that Ram, Lakshman and Sita ate meat in the jungles during their exile, the entire nation, which has been relying on Ramanand Sagar, B.R. Chopra, random godmen, politicians and WhatsApp university for its spiritual succour, instead of the actual original epic, had a collective, misinformed meltdown and roared for the film to be banned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you haven’t been living under a rock recently, you would know that our prime minister has been urging all of us to light a Shree Ram Jyoti on the day of the new temple’s consecration. So if we want to be good Hindus and lead a life which is in tandem of our faith’s teachings, how about lighting the flame of scriptural knowledge in our minds by ditching the middlemen and the films, going back to the original source material, reading good, reliable translations (the Upanishads and the epics are vast, wondrous, open-minded works that welcome new interpretations and delight in contradictions) and come to an understanding of our faith ourselves? How about celebrating the Ram Mandir and the litfest season by becoming genuine literature lovers instead of selfie-taking poseurs, open our holy books and actually read them?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jan 19 14:57:59 IST 2024 what-gen-z-wants <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So I went looking for fresh insights into the heads of Gen Z through Meta’s Instagram Trend Talk 2024. Of course, I could have saved myself the read and looked into the heads of my own children, but they are not talking to me. I forgot why exactly; my memory is no longer what it used to be. I think it had something to do with how they hadn’t asked to be born, and how I chew my food too loudly. Anyway, I started reading through the trends, and found out that Gen Z’s number one irritant is chewing with one’s mouth open! Wow. Clearly, Gen Z expects us to swallow our food whole, or choke to death trying, or switch entirely to smoothies, like they have, full of vegan or ayurvedic ingredients, and plant-based meats and adaptogens, or whatever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are also majorly into #GRWM (get-ready-with-me), which is not really new news, because, hello, my children have been get-readying-with-me my whole entire life—popping in to borrow safety pins, mascara, tweezers or wanting to have their sari tied or their <i>naadaas</i> put back into their pyjamas just as I am frantically trying to get dressed as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following in the footsteps of our revered ruling party, they have also got into name-changing bigtime. Just like Allahabad is now Prayagraj and Rajpath is now Kartavya Path, <i>uttaran</i> is now ‘pre-loved’, and <i>raddi</i> is now ‘thrifting’. Which means that the brats who claimed to be ‘scarred’ because we told them to re-use an older sibling’s school textbooks, or wear a perfectly good sweater a cousin has outgrown, are now applauding each other for doing precisely that. And, Alia Bhatt is their hero just because she re-wore her wedding sari to the Rashtrapati Bhavan—#Sustainability #Queen #Planetsavior!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While some might say that this is setting the bar for queen and saviour really low, I am just happy that they finally seem to be ready to own their middle-class values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next thing I found interesting was that in 2024, Gen Z is gonna be all about ‘strengthening my current relationship’. While 63 per cent of them remain single, overall, their stated goal is not playing the field, but working on what they have got. So no more one-night stands—the quest seems to be about lying down together for many nights. Such good news for all our anxious mothers’ hearts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as lifestyles go, 2024 looks like being Gen Z’s growth era—they want to spend it staying healthy, travelling and exploring a career path, preferably one where they get to be self-employed. Huh, is this one of those help-my-mother-has-highjacked-my-socials sort of situation? Because what are all these nice, balanced, detoxicating kind of goals and schemes? Oh, and the things that they value the most in their friends is not that they are popular or connected but the fact that, ‘I can tell them anything’ and they ‘get me better than anybody else’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only thing I found disquieting was the fact that nine out of 10 Indian Gen Z kids on Insta said they aligned to a specific fandom—be it music or sports or gaming. Which seems crazy-high frankly, even a little cultish, but may be this is how they meet non-cringe people with a high quality meme-game. (Having a bad taste in memes is the biggest turn-off apparently.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overall, they seem like really sorted—and honestly—the world would be a better place if we all chewed softly, and with our mouths closed. In fact, following in the footsteps of our revered ruling party, I <i>toh</i> am ready to rename them Zen Ji. Because really, as a gen, they seem so zen. Respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Dec 23 11:12:53 IST 2023 the-brunt-of-animal-passion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Action-drama is a loved genre in India cinema. Over the last seven or eight decades, a steady stream of angry young men and women have fought bloody battles against the demons of corruption, lust, greed and power, to loud whistles, claps and coin-throwing from an enthusiastic audience. The deaths of parents have been avenged, the lost honour of sisters has been avenged, the poor and the downtrodden have risen up to take down their wealthy and powerful oppressors in film after film. Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Sunny Deol, Rekha, Dimple Kapadia, Sridevi, Meenakshi Seshadri… the names just keep rolling off a long and loved list of angry young underdogs. But that has always been the key word. Underdogs. Traditionally, our angry young peeps are all <i>dhool-ka-phools</i> [prospering out of dirt], or as Disney’s Aladdin puts it so charmingly—‘Street rat with a heart of gold’. This is why we, as an audience, connect with them. Because they seem to be one of us—like Manoj Kumar Sharma in the recent, compelling <i>12th Fail</i>, a young boy rising out of poverty to crack the UPSC, the toughest exam in the country. Hey, even in Shah Rukh Khan’s latest blockbuster outing, <i>Jawan</i>, the protagonist was an orphan baby raised in a women’s prison by a phalanx of female criminals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s cinema (now three movies old) is busily creating a new genre of hero. Not an underdog, but a topdog, or as he prefers to label them, alphas. These alphas are way too invincible to have humble origins, raped sisters or slain parents. They are rich, accomplished, handsome, successful dudes who have it all. They can be surgeons or scions of industrial houses, but (and this is very important) the world is their oyster. So why are alphas trending? Is it because we live in a world so fractured, uncertain and chaotic that anybody who aggressively projects strength and sureness immediately appears attractive?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, is it because women are becoming more and more self-sufficient, both in real life and in films, earning their own money, buying and driving their own cars, bonding, drinking and taking girlie vacations together? And the new alpha archetype is a reaction to this trend?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it is a bit of both. To humanise this macho, hyper-masculine alpha, Vanga gives him a wound. So in <i>Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh</i>, the alpha had girlfriend problems and in <i>Animal</i>, he has daddy issues. And because all is fair in love, our alpha then proceeds to run amok for three hours, destroying everything in his path and ‘justifying’ his violent, entitled, animal-like behaviour because love, <i>na</i>. Please adjust, and forgive the gratuitous violence because alpha <i>pyaar mein hai</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this is lavishly produced, gorgeously shot and brilliantly acted. And because it is all so raw and emotionally charged, it is highly addictive to watch. All toxic relationships are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the rest of the cast—kowtowing betas all—stand by and applaud him slavishly. Like literally. In <i>Arjun Reddy</i> there was a scene, early in the film, where a student aggressively shouts ‘stand up for the champion!’ and an entire class of medical students rises obediently to its feet and applauds. The scene is repeated, almost exactly, in <i>Animal</i>. And this is the most worrying thing of all. Of course the underdog hero is a trope, too. But it is a democratic trope. Literally any one of us can aspire to be an underdog. All you need to do is show courage under pressure. But not everybody can be an alpha. Alphas drop down from the sky, rich, fabulous and fully formed. Through slickly made, expensive films like this, the audience is being incited to not only normalise them, but offer them slavish worship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Dec 09 15:03:00 IST 2023 less-breeding-in-shaky-times <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nowadays, everybody I meet seems to be bemoaning the fact that Gen Z doesn’t want to procreate. In my yoga group, on the litfest circuit, at cocktail parties, it is the same familiar lament, <i>“Aiyyo</i>, I want to be a grandmother but my useless son/daughter simply wants to adopt a cat/dog/goldfish.” As a mother of three 20-somethings, I can confirm that this indeed seems to be the sitch. Of course, I am generalising wildly and speaking only from personal experience but it really looks like let alone procreate, kids today don’t even seem to want a committed relationship, or a long-term career. They all seem to float and drift and flit, or focus too hard and burn out. The older auntiejis and unclejis are happy to lump the blame of the grand old institution of marriage collapsing squarely on feminism. “Girls want to dress up and go out and earn money and party,” they say, like these are somehow bad things to want. “They don’t want to put in the work anymore.” Point out to them that boys have been getting away without putting in the work since time began and they just shake their heads sadly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, there is no denying the fact that marriage is expensive and so are children. We live in shaky times—with retrenching, layoffs, rampant unemployment, yawning wealth inequalities and climate change imploding all around us. We also live in times of conspicuous consumption, with celebrity accounts and social media algorithms urging haut couture fancy phones, gourmet FNB and exotic vacations and ‘curated experiences’ at us constantly. Time was, we paid EMIs for a house, but today’s generation pays EMIs for a phone or a <i>lehenga</i> or whitebait fritters. As my grandmother would say, <i>“Batao!”</i> Add to this, early exposure to pornography and sex, and the fact that sex mostly happens without dating or being in a committed relationship. They are growing up jaded, and emotionally damaged, and with exposure to all kinds of sexual diseases. Which brings us right to the rise of therapy culture and the trillion dollar wellness industry... “Where have we gone wrong as parents,” asks an elegant 50-plus mother at a pre-Diwali party, worried that her childless children are in danger of morphing either into <i>chota-mota</i> Gautam Buddhas (Why is there so much suffering in the world?) or full-on nihilists—believing in nothing, with no meaning or purpose or spiritual direction. “What can we even do about it?” The truth, frankly, is that Gen Z makes a damn good point. And the photographs and reports from Gaza prove it. That the people who suffered a holocaust are now unleashing exactly the same horror on another people while quoting Isaiah to justify their slaughter of innocents, fills me with utter hopelessness about the future of our race. I guess the lesson for every semi-retired 50 pluser hankering to be a grandparent is this—you may think what’s happening in Gaza is nothing to do with you (except that it may upset your investment portfolio a tad), you may think what’s happening in Manipur is nothing to do with you. But the fact is that if you want your young ones to lead sane, non-anxious, healthy, fulfilled lives in the future, you cannot afford to not call out rampant hate, greed, callousness and large-scale murder when you see it unfold in plain sight before your eyes. If you want to dandle grandkids on your knees tomorrow (and not a granddog, or a grandcat) you have to speak up for a saner, fairer world today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Nov 10 17:33:21 IST 2023 dont-bark-up-the-wrong-tree <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The death of Wagh Bakri Tea Group executive director Parag Desai, at the age of 49, is both tragic and untimely. Besides being the group’s sales, marketing, and exports head, and possessing expertise in tea tasting and evaluation, Parag was also the great-grandson of Narandas Desai, an entrepreneur from South Africa and a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi who set up the brand way back in 1934. Wagh Bakri is an iconic name in teas, and its name, deriving from its logo —a <i>wagh</i> (tiger) and a <i>bakri</i> (goat) drinking out of the same cup—conveys a utopian message of non-violence, peace, equality and tolerance between all living creatures. In his personal life, too, Parag was an animal lover, who generously supported charities like the Jivdaya Charitable Trust and even gifted two mobile treatment vans to the NGO that runs an animal hospital in Ahmedabad. Therefore, it is ironic that the news of his demise hit resident welfare association WhatsApp groups across the country with the misleading, clickbait headline ‘Parag Desai dies of stray dog attack’. Followed at once with the usual chorus of hate-filled messages from aunties and uncles declaring that Parag had been the victim of savage bites from rabid dogs and that all street dogs be put to death at once. If they had bothered to read the article below the clickbait headline, they would have learned that Parag was taking a walk when he was attacked by stray dogs, and in a bid to avoid them, started to run and suffered a fall, which caused a head injury that triggered a brain haemorrhage, which subsequently led to his death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Animal welfare groups immediately came forward to point out that the news of the ‘attack’ was itself conjecture. They state that Parag was familiar with the ways of street dogs and would never have been alarmed or panicked by them. They feel it is far more plausible that the street dogs would have run towards Parag and jumped up to greet him, as they do with all animal lovers whom they know well. This, possibly, could have triggered the fall. After Parag fell, and sustained a head injury, the dogs would have barked vehemently to raise an alarm and draw attention to the fact that their human friend was on the ground and hurt. (Of course, this is conjecture, too, as there seems to have been no eye-witnesses.) Either way, the headline ‘Parag Desai dies of stray dog attack’ is sensationalistic, erroneous and motivated to stir hatred against animals. It is a well-recorded fact that if civic authorities do the work of animal birth control (neuterings and sterilisation) and vaccination (anti-rabies and distemper) efficiently, then small bands of street dogs, who are territorial about the area where they are fed, are a cheap and highly effective way to provide both security and pest control (they eat rats, small snakes and bandicoots) to any township.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem lies in the fact that many civic authorities are not doing this work properly. When a tragedy like this happens, it is the duty of all responsible citizens to demand, not the head of all the stray dogs in the locality on a plate, but more effective action from their civic authorities. Are the stray dogs in your locality routinely being rounded up for their annual vaccinations? Are their ears docked (which signals that they have been neutered and cannot breed)? Are they socialised, healthy and friendly? That is the correct path towards living in a Wagh Bakri world, a utopia where all living creatures co-exist happily together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Oct 28 12:08:37 IST 2023 why-mia-khalifa-is-qualified-to-have-an-opinion-on-middle-east <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We live in an opinionated world. Maybe it’s because of WhatsApp university, or the dating apps, or the general obsession with seeking validation and dopamine through likes or going viral and monetising your following through advertising moolah. But literally everybody seems to be under huge pressure to be clever—to have a ‘take’ and a ‘point of view’ and an ‘IMHO’ (in my humble opinion) on everything, from the wives and girlfriends of Indian cricketers, to the latest show on OTT platforms, to Hamas’s attacks on Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the old days, we had experts—people who’d done the homework, or got the degree, and therefore had the creds to share their measured opinion via newspaper or television. But today, it’s talking time at the zoo and anybody with an X account can address the world free-of-cost and declare their unsolicited verdict on anything under the sun. ‘Margot Robbie is Mid. #Barbie’; ‘Loved the airport. Hated the city #Bangalore’; ‘#Palestinians don’t play victim card’. (Um, Margot doesn’t give a rat’s posterior about your opinion, she’s laughing all the way to the bank. Bangalore <i>parwagillah</i> [does not care] about either your love or your hate, and Palestinians are way too occupied (terrible pun, apologies) to take instructions from you before playing their cards.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailored to cater to the algorithm, which favours the shocking and the hateful over the nuanced and the reasoned, these opinion threads quickly spiral into misogyny, extremism, casteism and Islamophobia. You need a gut of iron to wade into this filth and grapple with it. One young lady who seems to have no qualms doing this is former porn star Mia Khalifa, who shot to global infamy in 2014 owing to a video of her engaging in a threesome while wearing a hijab. The geeky eyeglasses-sporting Mia, who clearly hasn’t got the memo that porn stars should have neither intellect nor opinions, is totally qualified to have an opinion on the Middle East. Born and raised in Lebanon, she follows the issues of that part of the world closely. Her post on X read, “If you can look at the situation in Palestine and not be on the side of Palestinians, then you are on the wrong side of apartheid, and history will show that in time.” Fair enough, right? I mean, even when kids fight, and parents have to yank them apart, the question they always ask before apportioning blame is, ‘Who started it?’ Not the Palestinians, for sure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in the day, this used to be something Indians and Palestinians bonded over. How we were both victims of the English drawing random lines across the land and inventing new countries. Back in the day, we shared solidarity, because Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin had been snatched away from us, just like their entire country had been snatched away from them. And, we were both hoping the United Nations would do something about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, Mia got a tonne of hate for airing her honest opinion. Almost immediately, X was full of images of her mouth crammed with pork sausages, with haters hissing that that was all her mouth was good for. <i>Playboy</i> and a Canadian broadcaster immediately cancelled their contracts with her, in posts that described her stance as ‘horrendous, disgusting, truly gross, sick and reprehensible’. To me, it seems like an attempt to throw deliberately shaming adjectives at her, to underline her ex-profession, to create a chill factor, and somehow get all reasonable people to leave the opinion-making to willfully unreasonable haters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And the strategy of hate is simple. Not just in Palestine but in India as well. Cage the bear, beat it half to death, then poke it. Poke it and poke it and poke it till it lets out a weak snarl. Then righteously crush it to death for snarling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Oct 14 17:05:12 IST 2023 the-reason-hobs-case-against-poi-made-the-headlines <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I don’t follow any ‘Humans of’ pages on Instagram. To me, they seem to be a mix of <i>Reader’s Digest</i>’s Drama in Real Life series and the <i>Chicken Soup for the Soul</i> books, and I find them too on-the-nose or treacly sweet. Besides, I keep getting the feeling that Bollywood story scouts are reading them breathlessly over my shoulder, trying to find plots for the next luridly uplifting ‘based on a true story’ blockbuster.</p> <p>I do, however, enjoy photo-stories shared by Mayank Austen Soofi on his wholly desi and beautifully detailed @thedelhiwalla feed, the stories that sometimes come up on the (P. Sainath’s People’s Archive of Rural India), as well as the tales of couples who broke the ‘love laws’ (of faith, caste, gender, abilities, nationality, etc) that feature on Priya Ramani’s India Love Project. My husband and I have even featured on India Love Project—Priya reached out to us herself, no money changed hands and the whole interaction was entirely pleasant and enriching. However, everybody has different tastes.</p> <p>Humans of Bombay, who sued People of India for intellectual property (IP) theft last week, has 2.7 million followers on Instagram. (PoI has about 1.5 million, and Humans of New York, the OG, who started it all back in 2010, has 12.8 million.) The reason HoB’s legal case against PoI made the headlines is because it was a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, as HoB itself is totally inspired by HoNY, except that HoNY has never called this out or sued in the nine years HoB (and many other ‘Humans of’ chapters all over the world) have been in existence. But when HoB sued PoI of theft, HoNY founder Brandon Stanton suddenly woke up and virtue-signalled his own large-heartedness by issuing a statement that HoB founder Karishma Mehta “can’t be sueing people for what I have forgiven you for” (Aargh, don’t you dislike super-woke, philanthropic Americans? Especially when they end up getting so much good publicity by shaming us desis!) Stanton also clarified that he has not made a penny from the HoNY page, unlike HoB, whose rate card (with fees running into tens of lakhs) stated circulating on X minutes after the statement went public. Ouch.</p> <p>It also doesn’t help that HoB featured five posts on Narendra Modi in the lead up to the 2019 elections. The fact of the matter is that the honest, old school advertisement that declares itself to be an advertisement and nothing more can today be fast forwarded, filtered or avoided. So, advertising has no other option but to adulterate our content. Almost everything we consume today comes with an agenda attached. There are even awards being given away for the ‘most well-integrated’ content at advertising award shows! It is up to us consumers to figure out where honesty ends and hustling begins. Caveat emptor and all that.</p> <p>So really, Karishma Mehta is perfectly within her rights to sell her page. All she was doing was exhibiting some good old desi pragmatism. The plagiarism charge is a trickier one. While Mehta seems to be guarding her IP far more vigilantly than HoNY has ever bothered to do, and even the judge who heard the case seemed to think that what PoI had pulled on HoB was unfair, (they copied entire posts, word for word), her peers seem bent on cancelling her. See, on social media, followers, likes and validation are the real currency. And ‘philanthropic’ Stanton has cashed in neatly on that.</p> <p><u><a href=""></a></u></p> Wed Oct 04 11:37:00 IST 2023 modiji-should-find-time-for-brickbats-too <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There’s been some talk about how unseemly it is for the prime minister and the ruling party to hog the headlines around the moon-landing. It has been whispered that the ISRO scientists (both ladies and gents) have been pushed to the sidelines, with the optics seeming to suggest that Modiji only landed the Chandrayaan-3 on the dark side of the moon in a spiffy orange spacesuit. What about the fact that the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 by Jawaharlal Nehru on the suggestion of Vikram Sarabhai, demand these whisperers. What about the fact that Nehruji set up the IITs as well, which, everybody agrees, are today the cradle of so much global engineering ingenuity? What about the story of how the villagers of Thumba gave up their church, located at the most ideal spot for a space research station, because it was almost exactly on the wavy magnetic equator (different from the geographical equator), where the earth’s magnetic field was weakest? Also, why is Nehru always remembered when there is blame to be parcelled out, be it on foreign or economic policy, but never when there’s credit to be given? Shouldn’t we acknowledge all these contributions at all? Bhai, I toh think that dredging up hoary old origin stories and trying to give them a share of the credit is simply a mixture of sour grapes and poor taste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact of the matter is that Chandrayaan-3 soft-landed on the lunar surface during Modiji’s term as PM. Yes, he is not in any way directly responsible. But he is the current chosen representative of the party elected by the people. Nothing can happen without his blessing, go-ahead and support, so naturally some of the responsibility was his, and he should have no qualms or hesitancy in accepting the credit with his usual gracious alacrity. But, then, by the same token, should some responsibility also not accrue to Modiji for the other major incident that grabbed headlines this week? Where an eight-year-old student was thrashed by his fellow classmates, at the command of their own teacher simply because he was a Muslim? Yes, Modiji is not in anyway directly responsible, but he is the current chosen representative of the party elected by the people. Nothing can happen without his blessing, go-ahead and support, so naturally some of the responsibility is his! So where is the statement from the PM and his chief minister condemning the nightmarish incident? Where are the optics of Modiji sternly reprimanding this monstrous Tripti Tyagi person for spewing the seeds of religious hate among innocent children? Where is the video of the eight-year-old Muslim boy sitting smilingly in Modiji’s lap while Modiji pats his head paternally and tells him that India has just landed on the moon and that the little boy’s future is therefore limitless?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government of India should realise that it can’t have it both ways. Indians are large-hearted creatures. Nobody grudges you a share of the happiness, the success, and the credit when the nation wins an Olympic medal, a Nobel prize or lands a rocket on the moon. But, equally, in times of shame, we expect you to show up and shoulder some of the blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 02 11:07:31 IST 2023 talk-to-children-about-pornography-and-masturbation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the last decade or so, we have seen a strange new genre of Hindi film emerge. Kicked off by 2012’s <i>Vicky Donor</i>, a film about the stigma around sperm donation set in a middle-class milieu, it quickly expanded to comment on fat-shaming, erectile dysfunction, late-age pregnancy, gay love, menstruation, open-air defecation, lesbian love, trans-love, surrogacy, male pattern baldness, more fat-shaming, more homosexuality, sex education, asexuality and masturbation. I call these movies ‘bodily function films’, because this is what they seem to focus on. The bodily function/malfunction itself is the source of all the ‘jokes’ and all the ‘conflict’. Throughout the film, the protagonist’s family is shamed, lectured at, educated, and, finally, converted. We do not know if the audience is similarly converted, but a good laugh is had by all, and people go home more-or-less entertained. I wonder about the brainstorming sessions that go into the creation of these ideas (‘Okay, so semen has been done, menstrual blood has been done, ‘susu-potty’ has been done. Is there any bodily secretion we have not yet made a film on yet? Snot! What about snot? Can we make a social issue film about snot?’) Along with the hagiographical/hatchet job biopic and the Hindu-pride historical, these bodily function films form the three pillars of cinema-as-it-is-allowed-to-flourish-today. They claim to advocate social reform, they also claim to be ‘bold’ and ‘risky’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In today’s highly intolerent and polarised India, with everybody anxious not to rock the boat, and majoritarian groups just waiting to be outraged, what could be safer than to dive deep into the <i>chaddis</i> of a Sharmaji/Mishraji/Joshiji <i>ka ladka</i> and make a film about the stirrings therein and how they impact the whole family? As long as these stirrings do not include a hankering for a partner from another faith/caste/problematic worldview, the status quo will remain more-or-less unshaken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at this week’s <i>OMG 2</i>, for instance. The original OMG (2012) was a take-down of organised religion narrated through events in the life of a full-on athiest. It concluded that God (if He exists) is the ultimate creator and has no desire to live in an edifice built by inept human hands, but prefers to live in our hearts. Obviously, with Ram Mandir on the way, Kashi and Mathura slated to happen next, and donations being solicited all around, this is a conclusion <i>OMG 2</i> cannot afford to come to. So, instead, it performs a pragmatic segue and zooms into an ‘issue’ nobody can really argue with: The fact that all teenagers masturbate and that teenage masturbation is normal. And so quacks are roundly condemned in the film, schools are urged to include sex education into their syllabus and all ends well. (Perhaps, these sex education classes can be accommodated easily into the school syllabus now that the entire Mughal empire has been done away with?)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the way, <i>OMG 2</i> does not question the existence of God at all, a theme that was at the core of the original <i>OMG</i>. The protagonist is a believer from the word go, with Shiva as his chosen God. A nice popular carry-everybody-along choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk to children frankly about masturbation. We should. We should also talk to them about a much more troubling topic—pornography—which goes hand-in-hand with masturbation, but remains an elephant in the room the film barely acknowledges. Perhaps, because it is too rampant, too dark, and too financially important, and doesn’t really fit into the cosy middle-class bodily function genre. Far easier to take a few bashes at the sellers of lizard oil, I guess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 19 11:04:31 IST 2023 picking-the-correct-god <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the last column, I shared my growing unease about the Kanwar Yatra, and how it seems to be spiralling dangerously out of control in Haryana. Now, violence has exploded in Nuh and other districts in the state, triggered by alleged stone-pelting during a yatra (when water from the Ganga is offered in one’s local Shiva temple) conducted by the Vishva Hindu Parishad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nuh (earlier called Mewat) is a name that has been cropping up regularly in right-winger rants for over a decade now. Declared the country’s most backward district by the NITI Aayog in 2018, it has a majority Muslim population (almost 80 per cent) and is regularly referred to in the provocative rants as a mini-Pakistan and a den of cow slaughter, over-breeding and love jihad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is being reported that the violence exploded because the VHP’s devout, peaceful <i>yatris</i> were subjected to stone-pelting by the ‘mini-Pakistanis’, but there is also talk of hateful slogans being chanted by the procession, and videos are emerging that show men in saffron shirts carrying naked swords and guns through the streets. Such weaponry isn’t really required equipment for the peaceful pooja these gents were there to conduct; so their motives seem pretty suss. On top of that, a dashingly named cow-vigilante had released a video prior to the event, flexing that he was to be part of the procession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All in all, the denizens of Nuh have been teased and baited relentlessly, rather like zoo animals are baited, in the hope that they would snap, show teeth or get aggressive, so that their tormenters could then unleash a disproportionate wave of mega-violence against them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Minorities cannot afford to react to such baiting—whether they are billionaire superstars like Shah Rukh Khan or humble denizens of this little district in Haryana. It could threaten their very survival. So it is the duty of all sensible folk from the religious majority to speak up for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But India seems to have run out of sensible folk from the religious majority. The deafening silence seems to indicate that everybody is genuinely buying the narrative that wealth-stealing, women-stealing minorities are the biggest problem the country faces today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, ugliness, hatred and fomented religious violence continue to boil in Manipur, which has done the impossible and pushed Kashmir’s sufferings to the back of the public’s mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And on a Jaipur-Mumbai train, a Railway Protection Force constable from the religious majority had an argument with his superior officer (also from the religious majority), shot him to death with his gun, and then moved on to another bogey to randomly shoot down three strangers, who were easily identifiable by their clothing itself. He made a garbled little speech after shooting them, referencing Pakistan and the media and how if you want to live in India you must vote only for Modi, Yogi and Thackeray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Details are still forthcoming, but it is clear enough that the man has been consuming too much content from the social media hate factories. It is even being speculated that after killing his superior in a fit of rage, he cynically tried to give the situation a religious slant and went out in search of victims from a particular community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some are saying he has mental health issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No matter what the real story turns out to be, the fact remains that if religions were to be reversed, the reporting (and public opinion) around the incident would have been very different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems that in today’s India, one can get away with anything in the name of God, given we chose the ‘correct’ god.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 04 15:18:53 IST 2023 kanwar-yatra-is-spiralling-dangerously-out-of-control <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was in the early 1990s that I first noticed the <i>kanwariyas</i>. One man, or two, walking single file along the edge of the Jaipur highway in Gurugram, with a simple rod across their shoulders, from which dangled two simple earthenware pots or water bottles, of the kind children carry to junior school.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They were dressed in ordinary clothes, and often barefoot, or with bandages wrapped tightly around their feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatting with a couple of them, I learnt they were on a sort of pilgrimage-marathon, and were returning from Haridwar with Ganga-jal in their pots, to offer at their local Shiva shrine. I thought it was an interesting new trend, a blend of sight-seeing, healthy aerobic activity, brotherly camaraderie and a wholesome spiritual quest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Jaipur highway passes right outside my township, and over the years, I saw the number of <i>kanwariyas</i> swell. Soon, a camp was set up outside our bit of highway, in a clearing under the shade of the Kikar trees—a jolly little camp, with a stand outside to park your rod-and-water pots, a row of <i>charpais</i>, a makeshift kitchen and devotional music playing from not-very-loud speakers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Very <i>sanskari</i>. Nothing unmanagebale or worrying about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the new millennium, with the gradual swelling of both hindutva and unemployment, came, to use a term borrowed fittingly enough from Kaun Banega Crorepati, the <i>bada padhav</i>. This year, over four crore Shiva devotees visited Haridwar in Uttarakhand for the annual Kanwar Yatra. The authorities cleaned up about 30,000 tonne of garbage from the Ganga ghats, markets, parking lots and the roads that cover a distance of 42km called the Kanwar stretch from Har-ki-Pauri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reports of blocked highways, traffic snarls, petty violence and accidental death crop up along the route every year. Last year, two factions of <i>kanwariyas</i> clashed, which resulted in one death and fifteen injured. This year, there have been 17 deaths—13 in road accidents and four by drowning. One young pilgrim was electrocuted when a music system on the vehicle they were in came in contact with a high-tension electricity wire in Loni, Ghaziabad. Eight of his companions sustained serious injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So many young men (the number of women making the Kanwar Yatra is minuscule) setting out unsupervised from their villages every year (some for the first time in their young lives) is a recipe for disaster. They are in high spirits, in the mood for adventure, they feel invincible in their saffron tee shirts, with the hand of Shiva hovering over them in protection, and they have absolutely no clue how fast the traffic moves on the highways, and how treacherous the current of the river can get in the monsoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On top of that, they’re all eager to go viral. So they’re doing the yatra on skates. On bikes. In impractical costumes. They’re trying to set speed records. They’re taking selfies and shooting themselves doing stunts on their bikes in impractical costumes while setting new speed records. Nobody’s eye is on either the safety element or the hygiene element.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And every night, there are the DJs. A DJ is not a disc jockey or even a person, it is a massive vehicle, usually a tractor plus trollies, stacked high with hundreds of kilos of sound and light equipment and trailed by three or four diesel generator vans. These DJs conduct all night rave parties where hundreds of thousands of young men dance to trance music in the open. Often, two famous DJs from different districts of states will conduct a ‘war of the DJs’. The pollution and commotion is extreme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have tremendous love for Bholenath. And I’m all for spiritual quests. But the Kanwar Yatra is spiralling dangerously out of control. We must figure out how to calm it down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 21 16:10:55 IST 2023 when-om-raut-tried-to-please-everyone-with-adipurush <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Trapped in our homes on the outskirts of Bengaluru in the autumn of 2020, and desperate for a little festive cheer, my township decided to build a 30-foot Ravana from scratch and put up a production of the Ramleela. Rachna <i>ji’</i>s cook was a decent carpenter and his young daughter could blow on a conch-shell impressively. Brij <i>ji’</i>s driver’s baby girl had naughty eyes and monkey-like antics. Kamal <i>ji’</i>s ten-year-old grandson could pull off a booming, evil Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Armed with a bunch of yellow saris that could be swathed as either saris or dhotis, a playlist of traditional <i>aartis</i> and Bollywood bhajans, and a massive pile of donated cardboard cartons, bamboo poles and bright kite paper in every colour, we kickstarted our production.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was the treasurer of this project. So, it is with full authority that I can report that the whole jamboree cost our resident welfare association less than Rs10,000. And, yet, as old Dr Sareen rued to me yesterday, “The sense of piety and wonder that it invoked in me, <i>beta,</i> was far greater than I got from watching Adipurush yesterday.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, he was comparing apples with oranges, but the point he was making—and I have to agree with him—is that in mostly all creative fields, not just the production of mythological epics, a big budget is the enemy of creativity. Because in order to have an out-of-the-box idea, it is very important to be in a box in the first place! The box can be limited monies, talent, time, equipment, stale ideas, state censorship or all the above. Working together feverishly to bust out of a restrictive box is a challenge that can unite and energise a creative team, and lead the way to all kinds of fresh breakthroughs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indie cinema and music are anyway amazing, but we are also seeing this kind of sharp, innovative brilliance in the work of content creators on social media every day. Teenagers and twenty somethings are writing, shooting, editing and sharing reels on Instagram on a shoestring budget and having them go viral in minutes. (By the way, put these same kids into a big studio set-up, hand them a big budget, cripple them with your great expectations, and watch them go from epic to paralysed in minutes.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If a team is privileged enough to be not boxed in, then the only other hope is a grounded, passionate and empowered creative leader. This person (let us call him/her the director) and their creative vision could possibly lead the team to deliver an incredible product, even on a mammoth budget. But this can only happen if they’re allowed to lead properly, without a finance team breathing agonsiedly down their neck, weighing them down by telling them to pander to whatever trend happens to be trending, and to play safe and steer clear of anything that anybody could possibly take offence to, because there is crores and crores of rupees at stake. Because a creative vision is necessarily singular, there’s nothing called a collective creative vision, that way leads only to a graveyard full of diamond-encrusted, strangled-to-death-by-committee turds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Steven Spielberg, who made amazing home films on a tiny budget and continues to make them on mammoth budgets today, does so because he is one such leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lesser men (and women) go the way of poor Om Raut—a director who tried to please everyone, and ended up pleasing no one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We live in times when a director, or even an actor, is no longer the reason why people go to see films in the hall. People go because, “It cost Rs500 crore, let’s go and see what they made with Rs500 crore!” Nine times out of 10, only a ghastly hotchpotch can be made in Rs500 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Avoid ya, Sanju.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 24 11:23:44 IST 2023 strength-is-nothing-if-not-tempered-with-both-sense-and-sensitivity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An Instagram post I read recently made the totally on-point observation that in <i>Mera Bharat Mahaan</i> if a man molests a woman in a public space, everybody quickly averts their gaze and doesn’t want to get involved, but if a couple is kissing consensually on the road, the whole world will pause to pass comments, moral-policing aunties will click photos, busybodies will tag the couple’s parents on Facebook, and cops will drop down from helicopters to arrest them for indecency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This happens because lovers are usually decent, peace-loving folk, while molesters are obnoxious, quarrelsome, sometimes powerful, and almost always violent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And this is why most people of India, including our reigning cricketing legends and our prime minister, are busy acting as if our female wrestlers, who have dedicated their young lives to bringing glory to India, have not been agitating since January against the Wrestling Federation of India president whom they allege is a serial molestor—feeling up their firm young breasts and bellies with impunity, making all sorts of coarse insinuations, and threatening them with loss of favour if they don’t fall in line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This (alleged) molester is definitely quarrelsome, powerful and violent. A self-styled ‘Shaktishali’ and ‘Bahubali’ type badboy, he rejoices in the dubious glamour of being a principal accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, and has had 38 cases against him, including murder. He has been caught on video slapping a wrestler, and confessing to at least one murder. Naturally this makes him hopelessly sexy to the UP electorate and he has been an MLA six times over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, the indomitable BJP brand has become the indomitable BJP brand by never backing down. Unlike the Congress, they are unapologetically out and proud (sharing a stage with one of the 11 gang-rapists of Bilkis Bano, and backing Ajay Mishra Teni all the way when his son had his spot of trouble back in 2021). This unapologetic attitude makes them muscular, popular and spectacular.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They also have absolutely no issues disdaining Indians who have been feted globally; they have done it to Nobel prize winners and God knows how many others. They can happily extend the same courtesy to Olympic and world championship medallists, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looked at from the common man’s point-of-view, this attitude is actually admirable—almost patriotic! Like don’t tell us who or what to revere, we can figure that out ourselves, thank you very much. It is part of the reason why voters flock to the BJP—they seem so non-thirsty for global validation, it is kinda cool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The issue, this time, though, is that the wrestlers are kinda cool, too. These are no abla naaris, or ‘helpless females’. They are disciplined, world-class athletes, trained to aim for faster, higher, stronger—and most importantly, together. They are the ones we point out to our daughters, saying, ‘Look baby girl, here are your role models for strength, gumption and discipline’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Basically, they are not about to back down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brijbhushan Sharan Singh has gone on record saying, about the wrestlers, “These are all strong men and women. To control them, you need someone stronger. Is there anyone stronger here than me?” But strength is nothing if not tempered with both sense and sensitivity. The BJP would be well advised, in this particular instance, to listen to the wrestlers and investigate this issue thoroughly. The situation, if well handled, could bear rich dividends, both in medals (already, in Singh’s absence, more and more girls are showing up to the under 15 and under 20 trials) and at the hustings both at the Centre and in the states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 10 11:03:08 IST 2023 was-the-makeover-of-the-bronze-dancing-girl-of-mohenjadaro-needed <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fair &amp; Lovely is now sensitive enough to be Glow &amp; Lovely, but the bronze dancing girl of Mohenjodaro; she of the bejewelled, brazenly nude body, the thick hair and the famously insouciant hand-on-hip stance—an image any school-going Indian child can recognise in a heartbeat—has just been rendered pinky-fairer, vulgarly curvier and distinctly unlovelier by the custodians of Indian sanskaar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Robbed of her glorious lanky nudity, she now stands trapped inside a Barbie-doll-like rectangular packaged box, dressed in a ghastly faux-tribal tank top and muffin-top creating midiskirt—an outfit picked out for her personally by men whose mindset seems to be more prehistoric than that of the Indus Valley Civilisation itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1973, British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler had described her thus: “She is about 15 years old I think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There’s nothing like her, I think, in the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The makeover by the ministry of culture’s International Museum Expo, currently being held at Pragati Maidan, has deprived the dancing girl of this uniqueness for sure. Though she has shot up from a diminutive 11cm to a life-sized figure, nobody would give her more than a passing glance now. She looks like a sad, ubiquitous mud-plaster dummy, the kind whose fate it is to get covered in paan-spit, dust and cigarette butts in the dim corners of government installations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not very sure why the ministry of culture felt they had to improve upon a statuette that was perfected over 4,000 years ago. Perhaps, the (now-familiar) need to fiddle with something that isn’t broken, the insecure urge to “mark your territory”, which seems to characterise this regime, surfaced here too? After all, when you are done fiddling with the Planning Commission, the national currency, the history syllabus, the old Parliament house, the names of cities and roads and stadiums, then what do you even do?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, they felt her frank nakedness would drive all our young people mad with lust? Because our young people are not constantly being stalked by pornography on the internet, na!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, they felt the dancing girl’s nudity does not show Indian culture in a ‘good’ light. But then why pick her for the mascot in the first place?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would like to think that they genuinely wanted to do something good and create an impactful mascot for the International Museum Expo. But then, wasn’t there anybody cultured enough within the ministry of culture to realise that there was no need for pink paint and midiskirts—that a life-sized, exact, 3D replica of the dancing girl in all her bronzed, nude glory would’ve been a hundred times more impactful as a display than this hideous prim travesty?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would love to visit the expo and walk around a display like that. It would be new-agey, Instagram-friendly, Madame Tussauds-esque and goose-bumpingly patriotic. I’m sure history teachers would love to bring their students to see history brought alive in that manner, too. Perhaps, it can still be done? (It would be much more expensive to execute than Miss Midiskirt, I’m guessing. But then again, we’ve found the funds to build statues of Kempe Gowda and Shivaji and Sardar Patel, so why not dig out some 2k bills to fund a modest-sized statue of the immodest dancing girl of Mohenjodaro, too?)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because midiskirt girl is not gonna cut it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Oh, she is a successful mascot all right—just not of the International Museum Expo. What she is, is a poster girl of the witless desecration of the rich cultural heritage of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 26 17:19:47 IST 2023 are-we-doing-enough-for-the-soldiers-who-protect-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dear Anuja, the first ever Sikkim Arts and Literature Festival is being held in the historical town of Yuksom, a UNESCO world heritage site, from May 6 to 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being a <i>fauji</i> child, who had spent four magical summers in the misty emerald mountains above the Teesta, I leapt upon the invite like a <i>cheel</i> (black kite) upon a chicken nugget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Memories are tricky things—which is why it is wise to be wary of visiting the favoured haunts and golden places of our childhood. But this was Sikkim, bro! There’s no way I could not go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Plus, I could visit a school friend who was commanding a unit in the area. It made sense to soak in the joys of living in a cantonment before all 62 of them are disbanded by GOI diktat, for being an ‘archaic colonial practice’, (just like a sari blouse and petticoat, but I don’t see anybody urging us to abolish those any time soon).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seriously though, I cannot grasp the logic of this move! Cantonments are always the cleanest, greenest, safest area in a city, hands down. Haven’t all of us met at least one glib property agent who waxes eloquent about a particular property thus: ‘Madam, look, directly opposite is <i>fauji</i> area! It is protected! It is always clean and green, ma’am! It is a fail-safe investment, madam!’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Um… not anymore, I guess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The point of the cantonment is basically that when soldiers dedicate their life in the service of the nation, and do not even know if they will come back home alive, it helps them sleep easy and function at full alertness knowing that their loved ones are safe and well-looked after.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The disbanding move is supposed to free the Army of the expense and headache of governing civic boards, and the money thus saved is supposedly being fed back into the defence budget specifically for military personnel, but there’s no transparency on that as yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we were young, soldiers used to be called the ‘sons-in-law of Mother India’. Pardon the inherent patriarchy in the expression, but it simply meant that they got first dibs, that nothing was good enough for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, <i>fauji</i> canteens don’t even stock foreign made foreign liquor. Add to that the Agnipath scheme, with all its conditions and caveats. Add to that the worrying revelations made by Satya Pal Malik wherein the CRPF asked for aircraft to move a thousand plus troops, and were denied this request by the home ministry, which led to a massive convoy travelling by road, which arguably led to the Pulwama attack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Add to that any number of ordnance and equipment issues, and it seems like we aren’t doing too much to protect the people who protect us... Anyway, I’m happy to report that my reunion with both Sikkim, and cantonments was a joyous one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure, the rampant mountain lions who guard the two ends of the massive Teesta bridge were smaller than I remembered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The river itself seemed browner and more sedate. The trees were dustier. The less said about the roads the better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But high up in the mountains the hydrangeas were profuse and incredibly blue. The children were apple-cheeked and healthy. The music incredible. The resident audience intelligent. And the visiting writers adequate!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And most importantly, when I looked out of my windows at 5am in the morning, the pink, orange and gold peaks of Kanchenjunga were not smaller than I remembered. They were just as huge, and just as eternal. A reminder, perhaps, that diktats may come and diktats may go, but what is elemental endures forever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 12 11:41:08 IST 2023 indias-population-growth-is-down-but-why-arent-we-celebrating <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As a Generation X desi, who spent her childhood being bombarded by the family planning initiatives of the government of India (<i>Hum Do, Hamare Do,</i> Mala-D, Nirodh, <i>Ek-ya-do-hi-bachhe-ho-sakte-hain-acche,</i> small family, happy family, etc) I was pleasantly surprised to learn that last year, India, very casually, achieved replacement reproduction rate. We have bought down the national rate of reproduction to 1.6 in urban areas and 2.1 in rural areas—and, thus, have done what seemed like an impossible pipe dream in the 1970s and 1980s—we have officially become <i>Hum Do, Hamare Do</i>! So, why aren’t we celebrating this feat? I mean, c’mon, how many targets do we actually achieve as a nation? Surely, this is as big as being open-defecation-free or being polio free. So, where’s the party?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why isn’t a GoI commissioned rah-rah film running on all popular TV channels already? Maybe it is because our politicians, cutting across party lines, find it convenient to blame all sorts of policy failures on our unbridled population growth—like shame on you, amorous <i>aam aadmi</i> and <i>aurat,</i> we are breaking our backs trying to make India a modern marvel, but it is all going tits-up because you can’t keep it in your pants. Even right now, there is a lot of talk about the United Nation’s projection that by the end of this month, India, at a population of around 142 crore, will overtake China to become the most populous country in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The way the news is being presented, it is like we are still being shamed for not keeping it in our pants, even though we totally are. Our population is continuing to increase, inspite of reaching replacement level fertility, only because of demographic momentum. We’re a massive steam engine travelling at breakneck speed. Even after the brakes are applied, it will take it quite a bit of time to stop. The brakes (education for women, employment for women, free contraception) have been applied, and the massive engine is grinding to a slow halt. There is no need for alarm. (All the alarm was created by a gent called Paul Ehrlich and his panicky 1969 book <i>Population Bomb,</i> which has since been proved to have gotten quite a few things wrong.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Encouragingly, population growth is down right across India, in all communities and faiths. It hasn’t reached replacement rates only in rural Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Similarly, if we look at the data on the basis of religion, all groups have achieved replacement rates, except Muslims, who are almost there, and showing a rate that is remarkably lower than the one they had previously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, WhatsApp university and some leaders continue to whip the bogey of population explosion. They insist that Muslims are multiplying at an explosive rate and it is the duty of all good Hindus to keep this growth in check. The measures they are suggesting to get this done are neither practical, nor implementable, nor nice.When, actually, what needs to be done in these lagging areas is really simple. Educate women, employ women, give them access to contraceptive services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And now that our policy makers and leaders can no longer glibly blame population explosion for swallowing up all our economic successes, let them please tackle the real issue. How to milk the demographic advantage of having the maximum number of young people in the world into a massive win for India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 28 14:53:13 IST 2023 spend-your-life-seeking-god-but-dont-surrender-your-decency <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We are all quite fond of the Dalai Lama. He looks Kung Fu Panda level cute, exotic, and vaguely intellectual, all at once, and he gives damn good bang for the buck. Matlab, a photo op with him when holidaying in Himachal adds a dash of international glamour to one’s Instagram feed, when one is photo-dumping pics of what could otherwise be dismissed as just a cheap desi holiday. He’s even got a bit of pull on the online-dating sites, where a profile pic with him (while not as sticky as a pic with puppies or babies) might get one a few more matches, comments or second glances. Not any more, huh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The video of the man asking a young boy to suck on his tongue is downright shocking. At the surface level, the optics are disturbing—a wrinkled old man with slack skin and wet pursed lips, pulls a small child toward him as two masked attendants and huge crowd of devotees watch on impassively—and at a deeper level, it makes us wonder that if this is what the Dalai Lama gets up to in public, with a massive crowd watching and cameras rolling, then what does he get up to in private?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His minders insist he gets up to nothing—in a glibly worded apology they claim on his official Twitter handle that he is a simple childlike man who likes to “playfully and innocently tease” the people he meets and that is what he was doing in the video. A statement that clearly gaslights us into thinking that we are the ones with the dirty unwholesome minds imagining all kinds of filth when none exists in the Dalai Lama’s pure soul. They add that he wishes to apologise for the hurt his words may have caused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some argue that the Dalai Lama, born in 1935, is merely a dinosaur. This is the reason he goes around making problematic statements like “sure, the next Dalai Lama could be a woman but she should be an attractive one” and asking little boys to kiss him on the lips with tongue. They say the world is full of innocent, playful old grandpas like him who show affection in odd ways and don’t mean any harm and are too old to be teachable so we should just put up with them till they die.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some are even claiming that asking little boys to suck the tongue of old men is part of Tibetan culture. Uh, it is not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Either the Dalai Lama thinks he can get away with such a brazenly public display, or he is clueless. Both options disqualify him from holding the post and the moral high ground he occupies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My biggest problem with religion is that people who practise it zealously claim to be answerable to a higher, more righteous authority than merely the laws of the land they live in—or, in the case of the Dalai Lama, the laws of the country that has given him refuge for more than six decades. Lamas, mullahs, gurus, granthis, padres—there are cases of sexual abuse, paedophilia, tax avoidance, land grab, fraud and murder registered against the holy men of all faiths—and yet they set themselves above the Constitution and their followers willingly blind themselves into believing the “rumours” are the work of haters, or Satan himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure, spend your life seeking God, if you happen to believe in one. And, sure, respect the old folk in your families and your communities. It is a free world. But don’t surrender your good sense or your decency in the process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 14 13:04:37 IST 2023 editing-of-classics-we-live-in-irrational-times-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So Agatha Christie’s books will no longer contain descriptions familiar to her regular readers like ‘the flash of lovely white teeth in a dark, Caribbean face’, a ‘big-nosed financier from the city’, a ‘vivid, sunburnt gypsy’, a ‘black marble torso’, an ‘Indian temper’ or the words ‘oriental’ and ‘natives.’ This, because her editors have hired sensitivity readers to remove words that could be considered offensive to today’s audiences.(Doing this in an era when social media comment threads are full-throttle venomous and pornography is at an all-time high is especially disingenuous.)Similar revisions have been made to the works of Roald Dahl, whose books for children no longer contain ‘triggering’ words like ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories have gone under the knife too, and while descriptions of men ‘grunting like pigs in a trough’ at a striptease club have been removed, clearly problematic phrases like lovemaking that carries ‘the sweet tang of rape’ have been retained. Some publishers are dealing with the issue by putting disclaimers at the beginning of their books which say, “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace.” One would assume that this is obvious—because if a book carries the words ‘first printed in 1953’ (Fleming) first printed in 1920 (Christie) or first printed in 1942 (Dahl)—then the rational reader will be able to work out—all by himself or herself—that the writer was clearly not writing for today’s super woke generation. But clearly we live in irrational times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Revisions of best-selling classics by sensitivity readers seem cynical on the one hand (intellectual property rights are too high-value to junk, so let’s just do a quickie, insincere revision to appease the woke brigade) and acts of vandalism on the other (like say, painting everybody in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper ten shades darker to more correctly portray people of Middle Eastern origin.)For me, escaping into the world of writers like Christie is the loveliest form of time-travel. I get to lose myself in the world as it was then—the newly post-war era, with no cellphones or internet or CCTV footage—when sleuthing and detection was all up to Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’ and Miss Marple’s ‘knowledge of human nature’. I want to embrace it, warts and all, with its gaze, its prejudices, and author’s voice intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anything less is unauthentic and dishonest and for a new, young reader, vastly confusing. Because why do we want the young reader to not know how prejudiced people were back then, and how far they have travelled since? Should we simply stop talking about the genocides, crusades and discriminations we’ve had in the past because unloading all that onto the new generation will put ideas into their pure, unsullied heads? Where does that sort of civilisational scrubbing even end? And aren’t people who don’t know history condemned to repeat it? See, it is always interesting to consume works of literature or art or film a few decades after they first come out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The casual sexism and objectification of Hindi movie lyrics from the 1990s (tu cheez badi hai mast-mast) and even later seems cringe-worthy in the post me-too era, but some songs from the 1950s still hold up to even the strictest, wonkiest scrutiny and are correctly called classics (aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai.) It is the privilege of every new generation to judge the ones that came before. And the duty of the oldies to face that scrutiny without flinching about with ‘sensitivity edits.’ That is how we all grow and get better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Apr 01 14:49:32 IST 2023 this-womens-day-let-us-chuck-out-being-liked-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In an all all-time low, after appearing on a panel discussion titled—‘From thigh-gaps to gender pay-gaps’—sponsored by a luxury lifestyle brand on International Women’s Day, in which I cockily felt I had rather wiped the floor with my male opponent, I found out that he had been paid three times the amount I had been.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Perhaps he was compensated for throwing the match,” my husband reasoned. “A sort of hardship allowance, as it were. I mean, it is not fun to be the sole male in a panel like that on women’s day! All the women gang up on you and attack you like you’re the ruddy patriarchy personified. You end up looking like quite a chump. He must have negotiated a chump allowance. Don’t worry about it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But I’m the real chump here,” I replied, “Where is my chump allowance?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The key word here is not chump, but negotiate,” sniffed my daughter, “He got that much money simply because he asked for it. Meanwhile, you just smiled and accepted whatever they offered. That’s the trouble with you Gen X types. You guys always doubt your worth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I pointed out to her that calling me ‘guys’ wasn’t very feminist of her, but she told me not to digress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not entirely unrelated to this conversation is the curious case of Saraswati, my cleaner, and Rajanna, my gardener. Rajanna in typical entitled male fashion complained loudly about his low salary, his hungry children and negotiated a 40 per cent salary hike for himself. Meanwhile, Saraswati with downcast lashes, declared herself “satisfied with whatever Amma saw fit to pay her,” then quietly tucked a pair of my carelessly discarded gold earrings into her bosom, and made off with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason why women are so crap at negotiating—and also the reason why my demure sweet Saraswati found it preferable to embrace a life of petty crime than ask me for a pay rise—is that women worry about being liked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to my daughter, my trouble is that my mother made ‘being liked’ the number one item on my list of Key Responsibility Areas (KRAs). So did almost all the mothers of her generation. And so, me and my friends like to be liked. We have been taught early to not rock the boat and to “maintain good relations with everyone”. We are reared to be comfortable when everybody approves of us and is fond of us. It is somehow more feminine to be universally liked—like a new daughter-in-law in a Sooraj Barjatya movie—a sweet, playful, unselfish presence that brings sustenance and happiness and comfort into the room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Saraswati got me six ragi laddoos for Maha Shivratri, by the way, one day before the CCTV footage revealed her theft.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the moment we step up and ask for something the establishment considers too big for us—a bigger role, a salary hike, Hillary Clinton asking to be POTUS, say, or Priyanka Chopra Jonas asking to be more than just a Bollywood heroine or the love interest of a famous star—we become unlikable. There is a reason why Royal Stag’s ‘It’s Your Life, Make it Large’ has never featured a female celebrity—(Priyanka would be the perfect casting for the brand, wouldn’t she, with the way her career has just burgeoned and burgeoned, like the prize money in an episode of KBC!) It is because while the patriarchy has taught all men to blindly pick ‘the one with the big t**s’, nobody has taught anybody to pick ‘the one with the big ambition’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women who ask for more are ‘difficult’ and ‘hard to slot’. They make people uncomfortable. And that, because they are women, makes them uncomfortable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This Women’s Day, let us embrace that discomfort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us chuck out ‘being liked’ from the KRA list. And pencil in ‘being respected’ instead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Mar 05 13:53:48 IST 2023 wpl-will-bring-girl-jock-charisma-under-the-mainstream-sun-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A decade and a half after the IPL was launched, we finally have a WPL. How lovely it will be to see talented, strong, young women from all over the world take centre stage at the Brabourne and DY Patil Stadiums and compete fiercely for the honour of being the winner of the inaugural edition—and also, how refreshing. Because while we Indians have (slowly) got used to seeing young women command the white-hot spotlight, we never see them doing so without high heels, make-up, designer clothes and fancy hair styling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Older women, sure—we have many fiery ladies in the public eye who are no-nonsense and business-like—from Mamata Banerjee and Smriti Irani to Farah Khan and Zoya Akhtar. But not young women. Young women in the spotlight in India are usually there because of their beauty creds—as pageant winners, models or actresses. Yes, there are some content creators, athletes and reality show contestants in the mix, but it is a small number. And even the actresses who do what Bollywood increasingly likes to call ‘bad-ass’ roles in the movies, fall into the rut of being just highly groomed and supremely photo-worthy in their promotional appearances, leaving most of the talking to their (usually baseball-capped and casually attired) male co-stars or directors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in a glossy, high-buzz event like the WPL, all of India will be held in thrall, perhaps for the first time, by young women walking, not on a red carpet, but across a dusty pitch. Girls dressed in tracksuits with their hair in ponytails, sweaty girls, focused girls, grim-faced girls, flinging their arms and legs about, falling down, springing up, spitting and grinning and passing the Bechdel test gloriously (unless they are standing in a huddle and secretly bitching about a male umpire).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Cadbury in an ahead-of-its-time ad that featured a gender reversal of its iconic dancing-on-the-pitch-to-celebrate-a-six-by-your-batter-partner ad, captured this development in our zeitgeist.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having lived in a girls boarding school right through high school, I have seen the charisma of the girl jock close up. These girls are calm, strong, natural leaders. They command respect and love effortlessly. And now finally, this girl-jock charisma is finding its place under the mainstream sun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Best of all, it will not be a girl, or a few girls. It will be gangs of girls—with bench strengths of 15 to 18. Not pitched against each other, like in a beauty contest, but (to use the phrase Gatorade and Serena Williams made immortal) #sistersinsweat who rise or fall together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, this team bonding will be captured with full drama and larger-than-lifeness by the reliable IPL PR machine. And it will go a long way in erasing centuries of patriarchy-sponsored girl-on-girl hate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seeing how huge the IPL has become since its first innings in 2008, it is fair to say that the WPL will have an equally meteoric rise. Our girl children are gonna be spoilt for choice as far as role-models go. Our boy children, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Gloria Steinem who said, “We are slowly becoming the men we wanted to marry.” Successful, respected, kind, strong, fit, funny, good in bed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an eternal optimist, I am now hoping that men will return the compliment and slowly start becoming the women they wanted to marry. Delightful, deliciously well-groomed creatures who provide nourishment and succour, who cook like a dream and parent like guardian angels. Cheerleaders and support givers, whipper-uppers of hot cups of teas and chilled cocktails alike.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After all, the nicest thing about that Cadbury ad—after the batswoman hitting the six, of course—was how supportive her boy friend was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Feb 17 14:53:49 IST 2023 how-pathaan-has-brought-back-bollywood <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Back in the day we used to have proper, old school grandmothers. The sort of grandmothers poet Maithili Sharan Gupt invoked in his popular poem “Ma Keh Ek Kahani (Mother, tell me a story”.) Being grandmothers was their sole job and it was a vital one. They were matriarchs who presided over massive joint families—the repository of the family’s traditions, history and culture, dishing out food for the body, and spiritual succour for the soul on a daily basis. At night, they bought a tray of steel glasses full of warm milk out into the courtyard and sat in the middle of a ring of grandchildren’s beds and told them stories. Everybody agreed that this was their most important (and loved) task.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No offence to anybody’s dadi (father’s mother) but (almost) all children agree that a nani (mother’s mother) is the real deal. Perhaps, because they tend to be younger, and also because a mother is typically more relaxed around her own mother, which causes her children to be similarly more relaxed, too. Even in Gupt’s poem, the second line, which is the mother’s playful response to her son’s request is, ‘beta samajh liya kya toone mujko apni nani?’ (Son, have you mistaken me for my mother?)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Needless to say nanis like that exist only in daily TV serials today. IRL nanis are multi-taskers with a vengeance, they have careers, friends, fitness routines, and no longer have so many grandchildren (my nani had 21!) that being a grandmother can be justified as a fulltime job. We live in a world where children, especially those belonging to busy parents living in cities far from their hometowns either in India or abroad, typically do not go back to their grandparents’ homes during their summer vacations any more. And so, during festivals, weddings or long holidays—times during which an old school nani would have taken centrestage, we yield that space to ‘Family Entertainers’ instead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like it or not, these family entertainers from the film industry have been subbing as our maternal grandmothers for many, many generations now. NRI kids and desi kids alike have routinely been piled into one bedroom during the festive season and left in the nourishing arms of Indian cinema. For our vast and widely spread diaspora they are our common reference points, our shared history and geneaology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The houses of Chopra and Bhansali and Dharma are our nanis. Salim Khan is our nani. Javed Akhtar is our nani. And, of course, Sooraj Barjatya is the officially crowned nani-of-the-nation—we all saw India’s most powerful family swing to “Wah Wah Ram Ji” in a viral video at Anant Ambani’s engagement recently. Also, sorry to spoil the sexy vibe he is currently shipping, but Shah Rukh Khan is also our most beloved nani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Largely speaking, cinema-nani have taught us well. She has taught us the correct songs to sing at weddings, funerals and every occasion in between. She has shown us heroism, villiany and the road to redemption. She has brought alive mother-love, humour, romance, patriotism and brotherhood. These are all excellent values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, if she comes up with something problematic (she tends to get patriarchal and crude sometimes) then parental guidance is always on hand to fix things.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, recently, an attempt has been made to make us forget this much-loved grandmother of ours and everything she has taught us. A sinister step-grandmother succubus has been bought in and is trying to woo us with her weird, poison-laced tales and divisive narratives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, thankfully, Shah Rukh’s Pathaan, to use a phrase made infamous by Rajiv Gandhi many moons ago, has stepped in and literally made us ‘remember our maternal grandmother’ (Pathaan ne humko apni nani yaad dila di hai).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have missed you, grandma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Feb 03 13:12:11 IST 2023 why-be-afraid-of-porn-and-sex <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The litfest season is on in full swing and this time there seem to be a lot of young people attending. Some are attending because they are genuine readers and hope to be writers one day, while others are just (to use the youthspeak of the day) CV-slutting. That is, they are volunteering because they want a certificate or a letter of recco from the litfest organisers to pad up their curriculum vitae or their LinkedIn bio.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of these younglings had only one thing to say to me. ‘Your books are unreal. Your romance is like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the G spot. It doesn’t f*^%$ing exist! You and your ilk have ruined my life by setting unrealistic expectations.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, taken in the right spirit (I was taking vodka) this was a great conversation-opener. So I waded right in with, ‘Okay, if we’re talking unrealistic expectations, then what about porn? Isn’t that unrealistic?’ Things got suddenly and surprisingly serious after that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, I am a porn virgin. My entire porn viewing is just one-two minute clip seen about twenty-seven years ago featuring three (two ladies, one gent) very blonde Swedes with poor muscle tone. It was both arousing and repellent and I never went back for more. But, then, again, it wasn’t easy for me to. I would have had to source a store that sold the stuff, be judged by the store keeper, wait to be alone in the house with the VCR and so on and so forth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, kids as young as eight and 10 (yes, they’re starting that young) can access the hardest-core of stuff with just a single tap of a cell phone button. They don’t even need to type anything into a search bar, once they’ve visited the sites, they get reminders constantly. It is the equivalent of my naked flabby Swedes showing up and doing a come-hither dance as I type in this article, and not stopping the dance till my lust overcomes my revulsion and I succumb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Make no mistake, pornography is stalking our children with as much dedication as polio, small-pox and cholera used to stalk them back in the pre-inoculation days. It is as virulent, as omnipresent and just as destructive to human life. The only difference is that Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar are not going to be appearing on your TV in films sponsored by the ministry of health and family welfare (mental health division) urging you to protect your children from pornography anytime soon. Because we’re sanskari, na.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talking to the kids at the litfest, glancing at some of the stomach-churningly detailed and wide-ranging ‘menus’ they showed me so casually on the internet, I figured that longterm sustained watching of pornography is neither ‘naughty’ nor ‘freedom of choice’. It is addictive, alienating, distorting and in the final analysis damaging, because it makes it impossible for the addict to function in a wholesome, real-life sexual setting, or in any real life setting generally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today’s youth (and children) are all trench veterans of a massively violent and almost entirely untalked war for mental health. With their parents in a state of either total denial or total ignorance, they survive it mostly by just being watching out for each other. Their generals are social influencers like Leeza Mangaldas or filmmakers like Paromita Vohra, who discuss such matters frankly, matter-of-factly and without judgment on the internet. Some of these kids are in therapy. And almost none of them are talking to their parents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you want a close, communicative relationship with your child, rise above your embarrassment, educate yourself a bit, and talk honestly to your child about porn. And sex. And romance, too, if you like. No, they’re never too young for the topic. And no, they’re never too old either.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jan 21 14:40:47 IST 2023 finding-our-inner-messi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Heroism is alive and well. Fairytale finishes are alive and well. In a world full of fillers and filters and faux-reality like Moving in with Malaika and Keeping up with the Kardashians, drama in real life is alive and well. And in a climate of hate, negativity, cancel culture and divisiveness, good-old happiness, positivity and human warmth is alive and well. We all saw it, and felt it, and were touched by the 24-karat magic of it as it unfolded live on our screens from the Lusail Stadium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, at the Kolkata International Film Festival, Shah Rukh Khan shared the popularly accepted theory that negativity increases social media consumption, and thereby increases its commercial value. Which means basically that most people are more likely to click on a news article about a ghastly, grisly human tragedy (for example, husband kills children and wife, before turning gun on self) than an article about a triumph of the human spirit (autorickshaw driver’s daughter clears medical entrance). And so, if a news network wants to make more money, it makes sense for them to cover and run negative stories all the time. This negativity-sells theory is correct, but only up to a point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact of the matter is that it is much easier to slap together a crude, eyeball-grabby, no-brainer negativity-filled story that panders to the current political climate than create something with nuance, depth, genuine wit and universal appeal. The latter is more expensive, more time-consuming, trickier to pull off and requires actual talent and hard work. And that is the real reason why half these weird movies—the ones Amitabh Bachchan seemed to be condemning from the same dais—are being made in the first place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So yes, crass negativity sells, but a well-written, well-directed and authentic film on a tiny budget can sell even better. And therefore a so-called ‘hit’ like The Kashmir Files (2022), starring Anupam Kher, will be forgotten in a year, but his Khosla ka Ghosla (2006)—one of the rare Bollywood films that bucked the trend by being remade in Tamil and Kannada, instead of vice versa—will be a classic forever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming back to the FIFA final, what a celebration of positivity! So seductive that it sucked in people with absolutely no skin in the game, and no interest in football whatsoever, and didn’t let them move from their seats till the game was done. The delicious fact that it pitted two of the game’s greats, one rising, one long-reigning, who play for the same club against one another. The victors so deserving and so long denied; the vanquished pumping out a historic hat trick, not in the mood to surrender even an inch! Ballads should and will be written about the epic battle, the sweat, the tears, the shirtless swagger, the hands going to up the heavens in thanksgiving... ballads that will send dopamine coursing through the veins of the most negative of folk, inspire us all, and render the entire planet sunnier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Toxic aunties of all genders can carp about the black-and-gold bisht that was draped onto Leo Messi when he claimed the trophy, but again, let’s focus on the positives here. The robe was an honour, a sort of coronation or knighting. Messi looked ‘awwww’some in it as he stroked the bald head of the World Cup trophy like it was his fourth-born, and it made him stand out a little in the team photos, in the manner in which a Hindi movie hero stands out from among the rest of the dancers during a song routine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So yes, Shah Rukh was correct when he said negativity is click-baity, but positivity can be click-baity, too. We just need to find our inner Messi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Dec 24 11:21:18 IST 2022 apathy-to-injustice-in-our-nation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am guessing that by now everybody has seen the viral video of the young Muslim student from Manipal Institute of Technology objecting to his professor “jokingly” calling him “Kasab” in the classroom. The appalled college, alma mater of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and a host of other global luminaries, immediately issued a statement of apology, and ordered a probe into the incident. On social media, the young student was mostly applauded for the stand he took, but I could not get over the entire row of (male) students sitting in front of him in that elite classroom. All of them were looking ahead stolidly, with their heads in their hands, doing an amazingly lifelike imitation of the three monkeys who can see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing. ‘I’m outta here.’ Their body language seemed to say, ‘include me out’ and ‘do not wanna get involved, boss’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were a lot of depressing things in that video—the young boy’s anguish, anger and disheartenment, the teacher’s weak apology and befuddlement at being called out for something as ‘normalised’ and ‘innocent’ as casual Islamophobia, the sniggers of the off-camera students, but the most depressing (and dangerous) thing in the clip is that row of indifferent young backs and averted young gazes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because if the youth of a nation are choosing to keep their noses clean, their opinions non-controversial and their CVs well scrubbed of any controversy, then where are we even headed, as a nation?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which brings me to the other controversial opinion airer of the fortnight—Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid. Several scenes of his Golden Bear winning film, Synonyms, are so reminiscent of the resolutely turned backs and averted gazes of the Manipal students. In his official capacity as the jury chairman of the International Film Festival of India, Lapid stated that he and his entire jury were “disturbed and shocked by The Kashmir Files, a propaganda, vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic competitive section of such a prestigious film festival”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that this has got the RW knickers in such a red-hot-chilli-pepper twist tells us what a mela of monkeys our entire arts and culture scene has become.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And our diplomatic scene as well. Because the Israeli ambassador is now openly moaning on Twitter that while Lapid will go back home smugly thinking that he was “bold” and “made a statement”, the embassy will have to deal with the “implications” and the “state of their DM boxes” following this display of ‘bravery’ which basically means that the ambassador is petrified of being trolled by the bhakt brigade, i.e. the ambassador is basically a grown-up version of those boys in the Manipal classroom, sitting with their heads down, and their backs turned resolutely away from the madness that surrounds us all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the babus are scrambling around, trying to establish whose idea it was to invite this loose cannon Lapid, who has publicly stated, several times, that “it is an artist’s duty to bite the hand that feeds him” to IFFI? And appoint him as jury chairman, no less? Was he the cheapest? The most jobless? Or did nobody do any homework? Meanwhile, we have also got to worry about where-where in which-which international festival The Kashmir Files has been entered, and who-who could potentially take a dump on it. Which is problematic because knowing how ‘extra’ we are, we must have entered it everywhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Damn. This need for global validation and shiny, blingy international awards will be the downfall of<br> us all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I know. We should forget about all ‘artistic and prestigious’, and simply start the world’s first International Propaganda Festival. The IPFI. Awards will be handed out to whoever best amplifies the government’s agenda. Instead of a golden peacock, we shall hand out a golden parrot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Dec 03 10:43:13 IST 2022 how-to-help-rid-our-nation-of-monsters-like-aftab-poonawalla <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The grisly murder of Shraddha Walkar by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawala is much too worrying and important to be dumbed down to a mindless #LoveJihad hate-tag, left to trend with hysterical dreariness on an increasingly unreliable and unravelling Twitterscape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are serious issues involved here. And none of them have to do with your sanskari daughter dating cute Muslim boys.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is the Bumble angle for one. Our young people are increasingly meeting each other through anonymous dating apps, with minimal checking, accountability or verification, like there would be when you meet the old fashioned way, through a network of friends, or colleagues or family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the trending new philosophy of friends-are-the-new-family, which is nice and all, but when taken too far, effectively, means that kids actively set up barriers to stay both emotionally and physically distant from their parents, opting to confide in real or virtual friends instead. Meaning they willingly check themselves into a virtual Lord of the Flies type island where immature kids judge immature kids, and get to be jury and executioners as well. The only clear rule here seems to be a complete omerta against parents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the kind of content that is being streamed today. Aftab’s modus operendi was supposedly inspired by the gruesome show Dexter, which most of our kids consume without batting an eyelid, while chowing down on their dal-chawal-green-veg nowadays. Violence, strangulation, dismemberment, it is all par for the course on House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Attack on Titans, Thar, Paatal Lok, Delhi Crime, any number of Playstation games. And, I have not even got to the pornography yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not saying that watching OTT shows will turn your child into a sick monster, but it will definitely desensitise him/her. And if your child already has a fascination for sick content, it will empower, feed and advance this sickness, like it clearly did in Aftab’s case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The word ‘sick’ is now the latest urban slang for ‘cool’, and I feel that is extremely telling. Then there is the polarising, fear-mongering political policies now in play, which scream other = monster from every rooftop, and pressurise even reasonable parents to behave utterly hysterical and close-minded on the subject of their child dating anybody from a faith other than their own. This makes it impossible for children to confide in their parents, and pushes them to alienate themselves and run away from home into the arms of this forbidden (and hence exciting) new love they have ‘found’ all by themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It really is tragic that at a time when Ayushmann Khurrana is getting stupendously wealthy making film after film featuring the great Indian middle-class accepting homosexual love, transexual love, lavender marriages, older women getting pregnant, male virility, sperm donation and what not, a backer cannot be found to make a similar film normalising simple, inter-religious love?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Please let us not, in the name of justice, settle for countless memes of Hindu women folded up into really small suitcases and refrigerators by their evil Muslim lovers—memes that degrade and commodify Hindu women brutally—and are not particularly complimentary to Hindu men either, if you think about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us side-step that communal trap, and demand a genuinely introspective, diagnostic probe into the reasons why Shraddha died. That is what will help rid our nation of monsters like this Aftab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Nov 20 11:27:11 IST 2022 how-rahul-is-demonstrating-qualities-that-his-critics-claim-he-lacks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two images have really caught my eye, recently. Rishi Sunak’s washboard abs in his tucked-in office shirts, and Rahul Gandhi sprinting spontaneously and without any signs of fatigue against a trio of young boys during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Both reveal a long-term, sustained commitment to fitness, the kind that can’t be faked by staged photo-ops or cunning photoshop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A nation likes to feel its leaders are fit. It reassures the populance, makes them feel like they are in capable, disciplined hands. A leader who wakes up early, watches what he eats (and drinks), spends time outdoors, and can do any number of push-ups, both one-handed and two-handed, is clearly in control of his body and mind. This clean, wholesome fitness is a huge part of the cult around leaders like Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the late Queen Elizabeth II. They ride bicycles, walk dogs, ski, box, swim and run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is Vladimir Putin who has taken the fit leader archetype to dizzying new heights. Often photographed riding horses with a gold chain glinting alluringly against his smooth bare chest, he is also been clicked shirtless with a rifle, shirtless while fishing in a mountain stream, shirtless while swimming the butterfly stroke, you get the picture. It is all part of his macho, man-of-action image, and when sniggered at by other G7 leaders, he has retorted that, “You would look disgusting, shirtless,” which, let us face it (and not to fat/flab shame anyone) is an argument that carries some weight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even Putin must bow before the mightiest of them all—North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who once, jaw-droppingly, climbed the 8,500 foot Mt. Paektu, while it was fully covered in snow and he was fully covered in an ankle length trenchcoat and immaculately shined leather shoes. The official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported that, “His eyes reflected the strong beams of the gifted great person seeing in the majestic spirit of Mount Paektu the appearance of a powerful socialist nation which dynamically advances full of vigour without vacillation at any raving dirty wind on the planet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our Modi ji is no slouch either. He congratulates all our athletes on Twitter. He watches their biopics, meets them, and asks them what their mothers give them to eat. Why, if you tune into the BJP’s official YouTube channel, you can enjoy any number of episodes of the animated series yoga with Modi where a muscular, and extremely flexible cartoon with Modi ji’s face on it performs the most difficult of asanas with ease and a beatific smile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming back to Rahul, his critics have been sneering that all he will prove by walking 3,750km, is that he is a good walker. So what?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are being deliberately disingenuous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fitness is important. Putin knows that. Sunak knows that. Even the North Koreans know that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By marching doughtily from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, 24km a day, for 150 days, through sun, hail, rain and probably snow, with a beard growing bushier and more Modi-esque by the minute, and media attention and public interest snowballing with every step he takes, Rahul is demonstrating the very discipline, accessibility, charisma and complete commitment that his critics claim he lacks.</p> <p>Rahul is not merely trying to flex his fitness. He is trying to prove that he is fit enough for the top job. It is a point he may very well end up proving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Nov 06 13:14:34 IST 2022 congress-president-mallikarjun-kharge-future-plans-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress has achieved the impossible. It has managed to lose an election in which both the candidates were from the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t get me wrong—holding a democratic election to decide the next party president was a rare, refreshing and brave move by the party. It made them appear suddenly younger and sexier to the general public—who have no vote in this election, but are definitely keen to see the upholders of democracy practise a little of that within their own internal structure in a clean, transparent manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seen from the point-of-view of providing the general public some entertainment, the clash could have played out like a celebrity tennis match—Hrithik Roshan vs Salman Khan perhaps, where the big boys come out to play and a damn good time is had by all spectators. But what ended up happening was Hrithik Roshan vs Alia Bhatt. And to make things worse, there were strong rumours that Hrithik was so scared of Alia that he sneakily pumped himself full of steroids.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, the big boys (and girls, if there are any left) of the Congress should have had the courage, and the commitment to democracy that Shashi Tharoor clearly has, to throw themselves heart and soul into a genuinely even contest. Ashok Gehlot could have contested instead of wriggling out, Digvijaya Singh could have contested instead of namby-pambying about it. Hey, it is a friendly contest between colleagues—there are no losers here and democracy is the only winner and our workers will be invigorated by watching us jousting about, right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I guess not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, we can draw some consolation from the fact that an election was held, at all. Of course the only reason it was held was because Tharoor was good sport enough to not withdraw in the face of likely defeat, and take it squarely on the chin instead. And he has definitely emerged as the first amongst losers. His 11.95 per cent vote share is more than any losing candidate has ever managed to get in an election for INC president, with Sharad Pawar in the runner’s up spot with a share of 11.9 back in 1997.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And the Congress finally has its first non-Gandhi president after more than two decades. Mallikarjun Kharge is a career politician, an MLA nine times over; a Gandhi loyalist, yes, but also a heavyweight in his own right and fully qualified to lead the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And the election process is addictive. Now that a precedent has been set, perhaps the INC will hold internal elections regularly, and at every level—after every general election. Hey, perhaps, even other parties will eventually be pressured to follow suit. Which is all good. Internal elections are sort of like deworming for dogs—they need to be done frequently in order to keep the body healthy and functioning and effective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now it is up to the Congressis who voted in Kharge to ask some hard questions of their elected leader on what his plans are for the party, going forward. Certainly the party is looking more dynamic than it has for ages, with the Bharat Jodo Yatra gathering more momentum every day. Perhaps, a Kharge-the-pragmatist and Rahul-the-idealist partnership is slowly emerging (a faint echo of the Nehru-Gandhiji model.) We have to wait and watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After casting his vote, Tharoor declared, “The revival of the Congress starts today.” As usual he was both catchy and correct. It remains to be seen, however, if this ‘revival’ is going to be a brahmastra of a beginning or a damp squib of a dawn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Oct 21 15:28:30 IST 2022 dont-tear-us-apart-anuja-chauhan-on-garba-row <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Would somebody just sit Nupur J. Sharma down, play her Virat Kohli’s Maanyawar’s ‘Har tyohaar, India ka tyohaar’ ad on loop, and tell her that she is fighting a losing battle? We are Indians. We love all our festivals. We like to dance the garba in whirling circles, play with colors on Holi, watch out for the moon eagerly on both Eid and Karwa Chauth, and attend midnight mass on Christmas eve. We adore backless mirrorwork cholis, parsi borders, Kanjeevaram silks, Kashmiri crewelwork, Farshi salwars and Luckhnavi chikankari. We love kada prasad, biryani, plum cake and farsan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir Khan famously said of himself and his two besties “hum cake khaane ke liye kahin bhi pahunch jaate hain” (we will gatecrash any place for cake) and that can be extended, to all of us, into, we will gatecrash any place to celebrate. We are not faking it because we were “brainwashed by decades of the Congress party’s politics of appeasement”. If we were, then Jodha Akbar would not have been a super-duper hit. Our very soul is syncretic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most popular song at every garba pandal that I have ever been to, for the last 20 years has been ‘Dholi taro dhol baaje’. The effect is electric every time it plays—people rush to the floor in droves, whirling and clapping. Nobody ever stops to consider that it has been composed by a Muslim music director and features a Muslim actor. Salman Khan clearly had a blast dancing to it, and did a superb job, besides. He is an intrinsic part of ‘Dholi taro’, and it is India’s #1 garba song. (Except for ‘Chogada tara’, perhaps, which features a Muslim actress, is co-written by a Muslim lyricist, and is produced again by Salman Khan.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so it is laughable for Sharma to rule that Muslims may not join in and dance the garba till “you do ghar waapsi and submit to maa.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, many of our favouurite sufi hymns or quawaalis (‘Khwaja mere khwaja’, ‘Kun faya kun’, ‘Parda hai parda’, and countless others) feature a Hindu hero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact of the matter is that Indian culture is a rich tapestry of different faiths and traditions and peoples, a fabric that has evolved over centuries, which cannot now be torn apart and segregated into airless, airtight boxes by hate-mongers hoping to grab prime-time eyeballs by advocating a weird, sick policy of religious apartheid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, festivals, all over the world, are not just about faith or religion. They are also, very significantly, about community and celebration. And because in India we have such a wealth of faiths and traditions, we have managed, over the years, to perfect an intuitive, self-regulated system where people of other faiths fall back respectfully during the religious part of any celebration, but surge forward enthusiastically to join in when the festivities begin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, hosting people of other faiths during ones festive celebrations adds a certain extra zing to the whole tyohaar—you seek information about the significance of various rituals so you can explain it better to your visitors, you draw more intricate rangoli patterns than you otherwise would have, you put on your best ‘guest manners.’ It makes you proud of your identity in the nicest possible way, it creates a spirit of good-natured, healthy competitiveness and you score reciprocatory invites. What’s not to like?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no doubting the fact that this time of year, when the nip of winter and the thrill of festivity kicks in, is a time all Indians look forward to eagerly. The hate-mongers want it to become a time of stress and strife. But India, and ‘Dholi taro dhol baaje’ will not let them prevail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Oct 08 16:52:01 IST 2022 killing-stray-dogs-will-only-worsen-situation-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For decades now, private citizens and civic authorities have jibbed against the banning of the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ solution regarding the street dogs menace. That is, if there are too many nasty noisy mongrels running amuck, just round them up, drive them far away, and release them in a place from where they can never find their way back to your township.</p> <p>It is quite humane, they say. We are not killing them, after all. (Um, the only reasons you aren’t killing them left, right and centre is that the Constitution, which has a strong focus on animal compassion, clearly states no culling. And any issue regarding street dogs can be taken up only at the Supreme Court.)</p> <p>But the Animal Welfare Board of India argues that it is entirely counter-productive to move stray dogs from their established territory. This is because when a pack of dogs is suddenly shifted from one area to another, the dogs that already live in that area attack the newly arrived pack, and there are ferocious territorial fights, the ripples of which are felt through entire cities, and which can lead to humans getting bitten, too. Meanwhile, in the area that has just been made empty, new packs immediately move in. Also, the government’s India’s anti-rabies programme goes for a total toss, because it is crucial to the success of the programme that dogs remain in their own areas to be systematically covered and vaccinated every year.</p> <p>This is why, under Central law as laid out in The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, it is illegal for any individual, college, resident welfare association or estate management to relocate stray dogs. Instead, it is mandated that all stray dogs that belong to one area should be captured, vaccinated, neutered, clipped on one ear to show that they have been neutered, and returned to the same area from where they were picked up.</p> <p>The department recommends that ordinary citizens then befriend these dogs, feed them regularly, and start thinking of them by their correct title, which is community dogs. As animals that are protective of their particular locality and the humans who live there—and sound an alarm if any intruders, human or canine, try to sneak in on their space.</p> <p>Over time, if meticulously followed, this system delivers smaller dog populations, less barking and fighting amongst the dogs, fewer biting incidents, zero rabies and fewer burglaries.</p> <p>Unfortunately, nobody seems to be thinking in the long term. It’s all about now, today, ego satiation, having the last word. Which means that constant, vicious fights break out on colony WhatsApp groups, the new Kurukshetras and Haldighatis of our times, with bitterly feuding factions barking both for and against dog-feeding in a manner that would make real <i>galli-ka-kuttas</i> drop their jaws in admiration.</p> <p>Recently, fuel was added to this constantly raging fire by a fake news report that the Supreme Court had passed an order to the effect that people who feed street dogs would be liable for all expenses and consequences if a street dog they fed bit anybody. Even though it was immediately debunked and subsequently retracted, people continued to share it, quote it and drive community dogs out of their established spaces on the strength of it.</p> <p>See, Hansel-and-Gretelling the dogs (or straight out killing them, by mass-scale, brutal, vigilante culling) will only end in hyper-violent, territorial packs of dogs everywhere, spiralling hostility between man and animal, more bites, more rabies, sick, weak puppies at every side, garbage, filth and rats. What we really need to do is ensure civic authorities remove the garbage properly, and follow the mandated animal birth control measures. The next Supreme Court hearing is on September 28.</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;"></b><br> </p> Sun Sep 25 11:57:10 IST 2022 gen-z-is-not-avoiding-responsibilities-it-is-just-being-careful <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two honourable justices of the Kerala High Court have rued today’s ‘use-and-throw’ culture in a judgment chastising all those who would expand the word ‘WIFE’ as ‘Worry Invited For Ever’ substituting the old concept of ‘Wise Investment For Ever.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dismissing a plea to be released from his wife of ten years, with whom he has three daughters, the honourable justices A. Muhamed Mustaque and Sophy Thomas told a cheating husband that ‘mere quarrels, ordinary wear and tear of matrimonial relationships or casual outbursts of some emotional feelings cannot be treated as cruelties warranting a divorce’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two-member bench sternly observed that marriage was not ‘a mere ritual or empty ceremony for licensing the sexual urge of the parties,’ and concluded most thunderously that the husband could not seek the assistance of the courts to escape his existing marriage and get his new, “unholy alliance” legalised.’ In a way, they sort-of echoed what the remarkably sorted (and recently divorced) Samantha Ruth Prabhu told Karan Johar on his love-it-or-hate-it-cannot-ignore-it show Koffee with Karan—’You have portrayed marriage to be K3G, when in reality marriage is KGF.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is definitely true that in India today, no other institution is being as rigorously examined, renegotiated and re-imagined as marriage is. We see this manifested in hit films like Thappad and Darlings and in well-adjusted celebrity families with any numbers of stepchildren, half-siblings and step parents like the (Pataudi) Khans and the (Boney/Pankaj) Kapoors. The consistently top-ranking daily prime-time show on Indian television for the past two years remains the sensitive and fiercely feminist Anupama, which follows the journey of a middle-aged housewife who finds out her husband has been cheating on her for the past eight years, and seeks to deal with this devastating revelation with her sanity and self-respect intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is perhaps not correct for the older generation to dismiss today’s young people’s attitude as ‘use and throw’. Because really, the freshest ground reality seems to be that Gen Z, particularly post-pandemic, is loath to throw anything away. Reinventing, sharing and thrift shopping have all seen a huge upswing in their era—a trend manifested in Kim Kardashian wearing not some brand new, obscenely expensive dress to the Met Gala this year, but just a humble hand-me-down—Marilyn Monroe’s iconic 1962 nude silk, Happy-Birthday-Mr President gown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because really, why stitch a new dress when there’s a perfectly good one out there already? Why make more babies, when there are tonnes of them to spare on this overloaded planet anyway? Why buy when you can rent, why pay the whole tab when you could share the load of everything from workspace to Ubers to indeed, long-term partners?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This generation, faced with an overabundance of bewildering choices, seems to be reacting not so much by ‘using-and-throwing’, as by sharing. The glib word ‘polyamorous’ is being thrown around a lot nowadays, as is ‘serial monogamy’. Which is all okay, I guess. Any strong institution can survive—indeed it should ideally undergo—vigorous reform and revision, a sort-of spiritual deworming, if you will.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thing the judges got absolutely right—and which everybody’s favourite Sima aunty stresses so much upon in Indian Matchmaking—is that you have to adjust. Adjusting, tolerance and resilience are key to surviving any long-term relationship. This is the bit today’s kids have an issue with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, my hope is that all this dithering around and trying-on-of-pants-before- buying-them means that when young people do eventually marry it is an informed, well considered, mature decision. And that they take marriage extremely seriously—more seriously than all of us oldies who tamely got married after two weeks of giddy courtship ever did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Sep 10 12:09:40 IST 2022 freeing-bilkis-bano-case-convicts-shows-indias-heartless-indifference <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Forgiveness follows from repentance. When a mother disciplines a child, she does it so the child can mull over his/her actions, confess, apologise, and move on to a better place. That is good, constructive closure. That is what a good correctional system of the state seeks to do for all criminals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If there is no repentance, there should be no forgiveness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Manu Sharma, the intoxicated-on-power son of a Congress neta, who was running amuck in those long-past hazy days of the Congress era, publicly expressed regret in an interview for the obscenely entitled act of shooting celebrity bartender Jessica Lal dead because she wouldn’t serve him a drink after the bar had closed. And even after he had served his 15 year-sentence and consistently displayed good behaviour, he was released only after Jessica’s sister, Sabrina Lal, said in a letter to the welfare office of Tihar jail that she had no objection to his release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film No One Killed Jessica was released in 2011. Its unflinching portrayal of Manu, his powerful politician father and his doting mother was approved without a single cut by the Censor Board of Film Certification under the Congress government. Jessica’s faith (Christianity) was a total non-issue in the entire incident. No Congress workers came forward to #boycott the film or protest that Manu Sharma was a Brahmin, and therefore had good sanskaars. At the 57th Filmfare Awards, the film was nominated in four categories and won one award.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Compare and contrast that with what is happening around us today. Acting in a manner that lays bare their heartless indifference to the agony of the women in the heinous Nirbhaya, Unnao, Hathras, Kathua gang-rape cases, the courts, the civil servants, and the state and Union governments of the day saw fit to allow the eleven gang-rapists and mass-murderers in the Bilkis Bano case to walk free on our 75th Independence Day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Um... did they all—miraculously—show collective improved behaviour? Like all eleven of them?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yeah, apparently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was Bilkis asked if she was good with their release?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, of course not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So did they write to her, plead revengeful anger, the ‘fog of war’, temporary insanity, or religious brainwashing? Did they apologise for smashing her three-year-old daughter’s head on the ground? Did they help her get the house she was promised in the final judgment but never got?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So did they at least slink quietly out of jail looking properly ashamed of themselves? No. They were received by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, garlanded, fed sweets and seated upon a platform like they were heroes. It was even suggested that they never committed the crime at all!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And as surely as gangrene follows an open wound, a few days after their release, former BJP MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja boasted openly that “we have told our people to kill anyone involved in cow slaughter. We will get them bail and acquittal. We have done it for five people already”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, in a classic example of the doublespeak-theatrics that has come to define these times, he was booked for a hate speech, two days later. But the chilling message had been sent out, and received, loud and clear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It feels like we are living in the first half of Sholay basically. Where Gabbars break out of jails and go snarling back to the homes of the men who had them put away, and extract a bloody revenge. That is what the optics seem to suggest anyway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are just a few weeks away from Gandhi Jayanti, and sure as lotuses are lotuses, the top Twitter trend of that day is once again going to be not #fatherofthenation, but #NathuRamGodseZindabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have become assassin worshippers now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, no commercial Bollywood studio is developing a film titled ‘No one Raped Bilkis’. They see no market for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 27 11:41:55 IST 2022 true-patriotism-doesnt-demand-flag-as-proof <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>All hail the birthday girl! Mother India is turning 75 and we, the loyal citizens, have been instructed to show our love and fealty by changing our display pictures to a picture of the national flag. We are also being urged to fly a tiranga from our rooftops. It is not mandatory, of course, so no presh. Except that there sort of is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now if you are the kind of person who immediately gets your back up if you are told what to do (obviously this doesn’t include entirely reasonable instructions like keeping your seatbelt on, or wearing a mask and so on), then you are in exalted company. Mohan Bhagwat and the RSS are yet to fly the tiranga from their DPs, with a senior functionary huffily stating, “We don’t take any decision under anyone’s pressure. If the display pic of our official Twitter handle has to be changed, it will be in due course of time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For once, I am in complete agreement with the RSS. I have flown the tiranga from my car, my house and my cubicle on August 15 in the past. (Mostly because excited little kiddies sell them at street lights and the whole interaction feels so festive and lovely.) Sometimes I have changed my DP, too. Doing so as a joyous spontaneous show of patriotism is one thing, and doing so out of a grim sense of duty is another—the latter has a non-consensual reek to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, then, nowadays, we are getting told what to do a lot. Cancel this cricketer, donate to that relief fund, agree to X tax, surrender Y subsidy, avoid those people, worship this particular deity, boycott such and such film... Of course, these are things I may very well do all by myself (the Laal Singh Chaddha trailer looks seriously yawn-worthy) but you cannot take away my constitutional right to watch a crappy film if I want to. Or, not fly a national flag from my rooftop if I would rather not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not a clueless child of mother India, I am a tax-paying, grown-ass citizen of the Republic of India. In Jane Austen’s Emma, George Knightley famously tells Emma, when she questions him on why he hasn’t shown his emotions for her more openly, “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”I suspect a lot of Indians are like inarticulate George. Creatures of a simpler, more austere time. Soul-sisters perhaps of Cordelia, youngest daughter of King Lear, who upset her father by telling him that she loved him like she loved salt in her food. The flattery-loving old man preferred the fanciful, performative protestations of love made by her older sisters Goneril and Regan—both of whom tossed him out on his ass once they had got hold of all his money, leaving it to Cordelia to pick up his pieces and look after him, just like Salman Khan in Baghban. I suspect that a lot of genuine Indian patriots are watching appalled as Lear’s two older daughters take over the national discourse and taint our tiranga by turning it into the new bhagwa jhanda, appropriating it for toxic, one-tone jingoism on Twitter handles that spew hate and disunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe, this August 15, these Indians will stick to the older, simpler tradition of just flying kites from the terrace, while listening to the old black and white deshbhakti ke geet. Because true love doesn’t demand a flag as proof. True love just is. Or, maybe, they will decide to not surrender the tiranga to the Gonerils and the Regans, and fly it from their rooftops anyway. Either way, they have the right to choose. That is what independence is all about. Isn’t it?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Aug 13 11:36:51 IST 2022 anuja-chauhan-on-nudes-and-their-meaning <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why exactly has Ranveer Singh shed all his clothes, slicked himself with oil, and lain himself down into that curiously defenceless, needy, side-sprawl upon a Turkish rug for Paper magazine? It can’t be for media attention—because he gets enough of that already. It can’t be for money (though maybe that pricey sea-facing quadraplex in Bandra took the shirt of his back). It isn’t for PETA or any other ‘good cause’, which is usually the ‘reason’ most male celebrities give to justify their risque photo-shoots. It just is. Take it or leave it (Um, lawsuits about hurting female sentiments and outraging female modesty be damned, most girls and women are happy to take it.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a performer and as a personality, Ranveer is known to push the envelope. He does so with focussed, almost messianic zeal—as though it were his self-appointed moral duty to bring light and airiness to a stodgy, atrophied society. To release that which is repressed, to express that which is suppressed, to subvert that which is pompously inflated. And so, to a society fed on rigid, macho images of masculinity—clenched jaws, flexed torsos, shoulders, chest, back, arms, and abs—Ranveer blithely offers a fluidly curving butt cheek, a length of hairy thigh and calf, bare feet, relaxed body langauge, and soft, vulnerable eyes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Paper magazine has positioned his nudes as a tribute to Burt Reynolds’s famous 1972 centrefold in Cosmopolitan magazine, but to me, that soft curve of side-butt is more reminiscent of an earlier era—John Lennon’s iconic cover for Rolling Stone magazine, shot by Anne Liebovitz, where he posed naked in a foetal position next to a fully-clothed Yoko Ono, on the day that he was assassinated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years many powerful, subversive statements have been made by artists as varying as Lady Gaga and Shakti Kapoor with their bodies—about objectification, the media circus and the male gaze.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes the nudity is a slutwalk style act of defiance against societal norms. Sometimes, as in the case of several female celebrities who share non-photoshooped nude images of their pregnant and postpartum bodies, it can be an act of self-affirmation, done for the exquisite relief that comes with baring and even celebrating ones flaws with others in the same position as themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes, in the case of top Olympians and athletes, it is about celebrating and strutting the hard work and sacrifice they have put into their bodies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At times—like when the mothers of Manipur demonstrated naked with a banner that said, ‘Indian Army rape us’—it is a political statement. (Hmm, is Ranveer turning around, pulling down his pants, and irreverently mooning our solemn Hindu Rashtra?)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sometimes it is about becoming entirely defenseless and allowing total access, by removing the last and final barrier between viewer and viewee, and proving you love your audience as much as they love you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naturists—the folks who used to be called nudists in less politically correct times—believe that casual, everyday nudity helps people shed their inhibitions and hang-ups—and cultivate a healthy attitude to the environment, the planet and sex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Ranveer, I suspect it’s a case of pretty much all-of-the-above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, in the final analysis, nudity is not really as much about titillation as it is about power. Both the beggar on the roadside and the supermodel on the catwalk can be described as bhoonkha-nanga (starving-naked). But one of them has power and one does not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here, Ranveer surrenders his (considerable) power and makes a present of it to the viewer. Good for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And as far as my female sentiments go, what’s hurting them is not #ranveernudepics but the fact that he consistently gets paid more than his equally talented wife. How about filing a case against that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Jul 31 11:56:46 IST 2022 anuja-chauhan-on-branding-cues-political-parties-can-take-from-cola-gutkha-ads <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I remember meeting Pakistani music artist Ali Zafar about ten years ago, and being utterly scandalised when he breezily confided that, ‘best way is to endorse Pepsi for one year, then Coca Cola for the next year. Keep everybody happy, including yourself.’ Being a trench fighter in the cola wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, I was naive enough to expect brand loyalty from brand endorsers.</p> <p>In those decades, Pepsi was synonymous with Shah Rukh Khan, ThumsUp with Salman, and Coke with Aamir. When I went out to shoot my Pepsi ads with SRK, Saif Ali Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, several leading ladies, and most of India’s leading cricketers, I used to feel like a righteous Jedi locked in a holy war against the forces of the Dark.</p> <p>Today of course, things have gotten so surreal that they make me feel like I’m stuck in the Upside Down from <i>Stranger Things</i>. Shah Rukh, in a makeover reminiscent of a teenage pop princess turning badass twerker, has gone from squeaky clean boy-next-door to snarly, smirky ThumsUp chugging ‘man.’ Salman, meanwhile, has surrendered the ‘grow-up to ThumsUp’ space to become a sort of weird, eternal man—child who drinks Pepsi and avoids matrimony.</p> <p>Some Cola endorsers have given up on the category itself. In 2014, speaking at IIM Ahmedabad, Bachchan claimed to have stopped endorsing Pepsi because a young girl in Jaipur ‘called it poison, and that troubled him’. PepsiCo was mystified by this statement as his contract with them had come to its natural conclusion several years ago. Perhaps it was a case of you-didn’t-dump-me-I-dumped-you. Who knows?</p> <p>Putting aside colas, but sticking with the ethics of brand endorsements, we come to the curious case of Akshay Kumar and Vimal Elaichi. I am not very sure why the brand’s marketers added yet another endorser to perform that weird two fingered <i>aadab</i> along with Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh (surely it hints at the fact that star power doesn’t translate into wins for the brand?) But in their wisdom they went ahead and signed Akshay. He immediately faced a backlash for surrogate-advertising tobacco, apologised to his fans, said he would donate his entire endorsement fee to ‘a worthy cause’—but added that the ads featuring him would continue to run for the entire endorsement term. Which kind of defeats the purpose of not using his fame to influence young minds into trying out unhealthy, cancer-causing products. Oh, and by the way, we are still waiting to hear what the ‘worthy cause’ is.</p> <p>So does such fickle brand-hopping affect a star’s popularity?</p> <p>The simple answer is no—on the contrary, in today’s cynical world, stars are openly admired for ‘scamming the system’, for being savvy enough to play both sides, for having their cake and eating it, too. The person for whom respect is lost (in the long run) is for the brand that is desperate enough to still hanker after these star associations. A point that needs to be pondered by Cola and <i>gutkha</i> brands, but more importantly, by political parties today. The more MPs and MLAs jump ship from hither to thither in the full blaze of the media spotlight, the more reluctant admiration the voter will have for their rockstar-ishness, and the lesser they will respect the parties that are falling all over themselves to pander to them thus.</p> <p>If a party wants to retain the voter’s respect, it should respect its loyal cadres, reward them with plum posts so that they do not get disgruntled, and focus on being true to its core values.</p> <p>Otherwise our political system will collapse into a space where party names and symbols are redundant—a churning mosh-pit of greedy petulant rockstars and their hustlers, all jumping up and down demanding treats, and achieving for the nation, nothing at all.</p> Sun Jul 17 17:18:12 IST 2022 agnipath-is-a-bum-deal-says-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The intention is obvious from the name itself. By plumping for a catchy, Bollywood-esque name like Agnipath and an over-compensating, machismo-soaked title like Agniveer, the ministry of defence has made it patently clear that its new recruitment scheme is neither solid, substantial nor sensible, but just cheap tinsel, hollow semantics and insincere sexiness, the euphoria of clearing which will last just about as long as the high derived from watching an item number from an average Hindi film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Otherwise the ministry would have just stuck with the simple, much loved, and unquestioningly respected title fauji.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See for a fauji, the fauj is his whole life. It clasps him in a strong, secure, whole-hearted bear-hug, and he embraces it back with all his heart and soul. It is something he is willing to lay down his life for. A deal for life. A marriage, if you will.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this tawdry, proposed Agnipath scheme turns gilt-edged spouse material like the Indian Fauj into a toxic first boyfriend—the kind who makes you leap through hoops and walk through fire to prove your love is true, yet still tosses you aside after four years with a small present of money and a gas-lighting speech about how your time together had enriched you and made you a better person whom so many more far-worthier-than-he people will be thrilled to sleep with. (It’s a bum deal, boys and girls. Much more ‘Chikni Chameli’ than Agnipath, frankly.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no surprise though. From the shifting of the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame from its pride of place beneath the canopy of the India Gate, to the vanishing of Indian-made-foreign-liquor brands from the shelves of the CSD canteens, it is pretty clear that today’s regime holds its defence forces in cheap regard. Or wait, no. Actually, their attitude can perhaps best be described as a mixture of gawking awe, rank envy, and open resentment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder there has been such a powerful—and entirely organic—backlash from young boys and men to Agnipath. So powerful in fact, that some suggest that a whole new three-ring circus has been prodded to bloom in Maharashtra to get the Twitterati to talk about something else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Others point triumphantly at the fact that the IAF has already received 56,960 applications to the Agnipath scheme within three days of the link going live, but with the ministry of defence clearly stating that this is the only way in which aspirants can apply for jobs below the rank of commissioned officers, what else do you even expect in a nation whose number one issue is rampant unemployment?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact remains that the defence services as well as the young men who aspire to join them, are (literally) being short-changed. Our troubled society will have to absorb an influx of disgruntled, newly unemployed young men with military training and an itch to live up to the toxic-masculine title of Agniveer, every year. Meanwhile, our defence forces will have to keep letting go of young men whom they have spent four years training, to start from scratch with rookies again!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, this regime takes unholy glee in messing with trusted, long-functioning institutions like the Planning Commission, Article 370, the thousand rupee note, the Babri masjid, the MSP and the farm laws, the Supreme Court of India, the Central Vista, the RTI, the CVC, the BCCI, the Delhi Gymkhana Club, and God alone know what else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But surely an institution as vital as our armed forces could have been spared such stupid tinkering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 01 11:42:59 IST 2022 shivling-is-omnipresent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Seeing the righteous wrath being whipped up currently to protest the ‘insult’ to Lord Shiva and to his symbol—the shivling—it seems a bit surreal that, back in 1978, a half-clothed and fully-Muslim Zeenat Aman could enter a temple, lovingly bump foreheads with a shivling, caress it, kiss it, and bathe it in milk while singing ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ and outrage absolutely nobody. Instead the film was a superhit, everybody agreed that Raj Kapoor had wrung the performance of a lifetime from Aman and Filmfare awards were handed out for music direction and cinematography.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A spoilsport called Laxman from Himachal Pradesh did come forward to protest the ‘obscenity’ but the Supreme Court, specifically Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, found merit in the contention of the filmmaker and quashed the prosecution observing that, “The Censor Board, alive to its public duty, shall not play to the gallery. Nor shall it restrain aesthetic expression and progressive art through obsolete norms and grandma inhibition, when the world is wheeling forward to glimpse the beauty of creation in its myriad manifestations and liberal horizons. A happy balance is to be maintained.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ah well, obsolete norms and grandma inhibition have the bit between their teeth now. Liberal horizons and happy balance have gone to pot, and the simple observation that a lot of things can look like shivlings, including traffic dividers, the dome of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and yes, even the fountain inside the Gyanvapi Mosque wazukhana, got BJP cadres so ‘hurt and outraged’ that they ‘could not control’ and resorted to obnoxious snarling, taunts, sneers and finally, rampant bulldozery. Which is just not very Hindu of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, tolerance is the essence of Hinduism. It is essentially a you-do-you faith. Hindus see divinity everywhere and in everything. My mother, for example, used to collect pebbles at every riverbank picnic, and dreamily declare that an oblong pebble was a shivling, a dotted one ‘had a teeka’, and that a black pebble with a white circle around it was a ‘janeau-dhaari’ (sacred thread wearer.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact the correct Hindu response to ‘Umm, a lot of things look like shivlings’ would be ‘Yes, indeed!’ Because the shivling is omnipresent, just like the God it represents. It is a symbol that repeats endlessly though creation—from dripping stalagmites like the one in Amarnath, to the shape of a simple glowing flame. But this stance, while totally in tune with the Supreme Court’s 1978 ruling to ‘glimpse the beauty of creation in its myriad manifestations’ is at dissonance with current propaganda which says that the need of the hour is not education or employment or sanitation but ‘restoring Hindu pride’ which it seems, can only be achieved by razing all mosques to the dust and building temples over them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, in Kangana Ranaut’s inconvenient words, “Mahadev ko koi structure ki zaroorat nahi hai, woh toh Kashi ke kan kan mein main.” (Shiva doesn’t need a temple in Kashi, he is manifest in every single particle of Kashi.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because unlike the God of the Abrahamic faiths ( ‘I am a jealous God, you shall have no other Gods before me’) Shiva is chill. He is deeply secure, unfond of flattery and stuffy indoor spaces, and much partial to simplicity, serene lakesides and fresh mountain air. Once upon a time, we Hindus used to be as secure and tolerant as our Gods. We did not proselytise Gods, we did not dub non-Hindus infidels, we knew our system had flaws. We still have that gene somewhere—which is why a film like Bhool Bhulaiya 2, which pokes fun at crooked Brahmin priests is a huge hit today, while the prissy Samrat Prithviraj is a big fat flop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now we are actively copying the worst traits of Islam! Far, far better to be Hindu and see shivlings in everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 18 11:05:20 IST 2022 when-a-lotus-rises-it-partially-obscures-mud-it-is-blooming-above-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Well, a clean chit has finally been issued, and it is quite clear now that Aryan Khan’s arrest was just a lotus. One in a series of eyeball-grabbing luridly hot-pink lotuses that have been blooming steadily for years now in the metaphorical mud (or muck, if you prefer a more exact translation for keechard mein kamal)—which is our national narrative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, when a lotus rises to bloom, it partially obscures the mud it is blooming above. Its showy pink petals distract and soothe our eyes, and overall, it creates the illusion that the mud underneath is good—even aesthetic—or best of all, not there at all. The power of the optics it creates can be gauged by the fact that all of us would drive through miles of sludgy scenery without comment, but throw even one showy pink lotus into the mix and suddenly there is a squealing of brakes, exclamations of delight, and a collective reaching for cellphones to immediately click, hashtag and upload—#lotus! #India! #nature! #beauty @pure #peace! #goddess #divine #unspoilt #blest!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At any given point, there is always at least one waxy pink lotus floating like a highly-coloured helium balloon above the sludgy brown muck that is our society and system of governance. Aryan’s particular lotus radiated the mesmeric trishul-pronged message that:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>1.) The offspring of Love Jihad are drug-addicted scum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>2.) Our Hindu-rashtra NCB is impartial, efficient and fearless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>3.) Something is actually being done about the shockingly widespread consumption and abuse of narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances in our country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ah, well, that lotus has withered now, and we can all see the mud for what it is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sushant Singh Rajput hatyakaand, as the news channels insist on calling it, was the lotus that preceded Aryan’s. Less exotic but disarmingly earthy, it beamed a tragic but seductive three-pronged message too:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>1.) The reason why you haven’t made it in life is because the rich and the successful are conspiring to block you from shining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>2.) It is like you always suspected—beautiful women are materialistic and evil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>3.) You don’t have to finish your engineering degree to make it in life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rhea and Shouvik Chakraborty’s lawyers are demanding a fresh probe into their NCB case now, so hopefully that lotus will soon wither away too. But don’t worry—we have still got plenty of blooms to look forward to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like the trusty Trouble-at-the-Border Lotus, which blooms every so often in our national sludge, mostly during election season, to reiterate that Muslim-means-Pakistani-and-Pakistani-means-evil and that only a ‘strong’ PM can keep our nation together during this hour of crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or the sudden-and-strange-national-drive lotus. Like, say, demonetisation, which flowered abruptly on our television screens to reassure us that corruption, black money and all our economic woes were being addressed in one decisive game-changing move, except they actually were not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the many wonders of the lotus is that its seeds can lie dormant for decades, even centuries, the oldest recorded lotus germination being from 1,300-year-old seeds recovered from a dry lakebed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which brings us to the good ol’ temple-beneath-the-mosque lotus, rising yet again, this time not in Ayodhya, but not very far away, in Varanasi, above the squelchy goo of our once-pluralistic Hinduism, to tell us (yet again!) that everything is the Muslim’s fault and the only way to restore this pride is to raze all mosques to the ground, which only this government has the guts to do, so I have got to support this government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Waxy, mesmeric and poisonously pink, this one is set for a nice long flowering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 03 11:46:21 IST 2022 anuja-chauhan-on-the-hate-zoya-akhtars-the-archies-is-getting <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Slightly bemused with the amount of hate Zoya Akhtar’s teaser for the Netflix films, The Archies, has been getting. I found it, to use my daughter’s phrase, ‘nice only’. As in, so many meticulously styled, impossibly beautiful young things, bathed in vintage-y Instagram filters—each one placed into the aesthetic frames as carefully as a pastry chef places marzipan roses onto a three layered wedding cake—and going forth (presumably) to do the things kids did in the 1960s—attend school, obsess over crushes, eat ice-cream, play music, ‘go steady’, picnic, and perhaps solve a crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s not to like?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lots apparently. Comments range from they look too fake, too rich, too fair, too westernised, to ‘they don’t look like the Archies I read and loved’, to ‘I hate the Archies, they gave me an inferiority complex when I was a child’, ‘why can’t some Indian comics Like Doga or Amar Chitra Katha be adapted instead’, to ‘Oh God, not that ancient poor-good-Betty verses rich-evil-Veronica trope again’, to the inevitable rants against privilege and nepotism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Personally, I think that somebody at Netflix has been very savvy. They’ve managed to draw up a Venn diagram that includes almost every age-group and socio-economic category. All Zoya Akhtar fans, plus old folks around the world who read and loved the Archies growing up, plus old desis who are Amitabh Bachchan/Sridevi/Shah Rukh Khan fans and are curious to see how their next-gen turned out, plus young desi kids who follow these star-kids on social media, plus indie music fans who would love Gully Boy and Dots music, plus young kids around the globe who’re drawn in by the slick, international styling of the show. It’s really quite a coup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On top of that, they’ve dodged all accusations of being trope-y and repetitive because they’re cleverly serving us old wine in an old bottle only. We can’t complain that The Archies is a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai rip-off because um...Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was an Archies ripoff, complete with Anupam Kher as Mr Weatherbee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Tina and Anjali warring over Rahul then, to Rajkumari Indumati and Chutki fighting over Chota Bheem even today, a bajillion Bettys and Veronicas compete for a bajillion Archies in our movies on a regular basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The people objecting to the film are the people who’ve had absolutely no issues with biased content like The Kashmir Files or toxic fare like Kabir Singh—or the about-to-be-released Prithviraj, which features Akshay Kumar, 54, playing a boy-king in his early twenties, romancing an actress who is 30 years his junior. Which honestly to me is far more problematic than Suhana Khan deciding to follow her (self-made) father into his profession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most ironic bit is that The Archies is being trolled—both by the right-wingers and the woke youth brigade—for being ‘fake’ and ‘unrelatable’. The film does not reflect the reality of India, and the kids in it are some kind of self-centered la-la-landers who aren’t concerned or affected by the problems that plague Indian society. To which I would say:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>1.) Um, wait for the trailer maybe?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>2.) Aren’t our political masters always telling protesting teenagers ‘don’t get side-lined by all this activism-shactivism and politics-wolitics! A dutiful, patriotic child is one who goes to school, keeps his head down and his nose clean.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which is exactly what the kids in the show are doing! I’m in awe of their noses actually—so chiseled and clean—not a blackhead or a visible pore in sight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Toh phir problem kya hai?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun May 22 11:47:17 IST 2022 i-cant-chill-when-fabric-of-india-is-in-extreme-pain-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Anand Bakshi wrote such darling lyrics for the playful Tiger Hunt song in Mr. Natwarlal (1979). The song features Amitabh Bachchan as a famed hunter, telling a gang of wide-eyed pahadi children all about his encounter with a mighty tiger on a dark Tuesday night in the jungle many moons ago—and everybody’s favourite deity Hanuman ji has a starring role in the story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the song, Bachchan jumps about on one leg, in a playful affectionate tribute to the monkey-god, and chants the Hanuman Chalisa to gather up his courage and keep fear at bay. The children (and his love interest, played by an incandescent Rekha) are charmed, even though the story ends with the hunter being eaten up whole by the ‘shameless’ tiger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hanuman ji has always been a popular character, much beloved for providing a bit of lighter entertainment in the otherwise fairly sombre tale, which is the Ramleela, and he was showcased in a similar vein in 2015’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But 2022’s Hanuman is stern and humourless, and stickers on cars everywhere show him in full battle mode, with a face which is half in dark shadow and half an angry red. This, presumably, is the Hanuman to whom Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (appallingly) recited the Hanuman Chalisa when challenged by a journalist to ‘prove his Hinduness’ in the thick of an electoral battle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so we find ourselves at a place today where the comforting, courage bestowing Hanuman Chalisa has been completely weaponised and is being chanted not to dispel fear, but to create it, most recently outside Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just our beloved Hanuman ji and his chalisa which has been weaponised. Everything has become loaded nowadays. Food, clothes, language, movies, festivities, cricketers, flowers have all been bulldozed into a neat, reductionist, false binary called Hindu and Muslim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The islamophobia has become so everyday and so normalised that increasingly one is considered a party-pooper for pointing it out, or even a ‘hypocrite’ because ‘of course you hate the ‘Ems’ (Muslims) as much as I do but you’re just doing naatak (drama) because you want attention, and because you want people to think ki you’re a ‘goody goody.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(I’ve personally had somebody say that to me.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While shouting out your hate is praised for being honest and even brave, as if ‘coming out of the closet’ about your islamophobia is as celebratory and cathartic as coming out as gay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s a sick world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And I know ranting about it can be counter-productive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hey, I have just returned from an extended sojourn abroad, where the NRIs start rolling their eyes and sidling away like smokers being lectured on the evils of nicotine whenever anybody says anything about how the secular fabric of the republic is being ripped apart as brutally as Dushasana on a daily basis in Modi’s India. They know it is happening, and they know it is going to be harmful in the long run, but they do not want to hear about it and ‘spoil’ the ‘party mood.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so they say things like ‘let’s just keep it light ya’ or ‘accha, tell me some Bollywood gossip’ or ‘oho, you’re becoming too shrill. Just chill.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But just like the ministry of health keeps issuing its anti-tobacco messaging, nevertheless, it is the duty of concerned citizens to consistently keep issuing our anti-hate messaging too, even though we get scoffed at for being joyless wet blankets raining on this vile, orgiastic ‘Republic’ Day parade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People get ‘shrill’ when they are in extreme pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fabric of our secular nation is in extreme pain. So sorry, but I cannot just ‘chill.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 06 14:35:54 IST 2022 anuja-chauhan-on-small-alia-bhatt-small-wedding <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a bewildering and unfair world. Russia continues to brutalise Ukraine and hog the headlines, while ‘lesser’ conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Palestine remain largely ignored. Will Smith slaps a host at the Oscars and still remains eligible to participate and win next year. And in India we are in the middle of a particularly ugly month, with fasting Muslims being baited and humiliated constantly with the clear aim of making them lash out in retaliation so hysterical hashtags like #hindulivesindanger can trend yet again on Twitter—which is itself busy consuming poison pills to dodge a hostile takeover by Elon Musk who, I am naively hoping, wants to acquire it with the noble goal of just shutting down the whole damn shitshow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which is why I spent most of last week zoning out and happily consuming images of Alia Bhatt in her wedding clothes, the way I usually consume videos of fat-fat puppies learning how to walk, or videos of gurgling babies having their ribs tickled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She is so wholesome, na, Alia. Intelligent and hardworking, too. And yes, her family is full of biggish producer-directors but so is Uday Chopra’s, so it’s not like all her success and fame is because of nepotism only. And she is short—just like most of us Indian girls, which makes her so much more likeable. And though I don’t fully approve of this old man she is marrying I am willing to go along with it because well, this world would be a much better place if we would all just tolerate our children’s choices and live and let live. I do hope she does not change her surname though—but again, it is none of my beeswax.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the main reason why I am feeling so fond of Alia right now is that, along with being physically small, she has also had a small wedding. Like, really small. So small that the only Ambanis she invited were what’s-his-name and Shloka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only was it a small wedding, it was also a home wedding. In the home garden, upon the home balcony. No Rajasthani fort. No Tuscan Valley. No Cirque-du-Soleil. No fifty elephants blowing rose petals from their fifty trumpets or stamping ghunghroos with their two hundred feet. Simple make-up. Traditional flowers. No vulgar excesses—and therefore, most importantly, no pressure on all of us regular folk with children of marriageable age to go sourcing how to have-what-she’s-having but at a cheaper price (i.e. after mortgaging our homes and selling both our kidneys.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tradition of small weddings especially during times of adversity is a long one. Back in the day, Princess Elizabeth used ration coupons to buy the material for her wedding dress. She also did her own make-up. Indira Gandhi got married from her father’s home in Allahabad, wearing a pale pink sari, woven out of cotton yarn that her father had spun on a charkha while in jail. (Imagine, the Ambanis could have just draped their brides in the first sari ever loomed at Vimal and called it quits!)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course it can be argued that Alia and Ranbir live larger-than-life lives every single day, so for them, a small simple ceremony feels unique and meaningful. But the rest of us live simple lives every day, and so the urge to splash out like a celebrity during a wedding is natural, even correct.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then there is the argument that expensive weddings help revive crafts and support craftspeople—which is a valid one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I guess I am making a case for the simple splash-out. A Goldilocks celebration—neither obnoxiously big (like the proposed Ram Mandir or the statue of Sardar Patel) nor ignominiously small (like the Congress party’s chances of winning anything.) In a world where over-the-top has thankfully gone from being a descriptor of weddings to a definition of streaming platforms, it is a happy new trend and worth embracing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Apr 22 11:13:52 IST 2022 hijab-ban-will-backfire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the last Olympics, the Norway handball team defied federation rules and paid a hefty fine so that they could play in cycling shorts, rather than the bikini bottoms which are the uniform for women’s handball. The Norway squad found the mandated attire sexualising, demeaning and impractical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar issues came up with regard to the full length bodysuit versus the skimpy leotard in women’s gymnastics, with many contestants preferring the feeling of security and support the extra coverage provides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several Muslim women won medals while wearing a hijab at Tokyo, and wear whatever makes you feel confident and comfortable seems to the rule that is slowly emerging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surely, what is good enough for the Olympics should be good enough for a secular democracy. But, as recent events in Karnataka show, it is clearly not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>See, I am not a fan of the hijab. I do not see why girls should be forced to swelter inside one during the summer heat. But I am not a fan of people telling other people what they can or cannot wear either. And policing women’s attire seems to have gone from favourite sport to full-time occupation in a state which, to use Gauri Lankesh’s prophetic words, “is unfortunately and irreversibly hurtling towards its new position as the Gujarat of the south”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Weird and wacky experiments are being conducted in what has come to be called India’s hindutva laboratory, on a daily basis, with ‘leaders’ like Anantkumar Hegde and Pramod Muthalik rising from the muggy, temple-dotted bowels of coastal Karnataka and spreading their noxious brand of poison nationwide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After coming down on Hindu girls in pubs in Mangaluru and Bengaluru in the past for “wearing sleeveless, smoking and talking to boys”, especially on Valentine’s Day, these sinister doctors from the hindutva lab have now zoomed in on a garment which up till now was totally innocuous and completely accepted in mainstream society—as accepted as an auntie ji’s mangalsutra or a sardar ji’s pagdi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been an aid to lovers’ meetings and all sorts of gentle skulduggery and sneaking around in many rom-com movies over the years, it has been openly defied in entirely non-controversial hit songs like 1975’s ‘Pardah hai pardah’. We see flowery ones and lacy ones and jet black ones billowing about on our streets all the time and feel nothing but affection or exasperation, but now the hindutva labs are trying to relaunch them as something sinister and divisive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a stupid move, and it will backfire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because people have now figured out that if girls stop wearing hijabs to school, it will not benefit the nation. Just like a new temple or a new statue or a new name for an old stadium will not benefit the nation. These things do not make the GDP go up, they do not make unemployment, air pollution and deforestation go down, nor do they cause Rs15 lakh to magically transfer into bank accounts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only thing that will happen is that Muslims will have their noses rubbed into the mud (yet again) and many conservative Muslim families, who currently allow their girls and women to go out to study or work as long as they wear a hijab, will forbid them this financial and educational independence. Which is actually detrimental to the cause of nation-building.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Essentially, voters have finally recognised Hindu-Muslim polarisation for the cheap, fake trick it is. In Uttar Pradesh, 23-year-old Neha Singh Rathore and her ‘UP mein ka ba’ rap has taken the BJP’s big budget campaign apart with her head modestly covered and her ghoonghat firmly in place. And the girls of Karnataka will do the same with their hijabs intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Feb 24 15:56:38 IST 2022 bingo-s-the-word-writes-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is crazy how Wordle has united the literate world. So much so that it can safely be re-christened Worldle. People of every nationality, age-group and mother tongue are bonding over a simple little word game created by Welsh software engineer Josh Wardle, 36, during the lockdown as a gift for his 32-year-old girlfriend because he knew she loved word games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Awww!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps it is this purity of motive that has made the little game such a big hit. Josh Wardle had not been trying desperately to ‘go viral’ or be ‘catchy’ or ‘on trend’ when he came up with his guess-the-five-letter-word-in-six-tries challenge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like Rick Riordan had not been trying to write the next bestseller when he wrote Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus. He had just been trying to bond with his seven-year-old son, who had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline dyslexia. So, just off the top of his head, he made up a 12-year-old hero dealing with these very same issues, who was also the son of Poseidon the Ocean God and a human woman. His son loved Percy Jackson, so did more than 20 million people who bought the book worldwide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Very similar is the story of Georgette Heyer’s breakout novel, The Black Moth, the romantic tale of a Georgian-era duke who was wrongfully accused of cheating at cards and became an outlawed highwayman. She wrote it at the age of 17 to amuse her convalescing younger brother, and ended up amusing millions of readers for over seven decades now. How Alice In Wonderland came to be written is also somewhat similar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These examples are all personal favourites, of course, but the list of works of art and science that came to be, simply because of what I am calling an innocent motivation, is a long and extremely distinguished one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, the human brain can think of amazing things when it is not frantically straining to crack the next big thing, Shark Tank style, or obsessed with identifying a gap and filling it, and is just focused on having fun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What helps the fun is that Wordle is not trying to either steal your data or get you addicted. It asks you no intrusive questions and it keeps things classy by offering you a new puzzle only once a day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, it is just the sort of chill, none-of-my-beeswax, non-stalkerish person everybody wants to date.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, we, as Indians, also love the fact that the Mumtaz Mahal who inspired this Taj Mahal is an Indian named Palak Shah. We have immediately claimed bragging rights on her, of course, and made Josh into a honorary brother-in-law of sorts—right up there with Nick Jonas and Shoaib Malik and Boris Johnson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then there is the share option—a marvel of neat synopsising which shows the arc of the sender’s entire attempt clearly and concisely, yet does not issue any spoilers—thus immediately motivating the recipient to have a bash at that day’s Wordle, too. These days, when every shared forward is either a weird conspiracy theory or a hate-filled, racist rant, it is so nice to get something so uncontroversial yet smart in one’s inbox.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We live in a world that is both intensely polarised as well a hyper-localised—and playing Wordle gives us that vital sense of belonging to a larger global community which we all crave. It unites us all upon a low-friction, genuinely level playing field where literacy is the only required qualification. We need more Wordles urgently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Mon Feb 14 18:21:57 IST 2022 beneath-india-gate-is-the-primest-sweetest-spot-our-martyrs-deserve-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So, the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame no longer burns beneath the India Gate in what is unarguably the heart of the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi. The stark, evocative memorial—four flames leaping around the rifle and helmet of the unknown soldier—had been a place of succour and pilgrimage for the families and comrades of our martyrs for five decades, a destination for all visiting heads of state, the location of many civil society protests, including the Nirbhaya rape case, as well as the setting of iconic love ballads to the nation like ‘Masti Ki Pathshala’ from 2006’s angsty, stirringly patriotic Rang De Basanti, a film btw, that would never find financing or a censor certificate today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Spokespersons of the current dispensation have been calling the Amar Jawan Jyoti ‘makeshift’ and ‘cheap’ and hailing the new arrangement as ‘grand’ and ‘worthy’. Let us put aside the quibble that nothing could be more cheap or makeshift than a hologram projection of a statue of a major national hero on his 125th birth anniversary and focus on the fact that this argument seems vaguely reminiscent of the glib lines trotted out by corporates who grab prime land from under the feet of slum dwellers in return for pukka housing elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To anybody who thinks the defence services are not being short-changed, and that the National War Memorial is only 400 metres away, I would say, umm, remember when you were a child and in a group dance? You knew, in your bones, which position was front and centre. You were bursting with pride if you were occupying it, and if you were not, you were drawing comfort from the fact that you were just two places away from it, or just behind it, and dying of mortification if you were tucked into a corner, almost out of sight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, beneath the India Gate is front and centre. Beneath the India Gate is the primest, sweetest spot that our martyrs deserve. And it has just been snatched away from the defence services and given to God-alone-knows who or what—only time and the architects of the new Central Vista will tell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What I find utterly bewildering is the fact that the India Gate is a war memorial anyway—an iconic, globally renowned one in fact, so why not just construct concentric circles around it, and low walls to engrave more names and more wars instead of building a whole new memorial and starting a whole new flame just a little distance away? The whole thing baffles logic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The services have kept a more or less stiff upper lip about the whole business like they’ve been doing about the state of their weaponry, kits, pensions, privileges, and the ban on foreign-made-Indian liquor in the Army canteens. This is the price one pays for being at the receiving end of toxic patriotism—which places soldiers on pedestals so they can never do anything as human as object or protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chalo, at least the entire transfer was handled admirably. The tame media was tutored to emphasise, repeatedly and soothingly, that the eternal flame had been ‘merged, not extinguished’ and the PM, his joint chief, and the three chiefs of staff all showed up and saluted with grave reverence as the ‘shifting’ was done. The opposition, if there was any from the families of martyrs whose faith and deeply felt beliefs dictated that the current location was the correct one, was quickly suppressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What a pity that all this reasonable thinking, practicality, understanding, and full-on government backing is never demonstrated when the matter of the statue of Ram Lalla crops up. Just think, perhaps it could have been shifted about just a wee bit to a more consensual location in just such a respectful, reverential government-supervised way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 27 15:29:09 IST 2022 did-pm-president-discuss-genocide-call-against-200-million-indians-asks-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Pardon me if the words “stuck on a flyover for over 15 minutes” do not fill me with concern and horror. They fill me with gratitude and a sense of “arrey wah, not bad ya, I have been in so much worse”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then, of course, I am just aam janta and not the head of the government of India. It is my heaven-ordained dharma to stew in jams for hours on end, in a non-bullet proof car, with no crack security detail and a bursting bladder, that too without muttering about feeling unsafe or any “security breach”, because otherwise I could be called an anti-national and told to go to Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an ordinary citizen, that too of Karnataka, I am used to paying the highest road tax in the land and routinely being stranded in the most ghastly of traffic. Also, the roads have potholes so gaping that I swear they are security breaches in themselves because they could very well be underground tunnels leading all the way to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, patriotic and well-educated folk everywhere shamed me immediately for trivialising what they said was a grave security risk (the over 15-minute hold-up). They said it was all a Khalistani-Congressi conspiracy and a high-level inquiry should be launched asap and that heads should roll. Well, I guess that does make it a grave security issue—for the officers whose heads will roll, at least.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, Modiji’s security detail should be flawless at all times, but I have started to wonder if the office of prime minister is swiftly becoming what my daughter’s junior school math teacher used to call a hauwa. She said a lot of children were so scared of mathematics that they had turned it into a big fat hauwa (i.e., bogey or monster). One does not argue with a hauwa, or question it, or ask it to be accountable in any way, or make it wait for over 15 minutes. One just freezes in fear at the sight of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Could I just point out, here, that the prime minister of the Netherlands cycles to work whenever the weather is good? And that many MPs in the United Kingdom ride the tube to work? Also, that in 1973, Atal Bihari Vajpayee rode to Parliament in an open bullock cart to protest the rise in fuel prices? And that in 1967 Indira Gandhi continued to address a rally in Bhubaneswar even after the crowd started stone pelting, and when one hit her square in the face, she paused only to wipe her bloody nose with a handkerchief and calmly continued to speak?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in 2022 India, we seem bent on hauwa-fying our highest offices. They are unquestioned and unquestionable. We have spent an estimated Rs8,400 crore on purchasing and retrofitting two highly customised B777 aircraft for our prime minister, president and vice-president. Several crores on a new custom-built Mercedes-Benz S650 Pullman Guard armoured vehicle. And Rs200 billion on the Central Vista project that includes all-new fortified residences for the PM and other VVIPS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps we are striving for American levels of security here and that is laudable. But in the US, all former presidents and their families are provided with the highest level of security for life. It is not downgraded arbitrarily—like what happened in the case of the Gandhi family or Dr Manmohan Singh’s family. So, what are we aiming for exactly?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, perhaps Modiji does venture out incognito. Maybe he does it online and is not a hauwa at all, but marvellously in touch with the common people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But all we got to hear about is how many BJP netas chanted mantras for Modiji’s longevity. And, how the prime minister met the president and discussed the unsafe situation. One could not help wondering if the topic of how unsafe the 200 million Indians who were recently openly threatened by a genocide must be feeling came up while the two great men were conversing. I sincerely hope it did.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Jan 16 10:48:00 IST 2022 modis-new-looks-pm-needs-to-have-the-best-head-of-hair-possible-says-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I would call this the year of the big trim. When it began, our PM had long-flowing locks and beard, ala Robi babu, with a godlike aura and all-powerful image to match, as it ends, he appears to have been (kind of) been trimmed down to size. The trimming happened slowly, unobtrusively, almost as if it was hoping not to be noticed, not unlike how the price of fuel and other daily essentials moved, slowly, also hoping not to be noticed, but in the opposite direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why did Modiji go in for a trim? Did he think his flowing locks would look a trifle incongruous when he alighted from his new Rs4,500 crore plane in the US to talk about big-big, important-important, world-stage type things? Or did Yogiji’s macho, monastic buzz-cut make him feel his styling was a little hairy-fairy? As he does not give news conferences we can only guess—but who can decode the workings of his mighty mind?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some stylists had opined that the long locks were part of his pandemic look—he was so busy rushing about, doing things at the frontlines and saving the day that he did not have the time to get a haircut only! (Which is a little puzzling because then how did he have the time to get his locks so lovingly shampooed and combed out?)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So perhaps then, the hajamat was provided to him, against his will, by any number of amateur yet enthusiastic coiffeurs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vir Das certainly had a go at the scissors—what with his oversmart, anti-national I-come-from-two-Indias act at the Kennedy Centre. ‘I come from an India where every time we get information, we are always available to care for the PM but we can’t seem to get information on PMCARES.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Or on PM’s hairs, for that matter.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the farmers, who have been doing some pretty heavy scissor and clip over comb work on Modiji’s head right through the year. The Chinese have been chipping away pretty stolidly and may be responsible for the pretty feathery detailing at the nape of the mighty man’s neck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course the real short-back-and-sides trim was provided by Trinamool Congress head Mamata Bannerjee, who seems to have internalised Brutus’s maxim from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser. ‘There is a tide, in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.’ She seems to have grabbed the shears with a vengeance and hacked away with more force than finesse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily, this finesse was provided by Bollywood, and the dogged huddle of supporters around Aryan Khan, who stepped in to provide a sharp, elegant edge to the project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there was the second coronavirus wave, which added a grim, tonsured element to the whole situation. And while the media mostly seemed to find absolutely nothing wrong with Modiji’s long locks (they find absolutely nothing wrong with anything he says or does, actually) a small band of intrepid reporters—both local and international—did have a bit of a go with the shearing scissors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, no good grooming ritual is complete without a shagun contribution from the home team, and Varun Gandhi has been providing that with increasing dedication through the year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, many hands made light work, with the result that what we have before us at the eve of the new year 2022, is a not a shawl-draped sage, dreamily caressing swans, but a no-nonsense waist-coated man of action! Which is what a PM ought to be. (A PM also ought to be non-partisan and secular and consistent and answerable to the citizenry who elected him, but I will take what I can get.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any hairdresser worth his revitalising serum will tell you that a good, judicious trimming rejuvenates the hair. Makes it stronger, thicker, lusher and more lustrous. As head of our government, Modiji needs to have the best head of hair possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All in all, I approve of the new look. I strongly urge Modiji to tip everybody well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sun Dec 19 12:36:50 IST 2021