Jewish = Muslim

Indian hardliner ‘nationalists’ have plumbed solidly for Israel in the current conflict.

Palestine deserves destruction, they say, because it has housed terrorists who have been annoying Israel for decades. Israel has been patient. No one can say Israel has not been patient. But now it has struck, and it will rip threats to its nation out by the very roots, and stomp on them till they’re dead, dead, dead!

Now, it so happens that Palestinians are mostly Muslims. And that is what triggers the orgasm of approval from our ‘nationalists’, not their sense of fairness or balance. Indian ‘nationalism’ exists superficially to combat ‘western culture’, but it’s roots draw true sustenance from Islamphobia, and fear of Muslim dominance in the state. So for them, Muslim-bashing anywhere is always good news. Couched in Israel-Palestine dynamics, they see the constant ‘oppression’ of a patient India by rabid Pakistan, and wish fervently that India would ‘teach a lesson’ to Pakistan in similar fashion.

There is just a tiny problem with this analogy, and it is this: Palestinians ‘terrorised’ Israel because Israel was carved out of Palestinian land without their consent, to house a specific religious minority.

Much, in fact, like Pakistan was carved out of British India – in the face of immense public opposition (and suffering).

So when Indian ‘nationalists’ go berserk with righteous joy at the suffering of Muslims, and defend Israel’s violence fervently, they should remember that in their tortured “West Bank is the subcontinent” analogy, Israel is really Pakistan.

The delights of your ignorance, my fellow patriots. The delights of your ignorance.

An Illegal Citizen’s Letter to Her Teenage Self

I seldom read letters people write to their younger selves. Part of it is because they are something of a fad, and I have an innate aversion to faddish things. (I’m a secret stern-faced fuddy-duddy.) But mostly it is because letters are private things, and reading one not meant for me would probably make me feel like I am stealthily tracking mud through someone’s delicate Persian and porcelain.

However, yesterday, I read a very, very powerful letter written by a young person to her even younger self. I am a tiny part of this letter, but that is not why it felt so wonderful to read it. In fact, I have almost nothing to do with the letter. It is all about her strength, her vulnerability, her acceptance of how she was made, the battles she fought because of it, and the recent loss of her legal identity. And it is about finding happiness, despite it all.

Read the full letter here. It’ll be a wonderful read, and you might just find yourself between the lines. TBelow is an excerpt that is especially special to me, because it touches upon JUDE, the place where our lives intersected. In that time, it was a magical place. You’ll see why.

Dear Rhea,

You will be happy. First know that. You will be happy for three years in JU, which you will feel is home the first time you walk in.

You will read many books and learn many things. You will be taught King Arthur in the original and Beowulf, and Iliad by one of the best men you will ever meet. You will learn how to be friends with people, how to sit down on a patch of grass or a stone step and talk for hours about everything and nothing. The girl you love will break your heart and you will miss her like a wound, but you will be happy.

You will have friends and books and coffee and ridiculous conversations and long walks that will end in you getting very decisively lost. You will get a camera and realise that photography is a sort of solace. Years later you will watch a film and recognise yourself in a scrap of behaviour and the knowledge that others, too, use a camera to create distance will come as a relief.

You will be taught the ethics of photography by the man who will first teach you the Iliad, and Aristotle, and Plato, and then later the ethics of feudalism, and as he tells you that photography has to be an ethical practice, the girl sitting beside you will sneak a photograph of him surreptitiously on her phone.

You shall write and run a magazine and watch films and read comics for a test and your sister will look resentful and your parents confused. You shall have fun studying for the first time in your life and you will have friends.

You will be happy. First know that. Only know that. You are loved and trusted and depended upon, but the knowledge is yet to come to you; you will know it when you can bear the weight of it. For now, know only that you will be happy.


This, By the Way, is My Country

This is an extract from the online news portal Gaylaxy:

The two policemen, in their mid-20s, were posted on duty during the Ahmedabad gay pride march held on December 1st, in which the victim had participated. Today as the man was returning to his car, the policemen recognized and accosted him, asking if he had taken part in the march (images of the victim were seen on the print and electronic media which had covered the pride march). On his confirmation, the cops demanded to see his license and papers and started hurling abuses at him. The victim protested and tried to get away, but the cops started beating him up with sticks and forced themselves on him, abusing him all the time and remarking ‘jab poori duniya se marwai hai, toh humse bhi marwa le’ (when you have got fucked by the whole world, then get fucked by us too) . The man returned home battered and bruised with multiple wounds on his body. The cops were not drunk and were in full control of their senses.

Flav’s Red Skiff, Rockport MA

[This review is from July 2010]

The quaint little skiff, with matching tiny tables inside.

There are two words for all the little seasidy restaurants that dot the New Englad shoreline: unjustifiably expensive. Red Skiff messes up my pretty opening line, however, since it’s dirt cheap, but if they charged more, it would have been entirely justifiable.


The delicious Red Skiff fish ‘n chips.

This place has turned me into a BIG fan of the old clam chowder, which I only tolerated before (given that my only experience with chowder was in random cafes in the Somerville area). About six bucks buys you a yummy, creamy bowl of delicious chowder. Nine buys you the freshest haddock you’ve tasted in a while, baked or fried and served with potatoes. It’s the best fish and chowder lunch I’ve had in a while, and it was made extra sweet by the knowledge that I was paying less than half of my fellow tourists lunching in the fancier places :-)

By the way, this place only serves lunch. If you’re going to eat late, get takeout and leave it in your car. It will still be better than going to some of the other places (except maybe Ray Moore’s lobster shack).

Dedh Ishqiya: Two Gorgeous Women, and All Their Love

The Begum and her Rabbo.

I saw Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam on television a year or so after its release (we shall return to it in a future post, perhaps, as I have much to say about its antecedents). For the next few days, I hounded every acquaintance who could conceivably have read the book, and exclaimed, “Goodness, did you see? Sanjay Leela Bhansali lifted the story straight off Naw Hawnyate! And he didn’t even give Maitreyi Debi credit!”

The connection had slipped most people by, and I felt rather intellectually superior for having spotted it. And I certainly felt very culturally superior when I considered how much Bhansali had to doll-up and commercialise ["cheapen", in Calcutta Bengali parlance] the original story to suit the style of mainstream Hindi cinema.

In my defence, I was young, snooty, and very middle-class Bengali.

Years later and still snooty, I went to see Dedh Ishqiya. Literally “One and a half Love”, it follows the absolutely delightful Ishqiya (“Of Love”) with the same male leads, but Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qurishi taking on from Vidya Balan as the female star. It only occurs to me now, as I write this, that the director had to have made a conscious decision go with the old-school Indian ideal of beauty – generous, glowing, reminiscent of soft buttery richness, deeply sensual, assertive – instead of the toned and sculpted contemporary look. And it is a very wise choice. In a film set in fictional town which has a foot firmly in an earlier era of nawabs, begums and poetry battles, modernity of beauty would not have worked. This decision has also introduced me to the loveliness that is Ms. Qureshi, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Huma Qureshi with Arshad Warsi, as Muniya and Babban in Dedh Ishqiya.

It is also to the eternal credit of the filmmaker, that despite working in contemporary references (“chow mein“) and stylistically making the film entirely his own, Dedh Ishqiya succeeds in being a beautiful expansion – and privileged behind-the-veil view – of Ismat Chugtai’s wonderful story “Lihaaf”.

For those not familiar, “Lihaaf” – or “Quilt” – is the tale of an emotionally and sexually abandoned begum locked in the castle of her conservative and indifferent royal husband, who finds validation, fulfilment, and the will to live in the arms of her maid Rabbo (Muniya in the film, a beautified version of the original).

It takes great courage and wicked amusement, I think, to release a film in an election year – when conservative fervour runs very high – featuring two gorgeous women in a loving sexual relationship with each other, a virile man being – in his own words – “used as a whore” by a woman, beautifully filled-out female leads, a senior cit. male romantic lead, a middle-aged female romantic lead, and general devil-may-care poke-funnery at stereotypical Bollywood “Indianness”. And oh, did I mention how gratifying it is to have Madhuri Dixit back on screen, even if she did seem a little stiltled in the earlier scenes?

The gorgeous Madhuri Dixit as Begum Para, who I am so very glad to have back.

If tribute there must be, or outright stealing of thought, then as an admirer of beauty and a pennywise paying consumer, I must insist they be this clever, this mischievous, this delightful, and this gorgeous. Despite its slightly generous editing – a good twenty minutes off would have made the film crisper and more amusing – this film is one to be treasured. The most enticing aspect of the film is certainly Mr. Shah’s presence, but Arshad Warsi, Madhuri Dixit, Vijay Raaz, the music, and the dialogue all finish a close second.

The wonderful Naseruddin Shah as Iftekhar.

How to Make Enemies: Anti-terrorism Version

My friend M linked to a letter by Johns Hopkins professor Chris Callison-Burch, addressed to the president of the United States. It concerns the callous way in which the nation’s government took refuge behind bureaucratic opacity to flaunt their racist terror of a Middle-Eastern Muslim man — otherwise known as security ‘profiling’.

Of course, said man might turn out to be vewy vewy dangerous indeed, and oooh, how silly would C-B look then, but if that were indeed the case, then the process by which the US government and their privatised visa process blocked him was doubly stupid, for you do not want to humiliate and antagonise an enemy so potent.

What strikes me most about this incident, however, is the sneaky school-boyish trickery employed by the US Embassy. They lured Omar with the promise of ‘looking into’ the tearing-up of his ticket to US, and the moment he handed them his passport, stamped ‘CANCELLED’ all over it. Gotcha! Hee hee hee!

I wonder if they high-fived each other after he left.

On his return flight back to Baltimore to defend his thesis, he was not allowed to board his plane in Cairo. The flight staff tore up his ticket without explanation. He returned home to Jordan and went to the US embassy where they told him that nothing was wrong with his student visa. A week later, the embassy called him back to say that they had found the problem. They said that if he came in, they would fix it. Instead of fixing it, they stamped CANCELED across his student visa without explaining what was wrong, and refused to answer any questions as to why. They handed him a piece of paper saying that there was no appeal process and that he would have to re-apply for a visa. He did. The interview went perfectly well, but the application remained stuck in \Administrative Processing”. After months of waiting, we finally held his thesis defense via video conferencing, and Johns Hopkins University awarded him his PhD. Omar was unable to participate in the graduation ceremony since he was never allowed to return. Microsoft sought an H1B visa for him, but because of prolonged delays in securing that visa for Omar, the company has given up its efforts and instead placed him in its Cairo.

Omar is exactly the type of person who the US should be actively recruiting to come to the country. [For reasons cited, see the article.]

The Death of a Filmmaker

From my Facebook today:
As all of Facebook that cares now knows, Rituporno Ghosh is no more. I know a lot of people who hated the man’s work viscerally. However, short conversations on the subject revealed that it was the man they were discomfited by, not his works per se. A young member of faculty at a local uni once called him a “bishwo bikhyato gay maal” — a world-famous homosexual person. (Here, ‘world famous’ doesn’t mean what you think it means.)

Ghosh on set of his film, Chitrangada.

It is sad — in my personal opinion — that his more recent ouevre gave people an aesthetic reason to bash his sexuality with. It is wonderful to use popular films as a vehicle for rights-activism, but for so doing one must first ensure the watchability of the films. The entire point, after all, is positive outreach. Rituporno’s last films, I’m told, were unwatchable, especially in the context of his earlier excellence. And because they were about LGBTQ lives and rights, it gave people an easy club to bash his entire underlying ideology  — his very existence –with. For that reason alone, I wish he hadn’t left us at 49. I wish he had remained to produce ‘mainstream’, beautifully subtle, sensually-shot films about people whom we love to treat as clowns in the light and punching bags in the dark.
Of his earlier films, I would say Bariwali, Raincoat and Shubho Mohorot stand out on these very terms. Shubho Mohorot is the only film I have seen so far — and I am not a film buff — that surpasses the book it was based on [Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side], although upon reflection one might say the same of Raincoat [based on the principle plot-point of O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"]. I personally quite enjoyed the detailed, sensually appealing ambience of Chokher Bali, the subtitle ‘A Passion Play’, and the dramatically pleasing way in which the original had been adapted for the screen. Perhaps the art director takes a lot of credit for much of that, but it’s Rituporno I’ve always credited.
Now that he is so suddenly gone, I’ll think I’ll miss his sensitivity and sensuousness, but above all, I’ll miss his stubborn refusal to conform to dictates of market and society, even if the result was considerably less than remarkable. Especially in this whirlpool of bombastic mediocrity and hegemonic toeing-the-line that we live in today, rebelliousness is it’s own reward.

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