IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER

This morning, I conducted a one-person sociological experiment. Instead of falling out of bed and groping my way to a cup of coffee, I stood myself in front of a mirror and shouted, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai!’

Not much happened. My eyes, hitherto closed, fluttered open an angstrom. My ears, bracing for impact, thanked the poor acoustics of my room. I coughed up a mucus plug that had spent the night in my throat. And realised that I disliked the pitch of my voice during the extended ‘kiii…..’

Nothing else happened. I did not feel more patriotic, or one with my countrymen. On branch-branch, gold bird did not sit. My country’s soil did not gold produce, produce diamonds-pearls. I did not feel like my country’s bulbul; it did not feel like my garden.

I’m not in the habit of screaming slogans at my reflection. But my country’s statesmen, cutting across party lines, deem it the most important issue of the day:

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said he won’t say it, even with a knife to his throat.

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis said say it, or leave the country.

Maharashtra MLA Waris Pathan said he wouldn’t say it, was surrounded by and shouted at by his fellow MLA’s in the Vidhan Sabha, and suspended, without irony, for ‘violating parliamentary traditions’.

Yoga guru Ramdev said say it, or off with your heads! – at a Sadbhavna (goodwill) Sammelan.

UP Minister Azam Khan – who has abused an IAS officer, dared the Shiv Sena to demolish the Taj Mahal and claimed that Kargil’s peaks were won only by Muslim soldiers – said Mr Ramdev is spoiling the congenial atmosphere.

Mani Shankar Aiyar said say it, and say Jai Hind and Jai Hindustan too. Mr Aiyar is a former Minister of Natural Gas.

The Darul Uloom Deoband said don’t nobody say it, it’s un-Islamic, thus putting it in the same category as working women, Salman Rushdie, and shaving.

Omar Abdullah said Mehbooba Mufti, who said nothing in the 88 days she left Jammu & Kashmir headless, should say it.

The Shiv Sena said Ms Mufti should say it to honour deceased Kashmiri Pandits, thus proving that it isn’t just a Hindu majoritarian party. It is also a Hindu minoritarian party.

Khalistan ideologue Simranjit Singh Mann said don’t say it, Sikhs don’t worship women in any form – endangering Punjab’s position as a leader in gender equality.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said saying it should be spontaneous, proving yet again that in Indian polit-speak, those two words are not contradictory. He also said that saying it is part of the all-round development of youth, along with bachelorhood, Aryanisation and finally, full pants.

The Hon’ble UP Governor Ram Naik said we should ignore those who oppose saying it because they are a minority, thus fulfilling his constitutional duty of being sensitive to minorities. His Excellency also said that if we don’t say it, the world won’t acknowledge it, leading us all to imagine a future where Australia se leke America, dil chaahe bas Made In India.

Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh, whose posh Delhi flat was recently attached by the Enforcement Directorate in a disproportionate assets case, said it thrice in the state assembly and said he is a true patriot.

Party elder LK Advani said it is a meaningless controversy. No one listened to him.

Rakhi Sawant said, ‘ceiling fans haaye haaye, Bharat Mata Ki Jai!’

No she didn’t. But she will soon.

We have gone to the zoo.

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A CITY DYING

Take a train from Lower Parel to Mahalaxmi. Gaze out of a west-facing window. You will spot the tall black chimney with ‘Shakti Mills’ painted down its edifice. It towers over the picturesque ruins of my city’s industrial history.

You will wonder what the crumbling columns look like from within. One monsoon evening, when their overgrowth appears irresistibly lush, you will want to enter.

Last week, a twenty-two year old boy and a twenty-two year old girl, did.

For years, I’ve wanted to take my photographer friends there. We are all twenty-two years old. One of them is a girl.

*

 We were walking back from New Delhi Metro station to our hotel nearby. On a whim I still cannot explain, I walked behind my friend, instead of beside her.

In the next twenty minutes, I observed her being ogled by seventeen men. Including two policemen.

To describe what she was wearing would defeat the purpose of this post. Fortunately, we were part of a group, and reached our rooms quite safely. I remember thinking then – this won’t happen in my city.

*

Our Fresher’s Party ended late that night. In a bout of chivalry, I volunteered to accompany my friend in her train back across the city to Vasai.

She had a first-class pass for the entire route; I didn’t. To avoid the crowd, she boarded a ladies’ first class compartment. I boarded a second-class general one.

Gradually, the train emptied out. And for fifty minutes, I, her supposed protector, twiddled my thumbs in my compartment, completely unaware of how she was faring in hers.

When we alighted at Vasai, I felt very silly. We laughed about it then, and we’ve laughed about it ever since.

It doesn’t seem laughable anymore.

 *

As usual, we worked on the project in college until eleven. Usually, we’d take one of the last trains home, and her parents would pick her up at Parle station.

That night, her parents were not in the city. Her brother came to pick her up instead.

No one found it absurd that the person deputed to escort her home was of school-going age. He was male, and that was security enough.

 *

Another night. Another train. Through a window in the partition, my gaze meandered to a young woman seated in the ladies’ first class.

There was no one else in her compartment. Why is she travelling alone so late? Doesn’t she know enough to be careful about certain kinds of men?

She noticed me. Her expression changed. A strange man is staring at me. There is no one nearby.

She shifted herself out of view. For her, I’m no different from the men I wished she’d be wary of.

*

Don’t take that route. Don’t enter that area. Don’t wear that dress. Don’t come back that late.

Don’t.

One half of my city’s people – locals and migrants, old and young, rich and poor – don’t feel safe here. This is not my city anymore.

Reclaim my city. Take back the night.

* * *

CARTOONS IN PARLIAMENT

SAME OLD NEW DELHI: With the healthy debate in both Houses regarding the seditious Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon threatening to settle into worrisome introspection, this intrepid reporter interviewed several important politicians.

Caught curling her eyelashes on the steps of Parliament House, newly elected Rajya Sabha MP Rekha had to be persuaded that yet another rendition of ‘Yeh kya jagah hai doston’, would not qualify as an answer. Rahul Gandhi bravely stepped up to announce that he was on way to board his umpteenth helicopter to Vidarbha, where he intends to interrogate local farmers about their take on this crucial issue.

Former Free Press Journal cartoonist and protector of free speech Balasaheb Thackeray stated, “Everybody is agreeing with each other so I am disagreeing with them.” His beloved nephew Raj politely informed us that all cartoonists would be dealt with, ‘Sena-style’. He did not specify which Sena. Political wags commented that it doesn’t matter.

CM of the expensively renamed debt-stricken state of Paschimbanga Mamata Banerjee felt the Centre was simply copying her stance in dealing with cartoons. CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat enviously said, “What the Left could not enforce in over thirty years of uninterrupted rule, Mamata has enforced in less than a year – totalitarianism.”

Regarding her caricature, former Tamilian actress Jayalalitha complained, “The camera used to add ten pounds to how I look, why do cartoonists do the same?” BSP supremo Mayawati offered, “I think my figure-hugging dresses make me appear slim.” BJP President Nitin Gadkari heartily agreed, adding that the press had neglected to portray him in his post-bariatric surgery thinner avatar.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this in a media statement: ‘The recent developments in the local and national socio-political affairs of India will have an overall impact on the democratic commitment of the entire South-East Asian Region blah blah… and the United States will continue to bomb Pakistan to defend the same’.  Or something to that effect, we can’t be sure.

Anna Hazare announced that he would fast until someone mentioned him in print again, in comic strips or otherwise.

Baba Ramdev advised everyone to take a deep breath and chill.

When we questioned a child, who studies from the booklet the Maharashtra Board likes to call its history textbook, about contemporary Indian history, he said – “India became independent. Then whole world was black-and-white, like in those old song videos my parents watch on TV. Then I was born! Then – excuse me I have to go watch IPL.”

Rumours circulating in South Block point towards ninety-year-old cartoonist R K Laxman being declared Public Enemy Number One.

Meanwhile, when questioned about the shortage of storage facilities for a bumper harvest, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Public Distribution Mr. Sharad Pawar, opined that someone should do something about it.

 * * *

IROM SHARMILA’S REPLY

Dear Anna,

Thank you for inviting me to join in your crusade. It’s a little too late to join forces – you broke your fast today morning. I am writing to you now to explain why I would never have joined you in the first place.

Others have disputed your ends; I object to your means.

Do you believe we’re still a democracy? If yes, why did you hold a democratically elected government to ransom? If not, what makes you think you have any right to protest?

Why have you never stood for elections? Why not make the Jan Lokpal Bill your campaign plank? Which electorate wouldn’t have voted you to Parliament? I wish you’d raised your voice inside Parliament rather than outside it.

Would you be Speaker? Do you decide which bills to admit? Are you the one who mandates how soon they must be passed? Who made you the one-man Standing Committee that could modify the Bill? Lately, it seems as though our country is governed by an unelected oligarchy, where you are the first among few equals.

And your supporters may gherao my house for this, but I think threatening to fast until Parliament passes your version of the Bill is akin to a child throwing tantrums. India isn’t Anna – you are only one amongst the many who have the right to decide.

During your agitation, Mumbai taxi union leader A L Quadros declared that cabbies would strike work and the Government would be responsible for the inconvenience caused. The ever-industrious Tata Steel decided to cease operations for a day. Sensex fell to an 18-month low.

Does it make sense to lose money while trying to save it by preventing corruption?

I began fasting when the Assam Rifles mindlessly shot ten people waiting at a Manipur bus stop; you began when the Government refused to include members of civil society in the committee that was to draft the Bill. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has transformed the army into an irresponsible monster; the Jan Lokpal Bill will create an independent body that will be answerable to no-one. I am fighting against a draconian law that has been in effect for 53 years; you are fighting against one that is yet to be passed.

The Manipur government has repeatedly arrested and force-fed me; you’ve had the audacity to refuse to leave jail.

Both you and I worship Gandhiji and his methods. He used them to protest against the British and their oppressive policies. I use them to protest against the army and the atrocities they’ve committed. You’re using them to protest against the government of the nation of which he is called Father.

I have been fasting for eleven years and the Centre has barely taken notice. You’ve been doing the same for twelve days and Parliament has already capitulated.

There’s only one positive thing that I can say about your methods which, alas, is the only thing that seems to matter these days:

They work.

* * *

MY FIRST CRICKET MATCH

Not really. But the first that I planned, and sat down to watch. Entirely. Almost.

Sitting with friends who are as clueless about cricket as I am. Recognising few on the Indian team and fewer on the other. Wondering when Rahul Dravid stopped playing. Astonished that Sourav Ganguly is now a commentator. Wondering who’d pay him to do it.

Screaming after every four. Screaming for sixes. Hoping that Pakistani players would herniate themselves while running to the boundary. Asking a friend to spend the rest of the match in the loo because someone hit two fours while she went to relieve herself.

Wishing I was at Mohali.

Brahminising the player’s name to Salman Bhatt. Googling for the rules of Powerplay. Feeling that LBW is such a sad way to be sent off.

Plotting to assassinate Yuvi when he got out on a duck. Thanking God for Tendlya and his luck. Bashing up friend with pillow when Tendlya’s wicket fell.

Having my heart leap into my mouth every time a wicket fell. Realising it’s only a replay.

Wishing that five wicket dude would drop dead.

Cursing the Indian batting order. Watching two episodes of The Big Bang Theory when things got boring.

Being firmly convinced that India will lose after finishing up at 260.

Watching Yuvraj redeem himself. Predicting when the next wicket would fall and being right. Mostly.

Getting involved.

Enjoying the sight of Sonia Gandhi leaning against the giant Gatorade bottle with her sari tucked in at the waist. Cheering for Aamir and his moustache. Wanting to dance to the songs they played during the breaks in play.

Praying that the last man’s wicket is taken, even after having won the match. Having my prayers answered.

Feeling a twinge at the sight of Afridi with tears in his eyes.

Thinking that if India had played Pakistan at Wankhede, match day and the next would have been public holidays.

Going to the food court at Juhu beach for dinner. Spotting two well dressed women with dishevelled hair hopping along the road with a huge Tricolour. Hearing pro-India slogans being shouted out by young men hanging out of car windows. Shouting along with them.

Meeting two other crazy friends who want to continue celebrating all the way to Marine drive.

Having my rickshawallah told – India jeet gayi, bhaiyya, ghar jaake aish karo! –  by complete strangers, on the way home.

Am going to watch the Final on a giant screen with a cricket crazy horde in the college canteen. Hoping Nehra and Zaheer do an even better job. And hoping, praying and believing that Tendlya will score his 100th 100.

The last time I felt so patriotic was when Rehman won his Oscars. And I didn’t even like Jai Ho.

I still don’t love cricket. But I’ve begun to understand why everyone else does.

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