Clipboard02

Farrukh Dhondi

21.

On a domestic flight at an Indian airport I passed through ‘Security’. I was carrying a laptop bag with the book I was reading, a couple of magazines, the dirty socks I had neglected to pack in my checked-in baggage the night before, the obligatory note book and a pencil with an eraser in case the plane was delayed and I had to resort to passing the hours by indulging in the self-deceptive vanity of Sudoku.
I had been conscientious while packing my bags not to steal any left-over shampoos and shower liquids from the bathroom of the sumptuous hotel at which I had been a guest—not from any moral scruples but…
STOP! IT’S 11.45 ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND I WAS WRITING THIS COLUMN TO MEET THIS NIGHT’S DEADLINE FOR MY DNA EDITORS. MY NIECE WALKS IN. SHE LOOKS STUNNED AND PURPOSEFUL. BOMBAY IS BEING BOMBED SHE SAYS AND I FOLLOW HER TO THE ROOM WITH THE TV. THE HORROR UNFOLDS. MACHINE GUN FIRE AT THE LEOPOLD CAFÉ IN KOLABA AND THEN FOOTAGE OF POLICE SWARMING INTO THE TAJ HOTEL. A VOICE TELLS US THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN KILLED IN GRENADE ATTACKS WITHOUT SPECIFYING HOW AND WHERE; THAT THERE HAVE BEEN BOMBS AT ‘CST’, WHICH I FIND, AFTER SCREAMING OUT MY INDIGNATION AT THE ANNOYING INDIAN HABIT OF USING INITIALLED ABBREVIATIONS, IS CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS – OR WHAT WE IN OUR YOUTH CALLED BORI BUNDER…… AND GUNFIRE AND TERROR IN VILE PARLE….
I have no idea whether the editors of DNA will accept and print this column. By Friday, when it is supposed to appear, there will be acres of newsprint reporting on and authoritatively speculating on the atrocity. I confess I have no information, authority, experience or expertise which any reader would need. Then why write this column? Why not write an e-mail to the editor instead saying that I am sure the space is needed for more important things and I shall resume when I am needed?
Because nothing — no life, no process, no triviality of routine should succumb to the pressures of terrorism. The trains must run, the hotels be peopled, the mosques be prayed in, the buns and bracelets sold and the columns be written and published.
Terror never achieves its goal because it has none. What was the point of killing hundreds of passengers on hi-jacked airlinersl, crashing them into the tall towers of New York and murdering a couple thousand or more unsuspecting hapless people? It had no strategic purpose. It was a gesture. Al Qaeda may argue that it was a declaration of war, a sort of replica of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour to signal to the USA that a new force was at war with it.
The Japanese didn’t camouflage their war planes over Pearl Harbour. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack on the World Trade Centre. The Imperial Japanese and the ideologically isolated Islamicist politicians of Al Qaeda were making a declaration of war to the USA: “Bring it on!”

The perpetrators of today’s terror in Mumbai – a few machine-gun wallahs, a couple of grenades, some amateur bombs, must have taken less strategic intelligence to pu together than that which is needed for running a paon-bhaji stall in Kalamboli.
These Mumbai nuisances are no Pearl Harbour or 9/11. They are directed at no one and nothing. Their random, unideological choice of targets and victims deprives them of any iota of consideration as fighters for any cause at all. By their deeds shall ye know them. These are motiveless criminals.
What I meant to say when I started was that I had avoided carrying liquids in my hand luggage, but a group of Europeans carrying  wine bottles in theirs were good-humouredly cautioned and let through. Air traffic must go on. Columns must be written…..


 

22.

I was in Mumbai when the terrorists struck the city. I am now in London. On my return four Pakistani friends got in touch with me.
The first, one Mahmood J, from a prominent Lucknow emigre family, got through to me on my mobile after, he said, numerous attempts. The vagaries of the network or my own ineptitude with these ever-changing handset models had precluded me knowing that he had called. He had been in Pakistan visiting his parents at the time of the terror. Now we were both in London and I called him.
“Kya haal hai yaar?” he asked. “Is the Pak-India antagonism disposing you to ignore my calls and texts?” The question contained a tiny percentage of seriousness. Mahmood is a poet. He prayed the incident wouldn’t lead to war. I said the Indian state, the government, opposition and ruling classes would not let it come to that. His theory, in a few words, was that the jehadi tendency and its troops in Pakistan were fearful of defeat, they were on the run because they were fast losing the support of the population for their narrow and murderous cause and they had carried out the Mumbai action in order to “open a new front”.
My second Pakistani contact was the writer, journalist and close friend Tariq Ali. At the time of our talking he was still sceptical about the terrorists being definitely identified as Pakistani nationals trained and sent to Mumbai by Lashkar-e-Toiba. Tariq is as questioning as they come and has variously pronounced Pakistan a failed state. In studying the gestation of Islamicist terror world wide and particularly in the subcontinent, he had come to the conclusion that this attack on Mumbai could have been the work of indigenous Islamicists – Kashmiris, Hyderabadis, Muhammad Ali Roadists – as Pakistani journalists could find no trace of the address or family of the single captured terrorist A. Qutub who confessed that he was from Faridkot in Pakistani Punjab. This conversation with Tariq took place before Qutub’s father confirmed from Faridkot that this was indeed his son.
My third and dear friend on this list was Nadira Lady Naipaul, wife of V.S. She calls saying “Thank God you’re back, can you spend a few days in Wiltshire (their country house) with V.S. while I go to Pakistan to attend to the ceremonies and family affairs of my brother?”
She had called me while I was in India a month or more before to say that her brother, a Major General in the Pakistani army who had been the soldier responsible for anti-Islamicist operations, had been forced into retirement by Musharraf and had now been ambushed and assassinated. She was very close to him, as distressed as the loss could make her and was now going to Pakistan to be with her children and attend the final rites. Of course I would go to Wiltshire, but she was to keep her head down and make no pronouncements to anyone while she was there.
And the fourth contact: by phone from Pakistan, from a journalist I must not name who tells me that rumour in the country says that President Mr Asif Zardari is awaiting his moment to flee Pakistan and go into voluntary exile in a country which will accept him and allow him to enjoy the wealth he accumulated as Prime Minister Benazir’s husband and the reputed “Mr. Ten Percent.”
I offer these stray conversations with Pakistani friends to illustrate my long-standing conviction that Pakistan is not the single entity on which India or anyone else should wage a war. It is a state in which as they say the three A’s rule – Army, Allah and ‘Amrika’. There is no doubt that the writ of the democratically elected parliament and government doesn’t command the allegiance of the entire army or the entire population.
The Army of Pakistan, descended from the traditions of the British Imperial army and the tribalism of the Regiment and Officer’s Mess, has been corrupted by years of martial  rule and usurpation of the civil power into one of the ‘enterprise owning’ if not the capitalistic bureaucracies of the country. They siphon off the funds the Americans have thrown at them. They control what little development the country has had. They are to Pakistan what the Russian mafia is to that country – the closest thing to a ruling class.
The army is infiltrated at all levels by Islamicists – jawans who have been brought up to believe that Hindus are the eternal enemy and are naturally bewildered when they are ordered into battle to subdue Pathan tribals who fight under the banner of ‘Islam’.
The conspiracy that murdered Nadira Naipaul’s brother feared exposure. There should really  be no doubt that Zardari is telling the truth when he says that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were not sent by the official state of Pakistan or even with that state’s knowledge.
Pakistan is in an undeclared state of civil war, a battle for dominance between the factionalised army, a civil government which has a partial hold on the allegiance and over the very territory it claims to govern and the Islamicist network which owes allegiance to an ideology which is antithetical to the cultural, social, intellectual and political evolution of the modern world.
And that failed, fragmented and furtive State is armed with deliverable nuclear weapons aimed at India.
Each of my four Pakistani friends – a more civilised and world-aware bunch I cannot think of – was on the side that wants to defeat the Islamicists, reform the army top and bottom so it accepts its role as the instrument of the people’s will, expressed through a democracy and each of them represent the opinion in Pakitan which wants a progressive modern subcontinental state – socialist or rampant capitalist, take your pick.
No sabre rattling stance in the wake of the terrorist attacks can serve this perspective, which must now be adopted, with whatever variations suit our politicians’ purposes, as the Indian policy towards a crippled, offending and dangerous neighbour, a relative in so many ways and today a fratricidal fox.
I have no doubt that wiser and more well-informed heads in our Foreign Ministry have come to similar conclusions. The cries for ‘revenge’ are meaningless. What are we going to do?  Send some deviant religious fanatics (Hinduism holds out no promise in heaven of 72 Apsaras for the killing of non-Vedantists) with machine guns in dinghies to Karachi? Attempt ‘surgical’ attacks on known and pin-pointed terrorist training camps? Win the accusation internationally of brutal ‘collateral murder’, give the Pakistani army the excuse to take charge of the state and launch a war on their terms?
No. The lesson from the terror attacks has to be a realistic assessment of the balance of forces in the volatile state of Pakistan which can, even after sixty years, be seen as the amputated limb of the subcontinent, severed from its secular brain and destiny.
That doesn’t mean that India does nothing. It has had its resignations and will have its enquiries and investigations, but ultimately the cradle of this terror which is Pakistan has to be internationally assisted to exorcise this murderous spirit. The right side in the undeclared civil has to win.


 

23

 

The old English tease goes “Sticks and stones will break y bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s a lying boast. In the beginning, says the bible, was the Word. And ever since then it has been hurting.
Britain, covered this week in the worst snow for decades has now been hit by three Tsunamis of word power.
First there was hapless Prince Harry, who made a private video three years ago while he was in the army, referring  to a platoon-member as “our Paki friend”. The video was leaked and a certain amount of hell broke loose. Though  that this sort of banter goes on in the armed forces, in the playground, on the streets and in the saloon bars of pubs, British hypocrisy demands that everyone professes to be shocked by Harry’s language, indiscretion or, some say, his deep-rooted royal racism.
One would have thought that other public figures would watch what they said even in private — but Oh! Oh! Not so! Carol Thatcher, the daughter of Margaret “there’s no such thing as society” Thatcher, a journalist and minor celebrity, who won some TV game show in which contestants famous for being famous live in the jungle and eat live caterpillars, made a boo-boo. She works on the BBC’s The One Show and this week, sitting in their Green Room, off- duty and off-screen, she referred, in the company of her co-presenters to an international tennis player as
a ‘Golliwog’.
One or two of the company complained sneakily to the Executive Producer of the programme and Carol was immediately sacked.
The G word has been toxic for some time. The black face with the wiry hair and inane grin above the bow tie and colourful waistcoat, apart from being a favourite colonial doll used to be the label mascot of a make of jam called Robertsons. With the arrival of black immigrants from the Caribbean in Britain who demanded social and political equality, the process of rewriting imperial history began. In its wake came the purging of texts, Black and White Minstrel shows and fictional works.
Enid Blyton’s publishers were asked to withdraw the black-faced character ‘Sooty’ from her Noddy stories. Golliwogs were purged from books and Agatha Christie’s story Ten Little Niggers had its title changed to Ten Little Indians.
Robertson’s jam came under heavy pressure to reform its label and they gave in after a fight. I don’t know if they’ve replaced the Jolly with the portrait of a white, rosy-cheeked angel, or whether they’ve resorted to plain prose as even angels might give offence to religions that don’t believe in them.
More serious was the verbal blunder that one of Gordon Brown’s speechwriter’s made. Pandering to the supposed xenophobia of the population, he promised, from a parliamentary platform, ‘British jobs for British workers’. The chickens, or the vultures in the shape of unofficial strikes that hit twenty centres of manufacture in Britain, came home to roost. The international oil company TOTAL, with a refinery on the east coast of England was in the process of expanding its plant and sub-contracted the expansion to an Italian firm. The Italians brought in, by dormitory ship, two hundred Italian workers familiar with the job of putting up such a plant.
The British workers in he existing plant were having none of it. In the style of the Maratha Manoos who protested in Mumbai against Biharis coming to the city to work, the refinery’s workers walked out and called on other oil workers round the country to join them in unofficial industrial action to ensure that ‘British jobs went to British workers.’ Poor blundering Gordon Brown couldn’t endorse the strike or fulfil his promise because Britain’s membership of the European Union makes it illegal to discriminate in the employment of any member nationality. A politician’s word is never his bond. Careful what you say.


 

24.

An entrepreneur in India has announced that he is going to rival Coca Cola with the mass manufacture of a drink he has concocted entirely out of cow’s urine.
While wishing him the best of luck – what a sensational  joke on civilisation-so-far if his drink overtakes Coke and Pepsi in world sales – I feel he is being a trifle  over-optimistic.
Coke, I am told, was initially made out of the Coca plant, the stuff that comes from the Colombian mafia and gives us this day our daily snort. It must have in the early days when it contained this now illegal substance,  had the allure of the effects of a mild drug, like having a fag or a peg of whisky. I don’t suppose the customers of the early Cola had any reason to be instinctively revolted by the idea of a vegetable extract. Cows’ urine, however, doesn’t suggest immediate drinkability and one doesn’t start licking one’s chop and waiting for it as one does when food is announced at a Parsi wedding or the Parsi ceremony of initiation into the faith, called a ‘navjote’.
In our contemporary offerings of powdered cocaine, illegal everywhere, there has crept in, I am told, an additional revulsion factor. Cocaine is smuggled into countries such as the UK and India by being parcelled in tight, rubber, protective packages and being carried in the anal or other orifices of the smuggler to avoid detection. It is then parcelled out, my research tells me, in small paper and plastic packets. I am not sure if the people who breathe-in this powder for kicks, mostly films stars and the rich and idle, realise or care that it has been up the backside of some ‘mule’ who smuggles drugs. The Mumbai police tell me that the trade is common amongst Nigerians, though I don’t think one can take this racial slur, or anything else, from the Mumbai police as nothing but the truth. If I were, Ahura Mazda forbid, a cocaine snorter, this simple fact of its method of conveyance would put me right off, however good the insulation, for which I am reliably told, layers of condoms are used.
As any young Parsi, not past the age of dread, knows, there are two nightmares born of religious tradition that haunt the imagination: The first is the fact that one’s dead body, when the time comes, will be fed to the vultures in the stone ‘towers of silence’ – eternal silence it would seem, except for the screeching of vultures. (That’s the nightmare. For all I know vultures may make gobbling sounds like turkeys. I was always feeble on ornithology!)
And the second, bizarre though it sounds, is that  Zoroastrian ritual requires that, while being initiated into the faith, the young recruit has to sip from a bowl of cow’s urine. For weeks before the initiation takes place before an audience of the family’s guests, the revulsion at the thought of that swig sets in. I was told by a particularly vicious older neighbour who had been through it that if I didn’t partake and just pretended to sip, I would never be a real Zoroastrian and would consequently be rejected from heaven when the time came. Heavy shit! or Holy Cow! as Batman would say, for a seven-year-old to absorb.
As time has added experience, I have come to believe and argue that ending up as vulture-excreta is not such a bad thing in our ecologically conscious times. All vultures welcome after the anaesthetic of death.
But about sipping cow’s urine there has been no reconciliation. Argue as much as you like that it is an organic detoxing agent or reduces cholesterol or promotes you to the position of Prime Minister in three easy sips, I can’t reconcile myself to the idea of this substance as a rival to Black Label or even all-milk Horlicks, which still ensures sleep without nightmares


 

25

A friend of mine, way back in the 70s, had a little rhyme:
“Charsi kaddi na marsi!
Aggar marsi
Tho chaalis admi agey karsi.”
Being English, he delivered this mantra in an unconvincing Punjabi accent picked up from itinerant pseudo-spiritual Indians cashing in on the mood of the times to “free up” some gullible white girl’s kundalini.
It was a versical boast, he alas, didn’t keep. He died, as did Bob Marley, of throat cancer before he vanquished his assigned forty.
Among his enemies were the Scotland Yard Drug Squad Yard who had arrested him several times for the possession of cannabis sativa in quantities which he held for sale and constant personal consumption. This herb, from Central America was known as marijuana (Mary Warner) or pot though later people used the Indian word ‘ganja’, pronouncing it to rhyme with goosy goosy gander. Its stem resin was known as hash – abbreviating the Middle Eastern ‘hashish’ – or Indianised as ‘charas’.
In those days when the Beat poets who acquired it on  karma-Cola travels and American hippy films and Beatles generation pop songs were spreading the charsi gospel, the state outlawed the drug. The underground was awash with a hundred varieties. As with this generation there comes an obsession with designer labels, so there was a spate of designer cannabis varieties to sample and boast about: Durban Poison from South Africa, Bombay Black, Nepalese Temple Balls, ‘Afghan’, inevitably mixed with opium, and the queen of all varieties, Jamaican Sensimilia.
Then the Dutch legalised cannabis and began meddling with it. Just as the Portuguese botanist Alphonso cross-bred and created the delicious variety named after him, the Dutch cross-bred the two main cannabis varieties — cannabis sativa from the Americas and cannabis indica, the more stubbly plant from the subcontinent.
It would of course be the Americans who turned it commercial. A company called the Sacred Seed Company of Northern California (SSCNC) began to circulate their own strain. Their acronym may have suggested the name, but I prefer the etymology which, inspired by its strong stink, called it ‘Skunk’! Any branding executive in an ad-company should give his/her right eye (OK, the middle toe of the left foot!) for coming up with the name.
The last Labour government of the UK attempted to isolate and emphasise the dangers of cocaine and hypodermic heroin and so decided to put cannabis in a lower category of bad drug. Though still illegal, it was made plain to users that if they were caught with a Nepalese Temple Ball or two, Inspector Knacker would turn a blind eye or the other cheek and let the offender off with the British equivalent of “have a nice day, now!” Unfortunately the invasion of Skunk had by this date driven the gentler varieties out of the market.
This domination of the market has led to a reconsideration of the legal status of cannabis because it has, in most cases of use by teenagers, especially young men, become a Skunk habit.
And what would be wrong with that? Well, Skunk blows your head away, basically because the cannabis effect on the said head is a combination between the hallucinatory and even paranoidal effects of a drug called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the calming, even ‘downing’ and anti-psychotic effect of another ingredient called cannabidiol (CBD). Skunk has been bred to lower the content of the latter and increase the content of the former.
The common or garden variety of ganja, the brand my dhobi used to pluck from the wayside and smoke to keep the shallow-water blues at bay, contained about 4% of THC. The Skunk I can buy for £150 and ounce from my local Tambourine Man contains 16% of THC. This has its dangers and is liable to lead one to errors worse than substituting the neighbours’ saree for the aunts’ in the returning wash.


 

26

My friend’s brother, a Hindu, was cremated in London last month. The ceremony was conducted in a ‘chapel of rest’ where the mourners sat in pews as in a church and, in this case, because he was a popular young man, stood behind the rear glass.
The body was confined to a coffin placed on a stage which looked like a four-poster bed with drawn curtains on the side and front. A Hindu priest, family and friends, read their tributes to the dead from a lectern at the side. The rituals over, the curtains were drawn by an unseen hand and the coffin was tilted through an electronically operated door behind it, into the electrical furnace to the sound of final music.
The mourners filed out and stood briefly in a garden of remembrance where wreaths and flowers had been laid in designated spots for several of that day’s dead and then went on to a funeral feast at an inn a mile away. It was a dignified way to mark an end.
Not dignified enough for one Davender Ghai a 70 year old Hindu from Newcastle who has moved a British court for permission to be cremated, when the time comes, on a funeral pyre on the banks of a chosen river. When he applied to the ‘municipality’, he was refused. The 1902 Cremations Act specified that cremations had to take place in coffins in confined furnaces.
Mr Ghai’s lawyers contend that this Act deprives them of their human rights to a dignified funeral and that only the traditional method of death by fire would do. Mr. Ghai expects that if he wins his action, thousands of Hindus will follow him into the ether above the Tyne and Thames and other rivers. It is my guess that more than thousands of British people, not wanting ash from funeal pyres spread across the countryside, will protest any such outcome. There will certainly be an appeal if Mr. Ghai wins.
While the outcome of Mr. Ghai’s petition is intriguing enough another thought has overtaken my anxiety about it. If his plea succeeds, may it not be followed by other religions demanding their ancient rites? Being a Parsi Zoroastrian myself, I can see some stalwarts of my community  petitioning to set up Towers of Silence from which we could feed our dead bodies to the vultures in England’ green and pleasant land.
I may even have supported such a move, except for the fact that it has come to light that 95% of Indian vulture species have been wiped out by eating the flesh of cattle contaminated with the drug Diclofenac.
This drug is a widely used anti-inflammatory medicine. I was prescribed it myself for a swollen knee. It agrees with cows and Parsis and is indeed beneficial for them, but is fatal when ingested by vultures.
Now knowing the Parsi stock and race as intimately as I do, I can vouch for the fact that a large percentage of Parsis in Britain will have been prescribed and swallowed a prescription or two of Diclofenac – as is their right. My civic and ecological duty is to point out that this being the case, setting up Towers of Silence will be doing the vultures of Britain no favours.
However, if all British Parsis vow, perhaps at their initiation ceremonies, as an additional religious duty, never to touch Diclofenac and to resort to other remedies for inflamed body-parts, I may fall in line and support the old ways.
But as it stands, I see it as my duty to appear in any British court where, inspired by Mr. Ghai, some Rustom Subprimewalla or Freni Immoralearningswalla has filed a  petition to allow disposal-by-birdy, and to roundly  denounce the process.
To the cynics I say that I am second to none in championing our traditions, but saving the planet comes first!


 

27

The trial of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the baby-faced killer of Mumbai will focus India’s collective attention on the ease with which the terrorists entered our main metropolis. They slipped by several checks and defied others, landing clandestinely on our coast and proceeding with their mission from hell.
In the north of England this week twelve young men, of and around the age of Ajmal Kasab, ten of them Pakistani citizens, have been arrested on suspicion of plotting to cause the same sort of mayhem and mass killings that baby-face is accused of. Only, these gentlemen didn’t scale the white cliffs of Dover at night or land on some Hebridian island after crossing from the North Pole. They came in through Heathrow airport on perfectly legitimate British student visas.
On their arrest, which was precipitated by a strange error on the part of the police officer in charge of anti-terror operations in Britain’s foremost police force, the circumstances of their entry began to be questioned. The British media’s instinct was to blame Pakistan for ‘exporting’ these alleged terrorists.  The Pakistan High Commissioner retaliated with the perfectly correct observation that British immigration policy, greedy for foreign money, had slipped up in its scrutiny of students and granted visas to people who had manifestly come to this country with no intention of  studying.
The annual income of British educational institutions from foreign student fees is £11 billion – much more than the combined bonuses paid to British bankers after the economic crash and enough to bail out 11 motor car companies the size of Tata’s Jaguar/Landrover.
Ten thousand of these students come each year to Britain from Pakistan. Some enrol legitimately in Oxford, Cambridge or the London School of Economics. They each  have to provide acceptance letters from ‘recognised’ or registered UK educational institutions and prove that they can pay for their course.
The letters of admission for some of the 10,000 Pakistanis admitted each year, come from institutions with names such as the Oxford College of Management Sciences, UK College of Arts and Technology, the UK Learning Academy and Lincoln’s College.
The problem: The Oxford College of Management Sciences is not in Oxford. It is 200 miles away in a seedy Asian suburb of Manchester on the first floor of a wholesale grocery outlet. The UK College of Arts and Technology is a two-room affair next to the Hajj Travel Agency and the Lahore Lunch House.
It now emerges that scores of these fake  educational institutions have issued thousands of letters of admission to young men from the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and from Mirpur in Pakistani controlled (OK, ‘occupied’ if you must, but does India really want them back?)Kashmir.
The colleges sell admission letters to them for £50 each. The ‘students’ get their visas, enter the UK and never go anywhere near the colleges. They get jobs in the Pakistani ghettoes of northern cities and when their visas are about to expire, pay a further £1200 for a certificate which says that they attended the course diligently and are now diploma holders of the institution. This enables the new ‘graduate’ to petition  the UK Home Office for a further three years’ visa to gain work experience in the UK and these are usually granted.
The racketeers, Pakistani con-men who run these institutions should have anticipated the attention they would attract when terrorists began using their entry scam and were caught doing it. The Home Office issues certificates of approval to these institutions and it now emerges, in the wake of the terror investigations, that one of these, The Cambridge College of Learning (who outside Alice In Wonderland would fall for such a name?)has been struck off the list because the police are investigating 2500 bogus admissions and a £5 million scam associated with this august campus – two rooms off a corridor in a derelict building in Bradford.


 

28

I have four beautiful, intelligent, educated, cultured and talented daughters and I haven’t sold any of them. Admittedly, they have never acted in an Oscar winning film and that may be the reason that no-one has as yet offered to buy them from me.
I hasten to add that if such an offer were made, if a journalist disguising himself as a Parsi millionaire from Canada, say, approached me and offered £200,000 for one or other of them, I would kick him in the ghoolies and have my bodyguards eject him from the house. And this is because I shall continue to believe that each of them is worth all the money in the world. Please note that I am not arguing that daughters and money can’t be weighed in the same scale. It’s being done all over the world – people sell their girls, put them up for fostering or adoption or abandon them to be taken care of by the uncaring State. I am merely expressing my own distaste for such practices and consequent resolve, prompted on learning that Rubina Ali’s father says he shares the distaste and the resolve.
The News of the World (NoW), a British Sunday paper reported that he doesn’t. They set up a sting operation and, posing as the spokesman for an Arab sheikh, offered Mr Ali, father of the nine-year-old actress in Slumdog Millionaire, money to adopt her. The father, the NoW said, asked for £200,000 and his brother backed him up by saying that this was no ordinary girl, she was an ‘Oscar girl’.
The NoW boasted that it could substantiate the story in every detail, though  the father subsequently denied it saying he may have misunderstood what the bargain was and, through unfamiliarity with English, thought that he was being approached for Rubina to act in another film.
The point of the story eluded me. The News of the World  on occasion investigates cases and events that need prodding and uncovering, but didn’t manage to convey what the point of this ’sting’ was.
Was it to demonstrate that fathers in Indian slums are so desperate or so greedy that they would agree to sell their daughters? Of course even if Mr Ali had been willing to go through with such a transaction, would it have proved a general case or exposed a national trait? If a sting operation involves reporters posing as arms salesmen selling equipment to Defence Ministers or their confidantes at huge cost to the tax-payer and handing over bribes to seal the sale, it does some service in the exposure of corruption. To feed a hungry leopard a few chickens and prove that the particular animal is a non-vegetarian is not much of a journalistic achievement.
Perhaps the News of the World wanted to demonstrate that the interaction between the world of British financed film and that of the Mumbai slum would produce fissures of irony, incongruity and dysfunction. Perhaps not – not the sort of thesis that would interest NoW readers.
No sale for adoption took place. I have no doubt that the talented little Rubina will be asked to act again when TV or film turns its attentions to young Indians – and they don’t have to be slum-dwellers either. From what one reads about Rubina she has observed and can mimic all sorts. I think we can conclude that there wasn’t really a story there or that the NoW are not equipped or dedicated to exposing the ways in which children are, alas, bought and sold in this sorry world.
As for my own daughters, all financial transactions are a one way flow. Except for the time when the eldest was a teenager and I forced a discount of pocket money by threatening to embarrass her when her friends came home with my incomparable recitation of T.S.Eliot’s Waste Land in a thick Indian accent. She paid up.


 

29

I am often asked which city I would ideally like to live in. I say London, Mumbai or New York and exclude Delhi, Toronto and Paris, each for different reasons, good to visit but not for life.
Now, after a very few days of being here, I am inclined to add St. Petersburg, a captivating city, especially if one’s rooms are on the street where Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment and, where Gogol lived and in whuich Tchaikovsky wrote the Pathetique Symphony before dying, officially of cholera and unofficially by his own hand when his Conservatoire colleagues discovered he was gay. But maybe learning Russian would be too much.
One associates the Soviet Union with queues and so it was with no sense of surprise that on arrival our planeload was herded into an immigration hall which was more crowded that the 8 am Mumbai local from Borivili to Churchgate. This crowd, difficult to differentiate into queuing streams, pushed is way towards passport control and liberty! – into another tiresome queue for taxis.
During the Cold War (ref: the Reader’s Digest) we read about Moscovites queuing for 24 hours for a loaf of bread. No more. Socialism and queues at the bakers, vegetable sellers, butchers, fishmongers etc. are dead.
Cities, nations, are characterised by their architecture,  language, food and dress. St Petersburg displays the most fascinating and consistently palatial architecture in the world. Its centre, apart from the distinctness of the buildings that house them, has been transformed by capitalism into the High Street of any other European and now oriental city. The house where Dosteoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment is now the proud outlet for Herz Rent-a-car and American Express – crime and punishment indeed! I don’t suppose Kentucky Fried Chicken will ever completely replace our Tandoori tangdi, but it’s certainly having a go at Borscht, blinies and caviar.
But, going back to queues, even worse than the one at passport control was the crush there was at the entrance to The Hermitage, St. Petersburg’s wonderful, wonderful art gallery, housed in what used to be the Czars’ Winter Palace, stormed in 1917 by Lenin and followers.
Men, women and children scrambled for position in the ticket queue, like the public fighting to get on a Delhi bus.
And after a few hours of viewing one of the best art collections in the world, when one sought and found the public lavatories of the museum another sorry divisive fact of our world became evident. What continues to amaze me is that no feminist movement of any determination has arisen to combat the scandal of women’s urban public toilet provision. All over the world women have to queue for ten times as long as men for access. Men pop in and out of urinals, whistling and nonchalant. Women get stuck in a painfully slow queue.
Perhaps they don’t want to draw political attention to the physiological differences which necessitate more extensive female facilities. While fighting to stop the Taleban burning down girls’ schools, or putting an end to dowry and its cruelties are just causes, surely a movement called Women for Instant Lavatorial Liberty (WILLy)or something is sorely overdue?
And talking about women, at whom I stare a lot, the St. Petersburg girls in their twenties are, with their squarish faces, high, delicate noses and small, shrewdly disdainful eyes, beautiful and alluring (I speak as I would of my daughters!– Is my description biased by having lived with Parsi noses and large dark pools of Keralite eyes?) But, looking further, out of scientific curiosity (for starters), one notices that there are no beautiful older women about. What happens? It is legendary that among some races of India, the supple brown beauties of one decade turn into fat ghee-mamas of later ones. Some similar law of nature seems to operate in Petrograd. At my age, a pity.


 

30

Being a fan of the American writer Philip Roth, I find that his latest novels are heavily preoccupied with  bodily deterioration, hospitalisation and the tedious, procedures of modern medicine that strive to hold the old machine together for a little longer. Though these passages, in his hands, are interesting enough, they made me vow to spare my own readers any ‘organ recital’. I am now about to break my promise. Caveat emptor.
I have a wonky left knee which rocks, rolls and occasionally dislocates, sending me hurtling as when I descended steep steps in a crypt in Ravenna, Italy to view mosaics, slipped and crashed on the same knee. It was OK for a while but this week it became necessary to operate on it and take out some fragments of chipped bone and cartilage. I asked my surgeon if he could get rid of the genetic wonk while he was spring cleaning and he said no. He would have done it had I been thirty years younger, but at my age the elasticity of the muscles around wouldn’t hold. Fair enough.
I emerged from the spring cleaning quite high on morphine  and Mr Farid Khan, my surgeon at the Blackheath Hospital in his dismissing chat said that the science for fixing my particular sort of wonk hadn’t been invented when I could have benefited from it and neither had the MRI scans that enabled him to diagnose what my problem was.
In a sense I have lived just a step or a few decades ahead of some of the inventions of medical science from which I may have benefited.
I have worn spectacles for short sight most of my life and, had laser shaving and the cure for short-sight been discovered during my teens, I may have induced my parents to pay for it. After all, who wants to go through adolescence being called ‘Ai, chashmish’ or ‘bul-bul’?
And I would have had my left knee wound up to marathon abilities.
It’s not quite like being born before antibiotics were discovered. Yes, one died of syphilis because they weren’t, but as soon as they were, they could be administered to the patient and hey presto! There isn’t an age at which they don’t work.
The progress of medical science has huge socio-political consequences. People, witness Philip Roth, stay older for longer and the economies of the West, which use the earnings of the young to pay the pensions of the old, are getting seriously unbalanced by the ratio of old to young increasing.
Consider China where the one-child-per-family policy may have tackled over-population, but in a generation there will be twice as many oldies as there will be young people. If China is moving towards universal State pensions this will pose a serious problem.
And what about the scans that enable the sex of embryos to be determined before birth and gives rise to millions of clandestine abortions of female foetuses? Imagine a China with several times as many males as there are females. The country will then have to adopt the Mahabharat solution of a woman marrying several brothers (the baant ke ‘khao’ principle) or indeed there is the risk of horded armies flowing over the borders into Burma, Assam and further afield in search of brides.
My feminist friends tell me that even though it isn’t official policy to ration the size of Indian families, female foetuses are regularly slaughtered by couples who want only men children. India and points East would suffer the same shortage and one would have to look to the West, as Indian males have been doing for a while.
The competition will probably lead to what we can, for politeness’ sake call ‘the women wars’ — a threat as destructive of the peace of future generations as global warming, medieval ideologies and unfettered medical advance.


Top^

Next>>

Reviews Index>>

 

 

 

Advertisements