Writings

If Rama really vanquished Ravana…

Burning effigies is usually the proof that you cannot touch the real person. It is done by the groups who need to express their collective anger.
It has happened during Bofors scandal when ABVP burnt the effigies of Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh was hurt and his family was upset. The worse moment in his life was when his father Harvanshrai Bachchan asked him whether he was involved in the scam.
The effigy burners didn’t need the proof of his involvement. Allegations were enough for them.
On the other hand, the Congress activists have burnt the effigies of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Amethi and in Kolkatta. For similar reasons.
It isn’t confined to India.
In USA, Kathy Griffin a female stand up comedian did it to President Donald Trump. The sight of Kathy holding the decapitated effigy that was burnt disturbed Trump’s 11-year-old son but a bit of debate showed that the conservatives had given a similar treatment to Barrack Obama!
Americans have a long history of citizens committing violence against president effigies to voice political dissent. Americans have a tradition of burning the effigies of their own Presidents. James Madison, John Tyler, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush have faced it.Uttar Pradesh RSS backed body burnt the effigy of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru after Congress criticised Narendra Modi recently. Atal Behari Vajpayee faced the same fate and that too at the hands of RSS’ student wing ABVP which wasn’t satisfied with his handling of Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. The list is long. One thing is clear that burning effigies is a symbolic protest. What is clearer is that you burn the effigies of leaders who are already in power, beyond your reach. Burning effigy creates a momentary ‘sense of victory’ among the groups who do it. And the anger against the ‘demon’ gets diluted. The same Amitabh Bachchan enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, the mass adulation. There even is an Amitabh Bachchan temple in Kolkatta where they worship him. Ditto for everyone else who has seen the photographs and reports of his own effigies being burnt. This brings me to the practice of burning of the effigy of Ravana. As the traditional story is, Ravana kidnapped Sita but never forced himself on her. He allowed her a separate place to live and didn’t even touch her.

Lord Rama waged a war against him, killed him and got his wife back. There doesn’t seem any justification to the custom of burning the effigy of Ravana, year after year, in the entire Hindu community. We have no reason to nurture the venom against Ravana centuries after the episode (whether real or fiction, history or mythology) where he had not done anything despicable. Why do we celebrate Dassera? Could it be that Ram didn’t win the war? And Ravana just let Sita free? And Ram never could kill Ravana? The entire episode of killing Ravan was added – like a lot of episodes in our mythology – to glorify ‘our side’? And seeing that ‘we’ couldn’t touch him, we started the custom of burning his effigy?

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Is BJP any different from Congress?

Mohan’s Musings

Is BJP any different from Congress?

BJP has not reached the pinnacle of power overnight. It has been the committed pracharaks and the leaders who have been at it crawling slowly as Jan Sangh.
The party won just 3 seats in the entire country during 52-57 parliamentary elections and 4 seats during the 57-62 elections.
I remember being a supporter as a nine-year-old. I had even joined the shaakhas of RSS for a few months and appeared for Hindi exams run by Nagpur. I did Prathmik, Prambhik, Pravesh and Parichay. Didn’t continue for Kovid and Rattan, though. I liked English more.
They taught us laathi and salute.
It was in Kandivali. The school was Dhanamal Vidyalaya.
I forget the name of the leader who came to campaign during ’57 but remember the cold night and warm greetings he received. He spoke in Hindi and was a good orator. Come to think of it, unlike Congress (where even the President and the Vice President give speeches with chits and notes and still fumble) BJP has several good orators.
To return to this nameless leader on this cold night, he talked about Hindu pride and we all, Sindhi refugees and their children, loved it. I had goose bumps. Sindhis didn’t like Muslims. They had to flee from Sindh because of them.
L K Advani and Hashu Advani were the popular figures who got more Sindhis to support Jan Sangh.
During the campaign, we could outdo the loudspeakers of Congress campaign and even stop it from proceeding further with our chant of Deepak Deepak. The election symbol of Jana Sangh was lamp. I have scrawled it on the walls during this period.
I don’t remember whether Jan Sangh candidate won or loss but this was the closest I got to the elections. I wrote the slips and witnessed the counting too. I remember how every mid-level leader would talk of growth.
I was disillusioned when these leaders refused to entertain the questions I had. I had read a few books and had asked questions. Questions that the RSS leaders (mid-level) didn’t encourage. Questions that Jan Sangh activists tried to answer but failed. And they didn’t like it.
As I got interested in writing and read progressive literature my opinion for the ideology of Jan Sangh started changing. They appeared koop mandook (frogs in the well) and I’d say it. They didn’t like it. And I came closer to Muslims. I saw that none of them resembled Aurangzeb, Genghes Khan or even Afzal Khan. They were like me. Middle class and struggling to survive. There was no reason to be hostile to them. I loved Urdu poetry, qawwalis and Urdu writings. I enjoyed Saadat Hasan Manto, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Ismat Chugtai and even Ibne Safi who wrote detective books. I also liked the songs sung by Mohammad Rafi, the music of Naushad and paintings of Maqbool Fida Husain.
My tryst with the progressive thinking too was brief. But let’s not get into that now.
I saw the Jan Sangh at close quarters during the emergency period and realised the strong network they have built up. They (and RSS) fought the tyranny of Mrs Indira Gandhi. I knew of the pracharaks or volunteers who would pick up pamphlets or handwritten messages and deliver them. It was fascinating but I kept away.
I saw Advani, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Pramod Mahajan and others at close quarters when BJP held its adhiveshan in Mumbai. I was a journalist and was covering them as a news-story. BJP was a disciplined lot. Advani was urging the party to spread its wings down south and about his dream of Ram Rajya.
Advani did bring ‘Ram Rajya’ and today BJP is ruling the country.
It is this obsession and single minded struggle that Jan Sangh became Bharatiya Janata Party and attained its dream. But it was his Rath Yatra that culminated in Babri Masjid demolition that divided the country once again after the partition.
It instigated riots and Mumbai bomb blasts. In fact, terrorism in India began after this. But BJP did come to power.
It happened when Vajpayee became the Prime Minister of a coalition government.
It also happened when Narendra Modi has become the Prime Minister with an absolute majority.
And now, I don’t see any difference between BJP of today and Congress of yesterday.
Even Narayan Rane is joining the BJP and someone has said that Congress would be left with only three persons – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel.
If this is what they wanted, they all could have joined Congress! What’s in a name.

*****

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Why do Indians have a short fuse?

Mohan’s Musings

Why Indians have a short fuse?

I first noticed the difference in the pranks they telecast on TV. In the western countries, I noticed, when the people are fooled with pranks for TV most take it sportingly and laugh about it. But try doing it to an Indian and see the response. You will only discover irritation, anger, snarl and even abuses.
Clearly, we are not a happy people. A recent survey places India at 122 in the index, even behind China and Pakistan.
There are many reasons for this. Let’s look at our leaders, their speeches, their photographs in the banners. Their index finger is always angrily pointing towards some unknown target. You’ll find them hurling accusations, abuses and threats at whosoever they imagine to be their rivals and even the communities, linguistic groups and castes they dislike. They spew venom, polarise the country and attain power.
This hatred percolates down. It also spreads in all directions.

*****

The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. They are further divided into about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes. The ‘lowest’ is Shudras and funnily, they too have their sub-castes.
The hostilities between the castes often begins at family level with parents telling their children not to interact with the ‘lower class’.
The conflict begins during the childhood itself.
The child belonging to one community, caste and linguistic group is ‘alerted’ about the ‘lower status’ of the others; teachers, principal and of course the classmates. The ‘others’ are described in derogatory terms.
The hatred increased when India was divided into states on the linguistic basis. It was virtually the return of the feudal system. The old time rulers were replaced by the elected representatives, the MLAs and MPs and the Ministers. The hostility remained the same, warlike. Whether two States fight over the division of river water (Cauvery) or over a city (Mumbai Aamchi) , it is always a warlike situation. The Gujarati has hated the Maharashtrian, the Tamilian has disliked the Hindi speaking visitors, the Bengalis refuse to give directions if asked in Hindi and so on.
The feudal hostilities have survived and have been nurtured.

*****

The guy who lives in a slum, sharing a 10×10 kholi with half a dozen others, sleeping on the uneven floor and struggling hopes for a comfortable life in future. The future may grant him an apartment, a vehicle, some money in the pocket and some more deposited in the bank but he finds that the life around him remains unchanged. The roads continue to have potholes. He cannot escape the clumsily installed speed breakers. He finds himself spending long hours travelling between his home and place of work in sub-human conditions. There is no escape. His frustration increases.
He finds himself burdened with high rate of taxes, bank charges, other liabilities and perceives everyone as trying to grab a part of his hard earned money. He starts noticing the unjust state and unfair society.
The government’s failure to provide the basic amenities isn’t limited to the struggling lower middle class. It is as unfair to the higher middle class. This class pays through their noses for apartments and penthouses worth crores. These amounts include property taxes, road taxes, GST, Income Tax and gets little in return.
You don’t get potable drinking water in India. It has to be filtered by you at your end. You may have sleek expensive cars but, despite collecting taxes, the state fails to provide the roads for you. It was the state that permitted the entry of high end cars and charged the manufacturers crores in fees and bribes to let them start their production but avoided its responsibilities of building the requires infrastructure, the roads and bridges.
Why, even in a city like Mumbai, the fire brigade is not equipped with snorkels that could reach the higher floors of the multi-storey buildings. Even the fire hydrants have disappeared below the hurriedly made roads of inferior quality that require repairs every year! And if the firemen would be lucky to locate a hydrant, it may not have water. The establishment that permitted multi-storey buildings didn’t create the required infrastructure.
This system failure affects everyone.
Every city in India is dirty and the propaganda machinery shifts the blame on the citizens. The truth is that it is the state that has failed in its legal duty to cope with the garbage and sewage. Shirking the responsibility, it is asking the citizens to participate in cleaning the beaches, the roads and the rivers.
If these surroundings don’t frustrate you, nothing will.
The seething anger comes out during the traffic jams. The working person sees the failed infrastructure as a major obstacle in his output. Whether it is a film star or a businessman struck in a traffic jam or a common man on the crowded railway station, everyone is the victim of the system failure.
The housewife waiting for a repairman for her washing machine, dishwasher, TV too finds herself frustrated with the uncertainty.

*****

The middle class is angrier. It sees the state waiving the loans of farmers, and the amounts run into lakhs of crore, year after year and writing off lakhs of crores of the rich borrowers but hounding the middle class for EMIs.
Red tape, corruption (India is number 2 in the index of corruption) and the middlemen makes your life miserable. Whether you want to add a name in the ration card, change the address in a telephone bill, close a connection the formalities in Indian system are time consuming.
An unsaid class war is going on in the streets of India. The babu sitting on his desk is uncooperative. He hates you.
The cop who stops a young man speeding on his expensive bike privately envies and hates him. He is happy to penalise him and happier to accept the bribe from him.
The state of silent war has been going on for years.
It is between the government machinery and the citizens, the poor and the rich, the failures and the successful.
The situation in India has become like what you experience in the crowded train. Those who are in the gravy train don’t want the others to get in and when some get in they develop the same attitude.

*****

India has always been a feudal society and continues to remain divided. Dynasties contribute to the frustration among the common man. The common citizen sees a large board proclaiming ‘No Entry’ whether he wants to enter Bollywood or politics. You can only serve the dynasties, not join them. They are divided into camps and groups whose domain remains under the absolute control of the Big Brother.
Why, even the situation in front of lovers is terrible. Short of space, they are also hounded by the moral brigade. People watch killings and lynching in public places silently but won’t allow you to kiss in public. The obstacles for the lovers are the same – rooted in our hate-based society: caste, community, gotra, class.

*****

An irony that has emerged in the recent years is the behaviour on the Internet.
Instead of the limited, educated population exposed to the newspapers, magazines and books we have hundreds of millions illiterates on the ‘net.
The same paintings of MF Husain and cartoons of Shankar that created mild controversies and became the topics for coffee table debates became ‘shocking’, ‘unacceptable’ and ‘offensive to the sensibilities’ of the people who had never been inside an art gallery or seen a cartoon weekly.
This has increased the conflict further. The war is between the intellectuals and the masses, between the elite and the state machinery that caters to vote banks.
These vote banks are being encouraged and enlarged by the short-sighted and opportunist politicians.
Social networking sites are no more social and happy places. You find yourself abused for simply airing your views by the illiterates and semi-literate trolls who neither understand nuanced statements nor the freedom of expression.
Why, even the well-intentioned Right to Information – RTI – has set the citizens against one another!
The reasons for the frustration and unhappiness of Indians are too many to list and analyse in an article. It would end up being a Mahabharta and talking of epics and mythology one finds that even the Rishis and Munis were not free from anger and frustration. They were prone to lose temper at the drop of a hat and issue a curse. The rulers in India have inherited the same short fuse.

*****

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Smoking – Dev Anand to Aamir Khan

Smoking – from Dev Anand to Aamir Khan / Mohan Deep*

When I see the girls, many in their teens, lighting cigarettes; not to talk of Meow Meow and other drugs, I remember the days I started smoking.
It was in Mumbai’s western suburbs Kandivali of early sixties. Being a sort of a rebel, I began early. I think the decision had already been made for me when I saw the first film of my life ‘Taxi Driver’ at six. The film started with a taxi driver sharing a match with Dev Anand. It was much later that I learned that sharing the same match stick between three was considered a jinx, could lead to a fight.
The film had Sheila Ramani who was my father’s cousin and played a bar dancer singing, “Ae meri zindagi, aaj raat jhoom le, aasmaan ko choom le / Kis ko pata hai kal aaye ke na aaye, ae meri zindagi”.
In fact, Dev Anand created an entire generation of smokers with his song in ‘Hum Dono’ – “Mai zindagi ka sath nibhata chala gaya / Har fikr ko dhune me udata chala gaya.
This was a period of stress for Indian youth. Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies had failed. His call for more engineers had been heeded by the people but his government failed to provide the promised opportunities for jobs that resulted in massive unemployment.
There would be long queues in the employment exchanges. One would bribe the clerks to get a call for interview, travel and stand in long queues only to be rejected at the end of the day.
Satyajit Ray showed this situation in one of his films where the unemployed Bengalis stand in the queues, the stark sun burning on their heads and making the struggle much more difficult. Like happened recently with the people in bank queues, young candidates would faint in the queues with occasional deaths. Hindi films of this period often reflected this reality with the boards of ‘No Vacancy’ outside the offices.
Smoking may have helped the worry to momentarily go away in smoke but this was never a solution.
We knew it and Dev Anand knew it. In fact, years later, I asked him about glamourising smoking only to be told that he used cigarette as a prop! Dev Anand wasn’t addicted to smoking.
But Ashok Kumar certainly was.
He saw the cigarette burning in my hand when I went to his Union Park bungalow to interview him and immediately asked eyes twinkling mischievously, “Cigarette hai na? Chalo, pichhware chalte hain.”
He had suffered from some heart issue and had been advised not to smoke. His wife Shobha Devi wouldn’t have liked it. Behind the bungalow, over the clouds of smoke, he gave me one of his most candid interviews.
Smoking certainly is an equaliser. If a desperate for nicotine Ashok Kumar grabbed my cigarette pack, Haji Mastan did it with a police constable. He had been arrested in a midnight swoop on his Juhu apartment, where he lived with his second wife, a look alike of Madhubala, Sona. Locked up, he finished the half complete cigarette packet of State Express. Unused to a life sans nicotine, even for an hour, he tapped the shoulder of the constable guarding his cell and asked him for cigarettes. The cop had only beedis. Mastaan, the don known for smuggling on the biggest scale, lit a beedi after decades.
“Mujhe mera bachpan yaad aa gaya!” Mastan told me. Yusuf Patel, sitting across us told me, “This is why I tell you not to smoke. Ye aisi aadat hai ke Haji Mastan ko bhi haath phailana pada.” Yusuf Patel never smoked and was a teetotaller.
I nodded. I knew enough.
Jawaharlal Nehru was a chain smoker. He tried quitting but always failed. He settled for cutting his cigarettes in two parts with a pair of scissors. He would smoke one half but within minutes reach for the other. Even yoga didn’t help. Nehru was an intense person who couldn’t do without his half hourly dose of nicotine. He found himself short-tempered without cigarette between his fingers. And he was at his charming best with Edwina Mountbatten sharing the flame with her.
Not only Nehru, even General Charles De Gaulle, the head of the State of France found it so difficult to quit cigars that he announced his resolution – not to smoke – in front of the entire army. He thought that such public announcement would strengthen his resolve. It didn’t. The army saw him lighting his cigar again, on the very next day.
It was as difficult for Shammi Kapoor who used to smoke 40-60 cigarettes a day. He could quit only when internet came to India! “Mouse replaced the cigarette,” he told me. Kapoor started spending long hours in front of the monitor. However, his nephew Rishi Kapoor didn’t need the mouse. When he decided to quit smoking – I too quit at the same time but about that latter – he made his whiskey pegs longer! He would sleep for long hours. A few days without nicotine, but with alcohol, were enough for him to get rid of the deadly habit.
When I asked him about his worsening dependence on alcohol he said irritatedly, “Cigarette chhod deeya na! Ab kya drink bhi chhod doon?” Rishi Kapoor is like a stubborn brat even at his age.
It was during the same period that I decided to quit. A little episode from the life of Gautam Buddha came to my mind. Buddha wrote about his ‘weakness’ for apples and how he overcame it. He removed all the apples from his room but retained one. He placed the apple on a high pedestal, visible from everywhere. He would do his daily chores and meditation everyday, occasionally watching his favourite fruit.
Slowly, the apple started rotting and decaying. He saw it happening everyday. In a few days the apple turned totally rotten and inedible. He realised that the apple didn’t mean as much to him now. Soon, he could do without it.
I did a similar thing with a little twist. I kept the half used cigarette packet on my bookshelf, visible from all corners.
I knew that 48 hours of abstinence was necessary for the nicotine to exit from the blood. The withdrawal symptoms reduce after this period. So, in reality, one has to cope with the withdrawal system for just 48 hours.
I spent time sleeping or sucking toffees and occasionally looking at the packet. Forty eight hours later I realised that I had parted from lady nicotine. It was cold turkey.
This was in 1990.
I never took a drag after that. Not a puff.
And must say that some friends were very encouraging. Shatrughan Sinha, for instance. He was shooting when I dropped in. He had already heard that I had quit. As soon as he saw me approaching him, he extinguished his cigarette and told everyone to do the same. He didn’t want to tempt me!
The latter generation of film stars too has loved smoking as much. Shah Rukh Khan is a chain smoker. Aamir Khan too is a heavy smoker. But while SRK hasn’t made any resolve to quit, Aamir quits after his films release, and returns to nicotine during the tense days of marketing the film.
Saif Khan got a health scare a few years back and was admitted in Leelavati Hospital. The doctors – I think it was cardio-surgeon Hemant Kumar – advised him to quit. His mother Sharmila Tagore further urged him to live a nicotine free life. He has almost quit. His first wife Amrita Singh too was an addict. She lit a cigarette when I interviewed her and continued with more cigarettes. She requested me not to mention it in the interview as her mother Rukhsana Sultana would ‘kill her’. I ignored her request and, just for some fun, mentioned it in the article. Amrita continues to be angry with me.
The list of those who smoke is rather long. Anil Kapoor takes a puff, doesn’t inhale and extinguishes the fag in a minute. Amitabh Bachchan used to be a heavy smoker but after his brush with death on the sets of ‘Coolie’ followed by other ailments, he stopped smoking.
I am not easily shocked but got a shock when, seeing that my cigarettes were over, I picked up the packet of an actress.
“Mohan, smoke at your risk!” said the girl. The cigarettes were laced with hash. I won’t name her.
*****
* Mohan Deep, a former journalist, pioneered the genre of star biographies in India with his trilogy of Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Rekha, still considered benchmarks. He started with fiction and continues to write it. His latest novel is ‘Color Me Rich’ and an anthology of his short stories, written over the last five decades, is in the pipeline.

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Udta Sindhi Anthem

Anthem for Udta Sindhi

Sindhis refused to sink, soared high and became UDTA SINDHI.

Anyone else would have surrendered,
Accepted defeat
And
Drowned in the depressing sea of anonymity…
But the Sindhis refused,
Fought quietly
And rebuilt themselves,
Ready to fly.

Anyone else would have lost the individuality,
Would have blended with the local culture,
But the Sindhis said no,
Continued with ‘charyo’,
‘Muo’,
‘Bhensaan’,
‘Buja’
And Lakh ji laanat atheyee,
Remained a Sindhi
And created a new world,
Got himself wings.

He refused to sink,
And Soared in the sky,
Like an eagle,
To become an UDTA SINDHI.

Mohan Deep
20th April 1989.

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Chandru Punjabee – the man behind the township for Sindhis

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Chandru Punjabee – the man behind a township for Sindhis

Sindhis do need a township – to enjoy the bond of kinship, to nurture the individuality and to be together.
Just imagine a million Sindhis in a township!
I met our dear friend, architect, builder and philanthropist Shri Chandru Punjabee, the man behind this movement, after a long time. We had a chat about his dream project for Sindhis. Housing. While I am not free to reveal the details at this stage, all I can say is that this would be an ultra-modern township which would have luxury towers at affordable prices, schools, colleges, hospitals and all other amenities one can think of. It would be a mega project.
While the tentative name to the project is “Sndhunagar”, it may end up as ‘Char Dhaam’. Char Dhaam because the township is going to have the replicas of the four holy places – to the scale and exact reproductions.
The replicas will have the same Feng Shui, the same Vastu that the dhaams have.
A deeply spiritual person, Chandru is talking about giving back to the society which has given him so much. The man is such a giver that he says, “The medical services would be free for the needy without humiliating the needy. It would be enough if you say that you’re needy. The hospital wouldn’t ask for proofs, salary slips and letters to establish that you’re needy.
“And while the flats would be exclusively for Sindhis, they will be free to resale to anyone, anytime.” Says the dashing and dynamic Punjabee.
At some stage, Udta Sindhi will disclose all the details about the entire project.
But at the moment a little more about this man of great enterprise.

*****

I try to find a link between his roots and his dreams. The Punjabee family that owned acres of land and buildings in Pakistan, came penniless to Mumbai. Chandru’s father had the showrooms of luxury cars like Plymouth and Dodge in Quetta. He married just a month before the partition and came to Bombay carrying small amount, insignificant if seen in the context of the huge assets they had.

He wanted to start construction business and received an order for construction material from Century Rayon. Punjabees purchased a piece of land to quarry stones and other material. Unfortunately, the land yielded only mud. Suffering losses in the very first project, he got a job at a salary of Rs 150 a month.

Chandru was born in one of the military barracks given to his father
in Ulhasnagar. He and his siblings are the products of this period of struggle and need. He grew up to be an architect and a builder.

But for Punjabee, who has moved from Ulhasnagar to Colaba and then to Juhu, Ulhasnagar has always remained Sindhunagar, a name given to it informally by the Sindhis who lived there.

*****

Decades back, my maternal aunt Sita B Advani, who lived in Khar, told us that the building she lived in had been acquired by a Sindhi builder. He wanted to redevelop it and also to have his offices in the same building.

By the time I could meet her, in a fast development, she had sold her flat and shifted to another building.

She told me that, “I thought they might harass me, as often happens in Khar and Bandra, specially because of his Shiv Sena connections, but the builder is a real gentleman. He was so polite and kind enough to offer me more than the market rate. His office also helped me find another flat a little away in an equally good area.”

“Who is the builder?” Curious, I asked her.

“Chandru Punjabee.” she said promptly. Shiv Sena had started its Sindhi wing during the same period and, close to Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray, Punjabee headed this wing.

Chandru was already a well known name with his social activities and philanthropy. Starting in early ’80s, with an association with Andheri Sindhi Panchayat, to help the needy Sindhis in assisting them with the marriage expenses, he found himself being approached by several organisations.

Chandru never says ‘no’ when asked to help a good community cause.

He went on growing in stature. There was a time when he used to be invited as a Chief Guest by almost every Sindhi organisation and panchayat to celebrate Cheti Chand, the Sindhi New Year, festival. This is when began his association with Sindh Panchayat Federation. Nari Gursahani, a prominent lawyer and the President of The Federation welcomed him to become the Vice President of the biggest organisation of Sindhis.

Today, he is the President of this umbrella body of all the Sindhi panchayats in India and abroad.

*****

Besides in Mumbai, Chandru Punjabee has offices in Dubai and London. His son Harsh Chandru Punjabee is in entertainment business and has acquired two channels.

*****

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Who will be the next President?

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Mohan’s Musings – President

Who will be the next President? Baba Ramdev? Sharad Pawar? Subramaniam Swamy? Amitabh Bachchan? L K Advani? Ratan Tata?

When Pranab Mukherjee said in his first interview after he became the President of India that he always wanted to have such a large lawn for morning walks he was only revealing the human side of his larger than life image.
While one doesn’t expect the President to be flawless, the idea always is to have a person of stature in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Unless he gets to have another term, Mukherjee may not have his morning walks in the large lawns after July 2017.
The speculations about who will be the next occupant have already begun.
The post of the President of India is like that of the Queen of England. Persons with dignity and characters, who have lived a controversy-free public life without any political bias ought to occupy it.
In over six decades, persons of great stature like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr Radhakrishnan, Dr. APJ Adbul Kalam and Dr. Zakir Hussain have occupied it. But along with them have been, in the list, Presidents we rather forget about.

Pratibha Patil was under a cloud when she was nominated. Her brother had been charged with murder and the apprehension was that she may use her influence in the case.
Yet, she went on to become the President.
Controversies about her continued during her tenure and even after her term got over.
One of the many of her scams is about acquiring a land, over 2 lakh sq feet, belonging to Defence and building a 4,500 sq ft bungalow in Pune while a retired President can get a house with a maximum area of Rs 2000 sq ft.
Her only ‘qualifications’ were that she would be the first woman President and she was perceived to be loyal to Gandhis.
It was the same loyalty to Mrs Indira Gandhi that made Giani Zail Singh declare in public that he was ready to follow her orders even if she asked him to sweep the floor. He went on to become the first Sikh President of India.
Fakhruddin Ahmed was so loyal to Mrs Gandhi that he could be woken up at midnight to sign an ordinance proclaiming national emergency. He signed it immediately and went back to sleep.

During the days of Vajpayee government, BJP didn’t have enough numbers to get the presidency to its nominee P.C. Alexander as Congress was averse to him. They settled for APJ Abdul Kalam, a choice of SP’s Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. But now BJP can have anyone it chooses to become the President. Seeing that Modi has an absolute control on the party, it is going to be his choice alone.
The first name that is making the rounds is of Lal Kishan Advani.
In fact, Union minister Nitin Gadkari had suggested Advani for President, but Narendra Modi reportedly felt that “age is a major factor”. Advani is in good health but seeing that the term is five years, Modi is right. The memory of the age factor diminishing the agility and health hasn’t still faded from the public memory.
Modi has totally sidelined Advani and the rest of old guards including Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha.
I don’t think Modi would risk having a President with his own mind.
The diminutive ball of fire Sushma Swaraj, once perceived as the Prime Minister candidate, too can be the final choice. But would she make an ‘obedient’ President?
Modi wouldn’t be happy with the idea of a controversial Subramaniam Swamy, either. Swamy’s name figures here because he has written about how J Jayalalitha wanted him to become the President. To quote Swamy, “In 2007, Jayalalithaa wanted me to become the President of India. I declined her offer telling her that I had a teaching assignment at Harvard University. I was also not sure about my winning chances. Because many political leaders were afraid of me.”
Swamy may be as unwanted now. No one wants an unpredictable and controversial person to become the President.
A more serious candidate is NCP Chief Sharad Pawar. Once in the running for the post of the Prime Minister, Pawar has vast administration experience and ‘friends’ across the party lines. Congress has been an ally for his NCP and his equation with Narendra Modi seems a major asset. It is because of this equation that BJP has virtually spared his nephew Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam in Maharashtra and has settled only for the head of Chhagan Bhujbal.
During the parliamentary election campaign Modi had often accused NCP of being the most corrupt but is on record as describing whatever he has said about the opposition parties as election rhetorics not to be taken seriously.
Pawar is a ‘pragmatic’ politician and may suit Modi.
But there are others too. India hasn’t seen any industrialist occupying the Rashtrapati Bhavan but it may happen now.
Narayan Murthy, the founder and former Chairman of Infosys, is a respected figure and whispered to be as an ideal candidate. He can make the kind of President a Prime Minister, who has radical plans – some obvious and the others unclear – would welcome. He would be supportive no matter what the PM does.
Modi may find Ratan Tata too a good choice. Why, Nandan Nilekani (Aadhar) too may be in the running. He has always been a blue eyed boy for the establishment.
While Bollywood stars are considered good for campaigning, even holding portfolios, a Bollywood star as the President seems incongruous unless he happens to be Amitabh Bachchan. His name made rounds the last time but his strained relationship with Gandhis is said to have worked against him.
A politically neutral Amitabh may make a good choice if he lives down wife Jaya’s activism against demonetisation.
Seeing that Modi is the Monarch and BJP in absolute control – even if they lose every election in Punjab, UP and Goa – we shouldn’t be surprised to find RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat or even Baba Ramdev the next President of India.
And once Modi decides to make someone – even if he be Baba Ramdev – no one can change his mind. To quote Venkaiah Naidu, “It is not in his blood.”

*****

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Do Bollywood Actresses Read Books?

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Mohan’s Musings

Bollywood actresses and the books they read or don’t

The world press (including ‘The Guardian’) tittered when Shilpa Shetty (known to them because of the ‘racist attack’ on her during her stay in ‘Big Brother’ where Jade Goody called her ‘Shilpa Fuckawallah’, ‘Shilpa Daroopa’ and ‘Shilpa Poppadom’, model Danielle Lloyd said that Shilpa “couldn’t even speak English properly anyway” and “Shetty should “fuck off home”.) recommended George Orwell’s allegory ‘Animal Farm’ for the children so that they can ‘love and care for animals’. It was obvious that Ms Shetty hadn’t read the book. She hadn’t even read the summery of the book available on the ‘net.
Shilpa became a laughing stock of the high society, Bollywood and Page 3 circuit.
Shilpa found an scapegoat in her publicist and the latest version, which no one seems to believe, is that it wasn’t she but her publicist who had blundered.
Whether her publicist or the starlet, the focus has returned to the books read by the actresses and their GK.
I remember finding Tinkle in the luxury van of a top South Indian heroine. Her secretary told me that the actress read only comics. It didn’t surprise me as she had started her career as a child actress. She hadn’t had any opportunity to read. In fact, she didn’t need to read much. That she was a superb actress and had a great career is a different story. Except for a few films, Bollywood films have never required nuanced performances.
Later this actress, who had a double role in a comic like film, was to tell me me that she looked at every film as a comic.
She said matter of factly that her only reading was comics and the scripts.
It was true of another South Indian actress too , known for her obsession with a married super star, too. She wouldn’t even read the newspaper as, to quote her, “Who wants to see the ugly faces of politicians every morning?”
Her only reading was the glossies and mainly her own interviews and the interviews given by her star lover. And books on health, beauty and make up.
But not all the heroines of this period hated books.
Besides being one of the best actresses Bollywood has seen, Meena Kumari was also a poetess and read books. She is on record as saying that reading broadens the outlook and gives your thoughts a depth that goes a long way in understanding and interpreting the characters. Not for nothing did she give some really nuanced performances.
Even Raakhee is known to be a voracious reader but that again could be the influence of the very same man – Gulzar – who brought books in the life of Meena Kumari. Raakhee, now a recluse in her farmhouse, continues her reading. Books regularly reach her by courier.
While these five belong to the older generation, here is an interesting episode about the reading habits of one of the top heroines of today. Married to a Muslim actor from a royal family, she was gifted a book by her husband who reads a lot. She happily kept the book next to her pillow for several days, talked about it to the media but confessed that she couldn’t go beyond the first few pages.
Funnily, when she launches a book – she has launched several – the media focus is never on the author. One would find her solo pictures with captions like “Xxxxx launched a book at a five star hotel in Western Suburbs”. At least this actress has no pretensions of being an ‘intellectual’ but her mother-in-law, a star in seventies and eighties, was always perceived as an intellectual because she would always have a ‘heavy’ book on her!
But she didn’t notice that she was given a book written by Alistair MacLean for a shot that showed her
reading in a golden jubilee hit; a book she would have hated to be seen with.
Interestingly, her daughter has inherited a love for reading from her. I once found her buying several books from Crosswords. But I don’t know whether she bought them for her reading pleasure or while getting done the interior of her new apartment.
A more interesting character is an actress who is always found with a pair of spectacles on her nose, and her nose in a fat book and is perceived as an ‘intellectual’. No one says anything about the kind of books she reads and her interviews don’t show any spark of this intelligence.
I got an opportunity to see the title of a book she was reading. It was a James Hadley Chase book!
But the lady who takes the cake is an actress known for being a ‘feminist’. She bought a couple of books on feminism, gave these books to her publicist and asked her to find some ‘interesting’ quotes from the books. The publicist, also not known for reading, googled for some quotes from these books and used them while answering an e-mail interview questionnaire. Unlike in the quotes of Shilpa Shetty, this interview didn’t have any gaffes.
But the books remained unread.

*****

Reading and GK don’t really seem to matter as far as the success and the career of glamorous girls are concerned.
Shatrughan Sinha once ridiculed a South Indian actress for not knowing the name of the President of India.
Ironically, she found her way to the Parliament.

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Dissent is ‘treason’…

Mohan’s Musings/Mohan Deep

It is not an emergency, but dissent is ‘treason’…

Within an hour of the announcement of demonetization by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi I wrote:

“The main problem in India isn’t about the government having or not having enough money to run the country. The real problem is that only a minor fraction of that is spent on the welfare of the citizens, while the rest goes into different pockets.
“The essential honesty and character are totally missing from the governance.
“I will just give you an example of clean drinking water. The tap water in London is as potable as the branded water sold under fancy names.
“The reason we don’t get potable water at least in Mumbai is: (1) because half of the pipelines still belong to the British period. (2) The filtration plants need to be upgraded and their capacity expanded. (3) The water Mafia steals the water and sells it to us after an artificially created shortage.
“Where is the money issue if the richest Municipal Corporation in the entire country has failed to do even this basic duty despite having an absolute control for 70 years?
“So please don’t expect any great effects of the money government collects after demonetization.
It hasn’t happened in the past. It is not going to happen in future, either.”

I would call it mild criticism. It is my right. But within minutes, I found the pro-BJP elements – popularly called bhakts – pouncing on me. No one really argued back, but everyone questioned my patriotism and nationalism, and some of them poured scorn on me. The basic idea was to bully me into silence.
Angered, I wrote some more and found more bhakts trying to silence me. They called me anti-national and unpatriotic. It would have soured anyone’s mood and silenced him. But it didn’t happen to me, maybe because I have seen worse days during an emergency period. And it is because of this that the thought comes to me.
Are we in for another emergency? Or is it already an undeclared emergency?
The debate is out! A sensible argument has become irrelevant. Hired hands have been unleashed on the two social networking sites. They neither debate nor talk sense. They seem to have one aim: harass those who are critical of the policies of the Prime Minister.
That our Prime Minister cannot handle any criticism gracefully is clear for years. During his election campaign, on a channel I forget, he was interviewed by several journalists. Everyone asked questions that flattered him, but one of the scribes was asked to grill him. I could see that the young man was shivering in fear, but he went ahead.
Within seconds, we saw Narendra Modi glaring at him!
Our PM candidate wasn’t willing to answer a single hostile question.

*****

My earliest memory of national emergency declared by Mrs Indira Gandhi, on a personal level, is watching a police constable posted to control a bus queue, slapping a well-dressed bespectacled senior citizen for hurrying to get into the public transport.
His pair of spectacles was thrown several meters away due to the impact. Yet, not a single person protested.
The fear psychosis had gripped everyone. The electricity of the offices and the presses (Indian Express) was cut off. No one smiled as I stepped into the semi-dark office.
The list of the leaders and journalists arrested and thrown behind the bars along with hardcore criminals was a mile long. Along with them were the underworld dons.
On the first Saturday, in the afternoon, after the declaration of emergency, I stepped into an Irani Hotel on Bazar Gate Street. We, writers, used to conduct our story readings over tea. The tea would give way to beer and whiskey. Which group of writers would be satisfied with tea?
The manager cautioned us. “No alcohol. Emergency laga hua hai.”
The hotel didn’t have the permit and didn’t want to risk losing the license because of a couple of bottles hid under the table. As we emptied the tea cup, my contemporary writer Vishnu Bhatia made a crack.
“Indira Gandhi used to sit on these chairs before she became the PM.”
This was an innocent joke, private between us. And I laughed.
A lot of celebrities and politicians used to hang around in Fort, Bal Thackeray, and R K Laxman used to work in FPJ, a barefooted M F Husain along with a short and stooped K H Ara would stride in and out of Irani Hotels and I had seen J R D Tata entering a saloon without any fanfare. I used to throw different names.
Indira Gandhi?
A policeman emerged from nowhere. “Kya bola?”
We became nervous, but tried explaining. He wasn’t willing to listen. He wanted to take all of us to the Thana (Colaba Police Station). Our other writer friends explained to him with a lot of ‘sorries.’ When he saw that we really were writers and weren’t even expected to have enough money to bribe him, he let us go with a warning, “Emergency laga huaa hai, andar kar doonga to kissi ko pata bhi nahin hoga!”
Things may be worse today!
Saagar, a journalist from ‘Caravan,’ narrates his latest experience. (Incidentally, I was once a regular writer for this magazine.) Writes Saagar, “In an effort to document the tense situation (in the bank), I started recording the incident with the camera on my phone. Bemused, the official in the white shirt told me to stop shooting. When I did not stop, he rushed towards me—momentarily forgetting the crowd he was supposed to block—his arms outstretched. I asked him repeatedly, to not touch my camera and said that I was from the press. He grabbed me and dragged me down the stairs of the building, onto the road. Subsequently, other employees and security guards from the bank surrounded me. “Tere ko main batata hun. Tu bach ke nahi jayega”—I’ll show you now. You will not escape unharmed, the man in the white shirt said. “Tu janta nahi mere ko”—You don’t know me, he continued, “Mere upar pehle se case hai. Main khud police hun”—I already have cases registered against me, I myself am the police.”
The report is long, but it makes a point. A legitimate journalist from a respectable group is being threatened by the thugs appointed by the bank as guards while doing his job.

*****

D K Barua coined the notorious phrase: ‘India is Indira, Indira is India.’ It was the personality cult of epic proportions.
And now, if you’re against Narendra Modi, you’re anti-national!
They equate the Prime Minister with the nation, Modi with India. A slight criticism of the man earns you the abusive wrath of the bhakts. The abuses would have your ears turning red, but the bhakts, who represent a political party that prides itself on its hoary tradition, drags your mothers and sisters in the filthiest arguments you can have.
Like Congress tried doing it to the states ruled by the opposition parties, BJP too has tried the same trick with the states ruled by the opposition.
AAP humiliated BJP by almost erasing it out of the picture in Delhi. BJP hasn’t forgiven Arvind Kejriwal and has tried using whatever power at its disposal to browbeat the Kejriwal government.
Elected governments of non-BJP parties are not being allowed to function, like in Delhi. BJP was accused of trying to topple/toppling the governments run by the opposition in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Assam. You can hear the echo of what Mrs Indira Gandhi did during the emergency. But one thing that made emergency the most hated, besides the press censorship and jailing of the opposition leaders, was the compulsory sterilization of men. Nasbandi. And the arrogance; the arrogance that Indians deserve danda, that they didn’t have the courage to retaliate to the police canes and army shoes. Magistrate Lateef Fatima (actor Shah Rukh Khan’s mother), Rukhsana Sultana (actor Amrita Singh’s socialite mother), and a few others close to Sanjay Gandhi had played a massive role in nasbandi drive. And then happened Turkman Gate massacre. The government tried to cleanse Delhi of slums and force poor residents, mostly Muslims, to move to distant settlements. Already seething with anger over nasbandi, they refused to go as they would have to commute every day paying heavy bus fares to reach the city to earn their living. They resisted the bulldozing of their houses.
The police opened fire on protesters, killing several of them. However, it was not reported in Indian media which had been silenced with censorship, but we learned about the killings through foreign media like BBC.
*****
What is happening in India also has a similarity with what is going on in, of all the places, Turkey! The only difference is that whatever the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has started is an aftermath of a failed coup attack on him. To Erdogan, his coalition of ‘Nationalists and Islamists’ is synonymous with ‘the national will’!
Here, they have started these games scared of losing the power.
BJP has not declared press censorship, either. But it doesn’t need to.
The state power has already been used to keep the press, particularly television media in chains. Major channels are owned by big business which has vested interest in being on the side of the establishment. It is because of this dirty connection that the entire television blacklisted Arvind Kejriwal within hours of his announcement that he would expose Ambanis.
Every BJP scam, including Vyapam, Nitin Gadkari’s shell companies, the nexus between the Prime Minister and the big business has been wiped out of public memory.
The government has also tried controlling the judiciary by trying to push in their favourites – like they did with the other institutions, and the tension between the CJI and the PM was so much that the judge publicly wept as he addressed Modi. Even then the problem of judicial appointments has not been solved till now.
As for the dissent, the fundamental right of every citizen, the BJP simply renames it treason.

*****

Mohan Deep is an eminent novelist and Bollywood biographer, based in Mumbai.

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Good Deed, Eh?

Mohan’s Musings

Good deed, eh?

In school, I was told that as a boy scout, I was expected to do one good deed a day. Hence, I discovered a lot of things that would be considered good deeds.
But what if we didn’t do the good deeds? We could just write imaginary stories in the notebook.
Soon, I learned that many were already doing it. Some of us may have improved our handwriting skills and even ‘creative writing,’ but this certainly was not the way to do the good deed.
I don’t know what happened to my classmates, but as I changed the school, I didn’t remain a scout anymore. I didn’t have to do 365 good deeds in a year compulsorily.
Nowadays, I find a lot of people doing a lot of good deeds. Lesser mortals, celebrities, film stars, and the Richie rich.
They all are doing good deeds.
I too agree that visiting old people is a good deed because you are lonely when you are old. You can be in your home along with half a dozen others, but they become indifferent to you and your needs. A visitor, irrespective of age and gender, can turn that day into a festival. And if you’re in an old age home, a visitor, even if he is the son of the crabby old man, four beds or rooms away can provide some excitement if he/she stops to crack a joke with you.
But if he has come only because he wants to do a good deed and go back feeling nice about it, it is not a good deed.
Ditto for a visit to the cancer survivors, giving alms to beggars, helping a visually impaired person to cross a road, donating notebooks to needy students, visiting orphanages, and giving them breakfast or lunch.
They are all good deeds, but not if you end up feeling that you are a jolly good fellow.
Not when you feel good, take some pictures, and post them on your Facebook wall.
Not if you get a PR freelancer to get coverage in the media.
And this brings me to the wannabes and celebrities. The good deeds remain the same, but the coverage (paid, certainly) is more. I consider this to be the worst kind of good deed.
You open the papers over the morning cup of tea and with a mock surprise to show your wife (or husband) the media coverage that can really be called advertisement and say, “We really got good media coverage!” Now, you cannot proudly tell your spouse that you’ve got good advertisement coverage or that every newspaper has published your advertisements.
If you’re a bigger fish, the arrangement is more discreet. Only your secretary would know why you released an ad for a paper whose demographics don’t suit the product your company manufactures. You can continue to pretend to your spouse over the pictorial report of your good deed.
Good deed?
If you really wanted to do a good deed, you would have transferred your secretary’s ailing mother from a Municipal hospital to Breach Candy or helped her daughter get an admission in the medical college.
But nobody would have been wiser.
It is only when you are a Bollywood star that even a contribution of a lousy Rs five lakh for the family of a stuntman who lost his life as your double, riding a motorcycle at a maniacal 160 kmh would get you a four-column headline.
Why, if you’re still a bigger star with a bad image, you can hire an entire PR agency that would transform your image into that of an angel, the God’s Gift to the world – a great name for a trust and NGO, no? – By writing long articles and ‘news-stories’ about your, mostly imaginary, good deeds.
They would get old women in the wheelchairs or young boys on crutches to your drawing room or if you don’t like it, to your sets. You can have a battery of photographers shoot you with them as you wonder why you are doing all this shit when you can shack up with another starlet.
Let’s not talk about the politicians in the same breath, not even the ministers, who don’t do good deeds. Their signatures are considered good deeds whether they gift you a parcel of land to build a hospital or a school.
Nor are the Indian businessmen doing any good deed when they build temples after their family name or donate to build an entire ward in a hospital and get it named after their mother.
They are not Boy Scouts.
The hospitals and colleges named after industrialists or their parents are not acts of philanthropy. These are business organizations where the aim is to have huge profits.
Let there be chains of hospitals with state of the art equipment that are free to citizens. Let there be groups of schools and colleges (even medical and engineering colleges) with the same quality education that you sell for premium fees and donations for the citizens.
Our Kaamwali wouldn’t have to borrow money from every house she cleans to pay for her daughter’s admission.
This will be a big bloody good deed. You won’t need media coverage for this. Your name will be etched in the memories of the people, the real people.

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