Thursday, November 30, 2006

....I said with a sigh at the first glance of the new Bond (Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, Dir. Martin Cambell). Needless to add, Craig has had a tough job given the high standards in style set by a long line of unique and suave predecessors. Playing a spy who's been endowed with a playboy-hunk persona (courtesy Sean Connery) and a impish smile and charming wink a la Roger Moore, not to mention the intermittent limpid pools as the eyes of Timothy Dalton and the flashes of domesticity as wedding bells for George Lazenby, is not easy as it were. But THEN there was Pierce Brosnan. In him, Bond climbed new heights. Ah! those were the days. Dandy and debonair, all he had to do to get dressed for dinner after chasing goons in an armored tank was to flick off that speck of imaginery dust from his impeccably tailored and ironed suit. That, and tighten the knot of his tie. Just a tad bit.

There is this scene in "The World is Not Enough" where after a huge hold up and staccato firing at a bankers', Brosnan saves himself in the nick of time by gliding down a multistoreyed building using a twine or rope (or something equally trivial) while bullets spray and glass shards rain around him. The touche one uttered was not at the escape but at the cool-as-a-cucumber demeanour, the cynical bending of mouth at his own triumph and at the gallant exit from scene while lightly touching his tie.

This chutzpah that was so typical of Bond is what I miss in our new avatar. Craig is just another spy. One of the hundreds of henchmen out there. He fights like a boxer, runs like a athlete and wears clothes like the next door neighbor. He even gets beat up like a common criminal. And he bleeds. As of all this were not enough, his shirt gets torn and dirty.


Of course, if it's bye bye to stylish clothes and manners, can gizmos be left far behind. So they too disappear. No Q, no fancy shmancy cars or guns that fire like turrets upon request, no rings to break short no nothing.

The new Bond is also slow in the womanizing department. To top it all, he falls in "love". Now when was the last time Bond fell in love and wanted to settle down!

It was 1968, and no man had ever set foot on the moon, the Soviet Union was a rollicking success and 'Nam was a synonym for war.

Obviously we've moved since then, and Bond never falls for a woman. True he enjoys their company and they are an absolute necessity as accompaniments to his Dom Perignon '53. As absolute as the shaker for his vodka martini is. That is until now.

Until 2006 and Casino Royale. Sore disappointment awaits anyone who was looking forward to any familiar "Bond" moment. Not even the moment when the new Bond would announce his preference for all matter shaken but not stirred. No, that last bit of succor is also taken away. At that opportune moment when the bartender asks Bond whether he would like his martini shaken or stirred, our newbie says, "Does it look like a give a damn?"

But I do give a damn. If Bond is a common fighter, a common spy, a common man in love, in pain, hurting, falling, failing, pray why!, why then should he be special, or different. Why then should one go to see a Bond movie? One could just as well see Stallone, Schwarzneggar and/or their many wannabes and the hordes and hordes of Hollywood hunks that fight in the name of justice, cry over lost loves, and hurt and bleed till kingdom come.

Dear Martin Campbell, tweaking with Bond is a grave sin. And that has been committed. The one and only redemption lies in bringing the old geezer back. That uber stylish, metrosexual, dapper ladies man who needs only to give a soft tug at his tie to tug hard at women's heartstrings!!!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Two of my Jamini Roy favorites. Perhaps because I grew up with these framed prints in my room.

When I was very little, the whole family went to an art exhibition (which obviously I have no recollection of) and returned with several poster prints of Jamini Roy's works bought after the show. For years afterward many of these prints occupied the walls of our home. I wonder how the mother child duo landed in my room. They hung next to one another. And I loved how the two mothers with their small ones close to them, stared at the world in the same quiet way.


The beautiful Aishwarya Rai stars in The Last Legion, a film on the fall of the Roman Empire. And dumb combo of beauty and Miss goody-two-shoes here.....instead she is a (gasp!) warrior. Must admit that she looks quite good in a rough and tough role. Check out the trailer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Kavita Daswani

Perhaps I was expecting too much from a desi chicklit. Or perhaps the recent flood of works from South Asia, most of which are almost sans stereotype had given me false hopes. Whatever the reason, Kavita Daswani’s Salam Paris woke me with a rude shock. However must say that once one was reconciled with Mills and Boon romance meets traditional South Asia while traipsing around the globe, it was an entertaining read. In other words there is amusement aplenty when beautiful chaste woman hits the spotlight of the Paris fashion world and romances wealthy handsome man of noble lineage all the while keeping her traditional roots and chastity intact!!!

Conversation between man and woman is pathetic to say the least. Some gems.

She : It is easy for you to preach on about family blessings. You have always had them. No matter what you decided to do, you would always have them. Go to law school, go to med school, stay home and become an auto mechanic. (Knowing South Asian parents, I doubt the stay at home and auto mechanic part very much but we'll let that go for now). Your parents would never have cursed you with Allah's wrath because you are a man. You were meant to go out and conquer the world. But if a girl tries to do it, suddenly there are accusations of betrayal and threats of being disowned. I couldn't even walk out of my apartment without being followed by Nana. But you? You could study in America, work in London, move to Paris, whatever you wanted. Why? Because you are a boy and I am not?

He: If you had told your grandfather that you wanted to get a proper education, take on a decent career, he might have eventually agreed. (Yeah right! girl just had to say Granpappy Granpappy I need a propah education, and right then he would be filling out forms for Harvard) Even I would have fought for that on your behalf. But what is this? This taking off your clothes for the world to see? This sleeping with a strange white man who plays music for a living? What kind of behavior is that for a decent girl?

And before anyone gets ideas about why she was taking her clothes off here is the secret: she is a model in Paris. A fashion supermodel at that. And how does Ms. Supermodel with rock star boyfriend in tow stay nicely chaste. Answer : Supermodel's boyfriend (never realized why he was called strange, was it for being white or because he made a career out of music!!) is a DECOY.

Now to the story. The plot revolves around Tanaya, a girl raised in a conservative Muslim family in Bombay. Tanaya is an exquisite beauty (but of course, which plain Jane could ever aspire to do anything!) and dreams for the world of Paris; a world that comes alive for her in Audrey Hepburn’s film Sabrina. Her chance arrives in the form of an arranged match to a highly prized catch. Tanaya reaches Paris but once she’s there she avoids the arranged mate, tall dark handsome Tariq. With a little help from lady luck she becomes a top fashion model, hobnobs with the glitterati and zips around the world. However her roots and her tradition beckon (as usual) and when she falls in love with the same man she was betrothed to, Tanaya has to make a tough choice between her life of glamour and her life of tradition. No prizes for guessing, since this is the world where handsome princes and their beautiful princesses ride their way into sunset. Always.

(All Italic emphasis: my comments)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

MAHMOOD FAROOQUI (via Amardeep Singh) on the complex position the modern secular Muslim finds himself in India.

I am eager to tell the world that Muslims of the past were different, as they indeed were, but the hidden presumption is that the current Indian Muslims are a fallen lot, in need of reform. We are not entirely sure whether it is they or Islam itself that needs reform, but we are absolutely certain that reform is needed. The West is reformation itself, Christianity has been protestantised, Hinduism has been reformed by the State, but Islam we have been trying to reform for the last 150 years and have been on the defensive for as long as well. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan wrote letters justifying the British racial hatred of Indians — “They are right to treat us worse than dogs,”— before pleading that there is no contradiction between the Quran and science, that Islam was enlightenment and enlightenment Islam. Why must even those defending Muslims reduce all debate surrounding Muslims to Islam? Why do I continue to become perturbed by the treatment of Islam from both sides?

I am confused. On the one hand I bemoan the condition of Muslims in India; on the other, I am strongly aware of the fact that this State, like most others, delivers mostly to its elite, outside whose pale are not only Muslims but also most other marginal groups. On the one hand, I feel that we should have the space to be critical of certain strains in the world of Indian Muslims; on the other, I feel that sometimes we make too much of freedom of expression. I want Muslims to be different from what they are, but cannot tell how much of that desire is an internalisation of a vein of criticism and interrogation that has now gone on for over 200 years, not merely in India. What I do know is that the stereotype of the exceptionalism of Islam as a religion and the inexorable Muslim urge for separateness from the mainstream is one that cuts both ways. You can use it to condemn Muslims, you can invoke it to celebrate difference in a world where history has ended, where all roads lead to New York. That cannot be our only fate.

Read on.

Monday, November 20, 2006


The Summit of the Powerless, initiated by Tehelka, begins in New Delhi today. Powered by the mantra of Two Indias One Future, delegates from all around the country gather the three cornerstones of civil society: money, power and people, to make a difference.

A dialogue between the have and have nots in India has long been overdue. Never mind the the awakening of the colossal commercial Indian giant since the last decade, the disparity between the rich and poor has never been greater.

In the words of Tarun Tejpal

For every swank mall that will spring up in a booming Indian city, a neglected village will explode in Naxalite rage; for every child who will take wings to study in a foreign university there will be 10 who fall off the map without even the raft of a basic alphabet to keep them afloat; for every new Italian eatery that will serve up fettuccine there will be a debt-ridden farmer hanging himself and his hopes by a rope.

Let's hope that this is a start for us Indians to reach out to one another and initiate and legitimize a process through which civil society can step in where the Indian State has yet to get success.
A nice piece of fiction by Jayant Sankrityayana. It won the Little Magazine writing award in 2006.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Soon after General Musharraf had taken over as the head of Pakistan, the Dawn columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee was talking to a women's delegation. Telling them that this was perhaps the best time in recent years to get some outdated misogynist laws repealed, Cowasjee had said, "Ladies, while the General is batting, ask away."

This, more than anything else, succinctly summed up the initial euphoria that Pakistan's intelligentsia felt with General Pervez Musharraf's rule. To many Pakistanis it seemed that this gallant and decorated army general, hailing from a modern and secular middle class background could deliver. The two earlier democratic goverments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, with their corruption and nepotism not to mention the constant pandering to right wing sentiments for votes, had left many people disillusioned. Musharraf, however, could't deliver all that he had promised but as a start he did take some baby steps toward modernity and has tried to keep extremely retrograde Islamic laws at bay.

In the meantime 9/11 happened and Musharraf was under extreme pressure to cooperate with the US and bring scores of Taliban and other terror outfits, operating both out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, to book. The armed incursions that the Pakistani army had to make into the border territory with Afghanistan made Musharraf extremely unpopular both within the army and among his own people. Twice in the last few years he came close to being assassinated. So fraught with dangers is his job that in the words of the TIME magazine he holds the "world's most dangerous job". There are also rumors that he owes his position, indeed his very life, to the help and support of the US Intelligence.

In his autobiography In the line of Fire , that was released in September this year, Musharraf talks about Pakistan, Islam,
Al-Qaeda and the terrorism that is threatening peace today. He also shows us glimpses from his childhood, the years spent in Turkey (where his father served in the Embassy) and his youth in the Pakistan Military Academy. From the Academy to the Army House (the home of Pakistan's Army Chief) to the Head of State, the journey was fraught with dangers. Obviously he takes immense liberty with facts. And nowhere is this more evident than his recounting of the hijacking drama of 1999, when following his dismissal by Nawaz Sharif's govt. as the Army Chief, he was denied the right to land in his own country. He then goes on to call his dismissal as Sharif's coup; his own coup d'etat where he deposes a democratically elected govt then conveniently becomes a "countercoup".

The next few chapters deal with rebuilding the economy. Although it is well known that Musharraf did initiate an economic liberalization program spearheaded by his Finance Minister, New York banker Shaukat Aziz, this section is mainly a self applaudatory exercise. As his the following section where is talks of his "achievements" in the war on terror.

However, to his credit he is extremely critical of the appeasement of the religious right in Pakistan. And of two of Pakistan erstwhile leaders, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, for their kowtowing to the religious fundamentalists. In his own words

By the time his regime ended, I had come to the conclusion that Bhutto was the worst thing that had ever happened to Pakistan. I still maintain that he did more damage to the country than anyone else, damage from which we have still not fully recovered. Among other things he was the first to try to appease the religious right. He banned liquor and gambling and declared Friday a holiday instead of Sunday. This was hypocrisy at its peak, because everyone knew that he did not believe in any one of these actions

And this later about Zia

President Zia, in the 1980s, completed what Bhutto had started in the dying phase of his regime- the total appeasement of the religious lobby. By hanging Bhutto, he turned Bhutto into a martyr and his political party-the PPP-into a great force. Zia found it convenient to align himself with the religious right and create a supportive constituency for himself. He started overemphasizing and overparticipating in religious rituals to show his alignment with the religious lobby. Even music and entertainment became officially taboo, whereas I am told that in private he personally enjoyed good semiclassical music.

pictures scanned in from the book (without permission)

Interspersed are stories of his love for a East Pakistani Bengali girl, his arranged marriage to his wife Sehba after their long courtship and the birth of his children. He also tells us his distaste of Islamic laws. About a lashing he says,

It was an ordeal just to be present at such a distasteful event, the most inhuman and humiliating that I have ever witnessed. The jailer set out a sofa for me, and a table laden with cakes and pastries for my pleasure. The image of a Roman Colosseum sprang to my mind. The least I could do was order him to remove the cakes and pastries immediately.
The lasher began by drawing a line with a marker across the buttocks of the criminal, indicating the exact spot where the lashes were to be delivered. He came running and gave the first lash as hard as he could. The man tightened his muscles on the first lash, squirmed on the second, and screamed on the third. I could barely look at the fourth and the fifth. I could see red fleshy pulp on his bottom. A crude doctor appeared, checked the miserable man, and then did the stupidest thing. He started pressing the man's bottom with his feet with all his weight on it.
I have never been more disgusted, not just at the inhuman treatment but also at the unfairness of it all.

However, Gen. Mush does not tell us all. He keeps some of his nation's secrets, just that way. While he mentions the secession of Pakistan's East wing, thanks to India's military aid, he conveniently forgets the horrific violence that the Pakistani Army had unleashed on the people of the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1970-71. This terror that continued for months and left millions dead and homeless, eventually led to the secession of the Eastern part to form a new nation, Bangladesh, in 1972.

He also does not tell us about the proxy war being carried out in Kashmir by terrorists trained in Pakistan or about the Agra summit that by virtue of being held pre 2001, had him singing a different tune. Mum is the word on how Pakistan's Intelligence Agency, the notorious Inter Services Intelligence or ISI that literally cut its teeth on training terrorists from the Soviet-US days in Afghanistan, became a mischief monger aiding and abetting terror outfits from Kashmir to Chenchnya. No Pervez Musharraf keeps the bad news under wraps. And sings paens to himself and his attempt to transform Pakistan into a modern state.