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Himal South Asian Volume 14, Number 8, August 2001 Dixit, Kanak Mani Aug 31, 2001

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August 2001
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 Vol 14 No 8
August 2001
South Asia and the summiteers
Sri Lanka: Sad country
Hindi films: the rise of the
consumable hero
by Sudhanva Deshpande
City in camouflage: Public
space and insecurity in Colombo
by Sasanka Perera
Dhaka in the 70s
by Afsan Chowdhury
Crime and punishment in Genoa
by Ranabir Samaddar
The Chaos theory at Narayanhiti
by Ranjit Rauniyar
VOICES                                      38
Gadar: Bombay's gift to Lahore
reviewed by Kanak Mani Dixit
RESPONSE                                46
The inescapable
circularity of spytalk
by Irfan Ahmed
Do or Die: The Chittagong
Uprising 193-34
reviewed by Sanjoy Baghci
Sikkim: A Travellers Guide
reviewed by Narendra Pradhan
il   Co:cir;bc Wo
Contributors to this issue
Kanak Mani Dixit
Associate Editor
Thomas J. Mathew
Copy Editor
Shanuj V.C.
Contributing Editors
Colombo    Manik de Silva
dhaka       Afsan Chowdhury
Islamabad   Adnan Rehmat
nbv delhi   Mitu Varma
Prabhu Ghate
Winnipeg    Tarik Aii Khan
Editor, litSA
Anmole Prasad
Chandra Khatiwada
Indra Shrestha
Bilash Rai (graphics)
Sunaina Shah
Nandita Bhatt
Sambhu Guragain
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Narendra Pradhan is an architect specialising in the Himalayan region.
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Sanjoy Bagchi, from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, was executive director of the
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WHEN THE Indian prime minister and the
Pakistani generalissimo met to talk in Agra,
the leaders, spin-managers and commentators on both sides forgot one critical point:
that both countries are nuclear-tipped nation-states just a trigger-pull away from
Subcontinental Armageddon. The failsafe
mechanism hangs by a telephone hotline
between the two capitals, and other than
this, there is no "confidence-building measure" should there be a rapidly spiralling
crisis. South Asia is a very dangerous place
indeed, and de-nuclearisation might have
been the right place to begin the talks.
Instead, at Pakistan's insistence, Kashmir held everything else at bay. Pervez
Musharraf was unwilling to call off
the mujahid infiltrators and Atal Behari
Vajpayee would not acknowledge the
militarisation that keeps the Valley sullen
but subdued. As always, the Agra summit
was guided by the politico-bureaucratic elite
(India) and politico-military establishment
(Pakistan). With similar worldviews and
psycho-social upbringing—they even
speak English with the identical northern
accent—these elites ignore the interests of
the silent majorities of their own countries,
as also of the rest of South Asia.
In Pakistan, the Punjabi-dominated military is in the cockpit, and it will not make
space either for the mercantilist therefore
cosmopolitan demands of Sindh's Karachi,
or for the more insular instincts of
Balochistan or the North West Frontier Prov-
+^1,   ££*~,
ince. In India, the Delhi-centricism of the
power structure speaks firstly for the Hindi
belt, and it is worth considering whether
there would have been more flexibility
shown on Kashmir had the summit been
held, say, in Calcutta or Madras rather than
Even more than Pakistan with its handful of provinces, however, India tends to
forget its own physical size and demographic diversity. The powerful of New
Delhi fail to realise that India's continent-
sized territory and myriad identities can
hardly be moulded with the American-style
schlock patriotism now sold on satellite
programming that everyone watches from
Quetta to Kathmandu. Whereas some of the
other smaller countries of South Asia may
find their national unit-of-governance to be
functional, India is a different cup of chai
altogether. It is many "regions" masquerading as a "country" ruled from New Delhi
centre, and the historical "Indianness" is
actually a heritage of the surrounding nation-states as well.
It is the inability to accept this conception of South Asia that makes it so hard for
some to accept Kashmir's semi-detached
identity, that Kashmir is already deemed to
be "different" by Article 370 of the Indian
Constitution, or that a concession to
Kashmiriat would not break up the Union.
At the same time, Kashmir provides an opportunity, as the place where the 'Centre'
would begin the process of genuine devolution to smaller units. This would also hold
true for Pakistan as well, for it is not possible for either country to remain this tightly
centralised forever, denying the cultural
diversity within and the overarching linkages without. Porous borders rather than
fencing and barbed wire are the only kind
of frontier that will work for South Asia, to
make it once again a loose cultural region
with numerous internal eddies. Indeed, cultural affinity—visible in language, accent,
rituals, thinking, and the very gestures and
mannerisms—will overcome all kinds of
religious and geo-political divides. Lahore
and Amritsar will benefit from porous borders the way the comfortably powerful of
Islamabad and New Delhi will find hard to
There will come a time when South Asian
summiteers—either at bilateral meetings or
at SAARC conclaves—will realise that the
Subcontinent was never meant to be this jigsaw of sharp-edged nation-states. It evolved
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
 as a penumbra of identities extending in one
continuous, but ever-changing, stretch from
Balochistan to Manipur, and from Skardu
to Kanyakumari. The national boundaries,
the hallowed capitals and their bureaucratic paraphernalia, and a measure of central rule will of course have to remain. But
within these nation-states and between
them (for example the two Punjabs and the
two Bengals) we must allow more give for
civilisational identity. Only with the release
of the cultural geni us of the people will there
be the regionwidc social and economic surge
that we have waited for in vain for over half
a century.
If this nature of the South Asian historicity were better understood, there would
be more flexibility in negotiations all over.
Upcoming summits would see India wholeheartedly agreeing to Kashmir as a "problem" rather than an "issue", and Pakistan
would be shamed into blocking the cross-
border infiltration by jehadis. Once the negotiators accept the true shape of the South
Asian future, they will find it easier to agree
to disagree on Kashmir, and move on with
the numerous other tasks pending.
Just for starters, they would immediately
begin work on getting the Iranian gas pipe-
line to reach the Indian heartland via
Multan. If anything can help usher peace
in a stroke, it will be when Delhi households
begin to get cheap piped gas, the way they
do in Lahore and Dhaka. With Islamabad
required to provide iron-clad guarantees for
the pipeline's safety, the economic gains
from the advent of Iranian gas would become the greatest incentive not to go to war
over Kashmir. The economic advantage of
such a bilateral thaw may not impact on
the Indian economy as a whole, but consider the gains for the people of the Pakistan-proximate regions of Punjab, Haryana,
Western UP and Delhi—the very repositories of distrust against Pakistan.
At their next meeting, be it in New York
at the General Assembly sidelines, at the
SAARC summit in Kathmandu, or in the reciprocal visit by the Indian prime minister
to Islamabad, the two sides must of course
agree to de-terrorise and de-militarise the
Valley. At the same time, they must proceed
with the work of future-building in South
Asia. For example, convert the killing glaciers of Siachen into an international peace
park as proposed by Bombay mountaineer
Harish Kapadia, who stands by his vision
even after his soldier son fell to the jehadi's
bullet in Kashmir last year. Or, come to an
honourable agreement not to use the 1SI-RAW
bogey to cover up for respective inadequacies. Or, persuade cinema producers not to
demonise the other country in a way that
distorts one's own domestic politics. Or,
most critically, begin to de-escalate their
preparations for nuclear war.
As Eqbal Ahmad, the late South Asian
statesman from Islamabad said not so long
ago, "To become prosperous and normal
peoples, we must make peace where there
is hostility, build bridges where there are
chasms..." These sentiments must be the
guiding spirit of the diplomatic "sherpas"
planning the upcoming summits, that is if
they want us South Asians to emerge as
"normal peoples", b
BEAUTIFUL BUT tragic places make for
good poetry. This is Ondaatje country in
Colombo's Welawatte neighbourhood,
where a small river meets the sea, where
Pablo Neruda stayed for a while during his
journey across the world as a young Chilean diplomat, and where he wrote the saddest lines. Re-reading the verse, there is a
near-Latin American sense of tragic drama
in Sri Lanka these days.
Flying in at midnight on one of the first
few flights into Colombo after the daring
airport raid of 24 July, the plane came to a
stop on the taxiway and the pilot shut off
the engines. Passengers rushed to the windows to look at the wreckage of dead planes
outside. In the ghostly yellow light, the Airbuses looked like whales that had been
slaughtered on a beach. The planes' fuselages were twisted and charred. Their broken wings were still pointing at the sky
while the dismembered tail fins with their
stylised peacocks had collapsed on the
tarmac. The pilot came in to ask everyone to
return to their seats: the plane still had to be
towed to the parking slot near the terminal.
Even in a country that has been numbed
by the carnage of an unending war, terrorist attacks and the murder of moderates, the
airport raid was the psychological equivalent of a hard blow in the stomach. It was
designed to kill hope and sustain the fatalistic rage that has kept this war going for
The world
has got used
to this war,
so the media
have moved
to other theatres like
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
reverses the
normal order
of things,
instead of
the young
burying the
old, the old
bury the
the past 12 years at a cost of 60,000 lives.
The world has got used to this war, so the
media networks have moved to other theatres like Macedonia and Mindanao. And
they only take notice when dramatic footage of burning airliners can be flashed
across the world. Even then, the interest dies
out in a few days. In Colombo itself, within
a few days of the event the headlines
are back to the dissolution of parliament
and the political skirmishes over President Chandrika Kumaratunga's call for a
The airport attack came in the week of
the second anniversary of the assassination
of the visionary Tamil politician, Neelan
Tiruchelvam, by a Tiger suicide bomber on
the streets of Colombo. In a tribute to
Neelan, his Indian friend and colleague
Ashish Nandy wrote: "War reverses the
normal order of things, instead of the young
burying the old, the old bury the young.
Perhaps we in South Asia will have to get
used to the idea of living in a state of perpetual war". The region is sinking into this
heart of darkness, from Afghanistan to
Kashmir, from Nepal to Tripura, and in
other flashpoints of extremism across the
Subcontinent. Minority rights are trampled,
the underprivileged are not allowed to rise,
grievances are allowed to pile up by callous and apathetic rulers. Victims, as the
Indian social-psychologist Ashish Nandy
says, make excellent killers, The centre does
not hold, and those, like Neelan, who try to
resolve conflict are eliminated one by one,
often by their own people, who think
restraint is treachery. Those who span ethnic, political and cultural divides, who can
understand the madness of their own as
sassins, who show compassion for both
sides, have to be eliminated because they
stand against compromise and the dead-
ended winncr-takes-all ideology that propels these violent movements.
The airport attack was timed for another
anniversary: the horrific anti-Tamil pogroms by organised death squads belonging to Sinhala extremist groups. These were
the massacres that gave birth to this terrible
war, but the real seeds were planted soon
after Sri Lanka's Independence when the
majority community passed successive
laws to take it all. Others will go even further back to trace the origins of this conflict
to the British colonial rulers' favouritism
towards the minority community. Today,
half-a-century later, it almost does not matter what the root cause was. There has been
so much bad blood that there will be no
peace as long as people look back at avenging historical wrongs. Any peace process
must look to the future. The only thing to do
with history is not to repeat it.
Malaysia and Singapore are two other
countries in the world with sizeable Tamil
minorities and similar ethno-cultural
polarisations. The lesson from their success
is to find strength in diversity, to respect
this richness in spirit and deed, provide a
level playing field for all communities—and
never to let grievances pile up. And looking
out at the rest of South Asia from the perspective of this tear-drop island, the moral
of the story is clear: it is never too late to
stop a war, but it is a much better idea to
nurture and protect an existing peace.      b
All this we traded for power and wealth
from the eight compass points of vengeance
from the tWO levels of envy    Michael Ondaatje
Scene after the airport
attack on 24 July.
# & t f Hi
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
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 The economics of Hindi cinema was turned on its head
while we were not watching, and scripts, sets, locations,
language, heroes and heroines are all no longer what
they were. That is because the demdgrapic profile of the
audience has changed and with it a reorientation of
values which makes Bombay cinema less and less
representative of the people as a whole.
by Sudhanva Deshpande
 The more things remain the same, the more they
change. Hindi cinema is no longer what some of
us grew up on. The last ten years, the decade of
economic liberalisation, has transformed Hindi cinema quite thoroughly, though not beyond recognition.
As a result, what seems to us to be the same old fare,
merely suitably repackaged for our globalised times, is
actually quite new stuff. So what has changed?
The financial foundations of the film industry, for
one. Consider this: in the 1960s, Rajendra Kumar, star
of films like Mere Mehboob, Arzoo, Goonj Uthi Shehnai,
Dil Ek Mandir, etc, was called Jubilee Kumar, The legend goes that several of his films did a silver jubilee
run—25 consecutive weeks—while some went on to a
golden jubilee (50), and a few platinum (75). Old timers
talk of films like Awaara, Mughal-e-Azam, or Mother India, all with incredible runs. About one such film, it
was said the touts who sold tickets in black outside the
theatres could save enough for their daughters' or sisters' dowry. That may be hyperbole, but one based on
some element of truth. I remember, quite distinctly, as a
boy of eight or 10, when I saw Sholay for the first time,
the film was already in its 23rd week, and was simultaneously running in half a dozen or more theatres in
You do not get those sorts of runs any more. Now,
posters are put out to celebrate a film's run of 100 days.
That is just two days over 14 weeks. In fact, in June this
year, Satish Kaushik's eminently forgettable Mujhe
Kuchh Kehna Hai, the launch pad for former hero Jeeten-
dra's son Tusshar Kapoor (pairing him with Kareena
Kapoor), in its third week, was running in nine theatres in Delhi. Later the same month, in the week that
saw the simultaneous release of an Aamir Khan and a
Sunny Deol starrer (Lagaan and Gadar, respectively), the
number of theatres screening Mujhe Kuchh Kehna Hai
was already down to three. But who cares? Certainly
not producer Vashu Bhagnani. The film, trade magazines tell us, has already been declared a hit. Which is
very good news, because the industry has not really
seen a proper hit so far this year. So young Tusshar
Kapoor has brought cheer to the industry, and is reportedly flooded with offers. No one can say how long
he will last, whether five years down the line anyone
will even remember his name (one barely remembers
even yesteryear's Jeetendra these days), but no one is
asking either. As the industry cliche goes, you are as
good as your last hit.
The new celluloid economy
In the old days, it was relatively simple. You
made a film after raising money from film financiers and merchants, and you sold it to
distributors. Once the film was released,
masses of people flocked the film
halls, and over several weeks, their
money found its way into the
pockets   of  distributors,
producers, and sundry other elements. Or it did not,
and led to lost empires, nervous breakdowns, alcoholism, even suicides. The financially disastrous performance of Kagaz ke l3hool reportedly drove Guru Dutt to
suicide. The essential point, however, is that the success or failure of a film was directly dependent upon
how many people bought tickets in cinema halls. In
other words, numbers mattered.
Numbers still matter, of course. But not of people
who buy tickets. You can, and do, have films that would
have been considered flops by earlier yardsticks, actually raking in profits, sometimes of huge magnitude. Or
even more bizarrely, films today can start making profits even before the shooting begins. Here are some examples. J.P. Dutta's Refugee, which launched star kids
Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor, reportedly
grossed much less through ticket sales in India than
the 90 million Indian rupees that went into its making.
Dutta was unruffled. He bundled the film with his earlier hit Border, and sold their telecast rights for INR 100
million. Or take super-showman Subhash Ghai's forthcoming Yaadein, with the hottest young stars going,
Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor. The film, long
before its release, is reported to have grossed upwards
of INR 200 million. Ghai is also said to have sold limited telecast rights for eight of his earlier films and earned
a cool INR 140 million in the bargain. Even more amazing is the case with Karan Johar's still-under-production Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham,
with the most spectacular
casting coup since Sholayo
Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan
The 'Gandhian'
hero: Salman
and Kajol, Hrithik Roshan and (you guessed it) Kareena Kapoor. The film, through the sale of its music rights,
overseas distribution rights, and telecast rights, had
mopped up a staggering Rs 35 crore even before a single shot was canned.
The equations have changed dramatically. According to producer Tutu Sharma, the overseas distribution
rights for a big budget film are roughly double that for
the largest Indian 'territory', Bombay. In other words, if
a distributor forks out INR 35 million to buy the rights
for the Bombay territory, he will pay about INR 70 million for the overseas market. In a case like this, the price
for all-India rights (including Bombay) will be about
120 million; that is, the financial returns to the producer from distribution in an overseas market of about 20
million people is roughly 60 percent of the volume realised from distribution in the entire Indian market of
one billion people. Just music rights alone are big business. Yash Chopra sold the music rights of his son's
Mohabattein to HMV for INR 75 million, while Sanjay
Leela Bhansali has given his Devdas, which is still un
der production, to Universal for INR 95 million. It was
not always so. In the mid-1990s, music rights of a big
film could be had for a mere INR 10 million. Today,
there are the additional revenues to be had from the
sale of DVD and telecast rights.
Then there is the more recent trend of selling advertising space in the movie. Remember Daler Mehndi and
Amitabh Bachchan dancing in front of Liberty shoes
billboard in the latter's comeback flop Mrityudaata? The
logic of corporate sponsorship for films was taken to a
new level a few years later by Shah Rukh Khan. When
Dreamz Unlimited (a company he floated along with
Juhi Chawla and Azeez Mirza) produced Phir Bhi Dil
Hai Hindustani (with the first two starring and the third
directing), the company raised a fair amount of money
from corporations, which in the bargain got entire scenes
devoted to their products. So Shah Rukh Khan woos
Juhi Chawla in front of a Swatch kiosk and drives
around in a Santro car, and so on. This takeover of space
by corporations is called 'synergy' between industry
and entertainment. While such synergy is still in fairly
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 low key compared to Hollvwood, where entire films
have been produced by corporations (You'if Got Mail is
a recent example), it seems set to grow in Bombay.
Aggregate the revenues from all these sources
and the returns from the domestic viewing public
(which we always think of as the primary market) as
a proportion of total revenues shrink pretty drastically.
According to one estimate, only about 35 percent of the
revenue earned by a film is from the sale of tickets in the
domestic market. I ittlc wonder that producers are buoyant. "Raising money is not an issue any more," exults
Subhash Ghai. The CFO of Reliance Entertainment is
even more forthright: "We are talking big money. Traditional cinema is in its terminal stage".
What is big only gets bigger. Arthur Andersen's
study on the entertainment industry commissioned by
the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and
Industry comes up with figures sure to gladden tlie
hearts of those with stakes in the film business. The
study cites a figure of INR 13 billion for the total yearly
business conducted by the film industry in 2000, which
is expected to grow to 40 billion by 2005. Ghai's figures
arc even more dramatic: INR 60 billion in 1999, which
will go up to 330 billion by 2003.
The chavanni audience
If you thought that the money dished out bv the rickshaw puller, the industrial worker, the vegetable vendor, the domestic servant, the urban unemployed, is
what accounts for the turnover of the I lindi film industry, you could not be more wrong. "What matters today-
are 'A' grade centres—about 15-20 big cities—and the
overseas centres," points out director Azeez Mirza.
"Who cares about the rest? Even Pune is now a 'B' grade
centre. When the overseas centres gross 15-16 crores
(150-160 million), why would a town like Bathinda be
important? The time is past when people made films
for the chavanni (25 paise) audience." Hindi cinema is
funded today in overwhelmingly large proportions by
the rich, whether in India or abroad.
The rise of multiplexes is part of this development.
Multiplexes have numerous benefits for the few: exhibitors and distributors earn more per film because of
higher ticket prices; by breaking the one-film-per-week
model, and shuffling the number and timings of shows
of particular films, investment is made to yield the highest possible revenue; a certain kind of niche film (such
as Hyderabad Blues) now becomes commercially viable;
by exhibiting six or seven films per week, the chances of
a flop resulting in a big loss to individual exhibitors is
minimised; and socially, by targetting and catering to a
niche audience, the multiplex becomes an extension of
the home theatre, where the rich can watch films in the
company of their own class.
This pattern of financing leaves its imprint on the
content of the film. Ghai, whose Pardes was a big hit
abroad, plans to premiere Yaadein in London: "Yaadein
targets an NJRI audience and as the film is about NRIs in
London, they'll be able to connect [with it] better".
In other words, the gracious people who wear
Nike sneakers, sip Coke, and stay connected via trendy
coll phones and smart PCs, are the very people
who consume Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor.
Or, to rephrase it: the consumers who matter are
the gracious people; the rest of us are voyeurs.
It is a party of the rich, and we are invited to watch,
from a distance. The trajectory of these big-budget, high-
profile, large-revenue films aimed at the hyper-consum-
erist audience is very different from that of the more
modest productions, made bv the residual segment of
the industry, which are geared towards a "lesser audience" with limited disposable incomes. The Hindi film
industry has never been one homogeneous entity, with
'A' grade, 'B' grade, 'C grade, and even 'D' grade films,
each category having its own class defined market, and
hence its own aesthetic assumptions—or to put it the
other way, the varying degrees of the lack of aesthetics
in all these follow from somewhat different commercial
One way to capture this difference is to chart the
career of Mithun Chakraborty. I le started out with director Mrinal Sen (Mrigaya), and then came to Bombay.
Here, he became a star with a large following among
the lower middle class and the urban poor. This was in
the 1980s, when he had assumed a screen persona that
was a mix of Amitabh Bachchan, James Bond and John
Travolta. In the late 1980s he starred in a few Amitabh
Bachchan films as well (Agnipath, Ganga jamuna Saraswati). By now, however, his days of glory were over, or
so everyone thought. Mithun Chakraborty thought otherwise, and all through the early to mid-1990s, he became more prolific than ever. Between 1990 and 1995,
he starred in at least 51 films—8.5 films a year, or a film
every 42 days! None of these, however, was a hit in the
way we know it. But even today he is among the more
prolific heroes going.
Without a single hit, how has Mithun Chakraborty
managed to get so many films over so long a period?
Very simply, he shifted to Ooty, and built a hotel in the
southern hillstation. So, if you are a producer, you go to
Ooty, stay with your crew in his hotel at concessional
rates, shoot a film with him and an aspiring or failed
starlet, finish shooting in three weeks, do post-production in Bombay over the next fortnight or so, and inside
two months, a film is ready with six songs, fight sequences, one rape, fiery dialogues, and a weepy mother. Release the film in the less classy theatres in the
big cities and in smaller centres like Patna, Indore, Benaras and Bathinda. The actor's loyal front-stall fan
following will ensure a decent run for a couple of weeks.
Low investment, short gestation, moderate returns, and
guaranteed break-even is-what it is ail about.
Tn a sense, Mithun Chakraborty is the most popular
star of the 1990s, more popular than the big B, the three
Khans, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol, Govinda, Akshay
Kumar, or anyone else. The combined audience of all
2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
Mithun films would outstrip the viewership commanded by any one of the others. And lest one appear disparaging, let it also be said that, on average, Mithun
Chakraborty does one non-commercial film a year. One
such, Budhadev Dasgupta's Tahadcr Katha, won him
the National Award for acting in 1992.
Punjabi class
Economics behind us, it is possible now to offer a few
stray observations, not necessarily tied together with
the string of theory, on the new hero of contemporary
films. For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and
80s, the natural, though not exclusive, point of reference in a comparative exercise are the films of those
decades. And, to the extent that Amitabh Bachchan
dominated those decades, his towering angry-young-
man presence is the one which naturally comes to mind
as the contrast to the new 'consumable' hero who has
taken over.
Typically, this new hero in the Hindi film tends to
be Punjabi, rich and conformist. It was not so earlier.
Erstwhile heroes were rarely given an explicit regional
and linguistic affiliation. Even if the actors were not all
Hindu, their roles were implicitly so, and one could
guess that they were not Dalit, but beyond that the film
did not tell you much. Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip
Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, they all spent a
lifetime playing characters who got introduced, a trifle
ludicrously, as 'Mr Amar', or 'Mr Anand', or 'Mr Raj'.
Even Amitabh Bachchan was normally just Vijay, or, if
he was a UP kayasth, then perhaps he would be Vijay
Kumar Shrivastava. But this fact was never really
stressed. True, in some films he played the Muslim, or
at least carried a Muslim name: Mukkadar ka Sikandar
and Coolie spring to mind. His famous Christian role is
of course the appealing street-smart guy in Amar Akbar
Anthony. Carrying the logic of this hit further, Manmo-
han Desai, in Naseeb, gave him simultaneously three
names, Hindu, Muslim, Christian: John Jaani Ja-
nardan. But the context in such cases is clearly benign.
No more. The 'Rahuls' and 'Prems' of
the 1990s are very much Malhotra and
'*' "
Khanna, and the Anjalis and the Simrans they fall for
are Oberoi and Grewal. Earlier heroes were either poor
and had the rich girl fall for them—Lawaaris—or were
rich and fell for the poor girl—Sharabi. Or, sometimes,
they were poor, and unsuccessfully coveted the rich
girl—Mukkadar ka Sikandar. In any case, usually there
was a threat—or promise, depending on how you look
at it—of violating or transgressing social and economic boundaries. Not that such boundaries were really
transgressed. Far from it. A variety of tricks were devised for this purpose. Either the hero just died, as ir.
Mukkadar ka Sikandar, or it was revealed (to the hero,
that is; the audience knew all along) that he is in fact
the long-lost son of a rich man, as in Lawaaris. This
made matters simple—through the film, you could have
the poor hero mouthing populist rhetoric against
wealth, and in the end, when it really mattered, he
ended up with oodles of it.
Even when the hero was not poor himself, he needed to identify with the poor in a variety of ways. There
are several films of earlier times (particularly of the
1950s and 1960s) where the hero is a qualified professional, an engineer or a doctor, who fights, or at
least speaks, for the poor. Or if he is rich, then he
often has a poor friend who he looks upon as a
brother. Sometimes, he is the son of a rich
industrialist or landlord who doles out
largesse to poor workers or peasants,     ^^^^i
much to the chagrin of the father
and the old and irritating mun-
shi. Or, if he is Amitabh Bach-
The rise of the new hero. From
bottom to top: Dilip Kumar, Dev
Anand, Shammt Kapoor,
Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna,
Amitabh Bachchan. Amir Khan,
Shahrukh Khan and Hritik Roshan.
chan, he realises Utopia by
simply leading the poor into the rich
man's house and asking them to occupy
it—Lawaaris and Coolie.
This need to identify with the masses was most
endearingly encapsulated in a now-extinct convention of the Hindi film: the male solo number early in the
film which introduced the hero. Typically, the song
would establish the hero as a hopeless romantic, on the
lookout for the right one to give his heart to, and one
would see a Shammi Kapoor or a Rajesh Khanna driv-
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 ing in an opentop down idyllic hillsides and lush fields
where doll-like peasant girls would coyly wave at him.
Hindi cinema has never been naturalistic, so there is
no point complaining that the girls look anything but
peasant. But today, the heroes do not have any peasantry watching their passage. As a matter of fact, song
picturisation itself has undergone a pretty dramatic
change. The satellite boom has resulted in
songs looking more and more like music
videos, and having an increasingly
autonomous space in the narrative of the film (though of late,
context-specific songs have
started making a limited comeback),
and both these changes have been obvious to most film-goers.
But along with these, another, less noted change
has taken place. Of the films from an earlier time, from
Ramaiya Vasta Vaiya to Khnike Paan Banaras Wallah, anybody would be able to come up with a ready list of hit
songs that have rural or urban labouring classes dancing and singing with the hero(ine). Of the films of the
1990s, you will notice that films have banished labouring classes from song picturisations altogether. Forget
about the rich boy teeny-bopper romance films of Shah
Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, this is even true of Aamir
Khan films like Rangeela, Ghulam and Raja Hindustani,
where he plays the poor boy. The exception has perhaps been Govinda, the only truly comic hero since
Kishore Kumar: in Coolie No. 1, he is, well, a coolie. But
after the delightful Dulhe Raja, where he is the intransigent youth who refuses to move his roadside dhaba from
in front of Kader Khan's five-star hotel, even Govinda
seems to have pretty much shed his proletarian image.
This is why Aamir Khan's home production, Lagaan,
is so refreshing. But does the film mark the return of the
peasant to the Hindi screen? It is difficult to hazard a
guess, but the answer
is probably no. The simple
fact is that, as shown above, the
economics of film production has altered dramatically, and those who now account for the profits of the industry are simply
not interested in watching sweaty peasantry. Why
then, has Lagnim succeeded? It must have been the cricket theme which, as in real life, manage to unite passions across classes and international borders.
Of a piece with the banished peasant is the way the
very look of the heroes lias changed. The joke about
Salman Khan is that he is the only Gandhian star we
have: he has vowed not to wear a shirt so long as the
hungry millions in India go shirtless. Indian heroes
have not had physiques like his. Remember Dilip
Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, or Rajesh Khanna? Or even
angry young man Amitabh Bachchan? You had to be a
real washout, like Dara Singh, if you had to survive by
showing off your muscles. No more. If Jackie Shroff and
Sunny Deol compensated for their limited acting talent
with macho looks in the 1980s, Sanjay Dutt discarded
drugs and his mother's delicate looks to reinvent himself as a hunk in the early 1990s. Just in time, too. For
the 1990s was the decade of the biceps—Salman Khan,
Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Akshay Khanna and
the many others who came and went. Even Aamir
Khan, the best actor amongst the 90s stars, has a good
enough physique to look a convincing small-time
boxer in Ghulam.
The exceptions to this macho brigade, of course, are
Shah Rukh Khan and Govinda, the one wiry and the
other, thank god, paunchy. But even they are feeling
the pressure, and in films like Duplicate and Badshah,
Shah Rukh Khan shows more muscle than one thought
he had. And the new century has brought forth Hrithik
Roshan, with a physique so perfect it seems plastic.
2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
Welcome to the age of the consumable hero who does
what Helen did earlier—he dances like a dream, and
his body itself, rather than his persona, is the object of
consumption, much to the delight of the advertising
world. It is only fitting, then, that this new, consumable
hero wears Gap shirts and Nike sneakers, and when
he dances, it is in front of McDonald's outlets in white
man's land, or Hollywood studios, or swanky trains,
and has white girls dancing with him.
Much, then, has changed. Some of it has been noted
and commented upon, such as the celebration of the
Hindu undivided family. Hum Apke Hain Kaun (HAHK)
is of course the best and the most analysed example.
Anyone who has been watching films in the second
half of the 1990s will have become impatient with those
countless marriage sequences full of suited and turbaned men, and heavily bejewelled and made-up women, not to mention the mandatory karva chauth sequence.
But the point of the formula that HAHK put in place
went beyond mere repetition of marriage sequences and
songs. It was almost as if the family—often expatriate—
becomes a family only through the observance of ritual.
And once filmmakers ran out of ritual from the real
world, they began inventing their own. A recent example is the Abhishek Bachchan-Aishwarya Rai film Dhai
Akshar Prem Ka. The hero, mistakenly assumed to be the
heroine's husband by her family (and why neither of
them speaks up to dispel this confusion is not considered necessary to discuss) is made to go through the
ritual of being turbaned while a priest chants incoherently. This ritual, which takes place sometime after their
presumed marriage, marks his entry into the family.
No sociologist and other experts approached by
this writer have been able to identify such a ritual anywhere in India.
While the various evolutionary trends in Hindi films
are merely the interesting upshot of audience demography, the increasing 'communalisation' of the Hindi film
is a dangerous new direction that has been taken. The
most obvious index of this is the change in the depic
tion of the Muslim: from being the hero's friend,
the Muslim metamorphosised in the late 1980s
and early 90s, to serve as the villain in an increasing number of productions. This happened, of course, as the Ram Janambhoomi
movement gathered strength, and the Shiv
Sena became stronger not just in the city of
Bombay, but also in the film industry, Tezaab
(famous for the scintillating Ek do teen number
by Madhuri Dixit) was an early film that depicted the Muslim as villain. Since then, there
have been many. In Ghatak, Sunny Deol, a Brahman from Benaras, appropriately named
Kashi, takes on and defeats a very Muslim-
looking villain and his many brothers. Shoe'.
has a Thakur-Brahmin alliance taking on a
Muslim-Dalit combine in small town Bihar.
Pukar, a jingoistic film made right after Kargil,
plays on the easy association of Muslim with Pakistan,
and thus got for its hero, Anil Kapoor, the National
Award for acting conferred by a jury which included
the editor of Panchajanya, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh mouthpiece. Gadar, currently running to packed
houses all over India, uses the backdrop of the Subcontinent's partition to say some very vicious things about
All these are important developments, and need
careful study and analysis because of the sheer power
of the Hindi movie on the elites and masses of South
Asia. However, there are two other maters that stand
out, which have escaped critical and political attention. One is how the new hero has redefined the meaning of the love triangle, and the other is that for the first
time in Hindi cinema, the hero is someone without a
past, and consequently without a memory. The first is
essentially a matter of plot whereas the latter is rife with
social connotations.
The new love triangle
The love triangle is the classic formula, with countless
variations. At its most basic, however, the triangle traditionally had either one man and two women (Devdas), or two men and one woman (Sangam). The history
of the love triangle is so dense with associations and
allusions, that it tends to be rather complex. The first
sort of triangle, the Devdas model if you will, is basically a story of the feudal aristocracy's inability to cope
with the transition to capitalism. The two women, then,
represent the unattainable aspirations of this class contrasted with its sordid and decadent reality. Devdas was
made into at least two very famous versions: one by
P.C. Barua in Bangla (starring himself) and one in Hindi (starring K.L. Saigal) in 1935. The latter version was
remade by Barua's former assistant Bimal Roy (starring Dilip Kumar) in 1955. Apart from the Hindi/Bangla
versions, there was a silent one in 1928, and two in
Telugu (1953,1974). Currently, there is another version
being shot by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, starring Shah Rukh
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 Khan. Clearly the novel as well as the film (Barua's
version, of course) have became a reference point of
nearly mythological proportions, and this surely has
something to do with it capturing the drama and the
pathos of this great social transformation that destroyed
the future of the feudal aristocracy. On the other hand,
the other kind of triangle is far less interesting: at best, it
represents a romance between two men (with or without homoerotic allusions) interrupted by a woman.
The love triangle of the 1990s and later, however,
follows neither of these models. Think of some of the
Girl I is in love with Boy, but Boy loves Girl 2, who
loves him in return. They marry, have a child, and Girl
2 dies, but not before realising that Boy was actually
made for Girl 1. So the spirit of Girl 2, using the child as
mediator between the worlds of the dead and the living, brings about union of Boy and Girl 1. (Shah Rukh
Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.)
Boy and Girl 1 are married, though not happily,
because Girl 1 nags him incessantly about their lack of
wealth, Girl 2, fabulously-
rich, makes the indecent
proposal: husband in exchange for wealth. Girl 1 accepts. With wealth, Girl 1
becomes ever more insufferable, but Girl 2 turns sati
savitri. In the end, though,
the sanctity of the marriage
is maintained, and Girl 2
walks away carrying Boy's
baby in her womb. (Anil
Kapoor, Sridevi, Urmila
Small-town hero Mithun and
(above) a small-town theatre.
Matondkar in jndaai.)
Boy and Girl ! are married, happily this time,
and have much cash as well. But Girl 1 suffers an
accident during pregnancy, loses the child, and
cannot conceive again. The couple and the extended family are desperate for a child, so adoption is
suggested by the Boy, but ruled out by Girl 1. She
forces him, instead, to look for Girl 2, who will
bear his child. They live together as a happy threesome during pregnancy, and even though Girl 2
for a while contemplates not giving up the child,
eventually she goes away with a beatific halo, leaving baby and cash behind. (Salman Khan, Rani
Mukherjee, Preity Zinta in Chori Chori Chnpke
Boy and Girl 1 meet in New Zealand, fall in
love, but become separated. Boy comes back to India, saves (abandoned) pregnant Girl 2 from committing suicide. He agrees to masquerade ur, her husband in front of her family, but Girl 2 turns out to be
Girl l's sister. So Boy lives in their house, pretending to
be Girl 2's husband, but loving Girl 1. Does it matter
how it ends? (Govinda, Urmila Matondkar, Naghma
in Kunwara)
An interesting case is Shyam Benegal's recent film
Zubeida, in which Karisma Kapoor plays a divorced
woman who marries a prince (Manoj Bajpai), who
already has a wife (Rekha). While the film dwells on
Zubeida's emotional insecurities in this triangular relationship, it does not condemn bigamy per se. Even
more surprising is the nostalgic, almost heroic, treatment of the prince. This, from the maker of Bhumika, a
film which was a radical departure in the late 1970s for
its depiction of the independent woman.
How is this version of the triangle very different from
earlier ones? Well, what you have now is two women
wanting one man—and he gets them both! This development is basically a post-Hum Aapke Haiti Kaun phenomenon. HAHK is the landmark film which, by playing out the desires of unbridled consumerism, ritualism, and religiosity through the fantasy of the contradiction-free Hindu undivided family, became a massive blockbuster.
HAIIK's formula was picked up with lightning speed
by the industry, and a whole avalanche of feel-good
happy family films followed. Film scholars and sociologists have showered attention on 1IAHK, but an unremarked fact is that at precisely the time that the new
hero was becoming conformist and seemingly upholding family values, he was also turning bigamous! The
consumerism of the new hero extends as much to the
sexual realm as it does to the economic.
'Angry' no more
The other question, that of history and memory, is more
complex. Manmohan Desai was the original postmodernist Bombay director, with a thorough (and often delightful) contempt for logic and moaning. He made a
2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
 fortune by casting Amitabh Bachchan in lost-and-found
potboilers: Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish, Suhaag, Maseeh, Mard. It is tempting to think that the brothers-sep-
arated-at-birth theme was in some ways perhaps a subconscious response to the trauma of a nation partitioned
at birth. What is interesting is that this particular formula has completely disappeared from Hindi films of
the 90s. It is not clear why this has happened, but what
is certain is that the hero's past itself has disappeared,
and there is no memory, This may seem like a baffling
disappearance. Because in the past memory had always
been memory which has driven the Hindi film hero to
aggrandisement, revenge, vigilantism, crime, murder,
or all of the above. The examples are many and well-
known; so let us just stick to Amitabh Bachchan. If one
were to ask what makes the angry young man angry,
the answer will surely be memory: the memory of his
parents' murder in Zanjeer; of his being an illegitimate
child in Trishul and Lawaaris; of his childhood sweetheart in Mukkadar ka Sikandar; of his own betrayal under trying circumstances in Kaala Patthar; and, most
famously, of his being branded as a thief's son in Dee-
war. Memory, after all, was what gave that high voltage
intensity to the stunning screen persona of Amitabh
Think now of the Rahuls and the Prems of today's
I iindi films. One of the things that is immediately striking is of course that these young men are no longer
'angry'. Forget about being moved by social injustice,
they do not even run away with their beloved in the
face of parental opposition. On the contrary, like the
hero of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le jayenge, they celebrate their
conformism as valour. But more striking still is the fact
that they do not have childhoods any longer. Recall the
films that have defined the consumable hero: Dilwale
Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai, Dil to Pagal
Hai, Hum Aapke Haiti Kaun, Panics, Kaho Na Pyar Hai,
etc. In all these films, you never see the hero's past,
his childhood, the circumstances of his birth and
The consumable hero is the creation of the liberalised market. To the extent that liberalisation itself is a
relatively recent phenomenon, having been set in place
exactly a decade ago, in 1991, the consumable hero has
no history. His class acquired high disposable incomes,
a jet-setting lifestyle, shopping holidays overseas, and
the rest of the works, only from the mid-1990s or so. He
has no history so he has no memory. Or rather, he has
no history that he cares to recall. A generation before
liberalisation, his father was solidly middle class, the
type Amol Palckar excelled at playing in Basu Chatterjee films. This is a past the new liberalised yuppie,
whether in Tndia or abroad, disdains rather intensely.
One can imagine that there exists a strong connection between the bigamous consumable hero with neither memory and anger, liberalisation and the rise of
new markets (NRls, DVD sales, telecast rights, merchandising), and the celebration of family values and ritual.
The average NRI (non-resident Indian) carries a great
nostalgia for an imagined home that is governed by
familiar and secure family ties and ritual observances
that emphasise as well as enforce those ties. In having
to cope with a system that grants greater prosperity
while taking away family ties, servants, grandma-
babysitters, the servile office-boy, and all the other cushy-
paraphernalia of middle class life in India, the NRI starts
treasuring that imagination, embellishing it to the point
where it becomes totally fetishised. With the rise in the
NRI population (and their ability to pay hard currency,
which grows by a factor of 50 when converted to
the Indian rupee), Hindi cinema has become an active
manufacturer of such fetishes.
The Bollywood scriptwriter Javed Akhtar has somewhere likened Hindi cinema to a state of India, whose
language is not the language of India, but different, yet
not alien. Indians understood that language, and understood that culture. In the last decade, however, much
has changed. That state called Hindi cinema is seceding, and it has already started speaking a language
that seems more and more alien. The party of the rich
shows no signs of winding up; on the contrary, as it
swings with greater abandon, the keyhole of our voyeurism gets only narrower. No happy endings here,  b
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Jayalalithaa (note the
additional vowel at the j
tail, courtesy astrologer
advice) has gone ahead
and done it. Descending
to the level of crass revenge, she got her nemesis, Karunanidhi, literally dragged to the
prison. But what she did
not count on was the power of electronic media. A crew
from the ex-Tamil Nadu chief minister's SUN TV was
there on the spot to capture the humihation meted out
to the boss. Amma was forced to back out and release
Karunanidhi. Oh, the power of media, to be able to force
the dragon lady of the south to back down! (Picture:
Karunanidhi squatting in protest inside the Madras
Central Prison.)
GEORGE BUSH'S foreign policy team is rather CIA-
ridden, not least of whom is Christina Rocca, the new
assistant secretary of state for South Asia who swung
by India, Nepal and Pakistan. The lady has been a career officer within the CIA, although that was not stated
in the media handouts. She is even said to have performed clandestine operations for the Directorate of Intelligence, one of the four units of the CIA. But when the
lady came over, mum was the word in much of the media that has had the CIA as their staple. Ahhh, the days
of the 'foreign hand' seem to have all but disappeared,
when these days we have RAW and ISI to bandy about.
Who cares for Central Intelligence?
NEW DELHI is fast becoming a fashion capital, and
Chhetria Patrakar is not sure this is entirely a good
thing for a Subcontinent where calico itself is in short
supply as far as the population is concerned. Fashion
shows just take the glitterati further into their cocoon.
In the glossy sections of the Delhi papers, every day
you get to catch glimpses of the ever-more-scantily clad
skinny models (the Western ideal imported by the me-
too sensibility of the Indian capital). A navel here, a
midriff there, and generous frontal exposure—the public gets to lap it all up without realising the increasing
distance that this puts between the powerful and the
masses. India does need more than models and IT professionals.
ON SATELLITE television, CNN has Style South Asia,
and BBC television is busy giving us automotive shows.
It is clear that they think this is the target demography,
or at least that this is the category that is the spending
sort which will attract advertising. But it is interesting
that Mallika Sarabhai should energise herself to show
us the rarified lifestyles and interests of the top 0.5 percent of the South Asian (read mostly 'Indian') population. And the poor motoring show hosts. Sure, they may
be able to get the rich and famous to spout off about
their antique vehicles, their brand-new SUVs, and the
pros-and-cons of the various new sedans jousting in
the market. But once you go out for a spin with the
proud owners, you see that THERE IS NOWHERE TO
DRIVE! A Range Rover you may have, but the potholes
of India can hardly make you feel king of the road. Thus
does India have its revenge on the programme producers who would have us forget the real place and the
real time.
THIS IS a classic picture
of politician-meeting-villager in our part of the
world. The lantern is with
BJP Uttar Pradesh leader,
Kalraj Mishra. Once he
goes away, so will the thin
IT'S NO more Indian English or Hinglish, but Indlish. That's the language in
which a movie has been made in Bangalore, called 20
Plus. The blurb reads: Friends, Exam Results, Hope,
Hormones, Relatives, Choices..." Is this a new film genre
in the making? I sure do hope so. There is just not
enough variety in the celluloid world, even though we,
the people, are full of diversity.
NOW SAVOUR this picture of Sheikh Hasina in
naval attire...
shot at in business rivalry" says The Hindu
headline. The police, it
seems, said that the victim was a 'bad character'. It is
almost as if it is alright to be shot at if you have a bad
character, in which case many people I know—includ-.
ing myself— would qualify for the bullet.
BY THE time you read this, the mango season will have
been nearly over. Delhi, the city ofthe unlamented monkey man, just had a mango-eating competition in which
a K.P. Rana, a medical professional no less, did his
tummy proud by consuming 1.5 kg and winning. But
methinks a SAARC Mango Eating Competition would
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
not be a bad idea, for the pear-shaped fruit is: a)
quintessentially South Asian; b) found all over; and c)
in different varieties. Rather than the uncultured attempt to consume the largest volume, this would be a
competition of subtle taste and texture. There will be
healthy rivalry between the Malda, the Dussheri or the
Nepali mountain variety. Assam, Bihar, Punjab and
Sindh, all would vie with their best offerings. I think
this is an ideal subject for the next SAARC summit. How
about a SAARC Mango Summit to coincide with the next
SAARC summit, where the heads of state can start on
their confabulations over a drippy breakfast of mangos
from all over?
THERE ARE all kinds of occupations in this part of the world,
and ear-cleaning is one of them.
Check out this picture of Dhaka
ear-cleaner, Abdul Gafur, and
the snazzy gadgets that he is
carrying. Did I hear someone
speak of hygiene? What, and not
have my ear cleaned?!
IT WAS bound to happen, but
oh god not this way. Dev Anand
might be still a heart-throb but does anyone doubt that
he is a bad film-maker. Somebody please stop him from
making one on the Nepal royal massacre. Says the "evergreen" man, "I am deeply disturbed by what happened in Nepal... I was very close to the [royal] family
and that's the reason I'm making the film." God save
the Nepali royalty. Meanwhile, we wait with dread for
some Western (or Indian) pulp fiction author to churn
out a novel on the blue-blooded murders in Shangri-la.
THE INDIAN Supreme Court came up with two interesting judgements early this month. It has declared that,
"dying words made only in fit mind is relevant". So
there goes the power of the last word. The next verdict
is harsh on sniffer dogs. The court says the persons
they track down, may not always have committed the
crime. Bowbow. And let that not be my dying words,
your honour.
THE AGRA Summit might be dead, but
thankfully the New Delhi-Lahore bus is
still plying (picture shows security man
escorting the bus). More good news for
South Asian transport is that all is set for
an Indo-Bangla train, ready to chug it from
Howrah to Dhaka. A trial run was done
early this month from Calcutta to the eastern side of the Bangabandhu Bridge at the
border. To make it even better, a goods
train has been running from Indian
Petrapole to Bangladeshi Benapole from
24 January this year. All this cross border
bonhomie, that too so soon after Boraibari. Are we entering the Brave New World?
THIS IS a rare picture. Of
Kathmandu's "Living Goddess" waiting to be worshipped one last time before
she makes way for another
pre-pubescent girl to take on
her hefty mantle.
ENGLISH CRICKET everyone knows is in the doldrums. But what makes it worse is that when England
at home plays teams from the Subcontinent, it hardly
gets any support on the ground. Indian and Pakistani
fans are known to outnumber their English counterparts, and have even created minor riots inside the stadium. Some say that's just dessert for the sins of the
former colonisers, but that's putting it too crudely. Let's
just say that if rowdyism enters the cricket stadia at Old
Trafford or The Oval it merely means that the proper
South Asian flavour has finally invaded the
gentleman's game in its home territory.
SHOULD SUCH pictures be
published or not? No, writes
an angry Dhaka correspondent to The Independent: "How
could the photographer aim
his lens at such a picture of
grief and sorrow... Grief is a
private thing." This has always been a tough one for
photographers and photo
editors, a great picture for some is trespass on behalf of
others. Hold those flash-bulbs.
"SIX [BANGLADESHI] women arrested with Indian
saris", says an online headline. We must put a stop to
this harassing of the ladies of Bangladesh who want
the best in sarees. In fact, since we cannot close the
borders, we should open them completely. In the end,
water will find its own level and tensions will subside.
Dhakai sarees will flood Calcutta, and Indian chiffon
Bangladesh. What's wrong with that?
Indian synthetics will invade
Bangladesh, while Bangladeshi jute
will wipe out Indian producers. Such
should be the way of the future, where
Comparative Advantage is king. When
that day arrives, I will not be asked
every time I cross the India-Nepal border, "Saar, are you carrying anything
earner a- wamera?" The cops at the border are still searching for cameras,
whereas Mallika Sarabhai is into
haute couture.
—Chhetria Patrakar
2001 August 14/8   HIMAL
Random memories in first
and third person
by Afsan Chowdhutyi
hev held the stengun to the back of his head in the half darkness of the late winter evening. A lamppost threwT uncertain
light as they stood in a group and smoked and talked cheer-
'. The man had been taken out of his home and made to stand
the upper middle class neighbourhood. Nothing
extraordinary. It was just Bangladesh in mid-December 1971.
amQpaz. A noble name. But he was the typical
urhood thug, a swaggering, drinking, fornicating man. Yet
lone of all would also dare to take the small-pox patient to the
y himself when others turned away. A braggart and a
t not exactly a criminal. Not even by the more uptight stan-
of that era. But Shahbaz, unwittingly and through no par-
ar choice or resolve of his own, had broken a cardinal rule of
had stepped into one of its wrong moments. Bangladesh
List become independent and there were more guns in young,
y, impatient hand-- then the trees and leaves that populated a
m December of that time. And guns sought enemies like the
nnd vermin sought the garbage on the street.
Hpobody was sure what his "crime" was but everybody was
sure he was a "bad egg" and so someone had found a reason to
complain. No one knew who and why, but to know gun wielders
Tnd curry favour by being in touch and complaining was the thing
to do when life and death slept so close to each other. His brother, a
plumber by profession, stood close by, as if waiting for something
to happen but too puzzled at the turn of events to make any move,
not even to beg for mercy.
"Get inside," someone hissed. "They are going to kill him."
Scared feet shuffled inside scared, timid homes.
Shahbaz started to argue but the hands that held him, proud
with the colours of freedom and machismo moved quickly. The gun
barked. The sound was sudden, unexpected, but not really loud.
No big deal really. Just the brief, harsh, staccato song of a firearm—.
crack, chat, chat. And then it was over. The man crumpled to the
ground and lay still. The business over, the young men piled into a
commandeered car and were gone in a whiff leaving a body in the
dust, still, inert, bloody.
After a few moments, the corpse's brother stole out into the dark.
Silently he dragged the corpse all by himself into the narrow lane
where they lived, to face his sister-in-law and her kid and explain
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 why Shahbaz had died, it would certainly have been
more difficult than the labours of those who had killed
him. In fact, it seems always so easy, to casually bump
off people when they least expect it and without so
much as mentioning why. Shahbaz had died without a
fight or a cry.
For a long time no taps were repaired in the
neighbourhood, no clogged pipes were cleared. His
brother's revenge caused much grief to all. But one day
the whole family was suddenly gone and nobody ever
saw them again. Soon there was a new plumber in the
para who was much better than Shahbaz's brother. He
was soon gone from everyone's collective memory.
Nobody remembers no one, not even when they arc
plumbers. Or their brother.
History certainly came at full speed, hitting everyone with a bang and leaving them sprawled in the dirt
and mud, pulling away the comfortable carpet from
underneath collective feet. Since we couldn't afford
eggs and toast for breakfast, we had fried green papaya
and chapati instead. Afternoon tea was reduced to a
fistful of puffed rice and a cup of weak tea as chasers,
once in a while "toast biscuits"—often called dog biscuits with great affection and loathing—with drops of
gur (molasses) sitting on them like clotted blood. The
afternoon tea routine was as unnecessary as it was
unbreakable. It defied history and survives till today.
And of course most became Radicals. Was it the green
papaya for breakfast that made it happen ?
Leftists, Communists. Marxists. I didn't know anyone who was not one. There was a bit of fashion but
even unfashionable ones became Lefties. A large chunk
of the party in power—the Awami League cracked open
and let a stream of young cadres out. They disengaged
and declared themselves Leftists. "We had been Leftists for long. The national liberation struggle was the
first step in the total revolution. The unfinished revolution must now be completed," they solemnly declared.
Their new party was called Jatiyo Samjtantrik Dal (JSD).
In English that is the Nationalist Socialist Party. It became known as "Jashod" or the Bangla acronyms of
JSD put together.
The old Left, still secretive and more rigid than ever
before, felt very let down by all this. There was talk of
the Mother Party and all that but not enough listeners.
There was resentment that "upstart bourgeoisie politicians" and "foreign agents" were stealing their history. But they could do little. The rebellious drums of
campus radicals drowned the noise from all their underground jazz .
lt was all about unfinished revolutions. Everyone
had a stake in this great inevitable change. Even many
Awami Leaguers considered themselves Leftists. It was
the one time in Bangladesh's history when there were
few Rightists left to say hello to. But best was if one
believed that only one's own party was right. Isn't that
how it always went?
It was also a period of clandestine life. Everything
was a secret, including life and hope and the huge profits from black marketing in a country still learning to
manage everything from scratch. But for most, especially in the campus, hope wore the colour red. And red
is the colour of blood. Sometimes the two mixed so well
that nobody could tell the difference.
But life was swiftly changed for all. Even the awesome salaries drawn by senior executives were dwarfed
by price rises, privilege cuts and shortages. Fair price
shops, unheard of before, opened. They were actually
ration shops politely renamed for the sake of the self-
specting middle class. They provided shoddy stuff at
Tia^fordable prices. The salary-man's salvation home, a
[political necessity to keep the many hued babus not too
The clothes people wore got coarser by the day and
mothers became more innovative cooks as food price
shot beyond domestic budgets. Even the government
formed a Department of Price Control and Expenditure
Management. But unheard of luxuries were available
in the market as well. The configuration of economic
classes changed like a shuffled decks of cards and some
took public transport to work for the first time since
Bengal was sliced in 1947. Meanwhile, some bought
their first cars, others their second. A fewer still their
Suddenly, some people were getting awfully rich.
Under-20-year-olds would arrive in chauffeured limos
to visit friends in the early mornings or the late hours
after or before parties, where smuggled Akai decks
played contraband music and served scotch in wine
glasses. They talked of the price of coconut oil in
Calcutta and cardamom in Ceylon. What was a foreign
2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
Principal? Indenting? LC margins? Overdrafts? Vat 69?
Shared girl friends? Marx never explained these things
in the books.
In secret meetings, comrades swore to kill all class
enemies and swore at the cigarette that had died bitterly on tired lips. The butt ached from sitting on hard
floors. Tomorrow we would have a revolution surely.
"At best next year," the man from Calcutta promised.
He was an Indian Maoist imported from Ballygunge.
He soon had a Bangladeshi passport, soon he had
friends dropping in, soon he had set up a network. And
soon he had picked up the local accent. He knew the
enemy better than the local lads did, He knew the friends
even better.
He ran a network of Indian Lefties in Bangladesh.
All of it was trundling along fine, until one night a
visitor came carrying a letter all the way from across
the border. It said that the Calcutta Comrade was probably a police informer and the cause of an arrest or two.
When Avishekda returned, he was told about the visitor and the letter. He left hurriedly never to return. Years
later someone met him in the Jadavpur area of Calcutta.
He had married a wealthy senior citizen, and used a
car now. They drank chilled bottles of club soda sitting
on the sidewalk and talked of dead friends.
In Dhaka a university student
could survive on taka 5 per day. A
bus ticket was 1  taka for most
places. A packet of 10 Star cigarettes, cheapest in the market, cost
taka 1.50. A plate of oily rice with
tiny scraps of meaty rubber was taka
1. And a cup of tea was .50. And
with the left over 1 taka, catch a ride
home. By that time, tea, literature,   .
politics and dreams would have
filled most bellies.
We hung out in Sharif Mia's
canteen where literary-minded po-
liticos and politically-inclined literati gathered till the late evening,     r
It was the one true institution'   '
that had emerged after 1971,
Dhaka   University's   thatched
roofed   equivalent   of   the
famous Calcutta coffee
house. Its tea was legendary—though some disagreed. Some would even
take it home in thermos flasks. 1
thought the talk was better than the
tea. To the outside world it was a
place that was "rich and strange".
Sharif Mia,  a perpetually d
gruntled man in a dirty vest and
lungee, who was perpetually making
tea bent over a ramshackle stove, was
from old Dhaka. He was an original
with a caustic wit so barbed that nobody dared cross
swords with him, not even the premium poet or the
party honcho. One day, much later, the university authorities came and dismantled his tea shop in all of
three minutes. His shack of a canteen was probably the
most significant part of our mental horizon, but then it
was an illegal construction. And it probably irked them
to see lectures so abjectly fail to compete with adda, I
suppose. Oh, well. He is dead anyway.
But another 5 taka could certainly take you through
the day. Lunch at the university hall canteens could be
had for just taka 2, hugely subsidised, tasteless and
slightly illegal if you were not a resident there. Like we
were not. And in the evening, you could visit the
Jagannath hall canteen, meant exclusively for the minorities, where for taka 2 you could feast on tiny helpings of alu tarkari, tomato curry, three chapatis and an
endless supply of green chilies. The chapatis were a
wonder and the canteen boy would bring a stack and
then beat them like cymbals to get rid of the flour dust.
It tasted marvellous.
Students were divided between Hall boys and City
boys. Those who stayed in the Halls had a lifestyle
very different from those who lived in the city and commuted to the campus, It was also an excellent index of
cultural and class barrier. When graduation result time
came, the boys from the Halls took most of the honours.
But not in our department of History. There the
ladies topped the list, these studious students who did
well in every exam they took. Even the lady who now
tells me twice a day that marrying me was her greatest
mistake in life took the second position. I came out a
distant third. It was not till a year later in the Masters
that honour was restored when both of us jointly topped
the list. Frankly, I cared most for the sense of liberation
that the campus life gave me, so different from my sheltered growing up. So different to be late, late, late coming home.
And not bothering to explain.
In the seventies I had decided not to shave my beard.
It didn't have anything to do with anything except evading the bother of shaving everyday, I was a grungy,
dusty pajama-kurta wearing, bespectacled, slightly
unwashed "intellectual Leftist" who practised regular
highs. I was supposed to know all about the "class
struggle" and was rumoured to have read Marx and
Lenin, and Mao too. It was a mystery to many which
party I belonged to. I moved in all the circles easily. 1
was probably the first free-lance Marxist in this land in
that era. It says little about Marxism but perhaps a great
deal about free-lancers.
My hair was shoulder length and my
beard nearly touched my chest. I had a
deadly resemblance to Major J alii, a war
hero who had been arrested after he reportedly opposed the stripping of the jute
mills and the removal of the machines
by the Indian army.   He had joined the
Leftists who had left Awami League to
form JSD, which in the seventies committed one of the more significant politico-historical acts.
One day as I crossed the road, a
policeman saluted me, and I noticed
the awe in his eyes. I realised what
had happened. He thought I was
Major Jalil. I also realised my history had been reduced to my beard
and long unkempt hair. And probably that look in my eyes which
belched fire and smoke fuelled
by tea and locally-grown grass.
But I wasn't the only hairy
one. The government ran regular hair-cutting campaigns
and anybody sporting fuzz
•was suspect. History has often testified that the state likes
clean-shaved men.
A week later they raided
our neigbourhood to recover
,'*"■ illegal arms and arrested the
entire family on the suspicion
of hoarding such weapons. One
of my longest days had arrived.
The man in uniform held a
gun to his throat, and kept asking where the weapons
were hidden. It is difficult to talk with a gun of the automatic variety pressed against the Adam's Apple. He
persistently denied any knowledge of weapons but the
men in uniform were not convinced. They took out metal
balls and rolled them on the floor. Magnetic? He looked
at his death and wondered whether this made any
sense. To have died for a reason not particularly clear
to him. Was all this because of the way he looked?
They made him and the rest of the family search the
house for those elusive weapons. In the rooms where
the books were kept, they found a few Russian editions
of the Marxist literary pantheon on his table with old
Karl's face printed on them.
"Is it you?"
The young man wondered if it was better to deny or
to affirm. They seemed to have made up their minds
"Yes, it's me."
They nodded and kept urging him to search as they
stood with guns cocked at the full. So, a few people
were alive that day who thought that Karl Marx lived
in Dhaka and wrote books with his own picture on the
cover. Conceit killed Karl. Now that made sense.
Finally they shoved the barrel inside his mouth. The
metallic taste was strange and repulsive, mixing death
and saliva in his throat. Then they asked the question
again. He couldn't answer with this mouthful. He tried
to move his head. Is this how it's done finally?
An officer type entered the room and asked them to
take him and all other males away. His cheeks ached
from the pain of having an AK-47 inside his mouth.
His mother started to cry but he felt drained of emotions. As if he didn't exist. And then it was over.
A sort of senior officer stormed inside and demanded
to know what the charges were. Suddenly nobody
seemed to know any. Was there a complaint? There
was no answer. Intelligence report? Silence. He then
asked to set them free.
The man who had stuck the gun in his mouth now
came over and warmly shook his hands. The young
man was no longer a terrorist. And then they were
quickly gone from the area. The family waited all day
in the porch, fearful that they would be visited and
picked up again. It was better if they stayed there and
didn't have to come down again to be carted away. He
kept remembering the taste of the gun inside his mouth.
He still does.
Azam Khan was in full cry in the campus auditorium, and the couple of thousand students that made
up the audience were hysterical. Reedy thin with a straggly beard, dressed in trousers and a bright coloured
shirt, he was singing about love, drugs, and mysticism
of the campus variety.
The High Court shrine has many faquirs but how
many are real?
In tlie market of love so many lovers roam about, but
how many are real?
 Oh, in this world of today, people have ceased to be
In this world of today human beings are no longer
human beings.
As boys erupted in the seats, they were really for
once becoming part of a history, a cultural history that
has survived many changes and become mainstreamed
and it was being born then and there. Only they didn't
know it then. The pop songs of A/am Khan—often
hyped versions of mystic melodies sung in various
shrines for ages—defined them more than many other
things and ideals. After all, they were just a bunch of
nice kids caught in the wrong moment of history. They
didn't know what to do with their time, their history,
His song " Frustration" was almost the campus
national anthem and it was no secret that most thought
that ganja was a treatment for that strange emotion
which the womb of expectation holds. The seventies
made dope respectable even if it failed to do that to the
revolution. Dope was snatched from the lips of low
caste Hindus and its smoke passed through middle
class nostrils and this put a poita on its back. It was
born first in the fields. The next time it was reborn on so
many young, unhappy lips. Thus was ganja twice-born.
Azam Khan and his lot sang traditional songs with
a touch of rock and Western accompaniments, Bang]a's
original remixer. He used  traditions to create his own.
The land of pure, pristine Tagore and Nazrul music
was swamped by a new syntax of language and rhythm
not heard before. Anger, arrogance and self-pity mixed
with music. So many were already convinced that they
had no future. The use of drugs said it all. Even for
those who spoke constantly of the red dawn, nirvana
in the evening came in rolled reefers and "high" and
"low" pills. Poet Nirmalcndu Goon took it to its highest level when he wrote a poem and read it publicly to
thunderous applause.
Today's Sunday
Today's a holiday
Today it's   Mandrax
It's only Mandrax.
Mandrax or "Mandy"—as it was affectionately
called—was the one word that spelt a whole host of
images now long ago forgotten.
The High Court mazar (shrine) was a "hot" mazar.
That is, it was an active mazar. You could get immediate results. Mendicants of all sorts converged here as
did drug peddlers. Even if you had nothing in particular to ask for, you still went to get high. But there was
unease in the air which no shrine could heal.
When the Awami League and the pro-Soviet parties
merged into one party called BKSAL and banned all
other parties, the situation became even more uncertain.  There was talk of 'emergency' being imposed.
The Islamic groups were also trying to resurface and
clandestine meetings were reported. By that time the
Gono Bahini (People's Army), the armed wing of the
JSD had sprung up and campus Halls were the headquarters. There were rumours of military connections
and some went so far as to say that the military was
getting restive too.
On 15 August 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it was
announced, would visit the university. On 14 August
a few bombs went off in the library area next to Sharif
Mia's canteen. He was unmoved and made more tea.
Many went and inspected the damage and returned to
the feeble tea and literature and wondered what to do
next. The next day everyone was expected to be present
in the campus to welcome the President.
Gunshots awoke people at dawn the next day.
Through a hazy sleepy dream, people thought they
saw students letting off fire crackers to celebrate his
visit. But the sounds were echoes of '71. Everyone knew
those sounds only too well. In minutes everyone was
huddled around the radio. The voice of a Major Dalim
came through, announcing that Sk. Mujib had been
killed. All knew hell would break loose, and waited for
it. Things would never be certain again, the same again.
If Sk. Mujib could be killed anything could happen ^k
By 10 in the morning, they imposed martial law. But
few knew who the "they" were and what it all meant.
Everyone said it was the CIA, some said it was the RAW.
It was up to anyone to guess and to decide. It didn't
But it was history and it began to happen at a frenetic pace. Three months later, on 4 November, the group
that had taken over was deposed by another coup led
by whom no one was sure. Some said that the AL had
returned to power and cited a huge procession in the
campus led by AL leaders. But the rumours were bigger than the procession. There had been more killings it
was heard, but nobody knew who had been felled. But
it was clear that no one was in full control. Another
round of violence seemed imminent. The radio went on
and on. Batteries did brisk business.
Apparently military forces had been arrayed on both
sides, whatever the sides were. The dividing line seemed
to be the railway line that bifurcated the city. We went
down to see what was going on. Heavily armed soldiers with stoic faces were taking positions behind
stacks of bricks kept for a suspended high-rise construction. The soldiers didn't seem particularly hostile.
Maybe they were as puzzled as we were. And scared.
A bedraggled fruit vendor put down his basket of
green papayas. I blanched at the sight of these vegetables masquerading as fruit. The man asked the soldier to take himself and his sub-machine gun somewhere else. He had important business to transact. The
soldier obliged. Things didn't seem all right at all. Papaya vendors bullying armed soldiers?
On the night of 7 November, the Gono Bahini led by
a one-legged legendary war hero, retired Colonel Taher,
mounted a coup supported by soldiers who were loyal
to him and his Red vision of Bangladesh. On the two or
maybe three sides were war heroes of 1971, and so fel-
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 low comrades of the liberation war killed each other.
Taher's men took over the radio station and we all
gathered again in the morning in front of it. Radio became the face of the state.
By the end of the afternoon, Colonel Taher had lost
control and Gen. Ziaur Rahman emerged from jail and
took over. A few months later, Taher was sentenced to
be hanged for treason and later his brothers—all decorated war heroes—tried to take the Indian ambassador
hostage to free Taher and got killed and
goes on... But it was the Red's biggest hour if not the
most glorious. In South Asia the Reds never came closer
than that to taking over the state. They may have held it
for half a day... By lunch time the revolution was over...
A new world was evolving, The old pro-Peking
Leftists emerged from the underground to declare support to Zia because he was anti-Awami league and AL
was pro-Soviet and so...the Leftist logic continued
inanely. It was their death-knell anyway. The Leftist
leaders were singularly unimpressive and when they
visited the campus, they seemed to lose all charisma in
a day's promenade. The old guard pro-Peking Leftists
had, within a year, ceased to be a political force. They
had been dropped from history, Like stale bfiajee.
Thev found Khalilullah chewing a human heart with
great relish sitting on the verandah. Near him were a
human kidney and probably lungs. He was obviously
enjoying his meal. Apparently he had been living on
human offal for years. It helped that he was a "guard"
at the Medical College morgue. He chilled hearts with a
new image of fear and became a legend of ghoulish
proportions. Now this was something.
A bunch of tired radicals sat under a tree in the campus to discuss the future. Of them, most had fought in
the 1971 war, some had even "eliminated" enemies in
the futile Red wars. They had handled guns and conducted raids. As dark came they talked of Khalilullah,
the new "devil". Suddenly the lights vanished in the
campus and the brave soldiers of the Red dawn held
each other and shook in fear. Khalilullah was scarier
than all of the Right put together. Says much about the
Right. And the Left too.
The unfortunate Khalilullah was diagnosed by professional men. The doctors said he couldn't tell his right
hand from his left. He was suffering from a disease of
the degenerating brain. Khalilullah died in the lunatic
asylum. u
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2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
 Even the grand statesmen of the West assem
bled in Genoa on 20 July would not have liked the
images of conflict that their summit left in its wake, the
media that they cannot do without, had a satisfying
day with some help from the city's carabiniere. Carlo
Giuliani, a young political activist (see pic), was shot
dead at the venue of the G-8 summit, hundreds were
injured. The worldwide audience of television news—
onlookers since three years ago in Seattle, and then successively in Prague and Gothenburg—could not but be
bemused at how this gathering of the cultured representatives of the trans-Atlantic ruling class, assembled
to discuss ways and means of reducing poverty, had
provoked such vehement opposition, leaving one dead,
still others mutinous, and people across the globe derisive of the pomp and circumstance that accompanied
the summit.
The protesters with the grassroots trade unions
(SLAI-Cobas) were in a combative mood and webV
Crime and Punishment in Genoa
prepared to make the 20 July "rebellion in Genoa" a
success. Among those present in the ancient mercantilist capital were delegations from Yugoslavia, Mexico,
Turkey, Greece, Sardinia and elsewhere. As expected,
the demonstrators represented various views and orientations—unions, political activists (including anarchists and communists), development ngos, religious
and humanitarian groups, human right activists and a
whole lot of others attracted to Genoa by the assembly
of Big Men. The slogans ranged from the demand to
withdraw NATO from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, to
the dissolution of the Hague 'inquisition', to support
for the Palestinian Intifada, and opposition to the embargo against Iraq and Cuba. However, the general
theme that cut across the disparate groups was in the
arena of global economics and politics—the need for
"globalisation from below", a reduction of the current
Third World debt burden, and the control of international capital flows by "civil society" rather than by the
international corporations and the governments at their
beck and call.
Just a week after the 'imperialist' gathering in Genoa,
a much-less-publised Anti-Imperialist Camp was organised in Assisi, also in Italy. It was dedicated to developing political perspectives for the anti-globalisation movement, which the organisers felt was at a decisive stage following the G-8 meeting and its well-publicised fallout. Tlie violence in Genoa was seen as a signal to the movement—how to continue the protests
against globalisation, establish "civic control" over the
emerging agenda in the wake of globalisation, and
stand firm to confront the forces that are pushing the
one-way economic globalisation. The continent most
devastated by capitalism was present in Genoa as
it was in Assisi: Lumumbist groups from Zaire-
Congo whose country is being torn apart by Western
intervention; people like Dr. Bashir Kurfi, an anti-imperialist intellectual from Nigeria; and activists from
Sierra Leone, Senegal, Chad, Guinea... The delegates
from West Asia questioned the West's management of
peace in the context of the second Intifada, and sought
lessons from the collapse of the Oslo agreement. Other
activists pointed to how the Western powers were courting Turkey for the sake of its military machine even
while in Ankara's jails political prisoners were engaged
in fasts unto death. In Assisi, the revolutionary women
from Afghanistan explained their struggle against the
Pakistan-backed Taliban, while the Filipino members
of Migrante suggested the political possibilities available to Asian migrants in the West. The Mexicans
warned of how the struggle for state power could be
forgotten when "civil society" issues take over the agenda, as it had in their country in these times of neo-
Just as globalisation has many faces, so too does the
protest in its opposition. The rebellion in Genoa raises
a problematic. By embodying contradictory phenomena, it asks of politics a whole series of questions that
used traditionally to be part of the elite domain. If the
meeting of G-8 was a manifestation of international
democracy at work, how could such pomp and glory
presume to represent the majority of people on this planet? How could those who claim to care for the poor and
the victims allow "humanitarian bombs" and transnational murders? Was it possible for the manifold nature of the Genoa protest to be rewritten in a coherent
political format, making it more powerful? That is what
was requiring an answer, beyond the agitation and
There were many images available at Genoa, starting with the ambition of the trans-Atlantic club and the
failure of its rhetoric. Then there was the desperate
HIMAL  14/8 August 2001
effort of the protesters to increase their ranks through
global means, and the mob's resolve to spit on the moral indignation expressed against the agitation by the
political leaders of that club. The unreality of the agenda of the super-rich to fight poverty was mirrored in the
death of the protestor on the Genoa pavement. It was a
hallucinatory world all right. Just as it happened in the
case of Raskolnikov's murder of his landlady, in Dos-
toevsky's Crime and Punishment, the killing of the youth
in Genoa has left its clues everywhere. That lone, but
symbolic, death now guarantees that henceforth the
protests will continue wherever the symbols of global
power present themselves. The G-8 may hereafter move
their annual hermitage into the deepest forest of Canada or the furthest corner of Tasmania, but it does not
look like they can easily meet amidst the glass towers
and wide boulevards any longer. The docile welcome
of the past will be a memory, with the protestors forcing
them to remember the wealth that they do represent—
and not the world that they would presume to.
But an assembly of emperors away from the bustle
and din of crowd—will it serve the purpose? To ask
this is to ask, what precisely is the purpose? Again, in
Dostoyevsky's hands, punishment and crime were not
events in sequel; they were one. Crime was punishment.
The moment of commitment of the crime was the moment when punishment had begun. The long shadows
outside the palaces and glass hotels of Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa are there to stay. The protestors had
meant the moments of assembly to be moments of derision and disbelief and now they have become that. An
assembly deep in the forest or in a faraway island cannot attract glory. Montesquieu had reminded us more
than two centuries ago, how the pursuit of glory was
important for kingdoms. Modern republics, as kingdoms of today, pursue policies that promise glory, for
glory brings in its wake power, wealth, and satisfaction. Hence the dilemma, how to pursue glory without
murder, pomp without derision, riches without poverty, and democracy without coercion?
More than to those assembled at Assisi, this is a
question to those who met at Genoa. b
—Ranabir Samaddar
The Chaos Theory at
If the public begins to believe that
Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for the killings in the royal palace, then the "how" and "why" questions will be superseded by what its".
To this, there are no answers.
In April 1999, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains,
in a sleepy town called Littleton in Colorado, 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School were
killed by two students from the same school in a 16-
minute killing spree in the worst school rampage in
American history. The killers, Eric Harris and Dylan
Klebold, who had been described by a few of their teachers and friends as "nice and gentle", subsequently took
their own lives.
On 1 June 2001, in the foothills of the Himalaya in a
Kathmandu that was getting ready for the night, nine
members of the royal family were killed, in a carnage
that a dozen witnesses report was carried out single-
handedly by Crown Prince Dipendra. He is thought to
have killed himself subsequently.
All Nepal tried to make sense of the bizarre madness, the inexplicability of a son, an heir to the throne,
no less, going around summarily executing his entire
family within a few furious minutes. Two long months
have elapsed since the chilling incident at the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, and the frantic fabrication of con
spiracy scenarios has abated somewhat and the national attention is diverted to the ever-pressing problem with the Maoists. The public seems to be coming
around to sullen acceptance of what it has been told
was the truth.
That is the wrong way to tackle this problem and,
even if there is no strident demand from the public, the
authorities must live up to their responsibility and try
to present more evidence and shed more light on the 1
June episode. If the royal palace, the Parliament and
the (new) government of Sher Bahadur Deuba are not
mindful of the need to pursue the matter, the cloud over
the royal status of King Gyanendra will not lift. And in
the long term, this will be to the detriment of both the
Nepali monarchy and people.
For the sake of the collective Nepali psyche, therefore, it is necessary to keep the file on the royal massacres open and continue with the investigation. As and
when the belief that Dipendra carried out the shooting
becomes accepted, another set of questions will begin
to trouble the national consciousness. If Dipendra did
what they said he did, the questions of "what if" will
come to the fore. While sifting of the evidence may well
convince the public of Dipendra's responsibility for the
massacre of his family, the questions of "what if" will
stay with the country far into the future. It is this aspect,
even more than the answer to "who-done-it", that needs
to be tackled for the country to heal in the aftermath of
the Narayanhiti murders.
Believers and non-believers
Those who suspect conspiracy, of course, continue to
raise sceptical questions such as: with hundreds of palace guards around, with aides de camp attached to
every member of the royal family, how come not one of
them could intercept and disarm a "highly inebriated"
prince? How was this "highly inebriated" prince able
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
to shoot with such alertness and accuracy? How could
the right-handed Dipendra have shot himself through
the left side of his head? Why was the cremation so
hastily carried out? Was it just a series of fantastical
coincidences that Prince Gyanendra was away at the
time, that his wife Princess Komal was hurt but miraculously managed to survive, that Prince Paras his son
escaped totally unhurt, that Princess Himani his daughter-in-law did not attend the dinner? Could parental
opposition to the choice of a particular bride ever be
sufficient to instigate such ghastly fury? Why did a
prince, so cheerfully enjoying a squash tournament only
a few hours earlier, go on a killing binge? And so on.
Because the palace authorities have clammed up,
and those in government seem disinterested and Parliament have clammed-up and the media has not persevered, a majority of Nepalis persist with these questions and are unwilling to accepts Dipendra's possible
culpability. An increasing number, however, are not so
sure and are willing to come half-way and concede that
Dipendra may have been the killer. There is also a significant minority that has now come around to the conviction that the crown prince must indeed have been
responsible for the murders at the royal palace. Starting with those in the uppermost echelons of the Kathmandu society, this last believers' category is now roping in people from all walks of life.
Had various confusing factors not intervened to
promote the rumours and conspiracy theories about
the killing of King Birendra and his clan, the public at
large would have accepted quite early what only this
believing minority accepts today. With the blame assigned, the natural progression for the public would
next have been to tackle the question of "what if". As it
transpired, the Nepali public never got to this stage of
questioning, being still stuck with "how" and "why"
stage. However, as the months and years roll on, it
seems likely that today's minority of believers will
guide the debate on the massacre in the future, and
start asking the next set of questions—
"what if?".
What if, on that ill-fated night,
Prince Nirajan had gone out
with his friends instead?
What if King Birendra
had been able to return
fire with the gun he was
reaching for? What if the
Rana clans of Juddha Shumshere and Chandra Shumshere were
not involved in a historical feud?
What if Dipendra had not been giv
en charge of evaluating guns for the Royal Nepali
Army? What if the late king and queen had agreed to
their son's marriage to Devyani Rana (Dipendra's love
In a way, the "what ifs" are more difficult to answer
than the "hows" the "whys", which demands a higher
level of specificity. The "what ifs", on the other hand, at
least at first, are more ticklish—dealing with greater
intangibles and more elusive notions, such as parental
relationships, the metaphysical dimensions of contemporary society and socio-psychological deconstruc-
tions. Of course, the "what ifs" may serve the interests
of the status quoists in Nepali society who will want to
cover up the palace massacre and move on. However,
they do give rise to a more solemn set of questions for
the long-term because what it asks and tries to answer
invokes, according to situation, our paternal, maternal,
filial, social and national sensibilities. These sensibilities go far beyond Prince Dipendra's individual experience with his family, and apply more universally to a
child's experience with the family, a brother's relationship with his sister, an uncle's relationship with his
niece or nephew, one's relationship with one's inner
self...our relationship with our destinies.
It is important to ask these questions and treat them
with the seriousness they deserve—if only because they
will be asked more often as more Nepalis begin to accept the crown prince's reported role in the massacre.
But, the truth is that while some of the questions will be
the right ones, and yet others interesting and necessary, we need to be careful in the way we try to sieek
answers from them, and be suspicious of thJnse
that promise wholesale solutions and appeasfiJiiu:
t       Ir
Non-linear chaos
In the case of Columbine High, for example, Cassie; Ber-
nall, the 17-year-old junior and a "born again" Christian is reportedly believed to have replied "Yes" when
asked if she believed in God. She was subsequently shot. We were all provoked to ask
then if she could have saved her life by-
replying "No" instead. Which
again elicits a series of
questions. Would Cassie
have lived if she had chosen not to find her religion
all over again and possibly
avert inciting the killers' ridicule?
Would Cassie have lived if she were
not a Christian in the first place, po-
sibly precluding the need to even re-
. "■■• ' '   -ft---
HIMAL  14/8 August 2001
spond to that fateful question? What if the two student
killers had a predilection not for Doom, but for Ludo or
Chinese checkers? What if Marilyn Manson (the rock
star whose music is said to have triggered the killers'
dark side) had by an accident of circumstance become
a firefighter instead? Who should the blame be put on?
On America's culture of violence? On diabolical computer games like Doom? On the Internet where Eric
and Dylan had learnt how to make bombs? What if the
Internet had not been invented by the US military?
Who should the blame be put on in Nepal? On Nepali parents, do not have sufficient empathy with their
children's sensitivities, the departed royal couple epitomising the condition of the modernising upper classes? On royalty as a whole, that demands too much from
its members? On drugs and alcohol that have seeped
into the lives of Nepal's youth? On a culture that is still
beset with looking at a child's aspirations in the light
of family or caste expectations and requirements?
In times like these, even as a delayed reaction, it is
normal to begin to manufacture a succession of "if only"
and "what might have been" questions. What if Dipendra had been so drunk as to have been totally comatose
that night? What if Princess Shruti had used her judo
skills to interrupt a prince gone berserk? What if members of the royal family did not have unhindered access
to arms? What if, Devyani Rana had not been born?
How would things have been different, if at all?
It is not that these questions in themselves have no
value. However, to dwell on them hysterically will yield
responses and outcomes that are so infinite that we
would get lost. It will create a situation where blame
begins to disperse so rapidly that it eventually becomes
meaningless. Killers become victims and victims become
killers in ever-spiralling permutations.
Even if this is primarily a sociological issue, science
might come in handy in trying to take the nation forward from these crisis-ridden times. Chaos theory is
predicated on the notion that we live in largely unpredictable, irreducible, nonlinear, iterative and turbulent
world—what the composer Gustav Mahler called the
"ceaseless motion and incomprehensible bustle of life".
Trying to model reality and find causal connection between remote events and action is therefore futile. We
can begin to appreciate the futility of trying to chart the
"butterfly effect"—the notion that, taken to the extreme,
a single butterfly moving innocuously in the air in
Amazon produces tiny wind currents which when
causally linked to a series of other events could lead to
a hurricane in the Colombo. But just how do we begin
to identify the butterfly and the eggs that created them?
What if ten butterflies had decided not to take up the
journey on that particular day? Would there still be a
Causalities are boundless and indeterminate. As we
try to scramble for larger solutions—more security at
Naryanhiti, restrictions on access to arms for members
of the royal family, an examination of the child-parent
relationship, the dissection of polemics on sibling
rivalry, the anachronism of "clans" and "castes" in
modern times—let us not lead each other into pretending that outcomes can be so easily linked and then predicted and controlled. Tlie nature of the universe and
the interplay of politics, drugs, love, community, human conscience, poverty, insanity—cannot be explained by linking all the situations in a cause-and-
effect linearity. Trying to connect and reconnect all
these infinite variables will invariably yield incoherent
The tendency to try to come to terms with this hostile reality, to respond emotionally to a maddening act
through the many "what ifs" is itself a natural one—to
get absorbed by and preoccupied with it, is not. Robert
Louis Stevenson had said : "Life is monstrous, infinite,
illogical, abrupt and poignant." When left to stray, the
human sensibility tends to seek hidden arrangements
in everything, but in doing so we lose perspective. The
collective will and capacity of the Nepali people to move
forward will languish if they continue to, as the academic Elaine Showalter says, "look for magic-bullet
answers to the complexities of modern life".
Nepali society needs to recover from the whirlpool
of conspiracies and contradictions, sadness and anger. Do we want this incident to take away more from
us than it already has? Any fixation in trying to establish the late Prince Dipendra's motivations and, worse,
causally link them to the infinite number of possibilities is akin to trying to find the pattern of a falling leaf
or a bat out of hell or trying to determine the relationship between a child's cry in Namche Bazaar and an
avalanche on Nuptse's flanks. In hunting for societal
scapegoats for Dipendra's alleged macabre act—whether in collective trends or individuals—we will only be
labouring under confusion and dealing in dubious
metaphors that lead ultimately to piles and piles of
hypotheses and schemes that will soon enough crumble. In particular, such flights of fancy can be ill-afforded by a country presently beset with a serious Maoist
insurgency, political instability, economic pessimism
and such massive depletion of its emotional and
mental stamina.
The process of national introspection is of course
positive and cathartic, and the plea is not that questions not be asked—it is simply that we resist from
reaching for short-cut answers to difficult issues. All
the pundits, the psychoanalysts, the psychologists, the
social commentators, novelists, and Bollywood producers (the actor Dev Anand, who would make a film on
the royal bloodbath) and all well-wishers of Nepal must
first look into the assumptions on which they begin to
look for answers and to plot their narratives. There
should be no trivialising of the tragedy that has befallen the people of Nepal. The analysts should not try and
feed fodder to our dark side by dwelling on the "what
ifs", and to recognise the limitations of what can be
explained, controlled and predicted and what cannot
be. The universe is not a pendulum that sticks to its arc,
and we must resist the temptation to claim to know all
the answers to the complexities of life? b
—Ranjit Rauniyar
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
Public space and insq
The war that is continuing to rage irfflpinpfi atid east on occasion
visits the capital Colombo in the forifKffboTnb blasts and assassinations. The public has adapted to thepianges this brings about to the
urban space, and this very adjustment carries in itself the ability to
countenance continued war. mt'
by Sasanka Perera
If you are returning home from a late evening engagement in Colombo and want to turn to Indepen
dence Avenue from Reid Avenue to continue on your
way, the chances are that you will not be able to do so.
Independence Avenue, one of the better maintained and
tree lined avenues in Colombo, leads to Independence
Square, with its concrete lions glaring at you and the
fluttering national flag, which commemorates Sri Lanka's Independence, attained in 1948. But after 7 pm,
one cannot drive along Independence Avenue to relax
or simply to revisit a moment of the recent history of the
unsuccessful and incomplete exercise in nation-building by gazing at the towering statue of the Father
of Independence, D. S. Senanayake, taking a giant
step forward, immortalised in history and in reinforced
You will not be able to do any of these things because you will be confronted with a yellow movable
sign in the middle of the road warning in Sinhala, "Independence Avenue is Closed", A few metres towards
the square, you will be stopped by the young soldiers
and policemen lounging about the permanent checkpoint that has come up. This simple reality says much
about the freedom of movement and of independence
itself. But the contradiction between the warning signs
restricting the freedom of movement in the city and
memories of independence is generally lost to many of
the city's inhabitants who happen to travel along this
avenue. This acceptance is a clear sign that war and its
consequences have become generalised in society as a
routine aspect of existence. Notions of security and insecurity, mobility and immobility, war and chaos seem
to have acquired an air of normalcy.
This personal narrative, which most citizens in Sri
Lanka are familiar with, furnishes the context for
examining how issues of security and insecurity can
be seen in the restrictions imposed upon public space
in Colombo city, and to a lesser degree its suburban
extensions, as a text to analyse. It is also useful to understand the way in which perceptions of insecurity
manifest themselves within private space. Another issue that needs to be studied is the manner in which the
restrictions on public space and individual mobility
acquire the status of the normal and the routine. However, in the absence of a thorough sociological understanding and documentation of the city, this will be an
essentially exploratory exercise.
Contemporary social science provides a number of
ways in which a city can be seen or read. These different ways of seeing the city can be fitted into three categories of urban space posited in 1992 by Arata Isozaki
and Akira Asada in their edited volume Anywhere—
Problems of Space. According to the two scholars, "real
cities" have preserved their historical context, "surreal
cities" are metropolitan centres, such as Tokyo, where
urban elements are intermingled with the hybridised
without regard to historical context, while "hyper-real"
or "simulated cities" are theme-park-cities such as Disneyland, devoid of context and based on fiction or artifice. Ackbar Abbas, in his essay "Building on Disappearance: Hong Kong Architecture and Colonial
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 Space", suggests that these three types of space are
defined by their proximity to history. He also goes on to
suggest that real cities encourage a regime of the visible
or seen, surreal cities a regime of the subliminal and
uncanny or half-seen, and hyper-real cities a regime of
the "televisual or quickly seen".
However, it will be difficult to define urban space
entirely on the basis of such abstract categories. After
all, like any other site of human habitation, urban space
is like a living organism, constantly undergoing change.
Often, urban space is of course an amalgamation of
two or more of these categories. Even a small city like
Colombo would be "real" in the older quarters of Fort
and Slave Island, where some colonial buildings and
their original environs still stand, while more recent
historical developments such as road closures and permanent traffic detours, prompted by considerations of
security have also "preserved their historical context".
But, Colombo also has surreal features. This can be seen
in the amalgamation of traditional Kandyan roofs
placed on seemingly contemporary buildings. It is just
as evident in the kind of "placeless" buildings like the
Seylan Tower or the World Trade Centre buildings.
These buildings which are not local in design or
concept are nevertheless highly vocal, and are the
products of the globalisation of capital, ideas and skills.
It is this promiscuous hybridity of building types, colours and vintages that moved a visiting German artist
to refer to Colombo (particularly Galle Road between
Kollupitiya and Wellawatte) as Punk City.
On the other hand, Colombo even exhibits features
of hyper-reality or simulation when one takes into account structures such as the recently constructed malls,
which stand absolutely outside all local historical contexts. In a sense, they are not very different from Disneyland given their unreal appearance on a socio-political landscape at a time when the country's economy and social fabric are severely under stress. One
can visit Crescat Boulevard or Majestic City and forget
all such stresses until emerging from the buildings
when one has to deal with the private security guards
at the exits and entrances to the buildings. And beyond
that the rather obvious military presence in the nearby
streets and atop some of the roofs, complete with
anti-aircraft guns.
However one may elect to see or read the city, to me,
every building or structure or barricaded road is a sign
that encodes the recent social and political history of a
locality or the country in general. The city is neither
simply an aggregation of buildings and roads nor the
mere playground of architects and planners. It is also a
dynamic space with a multitude of sociological issues
and problems that has for nearly 100 years been a legitimate space for intellectual inquiry. It is in this context
(with reference to Hong Kong) that Abbas observed,
"built space bears more than one inscription, that built
space is over-inscribed". He also notes that "if there is
a message, it is a jumbled one, not reducible to one meaning". Architecture is merely one of these inscriptions.
Even so, the structural and design elements of architecture are not merely technical or aesthetic, they also have
to be understood in the collective contexts of the political and the social. Many of these conceptual and theoretical formulations, also apply to the study of Colombo. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, as in many other parts
of South Asia, the city and its dynamics remain largely
unexplored intellectually and academically. So
whatever analysis of the city one undertakes, it has
to be located in this absence of specific and critical
Restricting public space
In the recent history of Sri Lanka, war has "inscribed"
itself into the city in some noticeable and fundamental
ways. Among the first casualties in the environment of
war, has been the restrictions imposed on public space.
That means restrictions on mobility in general as well
as leisure. For instance, the Galle Face Green has been
an open public space for over 100 years, initially as a
space for the colonial elite to stroll around thinking of
their distant motherland in Europe and devise means
through which they could cling to their colonial possessions as long as possible. Much later, the Galle Face
2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
became the preserve of the colonised local elite and still
later, it came to be frequented by the public at large. But
in terms of today's politics, it is also a high security
area right in front of the Army Headquarters and in
close pro>dmity to the Navy Headquarters, the official
residences of the president and the prime minister, as
well as the Presidential Secretariat. In the kind of conflict that is going on in Sri Lanka, all of these sites are
potential targets for terrorist attacks. In fact, there are a
number of places very close to Galle Face where bomb
explosions and assassinations have already taken
Thus, Galle Face is not the same space that the colonial rulers established or what the local elite inherited
in the late 1940s. It is also not the place that many of us
went to fly kites and ride ponies in the 1970s and even
in the 1980s. It is a testimony to the institutional importance of Galle Face as an open place for leisure that it
has not yet been completely closed to the public despite
its location. At the time of writing, the Green has
been completely fenced off, but the reason for this is
re-turfing as opposed to security considerations.
Up to the time of the recent closure for maintenance
and renovation, Galle Face was a place that attracted
large numbers of people in the evenings, and one can
imagine that barring any state restriction, it will continue to attract people once it is reopened. But the differences between 20 years ago and the present are obvious. There is a permanent army post checking vehicles
on the adjacent Galle Road. Hundreds of soldiers monitor Galle Face and the sea beyond from behind the high
wall and barbed wire protecting the Army Headquarters compound. There are police officers patrolling the
premises, and perhaps many more not in uniform. The
navy patrols the oceanfront at regular intervals. In addition, all leisure activities can be suspended without
warning when a politician of 'importance' happens to
be visiting that part of town. Photography is prohibited
in the area, and so memories have to be preserved in
one's mind and not on film. Moreover, beyond 9:30 pm
the crowd does not stay on at Galle Face because security restrictions become more stringent at night. Besides,
public transport in the vicinity of Galle Face has been
suspended for security reasons and the buses in adjacent neighbourhoods come to a standstill by this time.
The mobility of the average citizen who commutes on
public vehicles is thus severely disrupted.
A similar situation prevails in the leisure area just
outside the parliament complex in Kotte. There again,
the restrictions are the same. Vendors selling edibles
are required to close their stalls by 8 pm, and after which
people usually disperse because of the restriction on
food as well as due to a general sense of insecurity that
people have subconsciously internalised.
The garden city transformed
In the beginning of the 20th century, Colombo was referred to in many travel commentaries of the time as the
garden city of Asia. The streets were tree-hned and the
houses had large yards, manicured lawns and flower
beds. More importantly, these pleasing sights, though
privately owned, were open to view from the street. The
private grounds were generally demarcated by fences
or low boundary walls. These walls have become progressively higher. Where only fences once existed, high
boundary walls have now appeared in the city and its
suburban extensions. Besides, many of the large gardens of the early part of last century have by now been
partitioned and sold many times over in small allotments. In addition to the general restrictions imposed
by the state, all these attendant changes have transformed large parts of the private spaces in this once- •
fabled garden city into a barricaded and fortified amalgamation of private residences.
Tire restriction of private space and the aesthetic
disfiguration of the street fronts have seriously curtailed
and disrupted the citizenry's visual opportunities. All
of these changes point to people's increasing sense of
insecurity over time. The emergence of high walls has
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
taken place over time, but with marked rapidity and
consistency at particular historical junctures. These are
the 1971 p/P insurrection, the 1983 violence against
Tamils, and the reign of terror of the JVP and the state in
the late 1980s. All of these moments, marked a general
breakdown of law and order and the state's very clear
inability to ensure security. Moreover, since the late
1980s the crime rate both in the city and in the country
in general has also increased quite considerably. In
some ways the government's war with the Tamil Tigers has a bearing on this as well. After all, many of the
violent crimes committed in the country at the present
are linked to military and police personnel who have
deserted their units. The public's response to this general climate of insecurity, when it can afford it, is to
build ever-higher fences and walls. In essence, they have
decided to protect themselves in the general absence of
protection from the state.
Barricaded roads
Whereas the private response is simply to put up a taller wall, public spaces associated with institutional
power and authority have extraordinarily elaborate but
often cumbersome security systems. Some of this involves the appropriation of public spaces and utilities
by the select at the expense of the masses. It would be
no an exaggeration to suggest that more roads have
been closed or partially closed within the city limits of
Colombo over the last 10 years than new ones have
been laid since Independence in 1948.
Long before the present conflict arose in its violent
forms, Sri Lanka had already established a tradition
in road closures due to perceived insecurity. One of
the earliest casualties was the road linking the
Janadhipathi Mawatha near President's House and the
Customs Office closer to the sea. Today, that road is
completely within the compound of the Foreign Ministry and serves as the ministry's car park. Another early
casualty is the road that used to run between the Sri
Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and what later became
the Sri Lanka Rupawahini Corporation, between Ba-
uudhaloka Mawatha and Independence Square, which
has become the joint car park of these two state electronic media organs. Both of these roads were permanently closed for reasons of security during the 1971
JVP insurrection, even though at the time it was considered highly unusual.
Amidst today's escalated conflict and heightened
insecurity, permanent and temporary road closures
have become the norm rather than the exception. One
entire section of Galle Road near Temple Trees (the
prime minister's residence) is permanently shut off,
while what is open to traffic in the daytime also gets
closed after 7 pm. The stretch of road that runs behind
Temple Trees is also permanently closed. After President Kumaratunga moved residence to the Presidential House in Colombo 1, much of that area is also partially closed to traffic. Through similar permanent and
partial road closures, the compound marked by Ba-
uudhaloka Mawatha, Keppetipola Mawatha and other lanes in the vicinity of Colombo 3, where high profile
politicians and military commanders live, has become
a heavily fortified area with severe restrictions on public access.
2001 August 14/8 HIMAL
 ers referring to the Hilton and Oberoi checkpoints as
well as the Burger Land checkpoint, all with reference
to the corporate establishments in the vicinity of these
barricades. To many, they no longer seem like signs of
war. In this sense, it would appear that the absence of
war would be the abnormality, In Biyagama an intersection is referred to in popular usage as Bella Kapapu
Handiya, which literally means in Sinhala, the intersection (or junction) where the head was cut off. This
refers to the intense period of political violence in the
late 1980s during which many assassinations took
place, including in this locality. While the reference to
this particular intersection using such graphic language
is indicative of people's need to remember, the merging
of check points within the identities of businesses in
the vicinity is a sign of covering up the fact of war in
everyday life. In this scheme of things, the Oberoi and
Hilton checkpoints are as normal, routine and familiar
as Oberoi and Hilton Hotels themselves.
Symbols of war and local capital
Capitalism has also made its contribution towards this
process of routinisation of war in the urban space of
Colombo. One of the most profitable inroads that capitalism has made into the conflict and war is in the realm
of military procurement. Small time businessmen supply uniforms to the armed forces, Shady arms dealers
with local and international linkages supply sophisticated weapons systems and other military hardware to
the armed forces as well as the LTTE, On the other hand,
a lucrative black economy has also evolved around the
war. Merchants smuggle restricted items into the areas
controlled by the LTTE. There are also those who trade
in military hardware hawked by deserting service personnel. But these manifestations of capitalism profiting from war are generally not very visible, unless one
elects to look.
But, there are a number of publicly visible ways in
wThich local capitalism has made direct inroads by practically making an enterprise out of war and conflict
and in the process merging its artefacts with the city-
scape. Many industrial and trading establishments
have found it appropriate and convenient to advertise
their presence in the circuits of Sri Lankan capitalism
and hawTk their wares at the roadblocks and checkpoints. This is, after all, a most sensible thing to do.
Since people always have to slow down at check points,
they are ideal for the placement of billboards and other
commercial messages. Courier companies, Orex Leasing, Siddhalaepa Balm, Maliban Biscuits, Korean Businessmen's Association in Sri Lanka and many other
enterprises have joined in this great adventure of capitalist communication in a time of war. Local organisations and businesses in the immediate environs of
checkpoints have also entered this dynamic of corporate image-making. It is no longer surprising to see the
local garage sponsoring the little steel cabin in which
the soldiers and policemen spend much of their time. It
may not be too surprising to see in the near future signs
like the following: "The Army Tanks at the Battle of
Mankulam Sponsored by Tata and Maruti" or "The
LTTE Weapons Used at the Battle of Elephant PasS afe
Courtesy of DMK."
This, then, was an elementary reading of how certain kinds of restrictions, developments and adaptations have evolved in Colombo city in the context of the
ongoing war in the country. People have elected to continue with their lives making adjustments to these restrictions and routinising in the process both the restrictions imposed by war as well as the war itself. Ihis
normalisation, while clearly a means of coping with a
difficult situation, may in fact become a barrier to the
resolution of the conflict that has created these difficulties in the first place. It is also in this extended sense of
apathy and "over-tolerance" that we see individuals
taking their children to schools in different vehicles in
case there are bomb explosions, thereby maximising
the possibility of survival of at least some family members in true Darwinian fashion, lt is also this sensibility which allows Vesak greeting cards to carry pictures
of armed soldiers and battle tanks completely subverting the meaning of Vesak as well as the central teachings of the Buddha himself. b
- BLfr ans
A centrally located hotel offering traditional
tibetan hospitality.
Well-appointed guest rooms with multi channel
TV, telephone and the only rooftop restaurant in
the valley. Come feel the warmth of TIBETAN
Lakeside, Pardi
PO.Box No. 101
Pokhara, Nepal
Tel: +977-61-20853, 24553
Fax: +077-61-25206
HIMAL 14/8 August 2001
 Vajra (literally-flash
of lightning), is an
artists' condominium,
a transit home for
many, providing a
base during months
of hibernation and
creative inspiration.
Its isolation, graphic
splendour and
peaceful ambience,
make an ideal retreat
from the clock of
Ketaki Sheth
Inside Outside.
I stayed a week at the
Vajra, by which time
I had become so fond
of it that I stayed
John Collee
TloeLondon Observer.
Vajra, a serene
assembly of brick
buildings,   grassy
ivycovered walls and
Hindu statuary is a
calm oasis over
looking, chaotic
in Kathmandu,
the Vajra
'   Swayambhu, Dallu Bijyaswori, PO Box 1084, Kathmandu
Phone: 977 1 271545, 272719 Fax: 977 1 271695 E-mail:
Mount Sino-Nepalese
B.P. Koirala: On the question of the Nepalese-Chinese
border, there are still differences. In our view,
there are disputes in four places, based on the
historical situation in the past 50 years. Now it is
time to settle the disputes.
Chairman Mao Zedong: Good.
Koirala: In our talks with premier Zhou we have worked
out several principles: first, draw the boundary
based on the existing traditionally-accepted
boundary line; second, take into consideration
the practical situation of jurisdiction by either
side at the border; third, try to solve the dispute
on the few places; if some cannot be solved, hand
them to a joint committee.
Mao: That's good.
Koirala: The principles are good so long as there are
disputes between our two sides in specific places, which make us feel uneasy. When I went to
Hangzhou, I told premier Zhou Enlai that 1 had
come to Hangzhou with an uneasy mind. Premier Zhou said I should absolutely feel at ease.
Mao: You should absolutely feel at ease. Burma feared
us, but now we have set its mind at rest. The Burmese now know our heart.
Koirala: I met with prime minister Ne Win before I came.
He asked me to speak frankly with chairman Mao
and premier Zhou Enlai, so I have spoken about
all these things.
Mao: Good. These disputes are easy to resolve. There
are no human beings in the mountain passes. As
for disputes over the Himalaya, a joint committee
may be established to solve them.
Koirala: To you, the currently disputed places are of no
importance, while they matter to us. It is a question of prestige.
Mao: Don't worry; they can be solved.
Koirala: There is another question, a question of sentiment. We call it Sagarmatha, the West calls it Everest and you call it Qomolangma. This place has
always been within our boundary, but premier
Zhou Enlai said it was within yours.
Mao: You should not feel uneasy about it.
Koirala: It is a sentimental question,
Mao: It can be solved, half for each side. The southern
part is yours and the northern part is ours.
Koirala: How about the mountain top?
Mao: Half for each side as well, Will that be alright? If it
cannot be solved now, we may postpone it as well.
The mountain is very high and it can safeguard
our security at the border. Neither of us will suffer losses. If all of it is given to you, sentimentally
we shall feel sorry. If all of it is given to us, sentimentally you will feel sorry. We can have a
boundary marker on top of it.
Surya P. Upadhayaya: Who is to do it?
Mao: Difficult to do! We may have a written record of it.
We shall inform you when our people are to climb
it from your side and you will inform us when
your people are to climb it from our side.
Upadhayaya: In the past, mountain climbers had to
have a Nepali visa.
Mao: A mountain climber from a third country intending to climb from your side may obtain a visa
from your country.
Pan Zili: In the past, mountain climbers had to have a
permit from the local government of Tibet when
they wanted to climb it from Tibet.
Luo Guibo: In the past, some foreign mountain climbers obtained visas from our embassy in Switzerland.
Koirala: No.
Mao: The long-time practice is that to climb it from Tibet, one has to get a permit from the local government of Tibet.
Koirala: There are other disputes.
Mao: It is easy to solve them. It is easy to solve them
with you, unlike the resolution of disputes with
India. Our disputes with India involve scores of
thousands of square kilometres.
Koirala: Ours involve only several square kilometres.
Mao: The mountain can be renamed. We shall not call
it Everest; that was a name given by Westerners.
Neither shall we call it Sagarmatha, nor shall we
call it Qomolangma. Let's name it Mount Sino-
Nepalese Friendship.
'This mountain has the highest summit in the world,
with a height of over 8,800 metres. The United States,
the Soviet Union and India have no mountain of this
height. Only our two countries have. You may hold an
internal meeting to discuss the question and air your
suggestions. It may be put off for settlement in the future if no agreement is reached.
From a verbatim record in Mao Zeixinc on Dihoma-
cy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing.
WATER IS a valuable resource, vital to human life.
Water is owned by the commons. South African water
policy states that: "There shall be no ownership of water but only a right (for environmental and basic human needs) or an authorisation for its use. ... Everyone
has the right to have  access to sufficient water."
Today, however, in many countries, including Sri
Lanka, access to clean water has become very scarce
owing to human attempts to control and manage this
natural resource.
The Sri Lankan government's proposed National
Water Resources Policy states that "all surface and
ground water are owned by the state and managed by
the government in partnership with water users on behalf of all Sri Lankans". This policy is the result of ongoing natural resource privatisation as promoted by
transnational corporations and international financial institutions.
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
 If water becomes government property, will we have
the right to use it? Can the government own the water
under the soil of our land? What about the air we
breathe, and who owns the rain?
Today in Sri Lanka, more and more water is being
taken out of the hands of small communities, siphoned
off for bigger causes, and later reallocated at higher
prices. The human and environmental consequences
of such short-sighted management cannot be underestimated. In a region of growing demands on a limited
resource, the increasing scarcity of water could result
in devastating conflicts and catastrophes.
Rice is the staple food of our society, and access to
water is essential for its cultivation. National policymakers and international financial
institutions including the World
Bank, the International Monetary
Fund and the Asian Development
Bank argue that the rice paddy farmers waste water and thus must be
forced to pay for it.
If we measure the amount of water taken up by plants against that
which drains away and evaporates,
we get an average efficiency level of
about 30%. But is the other 70% really lost? Large amounts of it flow
back into the system and are used
again downstream. The issue, then,
is whether our irrigation systems
are still efficient enough to reuse the
Centuries ago, King Parakramabahu (1164-1197)
constructed a system that recycled water so that every
drop was used for agriculture. In those days, we also
had rice varieties that did not need such huge amounts
of water. The International Rice Research Institute (1RRI)
destroyed these varieties during the Green Revolution,
and it now wants to discourage people from engaging
in paddy cultivation.
Although the Sri Lankan Minister of Irrigation denies that the proposed Water Resources Policy involves
the imposition of a water-pricing mechanism, a careful
reading of the proposed law shows otherwise. It is clear
that the proposed policy will protect the rights of large
companies with water entitlements. Small users will be
charged higher prices for water, electricity and other
resources that use water.
Thousands of Bolivians took to the streets in protest
of water privatisation in April 00. British investors, including the Bechtel corporation that catalysed the problems in Bolivia, were recently in Sri Lanka on a "water
mission" to explore the scope for developing joint ventures with Sri Lankan companies.
All water in the water cycle, whether on land, underground or in surface channels; whether falling on,
flowing through or infiltrating such systems, should
be treated as part of the commons. The water required
to meet basic human needs and to maintain environmental sustainability must be guaranteed   as a right.
IS July.2001
Mr.Vajpayee where are you...?
The national government should act as the custodian
of the nation's water resources, and its powers in this
regard should be exercised as a public trust.
From "Who owns i he rain?" in Third World
Network Feaiures by Hemantiia Withaxace.
Veto power for South Asia
IN AND around the meetings between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf, there will be talk of 'core
issues'. The Indo-Pak relationship is the core issue in
South Asian security, Kashmir is the core issue in IndoPak relations, and terrorism or state terrorism (depending on your point of view) is the core
issue in Kashmir. It will be easy to
forget that underlying all these 'core
issues' is a core structural problem.
Briefly stated, it is the improbability
of South Asia as a region in a world
that is rapidly organising itself into
regions. This core problem is structural because it is tied up with geography.
Solutions to structural problems
require magnificent leaps of the
imagination—true paradigm shifts.
Try this one out for size: Imagine a
South Asia permanent representative at the UN Security Council with
veto powers. Imagine these powers
being contingent on consensus-evolving mechanisms
within South Asia. Imagine what this does for regional
identity and for global governance.
History and culture have provided complacent explanations for the resilience of the India-Pakistan 'problem'. The history-culture analysis has ruled minds for
too long and with too little scrutiny. The fact is that the
India-Pakistan 'problem' is structurally very similar to
the India-Bangladesh 'problem', the India-Sri Lanka
'problem', the India-Nepal 'problem', and even the India-Bhutan 'problem'. The relative power of each of
these smaller neighbours vis-a-vis India is no doubt
different, but their threat perceptions are more or less
the same. And the reverse is equally true. If India's imperious size sustains the small neighbour's fear of its
supposed imperial ambitions, protective action on the
part of the smaller neighbour, such as its cultivation of
extra-regional ties, makes India feel insecure.
The India-Pakistan problem is the most conspicuous manifestation of this structural problem: In any
South Asia-wide meeting, regional issues always get
bogged down in the Rann of Kashmir. At a recent such
event, a Sri Lankan participant remarked laconically
that South Asia turns out to be a Himalayan enclave
where there are difficulties between Muslims and Hindus. But the same person and other colleagues from
Bangladesh and Nepal also admitted privately that the
India-Pakistan imbroglio is not entirely a matter of dismay for their countries. Pakistan's 'standing up' to
{Tc fen se^fi a fciank e-mai! to)
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
 India provides them with bargaining space.
A South Asia identity will face a structural constraint
even if India and Pakistan found a way of getting along.
There are few regions in the world with a comparably
dominant 'lead-player'. North America is one example, and here the US is unchallenged due to its global
power. In South Asia, however, India's predominance
will remain challengeable for a simple reason. In a
vvorld of power blocs, the smaller neighbour will always gain leverage vis-a-vis India by building relations
with extra-regional powers. The latter lot will always
find it expedient to patronise the small neighbour in
order to maintain pressure on India. This was precisely the strategic logic of the Cold War.
Some Indian analysts expect the current warmth in
US-India relations to free India from her neighbourly
vulnerabilities. This expectation is unrealistic. The US
would not simply forsake its leverage with India even
if Tndia were an ally. America's switch from Pakistan
to India is not the dumping of Pakistan. The end of the
Cold War does not mean that the US will abandon Pakistan, it simply means that Pakistan is available more
cheaply. The same holds true also of other neighbours
as well as other extra regional powers.
The weak regional identity of South Asia is manifest in the failure of the regional organisation (SAARC).
But SAARC is weak because member states assign a low
status to it. India remains wary because she suspects
(correctly) that a regional organisation will become a
forum for India-bashing. The other six members have
bilateral relations with India and none (except Nepal
and Bhutan) even share borders. The smaller countries
are cautious because SAARC gives legal expression to a
region that will be dominated by India due to its sheer
size. The weakness of SAARC is not remarkable. What
is remarkable is that the organisation should exist at
all. While geography sustains this low-level equilibrium, there are costs to the peoples of the region. The
global system rewards states and peoples that have
succeeded in constructing regional blocs and punishes those that have failed.
South Asia needs a paradigm change. Regional identity can become a serious proposition if it is associated
with regional power in the world. Citizens of South
Asian states and others interested in regional peace
should demand a region-based reform of global institutions, particularly the UN. They should demand a
permanent veto-wielding delegate for South Asia on
the Security Council. They should demand the South
Asian veto to be contingent on acceptable mechanisms
for intra-regional consensus.
Changes in the incentives for regional and global
cooperation can be dramatic. India, more than the other regional states, has strong views on global governance. A South Asian seat at the high table will impart
an Indian flavour to debates on security issues but also
derivatively on other matters of concern such as WTO.
The Indian view of the world at large is not too different
from the perspectives of other regional states. At the
same time, any intra-regional mechanism for evolving
consensus will make india mindful of the concerns of
her neighbours. The outcome will not be Bhutan getting a Security Council veto, but Bhutan getting better
bargaining positions vis-a-vis India, and India (and
South Asia) getting better bargaining positions vis-avis the rest of the world. The details can be worked out,
but as a general scheme this proposal can be a win-win
game for the states and for the region as a whole.
Mr Vajpayee and General Musharraf should get
down to serious bilateral business but in their spare
hours they can do worse than indulging in some mental acrobatics. Alas they will waste that time in trying
to get to know each other better, ruminating over Urdu
verse, or visiting each other's ancestral homes. The business agenda will be tightly scheduled—probably with
extra-regional involvement—and for the rest of the time
there wil! be history and culture, unless there is a leap
of the imagination somewhere between Islamabad and
New Delhi.
From "Lear of Imagination: A South Asian Seat in
Security Council" by Haris Gazdar in
Thi: Times or India, 9 July 01.
Baba sboys
ONE OF the most powerful holy men in India presides
over the world's biggest ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam,
or Abode of Peace, in a remote town located in a barren j|
comer of Andhra Pradesh, a desperately poor state in a
desperately poor country. The town boasts a shiny
planetarium, two hospitals that treat patients for free, a
college, a music school and immaculate, colourful playgrounds. Luxury apartment buildings are springing up
on land that just a few decades ago was covered with
ramshackle mud huts. And there's a brand-new airport to serve the wealthier devotees of Sathya Sai Baba,
a 75-year-old south Indian man with a big bushy Afro
and a warm smile.
Somewhere between 10 million and 50 million people worship Sai Baba as God incarnate, and they stream
into Puttaparthi from six continents, sleeping in one of
the' ashram's 10,000 beds or at one of the town's many
guesthouses. Meanwhile, the growing number of ex-
devotees who decry their former master as a sexual
harasser, a fraud and even a paedophile has hardly
put a dent in his following, though their voices are getting louder.
"Sai Baba was my God—who dares to refuse God?
He was free to do whatever he wanted to do with me; he
had my trust, my faith, my love and my friendship; he
had me in totality," says Iranian-American former follower Said Khorramshahgol. What Sai Baba chose to
do with him, Khorramshahgol says, was to repeatedly
call him into private interviews and order him to drop
his pants and massage his penis. Other former devotees contend Sai Baba did even more. No matter—in
this part of the world, faith is absolute. Believers don't
refuse God, and they don't question him.
On Puttaparthi's outskirts, a Hindu temple has a
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
 statue of Sai Baba among its pantheon of deities, standing right next to Krishna. In the town, every conceivable surface is adorned with pictures of Sai Baba wearing an orange robe and a benign smile. There's a photo
of him garlanded with fake pink flowers in my hotel
room and a giant portrait behind the reception desk.
Each afternoon, a speaker across from my bed pipes in
music praising the guru. When 1 buy a pen to take notes,
it has Sai Baba's smiling face on it.
Days at the ashram revolve around an event known
as "darshan", when Sai Baba walks through an open-
air, pastel-coloured hall (called a mandir) and shows
his precious self to the assembled multitudes. It takes
place once in the morning and once in the afternoon,
and people line up for hours beforehand. Everyone is
desperate to get in first, because sitting near the front
means that Sai Baba might say a few words to you,
accept a letter or even invite you into his special chamber for a private interview. Private interviews are the
raison d'etre of life in Puttaparthi. They're where Sai
Baba does most of his famous materialisations—ostensibly conjuring up objects like rings, watches and necklaces from the air as gifts for the faithful.
The afternoon I went to darshan, I spent 45 minutes
waiting in a line outside and 45 more minutes sitting
cross-legged amid thousands of other worshippers on
the marble floor of the mandir. There were almost as
many foreigners in the hall, which can seat about 15,000
people; as there were Indians. Dozens of chandeliers
hung from the ceiling, which was decorated with gold
leaf. At the foot of the mandir was a stage, with a door
leading into the guru's private interview room.
Just when the boredom was growing interminable,
recorded music started up and a charge went through
the crowd as necks craned for a glimpse of Sai Baba, a
slightly frail figure wearing his customary floor-length
robe and fluffy nimbus of black hair. He gave a little
Princess Di wave as he walked from the women's side
to the men's side (everything at the ashram is strictly
segregated by sex) and then back again, taking some of
the letters that were fervently offered to him as he
passed. All around ine women's eyes were shining, and
some of the women rocked back and forth ecstatically.
Sai Baba then exited the way he'd entered, and it was
over—in less than 10 minutes. An angelic-looking retired woman from Denmark told me she'd been doing
this every day, twice a day, for three months.
Darshan is just about the only event that occurs at
the ashram. There are no indoctrination or even meditation sessions. Aside from strict vegetarianism, Sai
Baba prescribes no particular practices. His teachings
are flowery and vague, combining colourful Hindu
mythology, a Buddhist focus on transcending worldly
desire, the Christian idea of service and an evangelical
emphasis on direct experience of the divine. According
to Ocean of Love a book published last year by the Sri
Sathya Sai Central Trust, "there is no new path that He
is preaching, no new order that He has created. There
is no new religion that He has come to add or a particular philosophy that He recommends... His mission is
unique and simple. His mission is that of love and compassion."
This pleasant vagueness allows believers to project
anything they like onto Sai Baba. People see his hand
everywhere, and in Puttaparthi's spiritual hothouse
nearly every occurrence is viewed as fresh proof of his
power. Apart from letters and the coveted interviews,
the accepted way to communicate with Sai Baba is via
dreams and visions, and thus the town teems with people interpreting their subconscious hiccups as gospel.
An American named George Leland said that Sai has
come to him in the guise of a Tijuana, Mexico, traffic
cop and a Japanese airline passenger. A 32-year-old
Argentine woman told me she gave up her Buenos Aires
apartment and her medical studies after Baba summoned her while she slept.
Stories of sacred synchronicity abound. A wheelchair-bound cancer patient from Holland, abandoned
by her husband and living with friends who were Sai
devotees, had a series of dreams in which the guru beckoned to her. She insisted that she told no one about the
dreams, yet one day her friends surprised her with a
ticket to India.. The ring he materialised for her looks
cheap to me—one of the stones had even fallen out—
but to her it's a talisman that has helped fight her grinding pain.
To some, Sai Baba radiates love and whimsy, while
to others he's stern and tricky, destroying their relationships or afflicting their bodies in the service of their
spiritual advancement. Leland, a big, stately 61-year-
old who looks like Hollywood's version of a powerful
senator, told me, "Swami's job isn't to make you happy, it's to liberate you." In his case, that meant giving
up his career as a motivational speaker and then his
marriage. "Sai Baba is the most powerful being that
ever came to the planet," he said over breakfast at a
popular Tibetan restaurant in town. Leland, who has
lived in Puttaparthi for four years, feels he must follow
him, but that doesn't mean he enjoys it. He said sadly,
"Even at this moment, my mind doesn't want to believe
that God doesn't want me to be happy, to have a relationship, to be prosperous, to enjoy life."
"Sometimes I think the ashram is a madhouse and
Swami is the director," said Rico Mario Haus, a recent
24-year-old convert. I'd met Haus, a Swiss man whose
square black glasses lent a bit of quirkiness to his wholesome good looks, two months before in the seaside state
of Kerala. We'd both been extras in an Indian musical,
and we'd both learned of Puttaparthi from a Sai Baba
follower on the set. Ironically (or, as it now seemed to
Haus, portentously), we'd played Western devotees of
a towering guru who saved the soul of the errant hero.
At the time, Haus was a cocky kid planning to ride his
motorcycle to Kashmir. Now, wearing white pajamas,
he said, "Baba was calling me. When you believe in
God, there are no coincidences." Nevertheless, he'd kept
his sense of humour and found a certain subversive
delight in telling us about the lunatics he lived with.
"When you don't have problems, you don't go to the
ashram," he said.
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
 Most of the time, Puttaparthi's ambient spiritual
hysteria is fairly faint. With its good restaurants and
relatively clean streets, the town can be quite pleasant.
But there are occasional bursts of madness. One afternoon, a young Malaysian woman had a psychotic
breakdown, attacked ashram workers and was dragged
away by police, I. later found her at the police station,
half-catatonic, mumbling "darshan, darshan, darshan"
over and over again. At dinner another evening, Haus
pointed out a wan Austrian woman tugging around a
listless little boy. She was frenzied because she'd had a
dream in which Sai Baba instructed her to abandon
her 7-ycar-old son and live on the streets as a beggar,
and she didn't know whether she had the "strength"
to do it.
Of course, outsiders expect insanity in fringe religions. But Sai Baba isn't just any cult leader. Because
he isn't well known in America, it's hard to convey the
awesome power he has in India. In addition to the
droves of foreigners who flock to see him, Sal Baba's
acolytes include the cream of India's elite. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is a devotee, as is former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. A 1993 article in the Times of
India counts among the guru's followers "governors,
chief ministers, assorted politicians, business tycoons,
newspaper magnates, jurists, sportsmen, academics
and, yes, even scientists,"
Even if you don't believe in the miracles he's credited with— resurrections, faith healings, materialisations—his phenomenal popularity in India is easy to
understand. Just outside Puttaparthi is an enormous
hospital he helped build that provides free cardiology,
optometry and nephrology care to all comers. It was
funded in part by a $20 million donation from Isaac
Tigrett, co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe. The pink
facade looks like a cross between a Mogul palace and a
wedding cake. One enters into a domed hall with marble floors resplendent with images of Sai Baba and other deities — Jesus on the cross, the Buddha, the elephant-headed god Ganesh. Yet for all the architecture's
Las Vegas excess, especially in a country where many
can't afford even rudimentary medical care, the hospital claims impressive figures: 10,594 free cardiac surgeries, 9,090 kidney operations, 382,328 outpatient consultations.
A host of other charity projects has also won Sai
Baba favour with the masses. One of his projects installed 2,500-litre cisterns in several villages in Andhra
Pradesh. Indian children who might otherwise never
have access to higher education covet spots in his free
colleges. Though rumours of chicanery and worse swirl
around all these ventures, even Sai Baba's critics admit
that he has eased some of the region's suffering. "God
or a fraud, no one doubts the good work dpne by the Sai
organisation," wrote the Illustrated Weekly of India.
All this helps explain why there has never been any
official action against Sai Baba in India, despite the
dozens of ex-believers who insist that his claims to divinity mask a wholly human craving for the bodies of
the ashram's young men and boys. The evidence is
strong that Sai baba uses his power to get in his followers' pants. It's also strong that life is slightly less brutal
for lots of poor Indians because he exists. Some call him
a saint and some call him a lecher. Possibly he's something of both.
The stories about Sai Baba's sexual misconduct are
all remarkably similar. "During my 'private audiences' with Sai Baba, Sai Baba used to touch my private
parts and regularly massage my private parts, indicating that this was for spiritual purposes," wrote Dutchman Hans de Kraker in a letter sent to French journalist
Virginie Saurel. In December 1996, when de Kraker was
24, Sai Baba allegedly asked him to perform oral sex:
"He grabbed my head and pushed it into his groin area.
He made moaning sounds," de Kraker wrote. "As soon
as he took the pressure off my head and I lifted my
head, Sai Baba lifted his dress and presented me a semi-
erect member, telling me that this was my good luck
chance, and jousted his hips towards my face." When
de Kraker reported to others what had happened, he
was thrown out of the ashram.
American Jed Geyerhahn, who was 16 when Sai
Baba started coming on to him, echoes de Kraker's account: "Each time I saw Baba, his hand would gradually make more prominent connections to my groin."
The stories are endless, and endlessly alike, concerning mostly boys and men from their midteens to their
They're not new, either. In 1970, Tai Brooke published a book called "Lord of the Air," later renamed
"Avatar of Night," a vivid, detailed account of his mind-
blowing days as a questing young acolyte and his total
disillusionment on learning of his guru's sexual rapacity. Yet it's only recently, thanks in large part to the
Internet, that various victims, their parents and defecting officials from within the Sai Organisation have
banded together to direct the energy they once poured
into worshipping their master toward bringing the man
From "Untouchauik?" hy Michelle Goldberg in
Alhamd-u Lillah
DEATH CELL, Camp Jail, Lahore, Pakistan, 1 July 2001:
Having unshakable belief that life and death is in the
hands of God Almighty, I am sure that ultimate justice
will be done to me by Ahkam-ui-Haakimcen.
My hands are clean, conscience clear.
I have committed no sin except propagation of " Amr-
e-Bil Maaroof" and "Nahi-e-Anil Munker" to expose
the corrupt practices of the people at the helm and reform society.
1 renew my pledge to leave no stone unturned and
no gallow unkissed to hold aloft the banner of freedom
of press and honesty, devotion and diligence in discharge of my professional duty and in service of the
Pakistani nation.
Alhamd-u-Lillah! Your esteemed daily, The Frontier
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
Post, is today again in your hands after a lapse of 152
days and \ feel beholden by the sense of profound pride
for having been privileged with a rare and unique opportunity to directly address you from the death cell of
Camp Jail, Lahore, [Pakistan], through the first issue of
the re-launched daily.
The expression of sentiments of sympathy, support,
sincerity and fortitude during all this arduous period
is and shall remain a real asset for me and my colleagues
in the organisation and I find no words to express my
gratitude to you.
...The revered readers of my newspapers, The Frontier Post and Urdu daily Maidan, are well aware of the
services rendered by me and my family for the cause of
freedom movement in Jammu and Kashmir, Afghan Jehad, glory and propagation of Islam, and uplift of the
Muslim Nation.
The history of ups and downs in the life of The Frontier Post is evident of the valiant struggle waged by the
newspaper for the glory of Islam, to rid the oppressed
and Muslims in various regions of the world, including Kashmir, Afghanistan, Palestine, Bosnia and
Chechniya, of the yoke of oppression and subjugation.
...Dear readers! Believe it! Had 1 bowed my head
before the rulers of the day, compromising on principles and freedom of the press, my position would not
have been after the opening batsman in the batting order of the team of fortune seekers showered with permits, plots, factories and even cash worth billions of
The witnesses to this fact are by the grace of God
still alive, who will bear me out that each and every
ruler from General Zia to Nawaz Sharif tried their best
to get me entangled in the nest of incentives and inducements by offering me high public office, elevated
positions and huge material benefits.
But I would have never dared enter the profession
of journalism if 1 had worldly office and honour dear to
me. I would have opted to leave the profession gracefully, rather than be found rolling in wealth alongside
my contemporaries.
...Journalists are shouldered with the responsibility
of exposing corruption and corrupt practices, guiding
the nation on the right path and steering the ship to
shore. It can never be expected of me to term night as
day and black as white.
I have unshakeable faith in "lyyak a Nastaeen" (seek
help but only from Allah) and truthfulness of my mission. I never liked to be included in the line of people
bowing their head before the ruler, with a bowl hanging round their neck.
1 have always tried to participate in Jehad (war
against all evils) by remaining in the forefront to hold
aloft the right to expression and press freedom.
That is why my newspapers, in spite of having vast
readership and wide circulation, had always earned
the ire of every government and am myself languishing
in a condemned prisoners' cell... I pray to God to give
me strength and fortitude to remain steadfast on this
path littered with barbed wires all around.
1 do admit that my newspapers are forced to swim
in turbulent waters but the fact of the matter is that this
is not something rare for persons wedded to honesty
and truthfulness and who are sincere to their mission.
I am proud of having the company of the colleagues
who have always marched shoulder to shoulder with
me in the hour of trauma, turmoil and acute financial
There are some colleagues who did not feel hesitant
in selling or mortgaging their lifelong belongings and
even jewellery of their family, but did not leave me alone.
The truth will triumph, Insha Allah! At this juncture, I feel it is my duty to thank all those who, by taking
timely and correct steps and actions, succeeded in controlling the situation after the incident of January 29,
2001 and preventing the provocation from spreading
and creating unrest.
I wish to assure all our readers that with Allah's
help and blessings, and your continuing support and
cooperation, having once again found our feet after the
trauma and sadness of days past, we will steadfastly
and sincerely serve the nation and the country.
From "A solemn fledge" by Rehmat Shah Afridi,
Editor-in-Chief, The Frontier Post.
Post of
Executive Director
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
2 Elibank Road, Colombo-05, Sri Lanka
Required from May 1, 2002, it is the top executive
position for a regional think tank on strategic issues
related to South Asia. The tenure is for a fixed and
non-extendable term of three years. Attractive
remuneration is available at expatriate scale in Sri
Lanka. The desired candidate will be a mature
strategic analyst, familiar with regional and
international strategic issues, well known internationally and with extensive publications in the field.
She/he will have demonstrated executive and
administrative capability suitable for running such
an institution. Should also have the ability and
experience of raising funds to support the Centre's
Desired candidates will please apply with detailed
cvs to the above address by November 15, 2001.
RCSS Website:
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
One-man-army Deal fighting his way out of the UGrand MosqueQ of Lahore.
gift to Lahore
When crises erupt, satellite
television raises the pitch
of Indian nationalism
and gives it mass appeal. Bombay
cinema hurries to catch up with
ever-more fervid films, productions
that have lately begun a no-holds-
barred demonisation of Pakistan.
Films from Lahore try to reciprocate,
of course, but they hardly have the
reach of Hindi films. The changing
demography of the audience (see
"Hindi films: The rise of the consumable hero", p.8) must be playing a role
in this increasingly belligerent treatment of geopolitical themes. In long-
ago productions, the handsome
hero would disappear over the horizon in his Canberra bomber, presumably to fight Pakistan, never to
return (or perhaps to return when
his beloved had already married his
buddy). Back then, Pakistan was a
remote enemy that, if ever brought
into the script, served as but a prop
to sustain the love story. With every
new episode that tries to rip the
Subcontinent apart—Pokhran/
Chagai, Kargil or IC-814— Bombay
productions become more shrill.
And, they get ever closer to Pakistan, across the line-of-control in
Kashmir, amidst terrorist-infested
Gadar storms Pakistan's Punjab
itself. Starting as a love story that
takes off during the Partition, with
Sikh boy Tara Singh's love for Muslim girl Sakina, the last third of the
film all-of-a-sudden infiltrates Pakistani territory. Sunny Deol sneaks
into Lahore to rescue his Amisha
Patel, who has been kidnapped by
her politician father, a former Amritsar businessman who has gone
on to become the ambitious mayor
of Lahore. While earlier in the film
there are occasional attempts (a la
Bombay) to balance the Hindu/Sikh
magnanimity with Muslim friendship and support, once the script
enters Pakistan (across an incon-
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
 Getaway train stops for cows.
gruous border lake), no need is felt
for any gesture on behalf of the Pakistani Muslim.
The Pakistanis are depicted as
an unregenerate dark-skinned,
menacing force—from the consulate
official to the daroga Suleiman ("I
will cut him into so many pieces that
he will be unrecognisable."), to the
mob that attacks the hero in Lahore.
Even the peasant woman who gives
the couple refuge as they flee towards India ends up a mercenary
wanting to snatch Sakina's mangaT
sutra. The climactic moment of the
film occurs on the wide steps of
what is obviously meant to represent the Grand Mosque of Lahore
(reportedly shot at Lucknow's Ir-
shad Manzil, a Shia shrine, courtesy the BJP government in Uttar
Pradesh). Surrounded by the evil
adversaries, Sunny Deol goes into a
polemical defence of the Indian state
and then proceeds to pull a tube-
well handpump out of its moorings
to take on the enemy. The couple has
a son, no more than eight-years-old,
who is made to ask querulously,
"What is wrong with the Pakistanis?" Sakina's Pakistani father
is not above having his daughter
shot from a helicopter gunship. A
whole platoon of Pakistani troopers are made mincemeat by Tara
Singh as their getaway train speeds
towards India. Suddenly, then the
hero slows the train down to a crawl
because a herd of cows is blocking
the track. Some message there?
Could it be that Gadar visits
Pakistan purely to be able to villain-
ise Muslims across the border, given the backlash one could invite if
this were done to Muslims of India?
At other times, one wonders whether the film's descent into Pakistan-
bashing had to do with the director
Anil Sharma's attempt to rescue the
production from the unremittingly
poor acting by Sunny Deol. It is not
that the film does not have good moments. The cinematography is fine,
and does justice to the wide vistas
of village Punjab. The mass movement of people to the 'other side'
during Partition is also captured
well. There is a single indoor scene
that is to be appreciated, where Sak-
ina helps her sardar husband fold
and tie his turban. Patel knows how
to cry convincingly and runs with
full stride, but Deol does not know
how to dance.
Gadar was running housefull in
theatres all over India, and on its
way to becoming one of the top
grossers of the decade, at the very
moment that Pervez Musharraf was
visiting Agra. There is no doubt that
mass-based big-budget films such
as this one distort political sensibilities and subconsciously sabotage
the inbred peaceful sentiments of the
people. 'This trend towards nationalist jingoism in the second-largest
film industry in the world is worrisome because it impacts on the
geopolitics of a very unstable and
nuclearised South Asia.
Gadar fosters gadar. It is not only
the storyline of this movie that depicts frenzied mayhem, this soulless
film itself encourages "frenzied
mayhem". It is clear that the producer and director named the movie for
something that they like rather than
something they see as negative.
And, backing them are the financiers
who realise that anti-Pakistan sentiment offers a treasury of commercial possibilities in present-day
They may be weak tools, but peer
pressure and ostracism may be one
way to get the producers and directors to back off. Unfortunately, since
criticism of exploitative films such
as Gadar is restricted to the rarified
liberal-progressive echelon, this
does not seem a near-term possibility in a film industry whose father
figure is the reactionary Bala-
saheb Thackeray of the Shiv Sena.
What this means is that films like
these will be produced again and
again till this particular genre is
exhausted of its money-spinning
While the impact of Gadar on the
targetted Indian audience is the
main cause for worry, it is nevertheless worth considering what kind
of reaction it wall generate in Pakistan, where it is being viewed via
videocassettes and DVDs. Will they
see it as a movie targetting themselves, or as just another adventure
plot? Will they know to distance
themselves from the Pakistan depicted in Gadar? Perhaps, for the film
reviewer of the Newsline, the well-
known magazine from Karachi,
does not seem too perturbed by Gadar. S/he reviewer ignores the patriotic proclivity of Gadar, and is
quite content to say: "Notwithstanding the two flaws in the film—
its excessive length and weak
musical score—Gadar is certainly
worth the watch for its brilliant
dramatic sequences, commendable performances and touching
moments." A
—reviewed by Kanak Mani Dixit
2001 August 14/8   HIMAL
The inescapable circularity of spytalk
by Irian Ahmed
IN MY response ("Whiff of a conspiracy", June 2001)
to Subir Bhaumik's "Conspirators' cauldron" (May
2001), I had pointed to certain well-known criteria that
distinguish journalism from intelligence-gathering. In
his rejoinder "Indian wheat and Bangla chaff" (July
2001), Bhaumik returns to the fray armed with more
classified information from secret files, some grand
claims about his proximity to intelligence sources and
his facility in dealing with their murky ways and a bit
of tasteless abuse of Bangladeshi journalists, I feel properly chastised. Obviously, when journalists like
Bhaumik are about, sermonising on this or that issue
concerning Bangladesh, it is best for Bangladeshis to
retire en masse and listen with rapt attention so that
they equip themselves to understand their own country a little better.
But Bhaumik's omniscience notwithstanding, he
has failed to respond to the substantive queries I had
raised. 1 therefore feel constrained to remind him of the
fundamental distinction between a reporter and a spy.
By definition, the intelligence
report must concoct a world of
conspiracies, machinations and
intrigue, based on "secret,
unverifiable sources".
A media report is a verifiable account that belongs in
the public domain and is therefore as much available
to the undercover agent as it is to the ordinary citizen.
Freely available, verifiable public information is not
what the undercover agent deals in, By definition, the
intelligence report must concoct a world of conspiracies, machinations and intrigue, based on "secret, unverifiable sources". That is its professional compulsion.
The spy's report is not open to corroboration nor is it
governed by any code of ethics. Granted there are conspiracies that affect the public domain. But then the
intelligence agency involved in uncovering it does not
usually make it public precisely because it is also involved in the conspiracy as a counter-conspirator.
Since intelligence and counter-intelligence are party to the same conspiracy, their reports bear the stamp
of their respective clandestine mandates. When such
reports are recycled as media reports, the objective of
the concerned intelligence outfit is clearly to influence
an outcome in a desired direction. Is it the job of a journalist to participate in and fulfill the objectives of un
dercover agent? That is a question of ethics. There is
also the question of verifiability that is involved when
such reports are reproduced as media analysis. The
authentication of the information reported is foreclosed
by an inescapable circularity. The undercover report is
its own source. By pushing intelligence reports as media reports which cannot be challenged, Bhaumik creates a situation where he will have to be judged either
as the best reporter going or as a mere cog in the undercover mechanism. And when the sceptical among the
public raise pertinent questions, he hides behind the
privilege of confidentiality.
Bhaumik, of course, claims that he has surmounted
all these problems because he is so adept at playing off
one intelligence agency against another. That requires
very special abilities, as Bhaumik makes amply clear,
and we can just accept his word for it. But I am left to
wonder why a person of such self-confessed abilities
restricts himself to ferreting out information from India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence
(DGFI) when there are so many more he can tap in to
explain South Asian developments
This brings me to some of the specific charges that
Bhaumik has levelled. He says that I have not named
the "foreign experts" who I have cited as saying that
the Kotaliputra bomb had "military origins". I am not
as privileged as Bhaumik to be in touch with so many
foreign experts, but will clarify that "sources" did not
tell me this. I merely repeated what had appeared in
Bangladesh media reports. There are a couple of points
on which Bhaumik has misread my argument. 1 did not
suggest anywhere that Islamic terrorists did not plant
the bomb at Kotaliputra, 1 simply said there was no
proof that Islamic terrorists were responsible for the
explosion. I still maintain that. Intelligence claims do
not constitute evidence. Till the case is closed, the public has a right to get authentic information and not opinions based on unverifiable sources with a long history
of misinforming. That is the difference between spreading rumours and reporting with credibility.
Evidently Bhaumik's inability to make careful distinctions is why he is "astounded" by my "assertion"
that the "Breda conspiracy has disappeared from Dutch,
papers". What was said was, "The Breda conspiracy
has also disappeared from the papers. In fact, check
with the Dutch papers and you will see no such rumours. Notice also that the source quoted was the Indian mainstream media, and not the Dutch media." Read
rigorously and logically, it is fairly clear that the papers I referred to were Bangladesh papers, which had
quoted the Indian media. To those who do not have to
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
be fed their information it is obvious enough, from the
second and third sentences, that there is no reference to
any such report in the Dutch media.
Specifically on the story that Bhaumik broke, about
the Breda-based, ISI-backed conspiracy to kill Sheikh
Hasina, based on an intelligence report submitted to
him by RAW or some other outfit, there are some questions 1 would like to raise. Bhaumik seems to suggest
that the absence of any denial by Pakistan is proof of
veracity. If only the geopolitics of nations were settled
so easily, through the zeal of heroic individuals close
to undercover agents. There could be any number of
reasons why the Inter Services Intelligence should
choose to say nothing. Why is it incumbent on the ISI to
contest a story, on an alleged conspiracy hatched in
Netherlands to kill Sheikh Hasina, published in an Indian paper? And is the Pakistani lack of interest in the
story sufficient proof that there is indeed such a conspiracy? There are questions of method and logic that
arise here.
Let us grant that there was conspiracy. Suppose the
ISI knew the consequences and decided to keep mum?
Suppose they felt that their objective was best served by
letting people know that such a conspiracy was on?
But then how can the absence of a Pakistani denial be
construed to indicate the agency's involvement. Or suppose the ISI knew that Bhaumik's story was a RAW feed,
in the same way that the transcript of the reported conversation between two ISI agents that he keeps referring to might well be? The fact that the Bangladesh government has so far failed to interest the Dutch authorities in this matter should make him wonder. Now that
the matter has been well-publicised thanks to
Bhaumik's efforts, would the Dutch let a few Bangladeshi terrorists and the ISI plan a murder on their
soil? Bhaumik may well have converted an intelligence
report into a media report on behalf of some intelligence
agency. It will not do to so easily disparage everybody
else's intelligence,
The line of credibility
Bhaumik also makes statements about Bangladesh that
unfortunately give the lie to his claims to being an "East
Bengali with firm roots in Bangladesh". For one, he has
no idea about the 'bomb scene' in the country. It has by
now acquired the status of a major industry. There are
bomb manufacturing units in every town, especially so
in the towns near the Indian border. Media reports (not
intelligence reports) say that the raw material is imported from India, Hundreds have died from bomb explosions. Many others have died while making bombs.
In fact, more people have died from bombs in Bangladesh than soldiers have died in Kashmir.
Bangladeshis have been hurling bombs at each other and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
Practically everyone seems to be doing it. Those who
have to live through it do not particularly need to cast
about for Dutch conspiracies and then, through all
manner of convolutions, link them to Bangla Islamic
terrorists to explain why they happen. The bomb going
off in Narayanganj did not blow up in my face because
it just happened to go off in an Awami League office.
Many bombs have gone off before and many more will.
But till the culprits are taken to task on the basis of solid
proof, nothing will abate. Taking action on the say-so
of Bhaumik's undercover friends is not really going to
help, journalists can only report what can be proved
and leave it at that. Nothing more can be said without
breaching the line of credibility.
Not content with connecting the Dutch conspiracy
with Islamic fundamentalism, Bhaumik then finds all
manner of historical parallels. But his understanding
of contemporary and historical Bangladesh is not terribly sound. The 1971 Al-Badr and Razakar   killing of
Hundreds have died from bomb
explosions. Many others have died
while making bombs. In fact, more
people have died from bombs in
Bangladesh than soldiers have
died in Kashmir.
intellectuals and the recent bomb blasts at meetings
organised by the Communist Party of Bangladesh simply do not compare. These meetings had nothing to do
with intellectuals. One of these meetings was organised for labourers and the Ramna meeting had people
from different strata of society. So much for the claim
about Islamic fundamentalists targetting intellectuals.
It is in fact the attack on meetings organised by a party
that has no clout that is odd. Had AL or BMP or even
Jammat been attacked, there would have been strikes
and protest. Is it possible to draw any strong conclusions from all this? Were they picked on precisely because they were soft targets? Was it due to an internal
feud? Was it a Maoist attack of the kind which has
become more common now? Nobody knows as yet.
Certainly, not mere Bangladeshis sitting in Bangladesh.
What happened in 1971 was by contrast so much clearer. Then, there was a prepared list of people who were
killed with the active support of the Pakistan army to
avenge Pakistan's loss. Bhaumik should not decide on
other people's history without first getting the facts right.
Having rehashed Bangla history, Bhaumik proceeds
to recast its politics. He persists with the error that
Awami League is a pro-Indian party. This is as erroneous as the notion that devout Bangladeshi Muslims are
all anti-Indian or devout Hindus are all Bangladesh
haters. As a matter of fact, Indians can afford the luxury of being pro- or anti-Awami League or Bangladesh
Nationalist Party but no party in Bangladesh can really afford to have an anti-Indian policy and survive. The
media may create images but all one has to do is look at
trade figures over the last 15 years and see the ever-
rising index, and the reality of Indo-Bangladesh relations will emerge. That is the reality of Bangladesh's
2001   August  14/8   HIMAL
 foreign policy. Bhaumik says that India should not fritter away the gains made in the last five years. Please
understand that gains have been made not just in the
last five years. The gains have been on for quite sometime and will go on, no matter who comes to power.
As far as Bhaumik's story of the LTTE angle in the
plot to assassinate Sheikh Hasina is concerned, he has
not provided any evidence other than repeating what
his intelligence reports have to say. Such things are
more competently described by Le Carre, Ludlum, poor
Jeffrey Archer and the like. I, for one, would hesitate to
provoke the journalist to further reiterations of the same
banality. Sheikh, Hasina faces many threats to her life
particularly since some of her father's killers are still
Anti-Indian feelings in Bangladesh
are traceable to a few issue like
the Farakka Barrage, lopsided
balance of trade, border management by the BSF, the support
given to the Chittagong Hill Tract
insurgents, and "migrant bashing"
in the Indian media and by certain
political parties. But anti-Indian
feelings also rise because avowed
"pro-Bengalis" often make unnecessary statements.
on the lam. Naturally, some of them may be plotting her
death and security agencies must be keeping track. My
only plea is that reporting remain within the boundaries of verification. If there is no definite proof, spare
the readers. They have a right to facts, not fiction.
Let the intelligence agencies do their work and the
media its.
What may have caused the Padua takeover is still
not known and till an independent investigation establishes the truth we can never be sure. Nor is the reason for the Boraibari attack clear. The chief of India's
Border Security Force, in an interview given to an Indian magazine, has said that the Boraibari attack was
cleared 'from above'. Some other reports have also surfaced. The post-clash situation is one of mutually contradictory statements. Unless both parties agree to tell
the truth, we will all be engaging in pointless speculation. To stay within the parameter of facts is the safest
and most reliable way to inform the public.
Bhaumik's close reading of intelligence reports
seems to have affected him in matters of style as well.
Intelligence reports are prepared for the government.
Therefore, though often imaginative, their style is
literal and dry. There is no place in it for metaphor,
irony and the other stylistic devices of language and
argument. I therefore can only sympathise with
Bhaumik when he says "how preposterous to think
India engineered the border crisis to strengthen Sheikh
Hasina". If he read my response with the care he seems
to reserve only for classified documents, he will find
that I was merely being ironical. I was simply trying to
take the implications of Bhaumik's argument to their
logical conclusion by speculating on all the other possibilities that an open-ended conspiracy theory seemed
to offer. Just as there is no proof connecting the border
incident with the Islamists and pro-Pakistanis in the
Bangladesh army and only speculation, there could be
any other combination as well. 1 added my own concoction to show the absurdities one could conclude from
the assumptions that Bhaumik makes. Conspiracies are
not established by hearsay. And that is the point that
Bhaumik misses. This is understandable, for in his
scheme of things events must be made to follow prefabricated hypotheses.
There is one last point to be made. Anti-Indian feelings in Bangladesh are traceable to a few issue like the
Farakka Barrage, lopsided balance of trade, border
management by the BSF, the support given to the Chittagong Hill Tract insurgents (just as Bangladesh had
supported some insurgent Indian groups in the past),
and "migrant bashing" in the Indian media and by
certain political parties. But anti-Indian feelings also
rise because avowed "pro-Bengalis" often make unnecessary statements. Bhaumik says, "One has only to read
my book Insurgent Crossfire to get an accurate account
of the raw's involvement in fuelling the insurgency in
the Chittagong Hill Tracts. No Bangladeshi, I can challenge, can match the depth of my expose on that issue—unless all they do is speculate". A little later he
says, "After all, in India, reporters are not afraid of
taking on the military-security establishment, unlike
our colleagues in Bangladesh."
We are led to believe that Bangladeshi reporters not
only do not measure up to the standards of Indian journalists, they are cowardly as well. How does that make
Bhaumik different from the Zee TV correspondent who
asked him how "Bangladesh could be chastised"? Such
statements are the reason for the belief common in Bangladesh, that many Indians are patronising, that they
can never consider themselves to be in the wrong and
cannot accept that others, especially those from the
smaller South Asian countries, can ever be right.
I will not go into what Bangladeshi reporters experience when they go out in the field. But Bhaumik will
do well to read a recent report of the Paris-based RSF
which will give him some idea. According to it, "The
situation there is very difficult. Unlike in India, journalists there don't operate without fear. They are in
danger, are unsafe but do their best and the injury and
death toll for discharging duties is high compared to
many other places". And unlike Bhaumik, most are not
on talking terms with the military establishment,
against whom many have fought and through their
struggle against martial law, learned the meaning of
freedom. b
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
 Retrieving a forgotten history
In the period when Indian
historiography was dominated
by the nationalists there was an
overwhelming tendency to chronicle the Indian freedom struggle
almost exclusively as achievement
of the Indian National Congress
(INC) under M.K. Gandhi's guidance. Even the so-called Cambridge
school of Indian history, whose
agenda was to critique the Indian
nationalist perspective, by and large
focussed on INC activities and personalities. This created for long the
impression that at a crucial period
of Subcontinental transition, forces
other than the Congress and its leadership were of little consequence.
The actual history of independence
from British rule is somewhat more
complex, as the other schools of history writing that rose to prominence
in the last two decades or so amply
testify. Under the influence of these
new perspectives, a number of political tendencies and events that
helped erode imperial self-confidence in holding on to India began
to get the attention they warranted.
Even so, such outstanding contributions as Bhagat Singh's gallant
sacrifice, to use but one example,
have not yet received due recognition. The Chittagong uprising of the
1930s is another such event which
has been relegated to the footnotes.
Fortunately, there are signs that
a beginning is being made in reversing this decades old attitude, and
the proof lies in works such as
Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die: The
Chittagong Uprising 1930-34. From
the voluminous documentation at
the National Archives of India and
sources scattered elsewhere, the
author has unearthed the details of
this adventure, pieced together its
fragmented story and restored it to
history in its fullness. The book is a
fascinating account of the Chittagong revolutionaries who, in the
words of the Bengal Government's
official report, "had done what had
never been attempted before—
what must have seemed to be an
unrealisable dream".
It all began with Surjya Sen, a
Chittagong school-teacher, inspired
by the 1916 Dublin Easter uprising
against the British, collecting a band
of local youth and infusing them
with the spirit of supreme sacrifice
for the country. These youngsters
were mostly drawn from Chitta-
gong's established, professional
class families with a fair sprinkling
Do And Die:
The Chittagong Uprising
by Manirii Chatterjee
Penguin Books India, New Delhi, Pp, xvl+ 356.
ISBN 0 14 029067 2, INR. 285
reviewed by Sanjoy Bagchi
of recruits from the adjacent rural
areas. They were young, some of
them in their early teens. Even the
sole girl from the group who survived, Kaipana Dutt, was only 15
when she joined the group. The few
older members of the group provided the collective leadership in
organisation and training. Surjya
Sen, known as "Masterda", was indisputably the leader, commanding
the group's complete confidence
and loyalty. He inculcated a strong
sense of discipline and co-ordination and trained the group's members in handling firearms. All these
activities were carried out in Chittagong, the district headquarters, under the very nose of the police, which
was constantly on high alert for
plots against British authority. The
group's discipline was such that
not a word of the preparations or
the objective leaked out. In fact, after it was all over, the British con
ceded that the armoury raid was a
colossal intelligence failure on their
On the night of 19 April 1930, a
Good Friday, as it had been 14 years
earlier in Dublin, Masterda led the
band of 64. Divided into four groups,
they had four targets—the Telegraph Office, the armouries of the
police and the auxiliary force and
the European Club. The group assigned to attack the club found it
deserted as the Europeans were observing a Christian day of mourning. As a result the club escaped
damage. The Telegraph Office was
torched, and with the railway track
being disabled, Chittagong was cut
off from the rest of Bengal province.
The police armoury was attacked
and captured, yielding a large volume of small arms and ammunition.
The auxiliary force armoury was
captured and its stock of arms taken,
but the much-needed ammunition
for the heavier weapons could not
be found. The armoury was then
burnt down. The District Magistrate,
the Police Superintendent and other
Europeans fled to the port and took
shelter on one of the ships. The
whole district was at the mercy of
the young freedom fighters.
Because of communication problems, the four units could not regroup after their respective operations and therefore had to carry on
their activities separately. Chatterjee's work traces the activities and
travails of the groups in their wanderings through the province.
Masterda led his boys into the hills.
The British called in the army, and
contingents of the Eastern Frontier
Rifles, the Surma Valley Light Horse
and the Gurkha Regiment began to
comb the area. Three days later, there
was an engagement at Jelalabad
where the youths with their light
arms could not cope with the army's
heavier Lewis guns. Ten of them
were killed while the rest managed
to escape. Neither Gandhi nor
Nehru had any word of tribute
for the young martyrs or even an
2001  August 14/8   HIMAL
acknowledge-ment of their efforts.
On the contrary, on 26 April, Gandhi found the time to pay tribute to
a Gujarati Congress volunteer who
had died while cutting down a
toddy palm! He said, "Vithaldas
would live in the memory of the
country for ever."
More lives were lost in several
other encounters with the army and
the armed police. The groups,
though separated, continued the
fight against the British. They were
always on the run, and although the
entire countryside knew their identity, no one betrayed them. Though
terribly poor, most of the rural folk
shared whatever little they had with
the young revolutionaries. There
was a touching little incident involving an old widow who had
given shelter to one group. She had
heard that town folk use tea and she
sent her son to a faraway village to
fetch it, Having never seen or tasted
tea, she cooked the leaves the only
way she knew—like a dish of spinach. Kaipana Dutt did not have the
heart to tell the widow how bitter
it was and she ate the cooked tea
with rice.
A unique feature of the wanderings of the revolutionaries in the forests and the countryside was that
Muslim farmers very often gave
them shelter, acted as lookouts,
guided and transported them across
the various water bodies. They never
gave them away and often had to
face the brutalities of the police pursuing the fugitive revolutionaries. A
year later, a small group led by a
senior, Ananta Singh, made its
stea Ithy way to Calcutta to seek help.
Eventually got to the French enclave
at Chundernagore, where they were
encircled and arrested. The remaining groups, however, carried on the
struggle. They hatched a plot to
blow up the jail where the arrested
persons were lodged, but this was
foiled. A notorious police inspector
was targeted and killed in 1931.
The following year, in an armed
encounter, one of the leaders was
killed. But Surjya Sen managed to
stay on the run and carry on with
his remaining troops. Some prominent British establishments like the
Pahartali Club was attacked later in
the same year. For more than three
years, the young band of revolutionaries, led bv a school teacher, had
evaded the British empire's armed
might. Their last encounter was in
May 1933, in the course of which
Surjya Sen and Kaipana Dutt were
Surjya Sen and another leader
were sentenced to death by hanging. Kaipana Dutt, on account of
her youth, was sentenced to trans
portation for life. Several others also
spent the rest of their lives in solitary isolation in the infamous Cellular Jail of the Andaman's.
Chatterjee's book brings out extraordinary features of the Chittagong group that enabled them to
carry on despite the odds. It was
clearly their indomitable spirit and
unflinching ideals that sustained
them for so long with so little support. Similarly, their faith in the
leadership seems to have kept the
group intact, so that even under difficult circumstances, there were no
acts of betrayal. Of the two girls in
the group, one killed herself rather
than surrender. They well knew that
their adventure would only end in
their deaths—"amra morbo kintu desh
jagbe" (we will die but the country
will arise). The Chittagong uprising
was the last act of classical terrorism in the Indian freedom struggle.
From the dry tissues of official
reports and documentation, Manini
Chatterjee has added flesh and
blood to those shadowy but heroic
figures of so long ago. Her work will
do much to restore the balance in
the account of India's independence struggle and perhaps induce
more scholars to retrieve and. rehabilitate other neglected heroes of the
independence struggle.
Which Sikkim?
You can tell a book by its cover.
Or so they say. This book is definitely a few miles beyond being a
traveller's guide. I have not come
across a more comprehensive work
on all the important aspects of Sikkim—from flora to fauna to anthropology to history. And it says it both
visually—by the profuse use of photographs—and with text that reflects detailed research.
The book is not only about general information on getting there
and getting about—the local scenic
spots, distances and modes of travel, and similar kinds of detail that
are essential for the traveller. It is
Sikkim: A Traveller's Guide
by Sujoy Das and Arundhati Ray
Permanent black, New Delhi, Pp. 159.
ISBNS1 7824 008 4
reviewed by
Narendra Pradhan
also about personal experiences
through travel essays. This is what
makes the book so much more interesting and enjoyable than the regular travel guide. These essays arc
vivid, sharp and evocative, and
bring alive the wooded hills and
mountain passes. The high-quality
photographs accompanying each of
the articles reinforces the imaginative appeal of the travelogue. The
quality of production, binding and
colour printing is what one can expect from international publishers,
which indicate a good beginning in
this genre by the start-up publisher
from Delhi, Permanent Black.
The opening essay, "The Five
Treasures of the Great Snows", is a
fitting introduction to all that Sikkim has to offer to the outsider. The
HIMAL   14/8 August 2001
 ft: ':■ :-   ftft~ ;
A hot spring
near Ralang.
chapter "Brief History of Sikkim" is
anything but brief, and provides a
detailed account of the history of the
Himalayan kingdom-turned-Indian state. But history is a contentious
issue, and historical accounts, no
matter how detailed they are, cannot please everyone. For instance, a
glaring omission in this account is
that some crucial facts relating to the
historical connections among Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet—especially
with regard to the relationships between the royal families and the
nobilities of Tibet. But then, perhaps
that exercise would have demanded another chapter altogether.
There are some other grounds on
which this chapter whT invite the
criticism from those who know Sikkim. The author makes certain controversial statements that can be
considered akin to entering an ethnic minefield. On page 28, for instance, the authors comment on the
origin of the Nepali arrival in Sikkim. This has been a point of longstanding contention between Bhutia /Lepcha and the Nepali-speaker, revolving essentially around the
question of who came to Sikkim first.
Bhutias say they entered from Tibet
and the Nepalis counter that it was
the Magars who carried them in.
The colonisation of Sikkim is a matter of heated debate and the answers
are not all in. The book seems to
quote information supplied by the
Kazis—the nobles of Bhutia/Lep-
2001 August 14/8   HIMAL
cha origin who have always felt
threatened by the overwhelming
presence of the upcoming educated
Sikkimese of Nepali origin. Notwithstanding the fact that this is a
guide book written primarily for
outsiders interested in Sikkim as
tourists, projection of one side at the
expense of the other will be a sore
point for many.
Doubtless, it is the rich culture
of the Bhutias/Lepchas and their
art and architecture
that blends so well
with the backdrop of
the mighty mountains
that makes the place so
attractive and colourful. But it is equally a
fact that the Sikkim Nepalis too have a rich
and varied culture and
this has generally been
ignored in this book. In
fact mention of the Sikkim Nepalis and their
culture is fleeting at
best. Obviously, the
camera's focus and the
pen's concentration
with Bhutia-Lepcha
have to do with what
is considered appealing to the tourist.
Indeed, it is worth
considering how Sikkim's own tourism authorities should be
'selling' their state to
the world? While there may be the
natural propensity to highlight the
Tibetan-Buddhist culture which
finds great reception worldwide, the
Lepcha culture obviously needs extra highlighting as it generally does
not receive prominence anywhere.
At the same time, is the culture of
the Nepali-speaking ethnic and
caste groups to be ignored just because they may also be found in
neighbouring Nepal or Darjeeling?
But in spite of these errors of
omission and commission, the book
is successful in illustrating Sikkim
in all its majestic mountainous glory. Tire photographs of the mountains, especially of Kangchendzon-
ga and the surrounding srTialler
peaks are as good as any to be found
in the illustrated books produced
anywhere. Unfortunately, the most
beautiful peak of Sikkim—Mount
Siniolchu—considered by many
mountaineers as the most majestic
peak in the world, though written
about in text, is missing from the
Essentially, this book is useful
because it has the combination of
great photography and neatly-crafted text—the two have really come
together in books on Sikkim. t>
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The shmke, nod mi riitffU
A 11 over the world, South Asians get a
fl bum rap for being equivocal. This
comes from the Occidental's inability to
understand head movement. It is as
simple as that.
They claim that we nod our heads to
say 'no' when we mean 'yes', and 'yes'
when we mean 'no', or at the very least
we try to fudge the issue by making a
vague gesture that signifies negative nor
There is actually no cause for confusion, which only exists inside the head
of overseas observers. For them, there are
simply two kinds of head movements,
those that indicate 'yes' and 'no'. They
cannot countenance a third category of
movement, which has very subtle
shades of meaning that tilts from 'okay'
and 'maybe' to 'if you say so'.
With this third type of head movement, the subject is not trying to equivocate or confuse, but is instead seeking to
indicate a nuanced sensibility which
understands that the world is not made
up of blacks and whites, but overwhelming greys. Most importantly, this head
waffle (as opposed to the nod and the
shake) is a wholly different species of
head-movement and not a lame South
Asian mid-way gesture between the
The differentiation can be explained
simply enough if one has an understanding of the concept of the fulcrum. It is quite basic,
really. Keep in mind that it all has to do with the upper
spinal column where the neck is, in particular the set
of vertebrae that reach up from the thoracic region to
the cervical.
Diagram A illustrates the 'yes' mode, in which the
fulcrum is at middle-neck, around where the thoracic
and cervical vertebrate meet up. The 'yes' movement
causes the head as a whole to dip down and rear up.
Diagram B indicates the 'no' shake of the head. Its
fulcrum is along the vertical axis going down the cervical column, with the head swinging horizontally left-
to-right and right-to-left,
Diagram C is the difficult one, but only until you
understand that there is an altogether different fulcrum
and axis at play. Here, too, as in Diagram B, the movement is around the middle-neck, but the plane is different. Whereas in 'yes', the play of the vertebrae is back
and forth, here it is an arc from side to side. If you are
looking at the subject face-to-face, in a 'no'
you will see the head turn left and right,
whereas in a waffle it will tilt leftwards and
Now that we have explained the science
of the waffle, let us look into its anthropology. The yes-nod and no-shake are very
much there in the South Asian repertoire,
and they mean what they do elsewhere in
the world. However, the head-waffle takes
us into a cerebral terrain uncharted by
many other societies. At its most positive,
the waffle means 'okay'. Let us consider an
Question: Do you want to try this spoonful of castor oil?
Answer: (head-waffle)
This simple gesture is pregnant with
possible meanings. A yes-nod would of
course leave no confusion, as would a
no-shake. But a head-waffle would mean:
a) come to think of it, I quite like caster oil,
so, okay, what the heck, give it to me; b)
maybe I should have it, if you say so, oh,
V alright; c) I really detest the thing, but I am
^>\/\ so dominated by you that I will signify my
assent with this head-waffle.
So, which one is it among the three (in
this instance, and there could be more) scenarios? That is the beauty of South Asian
living! The observer must decipher whether
the head-waffle is an 'okay' or a 'maybe' or
fatalistic acceptance based on the surrounding circumstances and visual cues. However, the one confusion that has to be laid to rest is this—
the South Asian is not saying 'no' when he is saying
'yes', or vice versa. He is saying something quite different—an 'okay' or maybe a 'maybe'.
Just because the dominant, globalised First World
has only two kinds of head nods and shakes, it does not
mean that there may not be more kinds elsewhere. Just
as the Eskimos have scores of words for snow, the more
varieties of nods and shakes present in a society, the
more it speaks of that society's cultural sophistication
and ability to address the subtleties of human interaction. Only when we come to a Ramrajya where everything is black and white, and positive and negative, good or bad, will us South Asians do
away with the head waffle. For the ^J
moment, the world is full of greys, / / / jj If
and we have the head movement to ' I < f'W* '■'
prove it.
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