The mullahs and Musharraf

Gautam brings my attention, via email, to a story about how radical clerics from Islamabad’s Red Mosque are demanding that a minister be sacked from Pakistan’s government because she dared to hug a foreign man. As it happens a Pakistani journalist who is a friend of mine sent me an email a couple of days ago about this very mosque, in reaction to my piece on General Musharraf, “General Musharraf’s Incentives”. With his permission, and keeping him anonymous for obvious reasons, I reproduce some of it below:

To add further fuel to the theory that it is entirely in [Musharraf’s] interests to prolong this war against terror, this war against extremism, I wonder if you have been following the curious case of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad?

In short, it is a madrassa illegally occupying government land in the heart of the capital, staffed by thousands of burqa-clad women and run by some hardcore maulvis who are, for all intents and purposes, running a state within a state.

They have Taliban-type aims – they have set up a department of vice and virtue – and recently kidnapped some women claiming they were running a brothel. And then some policemen too. Now they’ve set up a parallel court on their premises, they go around threatening dvd rental stores and take down license plate numbers of female drivers in the capital to harass them for being non-shariah compliant later. All this in the capital. With the President on one side and the PM on the other and all the intelligence agencies nearby.

Basically, the government is not doing anything about it, ostensibly because “they are women and we don’t want to hurt them and we’d rather negotiate with them”. (Balls – that didn’t stop them beating up Asma Jehangir last year when she tried to run a marathon.) The belief is though that it acts as a scary reminder of what the country may lurch towards if the President wasn’t around fighting the forces of extremism and playing saviour.

My friend also pointed me to an article by Masood Hasan in which Hasan describes Pakistan as “a banana republic which has run out of bananas.” Heh.

And also, via email from Quizman, here’s a letter by Hameed Haroon, the publisher of Dawn, about how Musharraf is clamping down on the press. In any case, Musharraf’s shameful behaviour during the Mukhtaran Mai affair should be enough indication of how deeply illiberal he is. He’s masterfully built an image of himself in the West as a moderate moderniser, but that facade is slowly and surely falling apart.

Update (April 12): Nitin Pai writes in to add some nuance:

The mullahs of Lal Masjid are not the same chaps that were long held as bogeys. Leaders of the MMA have not only have had little influence over this business, but they have actually criticised the Lal Masjid brigade for, well, politicising religion. The Lal Masjid brigade has everything to do with Khalid Khawaja-Hamid Gul & Co which are parts of the establishment. Since your post is about Mush using the Mullahs, I thought it is worth pointing this out.

(Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that Mush controls Gul & Co entirely. They may be trying to replace one Mush with another.)

Cricket and The Mad Dog Show

This piece has been published in the April 2007 issue of Cricinfo Magazine. It was written the day before India’s loss to Sri Lanka.

Imagine a man, dressed respectfully, and a scruffy dog he owns. The man catches the dog and sets its tail on fire. And then, as the dog runs around frenetically, the man says smugly: “Look – mad dog.” He even sells tickets. He calls it: “The Mad Dog Show.”

Indian cricket is The Mad Dog Show. Indian fans are like that burning doggie. The media is the respectable gentleman. Every time I see footage of mobs burning the effigy of a cricketer, and the voice-over of an anchor droning sanctimoniously in the background, I am appalled by the hypocrisy. “That is a beast you feed,” I feel like screaming. For all their talk about crazed subcontinental fans, the crazed subcontinental media is no different.

It is a cliche that cricket and Bollywood are India’s two great passions, but perhaps there really is just one. The media presents cricket like Bollywood drama, not sport. There aren’t winners and losers, there are heroes and villains. If India wins a game, they have lifted the nation. If they lose, they are traitors. Every act is wilful. 

In the quintessential Bollywood blockbuster, there are many twists and few shades of gray. Similarly, in their coverage of cricket, our media does not bother with nuance. Everything is larger than life. A mighty heave that just sails over the midwicket fence conjures up epic adjectives. An identical shot that is caught at the boundary is unequivocally condemned. One is “flamboyant”, “brilliant”, “stunning”; the other is “careless” and “irresponsible”. Note, for the latter set of adjectives, the implication of volition. 

The media is merely catering to the market, of course. The Indian Cricket Fan™ is a mighty beast which brings in much advertising money, but a dumb one. The nuances of the game do not matter to it. It wants spectacle. Passages of obdurate defence against wily spin do not excite it: wickets and sixes do. It wants batsmen to whack the ball, not nudge it around, and bowlers to grab wickets, not buy them. It cannot accept defeat – as in a Bollywood film, the hero must win – and does not enjoy the intricate dramas constructed from ball to ball. Indeed, what it really wants, and will slobber over, is a highlights package that shows it winning. It probably wishes the channels could just broadcast the highlights live. The rest is boring filler material. 

All subcontinental fans aren’t like this, of course. But there aren’t enough exceptions to constitute a significant market segment. Cricket coverage is such that niches cannot be satisfied: one official channel, the one that paid exorbitant amounts of money that it must earn back, broadcasts any particular game. All the news channels – and there is a glut of them – have to cater to the lowest common denominator to survive. The connoisseur has few options, such as, ahem, the magazine you hold, that look at cricket as more than gladiatorial combat for jaded voyeurs.

Indeed, the fear of the voyeurs getting jaded makes the media try harder to produce sensation. The most tried and tested way of doing this in the subcontinent is through shrill nationalism. So you have “Pakraman”. Also “War in the Windies”. And, of course, LOC. (“Love of cricket,” it seems!) This ensures that emotions are most pitched, and this also plays up on the theme of defeat as national betrayal. No true fan would stone the house of a player. But no true patriot would let a traitor go unpunished. 

As this self-fulfilling feedback loop between the media and The Indian Cricket Fan™ plays itself out, think of the players. International cricket is a demanding sport, and the physical and mental stresses it puts a player through are formidable. When one adds to that the stress of our media, searching for sensationalistic headlines, behaving like paparazzi, it must be almost unbearable. It is common to say that our cricketers bear the burden of a nation, but they also bear the burden of madness. How can that beast be satiated? What are the consequences if the other team plays better on the day, as is often inevitable? Cricket is a hard sport, but the cricket that our players play is much, much harder.

Hiding the author

In a feature in the Guardian by Geraldine Bedell, AL Kennedy is quoted as saying:

The authors I first loved all had initials – JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, E Nesbit, ee cummings – and I actively didn’t want to know who they were or have them get in the way of my enjoying their story and their voice.

Indeed, that is quite the problem with our times, especially in India: too much of the focus is on the author. That’s because most of us don’t read.

Rasgullas and Charlie Chaplin movies

If Bhagat Singh was alive, would he have to deal with the tabloid press? We have already been told that he “had a special fancy for ‘rasgullas’ and Charlie Chaplin movies.”

I can imagine some trainee calling him up to ask him who his favourite designer is. “How do you like Manish Malhotra?” she would ask. “Saunders,” he would mutter, for he would be 99 years old, and probably senile.

Water too hot

Sharad Pawar is quoted as saying about Greg Chappell:

Definitely there is a responsibility to train properly but at the same time one can show water too hot but cannot compel him to drink.

Sigh. You know what happened here, don’t you? Pawar probably said something to the effect of how you can “show water to horse etc”, a clumsily phrased mangling to begin with. The journalist who transcribed it misheard it, and typed it mindlessly. He did not re-read his copy. His editor did not read his copy. And—this is PTI text— the people at the publication that carried this story did not read the copy.

And thank goodness for all of that. Who would entertain us if all journalists were competent? Your daddy or what?

(Link via email from my favourite journalist friend, Rahul Bhatia.)

What to do about Moninder Singh Pandher?

I’ve just been watching the TV news channels, and they’re all a little psyched right now. The CBI has announced that Surendra Koli is solely responsible for the Nithari killings, most of which took place when Moninder Singh Pandher was either out of the country or not in his house. The anchors and reporters are bewildered, and are hinting at all manners of dark conspiracies. There are soundbytes of relatives of the victims protesting against the “injustice.” One thing is clear: many of these people decided long ago, after a rapturous media trial, that Pandher was guilty of the serial killings. Now that he’s not even being charged of the killings, they don’t know how to deal with it.

This is especially so because a significant part of the media made it a class issue. They focussed a bit too much on the subtext of a rich, influential businessman killing off poor, defenseless kids in his neighbourhood, and much of the outrage about the Nithari killings came from the class difference. Now that storyline is sinking, and they’re trying to figure out what angle to take. Perverted psychopath killing and eating a whole bunch of kids is less juicy if it’s the servant and not the master we’re talking about.

The whole truth of the matter will hopefully emerge as the trial proceeds, and it might well turn out, as some of the reporters are insinuating, that Koli is covering up for Pandher. But it might also turn out that he’s telling the truth. Either way, should we not suspend our decision until the facts are established?

Anand Jon and euphemisms

We’ll only know if Anand Jon is guilty of the charges against him when the trial is done, but if there was a law against silly euphemisms, his attorney, one Ronald Richards, would be in serious trouble. Consider the gentleman’s defence of Jon:

These girls fly in for model jobs after months of dialogue filled with flirtation, they have sexual interaction and if he doesn’t put them in the show… then sometime later they claim they had unwanted sex.

“Sexual interaction?” “Unwanted sex?” Dude?

And it’s interesting how a section of the Indian media has jumped to Jon’s defence simply because he is an Indian celebrity in the US. So we have stories with quotes from celebs saying things like “Oh, I met him once at a party, and he seemed so polite. I’m sure he couldn’t have done this!” Joy.

Madhur Bhandarkar should make a film on this.

Nikhat Kazmi redefines Verniness

I’ve written before on the mediocrity of the film reviewers of India’s broadsheets, and Nikhat Kazmi illustrates that better than anyone. It’s a pity, in a way, that Jai Arjun Singh busted her for plagiarism: we’re stuck with her original stuff now, and it is monstrous. Consider these lines from her review of 300:

In case your appetite for bloody violence failed to find satisfaction with Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, just go for 300. You won’t be disappointed because the level of violence, once again, reaches an all new high in this Hollywood flick which transforms war into unadulterated gore. And it does it without losing its aesthetics. So that, you get to see heads being decapitated and flying on screen and humans being impaled, chopped and chutnified in palettes that have been specially tinted to create a canvas where the colour of blood is black and the body count is beyond cognition.

Is a worse sentence possible than that last one, which careens beyond redemption from that first misplaced comma onwards, as if in a parallel universe where grammar and simple writing are vices, not virtues? To top it up, she then writes: “The tale is pre-history.” Pre-history? Hello?

This kind of a review would be understandable from a seventh-standard schoolgirl trying badly to impress with her knowledge of English (probably her second or third language), and her contrived insights. It is sad that our country’s most-read English paper should carry such writing. Why are the editorial standards of our newspapers so terribly low?

(Link via email from Rahul Bhatia.

Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34.)