Friday, December 31, 2010

An Honest Man

Yesterday, the CBI, the IB, Income Tax, RAW, the State Police, Central Vigilance and other enforcement agencies raided my friend, Sri H (to protect his identity). He lives down a lane in a two bedroom house (with a mortgage), has two children, drives a 1990 Maruti 800 and owns an old colour TV. He’s a handsome man of around 46 who works as an assistant secretary in a central government department. Fifty official vehicles blocked the lane, the road and tailed back to the traffic lights. Beyond the lights were television OB vans and 200 reporters baying for the story. At least 120 officials were crowded into his home, every one of them wanting to be the first to interrogate Sri H.
‘I was here first,’ the CBI officials screamed and brandished their orders from the very highest Delhi command in the land.
‘No, we were,’ the IB officials also waved orders from the same highest command.
‘We have first priority,’ Income tax shouted. They had the same orders. As did the State Police and all the others
Sri H, trapped in a corner with his wife and children hiding behind him, asked in his polite voice. ‘What have I done? Someone please explain why I am being raided.’ He had to then shout to be heard above the din.
There was a moment of stunned silence, before all the officials laughed and slapped each other on their backs. ‘What has he done? he wants to know, acting innocent. We’ll tell you what you’ve done.’ They all took out their orders and read the charges in unison. ‘You have committed sedition against the State, you have acted against the constitution of the country and you have ruined India’s reputation all around the world.’
‘Can you please be more specific?’ Sri H asked.
‘Specific!’ They all screamed. ‘Sri H you are charged for being the only honest man in Bharat which is a crime liable for 200 years imprisonment. Here we are trying for India to make it to Number One as the most corrupt country in the world, and you have ruined our chances with your reputation for being an honest official. This is an act of sedition as you have acted against the all the amoral laws of the State. You sign papers without demanding bribes, you don’t possess a Swiss Bank account, you don’t even send your children to expensive schools, you don’t possess secret bank lockers, you only own this cheap house, you constantly report corrupt officials and politicians to Vigilance who are sick and tired of you. You have ruined the scam careers of officials and politicians.’
A CBI official silenced the furious officials. ‘Sri H, we’re a very understanding people. We can dismiss all these charges and I guarantee nothing will happen to you if you take a bribe. You can build a palatial home, drive a BWM, and have an account in Switzerland.’ He turned to his juniors. ‘Who is holding the bribe money?’
Immediately, CBI, IB, Income Tax, State Police all of them rushed forwards waving 1,000 rupee notes. ‘Take my money, take my money…’ They all screamed. They had their cameras ready to photograph Sri H taking the first bribe for doing absolutely nothing. At least 10 crores fell at his feet.
Sri H drew himself up to his full height. ‘I refuse to take a bribe from any private person, corporate honcho, communications companies, industrialists, politicians, goondas and enforcement officials.’
They all immediately arrested Sri H and took him to prison. There they beat him up, applied electrodes to tender parts, burnt him with cigarettes and poured money into his cell. He still refused to accept a bribe. A year later, he was produced in court for committing sedition and treason against the State for being an honest man. The judge was so shocked that he sentenced Sri H to 250 years in prison.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


You may have noticed that China has launched its equivalent of Google Earth. This website, Chinaon map, is China’s vision of the earth around the middle kingdom. As I’m a Google Earth traveller, I thought I’d better check out how China views us. Apart from Tibet and the disputed islands in the China Sea, a piece of India is also attached to China. We’ve lost Arunachal Pradesh to China in their map so I thought I’d better get over to the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping in Beijing to tell them that their Chinaonmap has made a serious mistake. AP is an integral part of India, still, or was until I saw their map.
‘We’re very sorry for the mistake,’ the spokesperson for SBSM told me, smiling. ‘We’ll make a correction. Please remember China once reached Siberia under the great Khan.’
‘He’s long dead and gone. The correction has to be done immediately. Google Earth updates their website every few minutes. And in their map of India AP is very much part of India.’
‘Very sorry,’ spokesperson said. ‘We only update once or twice a year. Next year maybe we will look into the problem.’
I thought this was an inadequate response to my courteous protest. On returning to a India, still whole, I hoped, I went to the one of the big IT companies.
‘I want us to upload an Indiaonmap website immediately. We will then get AP back within our borders and also claim a small chunk of Chinese territory. We’ll also make Tibet an independent country on our website. And Taiwan too can be freed from China. And while we’re at it, we’ll move Beijing next to Kolkata so that the communist party will be happy to have it as their new neighbour.’
In no time at all, we launched the Indiaonmap website. AP was back in our fold and Tibet had a new border around it.
I had to show off and returned to the SBSM office in Beijing, a short hop from Kolkata and showed them our Indiaonmap site. The spokesperson was furious and very insulted that his capital was next to the Hooghly.
‘We’ll see about that,’ the spokesperson said and opened up Chinaonmap website in front of me. He moved Beijing back to its original position, reclaimed Tibet and AP. He then shifted the border further west to take a chunk of Assam. ‘This where we were in the 1962 war,’ he said. For good measure, he gave Kashmir to Pakistan and then gave it Afghanistan too.
‘Right, it’s web war,’ I told him and returned to a much truncated India with Pakistan now twice its size. I told my hi-tech guy to re-claim AP and Tibet and push a 1,000 kilometres into China. As we couldn’t allow Pakistan to claim Kashmir and Afghanistan, we moved India’s borders west to Iran. I thought this would make that gas pipe line easier to lay. We re-named the China Sea to the Asian Sea and gave all the disputed islands in that new sea to Japan. This would help our trade relations, I thought.
When I went back to SBSM, they were waiting for me as they saw what we had done on Indiaonmap. This time, Chinaonmap pushed China’s order west up to Mumbai.
‘We’re more than happy for you to have Mumbai, the RSS and the Thackeray thugs,’ I told them. As China did not want any of our thugs, SBSM decided only to move to Nagpur, which divided India in half. The Indian Ocean became the China Ocean.
Back in India, we spread the Indian Ocean across the Pacific and Atlantic too and pushed India’s borders as far west to France. Chinaonmap then spread east and included the US and South America. Neither of us wanted Britain as it was an economic black hole, and the cause of all our problems.

Conversation with Lord Mountbattan

The other day I bumped into Lord Louise Mountbattan. I know he’s dead (the IRA blew him up) but his spirit haunts India as he was the LastViceroy of India and can’t forget the great time he had living in the Raj Bhavan, riding in grand carriages, fawned over by us, dividing up India and spending time with his good pal Nehru. He didn’t mind his wife Edwina frolicking with the future PM of India as he believed India should continue to be ruled by a Raj type of person.
‘So what do you think of modern India, Dicky?’ I asked him. Dicky was his nickname and I thought I could be familiar with our Last Viceroy to make him feel at home in India Inc.
‘Not changed much, old chap,’ he replied. ‘You’ve got a many more motor cars, more buildings and a few billionaires, whatever that means, but it’s still ruled by the Raj.’
‘Raj! Nonsense. We’re an independent nation, part of BRIC, high GDP and a country to be reckoned with.’
‘When the British Raj left India we made sure that the reins were handed over to someone we could trust to continue our rule. In proxy of course. And that is why we chose the Congress party. It’s a fine, upstanding party that upholds everything that is British. India has faithfully followed the British way of life. We have a Queen, and so do you. Our Queen is a foreigner, more German blood than British blood. Your Queen too is a foreigner, more Italian blood than Indian. They are alike too. We have a Prime Minister who has to have the Queen to approve, in theory of course, his political agenda. In that, you have gone back a century to Empress Victoria as your Queen has more power than our Queen. Like Victoria your Queen formulates policy and instructs your Prime Minister. We have a royal family, so do you. Our royal family doesn’t dabble in politics though Charlie would love to. Our royal family just hunt and fish and party, as they’re supposed to do for the sake of our tabloid newspapers. Your royal family dabbles in politics constantly, instead of just being royal and party like our family. We have a feudal society, so do you. Look at all the children of politicians who now have seats in your parliament and state assemblies. You should copy our example and stuff all those children into an upper house. We call it House of Lords; yours is the Raja Sabha. That’s where the feudals should be kept so they don’t cause mischief.’
‘Not every one in India recognizes our royal family,’ I protested. ‘We’re a republic and want a good devious politician, like a Tony Blair, to be our PM. We’d prefer our Queen to stay at home and do her knitting. At least, she doesn’t love dogs like your Queen.’
‘But she can’t stay at home, can she?’ he countered. ‘The good ole Congress boys want a foreigner to lead them. We taught them how to be led by one of us and they cannot forget their lessons. They know full well that if your Queen didn’t campaign for them, they would lose every election. They have as much charisma as fleas. If tomorrow, our Queen campaigned for the Tories or the Labour or the Liberals, they would win the election hands down.’ He shook his head. ‘No, you love your feudals. Your Queen only campaigns as she wants the crown prince to take his rightful place on the throne. Charlie’s wating for his place but our Queen knows he’ll make a mess at being King. Just like yours will, one day.’
‘Our prince-in-waiting will do great. Who else do we have?’
‘True. If you know your history, we British called it his Divine Right to be King.’


Osama Bin Laden is very worried about Climate Change. He released an audio tape recently complaining that no one else, apart from him, is worried about Climate Change. The earth, he believes, is going down the tubes because of man’s destruction of the environment. Believe me, if Osama’s worried about this, we had all better get worried too. I worried so much that I thought I’d better meet Osama to discuss the subject with him, face-to-face, instead of listening to his disembodied voice. The CIA wasn’t sure it was him speaking or the Al-Qaeda Climatologist.
As it’s impossible to find this elusive man, I opened Google Earth, wrote in his name and clicked on Find. The camera zeroed in just east of the Hindu Kush and down to ‘Osama Lives here’. I even had a 3-D street view of the entrance with his bodyguards posed with their AKs. I made it through Kabul, a hairy jeep ride up the mountains to his home and kept the taxi waiting, illegally parked under a ‘No Drone Parking’ sign.
Osama was delighted to find someone else as worried as he was on Climate Change and welcomed me, after I was searched. His penthouse was a bit damp. Water dripped down from the ceiling, the Persian carpet smelled mouldy and Osama was wrapped up in a blanket. His Climatologist was in a corner, pouring over parchment maps, checking the CNN weather map on his laptop and making calculations.
‘Osama when do you have the time to be worried about Climate Change?’ I asked.
‘I make time,’ he said. ‘I have nothing else better to do stuck up here.’
‘But you have so many more important projects on your agenda. Like the defeat of America, conquering Europe, planning Mumbai Style attacks on foreign cities, like New York, London, Paris with your Taliban business partners…’
He stopped me. ‘We must stick to Climate Change. It keeps me awake at night worrying about the earth. There is a conspiracy going on under my very nose.’
‘What kind of a conspiracy?’
‘A conspiracy,’ he shouted. ‘You tell me why it rained so heavily only on Pakistan? Nowhere else on the earth was there such heavy rain. This was a conspiracy between the Americans and the Indians to cause big problems for the country I love with all my heart. They both used their software to send a virus into the clouds so it upset the cloud balance. The clouds couldn’t move because of the virus…’
‘But Osama no one can send a virus into the clouds to stop them moving.’
‘Then you tell me.’
‘Deforestation for a start and the mud slides down into the rivers, they silt up and are not as deep as they used to be.’
‘No. The Drones are shifting the winds. They heard it like goats.’
‘It rained very heavily on India too. Delhi was flooded, Commonwealth Game bridges fell down, hundreds drowned’
‘A few hundred Indians drowned!’ he scoffed at me. ‘You have a billion and won’t miss them. But this Climate Change conspiracy has affected the very government of Pakistan, as the leaders are safe making money. It’s the Americans who have caused all these problems with the climate.’ He turned to his Climatologist. ‘Tell this unbeliever.’
‘The earth’s winds blow from west to east,’ he pronounced. ‘All of Asia is polluted by greenhouse gases and airplane emissions.’ He called up a website. ‘See, we get all that polluted air which is why Americans fly so many planes, only to kill us with their pollutants.’
‘I had read that too. But how else does Climate Change affect you up here, Osama?’
‘My arthritis gets worse with the rains.’ He waved goodbye and called out. ‘Watch out for the Drones. They can’t tell the difference between you and us. We all look alike on the screens in Vegas.’


(Kindly circulate in my constituency and ensure it has one lakh signatures)
We, the undersigned, believe the Union Cabinet has erred grievously in its recent announcement of a mere 300 per cent increase in the salaries and perquisites of our most honourable member of parliament. He is an upstanding man of great integrity who has worked hard to serve us, his constituents, to the best of his abilities. He visits us annually to ensure that we are benefitting from all his good work.
He is a most humble man and wears only the kurtas and dhotis; often we noted his clothing has been patched. We appreciate his humility as we know he possesses many Gucci suits, especially hand-made for him, whenever he travels to a place called Milan. His wife possesses many Dolce Gabba items of clothing and accessories too from this very place but as we never see her we appreciate her humility too. He does not come in a grand vehicle but in a 1999 Tata Sumo which he has possessed for many years as he cannot travel on our kutcha roads in his BMW SUV.
On his annual visit yesterday, we gathered as always, under the bodhi tree to hear his problems. As he does not have much time, being a busy man, he does not hear our problems. They are simple – no electricity, no schools, no health clinics, no roads, no jobs, no food - and not worth his valuable time. Which we understand.
His problems brought tears to our eyes that the unjust Union Cabinet only granted a 300 per cent pay increase. He wept as he told us how hard it was for him to maintain himself, his family, his friends, his chamchas, and his many homes, on such a paltry amount. And we wept along with him. And how could he visit twice a year when all he was given was 30 air coupons? By the time he flew weekly to Mumbai to attend the parties thrown by his Bollywood friends (who campaign here with him once in five years but we have not seen their films as we have no electricity or a cinema house), he has no air coupons left to visit us.
He cannot even telephone us, not because we don’t have any telephone connections, but he has to make hundreds of calls to his bankers, investment advisers, real estate agents, Swiss banks, Cayman Island banks. The cost of making such long distance calls to phoren countries consumed his 1.5 lakh annual free calls. He had us weeping for him when he pointed to his old Sumo. How could he pay for his BMW SUV when the cabinet gave him a mere five lakhs advance when the vehicle costs nearly one crore.
Don’t you want to be proud of your MP arriving at parties in his BMW? He asked. ‘Yes, yes,’ we agreed. He also pleaded with us to understand that, as a humble MP, he was not at all corrupt. He only took a 50 per cent commission on projects allocated to our constituency. Ministers, he told us, took 90 per cent and he wasn’t as greedy as they were.
For our school (he laid the foundation stone four years ago) it wasn’t his fault that only 20 bricks and a bag of cement was delivered; it wasn’t his fault that the electric cables fell 10 kilometres short of our constituency; it wasn’t his fault that the clinic wasn’t built with the 40 bricks; it wasn’t his fault the telephone cable didn’t reach us.
Therefore, we all sign this petition demanding that the Union Cabinet grant our MP a 600 per cent increase in salary and perquisites.


WikiLeaks sent me their latest Leak the other day. The Leak was from the Cabinet Office of the Government of India. The document is the standing instruction to every Prime Minister, and his cabinet, from 1947. It is required reading of every PM and Minister. It is titled ‘Harmonious Centre-State Relations in 10 Easy Lessons.’
Rule 1. Total Neglect. Do not give the State anything. Deny the state’s existence and allocate zero funds for its development. Do not build roads, railways, schools, hospitals, universities, cricket stadiums. This is a waste of public funds which can be better utilised in Swiss Bank accounts. The citizens of the state are happy and joyful to just belong to the great country of India and do not wish for anything more. If possible prevent those citizens from travelling to other parts of the country as this will raise their expectations. A few will return and demonstrate peacefully. Arrest them immediately.
Rule 2. Benign Neglect. If the arrest of the agitators (foreign hand) does not calm the situation, the government may then throw the State a few sops. It may build a road or two, a school here and there and a hospital. Ensure there are no doctors or nurses in the hospital. It may even be worthwhile to hold an election. This will give the people a belief in our great democracy. However, ensure that the political party is firmly aligned to the central government of the time. Do not allow the new CM of the state any opportunity to act independently.
Rule 3. The Big Sop. If the people are unhappy with their democracy and continue to agitate peacefully arrest them all. At the same time, announce that the centre will allocate one hundred crores to the State’s development. When five crores (taken into account leakages) reaches the State, ensure it is spent on building 5-star hotels, cinema halls and beautiful parks. Hold a big conference for government officials to stay in the 5-star hotel to discuss the problems of the State. This will ensure the employment of the unemployed youths as waiters and water carriers. If the people demonstrate peacefully about the waste of funds, arrest them all. Do not start a dialogue.
Rule 4. The Bigger Sop. Call the media (who will slavishly report what we want) and announce that the cabinet will allocate 1,000 crores for the State’s development. With the 100 crores (see above) invite major industrialist to set up industries to exploit the forest, valleys, jungles and whatever else there is, for minerals, oil, gas, silicon, manganese, iron. These projects will generate employment for the people to cut down the trees, dig up their forests and pollute their rivers and their air. At the same time build three schools, one university and send doctors nurses to staff the hospital built 30 years ago. As we know the State’s citizens are never grateful for all that the Central Government does for them and will agitate for more. Arrest them all. Brand their leaders as Naxals/communists/jihadists/ISI employees/Chinamen/CIA operatives.
Rule 5. Hold another election. Ensure that the election is fixed so that a ruling government’s party wins. Announce that this proves that democracy does work and it is the agitators who are to blame for all the troubles in an otherwise peaceful state. To prove that it is peaceful the PM or the HM should make a flying visit to the state and be seen with the new CM. Fly back immediately. Announce that a railway line will connect the state to rest of the country. The Naxals/communists/jihadists/ISI employees/Chinamen/CIA operatives will demonstrate and throw stones.
Rule 6. Send in the police. Shoot on sight.
Rule 7. Send in more police. Shoot more on sight.
Rule 8. Call in State CM for serious discussions.
Rule 9. Send in more police. Shoot everyone on sight.
Rule 10. See Rule One.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Ahre, you people don’t know how hard it is to be the new CM of my state. My first task is to pick my cabinet from among my many talented party men and women. To make this more streamlined, and fair, I have devised an application form which can be downloaded from the website Those of you wishing to join my cabinet are requested to fill in the form, answering all questions, and return it, online, to prove that I am a computer savvy CM. Please be assured I will review every application and choose the best person for the cabinet post.
Real Name: If you have a real name, please tell why you keep it.
False Names: List all the false names under which you have lived for the last 10 years. As this a free country you can have any number of names.
Date of Birth: Above 75 is the ideal age.
Place of birth: It would advisable for you to be born in this state but if not make up a village name and ensure that you have a false birth certificate to prove this.
Education: List all the fake degrees that you have acquired over the years and specify which fake subject interests you the most. This will help me in appointing you in the appropriate post to match your qualifications. For example, if you have a fake degree in computer science then you could be Minister of Telecommunications. This goes for other subjects – finance, agriculture, industry etc.
Employment: If you were employed by a powerful industrialist, a multi-national corporation, or a criminal gang, and have bent babu contacts, this will be of great help in positioning you in my cabinet. I will be able to use your connexions and contacts to further the interests of the state and help uplift the people. You will be expected to introduce your ex-employers to me so I may understand how they work and how I can further their interests, along with yours. If unemployed, do not mention this. Please list all the jobs you never had as this will help me in understanding your ambitions and make a correct choice. If you are under 30 and honestly employed, do not go further. Delete the form.
Criminal Record: List your entire criminal record and also all criminal charges pending against you so as to understand your expertise in such matters. If you have committed murders, kindly provide the names of the murdered and your advice on the matter. If you have committed rape, send me the list of the women at the earliest. If you are still in prison, list your police and prison contacts for character references.
Fake Encounters: List who, when, where, cop collaborators. And how to perform them, legally.
Ambitions: To ensure you will be the right person for the right cabinet post, I need to know your exact ambitions. For instance, do you wish to make one crore, ten crores or one hundred crores a year from your post? However, if you are truly very ambitious and believe that your talents deserve a greater reward for your presence in my cabinet and that your target is between one hundred to one thousand crores a year, I will suggest your name for a central cabinet position. The central cabinet is an equal opportunity to make money employer. However, they may expect you to occasionally attend cabinet meetings and speak in parliament but this is not compulsory. Overseas travel mandatory.
Hobbies: As the work of serving the people is very hard, to relieve the stress it is important you have a hobby. Throwing chappals, flower pots, assaulting the opposition is one of our most popular stress breakers. If you wish for training, please inform the minister of Sports.
Good luck.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kabul Stories

Checking into my flight to Kabul in Delhi, I chatted with an Afghan gentleman behind me. He asked me: ‘Which hotel are you staying in?’ I told him the name and then he continued: ‘I own a hotel in Kabul too.’ I thought, as my reservation wasn’t firm, I could stay in his hotel instead. He shook his head. ‘You can’t. It was bombed two months ago.’ Ohh! ‘But, it will ready in two weeks if you return.’
My hotel may not suffer the same fate but there’s no guarantee. The approach road has a steel barrier and a gunman #1 who checks my reservation. The road leads up through high blast walls to Gunman #2 also at his barrier. Finally, Gunman #3 does a security check on the car and signals for the steel gate to open before I reach the hotel’s reservation office. Taking a morning stroll after signing the exit register and reading the note that informs me the hotel is not responsible for anything that happens to me, I pass the palatial homes of Wazir Akbar Khan district protected by blast walls and their own gunmen. Some even have two as if they’re status symbols, and the weapons of choice are 9mm machine pistols, though here and there are the familiar AK47s. The roads are so damaged that I have to pick my way past, even as the SUVs (vehicles of choice) wallow towards me. Later, when I enquire who lives in these house, I get an ambiguous answer ‘Commanders’. Commanders? Military, police, drugs, warlords, and some of the poppy palaces even have a gunman perched on their roofs.
Earlier, I had climbed on my hotel roof to view the city. High above is a watchful eye, a tethered balloon with a 24x7 camera. Strangely, apart from a few sparrows in the hotel garden, there’s not another species of birds in the sky, not even the ubiquitous crow or a kite, not a parrot or a pigeon. Over the years, every tree was cut down and the birds fled to more habitable locations. I did finds birds Fa Karushi market in old Kabul. The fighting doves and finches are in elaborate cages and quite costly.
Kabul nestles in a valley, surrounded by anaemic green hills and I think that Kabulis have never seen the endless horizon that surrounds other cities. It must limit their imagination of the world, enclosed in this private space. The hills, like Sheer Darwaza to the south, also have the ruins of fortress walls along their spines but, despite the natural defences, a thousand invaders have over run this city and country. Hills also divide the city into sections, with narrow passes through which the city flows to connect up with its other parts. Behind my back, a hill rises steeply and, crowning it, as proof of Imperial Idiocy, is an Olympic-size swimming pool with many diving boards but not a drop of water. The Russians built and abandoned their folly, as they did the country in 1989. Old Kabul, the original city, rises on either side of the Kabul River. From my vantage point Kabul looks an easy city to navigate as my first meetings are to the south, in and around Kabul University. But, I discover, this is also the grid lock city of the world. We average 45 minutes to cover a kilometre and, sitting in these jams, I hope we won’t stop opposite a police station or alongside a military convoy. Those are favourite Talib targets. However, we do have a cultural connexion with Afghans – they are as bad drivers as Indians are. The blocked, high security roads passing the US and Indian embassies, NATO and ISAF compounds cause the grid locks. They are impassable and the traffic is diverted onto jammed roads, most of them badly damaged with deep pot holes.
Without a doubt, the Afghans are the most courteous, the most hospitable, gentle people I’ve come across. They enjoy conversation with their glass cups of green tea and biscuits, served whether you want it or not. But, their conversations also needs to be carefully interpreted as often it’s what they are not saying which is more important than what they do say. Professor Abdul Waste, a tall, thick-set man, clean shaven, hesitates a long moment on my Taliban question. We’re in his spacious office on Kabul U campus and there are three others in the room. He lived in Kabul during their regime and with President Karzai opening a channel to the Talib, they could be back in the city like a bad dream. He says finally, ‘They forced us to grow beards and we had to pray regularly…but it was a very safe country under them. There was no crime, no murders and we could leave our doors open.’ I point out they had a very bad human rights records. ‘People tell many stories about the Talib. Under them we were safe.’ I believe he won’t be too critical of the Talib, hedging his bets that if/when they return there will a record of his comment somewhere. Maybe reported by one in the room. Others also tell me how safe it was under the Talib, the way some Indians nostalgically remember how everything worked smoothly during Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule. Fear is a good disciplinarian and makes people duck and weave in their thinking and speaking.
The Talib are not alone in the field of continuous wars. The mujahedeen are also prowling and some of the men I meet claim to be mujahedeen, and proclaim the Afghans would be better under their rule as the Talib are Pakistani, and not true Afghans. ‘The Talib are also Arabs and Uzbeks,’ I’m told and definitely Pakistanis. How far does Karzai’s government rule extend outside of Kabul? Omar Khan (name changed) works for the Ministry of Finance and his village is in south east Afghanistan. ‘The government has no power in my area. We can go to them to solve our problems but they do nothing. So the Talib solve the problem and everyone in the area obeys the Talibs. Yes, we’re Talibs because we cannot say anything else. They’ll kill us if we do.’ On the morning BBC news (yes satellite channels when once they only had Radio Shari under the Taliban) I heard that five American soldiers were killed that day. Omar shrugged indifferently. ‘Americans are killed every day.’ In this harsh, dusty land of mountains and defiles I do wonder what those boys from the 21st century make of this 15th century country. Omar adds. ‘It’s not always the Talib. There are mujahedeen killing too.’ Like the many other young men I spoke to their driving ambition was to leave the country and live legally (not with a smuggler’s help) in Canada, Australia, the US, anywhere safe.
Those blue burquas floating on women are not that common, except in the old city. Kabuli women dress fashionably in Shalwars, high heel shoes and hijabs lightly covering half their heads, more as symbols to their culture. They wear lipstick and eye shadow and paint their nails. Under the Talib if a woman painted her nails, a finger was chopped off!! And everywhere I saw school girls in their black trousers and jackets, with the white hijabs, loaded down with books. They are the fortunate ones as girls schools are only in Kabul. Or the unfortunate too, as should the Talib return their schools will be closed, and they will be confined to their homes.
‘The men had it much harder than us,’ Hanifa (name changed) a career woman says when I mentioned the compulsory burqua for women. She too lived in Kabul during the Talib rule. ‘It took some getting used to wearing the burqua but men had to grow beards, pray five times and go to the mosque. They were beaten if they didn’t.’ Other women I spoke to echo her defence – a hard life for the male. Najibia Ayubi, manager of programming of the Khillid group of radio stations, says, ‘It was a very depressing time for us all. We had to keep our mouths shut and survive the best we could. So many women were forced to leave their jobs as teachers, office workers, and professors and stay at home. If they didn’t have any men in the family they ended up begging in the streets. But the Talib allowed the women doctors to continue working.’ She laughs. ‘Their women needed medical help too.’
The city is undergoing a building boom – independent bungalows, high rise flats, massive wedding halls and shopping malls. And kilometers of new roads laid. Construction companies, financed by American aid and poppy money, are booming. A cynical Afghan told me, ‘To put up a building for the Americans costs around four lakh Afghanis (Re1= 1 Afg) but they charge the Americans four lakh dollars. That’s how they make their money.’
But Kabul is encircled by heart breaking poverty, bad as ours, as Afghanis escape their villages looking for work in the city. Children scavenge in the rubbish and push the carts through dense traffic. I never saw these children smile and nowhere did I see them playing, as do Indian children with gully cricket, marbles or other games.
‘What will happen when the US withdraws its troops?’ I asked everyone I met.
‘Civil war,’ they replied and didn’t want to think any further on their fragile future.

Shakespeare for Indians

Recently, in Melbourne I watched a wonderful production of Richard III. It was set in a corporate environment, complete with laptops and messages on cell phone. It was a gripping production, filled with venom humour and, of course, lots of blood and betrayal. It opens with Richard’s soliloquy: ‘This is the winter of our discontent…’ And ends with ‘My kingdom for a horse…’
As I have said before, there is something everlasting about Shakespeare. He wouldn’t at all be out of place in India today. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; and we must take the current when it serves, Or Lose our Ventures’. (Julius Caesar). I’m sure our politicians must remember these lines as they push out their boats into the sea of absolute power.
I can well imagine what’s happening in Sonia-ji’s residence at this very moment. She’s turning to her chamchas and saying: ‘Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me’. (Anthony & Cleopatra).
And while she prepares, we see her party man himself in the wings, Mr P.C ‘ whose edge is sharper than the sword, whose tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile, whose breath rides on the posting winds, and doth belie All corners of the world’. (Cymbeline). And surely, Sonia-ji must admit about her man, the PM: ‘An ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own.’ (As You Like it).
I thought old Will had a kind word for Mayawati too : ‘There was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass’. (King Lear). And I guess we can apply that to all the politicians who swore undying allegiance to one party on the 7 o’clock news and switched sides by the 8 o’clock news swearing with equal fervour for the opposition. I suppose he would say of our political leaders: ‘Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile: Filth savour but themselves.’ (KL).
Unfortunately, our politicians can’t boast: ‘A jewel in a ten-times-barr’d-up chest is a bold spirit in a loyal breast. Mine honour is my life; both grow in one; Take honour from me, and my life is done.’ If this were the oath of loyalty to be taken by our politicians, I fear they’d all have to impale themselves on their party flags or drown in their money chests. Of course they wouldn’t dream of uttering such dangerous words. On second thoughts they would, as words mean little to them.
Most of them would be able to say with full truthfulness: ‘And thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odd ends stolen out of holy writ; And seem a saint, when most I play the devil’, (Richard III).
On leaving his office as Minister of State in the Foreign Office and brooding over his resignation letter, pen in hand, our Shashi Tharoor must have thought to himself: ‘Is this is a dagger (or twitter) which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight? Or art thou but a twitter of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat oppressed brain?’ (Macbeth).
While those of us one billion-odd who watch from the sidelines can only say: ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, they have their exits and their entrances…’ and the speech finally ends: ‘ Last scene of all, that ends this strange history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.'’(As You like it).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Mastering the laws of the Indian Jungle.
I picked up my friend, Mark, from the airport the other day. He had never visited India before and he was so keen to explore this incredible country.
‘I want to rent a car and drive,’ he said immediately. ‘That’s what I always do when I visit a new country. Which side do you drive on?’
‘Whichever side you like.’
‘In the UK and Australia you drive on the left, Europe and America the right. So which side in India?’
‘Both sides, right side and left side’ I repeated. ‘It depends on your mood. Now, look ahead. What do you see?’
‘A short traffic jam.’
‘No problem.’ I swung into the right lane. Oncoming traffic swerved away and allowed me a free passage. Mark cringed and looked back, a dozen cars were following me. ‘If there is a vacant lane, it’s your right to fill it up. You see what I’ve done – I’ve over taken four cars waiting stupidly in the left lane. Buses and trucks drive in the centre of the road, so you can’t over take. This is a free country and we have the freedom to drive the way we want to.’
I swung back into the left lane when the right lane blocked my passage. Ahead of us were traffic lights, the world familiar red, orange and green. As it was turning red, I drove right through.
‘Don’t you stop for lights?’
‘You kidding. If you stop for a light the cars behind you will crash into you. Just keep going. They don’t expect you to stop or slow down for any reason, including hitting a pedestrian or a cow. And never ever stop at a zebra crossing for a pedestrian. You’re condemning him or her to death as cars, buses and motor bikes on either side of you will just keep going.’
‘But where do pedestrians walk?’ He was looking out at very narrow strips of raised broken ledges on either side of the road. ‘I don’t see any pavements or sidewalks. In my country, they are given a lot of space.’
‘Not in India, as they waste valuable road space. See, in India, our politicians might make big speeches on the common man to get his votes but they don’t believe he has any right to a pavement. All the road space is reserved for us middle class in our big shiny new cars and I’d say 90 per cent of the owners have never even seen the inside of a polling booth.’
Reluctantly I stopped for a traffic light behind a car in the right side of the left lane. ‘Now you see that car in front. When the lights change he will turn left. And that bus on the far left of our lane is going to turn right. So while the two drivers disentangle themselves, the lights will change and we will still be sitting here. One of the great joys of driving here is to psychically try to figure out what the driver in front is going to do.’
I saw how nervous he was as a two wheeler missed us by inches. ‘Two wheelers are free to do whatever they want. It’s in the Indian constitution that they can jump lights, swerve into incoming traffic, squeeze in between two cars and if there is enough space when you stop at a traffic light they have the right to inch past you sideways so they’re a foot ahead of you.’
‘I notice you don’t have any rear view mirrors,’ he said quietly. ‘What about the traffic behind? In Europe you can be fined if you…’
‘The first lesson you learn is pay attention only to the front of your car. Never ever look in the rear view mirror, as you’ll have a nervous breakdown and turn to stone.’

Sunday, February 14, 2010

sex clinic experiences

Recently, I found myself living next door to Tiger Woods in the world famous F------D sex clinic, in Arizona. We were undergoing treatment for our addiction. He had a suite; I had a room, as I couldn’t afford those kinds of prices. On the other side of me was the England football captain, John Terry. We met only when we were allowed out of our luxurious quarters for our daily treatments. Tiger and Terry would hang out together in the hall, exchanging notes and cell phone numbers. As I had no notes or phone numbers worth their great talents, they excluded me from these intimate moments. As I had yet to start treatment for my addiction, I thought I should find out what happened in their therapy.
They were wary of this newcomer as they didn’t recognize me from the thousands of my photographs. Admittedly, their faces were seen in newspapers, magazines, online and on television. Mine were all in the family album.
‘So, guys, tell me what happens in therapy? Does the doctor show you a photograph of a beautiful girl and when you react to her you get zapped with a few heavy volts?’
‘What do you think we look like?’ Tiger growled. ‘We’re not mice or Pavlov dogs. I’m a tiger.’
‘Yah mate,’ Terry snapped. ‘Photographs may do things for you but does zip for guys like us. We get to see the real stuff, y’know, live, beautiful women to test our self-control. Nude too. And if we pass the test I get a pint of Fosters as a reward.’
‘What happens if, y’know, you don’t pass the test and make a grab for her?’ I riposted. ‘You get zapped or strapped down? Do they, y’know’ attach electrodes to your brain and delete nude women from the memory banks?’
‘You read too many comic books,’ Tiger said. ‘I dunno about Terry but everyone knows I’m a control freak so I have pretty good control when they show me these women. I think about a long putt on the 18th hole…’ His eyes went a bit dreamy and he chewed his finger nails.
Terry studied me, up and down. ‘You sure don’t look like a jock to me. I mean you’re kinda old, not too fit and what’s your sport mate? Marbles? I didn’t know women went crazy over that game.’
‘I’m a writer…’
‘Writer!!!’ They both fell over laughing. ‘Which woman would throw herself at a writer?’
‘Hey,’ I defended myself. ‘When I walk down the street hundreds of women throw themselves at me. Okay, 99 miss and I may be hit by the 100th. But writers were up there once with you guys. Hemingway, Norman Mailer, Proust, Sartre had women thrown themselves at them. They fought them off with their fountain pens, typewriters and pencils.’
Tiger being the only one who had read a book, said. ‘Those guys are dead and gone. Times change. Now a days the chicks throw themselves at jocks. The more money you make, the more famous you get, the more they fall on you like confetti at a wedding.’
‘More under you, Tiger,’ Terry laughed. ‘Hey, then we get blamed. What did we do? Tiger plays golf, I football. We’re minding our own business when …wham.. a thousand chicks hit on you. We’re only human, y’know. Why are we blamed? No one says anything when Warren Beatty sleeps with 12,000 women or when Mick Jagger makes out with 9,000.’
‘It’s all their fault,’ Tiger says mournfully. ‘Back in those days the women wouldn’t admit they screwed around with famous jocks.’ He glanced at me. ‘Or writers. I mean they kept it quiet for their diaries. Now, they sell their stories to the National Enquirer for a million bucks. There’s no integrity left in the world.’