The bumpy road of politics

Raj and Uddhav Thackeray recently sparred over potholes. In a fantastic exchange, the cousins displayed ingenious word play to slander each other. To sum up: Raj threw the gauntlet saying that Uddhav should photograph potholes instead of wild animals. He was referring to the Sena-contolled BMC’s shoddy road work during the monsoons and his cousin’s passion for wildlife photography. Uddhav retaliated by saying that wild animals are preferable to traitorous “namak harams”. He outdid himself by adding that Raj had made a pothole in the strength of the Marathi manoos (by splitting votes of course) and that Raj should first locate the potholes in his heart (not sure what he meant by that).

Uddhav is not usually this creative with his diatribes. So it was obvious that he had help. There’s only one person in the Sena who has the imagination to script such ripostes. Babanrao Mahadik. We caught up with Mahadik to chat about his role in the latest war between the Thackerays. Mahadik suggested a clandestine meeting at a coffee shop. He was craving a “non-wheg” sandwich as he was tired of Shiv vada paos, the official snack at his shakha.

Immanuel’s cant: Did you enjoy scripting Uddhav’s replies to Raj?

Babanrao Mahadik: I enjoyed wery much. And I have responses prepared for at least ten more verbal attacks.

IC: But Raj has been quiet after the first speech.

BM: Yes, but my sources tell me that he is planning a series of comments on potholes. I know exactly what he is going to say.

IC: What?

BM: First Raj will say: ‘I’ve checked my heart. It is free of potholes. But you need to repair the potholes in your reputation.’ To that Uddhav will reply: ‘Since you are obviously incapable of doing raj over the potholed roads of politics, you should live up to your real name and make music instead.’ Not many know that Raj’s real name is Swararaj, king of music. To that Raj will give his stock answer for questions about his name: ‘The only raag I understand is the raag (rage) within me. And I’m full of raag at what you have done to this city.’ Uddhav will say: ‘You haven’t seen real raag yet. Wait till I pay you back for trying to steal my ally.’ Raj will say: ‘We’ll see whose side the BJP is on in the next Lok Sabha elections. You might not remain the raja of potholes much longer.’

IC: But how will Raj know what Uddhav is going to say?

BM: I have exchanged notes with my counterpart in MNS.

IC: So this is a game that you and your friend are playing unknown to the Thackerays?

BM: Then what, yaar! What is rajniti without some potholes.

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New school

Azeema Pardiwala and I did these cartoons for the alumni section of our school magazine.

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‘Bad’ bavas

Parsis are generally thought to be a uniformly kind, just and generous lot. The community’s history of philanthropy and lovable eccentricity has put them above reproach. So when people hear of Parsis involved in any sort of wrongdoing or activity that deviates from the eidos of the community, they are shocked.

At a meeting the other day, a reporter happened to mention that Arthur Road Jail has a Parsi convict. The information prompted a collective intake of breath. But they’re sweet goofballs who stubbornly cling to ideals in a morally decrepit world. How can they thieve and murder?

Three weeks ago, Subramanian Swamy outraged the country with his fascist views on Hinduism and Islam in an article in DNA. In the course much heated discussion over his article, it emerged that Swamy is married to a Parsi. There was surprise. How could a Parsi marry this fanatic?

Speaking of right wingers, not many know that the Shiv Sena had a Parsi MLA – Dinaz Patrawala of Cusrow Baug. Fancy that – a Sena member who is both a woman and a Parsi.

Another Parsi spouse raised eyebrows recently. It was reported that Santosh Shetty aka Anna, a gangster who is being blamed for the murder of lawyer Shahid Azmi, is married to a Parsi. How could a Parsi marry a gangster, even if he did come from Warden Road?

Of course the Parsi deviant who captivated the entire country two years ago was Kobad Ghandy. The discovery of a Parsi Maoist was received with such astonishment – it was as if penguins had been found in Africa or the dodo was still alive. Parsis either run empires or live off inheritances or potter about their colonies polishing Yezdis. That one could engage with the wider world, leave the comforts of Bombay to rally labourers in Maharashtra’s hinterland was hard to believe. Especially since Ghandy came from a privileged family. His father was an executive at Glaxo, the family had a flat in Worli and a bungalow in Punchgani and his brother ran an ice cream company called Kentucky; it was one of the first to make fresh fruit ice cream in the city. Maoists are usually regarded the scourge of society. But fond pieces were written about Ghandy, his quiet intelligence, his cooking skills, his family’s strawberry ice cream.

One has only to read about the fractious Bombay Parsi Punchayet elections to know that Parsis are human too. They fight political battles as shamefully as anyone else, can be as fanatical as Bal Thackeray and when you prick them they bleed – blood, not the milk of kindness.

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Cupcakes and virtual combat

Counter-terrorism has never been funny business till ‘Operation Cupcake’. That’s what MI6’s attack on the al-Qaeda website is being called by the British press. According to reports, the spy agency hacked the site to damage a magazine that the Qaeda uses to recruit terrorists. The magazine had a bomb-making recipe titled ‘Make a bomb in the kitchen of you mom’ by ‘The AQ Chef’. When people downloaded the magazine, instead of the recipe they got a lot of incomprehensible computer code. The code was actually of a web page of recipes for ‘The Best Cupcakes in America’. It was published by the Ellen DeGeneres chat show. It’s a fantastically cheeky gesture at an utterly humourless lot of people. Except for The AQ Chef – he must have a funny bone to call himself that.

There have been a number of reports in the past few days that the next theatre of conflict is going to be the online world. The UK and the US have been preparing for cyber warfare by working on arsenals of cyber weapons for some years now. Last year the US appointed a four star general to take charge of Pentagon’s Cyber Command, a unit that launches and thwarts virtual attacks. According to this rather alarmist report, China uses the services of The Red Hackers Alliance to launch cyber attacks primarily against India. Recently the Guardian quoted General Jonathan Shaw, who has been drafted to head the UK’s defence cyber-operations group, saying that cyberspace meant “conflict without borders”.

The most recent cyber attack was, of course, Stuxnet, a worm that targeted Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel is thought to be the most probable perpetrator of the attack.

Now the script for cyber warfare has been written several times in science fiction. And this is another surreal case of life mirroring art. What does a cyber arsenal contain? Worms, viruses, all sorts of ‘deadly’ code designed to incapacitate systems, intangible weapons that cause tangible damage.

But there just might be a positive side to this. Cyber warfare might in the future preclude the use of conventional weapons, which cost a ridiculous amount of money and are rarely used. It’s a bit silly to be spending all that money for things whose purpose will remain a show of might. Instead, these virtual worms could act as effective, low cost deterrents. Also they wouldn’t require large military facilities. You don’t need acres of encampment to protect what can be stored in a pen drive. In India that would be most useful as then a lot of land can be freed for housing. In fact the army would become practically redundant because all you really need is a bunch of hackers and coders. And that’s not such a bad thing because this way, they can set themselves to more useful pursuits. At least in India, where militarywallahs spend their lives participating in mock drills and march-pasts. Then the world would be a more peaceful place and we’d all be as happy as cupcakes.

Cartoon by IC and Azeema Pardiwala

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Vulture culture

A few weeks ago, while driving past a sign for Phansad wildlife sanctuary in Raigad district, I remembered reading about vulture restaurants. In an effort to curtail the decline of vultures, the governments of Maharashtra, Punjab and West Bengal set up ‘restaurants’ where the endangered birds can dine safely early this year. These are simply spots strewn with animal carcases that are safe to eat. Phansad is the chosen sanctuary in Maharashtra.

The concept isn’t new. Nepal, South Africa and Cambodia, where vulture populations are also threatened, have them. I thought it a rather sweet gesture to open a sort of health food eatery for vultures.

Vultures have become highly endangered over the last few decades because of the bovine painkiller, Diclofenac. It’s fatal for birds that feed on the carcases of farm animals that have been administered the drug. Diclofenac has been banned in India, Nepal and Pakistan. But as it’s still available in the market, the ban hasn’t effectively stemmed vulture deaths. The carcases fed to vultures that visit the restaurant are tested for Diclofenac.

However conservationists say that vulture restaurants are not the only solution. In order to stop them from feeding on carcases outside the restaurant, the entire habitat must be made free of animals treated with Diclofenac.

One community is as eager as the conservationists to see that the project succeeds. For Parsis, the loss of vultures means a loss of funerary rites. Bodies that are laid to rest in towers of silence are traditionally picked clean by vultures. Liberal Parsis have suggested doing away with, what they consider, an outdated practice. A major debate erupted on this issue in 2006, when a 65-year-old lady, Dhun Baria, secretly photographed rotting corpses in the wells of the towers of silence. After her mother was laid to rest, Baria was told by the khandiyas, the bier carriers, that it would take years for the body to decompose. A shocked Baria decided to investigate.

Cartoon by IC and Azeema Pardiwala

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Apla Frederick

This is a rather dated post. Nevertheless…A curious and pleasantly eccentric event occurred on March 3. Members of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena marked the hundred and eleventh death anniversary of Frederick William Stevens, the architect of the Victoria Terminus. (Now either the MNS or Afternoon, which is my primary source for this post and which says that the day was Stevens’s birth anniversary, got its facts wrong. According to Bombay: The Cities Within by Rahul Mehrotra and Sharada Dwivedi, Stevens was born on May 11, 1847 and died on March 5, 1900.) A contingent led by MNS’s Milind Panchal visited Stevens’s grave in the Sewri cemetery and paid homage with flowers and wreaths. They wanted to honour the “true Mumbaikar” for having had the prescience in the late 1800s to create a station that could handle today’s levels of traffic. Oddly enough, the event was barely noticed by the English press – I read about it only in Hindustan Times and Afternoon, whose reporter asked Panchal some very pertinent questions. Like why honour Stevens when the station was renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in a chauvinistic move aimed at erasing the city’s colonial past? The irony was either lost on Panchal or occurred during the interview. Maybe that’s why his answers are so evasive. (Cheers to reporter Gajanan Khergamkar for a fantastic opening line: “Last week, March 3 marked the 111th birth anniversary of a son of this city who is now part of its soil.”)

This event prompts several questions: What sort of mileage was the MNS hoping to achieve from this? How did they find out about Stevens’s death anniversary? Party workers aren’t known for their general knowledge. Is this Milind Panchal’s way of impressing Raj Thackeray? If Stevens is watching from the happy isles, what does he think about his new title?

 

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Choo mantar

Jimmy Choo is going to be in town tomorrow (March 24). Not to open a new outlet, but, oddly enough, to address school children.

Now Choo has led a life that makes a fairly inspiring story. Born in Malaysia, he moved to London where he studied, worked in restaurants and shoe factories before opening his own shoe shop and rising to become the high priest of footwear. Yet it does seem a bit premature and indulgent to introduce kids to the mercantile world of fashion. But then it’s not surprising as the talk will be held at Dhirubhai Ambani School, the most chi chi educational institution in town. (Is this their idea of a boot camp?) The international school charges several lakhs in tuition fees a year. And many of its (well heeled) parents, it’s not farfetched to assume, are patrons of Jimmy Choo. An average pair of Choos cost about $800. So the kids (many of them are real heels) are probably as familiar with Choo as they are with charts.

Then again, Choo’s talk might inspire some of the kids to become designers or sculptors or ballerinas instead of joining daddy’s hedge fund. So maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.

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