Tag Archives: rabbi shergill

Four on Friday: Mumbai on my Mind

22 Jul

I TOOK last Friday off (sorry, dear readers!) in honor of Jatin’s birthday. But I’m back now, with four new things for you to read/discuss/chew over for this week.

1. I was sitting at home, sipping my morning Nescafe, when I saw it. On BBC, just before they took a break, the anchor announced that there had been three bomb blasts back home (see photos here). I waited, coffee cooling on the table, for more details. Frustratingly, they had none. Google News had no additional information. I left for work, dialing rapidly. Reliance wouldn’t connect. I tried calling directly. All lines into this country are busy, a tinny female voice announced. I was getting frantic. It took me 15 minutes to reach work, 15 minutes before my father called me to say that he and Mom were at Metro, they were ok, and he would call me later.

It’s at moments like these when you really feel the distance that separates you from your loved ones. Phone lines are jammed, email is no good, and nothing can substitute for seeing your family in flesh and blood. (As I write this, news trickles in of a bomb blast in Oslo. Norway! Who explodes bombs in Norway!? So far they’re saying that only one person was killed, but that’s one person too many.)

Mumbai's Opera House neighborhood, where one of three bombs exploded on July 13, 2011

Mumbai's Opera House neighborhood, where one of three bombs exploded on July 13, 2011

Mumbai is too used to terror attacks. It began in the days when Mumbai was still Bombay. I remember being in the seventh standard, in school on a weekday, when the first big bomb blasts happened back in 1993. We had no idea what was going on, except that our teachers announced that we were all being sent home because it wasn’t safe. The riots had just happened a few months earlier, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and everyone was on edge.

And through it all, through the destruction and debris that followed the eight terror attacks that have struck my city, people got up and got back to work, taking the trains the day after bombs had ripped them apart. Newspaper editorials lauded the “indomitable” Mumbai spirit that allows us Mumbaikars to get on with their lives, to not be cowed. And there is indeed something resilient about my home town, though out of necessity, not choice. When you’re so poor that if you don’t work, you don’t eat, you don’t have the luxury of candle marches and shouting matches on TV shows. You heal as best you can, grieve as best you can, and then get back to work.

Last week, my old editor from my TimeOut days, Naresh Fernandes, wrote this New Yorker piece that asks, “What Mumbai Spirit?”

Writing the day after the attacks, Naresh notes:

that cliché was notably absent in the newspapers and on TV. In fact, for the first time, Mumbai citizens were expressing an antipathy towards that phrase. Perhaps they were finally mindful that politicians who had praised the spirit of Mumbai had used this presumed resilience as an excuse to absolve themselves of the need to take the difficult decisions necessary to actually make the city safer and more livable.

2. Speaking of bomb blasts, can anyone forget the shameful blot that was the Indian TV channels’ coverage of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that left more than 160 dead? There was sensationalism, there were rumors paraded around as facts and never corrected once it was known they were false, there was the blow-by-blow reporting of rescue operations that put the special forces teams and the hostages at risk — it was a disaster. (Read Barkha Dutt’s response to the criticism here.)

Front page of an issue of DNA India

Front page of an issue of DNA India

The TV channels weren’t as bad this time around, though they weren’t great either. But a July 16 DNA India op-ed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy is just vile. (I don’t want to send traffic to DNA by linking back to it, so I will just quote as much of it as I can stomach before the poison becomes overwhelming.) It starts:

The terrorist blast in Mumbai on July 13, 2011, requires decisive soul-searching by the Hindus of India. Hindus cannot accept to be killed in this halal fashion, continuously bleeding every day till the nation finally collapses.

And then it gets worse.

Fanatic Muslims consider Hindu-dominated India “an unfinished chapter of Islamic conquests”. All other countries conquered by Islam 100% converted to Islam within two decades of the Islamic invasion. Undivided India in 1947 was 75% Hindu even after 800 years of brutal Islamic rule. That is jarring for the fanatics.

In one sense, I do not blame the Muslim fanatics for targeting Hindus. I blame Hindus who have taken their individuality permitted in Sanatan Dharma to the extreme. Millions of Hindus can assemble without state patronage for the Kumbh Mela, completely self-organised, but they all leave for home oblivious of the targeting of Hindus in Kashmir, Mau, Melvisharam and Malappuram and do not lift their little finger to help organise Hindus. If half the Hindus voted together, rising above caste and language, a genuine Hindu party would have a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the assemblies.

The first lesson to be learnt from the recent history of Islamic terrorism against India and for tackling terrorism in India is that the Hindu is the target and that Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus. It is to undermine the Hindu psyche and create the fear of civil war that terror attacks are organised.

It goes on in this vein for many more paragraphs, spewing hate and bigotry and communalism with every word. It is an outrage that the editor of DNA India, a national Indian daily, gave 1,251 words to Swamy. After the blogosphere erupted (here and here, h/t to Shivam Vij whose post first alerted me to the piece), and its Letter to the Editor column was deluged by angry readers, DNA published several counterpoints to Swamy’s “analysis” two days later. But I have yet to see an apology from the paper’s editor-in-chief, Aditya Sinha, or an explanation for why he published Swamy’s vitriol in the first place. His most recent column, published on July 17, the day after Swamy’s, didn’t mention it at all. You can send a letter to Sinha expressing your opinion at asinha at dnaindia dot net.

3. Kafila takes on the Delhi police, who claimed to have “solved” the Mumbai blasts case after listening to a 60-second phone call. ‘Nuff said.

A still from Rabbi's Bulla ki Jaana

A still from Rabbi's Bulla ki Jaana

4. All this talk of bombs and terrorism attacks and city spirit and patriotism brings to mind one of my favorite songs by Rabbi Shergill, best known for Bulla ki Jaana and Tere Bin, from his first album, Rabbi. It’s called Bilqis – Jinhe Naaz Hai, and it’s from Avengi Ja Nahin, his second album, which came out in June 2008, five months before the terror attacks that November.

Before you watch the video (and note the changing images on the screen in the background), here’s a bit of context for the stories. Bilqis Yakuq Rasool is a Muslim woman who was gang-raped in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and her family massacred. Satyendra Dubey was a civil engineer working on the “Golden Quadrilateral,” the network of highways meant to link India in the north, south, east and west. Discovering massive corruption, he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister’s office about it, naming the companies involved. He asked for his name to be kept secret. It wasn’t, and a year later, he was murdered. Manju Nathan, a sales manager at the Indian Oil Corporation, sealed a petrol pump in Lakhimpur district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for adulteration, and was killed for doing his job. Navleen Kumar was a social worker who tried to help adivasis whose land had been taken away by politicians and corrupt developers. On June 19, 2002, she was stabbed 19 times and killed while she was walking her dogs. The “Jinhe Naaz Hai” reference is from a song in the famous Guru Dutt film, Pyaasa.

I love this song so much I’m going to paste the lyrics here, in Hindi and English.

Mera naam Bilqis Yakub Rasool            
Mujhse hui bas ek hi bhool            
Ki jab dhhundhhte thhe vo Ram ko            
To maen kharhi thhi rah mein            

Pehle ek ne puchha na mujhe kuchh pata thha    
Dujey ko bhi mera yehi javab thha            
Fir itno ne puchha ki mera ab saval hai ki        

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan the        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain            

Mera naam shriman Satyendra Dubey        
Jo kehna thha vo keh chukey            
Ab parhey hain rah mein                
Dil mein liye ik goli                

Bas itna kasur ki hamne likha thha            
Vo sach jo har kisi ki zuban thha            
Par sach yahan ho jatey hain zahriley        

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan the        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain                

Mujhe kehte hain anna Manjunath            
Maine dekhi bhatakti ek laash            
Zamir ki beech sarhak Lakhimpur Kherhi        

Adarsh phasan jahan naaron mein            
Aur chor bharey darbaron mein            
Vahan maut akhlaq ki hai ik khabar baasi        

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain                

Mazha nau aahe Navleen Kumar            
Unnees june unnees var                
Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees vaar                

Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees vaar                    

Looto dehaat kholo bazaar                
Nallasopara aur Virar                
Chheeno zameen hamse hamein            
Bhejo pataal                    

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain   

In English:

My name is Bilqis Yakub Rasool
I committed just one mistake
That I stood in their way
When they were looking for Ram

First, one asked me but I knew nothing
Then another but my answer was the same
Then so many that now I have a question

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

My name, gentlemen, is Satyendra Dubey
I’ve already said what I wanted to say
Now I lie on the road
With a bullet in my heart

My only fault being that I wrote
A truth that was on everyone’s lips
But truth here turn poisonous

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

My name, brother, is Manjunath
I’ve seen the corpse of conscience lying
In the middle of the road at Lakhimpur Kherhi

Where ideals are stuck in slogans
And the royal courts are full of thieves
There the death of righteousness is old news

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

My name is Navleen Kumar
Nineteenth June and nineteen wounds
Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen wounds

Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen wounds

Loot the villages and open markets
Nallasopara & Virar
Snatch our land and send us to

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

Note the interweaving of the tune of the Indian national anthem in the chorus. It makes a shiver go down my spine every time I hear it.

Four on Friday: The India Files

24 Jun

FOUR tidbits from the homeland this week.

1. Coke Studio has come to India! For those of you new to Coke Studio, it began in Pakistan four years ago, as a television show sponsored by Coca-Cola featuring live music and collaborations between Pakistani folk, eastern, classical, and contemporary musicians. It has become a runaway hit, and there is nothing quite like it in the region.

From the melodies in Pashto and Dari to the pop compositions of Strings and Ali Zafar, from the sweet voices of Zeb and Haniya to the gravelly Garaj Baras rendition by Ali Azmat and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and the irresistibly foot-tapping Chambey di Booti (Jugni) by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi, Coke Studio Pakistan enchants and delights. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what the lyrics mean or what that instrument is called, it draws you in and doesn’t let you go.

Noori in Coke Studio Pakistan

Noori in Coke Studio Pakistan

In a behind-the-scenes Newsline interview, Coke Studio Pakistan’s producer, Rohail Hyatt talks about the show’s beginnings and what he hopes to achieve with it. Hyatt laments the fading out of traditional music and said he hopes the music show will provide a new platform for dying musical languages. He adds that Coke Studio isn’t “a commercial platform, it’s become commercial because people have liked it, but it was never meant to be. We have never succumbed to the pressures like, ‘Oh God, there are so many fans now that we have to cater to the public taste.’ In fact, it’s even more experimental this time.”

Asked about Coca-Cola taking the show to India, Hyatt is hopeful. “From what I am seeing and hearing, India is also trying to reinvent itself. Trying to totally steer away from Bollywood. Just look at the palette they have in terms of raw talent. Music is part of their philosophy. With a palette like that, you could paint a very interesting picture.”

It’s true that Indian radio stations play Bollywood beats obsessively, and it’s only in recent years that non-movie songs by Rabbi Shergill, Kailash Kher and others have made it to FM. As composer-singer Shankar Mahadevan—who featured in the first episode—told NDTV, “Bollywood is huge, I admit, but isn’t our country huge too?”

As someone who only discovered Coke Studio earlier this year, I didn’t have quite as long to wait for Coca-Cola to bring their venture to India. Perhaps that’s why I don’t share the skepticism of long-time fans when Coke Studio India, officially known as Coke Studio@MTV, debuted in India last Friday at 7 p.m. on the popular music channel. The blog Kafila pronounced, “The unanimous verdict is that Coke Studio India (first aired on the Friday that went by) is no match for Coke Studio Pakistan.”

But Coke Studio Pakistan is mature, and in its fourth season, having produced more than 80 songs; Coke Studio@MTV is six tunes old—an infant in comparison. It’s true, the Indian show could lose the flashing strobe lights and nightclub-like atmosphere, and there’s a lot out there apart from drums and catchy beats, but I for one enjoyed the debut and am looking forward to more. (Watch the first six episodes here.)

The second show is tonight. I, for one, am holding back on the criticism and am cheering with all my might. As much as MTV channel head Aditya Swamy says, “We are not at all worried about TRPs. All we want is to promote pure music [and] youngsters to enjoy the sound of various regions of India,” I am in no hurry to lose a genuine attempt to foster dialogue between India’s diverse musicians to low ratings and an indifferent audience.

Upma as prepared by Top Chef winner Floyd Cardoz

Upma as prepared by Top Chef winner Floyd Cardoz

2. Speaking of success stories, I was buoyed to learn of Indian chef Floyd Cardoz taking home the top prize in the 2011 season of the reality show Top Chef Masters. Top Chef—my favorite cooking show—is a competition among chefs featuring unusual challenges. Past episodes have featured cook-outs on the beach, with the chefs catching the seafood they will serve; cooking with no utensils; cooking with whatever ingredients are on board a ferry; cooking meals reminiscent of their childhoods; cooking healthy versions of the favorite meals of contestants on The Biggest Loser, a weight-loss reality show; creating their own restaurants; and more.

Fellow Mumbaikar Floyd Cardoz won for his preparation of the South Indian upma (as part of a three-course meal that also included a rice-crusted snapper in fennel-laced broth and a reinterpreted version of a beef stew called rendang). Not my first choice at an Udipi restaurant, but still so exciting! Cardoz’s $100,000 grand prize will be donated to the Young Scientist Cancer Research Fund in memory of his father, who died of cancer. After his win, Cardoz tweeted, “Woke up with a hangover. that’s what a magnum of Dom does to you when you celebrate a #TopChefMasters win. I welcome this headache anytime.”

Cardoz, recently of the Indo-French restaurant Tabla, which shut its doors last December, is the new chef of the forthcoming Danny Meyer seafood restaurant in Battery Park, North End Grill. Am looking forward to trying it out!

Meanwhile, here’s his recipe for upma if Top Chef inspired you to give it a try:

Wild Mushroom Upma Polenta with Kokum & Coconut Milk

Four servings


2 cups cream of wheat
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shallots
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon chillies
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cilantro, as garnish
Pea shoots, as garnish
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup oyster mushrooms
1/2 cup Maitake
1/2 cup king oyster mushrooms
2 shallots
1 chilli pepper
1 knob ginger
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white port
1 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1. Heat oil and cream of wheat and toast for 10 minutes on low heat. Remove from pan
2. Heat oil mixture then add mustard seeds and whisk until seeds pop. Add cumin and reserve
3. Heat pan. Add spice oil and butter. Add shallots, ginger, chillies, and cook for 2-4 minutes. Add cream of wheat and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add stock and coconut milk. Mix and cook. Simmer
4. Should be smooth.

Directions for mushrooms
1. Heat oil in sauté pan. Add mushrooms and cook with lightly coloured sear
2. Add butter, shallots, ginger and chilli
3. Deglaze with white port
4. Season with salt and pepper and cilantro.

3. You’ve probably heard of “coyotes” who bring Mexican undocumented immigrants across the border to the United States for hefty sums; in India, the coyotes are called “linemen” and they’re not much different. So says Scott Carney in the new issue of Foreign Policy, in his excellent story, “Fortress India.” In it, Carney describes a “Berlin Wall” that is being constructed by India on its border with Bangladesh, to keep its northern neighbors out. The wall has been in existence since the late 1980s, and is close to completion—the final section will be completed in 2012.

Shockingly—or perhaps, not so shockingly—the Indian Border Security Force guarding the wall has notched up nearly 1,000 killings since 2000, roughly two per week. Carney writes:

In India, the 25-year-old border fence — finally expected to be completed next year at a cost of $1.2 billion — is celebrated as a panacea for a whole range of national neuroses: Islamist terrorism, illegal immigrants stealing Indian jobs, the refugee crisis that could ensue should a climate catastrophe ravage South Asia. But for Bangladeshis, the fence has come to embody the irrational fears of a neighbor that is jealously guarding its newfound wealth even as their own country remains mired in poverty. The barrier is a physical reminder of just how much has come between two once-friendly countries with a common history and culture — and how much blood one side is willing to shed to keep them apart.

And with climate change wreaking havoc on ecologically sensitive Bangladesh, things are expected to get a lot worse.

Situated on a delta and crisscrossed by 54 swollen rivers, Bangladesh factors prominently in nearly every worst-case climate-change scenario. The 1-meter sea-level rise predicted by some widely used scientific models would submerge almost 20 percent of the country. The slow creep of seawater into Bangladesh’s rivers caused by global-warming-induced flooding, upriver dams in India, and reduced glacial melt from the Himalayas is already turning much of the country’s fertile land into saline desert, upending its precarious agricultural economy. Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department and almost a dozen other security agencies warn that if Bangladesh is hit by the kind of Hurricane Katrina-grade storm that climate change is likely to make more frequent, it would be a “threat multiplier,” sending ripples of instability across the globe: new opportunities for terrorist networks, conflicts over basic human essentials like access to food and water, and of course millions of refugees. And it’s no secret where the uprooted Bangladeshis would go first. Bangladesh shares a border with only two countries: the democratic republic of India and the military dictatorship of Burma. Which would you choose?

The migrants will continue to come, and many will die—unnecessarily—at the hands of trigger-happy soldiers. Since liberalization of its economy in the 1990s, India has been keen to imitate the United States’ worst habits: McDonald’s; privatization to the detriment of the population; the workings of its newspaper industry, now foundering badly. In this, too, the U.S. example has not been a successful one. Criminalizing immigrants, erecting fences, xenophobic attitudes: none of this has worked. It’s time to find another path.

The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb

The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb

4. Finally, we are seeing India’s new Internet laws in motion, in the recent lawsuit for “grave harassment and injury” that businessman and Bollywood dabbler Arindam Chaudhuri has launched against journalist Siddhartha Deb, the publishers of The Caravan, which published Deb’s profile of Chaudhuri, Penguin, which is publishing Deb’s forthcoming book, The Beautiful and the Damned, of which the Chaudhuri chapter forms a part, and, bizarrely, Google India.

Check out my previous post about the broad, vaguely worded and regressive new law. I hope to write more on this issue later, so I will keep it short here. Please do read Deb’s profile of Chaudhuri: it’s exceedingly well-written, incisive and even-handed (apologies for the formatting; The Caravan was forced to remove the article from their website by the Assam court, where the suit was filed), and Chaudhuri’s fulminating rebuttal—where he praises the new Internet rules, and which was published in a magazine that he owns—here. The Caravan promises to keep readers updated on the progress of the case. In their editorial on the issue, they say that they intend to “fight this suit because we believe that we must defend the right of journalists to report on controversial subjects or persons without undue fear of legal intimidation from powerful entities or organisations that seek to insulate themselves from criticism.” Amen.