Posted in Uncategorized on March 31, 2013 by salaamreaders

The Whimsical Circumlocutor

It’s been a horrendously long time since I wrote for pleasure, my time being occupied writing scholarly passages with content that was utter baloney and engaging in a pagan worship ritual, It Which Must Not Be Named, but operates under various aliases, the most popular being Calculus, Algebra and the worst, their combined form, Mathematics. I have borne the brunt of the storm (the dreaded school-leaving exams), going in as a terrified, eighteen year old mess (the result of a month and half’s preparation) and emerging at the end as a weather-beaten, slightly less terrified, eighteen-years-and a-month old mess. All in all, it’s been a good long haul, but I digress.

It was the thought of my turning into a jobless, penniless and most importantly, worthless adult or worse, a saleswoman, that sobered me up and spurred me into action. As much as the notion of wandering the high seas…

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Mr Katju and the Perils of Being Earnest

Posted in India, Law, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by salaamreaders

“A mere busybody or a meddlesome interloper or wayfarer or officious intervener without any interest or concern except for personal gain or private profit or other oblique consideration cannot be allowed to abuse the process of the Court by initiating vexatious or frivolous litigation.” This is what the Supreme Court had observed about locus standi in Janata Dal Vs H S Chowdhary. Though, one might even agree that Mr Katju was just being earnest, and not moved by any personal gain or profit, in appealing for pardoning Mr Sanjay Dutt, he would be well advised to consider the above observation of the Supreme Court. And that the affected gentleman has publicly declared his disinclination in seeking such a pardon, could provide the perfect occasion for such introspection too. It is indisputable, that, like any other ordinary citizen, Mr Katju too has the right to hold an opinion in the matter. The only difficulty is, that, he is no ordinary citizen. He is a former judge and currently holds an office under the government. Judicious, if not judicial, rectitude is highly commendable even for retired judges! Such, alas, are the perils of being earnest!

Be that as it may, the law, in India, relating to pardon etc has once again become a subject of fierce public debate. The last time was in 1961, when the Governor of the erstwhile State of Bombay had suspended the sentence of Commander Nanavati who had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife’s paramour. His case had become such a cause célèbre that it was not only debated intensely in the press but also resulted in abolition of the jury system in India.

In India, the President and the Governors can grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment. They can also suspend, remit or commute sentences. The relevant provisions are contained in Articles 72 & 161 of the Constitution. It has been argued by Mr Mahesh Jethmalani and also accepted, so graciously, by Mr Katju, that the President alone can grant pardon to Mr Dutt who was convicted under the Arms Act. It cannot be anybody’s case now that Mr Dutt was involved in any terrorist activity as the Supreme Court has exonerated him under the TADA. He has been convicted only for illegal possession of a firearm and awarded the minimum prescribed punishment of five years imprisonment. He has already served about eighteen months thereof.

A pardon is a matter of grace; an act of mercy. It not only removes the punishment but wipes out the guilt attached to the offence also, notwithstanding any  judicial verdict. It is as if the offender had never committed the offence. So, if Mr Dutt is pardoned, “it makes him, as it were, a new man, and gives him a new credit and capacity” in the words of Justice Field. But would the President do it if Mr Dutt were to appeal to him? Or rather would the government recommend it, for it is actually the government which takes a decision in such matters? In our Constitutional scheme, this being an executive function, the President is obliged to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers.  In the present circumstances, the chances are remote that the government, accused as it is of being a lame duck and struck with policy paralysis, would want to be seen to be soft on the son of its owmn former MP. Mr Dutt has perhaps, therefore, been advised to disassociate himself from the kite flying of Mr Katju. And rightly so, for has Kautilya not said that, “It is the power of punishment alone, when exercised impartially in proportion to the guilt, and irrespective of whether the person punished is the King’s son or an enemy, that protects this world and the next.” In the present case, nothing could be more apt, for even those arguing for Mr Dutt would concede, that, he had been treated fairly, if not sympathetically, and his sentence is the minimum prescribed under the law.

What is a Ghazal?

Posted in poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by salaamreaders

Ghazals evoke mixed reactions among music lovers now. The younger generation do not seem to be particularly enthused by the genre. However, they are still popular. A lot of credit for this popularity must be given to singers like Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hasan, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi  whose soulful and melodious renditions have brought the beauty of these lyrics to our hearts. Many of us may not even know the meaning of all the words of a ghazal, yet we know, almost instinctively, that these are poems mostly about love. It may be love for a person or even mystical love. The poets ache for a meeting with the beloved but know that their love must always remain unrequited and unconsummated. Ghazals are, therefore, poems about the pain of longing, separation and waiting. Of course, these are not the only subjects, but they are the most popular ones without any doubt. 

A ghazal is a collection of two-line verses. Each verse is called a sher. Their plural is ashaar. Interestingly, the collection need not have a central idea or unity of thought as each verse is actually an independent poem in itself. This makes them eminently quotable and, therefore, popular. Each line of a sher is known as a misra

Yeh na thi hamari kismet ki wisal-e-yaar hota

Agar aur jeete rehte, yehi intezar hota

This sher which is the first verse is called the matla. It may be noticed that both the lines(or misra) end with the same word which is known as radeef. It is also repeated as the last word of the second line of each successive couplet as in the following:-

Tere waade par jiye hum, toh yeh jaan jhoot jaana 

Ki khushi se mar na jaate, agar aitbaar hota

Koi mere dil se pooche, tere teer-e-neemkash ko

Yeh Khalish kahaan se hoti, jo jigar ke paar hota

Kahun kis se main ki kya hai, shab-e-ghum buri bala hai

Mujhe kya bura tha marna, agar ek baar hota

We may also note that each sher follows the same metre or baher which refers to its length. It make its recitation so much more enjoyable. One would also notice another interesting feature that the words immediately preceding the radeef in each verse have a rhyming pattern (yaar, intezaar,aitbaar,paar, ghumgussar & baar). This is known as qafiaa. Once the listeners pick this patternthey are able to guess the last words of the other verses. This makes them active participants of the mushaira  rather than just being its spectators. The last sher is called the maqta if it contains the poet’s takhallus or nom de plume, as in the following:- 

Yeh masail-e-tasawuff, yeh tera bayaan ‘Ghalib’

Tujhe hum wali samajhte, jo na badakhwaar hota.

The above ghazal is a typical example only. There are as many rules of composition as there are exceptions. For instance, there may be a ghazal even with out a radeef. The poet’s takhallus may be missing from the last verse and so on. This is because ghazal writing has evolved over a period of time. They were originally composed in Arabic and Persian from whence they came to Urdu. They are now being composed in other Indian languages also. Their subjects have also changed. They were mainly about love earlier but later poets like Iqbal and Faiz wrote about political ideas- of freedom, revolution etc. also. Their form and structure has also undergone changes. It is now acceptable to write free or azaad verses which do not follow the traditional restriction on metre. Further evolution of the ghazal is also inevitable with alteration of our social circumstances.

However, lay persons like us who enjoy reading and listening to ghazals need not be afraid of their technicalities. These may be left to the serious students to grapple with. For us, some familiarity with the basics should make the genre more intelligible and enjoyable.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

Posted in Books with tags , , , on October 8, 2012 by salaamreaders

It is not easy, for an Indian, not to be judgmental about anything Pakistani, even if it were a book. The reasons are not far to seek being rooted in sub-continental history. And ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’ does not help, either. It only reinforces the stereotype-religious fundamentalism, persecution of religious minorities, abject condition of women, buggery, and rape-it could not get worse. I would not go so far to say that Mohammed Hanif has knowingly tried to perpetuate the popular stereotype for commercial reasons. It may be that he is genuinely moved by what he has observed of his country. An author also has the right to choose the story that he needs to tell. And I have no quarrel with that. But I do wish that not all men in Pakistan are so depraved nor all women so utterly vulnerable.

Alice is not a muslim, a woman and worse-spirited. As a low caste Christian, she is suspected for her religious beliefs and even sent to jail for being ‘troublesome’ for defending them. As a woman she learns early to remain nondescript to avoid unwanted male attention. But that alone is no guarantee that she would not be molested. Her work as a nurse is a daily reminder of the fate of women-who land in her hospital- ‘shot or hacked, strangled or suffocated, poisoned or burnt, hanged or buried alive.’ It appears as if ‘most of life’s arguments, it seemed, got settled by doing various things to a woman’s body.’ It is then no surprise that her husband too should want to ‘protect his honour’ when he finds time from his ‘police work’ to suspect her fidelity.

However ordinary her life be, there is something special about Sister Alice. She can tell from your face how you would die. She can also bring dead infants alive, when she prays really hard. No wonder then her hospital is over run with the sick and the incurable.Would she then ascend the heavens with the Holy Mother, aided of course by half a litre of sulphuric acid poured on her by her loving husband? Would the Congregation for the causes of Saints recognize her as ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’?

Some may find it depressing. But the truth is often stark and bitter. It would have also called for a measure of courage for a Pakistani writer to delve into. The setting should be familiar to sub-continental readers, the pace is brisk, the narrative effortlessly moving back and forth in time and the prose is engaging. There is also that dash of dark and irreverent humour –‘all seems like wasted investment, halal money down the haram drain.’ All in all, a compelling read.

A Crime of Passion

Posted in India, Law with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by salaamreaders

Kawas Nanavati

It was while studying at law school, that, I first came across the Nanavati case. A naval officer had shot his friend dead over the said friend’s proximity to his wife and turned himself in to the police. This was in Bombay in 1959. The prosecution alleged that it was a case of premeditated murder while the defence pleaded a sudden and grave provocation for the act. The case had gained widespread media attention, unprecedented in those days. Here was a handsome naval officer, obliged by duty to be absent frequently from his home, wronged by his own wife and friend! There couldn’t be two guesses regarding who the public thought was the villain. It did not help either that the wife was English. It was only natural for the Navy to close ranks behind Commander Nanavati, for how could martial men countenance such a slur on their izzat? And did their brother-in-arm not conduct himself like an officer and a gentleman by redeeming his honour and submitting to the law? The Parsis were livid. How could he, such a nice dikra, be accused of murder when his wife was cheating on him while he was protecting the nation? Blitz, then a popular weekly tabloid ran a tireless campaign for him.  It was no surprise when the jury did not find him guilty of murder. The trial judge, however, found their opinion perverse and eventually the accused was convicted and sentenced by the higher courts.

As law students, we were looking at the legal issues only.  We debated long, and hard, on whether the facts established premeditated intent (he had dropped his family at a cinema before going to his ship for his revolver and then proceeding to his friend’s house to ask if he would marry his wife)? The alternative theory was that the act would fall in Exception I to section 300 of the IPC, if it could be proved that it was due to a sudden and grave provocation (his friend, on being confronted over the alleged affair had retorted, “Will I marry every woman I sleep with?”).  The case was important for another reason also. It resulted in abolition of the jury system in India as it was thought that the jury could be swayed easily by media publicity.

Sylvia Nanavati

Whatever be the legal position, there is no gainsaying that the unfortunate case is a tragic reminder of how emotions, lurking deep beneath the facade of our seemingly happy lives, can sometimes overpower our reason. Here were three well-educated, respectable and prosperous persons. It did not appear that they should be lacking in anything. Then what went wrong in their lives? Sylvia, the wife, was apparently deeply in love with Prem Ahuja, the deceased who was also a friend of her husband. She wrote to him in one of her letters that “…Don’t ever let me go, my darling and please don’t ever stop loving me. I do crazy things sometimes and can’t always show you how much you mean to me, but one day, my love, I will show you that you are more than life to me and dearer to me than anyone…” It was a long letter, every paragraph showing how much she loved him. In other circumstances, such deep feelings of love would be considered incredibly romantic, even noble, but here they had engendered such tragic consequences!

It was much later that Commander Nanavati was to write to someone that “To you……my case is a story of some interest. To me, what happened is a sorry part of my life which I wish to forget…..” How poignant! It is not only because of the legal wrangle that the case has stayed with me, refusing to go away from the mind. The frailty of human relationships it demonstrates, sometimes wrenches the heart too. What became of Nanavati, Sylvia and their children? Who can say who the victims really were?

Credit: The pictures from and quotations from are gratefully acknowledged.

‘Men’tally Challenged

Posted in humour, Trivia with tags , , on March 16, 2012 by salaamreaders

We always knew it, but it’s official now. A recent study has proved that men cannot think straight when there are pretty women around! It seems one of the researchers forgot his address after a few minutes of conversation with an attractive women he had just met. That set him thinking if it was a general phenomenon and subsequent experiments revealed that men indeed performed less well in mental tasks after being in company of beautiful women, than they normally did otherwise. I now know why I always came back with that feeling of having made a fool of myself, after, trying to impress that pretty girl in the office!

Have you observed how women are in control in such situations while the men are, well, generally salivating over them? The reason it seems is, that, men are ‘evolutionally programmed’ to go into a ‘mental decline’ at such times. They are thinking more of mating opportunities than anything interesting to say to the women. To put it scientifically, men ‘temporarily absorb most of their cognitive resources’ in being ‘reproductively focused’ at such times. No wonder that women should think that men always talk to their breasts. Methinks, the thinking organs of the male of the species are located in their nether regions!


In Which the Long Arm of the Law Catches up with Them!

Posted in humour, India, Law with tags , , , , on December 1, 2011 by salaamreaders

Boy meets girl. Boy takes the girl to a park. And never the twain shall meet again. At least, in a park in Ghaziabad! And one may well wonder, why? Because, the law is on the prowl, and how!

Imagine, being out with your boy friend on a date and suddenly finding the law- in all its majesty- looming large over the two of you, demanding to know your business in the park! The prospect is likely to douse the most romantic of your feelings and by the time it finishes off with you, the boy friend would be quivering like the proverbial quail! That he would have gained a few inches of quadriceps, thanks to the dead squats he has been made to perform, would have been his only bonus.

If news paper reports are to be believed, the law, it seems, was out with full force in Ghaziabad  to “provide maximum security for women” and to “stop innocent girls being trapped by boys with evil motives” for it was customary for eve-teasers to stand outside girl’s schools and colleges “to trap unwitting girls”. The top brass of the district police were reportedly perturbed at the rampant incidents of eve-teasing and had ordered “Operation Majnu” to control it. The result was that the police swooped down, with television crews in tow, on unsuspecting couples cavorting in public parks and generally roughed them up. That the police were led by a woman officer was only incidental! And that the media, gleefully, splashed pictures of the hapless couples, across their front pages, were only to be expected in these present times of the freedom of the press.

It would, of course, not have occurred to the police, that, the only circumstances warranting their intervention in the matter were if the girls were present without their consent or the parties involved were engaged in indecent or obscene acts. Such niceties are, in any case, not expected from a police force which, perhaps, admires Charles’ Dickens! Remember him in Oliver Twist? Did he not say that the law was an ass?

Would you rather risk your girl friend’s ire than taking her out and be caught with your pants down in a park doing the squats? I agree, it’s not much of a choice, but give it a thought, though.

Of Love and Marriage

Posted in humour with tags , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2011 by salaamreaders

Should a man get married? No, I am not being frivolous. This is, indeed, a serious question deserving the most profound respect and consideration. And the answer, my friends, was given by the venerable old man Socrates himself, and about three thousand years ago too. He said, and I quote, “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” Though his advice did not save him from becoming a philosopher, it might still save you considerable trouble, and more importantly, much avoidable expense!

But if you are still skeptical, you may wish to examine, instead, the question when should a man marry? Since I am a firm believer in learning from the experience and wisdom of the masters, I would urge you to do likewise. Sir Francis Bacon answered this question by saying that, “a young man not yet, an elder man not at all.” And which married man, after his ardour has been cooled by experience, could argue with that!

If you would still like to take the plunge, you may consider, at least, the question why should a man get married? For love, one might argue. But they say, love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. And don’t forget Bacon who said, “That it is impossible to love, and be wise.” Would you rather be foolish than wise?

For sex, then? But on this, who but an American actress should have the last word? Zsa Zsa Gabor said, and I quote again, “I know nothing about sex because I was always married.” Think again!

So it is up to you my friends. Learn from the masters and stay happy or get married now and repent later at your leisure. Remember, Mae West, who said that “­­Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution yet.” As for me, I would rather get a dog than a wife because if a dog smells another dog on you, they don’t get mad. They just think it’s interesting!

The Strength of a Man

Posted in poetry with tags , , , on September 2, 2011 by salaamreaders


“The strength of a man isn’t in the weight he can lift.

It’s in the burdens he can carry”………

Oh, how absolutely lovely! I came across this poem, by a fortunate accident, while trawling the net. It is sweet, romantic and poignant. Ms Griffiths, the author, appears to have written it, I presume, for a Mr Hunt D. Rochon. If that be so, it is obvious from the feelings expressed, and how beautifully, that she thinks the world of him. He must be some man, and more, this Mr Rochon!

Here’s the complete poem:

The Strength of a Man

The strength of a man isn’t seen in the width of his shoulders.
It’s in the width of his arms that encircle you.

The strength of a man isn’t in the deep tone of his voice.
It’s in the gentle words he whispers.

The strength of a man isn’t how many buddies he has.
It’s how good a buddy he is with his kids.

The strength of a man isn’t in how respected he is at work.
It’s in how respected he is at home.

The strength of a man isn’t in how hard he hits.
It’s in how tender he touches.

The strength of a man isn’t in the hair on his chest.
It’s in his heart, that lies within his chest.

The strength of a man isn’t how many women he’s loved.
It’s in being true to one woman.

The strength of a man isn’t in the weight he can lift.
It’s in the burdens he can carry.

© July 15, 1999
Jacqueline Marie Griffiths
(written for Hunt D. Rochon)

Ms Griffiths appears to be an enigma, for she leaves no details about herself. From time to time, she visits sites carrying her poem and just leaves a message that her’s was a copyrighted work, which may be used so long as it was not for profit and not in bad taste. I am sharing this poem in the belief that she would not mind it. I wish we knew more about her and Mr. Rochon! But anyway, it’s wishing both of them the best.

No Full Stops in India

Posted in Books, India, Travel with tags , , on February 15, 2011 by salaamreaders

What do you make of an Englishman who has stayed most of his adult life in contemporary India? As a professional journalist with BBC, Mark Tully is in an unique position to meet a diverse set of people-from the politicians to the ‘aam junta’. His book-No Full Stops in India- is based on his impressions of people and places during his many journeys around the country.

He tells their stories as a sympathetic outsider who has been long enough in the country not to perpetuate any western myths about them. They are easy to read and relate to, as his style is simple and unencumbered without any literary flourishes or pretences. Some of them are about ordinary folks living ordinary lives like that of Ram Chander, his servant. Mark’s visit to his village to attend his daughter’s wedding became an event in their lives. Roop Kunwar’s life was equally non-descript until she became a sati. The narrative, about what her family and her community feel about the unfortunate happening and what the feminists make of the same, explains the disconnect between the ordinary folk and the western educated lot in the country.Some stories like that of Operation Black Thunder are about momentous events which come but once in a nation’s life but change it forever. The Kumbh Mela and the Rewriting of the Ramayan tell us of the simple beliefs of countless people for whom religion is a way of life despite much tall talk of secularism in the country. The Typhoon in Ahmedabad is about ordinary people coping with communal riots and yet believing that only a few of the ‘other side’ were driven to murder at the behest of the politicians. There are other equally engrossing stories.

Mark has a theory about India. He believes that it “is a land dominated by foreign thinking.” Its ‘ruling elite’ have adopted western social, economic, scientific and political concepts in a bid to emulate their erstwhile colonial masters. They are looking for solutions to her problems without adapting western knowledge to her genius. The stories about the common man, however, prove that they are still rooted in their traditions and beliefs. Indian life is complex. It is not cut and dried according to any one formula.That is why he says that there are no full stops in India.

Though this book was first published in 1991, subsequent events have only underlined the accuracy of his diagnosis. We have, since then, embarked on a quest for a future based on the “trickle -down effect” of western economic philosophy which has widened the gulf between the richest and the poorest. It is, however, a moot issue whether we will be first overtaken by the wrath of the “have-nots” before the benefits trickle down to the last of them.

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