Photojournalists in all our countries do not respond to events as they happen unplanned and impromptu, because the cameras are just not there. We are therefore fed a whole lot of images that are the result of pre-planned photo-ops. Event photography is the bane of South Asian photojournalism, and I am tired of pictures of assorted suns setting over India Gate (Delhi), Shahid Minar (Lahore), mountainsides (Kathmandu), bucolic, pre-flooding godhuli hours (Dhaka). Hence I perk up whenever I see event-photography suddenly turn into actual news photography, as when opposition MLAs of the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha (State Assembly) in Lucknow started pelting Governor Suraj Bhan with paper balls (one is seen in mid-flight) and the marshals strove with upraised hands to block the missiles. Well, at least they did not bring in bricks to the sadan. A press note from Unicef in Geneva alerts me to the need for toilets for people. The fact is that 2.4 billion people, nearly half of humanity, do not have proper sanitation facilities, and I suspect that at least half of that is right here in the subcontinental neighbourhood. Inadequate sanitation facilities, says Unicef’s head for water, environment and sanitation, hits young and adolescent girls before anyone else. We know well, as he says, that "lack of adequate latrines forces girls and women to wait till dark to use a field". Even in urban areas, the proportion of male urinals to female toilets is a fine indicator of gender imbalance.
While still on the topic of hygiene, another Unicef report, this one for Nepal, presents an additional bit of sobering data. A survey in the district of Kavre, just east of Kathmandu Valley, indicated that fully 12 percent of ‘Kavrelis’ do not wash their hands after defecation. No wonder, as The Rising Nepal writes in an editorial, given also that 68 percent of the district’s population do not have toilets (not even pit latrines), 60 percent of the children there suffer from water-and-sanitation related diseases. "Kavre is not a lone exception in latrine coverage… For throughout Nepal similar or much worse facts and figures remain true."
Chhetria Patrakar has on occasion railed against the invasion of South Asia by Valentine’s Day, which was aided by the advent of FM teeny-bopper radio and 10+2 schooling all over. And he was reminded again of the matter by a letter from "Typist Md. Nurul Islam" in The Bangladesh Observer: "Are (we) losing the romance of secret love? Do they now want to start the Westernised process of living together ignoring the age-old concept of family structures and religion? Are our next generations going to behave like beasts at least in respect of sexual behaviour? Oh the time, Oh the manner!" With that bit of conservative wisdom, I have decided to go the other way and change my views on V-Day, and welcome it to the extent that it actually allows a release for boys to meet girls and vice-versa. Over time, doubtless, this very Western import will be infused with South Asian mores, values and traditions and then we can truly call it our own. Till then, better that there be some legitimacy for open if kitschy boy-meets-girl situations than clandestine venues, which can be so much more dangerous.
Fine and creative advertising copy needs to be appreciated and talked about. I like the full-column-length ad that appeared on page 9 of the 20 February Deccan Herald, proclaiming "Traditional South Indian sambhar…for busy North Indians." Besides the simplicity of the copy and use of all-too-rare white space, I liked this piece because of its alertness to the geographical and mental separation of North South Asia and South South Asia, and an appeal to the busy professional. All in all, a pleasing effort for a thoughtful, intelligent ad copy, which was the product of the ad agency Trikaya Grey.
This letter from Nishat in The News of Islamabad is so fine in terms of its rational sensibility, it deserves to be quoted in full:
The official insignia of the government of Pakistan depicts two boughs of flower and leaves, encompassing a shield, which is divided into four parts. On these four areas we find images of cotton pods, tea leaves, jute plants and a bundle of wheat. The base consists of three scrolls over which unity, faith and discipline are written in the Naskh script. On top of it are a crescent and a star. Jute and tea are inappropriate as national symbols since East Pakistan has become Bangladesh. The cotton sector, at the moment is also in a state of crisis. We are also not self-sufficient in wheat production. As far as the three slogans are concerned, the lesser said the better. Isn’t it high time we revise this insignia to suit the strains of the present times? How about replacing all these obsolete symbols, with two crossed swords, a star and a crescent?
A belated congratulation to Bangladesh for its international lobbying capabilities, which had the Bangla language day of Ekushey being recognised by Unesco as "the international day of mother languages". All South Asia, home to so many languages, should rejoice on this, even Pakistan, whose Urdu domination was what had the Bangalees back then on 21 February (Ekushey) to take to the streets and attain martyrdom.
Fighting militancy and/or terrorism has never been easy, but there are small blessings, depending on the neighbourhood. And so when these Indian army-men decided that they needed some home comforts as they staked out a mujahideen placement, they quickly brought over cotton futons from the willing (or perhaps unwilling) neighbours. This was a stylish stakeout, at the very least. Wonder if the militants/terrorists were similarly blessed.
The legitimisation of sex workers in Bangladesh moves on apace, as a group of them, reports The Bangladesh Observer, "paid homage for the first time to the martyrs of the historic language movement…by placing a floral wreath at the Central Shaheed Minar." After placing the wreath, writes the paper, "they left the Shaheed Minar in a mourning procession but none could understand their profession and identification." The speakers on the occasion, which included Baby Begum, Mamtaz Begum and Shahnewaj Begum, said that sex workers were an integral part of society and had every right to observe all important days of the nation.
The Indian government establishment is dropping dark hints everywhere that the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence is active everywhere, smuggling in RDX, infiltrating secessionist groups, using porous borders all over to foment trouble in Bharat. While the infamous, previously American-funded ISI should be stopped wherever it tries to create mischief, particularly when it uses the conduits of Nepal and Bangladesh as is being claimed by Delhi , I have always wondered at the ease with which the ISI bogey is trotted as internal problems (and they are huge) overtake India. Fortunately, the editor of The Asian Age, M.J. Akbar, in a column (27 March) tries out an angle which I find worthy of note, though he was not on to the same topic. He writes: "Ever wondered why there are no good spy stories from India despite a huge fiction market and five decades of war, with nothing cold about this war either? Because we do not know how to paint the shadows of ambiguity and duplicity. We cannot keep a secret. Is our tendency to create larger-than-life enemies of other nations’ spooks a reaction to our own failings? Are we so eager to discover conspiracy everywhere because we are such poor conspirators ourselves?"
Let’s implement our sense of humour, Pakistanis and Indians both, and appreciate this note from Shamyl, printed in The Nation (Islamabad):
An insect falls into a mug of coffee!
Englishman: throws the mug away and walks out.
American: takes the insect out and drinks the coffee.
Chinese: eats the insect and throws the coffee away.
Pakistani: accuses the Indian of throwing the insect into his coffee and vows to reply in kind.
Indian: accuses Pakistan of helping the insect to infiltrate into the mug, supplying it with nourishment to continue swimming in the coffee, blames it as a long-term ISI operation, terms the insect as an Islamic militant, then an Afghan mercenary, then a Pakistan army regular and presents identity card of the bug to prove that it indeed is a Pakistan army person in an undercover operation to change the status of LoC, and vows to defend every inch of the mug and every drop of coffee.
Aaaarggg! Huniya Javed of Islamabad said this to a reporter, as reported in The Nation: Working women will not face any harassment from their male colleagues "if their own conduct is right". She said that "women themselves must have the right behaviour and create a congenial and friendly atmosphere wherever they work and male counterparts will respect them. But if women themselves try to create an obnoxious atmosphere, things get worse and so problems occur." Ms Javed is an "American-qualified beauty consultant" who either has her head in the sands of Sindh, or she is living in a planet that does not have a South Asia. But I read on, and got a sense of where the lady beautician is coming from. Back to The Nation: "When asked how she was given the permission to work and let even males visit her, she said that her father sits next door and knows who is coming in and going out." Aaaaarggg.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
China, Southasia and India
On May 19 2013, newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi for a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit is Keqiang's first outside of China since assuming power in March.
From our archive:
Purna Basnet discusses Chinese engagement in Nepal vis-a-vis security issues in Tibet and broader geo-strategic plans in Southasia (April 2011).
Fatima Chowdury relates the story of Calcutta's Indian Chinese community through the lens of political and economic upheavals in Southasia and China (May 2009).
Simon Long notes the importance of the Sino-Indian relationship for the rest of Southasia (September 2006).
J.N Dixit ruminates on the strategic concerns of the 'Middle Kingdom' in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests (June 1998).