India used to be the land of fakirs, snake charmers and the like for Western media. Now they have discovered monkeys. Yes, suddenly, the Monkey Menace of New Delhi is all the rage in the newspapers of the West, and BBC World (television) flogged the monkey story in the third week of March as if its ratings depended on it. The report (seriously) presented the "only monkey catcher of New Delhi" who tells the lady reporter that there is one particular male monkey who smokes cigarettes and harasses women in Connaught Place. "Even when I take him and drop him 200 kilometres away, he catches a bus and comes back to Connaught Place to continue his activities." And only the BBC, newly having to compete with all kinds of commercial satellite media, would believe that.
Even good old populous India, with its newly ideologically recharged Maha Kumbh, cannot beat this sight of a Bangladesh train overflowing with devotees headed for the Biswa Ijtema festival.
I have heard all the arguments on the ethics of investigations with regard to the Tehelka.com expose, mostly supportive of the Tarun Tejpal team, but only on BBC Radio was there a cautionary note from a London prof. which coincides with Chhetria Patrakar's own view on the matter. If Tehelka had decided to go for the likes of Bangaru Laxman or Jaya Jaitly on the basis of prior information regarding their venality and bribe taking, then there would be a strong basis for their sting operation. However, if this was a scattershot investigation ready to nab whoever falls in the net prepared for them, then I believe there is a strong basis to call this entrapment. Other than the fact that these particular politicians were definitely caught with their pants and shirts down, what about the two other questions: that of party finance reform and of the bigger fry that go for billions in graft rather than for a lakh or two.
This is a poll by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI): Would you eat rice that has been genetically modified? (Yes, No, Don't Know). You can caste your vote by going to www.cgiar.org/irri/pa/index.htm. The latest poll results show 37 percent saying yes they would certainly eat genetically modified rice, which indicates a rather low level of sensitivity to the issue among rice-eaters of Asia. However, since this was an Internet-based poll, let me say "rich rice eaters".
Other than the usual dose of political violence and rape that you read about in Bangladeshi newspapers, one permanent item is the seizure of Phensidyl cough syrup bottles, such
as the jacket-laden haul shown in this photograph. While Phensidyl addiction is a problem all over, it seems to be of special concern for the Dhaka police. Amidst all the South Asian seminars and workshops of relevance and irrelevance, I wonder if anyone has thought of calling a South Asian conference on Phensidyl use. Certainly, it would be important.
Letter writer Khan-E-Alam from Dhaka seems to have it all sewn up as to why Bangladesh is a poor country. It is because no courtesy is shown on Dhaka's roads, he notes in The Independent. Unlike in the developed countries where vehicles slow down to allow pedestrians to cross, in Bangladesh such a thing never happens. Alam-mian is particularly concerned about "lady garment workers" finding it difficult to cross the road. And so, you may ask, "Why did the lady garment worker cross the road?" To make Bangladesh more sonar!
As Bhutan welcomed the Iron Snake year, Kuensel came up with predictions on what lies in store. While there are two inauspicious months (22 June-20 July and 29 December-30 January), the good news is that, overall, the year will be "good for older people" and "more relaxing" for women. For men, it is going to get busier, and uncertainties will abound. Now, what males all over want to know is whether this Iron Snake jinx is going to be restricted to Druk Yul or whether the tribal chieftain in Balochistan and the Asamiya college professor in Dibrugar are both equally going to come under the spell of the negative ether? A fine subject for a letter to Kuensel's editor.
Look at Islamic Pakistan, land of the pure, going all aflutter about Valentine's day. So did Hindutva-laden India and Bangladesh. Again, I will repeat what I do every year. With attitudes and expectations changing all over, and boys meeting girls and girls meeting boys in new situations and settings, and satellite television beaming down salacious invites all the time, something has to give. Unless South Asia's adult prudes have something else to offer in its place, at least Valentine's Day serves the purpose, to express affection chastefully in society just coming up to middle-class morality. Some social scientist, please study this phenomenon, and send in an article to the editor of Himal.
In Karachi, an Islamic scholar has issued a fatwa on all 'Jewish' and American products, in view of the "atrocities unleashed on the Palestinians by Israel". And one such Israeli product happens to be the mosque loudspeaker. A correspondent from Peshawar thinks it is a helluva good idea, if Israel-bashing will bring some peace and quiet to his muezzin-on-the-loud-speaker-minaret-ridden city. He wrote to Dawn, "No doubt, Jews played mischief with Muslims by conniving to invent and present the loudspeaker to the Muslim maulvis, who in their misconstrued favour for the spread of Islam, are never bothered about disturbing the peace of the ailing, study hours of the student or a person trying to catch some sleep after a hard day's labour…"
The Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) recently held a month-long campaign against obscenity. And as is the custom with such campaigns, film posters were blackened. The next target was the censor board, which was asked not to release "vulgar" films. Chettria Patrakar would, of course, want to know what BSD is doing about child labour, violence against women, acid attacks and wife-beating in the name of combating vulgarity.
Mama mia! A presidential mansion is to be built in Colombo at the cost of USD 550 for each and every square foot. The total 'acreage' is 12,897 sq ft, so get out your calculator and key in the numbers. I refuse to even do that, in protest of this profligacy when government employee salaries have been frozen for a year as an austerity measure.
The Asian Age Delhi daily evokes contrasting responses. Many hate it for its flaunting of White skin and Western glamour in its backpage Newsmakers section, while many more love it, and would have nothing to do with the front page till they have finished ogling at celebrity and non-celebrity bodies. Well, White skin or no White skin, the newspaper is reader-friendly because of its layout, lack of stodginess, and, oh yes, lack of advertisement! Wonder how editor sahab M.J. Akbar survives.
The Graffiti cartoonist in The News comes up with some special ones. Here's one such that says better than words.
Sri Lanka tops the world's chart in suicides and mental illness. On an average, 23 Lankans commit suicide every day, while an estimated 70,000 men and women in the 15-35 age group suffer from schizophrenia. The survey by an aid agency gives the causes as: war-related stress, family discord and marriages between close relatives. Lots of tears in the teardrop island.
And in another tragic corner of South Asia, Kashmir, the mothers are still wailing for their sons. This AFP photo shows a mother and relatives pleading for the son's release. And then there is one another tragic corner of South Asia where similar tragedies actually occur with even greater regularity, but you will not see the pictures—and that is Assam and the rest of the