WILL CHHETRIA Patrakar invite an Islamic fatwa upon himself (there are also Hindu fatwas out these days) if he dares label as despicable, atavistic and barbarous the new round of baying for the blood of the unfortunate person of Salman Rushdie? From Iran’s nastier ayatollahs all the way to one Mr Abu Asim Azmi, president of the Maharashtra unit of the Sa m aj wad i Party (see him spitting in the picture), they are all involved in calling for the head of a man. Is there no court of law that dares take cognisance of this oral bloodletting? What will the stupor-laden justices of the International Court of Justice in The Hague do if suddenly confronted with a referral? In the meantime, here’s hoping that the bullets and daggers will never hit their target, and may Salman die of natural causes, many, many years hence.
THE MOST-USED picture in the press in February, Subcontinent-wide, was probably that of a pregnant Brazilian lady, Luciana Gimenez. She is six months gone, and mothering a child whose father is allegedly Mick] agger. Lest I too be accused of voyeuristic leanings (willy-nilly, I may become that, the number of times I am having to comment on use of Northern flesh by our Southern editor-sahebs), the picture of Ms Gimenez is reproduced here only in miniature.
FOR ONCE, a volunteer development group without a godawful acronym (although there is a ferocious tantric goddess as ‘logo’). Solar Sisters is a Kathmandu-based programme which takes contributing (Western) participants to remote locations in Nepal, by bus and on foot, and introduces renewable solar energy technologies in rural households.
“BOO” TO Reuters for lifting from a Kuensel story and reporting on “mercenaries” from eastern Nepal active in anti-government demonstrations in early February in Southern Bhutan. “Mercenary” means person from another nationality fighting (a government) for pay. Well, these people from “eastern Nepal”, were most likely Bhutancsc Lhotshampa refugees from the UNHCR-run camps located there. Not likely that they would have to be paid by anyone to go demonstrate for their eviction nearly a decade ago by Thimphu. Loose second-hand reporting from Reuters, an organisation one expects a bit more from than this.
THE MOST down-home products these days have some of the best advertising tag-lines. 1 love this “Nothing else matters!” in favour of Mother India biri. I just miss the statutory warning, but what the heck. Anything to beat Marlboro in the game.
THE DISTRICT police of Sindhuli in south Nepal in mid-Feb seized a rifle, six pistols, two automatic guns, handmade guns, 150 detonators, binoculars, explosives, as well as (sic) “several pockets of condoms and other means fo family planning along with the portrays of Mao, Lenin and Stalin” from Maoists. The sub-editors of the Rising Nepal daily decided the condoms deserved the headline, perhaps influenced by rumours that the Maoists of Nepal are for free sex. Well, .at least they are modern and careful.
“WHY DOES so happen?” If you have not been cured of disease, if you have been a failure in love marriage andcourt cases, and most importantly, if there are “no foreign tours” coming your way, all you need to do is to trundle along to Baba Raza Bengali Tantrik, opposite Mother Dairy, Greater Kailash Market in New Delhi. Long time, no foreign travel for me, too. Perhaps I will drop in. But no. Delhi requires foreign travel to begin with, for Chhetria Patrakar. Kya Karay?
IN DHAKA, if you were free at 5 pm on 9 January, you would have had the choice of going to the Progressive Nationalist Party’s Iftar party at Hotel Purbani Jalsaghar, or the Crime Reporters’ Iftar party at Flesh Pots restaurant, Topkhana Road. Between the Progressives and the Crime Reporters, it would have been a fine balance for me, other than the fact that the flesh is weak, so you can imagine where you would have found me, had I been in Dhaka on 9 January.
THERE ARE ghosts, and there are ghost schools. No, not where you don white sheets and learn to say “boo”. Ghost schools, in the Pakistani Punjab and the North West Frontier Province, as reported by The Nation, are institutions that are there but not quite there. And now the Pakistani army has been given the job by the provincial governments “to thoroughly check records of the provincial education department and to point out existence of ghosts schools and other wrongdoings”. But if these schools are mere phantasms, then they could not exist, right?
MIX OF culture (Rabindra Sangeet, Lalon Geeti), nationalism (Nazrul Sangeet), religion (Qur’an, Bible readings) and development verbiage, are the daily offerings of Radio Dhaka. Notice how nationalism (Nazrul Sangeet) just edges ahead of culture (Rabindra Sangeet), four programmes to three.
DEVELOPMENT HAS its price, we all know, and no one knows it better than the boat people of the Buriganga river, which girds the Bangladeshi capital. The plan is to build a road bridge over the river (there is already one), which will deprive thousands of boat people of a livelihood. Oats in hand, they organised a rally in Dhaka on 11 January. The Independent suggested that the “authorities” (who else?) “do their best to minimise the sufferings of the aggrieved people”. How exactly to do that, the paper would not divulge.
FROM THE classifieds in The News, one hears that Dr Atique Mufti of the Society for Prevention of Human Exploitations (SPHE) gives “free legal advice (without obligations or strings) against Human Exploitations including Human and service rights”. He is a phone call away for Pakistan’s aggrieved, but I presume anyone in the world can send him an email at to ask what exactly falls under the rubric of “human and service rights”.
VENERABLE PIA is looking for Pakistani designers to develop new summer and winter uniforms for its cabin crew. While looking for “modern and functional clothing” incorporating values and design elements of Pakistan, the airline wants the designers to keep in mind “the work environment, climatic conditions and the general height and build of our air hostesses”. Only indigenous material and trimmings should be used, and the uniform should be practical, easy to maintain and durable, “while clearly being extremely attractive to look at”. Quite a challenge, all this. Why not open the competition to all South Asians? If Atalbhai can take a bus to London, a Bhutanese can design for a Pakistani airline. Write to Ms Farhat Jamal, Directorate of Public Affairs, PIA Head Office, Karachi Airport.
THE CAUSE celebre over the course of February, of course, was the Jang group’s battle with the Nawaz Sharif government. The whole affair has been covered enough by the press everywhere that I need not go into it, and of course I stand firmly on the side of the journos and against big bad governments as represented in this instance by Senator Saif, head of the Ehtesab Cell. What made Chhetria Patrakar just a wee bit uncomfortable, however, was the ad-man’s savy with which (trademark banners proclaiming “War on Jang”, “Press under siege”, and “Victimisation, Vengeance, Vendetta”) the group went about its counter-attack, with daily quarter page ads on the front page.
NO MEDIA column for this month would be complete for this month without noting the passing away in a US hospital of Ashok Jain, proprietor of The Times of India Group, whose last couple of years was given over to fighting the Enforcement Director of the Indian government. Whether there was an unfair hounding of Mr Jain, 1 cannot say, but he certainly did more than his share to bring down the credibility of his own hallowed paper, using it as a bully pulpit to get back at the government (including using a newly-started human rights column to focus exclusively on himself). In any case, the good that Ashok Jain has done will doubtless live after him, but his role in the slow but inexorable marketisation of the Indian national English media will not be remembered with the same level of appreciation.