The picture of Prithvi missiles on parade were, frame for frame, probably the most reproduced shots of springtime. Of course, all the Indian papers carried the image of the killer missiles riding their mobile carriers on the Republic Day march past, but so did Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review and Himal.
|Himal’s Pritvi||Newsweek’s Pritvi|
But why was it that the Prithvi pictures by Himal´s Saraswati Chakravorty, News week´s Pablo Bartholomew and a host of other photographs looked exactly the same? Why, obviously, because all photographers were herded onto the same holding platform by the military organisers!
A dart, as they say, to Sunday magazine for insensitive coverage of forest-dwellers in a mid-April issue, titled “Beastly Tales”. Reporter Amarendra Bose uses accusatory language to lambast the tribals of the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa for doing what they have been doing since long before pseudo-environmentalist urban journalists learnt about conservation and wildlife protection. Check out the terms Mr Bose uses, starting with the caption to a picture “Caught in the act”, which might have been the editor´s doing. March and April, says the report, are the “cruellest months” at the tiger reserve because the tribals “go on the rampage” in the dense forest. At another place, we´re told the 500 tribals “went on a killing spree”. On learning about the “massacre”, officials arrested 12 hunters with bows and arrows. Deployment of police has apparently prompted the tribals to change their “modus operandi”. Abandoning their “earlier ploy” of entering the forest following the Sankranti puja of mid-April, the tribals now “conduct their raids” when the police is less alert. Is this politically correct, or what?
Chhetria Patrakar, being male (if that has a bearing), is not above looking at lightly clad women peering out of magazines fronts—and the Indian periodicals have become increasingly daring on that count. I do not say that I approve, or that 1 would not do it if I were an editor, but, as 1 say, if it is there, I do not look away. This diversion into the day by day bustier Indian magazine culture is by way of introducing the subject of photographic depiction of females in Pakistani mags. The strictures of the mullah are such that the models are demure, cleavages are firmly behind folds, and hemlines are ankle-length, always. The pose by a beach at sunset might itself be considered suggestive-but the model is fully clad.
Always more sparkling than Indian counterparts, even on the subject of sexuality, Pakistani newspaper columnists can be quite daring, much more than the photo-editors. Take the piece by Sarah Ahmed titled “The Shape of Things to Come” in The Friday Times of Lahore, essentially a critique of brassieres and the fact that it is men who design women´s underwear, which is why bra manufacturers go for “support” rather than “comfort”. But the point from which I keep getting diverted: even in an article specifically about brassieres, does the editor dare show bras? Check out the picture alongside.
Ms Ahmed goes on to discuss the theme of the dupatta and the avaricious Pakistani male. I quote: “It has always amazed me how the local males´ eyes seem to be magnetically connected with that region of a woman´s body, especially if she dares to venture out without that vital strip of cloth, her dupatta. Although I am the very opposite of well-endowed, there has been many a dupatta-less occasion on which I have had the strange feeling that men are conversing not with me but with my mammaries.” Lest the rest of South Asian male humanity snigger at the discomfitureof the Pakistani kin, does anyone doubt that this broadside of the Lahore columnist applies to men right from the Khyber to the outermost ridge of the Chitta-gong Hill Tracts.
How many South Asians with access to Indian magazines have been assaulted by the notorious ad for Tuff Shoes, which exposed models and live-ins Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre. The point was to advertise the running shoes (which, to give them credit, Soman and Sapre did wear) by showing a naked man and a naked woman with pythons strapped around them. It seems that the original idea was to have the python put on the shoes so that there would be full frontal nudity, but the snake proved unwilling. While on the subject, in his column “Confessions of a Divorced Mai” in The Asian Age, Veeresh Malik makes an interesting observation, “Did anyone else notice that Madhu Sapre´s backside is higher than Milind Soman´s?” Raise your hand.
In the same column, Mr. Malik suggests that globalisation and liberalisation are bringing Indians together. “The one common thread that binds all of us Indians,” he says, “are packets of potato chips, carbonated waters and Nirodh ads.” Nirodhs are the subsidised Indian condoms for the mass market, which have been supplanted by better lubricated brands for the upwardly mobile.
Ah, and here´s one from the Asian Age, whose caption writer for the day was either preoccupied with the Liberty Ad or was too stricken by the implications of impugning tribals on print to be alert to the existence of intelligence among newspaper readers. He provided us with an AFP picture with a caption that read: “US President Bill Clinton (waving hand) enjoys the view of the Red Square, standing in front of St. Basil´s cathedral.” Haha! And besides, the view is on the other side, so why is Bill looking at right-stage. And , does that look like a picture of someone enjoying a view? Would you wave your hand if you were enjoying a view, be it of the Taj Mahal or St Basil´s. Is waving normally associated with enjoying views? These are the kinds of questions that keep me from going to sleep in early summers.
The article header in Mulyankan, magazine published by Nepali comrades of the Exxxtreme Left, said “Wounded SAARC”, and I immediately stopped dozing. What was this? Has some dastardly deed been committed on our fledgling organisation? Who had done it, and should we stand Mr Rao or someone else before the justices at the Hague for not being SAARC-friendly? A second reading indicated that all was well, and the cause of my momentary concern was nothing but the outcome of using acronyms which are accepted by the vernacular language press as well. You see, Mulyankan is in Nepali´s Devnagari script, so when it was reporting on an anti-imperialist international conference in Calcutta (held November last), it also carried a report on a play about the final days of the Cuban revolution called “The Wounded Shark”. What to do? It is very, very difficult.
In order to do away with this confusion which comes from mistaking our serious-minded South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation with a ravenous creature of the deep, that too one with sharp teeth, I propose that a campaign be started to use the appropriate acronym in each South Asian language to refer to the organisation. Why use the imperialist´s tongue when we can confuse ourselves thoroughly with the subtle and not-sosubtle nuances of native speech? So, while in the beginning we can start with national language acronyms, as the movement gains steam, we can rope in the vernaculars. The SAARC acronym for the North Indian Hindi-speaking and Nepali belt would be (in Sanskrit/Devanagri) DAKSS (for Dakshin Aesiali Kschyatriya Sahayog Sammelan) and in the Urdu speaking world it would be JATABAT (for Junoob Asiayee Tanzeem Barai Alakai Taawan).
There was quite a bit of hoopla associated with the immersing of Grateful Dead´s Jerry Garcia´s ashes in the Ganga at Haridwar by bandmember Bob Weir. Hindus were quite impressed that their river had gained international notoriety. But then what a damper to read this letter from Arun Mitra in the Calcutta Telegraph. “…When alive, Garcia had never shown any interest in India and its culture—the sitar strains heard on the studio version of ´Dark Star´ can be traced to the then prevailing trend of dabbling in ´exotic´ Indian music. Besides, neither the bandmembers nor Deadheads are likely to be aware why the Ganga is considered holy by Hindus. If anything, they probably have the greatest contempt for things Indian.” Which is probably true, if one goes by the quote from Garcia´s former wife, “There was no reason on earth to take Jerry´s ashes to India…and sprinkle them into the most polluted river on the face of the earth.” Well what does Jerry have to say about all this? Let´s ask him.
Why do the regional organisations, from the Secretariat to ICIMOD in Kathmandu to the entire gamut of United Nations agencies, recoil with horror when it comes to showing a map of South Asia? It is for fear of backlash from any or all of concerned governments, particularly with reference the Kashmir front. Credit on this score, therefore, must be given to the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, which has done a meticulous job of researching the subject, with the help of the United Nations cartography office in New York, and coming up with an imagery which should hold no problems for thinking men and women, either in Islamabad or New Delhi. Besides, the imagery (some of it carried in the March issue of HSA) deals with development indicators, and not geopolitics. One reason that South Asia does not work together is because it does not see itself together on a map.
Meanwhile, there is more than one way to circumvent the problem of frontier lines. One of them is just not to show them! Just blacken everything and only show the outermost boundaries of what you consider your South Asia. This is what a Washington-based lobby group called National Advisory Council for South Asian Affairs has done. You will notice, though, Aksai Chin and Arunachal are both firmly within India. Ah, as long as we are all South Asians, let us worry only about Indo-Pak sensitivities!
So, Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul has done what many celebrated old men do—run off with a younger woman. The Trinidad-bom Englishman of South Asian origin dumped his Anglo-Argentine mistress of many years´ standing to tie the knot with a Pakistani columnist. The new love of the 63-year-old Naipaul´s life is journalist Nadira Alvi, half his age, whom he met while researching a new book on Pakistan. While on the subject of Naipaul: does he know that he might well be of Nepali descent? There is no surname Naipaul in all of Uttar Pradesh, which is from where the bulk of indentured labourers were exported to the sugarcane plantations of the West Indies. Many Nepalis of ´low caste´ use ´Nepal´ as a surname, and ´Naipaul´ was one British Raj spelling for the Himalayan kingdom. In a manner of speaking, therefore, we might as well bless this marriage of a Nepali and a Pakistani. Long live the SAARC spirit!
Here´s a note from the back of the room. It says that Naipaul´s family is definitely from eastern Uttar Pradesh, and that he has even visited his ancestral village. What do I have to say to that? Well, they probably moved down from Nepal to this UP village.
~ Chhetria Patrakar