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Posts Tagged ‘Mumbai’

Preface

My name is Kasthuri Kumar and I am twenty-eight years old—or thereabouts anyway. For reasons that many Thirumalas, Tilotammas and Bisheshwaris will understand, I like to be addressed either by my surname or my self-shortened moniker, Katie.

Contrary to what my first name might suggest, my ancestry is north Indian. My parents were both sensible, middle-class bureaucrats, the choice of my name being their one rash act. When they were posted in Kerala, my mother had patronised a local eponymous artist and recklessly promised her that she would name her daughter after her. And she did.

I recently (voluntarily) resigned my commission from the Indian Police Service (IPS) following some (minor) medical problems. After my retirement I came to Bombay with a vague but strong desire to do something creative, exciting even. Not as in adrenaline pumping-dodging-Maoists’-bullets exciting, but something stimulating. And if it involved a bit of fame and glamour, well, so much the better.

In Bombay, I camped out with my best friend, Marie Banerjee, while I figured out what to do with my life. It was Marie who inadvertently got me started on my present career. While I was shacked up with her, one of her uncles had some procedural problems renewing his arms licence. I, having wielded a weapon all my professional life, and having routinely dealt with such issues, was able to help him out.

Which gave Marie the idea that that’s what I could do with my life—and incidentally put my experience in the police to good use—private detecting. Now, that’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it would have to do till I figured out what it was that I actually wanted to do.

Actually, I think I wanted to be a famous doctor, or a scientist. Although it is probably too late for either, I still have fantasies about receiving the Nobel Prize. I’m not sure what the breakthrough discovery is, other than the hazy notion that it might be in the field of astrophysics. Perhaps some advanced work on string theory? What I am pretty sure about, is that I’m wearing a shimmering red gown by Valentino with black Fendi peep toes.

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Yesterday I was reading William Dalrymple’s interview in which he said that he would never write a novel on Bombay because Suketu Mehta had done such an exhaustive job. That got me thinking, would I ever write a novel on Bombay? And I decided I would not either. But not for the reason mentioned above.

I wouldn’t write one because 90 per cent of Bombay is a slum and slums or slum dwellers don’t interest me. Excreta piled up waist high and people wading through it may excite Mehta and Boyle’s creative juices but it doesn’t do anything for me apart from conjure up a distasteful image.

I don’t identify with slum dwellers, have nothing in common with them and they are not my audience. So pray, why should I care? What if some day you have to live in slum, a friend asks me. This is, of course, accompanied with the usual deterrent to the evil eye of god forbid and crossing of fingers. To that I have to say, why would I ever have to live in a slum? I do my bit for society. I pay for my maid’s child’s education, I stop my car to let pedestrians cross the road and once in a while I treat a beggar child to whatever he/she wants to eat. So why, and where, would I pile up enough bad karma for such a thing to happen?

Another aspect of Bombay which finds prominent mention in all written works is the underworld. And I realise I’m too much of a coward to venture into those areas to do any research. Recently I had occasion to visit Dongri. For those who’re unfamiliar with the area, this is where Dawood Ibrahim and other big gangsters come from. Apparently, Ibrahim’s sister still goes around intimidating people and collecting hafta.

I was looking around apprehensively, expecting gunfire to erupt any moment. I was behaving much the way first timers to Bombay do when they ask, “Have you seen Shah Rukh Khan?” (And no, I haven’t. I’ve seen Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt and even Aamir Khan, but I haven’t seen SRK. Tip: the best place to spot these guys is the airport.) The high point of my visit? On the way back, I got to see some whores (oops, sex workers. Sorry.) on Falkland Road.

And that brings me to the point of this post. And that is, I’m too safely ensconced, too comfortably numb in my middle–class cocoon to attempt to step out of it. Not even to write a potentially seminal work.

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I caught the Comedy Store show last night at the Grand Maratha Sheraton. To be honest I was in quite a dilemma whether to go or not. For one, it was the French Open final and two the tickets were price at 2000 bucks!

But then I thought, going by the women’s finals, the men’s final match was going to be a damp squib anyway. Besides it wasn’t as though Nadal was going to be there. By the way, congrats, Roger.

About the tickets, 1000 bucks was for the performance and the other 1000 bucks was for two drinks and snacks. Being the cheap Indian that I am, I figured I’d go and order the most expensive booze and stuff myself with snacks thereby doing away with the need for dinner. Besides, anything remotely related to writing is research and tax deductible. So an evening of enjoyment and a chance to cheat the government! Bring it on!

And the money was totally well-spent. As soon as I entered the venue, I made a beeline for the bar which was already quite crowded. The frazzled bartenders worked like dervishes but it was clear they were hopelessly backed up and people had been waiting for their drinks for well over half an hour. Then one enterprising guest jumped behind the bar to lend the harassed bartenders a hand.

But it was clear he was unfamiliar with the act of pouring drinks. He asked me what I wanted. I said, “I wanted a Mojito, but please, anything remotely alcoholic will do.”

“Rum and coke?” he said.

“Yes, yes…please!”

He then proceeded to pour a double shot into the glass and looked around for coke. After frantic scrambling for two minutes, it was discovered that they’d run out of coke. He met my eyes in a shifty kinda way and anticipating an explosion coming on, he poured another double shot into the glass. Like now I’m not going to miss the mixer…and you know what he was right! And to make a salubrious situation better, they lost track of the drinks coupons and everyone got an extra drink. Boy, the evening was looking up already.

To come back to the show, it totally rocked. Sean Meo was the emcee and opened the show. He was really funny, although I found his clipped British accent a bit difficult to follow so missed a few. He was followed by Paul Tonkinson.

Tonkinson’s act was very high energy and very physical. He’s a very good performer but I found his preoccupation with sex and blow jobs a bit tiresome after a while. I bet he’ll have something to say about that. Something regarding my sexual repression or something like that. That’s a laugh. One only has to read my book to know he’s absolutely right!

Ian Stone followed. Him, I actually liked quite a lot. He walked on and straightaway asked, “Any Jews out there?” Not unexpectedly, no hands were raised. He then asked, “What about Muzzies? Any Muzzies out there?” Pin drop silence. People shocked out of their wits.

“Boy, the tension is palpable,” he said and the room cracked up.

All in all a class act. We need more of those.

Oh, I also caught Star Trek but since I hated the new James Tiberius Kirk, I bumped him off in favour of Sean, Paul and Ian.

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I AM MAD AS HELL AND I WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

So, what are we going to do? Because if we don’t, this too shall pass. While it is commendable that are venting our outrage so forcefully, let’s face it, it is not possible to sustain this kind of pressure indefinitely. And the politicians know that. We got a bit lucky this time around that this is an election year so some token bit has been done. Else India would never have had the nerve to talk tough with Pakistan.

So, I repeat, what are we going to do? Simple. We hit them where it hurts. What I propose is this: we file a PIL whereby we refuse to pay our taxes to the government. Instead, we deposit our taxes with the court until our, the taxpayers’, welfare is taken care of – be it internal security or better roads. The basic idea being a civil audit of how our money is spent.

If such a thing happens, then watch our politicians jump into action. And if this is done, they will never be able to take us for granted again and will actually do some work. This is the only viable way to ensure that not only this government but all future governments earn their keep, because as far as the politicians are concerned, if a precedent is set, it can happen again.

I don’t know about the viability of filing such a PIL. I know there are many things that need to be figured out in this regard. For example, are the courts competent and eligible by law to take such a step? What are we really looking for? Are we looking at separate collection and disbursing agencies? In which case are we looking for an additional bureaucratic structure (God forbid)? Or does the collection agency remain the same (the Income Tax Department) but the money goes straight into the court’s account instead of the exchequer’s?

All I know is that we are looking at a system whereby the government demonstrates its ability to spend our money well. I guess, in essence what we are looking at for the government is: spend first and get reimbursed later as per merit.

The question then arises: If the government does not have money, how will it spend? The answer is: Government does not start all projects at the same time. Let them start projects, submit budgets and estimates, and withdraw the money as and when required, subject to the court’s approval. Take the example of a bridge. The government submits a project report and is sanctioned funds for stage one. Once stage one is completed, an officer, appointed by the court, will go and check the progress. If he is satisfied, funds for phase two will be released and so on. Corporates work like this, why can’t the government?

To summarise what I’ve said:

      a)     Let the same IT apparatus do the collection; the court appoints an executor to the escrow account

      b)       An independent auditor is appointed by the court to submit periodic reports; based on which, the court directs the executor to release funds. The report of the independent auditor is a public document.

      c)       The Chief Election Commissioner’s office decides on what the emoluments (including security) of elected representatives would be. No other office within center or states would have the jurisdiction to decide on this.

Yes, this is a desperate measure but desperate times require desperate measures. If nothing else it will at least ensure that Z security and lavish bungalows are yanked off the likes of Priyanka Gandhi and Meira Kumar. Who are they, what do they do and why are they eligible for all these? Why does Shahrukh Khan gets Z category? Why does Abu Asim Azmi gets police guards from UP? Who pays for them? Who approves? Surely not I.

Let the politicians not take money from 2% of the population and buy votes of the rest. Let’s stop funding the gravy train. The party is over.

If there’s a lawyer out there reading this who is willing to guide us through this, (s)he is welcome to contact me. I would be more than willing to put my name first on the petition.

 

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Much has been made of the presence of the FBI and Mossad in India in assisting with the terror investigation. But I don’t think it’s going to amount to much. I think it’s only a token gesture because the FBI is supposed to investigate the death of Americans nationals abroad.

Let’s be very clear about one thing. America is only interested in protecting its interests in the region. Condoleezza Rice, John McCain and what have you are only visiting because they are worried the Pakistani Army will move its troops from the Afghanistan border which will seriously hamper their war on terror.

Help from Pakistani Government is not an option when they make contradicting statements day after day. We all know why. It is because they are not in control of their own country. It is a failed state and there are various power centres across the country, the Army being the prime one. And it is the Army that is calling the shots on this one.

So what are our options? I’ll tell you what aren’t:

1.       A full scale war is not. We are both nuclear capable states and even though, Zardari had assured us some time ago about his government’s ‘no first use’ policy, who knows which fanatic is sitting there with a finger on the button? It is well known that the Pakistani army has extremist elements within its rank.

 

2.       In the presence of incontrovertible proof, we could put pressure on America economically. We all know that America is, to put it inelegantly, fucked right now. We are too but not to such an extent. I don’t know how far that will help and how big India is in their scheme of things, but surely we, as an emerging superpower can do something.

 

Having said that, dependence on America alone is not an option. And it should not be. There’s a real danger of becoming a lackey of America. That would be unfortunate because, as history shows us, wherever they have gone, they have left a mess behind. It’s a different matter that the same mess later comes to bite them in the ass.

 

3.       Where does that leave us in terms of allies? China. Politicians, for example one party spokesperson (I don’t remember who), said the other day that contrary to what has been reported by the media, India actually has great relations with China. Yeah, right. Thank you very much but I’d rather go by Arun Shourie and watch them very carefully. After all, it suits them to have an India hemmed in from both sides.

So, I repeat, what are our options when Pakistan is disinclined to weed out extremist elements from its soil (they even deny the fact that the terrorists were Pakistanis!)? Sadly, covert action on our part is our only option. But can it be done? According to the Indian Army, the Indian Army had covert operations capabilities till some time ago when they were discontinued. But these capabilities can be reacquired. The question is: will it be done?

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Heads are rolling in the Government. The first political casualty in the aftermath of the Bombay terror strikes was Shivarj Patil. This comes as no surprise. After all, while it is the entire government’s failure, a fall guy was required. And he fit the bill perfectly considering he’s been an ineffective Home Minister, known more for his preoccupation with sartorial details and kowtowing to Sonia Gandhi than for effective policing.

Yesterday, after he tendered in his resignation, I heard him called all kinds of names by the media. When an anchor on a news channel asked a reporter stationed outside 4 Janpath, “Shivaraj Patil abhi kahan hain? Kya kar rahe hain?” (“Where is Shivraj patil? What is he doing now?”), the reporter said mockingly, “Ghar ke andar hain. Ya toh Kapde badal rahe honge ya kitab padh rahe honge” (He’s inside his house. Either he’s changing his clothes or reading a book.”)

I think they were being a tad unfair there. (But then that is beauty of our psyche. We love to kick a man when he down. I didn’t notice anyone dare to raise such a strong voice against him when he was in power, in spite of his various transgressions.) Unfortunately, the Centre is so weak that it exerts little or no control over the various states. The Central Intelligence Agency had repeatedly warned the States that a terror attack from the sea is entirely possible but the States saw the warning as an infringement on their territory by the Centre.

Of course, it is another matter that they did not act on the information provided by local fishermen. For which RR Patil should be held accountable. But does he look like he cares, going to extent of saying, “Aise bade shehron mein ek aad aisa haadsa ho jaata hai” (In big cities one odd such incident does happen)?

Instead who’s taking all the heat? Vilasrao Deshmukh. As well he should, being the CM. But it is also a fact that, in a state level play of coalition politics, he has little or no control over his Deputy CM and the home minister who’s from the NCP. And we all know who really runs Maharashtra. Clue: It isn’t Vilasrao Deshmukh.

In fact, the NCP is an enviable position of having all the power and no responsibility. Actually so is Sonia Gandhi. She has all the power and no responsibility. Strident voices are being heard demanding action, saying, “Had Indira Gandhi been alive, what would she have done?”

Not what we think, mates. What she would have done would have depended entirely upon the majority she had in the parliament. We forget that when she was in power and quelled Sikh militancy, she had complete majority.

Unfortunately we live in an era of coalition politics and appeasing politicians who, with their meagre entourage of ten politicians, can dictate terms to the Congress. In my opinion, coalition governments are the worst thing to happen to our country. Good or bad, let one person be in charge. Like Indira Gandhi firmly was. And we’re all no fans of hers.

Maybe it is time to change the Indian constitution to enable the winning party to form government no matter what the margin of their victory. Maybe it is time to do away with the 282-seats-in-the-Lok-Sabha (The Lower House or the British equivalent of the House of Commons) formula. Now I know this can only be done by passing such a bill in parliament. But surely, we as citizens can do something? I asked around and someone told me, that we can do so by conducting a referendum, or what in layman’s terms is called a signature campaign. He wasn’t entirely sure but I’m sure there must be another way.

Now this comes with its own logistics problems of reaching all Indians everywhere. We, in the cities and metros can be reached digitally, but how we reach rural India? And having reached there, how do we convince them to do put their thumbprints on the paper, preoccupied as they are with caste and religion issues?

On the other hand, maybe it is a bad idea. Maybe by doing so we would be unleashing a bigger monster. Maybe it is a good thing we have that 282 seats in the Lok Sabha rule after all. I just don’t know. All I know is that we need a strong government because even as we grapple with internal security problems, another neighbour of ours, an emerging economic superpower, is making its presence felt across our north eastern border.

Truly, Bharat Bhagya Vidhadhata.

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I have been away for some time. Some of my absence was intentional. I was in the tricky stages of my novel and didn’t want to let my attention wander. But most of it was unintentional. I, like scores of Bombayites, have been glued to the television in shock, horror and disbelief.

I saw the destruction of Bombay’s famous landmarks – Café Leopold (years ago when I first came to Bombay Leo’s and Mondegar’s were the first places I visited), Taj Apollo Bunder and Oberoi. I haven’t been to the Taj that often. I’ve been to the Oberoi more frequently. Actually I’ve not been to many five stars that often for two reasons. One, I can’t afford them and two, I always end up feeling slightly sick afterwards having spent in one night what is my maid’s salary for two months.  

But what horrified me most was the uncouth and frankly irresponsible behaviour of the media. They repeatedly broke security cordons and gave away strategic information on air. This after repeated appeals by the NSG commandos and security forces not to do so. Arnab Goswami of Times Now did a lot of posturing, urging his on ground reports to adhere to the strictures given by the security personnel and left no opportunity alone to bitch about his rivals when they did that. He made a great deal of adopting the moral high horse and yet I didn’t notice him reprimand his reporter when he, with his cameraman took up a vantage position atop one of the rooftops at Nariman House.

And when Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai descended on the scene, I thought, well, now the circus truly begins. And indeed it did. Barkha grabbed unsuspecting and traumatised victims and gushed at them in very Simi Grewalesque tones, “How do you feel?” And they both kept badgering the victims even after the latter kept saying they didn’t want to speak to the media as they were either too tired and overwrought, or they had promised the commissioner.

I have to mention here that, amongst these, the most sensible coverage that I saw as on News X. No overreaching boundaries and no hysteria.

Just yesterday I was watching IBN7 Hindi news and was shocked and appalled to see the reporter actually pick up bullets from the floor at Victoria Terminus/CST in what constitutes a serious contamination of the crime scene.

Of course, it is as much the police’s fault for not securing the crime scene as it is the media’s for invading it. The real problem, I think is that we simply do not know what to do at a crime scene. Noticed the hordes and hordes that gathered at Nariman House even before the operation there was fully over?

Last night, I had gone to watch Guy Ricthie’s RocknRolla when I received a message. Vishal Dadlani (of Vishal-Shekhar fame) was filing a PIL against the presence of media at such sites.  I’ve joined him. If you also wish to join, then do go to this website and register.

On a separate note, someone sent me this link. Check it out. It is unbelievable.

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