Everyday Privilege : The Conde Naste call out to Refugees

Conde Nast Traveller - Priyanka Chopra


It is deliciously funny. Someone, i am guessing, in the management said “we need to do something about refugees. Something classy, but shows we care. But, how do you do this without featuring  poor, ugly, people.  ” (i kid you not, this is a phrase i have heard used in media houses. We don’t want no poor, ugly, people on our shows/papers/magazines) .

Someone else said, how about Priyanka Chopra taking up the cause of refugees, immigrants, and the page 3 jet set – by wearing a men’s banyan (or whatever the posh name for it is).

Someone else said “Let us do it”. A voice piped up “but, that is Nike”.

Conde Nast Traveller, put up an explanation this morning, that is just as funny as the original cover (if not funnier)

It’s time we demand better, and stand against the building of walls, literal and otherwise. We must demand a world free of racism and bigotry and prejudice, so that we—and generations after us—may enjoy all the abundance that travel offers, the beauty of a world that is open and rich and diverse in its people and cultures and geographies. And we must, in the midst of our many differences, find and celebrate our commonalities, our oneness. We must recognise that we are all on a journey. Whether we are moving across oceans or just a few kilometres, or in our mind’s eye, into a completely different world, whether we are doing so due to free will or circumstance—we are all travellers.

And this is why Priyanka Chopra—a star at home and abroad, who has experienced firsthand the opportunities that travel offers—is the perfect ambassador. It’s not about her being a refugee or immigrant or outsider; it’s about her, like us, recognising the power of travel, and joining us in asking everyone to do better for each other. 

We can start this journey by ensuring that gated communities, where most of Conde Nast Traveller audience lives, welcome the poor, hungry and dispossessed (within their own city and country) into their limits. I am looking forward to Conde Nast’s support on this campaign 🙂

Documentary : Bhimsen Joshi by Gulzar

Bhimsen Joshi

A lovely little documentary (about an hour), on Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, by Gulzar.

One lovely bit, where Panditji says, just call me Bhimsen. Mujhe Pandit se nafrat hai, aaj koi bhi pandit ban jaata hai. He is referring to the tradition, where a master singer /musician earned the title Panditji (if Hindu) or Ustad (if Muslims). That tradition had been diluted, when new comers are given the title almost after the first concert.

Another lovely moment in the documentary, refers to his jugalbandi with Manna De, in ketaki gulab juhi. Both men, shot at different times and spaces, recollect. And, Gulzar puts together a great edit (including them singing this together in differnet spaces). Bhimsen Joshi ends the piece by saying — Manna de ne mujhe hara diya (Manna De defeated me).

Favorite ragas: Todi (in the morning) , Multani in the afternoon. Yaman /Darbari/Puriya at night. No wonder these are my favourites too, i ended up hearing him sing his best ragas, at his best – all through the time i have been listening to music.

And, the origins of the Kirana Gharana – near Gurgaon, the village where Karna settled . It denotes purpose, do or die, he says. and, it shows in his journey. His favourite students – lots of names, he says with a smile, but only three who can sing. Featured is a little clip with him singing Todi – langarka kariya jin maaro – with a student (a young Anand Bhate). Watch out for him, he says. And, Anand Bhate is one of my favorite new singers. He sang extensively for the Marathi Film Balgandharva 

And, my favorite piece – when do you figure which song you will perform? when i get the tanpura in my hand.

If you have an hour to spare, watch it.


For those interested, My Bhimsen Joshi playlist on youtube.

India and Pakistan — time to forget we were one.

When I was growing up, I was often told, by my father’s friends – India and Pakistan, we are brothers. we have the same language, culture, etc etc etc.  This was when we lived in Delhi. i later realised that the fact that the dominant culture in Delhi was Punjabi, and there was a yearning for the age gone by. As i grew older, and began understanding the concept of diversity, i began understanding only one thing – that while there are some Indians who are like the Pakistanis – primarily Sindhis and Punjabis – most of us are not.

As I got even older, i understood more. As a student in England, i had a Pakistani classmate, who was from Karachi. He told me that he was a Mohajir and that his family supported this party called MQM. That they were fighting for Mohajir rights. Mohajir was a term used to describe immigrants from India. And, i found that kind of odd- that Mohajirs would be discriminated against- given that Pakistan was set up as a Muslim homeland. Then came other surprises. This was an era before cell phones. Even land lines in India were sparse. And i would call up on a given day to India – to my dad’s office to chat. or he would call me. All my classmates knew that habit. That day, dad’s office was shut for Muharram . My Pakistani classmate did not know what Muharram was. I was kind of surprised, because he was a Muslim, and this was a Muslim religious day. Which is when I also figured that all Muslims do not live together in harmony. And, there are some countries in which Shias are discriminated against. From my Bangladeshi neighbours and classmates, i learned first hand accounts of the massacre in Dacca before the 1971 war. And it was based less on religion, and more on the ethnicity, linguistics, and just the desire to kill the ‘other’ – you can define ‘other’ whichever way you want, it is just someone who is not like you.

And, then the 1993 bomb blasts took place in India. Planned in Pakistan. Executed in Mumbai. The start of a long list of terror attacks, against civilians in India. It continues till today.\3345244882_391ccd20d7_z

The overlapping era, across the world, was the era of sanctions against South Africa for practising apartheid. The best cricket players, the best actors, the best rugby players, never played internationally because their government was bigoted, and their system perpetuated it. I never understood why Pakistan never faced sanctions. What it has done since inception has been on par with what Nazi Germany perpetuated. Yet, it got away free.

Pakistan has had some of the best publicity and public relations management in the history of nations.It got away, literally, with murder, rape and massacres. Even when it committed  genocide in East Pakistan, there were no sanctions. I have heard first hand accounts of the genocide, and, much of what we read  has been so sanitised, that people who speak about it come across as nutcases. The men who planned it, those who implemented it, walked away scot free. The actions against the Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan was just something that they got caught doing. There is a list of things that are so under the radar, they rarely get mentioned. Genocide against every conceivable minority possible – Shia Muslims, Ahmedias , Christians, Hindus, the Baloch People, Hazarasjust to mention a few. These are stories i routinely come across when i trawl the interwebs for reading. There are a lot more i never come across, because a) they aren’t on the internet, b) they are on the internet but i don’t read the language. Pakistan has gotten away with sheer murder, time and time again. And, the naive west, led by the USA, has fallen time and time again for a pack of lies, told by a bunch of sociopaths, who claim to be the last defence against Islamist terror. This is like the west paying the mother lode of terror to get it to fight terror.

I always wondered why South Africa faced sanctions, and Pakistan did not. As i got even older i got the answer to it. The Afrikaners, were terrible on television. They looked arrogant, didn’t look terribly telegenic, spoke like Nazis, and came across as terribly racist. On the other hand, Pakistan had invested in people who are suave, sophisticated, look telegenic and sounded like they were possibly your best friends. If you take away all your biases against Pakistan, and listen to their generals and bureaucrats on television. If you heard them day after day, you will be convinced that they are the victims of circumstance. That India is the aggressor. That they are the last defence against terror. Someone as canny as Nixon was taken in by the sophistication

I have often written about why I never understood successive Governments of India falling for the Pakistani line of ‘let us be friends’ – maybe, as a woman i believe that before friendship, there needs to be trust. there needs to be that sense of security. And, i have often wondered, why we don’t stop trading, transacting, communicating. The nostalgia of one Indian state, cannot become the cross for the rest of India to bear.

Last week, before the surgical strikes against terror camps on the other side of the LoC (btw – India did not violate Pakistan’s territorial rights, it walked into a part of India illegally occupied by Pakistan) , and after the Uri attacks, there was this entire clamour about banning Pakistani actors on film. I have no views on this, except that why would you hire outsiders, to do jobs that locals can do. But, Bollywood has always been kind of woolly headed about Pakistan. It stems from the fact that too many people from Bollywood come from Punjab. And most Punjabis are, understandably, nostalgic about undivided Punjab. As a south indian brought up in Maharashtra, this entire ‘we are one people’ ‘we have the same language and culture and food’ never made sense, because we didn’t. But, this is less about the myopia and nostalgia of Bollywood, and more about the fact that on a daily basis, representatives of the Pakistani establishment are entering your homes, via your TV sets, to give you their side of the story. I ran a poll on this, on twitter, to gauge the response of others. A

Frankly, i am less bothered about actors, than i am by the Pakistani establishment. I also, do not expect actors, and cricketers, and other Pakistani civilians working in India, or for Indian companies, to take a stand against their government for one simple reason. This is a government without conscience. All those links that i have provided above, tells you the ruthlessness with which they kill the ‘other’. If i were from such a state, i would be terrified of the repercussions on my family and friends. On my loved ones. The state of Pakistan is capable of just about anything.  I will leave you with the death of the qawaal Ajmad Sabri. He was killed for being a Sufi. Because being sufi is considered blasphemy. And, the government marked him for death by pinning the blasphemy label on him.


While i understand the anger that we all have against Pakistani infiltration, it’s support of terror and the way it lies, i also understand that India is dealing with a Pakistani system where no one is in control. Not the Government, not the Military, not the terrorists. The competition to take control, is what is spilling over to the rest of the world. While the rest of the civilised world competes on achievements, this lot competes on bloodshed. I wouldn’t expect the Pakistani actors in India to speak out against the terror attacks in Uri, they are probably too terrified. If i were in their place, i would be terrified too.  What i do expect, however, is for Indian channels to stop getting Pakistani establishment on TV news shows to defend Pakistan. I was appalled to see a tweet from a leading news anchor about the presence of General Musharraf on their channel. All I could think of was the Batra family. Musharraf has been leading the charge against India since the time he duped the then PM Vajpayee, and betrayed the concept of friendship and peace. Remember Kargil?

In human relationships as with States, some things stay common – without trust and respect, there can be no friendship. no love. there may be lust, but that is temporary. There could be memories, but those are yesterday. the question is always about today – do we trust them ? do we respect them? Have we done all that we can for either — In my opinion, we have. It hasn’t worked. Now it is time to move on. It is time to shred the nostalgia. the fact that a few of us have family memories of Lahore and Karachi. That we have memories of food, and festivals. It is completely ok, to forget the past, rinse it out of memories, and move on.  It is ok not to have any relations with Pakistan – not as friends, not as enemies. we can’t change our neighbourhood, nor get our neighbour to move. But, we can learn not to want being liked by them.


Random Thoughts on Gandhi Jayanti

As a culture, one of our hallmarks, is the ability to deify, build rituals, but lose the essence, of the great men and women, who walked before us.

We build temples, and take their words as cast in stone. We create rituals, and we create new Gods. But, the leanings are lost. We bring them out once a year, dust them out, offer them flowers, prayers, talk about their values in our life, and then get on with other stuff. And, it is rinse and repeat, every single year.

Today is Gandhi Jayanti, “Dry Day” as Munnabhai said famously in the film. And, it is the day every major leader, industrialist, actor, celebrity, talks about Gandhi and his impact on their life. Gandhi would have been amused. For all his failings, his sense of humour was intact (and before i get trolled for saying he had faults, it is something he readily accepted)>



everytime i read this, i am struck by how apt this is. I wonder if it was like this in his era, or is it unique to ours.

Review : Politics of the Womb by Pinki Virani

I wrote this for She the People, earlier this week

Many years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s, dystopian novel, Handmaid’s Tale. Set around a plausible tomorrow, it looks at a world where fertility has plummeted, and there are a special category of women   who are kept especially for reproductive purposes. As I read the “Politics of the Womb” by Pinki Virani a frightening today began to emerge. Where there are women, whose only value to the world seems to be the eggs that she produces, the uterus that she has, and the womb that she rents.

A riot, in very slow motion, is being engineered on the woman inside her body; to take her apart, part by profitable part.

The slow rampage is in the name of God – for hers is the womb and she shall conceive.

In the name of science – for hers is the hostile uterus and medical evaluation must arbitrate. ……The world over, the combined might of religion and science has converged to martial many a uterus with a child. At any cost; to the woman, to her baby.

The opening lines of Pinki Virani’s long hard look at the surrogacy industry, hits you in the gut, and pulls you into a narrative structure that takes you into the universe of uterus pimp; the woman (who is the walking uterus; IVF clinics that charge, and charge, and charge;  the desperate, would be,  parents who want to have a biological child; and the mad rush for designer babies. Politics of the Womb – The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies is both a behind the scenes look at the new industry that seems to have grown without regulation;  the ethics of such work; and a normative framework for regulation. It is also a manifesto of the rights of the unborn child. Someone has to speak for the child, and Ms Virani makes a very strong case for children born of IVF.


The books looks at how expensive  IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment  is being pushed as the first option, on desperate parents, when there are a gamut of other options, that could spare the prospective parents both an expensive bill, as well as physical and mental trauma. There is between 72-80% failure rate per IVF cycle. Less than a third of people who start the IVF treatment, come away with a baby. The costs-  financial, physical and emotional – are seldom publicized or discussed. And, all this in the backdrop of an  industry that sells a myth of fertility, and downplays the medical risks both to the mother and those that may occur to the child. Virani  looks at the data surrounding IVF and birth defects, that leads to children being born autistic, and  with mental retardation. The risk of babies conceived through Ivf or Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is 37% higher than babies conceived naturally. “Collateral damage” says a doctor, on the side effects, and birth defects.

Virani’s anger against the commoditization of the uterus, and its commercialization, is palpable. When she quotes doctors, involved in the baby making business,  she lets their callousness and utter disregard for the woman’s body, and the reproductive process , stay there unvarnished. “What is a uterus, it is like a room. Repaint, redecorate any number of times”’, Virani quotes a doctor saying.

Surrogacy is in the news of late, because of the bill being discussed in Parliament, as well as the Government’s banning of commercial surrogacy. In light of the high pitched conversations around this topic, it might be worthwhile to read the “Politics of the Womb” to look at the issue in a holistic manner.


(Politics of the Womb; The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies; by Pinki Virani; Viking; Rs 599; Pages 304)