Monday, 23 June 2014

The K word

 During panel discussions organized around celebrity participants from Bollywood , Delhi will often suddenly choose to rehash eternal moral themes . During a recent event it came about that Kaminey , a popular Bollywood expletive may be a three letter word in Hindi , but is actually a four letter word in English . Every mother who takes mothering seriously , should know that . So this tricky word with a long and funny though a tad gory ( Kameeney kuttey main tera khoon pee jaoonga !You **** dog I shall drink your blood !) history in Bolly , suddenly became  the subject of a grave debate during the Centenary Celebrations of Indian Cinema . A lady in the audience hotly questioned the frequent use of a haw ! haw ! word like Kaminay , by Vishal Bhardwaj  screen writer , producer , music composer and playback singer , maker of a film called Kaminey . He protested . This , he said , was a term of endearment . Why , in Delhi even fathers lovingly called their sons Kaminey ! he said . Then he stood the whole argument on its head and began questioning the violence perpetrated on the viewers’ senses by those bleak strips that suddenly split the screen into half and remind the hapless watchers of a juicy film , that tobacco kills . If similar strips are proposed against alcohol usage , he said, he would sit on a hunger strike !

Vishal Bhardwaj comes from the badlands of Western UP and  has an undeniable knack for creating memorable films out of lives of wayward wanderers , small time crooks , gangsters’ molls and crime syndicates . He would starve himself to death before he allowed the certification mandarins to question this knack that elicits applause from the cine buffs all over the Hindi belt , not to mention precious crores for the Box Office . But Vishal has a point . In the past hundred years since the days of Dada Sahib Falke and his androgynous males playing queen Taramati , not just the Hindi belt but also the Hindi language , have come a long way .  Unlike Karan Johar films that target small town Punjabi youth rooted in a mythical joint family system , and their elderly aunties living in terminal denial about social change of any kind , Vishal ‘s Maqbool , Ishqiya and Omkara are ablaze with a blazing irony .  His foul mouthed characters begin to move and sing ,“Aao aao dil nichodein , raat ki matki todein , koi gullak to phodein…

(Lets wring our hearts , and smash the piggy banks and the dark pot that is the night )..

Way back in the Seventies , a genuinely youthful Dharmendra first linked the word Kaminey with another (equally debatable) noun , Kuttey (dawg) . The round of applause it won established that his dialogue writers had raised the swear bar for all Hindi blockbusters to come . Indian filma have since become even more like the world of Shakespeare’s plays where evil potentates roam hurling loud curses , wives deceive , sons kill , friends play the Fool and fathers address their sons as Kaminey ! Language naturally has to soar to match this whirling mess . It is obvious from the success of Delhi Belly and Omkara and Dirty Picture that public opinion favors the new red hot language . So the three or four letter words merit attention not disapprobation !

As the historians are so fond of saying ( also Bong novels ) we must go take another look at the society that coined a certain language and why . That old vixen Colette had advised writers to chase the verb to get to the historical roots of a word .  So we follow the rooted path . And surprise ! surprise !  Kaminey , it turns out , derives from a very politically correct verb , Kamana a, meaning literally to earn a living by manual labour ( hence words such as Kaamgaar ) . In  the age of Kabir , the eccentric and brilliant weaver  poet , the adjective Kameen meant all those castes who worked with their hands . Kabir harangues Lakshmi , that wayward goddess of wealth who seems to favor the rich and the upper caste  saying , Go them that cover you with silks and gold and sandalwood paste . What will you gain by entering my house ? I am a mere Kameena !

“ Vahan jao jhan paat pitambar , agar chandan sub deenha ,

Aay hmarey kahaa karogi hum to jaat kameena .”

So Kaminey is vulgar as India today is . The word you know ( as in the Vulgate Bible)derives from Latin Vulgus , meaning the language of the ordinary folk .  


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia Case

 Recent TV debates and Tweets following the public spat between well known actor Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia , a scion of the wealthy Wadia clan of Mumbai, made it startlingly clear that in the eyes of many Indian opinion makers, mere use of obscene language and gesture against a woman does not constitute a cognizable offence as spelt out by the amended laws against women's molestation. To them obscenity, when all is said and done, is less a crime and more of a moral sin to be reined in so far as possible for the ‘purity’ of the onlookers. As the Samajvadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav said famously, boys will be boys ! they may slip up now and then ( Ladke hain, galtiyan ho hi jati hain.) . Actually this view is literally accurate. As a moral sin, talk of women's molestation like cuss words, will turn men on, both when they discuss them and when they overhear others doing that . Since in this case the appellant is a film actress, a profession many see as rubbing shoulders constantly with questionable morals, a female journalist and current a Right Wing evangelist said the actor was being foolish and extra vengeful in talking  of her modesty being outraged publically when what were hurled at her were in all probability a few cuss words and a mild physical assault . Didn’t she know while she was trivializing Section 358 of the Indian Penal Code thus while many poor young Dalit girls were being raped and killed ?

More than the case, which is yet to be investigated fully, the public apportioning of blame it has triggered off shows how prolonged and organized male dominance in our society may have systematically shaped social imperatives that spell what kind of misbehavior construes ‘outraging the modesty’ of a woman . Those who explain human rights differently for men and women in the context of article 358, feel that acts and speech that a victim identifies as an eroticization of male dominance and female submission, is actually relatively harmless and making a case out of it is to trivialize gross forms of molestation that the poorer women suffer. This attitude is more pervasive than we believe. In the context of several cases of rape where the alleged perp was a powerful male , both the police officials who refused to register a First Information Report and leaders of political parties the perps owed allegiance to, have said that the charges were motivated by personal or political malice . We had warned you earlier, they go on, how some scheming women may be tempted to fabricate rape or assault on modesty charges under the new law, after having had a previous consensual relationship with the alleged perpetrator.

Any fair enquiry into the distinction between familiar banter and serious assault on someone’s modesty must enquire into the meaning of the act from the victim’s point of view . What the present debate obscures is that the fight over a definition of someone’s modesty being outraged is mostly a fight over the terms of access to women . The tacit question being whose sexuality threatens the system more?  

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Pandit Nain Singh Rawat, the Man who first created a map of Tibet


Asia ki Peeth Per ( Upon Asia’s Back ) is a delightful account of  that wonderful surveyer and map maker , Pandit Nain Singh Rawat’s life and the complete text of three diaries that he had maintained at great risk to himself . He traveled in 1865 from Kathmandu to the Forbidden Kingdom of Tibet , on a secret mission for the British . His job was  to map and survey the mysterious forbidden kingdom for the British . The original Hindi diaries have now been published by Pahad , a small publishing house in Nainital in Uttarakhand . They were edited by Ashutosh Upadhyay, Shekhar Pathak and Uma Pathak . The volume also includes the subsequent reports of the Pandit’s explorations in English . These were published in The Journal of the Royal Geographic Society in 1877 . Some extracts from his diary in English translation are also included.

Pandit Nain Singh was a young man from one of the remotest border villages along the Indo Tibetan border . As a student he struggled against tremendous odds and ultimately became the headmaster of a vernacular school in Milam , his native district in Uttarakhand where the Milam glacier is located . His intelligence attracted the British who were looking for young bi lingual recruits to penetrate the forbidden kingdom of Tibet . Nain Singh was hand picked and trained in 1863 by the British Superintendant of the Great Trignometrical Society himself to be a first rate  trans –frontier explorer. Since Tibetans were extremely hostile to outsiders, Nain Singh left disguised as a Buddhist pilgrim .

Pandit Nain Singh’s account of the hair raising journey and how as Buddist monk he hid his papers and instruments in his prayer wheel , was nearly caught several times but finally managed to accurately measure and record the entire terrain recording the number of steps he took each day around  rivers and lakes at varying altitudes . All he had was a hollow prayer wheel , a special rosary , and a bowl that hid his sextant ( for recording altitudes at night ) . All along he traversed on foot with his luggage carried on backs of various sheep ( some of whom were also lunch or dinner ), yaks and mules . Pretending all this while to be completely lost in prayer, especially  when questioned by guards or suspicious locals . The diaries make for a most riveting read .