Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ra.One: A Lesson in SRK's Midlife Crisis

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 29 October 2011, retrieved from

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Verma
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Rating: 1.5 stars
He could have bought a Ferrari, got a nose job, inked a tattoo or coloured his hair. Yet, Shah Rukh Khan chose to pierce his nipples, play a Tam Brahm, and grab Arjun Rampal’s crotch.
When Ra.One opens, the audience is already nursing headaches – the person tasked with converting it into 3D makes white letters pop out of a black screen right from the logo to the disclaimer. Then, we take an aerial tour of London, and pop into Barron Industries. Jenny (Shahana Goswami) seems to be teaching a ‘Technology for Dummies’ class, with a rapidly changing accent, to South East Asians and Europeans who understand Hindi. The dummies are suitably awed by a hologram image of the founder, Barron (Dalip Tahil). Barron appears only twice in the flesh – he addresses his office staff in Pidgin Hindusthani, and argues with Ra.One (Arjun Rampal) in chaste Hindi.
Next, we see Shah Rukh Khan speeding through strange lands, to perform a stunt straight out of Wolverine’s forest sequence in X-Men: The Last Stand. Then, he jets off to rescue an annoyingly high-pitched Priyanka Chopra, dressed in a skimpy red number, from Khalnayak (Sanjay Dutt) whose decaying teeth we get uncomfortably close to. The sequence draws largely from Padayappa, and we’re wondering whether this is Rajnikanth’s much-touted guest appearance.
Turns out this superhero, Lucifer, is a kid’s wishful projection of his cowardly father Shekar Subramaniam (Shah Rukh Khan) in anotheravatar. His American-accented British school teacher breaks into his reverie. We find out his Appa, whose vocabulary is limited to “aiyyo!”, “vandu kondu”, “rascalla”, “illaa” and “ingay vaa”, is a klutz who owns a fleet of Volkswagen cars, crashes into the one Alto in England, eats noodles-and-curd with his hands, and sports an Afro. Oh, he makes a living by designing cool video games and poorly animated PPTs.
He’s married to Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), whose contribution to feminism involves writing a thesis on swearwords. She believes world domination lies in changing the ma-behn genus to baap-bhai-chacha. Her other linguistic accomplishment is regularly mispronouncing “konjam-konjam”, “condom, condom”. Despite this, and the multiple injuries Shekar sustains on his procreative organs, he entertains hopes of making more babies, and conveys as much to Sonia on her typewriter. You see, the entire family operates in a time warp, not the least manifestation of which is the kid Prateek’s (Armaan Verma) hairdo. Inexplicably, he finds his father more embarrassing than his overgrown Beatles haircut. His ancient Michael Jackson poster leaves no room for Rihanna or Justin Bieber.
Shekar decides to win his son over by designing a video game where the villain Ra.One is more powerful than the hero G.One (Shah Rukh Khan in bot form). Full points for wordplay. The family attends the launch, and Sonia lovingly asks her husband to “re-lakes” as he is racked by nervous tics. When she turns to her son and gleefully says, “Papa is looking so hot, na?”, you realise why this kid’s so messed up. Then, Shekar and Sonia decide to boogie away, leaving their son to experiment with the game, under the supervision of the Japanese-named Chinese gaming whiz Akashi (Tom Wu). Full points for stereotyping – and research.
Sonia has a propensity to tear off her clothes when she dances, and so everyone is distracted when Ra.One breaks out of the game, enters the real world, takes on Akashi’s form, and sets out to kill Lucifer (Prateek’s gaming name). Her penchant to strip is also the reason everyone – including G.One, who has been coaxed out of the virtual world – fails to notice Ra.One’s reappearance in various forms on two later occasions.
Sonia has decision-making trouble. She takes her son to the site of a gory accident, but shields him from risqué magazine ads. She buries a relative in a coffin, but contrives to scatter his ashes in the Thames. She alternates between consulting the rear-view mirror and swinging her head around while driving. Conveniently, both the Metropolitan Police and London’s ubiquitous CCTV cameras evince no interest in her activities. She switches from grieving widow to gamebot-molester in three minutes, and relocates multiple times.
The movie is a revelation to Tam Brahms, who will discover that their customs include using their grandfathers’ – and not fathers’ – first names as surnames, celebrating karva chauth, worshipping Madhubani paintings, and living in exclusive gated communities reserved for their species in Mumbai, where their daughters dance the alarippu every day. Shah Rukh Khan’s perception of ‘Madrasis’ does for North-South relations what Achmed the Dead Terrorist did for US-jihadi harmony.
But the rest of the world may have its share of epiphanies too. For instance, NRI kids in London have Mumbaiyya accents, and are fond of Americanisms such as “zip it, crap face” and “I’m gonna whoop his ass”. We also ascertain that Chitti, who was last seen in a display case in Endhiran (Robot in Hindi) still wears lipstick and speaks of his memory in terms of “jigabyte”. We discover what the lovechild of Darth Vader, Megatron and Imhotep would look like. We learn the contours of the abdomen guards sported by Ra.One and G.One.
The movie has one funny moment, one decent twist, and two re-recording themes – aiyo-aiyo and paithyakara-paithyakara. Aside from the catchy Chammak Chalo, the only positive is a sizzling Arjun Rampal, who has landed his dream role - no expressions, loads of muscle-flexes and mean gazes.
A Rs 175 crore budgeted action flick can’t be carried by graphics, skin show and Shah Rukh playing the lovable comic hero from his Raj-Rahul days. There’s no explanation for why Ra.One suddenly emerges from his console, or for his obsession with Lucifer. Kareena brings little to the table, and the dialogues are as predictable as the storyline. And one may not care for one’s kids to witness decapitation, pelvic thrusts, and insatiable groping; or listen to someone stammer over the word ‘control’.
Verdict: I should have taken it as a sign when Microsoft One Note tried and failed to open the e-ticket I’d saved as ‘Ra.One’.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Diwali Goods That Tihar Should Market

(Published in on 25 October, 2011, retrieved from

Apparently, Tihar Jail has decided to call in a bunch of yuppies – or aspiring yuppies – from IIM Ahmedabad, to brainstorm for marketing ideas to help sell Tihar’s products better.
However, since the country’s most famous jail houses a host of celebrities, and has seen several high-profile detainees over the last year, one wonders whether the authorities really need help from business management students. I mean, look at the endorsement potential within its walls.
This Diwali, there are several products Tihar could create and sell, complete with the personalities they’re named after. So, how’s this for starters?
Kani Boomerangs
She’s pleaded as a mother, as a woman, as an artist, what-have-you. But Kanimozhi has been in jail for more than five months, despite judge O P Saini praising her conduct at the hearing, and even the CBI having mood swings over whether or not to oppose her bail plea.

And that’s not the only boomerang effect the poet-turned-politician has witnessed. The first couple of times her father Karunanidhi showed up, he spurned goodwill trips to the houses of his allies.
This time round, though he wheeled himself into Sonia Gandhi’s and Manmohan Singh’s homes, complete with bouquets of red roses and yellow flowers for the two leaders respectively, his gesture only seemed to ricochet.
Raja 1760000000000 Wala
Obvious, huh? Well, technically, the bomb burst last time round, but Raja’s spent enough time in jail to string together one of those every year.
And despite having practically no hope of getting out any time soon, what with the DMK patriarch far less concerned about his one-time blue-eyed boy and Dalit mascot than his youngest daughter, Raja has no intention of going down alone – or quietly.
He has already brought up the complicity of then Financial Minister P Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the spectrum allocation. The ramifications of his allegations caused something of a crisis in the ruling coalition, which culminated in a showdown between two of its most senior ministers – Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram.

Gajar ka Balwa
This was simply hard to resist. Well, but the Swan Telecom – now Etisalat DB Telecom – Promoter has chased plenty of carrots to end up where he is.
It was all smooth sailing till 2010, when he was the youngest Indian to make the Forbes rich list, and was among the ten youngest billionaires in the world.
But when the 2G spectrum scandal broke, he found himself in the blender, and the rest is history.

Amar Key Chains
Despite the propensity of most politicians, including Yeddyurappa, to fall critically ill within minutes of stepping into jails, the only one who will be celebrating Diwali at home is Amar Singh.
The best-friend-turned-arch-enemy of Mulayam Singh, the former Samajwadi Party strongman got into a soup in the 2008 cash-for-votes scam. His newfound friend, the Congress, promptly washed its hands of him.
Ironically enough, his bail conditions include two sureties for which he will have to raise cash of Rs 2 crore.

Maran Exchange Programme

There are so many levels to this.
First, Dayanidhi Maran jumped out of his ministry after his brother’s paper published a Stalin vs. Azhagiri survey that had the latter’s supporters attacking the newspaper office and killing staff. The vacated ministry seat eventually went to Raja.
Then, came the allegation from former Aircel owner Sivasankaran that Dayanidhi Maran had forced him to sell his stake to Maxis, when Maran was Telecom Minister.
Finally, newspapers flashed reports of a personal telephone exchange within Dayanidhi Maran’s house, complete with 323 lines, that is believed to have been used by his brother’s television network, Sun.
Four years after the complaint was received, the CBI is scrutinising documents from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), detailing the allocation of the high-capacity telecom lines.
And while the Maran brothers made the CBI sleuths cool their heels outside their home for half an hour, ahead of a raid, they’re still outside Tihar.
Sonia Non-Stick Teflon
Every charge ever brought against the latest Mrs. Gandhi to head the Congress, from Bofors to black money, has slid off as easily as it’s been slapped on.
To read her Wikipedia page, one would think the formidable Sonia Gandhi’s life was quite non-controversial – well, except for her Hindi pronunciation.
 She may have been the only Indian politician – why, only international politician – to have had a completely secret operation, not spotted at her port of entry or exit either at the airports or hospital she is believed to have stayed in. Her mystery illness remains undisclosed.
And though she only took up Indian citizenship in 1983 – 15 years into her marriage – and is yet to master any language spoken in India, three senior Congress leaders (Sharad Pawar, Purno A Sangma, and Tariq Anwar) were expelled for bringing up her foreign origins in 1999, when she seemed all set to become Prime Minister. Her ‘inner voice’ chose to speak up at the eleventh hour.

Swamy Gourmet
He fights all his battles in the courts, and consistently proves that he doesn’t say anything without evidence. He heads a party of which he is lone member. And it seems Subramanian Swamy has been dictating the menu at Tihar Jail.
At a recent speech, the Janata Party president mentioned that an official from the jail had complained about the difficulties of preparing idli and dosa for the South Indians lodged in the jail.
Swamy responded by asking him to learn to make pizzas and pastas, to suit an Italian palate. Since the person one presumes they are intended for used to moonlight as a waitress, she may be able to help with the recipe, huh?
Anna Amplifiers

Anna Hazare’s fast in March this year had the whole of Delhi queuing up to light candles. But his preventive arrest, and dharna inside Tihar Jail, notched up unprecedented support across the country for his movement.
With his aide Kiran Bedi tweeting regularly, and posting a video from inside the jail of Anna’s speech, the septuagenarian crusader against corruption rose to iconic status thanks to his three-day stint in jail.
Would his fast have got as much publicity and momentum had the government let him be, instead of swooping in to make a preventive arrest, and then blaming the Delhi Police? We’ll never know.
Bedi Revolving Doors

The former top cop, who was instrumental in reforming Tihar Jail – and even changing its name to Tihar Ashram – found herself on the other side of the bars earlier this year.
Kiran Bedi was one of the Team Anna members to be arrested ahead of Hazare’s proposed fast. She was back within hours, though, and with her phone camera, brought back some of the action with her.

The Hisar By-Poll and the Anna Effect

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 25 October, 2011,m retrieved from

NOTE: This piece contains very little opinion. It's a factual summary of the drama surrounding the by-elections in Hisar.

What should have been an insignificant election in one constituency became the focal point of national attention for several weeks. So, why was the Hisar by-poll so important?
By-elections are held to fill a post that has been vacated, usually because a sitting Member of Parliament (MP) has passed away, resigned or been recalled. In the case of Hisar, by-polls were announced after the seat’s MP, former Chief Minister (CM) and one-time Congress leader Bhajan Lal, died. Bhajan Lal had broken away from the Congress to form his own party, the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC).
Of the 40 nominees, there were three main candidates for the seat – the Congress’ Jai Parkash (a former three-time MP), Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi (HJC, supported by BJP), Ajay Chautala – the son of former CM Om Prakash Chautala – from Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
But the most significant player may have been Anna Hazare. The Gandhian decided to campaign against the Congress, saying the ruling party at the Centre had failed to bring in the Jan Lokpal Bill for discussion within the stipulated time.
Why did Anna Hazare Campaign Against the Congress?
The Hisar by-elections were the first to be held after the standoff between Hazare and the government. After several discussions between ‘Team Anna’, as Hazare’s aides have been called, and government Ministers, Hazare ended his twelve-day fast, on the understanding that the Bill would be taken up for discussion as soon as possible.
When the Congress twiddled its thumbs, Hazare announced that the Hisar by-elections would be a people’s mandate on governance, and his team would take it upon themselves to send out a message that a party that had failed its people would be thrown out. Saying the Congress was not serious about tackling corruption, Hazare began to use the by-polls to build pressure on the party.
How did the Campaign Play Out?
Hazare’s second-in-command, Arvind Kejriwal, who is a native of Hisar, began to address people in open marketplaces, speaking out against the Congress.
The Congress tried to laugh this away, saying the election was not of national importance. But Team Anna capitalised on that point, saying it was an “insult to the voters of Hisar” that the party did not consider their opinion important.
The party reacted by shoving its foot back into its own mouth. Congress leader Digvijay Singh said that despite Hazare’s assertion that he is not into politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants him as the presidential candidate in 2012. Team Anna immediately turned the accusation around, saying they are “doing politics for the people” and not for the vote-bank.
The team denied association with the BJP, saying they would have campaigned against the saffron party if it had been in power and failed to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. Kejriwal also issued something of an ultimatum to the Congress, saying Hazare would withdraw the campaign if the party passed the Jan Lokpal Bill the next day.
A video of Hazare asking the people to vote for any candidate of their choice, except the Congress contestant, was screened. Team Anna then told voters that the government wanted Hazare to die, and each of their votes would “act as a life breath” for the Gandhian.
The By-Election Results
By the time campaigning ended, on October 11, the Congress was stretched thin, fighting both the Anna effect and the other candidates. Polls were conducted two days later, and the results announced on October 17.
Kuldeep Bishnoi was declared the winner, with a lead of 6323 votes.  Ajay Chautala came second, while the Congress was a distant third – about 2,00,000 votes behind. Jai Parkash, who polled even fewer votes than he got in the 2009 elections, had to forfeit his security deposit.
What made the Congress’ defeat worse was that it was indicative of anti-party sentiment across the country. Aside from the Lok Sabha seat in Hisar, the ruling party was routed in three Assembly seats in other states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
In Maharashtra, the Congress’ ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), fielded Harshada Wanjale, the widow of Ramesh Wanjale, whose death necessitated the by-elections. But the alliance couldn’t win a sympathy vote.
In all, it was a shocker for the Congress, and deemed a bad sign for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) by political analysts.
During his campaign, Bishnoi had called himself a fan of Anna’s, and a supporter of the team’s cause. However, right after his victory, he said he owed nothing to Team Anna, and that the people had already decided to vote in favour of him before Hazare announced his stance.  Bishnoi attributed his victory to his father, and to his party’s alliance with the BJP. But he did say he respects Hazare, and that he would vote for the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who had camped in Hisar for a fortnight to canvass for the Congress, said there was a need to introspect. He said he respected the verdict of the people.
But his fellow-Congressmen were not quite as tame in defeat. Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who heads the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee, claimed Bishnoi had won because of the sympathy vote, and questioned Team Anna’s silence on corruption in Mayawati-ruled Uttar Pradesh.
Law Minister Salman Khurshid came up with an even vaguer argument for his party, saying the poll results could not be attributed to a single person or single issue. He also said Team Anna had gone to Hisar “to have fun.”
The Congress has decided to pull all its weight ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, with Rahul Gandhi set to participate in a series of yatras across the state.
The opinion of the Congress and of analysts was that while Anna Hazare’s campaign was not the main instrument in the defeat, it had played a role in boosting anti-Congress sentiment by grabbing national headlines.
However, Team Anna suffered losses too. Following the campaign, two of its members – Magsaysay Award winner Rajinder Singh and PV Rajagopal – bowed out of the team, saying it had taken on political shades, and they didn’t want to be involved.
Long-Term Impact
The loss in four states is a huge psychological setback for the Congress, since five states, including Uttar Pradesh – where Congress General Secretary and likely future Prime Ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi has been campaigning aggressively – are set to hold Assembly elections.
The UPA’s majority in the Lok Sabha will not be affected by state results. But then, allies of the ruling party could switch over to the Opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by the BJP, if they lose faith in the Congress.
That would be very worrisome if the call for early general elections, in the wake of several scams involving Congress leaders and allies, is heeded.


3 June
Sitting MP from Hisar, Bhajan Lal, dies following cardiac arrest.
6 September
Election Commission sets October 13 as the date for Hisar by-polls.
4 October
Anna Hazare announces that he will campaign against the Congress at Hisar.
8 October
Team Anna arrives in Hisar; Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia address gatherings, alleging the Congress isn’t passing the Jan Lokpal Bill for fear that many of its ministers would land in jail.
11 October
Campaigning ends in Hisar.
13 October
Polling  conducted in Hisar.
17 October
Kuldeep Bishnoi wins seat. Congress comes third.
18 October
Team Anna members Rajinder Singh and PV Rajagopal quit.


Candidates: 40
Voters:  13.32 lakh
Men: 7.29 lakh

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 Guarantees Sleepless Nights

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 22 October, 2011, retrieved from

Cast: Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Rating: 4 stars
You’d think a prequel to a prequel, in a series that relies on the found-footage-realistic-video device, would be less scary than its first two editions. Wrong. The third movie in the Paranormal franchise, with its brilliant sound design, quaint touches of ’80s America, and most of all, the dreaded combination of children-and-toys in the story of a haunting, is by far the freakiest.
Something about Katie Featherston’s slow smile, mechanical rocking, or confrontational eyes – depending on which version you saw – gave you chills in PA. Her contented expression, of a cat that’s put away two saucers of milk, as she cradled the baby, curdled your blood in PA2. This time round, it’s left to the large, round eyes of the children, and their nonchalantly sinister answers to their mother’s cheery questions, to creep you out.
We’ve witnessed the hauntings of sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) in adulthood. In this story, written by Oren Peli (the creator of the series) and Christopher B. Landon, we meet them as children (played by Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown), and get to the root of the demonic presence in the house they share with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend Dennis the Wedding Videographer (Christopher Nicholas Smith).
Yes, the motif of a camera-obsessed male character remains. Only, this time the camera seems to induce the paranormal activity, rather than the other way round. All Dennis wants is a dirty tape with his girlfriend, but what he gets is an earthquake, and a series of extraordinary events that vaguely justify his taping a camera to every plausible and implausible surface – and running around with another for good measure.  
While retaining the signature feature of home videos, the makers of the movie have innovated with a camera attached to the base of an oscillating contraption. One particular incident involving furniture will make you quite literally jump out of your skin. What makes the film the most disturbing of the series is that it is the children who interact with the unseen presence, Toby, and in an increasingly aggressive manner. The process of imbuing innocence with evil is carried out with a delicate touch that is the closest the franchise has got to finesse. And it’s even more unsettling because of how normal the family seems.
Weirdly enough, PA3 has been injected with a healthy dose of wry humour. You don’t walk in expecting to laugh, and this makes the horror even freakier. Less gory than PA2PA3 makes the viewers work just as hard, craning their necks in a vain attempt to catch the off-camera action, scanning the frame to figure out where the next scary phenomenon may emerge from. The audio effects make you turn back every now and then, wondering whether it was the person in the row behind you whose chair creaked. Next thing you know, an earth-shattering crash or a ear-splitting screech has you shooting a couple of feet up in the air. Watch out for the game of Bloody Mary – a twist will make you grip your seat hard enough to turn your knuckles white.
PA3, for all its kitschy scares, certainly has some of the most iconic scenes in the series, and perhaps in its genre over the last couple of decades. It effectively does what a temporal jump should – fills in most of the plot holes in the first two movies, while leaving room for more prequels and sequels. We finally know why the family doesn’t simply move – well, we find out what happens when they do. What we may never figure out, though, is why the men are so intent on running with cameras even when they’re on rescue missions that will likely require both hands.
But all flippant observations aside, think about whether you’re ready for this. The filmmakers play the audience, and watching the movie can be an exhausting experience. The setting may be familiar enough; but the action’s a different ball game. Hint: It’s not just the night one should fear.
Prophecy: If you sleep alone, you’ll leave the lights on for the next few days. If you have a partner, you may be tempted to switch him or her. If you have children, you’ll stare at them suspiciously. If you’re pregnant, don’t go. Any which way, every nocturnal sound will make you break into a cold sweat, the bird chirping outside will look ominous...hell, everything will look ominous.
Warning: If you intend to watch it, go to the theatre; don’t watch it at home. Without strangers to give you watery smiles after screaming for two hours, you’ll be a bag of frayed nerves. And avoid food and drink – what doesn’t spill all over your lap before consumption, will after.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why the Occupy Movement Will Never Come to India

(Published in on 20 October, 2011, retrieved from

(Picture Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)

“What do you think of this Occupy Wall Street movement?”
“The one that’s gone everywhere from Alaska to Australia, but skipped India?”
“Yeah. Why do you sound cynical? Are you against it? I mean, I do think it’s a little ironic that people like Kanye West and Michael Moore and their fellow multi-millionaires are speaking out against social inequality. Hey, is Oprah pro-Occupy?”
“She’s been out of my radar since she stopped making the women of my household cry every afternoon. But the thing with Occupy Wall Street is, I can’t figure out why they’re complaining when we’re not. I mean, we don’t even have free education or free health care that meets basic standards in India!”
“So, you think Occupy Dalal Street is on the cards?”
“I’m not sure Dalal Street is the problem. Sometimes, it seems our industry captains are the only ones doing anything for India. I mean, the Ministry of Culture depends on Vijay Mallya to buy up national memorabilia every time it gets auctioned.”
“Is he buying Rajendra Prasad’s watch too?”
“I don’t know. But my point is, except for signing a bunch of petitions, no one’s done anything to get back the jewels that were stolen from us by the British. Not even the Koh-i-Noor. And I don’t think they’re auctioning that off any time soon. And these are the inept elected representatives who get fivefold hikes, while I haven’t had a raise in three years.”
“In all fairness, you’ve not done much about the Koh-i-Noor diamond either. Hey, but isn’t Vijay Mallya an MP? Do you think he got the hike too?”
“I don’t think his MP salary is his primary source of income. Anyway, I’m saying we shouldn’t be pissed off at Dalal Street so much as at Parliament Street.”
“And we know just how well Occupy Parliament Street – or whatever’s closest – has gone. A 51-year-old woman beaten to death by cops.”
“Are you talking about Baba Ramdev’s commune?”
“Yeah, the sit-in against black money. My opinion of Baba Ramdev and his integrity notwithstanding, I’m not sure breaking a woman’s spine is the ideal way to handle a situation.”
“Neither was arresting Anna Hazare before he could start his sit-in. That happened to play right into his hands, but nevertheless. What annoys me is that my salary goes to fund the people who order crackdowns like this.”
“Well, I freelance, and I’m not spared TDS either. Ten percent flat, and I think I spend more on photocopies of tax returns and what not to get that money back, at the government’s own pace, and without interest either.”
“And when it’s not funding MPs, it’s channelled away for aid in Africa and spirituality in Sri Lanka.”
“God forbid that we should need any of that money when we’re driving up food inflation by eating too much.”
“Well, the people who don’t eat too much aren’t spared either. Remember how the Income Tax department raided Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif’s houses?”
“Strange how they stormed all the flats those two girls own, when the Marans’ watchman could make the CBI wait for half an hour, eh?”
“Unrelated question – how long does it take to dismantle a telephone exchange?”
“Is this one of those racist, communalist, religionist or vocationalist jokes?”
“Like ‘how many doctors does it take to change a light bulb’?”
“Never mind. To get back to my list of complaints, the petrol price has doubled since Manmohan Singh took over, and his government decides to deregulate prices.”
“On the subject of fuel, there’s the nuke plants. We must be the only country that’s got its tongue hanging out for nuclear power right after Fukushima.”
“What about Iran?”
“I think Ahmadinejad thinks the sole purpose of nuclear power is to wipe Israel off the map, so not sure they’re in that much of a hurry to tie up with the US. And I’m rather sure the feeling’s mutual.”
“What does Manmohan think nuclear power is for?”
“Well, Iran and India don’t see eye to eye on most subjects, right? They accuse hikers and photographers of spying. We secretly fly out CEOs of chemical plants that have violated safety norms and ruined the health and livelihood of more than one entire generation, and then we pass the Nuclear Liability Bill right after the court comes up with a laughable verdict, 25 years after the accident.”
“At least Warren Anderson didn’t have an escort. We practically saw off the terrorists we freed after Kandahar.”
“That’s hardly surprising when you consider that two State Assemblies are fighting for the lives of terrorists on death row, and all because it took too long to consider their mercy petitions.”
“I find the appeal for sparing the lives of terrorists ridiculous too, but why does it take so long to hang them? I mean, I honestly think Kasab is going to die of high cholesterol from all the biriyani before they get to his case.”
“Cut Madam President some slack. Maybe it’s just slipped her mind. You know, like saluting the Indian flag in Mexico in 2008.”
“I think she was just making up for forgetting to salute the Mexican flag just before.”
“We’ll psychoanalyse her later. But in this country, I think the rich and the middle-class take some pretty bad blows. Only the poor get anything free.”
“But they’re poor only if they make less than Rs. 32 a day, isn’t it? And I’m not sure taking anything free is a good idea. I think the number of people who don’t go blind after free cataract operations is less than the number who do.”
“That may have less to do with the cost of the operation than the competence of the doctors performing it. India’s solution to halve the 1:2000 ratio, of doctors to people, is to lower the bar.”
“The bar’s been lowered already with reservation, anyway. If there’s a chance that you’ve inherited intelligence from educated parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or any ancestor, there’s no place in college for you. Go to Silicon Valley while we all take a few hundred steps back so everyone’s on an imagined equal footing.”
“Yeah, but we’ve always been happy to lower the bar – school syllabi are constantly dumbed down, and engineering admission cut-offs have been lowered practically to the pass mark. But now, the government wants to tackle the brain drain problem by cutting off the escape route – have you read that they’re trying to make it more difficult for doctors to leave the country? Doesn’t the irony of imprisoning citizens strike them?”
“I think the government’s just trying to come up with conversation starters for the G20. You know, ‘So, Dave, we’ve made it more difficult for our doctors to go to your country.’ ‘Oh, Manu, that’s fantastic! We’ve just made it more difficult for your doctors to come to our country.’ ‘High-five!’ ‘Umm, that’s too American for me, you know, Manu. How about cheers?’”

Omar Abdullah and the Custodial Death of Yusuf

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 20 October, 2011, retrieved from

NOTE: This does not contain opinion. It's a factual summary of the controversy surrounding the alleged custodial death of Syed Mohammad Yusuf

Omar Abdullah, who hasn’t had an easy time since he took over as the youngest Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 2009, is now embroiled in the row surrounding the death of National Conference (NC) worker Syed Mohammad Yusuf.
The 61-year-old retired teacher had been with the party for decades, and was said to be a close aide of both Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq Abdullah. He was summoned by the Chief Minister on September 29, along with several others.
Sources later told the press the meeting was to sort out allegations of money transactions for political favours. Two other NC workers, Abdul Salam Reshi and Muhammad Yusuf Bhat, had alleged that Yusuf had taken Rs. 1.18 crore from them in return for securing them ministerial berths and senior positions in government.
A day after the meeting, the body of Yusuf was handed over to his family. The state has maintained that he died of health problems, while the family says he was tortured to death.
What Happened to Syed Mohammad Yusuf?
Yusuf’s brother Mohammad Shafi said minister Nasir Aslam Wani had called Yusuf at 10 am on 29 September, asking him to come to his house. After Yusuf returned to his own residence, Wani called him again at 6pm, summoning him to the Chief Minister’s house for an official meeting. A relative who called him soon after said he heard heated argument, and then the phone was switched off. Yusuf’s family was not able to reach him after 7 pm on his phone.
Family members said that when Yusuf did not return the next morning, they approached the SSP Srinagar, Ashiq Bhukari, who told them to go to the crime branch. He had reportedly been taken in for an hour, for questioning by the crime branch, on the instructions of Wani.
Yusuf’s relatives said the Inspector General at the Crime Branch, Raja Aijaz Ali, said whatever had been done to Yusuf was done at the residence of the Chief Minister. They also said a witness had told them Yusuf was vomiting blood when he came out of Abdullah’s house.
Finally, they were told Yusuf had complained of abdominal pain and was taken to hospital. He developed complications, and passed away that morning from cardiac arrest. His family said he had no history of heart ailment.
When the body was handed over, his relatives took photographs, which they later gave to the press, showing injury marks on Yusuf’s face and neck.
Immediately, the government ordered a judicial probe headed by a sitting Judge of the High Court, and suspended five personal security guards of Omar Abdullah, including two Deputy Superintendents of Police.
Who Says What?
The family said police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR), saying they needed direct orders from higher-ups. An FIR was registered only after three days. They alleged foul play in the death, as they were not allowed into the hospital, and the body was handed over only after the post-mortem was complete. They said the custodial death had resulted from torture, and called for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) went further, saying the death could have taken place in Abdullah’s or Wani’s residences. Party President Mehbooba Mufti demanded the resignation of Omar Abdullah, to ensure a fair investigation into the matter, saying the Chief Minister acted as “the interrogator, the judge and the executioner.”
A statement by the government said the Chief Minister had called Yusuf to his home on September 29, to inquire into the allegations of corruption. It went on to say that Yusuf was later handed over to Crime Branch for an investigation and died the following day of cardio respiratory arrest. It said no external injuries were found on his body.
Omar Abdullah said no one had “laid a finger on” Yusuf at his home, and he would “like to believe” no one did after he left. He has maintained that he sees no reason to resign, and has found support in his main ally, the Congress. Speaking to media, Abdullah expressed his willingness to appear before a committee probing the incident, and said “I would like the judicial enquiry to be completed in weeks, not months.”
The Impact
The row came to a head on October 3, when pandemonium broke out in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly after PDP sought adjournment of the House over Yusuf’s death.  Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone and PDP leader Moulvi Iftikhar Ansari traded abuses, and Ansari threw a table fan at the Speaker.
The house was adjourned thrice. PDP MLAs chanted “Qatil ko pesh karo” (Present the murderer), tore files and stormed the well of the house.
PDP has organised demonstrations and rallies regularly since the death, both in Srinagar and Jammu. The marches have been led by various wings of the party, including the women’s and student’s wings.
Despite the Congress’ vocal support for Abdullah, the latest controversy involving him fuelled rumours that they may ask for the Chief Ministership to be rotated, as they had done with former ally PDP. Some press reports claimed sources said the Congress would replace Abdullah with a Chief Minister from the party in January, though the Congress has officially denied it. All has not been well between the NC and Congress of late, with State Congress President Saifuddin Soz saying corruption was rampant in Jammu and Kashmir.


29 September
Omar Abdullah calls Yusuf and two others to his house, to hear out both sides in a charge of corruption and bribe-taking.
30 September
Yusuf’s body is handed over to his family, which stages a protest at the Press Colony. Government orders a judicial probe into the death.
1 October
PDP holds its first rally in protest, calls for Omar Abdullah’s resignation
3 October
J&K Assembly adjourned three times; unprecedented havoc in the House.
6 October
Omar Abdullah tells a news channel no one “laid a finger” on Yusuf, and that he will not resign.


2 days after he was sworn in as Chief Minister, a deaf-mute man was shot dead by the Army near Omar Abdullah’s residence. A series of civilian killings that followed made people dubious of Abdullah’s promise to seek the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
In May 2009, 2 women – Asiya (17) and Nelofar (23) – were found raped and murdered in Shopian. Omar Abdullah changed his position on the incident several times, first saying it was not rape and murder, and later saying it was and he would punish the guilty. Protests against inaction in the case went on for 2 months, paralysing the state.
On July 28, 2009, Omar Abdullah submitted his resignation over allegations that his name figured in the list of 102 offenders in the 2006 sex scandal that shocked Srinagar. The resignation was turned down by Governor N N Vohra. A furious Abdullah had marched out of the Assembly, despite his partymen physically restraining him and begging him not to resign. He shouted at his supporters, “allow me to take this first step!”
The biggest challenge for the young CM came in 2010 – street protests caused a shutdown in the valley for over 4 months, after a student Tufail Ahmad, 17, was killed by the police when they were chasing stone-throwers.
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