The Devil’s Advocate

Tractor parade starting from the Ghazipur side.

I thought at length about what to write. The young man, who lost his life: Navneet Singh, just returned from Australia, where his young wife awaited his arrival. Seeing him on the ground, left me shell shocked. The events of the day, were going to led to some disaster, that was obvious.

Rajdeep, is bearing the brunt of reporting, what the farmers told us- that Navneet had been shot. In fact, when I got the news, from one of the young farmers, I was told, that three boys had been shot in the head. It was not a rally but a protest, the kind, I have never witnessed and I have witnessed many, in the past decade. Let’s just say it was akin to the people taking to the street when Ram Rahim, was arrested. Plus, there was a caravan, a flight of tractors, stuck in a jam, leaderless, with lots of gossip mongering and alot of violence, from both ends. Now, if I say, the initial screw ups began from the side of the farmers in Ghazipur, I was there when they started to remove all the barricades and damage buses, in the morning, I will look like a right wing supporter and if I lie, I will not be able to live with it.

Men who tied the barrier to their tractor and dragged it for half km, till someone yelled at them.
There’s mayhem, all over.
A young man attacks the truck, that they have pushed to one side, while another tries to stop the mayhem.
Tear Gas Shells, are used early on, to deter the farmers. Most of the tractors as well as my driver take a U Turn, within minutes. Suddenly, there’s complete chaos, we get saved from being run over, by the tractors heading towards us, frantically looking for cover.
After the tear gas shelling
The farmers have no fear of COVID. But after the
mace is used, everybody has to cover their faces.
Stuck in a jam.
My car is stuck in a jam, with the farmers. At approximately, this time, Navneet Singh is loosing his life.

If I was a politician, a follower of the religion under attack, a leftist, a feminist, an activist, a student leader, a photo journalist with a full time job, I would pick a side and stick to it. Right, wrong, evidence, no evidence, common sense, I would just flush all of it down the toilet and defend my own. I would write and argue till my face went blue about the right to protest any which way, about how religious flags are used inappropriately all the time, about how wonderful the Sikhs are and so and so forth. But, alas! one is unable to do so. Nevertheless, one is in complete solidarity with the farmers, so as a sign of respect to the most important movement, any of us will ever witness, I take a bow. I decided today, after much contemplation, that a truth that does more harm than good is not worth dwelling on and sharing.

Having said that, I just want to add, as a person born into a Sikh family, never have I ever felt ashamed of the community or any of its actions. In fact, one has always claimed, that if I ever did feel the need to follow a religion, it would be this, just for how courageous and generous, it encourages its followers to be. But for the first time, witnessing the utter disregard for human life, made me squirm and I would personally apologise on behalf of all those present at the Ghazipur border (out of which the percentage of Sikhs would not be over 20%, on the upside) for all that took place.

I said this to a young lad, initially, who I shot with the Nishan Sahab. The flag was on the tractor and he said to his friend that the reason I am taking a picture of him is because , ‘ Madam, humme Khalistani dikhana cha rahee he!’ I flared up, of course. My reply to him was, ‘ You are a cut surd, my father is a turbaned Sikh living in Delhi, who was going to be attacked in ‘84. Whatever you people do and say, be careful that you don’t risk the lives of the Sikhs living here because you all will flee and they will pay the price for it!’ I still maintain that stance. I still feel the need and the responsibility to apologise for the violence, not because I am a coward, but because due to it, we didn’t even rush our own to the hospital, we didn’t even pick up his body from the ground, instead we used him for media bytes. Two wrongs aren’t going to make a right and if I have to share images of the destruction of Babri Masjid, as a defence for the hyper masculinity flexing its muscles, shame on us!

A religion that was formed to stand up for the oppressed ( even if that oppressed person is a policeman) the visual of that religion, the turban and the Nishan Sahib, can’t be be seen on a tractor trying to drive over a policeman or attacking a policeman with a stick or a sword, that was put their in those hands to protect. It’s sava lakh nal ek ladava, not the other way round. This is a farmer’s issue, that across the board affects all farmers but in the end if something goes wrong and incase of violence, like we saw, only the turban will be held responsible and also bear the brunt of it! Never forget what the optics look like to a the man of the street. It is the Nishan Sahib, that will be used to derail theentire movement. The Sikhs are a martial race and there are rules, even in war. Let’s not forget that. This one we will win but let’s just try to win it, the right way.

P.S- This is an appeal to the Akal Takht, from factions of the Sikh community, to disallow people from using the religious flag- the Nishan Sahib for anything other than a religious procession. For it to not be hoisted on vehicles and to not carry it while running. Though, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, has said, ‘ Violence by farmers or police at Red Fort can’t be justified. But controversy over hoisted Nishan Sahib over vacant flag pole at Red Fort is a non-issue.’

Delhi By Foot

Tareekh-e-Tawaif:Saga of India’s Courtesans
The Shahi Masjid.

‘Ik tum hi nahi tanha, ulfat mein meri ruswaa. Iss sheher mein tum jaise, diwane hazaroon he!’

Tawaif, is a word that’s always intrigued me, much like an adolescent boy, of yore would have been; thanks to the eternal beauty, Rekha and Muzaffar Sahab, who made Umrao Jaan. Any woman, who sticks it to the patriarchy, is greatly appreciated by one and the one’s who could do it with such artistry, beauty and grace, I put them on a separate pedestal.

The first woman poet, to have a printed compilation of her work, Maha Laqa Bai, of Hyderabad was also a famous courtesan.

That also has do with imagery, I’m sure. If my first impression came from Pakeezah, a film that’s considered a classic, I would have been appalled, despite my love for the songs and the painful, angsty beauty of Meena Kumari. The idea, that a woman, only through marriage and parentage, can become pure of heart, takes away the power that some women, who stand on the fringes of society, actually have. Tabu, sitting on a swing, playing Saeeda Begum, with a young Ishaan Khattar, lying by her feet, adoringly glancing at this woman of pleasure, that’s the kind of image that the word, courtesan conjures up in my mind or Manjari performing the Courtesan Project On Stage.

Mariam, a history graduate from Jamia who believes in preserving oral histories, leading us into Qudsia Bagh.
Zubair Idrisi, who plans DBF’s outdoor activities, facilitating the walk.

So, of course I had to go for this walk. The facilitators Zubair and Marriam, took us to the Shahi Masjid first and then to Qudsia Bagh, built by Qudsia Begum, who was the wife of Mohammed Shah ‘Rangeela’. The Begum started as a royal courtesan, became the wife of the emperor, then a high ranking official in the Emperor’s Army and after her husband’s death a regent to her son. It was only after Rangeela’s death in 1748, Udham Bai, the Hindu courtesan, that the emperor had married, took the name ‘Qudsia’, meaning ‘pure, innocent or chaste’. Sounds, familiar?

Mariam Siddiqui, came with printouts of miniature paintings. Some of these illustrations can be found on Wikipedia and other websites. But it was refreshing, to see someone make the effort to print them out, nevertheless.

The young facilitators, took us around to show us the fragments of the palace. While Zubair played a game, with us, Marriam discussed the famous courtesans, the depiction of these courtesans in Bollywood viz a viz Pakeezah ( though her opinion of film, was more about it being Kamal Amrohi’s symbol of love, a Taj Mahal of sorts, to Meena Kumari) and Umrao Jaan; the Randi ka Masjid, the connection of Bollywood with tawaifs through parentage, David Ochterlony etc. What made the walk interesting, was not the recounting of facts, that one can always read ( if one enjoys the activity), it was the feminine point of view, accentuating the power of seduction, not deliberately, though. A little intention, would have been nicer, just a few nuggets from the Suitable Boy or a little more about the state of the women of pleasure in current times or actually taking us to Chawri Bazaar or GB road, would have made it perfect. Nevertheless, Marriam, is an engaging orator, quick witted and the walk was very well researched and facilitated by the two. The banter, the back and forth exchanging of information, between the facilitators also made it a captivating conversation.

15 years and counting…until we meet again

‘Kissi ke marne ka gham woh kare, jo aap na mare!’-Ghalib

Dear Love,

This note popped up on FB, from about 12 years ago. Cocky, much? Always! Ironic how things turned out? Totally! Tragic? Not at all, they worked out the way they were supposed to. The one thing your death taught me, everything happens for a reason.

So much for the cynicism, I sucked at calculating exactly how tough life can get. Of course, I miss you all the time but sometimes for the most random reasons-a look from across the room, a smile, the colour yellow…just the strangest, smallest things.

Do I need to be reminded of you, now? Some days, actually, your cute little face fades a little from my memory, then I look at my own ( God’s not so great first attempt and then he perfected it) and am reminded of you. You know, how much I’ve always disliked mirrors. But I peep at the eyes, put my finger on my chin and imagine you going, ‘tch tch’, like you did when I cried. Enjoy reading this and guffawing at my expense, prick!