Editorial / Story of a kidnapping
The great Indian unwashed
This avove all / For the love of liquor and women
People / Yuvraj Singh
Letters to the editor

Five crore isn’t a great deal of money. But Calcutta seems to have begun providing some quick pocket-money to criminal networks with a considerably greater reach than the merely suburban. Dubai could be linking up with Tiljala. Footwear might come nowhere near films in extortionist dazzle, but crime is going global in Calcutta, although still on a humbler scale than in Mumbai. The kidnapping of Mr Parthapratim Roy Burman still appears to be a “stray incident” to West Bengal’s chief minister. Yet, there are important lessons to be learnt from this episode, which remains enveloped in uncertainty and silence. There are hints and leads, but little tangible evidence, more than a week after the kidnapping.

The most crucial lessons are for the police and the crime investigation department. Their unpreparedness was clearly evident throughout the operation. But this is not simply a question of inefficiency — as it is in the case of petty crime in greater Calcutta. The possible Dubai angle in this particular case implies more fundamental changes in the entire concept, infrastructure and practice of policing in the state. The inspector general of police (CID), Mr Partha Bhattacharya, has remarked on the “comprehensive” planning and conspiracy that have gone into such a criminal operation, whose reach has gone far beyond the usual underworld networks within the city and its suburbs or the state. This urgently necessitates specialized and coordinated cells within both the police and the CID, which would be trained, equipped and funded to tackle, quite exclusively, the interstate and international dimensions of such incidents. This calls for both material and structural changes. In the Khadim case, for instance, state-of-the art caller line identification devices could have made all the difference. Thorough updating of essential equipment has now become imperative. This must be matched with more sophisticated skills involving methods of negotiation and criminal profiling. The scope of these operations will now have to expand beyond the limits of local policing, through the sharing of interstate and international databases, contacts and resources.

Structurally, this calls for the direct involvement and intervention of the Union home ministry. This kind of crime can never be successfully tackled solely by the state police and will have to be dealt with at a national level. The hunt for Mr Roy Burman’s kidnappers has moved out of West Bengal into Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. The chain of accountability should not stop with the chief minister, and should also actively implicate the Union home minister. Finally, the state, even if it is unable to engage with the distant and mighty sharks, should make sure that the city and its suburbs stop being the catchment area for their “middle level” contacts and agents. Somewhere between the local and the global are the likes of Chunnu Ansari and his men, both in Tiljala and in the assembly. The rooting out of these links — among ganglords, and between ganglords and politicians — will have to be uncompromisingly draconian. In this, the state can no longer afford to flinch. A stray incident could justify unpreparedness. But failing to learn the right lessons from it would be inexcusable.


Manikuntala Sen tells of a doctor — a doctor, mind you — who mopped his face with his handkerchief through which he then strained the tea. In another house that she visited while canvassing as a leading light of the undivided Communist Party of India, the tea was poured through an all-purpose gamchha or towel.

Calcutta’s clean kitchen campaign brings to mind these two observations in her memoir (posthumous in its English rendering), In Search of Freedom: An Unfinished Journey. With no revolutionary stomach for such unwholesome beverages, and yet unwilling to hurt sensibilities, she abjured tea altogether, at least outside her own modest but well-scrubbed home.

Her plight struck an instant chord in memories of my own youthful travels in the mofussil: the hostess who pulled down her best china plates from a high shelf and cursorily wiped them before serving, the outside still thick with dust; the host who stopped biting his nails to plunge the finger into my tea and extract ants that had perished in the sugar; another woman who wiped the cups first with the end of her grimy saree and then with her bare hand. They were all middle-class people, all being kind. It would have been unforgivably churlish to spurn their hospitality on grounds that would make no sense to them and probably not to many readers either.

Squalor is usually a product of poverty. Those who worry about the next meal do not worry about the next bath. Heat and dust, sweating bodies, cramped living quarters, the absence of essentials like clean flowing water, soap, oil and a change of fresh clothes all impose their own priorities. The image of the poor with nothing to lose but their cleanliness is upper-class romanticism, as Manikuntala Sen also discovered. As a full-time party worker, she had four sarees that she washed, dried and folded under her pillow to wear a clean garment every day. But her mentor feared that this would set her apart from the multitude, whether in village or bustee, and provoke adverse comment.

Not for nothing did Burke refer to hoi-polloi as “the great unwashed”. In writing about the French Revolution, Carlyle more succinctly spoke of man set against man, “Washed against Unwashed”. But whereas elsewhere, with prosperity the Unwashed graduate to Washed status, here people often cling all their lives to habits and customs born in adversity.

Lee Kuan Yew found even Rashtrapati Bhavan sadly “run down”, the servants’ uniforms “dingy”, the crockery and cutlery so “dreadful” that a knife snapped in his hand and nearly bounced into his face. Another presidential guest, an American, called the trays on which tea was served “tatty”. The explanation is that instead of rising to the international level expected of India’s first citizen, several occupants have dragged Rashtrapati Bhavan down to the lifestyle they find most comfortable. One incumbent’s wife was said to cook in a bedroom for her numerous progeny.

Apparently, Indira Gandhi stopped sending state guests to Hyderabad House because of the dirt and disrepair she saw on a surprise visit. What shocked her must have seemed perfectly normal to external affairs ministry officials charged with running the place. No doubt they blamed Mrs Gandhi’s fastidiousness on her “aristocratic” birth and “foreign” education. I can think of three Indian diplomatic residences abroad that might have been home in India to lower division clerks.

Much has been written, especially by foreigners, about the seeming contrast between the personal cleanliness of Indians and their indifference to public filth. The most cited example is of condominium dwellers carefully sweeping out their flats and leaving the sweepings either on the common landing or outside a neighbour’s door. The addiction to ablutions is held up as proof of faith in the old English adage that cleanliness is next to godliness.

But you need only walk barefoot in a temple to realize that cleanliness could not be farther removed from godliness. The obsession is with ritual, not hygiene. The untranslatable Bengali word, ento (jhoota), is not the same as insanitary. Slush and slime do not impinge on the sanctity of pavement shrines. Clever apologists might argue that divinity (like the Ganga’s polluted waters) purifies and cleanses, but most do not ever notice the need.

My Circuit House balcony in Puri, that sanctum of devotion, on a recent visit overlooked a small pool of rainwater on the beach that provided delight to man and beast. Children waded and splashed in the water, men urinated in it or defecated on its sides and then washed themselves in it. Women brought their clothes for washing. Dozens of mangy dogs also gambolled in the pool. The little mounds of ordure on the banks bred swarms of huge dung flies that invaded the Circuit House, settling on food and drink. No one minded.

When I objected to used bedsheets in the Arrah railway retiring room in the Seventies, a local remarked sarcastically that I should join Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement. Asked for the connection, he explained that JP, too, was fussy. Obviously, fresh sheets seemed an unnecessary, perhaps even alien, luxury to him. No wonder pantry cars on trains are so dismal, the bathrooms in even first class air-conditioned Rajdhani trains unusable, and public lavatories a stinking mess.

That is why, commendable though it is, the campaign to invoke the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act to sanitize hotel and restaurant kitchens faces virtually insurmountable obstacles. The sophisticated can plead George Orwell’s claim that the more expensive the restaurant in London and Paris, the more grubby its catering, and his observation that waiters in a particularly fashionable restaurant pulled knives and forks out of their trouser pockets. As it happens, anti-hygiene jokes are also smart among the elite, and the Bengali saw about the best sweets being knit in the moira’s sweat has a cosmopolitan equivalent. They used to say that Cairo’s old Shepheard’s hotel, playground of monarchs and millionaires, employed only chefs with hairy chests on which the tastiest rissoles could be rolled.

But insects or bacteria in the kitchens of the nine establishments that were raided last month are not a reflection only on the lowly people who work in them. The reflection is on proprietors, managers and clientele who are not outraged because they do not maintain a higher standard in their homes. No one turned a hair one evening many years ago as I watched a mouse nibbling at the carpet in the bar (long gone) of a premier hotel. No one minds the roaches crawling around the pantry regions of our best clubs. No one is bothered that pavement food stalls must cause every kind of gastric disorder.

Thanks to the politicization of everything, one instinctively looks for the hidden reason for apparently constructive actions. The cleanliness drive is especially suspect because a phony concern for hygiene provided a handle against MacDonald’s and KFC. When an outlet was closed because three flies had been glimpsed in the kitchen, few recalled Morarji Desai’s lunch for Jimmy Carter when a waiter leaned forward and with thumb and forefinger picked up a dead fly on the tablecloth between the prime minister and president. The incident caused no furore; no one thought to ask whether the waiter washed his hands before carrying on serving.

The present mini-crusade may not be similarly biased. Places that take our money must, of course, be compelled to give good value. But who is to do the compelling? Or ensure that guilty establishments do not bribe their way out? One reason why the campaign has aroused so little public enthusiasm is that it goes against the grain of national values. Another is that the streets and pavements of Calcutta, even the interior of municipal headquarters, do not inspire people to take the concern of the health authorities at face value.


The retired chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court, Ranjit Singh Narula, tells me as gently as he can to give up drinking. He is a gentle person, he does not disapprove of me except for my addiction to hard liquor. Despite my assurance that I have never been drunk in my life (I am 87, a few months older than Narula), he insists it is a bad habit forbidden by the Sikh faith. As proof, he gave me an article written by Professor Pyara Singh Padam entitled “Sharab”. The learned professor quotes several Sikh gurus who have condemned drinking but admits it is not forbidden in any of the codes of conduct (rahatnamas) as is the intake of tobacco in any form. He also rues the fact that despite the gurus strongly censuring it, Sikhs are about the hardest drinkers in the country. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s brandy was specially prepared by the Hungarian doctor, Honigberger, who also mixed gunpowder for the Maharajah’s artillery.

The word “sharab” is derived from the Persian “aab” for water, “sharr” for mischief, hence, the water of mischief. Prophet Mohammed condemned it; the Quran denounces it as haraam — unlawful, but holds out a promise to the faithful that they will have plenty of it in paradise with houris thrown in. Almost all my Muslim friends, men and women, Indian and Pakistani, can’t wait to die and enjoy their drinks in heaven.

They may ask:

Jannat mein ja kar tahooran peeogay

To yahaan peena kyon gunaah ho gaya?

Vahaan hoorein milney ka hai hukum,

Yahaan kyon Zinah ka gunnaah ho gaya?

(If drinking will be legal in paradise

Why is it declared on earth a crime?

If virgins are provided in paradise Why is womanizing on earth declared a crime?)

Hinduism has an ambivalent attitude towards drinking. Madira, sura, or somras were the ingredients of the cocktail the gods churned out of the ocean. Ancient Sanskrit texts list 11 kinds of hard liquor of which three were the top favourites of our ancestors: one distilled from the mahua flower (Madhuca indica), one made of honey like the English mead and one made from gur. These were often offered to the gods. Some yogi orders prescribe the use of liquor to enhance mystical experiences.

Wine is used in Jewish and Christian religious rituals. It is forbidden by Jain and Buddhist religious tenets. However, the love of liquor overcame all religious taboos and attempts by governments to enforce prohibition. Neither Bapu nor Morarji Desai succeeded in persuading their countrymen that drinking liquor was harmful and impoverished families. Aldous Huxley rightly pointed out that more people lose their lives through drinking than they do in wars fought for their country, King or the Church.

Drinking in moderation creates social bonding. Drinking to excess creates social problems. A drunk man is a sorry sight. He becomes garrulous and aggressive before he passes out. A woman drinking to excess is pitiable. She becomes maudlin and loses the will to say no to men who make advances. A lady poet summed up her plight:

I hope I drink like a lady,

One or two at the most;

Three puts me under the table,

Fourth puts me under the host.

I envy men who can drink endlessly but never get drunk. One such man was the eminent Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He could drink from morning to late in the night without showing any traces of drunkenness. Another was the calligraphist, Sadqain, who made beautiful floral reproductions of the verses of the holy Quran after putting a bottle of hard liquor in his stomach. As for miserable me, I like two or three in the evening; more makes me groggy. However, I mean to enjoy my modest intake for the rest of my life.

Justice Narula has not given up his endeavour to make me a teetotaller. Being a godfearing and kindly man with a silver-white beard flowing down to his navel, I have no doubt he will have a luxury apartment booked for him in paradise. I am equally certain I will be consigned to the fires of hell. I hope once in a while he will visit me and bring with him as gifts what he disdains: some good liquor and a couple of houris.

Children of a lesser god

Fallen Angels is a shameful and distressing book because it is about the sex-workers of south Asia: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It has revealing photographs of children, both male and female, who have been forced into selling their bodies. Many are pushed into it when they are barely 12 years old, many enticed by pimps with promises of jobs as maid servants and sold to brothels in big cities; they become bonded labourers of kothawali madams and in their younger-years, service up to a dozen men in one night. By the time they reach 30, they are disease-ridden old women and die before they are 50. One thing that comes through in the text is that poorer the country, the more sordid the tale of exploitation of its poor children. All the countries dealt with in the book are among the poorest 10 in the world. Consequently, Nepal and Bangladesh top the list of child exploiters. Young Nepalese girls stock brothels in Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi. Girls from Bangladesh walk across the porous border, some are absorbed in Calcutta’s Sonagachi, some in Mumbai’s Kamathipura, the remaining find employment in Karachi’s brothels. Pakistan and Sri Lanka cater to pederasts.

In Pakistan, lusty men prefer young boys to girls; foreigners inclined the same way find cheaper outlets in Sri Lanka. Then there are open-air whore-houses along all major highways where truck-drivers break journey for the night at dhabas, which besides having tandoori roti, daal-gosht and desi sharab, have women to share their charpoys. So HIV and AIDS is carried across the length and breadth of our countries.

The book is not available in bookstores, for reasons only comprehensible to the publisher, Pramod Kapoor,of Roli Books. You can place your order for it and any bookseller will get it for you. At the same time, Pramod wants it to be publicized: so that people concerned take the trouble of acquiring it. This may be a clever sales-gimmick to attract the prurient. They will be disappointed because there is nothing titillating in it — only shame-inspiring.

Prostitution exists in every country of the world including the richest, like the United States, Canada, England, Germany, France — name it, it has it. But with us it has touched unheard depths of degradation. It is time we realized we cannot stamp out prostitution. If legalized, it can prevent exploitation of underage girls, eliminate pimps and reduce harassment and blackmailing by the police.

There are no refugees here

A Pakistani girl from Karachi on a visit to India with her school mates was rung up by her mother and asked how she was enjoying her trip to Bharat. “Very much”, replied the girl enthusiastically: “We spent a few days in Delhi and saw the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort. Then we went to Agra and saw the Taj Mahal. Now we are in Lucknow. Mummy, this city is like Karachi; it is full of Mohajirs.”

Her mother explained, “Beti, they are Mohajirs (refugees) in Karachi but in Lucknow they are Luckonovis.”



The coming

Last October, when a callow 18-year-old from Chandigarh tore the top-class Australian bowling attack apart in the ICC knock-out tournament in Nairobi, he was immediately hailed as the new great kid on the block. For a cricket-crazy nation shamed and stunned into collective despair as some of its most enduring sporting icons faced a slew of match-fixing allegations, the aggressive abandon and the joi de vivre of the lefthander came like a dose of life-giving ambrosia. Yuvraj Singh became the latest poster boy of Indian cricket.

But in the next 10 months as he faltered and failed regularly under the crushing weight of a country’s expectations, the Punjab batsman saw himself standing on the other side of acclaim. What was seen earlier as ice-cool temperament was now labelled as sheer callousness. What was first hailed as adventurous strokeplay was now condemned as totally irresponsible. His attitude and commitment to the team’s cause was now under scrutiny. The cute pin up had turned into the favourite whipping boy.

However, last Wednesday, as he ran a punishing brace off the last delivery of the Indian innings in the do-or-die league game against Sri Lanka and finished 98 not out, the tall batsman seems to have exorcised some ghosts of the past and shut up most of his critics. Yuvraj’s match-winning knock came at a time when most fans were on the verge of switching off their television sets in despair as India tottered at a hopeless 38 for four and stood only a few wickets away from an early flight home. But, for the second time in his brief but tempestuous career, the teenager came up with an innings of class and character to keep his team in the reckoning for the big prize. This was Yuvraj Singh’s second coming.

“To come in and perform the way he did needs more than talent — it requires the ability to excel under pressure conditions,” said former Test opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth in his column Blazing Away. Banishing the ghosts of failure that had haunted him since Nairobi, the southpaw played a more controlled innings than ever before.

He reached 50 in Nairobi off a mere 47 balls; in Colombo, he took 67. The Nairobi 84 had come off a mere 80 balls, the latest knock took him 110 balls. In the African country, he had struck 12 fours, in Sri Lanka it was only half the number, though the young gun had a six to compensate. The dasher had learnt to control his natural instincts and play the way his team needed him to.

But beyond statistics, the innings was also a testament to Yuvraj’s true grit. Agonised by cramps caused by the strength-sapping humidity, the teenager continued to run hard. When he collapsed on the ground in agony after the innings was over, it was also a thumbs down to those who had questioned his commitment.

But the Punjab batsman has to thank his captain Sourav Ganguly for reposing limitless faith in his abilities, even at the cost of making enemies for himself.

Ganguly had earned the selector’s ire by playing the middle-order batsman as the opener in the first two matches of the tri-series though he had specifically asked for Amay Khurasia for the same job during the selection meeting. Without Ganguly’s backing, Yuvraj might have had to work much harder to make a comeback in the team and find a place in the playing eleven.

His father, paceman Yograj Singh, never got a second chance after failing to come good in the lone Test match he played against New Zealand in 1981.

Having his own dreams of making it big cut short, Yograj had harnessed his frustration into a passion to make his son succeed in the same game. No wonder, when a young Yuvraj walked home after winning gold in the under-14 speed skating championship, his father snatched the medal and flung it away. Yograj couldn’t bear the thought of his son playing any other game than cricket.

After the successful Kenyan safari, as Yuvraj kept failing time and again with the bat, the critics started sharpening their knives. Even his brilliant fielding could not stop the tongues from wagging. “Like father, like son,” went the murmur. After all, it was the allegedly “wrong attitude” and “lack of discipline” that had seen father Yograj fall short of big time success.

A generation later, the same phrases were being hurled at the son. There were many who celebrated his being dropped for the Zimbabwe tour even though Ganguly had requested the selectors to give him another chance.

It was, perhaps, destined that Yuvraj would bounce back in Sri Lanka. After all, it was in the island nation that he had first caught the public eye during the under-19 World Cup last year. Then, he had smashed a half-century in 20 balls against Australia and won the player of the championship prize.

his time, the island’s slow tracks has helped the Punjab teenager claim eight wickets with his limited left-arm orthodox spin. “If he bowls standing up on his toes rather than bending while he delivers the ball, he can be a better bowler,” says former test spinner Maninder Singh. Few know that Yuvraj had started out as a left-arm medium pacer but gave up due to back trouble.

His critics aver that success came too easy to the Chandigarh DAV college arts student. Unlike many others, he didn’t have to prove himself for years in the domestic circuit.

The national call-up had come almost casually following a few Ranji games and a short stint with the National Cricket Academy. And just one blazing knock had earned him a multi-million commercial endorsement contract.

It was said that Yuvraj — who loves watching Preity Zinta movies and eating kadhi chawal — was spending more time giving interviews than on the batting crease.

Perhaps, there is a hint of jealousy there. But also a grain of truth. For there is no denying that Yuvraj is far from being a finished product. Former first-class cricketer Venkat Sundaram feels that the Punjab lad needs to tighten his defence. “He plays away from the body on the off-side,” says Sundaram. Also, his movement of the feet leaves a lot to be desired. And, he still looks far from confident when facing quality spinners like Muthiah Muralitharan.

No surprise national selector Madan Lal feels that “Yuvraj is maturing but still needs to learn a lot.” Even Maninder believes that “he still has a very long way to go.” Yuvraj Singh would do well to remember that.



The knife and the tiara

Sir — People will go to any lengths to have the world at their feet. Or so it seems when you look at the current Miss Venezuela who went under the knife for three operations during her “physical preparations” for the Miss World pageant (“Secret of the sizzlers: surgery”, July 31). It is indeed sad to see that the beauty myth is still so prevalent that women agree to be operated on to win a mere award. Till mega-corporations like Ford, Elle and others discontinue their marketing of the image of the “perfect woman” through commercials and pageants, it seems we must resign ourselves to women falling victim to the demands of beauty.

Yours faithfully,
Sadashiv Ghatak, Mumbai

House proud

Sir — The West Bengal premises tenancy bill was passed by the legislative assembly in 1997. The president of India assented to it in December, 1998. The government of West Bengal notified on July 10, 2001, after over two years. There is an impression that the provisions of the new act only protect the interest of the houseowners. The tenants, especially shopkeepers, will be forced to shut down their business because of this act. Some traders of the state also organized a 24-hour trade bandh to protest against it.

The protesters apprehend that five years after the death of a tenant, his spouse and children will be ousted by the landlord. Shops operating in rented buildings will have to be shut down. However, section 2(g) of the act reveals that after the tenant’s death, his wife, son, daughter, parents and widow-daughter-in-law are entitled to enjoy the rights of tenancy for the next five years. Thereafter, “they shall have the right of preference for tenancy in a fresh agreement”. Also the wife of the deceased tenant can stay on as tenant till her death. In case of premises rented out for non-residential purposes, “the same proviso shall apply mutatis mutandis”.

There should be an amendment to the section to the effect that only if the spouse or legal heirs of the shopowner tenant run the business themselves instead of selling, leasing or transferring the business to a third party, they can retain their rights of tenancy. Third and fourth party shopowners are flourishing in peace all over Calcutta, while the landlords have had to give up all hope of reclaiming their premises.

Sections 2, 10(1), 13, 16, 31, 36, 37 also protect the interest of the tenants. Under sections 27 and 28, the landlord can be penalized and fined for violating various provisions.

Houseowners are often old and superannuated people, even widows, whose sole source of income is the house rent. The tenants are quite often found to take advantage of this and default on their payments, knowing full well that the legal procedure is protracted and troublesome. Shrewd tenants sometimes deliberately start litigation to harass the landlord, while the latter must go on paying taxes to the corporation to save his premises.

The cost of repair and maintenance has gone up by leaps and bounds. Tenants do not share even a part of that cost. Houseowners are understandably reluctant to let out their premises, which only increases the housing problem.

A good thing about the act is section 42, which makes it mandatory for a litigation to be finalized within six months. It is erroneous to think that the act is pro-landlord. The act may be enforced and its shortcomings may be suitably amended in due course.

Yours faithfully,
B.P. Saha, Calcutta

Sir — Certain issues were not considered or were perhaps ignored while drafting and passing the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act,1997, as an amendment of the erstwhile act.

The act includes a provision by which a landlord can evict a tenant on grounds that the tenant proves to be a nuisance to his neighbours. Such a provision ought not to have been included as it should be applicable to anyone, irrespective of the offender’s status as landlord or a tenant.

Besides, there must surely be other laws which take care of the right to peaceful living. If a landlord is guilty of committing a similar offence, does this act have any corresponding provision under which the landlord could be evicted from his dwelling place?

The act does not seem to have a provision by which an erring landlord who fails or refuses to provide basic amenities like water supply can be penalized by being debarred from exacting rent. Legislators ought to consider these issues and introduce further amendments before enforcing the act.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Chanda, via email

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