Thursday, December 20, 2007


Yesterday my wife and I took a trip to Sheoraphulli to invite my aunt, Chhotomashi to my daughter’s wedding. Sheoraphulli is about 50kms from my home in Kolkata, in the very heart of Hooghly district. Winter in Bengal is charming with a wee bit of a sniff in the air. The Delhi road as it separates itself from NH6 is frightful and the jars we received prompted us to take a bladder halt at a petrol station. The toilet was not very clean and not very dirty but served its purpose.

We went unannounced and were graciously received by my Chhotomashi in her majestic house on the Ganges. They don’t build such houses any more. She is nine years younger than my mother and stays with the family of her younger son. She lost her husband a couple of years ago to old age.

Munna, her daughter in law, is a delightful woman and a wonderful conversationalist to boot. She regaled us by telling various stories of the happenings at Sheoraphulli. My Chhotomashi is no longer her ebullient self; age has mellowed her. She was in her bedroom reclining, and nursing a sprained ankle. Her eyes had a visionary look and I deeply pondered what those eyes had beheld in the vanished yesterdays. Life had not been easy to her; her husband being a man of the world and she had mostly confined herself to household chores and rituals.

These two women were very pleased to hear about our daughter’s wedding to be solemnized next month, and the necessary questions regarding the groom and his family were asked and replied to.

What struck me most was that there was no friction in the atmosphere at all, and for once the Dowager Princess gave the impression that she was genuinely happy with our presence. She promised to make it to the wedding, health permitting. We politely refused to have lunch at her place and had tea and a few sweets instead.

After spending more than an hour, we took leave of our ancient relative and headed for home. We pray that she lives for a thousand years and a few years more


This is the letter I wrote to the editor of The Statesman Kolkata today. But first the original article and then my letter.

Leading by examples It never ceases to amaze us how fact could be stranger than fiction. A news item, published in a section of the Press recently, profiling one Kabir Chowdhury of Berhampore in West Bengal might have escaped the attention of many readers. But those who had read it were astonished to find striking resemblances between the religious outlook of the fifteenth century holy man Kabir and that of his present day Bengali namesake. Kabir’s followers believed that he was born to a Brahmin widow and brought up by a Muslim weaver. Deeply religious since his childhood, Kabir followed in the footsteps of his foster father to eke out a living. Soon he became the chief disciple of the great religious leader Ramananda. History idolises him mainly as a man who preached that there is no difference between Hinduism and Islam, and worked relentlessly for harmony between the two religions. Kabir Chowdhury too is a born Hindu. A shop owner, he seems to have taken a leaf from the book of his historical predecessor and follows his words and deeds in letter and spirit. He offers both puja and namaz in temples and mosques, fasts during Ramzan, and takes part in all the religious festivals of the two communities epitomising a secular society. Contrast him with the current crop of Indian politicians and you will simply shrink in chagrin. Chowdhury is no politician. Nor does he nurse a political ambition. But he believes, as do all great teachers and leaders, examples are better than precepts. “My life is my message”, said Gandhiji. And indeed it was. He preached non-violence, and he practised it in his daily life. He wanted us to be truthful for he himself was a worshipper of truth. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India, reads the two scriptures ~ the Holy Koran and the Gita ~ with equal religious fervour. One can argue politics was never Dr Kalam’s cup of tea ~ it was thrust upon him. But inspired by the Father of the Nation, he too tries in his modest ways to reflect his own words and ideals through his deeds. Both Gandhiji and now Dr Kalam are much above what the word “secular” denotes or “connotes”. They did not have to claim that they were “secular”. But today’s politicians have to: they have to blow their secular trumpet every now and then. All for votes! In fact, there is a scramble among political parties to prove their secular credentials. Putting on a secular mask they would shed tears over the perceived woes of the minorities. Thanks to them, secularism has turned into a clichéd concept. Much to their horror, political parties have now woken up to the fact that their secular pretension is not paying off. So they are pressing for the reservation of minorities in government jobs and educational institutions ignoring the Supreme Court cap. The Buddhists, the Jains or the Christians, however, are not “minorities” to them, for numerically they are minuscule. How many votes can they fetch? So for the moment they can be sidelined! A section of the intelligentsia too joined the secular bandwagon. They supported the ban on Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, denounced Taslima Nasreen for her apostasy and demanded withdrawal of her work Lajja from the market, but they found great creativity in the distorted pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses in paintings and novels! The word “secularism” has helped the career graph of many a politician swing dramatically upwards. At a time when most of our national parties went politically bankrupt and were desperately looking for issues to fight elections with, secularism became the anchor of their political agenda. In the aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition, political parties vied with each other to hijack secularist issues from each other. The detractors of secularist forces have incorporated a new term for this brand of politics ~ “pseudo-secularism”. They say that secularism has come to mean minority appeasement. But neither does it mean playing the temple card. It is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black! Both the practitioners of “minoritism” and “majoritism” have one thing in common ~ they exploit religious sentiments of the people to the hilt for their own survival. Politicians and intellectuals would do well to learn a lesson or two on secularism from an ordinary man like Kabir Chowdhury. Here is a devout secularist amidst fundamentally secular humbugs and demagogues. Leaders should lead by examples and not by empty slogans.(The author teaches English at Durgapur Institute of Advanced Technology & Management,

The Editor
The Statesman


The two leaders mentioned by Ardhendu Chatterjee in his article ‘Leading by examples’ in yesterday’s Statesman, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam were the beneficiaries of an exquisite education of the highest degree. In addition, Mahatma Gandhi was a staunch follower of Leo Tolstoy and his concept of ‘service to mankind’ as the bedrock of religion. These two Indians are humanitarians first and politicians, as we understand the word, later. However, one need not offer prayers and namaz or maintain a month- long fast to prove one’s secular credentials. ‘Love thy neighbour’, an exhortation preached by all religions, if followed in letter and spirit, more than suffices to heal the sufferings that flesh is heir to, in these troubled times of ours.

Thanking you


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The letter I wrote to the editor of the Statesman

But first the original article and then my letter

Ignorance the worst enemy

Muslim majority countries suffer from severe economic sclerosis because, most scholars believe, they pay little attention to educational and scientific development, writes HARUN UR RASHIDWithin the Islamic world of about 1.4 billion people, disparity between rich and poor is stark. The leaders of the Islamic community have not been able to rescue many of them from oppression and humiliation.About the Islamic community, former Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr Mahathir Mohammad at the OIC summit in KL in 2003 said: “Some believe that poverty is Islamic, sufferings and being oppressed are Islamic. Some preach that the world is not for us. Ours are the joys of heaven in the afterlife. All we have to do is to perform certain rituals, wear certain garments and put up certain appearance.”President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan at a seminar in 2002 expressed critical comments on Islamic community. He stated that the Islamic world was: “The poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unenlightened, the most deprived and the weakest of all the human race.”Whether these statements of Muslim leaders are correct or not, it provides food for thought for the Islamic world.We live in a war-torn world. We live in an unequal world. We live in a world where 15% per cent of world’s population of rich non-Muslim countries hold 80% per cent of the world’s wealth. Non-Muslim G-8 countries have 60% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. The aforesaid rich countries are becoming richer day by day. Why do they become rich? Does the Islamic world seriously think about the causes of its current plight?Although the Muslim world may control 60% of the world’s known oil reserves, its gross GDP stands at $1,200 billion, a paltry sum compared with Germany’s $2,700 billion and Japan’s $5,600 billion Muslim majority countries suffer from severe economic sclerosis because, most scholars believe, they pay little attention to educational and scientific development. For example, it is reported that Greece, a backwater country of Europe, publishes more books annually than the entire Arab world. What does it signify? It demonstrates that education and pursuit of scientific knowledge is at the bottom in the Islamic world. How many Muslims get Nobel prizes in medicine, physics, or chemistry? What the Islamic world needs is the self-assessment as to why this pitiable situation has developed. It seems that whenever serious critical self-examination is done by some Muslim authors, they are not welcome in their own Muslim-majority countries. As Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Alexander Pope in Essays on Man wrote: “The study of mankind is man.” All these sayings tell us one thing, that is, self-examination. Regrettably, envy and self-denial tend to stand in the way of self-examination. We tend to blame others for the situation. We should take a look in the mirror rather than blame others. Some observers say there is an Islamic code of silence among most of the Islamic scholars. The early history of Islam is so evocative that that Muslims have felt compelled to take strong political and moral positions on the side of this or that party to the conflict, plagued in the early days of Islam.History has it that the Battle of Camel (656 AD) was fought between two Muslim forces where about 5,000 Muslims were killed during the battle. Many Islamic historians hold the view that the Battle of Camel was a flagrant violation of the fundamental Islamic tenet because Muslims fought against Muslims.There is a view that in early Islamic history, four divisions in the Islamic ummah appeared. These were Shi’ia, the Khawarij, or seceders who regarded any authority in the ummah other than their own to be illegitimate, the Mutazilah who isolated themselves from political life altogether and Murji’ah, who withheld judgment regarding the ultimate fate of all parties to the conflict that led to the assassination, leaving it to Allah to judge on the day of final reckoning.The purpose of indicating the divisions within the Islamic ummah is to highlight the difficulties faced by Muslims in consolidating the spirit of brotherhood.Ideas and beliefs change over time and they are made of a variety of strands of thought and multiple interpretations. Therefore, the solution to the ills of Islamic society cannot be the same. As they say, one size does not fit all. The Muslim world is severely fractured along ethnic lines ~ all having very different views on Islam and the world. Muslims include a variety of individuals, extending from China to the US, from the oil-wealthy Middle East to Africa. It demonstrates that Islamic ideology is not uniform or rigid. A modern state is an entity of multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-linguistic people, and religion has been separated from the governance of state in western democratic process under the Treaty of Westphalia. Some say that the industrial revolution took place in Europe because of unfettered intellectual inquiry and empiricism that was promoted.Currently, even the sovereignty of a state has been diminished by economic globalisation. World history at the 21st century is at a turning point: one era is closing down and another is opening up. The two great developments of modern time ~ growing demand for popular political participation and the Islamic resurgence ~ have come together, creating new realities that affect Islamic ummah and participatory democracy.A major issue in democratisation of Islamic communities is whether or not Islamic scholars and leaders have successfully made the transition from listing “democratic doctrines of Islam” to creating coherent structures of Islamic democracy, that are not simply reformulations of western concept of democracy. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey are examples where democracy and Islam co-exist.Across the Muslim world, governments and Islamic community grapple with issues of democratisation and equality of rights between men and women. Despite commonalities of religion, differing national contexts and identities give rise to a broad spectrum of political systems, reflecting the multi-faceted relationship of Islam to the state.If the current predicament of the Islamic ummah is to be lifted, there is a view that the ummah cannot ignore these developments in the political process and the Islamic doctrines have to be interpreted in the light of time-place.It is argued that Muslim majority states must be built upon representation and political participation and the challenge is one of power-sharing and inclusiveness, creating conditions that will allow political pluralism. Another matter that is relevant in the contemporary world is the rise of militant Islam. Pseudo-Islamic extremism and violence have distorted and warped the image of Islam. The extremist have hijacked Islam to meet their narrow ends.The pseudo-Islamic extremists argue that the solution for advancement of Islam lies in going back to “the basics of Islam” ~ as interpreted by them. The writings of controversial Islamist, Syed Qutb, an Egyptian, hanged by the Nasser regime in 1966, have influenced many of the contemporary radical militants. The extremists found followers amongst the young urban poor who are unemployed and suffer from deprivations. Another probable reason of militancy is arguably the deficit of democracy, that is, lack of participation of people in running the governments in the Middle East, and the alternative strategy returning “back to the basics” of Islam has been packaged in an uncomplicated manner that has gained popularity and influence among youth and ideologues.What is often overlooked is that the Islamic world is in an uncertain position in the 21st century. There are at least two groups ~ supporters of orthodox interpretation of Islam and supporters of moderate and tolerant version of Islam. The strength of the debate between the two is likely to determine the future of Islam.Some suggest that moderate Muslim majority states may spread the view of peaceful and tolerant Islam in democratic society as against the version of orthodox Islam that is hell-bent on establishing a kind of regime in the name of Islam that goes against the root of Islam.The Islamic world has enough resources and must rise from the slumber and show that Islam can be a boon to humanity.nThe Daily Star/ANN(The author, a Barrister, is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva)

The Editor
The Statesman


Harun Ur Rashid in his writeup ‘Ignorance the worst enemy’ in yesterday’s Statesman has raised a pertinent question: ‘how many Muslims get Nobel prizes in medicine, physics or chemistry?’ It bears recall that the only Pakistani ever to have received the Nobel Prize was declared a heretic, a non-Muslim and hounded out of his country as he belonged to the Ahmaddiya sect. It is indeed an irony that in oil rich Saudi Arabia, which incidentally is a firm ally of USA, even today a woman victim of gang rape is sentenced to two hundred lashes while a thousand times more liberal and progressive Iraq under Saddam is pulverized to smithereens by Uncle Sam. Every religion has a well-entrenched concept of Utopia: the justest, the most honest, the most honourable and the most pious society on Earth. For the Christians it is the early congregation in Rome during the rule of Caesar Nero, for the Muslims it is the society prevalent in Mecca during the longevity of the Prophet and for the Hindus it is obviously the Ram-Rajya. It is no wonder that the supporters of orthodox interpretation of Islam wish to harp back to the long bygone era that has been etched so fervently on their souls.

Thanking you 19th December 2007



That the presiding deity of Western Medicine or Allopathic Medicine is Æscalupius is well known. However even the great Æscalupius had a teacher is a fact not so well known. If ever a teacher is to be judged by the quality of his students the person I am going to eulogise now stands head and shoulders above the rest. His very birth was wonderful and needs recounting for the strangeness of the phenomenon.

It happened long ago when our world was quite young. Cronus, the father of Zeus, was the lord of the Universe and resided at Mt. Olympus with his consort Rhea. As was his penchant, Cronus snatched a few moments of lechery in a remote corner of a remote island, by lying with a young maiden Philyra, far away from the gaze and glare of Rhea. Little had he reckoned with the wrath and tenacity of a woman who, knowing the philandering ways of her husband, felt herself cheated. Cronus was surprised in the act by his wife Rhea and he immediately transformed himself into a stallion and galloped away.

Such was the outcome of many illicit love affairs in those days; similar is the outcome of many illicit love affairs nowadays.

It is not known what took place between the two women, Rhea and Philyra for the former was neither a harridan nor a rantipole and the latter was a greenhorn in such matters, but in the fullness of time Philyra gave birth to her son, half human and half horse, the celebrated centaur Cheiron. Cheiron being the son of the chief of the gods was immortal; and as he grew up he learnt many useful arts like the arts of healing and resurrection, warfare in all its forms and was considered exceptionally wise and, unlike other centaurs, very well behaved; sterling qualities indeed to be a teacher.

The list of Cheiron’s students reads like the Who’s Who of ancient heroes.

The most formidable of them all was Hercules who was the strongest man who ever lived. He rid the world of monsters and prodigies; and performed the twelve labours for the benefit of mankind. After his death Hercules was deified and now lives on Mt. Olympus.

As already mentioned Æscalupius was another of his students, and being of divine parentage, was immortal. It was said he knew the esoteric art of resurrection: to make the dead come alive. That he overdid his expertise is well documented and Pluto, the Lord of the Underworld complained to Zeus that Æscalupius was cheating him of his subjects on being bribed with gold! Modern practitioners of Allopathic Medicine may take heart: that a corruption charge was laid against the very god of Medicine. Zeus promptly wielded his thunderbolt and reduced him to ashes.

Achilles the supreme hero of the ILIAD, the Trojan War, learnt his ropes at Cheiron’s feet. Achilles was invulnerable except at his heels where the waters of the obnoxious river Styx failed to touch him when his mother Thetis dipped him into the river. That Alexander the Great carried a copy of the ILIAD on his voyage of conquest through Africa and Asia speaks of the reverence that the Greeks had for the poet Homer and the hero Achilles.

Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, was trained by Cheiron. The Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece, an everlasting emblem of supernatural power and theirs was the greatest collection of heroes the world has seen. The wonderful adventures of the Argonauts is a tale worth recounting but that would be digressing a lot from our subject.

The virgin Atalanta who was the only woman among the Argonauts was also a student of this famed centaur. She was a woman of many parts and was an unparalleled runner whom no man could beat. She was the victrix of the Caledonian Boar hunt where everything turned topsy-turvy.

There were others too, too numerous to mention who studied under Cheiron.

The end of Cheiron was a tragedy. Hercules shot a poison tipped arrow at another centaur who was about to ravish his consort and as the centaur lay dying Cheiron examined him and wondered what it was that felled so robust a creature. Suddenly the arrow slipped from his hand and stuck his foot and a festering sore formed, recalcitrant to all treatment. He was in constant agony and wanted to give up his life but being immortal could not do so. Hercules pleaded on his behalf and Lord Zeus graciously resurrected, as a substitute, Æscalupius from the dead and Cheiron was made the constellation Sagittarius.

Incidentally Cheiron is the Greek word for ‘hand’ and is the root of the French word Chirurgery meaning ‘a work done with hands’, which in English translates into Surgery

The simpleton from Kalighat

Let us call him Sunil; it is as good a Bengali name as any. A young promising man in his late twenties, having had a decent education, he stayed at Kalighat where the famous Kali temple of Kolkata stands cheek by jowl with the numerous brothels on the eastern side of the Tolly Nallah. He had a pretty girlfriend and let’s call her Aparna, who was in her midtwenties. They were very much in love and shared more than a few moments of intimacy.

Come October and the wanderlust springs eternal in the Bengali soul. This couple, though unmarried, decided to visit a town about a hundred kilometers from Kolkata, a fabulous tourist spot. They checked into a hotel and had a hectic time journeying to the various attractions that were on offer. By nightfall they were back in the hotel and had a befitting dinner.

It was time for the action to begin. They had sex, as young lovers are wont to do, far away from the prying eyes and nosy neighbours. Sunil, for reasons best known to him, had the whole sequence of intimacy recorded on video. Aparna was not reluctant to go on record exposing her intimate jewels: unlike Britney Spear’s, hers was a well-forested pudendum on display. Not to be outdone, Sunil indulged in sexual pyrotechniques worthy of a Casanova. It was a long drawn out affair traversing a bathroom sequence the following morning.

On coming back to Kolkata, Sunil approached a nearby studio to convert the video into a digital format, which was the studio’s specialty. The studio obliged.

Some months later Sunil had a career interview at Mumbai and he put up in a hotel there. While having dinner at a restaurant the cheeky waiter grinned at him mischievously and said ‘ bara maaza aya sahab, apko blue film mey dekha’ [I enjoyed a lot watching you in a blue film]. Sunil was about to put a juicy morsel of Chicken Tandoori into his mouth when his hand froze in midair and his eyes jutted out from the socket. He hurried to his room and left for Kolkata on the morrow hiding his face, the face of ridicule and infamy. Stupidity worst confounded: he lodged a complaint with the local police station against the studio owner. The leering policemen, it must be said, took serious note of his predicament and the studio owner was brought to justice.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I wrote this letter in response to an article published in the Statesman on the 16th of December by SM Murshed

first the original article and then my letter:-

To you be your way and to me mine’

It is said that Ms Taslima Nasreen has been sequestered from public gaze in Kolkata by a machiavellian sleight of hand practised by the CPI-M government, whose intention is to pander to a fundamentalist Muslim constituency. I need to join issue with the use of the word “fundamentalist” in the debate, for I suspect that its use is designed to lend legitimacy to it. The word is used by indolent wordsmiths who have a vague thought that it has a pejorative sense without quite knowing what that sense is. The word “fundamentalism” is defined in the New Shorter Oxford Dictionary as follows: “The strict maintenance of traditional, orthodox religious beliefs or doctrines; special belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of Protestant Christianity.” Going by this definition, I am a fundamentalist Muslim, for I believe, and practise, the five fundamental tenets of Islam, namely I believe in one God and that Mohammad was his Messenger, I pray five times a day, keep the fast during the entire month of Ramzan, give in charity the prescribed amount of my savings, and I have performed the Haj. So is everyone else in the world who regards himself as a true Muslim.Let us see what Ms Nasreen has said about Islam. We need not, to avoid prolixity, go through all her writings. It will be sufficient if we consider her novel, Dwikhandita, which was the subject of the recent storm in Kolkata. On page 48, she observes that a true Muslim is advised by the Koran not to be a friend of Jews and Christians and furthermore, wherever a non-believer is seen, he should promptly be killed. The Koran has not said any such thing. Two observations have been coalesced into one. They in point of fact allude to two different chapters and are separated from each other by their context. The first part of the observation regarding Jews and Christians will be found in Surah Al-Maida, Chapter 5, verse 51 and reads as follows: “O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”The advice here, based on numerous episodes in the Prophet’s lifetime, is not to seek the protection of Jews and Christians in preference to Muslims. The words were to prove prophetic all through history. In medieval times, Muslims had to fight the holy wars of Christendom, namely the Crusades and in our own times the Palestinians continue to fight Jews for a home of their own in their own homeland and Muslim Iraq has to deal with the terrors unleashed by Mr George W Bush in search of chimerical weapons of mass destruction which, much after the event, are said not to exist. The second part of the observation alludes to the slaying of non-believers wherever and whenever found. A gentleman by the name of Arun Shourie said the same thing some years ago. Apparently, great minds think alike. The allusion is to Surah At-Tauba, Chapter 9. verse 5 of the Koran, which is in the following terms: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them and seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.”This chapter was revealed in the course of battle in which the pagans engaged Muslims after the treaty of Hudaibiyah, which they had made with the Muslims, had been violated by them. Frustrated by repeated violation of treaties in the past, the Muslims decided to fight to the finish. Hence the exhortation contained in the verse. Shades of the Bhagvad Gita in which Krishna urges Arjun to keep on fighting are to be found in this. But Mr Shourie and Ms Nasreen conveniently, and perhaps with malice prepense, overlook the second clause of the verse, according to which the pagans are to be spared upon repentance and upon accepting Islam. But what if they do not accept Islam? The answer is contained in verse 6, which reads as follows: “If one amongst the pagans asks thee for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of Allah and then escort him to where he can be secure: that is because they are men without knowledge.” The answer is that the pagan must not only be spared, but escorted to a place of safety. The supervening verses in Surah Al-Kafirun, Chapter 109 of the Koran may be taken as definitive on this point: “I worship not that which ye worship/Nor will ye worship that which I worship./And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship/ Nor will ye worship that which I worship./To you be your Way and to me mine.” We now see how the words of the Koran are distorted and then rehearsed out of their context. Not content with this, Ms Nasreen then launches a frontal attack on the Prophet’s character on pages 49 and 50. She mentions the wives in his “harem”, alluding to the fact that they were all taken for carnal pleasure. The Prophet first married Khadija when he was 25 years old and she 40. This marriage was happy and lasted 25 years until her death. During all these years, he remained abstemious and did not take any other wife, though the custom among Arabs those days was to take more wives than one. Upon Khadija’s death, he was miserable and lonely. He was persuaded by friends and relatives to marry again, which he did. He then had to fight many battles and each of them took its toll in lives lost, which created a large number of widows with no one to look after them. He proceeded to set a personal example by taking war widows as wives. Next, according to Ms Nasreen, comes the case of his “son’s wife”, whom he married after securing her divorce. Nothing could be further removed from truth. In the first place, the Prophet had no son of his own. He called Zaid, a freed slave, a son and had him married to his cousin, Zainab. The marriage was not successful for various reasons and resulted in divorce. That was a bitter experience for Zainab, who felt done in by the Prophet, who, in recompense, offered to marry her, setting a personal example to show no stigma attaches to the remarriage of a divorcee. This episode is mentioned in Chapter 33, verse 37 of the Koran. The important point to be made in this connection is that the Prophet did not maintain a harem for any carnal pleasure. At no time were there more than four wives, the maximum prescribed in the Koran. The wives were taken in succession in the circumstances mentioned above to set a personal example before asking others to follow suit. With the exception of two, all his wives were well advanced in years, well past the child-bearing age, at the time of their remarriage to the Prophet. Zainab, for instance, was 55 years old. Of course, Ms Nasreen is not expected to know these facts, for she has not studied the Koran. The coup de grace is reserved for the last, when, summing up her exegesis into the life and times of the Prophet, Ms Nasreen concludes with the words: “Eyee holo amader paigambar betar charitra aar taar jobbar arale lukiye thaka allah namer dhoka (such then has been the character of this rascal of a prophet; and concealed within the folds of his raiment is the hoax known as Allah)”. Can the Muslim world be expected to look on with equanimity as mute spectators on this wholly uncalled for, insulting and derogatory remark against Allah and his Prophet?This is not to justify the pyrotechnical display, accompanied by wanton violence and mayhem, to which Kolkata was treated on 21 November. That was sheer hooliganism and the agents provocateurs for it need to be discovered and adequately punished. But this is certainly to demand of the Central, as well as of the state, governments that Muslim religious sentiment, which has been grievously hurt by the animadversions of Ms Nasreen, be adequately addressed and suitable measures taken for assuaging the hurt sentiment. Ms Nasreen has now decided to withdraw the offensive parts of her book which have been discussed above. This proves that either she has no moral fibre or that she herself did not believe in the validity of her views, which were expressed for drawing attention to herself. It has been suggested in some quarters that the CPI-M government, in pandering to the Muslim votebank, whisked away Ms Nasreen to Jaipur, from where she was sent to New Delhi and that is where she now is under the protection of the Central government. It must not be forgotten in this connection that the BJP has espoused the cause of Ms Nasreen, for it has to pander to a countervailing votebank with her frontal attack on Islam.But what is Ms Nasreen's cause denounced by one party and avidly espoused by the other? Freedom of speech say the intelligentsia and the so called intelligentsia. This freedom, circumscribed by restrictions, is guaranteed to all citizens of India by our Constitution. In the first place, Ms Nasreen is not a citizen of India and, in the second, the restrictions mean that the freedom cannot be construed as a licence to attack the religious sentiments of any community. Ms Nasreen is free to exercise her freedom in the country of her birth and upbringing, which is Bangladesh, or in the country of her adoption, but not in India by abusing the hospitality extended to her on a temporary visa.If Ms Nasreen has freedom of speech, so does MF Husain, though it would be heretical to take the two names ~ one that of a third-rate writer and the other that of an internationally renowned artist ~ in the same breath. Where was the voice of our intelligentsia when the artist had to seek exile on foreign shores to escape punishment at the hands of those who found fault with his depiction of some deities? The artist is a citizen of India and he also has the freedom to express himself as he chooses. Perhaps, the difference between the two cases lies in the fact that in the one case Islam was being denigrated and in the other deities of a different denomination. It is sad to think that Indian society countenances these double standards.(The author is a former IAS officer)

The Editor
The Statesman


Contrary to SM Murshed’s view in ‘To you be your way and to me mine’ in yesterday’s Statesman, Indian society, by and large, does not countenance double standards. M F Husain is certainly an artiste of international repute, nay, a maestro; and he is welcome to paint as he pleases, and many of us are unhappy at his enforced exile. Having said that, it is worthwhile to imagine the scenario if he had painted the portrait of ‘you know who’, fully clothed or otherwise, as per the dictates of his conscience. He would have barely lived to see the oncoming sunset!

The withdrawal of the offending portions of her book by Taslima proves that like most of us, she fears for her life. She was coerced and browbeaten by the powers that be, into doing what she did. Ulterior motives need not be read into her action.

If I remember correctly, Gibbon had mentioned those same episodes of the Prophet’s life, which differ very little from Taslima’s version. Was Gibbon, too, deluded?

Thanking you


Friday, December 14, 2007

Move over Maya, move over Jaya

Take notice both of you ladies. Your days as the Prima Donnas on planet Earth are numbered. An woman more vicious, more vindictive and more cranky than either of you is fast emerging in the third world. In short is indeed a maverick.

Never heard of her have you? She is the first lady of Kenya, her Excellency Lucy Kibaki. Married as she is to the President, Mr. Kibaki, she is used to royal splendour and much pampered upon by one and all. It happened during the national day celebration in Nairobi, the Jamhuri.
The master of ceremonies Mr. Francis Musyimi made a terrible gaffe in the presence of high dignitaries and members of the diplomatic corps. He had introduced the President following which he called out the name the first lady. Instead of addressing her as the First Lady Mama Lucy Kibaki he uttered the First Lady Mama Lucy Wambui. Now it so happens that the President of Kenya is secretly married to Ms. Wambui, which he neither confirms nor denies. Polygamy is quite rampant in Kenya and is a privilege surreptitiously indulged in by the aristocracy.

And what did mama Lucy do? She was instantly on her feet and delivered a thundering slap to Mr. Musyumi. Not for her was any restraint. The whole assembly and the myriad photographers saw what took place. There must have been quite a few chuckles certainly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


My letter to the Editor of The Statesman Kolkata today

First the original article and then my letter

Gilded butterflyWhether it be the malcontent or the robust social animal, single women have the time of their lives obfuscating the distinction between being and becoming, writes Arpa Ghosh Society has a thing about single women who end up on the leeward side of the marital ocean and gradually lose their glow and freshness in the way preserves over a time lose their flavour atop shelves of a confectionery. Such women, thanks to the pink rupee, are on the rise. We find them everywhere; in corporate houses, banks, share markets, the entertainment industry, teaching institutions and tailoring shops. Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara tackles the phenomenon of an attractive working woman compelled to stay single due to poverty, family commitment and betrayal in love. Nita's prototypes remain. But another kind of single woman exists: educated, financially secure and possessing a sturdy personality. A third type ~ rich, accomplished, good-natured, pliable, and well-connected ~ remains mystified about its spinster status. Yet others do not marry owing to such congenital diseases as asthma, heart ailment, epilepsy, insanity and gynaecological problems. Also, eligible women suddenly find themselves over the hill buried as they are under a huge corporate workload. The bottomline is there is no "single woman", only single women, each with her set of private demons. The single women in India do not get normal, nourishing, hassle-free sex. Much of their efficiency is hampered because young, redblooded, intellectually active women are deprived of a necessity in life. Dearth of sex could push mature virgins into either of two pitfalls: "eternal waiting", dressing up and behaving like 21-year-olds hoping to get married even when pushing 40; or "premature aging", donning neutral shades and mingling with the wallpaper in their prime in a bid to convince themselves that they do not need sex. Singletons in India who try to solve the problem by engaging in "zipless sex" (Erica Jong's term) almost immediately realise that there is no such thing. Nemesis follows in the guise of unrequited love and expectation, stalkers, blackmailers, irate neighbours (and relatives), abusive wives, hysterical children (of partners), hard-hearted, exploitative lovers and so on. Family ties are still strong in this country and a man caught in the act will inevitably fall back into his cosy slot in the Great Indian Family. State apparatuses like popular fiction, cinema and television serials with their grand portrayals of khandan, parivar and bharatiya sanskar work round the clock to reinforce the hegemonic power of family. So, the single woman is at a disadvantage. Once retribution follows, in the absence of such social buffers as husband, child and in-laws, the single woman finds it difficult if not impossible to salvage her social respectability. NGOs are known to help battered wives. Are they equally keen to come to the aid of single women who take drastic measures to solve the problem of sex? Living in with a bachelor is hardly an option. First, who would be fool enough to live with a man technically free for marriage? Second, as living together denotes a lack of trust in and respect for each other, self-respecting men and women often find it an inconvenient and uncomfortable arrangement. Time hangs heavy in a singleton's life. The average married woman has household chores galore and her husband and children's associations to cater to. The singleton with no such occupation is often overcome by a sense of futility. The more enterprising and creative people use their long leisure hours to propel their careers and hone their talents ~ singing, writing, bonsai and so on. The singleton is also an enthusiastic member of cultural committees and social organisations. Like Chaucer's Wife of Bath most singletons are merry vacationers if they have the money for it. But often in the absence of the conventional family set-up, the singleton falls prey to hypochondria, nervous disorders and depression. A pressing problem is the family. The normal human being lives by planning for the future and working to meet its challenges. For most single women, the future stretches out like a desert bereft of hope and companionship. These women either live with aging parents, who are rapidly losing their vigour, or with married siblings, partaking vicariously of their future, or alone in flats and hostels developing eccentricities. In the absence of spouse and children, these women find it difficult to define for themselves the meaning of family as it exists for married women or even divorced mothers. The single woman, even while struggling to form unconventional relationships associates family with husband and child. A chartered accountant singleton , otherwise competent in solving her personal and professional problems and a dab hand at networking, keeps telling me that a family, run according to the husband's decisions is bound to flourish since a man's knowledge of the world is "superior" to a woman's. Resourceful singletons go slow on their married friends and try to form sororities with other singletons and women with "imperfect" lives ~ childless, battered, divorced, separated, lesbian ~ to sidestep the cul-de-sac of the empty future. The good thing about such associations is that women unionise and help each other; the discouraging element is the atmosphere of misanthropy and bitterness that pervades such sororities. As there is only a nominal number of unemployed single women (unemployment is a luxury that can only be enjoyed by married women today), young, single women usually have more spending power than their married friends. In the present day of consumerism, the married woman spends most of her pin money on her child, and her core money she saves for her child's future. Hence on a day's outing, spinsters outdo married women in splurging. The future may be bleak, but the present with its financial freedom, is rosier for the singleton than it is for the average married woman whose money like her life is no longer her own once baby arrives. A single woman, in the absence of inheritance, has to plan of her future, while a happily married woman can leave such thoughts to her capable and committed husband. A single woman is a covert threat to her married friends. It is best that the unpleasant secret be out in the open. Her body unspoiled by motherhood, a singleton in her prime has a sex appeal missing in her married counterpart. The relationship between a spinster and a married woman friend at this juncture of their lives is usually coloured by a curious mixture of guilt, jealousy and insecurity. A spinster, insecure of her status and sensitive to her biological clock ticking away, often envies her married friend's household, husband and children, hitting out at her with mean remarks about her "submissiveness to the male ego", her "secure future" and so on. If on the other hand, the singleton is gradually getting over her craving for home, husband and child, the tables turn. She gives off an aura of enjoying life to the brim, free from its trials and tribulations. The married woman is often cutting about her spinster friend being "loaded", "heartless" and "uncaring". Whichever way the wind may blow, the relationship between a singleton and her married friend is rarely free from irony and misunderstanding. A wariness and unspoken competitiveness creeps in sooner or later. A spinster's relationship with men is nebulous at its best, thorny at its worst. With the passing years, the singleton finds herself closer to her father who, once he overcomes his anguish and shock, gradually takes prides in her self-reliance, financial soundness and social status. Also, providing "male protection" to his increasingly proud, lonely daughter gives the father a sense of purpose and direction in his own retired life. A singleton finds herself in a twilight zone of patriarchal suspicion and puzzlement even among her own male relatives. Is she an asset to fall back upon when the wife is in her mother's place? Or is she a millstone? Is she an innocent abroad? Or is she capable of taking care of herself? Men, avuncular in their concern and predatory in their stake in her life, are willing to help but only if she concedes her "weakness" and "inferiority". A singleton flaunting wealth, status and connections wreaks havoc on the vulnerable male ego. In their relations with her, men are monitored by their wives. One single woman tells me that soon after her brother got married, she stopped confiding in him as she could sense that the sister-in-law did not like it. The brother is unhappy but cannot remedy the problem. Another singleton recalls how one night when the lights in her flat went off, she approached the neighbour who repaired the fuse. But all the while, she was uneasy as she could sense the wife's irritation. Perhaps the only man of her generation that the singleton is comfortable with is her male colleague. They share the same workplace, the same professional concerns and they grow old together. Daily interaction takes away much of the sexual friction. Over lunch, tea and the occasional dinner, a bond, neither sexual nor kinship but with subtle shades of both, grows between them. Though few admit it, most singletons go to their male colleagues for advice, consolation and encouragement, not overtly ~ oh, no, the single woman is too proud to do so ~ but covertly, in between discussing work and office politics. In some cases if the man is a chauvinist, wolf or romantic, this could flare up into an extramarital affair. But in many cases, male colleagues are jealous of her competence and enterprising nature. Often some men have the bad taste to comment on her "lack" of sex appeal and sexual frustration, hitting below the belt. A sudden flare-up on the part of the single woman in the workplace is regarded as neurosis and hysteria. The same tantrum in a married woman is viewed more sympathetically. A single woman walks on slippery ground with the opposite sex. I am not sure I agree with psychologists who claim that all women have strong maternal instincts. But the majority does. The single woman is no exception. Her deepest sorrow is not that she could not get a man, but that she could not mother a child; offer it her love and protection. Most single women either suppress their maternal instincts to become hard, inflexible social beings or shower their affection on nephews, nieces, children in the neighbourhood, and small, defenceless creatures like kittens, birds and puppies. Adoption is not yet a viable option in this country. The single woman lacks the social infrastructure to adopt a child even if she is in a financial position to give it an average home and future. In the eventuality of her death, the child loses everything. Social acceptance of an adopted child is still so poor in our country that in the absence of the male parent, the child is bound to become insecure and display behavioural problems. For the single woman, nurturing her sibling's child seems to be the only option, a second-best option as double love and hope of future gain do more harm than good to the child who often develops the "little emperor" syndrome. Finally, we come to the mainstay in a spinster's life; her work. Freud believed that unfulfilled sexual desire unleashes creativity. Libido, failing to find an outlet in love channels itself in work. Sex or the lack of it troubles a singleton. But it also propels her to channel her energies to work. A single woman brings enthusiasm and imagination to her work rarely equalled by her married colleagues. For the married woman, office work is often disagreeable, tiresome and repetitive as it eats into her family time. Often, a married woman forgets that she is a professional. Her work takes backseat to her family commitments as she unconsciously looks for ways to play truant. A single woman has nothing to hold her back from giving her 100 per cent to her work. The singleton often becomes a drudge on whom work is piled on relentlessly. Discontent and unhappiness creep in as the single woman senses the discrimination but is too intricately wired into the office juggernaut to do anything about it. The average married woman defines herself as wife and mother in the context of the larger family set-up. Who is the single woman and what has she to show for her life in this result-oriented consumerist world that prioritises becoming over being? Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters forged their identities in the male-dominated literary scene and critics link their artistic excellence to their spinster status. But all women are not as motivated or as richly endowed as these redoubtable spinsters. What about average singletons? At the end of the day, the married woman has an educated son and/ or a marked daughter to show for her labours in this world. The single woman has no such noticeable trophy to flaunt. Despite her efforts to be self-reliant, healthy and honest in her work and relationships, society frowns upon her for failing to fit into neat categories of wife and mother and rarely loses an opportunity to remind her about the "emptiness" of her life. In social occasions and friendly meets, all single women have cringed at spiteful reminders from "well-wishers" about their single status. It is a failure that cannot be forgiven because it challenges set, stereotypical ideas about women. With the growing number of single women in our society, it is time to rethink certain "given" social patterns and categories. (The author is senior lecturer in English, Vivekananda College for Women, Kolkata.)

The Editor
The Statesman


This is in response to Arpa Ghosh’s incisive writeup ‘ Gilded Butterfly’ in yesterday’s Statesman. Indeed the concept of a ‘single woman’ is against the laws of Mother Nature, as it is aptly said that ‘ menstruation is the weeping of the uterus due to the failure of the implantation of the ovum’.
Ms. Ghosh is stretching the point too far when she says that a single woman is a threat to her married friends. Sex appeal in a woman, whether married or single, depends on many factors and a body unspoiled by motherhood is the least of them. By the way who says motherhood spoils a woman’s body? Menopausal mothers are quite often more attractive than menopausal spinsters.

Thanking you


Yudhistir Choudhury


My letter to the editor, unpublished. Firstthev original article anthen my reply.

A living testimony to human endeavour Where on earth have all our libraries gone? Swanky malls, glittering multiplexes, savvy IT hubs and cyber cafes, relaxing resto-pubs with chill-out zones sprouting up all around us epitomise the state of contemporary culture, economic globalisation and consumerism. In the fast-paced world that we inhabit today have libraries become passé? Will the digitisation of books and written material stored in retrieval systems spell doom for the old-fashioned repository of books? If books can be accessed through the worldwide web in the privacy of one’s home or the comfort of one’s workplace, will checking out a book or reference in the library become anachronistic? These are pertinent queries in an Indian scenario where public libraries lie in a state of neglect, rare private collections are by and large dissipated, digitisation is still in a nascent stage and new libraries outside the ambit of educational trusts and institutions are no longer being set up. A library is more than just a repository of wisdom and knowledge. It encapsulates the spirit of peoples, cultures and civilisations. In Asia, as in Europe, libraries were invariably though not always, intrinsically linked to centres of learning and monasteries. The libraries of Nalanda and Vikramsila were very much part of renowned centres of Buddhistic learning. The ravages of time, natural disasters or acts of human vandalism have destroyed libraries all over the world. Defacing books and libraries is a form of repression and when books are banned or censored, fears of fundamentalism, autocracy and fascism resurface in civilised enclaves. Such deliberate acts of vandalism apart, all over India, we are witness to passive acts of violence against books when these lie mutilated, un-preserved or in various stages of disintegration due to wilful neglect or indifference. Such acts of negligence are acts of violence against a past that is indeed symbiotically linked to the present and the future growth of cultures and civilisations. In India, the first public library opened at Esplanade Row in March 1836 under the “proprietorship” of Dwarakanath Tagore who appointed Pyari Chand Mitra as the first librarian. This remained a private one-off phenomenon until the concept of the public library was officially popularised in India by the British in the mid-nineteenth century. For decades, public libraries played a crucial role in the spread of education, information and knowledge. By 1903, when Dwarakanath’s library had become almost defunct, it was given a new lease of life by Lord Curzon who bought its rights and merged it with the East India College Library and other departmental libraries to create the Imperial Library which was then opened to the public. Post-Independence, the library was housed at Belvedere, the residence of the Governors-General, and was renamed National Library. In the presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, public libraries were systematically established for European members and the bureaucracy. Tucked away in some obscure corners of old cities, libraries like the Baghbazar Public Library, Calcutta, or the Connemara Public Library, Madras, or the public libraries of Bombay, are relics of an era when books were the only communicators of knowledge. In independent India, education featured in the State List of responsibilities as a concurrent matter. The Public Libraries Act was adopted by different states at different points of time, Tamil Nadu leading the way by incorporating it as early as 1948, followed by Andhra Pradesh in 1955. In West Bengal, it was adopted in 1979. With a growing population of literate and educated citizens, the Sarva Siksha Abhijan and other literacy missions, documentary knowledge resources still remain relevant in what may today be seen as a predominantly information society. The penetration of public libraries in India is yet to reach a target of at least one government-aided library in each village and district town. In West Bengal, the apex body is the State Central Library that presides over a hierarchy of district level libraries. Several such libraries have become more of text-book libraries catering to students of the area and civic authorities pay scant respect to the upkeep of such institutions. The Jai Krishna Public Library at Uttarpara, for instance, is the only free library run by the state government. Built in 1869 on the banks of the Hooghly by the local zamindar, the library can boast of the best collection of nineteenth century vernacular journals, a collection of 50,000 rare books and manuscripts. Though the Union human resources development ministry releases grants for the preservation of books from time to time, these are hardly adequate for library collections of this stature. The UNESCO defined a public library as a vital force that imparts popular education to one and all by rendering services to all classes of society without discriminating between caste and religion, sex and age, economic and social inequalities. In a very recent welcome move reported in newspapers, the NCERT has appealed to the Union education ministry to mobilise funds so that all schools can have access to their own library collections. In a general environment of rote learning, libraries in schools and colleges can be a veritable life-line to encourage creative thinking and research interests. The technological revolution of the late twentieth century has challenged the manner in which knowledge is documented and disseminated. The creation of online resources and the digitisation of books have made access to information easier and quicker. In instances where access to a public library or research collection is difficult, preliminary information that is only a click of the mouse away is certainly an efficient way of retrieving necessary facts or material. As an equal opportunity resource, the virtual library offers a potpourri of information which, however, is almost impossible to verify, classify or assimilate unless the mind is discriminatory. It is only a trained and discerning mind with a basic level of knowledge that can critically manoeuvre its way through these resources. The cyberspace library perhaps liberates one from the Dewey classificatory system, the symmetrically arranged shelves of libraries and the physical handling of books. Surfing the virtual library yields a plethora of words and images on the computer screen that appear in rapid succession but in no predetermined linear, logical or rational structure. The text may have an authoritative source but this cannot be physically checked, or its corporeal dimension cannot be verified because one is only scrolling up and down to turn the pages on several sites that offer various authentic versions of the same text. This can become disconcerting unless one has recourse to a library where the actual book or versions of a book or manuscript have been archived and can, therefore, be read, consulted and handled in the old fashioned manner. The library and library services all over the world have undergone and are still undergoing immense positive changes. Unfortunately in India the computerisation of libraries and the networking is still largely inadequate. Several crores have been spent for example for building the impressive Bhasa Bhavan to house the National Library collection in Kolkata, but modernisation of services inside the library has not been instituted as yet. And so where does that leave the Book? If one were to reconsider the aphoristic message of Sir Francis Bacon, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested”, one could say that access to the cyber library is tempting for the first two categories which are books to be surfed and skimmed. Reading a book onscreen may need adjusting to a new mobile and volatile medium that does not encourage old methods of study and thought. For books that are to be “read wholly” the seductions of the screen are too distracting. Reading these in “hard copy”, as actual volumes that can be held in the hand and opened at a page allowing the eyes to linger over words and phrases and the mind to concentrate on meaning and thought is a different experience altogether. If a reader knows what he/she is looking for, is able to distinguish between facts and opinions, is quick in discerning reliable sources as against dubious ones, the Internet is a helpful way of retrieving facts, figures and information. But what is most important in the study and pursuit of the humanities and the liberal arts is developing the skills of analysis and understanding, following a line of argument and reasoning and coming to one’s own ethical and moral judgments. Such qualities of mind and thought can hardly be nurtured by the sophistication of modern day technology alone, it would need browsing in a library in close proximity to shelves of books of all shapes and sizes, ranging over different values and interests that sustain the spirit of liberal education and inspire the imaginative faculties of human beings. In this age of information technology, amassing facts has only a limited relevance as this can only be sustained meaningfully on the basis of ideas and interpretations. In the humanities, teaching-learning and research processes will be largely dependent on books and need to be complemented by upgraded library services that have been modernised by technological advancement. The multitude of books being written and disseminated in physical or e-book format will remain a living testimony to human endeavour and enterprise. One may indeed emphatically assert that it is in libraries and through books that our civilisation is going to live on. (The author is Head, Department of English, Presidency College

The Editor
The Statesman


Apropos of Jayati Gupta’s writeup on Libraries ‘A living testament to human endeavour’ in yesterday’s Statesman, the love of books is fast vanishing in our era of globalisation and consumerism. That there has been a paradigm shift in our values can be appreciated by the fact that my nephew was not gifted a single book on his ‘Upanayan’ held this year whereas five and forty years ago I had received a modest collection of books to fill up three shelves! Incidentally it will be worthwhile to know how many students, specially lady students, schooled in the English medium have read ‘Rebecca’ or ‘Fountainhead’, the two books which were frequently read and discussed during my student days. Truly, like Virgo intacta, a Bibliophile is also a rara avis. I fully agree with Ms Gupta that reading an e-book is rather taxing, which I felt to the core while negotiating James Joyce’s Opus Magnum ‘ Ulysses’ on the net, courtesy Project Gutenberg. En passant I may mention that the libraries of ancient Athens, where men like Socrates seeking respite from their shrewish wives found their repose, had a secret tunnel leading to a house of pleasure, a bordello!

Thanking you



Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I had a dog in my childhood. Her death caused me a lot of pain and ever since, I have shied away from keeping a dog as a pet. I still do love dogs, I surely do; and when I come across a dog, it so happens that he invariably wags his tail. I understand that the love is reciprocal. But now I am going to tell you a dog story, pardon me, in fact three dog stories.


Ever wondered who was India’s greatest dog lover? Many candidates will certainly vie for the distinction. I reckon that the erstwhile Nabab of Junagadh was simply the greatest dog lover India ever had. Before our Independence, Junagadh was a princely state ruled by the Nabab. He had an excellent kennel of Dogs, all prizewinners of the Bombay Kennel Club. He was indeed highly enamoured of his cherished collection. When India became independent, the Nabab opted for Pakistan. As Junagadh was surrounded on all sides by Indian territories, Sardar Patel, the the then Home Minister of India ordered him to sign the Instrument of Accession with India. The Nabab was reluctant and the Sardar issued an ultimatum. On the expiry of the time, the Indian Army marched into Junagadh and was on the verge of capturing the Royal Palace. The Nabab, being cornered, fled for Karachi, the nearest city in Pakistan. He had a small plane, piloted by an Englishman, and they boarded the plane, accompanied by the dogs, all forty of them! As the plane was taxiing for the takeoff, a Mercedes car arrived and halted near the tarmac. Four women in bukhas, bundled out and came pleading to the Nabab with folded hands. They were his wives, Begums to be more appropriate, entreating him to take them along to Pakistan. The Nabab coolly replied that there was no room for them and disappeared into the azure sky. He had space enough to carry his dogs but there was no room for his wives!


Max was an Alsatian aged five years. Born and bred in England he was a delight to his owner. But tragedy struck and fate played a nasty trick on Max. He developed what is called a behaviourial problem and bit two children and two adults. The local council implored Max’s owner to seek the help of the dog psychologist’s. In the UK there are psychologists for dogs, cats, horses and even women, women with implants and women without implants. Pardon me I am speaking of Orthopaedic implants like THR and TKR and not about any other implant that women don. So our beloved Max was duly taken to the psychologist and Max being Max, with a behavioural problem, duly bit the psychologist too. It was too much: Max had indeed crossed the Rubicon. Max had now to face a court of justice and the judge promptly ordered a two thousand pound sterling fine on the owner and had Max put to sleep. Rest in Peace Max!


What is it? Did I hear properly? I am not blind, am I? I have never heard of a dog test before. But there was a dog test and it was put to good use by a wise Englishman, who, in those days of the vanishing Empire, graced the chair of Surgery in the Medical College Calcutta. He had his residence-cum-chamber at Park Street. As he was the most reputed Surgeon in Eastern India, he was often asked to adjudicate in controversial cases of compensation. The Calcutta Tramways sent him a candidate who claimed he was totally incapacitated following an accident. The candidate was duly produced in front of Prof. Anderson, for that was the Surgeon’s name, in his Park Street chamber. The candidate had to be literally carried by three of his colleagues and was made to perch rather precariously on the chair. The Professor examined him thoroughly and was confounded, as he was not able to find any anomaly. It was evident that the candidate was unable to stand, leave alone walk. The Professor was at his wit’s end, when he had a superb idea. He got rid of the candidate’s attendants and called for his orderly Abdul. When Abdul answered from within, he asked Abdul, in Hindi, to fetch the dogs. Two ferocious Mastiffs, all growling and sniffing, came rushing in with Abdul holding the leash. The Professor next asked Abdul to let the dogs loose. As Abdul was untying the dogs, the candidate sprang up and rushed out of the room. Such indeed was his incapacity! Prof. Anderson wrote on the Register ‘Dog test done; it was positive: there is no incapacity in the candidate’.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Most Beautiful Woman

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to tell you the story of the most beautiful woman of the Twentieth Century, but on second thoughts I shall tell the story of the second most beautiful woman, as modesty will not permit me to name the most beautiful woman {I was married in 1977} of that era.

Kindly allow me to take you back in time to the middle of the last century, to a country which is very near the South Pole and whose footballers are its greatest ambassadors today. Yes your guess is right. I am speaking of Argentina and the year is 1952.

Argentina was then ruled by a benevolent dictator, if such a nomenclature exists, Juan Peron. His wife, Evita, the first lady was a darling of the masses; not only was she exceedingly beautiful but also was an accomplished singer with a gifted voice. She was highly popular and it was her wont to address the masses as her ‘shirtless children’. She constructed numerous hospitals and playgrounds for the poor.

In 1952 she died of cancer when she was hardly 32 years old. The whole country was shocked and there was a spontaneous outpouring of grief. The funeral cortege left the Presidential Palace, with military honours, traversing the streets of Buenos Aires to be buried in a graveyard some distance away. The funeral procession of Lady Diana comes immediately to mind. The throng crowded the streets to have a last glimpse o the coffin of their departed Evita.

But no one knew that the coffin did not have the mortal remains of the first lady. Then where was the body? It was right there in the Presidential Palace. Juan Peron loved his wife beyond death and was unable to be separated from her. He called the Professor of Anatomy from Cordoba, I apologise for forgetting his name, to mummify the body. It was done in utmost stealth and secrecy, and even the Palace attendants were unaware of the mission. The good Professor took exactly an year to have the body mummified and the flesh retained her living luster.

The best-preserved body in history, as claimed by many, is that of Comrade Lenin in Red Square, Moscow. But they, who were fortunate to have beheld both the bodies were of the opinion that the corpse of Evita was a thousand times better preserved and more lifelike.

But the story does not end here. Six years after her death there was a military coup in Argentina and president Juan Carlos had to flee the Presidential Palace in a private aeroplane. The military junta ransacked the Palace, searching each and every room, when they chanced upon the body. They were totally flabbergasted! It simply couldn’t be true: she was long since dead and safely buried. For identification they chopped off her right thumb and were then satisfied that it was indeed the remains of the erstwhile first lady.

The body was shifted to the national museum and was always under an armed guard.

But the ultimate tribute to her beauty and the ultimate honour to the professor’s genius was paid six years after her death, in 1958, when a top ranking Argentinean general was arrested, prosecuted and convicted for performing necrophilia on the corpse. Necrophilia, incidentally, means sexual violation of a dead woman.

So you agree that she fits the Bard of Avon’s description “age cannot with her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” to a pie.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Unparalleled stupidity: the Amul Macho Ad

What exactly do they take us for? The Information and Broadcasting Ministry at the Centre headed by none other than the old warhorse Priyaranjan Dasmunshi has banned the Amul- macho underwear Ad. Are we all children then? What exactly is offensive there? There are no explicit sex scenes, no paedophilia, no advocacy of designer drugs and no attempt to disturb the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims.

But the Ad itself is a stupendous fit of imagination. I can certainly bet my bottom rupee that it is well beyond the limited I.Q of a Doordarshan voyeur. Dasmunshi should restrict himself to what he loves doing best: to be available at the beck and call of the Dynasty of New Delhi.

As I was saying, the Ad is a gem of imagination. A village belle from the much-maligned Hindi belt of our country ventures to the local pond to wash clothes. Other women in the scene describe her as a newly married bride who had her nuptials the previous night. As she descends the steps to reach the water, we feel poetry in motion. Her gait evokes a lascivious desire in a man’s heart; it is tantalizingly seductive. It recalls the walk of Sakharam Binder’s promiscuous wife in Vijay Tendulkar’s play of the same name and that of Shabana Azmi’s in Mandi.

More provocations are to follow. She takes the underwear of her husband’s in her two hands and stretches it as if demonstrating his erect penis ready for intercourse. The onlookers are aghast. She repeats the procedure twice.

Now she sits down and washes the underwear by scrubbing it with soap. Her movement is slow, gentle and rhythmic. We get a profile and can see that her buttocks are rising up and coming down. It mimics the movement of the male during coitus. I really do not understand why a lady journalist described it as a woman having an orgasm. During a successful intercourse a woman’s thighs goes out and comes in, out and in.

Later on the movements become rapid strokes, as man discharges his semen at the height of ecstasy. The women on the stairs, who are watching this scene and are obviously menopausal, are envying the bride her success at last night’s performance.

Indeed brilliant! And our killjoy minister has the gall to wipe this Ad from the network! Is the minister too menopausal? Here indeed is the idealizing of womanhood. The lady in question is fantasizing an erotic commerce with her husband. She has had the experience the night before and to her it had been simply divine.

But the twist is elsewhere. It is a rare glimpse of a woman fantasizing about the sexual pleasure of a man during intercourse. Men are known to fantasise about the woman of their dreams when having sex but the fantasy of a woman is closely guarded, as if women do not have sexual desires.

When will the blockhead of a Minister will ever understand?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

THEODORA:The juryis out!

Members of the jury, look closely at the woman in front of you. Do not be misled by her status, by her glamour, by the Imperial halo that surrounds her and by the perceived nonchalance of her composure. She should belong where she rightly belongs: the very dustbin of history.

Was woman ever so depraved as we have here? The very stones she treads and the ground she walks upon tremble at the weight of her sins.

Forget for the time being she is the Empress of Rome, ruling the Eastern Empire along with her husband, Justinian. Forget also that she is a formidable member of the Church of Christ and a benefactress of Christianity.

But let us begin at the beginning.

This lady, members of the jury, started her life in humble circumstances. She was born to a bear handler of the circus, the second of three daughters. As he died pretty early his widow remarried and thrust her daughters on the amphitheatre. The eldest daughter Comito had become a prostitute of repute before Theodora entered the stage. Initially she assisted her sister in her profession and as she was too young to satisfy a man properly, she pleased her perverted customers in an abnormal fashion. After menarche, her mother made her talents available to the desirous and soon she mastered the art of pleasing men by using each and every part of her body. The circus goers were indeed delighted to have a woman exposing her front and behind to their lewd and raucous approvals. Beardless boys were her favorites and she took a wicked delight in initiating these novices to the mysteries of fornication.

On many occasions she satisfied ten of the more important citizens of Constantinople in a single night and after wrenching them dry she had commerce with their servants in waiting, about thirty in number. But even after this heavy tryst she remained unquenched.

It was about this time that she made her famous lament of Mother Nature that though she was quite capable of receiving men in the three orifices of her person yet she was not provided with a suitable passage between her breasts to accommodate the male organ.

She frequently became pregnant and had recourse to abortionists to rid herself of so undesirable a state, for her trade would have suffered. Her special act on the stage was to lie nearly naked and her slave used to sprinkle grains on her private parts, which a gaggle of geese would peck to everyone’s wildest gestures. Furthermore her facial muscles were so well trained that men preferred her mouth to her more feminine parts.

Imagine for the moment such a Woman let loose on society. Would any decent man remain free from the grasp of such a vile predator? At the height of her fame she accompanied the man designated as governor to Pentapolis in Africa. But he soon got rid of her, as her sexual desires were too demanding. Left to fend for herself she again took recourse to prostitution and on her way back to Constantinople plied her trade in all the cities she passed through. Truly an international whore!

On her return to Constantinople her luck changed remarkably. Who would have dreamt that a mere prostitute would become the favourite of the most powerful man in the city? It is one of the ironies that Providence occasionally has in store for a man who could have had a chaste and cultured virgin with delightful breasts untouched by male hands, from a noble family of Constantinople, as his wife, fell head over heels in love with a filthy harlot. Justinian, the nephew of the emperor Justin, was deeply involved with her. Initially he had intercourse with her as befitted her trade but later on he raised her among the nobles by which she could visit the forbidden places: the palaces and the imperial gardens.

During her longevity Justinian’s aunt, the Empress Euphemia refused to allow her nephew to marry such an unwholesome creature. But after her death the Emperor Justin, in his imbecility, repealed the long-standing law that forbade a prince to marry a prostitute. It was indeed a matter of time before Theodora and Justinian were united in matrimony. Soon after, Justin passed away and Justinian was declared Emperor.

One of the first acts of Justinian on becoming the Emperor was to establish Theodora as the Empress, having equal power as the Emperor. Ladies and genlemen, never before in the history of Rome had a woman ruled officially. There were innumerable instances of strong women, wives and mothers of Emperors, but they never had any official say in state matters. Imagine a woman who was previously a prostitute sitting in majesty on the throne and a procession of venerable judges, formidable generals, learned divines and worthy foreign ambassadors bowing their heads to her. Could any scene be more ludicrous?

Once exalted to the throne this woman became a despot and it was her favourite pleasure to humiliate and terrorise the nobles and the few that saw through her guise. Pity the man who performed any state duty as entrusted by Justinian without Theodora’s knowledge. She contrived to disgrace him and, occasionally, he just disappeared from sight.

Members of the jury, there indeed is a mitigating factor. Emperor Justinian, her husband, was also a despot and, if some reports are to be believed, he was the Devil incarnate. But they were strongly united in their love of wealth, love of falsehood and an insatiable appetite for revenge.

During her more promiscuous days she had borne a child to one of her lovers in spite of trying an abortion and this child had now grown to manhood in the company of his father who was residing in distant Arabia. On his deathbed, the father informed his son of the story of his birth and the son, after performing the last rites of his father, challenged destiny by visiting Theodora in Constantinople. Theodora gave him a patient hearing in private and recognizing the fruit of her womb, took him into the palace. He was neither seen nor heard again!

The vengeance, the savage vehemence of her spite and anger, knew no bounds. A magistrate who had dared to uphold the law and execute two malcontents on charges of murder faced the full fury of Theodora’s wrath, as they were her henchmen. This worthy man was crucified on the same spot where the murderers were executed, on trumped up charges.

Ladies and gentlemen, should I say more? Volumes can be written on her misdemeanors. But let us not forget that Theodora breathes even today. Some we know of and some we do not. The late Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, who was the aunt of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the wife of his Majesty King Edward the Eighth, was in many ways a similar woman. No, she never prostituted her flesh for money but she was a remarkable performer of the most ancient of acts and her sexual prowess was held in esteem on either side of the Atlantic. Her mouth, too, was more precious than the business end of her birth canal.

We have not assembled here to deliberate a verdict on a woman long since dead and gone. We have gathered in this august hall of justice to understand a vile creature in the garb of a woman who was the empress of Rome and to see how disgusting and catastrophic was her reign. Members of the jury, we shall welcome your verdict with all humility.

Monday, May 21, 2007



What better way to celebrate the 10th of May this year than a dinner at Zaranj’s? It was our anniversary and to remember our thirty years of togetherness, we drove over to the National Museum and Zaranj was just across the corner. A liveried doorman, dressed like a Maharaja of yore, ushered us in. Two cavernous halls greeted us; the Chinese-Thai-Japanese bonanza straight ahead and the North Indian- North West Frontier Mahal just to the right. We opted for the Indian section. No it was not a bazaar not even a shopping mall but a cosy nook to relax and contemplate on the fleetingness of time.

Two smartly dressed stewards ensconced us in our seats, which were adjacent to an ersatz waterfall. It was rather early in the evening and the space wasn’t crowded. We asked for Fish Begum Bahar to start with along with a beer for me and an almond drink for my better half. Succulent bhetkis skewered over fire and then cooked in butter were a delicacy. Indeed a kebab worth the memory and with beer being served in a silver jug the ambience was simply supraterrestrial.

"What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?"
"Strong beer," said I.

"There's a place for everything,
Everything, anything,
There's a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen's wing;
For poison, the bee's sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me."
-Robert Graves

After doing full justice to the Bhetki we chose chicken. The waiter suggested Murgh Omar Khayyam and sure enough it was a delight. Omar Khayyam has an undying reputation; be it his divine poetry, his passion for wine or his mathematics. The dish was none of these three but something equally celestial. Chicken drumsticks barbecued in a coal oven tasted like ambrosia with a dollop of curd-pudhinara sauce. Moonlight dancing was not on the menu but it was the next best thing.

Three decades is certainly a long measure of time. Raising children takes its toll; and the daily grind of existence leaves us with little scope for appreciation of our contributions. Her voice, very silent, very shrill, still evokes the same responses as it deed that summer of 1977.
I've counted the miles to Babylon,
I've flown the earth like a bird,
I've ridden cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
But no such song have I heard
-Robert Graves

The evening was no longer young and the place was filling up fast. There was very little of bustle and the diners were sober like a Jesuit. There were paintings hung on the wall: robust tribesman of the Frontier, majestic farmers from the land of the five rivers and many more. The chef behind a glass cage was busy roasting the kebabs, for all to see and admire.

We were keen to proceed to the main dish of Surkh Korma and Lacha Tawa Paratha. This needed some waiting but it was the crème de la crème. It was boneless mutton, well cut, well cooked and well served with circular ghee- fried bread. We ate to our heart’s delight. Full marks Zarang! The Emperor was not only fully clothed but in State Regalia.

It was time to take our leave and my wife had a Tutti-Frutti for the road. Stepping out we saw the stars were shining in all their glory.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Herodotus is the doyen of historians, the patriarch of Western history. Along with Homer and Hesiod he formed the venerable Trinity [the three Hs] of Greek literature. His history of the Persian Wars is not only enchanting but also a stunning portrayal of gender and sexuality and, not to mention the sexual deviations of that era. Strange as it may seem, the sexual perversions depicted in his history had quite a lasting impact in the rise and fall of the fortunes of various nations at that time. At certain places Herodotus’ narrative verges on the absurd; but for an understanding of our vanished yesterdays, specially the long forgotten Ionia and Golden Greece, there is nowhere else to look.

In book one, also called Cleo, there is the story of Canduales, King of Lydia. Candaules was passionately in love with his wife and considered her the most beautiful woman on Earth. Being bewitched by her beauty he spoke of her to his close confidante and bodyguard, Gyges, extolling the various features of her body and requested him to view her naked. Aghast at so unseemly a proposal, Gyges politely turned down the offer but the King persisted. At last Gyges relented and following his master’s advice hid in the royal bedchamber at night. The Queen, who suspected nothing, disrobed herself before retiring to bed and Gyges who had seen the Queen in her nakedness slunk away. The Queen however had seen Gyges and chose to remain silent for the time being but understood that it was her husband who was behind this mischief. On the morrow she called Gyges to her presence and told him that he had seen what was forbidden for another man to see and now only two courses remained in front of him. He had either to kill the King or to kill himself. With a heavy heart Gyges chose the former, and, aided by the Queen, he murdered the King with a knife while he was sleeping in the Royal bedchamber. Later on Gyges married the Queen and possessed the kingdom of Lydia.

At that time the tyrant, Peisistratos, who had been driven out of Athens earlier by the commons, ruled Athens. He had regained his despotism with the help of a prominent citizen Megakles, and as per the agreement he had to marry Megakles’ daughter. Peisistratos was already married and had grown up sons and not desiring to have any further issue he had commerce with his new wife but not of the usual kind, a fact that infuriated his father-in-law. Peisistratos fearing for his life fled Athens once again but this charismatic individual regained his despotism by guile. Sodomy was not unknown in Athens then.

The Prophetess at Delphi called Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, a mule. A mule is the hermaphrodite offspring of a mare and a male donkey. It signifies a hybridisation; the ovum of a superior female uniting with the sperm of an inferior male. The production of the ‘human’ mule is abhorrent to many. During apartheid in South Africa it was not only unthinkable but also illegal for a black man to marry a white woman, the ‘Othello phenomenon’. The great Mughal Emperor Akbar had legislated that no woman born in the royal family could marry, as she was superior to all other men. Now the mother of Cyrus was a Medean Princess while his father was a Persian nobleman and at that time Persia was a subject nation to the Medes. Thus the Prophetess of Delphi considered Cyrus a mule.

In the Second Book also called Euterpe, where Herodotus describes Egypt in considerable detail there is the strange story of the ‘Deserters’. These deserters were originally soldiers of Egypt, two hundred and forty thousand in number, and were manning a garrison in the remotest southern tip of Egypt bordering Ethiopia. They were on duty for three consecutive years at a stretch and yet they were not relieved. Ultimately they all revolted and transferred their allegiance to Ethiopia. When the Egyptian king personally requested them not to do so which would tantamount to deserting their country, wives and family, one of the deserters approached the King and displaying his virile member assured him that wherever this member stayed they would always have wives and family. How touching and true: for certainly if a man is in possession of youth he can invariably have a wife and family wheresoever he may be.

Herodotus mentions that in Egypt the women passed water standing and the men crouching. I am not sure if he was writing with his tongue in cheek or he had personally witnessed a woman doing so unnatural a thing. Or perhaps, Mother Nature specially endowed women of Egypt in those bygone days and I believe, if such rumours can be believed, one woman of more recent memory was able to do the same. She is a former Prime minister of England; but that is simply preposterous if, indeed, not a calumny.

Elsewhere he states that during his sojourn in Egypt a male goat had intercourse with a woman publicly! Must have been a very interesting sight.

The corpses of the rich and the aristocrats were embalmed soon after death and then stored in a sepulchral chamber. But in cases of women the corpses are handed over for embalming after four or five days lest the embalmers perform an unholy act on the dead body. Thunder of Jupiter! Necrophilia was not unknown to the ancients.

The Egyptians were the first to forbid commerce with women in the precincts of a temple and also to perform proper ablution before entering a temple after intercourse with a woman.

Herodotus mentions the wondrous tale of the Egyptian king Pheros who was struck blind as a divine punishment for arrogantly shooting a spear into the river. For ten years he was tormented by his disease and when the time for his deliverance came he was asked to wash his eyes with the water of a woman who knew her husband and no other. First he made a trial of his wife’s and finding no improvement he tried with all the ladies of the court and after many endeavours he regained his sight. Adultery has never been out of fashion it seems!

Another Egyptian king, Amasis, had married a Greek woman Ladlike but was unable to consummate his marriage. He was however able to have commerce with his other wives. At last, being exasperated, he told her that she was practicing magic on him and would certainly face his vengeance one day very soon. Ladlike, seeing the predicament she was in, prayed to Aphrodite for succour and that very night Amasis was able to have intercourse with her much to his liking. From then on whenever he lay with her he was mighty pleased and Ladlike dutifully sent the votive offerings to Aphrodite.

Cambyses was the son of the illustrious Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. On being King after the death of Cyrus, he wished to take his sister as his wife. As marriage between brother and sister was unheard of, he asked the Royal Judges for opinion. The Judges were in a tight corner and chose to reply diplomatically. They answered that such a marriage was not a custom among the Persians but the King of the Persians was above the Law and was free to do anything. Now Cambyses was free to marry his sister! The Roman Emperor Caligula who had commerce with all his sisters must have read his Herodotus aright.

Reckon no feathers will be ruffled and no eyebrows will be raised when Herodotus’ account of how Darius {Darieous in Greek} became King of the Persians after Cambyses death is narrated. Cambyses, although having numerous wives, died issueless. A non-Persian usurper, Smerdis, seized the throne by treachery. Seven Persian nobles conspired to oust Smerdis. Smerdis and his bodyguards were assassinated in the uprising and power once again returned to the Persians. Who among the seven nobles would be the King was to be decided by lots. The nobles were to ride their horses at sunrise on the morrow and the horse that neighed first would be honoured as carrying the King on it’s back. Darius had an ostler, well versed in the tricks of the trade. Darius confided in him the wager and the ostler readied his act. At daybreak he rubbed his hand on the private parts of the mare that the stallion of Darius was enamoured of and when the seven nobles commenced their ride on horseback the wily ostler brought his hand to the nose of Darius’ stallion. The horse smelling the hand sneezed and neighed, and Darius was proclaimed King!

Herodotus narration is remarkably wonderful and highly meticulous of details. A study of his history not only invigorates the mind but also reminds us the plenitude of human follies that have always accompanied the march of man.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Can anyone tell me why Helen of Troy and for that matter the whole of Homer’s immortal classic ‘The Iliad’ is depicted so shabbily in films? The story is invariably turned roundabout and one wonders if the filmmakers are illiterate or even analphabetic. Take for example ‘Troy’ starring Brad Pitt as Achilles. There is the impossible, or shall I say the ridiculous, scenario of Hector killing Menelaus almost at the beginning. Could there be anything further from truth? The other evening I watched ‘Helen of Troy’ on the prestigious ‘History Channel’ on T.V. Achilles, the ultimate Greek hero, the leader of the Myrmidons, is depicted as a bloodthirsty monster who offers his services to the High King Agamemnon docilely and kills Hector by fraud. What happened to the celebrated quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles? Furthermore to add insult to injury, Helen was shown being ravished by the victorious Greek soldiers in full view of the aghast Menelaus. Homer did certainly not mention any unholy traffic with Helen’s vulva during the sack of Troy.

Helen was the most beautiful woman on Earth and was happily married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Menelaus was the younger brother of Agamemnon, the Commander-in-chief of the fleet that sailed for Troy. The Greeks, at least the aristocracy, led an easy carefree life much like the Kennedys of the nineteen sixties. Paris, the Prince of Troy, stayed in Menelaus’ palace as a royal guest. But it was preordained that Paris shall have Helen as a bedmate. Long ago he had judged who, among the three immortals, Hera, Athene and Aphrodite, was the most beautiful. Aphrodite bribed Paris that if he chose her the winner she will see to it that Paris would marry the most beautiful woman on Earth. The seeds were already sown and only the harvest remained to be reaped. Paris eloped with Helen for Troy: Helen was a willing accomplice, an adulteress.

The Greeks assembled in strength under Agamemnon’s command and a mighty flotilla sailed the seas for Troy – a thousand ships in all. Achilles, the son of King Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, was the greatest warrior of his day; he was vulnerable only at his heels. This war would have been over a lot sooner had it not been for the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, the two headstrong men. It was this quarrel that made the war linger for ten years. The quarrel, otherwise known as the wrath of Achilles, was over a woman. The Greeks camping on Trojan soil had gone on marauding raids on nearby Trojan countryside. The war booty was divided among the Greek champions. Breisis, a ravishing virgin fell to Achilles’ lot and Chreisis, daughter of a priest of Apollo, was given to Agamemnon. However Apollo was furious with the Greeks for showing disrespect to his priest and harrowed the Greek army. A meeting of the Greek chieftains was called and in the highly emotional atmosphere of the assembly Agamemnon snatched Breisis from Achilles after returning Chreisis to her father. The sulking Achilles refused to take any further part in the battle. He called his mother, the goddess Thetis, to influence Zeus to plague the Greeks in the war so that Agamemnon will be forced to see his mistake and return Breisis to placate him. Zeus kept his word and the Greeks lost all hope of returning victorious. Hector, the Trojan general, simply ran amok and the Greeks ran helter skelter from his assaults. The Greeks were in dire straits to save their ships. Patroclus, the friend and nephew of Achilles donned Achilles divine armour and led the Myrmidons against Hector. There was a massive change in the fortunes of war as the Greeks once again fought with vigour when they saw Patroclus leading the army of Achilles’. The Greeks mistook him for Achilles.

Hector confusing Patroclus for Achilles joined battle and it was soon over. Patroclus was slain and the Trojans denuded his body of the armour of Achilles. The embattled veteran of the Greeks, Odysseus, somehow brought the corpse back to the Greek camp.

Achilles was full of remorse and he arranged a grand funeral for his close friend. His mother went to the divine smithy Hephaestus to make Achilles new armour, which Hephaestus promptly complied.

The morrow saw the battle royal. The single combat between Achilles and Hector commenced in front of the gates of Troy. Hector knew his days were over and he thrice made an attempt to head for the gates and thrice he was pushed away by the pursuing Achilles. At last Achilles drove his javelin through Hector’s chest and the Trojan general lay spread-eagled on the soil of Troy. Achilles next split Hector’s tendons at the ankle and tied a leather thong to it, tied it to his chariot and dragged his corpse thrice round the walls of Troy and headed for his tent on the shore.

The whole battle was watched by the royal house of Troy from the ramparts and Andromache, the widow of Hector fainted at the sight. As night fell Agamemnon, in disguise, approached Achilles in his tent and ransomed Hector’s body and took it to Troy for a decent funeral.

A truce was declared for seven days when the Greeks arranged fore the funeral of Patroclus and the Trojans did the same for Hector.

When the war resumed Achilles was shot by an arrow by Paris [some say it was the god Apollo] and the arrow hit the only vulnerable part of his anatomy, that is his ankle, and Achilles perished in glory and eternal fame.

Later Paris met his end when he was killed by the Greek chieftain, Philoctetes, a son of the fabled Hercules. As Helen lost her paramour, she was now wooed by the two remaining sons of King Priam: Deiphobus and Helenus. Helen was not keen to marry any more but she was forcibly married to Deiphobus [a rape probably].

The fall of Troy was soon to follow. One fine day the Greeks sailed away in their ships leaving a huge wooden horse behind. What it stood for no one knew. Some said it was a dedication to Apollo or Athene, others claimed it was a memorial for the slain Greek soldiers. The Trojans dragged the horse within their city by partly dismantling their gates. It was a night of celebration as they thought the war was over. But as night fell the hidden trap door of the wooden horse was opened by the Greek soldiers hiding inside and they promptly signaled their comrades sheltering in a nearby island. And the massacre began. Almost everyone of fighting age was put to the sword.

Agamemnon raided Priam’s palace and dispatched Priam with a javelin thrust. He took Priam’s daughter Cassandra, a prophetess of some merit, as his concubine and sailed for home. Menelaus killed Deiphobus who was distracted by Helen, for which Menelaus forgave her. He took Helen and reached Sparta safely and ruled for a long time. They were still there when Odysseus’ son Telemachus went to Sparta to enquire about his illustrious father and they gave him a royal welcome.

So where do we get the highly improbable story of Menelaus’ death in the Trojan War? Where indeed do we find Helen being violated by the Greek soldiers at the sack of Troy? Surely many women were debauched as it happens in any war and many were carried away as war booties. But Helen being ravished by the common Greek soldier is simply fantastic.

Helen died a natural death in her beloved Sparta, and as far mythology goes she was married afterwards to Achilles who was reposing in the Elysian Fields on the Black Sea. Many mariners vouched for the fact that they had seen the two immortals making merry and singing ‘The Iliad’ to the relentless waves of the sea.