Friday 2 December 2011

Waging War on Pakistan

For those who aren’t aware of such things, let me state something as clearly as possible:

The Empire is at war with Pakistan.

I’m aware that some people will find this statement, let’s say, controversial. But let's consider the situation from the Pakistani point of view:

You’re a nation with a hot war going on next door, between an increasingly frustrated imperialist occupation force (henceforth known as the “liberators”) and an increasingly effective resistance movement (henceforth called the “evildoers”). At the same time, you have a multitude of terrorist movements and rebel groups operating on your own territory, many of which were directly set up by these same “liberators” in the first place and some of which still work for them.

On top of everything, you have a government headed by an incredibly corrupt man with no political base, who owes his position entirely to his “acceptability” to the “liberators” and who is far more beholden to them than to the people of your nation.

You have the “liberators” bombing your nation on a round the clock basis from drones piloted by remote control by CIA war criminals sitting in bunkers on the other side of the earth, and killing people who routinely turn out to be innocent civilians.

You also have CIA men roaming your cities and randomly murdering citizens, and then being let off the hook owing to pressure brought on the same government by the “liberators”.

Tell me, if you were a Pakistani, what would you think except that your nation was at the receiving end of a war of aggression?

As most of us probably are aware, a few days ago there was a major attack by NATO aeroplanes and helicopters on two Pakistani military outposts, which ended in the death of two dozen soldiers and injuries to thirteen others. This outposts were three hundred metres inside Pakistani territory, and consisted of a series of permanent structures, well known to the “liberators” who attacked them. They still attacked them, for two hours, in two separate assaults. It was a most murky episode, with the NATO story shifting back and forth – from being an “error” to accidentally hitting the base while fighting evildoers, to being fired on from the base (the “self-defence” defence), the story keeps changing.

The Pakistani version, on the other hand, is remarkably constant – the soldiers were sleeping when they were attacked, they contacted the “liberators” to have the attack stopped, there were no “evildoers” in the area, and the whole thing was an act of deliberate aggression on the part of NATO.

Who should we believe?

I mean, here we have the world’s Great White Army of Liberation, whose commanders never, ever, lie about anything (remember all those WMDs they found under Iraq’s sands after the Iraqis welcomed them with flowers?) on one hand. On the other we have a despised Muslim nation which presumes to have its own nuclear arsenal (which it trundles around in vans, allegedly, in an effort to keep the bombs from being snatched by its “liberator” allies) and whose government is dependent on “liberator” assistance for survival. Whom should we believe, especially since one side keeps shifting its story and the other side sticks to what it’s been saying all along?

The Great White Army of Liberation, right? I thought so.

Well, actually, no.

There are only two possibilities. Let’s take them one by one:

1.     Scenario Number One: The Pakistanis are lying. They knew that the attack would take place, and allowed it to go ahead, or provoked it into happening quite deliberately. They also had people ready to make calls to the “liberators” to ask them to stop attacking, knowing perfectly well that this would not happen.

The reason: They wanted a casus belli to spoil relations with the US, which they achieved by ordering the “liberators” to evacuate an air base being used to drone-bomb Pakistani territory and by stopping the NATO convoys that keep supplying the imperialist occupation forces in Afghanistan.

Supporting evidence: None, really, except anti-Pakistani/anti-Muslim sentiment and reluctance to believe anything the despised “Pakis” might say.

Counter-arguments: Absolutely the last thing the current, hyper-corrupt Pakistani government would want is a break with its only protector. “President” Asif Ali Zardari is someone who owes his position only to two things: his marriage into the Bhutto dynasty, and to his kowtowing to the Americans. He is someone so corrupt that when his late wife Benazir was Prime Minister of Pakistan, the people called him Mister Ten Per Cent because he would skim off ten per cent of every government contract. Nowadays he’s usually called Mister Fifty Per Cent or even Hundred Per Cent.

This same Zardari was recently in the news after a memo sent via his ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, was leaked. In this memo, sent to US Admiral Michael Mullen, Haqqani (and therefore his political master and “close friend” Zardari) suggest that American support be given for the removal of the Pakistani Army Chief General Kayani, and the head of the intelligence apparatus, Lieutenant General Pasha, before they could “mount a coup”. Essentially, it was itself a demand for support for an internal coup to remove the threat of a takeover from the only forces which could prevent Pakistan from becoming a US colony. Haqqani was made the scapegoat and removed from his post as ambassador, but there’s little doubt who actually was responsible.

If American support vanishes, Zardari is – to use an indelicate word – screwed. Not just his position, but his very existence, will be rendered moot. He’s acutely aware that he might well end up hanging from a lamp post by his intestines – something he probably doesn’t want.

The Pakistani Army’s top brass wouldn’t want that to happen either. They want the American handouts to continue so that they can fund their own lavish lifestyles and their internal wars, which are quite distinct from the Empire’s wars – such as the war against separatists in the huge province of Balochistan, bordering Iran. Also, the current leadership would not want utter turmoil in the country, with a virtual civil war situation in the major cities and countryside. The armed forces, which were deliberately Islamicised during the 1980s by Washington’s favourite dictator, the murderous General Zia ul Haq, might split right down the middle and disintegrate.

Since neither the Pakistani government nor the military has anything to gain by antagonising the Americans – and they have been swallowing insults and worse for years in order not to antagonise the Americans – the idea that one or the other orchestrated this episode (for example, by ordering presumably suicidal soldiers to fire on the “liberators” from within their easily targeted hilltop bases) is silly.

In fact, the actual behaviour of the Pakistani government is highly indicative of their initial desperation to avoid a showdown even after the attack. Instead of ordering an immediate evacuation of the American base, they gave the Empire fifteen days to leave – obviously a cooling-off period in which to work out a face saving compromise. That there has been, at this writing, no such face saving compromise is hardly due either to the Pakistani government or to the Empire. That credit goes to the Pakistani people, who have emphatically had enough of their faces being rubbed in the dirt. 

A compromise is no longer politically viable, as even Zardari realises. Most certainly, behind the scene negotiations would have started – but they will get nowhere unless the Empire backs down.

Scenario Number Two: The Empire committed yet another bloody blunder. By “blunder” in this case I don’t necessarily mean the attack was committed in error, though it might have been. The attack may have been deliberately carried out to “punish” the Pakistanis, or the commander of the NATO force involved may have been a man so incompetent that he could not distinguish an established and known border post from a Taliban party, and so bloodthirsty that he could not stop attacking even after being informed that he was bombing his own putative “ally”. It is possible that Taliban groups were actually in the vicinity, and did fire on the occupation forces, but the last thing that the Americans needed was to attack the Pakistani bases, whose existence they were most certainly aware of. Either way, the Empire has emphatically shot itself in the foot.

Supporting evidence: The constantly shifting statements of the “liberators”, which prove pretty conclusively that they have no real idea what happened.

Counter-arguments: None really. The icing on the bloody cake came from the statement of Messiah cum Nobel Peace Prizident Barack Obama refusing to apologise for the murders of the soldiers. It’s, I don’t know, as though he wants a reason to attack Pakistan. Saying that the Pakistani blockade of supply convoys to American troops in Afghanistan is directly threatening their safety, and is therefore a de facto declaration of war against the US, would be an excellent reason to order the invasion and occupation of that country.

It would be entirely in character for Obama, a war criminal and murderer whom no less a thinker than Noam Chomsky has declared to be worse than George W Bush. After all, Obama came to power openly calling Afghanistan the “good war”, and has spent the last years losing it. Attacking Pakistan might be the last throw of the dice; and the well-known absolute contempt in which the Empire holds Muslim peoples would mean that he would certainly underestimate the backlash. As they say, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” And now that Russia and China have blocked an attack on Syria, and with Iran probably too tough a nut to crack, Pakistan looks like a most attractive target.

A side note: I find the Indian reaction most interesting. The Indian government and media are quietly tiptoeing round the issue, apparently hoping it will all go away on its own. This is paralleled by the utter and deafening silence in India on Occupy Wall Street. It’s as though our dear leaders are, I don’t know, terrified of depicting the Americans as anything less than a force of angels and light. It’s as though they don’t want us thinking that the current condition of Pakistan stems from its supping with the Imperial devil and not using a long enough spoon.

But that couldn’t happen, could it? Our media and our government never, ever, lie to us, of course.


In all the politics playing around on the net and in the halls of power in Washington (not to talk of the halls of servitude in Islamabad) there’s hardly any real concern over the two dozen Pakistani soldiers murdered and the others injured, perhaps maimed for life. It’s as though they didn’t exist, or they were just pawns.

And pawns, as anyone who has played chess knows, are meant to be sacrificed.

The Road To Freedom

A long time ago, in a town far, far away...

...there was a bus which took people from the suburb to the district of town where they all worked. The bus took them there in the morning, passing between waving fields of grain, and dropped them back in the evening, right at their local suburban bus stop. The trip took twenty minutes either way, and everyone got to work on the dot and back well in time to enjoy the evening.

Then, one day, the Great Economist came to power in the country. He was a Great Economist indeed, loaded with degrees and doctorates from the best economics institutions in the world, and helped to power at the instance of the World Bank, which meant without a doubt he must have the best interests of the Economy at Heart. 

Great.In a manner of speaking.

“It’s a shame,” he said, looking around, “that our Economy doesn’t grow. We need to make the economy grow by any means possible.”

But how, everyone asked, could one make the Economy Grow As Fast As Possible?

“We need to sell more cars,” the Great Economist decided. “The Economy Will Grow like anything if Everyone Buys a Car.”

“But...” someone began.

“Don’t interrupt. I am the Great Economist, which means I Know Better."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, as I was saying, it’s a shame that we have almost no cars compared with, oh say America. Everyone should have a car. It’s all about Freedom.”

“But...” someone else objected.

“Just think of all the jobs it will create,” the Great Economist said. “Think of all the people who will be involved in constructing the factories, the steel and cement suppliers who will get orders for material, the architects and labourers who will be employed, and the...”

“Where will all those factories be set up?” someone asked. “It’s not as though we have land to spare.”

“There are all those useless farmlands,” the Great Economist responded. “Growth needs some sacrifices, after all. We need to convert those farms into factory floors.”

“And what about those farmers?” one of his listeners wondered aloud. “What will they do for a living?”

“Why,” the Great Economist said, “that’s simple. They will be employed as security guards and assembly-line workers in the factories, of course.”

"They're too illiterate to work on assembly lines, and they already  make more money farming."

"Why, then," said the Great Economist, "we will make farming unprofitable. We will force them to look for other work. It's for the Growth of the Economy, after all."

“But how will people pay for cars? Cars cost money. A lot of money.”

“The banks will give loans,” the Great Economist said. “It will add a lot of Growth to the Economy. Think Outside The Box, people.”

“But people might not want to buy cars, and...”

“We will immediately start an advertising campaign promoting car ownership. Because of more need for models and ad agencies, that will give us even more Growth.”

“Will ads make people buy cars?” someone asked. “I wouldn’t buy a car just because an ad told me to!”

The Great Economist turned to the Marketing Whiz Kid sitting next to him. “You tell him,” he said.

“We will,” the Whiz Kid said, “market the idea of freedom. Cars mean Freedom and Individuality, unlike buses and other public transport, which are a relic of the bad old socialist past, something we have to begin rejecting as loudly as possible.” He paused. “Can you imagine the advertisements showing scenic waterfalls in the distance, and in the foreground, sitting on the grass in front of their car, a happy smiling couple and their two playing children? Of course, nobody who buys a car will actually make that journey, but so what? Can you imagine the idea of freedom that conveys?”

Or this.Don't forget this.

“And meanwhile,” said someone else excitedly, “we can allow the public transport system to degenerate. Once people begin to buy cars, they’ll soon realise they’re more comfortable in a car than in a bus with ripped up seats and broken windows. And that means...”

“Growth,” said the Great Economist, smiling happily. And so it was done.

Soon enough, one of the people of the town bought a car. The others sat in the bus and enviously watched him flash by.

“Look,” they told each other. “He’s got freedom and individuality. He also gets to work in five minutes flat, while we have to drone along for twenty minutes in this miserable socialist bus.” So they all bought their own cars as well.

Now the bus has been long discontinued for lack of passengers. Everyone drives their own cars to work and back, between rows of grimy factories, revelling in their freedom and individuality and trying to forget all about the bad old socialist days.

It takes them an hour and a half either way, that’s all.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Bhombol and the Shakchunni

Once upon a time, far away in the land of Bunglistan, there was a village by the name of Bhoylagey. This village was ruled by a zamindar, as cruel as he was rapacious, as greedy as he was fat, and as arrogant as the day was long. It would be superfluous to name him here, for he was nothing if not a zamindar, the very essence of zamindarhood.

This zamindar had a daughter, vain and spoilt, but pretty as the fireflies that flitted in thousands through the bushes of an evening. The fame of this daughter’s beauty had spread far and wide, and many were the suitors who sent marriage proposals through the matchmakers, but the zamindar decided that none of them was good enough for his daughter. So, though she was already fourteen years old, she was still unmarried, to the horror of her mother and her aunts and other female relatives. But the zamindar’s word was law, and nobody dared protest.

Among the village youth was a young man who was also famed throughout the land for his courage and physical prowess, for his fearlessness and his good looks. His name was Shoummojjyotee Mukhopadhyay, so naturally he was known to everyone as Bhombol. Though brave, handsome and brilliant, he was, alas, impecunious, and lived alone in a small hut since his parents had long ago passed into the Great Hereafter.

Bhombol had long since decided that he wanted the zamindar’s daughter for his wife – not only for her beauty, if truth be told, but for a portion of her wealth. He’d been poor too long to be willing to remain poor much longer. But the zamindar’s daughter apparently didn’t even know he existed, so there was nothing he could do about that.

Now Bunglistan was a nation where ghosts abounded. Each grove of trees, each lonely, cholera-depopulated village, each broken-down, forgotten temple, had its own resident population of spirits. So many of them were there, indeed, that they had their evolved their own distinct races and classes, until they could hardly be said to belong to the same species. And the people knew this, and lived in a state of perpetual fear, so much so that they didn’t even mention the ghosts – one never knew when one was listening, and to take its name was to invite it to drop in, perhaps literally on one’s head.

Not far from the village of Bhoylagey was a forest, in the heart of which was a little pond, on the banks of which grew palm trees, banyans, and a tamarind or two. Of course, as any Bunglee knew from childhood, such a spot was to be avoided at all costs. Banyans and tamarinds were the favourite hangout of ghosts – one could never find one without a spirit or two in attendance, and a pond full of fish would attract fishing ghosts too. They would be walking on the water of a night, feeling for fishes with their immensely long arms, their white fangs flashing, and to see them was to go mad and drown oneself – and then one was a ghost as well.

Nobody from the village, therefore, ever visited the pond, except for Bhombol. Because he was so brave, every morning, just at dawn, he would walk to the pond to bathe in its (if truth be told) rather scummy green water, and return refreshed to start his day.

What he didn’t know was that there was always someone watching.

The shakchunni had been born to a petni, wife to a brohmodottyi who lived in a banyan tree on the far side of the forest. She had long since left the banyan to take up residence in the big tamarind that grew near the pond, and every dawn she would watch the handsome young man come along, strip naked, and wash himself all over. And the sight would make her burn with frustration, until she could scarcely keep from grinding her teeth with the force of her desire.

The shakchunni’s tragedy was that although she was an intensely physically passionate ghost, she had no way to satisfy her sexual needs. For one thing, she was comely for a shakchunni, so much so that she felt she deserved more than the usual run of bhoots and prets from whom to choose a husband. For another thing, she had fallen hard for the man, not the least when she had first seen him in all his naked glory. Even the best-endowed pret had nothing on him.

So the shakchunni yearned and moaned to herself, and satisfied herself as best she could, until her tender parts were sore and tingling, and this made her burn even more with desire. And just as she finally decided things could no longer go on like this, she had an unexpected visitor.

It was her mother, the petni, whom she hadn’t seen in years. The older ghost made herself comfortable on a branch of the tamarind and came straight to the point.

“Your father and I,” she said, “have decided it’s time you married. We want little grandghosts to brighten up our lives.”

“But –“ the shakchunni began, but the petni cut her off. It was this habit of her mother’s that had finally driven the shakchunni to leave the banyan in the first place. The petni never let anyone get a word in edgewise. It was only because her husband, the brohmodottyi, never said anything that they managed to live together without fighting all the time.

“Your father and I have decided,” she said, “that you will marry the bhoot who lives in the ruined palace on the far side of the forest. You know him?”

The shakchunni did. The bhoot was tall as a palm tree, with limbs like pillars, red eyes like burning coals, ears like winnowing baskets and teeth like radishes. He was so ugly that she shrank from the very idea of marrying him, but she didn’t even get a chance to open her mouth to say no.

“He is a good, kind ghost,” her mother went on. “Besides, we have already talked to the Brahmin priest ghost who used to live at the old temple until it collapsed completely. He’s checked your horrorscopes, yours and the bhoot’s, and says that they match.”


“You’ll get married next month, on the new moon night, on the occasion of Amavasya. Your father and I will be organising the feast and getting everything ready for the occasion. You had better prepare yourself as well. We expect you haven’t forgotten how to cook and clean for your husband? I taught you all that well enough.” Without waiting for an answer, the petni left in a swirl of wind and starlight.

A very disturbed shakchunni spent the night tossing and turning in the tamarind tree, until the fishing ghosts left the fishes alone and retreated, cursing, to their holes in the bank. Only as the dawn broke and she watched the naked Bhombol – the precious object between his legs and all – washing himself in the scummy green water that she had an idea.

That night, as soon as it was properly dark, the shakchunni climbed down from the tamarind tree and went to the village. She moved as stealthily as she could, so that nobody could see her, and went straight to the zamindar’s immense mansion. With only a little peering through windows, she located the room of the zamindar’s beauteous daughter, and watched as that young lady undressed and retired to bed.

Once she was sure that that girl was fast asleep, the shakchunni entered the room through the window, and from the cupboard removed the best, most ornately decorated of the saris she could find, as well as a set of gold jewellery. She then went right back to the pond, and set about dressing herself by her reflection in the water. Although she had of course, never worn clothes before, let alone jewellery, she managed it somehow, and sat down by the edge of the water, the sari pulled far down over her face until it hung like a hood past her chin, and waited for the dawn. And as soon as she saw Bhombol coming in the distance, she put her face in her hands and began sobbing piteously.

Bhombol was astonished to see the zamindar’s daughter, in her famous ornate sari, sobbing by the side of the pond, the equally famous jewellery adorning her hands and feet.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, coming up to her. “Don’t you know this is not a good place? There are ghosts hereabouts.”

The shakchunni covertly pressed her fingertips hard against the sides of her throat, to deepen her voice until it could pass for that of a human woman. "I’ve come here to drown myself,” she said. “Or perhaps if the ghosts find me, they can eat me. I don't care what happens to me anymore. Nobody loves me, nobody."

So Bhombol sat down on the bank by her side and put his arm round her shoulder. "Don't say that," he said. "I'm here, aren't I? You have nothing to fear."

The shakchunni unobtrusively snuggled closer to him while pretending to draw away. "You’re like all the other men,” she told him. “You’ll do nothing for me. If you would do something though – if you have the courage to keep your word...but of course you won’t."

"I'm the strongest man in the village," Bhombol retorted. "Nobody has ever gone away disappointed who ever sought my help. So if you want me to do something, name it, and I will."

“Marry me, then,” the shakchunni said. “Marry me, because I love you, and nobody else will do.”

“Marry you?” Bhombol asked in wonder. “Of course I will marry you.” He hesitated. “But what will your father think of it, I wonder?”

The shakchunni thought of her father, the brohmodottyi who hadn’t opened his mouth once in decades. “I don’t think he’ll say anything,” she told him. “In fact, I’m pretty certain he won’t.”

“Good, that’s fine then.” Bhombol still sounded a little unsure. “So...when are we getting married?”

“Tonight,” the shakchunni said. “Come here at midnight. We’ll marry right here, by the side of this pond.”

"Here?" Bhombol was amazed. "With all the ghosts? And no ceremony? Are you feeling all right?"

"You want to marry me or don't you?" The shakchunni was having a difficult time keeping her voice low and throaty and began coughing violently. “Of course,” she said when she’d recovered, “if a brave hero like you is frightened off by ghosts, I’ll just have to look elsewhere.”

Bhombol had a vision of the zamindar’s riches, almost within his grasp, begin to recede. “I’ll marry you,” he said hastily. “It’s just that...”

"If you are the man you claim to be,” the shakchunni snapped, “you’ll come here tonight. Alone. And after we marry, you and I will go together to my mother and father and I’ll present you to them as their son-in-law."

“I’ll be there,” Bhombol promised. “Don’t worry.”

“And remember,” the shakchunni said, rising, “not a word to anyone.”

So Bhombol bathed and returned to the village to prepare for his coming wedding. He oiled his hair, put on a clean dhoti, and went to the barber for a shave. On the way back from the barber’s establishment, he took the long way around so he returned along the lane that led past the zamindar’s mansion. Eager to catch a glimpse of his beloved, he walked past it and back again, peering up at the windows. Each time he saw a curtain twitch, he would stand and stare up at it, willing it to rise and reveal his beloved.

The zamindar’s daughter had seen him. She hadn’t the faintest idea who he was, but she was in a temper, and the sight of some unknown lout glaring up at her window didn’t improve it any. Summoning her servants, she ordered them to fetch the guards and pikemen and throw the lout into the main street.

Bhombol picked himself out of the dust, spat the grit out of his mouth, and stalked off, muttering angrily at the perfidy of the zamindar’s daughter, who had led him on like this only to make a laughing stock of him. Just wait – if he ever got his hands on her again, he’d...

Meanwhile, the shakchunni had been busy. She’d gone around to her friends, telling them of the wonderful news of her upcoming nuptials, getting hold of the Brahmin priest ghost, and making arrangements of her own for an impromptu feast. She was so busy that she hadn’t even had time to remove the sari or the jewellery. She had to get married before her parents got to know – once she presented them with the fait accompli, there was damn all they could do about it. She swore her friends to silence, which meant, of course, that they immediately gossiped about it. Soon enough the marriage was the talk of the forest. The only ones who hadn’t heard of it were the shakchunni’s parents: the brohmodottyi since he never said anything and so nobody ever told him anything; and the petni because she never stopped talking long enough for anyone to say anything to her.

By mid-afternoon, word of the marriage reached the winnowing-basket-sized ears of the bhoot who had been slated to marry the shakchunni. Normally an easygoing ghost, this bhoot was roused to intense anger that a mere human should presume to wed so far above his station as a shakchunni – more so, a shakchunni who had been promised to him as bride. Stamping his pillar-like legs, he gnashed his radish-sized teeth and decided on revenge. He stalked off to the pond and settled down to wait behind some trees, from a position where he could see the track to the village. When Bhombol came along this track, he would catch the puny human and snap his pencil-neck for him.

Unknown to him, Bhombol was already there, not far away, and also watching the track. This was because soon after having him beaten up, the zamindar’s daughter had found her best sari missing as well as a large portion of her jewellery. She immediately decided that the lout who had been ogling the windows was the one responsible, and complained accordingly to her father. The pikemen, some of whom knew Bhombol by sight, identified him. The word went round the village like lightning – Bhombol was a wanted man.

So Bhombol had to run away in a hurry, in such a rush that he couldn’t even take his meagre possessions from his little hut. He intended to hide in the forest, where he thought he ought to be reasonably safe, until nightfall. Then he’d sneak back into the village, get what he could carry with him, and make his way to the next village where he had relatives. He sat behind another palm tree, watching the track, ready to run if he saw the zamindar’s men coming.

So Bhombol and the bhoot sat watching the path that led to the village - Bhombol for the zamindar’s men, the bhoot for Bhombol, and neither of them knew of the other’s presence. And, elsewhere, the shakchunni was still rushing about.

Dusk began to fall.

And, meanwhile, not far away...

Doshyu Dakat and his band of bandits were the worst, most savage desperadoes Bunglistan had ever seen. They had pillaged their way up and down country with impunity, from the river delta country to the south to the hills to the north. Bhoylagey had been one of the few places that had been spared their attentions. Tonight was its turn.

Doshyu Dakat had heard of the wealth of the zamindar, who had so sucked the villagers of all they had that he was the only one worth robbing. So, as darkness fell, he led his band down to the village and rushed the zamindar’s mansion, shouting “Ha-re-re-re” at the top of their lungs and brandishing their hooked swords.

Within less time than it takes to tell of it, it was all over. The terrified guards threw down their sticks and surrendered, the servants were swiftly overpowered, everyone was tied up and the mansion stripped of all its valuables. The gang left, laden with booty – which included the zamindar’s daughter, whom Doshyu Dakat had slung over his shoulder. He had been taken with the girl’s beauty and intended to make her his wife.

Doshyu Dakat and his cohorts were strangers to the territory and had never heard of the reputation of the pond in the forest. Having passed that way in the mid-morning, the gang leader had thought that would be a good place to pause and distribute the loot; so, once they left the zamindar’s mansion, the band made its way along the track through the forest, until they could see starlight reflected off the water of the pond.

It was at that point that things got interesting.

Bhombol had just decided that it was dark enough to sneak into the village when he had seen movement along the track and heard voices. Deciding that it was the zamindar’s men come for him at last, he turned and ran through the forest, blundering along as fast as he could. And then he stumbled round a tree trunk and right into the shakchunni’s sari-clad arms. 

The shakchunni had finally finished most of her preparations. Leaving a few of her more trusted friends to make the final arrangements for the feast to come, she’d collected the priest ghost and had been making her way back to the pond, there to  get ready for the ceremony. Unwilling to risk frightening off her intended, she didn’t want to risk an audience to the actual wedding. All that could come later.

So she’d been hurrying back through the forest, the priest ghost – older, frailer and slower – following behind, when she’d heard a commotion. And the next instant, Bhombol had lurched from behind a tree and fallen into her arms.

Grabbing him firmly by the bicep – for she had no intention of letting him get away – and ignoring his bleats of protest, she began to pull him effortlessly along, back in the direction from which he’d come.

The bhoot had also heard the sounds of the band approaching. Convinced that it was Bhombol arriving at the head of a column of wedding guests and hangers-on, he jumped out from behind a tree and started lashing out at the robbers with his immense fists and feet. In moments, the hitherto undefeated bandits had dropped everything they were carrying and run away howling with fear and pain. The bhoot chased them, laughing contemptuously, swinging a palm tree around his head like a stick. Only the bundles of loot were left on the bank of the pond, along with the zamindar’s daughter, who had long since fainted dead away with terror.  

This, then, was what Bhombol saw when he arrived at the pond – the bundles of treasure, beside which the girl lay unconscious, a fold of her sari fallen across her face. Instinctively, he bent and pulled away the sari from the girl’s features.

It was the zamindar’s daughter.

Slowly, his heart hammering, Bhombol turned and looked at the shakchunni. She’d pushed back the sari hood from her face in order to see where she was going, and in the light of the stars Bhombol saw, for the first time, her face.

Even a comely shakchunni is something one needs to be prepared for mentally. Bhombol was not so prepared. With a squeak of utter and complete fright, he fainted and slid to the ground beside the zamindar’s daughter.

The shakchunni was still staring down at him with disgust when the bhoot and the priest ghost arrived.

“There, you see,” the bhoot said, still laughing. "This is the puny human you want to marry?"

“I don’t think so,” the shakchunni muttered. “I couldn’t marry a man who faints at the sight of me. I’d have to wear a burqa all the time, and I’m not even Muslim.” She turned to the priest ghost. “Will you marry me to this bhoot?” she asked.

“With pleasure,” the priest ghost said. “I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about marrying you to this human. After all, I don’t even know whether your horrorscopes match...if, that is, he even has one.”

“I want him punished, though,” the shakchunni said. “Marry us – and then marry him to this fainting little chit. They deserve each other.” And so it was done.

Bhombol returned to consciousness at the sound of a weird, ululating cry. He didn’t know it, but it was the sound of the shakchunni reaching her first orgasm. Blinking at his surroundings, he saw only the girl and the loot. Peering at her, he saw that she was the zamindar’s daughter, and that she had vermilion in the parting of her hair, and bangles made of conch shells on her wrists. She was a married woman, he realised, and then it came to him that he was married to her.

He had completely blotted the shakchunni’s face from his mind, and he only remembered that he was to have married the zamindar’s daughter by the side of the pond, and assumed that this had happened. At the cry of the shakchunni reaching her second orgasm, the girl also awoke, and saw Bhombol and the piles of loot – and not a bandit to be seen.

“You chased them all away,” she said, and fell into his arms. “My hero!”

“Chased whom away?” Bhombol wondered. “Oh well – never mind.”

“Let’s go to my parents now,” the young woman said.

So, bent under the load of loot, the newlyweds returned to the zamindar’s house, where they untied everyone. The young woman told of how Bhombol had chased the robbers away single-handed, and how she had married him out of gratitude. And so overwhelmed was the zamindar at recovering his money and his daughter, that, albeit most reluctantly, he accepted Bhombol as his new son-in-law.

And so, except for the bandits – and who cares about them? – everyone lived happily ever after, as the story goes.

After the passage of a year and a day, the shakchunni gave birth to a little ghost. As the child of a bhoot and a shakchunni, he was of course a pret. His name was Bishshoychomok Bidyutjholok, so quite naturally they nicknamed him Tupai. Like all prets, he had small and soft horns, which hardened and grew bigger as he grew older. By the time he reached his teens, he was a heartbreaker, with his huge horns curling round his face. Many were the young petnis and shakchunnis who threw their hearts at his feet, but he had no eyes for them.

“I hope he’s not gay,” the bhoot said worriedly. “I mean, not that I’m a homophobe or something, but–“

“Just leave him alone,” the shakchunni snapped. “He’ll be fine.” But time went on, and he wasn’t fine.

Tupai wasn’t interested at all in the young petnis and shakchunnis. He didn’t even look at them when they called to him enticingly from dark nooks, lying back alluringly with their legs spread open. He had no idea what they wanted from him – and didn’t particularly care.

Finally even the shakchunni got worried. “I hope he’s not gay,” she muttered to nobody in particular. “Not that I’m a homophobe, of course, but...”

Then, one day, Tupai glimpsed in the distance a human girl, the offspring of Bhombol and the zamindar’s daughter, and fell instantly head over heels in love.

But that is another story.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

Sunday 27 November 2011

Burning Down the House: The Fire at Crawford Market

I admit that sometimes there are coincidences, and these coincidences can play into someone’s hands. But once in a while some coincidences play so conveniently into someone’s hands that they shout out for attention.

Right bang in the heart of South Bombay, close to the main railway terminus, is a huge shopping area known as Crawford Market. It comprises everything from large stores to pavement stalls, and it’s a place where you can buy literally everything from electronics goods to clothing to dried fruit to puppies – and all at absurd knock-offs from the official price. Cheap, affordable goods being sold from possibly the most commercially valuable territory in all of India, as it happens. On top of which, of course, it employs many thousand people as salespersons, sign painters, cleaners, transporters, security guards and the like – people who never would have found employment otherwise.

Crawford Market in October 2011 (photo by me)

A most valuable resource, you’ll admit.

Very early yesterday morning, most of Crawford Market burned down in a mysterious fire. Hundreds of shops, including two entire complexes, were burned down to ashes. The damage ran into the hundreds of millions – and much, much more when you factor in the lost livelihood of the people employed there.

It’s a tragedy on so many levels, quite apart from the loss of an affordable shopping destination.

The shop owners, for instance, have lost not just their business premises but their entire stocks and furnishings. I can assure you that almost none of them will have had fire insurance, for three reasons. First, the average Indian is incredibly loath to purchase insurance, preferring to believe that nothing will ever happen to him. Secondly, in the case of the smallest stallholders, who live pretty much on their daily earnings, insurance was never affordable anyway. And the third reason is the fact that most business in markets like Crawford tend to be, strictly speaking, illegal; the stock and turnover are deliberately underreported for tax purposes, not surprising when you remember that the USP of the market is its low price structure and therefore low profit per unit sales. And the animal trade is, quite simply, against the law, so it never gets a mention.

Therefore, these people have all lost everything.

The people who depend on them – their employees and their dependents – have lost everything too, and may well be forced to leave the city and look elsewhere for what employment they can find in an economy where actual unemployment is sky-high and inflation runs at over 10%. Incidentally, I ought to mention that according to the official report, nobody died or was hurt (except for three firemen hospitalised for smoke inhalation) in the fire. I don’t believe it. Most Indian businesses of the Crawford market type will have housed the shop assistants on the premises after working hours. It works out for everyone; the assistants don’t have to find a place to stay (a difficult thing in Bombay, where commutes of six hours are not uncommon) while the shop owner has security against burglary. However, this kind of thing is completely illegal according to the licensing terms which prohibit residential use of commercial property. Hence, if anyone dies or is injured, the shop owner has a vested interest in hushing it up with a few judicious bribes. If the dead or injured person has a family, that family will probably be very poor, uneducated, and can be paid off with a relatively trivial amount of money. It happens all the time.

Tragedy all around, as I said. Except for some.

For whom, then, might it not have been a tragedy?

Here’s where the coincidence comes in.

Just a day before the market burned down, India’s ultra Big Business friendly government pushed through legislation – which was opposed even by its own allies – to allow foreign shopping chains like Wal-Mart to own up to 51% of businesses in India. In effect, it throws open India’s economy to the same kind of poisonous influence that has ruined the small shopkeeper and businessman in the US; not surprising, when you consider just how cravenly pro-American this Indian government is.

Now, remember that Crawford Market is sited on some of the most commercially valuable property in India. The builders and land mafia – and Bombay has the most rapacious mafia in Asia outside the yakuza – have long been slavering at the chance to “develop” it for upscale malls and gigantic commercial complexes which can be resold to the foreign conglomerates. But there was a hurdle, in the shape of the business owners and others who worked there.

Even if the national government had thrown the door open for Wal-Mart and the others, actual possession of the site posed a significant problem. Evicting the shop owners and others would have been politically impossible without igniting a firestorm of protest about favouring rich foreigners at the expense of poor Indians, something this government can ill afford when it’s already on the ropes politically and highly unlikely to survive in office after the next election. Yet, the Americans had to be kept happy – they had to be given their prime real estate, or else.

At the same time, the shopping complex from which the blaze actually started belonged to a notorious mafia boss named Dawood Ibrahim, who’s lived in Pakistan for many years and is wanted by Interpol, among others. The complex is allegedly “disputed property”, but was still used by plenty of businesses. Destroying it would remove a headache for the government.

So, the fire was incredibly convenient for many people in a position to benefit, so much so that even if it was a coincidence, they couldn’t have timed it better if they’d tried

I'll also note that the coverage given by media sources to the fire seems to depend on their closeness to the (mis)ruling Congress party. The more sycophantic they are to the Congress, the less they covered it. Could it be because they don't want speculation on who benefits?

Yes, I’m probably cynical. But then I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be.

Further reading: