Saturday, March 31, 2012

Behenji - A Political Biography of Mayawati by Ajoy Bose: Impressions

A book like this would never have found its way to my book shelf had my father-in-law not been clearing up his, and relieving it of some unworthy weight. Not that this book is unworthy, but it is definitely not a keepsake. It is no more than what it claims to be – a forthright political biography of Mayawati. Why I chose to read it? Because, doesn’t this juggernaut of a woman make one curious?

So Ajoy Bose, a seasoned journalist, ventures to write about the political life of this firebrand Dalit leader whose political overtures have generated frenetic media coverage over the past decade. Bose mentions in his introduction how the book took a long time coming, and how his friends and associates had scoffed at the idea of a book on Mayawati, who was looked down upon at the beginning of her career. But the book came to fruition around the time of Mayawati’s meteoric rise as a politician, and the author’s doubters shut up as did the politician’s detractors.

Bose begins his account with Mayawati’s humble beginnings in a Delhi slum – a shy, young girl from the lowly Chamar caste, whose greatest aspiration in life is to become an IAS officer. She believes, like all those belonging to the educated lower caste, that an IAS is the only way to social salvation. Though not brilliant, Mayawati chases the IAS dream with sheer hard work and determination. She is a young government school teacher with a law degree studying for her IAS exams on a winter night, when her life changes forever with the entry of her to-be mentor, Kanshi Ram.
After offering some background, Bose introduces us to the BAMCEF founder Kanshi Ram. He describes Ram as part ambitious leader and part visionary, who with his ability to forge alliances, moves rapidly up to power ladder. Ram sees in Mayawati an unlikely Dalit leader and thus begins that fiery relationship between mentor-protégé, which was the subject of much speculation.

The author documents the birth of the BSP, its political travails through the 90s, its many contradictory coalitions with political parties in a bid for power, and its coming of age as a major player in national politics. He records the BSP’s, especially Mayawati’s tussle with the Kalyan Singhs and Mulayam Singhs of UP’s Jungle Raj, the politician’s sometimes cunning and often brazen political ways, her astounding canvassing skills, and her single minded persuasion of the throne of UP. He mentions many an episode that showcase Mayawati’s exemplary courage as a Dalit and more so a woman in the oft-cruel male dominion of politics. While Bose tries hard to maintain his objective, journalistic stance, it is clear to see that he admires the woman. But that couldn’t get clearer than from the fact that he chose to write her biography. And that too at a time, when she wasn’t heralded as the country’s next possible prime minister.   

Despite her obscene display of wealth and power, it is hard not to admire Mayawati’s guts of steel. It is hard not to notice that even after Kanshi Ram passed away, she has borne the Dalit cause with vigour. It is harder still to not applaud her inverting of the caste pyramid by offering ‘protection’ to the Brahmins. Love her or hate her, the story of the making of Behenji is truly a remarkable one. 

Storm in a teacup

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Another one of my sasta, sundar, superfast MS Paint creations.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Ascetic of Desire by Sudhir Kakar: Impressions

Because I’ve read a fair number of works on historical fiction recently, the genre no longer amazes me. However, my respect for authors who create such works continues to accrue, and a secret ambition of authoring such a book one day builds steadily. I was first acquainted with historical fiction with Devdutt Pattnaik’s ‘The Pregnant King’ and have, since, gone on to acquire several such books – based mostly on the ‘Mahabharat’.  During one such crazy book-buying spree, I chanced upon Sudhir Kakar’s ‘The Ascetic of Desire’. If the title wasn’t interesting enough, the blurb, which informed me that the book was based on the ‘Kamasutra’, surely was. Kakar's choice of subject is intriguing, not just because the book is about the Kamasutra, but also about its elusive writer, who, apparently, was celibate. Besides, Kakar’s renown as a psychoanalyst connected with my Clinical Psychology background.

Going by the reviews, or the lack of them, on the web, I suppose it is not a very talked-about or known book. And it’s easy to see why. One, Kakar isn’t really the most gifted of writers, and two, the inhibitions inherent among Indians, when it comes to matters sexual. Or perhaps, Kakar didn’t have a good publicist; the success of books these days seems to depend more on advertising than on literary merit. Whatever the reason, ‘The Ascetic of Desire’ has not earned as many readers as it should perhaps have.

When I say Kakar isn’t a great writer, I do not mean he reads badly. It is tough to lay a finger on his flaws because there aren’t any. It is the lack of fluidity, of ease that keeps reminding the reader that what he is reading is a work of imagination. Its contrast is especially stark, when compared to a phenomenal work of historic fiction like ‘My Name is Red’ (which I had read immediately before Kakar’s work). While Pamuk’s work is convincing, down to the last (often unnecessary) detail, Kakar’s is contrived. One can see the effort the author puts into describing the surroundings, and his characters, in an attempt the make them seem 5th century.

The book is based on the little known-life of Kamasutra’s author, Vatsyayana. Kakar assumes the voice of the protagonist – a young Brahmin scholar and biographer ofVatsayana – to tell Vatsyayana’s story. Using partly historical facts and partly his imagination, the author constructs the life of the author of the famous sexual treatise.Peppered with ample summaries from the Kamasutra, commentaries on the sexual and social mores of the olden societies, and relationship triangles, the book makes for an interesting read. The book affirms that ancient India was a much more liberal society as far as sex was concerned. The position of women in general, and prostitutes in particular, is elucidated in the book. Through the central characters of the famous courtesan, Chandrika (Vatsyayana’s aunt), and Malavika (Vatsyayana’s wife, who has an affair with his biographer), the writer explains the various aspects of women’s and men’s sexuality. His expertise as a psychoanalyst is used often to comment upon the emotional aspects of physical dalliances.

While the book is interesting while it lasts, offering information as well as sophisticated titillation in equal measure, it is not something that would stay with the reader. Read it if ancient scriptures, including the Kamasutra, interest you like they do me. If nothing, it’ll enhance your, ahem, knowledge.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I return to you

(Image: 'And Love is Forever, So I Say in my Self-Portrait' by Yayoi Kusama)

All my roads spell your name, as do my dead ends,
You are branded with fire, upon my existence.

Master of my words, you are my virtue and my vice,
You've made home, my hearth, you spread across my skies.

You fill up my nights, you consume me each day,
Every path transpires, to send you my way.

The stars tell your story, the wind bears your scent
And that rogue heart O mine? Your way, I think, it went.

How far I have run, all nays have fallen through,
Truth comes home tonight; I return to you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Dark Goddess

(Image source: Kali by Nosve via

There is fear in men's hearts, they tremble as they speak,
a dark goddess reigns, it is her that I seek.


I infect them with restlessness, bring them to their knees,
I cheat them of what they hold dear, I rob them of their peace.

Do you keep their hearts, then, safe as they kept their peace?
Or do you break them, scatter the bloody bits into an infidel breeze?

Bloody little bits, to the breeze they are cast;
for I play only till the night of passion lasts.

Do you sleep when play is done, when the sun brings on its dawn, fire?
How do you rest, night spirit, with blood on your hands of ire?

I sleep, for I know, there will be more blood to spill.
My heart speaks no more; only my flesh seeks thrills.

I seek, like a curious sapling, to rouse that quiet heart;
to touch that flesh, to possess that soul, to bite that tongue so tart.

Come, like a tendril to me, wrap your eager fingers around mine.
Together, we'll soar; together, we'll make love divine.

And yet, thick Temptation murmurs, "Let yourself soar
with this wild-eyed, snake-haired goddess, let her bring you ashore."

Enjoin with me, in endless festivity - there will be dancing and blood and poesy.
Come hither, and I will show you ecstacy.

As tempting as your beckoning is, I do dig in my roots;
for you are a child of darkness, and I a slave of sunlit truths.

Farewell this is naught, you will come back alright;
for without darkness, there is no meaning to light.

(Co-written with Sandhya Menon @TheReluctantMum)