Friday, April 30, 2010
FRIENDS VS. PUNJABI FRIENDS
> FRIENDS: Never ask for food.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Always bring the food.
> FRIENDS: Call your parents Mr. and Mrs.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Call your parents Mom and Dad
> FRIENDS: Have never seen you cry.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Cry with you.
> FRIENDS: Will eat at your dinner table and leave.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Will spend hours there, talking, laughing, and
> just being
> FRIENDS: Know a few things about you.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Could write a book with direct quotes from you.
> FRIENDS: Will leave you behind if that's what the crowd is
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Will kick the whole crowds that left you...
> FRIENDS: Would knock on your door.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Walk right in and say, 'I'm home! Daaru -
> shaaru nikal yaar "'
> FRIENDS: will visit you in jail
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: will spend the night in jail with you!!
> FRIENDS: Will say 'hello'.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Will give you a big hug and a kiss and say " Oh
> Behen***, kithe si tu ? ".
> FRIENDS: will visit you in the hospital when you're sick
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: will cut your grass and clean your house then
> come spend
> the night with you in the hospital.
> FRIENDS: have you on speed dial
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: have your number memorized
> FRIENDS: Are for a while.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Are for life.
> FRIENDS: Might ignore this.
> PUNJABI FRIENDS: Will forward this to all their Punjabi Friends
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By TARA PARKER-POPE
The symptoms of A.P.D. — trouble paying attention and following directions, low academic performance, behavior problems and poor reading and vocabulary — are often mistaken for attention problems or even autism.
But now the disorder is getting some overdue attention, thanks in part to the talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell and her 10-year-old son, Blake, who has A.P.D.
In the foreword to a new book, “The Sound of Hope” (Ballantine) — by Lois Kam Heymann, the speech pathologist and auditory therapist who helped Blake — Ms. O’Donnell recounts how she learned something was amiss.
It began with a haircut before her son started first grade. Blake had already been working with a speech therapist on his vague responses and other difficulties, so when he asked for a “little haircut” and she pressed him on his meaning, she told the barber he wanted short hair like his brother’s. But in the car later, Blake erupted in tears, and Ms. O’Donnell realized her mistake. By “little haircut,” Blake meant little hair should be cut. He wanted a trim.
“I pulled off on the freeway and hugged him,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I said: ‘Blakey, I’m really sorry. I didn’t understand you. I’ll do better.’ ”
That was a turning point. Ms. O’Donnell’s quest to do better led her to Ms. Heymann, who determined that while Blake could hear perfectly well, he had trouble distinguishing between sounds. To him, words like “tangerine” and “tambourine,” “bed” and “dead,” may sound the same.
“The child hears ‘And the girl went to dead,’ and they know it doesn’t make sense,” Ms. Heymann told me. “But while they try to figure it out, the teacher continues talking and now they’re behind. Those sounds are being distorted or misinterpreted, and it affects how the child is going to learn speech and language.”
Blake’s brain struggled to retain the words he heard, resulting in a limited vocabulary and trouble with reading and spelling. Abstract language, metaphors like “cover third base,” even “knock-knock” jokes, were confusing and frustrating.
Children with auditory processing problems often can’t filter out other sounds. The teacher’s voice, a chair scraping the floor and crinkling paper are all heard at the same level. “The normal reaction by the parent is ‘Why don’t you listen?’ ” Ms. Heymann said. “They were listening, but they weren’t hearing the right thing.”
The solution is often a comprehensive approach, at school and at home. To dampen unwanted noise, strips of felt or tennis balls may be placed on the legs of chairs and desks. Parents work to simplify language and avoid metaphors and abstract references.
The O’Donnell household cut back on large, noisy gatherings that were upsetting to Blake. Twice-weekly sessions focusing on sounds and words, using rhyme and body gestures, helped him catch up on the learning he had missed.
Help inside the classroom is essential. One family in Westchester County, who asked not to be named to protect their son’s privacy, met with his teachers and agreed on an array of adaptations — including having his teacher wear a small microphone that directed her voice more clearly to a speaker on the student’s desk so he could better distinguish her voice from competing sounds.
Nobody knows exactly why auditory processing skills don’t fully develop in every child, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Scientists are conducting brain-imaging studies to better understand the neural basis of the condition and find out if there are different forms.
Reassuringly, the disorder seems to have little or nothing to do with intelligence. Blake has an encyclopedic knowledge of animals — he once corrected his mother for referring to a puma as a mountain lion. The Westchester child is now a 17-year-old high school student being recruited by top colleges.
“He’s in accelerated Latin, honors science classes,” said his mother. “I remember I used to dream of the day he would be able to wake up in the morning and just say, ‘Mommy.’ ”
Not every child does so well, and some children with A.P.D. have other developmental and social problems. But Ms. O’Donnell says that treatment is not just about better grades.
“It definitely affected his whole world,” she said of her son. “Not just learning. It cuts them off from society, from interactions. To see the difference in who he is today versus who he was two years ago, and then to contemplate what would have happened had we not been able to catch it — I think he would have been lost.”
Sunday, April 25, 2010
|From 3QD via Business Standard
|William Dalrymple / April 10, 2010, 0:01 IST|
The life and times of the Bhuttos is seen afresh in a passionately partisan but well-constructed memoir. William Dalrymple reviews it in context.
The Bhuttos’ acrimonious family squabbles have long resembled one of the bloody succession disputes that habitually plagued South Asia during the time of the Great Mughals. In the case of the Bhuttos, they date back to the moment when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was arrested on July 5, 1977.
Murtaza was 23 and had just left Harvard where he got a top first, and where he was taught by, among others, Samuel Huntington. Forbidden by his father from returning to Zia’s Pakistan, he flew from the US first to London, then on to Beirut, where he and his younger brother Shahnawaz were adopted by Yasser Arafat. Under his guidance they received the arms and training necessary to form the Pakistan Liberation Army, later renamed Al-Zulfiquar or The Sword.
Just before his daughter Fatima was born, Murtaza and his brother had found shelter in Kabul as guests of the pro-Soviet government. There the boys had married a pair of Afghan sisters, Fauzia and Rehana Fasihudin, the beautiful daughters of a senior Afghan official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fatima’s mother was Fauzia.
For all its PLO training in camps in Syria, Afghanistan and Libya, Al-Zulfiquar achieved little except for two failed assassination attempts on Zia and the hijacking of a Pakistan International Airways flight in 1981. This was diverted from Karachi to Kabul and secured the release of some 55 political prisoners; but it also resulted in the death of an innocent passenger, a young army officer. Zia used the hijacking as a means of cracking down on the Pakistan Peoples Party, and got the two boys placed on the Federal Investigation Agency’s most-wanted list. Benazir was forced to distance herself from her two brothers even though they subsequently denied sanctioning the hijack, and claimed only to have acted as negotiators once the plane landed in Kabul. While much about the details of the hijacking remains mysterious, Murtaza was posthumously acquitted of hijacking in 2003.
I first encountered the family in 1994 when, as a young foreign correspondent on assignment for the Sunday Times, I was sent to Pakistan to write a long magazine piece on the Bhutto dynasty. I met Benazir in the giddy pseudo-Mexican Prime Minister’s House that she had built in the middle of Islamabad.
It was the beginning of Benazir’s second term as Prime Minister, and she was at her most imperial. She both walked and talked in a deliberately measured and regal manner, and frequently used the royal “we”. During my interview, she took a full three minutes to float down the hundred yards of lawns separating the Prime Minister’s House from the chairs where I had been told to wait for her. There followed an interlude when Benazir found the sun was not shining in quite the way she wanted it to: “The sun is in the wrong direction,” she announced. Her hair was arranged in a sort of baroque beehive topped by white gauze dupatta like one of those Roman princesses in Caligula or Rome.
A couple of days later in Karachi, I met Benazir’s brother Murtaza in very different circumstances. Murtaza was on trial in Karachi for his alleged terrorist offences. A one hundred rupee bribe got me through the police cordon, and I soon found Murtaza with his mother — Begum Bhutto — in an annexe beside the courtroom. Murtaza looked strikingly like his father, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. He was handsome, very tall — well over six feet — with a deep voice and, like his father, exuded an air of self-confidence, bonhomie and charisma. He invited me to sit down: “Benazir doesn’t care what the local press says about her,” he said, “but she’s very sensitive to what her friends in London and New York get to read about her.”
“Has your sister got in touch with you since you returned to Pakistan?” I asked.
“No. Nothing. Not one note.”
“Did you expect her to intervene and get you off the hook?” I asked. “What kind of reception did you hope she would lay on for you when you returned from Damascus?”
“I didn’t want any favours,” replied Murtaza. “I just wanted her to let justice take its course, and for her not to interfere in the legal process. As it is, she has instructed the prosecution to use delaying tactics to keep me in confinement as long as possible. This trial has been going on for three months now and they still haven’t finished examining the first witness. She’s become paranoid and is convinced I’m trying to topple her.”
Murtaza went on to describe an incident the previous week when the police had opened fire on Begum Bhutto as she left her house to visit her husband’s grave. When the Begum ordered the gates of the compound to be opened and made ready to set off, the police opened fire. One person was killed immediately and two others succumbed to their injuries after the police refused to let the ambulances through. That night as three family retainers lay bleeding to death, 15 kilometres away in her new farmhouse, Benazir celebrated her father’s birthday with singing and dancing:
“After three deaths, she and her husband danced!” said the Begum now near to tears. “They must have known the police were firing at Al-Murtaza. Would all this have happened if she didn’t order it? But the worst crime was that they refused to let the ambulances through. If only they had let the ambulances through those two boys would be alive now: those two boys who used to love Benazir, who used to run in front of her car.”
The Begum was weeping now. “I kept ringing Benazir saying ‘for God sake stop the siege’, but her people just repeated: ‘Madam is not available’. She wouldn’t even take my call. One call from her walkie-talkie would have got the wounded through. Even General Zia...” The sentence trailed away. “What’s that saying in England?” asked the Begum: “Power corrupts, more power corrupts even more. Is that it?”
Two years later, to no one’s great surprise, Murtaza was himself shot dead in similar and equally suspicious circumstances.
Murtaza had been campaigning with his bodyguards in a remote suburb of Karachi. As his convoy neared his home at 70 Clifton, the street lights were abruptly turned off.
It was September 20, 1996, and Murtaza’s decision to take on Benazir had put him into direct conflict not only with his sister, but also with her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Murtaza had an animus against Zardari, who he believed was not just a nakedly and riotously corrupt polo-playing playboy, but had pushed Benazir to abandon the PPP’s once-radical agenda — fighting for social justice. Few believed the rivalry was likely to end peacefully. Both men had reputations for being trigger-happy. Murtaza’s bodyguards were notoriously rough, and Murtaza was alleged to have sentenced to death several former associates, including his future biographer, Raja Anwar, author of an unflattering portrait, The Terrorist Prince. Zardari’s reputation was worse still.
So insistent had the rumours become that Zardari had ordered the killing of Murtaza at 3 pm that afternoon, that Murtaza had given a press conference saying he had learnt that an assassination attempt on him was being planned, and he named some of the police officers he claimed were involved in the plot. Several of the officers were among those now waiting, guns cocked, outside his house. According to witnesses, when the leading car drew up at the roadblock, there was a single shot from the police, followed by two more shots, one of which hit the foremost of Murtaza’s armed bodyguards. Murtaza immediately got out of his car and urged his men to hold their fire. As he stood there with his hands raised above his head, urging calm, the police opened fire on the whole party with automatic weapons. The firing went on for nearly 10 minutes.
Two hundred yards down the road, inside the compound of 70 Clifton, the house where Benazir Bhutto had spent her childhood, was Murtaza’s wife Ghinwa, his daughter, the 12-year-old Fatima, and the couple’s young son Zulfikar, then aged six. When the first shot rang out, Fatima was in Zulfikar’s bedroom, helping put him to bed. She immediately ran with him into his windowless dressing room, and threw him onto the floor, protecting him by covering his body with her own.
After 45 minutes, Fatima called the Prime Minister’s House and asked to speak to her aunt. Zardari took her call:
Fatima: “I wish to speak to my aunt, please.”
Zardari: “It’s not possible.”
Fatima: “Why?” [At this point, Fatima says, she heard loud, stagy-sounding wailing.]
Zardari: “She’s hysterical, can’t you hear?”
Zardari: “Don’t you know? Your father’s been shot.”
Fatima and Ghinwa immediately left the house and demanded to be taken to see Murtaza. By now there were no bodies in the street. It had all been swept and cleaned up: there was no blood, no glass, or indeed any sign of any violence at all. Each of the seven wounded had been taken to a different location, though none was taken to emergency units of any the different Karachi hospitals. The street was completely empty.
“They had taken my father to the Mideast, a dispensary,” says Fatima. “It wasn’t an emergency facility and had no facilities for treating a wounded man. We climbed the stairs, and there was my father lying hooked up to a drip. He was covered in blood and unconscious. You could see he had been shot several times. One of those shots had blown away part of his face. I kissed him and moved aside. He never recovered consciousness. We lost him just after midnight.”
The two bereaved women went straight to a police station to register a report, but the police refused to take it down. Benazir Bhutto was then the Prime Minister, and one might have expected the assassins would have faced the most extreme measures of the state for killing the Prime Minister’s brother. Instead, it was the witnesses and survivors who were arrested. They were kept incommunicado and intimidated. Two died soon afterwards in police custody.
“There were never any criminal proceedings,” says Fatima. “Benazir claimed in the West to be the queen of democracy, but at that time there were so many like us who had lost family to premeditated police killings. We were just one among thousands.”
Benazir always protested her innocence in the death of Murtaza, and claimed that the killing was an attempt to frame her by the army’s intelligence services: “Kill a Bhutto to get a Bhutto,” as she used to put it. But Murtaza was, after all, clearly a direct threat to Benazir’s future, and she gained the most from the murder. For this reason her complicity was widely suspected well beyond the immediate family: when Benazir and Zardari attempted to attend Murtaza’s funeral, their car was stoned by villagers who believed them responsible.
The judiciary took the same view, and the tribunal set up to investigate the killing concluded that Benazir’s administration was “probably complicit” in the assassination. Six weeks later, when Benazir fell from power, partly as a result of public outrage at the killings, Zardari was charged with Murtaza’s murder.
Fourteen years on, however, the situation is rather different. Benazir is dead, assassinated, maybe by the military, but equally possibly by some splinter group of the Taliban. Fatima is now a strikingly beautiful 28-year-old, fresh from a university education in New York and London. She has a razor-sharp mind and a forceful, determined personality. Meanwhile, the man Fatima Bhutto holds responsible for her father’s death is not only out of prison, but President of the country. The bravery of writing a memoir taking on such a man is self-evident, but Fatima seems remarkably calm about the dangers she has taken on.
As for the book itself, Songs of Blood and Sword is moving, witty and well-written. It is also passionately partisan: this is not, and does not pretend to be, an objective account of Murtaza Bhutto so much as a love letter from a grieving daughter and an act of literary vengeance and account-settling by a niece who believed her aunt had her father murdered.
Future historians will decide whether Murtaza really does deserve to be vindicated for the hijacking in Kabul and will weigh up whether or not Murtaza, who even Fatima describes as “impulsive” and “honourable and foolish”, would have made a better leader than his deeply flawed sister; or indeed whether the equally inconsistent Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto deserves the adulation heaped on him by his granddaughter. But where the book is unquestionably important is the reminder it gives the world as to Benazir’s flaws. Since her death, Benazir has come to be regarded, especially in the US, as something of a martyr for democracy. Yet the brutality of Benazir’s untimely end should not blind anyone to her as astonishingly weak record as a politician. Benazir was no Aung San Suu Kyi, and it is misleading as well as simplistic to depict her as having died for freedom; in reality, Benazir’s instincts were not so much democratic as highly autocratic.
Within her own party, she declared herself the lifetime president of the PPP, and refused to let her brother Murtaza challenge her for its leadership; his death was an extreme version of the fate of many who opposed her. Benazir also colluded in wider human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings, and during her tenure government death squads murdered hundreds of her opponents. Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, abductions, killings and torture.
Far from reforming herself in exile, Benazir kept a studied distance from the pioneering lawyers’ movement which led the civil protests against President Musharraf’s unconstitutional attempts to manipulate the Supreme Court. She also sidelined those in her party who did support the lawyers. Later she said nothing to stop President Musharraf ordering the US-brokered “rendition” of her rival Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, so removing from the election her most formidable democratic opponent. Many of her supporters regarded her deal with Musharraf as a betrayal of all that her party stood for. Her final act in her will was to hand the inappropriately named Pakistan People’s Party over to her teenage son as if it were her personal family fiefdom.
Worse still, Benazir was a notably inept administrator. During her first 20-month-long premiership, she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation, and during her two periods in power she did almost nothing to help the liberal causes she espoused so enthusiastically to the Western media.
Instead, it was under her watch that Pakistan’s secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), helped install the Taliban in Pakistan, and she did nothing to rein in the agency’s disastrous policy of training up Islamist jihadis from the country’s madrasas to do the ISI’s dirty work in Kashmir and Afghanistan. As a young correspondent covering the conflict in Kashmir in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I saw how during her premiership, Pakistan sidelined the Kashmiris’ own secular resistance movement, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, and instead gave aid and training to the brutal Islamist outfits it created and controlled, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkat ul-Mujahedin. Benazir’s administration, in other words, helped train the very assassins who are most likely to have shot her.
Benazir was, above all, a feudal landowner, whose family owned great tracts of Sindh, and with the sense of entitlement this produced. Democracy has never thrived in Pakistan in part because landowning remains the base from which politicians emerge. In this sense, Pakistani democracy in Pakistan is really a form of “elective feudalism”: the Bhuttos’ feudal friends and allies were nominated for seats by Benazir, and these landowners made sure their peasants voted them in.
Behind Pakistan’s swings between military government and democracy lies a surprising continuity of elitist interests: to some extent, Pakistan’s industrial, military and landowning classes are all interrelated, and they look after each other. They do not, however, do much to look after the poor. The government education system barely functions in Pakistan, and for the poor, justice is almost impossible to come by. According to the political scientist Ayesha Siddiqa, “Both the military and the political parties have all failed to create an environment where the poor can get what they need from the state. So the poor have begun to look for alternatives. In the long term, these flaws in the system will create more room for the fundamentalists.”
Many right-wing commentators on the Islamic world tend to see political Islam as an anti-liberal and irrational form of “Islamo-fascism”. Yet much of the success of the Islamists in countries such as Pakistan comes from the Islamists’ ability to portray themselves as champions of social justice, fighting people like Benazir Bhutto from the corrupt Westernised elite that rules most of the Muslim world from Karachi to Riyadh, Ramallah and Algiers.
Benazir’s reputation for massive corruption was gold dust to these Islamic revolutionaries, just as the excesses of the Shah were to their counterparts in Iran 30 years earlier: during her government, Pakistan was declared one of the three most corrupt countries in the world, and Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari — widely known as “Mr 10%” — faced allegations of plundering the country; charges were filed in Pakistan, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States to investigate their various bank accounts, and they stood accused of jointly looting no less than $1.4 billion from the state.
When I interviewed Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the Islamabad Red Mosque shortly before his death in Musharraf’s July attack on the complex, he returned time and again to these issues: “We want our rulers to be honest people,” he repeated. “But now the rulers are living a life of luxury while thousands of innocent children have empty stomachs and can’t even get basic necessities.”
This is the principal reason for the rise of the Islamists in Pakistan, and why so many people support them: they are the only force capable of taking on the country’s landowners and their military cousins. Benazir Bhutto may have been a brave, gutsy, secular and liberal woman. But sadness at the demise of this courageous fighter should not mask the fact that as a corrupt feudal who did nothing for the poor, she was a central part of Pakistan’s problems, rather than any solution to them. Songs of Blood and Sword is a timely and forceful reminder of this.
Certainly, readers of Fatima’s book have ahead of them a wonderfully close-focussed and well-constructed memoir from the heart of the most violent and Borgia-like of the South Asian dynasties to savour. They also, most likely, have further instalments to come. During a recent interview, I asked Fatima whether she would consider entering politics herself: “I am political,” she replied, “but there are many ways to be political. I don’t think that becoming an MP is necessarily the best way to influence people. For the time being, I want to be a writer. But who knows? If in the future there was a way I could serve my country, one that did not involve becoming yet another part of dynastic birthright politics, maybe I could envisage putting my name forward.” Watch this space.
William Dalrymple's most recent book is Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India
Friday, April 23, 2010
he Parable Of The Vamp
WHAT DOES TRASHING SUNANDA PUSHKAR SAY ABOUT OUR ATTITUDES TO WOMEN, ASKS SHOMA CHAUDHURY
AMIDST THE immense noise of the IPL controversy, away from public view, a woman has been confronted with a deeply personal crisis: she can no longer recognise herself. A massive juggernaut has rolled over her, crushed her out of shape, and moved on without a backward glance. She has been left to cope with the painful out-of-body experience of watching the mangled remains of who she used to be. Left to muse, in private bewilderment, why her image and the person she knew herself to be no longer matched.
Sunanda Pushkar, the woman in the tableau, was not hit by some unheeding truck. She was hit by the media. As Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, the doctor parents of the slain Aarushi, know only too well, this is not the first time it’s happened. In its feeding frenzy for 24 /7 excitement, the media has developed a curious way of turning fathers into murderers; women into vamps. Facts, evidence, the line between public and private — all the good, old-fashioned gears of journalism no longer have any place. Rash allegations are enough. The rear-view mirrors are gone. You can now recklessly ride over people and not look back.
'I’m proud of bringing up my son all by myself'
SUNANDA PUSHKAR HAS ALWAYS BEEN SELF- RELIANT. SHE HAS HELD MANY JOBS, CROSSED MANY CONTINENTS. IN THE LAST FORTNIGHT, SHE HAS WATCHED THE MEDIA MUTILATE HER RESUMÈ. NOW, IN A STIRRING INTERVIEW, SHE WRESTS BACK THE STORY OF HER TRUE SELF
Over the last two weeks then, every real and fictitious fragment of Pushkar’s life has been dragged onto airwaves and newsprint: Men she has and has not married; men she has and has not slept with; money she has and has not made; jobs she has and has not done. People have spoken with dripping scorn about her “eye-popping life”, her “insatiable ambition”, her work with “starlets and bimbos”, her “vampire-like thirst” and her “Louis Vuitton victimhood”. They have dissected her diaphanous saris and conjured clingy ones she’s never worn. The general consensus has been: She isn’t enough a girl’s girl. And for this transgression, she had to be crushed. So, overnight, Sunanda Pushkar was transformed from a living, breathing woman with a history of her own into a “proxy bimbette”.
What did Pushkar do to merit this public mauling? The reasons trotted out are that Pushkar is romantically involved with former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and has therefore been given disproportionate sweat equity worth Rs 70 crore in the Kochi cricket team he helped put together. One can debate the finer points of propriety about Pushkar having equity, independently or otherwise, in a project Tharoor was closely associated with. Prima facie, it appears there was absolutely no exchange of money. Nor was there any misuse of public funds. In a world of brazen corruption then, this could only count as a minor lapse in manners. The curious thing is, the uproar over the sweat equity itself seemed misplaced. With the same reckless disregard for fact, everyone has forgotten that the offending Rs 70 crore does not exist as yet. Sweat equity is risky: There are no payments upfront. If the going is good, you take the ride; if not, there’s nothing.
So, the truth is, the reasons Pushkar has been pilloried lie elsewhere. Imagine for a moment that instead of Pushkar some nephew of Tharoor had been given sweat equity. Would the media have ferreted out every last detail about his girlfriends and colour of bedsheet — imagined or real? Pushkar says the last fortnight has been akin to a medieval witch hunt. She is right. A deep and unthinking misogyny has underscored all the reporting on her. Her real crime is that she is an attractive 46-year old widow, who is bright, vivacious and hot — in the way only those women can be, who have a comfortable relationship with themselves; who understand that beauty does not preclude one from being kind; or protect one from sorrow. If the media had wanted to try the two for financial impropriety, it should have stuck to doing that. Instead, all of it has become an ugly spectacle about a society trying to decide what women are allowed and not allowed to be. Ambition, sass, and self-assured sexiness are clearly high on the list of India’s penal code for women. This is why Pushkar has been asked by “well-wishers” to stay out of view. This is why she’s in the process of being tamed for Indian public life. The story of how Sunanda Pushkar has been treated then is not the story of just one woman: it is a parable about the society we are.
There are so many versions of your life floating in the media, would you like to put the facts on record first.
I don’t really want to. My son and parents have already suffered enough on this. How many times I got married, who I dated — what does any of that have to do with the IPL?
|Sunanda Pushkar with her now deceased second husband Sujit Menon, her father and uncles in Jammu.|
That’s true, but unfortunately the absence of facts has allowed everyone to maul your image. There’ve been reports that you divorced your first husband Sanjay Raina because you fell in love with his friend Sujit Menon. Also that Sujit committed suicide because he was in financial trouble. Even if all this were true, it still wouldn’t make you a bad person, but the key thing is to establish how much is truth, how much fiction.
(Sighs) You are right. It’s probably important to set the record straight. My first marriage was a very dark period in my life. Everyone’s saying Sanjay Raina divorced me, but that’s not true, I divorced him. It was a very painful relationship but I don’t want to go into that. It’s over; he’s moved on, I’ve moved on. I was 19 when I met him and very innocent. My dad was in the army and I had a very protected childhood. I was always sorry for the underdog. My family and friends used to teasingly call me Mother Teresa. I was helping flood victims in Ambala in grade six. When I was in Jesus and Mary Convent, I used to work with abandoned and physically challenged children at an ashram. There was a blind and spastic kid there who was particularly attached to me. No one wanted him because he wasn’t very nice looking, but I used to bathe and feed him. Curiously, many people spoke badly of Sanjay, saying he was strange. Maybe in the beginning that is what drew me more to him.
But the marriage was a big mistake. I was totally unprepared for the worst. ‘The media said, why should the Kochi team pick me? As a woman am I not good enough?’ Soon after we got engaged I told my father I wanted to break it off. I had realised Sanjay and I were very mismatched but my father wouldn’t listen. For Kashmiri Pandits, if you got engaged, you had to marry; we’d never had a broken marriage in the family. Mine fell apart within days. I had a really tough time getting a divorce in Delhi. It was a very lonely time. My parents didn’t want me to divorce even though they knew what was going on. Looking back, I understand them now, but I felt very abandoned then.
The truth is Sujit rescued me. He gave me the strength, as a friend, to quit a very painful marriage. But he was dating another woman; I was just a friend. I got my divorce in 1988 and went off to Dubai in 1989. I married Sujit in 1991; my son Shivy was born in November 1992. If I had left Sanjay over Sujit, why would I have waited that long to marry him?
What about Sujit’s death? That has been turned into something very mysterious as well.
With baby Shiv at home in Dubai
Yes, my son has had a really rough time dealing with those reports. But my husband died in an accident in Karol Bagh in March 1997. I can show you the death certificate. I had a really harrowing time finding the body and had to go from morgue to morgue searching for it. Again, it was a very dark time. Sujit was a financial consultant and he had run into some financial trouble. I disagreed with many of his business decisions at the time and after his death I got several threatening calls from his creditors. But that was less important to me than the fact that after his death, Shivy suddenly stopped talking. It was very strange, he probably got scared. He was barely four. There was so much to do — papers and fresh visas to be sorted, debts to pay. So I left him with my sister-in-law and, later, my parents for a few months. I keep asking them, someone tell me what happened to him because when I went to pick up my son, he had stopped talking. I took him to Dubai but in those days there was no concept of speech therapy there. I began to look for the best affordable health care and that’s how I hit upon Canada. I moved there to help my son. I had been doing pretty well at work, but I didn’t have that much money to spare. I was supporting my parents, supporting my brother through engineering college, trying to pay off Sujit’s debts.
|‘The media said, why should the Kochi team pick me? As a woman am I not good enough?’|
Why did you need to support your parents financially? Everyone says your family was very wealthy.
Yes, we were wealthy till the trouble began in Kashmir in 1989. We had orchards and a lot of land. But after ‘89, my family suffered like everyone else. Luckily, they were wealthy enough that they didn’t have to go live in a tent. But I did help them financially to find their feet again. They couldn’t afford to put their son through college — you know you have those donations and capitation fees. I did all that.
Part of the muck being thrown at you for having sweat equity in the Kochi team is that you don’t have professional standing that merits it, so you must be a front for Shashi Tharoor. How do you respond to this?
I cannot tell you how insulted I feel. I’ve been fiercely independent and self-reliant all my life. And I’ve always been proud that I have made it alone — on my own terms — in a man’s world. And here, in one minute, without bothering to find out any facts the media just turned me into a slut, into some kind of brainless eye candy! I don’t know why people find it so hard to understand this — I really don’t care about money in that grasping way. Yet, please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy making money, I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a woman being ambitious. I like cars and watches but I don’t need any man to get anything for me. My kick is to buy it myself. I like to earn my own keep. I’d be very happy to set up home with a man I loved, but I would not marry a man just because he can buy me diamonds. I’m not judgmental about women who do that, I’m just saying I wouldn’t. So when people say I got into all this as a front for Shashi, chasing influence and money, it savages my soul. What else can I say?
The media has said, for Rs 70 crore, the Kochi team could have hired any foreign marketing firm, why would they pick me? Forget that no one in India seems to have understood the basics about sweat equity — there is simply no 70 crore on the table, in fact not one paisa has changed hands so far, and there will be no profits for years to pay anybody — but what is this attitude? As a woman I am not good enough? Some foreigner can do better than an Indian? And we call ourselves a superpower? Is this 21st century India or the British Raj?
|With her father at her wedding to Sujit at the Shiva temple in Kochi,Kerala|
Could you then run us through your career graph a bit ?
When I came to Dubai for the first time I worked in tourism. I had ideas about dhow cruises and dune dinners — much before Emirates Holidays even existed. Our accounts included Philippines airlines, Romanian airlines, Brazilian airlines — so I had lots of corporate clients. After I married Sujit, I got into events. Someone reported that all my shows made losses. That hurt. Sujit and I did only one event together which went badly — a Mammooty show which people have been writing all kinds of nonsense about. But apart from that I don’t think I did any events that made a loss.
I started my own company called Expressions with four or five people. We began to do many model shows for product launches. Everyone does it now, but it was a complete trendsetter then. I did 13 shows with Hemant Trivedi, shows with Rhea Pillai, Vikram Phadnis, Aishwarya Rai. When the Gulf War started, we did big fund raisers for the ‘We love Kuwait’ campaign.
After a while I got a great offer from an ad agency called Bozell Prime. I handled many big campaigns for them — Wella, Hersheys, Chrysler cars. I did big multi-million dollar events for Modern Pharmaceuticals. That was the most beautiful time of my life. But after Sujit died, I gave up Bozell for Shivy. I didn’t want a baby-sitter. He had gone into a complete shell and I was frightened for him and wanted to be there for him. So that last year in Dubai before I went to Canada, I worked with Ravissant.
|‘Calling me a beautician from Dubai is not derogatory. It’s just not true’|
In Canada, I had to start from scratch. I’d literally gone there with a suitcase and my child. But you know, Shoma, I have never taken my resume and looked for a job.I have always felt I can carve a niche for myself on my own terms. I’ve always been an entrepreneur that way. So for a while, I did many odds and ends. Then some friends in New York — two doctors who are still among my closest family friends — suggested I get into the IT sector which had just begun to boom. Everyone was looking for computer engineers from India, so we tied up with companies like Compaq and head-hunted in India for them.
After a while a friend in San Francisco alerted me that a company called Valley Resources wanted a partner. I told them I had no money to invest but they still wanted me. So, talk about sweat equity — (laughs) — that was my first sweat equity! It was a lot of fun and we did mighty well and made good money. I put Shivy in a private school; I bought ourselves a house; I got a BMW. And I did all this from the basement of my house. And through all that, I never used babysitters. I’m proud of bringing up my son by myself. Many of my friends across the world who knew me at that time are really disheartened and outraged by the way I am being portrayed in the media.
The press has been saying you are a beautician, a spa-owner, a mystery woman from Dubai — where did they get all that from?
Can you imagine! I have no idea where they got it! These reports were meant to deride me. I don’t even feel there’s anything derogatory about being a beautician — it’s just that it’s completely not true! I ran a small jewellery shop for a while, but while they were trying to ferret fictitious details about my life, they didn’t even come across that!
You know, all through my life, at different phases, things have fallen apart and each time I have just picked myself up and put the pieces back. I am a very positive person: I always say, this too shall pass. I am a great believer in Shiva and the idea of karma, so I never question and complain and ask why is this happening to me. I always tell myself that things happen to you so that you can learn from it. But this has been the biggest test I have ever faced.
We’ll come back to the way the press has reported on you and what impact that’s had on you; and what it says about attitudes to women in India. But, first, could you finish telling us about your professional life.
Just as our IT business was booming, 9/11 happened. This hit us bad and we had to shut shop. There was four months of anxiety and no work. We were cleaned out financially. That’s when I got into Emotional Intelligence. It was the latest thing in Canada those days. I did a course and joined a company called Noble House International. We started something called Human Potential Reengineering. [sighs] We did lots of programmes for banks like Royal Bank of Canada and ABN Amro in Miami, Amsterdam and Geneva. It was fun but I was not earning enough.
|‘The film Corporate disgusted me. Must a woman sleep around to get business?’|
Then in 2004, Best Homes offered to send me to Dubai to set up their operations there in real estate. If I think about it, real estate runs in my blood. More than buying and selling, I love developing properties. I love the blueprint stage, the planning and the zoning. So I came back to Dubai in August 2004 as general manager of Best Homes and worked on a big project with them.
|Pushkar celebrating Diwali with her son and friends in Toronto,Canada in 2003.|
Dubai had changed completely. My friends had all become rich and powerful; there was a completely different buzz. But Shivy was not very happy and I was just planning to go back to Canada and start again, when I was offered a job by Mohamad-bin-Ghalib of Tecom to work on an International Media Production Free Zone. This was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on. We had to plan publishing zones, convention centres, hotels, schools and hospitals over 44 million square feet of land. Then I was offered a position that the company usually only gives to locals — I had to sell land to Gulf nationals. Everyone thought I’d fail because I didn’t know Arabic. But as one of my bosses said about me, “She can sell sand to the Arabs and ice to the Eskimos!”
Were you a sales manager there? Some press reports have been saying that you actually live — to use their words — in a ‘low-class ghetto’ in Dubai and that Shashi was a leg up for you socially and financially. How would you speak of yourself? As middle- class, well-to-do, very well-to-do?
I think I’m pretty well to do. I drive a Range Rover. My son has a driver and a Ford. I live in a decent apartment because I don’t want to live in a villa and have the headache of a garden and stuff because there’s just the two of us. I have a cook and a domestic help. I own two 3-bedroom apartments in Jumeirah Palm. I also own a beachside apartment in Jumeirah Beach Residence, and I have two apartments in Executive Towers. I only live in this rented apartment because it’s close to Shivy’s school and his friends live around here. I also have my house in Canada and some land in Jammu. So I’m pretty alright, I think. I’m pretty alright. [laughs]
That’s an understatement.
Yeah, I guess, I’m okay. The part I feel really good about is that I’ve done it all on my own. The only thing they’ve got right about me is that I was a sales manager at Tecom. What they don’t get is that this suited my entrepreneurial spirit just fine because it allowed me to get a commission over my salary.
Of all the kite flying about you in the media then, what aspect has really upset you the most? Oh God, I can so tell you that! It’s been like a medieval witch hunt! It’s been so misogynistic. The bizarre part is, I think it’s not even just to do with my being a woman, it’s to do with my being an attractive woman. That’s what makes it even more disgusting. That’s what really makes me sick to the core of my being. That, to so many people in this society, if you are attractive you are immediately deemed to be a loose woman.
|‘Why are they accusing me of being a proxy for Shashi? Can’t I make my own money?’|
What have they not said about me! I am supposed to be married to some automobile businessman in Delhi; my second husband is supposed to have committed suicide; I am supposed to have slept with god knows how many men, and I am supposed to be a tart.
I have always prioritised Shivy because he is the most important thing in my life and I have always been proud that I had made it alone, on my own terms, in a man’s world, and in one minute, without checking on any facts, they have just reduced me to a slut. Just because I am an attractive working woman in a man’s world.
|Sunanda Pushkar with the UAE's Minister for Foreign Trade Sheikh Lubna Al Qasimi|
All my women friends in Dubai — women from all across the world, Serbia, England, America, Canada — are so upset. They are furious! As one of them said, we thought India is going to be a world power, but how can they be when their attitudes to women are so warped!
I have realised that women have made some inroads into politics in India, but in business? God forbid, you want to be feminine and wear nice saris or dresses into a boardroom — that’s totally not allowed. I saw a Hindi film called Corporate — it disgusted me. A woman must sleep around with someone to get business, she can’t get it otherwise? She must utilise her body and only then her brain will function. Suddenly — boom! — her brain is functioning because men are sleeping with her!
I have a wonderful, grown-up son — a son who says that whenever he thinks of duty and integrity and honesty, he thinks of his mother. I want to ask all these people in the media, if I was sleeping around, when did I have the time to bring up my child?
Do you know that there was a report that said I went to Jitin Prasada’s wedding wearing a bright-red, clingy, seethrough sari with a low cut blouse and some socialite is supposed to have sniggered that this was just not the “Congress code”. I wasn’t even in Delhi for Jitin’s wedding. I went to his reception huddled inside a black sari and shawl because I was so cold. How much can the media lie?
There’s another thing I want to clarify. They are saying I have given up my shares to save Shashi Tharoor. Now, I’m not even supposed to have that much agency of my own! I DID NOT give it up for Shashi Tharoor. I gave it up for exactly the reason that I said in my statement: I have no enthusiasm to work on this anymore. You tell me, Shoma, after all that has happened would you have the enthusiasm to work with the IPL? I might still do stuff for them, as I said, because I love Kerala — but how can they turn around and crucify me for something I am giving up in disgust? One BJP man said that the fact I am giving it up is further proof of my corruption. I mean how much more perverse and bewildering can things get? And now I have someone impersonating me on Facebook when I don’t have either a Twitter or Facebook account!
|One of my bosses said about me, ‘She can sell sand to the Arabs and ice to the Eskimos!’|
I have to say the conjecturing about you has been shameful.
(Starting to cry) I have always thought of myself as a kind, proud, honest and ethical person. I can’t recognise what they have turned me into publicly. In my family, everyone calls me ‘Didi’ — even my father — because I am the person everyone turns to for help. I was always the ‘boy’ in the family. I never even had a doll as a child. So even now, though this is my worst fall, I am not asking why all of this has happened to me. I am sure there is a larger lesson to be learnt and I am sure I am going to grow from this. And mark my words, I will grow, I will come out of this a bigger and better person. I can feel it in my bones. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes in my life; I’m just a regular human being. But I keep telling myself, I must be a good person because, god knows, I have brought up a good child.
|Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar at a New Delhi book launch in March. GETTY IMAGES|
Let’s talk about Shashi Tharoor and the IPL. How did you meet? How did the IPL thing come about? What is the sweat equity everyone is in a tizzy about?
I don’t really want to talk about Shashi because everything I say will have some repercussion for him. He is a public figure, I am not. But I met him about two years ago through a friend called Sunny Varkey, and we got along immediately. We are certainly close now, but that closeness only developed less than five months ago. I am very proud to know him because, most of all, he is a good and honest man.
As far as the IPL goes, again the media has twisted my words. I have known Karim and Ali Murani since 1998, since we were all in the events business. Over the years they have become close friends. When they took on KKR, I was generally throwing ideas at them about how they should market and package the team. Ali liked my ideas enough to ask me to come down to Bombay to discuss working for them — the Muranis, not KKR itself. The conversation was serious enough for me to fly down to Mumbai, but Shivy was still in school so we all just let it slide. But that’s how I first got to know about the IPL.
As far as the sweat equity for the Kochi team goes, I am genuinely bewildered by the allegations of corruption. I did agree to offer my skills as a marketing consultant. I have a knack for it. I also helped them raise a lot of money. But there’s been absolutely no exchange of money between us. I don’t even have the shares. It’s more like a promissory note with absolutely no guarantee that the shares will amount to anything. People are calling me and saying why did you give up the Rs 70 crore? What Rs 70 crore? It’s not there! I haven’t earned it as yet, there’s no surety I ever will. People have been throwing up fantastical numbers — what no one seems to understand is that all of it is notional. I am told Mumbai Indians made a loss of 40 odd crore last season, so there’s a huge risk involved. There’s no money upfront.
And again, why are they accusing me of being a proxy for Shashi? That’s so insulting. Can’t I make my own money? He has not been corrupt for so many years — for which I am proud to be his friend — why would he be corrupt now? Just look around you in India and see the corruption — in government, in industry, in every crevice of public life and they call this corruption! Indians couldn’t handle a man who is not corrupt so you tainted him and literally made him look corrupt so that he had to leave government and not embarrass his party! [laughs]
|CALM BEFORE THE STORM Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar|
My faith in India is so shaken. Shashi and others keep telling me not to say this, but I don’t know Shoma — why shouldn’t I say it? I am shocked at the way events unfurled. It had no basis in truth. There was no intention of even getting to the truth. Why has the media taken this beyond the realm of reality. I can’t understand it!
There were three people in politics that really created hope for millions of Indians across the world that even clean men can join politics — Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and Shashi Tharoor. I know that when Shashi entered politics, many Indians felt, oh, if he can, even we can. Otherwise Indian politics was always thought of as such a dirty game. But Shashi has been hounded out for now — ironically — for not being dirty enough. In just the cricket scene I know how much corruption is floating about, but the big powerful men will get away, and Shashi has been made a sacrifice. Was Shashi given a fair hearing? The media made sure he couldn’t get one. As I said, it was a medieval witch hunt in every way.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Museums Take Their Lessons to the Schools
By TAMAR LEWIN
Published: April 21, 2010
SUTTON, Mass. — Sitting in the dark, knees crossed, looking up at the stars projected on the planetarium dome, the fourth-grade class might have been on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston.
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
But instead, they were having what Katie Slivensky, an educator from the museum, calls a “backwards field trip” in a portable, inflatable planetarium set up for the morning in the old gym at Sutton High School — a 50-minute lesson on the stars, moon and planets, tied to state learning standards for physical science, earth and space.
Over the last few years, many schools have eliminated or cut back on museum trips, partly because of tight budgets that make it hard to pay for a bus and museum admission, and partly because of the growing emphasis on “seat time” to cover all the material on state tests.
To make up for the decline in visits, many museums are taking their lessons to the classroom, through traveling programs, videoconferencing or computer-based lessons that use their collections as a teaching tool.
“Even if they can’t come to the museum, we can bring the excitement of science to the school,” said Ms. Slivensky, one of seven traveling educators at the Boston museum.
At the Museum of Science, where school visits have dropped about 30 percent since 2007, demand for the 14 school travel programs — from the $280 “Animal Adaptations” to the $445 “Cryogenics’ — is booming.
Annette Sawyer, director of education and enrichment programs, said the museum would do almost 1,000 travel programs next year, 400 more than four years ago.
On a sunny spring morning, the Sutton schools, about an hour from Boston, have brought in both the planetarium program and, for the kindergarten, “Dig Into Dinosaurs.”
“It’s $275 a bus, and we’d need three buses for a grade level,” said Michael Breault, the principal. “We pay for field trips and special assemblies from a magazine fund-raiser at the beginning of the year, and this year, we didn’t sell as many magazines.”
And museum admission costs $7.50 a head.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Middle School is a dress rehersal for life
While browsing through Labyrinth books the other day, I came across Sultana’s Dream A Feminist Utopia and selections from the secluded one...