Monday, October 31, 2005

A dummy's guide to a "different" Iran

Real Life: Ten very surprising things about Iran
By Angus McDowall
From The Independent, 30 October 2005

Most TV news reports about Iran depict religious revolutionaries who promote militancy abroad and suppress human rights at home. But this is only part of the story:

1 Art-house Iranian films by such directors as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf wow foreign audiences. But the domestic film industry also churns out hundreds of more popular pictures. Last year's big hit The Lizard, drew the clerics' wrath for depicting a convict escaping prison disguised as a mullah. This year's hit was Girls' Dormitory, about a psychotic killer terrorising students.

2 In the form of Shia Islam practised in Iran, Muslims are allowed to enter into temporary marriages with each other, sometimes lasting only a few hours. Critics say this in effect legalises prostitution, and women who enter into these sigheh contracts are often ostracised. But the practice is defended as a legal loophole to provide inheritance rights for children who would otherwise be born out of wedlock. Sigheh websites have been set up to offer advice to prospective brides and grooms.

3 More than 3,600 Iranians have been killed in the past 25 years fighting heroin smugglers, whose main trade route to the West passes through the Islamic republic. Iran itself has a major drug problem, with more than two million addicts. The government has permitted radical measures to tackle the problem, including methadone programmes and syringe hand-outs to prevent the spread of disease.

4 Transsexuals are permitted to have sex-change operations in Iran by the decree of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself. The founder of the Islamic republic passed a fatwa allowing one transsexual woman to have the operation because sexual ambiguity made it impossible for her to carry out her religious duties properly. Iran now has dozens of people who have had a sex change.

5 According to the UNHCR, Iran hosts more than one million foreign refugees - more than any other country on earth. Most of these are Afghans and Iraqi Kurds, who fled their countries during the 1980s and '90s. Iran has in the past spent millions providing them with social security but in return it has acquired a huge workforce prepared to do manual labour for rock-bottom wages.

6 While official dress codes are very strict, many young Iranians delight in pushing back the boundaries of what is acceptable. Teenage girls in Tehran wear the most vestigial of see-through headscarves and tight overcoats that barely cover the bottom. This season gypsy-style scarves are in, featuring traditional Turkmen floral designs. Cosmetic surgery is all the rage, with girls proudly displaying a plaster to show their nose has recently been "fixed".

7 Skiing is a major pastime in mountainous parts of Iran, with pistes that rival those in Alpine resorts. Every winter young Iranians flock to the main slopes near Tehran, where social mores are less tightly enforced. Iran also has cricket, baseball and women's rugby teams, but football remains the most popular sport.

8 Iran has one of the only condom factories in the Middle East, and actively encourages contraception as a means of family planning. Sex education for married couples and major advertising campaigns helped Iran to slow its booming population growth.

9 Satellite television is banned in Iran, but receiver dishes sit in plain view on top of many houses. The most popular channels are run by Iranians based in Los Angeles, who broadcast Iranian pop music and a steady stream of anti-regime propaganda - though many Iranians also scoff at the radical tone taken by the stations.

10 Iran is one of the world's biggest producers of luxury foods. The country has rights to fish more sturgeon - the source of caviar - than any other Caspian Sea nation because of its extensive restocking programmes. It is also the world's biggest producer of pistachios, as well as saffron.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Thanks Google!

I just ran a search for that coffee and Google came to my taste bud's aid! Apparently it's called Kopi Luwak and not Kopi Luvak (as spells it) and it derives it's name from Luwak (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), a feline denizen of the coffee (kopi) plantations of Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi.

"It eats only the ripest coffee cherries. Unable to digest the coffee beans the Luwak graciously deposits them on the jungle floor where they are eagerly collected by the locals. The stomach acids and enzymatic action involved in this unique fermentation process produces the beans for the world’s rarest coffee beverage," says the website. Sounds stimulating?

Rs 850 for a cup of coffee ingested and excreted by a cat!

Hell! What's wrong with their taste buds? The new Hotel Shangri-La in New Delhi is offering Kopi Luvac at Rs 850 per cup, where the beans are ingested, digested and excreted by a cat before they are roasted and powdered for your delight. More here... I really wonder what's so special about this coffee!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Bizzare comments from the Jewish MP in Iran

True Jews hate Israel: Jewish MP

MP for Jewish community Morris Motamed said Friday that all the true Jews and followers of the divine religion as well as those believing in Moses (AS) hate usurper Israel due to the barbaric behavior of the Zionist regime.

The unequal war and clashes between Israelis, equipped with the most advanced weapons, and Palestinians, with stones in their hands, should be taken as the root cause of the public resentment, Motamed told IRNA on the sidelines of the World Quds Day rallies.

He reiterated, "The late Imam's slogan that Israel should be wiped off the world map" reflects the brave resistance of Imam as the founder of the Islamic Republic and said that all nations should do their utmost to materialize Imam's statement."
True Jews, along with Muslim people, follow the path for campaign against Zionists and the Israeli crimes, he noted.

The suppressed people of Palestine should feel that all the followers of divine religions support them, he added.

Thousands have reportedly taken part in the rallies on the World Quds Day, the last Friday of the holy fasting month of Ramadhan.

President Ahmadinejad, the EC Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and some senior officials took part in the rallies to express their support for Intifada of Palestine.

(Iran has a certain number of parliamentary seats reserved for its minorities, including the Jews and Zoroastrians. None for the Bahais obviously. Also, Iran has one of the largest Jewish populations amongst the Muslim countries.)

I wish Ahmadinejad had not made the comments about Israel...

The comments being absolutely repulsive and unfortunate, I thought it would be wise to recall Khatami's approach to the sensitive issue of Israel. He had once "argued Iran should be no more radical over the Palestine-Israeli conflict than the Palestinians themselves". (Financial Times, Thursday, October 27 2005). Also, did you know that the current Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, and the defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, are Iranian in origin!

Naqvi on covering "Muslim" and international issues

The ‘Muslim-Muslim’ tag

Dilemmas of a political commentator in today’s world

Saeed Naqvi, The Indian Express

The other day, a senior colleague of mine — one I respect — approached me somewhat furtively. “There is much Muslim, Muslim in your writing these days.” I have written on Muslim-Muslim or rather Hindu-Muslim issues regularly since the Moradabad riots of 1982, right through the Mandir-Mandal days up to the Gujarat riots. In addition I had made 50 short films on aspects of our mixed culture (the fashionable term is composite culture, I believe). It was acclaimed as a series which went a long way in calming communal temperatures.

No one told me then that I was focusing too much on Muslim-Muslim, I said. He replied, “Then you were campaigning against fundamentalism.” He left me with the painful feeling that in the current phase I was with the fundamentalist tide.

But how does this current phase differ from the earlier one? Communalism in the earlier phase was a domestic affair, affecting politics and social movements in India. The Congress monolith was fragmenting. The vacant spaces were being filled by caste and communal forces. External inputs were there too, aggravating the internal situation. Zia-ul-Haq’s Nizam-e-Mustafa, later transformed into a full-blooded jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, had an impact this side of the border as well. Sikh militancy engulfed Punjab.

Earlier, the post-1973 quadrupling of oil prices had created global chaos. Marks and Spencers in London had set up signs in Arabic. The sheikhs of Araby were in occupation of the Savoy and Dorchester. Anti-Christ had entered the citadel. Much of what is happening in the Arab lands today has its roots in the rear-guard action the Reagan-Thatcher duet mounted then.

The impact on India of this phenomenon was enormous. Kerala labour, mostly Muslim, flooded the Gulf states. Remittances altered the sociology, indeed the landscape, with garish ‘Dubai’ houses. Arabs, flushed with funds, financed madrasas to salve their religious conscience. And when Hindus from the low castes converted to Islam in Meenakshipuram in 1982, I remember Ramnath Goenka exclaiming in the Express office on Mount Road, Chennai: “Hindu kahaan jaaye; Hindu kahaan jaaye (where should the Hindu go)?”

The “jihadi” victory against the Soviets in Afghanistan was, in no small measure, instrumental in the Soviet Union coming down like a melting glacier. Since 1989, it is this spare “jihadi” talent which has given muscle to the insurgency from across the border in Kashmir. Kashmir terrorism in turn added fuel to the Mandir-Mandal conflict which resulted in the fall of the Babri Masjid. That was the national mood which incrementally brought the NDA to power from ’98 to ’04.

There was no occasion for any “Muslim-Muslim” sort of writing throughout this period, except when eyebrows were raised with Jaswant Singh’s one-sided interest in Israel almost to the point of abandoning the Palestinians. If one took a critical note of this departure, does it place one in the ‘Muslim’ corner? I mention this because the trend was taking shape then.

Rajiv Gandhi, anxious to upgrade relations with Israel, hesitated because his Muslim advisers feared the step would affect the Muslim vote. I argued to the contrary. Uniformed Muslim leaders in the coterie had pinned the community down to Shah Bano, Salman Rushdie, Aligarh Muslim University and relations with Israel. The last, in particular, made no sense because the kings of Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, were either covertly or overtly dealing with Israel, as was Egypt. We did not have to be more loyal than the ‘kings’. Rajiv requested me to prepare a note on the lines indicated above. Ronen Sen, now our ambassador in Washington, processed the note which paved the way for P.V. Narasimha Rao opening embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi. Reaction from Indian Muslims? Not a word. It was never an issue. Israelis presented me with a plaque indicating that 10 trees would be planted in the hills of Jerusalem in my name!

All this autobiographical data is being furnished to bring out the irony of this “Muslim-Muslim” accusation. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mentioned in the US that India had the world’s second largest Shia population, he was probably impressing on the Americans how internally sensitive an anti-Iranian vote at the IAEA would be. He, nevertheless, voted for the resolution.

Shia sensitivities may have been an unnecessary point to raise. My opposition to the vote would be simple: Iran is an old friend. The world knows it. If I am compelled to vote, when Iran has not closed all diplomatic doors, I come across to all the UN members, and not just in SAARC, as one who buckles under US pressure. This does not give us the sort of profile credible members of the UNSC should have. And if Americans were friends they would understand our sensitivities on the matter without any prejudice to the nuclear deal. But the US argument is disconcertingly the opposite. You keep in line and that will enable us to persuade the Congress. The goodies “may” then follow.

The pressure under which the operation is taking place is extraordinary. If you make the simple argument I have made above, then you are a Leftist, a Muslim or even possibly a Shia! If our media were to cover foreign affairs properly, the allegation of “Muslim-Muslim” against some footloose journalists who go to the trouble spots would not be made.

The difficulty is that foreign affairs in the Indian media (except for some exceptions) is covered from South Block and a few think tanks where nuclear scientists congregate. And what is their theme? US, Pakistan, China.

No Sir, a comprehensive coverage of world affairs by the media worthy of a country with aspirations of UNSC membership, would involve going to the news spots — Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan, Niger, North Caucasus. And all of these are “Muslim, Muslim”. Read this week’s Economist, three of the five edits touch on “Muslim, Muslim”. But please do not fall into the obvious trap. Don’t be goaded into believing that any criticism of the US has a “Muslim, Muslim” source. Neither Venezuela nor Zimbabwe are Muslim, even by a long shot.

India remembers its war (WW I) dead in Iran

Iran ceremony for India war dead

By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Teheran

About 3,500 Indian soldiers who died fighting for the British in Iran have been commemorated for the first time in an official ceremony in Tehran.
It has only recently come to light that so many Indians died fighting for the British in Iran in the First and Second World Wars.

Delhi's ambassador said the event was a sign India had buried the ghosts of its colonial past.

Organisers hope to trace relatives in India so they can attend next year.


Buglers were flown in from India to play the Last Post for the thousands of forgotten soldiers who died here.

Wreaths were laid in a Commonwealth war cemetery, although only 10 Indian soldiers have gravestones here.

The rest were buried or cremated where they fell on the battlefield, though their names are recorded on stone plaques.

Honouring the dead has been difficult because many Indian nationalists opposed involvement in the First World War and only wanted to take part in the Second World War if India was promised independence from Britain in return.

Ambassador KC Singh said he was hopeful the families could be traced in India so they could attend a ceremony and give them closure.

For the tiny Indian community in Iran it was a surprise to find so many of their countrymen had died here.

MH Sawhney's father fought for the British in Basra in the First World War and then settled in Iran as a businessman.

"This is something very emotional for us. [For] years and years, we never knew that such a thing is here and it was only this year that we found out that, yes, we have around 3,400 soldiers lying here with Indian names."

Mr Sawhney has offered to sponsor the Indian relatives of soldiers who died in Iran to come to Tehran for next year's commemoration - if they can be traced.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wonder why France hasn't still extended aid to the quake victims...

Rich world 'failing' on quake aid

Many of the world's richest countries have so far failed to support a UN appeal for victims of the South Asian quake, a top UK-based charity has said. The charity, Oxfam, said less than 30% of the $312m (£175m) sought by UN aid agencies had even been promised.

It said the US, Japan, Germany and Italy had given less than their "fair share" and others nothing at all. Meanwhile, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said the financial cost of the quake will be more than $5bn.

In an interview with London's Financial Times, he defended his handling of the country's worst natural disaster, saying the government "had done a good, if not a very good, job".

But he acknowledged that hardline Islamic groups had stepped into an administrative vacuum in the days after the quake, providing relief and humanitarian assistance in Kashmir, a development that analysts say will bolster their legitimacy.

The criticism from Oxfam comes as donor nations meet in Geneva on Wednesday to try to increase funding for the quake appeal. Pakistan estimates the 8 October earthquake killed more than 53,000 people, most of them in the portion of Kashmir it administers.

Some 1,400 people died in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials say. On the ground, aid officials are warning that more people could die of hunger, cold and injuries than were killed by the earthquake itself.

UN chief aid co-ordinator Rashid Khaliko said the coming winter would cut off many remote communities in the region. He told reporters in the devastated Kashmiri city of Muzzafarabad that relief workers had until the end of November to get hundreds of thousands of people under shelter, treat the injured and provide food stocks to last the harsh winter.

"The disaster is looming large," Mr Khaliko said. "We have thousands and thousands of very vulnerable people. "What these communities will have by 1 December is what they will have to live with. It's not much time. We basically have four weeks to deliver."

Oxfam's Policy Director Phil Bloomer said: "The logistical nightmare in Pakistan is bad enough without having to worry about funding shortfalls as well. "Governments meeting in Geneva... must put their hands in their pockets and pay their fair share. The public will be shocked that so many rich governments have given so little," he said.

Oxfam said that the US, Japan, Germany and Italy have given much less then they could have done according to the size of their economies. It also said seven rich nations - Belgium, France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain - had so far donated nothing at all.

The charity warned that the gap between an emergency appeal being announced and funds actually being received could mean the difference between life and death for many thousands of survivors.

Only about 20% of the money requested in the appeal has actually been given, UN relief agencies estimate. Oxfam also said current UN plans for a special Global Emergency Fund was seriously underfunded. The new $1bn (£561m) fund was approved by world leaders in September. It is supposed to act as a central UN pot of money, which can be handed out in emergencies. But so far that too had failed to attract a fifth of the funding it needed, Oxfam said.

I'd never want this video game...

U.S. computer game touches Iran's atomic nerve
By Christian Oliver (Reuters)

Tue Oct 25

U.S. special forces dart through Iran's underground nuclear facilities, gunning down any hapless Iranians standing between them and centrifuges that must be blown to bits.

Much to Tehran's relief, this crack team exists only in a new U.S. computer game. But even these animated saboteurs are too close for comfort, downloadable into Iranian living rooms at the click of a mouse.

The cyberspace troopers have sparked bitter press comment in Iran and a petition asking that the game be shelved.

"Americans have a deep craving for an attack against Iran, but they are going to have to settle for this make-believe assault," wrote the Kayhan daily, whose editor is appointed directly by Iran's Supreme Leader.

"U.S. attacks Iran" is made by U.S. firm Kuma Reality Games whose war games often tie into top news stories.

Iran is at the centre of a diplomatic maelstrom, flatly denying U.S. accusations it is seeking atomic warheads. It argues it needs underground nuclear facilities, such as one near the central town of Natanz, to make fuel for power stations.

The United States consistently declines to rule out a military strike against Iran, but has said such an option is "not on the agenda".

The game's trailer plays pounding music and starkly asks: "Diplomacy has failed ... Is nothing to be done?". U.S. troops then strafe a car, leap out of helicopters and prowl around menacingly before blowing things up., a forum for Persian speakers in Iran and abroad, posted a notice asking Kuma to withdraw the game on October 12. Since then it has got more than 5,000 signatures.

"We must make the Americans understand that Iran is different from Iraq and Afghanistan, where they just did what they wanted," the petition read.

Kuma boss Keith Halper said he has no plans to take the game offline and that he had not realised the games were played in the Middle East as well.

"The controversy does surprise me. I just didn't expect that there were people from Iran who were going to become aware of it," he told Reuters.

Other Kuma games have been criticised in the United States for their realistic portrayal of current events, including recent battles.

The Iran game has been downloaded in Iran thousands of times, Halper said, and the company has received roughly 300 e-mail messages from Iran. Some criticised the game but others had asked how to get a copy without a broadband connection.

Iran has been prickly about the idea of U.S. special forces lurking around inside the Islamic Republic since U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh said in the New Yorker this year that U.S. "Black Ops" had ventured across Iran's borders.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington)

These guys even have games on the Iran hostage crisis... Check them out here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BBC to launch Arabic 24-hour news channel

World Service 'set for Arabic TV'

The BBC World Service is expected to confirm plans later to set up a 24-hour television news channel in Arabic. It would be the first publicly funded international television service launched by the BBC.

The corporation is expected to close 10 foreign language services, mostly in central Europe, to pay for it.

The World Service provides news in English and 42 other languages and is funded by a parliamentary grant, administered by the Foreign Office. The worldwide audience for the English language service is estimated at 45 million.

BBC Radio Five Live said the Arabic channel was expected to cost about £20m and could lead to 200 post closures. The World Service is believed to be informing staff of the plans and is expected to make an official announcement later on Tuesday.

BBC media correspondent Rebecca Jones told Five Live the plans would be "the biggest change in the World Service for 70 years".

"In many parts of the world, especially the Middle East, the number of people watching television is rising, while radio audiences are falling, so the BBC believes the World Service must change focus to maintain and enhance its reach and reputation," she said. She said the expected Arabic channel would "compete directly" with other news networks, including Qatar-based al-Jazeera.

The BBC has previously entered the Arabic television market, in conjunction with the Saudi-owned company Orbit, but it foundered in 1996 following issues of editorial control. That same year al-Jazeera launched, based in Qatar, and recruited a number of former BBC Arabic staff members.

The station is best known outside of the Arab world for carrying exclusive al-Qaeda messages. Al-Jazeera is launching a new 24-hour English-language channel - al-Jazeera International - next spring.

Monday, October 24, 2005

An interesting phrase...

The world (and especially Israel) is full of politicians, generals, journalists, academics, intelligence agents and suchlike who have been invariably wrong about everything they have forecast (with rare exceptions, just as a broken clock still shows the right time twice a day.) Yet strangely enough, they remain in demand, their mistakes forgiven and forgotten, even if they had catastrophic results, as often happens in the case of generals and politicians.

From What Awaits Samira? by Uri Avnery

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ahmadinejad starts asserting himself

A few months after his election, the Iranian president has begun enforcing policies that people in and out of Iran have been anticipating for sometime now... BBC has a story on how the Supreme Council of Islamic Cultural Revolution, which is headed by Ahmadinejad, has imposed a ban on foreign films in Iran. But it sure is going to be very difficult, even impossible, to enforce. Foreign films, including Bollywood films, were all over the place in Iran and they are easily available on pirated CDs and DVDs.

A scary prospect?

Horror returns to Bengali cinema

Saibal Chatterjee (Hindustan Times)

October 22, 2005

A just-released low-budget Bengali film directed by a debutant has injected new life into a genre that had been dormant for decades. Apart from garnering largely positive reviews, Saron Dutta’s horror flick, Raat Baarota Paanch (Five Past Midnight), has opened extremely strong at the cash counters.

With a bunch of talented actors drawn primarily from the world of television, Raat Baarota Paanch relates the story of a single night in the life of six characters caught in a deserted and haunted house. The basic plot premise may not be terribly original, but Dutta invests the narrative with a quirky style that is distinctive without being obtrusive.

“The film is an experiment in the sense that we have tried to craft a low-budget entertainer targeted at audiences both in the big city and the smaller towns,” says the first-time director who cut his teeth in the rough and tumble of television serials.

He adds: “Offbeat Bengali films were hitherto meant only for niche audiences. One had to make a big budget film with saleable stars when one intended to reach out to the masses.”

Raat Baarota Paanch attempts to rewrite that unwritten rule. Like many of his contemporaries in Bengali cinema, Dutta feels that it is absolutely essential for a filmmaker to be able to communicate with as wide an audience base as possible. “Mumbai cinema,” he says, “has already created a viable space for niche releases. Why can’t we do a similar thing in Bengal?”

Dutta is a self-confessed admirer of the Ram Gopal Varma approach to filmmaking and one of the first films of the maverick Bollywood producer-director that he saw was Raat, a horror film that Ramu reworked a couple of years ago as the super-successful Bhoot.

Like Bhoot, Raat Baarota Paanch, which has no more than a solitary item number on offer, employs sound and music to great effect to manipulate the mind and heart of the viewer.

Dutta is not the only contemporary Bengali debutant director to have experimented with the horror genre. Celebrated editor Robiranjan Moitra has just debuted as a director with Mantra, “a horror film designed for the entire family”. Mantra is as niche as a film can get, but its target is obviously anything but limited.

That is one mantra that seems to be driving the new breed of Bengali writer-directors. They want to make films that they believe in but they do not mind keeping one eye firmly on the demands of the market.

Journalist-turned-filmmaker Subrata Sen has, for instance, already carved a niche for himself with a string of films dealing with the darker aspects of human behaviour.

Sen is currently making Bibar, his sixth film in a span of merely six years, having built up a reputation as a filmmaker with a sensibility that blends unusual themes with a saleable approach. The quality of his directorial output, which has ranged from digital shot quickies to regular 35mm releases, hasn’t been all that even, but his films have never failed to recoup the investment made on them.

A couple of years ago, two Bengali-language films, Abhijit Chowdhury’s sci-fi thriller Paatalghar, and Subhadro Chowdhury’s psychological drama Prohor had shared the National Award for the Best First Film of a Director.

What the two award-winning films indicated in no uncertain terms was a healthy willingness on the part of young Bengali filmmakers to experiment with genres and narrative styles that seemed to have gone out of vogue under the weight and influence of Satyajit Ray’s towering presence.

The mainstream release of the scary Raat Baarota Paanch is a sure sign that the young guns of Bengali cinema are finally ready to rebel against the established order. But as they branch out on their own in search of pastures uncharted, can they sustain their enthusiasm for their idiosyncratic ideas long enough to make a lasting impact?

Saturday, October 22, 2005


From The Indian Express

The Indo-French relationship, recently sweetened by the Prime Minister’s visit, the multi-billion-dollar Scorpene submarine deal and the Airbus purchase, has just turned sour. A peculiar visa row has escalated to such an extent that the Ministry of External Affairs, in an unprecedented move, has asked all government departments to put on hold any official visit to France.

In an October 19 letter, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has asked all Secretaries of government departments to not even plan for transit stops in France. Training programmes are on hold, officials have been asked not to attend social functions hosted by the French Embassy.

This, sources say, was provoked by an ‘‘informal ban’’ that the French have been practising over the past two weeks by not granting diplomatic visas to Indian officials. This apparently was prompted by a refusal of visas by the Indian Embassy in Paris to some French journalists. Efforts were made to contact the French Embassy late tonight but there was no response.

The retaliatory effect started with the French embassy refusing visas to officials accompanying Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who was to address an association of Indians in Paris en route to Geneva for the International Parliamentary Union.

His delegation was to leave on the night of October 13 and while Chatterjee and his wife got their French visas, his official staff did not. This included Lok Sabha Secretary General P D T Achary and other officials. So the team was split with one going to Geneva via Paris with Chatterjee and the other via Frankfurt which included MPs Hema Malini, Ajit Singh and Mohammed Salim and Secretary General (Rajya Sabha) Yogendra Narain.

Chatterjee decided to call off the Paris stopover and, instead, worked out a different route via London.

Saran is understood to have contacted the French Ambassador that evening and is said to have been told that the Paris official had claimed that ‘‘computers had a problem’’ during the day. Subsequently, it’s learnt that no other official or delegation has been given visas by French authorities.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Paris bar gets notice from Mumbai lawyer!

From Hindustan Times/PTI

Objecting to showing Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha in their revue "Bonheur", a lawyer from Mumbai has served notice to the world's most celebrated cabaret, Lido, asking them to remove the scene that hurts the religious feelings of Hindus.

Lawyer Sudhir Shah said that he had watched the revue of Lido on September 27 at Champs Elysees in Paris in France and his religious sentiments were deeply hurt.

"I have served a notice to the Lido asking them to remove the scene from the revue," he said.

He said that the theme of "Bonheur" is a woman's quest for happiness and to show the same in the said revue, Lido takes the audience on a 90-minute emotion packed journey to a land of spectacular fantasy and discovery.

"But in doing so in its Tableau the revue makes use of Indian gods Shiva and Ganesha and thereby humiliates them and makes a mockery of them," Shah added.

The lawyer further said that no person following Hindu religion can tolerate a scene wherein in front of Lord Shiva's idol topless cabaret girls are shown dancing and Lord Ganesha shown dancing cabaret dance along with them.

The producers of the revue "Bonheur" and the owners of the Lido have not cared about the sentiments of the person following Hindu religion in showing Hindu gods in the cabaret, he added.

In the notice, the lawyer said Lord Shiva is considered as the destroyer of all evils. Lord Ganesh is worshiped by Hindus when they start any new venture. To depict the gods among topless women is an insult to Hindu gods.

"Why the creators of the said revue should enact a scene wherein deliberate mockery of Hindu gods have been made? Why the producers, directors and the owners of the revue have not cared for the religious sentiments of Hindus?," Shah questioned.

The use of such icons in your revue is improper and is degrading the Hindu gods, he said in the notice.

The lawyer said that he would approach the French High Commission in India and the Indian embassy in France, if the organisers failed to reply to his notice of the confirmation of omitting the objectionable scene.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A potential market for Bollywood?

Riyadh welcomes return of cinema

From the BBC

The authorities in Saudi Arabia have given permission for the first cinema to open there in 20 years, but the only clients will be women and children.
Foreign cartoons dubbed into Arabic will begin to showing at the end of the holy month of Ramadan in a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

This could herald a comeback for public cinema in the conservative kingdom. Public screenings of films were stopped in the 1970s when clerics criticised them and demanded gender segregation. Private clubs continued to show films until the practice was banned in the early 1980s for contravening Islamic law...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Glimpses of India in Tehran

When I was in Iran in August, I could not help but notice bits of India in Tehran. And they are to be seen all around... whether it is the numerous Persian film magazines with Bollywood stars on their covers, the sleek Bajaj Pulsar bikes compared to the outdated Iranian ones, the Sikhs who call Iran their home and more. Here is the article I wrote for on the same subject.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Durga Puja in Paris

No way close to the magic of Calcutta but still a unique event in Paris. The puja, held at Maison de l'Inde (a hostel for Indian students in the University of Paris residential campus), allowed Indians to get together and enjoy some great Indian music and dance performances over a period of three days.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Hi! For those who have logged on and found no updates, I sincerely apologise. But a lot has happened since the last post on this blog and I have become much wiser. Especially, after my visit to Iran in August that has reinforced my belief how important it is to have an Indian journalist writing from Iran. Then, I moved to Paris in the last week of September for a year. I will be studying the Islamic world at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) where I will be specialising on Iran! I am excited!

Also, I now have a laptop and an Internet connection in my room that will allow me to make frequent updates. Will be seeing you soon in this blogosphere!