There is a place where men do not get any respect; they call such a place “pub”. On a recent Saturday, I visited one of the famous pubs in Chennai which had bluntly announced outside its entry door, “Stags not allowed.” Women, however, did not have such conditions. Well, that was a moment when I felt insulted as a man. One of the VIPs visiting the pub, stag, assisted my entry. In India, one needs “recommendation” even to enter a pub.
Once I was inside, I realised that the evening was billed as “Rai Music Night”. Youngsters were dancing to the music of Cheb Mami. Listening to his music, I became very nostalgic.
The people of Kabylia (north-eastern part of Algeria) used to be penalised if they spoke in their mother tongue, Kabyle, and were forced to speak Arabic, the national language. When they fought for their language and freedom, it was Cheb Hasni who strengthened the struggle with his “Rai music”.
Cheb Mami, who was born in 1968, released his first album in 1987, and sold a whopping one lakh copies in Paris alone. However, Algeria’s military government banned his music concerts for three years. His wife moved to Paris as another singer, Cheb Hasni, started receiving death threats from religious zealots. Hasni sang about love making, alcohol and divorce, and would say, “I shall not leave my soil even if I have to lose my life for that.” Hasni was just 26 when he was killed in 1994. In his six years of musical life, he released 80 albums.
During those days in Paris, if you asked for Hasni’s album, the shopkeeper would ask, “Do you want the one that came in the morning or the one that came in the noon?”
Some day, Insha Allah, I will be able to fulfil my desire — to place a rose on Hasni’s grave in Ain-el-Beida, the place where he now lives.
Recently I had a different experience at a party hosted by the British deputy high commissioner to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. In a cluster of 300 guests, I knew nobody and nobody knew me except the host, deputy high commissioner Mike Nithavrianakis, who is a friend. However, how can the host spend all of his time with me? So I sat on the lawn enjoying a few drinks and the music. Ok! coming to the point.
None of the parties I attend in India serve brandy. After a little inquest, I observed that Indians enjoy their whiskey more than brandy. As I am a brandy lover (especially Remy Martin), I stay away from whiskey admirers. You know, Tamils and whiskey are so bonded.
If in any doubt, look at the numerous bikes parked outside Tamil Nadu’s government bars (TASMAC). Most of the people there are drunk by 9 pm.
There is a joke about this among the Tamils in Paris. Generally, in European countries, driving rules are followed stringently. But the French police are generally soft and they seldom trouble the public. However, when they find a Tamil driving, they say, “There goes Johnnie Walker!” and check them for drunk driving. The person who told me this was Tamil too, and he said, “This is not racism, some of our people do do such things.” Thank God! I can’t drive, or ride — not even a bicycle!
In February, five men suspected to be involved in two major bank robberies in Chennai were killed in a police encounter. Human rights activists have since been crying foul, questioning the need to kill the suspects.
Unfortunately, I cannot support them. Reason being — the fake democracy in India. Let me give you an example. Last year, when the DMK government was in power, a book fair was organised in Madurai. The organisers had placed a few cut-outs of writers there. Suddenly, from nowhere, a group bobbed up and started picking up all the flex board cut-outs carrying a girl’s picture. Why? The girl, daughter of an aide of Azhagiri (son of M. Karunanidhi), had reached “puberty”.
Nobody dared to lift even their little finger against these men, not even the human rights activists. Can one call such a country democratic?
Bank robbery and mugging have become daily news. Robbers casually enter houses, kill sleeping people and take away jewellery and cash and valuables.
According to police records, many of them are from northern border states, and most are bonded labourers made to work in stone quarries. The police, often unable to control such robberies, becomes demoralised and this frustration results in impulsive, often deadly, reactions.
One of the reasons why city people live with a feeling of insecurity is the humongous disparity between the rich and the poor. In many villages of Tamil Nadu, the monthly income of a private school teacher is `1,000 and employees at, say, petrol bunks is `2,000. However, the income of a movie actor is `20 crore. In this situation, how can you stop crimes?
Isn’t there a stark similarity between the animals that run from the forest into the village in search of food and the bonded labourers who become robbers, even killers?
What is happening here is a war between the haves and have-nots. And the police thinks that “everything is fair in war”! Just like my human rights activist friends, I too desire to stand with political correctness, but my conscience refuses.
Charu Nivedita is a post-modern Tamil writer based in Chennai. His magnum opus, Zero Degree, is considered one of the best in trangressive fiction.
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