Saturday, 24 September 2016


     South Delhi is where most of Delhi's multi millionaires live and  where the least amount of Income Tax is collected. Its residents, therefore, are naturally in a mood to celebrate all the time by throwing dinner parties with all these tax savings. Now, I don't get invited very often because I'm an ardent Kejriwal supporter and- let's face it- millionaires consider him a pustule on the backside of history. But my wife is more politically correct and better connected through her Facebook account so I do manage to slink into a dinner or two occasionally. I have found the experience fascinating.
    Lets begin with the time line. Nobody- but NOBODY- ever arrives at a dinner on time: to do so ensures you will never be invited again. Such aberrant behaviour reveals more about you than a petri-dish does about a virus in Dr. Lal's Pathlab. It indicates, for example, that you are unemployed or ( God forbid) retired, that you have no other place to visit that evening, that you are trying to save on the AC charges in your own home, that you are unimportant flotsam. Unfortunately, I ALWAYS arrive at the appointed hour indicated by the host. Its a Pavlovian response, brought on by the fact that, having spent all my formative years in hostels where one never knew when or from where the next meal was coming, one was always on time at the feeding trough, nose-bag ready. In South Delhi, however, if the card says 9.00 PM it usually means midnight. So, while the host and hostess ( or bride and bridegroom) are still getting dressed, I usually spend my time chatting with the vassals or patting the pooch or listening to Arnab Goswami doing to politicians what the rooster normally does to the hen. Its a bit boring, but it does build up a healthy appetite.
   The conversation. There are no Oscar Wildes or Chestertons or even Groucho Marxs in South Delhi, so don't expect to be edified or elevated at any stage. There are plenty of jokes, though- usually about Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi- but most of the conversation is about income tax raids on friends, I Phone models, Kamini Jha and Barbara ( beauticians whose ministrations are di rigeur  before a South Delhi aunty can even consider stepping out of the house, even for a funeral), the trip to Angkor Vat, property prices in Gurgaon ( there is no more land left in Delhi except the Yamuna flood plains but that is reserved for that great environmentalist Sri Sri Ravishankar), or the latest Godman who is milking them dry.
   There is, however, a major problem in initiating a conversation with someone. One never knows who is married to whom. It would be a mistake to assume that the couple you met at the last dinner is still a couple: chances are that they have now become two singles or  a mixed double or even part of a triple. The cognoscenti always skirt this area in the peroration but, having been married for 39 years ( to the same woman, by God!) I always lead with my chin. My breaking-the-ice conversation usually goes like this:
ME  : Hullo, Mr. Ramani, how's the charming Mrs. Ramani ?
HIM: Oh, she's Mrs. Kapoor now.
ME  : Oh, I'm delighted-uhh, sorry- to hear that. But wasn't Mr. Kapoor your best buddy?
HIM : He still is. After all, he's married to my wife, you know.
At this point I usually wander off to the bar where life is simpler and the conversation ( and smart phone video grabs) are usually about Sunny Leone: nothing complicated there, for what you see is what you don't get!
   The food served at these dinners is distinctly anti-national if not seditionist, because there is nothing Indian about it. No beef is served, of course( the chef may be a closet Gau Bhakt), but all endangered species of meat, fish and fowl grace the table. The South Delhi elite is genuinely globalisesd- bank accounts in Cayman islands, companies in Panama, residences in London, weddings in Paris, holidays in Venice, shopping in New York--why then should the cuisine be Indian?
   Indian cuisine in all its forms has been given the quietus- Mughlai, Avadhi, Punjabi , Hyderabadi, Goan, Malabari: they are all passe now. The delicious Kashmiri dishes are a no-no these days as serving them amounts to supporting the separatists. In fact, even Mr. Modi's " Look East" policy appears to be floundering: our initial affairs with Asian cuisines- Chinese( Szechuan, Cantonese and Ludhianvi), Japanese and Thai- have given way to a full blown passion for French cuisine these days. But South Delhi has, as usual, got it all wrong. French cuisine is broadly divided into three styles, the oldest being the Classique, then the Haute and the most recent being the Nouvelle. France itself has gone back to the older first two in recent years but we persist with the Nouvelle of which, I'm sure, Vir Sanghvi would strongly disapprove. The logic for it, however, is indisputable: if the nouvelle-rich will not serve nouvelle- cuisine then who will ? (The Italian cuisine is still holding out, however- barely-just like the Congress party, and hoping to make a similar come-back along with the Gandhis).
   As any chef, or reader of Vir Sanghvi, knows, the emphasis in Nouvelle is on the presentation- the food itself can taste like a dog's breakfast ( and usually does) but the table-ware and arrangement of the food on the plates would make Camelot look like Parathe-wali Gali. The salads resemble a patch of the Amazon rain forest, the consomme ( they don't call it soup in these francophone days) is as translucent as a Kim Kardashian dress, the meats so life-like you expect them to walk ( or fly, or swim) off the table any moment, and the trays of multi hued sauces/dips/dressings/ condiments resemble Michaelangelo's palette just before he flung himself at the Sistine chapel. Its usually a grand spectacle, and everyone goes back home delighted and hungry as hell.
   Of course, it goes without saying that everything ( or at least all that is visible) has to be imported, including the liquor. South Delhi guests give short shrift to anything local. I once met this Croesus-like real estate magnate at a dinner who was loudly informing the humbler five- bedroom types about his recent toe nail operation: " And then the Doc told me he would operate with a local anesthetic. Local, can you believe it?!  Nothing doing, Doc, I told him,  get an imported one or I go to Monte Carlo for the operation!" He is currently being de-nailed and defanged by the Supreme Court, without any anesthesia, of course.
    The most important ingredient--the Guest List. South Delhi dinners are not meant to feed the hungry: they are a power statement, and therefore conform to an informal set of Do's and Don'ts which, after years of hanging around with the minions, I have managed to figure out. The important points:
*  You HAVE to invite Arun Jaitley.
*  If you invite Arun Jaitley DO NOT invite Subramaniam Swamy.
*  If Mr. Jaitley is there then you should also invite your Income Tax Commissioner and the Director Enforcement. They will get the message( if not the evaded tax). Virbhadra Singh didn't invite them and look where he is now.
*  At least three of your guests should have either a Rolls or a Bentley. Remember, the neighbours are watching! Audis and BMWs are out- everybody in Gurgaon has one.
*  ALWAYS invite at least one lawyer, one doctor, one physiotherapist, and one chartered accountant. Your other guests will be grateful for the free advice they can extract from them after their fourth drink. But keep track of who is who: you don't want the lawyer drafting an affidavit on your haemorrhoids or the physio advising you on how to contort or incurvate your income tax return ( although both would happily do it if the fee is right).
*  Keep handy a list of the regular panelists on prime time TV and never invite more than one of them at the same dinner or you will end up with an impromptu panel discussion. For example, if you are calling Col. Ajai Shukla then Maroof Raza is a no-no; if Shazia Ilmi then renounce Shobhaa De, if Pavan Verma then do without Ambassador Singh. And if you are out of your mind and want to invite Arnab Goswami then invite no one else- he is his own audience.
*  Never invite an IAS officer and an Army officer to the same dinner or very soon your living room will become a battleground, held hostage to OROP and Non-functional Upgradation . The other guests may soon become " disguested": they have no interest in one rank one pension. Their interest lies more in the area of " one voter many votes" or " one Indian bank account, many foreign bank accounts". As for Non-functional Upgradation, chances are that they'll consider it a procedure prescribed by a sexologist for improving the...uh.... functioning.
*  It is adviseable not to invite Robert Vadra either, not just because he absolutely refuses to wear a collared shirt, but because he may like your property and want to buy it, after first taking an interest-free loan from you, of course.
   A good cologne or after shave lotion is an essential accessory for such occasions. You see, everyone kisses everyone at these dinners: no one shakes hands anymore because the CBI might misconstrue it as an imprimatur on a devious deal, Mafia style. Earlier one kissed only the ladies but now you have to kiss all and sundry (including that hulking golden retriever) or you would be considered anti-LGBT, a politically incorrect position for someone who is supposed to be a mover and shaker of society. Now, I don't at all mind kissing the ladies: at my stage in life every  kiss by a lady is an epiphany. But I have to draw the line at a 250 pounder loin of Punjab with his mane in the wrong place. So I have( without any help from Niti Ayog or the Observer Research Foundation),  found a way out of all this convivial slobbering: I apply a little Vicks Vaporub on my nose and announce I have a cold. This keeps everyone away like I was a suicide bomber. Only the golden retriever knows the truth but he ain't telling anyone.
   And finally, the Exit. Exiting a South Delhi dinner is an art which needs a lot of practice and panache. If you leave too soon the hostess would be offended( you didn't like the food), but if you don't leave anon she might become apprehensive( you're staying for breakfast). You have to strike a balance, as the Duchess told the Duke when he kept falling off the bed during their late night amours. You should definitely try to leave before the rooster next door ( no, I'm not referring to Arnab Goswami here) greets the dawn. A good exit line is: " Sorry, I must rush-- Mr. L.K. Advani is waiting for me." Since the poor guy has been waiting for two years now for ANYONE to call on him, the statement is not entirely incorrect.
   I usually exit just before the fat lady begins to sing.


Sunday, 18 September 2016


   The shocking release of Mohammad Shahbuddin on bail by the Patna High Court on the 10th of this month raises a disturbing question: Who will judge the judges ? Is our legal system so weakened by " technicalities" that it cannot keep a multiple-conviction criminal in jail ? Here is a dreaded and certified gangster with 40 criminal cases pending against him, of which at least six, involving murder, abduction and assault are under trial. He has been convicted and sentenced to life in two cases and given ten year sentences in two more cases. How has he been allowed bail and set free to tamper with evidence and intimidate witnesses ? Actually, he doesn't just intimidate witnesses- he kills them. In fact, the case in which he has just been granted bail involves the killing of an eye-witness in a murder case !
  No amount of legal skullduggery by expensive lawyers and technical spouting by learned judges can justify a decision which is abhorrent to any fair justice system. So what if the state did not file the chargesheet in time ? Should the court not have taken into account the previous convictions, the life sentences, the pending cases, the reputation and antecedents of this bahubali before releasing this predator back into society? So what if the state did not oppose his bail plea? Is the court guided only by a corrupt and compromised state govt. to the point where it switches off its own rational faculties? Was the High Court so gullible as to not see through the collusion between the prosecution and the defence ? It boggles the mind that someone like Rajesh and Nupur Talwar ( sentenced. in a controversial judgement, to life for killing their daughter) cannot get bail but a Shahbuddin, with TWO life sentences, can manage bail ! We know the law is blind, but is it also brain dead? As I write this, two appeals have been filed in the Supreme Court for revoking the bail. We await their outcome, and we also hope that the SC asks the Patna HC to throw some light on its outrageous order.
  The country is headed for serious trouble, and lawlessness on a epic scale, if even the superior courts interpret laws in such an inconsistent and incomprehensible manner. Because this is not the only judgement that raises eyebrows. Here are a few more judicial gems from the last couple of years:

* In Kerala, a 19 year old student of a technical college was rusticated for living in with a 20 year old man. The charge was " violation of discipline." She approached the High Court which upheld the action of the college, holding that " eloping and living together without contracting a marriage" was punishable behaviour. The court not only was oblivious of the fact that these were two consenting adults in the 21st century, but it also showed scant respect for the Supreme Court order which has recognised live-in relationships as socially and legally proper. A court should be delivering justice and not moral sermons.
* Last year Arvind Kejriwal, the besieged Chief Minister of Delhi, called the Delhi cops " thullas." A constable filed a defamation case against him, the trial court found a prima facie case against the CM and summoned him as an accused. Kejriwal appealed to the Delhi High Court which asked him to explain what " thulla" meant since, even after an exhaustive search of all Hindi dictionaries, they could not find this word !  If the word does not exist in any dictionary how did the trial court come to the conclusion that it was defamatory and damaging enough to summon the CM ? Surely, the practice of law does not mean the abdication of common sense.
* Salman Khan was famously acquitted in the Mumbai hit-and-run case by the Bombay High Court ( he was convicted by the trial court) because the hon' judges did not believe an eye-witness ( a policemen, no less) who stated that Salman was himself driving the car. Should not the court then have revealed who in fact was driving the car? Were the two dead labourers run over by the Phantom, the Ghost-who-walks ? And was he also the mysterious driver in the black buck case who could not be located, thus leading to Mr. Khan's acquittal in this case too ?
* During the run up to the elections in 2014 a judge of the Allahabad High Court ordered that caste based gatherings were illegal ! He obviously did not let petty considerations like constitutional provisions stand in his way. The order was stayed by the Supreme Court.
* Similarly, last year the Rajasthan High Court ordered that " santhara" ( the Jain ritual of fasting and obtaining samadhi) was illegal since it amounted to attempted suicide. One must laud the Court's compassion and humanism, but one also has to look askance at its disconnect with reality. There was an outrage and the Supreme Court, well versed in this juridical fire fighting by now, stayed this order too.
*  MS Dhoni, the Indian cricket captain ( at least as I write this) appeared in the cover of a magazine as an Indian God and was promptly summoned by a court for " hurting the religious sentiments" of the complainant. Once again, he was rescued by the Supreme Court. Another trial court in Bihar summoned the God Hanuman a few months ago for encroaching on public property !
*  In the second longest soap opera ( after " Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi") which is currently playing to packed houses- I refer to the alleged money laundering case against a serving Chief Minister- the middleman who invested this gentleman's allegedly ill gotten gains  has been in jail for two months and is being tried, but the principal accused has neither been arrested nor being tried ! I am not passing judgement on this CM- he may well be totally innocent; I am only emphasising the absurdity of a legal process that jails the middleman but allows the main accused to remain free. Should the court trying the middleman not be asking the question: Where is the main accused ?
  A lot of this smorgasbord of legal inconsistencies is due to ridiculous laws that allow the police to arrest without any evidence or even investigation ( sex crimes, domestic violence,dowry), that lay a premium on so called " religious feelings", that criminalise defamation, that distinguish between marital and non-marital rape, that restrict free speech, and so on. A lot is also due to a corrupt, politicised, avaricious and ignorant police which twists every law to serve its own purpose, or the purpose of its masters, regardless of court rulings: continued registration of baseless sedition and Information Technology Act( Section 66) cases testify to this blatant violation of law laid down by the highest courts. But it is precisely because of these two reasons that we expect the judges to be even more vigilant, inquisitorial, distrustful; it is why we expect them to look behind the mere letter of the law to its true spirit , meaning and intention; it is why we expect them to constantly keep a finger on the pulse of society; it is why we expect them to take stringent action against the officials who misuse the laws, it is why we expect them to be more pro-active in ferreting out the REAL truth in a case. Unfortunately, the courts are failing us.
  Some of the reasons for this failure are: excessive workload, systemic delays, an untrustworthy and often influenced prosecution, and an uncooperative  bar. But they are not the only, or even the main, reason. The primary reason why the judiciary is not being able to respond effectively to a rapidly deteriorating justice system is that it has locked itself up in an ivory tower under the specious justification of " independence of the judiciary." It has cocooned itself in a comfortable world of near immunity from the law and public opinion by insisting on the Contempt of Court Act and ruling that the executive cannot take legal action against any judicial officer without prior approval of the High/ Supreme Courts. It does not look kindly at any criticism of its functioning or judgements. It rarely takes any action against its own; a bureaucrat can be prosecuted and imprisoned for even a genuine mistake ( or even for no mistake, witness the H.C. Gupta affair) but it is rare for a judge to be hauled up for even a patently irrational judgement. In the process it has  distanced itself from the people, lost its credibility, become insensitive to public opinion. ( I recollect reading about a case in Britain a few years  back where a High Court judge was compelled by public outrage to resign after it came out that he had reserved more than one hundred judgements. It is impossible to conceive of a similar situation in India where orders are kept reserved for months and even years, where judges routinely " recuse" themselves from cases( sometimes after multiple hearings) without a word of explanation.). For any system to work properly it must be accountable- if not to the government then at least to the people, if not even that then at least to itself. Our justice system has become almost totally unaccountable and that is the crux of the problem. It has become whimsical, erratic, unresponsive. The biggest alibi for criminality today is the cliche mouthed by all those who are complicit, in one way or the other, in breaking the law or in protecting the criminals : " The law will take its course." It is almost an assurance that nothing will happen. It is also why nothing ever happens to the powerful politicians, big industrialists, celebrities: it is an endless list of the powerful, the rich and the well connected who have the power to turn the "course" of the law any which way they want. Their cases drag on for years till all evidence ( and witnesses) go missing; multiple appeals and injunctions ensure that no finality is ever reached; and more often than not they are the beneficiaries of a judicial benevolence ( the Nandas and Ansals, for example) never shown to the other 350,000 undertrials who have not even been convicted! It is also the reason why vigilantism and flagrant disregard for the law is becoming rampant-when the state will not act legally the people will act illegally.                                                                                                                    Its a pity because, with the executive and the legislature having almost disintegrated, it is only the judiciary that is keeping our sorry democratic edifice still standing; if it too goes the way of the first two, then our tryst with destiny will be quite different from what Nehru had envisioned in a better time.