Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cycling, Despite the Theories

Text and photographs by Shafi Rahman

Way back when I was in college, a comrade, with whom I strongly shared the belief that Indian villages will surround the cities and stage a revolution before we graduate with a lower-second-class degree in English Literature, came late to the class with his right arm in bandages. The curious teacher asked him what happened. Sinoj said with a straight face: I was cycling past Puthen Pally and thought about theories on cycling, lost balance and fell off.
We were a select few at St Thomas College, Thrissur, and cycling was no joke for us. In Sen Thomas College (as we called it), the children of affluent rice merchants, jewellers in High Road, wholesalers in Sakthan Thampuran Market and our own college professors came in variety of motor bikes – Yamaha RX 100, Kawasaki Bajaj, mileage-plenty Hero Honda. While bikes stood under covered parking lots, our cycles drenched in Kerala rains and always looked freshly bathed, ready to ride.
My first cycle was a BSA SLR, manufactured by the TI Cycles in India with the licence from Birmingham Small Arms Company, which also manufactured cycles from 1880s as all cycles needed was large quantities of standard parts accurately machined at low prices (Yeah, according to Wikipaeedia). The cycle had a rear-view mirror, a ding-dong bell, a carrier on the back, a light that worked on dynamo and a sponge seat cover that sucked rain water and wetted my pants in abundance.
The cycles were our constant companions while we scurried up and down High Road; while rode past rotten vegetables at Sakthan Thampuran market; while we stopped to chat up with Christian girls with fluorescent prayer beads around their necks. The cycles waited for us outside public library where we read the paper backs and the Guardian, which always arrived a week late. The cycles were with us when we threw stones at helmeted policemen from Armed Reserve Police camps while protesting against rigging of municipal polls in Nicaragua, detention of Nelson Mandela and our own pre-degree board.
 I gave up cycle as I got into newspapering and needed to catch up with fleeting news moments. An editor asked during an internship interview: Do you know what is the most important thing a journalist should possess?
“Compassion, objectivity, may be fairness?
No, he said. “Every journalist should have a driving licence.”
As I travelled to work later to Dubai, I was warned abundantly against perils of the road. “These Arabs don’t die natural death. They live till they die of road accidents,” Mommali Ikka who ran a local restaurant told me.
Later in Delhi, a journalist friend spoiled my plans to buy a cycle. “Beware of Happy Singh.  He is the guy with SUVs and he is out on the road to kill you. Think of him every time you touch your toe on the pedals.”

When I landed up in London, another journalist friend stopped me from buying a cycle with a curt warning: “Journalists are dying of shrapnel wounds in Afghanistan and Syria. Do you want to die of freak cycle accident?”
London is not a great place to cycle around, especially with its freaky weather. Despite the frozen water sitting against their skin and curse of numb toes, London cyclists brave weather and scary traffic. The hep artist crowd in Shoreditch and other commuters racing against spiralling tube prices hit the tarmac daily cycling through riverside capital’s sinews. They fought with truck drivers and raised middle fingers – that universal symbol of anger -- against oncoming traffic.
Despite the weather, there are many happy cyclists in London. They move around with sense of purpose, through the streets with blue-green light reflected on them off tinted office buildings around Liverpool Street, Mansion House and Canary Wharf. They curse pedestrians – the women who dressed out of the Prada catalogues, men in ill-fitted suites, shining here and there -- who ignore cyclists at the traffic lights.

 London’s arty crowd and hipsters -- in skinny jeans, deep V-neck Tees and headphones louder than big bang -- have been the most important members of the city’s cycling crowd. Despite the black cabs splashing puddles, the hipsters move around, carrying a collective unimpressed look and aviator glasses on their faces. Every cyclist maps his own parts in the messy tangle of the city’s streets and pedal across with a sense of ownership.

The modern-day bogeymen in two wheelers were enough inspiration for me to buy a cycle last month. But the last straw came when an old friend and a good brother started posting his cycle-pix and ride reports in the Facebook page of Cochin Bikers Club. Ajith Varma, is one of the finest artists, who helped launch the Middle East’s largest newspaper Khaleej Times and a former colleague.

While his lovely children grew taller and adorable, Ajithettan remained young, fit and always offered a quick smile. He is one of the people whom you could ask “how old are you if you don’t know your age?” and you can easily get the answer: eighteen. He stayed fresh spirited, like one of the meadows where winter never bothered to visit.  In FB he cheered youngsters cycling all over the state and scripted Omerta Codes and offered cycle babbles for Kochi’s cyclists.

In Kochi, these new set of cyclists are blogging and attracting fresh set of pedal happy denizens. But the city’s cycling infrastructure is pathetic and there was never an effort from the City Corporation to build dedicated cycle lines and attract eco-friendly transport system. Let us hope the renewed interest in cycling will change things for better.

"In Copenhagen I cycle with one grandchild at the front of the bike and another at the back, and a five-year-old grandchild on his own bike next to me. That can be done if you have bicycle lanes which are proper lanes which have kerbs and proper junctions. But in London, never," said Jan Gehl, who was in the UK recently to give a talk to Royal institute for British Architects.

Jan Gehl, an architect and planner helped oversee New York's recent move towards widespread bike infrastructure and is part of building cycling architecture in many cities.

Cities, he insists, should be designed so people feel "they are invited to walk as much as possible and to bicycle as much as possible", making cycling both normal and accessible to all ages.

The blogs like Londoncyclists keep a vigil and regularly list the accidents and loss of life of their fraternity. Here’s a taste of entries from the blog.
·        9th cyclist to die: Brian Holt: Hit by a lorry on Mile End Road, part of Cycle Superhighway 2
·        10th cyclist to die: Francis Golding: Hit by coach, junction at Vernon Place and Southampton Row
·        11th cyclist to die: Roger De Klerk: Hit by the 410 bus. Cherry Orchard Road and Addiscombe Road (East Croydon).
·        12th cyclist to die: Venera Minakhmetova: Hit by Heavy Goods Vehicle. Bow Road Roundabout E3 along Cycle Superhighway 2.
·        13th cyclist to die: Unidentified man: Hit by 205 bus. Whitechapel High Street, junction with Commercial Road. Along Cycle Superhighway 2

Whether it is Kochi or faraway London, there is an urgent need for building dedicated cycle lanes and to make them lively, liveable and sustainable cities. Till then one should brave the traffic and keep the gung-ho spirit. And, of course, never think of theories of cycling.

Monday, October 15, 2012

When Rambo's Villains die: an old post

Oct 31, 2011

In Libya, authorities are deciding how to deal with Col Gaddafi's death and, in particular, his burial. As one scours the back pages of history, when the enemies of the US - with wildly different goals - died, there has always been an ominous chaos over their burial and graves. Many who had been part of the US battle plan, whether they died in direct conflict or not, were dragged into the politics of graves nanoseconds after their death.

Two years after September 11, Bin Laden wrote a poem, "Let my grave be an eagle's belly, its resting place in the sky's ambience amongst perched eagles." Eventually when the bald eagles got to him in Abbottabad, his body was thrown into the sea. The fantasies of a Caliphate-obsessed Wahabi have already become fleeting, as Muslims across the Middle East are juddering the autocrats with democratic protests. The US, as if possessed by the demons of Osama, sought to liquidate his legacy with a watery burial. Uncle Sam wanted Osama dead or alive, not dead and alive.

For the US, it's not for the first time the corpse of its dead political enemies caused such dilemmas. When the American superman was fighting the hydra of Communist revolutions, it had faced similar dilemmas. When Che Guevara was caught by Bolivian and undercover US forces, they had faced a similar crisis of dealing with the body of their nemesis. On an October night when his body was placed on a stretcher, tied to the landing skids of a helicopter, and flown over to Vallegrande, the US was planning ways to "disappear" his body. The men around behaved like a boy who raided his father's closet. CIA officer Felix Rodriguez collected his personal relics – Rolex watches, last pouch of half-smoked pipe tobacco put inside a glass bubble set into the butt of his favourite revolver - before leaving for the US to brief his bosses. His executioner, Mario Teran, took home his pipe. Doctors slit his throat and injected formaldehyde.

Che's death had created Laden-like, Gaddafi-like, confusion about convincing the outside world about how he was actually killed. General Alfredo Ovando Candia wanted to chop off Che's head and keep it as evidence. Rodriguez found the idea too barbaric and suggested that only his fingers be chopped off. A compromise was reached later and his hands were cut off and placed in jars of formaldehyde. Soon two forensic experts were flown in from Argentina and the prints matched those in the file of "Ernesto Guevara de la Serna".

On October 11, Che's body was dumped in a secret grave near the Vallegrande airstrip. The details of the grave remained a mystery for 30 years. His skeleton was recovered, minus the hands, in July 1977 by a Cuban-Argentine forensic team from a two-metre pit along with those of his six comrades. Grave or no grave, for the rest of the world, Che left a variety of impressions. Fidel Castro then rendered an emotional goodbye to his beloved comrade: "If we wish to express what we want our children to be, we must say from our very hearts as ardent revolutionaries: we want them to be like Che!"

When CIA man Sidney Gottlieb landed in the Congo in September 1960, he was looking for the toothbrush of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's feisty first prime minister. He was carrying with him a vial of poison. Before the CIA could reach his toothbrush, a military coup dislodged the government. The CIA abandoned the plot against the man whom it feared to be a rabid communist and the poison was dumped into the Congo River.

The Eisenhower administration continued to fear the man would loosen the grip of the US on natural resources of Africa and his anti-colonialism scared Brussels. "In high quarters here, it is the clear-cut conclusion that if [Lumumba] continues to hold high office, the inevitable result will [have] disastrous consequences . . . for the interests of the free world generally. Consequently, we conclude that his removal must be an urgent and prime objective," CIA Director Allen Dulles wrote. When he was killed in January 1961, the CIA and Belgium came under suspicion. After his arrest by Congolese authorities in December 1960, Belgium managed his transfer to Katanga province under Belgian control. After his arrival there on January 17, Lumumba was killed by a firing squad commanded by a Belgian officer.

Belgian Police Commissioner Gerard Soete and his brother cut up the body with a hacksaw and dissolved it in sulphuric acid.  Lumumba, 35, had written to his wife a week prior to his death: "I prefer to die with my head unbowed, my faith unshakable, and with profound trust in the destiny of my country."

Joesph Stalin's death was equally dramatic but this time not engineered by the US. Radio Moscow told the world on March 4, 1953 that Stalin had been struck with cerebral haemorrhage while in his Moscow apartment (but Stalin was at his dacha). The central committee communique asked the Soviet people "to redouble their unity, solidarity, fortitude of spirit and vigilance in the troubled times". But Stalin had fallen sick a week before the announcement. Politburo members who visited Stalin after his staff told them that there was something wrong with his health decided to not go inside his room as "it would not be suitable to make our presence known while Stalin was in such an unpresentable state." When the doctors were called in, some of them were even scared to check his pulse. "You're a doctor, aren't you? Go ahead and take his hand properly," Politburo member Beria told a doctor. Politburo members kept a night vigil; powerful ones got the day shift. Nikita Krushchev was on night shift when Stalin died.

"Suddenly Stalin stopped breathing. A huge man came from somewhere and started giving him artificial respiration, massaging him to get him breathing again. It was painful for me to see him working over Stalin. I said, Listen! Stop it please! Can't you see the man is dead? What do you want? You want to bring him back to life!" Krushchev wrote in his autobiography. After lying-in-state for three days, Stalin's body was sent for embalming.

After Lenin’s death in 1924, Professor Vorobyev embalmed the body. He inserted an electric pump into Lenin's body to ensure constant humidity. This time the job went to Professor Zharsky, Vorobyev's assistant who spent seven months to embalm Stalin’s corpse. In November 1953, it was placed near Lenin's body.

Following Stalin's death, the party, led by Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party (1953-1964) and premier of the Soviet Union (1958-1964), started admitting atrocities committed by Stalin.  In a "secret speech" at 20th Party Congress he hit out at Stalin. After two years, the party uncorked a plan to remove his physical memories. It set up a speech by Bolshevik old-timer Dora Abramovna Lazurkina at 22nd party Congress. She spoke with vigour: "My heart is always full of Lenin. Comrades, I could survive the most difficult moments only because I carried Lenin in my heart, and always consulted him on what to do. Yesterday I consulted him. He was standing there before me as if he was alive, and he said: 'It is unpleasant to be next to Stalin, who did so much harm to the party.'"

Khrushchev rose to the occasion by reading out his plan remove Stalin's remains: "The further retention in the mausoleum of the sarcophagus with the bier of J. V. Stalin shall be recognised as inappropriate since the serious violations by Stalin of Lenin's precepts, abuse of power, mass repressions against honourable Soviet people, and other activities in the period of the personality cult make it impossible to leave the bier with his body in the mausoleum of V. I. Lenin." His body was buried with other lesser leaders near Kremlin wall and obscured by trees. A granite stone at the Generalissimo's grave reads J. V. STALIN 1879-1953.

Nicaragua's most respected guerrilla leader, Augusto Cesar Sandino, whose ragtag rebels fought US Marines during the 1930s, was killed by the US-backed dictator General Somoza. According to Sandinista lore, General Somoza's assassins cut his body into pieces and delivered his head to Washington as a token of loyalty. General Somoza scattered his body in different locations to confuse searchers and ensure that his body would not be found by his supporters.

Dead bodies have another life as symbols. Histories are often rewritten, quoting these dead in and out of context. There are more remains of St Francis than a single human being could ever offer.

The men who are theoretically gone are not politically gone.  Many of them have busted a cherished myth: death kills. Even without a tomb, Sandino's hat, his boot, his writings continue to groom national identity.  The US might have ensured Che died young, but Che still inspires anyone who questions circularity of history. On the wall of a public telephone office of Vallegrande is the graffiti saying "Che - alive as they never wanted to be."

The strangest legacy of Che was left on CIA man Rodriguez. "Che may have been dead, but somehow his asthma -a condition I never had - attached itself to me.  To this day, my chronic shortness of breath is a constant reminder of Che and his last hours," wrote Rodriguez.

Gaddafi has been moved from an industrial freezer tomb to a more discreet one. With the death of Gaddafi, who had a love-hate-relationship with the US, democracy is all set to grow like a green zaitoon tree in the Arab street, threatening many pro-US regimes, giving the US another set of chronic shortness of breath.

Vadra's Media Warriors: A Story From Deep Freezer


An investigative story on Robert Vadera was filed over an year ago but never found its way to the India Today pages for the reasons best known to its editor Kaveree Bamzai. The story, taken out of deep freezer, still has lot to say. Pushed to wall by the activists, the media is now forced to act.

 Shafi Rahman
date:11/3/11 at 5:12 PM
to Kaveree, M, Ranjit, me

From being a low-profile exporter of blings, Robert Vadera, son-in-law of Gandhi family, is expanding his business interests at a pace at that will envy any businessman. In the process, he has sewn up partnerships with big and small business houses, while amassing assets and properties running into several hundred crores.

His assets, associations and fitness obsession have been part of Delhi’s feisty rumour mill for long. But even by those standards, what India Today investigation has unveiled is much bigger. The companies owned by Vadra have among its assets acres of land in Congress-ruled states like Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana, enjoy partnership in top-notch business hotel in the capital and own premium flats and plots in National Capital Region.

Vadra companies have ventured into real estate business in tier-three cities. But his intention to turn the properties from agricultural to non-agriculture land use raises questions. The changing of land use from agricultural use to non-agricultural use had caused political tensions in many parts of the country, especially in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The conversion from agricultural usage to non-agricultural usage spirals the price of the land.

In 2007-2008 Sky Light Hospitality, with Vadra and his mother Maureen Vadra as directors, purchased agricultural land measuring five Bhigas and 12 Biswas in Sohna tehsil of Haryana for 7,94,00,000. “The land is in the process of conversion from agriculture to non-agricultural usage. Your directors hope that the project will yield good profit to the company in the future,” Vadra wrote in the director’s report of Sky Light Hospitality.  In 2008-09, the company acquired land in Bikaner for Rs 79 lakh and in Manesar for Rs 15.3 crores.

The Skylight Realty Private Limited, another company owned by Vadra asnd his mother Maureen Vadra, with a paid up capital of Rs 5 lakh, made fresh investments in land and property in 2009-10. “The company has paid remuneration to the directors and also appointed well experienced staff member in the field of realty. In order to create attractive profit on flat booking services of the property broker also were obtained,” says the director’s report of the company written by Vadra. In 2009-10 the company marked a profit of Rs 2.44 crores more than double of its profit in 2008-09 of Rs 1.11 crores. The earning per share of the company also shot up to Rs 489.95 from previous year’s Rs 22.25. Vadra also received Rs 60 lakh as renumeration for his role as the director of the company.

In the same year company purchased flats land in Palwal in Haryana for Rs 4,220,000 and Hayyatpur in Haryana for Rs one crore. Flats were booked with Ramaprastha Builders, DLF Ltd and Endure Realty for Rs 3.09 crores. In 2009-10 company added agricultural land in Bikaner, Rajasthan, to its kitty worth Rs4,786,760. It also bought B-1115 Aralias apartment for Rs 8,941,650. Another Rs 9,383,324 was spent on furnishing the apartment. It also spent Rs 52,320,000 for acquiring 7 flats in Maganolias, a DLF property. It also paid DLF Estates Rs 50,682,427 for its Capital Green property. The company has Rs 6,237,957.48 as fixed deposit in Standard Chartered bank.

Another company with Vadra and Naureen, the Real Earth Estates also went on huge purchase of land in tier-three cities in 2009-2010. It spent Rs 58740170 for purchasing land in Hayatpur, Hassanpur, Bikaner and Mewat. The company also set aside Rs 12,190,000 for buying a plot in the capital’s posh Greater Kailash. The company also received Rs 5 crore loan from the DLF. “The company has entered into joint venture arrangements with Sky Light Realty Private Limited. Very soon company hopes to enter into the field of construction. Necessary legal formalities are being completed in this respect,” says Vadra in the director’s report for 2009-10.

Another firm, under ownership of Robert Vadra,Sky Light Hospitality had entered into a partnership agreement on 20 Dec 2009 with Saket Courtyard Hospitality after acquiring 50 per cent shares for mere Rs 5 crores. The DLF is another partner in the firm. “The company has contributed Rs 5 crores as contribute capacity as partner. The business for property at Saket is managed by Hilton International,” says Vadra in the director’s report. The Hilton Worldwide had opened the doors of the first Hilton Garden Inn in the Asia Pacific region in December 2009, its latest addition to the brand’s portfolio of nearly 500 hotels worldwide.

The company also spent Rs 79,500,000 and Rs 153,844,500 for buying property in Manesar in 2008-09 and added another land worth Rs 7,956,530 in Bkaner in 2009-10. The company balance sheet for 2009-10 shows that a land at Maneasr was sold and Rs 50 crore was received as advance. The Sky Light Hospitality also received Rs 2.5 crores as unsecured loans from the DLF Ltd in 2008-09 and only Rs 1 crore has been returned as 2009-10 balance sheet. The company also received Rs 5,214,970.54 as interest from fixed deposits during the period.

North India IT Parks, again with Vadra and his mother as directors, bought 85.62 acres and 75 acres each in Bikaner, for Rs 10,211,030 during 2009-10. Silver Breeze, Vadra-owned firm, which is engaged in aircraft leasing business has also purchased agriculture land worth Rs 6,909,262.  The company receives Rs 425,447.56 as interest on fixed deposits. Former Indian Innformation Service officer, Sreenivasan Krishnan is one of the partners in the firm.

Robert Vadra has received unsecured loans from the DLF companies as well as a small-time hotelier in New Delhi. In 2008-2009, Sky Light Hospitality, with Vadra and his mother as partners, took unsecured loans from the DLF Ltd, twice -- once Rs 15 crore and later Rs 10 crore. Of these Rs 10 crore loan was paid back in 2009-10.

Vadra has also received unsecured loans from Hotel Golden Tulip owners Carnival Intercontinental. Hotel Golden Tulip is located in the Safdarjung residential area. The Carnival Intercontinental, owned by Gurgaon-based businessman Lokesh Pahwa, gave Rs 1.55 crore loan in 2008-09 financial year to the Sky Light Hospitality.

The unsecured loans of the Indian companies have recently come under scanner as it became a convenient means of paying bribes. The DMK-family owned Kalainjar TV had got into trouble after it received unsecured loans from DB realty involved in 2G spectrum scam.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hookah Days, Henna Nights


The Muslim checklist wascomplete -- each man had three fistfuls of beard, colourful turbans and trousers that hung just above their ankles. And in an autumn morning visit to the town, in the height of his regime, Shah was moved by the devouts. With his fetish for changing town names, he christened it Zahedan, the city of devots. But Shah had just committed another error of judgement—the men were sikhs and not muslims. The ancient city town once hosted large number of sikhs and the town was called Dozda (thieves) with locals offering many explanations for the name. The more likely explanation is that the city was resting place of thieves and other and much more romantic explanation was the rain soaked water straight through the soil, thereby the ground stole by the water like a thief. The town lived up to its early name during the recent earth quakes when 90,000 tents of the Iranian Red Crescent for the victims were stolen from the town allegedly by the Balluchis. A much more personal explanation for calling it city of thieves is the Zahedan Tourist Inn, where we checked in, which rips foreign tourists off with $147 rooms! Today the town has lost its commercial importance, but has gained strategic prominence as the capital of trouble-torn Sistan and Balochistan province, the only legal crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan. A city that will figure more in Wikileaks than in Wikipaedia! As we land in Zahedan, the temperature on the ground is announced as zero degrees. Mahanair (Maha Nair, if you like), flight with shark-grey underneath lands among IL-62s. The Zahedan Tourist Inn is antiseptically clean. Three electric lamps hang low on the counter, making the counter clerks look like chicks in an incubator. Only food available for dinner is “vegetable pizza”. The first dinner in Iran is spoilt. Death to Amrika, Death to vegetable pizza! The only computer with internet connections is slow and Facebook is still faceless. Burqabook, I sigh!
Try talking to them. Their goofy faces break into girlishness. “I like Shah Rukh Khan but Hindi movies always have similar endings,” says Aida, a part-time school teacher and master’s student in English literature. “Here everyone wants to learn English. Persian is a great language, but English will help you to go places,” she adds. We walk around in the night, allegedly a dangerous thing to do in Zahedan. The policemen in the street keep advising us to go back to the hotel. A lonely tea shop with countless hookah gives us refuge.


Kerman is ISBT for all those drug peddling camels in the region. They imitate homing pigeon, but at a lesser RPM. Kilogrammes of opiates are surgically inserted into their humps and are left to walk from border to pre-determined places in Kerman. The camels are giving a tough challenge to Iran’s $400 million war on drugs.


While moving towards Kerman, one gets to cross cultural borders separating the Persians of the central plateaus and the Baluchis, who resemble Pakistanis more than Iranians. Trailing caravan routes of forbidding Dasht-e-Lut, the grey desert is scrambled with flat-top mountains. On the way to Kerman, we share breakfast with a local tribe. We sit around the food, and eleven or twelve of us start eating. There is honey, cheese, minted milk, bread and dates, almost violet in colour. “Hope you like our curd,” says Mustafa, after we finish our olives and order more cheese. Mustafa claims to be hundred-and-three years old but looks much-much younger. Outside Baluchi soldiers in camouflage salwar kameez roam around drinking minted milk. A lonely soldier stands close to wild flowers, as if he is part of a bouquet, ready to be plucked. Kerman is home of the Sufi mystic Moshtaq Ali Shah. The man who added a fourth string to the Setar (literally meaning three stringed instruments). He fell out of favour with local mullahs and was stoned to death after Friday prayers. One can pay homage to the Sufi master at Moshtari-Ye Moshtaq Ali Shah. Kerman National library boasts itself as informational technology centre. But it will floor you with its architecture. A forest of columns supported by vaulted ceilings. The Qajar-era design was purpose built as a textile factory! Wish Coimbatore had Qajar architects.


The Museum of Holy Defence commemorates Iran’s eight year war with her neighbour. Last letters of soldiers, bloodied uniforms, kalashnikovs, documents from war and an animated model of Karbala V, a celebrated battle. In a glass box the broken hands of the Shah from a mutilated statue are exhibited with vengeance. The Shah’s middle finger is pointed up, in lingua-franca of anger, at the visitors and of course, at the current regime. A college-goer with a well-barbered head appears offering help in English. “See the regime of Shah was important to our generation. The Islamic revolution helped to change his regime and bring in new hope for Iranians,” he says. Then he moves closes and adds “though I don’t believe so”. He’s the man to get chatting with. “How good is my English? I am a student of English literature.” I give him six out of ten and give myself two of ten for uninhibited talk with a absolute stranger.
“I like India, its people and its movies,” he says, a standard line you get to hear often. “Here we are under oppressive rule. We don’t have the freedom to live life as we want. If we speak against the volunteers, we face a tough time,” he says. He recounts the story of a friend who was picked up for his political leanings. “For three days, we didn’t know where he was. Later he turned, badly beaten up.”

He talks about his girlfriend. “She is sweet but stubborn at times,” he says. “In campus if you talk to girls for long the security guards will warn you. We talk to each other through SMS,” he says. Though it never occured to me to disbelieve the stuff he told me, he opens his message inbox to prove the point. “From where you got that funny shirt,” reads the message.
He opens up and goes on with all sort of queries, from mating habits of sub-continent’s adult population to shooting skills of cops in Hindi movies. “See sex and love are important to human beings. We are deprived of all these,” he insists. At times he looks like a victim of Letah, the Malaysian hysterical condition, whereby victims become convinced that their penis was about to shrink inside their body. My only hobby now is smoking,” he says. “May be I don’t need sex. My Government fucks me every day”.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Here’s a prayer, written in blood, for Chollima from the bunker

Everyone, who loves a good revolution, should join this prayer. Dear comrades, our team, the People’s Dictatorship of North Korea, are playing against world number one Brazil, the mighty running dogs of imperialism. And we are the underdogs, tournament's lowest-ranked team, coming in at 105 in the international standings.

The party broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang reported that the only proletarian team received a festive send-off on Saturday, with residents waving North Korean flags outside the airport as the players arrived. Footage showed women waving flowers as the team boarded the plane. Coach Kim Jong Hun promised 'a great success.' In true Communist tradition, North Korea have so far been the tournament's most elusive team, granting few interviews, avoiding photographs and kicking journalists out of what was scheduled to be an open training session last week.The North Korean dark horses - fittingly nicknamed Chollima, after a mythical winged horse - are devoid of big names. We don’t believe in individuals, we believe in class. It’s one for all.

Our party keeps a close eye on the national side's performance. It banned the team from travelling abroad after losses to South Korea and Japan in qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup. We don’t mind losing municipal polls to Mamta Banerjee. After all who wants to be that lady -- may be some female transsexuals who long to be a woman. Being a woman or a Mamta is just an excuse for not playing football.We will fight to win matches. In our only previous World Cup, in England 43 years ago, we became many people's second team as we beat the mighty Italy on the way to the quarter-finals, where we went out to a Eusebio-inspired Portugal, 5-3. We Communists can even surprise ourselves. Anyone remember comrade Valery Borzov, who stunned the American sprinters by winning both the 100 and 200 at the 1972 Olympics? Or East German comrade cum marathoner Waldemar Cierpinski, a virtual unknown, who won gold in 1976 and 1980?

In a pre-game press briefing on Monday, our Coach Kim Jong-hun refused to take any questions from the bourgeoisie Press on politics, broadly defined. "Who selects your team - you or the president?" one journalist asked, creating an Arnab Goswami vs Kishenji situation. FIFA press officer Gordon Glenn Watson grabbed the microphone. "That's a political question. Next question please," he said.

In fact, FIFA should know. During a qualifier match hosted in Pyongyang, North Korean fans became enraged when the referee failed to award Korea DPR with a penalty kick after a controversial play near the end of the match. Demanding a penalty, they rushed Syrian referee Mohamed Kousa, who instead gave a North Korean player a red card. Bottles, stones and chairs were thrown and North Korean fans refused to let the Iranian team leave the stadium on their team bus. Following this incident, Korea lost its right to host the subsequent home match with Japan and the game was instead played behind closed doors to an empty stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. We readily agreed. We were not bowing to the FIFA, it was just a tactical line. But as good Communists, we love closed door matches. Like fiery comrades at the extended central committees, we won the closed-door match. A thousand flowers bloomed at the empty stadium.

Kim Myong-Won usually plays as an attacker. But coach Kim Jong-Hun added him as one of the three goalkeepers, as all the squads must nominate three eligible keepers for the tournament; however, the move backfired, as FIFA revealed that Kim will only be allowed to play as a goalkeeper, and not as an outfield player as had originally been intended. Remember, “tactical lines” are not always successful. Even our campaign to reach football's four-yearly showpiece was not free from intrigue, our favourite trait. Earlier this year we said our players had been poisoned ahead of a 1-0 defeat in Seoul, allegations that South Korean football officials branded as "groundless" and "far-fetched." The North, in a statement, also pointed the finger at the Omani referee. "The match... turned into a theatre of plot-breeding and swindling," the party statement said. Plot-breeding and swindling – we love those words. Did we hear it before from our-own Prakash Karat, resident commissar of AKG Bhavan?

Who said Trotskyism is dead. China is North Korea's chief benefactor, and it apparently respected the wishes of our reclusive leader Kim Jong Il last week when it refused to confirm his secretive visit to Beijing until he had left. A China-based sports apparel maker, Erke, sponsored all of North Korea's teams in the Beijing Olympics two years ago, and it now sponsors the country's football team. The team kept their World Cup jersey under wraps prior to the tournament, sending collectors determined to buy all 32 teams' shirts on a global hunt for the manufacturer.North Korea have been all but invisible in the football fever that has gripped host country South Africa. The isolated nation is probably the least represented in the deluge of flags, jerseys and other gear that has flooded the country. Vendors near Ellis Park, the Johannesburg stadium hosting North Korea's opener, were stumped by requests for the country's jersey embroidered with mythical bird, Chollima, on Monday. "Sorry boss, next time," said a vendor after checking in vain with colleagues up and down the street. After all comrade Mao had warned: Revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery.

Unlike the wealthy nations staying in their five star hotels, our poor comrades have been forced to send their players to a public gym for strength training. The players mingled with South African musclemen, smiling graciously, as they pumped iron with their legs. There are others who keep false hopes. “For one thing, I’m guessing no North Korean will score a goal, then lift his jersey to reveal a t-shirt that says “I love Jesus.” And I doubt that a petulant striker will badmouth the coach and storm out of the camp, says sports writer Ed Wyatt.

Poverty leaves North Korea as a team of internationals that don’t even have refrigerators. As North Korean player Choe Myong Ho eloquently stated, “What’s a refrigerator for? It allows you to get cold drinks in the summer. And if you do that, you could catch a cold and not be able to train.” I am going to cheer this guy.

If you have not yet changed your mind to support these guys, here’s one more reason to cheer North Koreans. Our star striker is 24-year-old local committee member Ri Kwang-Chon. Remember, comrade Pinarayi Vijayan is also a Chon.