March 23, 2009

Here is an essay on the riot of feminism in Indian theatre and cinema, published in Siliconeer magazine.


July 26, 2008

Here is an essay about gurus and god-women, written in connection with the play for Siliconeer magazine.

May 7, 2008

Here is a comment on Indian outrage at George Bush's comment that increased consumption in India and China was contributing to the worldwide rise in food prices. The original was published in Tehelka.


March 27, 2008

On March1, the Vatican decided to confer sainthood on Sister Alphonsa, a nun from Kerala credited with the miracle of curing a crippled boy. Here is a scoop (full of lies, I assure you) about the second miracle of Mother Teresa, which should be sufficient evidence for the Vatican to speed her toward canonization.


March 12, 2008

Here is an essay I wrote for Tehelka, regarding a silly claim made by an Indian minister on the number of Indians at NASA. And here is a  longer version of that essay.


March 1, 2008

A comment on Indian Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's plan to install "discharge-free" green toilets in Indian trains. The original was published in Outlook magazine. Here is a longer version.


Feb 1, 2007

Here is an article I wrote about The Peacock Throne, published in Waterstone's Book Quarterly.


Jan 27, 2007

Here is a comment on racism in India, with reference to the row over Jade Goody's behaviour toward actress Shilpa Shetty on the British television show Celebrity Big Brother.


Jan 24, 2007

Here is a light-hearted essay , "How I Write", that was published in Time Out magazine, London.

August 15, 2006

If you live in Delhi, you are perhaps aware of the menace of monkeys all over the city. Recently, Delhi Metro hired a langur to intimidate monkeys who were intimidating passengers. I could not resist a comparison of this with the Mandal Commission, which is in the news again because of its proposed extension to �elite� institutions. The following essay is, of course, a pack of lies, and bears no resemblance to the monkey-business that goes on among our elected representatives. None of the newspapers mentioned below ever printed anything like this. The only authentic news item is the first one.

A Brief History of Delhi Zoo

Sujit Saraf

August 15, 2006


BBC News, Delhi, August 2, 2006

Delhi Metro authorities say they have employed a large black-faced langur monkey to frighten away other monkeys who were worrying passengers. The langur will be kept on leash at the Kashmere Gate station. This step was taken after a couple of incidents in June when monkeys boarded the trains, scaring passengers.


CNN, Delhi, September 1, 2006

Bharatiya Janata Party leader L. K. Advani has alleged that the langurs of Delhi Metro are more violent than the monkeys they were supposed to intimidate. �Monkeys are peace-loving by nature,� he claimed. �On August 16, a monkey boarded the metro at the Chawri Bazar station and travelled 3.5km to Civil Lines, where it alighted. Eyewitnesses say it sat in a corner and bothered no one. Its seat was found to be clean after it got off.� He denied the charge that the BJP was pro-monkey or anti-langur. �The BJP is pro-Delhi-Metro,� he emphasized.


The Times of India, Delhi, September 17, 2006

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has charged that positions meant for chimpanzees have been given to langurs in Delhi Metro. �Chimpanzees harbour a natural antagonism toward monkeys,� she said, �so why were langurs given preference? Even the Constitution has set aside twenty-two and half per cent of all Delhi Metro positions for chimpanzees.�


The Indian Express, Delhi, September 22, 2006

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has demanded immediate implementation of the scheme to reserve twenty-seven per cent of Delhi Metro jobs for orangutans.


The Hindustan Times, October 27, 2006

A Congress Working Committee meeting today authorized Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to rule on the langur controversy. �The monkeys of India look to you for leadership,� said the resolution. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mrs. Gandhi reiterated her party�s support for orangutan and chimpanzee reservations. She also announced the formation of a Langur Commission for Delhi Metro, which will submit its report in two months.


BBC News, Delhi, November 3, 2006

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) has charged Delhi Metro with langur-appeasement. At a press conference in Delhi, VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia claimed, �Langurs have larger families than monkeys, so they will soon surpass monkeys in population.� He also pointed out that India had long revered the monkey in the form of Lord Hanuman. �When Raam invaded Lanka, it was monkeys who floated a stone bridge over the ocean,� he said.


Rediff News, November 12, 2006

The BJP has alleged that seventy-five per cent of the langurs in Delhi Metro are Bangladeshis. �We are not against langurs for their genus but for their anti-Metro mindset,� said BJP leader and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. �We invite them to embrace Monkeyness, after which we will welcome them to the Metro mainstream.�


Rediff News, November 13, 2006

BJP leader L. K. Advani has clarified that Monkeyness is not a religion. �It is a philosophy, it is the Indian way of life,� he said.


The Telegraph, Kolkata, December 16, 2006

In an article in party organ People�s Democracy, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat has charged that the BJP is tearing apart the secular fabric of Delhi Metro with its fundamentalist campaign against langurs.


The Times of India, Delhi, January 3, 2007

Following the recommendations of the Langur Commission Report, the United Progressive Alliance government will bring a bill in Parliament to reserve five per cent of Delhi Metro jobs for langurs. This was announced by Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh after a UPA Coordination Committee meeting today.


The Indian Express, Delhi, January 7, 2007

Speaking in Parliament today, Gurudas Das Gupta of the Communist Party of India said the time was ripe for re-introduction of the Female Langur Reservation Bill. He was seconded by Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, who said the reservation for female langurs must not come from the orangutan or chimpanzee quota, or the male langur quota. There was a heated exchange between Miss Banerjee and Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, following some adverse comments by the latter.


The Times of India, Delhi, January 11, 2007

The BJP has threatened to launch a nationwide movement against the Delhi Metro Langur Reservation Bill. Meanwhile, VHP leader Praveen Togadia has announced the launch of a mass movement to liberate Delhi Metro from langurs and restore it to monkeys. �Delhi Metro is the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, whose ancient shrine stands near the escalator in Kashmere Gate station,� he said. �We will not let pseudo-secularists turn it over to langurs.�


The Hindustan Times, Delhi, February 19, 2007

Speaking at a primate convention in Delhi, Professor Subhash Mukherjee of Jawaharlal Nehru University said that the langur was merely a type of monkey. �The genus Semnopithecus is also called the Hanuman langur,� he said, �indicating that Lord Hanuman himself may have been a langur, not a monkey. Indeed, langurs and monkeys are closer to each other than to apes like orangutans and chimpanzees.�


The Hindustan Times, Delhi, February 21, 2007

BJP leader and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has accused Professor Mukherjee of trying to divide monkeys, orangutans and chimpanzees on the basis of genetics. �Calling Lord Hanuman a langur is an insult to all monkeys. It is nothing but pseudo-science, designed to advance the pseudo-secular agenda of the government.�


The Indian Express, Delhi, April 6, 2007

In a face-saving formula for the Delhi Metro langur controversy, the BJP has suggested that Shastri Park, Rohini West and Civil Lines be designated langur stations, while monkeys, orangutans and chimpanzees be allowed to roam free in other stations. �By separating monkey-majority stations from langur-majority stations, each section of Delhi Metro can be given a voice.�


The Indian Express, Delhi, April 7, 2007

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has accused the BJP of resorting to American-style gerrymandering. �India is a sovereign country and will brook no interference from western powers,� he declared.


The Times of India, Delhi, June 25, 2007

The BJP has alleged that langur droppings have made the air in Delhi Metro toxic. �There was no such problem with monkeys,� said BJP leader L. K. Advani. �Monkeys are clean, peace-loving and secular by nature.�


BBC News, Delhi, July 14, 2007

Monkeys of the Delhi Metro took out a procession demanding that the Langur Reservation Bill be withdrawn. �Merit, not genus, should be the only criterion for jobs,� said a monkey representative. �Langurs, orangutans, chimpanzees and monkeys should be given the same opportunities.� Three monkeys immolated themselves in protest, as police watched helplessly.


The Times of India, Delhi, August 29, 2007

Parliament today passed the Langur Reservation Bill over the vehement opposition of BJP members, who staged a walkout. �This is not just a triumph for langurs,� said CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat, �it is a triumph of secularism over fundamentalism.� BJP leader L. K. Advani has charged the UPA government with �vote-bank politics.�


The Indian Express, Delhi, September 22, 2007

Delhi Metro has announced that certain elite stations, such as Kashmere Gate, and elite jobs, such as escalator-watcher, will not be covered by the Langur Reservation Bill, and that langur reservation will be rolled out in a �phased manner�. Also, large and well-fed langurs will not be covered by reservations, under the �creamy layer� proviso in the Langur Reservation Bill.


BBC News, Delhi, December 9, 2007

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Y. K. Sabharwal has struck down the Langur Reservation Bill passed by Parliament. It said the Constitution did not allow for reservation of Delhi Metro jobs on the basis of genus. It also pointed out that the five per cent langur reservation, combined with reservations for orangutans and chimpanzees, would take the total percentage of reserved seats above fifty percent, which would violate the Constitution.


The Telegraph, Kolkata, January 11, 2008

CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to press for a constitutional amendment that would set aside the fifty per cent limit in reservation quotas. �Eighty-nine per cent of Indians are orangutans, chimpanzees, langurs, baboons and gibbons,� he said. �Why should the Constitution impose artificial limits on their job quotas?�


The Hindu, Chennai, February 2, 2008

Pattali Makkal Katchi leader Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss led a delegation to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, demanding immediate rollout of the twenty-seven per cent reservation for orangutans in Delhi Metro. He also came out against the �creamy layer� provision.


The Times of India, Delhi, February 3, 2008

BSP leader Mayawati has warned against any dilution in the twenty-two and a half per cent reservation guaranteed to chimpanzees.


La Repubblica, Italy, March 13, 2008

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was heckled at a Coordination Committee meeting in Delhi, with langur, orangutan and chimpanzee members demanding immediate restrictions on Delhi Metro monkeys. It may be recalled that monkeys successfully challenged the Langur Reservation Bill in the Supreme Court last year. A visibly upset Mrs. Gandhi snapped at a reporter from this newspaper, �Che cosa faccio in questo serraglio?�


The Indian Express, Delhi, March 14, 2008

Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi has explained that Mrs. Gandhi�s statement, translated from the Italian, means �India is a beautiful land of many cultures and religions.�


BBC News, Delhi, May 7, 2008

The Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan has offered to import monkeys captured by Delhi Metro.


The Times of India, Delhi, May 12, 2008

BJP leader L. K. Advani has said that the Tajikistan export plan �is a naked attempt to alter voting patterns in Delhi Metro.�


The Hindustan Times, Delhi, May 27, 2008

Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh today announced that Delhi Metro would export both monkeys and langurs to Tajikistan in the ratio of three monkeys to two langurs. �The transfer will begin as soon as a sufficient number of cages have been constructed,� he said.


The Telegraph, Kolkata, May 29, 2008

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat today issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop the deportation of langurs from Delhi Metro. He warned that, unless the PM stepped in, �CPI(M) will reconsider its support to the UPA government.�


The Hindustan Times, Delhi, June 3, 2008

The BJP charged the UPA government with pursuing a secret plan to sterilize monkeys and promote contraception as part of a family planning campaign. �It is an attempt to drive down the number of monkeys,� said BJP leader L. K. Advani, �while langurs proliferate at will.�


CNN, Delhi, June 6, 2008

The CPI and CPI(M) today withdrew support from the UPA over the Delhi Metro langur controversy, throwing the government of prime minister Manmohan Singh into crisis. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has convened an emergency meeting of the Coordination Committee.


The Indian Express, Delhi, June 8, 2008

After forty eight hours of hectic negotiations, UPA partners appeared close to a compromise on the Delhi Metro langur controversy. �We have the numbers,� announced UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.


The Times of India, Delhi, July 17, 2008

The Rajiv Gandhi Social-Justice Employment Scheme (RGSJES) was inaugurated today by prime minister Manmohan Singh at the Kashmere Gate station of Delhi Metro, at a function attended by all constituent members of the UPA. Under the plan, ticket-checkers will be langurs, drivers will be orangutans, sweepers will be chimpanzees, line-managers will be gibbons, and escalator-watchers will be baboons. The remaining jobs will be reserved for macaque monkeys. Orangutans and chimpanzees will also be eligible for the �Metroman of the Year� award.


�Delhi Metro has taken a step in the right direction,� said Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav. �But the passengers are still human. Those positions should be reserved for gorillas. The victory of social-justice forces will be complete only when Delhi Metro has become a zoo.�


copyright 2006, Sujit Saraf, all right reserved

Read my essay about the juvenile, indefensible practice of "ragging" in Indian colleges. A condensed version of this essay was published in Tehelka.

Read my cover story in Siliconeer magazine, on ten years of Indian theater in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here is a funny comment on the clearing of bookstalls from Mumbai pavements in early May, 2005. 

The Original Da Vinci Code

Sujit Saraf

May 28, 2005

copyright 2005, Sujit Saraf, all right reserved


Mumbai, India. The city feels clean now. Order has been restored, the rule of law re-asserted and roads cleared for commuters. On May 6, forty five booksellers lining Veer Nariman Road near Flora Fountain were evicted by the BMC, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Police uprooted pavement stalls and carted off a hundred thousand books to be dumped inside a Wadala godown. The BMC was implementing a court order to enforce the �no-hawking� zone around Churchgate Station.


I have never bought a book from Flora Fountain in Mumbai, but news of this eviction reminded me of the Daryaganj Sunday Book Bazar in Delhi, to which I owe my small collection of books.


Every Sunday morning, two kilometres of the street in Daryaganj were transformed into an endless pavement library selling Virginia Woolf and Nancy Friday, and everything in between. And of course, Shobha De. And magazines that would make Shobha De blush like a schoolgirl. I spent countless hours in the Daryaganj Bazar with tired copies of Alistair MacLean, Graham Greene, Ayn Rand, Kafka, P. G. Wodehouse, Louis L�Amour, Camus and Steinbeck. The buying ritual was simple. You thumbed through the book contemptuously, tossed it back into the pile, walked off in a huff, were called back by the seller, and cajoled into buying it for forty percent of his initial quote, which was arbitrary anyway. Everyone knew that many of those books were pirated but no one discussed where the books came from. Our motto was an advance on Bill Clinton�s cowardly �Don�t Ask Don�t Tell�. Ours was �Why Ask When You Know?� For those who still asked, the seller would point to a yellow, spineless (literally) pile and declare with a shrug that it had just arrived from the �company�, which could vaguely mean Oxford University Press or a Mumbai drug cartel. The sellers claimed to buy books in bulk at scrap auctions where publishers disposed of surplus stock. There was much pretence about �rare books� and �hard to find� books. The second bit was true, but not in the way the sellers meant - books were indeed hard to find in the Daryaganj Book Bazar. They were not arranged in any order, and you relied on a catalogue stored inside the seller�s head, which was actually quite good considering he was often illiterate. The book was a picture in his mind.


Most shoppers were college students. There was the lonely European buying Lonely Planet for two hundred. No one could afford books published in Britain or America after the cruel exchange rate had appended ciphers to the price. So, for the rich and the very rich (who were not very very rich), there was Daryaganj Book Bazar, selling The Merchant Of Venice, The Satanic Verses (supposedly banned), Numerical Recipes in C, Wuthering Heights, Dubliners, Airport, Ice Station Zebra, and all the books written by James Hadley Chase (and Shobha De, of course). The legal angle did not concern us. We possessed then what Americans now call moral clarity. There was the market before our eyes, romanticized in newspapers and marked with two stars (�visitor favourite�) in tourist guides, stretching endlessly under the gaze of policemen, each with his own commission per stall per Sunday. What did a �pirated� book mean in a Bazar that was itself illegal? Most of the �legal� shops in Daryaganj, whose downed shutters made the pavement Bazar possible on Sunday, had illegal extensions, awnings, poles, mats, rugs, water-coolers, racks and shoe-stands. Cars were parked illegally around the Bazar, buses were packed beyond legal limits, buildings had illegal upper floors. If you were fussy enough, you would be told that beggary was illegal and smoking was banned in public buildings.


This happy state of affairs was disturbed by a short-lived drive in 1992, when sellers in the Daryaganj Book Bazar were evicted by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. A campaign of outrage by intellectuals and some bureaucrats, as odd a coalition as any, followed. Writers wrote, campaigners campaigned, protesters protested. Pamphlets were posted, metaphors were mixed (�Mecca of bookworms�), articles were arranged about the �bibliophile paradise�, �lifeline of students� and �last outpost of culture�. The Corporation capitulated. Sensible illegality was allowed to resume.

I do not know if Indians love to read, but Indians certainly are in love with the love of reading. This is a peculiarly Indian conceit. From time to time, some sententious hack will write a warm article on the smell of old books and the wonders of piracy, which enables Indians to enjoy Freedom At Midnight for thirty five rupees. Apparently, the pavement libraries are a tradition, a peculiarly Indian tourist attraction to be pickled and preserved like the Taj Mahal. In Mumbai, the booksellers of Flora Fountain have grown wise to this strand in our vanity. Until May 6, they were poor Indians trying to make a living. As the poor in any country would, they sold whatever they could lay their hands on, and sold it wherever they could. Some sold wristwatches, some sold tea and samosas, some stationery, some ladies� underwear, and some books. After their eviction by the BMC, the booksellers have been reincarnated as reformers with a revolutionary zeal. The rude confiscation of their stock has been likened to �kicking the goddess Saraswati in the stomach�. On their desecrated pavements, they have erected signs that send Indians who love to love books into paroxysms of guilt - Are books polluting? Are books a menace? Do you need old books in Mumbai? Then come forward to support us!


There is much sighing and hand-wringing in Mumbai newspapers. A passionate columnist has written that the eviction of Mumbai booksellers is the �first sign of a decadent, self-destroying, fascist state.� History has not forgiven Hitler, continued the columnist, and it may not forgive this act. The books sold around Flora Fountain apparently have a therapeutic effect on the denizens of Mumbai � they challenge the onslaught of malls, cheap Chinese toys and dumb television shows. They are the last bulwark against commercialism. A slim volume of Force 10 From Navarone is all that stands between India and barbarism. Books are not vegetables, wrote another columnist. This heartless eviction does not carry the moral weight of the BMC�s previous campaign, which was the banning of �dance bars� that corrupt the Indian Man and dishonour the Indian Woman. If the BMC cared about its image (it does not), the eviction would have been called a public relations disaster. Even BMC corporators, whose own organization is the villain, have passed resolutions expressing �support for the cause� of the booksellers. Such passionate support means, of course, that nothing further will be done.


The Mumbai eviction reminds me that some day, inevitably, they will wipe out the Daryaganj Sunday Book Bazar. All good things must come to an end, even illegal ones. Bibliophiles will bubble with outrage and columnists will cluck their tongues, but the Bazar will be swept off the pavements with many promises of �relocation� that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi will not keep. Perhaps the students of Delhi will stop reading Arthur Hailey. Perhaps they will all �go legal� in a fit of civic-mindedness. I do not know. I do not care much for the Daryaganj Book Bazar any more. It is no longer the market I knew and loved, no longer the home of utterly useless and sometimes unpredictable books. Today�s students, as any self-respecting seller will tell you, come to buy information technology manuals and self-help guides. Their middle-class pragmatism displays itself in tomes on Java and C++, I�m OK You�re OK, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Daryaganj Book Bazar has gone serious, which is worse than going legal. Demolish it.


Once they are done with Daryaganj, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi may consider  descending on Nai Sarak in Chandni Chowk, less than a kilometre away, and the largest used-book market in Delhi. Used-books have a respectability that pirated books do not, but Nai Sarak could not be entirely legal, right? And once they are in Chandni Chowk, perhaps they can lay to rest the Rolex watches and Reebok shoes?


Back in Mumbai, we can expect a general increase in literary awareness in the BMC, now that it commands a library of one hundred thousand books in its Wadala warehouse. Corporators will slink off their desks to sneak peaks at Hamlet. Clerks will slip copies of Mrs. Dalloway into their tiffin boxes. Unsolicited reviews of The Pilgrim�s Progress will appear in newspapers, signed by our favourite bureaucrats. Meanwhile, publishers are watching with barely concealed glee. They care not for the illegal use of space, they worry about illegal books. With a hundred thousand books, presumably pirated, seized and locked, extra money will certainly flow their way. Unlike the BMC, publishers do care about their image and cannot applaud a heartless eviction. They will grin and bear the pious pontification and ponderous articles, and the lament over lost romance. And then, they hope, this is the beginning of an unfamiliar era of legality in India.  Like spitting in public and travelling �WT� in buses, buying cheap pirated books is another nasty Indian habit that will perhaps wither away.


But of course, the booksellers of Flora Fountain will be back in a few weeks at a different corner under the protection of a different police constable. The Da Vinci Code will be available again - the original version, the seller will swear to you, before editors removed offending pages and neutered the book - for forty four rupees. A dollar, for those unfamiliar with the exchange rate.


copyright 2005, Sujit Saraf, all right reserved


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