Sunday, 3 December 2017

Let’s Not Demonise Talaq Beyond A Point


I’m all for banning Triple Talaq. Don’t let the post headline mislead you. No, I am not for a moment saying that Triple Talaq shouldn’t be banned. Far from it. The Triple Talaq practised in India is not Quranic law, just an extreme interpretation of it.

However, let’s for a moment look at how different Islam’s approach to marriage and divorce is from other religions.

Amongst orthodox Jews, the wife may initiate the divorce, the rabbinical courts may order the husband to grant the divorce, but the husband has to actually issue a document called ‘get’, before the divorce can take effect. Since the husband may choose to not issue a ‘get’ even when ordered to do so, a woman may be denied a divorce even if the courts have ruled in her favour.

For traditional Christians, marriage is a sacrament, not a contract and divorce is an abomination. The protestant reformation legalized divorce, but getting a divorce did not become easy.

In England and Wales, the Matrimonial Clauses Act of 1857 moved divorces away from the canon law of the Church of England. This Act rendered Christian marriages contractual and allowed legal separation by either husband or wife on grounds of adultery, cruelty, or desertion. However, men and women were not treated alike by the new law. The Act explicitly made divorce easier for men than for women: a husband could petition for divorce on the sole grounds that his wife had committed adultery, whereas a wife could only hope for a divorce based on adultery combined with other offenses such as incest, cruelty, bigamy, desertion, etc., or based on cruelty alone. The Crown expanded this new law to its colonies such as Canada and India. India got the Indian Divorce Act of 1869, which was on the same lines as the English law.

In 2001, the Indian Divorce Act was amended and adultery, desertion and cruelty were made independent grounds for divorce. Divorce by mutual consent was also introduced.

For Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, divorce is governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. A couple may divorce by mutual consent or a spouse may sue for divorce citing cruelty or adultery or a number of other grounds. In other words, a contested divorce. An unilateral divorce isn’t provided for.

In my view, marriage should be treated strictly as a contract and it should be possible for one party to walk away at any point. There needn’t be mutual consent or the need to prove to a court that the other party is at fault.

Currently, the only religion which permits an unilateral divorce – one spouse getting a divorce without having to prove that the other spouse is at fault – is Islam, but only for men. In Islam, a woman may initial divorce, through a process known as Khul, but the husband needs to agree.

I think the Islamic Talaq is the most sensible form of divorce and should be rolled out to all religions, genders. One party declares a divorce, there’s a reasonable cooling period during which there could be a change of heart, after which the divorce becomes irrevocable.

I look forward to the day when India has a Uniform Civil Code, which applies to all Indians, irrespective of religion. And hopefully such Code will also provide for painless, unilateral divorce on the lines of the Islamic Talaq.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Book Review: The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, by Shinie Antony


With a title like that and because the blurb talked about Rudrakshi’s (Roo) relationship with a much younger mysterious man, I ought to have expected a romantic tale. But because I have read a lot of Shinie Antony, I knew in my gut that an Antony novel would be anything but a simple romance between an older woman and a younger man. Recently I was on a roller coaster ride at Universal Studios in Singapore. Titled the Mummy Returns, we riders knew that at some point the tame ride would ‘descend’ into danger and darkness. Though we were prepared for it, when the sudden descend began, many shrieked. No, I didn’t shriek in Singapore and I didn’t shriek when The Girl Who Couldn’t Love slipped into chaos, but on both occasions, I almost did.

As I’ve said in one of my earlier reviews, Antony‘s style is unique. Her English is simple and sparse, yet alternately acerbic and incisive. Her observations are sharp and at times witty and over the top (actually, they are out of the world), even when narrating a sad tale.

The Girl Who Couldn’t Love is written in the first person, as narrated by Roo, a spinster who teaches English at an international school in Mangalore. Initially, Roo seems to be a simple soul, one who merely corrects the spelling when she intercepts a vulgar note (making fun of her singleness) passed between her pupils. Her aunt EeeDee seems to be as simple a soul as Roo. Roo’s mother, a nearly blind old woman who continually praises her late husband, also seems to be standard issue. As for Roo’s suitor D. Kumar, he could have come out of any Mills and Boon paperback.

The clues are there from the beginning, but the reader cannot fail to miss them. When one finishes the novel, one will end up re-reading it to figure out why one ended up being taken for such a ride, albeit an enjoyable one, in a masochistic sort of way. I’m not going to say more and give away the plot and spoil this for you. Do read this novel, I highly recommend it.

I have previously reviewed Antnony’s Séance on a Sunday Afternoon, When Mira Went Forth And Multiplied and The Orphanage for Words.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

If Prince Harry were to marry Meghan Markle


I’m no big Royalty watcher (but I do keep an eye on them folks) and no keen advocate for keeping the Royals on the throne, and in comfort, but there’s something nice about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a couple. I’d like to see them make it permanent. However, I don’t think such a move would go down so well with the hardcore Royalty supporters and their support is crucial if the UK is to not become a Republic, something I wouldn’t mind either.

Just thinking, if Prince Harry and Meghan Markle make it permanent, it would set the Royalty on the long road towards redundancy.

On the other hand, there are lots of people, especially the Royal household, who number in the thousands, who rely on the Royalty for their livelihood. These people will do everything possible to make Harry break up with Meghan. I hope they fail.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Sumiya Dorjsuren - Judo's latest heroine

For a judoka, an Ippon is the equivalent to a boxing knock-out. If you don't manage that, a Waza-ari comes close. Koshi-guruma is one of the original 40 throws of Judo as developed by Jigoro Kano and Sumiya Dorjsuren managed exactly that at the 2017 World Judo Championships in Budapest against the World number one, Tsukasa Yoshida of Japan.

Well, Mongolia has a new heart-throb!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Shrien Dewani is still rich

Remember Shrien Dewani, the gay, millionaire, Briton of Indian origin who was accused of orchestrating his newly wed wife's murder during their honeymoon, but later found innocent? Well, he continues to be a millionaire. Despite the possible distractions of an agonising trial and so many people (including me) pointing fingers at him, his firm PSP Holdings made a profit of £11m in 2015 and £4.5m in 2016!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Book Review: No Strings Attached, by Sheila Kumar


Reading a Mills and Boon novel has been on my bucket list for the last twenty years or so, ever since I knew enough about books to be snooty about them. No, No Strings Attached has not been brought out by Mills and Boon, far from it, but hey, I can recognize the real McCoy when I run into it, especially because the author Sheila Kumar has dedicated her latest book to her M & B gang.

Keep your prejudices aside, I had strictly instructed myself before I waded in and was hit with two perfect human specimens. Half English Nina Sabharwal is everything a hetrosexual man would look for in a woman and Samar Pratap Singh is a case of Adonis meeting a young version of that chap from Bridges of Madison County, with a big dose of royalty thrown in. Yes, Samar Singh, aka Heartbreak Singh belongs to a royal family from Jaisalmer and is rolling in money and does not really have to work hard for a living (as a world famous photographer), but he does.

At times I did wonder why two perfect human specimens who are engulfed in love, desire and admiration for each other have to put themselves through so much trauma and grief, delusion and self-deprivation before they do the only sensible thing in the given circumstances, but hey, love does conquer all, but one should expect hurdles on the way. A lot of hurdles.

No Strings Attached is written in simple English, without too much frills, the sort which gets you to the meat of the story, very much akin to the way Samar and Nina strip each others’ clothes off and ….

I believe Sheila Kumar used to be a full-time journalist and No Strings Attached is set in the world of Indian journalism. If you are familiar with this world, you may recognize a few characters, but that shouldn’t distract you from enjoying this splendid romantic thriller, which is dying to be made into a classy movie, a Hollywood movie - the sensibilities are too sophisticated for Bollywood.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Book Review: Adi Sankara & Other Stories, by Susan Visvanathan


Three short stories by Susan Visvanathan. The first one a mango slice, the second a pineapple with a slice missing and the third a pine cone. The mango from which the mango slice comes must have been a big one, though the slice is not large, possibly not more than one-sixteenth of the mango, or even one-thirty second. The pineapple, on the other hand is rather small and even if the missing slice weren’t missing, it still wouldn’t have been much bigger than a large mango. The pine cone comes from a tall pine tree and one can only guess how tall the pine tree would be.

Adi Sankara’s philosophy is well known to all Indians, whilst his personal life is remarkably murky, despite the existence of around fourteen biographies. Visvanathan’s Adi Sankara is a quick glimpse into what must have been Sankara’s childhood in Kaladi. It whets one’s appetite and leaves the reader hungry. One feels Sankara’s hunger for food and his fear of the crocodile as keenly as his hunger for knowledge. It was an exciting time then in Kerala with Islam having made an entry, the Buddhists confident and everywhere and the Syrian Christians laid-back and as powerful as the caste Hindus. Adi Sankara’s travels take him all over the sub-continent, to Pataliputra, Nalanda and Magadh. Surely there’s so much more to Adi Sankara, but Visvanathan hides the rest of the mango.

I liked the second story, Beyond the Ferry, best of the three. Jehangir, a village in Kerala where many children are born deformed, thanks to Thalidomide poisoning. Abe, a poor boy who has no physical deformity, other than that inflicted by his poverty. Shazia, a girl whom Abe befriends, but cannot hope to marry. Sayir, a rich old merchant from Benaras who comes to Jehangir to marry poor Shazia, still barely a child. Suleman, Abe’s friend, who doesn’t known Shazia from Adam until he ends up working for Sayir and meets his Sayir’s wife, renamed Tazia. When the story ends, Abe has done well for himself – he is an engineer and is still looking for a wife. Tazia has been divorced by Sayir and returns to Jehangir with Suleman and Abe spots them. Visvanathan makes it clear that Abe is unlikely to marry Shazia, though she is recently divorced, because Abe wants to marry a girl who his mother would approve. They don’t care about dowry, Abe’s parents, they are only looking at the girl’s personality. Yet we know that Shazia will not wed Abe.

The pine cone is from a cold land, where the snow fell steadily, the sun hardly rose, the poplars rose in straight lines and the bleak greyness of the sky was hard to imagine. The western world is in the dark ages. Nevertheless, certain things were always the same even in those ancient times and faraway lands, in that Kings spent an inordinate amount of time fighting and plotting for lands and power, they married to create alliances and not for love and their families were usually neglected. Visvanathan’s writing is so exquisite that one can feel the physical hardship experienced by wandering royalty in those centuries before the industrial age, where the cruel weather made it so easy for a weak child to die, even when the child was a prince!

In an era where the best writing is considered to be that which can be read on mobile phones in sms format and delivers instant gratification, Visvanathan’s craft work is a thrown back to an era which is rapidly fading from our collective memories.