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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Istanbul Revisited
  Suzy Hansen  
The Museum of Innocence
By Orhan Pamuk

MOST tourist trips to Istanbul center on Sultanahmet, the neighborhood of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Although visitors may imagine a magical age of sex slaves and tulips, Sultanahmet often feels like a modern Ottoman theme park: Turkish hustlers screaming in precise English, enormous buses disgorging tourists in red fezzes.

But Sultanahmet is a center of the city's religious life and home to many of its most observant citizens. During Ramadan, it is the site of a vast public picnic, where hundreds of Turks break the fast every night. This year I saw conservative ladies sitting cross-legged on the grass with pizza boxes, and -- nonreligious people munching cheap kebabs and humming to live Turkish bands. It felt so much like an American county fair, I half expected to see face-painting booths. Then I saw a girl with her face painted, a guy selling cotton candy and teenagers who'd clearly used the holiday as an excuse to go on a triple date.

A typical outsider's response to this scene might be to rejoice in the miraculous coexistence of the Islamic and the Western. But Turkey unfolds in endlessly confusing layers: it's true that Turkey generally enjoys its own version of red state-blue state harmony, and itís also true that the religious and the secular seem destined for a street fight, though sometimes this infighting has nothing to do with Islam at all.

"Ugh, you're going to Sultanahmet for Ramadan?" one well-educated businessman sniffed upon hearing of my plans. That's the kind of thing you hear from only a handful of Turks, those who frequent neighborhoods like Nisantasi, a leafy enclave of Art Nouveau apartment buildings just up the Bosporus from the Blue Mosque.

Nisantasi is the setting of Orhan Pamuk's latest novel, "The Museum of Innocence," a love story detailing the social mores of the Turkish upper class, the so-called White Turks, during the 1970s. Turkey was desperately poor, though a small number of rich Turks aggressively pursued admission to the modern world, to Europe or America. Pamuk grew up in Nisantasi, but his people don't always come off so well.

In the book, a character named Orhan Pamuk, an author, mentions the "widely held impression that my books set in Nisantasi denigrated everyone mercilessly." This is an obvious reference to Pamuk's memoir "Istanbul," which exposed his family's emotional and financial problems, but also to the many Turks who object that he is hanging out the national laundry. It is precisely this obsession with image that Pamuk meticulously deconstructs.

When Pamuk was growing up there in the 1960s and '70s, Nisantasi was one of the richest neighborhoods in Istanbul. Today it feels like any of the richest places in the world. The women have all gone exhausting shades of blond, their thin frames weighed down by Marc Jacobs or Gucci bags. The clips in their hair, the gold on their sunglasses, the necklaces, buckles and belts -- everything sparkles. There's a new Prada store opening across from the Louis Vuitton, which is down the street from La Perla. A Ferrari or a Porsche is always parked in front of the Nisantasi Brasserie, whose jaunty patrons sit for hours at sidewalk tables. If you happen to alight upon them after coming from a more conservative part of the city, where good sense and respect for others tell you to cover your arms and legs, the Nisantasi sidewalk scene looks like an otherwordly cornfield of defiantly naked limbs.

These wealthy Turks are still trying very hard to distinguish themselves from their countrymen. I once stopped at a Nisantasi hotel to pick up books some tourist friends had left with the concierge. Officious phone calls were made to multiple employees, papers shuffled and filled out, ID cards photocopied and filed until, finally, the paperbacks were placed in my hands like precious jewels. I should have been impressed, but in fact my friends had complained of the hotel's snooty service, which suggested the usual warm Turkish hospitality was too peasant-like for the hotel's aristocratic and cold European ideals.

Pamuk's novel helps explain how Nisantasi got this way. To counter Europe's vision of Pamuk's gaze is characteristically melancholy, in two ways. The White Turks of the 1970s, insecure about being perceived as "Oriental," can't imagine that Black Turks from Anatolia will someday encroach on their privilege, that a pious political movement will sweep national elections (as the Justice and Development Party did in 2002 and 2007), that the new president's wife will wear a head scarf and that conservative provincials will become real estate moguls. And these interlopers will be embraced not only by Western governments but Western news media sympathetic to Turkey's unthreatening vision of Islam. All that platinum hair dye would be for naught.

In "The Museum of Innocence," a former foreign minister hints at these social upheavals to a young man at his lavish engagement party. "You are in the world of business, so you know better than I do that we're being swamped by ill-mannered nouveaux riches, and provincials with their head-scarf-wearing wives and daughters," he says. "Just the other day I saw a man with two wives trailing him, draped in black from head to toe, like Arabs." But a man with three wives also shows up at this exclusive party. In reality, most Turks are deeply connected, often by blood, to the people they scorn. Only from the outside do the divisions seem clear.

Turks divide more neatly on the matter of Pamuk himself. It's been four years since he was prosecuted by ultranationalists for the crime of "denigrating Turkishness." He has endured widely publicized death threats. Yet in a country of nearly 77 million, "The Museum of Innocence" has sold 140,000 copies, an impressive number considering the widespread lament that Turks never read.

Mainstream reviews were mostly positive, and newspapers have eagerly chronicled the book's release abroad, even republishing American reviews in their pages. The sophisticated readers I know gave the book lukewarm literary assessments, not political ones, though a middle-aged taxi driver ranted, "This is a woman's book, not a man's!" (I was waiting for him to call it "chick lit.") One Nisantasi native cited the simple pleasure of "being taken back to my childhood." Comments on an English-language Web site devoted to reader reviews of the book range from the hyperbolic ("Will surely be remembered as one of the masterpieces of this century") to the hypersensitive ("I am also very tired of Orhan Pamuk's fixation about humiliating... the Turkish People"). As one well-heeled Turk joked to me, "You know, you have to choose: you're either pro-Pamuk or anti-Pamuk." Chances are most Pamuk-haters -- both the terrifying nationalists and mere knee-jerk patriots -- don't read his books at all.

Next year, Pamuk plans to open a real-life Museum of Innocence, which will display the belongings of his fictional characters. "While the West takes pride in itself, most of the rest of the world lives in shame," his narrator explains. "But if the objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum, they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride." Some Turks complain that Pamuk writes for Westerners, but I've always found his books to be love letters to his country. In his novel 'Snow,' an Eastern Turkish character tells the Western Turkish narrator: "I'd like to tell your readers not to believe anything you say about me, anything you say about any of us. No one could understand us from so far away."

Turkey as sinisterly backward, his characters spend thousands on French handbags and fly to Paris for a trousseau; the women sleep with their fiancés before marriage. Much of the beginning of the novel is spent celebrating the arrival of "Turkey's first domestic fruit soda." The ad for the soda features a German model: "What stung hearts most about Inge, with her blue eyes, long and slender legs, fair skin and natural blond hair," Pamuk writes, "was the merciless reminder to the women of Istanbul society that even as they bleached their hair, plucked their eyebrows and scoured boutiques for outfits that might let them feel more European, their darker skin and fuller figures were never entirely redeemed by such efforts." (Courtesy: The New York Times)
The reviewer lives in Istanbul
Beautiful defence
  Alicia Cohn  
  IN her book, Still Standing: The Untold Story of My Fight Against Gossip, Hate, and Political Attacks, former Miss California Carrie Prejean describes herself as "a sacrificial Christian thrown to the vicious and cruel media lions to be torn apart." Prejean, a competitor and semi-finalist in the Miss USA 2009 pageant, became the center of media controversy this spring when she responded to a pageant question that she believes "marriage should be between a man and a woman," not between same-sex couples.

Media treatment of the ensuing controversy -- which raged on between Prejean, pageant officials, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, and pageant owner Donald Trump -- revealed more incriminating details, such as Prejean's half-naked photographs and pageant-funded breast implant surgery. Prejean's avowed Christianity also prompted questions about the effectiveness of pageant preachers and Christian women's involvement in the questionable beauty pageant scene.

In the book, Prejean skirts some of the major issues that circulated in media gossip -- including her relationship with Michael Phelps, the photographs, her breast implants, and heated comments in her parents' divorce records -- by acknowledging but quickly dismissing them.

Regarding the breast implant surgery, she writes, "It was a choice I had to make, and I made it; and as with all my choices, I'm prepared to stick by it." It is an interesting answer, considering the book was inspired by another choice she had to make on stage. The book is more about Prejean's right to make her own choices than an argument that she made the right ones.

The closest she comes to expressing regret is her admission that she did not always listen to the right people. She admits to putting herself "in a position to be exploited" when she signed on to the Miss California pageant, which is also the closest she comes to repudiating her involvement in the pageant scene. "For me, pageants had always been about competition and using that sash and tiara for good," she wrote. "Now I saw the whole pageant as a sham, glittering and fake. Many of the people I had worked with and the girls I competed with were wonderful. But we were trapped in a system run by petty egos, shallow values, and a sort of venomous incompetence."

Still Standing evokes similarities to an earlier memoir about a beauty queen, Yes, You Can, Heather: The Story of Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995. Whitestone, the first Miss America with a disability (she is deaf), also used her crown as a platform for her faith. Yes, You Can, Heather used a similar theme as Still Standing by blending memoir with exhortation for young women not to compromise their dreams. But the differences between the two memoirs are striking: The crowning achievement in Yes, You Can, Heather is Whitestone's achievement of the crown, while Prejean's story describes her choice to give it up. "It was more important to me to be biblically correct than politically correct," she writes.

One other difference is tone: Comparing the two book titles should make it obvious that Prejean is the more defiant beauty queen. Indeed, her book is so effective at depicting a hardened survivor that the reader is likely startled by any mention of Prejean's age: only 22 by the book's release date.

As Still Standing reaches to make a larger point about freedom of religion and speech (Prejean veers from her own story by dedicating an entire chapter to First Amendment issues), it is likely to leave readers wondering if the real Prejean is really revealed within these pages. Everybody watched as Prejean stumbled over her words on stage. Her book barely hints at the vulnerability beneath the events: the indecision, doubt, and the coaching that must have occurred regularly throughout the subsequent months.

Yet when Prejean ends the book with eight lessons aimed at young women, the words of wisdom seem well earned. Prejean speaks of making a choice on stage between the Miss USA crown and staying true to her beliefs and herself. The book reveals that the true choice was made after the incident on stage, in a day-by-day struggle to stand behind a choice that she made in a split second and a statement that, admittedly, she blurted out. In many ways, it is a story of a girl from a Christian home growing into a Christian woman who is responsible for her own decisions and their consequences. Prejean discovered that her beliefs were worth standing behind, and that is a story worth reading. (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
Murder most foul?
  By Andalib Akhter  
Who Killed Karkare? The Real Face Of Terrorism In India
Author: SM Mushrif
Price: Rs 300/$ 25
Pages: 319
Publisher: Pharos Media (, New Delhi

AT a time when the Government of India is making all efforts, nationally as well as worldwide, to punish those involved in the dastardly Mumbai attack on November 26, 2008, it has also been facing irritating questions over the killing of ATS chief Hemant Karkare. Not only do the family members of Karkare and other officers who were also shot dead see foul play in their killing, a large section of the society also believes that some Hindutva forces killed the ATS chief in a side operation.

Several articles and essays have been written about the 26/11 attack and Karkare's killing, but the latest revelation and suspicion over the incident has come in the form of a book by a former IG of the Maharashtra police.

In his book 'Who Killed Karkare? The Real Face of Terrorism in India', the author, S M Mushrif, not only tried to show that Karkare was the victim of a larger conspiracy of Hindutva forces, but also attempted to unravel a nationwide network of terror that the Hindutva forces have spread, such that show traces in Nepal and Israel as well.

Mushrif, who knows the system inside out, says two teams were at work on 26/11 -- one which did the maximum damage. The smaller team took advantage of the confusion and acted only on the relatively small CST-Cama-Rangbhavan stretch that killed Karkare. It was a desi unit that wanted Karkare and his men out of their way.

The author feels that Hindutva forces are out to destroy India and want to re-mould it into how Afghanistan was under the Taliban.

The book has reconstructed a fearsome picture of Karkare's chargesheet against alleged Hindutva terrorists like Lt. Col. Purohit, Sadhvi Pragyasingh Thakur and others.

The chargesheet pointed towards a mind-boggling nationwide conspiracy with international support to de-stabilise the constitutional order and the secular democratic Indian state that upholds it, to be replaced by a Hindutva state run according to a new Constitution. For that, the conspirators were prepared for a massive bloodbath, using bomb attacks on religious places to trigger an anti-Muslim holocaust.

Mushrif, who has over three decades of diligent policing behind him and whose feats include exposing the Telgi scam, has made an elaborate case out of nearly a dozen blasts conducted by Hindutva terror groups across the country. He found that a section of India's intelligence services, a miniscule group in the armed forces and a section of different state police forces have been infiltrated by these elements, a development that bodes ill for the future of the country.

Several big and small fishes of the VHP, the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the Sanatan Sanstha (which has been found to be involved in the recent Diwali-eve blasts in Goa) had been trapped in Karkare's net.

Serving and retired Army officers, academics and serving and retired officials of India's premier intelligence service were caught in Karkare's web. The menacing power of these groups, inspired by sustained anti-Muslim hate campaigns over the last six decades, gave the plot a sinister and highly destructive character.

The author writes in black and white, as to who started terrorism in India and who created and sustains the terrorism label against Indian Muslims. He talks about how investigations are manipulated by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and security agencies, which not only play blind to the Hindutva terror, but also encourage it. How innocents are picked up without any proof and how evidence is cooked up to implicate them in crimes they never committed; only to keep the myth of 'Islamic terrorism' alive.

Mushrif musters 'evidence' to show that the IB has regularly been interfering with regular police investigations to let Hindutva terrorists slip out of the net and replace them with random Muslim youth. In order to fudge issues and further oblige police officers, a few Muslim youth were exterminated to be branded posthumously as 'terrorists'.

There are quite a few such cases where such extra-judicial killings of Muslim youth turned out to be false police encounters. All this is done to cover the tracks of Hindutva terror. Mushrif says a 'Brahminist' network that has its origins in Maharashtra, and is closely knit across political parties, government services, including the IB, and other vital sectors of life, is behind the terror that seeks to destroy the secular, democratic state. He, however, clarifies that very few Brahminists are Brahmins. Many are from other high Hindu castes, some from middle and lower castes.

Most Brahmins are fair-minded and would not like to associate themselves with hate ideologies. Hemant Karkare, too, was a Brahmin, Mushrif says. So is Mushrif's son-in-law.

Once Karkare was removed from the scene, the IB moved in to fill his position with KP Raghuvanshi, a pliant police officer with extremely low credibility among Muslims for his record of letting off known Hindutva terrorists and implicating innocent Muslim youth, even in bomb attack cases on mosques.

There are quite a few interesting vignettes in the book, like Raghuvanshi and Col. Purohit's association with Abhinav Bharat in Maharashtra, whose hand was evident in a series of blasts across the country. It has old connections with men like Veer Damodar Savarkar (whose relative Himani Savarkar leads the Abhinav Bharat movement), Dr Munje, who led the Hindu Mahasabha, and other Hindutva luminaries. It is at the Bhonsala Military Academy run by these groups that Purohit trained police officers, including Raghuvanshi.

Mushrif asks a pertinent question: Will Raghuvanshi pursue the investigation against Purohit, his guru? A plausible answer is, perhaps, no. Charges have already been dropped by a special court under MCOCA against 11 accused, including Purohit, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The book with a lot of references and evidence can make good reading stuff for those who want to keep a close watch on India's socio-religious politics and security systems.
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