Archive for February, 2008

CHURUMURI POLL: Loan waiver, right or wrong?

29 February 2008

The centrepiece of the Union budget for 2008-09 presented by finance minister P. Chidambaram is unquestionably the waiver of agricultural loans to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore. All loans upto March 2007 and overdue up to December last year will be covered by June 2008. Three crore marginal farmers holding upto one hectare of land, and small farmers holding up to two hectares, will benefit to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore by the waiver. The one-time settlement for other farmers, in which the government will give a 25 per cent rebate on payment of outstanding loans, will cost another Rs 10,000 crore.

Coming as it does on the back of thousands of farmers’ suicides across the country, the write-off has been described as “revolutionary” by UPA president Sonia Gandhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the loan waiver a “generous gesture“. But farmers’ groups, some of whom were rounded up by Congress lackeys to celebrate in front of Sonia’s residence, are not all enthused. They feel that the land-size criterion is too strict. Most of the farmers in worst-affect Vidarbha, where large packages announced by Singh have failed to stem the deaths, would actually miss out.

Questions: Is the move to write off farm loans a good move or a bad move? Is it really intended to help the farmers or is it intended to woo them in the next election? Will banks have to pick up the UPA’s tab or will the government impose a cess on non-farmers to raise funds? Will the write-off stop the suicide spurt or will it only end up in creating a very poor repayment culture among farmers? Has politics triumphed over economics? Or, given the general prosperity of the country, is it a small price–jai kisan and all? And above all, will such populism really swing votes in the direction of the UPA, or is the Indian farmer smart enough to see its motives?

Also read: Sheep, mutton, fish, Karnataka and Maharashtra

P. SAINATH: ‘India is a land of two planets: rich and poor’

Till debt, defaultment and death do us apart

‘How Karnataka is becoming Gujarat of South’

28 February 2008

GAURI LANKESH writes from Bangalore: Recently, three young men were arrested in Hubli and Honnali on charges of vehicle theft. Since all of them happened to belong to the Muslim community, within a day of their arrests, police sources leaked to the media that they suspected the trio might be involved in planning terrorist attacks all over the country.

This was enough to trigger a series of speculative stories in the State’s media. Every publication and television channel, without exception, went into a competitive frenzy, all of them clamouring for a first shot at the most ‘horrifying’ story about the ‘terrorist trio’.

Almost every reporter with imaginative talent wrote reams of articles quoting unnamed ‘reliable police sources’ or ‘police sources who did not want to be named’ and narrated how the three young men were planning to blow to smithereens most of Karnataka’s key buildings, such as the Vidhana Soudha, place bombs on (predictably) the premises of IT giants Infosys and IBM, detonate bombs in public places, destroy Hindu places of worship and so on.

What was remarkable about these reports was their contention that the three young men had links right up to Osama bin Laden and down to the local ‘sleeper cells’ of various outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The men were also suspected of conducting arms training in nearby forests, of flying the Pakistani flag, of possessing RDX, of having already distributed arms and weapons to various ‘sleeper cells’ across the state, of recruiting hundreds of youth to terrorist organisations, of possessing AK-47s, of having procured Israeli manufactured arms, etc, etc, etc.

But how much of the content of these reports, well laced with the terms ‘suspected’ and ‘alleged’, had unsubstantiated and un-sourced ‘facts’ attributed to ‘reliable sources’?

As citizens and discerning readers, can we merely accept in good faith that these reports were genuine?

How much of the information carried (leaked) in these reports was a product of the imaginative powers of local reporters? How much was fed by our increasingly inefficient police force? How much was ‘spiced’ up by senior journalists who are forever looking to increase their TRP ratings or circulation figures?

Having already said that all these reports on the ‘terrorist trio’, without exception, were sourced to ‘police officials who did not want to be named’, let us look at one such report to assess how genuine the overall media reports were.

The Mangalore edition of the Kannada daily Udayavani, which adopts a marked pro-Hindutva stance, carried a front-page report that read: “last December Riazuddin Ghouse, Mohammed Asif, Mohammad Abubakkar and Hafeez held a secret meeting where they condemned America’s treatment of people imprisoned at Cuba’s Montessori (!) jail. A copy of the resolutions taken at the meeting has been seized by investigating officers.”

Udayavani is a leading Kannada daily with several senior journalists on its rolls. What is surprising is that not one of them could tell the difference between the word Montessori, used to describe a system of education, and Guantánamo Bay, the name of the prison run by the American government in Cuba. Apparently, in the race for ‘exclusive’ reports, none of them could be bothered with such minor factual details.

Even if one were willing to overlook this rather glaring slip-up by the reporter who filed the story and the senior journalists who okayed it, giving it prime space on the front page, other important questions remain. For example, since when has condemning American atrocities at Guantánamo Bay become a crime? Does this assumption by the police mean that anyone who condemns the unjust imprisonment of people at Guantánamo Bay is a terror suspect?

Are such questions of no importance to the local media?

Apparently not, for instead of raising these valid and significant issues, they carried on blissfully with their ‘exclusive reportage’ based entirely on police sources.

One report, which appeared in The Hindu, can be summed up thus: The fact that one of the arrested youth claimed before the magistrate that his human rights had been violated by the police made the magistrate suspect that he was no ordinary youth. (Does this mean that knowledge of the Constitution, fundamental rights and human rights are not for ordinary Indian men and women?) On the basis of this assumption, the magistrate instructed the police to subject him to a thorough interrogation. And that was when the terrorist links were revealed.

Another report, this one in The Times of India, stated: A warden at the jail became suspicious of Riazuddin Ghouse and Mohammad Abubakkar’s behaviour in the prison where they were jailed on charges of vehicle theft. The duo spoke to each other in low voices, did namaaz five times a day, spoke to one another in English and did not seem to show respect for the national flag when it was hoisted in the morning.

The jail warden conveyed his suspicions to senior police officials and they subjected the duo to interrogation. That was when the youth spilled the beans about their terrorist plans. Had the warden not been such a keen observer of their behaviour the men could well have been let off by the police.

These reports raise a few fundamental questions. Since when has it become a crime to speak of human rights violations? Or speak in a low voice? Or communicate in English? Since when has offering namaaz five times a day become a suspect activity?

As if this were not enough, most or all of the media reported that “religious books and material” were found in the trio’s possession. The media also ‘arrested’ a number of students in its reports even when the police had not in fact done so! Reporters also labelled as “having terrorist links” people who were total strangers to the arrested trio. The list is endless. The end result of all this ‘hyperactivity’ in the media was that the three arrested men were depicted as the most dreaded terrorists this part of the world has seen in recent times.

This reportage took place even as a senior police officer, additional director-general of police Shankar Bidri, told a television channel:

“So far no proof has been unearthed to label these youths as terrorists. The media is indulging in blatant fabrication of news. What if their case too turns out to be another Dr Mohammed Haneef case? (Haneef, who worked in Australia, was mistakenly arrested by the Australian police after being wrongly accused of links to a failed UK terror plot.) Let us not turn into terrorists those who are innocent.”

Sadly, his words of caution fell on deaf ears as the media made merry about Muslim terrorists.

Surely the police need to interrogate the arrested youth and the courts have to pass their judgements before such serious conclusions are drawn? This is why such institutions exist, why the machinery exists in our democracy. It is their job to catch and punish the guilty. But the media seemed to have no time for such ‘niceties’ of democracy or its institutions. It chose to sidestep the process of law altogether and took it upon itself to ‘investigate’ the so-called crime and then pronounced ‘judgement’.

***

With the media in the grip of this ‘terrorist’ mania, can the saffron brigade be far behind? This time their chosen targets were noted litterateur U.R. Anantha Murthy, and the chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission, C.S. Dwarakanath.

When Anantha Murthy wrote his path-breaking novel, Samskara, more than 40 years ago, there were some who considered it ‘anti-Brahmin’ and sought a ban on it. But since most intellectuals dismissed the allegations, no action was taken against it at the time. In the years since, the novel has not only been made into an award winning Kannada film (the first Kannada film, in fact, to win a national award) but has also been translated into several languages across the globe.

Samskara was also listed as a prescribed textbook at many universities in India and abroad. This includes the Mangalore University, which chose the novel’s Hindi version as part of its syllabus for second year degree students and where Samskara is currently being taught in its colleges.

It must be mentioned here that last year the sangh parivar actively promoted a novel called Aavarana, written by Kannada novelist S.L. Bhyrappa. There have been claims that nearly 20,000 copies of the book were sold, a record breaking figure in the history of Kannada publishing for a work of fiction. (The claims, however, have not been verified.)

For long an ardent supporter of the sangh parivar’s Hindutva agenda, in Aavarana, Bhyrappa conveniently interweaves half-truths with blatant falsehoods and presents this as a work of fiction. Given his claims that the book was based on evidence proved by historical researchers (all of whom belong to the sangh parivar caucus), upon reading the book the lay reader could quite easily form a biased opinion of the Muslim community.

The book portrays the Muslim community as bigoted and out to out-populate the Hindus. It appears to hold the Muslim community responsible for all the sins that Muslim rulers may have perpetrated on Hindus in times past and identifies them as the cause of all the problems the country faces today. In the process, the book aims to whip up Hindu sentiments against the Muslim populace in the country.

Apart from the Muslim community in general and Muslim clerics, writers, filmmakers, etc in particular, the book also targets leftists, secularists and historians who do not agree with the saffron brigade’s version of events past; they are dubbed anti-Hindu. When the book was released, supporters of the sangh parivar hailed it as a great work of fiction while progressive forces denounced it as sheer pamphleteering on behalf of Hindutva forces under the guise of literature.

As this debate raged, Anantha Murthy publicly derided Bhyrappa, calling him a “college-level debater” which, in fact, is exactly what he is. This roused the ire of the rightist forces so much that the leading Kannada daily, Vijaya Karnataka, actually launched an SMS campaign against Anantha Murthy. Vijaya Karnataka (now owned by Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd of The Times of India group) is another sangh parivar mouthpiece that calls itself a newspaper. It came as no great surprise therefore when the paper carried two pages filled with anti-Anantha Murthy opinions sent in by its saffron brigade readers.

Protesting this vociferous attack on Anantha Murthy, some of us got together and published a selection of essays critiquing Aavarana, a selection that was fairly well received.

The reason why Aavarana has been dealt with in such detail here is its growing presence on the Hindutva map. So far 15 novels by Bhyrappa have already been translated from the Kannada into other Indian languages and today work is afoot to bring out Aavarana in Hindi and other languages. Considering the amount of unadulterated venom it spews at a segment of our population, it is necessary that intellectuals and progressives in other states counter the half-truths and blatant lies contained in the book to prevent further damage to the fabric of our society.

Since Anantha Murthy is opposed to the Hindutva agenda and has spoken out against it vociferously in the recent past, and since he attacked the sangh parivar’s favourite writer, Bhyrappa, the parivar were looking for a way to get back at him. To do this they chose to falsely claim that some portions of Anantha Murthy’s most famous novel, Samskara, were ‘vulgar‘. Aware that it would be difficult, in the current context, to label the work ‘anti-Brahmin’, they made the specious claim that the ‘vulgar’ portions in the book made it difficult for teachers to teach it to ‘children’!

The sangh parivar even managed to get some lecturers who were sympathetic to its agenda to sign a memorandum claiming as much and submitted this to the University authorities with a plea that the book be withdrawn as a textbook.

The saffron brigade’s attempt to target Anantha Murthy using Samskara as a pretext came under scathing attack from intellectuals and progressives in the State. For the moment, any move to withdraw the novel from University syllabi has been put in abeyance. But in reality the sangh parivar has merely set the wheels in motion. For, in coming years, universities will no doubt be wary of recommending the works of any progressive writer as a prescribed textbook. And from that point onwards a conscious attempt will be made to avoid introducing any writer who is critical of the sangh parivar to the next generation of students.

***

Meanwhile, as one section of the sangh parivar was busy trying to tarnish Anantha Murthy’s image, another found it necessary to attack C.S. Dwarakanath, chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission.

Earlier this month Dwarakanath and other members of the commission visited Coorg in order to inspect existing facilities for the backward classes there. Some commission members visited the ‘religious site’ of Talacauvery—the source of the Cauvery river. According to reports, the priest at Talacauvery asked them to bring Dwarakanath along so he could also receive the ‘holy water’.

In response, one of them told the priest, “He (Dwarakanath) is an atheist who does not believe in such things. He thinks the entire Cauvery river is holy.”

While Dwarakanath himself was blissfully unaware of the incident, word soon spread to local sangh parivar activists. The next morning, when Dwarakanath was alone with just two police constables on guard duty, more than a hundred ‘saffronites’, high on local hooch, laid siege to his room. Led by a former BJP MLA from the area, the drunken crowd surrounded Dwarakanath and demanded why he was “insulting the Cauvery river, insulting Hindu sentiments, and being anti-Karnataka”.

Notwithstanding several attempts to reason with them when Dwarakanath tried repeatedly to explain that he considered all of nature holy, the mob remained unconvinced. Apart from pushing and shoving him around, they forced him to drink the ‘Cauvery water’ they had brought with them in an empty Coca-Cola (!) bottle and forcibly applied tilak on his forehead.

Ever conscious of the big picture, the sangh activists took a cameraman and a reporter from a local TV channel along on their drunken crusade.

Having forced a defenceless Dwarakanath to meekly receive the ‘holy water’ and suffer their tilak application, the saffronites made sure that the entire incident was then telecast across the State. As if that were not enough, they also issued a press note to all publications, falsely claiming that “Dwarakanath had apologised to them for having insulted Hindu sentiments and the Cauvery”.

***

These three instances only emphasise the obvious. It is abundantly clear that much of the media in Karnataka today has been saffronised, that Karnataka’s Universities are now being made to bow to the sangh parivar’s unreasonable demands and that the Hindutva brigade, despite its claims that all Hindus are one, will brazenly attack even the head of the Backward Classes Commission in the name of Hindu sentiments.

These developments could perhaps be expected, thought ‘natural’, in a State ruled by the BJP. But as of now Karnataka is under President’s rule. Yet, it is the saffron brigade’s aggressive agenda that dominates the political and public discourse. This pointed shift in Karnataka’s polity is the legacy of a BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition that was in power for all of 20 months.

During this short span of time, a systemic infiltration of the system inflicted grievous damage. Today Hindu progressives are labelled ‘Naxalites’ even as Muslim progressives are targeted as ‘Islamic terrorists’. The same holds true for many pro-people, pro-secularism organisations as well.

It is no wonder then that the police gleefully entertain complaints by saffronites falsely alleging that secularists like Prof Nagari Babaiah of the People’s Democratic Forum ‘insult Hindu gods’ in their public speeches, that Kalkuli Vittal Hegde, leader of the Adivasis living in the Kudremukh forests, has insulted Dalits, that Hegde’s wife is indulging in prostitution, that volunteers working for the rights of the Adivasi people are abetting Naxalites in the area and so on.

Not long ago, the local administration and police rounded up local Muslims, at random, on the basis of specious complaints filed by sangh parivar activists. The same police force turns a blind eye when sangh parivar activists assault Muslims on charges of transporting cattle to slaughterhouses. The same police force coolly releases RSS activists accused of setting a bus on fire and causing the death of two people over the Ram Sethu issue without even a thorough investigation. The list goes on.

Thanks to the police and the administration’s active encouragement of such violent and unlawful behaviour, activists of the sangh parivar enjoy complete immunity and it is they who systematically file innumerable complaints against Muslims and progressive Hindus.

Recently, Pramod Mutalik, leader of the Sri Rama Sena, had the gumption to say, “We have given a list of suspect Muslims to the police at Hubli. It is unfortunate that they have arrested only one person. If the police do not immediately arrest the rest of the people on our list, we will take up widespread protests.”

The sangh parivar has always considered Karnataka its gateway to the south. The last time they were in power, the gates were only partially opened to them but a foothold was all they needed. It was more than enough for them to sow their seeds of hatred. Those seeds have sprouted now and with the elections only a few months away, the BJP will no doubt be reaping a rich harvest.

With the Janata Dal(S) having committed political hara-kiri by supporting the BJP, and the Congress party’s perennial indecision on if and how to counter the sangh parivar, Karnataka, it seems, is unfortunately and irreversibly hurtling towards its new position as the Gujarat of the South.

When the kettle calls the pot black and blue

28 February 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Although the verbiage is getting shriller and shriller, and should largely be ignored, the kind of words Mathew Hayden & Co are using, and getting away with, needs to be seen and studied in perspective.

This is where a little help from one of the greatest cricketers of the modern era, Sir Ian Terence Botham, will be useful to our team. As soon as the man who walked all over England to raise money for charity landed in Australia for the 1992 World Cup, Botham said: “I am happy to come here and want to know how my ancestors are doing in Australia!”

This led to wide condemnation of Botham, but why?

Google shows how right Botham was. If Harbhjan Singh is an ‘obnoxious little weed’ in Hayden’s estimation, historical documents show what Hayden and his countrymen and women have been down the ages. Australia was to England what Andamans was to India till 1947. Stealing sheep or wool or cloth in 18th- and 19th-century England could land you a minimum seven-year sentence at an Australian penal colony.

As the New Zealanders say, the only difference between us and the Aussies is, we chose to live to in New Zealand!

“The British government deemed transportation, as the practice was known, just punishment for a mixed bag of crimes from marrying secretly to burning clothes. Although “felony,” “larceny” and “burglary” described the overwhelming majority of crimes, a few records include juicy details, such as, “obtaining money by false pretences,” “stealing heifers” and “privately stealing in a shop.” The convict records typically contain convict’s name, date and place of sentencing, length of sentence—usually 7 years, 14 years or life—and, sometimes, the crime committed,” one document reads.

Such being the case, expecting civilized behaviour from the offspring of ‘burglars’, ‘heifer stealers’,’ felons’, etc is a little too demanding. If 165,000 convicts were sent to Australia betwen 1788 to 1868, if not all, at least most of them should know where they come from. At least 22 per cent of Australians are descended from exiles. Their sentences served, many convicts remained Down Under, becoming Australia’s first western settlers.

“By today’s standards, many of these crimes are minor misdemeanors or are no longer illegal, and the severity of punishments seem ludicrous,” said Megan Smolenyak, chief family historian for Ancestry.com. “No wonder Australians consider a convict in their family tree a badge of honor and seek to uncover the amusing, quirky and outrageous details in their family’s ‘criminal’ past.”

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ishant Sharma should call up Botham and get specific details. Sunny Gavaskar, Harsha Bhogle and Ravi Shastri could also help in this regard.

As for Andrew Symonds, the Indians should not get into any argument or fight, because ICC match referees will hold Indians guilty as a matter of rule. They should just casually ask him: “We know you did not come from England. But won’t your legs ache when you walk continuously?”

Love thy neighbour’s strife? You shall not.

28 February 2008

Ramachandra Guha has an excellent piece in The Telegraph today, urging Indians to resist the temptation to triumphantly gloat over their own happy state, and scoff at Pakistan’s miserable plight.

“It has been said of Pakistan that since its birth, it has been bedevilled by its submission to the three As— Allah, the Army, and America. In the first and third of these respects it is, in fact, not very dissimilar to India. For the first four decades of Indian independence, religious bigots had little significance in the social and moral life of the nation. All this changed in the decade of the Eighties.

“The butchering of the Sikhs in 1984 and the killings and forced migration of the Pandits of Kashmir in 1989-90 were two events that punctured holes in India’s claim to be a secular state. So, and far more substantially, did the Ayodhya movement and the rising tide of violence against Muslims that accompanied it. Today, the political influence exercised by Hindu bigots in India is scarcely any less than that enjoyed by Islamic bigots in Pakistan….

“In India, religious extremists mobilize around the name of Ram, rather than Allah. And they are also funded by greenbacks sent by America, albeit by American citizens who claim to be of the same faith as the fanatics at home….

“Rather than sneer and scoff at a neighbour in trouble, they would be advised to look within, to repair and restore our own damaged institutions, to take pause at our own easy indulgence of religious bigots, and, not least, to be vigilant against the inducements and blandishments put before us by an expansionary superpower.”

Read the full article: Neighbourly reflections

For a late-bloomer, music is the song of life

28 February 2008

She is 21 years old, but her mental age is four. Seven days after her birth, doctors operating on an intestinal problem declared her dead. Twice. She learnt to walk three years ago. Three years ago, she also hummed her first song. Now she has 150 songs in her repertoire. Tejaswini Sharma has aced Sa re ga ma pa and Awaz Punjabdi di. Now she is on her way to Bombay for the finale of Little Champs.

Read the full article: Fighting against all odds, Tejaswini strikes a winning note

In Ayodhya, Dasaratha’s wives gorged on idli-dosa

27 February 2008

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: The late A.K. Ramanujan is arguably one of the best-known Indian writers worldwide. Ramanujan, who taught at the University of Chicago for decades, introduced India’s oral folktales to the West through his scholarly and fascinating writings and translations.

The Mysore-born Ramanujan died 15 years ago in the United States but he is now making news in Delhi, no thanks to our ill-informed and self-proclaimed custodians of Hinduism and Hindu mythology: the outfits of the RSS like ABVP and VHP. Ramanujan’s essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas—Five Examples And Three Thoughts On Translation,” is embroiled in an ugly controversy created by the members of the saffron brigade.

In their protest, the lathi-wielding gang reveal that they don’t even know the basic difference between Hinduism and other religions.

Hinduism, which is described as a way of life and not a religion in the strictest sense, is highly pluralistic in nature. It allows greater freedom of expression than other religions, and the right to question the very religion, rituals and beliefs. In my view, that is what makes Hinduism the most tolerant and unique religion.

The ABVP activists who never try to understand these basic strengths of their religion, and are ignorant of India’s diverse culture and languages, are trying to trash Three Hundred Ramayanas as the work of a pseudo-secularist, intended to hurt the sentiments of Hindus.

***

Indians have been reading, writing and listening to the Ramayana for at least 2,000 years now. Most of our Ramayanas are in oral form, preserved and popularised by tribals and illiterate villagers across the length and breadth.

Valmiki‘s Ramayana isn’t the only Ramayana that we have. There is nothing called authentic mythology. Ancient Dravidian languages like Tamil and Kannada have Ramayanas by ancient poets that are thousands of years old. Kamba Ramayana in Tamil and Pampa Ramayana in Kannada treat the epic in entirely different styles. The story may be the same, but their interpretation is different.

The Department of History of Delhi University, which is facing the ire of so-called ‘Ram bhakts‘ clarifies its decision to teach Ramanujan’s work in the following statement:

“The sole purpose of this course is to create an awareness and understanding of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of ancient India among students, and to acquaint them with original sources. Apart from the reading mentioned in the letter, the course includes readings on Kalidasa‘s poetry, Jataka stories, ancient Tamil poets and poetry, ancient iconography, and the modern history of ancient artifacts.

“The essay is part of a unit titled ‘The Ramayana and Mahabharata —stories, characters, versions.’ It is accompanied by an excerpt from Iravati Karve‘s book, Yuganta: The end of an epoch. Supplementary readings include the Introduction of Robert P. Goldman‘s The Ramayana of Valmiki: an epic of ancient India (the most recent and most authoritative English translation of the epic), which gives a detailed, scholarly introduction to the Valmiki Ramayana.

“The late A. K. Ramanujan (recipient of several national & international honours, including the Padmasri) was a widely acclaimed scholar with impeccable academic credentials. His expertise in a range of languages including English, Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada was perhaps without parallel. His credentials as a scholar, writer, and teacher with extensive knowledge of ancient Indian literary traditions are incontestable.

“It is sad to see his name and work being subjected so such ill-informed controversy. In the article in question, he illustrates and analyses the great dynamism and variety in what he describes as ‘tellings’ of the story of Rama within India and across the world.”

The Ramayanas in the form of folk stories and songs in different parts of India have a distinct local flavour.

Indian folklore believes in anthropomorphism. They bring gods and human beings closer by imagining to behave them just like us. The gods of many ancient societies were thoroughly anthropomorphized, both in their form and in their familial and social relationships; for example, as presented in the folk tales and songs which were familiar throughout the ancient India, they get drunk, marry, quarrel, and make up just like we people.

In Assamese folklore, for example, Sita and Surpanaka are good weavers. It is so probably because Assamese women are traditionally good at weaving. Telugu folk songs speak of Kousalya‘s morning sickness and baby Rama’s bath, things that women can relate to.

A Telugu folk song titled, ‘Lakshmana‘s Laugh’, explains how, in order to guard Sita and Rama round the clock, Lakshmana prays to the Goddess of Sleep that he be relieved of the need to sleep. The Goddess agrees, but on one condition. The moment Lakshmana returns to Ayodhya, he would have to start sleeping again.

When Lakshmana returns to Ayodhya, the Goddess appears before him in the palace hall, and says, “The deal’s over. You start sleeping from tonight.” Lakshmana bursts out laughing. Now, only Lakshmana can see the Goddess. So every person there wonders if Lakshmana is laughing at him for some reason. This is a self-reflective folk song, because each character in the story reflects on himself.

A modern example of self-reflectivity would be a short story by Amba, in which Sita writes her version of the Ramayana, and calls it Sitayanam. Stories have a better appeal when they incorporate local customs and traditions.

Paula Richman, who has done in-depth research on various Ramayanas, says there is a Tamil folk song which is about the various dishes the pregnant wives of Dasaratha crave for. One of them wants murukku, one wants idlis, and another wants dosas!

Idlis in Ayodhya? A deft touch! Women in Tamil Nadu can relate to pregnant women who crave certain dishes.

Writer Pudhumaipithan contemporises Rama in one of his stories where a grandson of Rama is named Bharata. The story is set in the 1900s and Bharata is Gandhi! The allegorical touch is further strengthened when the writer dwells on the imperial powers discovering the culinary delights of India, and each wanting a monopoly over Indian food. Thus the humble dosa becomes expensive!

One night Rama waits for Sita, who is busy cleaning the kitchen. When she finishes, she massages the feet of her mother-in-law. Rama keeps asking her to come up to their room, but Sita continues to massage Kousalya’s feet. When Sita finally goes up, an angry Rama shuts the door, and locks her out. “You have time for others, but not me,” he says angrily. Thus goes a Telugu folk song! These are marital tensions that any couple could face.

According to a tribal folktale in Bastar district of Chhatisgarh, Ravana is an ideal man ‘Maryada Purushottama‘. Because he strictly followed the ethics till his death.

Do these modern retellings matter? “They’re important because, as A.K.Ramanujan said, they show how both folk stories and modern short stories improvise in order to make the epic contemporary,” says Paula Richman.

Why the special interest in the Ramayana?

“Many reasons,” Paula Richman says in an interview to The Hindu. “One of them is the portrayal of Sita as a strong woman who faces difficulties unflinchingly. When Rama banishes her, she brings up her children all by herself. The world’s earliest example of a single parent!”

***

A cultural fascist organisation like the RSS doesn’t believe in pluralism of any kind. It doesn’t allow pluralism or freedom of expression within Hinduism. The essence of Hinduism is free thinking. One can disown all rituals and beliefs of that religion and still remain a Hindu. As far as I know this isn’t possible in any other religion.

This isn’t the first time that the ABVP has taken objections to a Ramayana which isn’t in an ‘ approved ‘ format.

The same ABVP activists assaulted a noted Kannada writer and English professor, the late Prof. Polanki Ramamurthy in mid-1980s in Mysore. They were ‘ incensed ‘ by his audacity of writing his own Ramayana called Seethayana. Time and again they have demonstrated that either entire the Hindu population in India must accept their version of Aryan-centric Hindu mythology and religion, or be ready to face their wrath.

The RSS, which draws its strength from the Aryan thoughts and principles, has always been trying to impose its own version of Sanskritised Ramayana over all Hindus across India. For these self-styled protectors of Hindus, the different versions of epic are seemingly an insult to their religion and belief. After all, it has always been denying the existence of the Dravida race, Dravidian history, and, very importantly, Dravida mythology itself.

They must understand that there are a hundred Indias in one India, and a hundred Ramayanas in one Ramayana. All are equally imporant and equally vibrant.

I am for many Indias in one India—and many Ramayanas woven around one Ramayana.

God moves in mysterious ways for a 3-year-old

27 February 2008

While media mavens feverishly debate whether journalists should abandon their professional duties and lend a hand in moments of crisis, a three-year-old Afghan girl born with a deadly skin disorder that could claim her life if left untreated, is being operated by Western surgeons, thanks to the efforts of an Italian photojournalist, reports the BBC.

Shabana (in picture), afflicted by neurofibromatosis, was spotted by Gabrielle Torsello in 2005 while he was shooting pictures in Kabul. He organised her first operation in the City when she was just nine months old. Now, she and her father Janat Gul have flown to Rome for further operations.

“It is a blessing in disguise. When God wants to help you, He provides all the means,” said Janat Gul, who works loading and unloading trucks in Kabul. “I am a poor person and I couldn’t dream of this happening to us. I wish we had all these facilities in our own country.”

Photograph: courtesy BBC

Read the full story here: Shabana’s story of hope against the odds

The feather vendor, the P & G honcho, and URA

27 February 2008

Former Procter & Gamble India head Gurcharan Das in The Sunday Times of India:

“At great sacrifice India’s poor send their children to private, English-medium schools of varying degrees of quality. The children face incomprehension initially, but eventually most of them manage to take a leap into a new world. This happens because a child is naturally bilingual. Our education establishment dismisses these schools and thinks the parents stupid. The same establishment thrust shudh Hindi down our throats for 50 years but all they achieved was an unemployable person. Now, at least, these children can get a job – so, who is the stupid one?”

The Jnanpith Award winning author U.R. Anantha Murthy in Many Indias: Search for a Centre:

“All languages in India will survive, one feels, if there are people who speak only that language. I once met Bhalachandra Nemade, the Marathi writer. He told me that some people from Bihar came to Bombay to sell vegetables. They speak only their language, they refuse to learn any other language. So all our women who go to buy vegetables, because they want to buy fresh good vegetables, have learnt to speak their language. And who are these people who know only that language and no other language? They are not literate, they are backward, they are untouchables and also people who have not come up, in the modern sense, anywhere. I sometimes think that our languages have survived because of such people who knew only that language.”

YouTube video link courtesy T.V. Mahalingam

MIDWEEK MASALA: Dubya visiting Bush Betta?

27 February 2008

As the United States gets ready for a “regime-change”, this time on its own soil, E.R RAMACHANDRAN forwards an example of what the world will start missing 11 months from now.

***

Undettered by the resignation of Steven Spielberg as artistic advisor over Darfur, President George W. Bush is rehearsing his speech for the 2008 Olympic Games.

He looks into the camera and begins reading the text that appears in the Teleprompter.

“Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!” says Bush 43, while Barbara is watching the Oscars in the next room.

Immediately, his speech writer rushes over and whispers in the President’s ear: “Mr President, those are just the five rings of the Olympics logo. Your speech is the text underneath!”

Also read: The complete Bushims

The strange, sad and scandalous silence of Big B

26 February 2008

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Everything that’s happened over the past fortnight in this great metropolis built by those who have made it their home, from near and far, has been on expected lines.

A political nobody with a surname that is a byword for intolerance picks on the poorest of the poor “outsiders”. Unemployed and unemployable “locals” bash them up, and smash their source of livelihood for the benefit of the TV cameras. An opportunistic coalition here (and in Delhi) allows a cub-coward to purr, and then stages a mock arrest. The usual suspects hem and haw in the studios. The Supreme Court reads the riot act.

Where, in this well-scripted charade—what we Mumbaikars call “drama baazi“—where, I have been wondering, is Amitabh Bachchan?

Because, you see, this spark of chauvinism that has become a nationwide fire of identity politics was lit in his name.

Raj Thackeray said that though Amitabh had become a superstar in Bombay, his interest was in Uttar Pradesh. That’s why, he reckoned, Big B said, “Mai Dilli raha, Calcutta raha, Mai Bambai (not Mumbai!) raha. Phir bhi meri pehchan, chhora Ganga kinarewala hi hai.” That’s why he stood for elections from Lucknow. That’s why he had set up a school in Aishwarya Rai‘s name in UP. That’s why he sang “Khaike paan Banaras wale….”

That below-the-belt thappad and the media coverage of it is what caused hundreds of bhaiyyas and Biharis to take the fast train from Nasik to whereever they came from, many of them sneaking through the windows in fear; one of them actually giving birth to a baby in the sterilised environs of a stinking toilet. That is what has caused the exodus of migrant workers from the real estate industry in Poona bringing it to a halt. That is what led to a slanging match in the Bihar assembly. That is presumably is what led to a West Bengal minister to hit out at Marwaris. And so on.

But the voice of Mr Bachchan—the stately sutradhar in many a movie, the deep baritone in many a documentary—has been mysteriously missing.

The only voice emanating from the Bachchan household has been that of wife Jaya Bachchan, a Samajwadi Party MP.

“I don’t know who Raj Thackeray is, but I heard that he owns huge properties in Maharashtra…In Bombay…Kohinoor Mills. If he is willing to donate land, we can start a school in the name of Aishwarya here.”

And the only other voice has been that of family factotum Amar Singh, who said Big B was “sentimentally very hurt”.

“Let Thackeray come out with a list, what all he (Bachchan) has done for UP and what all he has done for Maharashtra. If he has not done much more for Maharashtra, where he is residing, then on his behalf I am saying, he will leave Bombay,” he said.

Yes, thank you, but where is the sage voice of Amitabh Bachchan, the BBC’s star of the millennium, in all this?

What does he think of his contributions being questioned so cruelly by a Raju-come-lately? What does he think of those finger-waggging goondas who killed an engineer who spoke their language in the name of their language? What does he think of the salt of the earth scurrying away to safety?

Who, in Amitabh Bachchan’s view, is an outsider in his cosmopolis?

Strangely, sadly, scandalously, we do not know, because Big B has been, like only Big B can, busy at work when not being “sentimenally very hurt”, letting his acting do all the talking, as Sunil Gavaskar might say.

Why, is a question the Biharis and bhaiyyas who have by now presumably reached their gaon, should be asking.

One way of looking at Amitabh Bachchan’s deafening silence is to see it as the right step. In an overheated atmosphere, there is no point adding fuel to the fire or else more lives and livelihoods will be lost. In a vitiated atmosphere, where the speculation is that the Congress and the NCP did all this to eat into the Shiv Sena’s core competencies, saying something could vitiate the atmosphere even further.

Maybe, but really?

How does a man who pops up in every second commercial on TV selling everything from chawanprash to cars suddenly lose his voice when the nation and his City wants to hear him most? How does a man who wails each time the taxman pursues him lose his voice when the axman starts pursuing the meek? How does a man who waxes eloquent of the “kum jurm” in Uttar Pradesh lose his voice suddenly when the jurm in amchi Mumbai is in his face?

Amitabh Bachchan may have his reasons.

Maybe the angry young man is no longer as angry since he is no longer as young.

Maybe the stakes—not just for himself but Abhishek and Aishwarya too, maybe for the entire film industry which has thousands of “outsiders”—are too high to be squandered on a two-bit Thackeray.

Maybe, but in his silence India’s most famous voice has failed Bombay—worse, he has failed the ordinary people of this country, the star-struck who camped outside his hospital and prayed for his health when he was swinging between life and death after being injured during the shooting of Manmohan Desai‘s Coolie.

Bachchan’s home, his family, his livelihood, his reputation, his contributions are intact, and beyond debate. But by not confronting a cub-coward head-on, by remaining silent, and by allowing two-bit goondas to drive fear and hatred into the hearts of thousands, Bachchan has failed the City of Dreams—the City where he realised his dream.

Maybe, AB Baby, bred on a billion commercials, has lost the art of speaking without a cheque dangling in front of him. Then, again, since the family has fallen back on Bal Thackeray for support, maybe the silence is appropriate.

Photograph: courtesy The Guardian

Also read: Will Amitabh do anything for money?

Will Amitabh do anything for money—dviteeya?

If Pawar’s BCCI could, why not Pawar’s ministry?

26 February 2008

Ramesh Ramanathan in The Mint:

“If liberalisation in the 1990s unlocked the entrepreneurial energy of India, and allowed the trickle of wealth creation to begin, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has broken open the dam on the debate about markets in our country. In one stroke, it has moved the theatre of action on free markets from the chandelier-tinkling conference rooms of Delhi to the galis and nukkads of every town and village in India. Millions of Indians will now, forever, engage viscerally in a manner that no trickle-down process could ever achieve….

“Overseeing the bonanza for BCCI while presiding over a sleepy agriculture ministry, Sharad Pawar‘s got to be thinking: “there must be some lessons here in creating an open market for rural credit” that mere exhortations and loan waivers won’t do—ironic timing here, IPL happening on the eve of this Budget. Or, that if BCCI could turn around a concept such as IPL in less than a year, what prevents the National Horticulture Mission from working at a similar pace, embracing some of the same principles to accelerate the creation of a cold chain infrastructure, creating incentives for states to deliver a knock-out punch to the outdated APMC Act.”

Read the full article: Unleashing the genie

One question I’m dying to ask… Lalu Prasad

26 February 2008

They said the Railways would go bankrupt in 2015; he is now announcing a profit of Rs 25,000 crore by leaving passenger fares untouched year after year. They said he was a joker in the pack, a jester, but he ended up lecturing Harvard, Wharton and IIM.

He claims to have made a man from Karnataka (H.D. Deve Gowda) prime minister, yet he stands accused of terming a section of Kannadigas “dirty people”. There are those who say he has turned the railways around, and there are those who allege he has turned it into a personal fiefdom if not himself of his statesmen.

What is the one question you would like to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad at a time when Bihari has become a bad word in the political lexicon? Keep your queries short and civil.

(All comments will be moderated; only comments from valid and verifiable email IDs will be carried.)

Also read: Does Lalu have the guts to call anybody else ‘dirty’?

Hell hath no fury like a Lalu served cold aloo

‘Elections delayed can be democracy denied’

26 February 2008

In an editorial today, The Hindu calls for the invocation of Rule 24 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, to prevent the delimitation notification (which redraws the constituencies) from being used as a ruse to delay the assembly elections in Karnataka due by May 28:

“Delimitation in Karnataka has resulted, in an overwhelming majority of cases, either in one taluka becoming an Assembly constituency or one of the circles being taken away from a taluka for the rest of it to become a constituency. Further, all wards have been kept intact in municipal areas. In a minority of cases, a circle has been broken up between two constituencies. Only in Bangalore will the ‘cut and paste’ task need substantial time, perhaps a month.

“If the Election Commission immediately announces its resolve to hold Karnataka Assembly elections by the due date, it should have a clear 40+ days to do its democratic duty. By invoking Rule 24, it will put an end to unsavoury efforts to force a postponement of the contest through the instrumentality of delimitation. In addition to being anti-democratic, any avoidable delay beyond May could lead to uncharted constitutional areas.”

Read the full editorial: Hold Karnataka elections in May

Should hate-mongrels be given space in media?

25 February 2008

The media has been a key player in Raj Thackeray‘s hate campaign against “outsiders” in Bombay. In giving him the oxygen of publicity, in editorialising news, in fanning the flames by repeatedly showing file pictures, in dealing with the issue as if there were no other sides to it, the media has come under scrutiny from the Union cabinet, from independent analysts, and from sections of the media itself.

Thackeray himself has used the local Marathi media adroitly in turning this into an “us versus them” issue a la Narendra Modi. He has written a signed article in Maharashtra Times (of The Times of India group), he has responded to an open letter in Lok Satta (of the Indian Express group), and he has kept his media conferences out of bounds to English and Hindi media (whom he sees as antithetical to the local interests he is championing).

The veteran journalist Jyoti Punwani has some fine questions on all this on The Hoot:

# Should a newspaper offer its pages to a politician who has been promoting hatred against other Indians on the basis of region and language, and whose followers have assaulted unarmed innocents on that basis?

# If that politician uses the space offered to him to justify and further his hate campaign, should the newspaper carry his piece without any strong editorial rebuttal alongside?

# As a political leader entitled to invite to a press conference journalists of his/her choice, based on language/region? In that case, what should be the response of journalists, especially those invited?

# Should TV cameras telecast incidents of violence during communal riots again and again without specifying that these are file pictures?

# Finally, how should the media report on the acts of a politician leading a hate campaign based on region and language?

Read the full article: Lending hate campaigns a platform

Cross-posted on sans serif

‘Everything’s fine till something happens to you’

25 February 2008

SWAROOP C.H. writes from Bangalore: I’ve been provoked and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Incident 1. It all started on Day 2 of my Singapore trip (Sunday, December 23) when a hotel owner was too friendly. Maybe he didn’t have much work, but anyway, he got pretty chatty with us and was asking about how we liked Singapore. All we wanted to do was eat noodles.

He started talking about his visit to India, and like most Singaporeans, he had been on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. I can still remember the angst in his voice.

He said that the central government in India was good but the state governments were bad. Strike 1. I had to agree.

He said that it was not a safe place for businessmen to invest money. He said one of his close friends made huge investment, but when the government changed, the policies changed and the friend made a huge loss. Strike 2. I don’t know much about such things, but I can imagine that it is possible.

He said that India hadn’t advanced enough, there’s still too much poverty, there’s still so much chaos. He said ‘take a look at China’. For example, if the parents invest some amount with the government, they’ll give back 10 times the amount in 10 years, or something like that, and this is guaranteed by the government to safeguard the child’s future. I don’t remember the numbers he used but I was impressed with what he said. Strike 3.

I was beaten and didn’t know how to fight back.

I’m not a patriotic guy. I don’t go around burning boards written in non-state languages, nor do I go around speaking only in Hindi and refusing to speak in English. But I believe in the concept of India as a nation and I instinctively feel that I should defend my country when someone says something negative about my country.

But I was stumped. I was completely caught off-guard. I didn’t know what to say. I just nodded. I desperately looked for things to tell him. But I got nothing. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking of things to go back and tell that hotel guy that India is a great country, but what do we really have?

Specifically, the question is:

Post-independence, does India, as a nation, have achievements to be proud of?

I’m not talking about our ancient history or ‘culture’. I’m not talking about what some Indian did when he went to a foreign country, or even someone who went out of his way to achieve something within India (like the paeans being written about Tata Motors and their Nano car).

I’m talking specifically about: 1. the post-independence era, and 2. as a nation.

    A week after that incident, I was still trying to forget about it. But the same thing happened again on Day 9 (Sunday, December 30) with the store owner of a bookstore that Abishek and myself randomly walked into.

    We had a long conversation about Buddhism and our beliefs of God and how we pray. It’s surreal that we randomly started talking our intimate spiritual beliefs with a complete stranger. But such is life. And then she mentioned the same exact things that the hotel owner did. She specifically mentioned that she was appalled at the poverty when she went to Bodh Gaya.

    Yes, we are talking about poverty, not just about the beggars on the busy roads of Bangalore, but he fighting-for-food kind, the kind that we saw in Swades.

    Incident 2. After visiting the Kaala Chakra exhibition, I realized how influential India has really been, especially to most of South East Asia, from language to politics to trade, Indian-related stuff is everywhere in South East Asia. I used to wonder about why Tamil is such a common language here in Singapore, and only after I visited this exhibition, I realized that this goes back to the ages before christ!

    Notice the irony that I got to know more about Indian history and influence when I’m outside India. Probably because there is such importance given to history and culture in Singapore. But people in India have no time for such things, we are still fighting and struggling for our basic needs.

    This immediately reminded me of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”:

    Maslow's hierarchy of needs

    We are still struggling in Levels 1-3, that’s why we are just touching Level 4, and we’re a long way from reaching Level 5 of Self Actualization. At least, my point of view.

    Incident 3. I know there will be lots of people that say that I’m wrong, and that everything’s fine in India. (It reminds me of Rahul Bose in Everybody Says I’m Fine.)

    The problem is that everything’s fine as long as nothing bad happens to you or you witness it, only then you realize how bad the situation is. God forbid, you end up in an accident, only then you realize the problems with the police, the hospital, the insurance, and so on. The situation is the same everywhere, irrespective of the aspect of life.

    I don’t know how better or worse we are compared to other countries, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be in a better situation. There is simply no reason to! We have the money, the people, the resources…

    Incident 4. I came to know recently that at a premier medical institution in Bangalore, teachers are openly telling students that if they don’t help the teachers (i.e. pay them money), they will make sure that 30% of the students will fail! I am not kidding you, this is for real. Where’s the sanctity of education? Where’s the concern for the students’ future? Where’s the concern for encouraging future doctors (especially because the number of doctors is already dwindling)? Where’s the concern about setting precedents for future of medical profession? Even if they don’t think long term, how will students afford this? I know many medical student friends who have struggled to pay the hefty fees, what about these students who simply cannot afford to pay bribes to teachers?

    Similarly, lecturers in PUC colleges have stopped teaching in college and they tell students that they are anyway going to tuitions. If not, they should join their own tuitions! What happens to all those students who can’t afford it?

    Incident 5. Abishek’s close friend and special effects friend Osmand is a third-generation Indian. When he was about to fly from India to China to visit his relatives, he was abused that he was a Chinese person, and this for a person who’s born and brought up in India his entire life!

    The difference in attitudes was telling when the Indian immigration officer made him wait for 3 hours to prove that he’s an Indian compared to when he explained, that he’s a third-generation Indian originally hailing from China, to the Chinese immigration officer, he said Welcome home.” Now, Osmand is as Indian as it gets, irrespective of how it looks. Tell me, who’s the racist here? Osmand is so fed up of this attitude that he wants to go back to China.

    Incident 6. Abishek and myself were sitting by the river in Clarke Quay in Singapore on new year’s eve waiting for the clock to strike midnight. The atmosphere was full of revelry with all the Singaporean youth spraying foam on each other or boozing away or chatting. What’s amazing is that women freely walk around without any fear. I’ve seen women in Singapore walk at 2 am freely with clothes that redefine what ‘mini skirt’ stands for.

    On the other hand, Abishek pointed out that in India, at new year’s eve, there were incidents of molestation in Bombay, eveteasing by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s sons, Patna boys barge into a girls hostel, Cochin revelers molest a 15-year old Swedish girl and so on.

    Oh, and this is not just inside India. As churumuri put it recently, you can take the Indian out of India, but can you take India out of the Indian?

    Incident 7. When I was in PUC, I had many a time seriously considered politics as a career (all that “desh ke liye kuch karna hain” funda) but goondaism isn’t my cup of tea, so I dropped the whole idea. Seriously. If you want to survive in politics in India today, you have to know some rowdys or goondas to back you up, or you’re gonna end up in pieces in a ditch somewhere. We all know the familiar story of Manjunath Shanmugam who ratted out on how the Mittal petrol pump in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh are doing adulteration and he got shot by the owner’s son Monu Mittal and his goons.

    Politics in India is simply terrible.

    On the other hand, Singaporeans may have less press freedom and such, but I am okay with that compared to the circus that we have here.

    We are only harming the planet, it seems.

    Incident 8. Another incident I have to come know of is that there was some random old person who was suffering from a high BP attack and was going in an auto to his hospital where he was undergoing treatment. First, the auto guy literally dumps him on the pavement, takes the old man’s money and runs away. All this in broad daylight. IIRC, that too in Koramangala, one of the posh areas in Bangalore.

    Second, there are 10-20 people who surround and watch him and do nothing. Third, nothing happened until Vikram (Abishek’s friend) was passing by, shocked at all this, talked to the old man, who somehow was able to convey which hospital he was going to. Vikram took him to the hospital on bike. Fourth, the hospital said they can’t admit without some identification! Vikram said “He’s your patient, please look up your records and please treat him urgently.” They repeated the same statement. Fifth, Vikram who was fed up, says “Maybe Times of India would like to do a story on this.”

    Suddenly, the hospital staff spring into action and look up his records and take the old man in to the doctor. Sixth, Vikram comes out shaken and calls up Abishek and asks “What if this is my father tomorrow? What would happen to him? What kind of city do we live in?”

    Pop quiz : How many things are wrong/sad in this picture?

    These are real incidents, real stories. Seriously.

    Incident 9. What can we do in a place where people have to bribe to get death certificates? Aren’t the families mourning enough already?

    Again, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We are just struggling for the basics of life, maybe that’s why we can’t seem to go beyond that.

    Sportspersons are fighting for basic equipments, for basic facilities. No wonder they can’t move beyond to think of fighting against the competition. Cricket is an exception for exactly this reason – because the cricketers are so well-paid, they move to the next level in Maslow’s hierarchy and actually concentrate on the game. This becomes a virtuous cycle and hence the game is flourishing.

    Apply the same concepts to the other aspects such as political or economical, and you’ll notice that we’re still fighting the same everywhere.

    Let me repeat, post-independence, is there anything to be proud of India, the nation?

    I can’t think of anything. And what’s worse, I put this across to a few close friends, and they didn’t offer anything too. In a way, I was glad that it’s not just me, but many others feel the same way too. The sad part is that many others feel the same way too.

    Incident 10. The Press likes to make it a point to hail people of Indian origin like Lakshmi Mittal (Mittal Arcelor) or Indra Nooyi (Pepsi) or Vikram Pandit (Citigroup) and how they have risen to those powerful positions. But why is it that they were able to do it only when they’re out of India, not when they are here in India?

    Isn’t this a common refrain? I again trace it back to Maslow’s hierarchy. Most talented people I know all want to get out of India so that they can do serious work. Sad, but true. Including Abishek who’s now in Singapore making ads for China, Middle East, India, Pakistan, all in Singapore. He would’ve probably never got an opportunity like this in India. And yes, he’s the brains and technical person behind many ads in India you would see from Limca to Airtel to Pepsi.

    Again, I see people here in Singapore indulging in running, cycling, shopping and they’re seriously into arts, and so on. They are building a culture. Even partying till late into the night at Clarke Quay or shopping 24×7 at Mustafa and so on. And it’s completely safe for women as well. How do they do that!?

    Imagine that a 42×28 km country like Singapore (one of the 20 smallest countries in the world and at the same time the 2nd most densely populated country in the world) is hosting a Formula 1 race in 2008, is bidding for the 2010 Olympic Youth Games, etc.

    A country that is more than 4500 times bigger and has 250 times more population is still struggling for basic needs (numbers derived from Wikipedia’s estimates of population and size).

    Yes, our problems are bigger and more varied, but the politicians and the press talk about Bangalore becoming something like Singapore in 20 years or so! We are already comparing us vs them.

    We can’t even get basic water supply or road transit facilities to an upcoming world-class Bangalore International Airport? (And the only reason it’s world-class is because we outsourced it). Why are things so bad? It’s not the money, we have enough of it. Is it the people? But the capability is there. So what’s really wrong? Is it the leadership? I guess we do really need visionaries who execute like Lee Kuan Yew in India. Is it the attitude of the general population? Is it both? Or something else?

    I don’t know, I am disillusioned.

    I bought into the kool-aid and that whole India 8% growth story. I want my money back.

    Well, people can say that Singapore has no real freedoms, you’re just a puppet and so on. I have an analogy for that. We need a class teacher to maintain discipline (law and order) so that the classes can proceed and progress can be made, otherwise there will be just noise and only people who somehow learn to not get affected by the noise and study on their own (businessmen who succeed). It’s not like there is no freedom, you can always raise your hands and talk to the class teacher (citizens representation to the government) or at least approach the teacher after class hours (write to them)….

    Irrespective of the type of government (democracy or autocracy or whatever), maintaining discipline should be the primary responsibility of the government, which is what is lacking in India today. For example, why is it that the same Indians who go to places like Singapore suddenly start following the rules? Because they know they’ll be fined otherwise. And once people start respecting each other, keep the premises clean, and maintain civic behavior, things automatically start looking better.

    On the other hand, on Bangalore roads, I face road rage everyday. That’s why I prefer to listen to songs on my iPod, so that I can tune out all these unruly people.

    Sigh.

    I really want to go back to that hotel and argue with the owner. But I have nothing. Nothing.

    India is No. 115 out of 157 in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom. I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure it’s not a good thing.

    Even in a “forward” state like Karnataka, nearly three-fourths of rural eighth standard students cannot do basic subtraction, fewer than half of the schools have all teachers present, and only 7.4 per cent of students in standards 3 through 5 can read a sentence in English. The report is simply depressing.

    Even our IT boom is debatable.

    I hope someday I can go back to the hotel owner and defend India.

    Someday.

    Hope.

    Poachers : Forest guards :: Terrorists : Police

    25 February 2008

    Jaithirth Rao in The Indian Express:

    “If you have visited any of our forests recently, you might, if you are lucky, bump into a forest guard… wearing torn chappals as the budget for shoes has not been approved, and he is likely to be carrying an antique rifle that became obsolete many decades ago. The poachers have no budgetary constraints of a similar nature. They have SUVs, night-vision goggles, AK-47s and cell phones.

    “Millions of poor Indians find the budgetary space to buy cell phones with prepaid cards, but our bloated environment ministries are loath to provide forest guards with the same. We have budgets for imported bullet-proof Mercedes cars for our VVIPs; we have budgets for hundreds of safari-suit-clad security personnel for our leaders; we have budgets for changing the names of cities as a substitute for improving them; we have budgets for bloated meaningless committees where we can park our inconvenient cronies; we have budgets for florid press advertisements from various comic ministries lying blissfully as they make claims to non-existent achievements. We have created a BSF, an RPF, a CRPF, an ITBF and a CISF — but when it comes to creating a Forest Protection Force, suddenly our fiscal constraints surface.

    “Why can we not have a vigorous group of security guards for our wildlife? Why can they not be equipped with GPS devices (why bother being a pretend IT superpower if we cannot do this), with goggles that can help pick out poachers in the dark (you can buy them in any department store in the US), with telescopic rifles of the automatic or semi-automatic variety (you can order them cheap from the bazaar in Peshawar), with sturdy shoes to trudge in the forest (ordinary tourists seem to be able to afford these), with vehicles that can move fast along jungle tracks (we do have a world class automobile industry, don’t we), with mobile telephony that can help them access each other (we have the fastest growing mobile telephone industry in the world — but I guess we choose not to leverage it)?”

    Read the full article: Follow every pug mark

    Also read: 5 years = 1,825 days = 43,800 hours = The End?

    In Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses

    How Suma didn’t let her eyes block her vision

    24 February 2008

    E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As she ran along the pathway in the Glass House of Lalbagh, Suma was joy personified. Her eyes glistened as she chased the butterflies swirling in the morning sun. Sudhir and Sushila had taken their three-year-old daughter on a picnic before Sudhir, an officer in the merchant navy, would sail again.

    That night, though, Suma fell ill. Probably the early-morning breeze, thought Sushila, but her temperature wouldn’t come down. Suma kept rubbing her eyes as she felt itchy.

    The following morning they took her to the Agarwal Eye Hospital. Within an hour, the doctors diagnosed it as Retino Blastoma—cancer of the eye. Within minutes, the young couple heard the bad news: they would have to remove Suma’s left eye.

    Is this really happening to us, wondered Sushila, as she saw her young daughter’s face swathed in bandage.

    The doctors also suggested that if possible Suma should be taken abroad immediately for treatment so that the infection didn’t spread to the other eye. An ophthalmic research institute in Frankfurt was doing pioneering research on preventive aspects of infection. After hectic calls to Sushila’s cousin Vimala in Germany, the family boarded the flight to Frankfurt.

    “Just in time,” was the reaction of doctors who made sure the infection wouldn’t spread. But a day prior to their departure to Bombay, tragedy struck again; Suma’s surviving eye became itchy and doctors asked Sudhir and Sushila to sign the papers to remove her right eye. They also removed the optical nerve to save the child’s life.

    A gale had hit a small boat sailing in serene waters. In just two weeks, life had turned topsy-turvy for Sudhir and Sushila. The apple of their eye, born normal, had lost her sight in front of their eyes.

    ***

    The initial years were hellish for Sushila. With Sudhir away for long periods, she had to combat the terrible fate that had befallen them on her own. A bright, chirpy Suma had turned into a lifeless object staring into dark vacant space.

    Instead of indulging in self-pity, Sushila decided to face the world with all the courage she could muster. She was determined not to send Suma to a blind school. She got her admitted to a Mahila Seva Samaja. “We will bring up her up as normally as possible,” she would tell Sudhir who marveled at his wife’s fighting spirit.

    Suma turned out to be a bright kid; she could grasp lessons quickly. Sushila would read her stories and made her repeat the same. Radio became her friend and later, a trusted ally. She listened avidly to the programmes on BBC for hours and learnt to differentiate the newsreaders through their voice.

    It’s a nightmare for blind students taking public exams. Sushila had to go all over the town to get ‘writers’ who would write out the answer papers dictated by her visually challenged daughter. There were times when, with just couple of days to go for an exam, she was still frantically searching for writers.

    Suma did her class X and got a first class in her BSc.

    When she wanted to study management, Sudhir wanted her to join the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Bombay and stay at his sister’s place. But Suma had secured admission to a school in Surrey, England. “Please spend the money on my studies which you would have otherwise incurred on my marriage,” she pleaded with her tearful parents.

    Finally Suma went to England. For someone who had not stepped out of her house without an escort, she changed planes and landed at her college all by herself.

    Her roommate was Maria, a West Indian. During weekend breaks, she went to Frankfurt to meet her aunt, alone.

    She called BBC and reminisced about their earlier newscasters and mimicked their style of reading news. They were so delighted they called her over to Bush House for tea and asked her to participate in a talk show.

    ***

    Sudhir, having retired from service, often worried about Suma’s future. In three months their daughter would be back. Then what? How would she find life here after studies are over, he wondered.

    ***

    One day, when their TV went blank, Suma and Maria called the TV repair service. A bright young man came and found some components had conked out. He brought the parts and repaired the set. The girls thanked him and invited him to have their afternoon tea with them. Next day he came again and serviced their radio set free of charge.

    John Beachcom ran a modest business of an electronic repair service in and around Surrey.

    The girls once invited him for lunch at the canteen but decided to cook in their room itself. John joined them in cooking and it turned out he was a better cook than the girls!

    The girls graduated with first class and celebrated with John joining them.

    When John proposed to Suma that evening, she was speechless. Maria, to whom John had earlier confided his liking for Suma, urged her to consider his proposal. Suma wanted John to talk to Sushila and Sudhir and take their approval first.

    Suma bade goodbye to Maria, John and England, and returned to Bangalore alone.

    The marriage took place in Jayanagar. John’s mother Michelle, his aunt Clara, and Maria came with John sporting a Mysore peta at the brief wedding ceremony.

    For sometime Suma worked in a management firm in Surrey with a guide dog, a golden retriever, accompanying her. Now Suma and John have two children, both boys, Shankar and Chris. Sudhir and Sushila visited them and spent some time in their new house. John has expanded his business into computers. The family came to Mysore for a brief visit last year.

    As the kids created havoc at the childrens’ corner at Cheluvamba Park, I could see their mother smile through her eyes.

    Also read: The spirit of Subbanna that Bhattru couldn’t stifle

    What Seetamma’s son could teach our netas

    ‘Do political movements need to obey the law?’

    23 February 2008

    Raj Thackeray, the Posterboy of Parochialism (West), has responded to an open letter in The Indian Express from Sudheendra Kulkarni, the Belgaum-born media advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani.

    In his open letter, among other things, Kulkarni wrote:

    “How can you allow your supporters to take law into their hands and do raada (street mayhem)? Can you justify the politics of violence against a fellow-Indian, as was evident when an innocent employee of HAL was killed in a stone-throwing incident in Nashik following your arrest in Bombay?”

    Raj Thackeray’s justification of verbal and physical violence, and the vandalism thereof, shows that linguistic and regional chauvinists, not to speak of communalists and fundamentalists—be they in Maharashtra or Karnataka, Gujarat or West Bengal—are cut from the same tattered cloth, ever so willing to distort and demonise the past to suit the present.

    Like the Posterboy of Parochialism (NorthWest), Narendra Modi, Thackeray pits media versus media, painting the English media as the villain of the piece for not dancing to his bankrupt tunes like the local media. But it’s the unapologetic firespitting that offers a sneak peek of the anarchy that lies at democracy’s doorsteps.

    Thackeray writes :

    “Isn’t the outbreak of spontaneous outrage in a people’s movement understood? Can anyone avoid the violence or damage to property even if it does not bring happiness? Wasn’t Gandhiji forced to withdraw his agitation when a chowkie was burnt at Chauri Chaura?

    “Besides, even after all this, was the violence and damage to public property avoided in the 1942 agitation? When people become furious, their response is the same, whether it is the Congress or the African National Congress.

    “Sudheendraji, as you are a former communist, you must be aware of crores of deaths and political murders during communist movements the world over. People’s movements are a repetition of history to some extent.

    “Besides, do political movements need to obey the law? Political history learnt by me tells me that breaking the law, getting arrested, braving lathis and getting jailed are symbols of a principled agitation.

    “In recent times, the rulers and opposition parties indulged in movements of political compromise, in which morchas are taken out, the share of benefits of the government and opposition parties are decided. Then the protesters and their companions go home and sleep peacefully! This is called todbazi (compromise). The word political movement is an equivalent word for breaking the law!

    “Tell me, Sudheendraji, was Bihari MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy not aware of Lal Krishna Advaniji‘s Rath Yatra when he chose to criticise me on the grounds that my agitation was unconstitutional, destabilising for the nation, sectarian? How many people died then? How much was the violence?

    “But didn’t Advani pursue his campaign to make his point? The Bihari babu in Rudy seems to have woken up. I don’t remember Rudy mustering courage to register his protest during the Rath yatra, or with Narendrabhai Modiji when our Gujarati brethren were outraged after the Godhra incident.”

    Full text of Sudheendra Kulkarni‘s open letter

    Full text of Raj Thackeray‘s response

    Also read: Thodo, phodo, hum sab tumhare saath hain!

    After the votes, count the notes. Then add 7%.

    22 February 2008

    PRAKASH SHETTY‘s take on the Pakistan election verdict which plonks Benazir Bhutto‘s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, notorious as “Mr Seven Per Cent”, in a position of strength.

    Not by P. Sainath: Everybody loves a good IT sop

    22 February 2008

    ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: With the Union Budget less than a week away, all kinds of lobbies and special interest groups are trying to swing a better deal for themselves before P. Chidambaram stands up to deliver his mandatory couplets from the Thirukkural to a captive parliamentary and television audience.

    With Olympian athleticism, FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM are simultaneously bending backwards and falling at the feet of the Union finance minister. The business channels have despatched idle OB vans dressed as budget caravans to catch the aam admi‘s pulse. And the newspapers are full of wishlists.

    Like Chidambaram cares!

    Call it the February Fever, but it is on.

    Suddenly, the Captain Haddocks of INS India, who are otherwise quoting chapter and worse (pun intended) from the Milton Friedman school of economics, and hectoring us against subsidies, waivers, support prices, regulation, and votebank politics are talking a strange new language.

    The sharpest suits in North Block this season belong to the Information Technology (IT) geeks.

    With the 10-year tax holiday for the IT sector scheduled to come to an end next year, the industry’s representative body NASSCOM is working the phones, schmoozing the babus, churning out status papers, and gradually pumping up the volume seeking an extension of the tax breaks beyond the sunset period.

    Yesterday, it fell upon Infosys board member T.V. Mohandas Pai to do some late-over slogging. Deccan Herald quotes Pai as making these salient points:

    # The STPI (Software Technology Parks of India) scheme which gives the tax breaks has benefitted the country like no other since Independence.

    # If the STPI scheme is not extended beyond 2009, it could lead to India losing out to competitors like Philippines, China, Eastern Europe, Mexico and other countries, which all provide tax holidays.

    # The IT industry has created two million jobs. The current annual estimation is that it creates 430,000 jobs for the “educated middle-class”.

    And, as if issuing a veiled “Extend the tax holiday again, or else” threat, Pai says that the “educated middle-class” who are employed by the IT industry constitute a “very large lobby” and “a vocal class”. In other words, they could get very angry if the STPI scheme is not extended.

    In other words, Chidu mama, they could vote against you and your party.

    It can be argued that this is how big money talks; that this is how lobbying for a cause—using words and weapons to get your point across and get what you want—is done. But there is a brazenness about Paispeak, and fans of Pai, not quite a sultan of subtlety in the best of times, should concede he exceeds himself here.

    How, for instance, can we miss the unmissable irony of those who have enriched themselves several times over arguing for special treatment in the name of the “educated middle-class” while decrying the special treatment for the hundreds of millions of their countrymen who require the props more than they do?

    And, then, there is the not-so-subtle wordplay. Yes, Philippines and Mexico provide a five-year tax holiday while China has a three-year tax holiday. But do any of them provide a 10-year holiday as India has? Pai doesn’t tell us. Do any of those countries give a 10-year holiday after a five-year holiday. Pai is better off not telling us.

    ***

    As Anand Mahindra pointed out in his fine speech recently, the IT industry has helped India find a niche in the world like nothing else before. It has given our youth jobs and hopes, and it has contributed to our nation’s growth in more ways than we can acknowledge. But surely, the time has come to put their money where their mouth is?

    The demand for the extension of the tax holiday shows that either the IT industry wants the cash registers to keep ringing for all time to come, come hell or high water. Or, horror, horror, it shows how their visionaries did not foresee that the end of the 10-year period would come after, well, 10 years.

    Here’s the funny part.

    The IT czars do not spare a single opportunity to attack governments, politicians and administrators; they do not spare a single forum to scream how bad their governance is, how poor their planning, how short their vision.

    Yet, the same IT czars are beating their chests, begging for tax tops, and using the “educated middle class” as a human shield—all because their net margins, already battered by the rising value of the rupee, will come down by 15-17 per cent if the tax breaks are removed. Why should that be of any concern to the nation and the exchequer? And if it should be, for how long?

    Sure, as other countries get competitive, India will feel the heat. But isn’t this what “market forces” were supposed to do?

    Sure, smaller IT companies require tax breaks to get on their feet. But should the SWITCH (Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant, HCL) companies be spared the axe of the taxman?

    Is the IT industry justified in asking for a continuation of tax sops when other sectors have had no benefits or largesse like the IT Industry enjoyed for as long? Should the government even consider such a demand from companies that are flush with millions of dollars from taxes saved when the US dollar hovered around Rs 46 and other benefits they gleefully enjoyed for 10 years?

    Ironically, while Pai wants the holiday extended, N.R. Narayana Murthy, the chief mentor of Infosys, has come down heavily on companies asking for tax exemptions, when they did not really need one. He told CNBC last December: “After all, it is silly for the industry to say that we will be viable only at Rs 40 per dollar.”

    Has NASSCOM missed taking this advice from one of its tallest leaders? Why is Pai lobbying for this when he fully knows what his boss’ opinion is? Are Murthy and Pai playing good-cop, bad-cop? Or are IT companies using the middle class to insure themselves against the rising rupee and the weakening US economy?

    Should IT companies be extended the tax breaks? I think they must be asked to go take a break!

    CHURUMURI POLL: Twenty20 to promote 60-30?

    22 February 2008

    The Indian Premier League has hogged the headlines over the dazzling rates commanded by some players, India’s growing commercial hold over global cricket, the entry of big money and glamour into cricket, the disparity of a few dozen earning what could sustain hundreds of millions, the objections raised by the usual suspects to the auctioning of human beings, etc. None of these matter too much from the point-of-view of fans, fanatics and followers of the game, who will now get to see a more thrilling but shorter version of their favourite opium invade their bloodstream.

    For them, though, the key issues will be the steep ticket rates at the hands of corporates who have shelled out hundreds of crores, steep food and drink prices in-stadia, and such like. But for parents, purists and medical activists, especially in Karnataka, there is also the very real prospect of cricket being used to promote hard liquor. The Bangalore IPL franchise, owned by beer baron Vijay Mallya, has announced that the team will be called “Royal Challengers”. That might seem appropriate given the State’s umbilical link with maharajas, with an erstwhile yuvaraja as KSCA chief. But it’s a cleverly chosen name that could be used to push the whisky brand “Royal Challenge” owned by Mallya’s United Breweries.

    Questions: Will Mallya end up using cricket—and “clean” stars like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble—to promote hard liquors like whisky? Or is it OK if he can have an airliner named after Kingfisher, beer not the bird? Should IPL allow the name Royal Challengers considering its longer-term impact potential on society? Or is a franchise owner free to name and use a team he has bought any which way he wants? When western countries have banned cigarette and liquor advertising in sport, should cricket allow considering its possible impact on young, impressionable minds?

    Are we just being a little too prudish in the era of consumption and growing permissiveness? Or is there something called Corporate Social Responsibility that goes beyond initiatives designed to fetch headlines in the colour supplements?

    Photograph: Press Association, courtesy The Daily Telegraph, London

    Also read: Are Twenty20 cheer girls obscene?

    Why Manjamma won’t go back to Bombay again

    22 February 2008

    She is 82. She is Manjamma. She is from Karnataka, the cradle of coffee in the country. Her ambition, according to The Telegraph, Calcutta, was to sip a cup of coffee at the Taj Mahal hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea in Bombay.

    Her mother had done so 60 years earlier, and since then the dream had been firmly implanted in ajji‘s mind.

    On Monday, during a visit to the Gateway of India in the company of her daughter, Sapna, a gynaecologist, and son-in-law Laxman Dandin, Manjamma spotted the five-star hotel and decided to swing in for a cuppa.

    Shock: “The hotel wouldn’t let us in because of her sandals,” says Dandin. Manjamma was wearing slippers.

    Shocker: “We were treated so shabbily because we are from south India and have dark skin,” says Sapna.

    Sure, a sign outside reads, “Rights of Admission Reserved”. But if fair-skinned foreigners wearing slippers and shorts can be saluted by imposing looking durwans; if paan-stained politicians wearing khadi and kolhapuris can be ushered in by managers on all-fours, what’s Taj’s beef with Manjamma?

    If M.F. Husain being turned away from Willingdon Club for entering barefoot can be news for our papers and TV stations, will Manjamma’s ignominy be?

    A hotel owned by the Tatas shuts its doors on an Indian, and the same Tatas say they will “sue” Orient Express on being turned away from acquiring it because the US luxury hotel chain snubbed it saying, “any association with the predominantly Indian chain would erode the value of its premium brands.”

    For the record, the Taj Mahal hotel was set up by Jamsetji Tata in 1903 after he was turned away from the exclusive British owned and frequented Watson hotel.

    Ah, Taj. Ah, sweet irony.

    Photograph: courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta

    Read the full article: Slippers spoil coffee dream

    Also read: The spirit of Subbanna that Bhattru couldn’t stifle

    What Seetamma‘s son could teach our netas

    ‘Who asked you to win the match in four days?!’

    22 February 2008

    It is the zeitgeist—the sign of the age we live in—that the only big concern that the big bucks of the Indian Premier League seems to have sparked is, “What will the badshahs of the game think at this kind of money being thrown before the babes in the woods?”

    How, for example, will B.S. Chandrashekhar, who is said to have tied a pair of leg pads (with a bat tucked in between) to a friend’s bicycle carrier while being given a lift to Bangalore airport for his India debut, and whose accident expenses had to be underwritten by Colin Cowdrey because the BCCI wouldn’t give a damn, feel?

    CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai, son of the late great Dilip Sardesai, writes on IBN live:

    “My father was obviously born in the wrong generation. For his first Test for the country in 1961, he got a cheque of Rs 150. When he was part of the historic 1971 win in West Indies and England, he got the princely sum of Rs 750 per match. Contrast that with a Robin Uthappa, who without a single international century, is already a crorepati many times over. Or an Ishant Sharma, who after his first international tour, is already lining up mega-contracts.

    “My own favourite story of cricket from another generation is related by the legendary Bishen Singh Bedi. In 1956, India defeated New Zealand in four days in a Test match. The team, which was paid Rs 50 per day at the time, did not receive an allowance for the fifth day. When one of the players dared to ask a cricket official for an additional fifty rupees, he was curtly told: ‘Who asked you to win the match in four days!'”

    Read the full column: Cricket’s big bazaar

    Coming to a sky above you, sooner or later

    21 February 2008

    The white blob tries to light up the Thursday evening sky after the early-morning total lunar eclipse. If you missed it, too bad, the next total eclipse is two years away.

    MIDWEEK MASALA: Bill hain ki maanta nahin

    21 February 2008

    Always very environmentally conscious, SWAROOP DEV recycles an old one for a new context:

    ***

    Hillary Clinton goes to her doctor for a check-up, only to find out that she’s five weeks pregnant. She is furious. Here she is, in the middle of a Presidential run, facing the battle of her life against Barack Obama, and something that could slow her down has come up.

    She calls home, gets Bill on the phone, and immediately starts hollering: “How could you have let this happen? How could you? With all that is going on, you go and get me pregnant. I can’t believe this! What have you got to say?”

    There is nothing but dead silence on the phone. She screams again, “Did you hear me?”

    Finally, a very quiet, barely audible whisper, comes through: “Who’s this…?”


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